Friday, December 19, 2008

Government Failout

I have decided not to pay any of my bills until I receive my government bailout. Why should I? After all, I have carefully maintained my finances and kept in mind my limits. The same cannot be said for many of the companies who have sought help from the government – their needy, greedy hands outstretched for their portion of taxpayer money. The very same taxpayers who find themselves in dire straits because of the practices of these companies. So why pay my bills with my own money, when I could look to Washington to bail me out of my financial situation? Of course, I am just Joe Shmoe the average American. I am not a high-priced executive who has undoubtedly at one time lined the pockets of the politicians from whom they now seek help. No, I am a freelance writer, a term itself a setback at times as some publishers seem unable to get past the "free" part. They think "freelance" is synonymous with "free," not adhering to the same standard in payment - either in compensation or schedule - that they hold freelancers to in fulfilling their part of the contract.

The housing trend illustrates a deeper issue, with annual home sales that seemingly got us into the current economic slide as a simple case of supply and demand. Homes are always being built, but numbers over the past few decades show that they are not always bought. The question is do they not sell because people do not want to pay for – or more realistically cannot afford – them? On the other hand, is it because of a housing market continually oversaturated with annually new, and unnecessary, homes? A study published in the journal, Science, showed that the Earth’s “wilderness” – defined as an area untainted by human influence – is vanishing. Eventually, it will be gone altogether in the not too distant future. Like historian Frederick Jackson Turner’s proclamation in 1893 of the “closing of the frontier” in American history, we are in the midst of a broader context in world history. It does not take a scientific mind to realize the correlation between this disappearance and the vastness of human development, particularly over the latter part of the 20th century and into the current one. As the human population increases, so too must it expand further and farther outward beyond the line.

The question is, is this expansion necessary? Do we have to build mile-long strip malls to quench the thirst of consumerism, erect office buildings that sit vacant in perpetuity waiting for phantom tenants, or construct subdivision upon subdivision in once-remote areas while inner cities crumble and rot? As rhetorical a question as it is, the answer is resoundingly no. Such growth in terms of newness does not change the bottom line of diminishing return environmentally, socially, and ultimately, economically. However, that is not an answer in line with the capitalistic credo that "if you build it, they will come." In the end, though, I am still not paying my bills until the government bails me out – Mr. John Q. Taxpayer who drives the economy by buying the products of the companies they have and plan to bailout.

©2008 Steve Sagarra

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Parent of All Virtues

Despite current global political and economic issues, Thanksgiving is even more a time for giving thanks. As witnessed earlier this month, the transition of power, while not always amicable, sustains the principles that have governed since the inception of the United States. Though not a guarantee, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is still a tangible ideal beyond mere words on an aged parchment. Ultimately, opportunities exist consistent with the choices we make, with only our own hesitations for seizing upon them the true limitation. For those and other reasons, Americans should be thankful to live in such a country.

As the Cold War came to an end, those born during that tumultuous period of the late 1980s/early 1990s are now coming of age and leading toward the future. In the U.S., the founding members of that post-collapse generation voted in their first presidential election; some of those same individuals are engaged in defending and spreading those values in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. It is a blessing that the voice of the people matters, and to have those willing to sacrifice to protect that right. It was not the case in parts of the world twenty years ago, and even today, the fight continues to ensure and maintain it around the globe.

One of the best ways to experience expressions of thankfulness is a visit to the airport. There is no joke here about people gratified about landing safely or that their arrival/departure is on time. It would be too easy. No, the true source is in the people themselves. A mother, refreshed from a vacation with friends, hugging her little boy once disembarked. Thankful for the week of rest, more so for the one thing that matters most in her life. Or the soldier, fresh from a tour of duty himself, waiting for his buddies to arrive in town as well. It will be like old times, before the world’s problems called. Thankful they get another day.

Then there is Helen, recently diagnosed with breast cancer. Thankful it was caught in time, well aware that it could have been worse. Whether it contributed or not, she admits to a twenty-year smoking habit. Perhaps, it could have been lung cancer; thankfully, it was not. Her friend is en route from Omaha, taking the first flight out once she heard the news. They have not seen each other in ten years, but it will be just like yesterday Helen enthuses. When they meet, the joyful tears and enthusiastic roar echo throughout baggage claim. Perhaps it has been ten years, but it is just like yesterday.

Too often, we are bombarded by the grotesqueries of humanity, weakening the potential of the human spirit to overcome such things. Though not unique in the course of mankind, it is an uncertain world in uncertain times. Even so, as you sit down with friends and family this year, take the time to consider for what there is to be thankful. You may find that there is a lot, even if it may seem trifling.

©2008 Steve Sagarra

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Historically Inaccurate Movies

For the obvious reason of being a historian, I am a nitpicker when it comes to historical movies. I get it from my dad, who was a history buff. It is so bad that no one will see a historically based movie with me any more - but I am always the first consulted if something needs clarification/verification! Needless to say, I was excited to come across 10 Most Historically Inaccurate Movies.

I love the fact that Braveheart makes the list, as I always cite it for the historical fallacies outlined in the article. Do not get me wrong, it is one of my favorites for its story and overall entertainment value. I also find it interesting that two other Mel Gibson movies – Apocalypto and The Patriot – make the list. However, there are two - 300 and 2001: A Space Odyssey - that I feel do not deserve the distinction. Stylized for a comic book audience based on another historically flawed movie (The 300 Spartans) that inspired him as a kid, Frank Miller stated that his graphic novel upon which the movie 300 is based is not accurate. It is meant to be entertaining, not history. Likewise, to include 2001 would be to include every futuristic movie that has not panned out; it is meant to be science fiction, not science fact.

I understand that movies are for entertainment, constantly chastising those who use movies as their sole reference source. As Maximus asks in Gladiator, another to make the list, "Are you not entertained?" Indeed, I am. Granted, good or bad, movies are a mass means for exposing people to a subject. Nevertheless, I often find that the true history is just as exciting, if not more so, than Hollywood’s version – and sometimes it is also truly stranger than the fiction. I just want people to be more critically aware to which version they are being exposed by taking the time to learn more about it. 

©2008 Steve Sagarra

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Bushwhacked: The Prosecution Of A President

Voters in two Vermont towns – Brattleboro and Marlboro – voted, symbolically, to indict President George W. Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney. The vote would authorize local police to arrest the two, or extradite them for prosecution elsewhere, if either ever visits the towns, should they not face impeachment first. There is just one problem, whether symbolic gesture or not:  while a sitting Vice-President, like all other federal civil officers, can face criminal prosecution, a sitting President cannot. Two famous examples are that of Vice-Presidents Aaron Burr and Spiro Agnew. The Department of Justice, in accordance with several court rulings, states that “…the indictment or criminal prosecution of a sitting President would unconstitutionally undermine the capacity of the executive branch to perform its constitutionally assigned functions.”  Further, only the Congress has the authority to impeach a President while in office, and only later upon leaving can they be indicted and criminally prosecuted.

Impeachment is not a simple matter either, as a majority of the House of Representatives must agree to a resolution that alleges the President committed any of the offenses outlined in Article II of the Constitution – “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”  Ambiguity of the latter has perplexed legal analysts and scholars since inception. What exactly are “high crimes and misdemeanors”? With no explicit definition of what constitutes an impeachable offense, impeachment has been inherently more political ploy than a true legal process “ . . . regulated more by the comparative strength of parties, than by the real demonstrations of innocence or guilt.” (Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist Papers, no. 65, 1788).

It is not a slight to say that the majority seeking the indictment/impeachment of President Bush and Vice-President Cheney are fringe leftists and politicians with an agenda. There have been many reasons offered for indicting/impeaching the President, but the two main arguments include the constitutionality of the 2003 invasion of Iraq and federal electronic surveillance programs. The invasion of Iraq is a moot point for several reasons, but mainly because the entire Congress – Republican and Democrat alike – overwhelmingly approved giving President Bush the right to prosecute the war. Manipulation or not of the intelligence, as proponents of impeachment contend – and who is to say who may have manipulated it, if at all – Washington would be emptied if the sole case for impeachment were lying to the American people. Is it criminal to protect this country against those who are a threat to it?

Incidentally, President Clinton faced impeachment for lying to a grand jury about his relationship with an intern. Yet, a better case could have been made for involving the U.S. in the war in Kosovo under false pretenses – the still dubious and undetermined claim of genocide – without Congressional approval and against the United Nations’ mandate of non-interference. Yet, no such proceedings ever occurred. Lest it be forgotten as well, Clinton signed into law the “Iraq Liberation Act” in October 1998, which stood as an official statement of policy calling for regime change in Iraq. Less than two months later, he authorized Operation Desert Fox, a four-day bombing campaign designed to weaken Saddam Hussein's grip on power – with the stated goal of hindering Iraq's ability to manufacture and use weapons of mass destruction. Five years later, the very same policy under the Bush Administration became an impeachable offense in conjunction with Democrats’ anti-war argument that Saddam Hussein never had WMDs.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Control Is An Illusion

I am tired of stories like this one - Firefighter Shot, Killed Exchanging Kid's Meal Toy

On the same day that Los Angeles faced a fatal, multi-victim shooting, St. Louis was confronted with the same tragedy. Unfortunately, it is not a new or isolated phenomenon. Large cities and small towns across the country are becoming less and less strangers to such incidents. St. Louis itself has seen more than its fair share just over the last few decades. On top of the daily dose of vile acts seen during the nightly news, places once considered sacrosanct, like schools and churches, have become increasingly preyed upon by those seeking recourse through violent means. Naturally, there always exists the disconnect anesthetizing us in the belief that it only happens there rather than here. Clichéd as it is, we know now that if it can happen in the quaint, tranquil community of Kirkwood, it can occur in Anywhere, USA.

The problem stems from the idea of gun control. Throw the term out, because it is bogus. There is no such thing. Government can institute an infinite amount of laws to control this or that, but there is one irrefutable factor that can never be accounted for – the person holding the gun. People kill people, not the guns and bullets. The latter is only the means, and certainly not the only one, by which the former is able to occur. Therefore, the only way to have true gun control is by doing one of two things: take away the guns or take away the human beings, or at the very least their instinctual aggressive behaviors. At present, neither is realistically likely to happen. There are those who see more guns as the answer, specifically in the form of concealed ones. Certainly, it would alleviate the need for gun control with everyone in control of a gun, hidden as it may be. Yes, let's have every citizen on the streets armed as they go about their daily lives! While it might be an answer, it is the wrong answer – and a misguided legacy for future generations. Having the capacity to stop violence through aggressive means, even in the name of safety and security, is not the answer needed for ending the violence. It only perpetuates it.

Obviously, the Virginia Tech shooting is the worse incident in recent memory, despite occuring in an era touted as the strictest in terms of gun control legislation. But just look at three of the major ones to occur this year alone - and only two months into it - and try to argue that something does not need to immediately change about "gun control":

6 Dead In Shooting Rampage At Kirkwood City Council

5 Dead In Strip Mall Shooting; Gunman At Large

Former Student Guns Down 5 In Attack At Northern Illinois University; Kills Self

We consider our society a civil one, in spite of every day proof further illustrating that present-day man is just as barbaric as any of its ancestors. Perhaps we are even more so because we are collectively aware of it, only enacting rhetorical legislation that gives us a sense of control and safety – a false one at that. The United States, like a majority of countries throughout the world, was born from conflict, our forefathers using the force of arms in the name of liberty. By right under the Second Amendment, over two hundred years later the nation is still a gun culture – with no apparent end to it in sight.
Nevertheless, how many senseless shootings and innocent lives will it take before we change that culture, to the betterment of a truly civil society? Or can it not be done without sacrificing our principles, let alone our nature? The answers may come too late if we do not begin to make those changes now. Otherwise, we will continue to face similarly repeated tragedies in years to come before we have even healed from the present ones.

©2008 Steve Sagarra

Friday, February 22, 2008

Viva La Revolución!

After 49 years, Fidel Castro stepped down as leader of Cuba. Gaining power in a 1959 revolution, the dictator outlasted his own communist counterparts of the former Soviet Union and nine U.S. presidents. In recent years, the communist-held island, though only 90 miles from the United States, seems a bygone and forgotten product of the 20th century in light of the “Axis of Evil” and “War on Terror” – akin to a Presidential hopeful having to remind people that three people are involved in the debate.

For Cuban exiles, Castro’s resignation is a potential first step toward the dream of a free, democratic Cuba. It is a small one at best. All of the potential successors – Raúl Castro, who has served as interim president since his brother became ill; Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque; and Vice-President Carlos Lage – are more than likely to uphold the status quo that will do little to change the internal state of affairs or American policy. Less charismatic than his camouflage-wearing sibling yet touted as a reformer, Raúl Castro has been a committed socialist militant since his youth. Infamously known as “Castro’s Executioner,” he has overseen the executions of countless numbers of those opposed to the regime. Undoubtedly, “elder statesman” Fidel will still play a role no matter who is leader, but even more so if it is his own brother.

Castro’s relinquishing of power comes decades after the death of one of his Revolution’s most recognizable symbols, Che Guevara. Yet, Guevara’s spirit, at times overshadowing even his mentoring sponsor, continues to motivate and inspire leftist activists and academics – particularly on college campuses across the United States, no less. Alberto Korda’s infamous photo of the guerrilla insurgent undoubtedly has contributed to this lasting phenomenon, in all probability more so than any statements or actions by the subject of it. As these self-anointed ambassadors of enlightened thought smugly protest the Bush Administration and the detainment of al-Qaida terrorists at Guantanamo, they should remember how the Castro regime – Guevara in particular – treated prisoners. Torture was the least of worries – and never alleged, but in fact occurred with impunity.

The Guevara idolatry has even crept into the current U.S. Presidential campaign. Just recently, a Cuban flag with his superimposed image hung at a new campaign office in Houston, Texas, for Democratic hopeful Barack Obama. The same Guevara who said North Korea – a founding member of the “Axis of Evil” – is a model to which revolutionary Cuba should emulate and aspire. The same Guevara who combated American and anti-Castro forces around the world, most notably at the failed Bay of Pigs invasion ordered by President John F. Kennedy – a fervent anti-communist member of the family that now backs Obama. Certainly, Kennedy would applaud a black man vying for the Presidency, thanks in large part to civil rights reforms initiated during his administration. Nevertheless, he must be rolling over in his grave, at Arlington National Cemetery, from the duplicitous indignity in the display of an iconic symbol of communism by the campaign of a candidate from his party.

In retrospect, perhaps the exportation of the “Cuban Revolution” was more successful than anyone was aware, including its own founders. The frequent call for global social justice and economic equity by the Left does make one wonder if the United States’ triumph in the Cold War against such Marxist doctrine was merely pyrrhic or even a victory at all. Even more, many pundits have stated that the “Reagan Revolution” is over, the last vestige of an era that seemingly has no importance in current world affairs. Whether that is true or not, let us hope that another revolution – under a banner of “change we can believe in” – that ostensibly espouses principles against which President Ronald Reagan fought does not replace it.

©2008 Steve Sagarra