Monday, January 31, 2011

Week of 01/31/2011

Ethics or Politics? Choose!
– by David Matthews 2

Imagine someone coming up to you and just handing you an envelope full of hundred-dollar bills. Doesn’t explain why, just that it’s “a gift”. The following month, you get another envelope just like it. And again, and again, and again.

Eventually you get to know this strange benefactor. You know his name, but he doesn’t really explain why he’s giving you the money, just that at some point in the future he’d ask for something, and you’d better do what he asks.

Years go by, and then one day this benefactor is in your home, with a gun pointed at your family members. He tells you that it’s time to “pay up” for all the money that he’s been giving you. All you have to do is watch as he uses your family members as target practice. You don’t have to pull the trigger; just stand there watch. If you try to stop him, though, he’ll demand ALL of the money back that he’s been giving you for all those years.

Is it worth it? Is it worth watching your family members die right in front of you by the guy who has been giving you hundreds of dollars over the years?

That’s precisely the kind of deal that America has had to work with for countless decades now.

On one hand, we have this so-called “American Exceptionalism”… that circular logic from Alexis de Tocqueville that declares that we are great BECAUSE we are great, and BECAUSE we are great, we have an obligation to share that “greatness” to others. We “love” freedom, and we want to supposedly SHARE this freedom with as many nations as we can. (That part is also known as “Manifest Destiny”.)

Then on the other hand we have… POLITICS. Amoral, sociopathic, “let’s make a deal”, “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours”, and then “dance with the one who brought you”. Politics dictates that you have to make deals with people that you otherwise don’t want to work with in order to get something that you want.

And that brings us to that unfathomable deal I mentioned… getting hundreds of dollars every month over a series of years in exchange for watching your “benefactor” do something horrid to your family later on. Of course if you KNEW that this would be the exchange from the onset, you’d probably say “no”, which is why that kind of understanding is never made up front.

America has had to make that kind of unsavory deal pretty much from the onset. We sought aid from France and Spain, which at the time were ruled by monarchs, to get rid of the oppressive rule of King George III during the American Revolution. They didn’t do it because they loved freedom; they did it because it was a kick in the Imperial British gonads.

We brokered deals with despots so we could get what we want, and in exchange, we’d often have to help them stay in power, or at the very least not help their enemies remove them from power. It didn’t matter if their enemies were pushing for the same kind of freedom that we cherish. We made the deal; we had to follow through with it.

The problem is that these things have CONSEQUENCES to them!

We back a dictator and what happens? We get linked to that dictator and EVERYTHING that he or she does. And then everything that we supposedly “stand for” and “cherish” and “desire” becomes suspect.

Oh, we like “freedom”? So why are we supporting someone who is running a police state and throwing people in prison for wanting the very things that we take for granted here? Would WE want that in our country?

Let’s get brutally honest here… yes; we are hypocrites when we do this. We’re not just SEEN as hypocrites… WE ARE hypocrites when we trade in our ethics for politics. There’s no getting around it. All of the breast-beating and talk radio bleating about “freedom” and “liberty” and “founding fathers” and “heritage” and “history” means absolutely NOTHING… NOTHING AT ALL… if we don’t practice what we preach!

What’s worse is that history has shown repeatedly that backing the wrong political horse HAS come back to HURT US!

We backed the Shah of Iran in the 1950’s. Not only did we back him, we helped stage the coup that put him in power. (You can thank the team of Eisenhower and Churchill for that little deal.) And because of the Shah’s dictatorial ruling style, we became linked to anything bad he did. Sure we excused it as being “needed” for oil, and “needed’ for the Cold War, but it also gave room for a theocratic cleric named Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to take over in the mid 1970’s. So rather than “spread freedom” to other lands, we are responsible for putting a dictator in charge, and then setting the conditions for a theocrat to come to power. And we’ve been paying the price for that deal ever since!

We backed a thug in Iraq named Saddam Hussein. Not only did we back him, we gave him ENDLESS arms and supplies, which he used not only against the Iranians, but also against his own people. We ended up paying DEARLY for that little deal, didn’t we? And not just once. In fact we COULD have removed Hussein from power after Operation Desert Storm, and we SHOULD have removed him, but we didn’t, because we supposedly made a deal with the other Arab nations to keep him in power. We traded our reputation for reassurance that we wouldn’t have another Khomeini come to power, even though it was our actions that CONTRIBUTED to Khomeini being as powerful as he was.

Same with Manuel Noriega of Panama. We backed him because we supposedly “needed” him to help supply the Contras in Nicaragua. Yet another “Cold War” deal… better dead than Red, right? Or, in our case, better to be hypocritical bastards than to let another country in our hemisphere go Communist, right? Bad enough we dropped the ball with Cuba…

So now we have people rioting in Egypt. People aren’t happy with the ruling style of their leader. The people there aren’t happy, period. Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, who sees himself less of a leader of people and more like the pharaohs of old, was reportedly trying to stay in power long enough to turn the country over to his son. Too bad a failing economy and those pesky little peons have to spoil it. I mean, the country there has only been under “Emergency Law” since 1967. (That’s a little nudge to those Americans who think that the USA PATRIOT Act is as “temporary” as they claim it to be.)

But… Mubarak is our “friend”, right? I mean, he’s the only “friend” that Israel has. He helped us out in Desert Storm… never mind that he refused to support the Iraq War in 2003. He’s an “ally” in the so-called “War on Terror”! Shouldn’t we have an obligation to SUPPORT him?

Where does it end? Where do we draw the line and say “NO”?

Think about this… we traded our ethics for power in Iran and we ended up with a nation that encouraged global terrorism against us. We traded our ethics for power in Iraq and we ended up with a monster that we had to send TRILLIONS of dollars and thousands of servicemen to their deaths to deal with. Every time we back the wrong horse around the world, we not only trade out what we believe in, but we also end up creating new enemies that come back to hurt us later on. History has PROVEN this time and time again! When will we figure it out?

There was a German immigrant by the name of Carl Schurz; former US Senator, former Ambassador to Spain under President Lincoln, former Secretary of the Interior under President Hayes, and formerly a Union Army general in the Civil War. He had some strong words to say about patriotism and living up to ideals. He condemned the jingoistic sentiments of the time that screamed “Our country right or wrong” and instead countered with “Our country—when right to be kept right; when wrong to be put right."

And that’s what we need to ask ourselves. When will we have the courage to PUT it right?

It goes back to that deal at the start of the story. The money was exchanged a while ago, the deal has been made, and the family members are lined up. Choose which is more important.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Week of 01/24/2011

Think Benito Not Adolph!
– by David Matthews 2

It is called either “Reducto Ad Hitlerum” or - quite erroneously - “Godwin’s Law”.

It is invoking or referencing Nazi Germany or Adolph Hitler or any of his minions.

Hitler is considered to be the worst, the most despicably evil person that could ever exist. Nazi Germany is supposed to be the worst form of government that could ever exist… even worse sometimes than communism.

In truth, neither really were “the worst ever”. They just were the most recent examples of extreme evil and the abuse of power and trust.

The problem is that some people can’t help but reach for the Hitler/Nazi argument from the start. They are quick to paint anyone who disagrees with them as being evil incarnate thinking that it will immediately end the argument. It does, only not in that person’s favor.

Godwin’s Law is named after Mike Godwin, who speculated that the longer an online discussion goes, the greater the likelihood that the Hitler/Nazi argument will be invoked. This has been morphed into the 1953 “Reducto ad Hitlerum” rule which states that just because something shares certain things with Nazi Germany or Adolph Hitler doesn’t mean that they are one and the same.

So what happens when you HAVE a legitimate comparison to make and you HAVE to turn to the worst of the worst in recent history for people to understand? Even Godwin himself said that his little rule was never meant to deter people from LEGITIMATELY making the comparison when it applies, but that doesn’t stop people from invoking this rule under his name anyway.

What you do is you find a more relevant power-abuser in history, and preferably in the same year.

So who was just as evil, abusive, and vilified as Germany’s most hated leader?

Why… that would be Italy’s own Benito Mussolini.

You see, the magic word that people need to keep in mind when talking about conservative and neo-conservative factions is not “Nazism”, but FASCISM, which Mussolini was eager to champion in the 1920’s when he first took over as Italy’s Prime Minister. In fact, you’ll find that FASCISM is a far greater threat to society that Nazism ever could be, because a lot of things about fascism are being imposed today - and more so than socialism or communism EVER could!

* One Party Government - The GOP has been pushing for nothing less than this for the past decade now. Their pontificators are fixated on the idea that it is the mission of the GOP to become the ONLY political party in America. PERIOD! They don’t just want majority or super-majority or ultra-super-majority status. They want the Democratic Party to be destroyed and for all independents and third party groups to disappear. That leaves only ONE PARTY… theirs.

* Anti-Communism/Anti-Socialism - From Joe McCarthy of the 1950’s to Glenn Beck today, the conservative and neo-conservative factions sling the words “socialism” and “communism” about as frequently as liberals sling accusations of “racism” and “sexism” to describe anyone they oppose.

Bear in mind as well that Mussolini himself was expelled from the Italian Socialist Party in 1914 for his stances, and not even a decade later his new National Fascist Party were engaging in blatant terrorist attacks on socialist offices and even on the homes of socialist leaders.

* Anti-Liberal - Listen to talk radio rhetoric… liberals are described as “cancers”, “disease”, “traitors”, and “enemies of the state”. And they do so with an accusatory tone that BEGS people to start fights. Again, this comes straight out of Mussolini’s playbook.

* Anti-Intellectualism - Doctors are “bad”; lawyers are “bad”; teachers are “bad”; colleges and universities are wastelands of unrealistic dreams conducted by deadbeat slackers who couldn’t succeed in the “real world”. That is the message that they continually project. They crucify science by claiming that they can debunk climate change by turning on the Weather Channel. They glorify jiffy-pop small town mentalities and continually (and fraudulently) claim to represent “families and small businesses”, while their opponents are characterized as “stuffy elitists with their heads up academia”.

* Corporatism - Wall Street can do no wrong. Rampant foreclosures are the fault of people who wanted “something for nothing”. Bank failures are not because of greed but because of “political cronyism”. All regulations are evil and need to be eliminated. Bailouts are “blatant government takeovers” (as long as you discount the Wall Street bailouts of 2008 and the airline bailout of 2001). The private sector can do everything government services are currently doing, including fight our wars, man our prisons, and guard our streets. Those are the messages that are being delivered, and mostly from Wall Street “experts”, and then championed by the conservative and neo-conservative voices.

* Military Cultism - Mussolini was a soldier in World War I. He believed that a nation defined itself through war. Now look at the Neo-Conservative war machine march… Invade Afghanistan. Invade Iraq. Bomb Iran. Bomb North Korea. Bomb Pakistan. Bomb France (“just ‘cuz”). Bomb Mexico. Bomb San Francisco (also “just ‘cuz”). Their universal mantra is that “America is in a state of war”. But while it’s easy to say that it is just an extreme overreaction to the tragedy of 9/11, you need to understand that this particular mantra was being uttered in certain conservative and neo-conservative factions BEFORE 2001!

But it’s more than just loving war. They glorify the warrior too. They beatify the role of the soldier into this super-citizen status that can do no wrong… unless they start questioning the whole thing.

* Self-Defined As Revolutionary - Mussolini sold fascism in the 1920’s as a “third force” in politics, outside of the “traditional” politics. Likewise, today’s conservatives and neo-conservatives continually talk about wanting to herald a new “revolution” and rally against “politics-as-usual”, even though most of the people they end up supporting are career-minded statists. The “Reagan Revolution” in 1980, the “Republican Revolution” in 1994, the “Takeover” of 2000, and now the “Tea Party Revolution” of 2010… and this time around complete with 18th century costumes and rhetoric. It’s interesting, though, that many of the people they end up sending to office are career politicians who end up supporting the status quo.

* Aggressive Authoritarianism - Mussolini was an unrepentant thug. That allowed him to gain power and to keep it even through the world-wide Great Depression. That fits right in with the crowd that talks about “Second Amendment Remedies” and telling people to “Don’t retreat, reload!”

* Nationalism - Who keeps talking about “American Exceptionalism”? Who dares to sit in pious hypocritical judgment about “national honor” because their party isn’t in charge in Washington? Which party bullied states to adopt a nationalized ID system?

* Religiously-endorsed - Despite claims of atheism, Mussolini’s Fascist control was eager to use the power of the church to validate their cause to the masses. In fact a lot of their propaganda invoked church-and-state sentiments that mirror today’s theo-conservative efforts to super-impose religion into government.

But perhaps one of the more dangerous reasons why fascism is more of a threat than Nazism ever could be is that fascism has been far more accepted. In fact prior to the launch of World War II, both England’s Winston Churchill and America’s Franklin Roosevelt didn’t have a problem with Mussolini and the Italian Fascists in charge of that country. Churchill even praised Mussolini for his party’s aggressive stance on law and order.

Let’s get brutally honest here… while we have been fixated on socialism and communism and calling other people Nazis, the real corrupting force creeping into American discourse has been fascism. It’s compatible with conservative and neo-conservative needs, especially in times of crisis, and they don’t have that whole pesky “racial/ethnic/religious genocide” baggage. Plus, when conservatives and neo-conservatives start talking about the origins of Nazis and how it’s German for National SOCIALIST Party, they are actually leaning on those fascist tendencies.

So my advice to the people who criticize conservatives and neo-conservatives is this: please get your insults right. Think blackshirts instead of brown. Forget about that manipulative Austrian-born German dictator, and instead look at the Italian thug that while condemned is still cherished for “making the trains run on time.”

Monday, January 17, 2011

Week of 01/17/2011

When “Good Enough” Isn’t Enough
– by David Matthews 2

In the 1996 movie “Jingle All The Way”, the ever-busy father Howard went out on December 24th to find his son Jaime a “Turbo Man” action figure. He searches all of the stores and finds, much to his disappointment, that this is THE most requested toy in commercial history, and that hardly anyone has it in stock. Hilarity ensues, of course, when he joins all of the other every-busy parents who fight like rats in a cage for that “opportunity” to buy that rare present for their child.

But then mid-way through the film, he is approached by a mall Santa who offers Howard that elusive present. Everything about this screams illicit to Howard, but desperation sets in and he goes with this “Humanitarian Kringle” to a warehouse where other Santa-clad workers are busy making lookalike toys. He is offered the doll, sight unseen, for $100. He pays the cash and gets a wrapped box.

Now in the film, he opens up the box and finds that that what he bought was a cheap knock-off of Turbo Man with broken parts and a Spanish-speaking voice chip. He tries to get his money back, and further hilarity ensues.

But let’s suppose that it DIDN’T turn out that way. What if Howard just took the box, as it was without opening it, back to his house and put it under the tree for his little boy to find on Christmas Day? No more hilarity. No more competing against a demented postal worker. He could be at the Christmas parade with his wife and child and not worry about looking like a loser.

So it’s Christmas Day and young Jaime goes downstairs and he sees the present from Santa. He gets excited and opens it up, only to discover that that it’s a poorly-assembled Spanish-speaking knock-off. Cue the close-up on Howard, who puts on a phony smile and says “I’m sure this is just a mix-up from Santa.” Pan over to Howard’s wife Liz, who tells Howard that he needs to return the “defective toy” to the store, only to find that it wasn’t bought at a store.

Do you think that either of them would accept Howard’s lame explanation that this was the best that he could get? Do you really think that his son wouldn’t lecture him about honoring his promises? Or would young Jaime simply conclude that his father has let him down… yet again?

One thing is for certain… hilarity would not ensue!

And yet this is precisely the kind of situation that politicians and their soothsayers EXPECT people to buy into readily.

Democrats were quick this past December to declare that the Obama White House had achieved “SO MUCH” in the first half of their term. Their soothsayers started going down every so-called “promise” that was made before the 2008 election and declared that a whopping eighty-five percent of them were accomplished. EIGHTY-FIVE PERCENT!

Now if these “revelations” sound off alarm bells in your mind as being somewhat familiar, then rejoice, because you’re in good company.

The problem with the claim is that if the Democrats really DID accomplish all that they had promised to do, then we SHOULD be in a much better place in this nation.

Take, for instance, healthcare reform. What did they PROMISE? They promised single-payer. They promised public option. They promised the elimination of the myriad of excuses insurance companies use to refuse to cover claims. And they promised the process of coming up with these changes to be transparent so that people would know PRECISELY what they were getting.

Oh well… as Meat Loaf used to sing… “Now don’t be sad, ‘cuz one out of four ain’t bad.”

Oh, wait, that’s not how the song went.

And neither were the promises kept. Single-payer and public option - two heavily-promised tenants - were slaughtered in backroom sessions faster than a TV fall series. And transparency? WHAT transparency? All of these things were lost in the orchestrated chaos paid for by the GOP and the K-Street lobbying gang. And when the dust settled, we ended up with a reform package that benefited the insurance companies in ways that they NEVER expected before the subject came up!

Think about it… who would have imagined a reform program that would FORCE Americans to purchase insurance, regardless of whether they could AFFORD it or not? And to then have it defended to the hilt by the so-called “champions of the poor” simply because it was “the best that they could get”? Oh, that is just the icing on the cake!

Is only fulfilling one-fourth of the work considered a success? Apparently it does in politics.

How about financial reform? Fixing Wall Street and the Too-Big-To-Fail-Banks? We handed out hundreds of billions to them without any kind of conditions put to them, only to have them turn around and put the screws on the very taxpayers that were bailing them out. And when the call came out to “fix” Wall Street and the banks, well, I guess it helps that the “fix” came from their friends in the Congress and spearheaded by their friends in the White House… that came FROM Wall Street.

It still remains to be seen just how “effective” the new Consumer Protection “sheriff” will be on the business world. But given that Elizabeth Warren’s previous position consisted of showing up at every TV show and on Michael Moore’s movie “Capitalism” to explain why she couldn’t DO her position as TARP overseer, one has to wonder if she just traded one “oversight” position for another.

Still, hey, “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” got repealed, right? Who knew they could have pulled that off? Okay, took a bit of political trickery to get past the GOP and their perpetual “NO” machine, but hey, it worked, right? Oh, and extending the payment of unemployment benefits? It only took allowing a $300 billion tax cut to be extended for two years for them to be “allowed” to continue to fund a $3 billion program for another year. That’s like paying $100 and having to haggle over a single penny. But, hey, got it passed, so I guess those fifteen million Americans out of work that have been screwed over by Wall Street SHOULD be thankful for that little pittance, right?

Speaking of the unemployed, don’t you love how the White House re-defined job creation to being “created or saved”? Masterful! Under that newly re-defined term, they can put more effort into funneling money towards infrastructure projects than in actually creating jobs for those fifteen million Americans and still claim to “create jobs”.

And we’re supposed to be “overjoyed” at this, right? Look at all of the “good work” that they’ve done for the American people!

Sound familiar? It should.

How about Iraq and that huge “Mission Accomplished” banner in May of 2003? Only it WASN’T accomplished then. Saddam Hussein was still on the loose at the time (he wouldn’t be captured for seven more months) and we would still lose THOUSANDS of lives before the White House would relent and send more soldiers. Still, the so-called “experts” went down their checklist and said “Well that’s good enough… Mission Accomplished!”

We did this with Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002. Sure we had to go there after 9/11. We HAD to overthrow the Taliban government and go after the terrorists that they were protecting, but then our military and the White House under President Bush said “Well, we overthrew the government and we captured some terrorists and we have the other terrorists on the run… that’s good enough. Let’s work on Iraq.”

Speaking of Iraq, we did that twice to them before the 2002 invasion! We did it in Desert Storm, and in Bill Clinton’s “forget about the impeachment” attack in 1998. In both instances, the “experts” went down their checklists and said “that’s good enough” and then called it a win.

Military experts said the same thing about Vietnam. According to all of the “experts”, we should have WON that conflict, because we “won” all of the battles… or at least all of the battles that THEY wanted us to look at. Never mind that there is no South Vietnam anymore because the North Vietnamese actually WON the whole conflict.

Are you noticing a pattern here?

Let’s get brutally honest here… the problems we face aren’t items on a checklist that can be written off as being “good enough”. They NEED to be resolved!

Imagine President Franklin Roosevelt telling the American people “Well, we bombed Tokyo for payback for Pearl Harbor, we liberated most of Europe and Africa and a few Pacific islands, and we have the Axis Powers on the ropes. That’s good enough… let’s declare World War II over with and call it day.” Do you really think that the American people would have accepted that?

Or how about General Washington telling the Continental Congress “Well, we trounced the Redcoats for a while, we put up a good fight, and we really showed them how angry we are over the whole taxation thing, so let’s just call off the revolution and call it a win?”

Is it any wonder, then, why the Democrats lost control of the US House and stand to lose control of the Senate in the next election cycle? They were busy looking at the checklist and trying to find ways to check everything off when they should have been paying attention to the RESULTS!

“Good enough” is a cheat. It’s a half-assed way of weaseling out of your obligation, and maybe there are times when you have to do that. But don’t turn around and expect people to APPLAUD you for it! Certainly, hilarity would not ensue.