Archive for October, 2010

homeostasis in politics

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

Nov. 1, 2010

My blog last week linked homeostasis to the biosphere. This election week I take a bigger leap. I wonder-I’m not saying I am totally convinced­–whether one of the virtues of free-market liberal democracy is its homeostatic quality.

Homeostasis is the principle, you will remember, that points out living organisms are able to keep their internal environment relatively constant in the face of challenges from the external environment.

If it gets cold outside, your body automatically reacts to keep you warm inside.  If it gets warmer outside, your body reacts to cool you off. If you go higher on the mountain and have less oxygen, your body reacts to increase the oxygen in your blood by automatically creating more red blood cells. If bacteria get into your body, your white blood cells automatically multiply to battle the enemy. All living organisms have this valuable property.

So far as the biosphere is concerned, the point I made last week was that if it does work homeostatically, as the carbon dioxide concentration goes up, the biosphere itself will automatically take steps to bring the carbon dioxide concentration down. I admit this hypothesis is speculative. My next one is even more so.

In free-market liberal democracies in the modern world I suggest that the same principle of homeostasis might apply.

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

In the beginning we did not have political parties. We did have vigorous debates between many partisans. Traditionally we classify political positions on a straight line spectrum. At the left end we have progressives. At the right end we have conservatives. (Apparently this began in France after the  Revolution in 1789 when the liberals were seated on the left and conservatives on the right.) I think a better way to look at it today is a triangle. At one apex we would have progressive. At the second we would have liberal (classical liberal in the tradition of Washington, Jefferson and Adams). At the third we have conservative.

Looked at this way there are not two but three rough directions for our political choices–fairness (Justice), freedom (Liberty) and order (Union). All three are needed for a healthy body politic.  Progressives want more fairness and Justice, classical liberals more freedom and Liberty, conservatives want more order and Union.

In a healthy free-market liberal democracy if any one of the three gets too much power, the others will react to reduce that power. And so we get a liberal-progressive-order, homeostatically preserved.

This is abstract I know. What about today? In fact, what about the election tomorrow?

The Democrats today seem to be stressing fairness (some of them equality of outcome, which is fairness on steroids). The Republicans are stressing order. I know many of you will object, but it seems to me that on the whole, the Tea Party is stressing freedom (going back to our Founding Fathers, the Constitution, limited government, etc.).

The Democrats today are handicapped by their close alliance with government unions, trial lawyers and radical environmentalists, all of whom favor (each in their own version) zero-sum programs. Not so much growing the economy as spreading the wealth around more fairly. (In the case of the radical environmentalists their more dedicated leaders actually want to shrink the population and the economy, do less with more. See my blog on Growing the economy means shrinking the ecosystem?“)

The Republicans are handicapped by their close alliance with bankers, large corporations and fundamentalist religious groups. Sometimes all of these groups also seem to favor zero-sum programs (each in their own version and different versions of course from the Democrats). Not so much growing the economy as not rocking the boat, reducing debt and taxes, and maintaining privilege and order.

The new wild card is the Tea Party. They seem to have their share of crazies and ignoramuses, like the candidate for the Senate in Delaware who was not aware the Constitution called for the separation of church and state.  Nevertheless at bottom, and for the most part, the Tea Party favors win-win free-market solutions. In other words they favor growing the economy by allowing more freedom.

Over the past two centuries the balance has shifted often between fairness, freedom and order in a kind of homeostatic way that so far (with one important exception) has preserved the integrity of the union.

In the late 18th and early 19th century the freedom and “blessings of liberty” decreed by the founding fathers seemed to be the dominant direction. The biggest fairness issue was the total lack of freedom for African-Americans held as slaves in many southern states. This was such a bitter contradiction that the free-market liberal system was overwhelmed, the union was broken, and it took a civil war with 500,000 lost lives to bring it back to a stable order.

In the late 19th century the “robber baron” capitalists held the strongest cards, freedom was still a dominant direction, and there was rapid progress in creating new wealth. There were also huge inequalities of wealth (much greater than today) and ruthless exploitation of workers. The national wealth, GNP, grew but fairness and justice were neglected.

In the 20th century unions, intellectuals, political activists, religious reformers and politicians became an effective force and the balance swung toward more fairness, with curbs on freedom. The system reacted in other words to diminish the inequalities of wealth and the prejudices of power. Through it all order was maintained and national wealth, GNP, did increase. An exception came in the Great Depression of the 1930s when GNP fell precipitously. On the whole, however, during the 20th century there was a balance between liberty and justice, and the union survived.

Other countries were not as fortunate.

In Russia the demand for fairness and equality overwhelmed the new immature democratic state in 1917 and led to the catastrophic utopian dictatorship that was the Soviet Union. This dictatorship, like all dictatorships, did not have homeostatic capabilities and joined the “ash-heap of history” in 1991.

In Germany the demand for freedom and license in the Weimar Republic took a particularly nasty turn in the depression of the 1930s and the result was the catastrophic racist dictatorship of Nazi Germany. This dictatorship also ended on the ash-heap after a disastrous war that destroyed some 50 million people.

Where we are in the U.S. today is controversial. Do we have too much fairness? Too much freedom? And what about order? All citizens have to make up their own minds about these directions. The elections tomorrow will give some hints of directions for the next few years at least. Fortunately I think whatever the result the vast majority of citizens will accept the verdicts of the electorate and homeostatic order will prevail once more in this fair and free country.

Do your part and vote please.

Bill Stonebarger, Owner/President Hawkhill

P.S. If you want more insight into the history of democratic economics and politics try our six-part program, DEMOCRACY IN WORLD HISTORY. It does not get into the homeostasis of politics but it does trace the path that has led us to this balance. I think you might like it.

homeostasis

Sunday, October 24th, 2010

Oct. 25, 2010

When I was teaching biology one of my favorite days was teaching about homeostasis.  This is the principle, you will remember, that points out that living organisms are able to keep their internal environment relatively constant in the face of challenges from the external environment. In a way it’s the biologist’s version of Newton’s Third Law of Motion, to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

If it gets cold outside, your body automatically reacts to keep you warm inside by making you shiver and clues you to put on a coat. If I gets warmer outside, your body sweats and your brain says take off some clothes. If you go higher on the mountain and have less oxygen, your body reacts to increase the oxygen in your blood by automatically creating more red blood cells. If bacteria get into your body, your white blood cells automatically multiply to battle the enemy. If you take in nasty poisons, your liver and kidneys do their best to get rid of them. Automatically. All living organisms have this valuable property.

A more controversial concept in biology was proposed by biologists Lynn Margulis and James Lovelock. The earth’s biosphere as a whole, they claimed, acts much like a living organism. They called it Gaia.

They would not necessarily concur with one of my interpretations but I think their hypothesis gives us hope that climate change may not be the catastrophic event the majority of climatologists predict. As the carbon dioxide increases in the atmosphere, Gaia, like all living organisms, will automatically react to reduce the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. How it will manage this is not clear but neither is it clear how our own bodies manage to keep such a constant internal environment in the face of external challenges.

Here are a few ways it could happen. Warmer temperature brings more clouds which could bring cooler temperatures. More carbon dioxide means more vigorous plant growth (especially more diatoms and algae in the ocean) which would take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Who knows?

I realize that homeostasis does not always work to save the organism. Living organisms, including us, can be overwhelmed by too much heat, too much cold, too strong a poison or too many bacteria. So too the biosphere could be overwhelmed by too much carbon dioxide or too much or too little of any gas.

To put it into perspective, the actual amount of carbon dioxide in the air is very small, only 0.039 percent of the atmosphere. It is also the least important of the greenhouse gases that admittedly do keep the earth warmer. Water vapor and clouds are far more important by powers of ten.

One piece of evidence that the biosphere does manage to operate like other living organisms using homeostatasis, is the relative constancy it has maintained over not hundreds or thousands but millions of years. During those millions of years past humans have played no role. Volcanoes, earthquakes, the rise and fall of oceans, the liftng of mountains, the growth and extinction of countless species of plants and animals and ecosystems–all these have played major roles.

Recent studies by climatologists may even offer some support for a homeostatic property of the atmosphere.

Richard Lindzen, the MIT climatologist, has often been a thorn in the side of his colleagues for his contrarian views on climate change. He was one of the experts on the recent United Nations panel (IPCC) that issued such stern warnings to political leaders that something drastic needed to be done soon to combat climate change. He supported some of the panel’s findings but disagreed strongly with the summary findings and report. Yes, there has been some warming over the past century Lindzen admitted. Around one degree centigrade. But no, the evidence is not all that clear or certain that there will be catastrophic warming in the next century. Nor is it certain that carbon dioxide has been the culprit.

Lindzen pointed out that recent claims by climate change scientists do not add confidence to their predictions of unimaginable catastrophe from climate change. In one report, for instance, he claims that “they throw in a very peculiar statement (referring to warming) almost in passing. ‘Uncertainties in the future rate of this rise, stemming largely from the ‘feedback’ effect on water vapour and clouds, are topics of current research.’”

Lindzen comments, “who would guess, from this statement, that the feedback effects are the crucial question?”

In other words the report writers are assuming without evidence that the feedbacks will all be in the direction of more warming. It’s like saying when bacteria come into the body the body reacts by making more bacteria. Or when you go higher on the mountain your body reduces the number of red blood cells. This is not the normal way. If the atmosphere were to react homeostatically (as our own bodies and other living organisms do) the feedbacks from water vapour and clouds will be in the direction of cooling.

The moral is, don’t believe all you hear and read. Or as Yogi Berra once said, “Don’t follow the crowd. Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”

Bill Stonebarger, Owner/President Hawkhill

P.S. You might want to take a second look at some of these issues by viewing two of our more popular DVDs. #303-DVD Global Warming and #117-DVD The Biosphere. The Biosphere program also explains in simple terms just how the biosphere ever got started on this small planet.

zero-sum, rich people and miners

Sunday, October 17th, 2010

Oct. 18, 2010

I have a friend here in Madison who is passionate about fairness and justice. He is a strong progressive voice in the current political scene. He also has a problem with rich people in politics. He feels they have too much power in our economy and our political system–especially rich corporations. In Madison he is far from alone. I realize as a cynical wag once put it, as Madison goes, so goes Berkeley and Ann Arbor. But I also realize his suspicion and anger are shared by many people in this country.

One charge is that rich people and rich corporations distort and destroy our political institutions. According to my friend they and their media supporters (as in Fox News), “are dangerous to the fabric of society,” as they “prey on fear, obstruction, greed and division.”

Some of that passion it seems to me is obviously partisan. Rich patrons like George Soros, Oprah Winfrey, Warren Buffett and the Kennedy family (as well as well-healed unions) are often given a pass since they usually support progressive causes. On the other hand rich patrons like the Koch brothers who support the Republicans, or worse the Tea Party, are crucified. See the recent New Yorker article by Jane Mayer.

Having been on the lower half of the national income level all my life I feel qualified to defend the upper half (or even the top one percent that supposedly corrals so much of the net worth of the country). As a poor man myself I think the prejudice against the rich, individual families as well as corporations, is understandable, but is misguided. Three hundred years ago it had merit. Today it does not. Let me explain.

Three hundred years ago (and for ten thousand years before that) wealth was land, gold and slaves (or peasants or serfs). All three of these were severely limited. For any person, family or group to gain more wealth the only real option was to steal it from a neighbor. Actually that was even the case in pre-agricultural primitive eras. In all these earlier times, in all tribes, countries, empires and civilizations the rich ruled. As the old folk song goes, “it’s the same the whole world over/’tis the poor what gets the blame/while the rich has all the pleasure/now ain’t that a blinking shame.”

Considering this nearly million year history it is no wonder today that almost everyone has a mixture of envy, fascination and resentment toward the rich. It is part of our evolutionary baggage. It may not come with the genes, but for sure it comes with the memes.

Nevertheless it is time to get rid of this outdated baggage. For the most part the rich today got their wealth not by theft or violence but by creative work, work which for the most part benefits all of us. I know. I know. We all know people today, famous and not-so-famous who are rich because they inherited their wealth from parents or grandparents (see Paris Hilton). And we all know of rich people who have cheated and stolen to get their wealth (see Bernie Madoff). But they are the exceptions, not the rule.

Until last week for instance very few people had ever heard of a rich man named Brandon Fisher. He is the founder and president of Center Rock Inc, a small company in Berlin, Pennsylvania with 74 employees. It was his company that supplied the drill bits for that shaft that saved the miners in Chile last week. The drilling rig was supplied by Schramm Inc another small company in West Chester, Pennsylvania. I would not be surprised if Brandon Fisher and the other executives of Center Rock Inc and the founders, owners and executives of Schramm Inc make over $250,000 a year. Read more about these unsung heroes and its implications in the Thursday, Oct 14th edition of the Wall St. Journal. Be sure to read the op-ed piece by Daniel Henninger as well. It gives long range perspective to the rescue.

The very very rich today are people like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and the founders, current executives and major shareholders of large corporations like Google, Wal-Mart, McDonald’s and General Electric. Also very rich are the many Wall Street financiers and bankers who raised and funneled the capital to launch these same corporations. They also raised the capital I’ll bet for Center Rock Inc and Schramm Inc along with hundreds of thousands if not millions of similar large and small companies not only in America but around the world. Most of the employees of all these companies, large and small, are doing pretty well too. Not rich, but a whole lot better off than the slaves, serfs and peasants who were their ancestors.

The point is we don’t live in a zero-sum world anymore. Rich people today are quite different from rich people of the distant past.

For more than ten thousand years past there was next to no gain at all in the world’s wealth. Empires rose and fell, yes. Tribes became better off and worse off, yes. Individual family dynasties rose and fell, yes. But the total population and the median wealth of the world’s citizens changed barely at all. You can’t make more land, gold or slaves no matter how smart, how powerful or how persuasive you are. The best you can do is hang on to what you have or pilfer a bit from your neighbor. Hence our envy, fascination and resentment of rich people. They were good at hanging on to what they had and often good at pilfering from their neighbors (as well as from their own slaves, serfs or peasants).

What happened to change that equation?

The answer is clear. The scientific and industrial revolutions in an environment of free-market capitalism. It’s that simple. Even Karl Marx agreed. I know some would add the use of the fossil fuels that powered the industrial revolution. I agree this was important but it evades the main point. It wasn’t just coal and oil. They had been known for many centuries before.

What was really new was the knowledge, the creativity and the incentives needed to use fossil fuels and other natural resources to produce new wealth. The knowledge was provided by science. The creativity was provided by clever people, mostly in Western Europe and North America. And the incentives were provided by an environment of free-market capitalism. How these three ingredients happen to have found their home in Western Europe and North America is another story. But they did.

This was where clever people found they could profit not by theft but by producing new products or creating new services that other people would reward them for. Sometimes handsomely. And so the modern rich were born. And so the population boomed. And so resources multiplied almost without end. And so the wealth of societies around the world soared. And so the miners in Chile could be saved.

People did not automatically admire these nouveau riche of course. They might envy them and they certainly were fascinated by them. But in the 19th century (and today) they called them robber barons, as though this was still a medieval zero-sum society where the barons indeed were robbers. Rockefeller, Carnegie, Vanderbilt, J.P. Morgan, Henry Ford–these names do not bring tears to the eyes. They were not competitive with Mother Theresa shall we say. But they were not robbers. Instead they were job and wealth creators.

In the 19th century the industries they pioneered created millions of new jobs and brought millions of immigrants from Ireland, Germany, Italy, Poland, Sweden, Norway, Russia, eastern Europe and Great Britain to work in their factories, their steel mills and on their railroads. They founded and nurtured cities like Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Chicago and Detroit. These immigrant workers came because they could and did make a better life here than they had in Europe where agricultural-age zero-sum economics was still dominant and rich barons were indeed robbers. These immigrant workers are the great-great-grandparents of most of us today.

In the late 20th century and early 21st century the story has continued. Modern “robber barons” are called entrepreneurs and get a somewhat better press. People like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Brandon Fisher and the hundreds of thousands of other rich capitalists are the people who provide most of the jobs that create new wealth and a growing economy today.

Many progressives today however seem to think this is still a zero-sum economy. Instead of looking to create real jobs in real new industries that could create real new wealth, they are much more interested in taking from Peter to pay Paul. Helping people retire sooner, get more generous benefits, save more energy and resources, recycle, conserve and go sustainably green. Some of these attempts to share the wealth may or may not be desirable. What they don’t do and what they cannot do is create new wealth, create the growing economy that we need to provide these benefits—like for instance to save those miners and to send their inspiring story around the world with the help of modern electronics.

The contrast between the politics of growth and zero-sum economics was made clear by David Brooks in a NY Times column last week, “New Jersey cannot afford to build a [tunnel under the Hudson River to connect it to New York City] but benefits packages for the state’s employees are 42 percent more expensive than those offered by the average Fortune 500 company. These benefits are rising by 16 percent a year. New York City has to strain to finance its schools but must support 10,000 former cops who have retired before age 50… California can’t afford new water projects, but state cops often receive 90 percent of their salaries when they retire at 50. … States across the nation will be paralyzed for the rest of our lives because they face unfunded pension obligations that, if counted accurately, amount to $2 trillion … nationally, state and local workers earn on average $14 per hour more in wages and benefits than their private sector counterparts. A city like Buffalo has as many public workers as it did in 1950, even though it has lost half of its population.”

In contrast a private company like Google is planning to risk billions of dollars of profit to create a new underwater power cable that could funnel the energy from thousands of off-shore windmills to millions of households on our eastern seaboard.  As well as  create thousands of new jobs. Apple, Google, General Electric and Wal-Mart are all rapidly expanding in China and Africa, which expansion will create new wealth and offer new jobs in China, in Africa and in America.

Many private companies in the United States today, however, are sitting on mountains of cash but they are reluctant to expand and hire more workers until they know what the political situation with taxes, benefits and regulations is going to be. Will there be more isolationist policies or more free trade? Will progressives who want to spread around the wealth more evenly be dominant or will liberals and conservatives who want to foster private enterprises that create new wealth be dominant? Or can there be a compromise position? Probably. I hope so.

Just so we know. We will need more help the next time an oil tanker leaks, a hurricane comes or a mine caves in.

Bill Stonebarger, Owner/President Hawkhill

P.S. I founded Hawkhill 36 years ago. It has been a good run. My wife and I have not become rich but we have been able to travel widely, keep a roof over our heads and live a satisfying life. Just last month I celebrated (if that’s the word) my 84th birthday. Funny, I don’t remember growing older. If any young entrepreneur would like to consider taking over the company assets (100 or so DVD programs—see www.hawkhill.com.) and giving it a whirl for the next 36 years I would be interested in hearing from you. I would expect some payment for the privilege. A couple of years ago I tried to sell the company and I had dreams of getting a million dollars or so for the assets. I realize now that in these difficult economic times (especially grim for educational media companies) my dreams of big money were unrealistic. My dreams today are much more modest. In other words I am open to offers. Email me at: billjane@hawkhill.com

P.P.S. I am not retiring. Instead I plan to start a book publishing company specializing in non-zero-sum titles. The working title of my new company is the Gilman Street Press.

feedback from readers

Sunday, October 10th, 2010

Oct. 11, 2010

I got interesting feed-back from my recent “trickle-up or trickle-down” and “Tea party and Me” blogs. In the first I claimed among other things that “the U.S. government deserves enormous credit for its leadership in the terrible wars of the 20th century. The prosperous modern worlds of Great Britain, Europe, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia (as well as the recent prosperity booms in China and India) owe the U.S. a huge debt for leading the coalition of democratic states that destroyed tyrannies of the right and the left led by the likes of Lenin, Hitler, Stalin, Franco, Mao Zedong, Mussolini and Hirohito.”

A University administrator in South Africa who was also an ardent foe of the old apartheid regime, Kerry Swift, commented by email “I heartily agree with your final comments. The democracies do indeed owe the US a great vote of thanks. … US entry into the war against fascism was the great moment in modern history because it finally asserted American global power and ensured that from that day forth America would stand tall in the world and play a seminal role in the advance of freedom around the world. The notion that all men are created equal in the eyes of God and man is a hugely attractive premise on which to base the affairs of men and it is certainly something to strive for as we move on.

“What I often ponder, however, is why there is so much negativity about American leadership, not only among the enemies of freedom but within the effete intellectual elites of America, and most notably in the liberal academy. Why is it that whenever there is a global disaster, USAID is there, US logistical genius is quickly in play, US military forces are at work in support roles and the quite incredible generosity of Americans is quickly evident, yet there is so little acknowledgement of this extraordinary effort? I have seen this over and over again. I see it too in US foundations’ donations to developing countries, the enormous amounts of money that feed into programs in the developing world from trusts and foundations in the US, not the least of it to the academies of developing nations.

“Earlier this week I was with the US ambassador here in SA for a function where he referred to US support around the world, but it was almost en passant, a kind of throw-away line spoken sotto voce in case it embarrasses the host and the guests. Well here is one person who is grateful for US leadership of the world and for her abundant generosity.”

An often respectively dissenting reader is retired college librarian Ann Boyer here in Madison. She had a response to my comparisons of income in the 50s and now. She wrote, “OK … I would still argue a couple of your points. I don’t think it’s accurate to say that almost all workers are better off today than they were in midcentury. Many workers today are temps; they can’t find permanent jobs. That means they don’t get benefits. A much larger proportion of workers now are in the service industries where they make little more than the minimum wage. Since manufacturing jobs have decreased so dramatically, that means that a much larger proportion of workers are not receiving health or retirement benefits.”

I showed her Kerry Swift’s comments about a different part of the News and she thought they were fair enough but added that perhaps the reason so many in the liberal academy were dissenters rather than flag wavers was their training in “critical thinking.”

Retired banker and pension-fund manager Mike McCowin wrote “Excellent newsletter, Bill, you are a great defender of capitalism and the free-market enterprise system. When you mentioned Cuba, I was reminded of the stunning recent news that the Cuban leadership has announced plans to eliminate as many as 1,000,000 government jobs – 20% of the population of Cuba – and will begin to allow more individuals to form their own small businesses.

“May I suggest a title for a future newsletter?  ‘And then there was one … ,’ not Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians, but the fact that North Korea now remains as the sole practitioner of the centrally planned and controlled Communist system. And they are starving their people to death.”

Psychologist Larry Larrabee called my attention to an article in the liberal Washington Post that reinforces some of my concerns about the green movement, light and dark. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/04/23/AR2010042302220.html.

To my News item about the Tea Party I had interesting applause and boos. Mike Brockmeyer reminded me that “Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman” had a sharply different opinion about the Tea Party. http://www.montereyherald.com/opinion/ci_16256579?nclick_check=1

I too had read his article. It reminded me of the quip from some wag that “we all know that no proposition is so foolish or meretricious that at least two Nobel laureates cannot be found to endorse it.” I also pointed out to Mike that the Democrats also have quite a few cash-cow sugar-daddies like George Soros, Warren Buffett, Normal Lear and Oprah Winfrey.

Former Democratic convention delegate Bob Kealy in Milwaukee had this to say about the Tea Party and Fox News. “Much of what you say is true about the present political situation in the country. The Republican Party is now the propaganda arm of the News Corp and its fellow media moguls and billionaire backers. Some Tea Party members sense this and are uneasy about it.  Perhaps a majority of the Tea Party members have yet to realize that they too are part of the faux ‘grassroots’ of Fox News propaganda. Christine O’Donnell is often described as the Tea Party candidate for the U.S Senate in Delaware. She is. …  Paul Krugman in today’s NY Times (see above) lays it out clearly what has happened to the Republican Party since it has embraced Fox News and it’s billionaire business backers as the masters it works for. The Fox News ministry of propaganda has seized control of the GOP politburo. It has control of the Roberts Court when it can keep Justice Kennedy in line. Will it get control of Congress in the election next month?”

Mike Brockmeyer is definitely not a fan of Fox News. “You’re kidding me, right?  Here is the Fox line-up Neil Cavuto…. I mean Neil Cavuto!  Have you ever watched Dusey and Friends? OMG  Geraldo… Bill this is the Geraldo of Al Capone’s basement. Glenn Beck, Bill, Glenn Beck!  Did you read the NYT piece on him this Sunday? … Glenn Beck is a crazy, uninformed, uneducated buffoon and snake oil salesman.  Sean Hannity will say or do anything that Roger wants.  Look in the dictionary under Pompous Ass and you will see ‘see Bill O’Reilly.’  Then, of course, are the Republican candidates for President…. Huckabee, Palin, et al. Fair and Balanced?”

I admit that I do watch Fox News, which I have a hunch is more than most of the folks who hate it do. I also watch MSNBC, CNN, Public Television and occasionally CBS, ABC and NBC. I also listen to Rush Limbaugh and to NPR on the radio when I am in the car. All of these media outlets have their biases and their virtues. As do the newspapers and magazines I read, the NY Times, the Economist, the New Yorker, and the Wall St. Journal. If I had to rate the biases of all these media outlets Fox News is indeed as “fair and balanced” as any of the others. It does happen to be the most popular which I know must really grate on many progressives.

Bill Stonebarger, Owner/President Hawkhill

P.S. People who read this News in their email may not know that all past issues, as well as four years of the older Hawkhill Science Newsletter, are available on our Hawkhill web site: www.hawkhill.com. Another unique feature of this website is a listing of scientific and historical concepts. You can for instance, click on concepts like Food Chains, Chemical Cycles, Genetic Engineering, Capitalism, Communism, etc. This will take you to listing of DVD programs that teach that particular concept. Give it a try.

the Tea Party and me

Sunday, October 3rd, 2010

Oct. 4, 2010

I went to a Tea Party rally here in Madison a couple of months ago with my video camera. Despite my initial skepticism I was impressed. In the past I have been with camera to similar pro-choice, pro-life, gay pride, anti-war, anti-nuke, pro-marijuana, democrat, republican, Vietnam War, teacher’s union, immigration and other rallies here in Wisconsin’s capitol city. In almost all of these rallies the signs had a mass-produced look. Just last week for instance, President Obama came to Madison to speak in front of a large crowd of UW students and supporters. The word ahead of time was that no signs were to be allowed. In fact there were many signs and they were all the same. MOVING AMERICA FORWARD. VOTE!!! All had obviously been made in some central office of the Democratic Party and passed out to willing sign-wavers. (Not many flag-wavers.)

In the Tea Party rally the signs were more varied. Most of them were obviously home-made and some were amateurish. That and talking to some participants lent credence to my impression that the Tea Party was indeed a grass-roots affair. I saw no evidence, as some claim, that it was organized and financed by some shadowy right-wing corporate conspiracy. I saw no signs that were racist, anti-immigrant or promoting fundamentalist religion. Almost all were stridently pro-American, pro-Constitution, founding fathers friendly, anti-tax, anti-big government. Some were anti-welfare-state and for limiting terms in Congress. Most were decorated with American flags. Studies show that Tea Party supporters are on average better educated, have higher incomes and are more demonstrably patriotic than regular democrats or republicans

The rally did not make me a Tea Party “member” but it did make me more sympathetic to their efforts. As readers of these blogs can know I too am a supporter of limited government, free-market economics, private sector growth, lower taxes and less regulation. In short I am for a government closer in style and substance to the one our Constitution ordered. Not exactly the same of course. The Constitution has had a number of desirable amendments like getting rid of slavery (and a few undesirable ones, like Prohibition). In so far as Tea Party politics can advance these ideas I am all for them.

My biggest reservation about the Tea Party, and it is an important one, is the seeming absence of a strong program for the future. From what I saw at the rally and what I read in the press the emphasis seems to be almost exclusively on the negative–reducing the size of government, cutting back on the national debt, stopping the Obama agenda and limiting the power of unelected bureaucrats.

That’s all fine but what we need above all it seems to me is leadership in growing the economy. Leadership in unleashing the power of free-market capitalism, free trade between states and countries as well as educating and encouraging entrepreneurial creativity in America. Leadership like Ronald Reagan provided in his “it’s morning again in America” speeches and campaigns. Unfortunately the Democratic Party is crippled by its alliances with the environmental movement, government unions, and trial lawyers, all of whom oppose vigorous economic growth, denounce free trade and work instead to promote “sustainable” zero-sum policies. The Republican Party has often not been much better. They talk a good talk sometimes but have too often been crippled by their alliance with business and religious groups who want to advance their own private fortunes at public expense. Perhaps the Tea Party can lead to something better.

Remember the lines that Pastor Martin Niemoller wrote about Hitler, “they came first for the Communists/and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist./Then they came for the trade unionists/and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist./Then they came for the Jews/and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew/Then they came for me/and by that time no one was left to speak up.”

If the “Pastors” of the new Tea Party were writing the lines today here is a suggestion.

“They came first for the Wall Street bankers/and I didn’t mind because I wasn’t a Wall Street banker./Then they came for the oil companies and the big corporations./I didn’t mind because I didn’t work for an oil company or a big corporation./Then they came for Wal-Mart, McDonald’s and Starbucks./I didn’t mind because I never liked to shop there anyway./Then I lost my job in the government and went on unemployment./By that time the economy was bankrupt/my unemployment check bounced/and no one was left to pay me.”

Some readers might find this re-write a trifle blasphemous but it does highlight what seems to me a disturbing trend. I am not like some Tea Partiers claiming that we are on a Fascist or Socialist road to serfdom. I am saying that in so far as the government is assuming more and more power and taking more and more responsibility for our lives I am glad the Tea Party is playing an opposing role. A good government supports wealth-creating private businesses but it doesn’t itself do much to create wealth. In other words what the government gives to some it must take from others. This is a zero-sum exchange, not a win-win one. The money has to come from somewhere and debts have to be paid by someone. Someone else. More than likely, by your grandchildren.

If it goes too far and government regulates more and more of our life choices our grandchildren or great-grandchildren may end up like indentured servants. Well taken care of and happy servants perhaps (though that’s what plantation owners in the deep south used to say about their slaves). We may never get concentration camps or gulags, but our grandchildren may find themselves like workers in the now defunct Soviet Union or present day Cuba, North Korea or Venezuela. “They pretend to pay us and we pretend to work.”

Bill Stonebarger, Owner/President Hawkhill

P.S. I am in the process of publishing my new book on the Cold War, 9/11 and the Future of Free-Market Liberal Democracy. It is a personal view leavened by between chapter memoirs. Many of you read the opening chapters on the Cold War that began this series of blogs and Newsletters. One supporter suggested I change the working title from WHAT IS TO BE DONE? ( a Vladimir Lenin title) to WHAT HAVE WE DONE? (in reference to our own part in 20th century happenings). Last night I had another idea. How about somehow linking the title to the Tea Party itself? THE ROAD TO TEA PARTY? What do you think? Open to any and all ideas. Email me at billjane@hawkhill.com.

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