Saturday, May 25, 2013

What A Country!

It's all too easy.  You watch the nightly news and read any of the national papers and you begin to wonder if we aren't on the decline, after all.

We've seen tragedies like the shootings in Aurora, Colorado and Newtown, Connecticut.  We've seen peoples' lives literally washed away in Superstorm Sandy, and blown apart in Moore, Oklahoma and West, Texas.

We've seen how inadequate the aid has been, and how slow in coming.  We see dozens of families still homeless in New York, months after help was promised in the aftermath of Sandy.

Unemployment remains high, and a historic percentage of Americans have been out of work for more than a year.  People are losing their jobs.  They are losing their homes.  They are losing hope.

Many have tried to put their faith in the government coming to the rescue and providing relief, yet we've been inundated lately with reports of scandals involving government malfeasance:  Lies and potential cover ups over the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya.  Reports of the IRS illegally targeting conservative and Tea Party groups applying for 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status for additional and intrusive examination, while giving liberal-leaning organizations a relative "rubber stamp" of approval.  There's also information coming to light that the Department of Justice was using it's power to "go after" FoxNews, as an organization, and Fox's Washington Chief correspondent personally, claiming he was a "co-conspirator", as well as a "flight risk(?!)" in order to get a judge to approve the order to allow them access to phone records and emails.  This same DoJ also illegally subpoenaed 2 months of phone records of the Associated Press, without either gaining the approval of a court (required by law) or notifying the AP of the search and seizure (also required by law).  Private individuals have come forward, testifying in Congressional hearings that they were targeted by government for scrutiny and financial audits by reason of their political activism and/or criticism of the President.

Does this sound like a government "of, by, and for the people"?  A government that has as it's primary obligation the preservation of individual rights and liberty?  A government that you can have faith in?  When you add in the continuing attacks on our Constitutional rights (1st Amendment, 2nd Amendment, 10th Amendment, etc.)?  Not from where I sit.  From my point of view, the future is looking pretty dim.

Then I got my optimism renewed in (of all places) a Family Dollar (tm) store.  I had stopped in to get my mother a couple packages of her favorite (oatmeal raisin) cookies.  As I was standing in the checkout line, I couldn't help but notice the array of products avail; all for a dollar!  Bic lighters, decks of cards, ball point pens, digital calculators, toys for the kids, the list seemed virtually endless.  Later in the trip I had reason to visit another bargain, dollar-type store.  In this particular store were more than affordable prices on everything from $5 Polo shits and shorts, to name brand household appliances for as little as $35-40, to imported room and woven area rugs.  Goods that would have been beyond the reach of many middle-class families a couple of generations ago are being sold at prices that would have been inconceivable at the time of their introduction, allowing even the poorest  to achieve a luxurious standard of living beyond even that of the richest of people 100 years ago.

It's even more amazing when you stop to consider the genius required to provide this bounty.  For example, the technology that goes into the creation of even a simple digital calculator is worth much, much more than $1.  A "cheap" set of plastic plates, cups and servingware?  Someone had to invent the method of turning oil into plastic, someone had to conceive of the possibility of plastic dishes and create the technology that makes them.  How much brain power?  How much time & effort?  How much trial and error?  How much money invested?  Certainly more than $1's worth.

The now ubiquitous cell phone?  You can now hold in the palm of your hand computer technology far beyond even that which powered the space race and landed man on the moon, and gives you access to all of the knowledge of the world with the press of a finger; a luxury truly beyond price even 50 years ago.

During the span of time that all of these advances were being made, we've gone through two World Wars, Vietnam, Korea, multiple conflicts in the Middle East, the Great Depression, the environmental disaster of the Dust Bowl, the oil embargo of the 70's followed by the recession in the early 80's, political protests and violent riots in the 60's, the dot-com bubble in the early 2000's, the financial collapse and the housing bubble; we've seen the near collapse of "invulnerable" industries such as GM and Chrysler, we've had a President resign under a cloud of scandal (sound familiar?), we've had the S&L bailout, the Congressional page scandal, the House Post Office scandal (Congressmen could, and did, use the Post Office as a bank, kiting checks and never remedying the overdraft, but never called to account).  In short, we've never had a significant span of time in the entire history of our country without some sort of crisis, scandal, and financial hardship.

If we as a country can make the strides we have, in spite of all the chaos we've gone through in the past, there's no reason to give up hope now.  We may even go on to reach even greater heights of individual and national achievement.  Looking back at what we've been able to achieve in a relatively short span of time (historically), what a country!


Sunday, May 19, 2013

Will We Ever Learn?

Just how many more times are we going to have to witness the collapse of the same tired old belief systems?  It's as if mankind were condemned to watch the same movie over and over, without any recollection of how the movie ends.  Or with a belief that this time, somehow, the show will end differently, despite the same characters speaking the same lines, taking the same actions that result in the same ends.

The belief that Socialism, a completely altruistic society, can ever be instituted successfully is one of the most destructive of these belief systems.  The idea of "From each according to his ability.  To each according to his needs" is pure poison, yet each generation appears doomed to learn this lesson the hard way.  The latest of these "Schools of Hard Knocks" is Venezuela.

This week it was reported that the government was in desperate need of common, basic, everyday supplies for it's people and would be importing 50 million...........rolls of toilet paper!  That's right, the "people's paradise" of Hugo Chavez's Bolivian Revolution can't even provide people the ability to wipe their own collective asses.

Shortages of consumer staples is nothing new to the citizens of Venezuela, unfortunately.  During the reign of Chavez the people have suffered through shortages of such necessities as milk, butter, coffee(!) and cornmeal.  Disruptions in power and water supplies are also common, with some citizens utilizing water barrels to collect and store reserves in preparation for the next outage.  It is notable that the People's Palace never suffered the same shortages and deprivations as the commons.  Chavez came to power as a revolutionary proclaiming the rights of the workers to their share of the wealth of the nation, previously the exclusive property of the greedy, evil businessmen and corrupt government officials.  Odd then, isn't it, how it appears that he simply replaced himself as the country's overlord and replaced the old guard's cronyism with his own?

Mankind has borne witness to this scenario countless times throughout it's history.  Altruism does not exist.  It never has.  It never will.  Future tyrants always rise to power through their promises to the "disenfranchised" and the "exploited proletariat" of a "fair share" of the material possessions and wealth gained as a result of the "greedy" landowners exploitation of their labor.  What actually happens is that the workers simply replace one set of masters with another, often more brutal group.

We saw this in the revolutions in Russia and China.  The "evil rich", the farmers who owned vast expanses of land and raised the crops and food animals that fed their nation, had their properties seized, crops burned and animals slaughtered by marauding mobs goaded to action by their revolutionary "leaders" proclamation of both the evil greed of the landowners and the moral right of the people to take their property.  In many cases, once the farmers had been murdered, and after the land had been parceled out to it's "rightful owners" or claimed by the government in the name of the people, it was discovered that the new occupiers had no idea what they were doing.  They had no more idea of how to successfully run a productive farm than did their new overlords.  The practices of crop rotation and animal husbandry were a mystery to those who insisted upon the belief that the acquisition of wealth was nothing more than a matter of seizing the means of production, independent of the need to learn how to produce. 

The result was crop failure, food shortages, famine & death.  For the people.  For the revolutionaries, their existence was far less uncomfortable.  As the "great leaders" and "visionaries", tasked with the great responsibility of leading the people onward to Utopia, they were entitled to take their "cut" off the top.  It is no different in Venezuela.  It is no different in Cuba.  It is no different in South Africa.  It is no different in Argentina.  It is no different in Mexico.  It is no different in Chile.  It will be no different in Greece.  It will be no different in Cyprus.  It will be no different in the rest of the Eurozone. 

And, unless we learn from past history and present example, it will be no different in America. 

Socialism is for the people, not the socialists.

Damn, I hate re-runs.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Media Malpractice?

The security of Constitutionally guaranteed individual liberty and personal freedom has always rested on the actions of a well educated and well informed public.  To that end, the establishment of the Bill of Rights.  Chief of which is the First Amendment guaranteeing freedom of speech and freedom of the press.  A free press, protected from interference or influence by wealthy, powerful and politically connected interests, is of crucial importance when it comes to the creation and maintenance of a well educated and well informed public.  Lately, we have been witness to increasingly blatant evidence of politically biased coverages and "slants" to news stories, as well as what seem to have been political calculations as to what stories were deemed "newsworthy".  There used to be a name for such practices:  Yellow Journalism.

There is no doubt of a liberal bent to most mainstream media news outlets.  Surveys have shown a tilt as great as 70-80% when it comes to personally held political views, as well as a similar percentage contributing to liberal, Democratic/Progressive causes, politicians, and political parties.  It was accepted that the editorial pages of the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Los Angeles Times, etc., etc. were liberal in tone, just as the editorials in their counterparts, The New York Post, Washington Times, The Weekly Standard, etc., were seen as conservative.  The First Amendment specifically protects such opinion, as it should.  The problem arises when the line between news and opinion becomes blurred.  When personal political opinion and ideological agendas are presented as news fact, and certain other, perhaps contradictory, information  is not given full disclosure, or is omitted altogether in furtherance of such agendas we lose something of incalculable value. 

The "papers of record" get replaced by a Pravda-style State controlled or influenced propaganda outlets whose purpose is to mold public opinion in favor of a certain political point of view, rather than a source of impartial information through which people can form their own conclusions, and use those conclusions to inform their own political choices.

Benghazi is back in the news.  Belatedly, insofar as the mainstream media is concerned.  It isn't looking good for either the administration, or the media that has seemingly been complacent in the administration's attempt to keep certain information from coming to light.

Thanks to some truly courageous whistle blowers, earlier "conspiracy theories" concerning the Obama administration's manipulation of the information coming out of Benghazi, Libya after the attacks on our diplomatic outpost there and the murder of Ambassador Stevens, a member of his staff and two brave former SEALs who attempted to come to their aid, have been borne out as not as outlandish as the administration's representatives would have had us believe. 

Information in the form of direct Congressional testimony by high ranking career State Department officials involved has contradicted the Obama administration's claims.  Almost point for point.  From information revealing that it was known almost immediately that the attack was a well planned assault staged by the Al Aqsa Brigade, a well known Al Qaida group operating in the region (NOT a spontaneous response to some third rate YouTube video), along with the revelation that the CIA talking points given to the administration included references to that fact, as well as information that they had advance warning concerning possible attacks on our facility and concerns about security well before the attacks occurred; to confirmation of claims by others that military assistance had been called for, repeatedly and desperately, and had been denied by someone high up in the administration.  It has since been confirmed by ABC News that the administration had re-edited the talking points as many as 12 times before UN Ambassador Susan Rice was sent out on 5 of the Sunday talk shows with her since-debunked claims of the video being the root cause of the attacks, scrubbing any and all references to Al Qaida and terrorism.  One internal email from the State Department made reference to the need to avoid the possibility that revealing potential terrorist involvement would be used by the political enemies of the administration.

None of this is news to people who have been paying attention to something other than the network news outlets.  People have been demanding answers for Benghazi since the attacks, refusing to accept the inconsistencies of the government's declarations and questioning the missing information.  Unanswered questions, such as: "Who pushed the video?" as the officially named cause of the attack, in the face of any evidence supporting such an assertion, and continued to stand by the official line long after the claim had been discredited?  "Who was ultimately responsible for ordering military responders to 'Stand Down' when they requested authority to mount a rescue attempt?"  This one is still largely unanswered, with contradictory statements being offered at different times.  One thing is clear, when it comes to authorizing military action into another sovereign country there is only one individual who has the responsibility and authority:  the Commander-in-Chief.  Which brings up the biggest and most serious unanswered question: "Where was Obama during the 7 hours the attack was ongoing?"  This is the biggie, but don't expect anyone from the mainstream media, or even Fox News for that matter, to press the president or his administration for the answer to this one.  Don't look for the announcement of any press conference.  Not only has this President shown a marked aversion to unscripted question and answer sessions, but given the prominence of the Benghazi testimony in the current news cycle, he will be certain to face potentially awkward questions, at least one of which will concern his activity and location during the assault.  The White House published photos of our "courageous" President surrounded by his advisers in the Situation Room during the operation to take out Osama bin Laden, where are the photos of similar meetings and monitoring of the situation during Benghazi?

Our primary sources of news and information, our free press, our "unbiased" news media, has shown itself to be, instead of a servant of the people and of the people's "right to know", largely a propaganda machine promoting certain political causes and protecting the image of certain politicians.  However, some of these outlets--those for whom it's not too late--may be forced by circumstances to finally begin to fulfill their obligation to inform the American people and to provide them with the unbiased "who? what? when? where? how?" information they are supposed to.  Any who fail to do so, who continue to suppress information in service to any party's political agenda or President, is guilty of media malpractice

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Road to Hell & Dual-edged Swords

In the aftermath of any major catastrophic event, whether natural disaster or mass shooting or terrorist attack, conspiracy theories sprout like dandelions after a summer shower and there are demands that "something has to be done" to prevent such from ever happening again.

We saw this in the wake of the original 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, when we were attacked on home soil for the first time in the country's history since the War of Independence.  The result was the formation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Patriot Act, and the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) and the requirement that in order to board an airplane we allow ourselves to be subjected to invasive body scans and physical pat downs.  After the "shoe bomber" the requirement that we take off our shoes was added to the list.  From the fringes of both sides there were shouts of "Conspiracy!" with claims ranging from "the government planted explosive charges in the towers and brought them down on purpose (1) so "W" would have an excuse to wage war, or (2) to perpetuate the persecution of the followers of Islam and provide an excuse for "The Great Satan" to wage war on the "Religion of Peace", to claims that the government was using the situation as justification for broadening it's power and intrusion into the lives of law-abiding citizens in violation of their Constitutional rights.

Conspiracy theories abound even after natural disasters.  In the aftermath of "Irene", "Sandy", "Hugo" and "Katrina", et al., there were  demands that government "help" be both quicker to arrive and broader in scope.  Where we used to have the Red Cross, now we've got FEMA.  The aid used to be immediate and locally based, now it's slowed and made largely wasteful and inefficient by distance and unnecessary levels of bureaucracy.  At every step, you have to submit to government inspection of your need and approval of aid, meaning that you cannot act to help yourself (or your neighbor) without risking the disapproval of any such aid.  Even if you don't want or need aid, you are told to not touch anything until government inspectors have been by to "evaluate the situation".  You see, if you act to help yourself it lessens the extent of damage seen by the inspectors, potentially impacting the amount of federal aid dollars the state can expect to receive; and everyone knows (conspiracy theory) that's all the state is really interested in.  After Katrina, conspiracies ranged from accusations of government acting directly against a group of people "George Bush blew up the levees to kill black people in New Orleans!" to claims of the government acting indirectly to withhold aid " FEMA's too slow!"  "Where's the money the government promised?" "We aren't getting help because George Bush hates black people!" "If this was a white city we'd have all the help we needed."  After "Irene" and "Sandy" there were claims in a similar vein concerning President Obama, saying that his administration didn't do enough to help victims in the northeast because they were already "blue" and that he didn't need to worry about their support and that since he had become President he had "lost touch with regular folks" and had become too detached and "aloof".

You know where this is going.  After the shootings in Columbine, CO we had the imposition of a so-called "Assault Weapons Ban" and cries that "government has the responsibility to take action to prevent such a tragedy from ever happening again".  So along with the ban we got demands that government move to restrict all gun ownership by private individuals "in the name of public safety and the protection of our children", and insistence on a nationwide database of gun owners so we could "keep track of all these dangerous weapons and prevent them from falling into the hands of criminals".  Groups on the right raised the claim that the government and "anti-gun activists" were using the tragedy as a pretense to erase the 2nd Amendment right to "Keep and Bear Arms", often adding the eventual imposition of a "police state" once the civilian population had been "disarmed", while groups on the left claimed that opposition to such was an indication that the NRA and the "gun lobby" was complicit in the murders and that they "only care about their profit, not the countless number of murder victims they are responsible for" with some going so far as to claim that the pro gun side was actually happy to see victims of violent crime reported because it gave them a platform for proclaiming the need for people to bear arms to protect themselves.  Some on the fringe right claimed that President Clinton was "comfortable with a certain level of violence in society" because it helped him drive public sentiment in the direction he wanted, furthering government control of private individuals.  Now that we've had the tragedies of Aurora, CO and Newtown, CT these twin conspiracies have again found full flower in society.

What, if anything, can we do about the above?  Not much.  Whenever there is a tragic event or disaster of any kind our first response has become to demand that someone(else) "do something".  It really appears that the American archetype, the "rugged individualist", is no more.  Despite the wealth of evidence that government really can't be all things to all people and provide everything for everyone every time, it seems that a majority of the population has accepted the notion that (1) they can't (and shouldn't have to) do for themselves and (2) everything will be fine if we only agree to give over more of our tax dollars (and freedoms) to government in exchange for being relieved of the responsibility of taking care of ourselves.  Believe me, ALL politicians are only too happy to oblige.

In the case of national defense and reaction to terrorist attacks such as Oklahoma City, 9/11, and the most recent Boston Marathon bombing it's slightly more complex.  Government is mandated by our Constitution to provide protection and security for the nation against enemies "foreign and domestic".  It HAS to act.  HOW it acts is largely a matter of overreaction and public pressure.  The former is usually caused by the latter demanding that "something be done" immediately.  The problem arises from no one taking the time to contemplate potential "unforeseen consequences".  In spite of all the cries from liberals, the ACLU, and Constitutionalists that the Patriot Act violated citizens' rights, no such claims have either been made or proven.  That doesn't mean that others can't (or won't) eventually take advantage of the framework put into place to do just that.  There's no question that increased surveillance and monitoring helps law enforcement and national security agencies do a better and more effective job protecting us from potential attack, but the same systems that serve to defend can easily be used to suppress and control a population.

What may grow out of a sincere desire and need to protect people and safeguard their freedoms can, and unless vigilantly supervised eventually will, be turned to the control of those same people "for their own good".  If people can be successfully indoctrinated into the belief that they aren't capable of providing for themselves, that in fact it's impossible for anyone to stand on his own without the government's protection, it's a simple matter to get them to agree to give up the tools and skills they need to do so.  Enter the Totalitarian State.  Everything we rely on for protection is a dual-edged sword.  Police?  They can either "Serve & Protect" the public or suppress the public in service of the rich and politically connected.  The military can do great service in defending the country's borders from invasion and foreign attack under the direction of government, or it can be turned to the subjugation of the population at the direction of the same government.  In each case, the tools used are the same, just put to different uses by different people with different agendas.

If we are to limit the number of such "dual-edged swords" we need a wholesale reclamation of the previously mentioned American archetype of independence and self-reliance.  In giving over responsibility for ourselves to the government, we have unwittingly planted the seeds of our possible future enslavement.  Good intentions and all.