Friday, December 09, 2016

A Turning Point to Tyranny?

One need not be a die-hard liberal to notice an alarming trend as we move closer and closer to a Trump presidency. Neither does that trend rely upon hyperbole in order to be genuinely alarming. The president-elect apparently sees no value in the daily security briefings that every modern president has received, detailing the most imminent threats facing the country. He is more concerned with using his Twitter account to strike back at perceived slights, no matter how slight they might be, from union leaders, comedians, journalists, and anyone else who dares to call him on his fondness for conspiracies, his misstatements and misrepresentations, and especially his outright lies.

His further efforts to do away with the freedoms guaranteed under the First Amendment are well-documented: Unilateral actions against all followers of specific religions, his desire to establish and maintain a registry of Muslim Americans, his stated desire to revise libel laws so that journalists and regular citizens who speak out against him can be subjected to litigation - perhaps even criminal prosecution. The list goes on.

Mr. Trump's transition team has circulated a questionnaire to Department of Energy personnel in an effort to obtain the identities of anyone who has worked in support of President Obama's climate change initiatives or attended the U.N. Climate Change Summit. It is not a stretch to assume that the purpose of such a database would be to punish or at least marginalize those whose findings might challenge his industry-centric narrative
In addition, for the first time in memory, the Lincoln Memorial, a preferred site of gatherings and protests, has been designated off-limits to the Million Women's March scheduled for the day after the inauguration, with the only possible explanation being his desire to squelch dissent. And lest one think he is singling out the ladies, the Lincoln Memorial and numerous other public sites are being closed to virtually all demonstrators ahead of the inauguration and for weeks afterward.

I believe that we will see, in the very near future, the tipping point, at which the nation will either remain free or step finally into the brand of tyranny that Mr. Trump seems to be seeking. The Army Corps of Engineers has announced that it will not issue permits to allow the pipeline to be installed in the protested area, citing both the treaty agreement outlining valid Native American tribal claims and the very real potential for devastating ecological impact. It's an impact that could, among other things, poison the drinking water for millions of people, should a rupture occur such as has happened with alarming frequency in recent months and years. In response, the company building the pipeline has stated that it intends to proceed according to plan, ignoring the Corps' denial of permits and paying whatever fines are levied, since doing so wold be more economical than compliance.

It is the government's response to this action that I believe will be the "canary in the coal mine," as my wife describes it, after which we will remain a relatively free state or descend fully into a tyranny. Simply put, will the law enforcement agencies that have been aggressively going after the water protectors/protesters thus far change their focus to the pipeline company employees, whose defiance of the Corps of Engineers and resumption of construction is a clear breach of the law?

If law enforcement enforces the Corps' ruling as one would hope, it would be a very good sign, However, if law enforcement agencies continue to go after the peaceful protesters who are engaging in legal protest, and actually protect the construction workers who are breaking the law, it must be assumed that the march to tyranny has become the official policy of the land. At that point, each citizen must decide whether they are willing to allow the country to undergo a fundamental shift that literally brings to an end this remarkable exercise in democracy that the founders envisioned. If this is unacceptable, the only alternative is to resist in any manner we can.

Our first effort must be to convince our elected officials that allowing such a shift in our political structure is a clear breach of the oaths that all elected officials and military personnel have taken, and to pressure these oath-takers to fulfill those oaths. I'm still hopeful that there is enough love of country to outweigh the partisan pressure and outright manipulation that has become the norm over the last few decades. If that hope proves false, however, each of us must decide whether we are willing to end this experiment.

The choices facing us at that point will be hard, indeed. But democracy, by its very nature, is difficult and messy. I, for one, think it is worth it, and intend to fulfill my oath. I would hope that every other citizen would take that decision into prayer, however they might be inclined, and to seek whatever guidance rings most true to them and choose the path that will best provide their children and their children's children with the same freedoms we cherish, rather than sitting silent and allowing it to slip away forever.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

How Did We Come To This?

In a little over a month, we, the citizens of the United States, will be electing a person to the most powerful job in the world, one that has the capacity to improve lives across the face of the planet, or to set in motion events that could very easily lead to human extinction, all at the stroke of a pen or the utterance of a few words. We will be electing the 45th President of our young country.

What is both sad and truly frightening is that it has become abundantly clear that far too many who have the power of their vote are not taking the heavy responsibility that comes with that power seriously. Too many pay heed only to things that reinforce their heavily biased likes and dislikes, and they ignore even what should be the most worrisome aspects of their chosen candidate’s actions, words, history, and character. No matter how well-proved a concept, or how well-documented an event or statement, the decision is too often made to rationalize, twist, and spin an event sufficiently to reinforce a chosen narrative, rather than consider it on its own merits.

I frequently find myself referring to a brilliant passage, written by Kurt Vonnegut in what is, for me, his seminal work, “Breakfast of Champions.” In the passage, the book’s protagonist, Kilgore Trout, describes the absurdity, the dangers, and in the final analysis, the futility of ideas in our modern culture. I offer the passage here, for your review.

And here, according to Trout, was the reason human beings could not reject ideas because they were bad: “Ideas on Earth were badges on friendship or enmity. Their content did not matter. Friends agreed with friends, in order to express friendliness. Enemies disagreed with enemies, in order to express enmity.

The ideas Earthlings held didn’t matter for hundreds of thousands of years, since they couldn’t do much about them anyway. Ideas might as well be badges as anything.

They even had a saying about the futility of ideas: ‘If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.’
And then Earthlings discovered tools. Suddenly agreeing with friends could be a form of suicide or worse. But agreements went on, not for the sake of common decency or self-preservation, but for friendliness.

Earthlings went on being friendly, when they should have been thinking instead. And when they built computers to do some thinking for them, they designed them not so much for wisdom as for friendliness. So they were doomed. Homicidal beggars could ride.

Over the course of the last decade or so, we have not only programmed our machines so as to reinforce our “badges,” we have taken to structuring our approach to governance and even our closest relationships in like manner. We have no qualms about berating friends and loved ones for not wearing our chosen badge, and have shown an escalating willingness to abandon even those ideals we claim to hold dear if those ideals are actually demonstrated by someone with a different badge. Too many people bellow their patriotism at the top of their lungs, even as they demand that the core principles upon which that patriotism is supposedly based are discarded and damned.
A twice democratically-elected president is reviled, disrespected, and sabotaged, even in the House and Senate, by those who have taken oaths to fulfill the responsibilities of their offices, to work in tandem with fellow officials who may or may not share their political or religious ideologies. They demand that the will of the majority be ignored, and the laws they have sworn to uphold be broken, rather than work with a man they didn’t vote for.
They do everything in their power to discredit, delegitimize, and even destroy a politician they do not like, even threatening to imprison or kill her, should the voters decide that she is their preferred candidate.
They bloviate about their commitment to a Constitution most have never read, yet pick and choose which aspects of that Constitution they are willing to acknowledge. They demand the right of mentally unstable citizens to purchase weapons of destruction, but demand the silencing – or the heads – of journalists who seek the truth. They scream about what they perceive to be government overreach and tyranny, yet clamor to the side of candidates who profess their desire to be unencumbered by any laws or Constitutional limits.
As we near the day of the election, I cannot help but wonder what lies beyond. I sense that a cataclysmic sequence of events is all too possible, no matter which way the election goes. If a tyrant is elected, we will almost certainly lose most of our allies around the world, and will definitely lose their trust. At the same time, our enemies will be emboldened, knowing that they no longer face a united front consisting of all rational nations and their leaders. Actions once considered unthinkable are now very much a part of the debate. Torture, genocide, and nuclear holocaust are considered by the worst among us to be viable tools for achieving our goals, and the kind of rhetoric we as a country and a world rejected over 80 years ago has become mainstream and deemed worthy of consideration. And if the tyrant loses, a significant number of his supporters - self-described as "patriots" - threaten to overthrow the government to which they so loudly and proudly proclaim their allegiance.
I think we all need to listen to our own words, and ask ourselves, Is this the kind of country and world we want to leave our children and their children? Are the lessons we are teaching them really consistent with our proclaimed values as Americans? Or do we want to leave our children a world in which they can feel valued and safe from rage, both within and beyond our borders? If nothing else, do we really believe our children will look upon us with pride if we leave for them a world – or a country – always on the brink of war, over badges? And what if you learn that your children choose not to don the badges you prefer? What then?

Friday, August 26, 2016

Womens’ Equality Day

August 26, 2016 is the 96th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment, granting women the long-overdue right to vote. This date was officially designated as Women’s Equality Day in 1971. It is, I think, only fitting on this day that we commit ourselves to making women’s equality a reality, rather than just the reason for yet another designated “special” day. That reality will naturally mean different things to different people, but there are a few core precepts that deserve a place on anyone’s list.

  • – For the abrogation of both “men’s rights” and “women’s rights,” replacing both with “human rights” that are acknowledged irrespective of gender. Rights exclusive to one group or gender cannot exist without denying those rights to the other.
  • – For ideas to have value on the basis of their logic, benevolence, and integrity, rather than being accepted in spite of or because of their having been put forward by a woman or a man. The first step toward the realization of such a goal is for both men and women to set aside defensiveness when considering a perspective that appears different on the surface that our own, and to recognize that using dismissive terms like “womansplaining” and “mansplaining” fail to further the dialog, much less the understanding or changing of others’ perspectives.
  • – To recognize and address sexism when it taints a discussion or behavior, but to not strive to brush aside every point of disagreement or every personal dislike by deeming it an example of sexism. Men and women are genetically and culturally-inclined to perceive some things differently, and while the cultural imperatives can be revised over time, genetic conditioning is the product of many millennia, and therefore slower to be revised. Both are better discussed and understood than attacked, if one’s commitment is to achieving gender cooperation and consensus.
  • – And ultimately, to strive to be respectful and fair in one’s dealings with others, including those with whom we disagree. Just as a true friendship cannot be based in absolute agreement, neither must enmity be based in different points of view. By granting to others the benefit of the doubt until such time as it proves unwarranted to do so, we enhance the likelihood that other people’s understanding will grow more sophisticated and accepting of us. It is only through such mutual understanding and respect that we can hope to transcend the ugly realities of sexism, misogyny, and misandry and enjoy living in a state of genuine rather than forced or feigned equality.

Monday, July 18, 2016

News In A Post-TMZ World

I watched a couple of on-air interviews yesterday, with George Stephanopolous interviewing Donald Trump and his campaign manager, and Leslie Stahl, interviewing Trump with his running mate, Pence. When Trump's campaign manager told George that "Hillary created ISIS," George started to challenge the accusation, to which the surrogate said, "I'm not going to go down that road with you." And the subject was dropped. And when Stahl tried to press on one of Trump's many accusations of Hillary, he merely talked over her, and she allowed the subject to be changed.

 I worry as much about the decline of real journalism as I do about the rise of bullies who would lie, threaten, bully, and frighten their way into public office, because journalists who are brave enough to demand truth are our single best weapon against tyrants.

 I worry that younger generations have never seen the likes of a Walter Cronkite, or seen a reminder of what freedom of the press is supposed to stand for. I wish we had someone like Edward R. Murrow, who dared stand up to Joseph McCarthy - my generation's Trump - and expose him for what he truly was. As Murrow said:

 “It is necessary to investigate before legislating, but the line between investigating and persecuting is a very fine one, and the junior senator from Wisconsin has stepped over it repeatedly. His primary achievement has been in confusing the public mind, as between the internal and the external threats of Communism. We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men — not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular.

 Next time you're asked to sign a petition, consider instead starting or signing one that will *not* fall on deaf ears, directed to those media owners and executives who control what will be covered, said, and accepted as truth. Because the harsh truth is that your viewership means infinitely more to media bigwigs than your vote means to elected officials. And that desperately needs to be reversed.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

I've seen this collection of whines on Facebook a number of times, and decided it was about time to offer what I believe to be a reasoned, more educated response, regardless of the flames it might elicit among the members of the fringe right who can see my timeline.

  • Deriding everything a mixed-race president says, does, or tries to do might not make someone a racist, but it sure acts like one.
  • Threatening bodily harm against someone who doesn't share your ideology - particularly threatening "2nd Amendment solutions" - does constitute terrorism.
  • Understanding the Constitution rather than bending it to match one's politics is an essential element in defending it. Teabaggers don't even know or acknowledge the agendas of those who fund and orchestrate the movement.
  • When "speaking your mind" becomes an attempt to silence others and abandon basic American values such as "innocent until proven guilty," it constitutes a national security threat greater than that which jihadists present.
  • One who rejects clear and well-proven answers to questions, simply because they don't conform to their own preconceptions is a troublemaker, operating from a place of cognitive dissonance at best, and willful ignorance at worst.
  • One is a birther when... well, just read the item immediately preceding this one.
  • Nobody has claimed that exposing corruption on "the other side's" part while condoning, denying, characterizing, or ignoring corruption on "your side" constitutes treason. Lying (or blindly accepting lies) accusing political enemies of corruption in an effort to undermine the orderly, legal fulfillment of governance can rise to the level of treason (or sedition under Logan Act definitions). Ignoring corruption on one's own side at the same time isn't treason; merely hypocrisy.
  • Conspiracy theorists rely solely upon "facts" that support their preconceptions. See cognitive dissonance / willful ignorance, above.
  • The Teabaggers are the primary group that claims a failure to toe the (TEA) party line constitutes un-American behavior.
  • Those who support rushing into wars for economic reasons, yet fail to support measures to support and provide care for troops who are damaged or killed in those endeavors are worse than war-mongers. One who lies to justify a war is clearly a war-monger.
  • Anyone who demands the benefit of all the perks of a developed society, but refuses responsibility for contributing to the development and maintenance of those perks IS a greedy capitalist. Or a spoiled child.
Take pride in working to improve the country, rather than trying to blame others for things the country does in your name and with your at least implicit support.

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