Michael Sam: The First Gay Gladiator

Welcome to a seminar on sexual orientation and the workplace…Let’s begin. I’ll spare you the agonizing b.s., but what if your workplace is a football field? Better yet, what if much of your workplace activity revolves around following and debating things that happen on a football field? Well then, chances are you know the name Michael Sam by today.

The Missouri graduate is eligible for the NFL draft this May and he is gay. Players are and have been gay while earning NFL paychecks but they never have entered or at any point in their career been open about their sexuality until now prospectively. The media seized the opportunity, and rightly so, to publicize this heroic announcement for Sam. The question quickly arose: How will this affect his draft stock? Unfortunately, that’s a valid question due to the culture of the sport in question but also the fanaticism attached to that culture.

The NFL is a physical game, a sport that glorifies toughness, strength, even anger. It is a sport of intimidation. Some might accurately call those primal characteristics, while others are fans of the sport because of this gladiator worship. But, this news story framed against the backdrop of the NFL’s image of brutality brings about a meaningful discussion of abhorrent stereotypes associated with homosexuality. Let’s examine a few

Gay men are weak: Michael Sam lead this SEC in sacks this past season at a position that demands physical strength.

Gay men are a locker room distraction: Why? Because once everyone hits the showers they are just going to rape the enitre locker room? This idea is homophobic, born out of fear by heterosexuals. Being homosexual is not equivalent to being a sexual predator. Get over yourselves straight men. What makes you think you’d even attract gay men?

Why does a gay athlete have to be open about his or her sexuality? This comes from a starting point of bigotry. The only reason this is news is because we are such an intolerant people and worship traditionalism even in the realm of sports which is such an asinine ideal that sports deserve some sort of sanctity. Michael Sam didn’t have to come out before he becomes an NFL player, but he felt it was important that he did so that there could be a shift in the NFL status quo which I find admirable.

Now, more importantly, consider the reverse of some of these stereotypes. Why is it assumed that masculine male athletes in the NFL are heterosexual? I think this is important because there is an association that develops. Masculinity=glorifying the gladiator mentality which is celebrated therefore gay men are excluded yet that assumes that we are to take gender cues and subsequently sexuality clues from this primitive idea of the male athlete (hero). This is a huge issue because we want our boys to play sports and compete and emulate their pro athlete role models but why must that encouragement be reinforced with the idea that this is the only way to be a man? Michael Sam is a gay football player. There are straight ballet dancers too but yet our associations tell us that those caricatures are to be gawked at. This comes from an unexplored place in our culture that has everything to do with gender when it doesn’t have to. Our love affair with the NFL has adverse affects when it comes to ideas about how the next generation of men should behave. This is extremely problematic and ignorant. You are not more or less of a man if you tackle other men, or if you have a “mean streak”, or if you play the piano, or tap dance. This big news about Michael Sam is big news because of our tendency to compartmentalize and stereotype but we often do not consider that this mistake permeates to subsequent generations who will do the same unless we teach them tolerance and openness when it pertains to gender and sexuality. The NFL is so mindless, the gladiator mentality so pointless and impractical, so why should we allow it to be so prominent in what we think a masculine man should be? Why do we strive to emulate that archetype? There were Michael Sams before and there will be more gay athletes and the way Michael Sam is accepted or rejected will have a lot to do with how comfortable those athletes are in sharing their true identities with the unforgiving sports world. We all should reflect on why it has taken this long and prioritize what is truly valuable if anything about the NFL while realizing that it’s reach extends further than we acknowledge it does.

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The Martin Luther King Legacy: More Than a Monday in January?

I am not a holiday person. Christmas is religious only in its lustful devotion of consumer materialism. July 4th is weighed down by ignorant patriotism and distracted by fireworks displays. Valentine’s Day is usually disappointing no  matter what your relationship status is. Columbus Day is an atrocity (We still call Native Americans Indians. See Louis C.K. stand-up). Anyway, holidays are hollow. As I talked to people yesterday and today concerning this holiday, Martin Luther King Day, I got some pretty surprising reactions. “Why is this a holiday?” “He accomplished what someone else would have.” “This doesn’t deserve to be a Federal holiday.” Cue the about face for me, the holiday hater. Jesus Christ, of all of the stupid things we celebrate, this day has some potential. How can we appreciate what MLK went through? How can we honor his legacy?

I like the general skepticism when it comes to anointing Dr. King as the second coming, but he was this country’s most successful social activist in the past half-century. But, we all know his accomplishments and his trials and tribulations along the way. After today, I’ve become more interested in his legacy and how we have seemingly taken his persona and made it into a universal truth. I think this is dangerous. Before the Civil Rights movement, realities that we can’t imagine were the norm. It is hard to fathom what it truly took to break down those pillars of injustice and restore a foundation of liberty and tolerance. It seems as though many people are sick of MLK posthumously getting so much credit, but his experience was far from ordinary. He was a revolutionary and died for his cause. Viewing his legacy in a vacuum with a defined start and end point undermines the fight he waged. Civil Rights and the broader cause of battling social injustice is an eternal struggle. We cannot rest on our laurels and assume that his fight ended in victory.

King said, “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.” That is his legacy. “America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check that has come back marked ‘insufficient funds. But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.” Since that monumental speech echoed off of the Washington monument, more oppressed people have arrived in Washington to cash checks of equality and justice and the funds are still very much insufficient. We have come a long way in terms of civil rights for African Americans and others, but each instance of hate and persecuted group should not require the effort and struggle given by Dr. King. We should not live as Americans waiting on the next hero to accomplish King’s goal of a world where people are judged solely on the content of their character.. We are the silent, but good people who should be appalled by our own inaction.

Gay rights, poverty, declining education systems, hostility toward immigrants, residual racism, and other issues plague our brothers and sisters and we tend to seek comfort in our ignorance and insulation. I am heterosexual and can get married, not because I made a choice but because I was born into a majority, so I don’t care that, because others fall in a minority by also not making a choice, I should allow bigots to make a choice to restrict their liberty? I accept that fewer people in this country get richer while the overwhelming majority gets poorer? I accept that because I can afford to live in an area with high property values, my kids will get an adequate education and the children in the neighboring city will go without textbooks? I pretend that my immigrant heritage is any different from someone who cannot speak English? I accept that Civil Rights laws were passed so racism must also have ended? Our world is full of social injustice and we discuss it constantly, but we do so in whispers. We don’t make enough noise to drown out the disharmonious tones of prejudice and hate. We are so busy feeling sorry for ourselves that we forget that others aren’t asking us to feel sorry for them, but merely to stand in unity and fight for their just cause.

I think it’s all very simple. Live your life with the desire to make the world a better place than you found it. Nothing else really matters. As Dr. King so aptly stated, “And so we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and security of justice. We have also come to his hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.” There are many checks to be cashed and there is plenty of money in the bank of social justice in order to make the world a better place. But, we cannot be afraid to cash in on what is right and true. We cannot wait for a leader to inspire us to fight, because that leader already did so and that is what we should take from today. Martin Luther King’s legacy is not about not getting mail one Monday in January or even necessarily about just civil rights for people of different races, but it is about recognizing and defeating injustice. Right now is the time and plenty is the cause. Whether it’s marching, voting, speaking, or listening, we cannot be docile in this battle anymore because our brothers, sisters, and forefathers can’t afford to suffer the tranquilizing effects of gradualism.

Nelson Mandela and Phil Robertson: What does tolerance mean to you?

The two most significant news stories of the past few weeks include the death of one of the most dedicated freedom fighters the world has ever known and a comment made by the patriarch of the nation’s premier family when it comes to making duck calls. Both general storylines involve tolerance, persecution, and hate. They involve a minority and a majority, anger and love, popularity and dissent, freedom and expression. The world on one hand mourned the loss of Nelson Mandela in South Africa recently as we were reminded of his struggle for personal freedom, for equality for his people through the abolition of apartheid, and his support of nonviolent means to accomplish his peaceful and tolerant ends. On the other hand, many Americans are bemoaning the fact that a reality TV star in an attention grabbing interview likened homosexual practices to fornicating with animals citing the Bible as his intellectual foundation for that relationship. Which one of these happenings affected more Americans and sparked more discourse? Sadly, an unintelligible duck call entrepreneur…

So, because so many people are making Phil Robertson’s bigoted and ignorant comments a religious issue let’s fight fire with fire. The bible calls homosexuality and bestiality an abomination. In Leviticus, the bible also  claims that you can’t eat anything from the sea that lacks fins or scales. The bible dictates that if you are widowed by your husband you must live with his older brother and submit to his every demand so that he will take care of  your family. The bible decrees that meat should be prepared a certain way from clean parts of an animal. The bible claims that God is a murderer (the flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, Jesus). Do these seem oversimplified? Absolutely. But, Christians, including Phil Robertson, apparently have the ability to pick and choose when the nuances of historical and cultural change apply to ancient texts and when those same words should be taken literally. Based on his logic, all of the following things are the same as homosexuality in God’s eyes:

Eating Bacon

Eating Shrimp

Eating Lobster

Eating Crab (ok you get it)

Masterbation

Anal Sex

Oral Sex

Gambling

Remarriage outside the family

Consuming alcohol

Being rich

All of a sudden I’m feeling like super gay guys. Come on, let’s be serious here. Christians don’t live their lives like they or their beliefs are being persecuted because they aren’t. But, when something hits the newsprint such as this story they are up in arms about how their lifestyle is being infringed upon along with their freedom of speech because of the growing tide of political correctness. Jesus taught about love, tolerance, humility, and caring for your neighbor. How does an unprovoked bigoted attack on homosexuals constitute the way of God? And, if it does, why would you believe in him or worship the teachings that are supposedly infallible that support those hateful conclusions Phil Robertson espoused. Christians in this country are not in the minority, they never have been. Just because they are jealous of the growing support minority groups receive when they are singled out by intolerant Christians doesn’t mean the prescription to cure that situation is to claim persecution. It’s so weak and if your only defense is “read the bible” then ok, do it. You’ll find that no one lives up to this ill-conceived hodgepodge of requirements for Christian life. We live in 2013 and it should be different than 200 B.C. but when our thought processes are so primitive it’s hard to see a marked difference.

Furthermore, something important in the name of tolerance did happen recently. Nelson Mandela’s life is a blueprint for how people of all colors and faiths and orientations can come together for what is progressive and good. Ending apartheid for black South Africans mirrors the fight against true persecution that many have fought and are fighting including homosexuals around the world. Why stifle their efforts by latching on to outdated references that are divisive and bigoted? Madiba spent 27 years in jail for his cause and you are mad because Duck Dynasty has a bad reputation. Ask yourselves, what is persecution? What is tolerance? What is religion’s purpose if it brings about hate instead of love? Next time you order the bacon wrapped scallops and God doesn’t smite you, remember that the bible was a book written a long time ago by people who were very possibly intolerant and misguided. God doesn’t require us to emulate their path of hatred, but instead, we can make the world a better place by fighting hatred with the nonviolent methods Nelson Mandela employed in his heroic campaigns.

Phil Robertson : A Guide to (Smart) Freedom of Speech

By now, we all know that television network A&E has put Duck Dynasty clan leader Phil Robertson on suspension for comments he made in an interview for GQ magazine. Those comments were especially disparaging to homosexuals, as Robertson in essence compared homosexuality to bestiality amongst other statements that weren’t exactly kosher. To be honest, I would have thought his comments about Louisiana being perfectly fine during the Jim Crow law time period would be more offensive, but in today’s society gay is the new black.

To be clear, Robertson is allowed to have his own opinions. He is more than entitled to say things that don’t include making threats to the POTUS or falsely shouting “fire” in a crowded theater. Which, his comments were not either one of these things. He is more than allowed to say what he did.

Which is why he’s not going to jail over this. Robertson exercised his freedom of speech perfectly fine. There will be no legal consequences for his actions. But, as we have seen, there are private repercussions.

Does anybody remember the movie Die Hard with a Vengeance where Bruce Willis’ character was forced to wear a walking sign on the streets of Harlem, which prominently featured the “n” word? This case is very similar. Willis isn’t stepping outside his bounds as far as free speech goes. He is, however stepping outside the bounds of good taste and intelligent thinking. He also must realize that his actions are going to incite a certain response and reaction from the native population. In other words, he’s probably going to get killed. It’s the same thing with Robertson (minus the getting killed part). He’s allowed to make certain remarks, he just needs to realize that made in such a public forum that it is going to garner him a certain reaction which he must be prepared to deal with its fallout.

I’m sure that somewhere in his contract, A&E has reserved the right to put any cast members on suspension for any matter of things, especially public comments that could reflect on the television company. This is not wrongful termination, or even termination at all (it’s a suspension, not a firing). Robertson made comments that could hurt the reputation of the company, and the company has to take disciplinary action, plain and simple.

People also fail to realize that before Duck Dynasty was ever a thought for a TV show, that A&E existed as a company. They don’t need Duck Dynasty to survive. They are not committing suicide as a company. In fact, they have probably cashed out so hard on the popularity of this show in the past three years, that they could go a decent amount of time with it on ice and still be fine. It’s not their wallet they care about, it is instead their reputation. In all likelihood, it’s a suspension based on a breach of contract of some type, so they would have to go back on their signed intent in the first place if they were to not suspend Robertson.

Phil Robertson is entitled to his freedom of speech which he exercised. But he then must understand that whatever comments he makes, he is also subject to other people’s (including A&E) freedom of reprisal. This is not an attack on Christianity, it’s a suspension of a man for being dumb enough to not just answer questions honestly, but to take them a step further. If he was Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Wicca, Buddhist, what have you, it wouldn’t have mattered. If he made those comments he would still have been suspended no matter what. It may have been a “trap” by GQ to make him answer these questions, but Robertson is also entitled to the freedom of being smart enough not to answer those questions, or answer them in a different manner.

This all being said, I don’t care enough about these ZZ Top lookalikes and their scripted show to be sad or anything about this outcome. Just be aware that if you’re going to comment on it, I expect you to be intelligent enough to think the entire situation through.

Oh, and in case you’re curious. Remember the government shutdown? There’s more important things to be paying attention to right now, like THE BUDGET FOR THE GOVERNMENT BEING VOTED ON. Kind of the whole reason there was a shutdown in the first place. But, I’ll let you get back to your cable programs in the meantime.

The Death of Paul Walker and What it Should Mean to You

In case you didn’t notice, American actor Paul Walker was killed in a car crash this past weekend. As the media is wont to do when a celebrity dies, investigations and coverage is running in an overflow of excess. Any of you that use social networking are also privy to the fact that many people are critical of those members of the proletariat that post material in memoriam of Walker, because they say that humans die every day that have more needs or have done greater deeds than a Hollywood star. They further say that people should not post things about dead celebrities since greater masses of people die every day.

Those that say these things in an outrage are simply wrong.

Firstly, this needs to be put out in the open. Paul Walker’s death is not a tragedy. Although by definition, “tragic” means dreadful or disastrous, it is not tragic. The connotation that comes with a tragedy is the implication that innocence or goodness has been destroyed through harmful forces outside of the control of the innocent. The fact of the matter is, Walker was a passenger in a fast sports car, which was reportedly being driven in excess of a safe speed. Cars are and always have been death traps, especially at volatile speeds which was the case. When driving at that speed, the driver and passengers accept responsibility for all effects to follow. As a result, innocence is lost. When something happens to a person that is unfortunate, but a direct effect of their action or inaction, the result can no longer be deemed tragic. It can be unfortunate, it can be sad, but the word “tragedy” has too strong implications and should be reserved for truly tragic events.

Moving forward, let us tender the following two statements as fact. When somebody inherently “good” dies, it is a sad occurrence. Especially when they pass at what seems like an early time; a time that could have been used touching and improving the lives of others around them.

Transitively, the death of Paul Walker is sad because of the kind of person that he was. However, it is going to be sad to so many more people than the death of an average person. This is because throughout his film career, Walker managed to reach out and touch the lives of untold millions of people. When you go to see a (good) movie, through the storyline and acting you are placed in empathetic touch with the protagonist. To me, Walker was a good enough actor that through the Fast and Furious movies that I watched and own, I felt for his character in Brian O’Conner. I wanted to see Brian succeed, to witness him overcome his weaknesses and create a circumstantial outcome that was best for him and the people he loved. Again, transitively that makes me feel for Walker, through the character he portrayed. Although I do not feel for Walker as much as I would someone like Tom Hanks, whose roles I identify and empathize with more than Walker’s, during the two hours of a Fast movie, Walker is my protagonist.

Putting this into another view, imagine how you would feel if your current favorite (alive) singer/songwriter died. The lyrics they have written, and the melodies they have composed would cease to continually be created. The essence of their being, the emotion and creativity they wrote with, and the emotions and lyrics that you identified with, would be somewhat of a memory. In the duration of the songs you listen to, you are totally empathizing and placing yourself into the shoes of the singer. They have now touched your life and are a part of you. Truth is, part of you is going to be sad if they passed away.

Although Walker’s death isn’t very personal to me particularly, it is sad. However, it is personal to some people, which I can still identify with. When Sean Taylor (Washington Redskins safety) died in 2007, I will be the first person to admit that I was personally in a somber mood. Taylor was one of my favorite players on my favorite football team, and was in the midst of a career year on the rebound from having personal problems. I liked Taylor and it was upset to see him gone. He touched my life enough that I posthumously bought his jersey so that I could remember the player that he was.

There are people who have had their lives touched by Paul Walker in a significant way, like Taylor was with me. Yes, some did not personally know him, but like the death of a character in a book, they empathized and were placed in the shoes of his characters, transitively being placed in the shoes of Walker himself. And yes, the death of a good person on any scale is sad, but not every person has the opportunity to be a part of so many lives like a movie star can. If someone who could not have possibly known Walker is bemoaning his passing, be respectful and let them be. Their influences and lives are different from yours, so treat your reactions to them as such. Remember what you were told to do as a child, and fully think through what words you are going to attribute to yourself before you make a foolish statement.

I’m Grey on Black Friday

As another Thanksgiving weekend winds down and the stampedes at every Target, WalMart, and Best Buy are slowing to reveal their trampled victims, I’m a bit less in awe of all that is Black Friday than I have been in the past. People camped out for several days, they went without sleep, they devised strategic plans that actually involved them choosing to stand in the bitter cold or in endless lines, but something else happened: the people not participating bitched incessantly. As someone that enjoys doing that when it concerns an ideology or practice I don’t like, I think it’s a bit shallow this time. If you want to put yourself through that Black Friday insanity, that’s fine with  me. If you think taking a week off from work to pitch a tent in your local Best Buy parking lot in order to save 50% on a TV, Ok. But, saddling up your high horse to dispute the tenets of consumerism and preach the merits of a family holiday one day out of the year is truly disappointing. Everything you are saying is legitimate. People shouldn’t care so much about material objects, they should take more time to relax and enjoy the company and fellowship with family, and the advertising cycle that we are confronted with is unfathomable. I concede, I hear you.

However, where is your message when you aren’t a part of a unified front trying to stem the tide against the Thanksgiving night shoppers? My concern is that the message is lost because it’s only being broadcast in a reactionary fashion. Consumerism and our incredibly corrupt economic foundation is egregious but that is just as true the day after Thanksgiving as it is the day after and the one after that. Using the emotional appeal that family is the reason that people should use to supplant their urge to Black Friday shop is fairly weak considering it’s our “family” tradition that requires us to buy every new gadget and toy for one another just to survive the Christmas season which coincidentally begins on Black Friday. I don’t know, I think I’m as sick of the Black Friday bitchers as I am the Black Friday shoppers. Black Friday is just every other day in concentrated form so if we choose to get uncontrollably upset for these amplified reasons that are perceivable every single day then shame on us. We lose our right to complain if it’s just simply a convenient platform from which we pass judgment. I’m not making an argument here, I just noticed more bitterness this year and it made me realize that it is quite detrimental to the underlying point that should be made on Black Friday and every other day. We don’t need smart watches, 10 Christmas gifts, or to have a week of our lives carved out based on a percentage discount, but we also don’t need critics who perpetuate, 364 days a year, the issue that they are criticizing.

The Sport of Capitalism

Sports fans tenaciously defend the integrity of the game they love by espousing their love of their team’s tradition, the parity of their favorite sport correlating with the excitement of unpredictability and volatility, and the pureness of the game itself with the phrase “for the love of the game.” Can we draw legitimate parallels between creating a level playing field on an actual playing field and our beloved economic system? How would we feel if our favorite team lost more games simply because they had more black players than the rest of the league? What if our favorite team was prohibited from truly understanding the fundamentals and rules of the game because the governing body or league didn’t afford them the resources to educate themselves? What if our favorite team was forced to compete with the players that all the other teams did not want and had no opportunity to employ the most talented and capable athletes in their respective sport? Would we watch? Would we cry foul play? In every major sport in America, we have witnessed measures to combat these potential detriments to the playing field’s equality and the health of the game itself through revenue sharing, luxury taxes, protective free agency rights, draft pick compensation limitations, salary caps, the serpentine draft process itself, and tampering rules. These protocols were implemented to create an environment of parity and one where competition would be more entertaining and legitimate. Who is our favorite team in the sport of capitalism? Are parallel measures being implemented on this competitive playing field to make it more equal and thusly make it more worthwhile and fair to all its participants? The answer is a resounding no.

There is a fixed amount of wealth to be distributed within a society. The disbursement method espoused by capitalism can be summarized by the phrase, “You can have it when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.” The profit motive outweighs the moral imperative when regarding capitalism. Wealth is aristocratically protected by generational inheritance which ruins any possibility for legitimate social mobility. The bourgeois are for the most part exempt from significant taxation because wealth itself is not taxed. The truly wealthy do not have income and are being paid to invest their money far more than the rate at which their investments are taxed. In fact, the Federal Reserve bank in our capitalist economic system is a private organization that has its own profit agenda from which we borrow from literally and figuratively. So, in America, the proverbial championship contenders, to use a sports phrase, are always the same. They are always contending for the prize each season (maximum profit) but against what competition?

Ironically, competition is the greatest guise of all when it comes to understanding capitalism. There is no such thing as competition in a market like our own. The more sophisticated and wealthy an economy becomes, the more consolidated and monopolized the society’s capital…The housing bubble bursting in 2008 brought windfall profits for bargain shopping banks and upper echelon investors at the cost of American’s tax dollars, pensions, and mortgages. Lending subsidies were bought and sold (absorbed would be a better word) by mega banks like JPMorgan Stanley while Goldman Sachs and CitiGroup also purchased and traded derivatives of commodified mortgage subsidies that were now insured by the Federal Government (so, long story short? the taxpayer who had their mortgage with a lender, lost their house because of volatile instability in the housing market at the fault of their lender, their lender is purchased by a larger financial institution who is now collecting on their absorbed unpaid mortgages and presenting that bill to the aggregate taxpayer (the same one who is now homeless) in the form of the bailout proceedings) Oh, but they did not stop there. Some institutions purchased defaulting mortgages from failing banks and lenders, packaged the most volatile and risky of those flaming mortgage agreements, sold their derivatives as a security to another institution and or then shorted the security of handpicked failing funds. That is insider trading. It’s a fix. The game was rigged and we wonder why the same team wins every time? Not only that but look at the results. Property, or in this case mortgages, lending capacity, and financial capital were compressed and consolidated into the hands of a few exponentially more powerful banks as a consequence of the housing crisis which fundamentally was a function of the financial institutions’ response to the Federal Reserve’s prime rate at which they lend money to the financial institutions who precipitated the fallout. Ask yourself, Cui Bono, to whose benefit? Not yours and not mine but there was an exorbitant amount of power and capital that was redistributed in this capitalistic disaster and the distribution went straight up…

Mortgage backed securities where the lender gets to pick which mortgages are included in the derivative security is tantamount to a head coach of a football team reffing the game his team plays in and being the bookie who set the spread for the contest. We wouldn’t accept those circumstances for beloved football team, so why do we guarantee this reality for ourselves and those less fortunate than us? Sports is a great example to use in this discussion because they are inherently self interested and competitive. Each team wants to win, each player wants to outshine another and so on. But, as we see in sports, the true success of the product as a whole is competitive balance and regulation. The product of capitalism is riddled with competitive imbalances, based on circumstance (race, socio-economic classifcation), corruption, and barbarism. The poor stay poor in a capitalist society and the rich stay rich. Everyone in the middle believe they are more privileged and more capable of upward advance than they actually are but the lives of those in the middle class aren’t worth the upheaval it would require to provide justice for those who are being oppressed and against those who oppress from the top down. In the sport of capitalism, every team believes they can win and pull the upset but how many times do we have to witness the slaughter on the proverbial field before we realize that that upset is never going to happen?

Finally, once we conclude the level playing field is certainly not evident we ask ourselves how might it be achieved? Herein lies the biggest problem for those who are aware of capitalism’s shortcoming and exploitation. What body is capable of regulating the sport of capitalism in the same way the league office of any of your favorite sports can pass a rule change or a revenue change themselves that will better their game? We are powerless. Congress can’t even pass budgets. Not to mention the fact that Congress and the President are all classified as bourgeois anyway and as the rules of capitalism dictate, there is no moral imperative that can quell self interest so they will do what their post asks them to rather than what the people deserve. When wealth’s distribution is stagnant, every dollar you “earn” is a dollar someone else can no longer have so we are all experiencing the problem of capitalism while we are all simultaneously exacerbating that problem. The system cannot be rectified by a commissioner like the NFL and it can’t be rectified by a powerless politic (we the people) so grassroots are in order. The best place to start? Change your allegiances within the sport of capitalism. Pick a new favorite team. Better yet? Pick a new sport altogether because a game that ensures poverty, celebrates greed, insulates the wealthy from those they exploit, and disenfranchises rational dissent is an unfair contest that is not worth paying attention to because we are intelligent enough to know the score of the game without looking at it. I’ll give you a hint, the score has never been in our favor and it never will be unless we stop playing.

Outsourcing Opinion Production: Leave the thinking to the political experts

A primary principle of capitalistic economic theory suggests that efficiency and specialization directly correlate. It gives way to the import and export system- one country, region, area, sector, whatever it may be specializes in the production of a specific good or idea and then becomes an expert. This person or group of people is then able to analyze information or create a good at a faster rate than someone who is not an expert. Therefore, more goods can be produced or ideas thought in less time. I have qualms with this theory, many of which have to do with the definition of efficiency and how much you are willing to accept it as a guise for corruption, but alas that is for another day and another post.

The largest problem that I have with this economic principle is that it is viewed as universal. We took one idea that allowed bananas to be distributed worldwide at all times of the year, in mass quantities and have applied it to our distribution of information and formulation of opinions. We have allowed and even encouraged the rise of information gatekeepers. They specialize in investigating information and relaying it to the public at large. They are “experts” and they have an exorbitant amount of power in dictating what types of issues are discussed or deemed important enough to think about. We all remember the 24 hour looped recaps and rushed conclusions spewed on countless networks after the Boston bombings or the countdown clocks to the governmental shutdown that have risen in popularity over the past few days.

However, not only do we have gatekeepers of information but of opinions too. Not only are we too busy to seek out information for ourselves but to even think about the information that we are given and formulate our own opinion is a hassle. We are constantly bombarded and influenced by buzzwords and convince ourselves that because an opinion gatekeeper is an “expert,” their opinions are the most informed and thus we should adopt them as our own.

People are too busy for politics. It is not their field, their area of expertise, and so they elect someone who they deem to be enough like them to make all of the decisions for them. ALL OF THE DECISIONS. That is really what we do? We watch interviews and debates during election season, hear a slew of vague answers, and decide to vote for the person who is the perfect mix of Ivy League prestige and hometown charm. We elect someone based off of personality and charisma and expect them to represent us equally in all issues that government touches, which are all issues, the environment, gun control, banking, agriculture, healthcare, the list goes on. One person, an expert in all of that? That is ridiculous. And because many people’s political participation stops at elections, they view that fact that Congress is composed of a bunch of goons who think “shutting down the government” ie- refusing to fulfill their largest responsibility of passing a budget, is the voters’ fault. If only we had elected a different person this would not have happened. No. If only one person was not given so much trust and power and blind faith to represent thousands of people for future issues that cannot be foreseen at election time, then we might have different outcomes. They do it without even the threat of getting slapped on the wrist by their employers ie- their constituents. Even though Congress’s approval rate is laughably low their incumbency rate remains high. And we ask- how can this exist?

The answer lies in the opinion gatekeepers, we may see politicians as dirty scoundrels but the Hannitys, O’Reillys, and even the Stewarts (I hate to lump you with them Jon, I’m sorry, I still love you.) are relatable, looking out for the little man and “explaining” the rhetoric and legislative language that politicians use to confuse us. Yet they attempt to find clarity with even thicker rhetoric and incredibly simplistic representations of issues as a means to persuade us to adopt the opinions that they present.

It is insulting. The stereotypical ignorant American is not a naturally frequent phenomenon or at least it does not speak to their inability to comprehend issues but rather their choice not to. People have the intellectual capacity to think logically about areas more complex than what is debated on Crossfire, to see through the asinine blame game of a two-party political system but because it is not their area of expertise, they choose not to. Generally, they are consumed and exhausted by their field- their 9-5 followed by soccer practice carpool- to find the drive to analyze more information. There is a vested interest in making it convenient for these citizens to not have to think and to regurgitate predigested answers to political questions instead. There is a vested interest in keeping people engulfed in whatever area of which they are an expert and to leave the thinking and opinion forming to someone else.

Politics is not an area of expertise, not something you can pass off as a subject matter that you do not wish to understand. It cannot be ignored and left to someone else to digest. Political participation in this country is not just a right but a duty, one that many have been neglecting while simultaneously asking- how did we get into this mess? The dysfunctionality of the political system stems from the apathy of those who control it, the citizens. As long as we remain content with forfeiting our opinions to gatekeepers rather investigating the situation ourselves, we cannot expect anyone to be held responsible. We are just as guilty of irresponsibility. It is time that we stop outsourcing the mass production of opinions. It is time that we resume thinking for ourselves.

Seeing the Positive in the Government Shutdown

Generally, there are few things good about when the United States government shuts down. Which, in case you were wondering, it has a total of 18 times since 1976, although it has not since the Clinton administration in the winter of 1995-96. In fact, during the Reagan presidency, the government shut down on eight different occasions, averaging out to every single year that Ronald Reagan was in office. The list of negative aspects of the government shutting down is rather lengthy. To give you an idea, over 800,000 government employees have been furloughed without pay, while another 1.3 million “essential” employees remain at work without pay. The list of agencies that are either closed or have 80% (or more) of their employees furloughed for the time being are as follows:

American Battle Monuments Commission

Department of Commerce

Department of Education

Department of Energy

Department of Housing and Urban Development

Department of the Interior

Department of Labor

Environmental Protection Agency

Federal Communications Commission

Internal Revenue Service

Others not expressly mentioned include the Smithsonian Institution, National Holocaust Museum, the National Archives, and the United States Institution of Peace.

It is estimated that a shutdown of three to four weeks will cost the nation around $55 billion, including $1 billion in lost wages per week. 700,000 jobs in the DC area would be affected, at the cost of $200 million a day. So far, the it seems like everything is a negative, and you find yourself asking two questions. Why is the government allowed to shut down, and what positives could there possibly be in this scenario?

The simple answer to the first question is that the United States government (Congress and the President in this case) failed to pass a budget or a continuing resolution for the 2014 fiscal year. This means that because no budget has been passed, in order to save money all discretionary services deemed “non-essential” to the Antideficiency Act (ADA) have currently been suspended. The Antideficiency Act in short “is legislation enacted by the United States Congress to prevent the incurring of obligations or the making of expenditures (outlays) in excess of amounts available in appropriations or funds.” All you need to know is, if Congress doesn’t have a plan on how to spend money, they are not allowed to spend money on all personnel and agencies that are not essential for the running of a nation. (On a side note, I think my favorite part of deeming things “essential” or “non-essential” is how unaffected the Department of Defense is in all of this. Not only do they possess an exorbitant percentage of available funds, but the vast majority of military interests are deemed “essential” to the everyday well-being of the nation. As opposed to, 68% of the CDC employees being furloughed. Riiiiiiight.)

The second part of the answer to the first question, is why did the government shut down this time? Typically it involves the disagreement of opposite parties holding majorities in either the Presidency or each house of Congress, but this time it mostly boils down to one man.

John Boehner, Republican Speaker of the House, is mostly to blame for this shutdown. President Barack Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and its impact on 2014 is the subject of disagreement. This is where we start reaching the positives of the shutdown. Speaker Boehner has not allowed a House vote to develop a continuing resolution to debate the budget, which directly led to the shutdown. It was believed that enough House Republicans had allied themselves with House Democrats to pass a resolution, but Mr. Boehner would not even allow such a vote to reach the floor. This means that this is his last-ditch effort to try to abort PPACA for reasons rather unknown. He’s simply out of options, and will not let the Democrats or POTUS get their way. What’s so wrong with the Affordable Care Act then, you might ask?

The primary aims of the PPACA are to increase the quality and affordability of health insurance, lower the uninsured rate by expanding public and private insurance coverage, and reduce the costs of healthcare for the individual and government. The main opposition is that under an employer mandate to either provide employees with healthcare or face a monetary penalty, that business creation and small businesses will suffer because they cannot afford such costs. The worry is that this will further stymie the economy by closing small businesses and discourage entrepreneurs from starting businesses because of the cost. And honestly, I say “so what?”.

Contrary to the rumors you may have heard, Congress is not exempt from PPACA nor are illegal aliens covered. Which means the only issue is the effect that it may have on the economy, and the irrational fear of “Big Brother” state-run socialist programs. As far as the economy goes, adding a policy that is meant to protect the people could very well hinder economic growth, but it is completely worth it. Even without Obamacare, the economy was in the toilet, which means that there are many, many, more contributing factors to its poor state that should be fixed first. Whatever factor you might cite, they are all things that should be fixed before Obamacare is even thought about being repealed or revised, because at its very core the idea of PPACA is the very responsibility of a body of government; to protect and facilitate the well-being of its people. Projections show that the new healthcare plan will provide care for 32 million more people. 32 million lives will be provided for when PPACA reaches mature form.

What’s the price you can put on 32 million lives? The cost of one’s small business, or the forfeiture of someones “American Dream”? Is it worth it, in a first world country, to put aside your dreams and aspirations for the benefit of others who may not even deserve it? I say that it is. I’m reminded of what Jesus Christ said in the book of Matthew. “Truly, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Is it fair that you may have to give up your dream job, or dream house, or nice car so that someone can have health care after attempting to commit suicide, or overdosing on illegal drugs? I don’t think it is, but it all boils down to the argument that your parents used to make, or you as a parent continually make. “Life’s not fair.” And I think, that as a populace, if life isn’t going to be fair for us for the sake of another life, it should be worth it.

So what’s the positive aspect? That the Tea Party Republicans and Mr. Boehner are out of options, and that PPACA is bound to pass sooner or later, which will save lives at the cost of the affluence of some citizens. Is PPACA perfect? Probably not. Is the government perfect? Definitely not. But I believe that this reformation’s primary aim is to save lives and provide equal medical protection for all citizens of the United States of America. And that’s a right that no government shutdown should ever be allowed to stop.

 

 

 

 

 

Also, the shutdown gives us good memes like this. Positive #2 in my mind.

Trimming the Fat: The Right Wing Agenda to Curb Excess Spending by Cutting the Grossly Unimportant Food Stamps Program

Have we lost our collective mind? Am I a communist because I used the word collective? The recent news outlining a 10  year proposal in the House to cut Food Stamps spending by $40 billion over that period provides a wonderful case study in the absurdity that is American Politics. The democrats are outraged because placing this program on the chopping block signifies a ruthless approach from the opposition to cut any program that funds Obamacare and that a staple of American social programs is negotiable in the first place. The republicans argue that the system is being schemed by lazy, undeserving omnivores looking to skip out on the grocery bill. I am outraged because people need to eat dammit. This is not a political bargaining chip, nor should it be a contentious issue from which Americans find themselves hopelessly divided. Approximately 4 million Americans will now lose their qualifications for food stamps. Luckily, says Speaker of the House Boehner, it will allow us to better manage our growing deficit-a masterfully manipulated scare tactic to justify any cost cutting (fat trimming) agenda item. People need to eat dammit. We can approach this issue from varied perspectives. We could prioritize what other programs or initiatives would be more justifiable pieces of meat of which the house could trim its fat, or we can discuss the implications that stem from this action’s justifications in the political and social sphere. Because our congressional leaders have approached this issue from neither of those two standpoints, we shall do both.

Get out your butcher’s knives and let’s slice up some spending.

DEFENSE SPENDING:  The United States spent nearly $700 billion in defense and military spending in 2012. That makes up 39% of all the military spending on a little place called PLANET EARTH. We spent more than four times as much than the number 2 on the list, the People’s Republic of China. When considering per capita figures, the average American (or on his or her behalf) spends 16 times the amount an average Chinese person spends on their government’s defense and military expenditures. The $4 billion a year that the House desires to cut from the Food Stamp program which would affect 4 million Americans is a mere .0057% or around half of a percent of annual defense spending. Hey military industrial complex…can you spare some change? America is hungry.

CAMPAIGN FINANCE and CONTRIBUTIONS: It’s seemingly very important that one must be elected before one can vote to take away American’s food stamps so how does this happen? Well, they raise a truckload of money. So much money that food just seems so microscopic in importance by comparison. The unlimited nature of election contributions and campaign financing leads to corporate and individual elite involvement on a scale that the average voter cannot comprehend. The process, in fact, belies the election process to that voter who doesn’t realize his vote is simply being bought and sold. Furthermore, that money infiltrates decision making and a lot of decisions are made based on the mantra of fat trimming and governmental efficiency. However, no one seems to be able to comprehend that that idea would lose an enormous amount of popularity as a campaign slogan and law making justification if the money that was poured into buying candidates and elections was available for the government to use to potentially…feed and care for its people.

CORPORATE TAX LOOPHOLES: The person working for a multinational corporation “earning” minimum wage is paying their fair share of taxes and still can’t afford to eat (especially not anymore) and qualifies (or used to) for Food Stamps so their bosses are paying their fair share too right? Inexplicably wrong. A report detailing the prevalence and immense scale of corporate tax loopholes estimates that the U.S. will lose over $620 billion from 2010-2015 in potential tax revenue lost due to those moneys being qualified as tax expenditures (which is a bogus term used to describe loophole’d funds). Some popular examples include:

Deferral of Income from Controlled Foreign Corporations where Multinational Corporations hide profits in foreign countries deferring U.S. taxes and paying foreign taxes at preferential rates which will cost an estimated $172.1 billion over that aforementioned five year period,

Accelerated Depreciation of Machinery and Equipment: Corps can claim depreciation on equipment immediately which acts as an interest free loan from the Federal Government for the use of machinery and equipment corporations would be using anyway in order to make profit. This has an estimated 5 year cost of $51.7 billion in lost tax revenue.

Exclusion of Interest on State and Local Bonds: Companies are given tax credit so as not to pay double and state and municipal bonds in which cases they are involved in producing something for public consumption or benefit such as a stadium or a hospital at an estimated tax revenue loss over 5 years of $59.8 billion.

These examples show the rampant corporate impulse to withhold taxable profits from the government through the manipulation of loopholes in the corporate tax code. Closing or lessening the incentive to exploit these loopholes could feed many hard working slaves, I mean employees, of these multinational corporations that might lose their access to food stamps over the next 10 years.

Alright, so clearly there are other funds that have fit waiting to be trimmed that should have been addressed long before the Food Stamps program, but that was not the case and there are implications for this reality. Our political leadership has told us that two things: we cannot afford to pay for our citizens to eat, and that too many undeserving individuals are manipulating the system and ruining it for those who do need the help. The first implication is a moral one being framed in a political way which is outrageous. As I stated earlier, using this issue as a political bargaining tool is inhumane and that is precisely what is occurring here. The republicans have sent a message to the democrats just as they will with all Obamacare related legislation and that message is telling Americans that some of them do not deserve help to eat today. Digest that….

The second implication that needs to be discussed is the idea that there is always a moocher that is ruining the party for everyone else. I hate this antiquated fearmongering tactic because it doesn’t make any sense. If there really is a person who is going through a few LOOPHOLES (sounds familiar) in order to barely qualify for food stamps, would you trade places with him? The cast of the Kardashians is not forging paperwork so they can get free food. It’s just so absurd to believe that nonsense that hungry people who have no money and are trying to avoid homelessness or unemployment and can afford maybe a meal a day don’t deserve assistance. Beyond that asinine sentiment is the illogical nature of the idea that that perceived freeloader is ruining it for those who really need the help. How? We clearly can afford to do more and cut more in order to do so, so if you truly believe that someone is unjustly receiving food stamps assistance how can the appropriate response be to slash spending for the program entirely when you are admitting that there are those who truly need its help. In that case, which is the case in reality, the republicans are just shifting blame to imaginary people who are supposedly exploiting loopholes and drying out the food stamp well when actually, lawmakers are the ones that chose to drain that well in the first place. Making a dry well more shallow is not going to yield more water my friends. So, before we debate who should go hungry and who shouldn’t, why don’t we collectively trim the fat from the true freeloaders (the corporations), the morally malnourished (Congress), and the morbidly obese defense contracting subsidiaries. So next time you hear someone say, but what about the national debt? You say to them, “People have to eat, dammit.”