Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Left isn't right, but the Right has left all reason behind

Take the Founders--and the Constitution--and America the Greatest Nation with the Greatest People and the Greatest Armed Forces and anyone who says otherwise isn't an American...

Most self-styled conservatives are Christians. Doesn't the Bible says not to worship idols? Yet they've made the Founders, the Constitution they wrote, and the country we live in into idols to be worshipped.

The Founders would be appalled.

Conservatives keep talking about what the Founders would say if they could see what we've made of their founding document.

That's an easy one to talk about, since the Founders aren't here to contradict you.

But if they were magically brought here and give a year or ten to get up to speed, here's what I think they'd say collectively:

The United States of America in 1790 had a population of under 4 million people, mostly farmers. In today's world such a nation would rank 128 in population, between the Republic of the Congo and Bosnia/Herzegovina. Its level of industrialization would place it near the bottom...maybe with the Malagasy Republic. And trade, except for a few luxury goods, was virtually nonexistent. The Atlantic Crossing took about two months, and a fair number of vessels didn't make it.

Same went for warfare. England found it incredibly difficult and expensive to wage war at such a distance. So the nascent America was protected by General Atlantic quite effectively. On land, stage coaches traveled at around 6 miles per hour over bad roads, such as they were.

Our Constitution was the Founders' second stab at a governing document. Remember the Articles of Confederation? Were those also divinely inspired? They didn't work so well.

It was also a time of turmoil and intellectual and technological ferment--nearly all on the horizon, though. And political parties didn't exist.

So the Founders crafted a document the second time around that did well as framing the needs of a small agricultural country with poor communications and no way to transport bulk goods cheaply, making nearly all commerce local.

It is an extraordinary idea to think that a document for governing such a nation at such a time would be, without modification, perfectly appropriate for a nation with 78 times as many people, vastly more territory, enmeshed in vast worldwide trade networks (including shipping in about half the oil we use from abroad), linked nearly instantly to a global communications network, dealing with a nation now embracing a multitude of religions (and nonreligions) and races and cultures.

Honestly, it's amazing that the Constitution works at all. But anyone who studies current events should realize that much of it is obsolete.

I believe that's exactly what any transplanted Founders would say today. They'd see our clinging to it as being as anachronistic as if they themselves had clung to the Magna Carta--another brilliant document for its day. And its deification is part and parcel of the tribalization of the GOP. If you don't fall down before these idols (Founders/Constitution/America the Perfect) or even say this document needs revision, they can denounce you as a tribal traitor and thus sidestep an actual debate over political positions they can't defend on their merits.

All of which reinforces my belief that conservatives are indulging en masse in a kind of illusionary nostalgia, while liberals are jonesing for gleaming utopian visions that are equally delusional.

Friday, November 25, 2011

A key goal in politics is to prevent debate

Watch political campaigns closely and you'll see that party leaderships (and their patrons) want people to feel such hostility towards the opposition--people, party, platforms--that they won't even consider anything or anyone in the opposition.

Both party's ideologues always feel this way. The trick is getting people in the middle to feel that way too--enough to get 51% of the voters to vote reflexively.

The GOP has gotten much of the way there with President Obama. Just recently I had a Republican friend with a BA in Political Science tell me that President Obama is a Fascist, citing his "interference" in General Motors "on behalf of the unions" as proof. Another went out of his way to tell me how much he did not like Obama. "At all." I took him to mean that he disapproved of Obama not just as a president but as a person. Yet another--a devout Christian--told me that Obama is not a Christian, despite him saying so explicitly, because of Obama attending the Reverend Wright's church (the one one damned America in one of his speeches).

And then we have the recent spectacle of Michelle Obama and Joe Biden getting booed lustily when they attended a NASCAR race recently.

When President Obama debates Mitt Romney--or whoever-- next year prior to the election, none of these people are going to consider what the President says. They're already made up their minds that everything he says is either a mistake or a lie.

I plan to test my hypothesis by asking all the Republicans I know to tell me something praiseworthy about the President. If they're philosophical Republicans they should start by praising him as a family man, and laud him for his aggressive prosecution of military action against Islamofascists, including killing Bin Ladin. As well as his having appointed a few Republicans in his branch of government (former Secretary of Defense Gates, most notably)--something he's been doing since he was Editor of the Harvard Law Review. They would also laud his giving up smoking.

But if my hypothesis is correct most of them won't be able to think of a thing--despite the fact that when these people were voting for Poppy Bush against Bill Clinton, some of them were telling me that personal character was the key thing to consider, giving Clinton's hound dawg ways.

But now that we have a Democratic President who has been utterly faithful to his first and only wife and a devoted father to his two daughters, personal character has magically become irrelevant.

Which is why debates don't matter much. Not by the time both parties have a candidate at least. Remember, Al Gore won all his debates with Bush II.

The two most dishonest words in politics

When you start a sentence with either "Honestly" or "Frankly," it means you're going to follow up with something not so great about yourself--a confession of some shortcoming or misunderstanding or prediction that turned out to be wrong.

But at least 90% of the time when politicians start a sentence with either word, they're about to "confess" about some shortcoming of their opposition--not themselves. They're bragging or bashing. Never confessing.

Meaning it's not the words "Frankly" or "Honestly" that are so dishonest, but the way politicians misuse them to attack others.

As a Democrat I'd love to believe that mainly Republicans commit this moral and syntactical error.

But frankly I'm not sure.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The real Republican candidate

The Republicans you see in the campaign ads and in the debates don't include the one who will actually become President of the United States if any of these Republican candidates win the election. If any of them do so, the President of the United States will become Grover Norquist. He's the one who makes virtually every Republican member of Congress snap to attention when he enters the room. Not one of these putative candidates commands the devoted attention and slavish obedience that Mr. Norquist commands.

So if a Republican wins, whether it's Romney or Gingrich or Perry or whoever, he'll be the figurehead. Look behind the throne and you'll see Mr. Norquist.


Saturday, November 12, 2011

Can a store clerk shoot and kill a fleeing thief legally?

According to this week's "Dan Rather Reports" on HDNet, 27 states have enacted "Castle Laws" that enable home residents and store clerks to use deadly force to defend themselves. The law was also cited by a Texan who shot two fleeing burglars in the back, killing them. They were unarmed illegal immigrants robbing the man's neighbor's house. No one questions the fact that the police would not have arrived there in time to stop them.

In another case a man stole a 6-pack of beer from a convenience store. The clerk chased him out of the store and shot him to death. The thief we unarmed. The clerk was charged by the DA (because the thief was committing a misdemeanor, not a felony) but acquitted by a jury.

To liberals and conservatives, cases like these are unambiguous.

Liberals would say life is worth more than property, therefore you should only be allowed to use deadly force to defend yourself against certain deadly attack.

Conservatives would say a thief doesn't steal only from his victim--he steals from us all. There is a sociological basis for this thinking, embodied in big cities' "broken windows" policies. That is, the appearance of a breakdown of law and order propagates such a breakdown.

The 6-pack stealing thief was a habitual thief, as even his family admitted. Last July 4 at Lake Tahoe, I was waiting in a long line to use the Port-A-Potties when a couple of young men walked up, used the potties, and strode away, showing their contempt for the rest of us. No cops were there to stop them.

Bus services talk about large numbers of young men who habitually use the buses without paying, daring anyone to object.

Such infractions are even more minor than stealing a 6-pack from a convenience store.

But they engender helpless fury in everyone present who's obeying the rules. And our society isn't about to pay for a cop on every corner.

Most people strongly desire to live in a society where nobody cuts in lines, gets gas then speeds off without paying, and generally treat the rest of us as if the rules we live by don't apply to them.

I'm inclined to agree with the conservatives on this issue. I think minor theft of property and services, like broken windows in big cities, has a disproportionate effect on society.

And to be honest, I don't believe that every single person's life is worth more than someone's property. Every thing people own is generally something they worked for and which has meaning for them beyond its fungible worth. Suppose you had a scrapbook of pictures of your dead parents and no copies (yes, you should have made copies, but you didn't), and someone stole the bag it was in and you never saw it again.

Was that a felony? Nope. But if you cared about your parents, it would have felt like it, and the loss would have echoed around in your head for the rest of your life.

The six pack the clerk shot the guy for stealing was the third such theft in the space of a few weeks. You can't even get cops to come to your store and get a report, or, say, check for fingerprints.

So society as a whole faces the choices of (1) taxing people much more heavily and providing for that policeman on every corner; (2) telling people to suck it up and just endure the decay of our society; (3) enact Castle Laws and thus support vigilantism in the absence of comprehensive policing--also meaning that innocent people will get killed now and then.

For example, a few years ago an old coot shot off his shotgun through his front door because he feared the hooligans outside trying to break in. Turns out it was October 31--Halloween--and they were just trick or treaters that he killed. Not to mention the various times people (mostly old men) have shot their spouses  in the middle of the night when the spouse got up to go to the bathroom and the one in bed mistook the returning mate for a burglar.

So if you support Castle Laws--and I do--you also must accept the fact that there will be tragic incidents like these. And that such laws must be written--and explained to citizens--very clearly, so people don't think the legislator declared open season on anyone passing by that you don't take a shine to.

Note that the first Castle law was in part a response to a previous law in some state that criminalized defending yourself with lethal force unless you could prove that it was as a last resort against a definitive existential threat to your existence.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

states' rights

States' rights is a misnomer. It's really Republican rights--the rights of the minority of Americans who are conservatives to not have their rights swamped by the populous, Democratic-dominated, urban areas.

Yet people continue to talk about this issue as if it has anything to do with states per se. You can see the falsity of this when Republicans get control of Washington, as during the Bush Era. Then they run roughshod over states' rights in their efforts to enact their social agenda.

Which is why we never get anywhere with states' rights issues--because we aren't talking about it honestly. It invites hypocrisy on both sides.

So when urban types say we should abolish the electoral college, rural types naturally bristle. The kind of society they prefer would indeed get dented by liberals' opposed social agenda.

What no one discusses is compromises that would give urban areas somewhat more voting power, yet without removing the imbalance completely.

Thus the real problem with the electoral college is its being coupled with our Winner Take All system, which disenfranchises all conservatives in liberal states and all liberals in conservative states.

Thus if all the states agreed to adopt proportional electoral college representation instead of today's winner take all system, it would preserve today's small state advantage--which they'll never vote to lose, frankly--but would empower the minority conservatives and liberals in all the states, and force the two parties to take them seriously--which they don't today. And it could conceivably happen, because it's truly a nonpartisan structural reform that empowers huge numbers of both conservatives and liberals.

For example, in my state--California--we always vote Blue for the President, representing the vast majority of the state's population. But a third of the state is conservative, and occupy a majority of the eastern 2/3 of the state, away from the coast. This conservative minority simply has no say in who becomes president. The liberal minority of Texas--about a third, I think-is similarly voiceless.

Proportional electoral college representation doesn't advantage either party, yet gives a huge number of Americans much more of a say in national politics.

It's the kind of reform fair-minded liberals, conservatives and moderates should go for. And if we propose things like this we also start to make the political dialog less polarized, which helps with other issues as well.

Nonpartisan redistricting is another. Today redistricting is seen by both parties as a tool for partisan advantage, ruthlessly wielded. Nonpartisan redistricting moves power away from both parties' Washington leadership and back towards the people. That's another nonpartisan reform we should be arguing for--perhaps ahead of more divisive issues.

a constitutional question

Our Constitution is touted as a sacred document that must not be questioned--by those who profit from its current form.

Likewise, those who say anything not explicitly stated by the Constitution is un-constitutional are those who profit (ideologically or financially) from having this be the case. Not because they really think its current formulation is, literally and divnely, perfect.

Consider this: not one word of the Constitution says anything about political parties or corporations--neither of which existed when it was written.

Does this mean both should be banned? Or allowed to exist completely outside our Constitution's framework?

More reasonably, one would think we could use an amendment that explicitly accounts for and regulates the two forces that utterly dominate American politics today.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

China cheats

So now our government has made it official--China's primary source of technology is what it either forces American businesses to give them as a prerequisite for doing business with them--or steals it outright, through a massive, covert, ceaseless cyberwar conducted against us.

As many have known for a long, long time. The real question is what should we do about it? We're in an interesting position since the Republicans financed two wars and huge giveaways to the richest Americans by borrowing from the Chinese (and others--but the Chinese have a huge share).

We could mount a cyberwar to steal technology from the Chinese, but the reason they're stealing so much of ours is that theirs sucks. Of course we should invest massively in countermeasures, but should we do anything besides trying to build higher, better walls?

And if we do, what would be proportionate?

A start might be to revisit the treaty with Taiwan that Nixon abrogated in his efforts to suck up to the People's Republic.Of course at that time Chiang Kai Shek's government claimed sovereignty over mainland China, basically saying everyone had to choose between recognizing the PRC or Taiwan. Well, that was idiotic to be sure. But now Taiwan claims no such thing. At the same time its government is playing footsy with China and Chinese and Taiwanese business interests have become entwined, so it's not a simple situation. But just restoring our formerly close relationship with Taiwan would be a tiny start at reigning in China's imperial ambitions and rampant theft of American intellectual property.

Note that the second biggest cyberthief of American IP is Russia. No surprise there either. Here again the trick is a proportionate response. After all, we can't even get an astronaut into space without going to the Russians hat in hand, due to our Republican government of 2000-2008 tossing our manned space program under the bus.

But I wonder if a covert op would be possible that ground Russian Internet access to a crawl as long as Russia's rulers continue behaving like a crime family posing as a government?

One principle I am sure of: governments should never complain about anything they aren't prepared to do something about. I look forward to seeing what the current administration does about these two thieving countries.

Republican politicians don't believe in up or down votes

Both parties have been known to block legislation and appointments by preventing bills and nominations from coming to the floor for a vote. This is perfectly legal in our primitive system of government--and by "primitive" I mean the same thing as was true of American TV signals before we adopted digital transmission: as the first TV country we had the best signal available at the time--but the PAL standard adopted by other countries later was much higher resolution (ditto France's SECAM).

Likewise, our democracy has the lower resolution of early TV, with a lot of mechanisms well suited to a rural economy in the horse and buggy days, but unable to act decisively when the minority party chooses to gum up the works.

The Republicans have gone so far as to say "majority" means "60%"--something that would dumbfound the Founding Father, since the need for minority consent to do anything is simply minority rule.

And they have blocked so many pieces of legislation and nominations as to make it the default now.

To the extent that both major parties keep legislation and nominations from coming to a vote they oppose democracy and seek to impose their will on the American people when the ballot box doesn't support them.

Minorities have important rights in any real democracy. But control of government shouldn't be one of them.

Bali says Hi!

Want to visit a foreign land that welcomes Americans--and not just for our $$$? Visit Bali, which, having had its economy also damaged (far more than ours) by Islamofascist mass murderers, regards Americans as brothers in arms. They also appreciate the fact that, unlike so many Europeans and Chinese, we don't talk down to them.

This was our 6th visit to Bali, and it was wonderful--apart from the nearly empty mosque nearby blaring out its harangues at astonishing volumes from before dawn to late at night. The Balinese Muslims who've been there for a while have been as friendly as the Hindu majority. But the outsiders from Java buying up land, building mosques, then using them to dominate the acoustic landscape at all hours are something else.

And they're typical of Islamic authorities in my experience traveling abroad. It was especially interesting because while there are increasing numbers of Javanese Muslims streaming into Bali in hopes of cashing in on Bali's tourist trade, the local mosque really was an empty shell with giant loudspeakers.

I don't think American mosques are hotbeds of terrorism. Most Muslims who immigrate to America are better educated and we assimilate them more than the Europeans do. But I know all of them would mount the giant loudspeakers given half a chance--a practice not mentioned in the Koran BTW.

That's what we need--strict enforcement of noise ordinances. I'd feel the same way about church bells if they started before dawn and were amplified like the mosques' harangues are. But they don't and they aren't.

So when mosques come up, be sure to raise the noise issue. Anyone who's traveled in Muslim lands will know what I mean.