Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Thus Ends 2014

It wasn't the best of times, although there were good moments to enjoy.

2014 was more CRAZY than anything, and tragic with the scale of death and war both here and abroad.

The coming year doesn't hold much promise.  With the Republicans in full control of Congress, there's the dread of them delving further into the wingnut hate against Obama, with all the risks (for them and for our nation) that entails.  We haven't resolved our issue of out-of-control police, and while the fighting has officially ended in Afghanistan it really hasn't, while Syria remains in Year Four (FIVE?) of its civil war with ISIL leveling carnage in there and in Iraq, with Libya's civil war stewing and due to get worse.  There's still the Ukraine/Russia standoff, the Greek debt crisis (alongside the ongoing EU recession), and the ebola crisis in West Africa.

One can hope that sanity for 2015 is on its way, that it can't stay this crazy forever.  But the social and political and natural forces are out of control right now.  Just hang on tight to the roller coaster safety bar and pray for a safe ride.

On a personal note: I am invested in getting a novel written soon soon very soon, to keep up with all the epublishing I've been doing lately.  For this political blog, I am looking at doing something I really shouldn't do: diving into the 2016 primary madness and using Professor James David Barber's Presidential Character traits to map out the major candidates to determine which ones are Active-Positive (yay) and which ones are Active-Negative (ack) and which ones are Passive-Positive (meh).  Passive-Negatives are so rare it's unlikely.  Anyhoo, that's my projects for next year.

See you on the other side of the calendar.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Anniversary: The Christmas Truce

This is, as noted before, the 100-year anniversary of the first year of World War I.

History is made of competing forces.  Between the Great Man and the Social Movements lie all the conflicts of both.  By 1914, these forces had congealed on the European continent through a combination of set nations - France, Germany, Russia, the UK, Italy, Austria-Hungarian Empire, and Ottoman Empire - and a burgeoning psycho-social ideology of Nationalism fighting over pride and global power.

It had been 100 years in the making by then.  In the aftermath of the Napoleonic empire and swath of republicanism, Europe suffered through a period of nation-building border wars - the Greek independence war, Italian reunification, Prussian unification of a greater Germany - that concluded with the Franco-Prussian War in 1870-71.

What had been viewed at the time as a likely win for France - larger armies, better organized - turned into a full rout in Prussia's favor in a war that barely lasted a year.  France was abjectly humiliated as a result (this is where the meme of France being terrible in wars started), Germany rose up to disrupt the standard balance of power - once it was England vs. France, no longer - in Western Europe, and the Victorian Era switched from being a period of scientific advancements to one big mechanized military arms race.

The problem was that the Victorian (and later Edwardian) Era became this period of an idealized, improved social condition.  Things like personal honor, stiff upper lip, gentlemanly codes became more fetishized.  A lot of it had to do with the literature of the time.  Some of it with the changes in economic and social fortunes creating a middle class striving for cultural norms of its own, to where the upper classes indulged in sharing the more romantic elements of their lifestyles.

By the time the fighting in World War I actually started, nearly everyone went into it with these grand notions of honor and soldiering.  That it was all parade marches and sacrificial charges into waiting hordes of bayonets and swords.  Nobody really thought about the improved rifles and automatic guns, or the advancements in artillery fire and targeting, or the armored tanks that were new to the battlefield, or the effectiveness of barbed wire and hand grenades and poison gasses.

By the end of the calendar year of 1914, Western Europe's battlefields were basically two extended mud trenches and two massive armies - Germany in one trench, UK and France in the other - staring at each other across a cold no-mans-land.  The Germans were the ones who made the efforts to decorate their trenches for the holidays, and via the honored soldiers' code of "Live and Let Live" (under which both sides agree to temporary cease-fires to recover wounded or personal belongings), the Germans sent messages to their British and French counterparts about holding a truce - THE Truce - during Christmas Day.

There aren't a lot of documents about it, mostly from a good number of diary entries and remembrances of those who were there that day, so a lot of the Christmas Truce has fallen into legend.  Above all the legend of a football (soccer to us Yanks) game being played between the two armies.  There's no evidence it happened, but the story is that Germany won 3-2.  It'd have been tied but that damn ref called Blackadder offsides.

Whatever history there is of this - the legends still tell us - the generals were not amused their soldiers weren't killing each other.  When the areas where the Truce were continuing on after Christmas had passed, the chain of command ordered artillery barrages and switched out the divisions stationed there with fresh troops to ensure the fighting started up again.  By 1915, the generals planned ahead and made sure they had artillery barrages scheduled for Christmas to prevent the troops from making another try at a truce.  By 1916, they didn't bother: the bloodshed between both sides - and the use of chemical gas weapons - ensured the troops were in no mood for cease-fires.

Looking back on the Christmas Truce, it reminds us that the war was fought by men looking not for glory - that madness was left to the generals - but because it was expected of them.  Where the soldiers in the trenches had more in common with each other than the officers in their headquarters five miles back.  The Truce was part of an era of that Victorian/Edwardian mindset of honor between soldiers regardless of which flag they fought for.

It was an era that was dead in the trenches by 1918.

And yet, we remember.  We remember the Truce as a good thing, a moment in human history at the edge of a terrible war where there was still hope and the potential of friendship past the hardship.  As a nice little Christmas candle shining in the darkness of the 20th Century.

Merry Christmas to ye, fallen soldiers of that and all other wars, before and after.  The Truce remains to us as a memory of what we all can achieve some day.

A chance of playing an honest game of football and not get shot at for it.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Brief Thoughts On Cuba, Again

I'd written about Cuba before (back in 2008), noting how the 50-plus years of sanctions and embargoes had proven to be a colossal waste of time and resources:
...The big reason why there won't be any change is because of us, the United States. Our stance on Cuba has not changed in 49 years (then), and at some points have even worsened, simply because of ideology and stubbornness. While we have legitimate grievances against Castro's communist (and post-Soviet authortarian) regime, we've never attempted genuine diplomacy and dialog. Instead we've forced embargoes, sanctions, denials, covert ops, basically every hardliner stance we could think of. We'd also tried invasion once. We'd also tried exploding cigars and Nair assaults on Castro's beard (I'm not kidding!).
The problem is that all our efforts are wasted: other countries do not observe the sanctions and embargoes, so Cuba stays afloat (barely) financially. Castro and his buddies, meanwhile, use our bullying ways to act defiant and manly, and they get to look good while they do it. And what's worse, we know it's working for them, and not for us.
But we can't change, can we? Even with all the expert advise, all the obvious clues, we can't change our behavior towards Cuba because no one in D.C. wants to upset 200,000 plus Cuban exiles sitting in South Florida... even though a growing number of them think the sanctions and embargoes need to go...
This month, President Obama changed the rules: he's making open gestures to the Cuban government to work towards ending this half-century of hostility (via Jeffrey Goldberg):

...Critics of the Obama administration, and critics of the Castro regime, will say that today's decision to normalize relations between the two countries represents a victory for one-party rule. I think they are wrong; there is a very good chance that the U.S. comes out the winner in this new arrangement, and not only because Alan Gross is now home.
It is difficult for a Castro to agree to normalized relations with the United States; anti-Americanism is a pillar of the regime. But looking around Cuba earlier this year, it was apparent that there was an opening for the Obama administration to change direction and actually influence the course of events inside Cuba.
President Obama—and Benjamin Rhodes, the National Security Council aide who led the negotiations with Cuba—saw an opportunity to open up Cuba to American influence, and they took it. They will be criticized mercilessly—they already are—for giving too much ground to the Cuban regime. But Obama and his team knew something that many previous administrations before them also knew: U.S. policy toward Cuba was self-defeating. Five decades of an embargo, five decades of hostility, had not dislodged the Castro brothers, and had not brought even a suggestion of democracy to the island...
At first, my immediate response was to think - and claim elsewhere - that 50 years of sanctions had not worked.  But... kinda... in a way it did.  While the embargo and open hostility made the United States into an international bully picking on our neighbor state, and while it made Cuba under the Castro brothers into an intransigent one-party dictatorship with a horrible record of human rights violations, it also made Cuba into a very weak, economically unstable regime.

Goldberg's own article opens with him showing his kids around the backroads of Cuba, where poverty was constant and nearly everything rusted out and worn down.  Where most other Caribbean and Central/South American nations have at least kept up with economic growth and the Internet thanks to various trading deals with the U.S. as a major partner, Cuba's been stuck - literally - in 1959.

The only things keeping the Castro regime in power - after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 - were its ardent anti-American stance, and an alliance with Venezuela that kept it supplied with oil to keep up with energy needs.  And now with Venezuela facing dire bankruptcy problems of its own, Cuba is running out of trading partners - other nations don't respect the embargoes too much, but those sanctions have crimped how much they can do with Cuba - to keep it afloat.  In this regard - economics - the sanctions did have an effect.

Where the sanctions failed was forcing the Castros and their leadership partners into any kind of political reforms.  As long as the sanctions were in place and as long as the anti-Castro forces poised along the Florida coastline stoked with anger towards them, Fidel and his brother Raul were in no rush to do anything like open elections.

The current push for openness between Cuba and the United States is noticeably limited and still requiring a lot of negotiation.  This is where diplomacy - actual dialog, not gunboat - comes into play.  If the United States deals from a position of respect - not strength, which was how those sanctions have been viewed all these decades - with the Cuban leadership, they can craft a decent economic and cultural deal that can directly impact the nation towards a path of media and social openness in ways to affect the political.

Goldberg's follow-up article covers why diplomacy with Cuba compares a lot to the U.S. dealing with other one-party (formerly Communist) nations like China and Vietnam, with one notable exception where U.S. intervention might help:
There will be many ways to test whether the Obama administration, and those who support its decision to reestablish ties with Cuba after a half-century hiatus (including yours truly), are correct in arguing that broad exposure to America, to its people and to its businesses, will translate into greater openness and freedom for ordinary Cubans. One of the most important ways to measure this will be to watch levels of Internet connectivity—open, affordable, unfiltered connectivity. Many Cubans I've met have quite literally never been on the Internet. In two years, if rates of exposure to the Internet remain the same, then the great Obama experiment could be judged, provisionally, a failure.
Critics of Obama's overture to Cuba argue that close U.S. ties with Vietnam and China are proof that exposure to America does not translate into political freedom—it translates into greater access to Coca-Cola products, but not to the spread of American ideals of free speech and pluralism. These critics have a point, of course (though critics of these critics also have a point: If the U.S. can have normal diplomatic and commercial ties with China, a terrible violator of human rights, why should it not have normal diplomatic and commercial ties with Cuba, a country ruled by a government that is less malignant than China's?)...
Cuba, of course, is not China, and it is not Vietnam: China is large enough to create its own weather, and Vietnam is 8,000 miles away. The U.S. will have influence in Havana—a 45-minute flight from Miami—in profound and useful ways...
What Goldberg is getting at is how the United States' influence on Cuba will be overwhelming, not just economically but culturally. It's the closest Caribbean nation to us where tourism will become a major industry practically overnight (since all the others already have it): considering the curiosity factor alone, the first year of open travel would be huge.  Take the tourism numbers (and dollars) of places like Jamaica and Bahamas (two of the biggest destinations for Americans), and add them together to consider how many will travel to Cuba as a bucket-list thing to do.  Cuba's not part of the cruise line stopovers: once a deal's in place, every line will bid like mad for friendly ports (and a lot of construction at those ports for hotels, restaurants, amusement parks, shopping venues.  Infrastructure such as roads, water and sewage, communication networks will see a huge business boom).

And more than just the massive influx of tourism dollars, it will be the exposure to Americans and Cubans, person-to-person in ways we don't do enough with China and Vietnam (literally half the world away).  I'd like to think enough decent Americans visiting over there will meet enough decent Cubans to where Cubans will see American attitudes - and, let's be blunt, our bluntness - as our way of being open and honest with ourselves and with others.

And that's just the tourism bit.  One of the big benefits of ending the hostility will be the chance of families - the Cuban exile community - divided by decades of political bullheadedness having a chance to go home in peace, or at least visit regularly and rebuild lost legacies.

Again, a lot of this is going to have to involve delicate dealings with a lot of egos on both sides to soothe: the pro-Castro regime is not going to like any demands from the anti-Castro exiles and vice versa.  The sticking point will be settling reparations or restorations of properties/businesses from the 1960s.  The anti-Castro groups will most likely insist on criminal charges for human rights violations as well (as anyone fighting over the U.S. torture regime and our failure to indict any of those criminals will attest, it's a messy argument).

Thing is, let's face facts: the Cold War is over.  We won.  Yay capitalism.  Our ongoing hostility towards Cuba was really going nowhere in terms of our international standing.  Out of sheer spite - out of America's paternalistic political world-view of North America as our personal playground - we've been perpetuating an economic lockdown of a nation that could prove a solid trading ally and a force for regional good instead of evil.

It's been eleven Presidnets - Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush the Elder, Clinton, Bush the Lesser, Obama - since those sanctions were placed.  Ever since Bush the Elder's tenure, when the Soviet Union fell and Cuba lost its protector, we should have been making this effort to normalize relations and use peace to end the Castro regimes.

At least Obama is making the effort now.  While the Republicans and the Far Right (among them the exile hard-liners) will scream bloody murder about this, nearly every other player involved - our allies, local nations, a majority of Americans a lot of whom weren't even alive when the Cold War ended - will see this as a good thing.
via Huffington Post

And with luck, Disney will be smart enough to keep the 1950s Art Deco retro look when they turn all of Havana into an Epcot Center.

(caveat: I am writing this from Florida.  Any Floridian will tell you: Do Not F-CK with Disney.  They're like Hyman Roth, only with better PR.  If they wanna turn all of Havana into an Epcot, nothing's gonna stop them)

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Saturnalia Wish List of 2014

'Tis the season to bring back the pagan rituals of our Roman ancestors!  'Tis the moment to slap Bill O'Reilly and the morans of Fox Not-News for their evil WAR ON SATURNALIA by breaking out the mulsum and wrapping the trees with togas!

And it's time to beg Saturn, the pagan God of the Temporal Vortex, to grant us boons in our dark hour of need:

1) Arrest warrants for every goddamn bastard responsible for the Cheney/Bush torture regime.  Especially Dick Cheney, who is out there lying and shilling for his regime of evil.  There is no excuse or justification for torture.  Ever.

2) That Rick "No Ethics" Scott's efforts to ignore the state's public records laws with illegal email accounts lead to felony charges.  PLEASE LET THERE BE FELONY CHARGES...

3) That some goddamn common sense and awareness of their voting base's needs wake up the Democratic leadership to run campaigns for all offices at all levels - federal AND state - and in all districts for 2016.  The pitiful turnout efforts this year sucked rhino.

4) That the movies of 2015 - Age of Ultron, Jurassic World, Fury Road, Tomorrowland, Star Wars VII, and the third Sharknado (maybe) - rock the f-cking house.

Seriously, Lord Saturn, they should have had this Falcon in stores for Christmas THIS YEAR...

Thursday, December 11, 2014

I Just Want Some Sweet Love From A Saturnalia Honey, Is That So Wrong?

I haven't done a Roman-style orgy in ages:

Although knowing my luck I'll probably be the one asked to oversee the vomitorium rooms.

This is why you'll never win, Bill O'Reilly, in your evil War On Saturnalia!  We got hotter Vestal Virgins than you! BWHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

Keep the festive in your pagan hearts and IO SATURNALIA!

Monday, December 08, 2014

A Winter Grayer Than Before

And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said:
 "For hate is strong,
 And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"
- "Christmas Bells," Longfellow

Thing about Christmastime, of December and the coming of winter.  It's a season of falling into the Gray Mood.  They call it the Winter Blues but it's really all Gray: the sky is gray, the ground is dead, the people are dour and burdened while the pressure builds to be festive and light-ful.

This year feels grayer than before.

Part of it is due to witnessing yet another disastrous midterm election.  Getting stuck in a state full of partisan morans voting that damn MEDICARE FRAUD back into the governor's office.  Banging my head against the desktop as voter turnout dropped to its lowest level since World War II.

Part of it is watching any semblance of justice in my own nation - land of the free and home of the brave - get flushed down a toilet as violent cops get let off for shooting unarmed teens and using illegal choke holds on guys whose only crime was not submitting to another round of public humiliation.

Part of it is realizing that the current political and economic landscape is about to get darker and nastier.  There's been buzz about a shutdown over Obama's attempts to reform immigration policy via his executive order powers.  There's concerns of a shutdown if there's a fight over a budget proposal that's top-heavy with corporate tax cuts and public sector spending cuts.

There's the growing realization that no matter the injustice of it, the insanity of it, the criminality of it... the Republicans will not rule even if they have the political power, they will ruin all.  They will twist the laws of the states they control to make it harder to vote, harder to complain, harder to stop them commit acts of graft and corruption.  Why listen to the critics or even the experts when there's no accountability for the sins they commit?

It's gray outside right now.  It's going to get darker, and I worry we won't see the sunshine any time soon.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

What The Hell Is Wrong With America

What the hell else can be said after watching a grand jury refuse to bring a (white) cop to court on obvious evidence he used an ILLEGAL CHOKE HOLD to kill a (black) man on the mere suspicion of selling individual cigarettes on the streets of Staten Island.

"No reasonable cause"?!

There's video of it, where Eric Garner is arguing about what's happening to him but being non-violent about it, still getting caught in the cop's chokehold and begging for life gasping "I... Can't... Breathe..."

The official coroner's report came back as a homicide.

What part of "Illegal choke hold" is getting overlooked here?

That old "joke" that a grand jury - basically a tool of prosecutors to sort out the evidence useful to bring charges on a suspect - would indict a ham sandwich?  That's two grand juries in a row refusing to bring a white cop to trial for killing a black man.

That's two different prosecuting attorneys - both of whom deserve to get disbarred for their bias or ineptitude, take your pick - who basically controlled grand juries into doing nothing.

That's two groups of fellow Americans either buying into the "Blue Wall" excuse granting cops full immunity to kill all in their path, or else refusing to see the injustice of not bringing killers to any accounting for the lives they've taken.  Lives that happened to be black men.  Lives taken by those who happen to be white.

Anybody who claims we don't lynch blacks in this country anymore ought to take a look at the body count the last 5 years.

I've said this before: Our cops are not supposed to be executioners.  Our cops are supposed to follow an oath to Protect And Serve.  It's their job to bring the suspects to trial and have the juries and judges determine the guilt.  It is not the jobs of cops to execute with lethal force.  Our cops do NOT have a license to kill.

There are so many legal and effective means to arrest anybody without resorting to pulling out a gun or a taser or a baton or the use of a lethal hold.  GOOD cops do that every day of the year, and we don't hear about those arrests.

What does it tell you that we're hearing and witnessing more and more BAD cops on a weekly, now daily basis, beating the crap out of people, smashing in car windows, blowing up baby cribs, and outright shooting 12-year-olds the second they arrive on scene?  We have one cop shooting a teenager even after other cops - GOOD cops - had stabilized the confrontation, saying "We don't have time for this."  We have cops shooting a guy holding a BB gun in a Wal-Mart, all because some jackass claimed the guy was threatening people with it (in-store video proved he wasn't).  In the only good news out of all this police misconduct, there was a recent incident where the cops arrested and pepper sprayed a black foster child in his own home.  If you can call that good news.

And now our cops are out in the streets blockading the marches and protests, now in New York City as the outrage over Garner's death takes over the city, much like Brown's death took over Ferguson.  

We've got prosecutors who won't hold anybody accountable for death after death after death, after maiming after wounding after false arrest after false reports after lie after lie after more lies.  We've got police departments arming themselves with firepower that matches our army, rolling heavy through our own communities as they escalate the violence trying to impose order in response to the injustice they're refusing to recognize in their own actions.

Don't be surprised if our nation's faith - not just Black folks who'd figured out a while back that their lives don't matter, but Whites who genuinely want this nation to work for ALL its citizens - in the very concept of JUSTICE is dying in the streets just like our own citizens.

What the hell is wrong with America tonight?  We're living under a cloud of fear, living with a legal system skewing more against its own people.