The Worship of Sports in America

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How The Middle-Class Got Screwed (Video)

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

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

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

Whatever Happened To Saturday Morning Cartoons?

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

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

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

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.

video

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.