Sunday, April 25, 2010

“Back to the Future?”

My understanding of the foundation for the United States of America is a duly constituted republic built on a system of laws as codified in the Constitution of the United States of America and the Bill of Rights. Citizenship is predicated on a respect for and compliance with that duly constituted body of laws, and all subsequent addenda thereto.

Call it what you will but, in my humble opinion, that basic notion, rather than being absolute, has become situational, based on (1) a subjective interpretation of those laws, or (2) a failure to enforce those laws. That leads us to what I regard as a state of passive anarchy that opens the doors to whatever one can get away with. Nowhere is that more glaring than throughout our entire system of government and the myriad special interests that, essentially, own and control what is euphemistically held out as “a government of the people, for the people and by the people.” From that, I have concluded that to label this nation a “republic” or a “democracy.” is a joke. It exists only as a myth in the minds of extremists and demagogues. By any other name, an oligarchy is an oligarchy, and a plutocracy is a plutocracy.

I abhor the use of labels as an easy and irresponsible way of categorizing the system of beliefs held by individuals and groups of people. I need only to draw your attention to a couple of the most visible examples in our midst today, namely the “Tea Party” and the plethora of organizations advocating amnesty for what is politely referred to as “illegal immigrants,” which seems rather like an oxymoronic definition, if you ask me.

Permit me to offer just a few examples of what I mean:

a. The millions of aliens brought into this country through or with the full support of big business interests (aka U.S. Chamber of Commerce), in order to undercut the minimum wage and requisite working conditions required for U.S. citizens. It is the responsibility of the United States Government to enforce immigration laws and to secure the borders of the nation. Our government has chosen not to commit the resources and to exercise the resolve necessary in order to fulfill that responsibility to the citizens of this country. Consequently, because of that egregious failure, we now have millions of undocumented workers now claiming the right to remain in this country contrary to the laws of the land. Politicians, in order to court the favor of pressure groups and to enlarge the pool of future voters, foster and support those groups.

b. Since the end of World War II, virtually every conflict waged against foreign nations by the armed forces of the United States, and by unilateral action of the President of the United States, have occurred without a formal Declaration of War by the Congress of the United States have been illegal.

c. Failure to hold to account the Chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve for secretly shunting huge sums of money from the Fed to financial institutions, without the approval of Congress, as required by law.

d. Failure by the incumbent Secretary of the Treasury to deliver e-mails that were exchanged between his office and that of AIG, pursuant to orders from a lawfully constituted committee of the Congress of the United States.

We are all guilty of adopting labels as a convenient way to define political philosophies and parties, often at the expense of accuracy and understanding in
favor of perpetuating a certain level of ignorance. The most commonly used in our society are “conservative,” and “liberal.” I regard myself as neither. Rather, I try to base my positions on issues based on the knowledge I have acquired about those issues. I am sure, with some issues, I am regarded as more “liberal,” and with others as more “conservative.” I see no conflict in that for the simple reason that those two labels refer to both ends of a spectrum, with all shades of gray in between. Hence, that seems to be the responsible way to at least attempt arriving at a reasonable conclusion.

All of the foregoing not withstanding, the most pernicious and destructive force that has eroded what we were as a people is the absence of any meaningful moral compass to guide us in the conduct of our daily lives, and the roles we play in society in an effort to behave as responsible citizens.

Terms that once were the mark of shame and disgrace have come to be accepted as a normal part of our daily human existence. Terms such as honesty, integrity, trust, truth, character, honor, morality etc. were once looked upon with pride and reverence. Greed, lying, deception, manipulation, theft, bribery, etc., where looked upon with disgrace and contempt. Today, the former terms are regarded as the stuff of fools. The latter are championed as the means to success and fortune. We have managed, in a very short time, to go from simply being imperfect human beings striving for the best, to having achieved a state of almost total and complete depravity, with no shame or negative consequences for having successfully made the journey. Is it any wonder we are no longer shamed by anything and we simply look the other way as our country is systematically dismantled, pilfered and sold to the highest bidder, all at the expense of the millions who comprise the heart and soul of this great country?

Lest we fall into the trap of seeing ourselves as the victims in all this, let us remember that we, too, have contributed to our own demise and the descent into a state of individual and social decadence. We have been seduced by easy credit, cheap money and cheap goods. Our values have been eroded by the advertising and entertainment industries that titillate the baser aspects of our human nature. The more we get the more we dismiss our human dignity, and legitimate the very forces that are playing into the insatiable appetite of big money that is behind the purveyors of all that seeks to destroy the finer aspects of our nature. Our complacency has fostered our own complicity in what and where we are today.

I believe we have a right to expect and to demand absolute standards of honesty and integrity in the conduct of our government officials and a business community that owns those we elect to serve, not them, but us.

How many know and care that President Obama has deliberately and systematically violated significant numbers of his campaign promises, some of the major ones being -

a. To do away with warrantless wiretapping of United States Citizens. Rather, he has expanded those programs.

b. To vigorously pursue and prosecute those who approved and engaged in the torture of prisoners regarded as terrorists in the custody of the United States. He has now decided that he would rather look forward than backward. (Looks like George W. and Dickey Boy got a free pass out of jail on this trip around the Monopoly Board).

c. Promised the people of the United States that he would pass a Health Care Reform Bill that would include a single-payer provision. However, he met, in secret, with the heads of health care insurance companies and committed himself to the position that he would personally guarantee that there would be no such provision, or a provision for a public option, in any bill approved by Congress. What did we get? Billions more of our tax dollars shunted into the coffers of health insurance companies!

d. He met in secret with heads of the big pharmaceutical companies and assured them that they would not be required to negotiate prices with the government. What did we get? Billions of dollars guaranteed to continue flowing into the coffers of big
pharmaceutical companies!

e. So, what do you think we can expect from a Financial Reform Program? You can bet your bippy it will be just what those to be regulated want, not what we the people demand, deserve and expect!

f. Bernanke of the Federal Reserve, Timothy Geithner, Larry Summers and Rahm Emanuel will continue to ply their evil schemes, enabled by Barack Obama, (the great champion of “change we can believe in), a hopelessly corrupt Congress and a compromised Supreme Court. Wall Street will get bigger and more powerful, the economy will continue to tank, unemployment will continue to stagnate or rise, small
businesses will starve and atrophy, foreclosures on homes will continue, public services at the state and local levels will wither and disappear, and we will eventually arrive at a two-class society. It won’t make a tinker’s damn whether your are a Democrat or a Republican. Both will have been complicit with corporations, big money, big defense and corporate-owned news outlets in bringing about the total disintegration of the United States of America.

So, what can be done, if anything?

a. Revisit the entire concept of what it means to be a person of character, integrity and honesty. Put those attributes into practice and hold our public officials to those same standards. After all, much like pregnancy, it is an absolute condition. You can’t be just a little bit pregnant any more than you can be just a little bit honest.

b. If something is wrong, it is wrong. Hold our elected officials to those standards, as well. If those standards require substantive changes in the law, so be it. That is what they are there to do on our behalf. That includes every legislative action up to and including amendments to the Constitution if need be.

c. Insist on absolute standards in enacting and enforcing more stringent campaign finance laws. Keep corporate influence and money out of our elections. Reduce the cost of elections by reducing the amount of money and shortening the amount of time allowed for primaries leading up to general elections.

d. Severely restrict the power and influence of lobbyists on our government and government institutions.

e. Require at least 7 years between the time a government official leaves government service before he/she is allowed to accept employment as a lobbyist or consultant in the private sector, and vice versa.

f. Insist that every agency in government, created for the purpose of oversight and regulation of another government agency or a sector of the economy, be totally and completely independent and not under the jurisdiction of or beholden to any other agency. Accountability should be vested in joint oversight committees comprised of representatives of both houses of Congress, not the White House, with their business conducted in the open, except where issues of national security are concerned.

The most pressing needs we have today are to stop starving the states and communities of the public funds they need in order to provide vital services to the people and to put people back to work. Some of the ways in which that could be accomplished are to ---

a. Stop allowing private enterprise from using the U.S. Treasury and the Federal Reserve as their private piggy banks at the expense of the American taxpayers.

b. Break up the banks deemed too big to fail, and restore the rightful balance of power with banks at the local level, so the needs of citizens rather than big business are served in a fair and equitable manner.

c. Insist on total transparency by government at all levels, except in cases of national security and only in instances reviewed and approved by the Congress.

d. Review all free trade agreements and insist on changes more favorable to the United States of America. If necessary, level the playing field by imposing a value added tax on all foreign imports. Tax U.S. companies for shipping jobs overseas.

e. As a national priority, insist on the enactment of a comprehensive immigration bill that will honor and enforce the rights of legitimate citizens of the United States over those seeking to enter this country by illegal means. Those who have entered the country illegally should have no claim to any of the resources that
rightfully belong to those who are deemed to be legal and lawful citizens of the United States.

The President should be prohibited from using Social Security, or any other funds created for public and social programs, as his/her petty cash fund. That is the fundamental reason why those programs are in financial jeopardy today, compounded by a bloated defense budget.

The Government has an obligation to secure our borders, rather than looking the other way in order to accommodate influential business interests that desire a cheap and unregulated labor pool. The plight of undocumented workers in this country is, once again, predicated on unbridled greed and political pandering to special interests. In order to fund the needs of those 12 plus million people, I would favor a tax on the very industries and businesses that have profited so handsomely by fostering and supporting this staggering problem.

The Government, as a top priority, should draft enabling legislation and laws that will address this problem in a decisive and humane way without putting the liability on the backs of the American people who had nothing to do with creating the problem. The super rich, corporations, the military-industrial complex and defense are but a few of the “sacred and untouchable cows” that could take us a long
way towards funding this liability. Let them use their ill-gotten gains to rightfully assume this responsibility, not the taxpayers.

We live in a time and an age when there are no simple answers to complex issues. We have no alternative but to accept that fact. I believe the notion of a completely free and unfettered market is simply not workable. It assumes that everyone participating in the economy is motivated by complete honesty and integrity, not self-interest and greed. That flies in the face of human nature It is na├»ve and unworkable. The last thirty years of our history has certainly proven that. By the same token, the so-called “Progressives,” cannot expect to have a civilized society for the benefit of all when they choose to selectively ignore laws they don’t agree with in order to serve ends they perceive as lofty and noble, but which have no legitimate legal basis in the eyes of the broader society of which they are a part.

Regulation, taken to the extreme is tyranny. However, given the complex nature of the world in which we live today, regulation is a fact of life. We cannot afford to assume that all of those ostensibly serving the common good are, indeed, imbued with a sense of decency and altruism so pure as to lie beyond the possibility of compromises for their own self-interests. Society has every right to expect that government will do everything reasonable to protect us from ourselves and to ensure a safe food supply, safe working environments, safe products, services, etc., for the welfare of all.

There has to be a balance between what may well be contrary interests. However, other progressive and developed countries have managed to accomplish those objectives and still have a vibrant and successful society. Given the ingenuity of the American people, I do not believe it is beyond our reach.

If we are to save and restore health to this rather fragile democracy, we all share a responsibility as allies united in a common effort to make this a society that is of equal benefit to all. We cannot be adversaries pitted against each other while the parasites of corporate greed and big money continue, unopposed, gluttonously feeding at the expense of their host; our common welfare. The more we focus our enmity on each other, the greater the opportunity for the most sinister among us to fleece us of everything good and decent, both material and spiritual, that holds forth the promise of a better future for us and for those who will follow in our footsteps.

Cowboy Bob
April 25, 2010

Sunday, April 4, 2010

"Open the Windows to Enlightenment"

Here we go again! The maelstrom surrounding the Catholic Church and sexual misconduct just will not go away. Nor should it, but instead of the persistent and rather obsessive need to belabor the issue repeatedly, and with no resolution of the problem in sight, it should be a wake-up call. Reality simply cannot be denied into perpetuity.

Anyway you look at it; it all began with adoption of the rule of celibacy at the Council of Trent. In my view, it imposed the most ridiculous burden on the men of the cloth that could have been devised, even by the most sadistic and perverted minds among us.

I happen to believe that there are two clear and distinct aspects of our human nature. One is the corporeal or physical part of our existence, and the other is the spiritual dimension, each quite distinct from the other. The physical aspects of our makeup are clearly focused on the survival of the species. Hence, the most intense needs we have are those that drive us to ensure that particular outcome. One cannot deny the absolute requirement our human form has for air, water, food and, yes, sex. They are the strongest drives we have and they cannot be denied in absolute terms. Delayed or suppressed, yes, but never totally denied. Hormones are probably the strongest fuel ever created. When they kick into high gear and put us on hormonal overload, we are revved up and ready to go. The will may triumph some of the time, but I seriously doubt it wins the test most of the time.

Except for a very few, I suspect most men would confess to having had much the same experience where they were admonished by their mothers that engaging in any form of self-gratification would surely result in a loss of one’s vision or some form of mental retardation. Despite those ominous warnings, there are ample opportunities for sufficient privacy in order to yield to the power of the hormones coursing through our veins. Fortunately, I only reached the point where I had to wear glasses. As to the impairment of my mental acuity, I am afraid I have to leave that to the judgment of others.

As our physical form makes the transition from childhood to adolescence, sexual curiosity increases and there is an opportunity to share that curiosity with someone of the same age and, more often than not, the same sex, which has nothing to do with homosexual tendencies. From adolescence, the evolution of our humanity ultimately takes us to adulthood and to a mature sexual existence.

Morality, to my way of thinking, is the means whereby we are taught that the mind is the seat of conscience and exerts control over our physical being so, as we seek gratification of our physical needs, it occurs in a responsible way without harming or exploiting other human beings. Traditionally, the home and the church have worked together to produce a healthy, responsible person, both physically and spiritually, albeit with dubious success in some instances.

When we come to the end of life’s journey, we leave virtually our entire physical being behind and, we are taught; only the spiritual side of our makeup survives into the after life. Our human or corporeal form dies and no longer needs or commands any of the drives needed to survive. That includes sex. Sex is a physical need that can only be expressed and satisfied through a physical experience. Our best efforts to define sex in spiritual terms are folly. It simply cannot be done; no matter how vociferously we may seek to convince ourselves otherwise, aided by the marketing of Madison Avenue and the entertainment industries, and the popularity of all they peddle.

Studies have shown that significant numbers of prison populations and men serving in the armed forces for sustained periods, and who have been estranged from regular contact with the opposite sex, seek release of sexual tension through homosexual relationships. Interestingly, the studies have shown that, when they returned to a heterosexual population, the majority returned to heterosexual behavior. However, a minority who had regarded themselves as heterosexual continued with a homosexual lifestyle, suggesting that their dominant sexual orientation had been denied or suppressed, and only found expression during their separation from members of the opposite sex.

Despite scientific efforts to find a genetic link between sex and sexual orientation, any definitive conclusion in that regard has proven to be elusive. Given the agony and torment most homosexuals experience by being gay, I find no credible evidence that would remotely justify a conclusion that a homosexual lifestyle is one of choice.

I am mystified as to what led to the conclusion that celibacy was, in any way, due to the will of God or that it would, somehow, make better priests and servants of God. It defies logic and the essence of our physical nature. However, that misguided notion fell on fertile soil and took root in the largest, most authoritarian and secretive bureaucracy in the history of the world, the control of which is rooted in fear of authority and deference to perceived superiority. Furthermore, it has led to the grandest conspiracy of silence one could possibly imagine, creating a culture of hypocrisy that could only result in the turmoil we have today, dating back to the earliest public scandals of priestly abuse. A normal, natural need of the physical side of our being could not be contained. Consequently, it found expression and release in ways that were contrary to the position of the Church and often to the finer aspects of our nature, the most vile and criminal of which is pedophilia.

Let us keep in mind that homosexuality is a sexual attraction between sexually mature members of the same sex, implicitly suggesting there is some form of implied consent between the parties. However, in this instance, the adult asserted his authority in those relationships by virtue of his station, rather than because he may have been bigger and stronger than the post-pubescent boys who were the object of his desires, and who may have been homosexually motivated, as well. The adult clearly bears the responsibility for maintaining control over the situation, and it is he who is ultimately accountable. However, I would imagine that celibacy has been an underlying factor in a great many consensual sexual encounters (albeit illicit) between grown men in the priesthood throughout the course of the Church’s history.

Pedophilia is perverse, deviant and violent by its very nature. It is the classic case of a predator stalking its prey, the prey being the countless numbers of innocent children who have been victim to that perversity. It is criminal and should be dealt with accordingly. There is absolutely no rationale for condoning such behavior, attempting to justify such behavior or trying to address it in any passive way. Further, it cannot be cured. It is a pathological phenomenon. There is no justification for the way in which the Church has chosen to deal with this issue. It has always been and remains criminal behavior rooted in a perverse expression of sexual desire. It remains a blight on the Church and one that it cannot sidestep or ignore any longer.

Perhaps centuries of trying to deal with sexual deviancy led the hierarchy of the Church to downplay and minimize the consequences of celibacy. That is no excuse. The fact remains that celibacy is not normal, it has not worked and it has caused untold pain and suffering for which there is simply no justification. The time has come to accept the fact that sexual expression is a natural, normal part of our physical existence and for very good reason. Celibacy is the complete antithesis of that fact and is cause for no end to the torment, hypocrisy and guilt it has caused.

I believe the exodus of priests and nuns that occurred in the 1960’s and 1970’s was largely predicated on the fact that a significant number realized they could no longer live with the hypocrisy of the rule of celibacy, and the impossibility of their ability to live under that rule. Further, in fairness to the Irish, I seriously doubt the popular myth that their heritage was and is the cause for serious drinking problems within the ranks of the priesthood. Rather, I am more inclined to accept the premise that it has been a means for dulling and suppressing the intensity of the sex drive in an effort to maintain their commitment to the rule of celibacy and to their priestly vows.

I am a Catholic by choice and I intend to remain so. However, I have never abdicated my responsibility for thinking and arriving at my own conclusions about a great many things, not the least of which is religion. No matter how imperfect my judgment may have been and, I am sure, continues to be, I will never defer to authority just because it holds itself out as being the only accepted reason for action. Our very nature mandates that we never cease to question authority. To do otherwise is to acquiesce to excesses and to give power to, not only the Church, but also every other institution or symbol of authority in our society, including the sanctioned excesses routinely committed against the citizenry under the classification of national security, defense, etc. Secrecy and mystery do not serve the interests of the population governed by institutions engaging in such practices. When transparency and oversight are eliminated or waived, the doors are open to every kind of excess, manipulation, deceit and abuse imaginable. The vestigial remnants of that kind of mindset are far too prevalent in our society and, indeed, the world. It is time for it to stop.

Do I hold the Pope responsible for what is being alleged about him? I do not have the facts to definitively know the truth of the matter. He is the product of his time and a culture that spans centuries. Just because he walks in the shoes of St. Peter does not make him solely responsible for the transgressions of the many, a goodly number of whom never have and never will be held to account for their part in all this. Against that backdrop, I believe the Pope is doing his best to improve the behemoth over which he rules. To the extent he may have been involved, directly or indirectly, in any aspect of the child abuse scandal rocking the Church to its foundations, he surely knows the extent of his culpability. He, too, knows that he will stand before the throne of God one day and be expected to atone for any part he may have played in all this. Let us not forget, however, that he is but one small player in a situation that is shared by every cardinal, bishop, archbishop and priest that has ever been, directly or indirectly, involved in an attempt to hide and suppress this egregious assault on the innocent. Lest we, too, fall into the trap of wrapping ourselves in the cloth of righteousness, those among us who may have failed as parents, or turned a blind eye or ear to what was going on, or simply chose to ignore it because we were too uncomfortable to face reality and deal with it, all share in that responsibility. We abdicated our fundamental responsibility to be sensitive to what may have been going on around us.

At the end of the day, however, the Pope is the Vicar of Christ and head of the Roman Catholic Church. His background and history notwithstanding, he has the power to address the root causes of this persistent and pernicious cancer that is eating away at the foundations of the Church. It is for him to squarely and courageously face the truth and set in motion the mechanism for addressing and resolving, once and for all, this disgrace that has spanned centuries. Fundamental to that endeavor is abolishing the rule of celibacy and freeing all of the good and dedicated clergy from that burden of hypocrisy, and the impediment that goes with it, in doing God’s work for the flocks they serve.

I believe the Catholic Church can and should be one of the great moral compasses in the world. God knows, with the decadence of our societies that has led us into a state of depravity not seen in my lifetime, the world not only needs that beacon, but it is crying out for it.

I envision Christ, walking among the people as a modest man who gathered around Him humble servants, most of whom were married and imperfect. He gave us the sacraments we observe and practice to this very day, but I am not aware of any divine mandates that said they could only be practiced and administered by celibate men. The tension created by invoking the rule of celibacy has, I have no doubts, historically sapped a great deal of the vitality and energy from the mission of the Church throughout the world. For what? Because some one or a few in authority could not reasonably conclude that celibacy was draining the life-blood out of the very institution its clergy are sworn to serve. Now I ask you, just how convoluted and irrational is that line of reasoning? Celibacy cannot work, does not work, and never will work. It is a self-deception of epic proportions. Time to say, “Enough is enough.” If the protestant churches and other religious institutions throughout the world can support a married clergy and still fulfill the requirements of their ministry, then I see absolutely no reason why the Catholic Church cannot do so, as well.

Before our myopia leads us to a blanket indictment, I think it is important to acknowledge some of the many outstanding contributions given to the world by the Catholic Church:

1 - Catholic educational institutions throughout the world that have provided standards of excellence in schools from the primary up to and including the university level.

2 - Catholic missions that have served the poor and impoverished all over the globe through standards of dedication and sacrifice few can equal.

3 - Catholic charities that have served the poor in urban, rural and international communities, and have helped to ease the pain and hopelessness of their lot in life.

4 - Catholic hospitals and healthcare organizations that have brought standards of excellence to medical and other healthcare services in the United States and throughout the world.

5 - Educational and charitable services to indigenous populations on reservations throughout the United States and Canada.

I believe that it was always intended that Christ’s Church be a church serving all its people, but one that, also, asks all of us to share in its mission to serve the least among us. That can only be realized by being open, honest and transparent in all that we do in its name. Were we to achieve those few objectives, I have no doubt that the Church would enjoy a renaissance that would see its empty churches filled with a cross-section of the faithful of all ages, rather than the few elderly still clinging to a faith they never doubted.

It just might give renewed hope, strength and determination to a world crying out for newfound hope and direction, and a reaffirmation of the commitment embracing the ideals given to us by Christ Himself.

Peace,

Cowboy Bob
April 4, 2010