Torts and Citizen Protection ||
I was talking with my son recently; he made the mistake of saying "we have a problem with lawsuits in this country" while I was driving.
When I drive, I'm in control of the vehicle, and that spills over into the conversation. "Careful what you say," I said, and then proceeded to move into rant mode, discoursing on the problem of judicial reform.
A couple of decades ago, Reagan Republicans had a mantra of "deregulation." The principle was that regulation was sand in the gears of the machine of American commerce; that regulations were onorous, that "government regulations" were synonymous with "red tape" and were always preceded by the adjective "burdensome."
"That's a matter for the private sector, not government, to handle," they said, as they noted that flight-attendant lawsuits were driving airlines to restrict smoking on flights; that consumer lawsuits were driving kid's pajama manufacturers to preclude flammable fabrics; that patient lawsuits were driving hospitals to safer practices.
They got enough people to buy into that "burdensome government regulations" theme that they could justify eviscerating them -- thereby removing a key citizen protections.
The government can be, through its regulatory and legal system, the best (if not the only) protection a citizen has from the predatory practices of the powerful. Without regulation, the "societal commons" -- air quality, water quality, soil quality, airwave use, product safety, health care, etc. -- is driven by the profit motive, rather than a motive of public good. The profit motive can lead to abuse.
Without regulation, large fees can be charged those poor folks without bank accounts, just for cashing a paycheck. Enron-scale manipulations can go unrecognized, costing citizens dramatically. Pollution can go unchecked, since no one's minding the store. Long-term quality of life can be sacrificed in the interests of short-term profit.
And now, after they've hamstrung governmental regulations (via the justification that lawsuits will prevent the most egregious faults, and that we don't want "faceless bureaucrats" making policy and regulations), they now want to eviscerate the last protection a citizen has: the ability to sue a company, a corporation, or a powerful entity in a way that hurts economically.
Without expensive penalties for misbehavior, what motivation do multi-billion-dollar corporations have to protect individuals, much less environments, or the future?
Without expensive penalties for stupidity, what motivation does, for example, McDonald's (also here) have to change its behavior, since there's plenty of economic reasons to produce coffee at 185 degrees (instead of the industry norm of 135-145)?
Without expensive remedies for stupidity, what motivation does a coal company have to do real bioremediation? Only government regulation? If that's gone, then what?
The dittohead line that "lawsuits are out of control" may be a simplistic, dangerously reflexive response, based on bad information. In reality, judges and juries generally respond with sanity, and within reasonable limits. However, if "tort reform" is pushed forward, we may lose the best defense a citizen has -- the ability to sue, if a large and powerful entity rides roughshod in the the pursuit of profit.
After that long rant, my son was clear. "Papa, this is probably the fourth time in as many years that you've made that point. I meant that *people* are too quick to look to *legal* remedies when other remedies may be available..."
Ah. That's true too. :-/
Sorry, Everybody (the visual) ||
I find myself wanting to cry, wandering through the "www.sorryeverybody.com" site. Sorry, World, from the 49%, is the theme.
Hundreds, thousands of images, uploaded by people worldwide, but mostly from the US.
I put mine in; it is at gallery page 467.
Fabulous, diverse, kind, human, people I'd like to meet. International folks who accept our apologies.
Handwritten text, on a spiral pad, held by someone we can half-see:
-- half of America"
A woman in front of a map, holding a landscape sheet of paper:
I wish we were nicer.
A few of my favorites:
I could go on, but that wouldn't be fair to them. They are apparently breaking even, with volunteer work. Though I would work on the interface, I find the whole enterprise so heart-lifting. There are people who are appalled, worldwide--and they are compatriots.
There are compatriots for sanity, out there in the world. We must build connection engines, to bring these people together. We must raise a hue and cry, worldwide, for humane, sane, moderate, compassionate, and kind choices, politically and culturally and environmentally.
What a wonder, this site is, just because it exists. Our extremes are a subculture, perhaps (and perhaps must be, to be an extreme); but our tribe is the one that keeps the spirit alive.
Our tribe is the one that is infused with intentional kindness and brotherhood. Our tribe wants to share, and help. We find war, and cruelty, and poverty, and injustice abhorrent, disgusting, and all the more a crime, if intended.
Sheep, and Goats, and Wolves, and the Least of These |
There are profound truths in the Bible, as any religious scholar--from the Unitarian to the Muslim to the Jew to the Buddhist--will tell you.
I am not a believer in the absolute literality of the Bible -- bluntly, anything that's been translated four times (Hebrew to Latin to German to English) minimum can't be taken literally. But those profound truths (in the tales, in the lessons, in the teachings) are worth exploring, especially when it pertains to a fundamental paradox in the Conservative orthodoxy.
If we are to truly be a Christian -- that is, Christ-ian, Christ-like -- nation, then must study the prince of peace's teachings. And in so doing, many of the recent actions of our nation are, to our shame, called into question.
It is not enough to ask "what would Jesus do" only when meeting a homeless person.
"What would Jesus do" if he were the head of Health and Human Services? In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus' famous "least of these" passage is put in terms even four translations couldn't blunt.
[Jesus] ... will say to [the sheep] at his right hand, "Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me."
Um... how much clearer do you need to be? Well, maybe a little clearer . Jesus goes on to say to the goats on his left hand:
"You who are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me..."
Ok, so if Jesus was head of Health and Human Services, he'd be pressuring the President a bit more, I'd say, to
- feed those who are hungry
- give water to those who are thirsty
- welcome strangers
- clothe the naked
- help those in prison
Now, I tend to simplify this list, by saying "help the helpless" or even just "help those in need."
Currently, the Conservatives believe that everyone should be free to lift themselves by their own bootstraps. Everyone should be free to be an entrepreur, and make the most of the free market.
That works ok, if you're an entrepreur, or one of the elite, or have tremendous get-up-and-go, talent, and smarts.
But "the least of these" are not those people. "The least" are, by definition, the ones who are preyed upon by the wolves described above. They are the ones who will never quite be able to get a good "new economy" job, with health insurance and a 401(k). Instead he will be stuck working for Mr. Man, getting a paycheck every two weeks that is mostly taken up by rent and groceries and childcare.
"The least of these" are those who have been forgotten, or ignored, or hidden away -- the retarded, the malformed, the psychotic, the ugly -- who are routinely shunned by the Conservatives.
"Pull your own weight" and "Free to succeed" might work for the healthy, but the sick may simply be unable to do so. How does the "Conservative orthodoxy" deal with this paradox? How do we create a compassionate America, that takes pride in its help for its poor, its treatment of its bad elements, and the quality of its welcome to strangers?
As a lifelong Unitarian (though my mother once instructed my small self to, if someone asked, say "Methodist" because it would take less explaining), I've learned about a multitude of beliefs, but learned in depth only those which I cared to explore. I find Starhawk's heartfelt plea for compassion and honesty tremendously compelling. I also find Jesus's teachings deeply wise.
Matthew 25's "least of these" teachings was always one of my favorites. I remembered it, held it to my heart, and thought of it often.
Now, in this context, I went out hunting for background on Matthew 25. In the process, I ran across:
- an amazing instance of a gambling link ad, at the very bottom of a WWJD document on "bibleweb.com"
- an sweet, authentically kind reading (much nicer than mine) of the "least of these" doctrine
Are We Doing The Will of God? |
This has to be the question asked by any religiously righteous person living in a Red state. This has to be the question used as the main lens through which the Nascar moms and the hoedown boys and the Evangelist rockabilly fans view the world.
How do we manifest the Will of God? There are many gods, of course, large and small. There are things unknown, mysteries of life into which "more research is needed" forever. But for many, God is a Will, a Purpose, a Reason for the constant mystery of their own life.
How do we ask the right questions, questions which the Evangelical must answer through this lens? How do we convince them that the side of the angels is what we share, in fundamental ways?
Is it God's Will to privatize Social Security? It depends on how it's structured. The idea is great if you're young, have a good salary, and always work in formal jobs. For the millions who live in poverty, and who have little or no formal income, it's likely a loss. What would Jesus say about privatizing Social Security?
Is it God's Will that the financial sector make billions in transaction fees, or is it more in keeping with God's will that it be run as a nonprofit, like TIAA-CREF? Which would Jesus support?
What is the Will of God regarding war? Does God relish death, and reward destruction? Does God support bombing cities? Is it the Will of God (or Allah) that civilians be killed in the pursuit of political change?
Direct Communication, the antidote to corporate communications |
Michael Jensen, November 8, 2004
We have had enough of broadcast, it seems to me.
We have had enough of PAC-roots drives -- though ACT, MoveOn, and others did fabulous work before (and will need to do such work again).
We have had enough of centralized coordination. Unfortunately, it is single-voiced. What we need (dare I say it) is more nuanced activism.
We need person-to-person contact. I experimented with this in the waning days of the 2004 campaign in PA. I wrote an impassioned letter to an imaginary religious conservative, and had a friend of mine send me some phone-book pages from a conservative area in Pennsylvania.
I hand-addressed, and hand-stamped, and hand-"Dear John"-ed eighty-eight letters, in mid-October. I paid for the stamps myself, got the addresses myself, and sent the letters by hand.
It seemed to me that I respond differently to hand-addressed letters. I open them with a different mindset. And I am likely to respond differently, if someone is taking a risk.
What I hope we can do -- "we" being those of us who are trying to make a difference -- is communicate, person to person, with people in the red states.
I know people in Nebraska. I grew up in that area. They are, as most people are, good people. They want justice; they want fairness; they want to believe that their time is spent productively. They want to believe in a government of, for, and by the people.
But they have very limited news sources. In Wahoo, Nebraska, they may have the Rush AM network, the local (perhaps remotely-owned) newspaper, the ClearChannel FM stations, and local TV stations, to get their info. With those inputs, what output can be expected?
I want them to have a human being communicating with them directly, personally, by mail. I want them to get a letter, once a month, saying:
"I call myself a liberal, but that word has been twisted by others to mean things I don't call myself. I don't "want" taxes. I don't "want" government intrusion. I don't "want" gay marriage.
However, I believe it's wrong to saddle our grandchildren with debt, so that a few wealthy folks can benefit today. I believe it's wrong to give Big Business free rein to pollute our groundwater, despoil our land, and gobble up small businesses in the name of efficiency. I believe it's wrong to condemn people for things they cannot control."
I want this letter to include a name, and an address, and even a phone number (as my letter to those PA strangers did), to enable a dialogue to take place. Few people are willingly rude to strangers -- they will listen, albeit uncomfortably, to anyone willing to take the risk of direct communication.
I'll add more stuff to this meme later. But I'm also willing to explore options to make "pen pals" possible.
If 10% of the "blue state" activists commit to writing to 10 random "red state" citizens, human-to-human, and commit to striving for a snail-mail relationship (and, importantly, commit to listening, not just telling), then we can perhaps evolve into a society which is democratic, not theocratic; democratic, not authoritarian; democratic, not absolutist.
Unless we address this red/blue divide directly, then we'll allow the powerful to drive the debate, and allow the propogandists (from both sides) to present a limited, prejudiced view of what both sides "mean" and "want" and "believe."
That is not good for the commonwealth.