Friday, December 29, 2017

Wasting Your Hard-Earned Money at McDonalds

It’s lunch time and either your children are clamoring for McDonalds or you want a dependable fast meal.  It used to be that McDonalds was a place to feed yourself and your family cheaply, getting some reasonable nutritional value although accompanied by too much sugar and carbs.

Today I was on the Massachusetts Turnpike and went to a McDonalds in a service area.  I hadn’t been to a McDonalds for several years and when I looked up at the menu board, I couldn’t believe what I saw.  A fish filet meal cost almost $10, and the various burger and chicken options were close to $11.  This is what you would pay for a high quality sandwich at many cafes or a burger, albeit usually without fries.

In 2002, the cost of a Filet-o-Fish sandwich was $1.89.  Today it was over $5.  A Big Mac was $2.39. today it was around $6.  So in the last 15 years, there was an increase of almost 200% for the fish fillet sandwich, and more than 150% for the Big Mac.  

How did that happen?  Given that the cost of ground beef and fish filets in the grocery store have barely increased during that same time, and that the cost of living has increased only 37% during that period, what can account for this huge increase?  

I’d say it was corporate greed, knowing they could get away with it because their consumer would pay what was charged without giving it any thought.  More recently, there have been increased labor costs in certain markets because of an increase in the minimum wage.  These have, of course, been passed on to the consumer.  One certainly couldn’t expect the corporation to eat the increased expense and have profits reduced!  It’s still ultimately corporate greed.

The time has come for the American public to stand up and say, “NO!”  If we’re going to spend this kind of money … a family of 4 could easily spend $40+ for lunch … we’re going to get real, more nutritious, food in a more comfortable environment.  If you're an adult who is eating on the fly, slow down.  Taking some time to breathe while eating is important for your health.

For those of us traveling on the interstates, we really don’t have much choice.  We’re a captive audience because finding a decent place off the road is not easy; most options near interchanges are going to be other fast food options.  So we have to grin and bear it.  But if you’re not traveling the interstates, there is no excuse to spend that much money for the product received.

Monday, December 11, 2017

American Spirit v American Character

Recently I saw two very interesting and seemingly inconsistent interviews.  The one was with David McCullough about his book, The American Spirit.  The other was with Kurt Andersen about his book, Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History.  

McCullough talks about the American spirit in familiar terms.  It is based on the aspirations of the Declaration of Independence and those of the Founding Fathers:  equality, fairness, truth.  He spoke of the men who have lead this country as, for the most part, having had a certain gravitas.  They may not have always been wise or even good presidents, but they understood the responsibility, not just the power, of their office.  

A blurb for the books says: “The American Spirit reminds us of core American values to which we all subscribe, regardless of which region we live in, which political party we identify with, or our ethnic background.”  I certainly believe in those core American values and in their importance in guiding our country, witness my book, We STILL Hold These Truths.  However, I would not say that all American’s subscribe to these values.  Hardly.  And that is not just a fact today; it has always been a fact.

That brings me to Andersen’s book.  His argument is that the American character is composed of two very different strains.  On the one hand you have the religious fundamentalists, starting with the Puritans, who were beyond fervent in their often fantastical beliefs and would brooke no disagreement.  To believe was to be right.  As the population spread westward, religion followed often in the form of ministers who were hucksters, making show biz out of religion.

The other strain was formed by those who came to America searching for a pot of gold.  To them it was a land of opportunity, a chance to become rich.  There was no truth for them beyond the quest for money.

In both cases, he argues, fantasy was a core aspect of people’s belief system and character.  And they believed in their own truths.  I don’t know if Andersen makes this point, but I would say that this character is very much a self-centered one in both cases.

McCullough looks at the current political scene as an aberration from our historic spirit.  Andersen looks at it as the logical culmination of our historic character.

They are both right.  How can that be?  The tendencies that Andersen sees in our history have indeed always been there; the evidence is ample.  But for most of our history, the political and media establishment adhered, at least in form, to the higher American spirit.  The quote from John Adams that is inscribed on a mantle in the East Room of the White House says it all: “May none but Honest and Wise Men ever rule under This Roof.”  

And the power and prevalence of that establishment kept the lid on the unruly character of the people.  Even the largest corporations, which until the early 1900s were a law unto themselves, came to be regulated to enforce standards of fairness, equality, and truth.

But the political and social movements of the 60s upended much.  Everyone became entitled to their own truths and authority became suspect.  Watergate reinforced this.  Reagan legitimized this movement with his, “Government is the problem,” and the start of the Me generation.  Then, with cable television and the internet, the avenues for people to both express and listen to their own truths, their own facts, morphed exponentially.  Fantasy and hucksterism became the lifeblood of conservative talk radio.  And that has brought us today to the presidency of Donald Trump.

With pandora’s box opened, will we ever be able to return to a world where the American spirit prevails over the self-centered character of the people?  Painfully, it is hard to imagine.  The judgments and emotions are running so strong

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Exposing the Predator in Chief

In the midst of the tsunami of allegations of sexual harassment and assault against a variety of public figures and their resulting fall from power, I kept wondering where is the media’s coverage of the allegations against Donald Trump?

Finally, The Atlantic recently recounted the accusations of each of the nineteen women who have in the past made allegation against Trump. Given that in the Access Hollywood tape he boastingly states that he has committed such assaults in the past … as he put it, “When you’re a star, you can do anything” … he must be held to account, just as the other’s have.

At the time the tape was made public, he did not raise questions about its veracity, but now he says it wasn’t his voice.  And so Billy Bush has come forward and stated that it was Trump who made those statements and that there were 8 witnesses.

Republicans took President Clinton to task for his sexual lapses or predation in the impeachment proceedings.  Donald Trump invited several of Clinton’s accusers to be his guests at the second presidential debate.

Where are the Republicans now when their own leader appears clearly guilty of such misbehavior?  To them everything is political.  They were against raising the deficit when it was part of Obama’s plan to help the economy.  Now that they are in charge, they have no problem with raising the deficit.  They speak against Democrats who have been accused of sexual harassment and call on them to be censured or resign, yet they support Roy Moore in his candidacy for a Senate seat.  

These are more example of Republican hypocrisy.  But the mainstream media cannot be a part of that hypocrisy.  The New York Times and all the major newspapers and media outlets must cover this story in thorough detail, following The Atlantic’s lead.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Is It Justice to Apply Social Standards Retroactively?

We have recently seen a rash of accusations against public figures involving various levels of sexual harassment/assault.  Most have been fired by their employers or Boards.  Only Roy Moore continues to receive unqualified support from both the Alabama Republican Party and his base.

That these acts were committed is beyond disappointing.  To become aware of the extent to which women are subjected to these types of actions, even by respected, upstanding people, both liberal and conservative, is a shock.  

As women have come forward and received a receptive hearing, more women have been empowered and found the courage to come forward with their own stories.  This is a healthy development.   Too long have women feared speaking the truth against men with power over them.  

The question is, what should society, what should organizations/employers do in the face of such accusations.  There is no question that society is quickly developing a new standard as to what is considered acceptable behavior of men towards women.  

While some have always abhorred such behavior, society as a whole has accepted the fact that “men are pigs” and that they do such things.  As long as they didn’t cross the line of criminal sexual assault or the age of consent barrier, society just shrugged its shoulder.

That is clearly no longer the case.  The question is, should people be punished … and firing someone from their job is being punished … for behavior which at the time, while reprehensible, was accepted by society.  Should these standards be applied retroactively?

When laws are passed, they are almost always applied prospectively.  Someone cannot be accused and convicted of a crime when the activity was not a crime at the time it happened.  That is the way the criminal justice system works; that is essential to its fairness.

I think the same standard should be applied here.  If someone’s behavior was either criminal or clearly unacceptable under community standards at the time it occurred, then if the accusation has indicia of truth, the person should be held accountable, punished.  

However, if the behavior was not criminal or unacceptable under contemporary standards, then the new standards should not be applied retroactively.  The person should, however, offer an abject apology and admit that the complained-of behavior occurred. And they should be called on the carpet and told that if this ever happens again they will be fired.

With regard to someone who is up for election, however, such as Roy Moore, it is for the people to decide whether someone with such a history should receive their vote.  A history of sexual harassment or assault is certainly relevant when one is seeking a position of public trust.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Hypocrisy of the New Republicans

I have written often regarding the hypocrisy of what I am calling “New Republicans.”  Republicans used to be conservatives of the old school, the party of business and commerce, and they made no bones about it.  Yes, they felt that such policies would lift up the entire country, but they did not try and sell themselves as the party of the people, the working man.  

The new Republicans, however, and not just President Trump (it started with Reagan), present themselves as the party that has the best interests of the average American, working-class Americans, at heart.  This is pure hypocrisy.  One just has to look at all their actions and policies; it is all about enriching business and commerce. (George W.’s immigration and education policies, which were in line with his pitch of compassionate conservatism, were an aberration.) They still insist that trickle-down economics and deregulation work for the average person despite the proof of past experience that they do not.  

But the new Republicans have entered an even more outrageous area of hypocrisy … moral values.  Prior to George W., Republicans presented themselves as upstanding people and they typically were, but they did not flog everyone with their moral righteousness.  Ever since Evangelicals have taken a firm hold of Republican politics, however, Republicans have cranked up the rhetoric against abortion and gay rights and generally have presented themselves as paragons of Christian virtue and morals.

Yet time and again we find that when it comes to choosing between upholding Christian virtue and morals or achieving their political aims … conservative justices, anti-abortion policy, push back on gay rights … they will look the other way when faced with morally offensive actions of their candidates out of the hope of achieving political victory.  Certainly the candidacy of Donald Trump was and his presidency continues to be a prime example.  

One of the more egregious examples of this behavior regards Roy Moore, the former Alabama Supreme Court justice and candidate for the U.S. Senate.  After numerous women came forward and stated publicly that they were harassed or molested by Moore when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s, the Alabama Republican establishment has stood solidly behind him.  

The most outrageous statement has come from the Alabama State Auditor who felt there was nothing wrong in what Moore did, saying that after all Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an established carpenter in his 30s. Forgetting about the fact that the story goes that Mary was a virgin, to site a social practice from 2000 years ago to justify actions today is beyond belief.  I guess it would be ok to go back to stoning people to death who are guilty of all sorts of crimes!

Democrats on the other hand have given no slack to liberals who have been accused of harassment in recent times.  Whether it’s Representative Wiener or Harvey Weinstein or Senator Franken or Kevin Spacey, they have all been roundly criticized and Democrats have been supportive of bringing them to justice.  They were not hypocritical, as Republicans accuse, for not calling for President Clinton’s impeachment after the Monica Lewinsky affair.  Clinton’s actions were in fact roundly deplored by Democrats at the time, but those actions did not rise to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors for which impeachment is appropriate.

It is past time for the “holier than thou” crowd to walk the walk and not just talk to talk.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

My Prayer for Born Again Christians

The Born Again Christian movement is a major component of evangelical Christianity.  One website describes being born again as “becoming children of God through trust in the name of Jesus Christ.”  It is a spiritual renewal.  Often born-again individuals talk about having a personal relationship with Jesus.  In the 1990s, many adopted the slogan “What would Jesus do?” as a guide to their lives.

What a transformed world this would be if indeed Evangelical Christians saw themselves and the world around them through the eyes of Jesus.  Jesus believed in those oppressed by society, for example beggars, lepers, and prostitutes.  On the other hand, he spoke out against the evil influence of the love of money and wealth.  He said that the meek shall inherit the earth, meaning those who are not filled with ego and who assert themselves not for their own gain but for the benefit of others.

If Jesus were alive today, there is no question but that he would fight against the extreme inequality in the world, whether it regards income, education, opportunity, access to health care, housing … anything essential to well-being.  He would be against all prejudice and discrimination based on color.  He would be against the pursuit at all costs of money, success, and power, often trampling on the welfare of others.

As to the two issues Evangelicals are most fervent about, abortion and homosexuality, Jesus was silent despite both of these “sins” being present during the era in which he lived.  Abortion was in fact legal under Roman law and had been practiced since ancient times.   A Christian bible reference site says, "Surprisingly, abortion is never mentioned in the Bible."  It goes on to say that the various passages often cited as support for the pro-life position were by their context clearly not intended to speak to the issue of abortion.

Given all the things that Jesus and the gospels commented on, the omission of any reference to abortion is indeed surprising and, one could argue, definitive.  Clearly, it was not something that either Jesus or the gospel writers felt strongly about.  So even if one reckoned that he was probably against abortion in “normal” circumstances ... that is to say not rape or incest or threat to the mother's life ... there is no support for the virulent nature of the pro-life movement.

Again homosexuality was not uncommon in Jesus' time and was the case since ancient times.  While one can't say from silence that he approved of homosexuality, one certainly has no justification today for the virulent Evangelical position against it.  Further, I think there is evidence that he would not be 
against homosexuality because he looked into people’s souls and believed in the power of love.  After all, he welcomed Mary into his fold despite the fact that prostitution was a violation of the commandment against adultery and punishable by death under the laws of the Old Testament. 

In fact, Jesus frequently encouraged his followers to not follow the letter of the law of the Old Testament, which Evangelicals cherry-pick for their convenience.  For example, following it on men lying with men being an abomination, but not following it regarding adultery and many other sins that were punishable by death.  It’s either all the word of God and thus immutable and to be followed to the letter, or it’s all subject to interpretation.

The tragedy of born again Christians is that the Jesus they are in direct contact with is not this Biblical Jesus.  Nor are they in touch with the divinity that is within us all, that they were born with, as taught by the mystical tradition of Christianity (Gnosticism) as well as the mystical traditions of all the Abrahamic faiths.  (See my post, “Ever Wonder Why the World Is the Way It Is?”)  

Instead, they are in touch with Jesus as he has been interpreted by their teachers.  And that Jesus is a very different Jesus from the soul revealed in the New Testament.  Jesus was a very gentle, tolerant man, except when it came to the evils of lusting after money.  Evangelicals as a rule, however, are neither gentle nor tolerant and they view wealth as a valid goal.

My prayer is that Evangelicals turn to the Jesus who is revealed by his words and truly do what Jesus would do.  See themselves and the world around them through the eyes of Jesus.  Then not just they will be truly reborn, but by example they will lead to the rebirth of all, regardless of faith.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

America’s Ongoing Tragedy

I am not a fool nor do I avoid unpleasant truths.  I have always been well aware that, despite the stirring words of the Declaration of Independence and the many laws that have been passed over the years to decrease the instances of discrimination faced by our Black fellow citizens, Black Americans continue to face a life experience full of prejudice and discrimination.  Many of my posts refer to this fact of life in America.

Recently, though, I finished reading the classic W. E. DuBois book, The Souls of Black Folk.  This book has done for me what no newspaper article about a police shooting or hate crime or poverty could do.  It has allowed me to feel the souls of Black Americans through its first-hand depiction of black life from slavery through the end of the 19th century.  

It has allowed me to experience the hope that they experienced with emancipation and each following promise of equality.  And the ultimate devastating realization that each hope was an illusion.  

And I’m not just talking about the Southern experience.  While the Northern experience was different, better, in many ways, pervasive prejudice and discrimination was still present.

This post will not again list the instances of both government … even Federal … as well as private prejudice and discrimination.  Suffice it to say that despite an improvement in the living standard of Black Americans over the years, the lives of most remain mired in poverty, degraded living conditions, and inadequate education.  Even for those who have “made it” and are solidly middle-class, they still face constant prejudice and discrimination.

We … both the government and the dominant white culture … owe Black Americans, finally, a real chance to be part of the American dream, not just materially, but to live in a country where, in the words of the Declaration, “all men are created equal … and have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  To live in a country that offers true equal opportunity to all its citizens.

How do we get there from where we are now and have always been?  To achieve true equality, a country must be free of prejudice and discrimination.  That’s a tall order given our history and current state.

We must first acknowledge that this prejudice and resulting discrimination has very deep roots and exists throughout our society.  The South may be more infamous for this, but it exists everywhere.  Even the most liberal among us has some racial prejudice within him, if he can be honest.

It was thought by many, or at least some policy wonks, that integration, especially of the schools, would reduce if not eliminate prejudice and discrimination.  And while that has to some extent been the case, that effect has been too limited, too localized, and very inefficient.

The whole experience with multiculturalism did not work either.  While it bolstered self-identification and pride, it reinforced or even created a feeling of difference between groups.  It was in many ways counter-productive.

No, the country must do what it should have done at the end of the Civil War, and what we forced Germany to do at the end of WWII.  We must approach the question of slavery and racism the way we forced Germany to approach their Nazi past and anti-semitism.

I can hear people arguing that people are different now; things aren’t as they were at the end of the Civil War.  Yet on many important dimensions that reflect our attitude about race, we really aren’t much further along than we were then.  Yes, we have many laws on the books.  But the attitude of people and society has nevertheless not fundamentally changed.  Something may not be politically correct anymore, but it is still present behind closed doors.  The country is full of unreconstructed racists and Southern revanchists.

The pillars of the de-nazification program in Germany were: education and keeping Nazis out of government and cultural leadership positions.  Education had two principle components.  One was sticking the noses of the German population in the facts of “the Jewish solution.”  Whether it was watching documentary footage or being led through concentration camps, every German of every age was forced to face the inhumane horror that their government and their fellow citizens, including often their family members, had visited upon Jews and other people that had been classified as undesirable or subhuman by the Nazis.  

The other education component was producing material for students of all ages that both debunked Nazi propaganda about the Jews and others and put forth the facts of the important role that Jews and others had played in the development of Germany, both its culture and economy.

Regarding the job action, to keep Nazis out of important government and other leadership positions, all Germans had to complete the Fragebogen, which inquired into their activities during the Hitler period.  The idea was that Nazi perspectives should not creep into the new government.  While that was indeed achieved, it is the case that many ex-Nazis made it into government and other positions, often with the knowledge of the allies.  They just didn’t bring their Nazi-era beliefs with them.  I should note that with the pressure of the Cold War and the program’s unpopularity amongst Germans, the program was dropped in 1951.

So how could we apply this German experience to our own history of slavery and racism?  If someone argues that the two situations are not at all comparable and my suggestion is off the wall, I would respond that they really don’t understand the impact of slavery and racism in America.

I am not going to attempt to describe what such programs would look like or how one could keep racists out of important positions.  I will just say that with regards to education, it is important that racial stereotypes be debunked as not having to do with race but with slavery.  For example, DuBois addresses the sexual looseness of many Blacks and the extent of single-parent (female) families.  He notes that this stems from the slavery experience not a racial characteristic.  

Marriage between slaves was not permitted.  Men and women were encouraged to co-habit and have children, thus producing new slaves, but there was no formality, no permanence to the relationship.   These were socially loose relationships.  Either the master could separate the man and woman at will or the man could cohabit with another woman, which was encouraged by the system.  

While the end of slavery and the influence of Black churches helped build the concept of the Black two-parent family, the forces of economics, prejudice, and the slavery experience/training kept the number of stable two-parent Black families down. The pattern which was established during 200 years of slavery is thus to a large extent still with us.

Other aspects of ghetto life are the result of ongoing prejudice and discrimination, not, as many especially on the right would have it, Black culture.  Drugs, crime, poverty, terrible living conditions are not the fault of Blacks or Black culture. They are the direct result of the prejudice and discrimination that continues to exist.  Yes, Blacks could do more to address these plagues, but they cannot be faulted.  They have been beaten down for more than four centuries.

My point is that we do not just need a discussion of race.  We need something far more drastic to once and for all root out the prejudice and discrimination that exists in all corners of our society.  Only then will the dream of Martin Luther King be fulfilled: “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’”