Politics

Of Arms and Anarchy...

Today I venture into the maelstrom surrounding the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, a topic that excites passionate fervor among many of my friends. It, more than anything else, sparks heated debate, arguments in which feelings generally hold sway over logic. Comfortably seated with my laptop, I will attempt to express my view, and will ask the reader to take a deep breath, read, and then feel free to comment - but only after giving consideration to my words.

The Second Amendment, as passed by the Congress, states:

"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

Sounds pretty simple, but, alas, great conflict often rages over the simple. The National Rifle Association, militias, and others claim this gives Americans the right to own any type of firearm, including assault rifles and bazookas. Gun control advocates hold that our citizenry have the right to own a rifle to hunt for food or for sport, nothing more. They argue that the amendment is there for the sake of our pioneer ancestors, to insure that they had a means to obtain food and earn a living.

Wrong...

It only takes a cursory glance at the writings of the Founding Fathers to discern the intent of the Second Amendment. Firstly, it is abundantly clear that Jefferson and many others (but not Washington) never intended for the country to be defended by a standing army. Rather, they envisioned crises to be met by citizen militias comprised of good hardy yeomanry, like the Cincinattus of the ancient Roman Republic. Standing armies were bad things, easily used by tyrants to oppress the population.

The problem with this concept is that, militarily, militias suck... Ask the Revolutionary and Civil War commanders who tried to make use of them in battle. They insisted on elections for officers, then argued with such. More often than not, they ran away on the battlefield. Washington (others later) came to understand that a standing army (well trained military) was the only way to adequately defend a nation state. There are few today that would argue this point.

The other reason behind the Second Amendment is often called the "reset button" by the militias and right-wingers. Again, it is clear from the historical record that the Founders intended that the people should have the means to overthrow the government, should it become oppressive. "I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing" wrote Jefferson to James Madison, and he echoes the sentiment of many of the Revolutionary Era. So, as far as the Founders' intent, the militias are correct. History unequivocally states that I should be able to stockpile ammo, assault rifles, bazookas, missiles, and heck, even a nuke or two. In case the government gets out of line, of course...

However, this viewpoint, while strictly Constitutionally correct, troubles me. Here are my thoughts:

1) Revolutions almost always end badly, e.g., the English Civil War, the French Revolution, the Spanish Revolution, etc., etc. The American Revolution is unique in history in that it was shaped by rational men and birthed a great nation. Push the "reset button" now, and the United States will cease to be - you will have Southern, Northern, and Western nations at a minimum, sad remnants of my proud country. Our government will have to become terrible indeed for me to support any such action, especially when votes still appear to be a way of changing our government's views - just look at the differences between the last and the current administration.

Another question comes to mind - at what point does the "reset button" concept stop being Constitutional and become treason? Let's get real here - most people (myself included) would probably have serious concerns about groups training in the deserts of the U.S. for the express purpose of overthrowing the United States government. I find that most of the militia guys are still fighting the Civil War - they need to get over it, as the issue of states' rights has been settled, by the blood of over a million men. I am a citizen of the United States first, an Alabaman second. The contrary view leads to the ultimate destruction of my country.

2) The Founders never anticipated modern firepower. A couple of centuries ago, the average Joe with a musket was close to parity with the soldier or sailor; nowadays, the comparison is not even close. Imagine a militia person trying to face down an Apache helicopter armed with Hellfire missiles - who do you think is going to win? The best these militia groups can do is engage in partisan warfare. They will never be able to stand toe-to-toe with the U.S. military.

Now imagine that same individual with the assault rifle versus your local policeman. The parity is restored, nay, the guy with the assault rifle has an edge, at least until the SWAT team shows up. And that bugs me. Civilized societies create police forces to enforce laws and protect the public, and I have real trouble with people owning enough firepower to stand off the SWAT team that is supposed to protect me. The militias and right wingers have an answer for that - everyone get such weaponry and then you can protect yourself. Our own history - the Old West - shows this solution to be a failure. Under this concept, justice was often dictated by the best with a gun. "I killed Tom, but he had a gun and might have shot me, so it was self defense" was often heard. If everyone openly carries guns, then everyone is a potential threat, and murder is easily justified as self defense. Being lousy at hand guns (but OK with a rifle), you will forgive me if I find this unappealing.

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The Declaration of Independence, the soul of our nation, states that I have a right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Preeminent is the right to life, and my view is that your right to own an arsenal is trumped by my very basic (and necessary) right to life. There is a basic tenent that societies have a right to protect themselves from individuals capable of causing great harm, which is why I support the death penalty. It is also why I feel individuals should not possess arsenals. Especially when the NRA and other groups oppose background checks to determine whether the perspective buyer of that AK-47 is a loon.

Let me close with the following...

a) I do not dispute that the Constitution gives an individual the right to own an assault weapon or an arsenal of such, BUT

b) I have trouble with ANY group training to overthrow the government of the United States, and

c) The destructive force of modern firepower gives pause as to which individuals should own such weapons, and the resistance to any sort of restriction on the perspective buyers gives me cause for concern. The right to life is paramount, and societies have a right to protect themselves. This is accomplished not by arming everyone - which exacerbates the problem and leads to chaos - but by establishing well trained and well equipped police forces. It goes without saying that these police need to be better armed than the bad guys or the crazies.

Finally, I think it is time for the country to have a rational debate (Is that possible nowadays?) as to whether the Constitution needs to be amended once again. This is the only proper way to modify the Second Amendment. It can't be done in the courts, or by Congress - it has to be undertaken by we, the People.

Which is as it should be.

The Tune of the Piper....

Sigh... It passed. ARRA (the stimulus bill) passed.

I suppose there wasn't any doubt. even though many, many Americans objected. This was clearly seen in the Republican support - or lack thereof - only 3 GOP senators said yea, and there was absolutely zero support among GOP congress critters over in the House. The voice of the constituents was clearly a factor, along with the political calculation that things are going to get worse, and they wanted to be able to say "Told you so." News flash, GOP - your tax breaks wouldn't have worked either. Like we really need to reward corporations who do stupid things with tax incentives. Tried it recently; didn't help.

I say let capitalism work - if your company does stupid things and takes huge risks, then let the chips fall where they may. Failure is part of the way it is supposed to work, a Darwinian way of weeding out bad financial strategies. If the system collapses, so be it. We can rebuild.

Alas, my voice is drowned out in the cries of "emergency" and "impending catastrophe." The whole business reminds me of an old movie , "The Pied Piper of Hamelin", which was released in 1957. We all know the story - The town of Hamelin is infested with rats, and amid cries of "emergency" and "impending catastophe", the town council enlists the Pied Piper, a charming, eloquent, talented soul, who promises to get rid of the rats. Which he does... with unforeseen consequences for the town of Hamelin. In the movie, he mesmerizes the rodents by playing a creepy version of Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King." The Piper leads them to the river, where the rats leap off the dock to their watery deaths. It's such a good scene, I cannot resist the urge to post it.

In my youth, I wanted to be the Piper, who possessed both charm and magical powers. Now, I know how the rats must have felt.

Led by a charismatic, eloquent president, I am marching to a tune he created, played by a complicit Congress. Like the rats, I can see doom approaching, but am unable to escape the drowning by debt that awaits me and my fellow Americans. My shadowy, nameless form has no weight, no substance that can shut down the music and avert the real calamity. As in Hamelin, the Piper's music is just too strong, too compelling. Left with no options, I find myself hoping for a miracle.

Do you think the rats hoped the river would freeze over before they got there?

A New Beginning...

Out with the old, in with the new...

Tomorrow, the old will be George W. Bush and his administration. Can't say that I am sorry to see him go, with the current messes (yes, plural) we find ourselves in. May history judge him less harshly than I.

The new will be Barack Obama and his "uber cabinet" - They have their work cut out for them, both on the domestic and foreign fronts. He certainly has been pushing his economic recovery package, even before he takes office tomorrow. I don't agree with large parts of it, but the man appears to be trying to hit the ground running. He also says he's ready to start the process of shutting down Gitmo, which is a good thing. Got to figure out where to put the bad guys, but that shouldn't be too big an issue (at least in my mind, it isn't).

Tomorrow, the nation's first African-American president-elect takes the oath of office, and will become the 44th president of the United States. I'm proud of my country, which put aside the race issue, and chose the person it felt was most qualified for this high office. I'm pleased to see the orderly transfer of power from one administration to the next; we are not yet close to a dictatorship, no matter what some may think. I also have that feeling of hope I get when a new president is sworn in, a wish that he will help turn the United States around, returning us to our constitutional roots.

I was watching "National Treasure: Book of Secrets" a couple of nights ago, and some of the dialogue between Ben Gates and the President stuck in my mind:

Ben Gates: And because you're the President of the United States, sir. Whether by innate character or the oath you took to defend the Constitution or the weight of history that falls upon you, I believe you to be an honorable man, sir.

The President: Gates, people don't believe that stuff anymore.

Ben Gates: They want to believe it.

I want to believe it to. I hope I am not disappointed.

Good luck, President Obama!

The Debt Star and ARRA

A friend of mine has been sending me amusing bits of scavenged computer art expressing his dismay at the handling of the current economic situation here at home:

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Alas, I tend to agree with the above. I wish I didn't, but the short-sightedness of our elected representatives and officials once again leaves me shaking my head, and, truth be told, quivering in my shoes about what is to come. A potential trillion dollar "stimulus" package, on top of the hundreds of billions already spent in trying to revive the United States' economy, is enough to give any responsible taxpayer the willies. Every day, indeed almost every hour, we are told that the country is in the midst of an economic "catastrophe", and that we must act quickly in passing a "comprehensive" package that is large enough to avert complete economic meltdown and put the financial system back on the road to recovery.

Scare tactics, in my view. Our representatives have learned how to use exaggeration and hyperbole well, as that is a fundamental tool in manipulating public opinion.

So, staring catastrophe in the face, let's dare to take a breath and look at some of the details of this - the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA):

1) It will rebuild our nation's infrastructure - roads, bridges, mass transit, and schools. So far so good, though this is drawn straight from Roosevelt's New Deal programs. Our roads and schools need repair, that is for sure.

2) Doubling renewable energy production - again, I have no problem with this, though doubling production from "renewables" isn't going to be anywhere near the order of magnitude we need. A step, albeit it small, in the right direction.

Now for the parts I DON'T like:

3) Creation of 3 million jobs - this sounds good, but the Obama team says that 80% of the new jobs will be created in the private sector; the remaining 20% will be created guess where? Yep, you got it - in the government. This translates to 600,000 more governmental employees and bureaucrats living off my tax dollars, invading my privacy, and creating obstructions to doing even the simpliest of things. No thanks - the government is way too big as it is.

4) Cash for states with revenue shortfalls - excuse me? It's bad enough that I have to settle for more taxes and decreases in services from the state of Alabama (God help our schools), but now some of my federal taxes are to be used to bail out state governments in trouble? Aren't states supposed to be capable of handling their own financial issues? It would appear that fiscal mismanagement is not limited to the DC area.

5) $77 billion subsidizing employer expenses to temporarily continue health insurance for laid-off and retired workers and their families - Look, I really do sympathize with those without health insurance - and those that do, for that matter (our health system needs major overhaul) - but giving money to some of the same corporations that helped cause this financial mess isn't going to help. "We bailed you out, and as a bonus for your lousy business plans and poor management, we are going to give you money to insure the workers you laid off to increase your profit margins..." The logic of our government never ceases to amaze me.

And finally:

6) A 300 billion dollar tax cut for "middle class" families and businesses - talk about straight out of the Republican play book! Lesson in recent history, Congress - we tried this, and all it did was postpone trouble by a few months. How about thinking a bit here - tax cuts mean reduced revenue, and less ability to pay this monstrous deficit you are burdening us with. I'm no economist, but I do know that sooner or later the books must balance, or the whole system really does collapse. So dispense with the tax cut refrain we have heard since Reagan - it doesn't fix a darn thing. Get rid of the deficit, reduce the size of government, and then cut our taxes.

You will note that nothing in the ARRA addresses one of the main reasons we are in this mess, which is the unbridled greed and circumventing of the laws by American corporations and their executives. Capitalism is a great thing, but it has the potential to create gross economic imbalances when the corporate mind loses its sense of ethics and morality. We have seen this loss of ethos over and over again in executives who have KNOWINGLY made extremely risky or shady investments, as in giving mortgages to those who could not possibly afford them. "Hey, we make money now, who cares about the future?" When the housing bubble collapsed, the "shadow banking" scheme evolved over the past decades to escape regulations also fell flat on its face, causing those companies which had made extensive use of this system, such as Bear Stearns, to go bye-bye.

Panic gripped Wall Street, stocks tanked, and a guy named Madoff realized that the jig was up on his ponzi swindle. Mourning over the losses in my 401k, I drew some satisfaction in that there were quite a few rich guys who ignored the old adage "if it's too good to be true, it probably is" and ended up selling the family mansion. Maybe there is some karma in the Universe, after all.

At last, my point in this long-winded post:

Nothing in the ARRA or any other legislation will help until Wall Street and the financial community recovers some ethics and realizes that the bottom line is not always in the profit sheet, and that HOW you make your money is just as important as the making of it. I am of the opinion that the restoration of this ethical sense needs to be helped by slapping execs like Madoff into the slammer - and I mean the San Quentin, Alcatraz type slammer, not the low security "country club" facilities. Maybe if these people learn that they WILL go to jail if they break the law, we'll be on the true path to restoring our economy. Americans know that bailouts and ARRA fix nothing - we share that nagging little voice of reason inside, and the same sense of doom as we watch the politicians in Washington work.

I hope I live to see the time when our government can return to its proper role of safeguarding our liberties, rather than spending my tax money bailing out mismanaged corporations and creating legions of new government employees. Many would say that this hope is forlorn...

Hooray for Jimmy Carter

7 days...

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That's how long Israel has been targeting Hamas militants in Gaza with an intense bombing campaign. A response to the increasing number of Qassam rocket attacks on southern israeli cities, the air assault has so far resulted in about 400 deaths and 1,700 wounded, at least some of which are women and children. Though the frequency is diminished, the rocket attacks have not ceased, and Israel is vowing to keep up the campaign for "as long as it takes" to render its southern border safe.

This latest eruption of fighting has the Arab world - and many others - up in arms about the "disproportionate" Israeli response. They are understandably honked off, if I may use the phrase - angry at Israel, and at us (the United States), who they see as the willing partner in Israel's actions.

This honks ME off.

Last time I checked - 30 minutes ago - there were no U.S. warplanes in combat over Gaza, nor were American troops participating in the blockade that Israel has in place. So why are American flags being burned worldwide? I think it boils down to a couple of reasons, the first of which is a blatant lie, and the second some very myopic (i.e. stupid) foreign policy on the part of my government.

The lie was told back in 1967, during the Arab-Israeli Six-day War. Israel devastated the forces of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan in just under a week; obviously, such a humiliating defeat could not have been inflicted on the Arab armies by Israel alone - they received help from American and British carrier planes. At least, this was the story broadcast by Nassar and Hussein, the leaders of Egypt and Jordan.

A good tale, except that ignores the fact that the U.S. Sixth Fleet - the only carrier force in the Mediterranean at that time - took no part in the conflict. We now know it was being shadowed by a Soviet naval force, as the U.S.S.R. had threatened war if the United States intervened on Israel's behalf. It also ignores the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty, a U.S. spy ship in international waters, which killed 34 American sailors. Israel claimed the attack was a mistake, but this was not believed by the Johnson adminstration, especially given that Israeli aircraft had made several low passes over the ship before the incident. Why would they attack an active partner? Hussein later admitted that there were no U.S. or British forces involved in the war; Nassar never did.

Finally, the "big lie" attempts to obscure the gargantuan military mistakes made by the Egyptian commander Amer, first in signaling an imminent attack well before its execution, and more importantly, in deploying his aircraft to forward bases, where they were vulnerable to the Israeli pre-emptive assault. The Egyptian air force was destroyed on the ground - duh.

Yet it continues to believed, as the lie is incorporated in Egyptian and other Arab textbooks. Generations of young Arabs have been taught that the U.S. military actively helped Israel win the Six-day War. Another shining example of "don't believe everything you read."

However, the "big lie" would fade into history if it weren't for the very obvious fact that the United States seems to wholeheartedly support every action the Israeli government takes, even if it is excessive. I must confess that I am at a loss to understand this - governments are motivated by their own self interests, and Israeli self interests are not necessarily always good for the old U.S.A. Yet we go along, always taking the same side, and in the process destroy any chance of the world perceiving us as fair when it comes to question of Palestine. A paranoid would conclude that the Israelis are dictating our Near Eastern foreign policy, and, in truth, I do think that our elected officials have reached the point where they feel ANY criticism of Israel cannot be made, as it would cause an outcry among Jewish groups, Evangelicals, and other supporters of God's Chosen here at home, and convey an international message that we no longer back Israel's right to exist, etc., etc.

Stupid - there's no other word for it.

We criticize allies all the time. Canada, Britain, France - especially France - and no one thinks that we are withdrawing our friendship or support from these nations. Why should Israel be different, especially when they use weaponry we have provided in their attacks upon targets we would not choose, because of the danger to civilians? Yes, Hamas should not be firing rockets into Israel - of this there is no doubt. but should not Israel also have considered the effects of blockading Gaza for months (deprived folks get mad, and do stupid things)? Why can't all the brain power at the State Department look at the situation objectively and act according to the self interests of the Unted States?

Maybe it's because there are no brains at State...

So, here's a shout out to Jimmy Carter, the only former chief executive with the cajones to criticize both sides in the mess that is Palestine (Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid). I don't agree with much of what he says, but respect the man for taking the time to think, rather than emote, on the Near East.

And so 2009 begins....

Pleasantly, it turns out - I'm visiting friends in Florida, rather than spending New Year's in the usual humdrum by-my-self fashion.

Motivated by a touch of inspiration (or madness; too early to tell), I have decided to start this blog to register my musings and opinions on events as they develop. For how long, I know not, as I am pretty fair at regular postings starting out, then taper off as work, life, and laziness intervene. However, I am going to really try with this one, as I am sure the coming year is going to produce much that will excite my passions. A change of administration tends to do that...

The real question is WHY I have decided to create this blog. I have been reading much American History of late, and have just finished Joseph Ellis' American Creation (very good book, BTW). It, and others I have read, mention the extensive correspondence that transpired between the Founding Fathers concerning the establishment and nature of the Republican government of the fledgling United States, in particular the letters between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. One cannot avoid being impressed by the amount of thought in these missives, and I was struck by the fact that many of the issues they debated are still being kicked around today.

Hence, this blog. I wish to use it to convey my thoughts to my friends, and anyone else who gives a darn about a crotchity scientist's opinions. Hopefully, the blog - and the comments attached to each post - will become my personal 21st-century version of the Founders' letters, a place where we can air our views, debate events, and, yes, express our feelings as the future unfolds. It should be interesting!