Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Time for an odd forgiveness?

Only a couple years ago, Arnold Schwarzenegger was believed to be the Republican Party's golden boy--a right-wing tool in the most powerful office in one of the staunchest and most powerful of blue states. Lunatics aplenty were calling for an amendment to the federal Constitution to eliminate the native-born requirement for President so that they could run Arnold.
We on the left have been wondering for years now, though, how on earth can Maria Shriver remain married to this man? Well, we might be getting a glimpse of how much of a political animal Arnold really is. Perhaps Arnold was simply riding the waves of the seeming rising tide of authoritarian nutjobbery, and has now come to realize that California, at least, isn't so right-wing after all.
Tacking to the left on many issues California has always held dear, Arnold is positioning himself as a "liberal Republican" populist, the likes of which this country hasn't seen in a long time. There are several issues that Arnold isn't quite sound on (he still doesn't like "welfare", for example, and is still too pro-business), but did either of the two main Democratic challengers from last November truly impress as representing a solid alternative? No candidate is perfect, and ever since Schwarzenegger's seemingly sincerely eye-opening (for him) and total loss of his legislative agenda in 2005's initiative showdown, he has made all the sounds politicians are supposed to make--he actually seems to be listening to his constituents, not merely his supporters.
Imagine that.

(See the Daily Kos piece with links to evidence of Arnold's liberal agenda here.)

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Jiu-Jitsu idea?

Political insiders and now bloggers paying attention like to think up ways to use an opponents strengths (or ideologies) against them. This strategy, referred to as "jiu-jitsu" after the martial art that utilizes this concept wholly, is attractive mainly because it usually involves little risk but promises huge rewards, as the politicos at the head of a movement struggle to maintain control not only of their adherents, but also the message that they alone hold the key to future success.
A real world example of political jiu-jitsu occurred when Richard Nixon (and Ronald Reagan even more completely) convinced the working classes that they, and not the Democratic Party traditionally thought to be in their corner, had their best interests at heart. Republicans discovered that Americans near the bottom of the economic ladder voted according to their social values rather than their fiscal self-interests (or if the latter, according to their hopeful dream of one day belonging to a higher class). Nixon captured the mythical "Silent Majority", while Reagan and the rest of the far right ever since have pandered--which I think is the right word, since they rarely follow through on promises made to this constituency--to the "Moral Majority."
While taking my daily walk with TBO last night I had a moment of inspiration along these lines (but directed against the Republicans and/or the far right, of course). One of the long-standing bulwarks of Republican ideology has been the unwavering support of a strong military, to the extent that they simply don't even care if it gets used properly. Our armed forces are filled to the brim with many men and women who serve their country honestly and faithfully; asking for any reduction in their numbers has never been looked upon too fondly by our electorate, and those in favor of a strong military have always successfully destroyed any candidate seeking to curb the defense budget openly.
What our military men and women do, on the other hand, has rarely been addressed as a political question unless we are embroiled in hostile action. I have never heard a major candidate running for office suggest that our troops stationed around the world on permanent bases might be more usefully employed doing something else, even on a short-term basis. Since questioning the very existence of our bloated military or the presence of these foreign bases is a sure-fire recipe for political suicide, what if we instead proposed using the troops in a different manner?
My idea is a simple one: we employ the men and women in uniform as workers on public works projects, helping to maintain/rebuild our national infrastructure. We don't call for a reduction in budget, military effectiveness, force numbers, or even the number of foreign bases, we simply rotate the troops home on a regular schedule to rebuild our interstate freeways, bridges, streets, dams, power plants etc., build new mass transit lines, and any other projects we can think of. These days, we can fly anyone anywhere within 24 hours (at most), so this can't be seen as a "weakening" of our forces at all, and reducing the number of wo/men actively on duty in other countries would reduce, if not eliminate the friction we cause by their presence. At the same time, we boost our own economy, strengthen our communication, power, and transportation systems (at least). And the beauty of this idea is that the only people who can argue against it fully are those who a) don't think the government should be used to improve our lives at all; b) don't understand the resentment we provoke anywhere we have a military base; c) don't think the troops would like being used as construction workers; or d) think that private enterprise will take care of all of these problems.
The first group, composed mainly of severely right-wing near anarchists or hard-core libertarians, number so few as to be politically inconsequential. The second group is composed of men and women who need to be educated about how our country is really seen by others.
The third group would have a legitimate point--it is likely that a significant portion of our current armed wo/men don't want to pour concrete or string fiber optic lines for a living. If we find out that this number is too high to provide for a reasonable accommodation--which could be something as simple as allowing those people the opportunity to be permanently stationed elsewhere, which is what they do now anyway--we could simply discharge the hard-liners and recruit wo/men willing to serve their country in this new manner. I imagine there are a great number of people who would be more willing to volunteer for stints in the military if they knew that they would be paid to improve our country instead of merely representing a loaded gun pointed at someone's head. The fourth group is also quite few in number, and falling out of favor rapidly (witness Smirky's disastrous attempt to repeal, er, "privatize", Social Security).
One thing all 4 groups have in common is that they are all presently residing in the Republican Party, for the most part, and it is here that the jiu-jitsu portion of my proposal comes in to play. Supporters of "a strong military" in the abstract have no solid ideological basis on which to ground an argument against this idea (making them the natural Republicans that would offer at least minimal resistance and possibly even support), imho, but members of these 4 groups that have successfully hidden their true agendas behind that abstraction are faced with a real problem. It's a pretty safe bet that not all people in all 4 groups can be persuaded that this is a good idea, but I would wager that at least some of them would be, thereby hiving off even more Republican factions and splintering their base.
What do you all think?

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Book review: Commander in Chief

First off, let me just say that Geoffrey Perret is one cranky sumbitch. He has nary a kind word for anyone who has occupied any part of the Executive Branch over the last 60 years of American history, except--maybe--for JFK or, surprisingly, Jimmy Carter. His book, which focuses on Harry Truman, LBJ, and Smirky, and their involvements in disastrous misadventures in Asiatic wars, is actually a capsule history of the US Presidency's long-term power grab via their Constitutional role as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. Each President is dealt with in turn, but the bulk of his analysis is given over to a brutal raking over the coals of Truman and his apparently poorly qualified staff. To be sure, neither LBJ nor Smirky come off any better, but in Perret's eyes, they were simply playing the cards that Truman allowed them to deal themselves as Chief Executive.
None of the Presidents Perret covers were at all adept at understanding foreign policy, it seems, since all of them chose to go to war instead of engaging in any form of mature communication with "the enemy", preferring instead to bluster, posture, and kill. From Truman's ill-timed foray by proxy against Mao's China to Smirky's blatant disregard for any form of truth or good sense, our Presidents have all helped create the complete meltdown in foreign affairs we feel today.
This is a fascinating and bracing account of our history since the end of World War II, driven well by great writing and pacing. Some (many?) may disagree with Perret's negative views of Presidential acumen, regardless of his target, but none will come away bored or understimulated.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

No fun

TBO and I have been discussing adding a third (or fourth, if you count Amber-the-smartest-cat-in-the-world-who-acts-like-a-dog) member to our family for some time now. I've been frustratingly ambivalent in TBO's eyes; almost every girlfriend I've had for the last 20 years or so has been either unwilling or unable to have kids, so any natural urges I might have had have long been successfully suppressed. I recall a time when I wanted kids, but I have erased the emotional context for that feeling. When TBO announced she had taken multiple pregnancy tests with all conclusive tests returning positive results, therefore, I didn't jump/down for joy in response, but I was certainly made happy by the news.
Over the last month or so, I have been remembering what it was in that long ago past that I felt about being a father. I remembered things I enjoyed that I had done with my father, like playing catch (with all manner of balls, gloves, mitts, and even lacrosse sticks), or watching sports events, or playing chess or other games. I remembered my desire to help make the world better by helping to create a better person than I have been. I remembered all the things I wanted to pass on to a child, like my extensive comic book collection, or my love of Hot Wheels, or boardgames, or billiards, or any of the rest of my hobbies for which I no longer have time. I remembered that I wanted to do all the things for my child that Dad didn't do for me while also doing those things I liked that he did do. (If that makes any sense.) I was just getting back to that long-forgotten mindset where I was excited and expectant, when TBO then announced that she felt "wrong".
I make no claims to understanding the bond between a mother and a growing person inside the womb. I do know that TBO was so distraught over the prospect of not being able to have kids, whether due to my potentially chemo-damaged swimmers or what she terms her "old eggs", and so relieved/overjoyed when those tests came back positive, that when the reality of having all of that taken away by a miscarriage hit, it hit with a brutal force I can't even begin to comprehend. For my own part, the irony abounds, as it does so often for me. Just as I was beginning to feel that parental desire once again, I mean, the very weekend I started taking actual delight in the notion of becoming a father, it was lost to me.
Life is cruel often enough, but these past couple of weeks since the miscarriage started have been unforgiving for TBO and me. For those of you out there that didn't know about any of this, please forgive me for not calling or writing, but I guess this is the very reason nobody says anything until more than a couple of months have passed since the woman's last period. I don't know what a miscarriage actually means--is it a good thing in our case, since now we know we can have a child, or is it a horribly bad thing because it means we can't? For most things, I'm not exactly what most would call a "glass half-full" kind of guy, but in this case, the stakes are too high for me to be anything but optimistic. I mean, how much wrong have I (or TBO, of course) done in this life or any other to have this sort of thing happen again, right? Right?