09 December 2010

The Wild, Violent, and Lawless West

There's a certain nostalgia that most Americans feel towards our pioneer past.  That ideal of the solitary homesteader family setting up on their own piece of real estate and working that land to make it productive.  The lone rider making his way across the plains and the mountains and the deserts, with only his Colt .45 and his personal code to protect him.  This is certainly the past that the libertarian strand of Americans believe in, but it also the mythology that many others, who perhaps don't idealize that past to quite the same extent, believe.

But, of course, it wasn't really like that for a huge number of those pioneers who made their way into the untamed West.  I'm not even going to get into the genocide of the Native Americans, or the bigotry and dehumanization of the Chinese and of most African Americans who dared to venture into this new world to try to make a life for themselves and their descendants.  Even within white society, lawlessness and near complete "freedom" were not beneficial to the vast majority of the people.  Many died on the journey, and many more died once they reached their primitive destinations in a harsh, exposed, and unforgiving environment.  If you failed, you starved, or if you were lucky, there was a town nearby where you could be exploited for your destitution in a cattle yard or as a laborer on someone else's ranch or farm.  If you were a woman alone without a husband or father, there might be a job for you upstairs from the saloon, at least until you were used up and worn out.

The old Westerns had a few things right. Mainly, the hero in many of those stories was the traveling lawman, the Wyatt Earp who rode in to clean up a dirty, corrupt town. Sometimes the bad guys are common criminals; thieves and murderers, gangsters and cattle rustlers. In the better films, we are reminded that behind the men in the black hats were often rich ranchers and other "big men" who were either above the existing law, or they owned the law as it was.

The West has changed much since then, and yet in many ways it hasn't.  Perhaps more accurately, the West made a great deal of progress towards civilizing into a society of law and equal justice thereunder over the hundred years after the days of the "Wild West", but now seems to be nearing the end of a generation-long decline in social justice culminating in hurtling off the edge of the cliff back into a neo-feudal wealth disparity unseen since the Gilded Age.  The slow, steady democratization of America, from the suffrage of blacks and women, to the rise of organized labor, to the New Deal and the civil rights movement, is now in full retreat.  In the new century, we are seeing the triumph of the moneyed elite over not only the frontier, but the entire society, and the purposeful destruction of every institution that created the American Middle Class, which in turn turned the United States into the most advanced and powerful nation the world has ever known.

The "law" is, and has always been, the mortal enemy of the powerful.  For 1000 years, the Anglo-American legal tradition has been one of the increasing power of the law over the power of men.  The Magna Carta established that the king ruled at the mercy of the nobles.  The Glorious Revolution established the primacy of Parliament over the Crown.  The Founders of the American Republic, and their intellectual brethren in Britain, laid the philosophical groundwork for a nation "of the People, by the People, and for the People."  Every great document and court ruling over the past two centuries has been about the expansion of the rights and powers of the People versus those of the powerful.  That is, until the last 30 years or so...

It's hard to pinpoint exactly when the fall of the American nation began.  Perhaps it was when John Kennedy was assassinated, or when Richard Nixon was elected.  By the time Reagan came on the scene, the society was clearly already in noticeable decline, and this allowed for the rise of the politics of fear, hatred and ignorance to gain a foothold at the top of the ladder in a way that never been possible, or necessary in the past. 

Through a coalition (the construction of which I will address in depth in a later post) of the racially bigoted, the jingoistically authoritarian, and perhaps most importantly, the unquestioningly faithfully religious fundamentalists, the new American right has grown over the last 40 years into a voting bloc that is always a force to be reckoned with.  When the left and center are unenthusiastic about their leadership choices, that hard right bloc can even win on a national level. 

And whose interests does the Republican Party, for whom that bloc votes religiously, serve?  Is it the bigots?  Not really.  Those ignorant troglodytes just need to have some vaguely racist statements dogwhistled to them every once in a while to convince them that the Party's leaders share their prejudices.  What they really want is to believe that just because they have white skin and Northern European names that they are in the same class as the Bluebloods who actually run the show, and who consider the rednecks to be the lowest form, of gutter trash.

How about the military hawks?  They get their little bits of red meat to rub their diminutive pistols to, what with the endless wars and universal praise for anyone who ever wore a uniform as a "hero".  But interestingly, the ones who actually have to go and risk their lives, rather than those who merely have season ticket skybox seats for the wars, tend to come home a lot less cavalier about blowing those other people to smithereens, unless they were sociopaths to begin with.

Oh, but certainly the Christian social warriors must be getting what they paid for by dutifully performing as the foot soldiers of the Republican Party for the past 40 years.  Let's see.  Abortion, still legal.  Prayer in schools, still illegal.  Gays, making civil rights progress.  Evolution, still true.  It makes you wonder if maybe there has never been any intention to act on any of the major social conservative regressive platforms, since the religious followers are much more useful being strung along indefinitely, and since they don't seem to be too quick on the uptake when someone is telling them demonstrable falsehoods.

No, the only people who have ever, or will ever truly benefit from the governance of the modern Republican Party are the moneyed elite.  Taxes have been taught to their minions to be socialism.  The rich create jobs, don't ya know?  War is for national security, not just to line the pockets of the Military-Industrial Complex.  War is peace.  Freedom is slavery.  Ignorance is strength.  And YOU are the REAL Americans, and are always right, because we will tell you when you're right.

Cut to today, and America is run by the outlaws.  Corporate and financial cowboys on Wall Street, with no regulations to tie them down, play poker games with billions, betting on their own companies to lose and cashing in on insurance policies they themselves created to cover those losses.  No fear of being shot under the table anymore either, since everybody at the table wins no matter what cards are dealt, and they're not playing with their own money.

Gangsters start wars in order to create business for their friends in the defense contracting industry, and to create instability that drives up the price of their vast oil stock holdings.  Nice bonus that we have this volunteer military these days, so that there are no draft protests from those middle class kids, or their parents, who know which way the wind blows and whose lives may depend on speaking out. 

The civil liberties of the little People are irrelevant if it comes to their need to know about the activities of their government, or if the government wants to know about the People's activities.  So they'll just bug your phones and datamine your emails, 4th Amendment be damned.  And forget about a fair trial if you are found to be an enemy of the party, er I mean, the State.  They'll just invent some new quasi-legal classification for you that will allow them to lock you away forever in some no-man's land, or ship you off to some God forsaken hole in a country that has never known the concept of democracy, to be tortured until you ... something or other.

It's called American Exceptionalism, and it means that we're better than they are because we say we are.
A key theme is the claim that the United States and its people differ from other nations, at least on a historical basis, as an association of people who came from numerous places throughout the world but who hold a common bond in standing for certain self-evident truths, like freedom, inalienable natural and human rights, democracy, republicanism, the rule of law, civil liberty, civic virtue, the common good, fair play, private property, and Constitutional government.
Any American willing to take an honest look at America of 2010 would have hard time reconciling American Exceptionalism with reality. For while we should certainly take pride in our centuries-old experiment in representative democracy, one cannot deny that we have managed to make those virtues not so exceptional. We have largely succeeded in exporting them around the world. In 1900, not even the United States would have been considered a democracy by today's standards. There was not a single sovereign democracy in the entire world. But by 2000, there were more than 100. That meant over 63 percent of the world's population lived in a society where belief in American civic values was common. How can one be exceptional in a world where such beliefs are so widely held? [...]  In fact, there is a good argument that some of the older European nations have become even more free than we are due to our ever-expanding national security/police state apparatus. One need only look at our prison statistics as evidence.
Insisting, however, that we are somehow running the table on being special or unique isn't backed up by the facts. Notably, if we strictly measure our greatness in terms of military lethality, we are certainly the most powerful and capable nation in the world.
What "American Exceptionalism" means for Sarah Palin is, essentially, robust flag waving. It does not involve taking steps to see to it that American become #1 in this or that particular statistic. Those facts are not used in factoring America's greatness by her reckoning. [...] What matters, appropriately for Palin, is spirited cheerleading.  Palin's problem is that she doesn't want America to actually be #1. Rather, her problem is that she thinks it is sufficient to merely believe it and cheer it.
We just had a cheerleader as president and it didn't work out so well.

There's no need to follow "laws".  We're the "big man" and we can get what we want through intimidation.
As usual, when wielded by American authorities, the term "terrorist" means nothing more than: "those who impede or defy the will of the U.S. Government with any degree of efficacy."  Anyone who does that is, by definition, a Terrorist.  And note McConnell's typical, highly representative view that if someone he wants to punish isn't a criminal under the law, then you just "change the law" to make him one.  
But that sort of legal scheming isn't even necessary.  The U.S. and its "friends" in the Western and business worlds are more than able and happy to severely punish anyone they want without the slightest basis in "law."  That's what the lawless, Wild Western World is:  political leaders punishing whomever they want without any limits, certainly without regard to bothersome concepts of "law."  Anyone who doubts that should just look at what has been done to Wikileaks and Assange over the last week.  In this series of events, there are indeed genuine and pernicious threats to basic freedom and security; they most assuredly aren't coming from WikiLeaks or Julian Assange. 
People often have a hard time believing that the terms "authoritarian" and "tyranny" apply to their own government, but that's because those who meekly stay in line and remain unthreatening are never targeted by such forces.  The face of authoritarianism and tyranny reveals itself with how it responds to those who meaningfully dissent from and effectively challenge its authority:  do they act within the law or solely through the use of unconstrained force?
Welcome to the new Wild West.

08 December 2010

Things Fall Apart

Came into the darkness from out of the blue,
I don't know much but I know what to do.
Frozen my mind, I believed it so long,
Alright, I'll admit I was wrong.

Stay out of my nightmares, stay out of my dreams,
You're not even welcome in my memories.
When things are alright and I want what I've got,
It's only momentarily thought.

Fade out, fade out,
fade out, fade out,
fade out, fade out,
fade out, fade out...

If no one thinks of no one,
Then no one believes in no one,
And no one fucks with no one,
And no one's afraid of no one.

We've all seen enough, now its time to decide,
The meekness of all or the power of pride.
It doesn't matter if your good or smart, 

God dammit, things fall apart.

Let's go for a walk, yeah, let's go for a drive,
Don't know how to say "Thanks for being alive."
Let's go for a lifetime, let's go for a fling,
Don't know how to say anything.

19 November 2010


"Thrasher" by Neil Young

They were hiding behind hay bales,
They were planting in the full moon,
They had given all they had for something new.
But the light of day was on them,
They could see the thrashers coming,
And the water shone like diamonds in the dew.

And I was just getting up, hit the road before it's light
Trying to catch an hour on the sun.
When I saw those thrashers rolling by, looking more than two lanes wide
I was feelin' like my day had just begun.

Where the eagle glides ascending,
There's an ancient river bending,
Down the timeless gorge of changes where sleeplessness awaits.
I searched out my companions,
Who were lost in crystal canyons,
When the aimless blade of science slashed the pearly gates.

It was then I knew I'd had enough,
Burned my credit card for fuel,
Headed out to where the pavement turns to sand.
With a one-way ticket to the land of truth,
And my suitcase in my hand,
How I lost my friends I still don't understand.

They had the best selection,
They were poisoned with protection,
There was nothing that they needed,
Nothing left to find.
They were lost in rock formations,
Or became park bench mutations,
On the sidewalks and in the stations,
They were waiting, waiting.

So I got bored and left them there,
They were just dead weight to me,
Better down the road without that load.
Brings back the time when I was eight or nine,
I was watchin' my mama's T.V.,
It was that great Grand Canyon rescue episode.

Where the vulture glides descending,
On an asphalt highway bending,
Thru libraries and museums, galaxies and stars.
Down the windy halls of friendship,
To the rose clipped by the bullwhip,
The motel of lost companions waits with heated pool and bar.

But me I'm not stopping there,
Got my own row left to hoe.
Just another line in the field of time.
When the thrashers comes, I'll be stuck in the sun,
Like the dinosaurs in shrines.
But I'll know the time has come to give what's mine.

Is This The Best We Can Do?

--Senator Barack Obama, February 5, 2008

That day I cast my first vote for Barack Obama for President, in the Arizona Democratic primary.  I had actually lived in the 1st District of Illinois in 2000 when Obama made his first unsuccessful run for Congress, taking on former Black Panther and Chicago political institution Rep. Bobby Rush in the Democratic primary, but I didn't vote until the November general election, and like most of America had never even heard of the man until 2004 when he shot onto the political scene with a breathtaking speech at the Democratic National Convention.

I was not a believer right away, however.  Not that I was a doubter, I just wasn't a convert and a zealot.  In the fall of 2007, after much careful deliberation, I decided that I was going to support Chris Dodd for the Democratic nomination.  Of the many Democrats running for the nomination, Dodd was the one who was saying and doing the right things in Congress that first year that the Bush stranglehold had been lifted.  Hillary was a non-starter, Edwards said the right things but I just wasn't buying what he was selling, Biden had good days and bad.  Obama was always a second or third choice.

I'm not really going to get into what it was that changed my mind.  After Iowa, it was either Obama or Edwards, and no doubt I would have landed on Obama by default.  But in the end, like millions of others, there was a revelatory moment when Obama landed an arrow right in the center of my heart and then there was no question anymore.  Not only was he the best choice, he was the best PERSON.  This is a GREAT MAN, of the type I'd never known in all my years of following politics.  The type of man that I can imagine people perceived men like Roosevelt and Lincoln to have been.

After all that has happened in the nearly three years that have now passed, I am every bit as convinced of the greatness of this man, and this is why I am even more convinced that all hope is lost for a better world.  In flipping through the channels a few days ago, I came across Superman II, and the scene that was on was the one where General Zod and his crew are fighting Superman in downtown Metropolis and basically kicking his ass and breaking lots of shit.  At first the people watching believe that the bad guys have killed Superman, and then they are even more disappointed when it turns out that he's not dead, but he still flies away in defeat.

That's how I feel about Washington these days.  The best man, the greatest leader of men of his generation, and he gets to the position where he can do the maximum amount of good possible and ends up getting owned by the putrid swamp of Kryptonite on the Potomac.  Hoards of small, small men like Joe Lieberman, Ben Nelson, and Mitch McConnell, teaming with the vast majority of elected officials and media personalities who are wholly owned by the plutocratic, obscenely moneyed elite to stop anything and everything that count as real and lasting change for the better.

2008 was kind of our last best chance at stopping the decline of the American civilization.  It was a slim chance, I admit, but we had all the tools we needed.  We had a great inspiring leader in the White House and massive majorities in both houses of Congress.  But it didn't happen.  Was Obama too green to navigate the minefield?  Too timid?  Too naive in his belief that the Republicans wanted anything other than to destroy him and that "bi-partisanship" always means liberal capitulation to conservatives?

So this is the best we can do, huh?  I'm afraid it is.  No wonder why Democrats didn't come out to vote this month.

17 November 2010

Why are we here?

I'm kind of a "veteran" of the internets now.  I've been participating in discussions on email listservs, message boards, and political blogs for over 10 years.  I was even a moderator on the largest unofficial pearl jam message board on the web for over four years.  And yet I've never really had a place to call my own until this place.

Why now?  Frankly, I've become tired of the conversation.  I don't want to listen anymore.  I don't care much about what other people think, feel, like, or do.  People aren't really "doing it for me" these days.  And yet I still miss having an outlet of sorts to express myself and what I think, feel, like, or do.

I know.  It's the height of self-centeredness to want to talk at people without hearing what they have to say in return.  Hey, at least I can recognize it in myself.  Unlike every other blog on the internet, self-involved wankery is the conscious point of this blog.  Take it or leave it.  I'm happy to share, but if no one is listening, that's OK too.  This is really about me and having to get the thoughts out there.

When I was a younger man, I wanted to know it all.  I am an Aquarian, after all.  But at the same time, like Prometheus, I felt that it was my duty to impart that which I had learned to as many other people as I could.  I mean, what's the point of knowing things if they remain locked up inside your own head, right?

Of course, I eventually learned that people don't want to have knowledge forced upon them.  Hell, most people don't even want to have knowledge pointed out to them, and a great many people attempt to actively hide from knowledge and convince themselves that certain facts do not exist or, in the extreme, that those facts are actually lies promulgated by shadowy forces to challenge their faith.  At this point in the history of the world, I feel that Americans are more likely to believe a lie than the truth, so I don't really think there's much point in engaging in meaningful conversation at all.

I have a beautiful, intelligent, witty and utterly honest wife.  I have three little boys whom I love tremendously and make life worth living everyday, just as they regularly drive me up a wall.  For the first time in years, I really like my job and the place where I live.  I also think that we are all fucking doomed.

Not my family.  YOU.  All of us. 

It's OK.  Not like we can really do anything about it, so there's no point in fretting about it.  Just do what you have to do every day, make your living, love the people in your life, and see what tomorrow brings.  Don't fool yourself into thinking tomorrow is going to be better than today though.

This blog will be an exposition of why I have come to this place.  I'll post some political stuff.  I'll post some music.  I'll post some comedy.  I'll post some essays about things I think I've figured out (to some extent).  Please join the blog and comment.  I may engage back, I may not.  I may delete your post.  You're welcome.

It can't be all that bad, right?  Let's do this.