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The Lion’s Share

The Lion's Share

People around the world are revolted by the actions of Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer who while on a hunt in Zimbabwe, was involved in the killing of a lion. Not just any lion as it turned out, but Cecil, one of the most popular lions in the world and a tourist attraction for Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. Cecil would have been safe had he remained on park grounds but he was allegedly lured out by Palmer’s guides, who tied an animal carcass to their jeep bringing the lion out onto the property of the ironically named Honest Ndlovu where Palmer shot the lion with a bow and arrow and 40 hours later finished off with a high powered rifle. Palmer then beheaded the lion and skinned him, taking them back to the United States as trophies.

Cecil, named after British businessman and imperialist Cecil Rhodes (for whom the British colony of Rhodesia, which later became Zimbabwe, was also named), was noted for his distinctive black-fringed mane. He often let tourists come within 10 meters of him to take photographs. Current estimates that the loss of the lion will cost Zimbabwe well over $10,000 a day in tourism revenue.

Cecil and another lion, Jericho, had GPS collars affixed to them by the Oxford University Wildlife Conservation Research Unit. It was they who were alerted that something was wrong when Cecil’s collar suddenly stopped sending signals on July 1. When the carcass was discovered, the GPS collar was missing and has as of this date not been found.

Comedian and late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel put my feelings succinctly when he said that he wasn’t against hunting; if you’re doing it to put food on the table, to thin out the herd when the population can’t be supported or for cultural reasons. However, to shoot an animal just to hang it’s head on your wall or drape it’s skin on your rug is abhorrent. Over the last couple of centuries we have hunted literally hundreds of species into extinction and many more to the brink, including the African lion of which less than 30,000 still roam in the wild.

Some might say and with some justification that nobody mourns for the animals that the lions kill, including Cecil, but Cecil nor any of the other lions killed anything for any other reason but to survive. They kill for food, or to defend their territory – that’s it. They don’t kill to display carcasses, or to compensate for small dicks. All of the people I’ve known who have gone hunting have gone hunting to get food – deer, elk, moose. Nobody I know hunt bears, or mountain lions, or anything else. They consume what they eat.

Killing for “sport” is wasteful and cruel. There’s other reason for it other than to satisfy some sort of egotistical urge. There have been far too many photos posted on Facebook pages of smug, happy white faces posing with the animals they have killed. Folks like Ted Nugent, who have come up in support of Palmer, have no conception of what they are inflicting on the environment. Perhaps in order to qualify for a hunting license, you should first be hunted – put in a forest without any weapons, and then allow the inhabitants to press a button which will napalm the whole mother flicking lot of them. It would be no great loss.

In any case, even Nugent would have to admit that Palmer’s guides used illegal methods to bag this lion. They have been arrested and charged in Zimbabwe already. Zimbabwe is already calling for Palmer’s extradition. Palmer himself has gone into hiding, having closed his dental practice and issuing statements of apology.

Sorry, no can do on accepting the apology, Walt. You need to be accountable for your actions. I think the only way he can redeem himself is to go to Zimbabwe and face the legal system there. Palmer claims that he wasn’t aware that anything illegal was going on; I find that hard to believe but he should be allowed to have his day in court and prove his innocence or have its lack thereof proven by the prosecution.

Of course, being a hunter used to taking down animals with weapons they don’t have any sort of defense against, the odds might not be to his liking. Maybe if we make sure that the prosecuting attorneys are either mute or only speak Aramaic and provide no interpreters than maybe the odds will be a little more like what he’s used to. Or do we have to nail them to their chairs as well?

In any case, even though the Internet has moved on to other things to get its panties in a bunch about, the Palmer-Cecil case remains disturbing on a lot of different levels. I’m not sure what sort of extradition treaty we have with Zimbabwe but I imagine that the United States government would be fairly reluctant to have a citizen, particularly a white professional citizen, delivered up to an African nation to face their justice system and, let’s face it here, the courts of Africa are not known for their fair and impartial proceedings. In fact, it might be more fair to say that the courts are Africa are more notorious for their corruption. Of course, American courts are far from perfect as well.

Besides that, the message that seems to be getting sent by those that agree with the Palmer supporters is that American hunters should be free to go to any sovereign nation anywhere in the world, hunt down their animals with impunity and by whatever means necessary without fear of consequences. That simply will not do. Did Palmer break any laws? I can’t say – I’m not an expert in international law or the laws of Zimbabwe specifically. He may well not have broken any laws over there, in which case he should be acquitted which I would expect to happen with the world watching. However, I do believe that there is an accountability issue here and many of those who are screaming that Palmer should be left alone are the ones who scream loudest about accountability when it comes to birth control and poverty. Dr. Palmer should go to Zimbabwe once more and be accountable for his actions, although I suspect he has no intention of doing so. I’m guessing his plan is to hide out in whatever rathole he is in and wait it out until the outcry dies down (it already has) and re-establish his practice once again, resuming his life where he left off. It’s a cowardly move if that is indeed his intention. Then again, it doesn’t surprise me; a man who would kill a living thing from a distance for no other reason than to hang its head on his wall as a trophy seems to have a deficiency of courage and morality.

A Tale of Two Flags

A Tale of Two Flags

There have been some changes in the United States and they can both be symbolized by two flags; one, the Confederate battle flag – the old stars and bars – and the rainbow flag that is the symbol for the LGBT movement. For the latter, the Supreme Court established that individual states could no longer enact laws that prevented couples of the same sex from marrying.

The former is more complicated. In the aftermath of the tragedy in Charleston, South Carolina in which a white male entered a Bible study meeting in an iconic African-American church and shot nine people to death, including the Pastor who happened to be a South Carolina state senator, state governments around the South – Republican state governments at that – came to the realization that the symbol of the battle flag was more negative than they at first thought. Pictures of the killer holding the battle flag seemed to cement the relationship between violent racists and the Confederacy.

All of a sudden, the movement picked up momentum in amazing time – South Carolina, which flew the Confederate battle flag over a monument on State Capital grounds, has already run the legislature through that allowed it to remove the flag from the grounds of the Capital. Kentucky announced it was looking into doing the same. The governor of Alabama went so far as to remove the flag personally without any input from the state legislature. Even Mississippi, whose state flag includes the Battle Flag, is looking to make changes. Just a few weeks ago one would scarcely have thought it possible.

I think what’s stunning about this is not just the speed at which this change of attitude is taking place, but also that it seems to be coming from both directions, the left and the right. Sure, there is some righteous indignation coming from a certain segment from the South who maintain that the battle flag isn’t a symbol of racism but rather a part of their heritage.

Yes, the Confederacy is a part of the heritage of the South but hopefully not the legacy. You could also say the same thing about the Swastika; sure, the Nazi regime in Germany was a lot different than the government of the Confederacy but both of them stood for morally untenable positions. You don’t see Germans waving around the Swastika (for, among other reasons, that it’s illegal) but it is part of their heritage too.

And why should anyone be proud of their Confederate heritage? This was a government that largely benefitted slave owners – who only made up about 2% of the population – because the South perceived that this was the economic engine that made the South prosperous when, in actuality, it didn’t. It only made the 2% prosperous. In the meantime, while the North was building factories and improving technology, the largely agrarian society of the South was doomed to failure from the get-go. They simply didn’t have the resources and the industry to survive in the 19th century world economy. The government of the Confederacy – again, largely made up of the slave owner segment – sent their boys out to be slaughtered for an economy that benefitted only them that they intended to ride out to its inevitable conclusion, by which time they’d have bled the economy dry. Does that sound familiar? (*KOFF* Oil! *KOFF*)

I have friends who have been complaining about the rush to take down the stars and bars and before they get all over my liberal ass, let me clarify a few misconceptions I’ve seen in some of their social media posts. The first is that nobody is trying to obliterate the Confederate battle flag from the face of the Earth; the only complaint is that it shouldn’t be flying from state houses or government facilities. Technically, the Confederacy was a foreign government separate from that of the United States; you don’t see the flag of Spain flying over the state capital of Florida, or the Union Jack from the capital of Pennsylvania, right? The only flags that should be flying on state-owned properties are the flag of the United States of America and the flag of the particular state that the property belongs to.

I also tend to agree that digitally removing the Confederate flag from the General Lee stunt car from The Dukes of Hazzard is going overboard. The message here is to separate the state from the Confederacy; flying their flag implies tacit approval of the aims and philosophy of the Confederacy, which would include the subjugation and enslavement of Africans. I wouldn’t dare to speak for the African-American community, for whom the battle flag represents some very different feelings than those of the white sons and daughters of Dixie, but I would guess that flying a Confederate flag on state property would feel much like a slap to the face. In case anyone has forgotten, the Confederacy lost that war. they shouldn’t get to display their flag as if they won. And incidentally, respecting the courage and loyalty of those who fought for the South during the Civil War is a far different thing than embracing what they fought for.

I do find it…not interesting so much as inevitable…that the same people complaining about the eradication of their Confederate heritage by those gosh darn libtards are those complaining about the Supreme Court ruling that states could not enact laws that infringed on the rights of same sex couples to marry. In other words, the same folks who are complaining that Liberals are forcing their values on them are complaining that their values are not being forced on the LGBT community in regards to marriage.

Fortunately, they are in the minority. The majority of the country recognizes that granting the LGBT community the same rights and dignity afforded to straight couples when it comes to marriage doesn’t diminish the institution; if anything, it enhances it. Nobody – but nobody – can come up with a single concrete way that a gay marriage has any effect on a straight marriage. None whatsoever. Frankly, in an era in which relationships dissolve at the drop of a hat and more than half of all marriages end up in divorce, any chance to increase the amount of love that is generated in this country can only be one worth taking. We need all the love we can get around here.

Your Tax Dollars

Your Tax Dollars

One of the crux differences between the left and the right is how our taxes are spent. The left believes taxes should not only be used for the needs of government – defense, statecraft, infrastructure and so on but also for social programs as well. The right believes that taxes should be as small as possible and pay for the bare minimum to keep the United States strong and prosperous. Social programs should be left to charities.

Often when I get into discussions with my friends on the right about things like Obamacare, food stamps and welfare, eventually they will inevitably say something along the lines of “not with my tax dollars.” All right, then. That leaves the question; what should we spend our tax dollars on?

Of course, there are those who say we should not pay taxes at all but that simply isn’t realistic. It takes money to pay for necessities, such as embassies and ambassadors, for the military and their equipment, and simply for making sure things run properly, or at least relatively properly. So let’s assume for the moment that we all want a military protecting us, diplomats negotiating trade agreements for us, roads to drive on from place to place and air and rail traffic transporting people and goods across the country.

For my part, I’d like to see my tax dollars spent on free healthcare for all. I’d like a European-style health care system that treats everyone regardless of their economic status. I’d love to cut out the insurance middlemen who serve no function at all except to make money for themselves. I’d like to see a healthier population, one who visit doctors instead of Emergency Rooms for basic care. I don’t want to see people dying because they couldn’t afford treatment. There is something so basically, disturbingly wrong with that last that it can’t even be expressed.

I’d like to see my tax dollars spent on eradicating hunger, particularly among children. No child should have to go to bed hungry. No parent should have to hear their children cry themselves to sleep because they haven’t eaten anything all day. No retiree should have to face a choice between paying for their medication and their food. This is a land of plenty; why shouldn’t everyone benefit from it?

I’d like to see my tax dollars spent on educating the young. Our future depends on having our next generations prepared to compete globally. Our children should be learning to think innovatively, to be inspired to learn particularly in science and mathematics. Our children should aspire to create things that will make the world a better place. We need to improve our schools and their facilities. Our teachers shouldn’t have to be paying for school supplies out of their own pockets. They should be compensated for the additional time they put in. They should also be held accountable for their performances as our students should be held accountable for theirs. We need to market education as a means out of poverty, a means to elevate not just individuals but entire communities. We need to involve parents directly in the education process but not just parents; the entire community. Businesses should be made to understand that they’ll only benefit from having a superior education system in their communities as it will turn out superior employees for them further on down the line.

I’d like to see my tax dollars spent on space exploration. As Robert A. Heinlein once said, the Earth is far too fragile a basket to put all our eggs into, especially when you consider what we’re doing to despoil it. We should be exploring the local solar system and sending probes into the furthest reaches of space as we’re doing but we should be doing more of it. The technologies that have developed from the space program have fueled our economy for the past half a century; imagine what we come up with in the next fifty years.

I’d like to see my tax dollars spent on rebuilding the infrastructure. I want to see good-paying jobs created to repair bridges and highways as well as constructing new ones. I want to see AMTRAK converted to a high-speed rail system that links the entire continent. And while we’re talking about jobs, I want to put some of my tax dollars in re-training the work force so that they are more computer savvy and able to do the jobs that are in demand. Those who have the abilities and the desire to change their lives should be given those opportunities, even the education to go into much-needed fields like engineering and medicine. I’d also like to see my tax dollars spent on helping students get college loans at reasonable rates that won’t put them into enormous debt before they’ve graduated that will take them decades to repay.

My tax dollars should go to a more sane military spending program. We are spending money on tanks and battleships we don’t need. I’d rather see that tax money go to the Veterans Administration that takes care of our soldiers, sailors and airmen after they’ve defended this country. I want our veterans to have the best medical facilities administrating the best care possible; I want them to have college programs to help them re-start their lives and give them a chance to prosper after their time in the military has ended. I want my tax dollars to go to the actual people putting their lives on the line for our country, not to the makers of helicopters and tanks who have oversold their products to our military and now want to keep their factories running even though their products aren’t needed anymore. The dynamics of the marketplace should apply to them too.

In short, I don’t mind paying for things that benefit people that actually need them. I have an issue with paying taxes that support people who are already rich by making them richer, by giving corporations making record profits tax incentives and loopholes to the point where they’re getting refunds while the deficit continues to be an issue. I want my tax dollars to mean something besides a dollar sign. How about you? How do you want to spend your tax dollars?

Bits and Pieces 4

Bits and Pieces 4

Just a few things that have been rattling around in my mind’s attic…

Oh thank you Supreme Court and Fox News for informing us that racism is dead in this country. I’m sure that all those unarmed African Americans who have been shot by white police officers can take comfort in that their deaths weren’t racially motivated at all. And I’m sure Native Americans were thrilled to discover that “Redskin” is actually a name of honor, meant to convey respect to their people and their culture. We sure don’t need those pesky protections from the Voter Rights Act.

So why is it that African American males are involved in police shootings at an inordinate rate? Me, I think they should exercise their Second Amendment rights and start open carrying. Might as well if they’re going to get shot anyway; at least they have a fighting chance to defend themselves. I’m sure though we won’t hear the NRA supporting their Second Amendment rights because, after all, they’re the criminals right?

And while we’re on the subject of open carry, what are these morons trying to prove? And yes, they ARE morons. There is no intelligence being displayed here; only some sort of primal male ego thing of showing what a badass we are. I found the one open carry guy who was robbed of his gun at gunpoint to be one of the most hysterical things I’ve heard recently. Talk about karma.

But I digress. Why do you need to have a weapon on display when you’re walking around? Are you that afraid to go to your local Wal-Mart? Maybe some homeless guy is going to drag you into an alley and rape you right in the tush? Puh-lease. You might as well drive to work in a tank and carry around a bazooka wherever you go. If you can’t make it from point A to point B without a loaded weapon in your belt you probably shouldn’t leave the house. Maybe you should just kill yourself before the criminal hordes come to get you.

Can we take a deep breath for a moment and try not to panic about Ebola? Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very serious disease and it shouldn’t be taken lightly, but for one thing, it’s not coming into this country from Mexico, it’s not a plot from the President and you can’t catch it from breathing the same air as a victim of the disease. It can only be transmitted through things like blood, vomit or feces. If you don’t come into contact with any bodily excretions, secretions or waste, you’re not going to get it. It doesn’t work that way. If you’re still a little shook up, wash your hands regularly. Like more than once a day – I’m talking about after every meal or before and after you go out. Use soap and water or a good sanitizer. You’ll be okay. And don’t travel to West Africa if you’re really concerned. Plenty of people there don’t have the disease and Liberia is claiming it will be eradicated there by Christmas.

Many who know me will tell you that I am not a believer in organized religion. I find there to be too much hypocrisy in the leaderships of various churches. However, listening to Bill Maher’s diatribe against Muslims and then his debate with Ben Affleck made me a little bit uncomfortable. Certainly there are a lot of Muslims who believe in things like honor killings, execution for apostasy and female genital mutilation and those things are indeed barbaric. However, if you look closely at the numbers from the Pew poll where much of this information comes from, you’ll see that the people who believe this are mainly in the Middle East, in places like Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen to name a few; Muslims from Europe and the Americas tend to be against these things. Honor killings predate Islam by the way; Arabs were engaging in that behavior even before Muhammad was even a twinkle in his daddy’s eye. It’s a cultural thing that should not be tolerated but an entire belief system shouldn’t be torn apart because of some regions where the religion is very strong subscribe to it.

Religious fanaticism is a bad thing regardless of what religion it is. Fanaticism is all about intolerance, a desire to feel superior to others. My religion is better than your religion and if you’re not a part of my religion then you deserve to die. It’s one of the reasons I prefer to have faith in a greater power rather than subscribing to any specific religion. That doesn’t mean religious organizations don’t do a lot of good around the world as they have done throughout history, or provide comfort to those who subscribe to them. That’s all well and good and I would never want to see a world without religion. However, they are also responsible for a lot of bad things, like jihads and crusades and inquisitions and wars. I have always believed that true faith is a subscription to peace and tolerance, allowing all to believe as they wish without penalty.

When you say that Islam is about death, intolerance and ignorance you then have to figure out a way to explain the golden years of Islam when the Middle East was a center for learning, architecture and peace. During the Middle Ages caliphs and imams were far more tolerant than their Christian counterparts and welcomed Jewish and Christian scholars to their universities. I can’t explain how things changed and grew so extreme over the centuries but you can’t say how barbaric the religion is without explaining what it has been.

Social media has become a kind of community in and of itself. It is a means of informing the world of who we are, and yet I think we’ve erected walls around ourselves that are even taller and more impenetrable than ever. We share everything about our lives – what we’re eating, what movie we’re seeing, which parties we’re attending – and yet we know less about each other than we ever have. How often do you really open up and post something about how you feel, and I’m not talking about politics here. I’m talking about YOU, who you ARE, what you’re all ABOUT. What makes you tick? What keeps you getting out of bed every morning? What do you dream about, wish for, hope for?

We’re a world of enigmas, everything on the surface is on display but nothing about what’s inside. We can scream and shout about Obama or abortion or whatever the topic of the day is, or get catty about what Beyonce is wearing or who’s playing Batman or what that bitch just said to you. We communicate in memes and soundbites. All style, no substance.

It takes courage to show the world who you are and what you stand for. Not many can. Most of us are too worried about what others think about us to be real. I’ve learned in my years that it’s okay to offend. It’s okay to take offense. Real maturity comes in understanding that we’re not going to agree on everything. Some things about you might rub me the wrong way. Some things about me might drive you nuts. That doesn’t mean we can’t be friends. There folks in my life who think very differently than I do. They are at the opposite end of the political spectrum, have different personal philosophies of life and/or a different way of doing things. That’s all good. It doesn’t make them bad people, nor does it make me a bad person.

We’re all unique and we should be proud of who we are. There’s no shame in supporting Israel, or in voting Democrat, or in wearing Crocs, or subscribing to Maxim, or following Big Brother. I can be friends with just about anyone as long as they respect who I am and what I stand for and allow me to be who I am. I’d much rather be friends though with someone who stands up and says “I believe differently than you” rather than someone who agrees with me just to avoid conflict. My friends Louis and John, both die-hard conservatives, disagree with just about everything that I believe in politically. We often have heated conversations about it, and while I occasionally will see their point and sometimes change my mind on certain matters, most of the time it’s just stating opposing positions. We don’t always talk politics; I appreciate Louis’ humor and his ongoing friendship and John’s faith and service to his students – he teaches and coaches at a Southern California high school. I’m proud to call them friends. They are who they are and I wouldn’t want them any other way and I respect that they have the courage to say who they are. That’s what friendship is about, isn’t it?

So while they’re tickled pink about the mid-term results, I’m obviously less happy about it. I see a country that has become a shadow of itself. It allows a small minority to dictate terms to the rest of us, while we sit back and play Call of Duty. Yet when that duty calls in our real lives, how do we answer? By not voting. About a third of this country’s eligible voters cast their ballots in the recent mid-terms. Many young voters and minority voters stayed away from the polls. I know some have an aversion to voting, feeling like they don’t understand the issues or know the candidates well enough to make intelligent choices. Others feel that no matter who they vote for, it isn’t going to make a difference. Still others just don’t want to take the time and effort to either fill out a ballot and mail it or go to a polling place. The other 364 days of the year they tend to be the loudest bitchers and moaners too.

I don’t agree that this Republican sweep was necessarily the will of the people, as the Republicans seem to think it is. It is the will of a bit more than half of 37% of the people. That’s about 20% of the eligible voters decided that we’re going to be bearing right for the next two years and that they’re perfectly happy with the worst Congress in the history of this country. However, since 63% of the country didn’t vote, the will of the people turns out to not give a crap. Which is essentially the message we send to those who are running the country.

We are responsible for caring. We owe it to ourselves, our family and our posterity. We take advantage of the freedoms that this country provides and yet we choose not to answer that call of duty when it comes in November. WE THE PEOPLE have to get out of the mindset that our vote doesn’t count for anything, that it doesn’t matter whether we vote or not. It matters. Because the government that makes our lives better, worse or indifferent is elected by those who do care. And if you feel “Well, I’m in a Gerrymandered district so there’s no point,” then make it a point to make your voice heard in other ways. Not just as anonymous posts on the Internet but in concrete, positive ways. If you’re satisfied with things the way they are then by all means, do what you’re doing. If you’re not though, take action. Fight for your country – if not in the military but here at home. It deserves your defense.

Left Behind

Left Behind

It has become predictable. The President proposes something, does something or supports something. The conservatives let out a howl, screaming how his actions or proposed actions will destroy our economy, wipe out what little respect we have left in the global community, further erode the Christian values that built this country, and as the late George Carlin might have said, “infect your soul, curve your spine and lose the war for the Allies.”

In fact, it’s something of a joke. Even when President Obama does thing that the right wants, things that they are clamoring for him to do, they find a way to make it an awful, terrible thing he’s done when he goes ahead and does it.

Take the recent exchange of five Taliban members from Gitmo for Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, for example. He was the only American prisoner of war being held by the Taliban. Getting him back to the United States was a priority now that we are preparing to withdraw our troops from that country. The United States has always had a standard that nobody gets left behind. Our military lives by that rule and sometimes, dies by that rule. President Obama understood this and his team tried to negotiate a release with the Taliban to get Bergdahl home.

When a proof of life video was received by the military sent off alarm bells as to the deteriorating condition of Bergdahl, the consensus from the Obama administration was that recovering Bergdahl was an immediate and urgent priority and the deal was made.

This did violate the law. The National Defense Authorization Act for 2014 clearly mandates that all prisoner transfers from Guantanamo Bay require a minimum 30 day notice to Congress, and the President did not do that. The President cited “unique and exigent circumstances” for not complying with the law, feeling that the health and safety of the soldier was more important.

Of course, the right went bananas. Republican congressmen have called for a Benghazi-like hearing on the matter and some voices on the right are calling (again) for Obama’s impeachment. Rather than celebrating the return of one of our own back home, they are instead attacking Bergdahl, questioning whether he had deserted his post and even implying – or saying directly – that he’s a traitor.

First of all, none of this is germane to getting him back home. If he did violate military conduct, then court martial him – but do it here. Let American rule of law apply to American soldiers rather than Taliban law. You would think that the right would be on board with that right?

Wrong. Many have expressed the belief that “Bergdahl got what he deserved” and that he wasn’t worth the price that was given up for him. Some commentators have questioned his father who had grown his beard out as a sign of solidarity for his son and looked somewhat like a mullah. Then again, put a Turban on Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty and so does he.

The hypocrisy here is that we all know that if it was George W. Bush who had engineered the transfer, the right would have been singing the praises of the deal. They would have praised Bush for proving that “America never forgets its own” and praised his strength as a leader. Would the left have raised an outcry in that same situation similar to what the Teapublicans have done? I honestly don’t believe they would have.

We are politicizing everything these days and everything has become if you will excuse the expression, black or white. As in when you’re on the right, everything that Obama does is black and everything that opposes his actions (or inactions) is white. The same cannot be said of the left who are as likely to criticize the president in many cases as praise him.

I don’t think President Obama should have signed the NDAA of 2014. I think he should have sent it back and reminded Congress that in order for a President to be effective, he needs to be able to act decisively when a situation calls for it. However, once he signed the law he should have adhered to it. While I agree that the safety and well-being of our soldiers takes precedence, the President should be censured nonetheless for failing to give Congress notice that he intended to exchange those five prisoners. Certainly, the administration was aware that the Taliban was insisting on those five; in fact, portions of the story broke in mainstream publications including the Wall Street Journal late last year before negotiations broke down. Congress could have been notified that the potential that these prisoners might be exchanged for an American prisoner of war and that when the exchange took place it would of necessity be without a whole lot of time for notification. That would have satisfied the law and if the President so chose, he could have also mandated that criminal charges be leveled against any member of Congress or their staff who leaked the information to the media as it might endanger the life of the American soldier in captivity.

I also find senators who grandstand about “not receiving information” about the situation and call a press conference to complain about it – while skipping a briefing session designed to give them information in order to call that press conference – reprehensible. I’m looking at you, Senator McCain. And while we’re at it, is there some kind of competition for King of Hypocritical Politicians that you’re trying to win? Because you’ve been contradicting your own statements regarding not only the Bergdahl situation but things like gun violence and the VA scandal as well. Try to remember that the things you say are pretty much recorded non-stop – so rather than parroting the party line, try sticking to your guns. However, in fairness, you have worked with Bernie Sanders in getting a bill written that might actually help veterans so I will give credit where it is due.

Getting back on point however, let’s just remember a few things – the soldier we’re talking about is an American citizen who volunteered to go and serve his country. Whether he was the worst soldier ever or a Medal of Honor winner, his country still owes him a debt and the least we can do is everything in our power to bring him home alive. If Bergdahl violated his oath, if he walked away from his post, let him suffer the consequences of it but let those consequences be determined by a military tribunal, not a politician or political commentator to leave him with the Taliban to rot. That is a distinctly un-American thing to do.

Free the Internet

Free the Internet

The Internet can be a pain in the ass. I tend to think of it as an adolescent, like a six year old who is still trying to figure things out. Making it profitable was one of the big things in the last decade when revenues were scarce and mainly came from advertisements which over the years have become more intrusive and more obnoxious. These days, we use the Internet for a significant amount of our purchasing, enough so that it has become a viable tool for most of us. In fact, a real argument can be made that the Internet is driving our economy these days.

We also use it for recreation and information gathering. We use it for socializing. We use it for expressing our opinion, and for posting selfies. We figure out what restaurants in town are getting the best reviews on Yelp, where the best hotel and airfares are on Kayak, what deadly diseases our symptoms best fit on WebMD. We look for discounts on Groupon, stream movies on Netflix, arrange get-togethers on Facebook. We figure out what our friends are up to on Pinterest, do our shoe shopping on Zappos, look up our family trees on Ancestry and check out what our favorite celebrities are saying on Twitter. All of these actions have varying degrees of importance. The most important thing when it comes to the Internet however is Net Neutrality.

You’ve probably heard the term bandied about and some may wonder what it means. The term originated in 2003 with Columbia University professor Tim Wu as an extension to the existing concept of a common carrier. Essentially it means that Internet Service Providers or governments treat all data equally without discriminating against user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment and/or modes of communication. It is considered a crucial component of an open internet in which all users have equal and unfettered access to all sites.

This past April 23, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in a reversal of their previous position supporting net neutrality had been reported to be considering to allow new regulations that will allow content providers to use a faster track to send content which will in essence create a two-tiered system of access. What this would mean to users is that sites that use this faster track will only be available at an additional charge. That means that you will not only pay your ISP for Internet access, you’ll also pay additional charges if you want to use the more popular sites.

This will undoubtedly lead to tier pricing much like cable and satellite television services use, with a “basic Net” access but if you want to access to, say, news sites like The New York Times, Digg, MSNBC, Fox News and CNN, you pay an additional $5 a month, while if you want to use video-streaming sites like Hulu, Netflix, or HBO you’ll pay an additional $20 per month. Interested in social networking on Facebook, Twitter or Match.com? That’ll be $15 every month.

I have no objection to allowing ISPs to be profitable, nor do I think it’s necessarily a bad thing to allow the most popular content providers to allow their services to be directed at people most likely to use them. After all, there was no hue and cry when cable operators began the current pricing structure that is pretty much universal these days.

But cable and satellite systems are a different animal than the Internet. Giving the content providers who can afford it more speed and clearer pathways is preferential treatment. It creates a situation similar to that in the early 20th century when large companies who needed to transport their goods via railway managed to negotiate favorable rates, allowing them to charge much less for their product and price the competition out of the market. John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil was notorious for this; eventually his trust got broken up because of his tactics which didn’t allow for fair competition.

So why is this important? Other than raising prices and limiting access to certain sites, why should we care? Well, look at who is going to profit from this – the cable providers who these days control most of the access to the Internet. Folks like Time Warner, Cox Cable, Verizon and Bright House. While to this point they have claimed loudly that they have no intention of charging customers extra for these faster access sites, that doesn’t ring true. Why would any company deny itself an opportunity for additional profit? What makes this shadier is that the Chairman of the FCC is Tom Wheeler – who previously ran the lobby for the Cable Industry. Think he’s looking out for the consumer, or for those who used to pay his salary? Even those large companies who would have that faster access – folks like Netflix and Amazon – have objected to this scheme.

In that sense, the Internet is similar; what net neutrality proponents are fighting for is fair access.  As a content provider myself, I don’t want to see anyone charged for the right to access my blog and I wouldn’t accept money from such charges even if that were an option; after all, the whole point of expressing myself in this manner is that anyone can read it and then either agree or disagree. Blogs like this are the editorial columns of the global newspaper that the Internet is..

And the Internet does fulfill the function that the newspapers once did; we get most of our information from the Net. We find sales and print out coupons from the Net. We check out the classified ads (i.e. Craigslist) and read net comics. Sure, you couldn’t play video games in newspapers nor watch video clips of news events or of cute kittens. There are no selfies in newspapers nor have we ever done any chatting through our newspaper (although we did because of our newspaper – different era) but the basic comparison is sound.

How much freedom we have on the Net in the coming decades is going to be decided in the next couple of years. We have the responsibility to be vigilant and make sure that bureaucrats and corporate and political interests don’t muddy up the waters of the clean and cool stream of information that is the Internet. We don’t want a Net like China’s which is heavily censored, nor do we want one that is controlled strictly by money and political influence. This is OUR Internet and the fight to keep it ours is just beginning. The good news is that you can contribute your voice right now. The FCC is seeking public opinion about this issue and you can state yours here through June 27. However, be patient; a recent comedy sketch by John Oliver on his HBO show Last Night Tonight inviting people to troll the FCC comments site has resulted in a slow down in service. Nonetheless if you can get in, get in. It’s important that your voice be heard.

Mars

Mars

There is a popular relationship book from a couple of decades ago called Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus which was written by John Gray, a relationship expert. While some of his ideas were and are controversial, there is some merit in some of his basic ideas – that men and women have very different thought processes and ways of handling stressful situations, so different that they might well be from other planets and that our inability to at least understand the opposite sex is the foundation of a lot of the clashes that occur within relationships.

In 2014, that lack of understanding has made its way into the political arena. Much talk has been going on about the “war on women” being undertaken by Republican legislators, particularly those affiliated with the Tea Party. Certainly there is a war on reproductive rights. While some Republicans are beginning to realize that gay marriage is a war they can’t win, they continue to carry the flag for pro-life and anti-abortion causes.

While Roe vs. Wade remains in full vigor, Republican think tanks and lawmakers have been finding legislative ways around that landmark decision and some have worked so well that legalized abortion is endangered in some places. Rather than attack abortion itself, they are going after the places that provide them. Take Texas, for example.

In 2013 the Republican dominated legislature of the Lone Star state enacted draconian legislation that essentially made it nearly impossible for abortion clinics to operate. The new laws stipulate that clinic doctors must have admitting privileges at a local hospital (defined as being within 30 miles of the clinic). That would be fine and dandy if a), it were medically necessary and b), if hospitals were willing to grant those privileges. As many progressive activists foresaw, the inability of many clinics to get those privileges (since Texas hospitals, not wishing to be affiliated in any way with abortion clinics, chose to refuse to grant those necessary privileges) which forced a pretty significant number of those clinics to close.

When the law was enacted there were 44 clinics providing abortions and other reproductive health services to women in the state of Texas. At present there are less than 20. When the second part of the bill begins in September – which requires abortion clinics to have an ambulatory surgical center which most do not it is believed that there will only be six clinics in the entire state able to perform abortions. Six.

As you might expect, things are looking grim for Texas women. Many are resorting to self-inducing through herbal remedies or with vaginal insertions. It is 1962 all over again in Texas – and soon will be in other states that are looking to enact Texas-style legislation. While I’m unaware of any women having died as a result of a back alley abortion in Texas or complications from induced miscarriages, I do believe that sooner rather than later some poor desperate woman is going to die because she couldn’t get the abortion she wanted and needed. And that is blood on the hands of Governor Rick Perry and the mostly male Republican-dominated Texas legislature. This is why Wendy Davis heroically filibustered the despicable attempt to cram this despicable bill into law at the last minute during a special legislative session.

Many raise the flag of the sanctity of life and wave it fiercely as they defend their support of Texas Senate Bill 5 but that’s absolute crap. It’s a lie. These same conservatives who scream “sanctity of life” when it comes to abortions have no compunction to executing criminals in the state with the greatest number of executions in this century, nor are they concerned with the sanctity of life when they resist stricter and more detailed background checks for gun sales. If they cared so much about the sanctity of life, they’d be against capital punishment and private ownership of guns. They’d also be pacifists. I’m fairly sure that most of these legislators are for none of those things.

The problem is that these legislators in Texas and other states where they seek to make it harder to get abortions are only making it impossible to get medically supervised and safer abortions. They aren’t reducing the number of women who will want them, and that’s really what they’re after – to control our own sexuality. The Bible-thumpers who make up the majority of the Pro-Life movement have this absurd and naive notion that by taking abortion out of the picture, people will stop having sex. What they really want is to enforce their own religious beliefs on everyone else.

That’s what it boils down to. Yes, the war on women is largely a religious war. The fact that the ERA has never been passed, ensuring equal pay for comparable work between women and men, is also a function of the Biblical view that women are inferior to men and are meant to serve men. Talk about being from an entirely different planet.

These anti-abortion laws are abominable and must be stopped and those that have passed must be repealed. If one woman dies because she is unable to get the care she needs when making the decision to terminate a pregnancy it is one woman too many. For a party that claims to be all about free market solutions and against government interference in commerce and the lives of its citizens, they are making a mockery of their own platform. What are these laws but government interference into the businesses that provide these services, and interference in the lives of women seeking to terminate an unwanted pregnancy? It has already been determined that women have the right to control what happens to their own bodies; this is political chicanery circumventing that right.

Yes, men are definitely from Mars. Who else but followers of the God of War could enact legislation this reprehensible, this invasive? This is war and when there is war between the sexes, as Joe Jackson put it so eloquently, there will be no people left.