Monday, January 3, 2011

I used to be a libertarian . . .

Really, I did.  Going back to the late 70s, even.  That was where I went after being a McGovern liberal in the early 70s.

I believed the free market could solve any problem, of any scale, and that people of good will could come together to solve problems that were too large for any one business, agency, or person.

I'm sad to say that I no longer believe that.

Then again, we're not really in a society with free markets, are we?  We're in managed, lobbied and subsidized, regulated and enforced markets with legislative and executive collusion at all levels. We're stuck in international trade agreements where we're made out to be the bad guy ALL THE TIME, all while our own manufacturing jobs have been sent offshore.  We're tied to international mega-corporations who circumvent US safety and other laws by having their headquarters elsewhere, while they do most of their damage to our economy and people.

The problem is, I don't know what we can do about it.

Thus far, corporations manage the media, and through their lobbyists, the legislative bodies as well.  Certainly the Internet is helping get alternative opinions out, but even that may be in danger with the collapse of true "Net Neutrality" at the hands of a corporate-influenced FCC.

We can scream and yell on the Net all we like, but it's like putting all the gadflies and whiners in a room off to the side, while the "grownups" do the real work in the main room, or perhaps the formerly-smoke filled back room.  (Unless we're talking about tobacco lobbies, which still have smoke-filled back rooms to work in)

How do we get into the mainstream?  Yes, ONE person CAN make a difference, but we need to be able to mobilize that vast, still silent Majority who are fed up with extremists on both sides.  The "Coffee Party" is trying some of that, but they, too are small, and aren't getting the media attention their "Tea Party" colleagues are.  For all of that, the  moderates in the Tea Party are getting drowned out by their more extreme associates, because that's what makes the news.  When I entered the contest to be a columnist for the Washington Post, I never even got a response to my entry, much less a "no, thank you."

Why does that make the news?  To quote an old newspaperman I knew:  "If it bleeds, it leads".  Just as people will slow down to look at accidents going the other direction on the highway, people will read or switch to anything that highlights someone else's misfortune.

Painful thought, isn't it?  Most people are more interested in how poorly someone else is faring than in how to make things better . . . primarily because (I believe) many people have given up believing they can make things better.  They're tired of being ignored, and willing to endure the crap just to be left alone to live their lives.

For instance:  for some years, I have refused to shop at WalMart.  I find their personnel practices reprehensible, their vendor coercion practices appalling, and their suppression of local businesses indefensible. Yet, most of my family will happily shop there, because they have lower prices.  They've stopped being able to care about what it does to others to GET those lower prices, as long as they can get more for their money.

I don't buy gasoline from BP or any of its subsidiaries.  I'm told this is ineffective, because it only hurts the franchisees, not the corporation, but if enough franchisees pay attention, maybe they'll leave the corporation!

I think corporate Health (Mis)Management Organizations are a crock.  All of them. I used to work for one, and I KNOW the things they did to avoid paying major claims, and how they maneuvered the regulations in their favor.  The one I worked for was a much better place both to the employees and the members when it was not-for-profit.

I'm not implying that all profit is bad, or that corporations are bad in and of themselves.  Honest service providers (doctors, nurses, labs, hospitals) need to make profits to stay in business.  Given.  Energy companies (oil, coal, power generation, etc.) have to justify their expenditures to their shareholders, provide for their own growth and (sadly, poorly in most cases) take care of their employees.  Manufacturers have to make products at a pricepoint that will still allow people to buy those products.  Where I feel the process gets out of hand is the middleman.

What service does an HMO provide? In the name of controlling insurance costs, it restricts the services available to the member in various ways. Whether by limiting networks, formularies or procedures, the HMO's sole function is cost management -- not patient care.

Manufacturers have to produce things at a cost that is still manageable after the distribution system adds each layer of costs for each step of the process between manufacturer and retailer.

Energy companies CLAIM they need egregious profits to keep exploring ways to improve their service to their clientele, but what they spend on exploration and research is nothing compared to what they spend on advertising, P.R., and shareholder care.  On top of that, even with what they spend on all that, their clear profits are higher than any other type of corporation in history.

Where do we go from here?  I know I have conservative friends who consider me a flaming liberal, and liberal friends who think I'm too conservative, and we get back to the labeling issue with which I started this blog.  Yet, I confess I'm at a loss.  I'm NOT a socialist, but I DO believe that corporations have responsibilities both to their employees and the communities in which they operate, and that profit needs to be balanced with those responsibilities.

How can we define that?  How can we control that?

Any suggestions?  Discussion is welcome, but play nice, now.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Throwing Stones

I'm hearing a lot of rhetoric about those "evil Muslims" and all the awful things in their Koran about killing Infidels.

Guess what.  Christians better get that log out of their eye.  The Old Testament contains numerous examples:
You should not let a sorceress live. (Exodus 22:17 NAB)

If a man lies with a male as with a women, both of them shall be put to death for their abominable deed; they have forfeited their lives." (Leviticus 20:13 NAB)

A man or a woman who acts as a medium or fortuneteller shall be put to death by stoning; they have no one but themselves to blame for their death. (Leviticus 20:27 NAB)

If a man commits adultery with another man's wife, both the man and the woman must be put to death. (Leviticus 20:10 NLT)

A priest's daughter who loses her honor by committing fornication and thereby dishonors her father also, shall be burned to death. (Leviticus 21:9 NAB)

Whoever sacrifices to any god, except the Lord alone, shall be doomed. (Exodus 22:19 NAB)

They entered into a covenant to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, with all their heart and soul; and everyone who would not seek the Lord, the God of Israel, was to be put to death, whether small or great, whether man or woman. (2 Chronicles 15:12-13 NAB)

Suppose you hear in one of the towns the LORD your God is giving you that some worthless rabble among you have led their fellow citizens astray by encouraging them to worship foreign gods. In such cases, you must examine the facts carefully. If you find it is true and can prove that such a detestable act has occurred among you, you must attack that town and completely destroy all its inhabitants, as well as all the livestock. (Deuteronomy 13:13-19 NLT)

If your own full brother, or your son or daughter, or your beloved wife, or you intimate friend, entices you secretly to serve other gods, whom you and your fathers have not known, gods of any other nations, near at hand or far away, from one end of the earth to the other: do not yield to him or listen to him, nor look with pity upon him, to spare or shield him, but kill him. (Deuteronomy 13:7-12 NAB)

Make ready to slaughter his sons for the guilt of their fathers; Lest they rise and posses the earth, and fill the breadth of the world with tyrants. (Isaiah 14:21 NAB)

  . . . and finally, this verse gives reason for the crusades.

Cursed be he who does the Lords work remissly, cursed he who holds back his sword from blood. (Jeremiah 48:10 NAB)
Now, I've had several Christians tell me that they're now covered by the "New Covenant", but I would submit to them that, if they're going to jump all over Muslims about the Qu'ran, they need to look to their own holy book.  All of it.

There are certainly Muslims who ARE out to kill us.  Just not all of them.

Saturday, September 11, 2010


I am distressed and dismayed by some of the vitriol I hear being thrown about today, the anniversary of the most heinous attack ever seen on our home soil.  Nine years ago, a small group of Islamic radicals brought to fruition a plot to do damage to our nation.  In killing the thousands of people that day, and inciting the response of a lengthy war on the Iraqis, they did that damage.

What concerns me now is the horrid amount of venom and vituperation being spewed, first at Muslims here in America, many of whom had NOTHING to do with the attacks, and at anyone who identifies themselves as "liberal" or "progressive".  I have been accused of being everything from a wimp to a radical sympathizer just because I identify myself as a liberal.  This bothers me.

Classically and specifically, a liberal is one who believes in the importance of liberty and equality.

Is that so bad?

What the term has become slathered with in the popular media is a position of appeasement to foreign states (and philosophies), a desire to leave our nation defenseless, and a desire to control the lives of everyone and everything.  They equate it with union control of business, government control of everything else, confiscatory tax rates, and the "nanny state."

Howinhell did that happen?

I'm a progressive.  I believe in progress.  Progress toward a society in which we are EQUAL and FREE.

How does a government which uses laws and regulations to keep our industries and their employees safe, or rides herd over pharmaceutical purity, or monitors auto and highway safety, or wants to provide health care for our whole population equate to such control?  When did a "safety net" program, like Social Security or Medicare become such an evil, according to those who are against it.  How did that happen?

When did the unions which were formed to protect members who were in dangerous occupations turn into these massive bureaucracies that are strangling some businesses?  I come from a coal mining family.  My father joined the Navy in 1940, at the age of 16 (he lied about his age), in order to escape that profession.  His father's brother had been killed the previous year, by representatives of the Pinkerton organization, in a riot which sprung up around his attempt to unionize the local mine in Alabama.  It took him 10 days to die, after sixteen shots . . . in the back.

The answer, my friends, is labels.

When we label something, be it a movement, a political party, a religion, or a skin color, we begin to dehumanize the people behind that label. 

In that way, a small band of radical Muslims becomes the straw man for ALL Muslims, and seems to give people the excuse to abjure all Muslims, or burn down their religious buildings even in communities where they've been for decades -- something that's recently happened in Tennessee.

A group of people who are against private ownership of arms becomes "Liberals want to take away your guns."

A young black man who identifies with certain musicians and styles becomes "a gangbanger" because he dresses in a fashion outside the experience and personal aesthetic sense of those NOT of his subculture.

A black President, who is devoutly Christian, and has been roundly criticized because of the behavior of a pastor whose church he USED to attend, becomes "Muslim" because he believes Muslims should have every right to practice their faith.  In wanting to help provide health care to citizens who are NOT covered by an employer or other insurance, he becomes a "socialist".

Millions of immigrants who, granted, got to this country in illegal fashion, become somehow responsible for all the economic ills and lack of jobs we currently have in this country -- NOT the corporations who exported so many of our jobs overseas in order to provide cheaper goods to WalMart.

Mind you, Liberals engage in labeling, too.

The excesses of a firm like Goldman Sachs become a front for "Wall Street" -- an ill-defined, nebulous entity guilty of everything short of raiding our personal bank accounts.

The mistakes of BP become generalized to be "Big Oil".

Massey Energy's safety problems and disregard for their employees, and their damage to the hills of Kentucky and other mining areas becomes "Big Coal".

I submit to you that, though it's more difficult to look at things one at a time, we HAVE to start avoiding labeling each other in order to hide from reality.

People fear anything they don't understand.  May I suggest we work more toward understanding those we fear, in order to move toward conversation rather than confrontation?

I am a progressive.  I am of a liberal mindset.  I am also a gun owner, and believe in the private ownership of handguns and arms.  I believe we should NOT have gone into Iraq, but that we need to concentrate more efforts in Afghanistan.  For that matter, I believe we need to go into Pakistan after Al Qaeda, but because we've labeled the Pakistanis, somehow, as aliies, we're loathe to do that.  I believe marijuana should be legalized, but I also believe there should be stronger penalties for driving while intoxicated, whether alcohol, pot, or other substances.  I believe we should STOP subsidizing the tobacco and oil industries.

So, how would you label me?

What label do you give yourself?