Category: Social Justice


MSNBC’s Brian Williams opened his Friday’s show with an interesting comment, “… both Trump and Ryan saved the Affordable Care Act.”  To be fair, Williams claimed the quote wasn’t original, that he acquired the verbiage from the Associated Press or another news media organization. Regardless, the statement was perfect.

Regardless of political view, there are many wonderful lessons for all project managers.

First failure was the lack of vision. All projects require vision and the Project Sponsor must be able to effectively communicate that project. Anti-Affordable Care Act (ACA) proponents had nearly seven years to prepare for and repeal the ACA. Estimates vary on the exact number of repeal efforts, but the current count is well over 60. So one would figure the American Health Care Act (TrumpCare) would have a solid foundation, with critical review and bipartisan support across both political and healthcare professions.

Unfortunately, TrumpCare was conceived in weeks, created from a high-level 6 page outline. TrumpCare was hidden, where one could neither read nor contribute to policy discussion. The White House failed to sell TrumpCare and Americans rejected the plan. Various news reports indicated the lead Project Sponsor (i.e.,the President and shelf promoted dealmaker) failed to break through Washington’s gridlock in his first major policy initiative. There was no education as to how TrumpCare was better than the ACA. In the end, not many thought it was better.

Second failure has to be project staff and advisors vacationing during project delivery. Prseident’s Trump’s key advisors, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump were vacationing while TrumpCare flopped. I simply can’t fathom key leadership would allow their principle advisors to leave during implementation week. Of course one could speculate Kushner and Ivanka Trump knew TrumpCare was destined to die and said “Screw it babe! Let’s get outta Dodge.” If you’re part of management, you have to be present during both good and bad.

Third failure. Where was Ivanka Trump during TrumpCare’s development. In January, Ivanka Trump professed a wanton desire to push policies benefiting women and girls. Accordingly, she sought the advice of female executives and media stars and the transition team supposedly courted congressional staff on childcare policies. This was an area Ivanka urged President-elect Donald Trump to prioritize. However, did we read of any single contribution from Ms. Trump during TrumpCare’s formation? Did we hear Ms. Trump promoting the positive benefits of TrumpCare for the working poor, single mothers and children? Maybe Ivanka worked behind the scenes. Still, TrumpCare’s key components were never publicly promoted by either Ryan’s team nor the White House.

Fourth failure. Borrowing Stephen Covey’s second principle from “7 Habits of Highly Effective People,”  it’s unclear if anyone began with the end in mind. Did they really understand 20+ million could lose health care as end? Accordingly, TrumpCare would have hit millions of Trump supporters the hardest. And who are those supporters? Older people. People in the west, Midwest, and Appalachia. Technically speaking, political projects are supposed to reward supporters and stick it to enemies — not the other way round.

So what’s the end result? What’s our takeaway?

As someone whose worked in healthcare industry for years, health care policy is extremely complicated. Politicians and project managers over simplifying complexities via grandiose vision fail. There’s always a significant gap between solution and implementation. How well the solution positively impacts your customers is dependent upon the planning. TrumpCare suffered from faulty planning.

Maybe America will benefit in the wake TrumpCare’s failure. Sure the ACA is flawed. Like everything, maintenance is critical. Hopefully leaders from all spectrum of health care will come together and add a little Obama, add smidgen of Ryan, a dab of professional ethics, the heart of clinicians everywhere and the will of all constituents and create something beautiful and wonderful.

We must begin with the end in mind.

As GOP leaders continue marching the American Health Care Act through the legislative process, we are left with bickering pros and cons of affordability and coverage. As one who’s earned a livelihood from the healthcare industry, I view legislative gladiators from the cheap seats and ponder, “If you can’t afford health care, should the state let you die?

The current House plan relies on government tax credits, regulation of the insurance industry, and continued government funding to keep the low-income population insured. Yet in-between weeds, down in the fine print no one ever reads, one can find insurance reforms are positioned so carriers can offer a wider array of policies that pick up less of the tab for getting care. Additionally, Insurance companies can charge the oldest enrollees as much as they want, roll back the Medicaid expansion thereby eliminating approximately 11 million of the nation’s poorest from health care and eliminating healthcare services of poorer via planned parenthood.

In February 2017, Cardinal Burke noted, “Catholic health care, by its constant and careful attention to the perennial moral teaching of the Church, safeguards and promotes the respect for all human life from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death ...”

Sounds wonderful, but there are little safeguards that promote the respect for all human life from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death. Our faith-based nation spends a hell of a lot time upending/defending Roe vs. Wade, but the notion we protect all human life from conception to natural death is bullshit. The back hallways of healthcare facilities are littered with the strewn, discarded and neglected. These hallways are filled with the “let them die” arrogance. We simply do not care about the respect of human life.

Both Bernie Sanders and the Pope have stated similar positions, “…access to health care regardless of income” is a right. Technically speaking, even one without health care can get health care coverage via a hospital emergency room. And in truth, both the Affordable Care Act and the GOP’s American Health Care Act provides opportunities for health care access. Now whether one can afford that access is an entirely different matter.

Health care is not mentioned in our Constitution or the Bill of Rights. Yet our Founding Fathers rightfully focused on life, liberty and justice. Conservatives continue to believe in personal responsibility, limited government, free markets, individual liberty, traditional American values and a strong national defense.

Several years ago, a 17-year-old senior at T.C. Williams High School wrote:

“… it must be noted that the key word in said act is “affordable.” The American people struggle on a daily basis to make ends meet, worrying about groceries, bills, and car payments. For better or for worse, that is capitalism, and as a country the United States has stayed true to its ideals. Nevertheless, the competition of the game of life should never have to be a game of life and death.”

Health care coverage is extremely complex. By nature, medical clinicians, Buddhists, Christians and many others of faith are concerned in their own way in the alleviation, control and ultimately the removal of human suffering. The American psychiatrist M. Scott Peck began his bestselling book The Road Less Travelled with the statement “Life is difficult.” He added, “This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths.”

Borrowing from Peck, the current health care debate is difficult. The disparity between health care and American values is crudely displayed as political views, politicians, managers, and administrators impact who receives what level of proportioned health care. While hospitals are forced to meet sometimes arbitrary measurements of performance, financial incentives are dolled-out on the backside. Lost in all this is what matters. For instance, what may matter more to a patient is the intangible and unquantifiable aspects of care experience. On what measurable performance scale can it be recorded that a dying patient is helped through denial, anger, and resentment to peace and serenity?

Of course, we can mimic Rep. Roger Marshall’s (R-KS) holy view to wash our hands. Marshall used Jesus to justify his opposition to Obamacare by explaining that poor people will reject health care.

“Just like Jesus said, ‘The poor will always be with us.’ There is a group of people that just don’t want health care and aren’t going to take care of themselves. Just, like, homeless people … I think just morally, spiritually, socially, [some people] just don’t want health care. The Medicaid population, which is [on] a free credit card, as a group, do probably the least preventive medicine and taking care of themselves and eating healthy and exercising. And I’m not judging, I’m just saying socially that’s where they are.”

Can we afford to be spiritually ignorant as some politicians? Should society claim that if one can’t afford health care, they die? No. At this point, both societal value and the American Health Care Act are morally unaffordable.

img_0014By simply turning on the news, one can hear Donald Trump talk about our great country.

“At the center of this movement is a crucial conviction, that a nation exists to serve its citizens. Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighborhoods for their families, and good jobs for themselves. These are just and reasonable demands of righteous people and a righteous public.”

If the last ten to twelve days represent our future, have we become a nation that serves its citizens? Are we righteous? And are we lifting up and enhancing schools?

Today, the U.S. “put Iran on notice,” whatever that means. I mean, you Iranians are on notice. Uh, ok. Today’s statement was in response to an Iran missile launch. However, we never laid out exactly what “notice” meant.

Buddhists notice during meditation. But I’m positive this is not the Buddhist version of “notice.” In a broader sense, are we going to take out a big stick and kick ass? Or are we going to just notice. “Ok. Kill as many as you want, but damn it, we’re going to notice.

We’ve also effectively singled out the Muslim faith for the entirety of atrocities committed on U.S. soil. Damn it, Muslims are responsible. The text of Trump’s original executive order noted the “crucial role” the visa-issuance process plays in “detecting individuals with terrorist ties and stopping them from entering the United States.” Fear mongers often raise 9/11 to justify travel ban actions some 17 years later. However, if the public ever performed even some negligible research, they’ve might have found none of the countries impacted by the current administration travel ban was home to any hijackers from the 9/11 attacks. Those 19 came from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon and Egypt.

For those in the Bible Belt, do you seriously believe that an overseas terrorist is coming to a cornfield near you to detonate a couple hundred feet of corn via suicide bombing? Are you sure a terrorist will set off a shoe bomb as your family participates in a hayride on the Fourth of July? Oops, maybe they’ll blow up a pumpkin durning the fall harvest festival. Wait, that would be cool! Right? Pumpkin detonation is cool.

The coup de grace, has to be today’s speech with Black History Month participants.

We’re going to need better schools, and we need them soon. We need more jobs, we need better wages — a lot better wages. We’re going to work very hard on the inner city. Ben is going to be doing that big league. It’s one of his big things that we’re going to be looking at.

We need safer communities, and we’re going to do that with law enforcement. We’re going to make it safe. We’re going to make it much better than it is right now. Right now it’s terrible, and I saw you talking about it the other night, Paris, on something else that was really — you did a fantastic job the other night on a very unrelated show. I’m ready to do my part — it’s the only time I can see him. I’m ready to do my part, and I will say this: We’re going to work together.

Ramble. Ramble.

To align my thought of today’s speech with Black History Month participants, I am reminded of a cartoon seen some 20 years ago in the New Yorker about God talking to his Son. In the cartoon, God said, “Now tell me again. What did you you tell them?

I ponder this cartoon as I think of our current Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and current nominee for Secretary of Education. Both are complete “dipsticks.” “Surely Mr. President, what are you telling me? This is the best we have?

Other stupid time-wasting executive orders included a plan to defeat ISIS in 30 days, lengthen ban for administrative staff working as lobbyist, authorization of U.S./Mexican Border Wall (otherwise known as the Great Rio Wall), a couple of oil pipelines, abortion ban, U.S. government hiring freeze (unless it’s your son-in-law) and repealing Obamacare.

So for the rest of us, there has been no discussion about bringing jobs to mid-America. No plans for infrastructure repair, healthcare for the poor or how to ensure students in middle America are just as competitive as those in the Ivy League.

We are a great country already, but for the past twenty years, solutions are few. And so far, we’re looking very unrighteousness and significantly shallow.

But look on the bright side, we’re protected from suicide pumpkin bombers.

tariffPresident Donald Trump gathered the CEOs of several top US companies at the White House this past Monday and put them on notice: Move your manufacturing operations overseas and you’ll face a “substantial border tax.”

If you go to another country … we are going to be imposing a very major border tax on the product when it comes in, which I think is fair,” Trump said. “All you have to do is stay. Don’t leave. Don’t fire your people.”

Trump’s notice inspired deeper thought. The biggest of which, is that if tariffs apply to manufacturing products like automobiles and air conditioners, does it apply to other imports such as food and clothing?

China — by far America’s biggest source of clothing — accounted for 37 cents of every dollar’s worth of clothes imported, thereby sucking up the top spot with 37% of all clothing imports. Bangladesh was number 2, accounting for 5.8 percent of all U.S. clothing imports.

The food category is a little different. As the U.S. population has grown in both size and ethnic diversity, the volume and variety of food consumed and imported in the United States has increased correspondingly. American consumers prefer an increasingly wider selection of food products, such as tropical fruits and vegetables, premium coffee, and a greater variety of wines, beers, cheese, grain products, and preserved meats. In 2013, U.S. food consumption totaled 635 billion pounds, or more than 2,000 pounds per capita. Of this amount, imports accounted for 19 percent (123 billion pounds), or 390 pounds per capita.

So how would tariffs impact the clothing and food? A 35 percent tax on imported goods certainly would turn up the heat. It may also give pause to companies deciding where to produce their wares. But if tariffs are implemented, would they work? And what about the unintended consequences?

Concerns vary. Willem Buiter, chief economist at Citi, wrote to clients stating new protectionist trade policies might spark a global trade war, “which could easily trigger a global recession.” Deutsche Bank also weighed-in.  The Deutschland opined team that negative risks of a potential trade agenda were “the biggest threat and a possible protectionist turn, which could depress global trade and even trigger trade wars.”

While both Trump and Hillary Clinton zeroed in on worker anxieties over job losses, it’s important to note that at least some American job losses were not due to trade. Losses were due to automation. And crucially, automation not only hits manufacturing, but also affects jobs that require advanced degrees, such as neuroradiology.

Protectionism policies Neglect the concept of “dependent origination,” that nothing exists in isolation, Life cannot be independent of other life. The Japanese term for dependent origination is engi, literally meaning “arising in relation.” In other words, our existence only occurs because of our relationship with other beings. Everything in the world comes into existence in response to causes and conditions. Nothing can exist in absolute independence of other things or arise of its own accord.

We must remember that, if we as a society, choose “protectionism” as the rule of life, we’re most likely to implode. Interdependence is the rule life, whether country or state, business to business, family or friends. You hit one (meaning tariff one) there’s usually an equal and opposite reaction.

fake-newsWhen looking at the “fake news” allegations rolling off Trump’s lips, one can only thank themselves. Yup! That’s right. You are responsible. I am responsible. We’re all responsible. We’ve legitimized verbal crap by our words, our lips and our hearts.

Allow me to back up. Trump’s news conference earlier this week was quite the spectacle, just as predicted. Like a boxer weaving and ducking, Trump controlled the event, the texture and meaning of right and wrong. I was in awe listening to the man as he verbally weaved around the imaginary ring, deflecting jabs, dismantling barbs and seemingly laughing at enemies great and small. He dismissed CNN, criticized news organizations and belittled the U.S. Intelligence community. He admonished Russia for hacking only to seemingly reinforce his bromance some ninety-minutes later.

An aficionado of “fake news” as a presidential candidate, I was amazed at his use of “fake news” as a defense, controlling the meaning of truth. Should one think otherwise, we should remember Trump’s 9/11 comments:

“I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down,” the Republican presidential candidate said at a November 21st rally in Birmingham, Alabama. “And I watched in Jersey City, N.J., where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering.”

Other Trump fake news included Obama being born in Africa, Justice Scalia was murdered, voting machine tampering, Clinton won the popular vote because of all the illegal votes. And of course there’s infamous pizzeria fake new used by a Trump surrogate. Trump fired the son of a transition team’s staff member, Michael G. Flynn. Flynn’s son was fired for using Twitter to spread a fake news story about Hillary Clinton that led to an armed confrontation in a pizzeria.

As a person, I have no love for Donald Trump. Nor do I have any interest in protecting him from scrutiny. But to declare the fake news used against him was wrong and disingenuous is like saying “Woe unto me. For my shit don’t stink. Yours does, but mine doesn’t.

So let’s regroup. How does all this apply to the you and I? Seriously, everyone delves into fake news. Just as it may have been wrong when FBI Director James B. Comey made an eleventh-hour content-free rumblings about Hillary Clinton’s emails, it’s also wrong each time Trump demurs “there’s something going on” about an insane premise or rumor he should otherwise disavow.

Just like Trump, society is just as morally bankrupt when backbiting a coworker, allowing students to cyberbullying, falsifying stories at the watercooler, supporting known innuendo, lying to your spouse and so on. Doing so makes each of us equally and morally repugnant. What’s worse is America’s willingness to accept this verbal diarrhea as acceptable.

All people, Buddhists and Christians alike, must take a higher road. And sometimes that road completely sucks. But it is the road we must not waver should we wish to expect anything less than complete transparency.

Unfortunately, the crux of our sin is … our acceptance.

kapEveryone seems to have an opinion on Colin Kaepernick’s pregame National Anthem protest. In the last week or so, other players inside and outside the NFL, including Megan Rapinoe and Denver Bronco’s Brandon Marshall and high school football players have been reported taking a knee during the Anthem. News Media has also rumored either some or all of Seattle Seahawks may be is planning some sort of protest at Sunday’s, September 11th game.

Yet when a player doesn’t receive their adieu to take a knee, they get pissed. Megan Rapinoe opined:

To be honest I didn’t hear (the anthem) and I wasn’t exactly sure why it wasn’t played, but (expletive) unbelievable,” Rapinoe said. “Saddened by it. I think that it’s pretty clear what the message is that I’m trying to bring to light when I knelt in Chicago and what I’ve continued trying to talk about the last few days and what I intend to talk about and clearly with (Spirit owner Bill Lynch’s) actions, I think that that’s a necessary conversation.”

Kaepernick’s protest (for lack of a better word) started because he couldn’t show pride in a flag of a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To him, this is bigger than football and he couldn’t look the other way. The problem with all these protesters is that the message of hope gets lost and does little to foster proactive conversation about how people are treated. Instead, it’s about Kaepernick. It’s about Rapinoe. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Throughout the last several weeks, I’ve traveled between Chicago and Indianapolis. In neither city have I heard one person discuss either Black Lives Matter or police brutality. Kaepernick’s discussion has not produced enlightenment upon police brutality or even racism. No one in either city said, “Hey, let’s talk about racism and what we can do to help narrow the gap” or “Let’s talk about the plight of the disadvantaged in our neighborhood and how we help.” The only statement I overheard was from a wickedly honest seven-year old boy in O’Hare International Airport who wondered if Kaepernick slept with a chia pet.

If the mission was to create an open dialogue of race as sports fans guzzled beer and eating nachos while huddled around fifty-inch televisions as teams pounded the shit out each other, then Kaepernick needs to think of something else. If Rapinoe believes that supporting Kaepernick will create proactive race discussion as sports fans watch women play soccer, she’s woefully misinformed. There’s no honor in public policy or triumphal banishment of systematic hate at the 50 yard-line. Sunday afternoon is about the pigskin. It’s about legalized brutality.

Participating in a brutal sport while condemning societal brutality seems over played. Professional sports players like Kaepernick and Rapinoe make an eloquent pay-check. Each can protest and theoretically ride off into the sunset. They will move on quite comfortably.

The crux of the argument is that we (as a society) must do more than protest. There’s more to making a statement than simply taking a knee. Whether we’re against cancer, police brutality, child abuse, animal rights or the right to education. Regardless of the movement, protest is only effective if it’s a start, not an end. Each of us have to be active in the cause that calls our heart.

And that’s the difference. Where was Kaepernick’s protest three and a half years ago, when Trayvon Martin died? How about Michael Brown in 2014? For that matter, Eric Gardner was choked to death only a few miles from where the Giants practice. Philando Castile was killed just outside of St. Paul, Minnesota, mere minutes from where the Minnesota Vikings play. I would love to see their expressed outrage for 12-year-old Tamir Rice or 7-year-old Aryana Jones and the scores of others who have died at the hands of police since 2012.

Would this conversation have been different during the years the self-absorbed Kaepernick was declared one of the best quarterbacks in history? Hard to say. But by dissing the American Flag, Kaepernich and Rapinoe have done little for the movement they claim to support. It becomes about them, not the cause.

A more powerful message would been Kaepernick saying, “I am retiring from football, donating my millions and will begin working side-by-side with those helping to change the dialogue of race.” Now that would be worthy of real conversation.

Then again, real change doesn’t take a knee.

dallasListening to President Obama’s memorial speech in Dallas, I reflected upon Baltimore.

When Freddie Gray died April 19, 2015, and riots erupted, Baltimore and its residents were forced to confront issues that had plagued them for decades. Personally, I was about 1200 miles west when Baltimore protests erupted over the death of Freddie Gray. Like most, we’ve watched too many protests, from Ferguson, Baltimore, Chicago, Florida, Atlanta, Oakland and many others via the comfort of some easy chair. What had been mostly peaceful protests erupted into rock-throwing, looting and fires.

This past year has seen me working at hospitals in the Baltimore and Washington area, with one hospital a mere four blocks from the original riots.  There is much to praise and much work remains.

A year later, dozens of Baltimore legislative proposals resulted were generated because of the death of a disadvantaged, young, black man from West Baltimore. From policing and criminal justice reform to efforts to Baltimore neighborhoods and lead poisoning referendums, reforms are underway. Other things have remained the same. Officers involved in Gray’s death have not been held accountable. DeRay McKesson (Black Lives Matter leader) was not elected mayor and the makeup of Baltimore legislators has essentially remained the same.

Yet, when I look at protests in Dallas and other cities, I often ask myself, What’s next? What happens after the march? What happens when to burning singe of hatred is cooled? Where does the movement go?

While not completely agreeing with President Obama on every issue, I do believe that if we truly want to improve a community, the police cannot do it alone. Societal effort is required. Police, residents, schools, elected officials, along with those who work in housing, transportation and health must all work together to make difference.

We must also learn to love one another. In his book What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, Raymond Carver noted:

“I could hear my heart beating. I could hear everyone’s heart. I could hear the human noise we sat there making. Not one of us moved. Not even when the room went dark.”

That is what interdependent love is. It is listening to that beating heart, and when we hear it, it is our job to interpret it to the best of our abilities. We need to find a piece of each other in our daily life.

We have to get past yelling. It is true that the most important things to say are the hardest things to say, but we have to do it.

PrayerI watched in horror last night as five Dallas police officers were killed and another seven wounded in a racially charged attack that ended when police used a robot to kill the sniper. The killings came at the end of a largely peaceful protest over a pair of fatal shootings of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota. These killings culminate a string of killings of black men by police officers, including Ferguson, Missouri, New York, Baltimore and Chicago.

Several things concern me.

First, looking at the tactics and weaponry used last night, one has to ask, “Are we at war?” When does disagreement and the thirst for political integrity justify the use of heavy weapons?  As noted by Carl Philipp Gottfried, “War is the continuation of politics by other means.” When do we lose our ability to communicate that our only option is to don camo-pants, an ill-fitted bulletproof vest and weapons? Does it matter if one is pro-Black Lives Matter, pro-abortion, pro-life, anti-religious this or that, anti-this or anti-that?  Must the next logical step be shoot first, dialogue later.

Secondly, our current juncture in history lends itself to the fact we are exceptional at destruction. We suck at repairing. Whether the issues are Iraq or homeland infrastructure, healthcare, abortion, left leaning judges, right leaning judges, whatever … it seems our current nature leans toward complete and utter destruction. We lack the ability for common interfaith dialogue.

Jay Parini echoed similar comments on an CNN opinion piece earlier today.

“Are we a people at war with ourselves, unable or unwilling to control our most violent urges? Must we settle every dispute with a gun or a bomb? Who is responsible for this mayhem that plays out on many fronts?

We quickly blame the other guy: the Mexican or Wall Streeter, the immigrant, Muslims, “millionaires and billionaires.” In our confusion and malaise, we have become a deeply angry nation. As such, we reach for scapegoats, and they’re easy to find. Anyone who doesn’t look or sound like ourselves becomes suspicious.”

The real pain of Ferguson, New York, Baltimore, Chicago, Orlando and Dallas is that someone always wakes up fatherless, motherless, daughter-less, brother-less, sister-less, uncle-less. As a Buddhist, I — along with communities and practitioners of all faiths — stand in solidarity with those who seek to live in peace and nonviolence, and grieve for the loss of life

Yes, I concur we have too many freely available weapons. However, I also believe we have too many disenfranchised people. Theoretically, we could fix the gun issue. We wont. Just look no further than recent bipartisan gun legislation condemned to legislative purgatory.

If society is to survive, we must fix disenfranchisement. If we don’t, all we’ll get is one more prayer service.

DreadlocksOver the past year or so, the country’s racial battles have been cast in black-and-white terms — with black folks on one side, white folks on the other. Other avenues often expressed are the entitled versus the poor.

Recently, a video showing a black San Francisco State University campus student accosting a white student over his dreadlocks has reached both news and blog infamy. Bonnie “Bonita” Tindle lectured Cory Goldstein about how being white means he shouldn’t have dreadlocks, calling it “cultural appropriation.”

Since America seems to be under some detailed microscope, old ideas about its racial dynamics have been extensively challenged. Writer Wedaeli Chibelushi noted that part of the oppressive culture (I presume white), the white student emulates minority tradition (I presume Black) while ignoring the discrimination that came with it.

Really?

I simply cannot recall a single instance where dreadlocks have been patented to a specific race. Corey Goldstein was correct when explaining dreadlocks are not the sole preserve of black culture. The style has been traced back to Ancient India, Egypt and Greece. Critics claim Goldstein isn’t immune to the accusation that now surrounds him: that he’s guilty of “cultural appropriation.

Really?

Critics require a reality-check, everyone one is guilty of cultural appropriation.

On May 14, 2015, Rihanna arrived at The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute benefit gala celebrating “China: Through the Looking Glass.” Rihanna swooped in, wearing a fur-trimmed yellow cape with floral swirls of gold and a train so long it required three assistants. The ensemble came with a little pink mini-dress underneath, and a sparkling tiara. In keeping with the evening’s theme — China, and its artistic influence on the West — the outfit came from Beijing-based designer Guo Pei, whose sumptuous designs also are on display in the current Metropolitan Museum exhibit, “China: Through the Looking Glass.” At the same event, Lady Gaga, wore a huge kimono-like garment studded with feathers by Balenciaga. Gaga drew cheers when she waved to the crowd packed behind bleachers across Fifth Avenue from the museum.

No one was busted neither Lady Gaga nor Rihanna. Then again, I heard no one talk about China’s labor camps, exiled dissidents, or widespread poverty and corruption in rural areas either.

It’s much harder to patrol the ramparts of our cultures, to distinguish between the appreciators and appropriators. Just who gets to play in which cultural playground?

Today, we question ourselves constantly. Does eating an Israeli-grown avocado mean I effectively fund the war on Hamas? Does drinking Russian vodka mean I approve Putin bombing Syrian hospitals? If I eat high-end chocolate harvested in Africa, do I condone slave labor by Africa cocoa farms, where an estimated 100,000 children are working, with more than 10,000 trafficked? I wear a Buddhist pendant and a silver cross made by a Navajo Indian Artist. Does that make me a cultural appropriator?

And speaking of American Indians, people have been injured, and some have died, in fraudulent sweat lodge ceremonies performed by non-Natives. Utterly horrific. Yet many other forms of cultural appropriation are honored, including New York pizza, Japanese denim, not to mention democratic discourse, mathematics, and the calendar.

Personally, in light of everything going on in today’s world, the only sin Corey Goldstein guilty of is a bad hair style. Whoever did that style for him should never be allowed in a beauty parlor again.

From a Buddhist perspective, the message is tolerance and the beauty that comes out of cross-cultural expression.

Lighten up.

trumpsandersAt the end of the Democratic primary debate on Univision, Sanders received standing ovation. If Hillary Clinton loses her bid in the Democratic Primary, March 9th at 10:56 PM will have been a defining moment.

Over the past several months, Sanders and Trump have lured the disenfranchised who’ve claimed to have been ignored for years. If Starbucks were a political coffee shop, the aroma of café de’ wizz would be so strong many would cringe. Yet, voters are hooked by the fragrance.

Each candidate targets different groups, but uses the same methodology. Trump’s message rests solely on culprits:  corrupt Washington politicians, outsiders, drug dealers and rapists from Mexico, terrorists from Syria, Islamists who hate America, the Chinese and Japanese. Bernie Sanders has decided to assign all the ills of this world to the financial services sector. To Sanders, Wall Street’s business model is fraud: greed, fraud, dishonesty and arrogance. Wall Street and Washington are filled with “oligarchs” where campaigns are “rigged” and “corrupt.”

In many ways, both Trump and Sanders want to rewrite the rules via political revolution.  One wants to soak the rich with higher taxes to finance a cornucopia of proposals, including free state college tuition for all, expanded Social Security benefits and a major surge in highway and bridge construction to create new jobs. And the other? Well, the other pretty much wants to kill someone, anyone … especially anyone un-American.

We are left with these two nitwits from two reasons: one, each coddles our inner most fears; and secondly, we don’t know the difference. In the movie, The American President, fictional President Andrew Sheppard stated the problem eloquently:

Lewis Rothschild: They don’t have a choice! Bob Rumson is the only one doing the talking! People want leadership, Mr. President, and in the absence of genuine leadership, they’ll listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone. They want leadership. They’re so thirsty for it they’ll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there’s no water, they’ll drink the sand.

President Andrew Shepherd: Lewis, we’ve had presidents who were beloved, who couldn’t find a coherent sentence with two hands and a flashlight. People don’t drink the sand because they’re thirsty. They drink the sand because they don’t know the difference.

I don’t discount America’s problems. We have quite the laundry list. Yet the average voter has little understanding that neither Trump nor Sanders will really help. Borrowing from Sheppard again, I guarantee that whatever your particular problem is, neither Trump nor Sanders is the least bit interested in solving it. They are interested in two things and two things only: making you afraid of it and telling you who’s to blame for it.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections.

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