© Kenneth Cauthen 2004-2007. All Rights Reserved
Ethics, and Society
June 5, 2007
Our National Foolishness about Gas Prices
Gas prices are not too high. They are too low. To get perspective, we
have just now reached the real price of gas (inflation adjusted) that
we had back in 1981 at its historical high point. People have been
focused on the nominal price at the pump and have forgotten how that
relates to total income now and in the past. High gas prices throughout
recent decades would have long ago been integrated into personal
spending, and the economy as a whole would have been fine.
We should have put a big tax on gas 25 or 30 years ago, and we would
not be in the mess we are in now. That money could have financed health
care for all and provided other benefits for the poor and the general
welfare, encouraged mass transit, and financed the search for
alternative fuels, and on and on.
Low gas prices have encouraged big, powerful, cars with low MPG, has
made the government and the auto industry complacent about increasing
fuel efficiency and the quest for alternative energy sources, has
polluted the environment, increased global warming, increased our
dependence on hostile or repressive governments like Saudi Arabia.
The problem with democracy -- ours anyway -- is that it does not deal
well with the future. Our citizens are too focused on immediate
gratification and self-interest. They respond best to the problems of
the present that affect them personally. To ask them to take future
generations into account is a tough assignment. This presentism is
eagerly aided and abetted by politicians running for office whose time
span is limited by the next election. We respond best to big issues in
times of crisis when the signs of coming disasters cannot be avoided.
My own senior Senator Chuck Schumer is once more beating the drums
against the high profits of oil companies, but he has no solutions that
can be translated into legislation that will work and hence sounds
demagogic. Oil companies are not chief among sinners but have profit
margins only slightly above the industry average.
"By percentage of total revenue, banking is consistently the most
profitable industry in America, followed closely by the drug industry."
The Washington Post, October 28, 2005.
This is not at to deny that oil companies, like other large
corporations, seek to employ strategies that increase their profits. I
am no defender of big business but a severe critic. But let us analyze
by the facts and not by the gut. Oil companies make huge profits in
dollar terms, but they are huge companies. Profit margin is a better
By now -- had we acted wisely in the past -- we would have cars that
get 100 MPH and alternative fuels that would be easing our way beyond
the carbon age.
The question is when things get bad enough to force us to act to avoid
imminent disaster, whether we will have enough time and sufficient
resources to avert global climate catastrophes, and international
conflict and chaos as all the big polluters --like us, China, and India
-- continue to evade their responsibility and engage in futile blame
Of course, given our past foolishness, the poor who are dependent on
gas to get to work are suffering and need relief. I have no
sympathy for the affluent and their huge SUV's who surround me and
block the view from my fuel-efficient Prius every time I park in public
places. I get my revenge when they take their GGG's (Gargantuan Gas
Guzzlers) to the gas station and cry, while I laugh all the way to the
bank in my Prius – up to 50 MPG in the city.
And, yes, I am an anti-establishment, green, tree-hugging, politically
radical elitist. But I also worry about the future of my grandchildren
and the poor everywhere now and their grandchildren.
See also the piece below dated Wednesday, 21 April 2004.
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
Memorial Day: Conflicting Moods
Memorial Day uneasily juxtaposes two conflicting moods. For many it is
a time of travel, entertainment, vacation, tasting the outdoor life,
and generally having fun. Yet it is a somber occasion for all
reflective Americans as we remember those who have lost their lives in
all the many wars of the past and present. In 2007 outrage is the only
appropriate sentiment. It would have been fitting to have hundreds of
thousands of people – yea millions– in cities and towns
across the nation expressing their intense anger at the tragic
catastrophe in Iraq. The heartbreaking story of a young woman prostrate
at her fiance's grave in deep, inconsolable grief epitomizes the
situation – the needless loss of life in a war so unjustified and
so badly managed that no way out exists that will not produce more
death, destruction, and mangled bodies in an atmosphere of terror.
Yet we seem strangely complacent in the face of this horror. Perhaps it
is because the burden of loss is directly experienced by the few
families immediately affected by the shattered bodies and minds and the
increasing number of dead soldiers returned to their sorrowing loved
one. Meanwhile, the rest of us go on with our lives essentially
untouched. There is something badly wrong with a picture in which the
human costs of war are not shared by us all. That only compounds the
awful debacle of the Iraq mess.
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
Sorry State of Public Discourse
No good solution exists for Iraq, illegal immigration through Mexico,
and abortion. Good means benefitting nearly everyone and hurting few or
none, serving mostly worthwhile purposes and having few or no
negatives. We have to search for the least bad policy or the best of
available, workable ones. Yet who in public life clamoring for our
votes is saying this? Many proposals are out there, but their sponsors
see only the good in them and either don't know or don't say out loud
what counts against it.
Which public voice is saying, 'Taking everything into account, by and
large, generally speaking, this is the best available practical option
even though it is not very good, it is the best we can do under the
circumstances." Yet this is closer to the truth than all the confident
claims that exaggerate the benefits and underplay the downside of
whatever policy is being advocated.
Will people not hear or accept the notion that some problems are
complex, ambiguous, and difficult, that only proximate solutions are
available that try to achieve as much good and avoid as much that is
bad that is possible under the circumstances? I don't know. Apparently
our leaders think they won't, or they themselves don't know any better
and are simply ignorant, naive, or purely opportunistic, e., look
for the greatest political gain that they can milk out of the situation.
I have written in other blogs on this site of the particulars of Iraq,
illegal immigration from out southern border, and abortion. Here let me
say that each of these requires an "emergency" answer," i. e., a
response to a dire situation that arises because something has gone
wrong. Something went wrong in Iraq when we invaded and before, but now
that we are in the tragic, catastrophic mess, we have to do the best we
can. That probably means violence, chaos, and disorder if we leave, and
more needless, futile loss of lives, perhaps a protracted civil war, if
we stay. The only solution to the illegal entry of immigrants through
Mexico is to make living conditions decent in their own countries so
they can stay home and prosper instead of risking their lives to work
for meager wages under exploitative conditions here employed by people
who want an endless supply of cheap labor who will not complain about
harsh working conditions due to their desperation. The only solution to
the abortion issue is to prevent unwanted pregnancies.
Meanwhile, we live with the simplicities and shallowness that mark our
public conversations because nobody wants to present the hard choices,
ambiguities, and complexities inherent in problems. And isn't this
because so many people want unambiguous certainties from their leaders?
Or do they? And would they hear the hard truth if their leaders would
talk straight to them instead of seeking advantages when their
opponents dare to mention how difficult, complicated, and ambiguous
choices really are when reality is confronted without blinking?
Friday, May 18, 2007
It Matters How You Say It
My local paper occasionally has an opinion piece by Cal Thomas, who
once was a vice-president of the Moral Majority. When I read him, I do
so to get my adrenalin going for the day, since I usually find that his
ideas range from the noxious to the nauseous. A recent contribution
illustrates how something is said itself may distort the meaning and
reality of what is being described. He notes the outrage of religious
conservative at "liberal intrusions into their sacred traditions" since
the 1960's, offering the outlawing of state-sponsored prayer in public
school and the legalization of abortion as examples. One might rephrase
this thought by speaking of conservative anxiety and hostility arising
out of cultural nostalgia for the values, laws, customs, and mores of
the 1950's that were changing in law and practice.
He also opines that long ago most liberal theologians had baptized the
earthly agenda of the Democratic Party instead of preaching about the
Kingdom of Heaven. That too could be said another way. I would urge,
for example, that liberals were in favor of racial justice, the equal
rights of women, gays, and lesbians in law and practice, the freedom of
women to choose an abortion, more economic opportunities and equality
for the poor, and the like and found that the Democratic Party offered
the best available-- though not perfect -- practical instrument for
advancing these goals.
The language we use to express our values provides an opportunity to
insert our biases in ways that introduce distortions of the factual
reality into our social philosophy under the guise of merely stating
our moral and political convictions. The applies to all parties in the
conversation -- conservatives, liberals, and others alike. This is just
another example of how original sin distorts the truth and deceives the
So let the reader be aware of what they are reading and writers of what
they are writing.
Friday, February 23, 2007
Logic Lesson for Today
Since the virus that causes cervical cancer is spread by sexual
intercourse, requiring young girls to be given the vaccine that
prevents the disease might encourage them to have sex, so it would be
better risking them getting cancer than having sex.
Making condoms readily available could prevent unwanted pregnancies and
the spread of STD's, but it might encourage teenagers to have sex, so
it would be better to risk unwanted pregnancy or disease than having
Clean needle exchange can reduce the spread of HIV among drug users,
but it might encourage more drug use, so it is better to let them use
dirty needles that could spread HIV.
Using seat belts can save lives but might encourage teenagers to drive
fast or carelessly, so it is better to forbid their use and risk having
them killed or seriously injured.
Thus endeth the logic lesson for today. So all the liberals who want
girls and women to be safe from cervical cancer, from unwanted
pregnancies , and from sexually spread diseases, who want drug users
protected from the spread of HIV, and who want kids to be safer by
using self belts take note and learn some logic.
Friday, January 26, 2007
Bush and Iraq
My latest theory on Iraq is that if Bush cannot bring the war to a
"successful" conclusion soon, his stubborn obstinacy will lead him one
way or another to keep troops fighting there until the end of his term.
Then he will leave the mess to the next President to deal with. If his
policies are pursued to some sort of final "victory," he will regard
this as vindication after all. If his policies are repudiated and the
troops brought home quickly, then he will blame his successor for the
failure, since his own right course was not followed to conclusion.
His dogged determination to pursue this disastrous, tragic war on and
on in the face of almost total repudiation by the American people and
growing numbers in Congress is a sad spectacle indeed. Is it ego?
Stupidity? Blind adherence to his own dogmas in spite of the facts?
Whatever it is, the armed forces there and their families back home are
paying a heavy price for his folly along with countless thousands of
Friday, January 26, 2007
Bush, Israel, Iran -- the Ultimate Folly
According to a report on Scarborough Country on MSNBC Israel is urging
the US to attack Iran so they won't have to. It pains me to criticize
Israel. The history of Jewish suffering often at the hands of nations
that are predominantly Christian is an indelible stain on humanity. But
if this report is true, it is sadly unfortunate.
Nicholas Kristof argues that there are strong reform forces in Iran
that we ought to cultivate. He notes that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
does not wield the ultimate power anyway. For Bush to go to war with
Iran would be the ultimate folly.
Monday, December 18, 2006
Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld
Dick Cheney said that Rumsfeld was the greatest Secretary of Defense of
all time. And Bush fired him? George, how could you?
Monday, October 30, 2006
Controlling the Nuclear Genie
The nuclear genie is out of the bottle. Does anyone know how to put the
genie back in the bottle? Does anyone believe that in the long run
Iran, North Korea, other states, and radical terrorist groups can be
prevented from getting the bomb and the means to deliver it if they are
determined to have it? We must do whatever we can to slow the
proliferation, but we are entering a new nuclear age with unknown
dangers and no certain solutions.
If only nation-states get nuclear capability, perhaps a resurrected or
continuing form of MAD (mutually assured destruction) would work once
more as it did when the USA and the USSR confronted each other with
missiles aimed at vital targets. Nations have territories with
vulnerable cities. They have leaders with instincts of
self-preservation for themselves and their homelands and with fears of
self-destruction. But how do you retaliate against a terrorist group
with a network of leaders scattered widely? When that is compounded
with a suicide mentality that cannot be deterred by threats of death,
we have a new menace unlike anything we have known in the past. If
terrorists are willing to sacrifice their own existence, they may have
no qualms against destroying thousands, even millions, of people
regarded as enemies of God and Islam.
Islam has rules of war deep in its history that in some respects is
like the just war tradition in Christianity. In particular, it forbids
the killing of non-combatants, especially women, children, and other
Muslims. It requires good cause and has norms of proportionality that
limit the destruction that can be wreaked on enemies. But under the
novel conditions of the modern world, one can find scholars who are
modifying that tradition to cover suicide killings. One can be sure
that warrant can be found by learned scholars and lesser intellects for
any horror, any form of jihad, that may be perpetrated if it achieves
ends sufficient to justify the means
The underlying problem is deep hatred of the United States and its
friends that cannot be easily ameliorated. Contrary to zealots who see
us as morally pure and attribute the unprovoked perfidy of others to
their own self-generated evil, we have contributed to the rise of
anti-American feelings by what we have done and not simply by what we
are as shining lights of virtue and innocence.
To focus on the Middle East (North Korea requires a different
analysis), two major events may be specified. The first is the
unwavering, one-sided support of Israel against the Palestinians. The
second is the role of the US in overthrowing the democratically-elected
prime minister Mohammed Mossadegh of Iran in 1953. We should add to
this the presence of American troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other
Muslim countries, not to mention US support of Arab regimes considered
by the extremists to be corrupt. This is not to deny the reality of
internal psychological-cultural factors that may have generated
feelings of jealousy, inferiority, humiliation, and hostility in face
of the fact that Islam, once a leading force in the advance of
civilization, has in recent centuries been in the backwaters of
scientific and cultural creativity, as well as military power, as
compared to the Judeo-Christian nations.
In the background is the fact that the United States is the only
country ever to use a nuclear weapon against another nation. To this
should be added the fact that to Muslim eyes it is sheer hypocrisy for
the nations that now have nuclear weapons to assume the right of
preventing others from acquiring what they already have. This includes
Israel, who everybody knows has a nuclear capability, although they do
not admit to it. By what logic do we presume to tell others they cannot
have what we have? As a matter of practical necessity and realism, it
may be necessary to prevent proliferation when we can, but we should
not fail to see how all this looks to Muslim eyes. How do we answer
their question: If we can't have them, why don't you get rid of yours?
It may be that history will work itself out without a nuclear
conflagration and lead to a world free of these horrible weapons. It is
clear, however, that for the foreseeable future we will live in a
dangerous world faced with novel challenges.
If you are having trouble staying awake after you go to bed at night,
read an article by Noah Feldman, "Islam, Terror, and the Second Nuclear
Age," in the New York, Time Magazine, (October 29, 2006), 50ff. Feldman
lays out the issues and provides instructive historical background.
Sunday, September 17, 2006
The Trilemma of Democrats
If Democrats have no alternative to the disastrous Bush policies in
Iraq, there is no reason to prefer them over Republicans. If they do
offer a proposal, it can easily be shot full of holes.
Behind this dilemma lies the fact that the Bush Administration has
created such a debacle in Iraq that there is no good way out. All plans
are full of hazards. Americans are divided right down the middle on
whether to stay or to go. This reflects the fact that neither way looks
hopeful. Any course chosen now will have dangers of unknown character
and proportions. We have to find the least bad way, and that most
certainly does not include continuing the present course which has
brought us to the present morass.
Here is where the third element enters to create not merely a dilemma
but a trilemma: for Democrats to suggest that no good option is
available to get us out of the mess opens them to the charge of
practicing the politics of despair.
What, then, are they to do? There is no way to escape fully the
trilemma, but it can be approached in the least damaging fashion. The
main point is that the Democrats should offer as the first step not a
plan but a procedure for finding the best way forward. It follows that
Democrats need to concentrate at the moment on the morass into which
the Bush policies have landed us. Objections should be met by pointing
out forcefully and repeatedly how ridiculous it is to criticize
Democrats for their inability to provide an unambiguous way out a mess
Bush has created that it is so disastrous that only imperfect
alternatives are possible.
It follows from this that the blunders of Bush, Rice, Rumsfeld, and
company have totally disqualified them from being in charge of the
future. In support are the following:
1. It was a mistake to go to war in Iraq. A majority of Americans have
believed this for some time.
2. The war has been conducted badly with tragic results. Look at the
evidence on the ground in Iraq. The situation is bad and getting worse.
3. The war in Iraq and the war on terror are not the same, as much as
the Bush crowd would have us believe that it is.. The war in Iraq has
made the terror problem worse not better. The intelligence community
has confirmed what reporters on the ground have long known -- the Iraq
war has produced more jihadists and created more hatred for America
around the world.
4. The Bush Administration is so bound to its fallacious dogmas and to
a defensive posture that cannot admit to anything but minor tactical
errors that it is incapable of finding the new directions that are
Hence, the Bush agenda must be thoroughly discredited so new leaders
can seek the best way out of a bad situation. That would take the form
of seeking a bipartisan solution with input from citizens representing
diverse opinions. Other vital parties in the area and in Europe must be
invited to help find a productive way forward. No solution will be
perfect, so it must have wide support moving toward a consensus to the
extent that is possible. A bipartisan proposal would mean that both
parties would have to accept the blame for any failures that occur.
Friday, August 04, 2006
Middle East Again
I once heard a story about a man who was exorcized of a demon, and, you
know what, seven demons came back.
As of August 4, 2006, the Middle East is in dire straits. What shall we
do? In the Hezbollah-Israeli war there are two options: an immediate
cease fire or a cease fire only after Israel has rendered Hezbollah
impotent. One of these is bad, the other worse. The problem is we don't
know which is which.
An immediate cease fire leaves Hezbollah to fight another day so the
process will just repeat itself, since Hezbollah is not likely to
accept any proposal that guarantees that they quit attacking Israel.
A cease fire after Hezbollah has been decisively defeated means that
Arab hostility and hatred of the USA and Israel will grow worse
throughout the region, making the prospects of peace even more dim.
In that other war, we are between Iraq and a hard place. There are two
options. We can leave or we can stay. One of them is bad, the other
worse. The problem is we don 't know which is which.
If we go now, the situation may deteriorate beyond any hope of
redemption any time soon. If we stay, the situation may deteriorate
beyond any hope of redemption any time soon. In either case a civil war
may plunge Iraq into an indeterminate future of chaos and violence.
The problem is that the current situation in both cases has roots in a
past that cannot be recovered. In the case of Iraq, it was a mistake
for the US to invade to take down Saddam. Now we live with the
consequences of that egregious blunder, and all proposed solutions now
are fraught with great danger.
In the case of the Israel-Palestine-Arab conflict, the problem goes
back to 1947 and 1948 with the expulsion of 700,00 Palestinians from
territory now occupied by Israel exacerbated by the later expansion of
Israel beyond the 1967 borders.
These past events have created a situation in which we face only
options that are bad and worse, and we don't even know which is which,
since we don't what the future would bring if one possibility is
actualized rather than the other.
Sometimes it is better to live with one demon than to cast it out with
the result that it and six relatives come back and take up residence.
The problem is we don't know when to attempt exorcism and when not to.
Saturday, July 22, 2006
Was Israel a Tragic Mistake?
"The greatest mistake Israel could make at the moment is to forget that
Israel itself is a mistake. It is an honest mistake, a well-intentioned
mistake, a mistake for which no one is culpable, but the idea of
creating a nation of European Jews in an area of Arab Muslims (and some
Christians) has produced a century of warfare and terrorism of the sort
we are seeing now. Richard Cohen, The Washington Post (Tuesday, July
18, 2006, p. A19.
This idea was startling when I read it, and it still is. But is Cohen
right? A strong case can be made for the thesis, but what was the
alternative given the history of Jewish suffering? Jews deserve and
need a home somewhere and somehow as a refuge from the hatred and
violence shown them, frequently in lands dominated by Christians.
Jewish suffering over many centuries is one of history's great
The history of the formation of the state of Israel is long and
complex, but it involved the settlement of a territory occupied mostly
by other people, primarily Arab Muslims. As best I can tell, Jews went
from about 1% of the population or less in 1881 to about 33% in 1947,
owning about 6% of the land, although disputes rage about exact
figures. Resentment and hostility among Arab occupants and surrounding
Arab nations were immediate and severe and have not ceased to this day.
The expulsion of about 700,000 Palestinians in 1948 and the expansion
of Israel especially in 1967 further inflamed the passions of those
expelled and dominated by Israel until this very day. Looking back, the
present state of things should not surprise us.
The Jewish population of Israel expanded by pushing other inhabitants
aside -- the same process by which European whites settled the United
States. The difference is that Israel is surrounded by Arab and Muslim
nations whose enmity has been unrelenting. The wars that ensued and
continue to this very day. have filled the land with blood and tears.
Was there a better way to find a place for Jews desperate to escape the
pogroms in Russia and persecution elsewhere in Europe, including Nazi
Germany? I don't know. Was the project of finding a national home for
Jews in Palestine justified in spite of all the hatred, violence, and
killing in that troubled land since 1881, when the movement of Jews to
Palestine began to increase to escape the persecution they faced in
Europe, I am not sure. Whether the process could have been managed at
any point in ways that would produce tolerable peace with justice for
Palestinians and security of Israel is a question I cannot answer.
The fact remains that Israel exists whether Israel has a right to exist
or whether its existence since 1948 is a good thing or was even the
best alternative for Jews seeking a place where they could live in
peace and prosper. We have "two communities of suffering" (Edward Said)
who must deal with each somehow. Right now the prospect does not seem
bright, but history if full of surprises, and even this dark moment may
conceive new possibilities and hopes we cannot imagine. We can say that
the best way forward would be for each community to feel and appreciate
the suffering of the other as a preface to mutual accommodations and
compromises enabling tolerable conditions of existence for both.
Lacking that and beyond that, the international community must bring
pressure on Israel to accept the 1967 borders (with some accommodations
benefitting both) as a basis for final resolution. With that
established, it could absolutely be insisted that Palestinians cease
their violence, and sufficient economic and military pressure put on
them to guarantee this outcome. The right of return for the living
Palestinians and their descendants of those expelled in 1948 may have
to be abandoned but with compensation for their loss.
Some way has to be found to deal with "the Demographic Problem: in the
case that Israel withdraws to the '67 border, the Jewish people will
not have a Jewish state; the remaining 1.3 million Palestinians within
Israel, which currently represent 20% of the Israeli population and
will represent twice this amount in the next 20 years, will create a
bi-national state within Israel. Instead of two states for two nations,
there will be two states for one nation -- the Palestinians."
An alternative has been proposed by shifting the borders so that the
maximum number of Palestinians and a maximum number of Israelis will be
present in each state.*
This all may be dreaming, and Benny Morris may be right: In the end one
must conquer the other and render the vanquished totally impotent to
resist the will of the victor.**
Sober reflection on Cohen's suggestion that Israel was a mistake could
have salutary effects for both sides in moderating passions and leading
to fruitful negotiations to create a livable future, given that the
past is what it is and cannot be changed.
* "Today there are many Palestinian settlements within the '67 Israeli
border and many Jewish settlements on the Palestinian side. We propose
a territory exchange by moving the border so that the maximum number of
Palestinian settlements will remain on the Palestinian side and the
maximum number of Jewish settlements will remain on the Jewish side,
with an exchange rate of 1:1. All this will be done without moving a
single person from their home. The only thing that will be moved is the
The territory exchange only refers to a 240 square kilometer strip of
land along the border but will allow 500,000 Palestinians to not remain
a minority in Israel any longer. These Palestinians will remain in
their homes, on their land, part of their nation and in their own
state. This exchange will minimize the number of Jewish settlers forced
to evict their homes, with neither the Palestinians nor the Jews having
to lose any territory. This is a win-win situation for both parties."
** Check out the interview with Benny Morris, the eminent Israeli "new
historian" who has documented the history of Israeli horrors in
expelling the Palestinians in 1948. Morris is absolutely chilling. He
argues that Ben Gurion should have thoroughly completed the expulsion
of Palestinians at the time and thinks things might have in the long
run been better. Theoretically, he favors a two-state solution but
believes that Israel must absolutely wall off Israel in the present
from the barbarian Arabs who want to annihilate Jews and destroy the
state of Israel. After all, America was possible only by the
destruction of Native Americans. Sometimes worthy ends, he says,
justify terrible means. He thinks in the end one must dominate the
other completely if the endless conflict is to cease.
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
Maldistributed Power and Impossible Justice
We cannot achieve the common good with costs and benefits equitably
distributed for many reasons -- lack of leadership and vision, defects
in our democratic processes, ignorance, inertia, apathy, and the like.
But a major factor lies in the fact that the realities of power and the
requirements of justice do not always coincide. Where there is
political power unchecked, it will be used to achieve selfish, limited
ends that offend justice and thwart the general welfare. It is part of
the phenomenon of original sin -- without which we cannot understand
what goes on in this world.
Groups with effective power, money, organization, and intense
commitment can often get what they want but that justice and the larger
good forbid. The intense commitment is very important here. The
majority that could prevent this domination are either apathetic,
ignorant, or not deeply enough disturbed or lack the required
organization and leadership. With potential opposition diluted, the
strong, the aggressive, the wealthy, and the well organized get their
way all too often. Some examples, please.
We cannot have a reasonable policy toward Cuba because of the power of
fanatical anti-Castro Cubans in Florida who hold an effective balance
of power in a state that both Democrats and Republicans desperately
need in a presidential year. Both countries are thereby harmed.
We have a policy highly favorable to Israel and detrimental to
Palestinians because of the effective power of the Israeli lobbies
aided by right-wing evangelical Protestants with a peculiar and
dangerous view of Scripture. Justice is offended, peace is made less
likely, Arab and Muslim hostility to America is increased. The
possibility of terrorism and opposition to American interests is
We cannot have a sane energy policy because of the power of the big oil
and automobile companies and others. Thus we neglect alternative energy
sources, drive needlessly inefficient vehicles that waste gas,
contribute excessively to global warming, and otherwise put our future
We have needlessly expensive drugs that are not as safe as they could
be because of the power of the big pharmaceutical companies in
influencing legislation and the FDA to suit their narrow ends rather
than the common good.
We cannot have a rational policy on gun control because of the power of
the National Rifle Association with its members, money, and fanatical
We have a terrible prescription drug policy for seniors because of the
power of the drug companies and the insurance companies. Note that they
were able to prevent Medicare from negotiating with drug companies for
lower prices -- a shameful offense against tax payers and common sense.
We cannot have universal health care because of the power of the
insurance companies and drug companies. A one-payer plan that
universalizes Medicare would be more efficient, less costly, and
produce better care.
We cannot find a middle way on abortion because two opposing sides take
absolute positions and refuse to compromise, and they are sufficiently
well organized and funded to prevent an outcome that would end the
We cannot control urban sprawl, air pollution, long commutes, and the
like partly because of the power of real estate developers and highway
contractors aided by the inordinate love of the automobile and the
desire to escape the city. Little that is effective is done until the
air is too polluted to breathe, and long commutes and traffic jams
become utterly intolerable.
We cannot have a healthy agricultural policy because of the power of
giant agribusinesses and the farm lobby and farm-state legislators.
Hugh subsidies are paid to rice, corn, wheat, and other growers that
enable the big agribusiness corporations to flood other countries with
cheap products and devastate their farmers. One rice cooperative
(Riceland Foods Inc., Stuttgart, AR) was paid more than $500,000,000,
i. e., more than a half billion dollars, between 1995-2004). Much
of this subsidy money goes not to modest family farmers but to the
wealthy. Charles Schwab of the investment group and his family received
$564,000 in federal price supports for rice in 2000. The man is
reputedly worth more than four billion dollars.
We have a miserable fiscal policy that produces massive tax cuts that
go mainly to those at the top, especially those at the very top, that
produces an enormous deficit that future generations must deal with,
and that reduce revenues that could be used to benefit the middle and
lower income classes. All this is rationalized by a dubious ideology
that such policies increase investment and ultimately benefit us all,
as if more equitable alternatives were not available that would be
equally or more efficacious. The intense commitment of a powerful few
prevails over average citizens who either ignore or passively acquiesce
in this arrangement and others that result in a redistribution of
income and wealth and income to those at the top at the expense of
those at the lower middle and bottom. Sometimes this travesty is
tolerated by non-affluent voters who are getting other gains, e. g.,
support of conservative values, from those in power more important to
them and not intolerably offensive to or even in agreement with their
own ideologies and values.
Perhaps this is sufficient to make the point. Groups deeply committed
to causes and interests organize and add dollars to their passion in
ways that elect and control those who will serve their interests. They
pay close attention to every development that affects their concerns
and exert pressure and money immediately in carefully chosen ways to
maximum benefits. Meanwhile, the mass of citizens let it happen by
their ignorance and apathy, by not being directly affected in ways that
arouse their anger and swing their votes. The political system is
rigged against effective opposition from people and parties that would
upset these nice arrangements.
Beyond that gerrymandering of election districts, the power of
incumbency, and other defects in the democratic process either aid or
cannot prevent the domination of the government by narrow interests
with the organization and money to get their way. Thus justice is not
done, and the few benefit at the expense of the many, and, as always,
the rich prosper, and the poor are neglected.
Even if we had a perfectly functioning democracy in which each person
and group had power and means sufficient to protect their interests but
not enough to oppress others, we would still have to deal with the
values of the citizenry that may tilt the nation toward policies
repressive of minorities and the poor and that are detrimental to the
full flowering of freedom, equality, and the welfare of all.
As a white Baptist, I am particularly dismayed that the majority of
white Protestants have a history in recent decades of voting for the
Republican candidate for President, election after election. If you
want to know the political, social, and cultural outlook of Christians,
ask first about their zip codes not about how passionate they are about
Jesus. I will quit now before I get even more depressed.
Friday, May 26, 2006
Can Anything Be Done About it?
Several respondents to my previous pessimistic blog (Wednesday, May 24,
2006, “Maldistributed Power and Impossible Justice”) about the state of
our country that is in the hands of rich, powerful interests who get
their way to the detriment of justice, the general welfare, and world
peace challenged me to suggest something positive that could be done.
The realistic answer is that in the short run there is not much we can
do that will fundamentally matter. The system is too rigged in favor of
the prevailing powers. The background preconditions for radical change
do not exist:
(1) deep and fundamental dissatisfaction felt by the masses of people
accompanied by aggressive anger and desire for change,
(2)a clear sense of what is wrong and of what and who is responsible
for the calamity,
(3)the presence of an available alternative consisting of a
transforming vision communicated by able charismatic leaders with
organizational skills and with a positive program containing major
goals and specific means to achieve them.
We will not see fundamental change of the sort that is required in the
absence of a major crisis like that of the great depression that took
us from Coolidge and Hoover to Roosevelt in less than a decade. This
crisis will create the possibility of a revitalized democracy and
economic order that serves all the people. But it will also create the
possibility of a fascism based on blood and soil led by demagogues who
can identify the evil sources of our troubles internally and externally
which must be destroyed. Oh, probably a third way will have us muddling
through so that the outcome is not much better, just led by different
In the meantime, we can hope for modest progress around the edges and
some incremental gains that will indeed make things better for many and
even for us all in some respects. These gains can be of great
importance and should not be underestimated or demeaned. This is where
the churches and humanitarian organizations fit in. I have worked in
both, and positive changes at the margins was all we accomplished at
best or even attempted. Churches whose membership include the dominant
classes in the culture will not foment revolution -- and that includes
Roman Catholics and most Protestants. Zip code is the primary clue to
social outlook not church membership. If you find a factor that points
to religion, e. g., that most active church people were the ones who
voted heavily for Bush, then look for the socio-economic-cultural
makeup of those congregations.
The Democratic Party is the best hope for modest improvements, but it
is a pitifully weak instrument of justice. The present leadership is
anything but inspiring, e. g., Howard Dean. The DP is too beholden to
big money and powerful lobby groups, just like the Republicans are. The
DP is dominated by a variety of interest groups, each with its own
agenda that it single mindedly presses. The DP has lost touch with many
ordinary working-class Americans and average citizens who rightly
suspect the party of Roosevelt, Truman, and Johnson is rife with
cultural elitism epitomized by that man of the people, that down to
earth Joe Sixpack, John Kerry and his French wines and windsurfing. The
DP is too beholden to the Israeli lobby to offer hope for Middle East
Peace. I give you Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, and Harry Reid, among
many others, who vote the Israeli lobby line as examples. Check it out.
When the Democratic Party championed civil right, and the feminist and
gay rights movement along with abortion, gun control, etc. -- God bless
them for it, it lost contact with many white working class folks,
especially males, and conservative religious people, who, since they
were doing well enough economically and many prospering, decided to
vote their cultural values rather than their narrow economic interests.
Democrats have not found a way to get them back without alienating
major parts of its base. So Republicans have taken over. Still the DP
is the best we have.
This is enough for now. I invite comments, alternatives, refutations,
screams of protest, and bouquets of roses (I like the really red ones.)
Tuesday, May 09, 2006Tuesday
Can't Anybody Get it Right on Immigration?
With respect primarily to Mexicans and others further south,
conservatives are divided between xenophobic opposition to all them
foreigners who don't look like us, despoil our communities, and speak
Spanish, on the one hand, and business types who think that an ever
increasing pool of unskilled workers means cheap labor costs, on the
other hand. Liberals are all over the place. The multiculturalists
think diversity is swell -- let a thousand varieties of flowers bloom
-- and are blind to the negative side that may involve loss of cultural
unity with accompanying conflict and violence between economic,
cultural, and ethnic subgroups. This group includes some progressive
Christians who are filled with compassion who think you can leap from
love straight to generous social policies without having to take into
account all the complexities, ambiguities, conflicts of just interests,
and all the difficulties involved in reaching solutions with proximate
justice for all affected. Naive idealists think you can have a
compassionate policy toward poor immigrants but like the naive
multiculturalists are oblivious to the unavoidable side effects, like
dragging down the wages of all workers, who may be divided into
competing ethnic, racial, and cultural groups whose conflicts may
escalate into violence.
Politicians are subject to all the above groups, interests, and values
that vary with their region, party, and money sources. They seek for
some winning electoral strategy that maximizes support in dollars and
Nearly everyone, including some of the loudest and most obnoxious,
risks oversimplifying the issue based on ignorance, self-interest,
ideological preferences, and so on and champion solutions as if the
truth they see is the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Disinterested theorists and others, including a few politicians, who
seek the common good find that no one policy benefits all equally and
that the good shared in common is only a small piece of the pie.
Pessimists and skeptics like me conclude we must settle for the least
bad policy and hope that the struggle of power between all the
competing interests will somehow yield something workable and not
More detailed analysis with more specifics can be found in previous
Thursday, 27 April 2006
Immigration and Troubles Ahead?
Whatever immigration policy is adopted at the moment can be dealt with.
More important is what present trends suggest for the future. If the
10-12 million immigrants of illegal status are put on the road to
become citizens, in another few years, will there be 10-12 million more
and later 10-12 million more? If the answer is negative, how do we
propose to keep them out in humane ways? We can and ought to liberalize
legal ways for immigrants south of the border to come to the United
State, but will it ever be enough to prevent others from coming in
A lot of these questions are speculative, but they are worth raising in
order to give us perspective on what we are doing. One of the main
issues is whether large numbers of Mexicans and other Latinos will
continue to assimilate into American society, culture, and values. Or
as their numbers increase, will they create enclaves in which the
desire to perpetuate their own culture will become stronger?
Small groups who retain their own ways of life can be incorporated
without great problems, but will large numbers intensify the desire to
have little Mexicos in Los Angeles and other cities? Will there be a
growing desire to sing the national anthem in Spanish, create a
two-language nation like Canada, and fly the Mexican flag? A nation is
enriched by diversity, but it also needs symbols of cultural unity like
flags, language, a national anthem sung in the original language, and
well as a core of common values.
Immigrants from the south are largely Roman Catholic and many share the
views of the church on abortion, sex, women, divorce, homosexuality,
same-sex marriage, and the like. Would the hierarchy be as favorable to
immigration from the South if 90% of them were liberal Protestants on
these issues? I don't know; I just wonder. Would ever-increasing
numbers of social conservatives retard the progress we have made so
painfully and slowly in these areas? Should those of us who are liberal
Protestants be concerned about the possibility of adding so many more
votes to reactionary policies? Will Hispanics tend more to the
Republicans (on social-cultural issues) or Democrats (on economic
issues)? Is it not important from the point of view of progressive and
liberal folks like me what the answer is?
Would ever-increasing numbers exert an ever greater downward drag on
already low wages for immigrants and unskilled Americans already here?
One op-ed piece on May 2 commented on the spectacle of immigrant
workers protesting in behalf of even lower wages, for that is what will
happen in the pool of available workers becomes ever larger.
The worst case scenario might have the following elements:
1. Large enclaves of immigrants form in the big cities and elsewhere
who become increasingly militant and resistant to assimilation while
making growing demands on government on economic and cultural matters.
2. A backlash occurs among non-Hispanic whites that resists signs of
increasingly militant demands for the Mexicanization of American
3. Tension moving toward violent conflict emerges between Hispanic and
African American groups over jobs, falling wages, and cultural matters.
4. Riots with accompanying violence break out in cities with large
numbers of alienated Mexicans and other Hispanics, resulting in burning
cities reminiscent of the civil rights era.
If that sound outlandish, recall that tendencies in all these
directions were much in evidence in the May 1, 2006, demonstrations,
protests, and work stoppages. Mexican flags were much in evidence, and
more would have been had not leaders warned against the bad public
relations it would engender. Some are all ready in singing the national
anthem in Spanish. Voices could be heard saying, "Los Angeles is ours,"
"we want a new America," "illegal immigrants from Mexico are not
illegal, just back on native land," "we have the right to be here," and
the like. All this hints that much more activism could be expected in
the future. African American groups are already forming in opposition
to Spanish culturalization and the competition with blacks over jobs.
White militancy is evidence in posses forming on the southern border to
keep immigrants out.
Whether this indicates that serious trouble is ahead, I don't know. It
would be foolish to dismiss the possibility out of hand.
I speak here not so much of what is right and good as of troubling
signs and realistic possibilities as European nations are learning how
their liberal policies have created enclaves of alienated Muslims shut
off from economic opportunity and at odds with the majority culture on
matters of free speech, religion, morals, and the like. Granted the
differences with the situation here are significant, it does not mean
the similarities harbor no troubles for us.
Thursday, 27 April 2006
Immigration: Problem Without a Solution
Immigration at the present, at least with respect to Mexico and
countries to the south, is a problem without a good solution. It is
complex with many facets and subtexts. What commends itself in some
respects is distasteful in others. What helps some groups hurts other
Let us first dispose of some simplistic items. It is said that
immigrants take jobs Americans don't want. That is true only if you add
"at current wages." And it is not true even then, since Americans in
fact do hold most of the kinds of low-paying jobs that unskilled
Signs proclaim that no human being is illegal, refuting a claim nobody
is making and ignoring the intended meaning that an illegal immigrant
is one who is here illegally not that this human being is illegal,
whatever that could possibly imply.
It is also said that we are a nation of immigrants, so we should
continue be receptive to others who want to share the same benefits our
ancestors found in coming here. Fine, but it neglects two things: all
humans beings living today, or nearly all, have ancestors who came from
somewhere else, and we have to deal with new immigrants under the
conditions that prevail here and now and not at some previous time.
To tackle the problem itself, there is little doubt that adding
immigrant workers who will work for very low pay drags down the wages
of those already here. If employers can hire workers at a dollar less
per hour than they are now paying, it stands to reason they will do so
employers who benefit in this way are favorable to a large influx of
potential workers from the South who can be hired at low wages.
Let us add some complicating factors. Allowing free immigration from
Mexico provides a safety valve for the Mexican government and reduces
the pressure to improve conditions for their own workers. An author who
has studied the problem for years claims that the Mexican government is
being cynical. They are happy to have these impoverished people leave
and don't want them back.
Mexico has a harsh, punitive policy toward immigrants entering from
their southern borders but wants the US to be generous to immigrants
from Mexico -- the old double standard issue.
One reason so many immigrants from Mexico will risk everything to get
in is that Mexican farmers have been devastated by the subsidies paid
to American farmers to grow corn, thus undermining the prices of a
major Mexican crop. NAFTA has been hurt many poor Mexicans badly,
pitting the interests of poor Mexican farmers against rich agribusiness
interests in the United States. Guess who wins.
Both parties in Congress try to figure out how to get the Hispanic
vote, so that self-interest rather than the common good tends to
Turning to solutions, all have drawbacks. To treat the millions of
illegal immigrants already here the same as those who are pursuing a
legal track would not be fair. To deport them is all but impossible as
well as cruel. Any penalty or punishment administered them would only
add further hurt to vulnerable people. Building a wall or fence
sufficient to keep out all trespassers would be expensive as well as
inappropriate given our national values. Completely open or completely
closed borders is either impossible or bad policy.
The best solution, of course, would be to make the countries who are
supplying unskilled immigrants so attractive that few would want to
leave. That will not occur in the near future. Lacking that we have to
search for the least bad answer. Practically speaking, the issue will
be settled in a political battle in which all interested parties seek
the best deal for themselves. Maybe that will, or maybe it won't,
produce the least bad solution. In any case, it is what we will have to
live with it. One could wish for an outcome that will require everybody
to bear the burden imposed by a generous immigration policy and better
wages for everybody at the bottom. This burden could be either higher
taxes or prices on goods involving immigrant labor, if not job or pay
One final note with two parts can be added. One is that liberals should
be cautious about proposing policies that will cost them nothing but
require others to take the loss. Middle class and upper class folks and
professional people would not have their jobs threatened or their pay
cut by a generous policies toward unskilled immigrants in large
numbers. So let them be modest in their idealism. I speak in particular
to Christians who would go unharmed.
The other point is some Christians want to leap from principles of love
and compassion right to generous policies toward unskilled immigrants.
I am suggesting that love needs to be mediated through principles of
justice that take into account all the complexities involved and the
differential gains and losses suffered by various groups. The hope is
to arrive at some form of proximate justice that will also have a
practical chance of enactment in the power struggle between different
self-interested parties vying for what benefits them most.
Elements of tragedy pervade the situation. Skulls of Latinos are
scattered in the Arizona desert in border areas testifying to the
failure of some immigrants to make it to safety and a job. Would-be
immigrants include honest people who want to work make a better life
for themselves and their families, a few gang members, criminals, and
perhaps now and then a potential terrorist.
I saw on TV a young man who had just entered the country illegally. In
all earnestness he said, "I didn't come here to hurt anybody. I just
want to work and help my family." One TV show followed a deported
immigrant back to his village. The squalor, poverty, and desperation
were heartbreaking. The young son was willing to risk his life to come
to the United States to work and help his family. Christians will be
moved by compassion for such people and be willing to sacrifice in
order to help them, but they will not do so without counting the costs
involved for everybody and trying to see to it that everyone shares the
costs entailed by their loving kindness.
Friday, November 25, 2005
Believing What We Want To
The Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski set forth the Law of the
Infinite Cornucopia, which notes that no shortage exists of reasons to
bolster whatever theory anyone wants to believe.
In the previous entry I quoted two good people who effortlessly turned
a tentative, disputable scientific finding into a dogmatic certainty
that was favorable to the outlook of each. They could not know the
truth because it is not yet known, but they spoke as if they were
already in possession of it. They were not lying in the sense of
deliberately misrepresenting things, but they made claims that betrayed
nothing of the uncertainty in the actual situation. One of them may be
proven right or more right in the end, but the outcome is not known at
This is one example of a widespread phenomenon. A president announced
that the possession of weapons of mass destruction by a reckless, cruel
dictator justified a preemptive strike lest we be suddenly attacked.
The claim we now know was false, but the harm has been done. Precious
lives have been needlessly lost, billions of dollars wasted. Now we
find ourselves in a situation that permits no easy resolution, and the
nation is bitterly divided.
Did he lie deliberately to justify a move he intended to make on some
real or pretended premise anyway? Was he honestly misled by faulty but
sincere intelligence? Did he interpret the available information in the
way most favorable to his purposes? He claimed to know more than he did
and was shown to be mistaken.
Where does honest ignorance end and willing, complicit conviction
begin? When does sincere belief in the presence of uncertainty take on
an element of deceit that produces truth claims held with unjustifiable
certainty? To what extent does desire turn a objective possibility into
a subjective reality, a hypothesis into a firm belief communicated as a
certain truth? Does wanting it to be true make it seem so real that we
cannot deny it? Somewhere in these murky areas in where much of our
public discourse transpires.
How much credit should be given to the massive tax cuts mainly
benefitting the ultra-rich for whatever economic upturn we have
experienced? Tax cutters and their supporters know for sure.
Not much say many reputable economists. We may safely surmise that to
some extent political dogma turns what must remain an economic
uncertainty -- given the complexity involved -- into a indubitable
Environmentalists know that global warming is attributable in a major
way to human activity. Polluters and their defenders know that the
phenomenon -- to the extent real at all -- is due mainly to natural
Since this is a blog and not a book, I will cease, only urging that
other instances of the tendency to believe with more certainty than is
warranted what we want to believe can be readily found all about us in
public and private life.
Thursday, November 24, 2005
The Abortion Pill and Original Sin
Recent reports indicate there may be a danger of a fatal infection
after taking the abortion pill. The question has not been settled
scientifically yet, but advance reactions were almost as predictable as
the rising of the sun in the East. This from The New York Times,
November 23, 2005:
"Wendy Wright, executive vice president of Concerned Women for America,
a conservative group, said that the latest news about deaths involving
Mifeprex proved that the drug was unsafe. Ms. Wright also speculated
that more women were dying after using the drug but that their deaths
were going unreported.
. . .
Dr. Scott J. Spear, chairman of the national medical committee of the
Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the nation's largest provider
of abortions, said there was no evidence that the vaginal
administration of misoprostol increased the risks of bacterial
Hmmmmmm. An anti-abortion group thinks that the uncertain, tentative,
problematic report proves that the abortion pill is unsafe, while a
group that thinks abortion is a moral option for women is sure that it
What shall we make of this? Nothing contributes to understanding more
than the doctrine of original sin. Here it means that individuals and
groups tend to favor interpretations favorable to their own ideology or
Note that the doctrine of OS applies to everybody, everybody. These are
not evil people. They are people who believe their cause is right and
good. Yet both leap on an uncertainty, an unsettled question, with
certain conclusions supportive of their beliefs.
What is so clearly illustrated here could be demonstrated in a thousand
cases where uncertainties become certainties favorable to interests and
So next time you confront conflicting interpretations of this sort,
remember the old doctrine of original sin. Hardly anything is more
helpful in providing understanding of current events, and it is the
easiest of all religious doctrines to practice.
Thursday, November 03, 2005
We Need Universal Health Care: A One-Payer System
Data released today by the Census Bureau show that the number of
uninsured Americans stood at 45.8 million in 2004, an increase of
800,000 people over the number uninsured in 2003 (45.0 million). The
number of uninsured Americans was at an all-time high in 2004.
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
The aims of a good health care system can be easily stated. We want the
best care we can afford efficiently delivered in a system that covers
everyone and allows as much freedom of choice for doctors and patients
Dependence on the free market works fine for those who have enough
money to afford it but is disastrous for the poor. The notion that
supply and demand will guarantee efficiency, high quality, and low cost
while maximizing freedom has fundamental flaws.
We need to go further away from a market system not toward it. No
alternative is perfect, but we can do much better than we are doing
now. I urge a one-payer system something like that now found in Canada
and that is approved overwhelmingly both by Canadian citizens and
doctors. The plan would be paid for by progressive taxation that would
secure a level of quality care that was as high as possible given all
our other social goals and values.
Some compromise would have be made between medical needs and expanding
costs in relation to the availability of resources that always remain
finite even in a rich country. This is not socialized medicine in which
medical professions are paid by the government but socialized
insurance. The advantages are:
1. It would be universal. It covers everyone regardless of income,
pre-existing conditions, or employment status.
2. It would be comprehensive. It includes treatment by doctors and
hospitals for all necessary medical services including prescription
drugs, mental health, dental problems, and long-term nursing home care.
3. It would be efficient. Enormous savings would result in the
reduction of administrative costs by having one uniform system of
accounting. Because of the volume involved, the government as sole
administrator could put constraints on costs of supplies and services.
Money that now goes into investor profits could be used to treat sick
4. It would produce outcomes on the whole that are better than we get
with the present system. The Canadian system supports this claim,
although cross-country comparisons are hazardous.
5. It would preserve a great deal of freedom for doctors and patients.
Patients could choose their own doctors and hospitals. Doctors could
prescribe tests, treatments, and drugs with no greater constraints than
now operate through HMOs, other insurance plans, and the ability of the
patient to pay.
A universal health plan would, of course, not be free from problems,
complications, and frustrations. Upward cost pressures will occur as
they do now due to the creation of new and expensive drugs and
technologies, the rising demand for them, and the increasing number of
the elderly. We could expect fraud, abuse, and waste but not
necessarily any more than we already have, except for the fact that
some people seem to delight especially in cheating the government.
Bureaucratic procedures and decisions would drive us nuts as they do
now with HMO’s and other insurance plans. Some restriction of services
would be necessary, but we have rationing at the present based on
income. Limitations in the one-payer system ideally would be based on
rational considerations relating to cost constraints that would not
discriminate against the poor.
(This material is taken from my book, The Ethics of Belief (Lima: CSS
Publishing Co., 2001), vol. 2, 119-24. )
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
Wedding Announcements as Social Commentary
Engagement announcements are an interesting sociological study. They
convey a great deal more information than the details about the event
itself and the participants. My interest here is in the relationship of
religion to class, Each gives a clue to the other,
For example, if the bride, according to the announcement in The New
York Times, is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence and is the daughter of the
chief surgeon at a prestigious hospital and the groom is a graduate of
Princeton and both his parents are lawyers in one of the biggest law
firms in the East, then it is not likely that the happy couple observed
their nuptial ceremony in the Independent Bible-Believing Gospel
Tabernacle. If the article appears in a small Southern town paper and
the bridge and groom of graduates of the local high school and if she
works at Wal-Mart and he drives a bread truck, one would not be
surprised to learn that they are to be married in an Assembly of God or
Congregational Holiness church.
You get the idea. Folks in the upper middle class and highly educated
in elite schools might well say their vows in an Episcopal or
Presbyterian church if they are Protestants, although it would not be
shocking to see them identified as Unitarians.
Middle class people are well distributed in the main line Protestant
denominations, but if they are in the lower half, they might well be
Baptists or Methodists. In the South, however, where there are more
Baptists than people, you will find all classes represented in the many
churches large and small that occupy much real estate in the states of
the old Confederacy. Affluent couples from rich families wouldn't be
out of place at a well-groomed large Baptist church in the nearer
suburbs, say Buckhead, if they are in the Atlanta region.
I will not belabor the point. It is elementary sociology of religion
first imprinted in my mind by H. Richard Niebuhr's The Social Sources
of Denominationalism. Just don't let anyone tell you that the
denominations are to be distinguished only or primarily by their
doctrinal differences. You can learn a lot by reading wedding
Thursday, September 22, 2005
Katrina and Racism
John (One-Note) Leo, cultural critic for US News and World Report, is
usually from about one-third to one-half right. He has only one theme
which he belabors every week ad nauseam -- the excesses of cultural
liberalism. In one of his recent diatribes he took aim at observers who
found blatant racism in the government response to Katrina. He quoted
some of the usual suspects who find racism everywhere and who love to
be in front of microphones and cameras. Leo attempts to refute the
charge with some success since some liberals make themselves such an
easy target. We will grant him the usual partial grasp of the whole
truth that we can usually find in his columns.
I tried to be hard-headed on these matters and to remain skeptical of
everything until I am persuaded by what I can find out based on
evidence and critical analysis. The catastrophe was so massive with so
many levels of government involved offering so much opportunity for
bureaucratic bungling, ineptitude, squabbling, and turf wars, and with
so much complexity involved in a quick mobilizing of rescue efforts
that much of the delay and ineffectiveness can be found somewhere in
this vicinity. In these tangled, complicated matters most anything you
say will be partly true. The whole truth and nothing but the truth is
hard to come by, especially when emotion and ideology cloud
perceptions. Class issues were certainly front and center, since those
who did most of the suffering were poor. Either they could not
afford to evacuate or lived in the most vulnerable areas.
Was there also racism that was conspicuous, overt, and deliberate? If
so, the evidence needs to be presented, and maybe it will be
forthcoming in time. In any case, the catastrophe unveiled in a vivid
way ugly facts of race and class that have produced outrageous poverty
in this rich land that prides itself on its virtue. These inequalities
are a disgrace and a scandal for which we, beginning with the
President, should be ashamed and say so right out loud. It is not that
solutions are lacking. The political and moral will is not there. Maybe
this will be a nudge in the direction of creating an outraged
conscience that will result in effective change, but the pessimist in
me doubts it.
FEMA has been accused of being derelict in its duty in past disasters.
Charles Perrow wrote this about previous instances of bungling by FEMA:
Hurricane Hugo in 1989 prompted US Senator Fritz
Hollings to declare that FEMA was "the sorriest bunch of bureaucratic
jackasses I've ever known." (1024) The next year when disasters hit
California, Representative Norman Y. Mineta of California, declared
that FEMA "could screw up a two car parade." When Hurricane Andrew hit
in 1992 the primitive communications system of the agency forced it to
buy Radio Shack walkie-talkies in last minute preparations, while the
state of the art one FEMA had paid for remained unavailable.
After Hurricane Andrew hit Florida in 1992, help was slow in coming as
well as inept and the victims were mostly white. No criticism of FEMA
in New Orleans exceeds the ferocity of the wrath directed toward it
after that catastrophe.
On the other hand, evidence is not lacking that in 1992 and in other
situations racism was clearly present. A friend of mine who was close
to some of them gives his own personal testimony:
“During my time with the NCC (National Council of Churches) as an
Associate Director for Public Policy, and before that with the
Progressive National Baptists, I was heavily involved with what's call
"Environmental Racism" throughout the country, particularly in
Louisiana's "Cancer Alley" which is a 90 or so mile strip loaded with
carcinogens running from the capital to New Orleans. And a guess what
group suffered the most?
We worked with the a host of groups and witnessed firsthand the abject,
grinding poverty in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, particularly the
I was also working as a disaster relief coordinator, raising funds and
distributing services after hurricanes Hugo, Andrew, and the Oklahoma
City bombing, and floods in Louisiana. In each of those cases there was
conspicuous, systematic disregard for Black citizens. For example,
after Hugo, Charleston, S.C., recovered really quickly;. McCullough
County next door has permanently dislocated African Americans. Hugo was
Let's face it, Ken, Black citizens are still reeling from the
effects of the post-Civil War era for which we've never recovered,
e.g., poverty and control and institutionalized disregard for minority
social well-being, etc”. Archie LeMone
The larger truth that Leo totally missed or ignored has to do with the
historical and cultural background to the fact that large numbers of
the suffering victims of Katrina were poor and mostly black. If by the
racism in the situation we mean that federal officials took note of the
fact that most of the misery following Katrina was being experienced by
black folks and thought, "Heck, we can take our time here; they are
black and don't vote for Republicans anyway," we need to see the
specific evidence. If by racism we mean the long and sorry history by
which African Americans have been discriminated against, ignored, and
left in poverty over many decades, yes, the charge is valid.
Don't count of John Leo to make a major point of that. It is too easy
to blast excessive charges of racism and hit the mark on the surface
while hiding a far more important truth that only more careful analysis
Thursday, August 11, 2005
Palestinian Violence and Pro-Israel Bias
Much of the condemnation of Palestinian violence against Israel assumes
the moral equality of the contending parties. Palestinians, the
argument goes, must cease all violence against Israel before meaningful
progress can be made toward peace through dialogue. That demand would
be justified if the two sides started on a level playing field, but
that is not the case. What is forgotten is that Israel is an occupying
power, an invader.
Let Israel withdraw to some equivalence of the 1967 borders. Then
violence on either side against the other can be rightfully condemned
on an equal basis. Until then the demand for the cessation of
Palestinian violence against Israel is a moral posture neglectful of
Wednesday, July 20, 2005
Suicide Bombers and Simplistic Explanations
What motivates the Muslim suicide bombers? Is it their religion? Is it
historical, social, and psychological factors like unemployment, fear,
resentment, shame, humiliation, hopelessness, social chaos, limited
options in new, strange, and threatening environments? Do the actions
of the United States and other Western powers in the world in the
imperialistic past and self-interested present, especially our one-
sided support of Israel and corrupt, tyrannical Arab countries, and our
dogged determination to maintain access to oil in the Mideast have
anything to do with it? Or is it evil choices made by some individuals
in the name of distorted values and extremist religion?
The answer is yes, all of the above, and probably more that requires
more knowledge than we have. It is not just the Muslim religion alone,
or social and psychological factors generated by the local environment
alone, or personal choice unconditioned by history, culture, social
location or religion but some complicated combination of all and more
working itself out in a variety of configurations in different people
but leading to volatile, violent, tragic outcomes for them and others.
We need to focus on the Muslim religion in a particular historical,
cultural context under certain psychological and social conditions
eliciting personal decisions that lead to terrorist acts. Efforts
to reduce terrorism must work at all these levels and include all these
We cannot avoid the religious dimension by simply repeating the mantra
that Muslim means "peace" or "jihad" means personal struggle against
internal evil. We cannot escape by saying naively that the Muslim
religion doesn't really teach that. There are elements in the Koran and
in Muslim history that can be appropriated to justify in their minds
their terrorist acts. Similarly Christian Klu Klux Klansmen and Nazis
could quote Scripture and employ Christian symbols to support their
racist violence. We could refer to the Book of Joshua and Esther 9 as
precedents for most any kind of aggression in the name of God we wanted
to imagine. Remember the rural Georgia dictum: "You can prove anything
by the Bible," and forget all the obscure, thick books by German
scholars on hermeneutics.
It is futile in the short run to argue about what the Bible or the
Koran or Christianity or Muslim faith really stands for historically if
properly understood. These traditions finally mean in practical,
experiential terms what somebody here and now believes them to mean,
imply, and require. Actual beliefs and practices are what count not
some idealized essence of the Koran or the Bible created by scholars
and historians. What they "really teach" is operationally a useless
category in the immediate situation and in any situation unless
somebody's mind is changed in the process.
Social and psychological factors arising out of a particular ensemble
of destructive environmental factors do shape and condition minds and
lead to destructive behavior. Personal decision and commitment to live,
believe, and act a certain way under these social conditions while
professing a particular religious faith complete the pattern.
Is it a matter of religion? Yes. It is a matter of environment and
culture? Certainly. Does individual choice play a role. Of course. Is
it hard to put all this together with more to get a universal, simple
explanation? Absolutely. We should resist simplistic explanations,
especially those that serve the self-interest or ideology of those
putting them forth, e. g., presidents, preachers, politicians,
professors, pundits, and prostitutes, to risk redundancy.
Religion, History, Culture, and Choice -- all are involved in various
ways and degrees in different individuals in the production of
terrorists who blow up buildings, buses, trains, and people. We neglect
any of them at our peril. Propagandists -- politicians, religious
dogmatists, pundits, e. g. -- with their own ideologies and agendas are
quick to offer trite nostrums. We must resist and condemn them and
demand comprehensive analysis and realistic responses if we want to put
an end to terrorism while there is still time.
Thursday, May 05, 2005
Saving Social Security
All of Bush's proposals so far are bad. His economic plutocrats will
not permit any good ones because raising taxes is by definition bad.
They claim it would not be good for the economy. The real reason is
that it would cost them some money.
Nevertheless, consider this. The upper limit on incomes subject to
payroll taxes today is $90,000. In 1981, 90 percent of the total income
earned in wages and salaries was subject to the payroll tax. Income has
shifted to those with higher incomes. The result is that only 85% of
such income is liable to to the payroll tax today. Hiking the level to
90% again would require that the upper limits would have to be
$138,000. This would take care of about 1/3 of the 75-year gap between
tax revenues and benefit payments. See the February 18, 2005 on-line
edition of The Christian Science Monitor. See:
Removing the cap altogether would completely do even more. Why should
there be a cap? Low income people pay on all their earnings. Rich folks
We also need a wealth tax and to preserve the estate tax. Finally, we
need to roll back the massive tax cuts for the rich that are already
sending the deficit soaring out of sight. The justification for raising
taxes on wealth and high incomes is simple. The production of income
and wealth is a social process. No one can earn money without the
functioning of an economic system that requires everyone -- those who
clean the bathrooms and the offices of the rich -- as well as the
talent and hard work of rich people. The notion that market forces
distribute income and wealth in accordance with justice or rationality
is absurd, a myth. Consider the fact, e. g., that professional athletes
who earn 10 million dollars a year would gladly play for 5 or 2
million, if that is all they could get. Most of them could not earn
nearly that much apart from their athletic skills. Nobel prize-winning
economists could make the case technically for everything I have said.
It is ideology and selfish interest that are at the base of the
rejection of such ideas, not economic fact or logic.
Wednesday, May 04, 2005
Assessing Public Discourse in America Today
Here is the way public issues are discussed in our time. A question in
dispute arises. Two opposing groups form at the extremes. They are
loud, deeply committed, activist in temperament and practice, eager
participants in politics and public debate. Each claims to have
the full and complete truth without qualification. Each side
demonizes their opposite number. Each denies the moral legitimacy
and rationality of the other, while expressing bafflement that anyone
could be so blind to the obvious facts and values involved.
Exaggerated? Of course, but who can deny that a point has been made,
recognized by all who are alert to what is going on. It is not
difficult to find single issue absolutists and extremists about some
issue. They frequently have their opposite numbers:
Extremist advocates of unrestricted gun possession for everyone contend
with gun control fanatics. The National Rife Association will not
tolerate even the most reasonable restrictions, seeing in the mildest
of measures a fatal threat to the rights of hunters, sportsmen, target
shooters, and even a dagger in the Constitution, democracy, and
civilization itself. Gun control advocates tend to exaggerate the
importance of the issue, and I wonder if some of them have an elitist
bias against hunters and rural folk generally, suspecting they are
culturally handicapped, throwbacks to a former era.
Free choice zealots vie in unrelenting fashion with anti-abortion
zealots. The former ignore, evade, or downplay the fact that a fetus is
a potential person, while the latter assert categorically that from the
point of conception on an actual person already exists -- an affront to
science, philosophy and reason generally.
Christian fundamentalists attack Muslim fundamentalists.
The American Civil Liberties Union tends to absolutize individual
freedom and rights to the neglect of social good. I am a member because
I think we need an extremist organization like this, although I cringe
at some of the repugnant positions and parties they defend.
Israeli and Palestinian extremists will apparently fight to the death
rather than compromise or recognize any validity in their opponents'
claims. Actually, Israelis and Palestinians form "two communities of
suffering" (Edward Said) whose compassion for the other could surely
find a road to peace with approximate justice for all.
The list could go on. A little humility, respect for the integrity of
the other side, and a recognition of human finitude and fallibility
would do wonders to lift the level of public discourse. So would a
recognition that we (all of us, no exceptions) are prone to reason from
a limited, often self-centered, selfish, perspective.
Is there any hope for improvement? Not much. Why? Go back to the first
Monday, April 18, 2005
Final Reflections on the Terri Schiavo Case
Now that the hysteria over the Terri Schiavo case has subsided, some
final reflections may be in order. It is at heart a simple matter
involving only three items. 1. The background is that law and practice
for the last decade and more have established the right of patients to
control their own medical treatment, to refuse it or to stop it at
their will. When the patient is unable to do so, properly instructed
proxies may act in their behalf. 2. Florida law provides that the
spouses, not the parents of patients, may speak for them when the
patient is unable. 3. Florida courts found factually that the husband
Michael correct represented his wife's wishes in this case. That is all
there is to the case, and the courts at every level, including the
Supreme Court of the United States, repeatedly reaffirmed this.
It is unfortunate and a tragedy that the family was divided and became
the source of the great uproar, generated largely by the need of cable
news stations to fill time 24.7. The drama was ready made for
exploitation on all hands, from the media to the fanatics. For TV it
was wonderful for ratings: visual, dramatic, emotional, involved
conflict, winners and losers, and plenty of people informed and
uninformed, wise and foolish, hysterical and rational, eager to claim
Michael was tragically made the bad guy and had to endure all kinds of
lies and irrelevant and factually absurd charges, and the courts
sustained him every time. He was deeply in love in with his wife and
never ceased to be. He cared for her lovingly and tenderly until the
last hour, cradling her in his arms as she died. He sought the
companionship of another woman after medical experts had convinced him
that the Terri he loved so much was gone and would not come back ever.
He maintained that Terri would have approved what he did.
I have some experience here. I cared for my wife after we were divorced
and I was remarried until the day she died in a hospice. I sat and held
her hand every day during her last days, and we tenderly confessed our
love for each other. I was in her room along with our children the day
she died and went to the pharmacy to get a prescription the nurses
wanted to ease her pain. Eloise would have told you plainly that
she trusted me more than anyone on earth -- along with our children --
to take care of her. I was close by and assumed responsibility down to
the last detail of planning her funeral, taking the dress she was
buried in to the cleaners, and putting a monument on her grave.
Michael, I know how you felt. I applaud Michael for having the courage
in the face of all the trashing and court suits he faced to insure that
his wife's wishes were carried out.
Terri's parents and relatives, on the other hand, were in a state of
deep denial for years. Had it not been for the fuss they raised, the
case would never come to public attention. Note, the only reason this
case claimed national attention was because of the family dispute over
her care. Ventilators and feeding tubes are removed from hopelessly ill
patients every day in this country by the will of patients or their
authorized proxies. They do so by law and standard medical practice and
in ways compatible with compassion and love. As a parent, I share the
agony of the parents and siblings. But Michael was on the right side of
this issue, and the courts rightly confirmed this over and over.
The Congress to its disgrace tried to interfere in areas where they
have no business. Most Republican were exploiting the issue
politically, and most of the Democrats were moral cowards hiding in
caves. Both parties were out of touch with large majorities of the
American people who had the good sense to see the issue in a humane way
and wanted the Congress to do something about Social Security,
Medicare, and health insurance for those without and stay out of the
sick room. If members of Congress were ignorant of law and current
practice, they should have informed themselves. I don't doubt that some
had genuine convictions on the issue, but families not Congress should
settle these issues.
Sunday, April 03, 2005
Outrages of the Terri Schiavo Case
With some exceptions the media have not served the public interest well
in the Schiavo case. Most newspaper and TV reports leave you with the
impression that the questions raised sprang to life out of nowhere with
the conflict now dominating the news. This is far from the truth.
Ethicist have debated end of life matters for many years. A long
history of law and practice precedes the current controversies. Two
significant cases mark major turn turning points. The Supreme Court of
New Jersey granted the parents of Karen Ann Quinlan permission to
remove a respirator (1975), and the Supreme Court of the United States
allowed the parents of Nancy Cruzan to remove a feeding tube (1990). In
1990 Congress passed the Patient Self-Determination Act. Since then the
right of patients or proxies to refuse or demand withdrawal of any kind
of life-sustaining treatment or equipment has not been in question.
Well established in law and practice, feeding tubes and respirators are
removed without question all over the country daily when legitimate
conditions are met. It would be helpful to the public debate if only
these elementary facts were repeated by news sources as often as the
video tapes showing Terri Schiavo in her bed. Viewing them, many lay
people and even doctors in Congress have drawn erroneous conclusions
about her mental state. Since doctors know better than to diagnose at
the distance without having examined a patent, we must assume that the
congressional doctors become authorities for political rather than
medical reasons. Instead of consistently making clear the historical
context, the media have focused on the immediate sensational aspects –
the family conflict, who is winning and losing the battle, the
protestors, and the zealots who offer much heat but not much light. At
best they have attempted to define some medical terminology but have
largely failed in illuminating the basic legal and moral issues that
are in dispute. The event is perfect for TV. It is visual, dramatic,
emotional, and involves conflict, winners and losers. The actions of
Gov. Bush, the Florida legislature, President Bush and the Congress
were outrageous. They have no business intruding into these intimate
family matters where legal and moral guidelines are already in place.
The Republicans in Congress are dominated by ruthless zealots, and most
Democrats have been moral cowards. Only the state and federal
judiciaries have acted with any dignity. When it is over, there will be
many losers and no winners, except possibly Terri Schiavo if she is
allowed to die in peace. It is a shame the media are not doing a better
job of informing rather than just aggravating the public debate.
Friday, June 04, 2004
Faith Based Human Charities and Services
The issue of government support for faith-based human services is full
of complications, dangers, ambiguities, and subtleties. The beauty of
religiously-oriented social ministries is the potential for dealing
with people as whole selves, i. e., giving them food for the soul
as well as for the body. But this very unity poses the problem of how
it is Constitutionally licit for the government to enable the providing
of secular bread without funding sectarian religion. If, on the other
hand, the delivery of goods and services to the needy is totally
divorced from the religious dimension, in what meaningful sense is it
any longer faith-based, apart from merely being sponsored by a
religious group? Why shouldn't the government fund a church soup
kitchen if all that is dispensed is soup? Because, we say, what the
church would spend on soup can now be spent on the church bus. But
maybe they would just serve more soup. Maybe the soup itself is a
witness to the faith behind it, but if it is, is that not a sponsorship
of religion? Would the government discriminate against some religious
groups? Would giving government money to churches tend to dull the
prophetic urge to be critical of the state? Would the government
require conformity to certain rules that would restrict church
autonomy? What is a religious group? What does faith-based mean? Can we
think our way through this thicket without falling into confusion?
A strict and purist position on these matters is impossible in
practical terms. Many lines have to be drawn in shades of gray. We have
to do a lot of British "muddling through." Those who look for
absolutely clear prescriptions requiring no delicate balancing acts are
doomed to perpetual frustration. Or they may be tempted to resort to
desperate efforts to find purity of doctrine by suppressing legitimate
elements in the total ensemble of principles that govern the nation.
Saturday, May 01, 2004
Sharon's Ultimate Goal and Interim Maneuvering
With respect to Ariel Sharon's plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip,
the fundamental question here is, as always, whether his ultimate
intent is to do to the Palestinians what we did to Native Americans –
beat them into helpless submission in isolated territories. Avi Shlaim,
renowned Oxford University historian thinks it is: “His real agenda is
to .. . smash the Palestinians into the ground, and to extinguish hope
for independence and statehood.” (The Observer, April 14, 2002) Hence
we have to distinguish between his tactical maneuvering for pragmatic
purposes and his ultimate goal. Shlaim compiles the evidence in his
book, The Iron Wall.
Friday, April 23, 2004
The Scorpion and the Turtle: The Middle East and Despair
The best approximate justice possible should be sought for the State of
Israel and the Palestinian people. It would help enormously if the
United States could say outright that Israel is an oppressor and an
occupying power. Unfortunately political realities make it impossible
to acknowledge that what the United States did to Native Americans,
Israel has done twice in Palestine. The Book of Joshua tells the first
story, and the second occurred mainly in 1948 and 1967. Israel insists
that the Palestinians must stop the violence before progress can be
made toward a Palestinian state. But this assumes that Israel and the
Palestinians start as moral equals, forgetting that Israel is an unjust
occupier of Palestinian territory. Irresponsibility is exclusive to
neither party. The political process is driven by the extremists on
both sides, robbing moderates of a prevailing influence. Reasonable,
fair-minded Israelis and Palestinians are sick of the suffering and
want peace in a practical settlement that will please no one completely
but will partially redeem the tragedy of the Middle East.
Is there any hope? The scorpion asked the turtle for a ride across the
stream, saying “I cannot swim.” The turtle refused out of fear of being
stung by the scorpion. “Don’t be silly,” said the scorpion. “If I sting
you, we will both die.” So the turtle gave the scorpion a ride. In
mid-stream, the scorpion stung the turtle on the neck. “Now we will
both die. Why did you do that,” said the turtle in despair. Replied the
scorpion, “Well, that’s the Middle East for you.”
Wednesday, 21 April 2004
Gas Tax So Sensible It Has No Chance.
The one dollar a gallon gas tax proposed by Andrew Sullivan (Time,
April 19, 2004,104) is so eminently wise and has so many medium and
long-term benefits for the country that it will be soundly ignored,
denounced, and screamed at by the Congress, the President, and the bulk
of the American public because of our short-sightedness,
self-centeredness, and shallow thinking. I would, however, propose a
gradual increment of ten cents a gallon over time and maybe consider a
fifty cent maximum at the moment to reduce the economic shock.
Hey, there's a war on. What about a little sacrifice on everybody's
part instead of placing the burden on middle and lower middle class,
low income folks and minorities who fight our wars, shed blood, and die
-- often for the foolish schemes of our leaders whose own children get
MBA's and law degrees in classes with the offspring of the wealthy
instead of dying in battle? Maybe a draft with a minimum of non-health
exemptions might sober us up to the costs of war. Just a thought.
Friday, April 23, 2004
Shame on CBS for showing pictures of the dying Princess Diana. But is
it not hypocritical for the British tabloids that hounded her for years
to be outraged at this violation of her dignity?
The ads for Levitra are getting so explicit they border on the
scandalous. Poor Levitra, it has no advantage over Viagra and cannot
claim to work for thirty-six hours like Cialis. So what can Levitra do
but get more sexy, since everybody knows, sex sells.
Give President Bush credit for setting aside more wetlands, but is it
not ironic, not to say annoying, to have him speak on Earth Day -- he
who has done everything possible to benefit corporate polluters by
trimming back on environmental controls?
Of course, the Bush Administration does not want us to see pictures of
coffins containing dead soldiers. It would spoil the illusion they want
to foster that this war is almost painless, nearly costless, calling
for no sacrifice for non-military families and allowing for generous
tax cuts for the wealthy.
What is it with us Americans that we get so upset over Janet Jackson's
momentary "wardrobe malfunction" and are so complacent, so accepting,
of the constant, pervasive, gross, gratuitous violence in movies, video
games, and on TV? Why are we so offended by the nano-second
sighting of a female breast and so oblivious to the dangers associated
with the easy access to guns?
Why are so many Democrats so enthusiastic about a possible presidential
run for Hillary Clinton given that she is increasingly a hawk close to
Bush on Iraq and military matters? (New York Times, April 23, 2004)
The Bush record at home and abroad should allow Kerry to toss grenades
into the President's candidacy. Am I the only one who thinks Kerry
keeps throwing cotton balls? Is Kevin Phillips right that Kerry is not
capable -- in substance and style -- of going for the jugular, partly
because he is himself such a part of the wealthy corporate class whose
play-house needs upsetting?
Monday, 1 May 2006
Pharmaceutical Companies' Love Affair with Patients
I am getting a little tired of hearing drug companies on TV proclaim
how much they love patients and put them first. Au contraire, profit is
the end; patient satisfaction is the means. The prosecution offers
three points in evidence:
1. If they love patients so much, why do they spend so much money in
ads to persuade them to suggest their newest and most expensive drugs
to their doctors instead of older and cheaper alternatives that work
about as well?
2. Why do they spend so much money wining, dining, and plying doctors
with gifts persuading them to prescribe the aforementioned newer, more
expensive drugs instead of cheaper alternatives?
3. Why do they do everything within their power to keep their patents
from expiring in order to prevent much cheaper generics from coming on
The prosecution rests.
Wednesday, February 01, 2006
Hamas, Reason, and Justice
A Hamas leader, when asked if they would renounce violence and accept
the right of Israel to exist now that they were in power, said, "Let
Israel retreat to their 1967 borders, and then we will discuss that."
This is a reasonable position and one that has justice on its side. The
usual assumption of most discussions of this question in this country
assumes that the Palestinians should be strict pacifists and accept
whatever they can get at the bargaining table. This conveniently
forgets that Israel is an intruder, an occupying power, an oppressor.
Let the United States demand that the Israelis live within their 1967
borders, and then we can demand that Hamas renounce violence and accept
the right of Israel to exist.
Will this happen? No, of course not, because the political situation in
this country will not allow it. Right wing Christians and the Jewish
lobby will not allow it. So the tragedy will continue.
By the way, could we please get past two other obstacles? Let us hear
no more that Yassir Arafat was offered the best deal the Palestinians
could hope for when Clinton was president and turned it down. The
situation was much more complicated than that.
Let us hear no more that God gave Israel all this land centuries ago
and therefore it is theirs forever. Anybody who argues that should also
argue that we should give the Indians back all the land we took from
them since 1492.
"Short of forcibly expunging the Arab presence from every inch of soil
currently controlled by Israel, the dilemma facing Israel today is the
same as it was in June 1967, when the aging David Ben-Gurion advised
his fellow countrymen against remaining in the conquered territories. A
historic victory can wreak almost as much havoc as a historic defeat.
In Abba Eban's words, "The exercise of permanent rule over a foreign
nation can only be defended by an ideology and rhetoric of self-worship
and exclusiveness that are incompatible with the ethical legacy of
prophetic Judaism and classical Zionism." The risk that Israel runs
today is that for many of its most vocal defenders, Zionism has become
such an "ideology and rhetoric of self-worship and exclusiveness" and
not much more. In that case, Israel's brilliant victory of June 1967,
already a classic in the annals of pre-emptive defensive warfare, will
have borne bitter fruits for the losers and the
Tony Judt, "After Victory," The New Republic (June 29, 2002)
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