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Archive for November, 2010

There should be no doubt that our environment, our quality of life, is in trouble.

The other evening, I viewed NBC’s presentation of the documentary film “Harmony.” The film was produced in partnership with Charles, Prince of Whales, who has given “three decades of work to combat climate change and find innovative solutions to the global environmental crisis.”

“Harmony” makes one ponder why there is any global warming controversy. How could there be any doubt of a looming environmental crisis or of civilization’s contribution to world pollution, particularly when there is no reputable scientific institution that is in contradiction.

I remember when I was a kid, it seems Massachusetts had longer and harsher winters. I remember ice skating and ice fishing in late November. I remember December to February building a bonfire on the ice around which we would have evening skating parties, or played ice hockey by the light of the fire. Some, from time to time, would even drive their buggies on the ice. In some instances, I remember ice on the ponds into early April. Today, even in January, the ice is often not thick enough to ice skate.

When I was a kid, snake, salamander, and turtle populations were abundant. Today I rarely see a garter snake in my backyard, a black water snake around the ponds or bogs, or a box turtle that once were so abundant. At one time, Lady Slippers were abundant, and Mom and I picked Mayflowers.

Here in the Northeast there are hot and humid summer days where air pollution is evident. I don’t remember that pollution as a child. Our yard, woods, ponds, roadsides, and sidewalks were uncluttered, not like today where it is cluttered with human discards.

These observations together with reports of diminishing Polar Bear populations, glacier melting, rising sea levels, as well as the evidence of unacceptable levels of pollution around the world, should lead to no doubt of the existence of our growing global environmental crisis.

It seems to me that one should a posteriori know that pollution cannot be beneficial to life, and any argument contrary to that fact is superfluous.

It also is clear that there needs to be a paradigm shift that requires new ways of thinking to achieve, especially concerning money and profit, if we are going to solve the pressing problem of world pollution or those other things that plague civilization. In our money-based economic system problems are only solved when they become economically viable, that is profitable for business. The global warming dissenters and objectors to environmental regulation are the capitalist who will only put people and the environment first when they can profit from the endeavor. It is clear that quest for profit is the obstacle we cannot overcome.

So, the solution, over time, is to abandon a money-based system of economy, and to employ a resource-based system of economy. In a resource-based system, “people would be free to pursue whatever constructive endeavors they chose without economic pressures, restraints, and taxation that are inherent in the monetary system. The challenges we will face will be overcoming scarcity, restructuring damaged environments, creating innovative technologies, increasing agricultural yield, improving communications, building communications between nations, sharing technologies, and living a meaningful life.”

In a resource-based economy, “The measure of success would be the fulfillment of one’s individual pursuits rather than the acquisition of wealth, property, and power. When education and resources are available to all without a price tag, there will be no limit to human potential.” And, there will be no limit to our potential to improve our environment and overcome global warming. “Harmony” did not address that obvious and seemingly unconquerable problem: money.

Sources:

Video: Alternative Programming and Universal Media Studios, Harmony, nbc.com

Jacque Fresco, The Venus Project: Beyond Politics, Poverty, and War, thevenusproject.com

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Fanatical Obama dissenters, the folks on the right, Limbaugh, Beck, and their like, take any opportunity, whether they bother to check the facts or not, to disparage President Obama. Because I support this President, Obama’s dissenters are constantly jabbing me with the latest dirt they believe they have on him. The latest is the cost of Obama’s trip to Asia.

Most of the time, these claims are over-the-top, rejecting their fabricated claims I move on to reading thought-out and factual commentary. The other day, I read Tom Friedman’s article in the New York Times, “Too Good to Check.” His opening paragraph: “On Nov. 4, Anderson Cooper did the country a favor. He expertly deconstructed on his CNN show the bogus rumor that President Obama’s trip to Asia would cost $200 million a day. This was an important ‘story.’ It underscored just how far ahead of his time Mark Twain was when he said a century before the Internet, ‘A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.’ But it also showed that there is an antidote to malicious journalism — and that’s good journalism.”

As Friedman reported, on CNN’s 360 with Anderson Cooper, Republican Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota was asked the question, “You talk about cutting costs — but what programs are you willing to cut?” In exploiting the question, she said, “Well I think we know that just within a day or so the President of the United States will be taking a trip over to India that is expected to cost the taxpayers $200 million a day. He’s taking two thousand people, renting over 870 rooms. And these are 5-star hotel rooms at the Taj Mahal Palace hotel.”

Evidently, this report can be traced back to an anonymous Indian government official, quoted in a Press Trust of India article in which these numbers appeared. The article’s author is not known. You would expect a congressperson would be able to and with fidelity state factual and accurate information. Unfortunately, the story quickly saturated internet news, blogs, and conservative talk shows.

Bombastic Limbaugh, who is constantly lambasting the President on his radio show, said, “We had a caller with a good question regarding Obama’s trip to India: ‘Is he coming back or fleeing to exile?’ I have a different theory. I don’t know what are the policy reasons that Obama’s going to India. I have no idea. But the idea that you’re going to take 3,000 people and you’re booking over 500 rooms in a hotel and you’re taking 40 airplanes, what that tells me is that you have a guy and a family who thinks this nation owes ’em. And while they’re in a position to, they are going to live off of this country as much as they can. They are gonna get theirs. That’s what this tells me. No president has ever anywhere close to 40 airplanes, 3,000 people, 500 rooms in one hotel. And that’s just one hotel, for a ten-day trip, $200 million a day. It’s never been done before. This is somebody that says, ‘It’s my turn. My turn, our turn to get what has been denied us all these years,’ that’s what I think.”

These statements are undoubtedly pejorative references to a “welfare queen,” coined by Ronald Reagan, describing a woman from Chicago’s South Side who milked the government’s welfare program to live a lavish lifestyle, and an affirmative action presidency. Labels describing the poor and  the redress of discrimination through measures to ensure equal opportunity, but just as important, they are perceived racial stereotypes.

I think America is worse off because of folks like Limbaugh, Beck, and Bachmann, who spiel false information before they check their facts and spew their hate. Limbaugh seems uninformed; the purpose of Obama’s Asian trip was made very clear. Moreover, I think there is an underlying de facto racism towards a black man who had the audacity to run and win the Presidency of the United States of America. At least here, within Limbaugh’s statements, it is obvious.

The message, as Friedman expressed it, is that “when the next crazy lie races around the world,” one’s first instinct should “be to doubt it, not repeat it.”

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Every year on November 11, America celebrates Veterans Day. The day was originally Armistice Day in commemoration of the 1918 Armistice signed between  World War I allies and Germany, an agreement to end hostilities on the Western Front. It is the official date marking the end of that war, even though hostilities continued elsewhere. It technically ended in 1919 with the Treaty of Versailles.

In many countries, Armistice Day is a national holiday, a holiday to commemorate those killed in war. In 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower signed into law a bill that officially changed America’s Armistice Day to Veterans Day to commemorate all who have served.

A day to celebrate the service of all veterans makes sense. America already has Memorial Day on which we honor those warriors whose lives were taken as a result of America’s call to war. Americans should honor those who have served, for we are responsible for putting them in any situation that is a result of their service.

However, America’s Veterans Day perspective, as with Memorial Day, seems to be focused on the glory and heroics of war as opposed to simply honoring those who have served, or, honoring those who have lost their lives in our wars. Americans seem to believe that “without a military we would not have a country,” which implies a military at war, and without our wars we would not have a country. The fact is that when America engages in war it devastates families, impedes our freedom, and it puts a demand for spending on war, rather than on America’s demanding domestic and social needs. The fact is that our wars are a hindrance to America’s true potential.

From the founding of our nation, America has continued to wage war. And we are now in the longest war in our country’s history. World history is replete with quotations articulating the cruelty of war, of its catastrophic effects, and a yearning for peace. Highly regarded scientist, authors, military and political leaders, including Albert Einstein, Mark Twain, General Robert E. Lee, General Omar Bradley, Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy, and Thomas Jefferson, one of the Founding Fathers, third president of the United States, who believed that a large military establishment would both increase the nation’s debt and threaten American liberty, have made these declarations, and yet we have not attained peace.

Americans and politicians are caught up in the ubiquitous catchphrase, “support our troops.” To most Americans “support our troops” means support for the war effort, rah-rah-rah and a high-five of encouragement to keep on killing and dying, making sure they have the appropriate killing tools and self-protection so that they are not killed,  sending them cookies/toiletries, or slapping a “support our troops” bumper sticker on the car. It rarely means putting the pressure on our government to bring them home and out of harm’s way, or taking steps to prevent them from going to war in the first place.

As we have discovered in the cases of Pat Tillman and Jessica Lynch, the Defense Department does not always honor its veterans; it uses them, and I submit that many Americans do as well.

So, it’s important to understand that there are two separate issues to be considered when celebrating Armistice Day. The first is to honor all of those who have served America on our behalf. The second is to sever any perceived relationship between this appreciation and wars that dishonor their service. It is imperative that we honor those who serve but not worship the warrior.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy succinctly summed it up: “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”

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As a result of outrage over graphic violence depicted in video games sold to children, California made it illegal to sell these games to children. California Civil Code “prohibits the sale of violent video games to minors under 18 where a reasonable person would find that the violent content appeals to a deviant or morbid interest of minors, is patently offensive to prevailing community standards as to what is suitable for minors, and causes the game as a whole to lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors.”

Game manufacturers raised the issue of First Amendment protections prohibiting this censorship. On November 2, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case brought forward by game manufacturers in Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants Association regarding the law. A decision is expected early next year.

The questions presented to the court: “Does the First Amendment bar a state from restricting the sale of violent video games to minors?; If the First Amendment applies to violent video games that are sold to minors, and the standard of review is strict scrutiny … is the state required to demonstrate a direct causal link between violent video games and physical and psychological harm to minors before the state can prohibit the sale of the games to minors?” Oral arguments in the case included the question of how video games are different from books, music, and movies.
 
If it should be upheld that graphically violent video games are constitutionally protected speech, the California law banning them would have to be judged by the legal standard of “strict scrutiny,” a standard that California must demonstrate its “compelling interest,” making it necessary to treat violent video games differently than other forms of entertainment.

In America, it’s mind-boggling, very troubling, and hard to understand, that we have any disagreement with the fact that there are harmful effects from playing violent video games. I don’t pretend to be a constitutional scholar or to have any scholarship in psychopathology, but it seems to me that there needs to be an application of common sense as opposed to some academic research or judicial determination concerning the affects of violent video games on children, or society in general. To say that California, any other state, and America doesn’t have a “compelling interest” in marginalizing violence, whether that violence is shown graphically in a video game for children or adults, or whether it’s in books, music, movies, or in any other gratuitous way for the purpose of entertainment as opposed to being necessary to actual context needed for understanding an event, is nonsensical. It’s like asking any one of us, whether or not we have a “compelling interest” in whether our children or grandchildren watch or participate in violent acts: what sane adult or parent would say they don’t care?

It’s clear that the nail was hit the on its head when Chief Justice John Roberts read from the official description in court records, “We do not have a tradition in this country of telling children they should watch people actively hitting schoolgirls over the head with a shovel so they’ll beg for mercy, being merciless and decapitating them, shooting them in the leg so they fall down…. Pour gasoline on them, set them on fire and urinate on them.”

Justice Roberts was correct when he concluded: “We protect children from that. We don’t actively expose them to that.”

America does have prevailing community standards and a “compelling interest” to protect every American from overt, subliminal, or unwitting violence, if not for adults at least for our children.

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In his 1931 book “Epic of America,” American historian James Truslow Adams wrote, “The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”

The “American Dream” has not turned out as Adams envisioned. The Dream became materialistically a “dream of motor cars and high wages.” The Dream has benefited no one except those with the wherewithal to afford its pursuit. The “American Dream” became a promise of wealth creation by politicians and advertisers that sold Americans a bill of goods designed for their own political or profiteering purposes. Television game shows like “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” and games as Monopoly help perpetuate that dream. It is a promise that every American through hard work, or determination, can achieve wealth; that every American can have a new car and own a home; that everyone can make it big in the land of riches. For everyone except those at the top, the “American Dream” turned out to be just that, an illusion, which for all practical purposes most Americans will never achieve.

America’s dream took the wrong path. The result: a credit-driven profligate America that is now debt-ridden, an economic collapse that has yielded erosion in the standard of living, and an income disparity that has undermined the promised dream. It even looks like America may have created a permanent class of the unemployed.

Fareed Zakaria’s November 1, 2010 cover story for Time Magazine, “How to Restore the American Dream,” writes, “There are solutions, but they are hard and involve painful changes — in companies, government programs and personal lifestyles.” Zakaria has offered proposals, which he says “are inherently difficult because they ask the left and right to come together, cut some spending, pare down entitlements, open up immigration for knowledge workers, rationalize the tax code — and then make large investments in education and training, research and technology, innovation and infrastructure.”

Zakaria has not offered any new proposal. Indeed, in our Zeitgeist, it is what needs to be done macroeconomically, but the real solution is long-term and more profound than that. It turns out that Greenspan’s phrase “irrational exuberance” is as applicable as it was when he addressed the “dot-com bubble,” because it is what got us into this mess, an overreach by Wall Street and Main Street over its lust for money. The solution requires a paradigm shift in thinking and changes in lifestyle, requiring every American to assiduously refocus and recreate themselves in order for America to move forward; to understand that things cannot change on the drop of a dime; to understand that what attributed to our current fiscal tribulations were self-serving interest and irrational behavior.

Beyond the Zeitgeist, the “American Dream” must be an epic world journey leading universally from a money-based to a resource-based economy, to world peace, and to advancing up the Kardashev scale to a type 3 civilization, where mankind has gained the knowledge to control all those things that economically, physically, and environmentally plague us, and we have, as Dr. Michio Kaku expressed, “colonized the galaxy itself, extracting energy from hundreds of billions of stars.” No matter how esoteric and utopian this may sound, it’s simple; humankind will not survive if we don’t change our ways.

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