rant


 Thomas Paine Was A Podcaster

This is a crass advertisement disguised as a blog post. But I figure that’s okay because there is plenty of drivel out there disguised as political discourse. If you’re like me, you cannot even stand to watch the talking heads on cable TV anymore — the token left-winger screaming at the token right-winger is supposed to make us all believe that some serious discussion is taking place, but in reality its just noise aimed at improving ratings. We face some serious issues in this country right now, but no one is talking about them in the media. Or if they are, I certainly couldn’t find them, so I had to create my own source for these discussions.

This month marks 236 years since Thomas Paine published his pamphlet Common Sense, which went on to become the most widely circulated book in American history. In a country that had become severely divided over the biggest issues of the day, including whether or not to seek our independence from Great Britain, Paine’s eloquent but approachable writing style tipped the scales in favor of revolution, and changed the history of the world. It did what other media of the day failed to do: cut through the noise and address the issues head-on, in words that every individual could understand and appreciate.

Amidst all of our modern technology today, a medium that speaks to only one person at a time might seem quaint. But where the pamphlet triumphed in the 18th Century, being cheap and easy to produce, simple to consume, and even simpler to pass along to someone else, the modern day equivalent of the pamphlet, the podcast, is also triumphing over more traditional forms of broadcast media. A podcast represents an intimate discussion between the author and the listener, about topics of interest to both parties, free from the undue influences of advertisers and others with private agendas to promote. In its purest form, a podcast is a discussion about ideas. And as we all know from the humble pamphlet, ideas can change the world. The revolution will not be televised, but it will be podcasted.

Thomas Paine was not the first person to publish a pamphlet, and I am not the first person to embrace the podcast as a way to promote ideas that I believe are valuable. But myself and a couple of fellow political junkies have grown tired of what passes for political discourse in this country. We are tired of being told that there are only two sides to every issue. So we started our own podcast to provide our own perspectives on the issues. We call it The Midwest Peace Process, and between the three of us, we offer a unique mix of opinions from the left, right, and beyond. So, if you’re tired of the TV pundits shouting at each other (and at you), why not take the opportunity to give us a listen? We promise we won’t shout.

 New Hampshire Is Still A Fraud

I’m glad to see my scolding four years ago had some effect, but come on, New Hampshire! Twenty-three percent is all you could manage? It’s a damn sight better than the measly nine percent you gave the man last time, but it’s still pitiful. I repeat, you’re a fraud, New Hampshire. You don’t care about freedom. Your actions betray your claims to stand for liberty. You should be ashamed.

 It’s All Coming Apart

Earlier this year I wrote about the nascent Arab Spring and how I was hopeful that this movement, and this desire for freedom, would continue to spread. Stories like this one today continue to fuel my hope that this is true. The tangled web of government (in every country) has become so heavy, so onerous, that it has become impossible for people to continue ignoring it in the normal conduct of their daily lives. A ever-growing number are emerging from this miasma and asking (I hope), “Does it really need to be this way? Can we not find a better way of living on this planet?”

I refuse to believe this tsunami of anti-government rage is a simple coincidence of overindulgent editors around the globe looking for flashy stories because it has been a slow news year. This is the news. This is what is happening right now. This is a worldwide movement. Only a fool could deny it at this point. Further, it seems virtually no country on earth has been left untouched by it, and there are also no signs of it slowing down. Certainly, it has been exacerbated by the global economic troubles of the past few years, but that should not be allowed to overshadow the deeper philosophical meaning.

The people who are rioting in the streets, who are toppling their current regimes, are not motivated by unemployment, or the depreciation of their property values. This is not about money. It is about recognizing the basic human rights to life and liberty. It is about living one’s life with a sense of dignity, without being told how by an oppressive government. Surely, this is something to which we can all relate.

 Can We Please Stop Now?

Three thousand people died on 9/11 as a result of the worst terrorist attacks in US history. But ten times that many people die every year in traffic accidents, and I don’t hear anyone calling for an outright ban on automobiles. So this has clearly never been just a public safety issue. Maybe a 9/11-style attack once a generation is simply the price we must pay to live in a free society? There I said it.

I know the victims and their friends and family don’t want to hear that — they have no doubt found some solace in avenging the deaths of their loved ones by engaging in the sisyphean task of ridding the world of terrorists. But honestly, for the other 300 million of us in this country, who have had to endure the DHS, the TSA, and all of the other bullshit we’ve been enduring for the last ten years, we’ve had about enough of it, and we’re ready to try something different.

The stories about TSA agents groping our children, and asking our 95-year-old grandmothers to take off their adult diapers, is enough. Enough. But then, today, we are told that the next round in the arms race with al Qaeda is allegedly terrorists who are willing to have bombs surgically implanted in their bodies in order to thwart airport security. Really? If you thought cavity searches were bad before, wait until they start doing them arthroscopically.

At this point, it should be obvious to any thinking person that the government is impotent to respond to this. There are a number of quotes that come to mind. First from Frederick Douglass: “The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they suppress.” I think we have just defined that limit. It is my sincerest hope that no American is going to submit to surgical inspections at security checkpoints. If you are reading this, and think this is at all a reasonable approach, do us all a favor and take your own life. The second quote is from H.L. Mencken: “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed — and thus clamorous to be led to safety — by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” Please allow me to introduce you to the newest TSA hobgoblin: belly bombs. One with an impressive pedigree that includes nail clippers, hairspray, three-ounce bottles of liquid, shoe bombs and underwear bombs.

How much farther are we willing to travel on this bus to Crazytown, America? I don’t know about you, but this is my stop.

 Wasting Money To Make Money

As a kid I remember collecting Susan B. Anthony dollar coins when they first came out in 1979. This attempt to resurrect dollar coinage in the United States was an unqualified failure — for a number of reasons. The most important being that it was something new and people are resistant to change (no pun intended). But it was also easy to confuse the Susan B with quarters, as they were the same color, and only slightly larger. So the total indifference by the public to this new coin was attributed by most to these factors. Fast forward twenty years, and take two: the Sacagawea dollar. It corrected the perceived issues with its predecessor, being larger and a different color, making it impossible to confuse it with a quarter. And it mattered not one whit. A decade later, the only place you can expect to find these coins in circulation is change from a Metrolink ticket machine.

Given this impressive track record, it should come as no surprise that Congress once again jumped into the fray and approached the problem with unassailable logic: if the Sacagawea dollar was good, then surely 44 more dollar coins (displaying the images of all of our former Presidents) would have to be that much better, right? So it is written and so it shall be. Here we are now, not even halfway into this new program that began in 2007, and we are learning just how pointless and wasteful this whole thing has become. NPR is reporting today that the US Mint has produced, and the Federal Reserve is storing, a billion of these coins which now sit languishing in vaults all over the country. The cost so far for producing these is over $300 million. But is anyone calling for an end to this madness? Hardly. In fact, since the program was created by an act of Congress, it would be against the law to stop. So we will continue minting coins that no one wants until every former president’s face appears on one. Total cost to taxpayers at that point will be something north of $700 million dollars, not counting the cost to store and guard all of that loot for almost a decade.

All of this wouldn’t be so bad if Congress had the political will to eliminate the paper dollar bill and at least save a little money in the process (although the NPR story points that there is reason to believe that there wouldn’t be any savings at all in pursuing that), but no one is brave enough to kill the iconic symbol of our economy. The political will is there to go on producing worthless coins for years, however. Well, at least Ecuador (which uses US currency) is happy.

 Random Gas Prices

A year ago I wrote about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and I commented about how the prices at the gas pumps had remained unchanged. The normal annual pattern of price increases leading up to summer, with subsequent decreases, had been interrupted for some reason. Here we are a year later, and gas prices have indeed increased, but they went up in February and March this year, instead of April and May, and now, in the last few weeks, they have actually declined by about twenty cents a gallon nationwide. What’s going on?

So it seems that the perennial excuse by the oil companies that summertime demand for gas drives the prices up at the same time every year is completely bogus and that the oil companies really don’t have that great an understanding of the market forces at work in their own industry. Could this be true? Funny how we haven’t heard any of the talking heads speculating about the potential reasons for the fluctuations in gas prices. This time of year, it’s usually a lead story. I would be okay with an explanation that it is really just completely random and that no one can predict what gas prices will be. But since we claimed to know what caused it in the past, and now we apparently don’t, it leads me to think there might be something more sinister going on here. Maybe it’s just me.

 Chicago Holds Its Breath

After last year’s McDonald v Chicago decision by the Supreme Court, I wrote about how the tide seemed to be turning with respect to recognition of our basic human right to self-defense. I guess I should have known that just because the Supreme Court decides in your favor does not mean your opponent will acquiesce. Much like a child that holds its breath and stamps its feet in a fit of defiance, the City of Chicago has been throwing a tantrum for the last year over the outcome of this case. While they did repeal the handgun ban, they replaced it with another ordinance that appears to be equally oppressive. They refused to pay the winning side’s attorney fees, claiming that the Supreme Court decision did not represent a clear victory. That dispute made its way to the US Court of Appeals, and Chicago was once again defeated. The city also appears to be denying the suburb of Oak Park, a fellow defendant, any protection from the expenses associated with the case.

No one likes to be told they are wrong, much less being proven wrong in court, but come on Chicago, man up. Stop behaving like an insolent six-year-old that just lost a game of Chutes and Ladders. Can we all be adults about this? Meanwhile, the path to gun ownership in Chicago has apparently not gotten easier, in any practical sense. So you are risking another round of lawsuits, the outcome of which is a foregone conclusion at this point. To use the legal term, the Second Amendment has now been “incorporated” into the equal protection clause, thus it applies to all Americans at the state and local levels. Any further infringement upon the rights of your residents should necessarily be a painful and costly endeavor for you. Isn’t it time to cut your losses? Or are you still hoping you can take your ball and go home?

 How Is AT&T Still In Business?

I just had another horrible experience with AT&T customer support, and I know I’m not alone. They have to be one of the most hated companies on earth for this reason. I just tried logging into their website to make changes to an account and since I do this so seldom, I could not remember my password. Against my better judgment, I attempted to reset my password online — to avoid having to call them, which is an even more painful experience. Twenty-five minutes later, after struggling with the user interface of their site, I get to the point where I click a button to have a temporary password sent to me so I can login. Upon clicking said button, I get a message informing me that the “My AT&T” site is down temporarily for maintenance. It’s tragically comic. Or comically tragic. I can’t decide which. But I do know that if I had another option available to me for DSL service, I would no longer be an AT&T customer. But since they are a monopoly, I’m stuck complaining about their crappy service to you, my dear reader. Thank you for listening.

 Neo-Prohibitionism

In January 1920, the 18th Amendment became the law of the land in the United States, banning the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcohol. It took almost fourteen years for us to realize and acknowledge what a huge mistake that had been, but the 21st Amendment finally repealed Prohibition. But not before a huge and profitable black market was established that fueled the growth of a massive organized crime presence throughout the country. And it was the astonishing acts of violence perpetrated by these mobsters in defense of their “turf” that ultimately convinced America that Prohibition must be repealed.

But we didn’t learn our lesson. Instead, in the last forty years, we simply shifted the target of our Prohibition (to other drugs) and we also allowed Congress to forgo the supreme inconvenience of amending the Constitution before passing an endless stream of legislation that has created more crime, more violence, and higher incarceration rates than were ever seen during the Roaring Twenties. And public sentiment is not as bad this time around because we’ve also managed to outsource much of the violence.

If the drug-related violence in the US is not shocking enough to warrant comparison to the mobsters of days gone by, one need only look south to the hellscape that Mexico has become as a result of our so-called War on Drugs. Mexicans now yearn for gangsters who only shoot automatic weapons at each other, instead of the kidnappings, beheadings, and mass graves that now make up their daily news. The cruelty and brutality on display every day by the drug lords can perhaps only be described as medieval, and Mexico is on the verge of becoming a failed state, simply because we have made the drug trade so insanely profitable.

I’m sure Mexicans are ready to repeal Prohibition. Too bad it’s not their decision to make.

 An Impartial Third Party

Same sex marriage is an extremely controversial issue in this country. And nowhere is this controversy more acute than in California where voters passed Proposition 8 in 2008, banning same sex marriages within the state. Opponents of the move challenged its legitimacy in court, and the case eventually found itself before Judge Vaughn Walker. After Walker struck down Prop 8, a group appealed the decision based on Walker’s subsequent disclosure that he himself was gay and involved in a long-term same-sex relationship. They contend that this represented a conflict of interest for Walker and that he should have recused himself from the case.

Okay, I understand that at first glance this appears to be a case where the coach of your favorite baseball team is allowed to umpire the game, while the fans of the opposing team voice their disapproval in the stands. What I don’t understand is how the outcome is any different if the opposing team’s coach is allowed a turn at umpire. How is he any less biased? And I don’t hear anyone in the media (other than Jon Stewart) illuminating this issue, either, which is frustrating.

But unlike our hypothetical baseball game, where the obvious alternative is to seek out a coach from a third team that has no vested interest in the outcome, there is no impartial third party that is neither homosexual nor heterosexual. To the best of my knowledge, there are no asexual judges that would be immune from the accusations of bias, so we’re stuck with accepting the ruling of an individual whose job it is to render objective decisions. After all, that is what we pay judges for, isn’t it?

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