On this Labor Day, the fullest definition of economic equality and fair wages is on my mind. While on the subject, I’d like to pursue a related issue that has lately been front and center. While we continue to debate the role of marriage and what it means to us today, I thought I’d contribute a different strain of discourse to the already deeply rutted road. Most prevailing trains of thought opposing same-sex marriage tend to see it in only one of its many incarnations over the eons. Opponents of marriage equality take a rose-colored glasses interpretation of an earlier era that probably never really existed. Imagination can be deceptive. The sacred institution was only as sacred as each individual couple regarded it. These arguments presume that the impetus and motives of marriage were basically the same across the board and throughout the centuries.
Tag: popular opinion
Sep 06 2010
Reforming, Not Rescinding Social Security
Feb 18 2010
Continued Legislative Pushback to SCOTUS Ruling
An article in yesterday’s Washington Post reveals that the roots of public dissatisfaction with the recent SCOTUS decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission run deep. As the paper’s own polling reveals,
Eight in 10 poll respondents say they oppose the high court’s Jan. 21 decision to allow unfettered corporate political spending, with 65 percent “strongly” opposed. Nearly as many backed congressional action to curb the ruling, with 72 percent in favor of reinstating limits.
The poll reveals relatively little difference of opinion on the issue among Democrats (85 percent opposed to the ruling), Republicans (76 percent) and independents (81 percent).
The results suggest a strong reservoir of bipartisan support on the issue for President Obama and congressional Democrats, who are in the midst of crafting legislation aimed at limiting the impact of the high court’s decision.
The Roberts Court unfortunately reaffirmed that corporations have the same basic freedoms and rights to free speech as do individuals. The sordid history of corporate personhood began in the late Nineteenth Century and has been a contentious, divisive issue ever since. With the rise of corporations and multinational conglomerates, corporate personhood has never been far from the public consciousness. A series of rulings over time have revealed the depths of the debate.
Justices Hugo Black and William O. Douglas both rendered opinions attacking the doctrine of corporate personhood. Justice Black, in a dissenting opinion, concluded,
If the people of this nation wish to deprive the states of their sovereign rights to determine what is a fair and just tax upon corporations doing a purely local business within their own state boundaries, there is a way provided by the Constitution to accomplish this purpose. That way does not lie along the course of judicial amendment to that fundamental charter. An amendment having that purpose could be submitted by Congress as provided by the Constitution. I do not believe that the Fourteenth Amendment had that purpose, nor that the people believed it had that purpose, nor that it should be construed as having that purpose.
(Hugo Black, dissenting, Connecticut General Life Insurance Company v. Johnson (303 U.S. 77, 1938)
It remains to be seen whether this bill will be signed into law, or, assuming it is, what its greater impact will be. The recent ruling has just now taken effect and no one at this point is certain what liberties corporations might take or intend on taking in this year’s election cycle. Furthermore, the Obama Administration and the Roberts Court have not yet taken highly antagonistic positions with each other the same way FDR did with the Hughes Court back in the 1930’s. However, it must be noted that FDR’s New Deal lead to the enactment of a variety of reforms and Obama has only managed a paltry sum in comparison. A majority desperate to minimize its losses would do well to start here.
Feb 06 2010
Keeping Expectations of Leadership in Check
It is a truism that leaders are few and followers are numerous. This is itself an inequality that we don’t often contemplate, nor feel any compulsion to amend by direct action. No flurry of blog postings or activist group with a message statement to convey has ever proposed that we ought to consider revising this important discrepancy. This may be because the gap itself is likely a construct of biology, for whatever reason. One wishes perhaps the numbers would be a bit more balanced, certainly not flip-flopped, since if most of us were leaders, we’d never get anything accomplished. In that regard, herding cats might be putting it lightly. Still, as it stands, for whatever reason, those who lead hold minority status and as such they often easily manage to attract followers to their causes and private bandwagon. It is another paradox of human behavior that while most minorities find reduced numbers much to their detriment, those who lead find the fact that they are relatively few in number much to their benefit.
We always seem to return to the example of the Great Man or Great Woman, the almost superhuman being who through his or her personal skill fixes all outstanding problems and provides mass unity. We should really know better than to expect that one single person could save us from ourselves, but to some extent, it isn’t surprising why can so easily opt for this belief. Two thousand plus years of a Christ-centered framework leads us to expect that a Messiah will rescue us, whether we acknowledge it consciously or not. This is true whether we’re Christian, Jewish, or not a person of faith at all. I myself recognize that I’m still waiting for Jesus to return, and would gladly fall at his feet to offer my assistance if I knew for certain he had returned. If the Second Coming arrived, some would doubt to the very end, some would desire proof, and some would resist altogether purely for their own reasons. Many, however, would breathe a sigh of relief, and quickly fall in line behind him.
Recent developments with political leaders have showed what happens when power corrupts, temptation leads to bad decisions, or disappointment sets in when high hopes are not realized. There is certainly enough fault to spread around if we seek to assign blame. However, that is not exactly my intent with this post. Nor am I seeking to absolve those who let their own shortcomings destroy the good will and good stead they formerly held. With power, charisma, and charm comes temptation of all kinds–monetary gain and sexual gratification only but two of them. I seek to bring light, in part, to the fact that those in leadership roles who court the adoration of the crowds, instantly reap all the benefits and all of the drawbacks in the process. If I, for example, stand up before an attentive audience and impress them with the cogency of my arguments, the eloquence of my rhetoric, or otherwise strike a nerve, I can expect to receive compliments, flirtatious glances or conversation, and an instant kind of immediate attention and personal favor with those who until a moment before were complete strangers. Everyone wants to be my friend, at least for that moment.
A close associate is fond of advancing a particular theory concerning this phenomenon. His example concerns the immediacy of live music, but it works well in this context, too. As he puts it, the reason we find it so easy to be attracted to to musicians, in particular, is that we see our own best qualities reflected in whomever is singing or playing. A powerful emotional intimacy is present in that moment that perhaps speaks more to us and our condition than to those on stage. This concept may wash over political leaders as well, particularly when on the stump, particularly when their personal charisma renders them something close to celebrity. They inspire so much in us: adoration, trust, envy, hope, desire, and so on. That we would entrust them so willingly with all of these in the blink of an eye makes me wonder how anyone who stands out in front can survive for long, with or without the benefit of handlers. It takes a tremendously strong person to not succumb to distraction, properly handle the stress, stay on message, and not get waylaid by a thousand wild goose chases. It is precisely our demands upon which they must conform and though they never are allowed to forget, this doesn’t mean that they’re always in the easiest position to respond. We expect much in return for our trust and our affections and the conditions of the transaction are both numerous and exacting.
So long as we expect perfection from our leaders, we can never see them for their gloriously flawed humanity and never forgive them for their frailties. We sometimes treat these figures as though they were our lover, one which always must say the right thing at the right time and halfway read our minds. Assuming they were the keeper of our heart, we would then need to concede that we would need to love them not just for their best qualities, but also for their worst. We can easily be dismayed, demoralized, and distressed at the behavior and conduct of those we idolize, certainly, but forgiveness is a concept ultimately foreign to us far too often. If it arrives, it arrives late, if ever at all, and it is yielded grudgingly. How often have I “forgiven” someone by mentioning, “Well, I’ll forgive you this once, but you better not do it again, or I’ll never speak to you again”.
This ought not excuse mediocrity, philandering, or a distressing turn towards hypocrisy, but it might better explain a bit better some of the hypocrisies buried within our minds. We often say we’d never want to be a celebrity, a politician, or anyone with the same degree of constant media exposure and with it a fishbowl work environment, but many of us would also jump at the chance if it were available to us someday. I’m not so much advancing a notion that we ought to Leave People in the Public Eye Alone™ but that we need to look within ourselves and examine why we thrust so much of our entire selves, dreams, and aspirations towards whomever might have ability, courage, or God-given talents of oratory and authenticity. They certainly use our faith in them for their own benefit, as is part of the beast, and hopefully never forget the potency of the dreams of thousands upon thousands. If this truly were a relationship rather than a social contract, there would be disturbingly equal proportions of sadism and masochism present.
As it stands now, this compact is a curious kind of two-step, whereby we give all of ourselves to whomever represents us formally, with the requisite number of strings attached that we put in place in an effort that ensure that our personal wish list is followed without in order and without flaw. As for those who would lead or stand out from the pack, raising the bar high, be it in music, entertainment, or politics sets a huge precedent in place and some can rise to the challenge by hitting another home run out of the park, though many fall short. It would seem, then, that the responsibility to keep things in proper proportion is everyone’s. We may not be able to close the gap regarding the number of those who lead versus those who follow, but we can make strides toward adopting a much more feasible strategy, one that would lead to fewer headaches and fewer feelings of betrayal. To me, forgiveness could be a solution. And by this I don’t mean forgiveness for selfish reasons like the ability to successfully cross off another item on a voluminous to-do list, but forgiveness out of a realization that doing so would encourage true healing. True healing leads to group health. If Jesus does return someday, he would expect nothing less.
Jan 05 2010
An Honest Discussion on Terrorism, For Once
I’ve neglecting dipping my toe into the debate regarding the failed terror plot until now. What passed for debate quickly grew tedious since it became transformed into an inconsequential tit-for-tat back and forth regarding the President’s decision to not make a statement or strong response in the middle of his vacation. Cable news networks with space to fill have used surrogates and talking heads to spin to their heart’s content, but what I’d love to see was an actual substantive debate instead of all of the clutter. A start might be in discussing long-range plans for protecting us from subsequent plots and what we out here in the peanut gallery ought to expect or might even need to contribute ourselves to make the process far more efficient. Often our anti-terrorism response has been primarily reactive and defensive rather than taking the fight to our enemy, but by encouraging a more proactive approach I am notably not advocating for preemptive war or increased military buildup of any sort. Instead, I am pushing for a smarter strategy based on a compulsion to objectively study the complexities of a complex enemy. Some might call it “dithering”.
I am not surprised that the Office of Homeland Security failed in its stated objective. I am not surprised that the system let all of us down. Republicans have long advanced the obsessive desire to pare down or even eliminate entirely many government agencies, and yet they established one of their own out of what was deemed at the time extreme necessity. That would be like handing Libertarians control of the United Nations and asking them to devise a new system that would add another seat to the Security Council. Moreover, I strongly believe that establishing a new agency was to some extent merely window dressing set in place to pacify people who were understandably worried and fearful after the 11 September 2001 attacks. Homeland Security, in many ways was a completely disingenuous, empty construct, like so many made in the immediate aftermath (See: Color-coded Terror Alert scale) since we know now that power and with it decision-making was primarily concentrated during the Bush Administration years in a very secretive, very small inner circle.
Many Futurists, those who observe existing trends and predict trends likely before us, have come to a belief that we are in for a 30-40 year period of terrorism. And as soon as it subsides, it is highly probable that something else will spring up in its place. We enjoyed a relaxing, but short-lived, decade-long respite from the Cold War, but before that we clung desperately to the notion of Mutually Assured Destruction as the most supreme deterrent to prevent nuclear war with the USSR. Furthermore, much of our national identity is based upon the first two centuries of this county’s history, years when we were very much an isolationist country cautious of foreign entanglements. Back then we ran a strong second place to the nation/states of Western Europe, though we dreamed to scale those same heights. Our status as a superpower is still a relatively recent development and we have yet to either firmly embrace it or to understand its implications. If we did, we might understand one important reason why we are consistently targeted by radical Islam. Anyone who has been the runaway number one for any extended length of time is going to have a bull’s eye emblazoned upon them and create instant motivation for those who are jealous and envious.
Additionally, though this nation has a long, ignoble history of disregarding the basic rights and just recompense owed to its own indigenous people as well as the natives of other countries when financial gain was at stake, that in and of itself is an insufficient sole rationale for why terrorist tactics are used against us. To be sure, exploitative power plays that privatized oil-rich plots of Native American land claims under the domain and care of the Federal government have antecedents that stretch back to the 1920’s; it is also true that the United States government meddled in the affairs of other countries, particularly in the Middle East and South America to protect its supply of the natural resources coveted by big business. But as for why and where this hatred truly stems from, one needs consider class disparities and economic inequality, which are often the major offenders. Since terrorism cannot so broadly be defined and since each unique group has a different strategy and rationale, it cannot be emphasized enough that terrorism has no one set definition nor stated agenda. Where simplistic answers or a lack of them altogether exists, baseless speculation rushes in to fill the void.
It is indeed true that a common enemy in the form of the United States of America is the focal point upon which a variety of terrorist organizations draw unity. Yet, what we don’t hear about quite so often is that many of these groups also target governments in their own region, so it would be a mischaracterization to assume that all cells purely project their entire hatred upon the Great Satan. When we over-simplify a very complex issue like Terrorism for the sake of time constraints or election year sloganeering, then we do everyone a grave disservice. So many Republican talking points would be reduced to either wishful thinking or naive saber-rattling if the public knew just how nuanced were the goals, ambitions, and agendas of those who advocate our utter destruction.
Cultural identity, just like individual identity is predicated on difference, not on similarity. We form our conception of ourselves and our country based on how we differ from other nations and other peoples. Those who have traveled outside of the U.S. are instantly aware of their American citizenship when surrounded by a culture completely different from their own. Those who would otherwise discount or take for granted their status as Americans often metaphorically wrap themselves in the Stars and Stripes when on foreign soil. In so doing, they often seek out conversation and companionship with other ex-patriots, even those they would likely never give a second glance to when back inside the borders of their own country. Other important identities we claim for ourselves manifest themselves in this same manner when we are isolated from a larger gathering, be it religious/spiritual identification, supporter of a particular sports team, adherent to a particular philosophy or movement—to merely state a few examples. As we have seen with Al-Qaeda, its adherents hail from a variety of countries and cultures, but it is unified out of a sense of collective purpose, a more or less common enemy, and a uniform belief system.
Any defensive measure we or any other country adopts to contain and detect terrorist cells is going to need to recognize that our commitment to keep the citizens of the United States safe from this unique threat should expect to be in place for at least a generation, perhaps even a bit longer than that. This was a long time coming and it will be a long time gone. Government does not need to be scrapped, but it does need to be streamlined considerably. We’ve seen this in plain view recently with the health care debate. Our legislative branch was never built for speed or swift decision making and, prior to that, we viewed the shameful epic fail of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), itself under the dubious control of Homeland Security. Populist anger drives the opinions of many at this time, but though I have heard the voices or read the words of those who tear into the worthlessness of government and with it the base incompetence of government officials, I have heard precious few solutions or proposals that might reduce or at least begin to address the problem. Notably this unfocused rage isn’t just relegated to the person on the street. It also finds favor in the form of the person paid to state an opinion supposedly shared with the person on the street.
What continues to amaze me (perhaps I should not be surprised) is how a certain brand of ultra-hawk led by Dick Cheney has ripped into the President for somehow downplaying the importance of the would-be Christmas Day underwear bomber. While Americans can at times be duped, they are not rubes. Having seen the 11 September attacks transformed into a shaky rationale for a costly and highly unnecessary war, they now hold a skeptical, cynical opinion regarding the amazing assertion that anyone who argues that a new President elected to right those wrongs doesn’t believe that we are really still at war. Cheney seems to want to live in the past, somewhere around 2003, when the Administration of which he was a vital part still held some degree of veracity with the American public. He fails also to understand that recent disappointment with President Obama does not mean that Bush Administration policies are somehow being vindicated in the process. The former Vice-President is just as unpopular now as he was the day he left office and those who might concede him one or two hair-splitting points do so grudgingly at best.
Much of what lies ahead of us is brand new and unprecedented. I can understand anyone’s reluctance to sound the twelve-alarm-fire as we did after 11 September. It was taxing, exhausting, and emotionally draining. I have absolutely no desire to repeat the process. As many of us are already strained and feeling vulnerable from the recession and the dismal unemployment rate, I simply don’t think we have much in reserve left to enter into the state of panic and paranoia that existed in the immediate aftermath of that awful day. Not overreacting would probably do us well, especially if one keeps in mind the aftermath of the attacks, which spawned a thousand unfounded rumors and knee-jerk reactions. It is notable that when we have the ability to create imaginary bogeymen, we do so in ways that hindsight renders absolutely ridiculous. When our free time and our ability to conjure up the fanciful is muted, then we are better able to keep things in perspective. It really makes one wonder if times of adversity are as bad as we might think they are.