Tom McLaughlin

A former history teacher, Tom is a columnist who lives in Lovell, Maine. His column is published in Maine and New Hampshire newspapers and on numerous web sites. Email: tommclaughlin@fairpoint.net

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Robin Hood Rebates


Molly at North Conway, NH WALMART service desk

Great news from the government! Tax rebate checks are coming! Democrat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told us last Thursday that: “Tens of millions of Americans will get a check in the mail.” What a country! Even people who didn’t pay any taxes at all are going to get a “rebate.” Isn’t that wonderful?

Those who paid the most taxes last year, however, aren’t going to get anything back. No rebates for them. That’s the deal our inarticulate president got when he emerged from his emergency meetings with the bug-eyed Democrat Speaker from San Francisco. You know her. She’s the one always complaining about tax breaks for the rich. In case you were wondering where all the billions in “rebate” money for the non-taxpaying check recipients is coming from, it’s coming from those rich taxpayers. The top 10% of Americans pay about 70% of all federal income taxes - and they’re not getting rebates. The top 50% of Americans pay more than 96% of those taxes. The bottom 50% of Americans, who would be considered rich in most parts of the world but are viewed as marginalized here, pay less than 4% of all federal income taxes. The bottom 75% pay only 14%. They’re the ones, however, who are getting nearly all the “rebates.”

Who said Robin Hood was dead? Seems like he’s alive and well in Washington, DC. It’s like Sherwood Forest and the Big Rock Candy Mountain all rolled into one. Fired up by the spirit of this “economic stimulus package” our leaders have worked out for us, I dropped into the local WALMART in North Conway, NH and waited in line at the service desk. When my turn came, I asked the woman behind the counter for a refund. “On what?” she asked because I hadn’t put anything on the counter.

“You mean I have to buy something to get a refund?”

“Uh-huh,” she said and pointed to the word “items” on the Return Policy sign behind her.

“You mean WALMART isn’t going along with the economic stimulus package worked out in Washington?” I asked, after explaining the deal our leaders made that very day.

“Nope,” she said.

“What if it works? What if our economy booms after everyone gets their rebate checks? Will WALMART get into the spirit then and give refunds to people who didn’t buy anything? It could be great for business.”

“If we did that, the line of people here would be all the way out the door,” she said, gesturing toward the parking lot outside.

No wonder liberals hate WALMART. Did you notice how the audience jeered at Hillary Clinton during the debate in South Carolina when Barack Obama pointed out that she served as a corporate lawyer for the WALMART board of directors? Evidently WALMART doesn’t care about people as much as Democrats in the US House do. If it did, it would give money to people whether they bought anything or not. But then Nancy Pelosi and most other Democrats give away other people’s money, and WALMART would have to give away its own.

That made me wonder how much of their own money liberal Democrats give to charity. I remembered reading that the past two Democrat candidates for president, Al Gore and John Kerry, gave very little of their own money to charity compared to their opponent, George W. Bush. Then I did some research. “The Chronicle of Philanthropy” in its November, 2006 edition reports that: “. . . religious conservatives are far more charitable than secular liberals, and that those who support the idea that government should redistribute income are among the least likely to dig into their own wallets to help others.”

Hmm. Come to think of it, Robin Hood didn’t give away his own money either. He robbed the rich with bows and arrows and gave their money away instead. Liberal Democrats use the IRS instead of bows and arrows but it amounts to the same thing. It’s not their own money they’re so generous with. It’s other people’s money. It’s my money.

This stuff all sounded great to me when I was an impecunious teacher with a wife and three kids back in 1979. The federal government classified me as poor because my income put my family below the federal poverty line. I’m still a teacher but I have two other jobs as well. My wife has worked also since the kids grew up. Now this Robin Hood thing doesn’t sound so great because the Democrats think I’m rich. I pay a lot of taxes and I’m not sure I’ll qualify for this “rebate” after Harry Reid and the Senate get through tweaking it.

WALMART isn’t going to give me anything and I may not get any rebate check in the mail either, no matter what our bug-eyed Speaker Pelosi says. I’m thinking maybe I should stop working so hard.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Choosing Process


Photo from Yahoo
Though I expected to be bored at this point with the longest presidential campaign in history, I’m not. My students are quite taken up with it too. That makes my job easier because I’m charged with teaching them civics, but it also energizes my interest. Here in January, my students are about as sophisticated as the adult voting populace, or as unsophisticated, as the case may be. They’re a window through which I can study my fellow Americans and why they vote (or not) as they do (or don’t). Most students hear what their parents say about candidates and echo it, and that’s how political awareness begins for most of us. Some parents pay no attention to politics, don’t vote and, with a few exceptions, their kids aren’t particularly interested either. In this little laboratory that is my schedule of classes every day, several patterns became more obvious during this election cycle.

One is the herd mentality. Five distinct groups of fourteen-year-olds file in and out of my classroom most days and each is unique because of the students in it. Some students influence the rest without knowing it. They’re trendsetters who don’t try to sway others but they do. They seem unaware that others emulate them. When I ask a class to raise their hands if they support Candidate A and they see the trendsetter raise his/her hand, many will raise theirs too. They’re not all followers. Some are independent thinkers but they’re a distinct minority. The herd mentality influences adult American voters fully as much as fourteen-year-olds I think. It’s manifest in the caucus process when voters declare which candidate they support by a show of hands or by standing in a particular corner of a room. It’s less of a factor in a primary when voters make their choices in a private voting booth where no one else can see. When they’re returning to their cars and someone taking exit polls sticks a microphone in their faces, they can tell the truth or not. Many don’t, I suspect.

Another pattern is the tendency to vote for a candidate because of what identity group he/she represents. When I ask students why they support Hillary Clinton, most say they want a woman to become president. When I ask Obama supporters why they would vote for him, they say it’s time we had a black president. Students have had many lessons on the Democrat Party’s positions on issues and the Republican Party’s as well, so I’m disappointed when they ignore a candidate’s platform and make up their minds based on race or sex. Then I have to remind myself that too many Americans choose our leaders using the same criteria. It is, unfortunately, the way we are.

Perhaps it would be better to say it’s the way we have been so far. There’s still hope that we’ll move beyond our obsession with skin color some day, but our sexual distinctions are real. In spite of liberal feminist denials, there really are differences between men and women. There always have been and always will be no matter what Women’s Studies departments claim. That’s not to say I’d have a problem voting for a woman. As with men, my vote would depend on who that woman is and what she says she’ll do. I would never have voted for Shirley Chisholm, Pat Shroeder or Geraldine Ferraro. I’ll never vote for Hillary Clinton either and those are the only women who have run since I’ve been voting. If, however, Margaret Thatcher were a native-born American and running for president, I’d vote for her over any man in the race today, Democrat or Republican.

Last week, formerly-leftist writer Christopher Hitchens pointed out how Democrats’ obsession with color and sex is haunting them in this primary process. Early on, it looked like Democrat voters were starting to get beyond it as pollsters reported Barack Obama having more support among women than Hillary Clinton - and she had more support among people who think of themselves as black than Obama did. Lately, however, Democrats have returned to their traditional politics of sex and color and the tribes are lining up accordingly.

Hitchens defined a racist as: “one who believes that there are human races.” By that definition, virtually the entire Democrat Party is racist. It insists the US Census continue categorizing Americans according to “race” even though biologists insist there are no such things as races. Democrats insist on maintaining skin-color preferences in hiring, awarding contracts, and assigning students to schools.

My hope is that someday all of us, even Democrats, will realize there’s only one race - the human race - and we all belong to it. Then, perhaps, we’ll abandon that most primitive of our voting patterns.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Twilight of the Culture


Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco 9/30/2007. Photo from Zombietime

What can we say about a culture that doesn’t want to reproduce itself? That’s what is happening in Europe, Canada, and now even in the United States - centers of Western Civilization all. What’s going on? Native-born European women aren’t bearing children at anywhere near a sustainable rate. Indeed, they’re having so few that their demographic will be reduced by half every generation. Meanwhile, Muslim immigrant women in Europe are having children at a rate that doubles their population in the same intervals. Should present trends continue, Europe as we know it will cease to exist in half a century. It will become Eurabia. A similar trend the United States is not yet so acute but it’s trending in that direction, and the immigrant population is predominantly Mexican. Our most populous state has been called Mexifornia by some.

Why have western women chosen not to reproduce as they use to? Maybe they’ve lost confidence in men as husbands and fathers. Maybe they think western culture is inferior and don’t want to bring children into it. Maybe they’re unwilling to make the physical, temporal, financial, and emotional sacrifices necessary to raise a child, or more than one child. Maybe the question doesn’t matter. Perhaps it’s just a phenomenon of social Darwinism that if one demographic group chooses to make itself extinct, another takes its place.

A significant portion of my fellow baby boomers are worried that they may not become grandparents. Some have no grandchildren at all and others have only one or two because their children don’t want to bear children. I wrote about this recently and it seemed to touch a nerve. Some agreed with my suggestion that the dearth of grandchildren was due to one or more factors such as selfishness, indifference, or just plain laziness on the part of boomer offspring. Most responses, however were indignant attempts to refute those suggestions, or they were scornful declarations that it was none of my business whether people reproduced or not, that it was a private decision and should not be scrutinized by anyone, especially me. Others made Malthusian arguments that our planet cannot sustain any more people and their decisions not to reproduce were therefore morally correct.

America’s libido is certainly strong enough. That’s not the problem. We’re nothing if not sex-obsessed, but a critical mass in western culture disassociates sex from reproduction and family. After intense and prolonged pressure from leftist women’s and homosexual groups, certain non-reproductive versions of sexual behavior which used to exist only in the shadows were declared constitutional rights by activist judges. Abortion to further divorce sex from reproduction is also a constitutional right. Paradoxically, one of the euphemisms for abortion employed by women’s groups is “reproductive freedom.” They don’t mean freedom to have children. They mean they’re free to refuse children even when they’re pregnant - free to vacuum babies out of their wombs by the millions. They’re free to pretend that it’s nobody else’s business either - that nobody else in the culture should have a right even to voice disapproval. Europe and Canada have “Human Rights Commissions” and the like which are functioning to harass anyone who does so, as in the case of Alberta Pastor Stephen Boission who was convicted of “hate speech” for writing a letter to the editor critical of pro-homosexual propaganda in the province’s schools.

Reproduction is not the only function of sex, but it’s hard to argue that it’s not the most important function for any culture or society that wants to avoid extinction. If sexual minorities have “rights” to not only practice, but publicize their behavior using taxpayer money, other taxpaying members of that culture should at least be able to discuss the subject without legal harassment. It’s simply madness to muzzle them, but that’s exactly what’s happening. Now those groups redefine marriage and family to include homosexual couples - insisting by all these measures that western culture put its imprimatur on a scheme to dismantle itself. Some states and provinces and even countries have outlawed use of words like “husband” and “wife” as discriminatory.

Words follow thoughts. Orwell was right to warn us in his novel “1984” about Big Brother’s inclination to dispatch the Thought Police when thinking got politically incorrect. He was a bit premature by predicting his nightmare society would manifest in the late 20th century. The big-government left was just getting geared up then. They’re finding their stride in the early 21st, so watch what you say if you don’t want to be hauled before the tribunal. If you think it’s bizarre that your culture is more concerned about polar bears and trees than people, that it wants to protect bath house sex and abortion more than babies and then spoonfeed their propaganda to schoolchildren with your tax money, you better shut up about it or the Thought Police will be coming for you.

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

How To Help

An old priest told me of a lesson he learned in seminary. His instructor asked the class to speculate about what percentage of the people seated in the pews on any given Sunday was suffering. Seminarians estimated five percent, fifteen percent, twenty percent, etc. The priest guessed it was thirty-three percent. All wrong, said the instructor. The correct answer was a hundred percent. All the people looking up from their pews were suffering.

Many times I’ve looked around in church and wondered about this. Is it true? Does everybody suffer? Some of us carry it well and others of us wear it on our sleeves, but I don’t think anybody escapes. It seems that some of us suffer more than others, but that’s hard to measure because suffering is subjective and non-transferable. There are, perhaps, some people whose lives are so short and whose deaths are so quick that they don’t suffer much, but we don’t know for sure.

When the subject has come up in my classes, I ask students their opinions about what kind hurts most: physical pain or emotional/spiritual suffering. Generally about six of ten believe emotional/spiritual pain is worse than physical pain. This is from from fourteen-year-olds at a melodramatic stage of life. They tend to use crutches and ace bandages longer than necessary to milk every drop of empathy. Some exaggerate limps and talk endlessly about how much something hurts. Others, however, sustain painful injuries or lose a family member through death, desertion or addiction but bear it stoically. Still, most believe physical pain is not so hard to bear as spiritual/emotional pain.

There is an affinity between people who suffer. They bond because they sense an empathy in one another and recognize when someone is in pain more quickly than they otherwise would. They’re more willing to offer relief. Nearly everyone is inclined to help when they see suffering in their presence except for a distinct minority present in every society - those we call sociopaths. Sociopaths are by definition incapable of putting themselves in someone else’s shoes - so totally selfish they don’t fit in anywhere - not even with others like themselves.

Early in the Judeo-Christian tradition, it was believed that when someone was visited with suffering, it was because he or she had fallen out of favor with God, that some evil was present in the one suffering. The Old Testament’s Book of Job offers one such scenario. As he loses his family and his riches, Job’s neighbors wonder what evil he had done to bring such suffering onto himself. The Nation of Israel suffered when it strayed from God’s laws and learned there is some redemptive quality in suffering. Christians share this idea.

Those who reject religious explanations for suffering usually blame government or economic systems for it. They believe it’s possible to create a community in which everything is distributed equally, with no rich and no poor, that each of us can work for the good of all. In the 19th century, secular utopian groups tried many times to create societies to implement such egalitarian principles. They pooled their resources and established themselves on the fringes of society. Some survived years, even decades, but eventually broke up. In the 20th century Russia and China established such systems throughout their whole nations. Russia turned into the Soviet Union and survived seven decades before disintegrating. China started later and is still operating, though it’s gradually transitioning to capitalism.

Somewhere between twenty and sixty million people suffered and died in the Soviet Union in the effort to transform it into a “perfect” society. Ironically, the net effect of their effort to reduce human suffering was to greatly exacerbate it. In China too, tens of millions died in purges like the Cultural Revolution to “purify” their movement. German National Socialism purged religion and killed millions in a dozen-year attempt to create a thousand-year Reich.

Within Christianity, various religious orders established societies within the larger church which have survived for centuries. It’s also true that Christian sects made war on one another during the Reformation. There were purges like the Spanish Inquisition in which thousands suffered and died. Crusades between Christians and Muslims lasted nearly two centuries and produced about 1.5 million dead.

Historical efforts to reduce human suffering from both religious and secular groups have shown successes and failures. Religious efforts, however, have lasted much longer than secular ones. Much more striking though have been the failures. Those are many, many times more deadly in secular, atheist societies than in religious ones.

History has shown us that the human condition is anything but a rose garden. We must expect suffering and we must help each other through it. Help is most effective when it’s person-to-person or in small, spiritual groups - and least effective when forced by big government.

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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Heterosexual White Guy Journalists Association



There’s a need out there and I have undertaken to fill it. It’s my great pleasure to announce the formation of the Heterosexual White Guy Journalists Association, or HWGJA (hah-wug-jah). Minorities have taken steps to improve the way they’re portrayed in media and now it’s our turn to burnish our image, which has been getting trashed for many years now.

There’s the Association for Women Journalists on whose web site it says: “AWJ promotes the fair treatment of women in the media and the promotion of women in the newsroom through a scholarship program, career grants, networking, advocacy, career seminars . . .”

Then there’s the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association which proclaims: “NLGJA is an organization of journalists, media professionals, educators and students that works within the news industry to foster fair and accurate coverage of LGBT issues.” In case you’re not hip to what LGBT means, it’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender. That last is a new word for what we use to call a transvestite or a cross-dresser, or it could mean someone whose gone even further and had plastic surgery to either remove a penis or implant a facsimile. The latter procedure is what Rush Limbaugh calls an “adadictomy.”

There’s the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the Native American Journalists Association, and - get this - both the Asian American Journalists Association and the South Asian Journalists Association. What’s up with that? Why is there a need for two Asian Journalists Associations? Can’t the AAJA just have a department like the South Asian Subcommittee or something like that? As founder and president of HWGJA, I intend to form special departments like the Republican Bureau (wouldn’t be any need for a Democrat bureau - see explanation below), the Jock Committee, the Redneck Panel, and the Unmedicated ADHD Task Force. I don’t know if the task force will ever get anything accomplished, but they’ll certainly be active.

As HWGJA president, I intend to apply for membership in the National Association of Multcultural Media Executives, or NAMME (nah-mee). I know what you’re thinking: heterosexual white guys are in the majority, right? Well, if NAAME refuses me membership I intend to sue, just as soon as HWGJA gets a legal department. I’ve already done the research into our minority status and my conclusion is that heterosexual white guys are definitely outnumbered in the profession. Take television journalism, for instance. You’ll have a hard time convincing me that Matt Lauer is exclusively heterosexual. No HWG gets excited about the latest designs in wedding dresses like Matt does. And when he’s not there, David Gregory fills in. Ever see Mr. Gregory sashaying to music with Meredith and Al outside the studio in New York City? At best, Lauer and Gregory are metrosexuals. They’ve had so much makeup applied to them so often, something’s happened to them. Males on other networks seem little better. We HWGs are definitely in the minority.

White metrosexual journalists covering Washington, DC are overwhelmingly Democrats and that party has become anathema to HWGs. That wasn’t always true, but HWGs have been leaving the Democrat Party for about thirty years now and I don’t think there are any left. Thomas Edsall at The Huffington Post organized a forum recently, asking: “Should the Dems love white guys or dump them?” Edsall was referring to HWGs of course because homosexual men have always been strong Democrats. Various non-HWGs weighed in with comments and the consensus was: “Who needs them? They’re a shrinking demographic anyway, so let them go.” That would explain why the party’s three leading candidates for president are: a woman - Hillary Clinton, a black man - Barack Obama, and a white guy of questionable sexual preference - John Edwards.

All these advocacy groups object when our mass media depict members unfavorably, whether they be black, Hispanic, homosexual, female, Asian, Muslim Arab, or whomever. Amos and Andy is out. So are Brer Rabbit, Little Black Sambo, and Speedy Gonzalez’s cartoon-character sidekick Slowpoke Rodrigues. Public school textbook publishers, for example, can only use images that depict minorities as the advocacy groups insist. Asians cannot be shown in laundries or as academics. Women cannot be portrayed as nurses or receptionists or caring for children. Blacks can’t be shown in an urban environment. All images must be counter to stereotype, even if the stereotype is accurate and substitute images distort reality.

Heterosexual white guys are the only ones left to ridicule or poke fun at, so we’re depicted as heartless oppressors of everyone else in the history textbooks our children read. We’re shown as selfish and stupid on television - like Homer Simpson or Family Guy for example. Behaving as normal boys in the typical public school classroom, we’re diagnosed with ADHD and force-fed amphetamines. At the other end of things, our life expectancy is shorter than that of women. In between our childhood and our death, we’re expected to keep everything running while all the other minority groups whine about how cruel and heartless we are.

My goal for the HWGJA, however, is not to complain about our circumstances the way the other groups whine about theirs. Heck no. Homer Simpson is funny. So is Family Guy. They wouldn’t be funny unless there were some basis in reality for their antics. My goal instead is to maintain a healthy, heterosexual-white-guy sense of humor and thereby provide a contrast to those other groups who desperately need to lighten up. We HWGs have to laugh at them every time people from those hyper-PC advocacy groups feign outrage and indignation at their lot in life and blame us. It’s the only way we're going to stay sane until they all grow up - if they ever do.

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