Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Arlen Specter and why the Republican party is dying

As most of you have heard by now, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) has announced his intention to become Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA). This has had a predictable reaction among D.C. circles: Republicans hate him and Democrats love him. Sen. Specter clearly read the writing on the wall and saw that he was going to lose in the Republican primary because the modern Republican party has no room for moderates such as himself. In age when elected officials are kissing the ring of a radio talk show host, the Republican party is clearly in dire straits.

Sen. Mitch McConnell stated that this increasingly unipolar political landscape is bad for the country, and I would have to agree. However, it is Republican policies which have pushed the nation in this direction. The answer isn't for voters to throw the Republicans a bone and vote a few of them in to hold back the changes Democrats will bring -- changes which, by the way, the American people are voting for in large majorities -- but rather for the Republican party to go back to the drawing board and come up with some better ideas. As it stands, the Republicans have been absolutely pathetic since 2005. The marginalizing of the Republican party didn't begin with Hurricane Katrina -- that's just when it was solidified. It began with Terry Schiavo.

The nation watched national Republican officials all the way up to the President of the United States directly inject themselves into a decision which should have been a private family affair: whether or not to keep alive by artificial means a woman who had been in a permanent vegetative state for fifteen years. Prior to that, Republicans had held the nation in fear over terrorism and managed to manipulate a portion of the population over the issue of gay marriage. The gay marriage issue tied in with abortion on a broader "bedroom police" platform. Not wanting to dispense with a winning strategy, the next natural step was to inject themselves into life or death medical decisions other than abortion. Whether or not it was right to pull the feeding tube of Terry Schiavo is not, and never was the issue. The issue was whether this was a decision for her family or for Washington politicians. At that moment, all the fear-mongering about socialism with regard to universal health care lost its bite. The Republicans, not the Democrats, were the ones injecting themselves into private medical decisions. The Republicans, not the Democrats, were the ones telling people who they could and could not love. The Republicans, not the Democrats, were the ones telling women that if they had their way, they would have to carry all their children to term, regardless of their circumstances.

And now, as it turns out, the Republicans were the ones rounding people up and putting them in camps to be tortured. Not for intel purposes, but for propoganda purposes. They wanted somebody to tell them that there was a link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda in order to justify invading Iraq. The Republicans were the ones listening to our phone calls without warrants. It goes on and on: the Republicans became the party of Big Brother. They became the party of aggressive war. They became the party of torture. They became the party of homophobia, xenophobia, and Pax Americana. They became the party of a nationalist political philosophy which good manners dictate we not mention in civil debate. So I won't. Their actions speak for themselves, and we need not look to the past to find a label to which to attach these philosophies. We need only call them what they are: the Republican party platform. And these days, people understand well enough what that means in order to reject it out of hand. Republicans, when calling Democrats socialists, only serve to stir up their fringe base. The label doesn't have any affect on people's perceptions of the Democratic party platform. If anything, it only serves to soften the image of socialism in the minds of Americans. So when the Republicans loosely accuse the Obama administration of "tyranny" for the heinous act of governing as they promised to during a Presidential campaign they won by sweeping margins, it really does sound like a classic case of projection.

Republicans, if they wish to survive, need to denounce the policies of the Bush administration forcefully and declare a new day for the Republican party. As it stands, they seem to believe that the current political climate is simply a passing storm rather than the sea of change it actually represents. They need to do this for the good of America, because they're not entirely wrong: single party rule does make for bad government. Just not as bad as Republicans do right now. If they cannot change, then they need to dissolve and allow a new party to take their place. Right now they're in their last throes, and their choice is simple: evolve or die.

The 20th century is over. America is moving into a new day. Perhaps the Republican party has simply outlived its usefulness. But if a viable conservative party does not soon emerge to take its place, then a party which sits to the left of the Democratic party will. Then we really will begin moving toward socialism. It's incumbent upon conservatives to find ways to make capitalism continue to work in the 21st century, not to simply assert that it does. And they need to give up on their imperial ambitions. The future lies in global partnership, not world domination. It's not just the pragmatic way: it's the American way.

The future is leaving the Republican party behind.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Cell phones are tracking devices

And, according to the Obama Department of Justice, should be used as such.

A bit of context: the actual brief requesting that law enforcement officials not be required to show probable cause before seizing cell phone records tracking your movement was filed by U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan, a Bush holdover who has refused to tender her resignation under the new administration. President Obama has not seen fit to terminate her, despite the fact that her philosophies are quite divergent from his own. As such, by choosing to keep her on, he is responsible for any briefs she files. Her most notorious case has been the prosecution of Tommy Chong for shipping drug paraphernalia through the mail. Now she wants access to your where-abouts by tapping into your cell phone records. Awesome! Somebody's been watching too many movies:

But if you're a law-abiding citizen, you've nothing to worry about, right? Unless, of course, you're engaged in constitutionally-protected free speech which upsets the establishment, such as an anti-war demonstration or a tea party demonstration. Say they want a list of names of people at that demonstration. Anybody with a cell phone (which is most people these days) can be tracked. Say they start a police riot and want to press trumped-up charges against anybody at that demonstration, both to discredit the demonstration and to send a message to anybody who gets any ideas about standing against them. You see where this is going.

The real people who would need to be concerned would be the organizers of such a rally. Some of these things can get quite large, and without some sort of organized presence behind them, can get unwieldy, potentially chaotic. What better way to communicate than by cell phone? Well, I'd recommend purchasing a pre-paid cell phone. They can track that, but they'd have to know who they're tracking. Some require you to register in order to use it; these are a bad deal and defeat the purpose. You want use of the technology without having to have your movements tracked. For your average Joe Protestor? Leave your cell phone at home, or else pull the battery if you want to keep it on hand in case of an emergency. Even if you turn it off, the phone still transmits and receives signals. Only pulling the battery stops the signals.

Best bet for those who don't actually have a need for a mobile phone but just keep it out of convenience: get a land line. It's cheaper, and these days if you really need a cell phone for a specific purpose, you can pick up a cheap disposable pre-paid phone for $30. It's what I do any time I go back to the states. I've already discontinued my GuamCell service and will be picking up a land line when I get back to Guam.

That's a tip for activists, not average folks who don't represent a threat to the status quo.