Monthly Archives: April 2013

My Popular Opinion

Someone wrote to me in response to an analysis I made regarding charity.  They wrote the often heard refrain:  “I should be able to choose how and when MY money is spent.”

I responded with: “It isn’t your money as much as it is your privilege to have earned it.”

I wasn’t satisfied that what I said made perfect sense but there was something in that statement that felt relevant and it keep resonating in my head.

What I believe is that it is your money when you use it in the function of our economic health. That function, in my opinion, includes the operation of programs that provide safety and a springboard for the underprivileged, the sick, the poor, the elderly and for children, and also to create opportunities to expand or sustain the success and quality of life for all Americans.

What doesn’t make sense to me is that the people who complain the loudest about social spending don’t seem to have much of an issue with the well over 100 billion of their dollars that do nothing but line the pockets of already successful CEO’s through corporate welfare. It is only the money that is spent on the poorest Americans that bothers them to a rabid froth.

I could holler “Corporate Oligarchy!” back at the cries of “Socialism!” because that practice runs even more contrary to Capitalism, but something tells me that I won’t get anywhere.

Presumably, the justification is that corporations are providing jobs and so many people can overlook the hundreds of billions of unnecessarily spent dollars that could, in fact, lower their taxes, and instead they focus their disdain onto the American’s they’ve branded as “freeloaders” wanting something for nothing.

That is the “populist” point of view that has been fanned over the past 5 years by the Tea Party and embraced by most Republicans. Populism, however, isn’t necessarily “popular” as the Republican Party discovered last November; what it is, is the position of “siding with the people against elitism” and that can be less…popular.

Confusing?

It is, by it’s own definition, an anti-intellectual movement because populist ideas are not restricted to critical thinking in order to find their resonance, rather they prefer emotional connections to a non-specific ideology. That’s why giant topics such as “taxes,” “patriotism,” “Christianity” and the “purpose” of government tend to be defined within this movement with platitudes that are easily digested by the general population and do not require serious contemplation.

Populism has its roots in the beginning of this country. It has roots, in fact, in the beginning of civilization extending back to the Roman Empire and it contends that popular interests should become the policy of the people.  It is the opposite of “statism” which holds that a small group of professional politicians should determine those policies intended to protect the interests of the people.

The American Revolution was a populist movement and while it defines our hunger for freedom, a populist government cannot sustain because of the unavoidable conflicting interests of a growing nation.

Our Founding Fathers knew that their charter had to be designed around a concept that includes statism because they realized that democracy, in itself, populist, could lead to tyranny by a majority. They had the collective wisdom to predict that for the interests of the people to sustain (hopefully in perpetuity) that the population must be represented in accordance to a charter based on that representation; a Republic.

“Democracy,” John Adams theorized, “never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There was never a democracy that did not commit suicide.” A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine. The people, through a democratic process, therefore, elect representatives to further their interests; not as their proxy, but to participate in a Republic designed to protect them.

Populism confuses issues like civil rights, social programs, health care, even foreign aid with a “majority rules” democracy and Populists strive to make their positions the law of the land via that majority. Never mind that populism often embraces ideas that are anathema to a Free Republic as it has attempted to block, during the course of our history, women’s rights, minority rights, consumer and environmental protection and freedom of speech.

Populism often opens the door for economic and political corruption; not because the public wants such realities, but because popular opinion can stand in the way of concepts designed to avoid such realities.

As populist voices thunder over preserving the Free Market and unbridled Capitalism, the safeguards to protect us from the fraudulent practices that robbed “everyday” Americans of investments and pensions are being vilified. I say this over and over: Read the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Study American history; not just the Revolution, but the evolution of government through the Civil War, the World Wars, the New Deal and the Reagan Revolution. Investigate the meanings of “democracy” and a “republic.”

I’m not so arrogant as to believe that everyone will then agree with me on every issue, I am a hack compared to a scholar, but I believe the conversations that may follow will, at least, begin to make sense….

Capice?

 

Some books that I recommend: “1776” by David McCullough, “Abraham Lincoln: The Man Behind the Myth” by Stephen B. Oates, “The Civil War” by Shelby Foote, “The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power” by Robert A. Caro, “The Supreme Court” by William Rehnquist

Enraged by the Rage

There are times when I am rendered speechless from events that are so hard to comprehend that I cannot process my feelings.  Many people feel the same today.  Grief, fear, and anger can collide in a maelstrom of emotions that leave us confused.

Oklahoma City…9/11…Columbine…Virginia Tech…Colorado…Newtown…Boston…

There are many others and I don’t want to minimize the horror of any of them by not listing them here, but these are the ones that seem to have redefined our collective concept of tragedy.  For me, personally, the murder of two little girls from Evansdale also set a new low for what sick human beings are capable of doing.

My first reaction upon hearing the news out of Boston was disbelief.  “No way!” I intoned to my co-worker, Mark, hoping that he might clarify that it was an exaggerated story and just a misunderstood prank with firecrackers.  No such thing.

“You might not want to see the pictures coming over the internet,” he continued, “It’s like something you’d see in the movies.”

I didn’t look at the pictures, but I wanted to hear the stories coming out of Boston and so I went online.  There were stories about how little anyone knew so far, stories with speculations, stories about suffering and stories of heroism.  Human beings are capable of such greatness and pride filled my body at the sight of a man carrying a woman to safety, a doctor racing from the Marathon to the hospital and of firefighters and police officers running toward the crime to protect any and all that lay in the path of destruction.

This morning, I, like most of you, I’m sure, was consumed by any news coming out of Boston.

“Are there any clues?”

“Who did this?”

And then…I saw a story on MSN about an 8 year old boy who was there to cheer on his father, along with his mother and 6 year old sister.  I was afraid to read on.  “Oh, please God, don’t let this be bad…please say that he was a witness and not a victim…”

The news was everything I feared.  He was dead.130416062627-martin-richard-boston-victim-story-top

I felt very much like I did when I heard the news coming out of Newtown, Connecticut last December; overwhelming grief.  I have young boys, one of them is 8 years old and I had just dropped him off at school after a weekend where he clung to me as little boys who adore their father will do now and again.  I cannot hold back the tears.  I cannot think of anything but the pain and suffering those families are going through at this very moment.  And I cannot comprehend how children keep becoming casualties of epidemic sickness.

I become a living contradiction as I am enraged at the rage that creates such madness.

patton-oswalt-the-16th-annual-webby-awards_3897936Comedian Patton Oswald had a Tweet that went viral that gave me a measure of solace in this moment:  I remember, when 9/11 went down, my reaction was, “Well, I’ve had it with humanity.” But I was wrong.  I don’t know what’s going to be revealed to be behind all of this mayhem. One human insect or a poisonous mass of broken sociopaths.

But here’s what I DO know. If it’s one person or a HUNDRED people, that number is not even a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percent of the population on this planet. You watch the videos of the carnage and there are people running TOWARDS the destruction to help out.  This is a giant planet and we’re lucky to live on it but there are prices and penalties incurred for the daily miracle of existence. One of them is, every once in awhile, the wiring of a tiny sliver of the species gets snarled and they’re pointed towards darkness.

But the vast majority stands against that darkness and, like white blood cells attacking a virus, they dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evil doers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak. This is beyond religion or creed or nation. We would not be here if humanity were inherently evil. We’d have eaten ourselves alive long ago.

So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, “The good outnumber you, and we always will.”

Thank you, Patton, for your wisdom.  At least for the time being you have tempered my anger and given me hope.  I will come back to these words when I feel the pull of rage and confusion, and I will allow them to uplift my spirits once again.

I hope and pray that others will do the same.

But the dove found no rest for the sole of her foot.

Pastor Terry Jones talks to the media outside of Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, on Friday, September 10, 2010.(Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda / Orlando Sentinel)B58706040Z.1That sodden old pie, Terry Jones, is trying to get back into the news. It was only a year ago when his Dove World Outreach Center (has a church ever had a more ironic and inappropriate name?) burned President Obama in effigy to protest his…let’s see…illegal presidency, his satantical support of gay rights and for being “a great friend to Islamic terrorist governments.”  And now Jones wants to light the bonfires again for 2,998 Korans.

After first making world news in 2011 for burning a Koran to allegedly protest Islamic extremism, it appears that Koran burning is back on the church bulletin next to an announcement for the End of Days Pancake Breakfast.

It seems, however, that Jone’s Lunatic Who Cried Wolf act has gotten a little stale to news agencies who don’t seem all that anxious to air his inarticulate dribble every time his ego runs on empty, and so Jones is koran-burning-300x200posting his intention of burning the Korans on September 11th on fringe websites (like his own).

Personally, I believe that to burn the sacred document of any religion is, in itself, an extremist position, and is dangerous, disrespectful and deceitful and creates paradoxical parameters that will ultimately collapse on themselves.  While we protest and go to war to contain extremism, we have also begun to define our reality with expressions of extremism in order to suppress our fears.  The result of this malestrom is ethical madness.

I am concerned as this extreme behavior pulls the mainstream slowly toward its own abyss. Not from the nasty deeds of the right or the left; not because of capricious liberalism or rigid conservatism; not because of Republicans or Democrats; rather it is a conspiracy of extremes to form a fog of ignorance and blind conceit.

Far right extremists have taken hold of the once moderate center of Republicanism to convince too many Americans that their ultra-conservative movement will produce more affluence and better protection by following exclusionary and divisive principles.

You cannot tell Americans who covet the principles of freedom that restricting civil rights or invoking theocratic and intolerant legislation will lead us to a greater realization of liberty.

When liberalism moves toward extremes it compromises its own credibility by putting its ideals ahead of the concerns that Americans measure at their own kitchen tables.

You cannot convince a public that cannot pay their electric bill that placing restrictions on utility companies is the answer, even if placing restrictions on utility companies IS the answer.

Is the responsibility for this trend toward immutable, yet myopic, dogma equally shared by the right and the left?  Well, not quite.  David Roberts, a contributor for Grist.org, concluded that while the left has, indeed, moved to the left over the past 30 years, the right has moved nearly 4 times farther to the right (http://grist.org/politics/asymmetrical-polarization-the-lefts-gone-left-but-the-rights-gone-nuts/).

His theory was confirmed by a friend who’s been in Washington for the past 7 years who tells me that his conservative colleagues on Capitol Hill can no longer follow their political conscience and work toward bi-partisan cooperation.  Now they have to concede to the activism of the extreme right that will not allow them to stay in office if they so much as work with a Democrat.  Republicans in this Congress will not break rank; not out of ideological gallantry, but rather to impede any progress from this administration, and to insure their equity within the party.

It wasn’t always this way.  When I was a boy during the Vietnam War the “dissent” that many Americans felt toward government policy felt…noble.  My memory may have idealized that unrest, but there was a prevailing feeling, whether on the right or the left, that our debate was destined to bring the world to a better place.  Today it seems that both sides are primarily motivated to keep the other side from making the world a lousier place

There is a center that can entertain both liberalism and conservatism but it has been lost. Yet it is from there that effective and principled legislation can be derived as the cooperation of conflicting ideologies is the realization of our constitutional government. Was John Adams, perhaps, too prophetic when he said, “Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself”?

I always suppress a little laugh when some people say they’ll leave the country if America continues down this path toward cultural and religious hegemony, but I will say this:  If we allow our great Republic to fade because it has fallen into the hands of extremists who create fear and emotional frenzy from false information; who fan the flames of intolerance by burning books; who believe in restricting the liberty of legal immigrants in order to apprehend those who are not; or who deny access to civil rights because of their religious dogma

I will at least be sure that my passport is valid.