The Worship of Sports in America

Go to Blogger edit html and find these sentences.Now replace these sentences with your own descriptions.This theme is Bloggerized by Lasantha Bandara -

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."

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Television, Duck Dynasty, & Free Speech...What The Duck...?

Outside of the news and programs that are political, historical, or current-events-oriented (as well as one or two guilty pleasures), there is very little on television which interest me enough to waste my valuable time watching. This goes double for anything that fits into the so-called “reality television” genre of programming; I for the life of me cannot begin to fathom why such mental junk food is so appealing. I suppose it represents the dumbing down of America on the whole. At any rate, it is an issue regarding reality television’s current breakout hit that has me posting yet again an issue that begs discussion.
The issue at hand surrounds the unexplainable-to-sophisticated-minds popularity of the Arts and Entertainment cable network’s “Duck Dynasty” reality television series. Dynasty follows the “day-to-day” life of a mostly backwoods Louisiana living-off-the-land-type redneck family, who happen to run a successful a duck-call manufacturer (if you can believe that). Being dyed-in-the-wool, God-fearing, hard-patriotic, hard-hunting, hard-drinking, hard-fun-loving types of individuals, you can imagine that the family—and their members—might just harbor some attitudes and ideas about life that simply don’t conform to the all-inclusiveness aspirations of a society hell-bent on making everyone happy. Just looking at the family, any such ideas shouldn’t come as a surprise (at the risk of prejudging). But strangely enough, the words and thoughts of an elder from the television-spotlighted family actually shocked a large portion of sensitive Americans.

The cast of "Duck Dynasty"

As a result, once again as a nation we’re forced to confront not only another serving of numbskullery from television network producers, but the fallout from yet another case whereby a television personality is forced to endure the barbs and arrows of those who would seek to police the thinking of those of us who would dare to speak our minds. The issue this time around centers on remarks made by an elder-family member from the mind-numbing weekly show.
In an interview with GQ magazine (here), Phil Robertson, the elder of the now-famous Robertson family the show follows and founder of the family business candidly gave his opinions about—among other things—his thoughts on homosexuality. In responding to the question “what in your mind is sinful,” posed by GQ reporter Drew Magary, the unapologetic conservative Southern Christian responded:

“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,” he says. Then he paraphrases Corinthians: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”

Needless to say, this set off a furor in both the press and society at large. The sanctions came fast and furious; Robertson was suspended from being part of the filming of further episodes of the show. Keep in mind that this was an interview about Robertson’s personal thoughts and views, not a man running for public office or calling a press conference to shout out his beliefs.
More and more, it seems the First Amendment guarantee of Free Speech without government impediments is becoming irrelevant in a society where private enterprise and public interest groups are able to level socioeconomic sanctions that not only attempt to enforce political correctness of thought, but punish words and personal opinions. In fact, given the ubiquity of such policies in the public and private sectors, the way these institutions are able to enforce and impose “corrections” for daring to speak out has more than the force of law itself.  This social policy is more of a threat to our collective civil liberties relating to Free Speech than anything the government is doing at the moment.

Now in the interest of full-disclosure, before this issue came to light, I hadn’t even heard of “Duck Dynasty.” And being agnostic, I can honestly say that I do not purport to know or even predict where a person’s soul goes in the Hereafter due to their actions in the Herenow. But I’ll wager that that “God” is not in the cell phone contacts of anyone presumptuous (and arrogant) enough to inform another person that they are doomed to Hell (or some other spiritual torment) for not embracing someone else’s dogma—I know He/She isn’t in mine. However, I am of the mindset that whenever someone says something stupid, unreasonable, or judgmental, the best means to deal with it is to either ignore it or say something more intelligent and reasonable as a counter. Imposed censorship and/or sanctions, especially whereas they affect a person’s livelihood is not the way to counter a person’s right to express their opinions and thoughts. Regardless of what someone believes, everyone deserves their say—without being forced to the carpet for it.
Any sanctions for expressing one’s personal opinions should come naturally. If a CEO of a major corporation says something offensive to a particular group, then people have a right not to purchase what that firm produces as a natural consequence. If you don’t like what you read here, you have every right to leave a response with something more reasonable to say as a counter to the postings...or you can ignore it altogether and leave. But contacting my employer and telling him that I should be fired for offending your “sensitivities” is not a valid, or even a civilized response. Such actions prevent the free exchange of ideas and thoughts, which is how policies and laws are formed. It is also how we evolve overall as a species.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Obamacare & The Lack of Loyal (Or Smart) Opposition

I have been, and always will be a proponent of the idea that health care should not be a marketable commodity, but a basic right in the same vein as a compulsory public education. Opponents of this notion seem to be missing a clear view of the Big Picture. Sure, it would be nice if we could live in a society where people were allowed to “decide for themselves” to forgo necessary services like health care insurance without tangible repercussions—the ostensible argument made by universal health care opponents. But allowing individuals the “freedom” to make decisions that on the surface don’t seem capable of affecting others flies in the face of sound fiscal economics. For instance, allowing individuals the right to drop out of school will invariably cost society more in the long run. Study after study points to a lack of basic education (opportunities) tends to result increased chances of becoming reliant of welfare, fewer job prospects, and higher probabilities of being incarcerated—all of which have a burdensome economic impact on society as a whole.
The uninsured tend to cost everyone—insured and uninsured alike—more in the long run due to their propensity to allow minor health concerns to evolve into major health issues, their lack of engaging in preventative health care regimes, and the higher cost they incur for later attending of health care concerns—all of which resulting in higher costs for health-related services, insurance premiums, and percentage of government’s part subsidizing these increased costs.
President Obama’s Affordable Health Care Act (ACA) was the first major attempt in decades to provide a sizable chunk of uninsured Americans a modicum of health care coverage, and address this financially unsustainable health care regime. As radical an idea as it is, Obamacare is something of a compromise; it leverages aspects of the open market to attempt to increase coverage for more Americans while avoiding the stigma of “socialism” inherent in the European model of a single-payer plan—despite passing the initiative with a “supermajority” of Democrats in Congress. Naysayers' predictable doom and gloom for the ACA from the start. Supporters reluctantly embraced the hope that the ACA would be a welcome alternative to unaffordability and arbitrary rejection for those with preexisting conditions (which the ACA prohibited). But let’s just say it…Obamacare (as it had been dubbed) seems to be headed due south in the popularity department. And the issues regarding the government-sponsored online insurance sign-up registry hasn’t helped its likability.
And while I certainly don’t need the likes of Sarah Palin to inform me that Obamacare doesn’t seem to be finding its successful footing, the fact she manages to continue to secure airtime in her attempt to maintain political relevancy says a lot about why we in America cannot provide a serious application to revamp health care affordability. Sure, Palin and her ilk love to chant “get rid of Obamacare,” but when asked to provide an alternative to doing so, the crickets take over. We got a chance to witness this reality last week on NBC’s Today show when host Matt Lauer allowed Palin to once again-seemingly successfully I might add—hit the snooze button on her 15 minutes of fame. Predictably, Palin engaged in so many oppositional talking points that the “interview” (for want of a better term) seemed like two people in the same room having 2 different conversations at times (watch below).

Palin’s positions lacked substance, suggestions, or anything beyond the assertion that Obamacare was in fact an exercise “socialism” that was worthy of shutting down the government in an effort to repeal the new law. As Lauer struggled to get Palin to nail down a less ambiguous alternative to addressing the unaffordability of health care insurance, Palin responded with more talking points and counter policy ambiguities. It was like listening to a child explain why cooties are bad…totally unable to define what they are, but speak a great deal as to why they are “bad.” And this exchange is a testament as to why health insurance affordability and/or coverage will always be an issue that probably won’t be addressed substantively any time soon.—the lack of loyal opposition to what we have now.
What passes for opposition to the ACA currently is nothing more than vague references to “socialism,” and how bad it is. There are no alternatives coming from the opposition. The 1 or 2 there are involve nothing “tax credits” and “other suggestions offered by Republicans” that fail to address the issue at heart. Anything remotely tied to the old, outdated system of employer-based health insurance—when our service-based economy doesn’t pay the average worker enough to afford getting sick, yet alone paying for any hospitalization—isn’t going to work…tax credits notwithstanding. Allowing “job creators” to maintain the freedom to decide who they will cover and who they will not doesn’t allow for “spreading risks” needed to lower costs. And allowing self-serving dullards like Palin, who have nothing more to contribute to the discourse other than vagueness, ambiguities, and ideological talking points that don’t amount to anything more than ramblings of political opportunists who profess to “love America” doesn’t do anything other than continue to entrench our country in political fragmentation.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Will The Real Tea Party Please Stand Up...?

Note:  Apologies to those who are regular readers to BTPS.  I have been working on a few projects to be published soon.  Needless to say that these projects have kept me noticeably absent from regular blogging. However, I promise that I will soon be back to full-blogging strength here and on my various other blogs.

When you’re dead, you don’t actually know you’re dead; it just affects those around you. Being a political extremist in America is a lot like being dead; you don’t know you’re an extremist, but it affects those around you just the same. One of two major differences between the two realities is that the dead cannot convince themselves that they are dead—as they are absent of consciousness—while those who make their intellectual homes with the margins of political fringe thinking can routinely convince themselves that they are “true patriots” or “real Americans.” The rest of us apparently are self-delusional, intellectual dullards who took the blue pill.
Now that Congress has successfully kicked the budget can down the road until early next year, it should become apparent that this is the reality of the state of politics within our government. Egged-on by the “real Americans” known as the Tea Party, favorite party son, Senator Ted Cruz of Florida led a doomed-from-the-start effort to tie creating a federal budget deal to continue to run the government’s day-to-day business with his (and the Tea Party’s) disdain for President Obama’s signature health care reform law, hoping to get the last defunded—or revoked entirely. Ostensibly, this effort on the part of Cruz to revoke funding for the health care law was to trim the budget and curtail federal spending by the government. If it were the true motive, it would indeed be laudable. However (and at the risk of painting all Tea Party-backed

                     Florida Republican Senator (and Tea Party favorite) Ted Cruz

Congressmen with a broad paintbrush), most of the grandstanding on the part of Cruz and his Congressional cohorts was mostly political, a transparent effort to garner favor with the “real Americans” back in their home districts (although I will concede the benefit of the doubt and grant that not every member of the Tea Party caucus in Congress are as self-interests-driven as Cruz and the other “patriots”). Needless to say, despite being cheered on by supporters, the effort failed miserably. In fact, this effort on Cruz and the Tea Party’s part to avoid compromising on any budget proposal in exchange revoking funding for Obama’s (bad attempt to reform) health care failed to not only trim government spending, but the resulting government shutdown cost the country some $24 billion in lost economic output according to the Standard and Poor’s ratings agency (see: “How Much Did the Shutdown Cost The Economy?”). Even anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist called

Cruz and his allies as “defund terrorists.” Norquist previously slammed those who tried to use the government shutdown to roll back the Affordable Care Act by saying, “They hurt the conservative movement, they hurt people’s health care, they hurt the country’s economic situation and they hurt the Republican Party” (“Grover Norquist Slams Ted Cruz”).

Already, Cruz and many within the Tea party have attributed the failure of the effort to defund Obamacare and the lack of any tangible results—at least by their standards—to “turncoat” mainstream Republicans who dared to strike a compromise rather than support the Tea party’s failed effort. Of course it would never cross their minds of Cruz and the Tea Party that they represent an extreme point of view, that they lack general support because of this, or that they are on the fringes of political ideology…it’s the rest of us. It's what they "see," not how they see it that's at fault.  Of course!
Part of their philosophy (and political strategy) is to "prove" how “overstated” forced spending cuts like those from the sequester from earlier this year, the shutdown from 2 weeks ago, and failure to raise the deficit ceiling is, and that such sudden spending halts would be more beneficial to the nation’s fiscal solvency than the harm that almost every reputable economist has projected.  But to Tea Partiers, the more level-headed among the rest of us are either “RINOs” (Republicans In Name Only), “liberals,” “brainwashed by the media,” or “socialists.” Their mantra is simply to “stop government spending,” with no hint or reasonable suggestion as to how.
A proposed Balanced Budget Amendment wouldn’t work simply because inflexible requirements to spend within a budgetary limit every year are not realistic—they do not account for cycles of economic boom and bust and the need to readjust spending to compensate. And inserting provisions to allow for exceeding budget spending limits based on exigent circumstances wouldn’t work because—as we have seen—the two major parties can’t even agree on what day of the week it is, yet along be expected to compromise on major spending issues such as what defines extenuating circumstances that calls for more (or less) spending.
All-out cutting much needed programs would harm those who need them (although I will admit that some programs are surely riddled with costly lack of oversight and (as a result) abuse.  And besides that, austerity spending measures worked so "well" in Europe... (sarcasm alert).
Reforming entitlements is a good start, but let’s face it…neither party wants to give up any sacred cows that might cost their membership(or their party) an election or legislative control. What will work? Unfortunately I don’t have all the answers, but holding policymaking hostage to ideological demands, and basing policy on ideology rather than the reality of need and pragmatism is definitely not the way.  However, the most logical start to balancing the budget would be a combination of taxes and hard-choice spending cuts (which includes accounting for every paperclip or errant piece of paper if necessary).
The Tea Party has proven itself capable of exerting political pressure, getting their favorite elected officials to office, and organizing itself into a formidable political force. But its extremist views and rigid adherence to ideology (rather than reality) does not benefit all Americans (deny if you will, but it’s the truth). This organized group counts among its membership (and supports) the most intolerant and xenophobic of Americans. Those who have kept up with their various marches, rallies, and public protests have seen the pictures and heard the quotes—they are present at almost every numerically significant Tea Party rally (I provided a few in the event that denies attempt to portray these appearances as aberrations with the organization).
Larry Klayman of Freedom Watch (a conservative political advocacy group) and Tea Party ally during the government shutdown. According to Klayman, American is "ruled by a president who bows down to Allah," and "is not a president of 'we the people.'" "I call upon all of you to wage a second American nonviolent revolution, to use civil disobedience, and to demand that this president leave town, to get up, to put the Quran down, to get up off his knees, and to figuratively come up with his hands out" (see: “Larry Klayman Defends Obama-Islam Link”). 

Its funny how being dead and being a political extremist in America seem to have some things in common. The other major difference between the two is that it seems to be easier to convince of a dead person of their station in life than to convince one of these so-called “real Americans” that they are not purveyors of true American ideas, but are obstructionists who could refocus their goals and energy on something that could benefit all Americans, and not just those who they deem as “real Americans”—their rhetoric about “personal rights” notwithstanding.

Tea Party supporter and protester Michael Ashmore stands in front of the White House recently during the Congressional breakdown in budget talks and the attempt to defund Obamacare by Senator Ted Cruz the Tea Party Caucus in the House of Representatives. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Opinion: "I'm So Sick of "Crazy" People!"

I have a big problem with individuals with a past history of some sort of mental illness—diagnosed or otherwise—committing mass shootings or other crimes involving mass casualties. More to the point, it’s mass shootings involving “troubled individuals” that causes me to lose my objectivity and riles my dander.
In many cases, such “troubled” individuals seem to have an innate urge to inflict mass casualties on the youngest, most vulnerable of us—children or adults gathered public places such as schools, houses of worship, or other centers of public accommodation. Yesterday, another such instance was averted in Decatur, Georgia. During the incident, 20-year-old Michael Brandon Hill walked into the Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy with an AK-47 assault rifle and other weapons. Hill held staff members in the front office captive, all the while terrorizing the campus by firing his rifle into the air and at arriving police officers. One of the captives, a bookkeeper talked Hill down from what by all indications was his attempt to commit a mass casualty shooting at the school. He eventually gave himself up before going through with his telegraphed intent (See: “Michael Brandon Hill, Accused Georgia School Gunman, Threatened to Kill Brother, Police Say”).

Would-be school shooter and mass-murderer Michael Brandon Hill Booking Photo

During the time he held the staff captive, Hill indicated that he had wanted to die, and that he “was sorry for what he was doing.” And of course, it was revealed after Hill’s arrest that he had past issues of “mental issues.” I take umbrage with the issue of “mental issues” being the cause of such offenses. I simply refuse to believe that such individuals are not “crazy” as such. They have enough presence of mind to know that attacking children would tug at the heartstrings of most Americans in the worst way. They seem to have a sense that hurting innocent children (or innocent adults) inflicts emotional pain, outrage, and grief on their loved ones, and pretty much garners the nation’s attention. 
I would submit that this need to attention, even infamy, speaks to a reality that such individuals are not so divorced from reality or even lucid thinking that they are not aware of their actions.
We have become a nation mental and emotional hypochondriacs, ever-ready to blame our deep-seated unresolved emotional and mental/”mental” issues on whatever malady gives us a pass to excuse our own negative behaviors.
Growing up in the 70s and 80s, I can recall a time when people would embrace denial about mental and emotional issues that only slightly impaired their social functionality and ability to interact; most would do anything to avoid such labels (and their social implications). But somewhere along the line, we lowered our aversion to being stigmatized by mental/emotional impairments. It’s now gotten to the point where we as a nation are hair-trigger quick to use such impairments as an excuse for our lack of self-restraint and discipline. I can recall once during my years as a long-term substitute teachers working with at-risk (read: “mentally/emotionally-impaired”) youth where one such labeled student told me, “You can’t make me do that…I’m ‘Special Ed.’”
I would think that those with true debilitating mental and emotional issues would be offended by so many claiming to be so “impaired.” It’s like when a persistent man enamored with a woman pursues her for a date; many so pursued women will threaten legal action for being “stalked.” Labeling every infatuated man looking for a date as a “stalker” weakens the impact and legitimacy of the offense. It’s the same with calling every personal issue a debilitating “emotional-” or “mental issue;” it weakens the legitimacy of those who suffer from true mental impairment.
I’ve seen kids and adults with supposed “anger-management issues,” who “take drugs for my issues” manage to control those same supposed “issues” when confronted with truly angry individuals who have no scruples about teaching them their place on the social pecking order. It’s both laughable and quite annoying at the same time.
Bradley Manning, the former army soldier who was sentenced yesterday to 35 years in prison for leaking classified military information to the online whistleblower site, WikiLakes, asserted his "gender-identity issues" as a contributing factor for his actions.
In 2005, an armed federal air marshal shot and killed a man on an airplane in Miami because he had claimed to "have a bomb in his carry-on backpack," while running up and down the aisle of the airplane frantically. Despite his history of "bi-polar" issues (as revealed by family members), he had enough of a grasp on reality to know that saying "bomb" on an airplane in a post 9/11, still-alarmed America would garner a response of panic among those on board.
We truly need to stop allowing people to use supposed “mental” and “emotional” issues as an excuse for engaging in behavior which is fully within their ability to control. We tend to criticize those with self-restraint and discipline as being “uptight” and/or “prudish.” But there is a great deal we can learn from such individuals, such as self-control and personal responsibility for one's own actions.
There is “crazy” and there is crazy. What Michael Hill did Tuesday was not “crazy;” it was a calculated action, despite his history of bi-polar issues. “Crazy” would be Hill or some other “disturbed” individual walking onto a military base or inside a police station full of armed and trained men more than willing to shoot back if threatened in the same manner school children occasionally are.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Health Care Conundrum – A Personal Narrative

Note: I realize that Beyond The Political Spectrum has many readers from various European countries. And in acknowledge of this fact, I have taken the liberty of converting American dollar values to Euros in order to give this issue some contextual clarification.

There’s a young man with whom I work with—let’s call him “John”—who happens to share the same predicament which thousands, if not millions of Americans are forced to endure. Twenty-something year-old “John” has a wife and two young children. As the only current breadwinner in his family, John is looking to purchase health insurance coverage for his entire family. The problem “John” has is that he only earns $9.00 an hour (approximately €6.70), while the health insurance offered by his employer is prohibitively expensive.
How expensive? According to the prices listed on the copy of the Benefits (Plan) Selection I obtained, the cost to “John” to cover his family of four with the basic, no-frills plan (with a high deductable between $2,500 and $5,000/€3356 and €6712) is $420.76 (€318.63), deducted from his paycheck bi-weekly. Those of you with a firm grasp of math can immediately see the problem. Earning only $9.00 an hour, multiplied by 40 hours a week, “John” brings home approximately $720 bi-weekly (€536). That means that over half of his take home pay would go to pay for health care coverage for himself and his family. From what’s left over, he has to cover rent, utilities, and basics like food. Because the particular health care option—the only option—the employer offers is so expensive, “John” and other employees have opted to go without.

This personal anecdote came to mind as I took note of the recent vote in the House of Representatives in Congress. Two weeks ago, the Republican majority in Congress’ lower chamber voted for the 40-somethingth time to repeal the 2010 Affordable Care Act we know as “Obamacare.” Ignoring for the moment that the majority of these same opponents of the new health care law were shouting to the top of their collective lungs during last year’s presidential elections that the economy was the biggest concern of the American people, it’s pretty hard for anyone to rationally reconcile how trying to repeal the Affordable Health Care Act jives with fixing our broken economy. Among some Republican leadership, this dim reality had been acknowledged. Old School Republican and former GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich recently chided the current Republican legislators in Congress when he reminded them that “congressional Republicans would have ‘zero answer’ for how to replace the president's health care overhaul when asked, despite their having voted repeatedly to repeal the measure” (See: “GOP Pushes Rising Stars Amid Calls For Solutions”).
Sure, there‘s a lot of rhetoric being bandied around about how Obamacare is a “job-killer” (and yes, there is some anecdotal instances that some jobs may be adversely affected by implementation of the new law), but the lack of any Republican-sponsored alternative to reforming the current economically unsustainable health care finance model indicates that simple economics is not at the heart of opposition to reform. It’s more likely that not allowing the president and his Democratic allies a policy victory is at the center of the opposition.
If in fact, reforming how we pay for health care in this country were an actual priority, then simply cutting government spending in expendable areas is the most obvious place to start. Both people and the leadership we elect have to consider making the hard choices when it comes to spending priorities. Do we want the ability to be able to pay for healthcare, or is funding programs like Head Start—a program whose overall effectiveness as a kick start to fostering positive childhood experiences in school (and in life) is still a matter of debate—more important? Do we take steps to eliminate the chief reason for Americans filing bankruptcy year-to-year—the inability to pay prohibitively costly medical bills—or do we continue to pay for wars on countries that aren’t an actual threat to our nation’s security and interests? Do we create an atmosphere whereby people like “John” can afford to cover his families with health insurance, or do we continue to give “job-generating” tax breaks to “job creators.” Job Creators…you know, those people who provide people like “John” with $9.00 an hour jobs that offer us health insurance options that we cannot afford to pay for?
As I think of “John” in the context of political opposition to health care affordability, it’s hard to ignore the irony that the officials we elect to craft policies such as health care affordability are comfortably covered by the government-sponsored insurance which “John’s” taxes pay for.

See also: “Universal Healthcare - How Other Countries Do It” and “The Real Health Insurance Industry -- An Insider Look At The Industry

Sunday, July 28, 2013

National Security, Electronic Surveillance, And Civil Liberties - A Rational Perspective

Last post, I touched on the issue of electronic domestic surveillance by the federal government. I focused primarily on Edward Snowden, and his now international—for want of a better term—crusade to bring the extent of the government’s efforts to the attention of the American people (See: "Will The Real Ed Snowden Stand Up?"). Yes, I agree that Snowden’s since then escapades on the global stage have turned the issue more into a focus on his celebrity more than the issue itself, but there is a bigger picture within the “Edward Snowden Show” that needs attention. That often overlooked issue is that of the complexity of maintaining the balance between preserving the civil liberties and privacy concerns of Americans and working to preserve the security of the nation on the whole in the post-9/11 world.
How can Americans understand the necessity of this balance, and appreciate the need to go to extraordinary lengths in extraordinary times…especially when half of the people see the government in the worst light, and the other half rely too much on it? For the record, there are checks and balances built into the government’s efforts with regard to using electronic surveillance to thwart would-be terrorists. The information gathered tends to be peripheral rather than detailed content acquisition. Secondly, the focus is on those within the nation’s borders who might have contact with those outside the country, who are of questionable intent (yes, I’m fully aware and understand that those who might be able to cognitively process this concept may still harbor mistrust of the government—without a basis—based on preconceived thinking, some from the “they’re going to take our gun crowd” and some from the “this is another way the rich maintain power” crowd)
Now, with that being said, Friday night on HBO’S “Real Time with Bill Maher,” the comedian/social critic used the final segment of his weekly “New Rules” segment to speak a great level of level-headed sense into how we should approach the issue of the government’s eavesdropping policies. If you are willing to suspend your ability to be irritated by delivery and focus on the message (not the messenger), please give Maher’s cold-water perspective the government’s electronic surveillance a look…and maybe come away with something other than a bumper-sticker slogan about policy.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Will The Real Ed Snowden Stand Up?

I am as concerned about the potential for federal government overreach as any rational citizen—when such concern is warranted. I add that last qualification because I know that we share the country with those who seem to represent the paranoid fringe—that see every government action as an infringement on personal liberties. Yes, I am very much concerned about the issue of the federal government potentially snooping through my e-mails, listening in on my cell phone calls, or watching where I surf online. To that point, I thank former government National Security Agency (NSA) contracted employee Edward Snowden for bringing such concerns to the American public.
However, I also realize that maintaining the national security is a lot like making sausage; its best to know how not it’s done if you want to continue to enjoy what comes with living in a free society. Before Snowden opted to turn the issue of electronic domestic spying by our government into the “The Edward Snowden Reality Show,” it was easier to view him favorably as a “whistleblower” on questionable government activities. But since his initial revelations about the government’s electronic eavesdropping policy, Snowden has decided to reveal himself (i.e., his identity) to the world as the source of these revelations. In addition, he—in the mistaken, self-centered belief that he would be greeted with flowers and hailed as an information liberator—has been found to have collected other sensitive information materials related to the American government’s clandestine activities with regard electronic surveillance on the nation’s allies and adversaries alike. Some of this information has been subsequently leaked to the international press.

                                                       Edward Snowden

And instead of remaining anonymous as a source of issue concern to the American people, Snowden has seemingly gone out of his way to cultivate a cult of self-importance around himself and his actions. What’s more, Snowden is feeding his narcissism by seeking approval from and asylum in countries whose record of human rights and civil liberties abuses make electronic eavesdropping by the feds seem harmless by comparison. These countries—Russia, China, and Ecuador among them—have wasted little time in using Snowden’s high-profile status and revelations as a cause célèbre to bludgeon America over the head in the realm of geopolitical public relations. These countries can now assert that America is in no position to lecture others about apparent civil liberties violations as they point to the country’s domestic spying…thus giving them a free hand to act without the strength of international condemnation for questionable actions.
And with all of the trouble Snowden has caused for the government both domestically and internationally, the authorities would like to talk with Snowden and “discuss” the legalities of collecting classified information, abusing his security clearance, and (potentially) sharing information with countries the government considers less-than-friendly to the interests of America.  Ironically, these countries don't seem to want the headaches that come accepting Snowden's request for political asylum, as he travels the world seeking refuge from an infuriated U.S. government. In addition, the country’s adversaries now know that, with confirmation, how the U.S. uses electronic surveillance to keep tabs on any moves which might conflict with the nation’s security and global interests.
At first, I’d wondered how this relatively young man had become so self-absorbed with his obsessive sense of self-righteousness …that is, until his father began giving interviews about his son’s decisions. Last month on NBC’s “The Today Show,” Leo Snowden indicated that his wayward son would return to the U.S. if “certain conditions are met,” including “not detaining Snowden before trial.” The older Snowden had planned to outline these and other conditions in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holden, presumably with input from the younger Snowden (See: "Edward Snowden's Father Says Son May Return If Conditions Met") . Would that the rest of us mere mortals could dictate our conditions and desires to the government seeking our arrest for violating the law and jeopardizing national security…. If we were living in the era of the Cold War, no one in their right minds would make such demands. At first, I’d wondered how this relatively young man had become so self-absorbed with his obsessive sense of self-righteousness …that is, until his father began giving interviews about his son’s decisions. Last month on NBC’s “The Today Show,” Leo Snowden indicated that his wayward son would return to the U.S. if “certain conditions are met,” including “not detaining Snowden before trial.” The older Snowden had planned to outline these and other conditions in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holden, presumably with input from the younger Snowden. Would that the rest of us mere mortals could dictate our conditions and desires to the government seeking our arrest for violating the law and jeopardizing national security…. If we were living in the era of the Cold War, no one in their right minds would make such demands. It might be easy to dismiss the senior Snowden’s galling gesture as a father’s protecting his son were it not for also for an open letter he’d subsequently written to the Obama Administration. In the letter, Leo Snowden compared his son’s raising the alarm over domestic electronic spying to Paul Revere’s midnight ride warning Americans of the impending arrival of the invading British Redcoats. In the letter, authored with his lawyer’s help, Snowden presumes to be warning “the American people to confront the growing danger of tyranny and one branch government” (See:  "Edward Snowden’s Father, In Letter, Compares Son To Paul Revere, Assails Administration").  The grandiose comparison was all I needed to know in order to understand that the apple indeed doesn’t fall too far from the tree.
Now, ignoring the fact that if Snowden had engaged in such actions in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 or during the Cold War, there would have been a unanimous call for his head on a silver platter—including from his own family—Snowden’s “well-intentioned” (?) actions were lost as he interjected too much of his own self-importance into the mix. Some might agree with such a hyperbolic comparison, but what separates Snowden’s actions from the grandiose delusions both he and his father harbor is that, unlike Paul Revere, very few are listening to Edward Snowden. Ideally, I would like to attribute such silence to the realization by most Americans that fear of a “tyrannical federal government” is a fringe paranoia of those who place too much emphasis on “states rights” as a gateway to imposing laws at that particular level of government which more than would (ironically) infringe on the rights of others (those seeking open access to abortions, those of the same gender seeking marriage recognition, etc.). However, I know better. The lack of a vocal wholehearted support for Snowden is probably a silent acknowledgement of such unfounded fears.
Granted, the prospect of the government listening in on our phone conversations, gathering information on our text messages, or reading our e-mails is a potentially troubling blow to our individual and collective civil liberties, it pales to the lack of foresight that Snowden’s actions have done to one aspect of the government’s attempt to maintain national security and to prevent future threats.
Granted, the prospect of the government listening in on our phone conversations, gathering information on our text messages, or reading our e-mails is a potentially troubling blow to our individual and collective civil liberties, it pales to the lack of foresight that Snowden’s actions have done to one aspect of the government’s attempt to maintain national security and to prevent future threats. Warning Americans of egregious violations of civil liberties and illegal activities by our government is laudable, but Snowden’s actions not only obscured his intentions, but his narcissism blinded him to the very real world ramifications of his actions to our government’s ability to function in order to maintain national security. Subsequent explanations by the government of its actions revealed that detailed information is not being accumulated in ways such as those depicted in the 1990’s espionage thriller “Enemy of the State.” If revelations of true and real threats by our government are to be considered, they should be done so by someone with more altruistic intentions, and less self-centeredness than an Edward Snowden.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Zimmerman Verdict And Our Dueling Perspectives

Congratulations Black America…you’ve just gotten your very own “O.J.” moment! And why should we be shocked? George Zimmerman’s acquittal of murder charges in the tragic death of Trayvon Martin yesterday in a Florida courtroom resonated with many white suburbanites and gated-community types. Such individuals—rightfully or not—harbor fears of creeping “thuggery” from the inner-city areas that they see as chronically infected with socioeconomic pathologies and dysfunctions that they would rather not see in their own well-manicured backyards.
As expected, early opinions about the verdict have come along racial-ethnic lines. Most of those who supported Zimmerman are white, while the majority of those feeling sympathetic toward the death of Martin are black. The verdict speaks to two ongoing issues in our culture: race and guns.
The verdict reflects the fact that America has never truly came to any substantive resolution with regard to its racial past. We see this in the different perspectives that whites and blacks have on many issues, not just the outlook on the guilt or innocence of George Zimmerman. Blacks were surprised by the verdict; it’s not a stretch to think that whites were not. Black parents did not see a stranger in Trayvon Martin, they saw their own potential sons being gunned down. This is why riots broke out in the wake of the 1992 verdict in the videotaped beating of Rodney King in California. The acquittal of four white policemen—caught red-handed on tape—beating an unarmed and apparently unthreatening black male resonated with many with the black community; they saw themselves being beaten. This ability that identify and sympathize with the Trayvon Martins and Rodney Kings among black Americans is due to the reality that more than a few African-Americans have either experienced or personally know of someone who have had similar experiences with regard to race. Each of these (relatively) recent high-profile racially-charged incidents were, in turn, based on the century’s long patterns of all-white juries acquitting whites—authority or laymen—of crimes against blacks. This is what President Obama meant with his remark, “If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon.” What’s sad is the fact that this has to be explained to whites in this country; the president’s remarks were more in line with the resonance such incidents have in the collective black memory and mindset than the political response that many whites felt the president’s remark were.

The assumption by whites that the president’s remarks to the Trayvon Martin shooting was a political statement rather than a statement of personal interest reveals that America has two histories—one white and one black. This duality of perception comes to bear anything such racially-charged incidents arise in the news. During these times, the effects of not coming to terms with the past usually finds blacks and whites talking at and not to one another. The white conservative stance tends to be one based absolution, which minimizes the reality of racial and ethnic privilege, and downplays the propensity for insensitivity to our historical racial past (and present). The white liberal stance is usually an attempt to express sympathy on a weak understanding of the black experience. Am I saying that all whites cannot be sympathetic or understanding of what it’s like to be black in the context of America’s racial history? Of course not; I’m sure there are many. What I speak of are valid generalities that our disparate perspectives support. We see this whenever blacks demand some level of recompense for racial slights that align with historical patterns, such as lawsuits or reparations. Whites tend to see such demands are a handout. These same whites, whom like most Americans of any ethnic, cultural or economic persuasion, have a poor sense (and interest) in history that keeps them seeing any validity in black claims that their actions might fit a pattern of racial insensitivity. And why not? The past is the past…unless it exalts one’s place of self-importance. Americans are quite fond of remembering Paul Revere’s midnight ride, the rag-tag American military over the British superpower in the Revolution, and the triumph of Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders of the Spanish Army. But our history of formerly all-black towns and counties purged or sacked (Tulsa in 1921, Rosewood in 1923) by white mobs, mass lynchings, and race-based laws are not allowed to be the bad taken with the good in American history. Insomuch as the black experience, many whites have then somewhat valid (if not ethnocentric) point that blacks have not taken advantage of the socioeconomic and political environment of self-determination that relative freedom in America affords. Large cities with large numbers of African-Americans are plagued with issues across the socioeconomic scale, from high percentages of public school dropout rates, high crime rates, high unemployment, to high incidents of single-parenthood, incarceration rates, etc. In many instances, whether or not such conditions are exacerbated by legislative policy, the majority of these pathologies can alleviated by personal responsibility. But when blacks view issues of race tied incidents such as the Trayvon Martin shooting and George Zimmerman’s acquittal, they tend to see these socioeconomic pathologies as either perpetuated by the forces of racism and bias, or by absolute design of "The Man." Blacks see that the police drug-tested Trayvon after the incident, and not George Zimmerman. Blacks wonder why whites who live in relatively safe—very much so in comparison to many areas that blacks reside—gated communities feel the need to carry guns under a “stand your ground” law? Whites point to the Second Amendment and being “prudent” as a justification to carry arms against would-be “criminals” such as Trayvon Martin and the underneath-the-surface fear of rioting in the wake of the verdict. Blacks see whites as being paranoid in carrying guns when many of them don’t in areas with actual (as opposed to perceived) threats to life and property.  Blacks see in the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman verdict, more of the same old institutional biases and advantages of racial privilege from America's legacy of unresolved racial attitudes.  And Whites ask themselves, "Why can't they pull themselves up like everybody else does?"
These different perspectives speak to the American infatuation with guns. Many of us are too quick to see guns as the solution to crime, fear, the need for personal protection under all circumstances, and as an expression of a “God-given right.” Many law-abiding black Americans are more fatalistic than whites in terms accepting one’s fate, and dealing with reality. This is one of the ways by which many are able to live in virtual war-zones, not to say that they do not have fears about death, dying, and being victimized by crimes. It’s just reality to black Americans. Many law-abiding white Americans tend to adopt the mantra of preparation and anticipation. We see this in not only the various variation of “stand your ground” laws, but the increasing legislation around the country enabling the carrying of guns in school, on college campuses, in churches, and even in bars. What makes one wake up in the morning and decide to carry a gun in much the same way as one would presume to carry a pocketbook? It’s surely not the same thing that makes one get up in the morning knowing they are taking their chances in a high-crime, high poverty area.
Gun sales soared when President Obama was elected back in 2008, and again after his re-election last year, driven mostly by a thinking fear that our precious gun might be "taken away by the government."  Gun sales continue to soar, even as we are seeing a train of high-profile mass shootings. Owning a gun for “protection” is both pathology and a delusion. What such a justification ignores is that for many citizens (law abiding or otherwise), the firing lethal weapons is legitimate entertainment. Our love of shoot-‘em-up movies, rabid defense of the Second Amendment, violent video games, and fear of urban crime testifies to an immersion in a culture of gun fascination. It’s no wonder that individuals on the edge are so quick to take up arms and shoot up malls, schools, and even churches. Zimmerman represents this pathological fetish with weapons that we attempt to write off as a means of “self-defense.”
Why? Because most neighborhood watch volunteers don’t carry weapons—even those who bravely volunteer in areas of higher crime and threat levels than Zimmerman’s neighborhood (See:  Zimmerman's 911 Transcripts). For whatever reasons, Americans don’t seem ready to let go of either negative attitudes or its pathological reliance on guns for a feeling of emotional and personal security. And until such a thing happens, there will continue to be Trayvon Martins, George Zimmermans, and the two Americas divided by perceptions they represent.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Dope on Voter Identification

On the face of the issue, there is nothing wrong with and adult and having an ID to vote. After all, what kind of responsible person walks around without a form of identification? However, as more recent times have revealed, laws in America are political…not legal. And based on this reality—especially in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision earlier this week to weaken a major provision of the historic 1965 Voting Rights Act—it’s hard not to at least view the issue of requiring voter identification to vote with some bit of skepticism.
What makes this issue so contentious is that who support the various initiatives in various states to require identification vote have just enough reason and logic on their side to give their view some credibility. Even I believe its sound reasoning for someone to have an ID to vote. However, when you look at the issue more closely, it’s hard not to question the overall motive—if not the timing—of these initiatives. These new voter requirements have been proposed, passed, and now validated in approximately 15 different states, most initiated by Republican officials. Most proponents argue that the new laws “help prevent voter fraud.” But given that voter fraud, outside of 1 or 2 anecdotal cases, is not an overt or major factor in either statewide or national elections in this country. These proponents will point questionable actions by left-leaning organizations like the now-defunct ACORN to support their assertions. However, a Justice Department of the period of time between 2002 and 2007 showed that out of the 300 million votes cast in that period, federal prosecutors convicted only 86 people for voter fraud – and of those few cases, most involved persons who were simply unaware of their ineligibility (See: “The GOP War on Voting”). The takeaway is that voter fraud is such a statistically low occurrence, low impact happenstance in elections in America it the notion of requiring IDs to counter it amounts to a solution looking for a problem. So how is it that so many states are passing voter ID laws when actual cases of voter fraud amount to a political paranoia rather than an actual criminal threat (See: “The Truth About Voter Fraud”)? That is where the question of timing for these voter ID new requirements come in.

Given the unexpected defeat that Republicans received in last year’s presidential elections, many within the party began to see that the major reason for the defeat was the reality of shifting ethnic demographics in America favoring Democrats. All major minority groups overwhelmingly supported President Obama in last year’s elections. Republicans, despite their best efforts at appealing to racial minority groups, became aware of this. And given the party’s intransigence with regard to many of its social policies (policies that many minorities do not outwardly support), this shift has been seen as potentially problematic for Republicans in future elections.
While I am not explicitly stating that the sole reason for these laws is to counter demographic shifts and changing views on social issues (like gay marriage), the timing is questionable. It would have made more sense to institute voter ID laws in the immediate aftermath of the 2000 election—the most contentious and closest presidential election in the nation’s history… but these laws weren’t. Most were proposed being instituted in the wake of the election nation's first black president, and reality of solid ethnic minority backing. Sounds kind of questionable when you think about it. And being a policy with political implications, it’s a sure bet that many who have proposed these new laws are not oblivious to these realities.

Last year’s controversial press conference by the Republican Leader of the Pennsylvania state House of Representatives, Mike Turzai goes a long way to supporting that it’s at least known who would benefit and who would not from instituting these new laws (see video below).
Whether you support voter ID or not, it’s one of those issues that supporters don’t bother to scrutinize enough to consider its political rationale or motives. It’s one of those things that—although it sounds good on the surface—needs to be examined beyond openly supporting or condemning. However, the reality one is left forced to accept, given reason rather than passion, is that voter identification laws are a backdoor attempt to suppress the vote of entire voting blocks.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Anti-Government Protests Abroad - What America's Poor Can Learn!

In the past couple of years, we have witnessed both political and social change in many countries across the globe, initiated at the grassroots level. Although much of these changes have been effected in the Arab World (wrought by the so-called “Arab Spring” general protests), they have not been confined to the Arab World. In country after country, the socio-politically and economically disenfranchised have risen up in protest over what many of these individuals perceive as indifference toward them by lawmakers and overlords alike. In the last few days, the numbers of the disaffected protesting their lots in life have increased to include those protesting in both Brazil and Turkey. Citizens in these countries have taken to the streets to denounce economic conditions and political policies which have many of them feeling as though their governments are not working in their direct interests.
A scene from this week's protests on Brazil's Capital, Rio de Janeiro

In America, the most recent analogous show of discontent by the people toward the status quo were the Occupy and the Tea Party Movements. However, with the exception of still-unfolding events in Turkey and Brazil, the “demonstrations”—for want of a better term—in America lack the broad grassroots inclusiveness of the uprisings around the world. The chief difference between say, the Arab Spring as an example of popular uprisings and those much weaker variations having occurred in America is both their lasting effect and limited scope. The Occupy movement was a rejection of corporate greed and the type of hyper-capitalism that almost tanked the global market back in 2008. Despite the number of associated protests, the Occupy Movement was less of a protest against socioeconomic inequality and Big Money influence in the legislative process it should have been. The Tea Party protests—despite having tinges of the same issues that the Occupy Movement were protesting—was too ideologically partisan to the right to truly represent a cross-section of America ethnically, politically, and/or socially.

As I watch news coverage of more economic-issue-inspired protests unfurling across Brazil, I can’t help but wonder why the poor and disenfranchised in America don’t mobilize in a similar way against marginalization by politicians and policy makers? During the 2012 presidential elections, both President Obama and former Republican candidate Mitt Romney ran campaigns targeting the American Middle Class—as did Romney’s Republican Primary competitors. Democrats running for office at the national level tend to target the same constituency; at local levels they have no choice but to acknowledge poor voters simply because of the nature of local politics. However, as both, a campaign policy and policy focus, the welfare and interests of the underclass as a group in America simply doesn’t lobby on its own behalf when their interests are ignored or targeted for damning by legislators seeking to balance budgets on their already burdened backs. The underclass as a group is not usually given to vocalizing their discontent. This week’s failure in the U.S House of Representatives to cut funding to programs responsible for helping those needy families purchase food is an example of this (See: “Proposed Cuts in the House Farm Bill Mean "2 Million Less People on Food Stamps, 210,000 Children Will Not Receive School Lunches or Breakfasts”).
Those needing the program did not march on Washington to protest the attempt to cut the much-needed assistance; Democrats (and some Republicans) simply refused to support the cuts for differing reasons. Those who would benefit from the program were given the reprieve on the mercies of advocates in Congress. While the politically-connected Moneyed Class has the ears, hearts, and minds of policy-makers, the Middle Class catches policy-makers’ attention during election periods. The poor in America—lacking money, organization, and drenched in voter apathy—are nothing more than pawns in the political chess game. Having worked with and alongside (and at one time lived) with the politically and economically disenfranchised in America, my personal (and objective) observations as to why they as a group refuse to mobilize in the way that their brethren in other countries have are multidimensional.
A major reason the poor in America don’t organize and/or vocalize their discontent is the lack of interests in news and current events—such as the protests occurring abroad. Many lower income, lower class individuals tend to anesthetize with irrelevant distractions, and insulate from knowledge of relevant issues which could affect them. A great majority of them tend to spend inordinate amounts of time viewing music videos, so-called “reality television,” and other programming which specializes in commanding the narrow attention spans and interests of those who would rather be entertained than informed. And in the instances they are seeking to be informed, their curiosity extends only as far as the personal lives of celebrities and pseudo-celebrities. Having worked with at-risk kids (as well as their parents), I would observe and take note of their interests and their lack of interests in national and world events. When they have an opportunity to use the internet for schoolwork and/or recreation, they tend to use the time to listen to the latest offering of what passes for music nowadays, or view sites that delve into the meaningless lives of those “entertainers” who are responsible for today’s music. Their parents are little better in their knowledge (or interest) of current events. Of course, this is not to say that there are those of within the lower economic (and social) brackets who are not interested in what goes in Washington and their state capitals. What I speak is on the whole, this group is more inclined toward focusing on information on the most rudimentary of levels; the weather forecast, local news, and/or progress of their local sports teams. An observation that I made years ago provides an illustration. Back when I was in college, a good friend of mine and I travelled to Chicago (where I was born) and went sight-seeing along in the “Gold Coast” area of the city—where Big Money and affluence is concentrated. As we drove in the Lake Shore Drive area, I noticed that outside the couple-grand-a-month-rent condos were newspaper boxes stacked groups of 5 or more. They sold The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, and a few more of the national dailies. Back in the old neighborhood, the corner newspaper boxes only carried the Chicago Sun-Times, the Tribune, and maybe the city’s historic black newspaper, The Defender. The takeaway for me was the “haves” were informed, while the “have-nots” were not.
Another reason that the poor in America are not able to gather the wherewithal to demonstrate in favor of their collective interests is that much of their time is spent simply trying to survive trying to live off of the meager wages offered in our new service-based economy. While lawmakers were busy gutting the gutting programs—in the name of “cutting spending”—that had some impact in supplementing low wage workers, those on the lower rungs of society were forced to dedicate more and more of their time trying to make up for these cuts by working two or even part-time three jobs to make up for the incomes and benefits that a single job used to offer. The 90s-era North American Free-Trade Agreement made it possible for many higher-paying U.S. manufacturers to move jobs to lower-labor costs Mexico. The manufacturers who remained lowered wages to compete with the new globalized economy. The emerging service industry didn’t have to pay as much to compete with the comparable-paying manufacturing industry; the $7.00-$9.00 starting pay is the same as moderate pay in the 1980s. With so much time dedicated to ensuring that families are able to pay bills, little things like attending parent-teacher meetings, community groups, city-council/town hall meetings, and other such gathering that would normally inform citizens of what’s going on around them (as well as fellowship with those who might also might be informed) became necessarily passé’ as a matter of survival. Among a group where many have to plan ahead just to vote in a way that doesn’t jeopardize their jobs or compromise any needed paid time, is it any wonder that voting is the only form of being “informed” or “protest” that many of them know?
There is also a level of willful ignorance as well as self-defeating thinking among the lower classes in America. Many rural poor whites for example harbor race-based animosities toward minorities; “blacks are lazy,” “Mexicans come to America and take all the jobs, “and “Foreigners are buying up American stores.” Many lower-class blacks tend to give racism more power than it has over their lives and the impact it has on their ability to work toward impacting their own lives in a positive sense. Sure, racism still exists, and it can have some negative impact over those who try to get ahead—no matter how much others want to believe otherwise. But it cannot overcome hard work or the desire to not be manipulated by uncaring legislators and policy makers who only seem to be motivated by the financially well-heeled. Such thinking leads to apathy, the feeling of powerlessness, and a fatalistic outlook toward those who expect and operate in concert with such thinking. In other words, uncaring, unmoved, and oblivious legislators and policymakers here in America need the disaffectedness and divisions among the lower-class and disenfranchised in order to keep themselves in power, and the masses from rising up in the same way those others have in other countries.
The Civil Rights, Feminist, Tea Party, and various other movements prove that people can impact decisions far more than they would give themselves credit for. The protests this week in Turkey and Brazil prove that masses of disaffected and disenchanted people can mobilize in ways that render the influence of Big Money moot. When the Founders Fathers crafted the Constitution, they intended for the people to tell government what it wants, not to have its representatives ignore the needs of the people. Since the Supreme Court’s democracy-weakening decision in Citizens United, our decision-makers and leaders have adopted the backwards notion that money should move and impact policy more than anything else. The poor in this country need to take a page from what’s happening around the world and start mass protesting in not only Washing, but in the various state capitals to show that policy and governing should be based on reality—what’s going on around us—rather than ideology—what one thinks or believes to “be right.”

One reason why the poor in America maintain a sense of powerlessness...exploitation by those benefit from their unfortunate circumstances (watch the video).

Friday, May 31, 2013

What American Parents Can Learn From The French...

In my last posting, I railed against the idiotic changes in the newest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-V (DSM-5), the bible of the mental health field which list the various known clinical diagnosis for those suffering from mental health issues. Specifically, in the latest edition (to be published next month officially) the DSM now considers extreme temper tantrums in young children a clinical diagnosis now known as Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMSS). Considering that young kids throwing tantrums because they cannot get their way has been a staple of parenting within the Western child-rearing experience since antiquity, I thought this to be a most extreme example of bovine excrement insomuch as how we label children without discipline or self-control “dysfunctional.” I argued that ascribing another “clinical” to childhood misbehavior only serves—in the long-run—to enable negative behavior in children, giving them as well as their parents yet another “out” when it comes to avoiding personal responsibility (see: "Temper Tantrums Are Now A Disorder'").
I'm going to just come out and say this: For the most part, American parents are both arrogant and lazy! They are arrogant in that many feel that they are incapable of learning anything from others insomuch as how to improve their parenting, and lazy in that when their half-assed parenting—ably assisted by an often overstepping legal system and overly-sensitive child advocacy types such as social workers—yields uncontrollable, irresponsible, and entitlement-minded teenage monsters, they blame some (obscure) “clinical,” equally half-assed diagnosis. Or they proclaim that their little brats are simply “not understood.” Given how much many American parents are indulgent of their offspring’ sense of entitlement—imparted upon them in many cases by these same parents—I totally understand!
Having been raised as a Generation Xer, having had a part in raising my own nieces and nephews, and having spent the better part of the last decade or so working with children, I think I know a little about raising children. While it's true that I'm not a parent myself, that actually gives me an objectivity that most parents lack in making such a broad declaration about American parents; any belief system predicated on love tends to cloud judgment and obscure clear, pragmatic-based decision-making in many things...especially in the realm of parenting.
With such being the case, it’s my turn to be as equally arrogant in telling American parents what they are doing wrong.
As hinted, we in America have to shed this idea of “American exceptionalism,” especially when it comes to parenting. American parents have to be willing to consider the possibility that other cultures might be ahead of the curve when it comes to parenting, and that we might actually be behind the curve. On my facebook page, someone sent me a link regarding an article from an issue of Psychology Today from last year, written by family therapist Dr. Marilyn Wedge, Ph.D. In her piece, “Why French Kids Don’t Have ADHD,” Wedge cites the reasons for the vast differences in the numbers of diagnosed cases of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) between French and American children. In the briefest terms, the therapist reveals that

In the United States, at least 9% of school-aged children have been diagnosed with ADHD, and are taking pharmaceutical medications. In France, the percentage of kids diagnosed and medicated for ADHD is less than .5%. 

The article goes on to explain that while we Americans tend to look upon pathologies like ADHD as having “a biological disorder with biological causes,” the French “view ADHD as a medical condition that has psycho-social and situational causes.” And of course, this results in a difference in treatment. American child psychiatrists and other clinicians are quick to prescribe psychotropic drugs such as Ritalin as the remedy of choice, while their French counterparts treat “the underlying social context problem with psychotherapy or family counseling.” The result is

to the extent that French clinicians are successful at finding and repairing what has gone awry in the child's social context, fewer children qualify for the ADHD diagnosis. 

In France as well as other countries, adults—particularly parents—do not turn every misbehavior into a clinical diagnosis. On the other hand, we here in America are gullible to the point where it’s been inculcated into our cultural natures to ascribe every questionable behavior in our children as some newfound alphabet-abbreviated “malady.” In many cases, American parents are too do not take into consideration that much of their kids behavior is simply the result of various social influences of those their children come into contact with, who in a lot of cases tend to be similarly (socially) dysfunctional. I’m not saying that there is no occurrence of ADHD in American children per se; I am putting forth the thesis that ADHD does not occur anywhere near as much, nor does a true case of ADHD have as much impact on a child’s behavior on American children’ behavior as many parents would like to think. The differences between the French and American perspectives on ADHD diagnoses and treatments is pretty much along the same line as the differences between the high rate of males labeled as “special education” in American schools, while in European schools, females are the majority of students labeled “special education.” Such disparities toward the way we approach children and child-rearing in this country points to the reality that we Americans simply do not look at the Big Picture, which includes consideration of another approach different from our traditional (and ineffective) ones. Simply put, parents in America cannot and do not think outside of the box. We have come to accept the strange, almost pathological and counterproductive ethos that all behavior can be remedied by idiotic “clinical” diagnoses, medicine, and/or the intervention of others (i.e., social service-related professionals) when it comes to managing our kids. The sad and simple reality is that most negative children behavior can be managed by proactive and responsible parenting, as well as regulating aspects of their physical environments—not after-the-fact “treatments,” when negative childhood behavior patterns are becoming set in stone.  Again, the French model of parenting provides how effective such an ideological shift attitudes toward parenting can be.
Last year, author and parent Pamela Druckerman struck a bad chord among many American parents (naturally, since most American parents don’t think they have anything to learn from others) when her book "Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting" hit the stands. In relating the observations of Druckerman’s book to her own experiences, author Judith Warner—who penned her own book “Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety” on these differences—noted that Druckerman, I’ve often noted wistfully how French children know how to handle themselves in restaurants. I’ve envied how French children eat what’s put in front of them, put themselves to bed when instructed to, and, generally, tend to help keep the wheels of family life moving pretty smoothly. But the difference that struck me the most deeply, when my family moved to Washington, D.C., from Paris…how much emphasis French parents put on demanding they behave respectfully toward other people (See:  "Why American Kids Are Brats").

Such a difference is based on the general difference in expectations that French parents impart on their children during these crucial formative years. Basically, French parents have somehow managed to maintain the instinct for organic parenting, while American parents—at least the marginally responsible ones—tend to research methods of “better parenting” by spending money on parenting books and harking on the words of “experts”…both recognized and self-professed. For example, the French do not believe in changing the general family routine for the sake of a new baby. For them, the baby fits into the family. American parents seek to restructure reality to fit the arrival of a new baby. The difference is that because of this difference, French parents have more time for themselves. American parents on the other hand spend every minute indulging our children’ every want and need, which results in many feeling “overwhelmed” and thus unable to muster the fortitude and strength of will to discipline their children to the point of necessity. For the French, the happiness of the entire family matters, not just the children. For Americans, objective critics know from observation that all logic and reason tends to fly out the window when the welfare of an American child perceived not to be met. If an American baby is crying, whining, or throwing a tantrum because their “need” for instant gratification is not being met, we rush to their sides to find the cause; the French apply tough love to a fussing and/or crying baby, allowing them express their dissatisfaction in almost every case except of immediate needs (feeding, diaper changes, etc.). American children learn early on that if that act out, they can get what they want.  Of course, if a parent in America dared considered allowing a child’s temperament to rage unchecked, it would be considered an “abuse.” We here in the states want to meet every demand of our kids’ happiness. As a result, our kids develop a sense of entitlement rather than a sense of responsibility (or duty to family, as in the case of many Asian children). Now we have a nation of picky eaters (compared to French children, who like myself when I was younger, are taught to eat whats in front of them), obese brats, and guilt-ridden parents who overcompensate for "not spending enough quality time" with our children (which only spoils them even more).

And let’s not go into the lack of respect that American children have both each other and adults; those of us who have spent time working the public schools know and have experienced this firsthand. While American parents are quick to assume their children have been slighted by some perceived “disrespect” of an adult and/or authority figure, French parents start out parenting by emphasizing respect for and in front of adults (according to many observers of these differences, including Druckerman). French children are given very strict boundaries by parents who strictly enforce those boundaries, but are able to maintain a sense of freedom among their children. All-too often, anything goes in many American households. Many children are not given boundaries. And in the rare event that they are, they are enforced half-heartedly. And thanks again to an overstepping, overstepping “child welfare” apparatus in place here in America, many parents have been rendered impotent when it comes to being the voice of authority for their children. And children know this, and are able to take advantage of this enabling regime by dictating their own behaviors in the house that their parents (at least on paper) control. As an ex-case manager, I have heard from many American parents how they are forced to maintain semblance of control over their teenage children because of threats by their children to “call the authorities” on them if they even threaten to impose a level of discipline on them. And then we wonder why kids today have both the time and the mental/emotional wherewithal to make pipe bombs with the intent to blow up their schools (See:  "Prosecutor: Oregon Teen Planned Columbine-Style Attack at His School").
The late Bernie Mac discusses his approach toward child and teen discipline and instilling respect

American parents expect others to love and indulge their children they way that they themselves do, and this is not reality. The reality is that children are like farts; you don't mind your own, but those of others don't smell so good. American parents need to open their minds more and learn to consider thinking more like the French rather than themselves. Do what’s in your child’s interests, not what their desires demand…maybe then we wouldn’t have a nation of stressed-out social workers, teachers, juvenile court personnel, and—most of all—parents. As the old saying goes, "if you keep doing what you've been doing, you'll keep getting what you've been getting."

 See also: "ADHD, ODD, & Other Assorted Bull****!," "Adults...Children's Worst Enemy! Part 1," and "Adults...Children's Worst Enemy! Conclusion"

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Temper Tantrums Are Now A "Disorder" (...or, "Are You S***ting Me?")

Earlier this year, I posted a piece here regarding some aspects of mental health related to behavioral, mostly as it relates to how we tend to over-diagnose children and teens in America. Most of the observations I made were based on reason my personal experience in working with (in some cases, so-called) “at-risk” kids. Fast forward to earlier this week.
I’m watching the news the other day, and the subject were the upcoming changes in the mental health profession’s “bible,” the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-5 (DSM-V). In addition to expanding the scope of some mental disorders like autism, the revision of the DSM has redefined other well-known emotional and behavioral “maladies.” One of revisions that was brought up on the news segment was recognition of “Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder” (DMDD), better known as “extreme temper tantrums.”
As in the case of Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) and many cases of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (see previous posting: “ADHD, ODD, & Other Assorted Bull****!”), this “recognition” is not without its critics, both within and outside the mental health profession (see: “Critic Calls American Psychiatric Assoc. Approval of DSM-V “A Sad Day for Psychiatry”). And even without professional criticism, such an asinine move on the part of mental health professionals only goes to further malign the profession as a whole by laypeople. By this, I mean that many aspects mental health as a field of medicine as well as psychology in general already have their detractors, who question whether private and/or public resources should be diverted to addressing mental health concerns of those in need of such services. The insanity of calling modifiable behavior a “disorder” can go a long ways toward forcing those on the fence into likewise questioning the legitimacy of someone who is mentally unwell. This could conceivably affect public funding for these services that others who are genuinely in need of them could benefit from.
More to the point, calling a child’s temper tantrum a “disorder” is yet another way of absolving lazy parents of their hand in their child’s behaviors. This new “diagnosis” would be given to children (as well as and adults) who are not able to control their emotions, and who “have” frequent temper outbursts during inappropriate situations. To say that recognizing this behavior as a “disorder” goes well beyond bovine excrements. Kids (as well as people) don’t “have” temper tantrums in the same way that people “have” a seizure, or a migraine headache. Tantrums are a willful action on the part of those who engage in exhibiting them. They are simply the result of the lack of emotional training…there is nothing “abnormal” or involuntary about them.
In the same vein, I’m of the mindset that there are individuals who do in fact suffer from very real symptoms of ADHA and other true mental disorders—some. But in other cases like ODD, and temper tantrums, such diagnoses are just another potential opportunity for abuse by irresponsible parents and educators looking for an easy fix for plain old bad behavior, which will no doubt come in the form of psychotropic medicines. And such a predictable outcome is almost expected. Given how badly parents have had their disciplinary hands tied and their traditional (read: Old School) disciplinary attitudes watered down by New Age “experts” and others, who’s distorted perceptions blind them to the difference between “abuse” and discipline, there are few disciplinary options between the “time-out” and police involvement. Simply put, the fact that one parent, a policeman, or some other individual can handle an emotional tantrum while the primary parent cannot seems to indicate that it was not beyond the child’s ability to control himself, but rather, he chose to be a brat with the parent but, not another individual.

If more parents were responsible, took more of a (literal) hands-on approach in not tolerating their child’s bad behaviors, and if the police and other authorities would learn to stop taking such liberal attitudes toward parent’s who opt to use Old School disciplining techniques in rearing their children, it’s more likely we will see a reduction in “disorder” diagnoses like DMDD, and have the resources to divert to those who truly have emotional and/or mental issues. Not every behavior a child exhibits is an example clinical “problem.” Many are just parents who lack organic insights into raising a child, and teaching him/her proper emotional control and appropriate behavior as well as the recognition of boundaries. Stop the madness people! Temper tantrums are not a “disorder,” but a need for a parent to remind a child of his/her place!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Boston Bombings, White Males, And Random Violence

WARNING: If you are sensitive to issues of race, then avoid reading this posting (because regular readers know I have no problem writing objectively about observations critical about any and every ethnic group, including my fellow African-American demographic).

Almost all of America knows or has heard about the rampant, bloody, mostly gun-based violence in my hometown of Chicago. As of this past Thursday, the city logged its 100 homicide of 2013—with only a third of the year having come to pass. And sadly, this type of violence is emblematic of many urban areas around the country. However, this type of everyday violence if often overshadowed in the news by acts of random violence of individuals we can only described as “deranged.”
Within the past 48 hours, a video-taped shootout that happened in a small Ohio town last month has been a part of the news. The video shows a middle-aged white male getting out of a car without warning, which had been stopped by police officers, and proceeded to unload a volley of gunfire from an assault rifle at the officers. The officers responded with returning fire, killing the man. On the video, the man could be heard yelling, “Kill me” (see video below).

Such events seem to reflect an undercurrent of disaffectedness among white males—those who primarily perpetrate such destructive actions their fellow citizens.
The events three weeks ago during the Boston Marathon—an outrageous tragedy to be sure—got me thinking about life in America as an African-American. More so, as an African-American who has spent much of the last 2 decades so working with both underprivileged youth and adults, I have both experienced and bore witness a level of social reality that on the surface would seem to generate anger and frustration that should have many more individuals setting off deadly bombs in effigy at “the system.” No, I’m not advocating killing or maiming as an instrument of protest. What the bombings at the Boston Marathon got me to wondering about is what makes otherwise privileged—or potentially so—white males so dissatisfied with American society that they would lash out in destructive ways, while far more troubled black Americans endure real trials with a comparatively better social grace?
In what seems of late to be a regular occurrence, we often read or hear about white males like Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarmaev—the brothers alleged to have been responsible for the bombs at the Marathon—who feel disenchanted by their experience in America. In extreme cases, these disgruntled white males have proceeded to take out their perceptions of discontent on society (as it were) in destructive ways that usually end-up being invariably lethal to innocents.
                                    Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarmaev
James Holmes, the orange-hair-dyed perpetrator of the Aurora, Colorado mass shooting that resulted in some 12 deaths and 58 injuries, was a graduate student in neuroscience at the University of Colorado. In fact, before committing the mass shooting in a theater, he’d previously declined the university’s offer of acceptance into its PhD program—complete with a $21,600 grant from the National Institute for Health.
                                          James Holmes
into its PhD program—complete with a $21,600 grant from the National Institute for Health. Holmes had an opportunity to pursue an advanced and decent education of his own choosing that many black males rarely get. Dzhokhar Tsarmaev, the younger of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects attended the prestigious Cambridge Rindge and Latin school, one of the region’s premiere competitive public schools, with a student body comprised of young people from over 70 nations and counts among its alumni the likes of actor Ben Affleck, NBA legend Patrick Ewing, and author E.E. Cummings. Tamerlan was an inconsistent student at a local community college. When so many black males are forced to attempt to learn even the basics in schools with limited funding located in high crime and poverty areas, learn in overcrowded classrooms with disruptive “special needs” students, all the while resisting the various social pressures that reduces learning to a secondary purpose of attending schools (while struggling to graduate), Holmes, the Tsarmaev brothers, and other white males’ educational prospects puts them in an enviable position in life more so than many of their black male contemporaries. The bottom line is that many white males—disgruntled or otherwise—have choices in their education that many black males do not. That translates into better life opportunities…the like which makes one wonder why some become ticking time bombs that inflict pain on others.
The disconnect between how black males endure life’s trials versus the perceptual pains of dangerously frustrated white males goes back past the recent mass shootings and bombings. Whatever problems these individuals have couldn’t possibly come close to say, experiencing the ineptitude of the government response to basic needs in the immediate aftermath of post-New Orleans Katrina, or to the indignity of being systematically denied equal accommodations (or respect) under the law of the old segregated South. When lynchings, unprovoked racial violence, and de facto/de jure denial of basic rights and human dignity were commonplace in America, there was plenty of vocal criticisms leveled against the federal and local governments, but there were no retaliatory bombings of government offices as a show of protest. There were no mass shootings of innocents, or armed individuals attending the public meetings between Congressmen and their constituents. During times when there was a true violation of Constitutional rights by state and local (and in some instances, the federal) governments, black male anger never boiled over into acts of wanton violence—even against the system that turned a blind eye. And as white males have never been subjected to such wholesale indignity on a level even close, it makes me wonder what levels of comparatively lesser frustrations could trigger the desire to inflict hurt on those who have nothing whatsoever to do with hindering an individual’s chances for success…especially when the cards are stacked in his favor by virtue of birth?

 Civil Rights-era voting rights protestor attacked by police and attack dogs

Black anger and frustration, even during the most trying of socio-political and economic times, has rarely elicited anything in the way violent rage-against-the-machine-type reactions that destructive-minded angry white males are willing to engage in (sadly, most of our destructive tendencies tend to be self-directed). The closest thing to explosive anger that can even be remotely compared as an example of brink-level frustrations that some angry white males exhibit was the formation of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. And to put this into perspective, the Panthers were formed only after a couple centuries of oppression that included lynchings, disappearances, race-riots (which many African-Americans caught the business-end of), government inaction (or collusion in the car of local police departments) with regards to violence perpetrated against blacks.
What is it about disgruntled white males that find them seemingly unable to cope with something as common as—for instance—a job loss in manners which doesn’t cause American society to rewrite the rules of workplace safety? A generation ago, the phrase “violence in the workplace” was unheard of. But today, how often have we seen instances of violence in the workplace perpetuated primarily by disgruntled white males? African-Americans have our share of socioeconomic problems, but being unable to handle something like being dismissed from employment, unjustly or otherwise, is not one of them. We weathered the disproportionate levels of higher unemployment among our ethnic demographic during the Carter and Reagan years, as well as during the recent economic crisis and the resulting economic downturn.
Even among many white males who do not resort to mass shootings, bombings, or poison-spiked mail deliveries, their alarmist mindsets tend to reflect either frustrations and/or paranoid preoccupation with their well-being simply doesn’t gel with reality the way the average African-American see it. And realistically-speaking, these white males have never really had any real cause to be vigilant (or hostile) towards any particular state or the federal government as a “tyrannical” force looking to “suppress” their civil liberties or “rights.” Coming from the perspectives of those who have had to endure arrests, physical violence, and fear of death just to sit on the front of a public bus, the concern for these white males have for their dignity and their “rights” to be potentially “violated” by any government seems unreal to African-Americans. In fact, compared to the African-American historical experience, their knee-jerk penchant for challenging innocuous laws as being a “violation” of their “rights” is akin to someone looking for an enemy to fear…one that simply isn’t there.
                                  Tea Party protestors marching during the first Obama Administration

Our mistake is in assuming that such deranged individuals are “crazy.” I believe this to be hardly true. Those particular white males who harbor feelings of disaffectedness, and who engage in mass shootings and other such destructive demonstrations of their extreme angst tend to pick and choose targets who have little or no chance of fighting back. They chose locales where their potential victims are caught completely unawares, and who are not capable of preventing this cowards from potentially interfering with their plans to inflict maximum pain. And that is what these individuals are…cowards! If they were truly unhinged from reality, they would chose targets that would truly reflect their seemingly “I-don’t-care” attitude with their lives, and life in general. Why not walk into a police station, a gun show, or even a public housing project and attempt to randomly inflict pain? Because they fear the same pain they seek to inflict would be visited upon them. Shooting a classroom of early grade elementary students; a house of worship; bombing an annual sporting event…all in the name of expressing dissatisfaction? Not “insanity,” not “protest,” and not “justice.” Its cowardice.

                        Sandy Hook Elementary shooter Adam Lanza

Granted, African-Americans has a myriad of socioeconomic woes (and yes, tend to inflict these problem on ourselves), but there is a lesson that these dangerously disgruntled white males can learn from us. If any should feel encouraged to express their frustrations and personal failings by bombing, shooting, and/or poisoning others, look at how black people have handled real oppression, real problems, and real suppression by “the system,” not embrace the paranoid imaginings of one’s emotional distress.
Additionally, our lawmakers may be entitled-minded, self-interest-driven, ideological, money-motivated, egotistical elitists, but their own individual love of liberty makes it hard to believe that any of them would concertedly work to suppress our rights, so white males really need to come off that conspiracy-level thinking. Yes, its fine to be vigilant, by not to the point of paranoia. And definitely not to the point where one feels guns are the only way our government is willing to listen to us.