Nero Redux

  Recent events compel me to stretch my purview beyond my normal commentary on art and culture. I feel as if our whole society is living inside this depiction of  ”Nero fiddling, while Rome burned.” Unfortunately, “Rome” has become our own American body politic.

We all grieve for the horrifically senseless massacre in Colorado. But that does not change the inability of virtually all politicians – Obama included – from addressing the obvious and urgent need for sensible gun control laws. The silence is deafening. I  do not understand how preventing ordinary citizens access to assault rifles and clips above ten rounds, impinges on Second Amendment rights to bear arms. One can hunt, protect one’s property and family, perfectly well with handguns, rifles and shotguns. Senator Frank Lautenberg has proposed a ten round clip limit as being reasonable for these functions. Whether the limit is ten, fifteen, or twenty, what I think is obvious, is that only the military should have access to assault weapons and all related kinds of firepower. The Second Amendment does not give individual citizens the right to own bazookas, hand grenades or their own personal tactical nuclear weapon. Government certainly has the right, and duty, in fact, to decide what is reasonable.

I am similarly frustrated and perplexed by the large number of politicians, and citizens, who are able to pretend that global warming is not happening all around them. Step outside your door. I can understand why oil companies and other fossil fuel burning technologies want to downplay it, but the facts and reality of it are obvious and incontrovertible. We have unleashed natural processes that can cripple our planet and our future. We can not allow corporate greed to determine our environmental policy. Make no mistake, these issues are not just environmental, they effect and threaten all aspects of our daily life; our weather, our food and water supply, the integrity of our coastlines, etc., as well as being one of the great destabilizing international threats of our time. I guarantee that this reality will become one of our  most significant national security issues in the years ahead. Again, I am befuddled by our inability to even begin to deal with these issues politically. Some of the basic steps are obvious. Alternative energy needs to be encouraged, fossil fuel energy discouraged. Yet, even in this time of economic and fiscal crisis, we can’t  stop giving oil companies billions upon billions of dollars in tax breaks. Who’s running the show here?

This brings me to the state of our national debate around the economy. Every political player knows exactly how to solve our current problems. It is not difficult. It simply involves some version of  ”Simpson-Bowles.” The only plan that will work is a combination of higher taxes, deficit management, and entitlement compromise. Everybody has to give  a little. This is not rocket science. I won’t get into the notion that ” we’ve tried stimulus and it didn’t work.” The problem, from my point of view, is that we didn’t do enough stimulus to the right segments of the economy, and did too much for the people who got us here. You can’t starve the engines of growth, like infrastructure and education and expect to expand the economy. I believe in capitalism, but not in Wall Street threatening the foundation of our whole society by gaming the system, for their own profit, with the guarantee of tax dollars to protect them, while we suffer incalculably. But as with even the most minimal, common sense gun control, most politicians can’t deal with the most obvious, basic financial regulation and restructuring of a deck so stacked against our real national interests.

Regardless of one’s political party orientation, we need to start acting like adults on a national political level. People can certainly disagree about how to accomplish policy objectives, but “reality and truth” are not relativistic in these areas. If you bury your head in the sand, you will get buried – and  unfortunately, take a whole society  with you. We have to decide if this country will be dedicated to the greater good of all its people, or become even more  polarized, with our national agenda controlled by, and for the benefit of, the privileged few. The Supreme Court not withstanding, I don’t recognize an America where corporations have the same rights as people. The strength of America was built on her dramatic expanding of the middle class. We used to embrace the notion that a rising tide lifts all ships. We need to decide what kind of society we want to live in, to leave our children, and build towards it. We need to do it quickly. I think we’ve gone way past the point where time is on our side. Meaningful, thoughtful, action is required. Bi-partisanship used to mean a recognition that the common good most likely required everyone to compromise. We need to unite, we need to act, and we need to do it now. The flames in the depiction of Rome above are already lapping at our heels. If we don’t start dousing them, the country we cherish, and our future, will be relegated to the ashes.



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20 Comments on "Nero Redux"

  1. Kathy says:

    I feel sad that I used to believe and work so hard for political candidates, from a very early age, until recently. I’ve sort of “given up” on the so-called democratic governing of this country, and realize that corporations and special interest groups are what is driving the decisions, and lack of them, now. I’ve been hugely disappointed in Obama for so many reasons, and his what I consider a “weak” response to the horror in Aurora, Colorado, for stronger gun control, etc. But you know, election year and all that. I’m so sick of them all, and their singular focus on getting re-elected.

  2. David Leeds says:

    The response of both candidates for President to the Aurora shootings is depressing and feckless. Yes, they grieve for the slain, but neither one makes the obvious connection to gun control. Obama campaigned the first time around on making assault weapons illegal. He has furiously backpedalled from that position as the re-election nears. Mitt said he doubts gun regulation would have made any difference. Of course, as Governor of Massachusetts, he banned them. However, like the health care policy he implemented as Governor that he now is completely against on the national stage, he blames some evil, alternate version of himself whom he now disavows. It seems like the NRA, Exxon, and the medical insurance industry are the only constituency that counts.

    • Kathy says:

      And it seems that so many of the perpetrators of these crimes have been addicted to violent video games as well. We’re feeding the violence for profit, bottom line.

      • David Leeds says:

        You’re so right Kathy. What’s also happened is we’ve created a generation with an incredibly short attention span who simply require mindless neuron stimulation. Taking in maximum data superficially as it whizzes by and through you is not a substitute for the the kind of slower, deeper, more three dimensional experience that comes from reading a book. We need to have space and time in our interactions with “data” in order to think and absorb on any kind of deep level. Less information, more thought is my prescription.

  3. We heard on the radio during the night that gun sales are sharply on the increase in Colorado. I really don’t get it. As for the body politic, my faint hope is that big business, in its own self interest, will get around to dealing with climate change. They want to survive I think.

  4. David, thank you for starting this conversation that we Americans need to be having much more often!
    It’s not taboo to talk politics and societal health. In fact, it’s so so necessary!

  5. mette says:

    Hi David,
    There´s a mess in the US, I agree.
    But – so is there a mess in Europe too; The European Union ; ).
    Can´t understand how in the first place, so many different countries, with so different morals were chosen as part of it. Luckily, the talking of adding Romania along, are quite quiet now.
    As to all the shootings, the guns used for those unbelievable acts, I do think that the media is partly responsible.
    Always, when these awful things happen somewhere, it won´t take long, when something similar takes place somewhere else; even in the ” civilized ” world.
    The school- shootings, just as an example.
    No, I´m not saying, that media has to ignore what is happening.
    But maybe there is a way to do it in an other way, without going into details?
    Just pondering on everything going on around the world..

    • David Leeds says:

      Mette, I think you’re quite right about the copycat nature of so many of these violent acts, and the media frenzy that ensues. The flip side of globalization and our interconnected, wired in world, is that nothing stays local anymore. The media panders to this 24 hour a day news/entertainment cycle. Everything is dumbed down for the widest possible readership. For most of my life, before corporate domination of news, the media’s role was to ferret out the “truth.” Now one must give opposing viewpoints to everything in order not to be deemed biased. The news is now just a version of “he said, she said.” All good media is biased- in favor of the TRUTH, not just the audience one has to placate to sell the most units to.

  6. Helen says:

    There is nothing more I could add to what you have written. You have touched very single point so articulately…you express what many of us feel. It’s really strange for me to be feeling these feelings so many years later in life. Perhaps the younger generations do not feel the same way as some of us who were part of the 60′s and who have recycled/hoped/believed/tried for a lifetime… now to find out we cannot even retire. Huge problems that require huge answers loom in front of us… but only for those who care to see them.

    • David Leeds says:

      I know Helen. i think the situation is particularly vexing for those from our generation. After all, we got the government to stop a war. What difference also in the media climate, which is something that really drives me nuts. Ferreting out the truth has taken a distant backseat to giving anyone with an opinion equal time in the misguided name of “fairness,” or “political correctness.”

  7. sulky kitten says:

    Very well written, David. I understand your frustrations because as Mette says we in Europe have similar problems. It infuriates me that special interest groups, big business and faceless mandarins (none of whom are actually elected by the populace) have a bigger say in dictating what happens next than the average voter does. Where I live on a tiny island, there are currently 9,700 guns held by 1,800 individuals. These are supposedly for “sporting purposes” but I do often worry that we could be the next location for a shooting spree by some unbalanced individual.

  8. Darin says:

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  9. Well said. I agree with all your points. On an unrelated point, how about a post about artist Jean Dubuffet. I recently discovered his work and think it may be an antidote to our technology happy, fast-paced society. What do you think?

  10. Noel R Torrey says:

    Well said David!!! I agree 100%.

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Sculptor, painter, poet. Currently living in Los Angeles and Martha's Vineyard