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Monday, August 4, 2008

Sticks and Stones . . .

Ken Kerr Bio

Some people say the word “liberal” like it’s a bad thing—something we should be ashamed of. It’s right up there with pedophile and traitor. They kind of remind me of the children on the playground who think “gay” is an insult. Apparently, we godless tax raisers are responsible for all that is wrong with this country.

The other side—conservatives—has been trying to defame the world “liberal” for quite some time.

The ol’ standby: “Tax and Spend Liberals,” however, may be showing some wear now that they are the “Spend and Spend Conservatives.” You just don’t hear that one anymore.

We were once proud to be liberals. A generation ago, John Kennedy, on September 14, 1960, said, “If by a "Liberal" they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people -- their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, and their civil liberties -- someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a "Liberal," then I'm proud to say I'm a "Liberal."

What has happened is that we have allowed the Republican Conservatives to control the language. Limbaugh, Rove, Coulter, Hannity, O’Reilly, even our local mini-demagog , Maryland State Senator Alex Mooney, have spat the word with such disdain that we are now afraid to use it.

They are trying to do the same with the name of our party. Obama is not the democratic candidate—he’s the democrat candidate. It’s now the Democrat Convention and the Democrat Party. They like the cacophony and harshness of the word—and how they get to say “Rat” at the end.

It looks like they have won the battle of words. Many of us are afraid to say we are liberal. We deny it and chafe at the accusation. So, we are now calling ourselves “Progressives.” I guess that’s kind of catchy. Let’s see them spit out “Prog-ress.” They will probably emphasize the “Prog” partand even call us “Progs.” They are relentless like that—kind of like gnats.

On the other side, the word conservative is so sacrosanct that, until recently, the party’s nominee, John McCain, was not even allowed to use it. To be conservative is to maintain the status quo, to be careful stewards of resources, to value personal freedom, to demonstrate character and family values. Yeah, right.

Conservatives like to remind us that Winston Churchill once said, "Any man under 30 who is not a liberal has no heart, and any man over 30 who is not a conservative has no brains." What they don’t say—or more than likely don’t understand—is the Churchill was referring to British conservatism—not 21st century American Conservatism. In fact, British “Conservatives” are more liberal than American Liberals!

OK, so we’re all heart and they are all brains. OK, let’s go with that: the Heart Party and the Brain Party.

Let’s take a look at how the battle of hearts and brains is playing out with two issues: one local, one national.

On the topic of dependence on foreign oil, the conservative solution is to drill for more oil domestically. This is definitely a conservative solution. It maintains the status quo, it is comfortable, easy to understand and about as challenging a concept as a connect-the-dots puzzle in Highlights Magazine. You don’t have to explain THAT one to the party of brains.

However, foreign oil is not the problem—oil is the problem. It is running out; the whole concept is no longer sustainable. Fixing the oil problem by drilling for new sources of oil is like trying to cure alcoholism by going to a different liquor store.

The progressive solution is to look beyond oil. Of course we are still going to USE oil for the near future but we need to stop investing our time, money, and (dare I say it?) brains on an obsolete system. We didn’t make a better buggy whip as an alternative to the automobile. We don’t walk around with cellular telegraph machines. There comes a time when we must face up the end of oil. Even if it is easily understood and comfortable, its time has passed. Even oil man Boone Pickens, (the money behind the Swiftboat Campaign and a big financial supporter of the current president of the brain party) has moved on.

Progressives look forward with bold new solutions to complex problems. Conservatives look backward to the tried and true—even if it’s been tried and no longer true.

On a local issue, here In Frederick, Maryland, we have a problem with where to put all of our trash. Our landfill is full and we are spending something like $12 million a year to take our trash and put it in someone else’s landfill. Our county commissioners are divided. Two from the brain party—Charles Jenkins and Lenny Thompson—want to build an incinerator at a cost of over $300 million.

I’m not kidding. They want to solve a 21st century problem with a 1950’s solution. And they are not even embarrassed about it. The third Brain Party commissioner, David Gray, seems to be waiting to be convinced.

Weighing in for the Heart Party is Kai Hagen (and to a somewhat lesser extent, Jan Gardner). He would like to take that $300-plus-million and invest it in a 21st century solution. He wants to build a reclamation center where recyclable materials can be captured and reused instead of burned, thus reducing the amount of non-recyclable waste to a point where the system is sustainable. The revenue gained from the recycled materials would help offset the cost of waste disposal.

The Brains have a problem with this; they understand burning. But picking through he trash? Jenkins is an outspoken advocate of the concept that human activity has nothing to do with global climate change. To him, burning is of no consequence.

According to Business Week, “8% of global oil production is siphoned off to make plastic each year. Recycled plastic, however, requires 80% less energy to produce. Recycled aluminum burns up 95% less energy. Recycled iron and steel use 74% less, while paper requires 64% less. . . One ton of recycled aluminum saves an average of $700 in electricity. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that if the recycling rate were to increase by just five points, to 35%, this would save the equivalent of almost 2 billion gallons of gasoline annually.”

The Party of Fear—the Brain Party –falls backward on comfortable, familiar easily understood solutions to new and complex problems. The Party of Hope—the Heart Party—looks forward to face challenges with bold new innovations to build a sustainable future.

The challenges of the future cannot be faced with the solutions of the past. You would think the Brain Party could get their brains around that concept—we certainly got our hearts around it.

1 comment:

Jim French said...

I like Ken's arguments and comments almost all of the way. He errs in his diatribe about incineration of municipal waster. There were no such beasts in the 1950s. The concept that is being considered is a 21st C. approach as an adjunct to increased recycling. The problem Kai Hagen overlooks is the varying market for recycled materials.