Thursday, July 4, 2013

Happy 4th of July!

Happy 4th of July!

On this day of celebration I wish to add my contribution of gratitude for all of those who have served our country in the defense of our freedoms! I also wish to add my support and well wishes to all of those who are fighting that same fight today.

In addition, I am especially grateful for the patriots who have come along at various points in history to remind us that we have allowed control of our lives to be given up to others who would wish to exercise control over us without our full understanding and consent. The founding fathers were initially seen as traitors to the established government in their day. They had to act because they simply could not stand by and watch any longer while tyrants took, what they saw as, those freedoms rightfully belonging to the people away and replaced them with permissions and privileges.

I'm not sure why it has happened, but what I know for sure is that it has happened. What has happened is our inherent rights have gradually been usurped and replaced for benefits and privileges. We have surely become convinced that these are necessary for us to maintain our freedoms. HOGWASH! Our freedoms have existed prior to all of these and do continue to exist to this day. Unfortunately, however, we all pretty much feel that to stand up and speak out in defense of our inherent freedoms will land us in jail. It is this fear that keeps us all in line for the most part.

What is so amazing is the complete and total lack of any organized effort to do something about the wrongs we all know exist, and talk about with such regularity, that make us so disgusted with our current government and elected representatives. For some reason we have it in our mind that to do something patriotic would just require too much effort, too much sacrifice and there is little chance that it would all make much difference. Of course, we are all probably right about this and we will all likely have to wait for things to get much worse before we actually decide to do anything severe about it. But my question would be; How much worse can things actually get?

Here are my disconcerting observations, which I will follow with a few suggestions of little things we might be able to do to actually make a difference:

Disconcerting observation #1:
Way too many people are in prison in this country! Not only that, but our prison populations are represented by a majority of those who are in poverty or are in racial minorities. The United States actually has the largest percentage of it's population in prison compared to any other country in the world! Of course, a common response I hear frequently to this is that we are the only country in the world that has the patience to put people in jail, while most other countries just execute their wrongdoers. While I suppose this may be true in those countries ruled by tyrannical dictators (or regime's that don't have much regard for the sanctity of human life), it is not the case in those countries that are more progressive than the United States. I have a sneaking suspicion that there are potentially some other reasons this is the case and I think it has something to do with money. I also believe that the ability of our systems of incarceration in this country to actually reform those who have committed crimes is woefully insufficient. Not only that, but the number of people in prison for victim-less crimes (such as traffic code violations, drug possession - not using mind you - just possession and weapons charges - again not actually using the weapon, just carrying or having in possession without the required permits or permissions) is unacceptably high.

So, what can we do about it:
1. We can advocate, and lobby our elected representatives, to do away with any jail time for victim-less crimes. Violations without an actual victim should never result in time in jail. Instead, we should advocate a sort of 3 strikes and you have to pay a fine type of system. Too many families and otherwise potentially productive lives are destroyed because of jail time (not to mention court fees and fines) over a mere infraction which does not have any victim or harm actually committed. This would result in police having to document 3 warnings given out to code violators before they can actually issue a citation where the person could incur a fine.

2. We can also advocate for additional resources (saved by not incarcerating code violators) to be devoted to actual mental health assistance or counseling for inmates to allow them to actually receive needed help in achieving reformation. We should also be advocating for more mental health resources devoted to the private sector to hopefully eradicate the problems that could result from those that suffer from various levels of mental health issues, who may be more likely to commit actual crimes.

Disconcerting observation #2:
The rich are getting richer, the middle class and poor are getting poorer! I don't think I really need to say anything more about this, but I will anyway. Obviously, it is not the observed outcome we tend to have disagreement on, but it is the possible solutions that we can't agree on that stifle our action on this front. Unfortunately, I think this problem is the result of apathy on the part of all Americans. We have let ourselves get in a position of ignorance as it relates to what money is and how it works in this country. We have allowed ourselves to be told by others how things work and what we must do about it. This is the main reason the wealthy have so much wealth; most achieved it through knowing something that others didn't and the disparity of information was capitalized on to their gain. The government is doing the same thing to us. I suspect they have a few secrets they have kept over the years from us as it relates to our money. This information is keeping us all from enjoying the abundance we all know is possible if we could just gain a little perspective, information and responsibility in this area.

What we can do about it:
I really like the universe of Star Trek as an inspiration for a potential solution to this problem. In the world of Star Trek there is no money. Everybody understands two things in the world of Star Trek; 1. There is no medium of exchange besides your contribution to the society at large and 2. That everyone's contributions to the society as a whole allow everyone to have more than they would ever need in terms of stuff they might want (as well as some advanced technology that make providing for basic needs of life a mere command to a computer system somewhere). Obviously, there are those who take more than they contribute in the world of Star Trek, but in that world I think they have figured out that this is OK, as long as the cultural conditioning remains intact that keeps most people convinced that these kinds of selfish behaviors only result in a drag on the system and are not ultimately worthwhile for the good of the whole society.

To take a cliche from John F. Kennedy, we need to ask not what government can provide to us, but instead ask what we can contribute to society. I don't know if this small shift in thinking is actually possible or not, but I think if we all could begin to see the potential of this kind of attitude shift, it could result in magnificent changes occurring very rapidly to our economic situation here. I also think a big part of the problem is not knowing what we don't know. I am hopeful, however, that as technology becomes more advanced, and less expensive, education will only increase and we will hopefully begin to learn the things we didn't know before and decide to be more responsible and contribute more than what we take.

Disconcerting Observation #3:
God bless the USA! I don't know if anybody else in this country feels the same way I do, but this phrase just rubs me the wrong way. I know many of the reasons for the belief that the America's are some sort of promised land go way back and are rooted in religious teachings (obviously since most sentiments involving God are religious in nature), but I wonder why would God love us, or choose to bless us, more so than other countries in the world? My wife says that people are not supposed to compare their blessings to anybody else's, but if you only choose to see the good things that happen to you as blessings and ignore any of the bad things (those are apparently not blessings, after all) that happen, I don't see how this is productive. I tend to see it as all a matter of consequences. If we make good, informed choices, we will likely have good consequences and if we make poor, or mis-informed, choices we will likely have unfortunate consequences.

What to do about it:
We need to let go of the belief that God chooses to bless our country any more than any other country in the world. If you must maintain a belief in God, just remember that God is God of the whole earth and not just your little section of it. God loves all of us no matter what color skin we have, what we prefer to eat or where we happened to be born or choose to live. Why can't we be more willing to say that God loves all of the children of the earth equally and not stand by when other countries treat their inhabitants as second class citizens or slaves. I guess there are those that see the USA as being blessed first and therefore owing a duty to the rest of the world, I guess that is OK as long as the perspective includes the added sentiment of "Now God needs to bless the rest of the world through me (or us)."

Of course if we insist on that belief, we have to understand that other countries may not see things the same way we do. We can't be arrogant enough to think that we must be the world's police. We have to seek first to endow other countries with their sovereignty and then seek to defend ourselves from those who would actually represent a credible threat to our borders. I believe, however, that if we were less defensive in our posturing that other countries would not be so quick to respond in kind...but I acknowledge that I may just be naive in this thinking - but I can't let go of the thought that disarmament has to start somewhere, why not with us? I think we need to treat other countries more like our neighbors and less like strangers from a strange land with strange beliefs that we are quick to blame for our problems.

Obviously, this tends to bring to mind the problem of our age known as terrorism. While I can't say with any level of certainty the reason the terrorists choose to do what they do, I think it might be because of our arrogance in times past in treating other countries as subjects to us rather than the sovereigns they should be treated as. While I can't claim to be any kind of expert on this, it is my suspicion that there is more to the story of what motivates terrorists than we are often told in the media. There really isn't any incentive in this country to tell the story of what led up to the terrorist decision to act. Of course, it could just be as simple as an un-diagnosed or untreated mental health condition as well.

Overall, while I think some things continue to need improvement in this country (and the world as well, obviously), I am fairly optimistic. I am encouraged by the prospect of patriots who stand up for what is right when they see wrongs being committed whether domestically or internationally. I am also encouraged by advances in technology and what it is doing for our ability to access information and have answers to difficult questions or situations we encounter that we may need help with. To be better informed can only be good in terms of helping us get beyond the problems we face. These advances in technology will only continue to benefit countries with more serious problems than we face in terms of poverty, civil war or education. I really think that advances in understanding and communication can lead to monumental changes. Perhaps in that sense, the pioneers of modern technology can be seen as the patriots of our day.

So as you go out and have your barbecue and light off your fireworks and have your time with family and friends, please remember to give a little salute to the patriots. To those who stood against those things that most others were unlikely to stand up for because it was unpopular or unconventional, even (and especially) when it meant the potential to lose their life in doing so. They are the hero's. The one's who go before and lead to accomplishing real, significant and monumental changes, that afterwards, we can't imagine what life would have been like without them.

Happy INDEPENDENCE Day! Please enjoy any alcohol, fireworks and other pyrotechnics responsibly.

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