Category Archives: Politics

Political Yeti: Of Ethics and Laws, Or Creating Something Better than the Bullshit Neo-liberal Kakistocracy Running Rampant in the 21st Century

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We hold no truths self-evident. There are in fact no Truths, in the same way that there is no Creator. There is a social contract, which is based on utilitarian principles. The rights of the many outweigh the rights of the few.

Not that there’s such a thing as Rights either. Nothing is unalienable; hence the need for a social contract. Which is what I’m starting to explore here.

It’s 2017. We live at the height of the neo-liberal nightmare. It’s probable that it will change dramatically in our lifetimes, but unfortunately it’s more likely to get worse than better. And with the twin specters of nuclear war and climate change, there are chances it can get much worse.

While many Americans see the rise of Trump as indication of end times, I suspect they missed their diagnosis by at least fifty years. (It’s been a nightmare at least since Nixon, and probably since the end of the Second World War. And honestly thinking about the presidents of the 18 and 19th century, it’s not like that was a golden age either.) The elites have been running things for a long time, getting their way for a long time. Number 45 isn’t a sudden sign of a sickness, he’s an inevitable point in the decay of a decadent society. I wonder if future generations, should there be any, will look back on now as the time that the sickness of greed overran all else.

Back to building a better society. The Jefferson quote got me to thinking. Obviously the Bill of Rights is outdated. Of course it is. Written in 1789, it predates The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by years and Last of the Mohicans by decades, for instance. And it shows its age. The Right to Bear Arms, for one, was meant for people to own muskets in order to defend against British. It was not meant for citizens to arm themselves with automatic weapons or wear pistols to Walmart. It sort of amuses/alarms me to think what Thomas Jefferson and friends would think of the NRA and its ilk.

Likewise the third amendment is an anachronistic snapshot. But what’s striking about the Bill of Rights, kind of like the 10 Commandments, is what is missing.

Compared with the 33 other member states of the OECD , the US ranks consistently at the bottom on health indicators and has the second highest child poverty rate. Of all these OECD countries, the life expectancy in only three countries -Hungary, Mexico and Turkey – is lower than that in the US, and only Mexico has a higher homicide rate.

In related news, compared with these countries, the US has the greatest concentration of wealth, as measured by the share of the wealth held by the top 1%. The US has been found wanting in many key areas and recommendations from the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights:

• Ratify international human rights treaties;
• Implement safeguards against torture;
• Combat racial discrimination;
• Continue progress implementing rights of LGBTI people;
• Combat racial discrimination;
• Ensure surveillance is consistent with international human rights law;
• Ensure due process for migrants;
• Provide for safe abortion;
• Reduce poverty;
• Ensure women are paid equally as men for the same work;
• End child labor on farms;
• End various forms of inequality;
• Abolish the death penalty; and
• Implement measures against excessive use of force by police.

Just that? Okay that seems pretty monumental. Let’s start with something easier. More basically, most constitutions around the world guarantee some very basic things, including:

“the right to shelter”;
the “right to safe work environment”;
“equal pay for equal work”;
“human rights”;
“the right to a free education”;
a “right to health care”;
“the right to work”;
“the right to dignity”;
the “right to join trade unions.”

Even that low bar is highly controversial and would be fought tooth-and-nail both high and low by many Americans. I suspect the American people are too controlled, the masses have too many opiates for any kind of major change.

So what do you think? How would you rebuild the Bill of Rights, if you were starting a new country? Because the ethical underpinnings of the Western World comes from a 3000 year old mythology, it might be advisable to incorporate some ethics into our legal document too. From a mishmash of “New Commandments” here are some that I think could be useful.

1. Respect Life. We have the responsibility to consider others, including future generations.
2. Be open minded and be willing to alter your beliefs with new evidence.
3. Strive to understand what is most likely to be true, not to believe what you wish to be true.
4. Every person has the right to have control over their body.
5. Treat others not as you would want them to treat you but how they want to be treated. Don’t assume that what you and others have the same expectations. There is no one right way to live. Think about their perspective.
7. Leave the world a better place than you found it.
8. Do not overlook evil or shrink from administering justice, but always be ready to forgive wrongdoing freely admitted and honestly regretted.
9. Live life with a sense of joy and wonder.
10. Always seek to be learning something new.
11. Never seek to censor or cut yourself off from dissent; always respect the right of others to disagree with you.
12. Do not condemn people on the basis of their ethnicity or their color.
13. Do not ever even think of using people as private property.
14. Do not be hasty in making friends, but do not abandon them once made.
Learn to obey before you command.
15. Make reason your supreme commander.
16. Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.
17. Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.
18. Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent than in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.
19. There is no universal moral truth. Our experiences and preferences shape our sense of how to behave.
20. Treat the earth and all that dwell there on with respect.

It’s not the concise ten, but on the other hand neither are half of them about which sky spirit to worship. And there is a bit of overlap. When we’re making our country, we’ll try to be more precise.

So that’s the start of my new country. A blend of new age ethics underscored by basic rights as defined by what most other countries do. What do you think?

Sources
Bill of Rights needs Revising
10 better Commandments
New Commandments

Political Yeti: A Tale of Two Atrocities

Disclaimer: This post is entirely political. If that isn’t to your taste, please head somewhere else. I am an unabashed Leftist and that skews the way I see things.

I have said very little about the elections this year, not even back when Bernie Sanders was running. That is for three reasons. The first is that I really don’t like reality TV and in my opinion, these reports and memes and jokes really aren’t any different from the scripted reality tv you can find on any channel. Did people watching the debates learn any substantive? Or was it mere entertainment? As John Dewey said long ago, “As long as politics is the shadow cast on society by big business, the attenuation of the shadow will not change the substance.”
We’ll get to my second reason in a bit; it’s a bit unrelated.

But the third reason is that there is very little that can be said. Trump is a moron, yes. But it’s not the first year he’s run for President, and everyone seemed to forget that. It seems  manufactured how easily he rose to the top. It’s almost as if control of the media means something. And let’s not forget that despite how ridiculous, abhorrent, and offensive  Trump is, he’s not even as scary as, say, Ted Cruz or his own VP. There is not one good thing I can think of to say about Trump as a person, as a politician, or especially as a presidential candidate.

But … I don’t know that Donald Trump would make for a worse president than Hillary Clinton. Part of that is because he ran as a Republican. That means Democrats would oppose him, watch his every move. Hillary would be able to move with less encumbrance, as we’ve seen with some fairly conservative policies by Obama not be opposed by the left.

Sidenote, if someone like Romney had added more troops (30,000) to the Afghanistan War, refused to close Guantanamo after promising to, ordered Drone Strikes on US citizens, changed the definition of enemy combatant to any male over 18,  funneled billions of taxpayer money to banks, increased offshore drilling and generally helped the 1 percent, he would have been seen as a terrible president. Obama operates under different standards, apparently, and it’s reasonable to suspect that Hillary will too.

I’m going to say it: I think Hillary Clinton is a bad person. I don’t even care about the conspiracy theories and the right-wing suppositions. Her actual record is enough for me to know that as a liberal I can’t support her.

There are two things in particular  about Mrs. Clinton that horrify me.

Firstly she always votes for war. There are too many examples of this to list here, but here are some of the key points.

  1. She supported US bombing of Belgrade in 1999 (Kosovo War). She told reporter Lucinda Frank: [she] was traveling in Africa, called Bill, and: “I urged him to bomb”.
  2. She voted to invade Afghanistan in 2001
  3.  She supported sending 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan to fight the Taliban in mid-2003
  4. She voted to invade Iraq in 2002 – gave stirring speech in US Senate in support of it.
  5. As Sec. of State, she poorly handled the illegal military Honduran coup in 2009, but as recently as April 9, 2016, she defended the illegal coup. Honduras isn’t doing well these days.
  6.   She voted in 2006 to let US military continue to use cluster bombs in areas with concentrated civilian populations. 108 nations (but not the U.S.) have signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions, because they are the single most lethal weapon for civilian casualties in war.
  7.  And recently she spoke of no-fly zones over in Syria. This worries a lot of people–I don’t think it will lead to WWIII– but it will certainly “kill a lot of Syrians” (her own words.)

There are a lot more examples (Libya) but you get the point. If you think American lives are worth more than people in other countries, than I get supporting her. That’s not a traditional liberal value, however, and it puzzles me how many liberals overlook the fact that Clinton in power means that a lot of poor people will lose their lives.

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John Dewey – “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.”

The second point about Mrs. Clinton is that she’s very beholden to corporate interests. This is well documented. The NYT reported that Hillary Rodham Clinton will begin personally courting donors for a “super PAC” supporting her candidacy, the first time a Democratic presidential candidate has fully embraced these independent groups that can accept unlimited checks from big donors and are already playing a major role in the 2016 race.

There is indication of collusion between the Clinton Campaign and the DNC, and hiring Debbie Wasserman Schultz did nothing to distance herself from the speculation. Nor is the sudden vilifying of Assange, who was a leftist hero when he exposed Bush’s dirty underwear but now is more of a pariah than ever.

Forgetting right-wing rumors and unsubstantiated claims, her factual record speaks for itself. Hillary Clinton voted to bail out Wall Street, and the Glass-Steagall Act passed under Bill Clinton is one of the underlying causes of the 2008 financial crisis.(Admittedly, maybe she’s not to blame for that but it’s certainly consistent with her values.) She’s pro-fracking and has accepted millions from the fossil fuel industry, she voted for the Patriot Act twice, gave the infamous Super Predator speech, and she’s earned the praise of Henry Kissinger. Oh and just quietly? Trump isn’t the only one who wants to build a fence.

There’s a lot more, but I guess if that doesn’t convince you nothing will. I suspect that if Clinton was running against Reagan, liberals and moderates would have to choose Reagan as the more leftist choice. Perhaps it’s because my family grew up well below the poverty line, but I find impossible to ignore someone who consistently rewards corporations at the cost of opportunity for the impecunious.

I can understand voting Third Party. I can even understand the Chomsky “Hold your nose and vote for Clinton.” But I don’t understand this whole-hearted “I love Hillary” stance from the left. If you are reading this and you will/or have vote for Mrs. Clinton, I’d love for you to share why in the comments. I can’t see that a vote for her is anything but a vote for the American Empire, for war and bombs abroad and the rich getting richer at home.

Hillary Clinton is not Donald Trump; she appears far more intelligent, far more composed, and the people she represents a direct threat against are far less American. But the more I think about it, the more I think that might be exactly the point. Using a propped-up Bogeyman so that you are afraid of any choice but her. Maybe that’s not true;  perhaps Trump is a legitimate candidate. It doesn’t really matter.

By the way, my 2nd point that I alluded to earlier is just this. Ultimately I don’t think it matters for the US who is the next president. There is an idea that we need to act now to save the country, but I suspect that time passed long ago. But that’s a subject for a different time.

For the record, I’m posting this because I have seen many people I know vitriolically supporting Hillary Clinton. To the point where to even suggest an alternative is seen as offense. Many on the left have joined the right to become intolerant bullies when confronted by differing opinions. Luckily, no one reads this blog so I feel pretty safe.

In summary, this Simpsons episode is a little dated, but actually not dated at all.

10 Reasons I Can’t Live in America again

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged here. I’ve been writing and developing games and running an RPG here in Seoul which claimed much of my free time. Plus I think all bloggers go through a point where they wonder if the hours spent blogging might be better used on … almost anything else. But this is a subject that has been percolating in my mind for a while now.

Before I go any further, I’ll clarify by saying that the reasons I do have to go back–family and friends (and burritos)–outweigh these. Okay, Mom?

 

Consumerism: buy buy buy

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This has been covered before just about everyone, but the longer I live out of the US, the harder it is to come back to the bombardment of “buy X=happiness” messages that make up so much of day-to-day life. (The part of the world I live now is arguably just as consumerist, but not speaking the language or belonging to the culture makes it feel far less so.)

Buying into the culture gets harder too–“new” things like uber and Spotify and smart phones and well who knows what gaining popularity since I lived in the US lead to a disenfranchising feeling. (For me at least.) On the flip side, going back is often a process of discovering a new culture, which I do appreciate.

Over-Regulation and Bureaucracy

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Renting an apartment requires background checks and credit checks and promises of first-borns. My mom moved for the first time in years and was shocked at all the hoops she had to jump through. From checking into a hotel to registering for school, everything is so needlessly complex.

This might be more an Oregon thing, but it insane to me that a thirty year old person cannot necessarily buy a beer if they don’t have their ID. A non-ending series of permits are required for far too many things, from opening restaurants to painting your house. Everything is needlessly more complicated than it should be, and that’s no way to live.

Gun Culture

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See the guest post from 2015 by liberal anarchist and gun enthusiast Bob Swan to demonstrate that even educated people can hold very bad ideas. Selling guns in stores and online is, if the rest of the world is any sort of system to judge, a bad idea and a key ingredient of a toxic culture.

 

 

“I Deserve” Entitlement

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This one is harder to articulate–it’s a more a “I know it when I see it.” But it permeates everything; the decadent “I deserve” mentality and the counterpart, the prevalent “you should sue” mindset. This is a refection of rampant consumerism and while there’s nothing objectively wrong with those attitudes, they are pretty much 180 degrees from how I live my life.

Undereducated Populace

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Socialism is still a bad word. People don’t know it’s not the same as facism. I should note this does seem to be changing now, but there are still plenty of people who think that socialism=lazy people asking for free stuff. This goes far beyond the political. It’s a society that glorifies money and fame for their own sake.

 

Driving Culture

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The ultimate symbol of freedom in America? A machine that kills or injures over 2 million people a year, and includes costs for insurance, gas, repairs, and registration. Even Portland, famous for bikes and public transportation, requires a car to get anywhere out of it. Intercity options like Greyhound are stigmatized and inefficient for anything other than big cities.

Politics

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They suck everywhere but in the US they are a special flavor of suckiness. (And I wrote this sentence a year ago, well before this year’s singular madness of an election process.) I haven’t commented much on the election this year, but I’ll say this. For me, the candidates rank like this. Bernie Sanders (he’s not actually as liberal as I’d like but still the best by far candidate), and then Green Party candidate Jill Stein (better than Sanders but with even less of a chance), then a tie between Trump and Hillary (both of which are disasters) and then Cruz (the worst case scenario).

But part of me wants to see Trump in the White House. He is the president that “Honey-BooBoo”-watching, mass produced pop listening America deserves. The mirror image of the culture. And it would make for way better comedy shows. (Inherent in this opinion is that he wouldn’t be any worse for the people of the world than Clinton.)

Anyway, one of the problems in my opinion is that the US is too big and too diverse and the solution of splitting into separate countries  still seems too radical.

Measurements

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I actually defended our wonky system for years, but I can’t do it anymore. It would be hard to go back to funny old Fahrenheit and miles after the nice conciseness of the metric (almost) everywhere else in the world. It’s the 21st century and a system based some English King’s foot probably isn’t the best system imaginable.

Fear culture

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The USA is good at big portions, and that includes the buffet of fear-mongering options that citizens chomp down on with glee. Fear of other countries. Fear of germs. Fear of immigrants. Fear of the other. Fear of the Other. Fear of Republicans and cyber-predators and flying and terrorism and so many other ungrounded fears.

Even in relatively safe places like Portland, people knocking on doors is a cause of fear. And yes, a fearful populace is a more easy to control but is that all there is to it? It would be exhausting to be afraid all that time and, quite frankly, I’m afraid to be that afraid.

Portland is a Hard Place to Live

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Most of the reasons on the list are philosophical. This is purely practical though. It’s so hard for me to find a job in Portland. I have applied in my life for several hundred jobs in Portland (over a period of almost 20 years now) and heard back from fewer than 20. I’ve been rejected from Powells 3 times. And I only apply to jobs where I fit all the criteria. I always thought it was just hard to get a job in Portland but my sister has no problem doing it so maybe it’s just a me thing. It’s definitely discouraging to come back and be *lucky* to get a job temping or in a grocery store.


So that’s my thinking. From afar all of those things seem kind of terrible. But as I said, with so many good friends and family there, I probably will come back.

 

 

A Traveler’s Conscience

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First, a note: this is kind of a heavy post, so I’ve interspersed it with some pretty pictures.

Henry Wheeler Shaw was once as famous for his wit as his contemporary Mark Twain, but his reputation has not survived nearly as well. One saying of his that I’ve encountered a few times really resonates: “It’s not only the most difficult thing to know one’s self, but the most inconvenient.

For instance, the more I learn about the world, the more I think people are nice and governments are not. Far from an original thought, of course, but the scale of it is what’s shocking. You don’t have to study a lot of history to see that no Empire was ever established by good manners or polite pontificating, and so it’s not a surprise that the current one (the USA) is, to put it colloquially, kind of a dick.

I’m not sure if a country should have different standards for their people and foreign ones, but in this case it’s irrelevant. It’s pretty clear the elite of the US have kept both their citizens and (more devastatingly) those of most of the developing world. (See, for instance, The Chomsky Reader.)

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What is a person of conscious to do? Henry David Thoreau went to prison. In a story that may be apocryphal, Ralph Waldo Emerson visited Thoreau in jail and asked, “Henry, what are you doing in there?” To which Thoreau replied, “Waldo, the question is what are you doing out there?

He didn’t change the status quo, but he was the change he wanted, as they say. I’ve done some research and learned about others who made similar moral stands.

Thomas Jolley was one of many who moved to Canada to protest the Vietnam war, where he renounced his citizenship and became stateless as a form of political protest.

There’s Mike Gogulski, who left the US to teach in Slovakia. He has raised money to aid Bradley Manning, and fought to end the drug war. Most symbolically, he is a man of the world now; he gave up his USA citizenship in 2008.

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WORLD PASSPORT

Even more interesting was the original stateless man: Garry Davis. He flew a B17 bomber in World War II, acted on Broadway, and renounced his citizenship in 1948.

Once stateless, David founded the World Service Authority, which issues World Passports to stateless people. He first used his “world passport” on a trip to India in 1956, since then over 180 countries have accepted it at one time or another. He later issued and disbursed a world currency based on kilowatt hours of solar power produced, an idea proposed by Buckminster Fuller. These “kilowatt dollars” were the earliest documented emissions reduction currency.

Becoming a world citizen should be a perfectly acceptable choice for those who, for matters of conscience, don’t want to endorse a belligerent state. Alternatively, it could be for those vagabonds and expats who don’t have a home country.

This Harper’s article details the options a person has in renouncing their citizenship. Spoiler: none of them work very well.

Annapurna Circuit, Nepal

Most developed countries don’t accept the World Passport. Becoming a stateless person is symbolic but completely impractical. Sadly, the citizen of the world designation is an idea that might never catch on, at least until we get rid of the silly ideas of nations and countries entirely.

Iran (So Far Away).

I’m reading a book called Hand to Mouth to India. It’s quite a beautiful book, about an English lad called Tom who hitchhikes from England to India without any money.

The entire book is worth reading, but in light of current events his visit to Iran is eye-opening. I’ve mentioned before that my all-time favorite blog is Banchory to Bosphorus by Bike and that’s where I first realized that Iran is perhaps the most hospitable county on earth. Their stories were astounding, but they were on bikes and somewhat self-sufficient.

Tom hitchhikes or rides a bus (usually paid by friendly Iranians) across the country and even visits the Kurdish west in search of Sufis. The friendliness he constantly encounters is mind-blowing.

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Consider his account of his first night in Isfahan. He has already been invited for dinner by the owners of a carpet shop and later, walking through the large public area (the largest in the world), meets a family from Teheran who invite him to join their dinner.

“They served up an impressive array of rice, meat dishes and soup and though I was still full from the eggs and bread I had to find room just so as not to cause offence. A common dilemma for visitors to Iran. I took out my sleeping bag to lay it out on the stone tiles and saw the son of the carpet shop owner running down to meet me. He insisted that he would sleep outside also, to ensure my safety on my first night in his city.”

“…[A]s soon as the other passengers on the bus heard that I was English, they poured handfuls of seed and nuts into my hands that were beyond my dexterity to open. As it was impossible to refuse on these occasions, my pockets were always crammed with bits of muesli throughout my time in Iran.”

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Tom has a postcard written in Farsi that states he is a broke, spiritual musician. When he presents it to the gatekeeper at the ruins of Persepolis, “[h]e bade me come in and play my clarinet. One Ray Charles ‘Hit the Road Jack’ boogie later, he loaded me up with chai and let me share his lunch of rice and chickpeas, before giving me leave to go among the ruins as I pleased.”

“The Iranians watched TV but only in rationed amounts and they still valued more the time to take a glass of chai and elicit another person’s viewpoint–and this was the people that the American government chose to make their national enemy? A more absurd example could not have been picked to present as a race of evil, scheming terrorists than these sweet and generous people.”

Friendliness to that extent in the west would be deemed insanity. There are many more examples of this, but his last point is the most cogent. America has fucked over a good deal of the countries in the world, but the fact that there are politicians pushing for war with Iran is utter madness. It makes the context of the US as “the Great Satan” seem depressingly appropriate.

Apart from voting in candidates who aren’t part of the big business oligarchy, I’m not sure what we as ordinary citizens (or non-US citizens) can do to prevent this. What could an ethical Stormtrooper on the Deathstar have done to stop the destruction of Alderaan? I’d be happy to hear all of your thoughts.

The Political Yeti: The United States and Patriotism

I went to a Portland Trailblazer game this week.  The strangest part of sports, for me, is the pageantry.  The singing of the national anthem in particular has been as ritualized as any religious dogma.  I understand the idea that people think they are honoring our freedom, but for me freedom means far more than empty rituals and unthinking patriotism.  To draw a probably pretty obvious parallel, the ritual of singing the national anthem always reminds me of Orwell’s two minutes of hate.

I also feel that, regardless of what our country represented in the past, it’s not currently worth glorifying for many reasons.  I am critical of the US government in a lot of ways.  I hate what they’ve done in Latin America, South America, the Middle East, Southeast Asia.  Crushing populist movements and installing puppet rulers who help our bottom line may be realpolitic, but it doesn’t make for a nice country.  I hate that the top half a percent have the mechanisms of election tied to their puppet strings and use our supposedly democratic process as a way to increase their billions.  I hate that our politicians would oppose something as humane and sensible as universal healthcare.

That said, traveling has taught me new ways to appreciate our government.  Being in the third world, where power is not a constant, trash is burnt rather than collected, pavement is often a rumor, and water is far from drinkable has taught me to appreciate our infrastructure in a whole new light.  I still think a more equitable society is necessary, and for US foreign policy to stop being about the bottom line to our big corporations.  But I no longer take the infrastructure for granted.  As far as travel epiphanies go, this admittedly wasn’t too high on the epic scale.  But it’s sometimes to appreciate the small things.