I posted on the topic of the debt ceiling the last time it came around in the political news cycle.  It seems like we keep facing these ridiculous fights over whether or not our government will or will not raise the debt ceiling.  My argument that I made a few months ago (which I have posted again below) is that Republicans’ attempt to use the debt ceiling as a bargaining chip is in stark violation to their oath to the Constitution, more specifically, the 14th Amendment.  This is pretty ballsy for a group that loves to tout their unfettered and pure devotion to our most important of founding documents.

I cam across a video today that reiterates my point from my previous post, except this time it is from someone who has the respected credentials to speak authoritatively on the subject….Here is a link to the Bloomberg News report.

Obama and the Debt Ceiling

***(originally posted on 8/15/2013***

The debt ceiling debate is, in my opinion, much more straight-forward and simple to argue for from a Constitutional perspective than the gun control debate. Let’s get right to the Constitutional clause in question, namely Amendment XIV, Section 4, which reads in part:

The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including all debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned…

If there is one thing I learned from countless courses in philosophy and critical thinking, not to mention my dealings with contracts, it’s that certain words carry certain inarguable meanings. In the case of this Constitutional Amendment, the words are very clear. If one simply takes out the additional clauses from the middle part, and just focuses on the root meaning of the sentence, it reads: “The validity of the public debt of the United States shall not be questioned.” From a merely etymological perspective, this Constitutional prescription is non-negotiable. Case in point, the word “shall”. This is not an arguable term in the English language. It does not carry the same loose obligation as, say, the word “may” or even “will”. “Shall” denotes duty, responsibility, and most importantly for purposes of our current debate, obligation. It does not imply in any way, based on it’s historical definition, anything other than that which must be done. Period. End of story. Need I go on?

In other words, there is and shall not be any debate over whether or not the Federal Government should or should not pay for those services for which it has already accrued debt. As long as those debts have been previously legislated and voted on by Congress (which all current debt has), then the Federal Government has a strict obligation to pay those debts. The way that many in the Republican party are holding this issue hostage is counter to their Constitutional duties as members of Congress. They are, if one simply reads the words of the Constitution, not fulfilling their duties by “questioning” the “validity” of the United States debt.

Why so much hate?!  Bill Maher explains…

Video  —  Posted: September 21, 2013 in Comedy, Cultural Theory, marketing, Media, Sociology
Tags: , , , ,

The title of this post is the tag line of a website that I’ve fallen in love with – Retronaut.com.

It’s very well possible that I am completely behind the times on this, but I can’t stop exploring this site! Pick an era of time since the invention of photography, and Retronaunt has curated collections of provoking images that peal back the standard imagery for a given time period, and reveal a side not often seen.

Cellophane baby

cocainedropsFor example, Cocaine Tooth Drops reminds us of the good ol’ days, when cocaine was a medicinal form used for pain relief.

Or, the days when Cellophane was so exciting and new, that we wanted to wrap our babies in it.

OR, my personal favorite gem, Stuffed Girls Heads : one of the most Stuffed-Girls-Headscompelling artifacts I’ve seen which shows how we once lived in an era of blatant, unapologetic misogyny.

Once you start digging through this site, you’re not going to want to stop.  Consider yourself forewarned!

Do you ever feel guilty going shopping on Labor Day? I do. Pushing through throngs of people; just another of the mindless consumer cattle in search of a bargain for some cheaply made textile or electronics.  Upon having our fill, quickly shoving up to the nearest counter, plopping down our goods and avoiding eye contact and conversation with the person on the other side.  Spare me the conversation, we just want to pay for our stuff, and get the hell out.  All the while, we are missing the blatant irony of making this purchase on Labor Day.

More often than not, the products Americans are mindlessly buying are made overseas with ridiculously cheap labor.  Chances are, your Labor Day spending spree is not supporting American workers.  Sure, you’re spending your hard earned money at stores here in America, thereby keeping those behind the cash register employed, but your not supporting an American industry.  The “service industry” is devoid of substance.  It is product free.  Furthermore, the share of those Labor Day purchases that actually go towards paying those ringing  you up or taking your order, or giving them health insurance (or lack thereof), or potential wage increases, is little to none.  Where do all your hard earned dollars go?  Right into the coffers of the multi-national corporations that exploit cheap labor and take away decent paying jobs in America. Corporations that fight against wage increases, that fight against providing health care, that fight against living wages.  That’s where.  Retail, food service and hospitality sectors, are just a few of the major economic sectors that treat Labor Day as just another Profit Day, exploiting faux patriotism along the way.

Corporate ProfitsThe fact of the matter is, real wages for the average American middle class worker has lagged so much over the last 30 years that it is virtually stagnant compared to the gross increases in corporate wealth.

Labor Day began as a commemoration of the progress made by labor unions to protect the rights and wages of every day, middle class workers.  When did Labor Day become synonymous in most American’s minds with nothing more than an extra beach day and a good day for shopping deals?  So many Americans are ignorant of the history behind this holiday.  It’s sad.  Even sadder, can you imagine a holiday like Labor Day being created in today’s political climate?  Anyone supporting such an idea today would undoubtedly be accused of being a Socialist!  I can just hear Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh now.  It doesn’t help that the corporations pretty much own all of our elected leaders, in one way or another.

I know what you’re thinking.  You’re thinking to yourself, “But what can I do about it?!”.  Talk is cheap, as I all too often experience.  Actions are important.  So how do you use the consumerist system against itself?  You don’t consume.  I for one will not be spending any money on Labor Day, at least not at any corporately owned stores.  I try to make that a daily practice anyway, but tomorrow I am going to be especially cognizant of it.  Sure, you could go even further and petition your company to allow you to unionize.  The reality is very few people have the will or stomachs to do such a thing.  So, if you do one thing this Labor Day to commemorate the sacrifice and honor of the American worker, don’t buy into the corporations that exploit them.

And if you want six things to help boost American labor this Labor Day, Robert Reich has you covered:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yl0NaFG2B_k

Debt Ceiling

The debt ceiling debate is, in my opinion, much more straight-forward and simple to argue for from a Constitutional perspective than the gun control debate. Let’s get right to the Constitutional clause in question, namely Amendment XIV, Section 4, which reads in part:

The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including all debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned…

If there is one thing I learned from countless courses in philosophy and critical thinking, not to mention my dealings with contracts, it’s that certain words carry certain inarguable meanings. In the case of this Constitutional Amendment, the words are very clear. If one simply takes out the additional clauses from the middle part, and just focuses on the root meaning of the sentence, it reads: “The validity of the public debt of the United States shall not be questioned.” From a merely etymological perspective, this Constitutional prescription is non-negotiable. Case in point, the word “shall”. This is not an arguable term in the English language. It does not carry the same loose obligation as, say, the word “may” or even “will”. “Shall” denotes duty, responsibility, and most importantly for purposes of our current debate, obligation. It does not imply in any way, based on it’s historical definition, anything other than that which must be done. Period. End of story. Need I go on?

In other words, there is and shall not be any debate over whether or not the Federal Government should or should not pay for those services for which it has already accrued debt. As long as those debts have been previously legislated and voted on by Congress (which all current debt has), then the Federal Government has a strict obligation to pay those debts. The way that many in the Republican party are holding this issue hostage is counter to their Constitutional duties as members of Congress. They are, if one simply reads the words of the Constitution, not fulfilling their duties by “questioning” the “validity” of the United States debt.

Aside  —  Posted: August 15, 2013 in Politics
Tags: , , ,

No words necessary.  Just watch.

 

Video  —  Posted: August 13, 2013 in Cultural Theory, Media, Sociology
Tags: ,

Who doesn’t love a good period drama?  Whether it’s the classic movie “Gone with the Wind”…, or the more recent successes of “Lincoln” and “Downton Abbey”, westerners (Americans) love reliving the “good ol’ days” when everything seemed more simple; more, tidy.  While these shows are certainly entertaining, do we really get an accurate picture for how real individuals from those time periods would have spoken about and acted towards issues such as equality? Think about it:  we watch these programs about 19th and early 20th century societies, but we wrap them in a cozy, warm blanket of 21st century, post civil rights viewpoints.  carson

As this NPR story details, the key to discovering how we impress our 21st century morals onto the past is by paying close attention to the use of words and phrases in our favorite Pre-WWI drama series’.  Did Abolitionist Republicans during the time of Lincoln use the word “equality” the same way we think of the word today?  Most likely not.  Are the butlers and maids in Downton Abbey really struggling with their own feelings of homophobia?  Probably not, considering the notion of “being gay” as part of a person’s identity and not merely a sexual behavior, is an idea prominently attuned to the 20th century.

Although, I guess this could happen in reverse too.  Think about those 1960s and 70s movies about what “the future” will hold.  More often than not, modern versions of the future are nothing more than a stylized reflection of the present.  That is of course unless aliens and superhuman’s decided to adopt from us such revolutionary styles as “the afro” and “polyester wear”.

The point is, try as we might to recreate the past, or project the future, we are always imposing upon it our own modern notions of right, wrong, and what outfit will make this character look most sexy?

Ever since the 2012 Presidential Election I’ve made a conscious effort to take a break from politics.  All of the constant back and forth between talking heads is somewhat fun and exciting in the build up to election day, but becomes a rather depressing reminder of the absolute political intractability we currently find ourselves in as a nation.  However, while I may have stopped watching the “talking heads”, I still read the newspaper.  I find that reading the news as opposed to watching a news entertainment show (the operative word being entertainment), allows me more freedom to decide for myself what I think is absurd, and what is not.  The fact that I have cut out the candy of cable news, and increased the less processed, albeit still fulfilling newspaper, has  refocused my mind on that which matters to all intelligent debate: words.

Based on my reading of the headlines, one of the most contentious political issues currently dividing our nation is gun control.  If one merely skims the surface of this topic; giving equal weight to opinions on all sides, even if they are absolutely bat-shit crazy, one may begin to think that this issue really is “quite difficult” and “full of grey area”.  I, on the other hand, disagree that it is all that complicated based merely on the constitutional language in which the topic is rooted.  Specifically, Amendment II of the United States Constitution.

Gun Regulation

The 2nd Amendment reads as follows: 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. 

Taken by itself, this short little amendment isn’t all that clear when you read it critically.  The use of commas and lack of conjunctions makes it carry a somewhat different meaning from what I think most people believe it to be.  First, take the contradictory phrases “well regulated” and “shall not be infringed”.  They exist together in the same sentence, and supposedly about the same topics.  Yet, how can something be simultaneously “well regulated” and “not infringed”? (Unless it is opposite day of course.)  It’s as if the Amendment says, “You can have guns and a Militia, but we’re going to regulate them, wait, just kidding!”

Second, what is it, exactly, that “shall not be infringed”?  Is it the Militia?  The “bearing of Arms”? Both?  I think the answer lies in the priority for how the two topics are ordered in the sentence, and the use of commas.  It is the “well regulated Militia” that is “necessary to the security of a free State”, not the bearing of Arms.  The “bearing of Arms”, at least in how it falls in the sentence, is a continuation of the idea on Militias, a secondary supporting clause, but not the main idea of the sentence.  They do not hold equal weight in terms of what, “shall not be infringed”.  In other words, if the Founders simply used the word “and” to connect the two parts; i.e., “,and right of the people to keep and bear Arms”, then it would be very clear that they intended both the Militia and the bearing of Arms to hold equal weighting for things that “shall not be infringed” upon.  But they didn’t do that.  They made it read such that the implication for the importance of bearing arms is in service of a Militia, not merely as a recreational purpose, such as the 21st Amendment is to alcohol use (which I might remind everyone is a HIGHLY regulated “right” of the people).

This point of the importance held by the Militia in the 2nd amendment is further supported when looking at other Amendments in relation to a Militias place in society.  Specifically, put in context with two previous sections of the Constitution, that of Article I, Section 8, and Article II, Section 2, colors the 2nd Amendment’s meaning in a whole different way.  Article I, Section 8 reads, in part:

The Congress shall have Power To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions; To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress…

Article II, Section 2 reads, in part:

The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States…

In other words, the reason the right of owning a gun is afforded by the Constitution is not simply so that citizens have carte blanche access to whatever weapon they choose for whatever reason, but because owning a weapon is essential to the Government’s ability to call upon you as part of a Militia to defend the country against foreign invasions.

The way I read the mere language of the Constitution, the 2nd Amendment has absolutely nothing to do with an individual’s right to own a gun for personal reasons, but rather in duty and service to Country.  Read literally, the Constitution would also seem to imply that instituting the draft in war time is completely in line with the spirit and word of our most precious founding document.  And yet, we’ve managed to regulate that unpopular policy right into the annals of American history, Constitutional language not withstanding.

Bottom line: context and time period are everything.  The Constitution, with all its Articles, Amendments, and good intentions, was written during a time in which guns meant muscats, where transportation meant riding a horse, and when communication meant writing a letter.  For all those who scream and lose their minds over the far-out notion that the government is “taking their guns” should more closely inspect that founding document that they so dearly, with weeping red, white and blue tears, love to hold as a self-righteous banner to individual freedom.  The truth of the matter is, the founding document is more collectivist in nature than individualistic, at least in regard to this particular topic.  The sentiment of these Amendments is not in support of the current NRA platform of “rugged individualism, with a gun”, but rather of a more collective responsibility in which citizens are afforded rights, but along with those rights, major responsibilities as well.  The purpose of gun ownership is to serve a Militia, and that Militia is under the authority of the government if needed in time of war.  Last I checked, Militia’s st0pped being a viable fighting force for the government about the same time as the musket.

Over the Christmas holiday, I studiously devoted myself to completing Michael Pollan’s book “In Defense of Food”. Granted, I chose a rather odd time to attempt to educate myself on the array of problems with our “way of eating” – “Pass the gravy please!”, but I was up for the challenge nonetheless.  I had heard many good things about this book from friends, and wanted to complete it prior to the New Year, and with that the always busy work schedule, and same mindless eating habits that would surely follow.  I’m glad I pushed myself to finish it, because what I read really opened my eyes to the realities of industrial food production, and set me on the right course for making better food choices.

Mr. Pollan begins the book with a history lesson on how the U.S. government’s policy towards nutrition took shape by guiding the reader through an explanation of how the modern idea of “nutrition”, or at least how the policy makers and food companies define it, misses the point entirely when it comes to defining food.  Not only by missing the big picture of what food is beyond mere nutrients, but environmentally and culturally as well.  He concludes the book, thankfully, with a “DO” and “DON’T” chapter of ways to eat more healthy, with actual food, providing valuable resources to help one escape the confines of the grocery store, and thus the over-processed food-like poison that incorporates a large majority of what constitutes a Western Diet.food-cover

What I found most intriguing was learning how we came, as a country, to have the food policies we have; policies that, as one might infer from my introduction, have been lobbied to death by food companies and related industries in order to protect the profits of food corporations over the general health of Americans.  How else do Fritolay and Lucky Charms cereal receive a seal of approval from the FDA and American Heart Association???

Most amazingly, and quite frightening, Pollan details how a regulation that would have required food companies to label food an “imitation” if it was altered so much as one molecule from the original, natural food, was completely killed by food industry lobbyists.  That is why, as Pollan points out, we can now have “multi-grain white bread”, a paradoxical (mutli-grain white bread??), frankenstein concoction that contains so many ingredients, one begins to seriously forget how true food is actually made.  One of the ingredients in this multi-grain white bread is “dough conditioners”.  Seriously.  I went to the grocery store and looked at the label.  Go check.  It’s there.  Was this bread having a “salon day” before it hit the grocery shelves?  It’s high time for better regulation of food labeling in this country!!

A basic rule of thumb that Pollan gives is this: If your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize it as food, it’s probably not food.  Now of course bread is a food that has been around since the beginning of time, but bread with 35 ingredients, one of which is “dough conditioners”, certainly doesn’t pass the “great-grandmother” test.

Pollan provides some other useful rules when deciding what to eat:

  • Avoid foods that have ingredients you don’t recognize as food, or foods that have more than five ingredients all together.
  • If you must eat animals, eat less of them than plants
  • Drink 1-2 glasses of red wine per day, but always with a meal. (I’m particularly pleases with this one!)
  • Fat is not necessarily a bad thing
  • Hydrogenated vegetable oils are not good.
  • High-fructose corn syrup is always a bad idea.
  • Plant a garden if possible, even if it’s just an individual herb and vegetable plant on your apartment’s balcony.  By doing this one becomes more connected with the source of food, which in turn gives one a new appreciation for what it means to grow food and eat it.
  • Avoid foods that make health claims.  Anything that says, “Now with more Vitamin XYZ” usually means that it a) doesn’t have sufficient nutrients on its own, and b) is overly processed.

What I like most about this book, is that it leaves the reader with the resources necessary to begin the process of divorcing oneself from the unhealthy industrial food marriage that so many Americans live with daily.  My two favorite resources being Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) which details how one can go about finding a local farm and purchasing a “share” to obtain weekly deliveries of organically grown vegetables, and Eatwild – a website dedicated to understanding the facts and myths surrounding the proper “pasturing” of animals, as well as links to local farms where you can buy truly grassfed, or “pastured” animal products.  I have already taken the first step in purchasing a half share of my own from a local farm in Phoenix called Farmyard.  For a nominal fee, I will now receive a weekly basket of seasonally fresh, organic vegetables and a dozen free-range, fully pastured chicken eggs.

I know some of you may be thinking, “Get off your high-horse you crunchy, pinko-commie hippie!  Things aren’t THAT bad with our food.”  Okay, there are probably not many of you saying that.  It’s likely that if you’ve read this far, you probably already agree with the general premise of this post.  In fact, I would guess that many Americans would agree with me.  Even my conservative father is starting to come around to the idea that food corporations are not altruistic in their capitalist nature!  Who doesn’t want to eat good, wholesome healthy food?!

The problem is that most Americans exist in a sea of misinformation.  Misinformation about the reality of the food, or food-like products they’re eating, and their effects on the human body.  Misinformation perpetrated by corporate food conglomerates (see: Monsanto).  Misinformation from government and the media who, being so reliant on corporate dollars for their existence, avoid or ignore reporting the TRUTH about the danger of so many corporate food products.  The main reason for all of this is that always persnickety, yet “necessary ?” evil,  of the advertising and/or campaign contribution dollar.

Our food problems, and stark reliance on a “Western Diet”, obviously run deep.  Sadly, the overarching, large-scale solutions needed to wholly reform our food culture are nowhere to be seen on the horizon of regulatory reform.  So long as the government heavily subsidizes industries like corn and soybeans, politicians depend on corporate food lobbyists for campaign donations, and the media rely heavily on corporate advertising dollars, a serious discussion about change will never occur, and therefore nothing will change. In short, don’t wait around for the government to fix these problems any time soon.

The solution lies within each individual; you and me, and the purchasing power we have.  That’s right, the only way to change this system is from the ground up, turning the food industry on it’s head by not taking part in it at all!  With every dollar you spend on “multi-grain white bread”, just because it’s cheap and easy, you support the profit-driven and unhealthy food industry. The answer is simple:  return to the basics of food, real food, locally grown and/or raised, and committing oneself to a diet based on what one can acquire via these sources.  It’s not always easy, and it’s not always the cheapest route.  But if you have the knowledge, and the means, then there is no excuse.  I’ve already personally taken the first step by purchasing a farm share.  You can too!

Happy New Year!

As this weekend comes to a close, I cannot help, like the rest of America, to spend this Sunday reflecting in disgust and sadness at the awful events that transpired in Connecticut this past Friday.  However, while so many in the country are asking the expected questions that occur after such an event; “Why would this happen?”,”What were the shooter’s motives?”,”How could this happen?”, I am, sadly, not all that surprised that something like this happened, and doesn’t in fact happen more often.

Before you get all huffy-puffy and say, “Now is not the time to politicize this issue.”, I challenge you to ask yourself the question, if not now, then when?  I would remind someone who makes that statement what the original meaning of the word “politic” is.  It comes from Greek politikos “of, for, or relating to citizens”.  Well, if this isn’t a situation that doesn’t “relate to citizens”, and especially to their well-being in the country they live in, then I don’t know what is.

We have more violent deaths in this country by guns than any other western, developed country.  By recent reports, the estimates are around 17,000 gun related deaths per year due to violent crimes. That’s not even including the amount of accidental gun deaths from hunting accidents, or self-inflicted gun deaths due to suicide.  This stark number of deaths would, in another context, cause an outcry from our citizenry demanding something be done.  Just think about all the activities of daily life that the government already regulates in order to protect the best interest of the general public.

We have DUI laws, primarily because of Mother’s Against Drunk Driving (MADD), we have speeding laws to control traffic deaths, we have have a national drinking age to (supposedly) control the numbers of alcohol related deaths among young people (although I think these do more harm then good by causing binge-drinking among youth).  We have extremely invasive security procedures at airports to protect us from the foiled plots of shoe bombers and underwear bombers.  And even, shampoo-bottle bombers?  And yet, gun violence like we saw this past Friday, while temporarily causing us grief and to ask the generic questions, will likely not amount to any changes in our nation’s gun laws.  Why?  Because, unlike American gun owners and manufacturers, terrorist bombers, of the shoe or underwear kind, do not have a war chest of lobbyists buying Congress and preventing any meaningful change.  And, because money is closely tied to the success of political careers, to few politicians (especially on the conservative side) are too in fear of losing the support of their constituents over the fight for stricter gun control laws.  It is easier to placate your constituents, telling them that gun laws are fine and that there is no need for change, that it is the “person” not the gun that kills, than it is to try and have meaningful substantial conversations about what the reality is.

I will admit, it’s not all gun control issues that are the problem.  It is also the poor state of mental health care and support in this country, as well as the mindless culture of violence perpetuated by our media.  We live in a culture and society that is generally more offended by two men kissing, than by two men shooting each other to death.  There is something seriously wrong with this picture.  Regarding mental health care, it is time our state and national legislatures realize that allocating money towards programs that provide these much needed services is in the best interest of the public at large.  Mental health care, just like dental and medical health care, is not a luxury that should only be afforded to those who can pay for it outright.  Why? Because an overall healthier citizenry, both physically and mentally, is in the long-term best interest of society.  Call it what you will – socialism, or whatever.  The truth of the matter is, we are ALL better off when more people are healthy and happy.  Not only does a happy/healthy citizenry contribute more to their communities, but violent crimes go down, addictive behaviors go-down, thereby lowering the overall financial cost to society in terms of burdens placed on police departments and hospitals.

I could probably go on about this forever.  But for now, I will leave you with one more thought.  Maybe we’ve got it all wrong when it comes to how we measure the well-being of society.

Today, our government’s way of measuring “standard of living”, and how “well” the country is doing, is via the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).  This is a macro-economic indicator that measures “…the market value of all officially recognized final goods and services produced within a country in a given period of time.”(Wikipedia).  What is wrong with this measurement? Any guesses? Well, it assumes, just by it’s very premise for what is measured, that “well-being” and “standard of living” are equal to “happiness” and “contentment with life.”  It assumes that more “stuff produced” and “having more stuff” will make a more content, happy society.  I think the data in happiness studies presents a different picture.

The new way to measure success in a country, Gross National Happiness, is starting to garner more attention these days.  The country of Bhutan, located in landlocked central Asia, applies this philosophy to measuring the well-being of the people who live there.  Based on this idea of measuring well-being, people’s contentment with life is prioritized over how much money or stuff they have.  I think the United States could certainly take a lesson in this philosophy.

To bring it all full-circle, the shootings in Connecticut this past Friday are merely a tragic symptom of a much larger problem.  That larger problem is multifaceted.  It is a Congress that is afraid of the gun lobby, a broken mental healthcare system, a culture that glamorizes and promotes violence, and a Federal government that values the well-being of it’s citizens not in terms of their health or happiness, but by how much credit card debt they can rack up during the holidays.