Thursday, September 30, 2010

Cause And Effect

His name was Tyler Clementi. I say "was", because the smart and quiet 18-year-old Rutgers University student committed suicide. It is not unusual for high school and college students to kill themselves; the stresses of growing up through puberty and the pressure to excel in school often lead to children finding themselves isolated and unable to cope. Though not everyone succumbs to the creeping fears, doubts, and self-loathing, occasionally one will decide that death is preferable to the "torture" of living.

What makes this death more heart-breaking and mind-numbing than the usual, is the why. Two fellow 18-year-old students, Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei, perpetrated what can only be described as the most reprehensible and disgusting "prank" on Tyler -- they allegedly placed a video camera in his dorm room, and captured a video of one of his sexual encounters, then apparently broadcast it over the Internet. What was undoubtedly horrifying to Tyler, was that it was a sexual encounter with another man.

Let me be clear: that it was an encounter with a member of the same sex is nothing new, and it is nothing to be ashamed of. The body is a container, a shell, a power supply and protection for the human brain and the genetic material that created it. That we come in two genders is obvious physically, but gender is more than a function of genitalia. The profusion of LGBT individuals in the world shows us that "gender" goes deeper, is more a function of hormones and neural wiring that what sexual organs you happen to have. Love, the tenderest of human emotions, is figuratively a function of the heart, not the head, and there is no reason to think that two people of the same gender cannot love each other. Love is about feelings, emotions, and psychological compatibility, not which tab fits into which slot.

Still, our society has, for the most part, a hard time accepting this. As with anything that science brings to light, the beliefs of many override reason, and they see the human body as some divine arbiter of who you are, and believe that things can only work one way, where that way is merely the design, not the demarcation. A spiritual fear of same sex love over centuries has led to many homosexuals becoming easy fodder for the self-righteous and bigoted. Even now, with the virulent and voracious attacks on attempts to equalize the playing field for LGBT community, we see that innate fear being stamped with the approval of religious zealots, who are more afraid of the truth that stares them in the face, that perhaps their view of how the creator built his creation is not as simple as their ancestors once believed.

Given this, a society where homosexuality is a battleground, an easy target for the bigot and the bully, can we not feel the weight of this discovery of the transgression by Tyler as similar to a weight we have felt on our own hearts? How crushing, to know that his experimentation, in an earnest attempt to learn more about his feelings and desires, would be turned into fodder for the rabid packs of hate-mongers and ignorance-peddlers. More horrifying still, to know that this information would make it out to the world through the auspices of the Internet, bringing down misguided and vitriolic homophobia on a simple 18-year-old college student. How does one fight a world? How can one absorb the blows of dozens, hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands, perchance even millions? What can you do, when something you thought few would ever know about, is now front-and-center on the greatest communications network of our time?

So, Tyler Clementi killed himself, his life snuffed out by the weight of a world of rabid hatred and fear that would rain down on him mercilessly. And now, two classmates stand accused, but only of an invasion of privacy; heinous enough, given what they did, but far from the only charge they should suffer. For as surely as the planner of a murder also receives a charge of capital murder, even though they have not pulled the trigger or plunged in the knife, so, too, must these two amoral cretins face their actions with a charge of manslaughter. No doubt, they thought nothing of what they did, for this "prank" was not a hallmark of true rational thought and social conscience, but the act of moronic, misanthropic, and mean-spirited individuals, with no consideration or clue as to what decency is. They may not have pushed him off the bridge, but they pushed the poor man's mind into a place where that seemed like the best resolution to a problem they caused.

These two are not alone in their indecency. This week has seen too many stories of LGBT individuals committing suicide, harangued and hectored by small-minded and socially inept peers, who no doubt pick up the threads of their abject hatred from their homes and from other members of their community. How can we be surprised, when the nightly news is filled with scenes of screaming and shrieking sycophants, claiming homosexuality an "abomination," and treating LGBT individuals as if they were lepers, or worse, subhuman? Why should we be shocked, when words spill down from pulpits for supposedly "Christian" ministers, condemning gays and their lifestyle, spreading homophobia in place of messages of mutual understanding and fellowship?

No more. We, of good heart and great conscience, cannot stand for this sort of behavior in our country, or in the world. You cannot look at an LGBT human being and not see them as any less, human, and certainly no less deserving of the freedom and liberty of everyone else. If we are to be true to the founding credo of our nation, that all are created equal, then to condemn these people simply because of what they are is morally reprehensible and hypocritical of us. They want nothing from us, they take nothing from us, and in the end, only seek that which they should have by fiat: the right to live their life as they will, free of ignorant persecution. If we cannot give them this, then our nation is broken, and we mark democracy as a failure.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

These Are The People You Want Leading Us?

As the rabble that is The Tea Party continues to shake the political trees, voter apathy reaches new lows, and partisan bickering and gamesmanship replaces governance, it is probably best to reflect on just what it all means to you and I and our fellow Americans. Perhaps the gravity of the electoral process has lightened over the centuries, to the point that -- in an age of instant communication and the global village -- we feel more disconnected from our leaders than at any time in the past. When the nation was formed, it still had a very close-knit and neighborly feel, but with its expansion in size, distance, and population, perhaps the differences between us are more stark than they were at the time of the Revolutionary War.

Congress, which is the linchpin of Federal Government, being the place where laws are incubated, hatched, and set free to provide all Americans with the protections afforded us by the Constitution, is certainly the most important branch of our tripartite government. The President has very little unitary power, owing to not being a monarch. He/she can only work with what is given to them by Congress. Even a declaration of war, though the purview of the Commander-in-Chief, must still be ratified by Congress. It is by working together, that the Legislative branch and the Executive branch, under the watchful eye of the Judicial branch, bring our nation alive, provide all Americans liberty, protect our freedoms, and protect us from those things which might harm us. The intent of the system was to give average citizens a means to ensure balance and fairness in legislation, by leaving the ultimate responsibility for the composition of the House, Senate, and Presidency to the voting public.

The Republic which we inherited from our ancestors is still basically no different than that they crafted, with some additions and re-engineering to smooth out inequities and fix some basic flaws. No one would claim that the United States and its government are perfect, but then the Founding Fathers knew that when they created the Constitution, and made provision for the American people to make the necessary changes to allow our government to grow and change with the times. Even as the Revolutionary War was being fought, science and technology were beginning to change things, and the Founders knew that a future nation would have to adapt to the changes brought about by these forces. It would also have to deal, eventually, with those short-comings they, themselves, had written into the Constitution.

So, despite the misgivings of some, the composition and functioning of the Federal Government were left in the hands of the citizens. They would have to find the most capable among them to represent their interests at the capitol, and do that not only for the local constituency, but for the country as a whole. Congressmen would have the daunting task of listening to what the home folks said, and keeping in mind the general welfare of all Americans at the same time. This balancing act would require only those of the most open minds and greatest character, for to go to Washington, D.C. with a personal agenda, bent on making legislation only to benefit themselves and their cronies, would be a mockery of and a perversion of, the legislative process.

It cannot be said that the history of Congress and the Presidency has been filled with only the most stellar and erudite minds; the problem with leaving the decision as to whom will represent them, to the people, is that a great many of the people can be swayed by words that resonate with how they feel, even where those words do not represent the truth. Rhetoric and obfuscation can make a king of a pauper, and as the centuries pass, free government has become less a function of the citizenry and more a function of the power brokers. Party politics has led to rampant abuse of a system meant to protect the citizens of America from the very excesses practiced in Washington, D.C., and the saddest part is that this is done with the tacit approval of Americans, who vote the same barons back into control of their fiefdoms, then are shocked when nothing changes.

It is not enough, however, to simply vote out the incumbents, though that is definitely a start. What is more important, is that the incumbents be replaced by people of good character, who are concerned for general society, and are willing to subsume their personal views to the needs of the country as a whole, and to the Constitution which they serve. Sadly, despite the fervor that has swept the nation, stoked by cries ripped pell-mell from the history books, the citizenry has missed the mark, trying to replace the tyranny of the politician with the tyranny of the ignorant. By subsuming themselves to personal messages and talking points, they have failed to take a good look at the candidates they would support, and find them, as so many of us do, wanting.

Whether it is by racist overtones, through misappropriation of campaign funds, rejection of established fact or convention, or the desire to override the personal liberty of all Americans with their vision of what is right and wrong, these candidates reveal themselves to be unfit to represent all America and provide the kind of leadership required to lift Congress from its muck and the miasma of partisanship. They would simply open up a new front, to create even more stagnation and chaos, and would lead to even less action. They would spend more time on trying to reshape the social structure of America, and less time doing what was necessary to keep the country moving forward and becoming strong again. They would attempt to sow their religious beliefs and have them bloom into new laws, restricting the freedoms and liberties of all Americans, forcing a confrontation with the Supreme Court.

It isn't about talking points. It's not about political gain. It's not about who controls what. In the end, it is about how we govern ourselves, and who we ask to take on the responsibility. Only by choosing wisely and thoughtfully, do we show the world the strength of democracy built by the people, for the people.

Monday, September 27, 2010

To Your Health

Provisions of the new health care law passed by Congress are starting to come into play, though the bulk of the law will not be fully enacted until 2014. It is the start of a change in how health care in the United States is run, a change that was long overdue and still remains hotly contested. The Republican Party and its disreputable offshoot The Tea Party, are busy trying to win votes by claiming they will repeal the law when they take over Congress, failing to take into account all the obstacles that stand in their way. Even if they manage to secure majorities in both houses, any repeal would cross the President's desk and surely be vetoed, leading to the much harder task of garnering a two-thirds majority to override the veto. To say it would be easier to summit Mt. Everest is an understatement.

What both opposition parties fail to realize is that failing to keep the health care law from being passed in the first place, there is little chance they can ever do anything about it. It would be two years at the earliest before there would potentially be a Republican President, and even then, there would be no guarantee of that happening, nor of the Republicans maintaining control of Congress. A lot can happen in two years. Plus, there will be the inconvenient fact that, as more provisions of the bill take effect, people would suddenly like what they have gained, and be loathe to see it taken away. It is becoming quite clear, that for all the ruckus thrown up during the debate over the bill, the opposition could not keep it from becoming law, and now has very little recourse but to work within its provisions to make any changes they would like.

It comes down to a simple truth: health care, like so many things that did not start out that way, has now become an inalienable right, a part of the general welfare that many Americans are dependent on. Gone are the days of going to the family doctor and paying the bill like any other; the current medical landscape is one of forms, co-pays, networks, regulations and red tape, drugs being peddled like cigarettes used to be, and an acute lack of health care professionals to meet the growing demands of an aging population. Add to that the epidemic of obesity, due to the inability of families to find or afford decent food, or the time to prepare and serve it, along with the explosion in varying sorts of chronic diseases, and some sort of reform to rein in health care costs was necessary. The health care law may not have been perfect, but it was certainly a step long overdue to try and control skyrocketing costs, soaring insurance premiums, and the growth of an ever-expanding pool of the uninsured.

For all the talk of how others do not want to pay for everyone else's health care, the fact remains that not only do we all pay for it, we pay more for it. People who are without insurance or some way to pay for their services are not turned away. The Hippocratic Oath forbids medical professionals from turning anyone aside; society would be horrified if hospitals simply let people die in their parking lots for lack of ability to pay for medical care. So, hospitals and doctors end up treating those without insurance and sending taxpayers the bill, in the form of increased costs and higher taxes. Allowing people to go without any kind of assistance in paying for their medical care is a road to financial ruin for the nation.

It always easy to assume that everything government does is somehow outrageous, out of control, bad for us, or unnecessary, but given the task of running a large nation, a central government with the mandate of providing for the general welfare of all its citizens must do everything it can to protect those citizens. It is only through the health of the citizenry that a nation lives. It is not enough to protect a nation's borders, if the people are allowed to suffer. Many a totalitarian regime has put the existence of the nation as idea ahead of the existence of the people that form the nation. Treating people as disposable is barbarism.

We are faced with such choices because, as Thomas Paine wrote, "[but] government, even its best state, is but a necessary evil." We need government to make a level playing field for all Americans, because we, left to our own devices, will not. We will not treat our neighbors as we would be treated. We will not extend the same courtesy to others as we expect to be extended to us. For all our protestations of being a "Christian" nation, it is amazing the level to which many Americans will complain bitterly about others receiving the benefits they receive. The Founding Fathers did their level best to make it clear that their intent was to build a nation where all Americans were treated as equal, and we have spent a good portion of our nation's history treading on that legacy, too busy trying to carve the United States into discrete chunks.

Health care reform, along with Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, form a bulwark as necessary to the strength of our nation as the armed forces. If our nation is made as strong in body, as it is in spirit, then there is no reason that we cannot regain our stature as a leader among nations. For this to be true, we must put aside the animosity stirred up by partisan politics, and look at this for what it is, a chance to prove to the world that we are capable of growth as a society. Only then we will become not just a military superpower, but a social superpower as well.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Inside Outsider

With every election cycle, comes the inevitable boasting and bluster that is partisan politics. Republicans claim Democrats are running the country into the ground with their rampant spending, even as they are attempting ridiculous and fiscally unsupported tax cuts. Democrats complain Republicans are busy saying no to everything, even as they are constantly waging war against the Republican Party rather than working with them. At the end of the day, neither party comports themselves well in the arena of governing responsibly. Both parties are more interested in scoring political points than in settling down and doing the hard task of running a large country.

So it is, that when mid-term elections roll around, so many candidates for office attempt to challenge the incumbents with the claims of being Washington, D.C. "outsiders," people not immersed in the rough-and-tumble of the nation's capitol. Sadly, these candidates inevitably become beholden to the national party organizations for funding, and the "outsider" tag is quickly stripped away as they fall in line behind their party, lest they lose the support they so desperately need to run for office. Once they take cash from the national party organizations, any air of independence is completely fouled with the stench of partisanship. Should they actually win and find themselves in Congress, they then quickly find out that they are expected to toe the party line, lest the goodies of Congressional membership be withheld.

Politics is no longer the realm of the people, but the realm of the party, and the parties in this country are beholden to special interest groups and corporations, who dole out huge amounts of money to elect candidates that will do their bidding. Members of Congress may harrumph and harangue, claiming they are not the puppets of others, but their election coffers are the surest sign that they have been bought and sold by those who would stack the legislative deck in their favor.

Even the nascent Tea Party is simply an offshoot of the Republican Party, a more vocal, more rambunctious, more morally conflicted version of its older sibling. Built upon the anger of fringe conservatives, wishing to rein in American society by clamping down on those things that are at the root of freedom and liberty in this country, it is no better or worse than the established parties. It, too, is rife with greed, corruption, ignorance, bigotry, and political payback. It represents an opportunity for Republican players and retainers to get around the party establishment, riding those conservative sycophants who are willing to avoid applying critical reasoning to their choice of candidates.

For American government to function at any level, it starts with the people, deciding that they will no longer be held hostage by small numbers of people deciding to determine their destiny. It is far too easy for any group to decide that they know what is best for all Americans, but as has been said many times, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, no matter how many that few should be. Personal conviction, religious faith, and political precedent should not rule; they should be factored in to what is required to provide for the general welfare of everyone in this country. The diversity of this nation means that all views must be considered, and compromise must be the order of the day. Eventually, though some may grumble, consensus must lead to rules and laws that all can live under without fear of coercion or corruption.

If we truly wish to live by the spirit of the framers of the Constitution, and do justice to the sacrifice of those who forged a nation, then we owe it to them to throw off the shackles of organized politics, and reassert control of our nation, a nation of, by, and for the American citizenry. Until we decide to sweep away the detritus that has piled up in the corners of our Congress, we risk watching our freedom being further eroded by forces that would rather preserve their power than preserve our liberty.

Friday, September 24, 2010


A woman was killed last night in Virginia, killed by the State, killed for planning and perpetrating a heinous crime, the murder of her husband and stepson by killers she hired and apparently, had sexual relations with. She was apparently of a lower IQ, and her lawyers made the case that given her more limited mental capacity, her punishment was far too harsh. No one agreed with them; even the Supreme Court of the United States refused to stay the execution. It is interesting to note that she did not commit the murders herself, but the men she hired have received life sentences, and not the death penalty.

There is no reason to argue the merits of the case here. Justice in America is an imperfect system sometimes, and no matter what we may think of it, as long as the system operates as intended, we cannot argue with the result, having given our tacit approval to it by electing our representatives, who are responsible for the statutes enforced. The simplest way to change how justice works is to change the laws, and to do that, we must vote for the right representatives to do it.

What we must discuss, once and for all, is the need for retribution and vengeance in the name of the State. The idea is as old as humanity: an eye for an eye. You kill one of ours, we kill one of yours. You attack our tribe, we attack yours. Death is still, sadly, the ultimate currency of justice, and the belief has survived the millennia, that the murderer must die to make up for the life or lives they have taken, as some kind of appeasement of God or the universe.

Murder is the most heinous of crimes. To take a life, with malice and in violence, is to stain the soul, because once taken, it cannot be restored. Death is the ultimate doorway to whatever lies beyond, a door that only admits, never releases. Once the murderer commits the act, they are persona non grata in human society.

Then comes the hammer of justice, to strike them down. The murderer can expect little sympathy and faint mercy at the hands of a justice system that marks them as the worst of the worst. Even where there are mitigating circumstances, the fact of relieving another human being of life leads others to look down on the person whose hands are covered in innocent blood.

Herein lies the issue that vexes us even now: do we take from the murderer, the life that they so easily took from someone else? Does a murderer, by committing the act, forfeit their own life by fiat? Is there true justice in killing the killer? My mind always told me that those who found it so easy to take life, should realize that to do so, meant the forfeiture of their own. In this way, the idea would prove a natural deterrent to murder. Now, I am not so sure.

When you watch shows on television about cases of murder, what invariably strikes you is that, even in states where the death penalty is prevalent, murder still goes on, and goes on in a profusion of ways, from the simple murder by a robber surprised by a store clerk, to the cold, calculated murder of the serial killer, reeling off victims one-by-one or in droves, to the person who has become unhinged by circumstances, and seeks revenge for perceived injustices in their life by taking the lives of others, often in armed and brutal slaughter.

Murder is not the result of the higher, thinking brain; it is a relic of the primitive animal brain. Deep down, instincts from millions of years ago, the kill-or-be-killed, fight-or-flee kind, still lurk in the dark recesses of human consciousness. Triggered by childhood abuse, chemical imbalance, brain injury, drug abuse, psychological torture, or even conditioning, the murder of another is the ceding of control of the cerebral cortex to the primitive medullar regions. The instinct, the need for self-preservation, bubbles up from its hiding place, overwhelms reason and logic, and takes even the most decent of people to a place where taking the life of another is almost a requirement. In essence, the idea, the instinct, the drive to kill another being is a part of everyone of us, and only those of us with the strongest wills can overcome whatever urges it may flood our higher logic centers with.

Given that it is a hard-coded piece of our primitive past, and that the act can be triggered in so many fashions, is it any wonder we are still plagued by it, even in the calmest and quietest of communities? Some of the most peaceful nations on Earth still have murder, though perhaps not at the rate found in the United States. It is there, hiding in the bushes, waiting for its moment. For many of us, that moment never comes, and the instinct slowly dies, fading and wasting away to nothing, smothered by more reasoned and logical impulses.

So, from a rational standpoint, the idea that proclaiming that a murderer will be hoist upon their own petard, subject to the most singular and permanent punishment known, in order to deter further murders, is folly. The instinct to murder is welded too closely to us still, to be so easily stamped out by our commandments or laws. While our rational selves know inherently that taking another life is wrong and amoral, even that knowledge is sometimes not enough to overcome a deep-seated desire, biding its time in the darker parts of our primitive brains. To kill the killer is to place no greater stricture on murder than can be reasonably taught to any human being through parents, teachers, and clergy. For some, no matter the environment they are immersed in, the urge to kill will not be sated or starved. If we are to consider ourselves a civilized race of beings, then we must also live by the stricture we would have others live by. For the State, or even a citizen or citizens, to decide that murder is a justifiable punishment for murder, is to violate that tenet we hold so dear in our hearts: thou shall not kill.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Don't Ask, Don't Care

I was told by someone, formerly of the military, that my opinion about gays in the military does not count. It seems that being an American citizen, who elects the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, whose tax dollars go to support the military's budget, and whose life is dependent on those brave men and women who would willingly sacrifice theirs for it, does not count. Apparently, the members of the armed forces should dictate what they do and how they do it, and the rest of us should butt out.

What a lovely idea -- no civilian control over the military. Let's just let them go about the business, unfettered by civilian oversight or complaint. Let them discriminate, let them segregate, let them pretend that they are more important than the country they defend. These people are supposed to be "citizen soldiers," recruited from the ranks of Americans everywhere, to provide for the common defense of the nation. They are us; we are them.

While the military is not a good breeding ground for social change, it is one of the most public arenas for it. It is supposed to be a cross-section of America, representative of who we are and what we stand for. It gains strength through diversity. The inclusion of blacks, then women, saw upheaval and rough moments, but eventually those groups became an established part of military life. But for some reason, the idea that homosexuals are in, or want to be part of, the military, sparks an entirely hyperbolic reaction, akin to the idea that Western civilization will collapse.

There will always be those who, either through homophobia or prejudice or ignorance, will regard gays as somehow being "abnormal" or "disruptive." That abnormality or disruption, though, is caused by those people themselves, not by the gays in their midst. It is their overreactions that cause stress and strife, as if gay people exude some mysterious radiation that will influence all those around them to break from their social norms and immediately crave the flesh of the same sex, a kind of perverted zombification. This is, of course, far from the truth. Homosexuals are the way they are because something inside them influences them in that direction. It is no doubt genetic, and for whatever reason, it is fairly prevalent in our species. They did not choose homosexuality; it chose them. They had no way of knowing of the propensity, until they were able to sense it and until it influenced them in ways they were not ready for.

In the end, however, say what you will, but gays are human beings, and in this case, Americans. They are afforded the same rights by the Constitution as anyone else, though there are those eager to change that, as if to prevent a plague from descending upon the land. To treat them as anything but human, to scorn or ridicule them for a choice they did not ultimately make, is to sow the fields of ignorance with a new crop, a bitter harvest of intolerance that will feed no one, and lead to divisions akin to those of The Civil War era. To think that we are unable to learn the lessons of history, cast aside the demons of our humanity, and for once embrace all human beings in fellowship, is a sad commentary on our growth as a nation.

I have nothing but the greatest respect and admiration for those who serve in the military, and wished I might have joined those ranks. Members of my family did participate in WWII, and I hold them in the highest esteem. Anyone who would willingly give up their life for others is a hero, even if they do not fire a shot in anger, for just reconciling the idea that combat may inevitably lead to their death, and that they may be required to take another life in the course of their duty, leads me to believe that they are of the highest moral caliber. If they are not saints, not perfect, all the better, for they are just like you and me, and nothing more. That makes their heroism that much more amazing.

In that vein, I would think the military would be proud to count among its ranks anyone who wishes to serve to defend the United States of America, and is willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to preserve freedom and defend democracy. That they should shun someone merely because they are different, is another poor postscript to an otherwise glorious history of defense of our nation. Those in the armed forces must know that the bond of combat, the test of shared strife, and the coming together as one to perform the toughest missions ever asked of any group, transcends all differences, and forges men and women from everywhere together into an organization that has persevered in the face of every adversity for well over two hundred years. The military forces of the United States is only as strong as the nation it serves, and the nation it serves says that it is time to drop the last barrier to being true defenders of freedom and liberty.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

43.6 Million Reasons

According to a United States Census Bureau report, in 2009, 43.6 million Americans were at or below the poverty line, defined as making less than 21,954 USD per year. That translates to 1 in 7 Americans being in poverty.

Let that sink in.

That means that the next time you are in a crowded room, or at Wal-Mart, or at a doctor's office, you can count the people in the room, and every seventh one of them is poor. Of course, being poor, they might not be in that room or that store or that office; a great many of those in poverty will not be found roaming the halls of commerce or medicine. They will, instead, be struggling to survive, eking out a living in menial, low-wage jobs, relying on public assistance to fill in the gaps in their income, and hoping desperately that their job is not the next one cut. Or perhaps, they aren't even that fortunate, forced to live in shelters, or on the street, or in a tent in a park or under a bridge, bereft of even the simple comforts of a home and food.

For all the chatter about how this is a "Christian nation," it becomes more evident as the years pass that it is far from the truth, for anyone living by the principles of Jesus Christ would not be able to stomach the thought of one in seven of their neighbors struggling with poverty. He proclaimed that it was our duty to love everyone, and that we were to do everything we could to lift up those who are often ignored or shunned by society. He proclaimed that there was no wealth where there was want. He wanted humanity to do its duty to itself. And while many of us strive, in some measure, to follow his example and do what we can for our brethren, we, too, are stretched to the limit, burdened by bills it is increasingly hard to pay. We give what we can, but it is never enough.

Is it too much to ask of those of greater means to help provide sustenance and succor for those of lesser means? It is couched as an imposition by those who make more money, to be forced to support social programs that do not substantially affect them, to be forced to pay more in taxes for which they receive no greater benefit. But isn't it the truth that their wealth is a result of those who work for them, directly or indirectly? That without the individuals who build and manufacture and program and toil at all the other menial and manual trades, there would be no wealth for them to covet? Or do they see other Americans are merely more disposable commodities, to be used until they are no longer capable, then replaced by the next desperate soul?

There are 46.3 million reasons to change how we, as a nation, should deal with our economic problems and social issues. Poverty is the driver for so many of the ills we see around us: drug abuse, domestic violence, rape, robbery, and murder. 46.3 million reasons, but it should take only one. The idea that one child will go to bed tonight hungry. The idea that one family will spend the night in a shelter, rather than in a home. The idea that one man will turn to crime to support his family because he can't find a job. The idea that someone will turn to drugs to salve their guilt over being unable to provide for their family. The idea that a baby will suffer because it cannot receive proper health care. The idea that a veteran would be forced to live on the streets, after making so many sacrifices for his/her country. These are the reasons that everyone should be working toward a more equitable society.

If greed is good, then charity and compassion are better, and better still is accepting that your fellow human beings are suffering, and you have the means to do something about it. Tax cuts, economic stimulus, bailouts, unemployment insurance -- this is not about the economy, but about society, about ensuring that people who want to work can work, can earn a decent wage, and support themselves and their families. If those who would rail against "socialized government" were to stop shouting long enough to hear the voices of the needy, they would realize that people want to work, want to have jobs, want to pursue the American dream, but they cannot do it until the captains of industry decide to put industry over profit, and begin hiring again.

War on poverty is not the answer -- the elimination of poverty is. We must do whatever is necessary to erase this scourge from our country, and then the world. Where poverty reigns, the ills of society will continue to follow. If we consider ourselves a moral people, then it is criminal to allow so many to suffer deprivation and want. It is in the hands of those with the most resources to do their human duty; until they do, the rest of us will do what we can. We cannot rest easy while one belly is empty, or one family homeless, or one American suffers.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Bad Apples

It is far easier to condemn a group for the faults of a few, than to take a long, cold, hard look at the larger picture. Stereotypes are often born of those who make themselves prominent from a group, even though they are not representative of the whole. This leads to the whole body of individuals being dragged down into the mire of iniquity, where they do not belong. It is better to single out those bad apples for the treatment they deserve, rather than extend our disgust and displeasure to everyone.

Islamic radicals have done an excellent job poisoning American opinion against Muslims. Far from pointing out America's "war on Muslims," they have been able to create it from whole cloth, by showing the rest of the world how we react to their religion, with threats of burning the Qur'an, or marches opposing the building of mosques (or community centers), or even abandoning one of the fundamental precepts of our founding, the freedom to worship, by claiming Islam is "not a real religion."

Of course, what can be said for Islam can be said for Christianity. The tiny church group that created the furor over the potential burning of the Islamic holy book is a tiny fraction of all Christianity. It is certainly -- we would hope -- not a representative cross-section of the many and varied Christian sects, or even the Roman Catholic religion.

And of the Roman Catholic religion, we could say the same, that though the idea of priests preying on innocent children is repugnant and reprehensible, those priests certainly do not represent a sizable fraction of all the priesthood. The Roman Catholic Church, for its many faults, still tries to do good in the world, though its messages has become less secular and more deterministic of late. The church's refusal to allow women into the higher echelons of the faith has certainly led to these issues being more pervasive than they should be.

When it comes to women, we must also learn to not look at the likes of Christine O'Donnell, Sarah Palin, and Michelle Bachmann as the new wave of women in politics. They are but a small slice of the much larger pie of women making strides in the political arena. While they may seem to be weakening women's positions in the world, I think they are in fact creating dialog that was for too long missing in America. It almost seems as if the feminist movement has lost steam, with younger women coming to the conclusion that with so many freedoms, there was not much left to fight for, even though equality on paper does not translate into equality in society.

When we speak of equality in society, we must touch on that portion of Americans who are virulently homophobic, working diligently to ensure that gay people do not end up being regarded as equal to themselves, borrowing from the era of Jon Crow segregation in all but the signs on water fountains. The majority of those who may not appreciate homosexuality as a fact of life are probably not of the type to look at them as sub-human or less than normal; they merely are scared that somehow giving gays the same rights as everyone else will dilute their way of life, when nothing could be further from the truth, given how watered down the "sacrament" of marriage is in our modern age.

The list goes on. In every category, in every group or organization or society, there are those who stretch the limits, who go beyond what is normal, what is fair, and what is decent, to proselytize and pound their fists, enraged by the rest of us who choose not to buy into their paranoia, fear, and ignorance. We can never truly be rid of them, for they are a natural product of our development. Just as there are those who will find it possible to transcend the moment, to become much more than simply a product of their gender, religion, nationality, or sexual orientation, there will be those who retain a death grip on the walls they have created, and the boxes they have labeled, trying to create order in their rapidly deteriorating universe. They will wail and rail against change, commit themselves to do battle with it at every turn, to keep their "precious" world alive, no matter the cost to others. Because it is never truly for the greater good that they do this; it is merely to fill the empty void that would otherwise be their life, to give them some purpose and meaning, even as they see humanity passing them by.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Nobody Looks Like Joe McCarthy

They come from the shadows, from the corners, from out-of-the-way places. They seem, on the surface, to be normal, average Americans, concerned citizens who only want to change things, to get America back the way it ought to be.

None of them look like Joe McCarthy. Even Joe McCarthy didn't look like Joe McCarthy. There was little chance of knowing to what depths he would go to ferret out the "Red menace," and in the beginning, he was able to fill a power vacuum, and turn himself into the most feared man in Washington, D.C. He might have thought his motivations were pure and that he was saving America from Communism, but in the end, he was merely a bully and a thug, so busy raking innocent people over the coals and ruining careers, that the spies and sympathizers he claimed to be exposing were still firmly ensconced in the halls of power, only to be revealed after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Well-meaning, well-intentioned, but ultimately hypocritical people attempt to steal into the spotlight in an effort to push their agenda, always couched in terms of "saving America" or "reclaiming America" or "restoring America," as if America were a venerable old house that had fallen into disrepair and required rehabilitation to bring it back to shining glory. If America can be said to be in some form of disrepair, then these champions of restoration might wish to peer into the looking-glass to behold the faces of its absentee landlords.

Where was The Tea Party during the Reagan years, when taxes for the rich were cut in half but the Federal budget deficits skyrocketed? Or during the reign of George Bush, Sr. when reading his lips led to higher taxes, which failed to do anything to halt a near doubling of the national debt? And it's still shocking that they were not roused form their slumber during the reign of George Bush, Jr., when the reduced budget deficits of the Clinton era were exploded by rampant spending on wars, unsupported tax cuts, and an increase in pork barrel spending. And why is The Tea Party now not vehemently standing up against the reinstatement of the Bush era tax cuts, which would add an unsupported three trillion dollars in debt to the budget deficit?

It isn't about looking at the whole picture, picking facts from amidst hyperbole and obfuscation. It isn't about coming up with reasonable and actionable plans that would create a stabilization of the economy and lower tax rates while increasing revenue through the creation of more jobs. It is about peddling an agenda, taking advantage of a seismic shift in American society with the election of a black President, to hurl forth long-hidden desires to wrest control of the nation from the "Socialists" and reestablish America "as it should be." It is about trading on fear, xenophobia, and ignorance, to whip sycophantic followers into suspending rational judgment to feed the egos of small people who insist that their way is the right way, and the rest of America is just going to have to accept it.

Far from being defenders of liberty, these half-baked "patriots" are its greatest threat, secure in their belief that their view of America is the "right" one, and that anyone who disagrees with them is unpatriotic or traitorous. Far from honoring the contributions, sacrifices, and work of the Founding Fathers, they denigrate their struggle to bring about a new birth of freedom and liberty by ensuring that it is denied to as many others as possible. They would strip away the rights of women, homosexuals, immigrants, and anyone else they felt was "undeserving" of the same liberties they have. They would force gays out of the military, denying them the right to defend their own country. They would make a woman or young girl bear the wicked spawn of incest and/or rape, simply to salve their conscience and perpetuate their dogma. They would hand the wealthy more money, and wait for it to "trickle down" out of their bank accounts. They would pull the rug out from under Americans struggling to survive, by doing away with health care and unemployment benefits and aid to the poor, all in the name of "fiscal responsibility." They would force us all to pray to their god, and would deny anyone who would worship otherwise the right to do so. They make a mockery of the Constitution and all it stands for.

Change in Washington, D.C. is necessary, but the change must be for the better and not the worse. These candidates are not interested in furthering the bond of humanity, or doing their human duty to help all their fellow citizens. They are in it for self-aggrandizement, for their own enrichment, coveting power which has been heretofore in the hands of others. They wish to enslave us with their wretched "morality," taking away liberty in the name of returning America to some colonial time, whereby races and classes were kept in their place, and obedience to god was paramount. It is the 21st Century, and they wish to live in the 17th Century. The world has passed them by, but they refuse to go away quietly.

Americans of good conscience must stand up to these bullies, and send them back to where they came from. We need serious people, willing to use reason, provide accountability, and agree to compromise, to put our house in order. America does not need to be restored, it needs to grow, to struggle up from the muck, and to once more become a nation of principles. To do so, will require us to step up, to realize that we are greater as a whole, than as a nation of classes and social barriers. We must reject the strident voices that would divide us, and embrace the song of fellowship that will unite us.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Will The Real Sarah Palin Please Stand Up?

Not being part of the "lamestream media," perhaps Demi-Governor Sarah Palin would mind explaining to me, a member of the "Main Street" that she speaks of so often, just what she stands for. I'm serious. I am not a political pundit, not a talking head, not even affiliated fully with a political party (save having worked on Election Day in 2008 as a Democratic Party poll challenger at my local polling place). Being a lover of reason and logic, though, I am often troubled how she seems to say one thing, then say something else that does not mesh with something she previously stated.

Take, for example, fiscal responsibility. From what I gather, she is all for government having to pay for the things it does. Well, who doesn't? We'd love the Federal government to have the funding necessary to pay for things without driving up the national debt. However, if that is the case, then how come she is advocating for the continuation of the Bush-era tax cuts, tax cuts which had no funding source behind them? That would seem to be contradictory to her message; if we do not collect enough in taxes, we will not have enough money to pay for necessary government programs.

Of course, that would lead naturally to her position against big government. The problem is: she has given no indication as to which parts of government are no longer necessary, and how much it would cost to shut them down, because it's not just a question of letting everyone go and closing the doors and turning out the lights. Then there would the problem of all these people being suddenly unemployed; of course, they could simply pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.

There are her constant statements about her belief in, and the need to defend, the Constitution from the current administration, which is busy subverting it. Mind you, she has not told us how it is being subverted, nor can she point to one thing she has done to prevent the "subversion" from going on. It may be that her mere presence in the public arena is enough to keep the administration in abeyance, so that when people inconveniently point out that no subversion is going on, she can claim credit for it.

Also, when it comes to her love of the Constitution, she seems to have a hard time accepting that the provisions of it apply equally to all Americans. Take her opposition to the Muslim Community Center to be built two blocks from Ground Zero in New York City. Despite the fact that the developers have every right under the provisions of the First Amendment to build their center, to promote worship of Islam and better relations with other religions, Mrs. Palin is vehemently against their exercise of their rights. Such a contradiction must not have escaped her notice... or did it?

She is very big on freedom of speech, especially where that speech is hers. Strangely, again at odds with her persona as "Defender of the Constitution," is her opposition to those who protest against The Tea Party at rallies. What does she have against the right to peaceably assemble and express disagreement with the positions The Tea Party holds? Does she honestly believe that all those who do not agree with her are not entitled to voice their opinion?

While we are on the subject of personal freedom and liberty, can we discuss her opposition to abortion? Now, abortion is not a good thing, in and of itself; the fact is, there should be no necessity for it, but in the world we live in, it is a necessary evil, owing mainly to the machinations of men who do not have the honor for or the respect of women to do what is right, or whose intent is malevolent and malicious. Add to that an imperfect system of sexual education, and you have a prescription for increased abortion. It is a choice we hope a woman never has to make, but if she finds herself in such a situation, it is a choice she should have, as master of her own body. Unless, of course, you live in Sarah Palin's world. She, who chose to bring a child to term with a developmental disability, would seek to remove that choice from other women, and at the same time, make it harder for them and their peers to get the education necessary to prevent unwanted pregnancies from happening in the first place.

Let's not even get started on her desire to "Drill Baby, Drill"; she would tie us even further to a finite resource that is becoming harder and harder to obtain without extreme measures or without selling ourselves politically to other nations who hold the supply. An expansion of solar, wind, water, and nuclear power would severe our vulnerability to the whims of foreign powers, who could cripple us through the mere choking off of our fuel supply. As the recent Gulf Coast Oil Disaster pointed out, the lengths we must go to, to secure energy independence through drilling for more oil, will lead to even more wide-ranging consequences than trying to wring a depleted resource out of every nook and cranny of the Earth.

It is clear from her rhetoric and her staunch belief in the righteousness of her "cause," that she is not subject to self-doubt or self-analysis. The contradictions of her positions, and the hypocrisy they represent, show that, rather than being the "savior" of America, she is yet another in a long series of political busybodies whose goal is to impose her view upon the rest of us, running roughshod over the civil liberties that we all enjoy. She is unwilling to address these issues, preferring to blame her lack of critical reasoning on attempts by her opponents to discredit her. She would rather deflect criticism than meet it head-on. She believes that she knows what is best for us, and what is best for us is to cede control to her and her cronies.

It is clear that Demi-Governor Palin chooses not to see what is so clear to the rest of us -- that America is stronger for a diversity of opinion and for the ability of any citizen to live as they would, protected by a strong government, which will not allow others to usurp or invalidate their liberties. Given her myopia, the idea that she and her compatriots in The Tea Party are somehow going to "restore America," is as laughable as it is ludicrous. America does not require restoration; it does require strong and reasoned leadership, and that is something Mrs. Palin has proven that she cannot provide.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Long, Dark Tea-Time Of America

I must admit some fascination and an admiration for the Tea Party movement, albeit a small amount. That it represents a group of Americans who are tired of politics as usual and want to see lower taxes and a return to the Constitution, is commendable. That those messages come attached to meaningless and nonsensical arguments, specious reasoning, and a general ignorance does not do them any favors. They are, frankly, no different than the parties they have split off from, more about the message than about concrete and reasonable results.

If there's anything that irks me most about them, it's that the more moderate among us, those of us who are well-intentioned, reasonable, compassionate, and capable of compromise, are not making the same amount, if not more, noise that the Tea Party. For all their bluster and bravado, the resounding sound that emanates from a Tea Party rally is a cacophony of worn-out phrase and quarter-baked ideas, most of which have been recycled from the over two hundred-year history of our nation, and have been found to be as wanting in the past as they are now. Yet the moderate Americans, the ones who think for themselves, and who are the eventual swing voters in every election, are not looking upon these people with the decent amount of horror they should, and reacting accordingly. Some of us have taken to blogs and newspapers and web sites trying to sound a rallying cry, yet hearing only crickets.

America is beautiful for its freedom of speech and religion and press and justice for all, but mixed in with all that is the undercurrent of restlessness that attends people who see all of that as the province of a few, not the many, and believe in it only by their rules. The beauty in our Republic is that by using a representative system, we can hold at bay those who would seek to impose their will on all of us only for the reason that it is their will. This is not to say all the ideals they hold are somehow wrong, but many are nonsensical. They are mere sound bites and party plank tropes that are simply uttered every election cycle as if they were powerful incantations that could force us all under the thrall of the chanter. When you hear "smaller government," "lower  taxes," "getting government of our backs," and the like, it stirs a passion, but when you look behind the words, you see very little substance that would give the phrases any power. No one can define just how big the government should be, or how much money should be made available to run it. No one can explain how having regulatory agencies that oversee the safety of all Americans, both physical and financial is truly detrimental. No one can explain why it is all right for the government to tell a woman she cannot have an abortion, while at the same time saying it is wrong for the government to tell us what foods we can eat or what drugs we can take or how safe our cars should be.

Anyone can see -- or should be able to see --  that the solutions to the problems we face in this country are not solved by simple platitudes and shouted exhortations. Nor are they solved merely through foxy, down home wisdom, nor the rallying cries of centuries past. The problems that exist now, are problems of our making, constructed by a headlong technological rush into the 21st Century without a consequent social growth. We are still mired in issues that have been extant since recorded human history began: war, disease, pestilence, racism, sexism, poverty, and scarce resources. We continue to tread the same paths as so many of our ancestors have, because we have been unable to uncouple ourselves from the tired philosophies of the past. It is not enough to advance technologically; we must, concurrently, take the advantages technology gives us, and use it to make normative changes that advance us as a society and a species. To do less is to recycle the past, and tinge it with new illogic and ignorance.

If we want change in America, true change, then it starts with us. It starts with deciding to lay down pat answers and party favoritism, and sitting down at the table and seeing where we are at. We must bring all our minds together, and we must take a reasonable look at what we have and what we need, then proceed to map out a strategy for correcting the long-running ills of society. Whatever path it takes, we must be willing to put aside whatever ideas we may have clung to in the past, to give these new ideas a chance to work. Until we are willing to relinquish our grasp on futility, and place our energies toward truth, compassion, and action, the Tea Party and all other parties will simply go down as a continuation of the same treadmill we have been running on since the country's inception. Let us work together, that all might rise.

Saturday, September 11, 2010


I weep for...

Birthdays missed
Anniversaries not celebrated
Appointments not kept
Births unattended
Promotions missed
Prayers unanswered
For those who jumped
Those who burned
The heroes who rushed in
Everyone who watched
Leaders feeling helpless
Companies destroyed
Empty cubicles
Last messages on voice mail
Passengers uncomprehending
Passengers unyielding
Soldiers undaunted
Those who stayed
Those who ran

I weep.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Towers Fall Again

September 11th is being trampled on. It started with the conspiracy theorists and their wild, ridiculous, and unsupported accusations. It continued with an invasion of Iraq, a country that had nothing to do with the attack. It was sullied by Rudy Giuliani's insipid and infuriating use of that day as a rallying point for his Presidential bid. It has had dirt cast on it by the ignorant and hate-inspired ramblings of those who would oppose a Muslim cultural center in the same general area as Ground Zero, even though it would not be visible from the site, and would be there to promote peace and understanding. And now, as a pièce de résistance to the creeping morass that engulfs the day, a pastor of a fringe "Christian" sect has been allowed to co-opt the narrative with his reprehensible and ridiculous idea to burn Qurans on the anniversary, which has only served to inflame the passions of devout Muslims with its offensiveness.

The World Trade Center Towers, symbols of American preeminence and pride, linchpins of the lower Manhattan skyline, victims of hatred and hubris, are being torn asunder once again, not by planes loaded with volatile fuel, but people filled with volatile rhetoric. Unlike when Francis Scott Key was moved to write The Star Spangled Banner, this moment, which could have been made the rallying cry for further unity of purpose and of people, has been turned into a divisive and discordant event. The shock, and dismay, and grief of the day, has been replaced by hyperbole, bigotry, and hypocrisy.


I was there, in that city, on that day, miles from the epicenter of destruction, but still tied to it by the company I worked for, which had a large amount of office space in the World Trade Center, and by memories of the very first job I held in New York City, not far from it. I had lunched amidst their tall shadows. I had marveled at their sheer height, and bulk, and beauty against the sky. I had shopped in the Borders bookstore there, and still have the bookmark I received when I made my last purchase there. Those buildings were as much a part of me as anyone, for beneath them I had heaved a sigh as my first job in Manhattan went away, the company shriveling up as so many did at the end of the Dot Com bubble. On the day I filed for unemployment, I walked all the way from Midtown to Downtown, just to stand near them, and try to absorb, even minutely, their strength. Ever night, when I walked along the heights across the Hudson River in New Jersey, I would look longingly toward them, towering in the dark, hoping I would return.

Then they were gone.

As much as one can feel for those who lost loved ones that day, and my heart is forever scarred by the thought of the pain they suffered, especially those whose family and friends had to experience the suicidal plunges of the planes they were riding on, the death those people suffered was merciful and at least they know that those they loved are in a better place, brought to peace. For those of us who lived, even those of us who were not covered in dust, showered in concrete, or standing amidst the paper falling from the sky like snow, the death is slower, more tenuous, and more painful. For though we bear not a physical scar of the day, a part of us died that day, too. A small part, to be sure, but in us lies the death of our innocence and the world we know. Hopes, aspirations, peace, tranquility, shattered just as sure as steel was shattered by the force of an airplane impact.

Perhaps it was good that our naiveté died that day, that, not unlike Pearl Harbor, we were brought back to the reality of our place in the world. However, the price we paid was the opening of Pandora's box, loosing a new round of the evils of humanity into the daylight. Bigotry, hatred, intolerance, ignorance -- all these things that had lain dormant, not cast back upon the wind, to rain down on a hapless and anxious country. It was not long before those who lived by these negative associations began to absorb them, and turn them to their purposes. The end result: a country that could have used such a horrific event to fuse itself together even more tightly, is, instead, tearing itself apart and chewing itself away.

If the mass death of the innocent is not enough for us to demand better, if we do not see this as the opportunity to unite as one, stand atop our loftiest principles, and say to our foes "you cannot hurt us while we have our freedom and liberty," then the anniversary of that day is a sad one indeed, because beyond the toll of mortal beings, and the remaining collateral damage of those of us who still suffer with the memory, there is the damage to the American spirit. By casting aside that which made us strongest, our dedication to our principles and our belief in our Constitution as the blueprint for a truly democratic country, we cease to be an ennobled. If we wish to wallow in the mud of our enemies, so be it, but that removes any honor in our actions; to do precisely what our enemies say we do, is to hand them victory in their nonsensical and reprehensible war against us.

Thursday, September 9, 2010


‎"Thanks to TV and for the convenience of TV, you can only be one of two kinds of human beings, either a liberal or a conservative." - Kurt Vonnegut
If there can be said to be one overriding reason for the political chaos that seems to grip the United States, it is that political partisanship is the order of the day, and the American citizenry has all but ceded their skepticism to the major political parties. People are very happy to wear party affiliation as some badge of honor, and are more than willing to take up their party's talking points as sword and shield to defend the political turf they claim as theirs.

It was George Washington, in his farewell address to the country when he stepped down as President, who said of political parties:
The common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it. It serves always to distract the Public Councils, and enfeeble the Public Administration. It agitates the Community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection.
He knew from experience, that factions in politics would prevent the fledgling nation from overcoming inertia and making the bold moves that would keep it alive. Any malaise on the part of government would be exploited by foreign nations, and could lead to invasion by a foreign power. The precarious position of America at the time called for unity of purpose.

America is in no less precarious a position now. True, the idea of foreign invasion is fairly laughable, but our vulnerability is not necessarily such an overt one. Our economic power is weakening in the face of foreign competition and cheap labor, our energy supply is at the mercy of foreign powers who can cripple us by cutting off our supplies of oil, our economy is a shambles due to our over-extension of debt and the loss of jobs, and the freedom and liberty of all Americans is under attack by those who would see their brand of "morality" and "values" foisted upon the rest of us.

This is all due to the partisan bickering and sniping that has replaced civil discourse and compromise. It appears to be far more important to both the Democratic and Republican parties to fight over the spoils of democracy, plunging our Republic into stagnation and spiraling debt. It is far too important to maintain leverage, to scrap over every seat in Congress, to be able to try and enforce their agendas, than to govern the country in a spirit of fellowship and good will. It is important for one party to sabotage the President when he/she is of the other party, in hopes of derailing progress and making the President look weak. Procedural tricks and traps are used to stall, delay, or push through legislation, in an attempt to gain the upper hand. It is no longer about legislating, it is no longer about the general welfare, it is about power and who will wield.

Reaching this point is the failure of the citizenry, either through indifference, which causes us not to vote, believing we have no control over the process, or hubris, believing that we have overcome many of the country's social difficulties, or even through ignorance, allowing the major parties to do our thinking for us, lapping up their waves of dissonance and dissent. Relinquishing control of our nation, by shirking our duty as Americans, has led us to a point where we no longer truly control our own nation. We have sold our vote to the highest bidder, to the largest corporation, to the biggest braggarts and liars. Our complicity in our own political slavery is enough to make even the strongest person weep.

We are so removed from the rough-and-tumble of this nation's founding, that perhaps complacence was inevitable. The threat of loss of our newly found and hard-won freedom energized our founders, making them work together toward stabilizing and strengthening our nation. They knew that a central and strong government was going to be essential to hold the fractious colonies together, now that the imminent threat of British domination was removed. The States were going to have to be shepherded, cajoled, and in some cases forced, to maintain their cohesion, which was still new and raw. The Federal government would need broad powers, to ensure each State would treat every American equally, and to hold the Republic together through further potential strife and crises. They could not anticipate every change that would occur, every event that would influence the country, but they knew they had to put systems and rules in place to allow America to weather any potential future storm. It was their hope that common sense and common decency would carry us forward.

We take all of this for granted, now. Rather than populate Congress with representatives who can both represent us and our views, and use their god-given intelligence to do what is best for all Americans, we repeatedly elect the same power-hungry self-aggrandizers to occupy the halls of power. We have turned the election of representatives into the anointing of royalty, the creation of American barons and lords, who are loathe to relinquish their lands and titles back to the commoners. We refuse to exercise the simple act of questioning their accomplishments, of measuring their progress, of holding them up to their claims and comparing them to reality. Rather than determining what is best for ourselves and our fellow citizens, and electing people to carry out what we feel is needed, we let them dictate to us what we believe and think, and applaud them rabidly for their staunchness in the face of those who are looking to "cram things down our throats."

When you go to complain about the state of the nation, it is best to look in the mirror, for you and I and our neighbors and everyone in this country with the appointed responsibility to form a good and working government has had a hand in in it. We must shake off our complacency, we must rise, and we must demand better of our public servants. We cannot be so eager to accept everything they say at face value, and we cannot allow them to become entrenched in their seats, lest we turn them into lords and ourselves into vassals. The blood of the American body politic must occasionally be refreshed from the pool of the citizenry, as decent people stand up to take their hand at guiding the nation, just as the Founding Fathers intended it.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Loss Of Perspective

We, as a species, should be very aware now of our place in the scheme of things. In all the vastness that is the cosmos, on a solitary ball of rock, circling an average star, in a typical galaxy, in a nondescript galactic cluster, 13.7 billion light-years from the edge of creation, we sit as the sole example of intelligent life. We are as a grain of sand to the size of our solar system, an infinitesimal speck in a vast, empty ocean, containing only the occasional clump of matter to relieve the monotony of vacuum.

This leads us to two diametrically points of view: for one, that we are insignificant compared to our universe, and for another, that we are the most singularly precious thing in it. Until the possible day that we make contact with another civilization anywhere out in the depths of space, we must count ourselves to be the sole representatives of sentient life. It is at once an awe-inspiring and bleak picture, humbling and glorious at the same time.

That it took millennia for us to reach the point of knowing this is not unexpected; what is unexpected, is how underwhelming this knowledge has been to human civilization. Perhaps, owing to our history, and to our penchant for building belief systems around concepts of the supernatural, we do not marvel at what and where we are, as we should. Putting our faith in the intervention of all-powerful and unseen beings, we have disconnected ourselves from the place we live, which is a far grander and more interesting place than any imagined by our ancestors. Our exploration of the universe has revealed wonders that defy conception at first glance, and have forced the brightest minds in physics and astronomy to write and re-write the rules of existence.

That the beauty and majesty does not affect us is sad; sadder still, is the idea that our singular existence as representatives of sentient life in the universe has not driven us to take a fresh look at our relations with ourselves. Still clutching to the dogmas of the past, we seem to be resigned to muddling through our lives in the vain hope that something better lies in wait for us beyond the horizon, rather than reveling in the world that we live in now. Too many of us see Earth as a disposable commodity: pull material out of the ground, shape it to our needs, then throw it away or bury it. We act as if our planet is an infinite store of things, rather than the finite ball of solids, liquids, and gases that it is.

Perhaps our lives are too short to comprehend the pace of change on the planet, though as that change accelerates, the evidence of the change becomes clearer every day. Roads choked with cars, smokestacks belching filth into the sky, garbage lying strewn about, water with a sheen of oil, a huge mass of plastic floating in the open ocean... and because the pace of our lives gets ever quicker, we do not see these things for what they are, only being interested in the next thing we are supposed to have, even as we pine for the "simplicity" of our youth.

The sooner we realize that our position in the universe is precarious, and that our resources are finite, the sooner we might finally throw off the shackles of consumerism and self-importance, and work together to restore our little world to its normal working order. The borders and barriers we have put between ourselves, and the ignorance we have allowed to blind us, keep us from these realizations, which are as factual as the precession of the Sun across the sky. Humanity, in its various parts, is very good at ignoring the truth lying at its feet, turning a blind eye to the obvious, and creating stories to salve a guilty conscience. This is all well and good, if our only intent is to gobble up what little we have until it is gone, then ever so slowly die away, fighting over the last scraps of our sordid past.

The energy we foolishly direct into so many negative aspects of our lives -- prejudice, fear, self-aggrandizement, greed, politics, gamesmanship -- is wasted and counterproductive. Were it to be turned to healing the wounds between people, and rebuilding the health of our world, we could truly say we have attained civilization. The longer we repeat the tropes of the past, the longer we build empires, only to watch them fall, the less time we have to do what is truly important. Each minute is precious to us, and too often is wasted in futile pursuits.

The survival and expansion of the human race is a greater goal than any we would call important, as it encompasses all the problems so long neglected in our race forward through time: poverty, disease, famine, war, pestilence, etc. It begs that we solve these issues, while at the same time moving away from our cradle, to take our place in other parts of our solar system and our galaxy. The human race is too precious a gift of the universe, to be allowed to die through its own hubris and disinterest. If there is purpose and value in our existence, then it is not simply through that existence, but through the potential we have to become so much more than we are. We will not reach that potential, however, until we come together as a species, and accept that despite all our differences, we are all truly one.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The High Cost Of 'Free' Speech

As is often noted, the right to free speech comes at a terrible cost -- to enable us to have our right to say what we will, in a reasonable and measured fashion, we must tolerate those who will have their right to say what they will, even in the most lurid and unseemly fashion. So it is, that we endure the mounting dissension and rising tide of intolerance toward the Islamic religion as we approach the anniversary of September 11th.

This wave of intolerance is not, however, some new strain developed over the issue of Al Qaeda's attack on the Twin Towers, but a mutation of a very old strain, that humanity carries with it everywhere it goes. In America, it can be traced back to a fear of a Catholic President taking orders from the Pope instead of the people. It can be traced further still, to immigrant groups coming to our shores, who would steal jobs from "real" Americans. Back even further, we see it in the fear of the slave being freed, sowing the destruction of the American way of life. We can trace it all the way to the mistrust of the native "savages," original inhabitants of North America, and their weird ways, contrary to the laws of God. And those seeds were brought by the original colonists, fleeing societies that did not want them around, for fear of contamination of their countries. Go back as far as you like in human history, and you can see the seeds planted and the crop of intolerance harvested in full measure in each succeeding generation.

For all the advance of humankind from primitive existence to technological domination of the globe, we continue to carry the seeds and sow them at every turn. It as if we feel we cannot be who we are without them. It is as if the dogma and destruction of the past is part of our DNA, not, as it truly is, a product of fevered imagination, over-hyped fear, and rampant bigotry. To some, there is no point in hoping for a change, because it has always been so. For others, they thrive only in the presence of this bitter crop, and would fight to keep it, to justify their view of the world.

Those who would picket the burials of the honored dead, claiming that we are paying the price for our wickedness, are harvesters of the crop. Those who would burn the Quran to send an incoherent message, are harvesters of the crop. Those who would deny their fellow Americans the right to have affordable health care, are harvesters of the crop. Those who would claim that the free practice of religion is valid only for their 'Christian' religion, are harvesters of the crop. Those who would deny a woman the right to determine what she will do with her body, are harvesters of the crop. Those who would deny same-sex couples the right to enjoy the fruits of lasting love and marriage, are harvesters of the crop.

America has spent decades now, planting a bumper crop of anti-intellectualism, ignorance, bigotry, and hatred. This goes far beyond the crops previously sown and reaped, for in an age when information is king and knowledge is everywhere, the stubborn denial of truth for the blinding light of belief shows no more sophisticated than our brethren two thousand years ago. For all our advances in technology, there have been few advances in community. Even the founding of the American nation did not bring about the salient changes in human behavior that could reasonably be said to have altered us and made us a singular nation. For while our Founding Fathers did their best to construct a foundation upon which to lay a new society, which allowed the individual to be as they are while being part of a larger community, the subsequent building upon that foundation has been haphazard, slapdash, and at time, has required things to be torn down and rebuilt.

Given the freedom to speak, that does not mean what you have to say automatically has value, especially where what you say is grounded in ignorance, and fear, and hatred. What Americans must do, now, is to speak up. The dialog is being monopolized by the narrow-minded and short-sighted; the great bulk of America is not so myopic or xenophobic. Decent people, strong-hearted people, we must rise up to challenge those who would pervert freedom and democracy to further their own self-serving ends, who would shape American traditions and values to prevent all Americans from sharing in the liberty they are guaranteed. Let our voices ring out, and let the true heart of America proclaim that we shall not tolerate intolerance and will not defend ignorance. It is time for the better angels of our nature to take the day.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Make This Job And Fill It!

For those who are sure that the Bush-era tax cuts are the key to stimulating job growth, here is a little sober realization: in 2009, private sector job growth for the previous ten years: a net loss of 203,000 jobs. So, to recap, in roughly the last ten years, there has been no job gain in the U.S. private sector, including the years in which the Bush tax cuts were in effect. So, for those pinning their hopes on putting money in the pockets of the wealthy as a means to stimulate job production, I'm sorry to say that you are misplacing your faith.

The job situation is bleak, and it is so because the circular chain of job loss is not being broken. Americans are not buying goods and services. This causes companies to trim expenditures on equipment and supplies, and decrease their employment rolls to maintain profit margins and keep investors happy. With new people out of work, forced to rely on savings and/or unemployment, they spend less, paying only for the necessities, and therefore the economy weakens further. This cycle continues apace, with companies holding dearly to unsustainable profit margins, rather than bucking the trend and putting people back to work. No longer is it OK to run lean; you must be able to maintain profits, even in the hardest economic times.

The Federal government can only do so much. While the stimulus bills initially helped, the fact remains that the government cannot continue to pour money it does not have into the economy to keep it running. The "free" market is supposed to be able to correct itself, but it shows no sign of doing so, squeezing every last dime out of operating margins to ensure that stock prices remain high and the outlook for their companies, healthy. Those who bear the brunt of this tortuous policy are the small and middle-sized businesses, who rely on the big businesses to generate their cash flow. The effect cascades down the supply chain, until small businesses are bankrupted and middle-sized companies are forced to lay off workers to survive.

Congress shows no signs of rushing to the aid of small and medium business in a mid-term election year. The Republicans hope to capitalize on the sluggish economy, as a way of pointing out the folly of Democrats, even though it was they who stalled and obfuscated and rejected to the point of hopelessly snarling necessary legislation. Even now, they could be helping small businesses with tax breaks and incentives, and doing more to get big business to pry money out of their wallets, but they prefer to watch the slow strangulation of the American worker in order to score political points with a constituency that does not seem to realize that their elected representatives are to blame for their plight.

The job situation will not improve until big business decides to stop the bleeding and pump up its payrolls. Rather than off-shoring work and trimming workers to force up productivity numbers, they need to grab up the available talent and put them to work in expansion and solidification. Until companies hire workers, injecting money back into the economy in the form of salaries and benefits, the news will continue to be dismal. While Fortune 500 CEOs may be enjoying their big bonuses, eventually the companies beneath them will be eaten away, and their golden parachutes will be more full of holes than they realize. It is up to captains of industry to step up and do their part, to take the cash out of the bank and put it where it will do the most good: in the hands of decent, hard-working Americans.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

To Run The Gauntlet

You would think that women's suffrage and women's liberation, by tearing down the previous barriers between women and their rightful place in society, would also tear down the misogyny women were exposed to. Sadly, with women breaking the chains that held them to their homes and lives as only mothers and/or homemakers, the chauvinistic tendencies of men, which expressed themselves behind closed doors at home, followed women out into the streets. Now, a woman had nowhere to turn to escape it; all around her, men were seeing women and concluding that their attraction to them as sex objects was allowed to be expressed when and where they chose, and that women would find it "flattering."

It was the mistake of men to conclude that "women's lib" was some grand scheme to allow them to be more sexual in the presence of men. Far from forbidden fruit, women were now out in the world, able to show themselves off, and men were eager to lap up the sudden preponderance of femininity. So, the misogyny of the past took on new forms, and invaded the workplace, the supermarket, and worst of all, the street. Now, there appeared to be no barriers to the machinations of male libido.

A working woman could potentially be forced to literally run a gauntlet to get from her home to her job. Mashed together with others on the bus or train, she might be subject to the depredations of those who gain excitement from rubbing against her, or talked to death by a man who is sure she is impressed by him and his life. After that, simply walking the street, she could be subject to leers, whistles, and even shouted implorations for sexual acts and professions of "love." from all quarters. Even making it to work, she is not completely safe, for hidden amidst her male co-workers, are those who do not see her as a colleague, but a concubine, who are more interested in her physical form, than the form she needs signed. And after a full day, it is time to run the gauntlet back home, to close the door and shut out the horror... until it must be run again.

This is not to say that every man is like this, or that every woman must run this gauntlet, but that it happens at all is a sad commentary of just what progress society has actually made in gender relations. It was not enough for laws to be written and passed, if they are not enforced. It is not enough to enforce laws if the knowledge that come with that enforcement does not permeate the larger society. It does not matter what efforts are made to bring about equality between the sexes, if that equality is not enforced in the home. Young men and young women must be taught from the earliest possible age that there is no difference between them, save their gender, and each is capable of whatever they set their mind to. They must be inculcated with the idea that women are just as deserving of respect as men. Young men must be taught not to harass women, and young women must be taught that they are not expected to suffer the harassment of men.

Of course, none of this is easy, as preceding decades have shown. Human society, being locked in a patriarchal mold from almost the beginning of organized humanity, cannot simply be undone in a few decades, or possibly, even a few centuries. Attitudes require wholesale adjustment, at all levels of society, starting from the very beginning of life. Until each generation is composed of more and more citizens who have learned the lessons and precepts of equality, until the old mores become smothered by a more sincere and level-headed humanity's acceptance of the truth, women will still be subject to the gauntlet.

Women do not have to surrender to it, however. Far from it, for in order to impel the changes that must occur, women and men must fight it here and now. Women must stand up to those who marginalize and minimalize them as sexual objects; men must stand up for women, calling out their testosterone-driven brethren for their incivility and innuendo. Men and women, working together, can begin, must begin, to turn the tide of human ideology from its patriarchal course. In doing so, they will pave the way for a better humanity, a humanity where we shall work together to support and nurture each other. We shall create a future where everyone's contributions will count equally, and where women will no longer have to fear for themselves. In this, will come the true growth of humanity.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Richness Found In Enriching The Rich Richly Enriches Us

I am delusional. I was told so by someone who does not like the idea of being taxed, and is aghast at the idea of the rich paying a greater percentage in taxes. After all, they take greater risks, create jobs, and run the economy -- why shouldn't they, like anyone, get to keep what they make? The idea of the "redistribution" of wealth makes their stomach turn.

It is such hyperbole in the name of wealth preservation that is enough to give one an ulcer.

It is safe to say that, given proper financial planning, those with millions and billions of dollars at their disposal are beyond the ordinary vagaries of normal existence. Short of blowing it all on gambling, drugs, alcohol, or risky investments, they are insulated from the vagaries of the world to a great extent. They will continue to wheel and deal and pile up their monies, secure in the knowledge that they need not travel in the normal circles of human society, but fly in the rarefied air of the ultra-wealthy. In their exclusive club, they vie for the position of top dog, for he (or she) who has the most toys and the biggest Swiss bank accounts, wins.

True, they invest, and move money around, placing it here and there, but rarely does that money have much more impact than buoying the profits of the companies they invest in, companies headed by wealthy compatriots, who are busy trying to pad their portfolios and offshore accounts with the profits of their companies, even as their workers are suffering. A recent report shows that CEOs at the fifty companies that have fired the most workers since the economic downturn began, are making forty-two percent more in compensation than the rest of their S&P 500 brethren.

While big business continues to ride a wave of profits, small business cannot catch a break. In Washington, D.C., Congress continues to fight over restoring the Bush-era tax cuts, which would benefit the wealthiest Americans, while unable to pass comprehensive reform to help small businesses create jobs. Given small business is often the greatest creator of jobs, this explains the lagging job numbers, and the slow pace of recovery. Still, profits continue to soar on Wall Street, and no one at a Fortune 500 company seems too eager to hire back any of the workers they so recently divested themselves of.

Couple that with reports that most companies that do business in the United States pay little or no taxes, and we are left to wonder whose side Congress is on. Looming budget deficits and proper funding of the government could be solved, in part, with the revenue that large corporations and their subsidiaries would pay in taxes, to support the country that allows them to operate and the citizens who provide them the skilled labor that runs their business here. Rich corporations make the rich richer, and in the process, do it by bankrupting the very people whose blood and sweat make those riches possible.

No one can begrudge those who have made vast fortunes their due, for it takes shrewd investment and some level of acumen to accumulate wealth. But if the only end to the accumulation of wealth is the final number you end up with at the end of the day, then what of it? What makes all the extra dollars and cents worth it, if to make them requires the reduction of the very people who performed the work to a life of abject poverty and suffering? No human, outside of a professional athlete, makes millions by their own toil and sweat; it is more often the result of the toil and sweat of others. Is life so cheap, people so disposable, that they can simply be used as chattel, chained to jobs they would rather not do, simply so they and their families can survive?

The rich should be taxed at a greater rate, for the simple reason that their riches flow not from a secret spring, but from the work of others. They should be willing to do right by those who make them rich, to encourage them to continue to do so, to ensure they are capable of doing so, and to provide the nation in which they operate to provide them with the educated and trained workforce needed. Philanthropy is good, but it is a narrow window; it is important for the Federal government to fulfill its mandate of seeing to the general welfare, and for that it needs tax revenue. All must pay their share, and those who make more, must pay a little more.

It is not so much about redistribution of wealth, as redistribution of misery. Our human duty is to help our fellow humans up, to provide them safety, and to be sure they can work as productive members of society. If fairness is the issue, then is it fair for those who can barely make due to pay a larger proportion of their income, though it add up to less money to support their country? Proportion is the key, because those with more, are using more resources and people to gain their wealth. In essence, they must pay the proper price, not the price they choose to set. Until a day comes when humanity can look at each other, realize our connectedness, and provide for others simply out of the goodness of being human, we must continue to ensure an equitable balance is struck.