A Novus Incipit Annus

Unlike those who refuse to hold the Bush Administration accountable for their many sins and transgressions, I recognize that nothing exists in a bubble; every circumstance we deal with today was affected by previous events in some way.  For whatever failings Obama may possess, he hardly came into his presidency with a clean slate – no one ever does.  A new year does not eliminate the previous year, there is only the changing of numbers.  There are celebrations of hope for the new year and my hope is that we finally get serious about what we, as a nation, are doing.

I had the mixed pleasure of travelling back to my home of origin and spending a few days with my father and stepmother during Christmas vacation.  My father was a biology professor, long retired now, and the opportunities to see him in relatively good health are naturally coming to a close.  We invariably talk politics, he an old George Wallace-democrat, now Republican; I, a left-leaning don’t-bullshit-me anti-Republican.  Our conversations are ofttimes civil, but they can get heated.  What I didn’t expect, on this Christmas holiday, was to be yelling at my father because of obvious Republican chicanery.  Our topic was one I covered over three years ago.  Here’s how it went down:

My father, stepmother, and I were discussing varying aspects of Washington politics and I tried to not let some of the ignorance light a fuse in me because I understand from where that ignorance comes.  My father was born in Mississippi in 1927.  He is Old South.  He thinks derogatory jokes about black people are funny – because they are derogatory, not because they are funny.  My father is rarely funny.  For all his education, my father is a bigot and it serves no purpose to deny  that.  That’s not to say he is a sheet-wearing, cross-burning yahoo, but the racism is there.  He recognizes achievement and little else.  He is not against people of lower economic situations getting opportunities, but he is against affirmative action.  His answer to reconcile this would likely be “work harder”.  Sometimes that works, sometimes not.  I believe the reason for affirmative action to exist at all is that too often working “harder” was not working.  Perhaps you have a clearer picture of him now.

After I had explained my position on the uselessness of term limits in a party-politics system and that the reason the presidential term is limited is because of FDR’s ability to appoint eight of the nine Supreme Court justices before his death, my stepmother went off to do something else.  My father now had his opportunity to set me straight about Obama.  I don’t know why he has an affinity to world almanacs, but he dug one up and turned to the entry for Obama.  He sat on a footrest in front of me and showed me the book and I saw that many things had been underlined.  I heard the quick intake of air and the stern timbre in my father’s voice as he muttered in low tones, “First, he was not born in this country…”

“What!?” I cried.  I was incredulous.  The fuse was lit, but I tried to delay the detonation by calmly replying, “The State of Hawaii would disagree with you.”  I smirked and turned my attention back to the almanac.

My father was halted and sputtered, “He hasn’t proven he was born there.”

“You’re welcome to your opinion, but the State of Hawaii would disagree with you.”

“Well, then, they’re liars!”  This was usual for him when arguing from weakness or simply to hear the sound of his own voice.  But my fuse was short and detonation was imminent. I had had enough of this crap.

“Well, you just go ahead and toss out the facts you don’t like and make up your own and you can live in that little reality – but that’s insane!”  He fell to an uncertain silence, perhaps shocked that I may have been accusing him of being insane.

I stood up.  “I didn’t vote for Obama and don’t particularly like what he’s done, but I’m tired of this nonsense.  Is this about that PDF file of his certificate that people were saying was faked?”  I looked down on him with a nasty jut in my jaw.  “Because if it is, that is BULLSHIT!”

My father’s expression was blank and the fire he had been summoning in his rant was extinguished in meekness.  “I don’t know.”  Not exactly the answer I was expecting.

I began pacing and my father returned to his seat across the room.  “I am tired of reading about this and watching people on television prattle on about this because what they are saying is BULLSHIT!  Is this about that Orly Taitz garbage?”

“I don’t know know who that is.”

“She’s one of ‘em.  Fox News will trot these people out all day long and they are liars and they have agendas!”  Fox News, surprise!, is watched with interest in that household because, as my stepmother says, “They respect the troops.”  Of course they do.

“Who signed his birth certificate?” My father continued.

“I don’t know,” I groaned, “I don’t have the thing with me.”

“I haven’t seen it.”  This may have been my father’s way of trying to turn the conversation back to a “conversation”, but the topic was too far gone and way too stupid by now.

“Well, I have a copy of it and I know more about how that file works than any of those clowns!  And Donald Trump said he had guys over there and he was going to show evidence.  Well, he never did!  You know, why?  Because it was bullshit!  There was nothing to show!”

I couldn’t let it go without one more point to make:  “These are the same people who accuse Obama of being a Muslim without acknowledging that a Muslim can be president.”

“I know they can be,” was his subdued reply.

My father really had little else to say for the rest of the night.  Whatever other tripe had been force-fed into his brain by the Fox propaganda machine would be internalized until it was safe to spew again, out of my presence.  I am under no illusions that I can change his mind, but he raised us to educate ourselves about things and that is what bothers me the most about this conversation.  My father is a man of science, an educator and PHd, and he allows his own bigotry to take for truth the lies that are part of the Obama smear campaign.  He demanded no proof, no evidence, and didn’t even think to research the topic for himself to be better informed.  I am seriously disappointed in him.  Above all, I trusted he valued knowledge over all else.  He failed that trust on a Christmas holiday.

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Ignoramuses + Rants = “Ignorants”

Ignorants

        I can’t say I have a solution to the influx of children fleeing the barbarism of their home countries, but watching the ginned-up zealotry over… what exactly is the outrage here? Regardless of the motivations – real or contrived – of the protestors, what is being done in the name of “anti-immigration” is an embarrassment to this nation. Don’t these people have better things to do, like go to their jobs or complain about people who are still looking for employment?

        I could write these protests off as just another incident of “we still don’t like how the past two Presidential elections came out”, but I think these types of demonstrations – and the professional people in politics and media who encourage this garbage – are emblematic of what I’ve always felt is the Republican Party as it exists in this day and age. Make no mistake about it, they are Republicans even though they still want to play “tea party”; they’re just kidding themselves the same way Bill O’Reilly doesn’t have the guts to come out and say he’s a Republican. The underlying mantra of these people: Sucks to be you.

        Compassion? They don’t have it because it might involve somebody else getting something and that may cost them some money. That’s their fear: somebody’s going to get something they didn’t “work” for. They can get off their asses to protest, but they can’t get off their asses and help. While I have no doubt the vast majority of these people would call themselves “Christian”, living in a Christian nation, their enmity shows their true selves.

        And whether or not you want to call it “immigration” and whether or not these folks like it, asylum is still a thing and these children deserve to be heard and they deserve protection. But, hey, sucks to be them, right?

Iraq: Who Couldn’t See This Coming?

©2014 James Montgomery Studios

©2014 James Montgomery Studios

        Yeah, there’s trouble in Iraq and it looks like the country is going up in flames. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. But at the same time, if you couldn’t see, as Bush bullshitted his way into an unnecessary war, that events were inevitably going to take this turn, you are either willfully blind or stupid. There really is no middle ground. I have been saying this was going to happen since long before Bush was out of office; the “surge” couldn’t change it, but the apologists have come out of the woodwork, nevertheless, to rationalize their lies and placate their jingoistic base. Without a constant American presence in Iraq, a lasting peace was not sustainable and who wants to maintain a constant U.S. presence? What was fomented in Iraq was dishonest and futile and – let’s say it – in vain; the blood and treasure spent to prosecute this war was wasted. All that was accomplished was the fanning of the flames of unrest and only an arrogant fool thinks that can be controlled.

        So now the usual suspects, John McCain, the eternal warmonger, and one of my unfortunate excuses for a senator, Lindsey Graham, are among the number of Republicans making excuses for Bush’s actions while, at the same time, playing the tired old game of blaming Obama for being unable to avoid the sequence of events as they headed to their obvious conclusion; that conclusion being Shia versus Sunni violence aided by Al Qaeda insurgency from the very same Syrian factions these Republicans wanted Obama to support. Talk about wanting to have it both ways. I wonder if these guys even keep track of what they say and stand for anymore. Anyhow, let’s go back and see how we got where we are.

        Of course, as the apologists will point out, Saddam Hussein was a bad man, an oppressor of his people, an unstable presence in the Middle East, and desired a nuclear weapon capability. These accusations may be true, but they were not unique for various world leaders in 2001, just as they weren’t unique in 1988, just as they aren’t unique now. Assad, Mubarak, Qaddafi could meet most of these accusations, as well, except Mubarak was a U.S. ally, so he got a pass. And what about Saudi Arabia and Iran? Those two countries practice institutionalized oppression against their people with impunity – and let’s not forget that the World Trade Center attacks were led by Saudis, not Iraqis. The Saudis, as well as the Israelis, are our allies, so they, too, get a pass, unlike the Palestinians. Because when you’re talking about the Middle East, you inevitably have to talk about the Israeli-Palestinian issue.  If you’re a Palestinian, I wonder where the governments of Sharon and Netanyahu rate on the scale of oppressive regimes? Of course, the Arab and Israeli animosity may be so entrenched and so long-lived that the question becomes irrelevant. While maintaining a constant presence in the center of rationalizations for Mideast violence, these are two sides that continue to stalemate themselves at the negotiating table over Jerusalem by an unwillingness to compromise. Sounds like a certain political body in Washington, doesn’t it? And it is this same political body that thinks the factions in Iraq were going to get along just because we removed a “bad” man? The only roses in this scenario that Dick Cheney thought would be “thrown at the feet of liberators” are the tint of the glasses these idiots are wearing if they still believe that democracy is something that can just be shoehorned in on any group of people – especially people who have deep-seated resentments against one another. Iraq wasn’t a fight to be pursued and no amount of wishful thinking was going to allow a military solution that would keep Iraq peaceful indefinitely. Bush made the mess by creating a political vacuum and Obama was expected to clean it up with an infinite occupational force? Keep dreaming, morons, it was never going to work out the way you wanted – unless sowing chaos was what you were shooting for.

        “Congress approved it,” the apologists will say, “including the Democrats with few exceptions.” Yes, they did. That is their moment of ignominy. They should have stood up and opposed it instead of being cowards afraid of the old “unpatriotic” slur that gets thrown around so carelessly. They should have known better. They were fed a pack of lies, especially the ones Bush told in his State of the Union address, but they still should have known better and pursued the truth more diligently. Colin Powell now knows he was the point man for the circus of horseshit at the U.N. The British, French, Russians, and Israelis all reached the same conclusions? So fucking what? The U.S. was leading the intelligence charge and the intelligence didn’t pan out, so just how good was that collaboration? The results speak for themselves. To say that not confronting Hussein over U.N. sanctions would lead to further instability is pretty damn specious. Iraq, after the Gulf War, was a shell of its former self – and its former self wasn’t that great – and represented a very beatable opponent. Why not attack them over U.N. sanctions violations? Most ironic, though, is that the Republican party is the one with the constant “get out of the U.N.” mantra and they wanted to use upholding sanctions as an excuse for war? The indolence of Congress was obvious when no one called bullshit on this. I will have to give ol’ Dubya credit for playing Congress the way he did, because that’s exactly what he did. To cite U.N. sanctions as a basis for issuing threats but not having the backing of Congress would put the president in an ineffectual situation. Well, the Congress couldn’t have that – we’d look weak and stupid! So, they supported Bush and maintained their “patriotic and strong against terrorism” façade. Look where they ended up. They were weak and stupid!

        I’ve heard the cowboy boots that have the pointed toes referred to as “cockroach killers” – you can get into the corners with them. That’s all Bush, the cowboy president from Texas, was doing: taking his boots and kicking at the cockroaches. The problem is you never get many roaches and they scatter – just like Al Qaeda did – and you still have cockroaches. The Republicans want to accuse Obama of playing politics? They’ve all been playing politics all along.

Unleashing the Inner Voice

        Here we have two gentlemen: Donald Sterling, owner of the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers, and Wayne La Pierre, Executive Vice President of the National Rifle Association. One has garnered national attention for making idiotic racist demands to a girlfriend, the other has garnered national attention for touting America’s strength and goodness through fearfulness – and guns. One, I have little respect for, and one shills for the NRA and Second Amendment absolutism, even though he can’t even admit it to himself. Sterling has notoriously run one of the worst sports franchises in any sport and La Pierre fails to concede that more guns only means more guns, not solutions to gun violence; yet I don’t believe LaPierre cares about such things.

old boys

         Then I saw pictures of the two men today, one in a news photo, the other from a video. How alike they look. Their faces are eerily similar. The hair is combed in like fashion, the wire-rimmed glasses nearly identical. But their eyes… their eyes have this look of emptiness that comes with age, I suppose, for their faces bear the burden of age. I don’t know these men – no one really could – but I do feel that I wouldn’t want to be either one of them. They look like tired old white men.

         While the lucidity of Sterling’s comments is up for some debate, it had to come from somewhere. I mean, how confused do you have to be for the inanity of his rant? But it comes down to this age of where some people in the hot glare of the public spotlight feel compelled to say whatever their inner voice tells them without regard of consequences. It’s tough living in a world where your moronic pontificating or your drunken diatribes can be recorded or videoed for all the world to see and hear. Right, Newt Gingrich, you beacon of morality? Right, Cliven Bundy, you cornpone philosopher of egalitarianism? Sometimes, it’s just better to shut up. But it’s too hard for people in the public arena to resist ginning up the base even though it’s a pyrrhic endeavor. By Mr. LaPierre’s logic, Chicago, the poster child for the gun lobby’s push for more guns everywhere, should be the safest place in the world because there are guns all over. But it’s not and more guns wouldn’t change that.

        The problem that LaPierre and Bundy and Sterling share is a lack of respect for those who are not like them. This problem infects and festers in every facet of public discourse, whether it’s politicians feeding red meat to their constituents, media outlets grasping at ratings, bigots calling into question the citizenship of the president – still! – among other things, school boards trying to hammer in Christianity in the classroom by calling Creationism “science”, or something as rancid as trolls and nincompoops in social media. There comes a point where the nonsense has to stop and keeping that inner voice to oneself is not only good manners, it is vital to the good health of this country.

And I wonder if anyone really cares about that anymore.

If It Stinks, It Must Be New Jersey (or Politics)

Oh boy!  Another scandal so that the children in the media and Washington can slap-fight instead of accomplishing anything.  Of course, I think New Jersey governor Chris Christie’s “Bridgegate” episode is important in showing petty political backstabbing is still alive and well in our great nation. (And can we stop with the “Gate” naming of every little tempest in a teapot?  We should just have “Gategate” and then call it a day!)

What I find most instructive in this “Christastrophe” (you see what I did there?  That can work for Chris Christie or the next faux Christian persecution!) is the reason I could never bring myself to vote for a Republican: you aren’t just electing a candidate, you are allowing said candidate to bring in whatever partisan agenda-driven nincompoop they want for their administration.  I didn’t like Romney, but the fear of what might have slinked into his Cabinet or advisory staff is what really put me off him.

And so it goes with Governor Christie.  This whole affair seems a little “Iran-Contra-ish” to me as it plays out, but it was Christie’s staff that decided to jerk around and create this stink.  The only real question left is if Christie is as good a tap-dancer as he is pretending to be on not knowing the machinations of this politically-motivated scheme.  At the very least, Christie raises my eyebrows as he says, after firing his deputy Chief of Staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, that he “wasn’t interested in the reason” the whole bridge mess was created.  To say that Christie is full of shit for thinking anyone would buy that attitude as acceptable and then to look at him, well, he’s full of a lot of shit.

Where Does Paranoia End and Reality Begin?

You didn’t think Lapierre was going to say anything different than what he said, did you? That Wayne, he’s a finger-pointer, he is. He isn’t about to cede one iota of acknowledgement that perhaps the NRA in their pursuit of armed absolutism may have taken it a bit too far. LaPierre’s playing politics, without compassion, without contrition, and certainly without empathy – his paycheck is on the line. And even if you buy into the nonsensical tripe that Wayne LaPierre was pushing about needing “good guys to stop the bad guys,” you still have to identify just who exactly the good guys are.

There is going to be no movement on gun safety and gun violence until both sides acknowledge that there are people who should not, either by mental incapacity or criminal history, be allowed to have legal access to guns. Once it is acknowledged that there are those in our society who are incapable of being trusted to possess a firearm, the Second Amendment ceases in any way to be an absolute right. And part of ensuring those, who do not deserve the trust, cannot buy them legally, is identifying those who do.

Nothing in our Constitution is “inalienable”; these aren’t the Hobbesian notions of Life, Liberty, and Property. The Constitution is a document that is interpreted and amendable so that we may enjoy our “inalienable” rights as fully as possible while also recognizing that we do so in a social order where no one’s life is exclusive and freedom is never absolute. Part of the function of our Constitution is the recognition that on occasion, changes have to be made. We need to agree on what changes those should be, but for some, the admission that there is a problem stemming from firearms in the hands of those who should not have access to them still has to be made.