Sunday, November 18, 2012

Oh, Israel

I think the most recent Gaza-Israel violence is depressing and abhorrent. However, this is not terribly surprising, as I think all the Palestinian-Israeli violence has been depressing and abhorrent. Heck, I'll go so far as to say the Kashmir conflict is depressing and abhorrent, seriously, India, Pakistan, it sounds like a very nice valley, but no sweater is worth all this bloodshed. Actually, perhaps even more abhorrent is some of the stuff that goes on in sub-Saharan Africa, fortunately this doesn't make the news as much, since it would be even more depressing. In summation, I find violence as a problem solving technique depressing and abhorrent.

So, why am I picking on Israel? Well, partially, as I alluded to above, it gets a lot of media exposure. Which is probably a good thing, since Amercans, we are killing Palestinians. Do not mistake me, I think both sides are behaving incredibly poorly; I cannot help but feel sorry for the Palestinians, who suddenly found a new nation of Israel right in the middle of what they used to call by the quaint term "home." On the other hand, it isn't as though the future Israelis decided to invade the land, at least not initially. Victorious Europeans after World War II decided there should be a Jewish homeland, which made a fair amount of sense in the contingent context, and decided the Middle East, being the beacon of stability and mature conflict resolution that it was, was the logical place to put it... In hindsight, that might be where they went wrong, is it too late to cede New Jersey and establish the homeland there? Or maybe a snippet of Texas, similar climate, more oil, but I was hoping for a history of mature conflict resolution...

Anyway, since the Western Powers basically created Israel whole cloth, they felt a certain amount of obligation to the nation. Mix in some Byzantine Cold War politics, and perhaps just a hint of Islamophobia, and Israel is the largest recipient of foreign US military aid of any country we didn't conquer... I mean... liberate. This would be all fine and dandy if it weren't for the fact that Israel tends to use that military aid to do unconscionable things to the Palestinians, who, to be far, are doing unconscionable things to the Israelis, and probably would do more without this aid. So, by giving them this aid we are basically saying we would rather bad things happen to Palestinians than Israelis, and while I am perfectly ok with Israelis preferring bad things to happen to Palestinians than Israelis, I personally have nothing against either group, so I am not a fan of picking sides. Why can't Israel be more like Poland, they hardly ever use their military aid to go out and beat the snot out of people groups with less military? Then again, that might be why they get so little military aid.

This post has been leavened by a fair amount of humor, please know that this is because I think that what is going on is too horrible to take entirely seriously, and must therefore be accompanied with some levity so that we can continue to consider it. Personally, I think the US should stop sending weapons abroad, given our stellar track record of supporting some of the most violent sociopaths around, even ignoring the frequency with which these same people come back and launch attacks against US interests. Why is it that the people who ask for mass quantities of weapons so often turn out to be violent sociopaths? But we should definitely reconsider our aid to Israel, helping to perpetuate a cycle of misery and oppression that, ultimately, is extremely damaging to both sides in the conflict. I don't think that this is a solution, and I don't think that by simply stopping supplying weapons to a conflict we very much helped create we can turn away and wipe the blood from our own hands, but I do believe that the only solution is to be found through negotiation, and as long as Israel has such a position of military superiority I don't see why they would desire to come to a negotiation table that is likely to require great compromises from both sides.

Friday, November 9, 2012

An Open Letter to the Republican Party

There are a lot of things we agree on. We agree this country is in trouble, and we both have doubts that President Obama is the person to fix it. However, Tuesday's election illustrates that the baggage that Obama had weighing him down, the slow economic recovery, the uninspiring campaign, the lingering doubts over his continuation of Bush era foreign policy, was less of a hindrance than Romney's baggage. And what, you might ask, was Romney's baggage. You were, Republican Party, you were.

I think it is best for the nation that both parties produce the best candidate possible, which is why I did not join many of my fellow Michigan liberals in voting for Rick Santorum in the primaries. To that end, here are some thoughts. First, and on a rather broad level, I really think you need to stop sliding further and further into a hard line stance and interrupt the ideological feedback loop you seem to be in. On some level I kind of want you to keep sliding until you slide over a cliff, but that is just petty. However, as you get further and further out there, it forces your candidates to look like loonies to much of the country in order to win your primaries. Just putting someone on the same stage as Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann damages their credibility. When Republicans go crazy, moderates go Democrat.

On a more specific note, become the party of fiscal responsibility! Right now you have a large credibility issue as you appear to be the party of low taxes for the rich. Showing a willingness to compromise, a temporary increase to top tax brackets in exchange for permanent alterations to an entitlement program for example, would go a long way to making claims of fiscal responsibility believable.

Perhaps a related issue is your image of being a party of hawks. Perhaps you are still recovering from the damage President Bush did to your image in his terms, but you need to get on top of that. Keep our military at home, then we can cut the military budget, and that, in turn, feeds back into your image of actually being fiscally responsible. My suggestion would be to drastically decrease the size of the standing military, and leave research budgets alone, or even increase them. Our safety lies in having the most advanced military, not the largest standing military, and if one looks at the beginning of American involvement in both World Wars we shifted fairly radically from a peacetime footing to a war production footing when we need to. The American people will rise to a challenge when we need to, don't keep us in needless wars, costing us billions of dollars and even the lives of our young adults, just so we will be ready when needed.

Regarding social issues, I think you have three problems, abortion, same-sex marriage, and birth control. Unfortunately, a significant proportion of your base feels that their rights are being taken away if others have the right to make their own decisions regarding these things. This is unfortunate from my point of view because I favor giving people the freedom to make their own decisions, and unfortunate from your point of view because a growing proportion of the voting population seems to agree with me. While I would love it if you decided to share my point of view, I agree that this might alienate some of your supporters too much. You might try painting yourself as the party of liberty, protecting a citizen's right to choose their position on these issues, contrasting with a perception that to be a Democrat one must be pro-abortion, rather than simply pro-choice. This is risky, as it is inaccurate, but when has that stopped you?

It might be safer to pick an issue and improve... I mean change... your stance on that one while maintaining your... repressive... position on the other ones to keep your base. I hope my tone of voice conveys my personal disgust for that option, but it might make political sense. Same-sex marriage could be a reasonable stance to change, because it has been implemented in a few states without the catastrophic societal collapse so feared in some circles. Furthermore, one could even spin the campaign as a defense of marriage if you were to try to make all couples get a civil union to be a joint couple in the eyes of the state, thus protecting marriage to be a religious ceremony. The problem with choosing same sex marriage is that homosexuals are a much smaller proportion of the population than women, so oppressing them is comparitively easy. This is not to say that all homosexuals view same sex marriage as a topic of supreme importance, that no straight people view it as a topic of supreme importance, that all women believe reproductive health is the most important issue, or than no men do, just a comment about the relative size of the groups these reforms most affect.

Campaigning for contraceptive access seems like the safest choice. While many in our nation are opposed to access to contraceptive, ostensibly because it lends itself to immoral behavior, inconsistently enough, the same people do not shun phones because they facilitate gossip or the Internet because it begets... piracy... yes, piracy. Well, you are Amish, then your stance is perfectly consistent, also congratulations on reading an article posted on the Internet somehow! Unless you did it by doing something you are not supposed to, in which case, bad Amish, BAD! Just kidding, much respect to the Amish, I do not want to share their lifestyle, but I think it is a beautiful and logical choice. Where was I? Oh yes, supporting contraceptives also enhances your pro-life stance, as contraceptives, unlike making abortions illegal, actually do something to reduce abortions. The biggest problem with this stance is there is not much for you to do with it. Since contraceptives are legal and widely accepted, there isn't much publicity in simply holding that position, and trying to make them more accessible for women is going to seem at odds with your stance on keeping government small.

Regarding immigration, speculation is that you are actually going to try and work with the Democrats to improve this. In which case, kudos to you!

Regarding the environment, it is probably safe to keep ignoring it, that seems to be working for the Democrats. If you could though, coming up with a small government way to reduce human impacts on our environment would give you significant leverage to implement those small government ideas.

Well, that's about it. Good luck Republicans, the phrase evolve or die comes to mind!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Comment Policy

I have been receiving a large number of supportive comments from Anonymous commenters, which makes me want to talk a bit about my comments policy. I find Captcha's annoying, so I don't use them on my blog. However, this means that I get quite a few spam comments, so I rely on Blogger's spam filter to keep them off my posts so I don't need to delete the 10-20 spam comments I get a week.

Unfortunately, if you comment anonymously Blogger is a lot more likely to consider your comment spam. When I notice a nice comment not encouraging me to buy something or use some product that is put into the spam folder, I take it out, but I apologize for however long it spends languishing in there. Now, a sad, cynical part of me wonders if some crazy hacker wanting to boost bloggers' self-esteems has written a "SpamBot" to leave generic encouraging comments on blogs. I am willing to risk posting such comments, and I refer you to this relevant xkcd comic.

Presidential Election 2012

I am going to vote for Obama tomorrow. For President, that is, not Michigan's Supreme Court. I do not believe that Obama is the best candidate and I considered voting for Stein since it seems like Michigan will not go for Romney, illustrating the ills of the winner take all system, but I am hoping a strong enough Obama win will wake up the Republican party so that they can produce candidates at all suited to govern our nation. Ultimately we all win if both parties produce a better caliber of candidate.

Let me frontload this by acknowledging that I have issues with some decisions that Obama has made. I think our drone strikes have been morally unsupportable, indefinite detention is an outrage, and holding talks in secret to put into place an international treaty to enforce intellectual property rights is a subversion of the spirit of Democracy. I truly wish that someone better could be elected, but I do not believe Romney is such a person.

That said, I do appreciate some things Obama has done! We are out of Iraq and I truly believe he tried, but failed, to close Guantanamo Bay. I think Obama has done more for the health care system in this country than any president during my lifetime, which is not to say that I think it is fixed. Where Romney believes corporations are people, Obama seems to hold the radical notion that women are people and, as such, should receive equal pay (Lilly Ledbetter Act) and control their own reproductive choices (access to abortion and contraceptives). Finally, Obama is not as oblivious to the plight of same-sex couples in our nation (DADT repealed) as Romney has repeatedly appeared to be.

I am going to vote for Obama, even though I think there are better presidential candidates, because I think he is the best candidate with a chance of being elected. Furthermore, I hope enough of a rebuke will shatter the Republican Party, already fractious as evidenced by their need to co-opt the "Tea Party". Ultimately, I hope to get a better class of candidates, so the greater evil is not so unappealing and we can stop choosing the lesser evil.