Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Sterling, the NBA and real news

One of the big news stories of the past few days has been the revelation of racist remarks by Donald Sterling, owner of the NBA's Los Angeles Clippers.  While the remarks were alleged for the first few days of the story, the reaction and condemnation of Sterling was based on the assumption of guilt.  Clearly, his statements are onerous enough without the realization that his obvious prejudice is directed at the employees that have made his business successful and a significant percentage of the fans who provide his revenue.  And, since the remarks came from tapes made by his much younger, darker skinned girl friend, and based on his history of showing his biases in other public statements and business practices, it is most likely that the voice on those tapes were his.  Still, I thought we believed in innocent until proven guilty, and talk of taking his team from him seemed an over reaction if not, illegal and, frankly, un-American.  Are we really comfortable with taking a man's possessions based on his opinions, as onerous as they may be?

Then, with yesterday's announcement by Adam Silver, the commissioner of basketball, that Sterling would be banned from basketball and that actions would be taken to remove him from influence in the operations of the team, the issue seemed to be settled.  As commissioner of a privately owned business group, Silver believes he has the NBA's charter behind him as well as the votes of the remainder of the owners to take such unprecedented action.  It remains to be seen whether Sterling will go quietly into the night with an estimated 700 million dollar profit from the sale of the Clippers, or whether he will challenge the action in court. 

I hope he fights the decision by the commissioner.  I hope he retains control of the team into next season and that those players with expired or expiring contracts seek employment elsewhere.  I hope that those players with contracts in place, break those contracts, seek employment from other teams and ask for monetary help from the players union while engaged in their search.  I hope that fans with season tickets cancel their plans, and fans who might watch a game or two in person spend their money on other sports or forms of entertainment.  I hope that sponsors of the ads on Clippers radio and TV broadcasts choose to not renew.  In short, I hope that the market works to deter Sterling from ownership, that the value of his team plummets, and that he is rebuked, not in words which are cheap and fleeting, but in dollars and cents which is all he understands. 

In the meantime, there is some real news that should be addressed.  Which brings me to my conspiracy of the day.  Well, actually, not my conspiracy as I am not the first person to mention this nor is it my original thought.  But, did you ever wonder why our news cycle seems so dominated by news of this nature?  Sure, overt racism is an important issue to report, but for days on end, on every opinion, talk and even some business channels?  Are these stories, and for that matter, all of the stories that focus on the lives and foibles of athletes and entertainers, and even the importance of sports in our culture, are they all the manifestations of a plan to distract us from the big problems we face, the big issues we need addressed?  Are they all just fodder to keep us spinning our wheels trying to decide who is the greatest athlete, the prettiest starlet, the newest voice, the owner of the coolest tattoo, while those pulling the strings grow wealthier and more powerful?  As long as we are debating why so and so should have stayed on Dancing with the Stars, we remain ignorant of the evidence of climate change, the collapse of the middle class, and the continued membership of America in the very exclusive club of nations with the death penalty.

Sure, there are news items detailing that today's flooding in Florida is as catastrophic as that from any recent hurricane, and that a recent study indicated that 95% of the recovery wealth from the last recession has been returned to only 5% of Americans, and that yesterday's execution in Oklahoma didn't go as planned because they were using a mixture of chemicals that hadn't been used before which resulted in the convicted murderer thrashing about on the gurney for some time then expire from a massive heart attack.  But will these news items be with us tomorrow?  Or will they be replaced with revelations of a famous Hollywood star with cellulite, or a new Justin Bieber drunken joyride, or a dog who helps feed the family cat?

In the classic chicken or the egg question, is our appetite for what is news and important directed by those with money and power who want us to remain oblivious to the really important topics of the day or are we so petty and trivial in our desire to read and hear about dirty laundry that those who provide our media buffet are only too willing to dumb it down since that is so much easier and cheaper to provide?

Sadly, it is most likely a bit of both although I lean towards the-rich-and-powerful-like-us-dumb theory of journalism and the news cycle.  In the meantime, I have noted a recent interest in Norway for my blog.  Let's hope that if they are seeking info and news about America, they are not laughing at us for our obvious contradictions, and find some real news to share and discuss.    



Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Cliven Bundy, Terrorist or Patriot

In the wake of the as-usual reporting of the standoff in Nevada between Cliven Bundy and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), I thought I would do some research about the issue.  I was hoping to find solid proof to support Mr Bundy's claim that he didn't owe the grazing fees levied against him, solid proof that the BLM had tried multiple times to negotiate with Bundy, and/or some type of factual evidence that would show that Bundy was either a terrorist as stated by Nevada Senator Harry Reid or a patriot as countered by Nevada Senator Dean Heller.

Unfortunately, far too much of the information being pressed on the public about this issue is biased and full of extremism.  Luckily I did find the following article detailing the root of the problem and  facts that demonstrate that the specific issue is as old as the existence of the state of Nevada.  Also, it seems clear that the source philosophical problem is as old as our country and was reflected in our founding fathers' own struggle with states rights versus a strong federal government.   If you wish to review this info, a link is provided below.

So, onto the topic at hand.  It seems that in this case, Bundy wants to eat his cake and have it too.  He prefers to start history at the time his Mormon ancestors settled in Nevada.  Since that time, any claim to ownership of the land, even of a federal nature, is invalid.  Basically, he does not recognize the government's authority to tell him where he can graze his cattle because his family has been grazing their cattle there since the 1870's.  In fact, he doesn't seem to recognize the existence of the federal government. It does not matter to him that the vast majority of land in Nevada (over 85%) is owned by the federal government, that thousands of other cattle ranchers play by the rules of the BLM and pay a very reasonable grazing fee (far below the market value collected in other states), or that prior to his ancestors' arrival that land was part of Mexico (annexed by the same federal government that he despises so much), and that before that, for thousands of years, the land was used by the Native Americans who were, let us say, not asked nicely to leave or compensated for their ancestral lands.

In the case of Cliven Bundy, he has decided that he us above the laws of the United States of America because they just don't suit him.  While I am sure that he abides by many other laws, it is his belief that any law that interferes with his individual needs indicates a federal power grab of his rights and therefore allows him to ignore them.  While I don't perceive Bundy to be anti-Obama, I think he disregards all Washington based decisions, there are certainly many on his bandwagon who have an agenda to bash the president.  A quick perusal of the history of Bundy's 20 year long war against the BLM will find few republican officials standing side by side with him when Bush was president from 2000-2008.  But boy they sure love him today! 

Clearly, I do not agree with Senator Heller that Cliven Bundy is a patriot.  He is a welfare rancher who, rather than appreciate the sweet deal he has from the federal government, is ungrateful and selfish.  Strange that so many on the right will excoriate the unwed mother on welfare who has child after child, living entirely off the backs of the American taxpayer yet rallies to the side of a wealthy rancher whose herd of cattle has grown over the years from grazing on land he does not own or has paid a fee to use.  He has lost every court case, has been ordered by a handful of court decisions to pay his fair share, has contributed to the national debt, if you want to be explicit, yet he is somehow painted as a hero of the right?

However, unlike Senator Reid, I don't believe he is a terrorist.  Terrorists kill other Americans, plant bombs in public places, openly fight and kill on the side of our enemies.   But, and here is the problem, when you stand beside someone who openly flaunts his disrespect for America's laws, you embolden those who might not stop at merely refusing to pay taxes.  Doesn't it disturb those right wing pundits and republicans when they see pictures of American citizens aiming loaded guns at American law enforcement officials?  Will it only bother them when it is their guy in the white house, or their kid or family member wearing the BLM blazer?

Ultimately, Cliven Bundy is a confused person.  More than once he has indicated that he doesn't even believe in the federal government yet he is frequently seen waving an American flag.  Let's hope that his confusion doesn't cause harm to himself, someone in his family many of whom have been arrested in support of his lunacy, or a BLM or law enforcement officer who is merely doing her job.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Defining Success

I occasionally have "light bulb" moments when taking our dog, Bubba for a walk, especially when the walks last 45 minutes or longer.   It was during a recent walk that the idea of a blog about success occurred to me.   I decided to start with a quick google to obtain some published definitions.

The online Merriam-Webster dictionary defines success as "the fact of getting or achieving wealth, respect, or fame". has a few listed definitions, the first two being:
1.  the favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors; the accomplishment of one's   goals.
2. the attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like.

Finally, Wictionary also lists two main definitions:
  1. The achievement of one's aim or goal
     2. (business) financial profitability.

As I examine these offerings, I am struck by the fact that success seems to be determined as much by others as by one's self, (respect, fame, wealth), and is more often indicated by some type of monetary achievement (wealth, financial profitability). 

In a past blog, perhaps more than one, I stated that I consider myself to be a writer, despite knowing that I do not make a living as a writer, and do not have a very large audience.  Applying the above definitions to my assertion, it would seem clear that I could not claim to be a success as a writer without achieving some modicum of respect or wealth visa-vie my writing.  At this point, then, I do not ever expect to be a success as defined in that way, yet I still post my thoughts with a very specific goal in mind; to write something, someday, that will evoke a strong emotional or spiritual reaction in my readers.  And, based on some feedback that I have received over the last four years, I have accomplished that goal a few times.  So, while still requiring the viewpoint of others to attain success, I feel there have been a few moments when I have succeeded despite a lack of widespread fame, respect or wealth.

I would bet that a small percentage of the population would deem themselves a success in life.  They gauge this belief on the unrealized dreams of their youth, the undeveloped talent they couldn't pursue, the humdrum nature of the job in which they are employed, the average home in the average neighborhood with their average, everyday friends and family; in other words, their lack of fame and wealth. 

Is it a stretch then to wonder why there are so many who "work for the weekend", drink a bit too much, have trouble sleeping at night, overuse and abuse the fruits of the pharmacology industry, struggle with their personal relationships, are unhappy?  Would the perception of personal success help alleviate some of these problems?

My wife recently baked some cupcakes for her workplace to help raise money for a local charity.  The cupcakes were from a white cake mix with blue icing made from scratch.  She sprinkled some green-dyed coconut flakes on top for grass, placed a few small chocolate eggs on each surrounding a yellow peep placed lovingly in the middle.  Adorable right?  Of course, they all sold quickly.  And the few I brought to work were greeted with oohs and aahs.  Is that not a success?  Does she even realize how many smiles and positive emotions those cupcakes created?  Those few people who purchased and shared those few dozen cupcakes would undoubtedly consider them a success and wish they could have baked such treasures.   Strangely though, their perception is not perfectly in line with my wife's.  She does not attach the same result, the same perception of success in regards to those "peep" cupcakes as those who devoured them.

History is filled with stories of seemingly successful people who did not perceive their own success.  Who considered themselves failures even.  It seems clear then, that success may be apparent to others but only matters if the person acknowledges it as well.

If it is not possible for everyone to be a success, does that mean that we can't experience success?  Have a "favorable or prosperous termination of attempt or endeavor; the accomplishment of one's goal."  Is the athlete who breaks all the records the only success, or is every athlete who accomplished something on the field, and who generated a memory in a fan who will always remember that day, a success?  Are only the parents of noble prize winners or TV stars a success, or are all parents who raise their children to be productive, compassionate members of society a success as well?  Are only those who captain great multi-national companies or broker vast financial deals a success, or are the people who, to the best of their ability, cook and serve our meals, patrol our streets, take care of our children in the our daycares and schools, do the work that makes all businesses run properly, also a success?

Finally, assuming it takes outside input to help us believe in our success, do our institutions take the lead in providing that positive feedback?  Does our religion emphasize the good in people or  demonize others to make us feel good about ourselves?  Do our political parties point out the good qualities of all Americans or denounce those on the other side as evil?  Do our employers treat us as they would their own families, or jettison us as soon as the profit margin dictates?  Do our friends and family support us despite our flaws, or take no pains in revealing our foibles to the highest bidder?

Success then, to me, is a two part equation.  An uplifting environment where encouragement, constructive criticism and compassion rule the day, and an inner belief that we are basically good and able to accomplish our goals.  In the classic chicken or the egg question, I am not sure which comes first, so perhaps we should set our sights on both.         

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Freedom of Religion, and other Rights

Soon after the United States Constitution was adopted in 1789, a series of amendments to the Constitution were introduced to the first United States Congress.  These amendments, commonly referred to as the Bill of Rights were presented by James Madison as a way to alleviate the fears of those concerned with too much power being invested in the newly formed government.

Most people, including myself until a few moments ago, don't know that there were 12 original amendments proposed by Congress, 10 of which were ratified in the following years by the necessary 3/4 of the states, one which was later ratified as the 27th amendment in 2003, and one which technically is still up for ratification but is not receiving any active debate in any states.

There has been much debate concerning the application of the bill of rights in today's society, 220+ years after their adoption.  Currently, the Supreme Court is hearing a case involving the very first amendment, which is detailed below.

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances".

Before I enter the debate, it may be helpful for you to review those 10 amendments known as the Bill of Rights.  I have provided a link below to Wikipedia which discuses a brief history, then the actual rights along with an explanation for each.

As I thought about this post, I planned to approach the topic as a discussion of how there are no rights that are sacrosanct, or put another way, one man's exercise of his freedoms should not violate those of another.  For instance, we all know many examples of limitations to the freedom of speech.  From not being allowed to cause a panic in a public place (by yelling fire), to noise restrictions in living areas where people are very close together, to revealing state secrets to the enemy, the freedom of speech is not inviolate.  

Even in respect to the freedom of religion, the first amendment states that neither extreme is permissible, either the prohibition of free exercise of religion or the establishment of any one religion over the others.  Of course, this leaves a lot of wiggle room in the middle which is where so many court decisions must fall.  In my view, the generic god, such as "in god we trust" on our money, the phrase "god bless America" which is on every politician's lips, or even "god bless you" when one sneezes, does not establish any one religion over others but merely reflects the opinion of the majority of citizens that the concept of god is acceptable to acknowledge.  It is the question of which god that creates the problems: The Christian God, The Jewish God, the Muslim God, the Buddhist God, the NO God?

There are also times when the exercise of one's religion should not be protected by the first amendment.  I think most people would agree that a parent's religious belief that the use of antibiotics violates the tenets of their religion should not excuse them from prosecution if they allow their child to die of an infection that would be easily treated.  In other words, the parent's rights to exercise their religion is negated when that action violates their child's right to life.

Question then, is there one right that should always be held to be the most important of the rights, one that always trumps the others?

Perhaps it is this one:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Problem.  This phrase is from the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution or Bill of Rights.  I believe that each of us in fact, has been granted, at birth, the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, each person.  Taken literally then, any action that denies one's "pursuit" should not be allowed. 

But when do we do when one person's pursuit violates the rights of another's pursuit.  It is easy to see that stealing a TV from ones neighbor might help one along in their pursuit of happiness, but hurts another, hence it is not protected.  But what about an employer who's religion forbids artificial methods of contraception, yet is being compelled by federal law to provide health insurance that includes birth control?  And what if that employer is a corporation, not an individual?

Anyone who has read my blog in the past, knows my deep disagreement with the Citizens United Ruling that equated contributions to political organizations as an exercise of free speech, even when that contribution comes from a corporation.  In other words, corporations are people too.  (I imagine that without that ruling, this case would not have been on the docket of the Supreme Court).

In the case of the company, Hobby Lobby, a family owned public company, they maintain that their religious beliefs do not allow artificial birth control methods, and that forcing them to provide this benefit as part of the requirements of the Affordable Care Act, violates their freedom to exercise their religion.  Now, I am no legal expert, but I am pretty sure that not all religions ban birth control.  As a lapsed Catholic, I know that the Roman Catholic Church is against contraception but I am aware that their are many other Christian religions that have no such tenet in their dogma.  So, would granting  Hobby Lobby an exception give the Catholic religion a leg up on the others?  Would the Supreme Court also have to allow other exceptions to federal laws if those laws violate specific tenets of the Muslim religion or Buddhist religion?   Would those clamoring for the Supreme Court to rule for Hobby Lobby be just as vocal if it was a Muslim company looking for an exception to a law that they felt compromised their freedom of religion?

I have heard some say that if the employees don't like Hobby Lobby's religious beliefs, maybe they shouldn't work there.  If Hobby Lobby only hired people who shared their beliefs, would that be OK too?  Should they be allowed to ask religions affiliation on their job app?  What about people who work for a company for 15, 20 years, then experience a takeover by a company with "strong, religious beliefs".  Oh well, go find another job? 

Also, what about women who use contraception, especially the pill, for medical reasons in addition to or instead of for reasons of birth control.  Perhaps their medical professional has prescribed it to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer, lessen the pain of menstruation or PMS, or regulate their period more evenly.  For all the yelping about the government interfering with the doctor-patient relationship, I am surprised at the willingness of some of these same people to allow one's employer to interfere in that dynamic.

To me, this a slam dunk.  But, knowing the make-up of today's Supreme Court, I can foresee them  ruling in a contrary way; especially since six of them are men.  As I have said before, and will say again, if men could get pregnant, there would be a lot of different perspectives on some of the topics of the day.

Let's hope that the men of the High Court are able to put aside their religion; 5 of them are Catholic, and rule on the behalf of the rest of us who are not stuck in the middle ages when it comes to birth control.  Let's also hope that they don't use their judicial power to expand the "religious" rights of corporations, just as they expanded corporations' individual rights in the Citizen United decision.