Wednesday, September 26, 2012

An Open Letter to OK Senator Tom Coburn about Veterans' Benefits



 Dear Senator Coburn,

You appeared on television and seemed proud of your vote against veterans’ benefits. You lifted your head high as you argued for fiscal restraint and against money that would support veterans as they rebuild their lives, disrupted when called to serve in Iraq or Afghanistan. You made a similar argument while filibustering against money for the 9-11 First Responders until national sentiment turned against you and suppressed your fine, fiduciary sensibilities. Even then you still held out until you’d reduced the amount of money to help those rendered unable to work by toxins at Ground Zero.

However proud you may be, I believe you should hang your head in shame instead of posturing before national cameras. I believe the charge of hypocrisy could be thrown at you, and it would stick. Here’s why.

You have been a staunch supporter of the Iraq war, even voting against efforts to set a timetable for withdrawal and in favor of sending more troops for a surge. When dreadful accidents in country were traced to the doors of contractors, notably Halliburton, and legislation was created to examine the process to award contracts, you voted against tighter oversight. You also voted against legislation that would have granted soldiers time at home equal to their time in country; e.g., 15 months at home after a 15-month deployment. Such rest and time to re-bond with family are essential to the well-being of not only the soldier but his family and the community. You didn’t see fit to grant this. (from information found at http://www.thepoliticalguide.com/Profiles/Senate/Oklahoma/Tom_Coburn/Views/The_War_in_Iraq)

Now you claim to care about the future, especially in behalf of our future children and grandchildren, by refusing to support funding for Veterans Benefits even though one in four veterans is unemployed (http://www.forbes.com/sites/rickungar/2012/09/23/senate-gop-obstructionists-throw-veterans-under-the-bus-vote-down-bill-to-help-vets-in-need-of-jobs). In addition, according to Pentagon data, at least one returning soldier committed suicide each day in the first six months of 2012.

The causes for the highest suicide rate recorded in the past decade are as varied as the men, but war is a significant factor. Our nation’s youngest men are called upon to terminate the enemy with extreme prejudice. They bear witness to the savagery of war, to the grotesque power that weapons have over the human form, to the frailties of their fellow men. They come home to families that think nothing of loud, close thunder or a car backfiring. Relatives, children and wives sleep peacefully through the night while many veterans struggle to find any sleep. The jobs that should have be waiting for them fail to materialize. The college they hoped to attend requires powers of concentration that they no longer possess. If they lost a limb or two or four, they may not be able to drive a car or even climb the stairs to sleep beside their wives. If a veteran sustained Traumatic Brain Injury, he may not be able to move home or live independently. His care and rehabilitation may apply intolerable pressure to the family with divorce the result. Or a veteran's family may be forced to accept food stamps and disability because someone must be available every hour of every day to care for wounds, even the ones that do not leave visible scars. That veteran's children will not enjoy a life of comfort or opportunity because the family income level now depends upon the largess of government and family.

These are the real and basic problems that veterans face: shelter, food, work, and a sense of self-worth. These are the real and basic needs that a nation should meet after it has asked its young adults to set aside everything else and risk their lives for intangibles such as democracy, Arab Springs, freedom, and patriotism. His is not to reason why; his is but to do or die.

And he does, but not without being forever, permanently, irrevocably changed. He will not come home the same boy or girl who left. He will have clenched his jaw, steeled his eye, and calmed his hand in order to kill another human being. He will convince himself that the other being deserved to die, and he will throw himself in harm’s way for a comrade, buddy, pal. For the rest of their lives, most of them will strike an uneasy peace by not allowing themselves to dwell upon those days. Many will find a new resolve never to pick up another weapon or harm any creature. Some will sign up for another tour, taking comfort in the orders, the routine, the brotherhood. Others will sweat and sleep fitfully at night while by day, they smile and act as if nothing, even war, has ever touched them.

If you had ever served, Senator Coburn, in any of the branches of the military or if you had been deployed to a war zone, then surely you would be able to empathize with the plight of veterans re-entering this noisy, bountiful nation where most of us have never known the horror of corrupted, broken bodies or the fear of high-powered weapons aimed from hills far above. And, Senator Coburn, you surely would not be able to dismiss the needs of these veterans as cavalierly as you did when telling the world about your “no” vote for benefits to be paid for with money from Medicare-fraud penalties.

In the words of one writer for Forbes, " . . . the Senator—along with his unappreciative cohorts in the Senate—was unable to generate much concern for the more present and immediate impact their votes have on the children of our veterans who go off to risk their lives for their country and return unable to gain employment. One is additionally left to ponder what those veterans who did not make it home—leaving their children to live with the most immediate and tragic consequences—would think about Senator Coburn’s priorities" (http://www.forbes.com/sites/rickungar/2012/09/23/senate-gop-obstructionists-throw-veterans-under-the-bus-vote-down-bill-to-help-vets-in-need-of-jobs).

While you stand up for a sound fiscal future, you discard those who are here now, in need, those who could help rebuild a strong nation. Shame on you, Senator Coburn. Shame.

Sincerely, A Constituent Who Could Never Vote for You to Return to Office
(And to be perfectly candid, a constituent who has never voted for you at all)

P.S. The first post for this blog (June 25, 2010) is about a WWII veteran who gave life to an infant conceived and born during the final days of fire bombings and dropped bombs in Japan. This unknown soldier gave his ration of powdered milk to a Japanese family who could not feed its youngest survivor. Now, instead of thinking about the U.S. as an imperialist nation or about soldiers as conquering invaders, the baby grown into a woman remembers kindness. Our troops have the power to transform the world, one person at a time. Would that members of the U. S. Senate, Tom Coburn in particular, could remember what this nation asks of its armed forces and support them when they return home.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

When Truth Stands in Your Way, Turn Around!


A fine sentiment, an axiom worthy of Ben Franklin, Alexander Pope, or Dr. Phil: When truth stands in your way, you’re headed in the wrong direction.

The trick is to discern the truth, and that, Dear Readers, is never easy. Each of us wears a pair of rose-tinted glasses, honed and polished by our own hands, and those lenses allow us to see what we need to see when we look in the mirror, sometimes to our own detriment.

These lenses account for the divisiveness among us. FOX newshounds watch only FOX, believing that they are indeed seeing and hearing a fair and balanced news report. Similarly, MSNBC fans cannot bear to tune in to FOX anymore than FOX fans can stomach MSNBC. Both sets of viewers prefer their rose-colored lenses, allowing them to find the reality they seek; neither set wishes to subject themselves to something incompatible with the reality they have molded and baked in a hot kiln until it is solid and sure.

Once a colleague decried the teaching practices of a teacher unknown to me because that teacher required her students to watch Al Gore’s Academy-Award winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth. After I determined that the documentary was appropriate and relevant to the course being taught, I asked, “Why? What’s wrong with exposing students to the film?”

Before my colleague could answer, a freshman biology teacher added his thoughts: “Who’s showing that film? It’s been debunked. There are at least nine glaring errors in it. No one shows it. No one should show it!” And thus, having delivered his opening and closing arguments without any objections, he left the room.

“Is that your objection? Nine errors?”

“No, I didn’t know anything about any errors. I’ve never seen the movie, and I’m not about to see it. It’s just trying to scare all of us into believing that global warming is real, and it’s not.”

Stunned to discover that I was in the company of a genuine climate-change denier, A Flat-Earther, and quite possibly, a Birther, too, I said no more, unwilling to learn how shallow her pool of information in all areas. Worse, I had no ready, pithy reply worthy of the moment. I could have said and should have said, “When truth stands in your way, you’re headed in the wrong direction.” But I didn’t. The moment passed, and I set out to discover my own truth about An Inconvenient Truth.

I found a list of the nine so-called errors in Gore’s film, one that had impressed me, by the way, especially because he manages to make charts, graphs, and data riveting, a feat that many public school teachers find enviable (but then most of us lack the high tech display tools and a riser that can carry us to the top of a large viewing screen). I also found a news report about a judge in the United Kingdom that cautioned schools to provide full disclosure about the misstatements or exaggerations in the film after a British teacher, funded by big energy, brought suit to prevent the film from being used as a teaching tool. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk /earth/earthnews/3310137/Al-Gores-nine-Inconvenient-Untruths.html)

And I found a rebuttal to the so-called Nine errors (http://voices.washingtonpost. com/fact-checker/2007/10/an_inconvenient_truth_team_gor_1.html), and this rebuttal persuaded me to believe that overall, An Inconvenient Truth is well-researched and well-intentioned. The information shared can and should be used to shape Environmental Protection Agency regulations and U. S. policy, but not to the exclusion of more comprehensive analyses that the Gore film boiled down to their simplest ingredients for a 100-minute presentation designed to elicit an emotional and behavioral response from the audience. Director Davis Guggenheim and speaker Al Gore sought to grab our attention and convince us to leave our seats with a promise to recycle, reduce our footprints, and require better of policy-makers. Those, I believe, to be worthy pursuits, and I found, I had not been lied to about anything major. No malice aforethought in Gore’s film, in my opinion.

One other respectable piece further persuaded me to trust the film, and that is a National Geographic News article (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/ 2006/05/060524-global-warming_2.html) wherein scientists assess and evaluate the accuracy of the information in the film. According to Eric Steig, an earth scientist at the University of Washington in Seattle, present at a preview and watching for mistakes, “the documentary handles the science well.”

My own eyes, judgment, and research allowed me to conclude that I can trust An Inconvenient Truth, that I should seek the opinions of opponents, and that I must examine those opponents’ facts as well as the proponents’.  In other words, wearing my rose-colored lenses may have helped me believe the film’s argument, but tearing them off and daring to seek another point of view, helped me determine in which direction lies the truth.

I hereby propose that we remove our rose-colored lenses and strive to see the Truth naked before us even if it means that we must grant that our old truth cannot be sustained, even if we must admit our own faults and burn in shame. The truth may be hard to find, but it’s neither camouflaged nor buried where no one can find it. We can pursue it and expose it if we care to do so. And we must do so because those politicians who refuse to let fact-checkers impede their progress are right when they say that this is a crucial election, one upon which the direction of the nation depends.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Libertarian: Isn't That Just Another Name for Social Darwinism


Cynically defined, a libertarian is a person who believes that all humans should live in total and absolute submission to market forces, at all times from birth to death, without any chance of escape. (Paul Treanor, “Why is Libertarianism Wrong? http://web.inter.nl.net/users/Paul.Treanor/libertarian.html)

Truth: Libertarian economic ideals are untried, theoretical; some would even call them fanciful. Nevertheless, evidence exists to show that Libertarianism can not meet the needs of the citizenry; indeed, evidence shows that Libertarianism applied in the public and private sectors is dangerous.

Libertarians hold on high an unrestrained marketplace. Government’s role is narrow: government exists to protect the property owner. That’s it; that’s all, Folks. Those who come and go upon that property, making use of the goods or services produced and sold, have no protections until and unless they stand upon their own property.


Regulation and restraint at the State and federal levels exist because an unfettered, unregulated marketplace harms citizens. That’s a fact, Dear Readers. Human history, both ancient and modern, proves the truth, and I will offer several examples from recent history as proof.

First, Dear Readers, especially readers who are parents, consider marketplace forces that continue to place our most vulnerable citizens, our children, at risk when they board school buses that are not crash-worthy; i.e.,

•    School buses that, in most states and school districts, are not equipped or manufactured to restrain children and prevent ejection;
•    Buses in use in this country that do not provide survival space after a crash or absorb crash energy during an accident; and
•    Many buses in use that do not include a protective frame to prevent the gas tank from crumpling, leaking, and sparking a fire (http://www.vehicle safetyfirm.com/cm/crashworthiness/bus-safety-in-america.pdf).

Other nations, including the United Kingdom, France, and Australia, make and sell crash-worthy school buses because the governments in those nations require bus manufacturers to meet crash-worthy standards without regard to a cost-benefit analysis. Those nations begin with the assumption that a life has worth and that all lives should be protected if means exist to do so.

Thus, in those other nations, school buses have seat belts and governments require that they be in use. Here, in the United State, seat belts are not in use in every school district or state because using seat belts costs money. Without seat belt restraint, three small children can sit on one bench seat, but with seat belts in use, only two sit on each bench, resulting in higher transportation costs due to the need for more buses, requiring more drivers, more fuel, and more labor to maintain the buses in working condition.

In spite of Click It or Ticket campaigns across the nation, our children learn the hypocritical message that their lives matter to their parents, but not as much going to and from school. Libertarians would have us believe that the bus manufacturers will do the right thing for consumers, but they have not done so yet. Bus manufacturers are now unfettered with regard to crash-worthiness, yet they have not seized the free opportunity to protect our children. Indeed opponents of seat belts and other crash-worthy measures argue that the number of lives lost and injuries sustained do not merit increased production and retail costs, and we, the consumers, appear satisfied with market-driven forces instead of human ones.

In addition, other nations spend a bit more by choosing the metals and joint compounds that will withstand more pressure in order to provide survival space. In a roll-over crash, the roof does not collapse onto children and adults within the bus. The materials also absorb crash energy just as front and back bumpers on the safest cars made in America do. Moreover, the window glass installed in other nations is superior; it does not shatter or break as easily, and this helps the bus hold its shape, especially during a rollover accident. These materials are not unknown to U. S. manufacturers; they are available, but the manufacturers, liberated from government regulations, do not use them.

Manufacturers also do not choose to protect children from fire, and they silence their opponents with a cost-benefit analysis that begins and end with the presumption that some lives are expendable. Those few children who die as a result of fire are statistically negligible, thereby nullifying the cost of retooling the manufacturing line or retrofitting buses on the roads today. I would argue, however, that the value of any life is immeasurable, making the cost to save one negligible.

Another arena in which regulation has been good for citizens and the country is the financial one, but systematic snips and trims to the Glass-Steagall act of 1933 and to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 have liberated banks from regulation that they would categorize as onerous in spite of the fact that modifications to Glass-Steagall in the 1990s opened a path to mergers, mischief, and megaliths. Changes to the 1933 version of Glass-Steagall allowed commercial banks, beholden to depositors and real money in real vaults, to merge with investment firms that sometimes create and exchange products that may or may not have real money or commodities to underwrite them. Consequently, thousands remain homeless even though banks have the power to rewrite loans in response to a deflated market. Millions more are unemployed, thanks to banking schemes and incredible bonuses that led to layoffs, downsizing, and closures. Now those banks sit upon billions in profit, refusing to reinvest the money, waiting for the favorable winds of Libertarian impulses to blow while ordinary citizens remain tightly fettered, awaiting the promise of better times ahead from job-creators who simply don’t create jobs.

Finally, consider the quality of the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we consume. How has an unfettered, unrestrained marketplace worked for us in those three basic biological human arenas?

Manufacturers and energy companies have fouled our air, and they object loudly with expensive lobbyists when government suggests regulation. In fact, the current incarnation of the GOP, a party leaning toward Libertarianism by protecting the rights of property owners at the expense of other citizens, objects to government intrusion that would make our air safer to breathe. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a duty to regulate air pollutants including greenhouse gas emissions even if regulation imposes additional costs upon property owners. Some resent such judicial activism when it rules against property profit and holds property owners accountable to the general welfare.

U. S. manufacturing not only pollutes the air, it also spills toxins into our ground water. Erin Brockovich became a household name, thanks to a well-endowed bosom, Julie Roberts, and hexavalent chromium, a poison that Pacific (in California) Gas and Electric knowingly allowed to seep into the ground water and create human victims. Once again, the courts intervened and held the property owner, P G & E, responsible to little guys.

But air and water are not the only resources which need regulation. Food producers have cut corners and sent tainted meat, vegetables, and fruits to consumers, sometimes resulting in their deaths and certainly resulting in the Food and Drug Administration, created to oversee the safety of our food supply, a task made nearly impossible by complaints about regulation and budget cuts to the agency.  Dangerous foods still make it into our food supply and measures such as irradiation and genetically modified seed bring their own level of risk to our tables.

However fanciful or idealistic you may be, the recent record of mankind does not suggest that he will yield his own self-interest, especially when profits and losses are part of the equation. The history of mankind leans toward taking from those who are weaker and uninformed, suggesting that our sense of supply and demand more often yields a Lord of the Flies rather than a man who will restrain his own desires when they infringe upon his neighbor’s.

Ayn Rand wrote novels about ruthless, ambitious men and the occasional woman. Her philosophy, antithetical to altruism, has more to do with social Darwinism than a brotherhood of man. It should never be required reading for Congressional staffers or the guiding principle for a government that serves property owners at the expense of everyone else.


Anarcho-capitalists are against the State simply because they are capitalists first and foremost. Their critique of the State ultimately rests on a liberal interpretation of liberty as the inviolable rights to and of private property. They are not concerned with the social consequences of capitalism for the weak, powerless and ignorant. Their claim that all would benefit from a free exchange in the market is by no means certain; any unfettered market system would most likely sponsor a reversion to an unequal society with defense associations perpetuating exploitation and privilege. If anything, anarcho-capitalism is merely a free-for-all in which only the rich and cunning would benefit. It is tailor-made for 'rugged individualists' who do not care about the damage to others or to the environment which they leave in their wake. The forces of the market cannot provide genuine conditions for freedom any more than the powers of the State. The victims of both are equally enslaved, alienated and oppressed. (Peter Marshall, from Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism)

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Mass Shootings in the Marketplace: A Plague Upon Our Houses



Time magazine’s cover story, “How the Gun Won,” (6 Aug 2012) by Joe Klein startled me with the statement that mass shootings occur almost 20 times each year.

Incredible that I live in a world, in a time when almost 20 mass shootings occur annually. Since the 1970s, in the U. S., nearly 20 mass shootings occur annually. Among the thousands killed by guns in each calendar year, about 100 of them die in a mass shooting. For the families of those 100, the world must seem dangerous indeed.

As for me, I find it hard to take in the fact that 20 mass shootings occur annually. I wonder why I don't already know that, and I don’t like the most likely answer: I have become so immune to shock about mass shootings that they don’t even register. If that’s true, and I must confess it seems to be true, then I’m not proud of the person looking back at me in the mirror.

When the news broke that at least twelve people in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater had become the victims of a mass shooting, I thought about a brief visit to Aurora in the late 1960s and my friend who now lives in New York City. I thought about the thread of violence that now ties those two places together in my mind.

I read about Alex Teves, Matt McQuinn, and Jon Blunk, the men who used their bodies as armor against bullets, and I thought about the crisis training that my school designed for its teachers after Columbine, remembering the implied duty that a teacher should put her body between her students and bullets. I also remember that the police emphasized how we could avoid becoming a victim ourselves, demonstrating for us the behaviors and postures that we should adopt so that police, in smoky, uncertain surroundings, recreated by smoke canisters and flashing emergency lights, would not mistake one of us for one of the bad guys. I remember feeling fear and its sharp taste in my mouth.

I thought about the irony of death. One Aurora victim, John Larimer, signed on to put his life on the line for his country, but he was not aboard a Navy vessel when he lost his life. He was in a place where he thought he could let down his guard.

I remembered another victim, Jessica Ghawi, who had survived a Toronto shoot-out, only to die one month later in Aurora. Such stories torture us with what ifs and if onlys. Imagine how such questions plague the families.

I remember April 19, the date that a madman, Timothy McVeigh, used fertilizer instead of guns, to kill 167 and forever alter the lives of so many more. Many of my students had relatives involved, either as first responders or one among the victims. I remember the uncertainty as students waited to hear that their parent who worked downtown was unharmed, and I remember the confusion we all felt when one student reported that he’d heard that a plane flew into a building in New York City.

Raise that uncertainty and confusion to an exponent of ten or one hundred. Even then, I doubt that we can walk in the shoes of those husbands, wives, children, and parents waiting to hear from Edmond, OK where the first postal massacre took place; Oak Creek, WI where a white supremacist slaughtered peaceful Sikhs; rural Pennsylvania where a grown man, the parent of three, took revenge upon Amish school girls, killing five; Blacksburg, VA, home to Virginia Tech; and Tuscon, AZ where former Representative Gabby Gifford was trying to talk about what mattered to her constituents.

So many lives cut short. So much innocence lost. Not just the blood of those who had done little more than carry mail, worship freely, attend class, or gather peaceably, but the innocent blood of a nation. Have we become so inured, even calloused, to gun violence and mass killing that it hardly registers upon our souls? Surely not. Surely we can and will awaken from our malaise, surely we shall overcome ennui to take reasonable steps to reduce this number of annual mass shootings: 20, leaving 100 dead.