Bill Clinton, and bringing substance to the masses

So the word is out that Bill Clinton rocks at giving a speech (full video). For older readers, this is not anything new. However, I am glad that a generation of people younger than me, with no memory of Clinton (I was 10 1/2 when he left office), got to see him in this context. Sometimes you try to tell your kids or younger friends about an actor or an athlete and their greatness during your formative years- but they’re washed up or alcoholic so the same experience can’t be replicated. But with this speech, you can truly say “this, my friends, is why I like Bill Clinton.”

I should preface this all with the statement that I am not a Democrat, nor am I likely to vote for the President come November. However, I can, like many Republicans and independents, appreciate good speechcraft and a rare moment of substantiative discourse in this vapid, shallow election season.

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The stubbornness of chauvinism

I was directed to a tumblr post that greatly dismayed me. Written by a woman who regularly takes public transit in Los Angeles, it talks about how often he is approached by men who are aggressive and, in the case she recounts in full, deeply threatening and scary.

The point raised is not that sexism is rampant or that men are pigs. Rather it is going to a core idea, for which these things are symptoms. It is the issue of male privilege- the inherent advantages men have in life, regardless of their socioeconomic background. The issue with critiquing them is that most men do not notice these advantages, or dismiss the idea as petty feminism. It is very difficult to cope with an unearned, background aspect of your life.

I was born a white male who, unlike my parents, was raised in a background of privilege rather than working-class self-reliance.  Privilege is embedded in me, and it defines my interactions with other people; particularly, it defines my interactions with people that are not white, well-to-do, and male. Activism, going to a UU church that focuses on inequality and entering public education at the age of 19 have made these interactions more frequent and laden with importance. The evening speech class I am taking this semester has a great many people in menial jobs trying to get a later-life education and improve their chances of moving up. It is quite different from my stint in an expensive and prestigious liberal arts college. Many colleges are cocoons, and they price out a great deal of reality.

Ultimately, what dismays me the most about these posts is that a lot of these men are under forty. I would hope that people whose lives have included the backdrop of modern feminism would refrain from the same callous chauvinism that their fathers and grandfathers had. Seeing someone my own age (three people in the post are mentioned as being about eighteen) act like a sixty year old man is disheartening. While I know that gender relations are still evolving, and should, sometimes I think that at this point we as a society should be further along.

The consequences of a drugged society

This will be the first of a few posts about mental health- from a philosophical, political, and personal viewpoint. I think the issue of mental health is often ignored in parts of Western society- the mentally ill have been marginalized in one way or another.

In 2002, a film featuring Christian Bale was released, called Equilibrium. In short, it’s a terrible movie. However, its premise raises some interesting notions about mental health, and the attempts to keep humans from being self-destructive.

The decades preceding the setting of the film are wracked with large-scale war, racial hatred, and a deterioration of global society. It is determined by the new ruling class that the cause of these tragedies was human emotion. A perfectly rationally constructed society is only as good as the humans themselves. Humans, therefore, are the weak point in the structure, and need to be strengthened.

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Jesus of Nazareth: the first occupier

In the present day, American politics has become deeply entangled confluence with materialist, grand-scale Protestantism. To great aggravation, Christianity has been tied not only to constitutional self-governance (as this recent best-selling painting shows in a way that strongly resembles parody), but the laissez-faire economic system that has segregated its people and eroded liberty over the past two centuries. It has been used to argue for capital punishment, and for centuries has been used to create the idea of “just war”

The issue is that Jesus was not a fan of exploitative commerce. In fact, he led the first occupation- he was the founder of Occupy Jerusalem. In the gospels, he enters the Temple of Jerusalem, where commerce has defiled the holy place. He takes those around him to task, and uses the popular support for his actions to defy authority.

On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves (Mark 11:15)

Later Jesus calls the Temple he cleared a “den of robbers” (Mark 11:17)

 

Jesus occupies the Temple

 

We can all learn from the example of Jesus. The idea of commerce and profit-making entering a place of worship is cringe-worthy- and indeed I have a visceral reaction when I read about megachurches with cafés and merchandise stores. But even if you’re mostly secular like me- there is something that you think should not be messed with; something that must remain pure and not tainted by money. It could be anything from politics to college sports; from education to healthcare. You probably know of some money changers you’d like to drive out.

And that’s really what Occupy is all about. Driving away the money changers, and improving society rather than let profit dominate over people.

People are more important than profits

Thursday evening, I attended a screening of The Healthcare Movie, a new documentary exploring the divergence of the Canadian and American healthcare systems over the past half century. Documentaries like Sicko do rightly point out America’s inferior system- both in financial sustainability and quality of care. The important aspect missing from Sicko is history. Why does the United States not have the same healthcare setup as its economic equals? Why have so many politicians, from Ted Kennedy to Teddy Roosevelt, failed?

There has been historical opposition from the American Medical Association  and in the last fifty years, private insurance companies. The famous Ronald Reagan Speaks Out Against Socialized Medicine (video) was part of an AMA campaign. Since the second Red Scare, connecting universal health insurance with the Soviet Union (or more recently, just saying “socialism” a couple dozen times) has been an effective method of stopping both universal coverage, as well as the initial, much stronger drafts of Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act.

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In the midst of history

Several years ago, in the summer before I started high school, I attended an academic summer program for gifted children. It was a collection of the best my generation had to offer- a collection of pure genius from all around the world.

There were many different classes one could take. Over the previous year, I had moved away from math and science, and became interested in politics and writing- if you read what I wrote at 13 from what I wrote at 14, the change in quality is substantial. I chose a global politics class, taught by an eccentric instructor, Karl, who specialized in the Caucasus, and before this class had spent a semester teaching in Baku, Azerbaijan.

Great discussions were the norm- things from globalization to weapons proliferation, the bloodbath in Chechnya and the stalemate in Israel/Palestine.

What truly touched me, and fills me with deep emotion, is a short video shot by Karl himself. It’s not on the Internet and I assume relatively few people have ever watched it. Simply put, it is history unfolding.

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Leave your fear behind

A way forward, past fear and intimidation

 

A few days ago, I got a package in the mail. It contained a pamphlet, one that is not famous like Common Sense by Thomas Paine, but in the modern world is deeply relevant and useful. It is, simply, a road to revolution.

From Dictatorship to Democracy is the distilled wisdom of Gene Sharp, an 84-year old academic who lives in East Boston. His life has been quiet- he has written no best-selling books, held no prestigious professorships. However, he is the world’s leading expert on nonviolent struggle. He believes that ideas and willpower are more powerful than guns. Through case studies, one learns that even in the face of the worst evil, nonviolence had been used and been used effectively. Fear is what keeps people in line, supporting their autocrats. But if you remove your support, your obedience, then dictatorships crumble before your eyes. Nonviolent struggle is a way to empower people, and give them a way forward, past fear.

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Paul Ryan: Catholic When Convenient

In a 2012 presidential campaign marked by vague promises regarding domestic and foreign policy, August 11th was a day that put ideas front and center. The selection of Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney’s vice-presidential candidate brought a man with a strong, clear ideology into the mix. Whereas Romney has distanced himself from the work he did as an elected official, Ryan stands proud of over a decade of policy proposals and a radical vision for reshaping American institutions.

One of the most interesting parts of Ryan is the disconnect between the teachings of his Catholic faith, and the political and economic ideology he has developed. Firstly, let’s go over Ryan’s positions, and then the considerable criticism from Catholic circles.

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The spectre of slavery

There are 27 million enslaved people in the world today. To put that in perspective, that is more than at any other time in history. It is perhaps the greatest failing of modern societies- every country has abolished slavery, and yet it is an epidemic of unprecedented scale. In the twentieth century, we eradicated smallpox, stopped famine in dozens of countries, and made strong progress against malaria and cholera. It would seem that with technology and international cooperation, we are on the path to ensuring basic standards of living for all people. The Millennium Development Goals – an ambitious set of priorities created by the United Nations, is being met (PDF, look at p. 2 for a good chart) in many instances, or at least there is some progress.

Yet we have failed to stop humans from owning other humans. It is endemic to all continents- from indentured domestic workers in southeast Asia and the Middle East to sexual trafficking in San Francisco. Our own country has never wrestled away the demon that is slavery. Though the war between one half of American and the other eventually declared slavery an abomination, the white plantation society continued working with sharecroppers rather than slaves. California ignored the Thirteenth Amendment and continued to make ‘vagrant’ indigenous people into slaves- well into the 1870s.

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Putting money where your community is

Yesterday, the city of Buffalo moved $45 million of city funds out of megabank JPMorgan Chase and reinvested it in First Niagara, a community bank based in the city itself. The drive to put city funds in local banks and credit unions was led by Occupy Buffalo.

Occupy San Jose in the fall of 2011 also raised the issue of muncipalities placing their funds in banks that aggressively foreclose on struggling families, and push credit cards with high interest rates on the desperate. In the Bay Area, the Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church in San Jose took $3 million out of Bank of America and Wells Fargo and put it in a small community bank. Our good friends at People Acting in Community Together (PACT) were instrumental in getting that to happen. Along with Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), they are aggressive in preventing foreclosures through a variety of means.

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