Tuesday, October 18, 2005

A New Society

Tom Paine wrote about society, " Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness: the former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first is a patron, the last a punisher. Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in it's best state is but a necessary evil;...

Last night in our community we were at the apex of our annual Django Fest. From all over the world bands and musicians in the style of Django Rheinhardt descend on us for a four day festival of great music. As is the custom, the meandering players and those between official sets, descend on the local bar, coffee shop, and bakery for extended jam sessions. Also last night the library had a repertory theatre group that acts out the books that appear on the banned book list, or those challenged in libraries across the country.

So it was that my thoughts on society, and these two events dovetailed together last night. On the back burner of my mind I have been mulling on the Pledge of Allegiance, and how it seems a good idea, but not for kids. And in that said bar, I was talking with an acqaintance who works with kids from troubled families. A woman teaching kids who are middle teens to read. Not inner city kids either. In a progressive blue state. And a growing percentage of these kids are sex offenders. Registered sex offenders. How sad is that?

Books like "To Kill a Mockingbird", and "Huckleberry Finn" have been challenged and banned for years because of the uneasy relations that still exist between whites and African Americans. To this day this unease exists. How can we make it end? How do we change our society so that mid teens don't end up as ignorant sex offenders in an underfunded mandate to leave no child behind? How do we promote a society that understands and would be willing to pledge allegiance to the Constitutional Republic we were designed to be? That is my question.

There has been much flap over Bill Bennetts words about abortion and crime. I've read the transcript, and they were completely useless words, in that he could have easily used a whole different way to prove his point. But they revealed a great deal about a prejudiced world view. The very world view that I want to see changed. Yes, speaking out against it is important. But as is the wont of politicians, it often ends up being just words to garner votes. Nothing is done to change our hearts.

On the Ed Schultz show, a liberal radio host program, he got onto Bennet for the comments, pointing out the difference between the belief that crime is an issue of environment as opposed to race. Schultz's point is also echoed in the argument that many of todays terrorsits are generated as much by the abject poverty they exist in as religious fervor. It's their environment. Their society. Our society.

I'm aware that the fix won't be a microwave solution. It may not even be a politically popular of promoted one. Changing hearts isn't easy. But aside from changing hearts, we will then need to change the institutions that exist that create the environment of our society. And perhaps both at the same time. So I would like to see ideas, and examples if any one has any. Not just the ideals. The steps to get there.

The Rise and Origin of Government

"... the inability of moral virtue to govern..."

This is a strong phrase, but the one that Tom Paine gives as the reason for the rise and origin of government. I have not yet read far enough into Common Sense, the writing from which this quote emerges, to know if Paine makes any equations between the size of government and the relative level of disabled moral virtue. I do know he believed that the simpler something was, the less disordered it could be. And government for the hundreds of millions we now have as opposed to the population in the late 18th century also accounts for the size of our government.
As Paine points out, government is the mode rendered necessary by the inability of moral virtue to govern. I do not take from this particular passage that there is a permanent inability as it is a relative inability in moral virture. it does however, lend a clue as to how we can begin to alter our government. With that in mind, I want to make some observations in regards to moral virtue.

It is obvious that this issue of moral values is a big one today. The Christian Reich( I offer no apology as they act exactly this way) likes to think they possess it themselves, that they are the sole voice and interpreters of all moral. In reality, they don't represent even all of Christianity. There are actually many moral voices in America. Dare I say one for every religion? I know that is exaggerated, in that there are myriad hundreds of Christians sects that all have relatively the same moral code. Close to that will be the Jewish moral code, and likely the Muslim moral code. I would venture to say that even the eastern religions are close. I know Buddhism is, and even the pagan religions have one. What is important here is to realize that not every one operates off the same source for their moral code. And those considerations need to be accounted for and respected.

Particularly when we try to legislate morality, which in essence is all we can legislate. I do believe that the reason the Christain Reich has married itself to the current administration is because they have chosen the path of least resistance. They have chosen to legislate instead of demonstrate their morality. The point is obvious: if moral codes were being lived by more people, we wouldn't need laws to enforce them. As I already alluded to though, that is not the easy path. Legislating is, to borrow the biblical phrase, "putting on." It's a cast, where we really want the structure of a living bone. Living it means I have chosen a moral code, and it in-forms me. I actually take the effort to allow my moral code to change me. To challenge me. It forms, molds, and makes me inside. Hence the term, in-form. That's true information. It's developing the bone, so as not to learn to rely on a cast. Because under the cast is atrophy. And itching....

This isn't a question of will power either. The will is necessary, but not by itself. I was once told that if the tools I am using on my path don't work, don't use them. No matter what my path is, if if isn't informing me, I should find another one. Evolve. Which means in the end that truth is somewhat relative. If the shoe fits wear it as the saying goes. So, for example, I grew up a hippy. Got into the eastern thing in a dabbling sort of way. Then got into Christianity for 13 years. When it and they showed their true colors, I moved on. I explored Native American practices. I liked some of it. Some of them didn't like me, because I was the enemy. Well, I could believe that. So I moved on. I tried the practices of my pre-christian forefathers from Eire. Or what amounts to the best guess at what those may be. None of those tools worked for me in the real sense. I continued to move on. So I responded to my karma. And those tools work for me. Meditation works for me. So I use these tools. And if I find one even in this practice that doesn't, I discard it. The point is, find what works and USE it. Get in-formed. Know what is in-forming you. Because if enough of us develop the moral virtue to govern ourselves, then prison populations will go down. Government will become simpler. And the lives of those governing themsleves will be happier.

Republican Virtue

Catchy title eh? Well, it's not an oxymoron, so you can keep breathing and stop laughing.
That's "republican," with a small "r".

Now the quote: "...it is esay to see that when republican virtue fails, slavery ensues." Tom Paine - Common Sense

I think in the situation here in America, we are losing our republican virtue. First let's define what that means and then I'll share how I see it.

In Paines discourse, he is laying out the problems of monarchy and heriditarty succession. In the English system of government, along with it's Constitution, there is a republican aspect, in that the body politic have the opportunity to choose from among them a House of Commons. Albeit they had that privelege, the crown still had the authority, but it is here he make's the point that where the virtue of choosing fails, the result is slavery. A look at the dictionary term is no different. It states that the supreme power (the virtue) is in the hands of the people in the act of choosing. Yet your guffaw there points out one of the problems.

So having defined what is meant by republican virtue, having the effective power to choose, we can now examine two of the current difficulties I see in relation to that privelege and responsibility.

One is the belief that we have the power. The situations in Florida in 2000, and the Ohio in 2004 tell us that we have this power. How so you ask? Because certain people need and want so desperately to be in power, they have to cheat the power. Elections aren't stolen by people who really believe they represent the common good. They are stolen by those who know they don't, and they have to cripple the power that will prevent them from doing what they want. Hence we had two elections mired in fraud. However, we still have that power. And we can exercise that power by demanding from our representatives that our elections are auditable. In other words, a verifiable paper trail. A receit if you will in my hand that confirms who I voted for. We can also write letters to the editors, and talk about this with our friends.
Let me here segue to the next problem: ignorance. The segue would be the ignorance involved around how voters were allowed to be given machines that didn't verify in the first place. How Diebold, who contributed to the Bush campaign, promised the election to Bush. In both elections, the rights of voters were trampled, and there has been no outcry to speak of. Maybe it's a quiet grassroots thing, and that's good. But the ease with which Judge Roberts became Chief Justice when he was himself involved in the Florida 2000 election, indicates to me that we aren't raising our voices high enough. To emphasize this point, I recall hearing Thom Hartman on the radio here in the Seattle area, and he had on Senator Cantwell from Washington. When asked about not only a picture showing John Bolton, some Delay aides, and in the background, Judge Roberts, stopping the Florida recount, but the revelation that Roberts counseled Jeb Bush on how to proceed in stopping the recount, she knew none of that. I was stunned. A DJ knew more than the legislator who votes to nominate these people. Made me wonder about the staffs of these representatives.

Then further, what level of ignorance do we have about our own founding documents? Just knowing Jefferson and Madison's feelings about church/state separation should be enough to make us realize that Bushs pick to replace O'Conner on the Supreme Court, and his recently stated reason for doing so are enough to disqualify both of Bush and Meiers. How many of us know where the inscription on the Jefferson Memorial came from, and what the tyranny he spoke of was?
Mind you, I'm no historian of old with a degree in poli sci. (Stating the obvious aren't I?) Not too many years ago I was one of the ignorant. And these heated political battles are nothing new. But I finally decided that I wasn't going to be railroaded any longer just because I was in the dark. And when my Senator voted to confirm Roberts, I told her in no uncertain terms what I thought about that ill-informed decision. As you pretty well have guessed, I am reading the writings of those who shaped our country and it's form of government. And I'm loving it. Because believe it or not, we actaully want different viewpoints. And we need to listen to them, if for no other reason to be able to know where they are not representaive of the common good, and why.
We have the power. The current articles in the NY Times, as well as TruthOut, show us that GOP candidates are unwilling to run. Those considered by the White House for the court opted not to be involved. Their claim was that they thought the system was vicious, but I don't necessarily trust that given explanation. I think it's as much to do with not wanting to be associated with a visibly corrupt sinking ship. It shows me they are very afraid of that power we still possess.

And we have a lot of sources of information. When asked, I usually say we should have a knowledge of The Declaration of Independence (note the similarities of the listed grievances against the English crown to the actions of Bush), The Bill of Rights, the Constitution, the poem on the Statue of Liberty, the original Pledge of Allegiance, and for those who are still inquisitive, the writings of Tom Paine, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. Still hungry? Then read some of the history of those days. On top of that, know how to surf around the Library of Congress web site, and particularly the THOMAS link which keeps record of all the bills and actions of the representatives.

It may sound like a lot. But what is the result if we don't?


Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Radio heads!

I suppose I should add some text when I publish!

Hey folks!

I am guessing that many of you tuned into the Prez's press briefing this AM. I thought it was rather illuminating. Particularly in light of how hurricane damage will be paid for.

Most of you already know that Davis-Bacon was suspended by Bush. Aside from that, there is less than 5% of the contract money to fix the Gulf Coast going to Gulf Coast companies. I heard Rep. Bernie Thompson of Mississippi give testimony to the corruption driving the contracts. His one example was a company in ALASKA of all places, getting the sole provider contract(meaning the only source experience) to provide and install classroom trailers so school can resume. As it turns out, this company has NO experience in this line of work. That company called a Mississippi company that does the work. They asked for 450 trailers, which he had maybe half of. He said he could get the other half from his distributor. The distributor is a Georgia company, and they charge a little over $40,000 for the trailer. Well, this crony company in Alaska charged close to $80,000 of tax payer money per trailer, skipped the Mississippi installer, and bought direct from the distibutor. That math adds up, (450 times $40,000) and no Mississippi residents made a dime or worked for one hour. Nor are Mississippi residents being used in debris clean-up. That contract went to a Florida company that strangely enough was a client of the Mississippi Governor's lobbying company, and they will bring in their own employees.

So wages will be cut, most of the money will go to out state corporations, and they will overcharge to boot. So how else will this get paid for? Well, Bush made certain that no military money would be used. In other words, no security (Homeland Security and military) money is available. So spending areas of the budget need to be cut. Gee what a surprise!

So wages are suppressed, budget cuts made, but security spending and tax cuts for the rich and corporations are off the table. This is how hurricane damage will be paid for. Increased national poverty while the fattest cats get fatter.

As to energy, Bush stated that instead of conserving, or developing alternatives to oil, we need to refine even more! We need new refineries, operating under the oxymoronic clean air act.

Not to leave terrorism out, he stated we will stay in Iraq and bring the Zarqawis, referencing the followers thereof, to justice. It got me wondering just what his plan is for bringing Osama Bin Laden to justice?

And when asked if he still considered himself a conservative in light of the massive amounts of deficit, he said proudly so. Then later, this conservative, which normally believes in smaller government is better government, when discussing his responsibility for the response to the hurricanes in what seemed a flippant tone, stated that he has this large, vast administration to oversee....Large? Vast? Conservative? A large, vast administration with record deficits. That doesn't sound very conservative to me.

And remember folks, on Nov.2, we are taking to the streets. No work, no school, no anything. It is time to stand up and shout out that Bush must go. Look up "The World Can't Wait" on Google, and register. 23 states so far have planned rallies. The idea is a day long strike and protest. Everything stops. My two cents: we do it again a week later for 2 days. The week after that, 3 days. See what that does to the economy. See what that does to the ability to fund wars. No ships unloaded. No planes flying. No teaching. Everything shuts down. It is time to say no, and remove this destructive administration.