Wednesday, October 14, 2015

A Radical Proposal For Russia (And Reflections On Mom)

So, yesterday morning, my mother finally passed away from Alzheimer's disease - something no human being should ever have to endure. And consequently I find myself mulling things over, taking some time off from work, and reassessing a lot of things. Who wouldn't? And perhaps that's the sort of thing that causes me to write a blog post, not about my own mother, but about (oddly enough) foreign policy. Not that my mother doesn't deserve a write-up; believe me, she's going to get a big one, and not on something so deliberately tainted as this blog of mine. Rather, everything that she went through brings into focus how much I just plain see things differently than everybody else, and probably a lot clearer.

I could complain about how unintentionally condescending people have been, telling me to do this or that to help care for her - as if somehow she were somehow still there after her brain had gone. Or I could do a rant about how people actually dared to speak to me of spiritual matters in regards to her soul being at peace, as if somehow I didn't know far more about the subject than they do. Hell, I could decide to go off about how absurd it is for our culture to object to euthanasia in the face of such travesties as Alzheimer's. Certainly, were I to be diagnosed with the disease, I would join the Hemlock Society the very next day. Is the world really filled with that many imbeciles?

Then again, I really think I shouldn't be so cavalier. It's not like I don't suffer from my own delusions regarding what my mom went through. After all, I understood on an intellectual level that my mother's brain was gone long before her body was, and yet I scolded numerous hospital doctors for talking about her when she was right there in the room with us - people of science; people like me. They knew far better than I did how dementia worked, and yet I presumed to argue with them on their own turf! How arrogant of me! I understood perfectly well that science said she wasn't really there. But damn it all, that was my mother's face looking at me! I wanted to scream, "Couldn't we at least try to be polite and talk about her outside in the hallway?"

I guess I'm an imbecile too, sometimes.

No, I have my non-intellectual, emotionally driven moments, just like everybody else. So I'm not justified in going off on other people acting human in front of me. I therefore shrug it off when people say that they're "praying for me," telling me that mom's "happier now," or saying any of the other unintentionally insulting shit that goes along with learning someone has had a death in the family. They're not being stupid. They're just being human. Ultimately, I'm only human, too.

Which brings me, jarringly, to Russia.

Why? Well, the subject of Russia intervening in Syria has been something I've been pondering for quite some time. But when your mother dies and you take time off from work, one of the consequences is that you find yourself watching the first Democratic party presidential debate on CNN, and you see that nobody on the stage, not even Hillary Clinton, has as effective a plan for dealing with Russia's incursion into Syria.

And I do.

When my mom was first diagnosed with Alzheimer's, I moved back home, and the Obama economic recovery was being hampered by Republicans, and thus moving too slowly to have caught up with the accounting trade. Hence, I found myself living at home, in my parents' basement, turning 40, making very little money, and having very little prospects of pulling myself out of that hole anytime soon.

So I started writing. Honestly, what the hell else are you going to do in that situation?

And now, at my mother's death, I am again driven to catharsis, and find myself sharing the brilliant thoughts I had during the Dem-Debate. Hence, I'm sharing them. (Thanks again, mom.)

So why would Russia be so anxious to get involved in Syria? As is often the case, it comes down to money and resources. Syria is one of the few nations willing to trade with Russia in the wake of the crisis in Ukraine. While other nations are slapping sanctions on Putin, Syria is willing to provide much-needed oil - below market. Russia depends heavily upon oil exports because it is one of the few resources that gets around trade sanctions, and the Syrian oil fields would go a long way to sustaining the Russian economy. When trade sanctions are lifted on Iran, Russia will be able to compete for Iranian oil, but this additional resource will also flood the market, driving oil prices down. With lower oil prices, one of the only commodities left to Russia for export will become a lot less profitable.

So! Into Syria Putin goes! His goal? Well, he says there are only two options: The Assad regime, or ISIL. He sides with Assad, and is currently trying to rescue his rule from rebellious factions which seek to oust him.

But oddly, he isn't bombing ISIL targets just yet. Why? Well, he doesn't want an incident between Russian and American planes, to be sure. But also, ISIL sustains itself primarily from oil sold on the black market at a discount.

And Russia is undoubtedly a primary buyer!

So, what Putin really wants is the oil. He will eventually target ISIL. But he'll seize the oil wells before he targets the troops.

Our goals in the region are to oust the Saddam-Hussein-like Assad, and then encourage the region towards democracy while simultaneously eroding ISIL and driving it to extinction. Easier said than done. And the real problem is that Putin has a valid point. There really isn't a pro-democracy force with the military strength or political will to guide Syria to democracy.

Which is where my radical proposal comes in: How about we ask Putin to oust Assad and temporarily rule Syria while guiding it to democracy?

Yeah. I know. That's big. It's huge. It's a real gamble. And it just might fucking work!

But what can we offer in exchange? Why would Russia be willing to get even deeper into a military quagmire in a middle eastern country just for us?

My second proposal regarding that is even more radical: In exchange, we push for partitioning off a portion of Eastern Ukraine for autonomous rule. Possibly even a newly annexed Russian territory.

Am I seriously proposing the violation of the sovereignty of two nations in order to permanently end the conflicts in both? Yes! It's not fair to the people of Western Ukraine to lose another region in addition to what they've already lost in Crimea, and it's not fair to see Assad given a golden parachute to live out his days in the lap of luxury in Petrograd. But at a stroke, it achieves peace in two regions of the world while satisfying democratic freedom in both. I think that's worth it.

It might be a tough sell in the U.N., but I think the nations of the world would be willing to forgive another Russian annexation of Ukrainian territory if it meant building a new democracy in Syria. Trade sanctions on Russia could eventually be relieved, and the U.S. and Russia together could tag-team to defeat ISIL. (It would mean a new Republic of West Iraq, but that's a subject for another blog post.) Putin may be mad, but give him an opportunity to play the role of international hero, and he may very well jump at the chance.

Like a patient with Alzheimer's, we could let the whole thing fester until it dies horribly, or we could end the suffering quickly.

I argue for the latter - for reasons of regret as well as realization.



Monday, October 5, 2015

Another Mass Shooting

So, big shock, another asshole with guns up the wazzoo has shot up a school. This happens with such disturbing regularity that we've gotten numb to it, and unless it happens in our own back yard, we seem not to even care. In fact, the knee-jerk reaction to all this is for so-called conservatives to immediately condemn any attempts at attempting to regulate firearms in the aftermath, almost as if to say "Don't even think of using this tragedy for political ends, bub!"

Now let me be clear, I'm very much in favor of defensive weapons. I believe we have the right to protect ourselves and our homes from burglars and/or random assailants. The real question, at least for me, is where do you draw the line between a defensive weapon and an offensive weapon? It bears repeating that you don't need an AK-47 to shoot deer, and you hardly need an Uzi to keep burglars away from your front porch. So, in light of another mass shooting, where ought we draw the line? Because it's perfectly clear by now, we'd better draw the damned line somewhere.

Perhaps now is a good time to look at the second amendment to the Constitution and remember what it says:

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

Now, here's where I get confused: Where in there does it say the government can't issue a license or a permit? So far as I can tell, it doesn't. Where does it say that citizens must be allowed to sell such guns to others without any oversight? It doesn't say that, either. In other words, taken at its literal meaning, the government can regulate the shit out of firearms! It's only the keeping and bearing of them that cannot be infringed. But buying, selling, and bartering for firearms is fair game!

Another key point, as has often been pointed out, is that the technology of warfare has changed radically over the last 240 years. The most common application of weapons technology at the time the second amendment was written was the musket, and the pinnacle of weapons technology was the impossibly bulky cannon. A well regulated militia meant that people would be called to war, at which point fathers would get the family musket from off the fireplace mantle and go fight. Both federal and state governments were also usually strapped for cash, and income taxes were unheard of. They simply couldn't afford to arm draftees! It was hard enough just to feed them! It was literally an era of BYOG - bring your own gun. But my, how times have changed!

Today, our wealthy nation has developed cruise missiles, laser-guided bombs, Abrams tanks, harrier jets, stealth aircraft, napalm, aircraft carriers, gunship helicopters, satellite surveillance, drones, and very likely soon, droid armies. And, let's not forget, the atomic bomb. Now, if the second amendment is to be taken at face value, then citizens should be able to obtain "arms" of the same technological advancement by today's standards, as the musket was back in 1776. But that means that the average citizen would be able to purchase bazookas, rocket-propelled grenades, landmines, tanks and fighter-jets. But just try obtaining any of these! The government clamps down on you like a vice! And rightly so! Armed citizens are one thing. Heavily armed citizens are quite something else! The government has determined that modern military equipment should not go to common citizens. Good thing, too, or else Donald Trump would be able to buy his own private military to go to war against the private army of Bill Gates!

So the government has already determined that some weapons are illegal. Somewhere between musket and atomic bomb, we need to draw the line. And here it is good to point out one of the more common arguments used by gun advocates, namely that citizens need to be armed in order to prevent the government from taking away citizens' rights and freedoms. If the citizens are disarmed, they will have no defense against oppression.

Um, two things in response to that: First, the government has already taken away your rights and freedoms! Uncle Sam has been ass-fucking the people since Vietnam! Gerrymandering has stolen their votes by the billions! Corporate interests have bought our government and transformed it from a democracy into a plutocracy - an oligarchy of the elite wealthy class. The revolution that assault rifles are supposed to be needed for should have happened with the Citizens' United ruling! And yet the rednecks of our nation just sit there on their fat asses, never bothering to march on Washington with the weapons they claimed were meant to defend our rights! What bullshit!

The other point is this: You are already disarmed! Do you really think a puny little assault rifle matters to an M-1 Abrams tank? Do you think the government will care if you shoot down one drone while the other fifteen take you down? Do you think your stockpile of ordinance will even matter if one smart-bomb hits it with napalm? Fighting our government's massive arsenal with AK-47's is akin to fighting a fire-breathing dragon with a book of matches!

But disarmed though we may be, people who stockpile guns are still a significant threat to other citizens. They can't take on the government, but they can certainly target a room full of defenseless students, or a day care full of kids, or a theater full of moviegoers. Our government could at least protect them. Instead, it protects the shooters - at least until after the massacre. What madness!

We need private hunters to help regulate our wildlife, and we need citizens to carry small arms to help prevent those who would go on a shooting rampage from getting very far. But honestly, can't we all agree that someone who buys 100 Kalashnikovs at a gun show is probably up to no good?

If the NRA were about defense, as it claims, then no state of the union would be able to outlaw tasers. A taser is a defensive weapon, and thus We The People have a right to it. But the NRA doesn't give a fuck about that. Five states and the District of Columbia all outlaw tasers. Seven states and D.C. outlaw assault rifles. Four of those states, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey, at least outlaw both, but Rhode Island is stupid enough to legalize assault rifles while banning tasers! And where is the NRA? Nowhere to be found. Wisconsin used to be similar to Rhode Island in this respect, but the concealed carry law, passed by Scott Walker in 2011, lifted the ban on tasers. Wisconsinites can now own them - with a permit.

Why not a permit for other defensive weapons as well?

Yes, you have the Constitutional right to bear arms. You do not have the constitutional right to stockpile. You need one gun for defense. A few if you want options (shotgun vs. handgun, for example). But if you own dozens of guns, you're nuts! Oh, you're a collector? I don't care. Find another hobby!

Yes, you have the right to buy a gun. You do not have the right to buy one without oversight. And you sure as hell on earth don't have the right to sell it to someone else afterward!

Yes, you have the right to carry a gun. You don't have the right to do so without a license!

Finally, let me point out that the problem is not crazy people. We're ALL crazy! The problem is that even the sanest among us can crack. Even the nice guys occasionally go postal. If we assume that someone is crazy just because he kills people, we make a dire mistake. Ted Kaczynski was one of the most sober and sane people alive, but that didn't stop him from becoming the unibomber.

You say guns don't kill people? People kill people? You're right! People kill people - with guns!

I mean, come on! If we can't at least ban the big shit after this latest tragedy, America really doesn't stand a chance.