Tuesday, October 31, 2006

As I sit here writing this we are about a week away from the 2006-midterm elections. I’m sure you’ve noticed a few political ads on the TV lately. As I have just finished a voter awareness program at my local church I thought I would share a few thoughts with you. This will not be as intense as that asinine “Vote or Die” campaign during the 2004 elections. I would never burden you with such hyperbole. Instead they will merely be the thoughts of someone who is both concerned for and irritated by the current state of affairs.

First let’s approach the concept of wasting your vote. By wasting your vote I mean voting someone who neither Democrat nor Republican. Usually when someone votes for a member of the Green Party or the Libertarian Party people far too beholden to the two major American political parties chide them for wasting their vote. I say the only way you can waste a vote is by not using it. You have the freedom to vote for the candidate you feel is best qualified for that position. It doesn’t matter if it’s the mayor of a small town or the President of the United States of America you have the right to vote for whomever you see fit.

The reason people use this weak wasting your vote concept is rather simple. They don’t want their party to lose. Since I’m not particularly cozy with either the donkeys or the elephants, I don’t care. Sure I’m not happy with what the Republicans have accomplished in the last twelve years of controlling Congress and six years of having the White House. In fact I’m rather irate with them. But I’m not blindly loyal to the Democrats. In fact if you really look at what the Democrats and the Republicans stand for a whole lot doesn’t separate them. In fact the two party system in this country is a joke everyone is afraid to laugh at, if I may twist Voltaire. I really think we need to use our votes on candidate outside the two main parties to shake the system up a bit. As it stands right now both parties are in bed with special interests. If the people were to start voting in candidates from outside the current system however you would see a major shift in the paradigm. It’s either that or the Democrats and the Republicans would make it next to impossible for the other parties to get on a ballot.

When you do vote it is mission critical that you are informed. So I have a few suggestions. One is ignore the political ads. The advertisements employed by campaigning politicians are pathetic narcissistic nonsense. If political ads were translated into what the candidates would really like to say they would sound like this, “I’m great and my opponent is an asshole.” This is not exactly the stuff of the great Lincoln Douglas debates. You could look to newspaper endorsements but most newspapers have an editorial bias and seldom venture from it. So my advice to you is to keep an eye on sources that are impartial. One is C-Span. Sure C-Span can be as dull as a nature special on the mating habits of the Nicaraguan fruit fly but there is a lot of good unvarnished information there. You just need the dedication to go get it. The other source I really like is Project Vote Smart. Project Vote Smart is a fine non-partisan gathering of information indeed. Everything you need to make good decisions is in there somewhere.

I must now whine and complain about one of my pet peeves, single-issue voters. You’ve seen them. Usually they’re all worked up over some emotional hot button issue like abortion or gay marriage. I swear they would vote for a Nazi if the Nazi promised to ban abortion or never allow gays to marry. The problem with these people they are usually poorly informed. If you truly press these people on let’s say abortion they have nothing to offer to the conversation. Let’s say you ask them if they would rather vote for a candidate who wants to ban abortions or a candidate who doesn’t want to ban them but rather offer things like a living wage, guaranteed maternity leave, bigger tax credits for adoption and universal health care in an effort to make abortions rare. They will almost invariably get all excited and tell you how wrong abortions are and how it should be outlawed. When you press them on bringing babies into a world that treats them as if they are expendable, they usually don’t give a shit. So there is the problem in a nutshell. Their single-mindedness leads to complete lack of willingness to compromise and the ignorance of assuming they are absolutely correct.

One last thing before I put this puppy to bed. Please I beg of you, be active politically. Voting is simple thing and no one should be too busy to do. The voter turn out in this country is pathetic. I don’t know if people don’t care or if they don’t realize the awesome responsibility they have. Yes you must feel it is your responsibility to vote. You are responsible to vote because it is your country. Thomas Jefferson once said, and I’m paraphrasing because I’m too lazy to look the exact quote up, we don’t have a country that is run by the majority, rather our country is run by the majority of those who participate. If that doesn’t inspire you to act I don’t know what will. If you want the country to do well by its entire people they must make their voices heard. They must vote, write letters, speak out, rally and protest. You must always remember that the politicians work for you. We elect representatives not exalted and beloved rulers of all they survey. It is we the people that rule this wonderful country not the special interests or the corporations or political parties. It is the people’s responsibility and their responsibility alone to steer this country in the right direction. It isn’t easy but the price of freedom is vigilance. We must be willing to pay that price because the alternative is too awful to consider.

Monday, October 23, 2006

So I’m checking my E-mail and one of friends sends me this little blurb from Democracy Now.

“U.S. Moves Closer to Building New Stockpile of Nuclear WeaponsThe Washington Post is reporting the United States has moved a step closer toward building a new stockpile of nuclear weapons that would last well into the 21st century. Late last week, Bush administration officials announced the start of a multiyear process to repair and replace eight facilities where the nuclear weapons would be developed and assembled. The Bush administration is planning to replace its aging stockpile of warheads with two thousand two hundred new nuclear weapons that would last for decades. The nation's two nuclear weapons laboratories, Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore, are competing to design a new nuclear warhead.”

Am I the only one here who sees the belligerent hypocrisy in this? For the last several months the news has been full of stories about what it would mean to the world’s safety if North Korea or Iran developed nuclear weapons. Now we find out the Bush administration thinks our nuclear stockpile needs tidied up. I mean we can’t let our nuclear weapons get old and obsolete can we? That arsenal of about 10,000 warheads we have isn’t adequate. We need more.

We might have to fight North Korea who maybe has a missile that’s roughly effective as a slingshot.

Iran might use them on Israel. You mean like Pakistan and India almost used them on each other a few years back?

They might get into a terrorist’s hands. Let’s see the former Soviet Union had trouble with people trying to smuggle out fissile nuclear materials after the fall of Communism. Pakistan bought nuclear materials off of North Korea then sold them to Libya. Because Pakistan is our ally in our “War on Terror” their government was not held accountable.

The point is not that nuclear weapons in the hands of despots and radicals wouldn’t be bad. It would be horrific. But the point, if you’re honest with yourself, is that no one should have nuclear weapons. Since the Manhattan Project built the first nuclear weapons over 60 years ago we have loosed a terrible evil. The horrible arms race of the Cold War followed by that technology becoming available to almost any government that can afford it has left us, the human race, in a precarious position. As it stands now we are a people armed with the means to make ourselves extinct. No one should be entrusted with that kind of power. Both Oppenheimer and Nobel thought they could invent weapons horrible enough to prevent men from ever fighting another war. They were wrong. As long as the human race is ruled by fear and greed we will always fight and no weapon will be deemed to terrible to use on the enemy. There used to be something called “Mutually Assured Destruction” which was appropriately abbreviated MAD. MAD what was said to keep the United States and the Soviet Union from using nuclear weapons. They didn’t want to blow one another straight to Hell. So they restrained themselves from using them. Seeing how the United States and the Soviet Union never fought each other directly during the Cold War, only indirectly, I would say MAD was never put to the ultimate test. We’re on an even more dangerous precipice right now. It’s no longer us against them. It’s now several nations with the key to Pandora’s Box. We need to eliminate all nuclear weapons. They are too dangerous for anyone to have. We need to put an end to this before it puts and end to us.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

If I have learned nothing else in watching the tragedy unfold from Pennsylvania Amish Country it is this, The Amish are shining examples to us all. In the wake of having five of their precious daughters killed so senselessly. The Amish people raise their voices in anger or whimper in fear. Instead they forgave the killer. They forgave his family. One family of a slain little girl invited the widow of the killer and his family to her funeral. The Amish have set up a charity for the family of the killer, redirecting some of the half of a million dollars donated to them in the wake of this tragedy.

Where did we go wrong? These simple people have had their world invaded by man who murdered their daughters, and by some accounts even wanted to molest them, and they still forgave him. They still carried on with their lives. The Amish shun modern convenience for a simple life. They live their faith every day. They have the strength to forgive this obviously sick man who caused them so much pain. There was no call for vengeance. There was no call to judge anyone. There was no outcry to even the score. There was only forgiveness.

We could learn a lot from the Amish. I just hope we do.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

In the wake of the Mark Foley scandal the cable news networks are losing their minds trying to find every possible angle. So I’m watching MSNBC and Pat Buchanan is one of those talking head shows, Hardball. Anyway Pat is on there and he spouts of about three to four percent of the population are homosexual and about forty percent of child sexual abuse cases are committed by homosexuals. Immediately my nonsense radar goes on high alert and I start to examine the big steaming shovel load of crap he has just dished out. Of course the host, Chris Matthews, just sits there and doesn’t really try and correct his numbers or challenge his facts because God knows these shows are about politics not the facts.

So as I ponder what nonsense Pat Buchanan has wrought I go off to Google and see what I can find out. Lo and behold there is information a plenty about how gay men are nothing but child molesting machines. Of course it’s all on right wing propaganda pages that think bashing gays gets them a lot closer to Jesus. So I roll my eyes, curse under my breath and continue the search. I finally find some fascinating and, Heaven forbid, logical writing on the subject. The fine Website Religious Tolerance.org has a good piece on this very subject. It also cites an equally wonderful piece of work by Gregory M. Herek. They both offer quite a provoking statement, that while homosexual, bisexual and heterosexual people do sexually abuse children. They do so fairly rarely. In fact the vast majority of child sexual abuse is committed by pedophiles. Pedophiles are adults that are sexually attracted to children. Now according to Herek, not all pedophiles are sexually abusive. Some pedophiles have the attraction but never act on it. Herek also states that we shouldn’t define molestation cases as heterosexual or homosexual but rather male-male, a man sexually abusing a boy, or male-female, when a man sexually abuses a female. This sort of thinking is both intriguing and very logical which is to say it will never make it on a talking head show on a cable network.

Now there are some causes for pedophilia, such as fixated and regressed. Since I am not a psychologist I shall not go into there, please read Herek’s work. I think thought it extremely important that we understand pedophiles and recognize them as separate from the usual distinctions we make about a person’s sexual orientation. Pedophiles should be a distinction all to themselves. We should also stop throwing around the term homosexual to describe child sexual abuse. Of course there is a reason a certain element of population doesn’t want this to stop. They want to demonize homosexuals. They want to blame every instance to male-male child sexual abuse on homosexuals in general and use it as an excuse to oppress them. Of course notice that my relatively meager amount of effort offered intriguing evidence contrary to that.

As for what Mark Foley is I have no idea. I do not know the man or have knowledge of his sexual history. I know that it was no secret that he is gay. I do not know if he was a pedophile or maybe, and if anything more likely, a hebephile, a person attracted to post-pubescent children under the age of 18. The facts will tell us the answers here. But is important that because a male public figure was sexually suggestive and salacious with teenage boys that we do not demonize gays. Homosexuals in this country and on this world in general have suffered enough. We must not make them suffer further indignity by accusing them of things that are false.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Every once in a while a good idea comes at me out of nowhere. I have no idea why this happens but it does and it’s usually best if I act on them as soon as possible. The longer I let them sit and do nothing with them the less interesting they seem to get. So I had an idea today. Actually it was more of an epiphany really. Any more it seems as if my moments of lucidity are getting fewer and fewer so I enjoy it when a good idea comes to me. So enough yapping about my thought processes and let’s get to the thought. Here you go I am not political.

Oh pick your jaw up off of the floor. It doesn’t mean I don’t observe and care about what is now generally known as politics. I do care about the truth, justice and the common good. I do have causes I stand for and will support with great vigor indeed. I just don’t like the mess American politics has become and I simply choose to view it with great disdain. My ideas and beliefs are my own. I do not follow platforms or worry about planks or how something tests with a focus group. I am not interested in compromise or popular opinion. I have no use for straight party line voting. I feel no affinity for either party really or as Chuck D once said. “Neither party is mine not the jackass or the elephant.” Certainly I will support candidates from time to time. But I will do so because I support what they stand for not because they are red or blue. To be honest I have spent the vast majority of my time as voter apathetic towards my choices. I regret not writing in “None of the above” for the presidential elections I have voted in. I consider it a missed opportunity. Of course I will continue to vote. You know the rule, “You can’t bitch if you don’t vote” and I like to bitch way too much. But from here on out I will vote what my conscience, reason and faith dictate and nothing else. I will not hesitate to abstain from races where all the candidates are far less than desirable. I will no longer choose the lesser of two evils just to make a choice.

If being an activist has taught me anything it is this that you really don’t see any issue clearly until you look at it from the outside. Until you remove yourself from the current political system and look at it as an outsider you really don’t see all the traps you can fall into. Until you look at your own set of beliefs and ideas you really don’t stand for much because you are too busy falling for everything.

“I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can't see from the center.”
Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Once again I have had to take a few steps back before I wrote something. Yes friends, politics is becoming that infuriating to me. This is not some partisan rant either. My fear that our democracy is failing is growing.

Recently both the House and the Senate passed legislation, the US Military Commissions Act of 2006, that suspends the right of habeas corpus to alleged enemy combatants. You know, the bad guys those crazy Middle Eastern guys that want to take away your freedom. This legislation also allowed for the use of torture and effectively puts US agents who use torture above the law. HOORAY FOR OUR TEAM!

Relax I’m kidding.

Let’s examine these one by one.

The only slight upside I see to this suspension of habeas corpus is that the judicial system should strike it down as unconstitutional. Note that I said should and not would. With how the Republicans have been packing the courts with conservative judges over the last several years, I’m not betting the farm that it will happen. It should happen but I’m not guaranteeing it. Now our Constitution does allow for suspension of habeas corpus in times of rebellion or invasion. Last time I checked we had neither of those. So until the courts strike it down hopefully, the United States can hold people in jail on suspicion of being a terrorist for as long as they want without any kind of court hearing. So even innocent men can now sit in a jail for what would seem like an eternity just to keep America safe. If given the choice between guys with shoe bombs and a government that can imprison people for as long as they like without habeas corpus, I’ll take my chances with the shoe bombs.

I’ve already written that torture is both immoral and ineffective. So it is essentially worthless. So apparently it makes someone, an ex-cheerleader perhaps, feel awfully manly to have it at his disposal. If Bush’s favorite philosopher truly is Jesus Christ maybe he should reread what Jesus said. He should read all that “Blessed are the peacemakers” goodness. Maybe “Blessed are the merciful” is a little too advanced for him. I can make no sense of a man who spoke at the 2004 RNC about a “mission from beyond the stars”. Which I must admit at the time made me think that Bush was an alien and thought that would explain an awful lot. But, I must get back on topic so pardon my little off topic remark. Anyway If Bush is truly this devout Christian there is no way he could condone water boarding or sexual humiliation. There is no rationalization for the way he treats these alleged terrorists. Notice I said alleged because they have not faced trial and have not been convicted. Also if these are criminals let’s put them on trial, convict them and put them in a real jail. Let’s not hold them forever in these new gulags.

Now in so far as US officials not being subject to prosecution for torturing detainees that were captured before 2005 all I’m going to say is this. If you need to know why the United States of America is not universally loved. If you need to know why foreigners resent us just look at this provision. America has a nasty tendency to consider itself above the rest of the world. If we don’t abide by international laws or even our own law and treat people fairly what reason is there for the rest of the world not to treat us like thugs? If we refuse to obey international law then why should any nation have any respect for our laws? This is a dangerous position we put ourselves in. If we really want to keep ourselves safe from terrorism we need to build bridges not burn them.

We live in dangerous times. We have been wiretapped, our phone records collected and now habeas corpus has been put aside. We are now a nation that endorses torture. We are a now a nation that considers civil liberties a hindrance in the war on terror. When this nation was founded it was truly revolutionary. This nation placed the power in the hands of the people and gave them protection from the government oppression. Now those freedoms are fading. A quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin has been tossed around a lot lately, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” It’s been used a lot lately because it’s germane to our situation. We are allowing the very ideas that made our nation so great be swept away in the names of fear and ignorance.