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

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Don't Vote For Dummies


The mainstream media being the only source of news for most people, it’s very likely you know that liberals are smart and conservatives are dumb. People my age remember how smart Jimmy Carter was running for president against Gerry Ford. Carter was a nuclear engineer. Ford was a football player and famously dumb. Lyndon Johnson said he played football too long without a helmet. Saturday Night Live showed him tripping over something every week.

The highly-intelligent Carter won, then made a weak economy many times worse. When our ally the Shah of Iran was deposed by radical Muslims, Carter sat on his hands while Americans were humiliated for a year and a half in the hostage crisis. Radical Muslims gained confidence and started believing they could bring down all of western civilization. After one term, Carter was seen as the worst president in the 20th century, if not for all time.

He was wicked smart though.

In spite of his vast intelligence, Carter lost the 1980 election to a dumb conservative. Reagan, the “amiable dunce,” presided over one of the greatest economic recoveries in American history by dismantling much of big government built up by the wicked-smart liberals. Reelected by an overwhelming majority, he proceeded to win the Cold War. Hard to understand how he accomplished all that being so dumb.

When his term was up in 1988, media found another wicked-smart governor in Massachusetts whom they figured would make a great president but they couldn’t sell him. Americans believed him a nerdy automaton and elected the first George Bush instead.

In 1992, however, the media found another wicked-smart southern governor in Arkansas whom they thought would make a great president. He was actually smart enough to realize soon after inauguration that Americans didn’t want nationalized health care and abandoned it. He was also smart enough to go along with the dumb conservatives who took over Congress halfway into his first term. He made their programs of scaled-back government and balanced budgets look like his ideas and finished two terms. He wasn’t very smart in his personal life and almost blew everything, but he managed to hang on for eight years.

Then media told us how smart his vice president was. He invented the internet. He figured out that burning coal, oil and gasoline was melting ice caps, raising oceans and killing cute polar bears. As you might expect, he was running against another dumb conservative - this one a cowboy governor from Texas and son of a former President. The media understand that all presidents have to go to church and pretend to believe in God in order to get elected. This guy was so dumb, however, that he really did believe, and didn’t try to hide it either. Somehow though, he won.

Then media found another wicked-smart nerd from Massachusetts to run against him, just like they did against his father. This guy had three Purple Hearts and a Silver Star for bravery. People listened to him and questioned just how smart and brave he really was, but he wouldn’t release his college transcripts or his military records. Then it came out that the dumb cowboy got higher grades they he did at Yale, and other soldiers claimed that, while he puffed his chest a lot, he really wasn’t very brave either. He got medals for minor scratches and the dummy won again.

Then we got a wicked-smart guy from Chicago who was going to fix everything and lower the oceans too. He gave good speeches with his teleprompter, even bringing it to a fifth grade classroom. Media tell us he is so smart, he has an IQ of 160 - but he won’t release his college transcripts either. When he talks without reading he doesn’t sound smart and people are wondering about that IQ. Plus, he’s screwing up the economy even worse than Carter did. He said he’d been to all fifty-seven states, and didn’t know how to pronounce “corpsman,” saying “corpse-man” instead of “core-man.” Media ignored it, but those pesky conservatives on AM radio, the internet, and Fox News didn’t. People are thinking now that maybe he’s smart like Jimmy Carter - especially the ones who are out of work.

Wouldn’t you know it though, it looks like another dumb governor from Texas could be running against him next year. This guy actually believes in God too - and he shoots coyotes. He’s like a male version of that dumb woman from Alaska whom conservatives put up for vice-president. Saturday Night Live sure did a number on her, just like they did to Ford thirty years before. She actually believed in God too and shot caribou. Plus, this guy is even more of a cowboy than the last one. Like the Alaska governor, he didn’t go to ivy league schools either. What intelligent person ever came out of a state university?

This time the media aren’t wasting any time showing Americans how dumb he is. They started right after he announced he was running. They’re going to make sure this time that people don’t elect him over the wicked-smart president we have who only needs another four years to really fix things.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Right Rick


Was Texas Governor Rick Perry out of line to suggest that bald, bearded Ben Bernanke would be almost treasonous to print more dollars? No. I don’t think so. His remarks got a rise out of President Obama right away. Even former President Bush’s advisor, Karl Rove, criticized him. Bush, after all, was first to appoint Bernanke as Chairman of the Federal Reserve, perhaps on the advice of Rove. Obama re-appointed him when he took office and it looks like Bernanke has been doing his bidding ever since.

Speaking in Iowa, apparently in response to an inquiry about the Federal Reserve, Perry said, “If this guy [Bernanke] prints more money between now and the election, I don’t know what y’all would do to him in Iowa, but we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas. I mean, printing more money to play politics at this particular time in American history, is almost treacherous, er, or treasonous in my opinion.”Perry at CPAC 2011

When I was born, pennies were made of copper. Dimes, quarters, and half-dollars were made of silver. Even if people were to lose faith in the government that minted their coins and whose images they bear, citizens could still depend on the copper and silver being worth something. Paper dollars could be redeemed for a certain amount of silver or gold back then too. The paper dollar was understood to be the same as the personal check, and they’re about the same size as checks too. When I write a check to someone, he or she must have confidence that there’s enough cash in my account to back it up. I’m instructing my bank to “pay to the order of” whomever, a certain amount of cash. Paper dollars back then were called “silver certificates” which were instructions for government to turn over a certain amount of silver maintained by the federal government for such purposes. People didn’t cash them in for silver as a rule, but were confident they could if they wanted because they trusted their government.None of that applies anymore. Pennies are made of zinc with copper paint. Dimes and quarters are made of copper with silver paint. The paper dollar cannot be redeemed for precious metal anymore either - in any amount - unless you choose to buy gold with it from a private dealer. Not too long ago, you could buy an ounce of gold for about $40. At this writing, it would cost over $1800 and by the time you read this in a newspaper in a few more days, an ounce of gold might cost over $2000. Why? Several reasons, but mostly it’s because people don’t trust the US Government as much as they used to. Why not? Because Ben Bernanke has been printing trillions more dollars without putting any more gold or silver in Fort Knox to back it up. Why is he doing that? Because he can. Why can he? Because President Nixon took us off the gold standard in 1973. The amount of dollars isn’t tied to the amount of gold in Fort Knox anymore. It “floats,” say the economists.

A February, 2011 article in the newsletter Imprimis compared “floating” the value of the dollar with “floating” the weight of a kilogram. Seth Lipsky wrote that “a global scramble is under way to define this most basic unit after it was discovered that the standard kilogram—a cylinder of platinum and iridium that is maintained by the International Bureau of Weights and Measures—has been losing mass.”

Then he asked why not just let the kilogram float like the dollar? “After all,” he wrote, “when you go into the grocery to buy a pound of hamburger, why should you worry about how much hamburger you get—so long as it’s a pound’s worth? A pound is supposed to be .45359237 of a kilogram. But if Congress can permit Mr. Bernanke to use his judgment in deciding what a dollar is worth, why shouldn’t he—or some other Ph.D. from M.I.T.—be able to decide from day to day what a kilogram is worth?”Lipsky described how the Second Congress “established the value of the dollar at 371 ¼ grains of pure silver. . . . [and] did not expect the value of the dollar to be changed any more than the persons who locked away that kilogram of platinum and iridium expected the cylinder to start losing mass. In fact, in this same 1792 law, they established the death penalty for debasing the dollar.”We should demand a rubber glove and KY jelly at least

The death penalty? Hmm. That was the punishment they established for anyone committing treason as well. That's how seriously the Founding Fathers (many of whom were in Congress at the time) took their constitutional power to coin money.

Tea Party conservatives know the US dollar isn’t floating. It’s sinking, because Bernanke is printing them wildly. Those of us who have saved up dollars are losing wealth with every dollar he prints - and all that hard-earned wealth is going down the black hole of the federal government. It’s a hidden tax. Bernanke calls his money-printing “quantitative easing,” but it could also be called counterfeiting. It’s linguistic legerdemain for theft by a federal government which is driving America into bankruptcy.Maybe Bernanke and the president who appointed him think printing money is good for the economy and will save America. If they do, they’re both fools. If they don’t believe it, they’re intentionally sinking our ship of state along with our dollars. Tea Party conservatives like Perry see the practice as foolish at best and treasonous at worst.

Governor Perry is entitled to his opinion that it’s the latter.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Mob Mayhem


“If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs . . .”

So begins Rudyard Kipling’s century-old poem “If,” which comprised the text of a card I got graduating eighth grade and has stuck with me ever since. In the ensuing forty-six years I saw how rare it was for someone to actually do it - to stay centered within oneself in the midst of hysteria. To achieve that is to live beyond the influence of the mob.

Mobs are big news with riots in England and flash mobs assaulting people and property in the United States. The first night of London riots was said to be in response to police shooting a young black man, variously described as a “father or four” and “tied to London gangs.” That night’s rioting may have started spontaneously, but it continued and spread to other UK cities with electronic social network coordination, and that is a common thread in both the UK and in the United States. Another common thread is race, though the mainstream media in both countries try to ignore it.2011 London riots

As Kipling said, it’s indeed difficult to keep your head when all others about you are losing theirs because we’re all subject to peer pressure. If one is ever going to grow up, to mature, to become an adult, it is necessary to have made an individual decision. Each of us has to ask himself/herself one question, and it can be phrased in various ways: Am I the captain of my own ship, or am I at the mercy of whatever winds blow around me? Am I controlled from within or from without? Do I rule myself, or do others rule me? Do I behave the way I choose to, or do I behave the way I think others want me to? Unless each of us decides how to be and has the discipline to follow his or her own rules, we’re no better than herd animals - part of the mob.1992 LA riots

Meeting new people, it doesn’t take long to sense whether they’ve asked themselves that question and answered it. Personal rules vary, but contain common elements of respect for individuals, families, their dignity, their property, which successful civilizations championed for millennia.

Observing rioters in 2011 London or 1992 Los Angeles, it’s evident they have either avoided the question or never considered it at all. Each is controlled by whatever others around them do. There are no individuals who make choices and take responsibility. They’re part of a tribe, a race, a mob, and the mob is impulsive. It doesn’t think. It doesn’t reflect. It doesn’t make decisions. Pants hang below asses. Sub-woofers blare (c)rap music full of anger, hate, selfishness and nihilism. The mob acts it all out, mindlessly, in the default mode of the horde.David Starkey

British historian David Starkey claimed that white youths involved in last week’s riots were imitating black gang culture. Naturally, he was branded racist by the liberal media, and I’m sure I will be as well. As a long-time public school teacher, however, I can attest that white boys mimicking black gangster culture were consistently my least-functional students.Prime Minister Cameron

Groups of individuals tend to be civilized and creative. Mobs are invariably barbaric and destructive. Liberal mainstream media proclaim the young, all-black or mostly-black and male mobs making mayhem are comprised of frustrated victims of discrimination and lack of opportunity. Conservative media say they’re products of the liberal welfare state responsible for our “slow-motion moral collapse.” UK Prime Minister David Cameron blames: “Children without fathers. Schools without discipline. Reward without effort. Crime without punishment. Rights without responsibilities. Communities without control. Some of the worst aspects of human nature tolerated, indulged - sometimes even incentivized - by a state and its agencies that in parts have become literally demoralized.”Economist Thomas Sowell

Some officials in UK government threaten to cut welfare for anyone arrested during the riots. American economist Thomas Sowell writes: “While the history and the races are different [in England and America], what is the same in both countries are the social policies and social attitudes long promoted by the intelligentsia and welfare state politicians. A recent study in England found 352,000 households in which nobody had ever worked. Moreover, two-thirds of the adults in those households said that they didn't want to work. As in America, such people feel both ‘entitled’ and aggrieved.”

As my grandmother used to say, “Idle hands are the devil’s tools.”Mayor Michael Nutter

Here in the US, the mainstream media strenuously avoid the racial angle of destructive flash mobs springing up in Milwaukee, Peoria, Chicago, Kansas City, and other cities across the country. Liberal media rabidly report white-on-black assaults like the James Byrd case in Texas, or even imagined ones like the ludicrous Duke Lacrosse Team “rape” case in North Carolina. Mainstream media and government officials tripped over each other to trumpet their outrage over something completely fabricated. For black-on-white assaults and robberies, they’re virtually silent. If mentioned at all, young black men are called “youths.” The only media reporting it honestly are blogs and Fox News. The only government official confronting it is Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, who told pillaging blacks in his city: “You have damaged your own race. . . . Take those God-darn hoodies down, pull your pants up and buy a belt ‘cause no one wants to see your underwear or the crack of your butt.”

The demography of the mob may differ through history from biblical times through the French Revolution to the 21st century, but there are things common to all: they’re nasty, brutish, ugly, and enemy of the individual.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Maine Mountains Meandering

Rangeley Lake from the cabin

Mountains or coast? Maine has both and that’s what my wife and I discussed when deciding to move here thirty-four years ago. We decided on mountains and settled in Lovell - a little town north of Fryeburg near the border with Conway, New Hampshire. Last week, we rented a small cabin on Rangeley Lake, also in the mountains, a couple of hours north of Lovell. Relatively undeveloped and surrounded by wilderness, it was like going back in time.

The weather reminded me of Ireland. The sun would be out, then it would cloud up and rain. Then the sun would come out again. Then it would rain again, and so forth. It wasn’t good for kayaking, but did make for some beautiful sunsets.

Rangeley Lake

So few people live around Rangeley that most of the land isn’t organized into towns. Even recent maps show very few roads either and the existing ones are gravel. Most of those are closed off - and not just with a steel cable - but with substantial metal gates. Timber companies or groups of hunters and fishermen own big chunks of land up there and it looks like they maintain many of the roads.

Foreboding clouds in Rangeley

The earliest known evidence of human activity in Maine was found thirty years ago on the nearby shores of what had been the Magalloway River and is now Lake Aziscohos. Ironically, the discoverer was Francis Vail of East Stoneham, Maine - the town just north of where I live in Lovell. People were hunting caribou there more than 11,000 years ago when it was nothing but treeless tundra. Artifacts from a dig on what’s known as the Vail Site are on display in the Maine State Museum in Augusta. The site is under water now, but having read about it, I’d looked over maps of the region and tried to check other places likely to show evidence of early activity by Paleo-Americans or later Indian tribes, usually at the confluence of lakes and rivers of which there are many in those parts. Often, I can walk along a shoreline and recognize flakes of various kinds of chert and quartz left over from tool-making (knapping) millennia ago. My searches were frustrated, however, by those ubiquitous gates. My wife was patient, reading a book on the passenger side, as I drove around.

Fluted knife from Vail site

Looking for a place to rent, I was surprised to see that rates for many establishments are more expensive during winter than summer. Heat would be a factor and Saddleback Ski Mountain is nearby, but it’s mostly snowmobiling that draws the people. It’s big up there. I believe I’d have access to more places on a snowmobile, but I wouldn’t be able to recognize evidence of ancient tool-making on ground covered by snow.

Mike Gramly, the archaeologist who supervised the Vail site excavations, was speaking to the Rangeley Historical Society last Friday. I had a chance to pick his brain for almost two hours. That was the highlight of the trip for me. Again, my wife patiently read a book on the porch of the museum while we talked.

On a rainy Tuesday we drove up to the Wilhelm Reich Museum grounds called “Orgonon.” On the access road was an office. We saw someone stirring inside and he came out wearing a Marilyn Manson T-shirt. He was long-haired, looked stoned, and in spite of that and the metal stud through his tongue, he explained that the museum was open only Wednesday through Saturday. Back at our cabin later I researched Wilhelm Reich and the creepy feelings we had at his former home/museum were confirmed. According to Wikipedia, he was an associate of Sigmund Freud in Vienna, but they parted company because:

He began to violate some of the key taboos of psychoanalysis, using touch during sessions, and treating patients in their underwear to improve their "orgastic potency." He said he had discovered a primordial cosmic energy, which he said others called God and that he called "orgone." He built orgone energy accumulators that his patients sat inside to harness the reputed health benefits, leading to newspaper stories about sex boxes that cured cancer.

Reich also invented a "cloudbuster" machine which purportedly could use this orgiastic orgone energy to produce rain. Online, I found another visitor’s account worth a read. I was glad the place was closed because it would be more edifying to watch an old episode of the Addams Family. I have to wonder how they have the funds to keep the place open fifty years after Reich died in Lewisburg Penitentiary. According to Wikipedia: "His work influenced a generation of intellectuals including Saul Bellow, William S. Burroughs . . . [and] Norman Mailer." No wonder I don't like reading those guys.

Maybe it’s the cloudbuster machines, I don’t know, but weather there reminded me of Ireland. The sun would shine; it would cloud over and rain; the sun would come out, then it clouded over and rained again - all within a couple of hours. That pattern continued for days with a hailstorm thrown in. One afternoon, however, permitted a sidewalk art show with some impressive work by Maine photographers, painters and other craftspeople. Watercolors by local Rangeley artist Pamela Ellis struck me most and I purchased some of her prints - rare for someone cheap as I am.

Topographically, Maine is as big and varied as the other five New England states put together and it’s going to take a while to explore it. With my teaching career behind me, I’ll have time this fall to continue discovering more of the northeastern half of New England.

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Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Pogo Was Right


About ten years ago, my cousin told me of his bankruptcy settlement. I wondered how it was possible that he could have so much debt forgiven and still keep his house and his truck. I figured I’d wait and see. When we were kids he had been so hyperactive and impulsive that I could only hang out with him for short intervals before feeling so drained I had to keep my distance for several months. He had moved to Florida and I hadn’t seen him for a few years, but he called me every month or so and even his phone calls left me feeling tired.

He had told me a couple of years earlier that he had over $40,000 in credit card debt and I was shocked. He had owned a house in New Hampshire at the time though I don’t know what the mortgage was. We were riding in his then-new, four-wheel-drive pickup truck equipped with every option, and I didn’t think he and his wife together made $40k in a year. He said he was worried and I could believe that. I wouldn’t have been able to sleep if I were in his shoes, yet somehow, he was able to sell his house in New Hampshire and buy another in Florida, and that’s where his questionable bankruptcy judgement was made. It was all difficult to swallow and that’s how it had always been with my cousin.

I’ve been thinking a lot about him while watching the debt talks in Washington. My cousin said he was able to keep his house and his truck, and if he was, it was only because his creditors had to eat his debt. Others would have had to pick up the slack for him because he wouldn’t discipline himself enough to control his spending. I believed he would get himself right back into debt again if he were ever issued more credit cards - and I don’t see our government behaving any differently either unless we pass a balanced budget amendment to our Constitution.

The eleventh-hour budget compromise in Washington will supposedly prevent bankruptcy for the USA, but I’m not confident it will. How can this congress bind future congresses for the next ten years? Doesn’t the Constitution allow them to tax, borrow and spend under Article I, Section 8? Without a balanced budget amendment they can do what they please and I don’t trust them to change any more than I do my cousin. Both sides claim there are huge cuts to government spending included in the compromise. How can that be true when the plan adds $7 trillion to the debt over the next ten years? Presidents and congressional leaders set off my internal BS alarm just as much as my cousin always did. The way they conduct their personal lives is similar too, but there’s not enough space in this column to go into any of that.

My cousin depended on everyone else when he went belly up, but if the USA goes bankrupt, who would save us? China? According to one Chinese official, we’ve already defaulted on our debt to them because we’re paying interest on it by printing dollars that are worth less than the ones we borrowed. US Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke likes to call it “quantitative easing” but you could also call it counterfeiting. He reminds me of my cousin too.

Another of our creditors, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, said the other day that: “They [Americans] are living beyond their means and shifting a part of the weight of their problems to the world economy.” The way he describes us Americans, we’re all seeming more like my cousin, no? Putin went on to say, “They [Americans] are living like parasites off the global economy and their monopoly of the dollar”

Is he right? I’m afraid he is. How did we get to the point when a communist Chinese official and the former head of the Soviet KGB are making more sense than the US Federal Reserve Chairman and the President of the United States?

As I think about all this, it occurs to me that, for decades, my cousin would call me after a long hiatus and I would go and hang out with him again. It also occurs to me that we Americans keep electing presidents and members of congress who act like just like him. I believe Pogo was right when he said: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

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