Monday, October 27, 2008

Week of 10/27/2008

Resurrecting the “Other” Joe
– by David Matthews 2

Once upon a time there was a guy named Joe.

And no he wasn’t a plumber.

Joe was something worse than a plumber. He was a politician. And he was very good at taking opportunity of a situation when it presents itself. That’s how he was able to get into the Senate, and that was how he was able to get himself out of his reputation in the Senate as being a relative wallflower.

Joe made a speech where he held up a piece of paper and said that he had in his hand a list of people that he declared to be a threat to this country that were working for the government. Worse yet, he alleged that the highest official in that government department knew about this list and was doing nothing about it.

The repercussions of that speech were far greater than anything Joe could ever hope for. Joe was able to play off the fear that people had concerning that so-called “list in his hand” and turn it into a nationwide crusade. Soon he became a media sensation, making speeches, going on radio and television, accusing others of being on this “list in his hand”. He became powerful, and he began to associate with powerful people.

But soon his ego got the better of him. He pushed the wrong people, and they started pushing back. Public disapproval rose. The media no longer liked him. The powerful no longer associated with him. Joe lost everything he gained in the Senate, but he was still unrepentant in his cause. He still told anyone who would listen that those people on that “list in his hand” were still there and were still a threat… even if Joe could never produce that “list in his hand” or prove that it was real.

Joe died in office as a miserable drunk, and it was believed that he did in fact drink himself to his early grave, but what he left behind remains to this very day.

Today the media is fixated on a different kind of “Joe”. A “Joe” by the name of Joe Wurzelbacher; an everyman in Ohio who challenged a popular Democratic candidate to explain his tax plan and how it would affect him. “Joe the Plumber” is the new political celebrity for Republicans. Their attempt to paint themselves as the candidate for the average hard-working American.

But while the media has been busy hyping up the “Joe” of 2008, the original “Joe” has made a quiet return of sorts.

“Joe the Plumber” meet “Tail-Gunner Joe”, otherwise known as Senator Joe McCarthy of Wisconsin.

The legacy that is Joe McCarthy is one that the Republican Party should never be proud of. It is a legacy of hate and fearmongering for the sake of gaining and holding power.

Joe McCarthy knew how to demagogue an issue. He didn’t need proof. He didn’t need evidence. He just needed to generate fear and hate and hysteria. He knew that as long as people felt scared, they would turn to him to point out “the enemy”.

And while his public targets were seemingly the “elite” in society, namely government bureaucrats, writers, Nobel Laureates, and those in Hollywood, he never let people forget that “the enemy” could even be their next door neighbor.

Fear, distrust, hatred, endless suspicion, they were all part of a divide-and-conquer strategy to keep the masses fearful and thus keep “Tail-Gunner Joe” in power. It probably would be more damnable in society if not for the fact that it has a proven track record of it working.

And while Republican presidential wannabe John McCain is fawning over Joe Wurzelbacher and pledging unending support for him and people like him, the legacy of Joe McCarthy has also been steadily creeping up.

McCain’s running mate, Alaska’s Governor Sarah Palin, talked about “pro-America” and “anti-America” parts of the country. McCain himself accused his Democratic opponent, Senator Barack Obama, of wanting to “lose a war so he could win an election”. The words “treason” and “traitor” are flung at Republican rallies when the subject of Obama comes up.

And then there’s Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who took the “pro-America” and “anti-America” rhetoric up to the next inevitable level by calling for INVESTIGATIONS of WHO is “pro-American” and who is “anti-American”. Yes, you read that correctly. She wants INVESTIGATIONS. She wants the people she deems “anti-American” to be POINTED OUT, with, of course, public enemy numbers one and two being Senator Obama and his wife.

Of course, in all fairness, Congresswoman Bachmann did say that she wanted the NEWSPAPERS to do the investigative digging for her. She didn’t call for CONGRESSIONAL hearings, like the kind that “Tail-Gunner Joe” led fifty years ago that was directly responsible for needlessly ruining so many lives. No, those would be wrong. Plus she knows that she wouldn’t have the political stroke to invoke those kinds of hearings, even if she wasn’t a first-term Republican. Five years ago, such hearing would have been possible, but not today. Certainly not with the Do-Littles in charge of the House.

But perhaps it isn’t the fault of Palin or Bachmann or even of McCain that the legacy of “Tail-Gunner Joe” is making a subtle comeback in the ranks of the GOP. After all, the sentiment of “pro-America” and “anti-America” has been shoved in our collective faces for quite some time, but under the more direct “With-Us or Against-Us” tactic of Karl Rove, John Ashcroft, Vice-President Dick Cheney, and President George W. Bush. If you’re not “with us”, blindly, unquestionably, and without hesitation, then you’re “the enemy.” You’re “against the troops”. You’re “anti-American”. A sentiment that has been stoked by the legions of conservative and neo-conservative talk show hosts that have spent the past eight years basking in the glow of the Bush Imperium and its unchecked powers, much like Walter Winchell basked in the glow of McCarthy in the 50’s. They are the ones that rekindled the demagoguery and the animosity and the hatred and left the fires burning for people like Palin and Bachmann and McCain to pick up and get burnt over.

I would dare suggest, though, that the reason why the legacy of Joe McCarthy continues to come back up like bad take-out food is because there never really wasn’t any JUSTICE over it the first time around!

Let’s look at the major players of that time…

Sure Joe McCarthy died a miserable drunk, but he was merely censured by Congress. He still kept his job and his benefits. He never faced any kind of real accountability for his actions.

Roy Cohn, McCarthy’s hatchet man, was allowed to die in obscure hypocrisy. A Jew who persecuted other Jews; a homosexual who condemned homosexuality and then died of AIDS.

Vice-President Richard Nixon would go on to become President of the United States in 1968, and even though he resigned in disgrace in 1974, he still managed to gain some redemption in retirement.

FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover managed to stay in power and, until his death in 1972, kept his job despite many attempts to remove him from office. He simply wielded way too much political influence to face any kind of accountability for his actions.

Walter Winchell appears to have been the only major player that truly paid the price for the stain of McCarthyism. He lost his job and his credibility, which wasn’t that strong to begin with since he WAS just a glorified gossip columnist.

Sure there were some people that took the fall over McCarthyism. Private “loyalty checking” organizations like AWARE, Inc suddenly discovered that they were legally liable for the damage that they caused over the blacklisting of groups and individuals. But most people involved with McCarthyism were NEVER brought to justice!

There was never any formal declaration that McCarthyism was WRONG. Sure we had some retorts from President Truman and from Edward R. Murrow, and even a few Supreme Court opinions were changed because of what happened, but there was no actual declaration that the efforts of McCarthy and his cronies and his acolytes and myrmidons were in fact WRONG. There was no outright declaration that they DID WRONG or that there WAS WRONG DONE! There was no attempt at repairing the damage wrought over it. There wasn’t even any attempt to formally APOLOGIZE over what had happened to those accused. It was as if these folks simply turned to the ones that they persecuted and said with a straight face “we’ll let you forgive us now.”

Let’s get brutally honest here… one of the major reasons why the stain of McCarthyism continues to remain in the Republican Party is because there was no repudiation of the actions afterwards! There was no admission of guilt, no admission of doing wrong, no admission of doing harm, and thus no justice done on behalf of those harmed. It was a crime against humanity itself, and those that commit this act have yet to be held accountable.

If McCarthy didn’t drink himself to death in 1958, then he would have probably stayed in office and remained a relatively obscure character, much like Senator Robert Byrd is today. He certainly would have had enough supporters to keep himself in office indefinitely. His accountability in the whole matter essentially ended with the vote of censure. That is how both houses of Congress worked then, and it is still how it works today.

McCarthyism was never condemned, because the tactics and the antagonism are still effective tools in the world of politics. What we consider to be a “stain” is, in the eyes of the GOP, an effective varnish for their political platform.

That’s why Governor Palin was quick to apologize over her “pro-America” and “anti-America” statements. That’s why the Republican Party has cut off all of Congresswoman Bachmann’s federal funding for advertising. You bring up the word “McCarthyism” and you remind them of the darkest period of their party’s existence. That’s like reminding them of that “I (heart) Dictatorships” tramp stamp that they got one night fifty years ago after a lot of drinking.

They can deal with being called Nazis, or fascists, or theocrats. They’ve got elaborate retorts for those labels and they’ve had plenty of experience retorting those labels. But they cannot respond against the tag of McCarthyism because they know that deep down inside their core being, they carry within them the seeds of Joe McCarthy’s legacy. Not only do they carry those seeds within them, but they also know that they are willing to use AND HAVE USED that legacy to their advantage whenever possible. It’s like calling a drunk out for being a drunk.

There once was a guy named Joe, and he was no plumber. He was instead the symbol of everything repugnant and repulsive in politics. And as much as the party officials will deny it, this Joe is and always will be more a member of that body politic than a million plumbers ever could be.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Week of 10/20/2008

The Dead-End List
– by David Matthews 2

Did you ever go down a dead-end and not know it?

Maybe you didn’t see the sign. Maybe you weren’t paying attention. Maybe you made the wrong turn somewhere and now you’re driving down a cul-de-sac.

Sort of frustrating, isn’t it? Now you have to turn around and figure out where you screwed up and then try to get back on the right path.

Even more frustrating is when you KNOW that you’re on a dead-end path, and there’s no way to change it.

You see this with apocalyptic movies. There’s that climactic moment where you know the world is going to end and you just wish that there would be something to step in put a halt to it… but you know that it’s just inevitable that things will end in tragedy.

Some people see small towns as dead-ends. People know that they reach a certain peak in life, they make that winning touchdown in high school, they marry their prom date, they find a house and pop out some kids, and they know that this is all that they have; that there are no other challenges before them. That cul-de-sac with the sign saying “dead end” isn’t just for lost travelers. It also serves as the subtle reminder that the best days of their lives are long since over with. (By the way, that probably also explains the whole “starter wife” mentality some folks have.)

Technology certainly has its share of dead-end items. How many of you remember the 8-track cassette? Laserdisc? Betamax? Digital Audio Tape?

How many of you have floppy drives? Back in the 1980’s, those floppies were true to their word… five-inch floppy wafers in flimsy cardboard envelopes. Then they got replaced with three-inch wafers in harder plastic containers. Now you’re lucky if you can find a computer with a floppy drive built in. Everything can be stored on CD, DVD, or on flash drives no bigger than your thumb. The three-inch floppy drive is on a one-way trip to join its five-inch and nine-inch predecessors and the reel-to-reel and data cartridges in obsolescence.

The sad part about dead-enders is when they have no idea that their obsolescence is coming. They go on thinking that things will never change, and really don’t because they are on a one-way course to nowhere.

With that in mind, here are a few other things that pretty much are dead-enders.

Copyright Management – As much as attorneys would want it to be different, the world of copyright management is something that really is a dead-end path.

I’m not saying this because I have something to gain from it. Quite the contrary… I have plenty of works that would be affected by this. I have over ten years worth of columns and several years of audio rants, not to mention two songs of my own creation at stake. I certainly would like to have them protected from someone else coming in and profiting off my work.

But at the same time, copyright management itself has been the victim of way too many slick attorneys and lobbying groups that have come across like a gang of mob bosses, attacking people mercilessly under the arrogant presumption that might makes right. And because they also represent deep financial pockets, they have managed to keep Congress on their side, crafting laws that would supposedly keep exclusive control over their works going in perpetuity forever.

Unfortunately for them, their tactics are not winning any supporters. Copyright piracy is still going strong, partly because the major players operate overseas. So rather than go after those big players, groups like the RIAA and the MPAA are instead going after grandmothers and little kids for having file-sharing programs like Kazaaa. They’re hassling Internet providers and colleges, forcing them to do their own dirty work, and treat people as guilty until they are forced by the courts to admit to be innocent.

And even if the strong-arm attorneys could be corralled, they often write some of the most clueless rules imaginable.

For instance, several subscription websites that I’ve visited in the past all pretty much had the same boilerplate copyright script that said that I am allowed ONE and ONLY ONE download of each image to my computer. But there’s a technical problem with that. Simply by viewing the image in question, you’re actually DOWNLOADING it to your computer. It’s saved in the cache. So if you were to save the image to your hard drive, you’re actually violating the copyright rules because you now have TWO copies. And if you were to visit the website again and the cache on your computer was cleared out (and some folks to that frequently), then simply by viewing it again you’re violating the copyright rules spelled out by that clueless attorney.

All of this could be better managed… if the courts and the legislative bodies were on the side of the people instead of the corporations. Unfortunately, money talks and the thugs walk.

Sadly for them, their actions are pushing for a different trend. “Open Source” is becoming more and more popular, especially with operating systems like Linux and for browsers like Mozilla’s Firefox. Companies are starting to realize not only in the value of “fair use” but also in the value of letting others assist in improving their product.

Copyright management will not be dying with a bang, but with a whimper. The more they push the more they will be pushed back, until eventually they will have to accept that their way is outdated.

Digital Satellite Radio – Once upon a time there was an invention called digital satellite radio. Much like digital satellite television, digital radio was broadcast from satellites in low-orbit over the planet, providing subscribers with crystal-clear service everywhere they go. And they would have plenty of channels to choose from. Channels that would NOT be subject to FCC limitations like terrestrial radio is forced to work with.

At first there were only TWO providers to this new medium. XM and Sirius each provided plenty of channels for subscribers to go through. Controversial shock jocks like Howard Stern and Opie and Anthony were brought over. Playboy Magazine hosted their own Playboy-themed channel. Things were looking good.

Then, sadly, the two providers stopped competing and fell in love with each other. They merged into one company. Now Sirius owns everything.

And that’s the tragedy of this medium… because now that there is no more competition, the push will be to find a replacement. And that replacement will be coming in the form of mobile Internet access. Yes, if you can surf the web, you will have access to an unlimited number of online radio stations for you to listen to at your leisure.

That, of course, terrifies Sirius and all of the various groups and companies that have invested heavily into this new government-endorsed monopoly. It terrifies them so much that they have conspired to use the government to try to destroy Internet radio. But sadly, in the long run, it won’t work. Advances in wireless networking will make Internet-based radio services as prevalent as Sirius is today.

It won’t happen overnight, but that expensive Sirius receiver you have will eventually go the way of the 8-track.

Record Albums – Once upon a time you could buy a music single at any music store. They used to be on little 45rpm records or cassettes, or even CDs. They used to be released before any album as a way to whet the appetite of the listeners. Usually you would have the A-list pop hit and then the B-list ordinary song from the album. Unfortunately what happened was that recording studios discovered that people were buying the singles and not the albums. So they started sending out the single releases only to the radio stations and then forcing people to buy the albums at the music stores and other retailers.

Then along came the Internet…

Now thanks to programs such as Apple’s iTunes, you can pick-and-choose what kind of songs you want. You can still buy the whole album, or you can buy just the songs you want to keep from that album.

You can probably guess what this means, don’t you? Thanks to iTunes and your computer, you can create your own albums comprised of your own favorites. You can buy just the songs you want, arrange them in the order that you want, design your own cover, name your own album, and save it to your MP3 player or even burn it on a CD that will have the same look and sound as anything the big studios churn out.

This is something that the recording studios and the artists themselves are deathly afraid over. That’s why they tried to KILL the release of the MP3 player just like they managed to KILL the Digital Audio Tape format. Unfortunately for them, they lost, and now they have to come to the realization that the album will eventually go the way of the dodo.

Music stores are already learning to adapt as they start filling their shelves with movie DVDs and with special music DVDs and musical instruments and plenty of gift cards for MP3 service like iTunes. At some point, they will stop calling themselves “music stores” unless they have actual musical instruments to sell.

DVD Movies – This one will take a little longer to disappear, but it eventually will, and I will certainly mourn its passing.

It’s hard to imagine this, but it was just a little more than one generation ago that the only ways that you could watch movies were either on television, heavily edited for content and commercial breaks, or in the theatres. Cable was just starting to come into being, and it was a government-sponsored monopoly at that. Laserdiscs were seen as a novelty item. It was actually the release of the Video Cassette Recorder that brought Hollywood into our homes. Digital Video Discs (or Digital Versatile Discs – could be interpreted either way) are just the next generation of this medium, allowing people to view movies in better quality and with a lot of additional features that couldn’t be put in a linear medium like a VCR.

Sadly, though, this too is an eventual dead-ender, and again you can thank the Internet for that, although you can also thank your local cable provider.

Cable television is moving into the digital signal business, providing crystal-clear high definition video and theater-quality audio. And now you can order movies “on demand” and watch them anytime you want to, not just when the schedule says you have to. Working in association with Digital Video Recorders (DVR), you can order the latest blockbuster for less money than your typical DVD release, have it recorded on your personal DVR, and then you can watch it over and over again, including pausing and rewinding and fast-forwarding to your best scenes.

The next step will be to have the WHOLE package available for you to download.

It’ll work like this: you’ll shop for your movies online. When you find the movie that you want, you’ll be able to custom-design the features that you’ll want to see. Deleted scenes, director’s edition, trailers, behind-the-scenes features, everything will be available for you to pick and choose. You only buy the features you want, and then that package, along with a disc source code, will be downloaded to your DVR. You will then be able to view the whole release just as if you were watching a DVD. And you would then be able to burn that release to your own DVD, or keep it on your hard drive.

What that means is that the movie studios will no longer have to waste money coming up with fifteen different releases of the same movie and worry about whether or not people will buy them. I mean, seriously, how many versions of “Blade Runner” do we REALLY need to have?

Playboy Enterprises has already taken the step of terminating its DVD services because of the cost involved with releases. They will instead focus more with videos that would be available online, which means that fans would then have to become their own DVD creators.

Smaller studios are already doing this. The people behind fan-based sequels to Star Trek, such as “Star Trek Phase II” are putting their whole works online along with covers and labels for you to download and put together on your end.

Eventually you will see this with major studio releases. Theatres will probably last a little longer than DVD releases themselves, mostly because of the socialization aspects, but DVD releases themselves will go from physical to digital.

Net Bias – One of the most moronic, bone-headed, greedy, manipulative, mercenary tactics of Internet Service Providers has been their attempts at destroying the concept of net neutrality.

It goes like this: cable companies offer Internet access and tout its fast download speeds as a way for you to sign up for their services. You sign up and you start enjoying those lighting-fast speeds by downloading movies to your computer. Then the cable companies hit you with a letter telling you that you’re taking up “too much bandwidth”, only they don’t really say how or what is “enough”. They start disconnecting that service that they suckered you into getting until you “change your ways”, or until they can force you to subscribe at a more expensive “business” rate.

Sound familiar? Yeah, it’s called BAIT-AND-SWITCH, and it’s an otherwise prosecutable form of FRAUD!

Unfortunately for us, since we are dealing with rich and powerful corporations with a government-sponsored monopoly, the chances of them being prosecuted for this tactic are somewhere between “who the hell are you kidding” and “fuggetaboutit”.

Unfortunately for THEM, though, they are biting the hand that will eventually feed them, because all of the changes going on will require them to move everything online. TV programs, movies, music… and with more and more services going to the Internet, the providers will end up LOSING customers if they continue to pull their bait-and-switch game. Eventually the race will be not to provide the FASTEST service, but the most AFFORDABLE; and unless the cable providers change their ways, they WILL be the ones that will lose that race.

Hmm… there seems to be a lot of things going the way of the dodo thanks to the Internet, huh?

Don’t worry; the last two are totally offline.

Gas-powered Vehicles – Yes the high price of gasoline, and getting most of it from unstable sources, have been hurting Americans for thirty years now. Thirty years of aggravation and frustration and financial turmoil all because we have become socially addicted to having a car for your personal transportation and needing gas for it to run.

Well I have said this before and I will say it again… THERE IS NO FUTURE WITH OIL!

As long as we continue to require gasoline to power our vehicles, we will need to get that gas from oil coming from foreign sources… sources that hate America’s guts and will do anything to destroy it. And everyone knows this. The automakers know this. The oil companies know this. And our politicians especially know this. $700 billion is currently spent to validate this fact, and that number gets higher and higher with every year that passes.

Just think… we could have bailed out Wall Street under the original estimated cost of the Paulson Plan with the money we’re sending over to foreign countries like Iran and Venezuela!

This whole situation has been one abysmal, unacceptable, bureaucratic fuster-cluck after another. We haven’t had new refineries built in over two decades. We’re sending oil through pipelines that are over thirty years old. We’re requiring “boutique blends” that are custom-made for the various geographic regions of the country, so that if there’s a refinery outage like the ones we’ve experienced in 2005 and 2008 those areas go without oil for weeks. The companies aren’t drilling in the lands they are leasing and they want the lands that they’ve been barred from accessing. And the oil coming from Alaska? Those are going into tankers bound for the Pacific Rim! They’re not going to the “lower forty-eight” as was originally promised in the 1980’s.

The automakers aren’t any better! They wasted billions and bet the bank on gas-chugging urban assault vehicles and pickup trucks. Thanks to the gross incompetence of the federal government under President George W. Bush, fuel efficiency standards will only go up and additional 5MPGs by the year 2020! And the automakers are screaming bloody murder over THAT!

Until we get a firm grip on this problem and take definitive steps to correct it, America is headed for a “Mad Max” style DEAD END! And there cannot be enough of an emphasis on those last two words: DEAD END!

Let me be as clear as possible about this: there is no future with oil, and there is no future for any country that relies on oil for their vehicles. The market is just too damned unstable and it has been done so deliberately to gain maximum dependency and make maximum profit, and it will DESTROY AMERICA unless we do something about it!

You want to know where the future is in? It’s in alternative fuels. It’s in the automakers that mass-produce and mass-market personal vehicles that will run on ANYTHING except gasoline! Biofuels, used vegetable oil, water, garbage, electricity… it could be solar-powered for that matter. If they can produce it, and it’s affordable for the consumers, we’ll take it. There’s your new gold rush! There’s your new space race. You want to bring American jobs back? There’s your way in.

And last but certainly not least… the one that I REALLY WISH could never be on this list of dead-enders.

Private Property – I wish this wasn’t on the dead-end list. I really wish that it wasn’t. But sadly, it has to be.

Let’s get brutally honest here… the very concept of private property, from the land we own and the home we live in to the very items we carry on our bodies, is something that has become a dead-end matter, thanks in no small part to our government and especially to our court system.

It first started with zoning laws. Our courts were quick to side with local governments when it came to controlling what would be put on private property. They didn’t want subdivisions being put up next to factories and warehouses. They didn’t want industrial mixing with commercial mixing with residential. That was the rationality. But eventually people discovered that they could use those same zoning laws for more nefarious purposes. They could use those same laws to tell businesses what sort of business they can engage in. They could use those zoning laws to tell homeowners what kind of homes to build and how to build them. And instead of the courts stepping in when they should have, they endorsed it all.

Then it became a matter of “fighting crime”. Asset forfeiture; hurting the “evil criminals” by taking anything that police SUSPECT were used or COULD be used for crime. You show up at the airport with any amount of money and the police will seize that money outright. And then YOU have to go to court to prove that it’s innocent! If you commit a crime and you have a nice enough house, then you are charged with “racketeering” so they can STEAL your house right out from under you. You have a nice car? They’ll take that as well.

The rationality they use is simple… PEOPLE have rights, PROPERTY doesn’t! PEOPLE have due process. PROPERTY has no process. PEOPLE are considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. PROPERTY is guilty until proven innocent by the prosecutor, even if the court says otherwise!

Again, the courts SHOULD have stepped in, but they didn’t. They accepted and endorsed the rationality.

Even if you comply with zoning laws, your home isn’t really yours anymore. Your home is subject to being declared “blighted” by the local government and sold right out from under you to some developer who wants it. It’s called “eminent domain”, and, yes, once again our court system FAILED to step in and put a stop to this sort of abuse. Instead, they accepted and endorsed the rationality used by the local governments to say that it’s all for “tax revenue”.

And then, even if your home isn’t coveted by a rich developer, it can still be subject to the whims of your local neighborhood dictator if you live in a “covenant neighborhood” or an area covered by a “Neighborhood Homeowner’s Association”. THEY get to determine how you run your house, how you maintain it, how to decorate it, and even in some instances what goes on INSIDE your home!

Once again, the courts NEEDED to step in and put a stop to this, and they didn’t. They again accepted and endorsed this abuse.

And now we have “national security”. I’ll see your Fourth Amendment and raise you with one PATRIOT Act and one Department of Homeland Security. We have BAD GUYS hell-bent on destroying America (if the oil companies and the automakers don’t do it first) and we need to know if you’re working with them! BAD GUYS don’t care about the Fourth Amendment, and neither should our government… or so says our illustrious President George W. Bush and his legions of acolytes and myrmidons and soothsayers.

So do you REALLY think that our court system will step in at this point when they have a proven track record of gross ineptitude and malicious constitutional neglect? I didn’t think so!

So where does that leave us? It leaves us with absolutely no property rights at all. We have no say over the land that we own and pay taxes on. We have no say over the home or business that we build on that land. We have no say over the things we put in that home or business. All of these things can be taken away from us on a whim by governments large and small, and once gone it is next-to-impossible to get them back.

Of all of the things that are a dead-end, though, this is one that can be corrected. There CAN be an exit built into this avenue, but to do so will require two things. It will require that we as a people to STAND UP, and it also requires that our court system STEP UP and actually DO what the system was supposed to do in the first place.

And if we don’t, then there is really not too much left before those same government officials start declaring US as PROPERTY.

Most dead-end situations don’t have to be such. Much like the climactic moments of those apocalyptic films, you do hope that there can be a way out of the mess, that it doesn’t have to be THE END. But in order to do that, something has to give.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Week of 10/13/2008

Foul Stench Brewing
– by David Matthews 2

Stop me if you’ve heard this story before.

Man adopts a puppy from the local animal shelter. The shelter worker warns the man that the puppy is a pit bull, with a tendency to be very territorial and very aggressive. The man thanks the shelter worker for the warning, but he doesn’t see anything wrong with this cute little puppy. He trains the puppy to be aggressive, rewards it when it attacks anything he tells it to attack. He laughs when the puppy destroys things, and he thinks that it is absolutely precious when the puppy then comes bouncing back to him with its cute little face.

Time passes and the puppy gets bigger and more aggressive. Neighbors start complaining about the puppy getting too aggressive and too noisy. They accuse the puppy of charging at anyone passing by the property, be it a car, a jogger, or a kid on bike. The man ignores the complaints. Sure the puppy is charging after anyone it sees, but that’s what a guard dog is supposed to do, right? A guard dog guards the property! Besides, the puppy is on a leash, in a fenced-in yard. The neighborhood has nothing to fear… as long as they stay on the other side of the fence.

Time passes again, and the puppy is clearly a full-sized dog now. And the dog is not content with being on a leash. Quite often the dog bites through the leash and charges right up to the fence. The neighbors complain, but the man still doesn’t care. The man thinks the neighbors are dog-haters. They don’t own a dog. They don’t know about dogs. In fact, he accuses the neighbors of intentionally aggravating his “little puppy” just to cause problems.

Then there’s a scare. A neighboring kid makes the mistake of wandering into the lawn to get a ball. The dog charges after the boy, who manages to climb back over the fence in just the nick of time. The neighborhood complains, but the man will hear none of it. It’s the boy’s fault, after all. He intruded. The dog, his “little puppy”, was only doing what it was brought up to do. If the boy stayed on the other side of the fence, he’d be okay.

But then one day his “little puppy” does the unthinkable. After the umpteenth car or kid-on-a-bike passes by, the dog chews through its leash, runs over to the fence and begins to furiously dig underneath. Because it has done this on previous occasions after it has broken from its leash, and its master never did anything about it, the dog doesn’t have to dig long before it is under the fence and out on its own. It starts to chase after kids on bikes and passing cars before finally finding its prey… a mother and little girl in their own yard unloading groceries from the mother’s minivan.

Yes, we HAVE heard of this kind of story before. Sure there are some variations. Sometimes the dog wanders into someone’s home through a pet door. Sometimes the dog catches the kid on the bike. Sometimes the dog is still on the leash and manages to break free from the owner’s grasp. Sometimes the victim is an elderly woman. Sometimes the victim is a little baby. Sometimes the victim is badly mauled and lives. Sometimes the victim dies.

There are all of these variations. But they all have certain common elements. They all have a dog that is brought up by their owner to attack and destroy, a dog with a history of being overly aggressive, and the owner refuses to accept responsibility for their actions, even after someone dies.

The absolute arrogance of certain dog owners to systematically refuse to accept any kind of accountability for the monster that they intentionally created is mind-blowing! In one instance the tragedy actually happened right in front of the owner, and the owner still would have a straight face and deny any kind of accountability and just could not explain what happened!

Sadly, we face the same kind of tragedy with humans.

There is a foul stench that has been brewing in conservative and neo-conservative circles concerning Senator Barack Obama. It is a stench that has been brewing for quite some time, only now it has become more apparent.

That stench comes from the level of cult-like fanaticism emanating from the ranks of conservatives and neo-conservatives. And where once that stench was kept firmly in place and in check, it has boiled over in recent days.

As the November elections get closer and closer, the fanaticism amongst the John McCain/Sarah Palin camp has been getting worse and worse. Crowds now shout out “traitor” and “treason” when the name Obama comes up. Some have even called out for his demise. “Off with his head” serves as the more polite statement.

These are people who have been fed a steady stream of information about Obama and his past, and whether or not that information is the truth or fiction, it certainly has had the desired effect of riling them up, much like that stereotypical pit bull. They are now frothing at the mouth, seething with rage and anger. They’ve gone beyond being “bitter’. Now they’re saying that they’re genuinely afraid that they may have to deal with a Barack Obama presidency and they refuse to accept that.

Further aggravating the situation is Vice-Presidential wannabe Sarah Palin, the self-professed “pit bull with lipstick”. She has recently been stoking the fires of hate and resentment by bringing up Obama’s wafer-thin connection to William Ayers, a man who three decades ago was responsible for several bombings in this country, and using that to accuse Obama of “palling” with terrorists.

On the onset it sounds relatively tame… just another Rovian mudslinging tactic.

But lurking behind this negative attack was something that has been brewing long before Barack Obama ever set foot on D.C. soil, much less run for president: a profound and disturbing bias against, and perhaps even an outright HATRED of, Muslims.

And it didn’t take much to play on that. The folks in talk radio and in the White House all have been stirring that pot since 9/11, reminding people just who was responsible for that day, and what religion they claimed to have done it for. The White House and other key groups could not come out and say it, but there have been plenty of people – ministers and laypeople alike – that were willing to come out and claim that the “War on Terror” was really a holy war… THEIR holy war. All it takes is to drop a few key words, like “terrorist”.

And now here comes Barack Obama… someone who is dark-skinned. Someone with a Muslim father. Someone who said that he would be willing to talk with leaders of hostile nations… hostile MUSLIM nations. It really doesn’t take too much effort to morph that into accusing Obama of BEING a Muslim! Or, worse yet, a SECRET Muslim. A sleeper-cell “Manchurian Candidate” figure being groomed for the “ultimate goal”. Someone who “hangs around” with terrorists.

So thus we have little old ladies showing up a Republican rallies saying “I’ve read about Obama and… he’s an Arab!” And that’s far from the truth of course, but in her simplistic brainwashed mind and in the minds of those like hers, that’s all that they know.

Let’s get brutally honest here… much like that stereotypical pit bull, these conservatives and neo-conservatives have been slowly indoctrinated to HATE and ATTACK anything that is not like them. It’s been slowly encouraged and coddled and now it’s reached a point to where it can become dangerous. A point where it could lead to tragedy.

And although John McCain TRIED to talk down the raging crowd in one instance, it wasn’t long before he started acting like that stereotypical oblivious pit bull owner again, coming to the defense of his “cute little puppy” once the neighbors start complaining. That’s not good enough for someone who wants to become a leader of the WHOLE United States, not just the extremists.

History has shown where this kind of pervasive antagonism leads to, and it’s not pretty. And in several instances, what sparks it is otherwise innocuous. A child whistling at a woman. A government building burns down. What follows these events, though, are the product of years of hatred generated and stirred-up and indoctrinated into society. It goes beyond reason. It goes beyond rationality.

And in fact, it can be said that two of America’s most notorious and RECENT domestic terrorists were a product of this kind of antagonism. Eric Robert Rudolph, currently spending his life in Supermax, and the late Timothy McVeigh were both domestic terrorists, and they both were a product of this kind of antagonism. The late Paul Hill, an anti-abortion activist that was executed for the premeditated murder of a doctor, surrounded himself with antagonistic messages until he became so poisoned by them that he chose to take action.

John McCain needs to understand that he has a veritable powerkeg on his hands. An angry pit bull that he needs to contain before it breaks through and causes tragedy. The so-called “negative campaigning” is doing more than just turning off voters. It’s further antagonizing his own supporters, driving them further and further down the path of fundamentalist extremism. They are literally becoming the very hate-mongers that they claim to abhor in the Middle East!

Is that what John McCain wants to have attached to his name and to his campaign? Is that the kind of thing that he wants to be associated with?

At some point this antagonism will come to a head. It may come to a head after this election, maybe even BECAUSE of this election, but it WILL come to a head at some point if nothing is done about it.

Fortunately, humans are not like pit bull dogs. We CAN turn off the antagonism. We can prevent the situation from becoming a tragedy. But in order to do that, those in charge first need to understand that they HAVE a problem and that they are the ones that need to take action before it becomes a tragedy.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Week of 10/06/2008

Ghost of Willie Horton
– by David Matthews 2

In the 1988 Presidential Campaign, Democratic presidential nominee and then-Governor of Massachusetts Michael Dukakis was plagued with problems.

He tried to show his credibility as a potential Commander-in-Chief by riding around in the turret of a loaned M1-A tank. It only served to make him look ridiculous. He tried to use his state’s economic success to his advantage, but it was quickly pointed out that the programs that he tried to claim were his actually came from his predecessor, and that his state was really on the brink of some severe economic hard times because of his own policies. He tried to offset the liberal whitewash by reminding people that his opponent, then-Vice President George H.W. Bush, was the heir apparent to the Reagan Administration and was stained by the Iran-Contra scandal, but that mess was reduced to being nothing more that just political games.

And then along came “Willie Horton”.

“Willie Horton” was an October ad campaign by the late GOP strategist Lee Atwater. It pointed out that, as governor, Dukakis vetoed a bill that would have barred convicted murderers from taking part in a weekend furlough program. One of the consequences of that bill was that a convicted murderer named Willie Horton walked away from his furlough program and escaped to Maryland, where, in 1987, he kidnapped a young engaged couple and brutally assaulted them both, including raping the woman twice, before making off in the fiancée’s car. The brutality of the crime and the systematic failure of the Massachusetts bureaucracy were so strong that the judge in Maryland categorically REFUSED to allow Horton to be returned to Massachusetts to face charges. He is still behind bars in Maryland today, rotting away in a prison cell for two consecutive life terms plus 85-years.

This was the damnable information that Atwater gave to Vice-President Bush to go after Dukakis.

It didn’t help matters much that Horton was a black man and that his victims were white. In fact, the racial facts of the circumstances helped to further contaminate the issue so badly in the minds of voters that even help from Presidential wannabe Jesse Jackson couldn’t dilute it.

Atwater continued to press the issue. Working with then-consultant Roger Ailes, Atwater came up with a devastating commercial spot which showed prisoners going in and out of prison through a revolving door. The voiceover then linked that to Dukakis’ policies as governor and said that Dukakis “wants to do for America what he's done for Massachusetts. America can't afford that risk!”

And it didn’t. The voters overwhelmingly supported Vice-President Bush, and he went on to become our forty-first President of the United States. Atwater became the chairman of the Republican National Committee before his death in 1991. Ailes would go on to become the Chairman of Fox News. Dukakis, meanwhile, left Massachusetts in a mess and went off to Hawaii to become a college professor. And, of course, Willie Horton is still behind bars.

But the ad campaign itself… the damnable smearing racially-charged campaign ad… remains as a prime example of dirty politics. Every dirty-trick campaign since then, especially the ones launched during October, is compared to “Willie Horton” in terms of its devastation and response. Democrats learned a particularly hard lesson because of that campaign.

Well now the “Willie Horton” campaign is back, but in a slightly different variation.

Almost from the moment his campaign started, Senator Barack Obama has been plagued with accusations about his past. He has been accused of being either a Muslim or a “closet Muslim”. He was accused of being schooled in a private Muslim school. They even accused him of not even being eligible to become President.

But there was one ad that kept on creeping through here and there. Ailes’ own Fox News even “accidentally” gave it air time when their commentators were hashing out another dirty campaign ad, even though they had earlier claimed to “reject” the ad. It was an ad that linked Obama to William Ayers, the founder of the 1960’s domestic terrorist group Weather Underground. Ailes’ Fox News rejected that ad in favor of one that linked Obama to real estate developer Tony Resco, who was recently convicted for tax fraud and extortion.

But even though the ad didn’t get too much airtime in the media, the accusation of Obama being “good friends” with Ayers, who admitted bombing the US Capital Building in 1971, continued to be spread through conservative and neo-conservative websites and mailing lists. Conservative authors Jerome Corsi – from the 2004 “Swift Boat” campaign – and David Freddoso churned out books continuing the link between Obama and Ayers.

Now Vice-Presidential wannabe Sarah “Lipstick Pit Bull” Palin has picked up where Fox News and Corsi and Freddosco left off, accusing Obama of “palling around” with Ayers. She has repeated this message not just once but in several of her post-debate speaking engagements to accuse Obama of supposedly siding with “terrorists”.

It should be pointed out, of course, that Obama is black… and Ayers is white. There is also a significant difference from the Dukakis-Horton link in that Ayers was never convicted for the crimes that he later admitted to doing. All charges against Ayers and his wife were dismissed in 1980 because of systemic screw-ups in the FBI.

This also wasn’t a “last-minute surprise” like the Horton attack ads were. The first group that actually made the link and ran with it was the failed presidential campaign of Senator Hillary Rodham-Clinton, the same former First Lady that is now campaigning heavily for Obama.

So what IS the connection? Everyone likes to talk about it. The cons and neo-cons want to bring it up all of the time. So WHAT IS IT?

According to all of the media sources that investigated this over and over again – and, depending on your political affiliation, you may discount them at your leisure – Obama and Ayers lived in the same neighborhood in Chicago and were members of the same community organizations from 1995 to 2001, and Ayers had hosted one campaign event for Obama in 2001 when he first ran for the Senate.

THAT IS IT, folks! That is the connection!

Deep, isn’t it? I haven’t seen a connection as clear-cut since “Twin Peaks” aired on ABC!

Now you can see why Fox News refused to accept the Ayers ad… even though they turned around and “accidentally” aired it anyway. At least linking Obama to Resco would be a little more clear-cut. Resco actually donated money to Obama’s campaign, and he was RECENTLY convicted for his crimes. Ayers has NEVER been convicted of any of the crimes he admitted to over three decades ago… back when Obama was but a single-parent child. And there has been no proof of any kind of contact since that one-time event in 2001.

By the way, it should be noted that when Governor Palin was talking about the painfully anorexic link, she was referring to a New York Times article which actually REFUTED it! It’s like the Times printing an article saying that the moon is not made of green cheese and then you running around saying “Did ya hear? The Times says the moon is made of cheese!”

Let’s get brutally honest here… this kind of political slime is not only reprehensible, it’s downright dishonorable. This guilt-by-distant-association crap is nothing more than the “Willie Horton” campaign coming up all over again, only with the races reversed and the association so badly linked it seriously questions one’s credibility, if not their sanity.

If a congressman lived in the same neighborhood as a registered sex offender, would that congressman then be accused of aiding that sex offender? Absolutely not! Even if they went to the same restaurants or shopped in the same warehouse discount store.

And yet that is EXACTLY the kind of perverse logic being employed by conservatives and neo-conservatives when they link Obama to Ayers simply because they lived in the same neighborhood and took part in the same community groups. The kind of rationality that says that you are guilty for simply KNOWING or being anywhere NEAR someone dubious.

And given the basic fact that you’re dealing with people in Washington DC, such a rationality can come back to haunt you. Anyone remember the Keating Five? If you’re going to judge people by the neighbors that they keep, you’d better first check with your own neighborhood. And that goes double for Governor Palin. Or has she already forgotten about her “good friend”, indicted Senator Ted Stevens?

Look, one of the reasons why the “Willie Horton” campaign succeeded was that somewhere beyond the racism and the fearmongering was the simple fact that the Massachusetts justice system failed, and it failed in part because Governor Dukakis failed to fix a problem that he would later have to answer for. Here in this new inverted perverted version of that campaign, you have characters whose only common connection is beyond credibility. Governor Palin and the rest of the GOP would do best to stick to the rhetoric that they can answer for later on, especially since they also claim to be the candidates for “ethics” and going beyond “politics as usual”.