Jeffrey Sachs recently appeared at an Occupy Wall Street protest and explained that there are still “normal” countries where companies merely do business and they don’t try to run the government. That is what we need here in the United States, and Sachs believes that the People can take back their government. He has much else to say on sustainable living, media, corporate misinformation, campaign finance reform, warmongering, the top 99%, typical folks who are unwittingly doing the bidding of billionaires, candidates who need to swear off big money, and the fact that big money has thoroughly Barack Obama. Sachs has just written a new book: The Price of Civilization: Reawakening American Virtue and Prosperity.
When you have a dream about an argument, maybe it has some weight and should be written about. Recently, I posted a photograph on my Google + page. This one, in fact (click on the photo for high-res version):
My caption for it was “What more is there to say?” Partly this was just to have a caption, but also to prompt potential discussion. As symbol, the photograph serves a number of functions, from melancholy to condemnation.
It did prompt a discussion, between two friends of mine who do not know each other, the core of which centers on the divergent meanings of such symbols for them and a question of sensitivity. I won’t reproduce the exchange here, because as far as I’m concerned the question that it prompted for me was one of the idea of “sacredness” and the appropriate use of symbols.
Which immediately sent me down a rabbit hole about the private versus public use of symbols.
Essentially, we all have proprietary relationships with certain symbols. Since I already posted the image, the sign of the cross is one, and not just for Christians. As a symbol it has achieved that universality advertisers dream of. It is instantly recognizable as the sign for a faith movement just about everywhere. It’s possible some aboriginal tribes in the beclouded valleys of New Zealand don’t know what it is, but on the level of international discourse it carries across all lines.
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Back in 1978, Justice William Renquist wrote a dissent that is extraordinary reading today. This nugget of jurisprudence was dug up by Linda Greenhouse, who write an excellent NYT Op-Ed titled “Over the Cliff.”
This dissenting justice did not take issue with a corporation’s status as a “person” in the eyes of the law (as Mitt Romney recently reminded a heckler at the Iowa State Fair). But corporate personhood was “artificial,” not “natural,” the justice observed. A corporation’s rights were not boundless but, rather, limited, and the place of “the right of political expression” on the list of corporate rights was highly questionable. “A state grants to a business corporation the blessings of potentially perpetual life and limited liability to enhance its efficiency as an economic entity,” the dissenting opinion continued. “It might reasonably be concluded that those properties, so beneficial in the economic sphere, pose special dangers in the political sphere … Indeed, the states might reasonably fear that the corporation would use its economic power to obtain further benefits beyond those already bestowed.”
Noting that most states, along with the federal government, had placed limits on the ability of corporations to participate in politics, the dissenting justice concluded: “The judgment of such a broad consensus of governmental bodies expressed over a period of many decades is entitled to considerable deference from this Court.
Two weeks ago, my 12-year old daughter and I strolled through downtown Oslo. It was a beautiful city back then, as it will again be someday soon. As my nieces pointed out the various government buildings at the center of downtown, I remember commenting, “They are so very accessible,” meaning that there were no imposing walls surrounding them, and I didn’t see any heavily armed guards. I’m attaching a couple photos I took in downtown Oslo during my trip. As I walked around, the thought keep recurring: This would be a wonderful place to live (I write this based on many conversations I’ve had with Norwegians, such as this one).
And now it deeply saddens me to hear of the recent bombing and shootings.
I would only have one bit of advice for the Norwegians: Don’t do what the U.S. did after 9/11.
Don’t trash your civil liberties. Don’t vilify each other based on “lack of patriotism.” Don’t drum up evidence to start an unnecessary war somewhere. If your conservatives become overt warmongerers as a result of these tragedies, demand that they provide substantial evidence to substantiate whatever claims they make. Whoever caused this, be very careful to not overgeneralize your anger toward large groups of people who are innocent. Don’t get suckered into draining your treasury to feed new-found paranoia. Don’t become a closed society. Don’t let anyone disparage the importance of your civil rights. Don’t let this tragedy define you or obsess you. Beware that a bomb can, if you are not careful, become a fuse to a much bigger self-imposed tragedy. Don’t self-destruct, like the United States is doing.
To my Norwegian friends and family, I am so very saddened to hear of this tragedy. I love your country.