March 28, 2010

My Name Is Called Disturbance

I've lately been reading a lot of commentary regarding the increasingly violent advocacy emanating from the people who still think Ozzie and Harriet represent the political and social norms of the United States. These are the people who now want to take William F. Buckley's philosophy of "standing athwart history yelling STOP!" and put it into practice through street violence in a misguided attempt to save the nation by destroying it.

From somewhere a memory stirred, inspired by the topic, and after reviewing it, I remembered exactly what it was. 1968. Vietnam. Civil rights. Economic disparity. And a great deal of unfocused outrage that would lead to the Weathermen. The Left seemed to be on the move, and the Rolling Stones captured the mood in their "Street Fighting Man":

Ev'rywhere I hear the sound of marching, charging feet, boy
'Cause summer's here and the time is right for fighting in the street, boy
. . .
Hey! Think the time is right for a palace revolution
'Cause where I live the game they play is compromise solution
. . .
Hey! Said my name is called disturbance
I'll shout and scream, I'll kill the king, I'll rail at all his servants

This mood was -in 1968- more propaganda than actuality despite the rise of the Weathermen, whose entire output of "revolution" is far exceeded by just one day's IED activity in Baghdad. But the threat was enough to motivate certain blocs of the Democratic Party base to shift allegiances and put Richard Nixon in power. These fearful actions seemed justified with the outrages committed by the Manson tribe, which itself helped to still the waters when upper-middle-class college students were gunned down by Nixon's "tin soldiers" at Kent State and Jackson State colleges. No one wanted to be the next one to die over a war lie. Everyone wanted to get back to where we once belonged, only that time had passed, never to return.

But the streets were again quiet, and society had allowed the violent suppression of protest to achieve this Potemkin Peace to become the norm. A state of calm seemed to return to the land, and we could again feel secure enough to dream big - even if the dream itself was a falsehood intended to cover a multitude of sins committed in the name of The Dream.

But like all pipe dreams, reality will intrude into the fantasy once the effects wear off. It always takes more substance to reach that same plateau in nirvana, and the cost of the trip soon becomes excessive. Those ensnared in the fantasy have trouble adapting to that revitalized reality, even fighting against their best interest to return to that relatively numb condition which is self-interpreted as idyllic.

It is thus with the Tea Baggers and their ilk. They want to return to a time when "people knew their place", when they knew that theirs was at the top of the heap. They see all the gains made by minorities as having been taken away from them and want to reverse those changes. The elections of 2006 and 2008 took away their governmental majority, leaving them impatient and worried that something might happen to change their perceptions of power and status before it could be regained. Not willing to wait to use the political process in that effort, they have adopted the tactics of the 1960's and are issuing calls for "a palace revolution". The call is answered with "the sound of marching, charging feet" as those who want the world BACK the way they thought it was (and they want it that way NOW) "shout and scream 'I'll kill the king'" and "rail at all his servants" who attempt to explain why those demands cannot or should not be met.

But to achieve power, the "game is called disturbance". Stage a raucous protest to stop the proper counting of ballots so that a partisan judiciary can decide who "really" won for the voters. Be obstructive in the passage of legislation and then scream that you weren't allowed to participate. Then attempt to make sure that no implementation of any change can happen. That attempt uses the implied threat of violence to turn the electorate once again as it did in 1968. Only like in 1968, the turn realized was not the turn intended.

The focus on the street violence of 1968 was intended to remove Lyndon Johnson's clique from power, not to facilitate the installation of Richard Nixon. It was a calamitous miscalculation. The threatened violence from the Tea Baggers (aided and abetted by the forces of social control in ways that the '60s radicals could only dream about) is intended only to remove Barack Obama and his clique from power, not to facilitate the rise of a fascist corporate state. It will prove to be a calamitous miscalculation if these people succeed.

Those out in the streets shouting about how Obama is a fascist/communist/socialist/Muslim extremist wouldn't know a real extremist if they met one in the mirror. They don't know for whom their efforts will directly benefit, choosing to believe the lies that they are the patriots saving their country from radicalism by being radicals. Should those who will benefit from the theocratic destruction of the expressions of popular democracy achieve their desired corporatist goals, these Tea Bagger fools don't think for one minute that the snake they ride will turn on them. They don't know about how Hitler turned on the Brown Shirts who made it possible for him to rise to power. The don't know how Lenin and Mao both purged the ranks of those deemed untrustworthy to the revolution once their usefulness had expired. It can't happen here! We're Americans!

It was so then, and so will be again if the Tea Bagger path is followed to its logical conclusion. No corporatist power elite is going to reward those who fought their fight by allowing them to realize any benefit from the effort. The Tea Baggers will be disarmed and put into the same place where everyone else landed. They won't have any of the rights they now think they are defending, as everyone of these is anathema to proper business management. Only then will they see the light, and their power will have been dissipated in creating their own prisons. They will be out of options.

Many current commentators express the opinion that the excesses of the Tea Baggers will work against them in the long run. I wish I could agree. While the historical norm is for radicalism to quickly die out, or to get so extreme that it loses popular support, sometimes that doesn't happen before the entire social norm is overthrown. The ensuing anarchy always produces totalitarianism. As there is evidence that big money is behind these "populist" protests and actions, one can only assume that anarchy is the strategy and totalitarianism the goal. And the more the Tea Baggers are whipped up to bring on socio-political Armageddon in America, the more likely that elitist totalitarianism is the outcome of the effort - no matter the alleged renunciation of the means of achieving that goal.

It CAN happen here, especially because we're Americans.

March 8, 2010

Well, I'll Be A Wealthy Monkey's Uncle!

I think I have just discovered why it is that Republicans tend to prefer religious beliefs over evolution (or science in general for that matter - unless it involves killing or destroying). It would have to do with the fact that Republicans are not evolved themselves. Let's examine the data.

I had this flash of insight while reading about a study of bonobos and sharing published in Current Biology. Researchers discovered that bonobos will voluntarily share food -even surmounting difficulties to do so- rather than eat alone.

This was considered a human trait until someone noticed that when Republicans invite people to dinner, it's so that the guest can pay for it. The guest is usually quite willing to do so (if already wealthy), for then the Republican will return the favor in the form of some very generous government contract.

There is some evidence that Democrats share this trait as well, but maybe in smaller numbers due to it being a recessive gene. For instance, California Senator Dianne Feinstein was a reliable liberal vote up until her husband was awarded a Pentagon contract worth as much as $3.1 billion of YOUR MONEY even if the resulting heat caused her to resign her committee seat. There are other and far more lucrative allegations of mutual grooming-style economic corruption, but I'm already far afield from my simian premise.

Despite the evidence of voluntary sharing in bonobos, this trait of currying future favor might also be shared by them if a research question regarding the motive for sharing is borne out by further study. Male chimpanzees are known through study to give "gifts" of food to female chimps in trade for precedence when the female goes fertile (they would also throw in a movie after dinner if they cared about such things!). So if the suspicion about bonobos' motivations for sharing are determined to be a valid assessment, it would mean that bonobos -our nearest great ape relative after the chimpanzee- are no more evolved than are Republicans. This would not be a good sign, inferring that maybe humanity is not as evolved as we like to believe we are.

It would explain a lot!

March 7, 2010

A Proposal In Order To Save The Union

If there is one thing that the Left and Right agree on, it’s that government is broken.  The details of why are vastly different, but at least they agree that it needs to be fixed.  What follows are just some of the major changes to government that I would make in an attempt to set right the huge mess we have today.  What you won’t see is a partisan redesign that strongly favors any political party.  I am not a member of any such organization, and I don’t believe there is one that represents my interests.  What you will find is a common theme, one directed by the very principle that our Constitution is built upon, a government for the people, by the people.
Abolition of all political parties.
Political parties have demonstrated consistently that they do not represent the American people.  They represent their own interests, predominantly the accumulation of power and wealth.  The do not govern with the interest of the people in mind, only their own self-serving agenda.  These are the very reasons George Washington himself advised against the rise of political parties at the outset.  His wisdom was ignored, but it’s never to late to take heed and reverse course.  The loss of political parties also means that an elected official must represent the people that elected them, not a powerful special interest group for elitist control.
Public funding for elections.
I know, I know, that’s a very high cost that has to be made up in some way.  While there are details to work out, such as how to pay for it and how much everyone should get, the benefits outweigh the cost.  You see, I’m not talking about additional funding for campaigns.  I’m talking about strictly limiting funding for campaigns to only public funds.  Candidates can not use their own personal wealth.  They can not receive political donations from PACs or corporations.  They can’t be bought by sweetheart deals from powers beyond.  By eliminating the use of private wealth we also severely limit a wealthy elite from seizing control because everyone has the same amount of cash.  A more level field has never existed.
Term limits for Congress.
I propose that term limits for the House be set to a maximum of four three-year terms and the Senate be limited to two six-year terms.  Both Houses would potentially have longer service than any single president and could govern during three different presidencies.  This gives the legislative body more consistency than any administration, but the nature of term limits prevents career politicians from becoming so entrenched that graft and corruption are practically a given.  Also, extending the length of a term in the House by a year slows down the immediate drive to begin campaigning on the first day of the job.  
Elected officials can not accept gifts from lobbyists.
This doesn’t mean that lobbyists are to be banned, only that special interest organizations cannot be permitted to unduly influence the course of legislation by bribing politicians with “gifts” or sending them on trips or other such nonsense.  Additionally, lobbyists can’t be permitted to take them out for dinner or some other private meeting.  When a lobbyist meets with an elected official, it must be in that official’s government office and during normal business hours.  A public log of who they met with must all be kept and published so we, the people, can track who is trying to persuade our representatives.  
Reverse Citizens United decision.
Corporations are not people, pure and simple.  The idea of corporate personhood is preposterous and dangerous.  Unfettered spending sprees by corporations, even indirectly, in support of one politician or another still permits undue influence.  While I do believe organizations, including PACs, businesses, and unions, have a right to publish a statement of support or opposition to a candidate for office, the idea that they can spend as much money as they want in order to produce propaganda to sway the electorate is a terrifying proposal.  We have already limited campaign funding, and now we must limit indirect support.  Organizations are not people and therefore are not subject to the full application or support of the 1st Amendment.  In order to maintain a government by and for the people, actual flesh and blood people need to be the deciding force, not businesses or other organizations.
There are other changes I would propose, but these tend towards operational details like reminding the Senate that their job is to represent their home state and its interests at the federal level while the House is to represent the people of a specific area in that state.  As you can see, these are not small changes.  They are big, big overhauls but I believe they would be the foundation upon which our government would be returned to us, the American people, and taken away from powerful, elite groups that care not one damn bit about what is good for us.  We are the majority,  we are the masses, and this is our country.  It belongs to us and I want it back!

Raising Arizona Cain

I often worry about people I know from Arizona. There seems in them to be a combination of extreme arrogance that would make a Texan jealous and a level of stupidity that would make the most ignorant Appalachian appear to be Einstein.

The New York Times offers an amazing assessment of what it takes to get an Arizonan riled. Using the tax payers' property as a cash cow doesn't faze them one little bit, nor does the arrival of those damn liberals from Jon Stewart's Daily Show to make fun of the situation.

No, it takes something far more important to get Arizonans upset. It takes not having any public outhouses on the Interstates anymore. That just chaps their hides!

NYT also reports that Arizona has the largest budget shortfall of any state when measured as a percentage of the total state budget. They don't cite a link or source to support this statement, but the state Department of Transportation allegedly has a $100 million dollar shortfall and had to take action. There was no reserve.

It seems that the Arizona Legislature was under a great deal of pressure to pass a budget which dealt with the state's $3 billion deficit and not include any additional taxes. They slashed aid for various needy children programs to facilitate this effort. Needy children don't vote, so who cares, right? So if they were willing to throw kids under the bus, you know they mean business! So sorry Arizona travelers! There just wasn't any money to keep these public conveniences available. We're only doing what California, Colorado, Georgia, Vermont and Virginia have done!

"Why don’t they charge a quarter or something?" whines one woman interviewed by the Times. “There was one rest stop between here (Pine, AZ) and Phoenix, and we really needed it.” But another woman reveals what is truly important to your typical Arizonan: “I honestly think they are setting us up because they want to do a tax increase, I think by shutting down things people want, they will give us one.”

Is it not ever thus? You get in financial trouble, and you are on your own. But when the big guys need assistance, they put you on the spot to bail them out with your tax money. But our second distaff dissenter ignores the forest for the trees. The government might well shut down valued assets like public highway convenience stops, but they cannot "give" the tax payers an increase unless the tax payers do nothing to stop them.

Here in California, anti-taxers are on the spot whenever a Sacramento politician even hints at a new tax. In fact, they are almost as fast as when the California Legislature in thinking about cutting a valued public service - like road maintenance. This state lives, thrives, or dies on its highways. Nothing infuriates a Californian more than to not be able to get their motor runnin' and head out on the highway lookin' for adventure,

Yet they aren't about to willingly pay for these highways to hell-raising. They blame the high costs of road maintenance on Cal-Trans workers for being so greedy by not working for Wal-Mart wages. I would love to see how many Californians would work on third shift with no fixed schedule, and have to work in foul weather conditions, amid dangerous and callous drivers who think it a game to see how close they can come to hitting a road worker while driving 80 miles an hour, and only accept whatever it is that Wal-Mart actually pays (It works out to less than minimum wage, I assure you!).

But California has a much larger population to distribute the road load. When the California cut our budget for roadside rest stops, no one really raised an eyebrow, because there are lots of gas stations and fast food restaurants into which a little rest must fall. Not so in Arizona. One can drive for hours and not see much except the sand and bushes along the side of the roads. It isn't too much different from when the stage coaches used to cross the desert; not an air conditioned 7-11 or a Circle K in sight for miles and miles and miles and miles and miles!

So the plight of our deprived Arizonans raises the much bigger issue of what we do about the economic reasons we are all about to have to make adjustments, not only in our standard of living, but in our standards generally. Closing the rest stops only means that we go back to squatting behind a bush and hope that there is no rattlesnake taking a nap in it.

Arizonans should be paying attention to what is happening in Colorado Springs. Up there, they have essentially eliminated ALL civic services because the people don't want to pay for them anymore. I haven't researched it in detail yet, but I suspect that the people there don't feel they use little things like street lights very much and don't want to have to pay for them. Public Safety? They think their Glock will protect them just fine, thank you very much, so who needs police or fire when the pioneers had neither?

All of these situations point out a sad truth about life in America today. There never was a free lunch, and it's now time to go over the list of where the money goes. Many things is going to have to come to an end and that is going to be that. You can't have it all. Only the people have yet to catch up with that reality. They still want the world and they want it now! Free! At No Cost!

I just wish there was enough wisdom in the people to do more than complain after the fact. This reckoning has been a long coming time, and people chose to believe economic fairy tales instead. Had earlier action been taken, these closings -and many other painful losses- could have been avoided if wisdom and foresight were common attributes. But venality and selfishness are the norm today. We can no longer pay to play, so we can just go shit on the roadsides.