Wednesday, July 27, 2011

CNN World News: Darfur

CNN World News: Darfur

by Bill Britton

Above an arc of black coffee,
ebony figures,
gnarled and wrapped
in dusty parchment,
lean across the screen,
their eyes charred by hunger,
their nurslings adrift
in a wasteland of withered breasts,
their bodies bent by indifferent winds
that swirl over umbered landscapes
and scourge this kindling of races
raked into barren corners
and lost in the gaze of camera lenses.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Reflections on Independence Day

Reflections on Independence Day

By Bill Britton

Attempts to pass a Constitutional Amendment against flag burning has, at times, generated personal uneasiness about the long-term integrity of two documents that have required limited adjustment since their creation by a small group of revolutionaries more than 200 years ago: the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights. I feel that such an amendment would reduce, not increase, the condition of freedom within the United States. Because the Republican Party has become increasingly conservative, citizens can expect renewed efforts should it regain control of both the executive and legislative branches of government. The fact that the Supreme Court is similarly conservative means that there is a good chance that court challenges to an amendment would be defeated.

At first glance, transforming flag desecration from an act of protest to one of criminality seems harmless enough, since those who commit this act tend to be imbued with political outlooks contrary to those of mainstream America. And although watching the national symbol burn on the streets of some foreign city distresses most Americans, to see this done on the streets of an American city, by an American, can elevate this distress to a level of venomous rage. The polls reflect this. The great majority of all Americans are in favor of an amendment to prohibit, and thus criminalize, flag desecration.

Several processes are at work when flames consume a symbol revered from childhood on. Woven into its fabric are memories commonly held such as reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in grade school. Later, elements that are more complex reinforce that early innocence and might embrace incidents like the loss of a comrade in war. Underlying each individual notion of the flag as a private symbol rests tribal instincts that are often expressed on a grander scale as nationalism. In short, an assault leveled against the flag is an assault leveled against an amalgam of memories, innocent ideals, and loyalties, an amalgam that is unifying but can be explosive.

However, the flag as symbol represents far more than those personal and highly charged properties that have become enmeshed within it. When asked what the flag means to them, most Americans will immediately answer, “Freedom.” Since our early history is colored by efforts to secure it, freedom seems to be a logical first response. But since our follow-on history includes a long episode of slavery and the repression of various social and ethnic groups, does not the flag also connote these less palatable traces of national character? Alternatively, do its constituent colors, by representing courage, purity, and justice, exclude the possibility of acknowledging their antitheses?

If the flag as symbol is to honestly represent what America is about, that flag must be inclusive of what is bad as well as what is perceived to be good. By claiming that the flag represents only the national good, Americans must ignore a few chapters of its history and certain aspects of contemporary life. Indeed, it can be argued that for some Americans, the flag represents little more than social and economic marginalization.

Once a flag becomes old and worn or stained, its proper disposal requires burning. Local branches of the American Legion sponsor annual flag-burning ceremonies throughout the country. How can the courts distinguish between these ceremonies and those initiated by citizens who view the country, and therefore the flag, as morally worn or stained, its courage turned cowardly, its purity violated, and its justice compromised? Which ceremony is more ethically correct? In the former, an arbitrary determination was made some time in the past that the proper disposal of a worn flag requires its burning. In the latter, an individual or group sees flag burning as a legitimate response to some violation of its moral code or politics. Whether the weight of the majority condemns that response is of little consequence. A nation must pay the price if it is to honor the concept of free and untrammeled expression.

By definition, ownership of property in America carries with it the right to use that property in any manner as long as that use does not endanger others. Flags are manufactured articles. They enter the stream of distribution not unlike other of capitalism’s goods and are then sold to consumers. Payment transfers ownership to these consumers who are then free to use or abuse a particular article as they see fit, as long as that use causes no physical harm to the lives or property of others. Can rights of ownership be displaced by a prohibition against the destruction of a manufactured article by its legal owner? To claim that this nation owns the symbolic portion of a flag I have purchased for $19.88 at Walmart flies in the face of logic. My flag purchase receives neither subsidy from my neighbors nor rebate from Washington. Its symbolic essence consists of what I, as citizen, attach to it. Since that essence is of a strictly personal nature, I am free to extol or to vilify it. A constitutional restriction on this freedom is nothing less than an enfeebling of the First Amendment.

A nation that claims to be made up of free, independent citizens is a nation of potential dissenters. Freedom and the ability to protest, without harm, the actions and words of others and to take issue with an entrenched polity are parts of our everyday life and comprise the genesis of our nationhood. Although flag burning might lie at the fringes of individual liberty, its impact as a political statement will only be enhanced by its prohibition.

If we have become so unsure of ourselves that we need to restrain this seldom-used form of protest, we are moving closer to the mindset that encourages fundamentalists of any stripe to declare: I am always right (and its corollary: You are right if you agree with me). A flag worth its salt as a national symbol should be made of better stuff and need not fear protest in any form, even if that means its occasional immolation.

On most national holidays, I fly two flags: the national symbol and the Marine Corps eagle, globe, and anchor. As a former Marine, I love both symbols for different reasons, but they remain just that: symbols of my country and symbols of part of my personal history. A flag-burning amendment would do nothing to enhance that relationship.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Goldman Sachs to Change Name to Sacks O’Gold

Goldman Sachs Board of Directors

Goldman Sachs to Change Name to Sacks O’Gold

By Bill Britton

Special to INS — Lloyd C. Blankfein, Chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs, the New York-based bank holding company, announced today that the firm will change its name to Sacks O’Gold (NYSE ticker, SOG). The change is in keeping with the firm’s intention to better position itself as the leading source of greed in the world.

“Last January’s compensation payout to our bankers was only $15.3 billion, down from last year’s $16 billion,” said Blankfein, soaking in a hot tub filled with steamy My-T-Fine chocolate pudding. “I don’t know how they’ll manage to trade in their old Mercedes for 2011’s. I guess they’ll just have to find some more suckers to buy into the derivatives market. Maybe we can set up a sub-prime mortgage company in Haiti.”

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is especially enthusiastic about the change: “The northeast corner of Fort Knox was set aside for Goldman when I came into office and pulled the coup of the century by changing Goldman from an investment bank to a bank holding company. In that way, the taxpayers were able to bail out my buddies Henry Paulson, Robert Rubin, and Larry Summers, all at risk from losing their Park Avenue penthouses.”

Novelist Ayn Rand, whose theory of trickle-down greed is embraced by former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, is the most-read author on Wall Street. “She’s my favorite,” said runner Iwanna Shekels. “Mr. Blankfein reminds me so much of John Galt, the hero in Rand’s novel, The Fountainhead. It opened my eyes to the fact that altruism is nothing but a suckfest invented by the liberal elite. My fianc√© Seymour Azole and I agree that our first-born will be named Randy. It’s so exciting—Iwanna, Seymour, and Randy Azole.”