Thursday, September 9, 2010

Burnin' Books and Raisin' Hell

Well, the Quran burning event scheduled for the anniversary of 9/11 has been canceled by Terry Jones, leader of a congregation of fifty Floridians.

What does it all mean? First of all, some obscure pastor was able to draw the attention of:

- The commanding general in Afghanistan

- Political celebrity Sarah Palin

- President Obama

All because he decided that burning Qurans on the anniversary of 9/11 was a fine idea.  It strikes me that burning books, flags - anything symbolic to a large amount of people really - demonstrates both a lack of ability to form an intelligent argument and an overwhelming need for attention.  Sure, it’s protected speech, but so is screaming racial epithets on the radio, and we saw how that worked out for the charming Dr. Laura Schlessinger.  At least she apologized and seemed to understand that what she did was in poor judgment and taste.  This Jones fellow doesn’t seem poised to follow her example.

Let’s forget him and all of the rest of the players in this ridiculous saga for a moment.  If anyone needed further proof of the power of connectivity through technology, this was it.  I mean, how else would this leader of nearly no one garner worldwide, intense scrutiny?  So he wants to burn religious books. Okay, but if this were 1995 no one would know about it, and therefore no one would care.  Even during the few years after 9/11 there was no Twitter or Facebook, RSS feeds weren’t in wide use yet – this wouldn’t have drawn nearly the attention it has.  When people in predominantly Muslim countries around the world are planning protests and are gathering outside of U.S. embassies, and many of the leaders of those countries are concerned over the antics of a batshit Florida pastor whose congregation numbers in double digits, the world has become small indeed.

Of course, the controversy over the proposed Cordoba House community center in New York City paved the way for this nonsense.  Let’s thank Sarah Palin for another substantive and successful foray into the dregs of the political/mass media culture.  After all, she sent the important message to America, through her free Twitter account, that a mosque on Ground Zero would “stab hearts.”  Thanks for that. No, really.  I don’t have time to explore the subtleties and sensitivities of the complex and unstable relationship between the Western world and Islamic culture.  Muslims are all bad, according to you. Thank you for simplifying things, as always.

One last note on Palin the Political Prankster (NYSE symbol: PPP):  Contrary to my prediction that she would stay silent on this issue, she condemned Pastor Jones and asked him to “stand down.”  Well, if she had shown a track record of responsible, coherent statements on the array of issues that she has commented on, she would deserve credit.  However, on her Facebook page, she compares the insensitivity of burning Qurans to the (in her mind) insensitivity of building a community center in New York City.  Is there any point in illustrating the difference between burning sacred religious texts (a negative thing to do) and building an interfaith community center which features Christians, Jews, and Muslims on the board of directors (a positive thing to do?)  She started this mess with her insistent Twitter firebombing and now must resort to this ridiculous attempt at correlating these two issues to maintain any sort of credibility.  I’m convinced she could say anything at this point and maintain her following, outside of “Gee, liberals ain’t half bad.”

The whole damned summer has been pretty awful:  economic disaster, the massive oil spill, the wars overseas, the cultural wars at home.  The difference between the first three and the last one is that the outrage directed at American Muslims is completely manufactured by political opportunists, who exploit vague paranoia and a xenophobic tendency to distrust the “other.”  Palin, Newt Gingrich and the like provide the fame necessary to focus Americans, who wouldn’t normally be thinking about land issues concerning New York City property distribution, in a negative fashion concerning the supposed evils of a religion that has been around since the 7th century and has over a billion followers.  We have enough real problems.  We don’t need to be distracted by those tailored from whole cloth in the interest of advancing the political careers of the psychotic.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Tea Party Approach

What’s the best way to approach the Tea Party? If the whole thing is just ridiculous, then the options are a) make fun of them, or b) apathy. It is a huge movement, and I hesitate to write them off without some analysis, despite their lack of focus and general goofiness.

The Tea Party is apparently a loose association of dissatisfied Americans who fear the massive federal deficit, oppose higher taxes, and seem to have a bone to pick with government in general, specifically president Obama as the representative of bureaucratic evil.

Well, all that is fine. I don’t have a problem with the existence of this political movement. It’s actually refreshing to see a significant amount of citizens who routinely make headlines by peacefully assembling and airing their grievances. Of course they’re angry – if they weren’t they probably wouldn’t bother showing up, right? Where was all this righteous anger when we were torturing people?

The issue is that it’s difficult to understand clearly the grievances, and once partially understood, the reasoning behind them. Let’s break it down.

The Deficit

I don’t know anyone who ponders the well-being of the country and comes to the conclusion that everything is just fine with the deficit. Of course it’s a huge problem. Entitlements make up somewhere around half of the budget, yet when polled the majority of Tea Party members don’t want their Social Security or Medicare benefits cut. Well neither do I. But I’m not running around Washington D.C. dressed as Ben Franklin, holding a picket sign featuring Obama sharing a banana with Stalin while screaming incoherently about deficits and the Constitution.

And hey guys, what about military spending? It’s a massive part of the budget too, around $800 billion a year, yet most Tea Party folks seem to accept this spending without protest. I understand the idea that we must defeat our enemies at all cost, but I’m not sure about the effectiveness of developing 20 new $11 billion aircraft carriers in the interest of defeating guys in caves.

Until Tea Partiers embrace a holistic approach to the deficit, which would include spending cuts in all areas, including entitlements and military spending, it’s impossible to take this aspect of their complaint seriously. This leads to the next area of Tea Party angst, which is taxation.


I don’t think opposition to higher taxes represents some sort of selfishness within anyone except for the wealthiest among us, who know how to game the system and do so quite effectively. Your average Tea Partier is more concerned with how their taxes are applied, and the effect higher taxes could have on the economy. It’s a “taxation without representation” argument, which is why the Tea Party moniker was applied in the first place. No problem there; we all want to know where our money is going and why, and we should have questions.

The problem is that if you’re part of a movement which is mostly concerned about deficits and have done any homework on the issue, you should realize that higher taxes are inevitable if you expect your representatives to do anything about the deficit. Spending cuts, higher taxes. That’s how the deficit is fixed. You can’t support every military adventure the U.S. embarks on, expect your Social Security benefits to be paid in full, refuse to cut spending in these areas, refuse to accept higher taxation on even the wealthiest members of our society, then whine about deficits. Well you can, but that sort of behavior is sure to expose your idiocy.

Also, why all the anger directed at Obama over taxation? Taxes haven’t been raised, they’ve been cut. Even the wealthiest among us, while not having their taxes cut, have enjoyed the same tax rate that was present when Obama was inaugurated. 40% of the hated stimulus package involved tax cuts, including the Making Work Pay tax credit. Nobody in this country has had their taxes raised during the Obama administration’s time in office.* This isn’t a matter of opinion; look at the actual bills that have been passed. I’m all for criticizing the president, any president, but it’s a good idea to include substance within the criticism. Otherwise, why would you expect to be listened to?

Not to say that Obama is above criticism; there’s plenty to complain about. But setting him up as a piƱata to beat on whenever you’re angry about something isn’t legitimate. It’s intellectual laziness.

I read the coverage of the recent Glenn Beck rally, which reportedly was peaceful and largely apolitical. It seems as if it was some sort of revival, though the title of the (speech?) was “Restoring Honor.” Our honor as Americans must be restored, which should start by adhering to agreed upon laws regarding torture and Constitutional guidelines with respect to conduct of war. When people break those laws, they should be prosecuted. That’s the honorable thing to do. The best defense of America is to uphold agreed upon laws. None of that was an aspect of the rally, which isn’t a surprise, although you would think that a gathering of concerned Americans would realize that laws create the fundamental freedoms we enjoy, and that wanton breaking of them endangers those freedoms.

What I don’t understand about the rally is this: If it wasn’t about politics, then why was the Tea Party involved? There’s nothing wrong with public prayer service, it’s a basic freedom, but the Tea Party is supposed to be about the direction of the country with respect to deficits and taxation. If that’s not what this gathering was about, what was the point of their attendance? I’m not sure.

The Tea Party’s presence at this event is indicative of its scatterbrained nature, at least in this nascent phase. It’s a confused, unfocused confederation of angry people who aren’t clear on what they’re actually angry about. Hey, anger is fine. Popular political movements can give hope that Americans still care about the direction of the country. But without substance, focus, or intelligent arguments, any political movement is meaningless. It will be interesting to see if this particular movement gathers anything but steam.