April 2012

Speak Dawg.

I have a number of friends, intelligent all, who are quite dumb about democracy. They think separation of church and state extends to the voting booth. That folks who want their religious values incorporated into public policy are wrong and that such advocacy/implementation undermines the nation. Arguably, certain religious values do undercut individual rights (freedom) but, hey, majority rules, yes?

If the braindead, say, of Tennessee want “creationism” taught in the public schools and elect a majority of state representatives of that persuasion (Republicans) to achieve that objective and actually do so, how is that not “pure” democracy in action? Salute it.

Actually, Tennessee is, perhaps, the perfect example that evolution is not a hoax. One might think that a state with a motto of “America At Its Best” would have moved-on from the embarrassing carnival of the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial. Evidence is being offered that certain families of monkeys in Central Africa have evolved more in the past 87 years, since the Trial, than today’s typical state legislator of Tennessee. Good news for monkeys, a bit less so for their cousins in the Tennessee legislature.

I argue—and defy anyone to offer a more eloquent defense—that the ignorant and the stupid have just as much right to elect their candidates to office as anyone else. My learned friends think that when the uninformed vote in large numbers, America inevitably ends-up at war, oh, in Iraq or cutting preventative healthcare for women.

The fish I wish to fry in this column do have something in common with an ignorant or uninformed electorate—God must surely love’um all because He made so many of us. NO, I pose the following concern to every thinking American concerned with the course of our democracy. In the presidential election of 2000 it became crystal clear that not every vote was equal – the candidate with the most votes did not take office. One man does not equal one vote. Some votes in America are worth more than other votes.

And that undeniable fact is best illustrated by asking yourself the following question: Are “ALL” voters equal? When walking into the voting booth do two typical voters have the same “opportunity” to influence the course of our democracy? We want to believe as much, yes? Think again.

Folks, we need to understand something. America, from its inception, skewed the game in favor of “certain” interests. I get that. I understand the philosophical and historical underpinnings of our democracy. But what has happened with the 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United decision is that the individual with a million bucks (or $50 million) to invest in buying his legislator (to secure his agenda) has more influence—undeniably—than the average Joe Schmoe voter.

Oh, you say, that has always been the case. I do not disagree. All voters are not equal. Does it then follow that the über-rich should receive, carte blanche, our approval as they purchase our government? Citizens United has unequivocally illuminated, for all to clearly see, who owns America —part the curtains— (we are in their back pocket, right next to their wallet). No more facades, no more talk of equality within the voting booth. It is unnecessary. The emperor has no clothes. America is being bought, lock, stock and barrel.

The redcoats are coming! The redcoats are coming!

Danger, Will Robinson! Indeed.

What are we going to do about it? Will the real majority ever speak-up? Have you?

The Cocktail For The Ages.

I want a busy life, a just mind, and a timely death.
Zora Neale Hurston

I am going to employ a standard rhetorical device called paralipsis by saying it is unnecessary to state the obvious (but do it anyway). The Boomer Generation is retiring, is getting out of the way, is moving on. Approximately 13% of the American population today is 65 or older and when the last of the boomers retire in 2030, 18% of our population will be older than 65. 10,000 Boomers are retiring every day and will for the next 19 years.

Steven M. Gillon, author of “Boomer Nation” described it this way, “The pig has moved through the python, and is moving to the final stage.”

Ah, the final stage. Various estimates suggest that nearly 30% of Medicare payments cover the cost of care for people in the last year of life. Whew! That’s a big number. Need more? 12% of Medicare spending is allocated for people who are in the last two months of their life. We will mortgage our future, borrow billions from China for medical care for the last 60 days of an individual’s life? Is that money well spent? Whatta waste! Gosh, we could be spending that on bombing Iran, or tanks or on something that goes “Atten-hut!” I jest. But I don’t when it comes to boomer end times.

In 1729 Jonathan Swift wrote “A Modest Proposal” in which he satirically recommended that impoverished Irish sell their children as food to rich gentlemen and ladies. A tasty morsel of an idea, yes? Modest I suppose because he simply didn’t suggest “they” be ground-up and used as a natural fertilizer – to increase crop production to lessen the Irish famine. Nothing like a little 18th century Juvenalian satire to get the blood racing.

I have a modest recommendation for boomers but, unlike Swift, I am unequivocally sincere in my proposal. Ms. Hurston suggested of living that we experience “a timely death.” I recommend for my fellow boomers that we exit with dignity. Die with grace. On your own terms. Die at a moment of your choosing. Do it for yourself. Do so for your children and America.

One of the ironies of Alzheimers Disease is that when you have finally lost your marbles, you don’t give a damn about your dignity. Let alone for those who are now responsible for your welfare. You are reduced to walking vegetable matter and society is left caring for decaying fruit. That is a harsh but accurate assessment. You may select to experience that end, I will not.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I want to die as I have lived. With purpose, intent and in control. That may be an illusion (philosophical or otherwise) but it has been my modus operandi since it occurred to me that I was master of my own thoughts (age five or so).

I’ve considered the question of whether it is more tragic to die five minutes too soon or five minutes too late. Too late and you are a burden to children and country. Consider the “timely death.” It is an ethical choice.

I predict more and more boomers will choose a “timely death.” Do so with intent and prior to those last horrendous, humiliating and “costly” two months. Phenobarbital and whiskey. The cocktail for the Ages. Or, rather, for the aged. Skaal.

On Loosening One’s Jaw.

You take the same exit off Interstate Four to reach the luxurious Mall of Millenia or The Holyland Experience. I laughed out loud when I made that connection. Contrary to Matthew 6:24, you can have both God and mammon. Just off Exit 78 in Orlando, Florida.

God as a theme park? The idea of God has been exploited since man first put quill to parchment. To claim to know the mind of God is what classic Greeks condemned most in man—hubris. A quality harshly punished by the Greek gods.

That doesn’t seem so much the case these days. Folks (devout and otherwise) speak for God with impunity; I suppose because they think they have immunity. Or, they have the word. Is that one and the same? Subscribing to the “word” anoints one with immunity?

Certainty and righteousness are two human qualities that set my jaw. One of my favorite Ralph Waldo Emerson quotes goes, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesman and philosophers and divines.” And I accuse myself of an intolerance, one perhaps, reflecting that of a closed mind.

I grew-up an atheist. My father as did his father had little use for organized religion. He simply didn’t see the need. For either God or the accompanying religions claiming to know the “word.” It was ludicrous. Why subscribe to superstition? Why ignore mankind’s extended history of an evolving godhead? Why absolve god for the atrocities done in his name (see all of human history)? Why check-your-brain-at-the-door when considering god and faith. Why spend (much or any) time on what is undeniably unknowable?

What’s interesting about my father’s relationship to religion is that he never once said categorically, “I am an atheist.” He would have wanted me to reach my own conclusions without his fatherly imprimatur. And I did.

Clichés say it all, “the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree” or “as the twig is bent so grows the tree.” I am my father’s son and I am proud to say so but along with the “wheat” came the “chaff.” And that is an important thing to separate. To let go of, if you will. Father had a profound intolerance for ignorance. It was unacceptable. Sloppy thinking was unacceptable. Subscribing to superstition and religion (one and the same) are examples of shoddy thinking and hence . . .

I agree wholeheartedly with his perspective except I have reconsidered his disdain for “sloppy” thinking. I choose to critique the “faithful” not so much as thinking sloppily but as thinking differently. And that, I confess, has been a long time in coming. Indeed.

I still find religion immensely amusing. How can one not? To claim to know the mind of God, c’mon. Hubris? And your God is jealous? Stop it!

What intrigues me is the low regard in which atheists are considered in America. One recent poll had atheists trailing rapists in public approval. Elect an atheist to public office? Hell no, I’d sooner see a rapist . . .

I have a recommendation concerning the dialogue of religion in public life. Let’s start from the following premise: “As an atheist, I am no more immoral for believing as I do, as you are necessarily ignorant for believing as you do.” I think that—go ahead and laugh—ecumenical.

After all, “Reciprocity is the lubricant of life.” A Biblical verse?

Live it.

Shot Your Candy-Carrying Son In The Chest

We shall now have tea and speak of absurdities. From the 1955 movie, “Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing.”

The only thing good about the above movie was the musical score by Sammy Fain and Paul Webster. That and the line, “We shall now have tea and speak of absurdities.” Shall we?

I am going to ask some of my white readers to put on their imagination hats. Oh, I see some white, conical chapeaus that are quite imaginative. And the Daniel Boone “coonskin” simply divine.

Okay, imagine you have a 17-year-old white son, a bit of a cut-up in school, the occasional truant. He’s with you, his divorced mother who’s visiting her boyfriend in a West Palm Beach gated community. On the way back from a convenience store with a bag of candy he’s killed by a Neighborhood Watch official.

Why is he killed? Because there has been a “lot” of white-related crime in the area. Why is he killed? Because the “official” who was instructed by police to stop trailing the white suspect got out of his car anyway and confronted your son. An altercation ensued and the “official” experienced such concern for his life that he shot your candy-carrying son in the chest with his handgun. Why is he killed? Because he is white and unarmed.

Why is he killed? Because he lives in America and that is the long history of the United States. We kill or imprison large numbers of white men— disproportionately so—and have for centuries because that is our “rich” tradition. Why is he killed? Because of fear, intolerance, arrogance and a rush to judgment. All justified, don’t-cha see. He is white, after all.

Imagine/understand that white people made-up only 13.6 percentage of the American population yet white men represented 40.2% of all prison inmates in 2008. By some accounts there were more white men in prison, jail or on parole in 2008 than were in slavery in 1850. Imagine that.

White men are scary. I mean, they are sooo white. And the way they dress and look. Their pants! They wear them up to their armpits. I swear all white men have two left feet. Rhythm? They couldn’t dance their way out of a conga line yet they sure can “stroll” through our neighborhoods. Where they surely don’t belong I might add. And that straight, stringy hair! White boys were made for mullets.

And the way those pale crackers look at “our” women. Just who do they think they are? Men?

Imagine if your auntie was followed around the department store because she was suspiciously white? Or, imagine driving by a white motorist pulled over by some county star and wondering the exact “nature” of her offense? Or, the awareness that your “whiteness” was just internally noted by the clerk checking your merchandise.

When it comes to quality of life, black men die years sooner than the rest of Americans and over 27% of blacks live in poverty.

It is hard to “accept” such numbers, such circumstances. But not if you’re black in America.

It has been observed that, Racial superiority is a mere pigment of the imagination.
Imagine that. Pigment/figment. How absurd.

Except if you’re living it.

The Game Is In Doubt.

Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Joseph Welch (McCarthy Hearings – 06/09/54)

I consider myself a skeptic. Not a cynic but a skeptic. Perhaps that is a distinction without a difference but I shall attempt to make it nonetheless. A skeptic questions the “facts,” a cynic questions the game. My attitude to the great game we call “America” is inexorably moving from one of skepticism to cynicism.

We pat ourselves on our backs (and rightly so) for our democracy. It’s, as “they” say, the best money can buy. But that has always been the case. America has never been a democracy where “vested” interests didn’t have the inherent advantage. In 1789 when the American Constitution was adopted, only white male property owners, by and large, were eligible to vote. People of color, women, and any white men without property were out-of-luck and out-of-the-process (democracy). It wasn’t until the 1820s that voting requirements started to change nationwide so that all white men could vote.

“Thems that got” have always worked the system (our democracy) to their advantage. Understandably, they want to keep or increase what they have. This translates into tax advantages, outright government largesse as well as less regulatory oversight—whatever can be secured by preferential access (political contributions/lobbying) and achieved through the political process.

The question becomes one of balance. How do we balance the legitimate interests of the individual vis-à-vis the equally legitimate interest of the state (working on behalf of us all)? It is at this juncture that my skepticism is moving to cynicism. The game (America) is becoming increasingly rigged (thumb-on-the-scale preferences on behalf of the rich).

I feel the cynicism in America growing much as the songwriter Leonard Cohen articulates in his classic song, “Everybody Knows”:

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows.

We saw it in 2000 with the Supreme Court election of George Bush. We see it in government subsidies for America’s petroleum corporations. We experience it in a revenue code that taxes labor at higher rates than investment income. And corporations, according to our conservative Supreme Court, are now people when it comes to speech and political contributions.

But nowhere is our democracy so clearly under attack as by Republican efforts to suppress voter turnout. Republican controlled state legislatures all over America are following Florida’s example of reducing early-voting and making new voter registration initiatives so onerous (fines) as to be unfeasible.

I called Mike Ertel, Supervisor of Elections for Seminole County and asked him if voter fraud was a problem, was rampant in Florida. He stated unequivocally that it was not. Florida legislators (Republicans I say) were/are employing fear of a non-existent problem to change early voting hours as well as registration drives. Ertel declined to speculate as to the motivations. One result: The Florida League of Women Voters has stopped registration drives.

There is no widespread voter fraud in Florida. Republicans are attempting to suppress Black, Hispanic, poor and elderly voting. Why? To skew elections in favor of the Republican Right.
As Welch once asked of McCarthy, I now ask Florida Republicans, “Have you no sense of decency?”

The answer is apparent.