The Worship of Sports in America

Simply put, Americans take sports way too seriously.

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 15, 2010

North Korea - The Cure For Our Complex World…A Cold War Imagination!

Two weeks ago, North Korea engaged in a military attack on South Korea, a long-time American protectorate…of sorts.
Now close you eyes for a moment and imagine that we were still living in Cold War America, a time when the world was more or less divided into three major political/ideological bloc: the greedy capitalism-driven, but free West; the evil state-controlled economies of the various communist East nations, and the self-interested states—often run by dictators—who often played both blocs against the middle in an effort to carve out their corner of that geopolitically bi-polar regime. In this world, very few of those smaller self-interested states are willing or even capable of challenging neither the resolve nor the policies of the leaders of these blocs, the United States and the Soviet Union, for fear of some kind of substantive response. In this world, military commitments are limited, military spending and constant nuclear weapons testing telegraphing to the world the resolve of both blocs is evident, and lesser adversaries know their place; major acts of terrorism were limited to areas of the Middle East, Africa, and parts of Europe.
Now imagine that a country, firmly entrenched within either bloc decided to attack another within the opposing bloc…say North Korea, under the leadership of Kim Il-sung, opting to stage an attack on U.S.-allied South Korea. Understand that in this world, political leaders within each country have to appear to be either “tough on Communism” or “stand up to the Capitalists” so as not to appear “weak.” And since these two countries have a history as a military flashpoint for the ideological clash between the two opposing blocs, the resolve to defend either by other members within each opposing bloc emphasizes how easily such an attack by one country on another can easily lead to a regional, if not global conflagration.

But that time is gone

No longer do we live in an America governed by a myopic, if not marginally accurate view of the world in terms of a democracy vs. dictatorship ethos, powered by resolve—both actual and that perceived by its adversaries.
Now come open your eyes to the world we live in today, a generation or so after the waning days of the Cold War.
Today’s world is one where America’s reign as the lone superpower is under an almost relentless series of challenges by small nations aligned with larger more powerful nations, as well as individual nations seeking to increase their influence in the post-Cold War multi-polar world. This is because these challenger countries have been shrewd enough to take advantage of America’s recent foreign policy blunders, some of which have resulted in a weakening of resolve to secure the nation’s interests. Faulty intelligence, arrogance of leadership, questionable single-mindedness, and a lack of intimate knowledge of whom were dealing with have all combined to squander America’s readiness on irrelevant “threats” which America’s enemies have used as a window of opportunity embolden themselves to do what North Korea did 2 weeks hence…attack American interests without fear of significant reprisal(s).

A photo of the North Korean leadership, with a doctored image of ailing leader Kim Jong Il superimposed on the image

The open defiance and belligerence out of the Middle- and Far East could have been avoided if America had maintained some of the more useful, more static policies from our Cold War experience with the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc.
Primarily, America should have kept its nuclear option open in dealing with Afghanistan after 9/11. A tactical nuclear strike (or two) on Taliban strongholds in the more remote regions of the then-lawless country could have gone a lone way to signaling to would-be pretenders to the throne how far America is willing to go to protect its interests in this new world.
Imagine being in Tehran, Kabul, Baghdad, Pyongyang or any number of regions around the world and knowing where you were and what you were doing when you heard from state-run television/radio about the first—actually second, Japan was the first—nuclear attack on a country harboring an organization responsible for an attack on the financial and political centers of the lone global superpower…that’s the impact such a policy would have had on those who would threaten American interests. Imagine how many American service personnel lives could have been saved by not having to invade countries who realized that a mushroom cloud umbrella could be their fate if they do not, say, allow United Nations weapons inspectors unfettered access to suspected facilities…or who unilaterally accede from nuclear non-proliferation treaties and then proceed to create nuclear weapons in violation of international law.
In a world where America’s enemies are growing by the numbers daily, and where countries are openly challenging America and it interests to the point of acting with impunity, maybe American leaders should go back to the old policy of Mutually Assured Destruction…a policy that projects the resolve that we give as good as we get.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Its 2010...Do You Know What Your Kids Are Smoking?

In working with at-risk teens, I find that both that their parents as well as those of us working to save them have to be more than vigilant…we have to virtually sleep with one eye open. Today’s youth seem more inclined engage their free time by pursuing questionable “pleasures,” most notably the fixation on getting high.
In regards to this to teenage fixation on pursuing chemically-induced altered states of perceptions, the methods of choice include illegally-obtained prescription medicines, “huffing” chemical inhalants, and smoking marijuana—by no means an exhaustive list. But with many institutions increasing their emphasis on drug testing and [the] increasing legal restrictions limiting access to excessive amounts of over-the-counter medicines (often used to concoct mixtures to chase cheap highs), teenagers are constantly seeking and exploring other alternatives to momentarily escaping reality.
One of these alternatives are plants and other exotic herbs that have been treated with synthetic chemicals, so that when smoked mimic both the form and function of marijuana. The way this “legal weed” works is that when rolled in smoking paper and smoked, produces a euphoric high similar to that of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chief psychoactive chemical in real marijuana. Instead of THC, this synthetic marijuana contains a mixture of synthetic chemicals known as JWH-018, JWH-073, and/or CP-47 that act on cannabinoid receptors in the brain in much the same way that true marijuana does.
This totally legal marijuana substitute (in most states) is manufactured abroad, shipped to the states, sold mostly in local convenience stores/corner markets, and marketed as “herbal incense” in order to disguise its true purpose as a way of obtaining a marijuana-like high…without the legal ramifications. Sold under the popular brand names such as “K2,” “Kush,” “Spice,” “Mr. Nice Guy,” and a host of others, these herbal blends have dangerous, potentially deadly heath issues attached to their use. Earlier this year, an Iowa teen who had smoked K2 died after suffering a panic attack caused by its use and shooting himself (http://www.siouxcityjournal.com/news/local/article_877e5512-aae0-58bc-b88b-8e3124f198dc.html).





As illustrated, smoking small amounts of the more potent synthetic marijuana can cause an increased heart rate, loss of consciousness, paranoia, hallucinations, and psychotic episodes. Regarding these health issues, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) calls these herbal plants a “drug of concern” and has moved to have these drugs placed in the same category as traditional illegal drugs such as cocaine and heroin. Additionally, some 13 states as well as the military have banned either their sale and/or use (importation and/or use have also been banned abroad in the UK, Russia, Poland, France, and South Korea). However, in the jurisdictions that have been slow to respond—for whatever reasons—synthetic marijuana’s use continues to grow as young users take advantage of this legislative oversight (http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/11/24/national/main7086373.shtml).
Besides the fact that legal loopholes help encourage access to this drug, the fact that it doesn’t show up as a positive reading in traditional drug screenings make it an even more attractive substitute for young people looking to get an easy and cheap high; small packets of these herbs cost between $15 to $40 dollars.
In cities and areas across the country, authorities should make themselves aware of this potentially deadly substitute for marijuana and move quickly to ban its import, sale, and use…or the federal government should speed up its efforts to ban the importation and/use of any product with these particular (or even similar) chemical makeup(s).
Given the level of talk and bragging I hear daily by teens who share stories about their particular experiences with artificial marijuana use, perhaps some enterprising future entrepreneur could create a drug screening which could detect this new drug, and make himself/herself a multimillionaire in the process…and help those of us who spend our time trying to keep young people keep their heads on straight.

Friday, November 5, 2010

A Few Items In The News…

The Mid-Term Elections

Years ago, Adolf Hitler said that if you tell a big enough lie often enough, it will eventually become the truth…and that truth will eventually not matter. Keep that in mind as reality has declared the mid-term elections of 2010 to now be history. And after all of the usual pre-election insanity of campaign lies, slanders, half-truths, opponent misrepresentations, and shifty campaign contribution, we have projected winners and losers.
Now that America has a divided Congress—between the now Republican-controlled House of Representatives and the Democrat-controlled Senate—as well as a Democratically-controlled executive branch (i.e., that’s the White House to those of you who failed Civics 101), we can expect ideological intransigence, political gridlock, party-bashing, and ultimately legislative inaction to run Washington for the foreseeable future.
Even as the landslide-victorious Republicans are preparing to take control of half of the federal government’s legislature, the presumed new Speaker of the House, John Boehner (R-OH) had already started to engage in the usual Washington political hyperbole by declaring that “there seems to be some denial on the part of the president and other Democratic leaders of the message that was sent by the American people."



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Last week’s election victories on the part of the Republicans (in both national and local races across the country) were not so much as bringing the Democrats face-to-face with some presumed denial on their parts as much as it was greater organizing among the conservative rank-and-file, a more effective public relations machine, and better image-projecting. Combine this reality with the fact that Democrats were ideologically split over support for policies promoted by the White House and you get the pasting that Democrats suffered at the polls almost 2 weeks ago.
Most informed Americans already know the conservative platform of the Republican Party, so to call this election “the most historic election in over 60, 70 years” is something of a stretch of reality, and reeks of political spin…trying to make more of the elections than they were (come on…the election of the first African American president and the accompanying one-party control of the federal government during the previous election cycle doesn’t count as more “historic?” Even the Republican shift of Congress in 1994 was more meaningful historically). More to the point, its not as if the American electorate has much of a choice when it comes to party/ideological representation in Washington anyway…Brand X or Brand Y.
Taken altogether, these events harbinger what is to come for the American people…the ultimate loser in the elections of the past couple of weeks. Until either one party effectively (the key word here) controls one aspect of the legislative process, decides to work in the interests of their constituencies—us—and not instead hold allegiance to their political parties and their respective ideologies, or until both parties either learn to work together or the American people opt to create a viable third political alternative (the Tea Party totally withstanding), we can expect the same a three-ring circus in Washington in the coming term instead of functioning three branches of government.

Corporal Punishment In Schools

A high school basketball coach in Jackson, Mississippi is in legal hot water after images of him “paddling” students during a basketball practice went viral over the ‘net this week, courtesy of another student’s cell phone camera.
Coach Marlon Dorsey defended his practice of paddling basketball team members who failed “to run basketball plays correctly" as a way of trying to "save these young men from the destruction of self," according to court documents filed recently.
In further defense of his actions, Dorsey issued a statement which read,

"I paddled my students... today, some of [sic] students have lost pride in their school and in their (sic) selves. Students are disrespecting teachers, administrators and other students by stealing cell phones, leaving off campus without permission, disrupting classroom teaching time, late for class and not following dress codes by wearing the pants on their butts and house shoes to school and on-court behavior. I took it upon myself to save these young men from the destruction of self and what society has accepted and become silent to the issues our students are facing on a daily basis."

As of this writing: Dorsey is still employed with the district, but is on active suspension without pay for 28 days; students who were alleged to have been paddled still attend classes and are still playing on the boy's varsity basketball team; and a lawsuit has been filed in court naming the school district, Dorsey, and the school principal as defendants who failed to safeguard the rights of the players (http://mw.cnn.com/snarticle?c=cnnd_us&p=0&aId=20101111:mississippi.coach.whippings:1).



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Having worked with young people myself for over 10 years (including currently as a counselor for at-risk teens), I not only empathize with Dorsey’s position, but support it 110%. Today’s youth are simply out of control, especially urban youth. Part of this is because we as a society have adopted an overly liberal attitude toward dealing with both their issues and their actions. We have adopted a New Age form of thinking which asserts that paddling, whippings, and other forms of “abuse” are more harmful than helpful to youth in dealing with their delinquency. But an argument can be made that removing these (and other such) sanctions as options when it comes to bringing up our children does more harm to society as a whole.
Most of us who comprise Generation X, Baby Boomers, and prior generations received such sanctions regularly in both the home and in schools (from 3rd grade through high school), and we are no worse for our experiences. In fact, it could be argued that such actions reinforced our generation’s superior social value of duty, while the absence of such actions has resulted in this current generation’s sense of entitlement.
Even if you don’t agree with bringing back corporal punishment in public schools, one thing no one can disagree with is that there was no where near as much violence, disrespect for teachers, and lack of self-respect back in my public school days as there is today with the absence of such measures. Also, people were not chomping at the bit to sue for any perceived violation of one’s “rights” back in the day as they are now…as if awarding monetary “compensation” somehow miraculously gives one back his/her dignity.
In fact, who needs Corporal Punishment? I say bring in Sergeant Slaughter!


Black Unwed Motherhood Reaches A New High


This week, the Washington Post featured a story about the extremely high—an understatement to be sure—rate of unwed motherhood among black women in America. According the both the article and the latest government figures, black single motherhood among black women is an astounding 72%, far and away shadowing the demographic group, Native Americans at 66% (“Blacks Struggle With 72% Unwed Mothers Rate,” The Washington Post.


http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/11/06/AR2010110602362_pf.html ).

To emphasize the point, the article focused on the experience of a Houston-area OB-GYN and her low-income–serving practice. The government’s statistics closely mirrors the daily experiences of Dr. Natalie Carroll, who gives a level of personal counseling emphasizing the need for single mothers to bring stable male figures into the lives of their children…in addition to medical care she provides to expectant mothers.
For many within the black community, this fact is no surprise, although the numerical percentage is still shocking. The black community also knows all-too well the correlative outcomes that such a high rate of single-parent households tends to yield—children of unmarried mothers (of any race) “are more likely to perform poorly in school, go to prison, use drugs, be poor as adults, and have their own children out of wedlock.”
It’s a well-know but little-discussed norm within the black community that, even when is criticized for the sociological pathology that it is by high profile figures such as entertainer Bill Cosby on the left and former Republican presidential candidate Alan Keyes on the right, it becomes a matter of loping off the head (s) of the bearer(s) of bad news rather than an issue to be addressed.
It’s a complex problem with equally complicated solutions. Yes, black males could learn to step up and accept more responsibility insofar as family and their children are concerned, but when the economic climate creates more impediments than opportunities, how is he supposed to become “marriage material” if he cannot even acquire gainful employment? And what woman is going to “take care of a man” (a prospective taboo among many black women)?
And what about idea of marriage as a solution to this problem? Given the almost daily reports about how many high profile couples such as entertainers—individuals of more-than-adequate financial means—are splitting up almost as soon as they get together, how is any man supposed to take the institution of marriage seriously when it seems no one else is? As a solution to the high rate of single motherhood in and of itself, marriage seems to be an outdated institution that no one takes seriously. Indeed, depending on whose numbers you buy, more than half of them will end up in divorce anyway. So there is obviously no sense of security in matrimony. More so, if it comes down to divorce, the man is far more likely to receive the short end of the stick insofar as rulings (spousal/child support, the dividing of assets, etc.) are concerned, so where is his incentive to get married?
It would seem that many aspects of the socioeconomic system in America have to change in order for facilitate an incentive for black males become more responsible, and for black women to accept them as potential marriage partners. Then again, these were non-factors for black family cohesiveness during both slavery and in the century of Jim Crow following slavery. As mentioned earlier, it’s a complicated issue.



Friday, October 29, 2010

Juan Williams, Free Speech, and Something To Think About

America witnessed a bona fide, honest-to-goodness miracle. Liberals and Conservatives alike found common ground in their free defense of quasi-Liberal commentator Juan Williams after he was fired from National Public Radio (NPR) after remarks on FOX News’ O’Reilly Factor, hosted by Bill O’Reilly. Given the depth of news coverage which this story received, we should all know those now-infamous words which Williams spoke on the conservative commentator’s news show:

"I mean, look, Bill, I’m not a bigot,” Williams said on the "The O'Reilly Factor" Monday. “But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous."



Granted it’s easy to see how such ideas could further religious intolerance in post 9/11 America, Williams’ firing from NPR last week speaks a great deal about how much free speech has become a target by those who political sensitivities cannot stand to be challenged. Take Republican South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint’s response to the firing of Williams. The Conservative senator has vowed to introduce legislation calling for the elimination of federal funds used to supplement NPR’s mostly donation-funded operating budget. In defending his stance, DeMint stated that

"Once again we find the only free speech liberals support is the speech with which they agree. The incident with Mr. Williams shows that NPR is not concerned about providing the listening public with an honest debate of today’s issues, but rather with promoting a one-sided liberal agenda."

The ironic thing about such political posturing is that any legislation to cut NPR’s federal funding (only 10% of its total funding anyway) will go a long way toward doing the same thing which DeMint accuses NPR of doing...curtailing free speech. Go Figure.



Free speech—any free speech—should be protected at all cost"



Friday, October 15, 2010

What's Wrong With The Traditional American Family (...or, "Let's See If I Can Pi-- Off Everybody!)"

Being a spiritual (as opposed to “religious”) person, I do so recognize and admire how circumstances create a convergence of serendipity in daily life. In this case, the fact that I work with at-risk teens, recent news items, and contemporary social issues have merged to create a ready-made focus of observation, specifically with regards to the American family as a functional institution.
Every day, I witness first-hand the effects of the disintegration of the nurturing nature of the American family through the behavior of (the) children. Sadly, the dysfunction of today’s youth, characterized by substance abuse, criminal activity, and teenage parenthood, has become more of the socially pathological norm—especially during the last quarter century. The reasons for this growing breakdown in the traditional American family’s function to nurture each other has many socioeconomic causes, both valid and speculative. However, even as shifting socioeconomic forces have indirectly affected changes within the traditional family’s structure to weaken it, shifting roles of the individual family units—that is men, women, and children—are most directly at fault. Consider how each member’s role in the traditional family have caused its disintegration from within:

Women
Perhaps no individual unit within the traditional family unit—at its overall expense—has benefited most from (the) shifting roles than women. According to the most recent observations, women have been steadily outpacing men in many areas of modern society. Last month for example, it was revealed for the first time that more men than women are earning PhDs (granted me still dominate being awarded doctoral degrees in the hard sciences such as mathematics and computer science, the rate of representation for women in most other disciplines has grown to surpass that of men). In the African-American community, this growing gender gap in education is even more pronounced.
(http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2010-09-15-womenphd14_st_N.htm).
Similarly, the wage gap—the earning of dollars for the same work performed—between women and men has also begun to shrink (although women still age behind in dollar-for-dollar earning). This is due in part to the erosion of once male-dominated jobs (such as construction-related labor) during the current recession. And given the previously ongoing trend in rising female representation in traditionally male-dominated fields, the effect is that women now are increasingly earning more money than their husbands in many instances (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/33196583/ns/business-careers/). In other instances, women are the sole breadwinners in many families in the wake of the current recession. Combine these gains with the other widely-known gains for women in the fields of politics, economics, and society as a whole over the last generation and you have the basis for what is the current status quo in America—a society in which traditionally-held values—the same traditionally-held values which helped to make the traditional family unit’s cohesion the basis for America’s rise as the sole global superpower—have become feminized.
We needn’t look further than our television sets to see this shifting dynamic in the family unit in action. Long gone are the days where the image of the traditional father figure in the American family was depicted as the sometimes stern, but still loving and sensible head of the family unit. Today on most television sitcoms, the father/man is typically portrayed as a bumbling oaf displaying more lack-of-wit than common sense, while the mother/woman is contrarily rendered as the intelligent soul of tact and all things sensible (e.g., Tim Taylor from the ABC’s “Home Improvement” or Homer Simpson from FOX’s “The Simpsons”). This is a role-reversal that was hardly reciprocated in previous times; even when women were depicted as the doting stay-at-home, stand-by-her-man helpmate, she was not so caricaturized as the male is now (with the possible exception of Lucy Ricardo’s character from the syndicated “I Love Lucy” show). This depiction of new family roles has transcended the family unit and infected society on a wholesale level (view the video “Bill Maher on Feminism” below).



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Men
What can be said about the poor American male? Without a doubt, men have been the biggest individual losers insofar as the disintegration of the American family. Between the rise in the overall influence of women throughout every aspect of society, the decimation of his earning potential by trending and current economic forces, and his own intractable nature to avoid changing with the times and/or to embrace irresponsibility with regards to the family, the modern man in America has all-but become emasculated. This observation was validated in the September 20th edition of Newsweek magazine. In the article “Men’s Lib,” writer Andrew Romano asserts (to his and most men’s regret) that the American male has resisted the same socioeconomic makeovers that women have undergone, resulting in his sliding reduction to second-class citizenship both within the family and in society (http://www.newsweek.com/2010/09/20/why-we-need-to-reimagine-masculinity.print.html).
Women for their part have quickly taken to the (new) role of head of household…in some families because she’s had to due to the absence of males/fathers, while in others because the rise in female influence in society has translated into her increased influence within the family unit. In many families, especially in those made up of common-law arrangements and those among the working class, women have become emboldened enough to use her newfound strength of authority to challenge men living under the same roof rather than support him. Needless to say, men who have already had their egos crushed by the unforgiving shifting in economic and employment trends, find themselves on the verge of “bitchhood.” And men feel the sting of this new reality.
Writer Hanna Rosin illustrates this seething resentment among men in her eye-raising article, “The End of Men” in the July/August edition The Atlantic Monthly (http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/07/the-end-of-men/8135/). In the article, Rosin recounts one particular day in the weekly gathering of a class for delinquent (and unemployed) fathers in Kansas City. Lead by social worker and teacher Mustafaa El-Scari, he recounts that

Like them [his students]…he grew up watching Bill Cosby living behind his metaphorical “white picket fence”—one man, one woman, and a bunch of happy kids. “Well, that check bounced a long time ago,” he says. “Let’s see,” he continues, reading from a worksheet. What are the four kinds of paternal authority? Moral, emotional, social, and physical. “But you ain’t none of those in that house. All you are is a paycheck, and now you ain’t even that. And if you try to exercise your authority, she’ll call 911. How does that make you feel? You’re supposed to be the authority, and she says, ‘Get out of the house, bitch.’ She’s calling you ‘bitch’!”

The result is a new norm comprised of disjointed compromise and misunderstanding in both potential and actual relationships between men and women (Comedian Dave Chappelle lampoons this misunderstanding between men and women below).

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Children
The verdict for children within the modern American family is mixed. In many families, children no longer have the structure or close supervision they once had due in part to the upheaval among parents and their shifting roles within the family unit. The result is a rising trend in juvenile delinquency, teenage pregnancy, and poor academic performance in school that many erroneously attribute to “bad schools/teachers” (the real culprit with regards to the latter issue is the lack of direct parental involvement in many children’ education).
And of course it doesn’t help that New Age/Liberal thinking on issues such as punishment vs. spankings vs. vocal admonishment have taken away a parent’s right to intervene in the lives of their own children in order to ensure proper behavior. In fact, this new wave of thinking on rearing children has emboldened children to challenge their own parents—creating a sense of anxiety in them—in how they are to be punished for doing wrong. Many are the instances where I have heard children threaten their parents with police intervention for daring to spank them. As a result, virtually everything we could potentially do to our children now a days to correct their behavior is considered a virtual “abuse.” We’ve given children the same rights and privileges as adults, which is a serious mistake considering that many lack impulse control or the wisdom of foresight to anticipate consequences. We’ve made children our friends instead of our charges (Comedian Chris Rock’s mother, who has successfully raised 10 children including Chris himself, offers up her take on being an old-fashioned “strict” mother on National Public Radio’s program Tell Me More. Click on the link to listen: (http://www.npr.org/player/v2/mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=1&islist=false&id=125344896&m=125344887)

In addition, the late comedian Bernie Mac lampoons how he deals with unruly children, in a performance (from 2000's Kings of Comedy) which brings back memories of Old School discipline (below).

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Summary
Changing roles due in part to economic forces have disrupted the functionality of the American family. Women have become the heads of households in many families, which has caused resentment among men, who cannot reconcile their new roles as financial and influential subordinate. And among the segment of men who seem destined for chronic absenteeism and irresponsibility, their actions only serve to reinforce to women that men are growing incapable of assuming (or rather resuming) the role of family head and contributing breadwinner he once was.
For their part, too many women have taken to their new roles a little too readily, as their attitudes reflect an inability to compromise with the men in their lives, as if they are all that matters within the family unit. This creates a source of disharmony within the family, which results in rampant number of breakups and single parent-led households.
At the same time, our children have seemingly developed a crippling sense of direction. Although not an epidemic (yet), they have taken to engaging in sex, drugs, and crime seeming to pass the time. Their lack of structure and discipline has affected their schoolwork, and with working mothers being the only parental force in many families, they act out with both impunity and alack of appreciation for authority.
Men need to broaden their horizons and consider making themselves open to new professions which would aid in their getting their groove back (so to speak). Employers have to be as open and willing to accepting men in traditionally female roles as readily as they have women who have done the same with traditionally males professions. Men also need to develop some sense of responsibility from within to regain the respect of women.
The welfare of children needs to be the primary focus for any family, not just paying the bills. As women become career seekers in their quest to “have it all,” their absence as nurturing mothers in the home has a profound effect on both children in need of structure in order to help keep them out of trouble, and men who would need their emotional support in these harsh economic times (children are not the equal of adults and therefore do not merit the same protections, at least from their own good-intentioned parents).
Women need to learn to not to be so touchy when it comes to sharing influence within the family. To a traditional man, no amount of money she earns will make her the head of the household; the best she can hope for is a co-chair position within the family. If influence is shared, and respect is mutual, then the family can regain its role as the nurturing unit it has been in times past.

Monday, September 6, 2010

“Our Politicized Thinking Explained” (…or “Half-Wit Will Travel”)

Most non-aligned political analysts—a rare commodity to be sure—will agree that the American public has become politicized more in its collective thinking than it ever has in recent memory. Everything from our foreign policy to our favorite flavor of ice cream seems to be divided between red and blue states. Take for example a recent news item…
I like I was astounded at the news of the young New York City man who fell 39 stories and survived after a failed suicide attempt. The 22 year-old had the mathematically-improbable luck to have landed on the trunk and rear window of a car parked on the street below…a happenstance which saved his life and angered the owner of the severely damaged auto. As I read the various online news accounts of this story,

I began reading the reader commentary section of one particular daily online newspaper. On USAToday’s site there were public comments posted blaming this episode on, of all things, President Obama’s economic policies…thus turning a not-so-simple human interest story into a battle of political ideologies. Personally, I have always wondered about the upbringings, if not the overall mental health of individuals who cannot see reality outside purely dichotomous perspectives…as if Conservatives and Liberals were the only two known life forms in the known universe.
But I was harkened yesterday when I read a very interesting article from the August 16th edition of Newsweek. In “The Limits of Reason,” author Sharon Begley argues that the often irrational thinking we apply to our political (and social) beliefs and understanding of those beliefs have a basis in science. According to Begley

“…psychologists have been documenting since the 1960s, humans are really, really bad at reasoning. Its not just that we follow our emotions so often, in contexts from voting to ethics (page 14).”



The upshot is that, according to modern philosophers and cognitive scientists, there is a purpose for the kind of confirmation bias (seeing and recalling only evidence that supports your beliefs) and willful blindness to sound opposing views which leads us to stick to our beliefs. Failures of logic are simply “ploys to win arguments.” Simply put, arguing is more about overcoming opposing views and using our biased beliefs to persuade others more than it is about seeking truth or finding a common ground. It also explains the idea of motivated thinking, another faulty reasoning attribute that people employ. Motivated thinking forces individuals with certain political/social beliefs to look harder for flaws in studies when they don’t agree with their conclusions, which forces them to become more critical of “evidence” that undermines their initially-held beliefs.


This is why the notions of impending One-World Governments, health reform “death panels,” 9/11 government-backed conspiracies, and issues surrounding President Obama’s fake birth certificate remain so entrenched in the political discussions of many Americans, despite their proven invalidity.
This particular approach to our thinking on political and social issues is ridiculously easy to remedy…don’t believe everything you think! As I have alluded to so often in past postings, we Americans emote way too much and reason way too little. It is simply not practical to “feel” our way through life, especially when it comes to concepts and issues that beg that we use reason, which according to Begley “is supposed to be the highest achievement of the human mind and the route to knowledge and wise decisions.” When it comes to thinking which may affect social, economic, and political policies in America, we should think rather than feel.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Change We Can Set Our Watches By (Or…”Let’s Do It Again Like We Did Last Election!)

The American electorate is a marvel to behold at times. It has just the right combination of (the) occasional public weariness with incumbent political officials, collective short-term memory/selective memory, and often misplaced optimism which leads it to every couple of election cycles, vote in political party representatives who seem to offer a better alternative to the party in power. This is especially true if the representatives if of the political party in power fall out of public favor due to corruption of some other type of malfeasance. It’s a sad cycle that has unfortunately become of how our democracy operates and governs.
During the 2006 election season, Democrats were swept into control of Congress in nearly unprecedented numbers due in part to the various scandals which plagued the Republican Party prior to those elections. Given the current growing—some say unfair—discontentment with the Obama Administration’s economic (and social) policies as well as events in Congress within the past couple of weeks, it looks as if the see-saw of Congressional representation will soon start to tilt in back in favor of the Republicans.
A couple of weeks ago, three Democrat members of Congress, Maxine Waters of California, and Charles Rangel of New York found themselves facing ethics charges by the Office of Congressional Ethics in Congress (on a side note, 2 Republican members of Congress are also under the ethics probe gun. http://content.usatoday.com/communities/onpolitics/post/2010/08/congress-ethics-fundraising/1)




The fact that such alleged ethics violations/accusations occur with sad regularity among elected representatives such as Waters and Rangel should not be fully faulted with those facing the legal process of accountability or even Congress itself…the fault lies with us, the American people. Americans proudly—and rightfully—boast about the advantages and joys of having free and fair elections in a democracy. But what good is electing representatives at the federal (or even local) levels if we are forced to choose between the lesser of 2 evils every time voter disenchantment reaches critical mass every other election cycle? The cycle we tolerate—become “fed-up” with one party representative, vote in another party’s representative, vote back in the party which peed us off in the first place—only proves how much we should just sit back and take our lumps by representatives who violate the public’s trust.
Congressional perks that smack of entitlement, ethics charges on an annual basis, influence peddling (i.e., “lobbying”), and our own collective short-term memories are what we deserve. Why? Because we have forgotten that Congress works for us, and are not meant to be an autonomous political class.
If the conservative-leaning Tea Party and liberal-leaning organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union can mobilize and help crank out support and successfully put into public office candidates who support their ideological beliefs, then why can’t the rest of us follow their examples and shake off our apathetic fatalism and take more of an active role in a government which is supposed to represent us?
As someone who has spent inordinate amounts of hours volunteering in various political causes, I can find no viable excuse for any American not to become more involved in a process which affects us on a daily basis on a myriad of levels. So get off your collective butts and hold to the fire the feet of those who violate the trust of we who send them to represent us!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Law, Lies, and Videotapes

A few weeks ago, USAToday ran an opinion piece about an American citizen’s right to videotape a police office performing his duty (ies), while being free from both persecution and prosecution for doing so (http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/editorials/2010-07-15-editorial15_ST_N.htm).
In an illustrating case, a Maryland man named Anthony Graber was pulled over on his motorcycle for speeding and pooping wheelies earlier this year. Either unknown or unnoticed by the intercepting plainclothes Maryland state trooper, Graber was wearing a helmet camera which recorded the resulting encounter; the trooper cut off Graber on an exit ramp in his unmarked vehicle, “and drew his gun before announcing that he was a law enforcement officer.” Graber posted (the) video of the encounter on YouTube a week later.



But among the throngs of those who viewed the video on the site were authorities from both the police and the Maryland State Attorney’s offices. The police obtained warrants to search Graber’s home and seized his computers. The state attorney general filed 4 felony charges against him for “violating Maryland’s wiretap law.” Graber, if convicted of the charges could be looking at up to 16 years in prison, as well as the loss of his security government clearance, and gaining all of the rights and privileges that go along with being a convicted felon.
While there is clearly enough absence of common sense to go around in this particular case, in other cases police and prosecutors sometimes abuse their authority by either misapplying, misinterpreting, or—in the most grievous of instances—maliciously prosecuting individuals who are well within their implied as well as Constitutional rights to monitor public servants.
We’ve all seen the television shows showcasing instances where police dashboard-mounted cameras have yielded exciting footage of harrowing police encounters with criminals, or news reports where the same camera setup reveals police misconduct—all are newsworthy episodes. In such instances, neither the producers of these television shows nor news directors have been known to have been threatened with such legal actions. What makes this instance any different? The only conclusion is that some government officials are potentially peed-off that any American citizen would have the presence of mind to post his police encounter online for the world to see, and in the process take away some of their power and/or discretion.
Make no mistake people…we are the ones who watch the watchers. Its every American citizen’s right to legally observe—and if necessary record—those who work for us, as we are the one who pay their salaries. It matters not if we use our cellphone cameras, a pen and pad, our blogs, or just our eyes while alerting would-be malefactors to our presence. Obvious scare and/or intimidation tactics by those threatened by the power of the people should not only be revealed on a routine basis, but challenged to the best of our ability.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Policy Vs. Facts -- The Economy in Perspective

In the last few days, an interesting article has been making the rounds on various news-oriented websites. Its a piece written by the Wall Street Journal 's Personal Finance columnist, Brett Arends revealing the biggest myths (read: lies/misconceptions) about the American market economy. As I read the article, I couldn't help but be reminded of two things: how much We The People and our elected representatives shape our political policies, beliefs, and actions based on misconceptions, and how much religion—which has managed to creep its way into our national politics—functions in similar ways.
Before I present my point, first read the article in question, reprinted below.


The three biggest lies about the economy
Commentary: The truth about jobs, the market and U.S. socialism

By Brett Arends, WSJ.com and MarketWatch

BOSTON (MarketWatch) -- The counter-revolution is underway.

The G-20 calls for members to slash their budget deficits. The U.S. Senate ices further aid for the unemployed. The head of the Business Roundtable slams President Obama for undermining American capitalism. Wall Street succeeds in watering down reform.

Depending on your politics, you'll love this or hate it.

But there's just one problem.
We're still living in a fantasyland. Most people have no idea what's really going on in the economy. They're living on spin, myths and downright lies. And if we don't know the facts, how can we make intelligent decisions?
Key updates on the economy this week
Economists worry that jobs, consumer confidence readings won't support hope for economic recovery, Barrons.com's Bob O'Brien reports.
Here are the three biggest economic myths -- the things everything thinks they know about the economy that just ain't so.

Myth 1: Unemployment is below 10%

What nonsense that is. The official jobless rate, at 9.7%, is a fiction and should be treated as such. It doesn't even count lots of unemployed people. The so-called "underemployment" or U-6 rate is an improvement: For example it counts discouraged job seekers, and those forced to work part-time because they can't get a full-time job.
That rate right now is 16.6%, just below its recent high and twice the level it was a few years ago
And even that may not tell the full story. Many people have simply dropped out of the labor force statistics.
Consider, for example, the situation among men of prime working age. An analysis of data at the U.S. Labor Department shows that there are 79 million men in America between the ages of 25 and 65. And nearly 18 million of them, or 22%, are out of work completely. (The rate in the 1950s was less than 10%.) And that doesn't even count those who are working part-time because they can't get full-time work. Add those to the mix and about one in four men of prime working age lacks a full-time job.
Dean Baker, economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C., says the numbers may be even worse than that. His research suggests a growing number of men, especially in deprived, urban and minority neighborhoods, have vanished from the statistical rolls altogether.

Myth 2: The markets are panicking about the deficit

To hear the G-20 tell it, the U.S. and other top countries had better slash those budget deficits before the world comes to an end.
And maybe the markets should be panicking about the deficits.
But they're not. It's that simple.
If they were, the interest rate on government bonds would be skyrocketing. That's what happens with risky debt: Lenders demand higher and higher interest payments to compensate them for the dangers.
But the rates on U.S. bonds have been plummeting recently. The yield on the 30-year Treasury bond down to just 4%. By historic standards that's chickenfeed. Panicked? The bond markets are practically snoring.
They aren't seeing inflation either. On the contrary, they're saying it will average just 2.3% a year over the next three decades. That's the gap between the interest rates on inflation-protected Treasury bonds and the rates on the regular bonds. By any modern standard the forecast is low. Instead of worrying about inflation, some are starting to worry about something even more dangerous: deflation, or falling prices.
If that takes hold, cutting spending and raising taxes would be a bad move.
It's certainly possible the lenders buying these bonds are being foolish. And it's worth noting that the Treasury market is also subject to political distortions, because foreign are among the heavy buyers of bonds. So it's worth treating its apparent verdicts with some caution. Nonetheless, the burden of proof, as usual, is on those who argue the market is wrong.

Myth 3: The U.S. is sliding into "socialism"

For a system allegedly being strangled in its bed, U.S. capitalism seems to be in astonishingly robust shape.
Numbers published by the Federal Reserve a few weeks ago show that corporate profit margins have just hit record levels. Indeed. Andrew Smithers, the well-regarded financial consultant and author of "Wall Street Revalued," calculates from the Fed's latest Flow of Funds report that corporate profit margins rocketed to 36% in the first quarter. Since records began in 1947 they have never been this high. The highest they got under Ronald Reagan was 30%.
The picture is also similar when you exclude financials.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DOW:DJIA) is above 10,000. Small company stocks have rallied astonishingly since early last year: The Russell 2000 index is back to levels seen not long before Lehman imploded. Meanwhile Cap Gemini's latest Wealth Report notes that the North American rich saw an 18% jump in their wealth last year.
Meanwhile, federal spending, about 25% of the economy this year, is expected to fall to about 23% by 2013. In 1983, under Ronald Reagan, it hit 23.5%. In the early 1990s it was around 22%. Some socialism.
These days, three-fifths of the entire budget goes on just three things: Insurance for our old age (through Social Security and Medicare), defense, and debt interest.

Conservatives don't want to cut the $700 billion-plus we spend on defense. We can't cut debt interest payments. And while Social Security and Medicare certainly need reform, the main "problems" are simply rising life expectancy and health care demands. If we didn't provide for the insurance through our taxes we'd have to do it individually.
What about the rest of the budget? It's jumped from around 7% of GDP a few years ago to about 10% now. Out of control? It's been in the 6% to 9% range for decades. It's forecast to fall to about 8% again in a few years.
So much for a revolution. But here comes the counter-revolution just the same.


http://www.marketwatch.com/story/story/print?guid=4CAD4B15-F472-4009-88AF-719A7CD7F5B4

If you're among the few socially and politically astute in America, you may have received an epiphany as you read this piece. If not, think about how liberals on one end and conservatives on the other base and shape their political beliefs on how their misconceptions and/or mis- interpretations of facts; issues like the death penalty, social spending, and gay rights are promoted and/or defended by both sides based religious interpretations of the Bible.
The Tea Party movement is active and engaged in national politics based on how it as a politically conservative organization interprets the economic picture. The Obama Administration, in the wake of its recently passed economic stimulus package, similarly interprets (or misinterprets) the facts about our economy in the realm of reported vs. real unemployment numbers (those of us who are experiencing the pain of being unemployed know all-too well that the monthly reported unemployment numbers don't tell the whole story)
The point is that the American people need to be more well-read and discriminating when it comes to what's real, and what's political spin. Sadly, most of us would rather listen to talking heads spouting and validating our political beliefs than pick up a book, newspaper, or log onto news websites to ascertain the facts for ourselves. We rally, vote, and—to our collective detriments—think based on beliefs rather than facts. And we should never believe everything we think...at least without individual (and objective) research. THINK, don't "feel!"

Monday, May 17, 2010

Muslim Group To Build a Mosque at Ground Zero

From the “What The **** ” Department, it was revealed during the last few days that a Muslim group are in the final stages of preparing to build a mosque in a building just a few hundred feet from Ground Zero, the site of the former World Trade Center attacks of September 11th.
News outlets including the New York Post and the Fox News Network (overlooking the ideological inclinations of the latter) have revealed that the mosque will be a part of a 13-story Muslim community center which has billed as a cultural center, and will house “not (only) a mosque but a community center for all faiths that will include recreational facilities.”



http://www.nypost.com/p/news/national/mosque_madness_at_ground_zero_OQ34EB0MWS0lXuAnQau5uL
http://www.foxnews.com/us/2010/05/14/plan-build-mosque-near-ground-zero-riles-families-victims/

Needless to say many Americans are up in arms. The anger behind building a mosque, a shrine to the religious ideology—or rather a perversion of it—which provided the impetus for the 9/11 attacks so close to the site of the attacks themselves smacks intolerance all around.
On the one hand, Muslims are allowing their dedication and adherence to their religion to blind them to the sensitivities surrounding the issue…to the families of those who lost loved ones on that day, and Americans in general. While a spokesperson for the American Soeciety for Muslim Advancement defends the building of the center as a “need to take the 9/11 tragedy and turn it into something very positive” by “amplifying the silent voice of the majority of Muslims who have nothing to do with extremist ideologies,” the uproar by those against the project—most vocally the families of those lost that day—is being ignored in favor of what the Muslim group wants. Combine this with the intent by the center's sponsors/operators to open the center on September 11th 2011—the 10th anniversary of the attacks—only adds salt to the still festering wounds, and feeds the atmosphere of insensitivity surrounding this issue.
One the other hand, victims families in particular and Americans in general, still feeling wounded by the events of that day, are potentially painting all Muslims with a broad paintbrush. It is causing a failure to understand that not only were planes hijacked that day, but so was the Muslim ideology…by extremists.
As opposed to looking for possible solutions to the issue, more thought should have been put into the brainstorming and communications stages of this predicament. Groups with such potentially conflicting motivations and missions should take the time to communicate with one another whenever something of this magnitude of sensitivity, such as when a vendor wants to erect a liquor shop near a school.
In much the same way that a neo-Nazi organization (and no, I am not comparing Islam to Nazism as an ideology) would not be allowed to build a headquarters near Aushwitz, or a Japanese naval memorial near Pear Harbor, why would zoning officials in New York not consider the sensitive nature of permitting such a structure near such a site?
Local governmental departments such as those responsible for zoning should stop blindly engaging in the bureaucratic routine of simply approving or building , and actually put some consideration into the effects of proposed projects of this nature.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Financial Crisis, Bankers, And What To Do (Or, “Go Directly To Jail, Do Not Collect Any Money!”)

When it comes to the economy in general, and the economic crisis of last year in particular—and the jury’s still out on whether or not the crisis over—there are two schools of thought, one favoring (and/or blaming) the lack of government regulation of the marketplace economy, and the other favoring (and yes, blaming) more government regulation. To be sure, ebbs and flows within the marketplace are a part of the cycle which gives it life, although it’s a little hard to appreciate this fact abstractly when one considers that real people, real families are often affected adversely by these cycles. But to the credit of each argument, common sense rather than economic ideology tells us that there are times when government regulation can increase the intensity of these ebbs and flows, to the greater detriment or benefit of the economy. Still, the loyalists to the government-need-to-interfere and the laissez-faire beliefs remain unwavering to their respective ideological beliefs.
So it should come as no surprise that there will still be some who disagree with one way the government of Iceland is dealing with the economic crisis within its banking community…a crisis whose effect has been infinitely worse in terms of profound damage to its overall economy. This week, it was reported in the news ("Top Economists: Iceland Did It Right … And Everyone Else Is Doing It Wrong" as an example) that the government of Iceland has begun to initiate both civil and criminal proceedings against banking executives related to the collapses of the country’s 3 largest banks, Kaupthing, Landsbanki and Glitnir. After the findings of a government inquiry concluded that the banks collapsed due mostly to former banking heads taking "inappropriate loans from the banks," the government of government agencies initiated a $2 billion lawsuit in a New York court against former shareholders and executives for alleged fraud. In addition to the lawsuit(s), Iceland has taken the further step of freezing the assets of other banking executives both in the US and in Europe (such as in the United Kingdom and Luxemburg) where many have fled and live lavish lifestyles. Finally, the police have begun rounding up still some other former bankers while issuing arrest warrants for others.
With respect to the outcomes of the Enron, WorldCom, and Tyco International criminal trials of earlier this decade, the Icelanders seem to have mastered not only certain Olympic sports, but how to properly deal with those most responsible for the economic crisis in its country. In America, the financial community makes no bones about justifying big bonuses to “retain the best and most talented” within the lending community, extravagant lifestyles that are were/are “earned,” and asking for and receiving government loans with no sense of shame…all despite the “best and brightest” causing the near-economic collapse of the American economy due to questionable lending practices. While many banking executives and leaders have made off like (pardon the pun) bandits, many Americans have seen the values of their retirement packages plummet to levels that will force many to work well past the age where age has reduce their physical limitations to do so. But as I have often said before, there is a great many things that Americans can learn from other countries about how to deal with socioeconomic problems. Instead of rewarding willful ineptitude, risk taking, and out-and-out greed with bonuses and an implied Its ok to engage in questionable lending practices…we’ll subsidize you both socially and economically, we should be taking a page out of the government of Iceland’s book and start a criminal (and civil) roundup and prosecution of those most responsible for nearly doing what terrorists couldn’t do…bring the country to its economic knees. The government of the United States should the seizure of assets, the initiation of lawsuits, and bringing of charges against those who put potential of personal advancement ahead of the welfare of their institutions, investors, and of the average American who has been invested in many aspects of the lending industry due to changing trends in funding potential retirements.
Stealing a line from the now-classic 1983 Eddie Murphy-Dan Aykroyd movie Trading Places, “The best way to hurt rich people is to turn them into poor people.”

Saturday, May 8, 2010

What's Right & Wrong About The Tea Party, Conclusion

...Continued From Part 2

Perhaps one of the biggest paradoxes of the Tea Party is that many of the rank-and-file members who work in local communities probably believe that they are working in the best interests of the country by protesting what they feel to be exorbitant taxes and unchecked government spending. However, upon closer examination of the reality of the beliefs which they are protesting against, an almost exclusively cynical view of the movement tends to become the basis of doubt.
Take for instance the inference of their movement’s/organization’s acronym, Taxed Enough Already and their protestations that they pay too much in taxes. In a world where perception is often reality, the movement has convinced many Americans that taxes are exceedingly high. But according to the latest information, only 18% of Americans say that they support the Tea Party movement, and half of them have indicated that their taxes are fair (www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-20002487-503544.html). But it is only upon closer examination of the research that the picture starts to gain a new focus; only the most active within the Tea Party say that their taxes are too high, most often represented by Tea Partiers who attend public rallies and related functions such as the Tea Party Convention held last February in Nashville. Of them, 55% make no bones about their taxes being too high.
Not only do the numbers within the Party of actual adherents to its base claim misrepresent the validity of their protestations, but the validity of their claims simply does not gel with the reality of facts. According to most research, taxes are at an all-time low when measured against the historical trend, especially for those in the middle-class income brackets, which most Tea Partiers are if the statistics are accurate (According to a recent CNN poll, 32% of those identifying themselves as “Tea Party activists” reported earning between $50,000-$75,000, 18% reported earning $30,000-$50,000, and only 8% reported earning less than $30,000 (34% earn more than $75,000. As a group, those incomes are higher than nationwide averages, but not so much that their tax burden is even close to being equivalent to the highest wage earners, who have the highest tax burden. http://www.thefourthbranch.com/2010/04/taxes-at-lowest-level-in-60-years-so-why-are-tea-partiers-angry/). And this doesn’t even take into account the fact that those in the same income brackets benefited from the tax reductions that were a part of the Obama Administration’s 2009 stimulus package). Furthermore, capital gains taxes have had modest reductions in recent years. So to quote a famous line from the 1980s, “Where’s the beef?”


Click on image to enlarge shrinking income tax and capital gain burdens on various groups

Another point where such a movement loses it perception of populism is when it has professional talking heads representing the movement, who engage in spin instead of actually listing its grievances and allowing the public to judge for itself. A recent airing of Headline News’ Joy Behar Show (below) demonstrates this to the utmost degree.

video

What the video demonstrates is a tried and proven propaganda method for gaining credibility (and legitimacy) in American politics when it comes to individuals and organizations. The method involves either espousing populist ideas, and/or clothing oneself in patriotic beliefs; in this respect, the Tea party is unlike most other such movements in American history. Expert talking heads representing this movement (as others representing themselves in such a manner) can and do take the most straightforward of questions about their movement and twist the answers to where they come off as victims of or guardians against an imaginary threat. And while there is no doubt that many of the movement’s grassroots (i.e., community level) activists truly believe in the movement’s cause, it’s a little hard to understand why so many cannot think beyond their allegiance to their political ideologies to think independently. For example, why is spending such an issue now even after a record budget surplus built under the Clinton Administration (and a Republican-controlled Congress), and its subsequent erosion under the Bush Administration? This is what the Tea Party movement has managed to do to such a degree that many of its grassroots activists truly believe that they are working in the interests of the country as a whole.
So what the phenomenon of the Tea Party appears to be is an organization where the most active members are a minority among a minority, one that the majority of them will surely make an attempt to pass off their numbers as representative of a consensus of Americans. Do I believe that the Party has “tapped into an undercurrent of discontent” among the voting American electorate? No more so than they represent what is has always been a perpetual sense of disgust toward the sense that government is corrupt. But I am reminded of the quote by former Republican Maine Senator Bill Cohen, "Government is the enemy until…you need a friend.”

What's Right & Wrong About The Tea Party, Part 2

...continued from Part 1.

Just as I can pile on my personal beefs with many aspects of Democratic Party/liberal ideology, I can do the same with Republican Party/Conservative mantra…more so because of its self-crafted perception that it’s the party of all things unquestionably moral, patriotic, and good (and while yes, I’m very much an adherent of morality in policy, I draw the line at sanctimony). Take for example the phenomenon of the Tea Party movement making headlines almost daily for the last year or so.
It has been self-billed as a movement of “ordinary Americans” who are concerned about the welfare of the country’s future, mostly as it relates to the federal government’s current fiscal policies. And based on these surface perceptions, I listed in the first part of this posting what was admirable about the movement. But given what I have seen in the media, what has actually come from the mouths of the movement’s organizers and supporters, and how those within the movement portray their cause, there is just as much to dislike about the Tea Party movement. Among what is wrong with (i.e., questionable) the Tea Party is

· …the timing of the “movement’s” current activist activities. In a world where timing is everything, this calls into question whether the movement is truly a grassroots mobilization of ordinary Americans against out-of-control government spending, or just another ideological vehicle for one of the two major political parties to gain (or regain) control of Washington (and by extension become patsies of interests who desire a more business first, people-be-damned Free Market at-any-costs atmosphere). Yes, the Tea Party movement has been around for a few years, but it was given a shot in the arm in recent times by its support of former presidential candidate Ron Paul’s failed bid for the 2008 Republican Party nomination. Paul’s populist beliefs struck a resonate chord with many conservative Americans, who gave tepid opposition to President George Bush’s plan to help bailout Wall Street financial institutions (TARP loans) to stave off a wholesale financial meltdown, but has given opposition with both barrels to President Obama’s policy of continuing TARP loans and extending loans (ie., bailouts) to America’s failing auto industry. More to the point, this organized opposition to Obama’s policy proposals was gaining steam even before he took office. So to say that “runaway government spending” is the movement’s motivation can be looked at—cynically so—as being an ostensive opportunity for what many on the Conservative Right in general, and the movement in particular to irrationally view and/or paint the Obama Adminstration as a “threat” to American Free Market values in the form of being a harbinger of a “Socialist form of government” (via his drive to reform health care insurance to cover more
Americans).

· …how the Tea Party misrepresents and allows itself to be misrepresented. Many within the movement assert that runaway government spending and exorbitant taxes are the reason for its activism and opposition to the current administration’s policies. Furthermore, they declare that they are against and will work to unseat any elected official (mostly at the federal level) whose voting record adds to government spending. But again, timing and perception are everything. With the extremely rare exception, most of those whom the movement oppose for re-election are Democrats and/or Liberals, so one has to ask where was the movement’s current level of organization and opposition when the previous administration’s policies ran the national deficit up from $5.7 trillion to some $10 trillion under a Republican-controlled White House and Congress for the previous 8 years?
In addition to seeming to represent more of an effort to influence partisan party politics rather than a true representative grassroots efforts, the movement’s overall message of being “Taxed Enough Already” (its acronym) seems to be at odds with reality. A highly-publicized recent CBS/New York Times poll indicated that most Americans consider the current income tax level they pay to be fair, regardless of political persuasion or income level (
www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-20002487-503544.html).
The poll was criticized in some conservative circles—predictably so since the Tea Party seems to represent their ideological views—as being inaccurate since most other research indicates that between 45% and 48% of Americans don’t even pay income taxes when refunds and various tax credits are factored in. A valid point under most other circumstances, but what the criticism fails to acknowledge is that the poll included many professed Tea Party supporters, whom were “oversampled…and then weighted back to their proper proportion in the poll. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points for both all adults and Tea Party supporters.” What’s more is that “forty-five percent of self-identified "Tea Partiers" make less than $50,000 per year, according to a
USA Today/Gallup poll.



Click on graphic to enlarge (Courtesy CBS News/New York Times)

Similarly, 50% of the total population makes less than $50,000 in the same poll. Based on reason alone, it seems safe to assume that if about half the country avoids federal income taxes, a similar percentage of the Tea Party movement doesn’t pay taxes as well, even as they protest about their tax “burden.”


To Be Concluded...

Thursday, April 22, 2010

What's Right & Wrong About The Tea Party, Part 1

So where do I begin? I suppose the first thing I should say is that although I can sit and wax venomous about what I don’t like about members of the Democrats (as well as the Party itself), suffice it to say that there is much about both established parties and their respective policies that simply is too ideologically-grounded rather than what’s practical and needed by the American people (e.g., affordable universal health care coverage/reform was needed, as is an end to anti-life policies such as abortion and the death penalty).
One of the policies that the American people have needed for far too long is fiscal responsibility, both personal and among our various levels of government; simply put Americans lack financial discipline. More to the point, our representative levels of government both share and reflect our irresponsibility as a people in our inability to craft, spend, and oversee budgets related to our year-to-year spending of income. And in regards to government budgets, that income is the taxes which you and I pay.
Can the federal government do better in regards to the way in which it spends our tax dollars? Absolutely. But at the same time, the government that we pay taxes into has a moral obligation—capitalist ideology notwithstanding—to help those who by the designs of Fate cannot fully assist themselves to the best of their abilities. No, I do not mean that government should throw money at the poor to perpetuate a cycle of impoverished thinking and living. What I mean is that some things like medical care should not be a marketable commodity but a human right, and if necessary, one which government should assist in providing for if it has the resources, and the people are forced to realize that the Free Market is not able to create conditions conducive to universal affordability.
On the other, in a capitalist society such as ours, the same survival-of-the-fittest dynamic of the Free Market should be allowed to weed out business models which clearly do not work, especially if there are ample market signs pointing to the need for certain businesses to restructure or perish, such as with the bailouts of the automobile industry of late. With all that having been said, I’d like to go on record as saying that in principle, the Tea Party (an acronym for “Taxed Enough Already”) movement is right in its opposition to government overspending. But not being one to take things at face value, it’s simply not enough for me or anyone with an inquiring mind to agree with something; even in principle, its requisite that research and objective reasoning be a foundation for arriving at a conclusion. As such, I can start by saying what’s right with the Tea Party.
• The Tea Party is the expression of the basic rights we have as Americans—the rights to assemble, to speak freely, to associate, and to influence the political process.
• The Tea Party is inherently right in that our government(s) is/are not engaging in responsible spending of our tax dollars.
• On the surface, the Tea Party is expressing a pragmatic concern for the future of America.
• Rank-and-file members of the Tea Party believe in the justness of their cause, and are willing to protest as a testament to this belief.
But as with any effort to look beyond the surface of any belief system, cause, or organization, there are explanations, facts, and quantifications that compel scrutiny. As a preview, take note of the following piece about the Tea Party movement on a recent airing of Headline News’ Joy Behar Show.



video


To Be Continued...

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The New Health Care Bill...A Cautious Congratulations

In the last 2 weeks, 2 events of great personal interest occurred. First, I was fortunate enough to have finally qualified for health care insurance from my current employer after nearly a decade of going without it. Second, the likelihood that most currently uninsured Americans will soon share my good fortune in regards to access to affordable health care insurance has increased after the U.S House of Representatives passed the Senate’s version of President Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Healthcare Act 2 Sundays ago; the president subsequently signed the bill into law the following Tuesday after its Congressional passing.
Because of my own experiences of having to go without healthcare coverage due to its inaffordability, the latter event marked a coming to pass of a policy which I have personally felt to be a societal necessity ever since I, as a 6th grader in the 1970s, remember asking one of my favorite teachers, “Why can’t poor people go to the hospital for free?”
While Americans—both poor and well-to-do alike—may not get free healthcare as a result of the bill, we will get the next best thing…the right (notice I didn’t say “opportunity”) to affordable healthcare, as well as holding traditional private insurance providers more accountable when they treat their policy holders like red-headed stepchildren. Among the heretofore unknown benefits of the new law include:

-Adult children of insured parents are now able to stay on their parents’ policies until they are 26 years of age, helping to reduce the number of college students without coverage.

-Insurance companies will now be prohibited from dropping (canceling your policy) if you become ill.

-Children (and by 2014, adults) will be prohibited from denying health care coverage because of pre-existing conditions.

-Insurance companies will no longer be allowed to cap coverage on expensive care due to long- lasting illnesses.



Watch CBS News Videos Online

(for more details on what policy changes are in the new health care bill, and how the new law may affect you, click on the following links):
1. “Health Care: How You Will Affected By Reform Changes”
http://www.ajc.com/news/health-care/health-care-how-will-409705.html
2. “Ten Ways The New Healthcare Bill May Affect You.” http://finance.yahoo.com/family-home/article/109178/10-ways-the-new-healthcare-bill-may-affect-you?mod=family-love_money
3. New Healthcare Bill Pro And Cons: It Expands Benefits Now, Cuts Them Later.” http://www.csmonitor.com/Money/Donald-Marron/2010/0322/New-healthcare-bill-pros-and-cons-It-expands-benefits-now-cuts-them-later


Aside from the immediate and tangible benefits of the new healthcare bill, the Congressional Budget Office confirmed that the economic result of the new legislation will yield a reduction in the nation’s budget deficit to the tune of some $140 billion over the next 10 years.
But as is often in the world of politics and ideology, people will find a way to disagree with even the most well-meaning of policies. In the last few weeks, the offices of both Republican and Democratic Congressmen have been vandalized (even shot at), anti-tax-n-spend activists have been making waves using red-baiting and other rhetoric-based tactics, and media-savvy Free Market ideologues have attacked the new bill as the start of Americas decline into a socialist dictatorship. Those who supported the bill’s passing in Congress have been slandered with racial and homophobic epithets. Even before the bill became law, there were dozens of raucous public forums on the proposed policy, some resulting in arrests and innuendoes of threats by those who saw the bill as akin to a threat to personal liberties. The rest of the Free World must be scratching its collective heads trying to understand why such a laudable policy change, especially with so many people benefiting from it, would yield so much animus and animosity.
It’s hard to say. In a country where people believed (and many still do) in a conspiracy of an impending One-World-Government heralded by the arrival of a massive fleet of unmarked United Nations helicopters, people can justify just about any position, even as it relates to something as positive as universal affordability in health care coverage. Most of the rhetoric against the new bill is anecdotal and/or ideologically based…nothing substantive against the mechanics of the bill itself. Ostensibly, opponents of the policy like to cite the new law’s requirement that all Americans be mandated to purchase insurance as an intrusion on personal and/or civil liberties. But is this requirement any more of an “intrusion” than the policy in nearly all 50 states that people be mandated to purchase automobile insurance? Are we so trapped in a particular way of thinking that we cannot see that many of the unfounded fears about aspects of the new healthcare law have been a part of either state or federal law for decades? Well, the new law is here and still, America is the bastion of Free Market opportunity that it has always been; the sky has not fallen, and socialism is not the economic model for business.
Have we devolved so much as a society that we would rather focus on fear of the unknown rather than brave new frontiers in policy? People who are so fear-bound need to get over themselves. God does not tell anyone to hate President Obama for his sponsorship of the new law any more than He tells anyone that the new bill is work of the Devil (or a socialist-leaning cabal within the government). As I have often said before, Americans emote too much and reason too little, and that is something that has to change for the betterment of the country.