Archive for November 11th, 2009
The shootings at Fort Hood last week have provoked a media feeding frenzy. Questions abound, and there is no dearth of speculation as to the shooter’s motives. Most articles I have seen waste no time pointing out that the shooter was a Muslim, that he exclaimed “Allahu akbar” before shooting, and that he is linked with radical imams and possibly Al Qaeda. That’s from the ostensibly “impartial” media, but there are also a few extremely distasteful editorial perspectives that are unfortunately quite mainstream that I wanted to comment on today. I’m afraid my ability to edit sarcasm out of my posts declines in direct proportion to the insanity and hypocrisy with which I’m confronted, so bear with me.
First, Forbes featured an article by Tunku Varadarajan entitled “Going Muslim“, a play on the old phrase “going postal”. He describes it thusly:
As the enormity of the actions of Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan sinks in, we must ask whether we are confronting a new phenomenon of violent rage, one we might dub–disconcertingly–”Going Muslim.” This phrase would describe the turn of events where a seemingly integrated Muslim-American–a friendly donut vendor in New York, say, or an officer in the U.S. Army at Fort Hood–discards his apparent integration into American society and elects to vindicate his religion in an act of messianic violence against his fellow Americans. This would appear to be what happened in the case of Maj. Hasan.
I wrote a comment on this same issue last night, but I wanted to make it into a post as well, given the importance.
Marcia Angel, M.D., former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, is highly critical of the proposed “health care reform.” Although she admits that it accomplishes a few things, it is worse than doing nothing.
It throws more money into a dysfunctional and unsustainable system, with only a few improvements at the edges, and it augments the central role of the investor-owned insurance industry. The danger is that as costs continue to rise and coverage becomes less comprehensive, people will conclude that we’ve tried health reform and it didn’t work. But the real problem will be that we didn’t really try it.
Read the full post at Huffpo for Angel’s clear and understandable ideas for meaningful (and not corrupt) health care reform. I agree with Angel that the current bill is an industry-coddling joke and that it is worse than doing nothing, for the reasons she offers. The House bill has a few pieces of low hanging fruit (e.g., portability), but at great unnecessary expense and waste. We need to tear up this celebrated new bill (celebrated by the Democrats, anyway) and start over. For more on Angell’s ideas for reform, also see her recent appearance on Bill Moyer’s show.
There are still many incredible lyricists who write about a wide variety of issues, but it seems to me that today’s typical lyrics (at least those that on can hear broadcast on mainstream radio) tend to be self-absorbed: songs about a small social circle consisting mostly of me and what I want and what I’m feeling about me, and aboutyou and what you think of me. Maybe it’s more difficult to write about political change these days because our problems today seem so much more intractable.
Back in the 70′s I was part of a eight-piece jazz-rock band we called “Ego.” Yes, many of the tunes we played were about falling in love and breaking up, but we also played songs dealing with the need for social change. One of those tunes was called “Dialogue,” by Chicago. It consisted of a dialogue between Peter Cetera (also the bass player) and Terry Kath (an extraordinary guitar player). As I listened to “Dialogue” this morning, I was transported back to an earlier day when more of the music that was played on the radio challenged us to think and to change. The consolidation of the mass media makes it much less likely that you’ll hear these kinds of ideas when you listen to music on the radio, but you could hear such ostensibly political lyrics in the past, and they planted powerful seeds in some of us. Here is the two-part dialogue that so moved me:
Are you optimistic ’bout the way things are going?
No, I never ever think of it at all
Don’t you ever worry
When you see what’s going down?
No, I try to mind my business, that is, no business at all
When it’s time to function as a feeling human being
Will your Bachelor of Arts help you get by?
[more . . . ]
The divide between church and state seems on the one hand to be growing but on the other narrowing, especially when you consider how intrusive established religions have been. Representatives of the Catholic Church sat in Nanci Pelosi’s office of late while negotiations for the health care bill were ongoing, overseeing what she would do about abortion.
Any way one reads this, it comes out as a threat. The quid pro quo is explicit. “If you don’t bend to our will on this, we will stop services your city relies on.”
I have in the past believed that the tax exempt status of religions was a necessary work-around to preserve the fiction of separation. In the past, there have been instances of state intrusion directly into religions in, for one example, state funding for programs in parochial schools. There was always a quid pro quo in such offers and practices.
But never has a representative of the state sat in the office of a minister while he drafted a sermon to be sure certain details got left out or included. Never, despite massive abuses by religious institutions in real estate and related financial areas, has the state moved to revoke 501(c)(3) status. It may be that any state official who tried it would be booted out of office summarily, but nevertheless that has been the unspoken law of the land.
Seems the courtesy doesn’t go both ways. If that’s the case, I think it is time to revisit the whole issue. If the Catholic Church sees itself as providing services as an arm of the civil service sector and allows itself the conceit that it may use that service as a lever to influence political decisions, then they have implicitly given up due consideration as an inviolate institution, free from state requirements of taxation and regulation.
Seems fairly clear cut to me. Obviously, there will be those who disagree. But it’s time, I think, to seriously reconsider the state relationship to so-called “nonprofit” “apolitical” tax exempt institutions.
Jeffrey Sachs, the Director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University, has sharply criticized both the Democrat and Republican approaches to dealing with our failing economy.
For instance, Sachs complains that President Obama is seeking to kick up consumer spending through “near-zero interest rates, massive Fed financing of mortgages and various consumption incentives, such as rebates for new home-buyers and cash for clunkers.” According to Sachs, though this will simply get us into a new bubble, as the US consumer is encouraged to over-borrow. This is a terrible strategy “with budget deficits of about 10 per cent of gross domestic product.”
How about those Republicans? Their “solution” is equally terrible:
For every problem there is a single Republican answer: tax cuts. Simple arithmetic reveals the stunning shortsightedness of this proposition. The federal government collects about 17 per cent of GDP in tax revenues. That roughly equals the outlays on social security, Medicare, Medicaid, veterans’ benefits, defence and interest payments on debt.
All the rest – roads, rail, clean energy, science and technology, diplomacy, international disease control, space, education, job training, water, transport, courts, poverty relief, homeland security, conservation, climate adaptation – is financed on borrowed money. All of these critical areas are underfunded, which hinders productivity, national security and private investment.
What a good idea that is being largely ignored? Sachs likes the idea of jump-starting the green economy:
One where the jobs would come through a massive expansion of low-carbon energy. We were told about plug-in hybrids, intercity fast rail and new water and sewerage plants to replace the crumbling infrastructure. We were told about a new infrastructure bank to fashion complex multi-state projects that would employ huge numbers of workers while building a cutting-edge economy.
For those of you who read this shocker that the worldwide oil reserves are dwindling much faster than official reports have been coyly indicating, don’t get too cozy with the concept that we can always move on over to coal. At least that is the opinion of Richard Heinberg of the Post Carbon Institute. He claims that cheap coal is running out quickly too, and that we will have hit peak coal by 2025.
There are a lot of good reasons for avoiding coal. It’s a dirty fuel that has spawned dozens of massive ecological disasters, including this one in Tennessee. Another reason to not depend on coal is that there might not be enough of it to consider it to be a long-term solution. And please tell me: why is “conservation” still such a dirty word to so many people out there when it is the cleanest and easiest why to even out energy input and outgo?