Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Some things should not be for sale (update of "Violence Has Replaced the Ideal of Peace")

On Saturday, August 28, Ultimate Fighting Championship 118 (UFC), a mixed martial arts (MMA) contest, came to Boston’s TD Garden.

In December 2009, Governor Deval Patrick signed legislation that promulgated strict rules governing MMA contests, which heretofore were banned. The new law created a five-member State Athletic Commission charged with the regulation of all professional and amateur boxing, mixed martial arts, and unarmed combat events, which paved the way for UFC 118 to be held in Boston this year. It also eliminated Boston Mayor Menino’s concerns of insufficient regulation.

MMA’s ultimate fighting contests involve two fighters enclosed in a cage who engage in full contact combat. MMA encompasses a wide variety of fighting from a mixture of martial arts: combinations of boxing, kickboxing, judo, wrestling, Brazilian jiu jitsu, Cage Combat, and Toughman. MMA competitions are repugnant, grotesque, and an obscene orgy of violence. A sport described by Arizona Senator John McCain as "human cockfighting."

America’s obsession with violence has sanctioned ultimate fighting. Although stricter regulations are an improvement, nevertheless, for entertainment Massachusetts has reverted to the Roman gladiatorial combat era of the second century BC. America has regressed rather than progressed. Instead of moving forward to restrain and marginalize violence, Massachusetts and America has taken a step backward by legalizing it. Boxing should be illegal, and instead we have upgraded the violence of boxing by legalizing ultimate fighting contests.

UFC’s are profit makers for its organizers, area businesses, and tax revenue for the city and state. Beginning with pay-per-view broadcasts, it is now prevalent in sports venues and in some sport bars across forty-two states. As Mayor Menino representative Dot Joyce said, “The mayor is cautiously optimistic the UFC’s money-making juggernaut will be a boon to the local economy.”

This sport encourages and validates violent behavior. It sets up a path for sociopathic behavior, for actions not bound by guilt, regret, compassion, love, or even fear. Combat fighter competitors resort to violence to injure, weaken, and intimidate opponents. Other professional and amateur athletes similarly use the same method of intimidation: Basketball, Football, Ice Hockey, Rugby, Soccer, Boxing, and Wrestling.

Behavior exchange principles, factors contributing to the presence of violence in sports, inform us that these violent behaviors are learned and imbued, inculcated via fan, media, and cultural attitudes. And by modeling, wherein it can be expected that if your role model practices violence you will likely emulate violence.

But, more importantly, how can we ever expect to achieve world peace if we continue to embrace violence? For all forms of sport and entertainment are, in part, a reflection of culture and its institutions. The Dalai Lama proclaims compassion as the “pillar of world peace.” His Holiness says, “Each individual has a universal responsibility to shape institutions to serve human needs.” That “The pursuit of the objects of our desire and attachment involves the use of aggression and competitiveness as supposedly efficacious instruments.” Moreover, that “these mental processes easily translate into actions, breeding belligerence …. He calls for the need to eliminate “these 'poisons' - delusion, greed, and aggression.” Further proclaiming, “For it is these poisons that are behind almost every trouble in the world.”

In America, it seems more and more that selling the poison of aggression for the sake of monetary gain has replaced the ideal of peace as an enduring entity.

Sport and entertainment markets need to establish moral limits. Some things plainly should not be for sale.

Friday, August 27, 2010

August issue of Townhall Magazine’s Keep the Free Market Alive

The article, “Keep the Free Market Alive,” highlights excerpts from Governor Ronald Reagan’s Hillsdale College speech of November 10, 1977, describing it as a “blistering assault against economic socialism,” attacking “government planned economies as anathema to freedom.” Facetiously the author writes, “Ronald Reagan foreshadowed President Obama's assault against free enterprise.”

Reagan declared that “an economic system that has provided more for more people anything we’ve ever known to solve the problems of unemployment and inflation” has failed because of government intervention. “It's time we recognized that the system, no matter what our problems are, has never failed us once.”

Yet, the system has failed us more than once. Some of those failures of recent memory are the savings and loan crisis of the 80’s; the dotcom bubble burst; the housing bubble burst, and the financial crisis of 2007 that followed. Additionally, Ronald Reagan had 2,036 bank failures during his term in office. However, Reagan is correct; government deregulation was government interference that for a great part has brought the economic problems we are dealing with today.

Reagan stated that those working in the private sector support themselves and their dependents, additionally supporting millions of other Americans who totally depend tax dollars we pay for their year-round living. Saying, “I say this to emphasize that the people working and earning in the private sector are the only resource that government has.”

Reagan should have described it differentially: The only resource that working people in the private sector have is private enterprise; and for those who do not have the where-with-all to earn a livable wage, or those who are infirmed, the only resource they have is government.

And, he said, “But, you know, if you lose your economic freedom, you lose your political freedom, all freedom.”

Reagan, as with conservatives and republicans, failed to understand that those at the mid to bottom classes in our society don’t have any freedoms to lose, because most had none to begin with.

As I see it, the “Great Communicator” and idol of conservatives and republicans, who speak of him with extreme reverence, was not that somewhat folksy, warm, and cuddly “smiling old codger in a cowboy hat” that he was perceived to be. The right reveres Reagan much in the same way as many Americans at onetime admired John Wayne, who, of course, all by himself won the war in the pacific. However, I don’t mean to imply that Ronald Reagan was, as the Free Republic put it, “a mean-spirited simpleton who somehow managed to bungle his way into becoming the most powerful person on earth,” either. He was a wise, politically astute man, an actor who could deliver a nationalistic and patriotic narrative that was ostensibly from the heart, who could not recognize his mistaken judgments.

And, some of Ronald Reagan’s judgments were repulsive. Here are some examples:

Regarding nuclear weapons: “It’s silly talking about how many years we will have to spend in the jungles of Vietnam when we could pave the whole country and put parking strips on it, and still be home by Christmas.”

Regarding the Fair Housing Act: “If an individual wants to discriminate against Negroes or others in selling or renting his house, he has a right to do so.” (a libertarian view more than conservative)

Regarding poverty: “We were told four years ago that 17 million people went to bed hungry every night. Well, that was probably true. They were all on a diet.”

Regarding the expansion of Redwood National Park: “A tree is a tree. How many more do you have to look at?”

Regarding homelessness: "You can't help those who simply will not be helped. One problem that we've had, even in the best of times, is people who are sleeping on the grates, the homeless who are homeless, you might say, by choice."

Regarding the environment: "The American Petroleum Institute filed suit against the EPA [and] charged that the agency was suppressing a scientific study for fear it might be misinterpreted ... The suppressed study reveals that 80 percent of air pollution comes not from chimneys and auto exhaust pipes, but from plants and trees."

One of the hallmarks of Reaganomics, an economic policy calling for widespread tax cuts, decreased social spending, increased military spending, and the deregulation of domestic markets, was labeled “trickle-down economics.” But, in the end, it never did “trickle-down,” economic growth has provided benefits to the wealthiest, but inequality for the rest.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Tom Friedman’s “Really Unusually Uncertain”

Tom Friedman in his article, “Really Unusually Uncertain,” writes we have “to deal with three huge structural problems that built up over several decades and have reached a point of criticality at the same time,” and “That ‘Structural problems need structural solutions.’ There are no quick fixes.”

“The first big structural problem is America’s. America will probably need some added stimulus to kick start employment, but any stimulus right now must be in growth-enabling investments that will yield more than their costs, or they just increase debt. That means investments in skill building and infrastructure plus tax incentives for starting new businesses and export promotion. To get a stimulus through Congress it must be paired with spending cuts and/or tax increases timed for when the economy improves.

“Second, America’s solvency inflection point is coinciding with a technological one.

“Thanks to Internet diffusion, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and the shift from laptops and desktops to hand-held iPads and iPhones, technology is destroying older, less skilled jobs that paid a decent wage at a faster pace than ever while spinning off more new skilled jobs that pay a decent wage but require more education.”

This is something I addressed in a post “There will be no choice; our money-based economic system must change” in which I linked a Fortune Magazine article, “What if there’s no fix for high unemployment?” The article puts forth the well-founded proposition that unemployment may remain high into the unforeseeable future. He forecast it might never rebound to acceptable levels. Unemployment is a structural problem

“Third, a decade ago Germany was the ‘sick man of Europe.’ Labor gave up wage hikes and allowed businesses to improve competitiveness and worker flexibility, while the government subsidized firms to keep skilled workers on the job in the downturn. Germany is now on the rise, but also not free of structural challenges. Its growth depends on exports to China and it is the biggest financier of Greece. Still, ‘Germany is no longer the country with the oldest students and youngest retirees.‘”

Today’s circumstances are not a product of the Obama Administration nor essentially the Bush’s Administration, although the latter did make things worse, leaving the Obama Administration with a bad situation made even worse. Once we understand that a large portion of our economic quagmire is not governmental, political or a result of mandated free market controls but structural, we can address solutions to the problem.

Read Tom Friedman’s article here

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

State-Sanctioned Marriage Is An Outmoded Concept (updated 8/22/2010)

In 2008, voters passed the California Marriage Protection Act, an act recognizing marriage as only between a man and a woman. This month a federal appeals court blocked an earlier federal court’s ruling that would have made California's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. The outcome could bring the issue before the U.S. Supreme Court. Moreover, if the Court upholds the ban there is a risk the Roberts’ Court could make marriage equality laws in states like Massachusetts invalid. Whichever way a court may decide, the issue will continue to be a vastly divisive, unnecessary controversy.

Across America, like California, the assault on marriage inequality has been a debate over its constitutionality and opposition based on a belief that marriage is exclusive to one man with one woman. However, neither should be considered as central to the issue, for what is central to the issue is state-sanctioned marriage itself.

There is no history of when the first marriage occurred; but most likely occurred once man read the story of God taking Adam’s rib to create Eve. In the beginning women simply had children, progressing to marriage by simple affirmation (a family affair), and later by religious authority, evolving to the state granting marriage licenses with affirmation by a religious or civil authority.

In ancient times, tribes needed an environment conducive to safeguarding and perpetuating their lineage, and rules on granting property rights (women were considered property). It had to do with ethnic identity, preserving social hierarchy, property rights, and inheritance. Love was nothing more than an abstract notion.

“The Sixties” became the impetus for significant social and cultural change, but the perspective up to that time had been that women were created to be subservient, not equal or a counterpart to men. Therefore, thanks to Adam and Eve, marriage was a social contract imbued by religious values dictating that men reign supreme, and that a wife should look to her man for guidance in all things.

Today, there are gender-based partnerships and cohabitations other than marriage that need to be granted rights and protections. Even though the heterosexual act of procreation is important to our evolution, that relationship should not interfere with other relationships such as a man and woman cohabitating, partnerships of a man befriending a man or a woman befriending a woman, or the cohabitation of homosexuals. They should be afforded the same rights and protections as heterosexual marriages.

Since the social revolution of “The Sixties,” this has been the outcome of a world that has significantly changed. A change that has created paradigm shifts in thinking. A world in which safeguarding means more than protecting possessions and bloodlines; it is now a world where love and compassion define relationships. We have acquired greater knowledge of which has come a diversification of ideas and an open-mindedness that has rejected old taboos. Moreover, a financially dependant, fast-paced world where each spouse now need careers, where spousal separation for long periods may be necessary because of conflicting work hours, business travel and relocation, has stressed families and generated high divorce rates. As a result, men and women are living together and creating families outside of wedlock. For financial, and other reasons, more and more men and women are partnering or cohabitating and sharing their lives.

Consequently, state-sanctioned marriage has lost its suitableness and usefulness.

It seems to me, if at death one can legally will their special person or pet animal in life any monetary or physical accommodation they may wish, why then, in life can’t we find a way legally, comprehensively, and universally to accommodate all categories of partnerships or cohabitation to the same legal status as marriage.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Star Parker’s “Ground Zero” Mosque is a Mistake

In her column for Townhall.com, Star Parker writes, “The ‘Ground Zero’ Mosque project should not go forward . . . .

She acknowledges it’s fine and well that its purpose is to improve freedom, tolerance, and Muslim-West relations, but, commenting further on a New York Times article that stated, opposition to the Mosque is being portrayed as abandoning “the principles of freedom and tolerance,” and, that “The attacks of September 11 were not a religious event,” she says emphatically, “Americans don’t need any lessons about freedom and tolerance,” as well as saying, in effect, that 9/11 was a religious event.

Parker is wrong. Americans do need lessons about freedom and tolerance. Just look at our history with ethnic bigotry against people of color, immigrants, and now Muslims. But to the point here, if our vision was authentically American then the majority in America would embrace freedom of religion and there would not be a predominance of opposition to a mosque at Ground Zero, or its divisive debate. Parker concludes that the extremist of 9/11 held the views of mainstream Islam. This is no truer than to say that all Catholics are essentially to blame for the Oklahoma City federal building bombing because Timothy McVeigh and his mom and dad were Catholics.

The director of the Anti Defamation League (ADL), Abraham Foxman, embraces the view that victims of 9/11 have feelings that need to be respected. The ADL is a foundation who declares that it is dedicated to combating anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry and yet has abandoned principles of freedom and tolerance as it pertains to the Islamic religion. As Newsweek and CNN's Fareed Zakaria expressed it, “First of all, there were many dozens of victims of 9/11 who were Muslim. Do their feelings count? More important, are irrational feelings, prejudices, hatreds OK because those expressing them are victims or see themselves as victims? Will the ADL defend the rights of Palestinian ‘victims’ to be anti-Semites?

“The debate over the proposed community center to be built a few blocks away from the World Trade Center has missed this fundamentally important point. The man behind it, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, has spent years trying to offer a liberal interpretation of Islam. His most recent book, ‘What's Right With Islam is What's Right With America,’ argues that America is actually what an ideal Islamic society would look like because it is peaceful, tolerant, and pluralistic. Now, there is of course the much more fundamental issue, freedom of religion in America, which is a founding principle of this country.”

Other than New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s articulate defense of which Parvez Ahmed calls, in “Any Common Ground in the Ground Zero Mosque' Debate? . . . a speech of the ages,” on Sunday, August 8th, the most significant stance was taken by Fareed Zakaria when he returned an award he had received from ADL in 2005. He said, “I have to say I was personally deeply saddened by the ADL's stand, because five years ago the organization honored me with its Hubert Humphrey Award for First Amendment freedoms. Given the position that they have taken on a core issue of religious freedom in America, I cannot in good conscience keep that award. So this week I'm going to return to the ADL the handsome medal and the generous honorarium that came with it. I hope this might spur them to see that they have made a mistake, and to return to their historic, robust defense of freedom of religion in America, something they have subscribed to for decades and which I honor them for.”

Mayor Bloomberg succinctly framed the issue by saying, “Whatever you may think of the proposed mosque and community center, lost in the heat of the debate has been a basic question: Should government attempt to deny private citizens the right to build a house of worship on private property based on their particular religion? That may happen in other countries, but we should never allow it to happen here.”

Publications such as Townhall magazine and columnist such as Star Parker, media broadcast such as Fox News and their signature program hosts Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck, and republican party interlocutors such as Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich do nothing to add to a better understanding of this issue or to make this a better country; they only bring our country down.

Myth of Spanish history or not, Americans need to adopt the principle of La Convivencia ("the Coexistence"), embracing an interplay of cultural ideas and religious tolerance. Without it, there is no hope for world peace.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Creating a Fearful and Anxious America

Since September 11, 2001, print and electronic media, radio and television news, as well as government propagandist have disseminated catastrophic worst-case scenarios of what terrorist could accomplish if given the opportunity. They have provided all of the details: how the terrorist devises, or would-be devices such as a nuclear device concealed in a briefcase, are made, to the manner of death in all of its descriptive gore, and the number of lives that potentially could be lost.

In 2003, a new Department of Homeland Security introduced a color-coded Advisory System. It was designed to put into place actions to be taken by federal, state, and local governments in response to a terrorist threat. The system associated a certain risk with a certain color code: Severe (red): severe risk, High (orange): high risk, Elevated (yellow): significant risk, Guarded (blue): general risk, Low (green): low risk.

The media tagged it with “terror alert level." The media kept track of the threat level broadcasting the high risks code of the day. The media was doing what it does best: selling fear in order to boost ratings.

These actions, and other actions and statements such as Bush’s National Security adviser Condoleezza Rice’s statement, “We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud,” have made Americans fearful and anxious.

Andrew Bacevich, in his article, Giving Up On Victory, Not War, writes, “All this has, in turn, been driven by Fear Inc. To fuel its profitable if cancerous growth, it has vastly exaggerated the relatively minor and largely manageable danger of Islamic terrorism -- since 9/11, above shark attacks but way below drunken-driving accidents -- among the many far more serious dangers this country faces.”

Bacevich criticizes that at great expense we are tracking and hunting down “a rag-tag terrorist outfit with a couple of thousand members, including modest-sized groups in countries like Yemen and small numbers of individual wannabe errorists like the ‘underwear bomber,’” which “has been remarkably unsuccessful.”

“Fear Inc” has been successful at convincing Americans that government must do what ever is necessary to make America secure, even if it means violating our Constitution to accomplish that end. Even if it means abandoning what America has said it stands for: human rights. They will argue, after all, just think of the nightmarish holocaust a suicide bomber with a dirty bomb charged with a nuclear device or with chemical and biological weapons could cause.

At the end of the day, the American government propagandist and media have done nothing more than to create a fearful and anxious citizenry, and they have done it purposefully. The outgrowth of fear is the inculcation that there is an urgent need to circumvent International Law, the dictates of the Geneva Convention, and to abandon certain American liberties, all in the name of security at an unacceptable cost to the taxpayer. Overall it has created an amorphous behemoth, which has been under accelerated expansion since 9/11. It has initiated a growth industry for private intelligence and security industries under contract with the federal government. The creation of fear also has, at least up to recently, given endorsement to a foreign policy of belligerence and the government permission to conduct, with very little opposition, two wars, one being the longest in United States history.

According to a Washington Post article, “Top Secret America,” by Dana Priest and William Arkin, a two-year investigation report of “a hidden world, growing beyond control … and lacking in thorough oversight,” states that “After nine years of unprecedented spending and growth, the result is that the system put in place to keep the United States safe is so massive that its effectiveness is impossible to determine.

“The top-secret world the government created in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows [precisely] how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work.”

The investigation reports that there are some 1,271-government organizations and 1,931 private companies working on counterterrorism, homeland security, and intelligence programs, which are located in about 10,000 locations and employ 854,000. The report reveals, in D.C., 33 building complexes are under construction or have been built since September 2001; It’s the equivalent of 3 Pentagons or 22 U.S. Capitol buildings. It states further, “The U.S. intelligence budget is vast, publicly announced last year as $75 billion, 2 1/2 times the size it was on Sept. 10, 2001. But the figure doesn't include many military activities or domestic counterterrorism programs.”

The American Conservative writes, “The Post series begins to fill in the canvas, and it’s staggering how big the pile of spaghetti actually is. But what’s even more disappointing (but perhaps unsurprising) is the anecdotal evidence pointing to the negative effects of close collaboration between senior government officials and private contractors. It not only causes the massive waste of public funds, but encourages elites in large sectors of the government and the corporate world to overstate threats to national security. At one party (I mean “conference”) for defense and intelligence officials hosted by the corporate world, ‘Kevin P. Meiners, a deputy undersecretary for intelligence, gave the audience what he called ‘the secret sauce,’ the key to thriving even when the Defense Department budget eventually stabilizes and stops rising so rapidly. ‘Overhead,’ Meiners told them -- that’s what’s going to get cut first. Overhead used to mean paper clips and toner. Now it’s information technology, IT, the very products and services sold by the businesspeople in the audience. ‘You should describe what you do as a weapons system, not overhead,’ Meiners instructed. ‘Overhead to them -- I’m giving you the secret sauce here -- is IT and people. . . . You have to foot-stomp hard that this is a war-fighting system that’s helping save people’s lives every day.’”

The latter is certainly indicative that Americans should not be taken in by such statements because it is only meant to generate fear and to obfuscate the private contractors authentic mission: profiteering; and that this is abetted by media generated government propaganda to make Americans fearful and anxious in order to coerce them to do and accept things they would not do normally.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Mayor Bloomberg: There Are “No Off-Limits To God's Love and Mercy”

Despite dissent from families of those who lost their lives, and many other New Yorkers and concerned Americans, which created a very heated debate, the New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission approved the plan by the Muslim community to build an Islamic cultural center/Mosques, at a location known as Park51, two blocks north of Ground Zero, site of the World Trade Center holocaust.

I wrote in a previous post, “The presence of A Mosque at Ground Zero could promote healing and interfaith tolerance. It also is a clear statement that America is what it claims to be. Critical thinking on the issue should inform anyone that, yes, the terrorists were Muslim, but that their actions were not consistent with the teachings of Islam no more than pedophilia is consistent with the teachings of Catholicism.”

So, I am pleased that the Landmarks Preservation Commission voted to allow the Muslim-led project, Cordoba House, to move forward with their plan.

New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg spoke of the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission’s decision and the city’s support for the proposed mosque and community center just blocks from the World Trade Center site.

The Mayor’s speech from all appearances was a sincere and deeply felt expression of what was in his heart. All those in New York City should be proud to live in a place whose leadership embraces a stance where “there is no neighborhood in this city that is off-limits to God's love and mercy.”

The following are the parts of the Mayor’s speech that were particularly poignant:

“This nation was founded on the principle that the government must never choose between religions or favor one over another. The World Trade Center site will forever hold a special place in our city, in our hearts. But we would be untrue to the best part of ourselves and who we are as New Yorkers and Americans if we said no to a mosque in lower Manhattan.

“Let us not forget that Muslims were among those murdered on 9/11, and that our Muslim neighbors grieved with us as New Yorkers and as Americans. We would betray our values and play into our enemies' hands if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else. In fact, to cave to popular sentiment would be to hand a victory to the terrorists, and we should not stand for that.

"For that reason, I believe that this is an important test of the separation of church and state as we may see in our lifetimes, as important a test. And it is critically important that we get it right.

"On Sept. 11, 2001, thousands of first responders heroically rushed to the scene and saved tens of thousands of lives. More than 400 of those first responders did not make it out alive. In rushing into those burning buildings, not one of them asked, 'What God do you pray to?' 'What beliefs do you hold?'

"The attack was an act of war, and our first responders defended not only our city, but our country and our constitution. We do not honor their lives by denying the very constitutional rights they died protecting. We honor their lives by defending those rights and the freedoms that the terrorists attacked.

"Muslims are as much a part of our city and our country as the people of any faith. And they are as welcome to worship in lower Manhattan as any other group. In fact, they have been worshipping at the site for better, the better part of a year, as is their right. The local community board in lower Manhattan voted overwhelmingly to support the proposal. And if it moves forward, I expect the community center and mosque will add to the life and vitality of the neighborhood and the entire city.

"Political controversies come and go, but our values and our traditions endure, and there is no neighborhood in this city that is off-limits to God's love and mercy, as the religious leaders here with us can attest."

Immigration (illegal or not), our diversity, and our open door to anyone who is willing to take that personal risk of venturing into a new country, who has a vision and willingness to participate and contribute to our culture is America’s narrative, it’s the story of us.