Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Voting Against Your Own Best Interest

Who is at war with women? Who's waging war against workers? How long shall these wars continue? How high is the cost of war?

These too are issues confronting the 2014 Mid-term voter, especially after the NFL was stripped naked about its duplicity, proving it cares little for and about a woman's welfare--but that wasn't news to me when I consider what cheerleaders are expected to do and how little reward they receive for doing it. Why is it news to others? And why do those others of both genders vote for incumbents and candidates who strip women of their dignity, sovereignty, and freedom?

The so-called Right to Work, legislated in twenty-four states, has the net effect of weakening a worker's right to organize and bargain in his behalf. Workers brought this to pass twenty-four times, and more states wish to do the same. Right to Work appears on ballots everywhere annually.

The essay below first appeared in this blog on April 11, 2012 as a cautionary tale. Caution is still in order. Connye Griffin


I often think of Aesop’s fable about the scorpion and the frog. You remember, don’t you? The scorpion needs to cross a body of water and appeals to a frog for help. The frog has the good sense to doubt the wisdom of helping a scorpion until the scorpion vows that it will not harm its good Samaritan because if it does, both will drown.

The frog, thus persuaded, lets the scorpion climb aboard and begins to swim to the opposite shore. Before they are safe, however, the scorpion stings the frog whose last word, before he slips underwater, is “Why?” The scorpion answers, “It’s my nature.” The lesson then is that frogs should beware of scorpions even if they promise not to harm their Good Samaritan. A scorpion is a scorpion; its nature has been proved throughout history.

Recent events have brought this fable to mind almost daily. Some of the very people protesting in Wisconsin surely helped elect Scott Walker as their governor. Did they ignore his record or just convince themselves that his nature would not apply to them?

Prior to becoming governor, in his role as Assemblyman and later as County Executive, Walker worked to privatize government services and reform the laws governing labor disputes between government and workers. He was also pro-life and supported legislation to protect pharmacists who did not wish to fill certain prescriptions if doing so violated their religious convictions. He was the state’s choice for governor until his platform stung.

I suspect the social issues masked the economic ones in many voters’ minds. Indeed, many voters confess to being single-issue voters, preferring to hand over power to men and women whom they deem to be of like minds morally and spiritually rather than to men and women who set civil liberties as their highest priority. In Wisconsin, this proved problematic.

Union workers who had praised Walker now found themselves disenfranchised, unable to affect their wages and working conditions through collective bargaining. In time, they began to collect signatures for a recall ballot, and it seems on track for May 2012. Some, however, believe a “do-over” in democracy is as toxic as the scorpion’s sting was to the frog. These believers are trying to rewrite the rules for recall in the midst of a recall battle.

I simply ask: did the governor’s nature change quite suddenly, or did voters fail to take note of his stinger until they began drowning? I think it’s a question worth asking and answering for yourselves. Then, ask this one: what is in the best interest of the greatest number of people? Surely that is what we ask of government: to serve the many, not the few, with all the divisiveness, debate, and drama that this may incite.

Another event that made me think about scorpions and frogs was Rush Limbaugh’s sustained ad hominem attack against Ms. Sandra Fluke, but it has been Mr. Limbaugh’s nature for many years to insult women: First Ladies, Secretaries of State, and the philosophy of women as co-equals, fully qualified to compete, fully deserving of equal pay for equal effort. He is a man who changes his voice to lisp or imitate exaggerated stereotypes in order to enhance the vitriol he spews. He has called women of power and intelligence “Feminazis” since his program first aired. He has consistently belittled women.

Why then are sponsors, citizens, and radio stations now aggrieved? Limbaugh’s stinger was in full view. Why weren’t those sponsors and stations sensitive to women and their issues before now?
Some answers are obvious, of course. Rush never before picked on a young, convicted woman who is not already a celebrity or public figure. Ms. Fluke was unaccustomed to a national spotlight and public censure for having an opinion. She merely wished to speak in behalf of all women regarding health care for women. For offering her point of view, she was demeaned, mocked, and stung. Almost no one believes she deserved any of it.

What saddens me is that some women think she did. Phyllis Schlafly did as did Patricia Heaton, the actress who played Ray Romano’s feisty wife for many years on “Everybody Loves Raymond.” She tweeted with as much rancor as Limbaugh and offended both genders, only later to apologize for her judgment. What seems so ironic is that her current TV character in “The Middle” is a harried, good-hearted, very middle class mom who would have come to the defense of her awkward daughter if she had been hurt or denigrated by someone. We’ve since learned that the real Heaton might not.

Let us give Ms. Fluke credit for initiating a backlash against vitriolic talk radio. Let us hope that the sponsors and radio stations do not return to his fold after a brief and very public suspension, only to renew negotiations after public attention turns to chase another noble or ignoble human. Let us try to be vigilant and above all, civil in our appeals to those sponsors and radio stations because it is our duty to speak in behalf of those downtrodden. Let us beware of stingers when examining those who submit themselves for public review as office holders, but let us not turn on each other.

As former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright once said, “There is a special place in hell for women who do not help other women.” If we fail, we are no better than any other scorpion. Let’s be frogs instead: the Good Samaritans and our sisters’ keepers.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Regulation Is Protection, Not Deprivation and Suffocation

If you read the blog during the first weeks of 2014, you found essays about ALEC-inspired legislation, much of it in opposition to regulation regarding:
  1. tort reform,
  2. workers' rights to organize and bargain in behalf of their futures,
  3. occupational licensing and professional oversight qualifying certain persons to provide goods and services,
  4. labels requiring country of origin and other information to help consumers make informed decisions about food and other merchandise,
  5. public education dollars, staff, curriculum, and outcomes,
  6. health care access,
  7. agricultural protections,
  8. alternative energy incentives, and 
  9. the environment.
These issues in various incarnations are on the ballot across this nation. One pernicious form has appeared in our new home, Missouri, where voters have Constitutional Amendments before them. One allows any farmer to use any product he wishes or rancher to raise any animal he wishes regardless of the downstream consequences on his neighbors, children, or other industries. It passed after a recount for the results of a primary election with only about 25% of the registered voting population participating. Another on the ballot in November will deprive teachers of tenure and permanently link their evaluation, hence their worth, to standardized test results.

The essay that appears below was first posted on this blog June 26, 2013. I think it merits another look, especially as we count down to the 2014 mid-term elections. I advise voters to choose wisely the candidate who speaks for the greater good and not just for small groups with powerful lobbies. Connye Griffin


The end of law is not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge freedom. For in all the states of created beings capable of law, where there is no law, there is no freedom. --John Locke

John Locke was a key component in the education of our nation’s Founding Fathers. Locke’s ideologies influenced the authors of The Declaration of Independence to argue for the sacred privilege of men to revolt if the Executive or Supreme Power infringed upon their rights as men to preserve life and liberty. Locke also argued for the governmental supremacy of the legislative branches of government, a foundational component of the new government that resulted from a revolution to separate from British rule.

In the quotation above, Locke declares that the purpose of law is to preserve and enlarge freedom because law guarantees freedom. Locke’s contention is that men enter into governmental agreements in order to preserve their lives. Government exists to protect property and life, and that is exactly what many of our laws accomplish.

Traffic laws, for example, exist to insure that qualified drivers have access to vehicles upon roads. Furthermore, citizens agree to hold themselves to a wide array of restrictions that serve the greater good of preserving life. Solid lines divide highways, letting drivers know which space to use and when they may invade the space dedicated to other drivers. Traffic signals direct the flow of traffic and facilitate sharing the roadways safely. None of us complains about these impediments to our freedom simply because these impediments secure our ultimate freedom: the freedom to live.

Similarly, seat belt restrictions protect our freedom to live whole and long. Data proved that seat belts save lives. Without them and similar safety devices, chests turned concave against steering wheels in high-speed crashes or entire bodies were flung into the air like blankets in high winds, but unlike fabric, those bodies fell against hard ground, maimed, their animation ended.

This logic following from consumer and citizen protection has extended to many products, machines, and human interactions. We have even censored our First Amendment privileges if our words are an abuse of our freedom. If one maliciously and cruelly inspires panic, resulting in a loss of life or harm, then the words themselves become criminal.

Except when the Second Amendment is the topic. Gun-lovers, National Rifle Association members, and under-informed citizens object loudly to restrictions. Some even threaten revolution to protect their freedom to be part of a “well-regulated militia.”

But recent legislation has not endangered the right to keep and bear arms as long as one is not mentally incapacitated and willing to submit to a background check in all sales venues, including gun shows and private homes. These restrictions were proposed in order to protect the most vulnerable among us: unarmed citizens; i.e., students in libraries or classrooms, movie-goers, passersby, and children walking to and from schools. Like seat belts and solid lines, the restrictions merely exist to preserve the ultimate freedom: the freedom to live.

Counter-arguments hold that we cannot preserve every life so why should we bother? Why tamper with the Second Amendment? But traffic laws do not save every life, and we are proud to uphold them because we know that more will surely die on a completely unregulated roadway. We agree to show proof of citizenship and identity to board planes even though only a few madmen can slip through our restrictions and threaten to end us. We are also happy to give personal information in order to use a credit card, buy a home, and insure our property. Why then is there such a hue and cry about guns?

Because it is a topic that quickly and easily inflames some and divides loyalties. I contend that the first loyalty should be to the principle for which government exists: the preservation and enlargement of freedom, including the freedom due students, movie-goers, and passersby--the freedom of ordinary citizens to go about their lives reasonably secure in the knowledge that government works to secure the peace among them.

Be a responsible citizen. Uphold the principle of government. Agree to certain, limited restrictions that grant greater freedoms.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Children Crossing at Our Borders, the Dream Act, and Illegal Immigrants Among Us

This blog has, of late, posted photos of those among us without haven. Some of those photographed are homeless veterans, some suffer from illness, and others are immigrants. Most of them are people for whom life swept in like a hurricane, and they were not strong swimmers.

Immigration, the Dream Act, and citizens in dire need have been constants on the political stage, much debated, often controversial, and without solution--at least in Congress. I'd like to think the hearts and minds of American citizens bend toward justice and compassion; I'd like to think that most Americans do not wish hardship, poverty, homelessness, or suffering upon any one, legal or illegal, with or without a home in spite of adults on film brandishing the faces of monsters and even weapons against young children sent from their mothers into a Hope and a Promise

On January 21, 2011, I posted the essay that appears below. I still believe every word, and I think it's relevant for our consideration as the mid-term elections approach. I advise you to choose wisely the candidate who represents the greatest degree of compassion. Connye Griffin


Photo by Al Griffin

Harper Lee imbued her novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, with the spirit of empathy. Atticus’ advice to Scout is a metaphor for empathy when he tells her she must walk in the shoes of another to truly understand him. Atticus wants Scout to put herself in the place of others, to see through their eyes, to walk the ground they must walk. He teaches her tolerance and understanding with this advice--just as he teaches Jem the same lessons by forcing him to read to Mrs. Dubose and learn about the whole woman, not just the despicable racist woman.

When Gandhi wrote that “Anger and intolerance are the enemies of correct understanding," he suggests that the absence of empathy is a plague upon societies. His words suggest that Atticus’ lessons are essential lessons for the next generation, and I agree.

Intolerance drove the Puritans to this continent. Yet once here, where they could worship freely and govern themselves, they became mirror images of the persecutors they had just fled. They exiled voices raised in opposition to their own. Anne Hutchison and Roger Williams were two forced out, forced to start anew. Williams argued that the Church and State should be separate and that Puritans had no right to take land from the Native Americans because their Bible granted them sovereignty. He founded Rhode Island under new more egalitarian principles.

The Puritans were among the first to implement the three strikes penalty and used it upon Quakers who returned to Puritan villages to proselytize a third time. Quakers were merely evicted first, punished after a second visit, and hanged after a third. Quakers were not the only objects of Puritan justice: the Pequot Indians were brutally slaughtered when they refused to acquiesce to Puritan demands.

The history of the United States, from colonial to revolutionary and modern times, is a tale of intolerance. The Puritans fled religious persecution, only to re-create it here. The colonists revolted because the King and Parliament failed to respect and uphold colonial points-of-view. Post-revolution, the country prospered by acting with extreme prejudice against those racially different; planters and land-owners persuaded themselves that slavery was appropriate and necessary. Even after the nation had fought itself to be rid of slavery, segregation institutionalized and furthered intolerance, suppressing the promise of African-Americans.

Still, immigrants came, some unwillingly and many quite willingly because this nation promised a better tomorrow for them. They fled famine, poverty, and powerlessness to transform themselves for their children and children’s children. The Irish, for example, were persecuted even though they looked like their persecutors. Religion divided them from the Anglican majority in England and carried over in Protestant America. Yet they endured. They thrived. They became American citizens.

Years later, the Vietnamese immigrated to the U. S., many at the invitation of the U. S. after the American soldier left Vietnam. Those who were given sanctuary found a different persecutor instead after settling along the coast to take up lives as fishermen. There, the old terrorist organizations from the late 1800s, including the Ku Klux Klan, intimidated the Vietnamese shrimpers by overcharging them for boats, coercing bait shops to block Vietnamese fishermen from buying bait, and even burning their boats (Galveston Bay, TX from 1979-1981).

Now, the targets are Middle Eastern and Latino, and now, intolerance is legislated in states like Oklahoma and Arizona. Persecutors go by political party names and take advantage of social networking and the media to increase their following and petition their government for repressive laws.

None of this history is admirable. None of it should make us nostalgic for some form of good old days, and none of it takes into account the contributions of immigrants. Levi and Strauss, nineteenth-century immigrants, provided the ubiquitous and ever more fashionable riveted clothing, better known as blue jeans. A Belgian-born immigrant, Baekeland, provided an early useful plastic, Bakelite. Tesla, originally from Serbia, gave the world radio. Gideon Sundbach, a Swede who immigrated, improved the zipper that became an essential tool for the U. S. Army during World War I. The simple Q-tip was given to the U. S. by Gerstenzang, a man born in Poland.
African-American inventors are many; George Washington Carver, a former slave, is one of the most famous among them.

We do not truly know what the good old days were if we wish to return to them. The world, this nation in particular, slowly turns toward the good. We become less barbaric. We become more tolerant. We search our souls for truth and answers to questions for justice. Much of this evolution is the result of understanding--of empathy. We must continue to heed the wise advice of those few souls who seem further along the spiritual evolutionary scale, souls that include advocates for equality, seekers of justice, men like Gandhi who also counseled:

"I will give you a talisman. Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest . . . whom you may have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore him to a control over his own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to swaraj [independence] for the hungry and spiritually starving millions? Then you will find your doubts and your self melt away." - Mohandas Gandhi

Let us ask ourselves Gandhi’s questions as we contemplate regulation, reform, taxes, health care, gun violence, political vitriol, and immigration. Let us find tolerance within through empathy.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Homeless in Springfield, MO: Can a Car Be Sufficient Shelter?

Words and Images by Al Griffin

Walking the long unused railroad tracks in the oldest industrial part of Springfield, I found a young man sitting cross-legged on the gravel between the weeds and the rails. He had a backpack lying hidden in the weeds behind him. He had a paper cup beside him and a pile of books on the ground in front of him. We talked a while and I asked if he lived on the street. He explained that he did not live on the street; he had a car. 

Not a distinction I had spent time contemplating, I stopped and thought about it a while. I asked him if he lived in his car, and he mumbled that he mostly traveled and read his bird books and studied birds, a life many of us would find pleasant enough if not forced into it by life and times over which we held little control.

He never said his name, even when he shook hands, and I told him mine. But he did explain he had lived in Springfield 6 or 8 years back and had been a student at the local college for a short time. A time he clearly cherished if I read him correctly. He referred to his attempts at writing about the birds he watched. He had a notebook and several pens and pencils near the books. He seemed to appreciate the fact I took pictures and appeared to have an artistic inclination even though he showed no evidence of sketching the birds.

Perhaps I too would imagine a fine and productive life if I were forced to live in my car and would explain my life as given to the study of the most beautiful and carefree of the creatures among us. I would like to think so. I wish him well and hope he finds his dreams.