Friday, August 20, 2010

The NYC mosque "controversy"

Ah, it's summer and it's hard to set fingers to keypad to comment on the latest craziness on the American scene. However, I guess, it's the blogger's burden. (I'm not sure that my spotty record this summer entitles me to the title of blogger anymore.)

What could be more straightforward than the question of whether building a "house of worship" in a particular place should be allowed. If there are no zoning restrictions saying otherwise, this is a no-brainer. To forbid it on the grounds that you don't like the religion, or some practitioners of the religion, is so outrageously un-American and unconstitutional that one would hardly be tempted to discuss it except to state the obvious.

Unfortunately there seem to be lots of folks who never learned about the Bill of Rights or basic civics. Even more importantly, there is a political party which will use any tactic to discredit the President, even if the tactic involves basic perversions of the American ethic and appeals to any sort of prejudices or misinformation.

Here are some things I thought of

1. There are already several mosques within a few blocks of the proposed 9/11 park in New York City, as well a many other religious houses of worship in the area. The National Council of Churches supports construction of the mosque.

2. Opponents of the mosque claim that they are not biased against Islam, but that "the issue is one of safety and security" (Rick Lazio, Republican candidate of NY Governor). I have not heard of any facts to support this argument -- the people behind the mosque project all seem to be very moderate Moslems who decrie violence. Last I heard neither Tim McVeigh (the Oklahoma City bomber) nor Ted Kaczynski (the Unabomber) was a Moslem, nor were those good ole boys who used their church associations to plan the harrassment (and murders) of civil rights workers. Nor was Yigal Amin, the religious fanatic who assassinated Yitzhak Rabin. Yes it's true that Islam currently has perhaps more than its share of murderous fanatics, but other religions have a rich history of the same, particularly Christianity of the last millenium.

3. It is not clear that even a majority of Americans would support most of the articles of the Constitution, even the Bill of Rights. If Obama came out for the them, the PTR would try to make him pay politically. I suspect that not too long ago the same majority of Americans who oppose the NYC mosque (7 in 10?) also opposed interracial marriages and supported the tactics of the late Senator Joe McCarthy. Civil rights are very fragile and it is dangerous to subject them to frequent tests of public support, especially during difficult times. (I though of the Japanese WWII internment, and of the fact that there was not a similar internment of German-speakers.)

4. A mosque that is two blocks away from some point in downtown New York City is like a mosque that it a mile away from a given point in most any other city. The population and building density of lower Manhatten is tremendous. You can't in general see point A from point B there if they are separated by more than a block. The Republican crazies of course don't say that when they rabble rouse in Topeka: they make it sound as if the mosque directly overlooks the park where the twin towers once stood.

5. Just because people believe certain things doesn't make their opinion necessarily worth considering. Apparently 1 in 5 Americans thinks that Obama is a Muslim. A majority think that ghosts walk among us. A large segment of the population denies that the earth is warming -- a fact that is undeniable, although the exact cause might be (almost) legitimately debated. Sarah Palin, whose opinions are actually taken seriously by lots of people, thinks that studying fruit flies is a waste of money. Some people are not only ignorant but don't even know they are ignorant. It may be a good idea to know what people think, but not because you take their opinions seriously: you should know what they are thinking because they may try to harm you when they find out that you disagree.

6. Just how far away does a mosque have to be in order that it not be an insult to the victims of 9/11? What about a branch of the NRA? Or a bordello or pornstore?

Friday, August 6, 2010

Krugman puntures Ryan, and generationism

There's a mighty big difference between a real economist (Paul Krugman, Nobel Prize winner) and a politician (Rep. Paul Ryan, R Wisc.) Ryan has no real expertise but says and proposes the kinds of things that so-called conservatives like to hear -- namely, transfer of wealth from the middle-class to the rich. Krugman points out Ryan's lack of (intellectual) clothes in today's NYT Op-Ed.

While we're on economics: the news services breathlessly announced today that Medicare will have an extra 12 years of solvency because of savings from the recently passed Healthcare Reform bill. This stands things on their heads. What should have been done was to use buying into Medicare as central to healthcare reform -- something even John McCain supported before his reactionary handlers reined him in.

At the same time, the news services reported that Social Security was still going to run deficits and would run out of many in a few decades. Unlike healthcare costs, which are difficult to control, Social Security can be redeemed in a very simple way: remove the upper income limits so that the SS tax is on all of a person's income. This has become necessary not because people are "living longer" -- if that is indeed true -- but because of the changing demographics of American society: we are simply having fewer children. Most people don't realize that SS is a beautiful cross-generational social compact, where each generation agrees to support the previous one in its old age; in "exchange," it can expect the succeeding generation to do the same for it. The "conservatives" don't like anything about cooperation and are cynically trying to create a cross-generational resentment. That's their version of "family values": as phony as the "family values" reflected in the usual parade of born-again polls exposed as philanderers.

Next time you see the magazine article or TV story or cartoon dumping on "Baby Boomers", the next generation up for Social Security, ask yourself if this isn't an attempt to fan resentment of financially squeezed (and you know by whom!) taxpayers against their parents and grandparents. It was the Baby Boomers, after all, who paid the Social Security taxes that allowed the so-called "Greatest Generation" to retire in financial dignity.

The right-wing will stoop at no technique to undermine cooperation and community: racism, sexism and, now, generation-ism.