Oct 10 2009
Democrats, particularly Progressive Democrats, have been collectively incredulous. The motives and tactics driving the rancor and bile spewing forth from Republican politicians, Fox News, talking heads, pundits, entertainers, and conservative citizens seems so unjustified and so irrational. Looking back to what we recently came through might be the best way to understand this reactionary response. We must believe that one election cycle or one President can undo the blight upon the human psyche or the sustained abuse upon our sacred institutions, sense of safety, and peace of mind. President Obama has been Chief Executive for less than a year, but what we’ve all learned, much to our chagrin, is that change that you can believe in is slow and incremental.
The reaction of conservatives is directly proportional to the massive amount of fear-mongering, manipulative tactics, and irresponsible governing perpetrated by the Bush Administration. That we on the left are not as affected by this steady barrage of fear and loathing is merely a reflection of the fact that we were hardly the ones to believe in it in the first place. We were the target of scorn, not the targeted audience. One cannot discount for a second the combined evil we were all exposed to for eight long years and that this degree of emotional torture cannot be whisked away with the stroke of a pen, an award, or a sizable agenda. It did not arrive overnight, nor will it depart like a thief in the night.
The old adage of how to cook a frog comes to mind. As the story goes, one doesn’t place the frog immediately into boiling water, else the animal would jump out. Instead, one places the frog in lukewarm water and incrementally increases the temperature, allowing the animal to slowly adjust. Eventually the frog is tricked into staying in water hot enough to kill and then thoroughly cook it. This is what has happened to the conservative movement and why we face such a challenge in reversing course. They have been subtly and not-so-subtly manipulated by the doctrine of opportunist neo-conservative thought to the point that conservatives cannot see any common ground with the left. What made this strategy particularly effective and insidious is that it was implemented little bit by little bit until the combined evil was much greater than any individual part.
It should surprise no one then that we’ve seen this degree of nonsensical, uncompromising, petty, sheer hatred of liberals and President Obama. The Bush/Rove Doctrine might as well have been a a commandment to despise that which opposes you, forsake common humanity for single-minded gain, use any means necessary to win, and never accept the blame for mistakes. We on the left have mentioned this battle plan upon the American public in oversimplified, outline form so frequently that it borders on platitude, but we haven’t gone much deeper. For Republicans and conservatives, however, Bush Administration tactics have left a devastating legacy than will not easily be corrected. We need to ask ourselves if there is anything much we can do to refute it. The GOP itself must recognize the damage and make ends to reverse it. If they do not, then this perspective will further calcify and we ought to expect more of these ridiculous nontroversies and petty partisan attacks. Shelving our skepticism for a moment, we need to understand that humans are much more impressionable and easily duped than our frustration with immediate results will allow. We are clamoring for systemic change, but that comes with time. No President ought to have to clean up messes he or she didn’t create, but that’s the foremost challenge facing our current President, and one that has and will continue to impede what he wants accomplished.
The Ancient Greek fable of Pandora’s Box is an allegory to explain the paradox human nature. Simultaneously blessed and cursed with the gift of curiosity, Pandora opens a particularly tempting box and unwittingly unleashes a plethora of ills upon the human race. However, it must be mentioned that what is last to leave the box is the gift of hope. A more Biblical illustration would be that of Adam and Eve, who ate the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and in so doing were banished from the Garden of Eden. I find a Jewish interpretation to be most instructive in this instance.
According to the Jewish tradition God commanded Adam and Eve not to eat from the tree that was to give free choice and allow them to earn, as opposed to receive, absolute perfection and intimate communion with God at a higher level than the one on which they were created. According to this tradition, Adam and Eve would have attained absolute perfection and retained immortality had they succeeded in withstanding the temptation to eat from the Tree. After failing at this task, they were condemned to a period of toil to rectify the fallen universe. Jewish tradition views the serpent, and sometimes the tree of the knowledge of good and evil itself, as representatives of evil and man’s evil inclination.
Perhaps each of us must toil to rectify our own sin or even take the time to rectify someone else’s sin. I believe this to be a function and a role we must all take on as part of being human. It might not be fair, but life is rarely just as we would wish it to be. In this instance, the President, the Congress, and we ourselves are going to have to first reverse trends that have now become entrenched. Some of them have their Genesis eight years prior to today, some of them came into being in 1980, and some of them date back to the 1960’s. The hope lies, I firmly believe, with a strategy of persistence and steady pressure that ought not to be perceived as a failure if it does not garnish immediately discernible results. Sometimes it doesn’t take an Act of Congress to make a major impact on someone or even on the debate itself.
Oct 09 2009
President Obama’s awarding of the Noble Peace Prize may be more about making a strong statement condemning what came before than it is a desire to reward the man who will benefit from the news. At a time when Obama is facing the sharpest criticism of his still-nascent Presidency, the Noble win temporarily distracts from Afghanistan, Health Care Reform, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, banking regulation, Guantanamo Bay, and a variety of other items on the agenda. It will dominate the news cycle at least for today and likely into the weekend, with all the usual suspects chiming in to comment. Obama’s resume towards world reconciliation and peace activism around the globe, up until now, has been on the thin side, though he has certainly taken much care to begin to undo the damage of the Bush presidency. I welcome the announcement, though I wonder if perhaps those with a lower profile might have been more deserving.
One also wonders what impact this award will have on the President’s domestic approval rating or the public support for his substantial agenda. The Nobel Peace Prize has a long history of courting controversy, and one expects to see no small degree of backlash from conservatives along the same lines as when Al Gore won in 2007. My initial thought is that this event, notable though it is, really won’t make much difference either way. It will be a short-term matter that Obama will rightly use to bolster what he wishes to accomplish, particularly in a diplomatic context. The Republicans will scream bloody murder and the Democrats will release complimentary press releases which politely reveal nothing more than safe, unsubstantial praise.
Contemplating why the awards themselves were established explains something of their presumptive function. The Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel, the inventor of the explosives dynamite and gelignite, set up a series of separate prize designations in his will. Winners of these prizes would also be rewarded with a substantial cash prize paid out of Nobel’s personal fortune. Upon his death, a committee was instructed to award the most deserving person who had to advanced human improvement in a each of a variety of areas. Ever since their establishment, the committee has often broadly interpreted Nobel’s rather vague directives.
The whole of my remaining realizable estate shall be dealt with in the following way:
The capital shall be invested by my executors in safe securities and shall constitute a fund, the interest on which shall be annually distributed in the form of prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind. The said interest shall be divided into five equal parts, which shall be apportioned as follows: one part to the person who shall have made the most important discovery or invention within the field of physics; one part to the person who shall have made the most important chemical discovery or improvement; one part to the person who shall have made the most important discovery within the domain of physiology or medicine; one part to the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work of an idealistic tendency; and one part to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity among nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.
It was a premature obituary published in a French newspaper that led Nobel to establish these prizes that bear his name.
The obituary stated Le marchand de la mort est mort (“The merchant of death is dead”) and went on to say, “Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.” On 27 November 1895, at the Swedish-Norwegian Club in Paris, Nobel signed his last will and testament and set aside the bulk of his estate to establish the Nobel Prizes, to be awarded annually without distinction of nationality.
Nobel himself was the owner of a large factory which designed war munitions and combined with his brilliant discoveries regarding explosive substances, he is a reminder that human progress and innovation can be used to kill millions of people in open combat. Not only that, he is a sobering example that we ourselves might prove to be our own undoing when we selfishly advance our own sordid motives at the expense of our brothers and sisters. Thus, the Nobel Prizes are a lasting testament to one man’s atonement and his desire to seek forgiveness. This is an unselfish gesture I do not believe was made to whitewash over past sins. It would be wise to keep that solemn fact in mind when we contemplate the very intent of the awards themselves. Though we need and must continue to cite instances where the wealthy and powerful destroy human unity on behalf of the pursuit of profit, there are those like Nobel who aim to leave a lasting legacy behind them as more than butchers, or amoral profiteers, or purveyors of anguish. Political footballs aside and back and forth arguments aside, we shouldn’t let petty grievances detract from the power and grave reverence these awards demand.
Oct 08 2009
The news broke late yesterday afternoon that the Senate Finance Committee sought to broker a compromise measure regarding the Public Option. Giving each individual state a choice of whether or not to provide a public option appeals to fiscal conservatives and red state legislators whose most coherent reservation regarding health care reform is a concern over cost. Still, these kind of messy federal/state mandates reinforce substantial inequality. A Medicaid-style measure like this would mean that those who lived in most well-funded blue states would have superior health care coverage, while those who lived in most, if not all red states would have their health care costs still largely dictated by private carriers, many of which hold near-monopolies in individual states. If the aim of reform is to level the playing field for every American, this falls well short of the stated objective.
Today’s Politico contains a brief, but noteworthy column written by Ben Smith, which underscores the controversy regarding Medicaid reform.
The Medicaid expansion would, in a stroke, add 11 million people to the program’s ranks by raising the income cap, and one key negotiating point at the moment is the share of that cost the federal government will pick up.
The income cap, however, is only one facet to increasing eligibility. Many states, particularly red states, do not extend coverage to single adults at all, no matter how dire their need. Coverage is often provided only to adults with children and sometimes Medicaid coverage is granted to children only, leaving their parents with nothing. As a result of this, many adults are forced to file for SSI disability to obtain Medicaid coverage, since doing on is the only means by which they might attain any health care coverage at all. However, this removes individuals from the workforce, reduces tax dollars paid into the tax system as condition of employment, and places a drain upon the never-ample General Fund out of which all Medicaid expenses are paid. Removing these strict qualifying factors might costs more in the short term, but the long term consequences are much more detrimental. Someone pays the cost when a person goes bankrupt from enormous medical bills or visits the Emergency Room without insurance, having no means to pay at all. Still, to simplify this unnecessarily as another annoying example of the red state/blue state divide would not be a fair telling of the truth.
Republican governors haven’t been the only ones raising doubts.
Tennessee Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen has been an outspoken foe of the plan, and a senior Republican aide notes that two more left-leaning Democrats are also raising complaints. According to the Columbus Dispatch, Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland “warned on a recent visit to Washington that the ‘the states with our financial challenges right now, are not in a position to accept additional Medicaid responsibilities.’
“Strickland said that he wants a health care package that is inclusive and provides for all citizens’, but he adds that if Medicaid is expanded, he hopes to see the Federal Government assume the greater portion of the costs, if not the total costs.'”
And New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch last week refused to sign a letter than other Democratic governors sent to congressional leaders urging passage of a health care bill this year, because it failed to “address concerns regarding potential cost shifting to the states,” according to a spokesman for the governor quoted by the media.
States do have to adhere to balanced budgets and in times of economic famine like these cannot resort to deficit spending. However, budget priorities are often disproportionately skewed away from social services and relegated to other matters, which are just as wasteful, if not more so than any pork barrel project pushed by a House or Senate member. Before Republicans and Democrats criticize Washington for its excesses or its financial demands, they would be wise to start first in their own backyards. Citing specific instances of pork barrel projects is a rhetoric device which borders on cliche, so I will spare you another retelling of it. Needless to say, room could be made even in a much reduced year of tax revenue. The obscene amount of tax breaks and concessions made to foreign automakers in order to entice them to build auto manufacturing plants is a good place to start. Those states who have never made an attempt to reform their image as little more than an endless supply of cheap labor have shortchanged themselves in ways they seem incapable of comprehending.
A more streamlined approach would, in my opinion, be best. Each state sets its own criteria regarding Medicaid in accordance to how the program was set up in the 1960’s and I have no doubt that similarly messy compromises would likely typify the efforts the states willing to institute a public option. Most red states would opt out altogether, of course. I will note that a complete reliance on the superior wisdom and judgment of the Federal Government might be naive, but I have rarely seen any state government be more efficient. What I have seen is a multitude of red states whose efficiency and collective wisdom resembles a Banana Republic combined with a slap-stick comedy routine. That they are the ones who are so quick to shoot barbs at Washington, DC, strikes me as biting the hand that feeds you. Many of these states would have nothing if it hadn’t been for the generosity of Capitol Hill and many of their universities would find themselves without needed funding if they couldn’t achieve Federal Government grants. So it is here that I’m afraid I can’t muster much sympathy for those Governors who rarely pay more than ten percent of the cost of Medicaid anyway. The real lesson to be learned here is that long-term gain is much more important than the facade of short-term cost reduction.
Oct 07 2009
Maureen Dowd’s recent column takes on the David Letterman controversy and the power dynamics that shape romances between superiors and subordinates, particularly on the job. She stakes claim to a middle ground between those eviscerating the long-time late night comic and those who find nothing much objectionable about his behavior. To me, Dowd’s columns are often hit or miss, but this one does hit on some interesting and pertinent points. Still, what I find most off-putting is her reliance on a different school of feminist critique that is, in my humble opinion, several decades out of date. Our own generational mindset forms our opinions and may still be relevant to those of our age range, but staying resolutely within these parameters does not often allow one to remain current or even pertinent.
In an ideal world, bosses would refrain from sleeping with subordinates, so as not to cause jealousy and tension in the office. But we’re not in an ideal world. Otherwise, we’d already have health care for everyone and Glenn Beck wouldn’t have any influence over the White House.
Some have been quick to criticize Letterman for his dalliances. I am not among them. In truth, I myself have broken the unwritten rule of office politics and engaged in a relationship with a co-worker. It should be noted that I was not in an subordinate position either time and once even dated a “superior”, though the lines separating chain of command at that workplace were rather fluid. It has been my experience that while such behavior might not necessarily be problematic in and of itself, in stable work environments, it need not be a major issue. In dysfunctional work environments, however, it is courting disaster.
The most contentious assertion to be lifted out of Dowd’s entire column is this one.
A few years ago, I wrote that 40 years of feminism had done nothing to alter the fact that older men often see young women in staff support as sirens. For some men, it’s the very inequality of the relationship that’s alluring, the way these women revolve around them and make life easier, the way they treat Himself like the sunrise and sunset of their universe.
Temptation lies inside of each of our hearts and whether we merely lust in them or actively engage is a decision purely ours. What I object to in Dowd’s line of logic is what it implies. As she posits it, young women have no defenses and no say against the sinister designs of an older man in a position of authority. This is a tad insulting to women, because it implies that men pull the strings and that a woman’s individual intentions are somehow predestined to be superseded and overruled by the men in charge. Women certainly have every right and capability to object and decline an offer of sexual intimacy if it is made. They are not powerless to guard off the insatiable carnal lust of any man, nor somehow obligated to fall into bed with him, whether or not he is their boss. There is often something attractive about authority figures for all of us, regardless of gender, and this is when power dynamics enter the picture and influence our decision-making process.
Part of the argument advanced by Dowd is rooted in a paternalistic belief that the young are too immature and too childish to know how to make correct decisions for themselves. While I know that I made foolish choices in my past out of a combination of youth and inexperience, I do recognize now that age has brought things into focus that were once blurry and uncertain. It would seem that the matter we are discussing now is not consent, rather it is judgment. Even so, I never saw instances where some magnetic, voodoo force compelled my female friends to engage in sexual relationships with their professors or bosses. If I was even aware of such things, what I saw was highly consensual and if immaturity was present, it was frequently present within both parties, age notwithstanding. Still, the ancient motif of the vampire older man with sinister intentions preying on the innocent, virginal young girl/woman still persists to the current day and it’s a caricature as deeply insulting to men as it is as women.
But it’s absurd to compare a jester (unmarried at the time) to Bill Clinton and other philandering pols. Officeholders run as devoted family men upholding old-fashioned values. They have ambitious public agendas and loyal acolytes whose futures depend on whether these leaders succumb to reckless dalliances.
As Craig Ferguson, whose show is produced by Letterman, joked: “If we are now holding late-night talk-show hosts to the same moral accountability as we hold politicians or clergymen, I’m out.”
This arises from a hypocrisy we all carry. Though we rarely hold ourselves to a standard of perfection, because we recognize all too well how exhausting and impossible it is, we certainly hold others to this same unfeasible expectation. This isn’t just illogical, it’s also completely nonsensical. In my real life as well as my online existence, I have seen this sort of matter destroy whole communities or severely compromise unity. In a Feminist internet community I regularly frequent, a mini-drama has recently broken out over matters of semantics. A member has taken much time, energy, and effort to file a protest, accusing the moderators of not adequately monitoring and refuting numerous instances of offensive, and anti-feminist language. While I can tell that the protest is motivated out of good intentions, I also am aware that within any movement which feels a compulsion to bring to light to a multitude of enemies lurking insidiously in the in the shadows, sometimes aiming to find every instance of genuine injustice can be taken a bit too far.
This is itself a kind of Sisyphean struggle for perfection, a kind of wack-a-mole activism that will only create frustration, hair-splitting, and nitpicking in the end. One could conceivably devote full-time hours specifically to highlight inflammatory, objectionable instances of societal evils—the sort found in every corner of this big, broad world and even broader internet, but still be no farther towards resolution. There is no sin in admitting that we ourselves are imperfect people and that we ourselves are limited in our scope of influence. If identifying a problem were sufficient in and of itself, we would have put behind many stubborn problems long before today. Admitting our limitations does not mean that we are impotent or incapable, but it does insist that we recognize that we have the capacity to accomplish a few things very well before it comes our time to pass away to the next life. Life is short and I myself would rather devise a way to do a few things exceptionally well than spread myself so thinly that I unintentionally dilute my efforts to making improvements and pushing badly needed reforms.
Oct 06 2009
As I have been unemployed, or at least severely underemployed for the past several months, I decided yesterday to make another attempt at making some income. A job poster advertised the need for rudimentary data entry, an activity that, with time, usually turns one’s brain to gelatin, but at least it pays. After being ushered in to a well-furnished and crisply professional business waiting room, I was taken to a much less well-furnished interior comprised of the maze of the stereotypical generic office. With a bland name like CMDI, I didn’t have the foggiest notion of what sort of work was needed or even what the nature of it would be. The matter-of-fact, perfunctory demeanor and expensive clothes of the receptionist provide no indication of what one ought to expect when one’s name is called.
Oct 05 2009
What has gotten much attention the past few days is the hypocritical Republican response to the United States losing a bid to host the Olympic Games. What is not being discussed is why it is, in my opinion, altogether fitting and proper that Rio de Janeiro and South America won the right to host the games. If we believe in any such thing as fairness and equality, we would concede that it is time that a country beyond our own receive some positive publicity and be able to showcase its strengths for once. It is not as though we haven’t had our time in the sun many times before and I believe that giving this privilege to other deserving cities is worthwhile. In instances like these, those of us who believe that world harmony involves giving every country a seat at the table can find much in the decision upon which to rejoice.
If, however, you are so tactless as to mention this notion in conservative circles, prepare to have your patriotism questioned. If you dare to believe that this country ought not to bill itself or carry itself as the epicenter of everything, they’ll claim you’re trying to give away our political power on a world stage out of misguided guilt. This fact, above all others is what enrages me most about the Right. The fear of losing something intangible and poorly understood at best is what has driven so much invective recently. It would seem that the party of no is also the part of me first.
Specifically regarding developing nations, we rarely see much news or attention devoted to their affairs beyond natural disasters, instances of shocking social injustice which we have long set aside, or the occasional eccentric spectacle. We enjoy the sensationalist aspect of the man with four wives and twelve children, for example, but almost never are we informed about any good, meaningful news that occurs in a developing nation. Those who spread, make, and shape information dispersal never feel much of a compulsion to explain or cite the style of governance and policy matters of other countries, unless, of course, it’s meant to provide some needed contrast to our own system and our own way of doing things. To wit, issues of dire importance to Brazil frequently never make it into the American consciousness. As a result, the view we hold of most countries besides our own is a romanticized one full of as much fiction as fact. Frequently, it is also years out of date. Due to our own response and to the way that substantive concerns of other nations are summarily placed at the bottom of the deck, it is hardly surprising that, with time, resentment has built.
I feel as though I understand this attitude somewhat. As a native Southerner, it wasn’t until I traveled North and West that I realized how much of our national discourse and national identity is formed by the large cities found up and down the East and West Coast. One rarely sees much news or attention devoted to the South beyond natural disasters, instance of shocking social injustice supposedly long put aside, like racism, and the occasional eccentric spectacle. Those who spread, make, and shape media rarely feel any compulsion to broadcast good news about the region. Unless meant to provide some sort of needed contrast to the rest of the country, Southern policy decisions or viewpoints rarely find their way into substantive conversation. As a result, the view we hold of the South is a romanticized one, likely forty to fifty years out of date, and comprised as much of fiction as it is of fact. And again, because of this, resentment has built.
Our attitudes may be frequently thoughtless and condescending, but they are not deliberately malicious. We don’t mean to snub other countries of the world or regions of our country, for that matter, but we get caught up in our self-importance and inadvertently leave others out in the process. When major challenges arise, they are those of misunderstanding and ignorance first, not of destructive intent. They could be corrected so long as we made a concerted effort to get out of our own head space and take into account that being truly fair and balanced means a little additional legwork on our part. With as much going on in Washington, DC, or New York City, or Los Angeles, it is easy to merely frame the context and the debate based on our largest metropolitan areas. In doing so, however, we leave out the contributions of those without the economic or political clout or population size to suck up enough of the air in the room. If we collectively did our homework and examined areas not particularly well-examined, we might even shockingly concede that people in other countries and even in other parts of our own aren’t really that different from us after all.
If we believe that the phrase “Citizen of the World” is more than just a smiley-faced, feel-good platitude, then it might be wise to devote more of our increasingly divided attention to other areas. If we believe that “United Nations” is what its name says it is, we’d take care to live it in our waking existence. In saying this, I do recognize that it would be unnatural for any country to not devote most of its focus on itself, but what I do notice when I survey the news of other countries is how predominate our presence is and how it exists, a bit uneasily at times, equally and at times with frequent dominance alongside their own native concerns. I’m not sure the American ego will be quite so gracious if someday we are no longer Number One. That would definitely be a humbling experience, one which I have no desire to neither prophecy nor to propagate. Ultimately, if we were a world community, that fear among many would be irrelevant anyway.
Oct 01 2009
Roger Simon in The Politico writes today about the extradition drama surrounding the arrest of director Roman Polanski. Simon’s greater point is, of course, that those who are blessed with great talent are not always those who are blessed with the greatest moral fiber. When a person who has achieved great fame for high artistic achievement gets in trouble, he or she suddenly finds himself or herself with a multitude of apologists and sycophantic admirers. And yet, I would be remiss if I neglected to add that until fame is achieved, however, society and the creative class views any unknown artist as merely another odd bird either unable or unwilling to conform and certainly worthy of no one’s pity.
Beyond a simple argument regarding the nature of cult of celebrity or the brutality of childhood sexual abuse, Polanski’s case concerns our own yearnings for attention and desire and how quickly we sell into the lies and cheap attention of celebrity. Not only that, this contentious issue promises great appeal to those wishing to use it to pad their own resumes, insert another feather into the cap, or use the topic as a bargaining chip to strengthen a hand at the diplomatic table. We have been contemplating one side of the issue, but I’d like to know more than the superficial. These instances where art and law intersect are much more interesting.
To begin, a friend of mine, then enrolled in art school, expressed constant frustration to me and to anyone who would listen that the professors encouraged a high degree of eccentricity in each student, feeling that being weird for weird’s sake was a conditioned and necessary virtue. The famous Irish wit Oscar Wilde, himself of no small ego and put on trial for his part in a sex scandal, noted that “no great artist ever sees things as they really are. If he did he would cease to be an artist.” Most of these students needed no encouragement in this area but I suppose the implication was that in a world where “starving artist” was a label frequently pinned to even the most talented at the craft, one needed to do something to stand out. Those who adhere to this philosophy never require much in the way of introduction. We know some of them by their first name alone.
Simon’s column makes light of several less than stellar human beings who were championed by Hollywood, writers, actors, and other well-connected individuals for their talents but were dismal failures regarding ethical and legal conduct. One could, I suppose, also add Charles Manson to the list, as several members of The Beach Boys believed him to have genuine musical skills and even were willing to pay for demo sessions to record his ramblings onto magnetic tape. If one surveys poets, playwrights, recording artists, composers, sculptures, painters, and the like one can easily find example after example of misanthropic, borderline criminal behavior. The Beat Poets, for example, were a rowdy bunch of social defectives and proud hell-raisers. I believe there to be at least two reasons for this: the prevalence of mental illness is high among the creative and those who perceive of the world around them so acutely and with such unyielding, high sensitivity have a tendency to be unable to know how to guard themselves properly against an unceasing stream of emotion. Some manage to find healthy ways to control and channel this simultaneous blessing and curse and some do not.
My point in all this is neither to defend nor to accuse Polanski for his actions. While I agree that his directorial work has frequently been genius, I don’t feel much of a compulsion to let that fact whitewash the serious crime which he himself has admitted to taking a starring role. The morality of the matter has already been talked to death by voices better connected and more eloquent than mine. I am, however, much more interested in the reasons WHY this matter has come to trial now, after the passage of thirty years. What are the motives this time behind bringing the French/Polish director back to the United States to serve out his sentence? Who truly seeks to gain from this? Whose reputation will be padded by having brought Polanski to justice? Who are the major players, what are their names, and what is their compulsion to prosecute now?
The coverage thus far has been predicated on a very small focus of what could be an enormous matter. That we have not yet been provided with the names of those driving extradition proceedings is telling and likely deliberate. Aside from the diplomatic wrangling between France and United States, the politics and the ulterior motives of this drama have been obscured and unrevealed. That the media seems content to let us talk to death one sole facet amongst ourselves and amongst itself is quite interesting. This either means they have nothing further to go on themselves or are being instructed to not give light to a detailed, complex analysis of the case. When matters of International Law are concerned, complications frequently arise and specific issues remain resolutely thorny. It could also be that precise details of this case will be rolled out one by one over the coming weeks, at which point the media will hash them out to exhaustion, only to be presented latest batch of compelling information.
I myself have grown tired of debating morality as regards Roman Polanski. Polanski’s offense has highlighted how eager we are to forgive significant offenses in our heroes, especially those who have found their way into that small, elite club we call celebrity. I honestly understand those in that tight circle who defends him, because their motives are a result of both self-preservation and sympathy. They’re aware of the obscene pressure of living in a fishbowl and having any shred of privacy destroyed by the effects of a society desperate to poke into their personal business. They understand how easy it is to break down, resort to drug addiction, or come completely unglued under the pressure of the omnipresent white hot spotlight. Moreover, they know how easily reputations can be destroyed by spurious rumors and allegations of misdeed. Even so, they also know that the “Get Out of Jail Free” card often extended to those who have the financial means loses its potency whenever any celebrity is sent to prison, no matter how open and shut the case may be. Viewpoints such as these require us to rethink the idea of fame and acknowledge its impact upon our society and we ourselves.
Sep 23 2009
One of the seemingly few bright spots for the GOP in an otherwise dismal 2008 election cycle was the ascent of Virginia Representative Eric Cantor to the position of Minority Whip. While many state voters cast their ballots for a Democratic Presidential nominee for the first time ever, several ballots included votes for both Barack Obama and Cantor. What was on the minds of voters, as reported at the time, was that Cantor was something of a tolerable moderate. Ever since then, however, Cantor has taken his position as the second ranking Republican House member and used it for predominately obstructionist ends. As this article states, if anyone ought to claim the title of Dr. No, Cantor should.
What has always concerned me about the supposedly cozy relationship that the United States has with Israel is how the right-wing deifies this most atypical of all Middle East nations. According to conservative rhetoric, Israel can do no wrong and as such must be protected as some kind of sainted child from the scourge of terrorism and Arab aggression. In their way of thinking, Israel is a buffer zone against hostile regimes and a virtuous champion of “our” values. As such, it must always stay strong to contain and repulse potential threats. Yet, it would go against logic and reason to assume that any country is perfect. Each and every nation makes significant mistakes and lest someone with selective reading skills miss the point, my stating this does not make me somehow Anti-Israel, Pro-Terrorist, or Anti-Semitic.
When you marry this fawning Pro-Israel talk with Evangelical Christianity, then the effect produced is truly frightening. Most Evangelicals believe Israel to be the Holiest of Holy sites. In their way of thinking, this tiny country is the precise location where the inevitable will come true and the long-promised war between God and Satan, Good and Evil will transpire. Though much about the Christian Right frightens me, the power and potential exploitation of self-fulfilling prophecy fills me full of dread the most. But even so, Evangelical Christianity and Judaism are a union of convenience, much like the one that exists between the United States and Israel, rather than a pairing based on shared purpose. Many Evangelicals hold a particular reverence for Jews, but also believe it is their stated agenda to convert them to Christianity. Though both religions utilize the same scriptural teachings, the interpretation and emphasis of the same words and concepts is vastly divergent.
The latest Eric Cantor soundbyte, which must have been constructed with the clear design to inflame and to invoke response deserves a response. Though I diligently try to ignore those clearly aiming to start a political controversy and/or a resulting war of words, I simply couldn’t stay silent on this matter. Too much hypocrisy and irony exists within it to not raise my voice in protest. Observe.
…Cantor…express[ed] his opposition to Obama’s “disproportionate focus” on halting the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank instead of adopting a policy geared toward eliminating the “existential threat” posed to Israel by Iran’s nuclear program.
“If you look at the policy that this White House has followed, it certainly does not seem as if we are dealing with a true friend” of Israel, Cantor said.
What constitutes “a true friend of Israel” is a matter for debate and one, particularly in this context, notably not set by the Jewish nation itself. Instead, it frequently finds use as a political talking point, designed to criticize and shame those possessed of a point of view in opposition to the whims of whomever is making it. I would question whether, strictly speaking, Cantor is a “true friend of Israel”. Few conservatives in this country are willing to note that if the label “socialist” could be pinned to any nation, Israel might well have a strong claim to the distinction. State-owned businesses and industries have existed within the borders of the Jewish state ever since its founding in 1948. While in times past many Israelis more heavily favored a socialistic system and many still do today, the nation is nonetheless highly dependent on U.S. assistance, whether it be in the form of military or economic aid. This has created a conflict. The unenviable position between playing by Washington’s rules or governing their country by the ways they themselves would prefer is not an easy one. That, in and of itself is not a particularly uncommon response. Since we have the biggest guns and, until recently, had the strongest economy, the countries we actively assisted always had to modify their own political leanings against Washington’s hard line and heavily conditional purse strings.
Furthermore, Israel’s system of government is based heavily on the European Parliamentary model, containing a wide variety of disparate political parties, instead of the predominant bicameral system we use. It is, in effect, a European state transplanted to a region that has never known anything resembling Democracy, and the fact that tensions and aggressions would exist between it and its neighbors does not take a rocket scientist to explain, nor to understand. Some assume that Arab states strongly dislike Israel for purely petty, superficial reasons, but the truth is that it is such an bizarre anomaly in comparison with the rest of the region, that a mutual degree of distrust and fear which exists ought to be obvious.
Cantor has, true to party line, recently spoken out against health care reform. If he were a true friend of Israel, as he implies that he is, he would take into account this reality.
Simcha Shapiro calls Israel’s health care system “socialized medicine with a privatized option”.
Israel has maintained a system of socialized health care since its establishment in 1948, although the National Health Insurance law was passed only on January 1, 1995. The state is responsible for providing health services to all residents of the country, who can register with one of the four health service funds. To be eligible, a citizen must pay a health insurance tax. Coverage includes medical diagnosis and treatment, preventive medicine, hospitalization (general, maternity, psychiatric and chronic), surgery and transplants, preventive dental care for children, first aid and transportation to a hospital or clinic, medical services at the workplace, treatment for drug abuse and alcoholism, medical equipment and appliances, obstetrics and fertility treatment, medication, treatment of chronic diseases and paramedical services such as physiotherapy and occupational therapy
To the Obama Administration’s credit, they have fired back with a response to Cantor’s charge.
Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor declined to respond to Cantor’s comments but said that securing a lasting two-state peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians was “how you can be a true friend to Israel.”
The lessons to be drawn from this are many. As we have done many times before, this country likes to project its own agenda and its own internal political squabbles onto whichever country happens to be the current topic for debate. The irony here, among many, is that other nations, believe it or not, have their own strong opinions, their own distinct political persuasions, and their own means of conducting business. I suppose it would be inevitable that any country as large and influential as we are would project its own narcissism onto countries not nearly as fortunate and privileged as we are. I have frequently made a point to ask people who live in other countries what honestly bothers them about the United States. The number one gripe, regardless of national allegiance, is that it seems as though we really believe that the world revolves around America and, not only that, in so stating this we assume every other nation ought to acknowledge our importance and dominance, too. It’s one thing to be a superpower and have that status influence the discourse of other countries. It’s quite another thing altogether, however, when we assume if not altogether demand that other countries ought to make our concerns their concerns as well. This situation proves to be another unfortunate example of a behavior we would do well to discard.
Sep 19 2009
At the outset of putting fingers to keys this morning, I wasn’t intending to write about this topic. I changed my mind, however, because if one more documented instance of Big Pharma’s greedy, hypocritical, exasperating behavior means that we might all benefit from substantial and lasting health care reform, then I am certainly not above sharing my personal story. In particular, this highly frustrating anecdote refers to the unnecessary hassle it has been to obtain one of the three medications I must take on a daily basis to effectively treat my illness. This forthcoming narrative also underscores the perfidy of the industry itself and, in particular, its automatic assumption that anyone who uses its free or reduced cost services must be trying to cheat the system. It shouldn’t surprise any of us by now that this underlying attitude somehow isn’t portrayed in the self-serving television advertising advancing the program’s merits.
You may have seen the commercial. It was pretty ubiquitous for a good long while. A soothing voiceover, couched in hushed tones meant to intimate gentle sympathy, states that American’s pharmaceutical industry might be able to help those who are uninsured attain their prescription drugs at a deep discount. We are led to believe that an imaginary bus tour is underway, looking for all the world like the kind favored by political candidates on their way back and forth from event to event. A series of different looking people from all walks of life announce proudly their allegiance to their own particular state of residence. A man who once led a daytime TV show which frequently showcased the results of paternity tests and established the true identity of baby daddies smoothly performs his role as spokesperson. That this ad aired constantly in the immediate period before Health Care Reform became a political and ideological football was no accident. The implication was that Big Pharma could regulate itself just fine, thank you, and not only that, the industry was so altruistic as to offer medications for needy Americans without need of government arm twisting. I admit at the time I viewed these ads with much suspicion, but after I unexpectedly lost my Medicaid coverage at the end of July, it was an option I had no choice but to pursue, since paying $700 a month out of pocket for a thirty day supply isn’t exactly an viable alternative.
Sep 18 2009
Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour was recently interviewed by the conservative Washington Times and stated his opinion on a variety of current events. Barbour’s name has been floated as a potential 2012 Republican Presidential nominee and he appeals strongly to the party’s conservative base. The most interesting portion of the interview focuses on federal government spending versus state government spending. Barbour’s reply also reveals how quickly we have forgotten the problems of our past. Those who advance a states’ rights agenda and hold up the Tenth Amendment as justification often forget the massive problems this country faced when we focused more on individual states at the expense of Washington, DC. While placing more control in a centralized system of government has created some problems, they are nothing compared to way it was when the reverse was true.
Sep 17 2009
Conservative voices have continued to rehash, as part of the Reagan mythology, the military impotent of President Carter a la Iranian Hostage Crisis. They use this as their catch-all justification for and evidence of the evils of a weak military. Advocating for a strong military is the same kind of feel-good panacea as pushing for a strong local police force. Both of them promise security and peace of mind, when what they often produce is neither secure nor peaceful. A policeman on every corner will not necessarily keep young women from being violently attacked and seventeen police cars on the road at all time will not eliminate bank robberies or theft of property. However, many people like to entertain the delusion just the same. The facade of security is much more popular than the reality. For example, a sure-fire way to render yourself instantly unpopular is to propose a sharp reduction in money earmarked for the police department, no matter how justified one might be in requesting it.
In my own place of residence, the city has had to cut back funding for a variety of projects and departments. In particular, the school district has been given a much smaller share of tax revenue then ordinarily allotted it, while a far larger share has been allocated to the police force. As for me, I’d much rather have an informed and educated citizenry of our future leaders than the spectacle which routinely greets me when I’m driving around town—that of bored policemen and policewomen driving around to make their visual presence known, but seemingly not much else. While I do appreciate that most of the police vehicles these days run on flex fuel, not conventional gasoline, I still can’t help reflecting on how many tax dollars are being squandered on the latest state-of-the-art gadget or technique that is funded out of the paychecks of ordinary citizens and will be used infrequently, if at all. Many police purchases I have observed come across to these eyes as nothing more than expensive toys for grown ups.
On this same subject, a former Bush treasury official has stated in the Wall Street Journal that he fears Health Care spending will exceed military spending. Like the good Quaker I am, my immediate response is, of course, “What’s wrong with that?” A sure-fire way to render yourself instantly unpopular is to start talking about war as an immoral agent in direct contradiction to Jesus’ teachings—one that needs to be banished from the face of the earth. I suppose I’d much rather people be healthy and live long lives as free from pain as they can than for us to have the unfailingly depressing capacity to blow the hell out of our latest enemy. Not only that, I might even be enough of a dreamer to believe that improving the quality of life for all might be a far more unifying solution than violently ending lives in an inferno of evil.
To draw a parallel between a city police force and the U.S. military, all kinds of devices are utilized that give the facade of protection and safety. In reality, they are little more than window dressing and wishful thinking. As we have determined, a color-coded terror alert system does not keep us safe. An increased troops presence in Afghanistan has not interrupted the opium trade, nor prevented the reformation of the Taliban. Constant patrols in armed vehicles have not completely eliminated violent acts. Nor has this deceptively insufficient shift of soldiers from one troubled country to another prevented journalists from being kidnapped. My point in identifying these limitations of military force is not to inspire fear, but rather to illustrate a very difficult lesson: complete safety is an illusion.
The President and others have talked constantly about the need to eliminate waste, graft, and corruption in the health care industry as a means to pay for the massive overhaul commonly known as Health Care Reform. I don’t doubt that the program will, as promised, pay for itself if serious efforts towards eliminated frivolity and superfluous procedures are eliminated. Living for the past fifteen years with a chronic illness have provided more than enough examples of that. Sometimes I wish I wasn’t as aware of the absurdity as I am. However, somehow we as a society haven’t quite confronted the subject of waste and needless expenditure as regards military spending. Though noting the negative impact of the military-industrial complex is a start, if we are committed to reduce our deficit and to streamline certain titanic segments of our economy, we might be wise to consider military spending reform, too.
Though I might be an idealist at times, I am far from a fool. If we thought that Health Care Reform inspired incredible hatred and spite from the Right, imagine what kind of missiles would be lobbed at us if we proposed ways to modify the military. The Republican response would be immediate. We’d be painted as soft on terror, soft on defense, and accused of inviting other countries to invade us. Uniformed people at Town Hall Forums would demand that they didn’t want a government-controlled military. The same snidely dismissive charges that greeted Candidate Obama when he advocated at least giving diplomacy with our enemies a chance would resume. In many situations, particularly this one, my spiritual beliefs are tempered by pragmatism. I do recognize that the only way war can be set aside is if every country gets on board and that for, a variety of complex and interlocking reasons, that is unlikely to happen any time soon. Even so, we have a distressing tendency to believe that our military always works flawlessly and that the more tax dollars we add to it, the better it functions. The same people who speak out against government incompetence or are the first to assert that “throwing money at a problem is no solution” notably do not extend these same scathing criticisms to our military.
I suppose could mention Abu Ghraib, enhanced interrogation techniques, Guantanamo Bay, the Iraq War, and others in my own defense, but spin and rationalization will always get in the way of logic. There will always be questions considered too dangerous to be sufficiently questioned or even sufficiently answered. I, for one, believe that there is far more to 11 September 2001 then will ever be revealed in our lifetime. Lest anyone misunderstand, what I am NOT saying is that I believe 11 September was an inside job. What I AM proposing, however, is my firm belief that this country was so woefully unprepared for the attack (strongest military in the world, natch) that the entire chain of command as established in the Bush Administration, on that tragic day, resembled nothing less than a comedy of errors. I believe that Vice-President Cheney and high-ranking insiders, not President Bush, ran our government for several hours, if not for several days in the chaos and confusion that ensued in the immediate aftermath; an embarrassing degree of miscommunication and incompetence reigned. Admitting that to the public and to the world would not exactly show us to be the sterling, confident superpower of which we like to portray ourselves.
Much could be learned from both our mistakes and our network of quick fixes. When we outsource our freedom and health to industries and specialized occupations, we effectively place our collective health and safety in the hands of others who might not necessarily have our best interest at heart. No Republican would ever wish to be labeled an anarchist, but their pervasive and recently adamant refrain that government is the root of evil, whether they recognize it or not, is just that. If conservatives wish to follow this line of logic to its ultimate conclusion, they ought to be finding ways to dismantle government altogether. They won’t do this, of course, because dismantling government includes dismantling the police and the military. Anarchy on one’s own terms is not anarchy at all. Those Republican politicians who believe that government is the problem, not the solution would be wise to question why they have made a career out this supposed cesspool of corruption and terrible things. They have had years to prune government down to some arbitrary, more manageable size and have found themselves indebted to the same corruption, out of control spending, and size-swelling as the Democrats they criticize. Quite hypocritically, they have increased the size of the government they agree with at the expense of the government they do not. This isn’t just hypocrisy, it’s also awful policy. That they can still make these arguments with a straight face might explain why they happen to be the minority party who has to embrace the lunacy of their fringes to even stay relevant.
Sep 13 2009
As a student of history, I frequently refer back to the past in the hopes that it might provide some degree of clarity that I might be able to apply to the current day. While I know better than to engage in the historical fallacy that deceptively promises that the past neatly and exactly dictates the future, I do find it interesting to observe the patterns and the events of a different age and how these intersect ours own times. What deeply troubles me, however, is that I have begun to hear rumblings and impulsive chantings of division and acrimony. I have begun to notice some alarming similarities between these times and other instances in our nation’s history where we eschewed logic and reason for emotional excess and mutual paranoia. Such points in our past inevitably created terrible conflicts, the likes of which we are in many ways still dealing with into the current day. Irrationality, emotion in place of reason, illogical accusations, and a building animosity bordering on violent hatred between ideological poles was present then and seems to be swelling in intensity now.