Monday, August 29, 2016

Notorious... A Protracted Epitaph

May not have met him... But I see him every day
Standing on the corners with melancholy in his veins
And a look in his eyes that says
No vacancy here...
My life is overflowing... I am full to the limit
With the burden of 400 years that I am forced to carry...
I'm a hunter on the prowl... Too long I've been the quarry
In a jungle that I despise

May not have met him... But I heard the words he spoke
Leaning against a wall... His eyes reddened by the smoke
Of fires in his mind... That burned against his will
Now he talks... Now he's silent
But it continues still
That incessant flow of rage... Which knows no bounds...
His world is no stage... There's no entertainer there

May not have met him... But his bitterness I've tasted...
We have known his strife
And the anger and frustration
Of every single life... That gets wasted at a station
Waiting for a train... That never comes on time
Stressed out with an-ti-ci-pa-tion...
Tired from standing in a line... Staring down time
In lonely dark tunnels
That have no light approaching

May not have met him
But I know the stench of which he told
The foul odors of a world
That he named in words so cold...
His were the senses... Of a target on the prowl
A hawk stalking chicken
Unconcerned about his own fears
A hero... Often beaten
Brushing aside his own tears...
His head held high... continuing to fight

May not have met him... May not have shook his hand
May not have embraced him
Nor stood with him on all his stands...
But I have felt... all the pain of which he told
And we have known... the scary heat of his cold
And you have walked in the multitude of his lonely
And seen
And heard
And tasted
And felt
The potpourri of a life perfumed without romantic intent...

And while we continue to hate the ways of their death
We love our brothers
As we must love

Good vs Evil and the Living-Out of Our Intentions

The world we inhabit is in large measure the externalization of our interior states. 

We project onto the landscape of our lives the cultivated assumptions of our collective experience. The perpetuation of conflict has become an indispensable feature of that experience.

Day and night we are bombarded with stories of conflict. From continent to continent and from the uttermost corners of the globe, the accounts of national and internecine strife are collected and presented to us in a steady and consistent menu designed to create among us, gluttons for blood and gore. In the process our collective insecurities are cultivated in a manner that serves the economic and existential needs of business interests that profit from our appetite for this banquet of horrors.

A critical examination of the practices of the peddlers of information lead some of us to the conclusion that they have no real stake in the resolution of any conflict. The demand for high ratings is the primary driver in their business culture; and this dictates that they breed a callous disregard for the best interests of people. This includes the people who make up their audience, and those who are the subjects of their reporting. There appears to be a silent partnership between Media and those who create the means and the motives for the tragedies they report on.

Through the pageantry of the show our popular media connects with the barking dogs in each of us. They use all the tools at their disposal to create a symbiotic relationship between us and them… much to our collective exasperation. And so we complain, but return for more. We cringe, but can't help the rubber-necking that keeps us distracted against our better judgment. We can't help being strung along in the vain drama that is the news of the day... twenty four hours a day all year long. We are hooked because we see ourselves in the stories. The conflicts presented seem to be, and are our conflicts. The tragedies are our tragedies. We live. And we suffer and die... And then we rise again in a never-ending vicarious drama.

Churches. Mosques. Schools. Government buildings. Train stations. Shopping malls. Movie theaters. Elevators. In urban centers and unknown remote villages... These are the now familiar sites where we witness the brutality expressed by those who choose to feed that evil dog within. It's teeth of steel in compliance with its gruesome volatility discriminates not between the vulnerable flesh of babies, kindergarteners, expectant mothers, the elderly, the newlywed, ... There is no safe haven from its bloody villainy. It prowls as a destructive force of one. It roams in packs with those who share its rabidity.

Our availability to the impulses to become tragic actors in the arena of our conflict driven reality is jarring, but a fact nonetheless. Unleashed...we become the rapist, the child molester, the robber, the terrorist, the murderer. Our communities become haunted by the wearer of the long black coat with the assault rifle hidden beneath, looking to create mayhem. Our nemeses materialize as the wielder of the long knife on the elevator, or on any given street at any given hour. Yielding to an obtuse nihilism we become the oppressor of the disadvantaged, the enslaver of the stranger, the bigot. In the absence of moral restraint we become the invaders of countries, the killers of innocents, the abductors of daughters, perpetrators of genocide. The mean dog within each one of us fights the good dog all day and all night long; it's bark becoming the awful precursor to its terrible, mangling bite.

We know that evil exists because we are aware of its potential in each one of us. That evil thrives unless we make a conscious choice day by day, minute by minute, event by event, not to feed that mean dog within. Many of us may resist the fact that we each harbor the best and the worst of all instincts within us. To those who think this I would say that history is full of examples of “good” people who are guilty of committing some of the worst atrocities.

For good to be triumphant we must each commit to nurturing the good dog within. Essential steps in the nurturing of the good dog in ourselves must take into consideration the factors that give ascendancy to the evil dog. We must identify these factors and deal with them in ways that lead us to replace the destructive tendencies they can breed with more desirable traits.

The most basic of the needs that drive our actions is the need to survive. It is the parent of our responses to the various challenges in the various circumstances of our lives.

The quality of our responses to perceived threats is a direct function of the quality of the values we cultivate habitually. Honesty. Selflessness. Courage. Humility. Indomitable Spirit. These are values that can be inculcated through commitment to the practice of a wholesome discipline. A wholesome discipline is centered around a true commitment to balanced living. It opens our eyes to the essential interconnectedness that is a principal truth of our communal experience. It strengthens body, mind, and spirit in preparation for the many challenges that living presents.

The skillful practitioner of a wholesome discipline learns to focus on what is essential to achieving a balanced life, and acts in the best interest of that balance. Such a disciple knows when and how to act to effect that balance. That person knows that true strength does not exploit the disadvantaged, does not encourage divisiveness... does not put selfishness above the interests of our common humanity.

The thing in us that gives rise to, and determines the quality of our actions is something called intention. It is the big WHY behind every action we execute. To have intention is to be able to determine at the most basic level what we want the desired outcome of an action to be. Intention is the ultimate servant of freedom. In it we recognize our potential to be our best or our worst selves. It is the point of sale of our every social interaction. The good dog in us wants to act in a way that serves the common good. The bad dog’s intention is to serve self regardless of the consequences to others.

Every time we choose to act in the best interest of each other we are feeding that good dog and starving the mean evil dog. The inherent challenge is to become more and more selfless in our behavior. This demands that we stifle our want of immediate self-gratification in the interest of perpetuating the common good.

Acting unselfishly engenders a nobility that, although uncommon, is essential to the building of viable communities. It is what we mean by "being in this world" but not "being of this world". Ultimately it is how we potentiate the possibilities of being Mankind’s "best friend".

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

For-profit Prisons & The Politicians Who Get The Most From Them

"These groups have also publicly stated that leniency towards non-violent drug users and undocumented immigrants could "potentially reduce demand for correctional facilities", thereby impacting their revenue. Many have pointed to private prisons' vested interest in keeping inmate populations above a given threshold as a key factor driving the 'war on drugs', a set of policies that impose mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug users, which have resulted in a 700% spike in state prison populations over the past three decades."

Click on the link below to read the full article.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Jerrymandering via Incarceration... A Fact Of American Life

The United States is truly exceptional in terms of the number of people in our prisons. This country incarcerates 716 people for every 100,000 population, more than any other country in the world. While we have under five percent of the world's population, we account for around twenty five percent of its prisoners. The Prison Industrial Complex in the USA has a vested interest in keeping their facilities full even if crime statistics are on the decline. 
Stop for a moment and let that sink in...  What are the implications of this reality for the way our justice system operates? It is time for a critical examination of the process of what is blatantly an “injustice system”. Can a society that ignores this fact escape its consequences? 

When our aspiring candidates for political office talk about being “hard on crime”, let us loudly interrupt them and ask them how much money they are getting from this prison industrial complex. Are they and the judges we elect the compliant cronies of the system of injustice which now exists to target the poor and underprivileged in our communities...especially our communities of color? 
Paul Waldman writing in The American Prospect observes the following:
"... you can't talk about prisons without talking about race. African Americans in particular are over-represented in prisons; though they are 13 percent of the population, they made up 38 percent of the population of state prisons.... The crimes that landed them there, however, are not too different from their white and Hispanic counterparts. Eighteen percent of blacks in state prisons were convicted of drug crimes, compared to 15 percent of whites and 17 percent of Hispanics."
In addition to the disproportionate number of persons of color in our jails, it is also a fact that the US imprisons more women than any other country. This raises other disturbing questions about the political culture being perpetuated here. Think for a moment about the history of the disenfranchisement of women and minorities in this country's politics.

Keep this in mind as you mull over this issue- Studies have shown that States budgets for education have declined even as their budgets for incarceration have increased. It is a well documented fact that the vast majority of our imprisoned population are from communities with poor school districts. So as the educational infrastructure in disadvantaged communities suffer from crippling deficits, the prison industrial complex has grown more and more muscular. In 2009 the School District of Philadelphia faced a deficit of $147 million after losing $160 million in State funding. Yet, during this same period, taxpayers spent nearly $290 million imprisoning residents from its most economically depressed neighborhoods.
In a Democracy such as ours one may ask... in fact must ask... who benefits from the disenfranchisement of this part of the potential electorate which is disproportionately affected by our present policies on incarceration? Is the excessive incarceration of women and people of color a way of thwarting the democratic process? Does it tilt the balance of electoral power in favor of the same influences that historically wanted exactly that state of affairs? These are questions worthy of further examination. Is this in fact jerrymandering via incarceration?
Let us be very clear about what is at stake here. There are inescapable consequences of this kind of injustice. The institutions in our communities must begin to take this issue to heart. I say this especially to those institutions that focus on the moral issues we face as individuals and as communities. We must do more than is being done to conscientize our fellow citizens about this problem. 

The proliferation of  “prison ministries” focusing on saving the soul of the incarcerated is unlikely to change the hearts of the captives in this new system of slavery. Poor prisoners are more aware than the preachers that the dichotomy assumed between their physical and spiritual needs is mostly false. The moral voices among us must be employed to bring a specific focus- to shine a bright light- on the degradation, misery, and disenfranchisement, created by a system of greed and it's corrupted agents. 

Friday, August 12, 2016

Like Daedalus was to Icarus...So is the GOP to Donald Trump

A depiction of Daedalus and his son Icarus as Icarus plunges to his death

Daedalus was to Icarus what the Republican Party is to Donald Trump... his daddy.

All considered, Donald Trump's ascendance to the leadership of the Republican Party is in essence the ultimate expression of a politically incestuous relationship. Some have deemed the ongoing drama of his dismantling of Republican ideals as poetic justice. Trump is the chicken that the GOP hatched after seven years of roosting with their backward, obstructionist, Tea Party cousins. 

The leaders of the Republican Party, such as they are, now find themselves in the awkward position of desperately wanting to defeather their own hatchling. They are powerless in this regard, since to do so would create the kind of intra-party schism that could very well result in the end the Party as we know it. I am led here to take liberties with a line from a hymn by the English poet and hymnodist William Cowper, a line inspired by the Old Testament prophet Isaiah's profound querry: "Can a mother's tender care cease toward the child she bear?"... I ask:

Can the Grand Ole Party's tender care cease toward this bombastic candidate they have hatched?

This is without doubt a painful existential moment for the Grand Ole Party. When they look at Trump's face, and listen to the scurrilous bleatings of this bombastic offspring of their own reactionary overindulgence, they see themselves... And it is not a pretty sight. They would love to snuff out his political breath... Or put a cork in his outrageous mouth. But it is too late. Short of breaking his proverbial wings with the blunt force of some kind of obstructive maneuver, they are helpless. They are at the mercy of his ignorance. They are left to cringe in embarrassment at his bombast. And so they continue to twist themselves into rhetorical pretzels in their attempts to account for his vain bluster. 

The GOP is now left to tend to its own self-inflicted wounds. One look at Reince Priebus' face reveals the extent of their pain.

For Donald Trump's part, the true nature and potential of his ascendance is about to be revealed. The prospect of having his wings clipped by the Grand Ole Party that now regards him with unbridled disgust is one thing. Finding out that his rise has largely been a function of the superficial nature of our political and media culture will be quite another. He seems genuinely incredulous that he rose to the top of what was quite a heap. His perceived closeness to the luster of the nation's highest office is apparently quite thrilling to him. Like the son of Daedalus, he is all fired up about his ability to rise to unexpected heights... After all, he has "never done this before".  Hell... he had no problem negotiating his way through the GOP's grossly ill-conceived political labyrinth.

But, like Icarus, the GOP nominee is discovering that flying too close to the sun with wings unsuitably engineered, has certain inherent risks. He employed a by any means necessary approach to rising above his fellow inmates in the institutional circumstance he confined himself to. But now The Donald is discovering that the feathers enabling his political flight are fixed by wax... the wax of his Party's hypocrisy...the wax of a sensationalist media culture...the wax of his own gross unpreparedness...the wax of ignorance, hatred, and bigotry, that he so willingly exploits. 

His is quite a dilemma. The fate of Icarus awaits Trump. The Primaries are over. The country has endured his unconventional Convention, and the incoherent doting of his selected enablers. We expected more, but in characteristically Trumpian manner, we were treated to... and unsettled by less. The little we got that was uplifting, we discovered was covertly borrowed. He must now continuously face the unrelenting glare of public and media scrutiny; and it is now obvious that he is woefully unprepared for the bright lights of a meaningful election campaign. 

Recent statements of his suggest that Mr Trump may be preparing himself for what will be a rather precipitous fall from political prominence. 

If Mr Bombastic is lucky he may land in another one of those TV reality dramas... much diminished of course, but with the ability to rehabilitate his unwieldy ego much like the banks have repeatedly rehabilitated his financial life. Icarus was not so lucky... he fell into the sea and drowned, leaving his father to bitterly lament his own craft... Much like the GOP will lament the reality of their own inevitable demise. 

Well... lets wait to see what jewels of wisdom their next autopsy uncovers... Again.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Beyond Partisanship... Why We Must Elect Hillary Rodham Clinton POTUS

Eight years of partisan and cultural tensions in our country have served to produce the clearest choice for President of the United States that we have had in a generation. That choice, without doubt, is former Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The challenges of our time, and the fundamental principles of our democracy, demand that we reject the candidacy of Donald J. Trump. In a political moment such as we are experiencing as a nation, and as a world... we must rise above the partisan impulses that have come to define our political behavior. We must do so because to do otherwise compromises any claim to intelligent moral leadership that we might make as Americans.

It has been declared that politics is about life. I want to expand and expound on that: Politics is about our lives together. Beyond our individual interests, and the group interests that are at times used to divide and rule us; there is that greater imperative that calls us to build the kind of national and international community that will secure our mutual interests and bolster our collective security. The leadership that this vision of our lives demands is what we are now being called on to elect... to choose. Donald Trump's lack of moral acuity, his demonstrably horrible temperament, and his ill-mannered attitude toward others, are antithetical to everything we should be working toward as a society.

One does not have to look far in order to find the reasons that disqualify Mr Trump for the Presidency. Any casual observer of his conduct so far in this political season can, without much effort, identify a host of such reasons. His unapologetic divisiveness. His crass abrasiveness. His activist appeal to the racist underbelly of a nation still scarred by its history of bigotry. His disrespect for women, and for immigrants who are not white and rich. His obvious inability to intelligently address any of the issues of critical importance in our national life. His demonstrated lack of intellectual curiosity about our world. His careless disregard for those with disabilities among us. His history of exploiting the economic system to benefit himself to the disadvantage of others. His careless disregard for truth. His propensity to promote violence against those who don't share his worldview. His ludicrously inconsequential bravado, and his disrespect of those who have served in our military. 

Donald Trump's slighting of the suffering of our soldiers, and his disregard for the sacrifices they and their families have made in service to the country he wants to lead is in and of itself a reason he must never be Commander in Chief. And, in the face of all this, we can add his total lack of any ability to be meaningfully self-critical.

The contrast between Donald Trump and Secretary Clinton could not be more stark. What we have here is a choice between a candidate who has dedicated her whole life to advocating for those who are less fortunate among us; and a man who has no real record of serving anyone but himself and his own selfish interests. This is a contrast between someone who has fought for justice in our education and healthcare system; and a man who is accused of establishing a fake university to separate gullible clients from their money. We have a choice between a man who was being sued for racial discrimination in housing practices in New York; while Hillary Clinton was fighting for equal justice in the segregated South. We have a public servant who counts among her accomplishments CHIP (Children's Health Insurance Program), which brings the added security of guaranteed health insurance to millions of low income families; and a man who regards the less fortunate as "losers".

Tony Schwartz, who states that he is the real author of the book that Trump has boasted about writing: The Art of the Deal... has declared his opposition to the Donald Trump that he came to know very well. Schwartz, who spent much time observing Trump for this now well known book, says this about Trump's character, and the possible outcome of a Trump Presidency:

I put lipstick on a pig,” ... ... “I feel a deep sense of remorse that I contributed to presenting Trump in a way that brought him wider attention and made him more appealing than he is.” He went on: “I genuinely believe that if Trump wins and gets the nuclear codes there is an excellent possibility it will lead to the end of civilization.”

The Republicans have spent much time over the years, and a significant amount of the nation's capital, in their efforts to make Hillary Clinton seem like a terrible person and a bad politician. Those efforts have largely failed. As unpopular a choice as they have succeeded in making her among many in the Republican base, there is no assessment of her that is as grim as that of the Schwartz assessment of Trump.

While the GOP has put a lot of resources into diminishing the appeal of Hillary Clinton, they are apparently ignoring the Trojan Horse which Trump represents. He has most certainly shown himself to be a hollow human being, but beyond that... he is a bearer of traits and ideals that go against the grain of the kind of society we aspire to be. The former Secretary of State has her faults, of which she is duly self-critical. But Donald J. Trump is a collective of the very values that we have spent the last two and a half centuries fighting against as Americans.

We must stand against the destructive divisiveness that Donald Trump represents. Let us affirm the strength that comes from a people united... Let us rise above partisanship, and elect Hillary Clinton President of these United States of America. 

A Word To Those Who Lead - On The Vanity Of Hateful Rhetoric

If I were a careless candle Waxing eloquent from the flame of my own burning I would set free by my heated tongue The liquified ra...