Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Hypocrisy in the First Degree

I watched the most Reverend Al Sharpton last night on MSNBC, ranting and railing, moaning and wailing, about the utterly unforgivable awfulness of Ron Paul and his racist newsletters. And, yes, those newsletters are pretty disturbing and yes, I'd agree that Dr. Paul hasn't been as forthcoming about them as he should be. And, according to Sharpton, Paul has never repudiated those opinions. Put it in the Reverend Al's absolutist terms ("once a racist, always a racist") and we'd have to believe that Paul should be cast into darkness for all time. Write him off! Done! Right?

But, hold on. If that's the tack we're going to take, why are we listening to Sharpton? Does anyone remember a little incident involving Tawana Brawley?

This happened back in 1987. Tawana was 15. She claimed she'd been abducted by several white men, one wearing a badge, and taken to the woods where she was held for several days, being repeatedly sexually assaulted. She was found covered in feces with demeaning names written on her body in charcoal.

An investigation was duly done. A rape kit found no evidence of rape. Tawanna couldn't describe any of her abductors. She was not suffering the symptoms of exposure that would have been expected after spending several nights in a cold woods. She had no cuts, bruises, scratches or scrapes to indicate assault.

In a commonsense world, this would have been the end of the story. Case closed.

But enter our heroes - Attorney Alton H. Maddox, Attorney C Vernon Mason and ah, yes, the Right Reverend Sharpton himself. The civil rights trio all screamed "cover up". They accused Governor Mario Cuomo, the cops and the prosecutors of failing to do their duty because Tawana was black and her abductors were white. They held indignant press conferences and incendiary rallies. They needed real people to make their case so they accused a part-time police officer, Harry Crist, Jr., and Dutchess County District Attorney, Steven A Pagones, of being two of Tawana's abductors. Crist committed suicide; Pagones was able to prove his innocence.

Seven months, 100 witnesses and untold heartbreak and taxpayer dollars  later, a grand jury found no credible evidence that Tawana had ever been abducted or assaulted.

Hoisting Al Sharpton by  his own petard, the one he now claims for Ron Paul,  should have meant that he slunk out of town, disgraced and discredited, never to return.

But is this what happened? Hell, no. In time, he worked his way back to respectability and has now been rewarded with his very own television program on MSNBC where he pontificates nightly as if he is the soul of credibility.

I have not read every word ever written about the Tawana Brawley case but, so far as I know, Sharpton has never admitted the slimy part he played in it, nor asked for forgiveness for the lives he affected so negatively.

Here's what upsets me the most: those of us who lean more toward the liberal side of things constantly criticize Fox News for its biased reporting, its twisted conclusions, its deceptive headlines. All of those things are true and worthy of condemnation.

But are we any better when we choose Al Sharpton as one of our own spokesmen? There was Bob Franken, who I usually consider an admirable journalist, debating Ron Paul's racist proclivities with Rev. Al. I don't how how he managed to keep a straight face while doing it. Wouldn't honor have demanded that he front Sharpton about his own moral failings in this regard? Evidently what is sauce for the conservative goose is not sauce for the liberal gander.

I'm a faithful reader of Andrew Sullivan's blog, The Daily Dish (http://www.andrewsullivandaily, politically, Andrew is one of the most straightforward of writers, not taking the side of liberal or conservative, but just trying to be fair all around. Surprisingly, I haven't seen him call out the Reverend Al either.

It is as if we've all decided to engage in a conspiracy of silence. I don't get it.

We left-leaners always self-righteously claim the moral high ground for ourselves but putting someone like Al Sharpton front and center as our representative proves we're no better than they are in the hypocrisy sweepstakes.



Tuesday, December 20, 2011

If I Was a Republican....

If I was a Republican, I'd support Ron Paul.  (See a Ron Paul interview on YouTube: I just picked this one but there are many more, enough to give you the full flavor of who this candidate is.)

I don't agree with Paul on much. He's running as a Republican but he's actually a Libertarian. I call myself a semi-Libertarian but my instincts lean more Progressive. I believe in an activist government that tries to help citizens who need assistance, whether that is providing special education to developmentally disabled children, offering financial aid to those who have fallen on hard times, regulating corporations to protect us from their penchant for greed, passing laws that force us not to discriminate against our neighbors, be they African-American, female or gay. Well, the list goes on and on.

But having said all that, I do agree with Paul that our government has become too big, not that being bigness is bad in and of itself, but with bigness comes corruption and that's our main problem. Big money breeds big corruption and legislation by lobbyist. And that is in both parties although, like everyone else, I generally tend to agree more with the lobbyists on "my" side, like unions and environmentalists, so they don't bother me as much.

In his interviews, Ron Paul seems to be sensible enough to realize the country couldn't change on a dime. Lessening the size of government would be a long-term project but, of course, he wouldn't have a long term. In fact, he'd be lucky to have two short terms. Maybe in that time, he'd set America on a mildly libertarian course.

But maybe not, because my favorite thing about Paul is that he's an equal opportunity antagonizer. He'll provoke the liberals with his ideas about doing away with the I.R.S. (which means no money for their pet programs) but he infuriates the conservatives when he airily states that we should end all foreign aid, keep only a modest army for self-defense and stop being the world's policeman. If he ever got to be president, he'd make so many people mad, they probably tar and feather him and run him out of town on a rail.

Right now, that's our second big problem. We have divided ourselves into warring camps, sending our legislators out to jump in their foxholes, the better to lob grenades at the other side. Ron Paul might actually bring bipartisanship back to Washington as Republicans and Democrats banded together to keep him from putting his ideas into practice.

What I'd be most interested to see, if I could be sort of floating somewhere in the ozone layer watching what happened in a Ron Paul administration, would be if and where people would move. Because Paul is only interested in the feds. Any responsibilities not specifically given to Washington in the constitution would be reserved for the states so they would, more or less, be free to build whatever kind of society desired by their citizens. So, if California wanted to have a generous welfare state and Texas decided to do away with welfare altogether, so be it.  If California approves gay marriage and Texas bans it or if Texas wants to encourage all its people to carry guns while California forbids them from doing so, fine and fine. (Not sure where that would leave the gay gun-lover but these are the choices we'd all have to make).

You wonder, would the working poor all leave the the pure conservative states to find a place where their kids would have health insurance and free lunches? Probably not, because they don't do that now. Most of us just put up with the way things are wherever we live but maybe under a Ron Paul, the divide between state philosophies would grow so wide and deep, we'd find ourselves making those leaps. If that happened, who would wealthy Mississippians hire to cook and garden and work in the convenience stores when everyone has moved to California? Who would start a business in California when they could go to Texas and not pay taxes? It just might turn out that we'd have to admit we all need each other and neither side is more important than the other.

I do believe Ron Paul has absolute integrity. I don't think he would be seduced by Big Money to compromise his principles. I'd respect the Republicans if they nominated Paul. But that's not going to happen. It's going to be Nutty Newt or Plastic Mitt or Dingbat Bachman or Sanctimonious Santorum  or Huntsman Who? (Raisin' Cain is already gone) - God, help us.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

America Is No Place For Kids

Oh, God, I hate the NASCAR off-season! I look forward to the weekend now for the races just like I used to look forward to going out to the bars to hear the bands and carouse with friends. That's, of course, when most taverns still featured live music. I feel sorry for the deejay generations. You may have a lot - Ipods and laptops and cellphones and Facebook and Twitter but do you notice all that stuff is one step removed? The bands and the bars and the friends were all right where you could reach out and touch the energy.When you're young, fun should be touchable.

I never knew anyone who'd been arrested for Drunk Driving or Minor Consuming until I was in my 30's. Your behavior had to be egregious to be charged with Public Intoxication, peeing in public or something. The police didn't seem as hellbent on the drinking crimes as they are now. I also never knew anyone my age who went to jail for Possession of Marijuana. The authorities were more tolerant of kids sowing their wild oats in my era. And actually, the majority of us grew up to be solid citizens. Maybe that's why all the entertainments are impersonal's safer to make connections via a screen.

On the other hand, getting pregnant was punished with immediate expulsion from school (for the Mom, of course - Daddy went right on going to class and playing football). And you'd better hope you could find a job or that your folks would help because there was little in the way of public assistance. If you kept your baby and couldn't care for it, The Welfare would come and take it without so much as a by your leave.

Society has flipped in the opposite direction on unwed pregnancy. Now the cops will gleefully swoop an underage drinking party, hauling everyone into jail,  while the schools pat little Mama on the head and the Division of Family and Children's rule about removing children from abusive and/or neglectful parents is that the child's life must be in immediate danger.

So have we gone too far in both directions? Do we really want a large percentage of our youth to have criminal records before they reach adulthood due to drinking or smoking (you can even be charged here for possessing regular cigarettes if you're underage). How about suspending their driver's license instead? Most kids value their freedom to drive more than they fear going to jail. In fact, going to jail is almost a rite of passage these days.

And God knows, I wouldn't want to go back to expelling or shunning pregnant moms but on the other hand, can't we at least make it clear that there are real consequences to having babies before you're ready? That means something besides beaming with satisfaction at the sight of a 9-months-along 15-year-old to register our disapproval. We do still disapprove of babies having babies....don't we?

Kids didn't stay kids as long when I was young. That's because they could go get a job and become adults. Now, of course, everyone has to have at least a high school education to get any job, even in a factory. I've worked on many an assembly line and trust me, you don't have to be able to diagram a sentence to hit the button on a punch press. And it isn't necessarily dumb kids who don't fit in at school. Joey could be the most reliable and talented set-up man you ever had even if he washed out of Social Studies.

Well, I guess it's a lot to expect the country to provide jobs to 17-year-olds when we can't even create enough positions to keep their parents employed.  When there are way more jobs than people, employers bend the rules to let people in. When there are way fewer jobs than people, employers use any excuse to screen people out.

I feel sorry for today's 17 to 20 year-olds who don't have the aptitude or dollars to go to college (and even many of those who do will start their work life, if they can find work, with a choking burden of debt). We don't have patience with them.

And we don't have jobs for them for them to go to so they can't afford to start families and take their place in society as grown ups. No wonder so many children are being raised by the taxpayers. I knew many a young single Mom who went to work at General Tire in my town and raised her kids with dignity. The General Tire plant is abandoned now. A thousand plus decent paying positions went along with it.

So, really, America has no place for these kids. They're a glut on the market and a thorn in our side. Don't take that drink. Don't smoke that joint. Don't cruise the strip; don't hang out at the malls. Here - take this video game and go to your room.



Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Where Is America's Sense of Self-Preservation?

I graduated high school in 1964. Back then, the parking lot at my high school was filled with good old American steel and good old American names - Ford, Chevy, Chrysler, Dodge. One friend had a Studebaker and another, an ugly old Nash. The wealthiest and luckiest guy in school, car-wise, had a Corvette.

I'm from Indiana. Back then, our car companies and our steel mills were booming. And so were all the vendors that supplied them. You could go to any factory in my county and have a good chance of getting hired on the spot for a job where you'd end up assembling brake hoses or clutch facings or wiring harnesses or.....

Okay, I know people my age tend to look back with rose-colored glasses but it seems to me those were rose-colored times for American workers, and by extension, the rest of the country as well.

Many years later, I had occasion to visit Youngstown, Ohio and what I mostly remember from that trip was the acres of closed and deteriorating steel mills. By that time, the plant where I once worked taping wiring harness had moved its facility to Mexico.

Another decade later and I was employed as an administrative assistant at a high-end real estate agency in Carmel, Indiana. Our salespeople were the elites of their field. Our clients were what today we would characterize as the one per cent, or at least, the five percent.

My (used) Mercury Marquis was one of the few American cars in that particular parking lot. Our successful brokers preferred prestige foreign jobs like Mercedes and BMWs and Porsches. I argued with them about that sometimes. My point was they were biting the hand that fed them by not supporting American workers and that would come back around to bite them - in the butt. Their comeback was that our particular clientele were immune to what happened with the blue collars. Couldn't I see, they asked earnestly, that fewer jobs means cheaper labor and cheaper labor is a positive thing for the economy? "Whose economy?" I asked.

Now, eleven years into a brand new century, we know the answer to that question, don't we?

America has pursued the policies my co-workers at the real estate office believed in to their extreme end. Our manufacturing base has been decimated. American stores are filled with goods and food produced outside the U.S.  All right, so occasionally, we suffer from their lax quality control. What's a little Salmonella among friends? The people who answer our calls to customer service are answering us from India, often in barely intelligible English, never mind that they call themselves Barbara or Bob.

Now, with our unemployment so high, we liberal types are begging the politicians to legislate a jobs bill that would include rebuilding America's infrastructure, thus killing two birds with one stone, providing Americans with wages while also making desperately needed repairs to our bridges and buildings. At least, by God, constructing things that are made of bricks and mortar would have to be done right here in the good old U.S.A.

But hold the phone, not so fast. We have now learned to our dismay that our assumptions are oh-so-wrong. California has embarked on a gigantic construction project - rebuilding the earthquake-weakened San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge at a cost of $7.2 billion. If you think, that would produce lots of jobs for lots of American workers, you'd be wrong because the bridge is being built in China. Yes, China.

According to the New York Times, Americans will pour the concrete road and assemble the bridge components but 3,000 workers at Shanhai Zhenhua Heavy Industries Company (steelcutters, polishers, welders and engineers)are building the bridge itself. It is done in pieces which are then shipped the 6,500 miles to Oakland. Want to know how much the typical Chinese worker earns? $12 a day, often for working 7:00 a.m. until 11:00 p.m., seven days a week, while living in a company dorm.

California declined to apply for federal funding to help with construction costs because they would have most likely come along with "Buy America" provisos and we wouldn't want that, would we? Instead, the state floated bonds and will charge tolls to recoup costs. (Thank you, Governor Schwarzenegger. Your wife was not the only one you screwed over.)

So let me get this straight. California estimates they will save $400 million by having the bridge built in China. In so doing, they decided not to apply for federal funds which would have defrayed some of the construction costs and also denied jobs to at least 3,000 Californians who would have paid taxes to the state (and incidentally, bought numerous products from California merchants with those dollars). When the bridge is complete, Californians will pay tolls to help recoup what California paid to China. Do we honestly think Californians came out ahead in this deal?

And if you believe this is a one-off, think again. According to David Barboza who wrote the article for the New York Times, in New York City alone, Chinese companies have won contracts to help renovate the New York subway system, refurbish the Alexander Hamilton Bridge over the Harlem River and build a new Metro-North train platform near Yankee Stadium.

All this from a country that tops the FDA's list for food rejection. China has sent us contact lens solution infested with parasites, toothpaste tainted with diethelene glucol (a chemical used in engine coolant), fish that claims to be monkfish but is, in reality, puffer fish (which harbor a lethal toxin), pet food containing melamine (a chemical used in fertilizer) and other foods contaminated with human excrement and rat feces, insect bodies and animal hair.

So, yes, this is exactly the nation I want producing the steel and assembling the parts and pieces for a bridge I have to cross. Good luck, Californians.

I have read so often that America is going to hell in a handbasket. The people who say so have various reasons for believing this is so. But if America is really going to hell in a handbasket, it is because we have lost our capacity for self-preservation.