Tim McMullen's Missives and Tomes

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Short Story from the Past for the Present


CHRISTMAS PRESENT
by Tim McMullen 

It had been a cold Christmas Eve, and the white, crystalline rooftops glistened in the morning sun like snow-capped peaks above suburban, multi-colored mountains. As I walked across the lawn to get the Christmas morning newspaper, the brisk rubbing of my bare hands and the snail-shell crackle of the brittle grass were the only sounds. I winced at the thought of snail shells, glanced across the street at Ron Logan's lawn, and remembered.
"Look, Jimmy," he'd cried. Then, holding the large, brown garden snail at eye level, he'd crushed it loudly between his forefinger and his thumb. "Here, eat it!" he had sneered and flicked it at my face.
That was over twenty years ago, but he hasn't changed much. It is ironic that of all the kids and all the families that have grown up on this block, Ron Logan and I are the only ones who have remained. As kids we never really got along; he was the bully of the block, and I was "the Big Brain"—at least that was the derisive epithet he delighted in hurling after me. Naturally, I took it as a compliment. As adults, we simply don't have many occasions for contact. Once in a while, he and his two boys will be out front washing their Bronco after some off-road excursion, and we'll exchange a word or two; for the most part, though, we have very little to do with each other.
I smiled as I looked at his place. The house was nearly covered in Christmas lights—red, white, and blue only—which poked up through the swiftly melting frost like a giant, abstract connect-the-dots picture. On one corner of his lawn was a large wooden scene of Santa and his reindeer; on the other, a life-size nativity scene. That’s Ron for you. Nothing halfway about him. Just like his annual Fourth of July extravaganzas: Nobody has a bigger or brighter display than Ron Logan and his boys. Two years ago they nearly burned the roof off the Mejia's patio, but we finally put the fire out with garden hoses.
Suddenly, a bird twittered and then another, and the tree by my chimney came alive with their rustling and chittering. My thoughts snapped back from the recollected scenes, and I paused above the yet un-collected newspaper and listened. Southern California is a mixed metaphor, after all, juxtaposing the frost on its rooftops with the birds in its branches. I had noticed one chirrup pitched higher than the others, and I realized that there must be a fledgling in among the older birds. The image of little John Logan, Ron's six-year old, intruded upon my thoughts.
Johnny is the only one of the Logan lot that I can tolerate, and, in fact, I really like him, even if I do feel a little sorry for him. More than once I've seen the gloating countenance of his older brother, Ron, Jr., suffused with fascination and pleasure at the whimsical torture of some insect or small animal unfortunate enough to have been captured in those merciless, pudgy fingers. It is his father's face as well, the face of the snail crusher. But John is different. His fists clench, and his gentle brow creases in disgust and horror at his brother's callous delights. And the little fellow has paid for such feelings.
"Get over here, you little sissy!" I've heard the father bellow.
"Take it like a man..." or "Boys don't cry!" the pugnacious taunts of his older brother have echoed, emulating the father's sarcastic tone.
Once, about a year ago, as I was carrying the trashcan around the corner of the house, I found little John hunched over on my porch, sobbing. His T-shirt front was nearly saturated, and he caught his breath in lurching hiccoughs as the tears surged down his cheeks and chin. Even the cement porch at his feet showed signs of the torrent.
"What's wrong, Bud," I said, sitting down beside him.
He brushed the butt of his fist back and forth across his eyes and tried to stifle his sobs. As a first grade teacher, I've seen enough unhappy children to know when they're inconsolable. I put my right arm around his heaving shoulders and pushed his wispy, brown hair out of his eyes with my left hand.
"It's alright, little buddy. You just go ahead and cry."
"M-m-y D-d-ad says that only s-siss...” he whimpered, and his shoulders convulsed even harder.
"Well, we both know you're not a sissy, are you?" I said.
"N-n-o!" he answered, as his sobbing began to subside. "But my brother says I am."
"Why don't you tell me what happened," I said.
After successive swipes of his sleeve at his eyes and nose, he began. "R-Ronnie got a p-pellet gun," he said, sniffing hard.
"Well, you're not crying because of that?" I said.
"No...but he...he shot a bird...a little bird..." his voice quivered, and a big tear began to fill the corner of his eye.
I watched it swell and swell like the slow drip of a leaky faucet until it finally spilled out and rolled down his cheek. "He killed it!" he said, and the sobs began again.
I held his shoulder tighter.
"J-Jimmy..." he said, after a long snuffling silence, "I-I'm not a sissy..."
"No," I said quickly, "Of course you're not. Why would you even ask?"
"B-Because Ronnie s-says so.... He says it's just a s-stupid b-bird, and only a sissy would cry...."
"Ronnie is wrong!" I said, and all the old anger and resentment swelled. I looked over at the little boy's house, and I could imagine the moronic glee on the bully's face. "It is a sad thing when someone is cruel. When something small and helpless dies, it's right to cry!" I patted him on the head. He smiled a little and sniffed.
"I think so too, Jimmy," he said.
"Good boy, John," I said, and he began to walk slowly toward home.
As I leaned down to pick up the paper, it occurred to me that since that day on my porch, Johnny and I had not really talked as much as we used to. School had probably gotten more demanding for both of us. It certainly had for me. On the other hand, I wouldn't be surprised if his father had told him not to come around.
Peeling the plastic wrapper off the Christmas edition, I unfolded the paper and wondered whether the news on Christmas morn would be good or bad. The birds abruptly ceased their chirruping at the sound of a door opening across the street. I looked up to see Johnny run gleefully out of the house.
"Look, Jimmy," he cried. "Look what Santa Claus brought me! Look!"
He held his present in his hands, but I couldn't see what it was as he dodged through the maze of Santa and his wooden reindeer.
"What you got, Bud?" I yelled to him as he ran.
"Look!" he cried, then he stopped at the edge of my lawn and raised his present in his arms. There was a soft report, a whoosh of air like the sound someone makes when the wind is knocked out of them. "YAH!" he cried, "Got 'im!"
The boy ran to where the small form had tumbled from my roof, and he stood aiming his Christmas present triumphantly at the bloody ball of fluff. I looked back at the house with its nativity scene and its red, white, and blue bulbs. Then, trying vainly to blink back the burning behind my eyes, I turned to gaze once more at the two pathetic victims on my frost-covered lawn.

©1985 Tim McMullen
All Rights Reserved

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Clean House in the Senate: Fix the Filibuster!


Here is the latest letter that I e-mailed to my Senators:

"The Greatest Threat to Democracy is Hypocrisy!
  Seek Truth! Speak Truth!" Tim McMullen

The tyranny of the majority is a real threat, especially in this age when infotainment and partisan polemical "gotcha' gossip" has replaced news reporting; when public service and "equal time" has been eliminated from the "public airwaves"; when out of context snippets and sound bites get deliberately distorted to become never-ending falsehoods used to smear opponents. Clearly, the framers of the constitution were very wise to create checks and balances to protect the helpless minority from the ruthless majority.

In politics, however, an even greater threat has emerged, the tyranny of the minority. In California, since Prop. 13, where a simple majority vote imposed a supermajority threshold to pass budgets and raise taxes, gridlock and petty political pandering has created crisis after crisis in this once great and solvent state.

More importantly, in the Senate of the United States of America, since the election of President Barack Obama, the Republican minority has converted the quaint and sparingly used "filibuster" coupled with the practice of "secret holds" to absolutely subvert the process of governing.

As both a constituent and supporter, I am urging you, as vehemently as I can, to help get Congress working again for the American people. Reduce the hypocritical tyranny of the minority by bringing common sense to the filibuster.

I know that some are calling for the complete elimination of the filibuster, but I do not. I value the moral imperative romanticized in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" or actualized in Senator Bernie Sander's gallant filibuster against the ill-advised and unproductive "tax deal" extracted from the President by Republican extortion.

Therefore, I call on you to vote to alter the implementation of the filibuster when the new Congress convenes in January. Eliminate the ability of the minority to prevent necessary legislation and nominations from even being discussed in the Senate.

Governance and legislation should be the result of principled debate and compromise not petty, partisan, procedural ploys.

We need to restore the concept of the "loyal opposition" by reducing the ability of a politically motivated few to thwart the needs of the many. Fix the filibuster NOW! Then, work to eliminate the abuse of the secret hold.

As always, thank you for supporting people over profits, integrity over iniquity, honesty over hypocrisy.

Respectfully,
Tim McMullen

P.S.: I did not send along the picture of "Bijou, the Dog of Democracy," but perhaps I should have.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Note to the President: Resurrect Reagan's Response


"The Greatest Threat to Democracy is Hypocrisy! Seek Truth! Speak Truth!" Tim McMullen

Political hostage-taking and economic terrorism by the Republican minority who seek to ravage social programs while increasing corporate and military giveaways under an "austerity" regime have been wrong for twelve years as they have devastated our economy. Addressing the bank-created foreclosure fiasco, health costs, unemployment, crumbling infrastructure, alternative energy, education, worker's protections can, on the other hand, spur the economy and reduce unemployment.

There are many areas in which compromise can produce positive results, and if the Republicans come to the table willing to work for the common good, then immediate progress can be made. If, on the other hand, they continue to kowtow to the Tea Party obsessions with decimating the public sector and destroying government while transferring all economic wealth and political power to the corporatocracy and decimating the rights and fortunes of the working class, they should be opposed and thwarted absolutely.

We have seen where four years of capitulating to their obstinance got us. Now we need to put forth solid, reasonable proposals, including cuts and increased revenue, that will get us moving after eight years of foolish, ideological economic failure followed by four years of politically-imposed and politically-motivated stagnation. Cutting or privatizing programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, programs that have worked for many decades, could not be more ill-advised.

The American people said it across this country in the recent election. Join us, Mr. President. When they come with their threats to drive us off the cliff if we don't give them everything on their wish list, answer them with the immortal words of their idol, Ronald Reagan. "Just say, 'NO!'"

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Look, Ma! No politics————Townes Van Zandt: Close Encounters of the Musical Kind


Two of my favorite Townes Van Zandt songs are "Second Lover's Song" and "Don't You Take it Too Bad" because they defy the chorus/verse form and create an organic meander to a gentle profundity.

I first stumbled upon Townes's music in 1969 while going to college in Chico, CA, when I found his first album in a supermarket cut-out bin for 10¢. I bought it because it was produced by Jack Clement. In both his playing and his writing, I instantly recognized in Townes a kindred spirit.

Six or seven years later Townes was booked into the Roxy in LA (odd venue for a folk singer). The opening act was Dianne Davidson (the first to cover "Delta Dawn") and Tracy Nelson (whose powerful "Down So Low" is another big favorite of mine).

Their first set was great, but about halfway through Nelson and Davidson's act, Howard and Roz Larman (I had played on their Folkscene radio show and performed for their big Folk fair fundraiser for KPFK a few months earlier) asked me and my wife if we wanted to meet Townes. I jumped at the chance. He was very gracious and fun to talk to. He invited me to come back after his set before the second show of the night and the next night as well. As much as I admire Tracy Nelson and love her work, I do not regret having missed two nights of her sets in order to have spent those hours talking about music and  songs with one of my musical idols.

I was fortunate enough to see Townes play a few times many years later at McCabes, several times sharing the bill with Guy Clark. I spoke to Townes fleetingly a couple of times out in the lobby, but I never mentioned those two nights and how much they meant to me. I wish I had.

Though I wrote two songs about the tragic death of Phil Ochs ("Heroes are Hard to Find" and "Come This Far") and one about Maury Muehleisen (Jim Croce's musical partner who was killed in the same plane crash—my song is titled "Second String Songman"), I still have not written one for Townes despite my being a huge fan.

How huge? It's not just that I own more Townes Van Zandt recordings in my 10,000 LP and CD collection than any other artist, or that I have several copies of his songbook and all of his available videos (plus all of my Beta and VHS recordings of his TV performances). It's not that for the last thirty years, the only two posters that have hung in my office are two, huge, framed Milton Glaser posters, "From Poppy with Love" and "The Poppy Foundation: Townes Van Zandt and The Mandrake Memorial." (Needless to say, my wife, Carolyn, is a very understanding woman). It's not that my wife's aunt (only a few years older than us), when she heard that Townes Van Zandt was one of my favorite songwriters, said, "Really, he's a songwriter; why, I went to junior high school with him in Boulder, Colorado." Nope, it's more than that.

In 1974, I quit my tenured teaching job to pursue songwriting and performing. To make ends meet, I worked in a record store in Whittier, CA. One day, while working at the store, I got a call from John Lomax III, Towne's manager, who wanted to talk with me personally. I was not the owner or the manager of the store; I just sold records. However, I had just ordered six copies of Towne's songbook (for me, my brothers, and a couple of friends). Lomax informed me that our little store, Lovell's Records, in Whittier, sold more Townes Van Zandt records than any store west of the Mississippi. This, of course, was because I played his albums all the time when I worked and talked him up to anyone who asked who that was on the player. Being a college town, many kids and locals were intrigued by his music.

During that phone call, Lomax asked if I wanted to be the West Coast distributor for Townes's songbook. Since I was again starting to substitute teach (long story about love and serendipity), I didn't think that I would have the time—besides, in all honesty, Lomax seemed like kind of a sleazy character—still, in hindsight, I do wish that I had pursued that opportunity if only for the chance that it might have brought more personal contact with Townes.

Who knows, I may still write that song for Townes someday.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

On the Self-made Man...


On Sunday, when I turned 64 and quipped that the iconic Beatles song would no longer be applicable, several of my witty FB friends chimed in. Ove suggested that the song might be saying, "When I'm Six Feet Four." I agreed that this kept the song relevant for me, since this was a height which I have not and am not likely to attain.

My friend, Charles, suggested that this was a height that I could easily reach by standing on a chair. (Former student, Bertha retorted that at 64, it wasn't getting up on the chair but getting down safely that was the problem.)

Charles's solution got me thinking about politics—because pretty much everything these days gets me thinking about politics—and it prompted this answer.

Charles, I think your chair solution explains the Romney/Ryan philosophy of "self-reliance" and "self-respect": however, standing on a chair doesn't make you taller (Look, Ma, now I'm six-feet-four") any more than trampling on the lives of thousands (perhaps, millions) of others in your rapacious lust for personal gain while using all the advantages of wealth and privilege to rig the system and justify fraud and malfeasance make you a "job creator" (Look, Pa, I just raided a corporation with a hostile leveraged buyout that garnered me and my cronies millions while we ravaged the company, left it with insurmountable debt, drove its employees into the street—causing many of them to lose their homes, their pensions, and their life savings— and bankrupted both the employees and the shareholders, then merrily skipped off with our ill-gotten gains to do it again and again). [Yep, that is, indeed, one very long sentence, and look out, here comes another one....]

If, by "self-made," Romney/Ryan/and the far-wrong wing of the Republican Party mean someone who has used all of the infrastructure and social, economic and legal systems put into place by your fellow citizens—including millions of dollars in government "bail-outs" (see "Romney's Summer Olympics" or Ryan's own government pension plan)—if, by "self-made," they mean someone who forfeits his conscience and morality in favor of unfettered personal greed—if, by "self-made," they mean someone who, having done the aforementioned, can, without intended irony, brashly claim that those that you have trampled over and cheated do not "take personal responsibility" or "care for their lives"—then I agree that in order to be that crass, craven, clueless, and conscienceless, a Romney or a Ryan or a Cantor or a Koch or a Rove or a Bush or a Bachmann or a Palin or a Coulter or a Limbaugh or a Murdoch are, indeed, self-made, immoral monstrosities.

And yes, the foregoing is definitely invective (unkind though not uncivil), and it would be an "ad hominem" attack except that the characterization is directly relevant to the claim of these so-called "self-reliant," "self-made" women and men.


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

God, The Pledge, the PC, and a Poem


The Pledge of the Politically Correct (written during the first Gulf War)

Angry Americans clamor
For Constitutional Changes
To Protect the National Symbol
From Despicable Desecrators
While patriotic Auto Antennas
Proudly display their
Tattered Flag Rags
Flapping fiercely in the wind

©1990 T. McMullen All Rights Reserved

On a “friend’s” Facebook page the following was posted in a graphic:

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

…My generation grew up reciting this every morning in school with my hand over my heart. They no longer do that for fear of offending someone.

Let’s see how many Americans will repost and not worry about offending someone.” 
[I might add that the whole thing was in CAPS!]

The first comment, from Jonathan, said,"Under God" was added in the '50s, during the apex of Cold War paranoia and McCarthyism. The original pledge was non-secular. This same hysterical time in our history is responsible for "In God We Trust" used as a slogan, thrown around federal buildings and our currency.

We evolve and shed the bullshit.

People who bitch about PC attitudes do not operate in anyone's best interest. They are haters, with entitlement issues about openly hating.
Recognize.

Jonathan, in a different comment, later asserted, “The Bible is a work of fiction.”

Then Brandon responded:
The Bible like all genuine works of world historical religion are works of the human heart not "fiction". Why do rabid atheist's eyeballs always seem like they are going to pop out? Hating religion, especially Christianity, is an easy, weak target for intellectual weaklings.

This exchange prompted the following from me:

Brandon, I am puzzled a bit by the distinction that you seem to be making between works of “fiction” and “works of the human heart.” Are you distinguishing between works of the heart as opposed to works of the “head,” i.e., purely rational, devoid of affective or emotional content? To be honest, I don’t think that I have ever encountered such a thing. Even the most “rational” piece of scientific writing has emotive qualities. It is the nature of written and spoken communication, and it seems unlikely that you are arguing that fiction is exclusively rational, neither inspired nor imbued with emotion; nor does it seem reasonable to assume that you think the sacred works are devoid of all rational thought. If they were, they would be worth very little indeed.

By works of the human heart, do you mean something that is “true” as opposed to fiction, which is “false”? I was faced innumerable times with eager students who, after reading some powerful and moving piece of fiction, would ask, “Is it true?” The need for it to be true in the historical sense gave them a sense of validation that a “made up story” could not. This error can be attributed to the folly and ignorance of youth. The most accurate answer is, of course, “though it may not have actually happened, it is certainly true.” Sadly, this consumer society has created a logical fallacy with their absurd and misleading phrase “based on a true story” or “based on real events” to describe the most preposterous works of supernatural or semi-historical fiction. This distortion of the concept of truth can also be seen in the absurdly ironic misnomer of “reality” TV for the ridiculously foolish and fabricated scenarios from Jerry Springer and Maury Povich to Big Brother and Fear Factor to Keeping Up With the Kardashians and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.

To argue that the great books of the world’s religions are “true,” in the sense of an accurate, historical documentation of actual physical events that occurred in a real time at a real place, and that they are “true” in their entirety, is also a patently absurd approach. Those fundamentalists who insist that every word of their “holy book” is not symbolic but literal either have no grasp of reality, or they have never actually read the books that they purport to believe.

Perhaps you are getting at the more meaningful distinction between pure literary fiction and mythological works. In this case, it is the motive more than the method that separates the two. Literary fiction is meant to entertain, to delight, to move, to motivate, to challenge, and to explain to the reader. The author may create a setting using verisimilitude or absolute fancy; they may create characters based on archetypes or stereotypes, or they may attempt a complex and nuanced depiction of actual people.

Notice, though, that each of these intentions and techniques can be applied not merely to great works of fiction, but they can also apply to The Upanishads, The Vedas, The Mahabharata and its excerpt The Bhagavad Gita, The Ramayana, The Jainist Agamas, The Tao Te Ching (or The Te Tao Ching), The Sutras, The Old Testament, The New Testament, The Koran, The Nordic Eddas, The Book of Mormon, and many other sacred texts. The difference between these “sacred works” and ordinary works of fiction is that the sacred books offer myths of cosmogony (creation), etiology (tracing of causes), legends and parables, as well as codes of conduct and rules of propriety.

While acknowledging this distinction between fiction and myth (and dismissing the more colloquial and ethnocentric meaning of “myth” as a falsity, fabrication, or false religion),
I fail to comprehend the source of your ire. You did not describe these works as messages from God but as works of the human heart, thus denying them any supernatural standing or sacrosanct authority.

If they are merely manmade, then they are fiction in their storytelling, howsoever wise in their advice and admonitions. As such, why can they not be held up to intellectual scrutiny, just like Hamlet, Tristam Shandy, The Scarlett Letter, The Time Machine, Brave New World, 1984, The Grapes of Wrath, Death of a Salesman, The Tin Drum and other great works of fiction or Wealth of Nations, Gulliver’s Travels, “The Declaration of Independence,” Leaves of Grass, Origin of Species, Das Kapital, “Self Reliance,” “Civil Disobedience,” “The Pledge of Allegiance,” Mein Kampf and other works of poetry and persuasion?

You asked, “Why do rabid atheist's eyeballs always seem like they are going to pop out? Hating religion, especially Christianity, is an easy, weak target for intellectual weaklings." If something is “an easy, weak target for intellectual weaklings,” what must it be for those with some modicum of intellectual prowess?

No, it is not the ease with which individual inconsistencies, fallacies, fantasies, and absurdities in the religious texts can be identified and ridiculed that causes thoughtful, even spiritually-minded people to hold religion in such contempt. It is the use of religion by its adherents and by those ignorant poseurs who are deluded into believing themselves adherents, who use their understanding (or misunderstanding, distortion, or perversion) of “their” religion to justify their intrusion on the lives of others.

Persecution and subjugation on the grounds of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual preference, and lifestyle; torture, murder and war from crusades to jihads, from occupations to intifadas, from suicide bombers to drone missile strikes (and no, these are not all morally equivalent—an uprising as a means of “shaking off” oppression, for example, is more justified than an invasion or an occupation) but the evil perpetrated from each of these acts of violence is done in the name and on behalf of religion.

When it comes to the original point, the document known as “The Pledge of Allegiance” or the “Flag Salute,” it is a very interesting affirmation, designed in the late 1800’s to bring a sense of patriotism at a time when the rise of capitalism had created slums and wage-slave factories. Bellamy proposed a document that would be recited by school children everywhere as a way of recognizing and encouraging the political and economic aspirations of the people. It said, “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

The flag was seen as a unifying symbol of the Republic, that is, the representative democracy, and not the corrupt and unscrupulous oligarchy that it was becoming. The term “indivisible” referred to the Civil War and the failure of the Confederacy to dismantle the Union, but it also referred to the economic disparity being created under laissez faire capitalism, the ever-widening gulf between the haves and the have-nots, that was fomenting a disdain for and revolt from the jingoistic “patriotism” of the masters by the working poor. The concluding phrase is, obviously, the heart of the affirmation and the aspiration. It states that this is a democracy with “liberty and justice for all,” with emphasis on “ALL.” When read in this form, it clearly comports with Francis Bellamy’s socialist intent.

Bellamy was adamantly opposed to the change fomented in 1924 by the American Legion and the Daughters of the American Revolution. They replaced “my Flag” with “the Flag of the United States” and a year later, they added,  “of America.” Bellamy’s protestations that these changes eroded the universality of his pledge went unheeded.

The crowning distortion, the change that, in fact, completely undermined the very premise of the pledge, was the anti-communist insertion of “under God,” at the urging of the Knights of Columbus during the Eisenhower administration. This absolutely upended an egalitarian statement about a country that protected the liberty of ALL and provided justice for All. The first statement in the first amendment of the Bill of Rights (the document without which the Constitution could not have been ratified and which is directly in line with the Preamble) is “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….” By changing the Flag Code and declaring this to be “one Nation under God,” Eisenhower and Congress had thoroughly, intentionally, and unconstitutionally undermined and subverted the protection of religious liberty as proscribed in the first amendment.

Put simply, whenever politicians, pundits or partisans use God or religion as a rationale for promoting or punishing behavior, liberty and justice are curtailed, and harm transpires. Complaining about, even railing against those negative impacts, even from something as initially laudable as the “Pledge of Allegiance” seems completely justifiable.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Healthcare and the "It's My Money" Argument


A friend on Facebook posted an article about a chain store, Hobby Lobby, suing the government over the Affordable Care Act because of their religious opposition to contraception. Though the thread got a little off topic, the following reasonable question was raised about another commentator’s suggestion that we should have universal healthcare like 90% of the developed nations.


“Why should I be forced to pay for the irresponsibility of another person? Rights are restrictions on what other people can force upon you. You have the right to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness. You have the right to believe what you want, the right to go about doing whatever you want without being forced into doing anything with anybody else that you do not wish to participate in so long as you are not effecting there rights. How is it your birthright to take my money and pay for your healthcare if you choose to live a lifestyle that will cause medical problems?"

Granted, it missed the whole religious aspect of the contraception issue, but it asks a question many ask about taxes. What follows is my answer:


Fred, I was going to let this thread about a petty and spurious legal squabble slide since your response to my answer about the religious nature of the lawsuit was not a rebuttal but a complete reframing of the issue that was, again, completely irrelevant to the article. But after your answer to Amy’s question about universal healthcare, I feel compelled to weigh in.

I do not wish to attribute to you any assumptions or views that you do not hold, yet in order to respond to the underlying premises, I find it necessary to make some generalizations. I am not accusing you of or praising you for being a libertarian; however, your line of reasoning is along “libertarian” lines.

People like Ron Paul and Penn Gillette make compelling arguments about the intrusive and/or oppressive nature of government while elevating the rights of the individual over the demands of society. I am guessing that these arguments, if unexamined, have resonance with a majority Americans.

Ayn Rand’s vision of the exceptional, self-made man, the individualistic hero—Emerson and Thoreau’s “self-reliant” individual turned into a morally superior and anti-social megalomaniac—as well as Nietzsche’s “Ãœbermensch” or “Superman,” has also found increasing popularity in an ethical, social, political, and economic milieu where the wages and rights of the worker have been significantly eroded while a new class of corporate mega-millionaires has been created.

Anyone born during or since Reagan’s reign has lived in a society in which “government IS the PROBLEM” has been the “common wisdom”; this is a “consensus” that was carefully designed and executed long before Reagan’s ascendancy, and one that continues to be bought and paid for by billions of corporate dollars spent to perpetuate that destructive falsehood. Government is NOT the problem. However, BAD government is ONE of the problems. Mythical distortions of history and anti-intellectualism are also problematic for a society as is an unsustainable economy predicated on personal greed and perpetual growth.

E.E. Cummings coined the phrase “shrill, collective myth” to describe a “popular” view of history. Our collective myth perpetuates some very powerful and laudable assumptions. You said, for example, “Rights are restrictions on what other people can force upon you.” This point, of course, stems from an assumption of “Natural Rights,” i.e., those rights that are “inalienable” and which apply equally to all humans, as opposed to “Legal Rights,” which are those rights conferred by the laws of a society. Jefferson included the phrase, “they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” If, by Creator (with a capital “C”) he meant God, then this very line of reasoning is not self-evident, but pure conjecture. The existence of God (as anthropomorphic being rather than as Tillich’s “Ultimate Concern”) is certainly not self-evident any more than basic rights are self-evident. This, on the other hand, does not mean that these enumerated rights are not good goals.

You also quote the brilliant “Declaration of Independence” directly: “You have the right to ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’” Of course, it is important to remember that the men who penned these phrases held and justified the holding of slaves, in essence, instantly contradicting all three provisions as far as slaves were concerned.
John Locke, the philosopher from whom much of the rationale for the “Declaration” was acquired, suggested in “A Letter Concerning Toleration”: “The commonwealth seems to me to be a society of men constituted only for the procuring, preserving, and advancing their own civil interests.  ¶Civil interests I call life, liberty, health, and indolency of body; and the possession of outward things, such as money, lands, houses, furniture, and the like.” Notice that he actually included health as one of these “civil interests.” These sentences were preceded by his analysis and dismissal of the “pretense” of claims by both church and magistrate as an excuse to dominate others. His rational analysis of and call for religious tolerance (which echoes Roger William’s essay “On the Bloudy Tenent of Persecution, 1644) is extremely pertinent and, I think you would agree, comes down solidly on the side of the Affordable Care Act and against Hobby Lobby.
Finally, you suggest the following: “You have the right to believe what you want, the right to go about doing whatever you want without being forced into doing anything with anybody else that you do not wish to participate in so long as you are not effecting there (sic) rights.” This is certainly true in a social vacuum, and as long as one lives completely outside of any human contact (and some would extend this to inter-species contact), such rights can remain sacrosanct. However, as soon as another individual enters the picture, such rights are either lost entirely, in the case of subjugation or domination, or compromised in ways that accommodate both individuals. This is the nature of society. I completely agree with your characterization of lofty goals, and I would tend to agree with Locke and Jefferson (and with you, perhaps?) that governments came into existence to “secure these rights.”

Unfortunately, lofty goals aside, the argument nearly always degenerates into an argument about “MY MONEY!” and returns us to the fiction of the “self-made man” and the “self-made money.” I would be happy to address this “we made this” fallacy elsewhere, but here it simply comes down to the simple fact that taxes are not the government stealing from the individual, it is the individual consenting to be taxed as a part of being the governed.

As Locke said in “Sec. 140.” Of the Second Treatise of Civil Government, after spending paragraphs explaining why no person can be legally deprived of property, he avers: “It is true, governments cannot be supported without great charge, and it is fit every one who enjoys his share of the protection, should pay out of his estate his proportion for the maintenance of it. But still it must be with his own consent, i.e. the consent of the majority, giving it either by themselves, or their representatives chosen by them: for if any one shall claim a power to lay and levy taxes on the people, by his own authority, and without such consent of the people, he thereby invades the fundamental law of property, and subverts the end of government: for what property have I in that, which another may by right take, when he pleases, to himself?”

Therefore, roads and schools and military and police and business regulations and health care that the society, through their representative government, deem worthy of securing, is a fundamental part of a societal construct. That our own society has abdicated Locke’s “civil interest” in health is a moral disgrace, and the fact that we have relegated basic health protections to the private profiteers is something that we actually should be up in arms about.

This brings us to your view of “health” and “health care.” You argue, “How is it your birthright to take my money and pay for your healthcare if you choose to live a lifestyle that will cause medical problems?" Are you arguing that all health issues can be avoided through lifestyle choices? Mitigated, certainly, but avoided? Of course not. What of the child born with a disease or who contracts one early in life? Was that a result of the child’s lifestyle? If not, would you admit that this child has a birthright to health care? Or is this individual’s life merely determined by the vagaries of wealth and whether or not the family can afford it? We have a right, as a society, to agree otherwise.

If I knowingly eat spoiled food, I am an idiot. But do we, as a part of our consent to be governed have a right to demand that the government regulate those who make and provide food so that it is not spoiled when we eat it? Do we have a right to demand that corporations not pollute our environment or that when they do, we, as a society, have a right to extract both compensation and punishment for that harm (a basic Lockean premise from the same paragraph of his letter quoted above).

I have no children. You appear to argue that the government taking my money and paying for the education of someone else’s children is inherently wrong. Howard Jarvis, the demagogue who led the “taxpayers’ revolt” with Prop 13 in California is still hailed as a guiding light by many. He stated unequivocally that he did not believe in public education. I believe that Howard Jarvis and Paul Gann were idiots about tax policy (or more likely, knowing con men), sycophants for the corporatocracy parading as “grass roots” organizers, an early example of “astro-turfing,” and direct contributors to our current economic woes.

I, however, would not begrudge their children a public education nor would I deny their fundamental social right to health care. Ironically, Paul Gann contracted AIDS, apparently from a transfusion, and at the end of his life, he was an advocate for AIDS treatment and patient’s rights. The "Paul Gann Blood Safety Act" (California Health and Safety Code Section 1645(b)) mandates that physicians discuss the risks of blood transfusions. Public money well spent on government intervention to protect the health of individuals. Just like public money well spent on public education, fire and safety enforcement, infrastructure, business regulations, and health care—including contraception.

We, as citizens, have every right to demand that our tax dollars are “well spent,” and we have a right to argue about how to spend them, but we don’t have a right to individually withhold it on religious or personal grounds. I, of course, also think that Churches who participate in political activity either in the pulpit or through campaign contributions as well as any “non-profit” (501(c)(3)’s, like Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS, that engage in political activity should also be taxed, but that, again, is a different argument for a different time.

Personally, I sort of like the idea of voters getting to “check off” where their tax dollars will go. I am enraged and outraged that my taxes support the murdering of innocent civilians by “video game” (drone); the protection and subsidizing of irresponsible, criminal, and in some cases, murderous corporations and their management; and myriad other examples of what I see as misuses of government, i.e., tax-payer, funds. But until we, the governed, create such a system, then it is unfair and unreasonable to argue that the government is usurping or commandeering or “stealing” your money simply because you object to how it is used. Lobby to change it, or revolt to change it, but to argue coercion on a particular specific is, at the very least, disingenuous.



Friday, July 13, 2012

Faces of Myanmar Part 2


Click here to create your own Shutterfly photo book.

"The Candy Store" New Original Song

Wishing everyone a happy and fun-filled Friday, the 13th! Here's a brand new song. It couldn't be any rougher: it is literally the first and only time that the song has been played, and it may never get played again, but I thought that it was fun enough to pass along. The time frame covered in the song is about a week, but it is a compression for art's sake. Like Monty Python's mattress salesmen, a week equals about forty years, give or take two or three. If you like it, feel free to "like" it on FB or comment.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Encouraging De Tocqueville's Slippery Slope


In a recent post on my brother’s Facebook page, one of his friends commented on a graphic deriding those who could not differentiate between Joseph Stalin and Barack Obama. He quoted Alexis De Tocqueville, from Democracy in America, as follows:

"A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world's greatest civilizations has been 200 years.”

He then added, “Sounds like Obamacare and many more of the entitlement programs to me.”

I am offering this lengthy treatise because I think that we fall too easily into the use of catch phrases, code words, and intellectual short cuts to demonize rather than think about real issues. “Obamacare,” “entitlements,” “nanny state,” “socialism,” “big government,” “liberal,” “conservative,” “tax and spend,” “job killers,” etc., are pejoratives used to obfuscate and denigrate rather than to understand problems and find real solutions.

Benjamin Franklin, in his “Speech to the Convention, 1789,” after a very clever use of irony and self deprecation in his intro, said, “In these sentiments, Sir, I agree to this Constitution with all its faults, if they are such; because I think a general Government necessary for us, and there is no form of Government but what may be a blessing to the people if well administered, and believe farther that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in Despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic Government, being incapable of any other.”

Forty-five to fifty years later, De Tocqueville made a great number of astute observations and suggestions about democracy in America in Democracy in America. In the above quote, De Tocqueville echoed much of Franklin’s sentiment.

I would suggest that, in this case, his prediction and admonition in Chapter XX, comes much closer to what has actually happened in the last forty years. He said, “I am of the opinion, on the whole, that the manufacturing aristocracy which is growing up under our eyes is one of the harshest that ever existed in the world; but at the same time it is one of the most confined and least dangerous [What do you think he would say now?]. Nevertheless, the friends of democracy should keep their eyes anxiously fixed in this direction; for if ever a permanent inequality of conditions and aristocracy again penetrates into the world, it may be predicted that this is the gate by which they will enter.”

Speaking of “slippery slopes,“(another of the commentators suggested this premise), we actually have two occurring, both of which are conflicting impulses found in De Tocqueville. One slippery slope that he championed was equality and social justice. He saw the rise of these trends over hundreds of years of history, and the demise of the aristocracy was one of the most important in the evolution of equality and social justice. He deeply admired America for having created the world’s best effort at accomplishing these principles both consciously, through the creation of its institutions, and unconsciously, through the character and aspirations of the people.

The other slippery slope is the rise of another aristocracy that could exploit what he called the principles of “manufactures” to the point where the workers are essentially disenfranchised, and the “owners” control the government; thus, another route to despotism other than “majority” wanting to feed off the largesse of government.

Only thirty years after De Tocqueville published his tome, we had the rise of the “Robber Barons” and the exploitation of wage slavery until the rise of labor began to curb some of the most egregious excesses. With Theodore Roosevelt, we get the first inklings of “progressive” government as an actual protector of the “people’s” interests and rights and a hedge against the exploitation and domination of bosses and corporations. Jim Crow, of course, was still alive and well, and women were still disenfranchised, but workers began to have a glimmer of hope in achieving the equality and social justice that the author of Democracy in America envisioned.

Until the latter part of the 1960’s, we saw a steady rise in equality and justice which some might argue created a strong middle class and others might suggest resulted from that strong middle class. Either way, pensions, health care, overtime, five day work weeks, concern for the environment, concern for the health and safety of workers and consumers, all became attainable.  These improvements were, of course, fought viciously every step of the way by those who profited from a workforce at the mercy of their masters (as De Tocqueville called them). After the massive defeat of Barry Goldwater’s brand of fiscal conservatism, the corporatocracy put millions of dollars into think tanks and media manipulation. Eventually, they found their front man in the form of affable but feisty Ronald Reagan who gleefully attacked government as “the problem” and espoused deregulation and the free reign of business to exploit and manipulate at will.

A slavish acceptance of Milton Friedman’s fantasy “free market” philosophy, a whole-hearted adoption of Arthur Laffer’s laughable (but devastating) “supply-side” economics, combined with a similar cherry-picking of Ayn Rand’s antithetical distortion of Emerson’s “Self Reliance,” and you get forty years of lax regulation, deregulation, and manipulation of the marketplace that have lead to the destruction of journalism and objective reporting, the savings and loan debacle, the energy fraud (Enron), the dot com bubble collapsing, the housing crisis, the banking crisis, “too big to fail,” ad infinitum.

Thoreau said, in his essay, “On the Duty of Resistance to Civil Government (1848)” (aka “Civil Disobedience”), “The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right. It is truly enough said that a corporation has no conscience; but a corporation of conscientious men is a corporation with a conscience.” On the other hand, Milton Friedman declared that profit was the only moral duty of a corporation or a business man, and he lambasted the idea that business had any kind of social responsibility as “socialism,” which was, to him, of course, the most extreme negative attack in his arsenal of derision.

I see the current assaults on women’s rights, workers’ rights, immigrants’ rights, gay rights, health and safety regulations, environmental regulations, et al, as a last gasp of a newly emerged and rapidly expanded oligarchy to turn back the inevitable march of equality and social justice and promote the specious fable of a “meritocracy” that in reality rewards fraud, malfeasance, and injustice. Unfortunately, last gasps can last a long time, and if we, as a society, buy into the grotesque misuse of “Self Reliance” as a justification for “Social Darwinism,” a premise which the corporate oligarchs have been trying to sell us for over thirty years, rather than understanding the actual moral import of both Emerson’s essay or Darwin’s book, it will be a long slog indeed.

"The Greatest Threat to Democracy is Hypocrisy! Seek Truth! Speak Truth!"
Tim McMullen

Monday, June 4, 2012

Occupy the Ballot Box: Recall Scott Walker & Rebuke the Koch Brothers and the Chamber of Commerce


This is the last day to contribute to the recall of Governor Scott Walker, the poster boy for the Koch Brothers' and the Chamber of Commerce's coordinated attacks on unions, workers and women. With the help of a Republican legislature, Walker has rammed through nearly every regressive and repressive law that ALEC and other rabidly wrong-wing think tanks have on their "destroy the middle class" wish list.

Why would uber-wealthy corporations want to destroy the middle class? Read The Grapes of Wrath— especially Chapters 5, 19 and 25—for a brilliant and cogent analysis. A strong middle class makes demands, but when people lose their jobs, when people have been put out of their homes, when people's retirement savings have been decimated by the market manipulators, when a single illness can wipe out a family's life savings, then the people become desperate; they become hopeless; they become divided and selfish because they are convinced that there is not enough to go around and that getting theirs first, as meager as it might be, is all that matters. This is Ayn Rand’s “virtue of selfishness” in practice.

The transformation of the middle class into the working poor (or even a “peasant class”) is "Who Moved My Cheese" on a grand scale. In case you don’t remember, this was a hugely successful “motivational” book from 1998 subtitled, “An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life.” Its basic message was: Who cares what the masters have done to you? Don't ask, “Why have we been screwed?” Don’t ask, “How did it happen?” or “Who is responsible?” Just quit questioning and complaining and learn to live with it!

The assault on the middle class is an organized attempt to overthrow one hundred years of social, political, and economic progress and get us back to slave wages, no social safety net, squalor and desperation for the masses as the prerequisites for unrestrained power and wealth for the "intellectually and morally superior supermen" (see Ayn Rand); or Milton Friedman's amoral, free market corporate executives; or the newly-coined, ironic misnomer, "job creators" all of whom share the same view that unencumbered personal gain is the only moral measure of human worth. Those peons, i.e., the middle class and working poor, who demand a greater share of the largesse amassed by the “creators of wealth,” are evil parasites trying to siphon off the just rewards of the divinely favored rich man. The call for minimum wage, labor negotiations, pensions, overtime, health and safety regulations, environmental regulations, non-discrimination, education, and health care are just examples of the selfish desires of the lazy and irresponsible workers to feed off of the rich.

Both sides agree (Boehner bragged about the fact) that corporations are sitting on billions (perhaps trillions) of dollars of cash while the economy falters and workers’ lives and families are jeopardized through this inaction. Everyone knows that the big banks and the big market gamblers were “bailed out” during the Bush administration with no strings attached, followed by a second, “bail out” in the early days of the Obama administration (again without “strings” as demanded by the Republican lawmakers), and that lack of strings has brought no significant reform to the wildly reckless and deregulated speculators in the banking, securities, energy, pharmaceutical and insurance industries who daily threaten our economic well being. Nor has it curtailed the consistent efforts of the Republicans to thwart the recovery at all costs while using their propaganda echo chamber to blame the results of their intransigence on the President.

The job numbers continue to be dismal because for every job the private sector “creates,” two or three workers in the public sector are losing their jobs. We don’t have too many teachers, too many firemen, too many policemen, too many health and safety inspectors, too many support staff in the courts or public service agencies; the truth is, in most cases, we don’t have nearly enough, yet these workers are being fired by the millions. Grover Norquist (of the “Taxpayer Protection Pledge,” which has legislators vow, “I will oppose and vote against any and all efforts to increase taxes”) famously said, "My goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub." As early as 1955, Milton Friedman was denouncing public education per se while promoting vouchers or government subsidies for private education. Howard Jarvis, leader of the Tax Revolt, spoke openly about eliminating public education.

Scott Walker and Paul Ryan are both from Wisconsin. Ryan has blatantly championed his proposals to privatize Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid while lowering taxes and maintaining government handouts and protections for cutthroat criminal corporations and war profiteers. Scott Walker is the “executive branch” of this transfer-of-wealth juggernaut. Destroy public workers rights, women’s rights, immigrant’s rights, and you have a formula for fleecing the consumer and the worker while carting corporate tax-dodging wealth off to the Caymans.

“Citizens United” was the contribution of the ideologically and morally corrupt conservative majority of the Supreme Court to the overthrow of the middle class. As a result, we cannot hope to compete with corporations and their unfettered billions, but millions of us contributing something can counter their impact.

We can’t truly Occupy Wall Street physically for any length of time, but we can “occupy” them morally and legally if we “Occupy the Ballot Box!” We can rein in their reign of terror, reduce their obstructionist clout, and curtail their economic blackmail if we educate ourselves to the failure of the corporate raider free-for-all that has wreaked havoc on the lives of everyday Americans for the last thirty years.

It’s pretty simple these days: if the Chamber of Commerce has its name on it, it is not in your interest. If it claims that regulation is the problem, it is not in your interest. If it claims that the market is magic and should be left alone, it is not in your interest. If its name is “Taxpayers For” or “Taxpayers Against,” you know that they are not really taxpayers but tax dodgers, and their policies are not in your interest. 

With those provisos in mind, I encourage you to put your money where your heart and brain are, and “OCCUPY THE BALLOT BOX!”

“The Greatest Threat to Democracy is Hypocrisy! Seek Truth! Speak Truth!”
Tim McMullen

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

"If I Wanted America to Fail, I'd Believe this Video"


A YouTube video from FreeMarketAmerica is making the rounds. It's called "If I Wanted America to Fail," and it is a very, very expensive and slick piece of political propaganda. It appalls me that it showed up on one of my FB "friend's" posts as "a powerful video that should be watched." In some ways, though, I agree, it should be watched, but only as a tool for exposing the lengths that corporate America will go to in order to convince the American people to act against their own interests. Below is what I wrote as an answer to the video. Unfortunately, the 500 character limit on YouTube will not allow an adequate response on their website, so I must do it here (and on Facebook):

This is incredibly ridiculous (but incredibly slick multi-million dollar) propaganda that has almost no factual basis unless it is as satirical irony for the grotesque destruction that these false prophets for false profits have perpetrated on the American people and the world. I lived through the days when schools had to close because the smog in LA was too dangerous to breathe. The corporate-created double-speak that calls these predators "job creators" instead of the actual destroyers of the American economy and social infrastructure needs to be seen for what it is.

That so-called "free market" that built the middle class, was, in fact, a highly regulated market with strong unions. When the union-busting policies and the "lower taxes for the rich" mantra were introduced, the middle and working classes had seen decades of increasing prosperity; since Reagan introduced us to Arthur Laffer, Howard Jarvis and Milton Friedman, we have seen our incomes stagnate, our cities crumble, our states go bankrupt, our social safety net destroyed, our media consolidated and corrupted, and our political system derailed all in the name of the "free market" and unfettered greed. If the petroleum and energy companies were held accountable and were required to instead of exempted from actually building in the real costs of their destruction of the environment, our so-called "cheap energy" would at least triple in cost.

The hypocrisy of this video couldn't be more blatant. This is not espousing the cause of mom and pop enterprises or bright young entrepreneurs. This video and its spiel are touting and promoting the interests of giant multi-national corporations who, in the name of ever greater and more unscrupulous greed, continue to wangle giant tax breaks and subsidies, legal loopholes to exempt criminal behavior and protection from prosecution. Simultaneously, they are closing down factories in America; "sheltering" their profits "offshore" to avoid contributing to the general welfare of American society; eliminating health care and reneging on the promised pensions of American workers; attacking public sector workers and their unions while promoting the privatization of even fundamental government responsibilities like education and the military; and shipping jobs overseas where even basic worker and environmental protections are eliminated by totalitarian regimes which we support with our policies and our commerce.

If I have not made it clear already, this kind of "black is white," science-denying, worker-baiting, prevaricating propaganda promoted by ALEC and the US Chamber of Commerce sickens me. These liars could care less if America fails, and they have proven it every step of the way as they have perpetrated the biggest transfer of wealth in the history of the world from the working and middle classes to the idle rich and the predatory and criminal corporate plutocracy. In their movie, they slip in that they are aggrieved that they are not allowed to take their environment-destroying, ill-gotten "energy" and sell it to other countries. Why? To help America? No, to reap unconscionable and unfettered profits. The whole Tar Sands pipeline is designed to allow petroleum products to be shipped out of this country; it is not intended to help our energy solutions.

In one sense, I guess, the video does demonstrate a great entrepreneurial strain in American history; that is, the ability of the rich and powerful to take away rights, freedoms, and protections from everyday Americans, while taking the money that they saved from eliminating your healthcare, reneging on your pensions, demanding ever greater "efficiency" (more work) for ever-dwindling compensation. It further demonstrates this American entrepreneurship by spending some of those billions of dollars extracted from your pocket to market distortions and lies to convince you that TOO MUCH regulation created the Exxon and BP oil spills or the Enron debacle, or that it was too much regulation that brought down the financial markets, brought on the housing crisis, and created a jobless recovery. Yep, they spend your money to sell you the idea that THEY are the REAL AMERICANS who have your real interests and the interests of America at heart.

If I wanted America to fail, I would swallow their lies.
“The Greatest Threat to Democracy is Hypocrisy! Seek Truth! Speak Truth!”
Tim McMullen

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Should We Fear David Brooks' "Population Implosion"?

Danny O'Keefe shared an article by David Brooks titled "The Fertility Implosion" which expresses Brooks' growing trepidation about birthrates falling worldwide. Danny offered the following intro: "A major point in this article is that when people expand their income ability (usually with the benefit of greater education) they rely less on large families. The Earth could use less people. If the capacity to create and retain wealth grows, then the only real problem with maintaining an equity standard would seem to be fair distribution. If that sounds like socialism then let your granny starve."

I responded:
Danny, I agree with your analysis of the issue, but I don't think Brooks does. Perhaps I am just so jaded by all the recent assaults on women's rights, but this reads to me like a subtle admonishment to the advocates of birth control that we are controlling ourselves out of "prosperity."

The irony of this way of thinking is that it is predicated on the interpolation or conflation of the perceived need for large families due to the low life expectancy juxtaposed with the capitalistic fantasy of endless growth for prosperity. The irony stems from the fact, as you have pointed out, that increased population does not mean increased economic growth when the wealth is siphoned off by a tiny percentage and the trajectory of the "trickle" ceases to be "down."

It is likely that, with the technology that David Brooks acknowledges, we could, indeed, feed the world and not only successfully sustain life but improve living conditions for all. This cannot occur, however, when the system designed to provide that sustenance is predicated on promoting predators and sacrificing workers to a slave-like subsistence.

Brooks laments the fertility implosion because the system he supports demands a perpetual supply of an ever cheaper and harder working labor force (i.e., the hilarious misnomer: increased productivity) who do not share in the profits that their labor creates. Adam Smith would not recognize this grotesque perversion of his theory of capitalism as distorted by the amoral and immoral elevation of greed and selfishness by the likes of Milton Friedman and Ayn Rand, two unlikely but sympathetic bedfellows, whose acolytes recite snippets of their philosophies like mantras without an inkling of understanding.

In OUR TOWN, Wilder has an angry man ask Editor Webb (the play's most centered and level headed character, played, incidentally, by Ronny Cox in the excellent 1977 TV production), "“Is there no one in town aware of social injustice and industrial inequality?” To which Editor Webb replies:

"I guess we’re all huntin’ like everybody else for a way the diligent and sensible can rise to the top and the lazy and quarrelsome sink to the bottom. But it ain’t easy to find. Meantime, we do all we can to take care of those who can’t help themselves."

In the last thirty years, we have completely reversed these goals, rewarding and promoting corruption and fraud as the methodology of the quarrelsome and lazy gamers of the system while the diligent and sensible see their prospects squeezed out of them as that desire to help others is seen as a foolish weakness and unaffordable indulgence: Socialism, if you will.

My guess is that the only way to turn this delusional, self-destructive juggernaut around is by simultaneously and wholeheartedly supporting workers rights, women's rights, immigrants' rights, LGBT rights everywhere in the world, coupled with a profound respect for and aggressive protection of the environment. If we can do those "simple" things, we just might overcome this offensive glitch in the slow but inevitable evolution of freedom on this little speck of dust.