Sunday, July 27, 2008

Barack Obama: "A World that Stands as One"

Please tell me what you justifiably do not like about Barack Obama.

Is it his blackness? Is it because, as one writer to me called him, “a half-breed”? Is it because you don’t think he can handle foreign policy issues? Is it because you feel he does not have enough experience? Is it because he is from the left – a Democrat and not Republican? Is it because you believe he will be assassinated (somewhat racist in and of itself)? Is it because you feel he is too much on the side of pacifism, leaning towards peace with his willingness to negotiate as opposed to being hostile -- that you believe that to negotiate is appeasement? Just what is your reason?

For me, Barack Obama’s speech in Berlin, "A World that Stands as One," is outstanding. I am proud to call him American -- it gives me a sense of pride to be American as it should for all Americans.

In James Carroll's article for the Boston Gloge, "In Berlin, hope for the fall of other walls" he wrote: "There is the unfinished business of nuclear abolition, the burden of which belongs more to the United States than any nation. 'I love America,' Obama told Berlin, having just proved it both with his words, and with what his words implied."

In my wildest dreams, I could never envision, either in speech or substance, Bush or McCain making the same speech, or having the same views for that matter.

The speech is in every way exemplary of outstanding leadership.

“This is the moment when every nation in Europe must have the chance to choose its own tomorrow free from the shadows of yesterday.”

This is also the moment when America must have the chance to choose its own tomorrow free from the shadows of yesterday.

There is a time and a season for all things. Perhaps, just perhaps, “This is the moment.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Preparing the Battlefield

Sy Hersh has written an in-depth article for The New Yorker titled, Preparing the Battlefield: The Bush Administration steps up its secret moves against Iran.

If the predictions are accurate, are Americans prepared to take action against the Bush Administration and our government? Many say war won’t happen because Bush’s remaining tenure does not provide enough time to allow that to happen. Perhaps, but I do not trust Bush or his cohorts, especially Cheney.

War or any hostile action by our government makes you and me culpable and just as accountable and responsible.

As Supreme commander of Allied forces in WWII and subsequently President of the United States of America, Dwight Eisenhower stated:

“I like to believe that people in the long run are going to do more to promote peace than our governments. Indeed, I think that people want peace so much that one of these days governments had better get out of the way and let them have it.”

Let’s put our government on notice that we will not tolerate a war with Iran.

If we engage in hostilities with Iran, WE will be responsible.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

"Nation of whiners" and a "mental recession"

Although chided for his remarks, there is profound truth in Philip Gramm’s comments.

Economist and financial pundits make our current economic problems sound complicated. They make dire predictions. They provide us with histories and detailed statistics. They also have put forth a plethora of alternatives to solving these problems, but none of these are viable because in the end it’s human conduct and action that will make any of them viable.

Explanations of our current economic problems are simple: we allowed a housing bubble to materialize where increasing home prices seemed to have no ceiling, and easy credit came into being as a result -- borrowers and lenders did not have the vision to see that in fact they both could lose -- owning a home became an investment rather than a lifestyle and a place to live -- it had all the appearances of a win-win for everyone; capital markets were thrown into turmoil as a result of dependence on a debt driven economy -- again, debt and credit seemed to be a win-win for borrowers as well as lenders, therefore a bubble materialized in the credit markets as well, where If capital was needed it was borrowed, and if more dollars were needed, well, just print more; the price of oil surged because of investor speculation in future markets, speculator and consumer spending brought about our current price per barrel for oil and price per gallon for gasoline because, as it seems, both speculators and consumers are satisfying a self-fulfilling prophecy of $150 for a barrel of oil and $5.00 for a gallon of gasoline. What’s the demarcating price before Americans take action? Is it $200 a barrel for oil and $10.00 a gallon for gasoline before Americans take decisive action and, at the very least, change their behavior? Or, at what price will there be an attitudinal sea change?

All of this, mirroring the “” bubble, is a result of “Irrational Exuberance” (Greenspan hit the nail right on its head) where everyone was looking to get rich – just let the good times roll without consideration of its consequence. Our problems clearly come down to a simple human condition: avarice -- the culprit is greed, pure and simple. In this sense, Phil Gramm’s contention that our problems are of our minds is not too far from the truth. Human behavior and action have a tendency to bringing about self-fulfilling prophecies.

Since the end of World War II, we have been in pursuit of the American Dream: a new car and a little cottage home with a white picket fence. It’s this mindset that has got us in trouble.

For some time now (the 70’s come to mind in the case of oil) all the signs of a gathering storm, which is now a perfect storm, were in place and very evident. Americans tend to be reactive and not proactive; Americans, including government and its leadership, can’t seem to see beyond the “end of their nose.” The reaction only manifests itself when the bubble has burst. A solution is anticipated by the time they wake up the next morning, but much to their dismay, there is not a magical solution.

We need to find better ways of resolving differences and ways of being self-sufficient as opposed to going to war in order to “win” a solution, which is costly, and as with our current wars they put a demand on borrowing rather than an increase in taxes; it is easier -- it makes it more palatable -- to go to war as opposed to finding peaceful solutions when sacrifices do not have to be made -- we can war and everything can be hunky-dory all at the same time.

A universal solution to oil dependency is needed, one that solves the energy problem for a nation’s armed forces as well, for as long as a military is dependent on oil there will always be a risk of war.

We need to somehow overcome greed, we cannot in all ways legislate or regulate it, at a certain level, unfortunately, it is an essential ingredient of capitalism, or so it seems. It certainly is a hindrance to an authentic free market.

Viable changes necessary to pull America out of this quagmire will take years to mature. We are the problem and we are the solution. We need to start now with changes in our attitude, understanding praxeology, taking human action, and encouraging innovation. Short term solutions (5 to 10 years) for housing, capital markets, and oil, as well as long term solutions (more than 10 years), are all subject to human conduct and action. In regard to oil, we need to do now what should have been done in the 70’s. We need new ways of thinking about our reality and what really drives our economy, which comes down to, praxeologically, you and me. We are in the driver’s seat.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

What is American culture?

If you are from Great Britain, Ireland, Scotland, France, Germany, Australia, Bangladesh, China, India, Iraq, Israel, Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, or from any other country one could name, there is a specific perspective one has about you and your country. There is a certain history around which art, dance, music, ritual, religion, language, literature, poetry, architecture, cuisine, custom, and race is envisaged – there is a very clear ethnicity – about you and your mother country. The chances are that you also speak English as well as your native language, or if you prefer: in one's mother tongue. The ability to speak and write English is also very much a part and parcel of your culture and our perspective of you.

On the other hand, the United States of America is a fusion of many cultures. We are made of many different interwoven ethnic threads, a beautiful and complex fabric made of human endeavor, cohesion, interdependence, and of independence, as well. Americas’ portrait of that diversity is evident in our skin color: most predominantly black, brown, yellow, red and white -- the obvious physical traits of humans. We are, among many other ethnic communities, and certainly not all inclusive: African American; South American; Asian American; Native American; and European American. We live concomitant with each other; we have fused into one nation.

And, there are essences that are exclusively American – the very essence of what it means to be an American: the Negro spiritual, the American west, native American music and art, basketball, jazz, the blues, rap, hip hop, rock and roll, country and western music, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Clark Gabel, Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, American folk music, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Daniel Boone, Wild Bill Hickok, Mark Twain --“The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “Huckleberry Finn,” McDonald's, BBQ’s, apple pie, Disneyland, P.T. Barnum, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, Abraham Lincoln and, of course, our national history and heritage, just to name a few. Each a metaphor for what is America.

All of these very distinct and different cultures, as well as those that are exclusively American, have come together and blended in such a way that in the crossover America has a cumulative one, very sophisticated, and very distinct culture. It is a gift that creation has bestowed on America.

Among the many cultural gifts that one has is the gift of language.

People who speak more than one language are called linguist; if they speak two or more languages they are called bilingual; if they speak only one language, unfortunately, they are called Americans. It is a knot in our cultural thread that we must untie in order for America to evolve. With this bilingual exception, as well as the exceptions of racism, our hubristic militarism, and our propensity for imperialism, America has an otherwise glorious and evolving culture.

As previously stated, however, we do have a troubling aspect to our way of thinking, a cultural enigma: racism. The abhorrence of Americans when Barack Obama stated, “Now, I agree that immigrants should learn English. I agree with that. But understand this. Instead of worrying about whether immigrants can learn English -- they'll learn English -- you need to make sure your child can speak Spanish. You should be thinking about, how can your child become bilingual? We should have every child speaking more than one language.”

What is very troubling is that this admonition was not given from a sincere desire for Americans to speak English only, but rather came from a deeply seeded hatred -- racism, perhaps xenophobic, or ignorance, it doesn’t really matter for it all comes from the same seed, and that seed is fear, pure and simple. If Obama had said, make sure your child can speak French or German, we would not have experienced the same fearful egocentric response from Americans.

"You know, it's embarrassing when Europeans come over here, they all speak English, they speak French, they speak German. And then we go over to Europe and all we can say is 'merci beaucoup!"'

You know, no, I'm serious about this. We should understand that our young people, if you have a foreign language that is a powerful tool to get a job. You are so much more employable. You can be part of international business. So we should be emphasizing foreign languages in our schools from an early age, because children will actually learn a foreign language easier when they're 5, or 6, or 7 than when they're 46, like me.” Barack Obama

We need to encourage and embrace other languages -- even, to a certain extent, revitalize those languages which have been lost.

"When we lose a language," says David Harrison of the Living Tongues Institute in Oregon, "we lose centuries of human thinking about time, seasons, sea creatures, reindeer, edible flowers, mathematics, landscapes, myths, music, the unknown, and the everyday."

We need a new way of thinking. Language is an essential part of culture. When we learn another language we acquire a deeper understanding of that culture. We are able to communicate at a deeper, more profound level, if we can speak their language; and vice versa: their ability to speak ours. Language is very much a spiritual experience. Many times a meaning, an understanding, can only be expressed in that language, or dialect. For example, the particular use of dialect in “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “Adventures Huckleberry Finn” give the stories a deeper, spiritual, and very essential enrichment that otherwise could not be accomplished. There is not another language that can express the meaning in the same way, not even in pure, correctly written English.

A lack of bilingualism and our destructive racist attitudes are impediments to achievement and the advancement of the American culture that Americans must overcome. It’s a huge tear in the fabric of what is America.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Equivocality of Patriotism

This ridiculous hoopla over the patriotism of Barack and Michelle Obama is sophomoric. It is imbecilic to believe that if one does not wear the flag on their sleeve that it is an indication of their unpatriotic character. Americans, in general, fall prey to media hype for ratings, and political obfuscated rhetorical hyperbole over most issues, including patriotism. As a result America’s leadership and the fourth estate do our country a very grave disservice. They are not “straight shooters.”

Does wearing a flag lapel pin make one a patriot? Does driving a gas- guzzling vehicle around with the flag on the antenna make one a patriot? Does whether one salutes the flag or not make one a patriot? Does saying one is not proud to be an American make one unpatriotic? Does military service or if one is a war veteran make one more patriotic than others? Does not honoring “my country right or wrong” make one unpatriotic? Does a desire to bring troops home from an illegal, immoral, and misguided war, declaring those who do as not supporting our troops, unpatriotic?

The answer is of course not.

Patriotic equivocality is heightened and apparent when we are at war; when there is a political event or an election; when it is Memorial Day or the 4th of July; and when we connect our particular faith with patriotism. Patriotic fervor is particularly at its apex when all of these come together.

The differences in interpretation of patriotism coalesce into two distinctly different mindsets, and can be metaphorically represented by those who think the “Star-Spangled Banner” is more appropriate for America than “America the Beautiful.”

Patriotism is not authentically represented in idolatry or by object value. Patriotism is not being a follower who blindly acquiesces to a nation’s leadership, for that takes the form of Nazism. Patriotism is defined simply as love and devotion to one’s country. Without it being kept in check it can represent good as well as evil. The only way one will ever know whether or not one is a patriot would be to have the ability to read the mind of that individual.

Love and devotion for one’s country must be expressed by telling the country that they are wrong when they are wrong, as much as telling the country that they are right when they are right. The problem is in being able to distinguish between what is right and what is wrong, for this duality can be nebulous. Sometimes distinguishing between right and wrong is easy and sometimes it is not. However, whatever side of a perceived right or wrong one is on should not be a litmus test for one’s patriotism.

That being said however, wrong is always wrong when human action is not concerned with fulfillment, growth, creativity for both the individual and humankind in general; when it does not pursue objective truth with the understanding that new knowledge and experience constantly alter our imperfect perception of it; when it does not have concern for this life and a commitment to making it meaningful through better understanding of ourselves, our history, our intellectual and artistic achievements, and the outlooks of those who differ from us; when it does not search for viable individual, social and political principles of ethical conduct, judging them on their ability to enhance human well-being and individual responsibility; when it does not concern a conviction that with reason, an open exchange of ideas, good will, and tolerance, progress can be made in building a better world for ourselves and our children; and, It is always wrong, inarguably so, when the result of human action causes harm to any life, society, culture, or environment.

“The worst patriots are those who hold certainty dearer than truth, who, in order to spare themselves the pain of thought, are willing to inflict untold sufferings on others. Adolf Eichmann comes to mind.

But if uncritical lovers of their country are the most dangerous of patriots, loveless critics are hardly the best. If you love the good you have to hate evil, else you're sentimental; but if you hate evil more than you love the good, you're a good hater.

Surely the best patriots are those who carry on not a grudge fight but a lover's quarrel with their country. And the main burden of their quarrel in today's and tomorrow's world must be to persuade their fellow citizens that the planet itself is now at risk, and in an order of magnitude never previously even imagined. Hence, everyone's security depends on everyone else's. No one is safe until all are safe.

The ancient Roman Tacitus defined patriotism as entering into praiseworthy competition with our ancestors. I think we should enter into praiseworthy competition with Washington and Jefferson. As they declared their independence from England, let us declare our interdependence with all countries. Beyond saluting the flag, let us pledge allegiance ‘to the earth, and to the flora, fauna and human life that it supports; one planet indivisible, with clean air, soil and water, liberty, justice and peace for all.’

Today our most relevant American patriot might well be Thoreau, who, a hundred years ago, said, ‘I am a citizen of the world first, and of this country at a later and more convenient hour.’”­
– William Sloane Coffin

“We must never relinquish our sense of justice for a false sense of national pride. ‘My country right or wrong’ is neither moral nor intelligent. Patriotism is support for the highest ideals of the nation, not for whoever happens to be in the White House. As citizens we must continue to fight for justice and equality so that we might make a better nation and a better world. We must give credence to our invitation: ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,’ for the character of our nation is rooted in the affirmation of those ideals for all of our people.’” - Jesse L. Jackson

The bottom line of patriotism is rather very simple: a patriot is one whose love and devotion to a country and its people are expressed and represented by an unselfish pursuit of life, liberty and justice for all people in consideration that “we are citizens of the world first.”

And in the words of Abraham Lincoln, “I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives. I like to see a man live so that his place will be proud of him.”