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?