Inbox — July 28, 2010

Ethics Dilemma
I was disappointed to read that Larry Grant was not reappointed to the Ethics Commission (LEO Weekly, July 21). In my five-plus years working for the Metro Council, Grant stood out as someone who epitomized integrity, character and a willingness to serve the public. I hope whomever is elected mayor this fall will offer Grant another chance to serve — he’s a tremendous asset to
this community.
Graham Honaker, Highlands

In the recent column “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (LEO Weekly, July 14), Joe Manning poses the question, “When does indifference become irresponsibility, or even culpability?” While I believe this question is critical, I’m uncertain about his idea of what constitutes a “merited and healthy” reaction when “things go south,” like when Oscar Grant was brutally killed by a police officer in Oakland, Calif. You suggest unobtrusive public scrutiny, but we have been trying that for years. The problem is that police brutality is far more common than much of the public would be willing to accept; and despite well-intended, unobtrusive public scrutiny, police continue to take innocent lives. Maybe we could take your question a little further: When does passivity, for the sake of not wanting to intrude on police “engagements,” become indifference, and even culpability? The train passenger who filmed Grant’s tragic slaying and the Iranian students who captured the brutalities and murders there did what they could to ensure the world would see; but now that we have seen, our “healthy” response is to wag our fingers and click our tongues. Scores of people across the globe would scoff at the notion that public discourse will do anything to protect us from state-sanctioned violence.
L.D. McChesney, Germantown

Libertarians: Take Two
If I had a horn, I would honk in reply to Tom Louderback’s July 14 letter misrepresenting the views of those of us who are libertarian. Louderback says we are “committed to notions of inerrancy and absolutes.” Here are two notions we consider absolute: that human beings are fallible and that they cannot be trusted to run anybody else’s affairs other than
their own.

Human beings look after their self-interests, even those who profess not to. One human being’s self-interest cannot be defined by another. Those are two more absolutes we believe. As a consequence, every human action is done to make that human better off, whether financially, emotionally or otherwise.

Libertarians are just as jealous of their liberty in the face of corporate power as anyone else. We acknowledge, however, that government does not seem to be able to do a very good job of counteracting corporate power. Indeed, it seems corporations often are able to get the government to help them keep out competition (steel tariffs, taxicab licenses), subsidize their production (tobacco subsidies), or bail them out altogether when bad decisions threaten to make their businesses implode (AIG, GM). Perhaps this is because politicians and bureaucrats act in their self-interests, just like everyone else, and seek to stay in power by appeasing different groups.

No one thinks free markets cure every ill in society. Neither can governments. In part this is because we can’t all agree on what those ills are, but it’s also because nobody on this planet, including the people in government, act for the purpose of assuaging other people’s ethical concerns or curing social ills.

So what do we really think about free markets that allow individuals to act peaceably in their self-interests? To paraphrase Winston Churchill, free markets are the worst economic system ever devised by humans — except for all the others.
Rich Mills, Shawnee

A History Lesson
In regard to Tom Louderback’s letter published on July 14: Tom Louderback is certainly correct that those who refer to themselves as “Libertarians” in the United States fetishize their favorite social science — economics. In fact, a problematic trend in our market-driven society is to treat the socially constructed, capitalist-slanted “science” known as economics as if it is something that cannot be questioned, or has no biases.

What I wanted to address here is not the correct point Louderback makes, but the co-optation of the term “Libertarian” in general. If you want to make a tea-bagger cringe, you should remind them that the first people to use this term to describe their political philosophy were, in fact, socialists, living in Europe.

The first person to use this term to describe his politics, in 1857, was French-born Joseph Déjacque, who used “Libertarian” to describe his brand of communism. Specifically, Déjacque identified as an anarchist-communist, which makes more sense if we fast-forward to the late 1860s in Europe.

The International Workingmen’s Association (excuse the sexist title, as it was developed in the 19th century), or the “First International,” was, in its later stages, split between the “authoritarian” socialists, who sided with Karl Marx, and the “libertarian” socialists, who sided with a Russian figure named Mikhail Bakunin. The libertarian socialists would later evolve into the modern anarchist movement, both critical of the oppression inflicted by the state and by capitalist markets.

It wasn’t until fringe right-wing Americans started using this term, in the late 1950s, to describe their brand of free-market fundamentalism that the term “Libertarian” was co-opted. It is still really an American anomaly, and in many parts of the world, the term is still synonymous with socialism, communism (emphasis on the small “c”) and anarchism.

Feel free to remind the Rand Pauls of the world about this piece of forgotten history when they use the word incorrectly to describe their brand of dogmatic capitalism.
Alex Bradshaw, Highlands

Dear LEO,

Chuck Shepherd would help the community more if he helped combat mental health stigma instead of promulgating it. In a recent “News of the Weird” piece, he suggests schizophrenics who don’t take their meds attack people. The fact is that those suffering from a severe mental illness (SMI) are more likely to be the victims of violent crime than the perpetrators of such acts, and more so than the population as a whole. The idea that those with an SMI are more dangerous than others encourages discrimination. The media should take active steps toward fighting ignorance like this.
Jeff Randall, Kent School of Social Work student, University of Louisville

Good God
I’m not surprised at the new criticism of the American Humanist Association since the unveiling of a billboard that features the familiar image of a U.S. quarter with a revision: In place of the national motto, the coin reads, “In Good We Trust.”

Many believe “In God We Trust” has always been on our currency. Not true! This official national motto came at the height of the Cold War and McCarthyism in the 1950s.

Could a solid argument be made that the “In God We Trust” motto runs afoul of the First Amendment? If critics erected billboards proclaiming “In God We Trust and Everyone Else We Watch,” would Humanists and other non-believers get upset? Isn’t the billboard erected by the AHA more inclusive and appropriate?
Bob Moore, East End

As Good As It Gets
President Obama gets a lot of flak from Republicans and the Tea Party no matter what he does on the oil spill or on everything else. To them, he is doing nothing right. Just who would be handling the oil spill situation better — John McCain, Sarah Palin, Michael Steele, Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Michele Bachmann, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Bobby Jindal, Haley Barbour, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Rand Paul, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Joe the Plumber? What would they do better?

Self-proclaimed patriot Rush Limbaugh hopes Obama fails. How patriotic is that? Obama is not a messiah and he knows he isn’t. He is a leader, despite GOP claims he is just another politician, but Republicans are determined to undermine his leadership in these most difficult times. I hope President Obama will continue to lead courageously and pray God will give him the wisdom to make correct, “common good” decisions.
Paul L. Whiteley Sr., St. Matthews