Monday, June 28, 2010

In reality a majority are disengaged Americans

We criticize BP’s Hayward for attending a yacht race and Obama for playing golf, while the tragedy of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill continues unabated. We mock President Obama for not getting mad at BP. All of this as if getting mad or showing some emotion will make a difference, or something will be accomplished if only Hayward and Obama spent their days in the Gulf of Mexico. How does being “at least pretending to be more concerned” effective?

I suppose his critics will say that he should not have attended the G8 summit in Toronto, or perhaps they will ridicule his frivolous display with other G8 leaders. Will they say it reveals that Obama really has no concern for the plight of those affected by the oil spill?

Then you have the cries of those who complain that the President should take control, be hands-on, in directing the clean-up efforts in the Gulf, and directly supervise BP. What happen to the cries of government interference in private enterprise? Or the opining of republicans who say, “Let the free market do what it does best, which is to solve problems.” Oh, really!

C’mon, just who is kidding who here!

The accusation that, from the first day of the spill, he personally should have been in communication with BP’s CEO, or that the President put too much trust in BP to tell him just how much oil was leaking, is evidence of a lack of perceptiveness on the part of his accusers. It’s important for a manager, administrator, or the President of the United States to delegate the responsibility for planning, organizing, staffing, and controlling down the chain of command. The President does have responsibility for oversight and putting controls in place in order to assert progress toward objectives The Gulf Oil Spill is not the only situation that lands on his desk. He took the opinion of BP, at the time, because they were the ones responsible and had the tools and expertise to address the tragedy immediately, and the only ones with the tools capable of measuring the amount of oil being gushed into the Gulf.

Such ignorance on the part of Obama’s dissenters is mind-boggling.

The put-down of President Obama that his Tuesday evening speech on the oil spill did not address long-term planning is false. He did. He named Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, a former Mississippi governor, to head a long-term restoration program. In his speech he expressed the need to expedite an energy bill, which is now making its way threw the Senate and is decades overdue. The President said, “For decades, we have known the days of cheap and easily accessible oil were numbered. For decades, we’ve talked and talked about the need to end America’s century-long addiction to fossil fuels. And for decades, we have failed to act with the sense of urgency that this challenge requires. Time and again, the path forward has been blocked -- not only by oil industry lobbyists, but also by a lack of political courage and candor.”

The long-term solution to this crisis lays with how every American conduct their lives. We must conserve and demand a change in direction by government and corporations. Americans must make sacrifices to solve our addiction to oil. That is, and perhaps even more so, our responsibility as much as it is corporate or government.

Oh, and then we have Joe Barton, a republican from Texas, who called the agreement reached between the Obama administration and BP to set aside a $20 billion escrow fund to compensate victims of the oil spill a government shakedown. Representative Barton said to BP’s Hayward that he was, "ashamed that a private company would be subjected to what I would characterize as a shakedown, in this case a $20 billion shakedown." And, not surprisingly, Barton’s remarks have the support of his party.

In regard to criticism of Obama’s response versus Bush’s Katrina is equally ridiculous. My criticism of Bush’s Katrina, and that of many others, was not based on the time it took him to visit New Orleans, but rather the blatant disregard by government and FEMA of the plight of indigent Americans, which in New Orleans so happened to be significantly African Americans.

It is strictly partisan opposition to President Obama’s efforts in the Gulf. It calls into question the sincerity, veracity, and credibility of their mockery, especially in an election year where republicans hope to overturn the majority.

All of this, and yet in the midst of two wars – Afghanistan qualifying as the longest war in United States history— Americans continue to conduct their lives seemingly oblivious to the catastrophe to which they have exposed American men and women of our armed forces.

They will wear ribbons on lapels, display ribbons on their cars, and organize community groups branded with the “support our troops” slogan while disparagingly putting-down anyone who expresses the hopelessness of these wars and the desire to bring troops home. As if sending a soldier candy, toothpaste or razorblades are “supporting our troops.” As if trying to save their lives and bring them home is not supporting them, but sending more to be killed somehow is showing support for them.

Life goes on. Regardless of the tragedy in the Gulf and our two wars, Americans go about their business attending sports games, playing golf, gambling at their favorite casino, beaching, and participating in all forms of entertainment. Americans park themselves on the couch and become enthralled in Oprah, Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, a reality show, award show, or a soap opera. I wonder how many Americans actually listen to a President Obama speech, but rather turn to “The Biggest Loser” instead, depending on Fox News, Limbaugh, Hannity or Beck, or some other soft news station to inform them. Their interest in this frivolity supersedes all else.

We will go about celebrating the Red, White, and Blue on the Fourth without any thought or expression of concern over the Gulf Oil Spill, or that Americans are fighting wars in Iraq or Afghanistan.

It seems a disproportionate number of Americans pursue self-gratification, and become engrossed in self–aggrandizement. They ignorantly look for immediacy, no matter the complexity of any situation. To the extent they are able to purchase that gas-guzzler, large home, or purchase that toy du jour, or freedom to make it party-time is how they measure their success in life, the extent of their liberty, and measure their happiness. They evaluate others based on their stardom. To them the entertainment and enlightenment of a Beck or Limbaugh is worthy enough to qualify being called an informed American.

Those Americans really don’t have a heartfelt concern for the ecology or the folks of the Gulf, or the Americans fighting our wars, unless it’s a son or daughter they really don’t give a hoot. To the extent there is a discussion and concern seems to be more involved over the dog-and-pony show of politics. They are in essence disengaged.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

“The Blueprint” -- A piece of Yellow Journalism written by, and for the self-interest of, conservatives.

A Roadmap for American Renewal,” a column posted in, by Star Parker is a promotional treatise for a new book, “The Blueprint: Obama’s Plan to Subvert the Constitution and Build an Imperial Presidency”, by Ken Blackwell and Ken Klukowski, a tome written in yellow journalistic style.

Blackwell and Klukowski have based their book on the 2008 University of Missouri proclamation by then candidate Barack Obama, “We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America.” Blackwell says, as President, Obama is consistently pursuing his vision of fundamentally transforming our country, and he must be stopped. Ostensibly, “The Blueprint” tells how.

I could not find a transcript of that speech. I found a 10-second video on YouTube of candidate Obama reciting only that quote. It is out of context, and for one to discern its meaning, it would have to be understood in the greater context of the speech. However, I am certain that he used it in the context of his campaign message slogan “Change You Can Believe In.” To use this small piece of video to promote the notion that Obama is stealthily subverting the Constitution is disingenuous.

Blackwell writes, “He’s building an imperial presidency, wielding powers far beyond those granted to him by the Constitution and seizing power that the Constitution denies the government from ever possessing, trampling on the liberty of Americans in the process.”

An “Imperial Presidency” has the following characteristics: A disregard for the Constitution regarding the power of the Congress to declare war and its funding; excessive reliance on so-called “Czars”; secrecy and the use of executive privilege to circumvent inquiry; and converting politics into a form of political warfare.

Presidents Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and George W. Bush expansively used their war and budget powers. Secrecy and executive privilege have been relied on by several Presidents, including Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan. George. W. Bush accumulated 35 and Obama 32 Czars.

Star Parker says there is a “… national renewal movement - a search and discovery mission by Americans to restate and restore those first principles that define us.” She says, “part of what is bothering so many is a sense that now in our current mess because of wholesale loss of appreciation that we even have first principles that uniquely define us, let alone understanding what they are.”

Of course, she describes those first principles as life, liberty, and property (favoring the Locke’s trilogy of natural rights rather than what the founders intended, “the pursuit of happiness) as the role of government to protect.

It’s true, there is not an appreciation for those “first principles,” but that’s because there was never an understanding of their genesis in the first place. If one is a realist, they understand that the framers of our nation were affluent white men. Their purpose in forming a new government was not to be altruistic or founded in a belief that human beings are born free with equal dignity and rights, but rather it was to make certain that folks like themselves enjoyed life, liberty, and that there was no interference in their pursuit of happiness. The Constitution did not apply to the indigent, Native Americans, or women, nor did it embrace the abolishment of slavery.

Parker writes, “Blackwell and Klukowski show that the departure point defining American exceptionalism is a nation rooted in God-given first truths and our constitution that defines a federal government, with limited and enumerated powers, that preserves and secures those truths.”

“American Exceptionalism” has not served America to its betterment. The Bible and anything claimed to be God-given has been devised by man. Man, not God, has determined what the natural rights are and how they should be applied. Declarations made in the name of God are always exploited to serve the self-interest of the man or system who employees that designation.

President Obama said, “Before I was even inaugurated congressional leaders of the other party got together and made a calculation that if I failed, they’d win.” A strategy of promoting a hostile environment for a failed presidency is what and this book attempts to do.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The absurdity of the Gulf oil spill criticism

What ticks me off is the preposterous criticism of President Obama’s Tuesday oil spill speech. I would expect Sarah Palin, Fox News, and those other folks from the right to vilify the President. That’s par for the course. I would expect the folks who live in the Gulf region to be vociferous. After all, that spill is in their backyard. However, the criticism goes above and beyond these expectations, it seems American dissent from all quarters are putting-down his efforts.

From a Washington Post article, Susan Jacoby writes, “The chorus of voices--left, right and center--mocking Obama for talking about long-term roots and long-term solutions attests to the dearth of logical thinking that lies at the heart of every major, seemingly insoluble problem in this country. We have a president who, whatever disagreements one has with him, tries to think before he speaks and-- occasional appeals to the Almighty notwithstanding--generally tries to call on reason and offers his fellow citizens the unearned compliment of addressing them as if they were reasonable too. What a poor excuse for a leader! Bring on the tears and curses.”

In an email I received, the question was asked: Is this an example of leadership from our President? Of course, it is leadership. You might not agree with his administrative style in handling the catastrophe, or his cool demeanor may bring into question his commitment, but he has provided leadership.

I was asked, “What do I think of his speech? Disappointedly, I think it was a poor attempt simply to satisfy his critics. There was nothing new in the speech that in general he has not previously stated. Okay, so he didn’t layout some grand plan and he could perhaps have been more assertive. Nevertheless, in answer to the criticism that he has not gotten mad or shown some emotion on the issue, Fareed Zakaria, CNN’s GPS, has a great response.

And, as far as criticism of the Minerals Management Service (MMS) is concerned: Why would anyone unreasonably expect after decades of lax regulation that MMS would be turned-around in a year and a half. In the grand scheme of things, especially in view of political barriers, a year and a half is not a very long time. What occurred here is not different from the Wall Street or housing debacle – a failure to regulate. Moreover, it seems hypocritical that there is an expectation here of the President to do that for which he was denigrated by the right when he intervened in the private sector in attempt to prevent an economic disaster.

This Time Is Different is a column by Tom Friedman in which he supported the view expressed in a personal letter to the editor of the Beaufort Gazette in South Carolina by his friend, Mark Mykleby, who wrote, “This isn’t BP’s or Transocean’s fault. …. It’s my fault because I haven’t digested the world’s in-your-face hints that maybe I ought to think about the future and change the unsustainable way I live my life.”

The real world endemic causes of this disaster, its “long-term roots,” are that Americans and government are profligate and reactionary; that Americans expect immediacy. Americans and government will extravagantly spend until the well’s run dry. The American people are not willing to make sacrifices and conserve. Americans continue to buy gas-guzzlers even though they have no personal commercial purpose to do so. Personal and political self-gratification rules the day. America expects problems to be solved by 6 o’clock tomorrow morning, and don’t want to hear about “long-term solutions” or how we must plan for the future. Americans simply cannot look -- nor have the desire -- beyond the length of their collective noses in an effort to understand potential risks. And, Americans and their government tend to react after the horse has left the barn instead of preventing the horse from escaping from the barn in the first place.

Susan Jacoby’s, Tom Friedman’s, and Mark Mykleby’s conclusions are right on the money. All of us should accept the blame for the BP oil catastrophe because we culturally have accepted, by our acquiescence, the conditions that made it possible.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Education and Reduced Speeds Are Greater Deterrents than a Mandatory Seatbelt Law

To his last broadcast in 1998, I was a regular listener of the Jerry Williams program, Boston’s “Dean of Talk Radio”, and muckraker extraordinaire. As Howie Carr of the Boston Herald once surmised, I do remember sitting in the driveway, not wanting to turn off the ignition because I was “annoyed” (one of Jerry’s signature words) over, or enthralled in, the discussion.

I have great appreciation for Jerry Williams. I did not always agree, many times he ruffled my feathers, but, whatever the issue, my impression was always that he deeply cared. It never seemed to be about ratings.

Then there was Grace, Queen of the Cockamamies, a regular caller to Jerry’s program who provided great comic relief whenever Grace and Jerry bantered.

But, putting comedy aside, Jerry was an indomitable opponent on issues close to his heart. In 1986, he was infuriated over a Massachusetts law that mandatorily required drivers and passengers to use seatbelts. He led a campaign to repeal this law, and his supporters collected signatures to place a repeal question on the November ballot. Consequently, a veto referendum of the statute succeeded. His leadership was one of Jerry’s legendary achievements.

Eventually, as Jerry predicted, the law was reinstated in 1994. Under that law, all seatbelt violations are secondary offenses. Since then, attempts have been made to make seatbelt law violations a primary enforcement.

Recently, Massachusetts Democratic State Senator Patricia Jehlen sponsored a bill making seatbelt compliance mandatory. Fortunately, it has not advanced beyond the Joint Public Safety Committee.

Is it that lives could be saved, or is it as viewed by Republican Representative George Peterson, “… something of a federal blackmail issue." States that implement primary enforcement are eligible for nearly $14 million in federal money, which could be a greater incentive to lawmakers than the mandatory seatbelt law predictions of lives saved.

In my life, I have had two significant automobile accidents. On a Bethel, S.C., highway in 1960, as a passenger in a van that tipped over, I was ejected out of the passenger side window. Other than lacerations, I was not seriously injured. And, in 1964 at about 2:00 in the morning, I rear-ended a car in the passing lane just before route 3’s exit 13, rolled down a 50-foot embankment and slammed into a tree (the driver had been at a Christmas Party, and on his way home, he parked there and fell asleep). I was cascaded to the passenger side floor. I eventually forced the door open and pulled my way out. My injuries were serious, but I was alive. In retrospect, in either accident, if I had been wearing a seatbelt it would have probably caused greater injury, or very possibly, it could have been fatal. So, my perception of any seatbelt safety declaration is ambiguous.

Being that as it may, excessive speed, distracted driving, or other driver incompetence cause accidents. Mandatory seatbelt laws are reactionary; they do not solve root causes. What should be done is a better job of educating motorists, and zero tolerance of DUI.

Through education, reducing highway speeds to within reasonable limits (55 mph or so), and improving the structural integrity of automobiles, we would proactively go much further to marginalizing the tragedy on our roadways.

We do not have Jerry Williams, who died in 2003, or anyone who has clout in the public square to lead Massachusetts out of another attack on our freedom. No one else except the power of we the people, which, by Jerry’s example, should be exercised in every state that mandatory seatbelt legislation is under consideration.

However, if seatbelts must be a part of our life, then as Jerry proclaimed, “…wear them, but do it voluntarily."

Thursday, June 10, 2010

In Memory of Robert F. Kennedy

June 6 was the forty-second anniversary of the death of Robert F. Kennedy, who was assassinated shortly after midnight on June 5, 1968 in Los Angeles, California. What the nation lost at that moment was a genuine leader who eloquently spoke out in support of civil rights, peace, the eradication of poverty and the abolishment of war.

Robert F. Kennedy had a deep-seated concern and a passion to “make gentle the life of this world.”

He said,

“If we believe that we, as Americans, are bound together by a common concern for each other, then an urgent national priority is upon us. We must begin to end the disgrace of this other America. And this is one of the great tasks of leadership for us, as individuals and citizens this year. But even if we act to erase material poverty, there is another greater task, it is to confront the poverty of satisfaction - purpose and dignity - that afflicts us all. Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our Gross National Product, now, is over $800 billion dollars a year, but that Gross National Product - if we judge the United States of America by that - that Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities. It counts Whitman's rifle and Speck's knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children. Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.”

Robert F. Kennedy’s concern and passion for improving the human condition was brought front and center on the evening of April 4th, 1968 in Indianapolis, Indiana. On that occasion of the assassination of Martin Luther King, an extraordinary moment occurred when he, against the advice of police, climbed a platform and informed a gathering of largely African Americans of Martin Luther King’s death, and extemporaneously gave this speech:

Ladies and Gentlemen - I'm only going to talk to you just for a minute or so this evening. Because...

I have some very sad news for all of you, and I think sad news for all of our fellow citizens, and people who love peace all over the world, and that is that Martin Luther King was shot and was killed tonight in Memphis, Tennessee.

Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and to justice between fellow human beings. He died in the cause of that effort. In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it's perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in.

For those of you who are black - considering the evidence evidently is that there were white people who were responsible - you can be filled with bitterness, and with hatred, and a desire for revenge.

We can move in that direction as a country, in greater polarization - black people amongst blacks, and white amongst whites, filled with hatred toward one another. Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand and to comprehend, and replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand, compassion and love.

For those of you who are black and are tempted to be filled with hatred and mistrust of the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I would only say that I can also feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man.

But we have to make an effort in the United States, we have to make an effort to understand, to get beyond these rather difficult times.

My favorite poet was Aeschylus. He once wrote: "Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God."

What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.

So I ask you tonight to return home, to say a prayer for the family of Martin Luther King, yeah that's true, but more importantly to say a prayer for our own country, which all of us love - a prayer for understanding and that compassion of which I spoke. We can do well in this country. We will have difficult times. We've had difficult times in the past. And we will have difficult times in the future. It is not the end of violence; it is not the end of lawlessness; and it's not the end of disorder.

But the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings that abide in our land.

Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.

Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people."

When we lost Martin and Bobby, we lost not only two giants among men who possessed wisdom, probity, and good hearts, but we also lost their promise of a better country and world.

Robert F. Kennedy once said, “Some men see things as they are and ask why I dream things that never were and ask why not.” In order to make this a better world in which to live and raise our children, all of humanity must embrace this perspective. For starters, why not a moneyless world where poverty would not exist and where education throughout life and adequate healthcare would be available for all; why not an organized force ( military conversion) devoted to helping people rather than killing people, as we should in Afghanistan by helping them grow crops other than poppy, and promoting education; why not “make gentle the life of this world,” a life “dedicated …to love and to justice between fellow human beings.”

Saturday, June 5, 2010

“Beneath the beauty of the lilies lies the ugliness of war”

James Carroll and I often agree on many things, particularly when it comes to the waste, futility, absurdity, cruelty, calamity, and immorality of war. His writing often buttresses my thought. In a Memorial Day piece, “Remembering the heroes, victims,” he writes the same sentiment I express in “Thoughts and Reflections of Memorial Day 2010.” He writes, “Indeed, the most fitting tribute that can be paid to those who made the ultimate sacrifice is a full reckoning with what that sacrifice actually cost — not just the fallen and their families, but the larger community that was deprived of the social contributions they would otherwise have made.”

Of concurrent significance, are those American men and women wounded, disfigured and disabled both mentally and physically, some with horrifyingly invisible wounds, to whom we also owe our remembrance.

In addition, we immortalize America’s war dead without acknowledgement of what the military euphemistically calls “collateral damage.” The unintended deaths of men, women, and children who were innocent victims of war, who suffered unrecoverable wounds, and who were also deprived of their futures and the social contributions they would otherwise have made to their nation, communities, and families as well.

“Just because we necessarily make something noble of war, by thinking gratefully of those who served to the point of death, does not remove the indictment of what killed them.” James Carroll continues, “War is a crime. Among its victims are its heroes. Yet in the modern era, they have been vastly outnumbered by men, women, and children for whom war was only catastrophic, in no way valorous. Memorial Day belongs to that legion of the dead also.”

As James Carroll points out, perhaps war’s most unsung casualty, in this context, is the future. So, not only on Memorial Day, but Veterans Day or on any other day that we acknowledge the service of our veterans, it should also serve as a reminder of a world that might have been.

For “Beneath the beauty of the lilies” as James Carroll metaphorically puts it, “lies the ugliness of war.”

But every American in a certain sense is a casualty of war.

Every American has been encultured with the false belief that our wars have been fought to preserve our freedom. We have been hoodwinked into thinking that war is necessary because we fight against an evil of one kind or another guided by divine providence over which the United States has the sole authority and responsibility to eradicate. The guiding principle of American exceptionalism dictates “a moral certitude that the killing is just.”

If one is a realist, they understand that the United States has never fought a war to preserve American freedom (1). The American Revolution was fought to free the colonies from British rule, not necessarily to protect the colonist from the same oppression within. In 1781 the U.S. Constitution secured the lives, liberties and properties of affluent white men -- women, Native Americans, the indigent, and persons of color did not apply. It also provided for a strong central government with the power to tax and regulate commerce. As James Carroll explains, “The Civil War began, on the northern side, as a war for union, not abolition of slavery.” And as it has been with every war, it has been about expansionism (imperialism/colonialism) and consumptionism. Americans perceive their personal freedom from America’s ability to acquire access to greater resources, and their freedom confirmed when their insatiable quest for more is met. American freedom equates to greater personal power and control. James Carroll as well as I see “war as trading human life for power, profit, and glory.”

This is one of the major indictments of America to which James Carroll writes,:”[we must] remove the indictment of what killed them.” This requires a new way of thinking: a paradigm shift in perception and abandonment of ideology for the sake of humanity.

“The human longing for an end to war must be revivified generation in and generation out — not just as a dream, but as a mandate. The waste, futility, and cruelty of war must focus our perceptions of it.” – James Carroll

(1) Arguably, World War II might be considered by some as a war fought to preserve our freedom. However, the United States never entered the war in Europe and in the Pacific with the explicit motive of preserving our freedom. Japan was a member of the military alliance named the Axis Powers lead by Germany. With the attack on Pearl Harbor, we declared war on Japan. But that war was fought to prevent expansionism in the pacific and Asia. As a result of our declaration on a member state of the Axis, Germany declared war on us. We reluctantly fought that war with European allies to contain German expansionism (to preserve Europe’s territorial and economic freedom). F.D.R. never entertained, except maybe rhetorically, entering into war with the Axis Powers to preserve America’s freedom.