Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Busy Week

Grief & Sorrow
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.
Recriminations abound, but let's remember that we live on a rambunctious planet, one that is in constant flux and that we are merely guests. This is a moment for humility, not anger.
Libya Going to the Dark Side

And Ghadafi marches on while the world debates the price of oil -- not its conscience -- in this suddenly lop-sided conflict. It is a conundrum though. The knee-jerk side of American thought right now (myself probably included) is to take the bastard out. I'm reminded a bit of an old movie: The Wind & the Lion. The interesting part was the role (image) of a small band of American Marines caught between an inter-Arab conflict exasperated by a colonial powers dispute. Just like the conflict in Libya, a great deal was perceived to be at stake -- oil not being on the list. Of course, we also had Teddy Roosevelt as president in this flick, which isn't a commentary on our current leader, but rather an indication of how cautious American foreign policy has become. We don't really make decisions anymore, instead we debate the matter, check with our buddies, Congress, take a few polls, see what Rush Limbaugh has to say...meanwhile, everybody gets blown to bits and were off the hook. This isn't policy, it's a broken Ouija Board. Oh -- those Marines? Sided with the Arabs and killed a bunch of Germans. Because at that moment, it was the right thing to do.
It seems that we lost both our integrity and the definition of a 'friend' shortly after World War II. Two things appeared to have spawned this national confusion. The first was that war became obsolete -- at least as far as how we had defined it, or really, how we understood its purpose. Secondly, we embarked on the only option available to us, that being world competition via a 'Cold War' whereas territory, attrition and reparation was traded in for "our interests."
This is the point where we lost our integrity and subsequently, any perception of trust that might have been afforded in different times. We also began to get left behind because we no longer had anything other countries really needed -- at least nothing that was free of either a subtle extortion or an abundance of lip service. And pretty soon our track record in the developing world began to convince struggling democracies that it didn't pay to get too close to us. Our back could turn at any given moment and if some boil erupted on the landscape, these countries didn't have to look far for the source of the disease. Sadly, America has always had great social and democratic ideas (not ideals) but concurrently, some really bad manners.
So what to do in Libya? And Bahrain (currently facing an siege by the Saudi military)? And Yemen...and on and on? When do these 'interests' of ours, this material junk we cherish take a back seat to what we used to represent? Are we so trapped in consumption and global markets that we can no longer either define or comprehend the difference between right and wrong? Are we really that confused as a people, as a nation? As they like to say on the first day of rehab, "Just when is that moment of clarity going to show up? It needs to be soon because people are dying.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Let's Not do this Again, Please.

Guilt by innuendo is not an American ideal, although it may qualify as a bad and somewhat chronic habit.
I really do not think that New York's Rep. Peter King is another Joe McCarthy, though it might be assumed that he holds to the adage of "keeping your friends close and your enemies closer." I really want to be wrong here because this is a path we've taken before with some devastating results for individuals that were no more of a threat to this country than...what? The Beatles?
Yeah odd, yet not so odd a comparison when you begin to vilify 'groups,' (never mind religious affiliation) you're really out duck hunting with a machine gun. Far too many moderate Muslims in the world already feel that powers in this nation are on a witch hunt -- and further, that the Islamic faith is somehow a 'politicized' religion, assuming quite illogically that the Christian right isn't? Geez, I'm basically an atheist, but I always figured that God wasn't planning a run for the White House (at least in my life time) and that this was a country that separated church from state -- if for nothing else, to preserve our collective sanity. Or better yet, how would this conversation go forward if a wayward band of Bedouins had stumbled upon Plymouth Rock? Or the Indians defeated us at Wounded Knee? I could go on here, but the point is that this country has a bad habit of slamming the door on any new re-invention of its own mongrelism. That's a lot of arrogance and assumption for a country that hasn't had that many birthdays.
I really want to ask this country, "Just what in the hell are we so scared of?" Is this the bad old days of the 1950's where communists were supposedly hiding under every bush? Has everyone forgotten that the appeal of both communism and socialism in this country was a direct result of the Depression and the Dust Bowl? That a weak fed and rampant greed on Wall Street turned this country into one mass beggar's camp? The appeal wasn't wrapped up in the tenets of communism, socialism or fascism for that matter, as a political alternative, but rather some form of government that offered social justice and a job. People sought out these organizations because they found themselves living in a country with a failed system of government and nowhere to turn for help. Fear was everywhere and consumed in quantity by everyone.
That same fear is back home to roost, only since 9/11 it has become pretty selective. It's so prevalent and insidious that we managed to not only undermine our own constitution, but our ideals and sense of reason as well. Yes, serious threats do exist -- in fact, they have always existed. Somewhere in that notion of individual freedom and democratic ideals, the very core of what we try so hard to sell ourselves and the world, is a fundamental caveat: the risks inherent to an open and tolerant society. And perhaps one other overlooked virtue: integrity. We're supposed to do the right thing at our own peril. That's how you earn the 'white hat' and the affirmation to wear it with pride.
So if we are that 'open and tolerant' society we cannot allow ourselves to be selective in the application of a high and lofty ideal. If congress wants to interrogate Islam and those that practice an alternative faith on the broad basis of affiliation and innuendo, then maybe next week we can haul in a few geriatric commies and what's left of the Beatles. Then we'll go after the Baptists, the born agains and those damn atheists...oh.
"First they came after my neighbor and I did not raise my voice. Then they came after my other neighbor and again, my voice was silent. Then, they came for me."

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Road to Redundancy

Heard an interesting quote from an Egyptian lawyer in Cairo, who in a convoluted roundabout way managed to clarify the appeal of our uniquely American view of democracy...or whatever the hell the current system calls itself. He said, "I want my children to grow up and be able to elect leaders they can criticize."

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.