Monday, July 26, 2010

Wikileaks, war, and wingnuts: Rational thoughts on the irrational

CNN: What leaked documents are telling us about the Afghan war

If you are a frequent visitor to my blog, you may have wondered at some point what my position is on the current war in the Middle East.  Like I've said many times before, I do not identify with either major political party, and on this issue I stand firmly behind that principle, as I see both sides throwing stones at the war issue while nothing gets done.  Most Republicans simply label anyone against the war as a "commie", "socialist", or the like, while many Democrats want our troops out of there immediately with no further effort. 

I wouldn't be writing on this topic at all if it weren't for this weekend's massive Wikileaks release to The New York Times, The Guardian, and Der Spiegel containing about 90,000 reports on activity in Afghanistan, many filed by the military, from 2004 to January 2010.  I'm no stranger to Wikileaks, I "StumbledUpon" it a while ago and thought it quite interesting that such a forum existed to oust government cover-ups from the trivial to the outrageous.  While I don't regularly keep up with the site, I nevertheless applaud Julian Assange for releasing these reports, regardless of their actual accuracy, and I'll tell you why.

The jist of the leak is that things in Afghanistan are not going exactly as planned.  Until now, the American press has been given limited information as to what is happening over there, in regards to civilian death toll, details of insurgent attacks, progress of the Afghan society, etc.  If our ridiculous media sphere doesn't know the facts, why trust them?  I'll take previously covered-up information over television garbage any day of the week.  The most interesting pieces of news are the ones mommy and daddy are hiding from us (aka the government).  Yesterday's and today's leak-driven news reports make many interesting claims:
  • Many of our more recent military tactics revolve around minerals, surprisingly not oil!
  • The general population thinks their new government is worse than the Taliban. 
  • Insurgents have shown up to battle wearing government-issued uniforms and driving government-issued Ford Rangers, both of which the United States provided to them. 
  • Pakistan law currently allows secret service members to hold strategy meetings with the Taliban in order to discuss plans for taking down the American occupation in Afghanistan, including assassinations of Afghan government officials. 
  • Goodwill missions are often abandoned after only a few months, including an orphanage founded in 2006 which after a few months reported housing only 30 orphans when there were supposed to be over 100, and after only a year of the orphanage being established, reported housing no orphans at all. 
  • According to Assange, actual civilian casualties at Afghan roadblocks, airstrikes, etc. "numerically eclipse" the death tolls of bigger events we hear about on the news.
My personal opinion on the war?  Whether or not these claims are completely accurate, they all support the notion that things simply aren't going very well over there.  I come from a military background on both sides of the family, love my 2nd Amendment rights, and have no sympathy for Osama bin Laden or any other member of the Taliban for that matter.  However, I think we're going about this entirely the wrong way.  The Afghan citizens have showed us that they don't want what we have to offer.  We can give them government, but we are still outsiders to them, and we are obviously being taken advantage of as corruption infects every institution that we have created there.  We're being too trusting that this society, ravaged by tyranny, terrorism, and organized crime for decades, is simply going to open their arms to democracy and everything will be alright.  We can't even control our own society here at home--our economy is tanking, approval of the government is at an all-time low, and our politicians continue to disappoint.  We need to fix that before we try to influence any other nation.

Military spending currently makes up over 50% of our federal discretionary spending.  That's about a trillion dollars a year.  Something tells me that's more than enough money to create tactical strategies that actually target terrorist groups from the inside out, but instead our plan is to...well, I don't know, let the insurgents come to us first and blow up our troops?  Build fake orphanages to act like we're doing some good for their society?  It's disparaging to our honorable armed forces, and to our national identity, to draw this out much longer.  The Wikileaks crowd got it right; they exposed the disorganization surrounding this war, and silently posed this rhetorical question: What's the plan?

Time to actually start picking off the real terrorists, methinks.  They have the money and the capabilities to do so.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

People in glass houses

Let's face it: if America was made of glass, we would have shattered that baby years ago (theoretically, of course).  Seems to me that there's a bigotry problem here in the U S of A, and this is just a (somewhat) friendly reminder of what exactly our founding fathers bought into when they ratified our Constitution.  

Religious controversy in the US has picked up where blatant racism left off, although in this particular case the two are actually closely linked.  I hope anyone who reads this also clicks the supplement links I provided above, not so much for the journalism, but for the comment section at the bottom of the page.  The Internet is both a blessing and a curse--I have beheld some of the most eloquent demonstrations of free speech, and then I have seen this, the hateful drivel that is spewed anonymously in public forums by the uneducated, the un-cultured, and the un-American. 

So some American Muslims want to build a mosque, in addition to a nondenominational community center, two blocks away from Ground Zero.  Unfortunately for the right-wing extremists, the very first amendment to our federal Constitution says they can build one wherever they choose.  But when people have on the blinders of ignorance, all they seem able to produce are ridiculous statements that "Muslims should not be allowed to live in the US", "this mosque will give way to an uprising of radical Islam", and my personal favorite, "we should be dropping nukes on all of them!".  Even the pampered princess of the religious right Sarah Palin publicly dished out her two cents to the Islamic community on Twitter, the worst thing to ever happen to the Internet: "Peace-seeking Muslims, pls understand, Ground Zero mosque is UNNECESSARY provocation; it stabs hearts. Pls reject it in interest of healing."  Huh.  Someone please remind me, what public office does she hold that gives her the authority to do anything regarding this issue, or regarding morality in general?  Maybe she should have made sure her daughter kept her legs closed--having a child out of wedlock was punishable by stoning back in Jesus' time.  Moving on.

The anti-Muslim community's backlash against religious freedom has grown into quite the example of the fear-mongering and misinformation that has become the Republican platform.  People are so paranoid and ignorant that they have just started lumping together all Middle Eastern races into the "terrorist" demographic.  Reality check: there are Muslims whose families have lived in the US for centuries.  Believe it or not, Muslims from Iraq and Afghanistan make up the lowest percentage of American Muslims, with those of Indian and Pakistani descent making up roughly 60% and African Americans making up another 25%.  So it's pretty fair to say that these people were minding their own business the morning of September 11, 2001, just like you and me, and sharing in the shock and mourning of our nation as we dealt with the biggest blow to our nation's pride since Pearl Harbor.  Blaming the entire ideology for the senseless and radical acts of professional organized criminals is just as ignorant as me blaming all Christians for the genocide of the Aztec nation and the virtual eradication of almost every other indigenous tribe in North America--but bigots just can't see the forest for the trees.  They're acting like the NYC Muslims are going to launch an attack from the very roof of this new mosque, when in reality they share nothing with the 9/11 terrorists other than the label of Islam, which is obviously subject to some radical thinking that these Americans do not condone.

Our nation was founded on principles of equality and freedom for all, and even though it's turned into a tangled mess more than once since 1776, the fact remains: our founding fathers really didn't give a hoot what the people believed or didn't believe--they envisioned a society in which everyone did their own thing in peace and without fear of persecution, without dragging deities into the logical government system.  George Washington (my favorite president) and Thomas Jefferson (my other favorite president) treated religion as a subject of academia and nothing more; while they knew it was an important topic for the populace they served, they also knew the damages it caused by separating people from one another in hatred and misunderstanding.  Washington called for people of all religions, even atheists, to apply when he was looking for Mount Vernon staffers, and Jefferson resented efforts by the Christian church to convert him and birthed the idea of separation of church and state.  What we have now is exactly what they discouraged, but the circumstances of our conflict with the Middle East has made tolerating each others' differences much harder. 

Bottom line: the "moral" Americans have very selective standards of which religious practices are acceptable and which are not.  They took the weed from the Rastas, but allowed the KKK to organize and spread terror through the streets, as long as they kept the volume down and pretended it was just a parade.  Now they want to dictate where worship sites can be built?  How large of an anti-Muslim area around Ground Zero will suffice for these people?--oh right, many Christian extremists believe that mosques shouldn't even be allowed on American soil.  Thought like this simply isn't American.  I guess we know who the true patriots are--those who actually open their arms to what our forefathers believed in.

I know someone is reading this right now, getting very angry, and would love to call me out for being too "politically correct".  In case you didn't get the memo: I am an American.  I don't get by on "political correctness".  I get by on the liberties bestowed upon me and everyone else in this country by some of the greatest minds known to politics.  I don't believe in "morality", I believe in humanity.  And, luckily for everyone in the crosshairs of the right wing, the Constitution is on MY side.

As your good friend Jesus once said, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone.” John 8:7.           

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Don't make me separate you two! The symbolism within the Tea Party vs. NAACP slap-fight

Newsweek: Are Tea Partiers Racist?

Politico: Tea Party "expulsion" reveals new rifts.

The recent childish bickering between the Tea Party and the NAACP has been interesting to watch, not because I think either of these groups are really relevant, but moreso because the issue of racism in America is a touchy subject at best, and one that has been shoved into a dark corner since equal protection under the law was implemented.

My personal philosophy on race is that we are naturally apprehensive of those different from ourselves, but regular contact with other races very quickly leads to acceptance.  I believe that impediments to racial tolerance are mostly the results of parenting and the xenophobic "wisdom" of the older generations in general, and only because they have been alive long enough to remember even older prejudices that used to rule our society.  I see it as a sort of backwards domino effect--as time goes on, racial prejudices will be passed down less and less through each new generation, and soon the problem of racism will be nonexistent.  The only catch is that human beings are always looking for a new target for hate, for example, large-scale race issues have died down since the 1960s, but now we have more discrimination and hatred against gays.  Such is life.

Back to the point: the NAACP threw the first stone, calling out the Tea Party on the racist phrases used both on their protest placards as well as in verbal jeers directed at minority politicians.  I agree with the NAACP on this--if you take the racism out of the Tea Party you can dig down deep and find their one true political platform: they dislike paying taxes.  Quite a profound philosophy indeed.  Next, the Tea Party came back with the retort that it was in fact the NAACP who were the racist ones, explicitly excluding whites and other racial groups while referring to themselves as "colored", an old-fashioned term considered by many to be a racial slur.  Although I can understand why African-Americans still harbor animosity toward whites, surprisingly, I must say that I agree with the Tea Party on this one!  There's a first time for everything I suppose, but to discredit the TP, many other people were on this bandwagon long before the Tea Party was even around.  And so the "he said-she said" battle commenced.

But how is it possible for both groups to be racist?  Very simply put, the two groups are attacking each other for the same reasons and not really realizing it.  Neither of the groups' public platforms or agendas include racist acts, and yet in both groups, a significant amount of their members, and often times the leaders, engage in bigoted speech and activity or simply allude to a racist attitude.  A good way to clear this up would be for both the leaders to come out publicly and say, "This group encourages full acceptance of all people, and any racist activity by a member of this group will simply not be tolerated".  Obviously neither of them are going to do this, because the truth is that they KNOW what kinds of things are going on in their rank-and-file, and excluding ALL the racists would significantly lower their number of supporters.  But the symbolism in this lies in how silly both organizations are being--and in the public eye too!  Underneath the bickering, the point is that there is no logical reason to resent members of another race, only childish finger-pointing and age-old hatred passed along by generations past.  Perhaps eventually they will realize that if you bring a bunch of racists together for a common purpose, odds are someone is eventually going to figure out what you are doing, and call you out on your intolerance.  I thought this was obvious but it seems these two orgs are just learning.

This battle began about a week ago.  So what's the score now?  To my extreme delight, it seems to be NAACP 2, Tea Party 1, as a certain TP leader brought the fight to Sacramento, my humble abode.  Former radio personality and now former leader of the capital city's "Tea Party Express" made national headlines on July 14th when he posted a blog entry containing a mock letter addressed to late president Abraham Lincoln, from "colored people".  The letter was completely tasteless, conveying a message that "colored people" didn't like working for the system and instead would prefer to be un-emancipated in order to stay on welfare forever.  Williams was "expelled" from his leadership position by the National Tea Party Federation after the post went viral, and while he calls is satire, it's obviously a slap in the face to African-American culture, and the biggest First Amendment fail I've seen in a long, long time.  Read the full letter here and see for yourself.

Racism is a sad reality.  I really hope my theory is correct and it will eventually "trickle out" of our society's consciousness.  Until then, I'm gonna grab some popcorn, kick back, and watch these two organizations tear each other apart!


Monday, July 12, 2010

Obesity, ignorance, and the world's largest drug cartel

The Associated Press: FDA to review first of 3 new weight loss drugs
USDA Report: Taxing Caloric Sweetened Beverages

No, no, NO!  Why should this even be an option?  Leave it to the American pharmaceutical companies to make it their very duty in life to get people hooked on "miracle pills" for literally the most minor of "ailments", even though most of these medications prove to be addictive and come with scary side effects.

The so-called obesity "epidemic" in our country has created many concerns in recent years, not only in the healthcare arena, but in the political world as well.  The number of fat people has risen greatly, and the costs of medical care for these people takes a significant chunk out of everyone else's healthcare budget, and with our economy the way it is, governments are looking to cut the fat.  Our nanny-state legislators see fit to tax, regulate, and ban certain ingredients in food as well as entire products, such as soda, which is currently being taxed in a handful of states, with several more states and the federal government considering similar taxes for the future.  Michelle Obama has even made childhood obesity the target of her "First Lady Mission" (or whatever it's called).  But is obesity really the medical problem it's been played out to be?  Should we be offering pills for this?  And the even bigger political question: why should all consumers be taxed for these goods when obese people are the minority?  Isn't that taxation without representation?

 First I'll target the taxes...most governments that are choosing to place fees on soda are also extending the extra charge to any beverage containing sugar...that means Gatorade, <100% fruit juice, and even chocolate milk.  The inclusion of sports drinks particularly frustrates me; in my youth I was a very competitive swimmer, and consistently purchased Gatorade in massive volumes for grueling 3-day meets.  Luckily the tax wasn't in effect back then, or else I would have been charged for partaking in activity that encourages the exact opposite of obesity!  This is the main problem: that the fees are nondiscriminatory--you could be Paris Hilton and the "obesity tax" would still apply.  This leads to an age-old democratic problem: taxation without representation.  If obese people are the minority, why should I be taxed if I'm physically fit?  Haven't I earned my right to drink some soda by working out and leading a basically healthy lifestyle?  My answer is yes.  While studies have been done to determine whether or not the tax could actually reduce consumption and/or obesity in general, the point remains that the entire populace should not be penalized for the acts of few, and I expect to see more uprising on the subject in the future in states where the tax has gone into effect.

As far as obesity as a medical ailment goes, I strongly disagree with the notion that being overweight is a sickness.  While it most definitely leads to severe health issues such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attack, etc., I feel like people have forgotten that obesity is one of the most preventable of all medical problems.  There is no substitute for balanced diet and exercise.  The only exception I acknowledge is the rare case in which gastric-bypass surgery is needed to fix pre-existing digestive problems.  By subsidizing irresponsible lifestyle choices and classifying poor diet as an "epidemic", America has sent the message that there is no cure for fat, which there most definitely is and has been since the dawning of our species.  Whether or not these people want to take the initiative to stay fit, it's not the government's duty to control aspects of the food industry, nor should it be the taxpayer's duty to foot the bill for their thoughtless and preventable "condition".  It's the sole responsibility of parents and individuals to eat right and get at least minimal physical exercise--we owe it to our bodies.

The medications set before the FDA for consideration this week are even scarier than I imagined.  According to the AP article above, two of the three proposed treatments are a mixture of amphetamines and anti-convulsants.  Oh yes, that sounds extremely healthy for a person that already displays lack of personal control.  Since when is it okay for police to roll around impounding marijuana while highly addictive amphetamines are praised by federal agencies and mass-produced by big pharma?  Patients in research studies of these drugs had high dropout rates because of memory and cognitive impairment.  That really sounds like something people should be taking in the morning before they drive to work.  Furthermore, obesity pills of the past have faced lawsuits and recalls for high risk of heart attack, permanent liver damage, and even anal leakage (gross).  If these medications are approved by the FDA, it will prove just how short-sighted and profit-driven our federal agencies and beloved pharmaceutical corporations really are--they're the largest drug cartel on the planet, operating 100% legally within our borders and getting people hooked on pills and rushed to the ER for fatal overdoses by the thousands.  They'll continue to do this as long as Americans keep messing up their bodies and looking for the easy way out.  I've got a solution for America's obese: Get off the couch and put the McDonald's down.

On a brighter note, check out this pharma company from the UK who has just landed on our turf and has some REAL ideas on effective medical treatment: GW Pharmaceuticals--Creator of Sativex 


Friday, July 9, 2010

The impending demise of the Golden State and politics in general

Sorry I haven't updated in awhile, it's campaign season and everything has been crazy, both personally for me as well as in recent news.  Nothing of any substance is happening, just more of the usual mudslinging, fear mongering, and horrific journalism that made our country what it is today.

I simply can't believe what I'm seeing in this general election campaign--I guess I knew it was coming all along but it just happened so fast.  The average Californian voters (and Americans in general, I think) have finally proven without a doubt that they are no longer capable of making informed decisions.  I know this because the percentage points in favor of every campaign have been swinging from week to week with no actual event to drive the fluctuation besides new ad campaigns.  These people are not only relying on television for entertainment anymore, no--they now rely on it for all their information and personal decision-making processes.  Apparently people these days have no problem succumbing to a life of sitting on the couch and letting the press and corporate America soak their mind in "opinions" (FYI: it's not your "opinion" if you heard it on TV, that's someone else's opinion).  I don't watch TV (except ESPN, mind you), and I think that's what has helped me form such an objective perspective on law and politics.  When debating or discussing politics with others, I can tell just by the word choice and arguing style of a person whether or not they are speaking for themselves or quoting a commercial back to me.  It's very difficult to reason with these people because they usually feel compelled to stand firm on issues favored specifically by their political party--issues made known, of course, through partisan news networks and commercials.  The biggest problem with this mentality is that our politicians are not making it any better...corrupt governments + braindead voters = chaos on the horizon.

First example, the governor race in California.  To the educated, TV-less, moderate-minded observer, Meg Whitman is obviously an idiot.  She still hasn't revealed any political skill to the voters, but she has already run the most expensive gubernatorial campaign of all time, and we're still 4 months away from the election.  Too bad she has completely flip-flopped on a major issue that Republicans seem to feel very strongly about: immigration.  In June, she tried to buddy up with Pete Wilson, a strong supporter of the controversial Arizona law.  She promised the Reps that she'd be "tough on immigration" and even included photos of the border fence and statements about her distaste for the notion of amnesty for illegals in her 30-second TV commercials.  This caused many Latino voters to shy away from her.  Now, she has broken off contact with Wilson and launched a SPANISH ad campaign, complete with billboards saying "NO a la Proposicion 187 y NO a la ley de Arizona."  Since the start of this particular project she has gained significant support from Latinos and is even catching up to Jerry Brown in that respect.  Race issues aside (because I literally do not care what race a person is--it's what's going on inside the mind, and everyone is guilty in this case), these people believed a billboard and a few commercials rather than all the things Whitman said publicly back in June.  Furthermore, even her Mexico-hating Republican supporters haven't noticed the flip-flop!  The commercials they're getting on mainstream TV are making them happy enough I guess.  But it just goes to show how people are making decisions these days, and it's quite scary.  As far as Brown's campaign goes, I'm convinced he's going to lose simply because he hasn't represented himself solely in 30-second snippets.  Which is fine by me, because I will not be voting for him either.  I probably won't even vote for governor at all, as there are no qualified options.  I'm almost clinging to Arnold for dear life.

The second problem I'm seeing is the press's selective distortion of facts regarding Prop 19, the marijuana initiative.  As soon as the opposition came out with their lame attempt at a campaign, newspapers jumped all over it and are now publishing daily articles regarding the "dangers" of legalization, sometimes even 2 articles a day.  Today they're reporting a miniscule drop in the polls that we already knew was going to happen (now 48% against, 44% for), but of course they are acting like legalization is done and the initiative will never pass now.  Are you kidding me?!  How do these people find any honor in that kind of speculation?  As the opposition came out several months after the proponents, it's expected that their initial campaigning would slightly impact our poll results.  It's common sense.  It does not mean we can't bring that number back up in the next 4 months.  This wouldn't be so upsetting if I didn't know that most people are going to believe everything they read and never listen to a single fact again.  It's almost like the newspapers are being blackmailed by law enforcement to say these things and turn people against the initiative...I seriously wouldn't doubt it.  On top of this, everyone seems to be literally ignoring the facts about marijuana.  They say there are too many health risks involved (although they can't name a single health risk) and are afraid that stoned driving fatalities will come down upon us like a plague of locusts (even though millions have used the herb since cars were invented and we have never had widespread problems).  I guess none of it matters because logic is dead for most Californians.

The biggest indicator of the downfall of our government system for me is the Oakland verdict yesterday regarding the BART station shooting of 22 year old Oscar Grant, an unarmed black man, by Johannes Mehserle, a white police officer.  When Mehserle's "involuntary manslaughter" sentence was read yesterday at 4 PM, Oakland's worst fears were realized as protestors looted, rioted, and essentially wreaked havoc across the town.  I hope no one will chide me for siding with these rioters, as I am a young and fairly revolutionary-minded individual who believes that if that many people are angry, it's something to take seriously.  While many are calling the rioters out for being "unnecessarily destructive", I would suggest a bit of rhetoric on the Social Contract Theory.

We, the people, hand over some of our civil liberties in order to be protected and provided for by our government.  The point here is that our governments, including their law enforcement agencies, have not held up their end of the bargain.  We have paid income taxes and sales taxes into the system and helped develop California, and what have they done for us?  Bankrupted their treasured "social programs" and plunged us into billions of dollars of debt that we will never be able to repay, and STILL begged us for more, while trying to control our actions in the name of "morality" and "tradition".  They have prohibited, regulated, and taxed everything from businesses to bike helmets to our home appliances to the very food that we eat, and people are fed up.  When a police officer can kill you simply for acting silly in the BART station and essentially get away with it in a court of law, people are going to get pissed off.  And they are.  And it's going to get worse.  What happens when voters are literally too dumbed down to salvage what's left of the system?  Maybe democracy is dying.  Hopefully what comes after it is better.    

If I didn't have such a compelling interest in saving this country from itself, I would give up on the whole thing.  No rest for the weary...