Thursday, June 21, 2018

Farewell Bubba

Much sadness today as we said farewell to our beloved Bubba.  While he was only 6 and a half years old, Bubba was experiencing a lot of pain these last few months as he seemed to have lost the birth lottery in regards to his knees, hip, and back.

It is very easy to remember the first day we met Bubba.  We had been looking for a rescue for a few weeks, then received an email from a local shelter that they had a Beagle-Lab mix, 2 months old, that we might like to meet.  My daughter, her friend, and I went to the house and there he was, the cutest puppy you might ever see.  While he seemed to have large feet, they told us he would peak at about 45 pounds.  He was affectionate, he was active, it was love at first sight.

As the days passed into weeks, Bubba grew.  And grew.  And grew.  Once he passed 60 pounds, we knew the shelter people may have underestimated his growth potential.  Eventually he topped out at 90 lean and muscular pounds.

Bubba's favorite games involved balls and tug-of-war.  He had a favorite, hard plastic, red ball with a tennis ball inside it.  Bubba destroyed virtually every toy ever given to him, except for that ball.  As I look at it now, there are numerous holes from his teeth and practically every inch looks effected by chewing.  Bubba would chase that ball, grab it through one of the large holes in it, swing his head back and forth, then prance back to me so I could throw it again.  In the last few weeks, Bubba could only chase the ball a half dozen times or so before he got tired, but he still reveled in that game.

Bubba also loved tug of war.  We purchased a tightly wound rope a few years back which he would carry over to one of us to pull.  He was extremely strong, and mostly won that game, occasionally either ripping the rope from our hands, or pulling us off the chair we were sitting on. 

We often bought Bubba cloth toys with squeakies inside.  He would find the squeaky noise, then rip apart the toy and remove the squeaky, using the plastic part as chewing gum for a bit.  Then the cloth would be ripped into shreds.  To be honest, sometimes watching him play could be a bit disturbing, as he gave those toys no mercy.  (We believe that the cats who also live with us saw him play which deterred them from playing with him as well.)
   
We were told very early that Bubba was a DAWG, not some prim and prissy poodle.  Perhaps that was reflected in the way he played.  While he may have had Beagle ears, his demeanor and attitude said hound.  Bubba was a HOUNDDAWG.

Despite that sometimes aggressive play, Bubba was very gentle with children.  At this point, the neighborhood kids don't know he has gone to doggie heaven.  I know they will be very sad to hear of his passing as many people considered him the neighborhood dog, almost a mascot.  He tolerated little kids running up to him, hugging his neck, petting him almost to the point of smothering him but he never seemed to mind.  He gave and received affection unconditionally and in that regard he was a great example and influence.

Bubba also loved the water.  These last few days, my wonderful wife Nora, let him swim in our local creek, something we didn't always do because he would smell horribly afterwards.  While we couldn't leave him swim unleashed, he still enjoyed paddling about, dunking his head.  When we took him on vacation, he would gravitate right to the baby pool, walk right in, drink the water, then plop down.  As a result, we purchased a pool for him at home which he loved to rest in when the heat soared.  He was in the pool everyday this week.

Bubba was treated to ice cream yesterday and today.  Along with the river dunk, and the peanut butter treats Nora had made for him, Bubba was king this past week.  It was the least we could do.
 
Unlike our cats, Bubba loved to go in the car.  When he saw one of us grab his leash, he was excited to go for a walk, but when he saw us grab the leash and the car keys, he was ecstatic.  He would jump right into the back seat, sometimes hanging his head out the window, sometimes sitting in the middle of the seat, looking straight out the front.  On longer rides, he would eventually settle down and relax. 

Today, knowing this would be a one way trip for him, I felt strange seeing his excitement as he practically dragged me to the car.   Nora took a picture of him in the back seat, one of many she took today including the one below.  If you look closely, you can see a stool on the chair in the background. That is because Bubba was having a love affair with every chair in the house.  Self soothing, the vet called it, indicative that he was in pain, as he generally expressed his tenderness when we left the house.  We won't have to put chairs on chairs anymore when we leave, but we also won't be greeted at the door by the most lovable dog ever created. 

Of course, Bubba, being a DAWG, could be very irritating,  His games of grabbing virtually everything left where it shouldn't be, could be exhausting.  I often called him effen dog when he bounded down the stairs with a shoe or blouse or razor or whatever he found in a room with an open door in his mouth.

Effen dog.  He annoyed us, he frustrated us, he stole our hearts.  He will be missed.

As we drove home from the vet, an empty collar in the back seat, water running down our faces, we momentarily felt like we had abandoned him, left him on the floor in an office without company.  Suddenly the check engine light went on.  Bubba!  He was OK, running without pain, ripping apart toy after toy to find the squeaky inside, chasing the big, red ball, playing tug of war, looking forward to a dip in heaven's creek.  He was telling us that our sadness would eventually pass, but that he would remain in our hearts forever.




Monday, June 18, 2018

Rule of Law 2

I ended my last post with the following question:

What do we do when the rule of law has been altered so insidiously that it no longer seeks justice for the many, but prosperity for the few?

Some might think it is specifically directed at the policies of the current administration, and certainly there is reason to be alert when one considers the changes that have been implemented in the area of environmental protection, consumer fraud protection, and worker's rights, to name a few.

But, after reading The Rule of Law edition of Lapham's Quarterly, it is painfully obvious that the law has been fashioned far to often to benefit those with the most, at the detriment of those in the minority or without resources.  In other words, that this is nothing new.

Two effective illustrations to that point are Lie of the Land from I Saw the Sky Catch Fre by T. Obinkaram Echewa, and an excerpt from Jill Leovy's Ghettoside.

I Saw the Sky Catch Fire consists of memories told by the grandmother of the narrator about the Women's War of 1929 in Nigeria.  It details the process by which the residents of the small villages in Nigeria slowly lost their rights, both as landowners and citizens.  To put it bluntly, "the while man made and broke laws as he went along, shook hands to treaties he had no intention of keeping, violated oaths the same day, week or month that he swore them."  Similar to how we treated the native American Indian here in North America, the law was used without concern to gain whatever those with the power and the arms wanted to gain.  When the law was violated by a native to the land, he was punished swiftly and violently.  When it was violated by someone in power, the law was changed to provide justification for whatever atrocity might have been committed.

(I could mention here the recent justification of separating illegal immigrant children from their parents, a cruel and horrendous policy that has been defended by citing, not only the rule of law but the Bible as well, but I will resist the desire to pick such low hanging fruit.)

Jill Leovy's piece reflects the research she did in the early 2000's while working as a crime correspondent for the LA Times.  For me, it addresses two salient points.  First, the wonderment of many in the white community about why law abiding citizens in minority communities, especially African American communities, do not more actively help the police turn in those criminals that live among them, and second, how those in minority communities perceive the law and the police. 

If I had a nickel for every time I heard a white, right leaning pundit dismiss statistics about the disproportionate representation of blacks in the judicial system who are arrested, charged and incarcerated with the statement, "well, they are criminals, so they should be put in jail", I would have a bunch of nickels.  The fact that most research shows a race bias in our criminal justice system, from the perception of the everyday officer, straight through to the judges on the bench, seems easily ignored.  Sadly, there will not be a time in their lives when a white man will be transported back in time to his teenage years as a black man, to live the same life he did again with a darker skin.  Assuming he was an average youth, he most likely will have 2-3 brushes with the law, only this time his parents won't be called, he will be arrested, his bail won't be met, he will be remanded to await trial, and his sentence will be executed to "send a message", not suspended since "boys will be boys".   

Is it any wonder then, why some in black neighborhoods who have experienced first hand the effect that having a darker skin has during a police interaction, not to mention the very real possibility that they have heard family stories handed down a few generations which describe the Jim Crow laws of the early 20th century and the complicity of the police in the lynchings of that time, might be less than encouraged to cooperate with the police.  Past history indicates less than positive future results.

Leovy came to believe that inner-city violence was a occurring at the level of a "public health catastrophe" and began a website to track the murder victims, which listed over 1100 in the LA 
county area alone in 2004.  Truly an epidemic!  But, rather than doubling down on efforts to address the problem, cops patrolling these areas often heard the phrase "one time" to reflect the fact that they seemed to prefer one short visit to a black neighborhood, along the lines of "been there, done that" as opposed to making a real effort to address crime.  One might even conclude the white majority who controlled the law, preferred a high murder rate; less of them to worry about.

Contrast that, and the crack cocaine epidemic of that time which claimed the lives of still more African American young people, or the HIV epidemic of the late 20th century that resulted in tens of thousands of deaths in the gay communities, with the current opioid epidemic which is getting so much more attention since it is effecting white communities, and perhaps we might get a glimpse as to why minorities not only distrust white laws and its corresponding system of justice, but, as Leovy discovered, might gravitate to a ghettoside "law" which while also ruthless at times, better reflected the everyday existence of the residents of the area.  Or put more directly, was one they understood and felt was consistent, as opposed to the white man's system that always leaned towards a prejudiced and impersonal result.

Attempting to govern a free people via the Rule of Law, is certainly progress over a ruling class limited by birth or income or political ideology.  But we must not forget that the rules are created and enforced by people, and thus subject to the best and worst of our species.  History is replete with laws that seem barbaric today, and there are undoubtedly some current laws that will be viewed by future historians with befuddlement, just as I (hope) we view white only bathrooms and water fountains of the mid-20th century today.

The challenge is to walk that tightrope between obedience of the Rule of Law so as to avoid chaos and anarchy, while always staying alert to those laws which demonize other humans, create or encourage non-equal treatment of those in the minority, and which are used to justify crimes that violate one of the Big Rules that transcends religion and nation; Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

 

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Rule of Law 1

There has been a lot of talk lately about the Rule of Law, how it is a key fundamental in our democracy, and for some, how the Trump Presidency seems to be a threat to both the basic tenets of its importance and the underpinnings of the ideals which created our Constitution and Bill of Rights.

Heady stuff!

But after reading the Lapham's Spring edition, called Rule of Law, I find my belief in the founders perspective that all men are created equal, their insistence on the three branches of government as a protection against tyranny, and the noble concept that everyone is equal in the eyes of the law, somewhat questioned.

This is not to say that I doubt the importance of the founders' grand experiment with democracy, nor their belief that rule by the people is preferable to rule by divine right.  It is clear, that some form of democratic rule in which the people have a say in the direction of their country is a far better system than one without such inclusion.

But what, exactly, were the founders' main concerns when they created those incredible documents during the tumult of our nation's birth?  We often forget that most of those great men were land owners and/or men of business, with education and wealth beyond the vast majority of their fellow colonists.  They understood the history of property rights, were well versed in the meaning of the Magna Carta, and knew very well that commerce, personal ownership, and laws which protected one's ability to create and sustain that wealth, were threatened by a government that found it all too easy to take without asking and tax without representation.  Was it merely about money and land?  Certainly not, but lets not be naive to think that they did not abhor taxes mainly because it cut into their profits, less so because of the morality of the issue.

In Lewis Lapham's preamble, he describes very succinctly the distinction between values which enable a democratic society to prosper as compared to values which embody a capitalistic society.  Values reflected in the various forms of trickle down economics that basically say that "money ennobles rich people making them healthy, wealthy and wise;  money corrupts poor people, making them lazy, ignorant, and sick."  It is the driving force that exults in tax cuts that transfer upwards of 80% of the advantage to those already rich, while justifying cuts to the safety net programs that stave off poverty, starvation and death of the less advantaged.

This is not to say that the framers wanted our country to fall to a state where only the rich have power and influence, but it is a result of their core belief that possessions and wealth must be protected from the government's grasp, and it is perfect justification for a populist leader who can manipulate that message to turn the everyday citizens against any government regulation that restricts individual rights regardless of whether that restriction protects against polluted air and water, the destruction of the environment, or the creation of a "corporation" that has all the power of a person but no responsibilities for those people who create it when that entity breaks laws or engages in immoral acts.

When the government becomes the enemy of the people, there must be recourse for the citizens to retake rule and create a new form of government.  It is a rallying cry that was as apparent and powerful today as it was 242 years ago.  But what do we do when the government is run by people who have perverted the rule of law to only favor those with wealth and influence, who set themselves above the law while using its tenets to control the population?  And, who do so, not through force or deceit (Mueller's probe not withstanding), but by convincing the citizenry, through attacks on the free press, government run propaganda outlets, and a constant stream of divisive tweets that divert our attention by demonizing those who disagree, are of different color or country of origin.  Who then use the foundation of our unique government, the executive, legislative and judicial the branches, to create a fortress of laws that will protect their wealth at the expense of the people?     

What do we do when the rule of law has been altered so insidiously that it no longer seeks justice for the many, but prosperity for the few?


Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Trump's Summit with Kim Jung Un

I was planning at least two, perhaps three posts on the Rule of Law now that I have finished the Lapham's Spring Edition called Rule of Law, but yesterday's historic summit in Singapore demands a comment.

First, if I were to be consistent with my belief that it is important to remain positive and seek the silver lining in most situations, then clearly this is a great achievement by President Trump.  For now at least, the tremendous tension that existed just a few months ago when the two leaders traded personal insults and the phrase fire and fury was being bandied about as a strategy for resolving our differences, has been replaced with hand shakes and compliments.  Talking is always better than fighting.  It is the basis of all international treaties, all meetings between rivals, whether they be business, ideological or national. 

And so, it is incumbent upon us to remain optimistic that finally, regardless of how we perceive President Trump's methods and his overall policies, there is a positive dialogue between the United States and North Korea.

The good news is that while coverage of this summit on MSNBC has included comments by many knowledgeable people about international negotiations, North Korean life, past agreements made and violated by North Korea, and the plethora of details that separate how this process has transpired compared to past approaches, there has also been a real effort to give the President the benefit of the doubt, to suggest that perhaps a new approach is what was needed, and to attempt to understand Trump's thinking and perspective.  Far from fake news, the coverage has presented the pros and cons of this meeting using lessons from history, facts related to past attempts to address the Korean Peninsula situation, and an in-depth understanding of how intense, difficult and time consuming these kind of negotiations have been and will be in this case.

We can only hope that Kim Jung Un is ready to bring North Korea into the family of nations, first by removing its stated goal of reuniting Korea under his control, second, by addressing the structural inequality that exists in North Korea based on a series of rules that grants more or less rights to North Korean citizens based on genetics, relations to the dictator's family, and past activities by ancestors related to past wars. 

Also, we can also hope that President Trump is less focused on improving his chance of reelection, or his place in history, and more interested in the interests of the United States, its citizens and our allies. 

In essence, it appears that we have already given Chairman Kim two wins, things he, his father and grandfather have long sought; parity on the international stage, and a reduction in military exercises on the Korean Peninsula.  At this point, this summit gives North Korea fodder for its propaganda machine that will present this meeting as a coup for Kim Jung Un, the leader of a country that has openly threatened our country and closest allies, and has one of the worst human rights records in the world today.

Have we, in effect, rewarded North Korea for establishing a nuclear program?  Certainly from their perspective, it could appear that we have come to the table out of fear that North Korea could strike our mainland with a nuclear tipped missile.   And if that is the message, what other countries might pursue the same course?  Why wouldn't Iran double down on its nuclear program using this summit as an example of what nuclear capability can gain? 

Finally, in light of the recent G-7 summit which featured a reluctance of Trump to contribute to a joint statement of support and cooperation, this agreement with one of the world's most notorious autocrats, in addition to Trump's stated desire to bring Russia back to the G-7 and his open admiration of other strongmen such as Jinping in China, Putin in Russia, Erdogan in Turkey and Duterte in the Phillipines, make me feel uneasy that Trump's admiration for leaders who do not have to work within a democracy reflects on his preference to act alone, without consult or recommendations from others. 

In the end, perhaps that should come as no surprise if we understand that this has been Trump's recipe for success his whole life.  Expecting a leopard to change its spots is unrealistic, yet we continually act  surprised when he does what he has always done.   Which makes it all the more surprising that Trump would expect Kim Jung Un to change his spots. 

The spectacle is over.  Let's hope that the meat and potatoes of this attempt to bring some form of peace to the Korean Peninsula in specific, and that part of the world that includes many of our strongest allies in general, relies more on the traditional forms of diplomacy, the use of informed opinion and factual knowledge of the history of the region, and a sincere understanding that verification within a closed country with an autocratic leadership is a far reaching and incredibly difficult goal, perhaps far more difficult than President Trump seems to think.   

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Individual vs Group Success

Interesting article in the June National Geographic called "Greed vs the Common Good" written by Dylan Selterman, psychology teacher for undergrads at the University of Maryland.  The article is based on the reaction of Selterman's students to his offer of extra credit points on their term papers.

The origin of Selterman's exercise was inspired by an address delivered by Garrett Hardin 50 years ago which described what Hardin termed "the tragedy of the commons", which explains Hardin's belief that when many individuals act in their own self-interest without regard for society, the effects can be catastrophic.  (For more info, simply google "tragedy of the commons" and you will find many resources to read).

Selterman's exercise, which was developed by Professor Steve Drigotas of Johns Hopkins University (and which Selterman experienced as a student), offers each student of the class the option of choosing 2 points or 6 points, but with the proviso that if more than 10% of the students choose 6 points then no points are awarded to anyone.  The theory behind the exercise is to illustrate that extra credit points are analogous to any finite resource, water, land, fuel, etc, and that when too many people take too much of any resource, the community as a whole suffers, but when everyone takes just enough, the resource is sustainable and the society thrives.

Over the years, most of Selterman's classes received no points, as did Selterman's own class when he was a student.  Even after it became known that this exercise was part of the class, the reward was rarely achieved. 

Why can't his students put aside their greed and take the easy two points?  Selterman has concluded that, while he still believes that most people are willing to sacrifice for the common good, it can be very tricky to get people to cooperate, especially in large groups of complete strangers.  Combine that difficulty with the societal pressure to accumulate wealth, and the free market theory that if everyone strives for maximum personal benefit, society as a whole will thrive, it is easy to see why students aren't inclined to think of wealth accumulation as a cooperative goal rather than a personal goal.  It becomes a race to have more than others, not for all people to have more.

Selterman recently added a wrinkle to his exercise, to emphasize the point that despite the lack of cooperation among large groups, the group can still prosper if just a few more individuals act in its interest over their own.  To check this theory, Selterman gave the students a third option, to receive no points.  Each student choosing zero points would cancel out one who chose 6, thereby reducing the percentage, perhaps even to less than 10%.   So far, a higher percentage of classes have earned the extra two points than under the original premise, but this new option has only been used for a few years.  And, success in the classroom is a far cry from success on a global scale. 

Still, the point is clear that everyone can have an impact, that all actions are worthwhile and meaningful because one might never know when you represent the one action (or vote) that makes the difference.
It is a wonderful message that reminds us that we can solve our problems, even when they require a global approach, but that each one of us is responsible to do our part, regardless of how significant (or insignificant) our action may appear.

I too, remain hopeful that a more collective approach, one that attaches value and significance to how prosperity is gained, is achievable, despite the dual threats of America first, and the prestige associated with accumulating individual wealth. 

My hope is that a values based perception will gradually alter our adoration for those with riches beyond what any individual needs, resulting in a judgement of the super rich to include the harm that accumulated individual wealth does to society as a whole.  It seems obvious that there is no justification for one percent of a population to enjoy 50% (or more) of the fruits of a group's efforts, yet that is what capitalism without morals or restrictions can produce.  Add to that the popular viewpoint that tribalism is patriotism, and the motivation for any individual for self-sacrifice is limited at best, completely eliminated at worst. 

The unfortunate problem is that it is most often those with the most accumulated wealth, those for whom dog eat dog, or survival of the fittest, or any other such trite saying that rewards selfishness, backstabbing, and success no matter the cost, use that very same wealth and power to convince the everyday person that only the rich know how to handle money (trickle down economics), that only deals that advantage us should be signed (the art of the deal), and that all of our problems are the result of other groups (the Wall) which discourages cooperation, foments distrust, and makes solving the BIG problems of climate change, income inequality, and poverty all the more daunting.

Sometimes I wonder why Death is the not the great equalizer for theories that rejoice over individual accomplishments but downplay communal ones.  After all, in the end, everyone dies, regardless of how many homes, or cars or wives you collect.  And, very few religions teach that the richer you are, the better the afterlife you will earn.  One might even say that most religions teach the opposite. 

Perhaps the answer to why Selterman's students don't often take the easy two points is the same for why we delude ourselves into thinking that during the 80 or so years we exist in our lifetime, as compared to all eternity, he who has the most toys wins is a valid hypothesis.  This may simply be a function of the fact that homo sapiens have only existed a few hundred thousand years, as compared to a universe billions of years old.  We are infants, still understanding our role in the cosmos, still exploring our relationship with ourselves, our fellow travelers, and our Creator.

Let's hope we give ourselves the time and the chance to discover some real answers and develop some longer lasting priorities.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Personhood

This morning I encountered a sidebar discussion called The Rights of Things in the Laphams Quartterly called Rule of Law.  It reviewed 10 situations in which the rights of "things" were debated, either through theoretical articles or actual law suits.

The 10 things were: Artificial Intelligence, the Whanganui River, frozen embryos, apes, trees, corporations, cetaceans, a monkey selfie, autonomous cars, and zombies.

A few thoughts.

Obviously, those that involved lawsuits for "things" that were not human, the monkey selfie, apes, cetaceans, the Whanganui River, and the frozen embryos, were filed on behalf of those things by humans in an attempt to acquire rights for those things. 

In the case of the river, a New Zealand court granted legal personhood thereby giving the river recognized rights as to how it is used, or abused, and which led to other rivers receiving personhood as well, something I did not know.

The rights of Great apes were first recognized, also in New Zealand in 1999, and in Spain in 2008.  A number of lawsuits aimed to protect specific cetaceans, and the entire class as a whole have been unsuccessful in the United States.  The monkey selfie was ruled to be "owned" by neither the monkey or the human who owned the camera used by the monkey.

The bit on trees was from a comment by a legal scholar who believed that trees might be an example of a natural object that could be recognized as having legally protected interests, an opinion reflected in the fact that there is a white oak tree in Athens, Georgia that, legend claims has ownership of itself, and for which that status is recognized by the local government, not state or federal, however.

In the case of the frozen embryos, Louisiana, in 1999,  designated that ex utero embryos are "judicial persons" that can sue and be sued.  When a group attempted to sue, on behalf of the embryos, the woman from whom the embryos were harvested because she decided not to use them (decided to destroy them, in other words), the courts ruled against the group, but only because the embryos had been created in California, and were therefor citizens of that state.

The paragraphs on AI, zombies and autonomous cars were comments by legal theorists on the possibility that some types of rights or personhood may eventually be granted to these "thing". For AI, perhaps some form of First Amendment protection, for autonomous cars, a legal recognition as nonhuman entities so they might carry insurance like human drivers, and for zombies a similar designation, perhaps suspended personhood, which might protect and hold them to certain legal obligations,

And then there is the corporation.

First, it seems to be the ultimate expression of arrogance by humans that, while granting rights or personhood to "things" that God created, such as rivers, apes, cetaceans, and trees, most likely seems ludicrous to a majority of people, granting the same rights to a man made entity, the corporation, doesn't provoke the same befuddlement. 

The idea that the corporation can hold property, enter into contracts, sue and be sued seems almost second nature, even though if you think about it for a second, you realize that the idea that one can divert responsibility for ones actions to an entity created out of nothing seems much more ridiculous than a monkey owning a picture of itself.  Why then do we accept this fact as obvious, even indisputable?  First, it might surprise you to know (it surprised me) that the Supreme Court established in 1886 that corporations are protected under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.  (To refresh your memory, the 14th Amendment addresses citizenship rights and equal protection laws and was proposed in response to issues related to former slaves following the Civil War.) 

I know it is fashionable to pretend to know what the founders were thinking when they created those wonderful documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and its Amendments so I won't engage in such speculation.  I feel very certain that this amendment was conceptualized in the smoke filled rooms of the super rich of the late 19th century who required a legal way to continue to amass their fortunes, a legal way, set in what one might call the stone of our democracy, the Constitution.  In essence, an iron clad way for rich people to protect their wealth and property.  And, even more insidious, to protect them from their greed and incompetence when the corporation fails or engages in illegal acts. 

Wow, what a coup!

And, of course, we come to the 2010 Citizens United decision which, based on the precedent that corporations have legal rights, rules that restrictions on campaign spending is a violation of the first amendment, freedom of speech.

The coup de grace!!

I am not sure how I feel about granting personhood to animals or rivers.  Clearly, it seems that we need some type of legal protection for the various entities on planet Earth, and the planet itself, due to the rampant greed that has created an entire legal cottage industry whereupon mankind uses and abuses whatever is necessary to make a profit.  If we assume our planet, our universe was made by the Creator, and that all the inhabitants, human as well as animal, the plants, the land itself, then one would think that it follows that we would revere the scope and breadth of this creation and not need laws to prevent us from spewing harmful vapors into the atmosphere and garbage into the oceans. 

Perhaps, some day, as we evolve to truly understand the gift that She has given us, we might consider such times when the existence of the Environmental Protection Agency was even necessary, yet alone assailed by its purported administrator and his president, as a time of great barbarism and backwardness.
For now, I applaud all those idealists who fight for legal protections of our fellow inhabitants on Earth, and our environment, who file lawsuits on behalf of the life all around us who do not have access to and representation within our legal system, and I vehemently disagree with those who expect me to accept the current state of the law of the land that has granted personhood to the corporation, an entity that can be created merely with a piece of paper and a signature.





 

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Women in Charge

Not sure if I have mentioned it, but the Spring Edition of Lapham's Quarterly is titled Rule of Law.  So many interesting reflections on this topic, but today's post concerns two excerpts, one from a book and one from an address at the Third National Conference of Women of Color and the Law at Stanford University, written by women.

The first is from Birth Control Laws by Mary Ware Dennett,  For those of you unfamiliar with Dennett (and you can count me in that group), she was a contemporary and often time critic of Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood.  While both women advocated birth control for women, Sanger favored women accessing such control through the medical profession, while Dennett feared this restriction would limit access, especially among women in lower economic situations. 

Dennett's book attacks birth control laws from two fronts; that controlling the size of one's family, and all the issues involved in having children, economic, social, religious, etc, suggests that there should be no laws against birth control, and second, most birth control laws, especially those that prevent the dissemination of information about contraception by labeling them pornographic, are much more about society's perception of sex than about family planning.  (Dennett was arrested and convicted of mailing obscene material under the Comstock Act, but the ruling was overturned by a judge who deemed her pamphlets educational and scientifically accurate). 

The excerpt from the address is from Angela Y. Davis', activist and professor who spent time in jail while on trial for murder.  Her reflections about the law and the justice system make a number of points about how the law is used disproportionately against those of color, and those of the female gender.  Her time in jail, and afterwards in meeting with incarcerated women, paint us a picture of far too many people who, while guilty of criminal activity, are subjected to far more severe sentences than those with money or influence.  And worse, that the circumstances that might compel such criminal activity, again, while not justifying the action, remain ignored so that a woman with few, if any positive choices, turn to crime to support their families, or drugs to mask the nature of their impoverishment.

Davis was attempting to remind those future lawyers that it is not enough to understand the law.  One must understand the social conditions that define those people of color that find themselves at odds with the justice system. 

Which brings us to Pennsylvania politics.

Yesterday was primary day in Pennsylvania, a day like most others except that perhaps one if five registered voters also stopped at their local polling center.  For those of you who live in Pennsylvania, you may already know the dismal facts about the dearth of elected women in our political system.
For the rest of you, the statistics are disheartening. 

No woman has ever been elected Governor.  (Pennsylvania is among the majority here, as only 23 states have elected a female governor),

No woman has ever been elected Senator.  (Again, Pennsylvania is not alone; only 24 states' electorates have seen fit to elect a woman Senator.  However, Pennsylvania is one of only 14 states to have never elected either a female Governor or Senator).

Only seven women have been elected to serve in Congress, in the US House, and three of them were chosen in special elections after the death of their husbands.  Currently there are zero women representing Pa in Washington, the last being in 2015.

Woman don't fare much better in Harrisburg either.  Currently, Pa ranks 38th out of 50 in terms of % of women serving in office in state legislatures.

It is truly sad that in a nation which celebrates its stand for freedom and equality, that our record on female leadership in government is so dismal.  We barely crack the top 100 in rating I found.  And, of course, we have never elected a female president.  So, why is this so important? 

We are a representative democracy, emphasis on representative.  If those who make our laws, who are lobbied to alter existing laws, who decide which laws even to consider to vote on, are one dimensional in their ethnicity, gender, background, economic standing, etc, then our government will only represent that particular bias.  If women, or minorities, or any subset of our democracy has little or no access to the workings of our government, then we the people will suffer for its lack of diversity.

But, the times they are a changing.  Whether we credit the election of President Trump and his seemingly anti-women persona and agenda, or the fact that women have begun to break the glass ceilings which limited their rise in business, or the belief that women should not be limited because they are the primary care givers at home, women are seeking office in rising numbers.

For me, it seems plain enough that if we are interested in electing officials who understand the day to day struggles that American families face, we must vote for the true multi-taskers of our society, those who are expected to nurture our children, stroke the egos of the men, and keep the economy and structure of the family intact.




Thursday, May 3, 2018

States of Mind

I thought I might touch one last time on the Lapham's edition called States of Mind.  It is odd, as I reflect and glance through the edition, that I was expecting more from the essays and excerpts collected therein, yet was not disappointed once I finished.  As if I absorbed a state of mind from reading reflections on the subject gleaned from the best attempts to discuss said subject, a state of mind that reminds me that while history might recall past events, it also changes as time passes due to a change in perspective of those writing and reading history, and that if we accept that history is not static but a dynamic and evolving picture of events that have already taken place, then situational disappointment or elation with a magazine or other piece of literature, or a movie, or an event that just happened or will happen tomorrow, may also turn into the exact opposite response in time.

For instance, one might rightly assume that the marches led by Dr King during the struggle for civil rights, the passage of the Civil Rights Act in the mid-60's, and the elimination of whites only signs on restaurants, toilets and water fountains, might have filled the hearts of many black Americans with the belief that the tide had turned and soon true equality would arrive.  And, one might even conclude that the election of Barrack Obama proved that hope was true.  Yet, we might find that taking the pulse of race relations from the perspective of those who were 30 years old or less in 1964, might indicate that the hoped for progress was surface in its nature, not deep rooted.  That, in fact, the even deeper roots of white supremacy could not be eradicated by demonstrations or a presidential election.  And, if one remembers that history proclaims that slavery ended in 1865, 100 hundred years before marches were still required to obtain equal protection under the law, it seems clear that our collective state of mind, while having evolved past the acceptance of public lynchings, is still restrained by the accumulation of prejudice that has passed through dozens of generations. 

Or perhaps one might examine the euphoria that embraced Germany in the 1930's and 40's, when national pride was successfully stoked by the rhetoric which glorified the fatherland and united German citizens by blaming all its ills on Jews, foreigners and other people "not like us".  And, when the German war machine found success after success in rolling though its neighbors, I imagine that the average citizen was happy that German power and dominance was in show.  Now, of course, the German perspective on the atrocities committed against humanity demonstrates a much different state of mind.

It is in this regard that I, at times, feel sorry for President Trump.  His early morning tweets, his lack of civility towards those that disagree with him, his clear belief that president equates to King, his obvious perception that a women's purpose is to provide sexual release and bear progeny all indicate a person with a state of mind which stalled in its evolution.  Rather than progressing with the majority towards an understanding that all men are created equal does not refer to only white men, he remains stuck in a Mad Men episode.  Worse, all his past successes, actual and manufactured, led him to believe that it was all him, no help from anyone else, which is reflected in his speeches where any accomplishment is his, no mention of any assistance, and any void where a success may not have transpired is filled with a made up one. 

It is almost as if the collective angst felt by white men who, aware of how horribly they have treated anyone not in their white skinned, XY chromosome club, and fearful of how they might be treated  when their majority has passed, drives Trump to proclaim his superiority at every step while degrading anyone who came before him. 

So, what will the state of mind of America look like in 5 years, or 10 or 50?  Will we shake our head at the antics of a president who believed that laws were made for those without the money and influence to sidestep them, or will the successful candidacy of President Trump be another step towards America's experiment with oligarchy at best, fascism at worse.   Hopefully, we will get a glimpse of the answer in 6 months.

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/oligarchy
https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fascism



Thursday, April 26, 2018

Opinions

I finished reading the Winter Edition of Lahpam's Quarterly a while back, book-marking a few spots in "States of Mind" for possible future posts.  One in particular was a back-of-the-edition essay written by Damion Searls called The Difficult Task of the Future.  The essay discussed the dilemma faced by Carl Jung after the publication of his seminal work"Psychology of the Unconscious". 

Jung was perplexed that, faced with the exact same evidence and/or same situations, his colleagues in the field of psychologyy often came to divergent conclusions.  For instance, Freud traced everything to the instinctual sex drive, Adler to the ego's lust for power.  Unlike most of us, Jung wanted to examine how he might be imposing his own psychology on his conclusions as he suspected his contemporaries did, and to investigate these disparities.

Self reflection at its apex, one might say.

As described by Searls, Jung began developing a theory in which he concluded that there were two types of people, introvert and extravert (Jung's spelling).  Further, that each type of person was prone to different mental illnesses. and, most importantly, it was fundamentally impossible for a person of one type to rise above the restrictions and characteristics of that type to fully understand someone of the other kind.

This theory, which eventually resulted in Jung's Psychological Types, published in 1921, set forth his beliefs and set off a firestorm of responses as he was essentially saying that there could be no objective truth in psychology (or any belief system for that matter) because all explanations are colored by the psychology of the person creating the conclusion. 

Still, Jung understood that even this schema, created by him, was influenced by his psychology so he set off to find an intellectual sparring partner to help him overcome his prejudices.  To accomplish this herculean task, herculean in that it required Jung to attempt to identify his own biases in light of his conclusions, while also openly listening to the justification of another's different conclusions while also acknowledging that that person also was effected by their own biases, Jung eventually found a psychiatrist named Hans Schmid.

From here, it is best that you do your own research, perhaps by reading Searls essay, or by reading publications by Jung and/or Schmid relating to their correspondences.

For me, Jung's watershed theory seems applicable considering the partisanship of so much of the public debate that is rending our country apart at the seams.  For those that support President Trump, any fact which paints him in a light less than brilliant is false, while for those who do not support the President any story which depicts him unfavorably must be true.  Examination of the details is irrelevant, when seen through the eyes of blind support or discontented fervor.

I am just as guilty, despite my efforts to explain to those who have the opposite opinion of our president.  I would like to think that my disagreements with President Trump are due to a vast difference in our opinions on climate change, income inequality, immigration, gender equality, fair treatment for the LGBTQ community, nuclear war, protection of our environment, compassion for other species, and the rule of law, among others, but it is not hard for me to believe any story depicting Trump as a poor human, let alone president, considering my biases against his differing opinions.  Recognizing them is certainly a start, but doesn't make it any easier not to succumb to condemnation without proof, and most assuredly will not allow me to listen to his speeches, or read his tweets, or agree with his nominations or policies without the filter of my biases against his opinions which seem so foreign, dangerous, and occasionally inhumane to me.

So, what to do.

Resist is an easy answer, and a correct one, as long as it is policies we resist, and not just anything that comes from his office.  There will be decisions made by the GOP and President Trump that are positive, and, like the blind squirrel who finds a nut sometimes, we need to be able to recognize those times, just as we hoped that the GOP would have given Obama more of a chance rather that being against everything he proposed. 

On the other side, patience is a virtue and I must acknowledge that the patience shown by President Trump's supporters is impressive.  But please, keep your ears and eyes open.  This much smoke, from the abuse of public funds by some of his cabinet members, to the obvious disdain for any news that does not toe the party line, to the twisted road of money that began with unreleased tax returns, might indicate some fires.  Don't let your eagerness for a wall or an anti-abortion law override your concern for the overall health of America.

And finally, let us all take a cue from Carl Jung and analyze our biases, admit that they effect our opinions, and keep an eye on those opinions that merely reflect preconceived perceptions and not actual facts.









   

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

More on Income Inequality

In my last post, I discussed income inequality from a historical perspective, or more precisely, from the standpoint that income inequality has always existed, that there is a sweet spot somewhere between too much income in too few hands and the same income (equality of outcomes) for all, and that technology tends to enhance income inequality which does not bode well for the future and its imminent onslaught of medical, robotic, and information advances.

In this post I thought it might be interesting to review the concepts of too much, not enough, and just right as applied to income, spending and possessions.

One of the more insidious aspects of the GOP agenda as it relates to safety nets, is the dual premises that only lazy people need government help, and that "giving" money to the poor creates a dead end cycle of need addressed with hand outs rather than providing the means for self-sufficiency.   This tough love philosophy is reflected in the spate of mandatory drug testing and work requirements being appended to receiving everything from unemployment to disability to Medicare.  And, of course, it is an easy sell to the hardworking middle class who are presented with stories of welfare recipients eating surf and turf, or purchasing big screen TV's. 

Is there welfare fraud?  Are there people taking government checks who could and should be working?  Undoubtedly.   Depending on which source you believe, somewhere between 8-15% of government assistance is received in bad faith.  Is that percentage any higher than fraud that takes place in the private sector, among people with incomes far higher than those perpetrating fraud which takes our tax dollars?  From defense contractors overcharging for military funding to doctors and hospitals bilking Medicare and Medicaid to the everyday bribes and slush funds that are used to alter zoning regulations in the construction industry or OSHA regulations in the work place, fraud goes part and parcel with a money driven society. 

The fact that fraud exists at all levels of business, does not justify a poor person from taking welfare when they can work, or an unemployed person receiving unemployment monies while working under the table.  It is one thing to wish to reduce the tax money spent on fraudulent activities, but quite another to pretend that only poor people engage in it.  If we are to conclude that the vast amount of people of means are acquiring their wealth legally, then perhaps we should assign the same attribute to those who seek temporary assistance from the government.  If it is our assertion that rich people have, by and large attained their vast stores of money through immoral and illegal means, that in fact, all people are prone to do so, then shouldn't we be focused more on the billionaires than those receiving $6,000 a year in welfare payments?

But I digress.

When is too much, too much, and not enough actually not enough, and how much is just right?  And how are these amounts relative?

I have maintained that salaries should be capped, just as there should be minimums.  While I have never earned tens of millions of dollars in a year, I would like to believe I could struggle by if I earned only $20 million as opposed to $25 million.  Or even $5 million as opposed to $10 million.  Do those who innovate, create businesses from the ground up, imagine the impossible and then achieve it, do they deserve more for their efforts than most?  Surely, but 100 times more?  1000 times?  1 million times?
If we are to agree that all who work should earn a livable wage, even if that job require the most basic of skills, then it seems pretty easy to cap the salaries of those at the top to more evenly distribute to those in the middle and at the bottom.  Same expense, just less extremes at either end.  Would it not reduce the dependence of the working poor for government assistance, thereby reducing taxes for all?
If, accumulating wealth is the only goal, wealth without limits, then is seems pretty hypocritical for the wealthy to grumble about paying taxes when it is their greed that is partly causing the poor to need assistance in the first place. 

Still, there is some responsibility for those living with less income to spend more wisely.  The newest phone is not a necessity,  200+ cable channels are not required to live.  Some things can be fixed, not automatically replaced.   Does one really need 20 pairs of shoes, or 50 sports tee shirts, or 40 pairs of pants?   Is there something inherently wrong with leftovers, or packing a lunch?  Do we need to buy a 35 pack of bottled water every week, or can we drink from the tap, and if not, how about buying a gallon of water at a time and refilling a water bottle everyday? 

And, why isn't recycling, plastic, glass, cardboard, paper, metal, etc, not a daily habit?

There really is no need for poverty or malnutrition in a country where politicians have $10000 a plate fundraisers merely so they can run for public office.    No need for schools to run out of books or pens when we can manufacture and sell an fighter jet for $1 billion.  No need for lead leaching pipes to slowly poison poor inner city children when we have off shore oil rigs and fracking technology that can remove fossil fuels from the depths beneath our feet.

Income inequality has always existed, but it exists because we choose to tolerate it.  We lack the will to place the welfare of those who have less, were born with less, have been victims of unfortunate accidents, or were simply born the wrong gender, or in the wrong country, or to the wrong parents on an equal footing as our own.  We lack the vision to understand that any one of us, at any time, might find themselves in the exact same position as those we demonize as being lazy, or "takers" or without ambition.

Just right?  It will always be relative to the speaker and the listener.  Just right in Hong Kong is much different than just right in Ames, Iowa, or Sri Lanka, or Bolivia.  Just right might be that second house on the Jersey shore, or a yearly trip to Europe, or a roof that only leaks in really hard rains.  Just right might be pizza every other Friday night, or lobster salad at the club, or meat once a week. 

If just right is impossible to define then perhaps the best way to understand it is to imagine too little, then go from there.   

Too little means working as hard as you can and still not having enough to provide a better life for your children.  Too little is reading about CEO's, athletes, entertainers, hedge fund managers who make as much money in a month as you will make in your life.  Too little is contributing the best you can within a society that rates those efforts as inconsequential.  Too little is how too many people feel when their money runs out before the end of the month, even though it is through their efforts that so many of the rich have accumulated such wealth.

I have generally not been in favor of one issue voters.  People who decide that as long as the candidate agrees with them on one main point, everything else can be overlooked.  It is hard to imagine this philosophy being displayed more pointedly than the support that President Trump receives from the evangelical community.  But perhaps it is time for the American electorate to focus on one issue, income inequality, by voting for the least rich of the candidates, demanding that only public funds be used to pay for election campaigns, and by demanding that the vast resources of America be distributed in such a way that we can maintain our democracy, invest in our schools and infrastructure, eliminate the phrase working poor from our vocabulary, and, perhaps, even the more despicable phrase filthy rich, which connotes more the method of acquiring riches than the toilet habits of those described.