i’m dreaming of an orange christmas

Level Orange Christmas that is. Are you alert now? I certainly am, especially since they told us that this is a “true orange” level alert this time. I guess the other alerts were really “level peach”.

I went out to http://www.ready.gov just to see if there was a flashing orange light with some detailed instruction on what part I should perform in the fight. What I found was a website that hasn’t changed much since they first created it. Static web pages usually don’t and that tells you what you need to know about Ready.gov.

This most recent alert gave us some useful and specific detail that will thwart even the most ambitious terrorists. According to CNN: “There are particular concerns about Washington, New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Nevada, a handful of other cities and two rural areas — one in the East and one in the Southwest, officials said.” No doubt if I was a dairy farmer in New Mexico, I’d sharpen my pitch fork and stand a vigilant round the clock watch lest Bin Laden terrorize my milkers.

I’d be inclined to laugh at this stupidity if it were not so insidious. It is hard to know what is more tragic: the slight of hand that gets us to focus on the keystone federal cops and ignore the fact that the borders are still more porous than the US Tax Code, or the false sense of security that undoubtedly victimizes some people.

Or perhaps it is a bigger con game still? People frothing over REALLY ORANGE alerts are probably less likely to notice that the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan is deepening mess. Too cynical? Maybe, but I did a little informal website research as I wrote this post. CNN’s top three stories are related to domestic terrorism and the level orange alert. MSNBC: Two of the top three, with a side bar about Bin Laden. Fox News: both lead stories. At least the Times seemed a little more sane: one headline and another story link.

So much for the daily lead headlines about US deaths in Iraq.

I know a lot of people feel safer now that they are taking their shoes off in airports and the Presidential bunkers have been beefed up. No doubt some of the faux security has helped the economy begin its sluggish rebound. It just all feels very dirty and dishonest to me.

But that is about par for compassionate conservatism.

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why i am no longer a libertarian

Death uniquely focuses the mind. It is a philosophical starting place for me. This will be my second Christmas without my Mother-in-law. She died relatively young (60) and nothing says “shit happens” quite like a premature death.

Lately I’ve seen quite a build-up of shit that just happened.

The recent near universal rough times experienced by my friends and family have made a big impression. The economic number propaganda lies. Middle class unemployment and under-employment is rampant. Middle class savings are being crushed by rising medical expenses. While our “leaders” don’t want to call it a crisis, I don’t know what else you call it when so many hard-working Americans can’t afford good health care anymore. What ever the indicators say, the ones that count to real people are all down.

It was a hard lesson for a die-hard capitalist: unfettered capitalism stinks.

If I had not already learned this lesson, I am certain that the stampede of IT jobs to India would’ve convinced me. Nothing like something hitting your own pocket book to grab your attention. While hard work and grit are prerequisites to prosperity, it doesn’t always lead to riches or even middle class American bliss. Like Death and Illness, a lot of this stuff is just outside of our ability to control or even prepare for effectively.

Believe it or not, I’m just now figuring this stuff out. I’m a slow learner.

By temperament, I’m still a capitalist. Globalization is inevitable in my view, and we have to deal with those pressures sooner or later. But just like the situation with NAFTA, it seems like the resulting social turmoil doesn’t help anybody. OK maybe it helps the super rich and has the positive effect of raising the fortunes of other nations, but it doesn’t do much for the bottom 99 percent of Americans.

I worry as the gulf between the haves and have-nots widens. Ultimately the most dangerous group may turn out to be the used-to-haves. I sense a growing fundamental dissatisfaction and while I don’t think we are on the cusp of a violent outburst, I no longer discount it completely. At the rate we are gutting the middle class, I think we could see huge shifts in American attitudes in the very near term.

And I haven’t even touched on how the working poor are getting screwed.

My new political credo would make for an odd political animal: libertarian progressivism. All the capitalism we can stand and no more. I originally converted to libertarianism primarily out of disgust over the power elite and the resulting distrust of all things from inside the DC Beltway. I still don’t trust them, but as a friend of mine says, the government is the only shot most of us have for a break.

Our ruling elite is determined to give us a lot of capitalism, smug in their knowledge that we are all masters of our own destinies. Smug just like I was back-when.

That death thing can really get your attention.

updating the playbook

I am getting old. I think the most surprising thing about the aging process for me has been how many of my philosophies of life have evolved. Though my core beliefs have not changed in any substantial way, my application of those beliefs to the world around me have changed substantially if not radically in some ways.

This season of the year, there are a lot of hands out. The kettle bearers are everywhere and I was once a veteran of scooting past those jingling bells without making eye contact.

Kettle avoidance is very similar to avoiding street beggars. You have the basic go route where you dash straight up the opposite sideline as fast as you can. There is the option play where you walk quickly past while focusing your attention downfield. And of course there is my favorite, the screen, where you drop back behind a wall of shoppers, themselves retreating back from the kettle and scoot straight out to the parking lot. Every so often you get sacked and have to toss a buck into the kettle. Or at least that was my old playbook.

It isn’t so much being old, as it is humbled by experience, but now I seldom pass a kettle or a beggar without giving something. I worry far less these days about being scammed by someone who will spend my alms on booze. That used to worry me a lot for some reason, but I don’t know if I even care about what this guy in a wheel chair does with the money I give to him every time I see him: he has no legs.

In this season of the celebration of the birth of Jesus, such deliberation over the worthiness of alms-seekers seems inappropriate anyway. Since Jesus didn’t do much picking and choosing, I don’t think I should either.

Besides, I’ve got a lot of lost time to make up for.

musings on howard dean

By the close of September 2001, I had begun to put the shock of the 11th day of that month behind me. It occurred to me then, as it did to many Americans, that out of this tragedy we might be able to rebuild more than the mere structures of steel and glass: We might be able to rebuild the dream which once was America.

Our ruling class wasted no time in grounding my flight of fancy. While on September 12th, the attention of America was riveted to public matters with a breadth and depth which we had not seen in over a generation, the political class was hard at work transforming our national unity into political capital. And now, a mere two years post 9-11, I find myself as disenfranchised and disillusioned as I was on September 10th.

It may be naive optimism to suggest that the window of opportunity has not yet entirely passed. Indeed, there has been little to suggest to those of us paying attention that anything of substance will change as a result of recent trials. But the optimist in me continues to hope for the emergence of leadership with character.

Which brings me to what prompted me to start this blog on this particular day: the Howard Dean campaign.

You see I don’t vote. Or at least, not anymore: I once was a faithful red, white and blue blooded American who pulled the lever faithfully. I’m a little slow, but I finally figured out that our two parties, that hold themselves out as some sort of patriotic structure right up there with Congress and the National Football League, are corrupt beyond redemption.

Grassroots is good and that reason, along with the excitement of some friends, kept me curious about Howard Dean. I have been longing for someone of stature to arise to the occasion and transform American politics by taking it out of the hands our ruling parties. I certainly don’t agree with Dean on many, many things, but I wondered if maybe Dean would be the One. I was pretty much dismissing him at a practical level given he has hitched himself to the Democratic party, but I still had a little faint vestige of hope.

The hope was of course shattered by the endorsement of Dean’s candidacy by none other than Al Gore. Anyone other than me hear the sounds of the withering of the grass roots?

If you don’t hear it, just give it time. And do yourself a favor and read the recent Wired (12.01) story on the campaign. In there they quote Dean, “If I give a speech and the blog people don’t like it, next time I change the speech.”

Lovely. Another soulless politician.

Perhaps more telling was a statement in the story that though not attributed to the campaign, sounds about right for things as they stand in the USA: “But for today, the Internet remains the key engine of Dean’s election bid and he has yet to merge his grassroots movement with the traditional Democratic power structure.”

Maybe that sound isn’t the withering of the grass roots. Maybe it is a DNC weed whacker.