Tuesday, August 30, 2011

keeping them poor

Keeping them poor

I was watching Garrison Keillor interview Bill Moyers on C-span, and as they passed away the time, they said some things I was comfortable with, but they also said some things I feel compelled to comment on.

One comment on which we found agreement was the mistreatment of President Obama’s pastor, Rev. Wright, by the right wing radio talk show hosts. Modern technology makes it too easy to take words out of context and play them over and over again. It is a form of high tech slander.

As I said in a previous column, I have heard fundamentalist preachers say “if God doesn’t punish America, He will have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah. This is really no different than Rev. Wright saying, not God bless America, but God damn America, which the right maligned him for.

They then begin to wonder what had gone wrong with the religious right. How had they gotten started in the wrong direction? As they started talking about this, they mentioned how President George W. Bush had started an unprovoked war in Iraq that led to the deaths of thousands.

In this, they malign Bush every bit as much as the talk show hosts maligned Rev. Wright. They believe this because they choose to ignore the history of what happened in Iraq.

It started with the Persian Gulf War when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait without provocation. The UN asked the US to intervene and liberate Kuwait, which we did under the direction of George H. Bush. Once the Iraqi army was pushed out of Kuwait, the UN insisted on a cease fire, which the US did and which Iraq agreed to.

However, a cease fire is not a surrender, nor is it the end of a war. It is only the end to current hostilities, and it comes with terms. Under the terms of the cease fire, Iraq agreed to free and unlimited inspections of their country to assure the world they were not developing weapons of mass destruction.

Saddam flagrantly violated the terms of the cease fire agreement, which means the cease fire is over and the hostilities begin again. The war with Iraq was in fact provoked by Saddam violating those agreements. It was not a new war, but the continuation of one Saddam had provoked when he invaded Kuwait.

Bush’s mistake was not that he invaded Iraq, but that he made the wrong argument for doing so. He should have argued what I just stated above. Instead, he argued he was invading because of the presence of weapons of mass destruction. When they didn’t find any, people like Moyers claimed he should not have done it. When they argue that he started an unprovoked war, they malign him.

Their second concern was that the religious right fails to show Christian compassion when they object to all the money being spent on social programs to help the poor. Again, they fail to think deep enough on the issue.

When Christ said the poor you will have with you always, he was making a psychological observation, not an economic one. The past 30 years of war on poverty should tell us that poverty is not an economic issue as we have poured enough money into the problem to make every poor person rich. If you gave every American a million dollars, within six months, some would be very, very rich and others would be very, very poor.

We do not need to spend more money on poverty to follow the precepts of the Bible. The Bible does not condemn the haves for having, it condemns those who would oppress the poor and make their lives more miserable than they already are.

Here are some examples of how we have oppressed the poor: exorbitant taxes on cigarettes; cash for clunkers, which got rid of the only cars the poor could afford; the high cost of fuel, which is a direct result of government policies; easy credit; child labor laws that favor the unions by keep poor kids unemployed; burdensome regulations that drive up the price of everything; and fostering attitudes that keep the poor tied to a welfare state.

We spend more than enough nationally, between our government and charitable institutions, to more than meet a Christian definition of charity. Our failing is that we do not prosecute those in government and business who design policies that end up oppressing the poor. One of my aphorisms states, “When something is given to us for free, it loses value in the transaction. If too much comes to us free, soon nothing has any value.” We don’t need to give more to the poor, we need to prosecute those who oppress them.

Monday, May 2, 2011

retro-abortion -- an essay

The risk of writing satire is that someone, say Adolph Hitler, will miss the point and take you literally. With that caveat, I offer this essay in the spirit of Jonathan Swift’s “A modest Proposal.” A friend warned me against publishing this piece, because it is too easy for someone to miss the point of the satire and take it as a serious proposal. Even as I post this, I know there are elitist out there already planning policies to implement what I consider satire. In fact, my morning paper today (3/30/2011) carried a story about a local public school nurse who was fired for telling a class of students that special needs kids should be euthanized. Satire is useful because it puts the spotlight on the possible through the use of exaggeration and prepares people for what could be possible if good people do nothing. I wrote this to illustrate how ridiculous the arguments for abortion are by simply moving them a little further up the timeline.

“My mother went to the hospital to have me aborted.” With this, the obnoxious but often funny 15-year-old student had my attention and my sympathy. “What a terrible thing to have to live with, knowing your mother’s first choice was to abort you,” I thought. “No wonder she’s a problem student in an alternative school.”

“So, what happened,” I asked.

“They wouldn’t do it, “she said, “because I was twelve-years-old.”

She had me, and I laughed, but on reflection, I realized that as with most humor, there is also a serious side. In this case, let’s call it retroactive-abortion.

Abortion has been part of a serious national discussion at least since Roe vs. Wade. So much so that the arguments have become stale. I can predict in advance what is going to be said on the subject at any given time. It’s time to take the discussion to a new level.

Though retroactive abortion may seem radical, it is no more so than Jonathan Swift, tongue in cheek, suggesting the Irish might eat their children to keep them from being a burden to their parents. Even as children were a burden in Ireland in 1729, so they are today, though in a different sort of way. The burden of gross ignorance, which is perpetuated through having babies, plagues us today.

We have tried to stamp it out with public education, but it grows faster than we can cure it and it continues to grow. Think about it a minute: The bright people marry other bright people and have an average of one and a half kids per couple. The ignorant mate with the ignorant and have a half dozen kids per couple. This portends a disastrous trend which can easily be solved by retroactive-abortion.

Here’s how it would work. When a child reaches five or six, do a thorough evaluation with doctors, psychiatrists, social workers, ministers, and educators. Determine its IQ and social and economic potential, and if it reaches a certain standard, grant it a birth certificate and legal status as a human being. If not, euthanize it because quality of modern life seems to matter more than life itself.

If you catch yourself cringing at the thought of this, don’t rush to judgment too fast. To begin with, we have never settled the argument as to when life begins, and hence when legal protection is required. At conception? Three months? Six months? Half way out of the birth canal? Birth? Why not just make it six years? Up to that time, it is just a bit of aging fetal tissue to be surgically terminated for the convenience of the mother, a private matter between a woman and her doctor, psychiatrist, social worker, and minister.

In fact, retroactive abortion has several advantages over normal abortion. To begin with, most religions have some sort of theology about an age of accountability. If a child dies before that age, it’s an automatic trip to paradise. So, we see what kind of kid we have, and if things don’t look too promising, send it on to paradise before it’s eternally too late.

“But it’s murder,” some might object. Let’s not be squeamish about this. Murder is just a matter of legal definition after all. We have all kinds of killing that are not classified as murder, including abortion. Law makers can define retroactive abortion as a medical procedure and everything will be fine.

I know people will abhor this idea. We used to abhor the idea of abortion, but we all got used to it. We have all gotten comfortable with the idea of slaughtering the innocent but somehow cringe at the idea of destroying fetal tissue that has aged a little and in the process, given us opportunity to make a reasonable judgment about its potential. After all, it’s all about quality of life. The right to life only matters if quality can be guaranteed. In time, we’ll also get use to retroactive-abortion.

The way things are now, we don’t mind killing something we haven’t yet seen and can’t adequately evaluate, but are squeamish about killing what we can know and evaluate and eliminate only if it will become a problem. We don’t mind killing a potential Einstein as long as we don’t know it, while fussing about euthanizing a predicable burden on society.

Even though this is a workable solution to rid society of the burden of ignorance, it might be tough to sell it to an unenlightened public. The first step in selling it would be to sell the idea of making it an exceptional thing. Make it legal if the health of the mother is in question. This would include mental and emotional health. By leaving the definition of health as a private matter between a woman and her doctor, the exception will soon become the rule and people will get use to it. In the first few years there would only be a few thousand retroactive abortions across the country. But, in time the count could easily be up to a million and a half a year and ignorance would begin to diminish significantly.

In case people get upset with the ever increasing number of exceptions, we need an emotional argument to sway the masses who might object. The way it stands now, if a mother wants to get rid of a burdensome kid, she has to put out a contract on him with some back alley butcher or hit man who will do the job. The mother has to risk doing business with undesirable people, which can get pretty messy and might even threaten her own life. Whenever anyone raises the issue of again making the practice illegal, just argue that to do so would be forcing mothers to again use the back alley butchers, putting their own lives at risk.

If the fuss to do away with the exception gets too loud, move a case to the United States Supreme Court and get a judge to find a constitutional right to privacy. If a judge digs around that “living” document long enough, he can find anything growing there.

Once the right to a retroactive abortion is established, the practice will become common place enough that we will begin to see ignorance diminish. In time, liberal thinking people well see that the real issue here is one of choice. The argument will no longer be one of killing, but rather one of choice. What fair minded person could be against choice? Who would deny a mother the freedom to choose? Since the ignorant respond readily to emotions and slogans, the practice of retroactive abortion will be safe.

If necessary, throw in the economic argument also. Retroactive abortion will bring drastic reductions in free and reduced school breakfasts and lunches, food stamps, subsidized housing, medicaid, welfare payments and costs related to incarceration. All this adds up to billions of dollars that can be used for more important things.

So even though my student had hooked me on a cruel sort of joke, like most jokes, there was a serious element to her humor. After all, twelve is a little old, even for a retroactive abortion. But five or six? It might be worth a thought.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Dropped Out, So What?

Drop out

This column is for you high school and college drop outs who keep beating yourselves up for having made such an ill advised decision. Quit kicking yourselves and put things in perspective.

We live in a society that has thoroughly confused education and the acquisition of diplomas and degrees. For truly educated people, learning is a lifelong adventure. The list of successful people who lack diplomas or degrees is lengthy, but I'll mention two of my favorites.

Eric Hoffer was a popular author back in the 60's. I don't think he attended school as a student a day in his life. He did, though, spend time in the classroom as a college instructor.

He came to America from Germany with his parents as a small boy. Since he was inexplicably smitten with blindness and couldn't speak English, his parents didn't send him to school.

As a teenager, his sight mysteriously returned and he started a life long journey of self education. By the time he died in his 80's, he had authored several books, a newspaper column, and served as a commentator on PBS. He was a retired long shore man.

During the great depression of the last century, he worked as an itinerant farm worker up and down the West Coast. He had a pocket full of library cards from the many towns along his route. Public libraries became his way of carrying on his lifetime learning.

The second is Frank Schaeffer, a current author of both fiction and non-fiction and a film director. Schaeffer grew up a missionary's kid. He was supposedly being home schooled, but his schooling was pretty much being neglected by his parents. When he was a young adolescent, his parents were coerced into putting him in school, but by then he was functionally illiterate and he was also plagued with dyslexia. At some point, however, he took charge of his own education and launched a life time of learning.

The list of such people could go on and on. Google "famous high school and college drop outs" and you will be surprised at the people you find on that list. However, there is another list, the list of people who have diplomas but have accomplished little or nothing. I could start this list but it would be at the risk of libel. Instead, look around you and make your own list.

The reason an employer hires someone with a diploma or degree is the knowledge base he assumes goes with the certificate. In recent years, employers have found all too often that an adequate knowledge base isn't there. Even if the knowledge base is there, the employer is still going to have to educate the employee as to what they are being hired for. The diploma or degree helps one open the door to the job market, but there are other ways to get in.

So, what are people without the diplomas suppose to do? First they must do those things that make anyone a valued employee. To that, they must add lifetime learning. Take every training course and workshop the employer offers and then find courses or workshops they can take on their own. Learn how to use the local library and the internet to build on the education they already have. When it comes to educating oneself, the internet is an amazing place. Even those employees with some kind of diploma or degree must constantly add value to it if they are to remain valuable to an employer. If you are an employer, are you going to be happiest with an employee who, in spite of his education level, continues to add to his knowledge base or with one who hasn’t bothered to learn much of anything since receiving a diploma or a degree? Like all valued employees, the drop out should try to understand where his particular industry is going and prepare for the future, not the present or the past.

Finally, the employees without diplomas or degrees should note who in their organization is making the money and find a pathway to that job if it interests them.

The lack of a degree may keep employees from becoming the CEO of a major company, but it doesn't have to keep them from making a decent living at a job they enjoy. Even those with degrees must find ways to add value to those degrees or they are not going to rise far in their companies.

There is another side to getting that degree that is seldom talked about. Sometimes a person's degree traps them in a job they have discovered they really don't like and wish they could get out of, but they have invested heavily in the degree in both time and money and feel there is nothing else they can do.

For one reason or another, we all are at the station in life that we now find ourselves, but we live in a dynamic culture in dynamic times, and decisions of the past rarely have to control our futures. We are pretty much limited only by personal motivation.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Sleeping and Driving

It is frightening to jerk awake after dozing off at the wheel and find yourself on the wrong side of the center line. It was after one such incident that I realized dozing behind the wheel was every bit as evil as driving drunk, and I view such drivers as true low life. It is something they choose to do that endangers the life of the rest of us. Finally, I realized my behavior was no different. It had to have been the grace of God that kept me from killing some unsuspecting motorist.

Once the truth of this hit me, I quit driving while sleepy. If I start getting drowsy, I pull over and sleep whether in a car or on a motorcycle. I have more than one picture taken by a riding partner where I am napping alongside the road or on a picnic table beside my motorcycle.

So, when I decided to get a job distance driving, I knew I’d have to get a handle on this problem. First I called my brother who is a long haul trucker. "What do you do when you get drowsy?" I asked.

His answer surprised me. "I drink a bottle of water," he said.
Next, I did what I always do when I want to know something; I got a book by the leading expert on the subject, in this case, “The Promise of Sleep,” by Dr. William C. Dement, M.D., Ph.D., and discovered some interesting facts. The Exxon Valdez oil spill was caused by sleep deprivation in spite of what was commonly reported in the national press. The same was true of the Challenger accident. We Americans get one and a half hours less sleep a night than our grandparents. Most sleep related problems go undiagnosed because doctors aren't required to study sleep issues in medical school and there are few clinics nationwide that specialize in sleep. Jonesboro happens to have one.

The doctor believes that sleeping while driving is a major killer in our society. Making people aware is a mission with him. (It might have helped his cause had he dealt with it in a pamphlet instead of a 500 page book.)

Here's the information I found useful. On the average, we need one hour of sleep for each two hours we are awake. During the day, we accumulate sleep debt and pay it back at night. If we are up 16 hours and only get seven hours sleep we have an hour of unpaid sleep debt. If we don't pay it back, the debt accumulates. If we let the debt get too big, the body forces the payback.

Most of us run a sleep debt all week and then pay it back on weekends. Some of us pay it back by napping. The way to tell if you have a high sleep dept is by how fast you go to sleep when you go to bed at night or when you take a nap.

If you knock off in less than five minutes it is because you carry too much sleep debt. It takes some sleep debt, say eight hours for 16 hours of wakefulness, to make you sleepy. With a normal sleep debt, it should take about 15 minutes to go to sleep. Assuming you are not dealing with a disease like sleep apnea or narcolepsy, the proper management of sleep debt will keep you awake while driving as well as keep you alert while on the job.

Also, our internal clock or Circadian rhythm gets involved. This clock got set in the distant past when people got up and went to sleep by daylight and darkness. At certain times of the day, our internal clock starts getting us ready for sleep. If your sleep debt is too large, it is hard to override you internal clock and stay awake. This becomes a serious problem when traveling rapidly through several time zones or dealing with jet lag.

Another valuable thing Dement noted was that the caffeine in that cup of coffee you are drinking to kill the drowsies, won’t kick in for at least 15 minutes. If you wait until you are dozing at the wheel to stop and get that coffee and then get back in your car and keep driving, you haven’t helped yourself. Drink the coffee before you start dozing. Its effect will last four or five hours.

The message was pretty clear. If I want to quit dozing off while driving, keep my sleep debt paid up, drink my coffee well before I need it, and drink lots of water to reduce dehydration.

So, how did it work out? Since reading and applying the information in the book, I have driven many hours without getting drowsy. It works!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Worth a Comment, not a Column

Often there are things I want to write about and though they are worthy of comment, they are not worth a column. I collect a few such things for this column.

No connection: When attempts are made to tie violent behavior to rap music, violent video games, or violent movies, or to tie sexual promiscuity to pornography, they are met with a wall of resistance from the media people who produce these things. They claim scientific studies do not show any connection. The same people who resist any attempt to make this connection jump at every opportunity to tie acts of violence, such as the recent Arizona shootings, to right wing rhetoric.

Privilege: The one thing I find most egregious about politicians is when they exempt themselves from the rules the rest of us must abide by. This could be such things as not having to go through the same security at the airport to not being a part of the government mandated healthcare plan or Social Security retirement plan.

Buying gold: The gold merchants are advertising heavily to try and get you to put gold in your investment portfolio. If you buy an ounce of gold today and keep it for ten years, you will still have an ounce of gold. The idea of investing in gold is that you protect yourself against inflation. Think about it for a moment; if the cash from the sale of that ounce of gold will buy you a month’s supply of groceries today, and it keeps up with inflation, when you sell it ten years from now, it will still buy a month’s worth of groceries. You need investments that grow. Precious metals are a way for the very rich to transport their wealth across the divide in difficult economic times.

Wrong: Al Gore finally admitted an inconvenient truth: ethanol was a mistake. It takes more energy to produce it than it conserves and the unintended consequences are a disaster. It drove the price of corn to unacceptable levels, causing hardship and hunger on poor people around the world. It never did make sense to me to turn a food source into energy to power our automobiles and toys when so many people in our world are starving. Now that Gore recognizes the error of this action, he tells us things will probably not change as there are now too many people with a vested interest in things the way they are. How many other negative unintended consequences are we living with over well intentioned actions of those who try to manage our lives with one-size-fits all government policies?

Labels: Back in the 80’s I was very politically active and participated in the formation of a group called The Moral Majority. The name was a public relations disaster because of what it wrongly implied about those who were not a part of the movement. A similar thing is happening with the modern liberal. Thinking the label liberal, which is a perfectly good label, has been tainted by the opposition beyond repair, those who fit that label have opted for the label “progressive.” Like the term Moral Majority, the label progressive implies something negative about those who are not a part of the movement. The same is true of churches that name themselves things like Assemblies of God, Church of Christ, Church of God, Church of the Nazarene, etc.

Expanded quote: I have seen the quote that no democracy is safe once the people discover they can vote themselves favors from the public treasury attributed to several sources, but none take it to the next logical step: nor is a democracy safe once politicians discover they can buy votes from the same. Between these two abuses of the public largess, our democracy is doomed.

Affirmed: As a writer, I always feel joy when something I write is affirmed by someone of acclaim. A few columns back I noted the firing of Juan Williams by NPR once again affirmed my experience that there is nothing more narrow-minded than a broad minded liberal. I was pleased to read the following quote by Christopher Hitchens in a piece by Andrew Anthony in “The Observer:” “I learned that very often the most intolerant and narrow-minded people are the ones who congratulate themselves on their tolerance and open-mindedness.”

Partisanship: If you read the pundits, the politicians, and listen to the news casts, you get the feeling that bipartisanship is the goal to strive for. I say thank God for partisanship and the gridlock it produces. Legislative success should be judged by quality not quantity. No piece of legislation should be passed until it has withstood every contrary argument that can be thrown at it. Whether Republican or Democrat, no political party should be able to get what it wants when it wants it, to be able to move its agenda forward without contest. Sometimes, I have been very fortunate not to have gotten what I wanted, and certainly our nation would have been better off if political parties had not gotten what they wanted. I refer you back to the paragraph on ethanol as an example.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Get Those Germs

As I write this, I’m in an RV park in Covington, Georgia. Getting here was a long day’s drive with lots of time for mental meandering which lead to the strange topic of Germ-X and similar products, those alcohol based hand sanitizers.

It seems that these products didn’t even exist a few years ago. Now they are everywhere. At Wal-Mart, soccer moms are wiping down their shopping carts with sanitizer wet wipes. In stores, restaurants, and offices there are large bottles of the stuff with dispensers for public use. It is stocked in bathrooms and can be found in ladies’ purses and on teacher’s desks everywhere.

When did the war on germs become so ferocious? How did those of us who grew up without Germ-X survive? I’ve never seen a germ, but apparently they exist and are dangerous. There are other things I’ve never seen that disturb me more, such as chiggers. I wish someone would declare war on those critters so I could collect a purple heart for the dozen wounds I’m now nursing from their itchy little bites.

But about germs, what caused this new onslaught against them? I think of all the times, as a kid, I spent my mornings shoveling cow manure or chicken droppings before sitting down to eat my lunch without the use of Germ-X or even water at times. Or my boss who would stop his work, take out his dirty farmer’s pocket knife, take out his dentures that were irritating him, scrape way the spot that was causing the discomfort and put them back.

How about all those camping trips, hunting outings, and picnics when you took care of your personal issues, or came to the table, without facilities to wash your hands? I grew up in a home with seven boys, one girl, one bathroom and one mom to monitor hand washing. Without the use of some algebraic formula and a capable mathematician, I could not even begin to account for the times little hands didn’t get washed. Yet we survived healthily without hand sanitizers.

Granted germs can be a problem, but our bodies are equipped to handle them in the normal course of things. It’s when we are sick and our immune systems are weak that germs become a problem. I’m no scientist, but it seems to me the way our bodies work is that when the various systems get exercised, they stay strong and when they don’t, they atrophy. When we have to fight against germs, our immune system stays strong.

Here is what I predict will be the unintended consequences of this incessant warfare on germs: We will wind up with weak immune systems that won’t be able to handle a serious attack when it comes. Secondly, the strong germs will survive our warfare, reproduce yet stronger germs and we will have created a super strain that will do a lot more damage than their weaker predecessors. In fact, I believe reports of such are already coming in.

I wonder if this hand sanitizer is another bottled water type scam. Someone convinced us that tap water was full of things that would make us sick. To be safe, we should all drink bottled water, and so bottled water became the craze. Unfortunately, the only legal definition of bottled water was water in a bottle. It turns out most bottlers got the water for their bottles out of municipal taps somewhere. But, the bottlers made lots of money and continue to do so. I suspect the same is true of the many germ killings products. The only ones to truly benefit are the manufacturers.

I’m addicted to a strong morning cup of coffee and the Jonesboro Sun. But, when I’m on the road, I have to get a morning paper via my Kindle. This trip, I’m reading “The Oklahoman” and discovered my mental wanderings about hand sanitizers might have been a little prescient. Here’s a lead sentence: “If the presence of all those alcohol based sanitizers makes you feel safe from disease, read no further.” The article explained that studies show the use of Germ-X, Purell and other such products has no effect on preventing flu or common colds. This was the findings of research done at the University of Virginia. “The researchers surmise that hand transmission is less important for these viruses than previously thought.”

I’d say, though, such usage has already reached the tipping point in public awareness, which means continued strong sales. Invest in Germ-X or Purell and hope my predictions are wrong. Also, keep on washing those hands, though regular soap will probably do, and if you miss a germ or two, it will probably be alright.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Violent Discourse

We have just lived through another national tragedy, the Arizona massacre, and witnessed politicians and pundits stunned that such a thing could happen. Some quickly jumped to the conclusion that it was brought about by heated public discouse.

I remember being amazed after the Oklahoma City bombing at senators who just couldn’t believe such a thing could happen in our country, that anyone could be that upset with our government. I don’t think there is any comparison between the shooter in Arizona and Tim McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber. It appears the fellow in Arizona is a true mental case.

On the other hand, we have not seen the end of the Tim McVeighs. It is not the discourse on talk radio that creates Tim McVeighs but rather actions of the politicians themselves.

I remember the event that shattered the illusions about government that I had gleaned from high school civics classes. The capital of Alaska, Juneau, is inaccessible by road and far removed from the rest of the state. You either fly in or boat in. Politicians did their work without the annoyance of constituents showing up.

The voters voted to move the capital. However, the state senator who chaired the appropriations committee was from Juneau and the economy of Juneau hinged on it being the capital. So, Senator Ray single handily blocked the will of the people by not allowing a bill out of committee to fund the move. It was not the democratic process but rather political games that really mattered. This is not atypical.
Though I have not paid a lot of attention to state politics since coming to Arkansas 20 years ago, I still follow national politics and believe we are incubating a host of Tim McVeighs, not from discourse but by over regulation and the feeling that our voice doesn’t matter.

The American psyche is one that does not like to be told what to do. Most of us, for the sake of expedience, will accept a certain amount of regimentation, at school, on the job, and in our recreation, but the amount we will accept varies. This goes deep into our history. Our country was born out of feelings of rebellion. American mythology is one of individualism.

Toward the last half of the last century, our government began to co-opt more and more responsibilities in an effort to provide for the common good. Who can fault that? Recreation, the arts, broadcasting, food and drugs, tobacco, health care, planning and zoning, welfare, education, parks, liquor, safety at all levels, energy, motor sports, automobiles, adinfinitum, these all became governmental concerns for the common good.

Here’s the problem: there is no such thing as the common good. What is good for one person, is meddling to another. A current example is the flap over airport security. Though it may be for the common good, it is seen by many as too much meddling. Child obesity concerns are another example.

Our politicians pass legislation that generalizes their intent and create regulatory bodies to develop the particulars. And, sometimes they turn to the regulatory agencies to accomplish what they can’t get done legislatively.

Some of us are quite content to work for change within the system and adjust our attitudes to accept what we perceive to be the inevitable. We figure out how to prosper under the new rules when they come about. Others do not.

(Lest you think I am contradicting my position in the column I wrote on requiring motorcycle helmets, my main point of that column was that if we shift the responsibility to pay the hospital bill to the government, it has a right to make the rules.)

I sometimes ask myself, where is my tipping point? How much governmental control is too much. When do I pledge with our forefathers “our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor?” I can’t really answer that question. But, I am a patient fellow who still believes the system corrects itself in time.

For Tim McVeigh, the tipping point was the government’s actions at Waco and Ruby Ridge. In his mind they had stepped over the line and he retaliated. But, each time the politicians see fit to restrict somebody’s activity for the common good, they are pushing some Tim McVeigh nearer to the edge. Our Psyche is steeped in individualism, not collectivism.

It is not the discourse on talk radio that pushes people over the line but rather the ever increasing regulation the politicians impose on the citizenry and the political games they play that create a sense of hopelessness for some people. As Janis Joplin warned us, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” Hopelessness frees one to do the otherwise unthinkable.

As a side note, those liberals who claim there is a connection between “hate speech” on conservative talk-radio and acts of violence, such as the Arizona shooting, deny that any such thing could possibly exist when you talk about a connection between violent video games and crime or between pornography and teenage pregnancy.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Why The Budget Never Gets Cut

An e-mail came across my desk this past week that illustrates why it is so difficult to cut the budget. It was from a public relations firm representing the little known government program Experience Works.

Experience Works is a program for retraining seniors who need to supplement their income and placing them back in the work force. To be eligible, the senior's income must not exceed $13,613 a year and they must be unemployed.

The program serves about 60,000 people and has a budget of $825 million. The budget recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives reduces the agency’s budget to $300 million, and so the screaming starts.

The budget cuts “will be catastrophic.”

“Participants are 70, 80, and 90 year olds and are already on the brink of homelessness.”

“This is a crisis for tens of thousands of vulnerable, low-income seniors.”

Experience Works claims to have surveyed its participants and found that 46 per cent sometimes have to choose between paying rent, purchasing food or buying groceries; 50 per cent need to keep working so they don’t lose their homes or apartments; 43 per cent are looking for work now because they were laid off from their previous positions, and 64 per cent have been looking for work one year or longer. Since this adds up to 296 per cent, we know that most fit in two or more categories.

This emotionally charged press release depends on you not taking time to analyze what is being reported.

People on an income of less than $13,000 were probably common laborers of some sort and can no longer do physical work so retraining is necessary. The agency retrains them mostly for office support, minimum income kind of jobs: answering the phones, greeting customers, computer services, etc. They also look at driving possibilities or home health care such as sitters or companions.

The reality is that most of the participants will be working part time for a minimum wage. At 20 hours a week for $8 an hour, they will supplement their income by $8,500 a year. If you divide 60,000 participants by an $825 million dollar budget, you will find it costs about $13,500 to help that senior make $8,500. What the press release is really concerned with is the loss of the jobs of those government workers employed by the agency.

There are many job retraining programs sponsored by various government agencies that could accommodate the services of Experience Works as part of an existing program. It is important to the people running the program to keep their jobs and therefore to keep the program going, so as soon as the budget cuts are proposed, they employ a public relations firm, using tax payer dollars, to insure the survival of the agency.

This happens over and over again every time a budget cut is proposed. The budget will only be cut when the public turns a deaf ear to this kind of emotional plea and takes a look at the real effects of any given cut.

By the way, how many 80 and 90 year olds do you really think are out there looking for retraining so they can go to work?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

End of a Column -- commentary

This columnn was my final column with the Jonesboro Sun. I intend to continue posting columns here from time to time.

As all things end, it is time to say a fond farewell to this column. Those of us blessed with attention deficit sooner or later find something that distracts us from whatever useful and enjoyable activity we are engaged in and we find ourselves off on some new adventure. And so, it has happened again.

Pearl and I just returned from a couple of weeks in Mesa, Arizona, where among other things, I finished the motorcycle ride which I started two years ago and that put me in the hospital for 60 days. We shared a toast to recovery with my riding partner, Fast Eddie Copeman, and his wife, Loretta, from Calgary. We then flew to Seattle for four days for the gathering of the Grove clan and my mother’s memorial service.

When we arrived back in Jonesboro, there was an advertisement in the Jonesboro Sun. The Paragould paper was looking for a general assignment reporter. I have been substitute teaching, substitute bus driving, and driving a charter bus for a local company to supplement my retirement income, but mostly to break up the dullness of retirement. Though each of these activities was okay, they didn’t offer much of a challenge.

I looked at the ad for a reporter and thought back on my days in the newsroom from 1968 to 1970. They were interesting, creative times and the more I thought about it, the more the idea intrigued me. There were some things I like about the newsroom. No two days were ever the same. There was always a good bit of commotion and clutter to satisfy the attention deficit. It was interesting to write the town’s raw history and deadlines forced me to get something done. The only thing I didn’t like was the poverty reporters endure. Newspapers are notoriously low pay. So, when a much larger distraction came my way, I shelved the career and chased after it. The irony was that some of the distractions involved even worse poverty

Now that I’m retired following a lifetime of distractions, pay ceases to be an issue. I decided to toss my application in the hopper and see what happens, though I was only willing to make a 12 to 15 month commitment. Our son recently moved from Houston, Texas, to Gig Harbor, Washington. We realize if we are going to have time with our grandkids, we are going to have to move back to the Northwest. We hope to do this in the spring of 2012.

I was offered the job, took it, and here is how it affects this column: The Sun has a policy that reporters are not allowed to write columns. I assume this is to keep the news reporting separate from opinion writing, as it should be. Both the Jonesboro and Paragould papers are owned by the Paxton Media Group and both of them share the work of reporters through the Paxton News Bureau. For the Sun to continue my column would violate their policy.

I have enjoyed writing this column and must thank Editor Roy Ockert for paying me to do something I would probably have done for nothing. When I was invited to write it, my first task was to create a bank of 10 columns that would insure I would not have to miss deadlines and would always have a column, even during periods of writer’s block, which never happened.

That bank has never run dry and as I leave, I still have several columns which I will post periodically on my blog www.catchatale.blogspot.com. I also can brag that I never missed a deadline in three years, even while lying in the hospital. I intend to continue writing columns and posting them on my blog.

Several times in my life my attention deficit has led me to do-overs. Twenty years after college, I found myself back in college working on an MFA in writing. Twenty-one years after I thoroughly messed up a military career, I found myself back in the military as a navy reservist and then an Army National Guardsman where I managed to get good conduct and commendation medals instead of reprimands. Writing this column was another do-over as I first wrote a column for the “Coeur d’ Alene Press” in Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho, back in 1969.

I am approaching this opportunity as another do-over. Each do-over has been better than the original and I am betting this one will be also. I say a big thank you to those of you who have emailed me concerning the column and those who have encouraged me with positive comments when I would see you about the town. It has been an adventure of a different type. Thank you all.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Taxation and Evil -- commentary

With a new congress in session, we are going to hear a lot about the terrible “T” word – taxes. We will also hear words like “fair share” and “tax the rich.” Since taxes are a necessary evil, there should be an ongoing discussion about both the necessary and the evil part.

To save myself a lot of frustration, I began long ago to look at my pay as being only that part of my check left after taxes were withheld and went about my business. I had friends who had gotten into the anti tax movement, and it consumed their lives, leaving them poorer in the end. However, my approach has also left me poorer.

Consider the evil part first. Let me make a comparison here. In a previous column I talked about war and its main purpose being to maim and kill people. A government at war is a way to legitimize killing which in another context would be called murder. Because of this, it should be done only after careful consideration and only after there is no other rational alternative.

In the same way, taxation is a way to legitimize theft and because of this it is evil. As such it should only be done after careful consideration. The Robin Hood story might have been entertaining reading when we were kids, but the idea of stealing from the rich is wrong, even if we give it to the poor.

In its simplest, rawest terms, taxation is armed robbery. Since you and I don’t push the issue, we never see the gun that backs up the IRS, but my friend who did two years in a federal pen for failure to pay up or the one who lost his house to the IRS understand this well.

So, that is the evil side of the issue, but none of us can deny the necessity of taxation. Our country must be defended, our cities must be policed, and we must have some way to deliver justice to those who have been wronged. These things must be paid for and since we all benefit from them, we should all pay for them. But what about taxation when it is used to achieve social ends? The further you get away from taxation for defense, policing, and jurisprudence, the more the evil and less the necessity.

If you get too much evil and not enough necessity you have a real moral problem. Taxation is at its most evil form when used simply for redistribution of wealth. This is the Robin Hood myth that it is alright to rob from the rich and give to the poor. Can you justify theft just because the person being stolen from has plenty left after you are done?

How far can we go and still me moral? Take our highways and roads for example. They are built with tax dollars, but most of those dollars are taken in the form of fuel taxes from those who use the roads.

What about education? We do want an educated citizenry and so we don’t feel too badly about being taxed for this, but to what extent? There comes a point where the benefits go only to the person receiving them. Most of the social service benefits go only to the recipient.

So, how do we justify this so the theft looks legit? There is a saying that has been attributed to a number of sources: no democracy is safe once the people discover they can vote themselves money from the public largess. I will add to that, nor when the politicians discover they can buy votes from the same. This leads to a moral morass. I hear politicians like Governor Mike Huckabee proposing flat tax schemes. It is an idea that will never happen because our tax structure is a primary tool for social engineering and politicians are not going to give up that tool.

We could go on and talk about public funding of the arts, the building of sports stadiums, and on and on. It is one thing to extract money at the point of a gun to support the court house or the police force but quite another to pay an artist for something most of us would not buy and hang in our own homes.

Much of what we do with taxes seems good. I look at people playing in the city park next to my house and think what a great facility the city has built to enhance the quality of our lives. However, we had to take money from somebody to do it. When we promote taxing Peter to buy something for Paul, we should always ask if it is necessary. Necessity helps make evil feel a little more right.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Respsonse to slander

I received the following email from a reader in response to my column on talk show hosts slandering the President and his wife by repeatedly saying they hate their country. As could be expected, the reader missed the point of the column which was to rebut the President’s ideas rather than impugn his character. My response follows his comments.

Mr. Grove:

Do you know the definition of slander? Webster's Dictionary: "false and defamatory oral statement about a person". The person you accuse of slander was giving his opinion that he believed the president and first lady hates America. That is not slander. It may not be truth, but it is not slander.

There are many Americans who believe the Obamas hate America. For many reasons, and not just the ones you cite. His refusal to put his hand over his heart when the National Anthem is played. Refusal to wear a flag on his lapel. His attendance at a church for 22 years where Jemeriah Wright constantly damned America. His behavior and response at the Gulf oil spillage. This and many other reasons.

American presidents have traditionally modeled themselves after such great leaders as Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington. Saul Alinsky is his hero. He has associated with such as Bill Ayers.

Dinesh D'souza has written a book, "Roots of Obama's Rage". I have not read the complete book, but many excerpts from it and it helps to explain Obama. Obama's father was a Kenyan communist who had a deep hatred for Western Democracies, especially the British. Much information about the book is on the internet.

I firmly believe Obama would never have been elected if he had been properly vetted by the media. If Obama had been on the ballot in 2010 he would have been defeated. But Obama has now realized that his leftish politics will lead to defeat, and he has now decided to try to rehabilitate himself by moving to the center. Will the American people be fooled?

Trumann, Arkansas

Mr. WR,

Thank you for your feedback on my column about slander and the Obamas. Yes, as a trained journalist I do know what slander is, the spoken equivalent of libel. You say that what the person to whom I was referring said may not be the truth, but it was not slander. If it was not true, then it was slander. In a court of law, the only defense against libel or slander is to demonstrate the offending material is true.

In your response, you continue to defame the president’s character without challenging his ideas. This is too bad, because it is his ideas that need challenging, and there is so much evidence to show that his ideas don’t work. Socialism, communism, central planning, or whatever one wishes to call it, has never worked well. You don’t need to impugn a man’s character and accuse him of hating his country to demonstrate that his ideas are flawed.

As to Rev. Wright: Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity and others love to play over and over again the 20 second sound bite of him saying “not God bless America, but God damn America.” I can’t tell you how many times I have heard white, fundamentalist preachers say, “If God doesn’t punish America, He is going to have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah.” They are saying the same thing with a little more finesse, and I have never heard anything but “amen” when they say it.

As to D’souza’s book, let me quote Proverbs, “Of the making of books there will be no end.” As I young man I read a 400 page tome by Robert Welch, founder of the John Birch Society, in which he claims to prove that President Eisenhower was a communist. I guess I learned at an early age not to believe everything I read in print.

I’m sure if you listened to enough of my old sermon tapes or read enough of my college papers, you could find a sound bite or two with which to impugn my character. Times and circumstances change us all. Sometimes all it takes is losing an election or two. No, I don’t expect Obama to abandon his socialistic ways, but that does not justify slander. To stoop to slander is to admit I can’t adequately challenge his ideas.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Obama Slander -- commentary

“Lord who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill? He whose walk is blameless … and has no slander on his tongue.” Psalms 15

Though I am no fan of our President’s policies and political thinking, I find myself in need of defending him against the ad hominem attacks he suffers from many pundits. I am a frequent listener of talk radio and on a trip to Arizona over the holidays, I listened to a “host talker” express his hatred of the President and his wife on the basis that they hated America, an often stated sentiment of conservative talk show hosts.

His basis for saying this was Obama’s left wing policies and the various times he has apologized to world leaders over various past actions of our country. He hated Michele on the basis of her comment that the nomination of her husband was the first time she was proud to be an American.

It is a big step with no logical connection between these reasons and saying the President and First Lady hate America. Even as it angered me when the left would launch ad hominem attacks on President Bush, I don’t like it when the right does it to Obama.

Such comments show a lack of any attempt to understand what is behind what is being said, and they tend to shut down discourse. First, let me consider the issues related to the President.

Though I do not agree with his political views and think if he gets his way, it will drastically alter our country in ways I won’t like, his views deserve rational discussion without name calling or without impugning his motives as hatred of America. He obviously doesn’t like things the way they are, but because one wants to change things does not mean that one hates his country. Does it mean I hate my church or my school because I want to enact changes?

I suspect many of us in our college years went through a period of sophomore socialism. Some, like Obama, never out grew it. There is an old saying that this year’s conservative is last year’s liberal who got mugged by reality. Part of that reality involves honest discussion about political thought, not name calling.

As to the apologizing, if the President truly believes our nation wronged others, he has an obligation to apologize if he is an honest man. Mature people can disagree as to whether a particular thing was a wrong committed, but to apologize for the country is not an indication one hates it. As a teacher, when I truly believed I had wronged a student, I found it necessary to apologize and do it publically if I had wronged him publically. I can think of more than one occasion when a mature, honest teacher should have apologized to me and it might have had a positive impact if he had.

As to the First Lady, I believe those who interpret her statement that her husband’s nomination was the first time she was proud to be an American as hatred for the country, have absolutely no empathy for where she comes from.

In understanding this comment, I suggest we change the paradigm. Let’s say that European Christians were first brought to this country as slaves. For a century or more they worked as slaves and were finally given their freedom. However, laws were passed that would keep them oppressed and second class citizens for another century. In time, too much time, the laws which institutionalized their oppression were struck down and they began to experience equality. Finally, one of them rose to the highest position of power in the land, and you are a descendant. You might be inclined to say “for the first time in my life I’m proud to be an American.” Would that imply that until then you had hated the country? The absence of pride is not hate.

I don’t hate America and in fact gave my country 20 years in the armed forces. But, I am not proud of a country where the Supreme Court opened the gates to pornographers because, “we all know it when we see it but we can’t define it,” where they found a constitutional right to privacy where none exists, creating millions of abortions, and a court that can’t distinguish between a prayer at a football game and “the establishment of religion.” If we ever get these issues straightened out, I might again be proud to be an American.

In the meantime, I will live here and work for changes I would like. But, don’t accuse me of hating my country, nor should we level that accusation against our President and First Lady. That would be slander.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Bike Trails -- commentary

Jonesboro transportation planners have raised a little ruckus with their proposals for making bicycling and walking more attractive alternatives for our community. Those in opposition see it as part of a United Nations plot forcing us to live in more densely populated areas.

I am no friend of the United Nations, but even institutions I don’t care for can have a good idea occasonally. It’s an old country saying that “even a blind hog can find an acorn once in a while.” I don’t know whether this is some kind of conspiracy by control freaks, but I do see it as an effort to rectify the unintended consequences of an early attempt at social engineering.

Turn your calendars back to the early 1900’s. The automobile was beginning to come into its own. Henry Ford and his Model T made it possible for common people to own a car. As a side note, this created havoc with a burgeoning motorcycle industry. People could now buy a car as cheaply as a motorcycle and they found it more comfortable being out of the weather.

Up through the 30’s, most cities had good mass transit systems. Many store owners lived in apartments above their stores, and most people lived within walking distance of their employment. Cities with mills often had mill towns that housed mill workers within walking distance of work. Though the sawmill has been closed in my home town for decades, the old mill town is still there and the houses still occupied.

With politicians promising a chicken in every pot and a car in every driveway, the social planners realized we could now spread out away from city centers and they created a phenomenon called the suburb. For the two college girls I overheard trying to figure out what a suburb is, it is short for suburban. Sub is a prefix meaning just outside of and urban is Latin for city.

Suburbs begin to grow like weeds around cities, creating “urban sprawl.” To encourage people to move to the suburbs, and as a sop to the growing automobile industry, social engineers and urban planners convinced cities to purposefully dismantle their mass transit systems, making cars a necessity. They did not envision what an environment would be like with millions of cars and millions of miles of concrete and asphalt road ways.

Now we know. The problem is, we are hooked on our automobiles and our big houses and yards in the suburbs. We no longer want to live in apartments above our stores and in small houses near the mine, the mill, or the factories.

Head out of town on any given work day between six and eight a.m. and you will be met with a parade of factory works heading into town to work, and in the evening the parade is reversed. I remember a friend remarking that it seems that all the people who live on the west side of town drive to work on the east side and the east siders all drive to work on the west side. They should just trade jobs or houses.

So, the social planners now want us to live in tighter communities, to live, work, shop, go to school and to church in the same general area. This trend makes sense. When I was in the navy reserves, I always preferred my two weeks active duty to be in San Francisco rather than Los Angeles. There were hundreds of things to do in San Francisco, and since the city was so compact and had such a great mass transit system, I never needed a car. There were also hundreds of things to do in LA, but LA was designed around the automobile. These things were miles apart and the mass transit was not very good. Without a car, I couldn’t enjoy them.

Trying to get the modern American to give up his car and a nice house in the suburbs, however, will be a bit like getting an NRA member to give up his rifle. Still, I would like to see this town more bicycle and pedestrian friendly. When I left Anchorage back in 1990, we had about 110 miles of bicycle trails and they have added many more miles since. These trails are used for recreation every bit as much as the city parks. On nice summer days you will find bike riders, inline skaters, joggers, mothers with baby carriages and walkers using them. They are much safer than competing with traffic on the over used streets.

Building bike paths and sidewalks will probably not accomplish what the planners envision, but it will improve the quality of life for people who choose to use them. Maybe the UN found an acorn.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Helmets and IQ -- commentary

There goes another one; he flunked my primary IQ test. How’s that you say? He was riding a motorcycle without wearing a helmet, which is one of the least intelligent things a rider can do.

A recent AP article in the Sun reported there were 4,400 motorcycle deaths in the United State last year with head injuries as the leading cause. Sadly, only 20 states have laws requiring all riders to wear helmets. Arkansas used to be one of them.

For 20 years, all riders in Arkansas were required to wear a helmet, but in 1997 the law was changed, and a recent proposal requiring those not wearing helmets to carry at least $10,000 in health insurance didn’t make it out of committee. In truth, even this would not have been enough.

Medical studies show beyond a doubt that the costs to our society are extremely high when riders have accidents without helmets. I look at the damage done to my own helmet and realize that damage would have been done to my skull and brain if I hadn’t been wearing it. The cost without any brain damage was close to $200,000 and a couple of years of recovery. With brain damage, that cost would have been much higher and full recovery probably impossible. If you think it is “cool” to ride a motorcycle without a helmet, visit a rehab hospital and watch people who are trying to recover from brain damage. Riding without a helmet might be “cool,” but living with muscles that won’t work and slobber running down your chin is not.

Only slightly more than half the motorcycle crash victims have health insurance, which means the government winds up picking up the cost for the rest. And, the average cost for the unhelmeted rider is eight percent higher. Without adequate insurance, you are going to be sent home from the hospital long before you are ready and your family will bear the burden of your care: feeding you, emptying your bed pan, dressing you, and bathing you in bed: not nearly as cool as having your hair flowing freely in the wind as you cruise down the highway.

In spite of what the medical literature and cost analyses show, lobbyists for motorcycle enthusiasts managed to get helmet laws changed at the federal and state levels. After the repeal of the helmet law in Arkansas, the percentage of motorcycle fatalities where the rider was not wearing a helmet went from 47 percent to 78 percent.

The anti-helmet crowd argues that “nobody has the right to tell me I have to wear a helmet.” The same argument is used by the anti-seatbelt crowd. This kind of elementary school idea of freedom doesn’t exist anywhere. And though it is tough for one with my libertarian instincts to defend these laws, I will, in part because a true libertarian society exists only in books and in the minds of libertarians like myself.

Where does the government get the right to dictate helmets, seatbelts or other such safety measures? It comes from we the people and our expectations. When faced with catastrophic financial ruin through an accident, an act of God such as a tornado or earthquake, or maybe a terrorist attack, we expect our government to provide some relief. Add to this government programs like Medicare and health insurance.

If the government is going to pick up the tab for these catastrophes, they have the right to make some rules. How many of you subsidize your teen agers living expenses or would consider financing a car for them without some rules? If you do or would, you are a highly irresponsible parent. Neither is the government going to pick up these costs without some rules.

We all want freedom until there are consequences to pay. One reason libertarianism doesn’t work is because most people don’t have the stomach to allow those without financial resources to die in the street, so we create social programs to care for them and ask the government to pay.

For those who want to ride without a helmet or ride in a car without a seatbelt, we could create an alternative. Let them sign a waiver that says in case of an accident, they will take full responsibility. Let them waive the right to the help of any government subsidized ambulance, EMT personnel, emergency room or medical care.

Then have them wear a med-alert bracelet that says “I am a free and independent person able to pay my own way. If you are in anyway subsidized by the government, you are forbidden to help me.”

Forget the waiver; we welcome government or insurance programs which spread these costs among many. When we do, we lose the right to abandon common sense and agree to abide by reasonable rules.