Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Another screed appeared in my inbox from a well meaning friend today:

"This is by far the best explanation of the Muslim terrorist situation I have ever read. His references to past history are accurate and clear. Not long, easy to understand, and well worth the read. The author of this email is said to be Dr. Emanuel Tanya, a well-known and well-respected psychiatrist.

A German's View on Islam A man, whose family was German aristocracy prior to World War II, owned a number of large industries and estates. When asked how many German people were true Nazis, the answer he gave can guide our attitude toward fanaticism. 'Very few people were true Nazis,' he said, 'but many enjoyed the return of German pride, and many more were too busy to care. I was one of those who just thought the Nazis were a bunch of fools. So, the majority just sat back and let it all happen. Then, before we knew it, they owned us, and we had lost control, and the end of the world had come. My family lost everything. I ended up in a concentration camp and the Allies destroyed my factories.'

We are told again and again by 'experts' and 'talking heads' that Islam is the religion of peace and that the vast majority of Muslims just want to live in peace. Although this unqualified assertion may be true, it is entirely irrelevant. It is meaningless fluff, meant to make us feel better, and meant to somehow diminish the specter of fanatics rampaging across the globe in the name of Islam.

The fact is that the fanatics rule Islam at this moment in history. It is the fanatics who march. It is the fanatics who wage any one of 50 shooting wars worldwide. It is the fanatics who systematically slaughter Christian or tribal groups throughout Africa and are gradually taking over the entire continent in an Islamic wave. It is the fanatics who bomb, behead, murder, or honor-kill. It is the fanatics who take over mosque after mosque. It is the fanatics who zealously spread the stoning and hanging of rape victims and homosexuals. It is the fanatics who teach their young to kill and to become suicide bombers.

The hard, quantifiable fact is that the peaceful majority, the 'silent majority,' is cowed and extraneous.

Communist Russia was comprised of Russians who just wanted to live in peace, yet the Russian Communists were responsible for the murder of about 20 million people. The peaceful majority were irrelevant. China 's huge population was peaceful as well, but Chinese Communists managed to kill a staggering 70 million people.

The average Japanese individual prior to World War II was not a warmongering sadist. Yet, Japan murdered and slaughtered its way across South East Asia in an orgy of killing that included the systematic murder of 12 million Chinese civilians; most killed by sword, shovel, and bayonet. And who can forget Rwanda , which collapsed into butchery. Could it not be said that the majority of Rwandans were 'peace loving'?

History lessons are often incredibly simple and blunt, yet for all our powers of reason, we often miss the most basic and uncomplicated of points: Peace-loving Muslims have been made irrelevant by their silence.

Peace-loving Muslims will become our enemy if they don't speak up, because like my friend from Germany , they will awaken one day and find that the fanatics own them, and the end of their world will have begun.

Peace-loving Germans, Japanese, Chinese, Russians, Rwandans, Serbs, Afghans, Iraqis, Palestinians, Somalis, Nigerians, Algerians, and many others have died because the peaceful majority did not speak up until it was too late. As for us who watch it all unfold, we must pay attention to the only group that counts--the fanatics who threaten our way of life.

Lastly, anyone who doubts that the issue is serious and just deletes this email without sending it on, is contributing to the passiveness that allows the problems to expand. So, extend yourself a bit and send this on and on and on! Let us hope that thousands, world-wide, read this and think about it, and send it on - before it's too late."

OK, I can accept most of the content here, but the problem is not explicitly defined, the causes of the problem are not explored, and reasonable solutions are not suggested.

Is the solution isolating the extremists, and selectively eliminating them? Working as a world community to eliminate the communication, financial and training infrastructure of the extremists? Attempting to mitigate the overpopulation and corruption that drive the health, poverty and educational issues of the third world, that in turn fuel the rhetoric of the extremists?

I would point out that the atrocities committed by the Soviets, Nazis, etc., occurred as organized events by the governments of sovereign nations, with the opportunity to deal with their threats on a military basis. With the possible exception of Iran, I'm not sure that the same opportunities exist for dealing with the stateless, world-wide Islamic extremist organizations.

The problems with so many of the homegrown statements on political and policy issues that circulate on the Internet is that they appear to neatly and plausibly explain extremely complex situations for people without the background to adequately understand them, and imply a simple solution, usually violent, without regard for the inevitable unintended consequences. "When the only tool in your box is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail." The drift I get from this author is that we should put all the "Muslims" up against the wall and start shooting them until the troubles cease. I suppose that this idea appeals to those incapable of more complex thinking. I fear, however, that these types of suggestions are used by demagogues in the "Western" world to incite actions that perpetuate the violence on both sides.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Rain Gods

I'm a big James Lee Burke fan. In his Latest book, Rain Gods, he writes,

"Right here he had found the backdrop for the whole human comedy. And what was the lesson in any of it? Hackberry's father, the history professor had always maintained the key to understanding our culture lay in the names of Shiloh and Antietam. It was only in their aftermath that we discovered how many of our countrymen - who spoke the same language and practiced the same religion, and lived on the same carpet-like, green, undulating, limestone-ridged farmland - we would willingly kill in support of causes that were not only indefensible but had little to do with our lives."

Besides the obvious beauty of the prose, I wonder if this passage makes me want to cry because in my mature years I more easily understand how a nation can slip into civil war, its unsophisticated and ignorant people persuaded by demagogues to set aside the teachings of love and rational thought in favor of righteous violence in the guise of patriotism.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Josh Marshall

From the brilliant "Talking Points Memo" by Josh Marshall:

"Deep Thought

We need to get back to bedrock American values like torture and secession."

I love it!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Christopher Shays

Republican Christopher Shays said today on NPR’s “All Things Considered” that he was defeated in his Connecticut Senatorial re-election bid because Democrats linked him to George Bush, “…even though I only voted with him 50% of the time.”

Oh really? That statement invites a lot of questions. Mr. Shays, did you vote with him only 50% of the time because you knew that your party’s legislative control would carry the vote without you? For which issues and bills DID you vote with him?

And even more importantly, when George Bush insisted on the Iraqi invasion, where were you and your party providing oversight and demanding due process? When George Bush was encouraging bills eroding Constitutional freedoms, where were you and your party insisting on moderation? The people trusted you and your party to actively govern your Republican president, but you chose to get down on you knees before him like a crack whore at 3 A.M.
Even in defeat, Mr. Shays, you are blind to the reason you and your party have been swept out of office: NO New England Senatorial seats are held by Republicans, and damn few in the state of New York. Yet you blame the Democrats. How very sad.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Return of the Son of Rewarding the Republicans


John McCain continues to migrate toward the right wing of the Republican Party.

As I warned in Rewarding the Republicans, now that he has been knighted, McCain is now paying obeisance to the lords and masters of his Republican realm.

Centrists were initially encouraged by McCain’s choice of foreign policy advisors from the “pragmatist”, or “realist” camp: Henry Kissinger; Colin Powell; John Lehman, Jr., Reagan’s Secretary of the Navy; Richard Armitage, former Assistant Secretary of Defense for international security policy under Powell; and Brent Scowcroft, the National Security Advisor to the first President Bush. All these have expressed either concern over the choice to go to war in Iraq, or the poor execution of the war.

But recently added to the short list to advise McCain on foreign policy are: former United Nations ambassador for the George W. Bush administration, John Bolton; columnist and Senior Associate for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Robert Kagan; and former advisor to Trent Lott and founder of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, Randy Scheunemann. These guys are first rate, neo-con assholes, and the fact that McCain is willing to let them into the tent should deeply trouble centrists hoping for a clear change of thinking from the Republican leadership.

“It may be too strong a term to say a fight is going on over John McCain’s soul,” said Lawrence Eagleburger, a secretary of state under the first President George Bush, who is a member of the pragmatist camp. “But if it’s not a fight, I am convinced there is at least going to be an attempt. I can’t prove it, but I’m worried that it’s taking place.” In addition, Mr. Eagleburger said, “there is no question that a lot of my far right friends have now decided that since you can’t beat him, let’s persuade him to slide over as best we can on these critical issues.”

Curiously, Condie Rice’s name is absent from this list of hawkish advisors. Could it be that she is being presently kept out of the limelight in preparation for the announcement that she will be McCain’s Vice Presidential running mate?

To complete the Republican trifecta of influence, look for the addition of domestic policy advisors from the Religious Right and economic advisors from the oil industry to the McCain tent over the next weeks.

This comes on the heels of a number of international developments that may indicate a buildup toward a war with Iran.

It’s obvious to me that a tremendous amount of damage has been done to our country over the last 7 years by the real axis of evil: religious nut-jobs, war-hungry militarists, greedy industrialists, and their political butt-boys. It’s time to show these fuckers that there is no place at the table for them, and work to restore our constitutional process, diplomatic common sense, and respect among the community of nations. It’s time for a wholesale disengagement from the Republican Party.

Your Pal, and Doin' the Left Thing

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Fall of the American Empire?


Doug Clark, in his superb Blog The Itenerant Pedant, recently asks/states, "But what about 'Checks and Balances'?" I hear you say. Let's look at the "checks" to unfettered Executive power. The Supreme Court? Yeah, maybe, except that we'll probably have colonies on Mars before that collection of egos first hears and then rules on any cases of Executive abuse. If they decide to punt it back to a Circuit Court first because the original ruling was missing a dotted "i" we could be looking at Alpha Centauri before there's a ruling. The Executive branch can do something tomorrow, the Judicial branch takes forever. The court is not capable of being a check on the Executive because the repair takes too long.

Congress. Yeah. Congress wields the "Power Of The Purse". And that, my friends, is ALL Congress wields. Subpoena? Not if the Justice Department doesn't want to enforce it, as they have refused to do on a Contempt Of Congress cite on Karl Rove. Testimony? Oversight? Not likely. (See above, Rove, Karl, Asshole, One Each)"

You pose an interesting question, Doug.

Who are the stakeholders here?

Our legislators, faced with a choice of either providing honest leadership or getting re-elected, are unwilling to get between a porcine and apathetic constituency of the individual citizen and the trough of unrestrained consumerism which seems to pass for the “pursuit of happiness” these days. For many, if not most politicians on both sides of the aisle, loyalty to the party comes first, and then loyalty to the constitution.

The capacity of the corporate citizenship to fund, influence and direct public matters through the legislative “farm system” is without question; and the corporate loyalty lies not necessarily with its countries’ constitution, but with its own self preservation and aggrandizement, to the delight of its majority shareholders, often multinational interests.

As you point out, any action taken by the Judicial Branch occurs long after the damage to our national fabric is done, and even then it takes blood in the streets, or the threat of it, to force the judicial inertia out of its natural inclination to preserve the status quo and do the right thing with respect to our unalienable rights.

Add to this mix the Religious Right, the American version of mullahs and ayatollahs, who disdain the logical and scientific approaches to our problems because those approaches contradict their emotional interpretations of mythical, apocryphal and misquoted scriptural texts, while ignoring the texts’ central messages of love and charity and nonviolence.

This leaves us with the aforementioned constituency of the individual citizen. As Joseph de Maistre said, and Thomas Jefferson amplified, “Every country has the government it deserves.” We have already foolishly subrogated out of largely manufactured and irrational fear many of our constitutional rights through the FISA and Patriot Acts in an effort to enhance our national security. Benjamin Franklin warned, “Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.”

It may be that we are travelling down the same path as great societies before us: corpulent and complacent, believing our own press releases of infallibility, destiny, and some deity’s love of our nation over the rest of his children. It seems that our American Neros provide us with 7-11 stores well stocked with sweets and tabloid titillations of Paris and Brittany and Brett, of sports steroids and politicians’ sexual escapades, much in the way the Roman emperors provided bread and the Circus Maximus. Just as our Roman ancestors, we risk being distracted as the plutocrats enrich their coffers while allowing the strength of the nation to decline and the barbarians gather at the gates.

Without a renewed sense of purpose by the individual citizen, a sense of the common good before the wealth of the individual, we cannot turn the scoundrels out of office and reclaim the goodness and pride of a nation striving to live up the highest ethical standards. It will take a sea change to really get things moving in a different direction, and as pessimistic as it sounds, I think it will require a national crisis, or two, to precipitate. The best that we can hope for in the short run is to elect a succession of Executives that refuse to continue to trample the Constitution and have an opportunity to seat some Supremes with an enlightened sense of restoring the balance of power.

Your Pal, and Doin’ the Left Thing

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The American Way


Back in August, Arthur Caplan, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote a commentary for MSNBC, titled Privacy Is True Price of Healthy Worker Discounts, blasting the notion of giving discounts on employee health insurance premiums for plan participants demonstrating healthy lifestyle choices.

Caplan points out, "Workers can lower their annual deductible (the amount you pay each year for health care or drugs before insurance kicks in) if they take company-administered tests every year to check blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and weight and to see if they smoke. For each health goal employees meet, $500 is knocked off their deductible."

He asks, "Do you really want your bosses and the insurance company giving you physicals and snooping around in your health care records to find out the most intimate details of your mental, sexual and physical health? It’s a pretty high price in terms of privacy to pay for a discount."

He goes on, "HMOs and insurance companies have proven completely unable to contain rising health care costs. This is mainly due to the fact that costs are fueled by an aging population using more services, an increased reliance on technologies and drugs whose prices are out of control, topped off by a massive dose of error, fraud and administrative waste."

Get a grip, Dr. Caplan! Of course people with healthy life habits should accept discounts on health insurance deductibles or premiums.

Ours is purportedly a free market system. The cost of goods and services are driven by their availability and usage. For example, our auto insurance is based largely on our driving behavior. And when we go to the supermarket, we don't pay a flat fee, we pay for the amount and quality of the groceries we choose.

By some estimates, three quarters of our American population is overweight or obese. One quarter of the population continues to use tobacco, despite being warned for fifty years of the dire health consequences. These people consume a disproportionate quantity of the available healthcare resources. Based on the free market system, if nothing else, these people should either show improvement in their lifestyle choices, or make a larger contribution to the funding of the healthcare resources that are available.

Furthermore, if people making poor lifestyle choices are not provided with incentives to change, why should they?

As far as privacy goes, it is readily apparent to the most casual observer that Brian is several hundred prime rib dinners and 12-packs over the line. We don't really need a health assessment to know that Sally's hacking and gasping for breath is directly connected to her 30 year love affair with the Marlboro Man. Or that 50 year-old Thomas looks 65, has high cholesterol and diabetes because he hasn't had his lazy ass out of the barcolounger for a 30 minute walk since Tatum O'Neal was jailbait.

Are the HMOs failing us? You bet. But even the best healthcare management system cannot protect us from ourselves. Mark Twain said "It's easier to stay out of trouble, than to get out of trouble." I'm so tired of the fat, prescription-addicted, cigar smoking gasbags pointing to the less fortunate members of society and pontificating on codes of personal responsibility.

The healthcare ship is sinking. The reasons are many, the remedies debatable. However, personal responsibility for one's health must improve. We are advised everyday that we have a personal responsibility for our financial well being. We have a personal responsibility to reject violence. We have a personal responsibility to curtail the illegal drug trade by not participating in its use. Why then is it someone else's responsibility to provide expensive healthcare to me for conditions I can prevent by living a healthier lifestyle?

Your Pal, and Doin’ the Left Thing