Monday, September 21, 2009

The Greatest Threat To Liberty?

The founders of the United States were liberals. They believed that men (yes, white property owning men) had a God-given right to determine the direction their lives could take free from outside interference. In their day, the most likely source of interference and the one they revolted against, was an unresponsive and corrupt central government headed by a hereditary monarch. For the first hundred years of the nation's existence, that perspective was maintained effectively as the sole means by which to measure individual liberty and government authority. By the 1880s though, another threat to personal liberty arose in a way not fully contemplated by the founders: the perpetual corporation.

In the founders' day corporations were rarely used and novel methods of agglomerating capital to take on tasks and disburse the risk of loss in a venture which could not normally be carried by a single owner/operator. They were single-purposed and short-lived. Governments also had great authority to exercise control over the effects a corporation had within its community. Some of the founders recognized the possibility of such entities growing beyond the ability of small governments to control them but that foresight could only go so far.

By the last quarter of the 19th century though, laws had changed to allow the growth of corporate behemoths of size, scope, and influence beyond any of the founders' worst nightmares. Accordingly, a new major threat to the liberty of the individual became a force in American life. The question of whether or how to contend with that threat effectively defines much about modern American politics. Simply stated, the only entity capable of bringing to bear enough resources to assure that the people are not abused by the whims, desires, greed, need, what-have-you of the modern corporation was a larger, more commercially active government at all levels. It required the proper functioning of the former great threat to manage the dangers posed by the abuse of the latter great threat.

The goal is still to protect individual liberty; the Liberal Ideal. The means to do so, requires one to trust in the good graces of two recognized devils. Somewhere along the line, because corporations are private property, the label conservative has stuck to those who still see government as the greater threat to liberty while liberals, who long ago fought a revolution to limit government interference in the liberty of the people, now look to it as the main protector of that same liberty.

Perhaps the greatest threat to liberty is the failure of adequate labels to show we all take different roads to get to the same place.

The Inevitable Assessment of a Modern Major Genral

The report leaked today from Gen. William McChrystal, the commander of all forces in Afghanistan said that unless forces are dramatically increased, the American effort there is likely to fail. He may be right, after all he has his McChrystal balls to rely on. But on the other hand, what are the chances that any general is going to recommend retreat, which will always look to some as a failure, as opposed to going all in which at least has a chance of "winning" whatever that may be in a place as poor, corrupt, remote, ungoverned, and unconquered as Afghanistan? Pulling out is no choice any military man would ever take. Leave that to the Commander-in-Chief, a civilian whose calculations on such matters have to take into account many more factors than anything a general has to worry about. This does not demean the general's advice in any way, but rather places it in context along with any other sources of advice the president must take into consideration.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Racism in the Current Discourse

We have here in the US a president whose father was a native of sub-Saharan Africa. The skin tone of this president bears a closer resemblance to his father's than it does to his mother's, who hailed from Kansas and whose skin tone was as peach/pink/white as anyone whose heritage emanated from northern Europe. At this point proportionately less people care about that one way or the other that at other time in this country's sorry history on that point.

But a lot of people still do care about the president's skin tone; both as a reason to like and to dislike him. While I won't go so far as to say it's an utterly meaningless fact but any discussion of it in the context of the current health care debate is a complete waste of time. Those who support the president primarily because he's a black man will do so no matter what and won't be changed and the same is true of those who can't stand the notion of a black man sitting in the big chair in the White House.

All that will happen if one side or the other accuses anyone of racism is that the chance of any substantive discussion of the particular issue actually at hand will come absolutely to an end. The heat gets turned up. Anyone not predisposed to the extremes gets pushed to it in order to defend themselves against probably baseless charges and before long things could turn violent.

The media, which is astounding me more each day with its unconscionable laziness, goes immediately to the most extreme points of view in order to sensationalize everything and make all debate appear more like a car wreck in process instead of trying to parse through the complexities of difficult issues. Hey I dig it, it's hard to do research to understand the composition of health care in this country and the varieties of ways it comes into play among the 300+ million people living here and the 50 states and the regional variations and enormous sums of cash and the tension between government and service providers and insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies, not to mention the different ways it's handled in other countries, all in the midst of the horrors of the current economic problems.

Like everything else, it's all a lot easier if you try to make it a black or white issue.