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Walgreens decides to stay and play…for now.

August 8, 2014 Leave a comment

A few weeks ago I wrote about Walgreens’ potential move overseas for the express purpose of avoiding taxes.

Well, now it appears that they have abandoned this idea after fierce criticism from both Washington politicians and the public (their customers).  This is a good thing.  But.  Going forward, American Corporations will not use this as an object lesson in the same way you or I would use it to teach our children about good citizenship: if what you are about to do is a bad thing, don’t do it.  Instead, I can assure you, Corporate America will use this as a lesson in stealth and secrecy: don’t talk about it until it’s a done deal.

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Walgreens and the exporting of the American Dream

July 17, 2014 1 comment

Walgreen’s is contemplating moving its headquarters overseas to avoid paying federal taxes. Unfortunately, this has become more and more common. For an American corporation, born in the United States, to pack up and leave simply to avoid paying taxes is traitorous.

These corporations have been built on the backs of American workers. They enjoy the benefits afforded by the American system of government and monetary policy. The Coast Guard and Navy provide transportation channels free of piracy to ship their products to and from overseas. They take advantage of a domestic system of paved roads and bridges to ship their products to market. An energy grid built with government subsidies provides them with continuous, reliable power for their stores and warehouses. A national intelligence and law enforcement network keeps them and their businesses safe. An Internet built by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) using public money allows them to open their doors to the entire nation. They rely on a national weather service to warn them of potential disasters that could harm their assets and employees, and; should they need it, they take advantage of government subsidized flood and natural disaster insurance. They hire employees educated in public schools to perform the labor necessary to generate profits. Walgreen’s, in particular, profits from the massive government subsidies given to pharmaceutical companies for research, and billions in Medicare funding and healthcare plans for public employees and retirees. They’re protected by the largest, strongest military every built in the history of humanity to secure lines of communication and logistics and access to natural resources. The taxpayer underwrites almost all of the food products they sell – especially if they are sweetened with corn syrup. And most importantly, they enjoy the benefits of a stable currency provided by all of the above and more. Without all of these things, they would have nothing. Every morning, they would have to chase off thugs and thieves from their front doors just to open for business. But they don’t want to pay for any of that.

They want the privilege of profits without the responsibilities of citizenship.

Hobby Lobby: Corporate Personhood with a Prophet as CEO

July 5, 2014 3 comments

For-Profit Corporations that believe in god.

Humans are the only organisms capable of pure imagination – pure invention – the ability to create a separate reality from whole cloth and then act upon it. Elephants do not pray and whales do not dream of an afterlife. Only humans do this. Only humans create religious beliefs. Until now. The Hobby Lobby decision bestows upon corporations the human characteristic of supernatural belief.

By claiming that certain elements of the ACA’s contraception coverage mandate violated their company’s deeply held religious beliefs, Hobby Lobby convinced the US Supreme Court that corporations are capable of having religious beliefs. Their argument was that in regard to these religious beliefs, there is no difference between The Corporation and The Human Owners. And the acceptance of this argument by the Supreme Court represents an astounding shift in legal thinking. Corporations, effectively, now have more rights and privileges than do actual flesh-and-blood human beings because unlike corporations, humans cannot insulate themselves from liability for their actions, which is the essential reason for the existence of the legal status of incorporation.

By incorporating, a person or group of persons insulate themselves from personal liability regarding claims that may arise as a result of their business enterprises. The corporation may be sued, but the founders and stockholders are not held personally liable. The corporation is a wholly synthetic construct, like a marionette, providing a legal separation between it and its human operators. This is rather insidious when you think about it. It is the illusion of the ventriloquist made real. “I’m sorry your husband died in one of our cars, Mrs. Henderson, but it’s not my fault. The dummy did it.”

Yet this is the essential privilege of incorporation: personal immunity from litigation. Corporations are not encumbered by the vicissitudes of ordinary existence: they do not have a limited lifespan, they cannot go to prison for their actions, and they never get called for jury duty. And therein lies the danger of the concept of corporate personhood. It allows corporations to have it both ways. They get to hide behind their artificial facade of existence when they want to shield their human operators from recrimination but don the garb of humanity when it will advance their interests. No other organism on earth, natural or synthetic, gets to do this.

David Green, the CEO of Hobby Lobby successfully convinced the court that there is no difference between himself and his company – that they are both one and the same. The court granted him this concession. But rest assured, should the day come when a shelving unit falls over on a customer and kills them, he will not stand behind this claim. He will say, “I’m sorry about your husband, Mrs. Henderson, but you can’t blame me. The dummy did it.”

 

Religious Offence as Legal Standing.

The ridiculousness of the Hobby Lobby decision is breathtaking. In one ruling, the Supreme Court extended the already ludicrous concept of corporate personhood by granting it the human capacity of religious belief and, at the same time, elevated the intellectually bankrupt notion of religious offence to the level of legal standing.

The concept of legal standing is the requirement that you have skin in the game. A litigant must show that a ruling by the court will either create an injury or redress an existing one. This is a tangible and demonstrative requirement. Lack of legal standing is precisely why the proponents of California’s Proposition 8 lost their case in the Supreme Court. They could not show legal standing. But they did not dare make the argument of religious offence even though, clearly, that was their primary complaint – that gay marriage violated their personal religious beliefs. Perhaps, in hindsight, they’re wishing they had. Hobby Lobby’s argument was religious offence and, it worked.

Proving legal standing, as with all arguments made in a secular court of law, demands exhaustively researched case law, statistics, hard-won data – in short, demonstrative evidence. But this is not the case with religious offence. With religious offence, no evidence is required. One only need to claim belief and it is accepted with the same weight and gravitas as any other empirical data ordinarily demanded by a court of law. Anyone else attempting to present a case before the US Supreme Court would be required to dump mountains of painstakingly acquired research on the bench. But with religious offence, one only need stand and claim belief. The argument from religious offence is nothing more than a semantically elaborate version of “I don’t like it.”

Let’s be clear: religious offence is precisely the same logic used by Muslims to justify going bat shit crazy over a cartoon.

Hobby Lobby’s owners didn’t have to prove that the legal, vetted, tested, FDA approved, and widely used contraception methods that they objected to were an affront to humanity. They only needed to stand before the Supreme Court and, state for the record that, they think they are. By stating that he “considers” these particular forms of contraceptives to be abortion, and that he “considers abortion to be murder,” David Green is playing prophet. Only by claiming to speak for god can anyone stand in open court and make such baseless claims and still be taken seriously. This is the poverty of the argument from religious offence. In no other arena of human discourse or endeavor are the standards of evidence so blatantly ignored. Religious offence becomes, then, the perfect defense – no evidence, logic, research, or comparative analysis is required. The statements made by the believer are accepted without question and, more importantly, assigned the same value of evidence demanded of others.

Religious beliefs are man made and exist outside objective reality. Religions that reject broad sectors of modern medicine (Scientology: Psychotherapy) or medical practice entirely (Christian Scientist) already abound. This decision sets a dangerous precedent. Anyone can now claim standing for whatever unsubstantiated fantasy they can cook up provided they can successfully couch them in the guise of religious belief. So, next up: the anti-vaccine crowd.

 

Corporations and the ownership society.

David Green’s argument was that he shouldn’t have to pay for medical processes he believed were sinful (and yes, sinful is exactly the right word). But is that really true? Corporations have a host of people who come to work everyday and labor in order to generate revenue for the company, which includes the workers themselves. Workers work for themselves. David Green’s workers don’t labor everyday to ensure that he is able to buy a new Mercedes Benz. They do it to pay their rent. The revenue they generate on a daily basis goes into a general fund from which all company overhead is paid. This overhead includes the pay and benefits that the workers receive. Workers work to generate their own pay and benefits. None of that money belongs to any particular person until it’s portioned out, including Green himself, who presumably receives a salary. Until then, it belongs to the collective for the benefit of the collective: the workers who earned it, the individual stores for the light bill, the company for future growth and finally, Green himself. This is his reward for founding the company. The ACA never called for Green to come out of his own, personal pocket to pay for worker benefits. It only called for his company to set aside a certain portion of the gross revenues the workers generate on a daily basis for the security of their future employment. Green’s contention that his pocket was being picked is specious and a modern leftover from the Antebellum South.

In the days of slavery, slave owners claimed that the fruits of the worker’s labor were theirs from the moment of creation and forever. When workers themselves were considered property, this argument might have made sense, but no longer. After slavery, this attitude persisted throughout the gilded age and the rise of the robber barons and it was precisely this attitude and its accompanying behavior on the part of the ownership class that resulted in the establishment of worker’s unions. Today, worker’s unions are on the decline and this idea that whatever the worker creates is automatically and instantaneously the property of the owner still persists.

This proprietary attitude that workers are beholden to the company for their every breath ignores the reality that the owners would have nothing without them. Certainly, Green never consulted his workers on this issue because he never considered their contribution to the general fund from which these monies would be distributed for their benefit. He only thought of himself.

Thus, Green becomes a prophet to his employees. This is the hubris of religious mentality – a mentality that declares, “I know what is best and it’s my responsibility to protect you from yourself.” Green successfully argued before the Supreme Court that the dollars generated by his thousands of workers was his, and his alone, from the very moment it was collected from the customer and that only he knows best how to spend it. Forget about allowing each worker to decide, along with their doctor, which procedures are best for them according to their medical needs and, if they feel, their religious views. No, David Green has made that decision for them without regard to their input, even though they’re raising the money to pay for it.

Going into the future I foresee more and more corporations, each one larger than the previous, lining up at the door to the Supreme Court to demand their own exemptions. For-profit corporations have a well-documented history of looking for ways to socialize their overhead and weasel out of government mandates. Now they have a whole, new tactic.

This time, it’s different.

December 20, 2012 3 comments

The shooting of twenty innocent children in Connecticut has caused me to rethink my position on gun control.  I hope that it causes others like me to do the same.  The rights of small children to attend school without being gunned down outweigh anyone else’s right to own any firearm they want.  The NRA will paint this an attack on individual liberties.  That’s a bullshit argument.  There’s a very big difference between regulating access to particular firearms and banning all of them outright.  This is about individual rights versus responsibility to community.  This time, the community wins.

This time, it’s different.

When a shooter entered a crowded theater in Aurora, Colorado, and gunned down adults, I thought, “Well, if someone had been armed, they could have defended themselves and others.”   A short time later, when a shooter entered a crowded shopping mall in Portland, Oregon and gunned down Christmas shoppers I thought, “If someone with a concealed weapons permit had been there, they could have defended themselves and others.”  Then, about ten days after that a crazy person walked in to an elementary school and shot and killed twenty small children and six adults.  Again, I thought, “If one of those adults had been armed…”

And that’s when I realized just how completely crazy my thinking had become.

Kindergarten teachers should not have to go to work armed to the teeth.  We should not be living a society where we must surround our schools with armed guards.  I don’t want my children or grandchildren attending any school that operates like a maximum-security prison.

This time, it’s different.

The weapons used by these killers were modular, assault rifles developed for use by the military, not hunters.  The only difference between what the military uses and what these madmen carried is the ability to operate at full automatic.  Nevertheless, they are capable of spraying bullets as fast as one can repeatedly pull the trigger.

I spent 21 years in the military.  I am more than familiar with these weapons.  They have high clip capacities in order to allow for the most death and destruction with the least amount of effort.  They are not very effective at long-range accuracy; their barrels are too short for that.  They are designed to hunt human beings in the dense jungle or an urban environment – close-quarter fighting.

As I have stated in a previous post, I am a gun owner.  I like guns.  I sell guns.  But I have no legitimate reason to own a modular AR and neither does anyone else in the private sector.  I can’t carry it concealed.  I don’t need it for the defense of my home and hearth.  I have plenty of other guns that are more than capable of that.  I don’t need it for hunting.  If I can’t take an animal down range with one shot, I shouldn’t be pulling the trigger in the first place.

These guns were marketed to the private sector for one reason: they have macho appeal.  They may be fun to shoot, but the rights of little children outweigh anyone else’s right to a good time.

There are some who will argue that the Second Amendment affords them the right to own these weapons.  I disagree.  If the right to “keep and bear arms” includes, by definition, weapons that can be carried and used by one person, then by that logic we must also include fully automatic weapons and shoulder-fired missile launchers.  I cannot, in good conscience make that argument.  Some limitations must be made for the common good.

This time, it’s different.

Some have made the ridiculous argument that these atrocities would not happen if we would all just get down on our knees and prostrate ourselves to god.  That argument is so completely stupid it doesn’t even warrant a response.  Magical thinking will not solve our problems.

Some have argued that we should arm teachers and school staff.  That, too, is utterly ludicrous.  The people who committed these crimes were well armed.  They were fearless.  They were ready for death.  Only SEALs and SWAT teams are prepared such an adversary.  Effectively fighting an opponent such as that requires dedicated, daily training and readiness, not a weekend seminar.  Even seasoned police officers fire a number of shots that miss when they are faced with a gunman.  Arming teachers would only get more people killed and cause massive confusion among the police officers once they respond to the scene.

Some (myself, included) have argued that we must place more attention on our identification and treatment of the mentally ill.  And while this is true, it presents even more challenges than our other options.  People who are mentally ill don’t see themselves as mentally ill.  As far as they are concerned, you are the one the problem, not them.  Getting them in to treatment is next to impossible unless they agree to it.  You cannot simply label someone mentally ill and start shoving pills down their throat.  They have to want the treatment.  Only after they have done something wrong or dangerous can you effectively force treatment upon them.  By then, the damage is done.  By then, they’ve already sprayed bullets into a crowded restaurant.

The only sensible solution at this point is to limit access to these weapons.  Hunters can have their bolt-action rifles and revolvers.  Competitive shooters can still have their semi-automatic 9mms and .45s.  Homeowners can have their 18.5-inch shotguns.

But nobody needs an AR-15.

Fear Itself

August 7, 2012 Leave a comment

“Fear can do many strange things. Even though water run low, their mouths caked and their bellies burnt dry, not one soul put a foot outside. No one had that much courage. For they feared the peasants and their world outside. So they played it safe and didn’t move. And one by one, they perished and died.” From “The Black Plague.”

    It was a warm spring evening in the sleepy little town of Eureka, California. As fortune would have it, the sky was cloudless; a not too common occurrence for this coastal town at any time of year. Family, friends and neighbors were gathered in the grassy field near our homes. We were there to observe the passing through the night skies of something called Sputnik.

    It was the year 1958, and I, being all of eight years old, had no notion of what this Sputnik was. The significance of the event was foreign to me. My young mind was preoccupied with notions of playing baseball for the New York Yankees, and of course, my budding crush on Diane Smith. Tonight, however, all took a backseat to the much ballyhooed transit through the heavens of something called Sputnik. This was front page news in the local rag, the Humboldt Standard. To be precise, this was actually Sputnik II, or “Muttnik”, so named because of its canine passenger named Laika.

    Time seemed to come to a halt and the minutes dragged interminably along. As the last vestiges of daylight faded into darkness, the conversation of those around me became dark and ominous. I heard about “Russians” for the first time and learned that they were responsible for this Sputnik thing. This was all their doing, and somehow it portended great evil for we who were gathered that night. I was truly afraid because around me were afraid. These were the very ones I looked to for protection from things that go bump in the night. If they were fearful, I knew I should be fearful too.

“There it is” came the cry. I didn’t want to look, choosing to hide my eyes from this terrible manifestation in the firmament. “If I don’t look, it can’t hurt me.” I was terrified. And yet, the irresistible urge to have a peek at this evil Sputnik overcame my dread. I looked in the direction my father was pointing. At first I didn’t see what the others were gazing at. All I could discern was stars, a bazillion stars.

“Where is it”? “What am I looking for”? I looked to Dad for directions. He pointed at the sky in the general direction of west. Then I saw it. A tiny pinprick of light was the only thing moving among the stars. This was Sputnik the terrible, Sputnik the harbinger of the apocalypse that was certain to follow.

Despite the prognostications of the adults gathered there, the world did not come to its cataclysmic demise that evening. The new dawn broke, and with it the realization that I would have to endure another day of the drudgery known as school. I can’t recall that I ever cared much for school. Point of fact is, I can’t remember ever not hating every minute of it. But all things considered, I guess it was preferable to whatever doom Sputnik was to have unleashed. And Diane was still my girlfriend. I knew this to be so because she told me of her affection for me when we kissed for the first (and last) time. Diane’s parents soon moved to another city far away. The love of my life was gone forever.

The years went by, slowly and inexorably, as they always do in the eyes of a child. Eventually however, the days at Worthington Elementary School were over and I was a seventh grader at Eureka Junior High. The first week was a rather interesting one and I quickly found myself at odds with the powers that be. All seventh grade newcomers were ushered into the gymnasium and shown films depicting the power of a nuclear bomb. After observing the devastation, we received much needed information on how to save ourselves in the event of an atomic attack.

“When you see the bright flash of light in the sky, a flash as brilliant as the sun, hide under your desks.” I couldn’t resist. Up went my hand.

“Did you just see what just happened to that air base and the small town around it? It is gone. It’s not there anymore. It’s just gone. So is everyone who took shelter under their desks.”

Thus began the first of many trips to the vice principals office. Mrs. Davis had a face that would curd milk and a sense of humor to match her countenance. She was quite angry with me, but more than that, she was genuinely afraid. I learned more about the “Communists” and their plans for our obliteration. They were everywhere. There was one behind every tree and they were out to get us. Just like the Russians who did that awful Sputnik thing. It wasn’t long after this initial “office visit” that I learned that the Russians were the Communists.

I didn’t understand what a communist was or better yet, what communism was. No one could tell me. Even my parents had no clear notion of whom, or what a communist was. They just knew that Russians were communists. That was bad because our government leaders told them it was bad. Without knowing why I believed them, I did nonetheless.

Then came October of 1962 and the Cuban Missile Crisis. For the first time, I was really afraid. At the tender age of thirteen, I wasn’t ready to die just yet. But I could sense that this was very real and along with everyone else, I held my breath, waiting for the bomb to drop. On Saturday night, the air raid sirens went off in town, and even though my family lived several miles outside the City, I reverently placed my head between my knees and said good-bye to my gluteus maximus.

Much to my relief, the night skies never lit up and it turned out to be a five alarm fire that caused the sirens to scare the hell out of all of us. It seems a drunk driver went headlong into a gas station, causing a huge fireball and the burning of quite a large block of town. I awoke Sunday morning to the news that cooler heads had prevailed and the immediate crisis was over. This was indeed welcome news to somewhat who thought we were all goners. It wasn’t until I was much older that I learned just how close we were to the unthinkable.

Many years have gone by and much water has passed beneath the bridge of my life. The cold war is a thing of the past. The evil “Iron Curtain” has collapsed and the foe has been vanquished. But some things remain, seeming eternal. We have a new “ism” to contend with, one that we are being led to believe is infinitely more evil that the old. Terrorists have replaced Communists as the enemy of the day. Just as in Orwell’s novel “1984”, the face of the enemy is ever changing, depending on political and economic expediencies. Today’s ally will be tomorrow’s foe. We continue to live in fear of each other and even ourselves. Fearful people are easier people to control.

    In conclusion, I hearken to the words of one of our greatest Presidents, Franklin D. Roosevelt. During one of his famous Fireside Chats, he told America that “we have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Indeed, fear can do many strange things. Let us hope that as citizens of Planet Earth, we will awaken to a new age, a true age of reason. I, for one, choose not to let live in constant dread of unseen enemies, whether real or imaginary. My prayers are that the world will do the same.


Casualties of War

It’s been a while since I last posted to The Donut Shop Conversations and being Memorial Day, I dug through some old files and found this analysis of Tim O’Brien’s short story The Things They Carried.  If you’ve never read it, I suggest you do so.

An elegantly simple story, The Things They Carried is deceptively profound.  Beginning with a simple premise, author Tim O’Brien elevates the theme of a list to sociopolitical commentary and psychoanalysis.  What’s more, he slips it in through the backdoor.  By detailing what his fellow soldiers carried on their person in to battle, he creates a deeper, more meaningful inventory of what is lost from, or replaced in, their souls.  O’Brien’s title may be The Things They Carried, but his message is the things they lost.

Vietnam defined a generation and profoundly transformed the nation.  To say that the young men and women who fought in the jungles of Southeast Asia lost their innocence would be trite.  They sacrificed their youth upon the altars of corporate colonialism.  And after giving so much for King and Country, many returned to a world that no longer existed.  If the Vietnam War can be defined in a single word, that word would have to be: loss.

In this poignant narrative, written in first person from a point of view that can only come from having been there, Tim O’Brien strips away the Hollywood and video game facade of war to reveal the truth: there are no winners.  Everybody loses something.

Those who fought in the jungles of Vietnam lost many things along the way, but one of the first casualties of war was their patriotism and sense of purpose.  With no measurable improvement or results, death and destruction became routine – just part of the job – like the daily commute:

They plodded along slowly, dumbly, leaning forward against the heat, unthinking, all blood and bone, simple grunts, soldiering with their legs, toiling up the hills and down into the paddies and across the rivers and up again and down, just humping, one step and then the next and then another, but no volition, no will, because it was automatic, it was anatomy, and the war was entirely a matter of posture and carriage, the hump was everything, a kind of inertia, a kind of emptiness, a dullness of desire and intellect and conscience and hope and human sensibility.  Their principles were in their feet.  Their calculations were biological.  They had no sense of strategy or mission.

In a war with no clear objectives save the daily body quotas, the men are forced to concern themselves with only their survival.  The daily marches, the nightly watches, are all for one end: stay alive long enough to get home.

What they didn’t know then, but soon learned, was that they had also lost the home they knew and dreamed of returning to.

First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross carried letters from a girl named Martha, a junior at Mount Sebastian College in New Jersey…In the late afternoon, after a day’s march, he would dig his foxhole, wash his hands under a canteen, unwrap the letters, hold them with the tips of his fingers, and spend the last hour of light pretending.  He would imagine romantic camping trips into the White Mountains in New Hampshire.

At the end of their tour, the freedom bird would fly them out of Vietnam, but it would never take them to the Promised Land.  Once you’ve spent your days killing other human beings, things are never the same again.

They lost a right the rest of us take for granted: the right to live till morning.

Lee Strunk made a funny ghost sound, a kind of moaning, yet very happy, and right then, when Strunk made that high happy moaning sound, when he went Ahhooooo, right then Ted Lavender was shot in the head on his way back from peeing. 

In a world where you can die on your way back from taking a piss behind a bush, every breath becomes the elixir of life.

With every step, every thought, every heartbeat threatening to be their last, some abandoned all pretenses of decorum – dropped along the trail like yesterday’s C-rats.

Sanders wrapped the thumb in toilet paper and handed it across to Norman Bowker.  There was no blood.  Smiling, he kicked the boy’s head, watched the flies scatter, and said. It’s like that old TV show – Paladin.  Have gun, will travel.

The loss of perspective is clear: Paladin never roamed the countryside leaving human road kill in his wake.

Some, like Kiowa, a half-blooded American Indian and son of a Southern Baptist Minister, lost their faith.

Shrugging, Kiowa pulled off his boots. …He tried not to think about Ted Lavender, but then he was thinking how fast it was, no drama, down and dead, and how it was hard to feel anything except surprise.  It seemed un-Christian.  He wished he could find some great sadness, or even anger, but the emotion wasn’t there and he couldn’t make it happen.  Mostly he felt pleased to be alive.  He liked the smell of the New Testament under his cheek, the leather and ink and paper and glue, whatever the chemicals were.

Can the comfort of a familiar object bring solace in a vacuum of faithlessness?  For some, yes.  Some cast off any faith they may have had in favor of superstition.  “Dave Jensen carried a rabbit’s foot.”  Faith is a major casualty in war.  Ultimately, our faith is in humankind, others like us.  We hold out hope that others will perform honorably and with “good faith.”  When lives are taken in an instant, at the whim of these others, our faith is lost – sometimes forever.

They discarded their humanity while they tried to hold on to their compassion:

After the chopper took Lavender away, Lieutenant Jimmy Cross led his men into the village of Than Khe.  They burned everything.  They shot chickens and dogs, they trashed the village well, they called in artillery and watched the wreckage, then they marched for several hours through the hot afternoon, and then at dusk, while Kiowa explained how Lavender died, Lieutenant Cross found himself trembling.  He tried not to cry.

Contempt for the enemy must always be generated in order to justify all the death and destruction and in the end, compassion for human life becomes elusive.  In the case of Kiowa and others in the platoon, compassion moves beyond their grasp.

And some things that they wanted to lose, some things they wanted desperately to rid themselves of, they couldn’t shake.  The war had become a cancer in their lives and each village represented a new tumor to be excised and cauterized.  They embraced their contempt and roamed the countryside, Gods of Death, burning and destroying everything in their path.  But every day brought a new tumor, a new lesion, and a new excuse to destroy:

They searched the villages without knowing what to look for, not caring, kicking over jars of rice, frisking children and old men, blowing tunnels, sometimes setting fires and sometimes not, then forming up and moving on to the next village, then other villages, where it would always be the same.

Like feral dogs, they had lost their rational mind but gained a close relationship with their reptilian brain.  Such is the nature of war.  In the end, those who fight it are reduced to animals in the wild.

They are trained to kill and loosed upon the world.  But someday the freedom bird comes to take them and once home again, these feral dogs, these trained killers, these children who have gained a view of themselves that no one should ever see, are asked to simply return to their average lives as if nothing ever happened.  And in the end, we all lose.  O’Brien tells us that once lost, innocence cannot be regained:

He [Lieutenant Cross] was realistic about it.  There was that new hardness in his stomach.  No more fantasies, he told himself.

Like war itself, the theme of O’Brien’s tale is straightforward: it’s not what you carry that counts, but what you lose.  No matter what you take into battle, you leave behind something precious.  O’Brien’s semi-autobiographical tale of men in the grisly business of killing shows us that there are no locks strong enough to guard against the losses that war creates.  And more than any other conflict in American history, Vietnam shaped the nation and the US military – because of what we lost.

The Republican’s dilemma is everyone’s problem

May 7, 2012 2 comments

The Republicans have a dilemma.  Mitt Romney is their man.  But he’s the wrong religion.  He’s not Christian enough.  And while they fret and fuss over the rightness or wrongness of Mormon theology (completely oblivious, of course, to the sad irony) those of us who live in the rational world must face reality: the United States has a two party system and one of them is engaged in a civil war over imaginary beings.

This country has very real problems.  Our problems are of our own creation.  They will not be solved through intervention by gods or magical thinking.  They will only be solved by rational analysis of hard facts and honest compromise.  This will never happen so long as half of the participants can’t even agree on an imaginary friend.  It’s frightening.

This is not a defense of the Democratic Party, by any means.  On the contrary, the Democrats have devolved into a party which prostates itself to its corporate masters while feigning allegiance to the underclass.  Their problem (and ours) is equally as debilitating to democracy.  But it’s a very real human problem of greed and hubris.  Those are problems that can be discussed rationally and addressed openly.  And they must.

But the Republicans have morphed into a party that openly caters to the top ten percent while pandering to the delusional.  The Republican voter is not looking for a statesman; they’re looking for a savior.  They don’t want a President.  They want a Prophet.

And it’s not like no one saw this coming.  Before the rise of Ronald Reagan, the Republicans began earnestly courting the Southern Dixiecrats and Barry Goldwater read the writing on the wall.  His words are worth quoting at length:

On religious issues there can be little or no compromise.  There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs.  There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being.  But like any powerful weapon, the use of God’s name on one’s behalf should be used sparingly.

The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom.  They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent.  It you disagree with these religious groups on a particular issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both.

I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in “A,” “B,” “C” and “D.” Just who do they think they are?  And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me?

And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate.  I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of “conservatism.”

Goldwater was long considered the father of modern conservatism until the religious takeover of the Republican Party was complete.  Then, he was cast out.  Before his death, his open opposition to the ban on gays in the military completely stripped him of his title of Elder Statesman and cemented his position as persona non grata within the Republican power structure.  In fact, his comments on the matter resulted in vicious retribution and character assassination.  In a world ruled by religion, honest dissent is blasphemy and blasphemy is a sin punishable by death.

He is never mentioned today.

The Republican’s obsession with religiosity has created an immovable stone wall of intractable stubbornness.  Compromise is impossible.  Dissent is a sin.  Progress isn’t in the vocabulary.  We can’t even have a rational discussion about real issues because half of the players don’t live in this reality.  The Republican’s search for a savior who will rescue them from modernity and take them back to the imaginary world of 1950s television is a delusion that will lead us all off a cliff.

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