The Worship of Sports in America

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How The Middle-Class Got Screwed (Video)

A most simplistic explanation of how the economic problems of the middle-class has become an actual threat to their well-being.

Why I'm Not A Democrat...Or A Republican!

There is a whole lot not to like about either of the 2 major political parties.

Whatever Happened To Saturday Morning Cartoons?

Whatever happened to the Saturday morning cartoons we grew up with? A brief look into how they have become a thing of the past.

ADHD, ODD, And Other Assorted Bull****!

A look into the questionable way we as a nation over-diagnose behavioral "afflictions."

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

It's Good To Be The King...Or Maybe A Congressman: Conclusion

As Christmas Day nears, those of you who have been following this recent topic of Congressional perks are already aware that for our federal legislators, the spirit of giving and receiving is a year 'round reality..
Even beyond the availability of [the] many Congressional perks such as paid daycare for legislators’ children and deep discounts for health club memberships (did I fail to mention those before?), perhaps the greatest amount of personal benefits that come from being a member of Congress are those that are derived from the traditional of lobbying. How much can and do Congressmen/women benefit from the system of legalized influence peddling we euphemistically call “lobbying?” Consider recent examples of the business-as-usual way special interests and/or big business gains access to our federal legislators:

*Republican Representative F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. toured the vineyard & castle of Liechtenstein royalty, as well as spent the better part of a day at an Alpine ski resort—all on the dime of a group of European companies.

*Illinois Democrat Danny K. Davis received “the dignitary treatment” when a political donor flew him to Inner Mongolia to lobby for a new medical supplies factory in China.
Almost annually, university and local government lobbyists—who are exempt from the rule which limits gifts by lobbyists to Congressmen to a $50 value maximum—bestow on many Democratic legislators (and their staff) college basketball tournament tickets in a ritual that has come to be called by some critics the “March Madness” loophole (

*A Political Action Committee (PAC) run by Georgia Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss hosted a $48,000 combination golf outing-fund-raiser in Palm Beach, Florida. The PAC also routinely “picks up the tab for fancy dinners and parties,” including $6,300 at a Washington steakhouse earlier this year. Money for these events is usually donated by lobbying and special interests groups (PACs are the chief means by which Congressmen are able to skirt rules outlining the limits by which legislators are ostensibly mandated to adhere to in order to give the public the impression of self-governing)

In any given recent year, more than 2.5 billion (that’s “billion” with a “b”) dollars have been spent on direct lobbying by various interest special groups. Such benefits, despite rules adopted in 2007 meant to limit corporate influence in Congress, routinely bend and/or breaks these rules and exploits loopholes…to the wink-and-nods of these elected officials. Needless to say, businesses and other interest groups are routinely opposed to more substantive proposal changes.
In and of itself, there is nothing wrong with a citizen’s right to petition the legislature of the government (at any level)—in fact, it’s a Constitutional guarantee. The problem arises when Big Business, private organizations, and special interests groups—most of which have resources far and away more abundant than the average American—interject their influence into the legislative process to pervert the process democracy, especially in light of the observation that most of these influential entities tend to promote interests that are contrary to the general electorate. Surely, it shouldn’t take Einsteinian-level intellect for our biggest (or maybe our not-so-biggest) brains to devise a way to safeguard the Constitutional guarantee of access to our highest-elected law-makers by both the people (that’s you and I) and business. In a perfect (or even better) world, the voices of the more enlightened among Congressmen would become loud enough to rise above the din of gift-chatter to prick the consciouses—assuming they have them—of every member and guilt them into adopting the interests of the people who elect them to office as a priority, and not the monied interests who pervert the political process. The lack of such a necessary solution can only be attributed to a lack of will among Congress and business both.
As for the spirit of regal entitlement which seems to have possessed members of the House and the Senate, one can only guess at what it would take to exorcise this particular demon from the Hill. Outside of a divine intervention, the only possible solution is for Americans to grow the testicular fortitude to collectively act on the sentiment we have heard uttered time and again during moments of outrage at our legislators’ incompetence and corruption: “Throw the bums out!”

Watch CBS News Videos Online

(Better late than never CBS! From last night's CBS Evening News broadcast)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

It's Good To Be The King...Or Maybe A Congressman: Part 3

Continued from Part 2:

When it comes to the benefits of power, the elected federal lawmakers who make up the House of Representatives and the Senate—Congress—are without par; even former United States presidents cannot hope to match the level of excess, greed, sense of entitlement, and what I like to call the residual effects of public office that Congress offers its office holders. The problem is that such an extensive network of material and institutional benefits has seemingly created a sense of entitlement to the point where when viewed collectively, the perks that Congressional lawmakers receive are more reminiscent of royalty rather than elected representatives.
Consider the double-standard for criminal by which defrocked Congressional legislators benefit from. The recently convicted likes ex-Congressmen Duke Cunningham, Bob May, and William Jefferson Clinton not only get to keep their government pensions (which, unlike military retirement pay, may be revoked under only on conviction for a "high crime" such as treason), but if history is any indication, will likely parlay their Congressional tenures into private-sector opportunity with potential links to (you guessed it) government. This seemingly perennial propensity for Congressional lawmakers skirt or break the law creates—or maybe is born from—the sense of entitlement and above-the-commoner attitudes that many have with regard to the law. For instance, you know that law that makes it illegal for private- and government-sector employers to discharge, demote, or sanction an employee for having to fulfill their military obligations whenever they given orders to mobilize? Well, Congressional employers have given themselves an exemption from having to obey the same law; military enlistees can and have been given the boot for obeying orders to serve their country.
This sense of imperial above-the-masses thinking even applies to the smaller aspects of rules and laws. For instance, there are more than a few cases on record where Congressmen have had traffic tickets fixed (some after exerting the power and influence of their office) after breaking rules of the road for no good reasons, reflecting the belief that they believe themselves exempt from the same laws that govern the rest of us. Fortunately though, some Congressmen, most notably Senator John McCain have fought against the excesses and abuses of privilege and entitlement than many Congressmen routinely engage in

Lawmakers claimed the right to exempt themselves from [a] system of "fines" known to children across America -- those applying to overdue library books. In 1994, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) introduced the "Library of Congress Book Protection Act," in response to official estimates that 1/3 of the books on loan from the Library of Congress were overdue, and that $12 million worth of books were "missing." In many cases, Senators, Representatives, and Congressional staff members were implicated (Congressional Perks: How The Trappings of Office Trap Taxpayers. National Taxpayers Union Foundation).

However, not all attempts to eliminate Congressional perks have been so unsuccessful. Below is a list of excesses that have been eliminated during the 1990s (mostly to the fact that their existence came to public light).

Click on Image To Enlarge Chart Image

Despite this list, many other such questionable benefits exist for members of both houses such as:

* Annual general offices expenses allowances of $1.3 million for rank-and-file member of the House (with highest-ranking member expenses reaching $4.5 million) and $2 million for Senate members. The only restriction they face is the prohibition against using the money for campaigning.

* Congressional delegation trips—Codels—are available for members of Congress, their staff, often their spouses on government jets. Aside from the occasional fact-finding mission to the world’s trouble spots and to home districts, many codels are nothing more than junkets to exotic locales and well-established vacation spots (such as resort towns).

* Free unreserved (and not surprisingly) prime parking spaces at Reagan and Dulles International Airports.

* In addition to the traditional government holidays, members of Congress receive far more generous compensated time off. For example, during the Memorial Day holiday legislators get the entire week off. They also receive additional recesses, some lasting as long as a month. Members prefer to call these periods “District Work Periods” in lieu of “vacations,” despite the absence of requirements for them to be in their home districts during these times.

* Exemptions and immunities from tax, pension, and other laws that burden private citizens — all crafted by lawmakers themselves (example: a $3,000 annual income tax deduction for a maintaining a second residence).

* Health & life insurance approximately 3/4 and 1/3 of whose costs, respectively, are subsidized by taxpayers (previously discussed).

* Access to valuable (and in some instances priceless) artwork from the Smithsonian Institute to decorate the offices of Congressmen (and Congresswomen).

* The “Franking Privilege,” which gives members of Congress millions in tax dollars to—among other things—create a favorable public image by allowing free postal mailings to their constituents…while the US Postal Service is swimming in red ink.

Naturally this list is hardly exhaustive of the many perks of being a Congressman, but suffice it to say that there are many more lesser-known benefits of being a Congressman. However, there is one benefit that continues to thrive, despite calls for reform from many quarters. Stay tuned...

Friday, November 27, 2009

It's Good To Be The King...Or Maybe A Congressman: Part 2

Continued Part 1 (

Whenever I think of the level and extent of the various non-compensatory benefits that our Congressional representatives receive—especially in relation to the week-to-week struggles that the rest of us must endure in these lean economic times—I am reminded of a now-famous line from Mel Brooks’ 1981 “History of The World, Part 1.” In one segment of the comedy classic, Brooks portrays King Louis XVI, lampooning the French Monarch’s penchant for personal excesses (such as demanding sexual favors in relations in return for requests from the peasantry) by repeating the phrase, “Its good to be the king” whenever he receives “compensation” for services rendered. So in the contemporary, if a member of the political class can be paid for their “service” with an amount that puts them in the top 10% of wage earners in the country, and receive an additionally valuable compensation such as affordable health insurance and health care while just one of the same is out of reach for 30 million or so of those they represent, what Congressperson wouldn’t be able to say “It’s good to be a Congressman/woman
For many Americans, myself included, we live with a reality that is markedly different from those we vote to represent us in the halls of Congress. For many of us, part of our week-to-week routine includes the difficult choice between paying for medicine or food, or going without basic health care altogether due to its inaffordability (and the ideologically intractable belief that the Free Market will eventually remedy this inequity). To be fair, the members of Congress receive the same health care plan choices that the other approximately 9 million plus federal government employees are offered. The most popular offering from Blue Cross/Blue Shield cost each individual member $175.08 per month, “with the government contributing an additional $363.16. The hypocrisy in this setup is that many of the same members of Congress often assert that if the government were to similarly subsidize health care for you and I, it would be an example “socialism;” apparently a practice that would herald the coming of Satan himself insofar as those who favor the notion that market forces will solve this dilemma (ignoring the fact of course, that if such were possible, in all likelihood it would have already happened). And in much the same way that 3/4ths of the actual cost of health insurance for members of Congress is subsidized by taxpayers, the life insurance options for the lawmakers is also likewise subsidized to the tune of 1/4th of the total cost to the average American.
Additionally, members of Congress don’t see the long lines outside emergency rooms one usually finds in [the] hospitals that dot lesser affluent areas of the country; they receive “free VIP treatment at military hospitals” without the wait. There is also the little known health benefit of on-the-Hill medical treatment by the capital-based Office of the Attending Physician of the United States

For an annual fee of $503, House and Senate members can designate the official congressional physician to be their primary care doctor—meaning they never have to deal with crowded doctor’s offices or be subject to the same type (lack of care) from a doctor as the rest of us (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “Lawmakers Get Bounty of Benefits."

Despite this service being purely optional among Congressmen, it is an existing option that many of us common folk can only dream about.

The retirement schemes for members of Congress are even more—if one can believe it—favorable for this elite club of legislators. While many Americans have to face the very real possibility of having to delay retirement due to the plummeting net worth of their various retirement plans in the current crippling recession, members of Congress enjoy a taxpayer-sponsor variation of the corporate “golden parachute” which addresses the problem of post-retirement income for the aged. Like their salaries, Congressional pensions are determined by a combination of time in office, age at retirement, and the current salary of each member at the time they leave (or are voted out of) office. The rates at which these pensions accumulate value are second only to the pension value of the president in terms of generosity. Moreover, for many career members of Congress, the longer they have served the earlier they are able to collect pensions…an option unheard of among the majority of American employees, even within the federal government. According to the National Taxpayers Union, the end result is that, between the generous accrual rates, the eligibility of early retirement collection, and the likelihood that many members will serve multiple terms totally 10-20 years (or longer), today’s members of Congress can collect a million dollars or more in pension security…less than the luckiest corporate CEO, but significantly more than what the average American will make over their active working lifetimes. What’s more, members of Congress do not lose their pensions upon violations of the law, whether they are found guilty of misdemeanors or felonies; they are allowed to even keep the incremental cost of living increases they receive during their retirements (just ask those convicted former Congressmen who have no worries about their retirement futures). So the 1.3% of their salary that members of Congress must pay toward their government pension plans yields far more in bankable returns than the earnings liability it appears to be on the surface. And this pension scheme doesn’t even include earnings that could be collected if members of Congress participate in a separate 401(k)-style savings plan, which allows them to set aside part of their salaries with a 5% government match. If you’re not outraged yet, stay tuned…

To Be Continued…

It's Good To Be The King...Or Maybe A Congressman: Part 1

It’s Black Friday, the shopping debacle that marks the day immediately after Thanksgiving. And unless you’re one of the federal lawmakers we vote into Congress to represent us every 2-to-4 years, you’re probably one among the besieged masses of this current economic climate struggling to not only find the money to even buy your loved ones a present, but to—at the same time—maintain the necessities of a marginally decent livelihood. But if you are a member of Congress, these are great times. Despite being the authorities who determine how much we as citizens are to contribute in taxes, the amount to be appropriated to operate the government from year-to-year, and whether or not the rest of us are to even have access to affordable health care, the members of Congress not only don’t have such concerns, but enjoy a level of benefits above and beyond what can reasonably be attributed as fair compensation for their “service.” What’s more, the plethora of perks that permeate almost every part of Congressional lawmakers’ professional lives seems to create an atmosphere of entitlement thinking in and around Washington D.C., which translates into a double-standard between this “political class” and the rest of us serfs.
Although the idea behind my criticisms of Congressional perks has been in the back of my mind for some time, yesterday’s article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (“Lawmakers Get Bounty of Benefits." provided me with the motivation to chronicle this long overdue revelation. In the article, reporter Bob Keefe highlights among other things the basic salaries of Congressional lawmakers, which start $174,000 for “rank-and-file House and Senate members,” and puts them firmly among the top 10% of income-earners in America. In and of itself, this is not an unreasonable amount of compensation. However, considering the fact that many members of Congress are quick to label their positions as “public service” and that 237 members of Congress are already millionaires, this level of compensation amounts to one among many perks that lawmakers enjoy beyond their duties. And for higher-ranking members of Congress the financial perks even sweeter; the majority and minority leaders of the House of Representatives receive about $193,000 annually, with the speaker earning even more. Additionally, members of Congress can and do vote themselves pay raises, even though the majority of Americans have become victimized by stagnant wages during the last decade. Sadly, although money seems to be at the root of most perks, it is hardly the only one.

To Be Continued…

Monday, November 23, 2009

Death & Taxes...OK, Just Death Then.

So I’m watching CBS’s 60 Minutes last night, and right off the bat, the very first story catches my attention; “The Cost of Dying.”
The piece was about how the average American is willing to incur tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical fees and costs in the hope that medical science can (vainly) stem the one immutable universal fact of existence—eventual death—despite being irreparably ill in many of the cases. On last night’s broadcast, the producers focused on the cases of two older individuals who were suffering from different but mutually advanced medical conditions that required extensive hospitalization. That in turn, consisted of constant and virtual round-the-clock attention, which was apparent by the array of monitors, ventilators, and a host of other medical machinery the individuals were connected to. The conclusion is that, in addition to the high financial costs, many Americans are willing to pay for a few precious weeks or months of life by trading quality of life for a marginal existence. The subject got me to thinking about the issue of end-of-life care in America from different perspectives.

First, as someone who is a stern advocate for affordable universal health care, I realized that every American has not only a stake in such an endeavor, but a responsibility as well. Our demand for good health—despite our unhealthy and overindulgent lifestyles—contributes to the high cost of health care, which in turn contributes to the prohibitive costs of health insurance for those who simply cannot afford it. For some insane reason, we tend to ignore the fact that what we eat, our vices, and the stressors we allow to creep into our lives is how we ultimately end up like the individuals showcased on last night’s 60 Minutes piece…straining for a few more moments of life in spite of the cancers, cardiovascular, and other lifestyle-related diseases we inflict on ourselves. It’s somewhat analogous to another aspect of our paradoxical obsession with maintaining our health in the face of counter-productive behavior; we are too quick to go to the hospital for every little sniffle, sneeze, and paper-cut, over-medicating ourselves despite knowing that what will be will be. In order to make insurance affordable, we have to put an end to unnecessary procedures, medicines, and paranoid-inspired office/hospital visits; that includes wasting time with questionable practices such as putting frail 90-year-olds on transplant lists, which leads to a second observation.
We Americans need to change our perspectives on the end of life. As I watched last night’s piece, I became somewhat annoyed at the fact that the individuals who were fighting to vainly prolong their lives knew that they had only a couple months left under the best of circumstances, and that all of the medical personnel, monetary, and other resources were essentially being wasted. We need to understand that death is a natural progression of the natural order; we all die, it’s just that simple. Obviously I’m not saying that we should just walk freely into the night simply because it’s out ultimate destiny.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Hollywood Solution to Crime (or, “I Have a Dream”)

Being a big science fiction buff as well as a Generation Xer, one of my favorite movies of all time is a cult-classic among my kind…director John Carpenter’s 1981 “Escape From New York.”
For the culturally-deprived among you, this classic flick is set in the then-future of 1997, a time when the crime rate in the US had reached 400%, and drastic measures were called for to address the ballooning level of nationwide lawlessness. In the dark world in which the movie takes place, the proposed solution to the runaway crime rate was to transform the island of Manhattan into an inescapable prison, surrounded by 20-foot walls, mined bridges, and guard towers and speed boats encircling the island’s parameter, manned by crack paramilitary troops with orders to shoot-to-kill. The country’s worst criminal elements were sent to the Manhattan Island Facility with the understanding that once they went in, they didn’t come out…a lifetime banishment. Inside, the criminals were allowed to create the world they wanted…a world where the only law was survivor of the fittest.
To me, this movie provided what I have always thought to be an idea solution to the tide of crime and lawless which makes many cities great places to visit, but not live. Why not give them a taste of their own medicine so to speak. Give the criminals what they want; a society without the laws and rules order they so easily chose to disregard anyway. Why not put them in a place where they are allowed to roam free, without rules, without authority of any kind, save that which they themselves craft. Since they chose to prey on anyone they deem prey-worthy and/or easy-pickings, let’s put the worst of them in a place where they take the same chances that many of us take whenever we are simply trying to live our lives day-by-day, a place where they themselves can be either predator or prey among their own kind. In short, let’s outsource the day-to-day maintenance and operation of our prisons to those who know the system the best, the prisoners themselves.
Alcatraz Island provides a great example for this novel approach to crime and punishment. Our government could reopen the former prison, but under an operational scheme radically different from the way it operated under in its heyday. Here’s how the new regime would operate. Provide the facility with electric power, heat, running water and other related necessary functions. However, there should be no guards, no warden, no maintenance crews, no administrative personnel…no direct responsibilities of any kind. Then, give the prisoners free rein of the entire island. The day-to-day functions of the facilities are theirs to maintain. On the first of every month, a helicopter would drop maintenance supplies, food, toiletries, and other essentials to be doled out by whatever would come to pass as authority among the prisoners.
Under this new system, the prisoners would be allowed to create and maintain the society that they want, complete with a prison-based social pecking order, a chance to participate in whatever passes for government on the island, the freedom of association, the chance to engage in same-sex marriage, and the chance to pray to whatever deity they will no doubt wish to express their regret for committing one crime too many to. There would be no direct government violations of the prisoners’ civil liberties. And our society would be provided with the opportunity to abolish the death penalty—a system that clearly has no deterrent value—for this new system, which clearly would deter many would-be bad boys by virtue of the power of imagination alone. The prohibitive effect would be analogous to two kids preparing to fight on a school playground, knowing that an adult is probably within earshot to break up any potential rumble; criminals knowing that they could end up in facility where they would be allowed to fight and survive under what could be considered gladiatorial conditions would be more reluctant to engage behavior which may find them in said situation in the first place. The only law would be survival of the fittest.
There would be many potential advantages to doing this. First, the fear of being sentenced to spend what would surely be an abbreviated life to this facility would eliminate the pride that most criminals have in going to prison. The power and influence of the “no snitching” code among criminals would be rendered moot, considering there would be no traditional authority on the island to inform criminal activity to, and fewer who would care if anyone did. And hinting on an aforementioned notion, the horror stories about life on The Rock would border on legend, scaring any lesser criminal with the slightest hope of rehabilitation feces-less at the prospect of being sent to such a place. Any real expense would be limited to simply keeping the prisoners within the facility. In the case of Alcatraz, expense would be manifested in the form of boats encircling the island, manned with sharpshooters whose orders are to prove that the human body becomes less buoyant when it’s riddled with holes during a water escape attempt.
This could be a model for every major incarceration facility in the country, with the only real expense limited to ensuring that each criminal society within stays there.
Naturally the logistics of such a scheme are open to being tweaked based on feasibility. Maybe the prisoners could be made to wear tamperproof collars of bracelets, which would keep track of their location, as well as their life signs. Maybe sensor nets of could be employed to limit the possibility of escape. But ideally, walls would be reinforced through by way of their physical height and thickness, and each facility itself would be isolated miles from the nearest major population center. And thanks to the geography of America, there are many possible locations to isolate such facilities, such as barrier islands, deep forest, and other distant locales (I’m thinking along the lines of interior Alaska).
Sure, it’s not a perfect solution to the problem of the diehard criminal elements walking among us. And this idea probably has no chance of becoming reality, but I can dream, can’t I?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Time To Rethink The Death Penalty

Earlier this week as I watched various newscasts, I took note of two related stories—both about the subject of the death penalty—which forced me to write a long overdue perspective on the subject.
In the first story, syndicated morning radio host Tom Joyner was at the center of an extraordinary story. Two of Joyner’s distant relatives were posthumously exonerated after having been tried, convicted, and executed by the state of South Carolina in 1915 for killing a Confederate Civil War veteran. Almost immediately, the case was riddled with doubt, issues of race, and Southern culture taken to the extreme. It was only after being interviewed for a PBS special on the lives of African-Americans that Joyner was even made aware that he had two great uncles who occupied that sad chapter of American history. After the details surrounding the case of Meeks and Thomas Griffin came to life, Joyner took it upon himself to dig up the proof of the Griffin brothers’ innocence, which led to their exoneration by the state.

Syndicated radio personality Tom Joyner's recent ancestors are exonerated by South Carolina officials following an investigation into the circumstances surrounding their wrongful execution decades ago.

In the second news story on CNN’s Headline News, it was revealed that Texas Governor Rick Perry (Rep.) has come under scrutiny for his actions regarding the 2004 execution of a man charged with setting a fire in 1991which killed his 3 daughters. Apparently, Perry fixed the outcome of scheduled meeting between the Texas Forensics Science Commission and an independent investigator looking into details of that case, days before it was to hear evidence regarding the findings of that investigation. The investigator’s conclusions, made up of three separate reports, had shed much in the way of serious doubt on whether the deadly fire which Todd Willingham was ultimately executed for was actually caused by arson. One of these reports was presented to Perry days before Willingham’s execution. For his part, Perry promptly ignored the casting of doubt the report brought on the case and denied a stay of execution for Willingham. Perry, in his attempts to “carry out the will of the people of the state of Texas,” chose to disregard the legal safeguards of reasonable doubt and due process, which are inherently intended to limit the possibility that the government would engage in the most extreme violation of the most basic of rights…the right to life. With regard to the case, Perry is guilty of self-serving politics at the very least; at the very most, he’s incompetence incarnate.

CNN Headline News report from 10/14/09. Texas Governor Rick Perry (R) engages in ethically-questionable, possibly politically-motivated actions in order to ensure a questionable execution from earlier this year.

What both of these cases illustrate is that mistakes have and do occur with such an apparatus of finality as the death penalty. Some individuals who support the death penalty, particularly governors of death penalty states and prosecutors who employ its use, would have us believe that the complex legal mechanisms which lead to it being imposed, are infallible…or at the very least has an infinitesimal chance of resulting in a catastrophic mistake like an erroneous execution. And while there have been those who have been successfully proven innocent of accused crimes and exonerated while sitting on the death rows of many states, those individuals were not proven innocent by [the absence of] legal safeguards built into the legal system. In most cases, freed convicts are only spared death by the goodwill of lawyers, private investigators, reporters, or other private citizens who take it upon themselves to look into the facts of such questionable cases.
But the reality is that even entertaining the notion that everyone who has ever been tried, convicted, and executed for a crime in America was guilty is an act in defiance of basic reason, common sense, and not to mention, the law of averages. We’ve all heard the arguments against the death penalty. Yes, it’s applied with racial, gender, and socioeconomic bias. Yes, it’s an outdated as well as barbaric means of dealing with crime. No, it’s not a deterrent to crime. Yes, it’s applied inconsistently. Yes, it’s used often as a political tool. No, it’s not philosophically or ethically moral to execute the mentally-impaired. Yes, it’s hypocritical to consider one “pro-life,” and also pro-death penalty (which many of its supporters often do); I’ll leave it up to you to research the inssues surrounding the death penalty (contact the Death Penalty Information Center,
All life is sacred, and no one, neither individuals nor the state, has the right to give or take life. Providence along brought each of us here, so only Providence alone should be what removes us from this mortal coil. And contrary to popular opinion, no one (consciously or otherwise) “forfeits” their life based on their actions. We all are human, we all make mistakes, and the overwhelmingly majority of us commits a sin, some worse than others. Taking human life to illustrate that taking human life is wrong is not a sign that an enlightened society which values life, but an indication that in some respects, we fail to advance ourselves and our sense of ethics and morality beyond what we embraced when we were far less civilized.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Obama's New Tool: The Nobel Peace Prize

It’s Friday, October 9th. I had originally intended to post on another topic, I awoke this morning to the surprise announcement that America’s very own sitting president, Barack Obama, has been awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize for what I imagine to be the promise that his administration—behind his rhetoric—holds in the area of global diplomacy. Actually, surprise is something of a criminal understatement; the assembled reporters covering the announcement could be heard letting out a collective gasp.
And as I continue to watch and listen to news coverage of the announcement, just as predictable as the astonishment of the award are the shrugs of So what?, Who cares? and No big deal from those who oppose his policies, either on purely ideological grounds, or as a reflex against his popularity in many domestic and global quarters (with regard to his popularity and the fervor by which those who support him embrace him, opponents often refer to him—mockingly so—as the “Messiah”).

President Barack Obama before the announcement (archive photo)

Indeed, the questions surrounding both his surprise nomination and his being awarded the prize are merited, especially given the immaturity of his administration and his standing on the global stage as a policy-shaper. Its questionable to be awarded such a prestigious recognition only 9 months into the administration based on presumption alone. But in the Grand Scheme, it seems that the award is a unexpected counterbalance to the relentless criticism of the administration's staunchest and most vocal critics, who unfairly charge that his policies are ineffective...after only such a short amount of time in office (again, based mostly on ideological differences rather than substance of policy. I myself gave Bush II the benefit of the doubt far longer before than that before the counter-productive nature of his policies became apparent). And although I don't pretend to find favor in every policy of the Obama Administration (especially as they relate to the soft-handed handling of terrorists), I do applaud among other endeavors, his efforts to craft a policy of universal affordable health care coverage for every American. While this accolade for peace is no halo or conferring of sainthood, in a perfect world, it should give his opponents pause for unswervingly embracing their political ideologies at the expense doing what is simply right and practical by the American people. It’s a sign that the world is watching America, and that many others actually embrace the hope that America can live up to its promise as an example of progressive global (as well as domestic) leadership…despite how we Americans often live and think inside a fishbowl.
However, I’m sure as tomorrow’s sunrise that in the coming days, opponents of health care and other much-needed people-oriented and practical legislation will spin this award as reflective of the irrelevant opinions of other nations, or some other such rhetoric. But maybe the awarding of the 2009 Nobel Peace prize to our president wouldn’t be such a shock to Americans if we would learn to see ourselves as others see us. Maybe if we could see in ourselves—both as leaders and citizens—as having as much promise in America as the Nobel Nominating Committee, maybe we finally be smart enough to craft policies, both domestic as well as global, based on the progressiveness of need, and not out of some adherence to some vision-limiting ideology.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Citizen Protesters, or Ideological Spin Doctors? Part 2

Continued from Part 1

"It is not the state that orders us. It is we who order the state."

With regard to the anti-tax & spending protests of last weekend in Washington D.C., that quote could just as easily be assumed to be the mantra of those who participated in the protests. However, those are not the words of some famous American patriot who uttered them in defiance of presumed government tyranny, and whom we are so proud of that we immortalized them in the pages of elementary school textbooks. They were not words of the leader of some populist movement leader who turned a cleaver phrase to gain popular support for progressive policy. They are not even the words of an American. They are the words of the former chancellor of Nazi German, Adolf Hitler. But such was the message ostensibly carried to Washington last weekend by the protesters.

Now before I’m inundated with protests myself about how I’m making negative aspersions, I am NOT attempting to compare the mostly conservative activists among the protesters to Nazis. However, what I am doing is illustrating how the tactics of traditionally progressive activists can be hijacked by an ideologically-bound or self-interested few to give the impression of general consensus. That is what the protests in Washington were all about. So this then is a challenge to the protesters’ intent.
Why? Because first and foremost their selective memory when it comes to their complaint that “government spending is out of control.” Take the non-Social Security of the government spending for the last 55 years. The greatest amount of deficit spending (borrowing) occurred under the watches of Republican presidents, with Ronald Reagan and Bush II’s administrations being responsible for the lion’s share of deficit spending during this period. In fact, it was the spending and ill-advised tax cuts of the second Bush which helped to eradicate the budget surplus and pay-down on the national deficit which started under former President Bill Clinton (naturally, die-hard ideologues from the conservative right have disputed this fact by engaging in esoteric hair-splitting of economic theories which challenge the bottom line--that it was under recent conservative stewardship of the government that the deficit spending began to balloon out of control). Furthermore, Bush II had the advantage of a Republican-controlled Congress for much of his presidency. "The Reagan Budget: The Deficit that Didn't Have to Be." The Cato Institute; "Bush to Fund a Third of Non-Social Security Spending This Year with Borrowed Money" Citizens for Tax Justice.

This is not leftist propaganda meant to make conservatives look bad; these are historical and economic facts supported by the numbers. And the selective memories of the protesters and their activist organizers ignores the major difference between the motives for spending by the aforementioned presidents and President Obama; neither Republican president didn't have to contend with crafting policies meant to curtail the effects of an unprecedented economic downward spiral, the likes of which haven't been seen since the Great Depression (although to his credit, Reagan did start out with the intent to challenge the growing budget deficit). True, spending is out of control, but so is the economy...desperate times, desperate measures.
So, after years of deficit spending, no fiscal restraint by either political party, and the continued practice of Congressional earmarks—a practice vociferously supported by both moderate and conservative Republicans –why all of a sudden have conservatives found the testicular fortitude to suddenly don the mask of consensus, take to the streets, and protest government spending?
The reasons are simple. It’s a rejection of the legitimacy of the duly-elected Obama Administration which cloaking itself in the free exercise of civil liberties and ideological differences. Its also fear of change (no pun intended), with hints of xenophobia, nativism, ethnocentrism, and willful ignorance, with the latter propensity resulting in the labeling anyone who desires to help the poor and/or disenfranchised as tantamount to “Socialism.” It is a rejection of policy and government based on lies, innuendo, scare tactics, slander, and misinformation by those who unflinchingly hold on to ideological political beliefs in the hopes of shaping the country according to their particular view of how things should be. It is an embracing of the absurd belief that a particular individual or group wants to reshape the American way of life which we have become accustomed to in ways which are alien and antithetical to our core values; heaven forbid that someone simply sees an inequality and wants to address it through the established legislative process. It is a movement which even challenges the legitimacy of birthright, and revealing how easy it is for a relative few to stir up unfounded fears among those who did not have the legal process go the way that they would have liked.
I’m a firm believer in the right protest unpopular policy. I also believe in unfettered free speech—even unpopular speech—mostly because free speech is how great ideas are exchanged and eventually become policy. I am for progressive policy based on need, not ideological adherence. And with 30-40 million Americans without health insurance (many unknown more chronically underinsured), and an economic crisis which has the country a few steps away from a wholesale economic collapse, this is not the time to cling to the safety of economic timidity. We are not going to eradicate these and other problems without spending money. At the same time, we must learn to practice fiscal restraint, an idea the protesters of last week promote, and one in which I share. However, in order to find a policy which works to the best of both our country’s creed of opportunity and of preserving the system we live by, the selfish intent of people like the protesters must be revealed insofar as their desire to portray themselves as representing the best interest if the entire nation as a whole.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Citizen Protesters, or Ideological Spin Doctors? Part 1

It’s been said that the road to hell is paved with great intentions. This caveat is true, whether we choose to ignore it with regard to the decisions we make as the heads of our households, or with consideration to the social and political policies we choose to follow. Perhaps no single recent policy decision illustrates this better than our choice to go to war in Iraq, a decision which has run up a tab of some $700 billion dollars to date, a death toll of over 3000 American soldiers, and a cost to the country’s global image and credibility which will no doubt take years to repair…all with the intention to protect the country from the perceived dangers of a “rogue nation” with “weapons of mass destruction” in a post-9/11 world. In the time since the rationale given the American people for going to war was proven incorrect, the criticism for this costly venture has been limited to political posturing, what amounted to token investigations resulting in no particular blame, and [the] hundreds of publications revealing how in hindsight pre-war intelligence was both wrong and wrongly interpreted.
In yet another policy intention—this one questionably so—a segment of the American people have (and their leadership) have opted to only now concern themselves with the amount of spending that the government engages in on our behalf.
This past Saturday, tens of thousands of mostly conservative marchers gathered, marched, and rallied in Washington DC against the policies of the Obama Administration with regard to the spending it has employed in its effort to shore up the ailing economy, as well as its proposal to revamp access to health care for the uninsured.
In and of itself, there is nothing wrong with marching and protesting as a way to illustrate to our leaders that the American people speak with one voice; its what led the way toward the signing of civil rights legislation and the country out of the quagmire of the Vietnam War. However, it seems the opponents of progressive policy have learned how to take the tool of mass street rallies often employed by progressives, and use it to project the image that they represent the desires of the American people. These so-called “Tea-Partiers” and other conservative anti-tax activists march with the goal of influencing the government to start limiting spending. Not an altogether bad goal considering the national deficit is $10 trillion and growing.
But for many reasons, these “protests” lack either the credibility or the nobility of a true expression of the collective American will (as exemplified by either the 1963 March on Washington or the anti-Vietnam war protests of the late 60s & early 70s). Consider the lack of broad spectrum ideological representation. Are we to believe that these mostly conservative activists and voters represent the will of all (or even most) Americans? Where are the ethnic Americans who believe that the government is overspending in these protests? The Democrats (or their leadership in substantive numbers)? The Liberals…the Moderates? How about those without insurance who feel that government spending is spending too much in the name of the public interest? Considering that there are somewhere between 30-40 million of them, its hard to believe these individuals represent a cross-section of the American electorate.
But during the television interviews of these protesters over the weekend, many seemed to go out of their way to assert that they represented mainstream Americans, and that they were not “fringe” Right-Wingers. Indeed, there were many protesters present representing many age and geographic differences, some with their children and even pets in tow. Strictly speaking, this is true…these are indeed mostly Middle-Class Americans, many who have no economic stake in the companies and business which benefit directly from the bailouts and spending the government has used to prop them up during this economic downturn. However, it’s a good guess that these individuals are probably and overwhelmingly not among the Americans who voted for President Obama (or any Democrat for that matter) in the first place, so it’s a little hard to believe that they are being objective about the reasons for why the government seeks to infuse large businesses with federal funds. One look at the protest signs carried to Saturday’s rally is proof positive that their motives and fears are more ideologically motivated rather than borne of a measured consideration of need.

A group of anti-tax protesters from Saturday, September 12 (take particular note of the signs, indicative of the ideological bents of their political--not populist--position)

Do I believe that government spending is out of control, of course. But what should be of concern is the selective memory of the protesters as well as their propensity to engage in a revisionist view of reality as they justify their opposition. This in turn calls their intent into question.
What's funny is that only now do Conservatives find alarm in the government’s “rampant level of spending,” when it was former President Ronald Reagan who initiated the era of big spending in the modern era of government.

The fiscal shift in the Reagan years was staggering. In January 1981, when Reagan declared the federal budget to be "out of control," the deficit had reached almost $74 billion, the federal debt $930 billion. Within two years, the deficit was $208 billion. The debt by 1988 totaled $2.6 trillion. In those eight years, the United States moved from being the world's largest international creditor to the largest debtor nation (“Reagan Policies Gave Light to red Ink,” The Washington Post, June 9, 2004).

For conservative leaders who support deficit spending, it didn’t seem to be a real issue as long their political party was the one in power and engaged in tax cuts with no commensurate cuts in federal spending spent. Indeed, former Vice-President Dick Cheney validated this as much when in 2002 he was alleged to have said that "Reagan proved deficits don't matter" in regards to former President George Bush’s economic stimulus policies.

To Be Concluded...

Monday, August 31, 2009

Guns & Fear, Part 2

Continued from Part 1 (

Yes…I am still talking only to the white males.
With regard to the current health care reform debate and the fear of a loss of “civil liberties” associated with reform proposals, why do white males feel the need to display guns at otherwise “peaceful”—admittedly a loosely-used term given the often raucous nature of the debate—town hall meetings and rallies? It’s not as if health care reform is a rational slippery-slope toward a totalitarian regime reminiscent of America’s Cold War-era adversaries…or is it? Sadly, and not understandably, many of you who feel threatened by the prospect of the federal government getting involved in the business of providing affordable health care insurance for those lacking seems to evoke fears of an encroaching “Socialism” monster coming to, among other things, take both your guns and your civil liberties.
Historically, it’s not as if you have a leg to stand on. There is no historical instance of white males being interned in concentration camps within the borders of America since the end of the Civil War, not based on their identities such as what happened to Japanese-American citizens. There have been no laws created to curtail gun ownership of white males (again, based on identity) in conflict with the Second Amendment, such as black citizens have had to endure…well into the 20th century (see Part 1). With respect to what happened at Waco, Texas and Ruby Ridge, Idaho during the 90s, those tragedies do not measure up to the wholesale violations of civil and individual rights of non-white citizens that have happened many times throughout both the recent and distance history of America. So why do you fear of a loss of civil liberties? What would make otherwise reasonable men fight so hard against potentially reforming a broken system in opposition to their own self interests? The answer is simple: belief.
Like religion, personal beliefs have no place in policy. Beliefs fuel ideological dogma, which in turn impedes the need to change what needs to be changed. In the case of health care reform, it is the irrational belief that “Socialism” will lead to many other negative government actions. Many opponents of health care reform believe that an increase in their taxes to help insure uninsured fellow Americans amounts to an erosion civil liberties. Needless to say, this is unsound reasoning given the fact that their taxes already fund “government-run” health care-related programs for the otherwise uninsured: Medicaid and Medicare. What this amounts to is, based on politically-inspired fear alone, Americans will cherry-pick which programs they support and are willing to allow their taxes to be used for, while ignoring the fact that by simply thinking or looking beyond the rhetoric, they could easily find many other unpopular programs—most with track records—that their taxes already pay for. So why should health care insurance and/or affordability be different?
Again, the fear of a Socialism Boogey Man is at the heart, most of it based on nothing more than ignorance. To illustrate, many these individuals often associate this fear of a socialist encroachment on their lives with the common practice among the former communist regimes of the Cold War era to suppress the various freedoms which we as Americans enjoy. Not only does this lack of knowledge ignores the distinctions between socialism and communism as economic policies, but assumes that a free market automatically equals personal freedom. Just look at modern-day China, an emerging capitalist juggernaut whose citizens dare not cross the boundaries of certain policies ambiguously codified by the state in regards to speech, assembly, religion, or even to have children. On the other hand, many of America’s traditional (and closest) allies may have certain economic policies that critics may slander as “socialist,” but that fact makes these countries no less democratic than ours; most European countries that opponents of health care reform enjoy all of the same rights and freedoms which we as Americans enjoy. In fact, one could argue that these “socialist” countries represent democracy far more readily than America, given their multi-party politics and parliamentary legislative structures. As a further example, in many European countries, the electorate and other special interests are forbidden from making contributions to political candidates for office; the government foots the cost for political campaigns, keeping Big Money out of the democratic process. And thankfully, these realities strongly challenge these over-patriotic Americans’ assertion that our example of democracy is the example of democracy. So again, I ask white males who feel free to intimidate the discourse regarding health care reform by displaying guns why?
Such a groundless, baseless, and uncivil choice of tactics is reminiscent of bloodthirsty and mindless mobs of days past who armed themselves, just before they gathered to lynch, burn, or otherwise do away with those who dared to think differently than they. Is that the message you want to send?

Addendum - (09/02/08)
WUNC, the local National Public Radio affiliate in Chapel Hill, North Carolina aired a segment on it's daily program, "The State of Things" about the word "socialism." It's an interesting look at how both the idea of socialism, and the usage of the word as a loaded term is typically not fully understood (outside of its negative connotation) by those who use it as a political tactic to derail questionable policy proposals. Open minds should give it a listen.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Guns & Fear, Part 1

When I write about the problems that America has in relation to certain socio-political policies, the words of Bill Maher reflect my own thoughts: I love America…its Americans I can’t stand!
As such, I’d like to address just the white American males—particularly those who consider themselves political conservatives—for a few moments. I will pause now to give those who don’t fit that particular demographic time to navigate away from this page, or power-down your computers.

Now that it’s just you and I, please allow me to ask you a question…what’s the deal with the fear that your civil liberties are under assault by the government?
Last Thursday, the Washington Post published an opinion by columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. entitled, “Leave The Guns At Home” ( . The piece was a response to the growing occurrence of guns being brought to and displayed by certain protesters at health reform-related town hall meetings and rallies around the country, even one attended by the president himself. Gun enthusiasts and other supporters of gun-owners’ rights defend these actions as protected by the Second Amendment’s Right To Bear Arms…a right as an American citizen that I fully support. The White House, as its response, has seemingly gone out of its way to assure these conservative gun owners that their rights are fully respected with regard to their right to own and/or carry their weapons.

The Obama White House purports to be open to the idea of guns outside the president's appearances. “There are laws that govern firearms that are done state or locally,’ Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman, said on Tuesday. “Those laws don't change when the president comes to your state or locality." (Dionne Jr., Washington Post, 08/20/09)

Surely then, there is a double-standard as it relates to this desire not to cater to the baseless fears of conservative gun owners and scare them even more.

In 2006, a New York state official (who was a Democrat) joked stupidly that one of his colleague should "put a bullet between the president's eyes," referring to President Bush. Within hours, he profusely apologized, and not long after that, Republicans were calling for his resignation. It was a reasonable reaction to the suggestion that a sitting president be fatally removed from office. (Stone, “Guns at Obama Rallies: Where’s the Outrage?” Newsweek, 08/18/09.

Strangely, these “thinking” conservative white males should have more of an allegiance to common sense than their own political ideologies; after all, the last time a gun was brought to a meeting where a sitting president was attending was when John Hinkley was trying to impress actress Jodie Foster. And one has to wonder what the response would be if leftist activists exercised the same right to carry and bear arms at an event staged by conservative politicians; would their rights to carry be as respected? History says no. We saw this in California back in 1967 when former president and arch-conservative Ronald Reagan was the state’s law-and-order governor. Reagan, seeking to stop the militant Black Panthers from exercising their legal right at the time to carry weapons in the open, signed the Mulford Act, which then prohibited “the carrying of firearms on one’s person or in a vehicle, in any public place or any public street” (keeping in mind that the Panthers adopted the policy of openly carrying weapons as a perceived defense against the Oakland, California Police Department, a government arm with many documented complaints of unprovoked brutality, excessive force, civil rights violations against them). That particular instance was just another in a long history of instances where local, state, or federal government engaged in the interference or suppression of civil liberties of non-WASP males. Shall I mention the post-Civil War and Reconstruction era-enacted Black Codes of the South, which in many instances forbade black ownership of guns? How about the many illegal lynchings of blacks and other hyphenated-Americans at the hands of “good Christians” as local government turned a blind eye? The decimation of entire black towns such as Rosewood, Florida and Tulsa’s Greenwood District (sometimes called the “Black Wall Street” due to the existence of many black-owned businesses that were the basis for the district's economic success) in 1921? How about the internment of thousands of Americans of Japanese heritage during the Second World War?
Need a more contemporary example? With respect to the good people of both Chicago and Washington D.C., the high rates of homicides among their large minority populations defies the logic of the tight controls each that cities’ government has on handgun ownership. The local laws, which prohibit purchasing and/or owning a handgun within their city limits limit any chance that the law-abiding citizens of these cities have to defend themselves in the face of gun-toting criminals who don’t allow themselves to be bound by such hindrances as these laws. And it's obvious these tight controls haven’t done anything to stem the tide of the record numbers of handgun-related murders in each city in recent years, controls that impede the desire and right of self-protection. I could go on ad nauseum.
Listing these historical occurrences are not by any means an attempt to elicit or impose feelings of racial guilt in white males, nor are they meant to make you look bad from a historical perspective. But they are meant to put the issue in perspective. Each instance had/has the willing assistance of some level of government, and I (or the rest of America for that matter) have yet to see any such policies enacted or enforced in areas populated by largely non-minority (i.e., white) citizens. There have been no such similar instances (at least to my knowledge) where the wholesale hindering or ignoring the civil liberties (not to mention affecting the very lives) of white male citizens occurred to any similarly measurable level...including instances of forbidding the ownership or use of guns for self-defense. The bottom line is that the white male fear of having one’s weapons taken away, or of having their rights limited by government is not fully understood in light of the lack of any similar or discernible instances where laws and/or local ordinances were passed to curtail their rights. So how is it that you fear gun-control or civil liberty violations when government has a tradition of working—for better or worse—in your interests?
I will again now pause, this time to allow you to either try to formulate a justification for this apparent irrational dissonance (something I’m sure will be predictably along the lines of, “Yeah, but those instances were different…") or to try to search your memory banks for similar instances where white males’ gun ownership rights or civil liberties were so imposed upon by any level of government on a level of scale.

A gun-toting protester identified as William Kostric stands in the crown at a Phoenix, Arizona health care reform rally.

To Be Concluded...

Monday, August 17, 2009

"Socialized Medicine"--Innovation By Any Other Name

As someone who would love to see every American covered by some form of substantive and affordable health care insurance--one that doesn't result in the majority of personal bankruptcies year-to-year--I often ask myself What good is having "the best health care system in the world," when its priced out of reach for most people?
We love telling ourselves that we Americans are the "best" at innovation. Yet, when it comes to innovating a new way to cover all Americans, it's in this area that we suddenly "recognize" our apparent limitations. All of a sudden, after years of irresponsible spending on senseless military actions, pork barrel-spending, and constituent-supported tax-cuts, we worry about paying for a program, one whose need cannot be challenged.
Its our American arrogance which leads us to believe that we can't learn anything else from other countries when it comes to addressing the issue of health care coverage. Back in March of this year, CBS's Sunday Morning presented an illustration of how the French (yes, those "French"...the country that often finds itself the butt of American television late night comedians and of patriotic sitcom leads) deal with the high cost of health care treatment.

Watch CBS Videos Online

The French penchant for choking at times of conflict notwithstanding, give them credit for having the bravery to at least try to implement a way of addressing the need for health care for its citizens. It's easy to oppose universal health care or universally affordable health insurance while spouting pro-Free Market patriotic rhetoric when one can afford to pay his or her medical bills. But given the choice between potential financial ruin, and embracing the ideological rhetoric of those opposed to any form of universal health care, I'll wager that many Americans who can't afford health care coverage would gladly opt for a system of "Socialized" medicine similar to that which the French use.
We're not going to get out of addressing the rising cost of health care, nor are we going avoid trying to provide coverage for all Americans without spending any money. We are going to pay to cover our fellow uninsured Americans, whether through higher premiums, higher taxes, or higher service fees, all to cover charity care for the uninsured. It's time we got real and stop falling back on baseless fears of a "Socialism" Boogey Man.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

What Happened To The Lessons of Childhood? (Or, “What the **** Is Wrong With People?”), Conclusion

Continued from Part 2 (

With the Christian Church being the foundation for many of the life lessons that we learned as children, and given that it’s leadership and spiritual advisors are as every bit as susceptible to the insanity to which has infected all other aspect’s of America’s secular institutions, it’s should come as no surprise that it’s supposed adherents have come epitomize a distortion of its values. Take the current debate over health care reform.
As children, we are taught to help everyone who needs it—a central tenet of Christian as well as all religious doctrines. With respect to the between 40 and 45 million Americans who either have no health insurance coverage or who are underinsured, it’s astounding that many supposed men and women “of faith” can justify the current system of runaway health care cost, and near universal unaffordability—if not for employer-based coverage—for the sake of embracing their political allegiances and their associated dogmas. We all know the pitfalls of the current system of health care in America, one that culminates with it being the single greatest cause of bankruptcies year-to-year. However, despite both the reality and the need, opponents of health care reform resort to un-Christian-like tactics such as distortion of facts, fear mongering ( - NYTimes article, "False ‘Death Panel’ Rumor Has Some Familiar Roots," from 08/13/2009), willful ignorance (see link below), selective facts which support their political dogmas ( - Newsweek magazine's article "Seven Myths About Health Care," as sourced from, from 08/14/2009 ), and a slew of other hypocritical acts. And all for what? Because they believe that any government-subsidized programs intended to provide universal health care coverage for all Americans would be “Socialist” in policy (forgetting that private business can successfully compete with similar government-adminstered endeavors; Fed-Ex, UPS, and other mail delivery services are doing far better than the U.S. Postal service, and the private security firm--the former Blackwater Group--is able to pay its employees better than the U.S, military). Apparently these individuals hold the idea of a Free Market America far more sacred than the tenets of their religious faiths, or the support of reason. And challenging opponents on this observation will only result in a weak defense comprised of twisted and secular logic. In one recent town hall protest in Raleigh, North Carolina, a reporter for a local television station illustrated that many of the protesters there had not even read any portion of President Obama’s health care reform proposal. In fact, one woman, when interviewed, said that she “didn’t have to read the proposal,” and that she relied on the “voice of the Holy Spirit to tell her it was wrong.” The logical effect of this sad dynamic is that while it’s apparently ok for a sick person to pray for a healing, but any government-backed effort to help pay for medical treatment is wrong based on her interpretation of Biblical principles. ( Uninformed health care reform protesters in Raleigh, NC, from 08/14/2009 broadcast). It seems that many of those opposed to universal-backed health care in this country do so based on either ideological reasons, to gain political power for oneself and/or political affiliation (ultimately), or as a knee-jerk defense of Free Market principles; people should left up to their own devices when it comes to assistance. From a philosophical perspective, these reasons run against the very first Christian Commandment…Thou shall have no other God before me (and the principles He is said to stand for).
It’s ironic that people are opposed to such a laudable idea as universal affordability of health care coverage, when opposing runs counter their self-interests. Often citing the potential costs of implementing such a policy, many of these same individuals opposed to health care reform had no problem with supporting—at least by their lack of protest and quiet acquiescence—the increased defense budget spending and the costs of America’s unwarranted invasion of Iraq under the last administration’s tenure…one that has to date resulted in over 1,500 American military deaths, an untold number of Iraqi civilian deaths, a rising deficit, and the tarnishment of the country’s reputation in the global community.
What happens when politically dogmatic individual individuals and organizations prevents us from helping others by misrepresenting the goals and intentions other individuals or groups simply to make their ideas more favorable? While this is nothing new—more conservative individuals and groups have a history of labeling unionizers, women and minority suffrage campaigners, civil rights workers, and others they disagree with as “Socialists” “Communists”—this tendency has gained a more intense fervor over the past 20 or so years. On the flip side of coin, more liberal individuals and groups have been quick to slander individuals seeking to strengthen the traditional family unit—a laudable goal to be sure given the high divorce and single parent rates in this country—as “fascists.”
What are to do about parents who treat parenthood so casually…or even worse, those who micromanage their children’s every move, thought, or goal?
What’s the effect for society when the institutions meant to guide us and make our lives better—secular and spiritual—have become as dysfunctional as the individuals who comprise them? How are things supposed to get better for our society when our political machinations become nothing more than organizations staffed with opportunists and self-serving individuals looking to pad their pockets? Is there any wonder that people like myself are so cynical toward these institutions…that there is a recently revealed growing resurgence of anti-government militias (See the Associated Press article, "Officials See Rise in Militia Groups Across US." and Southern Poverty Law Center: )
What hope is there for society when we are so quick to hurt one another for nothing more than simple personal of political advantage?
What are we supposed to do with the life lessons that we learned as children, but disregard as adults? How about disregard them for want of their effectiveness? Let’s teach our children that it’s ok that their parents embrace a selfishness attitude toward parenting. That it’s understandable that parents live their own lives vicariously through the live of their children. And let’s tell them that it’s ok to treat our children like gold, but other children like crap. It’s ok to drink and drive…even if it puts the lives of ourselves and others at risk.
Let’s teach our kids that it’s ok to ignore helping others in our society simply because we want to validate—in both our own minds and those we hope to convert—the particular dogmatic beliefs we chose to embrace. Let’s teach them that embracing socio-political beliefs are far more important than our own spiritual teachings about helping others and elevating our souls…that "socialism" (and other similar beliefs) is the worst idea humanity has ever conceived…more evil than genocide, serial killing, rape, or even war. Let’s teach our kids that the labels we attach to those who wish to see progressive change in the world mean more than their intentions.
Let’s teach our children that it’s wrong for two consenting adults to engage in sex, but that’s its ok for us to engage our children.
While we’re at it, lets tell them that solving disputes by fighting (especially if it’s on national television) is fine.
Let’s just throw out the life lessons we teach children; give reality a chance to catch up with the hypocrisy we engage in on a daily basis. At least then we can stop asking ourselves, what’s wrong with us?

For an illustration of the desperate need for universal health care affordability, click on the following link: or watch the recent NBC Nightly News piece below.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

What Happened To The Lessons of Childhood? (Or, “What the **** Is Wrong With People?”), Part 2

Continued from Part 1 (

Whenever we think about the life lessons that we were given in our childhoods, perhaps no institution comes to mind more than the Church. But what happens when the Church itself ignores the same advice it gave us? What happens when those we look up to the most, who are supposed to represent themselves as agents of all things decent and spiritual, allow themselves to fall prey to material pursuits and all-too worldly behavior? We get a dose of painful reality…an understanding that many spiritual institutions are every bit as dysfunctional and out of control as many in the secular world.
It’s only recently that the seemingly rampant wave of child molestation and allegations of such at the hands of officials in the Catholic Church have started to subside. The allegations, the arrests, the accusations of sanctioned cover-ups, the civil actions…all because officials within the Church were incapable of living up to their promise of disciplined and dedicated spiritual counselors and followers of the advice they were charged with giving us (remember the Golden Rule?).
In the [recent] American Protestant tradition, politically active Evangelicals wed themselves to secular political ideologies and groups for the sake of influencing social policy, and violating the spirit Church and State separation. What does it say that those of us who don’t share a particular faith with the religious movers and shakers are forced to accept an interpretation and application of law based on how someone views the “Word of God?” Must the possibility of beneficial treatments for many medical maladies go unexplored because someone else’s interpretation of God’s intention’s forbids harvesting stem cells from dead fetuses…no matter the cause of death? Do we ignore benefits of making available to young people in this country contraceptive simply because someone believes doing so will endorse out-of-wedlock “fornication?
Acknowledged religious figures like Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell have a great deal of influence among the religious bloc within the conservative electoral base in this country—one needn’t have to look beyond the many Christian-based institutions each have built such as universities, television programming, etc. So what does it say when figures like Robertson overly maligns the feminist movement in the following way:

"(T)he feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians."

And what of religious leaders in America? What does it do to the faith of a believer when a [at least to some] religious figure like Jesse Jackson is revealed to have been involved in an extramarital affair during the same time that he was supposed to be providing spiritual counsel to former President Bill Clinton during his own widely publicized tryst with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky?
What it looks like is that our traditional refuge of spiritual counsel is not longer a place for solace and comfort, as those who represent its values have seemingly lost their minds along with everyone else!
What’s worse is that politicians of all stripes—from leftist liberal to reactionary conservative and everyone in between—still holds out hope that our political institutions are where our hopes lie. This particular sense of hope that salvation for our collective well-being lies in the political realm is harder to understand than even the basic question of what’s wrong with people? given the unexplainable way that politicians have and continue to violate both their family and the public’s sense of trust…and despite being in the public eye constantly. The list of political officials who have recently had questionable sexual indiscretions reads like a Who’s Who of the politically influential:

2009: after disappearing for seven days, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford admits that he had secretly flown to Argentina to visit a woman with whom he’d been having an affair.

2009: Sen. John Ensign admits that he had engaged in an extramarital affair with a campaign staffer who was then employed as one of his top aides.

Aug. 2008: John Edwards, the former North Carolina senator, and the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2004, confesses that he had lied repeatedly about an affair with 42-year-old Rielle Hunter.

2008: Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick pleads guilty, is forced to resign, and is jailed for lying under oath about explicit text messages he sent to an aide, revealing they the two were involved in an extramarital affair.

March 2008: New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, a Democrat, resigns a week after a New York Times report links him to a prostitution ring.

June 2007: Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, is arrested in a Minneapolis airport restroom. He pleads guilty to disorderly conduct for tapping his feet and swiping his hand under a stall divider in a way that signaled he wanted sex. Craig later denies any wrongdoing and says he is not gay.

July 2007: Sen. David Vitter, R-La., acknowledges that his Washington phone number was among those called several years before by an escort service.

September 2006; Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., abruptly resigns after reports that he sent sexual messages to teenage male congressional pages.

2005; Spokane Mayor Jim West, one of the most powerful Republicans in the Legislature and a champion of an anti-gay agenda during his tenure, admits to having private online relationships during 2005 through the website. In more than 20 years in the Legislature, West had initiated legislation to outlaw sexual contact between consenting teenagers; supported a bill that would have barred gays and lesbians from working for schools, day care centers and some state agencies, and; voted to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

If one looks at this issue from both a Biblical standpoint, and that of how they ignore the lessons were were taught in our childhoods, it would tax the imagination as to how many of those simple lessons for living these violations ignore.
What is wrong with people?

To Be Concluded

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Canadian Health Care System...Myth vs. Fact

During this current debate on health care reform, there are tons of aspersions, tidbits misinformation, and now television ads, both pro and con, being hurled to and fro in the politically-charged atmosphere. Probably the most commonly used comparison with regards to the health care debate is that of the current system in America to that of the Canadian health care system.
Well, finally one of the country’s news outlets—National Public Radio—decided to bypass the sound bites, rhetoric, industry spin, and political dogma to actually travel to Canada to look into the truth surrounding our northern neighbor’s health care system and how it’s administered.
In the search for clarification of how the Canadian system deals with the problems associated with providing health care for all if it’s citizens, NPR interviewed those who would know best…namely Canadian citizens, doctors, and political officials.
Click on the link to listen to the full report (aired: August 10, 2009)

Addendum (08/19/09):
National Public Radio looked into the British Health Care System--often cited as a reason by opponents of health reform in America not to fine-tune it's failing system of covering all its citizens--to explore its pros and cons. In addition, this piece also served to debuk the half-truths and myths put forward by this country's opponents of health care reform:

Saturday, August 8, 2009

What Happened To The Lessons of Childhood? (Or, “What the **** Is Wrong With People?”), Part 1

As I watched, listened, and read the various news items of the past week, I found myself asking the same question that many others are probably asking; What the **** is wrong with people?
No doubt, the same people asking this same question had imparted on them during their childhoods the same lessons for life that and I had imparted into me: Treat others as you would have them treat you; go to school, study hard, work hard, and you will prosper, it’s not what you look like, but it’s what’s on the inside that counts, a penny saved is a penny earned, and an entire slew of other such familiar life lessons.
But as we grow up, we tend to undergo a kind of sociological puberty… we start to see the benefits of experience, our emotional skins become thicker, we tend to loosen the social and psychological inhibitions we were programmed with, and we tend to shed our embrace of the fairy tales we thought were possible…including the fairy tales of the life lessons we learned.
A cynical perspective? You tell me. This past week, we saw yet another unprovoked mass shooting in a public place, this time in a suburb of Pittsburgh. We saw a 36 year-old mother, intoxicated with high levels of both alcohol and marijuana in her system, driving the wrong way on a New York state freeway, which resulted in a crash that killed herself, her child, three nieces, and three other men in another vehicle. We saw town hall meetings in different cities, intended to educate the public on aspects President’s Obama’s proposed overhaul of health care, degrade into shouting matches—some of them no doubt orchestrated by organized opposition—complete with forced removals of the unruly by law enforcement and death threats of elected officials. And these were just the high points of the week; I haven’t even brought up the items illustrating social dysfunction which flew under the radars of the major news organizations.
This is not meant to deny that every day, a great many good things are done by good people, especially with regards to the current economic downturn; these too I have see or read about this past week. I could just as easily list a few, but the problem is that effects of the bad things tend to be more far-reaching, and more pronounced than the good. The bad things tend to have national consequences (yes, I concede that this point is debatable), while the effects of the good don’t seem to extend past the local level. We simply do not have a Mother Theresa or a similar archetype of individual who can give us a sense of hope that the good things that we do have a national or global impact. And this being America, even if there were someone like that working in our midst to create a better society, our cynicism would prevent us from accepting what they do as being purely egalitarian in nature; no doubt we would attribute their rationales to personal, financial, or political motives.
But the more I watch things around me, the more I start to see that the life lessons that we learned as children are just more of those things that we put away as we become adults. Remember the advice that we got about calling the police whenever you see a crime being committed? Given the daily headlines about shootings, robberies, and other assault-based crimes (many of them unprovoked), it seems a solid suggestion. This week on two different days, NBC’s Today Show aired two separate news pieces relating to people getting involved with the prevention of crimes against others. In the first incident, a 10 year-old girl saw a bank robbery underway right in front of her, and had the presence of mind to run to a nearby business and call the police.

In the other case—and in another bank robbery—a teller, who had been the unfortunate employee who’s window was targeted by the robber, not only denied the robber’s demand to hand over the bank’s cash, but proceeded to follow the criminal out the bank and chase him down, eventually appending and holding him for the police with the help of another citizen. For his trouble, the teller was eventually fired by the bank…and rightfully so. The young girl displayed far more good sense with regards to the situation than her adult counterpart. Not only did the teller ignore the bank’s rule of compliance with any demands in the event of a robbery, but chose to ignore common sense, putting not only himself but the bank’s customers and others in possible jeopardy. What was this man thinking? Apparently, the teller hadn’t heard the old adage that “a hero ain’t nothing but a sandwich.” Even more important, the comparison of these incidents illustrate that in many instances, people don’t necessarily grow into wisdom, but out of it.
How about the mother who killed herself and 7 others in New York? Apparently, she wasn’t capable of empathizing with the fear of most other mothers, including the mothers of the nieces she was related to. Most responsible parents want the best for their children, the best education, shelter, a secure future, etc. So why is it that the woman in New York couldn't empathize with a fear that many parents have…that their children could be killed by an irresponsible adult impaired by foreign substances behind the wheel of a vehicle? We all know that not only is drinking and driving illegal, but highly dangerous to the general public…we learned it all back in school. So why do seemingly rational people make a habit out of completely ignoring a major foundational idea of such as not driving impaired? Perhaps along the way during the march into our adult lives, we somehow got the idea that maybe the lessons that we were told were so important for us to absorb were merely suggestions, and not advice to help us advance our lives.

A penny saved is a penny earned? Not when you live in the premier consumer society on earth....a society that we allow to program us to purchase and consume at any cost, at any price. The current financial crisis may have been perpetuated by corporate malfeasance and greed in the financial industry, but it was spurred by way too many consumers trying to skirt the common sense of thrift, of actually working and saving enough to afford the house with the white picket fence portion of the American Dream. Too many people with questionable credit were granted loans for houses which they could ill-afford under normal circumstances. Now while I am totally for giving stable individuals a chance for home ownership, many lenders made a cottage industry out of mass approving high-risk loans, and of investing against the anticipated returns from these loans, playing on the housing boom of the late 90s and early to mid- 2000s. So much for working hard and saving.

To Be Continued...