Monday, April 27, 2009

Blogorama: Of Free Speech and Miracles

When I first started writing, there was no internet and thus no blogging, and thus no everyday opportunity to opinionate--or bloviate, as the case may be. If we were lucky, our opinions would be published in our local newspaper's "Letters to the Editor", and we would be thrilled to see ourselves in print. If we were really lucky, we might secure a space on the Op-Ed page and actually get paid a few dollars a column to write about anything that popped into our wee little heads.

I did that for a few years, and while I worked hard at it and was every bit as passionate about the world around me as I am now, the chance for any meaningful readership numbers was about as slim as my chance to win the PowerBall.

Still, I wrote--and gave it all I had.

Now I write here, not out of any sense of ego or authority, but because I have something to say and I can do it for free on the World Wide Web. That's a concept that's pretty astonishing. (Okay, there may be a bit of ego--let's face it, how could it be otherwise? But I claim no authority.)

The downside to this freedom to bloviate is that the WWW is an equal opportunity monster of humungous proportions. A jillion people can set up a jillion blogs and do the same thing I'm doing right here, right now. I'm exquisitely aware that to be one in a jillion is to be nothing at all. A mere speck in the sands of exaltation.

But still I write--and give it all I have.

The upside of creating a blog, besides the obvious one of writing your heart out with the knowledge that you'll be "published", no matter what, is that you soon find yourself in amongst a community of like-minded bloggers who will pay attention to your blog if you'll pay attention to theirs.

As pathetic as that may sound, it's actually a terrific system, leading to all manner of serendipitous discoveries.

I "met" one such blogger by reading her comment on another blog, which I discovered when that blogger commented on mine. I went to her blog (Preserve, Protect and Defend) and commented on her comment and now she occasionally comments on mine, while I do the same on hers. She calls herself "Two Crows", which is fine with me. I don't need to know her real name to appreciate her writing. The point is, I never would have found her if not for the intricate, intertwining paths of the blogosphere.

Robert Reich has what he calls his "personal journal" through Blogspot. I was thrilled to find it, because he writes the way I would want to write if I had the talent, and more times than not I get to shout "Amen" while I'm reading him. But more important, he's using the exact same template that I chose for my blog. His is spare and elegant and at the same time welcoming--the perfect showcase for his words--while mine. . .well, you'll just have to take my word for it that we started out on the same page.

But the reason I bring any of this up is because I still haven't gotten over an extraordinary, spontaneous happening last week among the TPM Cafe bloggers on Talking Points Memo. I'm a blogger newbie on that site, so I have no real history there. I don't know any of the bloggers well yet, but I liked what I saw there from the first day I found the site.

One blogger in particular--dickday--stood out because he was funny and so very clever--a kind of modern day chronicler of deliciously skewed Arthurian legend. He commented on a couple of my blogs and was incredibly kind and welcoming. I was nervous as hell to be among such smart people so I latched onto one of them--dickday--and followed him wherever he went.

Last week his regular posts just stopped. So did his always amusing comments. I vaguely wondered where he was but I didn't pay too much attention. Everybody understands that blogging can be every day or it can be sporadic. Apparently with dickday, it had come to be a regular event, almost like clockwork, and his followers were worried.

Then began a search the likes of which we've never seen since Stanley went looking for Livingstone.

After a day or so of scurrying around, someone finally heard from him. His computer had crashed and he was sending a feeble message from the wilds of his local library. dickday without a World Wide quill. Unthinkable! But money was tight and using the library as his home base was out of the question.

That's when the Cafe bloggers went into action. Within minutes (or so it seemed) someone had come up with the idea to find dickday a computer. Within a few more minutes someone offered a perfectly good CPU. Before long a PayPal fund was set up for donations toward the necessary extras, things were packed and shipped and someone who lived a few hours away volunteered to go over and set it up. The entire thing was a marvel in efficiency--Whoosh! Things happened.

But what was breathtaking to me was the caring, the concern, the compassion. I honestly have never seen anything like it in all my years on forums anywhere. So, I'm hoping they won't mind (because I and a few others were hesitant at first to make this so public), but this is my tribute to those folks who took it upon themselves to honor someone they have never met, and who did it with such extreme joy and such absolute good will.

Times are tough and it's easy to be cynical about the world we live in and the people we meet along the way. This was good. It was so good. If it doesn't qualify as a true miracle, it's probably as close as I'll ever get to seeing one.

Bravo to those good folks. May they ever keep joy in their hearts and a penny in their pockets. And may dickday get those fingers tapping and tell us a tale for the times.

(cross-posted at Talking Points Memo here)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Myth of the 2nd Amendment: Shoot the damn thing already!

The federal system for tracking gun sales, crafted over the years to avoid infringements on Second Amendment rights, makes it difficult to spot suspicious trends quickly and to identify people buying for smugglers, law enforcement officials say. As a result, in some states along the Southwest border where firearms are lightly regulated, gun smugglers can evade detection for months or years. In Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, dealers can sell an unlimited number of rifles to anyone with a driver’s license and a clean criminal record without reporting the sales to the government.
James C. McKinley, JR - NYT 4/14/09

We are a country of laws. When you look around you, it's obvious that that's not an overstatement. Everywhere we go, we're expected to follow the law.

When we cross the street, we can't cross on a red light. It's against the law.

We can't cross that street, even with the light, naked as a jay bird. It's against the law.

We can't take an orange off of the vendor's stand, no matter how juicy that orange or how out there for the taking it appears to be. It's against the law.

We can't get in our car and drive it without first understanding the rules of the road, and then obtaining licenses for both the car and the driver. It's against the law.

In each of those instances, our rights and privileges haven't been infringed by the laws that affect them. We understand that laws are necessary to maintain a sane society. We live with laws every day of our lives.

So why the hell has this entire country been hornswoggled into believing that we can own, shoot and sell guns (that's GUNS--"shoot your eye out" at the least, lethal weapons always and eternally) without licensing or regulation?

What kind of NRA wizardry has taken hold when it comes to any logical restrictions on guns? How have we come to this, where we, once again, turn a blind eye to what's in our best interests and let gun nuts, of all people, hold us in their sway?

Yes, gun nuts. I live in the north woods, where guns and gun people are everywhere. Many if not most of the hunters we know are members of the NRA. In our day-to-day dealings they seem perfectly normal, but I can't get past the growing evidence that anyone who supports and defends the right to own guns without licensing or regulations has gone beyond nutty.

The gun people we know aren't "nuts" in the sense that they're out there picketing with signs saying "Obama, don't take our guns away". They're not that dumb. But sooner or later, in order for us to survive as a civilized society, they're going to have to give up following the NRA like little lost lambs and begin thinking for themselves.

The National Rifle Association, with their blind devotion to a lawless gun culture, has become the enemy as surely as if they were standing on our borders passing out heavy artillery to anyone with cash in hand. Their members--millions strong--are constantly, incessantly, being bombarded with dangerous faulty logic. They defend the supposed Second Amendment "right" to bear arms without feeling any accompanying obligation to defend the rights of the society in which they live.

As enraging as the New York Times article ("The U.S Stymied as Guns Flow to Mexican Cartels") was this morning, I can't say it was either enlightening or even startling. Everything in it has been out there before. But it is disheartening. How many times do these same outrageous, wholly un-American facts have to be reported before we finally say, "Enough"?

Consider this from the NYT article:
Federal agents say about 90 percent of the 12,000 pistols and rifles the Mexican authorities recovered from drug dealers last year and asked to be traced came from dealers in the United States, most of them in Texas and Arizona.
The Mexican foreign minister, Patricia Espinosa, in talking with reporters recently, accused the United States of violating its international treaty obligations by allowing guns to flow into the hands of organized crime groups in Mexico.
But law enforcement officials on this side of the border say the legal hurdles to making cases against smugglers remain high.
“Guns are legal to possess in this country,” said William J. Hoover, the assistant director for operations of the federal firearms agency. “If you stop me between the dealer and the border, I am still legal, because I can possess those guns.”

Fine. "Possess" the damn guns. But regulate them, for God's sake! License the hell out of them. Keep records on who owns them, who sells them, who buys them. Make new laws, make them stick, and throw the bastards in jail if they violate those laws.

And if all that happens--guess what? Nobody's rights will be violated. Lawful gun folks will get to keep their weapons. Fun will be had by all.

We can't keep ignoring the effects of our ridiculously lax gun laws. Here's a snip from another NYT story by McKinley, entitled "U.S. is Arms Bazaar for Mexican Cartels", published on February 26:
Drug gangs seek out guns in the United States because the gun-control laws are far tougher in Mexico. Mexican civilians must get approval from the military to buy guns and they cannot own large-caliber rifles or high-powered pistols, which are considered military weapons.
The ease with which Mr. Iknadosian [owner of X-Caliber Guns in Phoenix] and two other men transported weapons to Mexico over a two-year period illustrates just how difficult it is to stop the illicit trade, law enforcement officials here say.
The gun laws in the United States allow the sale of multiple military-style rifles to American citizens without reporting the sales to the government, and the Mexicans search relatively few cars and trucks going south across their border.
What is more, the sheer volume of licensed dealers — more than 6,600 along the border alone, many of them operating out of their houses — makes policing them a tall order. Currently the A.T.F. has about 200 agents assigned to the task.

It's not just the Mexican drug cartels who are finding it easy to get guns in the U.S, thanks to the NRA. This is from a California Progress Report article by Bill Cavala on unregulated gun shows in Nevada:
70% of the dealers at the Nevada gun shows lacked Federal Firearms licenses.
Nevada does not require background checks or that records be kept on private party sales at gun shows – unlike California.
At least two dozen “straw” purchases – firearms bought by one person but intended for another “prohibited” purchaser – were observed.

California lawmakers – aware of this problem – moved to regulate its gun shows several years ago.
But in States like Nevada, the N.R.A. has been successful in blocking similar efforts. The result is that criminals evade California gun shows to make their purchases where the N.R.A. actions protect them.
(Bill Cavala was a professor at U.C Berkeley in the 1970s, and has been actively involved in progressive politics every since. Take a minute to read the comments at the end of his article. The gun nut vultures are constantly out there circling and attacking any effort to "infringe" their phony rights. All that energy, all that stupidity. Leave it to them to use it to undermine our citizen rights of protection against the gun nuts.)

So when will this craziness end? When is a gun nut more than just a nut? Who will make the NRA see the light? What has happened to our America? How many more articles have to be written before we Americans get up in arms--so to speak?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

From Carolina to Michigan: Not so far apart

In an odd juxtaposition that would mean nothing to anybody but me, I’m packing up to leave South Carolina, the state with the second worst unemployment, to go back to Michigan, the only state in the land that has it worse.

The difference between the two states is really and truly the difference between night and day. Here in South Carolina, for example, I’m looking out at palm trees and camellias and feeling a soft, warm breeze coming through the doorwall.

When I get back home to upper Michigan, where we live for the other nine months of the year, I’ll find three-foot snow banks and not a hint of green grass anywhere. It’ll be weeks before we’ll even see crocuses.

Unemployment is a huge problem in both states, for very different reasons, but the biggest difference is in how these two states are governed. In Michigan, we have Democratic governor Jennifer Granholm, an untiring, unwavering advocate for the workers in her state. Michigan’s economy is based on industry first, tourism second. So when manufacturing goes by the wayside, as it has in the past decade or more, our economy slides downward, with no end in sight.

As I noted in an earlier post, Governor Granholm has been out there beating the bushes, looking for funding to help the people of our state. She’s not above begging if she has to, because she feels Michigan’s future is worth whatever it takes.

In South Carolina--a beautiful state with pockets of grinding poverty--tourism is the top game. The mountains, the beaches and the golf courses are a huge draw. When times are good, business people down here are in Hog Heaven, what with all the high living going on. But when times are bad--really bad, as they are now--the fun comes to a screeching halt and the purveyors are left high and dry.

The only way out, odious as it is to some, is to let the Feds come to the rescue. They're the only ones with a cavalry big enough to take on this mess. But Mark Sanford, governor of South Carolina, is barricading himself inside his plantation, yelling for those Damn Yankees to keep away.

He is one of a handful of governors--all Republican--who took a stand against the only rescue in sight, the stimulus plan. All of a sudden those same Republicans who were happy revelers during the Bush years, when rampant, raging capitalism came into full bloom, have now seen the light (Yea, verily, have seen the LIGHT). Now, when times are about as bad as they can get, they're ready to cut the cord, to tighten the belts, to put the troops on a diet of bread and water.

If Sanford is concerned with the condition of his state and the numbers of unemployed workers, he has a funny way of showing it. So where are the workers on this? How do they feel? Will they ever gain their voices and speak up?

Your pride, South Carolinians, is not in turning down what Sanford says is a government handout with strings. Your pride is in recognizing a chance to rise up from poverty and become an asset to America, where we're all working together to make this country strong again.