Rants on relevant stuff by an old coot
LENOIR, N.C. – I try not to write on the weekends. Generally, I don’t. The problem with that, however, is that by Monday I have notes on various topics stuck all over and around my desk. So, I’m trying something new. Every Monday (more or less) I’ll be offering brief musings on a variety of relevant stuff. So, here we go …
Is Critical Thinking on Sabbatical at NPR?
In a story published today on NPR, “The American Dream is Harder to Find in Some Neighborhoods,” writer John Ydstie accepts as fact that the so-called American Dream is something to which we all aspire. In at least two places, he refers to the American Dream without any critical thought. In short, he has assumed that everyone knows what it is (probably, in a vague sense) and aspires to it (wrong!). He also quotes a source that doesn’t critically question the concept of the American Dream.
Maybe it’s because I write about the health care industry, public health and the environment so much that I always look for a root cause to any problem. I certainly do my best to not make assumptions. In this case, Mr. Ydstie has demonstrated that critical thinking is on sabbatical at NPR. If people are no longer able to aspire to the American Dream as reported in the article, perhaps it wasn’t a dream at all. Maybe it’s a nightmare.
I know what is implied with the term American Dream. It boils down to essentially working ourselves to death to stockpile toys and gadgets that we don’t need – and indeed interfere with our interaction with other people and the environment in which we live. That is not my dream. Mine is to live simply, consume only what I need, be self-sufficient, limit my ecological footprint, and live in harmony with others.
It seems to me that our sad state of affairs today – acrimony, incivility and mass shootings just to name a few – would have us at least questioning the root causes of these problems. If we were, we would quickly find that one of the root causes is our obsession with “achieving” the American Dream. As we all reach across the table for our share of the pie, we compete for power and we exclude the most vulnerable – always.
So, is it a dream or is it a nightmare? You will have to answer that for yourself, but NPR should at least be asking the question, as should all journalists. But, as usual, the artists are ahead of elected officials and the so-called “Fourth Estate.” Check out this music video, “American Dream,” by the Christian contemporary rock group, Casting Crowns. Notably, this song was released in 2003 on the group’s self-titled debut album. They got it – 15 years ago!
Trump Insults all Korean War Veterans with His Revolting New Love Affair with Kim Jong Un
Speaking in my home state of West Virginia in the northern panhandle city of Wheeling on Sept. 29, Trump said of North Korean dictator Kim Jun Un, “He wrote me beautiful letters and they’re great letters. We fell in love.”
I don’t know who disgusts me more – Trump or the West Virginians that fall for that line of crap. I suggest they all pay a visit to Charleston, the state capital, and visit the monument to fallen veterans from West Virginia in our 20th Century wars. Among the hundreds of names of those killed in Korea is my Uncle George. He was killed in a delaying action in the first days of the war – as were many West Virginians. You can read about him here.
What you won’t read in that article are the circumstances of my uncle’s death. I’ve never printed them out of respect for my father, who did not want to know the horror of how his brother met his end on the battlefield. Dad died three years ago, so here’s a brief account of my uncle’s murder at the hands of the North Koreans:
Lt. George M. Barrick was reported killed in the Chockiwon area of South Korea on July 12, 1950, while commanding an ammunition and pioneer weapons platoon of Headquarters Company, Third Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment. Decades later, R. E. Culbertson, a member of Barrick’s company, recalled that Lt. Wadie Roundtree, also a member of that company, stated that he had seen George lying beside the road. His head was bleeding, and he appeared mortally wounded. Although a prisoner and unable to stop, Lt. Roundtree was able to ask George if the North Koreans were responsible for his injuries. The reply was ‘yes.’ Culbertson later saw Barrick’s body in the same place and reported that he looked as though he had been run over by a tank.” (Source: West Virginia Division of Culture and History).
You say that was a long time ago? Yes, it was. However, we know the regime has not changed its human rights abuses.
North Korea is our enemy. At one time, every red-blooded Mountaineer knew that Communists were our enemies. So, I am stunned. I reckon many of my fellow West Virginians only understand Trumpese Twitter shorthand. So, here’s what you need to know: Communists Bad. Lovers of Communists are traitors. I think you can figure out the rest. Still, I have to ask, what happened to “Mountaineers Are Always Free”?
Lindsey Graham the Poster Child of GOP Hypocrisy
U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, (R-S.C.), said to Democrats during the Senate Judiciary confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanaugh, “Y’all want power really bad.”
Good grief, Charlie Brown! That’s exactly what politics is all about, especially in a Republic where we get to choose our representatives. So of course, in a nation of 330 million people and nearly as many tribes, the stakes will always be high. So when one considers that the Republican Party refused to even have hearings for Merrick Garland, Graham’s words ring hollow, self-serving and of course, ironic. Sadly, that is today’s GOP (though Democrats don’t exactly have halos over their heads).
Easier is not Always Better
This little rant is minor in comparison to the other topics, but it is still a systemic problem in our nation, so its relevant. It is rooted (there’s that word again) in our dependence upon the internet. I am constantly refusing to bank or conduct business online. Why? Because billions of dollars have been stolen that way, not to mention personal data. And, I reckon because my writings upset a few people, attempts to hack into my email have occurred several times. In any event, an ongoing exchange with our auto insurer illustrates this conundrum. They want us to do everything online. I refuse. I hear the programmed response from what I think is a real person, but can’t say for sure: “But it’s easier.” I ask in return, “But is it better?” Dead silence.
“Just mail me the bill,” I conclude. “Well, OK, but that will increase your rates.” I didn’t ask the programmed person what immediately came to mind, “What the hell does me not using the internet have to do with my insurance rates?” The only legitimate reason for higher rates is because I’m a lousy driver, not stubborn.
But, such is the life of a curmudgeon. Talk to you again next Monday – but only if I feel like it.
© Michael M. Barrick, 2018.
‘The Resistance’ can count me out if all it seeks is destruction
By Michael M. Barrick
I am an old hippie who has no use for the ways of the established order. Ask the CEO of any corporation or the principal of any school for which I’ve worked. Or the pastor of any church I’ve attended. Most “order” is based on outdated, controlling systems designed to destroy creativity, and hence freedom. That leads to injustice.
I was raised to recognize and oppose injustice. I was also taught to do it peacefully. I was also taught there were great costs to standing against “The Establishment.” I learned that mostly the hard way.
I still oppose “The Establishment” even though my generation is the establishment. I am with the disaffected and dissatisfied. I am not satisfied with the direction of our nation. I believe “Citizens United” has led us down the path of crony capitalism even worse than the Robber Barron era of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In short, the inordinate control that corporations exert over our personal lives and political systems as a result of that Supreme Court decision have so polluted our national discourse that this outcome – violent resistance – was inevitable.
It is still unacceptable though. “The Resistance” must reject anarchy. Too many protesters are leaderless with no clear purpose short of destruction. If they wish to improve how our nation cares for the poor, vulnerable and the environment (I think that’s what they want other than Donald Trump’s head), they need leadership. Now.
That would – should – come from progressive clergy and politicians. The anarchists have legitimate complaints. There is truth to the saying, “If you want peace, work for justice.” There is plenty of injustice today. No ordinary American would ever enjoy the bailout received by Wall Street. Police departments do not need to be militarized. Energy companies such as Dominion and Duke should not be allowed to destroy the environment and seize private property through eminent domain to build fracking infrastructure. The War on Drugs is a complete failure, leading to the unjust imprisonment of tens of thousands of people, mostly minorities. We are spending more on the military than ever before even though we can’t muster the will to provide health coverage for all Americans.
So, one can understand the anger.
Violence, however, is not the answer.
To appreciate that, one needs a sense of history. There is talk on street corners no matter where I go that people say they’ve never seen our country in such a mess. I have. It was 1968.
The Vietnam War was at its peak, with thousands of young Americans subjected to an unjust draft. It was called the Selective Service System and it was very selective. If you were in college or could get a deferment because daddy had connections, you weren’t selected. So, eventually, the working class youth had enough of it and started burning draft cards, fleeing to Canada and even occupying buildings. Yes, there was some violence, especially at the Democratic National Convention, but that was largely precipitated by Chicago’s ruthless police.
Also in 1968, blacks, a century after the completion of the Civil War, were still having to fight for economic justice and attempts by white supremacists such as Alabama Governor George Wallace to deny them their constitutional rights.
The nightly news in 1968 was dominated by headlines about war, domestic unrest, racism, and political assassinations. We’ve been here before.
The most obvious attack upon the Civil Rights movement was the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. But he was not the only person killed that year. So was Bobby Kennedy, as he closed in on the Democratic nomination for president. So were activists and students. The nightly news in 1968 was dominated by headlines about war, domestic unrest, racism, and political assassinations. We’ve been here before.
As I did then, I turn to music for guidance. The folk and rock protest music of the 1960s and 70s helped stop the Vietnam War. And, the most popular group of the decade, the Beatles, spoke to the madness of 1968 through their song, “Revolution,” which was released in November of that year. Compared to many other groups, such as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, the Beatles had been relatively silent on political issues – until John Lennon penned “Revolution.”
Here is the first verse: “You say you want a revolution / Well you know / We all want to change the world. / You tell me that it’s evolution / Well you know / We all want to change the world. / But when you talk about destruction / Don’t you know you can count me out.”
Well, 50 years later, nothing has changed. I want to change the world. There are literally as many ways to do that as there are people willing to do it. But when you are destructive, you lose me as an ally.
Being destructive is being lazy. It shows a lack of real thought about how to address our many disagreements. It sets a horrible example for our children, and converts nobody. It is unbecoming of a human being. So, if we wish to convince others to be more humane, we must set the example.
No violence. No destruction. Only love.
Try it. It is my experience that in the end, to be effective, you’ll only have time for love.
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These are times when those in power must act for the welfare of those they serve
By Michael M. Barrick
In paragraph 57 of his ecological encyclical “On Care for Our Common Home,” Pope Francis asked, “What would induce anyone, at this stage, to hold on to power only to be remembered for their inability to take action when it was urgent and necessary to do so?” Published nearly two years ago, that question is even more valid and pressing today.
Point in case: The failure of President Trump and the Republican-led Congress to hold even a vote on a health care bill is an abject failure of leadership. Actually, considering how bad the bill was, for that we can be thankful. However, at this stage in our history, at this stage in incalculable threats to world peace, we simply can’t afford a complete void of leadership.
For my 61years on this planet, I have witnessed presidential administrations and congressional leaders reach compromises on vital issues despite deep differences. Republican President Ronald Reagan and Democratic Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill had severe policy disagreements. But they were civil with one another. Indeed, they were friends.
More importantly, they led. You need not agree with their politics to understand that had to have been strong leaders, otherwise, nothing would have been accomplished while they were in Washington together. Forging relationships is an essential leadership trait. Out of those relationships come a deeper respect for and understanding of one another. It causes people to look for common ground – especially when the general welfare is at stake.
Now, though, the Republican Party has a problem. It is like a dog chasing a car. Now that they’ve caught it, they can’t do much with it except bite into the tire. This is what happens when one is mindlessly seeking power for power’s sake.
The Democratic Party, I might add, is not much better. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi responded, “Let’s just for a moment breathe a sigh of relief for the American people that the Affordable Care Act was not repealed.”
No, let’s not. This is not the time to pause; it is a time to act.
I am not breathing a sigh of relief. Obamacare is a total disaster. It is crony capitalism at its worst. Far too many people still can’t access affordable health care; insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies and even hospital corporations now have more control over an individual’s health care than the patient and his or her family doctor.
But as others have said, there may be a silver lining in this dark cloud. The American people are finally realizing that a single-payer, universal health care law is the only viable option to provide adequate medical care for all Americans. Why do they know this? Because we’re already doing it. It’s called Medicare. So, it is time to do what the majority of American people want, including Trump-voting Appalachia – pass a single payer, universal health care bill. In short, provide Medicare for all.
This will require cooperation. The days of a political leader saying that his sole purpose is to obstruct the efforts of a political opponent must be put behind us now if we are to solve the problems facing our communities, state and nation. Sadly, “leaders” in both major parties now resort to obstructionism rather than doing the tough work of negotiating.
That simply won’t do. Consider your own experiences or those of your friends and family. Do you know anybody that says going to the doctor has gotten easier? Have you seen your doctor beat her head against the wall when a flunky on the other end of the phone is deciding whether or not her diagnosis of you is accurate? Do you think getting prescriptions filled is easier? Do you think life-saving prescriptions should be priced so high that CEOs make $20 million a year while patients die?
For now, we continue to ignore these questions for a simple reason – in the USA, might trumps right. This is not the recipe for “making America great again.”
© Michael M. Barrick, 2017
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Trump won; get over it and keep fighting for justice
By Michael M. Barrick
Oh my. It appears some college students (and professors) were so distraught over the election of Donald Trump as president that some of the nation’s supposedly most prestigious Ivy League institutions cancelled classes and exams the day following the election. You can read about it here.
According to the report, a Yale administrator told faculty “to be sensitive to students at this moment …” Hurry, somebody please pass the smelling salts. I hear a collective moan of, “I believe I have the vapors!”
Penn, too, cancelled classes, exams and heard from distraught students. I hope somebody in a position of authority told them to “get over it.” However, I haven’t read anywhere where anyone of authority came remotely close to challenging them to react and live as adults. Instead, the coddling began.
If the election of Donald Trump is enough to put “leaders” of universities and their students into a spiral of despondency, our adversaries – such as North Korea – will rightfully determine we are a hopelessly weak society. Indeed, one student said, “Putting exams after elections is irresponsible. If the University wants students to be involved in politics they shouldn’t force them to study instead.”
Please tell me I’m not alone in shaking my head in disbelief at that point-of-view. You have to study in college? Jesus Christ, whose idea was that? You still have to be part of society and vote? Oh no! The masters of multitasking can’t study, research and take an hour or so to go vote? Bless their hearts.
Perhaps some in academia need a refresher course of the example set by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who returned to Nazi Germany from the safety of the U.S., only to die in a concentration camp.
Instead, they are creating a Generation Whine that just wants to grab their electronic devices, curl up on the bed, and use social media to whine to one another. Never mind that social and digital media gives them the power to change the world. First, they must be aware of the world beyond their concerns. This reaction to Trump’s election shows they are not. This song by Chicago might help with that.
Or, consider a brief story. While working for six years right out of high school, I met my wife, Sarah. Then, I went to college while she worked. It was in my junior year of college that she became pregnant with our first child. Lindsay happened to arrive on the same day that a major paper was due to my history professor. A weekend came between Lindsay’s arrival and my return to campus. In short, my paper was about four days late, and the grade reflected it. I was upset and told the professor I thought he was being unfair to penalize me. His response: “You have to choose priorities. You want to make a life for your daughter? Then attend class and turn in your work. That’s how you graduate.”
He accepted no excuses. To this day, I admire him for it. You see, I knew that paper was due. I had it done. Though I commuted 35 miles one-way over a West Virginia mountain road every day, it was the professor’s argument that I could have sent the paper with a friend when it was due (this was before email). He was right. He did not expect me to miss my baby’s birth, but he was trying to teach me that sometimes in life, we have multiple, simultaneous responsibilities.
In other words, life is hard and quite complicated much of the time.
As a grandfather, father and retired teacher, I know some folks think I should be extending a little sympathy to our young college friends. Well, I simply can’t. It’s not good for them, as it is time they grow up.
I, too, had to put up with the hate hurled by Trump supporters as I campaigned and worked the polls during early voting. We saw first-hand just what kind of jerks support Donald Trump. We have seen the administration he’s putting together. It is too bad we don’t teach history anymore, or these college students really would be terrified.
And that is Trump’s hope: that he can terrorize everyone just as he did through the election. He is also hoping college-aged kids will become so disillusioned that they’ll not fight the forces within the Democratic Party that put their thumbs on the scale in their successful – but ultimately disastrous – attempt to hand the Democratic nomination to Hillary. He is counting on them to not look to third parties and improved ballot access.
I’m feeling old (no, 60 is not the “new 40”). I’m tired. I’m not well physically. But hell will freeze over before I give in to the forces of evil such as Donald Trump. That’s the lesson college kids need to learn. So, shame on those administrators, professors and students that felt the need to hit the pause button the day after the election. It was exactly opposite of what should have happened.
So, here’s my two cents worth to the students and others distraught about the election of Donald Trump. As the Eagles sang, “Get Over It.” And, then do something about it, like fight for justice, for what it’s worth.
© Michael M. Barrick, 2016
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