Friday, December 14, 2012

Newtown, CT

It says a lot about the inherent violence of this country and how I've become numbed by it that it took the deaths of twenty grade school kids to bring me to tears.
Not the slaughter of dozens of young adults in Columbine, or West Virginia, or the movie theatre in Colorado. Not even the Clackamack Mall in Oregon. Those rolled off my back. Those were expected. I've seen that so many times.
But this, this is....
Words fail me.

Nobody Asked Me, But...

1) By now, you've either heard, seen, or read about the foofarall involving Steve Crowder and some union members in Lansing, MI, at a protest against the latest rape of the middle class. Crowder claims he was "beaten by a mob," his words.
Well, the video and facts suggest otherwise. The bits edited out by Crowder but not by FOX News editors, of all people, show the man who "attacked" Crowder had been shoved to the ground, presumably by Crowder, a purported MMA fighter, who himself is stumbling back as if he had just broken a wrestlign hold forcefully (my observation from years of bar fights.)
It's so bad for Crowder that even the local police have serious questions about his veracity.
Indeed, if anything, it looks like Crowder attempted to intervene in an attempt at another right-wing thug, and got whaled on for that. Again, having been in the middle of a few of those myself, I can tell you that to get into someone else's fight, no matter how benign the intent, means you risk being perceived as chooising a side. In Crowder's case, it's established who's side he's on already, so stepping in was tantamount to ganging up on the union guy.
So it's no wonder a crowd descended on, pardon the pun...and beat the snot out of him.
As to his threat on Hannity....tell you what, Steve. I'll take the guy's place, if you'll permit it. You can bring Sean too. I hope you both have Obamacare, though.
3) What happened to Susan Rice shouldn't have happened at all. I'm not sure who instigated the withdrawal from consideration, but if I was Obama, I'd have fought tooth and nail. You are the President, sir, and therefore entitled to choose your own advisors as you see fit. Why do you forget that? Is it part of some grand "fiscal cliff" strategy?
4)  ¹
5) We took care of the last batch, we'll take care of this one, too.
6) Conservatives were right: Obama was re-elected, and gas prices skyrocketed. Also, it's Opposite Day.
7) Gee....what a shock.
8) Wow. Who knew Mandy Patinkin was so smart?
9) A really good analysis of the decline of unions in America, and why they should come back.
10) Oh, Huffington Post...when did you become Maxim Mag-- you stopped reading this already, didn't you?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

One Of These Is Wrong

Either North Korea successfully placed a "weather satellite" in pole-to-pole orbit around the earth or it's spinning wildly out of control and could crash at any moment.
We report, you duck and cover.
This story is less important for the content -- nearly every nation on the planet, including Russia but not China, have forcefully condemned the launch -- and more important for the interesting spin (pardon the pun) the US is putting on it.
Let's assume for a moment that, indeed, the satellite is wildly out of control. So the US is warning the world to keep an eye out. If this was confirmed by anyone else (South Korea is closely tracking the launch, and even picked up the first stage as it splashed down for further examination,) then the US is prudently advising the world of a potential hazard, much like the US warned about SpaceLab back in the 70s, and Russia about its satellite in 2009.
But there's been no independent confirmation. Which makes the US statement curious, to say the least.
So now let's assume it's all smoke. What is the process for making such a statement in the first place?
While the rocket in question has the apparent capacity to reach the US mainland, barely, and certainly has the range to create havoc among our eastern allies, mocking North Korea's technology seems a little beneath the world's greatest superpower, a nation with a bigger military than the next ten nations combined.
However, this seems to be shaping up to be a war by proxy, if "war" might be an overstatement. Perhaps another cold war would be a better way to put it.
It seems pretty clear that China has been using North Korea as a proving ground for some of their weapons capability, which frees them of any direct responsibility for the launches, but allows them to look like a reasonable moderator in the disputes. It also informs how China has been "in the know" about the development program long before North Korea has revealed its program, piece by piece. The Chinese answers seem a bit too pat, too prepared.
By raising doubts in the minds of the Chinese about the effectiveness of their arms, it forces them back to the drawing board, which may actually result in the Chinese making a blunder in re-development that allows the US to track their activities more closely.
But even that seems a bit of a "small beer" gambit. It smacks of TPing a tree in their front yard.
So ponder this, instead. Perhaps the US has been able to wrestle control of the satellite in some fashion, or to somehow interfere with its operation (e.g. colliding a piece of space junk with it.)
Now the statement starts to make a little more sense. It sends a message that "yes, you'll launch and yes, we'll aggressively defend our, er, spacespace."

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Concert For People Who Really Shouldn't Need It (But Do)

Tonight I, like hundreds of millions around the globe, will be glued to my television to watch the 12.12.12 Concert for Sandy Relief.
And like hundreds of millions of people around the globe, I have better things to do with my three hours than sit and watch TV.
It's not that I'm knocking either the concert or the intent behind it. People in this area still need help getting back on their feet and my last few weeks have been spent doing what I can and then some to assist. Even people who adequately prepared and even had enough insurance to cover their losses are waiting around for checks to begin rebuilding and feeding themselves.
It's this last I'm finding a really bitter pill to swallow.
This tragedy occured within ten miles of the greatest concentration of wealth on the planet. Hell, this tragedy affected the greatest concentration of wealth on the planet!
So where are the rich? Where are the dazzling limos and gleaming boats, the pearl-strung ladies who lunch, delivering meals and blankets?
(To be fair, the concert was organized by the Robin Hood Foundation, which was started by hedge fund manager Paul Tudor Jones in 1988, and its board of directors includes some of the glitteriest of the glitterati)
All fall long, we heard from Republicans how a tax hike would absolutely ruin the rich, force them to conserve money and cut jobs. Wouldn't this be an opportunity to show the world you meant what you said, Mitt? That the best way for this nation to grow is to fund the rich more so they can re-invest in our communities?
And I don't mean with some half-assed photo op. Those days are over. How about some real relief, Mitt and minions? How about acknowledging the fact that, indeed, you didn't build that, that it was built by the hard working men and women whose homes were destroyed in the wrath of Nature that was Sandy, created by the same global warming you and your minions have worked so hard to deny?
How about it, rich and powerful? How about parting with a substantial portion of that wealth as a sign of fealty to the nation that gave it to you in the first place, that opened up the opportunities and in many if not most cases, financed it with the tax dollars off the sweat of the very people sitting in cold dark tents on their property?
How about you live your credoes of charity? Instead of financing the wing of some hospital that just happens to treat the prostate cancer you've been diagnosed with or the children's charity that just happens to benefit the nation where your kid was adopted from, how about turning some of that fire hose of funding on this conflagration?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Right, Another Right, A Left Jab

For general classification purposes, I align myself as a liberal.
In point of fact, it goes deeper than that. If I had to label my belief system, I'm a libertarian.
Not the "RON PAUL!" gold-standard, Ameros, government out of everything libertarianism, with a small l, but Libertarianism with a capital. An adult Libertarian, if you will, as opposed to the immature playground libertarianism of Paul and his acolytes.
I was exposed to the roots of Libertarian thought in high school, Sociology to be precise. We attempted to undertand the development of socialization and communities through world history, covering everything from Hammurabi to the Japanese internment camps of World War II.
In this class, we spent a fair amount of time on the men who developed the guiding principles of American democracy: Locke, Bentham, John Stuart Mill.
It was Mill, in particular his treatise On Liberty, which rang the loudest for me. To this day, I've kept a copy of that pamphlet.
I've often tried to reconcile Bentham's notion of the "greatest happiness for the greatest number" with the notion that individual liberty rises supreme above all societal needs.
I'm more attracted to Mill's notion of individual liberty trumping all, which I suspect would find favor with the Paultards too. But here's the part that Paultards always miss: your unfettered freedom stops almost the second you step out your door.
Mill's premise is not that individual liberties trump all. Indeed, far from it. His premise is that unfettered government cannot impose upon the individual's rights: the government, in effect, stops at your front door.
I don't think anyone can deny this is a good thing, except for those who would invade a woman's body for the purposes of dissuading her from having an abortion, and a few other firebrand types. They're idiots, so we're free to move on.
The distinction Mill makes, the difference between libertarianism ("glibertarianism") and Libertarianism ("maturity") is an acknowledgement that the extension of individual rights across the entire population demands that the second your actions impact another person, you lose the right to demand your individual sovereignty and must negotiate your actions because of the effect they will have on others.
Smoking, for instance. No one is about to deny anyone the right to smoke in their own house, bought and paid for (or at least mortgaged). If, however, you want to smoke in a rented apartment, you need the landlord's permission and if he or she says no, then you can't. You're affecting the value of the property, as well as the health of any other tenants in the building.
Similarly, smoking outside. Your second hand smoke kills, in large enough quantities, and it kills people who you might not even know, much less like or dislike. Cities and towns may set aside smoking areas, but they are clearly marked and non-smokers are warned to stay away.
Again, the non-smoker may exercise his right to risk his health.
These are the kinds of negotiations a free society has to engage in in order to function as a community. The landlord may agree to rent to a smoker because that smoker was first in line or has a better credit rating or is in some other way an advantage to the landlord to have around. He might not like the idea but he's comfortable with the choice, knowing it's possible his building might burn down by accident.
This is where a government comes into play: since people play by different rules and want different things, the government has to step in and normalize the rules and regulations so everyone has a fair chance at things. For instance, while it's legal to tell a smoker no, a landlord who refuses to rent to a black person because of the perception that property values will decline will be hauled in front of a judge, posthaste.
This is as it should be. The landlord's rights do not trump the right of a person to live where they want, so long as their behavior warrants it (similarly, an ex-con can be denied an apartment, but that creates a homeless problem and is the subject of a different post. Again, government steps in.)
It is this understanding that choices and actions have consequences and that other people have the right to demand their own individual rights and security be as important in the public square as yours or mine that develops maturity and the nuance of how a society operates.
And why government is important, now more than ever.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Choices We Make

I don't envy Cory Booker his future.
I mean, I do, and I don't. He has the entire world paid out rather clearly in front of him (and I pray there's no secret that is going to derail his future, and what a sad commentary on American society that I have to even think that.)
Which means he has choices. Lots of them.
Right in front of him, in fact are two: he can run for governor of New Jersey, and have a tough battle ahead against an, no pun intended...popular governor in Chris Christie, or he can cakewalk into the Senate.
To be sure, this choice is on his mind, as well:
Newark Mayor Cory Booker says he'll decide in two weeks whether he'll run for New Jersey governor or U.S. Senate.

Booker, a Democrat, said Monday on CNN that Chris Christie, a Republican who enjoys high approval ratings after Hurricane Sandy, is "vulnerable" in his re-election bid because of his stances on the environment and issues pertaining to women.

"Christie is vulnerable, as it should be, because there's a lot of issues in the state he's not falling in line with," Booker said on CNN's Starting Point program.

This 2013 race would pit Booker, an hugely popular mayor who would likely clean up in urban and ex-urban areas, particularly in northern New Jersey, against Christie's overwhelming popularity with white suburbanites and south Jerseyians.

Or, Booker can wait until 2014, and basically be annointed as replacement for Frank Lautenberg, who has already unretired once to serve in the US Senate, and will turn 89 before his seat comes up for election.

Or he can run for a third term as mayor of Newark, not something an ambitious and hard working politician would relish, I think.

You begin to see the problem, I think. If he runs in 2013 and beats Christie, this pretty much takes him off the table for the 2016 Presidential race, another office I suspect he aspires to. If he runs in 2013 and loses, no harm no foul, he can run in 2014 for Lautenberg's seat, and then marshall national forces for a run at the Presidency in 2020 or 2024, assuming Democrats run the table in yet another national election.

And if his eyes are on the biggest prize, he still might run for either of these offices on the assumption that all the attention he'd garner against the GOP's biggest fish....erm, no pun intended...would boost his standing for a slog through the 2016 primary season.

So he's cursed with options.