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Branding the Elephant

elephant_brandingListening to Republican leaders and TV pundits debate the need of the pending rebranding of the party and their relative philosophical failures for the past eight years* is a grotesque cynical insult to all of us.

To equate branding tactics and philosophical spin as more important than deeds is wrong. Do they not remember “right and wrong”? It seems that the sinners have found Jesus again and promise to sin no more. I say, give me good works. I say their congregations should demand it, too.

auntsamTo suggest that the same people will somehow act differently if just given another chance is akin to letting the wife beater back in the household. It is a sickness and soft words with a broad smile will not hide the hard heart and mean spirit for long. They don’t need new spin, they need to demonstrate they can be trusted.

We have cycles in our political system. There are swings every 10 years or so. It wasn’t long ago that the Dems were so down that Rove and Company were talking of a permanent Republican majority. Where did they go wrong and why so quickly? Just google, “Bush, Cheney, Rove, lies, betrayal, corruption, hypocrisy” and you’ll likely find your answer. Or, just notice that during Bush years, the Dems didn’t try to undermine America, but to make things as good as they could. They built trust by being trustworthy. We can only hope, they will stay that way.

America needs more than one viable political party. Healthy debate washes issues to remove imperfections – at least, some of them. All of us, need the Republicans (the top 1% more than others). But we need them to be more interested in good governance than in power. More interested in what is good for America than what is good for their next election cycle. More interested in the people they represent who aren’t often heard, than those they hang out with in their testosterone-filled caucus. More interested in what is good common sense, than good sound bites for the party faithful. These times are far too dangerous to be working against the common good. What they do matters.

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*In case the elephant does forget and to name just a few, they doubled the national debt and crippled our economy through deficits, outsourcing, cronyism, corruption, incompetence and deregulation; started two wars, tortured and wiretapped; corrupted our judicial system and undermined the constitution; and led America by division, fear and bad faith.

In the Public Trust

Great Depression

Debates rage in Congress, State Houses and on Cable News over government intrusion on business. Talk of bailouts, nationalizing banks, regulating hedge funds, limiting power companies’ pollution, charging fair grazing fees and mining rights on public lands, direct loans to corporations, pseudo-government corporate ownership, government-sponsored investment funds, companies too-big-to-fail, corporate campaign contributions, limiting offshore tax havens, unfair government competition with cable and telephone suppliers over opening up the broadcast spectrum to free wireless internet to everyone, and unfair government competition with private insurers over universal medical coverage (to name more than a few), has brought labels of socialism, big government and anti-business back to the forefront of popular Google searches. So, what is the role of business vis-a-vis government?

Before there were corporations, there was government. Before government, there were people. Corporations are allowed to exist only because government gives them the standing. Likewise, at least in the US, government is only allowed to exist because of a special pact – a contract, if you will, with the people. We refer to it most often as the Constitution. It is the people, who have inalienable rights. Not government. And certainly not business.

While individuals have the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” corporations do not. For much of US history, to create what we now call a corporation, required an act of a state legislature and those charters were closely regulated to protect the public interest (the federal government can only create corporate entities from the powers derived from the Constitution – for instance, Federal Banks). Things changed dramatically in late 20th century as states wishing to attract more “bizness,” loosened regulations (Delaware and Nevada are the most notorious for lack of regulation and where the largest corporations who have not yet gone offshore to escape almost any regulation or taxes, are most likely chartered).

Corporations, when combined with inexhaustible supplies of capital; limited stockholder representation in management; competition between states who would look the other way on regulation in exchange for the hope of jobs and campaign contributions; an inexhaustible supply of workers – legal or otherwise; new manufacturing and distribution methods; the expansion of the patent laws; the proliferation of lobbyists and their perks; the lack of transparency of what they were doing before it was too late; their unlimited budget for lawyers; and the opportunity for profit, lead quickly, of course, to monopolies, aka: cartels (and predatory pricing, price gouging, manipulation of markets by limiting supplies, collusion, discriminatory trade, tort reform, inability to organize workers, fraud, bribery, dangerous products, pollution, more lobbying, George W. Bush, etc.). Nefarious monopolies were first outlawed around 50BC, and in the US in 1894, but the laws are largely ignored here except during times when the majority of the Supreme Court was appointed by Democrats. There are some exceptions to the monopoly law. Most notable are professional sports and public utilities which are supposed to maintain infrastructure for a public service and be closely regulated, but the power to corrupt will always trump good intentions.

By now, your thoughts must be screaming, “when will you get to the point?” How ‘bout I skip the rest of the civics lesson and offer it now? Our government need not protect an industry or corporation’s ability to profit when it is contrary to the public trust. Government needs to do what’s good for the people. Practical examples:

• We’ve gone to digital television to open up the underutilized television broadcast spectrum. Our so-called public utilities (cable, satellite providers, wired and wireless phone companies and power companies – okay, not all in this list are still public utilities) want to own this spectrum so they can continue to do what they do best: provide as little service as possible while charging us as much as possible. Problem is, this bandwidth (and about a billion dollars or so, some cooperation/mergers and some maintenance) could provide internet access for everyone and the enhanced internet could be used to replace all cell and television service saving the people hundreds of billions every year. What is in the public good?

• US employers need to be more globally competitive, yet the cost of providing employee heath insurance is among their greatest expense. The number of uninsured in the US is about 50 million and rising. As a society, we pay for care anyway through indigent care expenses, lost productive and taxed wages, and early death of the uninsured. The problem is that we have the health insurance industry and they have lobbyists. Ditto the unions. Ditto big-pharma. Now ask yourself, what’s in the public good? Maintaining a vibrant health insurance industry, helping executives and union members have extravagant health plans and allowing the drug companies to overcharge? Or, making business more competitive and everyone more healthy at a lower cost?

• Admittedly, any regulation of hedge funds would make them less competitive with the criminals in other countries and it may mean that some of these imaginary deals will end up being made offshore, but since they do absolutely nothing to positively improve the human condition short of enriching the schemers themselves, is it really in the public good that they should do whatever they want and answer to no one when the result of this practice so far, has led to financial ruin of hundreds of millions? Ask yourself if government would be acting in the public trust to keep this unregulated (which they are now) or even under-regulated, which any lobbyist-inspired Congressional compromise would surely render?

• Admittedly, the financial industry funds more campaign contributions and lobbyists than any other group; likewise, community giving, and we’d miss that for a while. But clearly history has shown us that the FDIC can take over, fix and re-privatize a bank without anyone suffering, other than the executives and shareholders who took the failed risks and should be responsible. What is in the public good of doing otherwise?

• In your wildest dreams, does anyone believe that power companies with investments in dirty coal (Georgia Power comes to mind) will ever reduce their pollution unless forced to or incented to? Yes, it would cost their customers some money through increased rates. Money that companies in states with public regulation have long ago paid. But just to top it off, please note that Georgia Power’s lobbyist just bribed the legislature to pass an increase in rates for a fictitious nuclear reactor they pretend they are going to build 10 years from now even though no reactor has been licensed in the US in more than 20 years. Scandalous, for sure. In the public interest? Not.

Government must be for the people. Not for the corporations.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with inherent and inalienable rights; that among these, are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.” –Declaration of Independence as originally written by Thomas Jefferson, 1776. ME 1:29, Papers 1:315

Her curses of me haunt

pissed petBully.” “Mean-spirited bastard.” They are true, of course. I did yell at the dog to get off the couch and slap it on its ass for pissing in our house for the 4th time in 24 hours even though I had walked the beagle in the park 4 times in the cold and rain.

She was right. “The dog doesn’t know better” because the dog’s not been taught what’s wrong and held accountable by either of us and, more often, given a treat for waking up, a treat for eating, a treat for getting petted.

She was right. I was just looking for something to “ruin our evening” when I found the puddle. The dog did, after all, piss in the bathroom. She should get a treat for that. That’ll teach her.

She was right to courageously jump between us – the dog and me – with arms out to take any further violence that might erupt while I was going for the mop.

She was right. She’s always right. It’s my fault the dog pissed in the first place because I switched types of dog food. So what if I hated opening those nasty cans, using our dinnerware to scoop out that horribly smelling pate, cleaning the cans for recycling in our sink, cleaning the sink, all to pick up those soft, malodorous stools later in the park. The dog was just “communicating dissatisfaction” – something I’m not allowed to do with my voice and certainly not with my bladder.

She was right when she said, “Your anger seem to come out of nowhere.” I hadn’t screamed at the dog the other times that day or that week or that month. What caused me to choose, if it were a choice, to pick that moment? Well, a quick Google suggests that anger is associated with lower serotonin activity. Perhaps, this happened because I had just awakened from a nap or because my middle-aged bladder was so full – serotonin function is close to nil while sleeping. But that doesn’t explain why I did not yell at the dog at 4 AM that morning? Oh, but wait, perhaps I didn’t scream at the dog then because I was so friggin’ sensitive about waking her up?

My mom always seemed to get pleasure out of saying, “You’ve got your daddy’s bad temper” – I do have vivid memories of him yelling at the dog when he stepped in dog poop. So was it my dad’s fault that I yelled at the dog. Did he get it from one of his parents? Geneticists assume there are genetic differences between how each of us produce and receive serotonin, but at best, that only speaks to tendency. Genetic research on this is pretty incomplete, but most suggest there are more influences than just being the son of a type A. So, is it possible that my dad’s anger was caused or greatly influenced by him having to live with my mom’s alcoholism, self-pity, low self-esteem, depression and general narcissism and I just learned it from him? A quick Google on Adult Children of Alcoholics – that’s me – and you find that we are control freaks, or at least we get anxious when we cannot control situations and tend to react rather than act. Sounds like I’m on to something.

The Mayo Clinic says there 2 ways to handle anger: Expression (as in, “the difference between talking to someone or picking up a baseball bat and hitting them”) and Suppression. On suppression they say,”This is trying to hold in or ignore your anger. You may think you shouldn’t be angry or that you’ll lose control if you let yourself feel any anger. The danger in this passive approach is that you may not protect yourself when the need arises. You may also become passive-aggressive, where you don’t express your anger assertively or directly, but scheme to retaliate because you haven’t learned how to express anger constructively.” Ugh-oh. Passive-agressive. I have been known to play that game once in a while.

Other experts, okay everyone, know that personal circumstances can contribute. Things like financial pressures; illness; problems at work (oh no, I work with my wife); fatigue; problems with the kids; etc. Okay, those are in play, too.

Is it possible that I was a just-waking, unsuccessful passive-aggressive, child of an alcoholic, bully going through a tough economy time with concerns about work and the kids and had just stepped in dog piss? Probably so. To my wife and my dog, I’m sorry. I’ll promise to try and wait longer after a nap before stepping in dog piss so the serotonin can kick in and I can express myself in a more rational way.

Here’s some reading on anger…

Stanford School of Medicine on the genetics

An excerpted chapter of Secrets of Serotonin by Carol Hart

A white paper on Adult Children of Alcoholics by the US Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration

FAQ’s on Anger from the Mayo Clinic