Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Conservatism and cowardice go hand in hand.

Wow, it's been a very long time since I used this blog, hasn't it?

So, today I saw a friend of mine repost on Facebook a status which began by saying it was time for liberals to begin some "real talk" about Islam, lest we "give up the issue to conservatives."

I did not respond well to this, as you might guess. "Real talk about X" is a long-time dog-whistle for, "I want to say something bigoted about X group, but I don't want to look like a bigot, so I'm going to present my prejudices as common sense." And I responded to the status, saying, more or less, "What you're saying is, liberals need to agree with conservatives in hating and fearing Muslims." This triggered an exchange with the original status poster until my friend yanked his repost and stopped the exchange.

That said, there were several points that merit response.

First, on the original poster's claim that his "real talk" was not about hating and fearing Muslims; bullshit. The whole point of his original post is that liberals are silent about Islam and terrorism and that "real talk" is necessary, but has been censored by the left. Well, since the general liberal position on Islamic terrorism is that we need to dismantle the terrorist organizations that carry out attacks without blaming an entire religion for the crimes of fewer than one percent of its adherents, the "real talk" that is being censored is almost certainly the conservative view: "Islam is evil, Muslims are evil, and we need to punish Muslims regardless of their individual roles in anything at all."

Second: do you know how this person said this alternative view was being censored? "People are afraid to speak the truth because they'll be called racists."

Uh huh. So you believe something strongly, but won't say anything because you're afraid someone will call you a name? You think that, when someone holds an opinion and says it openly, that act by itself is censorship against anyone who differs?


I can't count how many names I've been called in online discussions about this and that: communist, socialist, statist, traitor, idiot, asshole, sheep, shithead, and worse and worse. I won't pretend I don't care about some of those labels, but I've certainly never let them even slow me down from expressing my opinion and arguing my position on anything and everything. I've certainly never felt censored because of namecalling. No epithet posted on the Internet has yet resulted in my loss of access to the Internet, my arrest or imprisonment, or my being sued or fined for my beliefs.

Your opinion, whatever it is, cannot force my silence; and my opinion cannot force your silence.

Third, and finally: if you're afraid that speaking your opinion on X might make you seem like a bigot, it might just be because you ARE being a bigot. If you're self-censoring yourself on that grounds, then you need to stop and carefully re-examine your beliefs and why you hold them. Hint: if you are classifying a group of 1.5 billion people as if they are all identical and interchangable, that's bigotry. If you believe that membership in any arbitrary group is sufficient cause to consider a person evil or criminal, with no further evidence, that's bigotry. And if your opinions sound anything like, "All X are dangerous," or, "We can't allow X into our country because they'll destroy us all," then guess what? That opinion is based on hate, fear, and prejudice- in other words, bigotry.

And guess what? That puts you side by side with the likes of ISIL, whose entire belief system is built on bigotry and anti-liberalism. It is the nature of liberals to disagree, but to accept the presence and equal rights of those who disagree with them. It is the nature of conservatives, and especially religious fundamentalist conservatives, to attack all who disagree with them and seek to drive them out or destroy them outright.

Because liberals are brave enough to accept that not everyone is alike, and that it is possible to be different or strange and not be hostile. Conservatives, on the other hand, are scared livid of anything different or strange, and hate, fear and hold in contempt all that is different from themselves.

And yet, while liberals defend their positions even when attacked and beaten, conservatives are such shrinking violets that they apparently silence themselves for fear that they might be called by the nasty, horrible name of "racist."

I suspect that's why Trump is doing so well among conservatives: with every bigoted and ignorant thing he spews from his mouth on the campaign trail, he's saying the things conservatives are too cowardly to admit they still believe. And he gets away with it.

Trump is "real talk."

And, ironically, Trump has pledged that the first thing he'll do when he becomes president is to make it illegal for anybody to criticize him. He's already put it into the contracts he makes his volunteers sign; anyone who works for him is never again allowed to say anything bad at all about Donald Trump, ever, for the rest of his or her life, on pain of lawsuit.

Because even Donald Trump is too cowardly to live in a society where other people don't agree with him on absolutely everything. Instead, while Bernie Sanders and even Hillary Clinton listen to their protesters and sit down with them and discuss their views, Trump silences them, then encourages his followers to beat them into submission and promises to pay the legal costs. 

Just as ISIL is too cowardly to live in a world where any religion other than their unique and ultra-fundamentalist sect of Islam exists. Instead they kill everyone who doesn't follow their faith in their exact way.

What happened in Brussels today is the act of an organization of cowards. And it is their devout hope that their acts of murder will empower our cowards here to respond in kind, to trigger the war of religious extermination they desperately desire.

I refuse to be a coward, and I refuse to be silent while cowards call for "real talk" as a way to veil their prejudices and fears in a haze of respectability.

The religion of Islam has many different sects and subdivisions, just as Christianity, Judaism, and Buddhism do. The crimes of one particular group of Muslims lie on the head of members of that group and no one else. Any policy which treats all members of a group as culpable for the crimes of a small group of individuals, without regard to any facts on an individual basis, is injustice to those affected. And no matter how much you hate or fear a group, for whatever reasons, such policy remains now and forever unjust.

That's not "real talk." That's just truth.

And if you disagree, have the courage of your convictions and say so- and don't fear whatever names I or anyone else might call you.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

I Hear Somebody Whistling Dixie... Seriously

I told someone- maybe it was you who read- that I fear an attempt at armed revolt sometime in my lifetime, and that not far off. When it comes I believe the government will win, but in the process most of our remaining liberties will be destroyed forever, or at least for the remainder of my lifetime. Those liberties will include privacy, free speech, free assembly, protection against unwarranted search and seizure, and the right to refuse to testify against oneself.

I do NOT believe the armed revolt will be justified. It will be led by demagogues who seek to retain certain privileges, such as the supremacy of their religion, their race, and their social and economic class. It will be fought by people who hate the very idea of government and who think they will prosper once namby-pamby regulations and laws are abolished once and for all. And it will kill hundreds of thousands of people who wanted nothing more than to be let alone by both sides to improve their own lot as much as they can.

Those of you who scoff and say, "Oh, that Overstreet, he's just a radical- pay him no mind," please read the following stories and tell me how delusional you really think I am...

29% of Americans Think Armed Rebellion Might Soon Be Necessary

Thousands of Paranoid Libertarian Gun Nuts Planning to March on D.C. With Loaded Weapons

Texas House Approves 12 Firearms Bills To Put More Guns In Classrooms And Defy Federal Law

South Carolina House passes nullification bill to make Obamacare a crime

Tea Party-Type Militia Leader’s Domestic Terror Plot Thwarted by Authorities

Civil war is coming, folks. And conservatives will be the ones pushing the bayonet into YOUR back, forcing you up against the guns of YOUR government.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

On the Practical Meaning of Independence

There is a truly odious person in Texas politics named Michael Quinn Sullivan. He's a former aide to Ron Paul whose apparent end goal is a world where we are all "liberated" from the horrible evil which is government, at which point the free market will take care of us all, in a totally non-coercive way. In order to achieve this goal, he mass-emails people, usually with deceptive and misleading claims about state-level government waste. You can think of him as Texas's state-level version of Grover Norquist.

And, for whatever reason, I'm on his mailing list.

Today I got fed up after reading through his rant about how conservatives need to weed out the RINOs who might be weak-willed enough to support Medicaid expansion (which what we really need, Sullivan says, is to abolish it and all other programs like it completely). I replied to an email of his for the first time, saying simply:

"You use a lot of words just to say, 'fuck the poor.'"

After sending the message, though, I thought a bit about the passage that annoyed me the most in his exhortations to advance the destruction of small-d democratic government:

"Proving that Orwellian doublespeak isn’t confined to literature, the anti-responsibility/anti-liberty crowd is equating expansive government programs to independence. Precisely how 'independence' is increased by shackling more and more people to bureaucratic-run health care is anyone’s guess."

Fine. To those conservatives who shout about "independence" and "shackles," here's my answer.

How independent is a worker who dares not quit their job because they are paid too little for their work?

How independent is a worker who tolerates abuse, broken promises and contracts, sexual harrassment, injury and worse because they are only one paycheck away from being homeless?

How independent is a worker for whom any illness may mean bankruptcy, loss of home, loss of family, and permanent poverty, simply because they cannot afford health care?

How independent is a worker, when their employer can fire them for having a different religion, for voting the wrong way, or for asking for a raise?

In practical terms, the poor worker isn't independent at all. The poor worker lives in quiet terror and misery, because the kind of employer who pays poverty wages to the poor wants to keep them that way.

The abusive employer wants to keep the poor person from having any alternative to health care besides whatever minimal emergency-only policy they might offer after two years of steady employment.

The abusive employer wants to keep the poor person from building any financial reserve which would allow them to quit if the employer's shifting work schedules, unpaid overtime, hazardous work environment, and other abuses of power become too great to bear.

The abusive employer wants to control every aspect of the employee's life- family, religion, politics- so that the employer can wring the maximum amount of profit and power from the employee's labor.

The abusive employer wants to prevent unions and any other form of collective bargaining from gaining any power, so that he can continue these practices forever.

In short, the abusive employer wants to be able to treat his employees like slaves- and to keep them powerless to do anything about it.

And, since the abusive employer has money and the employees don't, the employer can pay for people like Michael Quinn Sullivan to ensure that the employees have no protection from the employer, no alternative to the employer, no freedom from the employer.

And the vast majority of corporations and businesses are abusive employers.

True independence begins when you can tell your boss to go fuck himself. If you're not able to do that because the only alternative is homelessness, starvation and death, then you are not independent- no matter what slimeballs like Sullivan claim.

Only government can protect the powerless from the powerful- if it's allowed to. When government protects the powerless, we have democracy. When it doesn't, we have a feudal state where the rich lords control the poor serfs with an iron hand.

And Michael Quinn Sullivan is on the side of feudalism.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

A letter to my new Congressman...

I have absolutely zero faith that this will do any good whatsoever.

But I have a new congressman now- Steve Stockman. Yes, that Steve Stockman. I've tried putting this in as conservative and freedom-loving a way as I can, so we'll see if this gets any response.

Feel free to write your own Congressperson, who may be more inclined to the anti-corporate point of view.

The Honorable Representative Mr. Steve Stockman

326 Cannon Office Building

Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Sir;

I write to you today urging your support for House Joint Resolutions 20 and 21, two proposed amendments to the Constitution of the United States to provide for proper regulation of campaign finance and corporate speech.

By the laws and traditions which we live under, I have one vote, just like any other citizen of the United States of the age of eighteen or older. Likewise George Soros, Bill Gates, Sheldon Adelson, Art Pope, and other billionaires each have one vote, the same as you or I. Likewise, under the First Amendment, we are each guaranteed full freedom of conscience- to believe, to say, to print and to make public what we believe without fear of persecution under the law.

Yet thanks to Supreme Court rulings made over the past forty years, and especially in the past five years, any one of the billionaires I just mentioned has a vastly greater control over government than people like myself. In any given year I can afford to donate to political causes no more than perhaps $100. The billionaires, on the other hand, can donate a million dollars, or ten million dollars, or (in Adelson’s case) over one hundred million dollars. This money is spent to influence not just the voters, but also the candidates who are being voted for, making it appear that those candidates, to be blunt, are bought and paid for by the billionaires.

The use of corporations and anonymous donations to political action committees is even more egregious. When I say something, or when I donate to a candidate, it is perforce a public act, and my name and identity are associated with my speech. Corporations and political action committees allow the speakers to remain anonymous. This enables them to advance false and misleading arguments which, if the names of the actual people involved were revealed, would disgrace and shame those people. This anonymity violates the basic principle that rights have responsibilities; just as, as a gun owner, I have the responsibility to use my gun responsibly and with due caution for the safety of others, just so does must a speaker take responsibility for his or her speech.

Corporate abuse of anonymous speech is even more outrageous when one considers the origin of corporations. Corporations were originally instituted by government for the purpose of accomplishing great tasks for the universal good of the people. They were given limited liability under the law in exchange for the social benefits they provided. That purpose has been lost. Today corporations exist for the sole purpose of bringing profit to their shareholders and executives, with no concern for the good of the people; and yet they retain all of the rights and powers of people, with none of the responsibility.

For these reasons I ask you to support the proposed constitutional amendments proposed by the Hon. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts. HJ Res 20 would, if ratified, grant Congress the power to regulate campaign spending, thus ensuring a greater equality of political influence among all Americans. HJ Res 21 would draw clear and distinct differences between the rights of individual human beings (which remain sacrosanct) and corporations (which are creations of the government and not actual people), and grant Congress the power to regulate the rights of corporations to restrict the chronic abuse of their power.

By supporting HJ Res 20 and HJ Res 21 you would take a stand for the freedom and equality of all Americans, rich and poor alike. You would severely reduce the corruption currently endemic in our political system. You would preserve the rights of the individual from abuse by the wealthy few who, under the present system, can buy immunity from their responsibility as American citizens. For these reasons I ask you to lend these amendments your support.

                                                                        Sincerely yours,
                                                                        Kristan Overstreet

Friday, January 25, 2013

Who Needs Republicans When We Have Harry Reid?

So, rather than push through sensible reforms which would put the onus on filibustering minorities to maintain the filibuster (rather than the current burden on the majority to break it), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid accepted a bipartisan deal with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell that would basically rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic- allow the opposition to submit amendments to any bill, regardless of topic, speed up votes for Senate-House conference committees on bills... but do absolutely nothing to stop Republican abuse of the filibuster.

How big a victory was this for Republicans, and how big a defeat for liberals? McConnell's already fund-raising on it:

"Mitch McConnell saved the ability of Republicans to filibuster any bill at 60 votes. Period. … We all owe Leader McConnell a debt of gratitude today."

But wait- it turns out the victory is even bigger than that.

A federal appeals court today ruled not only that Obama's three recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board were invalid not only because the Senate was not recessed (it was in a pro forma session with no business and only one or two Senators in attendance)... but because the president, the conservative justices ruled, does not have power to recess-appoint anybody unless the vacancy first occurs while the Senate is in recess.

"Allowing the President to define the scope of his own appointments power would eviscerate the Constitution's separation of powers," wrote Judge David Sentelle for the court majority. "An interpretation of 'the Recess' that permits the President to decide when the Senate is in recess would demolish the checks and balances inherent in the advice-and-consent requirement, giving the President free rein to appoint his desired nominees at any time he pleases, whether that time be a weekend, lunch, or even when the Senate is in session and he is merely displeased with its inaction. This cannot be the law."

This is a big issue because Republicans have pledged to never again allow ANYONE to be approved to the National Labor Relations Board- or, for that matter, to head up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The Republicans want to effectively repeal the laws establishing these agencies by preventing them from being able to function- so they're going to stonewall any nominees Obama, or anyone, puts forward.

And Harry Reid is just fine with that, because he wants to preserve the requirement that sixty Senators agree on anything before it can become a law.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is why Democrats continually lose even when they win.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Republicans... Rule, or Ruin

The evil of the Republican Party goes forward.

States with bills in the legislature to prohibit enforcement of federal gun laws and regulation- and to imprison federal agents who attempt to enforce those laws: Utah, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas (thus far).

States with bills in the legislature to change electoral vote distribution from winner-take-all to by Congressional district, with the result that in 2012 Romney would have won more electoral votes in all these states than Obama: Virginia, Michigan, Pennsylvania. North Carolina, Florida, Wisconsin and Ohio Republicans are also considering this legislation. (If you don't understand why this is an evil, low-down scheme to rig elections, Ta-Nehisi Coates has the explanation, with historical context.)

Florida, which currently has exonerated one-third as many people as they have executed since the death penalty was re-instated, has decided the solution is... to give the wrongfully convicted less time to prove it before they die.

And finally, Republicans in New Mexico have introduced a bill that would require women, if they were raped and impregnated by their rapist, to carry the embryo to term or else be prosecuted for the felony of destruction of evidence.

None of this is legitimate political disagreement. All of this is a determination that either Republicans shall control the nation/state/county/city/womb... or else there will be nothing left to control. What Republicans cannot rule or profit from, they destroy.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The "Red Dawn" Psychosis

I remember the early days of the militia movement in the late 1980s and early 1990s- or, rather, I remember the popular response to media coverage of the militias. Here, we were told, were people scared to death of everyone else, people who sought to overthrow any government they didn't approve of, no matter how many people did approve. These people gathered insane arsenals in their homes, usually ill-constructed shacks out in the wilderness, and engaged in standoffs and shoot-outs with federal authorities.

And everyone I knew, liberal and conservative alike, thought they were insane, dangerous, and un-American.

Today the militia movement, in its guise as the Tea Party, have taken over American conservatism. When Obama proposed simple, common-sense measures to regulate certain kinds of guns and their sale, the reaction of mainstream conservatism was universal: rush to the gun store to buy more guns, build up an arsenal, and prepare for the all-too-necessary overthrow of the elected government of the United States.

Think I'm joking? Think I'm exaggerating?

"I think they're gonna wait to see what Obama does, and I've talked with other of my colleagues on what's going on, and there's a general consensus that if he steps over that line that something has to be done. He feels like he's Abraham Lincoln, you know, we're not at civil war," Stockman said. "The line is when you cross from administrating executive orders which deal with his office and pass legislation through executive orders."

That's my Congressman who said that. (I didn't vote for him.)

"...they [guns] are used to defend human life. They are used to defend our property and our families and our faith and our freedom, and they are absolutely essential to living the way God intended for us to live.”

That's a California state elected legislator.

And meantime, in response to Obama's call for a ban on high-capacity magazines and high-power automatic or semi-automatic assault rifles, legislators and governors in at least eight states, including Mississippi, are pushing for laws to nullify federal regulations- even to the point, in some cases, of threatening to imprison any federal agent who seeks to enforce those laws.

And in the meantime a gun manufacturer is proposing a fortress community in which everyone will be required to own and carry an AR-15 military assault rifle, Glenn Beck is pushing forward with his version of Galt Gulch, and at least one Congressman has proposed abolishing all gun regulation altogether. Meanwhile, we had a "Gun Appreciation Day" organized and sponsored by white supremacists, while Matt Drudge, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and their ilk compare Obama to Hitler- "Hitler loved gun control!" (In reality, Hitler inherited a gun ban from the democratic Weimar government and DEREGULATED gun laws- but only for Nazis.)

With this kind of leadership, is it any wonder I'm constantly seeing, in comments on news articles and replies on Twitter, various people pointing out that they need guns to defend themselves from our tyrannical government in Washington?

I was going to offer you some quotes from a Twitter user who responded to Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo, making just that point- and adding that, unlike Shays' Rebellion, the Whiskey Rebellion, and other examples, this time eighty million American gun owners would be on his side. I can tell you my responses, though:
Me: "First, Mr. (name), thanks for admitting you favor the armed overthrow of the United States... Second, subtract THIS particular gun owner from your revolutionary roster. I'm no traitor."

Him: "Not the United States, only our current tyrannical government."

Me: "This government which just happens to be elected by the people?"

It's absolute madness, but what can you do? When someone's in such a paranoid mental state, persuasion simply isn't going to work. The best you can do is publicly rebuke the insanity to discourage others from joining it.

 And it most certainly is madness. Consider the obvious point first: even if you have unfettered access to assault rifles and massive amounts of ammo, there are simple financial limits to your ability to build an arsenal. You are not going to be able to buy, arm and fly your own F-23, for example. There may be thousands of surplus Abrams main line battle tanks sitting in Arizona unused, but you're never going to have the dough to lay your hands on a disarmed one, much less one that's fully operational. Most of all, you're not going to have 400,000 buddies fully organized and coordinated with satellite observation, command and control electronic communications, years and years of combat training and experience, and a single common purpose. Standoffs against the government of the United States never end in anything but victory for the US government, and to believe otherwise is insanity defined.

But what if you could? What if the armed might of the federal government simply stood aside and said, "All right- let's allow you people with political disputes to settle them with bullets. Have fun. We won't get involved at all." What kind of country would we have then?

What kind of freedom would we have, in a nation where every man feared every other? What kind of freedom of speech, when any dissenting viewpoint might lead to a hail of bullets? What kind of community could we build, when no one trusts anyone who is different in any way? When all government is to be hated, feared, and overthrown, how are laws to be made and upheld? How can contracts be entered into freely, without fear of coercion? How can justice be even-handed when the muzzle of a gun rests at the back of the judge's skull?

Yet this is exactly the kind of freedom today's conservatives insist upon- the freedom to be exactly like everyone else, or else be Other. To conform, or to be suspect. To be in, and all the way in, or else to be all the way out.

Such a state of affairs is, of course, part of our heritage. The situation I just described is how most of the South operated since before the American Revolution. Each man or woman belonged to a group. If they stepped outside their group, or into an area their group was not permitted, they were slapped down hard- often fatally, and as often without as with the sanction of law. Everyone agreed to smile and pretend and lie to themselves, but in reality everyone hated and feared everyone who wasn't part of their particular tiny group.

This is why, both during and after slavery, the South has been, and remains, the most un-free part of the United States, with the exception of Mormon Utah- and this only because the early Mormon Church took paranoia and fear to new heights. This is why the current Southern domination of the Republican Party has been disastrous for our country for the last twenty-five years (at least).

And, because they seek a time that was happy for them because they were the strongest and most privileged group of all those mutually hated groups, the rich and powerful men who control conservative thought in the United States- men like Limbaugh, Roger Ailes, and the like- these men seek to return us to those days, when freedom was only a word.

I do not want to live in a society based first, last, and always upon fear and paranoia. I want a society based on trust and empathy- and conservative thought, as it currently stands, can't even conceive of either trait.