For People Who Think

December 29, 2011

What I Learned This Year…by Dan Lynch

Filed under: Uncategorized — 4peoplewhothink @ 8:05 pm

If you reach the end of a year and you haven’t learned or noticed anything new, you’re in trouble. As a lifetime student of the democratic process, and living now in the hardest economic period that I’ve ever seen, I’ve noticed and learned some things in 2011 that both encourage and depress me. Here are a few of them:

1) Historically, we Americans have always been an optimistic people with faith in the future. That seems to be less true today than in any other period in my lifetime. The polls show us that. We’re not supposed to be that way. Most of us need to buck up a bit and buckle down on digging out of this hole we’re in.

2) Too many of us seem to think that our path to a better future lies in reverting to the past – in many cases to a past that none of us really lived through and view through a filter of ignorance and political lies about history. This was not a better country before unions came along. In fact, it was a better country when unions were stronger. This was not a better country before the income tax or before Social Security. This was not a better country before ordinary people had the means to get medical care. This was not a better country when only a handful of us could go to college to put up with left-wing professors challenging our parents’ value systems. College, whatever its failings, taught us how to sort out all that.

3) Some things were better in the past. We were better off when we forced kids in school to learn or flunk rather than just pushing them through regardless of what they didn’t learn. We were better off when we weren’t producing so many out-of-wedlock babies, when the family was stronger. We were better off before widespread drug use. We were better off before the poverty-stricken nations of the world began to industrialize and compete with us so vigorously. We no longer have to eat everything on our plates because people are starving in China, although too many of us do that anyway. We just weren’t ready for any of that.

4) I haven’t belonged to a political party in 30 years or so. The left wing of the Democratic Party got so wacko then that I couldn’t be part of the same crowd. Both parties are different as we enter 2012. The old Democratic Party coalition of urban left-wingers, blue-collar workers and Bible-thumping, hard-core racist rural southerners is no more. The southerners and many of the blue-collar people are now Republicans, and the moderate Republicans of the suburbs are now independents or Democrats. Independents like me, the fastest-growing segment of the population, can go either way in a general election. Ultimately, we tend to go with whichever candidate seems the least stupid and/or crazy.

5) This would be a better country if more people knew its real history. The lying politicians don’t help with this. Not long ago, Newt Gingrich, who holds a doctorate in history, falsely claimed that the U. S. Supreme Court in the Dred Scott decision “ruled that slavery extended to the whole country.” It did not. The Dred Scott ruling stated that Congress had no authority to ban slavery in new territories, but it stopped short of applying the ruling to all states. Blacks had been free, voting citizens in five of the original 13 states. Gingrich also claimed that President Lincoln “explicitly instructed his administration to not enforce Dred Scott.” By the time Lincoln had assumed office, about a half dozen southern states already had seceded, and the Civil War broke out about five weeks later. Lincoln never told anybody in his administration to ignore Dred Scott. Instead, he told everybody to take cover.

6) Politics was uniquely nasty in this country during the 1800s, but it’s nastier now than I recall it being during the 1900s. These days, fewer and fewer people – ordinary people, not just the lying politicians – seem able to conduct a political conversation on its merits. Instead, they attack anybody who expresses an idea or view with which they disagree as an evil person. You see that in blog comments on every Web site. The non-thinkers don’t muster data to refute arguments they dislike; instead, they call those ideas and the people who hold them vile names. That’s precisely the sort of thinking found in terrorists – people who believe that the rightness of their cause makes anybody who doesn’t see the world precisely as they do an evil person. And that evil, of course, makes it okay to say or do virtually anything to them. Many right-wingers are like that. So are some left-wingers, but there are fewer of them to begin with.

7) Anybody who believes that everybody to the left of them is a liberal or anybody to their right is a Nazi is nobody with whom you should attempt to hold a serious conversation. They just aren’t up to it emotionally.

December 20, 2011

Leave Bad Enough Alone…by Dan Lynch

Filed under: Uncategorized — 4peoplewhothink @ 10:06 pm

Everybody has the perfect solution. I love listening to it when they start in.

In this case, the guy was a friend of some years’ standing. He lives in Syracuse. He was complaining because Onondaga County was giving away clean needles to drug addicts.

“Why encourage them?” he was saying.

So, I asked him, “What do you pay in property taxes?”

“About nine grand a year.”

“About a third of that, I would guess, is the county’s share of Medicaid costs,” I told him. “A lot of that goes to care for formerly middle-class old people in nursing homes, but a lot of it also goes to care for junkies who get AIDS from dirty needles. AIDS treatment is enormously expensive, and it’s not as though they’ll stop shooting up. They’re addicted, remember? So, you can stop giving them the clean needles, and you can then watch your property taxes skyrocket to treat the junkies after they get AIDS.”

“You could let them die,” he pointed out. “They did it to themselves.”

“Yeah, but the hospitals will treat them whether you like it or not, and the hospitals will get reimbursed by the government. We have a policy in this country: We don’t let people just die without medical care, even the morons. We do that because we’re Americans.”

“I guess,” he said in resignation.

“There’s no perfect solution to any of these problems,” I said. “There are only solutions that aren’t as bad as some other solution and better than the problem. Clean needles for junkies isn’t a good idea. It’s just the best of a bunch of other bad ideas.”

That conversation took place a few years ago. I was reminded of it the other night when I was talking to somebody else about how annoying it is when women have out-of-wedlock babies to increase their welfare payments. Maybe, the person I was talking to suggested, these teenage welfare mothers shouldn’t get any more money from welfare when they have new kids.

“Well,” I said, “I had occasion to look up some of that stuff not all that long ago. First, it isn’t the kid’s fault that it was born and needs to eat and needs a roof over its head. Second, almost half of welfare mothers have only one kid. Ten per cent have four or more, but about a third of those welfare mothers have only two kids and only about 15 per cent have three. Also, three-quarters of welfare mothers are in their 20s or 30s. Teenage welfare mothers make up more like 8 per cent of that population.”

What is a problem, I said, is that the vast majority of these poor mothers never had a husband, but that problem was caused largely by a guy named Bob Byrd, who figured that he had the perfect solution to the welfare problem.

Bob Byrd died last year at 92. He’d spent more years in Congress – 57 of them — than any of the 10,000 men and women who’ve been elected to that job in the country’s history. He first got elected from West Virginia because he’d been a big wheel in the Klan down there. He once wrote, “Rather I should die a thousand times, and see Old Glory trampled in the dirt never to rise again, than to see this beloved land of ours become degraded by race mongrels, a throwback to the blackest specimen from the wilds.”

Byrd filibustered against the 1964 Civil Rights Act for 14 hours and voted against both Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas, the only two black U. S. Supreme Court nominees in history. When he became head of the District of Columbia Committee in Congress, he pushed through the “Man in the House Rule.” That cut off welfare payments to any household with an able-bodied man in residence. Later, the courts threw out that rule on the ground that it violated the equal protection under the law clause of the U.S. Constitution.

By the time the courts did that, though, Byrd had pretty much destroyed marriage among the poor and had done enormous violence to the black family in America. Fathers who couldn’t find work had a choice: They could either get out or watch their kids starve.

What’s interesting is how the value system of the poor then spread to the rest of society. In 1960, only 5.3 per cent of births in this country were to single mothers. Now the out-of-wedlock birth rate is more like 40 per cent. And marriage is totally out of fashion these days. The number of married couples dropped five percent between 2009 and 2010 and has declined by more than 20 percent since 1960. Not that these people aren’t having kids, though. That’s what Bob Byrd wrought with his perfect solution to the welfare problem.

Moral of the story? Some problems just aren’t going away. Screw around with them too much, and you’ll only make things worse.

December 6, 2011

The Modern Malady – All Opinion & Very Little Fact…by Dan Lynch

Filed under: Uncategorized — 4peoplewhothink @ 2:57 pm
Tags: , ,

“I’m a conservative,” he was saying to me. “I’m a proud one, too.”

I was in an auto salvage operation looking for a part for a car – a part that couldn’t be had new, by the way, even though the car is only five years old. Ever since General Motors went into bankruptcy, getting new GM parts has been a nightmare, the repair shop owner told me. Apparently, when GM went belly up, so did a number of its suppliers.

This big, white-haired guy was behind the counter of the salvage operation, extolling the virtues of Newt Gingrich. I asked him where he was coming from. That’s when he told me he was a conservative.

“And who are you gonna vote for?” he demanded – just a bit bellicosely, I decided.

“I have no idea,” I told him. “I’m an independent, so I can’t vote in anybody’s primary. And before I vote for President next November I want to hear a campaign. I want to hear what these people have to say about fixing unemployment, about breaking up the banks that are too big to fail, about the national debt and foreign policy. If you know who you’re going to vote for now, that means that you’re a straight party voter, and that means that you’re one of the people who’ve screwed up the country.”

“What?” he said. “The people who belong to political parties have screwed up the country?”

I said to him, “Did you ever hear of a guy named George Washington?”

“Yeah, once or twice.”

“Did you ever read his farewell address – the speech he gave when he left office?”

“Which part of it?” he wanted to know.

“Any part of it?”

“Well,” he said more quietly, “not that I remember. Washington was a conservative, too, though.”

I took a deep breath and kept my mouth shut for a moment while I struggled to keep the top of my skull from blowing off into the ceiling.

“Actually,” I told this guy finally, “Washington wasn’t even a liberal. He was a radical. So were all those guys – Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, the whole crowd. They were way past left-wing. They were bleeping revolutionaries.”

“Well, yeah,” he said. “I guess they were at that.”

“Anyway, what Washington did on his way out the door was to warn everybody not to get together in political parties. He said it’s only natural for people to want to get organized to get things done, but he warned that the elevation of one party over the other in an election could lead to ‘despotism.’ He was pretty emphatic about it, too. Political domination by one party could lead to war, he said.”

“So, what happened?” the guy asked me. “We’ve always had political parties.”

“You bet. They haven’t always been the same parties. After Washington left, the two parties were the Federalists and the Democratic-Republican party. The parties squared off against each other the instant Washington walked out the door to go back to Mount Vernon. His desk chair was still warm. It has been political warfare ever since. Washington was absolutely right, only nobody listened to him.”

“Well, we got ‘em now,” he said.

“Yeah,” I replied, “and they make it impossible to get anything done. Republicans in Congress are so afraid of the right in primaries and Democrats are so afraid of the left that the parties can’t get together on any kind of deal to fix anything that’s wrong.”

“Sometimes the best thing to do is nothing at all,” he argued.

“Sometimes that’s true,” I agreed, “but take a look at who our heroic figures in American history are. From the beginning, the people we’ve honored were the people who made big changes – the people who valued progress over keeping things the way they were or returning them to the way things were before then. That’s who Washington was, who Jefferson was, who Lincoln was, who Roosevelt was. The people who wanted things to stay the same were the conservatives. When they ran things, nothing got better. Name one conservative President people remember as a hero.”

“Reagan,” he said.

“It’s too soon to say that,” I told him. “The verdict of history isn’t in on Reagan yet. By the time it is, we’ll both be dead. The only fair way to judge a President is judgment by a later generation. John F. Kennedy is an example of that. He doesn’t look quite as good today as he did 50 years ago, does he?”

“Lincoln,” he argued.

“A civil war started when he got elected,” I said, “which proved Washington’s point about political parties. Oh, and Lincoln freed the slaves, too. Talk about big government. Lincoln was nobody’s conservative.”

“Well,” he said, “I’m one. Nothing you had to say has changed my mind on anything.”

“Yeah,” I told him, “and that’s the problem. Nobody changes anybody’s mind on anything any more. Sort of reminds me of what I’ve read about 1861.”

“What happened then?” he asked.

“Nothing I’m going to take up your time with,” I said.

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