More Guns in More Hands is the Answer

I’m working on a couple of other short essays for this blog: one on the question of personal responsibility and the other on why No Child Left Behind and similar programs try to hold teachers accountable for the wrong things.  The Aurora theater shooting has intruded on that.  Print, broadcast and electronic media, together with social networking sites, have been overfilled with words of tearful outrage, prayerful compassion for the victims, and a strong sense of collective angst that this is yet one more sign of our decline into a culture of violence.  No doubt the months ahead will be dedicated to a public examination probing every aspect of the perpetrator’s life to discover a “why.”  It will be inconclusive and unsatisfying, but not without first smearing the reputations of others along the way.  Some will demand measures be taken so that something like this will never happen again.  A vain notion at best.
The worst demagogues among us will rise to the occasion.  An atheist will scornfully demand to know how a loving God could allow such a thing to happen.  A fundamentalist will retaliate with God’s wrath visited on a sinful people.  A radio host will name the secret cabal behind it.  One elected official has already announced that the suspect is a psychotic son of a bitch; an understandable statement of anger, but not helpful in the public discourse.  Another fulminated that if only others in the audience had been armed, they could have stopped the massacre.  More guns in more hands is the answer, as far as he is concerned.   My local Tea Party friends are already yelling that left wing liberals are blaming them, and that Obama will use this to take away their Second Amendment rights.
Frankly, they have a point.  They have had a lot to do with setting a public discourse of divisive, uncompromising, scape goating laced with threats of violence and the glorification of retributive justice.  With no Islamic terrorists or illegal aliens to blame, they are the easiest scape goat to grab onto.  Moreover, this tragic event of great moral evil will reignite the gun control debate, which is as it should be.
Maybe this time, instead of paranoid fear over losing Second Amendment rights, which may or may not be imaginary anyway, we can have a serious national conversation.  My own preference would be to license all guns and gun owners in a manner similar to the way we license cars and drivers.  My Tea Party friend Bill would have a fit over that, but I think if he could calm down enough to stop hyperventilating, we might actually be able to talk about it in a reasonable way.  Maybe he would discover that we liberal, or progressives, or center left moderates, whatever, are not out to destroy the Constitution, take away our freedoms, or coddle all the criminals. 

Libertarianism as Corrective

A recent article by AP writer Pauline Arrillaga noted that the popular idea of freedom has energized libertarian political ideology among a wide variety of Americans of all ages and conditions in life.   The curious thing about libertarian ideology taken to its literal conclusion is that it leads toward what can only be called fascism. 
By that I do not mean Hitler or Mussolini type fascism, but toward a society in which a minimized government eschewing nanny-state socialism, while encouraging rugged individualism, creates its own conditions for whatever government there is to be organized and run for the benefit of a relatively few private business owners and managers.  To protect their investments, these “job creators” use the supposedly limited powers of government to prevent any society wide movement that might threaten them.  The natural result is a life of hardship for many, their only freedom being the freedom to enjoy want and need, the slow but inexorable diminishment of civil liberties for the rest, and a general rejection of the idea of human rights.
We have seen hints of movement in that direction at times and places in our history.  The Know Nothings; the hight of the KKK and America First movements; some parts of the robber baron era; the Harding administration; certain aspects of the McCarthy era, and so it goes.  What has always saved us is the eventual recognition among voters that government is not the enemy, that civil rights (political freedoms) are a function of public policy, and that human rights are continually evolving into realities that can only be birthed through political action.  All of that adds up to an activist government.
To be fair, our current libertarian movement may be a necessary corrective to government that tends generate bureaucracies that grow and exist for their own sake, without much direction or intent, as they become more and more unwieldy and inefficient.  For some reason France, Italy and the Department of Housing and Urban Development come to mind.  Lest you become too dismissive of government, the same thing happens in large corporations: General Motors, Morgan Chase, AIG, etc.  It seems to be more a characteristic of any human organization than of government per se.  
Correctives as catalysts for needed change are good.  Correctives as dietary mainstays are poisonous.  True believers among hard core libertarians don’t know that.  Tea Partiers don’t even think about it.

Gay Marriage in the State of Washington: take two

Will it be 33 of 33?  There is a good chance.  Washington State will have gay marriage on the ballot this November.  Opponents to gay marriage have won 32 of 32 ballot measures so far.  So why do they have a shot at it again?  After all, a clear majority of Washingtonians favor, or are not opposed to, gay marriage.  The state has had a civil union law for several years, and all the brouhaha about that died down some time ago. 
Here is why.  Those in favor, or not opposed, almost take it for granted that it’s a good idea.  It has ceased to be a lightning rod issue for them.  Driven by fear and disgust, those opposed are rabidly opposed for all kinds of strange, but deeply held, emotionally charged reasons.  With vengeful hatred in their eyes, they will vote.  They are already determined to get rid of a president they detest for all kinds of spurious reasons.  They will be aided and abetted by Tea Party type propaganda, along with Republican candidates too scared of the far right wing to say or do anything that might offend them. 
Voter turnout, even in presidential election years, is not all that great, so the side that can claim the most emotionally charged and committed voters will likely win, and right now that looks like the far right, supplemented by those who go along to get along.
Progressives, or liberals, or moderates, whatever you want to call them, have a tendency to get all hyped up about this or that, hold rallies and protests, and then burn out.  They can’t sustain the effort.  They have learned how to organize, but not how to deliver the votes.  On most issues, they are driven more by the desire to do good than by fear, and fear is a more enduring motivator than the desire to do good.  The sarcastic epithet, ‘Do Gooders,’ makes the point: well meaning pansies who can be politically bullied with impunity.
As far as Eastern Washington is concerned, the outlook is dimmer yet.  Voters who are not conservative Republicans tend to cede every election with little more than a whimper, and seldom do anything, in a constructive way, to hold office holders accountable.  Far right conservatives, on the other hand, do everything possible to see that candidates submit to their demands, at least in public.
Will it be 33 of 33?  According to the Magic 8 Ball, the outlook is good.

A Few Thoughts on Syria and Assad

Almost everyone wants Assad out of Syria.  Resign, they say, just resign and get out.  It isn’t going to happen.  He’s reasonably literate.  He can read.  He can see what happens to ex-dictators guilty of heinous crimes.  Taylor, Mubarak, Milosevic, Qaddafi, and, of course, the ever popular Saddam Hussein, just to name a few.  There is no such thing as resigning and getting out.  There is only death or life in prison accompanied by world wide public scorn.
That isn’t always true.  Idi Amin pulled off life in the prison of his own choice: Saudi Arabia.  Assad might be able to do the same by claiming refuge in Russia, but I don’t imagine that a lifetime under close supervision in Moscow holds much allure. 
So, what’s the alternative?  Becoming a nice guy working toward a more open and “democratic” society is one, but highly unlikely.  It’s not in his genes.  The other is to squash all opposition by whatever means possible, the more horrendous the better, and remain tyrant for life, deluded into believing that his people love him, and that he, above all others, is the very symbol of what it means to be a Syrian.  Getting away with thumbing his nose at the West, and especially at the U.S. is just an added benefit.
It’s not an Assad thing.  It’s the way of all tyrannical dictators, and has been for thousands of years.  In the end, as I hope we have learned, it is up to the Syrians themselves to do something about it.  They have to decide what kind of society they want to live in.  No one else can do it for them.  See Iraq and Afghanistan for more on this point.  It’s hard to know what the rest of the world can do that might help while causing the least additional harm.  Maybe something like the Libya operation, but it would have to be led by Arab nations if it was to have any credibility.  How likely is that, considering that most of them are led by dictatorial, albeit not altogether tyrannical, rulers?
My own guess is this, provided that American war hawks don’t mess it up.  Egypt settles down after the election to become more Islamist, but moderately so, state.  Together with Jordan and Turkey they figure out a way to underwrite the Syrian opposition without too much publicity about it.  Assad eventually goes the way of all such as he.  Syrians struggle for a decade or so trying to figure out who they want to be.  In the meantime, Lebanon gets to mature into permanent civility without Syrian interference, and a new Mideast bloc emerges that is more comfortable in its own skin, and with its global neighbors.  

Plutocrats and the People Who Love Them

Paul Krugman wrote an interesting column today in which he noted the correlation between extremes in income inequality with poor economic performance, and the dismal track record of far right wing economic practice delivering the goods it promises.  When income inequality becomes too great, and what too great is is debatable, governments tend toward plutocracy where the very rich are able to “purchase” policies that protect their accumulated wealth while opening up small windows to increased wealth through which only they, and a few others, can pass. 
Looking at the current American scene from a distance, as Krugman is able to do, it looks like a pretty good description of what is going on.  But looking at the same scene from the inside, down at the middle and lower levels, it looks different.  The so called Tea Party movement, aided and abetted by more ordinary conservatives, are not only enthusiastic supporters of policies favorable to the plutocracy, they often want to go farther.  Curiously, none of them are members of the plutocratic class, nor are they ever likely to be.  Moreover, many are in that indebted middle class group that is always teetering on the verge of personal economic disaster.  Yet they are enthusiastic about policies destined to work against their own best interests.  Why is that?
I suspect that fear has something to do with it.  Fear that the nation might be in as bad a shape as they are.  They know how close to edge they live day to day, and believe that the nation is nothing more than a typical domestic household writ large, very large.  They believe, without examination, that we have to go begging hat in hand for loans from the Chinese.  They believe that petroleum products produced domestically are consumed domestically, and that, if we really tried, we could produce all that we need.  They are certain that certain other nations want to conquer us, making us subjects of an alien empire.  They are, to be truthful, suspicious of a president who is not a white male.  In my part of the country, they are Republicans because they are Republicans, and whatever the party is selling must be good, as opposed to tax and spend big government Democrats.
I don’t think the plutocrats get together to giggle at their good fortune, finding their best allies among those whom they are grinding underfoot.  They don’t do that because they don’t think about it at all.  Nor do they give much thought to the destructiveness of their favorite policies that, in the end, will erode their own domestic wealth producing opportunities.  That’s because they are both short sighted and not economic citizens of this country anyway.  They are global citizens quite certain that if a market dries up in one place, there will be another lucrative, amenable one not far off.  The well being of the commonwealth is unimportant because they have little regard for the idea of commonwealth at all.  What is important is the viability of markets in which they can make a killing over the short term. 
It will be interesting to see how all of this works out.  

Liberals vs. Conservatives: Wear Your Helmet

Some interesting new studies purport to show physiological differences between the brains of those identified as liberals and conservatives.  Related studies say that the characteristic differences between the two have to do with openness to new things, alertness to danger, need for consistency, willingness to tolerate unpredictability, desire for certainty, and so on.  
I wonder?  I just returned from a joint clergy conference with the Episcopal Dioceses of Olympia and Spokane – the wet side joining the dry side, the west side joining the east side – the two sides separated by the Cascade Mountains.  Here on the dry, east side, I am a fairly obvious liberal.  Were I on the wet, west side, most people would consider me a borderline conservative.  Maybe driving over the pass causes brain structure anomalies.  If true, one would be well advised to wear one’s aluminum foil helmet on the trip.  
I know nothing about the efficacy of these various studies, and am not much interested in finding out.  But I am interested in the way liberals and conservatives use language to talk about the common good.  Both say that they are vitally interested in the common good.  Each seeks policies to promote it.  But I think they mean very different things.
Conservatives appear to see the common good as derived from maximizing the rights, privileges of individuals to exist as free agents bound together only by the merest of government needed to provide the flow of commerce and a reasonable degree of safety.  Persons are responsible for the consequences of their decisions, and bad decisions need not create public obligations.  It’s not so much a matter of the greatest good for the greatest number, which has little concern for whatever might be good for various minorities.  It’s more a matter of the greatest good for those who believe that they have control over resources and processes, and intend to keep it that way.   Conservatives do not form a coordinated bloc so much as they appear as a mosaic of individuals who are wiling to be collaborative only insofar as collaboration does not require surrender of individual identity.  
Liberals appear to see the common good as a condition of the entire community, all of its members and each of its members, taken as a whole.  Individual rights, privileges and personal responsibility are a part of that, but not preeminent.  The greatest good for the greatest number can never be allowed to overwhelm what might be good for minorities.  Persons and groups having control over resources and processes do not have an inherent right to that control, but enjoy it temporarily as (my word) stewards accountable to society.  Government, of necessity, represents the public arena where what the common good is, is worked out.  Liberals do form a coordinated bloc, but it is for the purpose of debate, not action.  Action requires more collaborative effort than they can muster for more than brief surges.
If that is true, liberals and conservatives can be equally concerned about particular public issues, and equally dedicated to the public good, and never come within range of genuine conversation.  They use the same words with such different meanings.  The cores of their beliefs about what the common good is are in very different places, and seldom articulated in ways that the other can, or is willing, to understand.  The product is mutual anger and distrust.  
I don’t believe it was always that way, and am not sure why it seems so now.  Several years ago, during the previous administration, I wrote a piece suggesting that we might be on a course to become a second rate nation with a second rate economy providing second rate jobs for most of our people.  I think we might still be on that course because the current recalcitrant divisiveness of the public debate leads that way.

Why I am a Tea Party Republican

I want to explain why I am a Tea Party Republican.  Well, actually, I am not a Republican at all, but you have to vote in some party, and those I might prefer either don’t exist, or, if they do, carry too much historical baggage.  It’s uncomfortable to be identified with them.   However, back to my point.
The root problem is poverty.  We have done too much to ease the burden of poverty.  All these welfare programs do nothing more than discourage the servant class from taking on the work for which they are intended, which is to provide the labor needed to support the lives of those of us who are not impoverished.  
If one is wealthy enough, one need not worry about such trivialities, but the majority of us who are not impoverished are finding it more and more difficult to afford the labor needed to provide the kind of life that is ours to be had.  Some small portion of the impoverished are willing to do that work if paid enough, but the greater number can avoid it because the nanny state offers them an alternative.  It even promises them the opportunity to enter the ranks of the not poor, which, as we know, is largely a fairy tale, but true enough that some will make it, thus eroding the base of the servant class and overpopulating the ranks of the not poor. 
We have achieved some success by whittling down the number of so called middle class persons, but more needs to be done.  We need to abolish the minimum wage, provide income earning opportunities for youth at a younger age, be less concerned about higher education for those incapable of benefitting from it, increase protections of private property from government intrusion, and, above all, eliminate most government sponsored welfare programs, although something like a workhouse or county farm might not be a bad idea.  They worked well once and might again.  
The result will be an expansion of those willing to enter the laboring market place to do the work of servanthood, thus providing sustenance for themselves and a higher standard of living for us.  All in all, everyone will benefit, and the cost of government will shrink to almost nothing.  
Thank you.

And What About Your Community?

Rich Lowry, a nationally syndicated columnist, wrote recently about the Trayvon Martin case by listing the deaths of young persons, mostly from the inner cities, and mostly at the hands of other young persons.  He might have used the public awareness of, and outrage over, the Martin case to shine a light on the tragic evil of young people murdering young people, possibly exploring some ways in which we, the greater public, might begin to do something about that, each in our own communities.  After all, he made a valid point, we tend to disregard that kind of violence as long as it doesn’t affect the neighborhood we live in, and is generally constrained (we think) to deadly violence between gangs.  A stern ‘tsk-tsk what is this world coming to’ is sufficient for most of us. 
He could have.  He didn’t.  
He used his list as an accusation of “liberal” hypocrisy.  He used his list as a political bludgeon asserting that liberals only care if a so called white person murders a black person.  He used his list to, rather subtly, suggest that black adults don’t care about black teens killing black teens, and only get worked up if a white person is involved.  It was cheap race baiting, perhaps not at its worst, but cheap just the same.  It was just more of the wedge driving divisiveness that has become the signal emblem of our national politics. 
The guy’s not stupid.  He can do better, and so can we.  Which brings me back to the problem he raised in the first place with his list.  I don’t live in the inner city.  There is not much I can say or do that will have any impact there.  I live in a small city out in the inter-mountain west surrounded by mountains and high desert, wheat fields and cattle ranches, vineyards and a couple of top notch colleges.  We have a gang problem.  Local authorities say membership is probably around five hundred.  Other teens wear imitation gang colors as a fashion statement.  So far we don’t have a lot of killings, some but not a lot.  We do have a lot of fights, wild shots fired here and there, nasty wounds, and the crime that goes along with it.  Meth and other drugs are a troubling presence.  We are not drowning it it.  Our streets are still safe to walk at night.  Our neighborhoods are mostly quiet.  You can forget to lock your door and probably be safe from burglary.  It isn’t all that bad, as long as you don’t look at what’s happening to the community at large, to five hundred gang members, to fashion conscious wannabes, to the losses, both emotional and physical, due to crime and drug use.
What we don’t want is to try to protect ourselves with self-appointed armed neighborhood watchers.  But what do we want?  I’m not sure.  The community just completed its second annual day long series of workshops on issues related to Adverse Childhood Experiences, violence, drugs, gangs, etc.  Hundreds attended, including many who wield influence and make decisions.  What will come of it?  We don’t know, but it’s a start that the community is aware, gathered and thinking.

Prepared to be President?

My wife got into an interesting conversation with an old school friend who wondered if Obama might be the least prepared president ever.  It got me thinking about who the least prepared presidents have been in recent history.  Three came to mind immediately: Teddy Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and Gerald Ford.  None of them anticipated becoming president.  Party leaders were generally pleased to see them shunted onto the all but abandoned siding of the vice presidency.  Ford wasn’t even an elected vice president.  Truman had been kept dreadfully ignorant of important matters crossing the president’s desk.  None was without some experience of value.  Roosevelt had the advantage of education, wealth, social connection and executive experience at the local, state, and federal levels, but people in power didn’t like or trust him.  Truman had some executive experience as a county judge in Missouri, what today we would call a county executive, but was tainted with connections to corrupt political machines.  Ford had been an able congressional leader, a likable sort of guy, and that’s about all that can be said.
The fact that none of them anticipated becoming president is what made them so unprepared.  One day they were idling away their time in the nether world of the vice presidency.  The next day they were president, and, in Truman’s case, president in the middle of a world war with a bomb he had never heard of waiting for his approval.
Is it possible to be prepared to be president of the United States?
I don’t think so.  How can one be prepared for the most powerful office in the land, and yet an office in which every move is second guessed by the press, congress, courts and staff?  Not to forget you and me with our vast stores of knowledge and wisdom.  This most powerful office where most decisions important to the well being of the nation must first be legislated by congress, and then implemented through the filter of departments and agencies over which one has only limited control.  And where any of that can be litigated for years until, at long last, the Supreme Court has its say.  Show me a corporate CEO, general of the army, or captain of a ship who would put up with that.  Oh, and let us not forget the hosts of lobbyists and other influence peddlers.
I don’t think it’s possible to be well prepared for the deluge of information, much of it secret, whose flow is monitored and directed by legions of staff all wanting to curry favor and position.  I don’t think its possible to be well prepared to give up one’s private life to have it parsed down to the smallest iota on the one hand, and imprisoned behind Secret Service security on the other.   
Presidents who were expected to have been well prepared turned out to be duds, while some who were spectacularly unprepared are remembered among the best.  
As for our current president, he has the education, intelligence, integrity, and desire to do well.  Now he has the experience to go with it, and a track record of accomplishments in the face of heated opposition that I find quite impressive.  Was he unprepared before the election?  Absolutely, and so are each of the candidates now running.  Has he become prepared?  I believe he has. 

I’m Conflicted

I’m conflicted about the current debate over insurance coverage for contraceptives.  The headlines keep blaring that the question is not only whether they should be required to be included in employer health insurance plans, but that they should also be free.  The flip side is to single out contraceptives as optional according to the whim of the employer.  Supposedly it’s an option based on moral values of some kind, but I think whim is a more accurate term. 
It seems to me that if an employer provides health insurance at all, and if that insurance includes a prescription drug plan, contraceptives should be included in the same way as any other prescribed drug.  That may or may not, probably not, be free.  The day of 100% employer paid health insurance plan is gone.  Most prescription plans require a copay in addition to the employee share of the premium.  Some get picky about brand name and generic drugs. 
I would prefer something similar to the Canadian health insurance system, but we have what we have.
It does bring up an interesting question.  To what extent is an employer free to impose particular moral values on an employee?  Codes of ethics are legion among major corporations.  Once upon a time companies such as IBM required ‘men’ to wear white shirts and ties.  I once worked for an organization that had, before I worked for them, required ‘men’ to wear dark colored suits, preferably black or dark grey.  Women were required to wear dresses of appropriate modesty in appropriate colors that did not include red.  Married men were given pay and promotion preference over single men.  Single women and widows were given pay and promotion preference over married women, but not on the same track as men.  Unmarried moms were never hired, or fired as soon as discovered.  All of it was intended to say something about the moral or ethical standards of the organization.
These may seem quaintly dated examples, but the point is that employers have a long history of messing around in the personal and private lives of their employees for reasons that, as it turns out, have nothing to do with the effective, efficient operation of the organization.  Yet every organization must have standards of ethical behavior, appearance, and performance that are important to the effective, efficient operation of the business.  
I don’t think there is a line that separates the two.  It’s more like a large fuzzy no man’s land.  Perhaps the contraceptive issue is in that region, but I doubt it.  The abortion question, while touching even more raw nerves and generating greater heat, is another that might be in that region, but I doubt it. 
Something to think about.