Monday, April 27, 2009

An Unfailingly Reliable Indicator

Then-President Jimmy Carter defending himself against a crazy rabbit (upper right)

I see former president Jimmy Carter has an op-ed in today's New York Times calling for the re-enactment of the 1994 'Assault Weapon' ban, a useless symbolic gesture and perhaps the single achievement of the Democrat House that allowed the GOP to take that chamber back after a half-century (certainly Bill Clinton believed so).

What I don't understand is why anyone is pushing for this law, a law that had absolutely no effect on crime, that was never successfully prosecuted, and that is almost certainly unconstitutional in this post-Heller world. One of Carter's claims is that American-made and legally purchased 'assault weapons' are being smuggled into Mexico and used by the cartels in their war against each other and the Mexican government... a claim which has been proven false as the cartels' main source of weapons is from other Central American countries like Panama, where real full-auto assault weapons (not the semi-auto lookalikes we can legally buy here), rocket launchers, grenades, etc., are available. Actually, I do understand. It's not about the problem in Mexico, it's about not trusting the American people.

Carter talks about his hunting guns, and then derides the NRA for "defending criminals' access to assault weapons and use of ammunition that can penetrate protective clothing worn by police officers." What he is either too stupid, or too dishonest to mention is that any centerfire deer rifle, including the ones he claims he owns and uses, will penetrate "protective clothing worn by police officers" (body armor). In fact, a criminal with a hunting rifle is far more dangerous than one with a semi-automatic AK-47. If Carter were really concerned enough about the danger to police he'd voluntarily turn in his own firearms before they can be stolen and put to criminal use. Again, the claim to be a 'hunter' is only a badly-disguised attempt to portray himself dishonestly as a 'sensible' gun owner instead of the elitist bigot that he really is. (If you're thinking I neither like or respect the man, you're thinking right.)

I for one am grateful Jimmy Carter occasionally makes a return to the world's stage. This man is the most reliable indicator of the intelligent side of a position the world has ever seen. You simply have only to determine where Jimmy Carter stands... and then you know unfailingly the opposite side is correct.

Don't The Police Have More Important Things To Do?

A perfect example of what is wrong with our country.

Santa Monica has hundreds of burglaries, robberies, dozens of rapes... and yet they have the manpower and money to go after this poor schlub?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Seattle Tea Party

Seattle Tea Party Panorama - (c) 2009 John Clifford

I went down to Westlake Center in Seattle this evening to photograph the Seattle Tea Party, and to gauge the mood of the crowd.

Seattle Tea Party Audience - (c) 2009 John Clifford

I arrived just before the event kicked off, and watched the crowd from across the street, taking a few pictures before I decided to get into the audience for some crowd shots:

Vote 'Em All Out! - (c) 2009 John Clifford

The primary organizer and Master of Ceremonies was Keli Carendar, who spontaneously organized the first Tea Party in the country here in Seattle back in February.

Seattle Tea Party/Keli Carendar - (c) 2009 John Clifford

Ms. Carendar, dressed as 'Alice in Wonderland', did a great job of firing the crowd up, introducing the different speakers, and even offering a well-sung rendition of "Obama, Won't You Buy Me a Mercedes Benz" based on the Janis Joplin tune. It was pretty funny, and the crowd loved it.

The Crowd Listens - (c) 2009 John Clifford

There were perhaps a thousand Tea Party-ers with a wide variety of signs, mostly related to taxes and spending, but there was also a lot of anger about the TARP program, the Stimulus Bill, and the massive increase in the federal budget:

We The People... - (c) 2009 John Clifford

Speaking From The Arch - (c) 2009 John Clifford

No Longer Silent - (c) 2009 John Clifford

There wasn't much of a counter-protest, maybe a couple dozen disorganized folks who mostly came down to have some fun."Pro-Socialism - (c) 2009 John Clifford I talked to a few of them and really felt like the two sides are talking past each other; one teenager/twentysomething couldn't understand why the Tea Party folks were against "fairness" because "after all, that's what Obama is trying to do, ensure fairness. I tried to explain to him that maybe these folks believed that making them pay for other folks' mortgages, or for bailing out companies that took huge yet foreseeable risks was unfair, and that they thought putting a $200k bill on their children was especially unfair... but of course the young man isn't paying taxes because he doesn't make enough and believed that only the "rich" would end up paying for these programs. Another fellow evidently thought the Tea Party-ers were hypocritical in that they "supported socialism when it benefited them." His counter-protest sign illustrated his point, and since he was being very polite and well-mannered I didn't bother to explain the false premise he was making (that government services such as the military or law enforcement are a form of socialism).Don't Ask... - (c) 2009 John Clifford You can read his sign and make up your own mind. And then there was this last sign representing the motivations of most of the counter-protesters, who came down to shock the squares and get some laughs. I thought she was cute, so I sure hope that sign belongs to her boyfriend!

I especially liked this poignant sign from a capitalist wondering what the heck happened to his country. A witty way of capturing the change that has happened in America over the past quarter century; while the GOP was winning at the polls, the Democrats were winning the hearts and minds of Generations X and Y. The minority view of the 1980s is the conventional wisdom of today. A Great Sign - (c) 2009 John Clifford

Maybe it takes a Jimmy Carter, or a Barack Obama, for people to relearn the lesson of how There's No Such Thing As A Free Lunch every generation, and that someone has to pay for all of these programs. Maybe it's a good thing the Democrats won everything, so that America can realize just exactly how Democrats govern (unapologetic big spenders, as opposed to apologetic big spender Republicans). And maybe the GOP needs some time in the wilderness to think about the butt-kicking they've taken since 2006 and for the lesson of what happens when you don't govern the same way you campaign to sink in.

There was a considerable police presence, with a half-dozen mounted police (on horseback), perhaps another dozen bicycle police, and a couple of patrol cars with another half-dozen officers distributed through the square. The crowd was well-behaved, though, and the police mostly talked to each other and enjoyed the afternoon.

Just In Case - (c) 2009 John Clifford

The event ended around 7:30, with the last speaker getting the crowd fired up about throwing all of the incumbents out to send a message. I think the only way to solve the problem with our government is to get rid of the concept of career politicians by enforcing term limits on all federal elected offices. If eight years is good enough for the president, then surely twelve years is good enough for a Congressman or Senator.

The Silent Majority? - (c) 2009 John Clifford

It is unconscionable that a person who has never worked in the private sector can become a multi-millionnaire through public office, and this seems to be especially prevalent among Democrats, the prime examples being Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Finally, Ms. Carendar announced that more Tea Parties were scheduled for upcoming holidays, and promising to run them until the 2010 elections.

In summary, a surprisingly strong crowd of folks who don't ordinarily come out and protest, reflecting considerable anger at their elected officials. I don't think the GOP understands how much of this anger is pointed their way, either. The true test of the Tea Party movement is its longevity; will these Parties be a flash in the pan, or will they grow over the next two years and culminate in a changing of the guard in Congress and the states? I think the answer lies in whether or not a leader emerges who can effectively speak to this anger and inspire a following, and so far I don't see that person.

Note: All photos taken with a Sigma SD14 dSlr, and either a Sigma 18-50/2.8 EX DC Macro lens, a Sigma 50-150/2.8 EX DG lens, or a Celestron 300/5.6 mirror lens.

The Nightmare Scenario: Are We Paying For The Rope That Will Be Used To Hang Us?

Let's say you were running a country with a huge population but a primitive infrastructure. For historical reasons, your population was not well-educated and your country was not industrialized; manual labor predominated. Your political-economic system provided security for the ruling elite and a docile populace, but the fundamentals of your economy could only change if you obtained money from other countries. More important to you as a leader, you believed your country was not treated with the respect it deserved given its historical accomplishments. How would you address these problems?

Let's say you realized that, although your economy was aligned with socialist principles, you were enough of a realist to realize that economic capitalism was the best way to bring prosperity and technical advancement to your country. So, you decide to utilize capitalism by exploiting your greatest resource; your people.

Fast forward a dozen years. Your country's factories produce durable goods for the world. Because you don't enforce intellectual property laws, much of what you value from other countries is used without compensation in your country... software, entertainment. You even turn a blind eye to the illegal copying of this, because it brings in hard currency. But all isn't rosy.

You realize that you need to not repeat the mistakes of countries like Japan, or England, Germany, or even the Unites States... manufacturing powerhouses who failed to control the natural resources that they depended on to keep their economies afloat. So, you bribe corrupt leaders of resource-rich but poor countries elsewhere in the Third World so you can develop and control their resources. You give guns and money to the Sudanese regardless of their deeds in Darfur, so you can get the oil you need. You do the same things in Nigeria and Angola. You go elsewhere in Africa, sending your people over to oversee the natives in places like South Africa and Zimbabwe. Like a drug pusher, you give poor nations cheap loans so they become beholden to you. You dump consumer goods in their markets, squeeze out the local competition for textiles, and you set up companies for these markets using mostly Chinese labor. In short, like the European powers you practice colonialism, but unlike your antecedents you have no religious or moral sentiments to make lives better for those you exploit, and you have no plans to leave. You don't stop in Africa, either. Iran and Venezuela need a friend who can sell them weapons, and you need oil. It's just business.

How do you handle your largest competitor, the Unites States? Well, you buy their debt so they can become beholden to you also. You give weapons technologies to proxies like Iran, Pakistan, and North Korea, so that America has to spend its time trying to do something about proliferation... and each time its efforts fail American prestige suffers another blow. The Islamists leave you alone, because unlike the Americans you really don't care about world opinion, and they know it. Not that you can project power... yet... but you've ensured that countries like Iran understand that it is in their interests to be aligned with you, to sell you oil and buy your technology, while they rail against the West. You don't care if the Islamists want to fight with the Americans. It only weakens both, and that benefits you. You don't care if the North Koreans or the Iranians get the Bomb. They won't use it against you, and it only weakens America.

So, here we are in 2009. China holds almost $2 trillion in US debt, in the form of treasury bonds. Foolishly, we have borrowed money from them to buy from them. And, we are counting on them to buy another couple trillion over the next few years. What happens when China calls in that debt? Or, even worse, what happens when China decides on a course of action that we find objectionable, and their response to our objection is to threaten to destroy our economy? Will we fight for Taiwan, for instance, if the cost of doing so makes our current economic woes seem like a bank holiday?

I don't think we've woken up to the fact that we are currently losing an economic war with China, and if we don't change course quickly we are going to be destroyed as a country. The evidence is there; all one has to do is to look at the contrast between Detroit and Shanghai, and to realize that the money that used to support America's industrial areas (the Rust Belt) has been sent overseas and has built China's shining cities and manufacturing facilities. It's not China's fault, of course. We gave them the opportunity by deliberately choosing to be non-competitive, and they have capitalized on our stupidity. And we're continuing down this road, further stifling our competitiveness because of shortsighted policy decisions. Americans were naive enough to believe that economic prosperity and political freedom had to go hand-in-hand, but that isn't necessarily true in a modern industrial society. Unlike us, the people who govern China don't have to worry about fractious political battles, and unlike us they have learned from their past policy mistakes.

Look ahead a few years. China is preparing a blue water navy, and there's only one reason a country needs a blue water navy: projection of power. China is working on a ballistic missile 'carrier killer' to deal with our blue water navy. China understands the latest GPS and computer technology, because they manufacture it for us, so there's no smart weapon in our arsenal they can't build. And China will have 32 million military-age men for whom there are no Chinese women, so these men will not be able to marry in their own society. All of these things will come to a head at the time we finally run out of money because China can choose when it will stop financing our debt... and then we are broke.

That is the nightmare scenario, the game of Risk in the real world: a China that has sewn up its natural resource needs, that has built a powerful military, and that has brought our economy to a halt. What if they go into Siberia? Only we could possibly stop them, and I don't think the American people will accept the risk of a nuclear strike against an American city to do so. The Russians don't have the population or the military to stand against them, even with nukes. Once China gets Siberia and has a few years of rest to rebuild what they lost in the Sino-Siberian War, who will be next?