• Tag Archives tea party
  • 3 Minute Critique of Libertarianism

    Lughnasa                                                                         Waning Honey Extraction Moon
    “Take time to deliberate, but when the time for action has arrived, stop thinking and go in.” – Napoleon Bonaparte

    Of course, we know where Bonaparte’s style got him.  Elba.  Even so he does cut against the grain of paralysis by analysis, the peculiar disease of intellectuals where worrying the problem like a bone often stands in for actually doing something about it.

    Libertarians have a long, yet rather ineffective, track record in American politics.  That’s because most Americans hold libertarian views on social issues like no draft, keep the government out of the bedroom, no censorship, no government issued identity cards at the national level.  Many also agree with their hands off approach to adult drug use and other matters where personal choice collides with well-meaning, or not well-meaning, social engineers.  Think the pro-life movement, the anti-gay folks, the militarists who want everyone to have national service.

    In other words this side of the libertarian thought experiment matches up well with a frontier ethos and the spirit of the bill of the rights.

    On the other hand libertarians have had little effect on national politics and on state politics, too. Why?  They want to privatize social security, end all government support to individuals, cut government spending by at least 50% (which would mean closing military bases over seas, at least) and shut down corporate welfare.

    Most US citizens agree that self-government should apply to social issues (matters of choice in our private lives), but also agree that there is an appropriate role for government in our public life.  A strong defense is a near universal among US citizens considering an appropriate role for government.  Many of us also agree that the promise of equality extends to such areas as health care, income support and affordable housing.  Since Teddy Roosevelt, we have also recognized government’s role as regulator of the economy, a role it engaged to good affect (though not great affect) in the recent financial crisis.  A free market blinder, worn by advocates of neo-liberal economics, blocks view of the wreckage in personal lives occasioned by capitalism’s creative destruction. (Schumpeter)

    Scott Nearing, an economist at the New School, advocated a mixed economy.  We already have a mixed economy.   The government funds or controls defense, police and fire service, mail service, education, infrastructure development and maintenance, social security, medicare and various other combinations of services at state and local levels.  The market economy deals with goods and services outside of those sectors though there are overlaps.   When the goods and services are not necessary for human existence, e.g. cars, bicycles, televisions, phones, computers, appliances, insurance, most legal services, then the market does a good job of allocating capital according to the desires of purchasers of goods and services.

    When housing, medical care and food, essential to human existence, are up for sale, then the market usually skews access to these away from the poor and toward the wealthier.  Equality, as a matter of simple justice, demands that we consider this bias toward the wealthy a failing of the market approach to these essentials.

    Just how we mix our economy will depend on many things, but to my mind, only a cavalier approach to the obvious human costs of unfettered capitalism will demand that the many surrender access to those things essential for existence to those able to pay for them.  Therefore, I am not a libertarian.

  • A Special Place in Hell

    Lughnasa                                                          Full Honey Extraction Moon

    “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those, who in times of moral crisis, do nothing.” – Dante Alighieri

    Moral crisis.  Means different things to different people.  Right now I see three moral crises that loom large.  The first, and most troubling to me, concerns the vast unplanned experiment we have conducted with our atmosphere, our water and our land worldwide.  Even the most cynical would agree, I hope, that a polluted overheated world does not satisfy the implicit contract we have with our children and grandchildren and their progeny.  The Iroquois planning idea, look for the impact on the seventh generation, would satisfy that contract, but we don’t look past the next quarter.

    (The Barque of Dante, Eugene Delacroix)

    A second moral crisis, implicated in the first, and next most troubling to me, plays out each week in Congress and in state legislatures throughout our country.  The U.S. political system, a fragile ship in spite of what it may seem to the world, has lost its moorings and seems almost a ghost ship, wandering and lost in fog.  In the end any political system’s purpose lies in its decision making, since filtering and weighing competing interests, then choosing among various propositions defines governing.   Through a complex process involving the abdication of responsibility by America’s liberal political class, widening economic disparity in a free-market crazed economy, the creation of a so-called “values” voter begun during Richard Nixon’s presidency under the guise of the Moral Majority and the more recent populist angst coalesced in the Tea Party movement, our legislative work at federal and state levels has the appearance of disaffected parties shouting across a great chasm, a chasm so large that the cries of the other come in faint, garbled, so garbled as to make no sense.

    This crisis means many generationally significant issues cannot come to a conclusion:  the environment, health care reform, entitlement reform, economic and regulatory reform, military and foreign policy.  The effect of this crisis leaves us captive to the decisions of yesterday as the markers for what will happen tomorrow.  This is a recipe for and results in disaster.

    The third moral crisis of our time concerns global movements of people stimulated by war, poverty, disease, famine or political threat.  Visit any southern European country and you will find refugees from northern Africa camped out, selling this and that on colorful cloth spread out on sidewalks.  Drive across the southern tier of US states and you will pass among governments now vying with each other to become the most draconian in their treatment of Mexican nationals trying to get an economic toehold in life by emigrating to the US, either legally or illegally.  Go to the northern states of Thailand and find tribal peoples from Burma.  In Japan there are Koreans.  Throughout South Asia the Filipinos work as maids, gardeners,  laborers.  In Australia the aborigines live in cities, as do many native Americans in the US, often in conditions of crushing poverty.

    The Turks are in Germany as Muslim emigres are in many other European nations, numerous, a reality creating great unease, witness the killings in Norway and the banning of head scarves in France, maybe even the riots in England.

    You might order these three differently, you might have a different top three, but moral crisis is endemic to our time.  Perhaps it has always been so, I don’t know enough history to say, but I can say with certainty our time seems to breed value conflicts and that those conflicts too often, instead of moving toward resolution, result in political and cultural stalemate.

    Stalemate is the opposite political conditions from statesmanship (sic).  Statespersonship.  The former creates deadlock, incremental steps backward in terms of public policy and public feeling.  The latter transcends difference to find a creative, future encompassing solution or policy direction.  As stalemate becomes the dominant political tone, our policies, our countries and our world become stale.  Stale is a marker on the road to decay.

    Dante lived in a time of great political upheaval in Tuscany and in his home city of Florence.  In fact, he spent much of his life in exile.  He understood well the need to come to grips with moral crisis, not only intellectually, but politically, down in the theatre where decisions get hacked out, piece by bloody piece.  Hell will not only hold those with good intentions; it will also hold those too timid to act.

  • The 4th of July

    Mid-Summer                                                     Waxing Honey Flow Moon

    Independence Day.  Celebrating our ancestor’s victory over the British army and considering how their enlightenment ideals apply to our time.  Happy 4th of July!

    For an unreconstructed radical like myself, these are trying times.  I wonder where the sense of communitarian spirit has gone.  Yes, we have a can do, go it alone spirit, too and I participate in it.  The ethical underpinnings of Western civilization, however, fed by the the deep springs of Athens and Jerusalem have always reminded us that we share this journey.   Our lives are not ours alone, but belong as well to the whole, to the commonweal.  When we establish a government of the people, by the people, and FOR the people, we make this claim a part of our countries essence.

    The rugged individualist, the objectivist, the capitalist have the inclination to see the community as a source for their betterment, which is fine as long as their betterment does not come at others expense.  In that case these same perspectives become exploitative and parasitic, not interdependent, mutual.  A 5-year old knows that if all you do is take and take and take, then the other kids will no longer want to play with  you.

    The atomistic viewpoints of groups like the Tea Party and, in an insult to the Christian faith, the evangelical right, make it clear that they want the government to enforce their bigoted views of morality:  no stemcell research, homophobia and respect for only one point of view in struggle over Roe v. Wade.  They want no government aid to the poor, no environmental review for corporate projects that threaten the long term health of our natural world.  They have a vast umbrella of negatives with which they hope to block the sunshine of equality and shared responsibility.

    They want the constitution, like the bible, to be an inspired document, written not by men and women, but by gods, inviolate and sacrosanct.  It isn’t true of the bible and it is even much less so true of the constitution.  Both of these documents live, that is, they get swept into new eras, with new challenges and demand a hermeneutics for understanding their relevance.  Always.  This is an iron law of human history, no document from the past means the same thing today that it did yesterday.  That is anachronistic thinking at its most damaging, its most infantile, its most destructive.

    My sister lives in Singapore and, up until very recently, so did my brother, Mark.  This makes accessible, in a personal way, the viewpoints of other cultures toward our country.  Many people don’t like us, see us as arrogant, uncaring and ruthless.  Of course, the big kid on the block often has that reputation, deserved or undeserved, but our recent actions, Iraq and Guantanamo among them, have cemented these opinions.

    Even so, I have this urge to celebrate our country.  We are a beacon of freedom, a beloved place of opportunity and real diversity.  We have committed ourselves to constructing a nation not on history or geography, but on founding ideals of freedom and equality and brotherhood. (sic) The number and variety of persons who come to this country from all over the world, the number and variety of them who become part of the patchwork quilt that is our history and our present at its very best, attest to the essential value of our presence.  We negotiate the boundary between sending cultures and our history and, again at our best, we do it with open hands and hearts.

    Have we slaughtered Native Americans and held slaves?  Yes.  Have we engaged in first-strike aggression?  Yes.  Have we often pretended that our nation, defended by two oceans, exists alone and isolated?  Yes.  Have we laid waste to our natural resources in the name of jobs and profits?  Yes.

    We should not be, cannot be, proud of these transgressions, but I submit that we are not the Great Satan.  We are not the only nation whose actions have transgressed human decency.  Further, I would submit that we are not even the worst, not even close.  Look at the Armenian and Jewish genocides.  The pogroms in Russia and the slaughter of the Stalinist era.  The vicious regime of the Khmer Rouge.  This is a long list and it runs deep in our world history.  No, we are a nation that has blundered and made arrogant mistakes, but we are neither all bad nor all good.  We are, rather, an imperfect nation with an imperfect history.

    As I look around the world, I find no country more committed to creating a united states of freedom, no country more committed to embracing the worlds refugees, no country more aware of its errors and no country more able to make amends.  We are a young nation, barely 240 years old, maybe an early adolescent in terms of our development.

    We must not give in to the petty, the self-aggrandizing, the screw the other guy mentality of our rising political movements.  We’re better than that.

  • How Might We Lose Our Freedoms?

    Beltane                                                                            Waning Last Frost Moon

    “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” – Abraham Lincoln

    The tea-party folks and all those ronpaulites must love this quote from Lincoln.  I just did a quick search trying (unsuccessfully) to find its source.  The line came up  on such webpages as:  Patriot Watch, The RightWing News, Gunforum, Overkill, Professional Soldiers, SpearFishingPlanet and ChristianSoldiersCross.com among many others.  Until this search, I hadn’t realized a pernicious part of the search technology; that is, it’s capacity to put quotes out of context into everyone’s hands.  I’m sure most, all?, of these folks are confident Lincoln said this.  I don’t know for sure and couldn’t find the source in a quick search.  Context matters.  He may well have meant the apparent plain meaning of these words; he may well not have said them at all; or, he may have said them, but their meaning is different from the apparent meaning due to context.

    This is just a specific instance of a general phenomena the web unfortunately promotes, an uncritical acceptance of information and attributions.  If you do not have training in critical thinking, it does not come naturally, you will not consider the possibility of false or inaccurate information; neither will you consider the possibility of attributions made in error, out of wishful thinking, out of malice, out of mistaken information.

    Having said that.  Lincoln.  Well, of course, this quote represents nationalistic thinking on the level of the three year old.  Why?  It’s magical thinking.  (like Ayn Rand, see below)  It should read, “I hope America will never be destroyed from the outside.”  Forever is a really long time.  Who knows?  Canada and Mexico may form a Norte Americano Hockey league and decide to invade.  OK, that one’s easy.

    With the next sentence I agree.  Please note, all right wing admirers of Lincoln, he did not say, “If we raise taxes, we will destroy ourselves.”

    Hell, I’m not even sure he said this in the first place.  But let’s pretend he did until we know one way or the other.

    How might we falter?  By restricting the freedom of others.  Who?  Gay and lesbian citizens, who pay taxes, vote, fight, raise children come to mind.  The people here first, now often consigned to the least desirable plots of land  on land once their sole possession, come to mind. All the Mexicans fighting to get across the border onto land that was once under their nations sovereign control come to mind.  Who are the true illegals here?

    How might we falter?  By refusing to honor the compassionate wisdom of our primary faith tradition, Christianity. Here are few quotes from the New Testament that show what I mean. Feed my sheep.  Let the little ones come unto me.  Again, I tell you it is easier for a rich man to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven.  “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

    If you have a country where the rich get rich, richer, richest and the poor recede from economic sight, is that just?  If we are to feed Jesus’s sheep, don’t food stamps and aid to families with dependent children put our culture on His side?  What might be good news to the poor?  A job.  Affordable housing.  Decent medical care.  Food.

    Do you see where I’m going here?  It’s possible, even probable, that Lincoln, who hated slavery and loved the nation would, if he had lived, have created a number of government programs to assure the reconstruction of the south.  Instead thanks to Booth we got Andrew Johnson, friend to the south and enemy of reconstruction.

    We will lose our freedoms when we lose the compassion that has made us great, the compassion that opens our borders, feeds the starving and gives people a hand up and a handout when necessary.  We will lose our freedoms when a spirit of meanness triumphs and generosity withers.  We will lose our freedoms when we become the money grubbing, power hungry country many in the world already believe we are.

    We will lose our freedoms if the narrow vision of the far right wing comes to dominate our land.  It is not taxes that is the issue, or the nature of the constitution, but the character of our country.  Much that is good here has its roots in New Testament Christianity.  That’s the same New Testament read by right wing religious folk.

  • Nut Job Analysis

    Beltane                                                                           Waxing Last Frost Moon

    The Arab Spring.  A nice metaphor.  I remember the Prague Spring.  I have faith in people’s movements when they come out of the genuine frustrations and pains of everyday living.  Ideology bends movements, often turns them into pretzels, twisted things that reflect the head rather than the heart, the so-called radical Islamists, the KKK, the Communist Party, the Kuomintang.  When people begin to move and rustle together, when they become willing to take charge of their own destiny rather than allow others to dictate it, then they become powerful, often unstoppable.  People’s movements topple dictators.  Egypt.  Tunisia.  Yemen.  Probably Libya.  Maybe Syria.  Possibly Saudi Arabia.

    Even the Tea Party here has some of the ingredients of a people’s movement.  Only some because the underlying motive force is a crackpot brand of political thought made famous by the Impeach Earl Warren and U.S. out of the United Nations billboard folks, the John Birch Society.  I say crackpot in the unkindest way possible.  Robert Welch, a guy who made his fortune making candy, including the caramel on a stick, Papa Sucker, founded the John Birch Society in 1958.  He believed Dwight D. Eisenhower was a communist.

    In the 1960s, Welch began to believe that even the Communists were not the top level of his perceived conspiracy and began saying that Communism was just a front for a Master Conspiracy, which had roots in the Illuminati; the essay “The Truth in Time” is an example[1]. He referred to the Conspirators as “The Insiders,” seeing them mainly in internationalist financial and business families such as the Rothschilds and Rockefellers, and organizations such as the Bilderbergers, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Trilateral Commission.”

    With this sort of nut job analysis as its underpinnings, it’s no wonder the Tea Party hacks think Obama is a socialist, a Kenyan and a Muslim.  I’m waiting for a new round of billboards.

    Two tours this morning focusing on Spanish/Latin American art.  I’m looking forward to them.

  • Freedom. A Powerful Word.

    Imbolc                                                    Waxing Bridgit Moon

    This Valentine boy would like to send a big Valentine to all the folks in Tunisia and Egypt, to all folks anywhere, including Iran and Pakistan, even to the Tea Party folks, who yearn to be free.  The yearning for freedom and liberty, a chance to steer toward a future of your own choosing is a powerful force.   Once it becomes a dominant theme, its power can and has toppled governments and tyrants.

    That said, it carries the same dangers as any revolutionary movement.  As the Who sang, “Here is the new boss, same as the old boss.”  Those yearning for freedom may be no better equipped to create a climate that nurtures freedom than those they’ve ousted.

    Why?  Because, no matter the ideology, right or left, Islamist or evangelical, there lies, underneath the layered texts imposed on it,  a human heart, a heart that has its own agenda, no matter the rules imposed upon it.  Often that heart surprises us with its generosity, compassion, fellow feeling; but, too, with its fear, prejudice and ruthlessness.

    Still, to paraphrase a UU campaign, I’m committed to standing on the side of freedom and equality, so I give a hearty tip of the hat to all those brave enough to stand up for what they believe, even ones with whom I disagree.

    My hope is that whenever freedom lovers grab power, they will reflect a moment on the injustices that brought them there and determine how, this time, their reign will be different.

  • This Shooting

    Winter                              Waxing Moon of the Cold Month

    A decent snowfall here last night but not a lot.  The sun shines bright on the old Front Range.  Colder though.

    This shooting.  It seems apparent to me that the general atmosphere of current political debate can give permission to some marginal folks to take action.  Reference to Second Amendment remedies leaves little room for the imagination.  So, I wish the tea party folks would tone down their rhetoric.  It seems to me the decent thing to do.

    Here, though, I am hoisted on my petard since I will defend the right of even dimbulbs to say what they will and I count the tea party among them.  That same principle though allows me to say what I think of their analysis.

    We were radicals once, and young.  The movement of the 60’s had its violent fringe, restricted to bombs, yes, but nonetheless.  I have some sympathy for folks who feel aggrieved and inclined to say the most inflammatory that floats to the surface.  I also have sympathy for those who say their language should not be seen as per se violent.

    Still, I look back on those days, the anti-war, anti-establishment, anti-racist days, and remember that we did feel a certain joint responsibility for what others of us did.  We knew we were connected by our analysis and our perceived common enemy.

    A common enemy shared, at least in part, with the tea party folks:  the Federal Government.  We thought they over reached with the draft and the war.

    Here’s the big lesson from those times that I would pass on to my ideological mirror images.  We were wrong about the government being the enemy.  The government is only what we allow it to be.  The government is the sin-eater for the nation.  It collects the hurts and hopes and problems of us all and attempts to sort them out, improve things when it can.

    Do they often get it wrong?  Yes.  Do we in our own lives?  Yes?  Our governmental process is sloppy, takes too long to come to a decision and, like generals, seems bent on fighting the last war rather than the next one.

    Still, it is our form of resolving disputes and it is, I agree with Churchill here, the worst form of government save all the rest.

    I would hope the tea party folks would back away from defensiveness, difficult, I know, and examine their message to see if it says what they want, check to see if gives succor to those fringe folks who would move beyond the pale of political discourse, no matter how heated, into the realm of violent action.  If they do this, they will gain some admiration for restraint, if  they do not, they risk losing it all.

  • First Amendment

    Winter                                                            Waning Moon of the Winter Solstice

    Walker stands with national peers in support of artistic freedom.  This is a big deal and I’m proud to be part of a community and an artistic/museum community that supports artistic freedom.

    54 years ago I began carrying newspapers for the Alexandria Times-Tribune, a paper route that went west on Monroe Street from Harrison, then fanning out toward the then brand new elementary school.  Learning to fold the evening paper, the Trib was a daily back then, in a square, and how to pitch it in a gentle arc that landed on my customers doorsteps gave me physical pleasure, a manual skill.

    My dad was editor of the paper then, so the question of freedom of speech was, at least in our house, not a question at all but a loud proclamation, made every day about 3:30 p.m. when the Trib hit the streets courtesy of myself and several other carriers.

    (This artist made the banned movie:  David Wojnarowicz   Four Elements  1990 lithograph on paper  T.B. Walker Acquisition Fund, 1991)

    Dad did a couple of things that stuck with me though I imagine he did many more.  First of all when the John Birch Society raised its impeach Earl Warren/US out of the United Nations flag around town, Dad got a copy of its founder’s book, The Blue Book.  In it Robert Welch outlined clearly anti-democratic, plutocratic views.  Dad published relevant portions in the Tribune.  Gutsy in a town of 5,000.   Later, he also published a letter to the editor by a would be English teacher rankled at Dad’s opposition to this coach becoming a teacher of the language.  He printed the letter as received with many spelling and grammatical errors.  Coach did not get the job.

    Extraneous sidebar:  the same coach got himself arrested years later in southern Indiana when he stole a bucket of quarters while gambling on a river boat.

    You may know the John Birch Society best in its present day position of influence behind the Tea-Party Mad Hatters.  My hometown was and is a hotspot for extremist right-wingers.  Back in the day it was the John Birch Society and the Minutemen, later the KKK and now the Tea-Party.  In fact, the Alexandria, Indiana leader of the Tea-Party got arrested for drug possession last week.  My old buddy, Ed Schmidt, alerted me to that piece of news.  Ed was mayor of Alexandria for a couple of terms.

    Muzzling critics, whether political or artistic, cannot be countenanced in a society built on a free exchange of ideas.  The need to speak truth to power demands that we go out of our way to listen to voices on the margin, to open ourselves to what might be unpleasant messages or messages wrapped in unpleasant containers.  The freedom they’re saving just might be your own.

  • Weak Tea

    Fall                                                   Waxing Harvest Moon

    The tea party.  What a change that phrase has experienced from the days of 5 year old girls with their princess themed tea sets and imaginary tea.  Or, maybe not.  These folks seem to have a fantasy going, too, a party in which they serve a tea called small government that has no money, no responsibilities and no Democrats.  Now, I appreciate a good anarchist as much as anyone, but these folks seem to have missed the Bakunin/Kropotkin memo.  When you eliminate the guberment, a sentiment I was known to espouse in my youth, something must replace its function.  The anarchist solution was mutual aid, co-operation, co-operatives.  That is, individuals would band together and create systems that distributed wealth and power and therefore goods and services.  The trick here is that those systems would be run by individuals for the sake of the community.

    This is different from the tea party notion of no taxation, ever, under any circumstances so I can continue adding to my bank vault.  Very different.  A libertarian may look like an anarchist and sound like an anarchist, but in fact they are stalking horses for the moneyed elite, eager to eliminate any and all impediments to the rapid and persistent collection of wealth.  Lots of just folks have taken up the tea party banner, also wanting the government out of their lives.  “Keep your hands off my social security and medicare!”  “Don’t mess with what goes in my schools!”  Oh, yeah and fix those damned roads.  And fight the terrorists.  Well, freedom from contradiction has never been a political virtue, no matter what stripe, but at least cover it up a little bit.

    Here’s my read.  This is a populist uprising, one of many over the history of the US.  People are angry.  They’ve lost jobs, wealth, homes and dignity.  Somebody’s gotta pay and it’s gonna be political incumbents in this by-election.  It makes more sense to me to direct this anger at Wall Street, large corporations, bankers in particular, but government always shoulders the blame.

    Why?  Because,  The government is our designated problem solver for collective problems.  I understand the angry flailing, since I did a lot of it when the government insisted on fighting in a 3,000 year old civil war in Vietnam, killing  thousands of Americans and Vietnamese.  Government is supposed to find solutions and when it can’t or won’t people get mad.  Democracy, or representative democracy like we have, is the solution to civil war when real problems and solutions divide us.  I can appreciate the desire to tar Washington and its career insiders with the brush of infamy.  It’s great fun and you meet lots of people while engaged in the act.

    Yet when the tea party is done ranting and politicing and blustering, we will still have an economy in peril.  It will still be up to somebody to fix it and that somebody will be the Federal Government.  Instead of starving the beast, Reagan’s favorite tactic, we need to demand the government and corporate and financial sectors get serious about upgrading the lives of the former middle class, about finding work for all those for whom college education does not make sense.  The solution to these vexing and real problems:  unemployment, a widening gap between wealthy elite and poor everyone else, a sense there might be a lost generation, lies in a great coming together of us all, recognizing that each of us has a stake in the others success.  That to be strong we must do well by all our citizens.  That to be the beacon on the hill Reagan wanted us to be we must continue to offer hope to those who would immigrate here.  Will the Michele Bachmans of this political climate move us in that direction?  I don’t think so.