One Voice

… because one voice, armed with the truth, can help begin to heal the world.

Are we becoming a rage-fueled society?

“These times are so uncertain, there’s a yearning undefined and people filled with rage. We all need a little tenderness, how can love survive in such a graceless age?”
– DON HENLEY, “Heart of the Matter

People who know me know I have been writing about this verse from this song for more than 20 years. Until recently I always focused on the last part of it, writing about what a graceless age in which we live. An age of trashy culture, disposable relationships and a ridiculous lust for wealth.

Lately I have been thinking more and more about the rage.

Jim Gaffigan in "The Great New Wonderful"

Everyone seems so angry all the time. Whether it’s the economy, or politics, or people furious that someone might want to practice a different religion than they do, even people who seem pretty happy have things that piss them off.

Danny Leiner’s underrated 2005 film, “The Great New Wonderful,” tells five intertwining stories about New Yorkers exactly one year after Sept. 11, 2001. In Sandie’s Story, Jim Gaffigan plays a man who worked in the Twin Towers and survived the day. His superiors have asked survivors to meet with a psychologist to make sure they are recovering.

Sandie says over and over again that he is fine, while the psychologist says that when he looks at Sandie, he sees a man completely full of repressed rage.

In the end, Sandie hits the psychologist over the head with a chair, runs out of the office and keeps running all the way to Connecticut.

“I think I’m lost,” he says when he finally stops running.

A lot of people are angry these days — filled with rage — and I blame an awful lot of it on our misbegotten culture and values that have gotten so far out of whack I’m not sure Americans from 100 years ago would even recognize our country.

The concept of “news” has all but vanished, and nearly everything is presented to us now — whether left or right — as both what happened and what it “really means,” courtesy of the agenda of whoever is paying the presenter. Watch Fox News and you’ll see that the agenda is to fill people with rage about what those awful people on the left are trying to do. Watch MSNBC and they’ll tell you the same stories but the villains are those on the right.

Truth has all but vanished. Candidates for president can tell literally hundreds of out-and-out lies and have them passed of as “differences of opinion.” A candidate for vice president can lie again and again about what his proposals would do, but the only time people really make a fuss is when he lies about how fast he ran a marathon.

When people don’t know what to believe, they get angry.

Seventy percent of American families are — at best — just getting by. It’s a constant struggle to pay bills, and the chance really to get ahead just doesn’t exist. Fear of losing everything makes people angry.

Watch movies or television and there is little that is ennobling or uplifting. Most of what we get from our culture is cynicism. That makes people angry.

Our economic system is failing most of us. Our political system serves no one except major campaign contributors. More and more people seem to be buying into old, discredited beliefs about how the only truly noble thing in the world is self-interest.

That makes me angry. There are few people less noble than those who live their lives based only on their own interest. And with all due respect to my conservative friends, that’s nothing that Ronald Reagan ever preached.

Yeah, I’m angry. I might even be full of rage, but most of it isn’t about politics. I’m coming up on my 20th wedding anniversary, and my wife has been suffering serious health problems for more than a year now. A great deal of my time goes into caring for her, and there are times it doesn’t seem to do any good at all.

All I can do is get up each morning and try to make that day as good as possible.

Then again, that’s really all any of us can do, and maybe — with God’s grace — things will get a little better and we’ll feel a little less angry.

Otherwise, what’s the use?

 

 

 


 

 

posted by Mike in Family,Happiness,love and have No Comments

A quest for a viable political middle

Editor’s note: This is the third or fourth time this has been published since some readers and I put this together on an earlier website about five years ago. It came from a serious of discussions about America needing a third party that worked in favor of the middle class. It’s ironic now that the document never mentions levels of taxation as a valid issue. Tea Partiers will see this as too liberal, especially in its demand that children shouldn’t have to suffer without health care because of their parents, but I think the heart of the document is in these words:

“We know that the ability of government to solve problems is far from unlimited. We believe that while there are few problems for which government action should be the first option, there are equally few in which it should never be considered as an option of last resort.”

We called it the Western Independent Party, with the idea that it could be “A Mighty Wind.”

***

There are times in history when groups established to further the aims of people either become unresponsive to those aims or inconsistent with the legitimate objectives they were conceived to pursue.

This has happened before, but few have become so distorted or misdirected as in the modern two-party system. We believe both the Democratic and Republican parties have been corrupted to the point where their only real value is to the large contributors who finance their operations and those who hold office under their banners.

We are convinced that while there are good people in both parties, the organizations themselves are corrupted beyond redemption and utterly unsuited to serving as vessels for change to benefit society at large.

It is because we as Americans are guided first and foremost by love of our country that we seek to find a middle ground where all men and women of good will can work for the common good.

We do this in the belief that in a successful political system, whether broken or healthy, no one is exempt from the effort to find common ground.

As Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence, We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men (and women) are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

We recognize today, as Jefferson did in 1776, that men and women cannot choose to surrender these rights, and that as Benjamin Franklin said, people who would yield their freedom in hope of gaining security deserve neither. It is the responsibility of the government to protect its citizens, but it must do so in a way that respects our rights as Americans.

We have no complaint with the American system. Our “experiment in Democracy” that began in 1776 is the wonder of the civilized world and an example to all mankind. It is only the ways in which our current political system perverts that experiment that we intend to change.

We know that the ability of government to solve problems is far from unlimited. We believe that while there are few problems for which government action should be the first option, there are equally few in which it should never be considered as an option of last resort.

First and foremost, America relies upon individuals and groups taking positive action. We admire those individuals whose priorities include personal sacrifice for the greater good, those who willingly share their bounty with the less fortunate and work to improve the lives of those people with whom they come into contact.

We believe that government must not stand in the way of an individual’s legitimate drive to succeed, that intelligence, determination, hard work and the entrepreneurial spirit are all positive qualities that should be encouraged. But we also believe that no one succeeds more nobly than when he or she improves the lives of others, particularly those who are less capable or less fortunate.

We recognize that most Americans are neither so rich that they never require assistance or so poor that assistance is always necessary. Most people consider themselves part of the middle class, needing help at times and giving help at others. There should be no actions taken by the government except in times of dire emergency that hurt the middle class to benefit others.

We encourage the behavior commonly known as the Golden Rule, stated in one form or another in almost every religion known to man, that actions toward others are best when they are those we would not object to others doing to us. Human improvement, love, respect for others and sharing other people’s suffering are qualities agreed upon by people of good faith everywhere.

We understand that religion is an important part of life for many Americans and we believe that government must never stand in the way of religious practice in appropriate situations. We are disappointed that government often becomes bogged down in attempts to prohibit relatively innocuous displays of faith that offend only the most fanatical and believe, for example, that Christmas displays not supported by public funds should be allowed. Yet we also understand that America is a nation of many different religions, and we respect whatever peaceful, life-affirming ways people choose to express their faith in God.

We believe America stands tallest in the world when it stands for American principles. Those principles include working peacefully with friends and allies, standing up for human rights and helping other nations improve the lives of their citizens.

We have no desire to impose our system on anyone, but we gladly encourage those who wish to emulate our freedoms.

We insist that our government perform its fundamental responsibility or defending our territory and borders from outside invasion, whether that invasion is for the purpose of damaging America or simply of entering the country illegally.

We believe that those people who come here from other countries seeking better lives must do so legally, but they should not be scapegoated for political reasons or used by unethical employers looking to keep the cost of doing business down.

We demand that our government make efficient, effective use of the money provided for national defense. We reject sweetheart deals and no-bid contracts and believe that the so-called “military-industrial complex” is often a counterproductive force in the critical task of national defense.

Public service is an honor, and a career in public service should never be undertaken as a means for enriching oneself. While we do not expect political figures and government employees to take a vow of poverty, we recognize that corruption has added dollars to the national debt and subtracted from the public’s trust of the people who serve it.

We recognize that all Americans have rights stemming from life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and we believe those rights should include basic health care, basic sustenance, basic shelter and the opportunity to get a free education that will help them compete in the modern world.

We hold no brief for those who have the ability to provide for their own needs yet choose not to do so, but there are too many times in recent memory that innocent children have paid for the shortcomings of their parents. That any children should go hungry, become ill or die because of lack of wealth is an abomination in a wealthy society.

We recognize that the problem of providing health care is a difficult one, and we believe that a society that spends one of every seven dollars on health care is dysfunctional in that area. This is a problem that must be addressed by people of good faith. As an intermediate step, however, we insist that no child be denied the right to basic preventative or remedial care, and that vaccinations and other such care be readily available to all Americans.

We know that our educational system has become dysfunctional and that too much money is being spent for purposes that are not productive. As parents and as community members, we demand that a way be found to better educate our children.

We believe that a system based on test scores only encourages “teaching the test” at the expense of other subjects and a system that discourages the natural desire of a child to learn is a complete and total failure.

We believe that bad teachers should be encouraged either to improve or leave and that good teachers, teachers who make children love learning, must be rewarded.

We accept that learning is a lifelong progress and we expect that our culture will encourage rather than ridicule that process. Although we respect the profit motive in entertainment and understand the goal of reaching the most people possible, we do not approve of a culture that exacerbates the problems of society and plays to our worst instincts as human beings.

We recognize that race should play no role as a determining factor in modern life, and that far too often, programs intended to encourage the integration of racial or ethnic groups into the mainstream have served exactly the opposite purpose. We encourage the efforts of immigrants to become part of the mainstream of American life.

We demand an end to discrimination, but believe that set-asides and most affirmative action programs no longer work. If such programs are to continue, they should be based economically rather than racially or ethnically.

Even those who argue for a limited system of government agree that the infrastructure is the responsibility of the government, and that one of the greatest domestic successes of the last half-century was the building of the Interstate Highway System. We have been living off money spent on our infrastructure in previous generations, and roads, bridges and tunnels from Maine to California are crumbling. We support a reasonable public works program to rebuild America for the needs of the 21st century.

We support a healthy respect for responsible, peer-reviewed science and are critical of those who attempt to twist facts to suit their political agenda. While there are certainly issues on which people of intelligence can disagree, not everything in this world is a matter of opinion. We support sound environmentalism and reject extremism on both sides.

We understand that both within our country and our world, there are a plethora of troubling issues on which Americans have not been able to compromise. Many of those are so-called “moral issues, and rather than take a stand on issues that really no have more than one side, we ask only that people come to their conclusions for reasons that exalt our common humanity rather than abase it.

We reject the politics of fear and hatred.

More than a thousand years before the United States of America was founded, a great philosopher was asked if there was one word that could serve as a principle for life. Confucius replied that the word was “reciprocity.”

“Do not impose on others what you yourself do not desire.”

We accept this as a guiding principle for our efforts, and it is in that spirit that we establish the Western Independent Party.

posted by Mike in American Dream,Future,Happiness,Politics and have No Comments

Whose country is America in this new world?

“Everybody counts or nobody counts.”
– HARRY BOSCH

It’s perhaps ironic — to say the least — that a pretty good motto for life would come from a series of detective novels.

Some are more equal ...

But Michael Connolly’s archetypal character’s outlook is one we could use a lot more of these days. We seem to have fallen into a fallacy in our thinking that George Orwell described best in his classic “Animal Farm.”

“All animals are created equal, but some are more equal than others.”

Sound familiar? Over the last 30 years or so in this country, we have treated some animals much better than others, and the wealth of our nation has flowed to the top 1 percent as never before in our history.

Whether they really believed it or not, conservative economists told us in 1981 that cutting the tax rates in the top brackets would result in greater economic activity and a larger total amount of tax revenues for the government.

It’s debatable whether that really occurred, since all other factors couldn’t be held constant, but one thing is definitely true. Cutting tax rates on the wealthiest 1 percent has made the rich even richer. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the top 1 percent had 7.5 percent of national income in 1979. By 2007, that share had increased to 17.1 percent.

The middle 20 percent — the truest definition of the middle class — had 16.5 percent of the wealth in 1979 but just 14.1 percent in 2007.

How can we possibly say that everybody counts — that everybody matters — when the way wealth is distributed in this country makes us look more and more like a Third World country all the time?

The late George Carlin, who was probably our most biting social critic, said in one of his later tours that the reason we call it the American Dream is that these days, you have to be sleeping to believe in it. There is no question that much of our society, much of what keeps people going, is based more on muyth these days than on reality.

It just isn’t that easy these days to find something that needs to be invented. And as for starting your own business, just try to find a way to get financing.

It’s sad but true that the American Dream of upward mobility has become more fantasy than reality. It has become easier to move from the middle class to the upper class in many of the so-called social democracies of  Western Europe than it is in this country.

I’m not talking about Democrats or Republicans, liberals or conservatives, in this case. I would honestly support anyone who I legitimately believed in a political philosophy that simply said that everyone in this country matters as much as anyone else. I don’t want some billionaire hedge-fund director to be treated as if he were any more special than a truck driver or a day laborer by the government.

That doesn’t mean I don’t believe in progressive taxation. In fact, I believe that the people who have taken the greatest benefit from this country should pay a greater share. And as Warren Buffett put it, there is no legitimate reason he should pay a lower percentage of his income in taxes than his secretary does.

Here’s the only question that needs to be answered:

Whose country is it anyway?

 

 

posted by Mike in American Dream,Future,Politics,Ranting and have No Comments

Yes, I’ve been exposed as (gasp!) a liberal

I’m always surprised when people come up with what they think are amazing revelations that actually are anything but.

My friend Mick — probably one of the few right-wingers in the world who is a really good person — made a comment on Facebook in response to something I had written in which he said I had shown my true colors as a leftist.

My comment, in response to something on Huffington Post about the government shutdown negotiations, was this:

“I used to disagree with Republicans, but with a few exceptions, I didn’t think they were bad people. Now it seems like so many of them are real scumbags.”

My dear friend said that my “bias and prejudice just flows.”

Uh, duh.

It isn’t as if I have been a straight-ticket voter all my life. I have actually voted for Republicans at one time or another for both houses of Congress and twice for governor of California. I even voted in the Republican presidential primary in 2000, although that was as much a vote against George W. Bush as it was a vote for John McCain.

But those were the days when Republicans stood for more than just cutting government, privatizing everything and keeping taxes as low as possible for the mega-wealthy.

I mean, face it. There are now Republicans in Congress — in control of one of the two houses — who basically want to eliminate Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

Am I a leftist?

I’m a proud leftist in some areas. I think we need single-payer, government-run health care in this country. I think we should cut our military budget by at least a third and maybe as much as half. I think the mega-wealthy ought to actually pay taxes, and indeed that they have the responsibility to pay for the tremendous benefits they have received from being Americans.

But isn’t it unfair to call Republicans “scumbags?” Isn’t that a little rough?

Well, let’s start with the assumption that anyone who encourages the crazies to believe things that they know aren’t true is a scumbag. Does anyone with a fighting chance at both sanity and a three-digit IQ really think that President Obama wasn’t born in the United States? Yet there are plenty of people who ought to know better who are encouraging the tinfoil-hat set to keep after the president about his supposed birth in Kenya.

We used to live in a country where as long as you were willing to work hard, you could make a decent living and have a chance to give your kids a better life than you had. But ever since the advent of multinational corporations and the millions of lost jobs that they outsourced, now we live in a country where for many people the only jobs available involve paper hats and name tags. As George Carlin put it, the reason they call it the American Dream these days is that you have to be asleep to believe it.

Do I think the government ought to do something about all that?

You bet I do. We can start by telling companies that if they want the benefits of being American companies, they need to keep their jobs in America and pay taxes in America.

Am I a leftist? Not in everything. I depart from the folks on the left in some of the so-called “life” issues. I’m against capital punishment, but I’m also against euthanasia, assisted suicide and abortion. Throw in anti-war, and it pretty much adds up to saying that God is the only one allowed to take lives.

But on most of the other stuff, I’m as far to the left as my good friend is to the right.

And damned proud of it.

posted by Mike in American Dream,Friends,Happiness,in God's name,Politics,Ranting and have No Comments

Yes, we really do need to be our brothers’ keepers

Am I my brother’s keeper?

It’s an age-old question, quite possibly the first one in recorded history, that Cain asked God when asked what had happened to Abel. And it’s a question we ought to be asking ourselves in the wake of what has been happening recently in the world, from Wisconsin to Japan and at numerous points in between.

Are we responsible for those worse off than we are, or should every man (and woman) simply be responsible for taking care of himself (or herself) and the immediate family?

His blood cries out.

At the very least, we need to be better than Cain, who murdered his brother.

According to the Bible, God’s response to Cain’s question was that Abel’s blood was crying out to him from the ground.

Of course, that isn’t enough. Move on to the New Testament and Christ tells us that of course we are our brothers’ keepers, that whatever we do to the least among us we are doing to him.

It amazes me how cruel and cold our society has become in less than 40 years. As recently as the 1970s, we had a strongly progressive tax system, where those who enjoyed the fruits of our society the most paid additional taxes. It worked out pretty well. In the ’50s, for example, we had a top tax rate of 93 percent. Yet we had the longest sustained period of economic growth we have ever enjoyed.

We had programs to help the poor, programs that flourished under both Democrat and Republican presidents, and most of the time, we came pretty close to balancing our national budget and keeping the public debt under control.

But starting in the ’80s, with Ronald Reagan’s massive tax cuts for the rich and his massive defense buildup, the deficit — and the debt — got out of control. Ever since then, it has been a fight to the death just to get Republicans to pay taxes.

They have been doing everything they can to eliminate social programs, particularly the ones that help the poor. I never understood that. Even if I weren’t Roman Catholic and didn’t believe in social justice, I wouldn’t think it would be a good idea to make things worse for the poor.

You see, there are a lot more poor people than there are rich people.

And if they ever find out just how badly rich Republicans have been screwing them over, if they ever come to realize the truth of the situation, Republicans will need to worry about a lot more than just getting voted out of office.

I’ve always said that on the most basic level, government’s job is to prevent the rich from eating the poor — and vice versa.

If that’s the goal, those rich Republicans are either going to have to loosen up a little … or build some very high walls around their homes.

posted by Mike in in God's name,Ranting and have No Comments
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