Wednesday, January 26, 2011

"create the conditions that promote"

Paul Ryan's response to President Obama's State of the Union address, representing the official GOP response, stuck pretty close to Republicans stated, but not always practiced, view of government, and our Constitution:

We believe government's role is both vital and limited — to defend the nation from attack and provide for the common defense ... to secure our borders ... to protect innocent life ... to uphold our laws and Constitutional rights ... to ensure domestic tranquility and equal opportunity ... and to help provide a safety net for those who cannot provide for themselves.

We believe that the government has an important role to create the conditions that promote entrepreneurship, upward mobility, and individual responsibility.

We believe, as our founders did, that "the pursuit of happiness" depends upon individual liberty; and individual liberty requires limited government.

Limited government also means effective government. When government takes on too many tasks, it usually doesn't do any of them very well. It's no coincidence that trust in government is at an all-time low now that the size of government is at an all-time high.

The President and the Democratic Leadership have shown, by their actions, that they believe government needs to increase its size and its reach, its price tag and its power.

Under a Republican president and a Republican congress, Republicans violated what Ryan states is a "vital and limited" role of government--"to uphold our laws and Constitutional rights"--by spying on Americans and resorting to torture, as unreliable as that method is, when it comes to extracting actionable intelligence from detainees.

In addition, Some Republicans are considering a revisit of the Constitution, declaring that parts of it, the fourteenth amendment in particular, begged to be reconsidered, to undergo a new interpretation, in light of the many children of undocumented immigrants who have been born, and now reside in, the nation.

Although subject to Republicans pressing a "reinterpretation," Ryan's reference to providing "a safety net for those who cannot provide for themselves," startled, almost as much as the anachronistic placement of a cellphone at Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. It not only seemed out of place for a Republican, but clearly out of character. In the months ahead, I'm sure Ryan will be given many opportunities to expound on his meaning, given that Tea Party activists would like nothing better than to slash away at Social Security and Medicare, and end government's involvement in these two entitlements altogether by privatizing it.

In place of "promote the general welfare," Ryan particularized this part of the Preamble to the US Constitution by stating without ambiguity what he believes "general Welfare" to mean--nothing short of, and to the exclusion of all other, "entrepreneurship, upward mobility, and individual responsibility."

Entrepreneurship, and upward mobility is promoted, that is, corporate and business interest, but for individuals, "you're on your own."

Ryan's statement encapsulates Republicanism in a few words. And suggests why a commenter on another blog says he finds Republicans "objectionable": "[I]'s the content of the Republican character."

So there is after all a role for government, that of "promoter," one who actively supports and advocates. But that's not what is often heard from those on the Right. Ryan sees government's role more narrowly: to promote business and let "individuals" fend for themselves, to "create the conditions that promote", rather than support a government hands-on approach to governance and the promotion of the "general welfare."

We shouldn't be surprised at this reinterpretation of this portion of the Preamble (Among Tea Partiers and Republicans it's now commonplace.) as it was done to fit an ideological predisposition, and to round peg a square hole.

Yoking "individual liberty" to a "limited government" hasn't held up in practice, although Ryan sees one as promoting, and assuring, the other. A "limited government" didn't prevent the institution of slavery, or black codes, or promote women's suffrage, but an expanded government did.

A "limited government" didn't prevent the outsourcing of jobs to China, and other climes, prevent our economic disaster, that followed the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act [1], and brought us too big to fail, nor did it prevent the death of miners at Massey Energy Co.'s Upper Big Branch mine [2], nor the Gulf of Mexico resembling a giant ink well, the result of gushing oil from a failed blow-out preventer, a massive oil spill that threatened and damaged a fragile coastal ecosystem for months, but an expanded government would have.

It appears that just the opposite is true regarding the size of government: Rather than praising the virtues of a "limited government," perhaps we should be extolling the virtues of an expanded government, one that works for, and on behalf of, the people, and not the army of corporate special interest that usually pursue their interests at the expense of the people.

It's not the "size of government" that has diminished the people's "trust in government," but the "all-time high" corruption that has infested the government for years, a corruption that is as pervasive as the size of government that Republicans say they wish to limit.

[1] "The repeal of the Glass–Steagall Act of 1933 effectively removed the separation that previously existed between Wall Street investment banks and depository banks and has been blamed by some for exacerbating the damage caused by the collapse of the subprime mortgage market that led to the Financial crisis of 2007–2010."

[2]"CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The U.S. coal industry had its deadliest year in nearly two decades in 2010, with much of the death toll stemming from a single explosion.

"As of Thursday, 48 miners had died in the nation's 1,500 coal mines over the past 12months — including 29 who were killed April 5 in a blast at Massey Energy Co.'s Upper Big Branch mine. This year's was the highest death toll since 55 were killed in 1992, according to information compiled by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration. And it was much higher than the 18 killed in 2009, the industry's lowest tally since 1900, according to federal records."

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Tea Party will be No Party for the Poor and Middle Class

Recently I was directed to a blog owned by a Tea Party activist. I use the term activist to denote the efforts of this blogger to defend the party, as well as reach out to those he'd like to recruit.

In his latest blog entry the blogger supposes that progressives dislike the rich. He enumerates several areas where this dislike manifests itself. After admitting that the "issues" could be anything he lists several:

Internet connections
Etc, etc, etc,... just fill in the blank.

He sums up his position rather tidily with this statement: "More often than not, whenever there's an issue on their [progressives] radar screen it includes a statement about some perceived unfairness of the rich having something that others do not."

This statement suggests that the progressive movement in this country revolves around class envy--not envy of just anyone, but primarily the rich. The wealthy few, then, is the target of progressives. What the blogger won't admit is that the system is rigged--rigged and tilted heavily toward the rich. Wealth distribution is one indicator, but it doesn't tell the whole story:

The Wealth Distribution

In the United States, wealth is highly concentrated in a relatively few hands. As of 2007, the top 1% of households (the upper class) owned 34.6% of all privately held wealth, and the next 19% (the managerial, professional, and small business stratum) had 50.5%, which means that just 20% of the people owned a remarkable 85%, leaving only 15% of the wealth for the bottom 80% (wage and salary workers). In terms of financial wealth (total net worth minus the value of one's home), the top 1%of households had an even greater share: 42.7%. Table 1 and Figure 1 present further details drawn from the careful work of economist Edward N. Wolff at New York University (2010).

Frankly, the poor and the middle class are the ones with the bullseye on their behinds, and the rich are the ones with them in their sight. (Don't you just love these gun metaphors?) If progressives have an objective it's this: to make people relevant again within an economic system that cavalierly, impersonally, and unconscionably, uses and abuses them to enrich their bottom line, and discard them when they don't.

The Nation has an article, titled, "No To Oligarchy." It should be mandatory reading for every American across the full stretch of this nation:

The American people are hurting. As a result of the greed, recklessness and illegal behavior on Wall Street, millions of Americans have lost their jobs, homes, life savings and their ability to get a higher education. Today, some 22 percent of our children live in poverty, and millions more have become dependent on food stamps for their food.

And while the Great Wall Street Recession has devastated the middle class, the truth is that working families have been experiencing a decline for decades. During the Bush years alone, from 2000-2008, median family income dropped by nearly $2,200 and millions lost their health insurance. Today, because of stagnating wages and higher costs for basic necessities, the average two-wage-earner family has less disposable income than a one-wage-earner family did a generation ago. The average American today is underpaid, overworked and stressed out as to what the future will bring for his or her children. For many, the American dream has become a nightmare.

But, not everybody is hurting. While the middle class disappears and poverty increases the wealthiest people in our country are not only doing extremely well, they are using their wealth and political power to protect and expand their very privileged status at the expense of everyone else. This upper-crust of extremely wealthy families are hell-bent on destroying the democratic vision of a strong middle-class which has made the United States the envy of the world. In its place they are determined to create an oligarchy in which a small number of families control the economic and political life of our country.

Progressives aren't about taking from the rich and giving to the poor, but about protecting the common man from the rapacious machinations of those rich few who will stop at nothing to secure their wealth, who will wield their vast wealth as their weapon of choice--a weapon that has been used, and will continue to be used--to consolidate into their hands as much power and control as their wealth will garner.

F. Scott Fitzgerald said in a short story: ''Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me.''

To suggest that liberals (as in the Democratic leadership) have a beef with the rich is laughable on its surface. To state further that liberals are seeking a redistribution of wealth by targeting the very rich among us, is laughable still. As long as the rich are rich (a tautology) they will always have the edge when it comes to defeating those occasional legislative policies that might impact their wealth, or, God forbid, have them pay their fair share.

The rich are different from you and me: They have the money to finance their own movement (the Tea Party) in an effort to unshackle themselves from all those oppressive government regulations that were imposed to preserve our environment, regulations that serve only to restrain their wealth-building efforts, and their ability to add further billions to the billions they already have.

How do you do that? You start a movement and finance it. That's what the Koch brothers of the Tea Party movement did:

The Kochs are longtime libertarians who believe in drastically lower personal and corporate taxes, minimal social services for the needy, and much less oversight of industry—especially environmental regulation. These views dovetail with the brothers’ corporate interests. In a study released this spring, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute named Koch Industries one of the top ten air polluters in the United States.

The rich are different from you and me: Even when regulatory legislation is passed to rein in their excesses (Wall Street reform), it misses the mark by such a large margin that it might even end up benefiting them, once lawyers, and other Wall Street wizards are invoked, leaving in place "too big to fail," and a worldwide, 600 trillion dollar unregulated derivative market with the excuse, and plaintive wail, that no one understands it--not even the players in that market.

But the most esoteric derivatives - which also are the most profitable for banks to create and trade - have little economic purpose other than to let investors place financial bets, critics say.

A more complex type of derivative helped to inflate the housing bubble in recent years, as Wall Street repackaged high-risk mortgages into securities that speculators could use to bet on the direction of the housing market. Financial institutions earned millions of dollars in fees for creating the securities. But many of the derivatives became worthless when foreclosures skyrocketed, leading to billions of dollars of losses - and taxpayer bailouts - at the banks and insurance companies that owned them.

Now, these obscure and largely unregulated securities - more than $600 trillion of which are tucked into investors' portfolios, according to the Treasury Department - are at the center of the fight over financial reform led by the Obama administration.

I can't think of a more compelling reason for regulating this supposed unregulatable behemoth.

The rich are different from you and me: For all the good things in the healthcare insurance reform law, health insurers aren't going to go broke, but will, by all estimates, grow richer from all those that are now required to have health insurance, even if the government ends up providing subsidies to offset their cost.

Health insurers will benefit due to the following reasons:

1. Additional 32 million Americans will be required to purchase insurance.

2. New restrictions such as the placing of lifetime limits on coverage or denying adults based on pre-existing conditions will not become effective until 2014.

3. Many insurers are expected to raise premiums in order to maintain profits. Recently Anthem Blue Cross raised premiums by as much 39% in California for some customers.

4. Some insurance companies will go out of business since they would not be able to compete under the new regulatory environment and others may merge with the big players leading to a bigger consolidation in the industry.

The five largest health insurers in this country are Aetna(AET), Cigna(CI), Humana (HUM), UnitedHealth Group(UNH) and Wellpoint(WLP).

Despite this mostly rosy picture for health insurers, this hasn't stopped Republicans and Tea Partiers from expending congressional energy and time in repealing this "job killing legislation."

The rich are different from you and me: They get bailed out with the use of billions of taxpayer dollars, but the extension of unemployment insurance to millions of the unemployed is met with cries of socialism, the coddling of the lazy who would, were it not for this insurance, busy themselves in finding meaningful employment.

A certain Tea Party member takes umbrage at the accusation that the Tea Party supported, or, at the least, tolerated the bail out of banks, yet the first order of business in this new congress, comprised of many Tea Party-elected legislators, is not to rescind these bailouts (at least those not already repaid), but to repeal health insurance reform--notwithstanding the millions of Americans who go without health insurance annually, or who, because of pre-existing conditions, don't qualify, or who, because of a catastrophic illness, is forced to spend all that they have, fixed as well as liquid assets, toward their health care, or that of a family member.

Republicans and Tea Partiers have no compunction when it comes to lowering the hammer on the lives and welfare of taxpayers (the "low-hanging fruit"), while the rich and the powerful are advocated for with full press--the extension of the Bush tax cuts which will increase this nation's deficit hole, although economists are mostly in agreement that such an extension will do little to stimulate our lethargic economy.

The goal of the Tea Party is to pare down the size of government, to eviscerate it--a move that will result in a huge loss of federal jobs from what they consider the non-productive sector of society. Such a paring will achieve two objectives: Corporations can then divest themselves of those onerous regulations imposed by the FDA, the USDA, and the EPA, and other alphabet-soup agencies. Apparently, not even the the FBI, the DEA or the CIA are exempt. Another goal is to shift power to the states. By reducing the size of the federal government, power will be decentralized sufficiently to allow states to have the upper hand--a provision that will put blacks and other minorities at the mercy of state and local governments, and subject them to their legislative whims.

The 1980 presidential campaign provides us with a glimpse. In 1980 David Koch ran as the vice presidential candidate on the Libertarian ticket. In his campaign, he advocated for the abolishment of social security, welfare, the FBI, the CIA, public schools, and finally, federal regulatory agencies.

This will allow the Tea Party to "take their country back," as well as roll the clock back, which has been their objective all along.

The rich are different from you and me: And the difference is the difference that money makes. And if Republicans and some Democrats have their way, this difference will, in all likelihood, continue indefinitely.

So it appears that the rich, after all, have "something that others do not." They have ownership of the government. They have ownership of the courts (recent Supreme Court rulings make this clear). And they have ownership of most of the money generated in this country, and the power that accompanies such ownership.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

There Are Birthdays and, then, There Are Birthers

Tomorrow our nation will observe Martin Luther King's birthday.

Leading up to his birthday, public schools discussed both his life, and his contributions to the civil rights efforts that became a movement under his leadership.

Not to detract from King's legacy (which stands unparalleled in our nation's history) a long line of civil rights leaders existed years before Martin Luther King, Jr., found himself swept away by the exigencies of the moment.

Some of those civil rights leaders were white, and some were black. That more were black that white speaks volumes about the wall of resistance that was erected to keep blacks in their place, and just how entrenched was the notion. That some were white tells another story: It seems this country hasn't always lived up to its constitutional ideals--not where women were concerned, and not where gays and lesbians are concerned. Even now, some states are denying this group equal protection under the law.

For example: It was an uphill fight that passed legislation to repeal "don't ask, don't tell", and allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military. Same-sex marriage equality is still not a reality in every state in our nation.

It's tempting to speculate on what Martin Luther King would have thought of our time were he alive to witness it. Without a doubt, he would be pleased with some things, while finding displeasure with others. A little over a year ago, I looked at King's "dream speech" in an effort to assess this nation's progress toward a realization of that dream. I titled it: "Are We Dreaming Or Is It Real? An American Report Card.".

What I wrote then still stands. In fact, since the election of President Obama, this nation's behavior in certain quarters may qualify it for a lower grade.

How many times in our nation's history has the birthplace of a sitting president been challenged to the same extent as President Obama's? The Tea Party pursued it so aggressively that a new word was inserted into our lexicon, "birther." Their fanaticism around this issue called their whole movement into question.

And one Tea Party adherent in particular is making it her personal crusade, one Orly Taitz. This Moldovan-Jewish woman, born in the Soviet Union, immigrating to the United States from Israel in 1987, now a U.S. citizen, is leading the charge to expose the president as a fraud.

Why her, and not someone born here is, too, a matter of speculation. Could it be that she's envious of Obama? He's president, this black man with a Kenyan father, but try as she might, she'll never qualify to hold the office, let alone pursue it.

I believe that Orly Taiz, and her crusade, would be one of those things that would displease Martin Luther King were he alive today. It certainly is one of those things that, despite its conservative make up, displeased the Supreme Court. Just in time for the observance of Martin Luther King's birthday, we have this:

January 11, 2011
Agence France-Presse
The U.S. Supreme Court refused Monday to take up the question of President Obama's citizenship, which a core group of skeptics continues to challenge despite presentation of his U.S. birth certificate.

The high court, without comment, rejected the request by Orly Taitz, a California lawyer who has emerged as a leader of the "birther" movement of mainly rightwing protesters who question where Obama was born.

She had asked the court to annul a federal judge's $20,000 penalty for filing a "frivolous lawsuit" by her client, a U.S. Soldier who refused to deploy to Iraq because she viewed the commander in chief as illegitimate.

The U.S. Constitution allows only "natural born" Americans to be elected to the presidency. Obama was born on Aug. 4, 1961, in the U.S. state of Hawaii.

Judge Clay Land in the southeast state of Georgia determined in October 2009 that Taitz's pursuit of the case was "breathtaking in its arrogance and borders on delusional," and scolded her for expressing "no contrition or regret regarding her misconduct."

She had filed a stay of deployment request on behalf of Capt. Connie Rhodes, an Army medic who challenged Obama's legitimacy as president. When Land threw the case out, Taitz publicly branded it "an act of treason."

In her petition before the Supreme Court, Taitz asked: "Is the whole nation de facto reduced to the level of slaves or serfs when one without valid vital records, without Social Security number of his own and without a valid long form of birth certificate is able to get in the position of president?"

On Monday, Taitz said she would not let the case rest.

"I will file a motion for reconsideration," she said on her website, adding that she has "evidence of highly suspicious activity in several federal courts."

"If we don't clean up corruption in the judiciary, in the White House, citizens of this country will have no trust in the system and will take justice in their own hands. This is dangerous," she wrote.

Sometimes, justice prevails, even here in the United States of America.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


So many things have happened over the past several weeks that it's hard to know where to begin.

During that time, we've had the tragic shootings in Arizona, leaving six dead and fourteen wounded; we've heard the president speak at a memorial for the fallen, praising heroes, and asking the country to live up to the innocent, idealistic vision of democracy that the youngest victim of the tragedy undoubtedly held--"nine-year-old Christina Taylor Green, a little girl born the day of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks."

Rather than assign blame, the president urged Americans to "talk[...] with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds."

Although the president didn't mention any group in particular, those on the Right expressed certainty that he was addressing his words to those on the Left.

As the Right has often done at times, using Martin Luther King's words to attack the Left, a similar thing is now occurring--the president's words are being used to silence dialog that might be critical in nature, rather than encouraging it: the very opposite of what the president intended.

Throughout his speech, the president struck a tone that even his most ardent critics couldn't use against him, even if they yearned to do so.

The brilliance of the president's remark, and his overall speech, is that either side may use them to find within them whatever they choose to find--perhaps the reason why the Right has collectively and individually embraced his speech.

And to add insult to injury: Some Republican pundits, while praising the president's words, are also criticizing the "raucous" environment and the "pep rally" atmosphere of the memorial, likening it to a "political rally" rather than a memorial.

So much for civility.

And why did congress allow the assault weapons ban to lapse, and along with it high-capacity ammunition clips? The answer may be found in an article titled, "Who Killed the Assault Weapons Ban?"

"House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) dismissed the ban as "a feel good piece of legislation" and flatly told the New York Times that it would expire even if Bush made an effort to renew it. "If the president asked me, it would still be no," he said. "He knows, because we don't have the votes to pass the assault weapons ban. It will expire Monday, and that's that."

"His role in ending the ban made DeLay a hero among gun nuts, who printed up bumper stickers that said, "I'm for NRA and Tom DeLay." The NRA invited DeLay to keynote its annual meeting in 2005, just as ethics investigations were ramping up against him. He took the podium and choked up slightly as he proclaimed: "I've been in elected office for 26 years, and this is the highlight of my career."

"Ever since, things have certainly been downhill for the Hammer. On Monday, DeLay was sentenced to three years in prison for conspiracy to commit money laundering. Time will tell whether cohabitation with hardened criminals will temper his love for high-powered guns."

Karma can leave you kicking and screaming and ignored.

And although Sarah Palin in a video response to the Tucson shootings disavowed ("refudiated") any responsibility in the shootings (although Gabrielle Giffords, herself, had expressed concern about the gunsight image over her district), some Tea Party folk are threatening a black Republican, forcing him to resign his chairmanship:

The sole black Republican Party district chairman in Arizona resigned from his post in the wake of Saturday's shooting, citing threats from the Tea Party faction and concerns for his family's safety, The Arizona Republic first reported.

Republican District 20 Chairman Anthony Miller was not the only party official to resign following the shooting that killed six and wounded 14 others, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and a federal judge. But Miller had been an especially dedicated campaigner for the GOP, and said he only stepped down in the face of "constant verbal attacks" and other forms of intimidation.

"I wasn't going to resign but decided to quit after what happened Saturday," he said. "I love the Republican Party but I don't want to take a bullet for anyone."

Miller, 43, told HuffPost he decided to resign after his wife expressed concern for their safety. Miller had been the target of heavy criticism from Arizona Tea Partyers, in part because he worked on Sen. John McCain's campaign last fall. (The Tea Partyers favored McCain's opponent, J.D. Hayworth.)

But the attacks also took on a racial hue. One critic referred to him derogatorily as "McCain's boy," Miller said. Other language was even less ambiguous. At an event in Lake Havasu City, Ariz., Miller said someone called out, "There's Anthony, get a rope."

Yet Miller balks at crying racism.

"To say that anyone has been racially motivated, I can't really draw a conclusion," he said. "But a lot of people told me 'You're not a conservative, you're a RINO.' In my mind, that's just as bad as being called a n-----, honestly. When you call someone a n-----, it's saying they're less than, and RINO is the same thing."

One would think that, in the aftermath of this tragedy, the gun-control debate would be leaning toward fewer guns, and smaller-capacity clips, right? In a sane world perhaps. But ours is not a sane world. What the Right is proposing, instead, is the possession of more guns--on the floor of congress, and at political rallies.

"If only more guns, other than the shooter's, had been at the rally in Tucson that day," the Right ventures. Actually, there were other guns present. And one of those packing almost shot the wrong person, because he believed the one holding the gun, just wrested from the shooter, was the shooter. "I almost shot the man holding the gun," the man later averred.

More guns, then, could possibly have made matters worse--could have created a bedlam of mistaken intentions, and mistaken perpetrators.

"Political discourse doesn't lead to violence," so says the Right. But it's not any "discourse" that's under scrutiny, but discourse that uses references to violence, or violent images and imagery. Although we can't be certain if the poisonous political climate in Washington, D.C., and throughout the nation, triggered the violence in this case, we do know that it has spurred violence in the past. The death of Dr. Tiller readily comes to mind, but there are many other examples I could cite.

Regrettably, this nation is steeped in a gun culture. Even our Constitution was amended to highlight gun ownership:

Article [II]
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.

Although often quoted and referred to, the first part of Article II is often omitted. Even a cursory reading reveals that the first part of the Article is a prelude to the second part, and that the second part is justified, and supported, because of the necessity of the first.

With a national standing army provided for, you'd think that this necessity to "bear Arms" would have undergone an amendment of its own. At the very least, those who "keep and bear Arms" should be required to serve in the military, and stand at the ready to do so.

But the NRA would never stand for that. However, such a provision and requirement would, I'm sure, cut back on the number of guns in society, estimated to be around 293 million or so, almost one for every person.

As a kind of concession to the new members of the new congress, a large number of which are Tea Party disciples, the US Constitution was read aloud--although omitting the embarrassing parts, such as slavery.

Boyce Watkins, PhD, reflected on this gesture in an on-line article, offering the following observation:

"The language of the Tea Party has consisted mostly of thinly-veiled animosity thrust toward the black man in the Oval Office who doesn't seem to know his place. The idea of "taking back America" and 'returning America to its roots,' can be translated to saying that America isn't a country that's supposed to be run by that 'hoity-toity, high fallutin, black guy with the Muslim name.'"

Reading the Constitution aloud--despite its intent--seemed a colossal waste of time: before the reading was complete, the chamber was mostly empty.

So much for patriotism, and the recent enunciation from the Right that the Constitution would be strictly followed, and would form the basis for every new bill considered, and every law passed.

What can I say about the violence that seethe in this nation, which our love affair with guns has come to symbolize?

Violence is in our national DNA. This country was born in blood. And violence was used to extend this nation's boundaries from sea to shining sea. Violence brought slavery to these shores and violence maintained, and expanded this "peculiar institution," which saw a South grow both in wealth, and political power because of it.

Guns played no small part in the formation of this country, and its supremacy over all who would stand in its way. As a result, a Gunstitution existed right alongside our national constitution, each buttressing the other.

Small wonder, then, given our historical, national preoccupation with guns, that guns are still an indelible and intricate part of the fabric of this country, and an innate part of our national image:

"It [a Swiss study] said 80 per cent of the estimated 84 million firearms in Europe are in civilian hands, with Finland leading with 39 guns for every 100 citizens, followed by Norway with 36 guns, Sweden with 24 guns and Denmark with 18 guns.

"But the United States, which the study estimates has between 83 and 96 guns for every 100 people, still has far more guns per person than Europe, where the survey estimates there are 17.4 guns for every 100 people.

"The study said Americans are most armed in the world, followed by Finns and Yememis.

"The National Rifle Association, the leading U.S. group representing gun owners, says there are more than 200 million privately owned firearms in the United States. These guns are owned by about 60 million people, NRA statistics posted at the 4-million-member organization's website say."

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

"Good Hair"

Good Hair, the Chris Rock movie (documentary), makes many statements about black folk preoccupation with their hair. No, I don't think blacks are the only racial group with this fixation--the beauty industry, which hair is a large part of, crosses racial lines, pulling in billions of dollars from many ethnic groups, regardless of color.

No, I'm not going the discuss the right or wrong of this fixation: I don't care about that as an issue--I'm well aware that we're not our bodies (We're more than that!), and that we don't get to take them with us when we vacate this world, leaving behind pierced ears, noses, tattoos, as well as hair, whether it's our personal hair, or whether it once belonged to another.

"When Chris Rock's daughter, Lola, came up to him crying and asked, 'Daddy, how come I don't have good hair?' the bewildered comic committed himself to search the ends of the earth and the depths of black culture to find out who had put that question into his little girl's head. Rock visits hair salons and styling battles, scientific laboratories, and Indian temples to explore the way black hairstyles impact the activities, pocketbooks, sexual relationships, and self-esteem of black people. Celebrities such as Ice-T, Kerry Washington, Nia Long, Paul Mooney, Raven Symone, Maya Angelou, and Reverend Al Sharpton all candidly offer their stories and observations to Rock while he struggles with the task of figuring out how to respond to his daughter's question. What he discovers is that black hair is a big business that doesn't always benefit the black community and little Lola's question might well be bigger than his ability to convince her that the stuff on top of her head is nowhere near as important as what is inside."

I would urge you to watch this film, even if you have seen it once before (It's now on cable.), not because you'll learn more about weaves, extensions, the hair-dressing industry, the latest beauty-shop gossip, or any such thing, but for the statements it makes about us as a people--candid observations, visual, as well as spoken, about how well we serve our own economic self-interest.

E. Franklin Frazier, sociologist, author, and university professor, once posited this thesis, and I paraphrase: As integration (racial intermixing) becomes a greater reality in this country, black institutions will become less important--will, as a result, disappear. A safe thesis to be sure. Upon reading that, I countered: black institutions, for that reason (the on-going existence of segregation), won't disappear altogether, any time soon, because full "integration," for all its promises, will be slow in coming, and dearly bought.

And, for the most part, that has been the case--defacto segregation often rules the day within our nation, despite federal legislation and court rulings to the contrary.

Until such time that true and full integration is our lot, it behooves blacks to operate in their best economic interest--an interest that has been largely ignored over the years, notwithstanding the status of racial integration. Rather than focus on what is best for us as a people, we pretend, to our financial and economic detriment, that we're an integral part of the mainstream, when in fact we're a mostly isolated people, crowded into various enclaves throughout this vast nation.

From the documentary, you will learn that the black hair-styling industry is a multi-billion dollar industry, and that others (non-blacks) outside of the black community are banking most of those billions that this industry produces.

You will learn that there are only four black hair-care product companies, out of a hundred or so, producing their own black hair-care product lines, and that blacks aren't fully represented in an industry of which they're the principal consumer--not at the production, nor the distribution end.

Unfortunately, what is true for the black-hair industry is also true for other industries--clothing, food, housing, banking, what have you. Until we own the production and distribution end of what we consume, we can't hope to improve measurably our economic condition in this country in a major way, but, rather, give to others our hard-earned income--money that will be reinvested, not within our black communities, but beyond our boundaries.

And, sadly, we have no one to blame but ourselves.