Monthly Archives: November 2012

That Garment Factory Fire…

I remember reading about the Triangle Factory Fire in my US History. The greedy owners locked exits and didn’t keep the building up to snuff so that it would be a deathtrap for the workers. Americans were outraged at that and demanded that workplaces be safe. Now I read of another garment factory fire in Bangladesh – and it’s not an isolated incident – and realize that owners can stay greedy longer than we can stay vigilant against them.

The greatest threats to democracy, freedom, justice, and equality come from above, not beneath. It’s the people with power and money that continue to work to steal more power and more money from everyone else. If they can do one of those moves honestly, fine. If not, they’ll cheat.

Americans and Europeans and Japanese enjoy laws that require workplace safety, limits on the length of the workday, and prohibitions on the exploitation of children. Those things will make labor more expensive and will reduce overall profitability, but they serve society by not working the general population to death.

So what do all the so-called “job creators” that are throwing tantrums in the USA do? If possible, they move their operations to where they don’t have to have workplace safety, limit the workday, or worry about exploiting children. They dive right on in and re-create the terrifying conditions we revolted against. They find poor people and make slaves of them.

The solution is simple: hold those corporations responsible for the conditions they create. We already have laws that allow us to prosecute people for going overseas to commit acts of depravity that are illegal here. Extend the concept to corporations. If they want to do business in America, they have to treat their workers overseas as well as they would have to treat American workers.

Of course, that would just mean those fat cats would put more effort into less-visible illegal activities, but at least we’d be able to end our civilization on a moral high note. Because until the parasite upper class ceases to be so, we will be forever tormented by their sociopathic schemes to undermine all that is good and just in our world, that they might be able to murder to get gain.

Lighting a Candle

“Times was hard…” I’ve heard old people use those words to describe the Great Depression. I used to wonder at what they meant, but now I know. Hard times means giving thanks for things that really matter because there aren’t a lot of other distractions. Hard times means relying more on God and His blessing than anything else. Hard times means humility and quiet dignity.

I’m not saying I’ve had a bad year: not at all. But I’ve seen years for lots of people, good and bad, and there were a lot of bad years out there. I know a lot of people trapped in a part-time job with no benefits and I realize I’ve got maybe one of the last full-time jobs in America. I’ve got the pay and vacation time that goes with it, so I’m thankful for that.

I see people avoiding the doctor and home repairmen alike: there’s no telling what will need fixing, once the wall is opened up. I’m in that area. I’ve got old pipes in my house and if the plumbing job ain’t simple, then I have to ask if I can afford a complete bathroom renovation. We can’t, so I just brush my teeth in the kitchen. We can’t afford that renovation in part due to the way we afforded my oldest daughter’s appendix renovation a while back. Still paying for that one, after we discovered that our insurance was worthless. We’d been had, but at least we’re able to pay down those bills. I’m thankful for that.

I suppose I could walk away from my mortgage and default on my credit cards, but, deep down, I’m not rich enough to do that. If I had no way of paying them back, I’d default, but as long as I can pay – no matter what I may think about the man at the other end of the interest rate – I’ll pay. I’m thankful for that. I can’t be like the rich man that can afford to pay for things, but finds a way to default either through a legal maneuver or just flat-out cruelty. I once wondered what it would be like to be tempted by riches. Now I know it’s a temptation I don’t want in my life. As long as I have enough to live on, I’ll be thankful for that and any little bits of something else that come along. But riches? No. I’m thankful that I don’t have the riches that would blind me to what is important.

Am I thankful for my nation, The United States of America? Well… let me answer that by saying that when I look around at what’s going to sustain me when I’m old, I see my family, my church, and my own two hands. I don’t see the US Government in that picture, not when I’m old. I suppose hard times are here for a good, long while. They’ve always been with us, really. The hard times of the 30s made us want to borrow from the future to support the people of the present, but that doesn’t seem so possible, anymore. Well, then, I’m still thankful for the old USA. If nothing else, it incubated the church I belong to – before it persecuted it terribly – but anywhere else would have either destroyed the nascent Latter-day Saint movement or forced a Second Coming to save it, and the time was not yet right for our Savior’s return for that to happen.

I have ancestors that built and walked away from 20 complete homes in their lifetimes, each time starting over with a tent. I live in the same place I’ve lived for 20 years and even though the place needs some work, it’s a stable home that’s warm in the winter and cool in the summers. My food is refrigerated and the Internet provides me with plenty of fun so I don’t go insane from listening to the prairie wind at nights. For that, I’m thankful.

I remember one ancestor of mine, my great-great-grandfather, Edward Milo Webb, Jr.. After he fled the violence of the Mexican Revolution, he ended up in Tucson, Arizona. He got a job pulling up mesquite tree stumps. He was in his sixties, pulling up mesquite stumps in the heat of the Tucson summer. He lived in a tent that first year. While I have hassles in my job, I’m nevertheless thankful for it and, no, I would not want to trade places with my great-great-grandfather.

I’ve met men who escaped the terrors of the Khmer Rouge murderers. I’ve taught children that were born in sniper-targeted hospitals in Sarajevo. I’ve seen the faces of people that won’t say a word about the horrors they knew back in Sierra Leone, Liberia, or Darfur. They knew some hard times to beat all. The fortunes of my life didn’t have me sharing those experiences, but my path crossed theirs at some point. Because of that, I want to be a source of hope. I’m thankful that I have reservoirs of hope, sufficient to share.

My hope is not in the triumph of a grand ideology or nation-state or economic philosophy. My hope is in the ability of man to be most compassionate and loving when in the humblest of circumstances. We are greatest when we share what we have, so that there are no poor among us. I still remember the report I once saw of a Haitian village where the people were so poor, they ate cakes made of butter, salt, and dirt. One of the families there purchased a can of beans. And what did they do with those precious calories and grams of protein? They invited over their neighbors, each to share one spoonful of the beans.

That same spirit is in each one of us, if we choose not to extinguish it.

Behold, do men light a candle and put it under a bushel? Nay, but on a candlestick, and it giveth light to all that are in the house; therefore let your light so shine before this people, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven. – Jesus of Nazareth

Libya, Syria, and Iran, Oh My!

The ancient Zoroastrian scriptures encourage mankind to think good thoughts, to fight against lies and chaos. I feel that’s an appropriate introduction to an essay on how I tried to make sense of the latest messes in Libya, Syria, and Iran.

First, Iran. It’s a nation of Shi’a Muslims and its leader, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, hates Benjamin Netanyahu, the leader of Israel. Netanyahu hates Ahmedinejad right back. The Sunni Arab states in the Gulf region hate the Iranians because they’re Shi’a. Don’t worry about the differences between the two branches of Islam: they are sufficient enough for radicals on both sides to want to kill each other. Israel and the Gulf Arabs have common cause to want to see Iran rendered incapable of exerting influence in the region.

Next, Syria. While most Syrians are Sunnis, the leadership has come from Alawites, who are kind of like Shi’as. That’s why Iran has supported the Assad regime. If Assad falls, then Sunnis take over and Iran loses an ally in the region. Moreover, the Shi’a Hezbollah in Lebanon would lose a major backer. Israel hates the Hezbollah, so it’s a big win for them to have Assad lose power. Even if radical, anti-Israel nutjobs took over in Damascus, Israel would cut them to ribbons on the Golan Heights and they’d be more likely to wage war on Hezbollah for control of Lebanon. Divide and rule.

Now, Libya. This hits close to home because of the recent loss of the US Ambassador there. To make sense of that nation, we need a bit of history. Back in 2011, that nation rose up in revolt against its dictator. Like so many other dictatorships, this dictator drew most of his support from his tribe. That meant the revolution devolved into tribal warfare, with a range of tribes allying together to overthrow the dictatorial tribe. In the wake of that overthrow, they fell upon each other. Libya remains a lawless, dangerous place where there’s been a wave of bombings since August 2012 and an actual mini-war around the town of Bani Walid – Moammar Qaddafi’s base of support – during the month of October.

So, when people ask in the USA, “If there’s a spontaneous demonstration, do you bring your rocket launchers and automatic weapons?” the answer is “Yes, if you’re in Libya.” In August and September, there were a number of political and military assassinations to go along with the militia clashes. The place is practically a Somalia on the Mediterranean. Government control there is collapsing, with two governors of the Benghazi region having resigned – the people claimed they were incompetent and corrupt, while the governors claimed they had no money or support forthcoming from the central regime in Tripoli.

In that mess of Libya, particularly in Benghazi, someone – terrorist, militiaman, whatever – killed the US Ambassador. Given the chaos in Libya, I can perfectly see it as an unpremeditated crime of opportunity. Given the chaos in Syria, I can also see it as blowback. In Syria, the saying goes, “If you feed a scorpion, it will sting you.”

Many of the fighters against the Assad regime are foreigners, and many of them are Libyan. There may be actual pro-democracy men in the anti-Assad resistance, but most of them are rabid, atrocity-inflicting, card-carrying Islamist extremists. That’s why they’ve been able to match or beat the rabid, atrocity-inflicting, card-carrying Assad extremists. Those anti-Assad forces need weapons, and Libya is a ready source of undocumented weapons that can be shipped anywhere without regards to niceties like proper paperwork or Congressional approval.

The weapons and the fighters flow across the border with Turkey. Turkish towns were shelled recently – while the Western leaders tried to blame Assad, the Turks in the area blamed their own government for using those same towns as staging grounds for aid to the Syrian rebels. When the shelling of Turkish towns failed to produce a massive response, Israel began reporting Syrian shells landing on the Golan Heights, and duly responded in kind.

While it makes no sense at all for Assad’s forces to be provoking both NATO and Israel to unleash an American intervention in their nation, it makes perfect sense for hawks in America, Israel, and the Gulf Arab states (who fund those Islamist extremists) to create false-flag provocations to trigger a conflict that reduces Iran’s influence in the region. This brings me back to that Syrian saying… Osama Bin Laden was killed in May, 2011. The Libyan rebels didn’t enjoy major victories until some time after that – when al-Qaeda men were reported to be in the mix. al-Qaeda men are now reportedly all over Syria right now. Is it a coincidence that the decapitation of al-Qaeda’s leadership was followed by their participation in operations that benefit US-Israel interests?

At any rate, the tragedy of a US Ambassador in Benghazi now serves as a distraction to the larger series of tragedies in Libya, Syria, and – possibly in the near future – Iran.

The Creepy Side of the Petreaus Investigation

One day, Jill Kelley started getting threatening emails from an anonymous person. She reported those emails to an FBI friend of hers. The FBI not only determined who was sending the emails, they went and found all the emails that person sent. It was at that point that they discovered the affair between the sender, Paula Broadwell, and former CIA head, David Petreaus. Why didn’t the FBI just determine who sent the emails and tell her to quit? We’ve got lots of people with bitter breakups that only get a lousy restraining order. Why did this investigation have to go beyond that?

It’s because it was yet another opportunity for the FBI to flex its muscles, that’s why. The FBI took down Richard Nixon when the #2 at that organization got passed over to lead the FBI when Hoover died. We like to think Woodward and Bernstein did all the investigating of Watergate, but they were acting on information supplied to them by a bitter FBI executive that wanted revenge. Now we’re seeing an FBI investigation go too far into personal lives to dismantle the power of the man at the head of the CIA.

The FBI didn’t have to go that far. Once they determined who was sending the emails, they had all they needed for a criminal case. Motive? Rivalry, plain and simple. Broadwell’s not even being charged, even though it’s an open and shut case. She sent threatening emails, and that’s against the law.

Petreaus didn’t have to go out in shame, either. The president could have been informed of the situation and then quietly asked for Petreaus’ resignation. Petreaus could cite either family or health concerns like every other executive surrounded by scandal, and that would have been that. There would have been whispers of infidelity here and there, but the stock story would be the aforementioned, lame, tired yarn about family or health concerns. Instead, the whole thing is public and Petreaus is taking all kinds of flak over it.

How did the affair come to light? Eric Cantor found out about it and raised a stink back in October. How did he find out? An FBI agent informed him and – oh, wait, we’ve heard this story before…

Once again in America, our secret police have demonstrated their ability to take down a powerful opponent, this time the head of our spy networks. Bureaucratic turf wars are one thing… power grabs are quite another.

Paralysis and Shock, Part II

I earlier posted that paralysis can lead to the breakup of a nation or increased authoritarianism. There is one other path, rarely taken, but highly successful: a constitutional convention. The French have done it, as have the people of the USA under the Articles of Confederation.

But what to include in a possible new suite of amendments or a rewrite of the constitution?

Eliminate corporate personhood. Corporations are not people, and that doctrine was based upon perjury.
Eliminate corporate donations to candidates, parties, and advertising. They’re not people, so they should not have civil rights or civil liberties.
Eliminate the electoral college. Elect the president with a national vote. This reduces federalism, but it makes individual votes matter more.
Stipulate that corporate directors have a duty to community that supercedes fiduciary duties: the corporation needs to be the servant of society, not the master.
Allow for federal and state money to support religious schools’ education activities, as is done in India. That will keep the anti-science fundamentalism from imposing their will on science education in the USA.
Specify rights and clarify them, as is done in the Swiss constitution.
Limit the ability of the government to tax and spend. Emergency allowances have to be watched carefully, as well. The Swiss constitution places a limit on the power to tax. We have to have provisions to require the government to pay back what it owes when times are good so that it can be ready to deal with bad times when they hit.

That’s a start, but it can give us a renewed hope for the future. A new set of rules gives us a fresh start. They can be corrupted in the future, but that process takes time. This also sets the precedent to reset the system periodically in order to give the nation a new lease. My ideas are not entirely new: some are as old as Jefferson and Locke.

Horserace Analysis

Yesterday, I said that Virginia and Florida would go for Romney. I got the other 48. Nate Silver of the New York Times called 49 out of 50 states, so I’m almost as accurate as he is. Karl Rove, on the other hand… he revealed himself to be a partisan blowhard even when he was pretending to be a non-partisan blowhard. So much for whatever credibility he had after calling 49 of 50 states in 2008.

OK, so why did the GOP lose Senate and Presidential elections? I can identify three big reasons. GOP guys can win local races. Statewide races and national races are where they run into trouble. The biggest problem for the GOP is that a hard stance on pro-life will not win the presidency or a statewide race with this USA. The hard stance – no abortion in the case of rape or incest – will lead to a rape comment trap, and that’s their biggest gotcha. One GOP hardliner’s comments will stick to the other candidates and sink them. If the pro-life party line allowed for exceptions to the rule of no abortion to include cases of rape and incest, then GOP candidates would do better. Until then, they are going to almost ensure that women in general will mobilize to vote for a Democrat.

Second problem: immigration. The GOP has not woken up to the fact that the anchor babies of the wave of immigration in the 80s are voters today. These children of illegal immigrants are themselves legal citizens – citizens with some closely-held views on immigration. The fact that strong opponents of immigration find a welcoming home in the GOP is not lost on minorities. When GOP candidates talk about anti-immigration measures, that cuts close to the hearts of those anchor baby voters. They would vote against the GOP out of fear of what would happen if the nation’s government turned more openly hostile to immigrants.

Third problem: free speech. Not for the opponents, for the candidates. The GOP did a fantastic job of inserting shoes between their bicuspids in this election cycle. Aiken and Mourdock had their rape comments. For Romney, it was the comical combination of Big Birg, binders, and bayonets. These guys need some massive coaching on how to answer questions without coming across as medieval popes, insane hockey moms, or pompous windbags. I have worked with pompous windbags as an AcDec coach, and there are ways to help those guys not come across as such.

Both sides did a potent job of pandering and negative campaigning. The Democrats simply did a better job of not angering women, terrifying minorities, and sounding like arrogant ideologues. It doesn’t matter what a candidate is, deep down inside. It’s the appearance that counts, and the Democrats’ candidates made for better appearances.

Paralysis and Shock

When nations arrive at a state of paralysis, they do not recover their former resilience. Instead, they endure shocks that produce undemocratic or hyperdemocratic results.

China, Russia, and Cambodia went Communist. They lacked a developed industrial base, so peasant uprisings behind Communist vanguards succeeded in taking over the apparatus of state. Russia later endured a second paralysis after its Communist period and went Fascist under Putin – after fracturing into 15 nations. China is enduring paralysis right now, but I cannot determine if it will go Fascist or break apart into smaller units. I should note that Communism is not an option for a developed nation. The big threat to developed democratic and liberal ideals are national dissolutions or fascist movements. India has a decent shot at going Communist because of its massive rural population. China, too, could have a second Communist revolution. Russia won’t be going back to Communism: it’s too industrialized.

Mexico in 1910 went in a leftist direction, not entirely Communist. In the 1990s, paralysis gave Mexico a rightward shift that was incomplete: drug lords have now fractured the Mexican state.

Weimar Germany, postwar Italy, and 1930s Spain endured paralysis that produced fascist states.

Yugoslavia’s paralysis produced a fractured state, as did Czechoslovakia.

Iran’s paralysis under the Shah led to a fascist-religious state under the Ayatollahs. It is enduring another round of paralysis. Arab states emerging from recent revolutions are also leaning towards fascist-religious states after paralyzing secular fascism. Syria is fractured and Lebanon perennially fractures under the stress of paralysis.

Japan’s paralysis in the 1930s gave them militaristic fascism. They are also enduring another phase of paralysis.

European nations and the USA are also in paralysis, to one degree or another. Spain and Italy look set to fly apart: Greece is capable of anything. Other nations’ situations are developing.

So, whither the USA? Fascism or dissolution? I think the lessons of 1861-1865 are clear and that dissolution is not a viable scenario, except in the case of an extreme sequence of events. Fascism is already nascent, with interest groups exerting influence on both the major parties favorable towards a fascist setup. The Tea Party is a vanguard of American fascism – it truly is, even though not all Tea Party supporters are fascists – and the rest of the Republicans are impotent in opposing their influence. By turn, the radical elements in the GOP produce a more radicalized Democrat party, which compounds the paralysis of government.

That paralysis is ultimately to the benefit only of Fascist movements.

What Fiction Should Guide Us?

It’s simple: forget the Ayn Rand books. Her hateful, selfish, praise of the sociopath is not the inspiration we need. Turn instead to Charles Dickens and his “A Christmas Carol.” It’s a short work and focuses on the one character, Scrooge, so it’s easy to follow. Read it and try not to cry when Scrooge visits the Christmas dinner at the Cratchits. Dickens is not recommending rampant government-driven socialism: quite the contrary. He’s reminding us all that there is something greater than money and power. There is a reason we have a soul, a conscience, and a heart.

Those who shout the loudest that private charity should help the poor must be the most charitable themselves. It is a calamity of our day that, instead of the charitable institutions that Dickens admired in his day, America is famous for its billionaires that grind the faces of the poor.

Well, that doesn’t matter: even the poorest among us can be charitable. So let’s resolve to be more charitable: the Christmas season draws closer to us, and the spirit of the season beckons to us all.

Here’s the blueprint: A Christmas Carol. Read it and may it make you resolve to keep Christmas better than any man around!