Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Life, Humanity, And Everything

The crowd that assembles under the umbrella of the "right-to-life" movement is extremely concerned with potential, soul-bearing life that resides in a woman's womb, to the extent of trying their best to strip a woman of her right to exercise the course of her pregnancy as she sees fit. Once the child is born of woman, feeling the Sun upon its skin, and filling its lung with air, it is no longer of as much consequence to them. That the child is born into poverty, to a mother who must subsist on public assistance and the kindness of strangers, or, worse, who looks at the child as a reminder of youthful indiscretion or brutal violation, does not seem to bother them that much.

In fact, when it comes to the fully-formed human, as child or adult, much is made to try and minimize the glory that is humanity. A human being is reduced from an instrument of God's crafting, master of Earth and its environs, to an inconvenience or nuisance or "one of them." Rather than accept the fact that all humans are of common stock, related in the greatest detail, many seek to categorize and minimize their fellow humans, to salve their sense of inferiority, or to enforce their sense of domination. That so many of us treat our brethren as the sum of their tags and categorizations and attributes, is a sign that we have not evolved far past our primitive ancestors.

One only has to look at the rhetoric flying about, to see it first-hand. The vitriol of some toward illegal immigrants, reducing them to nothing more than common, law-breaking curs. The "righteous" anger of some over abortion, treating the unborn fetus as sacred, while treating the frightened and confused mother as some sort of God-forsaken heathen, bent on the destruction of humanity. The fervent anger and thinly-couched slurs of some "patriots," aimed toward the President, over his attempts to rectify ills and provide security for all Americans. The invective of some brought out by the debate of health care reform, treating those without insurance or with preexisting conditions as if they deserve their fate.

Discourse in this country is a mockery, a shouting match engaged in by all comers, as if tearing each other down can possibly lead to the solution of the serious problems facing this country and the world. It is not simply the ignorant and boorish who are so engaged, but their detractors find it as easy to slap them with degrading and offensive appellations, as if compounding the problem somehow scores intellectual points in the debate. Where great oratory is called for, there is only mud-slinging, name-calling, and obstinacy.

When we look at another person, we cannot afford the luxury of seeing them for their surface attributes, for like an iceberg, who a person is is mainly hidden beneath. Clothing, make-up, jewelry, religious effects... these are all camouflage, a facade to hide behind, a barrier to protect our innermost workings, a wall to prevent others from seeing us as we truly are. We must learn to strip away the surface of those we meet, to delve into the depths, and to avoid the continued trap of judging the book by its cover. Only in this, can we even begin to being about true and universal peace and equality. For inequity exists only as long as we maintain the fiction that people are what they appear to be. There are times, when actions do not even tell us all there is to know, for sometimes people take actions based on forces propelling them from the depths of their soul, in ways we cannot fundamentally imagine.

No amount of age, intellect, breeding, or wealth obviates the fact that each of us, as individuals, has value as a living, breathing being, and that while we are different in many ways, we are the same in more ways than we know. Equality is the base measure of humanity, and our deviation from it is only brought about by our instinct to divide the world, and everything in it, into convenient categories. A survival instinct honed by millions of years of evolution now threatens to destroy our ascendancy; for humanity to survive and flourish, we must force our evolution on an intellectual level, harnessing our mental energies to turning aside instinct, and bringing humanity back to its level, that peace and harmony might reign.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Bigotry, Thy Name Is Texas

I consider myself a man of peace and compassion and, hopefully, tolerance, but all of that is tested so completely when I read about sheer and unadulterated bigotry writ large. From the intolerance evinced by supporters of Proposition 8 in California, to the anti-Christian homophobic vitriol of the Westboro Baptist Church, to those who feel the need to denigrate the President of the United States with epithets and thinly-veiled racism. But now my hackles are raised, my teeth set on edge, and bile has reached my throat, so great is the venom in my blood. For, Republicans in the "great" state of Texas have decided that homosexuals, and those who "conspire" with them, are now an enemy to be hounded, arrested, and driven to ground.

The Texas GOP has published their 2010 State Republican Party Platform, and it outlines, in detail, how Republicans in Texas are to go about destroying homosexuals and obliterating the "idea" of homosexuality, not just in their state, but in the entire United States. In addition to the usual screeds about the "defense of marriage" as a solemn union between "one natural man and one natural woman," but instead of stopping their, they call on Congress to enact such legislation as to make this the law of the United States.

But it gets better. In their own words:

Family Values – We affirm that this section is a response to the attacks on traditional family values. These include well funded, vigorous political and judicial attempts by powerful organizations and branches of the government to force acceptance, affirmation and normalization of homosexual behavior upon school children, parents, educational institutions, businesses, employees, government bodies and religious institutions and charities. These aggressive, intolerant efforts marginalize as bigots anyone who dissents.
The hypocrisy is so obvious as to be farcical. Not only do they intend to deprive American citizens of Constitutional rights, and override the judgment of any other State of the Union that approves of gay marriage, they intend to go on the offensive, to attempt to marginalize, de-legitimize, and brand homosexuals as societal rejects, and they will brook no dissent. Sound familiar?

And as if that were not enough:

Homosexuality must not be presented as an acceptable “alternative” lifestyle in our public education and policy, nor should “family” be redefined to include homosexual “couples.” We are opposed to any granting of special legal entitlements, refuse to recognize, or grant special privileges including, but not limited to: marriage between persons of the same sex (regardless of state of origin), custody of children by homosexuals, homosexual partner insurance or retirement benefits. We oppose any criminal or civil penalties against those who oppose homosexuality out of faith, conviction, or belief in traditional values.

Not only will they deny homosexuality as a fact of life, but they would strip homosexuals of their basic freedoms, and make it possible for those with an intolerant and malevolent bent to attack homosexuals without fear of criminal penalty!!!

This pathetic, inflammatory, bigoted, and, frankly, un-American set of "principles" is the lowest ebb of American society. It is a declaration that the basic principles of freedom and liberty as espoused in the Constitution of the United States, only belong to those of certain classes of people, and those classes shall determine who else may partake of them. It as if the execrable parts of the Constitution -- those enumerating the actual human value of a Negro slave -- were to be re-written for homosexuals, and re-instituted. It seeks to undo the progress this nation has made in creating a union of equal humanity, with liberty and justice for all. It is a repudiation of all America has fought for and stood for, and is spit lobbed onto the graves of all those who died to defend her.

The Republican Party of Texas has decided that open homophobia in State government is preferable, and that they are to be arbiters of what is good and right in this nation, to which I say that I would prefer to declare war on one State in this nation, and take up arms against my fellow Americans, rather than to submit to the tyranny this platform would impose. Not normally prone to violence, I would gladly take up arms to defeat such blatant hatred, cloaked in the tattered fabric of "God and Country." There is no room in a nation of patriots and freedom-loving citizens for their ilk, and I, for one, refuse to countenance such backward and bigoted thinking.

No matter what your beliefs, no matter how you feel, no matter what convoluted and contentious view of the world you may hold, the freedom, liberty, and justice that is part of the fabric of this nation, is something to which each and every American citizen is entitled. You may wish no part of it, you may think them heathens or worse, you may decide to cling to words of your maker, but that gives you no right to deprive others of their Constitutionally-guaranteed rights. To do so is tyranny, and a nation born of tyranny, that fought for independence from tyranny, has no business imposing it upon its citizens. Let it be known, that in the United States of America, such injudicious and unconscionable destruction of individual freedom and liberty shall not stand.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Congress, Brought To You By...

Representative Joe Barton of Texas has been rightly excoriated for his comments at a committee meeting, to discuss the Gulf Coast Oil Disaster with representatives of British Petroleum. His intemperate, offensive, and ill-conceived remarks -- equating the Federal Government's requirement that BP contribute to a twenty billion dollar restitution fund to a "shakedown" and apologizing profusely for it -- point out a fact, which, though in evidence now for some time, escapes the notice of the average American.

It was made clear in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, that Corporate America has been given the keys to the country. The billions of dollars that companies can harness towards their own ends cannot be fought so easily by the average American citizen. The Federal Government, the only force capable of reining in their excess and egotism, is slowly, inexorably being gobbled up by them, in the form of lobbyists, watered-down regulations, and corporate malfeasance disguised as political speech. The Federal Government, the instrument of the citizenry created to ensure our freedom and liberty, is being eroded by a relative handful of legislators and judges, placed their by us, who have been corrupted by the power in their hands, and who, lacking the personal will, are selling themselves to corporate masters, to the detriment of all Americans.

As oil gushes up from the deep, and the livelihoods of those along the Gulf Coast are being threatened, bickering, finger-pointing, and inanity reign in Washington, D.C. It has become evident that the gravity of the situation escapes even the most seasoned Congressman, far more interested in putting on a tar-and-feathering session before cameras to show they are "dealing" with the situation, than assembling the necessary resources and knowledge to actually fix the problem. They must appease the public, and so they put on a dog-and-pony show to how they are taking BP and its minions to task for their negligence, even as they continue to rake in campaign contributions from the corporations they are needling.

If it can be said that Joe Barton made a mistake, other than being elected and being in the pay of big oil corporations, it was in exposing the whole charade to the light of day through his ill-considered remarks. Once launched into the air, the words hung and the silence was palpable. At once, his colleagues were shocked at his stupefying insensitivity, but more importantly, that he was so ignorant as to let slip that he was obviously in the employ of others. The farce that is legislative oversight of business, revealed for all the world to see in the great Wall Street collapse of 2008, was now pegged to its true face, the corporate underwriting of Congress.

Eventually, smart people with brilliant ideas will gain control of the oil. The Gulf Coast will be cleaned up, the environment restored. What must happen concurrent to this, is for smart people with brilliant ideas to replace the power-hungry demagogues now seated in Congress, to break the grip of corporations on the throat of Americans. Congress must be cleaned up, integrity restored. It is up to we, the people of the United States, to wipe the slate clean, and begin the process of re-taking our government, while we still have the power to do so. If the ballot box and the courts are not enough, then there must be a Constitutional Convention, in the spirit of the Founding Fathers, to write out the possibility of anyone other than individual citizens being able to steer the country.

Now, in the glare of lights and with the oil spreading, is the time for Americans to restore the balance of power in our nation. Corporate America must be led to understand that it exists and gains its power only through our hard work, sweat, and buying power, and that, as such, that does not give them the right to circumvent or override us because they feel it is inconvenient. It is not enough for them to provide us with goods and services, but with goods and services that are clean, safe, and above all, affordable. They cannot compromise our safety and security with impunity, and expect to remain in our good graces.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


It is remarkable that we live on one world, come from one common genetic stock, and yet, even so, find myriad ways to divide ourselves. Gender. Skin color. Religious preference. State. Country. Designations that are artificially enforced as making us different, even though they are ephemeral things that do not keep us from being the same underneath. It is ironic, because the history of humanity has been a story of unification, of moving to larger and larger groups, for protection or to share resources, or provide stability. Disparate groups constantly merging and melding: nomadic tribes becoming village dwellers, villagers becoming townsfolk, townsfolk moving to cities, and cities locking together to form nation-states.

While the impetus is always to the larger and stronger grouping, those groupings are rife with the cracks of difference. Nowhere is that seen more starkly, than in the United States, an agglomeration of almost every culture known to human kind, wrapped together under the cloak of liberty and justice, shot through with the fractures and fissures of antipathy and suspicion. A nation founded on noble ideals, we in America strive to maintain our strength even as we chisel away at the foundation of our strength: our diversity. The great breadth of cultures that have come together to form a world superpower, and the range of skills, abilities, and knowledge therein, simultaneously are our great strength, and inherent weakness. It is only the rule of law and our basic humanity that make this nation possible.

In recent years, however, it seems our differences are trending more toward separating us than uniting us. Despite being over two-hundred years old, and surviving civil and world strife, our country sometimes feels as if it is straining at the seams. Rather than becoming a stew, a mixture of distinct parts that create one nourishing meal, we are more a buffet, a pick-and-choose collection of dishes that are kept separate, and only rarely come together on one plate. We take only what we prefer, and leave the rest disregarded.

We cannot continue to deny our future together as one people by spending our time separating each other into groups. Like it or not we are one people, one humanity, and though we may live in distant parts of the Earth, we are all intrinsically tied together. No nation on Earth represents the spread of humanity quite like America, however we seem to be destined to reject our uniqueness, taking refuge in old social mores which no longer serve us in the modern age. It is time for us to grow up to, become more than we are, and to chart the destiny of our planet. Our nation is the only nation where of the disparate groups of our planet live together as one, and if we are true to that, then together we can solve any problem that lies in humanity's future.

We have a choice -- come together as one, as we are, or, to tear ourselves apart at the roots. a house divided against itself cannot stand, and right now we are that house. The possible collapse of our home is in our hands and in our hearts; it will be up to us to decide whether or humanity lives or dies. We must now turn our energies towards solving the intractable problems that confront us, and we must do it soon, lest we wake up one morning and discover that we are far too late.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

D-Day, The Sixth of June

Coming so close to Memorial Day, the anniversary of D-Day tends to be over-shadowed. June 6th, 1944 was a pivotal day in the history of the world we now know, for Europe had been in the iron grip of a madman for 4 years, and now the Allies sought to dislodge the Nazis from The Continent. To that end, upwards of 150,000 men, supported by thousands of aircraft and hundreds of ships, set out to invade France in the area of Normandy, securing a wide beachhead, and putting ashore a sufficient force to drive the enemy back. It would be the largest amphibious assault operation in history, and when it was over that day, 10,000 Allied troops would be killed, wounded, go missing, or be captured.

Given the constant chatter about freedom, liberty, and tyranny that seems to suffuse the United States currently, it seems only fitting to revisit this moment in history, when true oppression was wrestled down and driven back by the determination and steel of men picked from every corner of America. They would fight and die under the most brutal conditions, many having never strayed far beyond the area surrounding their home town, now forced to endure boiling sun, mud, freezing temperatures, and the constant threat of death, on soil they had never seen, fighting for people they did not know. They fought an implacable enemy, one that had run roughshod over a large swath of the world, and was now paying the price for the arrogance and antipathy of their leaders.

The Nazi regime was totalitarian, seeking uniformity and racial purity, wishing to stamp their imprint on the whole world, one section at a time. It slaughtered innocents without thought or care, except toward how quickly and efficiently it could be done. Its leader, Adolf Hitler, was a raging egomaniac, surrounded by toadies and sycophants, bent on meting out punishment for the "injustice" of Germany's defeat in WWI and to satisfy his hatred of the Jews, whom he wrongly presumed were the cause of all his country's woes. WWII was his meat grinder, chewing up both Germans and their neighbors alike, remaking the world in his image, a stark and garish place of black uniforms, jackboots, and Aryan purity.

Into this maw of death the tens of thousands marched this day, hurling themselves onto the beaches of France, many cut down before they could take shot, or left to lie wounded as their comrades streamed past, to take the fight to the enemy. It was hot, brutal, messy work for Indiana farm boys, Brooklyn street toughs, Wyoming farm hands, and all the other various types of men that comprised the American contingent of the invasion force. Some men broke, some men found fortitude they did not know they had, and still others only wished to get the job done to go home, but on they came, through hellish mortar and machine gun fire, to storm the Atlantic Wall and pour inland.

If you go there now, the scars of that day, save for a few, are mainly washed away. There are the memorials scattered through towns and villages all along Normandy, as well as the great museums to the day, and, of course, the cemeteries, where the honored dead lie not far from where they met their end. It is peaceful there now, a tranquility restored through the sacrifice of so many in the desperate hours of that day and the weeks that passed.

Before we talk of freedom and liberty, let us pause to remember these men, who fought and died on a distant shore to bring that which we take for granted, to people who were starved for it. Let us not embellish our suffering in our country currently, with rhetoric best left for those who suffered under true oppression and tyranny. Let us remember that the fight for democracy and freedom is an on-going one, and that we do these men a disservice by playing to politics, for they died not just to free a continent, but to keep America free of those who would have eventually tried to oppress it. All we have and all we are, is due to this day, and the lives given that we might remain free.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Look, Up In The Sky!!!

Modern telecommunications caused the death of the phone booth. No more do these boxes dot the landscape, with their large, boxy phones, and Yellow Pages on a metal arm, with a door that can closed to lock out the rest of the world so you can make a phone call and hear the other person, keeping your private business, just that: private. Gone, like the milk man, the ice man, and the lamplighter.

As such, this is not doubt why President Obama has not stopped the oil leaking from the broken pipe in the Gulf of Mexico. With no phone booths available, he is not able to leap into the nearest one, strip off his suit, revealing the blue union suit with the large, stylized "S" on the chest, and the red cape and boots. Unable to divest himself of his mild-mannered alter-ego, he must watch helplessly as tar balls litter the beaches and oil continues to gush into the crystal waters of the Gulf.

It is becoming increasingly apparent, that those in both the conservative and liberal camps are quite disappointed in President Obama's response to the Gulf Coast Oil Disaster. You knew the conservatives would be, because, frankly, they don't like anything he does that undermines the spirit of their attempts to plunge the nation into the serfdom of large corporations, or that points out the many failures of the previous administration. Mind you, they are circumspect enough not to mention their hands in creating this disaster from whole cloth, by allowing the oil industry free reign within the Department of the Interior.

What is more troubling is the liberal rhetoric, declaring that the President is being too lethargic, is not "in control" of the situation, and has not done all he can do to see it resolved, as if he is required to take personal command of the situation, like Roosevelt handling WWII, or Lincoln, The Civil War. The prior administration set the bar so low that it was easy enough for the current administration to surpass, but doing so without the fanfare and fireworks that was the Hurricane Katrina disaster. Resources were mobilized, the Federal government got in with BP to monitor their attempts to stem the flow of oil, and various agencies began assessing what was being done and looking at short- and long-term impacts of both the spill itself and the attempt to stop it. As with anything, Federal agencies are ponderous and slow, and yes, while much could be done to speed them up, caution must be applied, for to go too far in a zealous attempt to solve the problem could result in making it far worse.

All of it, not good enough.

In the realm of expectations, President Obama has literally been in a no-win situation since his candidacy. Besting Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries set a large number of people on edge. When it was clear that he was making headway against John McCain, people became cautiously optimistic, especially when he showed flashes of being Presidential that the older war hero could not muster. And when, on that November day, he was vaulted into the history books, a mantel was placed on his shoulders that swiftly became the a yolk, turning him into a modern Atlas, suffering under the weight of the world. Suddenly, groups that only maintained vain hope of seeing their causes addressed, were now sure that President Obama would ride into the White House, and sweep away the detritus of eight years with one long, swinging motion of his hand. Things would be set right instantaneously, as if he were a time traveler, come back to alter the time stream and erase the malfeasance of an evil counterpart.

The collective amnesia of the electorate can be excused, in as much as his election to the office was a sea change of epic proportions. Any doubts that things would be different were stowed away. He had to be better than his predecessor.

What the electorate failed to remember, in the haze of victory, is that the President is a solitary figure, and only one-third of the Federal government. While a Presidential candidate is required to talk a good game, in order to get elected, the landscape is very different when one occupies the Oval Office. President Obama no doubt intended to change the culture of Washington, D.C., but found that it was not quite as easy as he'd made it out to be during the campaign. It did not help that a Democratically-controlled Congress could not get out of its own way, sabotaging his agenda at every turn, in an effort to settle scores with the Republicans.

So, now, we have the Gulf Coast Oil Disaster, and the President is being vilified, taken to task for decisions he had no hand in, rules he did not formulate, and for a lack of control, control he cannot actually exercise. When people complain that he is not doing enough, they fail to see the whole picture. Anger has a way of clouding judgment, and any person in President Obama's position would no doubt be tarred-and-feathered the same way. To expect any one person, no matter who they are, to be able to instantly and effectively take command of a situation on this scale, and to see to every detail, is ludicrous. To hold a man to account because he cannot do it, ridiculous. Even when men went to the Moon, it took hundreds of thousands of people to get them there, and the President was not one of them, in as much as President Kennedy set the ball in motion.

While the President is the nominal head of the nation, he cannot undertake everything himself. He must work in conjunction with the other branches of government, and must rely on the skills of those appointed to roles within his administration, as well as the civil servants who serve the country no matter who lives in the White House. It goes even further, for at the heart of our nation, are we, the people, those who make this nation run at its core. Together, as one nation, we can solve this problem. Recrimination has no place while the problem exists; there will be time for that later. Right now, we must all put our best efforts into seeing this through. There is something each of us can do, even if it is only a little thing.

Ultimately, the true cause of this disaster is the insatiable desire of our nation for energy from fossil fuel, and even as we struggle to stem the spewing fountain of oil in the Gulf, we must do more to stem the tide of oil required to run our nation. Instead of wasting energy in pointing fingers and placing blame, let us do what it takes to lend a hand, if in no other way than by reducing our consumption of oil and gas. Let us recognize that serious men and women, right on up to our President, are struggling to set this right, in conditions that make our ordinary travails seem trivial. History will tell us how and why, but it is up to us to ensure that this never happens again.