Tuesday, November 25, 2014

American Crucible

Ferguson, Missouri was licked by the flames of unrepentant grief and anger, when her son, Mike Brown, was judged to have been unworthy of being given a voice by the justice system which supposedly protects him and all Americans from the murderous excesses of society. A police officer, who by many accounts took unwarranted action unfettered by justification, was allowed the triumph of spilling blood in the street.

Ferguson burned.

We revile the idea of violence. The violence of police, who seem less interested in protecting and more interested in assaulting. The violence of poverty, that causes a community to be sown with the seeds of despair. The violence of rage, unloosed with little provocation when the mood suits it. Violence in any form is despicable. We cannot condone the actions of those who thought bricks and bottles were appropriate counterpoints to grief and anger. We cannot applaud those who chose to punish innocent shop owners for the failures of a justice system by torches and thievery. No amount of violence makes the thing better or more palatable.

But we can understand.

For in the breast of every decent and compassionate American is a heart pounding, picturing a Black man sprawled on the ground, a White officer standing over him as rivulets of blood soak the pavement. Within that heart, our blood cries out to that blood, as it is forced to our brain, carrying the chemical equivalent of sorrow, grief, and above all, rage. Like the flames that devoured Ferguson, our anger flows into the tiny recesses of our brains, devouring hope and decency, leaving a furious ash, that would have us strike out and smite those who so gleefully revel in the actions of a rogue police officer.

We, too, are consumed by fire.

Mike Brown and Darren Wilson are far from symptoms of the wider scope that is a society still shot through with racism and hatred, unbent and undimmed despite a century-and-a-half's passing. They are the wound, that now should cause the blood of the body politic in America to flow, to bring the platelets that are required to heal the wound and the antibodies to inoculate us from further outbreaks of this malevolent disease that clings to life within. For when invaded, the body will turn to fever to try to burn away the invading organism, to deprive it of the conditions that allow for its growth. The cycles of fever and chills are meant to break the grip of the infection, to give the body time to build immunity.

So, too, must it be with Ferguson, Missouri. Let the fire smolder and let the chill of November descend. Let us cleanse the American body of this vile disease, which blemishes us and cripples us. Let it be known that no decent American will tolerate the denigration and destruction of any among us, no matter color nor creed. Let it be known that all who are citizens of America have equal rights under LAW, and where that law will not protect all, let us do what we must to ensure it does. Racism CANNOT prevail. We will NOT allow it. We will provide the antidote and the American body will take it in full measure.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Poll Taxing

As of now, you have three days until Election Day on November 4th. Three days to choose candidates and prepare to head to the only polls that count: the ones where the ballot boxes await.

For there's another kind of poll, the public opinion poll. The idea is simple: ask a certain segment of the population how likely they are to vote, if they are registered to vote, and who they will vote for. Tabulate the numbers. Voilá! You know who will win.

Except you don't. You have no actual idea who will win.

Because: opinions ARE NOT votes.

Opinions cannot be stuffed in a ballot box. Opinions cannot be entered in a voting machine. Opinions are NO SUBSTITUTE for an actual cast ballot.

And yet, a "cottage" industry has sprung up around electoral prognostication, the forecasting and foreshadowing of the eventual winners and losers. Reputations and fortunes have been made in "picking" the right horse in the Political Derby.

What you, dear American, may not realize about polls is this: IT IS ALL A SCAM.

You see, when this first began, if might have been about trying to determine who would win or lose, what people cared about, what issues could be made into a means to score points against an opponent. That's no longer the case. No, the opinion poll and its shill the pollster are a means to do something far more insidious: SUPPRESS THE VOTE.

Think of the political opinion poll as a newer, more subtle form of the poll tax, that egregious holdover from previous eras where voters were required to pony up money in order to be able to vote. It was a means to prevent people from voting that parties and candidates didn't want voting, mainly Blacks, but expanded to many other groups where there was need. Indeed, while the pollster may not be asking you for money, you pay them equally well with your apathy. For the pollsters know: a poll really only tells you what people who will answer their phone are thinking. There is a subset of America that is more than happy to answer a phone call and give their opinion as often as you would like, and that is the group pollsters mine, like glittering diamonds, at election time. By mining that seam, they know they can't actually speak to who will win or lose a particular race, but they can work their magic to effect the outcome.

It is a sad commentary on the American electoral system and civics in general, that the American citizen, on average, does not take their responsibility to vote seriously. You note I say "responsibility" and not "right," because while there is an inherent right to vote, that is because it is your responsibility to do so. Every American, born or naturalized, is sworn by their fealty to the Constitution to perform the necessary duty to choose a Federal government that will operate to manage the affairs of the nation. The Founding Fathers created this system, knowing it would only work properly if all citizens performed this duty reliably. Should any significant fraction of the American population decide that voting was too tiresome, too tedious, of too little interest, that would open the door to the politification of government and the disruption of the operation of the United States as a nation.

It was no less august a person than George Washington who counselled against faith in political parties and exhorted the citizenry to ensure the longevity of our country, by performing their duty and remaining engaged in civil dialogue and the affairs of government. Government Of, By, and For The People requires The People be so engaged, for where they are not, the vipers and power brokers surely will reign.

The opinion poll is only the latest weapon in the arsenal of anti-democracy, which seeks to ensure outcomes in elections by keeping citizens at home, by couching their choices in terms of the "lesser of two evils," and by making it clear that their votes can be wasted by voting for those who will "obviously" lose. It is a vast conglomerate of those who actively seek to manipulate the voting will of the public and those who do so, thinking they are somehow supporting democracy, when they are, in fact, hindering it.

If America is to regain her footing, if Federal government is to be made to work again, then it behooves us to shun the polls and their statistics and concentrate on what matters: the vote. Each of us has one vote, each of us should be able to use it, and if attempts are made to dissuade us, and barring that, forbid us from casting our ballot as we are enjoined to, then that is only to the advantage of those forces that seek to manipulate and control government to their own ends. By plying people with numbers, with mathematical certitude, and the aura of an ability for absolute prognostication, the forces of anti-democracy paint a bleak and ultimately fake picture of how our nation will operate, only for the purpose of ensuring it by keeping you at home, sitting on your hands, convinced your vote does no good.

The only wasted vote is the vote not cast. When you choose not to vote, you leave the decision of your fate up to those who are not interested in how their views will impact your life; they only seek to be placed in positions of power where they can enforce those views on you through the mechanism of law. When you choose not to vote, you allow your voice to be swallowed by a cacophony of mealy-mouthing, shrieking harpies that would drag our nation back into the darkest places from which we've fought so hard to remove ourselves. When you do not vote, you consign not just yourself, but your fellow Americans, to be ruled by those who seek only their self-aggrandizement, at the cost of a nation's dignity, honor, and duty to its people.

The poll is a pox on the body politic, along with unlimited campaign contributions and the blather of campaign advertisement. We are so enmeshed in a miasma of apathy generated by these things, that our nation is imperiled, pushed to the precipice of being supplanted in the world as a dominant power by our regression back into ignorance and theocracy. So much blood was spilled to give us the freedom to be the strong, independent nation we became, it is diabolical that we should water down that sacrifice with petty party politics and ineffectual Federal government.

There is time. You have the time. You can become informed. You can make choices. You CAN vote and start the process of change. Vote for the candidate that you can most support. If you can't find one, find someone you think could do the job, and write in their name. If you must, write in your own name on the line. Just take the time, make the determination, then go out on Election Day and do your sworn duty as a citizen. The change may not come overnight, but no river starts without the fall of a a few raindrops. Be the raindrop that leads to a river that scours away party politics, washes clean our Federal government, and nourishes the fields of democracy once more.

Friday, September 12, 2014

A Good Man Goes To Great Lengths To Avoid A War

There is a group, the "Islamic" State, that has decided that their brand of extremist Islam demands the "restoration" of a caliphate in the Middle East. They are willing to go to any length to make this happen. They carved a territory out of Syria and Iraq, declared it theirs, and imposed their brutal version of justice on the inhabitants. The brook no interference, to the point of beheading American journalists as retaliation for attempts by the United States to keep them from overrunning and slaughtering groups that do not meet with their fanatical approval.

Their existence is a product of the Cold War. The U.S.A. vs. U.S.S.R. chess match shaped policies on both sides in the Middle East that led to a region rife with fanaticism, shot through with tyrannical dictatorship, and left some nations open to exploitation by dictators, religious fundamentalists, and terrorists. The Shah of Iran, Nasser, Arafat, Ayatollah Khomeini, Qaddafi, bin Laden, Hussein... these are the products of a global tug-of-war that produced regional conflict, fair weather alliances, power grabs, religious oppression, and lethal dictatorships. The Middle East as it is now, was a product of the 20th Century version of The Crusades.

The "Islamic" State is only the latest mutated offspring of the undeclared war between Capitalism and Communism. As such, the blood is on our hands, like it or not. We may have moved a long way from the genesis of the current instability, but it is an albatross that casts its shadow on the deck of the ship of State.

It would be easy enough to claim that we have reached some moral ascendance, that with Gulf War II now nearly over in Afghanistan, we must strike the standards, fold the tents, and return to our homes, and banish from our minds any thought of returning to involve ourselves in the melees the region finds itself enmeshed in. Perhaps we could absolve ourselves that easily.

It doesn't work that way.

Our hand set the game in motion. The waves of dissent and ripples of instability were caused by the rock we heaved into the middle of that desert pond. The single greatest foreign attack on American continental soil, September 11th, was one of those ripples, rebounded from a cave in mountains in Afghanistan. We might wish to believe disengaging from the pageant keeps us safe from the repercussions of our actions, that our new found moral certitude in peace without superior firepower would insulate us.

It is true that, at some point, a nation must stand up before the world, say "we will not continue to live by the sword," and work tirelessly to foster peace. It is true that violence is the last refuge of the incompetent, but within that is the implicit assumption that we were competent in the first place. Violence is not the ultimate solution to our problems; the Cold War was the greatest teacher of that lesson, for the mutually-assured destruction that might have been wrought had tensions between the United States and the U.S.S.R. escalated would certainly have extinguished us all. It took a tremendous effort to pull two great powers back from the brink of mass nuclear suicide. It was done. But the threat is still present even now.

It is hubris to believe that we can simply pick up our toys and go home. There is no reason to believe that the "Islamic" State will somehow see our withdrawal as a "get out of jihad free" card. Their rhetoric suggests they see the United States -- and all Westernized societies -- as their enemy. They are willing to die for what they believe and more than willing to take as many of us as possible with them when they do. Right now, they are confined to a home they have carved from other nations, but are we seriously going to bank on them staying there. within their Arabic playpen?

Ideology is the worst offender in war, for the ideologue believes so wholeheartedly in the righteousness of their cause, they are willing to immolate themselves and their brethren in its defense, even when their situation is hopeless. Hitler wrecked Germany rather than admit defeat. The Japanese were willing to hurl themselves at ships in order to prevent the hated enemy from setting foot on their shore. The suicide bomber destroys himself in the belief that self-sacrifice wins him a ticket to Heaven for obliterating his enemies.

President Obama is taking the prudent steps he must to ensure that the "Islamic" State cannot present a greater threat to the United States and the world, that an organized state with greater resources would pose when wrapped up in self-destructive fanaticism. The man will not go to war, casually or without deliberation, if at all. He has used the tools at his command to end the wars we have been involved in and to attempt to prevent new ones from starting. He is perched precariously at the apex of a pyramid of Western interference in the Middle East that stains our reputation among Arabic nations, colors even our well-meaning our actions as suspect, and leaves us no good options when it is clear that a situation is of our manufacture.

The man has stood before the flag-draped caskets. He knows what he asks of our military and the nation. He knows there is risk with every move he makes. But he also knows that we, the United States, owe this region for centuries of bloodshed brought about by our machinations. It is a debt not so easily written off, especially where the payment for it may come in the deaths of American citizens on their home soil. We take a grave risk in ignoring a threat that is so transparent, when we did not take seriously the last threat, and allowed almost 3,000 names to be added to the butcher's bill as a result.

A day will come when the world will know true peace. To get there, we will still have to fight, until those who worship violence are vanquished. Human nature being what it is, we have a long road yet to follow.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Black Mark

"All men are created equal."

You don't realize how hollow that statement sounds until you see a picture of a Black man left dead in the middle of a street, surrounded by White police officers. The vaunted "equality" Thomas Jefferson espoused was not real; at the time, if you were Black and a slave, some did not even count you as fully human, closer to a farm animal than a person. For the stirring words of The Declaration of Independence meant nothing to those bound in chains.

It took The Civil War to break the physical chains, but such a bloody confrontation could do nothing to break the mental chains that held many Americans to the belief that Blacks were sub-human, and had "no rights which the White man was bound to respect." Freedom in law did not equate to freedom in society. Slavery in fact was replaced by slavery in deed. Jim Crow was as much a slave master as any White plantation owner had been before the war.

The modern Black person is the bastard child of a system that took natives of the African continent from their homes, worked them to death, cut loose those that didn't die, and claimed they were free because it said so on a piece of paper. Hundreds of years have passed and though the Black person is not bought and sold in the public auction house, their lives are still just a commodity to the White world. It is, as if, turning Black people from valuable property into human beings reduced their value to zero in White eyes.

So it happens that Blacks are marginalized, stigmatized, and pushed to the margins of American society. Even now, after wars, civil rights movements, legislation, and court cases, a Black person cannot walk down a street without the nagging worry that their presence will trigger events that will lead to their death. Perhaps many put it out of their minds and go about their business thinking it can't happen to them...

Then along comes a Mike Brown, an Eric Garner, a Renisha McBride, a Trayvon Martin.

As so often happens, there is a Black person in the "wrong place at the wrong time," as if there are only certain places and times a Black person is allowed to exist within. Armed with only cans of iced tea, bags of Skittles, a wallet, a cell phone, and walking down the middle of a quiet suburban street, breaking up trouble in their neighborhood, or simply looking for help, they are the victims of White aggression. A society built on White value systems reduces their value to zero and deems it necessary that they die.

The death of an unarmed Black person at the hands of a White person engenders rage, and why shouldn't it? Shouldn't we be past this now? Skin color does not alter a person's humanity; we have known this for so very long. Yet here we are, in a world of computers, the Internet, global travel, and still the Black person is looked down upon by a nation that spilled so much blood to free their ancestors from the bondage it first put them in.

Why should anyone be surprised when the Black community rises up in indignation, shaking its collective fists in earnest rage at a system that refuses to treat them as equal, refuses to respect their right to exist, let alone be free. Do you honestly believe nightsticks and tear gas and curfews can simply anneal a wound so grievously deep and so constantly fresh?

The Black person lives, not as a person, but as a stereotype, for far too many segments of the American landscape. They are couched as shirkers, deserters, layabouts, thieves, thugs, and animals, even though American history is replete with a procession of educated, hard-working, fierce Blacks who were there from the start to build, maintain, and defend the nation that treats them in such an egregious fashion. Even now, they are holding communities together, working to build up from the depths into which they have been cast time and again. Wracked with poverty, they struggle and fight and claw to make a better life.

And then they die.

Is it not enough that we deprived their ancestors their freedom and liberty through our colonial aspirations and greed, that we now plunge the children of the African continent into a crucible, seeking to burn them away as an impurity in our society? Is our land, so steeped in the values of freedom and liberty, still so shot through with callous disregard for Black humanity, that it must shoot them down in the street? Where is the breaking point? When does America draw a collective breath and shout "ENOUGH!"?

The Black community cannot be expected to continually suffer the depredations of White culture in silence. We cannot tell them, constantly, to "just calm down" or "let the system provide justice," when it is their blood being spilled in the streets so regularly, because the system of justice does not punish the perpetrators of the crimes against them. What White person would hold their tongue or keep their finger from the trigger, when time and again, few if any of their brethren have been punished for murdering a Black person in cold blood?

There was no reason for them to die. Plenty of Black people do commit actual crimes, but that is weak justification for the thinly-veiled genocide we see every day. Our system of justice in America has been primed to accept the guilt of the Black person before their innocence, all law to the contrary. A White person can slaughter a dozen people with a gun and they walk away in handcuffs; a Black person can walk home from the store and die for lack of any offense. Tell me again about justice.

Until the endemic racism that plagues this nation is brought to the surface and dealt with harshly by an outraged citizenry of every stripe, expect Mike Brown to have more company.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

You Cannot Whip The Lion

You have caged the lion and consider yourself its master for having "tamed" the beast. It stalks about within its cage, it may glower at you, and howl, but it is in there and you are out here, and you are its master.

Then, one day, it lashes out at you. You feel the hot rake of its claws, hear the terrible gnashing of its teeth, feel the press of its rage.

And you whip it. Again. And again. And again. You force it back. You consider yourself lucky, but once more, you are the master.

Until it does it again. And again. And again.

The caged animal, bereft of home, cut off from the world it knows, unable to move freely, kept behind bars... you may drive it back a dozen times, but each time you erode a little more of the fear, turning hopelessness into rage.

One day, the lion will best you. One day, it will corner you. One day, in your self-assured rush to show your power over it, the lion will strike with all it has left, released of the fear of dying because it is already dead inside.

If you are an Israeli, and you have watched the rockets arc away from Gaza on your television, or heard the boom of them thudding impotently, you may think, sitting there in the comfort of your couch, that you are masters of the Palestinians. And it's true... as far as it goes. With each year, they are more hemmed in, more penned up, stripped of freedom to move, to be, to grow, and that can be considered mastery.

But then the rockets come.

Or Jewish boys die.

Perhaps you should ask yourself: are we truly masters here?

When you hold a people down, when you corner them, corral them, sanction them, that is not mastery, that is inhumanity. You cannot expect a people to be reasonable, to act reasonably, when they are squashed down into fetid and squalid suffering. You can "cleanse" your soul by claiming they brought it upon themselves, but who holds the keys to cage and who lives in the cage?

It is safe to say that most Israelis agitating for action have never seen Gaza, been behind its checkpoints, roamed its crowded roads and seen the camps. They have never smelled the desperation of a people trying to survive on the scraps that are flung their way. When you turn a people into a caricature, when you deny them their basic humanity, it is hubris to believe that peace is ever attainable, even though you can have it any time you want simply by dropping the whip.

Hamas gets its power directly from the Israeli Prime Minister and Knesset, when they hoarily declare the intransigence of the Palestinian people, and trumpet the need to, once more, "cripple Hamas' ability to commit atrocities." Hamas, dripping hatred for the Jews and the State of Israel, drag "their people" into the fight, to splash blood upon the ground, so they can lustily decry the violence, even as they launch more rockets. And the people of Gaza, more pawns than players, go along with it, because they are tired of being penned up. Israel obliges Hamas by dropping bombs on women and children in the pen, in the name of pacification and the end of "terrorism."

It is a cycle of violence that will know no end until Gaza is but a smoking hole.

I know, what right have I, the non-Jewish American, to criticize. I, too, sit and watch the rockets fly and the bombs fall from the comfort of my couch. The distance, though, allows perspective, and paints the scene so clearly, that my human heart is bursting with indignation at Israel for their ham-handedness and Hamas for its stubborn foolishness. The only people who truly suffer are a people who have done nothing but suffer for decades, while this dance of destruction sweeps around them and deprives them of life.

Say what you will, defend your side as you choose, but all humanity loses where we stand by and say nothing. So I will have my say, I will condemn the Israeli bloodbath in Gaza, I will shake my fist at Hamas for their naked cowardice, and I will implore Israel to drop the whip, because you cannot whip the lion forever and hope to live in peace.