Tom's Thoughts

Location: Granite Falls, North Carolina, United States

I'm an ordained United Methodist minister no longer pastoring churches, a former media producer with skills ten years out of date, a writer trying to sell my first novel, and a sales associate keeping body and soul together working for the People's Republic of Corporate America. I'm married to the most wonderful woman in the world, who was my best friend for 17 years before we married.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011


--Brussels sprouts would be fattening and carbs wouldn't .

--Sugar would strengthen tooth enamel.

--All political discourse would be intelligent exchanges of ideas based on facts and there would be no name-calling or slander.

--Semen would cure yeast infections.

--AIDS would cure leukemia.

--Higher education would be free.

--People of all faiths would understand the strengths and weaknesses in their own faith communities as well as those of others around them, and all would understand that people of all faiths are trying to get closer to God.

--Cars could run on water.

--Speed limits would be based on how fast people actually want to drive.

I'll try to think of more later.

Friday, August 27, 2010

On Blaming our Fellow Victims

The latest incident is the attack on the cab driver because said cab driver was a Muslim.

I remember a Texas man killing a Sikh because he thought the man was a Muslim. 

Between those two incidents of domestic terrorism (which is exactly what they were) the rhetoric has been rising against Muslims in America.  The agitation over a Muslim-run community center two blocks from the former World Trade Center site, you know, out there where the OTB parlors and strip clubs are, where the deluded masses are calling the "Ground Zero Mosque," even though it is not at Ground Zero and it's not a mosque, is another manifestation of the evil spirit of our times.  (For those, like me, who are unfamiliar with New York City culture and mindset, I have it on good authority from those who live there that two blocks there is like two miles anywhere else.  The one time I visited, plus the years I lived three blocks from the worst drug-infested corner in Fayetteville, N. C., I can believe it.)

I remember when the Israeli forces attacked the humanitarian flotilla, and thought then of the time a friend of mine said, "The Germans had a problem called the Jews.  Israel has a problem called the Palestinians."

Now, it seems, America has a problem called the Muslims.  I see the same anti-Muslim prejudice coming out that manifested itself in Nazi Germany.  It is a Satanic spirit infecting our times, causing us to forget everything America stands for, especially freedom of religion. 

After all, we don't protest new Protestant churches in Oklahoma City because Timothy McVeigh was a Protestant.  Yet we get all bent out of shape over Muslims in our country because the criminals who hijacked the four planes on 9/11 were Muslims.  Both sets of criminals--the Oklahoma City bombers and the 9/11 hijackers were using violent means to protest America's system of government and commerce.  Yet it is only the Muslims who get the brunt of our prejudice now.

Of course, part of it is the news media from which people get their information about what's going on.  I keep reading and hearing about how the mainstream Muslim community doesn't condemn the violence of the lunatic fringe represented by al Qaeda.  But I have read over and over about leaders of the mainstream Muslim denominations condemning the violent streak manifested by 9/11.  I just haven't heard it from the American corporate media.  I guess that's grist for another rant.

So the situation we have now is playing directly into the hands of those who would exploit our prejudices to advance themselves at the expense of the welfare of the American public.  Just as the Nazis did in the 1930s, the same kind of people are stirring up Americans' anger against their fellow victims--illegal immigrants, Muslims, and whatever other unpopular minority they can come up with next--so they can distract us from the way they are profiting at our expense.  We keep sucking up to the rich (as condemned by the Bible throughout) and blaming our fellow victims (which the Bible also condemns), while the big hogs keep fattening themselves with our help.

Maybe we deserve what we get if we decide to be that stupid.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


I want to declare, if I haven't already, that I am neither liberal nor conservative, but I am interested in facts--and the truth those facts lead to.  So I care about what works, and what has been proven to work.  If a program doesn't work, it should be discarded, and if it does it should be maintained, regardless of which party put it into place.

Now, it may appear that I'm going over the same territory over and over, but I keep hearing the same tired arguments and no good rebuttals.

So once again I'll talk about it.

If it has happened I wish someone would tell me when:  When has there been a tax cut for the rich that wasn't followed by a recession, and when has there been an era of higher taxes on the rich that did not have prosperity?

In the Eisenhower era the top marginal tax rate was 90% or better, and so to avoid higher taxes industrialists put more money into their plants and people.  As a result, there were plenty of jobs, and people prospered.

In the Johnson Administration there was an income surtax, and we paid for Vietnam escalation and balanced the budget.  The minimum wage was $11 an hour, adjusted for inflation.

Nixon took the surtax off and we had a recession.  Or two.

Reagan cut taxes for the rich and we had a recession.  He signed the biggest tax increase in history and we had prosperity.

Bush cut taxes for the rich and we had the recession that brought Bill Clinton to the White House.

Clinton raised taxes on the richest 2% of society and we prospered.

Bush II cut taxes on the rich and we went into a recession from which we still haven't recovered, yet the Republicans want to make these tax cuts permanent.  Can we not look at what works?  Tax cuts don't.

Now for something completely different:

My T-shirt store is now open:


Thursday, June 24, 2010

On Getting Government Out of the Way (Reprise)

You don't hear people asking for government to get out of the way much now that the Gulf of Mexico is becoming one big oil slick.  Instead, they are running to government complaining, "Why haven't you fixed this yet?"  This is actually a prime example of what happens when government gets out of the way.

One more time:  Government got out of the way when it came to mine safety, and 29 more miners died in West Virginia this spring.

Government got out of the way of the banking and insurance industries and the economy collapsed as a result.

Government got out of the way of the Savings and Loan industry in the Reagan years and we taxpayers were on the hook for $200 billion.

Before that, the government got out of the way of the airline industry and we lost Eastern and Pan-Am, and flying is nowhere near the fun it used to be.

They complain about the "nanny state," but whenever the nanny lets them go they get into trouble and come running to the nanny to fix everything.  The oil disaster in the Gulf is going to cost us taxpayers a bundle.  The financial collapse has cost us untold tax dollars, both directly in bailouts and in lost taxes not collected from workers whose jobs have disappeared.  The other times the government got out of the way cost us plenty, too.

"Free enterprise" is a contraction of "private enterprise" and "free competition."  Government's role is as a regulator to make sure competition remains free, that everyone has an opportunity to compete fairly.  Getting government out of the way has caused the playing field to tilt, competition to suffer as smaller companies are gobbled up by giant corporations that as a result become "too big to [be allowed to] fail."

We need leadership that can grasp this truth so prosperity and safety can be restored to our country.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

On Getting Government Out of the Way

The Tea Baggers and the general populace in this most Republican of districts keep saying things would be fine if we got government out of the way. How well does that work out here in the real world?

Government got out of the way of the airline industry, and flying has become an ordeal. We lost Eastern and Pan Am, and we lost airline meals. Yes, they were the butt of many jokes, but speaking from experience, they were better than the bags of pretzels we get now. We also get regular reports of whistles being blown on safety violations.

Government got out of the way of the Savings and Loan industry, and the taxpayers were on the hook for 200 billion dollars. It was during this scandal that I first heard the phrase, "too big to fail," which should actually be "too big to BE ALLOWED to fail."

Government got out of the way of the energy industry and Enron devastated California before imploding. Of course, evil always collapses under its own weight. Case in point: the former Soviet Union. Back to Enron, a lot of people got hurt in that.

Government got out of the way of the banking and insurance industries, and we wound up in the worst recession since the one brought on by the Reagan tax cuts. We are out a trillion dollars so far for that idiocy. Again, as in the S&L's, the profits are privatized and the risks are socialized. Taxpayers absorb the risk, while the fat cats pocket the profits.

Government got out of the way of mine safety, and last month another 29 miners died because of it. I don't want to be standing near either a government regulator or a mine owner on Judgment Day.

Now, government got out of the way of offshore drilling, and the Gulf of Mexico is about to become one big oil slick. BP didn't want to spend $500 thousand to install the safety equipment that would have prevented this spill, and now they are on the hook for $500 million so far in cleaning up the mess. That is, if they actually pay for it. If the Congressmen they own don't stick the American taxpayers with the bill again.

So tell me again how great it would be if government got out of the way?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Just wondering....

--Why do drivers who consider the posted speed limit a gross exaggeration also consider the left lane the only place to drive?

--Why are Republicans so afraid of everything? The Clinton and Bush Administrations tried, convicted, and imprisoned over 300 terrorists on American soil, but now the Republicans are too afraid of letting the Obama Administration do the same. Why? Why can countries like Spain, Bermuda, and England do the same thing, but American Republicans are too afraid?

--Why are tax cuts the answer to everything? When have they ever worked to bring about anything good? When has there been a tax cut on the rich that wasn't followed by a recession? When has there been a tax increase on the rich that wasn't followed by prosperity?

--Why are budget deficits suddenly such a bad thing when all through the past decade people like Dick Cheney kept saying, "The Reagan Administration showed us that deficits don't matter"? Why do they matter now?

--Was it really World War II that brought about the end of the Great Depression? If so, where did that money come from? Wasn't it government spending? So why is it so wrong for government spending to do the Lord's work of helping the poor and needy, the widow and orphan, the way the Bible tells us to?

--Why are polls so important when they support one position--e.g. the Republicans pointing out how unpopular the Senate health care bill is--and totally ignored when it is not comfortable--e.g. how unpopular the Iraq War was and is (Dick Cheney's response: "So?") and how popular the public option on health care is (totally ignored by the Washington establishment--the first thing the Democrats negotiated away)?

--Why do I write such convoluted sentences (see above)?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

On Privacy

The following was posted on a web forum, with permission to copy. The forum started as "Sen. Obama, please get FISA right."

Confessions of a Presumed Terrorist

By Steve Russell

Too many years ago, I attended my 25th Not High School Reunion in Bristow, Oklahoma. Not high school because I am a sort of honorary Purple Pirate, having left high school in the 9th grade to join the service and save Saigon from the Viet Cong, who I was convinced would then take Sausalito and Sallisaw.

I saw the lady who had been the principal of Edison Elementary School, where I had gotten sent to the office so many times. She looked exactly as I remembered her from the fiftiesolder than dirt. I walked up and spoke to her:

"You probably don't remember me, but..."

"Hello, Stephen," she interrupted, "how is Wanda?"

That would be my mother, who this woman has also taught.

I'm an urban Indian now, but those who grew up on reservations or in places like that little town in the Creek Nation will remember how everybody knew everybody's business. There was no way my one eighth blood quantum would allow me to play white boy if I was so inclined, and
no way to escape whatever I had coming for my numerous malfeasances. No place to run and no place to hide. Same thing when visiting relatives in the Cherokee Nation or over on the Osage Reservation. Just mentioning my name connected me in ways not avoidable.

Did "privacy" have any meaning, then? I've done a lot of thinking about that since I moved away and changed my name and gained briefly the possibility of being anonymous.

Yes, it did have some meaning. We may have known everybody's business but we had sense enough to stay out of it. We had bootleggers when Oklahoma was dry, and it's not like we didn't know who they were.

People more or less got away with extramarital affairs, and each little town had some ladies who would provide sex for money without ever walking the streets.

I said that I ditched school after the 9th grade. In fact, I did not really finish the 6th or the 8th grades, either. I was hiding in the Bristow Public Library most of the time. Did I think the librarian did not know me or my age? Not a chance. But I caused her no trouble and she caused me none and I got my education reading books by the shelf in no particular order while everybody else my age that was not working on a farm went to classes.

Where there is no privacy there is a strong live-and-let-live ethic. I hope the country remembers that as the legal privacies we have enjoyed crumble in the face of the so-called war on terror.

I used to run on and off commercial airliners at will because I had a wife working for Southwest and a daughter working for Delta. I flew everywhere. Now, it's a burden to set foot in an airport as a paying customer. I don't know if there really is "somebody with my name" on the secret terrorist watch list or the person is really me because I have criticized the government so often, but I cannot get advance boarding passes and I always get very special treatment when screened.

Now I hear that there will be "random' searches of bus and train passengers, who will be required to carry photo identification like airline passengers.

Starting next year, American citizens will be required to carry passports for day trips into Mexico or Canada. I wonder how this will affect those Indian nations that span the border, where the northerners have spelled out rights under the Jay Treaty and the southerners have
implied rights under the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo? Indian nations, after all, antedate Canada, Mexico, and the United States.

I remember being asked to "state my citizenship" when returning from Mexico and answering "Cherokee Nation." That would probably get me a body cavity search today.

Just last month, I sold my house here in Indiana in anticipation of retiring and moving to be with my kids and grandkids. I had a sum of money that it seemed wise to park in an interest bearing account until I was able to put it down on a retirement house.

The Dutch Internet bank that owned my online brokerage account was advertising 3.5%, which is not too shabby these days. I spent a full week trying to identify myself well enough to comply with what the bank thought the USA-PATRIOT Act required. I went ballistic when they asked
me the birthday of my deceased wife, although my current wife was much calmer when they questioned her about the mother of her ex-husband from over ten years ago.

The final upshot was that they wanted a copy of my Social Security card, which is not something I remember carrying around ever. However, when I was moving the card turned up tucked in my passport, so I faxed it to the bank, circling the language on the card that said "not to be used
for identification" and scrawling an anti-USA PATRIOT rant on the copy.

I also copied my passport for them while I was at it, but they still denied me an account. I guess I was a terrorist for savings account purposes but not brokerage account purposes.

Then my wife noticed the bank that held the mortgage we had just paid off had an on line savings account with 3% interest. We spent another week trying to get past USA-PATRIOT with them. They were satisfied with our identities but not with our address. It seems we had just moved.

Well, yes. That's where we got the money we were trying to stash and they had the mortgage. So sorry, left hand does not talk to right hand, but you may reapply for an account in 30 days if you are at the same address.

Good grief! We wound up at the University of Texas Credit Union, where I have had an account since law school, at 2.8%. I was able to transfer the funds electronically from the Indiana University Credit Union in one day. I never liked banks, anyway.

There is something peculiarly impersonal about the modern lack of privacy. I remember when I was a traffic court judge intervening for an Indian who was born on the reservation and had no birth certificate and was being denied a driver's license. I don't think I could swing that
today, judge or not. I can't even put my money in a bank. We can't travel or work without subjecting ourselves to the panoptic vision of the government or our employers or both. I saw on TV the other day that some employers are requiring employees to have identifying chips
embedded in their skin like the ones we inject in our pets to help them come home. And we thought it was bad to have to pee in a jar while somebody watched?

The bottom line is that being watched in a personal manner did not bother me. Being watched in an impersonal manner does.