Tuesday, December 30, 2008


A Circle of Ideologies

We tend, perhaps incorrectly, to think of ideologies as points on a line. Moderation is a point, or rather a region, near the midpoint of the line. Moving to the left we come to progressivism, liberalism, socialism, communism, anarchism, and so on. Moving to the right we come to conservatism, extreme conservatism, and so on. Someone pointed out to me many years ago that the extremes on this line tend to be very similar. I therefore posit that the line isn't a straight line but rather a circle. Moderation is a point or region on the circle. Diametrically opposite is a region of anarchism.

Both the extreme right and the extreme left in politics abhor large government. The Communists believed that if private property could be eliminated, the state would simply wither away because there would be nothing for it to do. They thought of the state as the protector of property rights, especially those of the rich. Conservatives like Grover Norquist and the late Howard Jarvis also believed in a small state that didn't do much. Ultimately their ideal was anarchy or a stateless society.

Without a state there would be no taxes to vex the rich. Whatever services were available to the public would be paid for by fees charged for service. If you want to borrow a book from the library, or even go to the library to read a book or magazine, you would pay a fee. If your house was on fire, you would pay a fee to a fire brigade to put it out. If you got sick, you would pay a fee to the doctor and to the nurses that took care of you.

I don't know of any region that has functioned as a society without a government. In Somalia there is no central government and things aren't very good there. I do know of a society that existed with a weak government in which taxes were low and one had to pay fees or bribes for such services as obtaining license plates for your car. In the case of that society, inflation had wiped out much of the value of the currency. However, government officials were still paid according to the pre-inflation scale. In order to make ends meet, they had to solicit fees (bribes) from people who needed their services.

Communism was tried in Russia. It became corrupt and finally failed. It seems to me that the same fate will overtake any experiment in conservative "small government." Conservative small government lets enterpreneurs do whatever they want. It encourages originality. We have seen recently some examples of originality and absence of government supervision. It is my opinion that small government will lead to corruption, just as Communism led to corruption.

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Sunday, December 14, 2008


A Neighbor's Visit

I live alone as a widower. I lost my wife thirteen months ago. Since that time I have attended a weekly bereavement group sponsored by the hospice organization that provided end of life care for my wife. After a year, I am beginning to wonder whether I should graduate from the group or continue attending the weekly sessions. I don't feel any less sad at the loss of my wife than I did a year ago. Friends have told me that the feeling of sadness and loss never goes away.

Yesterday my neighbor who lives next door came to visit me. He brought a flower - a bird of paradise stem with a bloom - and I found a nice-looking vase to hold it. He said he had smelled the roasting coffee from my house. I had been roasting raw coffee beans on the stove so that the fumes would be collected by the hood and sent up the spout to the roof and the neighborhood. When I roast coffee the smell is more pronounced outdoors than indoors. He said he liked the smell of roasting coffee and asked me to make him a cup. I ground some of the freshly roasted beans and made coffee in a French press coffee maker.

We then sat at the kitchen table, sipping coffee and talking. My neighbor is an Iranian. We talked about politics, about the stupid governor of Illinois and the equally stupid President of Iran. The big cheese in the Iranian government is Ali Khomenei, the successor to Khomeini. My neighbor is no admirer of Khomenei. We talked about the new President-elect of the United States. We talked about Germany and Russia. My neighbor assured me that Iran is not going to build a nuclear bomb. He doesn't see any reason for it. Iran is not a large, powerful country. It could not hope to win in a war against Russia, Pakistan, India, or the United States. It fought a war against Iraq several years ago and couldn't win that war.

We talked about Iraq and Saddam Hussein. We agreed that the world is better off without him. Saddam didn't have Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) nor a nuclear weapons program. He wanted everyone, including some of his own generals, to believe that he DID have such things. The idea was to intimidate his enemies. He had many enemies. My neighbor didn't say so, but the thought came to me that the rather stupid President of Iran would like us to believe that he did have the capability of building a nuclear weapon and an intercontinental missile to carry it to the United States, just so that we would think long and hard before deciding to bomb Iran, as John McCain once suggested.

Finally my friend J, who had been one of the caregivers for my wife, came to prepare my dinner. My neighbor excused himself and invited me to come to visit him and talk any time I felt like it. He left. I talked to J about what I wanted for dinner.

Later I thought about the neighbor's visit and the conversation. I thought about the morning walks I take three times a week with three other old men, one of whom is also a widower, and of the conversations we have during those walks. We never talk about anything more serious than W's and H's eyesight, C's problem with his leg, or the state of the economy. The most serious conversations we have involve warning each other about oncoming cars. I think about all of these conversations and I realize that while I am thus engaged in talking and listeneing I do not recall the sadness of losing my wife.

I wonder if perhaps the benefit of the bereavement group discussions is that they simply provide a means for the participants to talk. Of course, in the bereavement group, we are encouraged to talk about our feelings of loss and sadness. We are discouraged from wandering off and discussing how stupid and venal and greedy the governor of Illinois is. Some members of the group have difficulty in getting started to talk about anything. One member of the group, J, is a writer. He has no difficulty in talking about his feelings and his memories, and serves, I think, as an example for others. He is a valuable member of the group. Perhaps I am close to being able to graduate from the group. I have friends and a neighbor with whom I can talk about almost anything. Perhaps they can replace the bereavement group for me, if I am ready for such replacement. Am I ready? I am not sure, so I will continue attending the group for a while.

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Saturday, December 13, 2008


Republicans as Grinches

We are having a budget crisis in California. Because of the 2/3 vote requirement for passing a budget and for increasing taxes, the Republicans are able to prevent any increase in taxes to provide more revenue to close the budget gap. They insist that the entire gap must be made by reducing the spending on State programs. These are programs that build highways, provide money for hospitals, provide money for schools and universities, provide money to help local governments provide police and fire protection, etc. Some of these programs, like Medi-Cal, provide health care for low-income residents.

As usual in American politics, each political party tries to put the blame for a bad situation on the other party. Republicans hold fast to their "no tax increase" pledge, but do not propose any schedule of program reductions to close the gap between revenue and expenses. Their position is that these cuts shall be made by Democrats, so that the Democratic Party will be blamed for short-changing education, health care for the poor, and other programs that are popular with the public.

One Republican legislator commented that he wasn't going to approve any tax increase that would benefit people who don't pay any taxes - i.e., the poor. The remark made news on an inside page of the Los Angeles Times for one day. Since then no one, no Democrat, has commented on it. In the battle of assigning blame it seems to me that the Democrats have lost a chance to make a point.

If the crisis in California isn't enough, consider the crisis in the domestic automobile industry. In the US Senate Republicans have killed the bill that would have provided a fourteen billion dollar loan to the firms to keep them going until March. I should say, Southern Republicans. Their motive is to punish the auto workers union, UAW. These gentlemen would agree to the loan only if the union would give up all advantages regarding salary, health insurance, and pensions that they have over the non-union workers in the auto plants in the South that are operated by foreign owners and without unions, such as Daimler-Benz, BMW, Toyota, and Honda. In other words, the price of the bail-out was that the UAW would simply cut its own throat. The alternative the Southerners offer is Chapter 11 Bankruptcy.

Bankruptcy of one of the big three auto companies would be different from bankruptcy of, for example, United Air Lines. United continued to fly while undergoing the restructuring of bankruptcy. Americans are willing to fly on bankrupt airlines. I doubt that Americans would continue to buy cars from an bankrupt auto company. An airline trip is a one-time event. A car purchase involves certain guarantees regarding defects in the car, contracts for service for a number of years, and the like. If the company is bankrupt, it can not offer such guarantees and service contracts. A bankrupt General Motors would be shut down and the various properties sold to satisfy the claims of the creditors. The workers would be laid off. The federal government would have to pick up the retirement pensions. Bankruptcy now, during a credit crisis, would undoubtedly lead to another Great Depression. This is what the Southern Senators are willing to risk in slapping down the hated auto workers' union.

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