Monday, November 21, 2016

The Past as Prologue - It's All About "Rights"

By the mid-1700s, our nation’s founding fathers had developed a strong distaste for the wealthy, monarchical class of their former homelands in Europe. The everyday thoughts and actions of the privileged class had become as a yoke around the necks of common man. The heads of Europe were busy making their kingdoms great while enriching themselves and their privileged fellow monarchs. At issue was the size and power of European kingdoms. The new world colonies represented to them little beyond profit, regardless of the cost in human lives or suffering. Colonial cries for greater voice and representation in their own affairs fell upon deaf ears of King and Parliament.  Both were truly astounded when subjects of the realm sought redress and ultimately separation.  
John Adams once stated that "Power always thinks it has a great soul and vast views beyond the comprehension of the weak; and that it is doing God's service when it is violating all his laws." Thomas Paine was even more to the point in the "Rights of Man" (1791) as he railed against the hereditary monarchical system that he viewed as "...government through the medium of passions and accidents...and which reverses the wholesome order of nature...[by placing the]...conceits of [inexperienced privilege] over wisdom and experience". The cause celebre of the day was the issue of "rights". Which would be more important, those rights granted by king and Parliament based upon "trickle-down" associations of privilege or more egalitarian, inalienable rights shared by all men that had recently come into philosophical vogue on the pens of Voltaire, Montesquieu, Rousseau and Locke? The war fought between 1776 and 1781 established the United States of America but gave only partial answer to that question.
 Against privilege, usury and denial of fundamental human rights, those establishing the new nation would have to address the issue of "rights" again in 1860 when men of privilege in the southern states used their power to enrage their agrarian brethren to rise up in arms against the industrialized states of the northern United States.  At issue was power over the U.S. Congress following our country's lust for "making America great" through fulfilling its "Manifest Destiny".  Once again, the cause celebre was the issue of "rights" for over three and a half million people (U.S. census of 1850) whose ancestors had been forcibly brought to America and placed into slavery.   The guiding words of the founding fathers were at odds with the reality of the day.  As early as 1820, Thomas Jefferson, the man who had penned that famous line about "...all men created equal..." into the Declaration of Independence had concluded that America's failure to fulfill that promise to all men rang "...as a knell of  Union...like a fire bell in the night." It would not be until after the deaths of over 600,000 on the battle fields of the Civil War that the issue would be put to rest.  Unfortunately, as before in 1781, we had achieved only a partial answer to the questions that had led to the secession of the southern states of the Confederacy and the events of the next 130 years would prove that we had not yet fought the last battle for American Independence.  
The quelling of the southern states bid for secession by 1865 was seen by intellectuals in Europe, such as Edouard de Laboulaye, as statement of proof that the American political experiment viewed in the old world as “the common law of free peoples” would survive; hence, following the passage of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1865, Laboulaye proposed the creation of a statue, to be given by the people of France to the people of the United States to honor America’s conquest of sectionalism and racial divisiveness and its faithful protection of the inalienable rights and freedoms of all peoples.  Created by, Auguste Bartholdi, the statue, now known as “Liberty Enlightening the World”, was placed on a pedestal in New York Harbor and formally dedicated in 1886.  At the base of the statue is a plaque on which can be found a poem written by the American born daughter of Jewish immigrants to the United States, Emma Lazarus, the inspiring last three lines that read:
"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
Unfortunately, what are less known are the first two lines that declare:
“Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles.”
Now, one-hundred and thirty years after the dedication of that statue in New York Harbor that proclaimed our “open door” and our position as a champion of oppressed peoples, a symbol of hope to “…masses yearning to be free…”, our national unity is racked by sectionalism, racial divisiveness and fear that those seeking asylum on or shores only mean to do us harm. What is at issue is the seeming conflict between two views of the promise to immigrants contained within our own Declaration of Independence from Great Britain. One view is that strength emanates from wealth and military power that protect laws and that give citizens “rights”; hence, the recent statements concerning immigrants by presidential candidate, now President-elect, Donald J. Trump that imply immigrants have no “rights” and should be immediately deported if within American borders illegally.  Per Trump, America has been “weak” and he will “make America great again”.  The opposing view is that national strength emanates from the unity of shared talents of all our peoples bound by a unique set of democratic values. At our core, we are all immigrants; hence, “We the people.…” declared our independence to establish a national government that derives its “…just powers from the consent of the governed.”.  Ergo, immigrant thought and participation are at the core of our national strength. Once again, the cause celebre deals with the issue of “rights”. Do the people who enter our country “illegally” have any “rights”? Does illegal entry, by itself, constitute "intent to do harm"?   Do current immigrants coming to America have the same inalienable rights held by those of our colonists who were British “citizens” as they “mutually pledge[d] to each other [their] lives, [their] fortunes and [their] sacred honor? Is citizenship within America to be solely defined by associations, wealth, power or knowledge; or, can it be defined by the belief in and adherence to the protection of those “inalienable rights” of all mankind? Just what was the message given by our founding fathers? 
Recently, newly President-elect Donald J. Trump gave an indication of his rather firm stance regarding the “rights” of immigrants.  In a Huffington Post article (Nov. 18, 2016) concerning how President-elect Donald J. Trump’s call for stopping the flow of unwanted immigrants might conflict with the message on the plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty, the Post quoted Trump as saying: “…you have this frumpy old woman standing outside our country and telling people to come here and stay as long as you want.” When the reporter quoted lines from the Emma Lazarus poem, Trump’s reaction was “Is that right? Really? Your tired? Your poor? Your wretched refuse? Homeless? So, that’s how they got here? When Europe sends their people, they’re not sending the best. Who needs these people?” 
As a citizen of the United States and a student of history, I feel that we are in for at least four years of opportunities to further define and realize our national commitment to the protection of those “inalienable rights” sought by our founding fathers. I do hope we can get it right this time around for, if not, possibly we will see the beginning of the end of our unique and wonderful experiment in democracy.  As our second President, John Adams, once stated: “Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There was never a democracy that did not commit suicide.” (letter to John Taylor, 1814).

Friday, April 11, 2014

Oaks From Acorns


I have recently been reminded of an old adage shared by my grandparents at a time seemingly long ago: “Great Oaks from little acorns rise”. This most recent renewal of what is surely a tested truism began a week ago following my “recruitment” by my wife to “assist” her preparation of slides for a pending conference where she is to present material related to her interest in and continuing involvement with cardiovascular wellness.  I retain, in her eyes, the position of “family technology guru” and “for better or worse” I guess I will always be that person to be called upon when anything of an Information Technology issue arises.  I am sure there are worse fates in life. Anyway, I am beginning to digress and I haven’t really gotten to my main point which is that, for those of you who thought about doing something and started and stopped and started again and, then stopped again, it’s not too late to get back up and start one more time, again. For, if your don’t stop and you keep going like my newly found friend, Betty C. Jung [http://www.bettycjung.net/Blog2013b.htm] I am sure that, from your efforts will come achievement greater than you can now imagine.

As I scanned webpage after webpage looking for suitable material to be used within the presentations my wife would make, I chanced across Betty’s website and was immediately drawn in by its depth and breadth of coverage of the health care and wellness issues for which it was created.  This resulted in an exchange of emails required for the seeking and receiving of permissions related to the potential use of some of the material to be incorporated into slides and grew into an email discussion related to etiology, methods and objectives for website/blog creation and maintenance. What impressed me was the entire website/blog was designed by, created by, updated and maintained by one person!  If you have any interest in things of a personal medical nature and have never visited her site, it would be well worth the investment of a few minutes to check the site out at http://www.bettycjung.net/Blog2013b.htm.  

Why am I telling you all of this? We all have talents and we all have only so much time in which to use those talents to our good and the good of the commonweal.  There are times that we come to self-opinion that our talents are not so great but we must never forget what Betty C. Jung has shown to those who visit her site that the old adage is still true: “Great Oaks from little acorns rise”.  So, with the talent and time that you have been given, go make an Oak!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Have we become too comfortable with security at the price of loss of liberty?







 

From business community use of RFI and CCTV in malls and on public streets, to community law enforcement use of drones for surveillance, to alleged NSA abuse of the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution through its internet cyber-spying, to use of racial and ethnic profiling by both homeland security and large urban police departments there has arisen a political mindset that fully ascribes to security for all at the cost of personal liberty for none. While we in America think this is a cause for current concern, the Orwellian surveillance present in Great Britain gives us a glimpse of the future that might very well lie before us.  This is surely a topic that will be with us for many months and years to come; so, today I try to take a brief look at public surveillance its growth and implications.

According to the technology section of the British publication, “The Telegraph(http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/10172298/One-surveillance-camera-for-every-11-people-in-Britain-says-CCTV-survey.html) ,  there are between 5 and 6 million Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras already installed in Britain or roughly one camera for every 11-14 people in that nation!  In France, CCTV is used by the city of Nice to issue parking tickets (http://singularityhub.com/2010/10/18/surprise-cctv-cameras-in-france-used-to-issue-parking-tickets/).  Interestingly, it is the Germans who are the slow adopters of surveillance systems among the European community.  This appears to be partially because of the legacy of Gestapo tactics used during the time of Adolf Hitler combined with the oppression of the former East Germany by the Soviet Union following the end of World War II. 

In the United States, the World Trade Center (NYC) and, more recently, the attacks during the Boston Marathon upon unsuspecting populations has given rise to a public demand for greater safety in public forums, governmental willingness to direct a large percentage of public tax dollars to surveillance efforts and ever more sophisticated technologies to perform biometric, voice, video and analytical chemical surveillance.  Increasing, we wear clothes, use personal products and carry credit cards that have imbedded RFI tags.  We get into our cars that have position locater devices installed as part of the car’s integral components and speak on our cell phones that also have GPS capability.  As we step into a down town street that has both public and private video surveillance cameras we stop to take a picture of a friend and note that the camera mode of the cell phone we are using gives the exact location that the picture has been taken.  Interestingly, the national public outcry over Homeland Security use of full body scanners has been long forgotten and lost in the midst of all of the other intrusions into and restrictions on personal liberties.

The truth is that, Americans are becoming ever more comfortable and accepting of this public awareness of our movements and personal actions.  According to an April 2013 British Broadcast Corporation (BBC) news story(http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22274770) , “While the US never embraced state-sponsored CCTV the way the UK has, it has nevertheless used surveillance as a national security and law-enforcement measure for years.” And, while the US effort has been a curious mix of private and public surveillance strategies, the events of September 2001 in New York and April of 2013 in Boston, with the resultant massive increase in funding for both the NSA and Homeland Security were game changers. As stated by Jay Stanley, a police analyst for the American Civil Liberties Union, in the BBC story, the current trend “…is the introduction of the police-run cameras”.  The article goes on to give the view of Ray Kelly, Chief of the NYC Police Department, as he stated on MSNBC Television: “The people who complain about it, I would say, are a relatively small number of folks, because the genie is out of the bottle.  People realize that everywhere you go now, your picture is taken."  But the reality is that those who create the algorithms to select what information is worthy of viewing inevitably enter into the world of “profiling” which, in its natural progression results in the loss of liberty. And what isn’t said in the article or by Ray Kelly is that virtually every email, every text message and every photograph you communicate is also capable of being “watched”. 

Of course, we are now talking about what is referred to as “social media”, where it has become plainly obvious that the world, in general, and America, in specific, is becoming desensitized to the potential for misuse of personal information.   Facebook is only one of several popular modes of social media that include Twitter, LinkedIn, Flickr and others.  Even ISPs and portals for the sending of text and email messages through communication hosts such as AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile are subject to scrutiny. All collect voluminous amounts of personal and metric data on individual users. And, while there are supposed safeguards to prevent misuse of all of the data, opinions and pictures that we ourselves upload onto social media sites, the implications of the recent disclosures made through articles in the British publication The Guardian based on information obtained as a NSA contractor by Eric Snowden cannot lead us to any other conclusion than that the national government holds the ultimate trump cards and could, on pretext of stopping a terroristic act, seize whatever information it wished from whomever it wanted, to be used in whatever way it wanted.

So, what is the “average citizen” to do? We cannot escape Moore’s Law and its corollaries and our dependence upon ever sophisticated technology does require new rules for both access and oversight.  With  barbarians showing themselves at the borders of our financial, energy, political, military and transportation systems we are hard pressed to hear the words of Benjamin Franklin, one of our founding fathers, who stated: “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” We desperately need our elected representatives to be more forthright in their disclosures of what will and will not be safeguards for personal liberties in our increasingly complex internet world lest we lose both our security and our liberties.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Is the USA Twerking its future away?


Like many others who have commented on Miley Cyrus’ VMA performance this past weekend I too have some deep concerns; however, those concerns do not run in the same vein as the supposed news mavens, YouTube gurus and etiquette pundits. What currently passes for “expert” opinion on Ms. Cyrus’ performance is devoted to the “how could such a good girl go so wrong?” school of criticism technique.  After all, she was a “Disney product”, pure as “Ivory soap”.  Did you see those hip movements?  They were so sexually suggestive! The dancing; wait a minute!, what dancing? That was exhibitionism!  Miley found a way to out Madonna Madonna! Who does she think she is, prancing around in her underwear?  And the people in the audience, did you see them, with mouths gapping wide.... a true OMG moment! Did your kids see this?  What are we to tell them now? Fourteen and fifteen year olds grew up wanting to be just like Hannah Montana.   Oh, woe are we!

I have a few choice questions and comments for those who have offered their surface criticism of Miley Cyrus over the past week: Where the heck have you people been for the last 20 years?  What rock have you been sleeping under that you could not see the potential of such a performance as was given by Miley on the MTV, VMA Awards show? Have you not heard of popular music stars such as Nicki Minaj, Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, Beyonce, etc.?  Relative to modern day video music selections of the same hip hop genre, what in Ms Cyrus' performance or the performances of those who danced and sang with her surprised you?  Have you no awareness of the depths to which American music, culture and character has sunk?  How many of you have gone to a dance featuring songs with far worse lyrics and grinded the night away?  If we are all so oblivious to the world around us how could a “hit song” by Lady Gaga called “Pokerface” get over 162 million hits on YouTube? What a bunch of hypocrites we are becoming! If we were to hold a mirror up in the face of our society would we see the strong faces that made this nation? Or the loving ones who helped to raise us and thought we held such promise?  Or even the person we once were who dreamed great things, held inside hoping for that one break or wonderful moment when we could let our light shine?

On August the 27th, the day after the real firestorm surrounding the Miley Cyrus VMA performance hit, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) published an Op-Ed piece by journalist Juan Williams at the bottom of page A15.  The article was entitled: “Songs of the Summer of 1963 …and 2013”

( http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324619504579028691595414868.html) The article juxtaposed the aura of those folk songs so filled with hope, longing for justice and faith in the future, surrounding and accompanying Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech held on August 28, 1963 with the current genre of hip-hop selections that are filled with sex, violence, bigotry and greed. For examples of the lyrics of the time in 1963, Mr. Williams refers to the songs of Bob dylan, Joan Baez, Woody Guthrie, Johnny Cash, Sam Cooke, Curtis Mayfield and the vocal group Peter, Paul and Mary.  The WSJ  Op-Ed article is well worth reading if you have not already done so.  And, it goes a long way to explaining how far we have come from that day in 1963 to this past weekend when Miley Cyrus was led into a production for the VMAs that was at once both an affront to common decency and the epitome of the “the best” that our egocentric,  jaded,  entertainment-driven culture is capable of producing.   We have become a nation of schizophrenics fully aware of the damage we do through our base treatments of others yet craving all the more excess and hyperbole.   That is why the same pundits that castigate Miley Cyrus for her actions at the VMA show this year will probably find themselves at some nightspot this weekend grinding the night away to the sound of Lil Wayne as he croons about “hoes” and bitches”.  That is also why we all need to seriously rethink the direction of our culture and our society. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

Rescuing Alice from the Labyrinth


Today, I am just "venting".

I have a running love-hate relationship with the financial community. It is the same sort as that Lewis Carroll's Alice experienced with the Mad Hatter whose presence was necessary in her travels through the labyrinth but whose intentions were not completely pure. My frustration of the moment stems from the hassle encountered in approval of a loan. You see, our family was one those that had to resort to a short sale of its home during the recent "Great Recession". Some statistics indicate that as many as 30% of all home sales between the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2013 were either auctioned homes from foreclosures or short sales. Homes that had been valued in the high six figures and that had depreciated in value by as much as 20% of their 2007 appraisal value by late 2008 were selling for as much as another 39% below their new valuation in foreclosure sales and as much as another 23% if sold through short sales, according to RealtyTractm (http://money.cnn.com/2013/02/28/real_estate/short-sales/index.html) Great swaths of America were negatively impacted and areas from California and Arizona through the southwest to the central Great Lakes of Michigan, Illinois and Ohio to the Middle Atlantic states of New Jersey and New York to the Southeast states of Georgia, Alabama and Florida. Literally hundreds of thousands of sales were involved and millions of people were affected.  Most of those affected were good, hard-working people who were caught in the “perfect storm” of financial circumstances that resulted in the “Great Recession” And most, like us, are doing the best they can to turn the corner and contribute positively to the growth of a stronger American economy. Yet, like us, they are continually frustrated by new challenges in the form of revamped bank credit restrictions and credit bureaus that use antiquated algorithms that were suited for the more stable financial world that existed before the Great Recession.  The result has been a “chicken and egg” driven economy.  Which comes first: the chicken or the egg?  The economy needs buyers (70% of America’s GDP is from personal purchases) who depend upon credit to make their purchases but who are stymied by the new banking regulations and the old algorithms used by the three major credit bureaus.  It has gotten so crazy that, even if you have a nearly 30 year  perfect history of making payments but you are one of those whose home was sold as a short sale you are to be considered a  “bad credit risk”.  Interestingly, economists scratch their heads and wonder why the economy is not healing faster.  It just seems to be sputtering along, stuck in perpetual second gear.  Well, it seems to me that greater effort needs to be expended to help those with historically good credit histories get back into the purchasing and income generating economies as quickly as possible.  That’s not an easy task in today’s economic and political climate. Neither is anywhere close to what they were 30 years ago.  Thirty years ago most of that 70% of American GDP was taking place on “main street USA” – not so today.  Thirty years ago there was still a consensus of opinion that what was good for America was of greater importance than what was good for the Democratic or the Republican parties – not so today.  Our economy is more restricted and is influenced to a far greater degree by forces beyond our own borders.  Our political parties have turned their every four year battle for the right to dictate policy into siege campaigns hell-bent on proving the other party wrong or tripping the other party up regardless to the cost in economic progress, human suffering or national prestige. The end result is that money flows away from main street and away from the people whose purchases and credit could help to heal and rebuild a stronger American infrastructure.  And while everyone is fixated upon whether the Queen of Hearts or the Queen of Clubs will win their campaign for dominance there is the very real potential that “Alice” will be forever lost in the labyrinth.

Friday, July 12, 2013


Bring Back the Past to Fuel the Future

I share no really dramatic comment today - just a renewed commitment to more faithfully communicate the thoughts and opinions on where we’ve been, where we are at present and where we are headed based upon current patterns and trends.
To paraphrase a monologue by Anthony Hopkins, from the movie Amistad, in his role as John Q. Adams: “[I]… have come to understand and to embrace the understanding that who we are is who we were.”  With the rearing I had and my love of History and Philosophy, it should not have taken me so long to reach such an obvious conclusion.  But as Bobby Burns once said: "...the best laid schemes of mice and men, oft go astray..." and it seems as though, from the lyrics of an old Beatles's song, I have managed to follow a "...long and winding road" for a bit further than anticipated.
I have long been a believer that all experience whether positive or negative can lead to the greater good and growth of the individual and so it must be in this case.  The move of our family in 2012 that required the loss of my teaching position left me pretty much emotionally and intellectually adrift as I  contemplated the how, when and where of "next career". Although demands of establishing the new residence and following through on extended family obligations has kept me busy, for the most part, there has been a feeling of "tasks left unfinished".
One of those aforementioned "tasks left unfinished" is the regular posting to my "Hayman's History Blog" and my absence was surely not without any national or international areas to comment on.  The past year has brought significant challenges to personal liberty, national sovereignty and international stability.  Additionally, there have been cultural, economic, technological, religious/philosophical and environmental forces that added significantly to the stress level of most peoples of these United States of America and of the greater world.  So, beginning today, I hope to have daily postings on the issues of most importance to me and I hope to you too. Feel free to share your comments and, together, perhaps we can make a positive difference to make America and the greater world better for all of us and our progeny.

Friday, August 31, 2012

I was recently struck as to how much of our lives is being reduced to 2-minute segments.  Want to schedule an appointment, book a train, leave a phone message, look up some piece of information on Google, get back to that program you really wanted to see before the commercial interrupted you... It usually takes about 2 minutes!  Any message that is longer has usually lost our attention or, if we are the source, has lost the attention of others.  I find this to be interesting; although, at times, unsettling. I remember the hours spent on my grandparents' front porch seeking the answers to life, conquering my fears of the unknown, making great plans for "saving the world".  I wonder when my 17-year old son confronts me with his questions if I will be granted more than 2 minutes to give my response.  Guess my 2 minutes is about up....