Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Arizona and Immigration

I don't live in Arizona nor do I live in any border states where illegal immigration is an issue. I think that is something that people commenting on this issue should divulge before they comment on it. This is not to say that people who are not experiencing the direct problem should not have an opinion or should not have the right to express it, but I do think that it is important that full disclosure should be maintained when opinions are expressed. Since immigration is supposed to be the topic of this blog, I will only say one more thing about disclosure; perhaps if there was more disclosure by our politicians as to how they are making their living outside of the halls of Congress and more disclosure by some of our more vocal pundits as to how profitable and rich their opinions are making them, and where this profit is coming from, perhaps both their various stances on certain legislation and perceptions about certain topics would be better understood. More later.

Anyone who has been following the news recently is aware of a new law in Arizona that allows law enforcement personnel to ask for proof of citizenship from anyone they think might be illegally staying in this country. Since this law was created by Arizona, most people would understand this to mean that people of Mexican heritage are the main targets of the law. I don't think they are looking to apply it to Canadians. Unfortunately, Arizona is home to a large percentage of Mexican Americans, and other people of a skin color that is not white. While I saw the governor of Arizona say that there would be some type of training provided for those attempting to enforce the law, I have to think that this training will have to center on HOW ask for the proper papers as opposed to whom to ask. It is a shame that many police officers in Arizona will now find their already difficult job made more difficult as they try to guess who is legal and who isn't.

So, how do you ask an American citizen to provide proof of their citizenship because they happen to look like an illegal immigrant? Since I not only do not live in Arizona but would probably not be mistaken for Mexican, I can't imagine how this would work. Nor can I imagine how I would feel if the next time I was in my local Burger King using their free Internet, a police officer asked me to prove I was not downloading pornography because a significant percentage of white males in this country engage in that activity. OK, so maybe not a good analogy. How about this one? It seems to be the same conservative, right leaning people that are currently demonstrating in the streets against the government's forays into our private lives are OK with that same government using a guilty until proven innocence approach to the immigration issue. The same people who paint a Hitler mustache on our president our OK with Arizona utilizing a technique right out of the Nazi playbook. (Imagine here a German soldier asking for your papers in any of those WWII allied resistance movies).

America used to be proud of its melting pot status. You know, give me your poor, your tired huddled masses... It is on the Statue of Liberty. So often I hear people say that proof of America's greatness is the fact that so many people want to come here. So, do we want them to come or not? The fact is, we are all immigrants to this country at some point in our genealogy. (My apologies to any American Indians who might be reading this, present company excepted for you). When our ancestors came here, whether 2, 5 or 10 generations ago, chances are they were not welcomed by those already here. Yes, I know they all mostly came over legally on a boat. But they were as desperate and anxious to start a new life as those who come across the border now. If you don't think that in that desperation and hope that some of our ancestors might not have taken a short cut if they could have walked here, you might want to think again. Just like some of our ancestors came to America and caused trouble (I am of Italian ancestry so I can say Mafia here), some of today's immigrants are trouble makers and should be returned from whence them came. But, just like the vast majority of our ancestors came to this country for the right reasons, so do most of today's immigrants come to America. To better their lives and to establish a better life for their children.

Perhaps someone can help me here. When a person is arrested, don't the police have an ability to determine if that person is a citizen or not? Doesn't the "processing" of a suspect include checking for priors (like on Barney Miller), and fingerprinting them. Don't they ask for a social security number? I would like to think that something is done at that point that would establish that this person is not a citizen. If so, then couldn't that be the beginning of the process of deportation? Again, perhaps I am oversimplifying the process, but I am looking for something that upholds our tradition (and constitution) that says innocent until proven guilty, not guilty until papers provided.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Birth Lottery

Congratulations! You have won the lottery!

Don't worry, this is not a communication from Africa which will require you to provide me with your checking account information. And not one of those lotteries where you win a chance to win something if you spend a few thousand dollars. You have actually won.

I read two magazines on a regular basis. The Smithsonian and National Geographic. This months' Geographic is devoted exclusively to Water. I would recommend reading any issue of either magazine but if you have access to a paper copy or would want to read it online, spend some time on the April Geographic.

As presented by the issue, think about these numbers:

46% of the homes in the world do not have water access inside the home

900 million people on earth do not have access to clean water

2.5 billion people on earth have no way to dispose of human waste safely

3.3 million people, mostly children, die each year due to the effects of dirty water, the lack of a toilet and proper hygiene

In places where potable water is not as easy as turning on the faucet or stopping at the local supermarket for a bottle of water, the job of fetching water (and not necessarily drinkable water) falls almost exclusively on woman. This point was illustrated by the writer who spent a morning with a woman who lives in Ethiopia. She spends hours each and every day walking miles to the nearest source of water. While she is away, her four year old son babysits his two younger siblings.

So, what exactly did these people do to deserve being were born into societies that are without clean water? Conversely, what did you and I do to earn birth into today's America? I am not sure where I first heard the phrase but the answer is that we won the birth lottery and they did not. The consciousness that is you was born into the body that you see in the mirror everyday, not because you did something special in your pre-birth years, not because your parents prayed for you in particular (although I am sure most of them are glad that "you" arrived). Not because god loves you more than anyone else (because if you go that route then does that mean that god does not love at all the people that are born into such difficult lives) but only because you won the birth lottery. And you think you never win anything!

So, what is the point of this blog? To make you feel guilty about your winnings? No, everything is relative and even knowing these facts doesn't make it much easier to deal with our own problems. Besides, I a firm believer that guilt is a waste of time.

Is it to encourage you to give up the material trappings of our modern age and go to the slums of the third world to help the poor? No, people like Mother Theresa were special precisely because they are unique. Hopefully, your sense of humanity will move you to help those less fortunate than you in your own way.

Is it a socialist plot to force you to hate all rich people who have the resources and could actually make a difference? No, despite my belief that the income inequity that has grown within this country and without in the last 30 years is a major problem, I respect people who are able to excel in any endeavor. I never had the gumption to start a business and risk it all so I try to limit my disparagements to the wanton excess of the rich not the ambition that made them successful.

No, the point is to get you to think about the randomness of life. Pure and simple, you have been given a special opportunity that you didn't earn. But it is an opportunity that you can prove worthy of. Make the most of it. But rather than pursuing material gains, pursuing wealth, perhaps we should focus individually and collectively on creating a day when the losers of the birth lottery have clean water and access to proper human waste disposal. Or can spend their day growing food, or taking care of their children instead of hiking miles on end to scoop out some water from a muddy puddle. After all, perhaps today's winners of the birth lottery are tomorrow's losers.

Nuclear Weapons Use, further comment

I have been working a lot lately both inside our home and at my job which has limited my time on the computer. Also, my son is a senior in high school this year and we are facing the May 1st deadline to commit to a college in the fall. Fortunately, he has narrrowed his choices to 2, but while he prefers one over another, the 2nd choice has offered a substantially better financial package. Consequently, we have had multiple contacts with both schools in the last 10 days. Despite this, I have been creating my next blog in my mind and hope to have it done in the next day or so.

My reason for today's brief post is to emphasize again that the use of a nuclear weapon for any reason, even in retaliation for an attack by an enemy is absurd. I refer to the recent volcano eruption in Iceland and subsequent worldwide problems this eruption has produced. For better or worse, humanity has become global in our relationships. In the case of the ash cloud that has vastly effected air travel, we are experiencing just how global we have become. In addition to the thousands of people that are stranded all over the world, there is millions of tons of food which has or will spoil either because it can not be placed on planes, or because it is not being brought to airports because the cold storage facilities are already filled to capacity. Also, when planes can't fly, UPS and Fedex can't transport packages either. Imagine all the business being delayed this past week because of missing goods and documents.

Now, consider the effect of the detonation of a nuclear weapon. In addition to the actual death and destruction of the unfortunate citizenry, the vast majority of whom probably had nothing to do with the cause for the weapon's use, there will be the debris cloud, similar to the ash cloud now floating over Europe but containing radioactive fallout as well. Remember, just because we drop a bomb on say, Iran, doesn't mean the mushroom cloud will only stay in the physical geography of that country. And the use of a nuclear weapon anywhere near our source of oil will create an incredibly detrimental effect on our energy systems.

Immediate death and destruction, far reaching medical problems induced by the release of radioactivity, economic failures, ecological disasters. Nobody wins, everybody loses.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Nuclear Weapons

This past Monday, I sent a letter to the Phila Inquirer is response to a column by Charles Krauthammer in monday's paper. Mr Krauthammer was bashing President Obama's nuclear weapon strategy from the standpoint that by removing the possibility that America would use a nuclear weapon to retaliate for an attack, the president has dropped the protective umbrella that our allies have assumed was the reason that no one has used a nuclear weapon so far. In other words, our potential use of nuclear weapons has acted as a deterrent, and has enabled many of our allies to not pursue their own development of these weapons. Now, since President Obama seems determined to reduce the amount of nuclear weapons on the earth and has indicated that he would only use a nuclear weapon in the most dire of situations, Mr Krauthammer believes that more countries will try to develop their own thereby making the world less safe. I sent the following letter

To the Editor:

Monday's column by Mr. Krauthammer, Folding America's umbrella, is another column by a radical right thinker who believes that America can actually use nuclear weapons in a retaliatory fashion to punish those who would do us harm. Perhaps Mr. Krauthammer should consult a scientist familiar with the destructive capability of today's nuclear weapons before he bandies about his outdated opinion that a nation could actually use one without harming itself and its allies. When will he realize that the use of nuclear weapons is no longer a viable threat to our enemies? Did this threat prevent 911? Does it keep Osama Bin Laden from planning new attacks? Has it prevented Iran or Korea from pursuing nuclear capabilities? More than once I have heard that our current enemies are different from the Russians of the Cold War Era in that these new attackers are eager for death; suicide is a way to salvation. If that is true then why would our use of nuclear weapons deter them from attacking?

Nuclear weapons need to be removed from this planet. No one will win a nuclear war. Blasting parts of the middle east to kingdom come will bring about economic and environmental catastrophe for all. I would rather a President who is naive for thinking that someday humankind might realize that killing each other is not the way for lasting peace on earth then a policy that relies on fear and the threat of complete destruction.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Popularity and the President

Almost 3 months ago, at the time when it looked like there may not be a health reform bill passed, I wrote the following letter to the Inquirer (it was not published) in response to a column written by Charles Krauthammer who postured that because President Obama's approval ratings had dipped below 50%, it was proof that he was too liberal for America as was his health care reform ideas.

We so often bemoan the fact that our politicians always seem to be running for office. That they only tell us what we want to hear. That they waffle and change their stance when the polls lean against them. Then we wonder why they tell us one thing and do another. Who can forget the first President George Bush who said "Read my lips, no new taxes". So when his Democratic opponent indicated that he might have to raise taxes, (and was painted as a typical tax and spend liberal), well, you know what happened. Of course, the first President Bush did raise taxes because the budget deficit had doubled during President Reagan's terms.

The lesson learned, honesty, at least in politics, is not the best policy, has certainly not been lost on those that run these high profile campaigns. Mature people know that sometimes the hard truth is necessary to avoid a harsher consequence. It seems that our electorate, that is you and me too, needs to mature a bit. Or maybe we just need someone to lie to us then, in one certainly short lived term, force the harsh truth upon us. While that president will be the least loved, history may proclaim him or her to be one of the best.

To the editor:

I always look forward to reading Mr. Krauthammer's weekly Monday column. Not because I agree with him (I rarely do) but because I believe it is important to stay open to the viewpoints of those who see things differently than myself. And I like to try to follow his spin as he attempts to justify his viewpoint of the world.

In the case of today's article, Mr. Krauthammer has concluded that because President Obama's approval ratings have dipped to just below 50%, it proves that he is too left for America. Interesting. At the beginning of Ronald Reagan's 2nd year his approval ratings were similar to President Obama's. By the beginning of Mr. Reagan's 3rd year, his ratings were even lower. Does this mean that, at that time, he was just too far right for America?

Perhaps, instead, the reality is that both presidents were faced with extremely difficult situations. Both had promised change, and America was unhappy that neither had been able to fix the problems within one year. In other words, America was then, and is now, a bit too impatient.

I'm sure that both Presidents Reagan and Obama would prefer to be popular. But effective governance is not just about earning popularity points. It is about making tough decisions regardless of opinion polls. My recollection is that Mr. Krauthammer never cared that former President George W. Bush had historically low popularity; in fact I am sure he labeled it proof that he was doing what was right and was true to his convictions.

Reforming health care is what is right. We are too great a nation to continue to keep our heads in the sand concerning the tens of millions of Americans who do not have proper access to quality health care. If finally getting this country moving in a direction where Americans don't go bankrupt due to medical bills, or don't have to choose between medical coverage and decent housing or healthy food, if putting the insurance companies on notice that pre-existing conditions are not an excuse for denying Americans access to our wonderful health care system, and that the almighty dollar is not more important than Americans' health and well-being, then I would unquestionably rather President Obama be right rather than popular.

I would like to think that Mr. Krauthammer would agree.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Death ... and Life

I have been fortunate in my 50+ years that I have not suffered the loss of anyone especially close to me. Yes, I experienced the loss of both of my grandmothers, each of whom I spent time with as a child, and I also lost a very dear aunt a number of years ago. But in terms of my wife, children, parents or siblings, all are alive and kicking.

Still, the recent deaths of my store manager of 10 years and the brother of my very special life long friend has brought the subject of death to the fore of my consciousness. Not so much in wondering is there life after death, or the whole heaven and hell debate, but in conjunction with the "death" 3 months ago of my job. It was that ending that inspired me to stop pretending that I would write someday, stop composing opinion letters, stories, essays in my head only, and to actually do it.

So I started writing letters to the Philadelphia Inquirer and to my local newspaper. I started work on 2 short stories which I had been writing in my head for the last 6 months. And I started a blog about the ups and downs of losing ones job, how if effects you and your family mentally as well as economically.

After one of my letters was published in the Inquirer, I was surprised to receive 5 responses from strangers and have maintained communication with two of those people in the interim. After two of my letters were published in the local paper, I made the bold move (certainly bold for me) of contacting the editor directly to thank her for publishing me and I even asked her to consider giving me a weekly column. That contact resulted in my blog, this blog, being directly linked to the paper's website so that my thought could be accessible to the public at large.

Which brings us to life. In my case, life must include writing. It is a part of who I am. Whether I am good at it or not, whether I ever get paid to write, whether people agree with or even enjoy what I write is not the issue. That I write is what is important. Perhaps for you it is music or painting, sculpture or dance. Maybe you just like to build things, useful or not. Or maybe you love languages or you enjoy spending time in your garden. Regardless of the pursuit, without consideration if it is practical or logical, don't wait for a death to remind you of its importance to you, or worse, realize only in death what was important in your life. Who knows, perhaps that is hell. Spending eternity wishing you had found the time engaged in the activity that enriches you.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Our Christian Founders

When I first lost my primary job in January, I started sending letters to both the Philadelphia Inquirer and my local paper, the Perkasie News Herald. As a reader of the Herald for many years, I was used to reading opinion letters and columns that generally leaned right in terms of political and social perspective. My viewpoints lean somewhat to the left so I was pleasantly surprised when the following letter, in response to a particularly "radical right" opinion column was published. Find below that letter.

To the editor:

Thanks for last week's article by Dr. Gary Scott Smith. While he clearly presented a viewpoint emphasizing the evidence that points to the founders' religious convictions as in concert with today's religious right, he did so without demonizing those who lean towards an historic viewpoint that suggests that the founders advocated a more secular outlook. While it would seem obvious that discussing religion and Christian values would be of a civil nature, I have seen far too many of these articles become heated and hate filled.

But there are some points that Dr. Smith does not emphasize, points which don't contradict the basic idea that the founders "maintained that morality depended on religion", but do remind us to always be aware of the context of those beliefs.

First, the founders were a product of their time. They were men of business, land owners, educated men. They had both monetary as well as moral reasons for advancing the idea of independence. Their new home was virtually a world away from England and presented them with opportunities without bounds. It was not God or Christian values they wished to remove from their new country, but the oppressive effects of a government supported religion. This was especially true for the Quakers among them.

Yet, despite their use of the noble and inspiring words "all men are created equal", the Christian values of the time defined all men in a much narrower way than we do today. We can call them devout Christians because they went to church regularly, prayed and read the bible, but women were not considered a part of the governing process and many of the founders owned slaves. Clearly, in today's society, their attitudes towards women and blacks would not be considered Christian and would certainly not be legal. In the intervening 234 years, we ran the American Indian from their land, almost exterminating them in the process. It took almost 150 years before women were even granted the right to vote. And as recently as 50 years ago, a proposed amendment to grant civil rights to blacks was fought against by the various Christian religions. I would certainly think that no one today would advocate the treatment of Indians, women or blacks that occurred in our history but in most cases the movements to correct this behavior were not well received by many of the Christian religions of the time, many quoting from the bible in the process.

Yes, the founders were a remarkable bunch. But not because they were Christian or deists or rationalists, but because they were able to put merge their various religious perspectives and create a body of laws based on reason as well as morality. While they certainly believed in God, they also drew on the great intellectual writings of the day. And by specifically not endorsing any one religion they spoke volumes about the direction they wished the country to follow.

For me, the debate should not center around whether the country was founded as a Christian nation but should be more concerned as to whether we are advancing the vision of the founders by incorporating into our laws our evolving understanding of "all men are created equal".

Friday, April 2, 2010

A Radical Leftist President

During the presidential election cycle, I was listening to the conservative talk show radio hosts on pretty much a daily basis. One of their tried and true topics focused on the radical left agenda that Barack Obama would push if he should become our president. Since then, regardless of the topic, this radical left agenda theme has remained in force. As we approach the 15 month anniversary of his election, it is becoming more and more obvious that, while President Obama may be left of the "radical right" that is represented by these talk show radio hosts, his actions are center left at best. The reality is that President Obama's policies and decisions reflect his campaign promise to try to unite this country by incorporating ideas from the left and the right. Unfortunately, rather than paying attention to those decisions that one might label as coming from the right, actions such as the escalation of the war in Afghanistan, and this past week's decision to allow increased off shore drilling, the radical right continue to throw around the S word, in their attempt to just say no to anything he proposes.

If I were president, on the other hand, the worst fears of those conservative talk show hosts might easily have come true. With apologies to those true radical left thinkers, here are a few of the policies I would have pushed as president.

1. Health care. The recently enacted health care reform bill might certainly be called a left originating concept, but it lacks a much needed public option. There is far too much profit embedded in today's health care system. As long as sick people are an impediment to insurance companies' bottom lines, we will always have issues with access to affordable health care. Yes, I am talking about a one payer system where the risk pool includes all Americans in one big group.

2. Gay marriage and don't ask don't tell (DADT). I would have signed an executive order revising DADT to it's none of your business (INOYB). As for gay marriage, rather than trying to change the constitution as the far right is trying, I would have honored our founders by emphasizing that all men are indeed created equal. Preventing one group of our citizens from marrying is a clear violation of our beliefs in guaranteeing the pursuit of happiness for all.

3. Legalization of marijuana and prostitution. While my pot smoking days are behind me, recreational drug use, including getting "high" in the privacy of one's home should not be illegal. Without using the easy comparison to alcohol, marijuana use in moderation by responsible adults will allow another legal outlet for stress relief. As for prostitution, legalizing and regulating this service would help reduce the disease and drug use that harms both the provider and user. And in both cases, legalization would allow our police officers to pursue real crime and save the taxpayers countless millions of dollars in court costs.

4. Reduction of the defense budget. For a country that does so much good in the world, we have recently become the bully of this planet. We manufacture and sell more weapons than any other country. We have invaded 2 countries and killed tens of thousands of Iraqis and Afghanistans in the last 7 years. We have standing troops in dozens of countries throughout the world, from Germany to Korea to the middle east. As president, I would immediately reduce the defense budget by 10% and use that money to promote infrastructure projects, through private industry, to help repair our aging bridges and highways, mass transit projects to help clear our highways and reduce our use of petroleum, and education reforms to address the fact that our children lag behind many of their European and Asian counterparts in math, science and reading.

5. And my favorite; salary cap for all. Well, not necessarily a cap, but a formula that allows for no employee to make more than 100 times the salary of any other employee in a given company, including the government. If a data entry clerk makes $30,000 a year, then the top salary would be $3,000,000 per year. If an exec wants to make $5 million dollars than he or she just has to make sure that the lowest paid salary in the organization is $50,000. Since the Reagan revolution that started what the first George Bush called voodoo economics, the trickle down theory of compensation has resulted in a steady increase of salary for the rich, the reduction of spending power for the middle class and an increase in the ranks of the poor. My simple math looks like this:

A company with 1000 employees has labor costs of $100 million dollars, or $100,000 per person. However, the 20 top execs (2%) are averaging $3 million (with the top guy making $5 million) which means the remaining 980 employees are splitting $40 million which works out to about $40,816 each. Good pay if you are single but tough if you are supporting a family of four. And again, that is the average of the remaining 980 people, many are making less. If the company, which I am sure often tells its employees that they are one big family and that through team effort they will all be successful, if that company were to pay those top 20 execs only $40 million (with the top guy making $3 million), an average of $2 million each, we now have $60 million to split with the rest of the "family". Those 980 employees will now average $61,224 each. Sounds like the rebirth of the middle class and reduction of the rolls of the poor, reduction of the government help programs, perhaps even reduction of the necessity of 2 and 3 income households. Gee, it almost sounds good for the American family. And the labor costs of the company didn't change one cent.

We are an extremely fortunate citizenry. Over 230 years ago, a group of businessmen, politicians and thinkers met in Philadelphia and hammered out a few documents that gave us 3 branches of government working together to act as a rudder. Should one lean too far in one direction, one of the other 2 rights the ship toward the center. And the truly amazing thing of it all is that each and every one of us has a say, a vote in which direction we go. My ideas, my vote would take us a bit more left. Perhaps yours will take us a bit more right. Express your opinion, make your thoughts known, VOTE and participate. The founders gave us a dynamic form of government but only we can provide the dynamic citizenry to deserve such vision.