Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Legend of the "Self-Made Man"

It really pisses me off when Americans don't appreciate what they have here in the United States. I guess there are folks who would think that about me, but it's not true. I feel incredibly LUCKY to have been born in a "first world" nation. I live with wealth and freedom unimagined by most of humanity throughout history, better than royalty of the past. I live in wealth unimagined by most of the planet, where lots of folks live on less than a dollar a day. You bet I appreciate it. But it doesn't mean that I think I somehow "deserve" it; I was lucky. I didn't choose where to be born.

It's interesting to me when wealthy people talk about poor people wanting handouts, getting something they didn't work for, as though everything the rich have was due to their own hard work. NOT! It takes a society -- past, present, future -- to build and maintain wealth.

Do I think a medical doctor should be paid more than a dishwasher? Absolutely. The doctor has completed years of education, has taken the time to develop important specialized skills, and has a great deal of responsibility. So, I do not begrudge the doctor a huge house, the best car, the latest toys, etc. But the dishwasher doesn't deserve to live on the street or in a slum without medical care. We are all a part of society and how we treat those with the least among us is the ultimate test of a civilization.

I came across a post on the blog City in the Trees (Toronto, Ontario) that just rang out truth to me. Thank you for your words and more power to you, Lone Primate:

Let's keep in mind that we, as individuals, owe nearly everything to the society in which we live. Without it, you're just some guy banging rocks together in the forest, listening to the wolves howl. 99.9% of everything any one of us has or achieves is based on the millions who came before us; when and where we happened to be born; who our parents were, what they already had, and the other advantages that had already accrued to them (which in turn were based on the same societal opportunities)... in short, virtually none of what any of us has or builds is based on some unique effort or personal virtue. Mostly, it's luck of the draw, and taking an advantage and running with it. If you're smart about it, you ought to benefit from it... but those benefits should not be absolute or infinite. The more you glean from your society, the more you owe back to it, both morally and materially.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

25 years

My disappointment with the United States is not recent. It goes back further than the “election” of 2004 or even 2000. We have missed nearly every opportunity for the past 25 years.

After the horror of Vietnam, we could have learned that the U.S. government could not will – and bomb – the world into submission. Instead, the 80s brought us Rambo and the U.S. became the victim of the Vietnam War in popular mythology. (The way Vietnam veterans were treated was reprehensible and I don't mean to imply otherwise; they were scapegoated while the criminals in the U.S. government went free.) It seemed like a blood-lust was cultivated and the U.S. was looking for an opportunity to flex its muscles. We learned nothing.

In the 70s, there was an “oil crisis.” It could have been a wake-up call that such dependence on oil and fossil fuels was not a good idea. Besides being bad for the environment and a limited resource that will not last forever, it makes us vulnerable. Under the Carter administration, there was a lot of talk about research on alternative, especially renewable, energy resources. There was a whole report (having something to do with year 2000) produced by the government. There were challenges, but there were things we could do – given the time, attention, and resources.

But then Reagan was elected in 1980 and all that was thrown out the window. We learned nothing and, in fact, went in the opposite direction and proceeded to get further in bed with undemocratic oil-producing nations and made their interests the interests of the U.S.

And then there’s religion. Did you know that in the 1980 election, the three major candidates (Carter, Reagan, Anderson) all felt compelled to declare that they were born-again Christians? Not just Christians, but “born again.” 1980. A de-facto religious test for the highest elected office. Constitutional principles anyone?

Say what you will about President Carter; he wasn’t the most effective executive, blah, blah, blah. But he had a moral compass and, despite his strongly held religious views, was respectful of other people. What is not often discussed is that he tied U.S. foreign aid to the state of human rights in a country. It was not perfect, but there was improvement; it did make a difference. And there was many a dictator (and amoral businessperson) that despised him for this.

When Reagan was elected in 1980, the oligarchs in Central and South America cheered. They held champagne parties; their guy was in. Back to trampling on the poor while the U.S. turns a blind eye and signs trade agreements with you. Not only that: the U.S. trained others in the “art” of black ops (torture, oppression, etc.). Seriously, the U.S. sent teachers and had “schools.” The U.S. not only supported monsters, the U.S. created them.

The U.S. government consistently supported dictators/juntas and attempted to topple democratically-elected governments (often with success). Chile (that was in the 70s). Panama. Nicaragua. El Salvador.

As Dr. Frankenstein will tell you, the problem with monsters is that they sometimes get out of control. So then the U.S. tramples over a country and kills more civilians to oust their man-gone-bad. Noriega was a perfect example of this. And how many people know today that in the past Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden were supported by the United States government?

Reagan’s people so hated the Sandinistas, they formed and funded their own little army accountable to no one. It was called “Iran-Contra” in the press and most people never understood it. Just another Washington scandal. Sounds like a coup d’etat to me. Somehow, the public faces of this travesty managed to paint themselves as patriots and wrapped themselves in the flag. And if the public never really understood it then, who remembers it now? The “liberal” media does a great job.

When hostages were taken at the U.S. embassy in Iran, Americas tearfully looked to the skies with grief and asked, “Why us? Why do they hate us? What did we ever do? We’re the good guys.” In NO WAY am I justifying terrorism. But any peasant – and I mean peasant – in Iran could have told you that the C.I.A. took out their chosen government in Iran and returned to them the despised Shah. How would we feel if a foreign government decided it didn’t like who we chose as leaders and replaced them?

Let’s talk about some of what Reagan did domestically. New York City became Calcutta West as the doors to hospitals and institutions were opened and their residents ejected. Lack of funding. While we always had “winos” and “bag ladies” in the streets, now we had “the homeless,” a new class of people. You could literally trip over the people living in the subway stations. See, policies do affect people.

Many of us on the Left cheered when President Clinton was elected in 1992. After twelve years of Reagan/Bush, we finally had a Democrat in the White House. We now had hope. Crash! Reagan’s people did their job so well that the Democrat who was elected was to the right of Nixon on domestic policy. “Liberal” was a bad word and the scale shifted so much that many of us fell off the left side.

Did Clinton reverse the “War on Drugs?” No. Did he dismantle welfare but not insure a living wage? Yes. Did he sign the “Defense of Marriage Act?” Yes. Did he reign over the most prosperous economic growth in United States history and turn a record deficit into a record surplus? Yes. BUT – the dirty secret – things still became harder for the working and middle classes and while the gap between the rich and poor may have slowed its growth, it still grew. The prosperity helped the few, not the many.

You get the picture. It’s not just the current occupant of the White House or the number of Ds and Rs in Congress. It’s the failure to live up to the principles on which the United States was supposedly founded. What we do have is xenophobia, selfishness, and greed. And while U.S. history reeks with blood and oppression, many of us once believed that at least we were moving forward, growing into greatness. Instead, the United States has regressed and become an ugly caricature.

Monday, November 13, 2006

US: Immigrants May Be Held Indefinitely

WASHINGTON (AP) - Immigrants arrested in the United States may be held indefinitely on suspicion of terrorism and may not challenge their imprisonment in civilian courts, the Bush administration said Monday, opening a new legal front in the fight over the rights of detainees. Nov 13, 11:23 PM (ET)By MATT APUZZO

The above greeted me when I returned to my computer. I was watching the TV program Studio 60 and I heard a great line between two people having a heated discussion, something along the lines of "You don't have to remind me that my party [Dems] is full of panderers and mediocrity." So, I guess it's not a secret. That, or at least Aaron Sorkin and I agree. :-)

But back to the horror that is the above news. I think I've discovered a new vein in my head because it's throbbing. We're talking about people who have immigrated to the United States legally and have legal status to be here. That is what we hope to be one day North of our current border. In Canada, we know that Permanent Residents have the same rights and obligations as citizens with the exception of voting and holding certain government positions. So I think about my counterparts here in the United States. Essentially, the current junta (what other word can be used to describe this group?) is saying that they have no rights.

The United States declares itself to be the land of democracy, freedom, and opportunity, the leader of the "free world." FALSE ADVERTISING. The Statue of Liberty is weeping and her tablet welcoming those yearning to breathe free has cracked down the middle and fallen into the depths.

This is a nightmare. Someone please wake me up.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Are we reconsidering our plans with the results of Tuesday's elections?

This was asked by a columnist from The Seattle Times yesterday. The answer is no, and I had never even considered the question until he emailed me. Would we go through with this ordeal if our motivations could turn with the results of an election?

The Democrats do not represent me. They play it safe and try not to take a stand on anything. They like to scare liberals with the boogey (sp?) man and say, hey, we're not as bad as those guys. And for that I'm supposed to be excited?

Again, yes, I believe they are the lesser of two evils. But notice that they're still an evil. And together they conspire with the Republicans to keep other parties and other voices out. They limit the public forum, they limit our electoral choices, and have the nerve to claim a name that shares the same root with democracy. And they're not even a real second party -- they're a "lite" version of the other one. Same bad taste, only half the corruption and bigotry! Over and over again, the Democrats have let the Rs control the conversation, define the terms.

And where is the vision? What does the Democratic Party stand for? Can they make a statement with strength, without pandering? Examples: the war in Iraq, the Orwellian "Patriot Act", equal marriage rights for same-sex couples. Remember, it was President Clinton who signed the "Defense of Marriage Act." And while folks argue that he "had to" because a veto would have been overturned, it would have been a stand. And what exactly did signing it do for him or the Democrats? And candidate Kerry, instead of saying he believes the government should respect and support ALL families, instead tried to walk the fence and say that marriage is between a man and a woman only. He did this, of course, because he "had to" -- to win the election. How'd that work out? So many Ds are worthy of some kind of entertainment award for tap dancing in discussing their views on the war in Iraq. (Exhibit A: Maria Cantwell, Senator for the State of Washington)

The Rs, for their part, have allowed the religious zealots (The Stranger calls them the "American Taliban") to take over their party. There's a place in public argument to say we should be reserved in foreign policy, careful in taxation and spending, limited in government involvement. Is that what the Rs are today? I don't think so. Where do small c conservatives go? Some Rs made a deal with the devil to gain power. I do believe there are Rs who are disgusted -- but where do they go? (My answer: vote Libertarian, there's no excuse for voting R and I offer no forgiveness. As long as they can count on your vote, they will not change. Take your business elsewhere.)

Anyway, here's the column that Danny Westneat of The Seattle Times wrote after speaking with me. For the most part, I think it represents the conversation we had and, more importantly, doesn't put words in my mouth that I disagree with. I do wish that he had mentioned that I am married and that my husband and I are in this together.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

"democracy" inaction **

In a normal democracy, given the state of public opinion and the record of the incumbent government, it would be taken for granted that come next Tuesday the ruling party would be turned out. But, for reasons that have less to do with the wizardry of Karl Rove than with the structural biases of America’s electoral machinery, Democrats enter every race carrying a bag of sand. The Senate’s fifty-five Republicans represent fewer Americans than do its forty-five Democrats. On the House side, Democratic candidates have won a higher proportion of the average district vote than Republicans in four of the five biennial elections since 1994, but—thanks to a combination of gerrymandering and demo-graphics—Republicans remain in the majority. To win back the House, Democrats need something close to a landslide.*

* Talk of the Town Comment: "Hearts and Brains" written by Hendrik Hertzberg in The New Yorker, November 6, 2006 issue. Clicking on the paragraph should link to the source.

I do believe that if the Democrats win back Congress (and I am doubtful because the Repugnicans have become adept at stealing elections), things will be less worse. But will the character of the U.S. change? I don't think so. The two-party duopoly must end if there is to be a democracy in the United States. We need more voices. We also need a return to a government with three branches.

** credit for the title goes to Jon Stewart of The Daily Show