Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Liberal Democrat -- Some Things Just Don’t Change!

Horatio H Daub was a man of stature in the early to mid 20th century community of Pembroke, Massachusetts. Better known in the community as “Dick” Daub, he was Pembroke’s first Fire Chief. Born in Montgomery, Pennsylvania, three years after the end of the Civil War in 1868, Dick died in 1956. Dick was my great grandfather. He could be very confrontational, certainly feisty, strong-willed, direct, and spoke his mind in the most uncomplicated of ways. For some reason, one day he decided to explain to me the difference between Democrats and Republicans. In his wisdom, or so I believed at the time, he said, “Republicans are for the rich, and Democrats are for the poor.” Well, as it has turned out, his wisdom was a conventional catchphrase that presumably had been around for a while -- perhaps from the Democratic Party’s origin in 1828 when the Democratic - Republican Party split during the presidency of Andrew Jackson. It was my first introduction to any political thought. But, more importantly, that clich√© has turned out to be an enduring, simple truth.

For many years, The Democratic Party has been linked with liberalism, even though the ideology of today’s Democratic Party may be a far cry from its classical liberalism origins.

What Is Classical Liberalism?” John C. Goodman, a libertarian economist, writes, “Prior to the 20th century, classical liberalism was the dominant political philosophy in the United States. It was the political philosophy of Thomas Jefferson and the signers of the Declaration of Independence and it permeates the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Federalist Papers and many other documents produced by the people who created the American system of government. Many of the emancipationists who opposed slavery were essentially classical liberals, as were the suffragettes, who fought for equal rights for women.”

Historians note that liberalism originated in the 16th century, emerging later from the influences of the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, and the political revolutions of the 17th and 18th centuries. It was in response to the great inequalities of wealth and other social problems created by the Industrial Revolution that liberals, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, advocated limited government, limited state intervention in the market, and the creation of free public education, health insurance and other state-funded social services.

And then, as a result of the 1929 Great Depression and consequently FDR’s New Deal, the Democratic Party took a historic turn in support of a strong federal government with powers to regulate business and industry. Since then the Democratic Party have been progressive reformers. They historically have been the party of labor, supportive of federally financed social services and benefits for the poor, the unemployed, the aged, and the protection of civil rights. What has emerged is modern American liberalism, a form of social liberalism, which supports a mixed economy, where faith in the possibilities of improving social conditions are related to the idea of progress, and where compassion toward the poor, equal rights, and tolerance have endured.

That brings us to today, where we are again talking about reform and recovery, no differently in many ways from the era of FDR’s New Deal. And, again, the same criticisms, then as now, abound concerning the President’s “American Recovery and Reinvestment Act” of 2009, as well as President Obama’s to date performance, and even referencing his agenda as “Obama’s New Deal”: constitutionality, too beholden to big business, "corporate welfare", betrayer and liar, communist, conspiracy, dictator, social fascism, subversive to the checks and balances of the democratic process, not doing enough, too much deficit spending, criticism of the Federal Reserve and a desire to return to the old economic order in believing that the market would correct itself without the meddling of direct government interference. Does it sound familiar?

Likewise, then as now, writers are still at predictions of doom-and-gloom: “The liberal class is finished. Neither it nor its representatives will provide the leadership or resistance to halt our slide toward despotism,” and “The liberal class has become a useless and despised appendage of corporate power,” writes Chris Hedges in “The World Liberal Opportunists Made” and in his new book “Death of the Liberal Class.”

On the contrary, they are not “finished,” and are not betrayers and liars, communist, subversives, or fascist. They do embrace socialism, but no more than their Republican counterparts do. The only difference is, where are their socialistic inclinations directed: are they focused on the rich, or the middle-class and poor?

So when considering the veracity of my great grandfather’s clich√©, history is replete with numerous examples, FDR to the present, of Democrats legislatively supporting the indigent or disenfranchised. The fact still remains, regardless of how beholden Democrats are (Republicans are too) to big business, “Republicans are for the rich, and Democrats are for the poor.”

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A perilous and egregious journey of wars without end

We began our nation’s proclaimed journey of freedom in Concord, Massachusetts, on April 19, 1775; it was also when America began its journey of wars without end. The American Revolution was a war fought to gain our independence from Great Britain, but it also projected our country into a mindset that war is the only tool that will protect our salvation and secure our freedom. Belligerence and war increasingly have been central to our Foreign Relations policy, creating an international and national identity that associates America with militarism and war.

Even our national anthem is not about exalting America’s beauty and its people; instead it pays tribute to war. “The Star Spangled Banner,” is actually an old British drinking song, “To Anacreon in Heaven.” The song was set with lyrics from “Defender of Fort McHenry," a poem written in 1814 by Francis Scott Key after witnessing the bombardment of Fort McHenry by the British Royal Navy during the War of 1812. Wouldn’t “America The Beautiful,” an American original, be more appropriate to the perspective of a beneficent America than a British barroom drinking song celebrating a victorious war?

Right from our nation’s outset, as proclaimed by Chris Hedges, “War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning.” Our journey of freedom has created “A World Made by War.” Today, as expressed by Tom Engelhardt, in “American Warscapes,” America is “in a state of eternal war as well as living in a permanent war state, that, to face a ragtag enemy of a few thousand stateless terrorists, the national security establishment in Washington would pump itself up to levels not faintly reached when facing the Soviet Union, a major power with thousands of nuclear weapons and an enormous military, that “homeland” -- a distinctly un-American word -- would land in our vocabulary never to leave, and that a second Defense Department dubbed the Department of Homeland Security would be set up not to be dismantled in my lifetime, that torture (excuse me, ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’) would become as American as apple pie and that some of those “techniques” would actually be demonstrated to leading Bush administration officials inside the White House, that we would pour money into the Pentagon at ever escalating levels even after the economy crashed in 2008, that we would be fighting two potentially trillion-dollar-plus wars without end in two distant lands, that we would spend untold billions constructing hundreds of military bases in those same lands, that the CIA would be conducting the first drone air war in history over a country we were officially not at war with, that most of us would live in a remarkable state of detachment from all of this, …”

This journey, so far, has inculcated Americans with the preposterous illusion that we can have wars to end wars, wars for peace, and good wars, because somehow its God will, in which we attribute all evil to others, and to worship a God who saves us by killing others and that suffering is a road to all salvation. The journey has given us a country where peace means war, freedom means subjection, and congressional representation only means a new and modern form of tyranny.

It’s a journey that has brought us to a place where we react on emotion instead of on proactive rational thought. Instead of reacting to all previous indications of our peril proactively, September 11, 2001 stirred the drums of war and so America reacted. President Franklin D. Roosevelt did not motivate the Greatest Generation because of the atrocities of Hitler; it took Pearl Harbor to call the Greatest Generation to take action against Japan and even then it took Germany’s declaration of war against America to bring us into the fray.

“You can make a difference by opening your mind to the ‘War Without End’ that rages daily around you, hidden in plain sight, disguised by media manipulation …,” – and disguised by government.

You can make a difference by promoting peace with an understanding that peace is a process and that war is not a path but a blockade to it. Our journey has not ended and over time we can change our journey’s direction.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Disparity between Rich and Poor Is What Divides Us

I hear it said that there is no significance difference between America’s two major political parties. But I say there is one very significant and overriding difference: You see, in my teens, my great-grandfather counseled that the difference between Republicans and Democrats boiled down to one party that is supportive of the well-to-do and the other party supportive of those who are not so well-to-do. And, in my life, that same view has been formed via the contrast between Republicans and Democrats in their deeds and actions, formal speech and writing, colloquially, and in the social legislation proposed/supported by each party.

Historically, Democrats, albeit there have been Republicans who also have jumped on-board, are the ones responsible for major social legislation: minimum wage, Social Security and unemployment insurance, Medicare and Medicaid, Civil Rights, and Healthcare Reform. Moreover, Democrats support regulation, which protects in particular those who are not so well-to-do or do not have the where-with-all to protect themselves – regulatory law so that they are not snookered into some “weasel deal.”

Whereas the Republicans do not support minimum wage increases and some even propose its abolishment, they support privatization of Social Security and seemingly do not support unemployment insurance, they will repeal healthcare reform legislation if they gain the majority in November, and they support abolishment or severe entitlement restrictions. Republicans support minimal regulation, and those who are more ideologically libertarian support no regulation.

Then there is the creation of the Wall Street centric Federal Reserve, which has highly contributed to our current economic state of affairs, codified by Congress in 1913, and of which the impetus for its creation came from an extraordinarily secret meeting at the Jekyll Island Club in November of 1910. The attendees at that meeting were Senator Nelson W. Aldrich and Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Department A.P. Andrews, and five of the country's leading financiers. No one there gave a hoot about labor or minority inequities, and not a one was a progressive reformer. Their only concern was monetary policy and the establishment of a central banking system in order to achieve greater control over the creation of wealth.

It’s that creation of wealth mindset, Republican Party support for minimal regulation and free market economics, versus Democratic Party support for those who are not so well-to-do in the form of entitlements, that has created today’s political polarization. It has also lead to unacceptable inequality between the low, middle, and upper class.

It’s also a mindset that brought us an “extraordinary state of affairs … facilitated by the U.S. Supreme Court’s scandalous Citizens United decision [Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, a ruling that the government may not ban political spending by corporations in elections], which swept away decades of restrictions on corporate spending to influence elections. The Republicans’ success in blocking [campaign finance] legislation that would at least have required the big spenders to disclose the sources of their money means voters have to operate in the dark.” So writes E.J. Dionne, Jr. in his article, “The Shadow Class War of 2010.”

Dionne writes, “The good news is that the class war is bringing a certain clarity to politics. It is also another piece of evidence for the radicalism of the current brand of conservatism. This, in turn, is forcing Democrats to defend a proposition they have been committed to since the days of Franklin Roosevelt but are often too timid to proclaim: that government has a legitimate and necessary role in making economic rules to protect individuals from abuse.

“The country doesn’t need this class war, and it is irrational in any case. Practically no one, least of all Obama, is questioning the basics of the market system or proposing anything more than somewhat tighter economic regulations—after the biggest financial collapse since the Great Depression—and rather modest tax increases on the wealthy.”

It seems to me that on November 2nd voters must decide whether or not “government has a legitimate and necessary role in making economic rules to protect individuals from abuse,” and they need to vote accordingly.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Failure to Pass Climate Change Legislation

Tom Friedman in his column “An X-Ray of Dysfunction,” summarizes a piece by Ryan Lizza, “As the World Burns: How the Senate and the White House missed their best chance to deal with climate change.” Extracting from Lizza’s New Yorker magazine entry, Friedman reduces the reasons for failure in congress to pass climate change legislation to “Mindless tribal partisanship”; “Politicians who put their interests before the country’s”; “Special interests buying policy”; and “A TV network [Fox News] acting as the political enforcer of the Republican Party.” Friedman says, “Lizza’s piece is an X-ray of the dysfunctions eating away at our future: politicians who only know how to read polls, never change them; media outlets serving political parties; special interests buying senators; mindless partisanship; an epidemic of low expectations for our government. And us — we elected them all, and we tolerate them.”

For the time being, apparently climate change legislation has been snuffed out by partisanship, special interest and politics.

No matter which political party is in the majority after the November 2010 elections, nothing is going to change partisanship, selfish political maneuvering, lobbyist buying into the legislative process, or the political biases of Fox News. If the house and senate become a republican majority sprinkled with independent conservatives and blue dog democrats, I would not expect any meaningful climate change legislation anytime soon.

As long as we allow money to influence decision making in the congressional legislative processes, we will always have a political system that favors the interest of big business and politicians acting in their personal best interest and not America’s.

I agree with Tom Friedman: “we have to do better,” and better is the abandonment of the concept of a money-based economy.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Childhood War Games Are an Affront to the Cause of World Peace

There was a time when I played with toy guns, my bother and other kids in the neighborhood played with a toy gun of one sort or another, too. The guns didn’t look real and in every way were toys. We played war games. We tried to outwit each other while hiding behind trees, boulders, berms and pretending to shoot at each other … Bang, Bang, Bang -- or imitating the most realistic gunshot sound we could make -- you’re dead! We fantasized neither blood, gore nor carnage, it was simply play. I suppose every kid for eons has played games with some sort of toy weaponry fashioned out wood or other material.

Today, that childhood play of yesteryear has been replaced with vivid video displays of blood, gore, and carnage. These new forms of war games that have emerged are no longer detached from realism; computer technology has developed video game graphics to the point where they are lifelike and extraordinarily realistic. Also there are live play war games played in the woods and fields, as I once did, but instead of mock weapons, the play incorporates Laser Tag, Paintball, or Airsoft realistic weaponry.

Airsoft war game participants use soft-pellet replica firearms, which are similar in operation to BB guns, that shoot small plastic pellets in military simulations. These games are actually used in military training to teach soldiers to kill. Participants arm themselves with different types of Airsoft weaponry, costuming themselves in either real or replica military gear, uniforms, and protective eyewear. The games model combat situations involving military tactics to achieve objectives.

It was in a local newspaper in which I learned of a mom and dad, both members of the Army National Guard, who initiated an Airsoft club in my hometown. It’s for “kids ages 10 and up who will use strategy and teamwork to play a modern version of capture the flag using Airsoft guns. ‘ It’s basically a group of kids that go out into the woods and have Airsoft war,’” said their 12-year old son.

To promote material that is used by the military to train a soldier to kill should not be made available for children to play, especially if we desire at some time in the future a tranquil and peaceful world. Along with other depictions of violence in movies, television, and computer video games, Airsoft, Laser Tag, and Paintball war games are an affront to efforts by so many who work toward ending violence and advancing world peace. These presentations and games only perpetuate violent behavior.

As Lt. Col Dave Grossman at Killology.com has pointed out, people who play violent war games are conditioned to acts of violence. They become increasingly capable of violence because conditioning reduces their natural barriers to it.

To the belief that violence is a result of nature and not nurture, it is both. Violence was at one time, and unfortunately apparent to a certain extent today, necessary to human survival and evolution. So there is a hereditary component, but there is also a greater environmental component that enhances human propensity toward violent acts.

As a child, who is continually conditioned through repeatedly killing lifelike images in video war games and real bodies in outdoor Laser Tag, Paintball, or Airsoft war games, grows into adulthood, he or she increasingly acquire as acceptable an ability to kill in real life. After all it is the same method the military uses effectively to teach soldiers how to kill.

From childhood play with toy guns to realistic play with actual non-lethal weapons is not the direction America or the world should be heading. Instead we should be taking every opportunity to eliminate war and marginalize violence. An adult who embraces violent viewing or a parent who condones this sort of play is acting immorally and their behavior is completely unacceptable.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Another suicide due to bullying

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The report of another suicide due to bullying is very disheartening. An eighteen-year-old freshman at Rutgers University, Tyler Clementi, killed himself after the secretly taped video broadcast by two other Rutgers students of his sexual encounter with a man.

There have been others: Asher Brown, a thirteen-year-old boy in Texas shot himself in the head after years of bullying and torment for being gay; thirteen-year-old Seth Walsh who was taunted for being gay, hung himself from a backyard tree; and fifteen-year-old Billy Lucas committed suicide after being tormented by bullies, who reportedly questioned his sexual orientation by the way he talked and dressed.

These four suicides occurring in less than a month. They are only a few most recent examples. In these cases, the cause of the torment was homosexuality, however, the bullying problem is not always about sexual orientation, it’s about intolerance of those who look or act differently from the norm or in some other way are different, and in some cases, the bullying is simply because of jealousy, but always due to ignorance.

It’s important to remember that it is not necessary to be physically harmed in order to suffer lasting harm. So, beyond suicide, in the extreme and with varying intensity there may be lifelong effects on those who have been bullied.

As children, victims experience anger, anxiety, depression, loneliness, sleep disorders, and form a belief of how they are perceived by others. Repetitive bullying restricts a child’s ability to view themselves as desirable, capable, and effective individuals. They develop revenge fantasies and uncontrollable feelings of rage. They experience greater incidence of illness and lower school grades. Eventually the child withdraws, feels helpless, and will distrust other students, making it difficult to make friends.

As adults, survivors of childhood oppression may continue to experience some of those same effects, as well as develop conditions such as oppositional defiance disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, or hypervigilance. Mark Dombeck, Ph.D, says they “can have debilitating effects on education, careers, marriages, parenting, and day-to-day life. Drugs and Alcohol may be sought out as a form of self-medication, or excessive substance abuse may take place as a desire to fit in with other people.” He states further that some long-term effects may result in reduced occupational opportunities, lingering feelings of anger and bitterness, a desire for revenge, difficulty trusting people, interpersonal difficulties, avoidance of new social situations that leads to a tendency to be a loner, perception of self as easy to victimize, overly sensitive, self-esteem problems, and increased incidence of continued bullying and victimization.”

Whether it is cyber-bullying or your basic run-of-the-mill bullying, it has been an out of control problem. Despite some noble efforts, the efforts have not been very meaningful. The problem must be seriously addressed, and everyone can address it if at every opportunity they take action against it. Americans have an obsession, as exemplified in our entertainment and in the news (now more entertainment than news), with a certain level of unethical and immoral behaviors: our approval of violence, voyeurism, crudity, and with our apparent approval of a certain level of bullying – accepting it because "kids will be kids.” Why do we support such behavior? The problem lies in the fact that we do. Instead of some measured tolerance, we should have zero tolerance for any of these uncivil acts.

For there to be a world of peace these behaviors must be overcome.
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