Sunday, December 11, 2011
I have also grown weary of the flotsam that wanders the aimless currents of the Internet like a dyslexic flounder. Misinformation, disinformation, hysterical polemics based more on medication issues than a rational thought process, self-serving agendas meant to promote a point no one can quite locate; out of context quotes, assumptions based on other assumptions, political interpretations offered up and consumed by people who never quite got past the 8th grade...ad nauseum. All circulated at the speed of light and evidently meant to be consumed somewhere in between the 140-character text bite and your good Friends gratifying experience in a public toilet. Yeah, press Like here.
What's my point? I suppose it is wrapped around the fundamentals of logical argument, something they try to teach you in the first year of college in order to avoid a lot of nonsense later. I don't think I enjoyed this class, not sure I even remember it, but I do remember watching at least 50 episodes of Perry Mason: "Objection, inadmissible!" Then the judge: "Sustained." Jurisprudence adopted these simple ideas for a reason. You need to argue the facts. Save your opinions for your 13-year old daughter who is going to ignore them anyway.
The discussion in question revolved around the constitutional right to bear arms. I have no issue with that right. As part of an argument over some perceived injustice (not clear which one), my opponent began cranking out random quotations and non-sequitors from various sources claiming the 'incredible foresight' of the founding fathers -- here I'm assuming -- on anticipating the invention of the Apache helicopter gunship with the dual Gatlin platform...or something. Try to stay with me here for a moment.
I said, "Hold on a minute, partner!" You have taken a third-party quote by an unrelated party (at least directly), as evidence of what four or five other people were possibly thinking and then extrapolated that quote almost 300-years to the present to argue a case on the merits of some incredible degree of foresight -- good or otherwise -- that may or may not have existed. In most cases, common sense alone would dictate the latter. Now, I always appreciate oppositional arguments or opinions, mostly because running around all day agreeing with people is a boring, unproductive exercise at group ass-kissing, a process that Zuckerburg has already perfected and I have no intention of infringing upon. Dissension is how we finally distill the truth out of many random, and often opposing ideas and opinions.
My initial point in that friendly (though headed somewhere else), discussion had nothing to do with the 'right to bear arms' -- in fact it wasn't even about rights, but about second-guessing Washington, Madison or the bartender down the street. You see, as Americans, we're in love with the mythology surrounding our founding as a nation. Hell, that's okay. It is after all, a great story. But a few things tarnish that landscape of altruism and that is where the foresight -- political to be sure, actually resides.
Putting together a federal constitution for these 13 rowdy and disparate colonies was more like a bar fight than a meeting of great minds. Remember, each colony was founded on different values, ideologies, religions, cultural thinking and on and on. Just getting them to shoot the British instead of each other was a major early achievement -- winning a revolution, virtually miraculous. That victory is what brings up the often sticky issue over the 'right to bear arms' and the role of [first, as colonial] state militias. Washington would have lost the war without these 'irregulars' because no mechanism was in place to finance or legally franchise a federal army. Trust me, there is nothing worse than declaring war when you don't have a real army to back it up. Really dumb by most standards. The sad truth was that there was no United States of America, hence, no legal authority. Now hold that thought for a minute and fast forward to the bar fight in Philadelphia.
The 'foresight' of these founders was really based on the political realities of the moment. Yeah, they'd won the country, but not much else. The British were gone, but not gone. They were still in Canada to the north, and we had the Spanish in the west and south and the French were everywhere. Now the French were allies of sorts, but this alliance was subject to whims and nuances of European politics, fickle and capricious as they always were. And Washington was pretty sure that the British would be back. And his victorious army? Gone home to milk the cows and get caught up on all the bills that had piled up during the war.
The key political issues on the founder's plate all amounted to deal-breakers of one kind or another. The United States, in post-war status was virtually defenseless. The army had disbanded, the navy was either borrowed (from the French) or just an amusing idea that existed mostly on paper, the colonies were suspicious of a strong federal government -- and rightly so -- just booted out a king and didn't necessarily want a new one. (Actually, some wanted to make Washington king.) Yet, these same colonists had just received a hard lesson on the value of mutual defense. None of them could go it alone, so for them, the new Union represented the ability to preserve the gains they had made through blood, toil and most importantly, a reluctant cooperation.
The Constitution itself was created over a period of about ten pretty difficult and rancorous years. It is, for the most part, a document of compromises. The Bill of Rights (so-called, fundamental rights), are purposefully vague. They are intentionally broad-based and not designed to be regulatory as such. That is the premise of the courts via an interpretation of what these rights might mean in contemporary terms. Lot of flexibility granted the states here. The idea was local autonomy on most issues, leaving the federal courts, particularly the Supreme Court as final arbiter on constitutional matters. Of course, I don't think the founders anticipated a 'politicized' Supreme Court. Oh well.
Now, as far as the militias went, a couple of things were obvious to the founders, particularly Washington. First, he owed them. Couldn't have done it without them. Second, was the colonies natural distrust in the idea of a centralized federal army, even in light of the greater security issues facing the new republic. These militias or irregular forces would remain an integral part of the new Union, both as a compromise to current (internal) political realities, and as a defensive bulwark against unforeseen events on the international stage. In the case of the latter, there were also economic incentives involved. The core issue of the rebellion was, after all, a perception of unfair taxation -- those proceeds needed to support England's far-flung military adventures. A reserve army would negate, at least marginally, the need for funding of an expansive national force. An issue that had daunted Washington's military campaign throughout the war of rebellion. As we can clearly appreciate in this day and age, armies are not cheap. And gee, selling new taxes just after a war on excessive taxation?
No civilian or reserve militia (army) could exist without the 'fundamental right' to bear arms. Washington in particular, appreciated the role that these civilian military reserves could play within the scope of his current perception. But like all matters entering into the process of constitutional theoretics, no one could really anticipate how these issues and rights would travel over time. That is why the Constitution was left as an amendable document. And without that very basic premise, it is highly unlikely that the principles and ideas brought forth by these early founders would have even survived the first few decades of its existence. Quite often, the real foresight lies in the generosity of the legacy -- the inheritance and continuity of an imperfect ideal.
Now what in the hell was I so pissed-off about? Oh yeah. Historical second-party mind reading. Well, the truth is that what is written here is also opinion of sorts. Except that it is based on better minds than mine, and on the personal letters, diaries and notes of the participants in this wonderful experiment known as American democracy. We need to continue these debates, because they are the spokes in the rolling wheel of an evolving system. Human activity -- desires, ambitions, dreams -- are not static. Neither is the Constitution. The brilliance of this document is not so much in the power of the individual words, but in how those words have traveled, despite the ravages of time and a constantly evolving interpretation. We need to keep it a vague, shadowy ideal, and let each ensuing generation decide for themselves, and in their own slot of time, just what it means -- to them.
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
What can you really say to the Japanese people that hasn't already been expressed by better voices than my own. I do admire their grace under fire though, and only hope that this disaster will soon turn to face the light of a quiet dawn.
Thursday, March 10, 2011
Sunday, March 6, 2011
Loved that statement. It seems that much of the struggling world admires our messy, inefficient, corrupt form of government -- certainly not for our ideals, which are rarely practiced in real time -- rather, because it allows us (in proper middle eastern form) to throw shoes at people with a certain degree of immunity. Concurrently, these same admirers of the system also despise us as a nation -- certainly with good cause -- for the way we tend to bully-boy our way around the world's neighborhoods. This is further complicated by our definition of 'friend.' Actually, we don't have a working definition. We only befriend inanimate objects...oil, copper, natural gas, bauxite...someplace to park an aircraft carrier. We only ask that you refrain from killing our people. Killing your own, well...
The point here is the Egyptian lawyer's comment and how that defines an outsider's view of America. What are we doing right now in this country other than overthrowing ourselves? Elements of the conservative right, the Tea Party, attacks on unions and public employee pension funds, no federal budget, pissing contents in several states...blah, blah. This is all indicative of a reactionary response to a whole lot of socio-political discord at just about any level you care to identify. An economic schism is breaking this country into self-protective camps of not-so-special, but almost desperate interests.
Maybe we need to put this country in dry dock and scrape the shit off the hull. What happened to the middle of the road anyway? A lot of rumbling has always existed about our chronically broken two-party system -- yo-yo democracy as I call it, but some middle ground did seem to flourish occasionally. Now we have gone from yo-yo democracy to the heaven and/or hell system where the only badge of inclusion is the ability to disagree with anything and everything that has an ounce of common sense wrapped around it. All in the mighty interest of dogma. It's not wrong because it is a bad idea, it's wrong because a Republican didn't think of it...or a Democrat, both of whom find themselves hiding out at the radical outskirts of both their party and their thinking. This is trench warfare.
America has always been the dog pound of the world. This country was founded by folks who found themselves persecuted in other lands. People who experienced economic privations, religious intolerance, feared for their lives or their sanity -- sought at extreme peril to give their children something better. And to stand in the bright light of personal freedom -- of thought, of ideals, of a God of their choosing. And an opportunity to break out of poverty and ignorance and hell, make a buck.
What's happened to that? The middle class has virtually vanished -- more accurately downsized, or in the creative economics of voodoo math, the bar has simply been moved upward. Middle class now means that you have to make 250k a year. Think I'm kidding? Trot down to the bank and find out for yourself. Our venerable Congress, duly sworn to uphold something -- nobody is sure what -- boasts a stunning list of accomplishments, topped by virtually legislating the foreclosure on your house -- because, "some things are too big to fail." And others are too small to matter.
Now that they've taken your home and your retirement portfolio, they want your pension. They also want to keep your children stupid and your elderly neighbor shopping in the cat food aisle. Certain people want to dismantle Obamacare because they say there is a difference between something that might be broken and the alternative -- which is non-existent at the moment. They want to throw the baby out the window with the bath water rather than trying to improve on the efforts of people that actually had the guts to take on the deficiencies inherent to our health care system.
And education? It's comparable to mugging children on Halloween. We're supposed to be a nation of ideas -- doers, thinkers -- cutting edge stuff. What are we really doing? We specialize in under valuing the need for education through chronic under-funding. We then fire teachers in order save the asses of the very bastards that just stole your house! And people in government brag about the salvation of General Motors, while your kid sits in a classroom with 43 other students, half of which can't speak English, much less spell it. But that's a good thing. Because they may never really understand that half the bigotry in this country is not aimed at them -- or some group, or a different race, or opposing ideology or religion, but at intelligence itself. We are producing far too many children that have the intellectual curiosity of a dead spider. Disagree? Spend ten-minutes watching Maury Povich open DNA tests for an audience that actually applauds the antics of people with the collective IQ of a fence post. And we celebrate this garbage as entertainment, instead of recognizing it as a symptom of something far worse.
I see much of this as a 'self-deserving prophesy.' In far too many cases we fail to elevate both the ideals and the principles that others seem to champion in our place. We seem to be a broken dynasty that has never embraced, in full appreciation of the stakes, that all systems require maintenance and perseverance as an element of a living society. We are all standing alone, paralyzed in our sacred individuality, while the nation slides forcibly and imperceptibly toward the opposite poles of reason.
Monday, February 28, 2011
A few oddities about Ghadafi: The first is that nobody in the media can settle on how to spell his name -- seen at least three, maybe four versions. Another matter came up when an associate asked, "How come he's just a colonel?" I think his rank was self-imposed as he did begin life as a socialist, and has managed to spin a lot of mileage out of his own version of an 'egalitarian society' -- only difference being that his version of socialism is practiced with $60 billion in various off-shore banks. Well, $30 billion after the US seized a few accounts.
Another item that got lost in my shuffle was that al qaeda tried to assassinate him about 20 years ago. Ghadafi had a rather interesting relationship with the various radical elements of Islam, in that he financed and gave shelter and sanctuary to many of these fighters. But it seems that they quickly became competition in his own theater of revolution, particularly in the case of Osama bin Laden. Pan-Arabism was one thing, but an Islamic revolution was quite another animal in Ghadafi's eyes. An Islamic jihad was not particularly palatable to an Arab (Libyan) nationalist. Ghadafi couldn't see himself relegated to the back burner -- one fish among many, so he sicked his security forces on al qaeda and removed them from the country. They in turn, attempted to kill him. The whole affair seemed like a Clint Eastwood western.
At this point, the call for outside intervention is growing feverish on quite a few fronts. It seems that few Arab countries would object. On one hand, Libya's problems are an excellent distraction from their own internal problems, but at this point, no nation, Islamic or otherwise is going to offer even lip service to the Ghadafi regime. And on all nation's minds is the question of just how long the world can afford to stand by and watch. Previous events in the Balkans, Rwanda and the Congo serve to remind us just how costly the seat on the sidelines can be. It is rapidly approaching a point where conversation needs to be tabled and action begin.
Sunday, February 27, 2011
Friday, February 25, 2011
Back to Italy in Libya. By 1920, both the Sultan & the Caliphate (more on that later) were sent somewhere more sympathetic, and while Italy granted Tripolitania a degree of autonomy, they quickly reneged on the deal and occupied the territory. WW II trashed the whole area and Libya was pretty much occupied by allied forces until about 1947. Most of the Italians were sent home. 1951 saw the establishment of Libya as a constitutional monarchy of sorts. Oil was discovered, the king got a little too rich and it seemed like BP, Chevron & the US Air Force were running the place. While the King was being medically treated in Turkey (1969), a young Gadhafi & some military buddies staged a coup. Arab nationalism was on the rise and running fast throughout the middle east and northern Africa.
Now to the present and probably the real point at hand. First we had the 'Great Game' with all its various ramifications, intentional diversions and subterfuge. Once the Soviet Union swallowed its own tongue and left the US as the predominant military power in the world, the UN playing field didn't really level out -- just tilted a little more toward the scary idea of independent thinking making an impact on that indecisive mob hunkered down in New York. Nobody was offering 'free bridges to nowhere' -- at least in the short term. At the same time, China was elevated to the 'big table,' allowing it the opportunity to finally be a 'deal-breaker.' The changing world structure also seemed (emphasis on seemed) to render NATO a little redundant as a military deterrent to the Red (now red, white & blue) Menace.
So a couple of Bush [es] and probably creative folks like sure-shot Dick Cheney thought, "Gee, the UN won't cooperate on our invasion plans, so lets use NATO." We should remember here that NATO means 'North Atlantic Treaty Organization' and its stated manifesto is to defend western Europe from the not-so-red menace. Basically, a mutual-defense treaty.
That brings up two important questions: What's NATO doing in Afghanistan when that country is south, not north and a damn long way from any ocean, much less the Atlantic one. And second, why would a NATO spokesperson state today that, "[Libya] is in our immediate neighborhood," that statement inferring some kind of legitimate agenda for...what? Hopefully just a geography quiz. And both questions are rhetorical.
So what we have in NATO, I guess, is our own little United Nations, and since we probably finance most of the costs for defending the North Atlantic through our branch offices in Kabul and Baghdad, everybody dances to the music. Seems the only solution is to have the UN denounce NATO as a mercenary force. Gee, it sort of is actually.
Thursday, February 24, 2011
Looking a Little Worn
Saturday, February 12, 2011
Might drop President Obama a note. Could cut defense spending by 60-70% if we let the Pentagon open some KFC franchises around Kabul. Just a thought.
ADDENDUM: How could I be so dumb? We need to offer the franchises to the Taliban. Get these guys going on commerce and they'll probably lose interest in shooting their customers. Of course, like I said, they'll still need some electricity.
More on Afghanistan: Cairo vs. Kabul. Can't imagine Afghans taking to the streets with signs reading "Oppress me! Oppress me!" Don't see that notion gaining much traction. Plus, there is the problem with the word 'fundamentalist.' Root word: 'fundamental.' Discount the prefix 'fun.' Doesn't work here. Fundamental means basic. Leaves out any room for discussion, which is a moot point if you have managed to deny a population the other fundamentals: readin,' writin' and arithmetic. If you stretch both my lines of thinking here the dots do connect.
Best to the Egyptian people. The really hard work begins today. It is going to take more patience and civility than anyone can possibly imagine.
Thursday, February 10, 2011
Now the tricky part. Two things: His call for constitutional change to necessitate his departure is both a marginal truth and a whole bunch of smoke. The country has been under 'national emergency' administration for...a damn long time. That negates the power and authority of a constitution anyway since most provisions went out the window with the bath water. I'm pretty sure there are a few adults around to manage an interim government until substantive changes can be made. That cannot happen with a half-million people tossing bricks at each other. That stifles most kinds of constructive engagement.
Secondly, and far more problematic is the military. Fence-sitting is not a military attribute. It is quite likely that they will stage a coupe as the only available option in restoring some kind of order. History shows that when the military is forced to execute this option, they are not likely to surrender power in anything resembling the short term. Egypt could offer a separate or somewhat diluted paradigm, but nobody can bet on that at this point.
Another possibility exists. A split within the military. This is perhaps the most dangerous of scenarios in that the general population could get caught in the crossfire. If Murburak goes, other folks (including segments of the military elite) may be requested to join him. Thirty years of enmeshed relationships in a power arrangement is bound to create a number of mutually self-serving relationships and a whole bunch of insecurity. Who falls and who remains standing? Scary shit shows up here.
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
First item: The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. As soon as somebody put 'Muslim' and 'Brotherhood' in the same sentence, mass hysteria erupted over the possibility of an Islamic state in Egypt. Sorry, population is too young and far too educated. Besides, the Muslim Brotherhood is more akin to an Elk's Club in a dry county. Same thing if you found five conservative Republicans standing on a street corner in front of an abortion clinic. What, the building is going to explode? Journalists need to do their homework. And yes, the Muslim Brotherhood needs to be included in any political settlement on Egypt's future. They are Egyptians after all.
Second item: This is a little funny in a twisted sort of way. Al Jazeera (one of the primary media outlets for the Islamic world) has had kind of an odd niche in both reporting and commenting on issues both inside the Islamic world and how the Islamic world views world issues. Americans have always viewed their reporting as slanted and bias. (Gosh, ours isn't?) Well last week in a rather odd turn, Hezbollah accused Al Jazeera of biased reporting over the organization's actions in Lebanon. Al Jazeera seems to be caught between a kind of group nepotism and a more progressive sign of modern realities: credibility.
Friday, February 4, 2011
I often credited Reagan with ending the Cold War. And of course, Gorbachev as well. They each played a unique role in the unraveling of an empire, but hindsight (always perfect) and foresight (fraught with danger) really makes me think that access to information (communication) destroyed the party line. It also proved that the only person you can brainwash is yourself. The old idea of mass indoctrination to any way of thinking is categorically flawed. It is why two people can't own the same secret. The moment the Berlin Wall cracked, all bets were off. What had really trapped these folks for 40 years was bullets, barbed-wire and hopelessness. Ideology was merely static on the line. However, in the very beginning, socialism did hold a kind of beguiling charm. More on that later.
Social Security going broke? How about this: Got my pathetic list of income & expected benefits for my 'golden years' the other day. Here's what I'm thinking. I have no relatives or beneficiaries, etc. Social Security is going to hand out $255 to nobody in particular when I tip over dead. The rest they are going to keep. Why couldn't I get something like a reverse mortgage on my body, whereas I either promise to eat really healthy from now on -- or more realistically, get half the money up front and promise to drop dead in five years. I mean, there must be a lot of people that only make it to 64 7/8 years of age -- then boom! It ends up in your neighbor Bob's account and you don't even like the son of a bitch. Anyway, just a thought.
Thursday, February 3, 2011
It is also important to remember that India's nuclear ambitions were not fueled by issues with Pakistan, but rather China. These two fought some rather sharp border clashes in (I believe) the 1980's. India's need for a credible deterrence against China actually created Pakistan's own need against a nuclear-armed India. This was what the theory of 'non-proliferation' was hoping to avoid, but who is going to surrender the option first, or better yet, actually believe the intentions of the other party? That's exactly why we carried on a Cold War with the Soviets for some 40-odd years. Trust is hard to find here.
Oh -- World view of India and Pakistan is not concurrent with the antagonist's view of each other. India is also viewed as a 'status quo' power. Pakistan isn't. That makes for an unhealthy assumption or two.
On Afghanistan -- I alluded to the Texas electrical co-ops of the 1940-50's. Just to be clear, they were not financially successful, but they were established just the same.
Something to consider: Afghanistan's literacy rate runs about 25-28%. That may be optimistic. This plays well into the hands of the fundamentalists because ignorance and fear are a formidable force and they know how to use it. They've been pretty successful at it with us. Can't get on a plane without getting your spleen photographed. Egypt's literacy runs about 66.4%. Democracy requires educated participants. America has been fiddling around with the concept for over 200-years and it is still screwed up. For Afghanistan, we need to forget the adults and put a hard press on the children. It will take at least a generation (maybe 30 years) to form a nucleus of a literate public in that country. Turn on the juice -- turn off the rhetoric. Only then will the Afghan people really control their own destiny.
No, not an easy task. But then the really difficult jobs never are.
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
"The 'why' question always seems to top the list when it comes to Afghanistan. The answer is both simple and complicated. One word answers both sides of this weathered argument and it tends to inhabit the complicated side of things: Pakistan.
I think it is also important to remember that this conflict was an inheritance and not an instigation -- as such, not a direct agenda by the current administration, but rather part of an on-going security status quo. As such, President Obama's options are limited by the ramifications of any sort of timely withdrawal, regardless of the popularity of such a move by many Americans.
What we have in the area are two nuclear-armed antagonists (Pakistan & India), parked in a pretty volatile section of the planet. It is estimated that 100-180 combined nuclear devices exist in both nation's stockpiles. For a decade or so, India has been the jilted lover in the three-way relationship that has existed between India, Pakistan and the US. Most of this is due to 'our' perceived need to prop up the Pakistani government as a foil against both the Taliban and Pakistan's own fundamentalist factions. If the Taliban manage to prevail in Afghanistan, what will stop these elements from pushing a similar agenda in Pakistan? And how will India react? And further, how will the US respond to a radical Islamic state with a readymade nuclear capability? That's a lot of cards stacked on one very small table.
However, some options due exist on a viable exit strategy. The events of the last few weeks in both Tunisia & Egypt (and apparently in Jordan) do offer an interesting alternative to holding onto Afghanistan at the point of a gun: Electricity. As reported last year (Mother Jones) the Afghans themselves (in a rather broad-based internal survey) when asked, placed electricity (and what it meant for communication, education & discourse) at the top of their 'wish' list. Things like internet and satellite communication & cell systems. Peace was about third on the list, in a somewhat odd tie with American/coalition withdrawal.
The real question then is, "Why not?" If the US could electrify Texas in the 1940-50's through electrical co-ops (the user being invested in the system), then the same could be said for Afghanistan. The Taliban thrives on both the inability of the average Afghan to communicate internally and the far more dangerous consequences that result from an under-educated populous, ignorance a pernicious enemy of the truth.
It would seem realistic to assume that the Afghan people would not only rally to this cause, but defend the infrastructure as well. They would finally be invested in the technology that has proven so powerful in bringing both political discourse -- and perhaps meaningful change -- to both Tunisia and Egypt. Perhaps then, the Afghan people could finally have the resources needed for an honest conversation on the future of their country.
Monday, January 31, 2011
Sunday, January 30, 2011
Egypt had probably been at the 'tipping point' for at least a decade, though like many oppressive regimes nothing internal (or probably external) offered the sort of incindiary spark to break a rather marginal status quo. Then Tunisia exploded. While the overthrow of the Tunisian government did offer certain triggers for the social unrest that had been brewing in Egypt, the most powerful message to come out of Tunis was, "Yes, we can and here's how!"