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Archive for April, 2010

The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution is one of ten amendments that make up the United States Bill of Rights.  It proclaims, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

The concept of a citizen’s right to keep and bear arms can be traced back to the English Bill of Rights of 1689, and a requirement in English law that granted certain English subjects the right to keep and bear arms. 

In the American zeitgeist of 1791, the year the U.S. Bill of Rights was adopted, guns were a requisite.  It was an important right to keep arms in order to kill game, an important food source.  It was an important right to keep arms to be used in self-defense, in absence of organized police forces.  It was an important right to bear arms in order to form state militias for defense, in absence of an organized and trained military force.

Over the years, there have been constitutional scholars who have debated, unbelievably, how “to keep and bear arms” should be interpreted.  However, to me, it is clear and uncomplicated: to bear arms means to carry and maintain armaments for militarized defense and to keep arms does not expressly denote ownership of arms.

Additionally, it’s simple and clear to Noam Chomsky, MIT professor, linguistic scientist and political activist, who in “Secrets, Lies, And Democracy,” opines, “It’s pretty clear that, taken literally, the second amendment does not permit people to own guns.  But laws are never taken literally, including amendments to the Constitution or Constitutional rights.  Laws permit what the tenor of the times interprets them as permitting.”

And that’s exactly what has happened.  What was intended by necessity in the 1791 Second Amendment is not how it was interpreted in the nineteenth, twentieth or today in the twenty-first century.  We have assumed that to keep is a right to own and that a right to bear arms means their deployment for self-defense.

That is the mindset of Chuck Norris, who in his Lambs to the Slaughter article for Townhall.com wrote that President Obama’s administration is underhandedly scheming to erode and then erase the Second Amendment from the U.S. Constitution via the ratification of the Inter-American Convention Against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms (CIFTA) treaty and the signing of international treaties on gun control. 

The purpose of CIFTA is the establishment of a regional standard for the control of the illicit manufacturing and trafficking in firearms, ammunition, explosives, and other related materials.

Considering America’s obsession with violence and firearms, gun violence along the Mexican and our southern border, the proliferation of guns throughout the United States, gang violence and other crimes committed with a gun, and the lack of regulation at gun shows, anyone reasonably minded should easily recognize that the United States requires greater gun controls that would be consistent from state to state and throughout the Americas.

The majority of weapons and ammunition supporting the violence just over the U.S. border in Mexico comes from the United States, and drug cartels vying for the drug turf supplying drugs to the United States are the purpose for all the violence.

Moreover, because it is not delineated in the Constitution, incongruously perplexing and morally reprehensible is that many Americans view that citizens have a constitutional right to bear arms but not a right to healthcare.

In 1791, physicians were not licensed, there was not an awareness of healthcare, as we know today, nor were there the medical technologies of today.  If our founders had the same understanding of the necessity of healthcare, as they had of the necessity of arms, a consciousness that pointed out that they are an equally essential need for survival, it would have been written into the Bill of Rights.

The U.S. Constitution is like a Bible and Religion: folks who are unquestionably and blindly devoted to either are stuck in a world perception that no longer exists, and the majority of us have not come to that realization.

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Astonishingly, there are folks still questioning Barack Obama’s credentials to be President of the United States, saying he is not a citizen because there is no valid proof of his place of birth.

People continue to say they know nothing about President Obama, when everyone from the Justice Department to Fox News and beyond has vetted him thoroughly and repeatedly.  To an extent, I do understand why, and that has a lot to do with the color of his skin, no matter how many times some feel obliged to deny that.  I have no other reasonable answer for the persistent pursuit for answers that have repeatedly been provided, or the visceral directed toward this man.

People even wish or pray for his death.  I believe he has more threats against him and his family’s life than any other U.S. President in history. 

A while ago, Facebook had an online survey asking if President Obama should be killed.  The page had  more than 950,000 users.  The steady stream of comments on the page’s wall showed a relatively active membership.  Even though that page has been removed, the sentiment is still there.

Americans say that President Obama’s legislative agenda does not represent what the majority of Americans expected.  This, for example, even though he spoke in the campaign of the need for universal healthcare and that he would prioritize it if he were elected.

Evidently, Americans cannot see the forest for the trees.  Their optics are far different from the rest of the world:

For as the Nobel Peace Prize committee said in awarding President Obama the Nobel Peace Prize that it, as written in the Huffington Post, “could be seen as an early vote of confidence intended to build global support for the policies of his young administration.  They lauded the change in global mood wrought by Obama’s calls for peace and cooperation, and praised his pledges to reduce the world stock of nuclear arms, ease U.S. conflicts with Muslim nations and strengthen its role in combating climate change.”

And as reported in a Truthdig article, The World Prefers Obama’s America, “a new international survey by the British Broadcasting Co. reveals that views of the U.S. around the world ‘improved sharply’ during the first year of the Obama presidency, with positive opinion outweighing negative for the first time since 2005, when the BBC first polled this question.  As approval ratings for Barack Obama decline at home, world opinion of the United States is rising steadily under his stewardship.”

In the opinion of Fareed Zakaria, host of CNN’s GPS, despite exaggerations, the fact is the U.S. economy has made a broad-based recovery: exports, manufacturing, and the stock market are all up, retail sales are getting stronger, and employment is rising.  President Obama’s actions stabilized an economy that was on a free-fall into the abyss, and the bank bailout ended up costing the taxpayer less than any previous bailout of the financial system over the last 30 to 40 years.  Under his leadership, countries have stepped forward to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and nuclear materials.

Public opinion polls of his policies just don’t match the facts.  Despite some fairly formidable obstacles, this president has accomplished a lot in a year and three months.  It’s about time Americans joined the rest of the world and come to grips with that fact.  The United States has significantly overcome the failures of George W Bush and his administration.  It’s about time America took pride in their president.  And, for those who have been looking for change, it is evident there has been extraordinary change.

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It was March 1, 1872, when President Ulysses S. Grant signed a bill that made Yellowstone Park the first national park.  An act that created a new federal agency that has evolved into what is today our national park system.

Ken Burns’s film, “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” exposed how the parks would have become the prey of profiteers without a National Park Service mandated to regulate, protect, and manage their use.

If the United States had the same concern as they have had for protecting our National Parks, Main Street and the broader economy would have been protected against the predatory profiteers of Wall Street, and the Glass–Steagall Act of 1933 and its regulations would still be in place.

Inexplicably and to the dismay of many, on November 12, 1999, Glass–Steagall was repealed when Democratic President Bill Clinton signed the repeal legislation into law.  However, the repeal legislation of Glass–Steagall was introduced in the Senate by Texas Republican Phil Gramm and in the House of Representatives by Iowa Republican Jim Leach, and the Republican majority passed the legislation.

On September 24, 2008, republican John McCain announced he would suspend his presidential campaign and that he would be “racing back to Washington” to participate in the 700 billion financial bailout negotiations in reaction to the severe financial meltdown that erupted.

The reason the financial markets plummeted, making a financial bailout necessary, was that regulation and supervision of the banking system failed due to lack of disclosure that would ensure market discipline, lack of adequate capital, lack of effective oversight and supervision. 

Alan Greenspan and the Federal Reserve were under the mindset that the free market could regulate itself, which later he admitted was wrong.

As with healthcare legislation, the Republican Party has opposed financial reform, fighting tooth and nail against the democrats’ legislative effort; albeit, as of this writing, republicans have been easing their stance, apparently because they have recognized that it’s not in their political best interest to do so.

Republican Scott Brown, the new Senator from Massachusetts, on Face The Nation, gave an inadequate response in expressing his reasons for objecting to the proposed financial reforms.

As with the healthcare bill, he said, he is prepared to be the 41st vote to kill the financial reform bill and that he would support a filibuster, although interested in being the 60th vote to approve a measure if senators start from scratch.  To his word, he signed on with other Senate Republicans in a letter vowing to oppose the bill unless it is changed.

He said, like many others in my state and throughout the country, he wants “banks to be banks.”  “I don’t want them to be casinos and take risky bets on our money.”

I don’t understand, Senator!  Isn’t that what the financial reform bill is designed to do?

He claimed the bill would cost 25,000 to 35,000 Massachusetts jobs, while the company who gave him the figures said they provided Brown with no such estimate.  Company officials explained that they had given Brown an estimate of how many jobs have been lost in the Massachusetts financial sector since the recession.

An economist interviewed by the Boston Globe said the financial reform bill would likely not affect financial sector jobs either way.

Just like the agency and regulation put into place to protect and preserve our national parks, we need an agency and regulation put into place to protect investors and consumers from a future catastrophic economic collapse and to preserve our financial infrastructure.

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Mark Twain’s novel, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, told the mid-nineteenth century fictional story of a boy’s childhood along the Mississippi River in the small town of St Petersburg, Missouri. It depicted the life and adventures of a mischievous yet good-natured boy who had a strong inclination for troublemaking.

In the mid-twentieth century, I grew up in Pembroke, Massachusetts. Like Tom, the town’s boys were mischievous yet good-natured, rambunctious at times, and had a strong inclination for troublemaking. Like Tom and his cohorts, we were kids just being kids. We teased and played practical jokes on each other, as well as others. We had real and imaginative adventures. We played hooky from school, and dirtied our clothes in a fight or two.

Our childhood was not much different from that of Tom Sawyer. Of course, there was no Injun Joe, but, most of us had a Becky Thatcher in our lives, and a Huckleberry Finn, Muff Potter, Joe Harper, and an Aunt Polly were represented.

However, at times the devilishness of my childhood did include intimidation, harassment, and persecution of others, albeit benign, adults called it bullying.

In our nascent twenty-first century, these childhoods have changed. Those shenanigans of Tom’s and my childhood have evolved into violent, malicious, and criminal acts employed to achieve superiority and to manipulate others, therefore bullying has taken an extended and much more ominous meaning.

South Hadley, a small town located along the Connecticut River in western Massachusetts, in many respects is quite likely not very different from Pembroke. And, like South Hadley, what happened there can happen here.

At South Hadley High School, insults and threats were leveled at fifteen-year-old Phoebe Prince. On one particularly hellish day in January, the ostracizing and terrorism reached an unbearable apex: when Phoebe got home from school, she committed suicide.

As a result of the unrelenting bullying involved in Phoebe’s suicide, two boys are charged with statutory rape and seven girls are charged with stalking, criminal harassment, and human rights violations.

Boasting over her death, someone wrote, “accomplished” on Phoebe’s Facebook wall. Following Phoebe’s death, shockingly the school egregiously held its annual cotillion dance.

Phoebe Prince’s suicide is not an isolated incident. There have been twenty-one recent suicides due to bullying, two occurring in Massachusetts.

So, what has happened that we have evolved from that playful innocuousness, as described by Mark Twain, and of my childhood, and, perhaps, that of South Hadley, to a culture of violence, and an educational environment that makes our schools so perilous for our children?

First, we have shrugged off bullying as kids just being kids, a sort of rite of passage.

Second, we have been insidiously inculcated and imbued with the notion that certain forms of violence are acceptable in life. We are entertained by the reality shows’ putdown of others. We have an unquenchable thirst for schadenfreude, voyeurism, exploitation, and for glorified violence as depicted in comedy and entertainment genres, and in our news. We acquiesce to incivility, and accept torture as necessary. We have become intolerant of people who differ with us, and of those who are different from us. We have determined that the video game graphical representations of virtual death played out by children are harmless. We have accepted violence in sports to be just part of the game. And, fear has been demonstrated to be a useful coercer.

So, what should be done?

For starters, it’s incumbent upon every American and community, and more so on our children, to stand up and be counted as a people who have a passionate, unyielding, zero tolerance for violence, and as a people who perceive an empathic culture as superior to that of belligerence and violence.

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Last year, when announced that President Barack Obama was to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, the thunder from his many critics was loud and clear: What has he done to deserve it?

At the time, the Huffington Post wrote, “The five-member Norwegian Nobel Committee – four of whom spoke to The Associated Press, said awarding Obama the peace prize could be seen as an early vote of confidence intended to build global support for the policies of his young administration.”

“They lauded the change in global mood wrought by Obama’s calls for peace and cooperation, and praised his pledges to reduce the world stock of nuclear arms, ease U.S. conflicts with Muslim nations and strengthen its role in combating climate change.”

It was precisely this contrast between the Obama Administration and the Bush Administration, where President Obama demonstrated that America intends to conduct foreign policy in a non-belligerent way, and who renewed America’s relationships with other nations, that triggered the Nobel Committee to select President Obama.

Apparently, the Nobel Committee’s vision was more acute than those Americans who objected to the committee’s decision. On April 13, in Washington D.C., President Obama concluded a nuclear proliferation summit with forty-nine Presidents, Prime Ministers, and senior officials from nations around the world. The summit’s emphasis was to inject important momentum toward the goal of securing all nuclear weapons-usable material within four years.

President Obama’s Nuclear Posture Review, a congressionally mandated report that outlines the administration’s nuclear strategy and nuclear arsenal policy, according to news reports, evidently indicates that the new strategy does not contain any radical changes from previous administrations’ policies.

Then there is the “New” Start Treaty between the US and Russia, where each committed to reducing deployed strategic warheads by thirty percent. President Obama and President Medvedev signed the new agreement in Prague on April 8, 2010.

Yet, despite this, his critics have not given up. Sarah Palin weighed in with Sean Hannity on Fox News saying, “It’s unbelievable. Unbelievable. No administration in America’s history would, I think, ever have considered such a step that we just found out President Obama is supporting today. It’s kinda like getting out there on a playground, a bunch of kids, getting ready to fight, and one of the kids saying, “Go ahead, punch me in the face and I’m not going to retaliate. Go ahead and do what you want with me.”

Her remark is sophomoric, to say the least. Sarah Palin simply did not do the homework necessary to respond intelligently.

And, Newt Gingrich denounced Obama’s policy. On Fox’s Sean Hannity’s program the former House speaker said, “If there was a biological attack, which killed over a million Americans, is this president really saying we would not retaliate” with nuclear weapons? “That’s what he [Obama] said,” host Sean Hannity replied, “I agree. It’s what he said,” acknowledged Gingrich.

However, it is not what President Obama’s policy statement said. The revised nuclear doctrine states that the United States would not retaliate with nuclear weapons if another country attacks providing they are not in violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the attacker has no nuclear weapons.

Do Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, and other dissenters even believe that it is an exigency to reduce world inventories of nuclear armaments?

On this issue alone, who in their right mind would ever entertain voting for a prospective U.S. President with the mindset and perspective of a Newt Gingrich or Sarah Palin?

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John Stossel, in his “Who Am I?” column for townhall.com, writes he was once a Kennedy-style liberal but is now a libertarian because being a liberal does not stand for the classical liberalism it once did.

He says when he asks people on the street the question what libertarian means, “half had no clue.”

He then briefly describes conservatism as the want of government to retain traditional values, liberals as those who want big government, and libertarians as those who want government to leave people alone.

In explaining his libertarianism to his wife, Ellen, she exclaimed, “That’s cruel! What about the poor and the weak? Let them starve?”

For the rest of his column he counters his wife’s argument with quotes from Jeffrey Miron, a Harvard economics teacher; David Boaz, Cato Institute executive vice president; and Wendy McElroy of ifeminists.com.

These folks essentially all say that which is expressed by Boaz:” The most important way that people get out of poverty is economic growth that free markets allow. The second-most important way — maybe it’s the first — is family. There are lots of income transfers within families. Third would be self-help and mutual-aid organizations. This was very big before the rise of the welfare state.”

First, foremost, and beyond whatever political views I might have, I am a humanist. It’ s unfortunate that Stossel apparently sees himself only as a libertarian.

Second, Kennedy-style liberalism (what ever that means) is not classical liberalism. The world has never experienced libertarianism. This philosophical paradigm has never been tested. So, no one factually knows if it would work or not.

Third, John Stossel should consider that laws, regulations, and government assistance, were originally established by the state because non-government organizations, communities, or individuals, were not satisfactorily solving the needs of some things on their own. When Boaz states “self-help and mutual-aid organizations … was very big before the rise of the welfare state,” he fails to recognize that the free market, families, self-help and mutual-aid organizations were not meeting the needs of the indigent and infirmed, so there was a need for the state to step-in while continuing to support the efforts of individuals, families, and non government organizations.

Mr. Stossel — as do our politicians and most Americans — says that government intervention violates our freedom. Of course it does. However, freedom is a fallacy, it’s a symbol constitutionally invoked that never has authentically existed in the civilized world, and therefore has never been known. To be free is best defined by Andrew J. Galambos in his essay, “Conservatism is not Capitalism”: “[classical capitalism] is the societal structure that produces freedom by ensuring that each individual is fully (100%) in control of his own property (property being individual man’s life and all non-procreative derivatives of his life). Either each individual controls his own life and all of its derivatives or he does not.”

I support the libertarian view. I agree with Galambos’s definition of freedom. Who would not favor that kind of freedom, a society of no government, taxes, law, or regulation? However, the only way that ideology would come even close to being viable would be in a money-less society, and even then, authentic freedom would never come to full fruition.

It is certainly clear to me that when a nation is in passionate pursuit of the creation of wealth, which today’s libertarians, conservatives, and many liberals embrace, those who are the wealthiest have the greatest freedom while those at the bottom have none.

The fact is that John Stossel is one among those many who have “no clue.”

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President Obama’s plan for loosening the offshore drilling ban for oil and gas by opening up the southern Atlantic coastline and some other areas to offshore drilling is contrary to his previous stance against offshore drilling.

As reported in the The Washington Times , February 11, 2009, “President Obama blocked offshore drilling plans put in place at the last minute by the Bush administration, including plans to open the national outer continental shelf for drilling.”

What has taken place over the last year or so to change his mind? It is apparent to many that in view of the healthcare debacle his change of heart is based on a view that bipartisan support is needed in order to pass his climate and energy bill. Supporting John McCain’s “Drill Baby, Drill” perhaps more than anything else is a political calculation.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) warned that any offshore or onshore plan should proceed in an environmentally and fiscally responsible manner.

“Taxpayers who own these resources have been historically shortchanged from the huge profits received from drilling on public lands, and must receive a fair return in the future,” she said.

And House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) dismissed the president’s plan as not going far enough in opening up U.S. waters for exploration.

So, apparently, President Obama’s offshore drilling plan is going to meet some stiff opposition.  

Two questions that I have that have not been asked:

First, in the United States it seems the most common reason cited for increases in gas and oil prices is our lack of refining capacity. A new refinery has not been built since 1976. So, if that is the case, how is offshore drilling going to be effective without refining capacity?

Second, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline Authorization Act of 1973 was designed to move oil from the North Slope of Alaska to the northern most ice-free port in Valdez, Alaska. The Act required that pipeline oil to be consumed domestically, not exported, and so, it was touted at the time that it would reduce United States gas and oil prices. However, it remains that most of the oil we use is still imported, and the cost at the pump and the cost for heating oil have not eased. Petroleum from the pipeline at Valdez may be refined in the lower 48, but apparently from there, most is exported.

We export Alaska liquid natural gas (LNG) to foreign consumers, even though some have called for a halt to current exports of LNG from Alaska to overseas markets. It has been reported, “If Alaska were prohibited from exporting LNG to overseas consumers, the financial risk associated with any new Alaska LNG facility would increase significantly, because the financial viability of an LNG facility would be tied solely to lower 48 natural gas prices, which are considerably lower than overseas natural gas prices.”

So, in view of President Obama’s offshore drilling plan, the question is, after all is said and done, how will it benefit the United States if we simply export that oil and natural gas to foreign markets?

Even if a bill is passed, it will be years before anything will actually be achieved. Among other things, studies will need to be conducted, and the legislation most likely will get bogged down in litigation. Moreover, after all of that, it does not do one iota to eliminating United States dependence on oil.

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