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.