Wednesday, May 20, 2020

A Plea for Sanity and Intelligence

Within the seemingly endless maelstrom of the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, we are witnessing the full consequences of failed leadership on the part of the Federal government within a corrupt and dysfunctional system. To refer to the virus as our enemy is rather ludicrous at best. Viruses are a fundamental aspect of biological life on planet earth. As a type of life form, they have played an essential role in the evolution of living things over billions of years and are not about to disappear.

The enemy in this debacle is ourselves. As a democratic society, we have apparently chosen an individual to head the Federal government who is patently incapable of real and authentic leadership; someone who is inherently unable to intellectually grasp such a complex issue with all its layered nuances and is, thereby thoroughly and completely out of his depth. He and his cohorts have failed in regard to nearly every level of dealing with a national crisis of such major proportions.

Even though we are currently mired in a very difficult and perilous situation, we do have the unprecedented opportunity to emerge from this crisis with a renewed focus and determination to finally acknowledge and correct the critical inequities that have permeated our national life for far too long. The threat to our health and livelihoods that this pandemic has posed has essentially unveiled the deep-seated problems that have confounded American life.

It has been over one-hundred and fifty years since the end of the devastating and debilitating Civil War and yet as a people we are still haunted and plagued by the prejudice, hatred and bigotry that propelled us into that devastating conflict in the first place. Fear and suspicion continue to dominate national life and have led to an armed and anxious people. We have not yet come to terms with our collective past. The process of rebuilding our social and economic life at the end of this pandemic may provide us with an opportunity to recognize our failings and construct an entirely different and more inclusive image of ourselves not simply for the present moment, but for future generations as well.

Many of the societal ills that have characterized ordinary life in the United States prior to this pandemic include a failed national health system, a fractured and dysfunctional national immigration policy, a seemingly perpetual crisis around the issues of homelessness, poverty and hunger, a justice system that has produced the highest per capita prison population in the world and an educational system that effectively excludes many from legitimate access. As a result of this abject failure to educate our own people, there is currently a profound fear and apparent disregard of the essential role that science does play in modern life.

Many of these failings have as their primary root cause a massive and inequitable distribution of wealth where there are but a few winners at the very top of the economic scale. Along with this tilted economic alignment comes an equivalent and devastating distribution of economic and political power and influence. As a result, important and far-reaching public policies and decisions have been and are being made not based upon the common good and sound scientifically and intellectually- derived principles but rather upon the immediate capacity to generate wealth and profit.

As this public health crisis has clearly demonstrated, this system has failed us especially with leadership that is clearly and categorically aligned with the interests of wealth and power. A society not based upon the premise of providing for the common good, regardless of its avowed political system, is essentially unsustainable.

As a people, we are thereby faced with the choice of either coming through this unprecedented situation and reverting back to failed principles or learning important lessons and fashioning a social order focused upon on creating a sane, intelligent, and sustainable future for ourselves and future generations.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

In Time of Crisis

The human world is currently in the midst of a global pandemic as the COVID-19 pathogen is spreading throughout human populations around the globe. The United States – purportedly the richest country of all – has faced this crisis essentially unprepared. A significant part of this state of affairs is due to the absence of any real leadership coming from the Federal Government. In fact, the current administration is under the aegis of mostly white males whose guiding and operating principle seems to be the maintenance of their own power and sustaining the preeminence of the affluent class. Collectively, they seem completely devoid of compassion and their behavior shows a nearly complete disregard for the common good. Furthermore, they all seem to exhibit a remarkable disdain for science and for real data; this seems particularly incongruent within the context of the twenty-first century.

The current President rather than taking on a clear leadership role in guiding the country through this crisis has chosen to use his power and authority to divide the country and to make outrageous statements that are outright lies and thereby promote disinformation and inject a perverse kind of chaos into the social fabric at a time when reasoned deliberation and calm is required. As an individual, he displays clear and serious personality disorders, has the emotional maturity of a child, is a pathological liar and has an extremely limited grasp of complex issues. His behavior is costing countless lives lost to the ever-spreading coronavirus. His presidency will definitely be represented in the future history of this nation as a particularly dark and foreboding time.

Beyond the current state of the nation, the momentous disruption in social organization that this pandemic has brought has managed to peel away the layers that have disguised the true reality of American life that has never been far from the surface. In fact, what we are witnessing is the true impact of the extreme social and economic inequality that permeates the very fabric of this country. This inequality is so pervasive that for many of our citizens, there is barely enough income to provide for the most basic of needs – housing and nutrition. For many adequate healthcare is not available, the prospect of hunger and homelessness is ever present and unemployment or under employment is the rule rather than the exception. Side-by-side with this reality is the fact that vast stores of wealth and assets lie within the hands of a very few who also have inordinate control of the reigns of political, social and economic power.

Without a unified, well-crafted, and reasoned plan - based upon sound scientific principles - for safely extricating the country from the manifold consequences of this pandemic, the future remains unpredictable. This vacuum of leadership may provide an opportunity for the unscrupulous to further disrupt the already fractured social condition for the purpose of promoting ill-advised remedies that tap into emotional insecurities and exploit fear. Such a course will necessarily prove disastrous.

It is time for people to awaken to the harsh realities that exist within the very framework of American life and begin to address the underlying inequalities that plague the very heart of this country. For, in reality, there lies another threat to the entire species that demands our full attention; for it may pose a much more profound and existential danger. That issue is, of course, climate change.

Friday, March 27, 2020

A Time of Reassessment

At this moment, with the nation hunkered down under the ominous cloud of a persistent virus pursuing the rapacious programming of its inherent biology, it could be a time for personal and societal reflection. Viruses have, in fact, been an integral part of life on this planet for perhaps billions of years and have apparently played a significant role in the evolution of the remarkable diversity of living beings on this earth. They are a part of the universe of living things that populate the natural environment and are not likely to disappear. That is the reality that we are dealing with.

We can face this challenge by using the tools that science can and does provide and make judicious and wise decisions, or we get let fear dominate our thinking and abandon reason and rational behavior. The ladder choice would necessarily lead to disaster.

At a time when many of us are faced with an enforced isolation, it may provide an opportunity to reflect not only upon our own lives and those who we love and live with but on the very nature of the society that we live in.

In my opinion, it is the time to honor those who have the courage and a determined sense of loyalty and caring to place their own personal safety at risk every day to serve us – to minister to our health, to provide the food and nutrition we require, to deliver the mail, to staff the hospitals, to provide security, to drive ambulances, to rush to fires, to save lives, etc. For these individuals, we must provide all the tools they need to not only do their work but to stay safe; for they are our real saviors.

There are many individuals and families who have been living on the margins – making barely enough income to survive. In a dire situation where that income stream has been halted, they also require our immediate and sustained assistance. There are hundreds of thousands of homeless individuals and families who have no safe house to retreat to minimize their exposure to the virus. Collectively, we cannot in good conscience abandon them. We are a nation with the remarkable distinction of having the greatest number of prisoners per capita than any other sovereignty. Steps must be taken to change this sobering picture; otherwise, it places our view of justice in a remarkably hypocritical light.

My hope it that these stark realities that now haunt us will provide the incentive to reconsider, reevaluate and reassess the nature of our social contract. It may provide an impetus to resuscitate the Commons – to develop the much needed infrastructure to provide accessible healthcare for all, to have a public health system capable of responding quickly and decisively to health emergencies, to provide adequate housing for everyone, and to properly educate and care for all our children.

Friday, March 13, 2020

An Appreciation of the Commons

We are now in the midst of what might be regarded as a raging pandemic in relation to the spreading impact of the coronavirus on human populations throughout the world. To me, this new reality is a not so subtle reminder of the precarious nature of civilization and the inescapable reality that our species in general and our place in the so-called “developed” world in particular does not grant us any immunity to the nature of our individual and collective frailty as living beings on our planetary home. We are all subject to the physical and biological forces that constitute our everyday existence for better or worse.

From a biological perspective, viruses portray unusual properties in that outside of living cells they are quite incapable of independent existence. They are specifically engineered to “infect” living cells and have the capacity to commandeer the cellular machinery that ordinarily sustains the life of the cell and appropriate cellular processes to a singular role – the production of more viral particles. They are so successful at this that the infected cell usually succumbs, and the viral progenies go on to invade neighboring cells that in the case of the coronavirus are the cells that constitute lung tissue. As entities, viruses have been among the living for billions of years. As a matter of fact, portions of human DNA contain the remnants of an array of viral DNA from many sources. In this regard, viruses have apparently played an important role in the evolution of life, including human life, on the planet. For this reason, viruses will always be with us.

Thanks to the multitude of scientific discoveries and the cumulative efforts embodied in scientific research, we are extremely knowledgeable regarding the biology of many viruses including the coronavirus and its mode of infection. One possible outcome of the acceptance of this basic reality, may hopefully be a renewed appreciation of the Commons – those aspects of civilization that are fundamental to the sustainability and viability of communal life. Examples of the these would be public health, clean air, drinkable water, adequate shelter and nutrition, etc.

It has become a patent reality that in the United States the wholesale neglect of the Commons has made us particularly vulnerable to this pandemic and its ineluctable impact on societal institutions. It also has placed particular emphasis on the essential importance of smart government leadership that places appropriate reliance on the important role that science and professional expertise can play in dealing with a national crisis such as this one.

It is my hope that the lessons from this throughout the world will find direct application in preparing for future calamities including climate change to help ensure the future viability of the species.

Sunday, February 09, 2020

America 2020 – Year 244 Since the Birth of the Republic

This ship of state is heading towards disaster with a deranged captain at the helm. By his side a coterie of white men, pockets flowing over with the gold of the realm, are directing this ill-equipped leader to whatever egomaniacal whim of the moment possesses him and them. Their passion, the amassing of staggering amounts of personal wealth while many of the nation’s people starve, with its armies of the homeless and the desperate, with its prisons filled to capacity with the dark-skinned and the poor, with the old and enfeebled on long lines at the soup kitchen, with health care a privilege and longevity a gift to those who can afford it.

The corporate class in full possession of all the keys that gain them unfettered access to the riches of the State. The political capitol glutted with lobbyists and a stunning array of merchants of greed. Money feverishly changing hands, transactions abounding in the marketplace with a wealth of get-rich-quick schemes and a paucity of productive ideas for the furtherment of the well-being of the species. Without an iota of compassion or concern for the plight of the those who suffer needlessly, without even the telltale of evidence of shame and guilt that should haunt them, power drinks from the endless reservoir of the labor of others and wreaks havoc upon the natural environment on this planet – our only home.

Everything is to be exploited, everything up for grabs, all is on the menu in the glorious and insatiable interest of profit. Even the wondrous beauty of the world of nature has been subjected to the laws of commerce and accumulation of wealth. Even the health and security of future generations is up for bids. Even the very future of the species is placed in serious jeopardy.

I have been demonstrating and arguing for a nation aligned with true equality for all and a penchant for peace, social justice and for sanity for over fifty years. I have been an outspoken advocate for civil rights in the midst of the turbulent 60s and for a repudiation of the onerous impact of Jim Crow. I was deeply involved with the anti-Vietnam War movement and still feel a deep sense of remorse for the millions of innocent lives lost at the hands of the United States using insidious weapons of mass destruction for the sake of our benighted capitalist vision for the world’s people.

Tens of millions of innocents have been consigned to a premature grave on account of the many unnecessary wars and brutal violence we have inflicted in many regions on the globe. I was newly born when the United States obliterated the two functioning and viable cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with apocalyptic atomic weapons. I was born when an entire people, American citizens of Japanese descent, were forcefully evacuated from their homes, stripped of their livelihoods and placed in so-called “internment camps.” We have yet to take ownership of these horrific examples of our use of military force and political oppression to secure our objectives. I have taken to the street innumerable times for civil rights, against war, for homosexual rights, for women’s rights and even in support of science.

Progress has been made, yet the hatred and bigotry, small-mindedness and sheer stupidity remain a significant aspect of the national character. Yet the private ownership of guns and assault weapons continues to grow. The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) lives under different covers and the idea of white supremacy thrives within the wasteland that typifies so much of the national landscape.

Progress has been made in many areas of social life in the nation, yet its history is replete with horrific episodes of immense brutality including the imposition of slavery upon Africans physically abducted from their country and culture of origin. This condition lasted for almost two-hundred and fifty years. There are those who maintain to this day that slavery was, in fact, not a “bad thing.” Later in the nation’s history, black males were repeatedly lynched by lawless mobs for mostly unjustifiable reasons. These “events” were happily witnessed by spectators consisting of men, women and even children. The grotesque corpses hanging from trees were mutilated and horribly disfigured and postcards depicting this savagery were mailed to others highlighting these “celebrations.” Race riots occurred throughout the nation over many years in many locales in which blacks and other races were indiscriminately slaughtered for no other reason than the color of their skin or the origin of their birth.

Americans so proud of their heritage live on lands stolen from the Native American populations that were annihilated to the very point of extinction. A bogus war against Mexico was used as a way to acquire territory that now comprises a significant portion of the nation’s landmass. All this unspeakable violence was perpetrated against peoples that were determined to be of little worth for the sole purpose of accruing wealth and power - often suggesting that god was on the side of such evil. Americans so enamored by this land of, “the free and the brave” reside in a country that defoliated some twenty-five percent of the Vietnamese countryside during the Vietnam War so as to expose the enemy to military aircraft using the same substance, Agent Orange, that was later shown to be the causative agent of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). This country used burning gasoline (napalm) against Vietnamese civilian populations that could literally burn the skin off of a human body. Americans so convinced of the seeming invincibility of their economic system live in a country that destroyed the damns in North Korea during the Korean War that held water to irrigate rice lands that fed its people so as to instigate mass starvation. In this same war, nearly every major North Korean city was decimated with American-built bombs dropped from above by American-made airplanes. In this same war, millions of Koreans were killed. Americans inured to convenience and comfort live in a country that systematically destroyed the infrastructure of the entire county of Iraq during the Second Gulf War that was an unprovoked invasion and occupation of that country leading to the immediate and protracted death of hundreds of thousands of human beings. Americans so convinced of the freedoms they think they possess live in a country that used anti-personnel weapons and landmines over huge stretches of real estate in the tiny countries of Laos and Cambodia that are still killing innocent people to this day. Has America ever “owned up” to these horrors, taken responsibility for these acts of unspeakable cruelty or made any attempt at restitution? The answer to this is a resounding no.

America 2020 is now feeling the full weight of this history that has fashioned, shaped and directed the national temperament. The collective weight of these horrors perpetrated against so many peoples throughout the world – usually the poor and people of color – has stripped this nation of any noticeable degree of compassion and any sense of caring. The cumulative impact of this history has led us to this place – where fear dominates the national temperament. Where hundreds of millions of guns and assault weapons reside in the homes of many Americans. Where periodic acts of horrendous violence are perpetrated by those living on the periphery of the culture. There is an insidious ugliness driven by hatred and bigotry, violence and fear that exists not far below the surface in American life.

America 2020 is impaled upon the wrath, ignorance, hatred, bigotry and greed of its own making. America 2020 is now occupied by two disparate worldviews. One that feels that America is a country meant only for those who are “deserving” i.e. with appropriate whiteness in the color of their skin and that express a total loyalty and fealty to both god and country. The other side longs for reforms that will embrace all with a spirit of equality and justice.

Yet neither of these divergent camps express any sense of remorse, or guilt, compassion or shame for the burden of the nation’s past. Without this recognition of the full impact of the way we have conducted ourselves in the world, there is little hope for any kind of meaningful change. Without our collective willingness to discover the true meaning of who we are as a people, there is little chance of avoiding the abyss of our further decline.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Aristides de Sousa Mendes

In 1940, Europe was at the very center of political turmoil created by the rising tide of Fascism from its epicenter in Germany. At this time, it became abundantly clear to many European Jews that their future survival was at stake. In order to protect themselves and their families from what they envisioned as a horrific future, many sought to flee from their homes and livelihoods. At that time, their options and possible escape routes were dwindling.

On November 9 -10, 1938 the State-sanctioned violent attacks of Jewish businesses and institutions perpetrated by the German SA – Sturmabteilung or Storm Detachment - paramilitary forces and civilians occurred throughout the country. It became known as the Kristallnacht – the Night of Broken Glass. This served as a sign to many European Jews of the existential nature of the threat to their lives and safety. On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland. This act of aggression was the effective beginning of World War II and in June of 1940, Germany, Italy and Japan declared war upon Great Britain and France. On May 10 of 1940 German forces entered France and by June 25 of that year fully occupied the country,

One of the possible escape routes for those Jews attempting to flee from France was to obtain a Portuguese visa that would allow them to obtain safe passage through Spain to Lisbon. From Lisbon, they could then find refuge in other parts of the globe. Although Portugal officially proclaimed itself to be neutral in regard to the ensuing global conflict, the country was under the rule of a dictator, Antonio de Oliveira Salaza, who was, in fact, a Nazi sympathizer. Under his auspices a directive, Circular 14, was issued to all Portuguese diplomats stating that Jews, Russians and stateless persons would not be allowed to return to their countries of origin.

In spite of the prohibition against granting Portuguese visas to those wishing to flee from their Nazi oppressors, Aristides de Sousa Mendes, a Portuguese consul stationed in Bordeaux, France, chose to defy this order and freely granted visas to many thousands hoping to find safety in other parts of the world. In his own words, Mendes stated that, ““I would rather stand with God against Man than with Man against God.”

For this rebellious act, Mendes’ diplomatic status was revoked, and he was forbidden from practicing law. This punishment severely impacted the economic well-being of him and his family. As a result, the family was in such dire economic straits that an organization financed by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee fed the Mendes family in its soup kitchen.

Aristides de Sousa Mendes died on April 3rd, 1954 in dire poverty at the Franciscan Hospital in Lisbon. In spite of all the suffering he endured for acts of extreme bravery and courage in direct defiance of unspeakable evil, he proclaimed that, “I could not have acted otherwise, and I therefore accept all that has befallen me with love.”

Sunday, January 19, 2020

The Crisis in America – A Blunt Discourse

The Senate trial regarding President Trump’s impeachment will soon be underway. To any discerning citizen of the United States, his guilt in matters of his articles of impeachment, as presented by the House of Representatives, is quite clear. This is thoroughly reinforced by the fact that the Administration has refused to hand over any subpoenaed documents to the House in its deliberations and is now being joined by the Republican-led Senate that has, to date, refused to bring forth witnesses like James Bolton who has already volunteered to give testimony. This obstruction can only be explained by the fact that there is something significant to hide.

If the trial proceeds in this manner and in fact the charges against Trump are summarily dismissed, this will undoubtedly usher in a new political era. If this mendacious and disturbed personality is allowed to continue representing this nation and its people around the world and permitted to continue to undermine supposed American values as a Democratic Republic, we may as well concede that the American experiment in creating a government by and for the people has failed.

It would suggest that we are perfectly content having a thug in the White House without sufficient mental capacity to conduct the reasoned, intelligent and the law-abiding functioning of government. It seems that the gradual and ineluctable ascension of corporate power into the political arena is nearly complete as evidenced by the fact that important government agencies essential to the well-being of the people have been subsumed by purely corporate interests. Corruption in government has become blatant and may prove to be irreversible.

We currently have government subject to the arbitrary fiat of a tyrant whose ties to the white supremacist movement should be alarming in and of itself. We currently have a government that cares little for the future, for the health and longevity of the natural environment and for basic human rights. We need to take better care of our people – all of them – if we expect our descendants to live in an environment supportive of a meaningful existence.

The question remains – will we, as a people allow this sad progression of events to proceed without our collective voice being heard? If this reprehensible individual currently occupying the White House is permitted to remain in his position and, more importantly, chosen once again to be our President, then we are collaborators in our own demise as a free and democratic people.