Monday, May 26, 2014

Week of 05/26/2014

We Have Failed Our Veterans
I will say this about “my country, ‘tis of thee…”
We love waging war!
We do!  As the late George Carlin once said, we’re the only nation in the world that has rockets and bombs in its national anthem!  We send hypocritical chickenhawks to Washington who continually pledge to “get tough” on the world when bad things are said about us.  We’re known around the world as war-mongers, the only country (at least as of this article) to have ever dropped a nuclear device on another nation, and we did that twice.
We love war!  We love waging it.  We love preparing for it.  We love coming up with all of the propaganda to get ourselves in the mood for it.  We love watching it on the cable news channels as we get ourselves into that evangelical “with us or against us” mindset.
And you know what we love more than that?  We love winning those wars.  Oh our previous elected doofus, President George W. Bush, could not wait to get that “Mission Accomplished” banner flying when it came to the Iraq War!  We hadn’t even found Saddam Hussein yet and we were declaring the fight over with and looking for new wars to wage.
What we don’t like to do, though, is clean up after our own messes.
Oh it’s easy to send in the contractors to fix up the infrastructure.  That’s why Halliburton loves our war-wacky chickenhawk crusades; because they get paid the big bucks afterward.
What’s not so easy is taking care of our own servicemen and women after the fighting has stopped.
For the past few weeks, our Veterans Administration has been embarrassed at the revelations of their gross incompetence when it comes to doing their jobs of helping those that served.  News of secret waiting lists and veterans literally dying before being “allowed” to have the help they need.
This is not how we should be treating our servicemen and women for all they did on our behalf.
And yet… I angers me to say that this is par for the course.
Let’s get brutally honest here… we have a long, long, long history of giving our veterans the shaft!
Yes, on occasion we’ve bent over backwards for them.  This was certainly the case after World War II, between the tickertape parades and the G.I. Bill and all of the programs that were supposedly designed to help the supposed “Greatest Generation” get back to a post-war life.
And, yes, there were those celebrations after the Gulf War, since President George H.W. Bush wanted the world to know not only who “won” that conflict, but also that it was supposedly time to start the “post-war economic boom” that never happened.
But do you remember the tickertape parade for the soldiers that came home after the Korean War?  No?  How about the Vietnam War?  Yeah, there were the ones in the eighties… long after the fact.  But the soldiers that came home from the conflict were pretty much left to fend for themselves.
How about World War I?
Here’s a little piece of embarrassing history for our country… in 1932, America’s veterans from World War I assembled in Washington D.C. to demand what was promised to them.  Our government responded to the peaceful request by our veterans with tear gas, bayonets, and tanks.  Led by Douglas MacArthur and George Patton, of all people!
Go ahead and look it up.  It was called the “Bonus Army”.  There was plenty of footage then.  They even made a movie in 1933 based on it called “Gabriel Over The White House”.
No, we feel we don’t need to reward our servicemen, do we?  We just expect them to simply carry on like nothing ever happened.  “Welcome home, now get back to work.  Get back with your lives.”
There is a little meme going about that says that if we can’t take care of our veterans, then we shouldn’t be waging wars in the first place.  Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders recently tweeted “If you think it's too expensive to take care of #veterans, then don't send them to war.”
While there is a part of me that overwhelmingly agrees with the idea, the truth of the matter is that, with some exceptions, we’ve been pretty much screwing over our veterans since the end of the American Revolution.  And we will continue to screw over our servicemen and women, because the people that call for war are not the ones that pay the price for it.  They sit comfortably in their offices, thousands of miles away from any kind of danger, watching with excitement and bloodlust as the carnage plays out on the cable news channels.  They reap all of the benefits and risk none of the consequences.
But that doesn’t mean that we should simply give up on our veterans!  Nor should we simply let the gross incompetence continue.  The people responsible for the gross incompetence, the ones that have been cooking the books, the ones turning veterans away as a matter of policy, and the ones that have stuck their heads in the sand instead of doing their jobs and putting a stop to that, they all need to be held accountable.  They all need to be fired and face possible criminal charges.  And, yes, that includes the overseers in Congress who are supposed to make sure these kinds of things did not happen.
President Barack Obama made healthcare reform his signature legislation.  With that in mind, it is nothing short of an embarrassment to know that his White House would let this kind of gross incompetence to continue when it comes to the healthcare of America’s veterans.  His people should be doing a building-by-building visit, checking the books to make sure there are no more embarrassments for them; that our veterans are getting exactly the help they need without delay.
Let’s put it this way: if the Obama White House cannot guarantee healthcare for our former servicemen and women, the people that voluntarily gave their lives in service to “king and country”, then how can they ensure the healthcare for the rest of the nation?
The script tells us that we must all “support the troops”, and I think it’s safe to say that the vast majority of us do just that.  But that support should not end just because their service does.  They deserve nothing less than what is promised to them for their willing sacrifice.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Week of 05/19/2014

Sterling: Time To Be Quiet
In the Tim Burton superhero movie “Batman”, edgy reporter Alexander Knox made this observation about reclusive billionaire Bruce Wayne: “The rich… you know why they’re so odd?  Because they can afford to be.”
That seems to be the case when it comes to Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, who is certainly not living up to his last name these past few weeks.
As a general rule, owners of professional sports teams should be treated a little like children in that they should be rarely seen and almost never heard.  They should be competent and candid when it comes to the trading of one of their players. They should certainly be proud, even boastful, when it comes to accepting the big trophy during championship games.  And they should be compassionate and paternal when it comes to a tragedy involving the team.
But other than those things, they should be only seen in their luxury skyboxes, peering down on the great unwashed like the Olympian deities they see themselves to be, watching their regular routine Iliad recreation play out in their overpriced taxpayer-supported theaters.  It’s supposed to be all about “the game” and the players in “the game”.  It’s not supposed to be about the people behind the scenes, never mind being about the self-appointed “gods” that supposedly make “the game” happen.
And sports owners should certainly not have their personal dirty laundry aired out on TMZ and then rehashed on the nightly news and debated by the armchair quarterbacks of the cable news channels.  Never mind have prolonged debates as to whether or not said owners should continue to have their place on their own little Olympus.
But apparently Sterling did not get that memo.  Or, maybe he did and he’s just too senile to remember that part.
So Donald Sterling had some choice personal words about the people that his mistress hangs around with.  Words that are usually uttered by “good ol’ boys” here in the South, preferably when they’re not at the local Wal-Mart.  Words that are more reminiscent of the 1950’s than the 2010’s.
Of course Sterling thought that these words would never be recorded, never mind repeated for the whole world to hear.  But that became moot once it did.  He hasn’t denied saying them, and he is already banned from all NBA activities for the rest of his life because of them.
And he supposedly doesn’t even have his mistress anymore… which is good because ever since the media found out who she was, she’s hid herself behind an ugly visor like she was the third member of Daft Punk.
But now the debate is about whether or not Sterling – and his wife – should be forced to give up his coveted Olympian seat… a.k.a. ownership of the Clippers… which he can no longer sit in anyway because of that lifetime ban.
I know the cons and neo-cons are throwing fits over this idea.  They’re screaming bloody murder and proclaiming that no one-percenter should ever be forced to give up something they own because of the demands of other people.  They pull out their little pocket Ayn Rand scripts and scream about “Communism” and “Socialism” and “Obama-ism” and say it’s just not right for a one-percenter to be forced to give up their personal property.
Which… if you really put some thought into it… sound a lot like they’re defending a passive form of slavery.
Okay, let’s put a bullet into the head of the Rand-like script and put that argument out of our collective misery.
If… and I say “If”… Donald Sterling and his wife were the sole owners of the LA Clippers, as a separate private professional organization operating in their own stadium that they paid for entirely with their money, then I would agree with the cons and neo-cons in that they shouldn’t be forced by others to sell their team.
But the LA Clippers is not a standalone team operating in their own standalone private stadium.  They are part of the National Basketball Association.  It is an association that has rules and contractual obligations that are not limited to just the activities of the players or the game officials, but also to the owners.  And if those contractual obligations include an agreement that the owners give up their ownership if told to by the majority of the other owners, then the cons and neo-cons really have no grounds to complain about it.
I mean, really, cons and neo-cons, you are the ones that claim to champion the sanctity of free markets and private organizations to be able to do as they please.
Plus, the Sterlings don’t own the venue that the team plays in.  They are tenants of the Staples Center, which is another private contractual obligation with their own terms of operation.  And if, as with the case of many other professional venues across the country, the Staples Center takes in any kind of taxpayer money, then it’s really not a “private” organization anymore, is it?
So, conservatives and neo-conservatives, give it a rest.  You have no real skin in this game when you pretend to channel John Locke.  Go back to mad-hating Barack Obama, because that seems to be the only thing that you’re competent in doing.
Anyway, back to the Sterlings, and especially Donald.
The elder Sterling has been trying to explain away his statements in a desperate attempt to convince his fellow owners to let him keep his little fiefdom.  He’s been trying to tell people that he’s not a racist, that he was trying to get some nookie from his visor-wearing mistress, oh, and his team “loves” him and everyone knows it… except the media, of course.  And then trash-talking Magic Johnson for pretty much no reason.
I’m sure Mister Sterling is not going to listen to what I have to say, but I think it should be said anyway.
Mister Sterling, do yourself a favor and shut up.
Seriously, you need to stop talking!
Granted, there was a time for you to defend yourself over the recordings of what you said.  But let’s get brutally honest here… that time has come and gone.  You said nothing when the recordings were first made public.  You admitted to the NBA Commissioner what you said, you allowed the NBA to then deliver the punishment, and you pretty much squandered your opportunity to minimize the damage when it could have made a difference.
Not only that, Mister Sterling, but you’re not doing yourself any favors now by running your mouth.  If anything, you are demonstrating to the world that you really are too incompetent to be a team owner.
Now is not the time to be talking, Mister Sterling.  Now is the time to shut up in front of the media.  If you’re sorry you said those words, then say you’re sorry and then that’s it.  Get away from the cameras.  Stay as far away from ESPN and CNN and any other media outlet as you can.  And tell your wife or soon-to-be-ex-wife to do the same thing if she wants to keep her part of the team.  Talk to the owners privately, one on one.  Convince them away from the cameras that what you did was embarrassing and that you’re sorry and that there’s no need for any talk about selling the team.  They probably don’t want to be in the public spotlight on this subject any more than you do.
Keep it away from the cameras, and hopefully the talk about forcing you to sell your team will go away.  Because the rage that is behind the effort to further punish you is fueled by the media.  Every time you or your wife get in front of the cameras, it only adds more fuel to the fire.  Let it burn itself out.
If you can’t do that, if your ego is such that you simply cannot let this go away by being quiet, then maybe you should consider selling the team.  And better yet, doing it before you’re forced to.
Remember, team owners are supposed to be rarely seen and almost never heard.  Leave the drama and the clown acts to the players in the game.  That’s why they’re getting paid the big bucks and all the endorsement deals.  They’re supposed to be the entertainers and the entertainment.
To borrow from Shakespeare… let the “play” be the thing, not the unconscionable acts of its sporting king.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Week of 05/12/2014

Judicial-Sanctioned Bullying
I despise bullies.
Yes, I’ve been bullied by others for a very long time, and I’ve been a bully at times.  But my bullying was short-lived, whereas the bullying against me went on for a while.
I know it seems strange that someone my size would be the target of bullies, but in some instances that actually worked to the bully’s favor.
What makes bullying so effective is that the victims are caught in a perpetual Catch-22 situation.  If they tell someone, they’re accused of being crybabies and nothing happens.  If they fight back, then they’re punished and branded as perpetrators.  If they do nothing, then the bullies not only continue their attacks, but they will actually find new and even worse ways to hurt their victims.  No matter what, the victims just cannot win.
That’s why I was the target of bullies.  Even though I’m big and strong and could probably squash that other person like a bug, I wasn’t allowed to.  And they knew it.  I was never allowed to prevail because the thugs held all the cards.
And, yes, I know there have been media efforts for kids to tell an adult, to pester that adult to do something about bullies.  But this overly-simple solution goes against another dirty little secret about bullying…namely that bullies are allowed to do what they do because they know that they will get away with it.
Yes, bullying is passively condoned by those in charge.  I’ve seen it myself.
In fact, the adult world rewards bullies.  They’re hailed as “alpha dogs”; recognized for their aggressiveness and assertiveness.  Their domineering and abusive attitude is mistaken for actual leadership, so they’re promoted to positions of authority, while their victims can only get larger in numbers and hope for Karma to drop a house on their tormentors.
And now the highest court in America has validated and sanctified the actions of the worst of America’s bullies.
In a 5-4 decision earlier this month, the Justices of the United States Supreme Court ruled that local governments can start each session with a religious prayer, even one that oozes a dominant religious faith.  Even worse is that the majority – and it should be noted that all of them are Catholics – use the bullies’ own reasons to validate this blatant and violent slash of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
Now before we go any further, I’ll point out that a lot of what bullies engage in is a matter of showing ownership of a person or object.  It is more psychological than physical.
Remember when little kids would “touch” the other kid or violate their personal space just to show dominance?  Yeah, you think that is petty when you hear “he’s touching me”, but that is really what a bully does.  They continually violate one’s personal space and their belongings to show they own that other person.
Yes, “own”.  Literally, own.  As in slaves.
It’s a continual message: “I own you.  I own everything you have.  I own everything you are.  I own you, body and soul.  And I will prove this by touching your body and messing with your belongings and violating your space.  Because this is all mine.  I own all of this, and I own you.”
Like the three young women held captive in Cleveland for years by the late Ariel Castro.  Like the religious extremists in Nigeria who kidnapped over 200 schoolgirls and threatens to sell them like cattle (if they haven’t already).  That kind of ownership.
Just like urban street gangs spray paint their group’s name or “sign” on buildings and cars to show that they “own” these things and the territory it sits on, religious bullies demand that signs of their dominance infest everything they see and touch and interact with.  To let everyone know that they literally “own” these things.  These are “theirs”.
We’re not talking about fish symbols on your own car or crosses on your own neck or pictures of Jesus in every room in your own home.  We’re talking about religious symbols of your own religion in government buildings, religious messages included in legislation, references to your religion on government parks, and, yes, dominant religious prayers at the start of every public assembly.  All to say “I own this!  This is all mine!  Not yours; mine!  This is my government.  My assembly.  My parks.  My community.  All of this is mine.  Not yours.”
Like Ariel Castro forcing one of his victims to bear his children while forcing another to have a miscarriage.  Like Abubakar Shekau threatening to sell the young Nigerian girls into forced marriages or slavery while further terrorizing other communities.  All to show dominance.  It’s all the same message: “I own them.”
And while you may think the last two examples are sick, that still does not negate the fact that this the same mindset as America’s religious dominionists.  It is all about showing dominance and control and ownership.
That is what a bully does.  That is how a bully thinks.  They presume that they are entitled to control and own everything and everyone they survey.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a sibling, a playground bully, a campus queen, a BMOC, the housewife next door, the local minister, the head of the neighborhood homeowners association, a corporate manager, a state governor, members of Congress, the President of the United States, or the justices of the United States Supreme Court.  Or, for that matter, a sick and twisted monster who kidnaps and terrorizes the innocent.  It is all the same mindset.
Let’s get brutally honest here… this is what the majority of the justices validated when they ruled on Greece v. Galloway.  They literally sanctified and validated dominionist bullying!
The majority – again, all Catholics – claim that allowing these clearly Christian-dominated prayers is simply carrying on with tradition.  Like when slavery was traditional, and even mentioned and allowed in the King James Bible.  Or when you can kill your spouse or your children for “misbehaving”.  America allowed slavery for almost a hundred years of its inception.  Did that justify Ariel Castro taking three young woman as his slaves?  Or Abubakar Shekau over in Nigeria?  Does that justify “honor killings” here in the United States?  No?  Then the justification is patently wrong, and so are the majority of justices for using it!
The judicial majority say that prayers are okay as long as one does not “try to convert people”.  Then why have the prayers in the first place?  That is precisely what the dominionist bullies are trying to do!  They are imposing their will on the rest of the people, forcing them to go along.  To either submit or be submissive.  Convert or enslave.  Sound familiar?  This is what radical Islam believes as well.
And what is one to do when the local government bully decides to impose his or her dominance on you, the taxpaying community?  Because, remember, you are paying for that bullying, whether it conforms to your own bigotry or not.  Walk out?  Not take part in local affairs?  You’re playing right into the bully’s hand with that idea.  Simply ignore the dominance?  Again, the bully wins.  Petition to have your own prayer inserted?  Good luck with that, since the bully controls the message and the selection of messenger.  Vote the bully out?   Again, good luck with that.  Even if you do prevail, you’d have to also get rid of the bully’s allies and lackeys, while fighting off accusations that the ousted bully was a “helpless victim” and that you are the “real aggressor”.
The only real options at this point when dealing with the local government bully are the ones that violate the law.  Either vocalize your own objections and call out the bully – which will get you arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and will probably get you barred from ever showing up in the government building – or else engage in the unthinkable, insurrection.  In either way, the bully prevails, and you are forever condemned.  Catch-22.
Are you happy, Justices of the Supreme Court?  This is what you have created when you ruled in favor of your prejudices instead of what is right.  You have sanctified government bullying and you have placed people into a situation to where the only recourse is to be an even bigger monster than the ones you sanctioned! 
Do you think someone like James Madison or Thomas Jefferson would be happy with what our justices have just sanctified?  Madison, in his speech to the Virginia legislature in 1788, said “There are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.”  In a letter to James Monroe in 1786, Madison wrote, “There is no maxim in my opinion which is more liable to be misapplied, and which therefore needs elucidation than the current one that the interest of the majority is the political standard of right and wrong.... In fact it is only reestablishing under another name and a more specious form, force as the measure of right....”
And then there is this commentator’s personal favorite quote from Thomas Jefferson on this subject: “The majority, oppressing an individual, is guilty of a crime, abuses its strength, and by acting on the law of the strongest breaks up the foundations of society.”  And that certainly applies here!
While we will travel the world and spend untold trillions to combat the bullies in other countries, we do so with the odorous stench of hypocrisy, because we do so while we sanctify and justify and canonize the same kind of bullies in our own neighborhoods, in our own local governments, and in the highest courts in the country.  We do ourselves, our predecessors, and our successors, a grave injustice with what the Justices have wrought.