The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘prejudice’

CONSEQUENCES

I’ve suggested for some time that we live in a society in which the pursuit of irrational self-interest has become the predominant religion.  By irrational self-interest I mean that we view the immediate gratification we receive from an activity as being of far more importance than the ultimate consequences of that behavior.

A simple example would be the person who goes out partying on Saturday night.  She has a good time getting looped, only to blow a 2.0 on the breathalyzer after she wraps her car around a lamp pole on the way home, killing someone waiting at a bus stop and then undergoes a series of plastic surgeries to return her face to something close to what it looked like before the accident.

I believe that if you were to interview anyone who found herself in this situation and asked,  “If you knew how going out and getting drunk would forever change the rest of your life would you still do it?,” she would emphatically respond, “No.”  Of course, by then it’s far too late to alter what has happened.

Society’s response to bad behavior is generally re-active rather than pro-active.  That is because society is made up of people who think in irrationally self-interested ways; elect legislators who think similarly to their constituents and who promulgate laws based on their after the fact mentality rather than trying to construct programs which might minimize the number of incidents for which we then specify a punishment.

I remember that in grammar school, in addition to the academic awards of “Honor Roll” and “High Honor Roll” which were presented to those of us who attained certain levels of proficiency in our studies there was another award that was given called a “Citizenship Award”.  In some ways, I prized this award the most highly.

I knew from my report cards whether I would make the High Honor Roll.  But the Citizenship Award was not measured by test scores and final exams.  It was awarded or withheld based on my conduct throughout the year and was conferred after my teachers and the principal discussed the behavior I had exhibited.

I’m sure there were a lot of factors that went into their determination about which of us students would receive this award.  Perhaps being on time for class was one of the factors and conducting ourselves appropriately during “fire drills” was another.  But these and the other factors that our educators considered all stemmed from one fundamental principle – whether or not we were respectful of ourselves and knew how to extend that respect to our fellow students and those who had devoted themselves to educating us.

Of course, I had a leg up because the same values that I was taught in school were ones that were practiced by my parents at home.  It was natural for me to be courteous and hold the door open for someone or to give up my seat if an elderly person boarded a crowded bus.  I saw my parents do that all the time and I learned from them.

Thirty or forty years ago such behavior was the norm rather than the exception.  I seldom find children with that same outlook today – but then I seldom find it in their parents either, a fact which no doubt contributes to their progenies’ attitudes and behavior.

I would have been shocked to read the story I reviewed this morning if we went back to the time that I was much younger.  This would have been so horrible that I would have wondered whether the media got it right.  How could anyone possibly be so insensitive?  But today, the story that follows is so typical of ones that we read each day that we have become de-sensitized to them.

OHIO MAN SENTENCED TO JAIL AFTER TEASING DISABLED GIRL

“An Ohio man faces one month of jail time for teasing and taunting a 10-year-old girl with cerebral palsy after a video of the incident went viral.”

The story goes on to relate how William Bailey who lives next door to the little girl’s family, “was dragging his leg and patting his arm across his chest [while he was waiting for the school bus] to pick his son Joseph up.”  I asked him to please stop doing this. ‘My daughter can see you.’ He then told his son to walk like the R-word.”

Mr. Bailey is 43 years old.  His son, Joseph is 9.  Last summer this child stopped by to play with the little girl and her siblings in their home.  He brought a pocket knife with him and threatened to “cut up” the disabled child and then began calling her names.  By the way, the little girl who was taunted is named, Hope.

I have always enjoyed reading about the early civilizations which mankind forged together.  I was fascinated by Greek mythology as a child.  Referring back to that, when Pandora’s box was closed and the one remaining virtue left inside was “Hope”, I am afraid that it might have been hermetically sealed.

Advertisements

LABELS

As I sat down to write my latest post – on a totally different subject – I changed direction because I learned of the death of the first woman in space, an American by the name of Dr. Sally Ride.  She was an academically accomplished person, a pioneer in our adventure into the great unknown and a lesbian.

Nigger – Chink – Queer – Spic – Wet Back – Wop – Kike – Guinee.  We’ve all heard these terms and more.  They denigrate the speaker even more than those at whom they are directed.  They are, in my view, terms that should never enter the minds and certainly not the mouths of people of quality or substance.

Dr. Ride did something even more remarkable than being the first woman in space.  She was in a loving relationship that lasted for 27 years until her death on July 23rd.  How many heterosexual couples can make that claim in an era when marriage is a matter of formality rather than a matter of commitment?

I realize that those who have a religious orientation, as I do, may ask the question, is being gay moral or a defamation of God’s law?  To me that bears the same amount of weight as the question, is it moral to be a person whose skin is yellow or red?  Attempting to approach this question from a non-religious and totally logical basis I would ask you this question.

Is being gay or lesbian an inherited trait or an acquired behavior?  If it is the former, then it is no different than being short or tall, black or white, thin or heavy.  But if it is the latter, logic suggests that a person would want to acquire this behavior to experience some positive benefit.  And what positive benefit does a person gain by being gay?  I would welcome my readers’ response to that question because I, despite a fertile imagination, cannot think of any.

I remember one night in September in the early 1980’s I had to go down to bail a friend out of jail.  He had been arrested by the police because he was having a few drinks at a gay bar with some friends when the police raided the place.  This happened with predictable regularity under the regime of Mayor Richard J. Daley, a good Irish Catholic Democrat.  Apparently the Mayor felt that this made his stalwart supporters even more devoted to his cause.

The bar had a license for which it paid the City of Chicago an annual fee.  In addition, it paid for inspections from the city’s Health Department to make sure that it met standards of cleanliness.  The bar paid sales tax to the city on the drinks that it sold.  And despite all the revenue that was derived from an on-going business, the owners of this bar lived in constant fear of a raid.

After the episode which involved my friend, I had the opportunity to meet the owner of this bar.  In speaking with him, he informed me that in addition to all the licensing fees, he also paid an additional amount to various of those in authority (under the table) to minimize the number of the raids that occurred in his place of business.  I wasn’t surprised to hear that.

Isn’t it time that we stopped labeling people?  Isn’t it time that those of us who have a God-based faith really applied its tenets to those we encounter in our every day lives and those who don’t, accept others who are different as a matter of simple civility?

Neither I nor those of you reading this post is guiltless.  We have all done things and left others undone which we regret.  But I know that labeling people is not among my deeds or misdeeds.  Despite that, I am not so virtuous as to be the person to cast the first stone.

Are you?

LET FREEDOM RING

When someone shows exceptional talent, far beyond that with which most of us are gifted, you would think we would celebrate that gift and delight in it.  That is how we view many of our sports heroes and movie stars.  But it has not always been so.

There was a woman born in 1897 in Philadelphia, PA by the name of Marian Anderson.  She was perhaps the greatest classical contralto of the 20th century.  She was a black woman.

Marian Anderson was active in her church’s choir where her aunt noticed her exceptional talent.   She worked with her niece but the family was too poor to be able to afford professional music lessons.  But it was her aunt’s influence which she credited for her pursuing a musical career.  The two of them would go to free concerts whenever the opportunity presented itself.

Because of the accidental death of her father when she was 12 years old, Marian, her mother and two sisters moved in with her paternal grandparents.  The family was unable to send her to high school but years later she did receive her diploma.  She would often be asked to sing a few songs and the twenty-five or fifty cents that she earned would help to sustain the family.

The Pastor of her church and others in the black community saw a star in Marian Anderson and together raised the money that enabled her to take lessons from a private teacher and to attend high school.  In 1921 she graduated and then applied to The Philadelphia Music School but was turned away because of her race.

In 1925 Marian Anderson won a competition that was sponsored by the New York Philharmonic.  It was the break she needed to embark on what would ultimately become an incredibly successful career with glowing reviews from the New York critics.  But racism still held sway even in the liberated north and her career sputtered.

In 1930 she began on a European concert tour, giving her first performance in London.  She found that music lovers on the continent did not share the same racial prejudices as their counterparts back home and for the next four years she enthralled audiences with her performances.

In 1934 she signed as a client with Sol Hurok, the greatest impresario of the 20th century.  He was able to persuade her to return to America and she gave a performance in New York’s Town Hall which received critical acclaim.  But the thing that promoted her career the most, ironically, was racism.

In 1939 she was refused permission to sing in Constitution Hall by the Daughters of the American Revolution because she was colored.  The District of Columbia similarly refused to allow her to perform in the auditorium of an all-white high school.

As a result, then first lady Eleanor Roosevelt and others, angrily resigned from the DAR.  They further persuaded the Secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes to allow her to give an open air concert from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday to a live audience of 75,000 and a radio audience of millions.

The link below will take you to the Secretary’s introduction and to Marian Anderson’s singing “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.”   There is a twenty second pause after Mr. Ickes concludes his speech until we hear Marian Anderson sing.

http://video.search.yahoo.com/video/play;_ylt=A0S00My.ovtPaBcAkpr7w8QF;_ylu=X3oDMTBrc3VyamVwBHNlYwNzcgRzbGsDdmlkBHZ0aWQD?p=youtube+marian+anderson&vid=E4667FC736FEE53231E3E4667FC736FEE53231E3&l=5%3A32&turl=http%3A%2F%2Fts3.mm.bing.net%2Fvideos%2Fthumbnail.aspx%3Fq%3D4618121269280782%26id%3D19a93d12c56bb65c9692eac28a61ed8a%26bid%3D4zEy5f42x39m5A%26bn%3DLargeThumb%26url%3Dhttp%253a%252f%252fwww.youtube.com%252fwatch%253fv%253dAkPI0VKM4Fk&rurl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DAkPI0VKM4Fk&tit=Marian+Anderson+1939+Lincoln+Memorial+Speech+and+Song&c=2&sigr=11aap95t6&

During the Second World War and the Korean conflict, Marian Anderson entertained the troops.  She gave about 70 concerts a year and is widely reported to have been the reason that other black artists like Leontyne Price and Jessye Norman had their opportunity to break into the world of opera.

During the 1960’s she worked in the civil rights movement and became a good friend of Albert Einstein who took her into his home after she was denied a room  by a Princeton, NJ hotel owing to her race.  She stayed with him on several occasions.

In the ensuing years, Marian Anderson was the recipient of many awards, including the Congressional Gold Medal, the George Peabody Medal, and a Grammy for Lifetime Achievement.  She passed away in 1993 at the age of 96 but she left a legacy behind of which all Americans, whatever our color, may be proud.

“Let Freedom Ring.”

IF YOU ‘AFSCME’ I’LL TELL YOU

After 30 years at the helm of AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees), President Gerald McEntee is retiring.  He has overseen this, the largest of the unions representing government workers for an entire generation.  Apparently, there’s job security in being the head of a union – unless you’re Jimmy Hoffa.

Not only is there job security, the pay isn’t bad either.  Mr. McEntee is earning just shy of $400,000 per year.  There are a lot of CEO’s of corporations who would drool at that salary.  But, I guess, since it’s a union and not a for profit corporation that’s okay with those in OWS and among people with similar mindsets.

Mr. McEntee has endorsed one of the two candidates, the union’s Secretary-Treasurer, Lee Saunders who undoubtedly aspires to equaling his bud McEntee’s record of generational leadership.  No doubt he will continue to accept the same salary and continue Mr. McEntee’s practice of taking private jets here and there on matters of union business.  (Did someone say, “Isn’t that former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s preferred method of travel?”)

Pitted against Mr. Saunders in this contest for union supremacy is Mr. Danny Donohue, the head of AFSCME’s New York branch.  Mr. Donohue is campaigning as a reformer – offering to accept a reduction in salary and promising to take commercial plane flights.  As a person who’s tax contributions indirectly pay for those items, I am hoping that Mr. Donohue can carry it off.

Perhaps that last statement confuses you – so allow me to explain.

Unions have one (legal) source of funds.  (Disregard that last sentence if you’ve seen the movie, “On The Waterfront”).  It’s called the dues their members pay in to be a unionist.  Now in the case of a union representing workers in the private sector, these come out of the pockets of the members.  But the case is different when we are talking about government employees.  We the people are the ones who are paying these because it is we who ultimately share the burden of providing both for the income and welfare of these individuals.

Mr. McEntee and his cohorts in the other public unions have done their job quite well on behalf of their members (and all of us who pay any kind of federal, state or municipal tax should be given credit for this achievement).  The current average benefits package for these employees now exceeds $44,000 per year – and you and I, my fellow American taxpayers are footing the bill.

Of course, what AFSCME does is more or less up to its members – in theory.  I hope that no external influence is brought to bear over this election.  But it does give me pause when I think that the union is supposedly going to “donate” to the re-election campaign of President Obama and other Democratic worthies to the tune of approximately $100 million.  So those of you who were thinking about sending President BHO a check for $3 or so to get him re-elected needn’t bother.  It’s being done for you.

Mr. Saunders, if he is successful, would also be the first African-American president of AFSCME – but I hope that we have laid the issue of race to rest as a BFOQ. (That’s government-speak for Bona Fide Occupational Qualification).  At least the intelligent voters I know have done so.

I shall watch the election with interest to see whether AFSCME subscribes to the philosophy espoused by the late 43rd Ward Alderman, Paddy Bauler when he said, “Chicago ain’t ready for reform,” or whether they follow a more inspired path.  I’m sure you will be watching too.

After all, it’s our tax dollars “at work”.

MERE CHRISTIANITY

The book “Mere Christianity” by C. S. Lewis had a profound impact on me.  In it, Mr. Lewis who had changed his view of life from that of atheism to embrace  Christianity in its Anglican expression explained his view of what it meant to be a Christian.  In essence, it meant to be accepting and non-judgmental of others.

I was floored that a minister in North Carolina has figured out a way to resolve the “problem of homosexuals and lesbians.”  His solution is “to round them all up and put them in an area surrounded by an electrified fence.”  I have included a link to this story and the video of his “sermon” on the subject.

http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/lookout/pastor-delivers-anti-gay-rant-suggests-building-electric-142753831.html

In order to hold to my principle of being accepting and non-judgmental of others, after I saw this I can only say that if this truly is what Christianity is all about, I guess I read the wrong book.

J. P. MORGAN CHASE’S $2 BILLION TRADING LOSS

It was mid-June, 1994 when I walked in the door of my office to be greeted by my always-cheery receptionist who said, “Good morning.  What do you think about O.J.?”   I believe I responded, “Well, it’s a work day so we can’t add vodka to it and, besides, it tends to make my stomach a little sour.  Tomato juice would be better.”

She looked at me as though I were from Mars and said, “No, about O. J. Simpson’s wife and friend being murdered.”  As I hadn’t caught the evening news or seen a newspaper headline that morning, this was all truly news to me.  Little did I realize that she was asking me about what would be the largest media circus and most talked about piece of television broadcasting that would grip the country for many months to come.

I have never understood why people are so intrigued by other peoples’ misfortunes.  If it were up to me, there would be no audience for soap operas whether fictional or factual.  We all have enough dirty laundry of our own to fill several hampers to the full.  But I guess that’s how many of us elevate ourselves – taking comfort in the downfall of others thus diverting ourselves away from how we might improve our own lives.

Well, within just a day or so of the news release about the murders, I can honestly say that virtually every friend and acquaintance had formulated an opinion about whether Mr. Simpson were guilty or innocent.  They had not heard a single word of testimony nor been presented with a piece of evidence – but they had formulated their opinion.  This is what is known as “prejudice” – something most of us say is abhorrent yet something in which we actually often engage.

With J. P. Morgan Chase’s CEO Jamie Dimon’s announcement that the financial firm had suffered a $2 Billion trading loss in the most recent quarter to be reported, it didn’t surprise me that this story took on some of the same qualities as the one involving the murders of Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman.

People who think the banks are predatory (and that is many) began wagging their fingers and saying, “See, these SOB’s need more regulation.  Here we go again with ‘too big to fail’.”  But the fact is that – well, we don’t know the facts – and any judgment that any of us makes at this point is simply prejudice speaking.  Since I have actively supported a capitalistic viewpoint of economics, it is not a surprise that I heard from a number of people who hold an alternate view.

By way of full disclosure, I do not have any financial relationship with J. P. Morgan Chase.  I neither own nor am short their stock or bonds; I do not have a checking, savings, money market or credit card account with the firm; I do not have any personal loans a mortgage or IRA’s with them.  In other words I have absolutely no personal interest (other than as it may affect the overall financial system) with the company.  Having said that, I believe I am in a position to view this loss in an unbiased manner.

It is the nature of trading financial instruments whether those are stocks, bonds, commodities, currencies, options or any other sort of derivatives to take losses on a regular basis.  Obviously, if you don’t also take profits which are greater than the losses, you ultimately go out of business.  As it turns out, the $2 Billion which Chase took represented a reduction of their quarterly profit by about twenty-five percent.  In other words, the company earned $8 Billion after the loss.

Why this came to everyone’s attention was not that it was a loss but because it was an extremely large loss.  If this had been a $2 Billion profitable trade, none of us would ever have heard about it – it would simply have been included in the company’s earnings statement and we would have to find some other scandal to which we could turn our attention.

But step back from the world of finance for a minute since many of you may not be acquainted with its inner workings – and look at a different form of trading to which we can all relate.  In this case I offer the example of women’s apparel.

A buyer for a major department store chain decides that “hot pink ladies tank-tops” are going to be all the rage this summer season.  So she purchases an overly-large quantity of these, trading the store’s dollars for merchandise.  Sadly, lime green not hot pink is the sensational color this year and the merchandise she has purchased sits unsold within the store’s outlets.  In order to recoup the firm’s investment she authorizes markdowns in the hot pink tops – first twenty percent then forty percent then half off – but she still has an extensive inventory and finally sells the remaining inventory to a discounter – suffering a loss on this unfortunate purchase.

Now in the case of the buyer, there is no Federal regulator overseeing the transaction – only the upper echelon hierarchy of her store – who will, no doubt have a conversation with her about this purchase.   If I were in her boss’ position, before I engaged in that conversation I would look at her overall track record with the store and gauge her performance not solely based on this one event but on her overall skills.  I would examine the facts before reaching a conclusion.

Mr. Dimon has a reputation for a certain feistiness – and I’m sure has a fairly good-sized ego.  I have no doubt that having to make the statement about this loss was a significant embarrassment for him and the firm is internally looking at the circumstances surrounding it.  Clearly, if they had better internal controls and risk management systems, it might not have happened at all.  But it did – and as I can think of nobody who enjoys taking a $2 Billion loss, I am sure that even as I write this the firm is addressing the problem.  But is that enough?  Or is this just an example of why the banks need to be further regulated?

There is no question that certain regulations are good.  I frequently refer in these posts to laws governing our use of motor vehicles because this is something to which we can all relate.  Does it make sense to reduce the speed limit in areas where our children are on their way to school?  It makes sense to me.  Does it make sense to require that we come to a complete halt at a Stop sign.  Sure.  But as good as these provisions are, they are meaningless unless they are enforced.

It is just the same in the world of regulating financial institutions.  We might write the most efficient regulations that can be conceived – but if they are not enforced they have absolutely no value.  And to whom does this responsibility fall?  The answer is that the SEC is responsible for this oversight.  So let’s look at the job they are doing.

Let’s go back to 2009 and Bernie Madoff – do you remember him?  He created the largest Ponzi scheme in the history of the world – ultimately costing his investors an estimated $18 Billion dollars – nine times the trading loss at Chase.  Mr. Madoff’s activities were subject to the scrutiny of the SEC.

Despite the fact that they had received complaints from Mr. Harry Markopolos among others as much as ten years earlier, the SEC found nothing wrong in the way Mr. Madoff conducted business.  In fact, Mr. Madoff came to justice not because of the SEC’s efforts – but because he openly admitted to his deception and turned himself in.  He is currently serving a one hundred fifty year sentence.

Did the SEC have sufficient regulatory authority to bring Mr. Madoff to justice a decade before he admitted to his crime?  They certainly did.  Did they do their jobs in enforcing those regulations?  They certainly did not.  If they had, countless billions might have been saved those investors who were subsequently defrauded – an amount that would make the Chase trading loss look like small potatoes.

So before we go on a witch hunt and start screaming for yet more regulations to protect us from predatory financial institutions, why don’t we look at those who already have the power to oversee these firms and evaluate the quality of the job they are doing with their present authority.  If they are not enforcing the regulations which are already on the books, what could possibly make us believe they would do any better with new ones?

Perhaps that’s the real answer to financial reform and regulation.

ON BEING LEFT-HANDED

 During much of the last century, it was common practice in the school systems, both parochial and public, to try to “train” children who were left-handed into becoming right-handed. (Fortunately, I never had to undergo this training as I’m one of the ninety percent of us who naturally writes with their right hand).

This view that someone who is “different” is somehow less of a person or is doing something wrong is rooted not in fact but in superstition. It is not unlike the medieval belief that people who were red-headed were the spawn of the devil – or at least in frequent contact with him.

But the prejudice against left-handed people far precedes the advent of Christianity. While I never expected my tutoring in Latin would have much of a role in my life, let’s go back to that ancient language for a moment.

The Latin word for left is “sinister.” If you look that word up in a thesaurus, you will find the following synonyms – menacing, villainous, base, dark, black, ominous, criminal, corrupt.

The Latin word for right is “dexter.” If you look up dexterous the given synonyms are adroit, able, expert, professional, skillful, talented, masterly.

Co-incidentally, not only are approximately ten percent of our citizens left-handed, it has been estimated that about the same percent are homosexual. I have read a number of studies on this subject that suggest people who are left-handed are ten times more likely to be homosexual than those of us who are right-handed.

This post came about for two reasons.

The first was an outing to the dog park yesterday. The second was an article that I read on Yahoo this morning.

As Gracie, (now cured of the kennel cough she picked up) was romping with some of her friends, I happened to pass two guys whom I had not seen before. As I walked by them one of these fellows made the statement, “Well – what do you expect? After all, he’s a faggot.”

Had I known these two men I would have stopped and made a comment. As it was, I simply turned to them and gave them a look. I consider that statement as offensive as if they had substituted any sort of racial or ethnic epithet in the place of “faggot.”

The second reason for this post is because of a new Turkish movie entitled, “ZENNE Dancer.” It is a story based on a real life “honor killing,” supposedly committed by a religiously conservative father against his only son who was involved in a homosexual relationship.

There are people of good conscience who have radically different views on the subject of homosexuality – some considering it a “learned behavior”, others believing that it is the inevitable outcome of the way that our Creator has made some of us. Both sides are impassioned in their views.

When dealing with emotional issues, I try to remove myself from the emotion and look at things in a logical manner. I seldom find that emotion leads me to finding good answers to life’s questions.

So I thought about the first theory on homosexuality – that it is a “learned behavior.”

My first question was, “Why would anyone want to learn this behavior? What advantages would the pupil achieve by learning how to be a gay man or lesbian woman?”

Frankly, I couldn’t think of any – though I would invite any readers of this post to offer their suggestions. Quite to the contrary, being a member of the LGBT community has significant disadvantages. Those include lack of property rights, spousal benefits, and of course the most obvious, the general scorn from the ninety percent of us who are uncomfortable with these “different” people.

Taking the second view, that people who are homosexual are that way because God has created them so may pose challenges to those who are strict biblical constructionists. But, if that is the case, then they are no more or less “guilty” than is a person who is born black, or white or Hispanic or left-handed.

Human consciousness and understanding is a work in progress. Five hundred years ago, Galileo was forced to recant his discovery and belief that the earth revolved around the sun. And at that time, the “correct” understanding of the world was that it was flat.

Perhaps one day, we will have evolved sufficiently to extend our hand in friendship not only to those who are of a different color or faith but of a different sexual orientation than our own.

Not to do so is to engage in behavior that I can only describe as sinister.

 

 

Tag Cloud