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Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Empathy, Sociopathy and Pychopathy

The Diagnostic and  Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders defines a person who lacks empathy as having an Antisocial Personality Disorder.  Both sociopaths and psychopaths lack empathy but the sociopath apparently understands when they are doing something “wrong”.  They simply don’t care enough to do right.  Empathy is the ability to feel or imagine you do, what another is feeling.  You can put yourself in someone else’s place and may refrain from being hurtful simply because you understand what that hurt feels like.

I imagine there are few, if any real living humans who are the type of true empath featured in the original Star Trek episode.  She could not only feel another’s pain, but by taking it on heal that person.  Understanding how someone else hurts won’t stop the pain or  undo the hurt, but it can help us amend our own behavior.  It can also help us understand why another acts the way they do.

I find it ironic that Facebook, Twitter and other online vehicles are labeled “social media” when much of the behaviors exhibited there are anti-social to the point of seeming sociopathic.  Facebook and Twitter and the comments sections of news feeds, in their relative anonymity, have spawned and/or magnified the polarization of American discourse.  We always had points of disagreement.  Our very formation as a Constitutional republic was based on discourse and the right to disagree with each other and with the government.   With “social media” some participants seem to feel excused from exhibiting any empathy for someone who doesn’t share their views.  Lacking that social responsibility certain people jump straight to anger, hate and hurtfulness.


Left vs right image source irony often remarked upon is the hate-spewing and loss of empathy among self-proclaimed Christians (read “religious RIGHT”).  That double meaning is not accidental I’m sure.  A person who uses that label for themselves is convinced they are not only to the “right” of our two-party system (remember that “left” was labeled sinister before that term was taken to mean “evil”.  The word “sinister” literally meant “to the left”.)  So anyone who is liberal is a leftist (which used to mean “communist” or “socialist”.  Another irony.  If you are not a socialist are you therefore anti-social?  But the religious right also believes themselves to be “in the right.”  No other opinions or positions matter because if it is not theirs it is WRONG.  Left.

These are the things I ponder.

MLK was a troublemaker, and his Dream is not fulfilled.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson delivered a moving and possibly controversial speech yesterday at the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial in Washington, DC.  Here is the text of that speech, in it’s entirety.



Washington, D.C.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

(As delivered)




It is a special honor for me to be present with you, at this special place, on this special day.


Martin Luther King Jr. is a 1948 graduate of Morehouse College. I am a 1979 graduate of Morehouse College. As such, I have been inspired and influenced by many of the same people and things that inspired and influenced Dr. King.


When I arrived at Morehouse in August 1975, Dr. King had been dead 7 years, but I could still feel his presence on campus and in the city of Atlanta. In 1975, there were still faculty at Morehouse who had taught Dr. King. Martin Luther King Sr. came to campus to preach, and reminded us that, despite the murder of his son and his wife, he didn’t hate anybody. Benjamin Mays, the former president of Morehouse and Dr. King’s mentor, was an ever-present and noble figure on campus. Martin Luther King III was my classmate and study partner, and is a close friend of 38 years.


The very first effort to make Dr. King’s birthday a holiday was just four days after he was assassinated in 1968, when Congressman John Conyers offered a bill to make it so. For years, the bill went nowhere.


The movement to make Dr. King’s birthday a holiday gained momentum in Atlanta in the 1970s. Mrs. King made it her mission to see the Nation honor her husband every year on his birthday, and Mrs. King and her son Martin enlisted Morehouse, Spelman and other college students as the foot soldiers in the effort.


On November 2, 1983, President Reagan, with Mrs. King at his side, signed a bill that made Martin Luther King’s birthday a national holiday, effective for the first time on the third Monday in January 1986.


Today the name Martin Luther King is one of the most recognizable in America. Almost every major city in America has a street named for him. Almost every public school in America has his picture in a classroom.


However, in this year 2015, Dr. King has now been dead longer than he was ever alive, and most Americans alive today were born after April 4, 1968. For some of us, Dr. King is still a contemporary figure. For most of us, King is a figure consigned to history, like the other men for which we have built monuments in this space, Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln.


Almost every American alive knows the words “I have a dream” should be associated with Martin Luther King. How many Americans know what Martin Luther King actually fought for and died for?


The reality is that, in his time, the man we honor today with a national holiday was divisive; to many, he was a troublemaker, to force the social change we now all celebrate. He challenged the social order of things and pushed people out of their comfort zones. When Dr. King arrived in many of the same cities for which a major street is now named for him, the Mayor and the Police Commissioner viewed his visit with dread and couldn’t wait for him to leave.


For his efforts, the man we honor with a national holiday and a national monument, alongside Washington and Lincoln, was the target of racist insults, bricks, bottles, numerous death threats, a knife in the chest in Harlem in 1958, and finally, an assassin’s bullet in Memphis in 1968.


In life Dr. King focused the Nation’s attention on racial discrimination – he led the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955-1956, the march on Washington in 1963, and the Selma to Montgomery march fifty years ago this year.


But, after Selma, Dr. King did not stop. From there, he began to take on challenges that could not be remedied by a change in the law.


In the last years of his life, Dr. King devoted himself principally to two very ambitious agendas: fighting poverty, and world peace. In 1966 Dr. King and his family literally moved to Chicago and rented an apartment there. He took off his preacher’s suit and shoveled garbage, all to demonstrate the need for better living conditions in Chicago.


In the final few months of his life, Dr. King devoted himself to a grand plan for a Poor Peoples’ March on Washington. On January 15, 1968, his last birthday alive, Dr. King presided over a meeting in the basement of his church in Atlanta and talked to an assembly of blacks, American Indians, Appalachian whites and organized labor that would converge on Washington later that year to demand that the richest nation on earth address the poverty in its midst.


In the final days of his life, Dr. King went to Memphis, Tennessee, not for a civil rights march, but to support a garbage workers’ strike for better wages and conditions.


On the final night of his life, in Memphis, Dr. King delivered one of his best known speeches in which he predicted his own death – his famous “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech. What is less known about that speech is that it was largely an address about economic power, and the effectiveness of an economic boycott.


In the final year of his life Dr. King publicly opposed the war in Vietnam. Martin Luther King hated violence. He believed that violence “is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy,” and that “returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars…As he saw it, “an eye for an eye leaves everybody blind.”


Last week when I asked Martin what I should say here today, he said very simply “tell them Dad wanted a better world for all God’s children. And that struggle is not over”


The irony of today is that Mrs. King’s dream of a national holiday for her husband has become a reality; Dr. King’s dream of a world at peace with itself has not.

In 2015, hatred, violence and poverty still inhabit our Nation and our planet.


The good news is that there are many angels among us, who also inhabit this planet and inspire us all to do better – like the health care worker who risks her health life to treat the Ebola patient in West Africa, the people who have responded to the terrorist attack in Paris with the words “not afraid,” and the scores of people who take this day off from work, to go to work performing a community service.    


On this day in 2015, in the name of Martin Luther King, we must re-dedicate ourselves to a better world, in which God’s children choose to feed the hungry, care for the sick, clothe the naked, choose conciliation over confrontation, brotherhood over hatred, and peace over war.


Thank you for listening.

Are you a good neighbor?

Do you think of your neighbors before you…

1.  Send your kids out to play, unsupervised, on the front lawn, and let them shriek and scream for hours?

After all, kids will be kids.  They’re only having fun, after all.  You’re a parent.  You are used to their noise.  That ear-splitting scream doesn’t bother you.  You are probably inside your house, having a nap, drinking a beer or watching a hockey game while your precious kid is driving your neighbor insane, making noises that sound like someone’s child is being tortured or murdered.

2.  Put up that basketball goal right on the property line, under the neighbor’s kitchen or bedroom?

After all, kids have to play, right?  And who doesn’t just LOVE the sound of a hard rubber ball being bounced on the pavement over and over and over and over for hours at a time, day after day?

3.  Encourage your kids to play hockey in the common alley behind your neighbor’s garage? (And leave the boards behind that block the storm drain, that happens to cause said neighbor’s garden to flood when it rains.)

See number 2.

4.  Go out for the night and leave your doggie behind with nothing to do but bark for hours uninterrupted ever time someone (including your neighbor) moves in their own front yard?

After all, that is whaty dogs do.  Everyone loves dogs, don’t they?

5.  (And this is my favorite, so I saved it for last).  Fire up that 35cc smoke-belching, 140 decibel weed trimmer for a 90-minute nerve-flaying session in giving your lawn a German mustache?  Then finish it off with the equally loud leaf blower?

After all, you simply must get that yard trimmed and edged quickly so you can get to your golf game, right?  An electric edger or blower just wouldn’t be quick enough for you, would it, buddy?  Of course, there’s also the fact that you’d have to spend, oh, another $100 for the electric models and there’s all that cord (or battery charging) to have to deal with <whine>.  Plus, someone you usta know, about 20 years ago, had an electric thingy and you heard they just weren’t any good.

Never mind that battery and corded electric lawn tools have come a long, long way since then and can cut just as well, quickly and much more efficiently than those noise and smoke belching gasoline models.  Never mind that you would NEVER, EVER have to tote dangerous cans of flammable liquids (or store them near your family).  You would never, ever have to MAKE YOUR NEIGHBOR HATE YOU EVERY TIME YOU TRIM YOUR LAWN AGAIN.

Yes, dear neighbors, I hate you.  I hate your maniacal screaming kids, your bouncing balls and most of all, your gasoline powered noise terrorizing weed machines.

Because of all that noise, I can’t go out into my own backyard on the weekends.  I can’t garden, eat on my deck or enjoy my patio on the most beautiful days of spring.  Every time I open the door, I am assaulted by an unholy cacaphony of unnatural sound that starts at 9 am on Saturday and continues without sursease until well after dusk on Sunday.  As soon as one neighbor finishes his lawn, another starts up.  It’s almost as if they have a schedule worked out.

I tried approaching the HOA.  They scoffed at me.  I tried approaching the neighbors individually. I  got yelled at.

I’m getting a lawyer.

Once upon a time, land use laws permitting using your land as you wanted, but when we moved into crowded subdivisions, and your use impacted my enjoyment, you gave up some of that rights.

When your noise takes away my ability to go outside and enjoy my yard, I get to sue.  See you in court.

McPherson Square: Occupation or Hobo Camp?

General McPherson oversees a Hobo Camp in February

I work in Washington, DC, two block from McPherson Square.  My commuter bus drops off and picks up right at the square, so twice a day, 3 days a week, I come face-to-face and nose-to-smell with Occupy DC.

I watched them move in last fall, sometimes swallowing my anger, at times voicing it out loud as I witness the destruction of all that tender, brand new grass.  The National Park Service spent $440,000 of stimulus funds renovating McPherson Square last summer.  Nearly half that amount went into sod.  Those of us who work near the square had just begun to enjoy taking our lunches to the square, which was also seeing visitation by a variety of upscale food trucks, when –oh joy–the Occupy movement came to town.

The National Park Service granted a permit to the Occupy Wall Street movement to erect tents and state a 24-hr, full-time protest for 7 months on Freedom Plaza, near the hub of government.   Those folks had a plan, a message and an understanding of the law, unlike the parasitic growth inhabiting McPherson Square.

I’m all for free speech, but if you want to exercise it, for Pete’s sake


The occupants of McPherson Square have no designated leader.  There is no coherent message.  They have published no demands to be met in order for their “occupation to end.

Day after day, I see a collection of unwashed, unkempt, disrespectful hippies loitering around the square or nearby cafes (who, for the most part, have removed their outdoor furnishings to discourage loitering) who do nothing more constructive than paint nonsense on signs.

WHOM to you represent?

Not me.  Not the other 2-3 dozen people standing the line for the bus with me every day.  I asked.  Not the people with whom I work, either (I asked).  We are the “99%”, too.  We didn’t ask a bunch of hobo hippies to come destroy our newly-restored park and run all of our cafes and eateries out of business.  We didn’t ask you to run up a $2 million tab for police protection and other city services.  We pay taxes and we’re pretty fed up about it.  Oh, and one other thing.

We want you to take that FUGLY tarp off General McPherson’s statue, too.   This isn’t Hogwarts, and you aren’t Harry Potter.  Slyther back into your dens with the rats you are hosting.

Within the past week, a federal judge has TWICE heard petitions from the hobo camp, seeking to block the National Park Service from evicting these illegal campers from a national park.  The judge ruled, citing appropriate SUPREME COURT rulings, that the NPS has every right to evict the protesters, provided proper written notice has been served.  That notice was served, that effective this past Monday at noon, evictions would begin.   An NPS spokesperson stated that evictions would be conducted “incrementally.”

The evictions have begun.  I witnessed NPS employees picking up and tossing into a trash truck the garbage (plastic, tarps, milk crates and other junk) left behind by occupiers who had, presumably, voluntarily left the square.  I also saw at least one occupier strike his tent.  It was a small, but important step.


The shared cost of Congressional failure

The federal government’s fiscal year ends in five business days, on September 30, 2011.  Unless Congress acts to provide emergency funding (a Continuing Resolution), most government agencies will not have authorized funds to operate.  Much of the federal government will shut down.  When Congress fails to do their job, we all pay, and not just inside the I-495 Capital Beltway.

We’ve learned, however, that social security checks still go out, federal taxes get collected, and TSA airport screeners till show up for work.  There are, in fact, a few appropriations bills that have passed, and a few government agencies whose funds come, not from appropriations, but from income collected in fees and taxes.

Many Americans think that the shenanigans on Capital Hill don’t directly affect them.  After all, they don’t work for the government, right?  Why should they care?

Congress Has One Job to Do

Congress has a few exclusive powers under the US Constitution.  Among those very few exclusive powers is the authority to raise taxes and distribute revenue to the executive branch.  Revenue bills must originate in the House.

All the other blather, goings on and dealmaking in the House and the Senate are secondary to their main job of raising and distributing the ebb and flow of money into and out of the US Treasury.  This is their job.  

When Congress fails to do their job, under law the Executive Branch (and this includes the military) cannot spend money.  This falls under the Antideficiency Act, which makes illegal spending money before it is appropriated.  A government employee can go to jail for this.

Now to why you care….

Imagine for a moment you are a company that has bid a contract to do work for the government.  By the way, it costs a lot of money and takes a lot of time to put in a bid for the federal government.  It also takes a lot of time for the feds to get around to selecting the contractor and awarding the contract.  You don’t get paid for any of this; it’s a gamble you take and a cost of doing business.

Congratulations!  You are the winning bidder and will be awarded the contract…as soon as the budget is approved.  The project will start on the first day of the next fiscal year (if the budget calendar goes the way it is supposed to go).

It doesn’t go that way, does it?  Republicans “stand on their principles” and Democrats want to “tax the millionaires”, and now we have no budget, and we have a continuing resolution.  Under the rules of a CR, no new projects can start.   We NEVER had a budget in 2011.  The government operated on CR for the ENTIRE FISCAL YEAR.

Meanwhile, our poor contractor has hired workers, built an assembly line and stocked parts in anticipation of an October 1 startup.  He had to, because he was expected to be ready to produce if he wanted to keep in good graces with his government customer.

Avalanche Theory

Now he either has to keep all those people on the payroll or lay them off.  He either has to send back the parts or keep them.  He has no income to offset those costs.  For every month Congress bickers and delays a full spending bill, he loses thousands or millions of dollars, depending on the size of the business or investment.  This loss trickles cascades avalanches down through the supply chain and through subcontractors to affect businesses and paychecks all across America.

Raise your hand if you know someone who earns at least part of their living making or selling something for or to the federal government either directly or indirectly.  I bet their rainy day fund is pretty dry about now.

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