Sunday, October 01, 2006

Clock is ticking...

Often I heard that the average life-span of a nation is about 200 years. Obviously this is a problematic formulation since the idea of nation itself is only a couple hundred years old. Nevertheless, the idea that the U.S.A. has reached a precipitous middle-age is not too far-fetched when you consider how radically the state of our nation has changed in just the last quarter century.

Americans are certainly myopic about the relative health of our nation; 200 years of the same government is laudable, but not as impressive as some of the more stable geopolitical organizations around. Hereditary monarchies the world over could do two centuries with their eyes shut.

A recent article in the New York Times illustrates how close we could be to constructing our own demise through political apathy:
By the oldest trick in the political book — the whipping up of a panic, in which any dissenting voice could be dismissed as “soft” or even “traitorous” — powers had been ceded by the people that would never be returned. Pompey stayed in the Middle East for six years, establishing puppet regimes throughout the region, and turning himself into the richest man in the empire...

Those of us who are not Americans can only look on in wonder at the similar ease with which the ancient rights and liberties of the individual are being surrendered in the United States in the wake of 9/11. The vote by the Senate on Thursday to suspend the right of habeas corpus for terrorism detainees, denying them their right to challenge their detention in court; the careful wording about torture, which forbids only the inducement of “serious” physical and mental suffering to obtain information; the admissibility of evidence obtained in the United States without a search warrant; the licensing of the president to declare a legal resident of the United States an enemy combatant — all this represents an historic shift in the balance of power between the citizen and the executive.

There are few checks to the increasingly disproportionate role of federal government. The blame for the shift does not rest entirely with Republicans either, since the Democratic Party is beholden to the same big-money donors. Further, the apparatus for change within the Democratic Party is lacking because efforts to produce the most "viable" candidate have marginalized anti-abortion, pacifist, and socialist secotrs of the party.

The mid-term elections next Tuesday will undoubtedly reflect the fact that Americans understand the threat to the sovreignity of the electorate, but I don't know that enough can be undone to regain our democratic birthright. One option might be to follow the lead of Colorado and give greater access to private citizens to write legislation.

I don't have a pithy ending for this observation. I invite comments to round out this discussion...

Tunnelling its way into a property near you...

WIth Governor Rick Perry firmly entrenched for the forseeable future, the Trans-Texas Corridor is considered to be a lock. This was a divisive issue in the 2006 gubenatorial campaign which had the effect of pushing some long-time Republican supporters into the Libertarian camp.

This is a case of eminent domain on a massive scale and could be a huge loss in our ever-eroding rights. What Perry orignally touted as a free trade, and Texas Transportation boon is looking more and more like a concession to the new politics of multi-national corporation$. Though Perry remains in office and the deals already in place with Cintra-Zachry are likely to go forward, the TTC is bound for a rocky road with protests from increasingly active, and increasingly populist rural Texans.

The transportation engineers with whom I have contact make no bones about the fact that a project of this size is needed to accomodate our transportation needs. I wonder though, if we've done enough "outside-the-box" thinking on this project. Besides the rural land grabs, another big concern with TTC in urban areas is where are you going to put a ten-lane highway? Enter the Tunnel Boring Machine. Perhaps even one like this; a similar one is being used to put a commercial transportation artery through the Swiss Alps. This worm-like tunnel factory drills, reinforces and builds a water-tight concrete wall as it passes below the surface, leaving all of that valuable surface space for personal property ownership.

In Our Image

I saw the phrase "Free Hawaii" on a bumper sticker this past July while in Honolulu for the 2006 AVMA Converence. Once back at work, I googled the phrase and discovered that I had unwittingly participated in the ongoing plunder of island culture.

In discussion with office mates, we determined thatHawaii and Puerto Rico were the last visible vestiges of Manifest Destiny, but not the end of that problematic worldview. I suggested that the problem is reified in our hegemonic imposition by force (in Afghanistan, Iraq) and economics (all over the globe).

The argument reminds me of this. Which also reminds me of this.

What do you think?

Working out the Kink(y)s

Texas gubenatorial candidate Kinky Friedman visited the Texas A&M University campus last Wednesday afternoon. I've been loosely following Kinky's candidacy since he announced last year, and specifically didn't vote in the primary elections so that I could sign his petition to be placed on the ballot (though I never got a chance to actually sign on), more because I am convinced that the two-party system is broken than his merits as a candidate. In fact, I continued to hear rumblings into late summer that Kinky's run was a huge joke.

Joke or not, I'd been impressed with Kinky's no-nonsense answers to most questions, but hadn't made a decision to support him until Chris Bell's campaign sent a message targeted to Kinky supporters telling them to not waste their votes.

More recently, however, Kinky has been in the news for his indelicate references to race. His campaign released a damage control statement in response to the "Negro talking to himself" comment, but refused to back off of Kinky's lumping all Katrina refugees together as criminals until very recently (a quick search of his site only shows these comments in footnotes...looks as though Kinky's position statements on the issue have disappeared). During his visit to TAMU, Kinky made a joke that it didn't seem to be a fair trade that Louisiana arrested Willie Nelson in exchange for our taking in all of their criminals. Kinky did refer to the Katrina crime issue during the recent sham of a gubenatorial debate. In the debate, Kinky also defended his use of the word "Negro" as endearing by noting that he was raised by a black woman. As much as I can understand generational differences, I am still uncomfortable with his brazen indifference to the lingering specter of racial power difference. Perhaps it's just part of his non-politico schtick.

Kinky's comment in support of his non-politico status during his visit at TAMU just didn't ring true. He mentioned that the difference between himself and Perry is that he knows the diner waitress' name (apparently indicating that he is a man of the people, someone who understands local needs). Apparently this didn't apply to the rule of uncovering in the MSC out of the respect for Aggies who have died in combat (yes, I did ask him through his manager).

The bottom line is that while I did give financial support to Kinky's campaign early on, I'm not sure that I will vote for him...though I do think we need to knock out the two-party monopoly of our political system. And I'm certainly not going to campaign for him.

I did enjoy listening to Jesse Ventura..I think I could support his candidacy...