Letters to the editor

Let city run cable system

At its June 23 meeting, City Council came within seconds of voting on the cable-TV-franchise agreement between the city and Intermedia. [The vote was postponed until July 7, because of Mayor Sitnick’s nosebleed.]

Viewed in its best light, we have to say that television is the most powerful communications (propaganda) medium ever devised. Seeing this, I feel that it is wholly irresponsible to turn the franchise over to a corporation to run, the corporate sector being the most self-serving and irresponsible in this society.

I would prefer to see the city, itself, operate our cable system as a public utility, as other cities have done.

There is no reason to approve this franchise agreement before the new [FCC] regulations take effect in 1999, which will put the city in a much stronger bargaining position. This would give the city time to seriously investigate the option of operating its own cable system. The agreement certainly should not be approved before the delinquent franchise-fees question has been settled, since the agreement is the only real leverage the city has over Intermedia to get it to pay.

One must wonder why the June 23 agenda placed the vote on the agreement before the vote on the fees. Was this an oversight? Surely this will be corrected on the July 7 agenda.

I am at a complete loss to understand how the Council could approve an agreement that is so weak and counter to the best interests of the people of Asheville. We want to have confidence in the fine people who serve on City Council, but it will be seriously eroded if they rush to approve this agreement.

— Jeremy Gibson

Here’s why health care can be a right

In reference to Andrew Cline: His whole commentary was typical of the simple-minded nonsense that comes out of some of these think tanks, and it’s a shame that good editorial space was wasted on it.

One can debate endlessly, of course, about rights vs. privileges, but some things do seem pretty obvious. There are those rights that we view as “intrinsic” — such as “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” as mentioned in the Declaration of Independence — and then there are what might be called “legislated rights.”

The nation’s founders obviously realized that the documents they were authoring would provide a very general basis for defining the legal framework that a society is supposed to operate within. The preamble to the Constitution further outlines the functions of government as providing for a common defense. and providing for the general welfare, but leaves it up to legislators to fill in the details.

For example, if Cline has ever been arrested, he would have been read his “rights,” among them, the right to publicly funded counsel. There are many other things that we tend to take for granted and consider to be “rights.” We all drive on publicly financed roads, live under the protection of a publicly funded defense force, enjoy the benefits of publicly funded schools, and so on. These “rights” have been agreed upon through a democratic process, and legislated into law.

We obviously do not expect military personnel, road crews or teachers to work for free (although in the latter case, they sometimes come pretty close to doing so). And if Cline decides that he does not want to participate in funding any of these things, the gun may be, metaphorically — or literally — held to his head to force his compliance, because that is the way we have structured [our] society.

Saying that health care for children should be a right is, I believe, a perfectly acceptable way of saying that this is something which should be financed by public funds.

Personally, I think we should place much more emphasis on public funding of health care and education, and less emphasis on high-tech weaponry and corporate welfare. It just seems obvious to me that society will improve, as a whole, for everyone, if these basic needs are taken care of. “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” will be more feasible for all of us. One cannot realistically pursue happiness without a few basic abilities for doing so, and an education and sound health are the most fundamental of these.

What I find very discouraging is that any vision of achieving a better society through cooperation with our fellow citizens seems to have gotten lost in this modern-day “Libertarian chic” attitude that we should totally do away with all government, and let the “free market” rule. Any time someone tries to apply this kind of narrow-minded, simplistic solution to society’s complex problems, disaster is the inevitable result. The more crowded a world we have, the more we need to cooperate, and the more we need to compromise.

— Eric Thurston

Health care and our obligation to the world

Andrew Cline’s commentary is another fine example of how ultra-conservatives hide behind the names of great thinkers and tax-exempt status in order to dispense their self-serving propaganda.

First, Mr. Cline’s diatribe is not against the idea of health care as a right, but — more specifically — against Lt. Gov. Dennis Wicker’s claim that health care for children should be a right, not a privilege. Second, he willfully violates the use of the terms reason and natural law.

For those who have not had an opportunity to read any of John Locke’s writings, I refer you to Mr. Cline’s John Locke Foundation Web site (www.johnlocke.org). I do not question this Republican think tank’s ability to summarize Locke’s writings, but I do question their ability to draw sane ideas from them. Furthermore, anyone who doubts this group’s partisan bent should plan to attend their July event, featuring GOP presidential candidate Lamar Alexander.

Just for fun, let’s follow Mr. Cline’s statement to its logical conclusion. He says, “If human beings have a right to be healthy, then human nature itself violates the laws of God and nature, because humans naturally get sick and injured. This cannot be, because nature cannot violate its own laws; therefore there is no human right to good health.”

Now, it might be said, as Locke did, that the fruits of my hand are mine only and that “Whenever the legislators endeavor to take away and destroy the property of the people … they put themselves into a state of war with the people, who are thereupon absolved from any further obedience.”

However, is scientific medical care the absolute property of anyone? I ask Mr. Cline, did mankind invent the laws of nature, or did we reveal them? Do our bodies, which naturally get sick and injured, also strive to repair themselves? Is the process of setting a broken bone the unadulterated creation of a human mind or, merely, an improvement upon God’s order? How about aspirin, penicillin or chemotherapy? Which human bestowed the curative qualities upon these?

If I carve a pine tree into a picnic table, God might not care at all. Whether or not the table is an improvement on the original form is a matter for debate, but, so long as I plant another tree for future carpenters, I suppose it is no real loss.

But what about reason? Did I give it to myself? How did I, among all the animals, come to inherit it? If I am fortunate (or diligent) enough to apply my reasoning to some advancement, do I have any obligation to the greater world around me?

I think the answer is “yes.”

Consider Thomas Paine’s comment on the word of God: “It is as if he had said to the inhabitants of this globe that we call ours, ‘I have made an earth for man to dwell upon, and I have rendered the starry heavens visible, to teach him science and the arts. He can now provide for his own comfort, and learn from my munificence to all, to be kind to one another.'”

If Mr. Cline wishes to view publicly subsidized health care for children as destruction of property, that is his choice. However, I disagree, and I think most Americans would join me. Among all the things our taxes pay for, this might be one of the few that are worthwhile.

The unfortunate fact of this world is that nearly everyone possesses the biological ability to produce offspring, yet not everyone possesses the resources to raise them in a manner that ensures equality of opportunity, much less outcome.

God has made this world and the ability to reason a gift to all of us — the deserving and undeserving alike. It is quite possible that the child who receives publicly subsidized health care today might grow up to become the ultra-conservative theorist of tomorrow. But, even better, she might go on to become a productive member of society.

— J. Christopher Dixon

Readers respond to Andrew Cline’s health care commentary

Enough pseudo-logic from greedy elitists!

The fascists are emboldened! To my surprise, when I opened the June 17 Mountain Xpress, it suddenly read like the Natural Law Xpress. A letter from Myron Bodtker extolling Natural Law, which “requires the extinction of all who cannot … adapt to constant change,” greeted my outraged eyes. This was followed by an Andrew Cline commentary [“Health care is not a right — and here’s why”], blithely asserting that impoverished children do not have a right to health care, if it means that he and his fellow travelers of the privileged class have to help pay for it, and “no one has the right to live at the expense of another.”

Enough of this pseudo-logic from greedy, self-absorbed, short-sighted elitists who are embodiments of the unspoken Republican credo of the times: “I’ve got mine, to hell with you.” The true extension of their logic will leave this country with an entitled class of people who pay for their own health care, education, retirement, transportation, food, housing, etc., and even, I assume, for their own security forces, who will keep the rest of the populace — reduced to barbarism by natural law — away from their private communities. Has everyone forgotten about the civilized notion of a “social contract”?

It is as simple as this: Either we are a civilized society, or we are not. The Clines and Bodtkers, who believe survival of the fittest is “indescribably beautiful,” are simply the latest manifestation of those who swooned over fascism’s sleek logic, which argues that those who have the power have the right to everything, and those without the power must be inferior — perhaps not even human — and, therefore, undeserving to even live.

These people are not just compassion-deficient, they are sick with their greed — and what is the sickest of all is that our country has embraced this logic, [which] presently holds majority status in most of the legislative bodies in this nation. This scares the hell out of me.

What these so-called conservatives and libertarians like to turn a blind eye to — as they castigate the notion that all citizens should contribute in taxes to the benefits of all — is how every citizen’s money now goes to pay for their corporate and private-property tax cuts and subsidies, how every citizen pays for the prisons, the military and police forces they use to enforce their laws of privilege and economic interests, how every citizen has paid to support the education system that gave them access to their privilege (and which they would now decimate, because, after all, they are done with it; they got theirs). Apparently, it is fine for everyone to pay for those things that benefit the privileged, but the privileged should not have to pay for those things that benefit the unprivileged. And does Mr. Cline actually believe that none of the wealthy of this nation made their wealth at the expense of others?

I am so ashamed of the members of this Baby Boom generation I belong to, and the shallow [Generation] X-ers, who continue to behave like babies, greedy for everything they can get, caring nothing for others.

A society must be built on the premise that we are all in this together, that the quality of life for all requires that all have access to a life of quality. The measure of success for a society is not to have an ever-increasing Gross National Product concentrated in ever-fewer hands, as we do now, but a stable and sustainable economy and political system that provides life (health care, food, housing, environmental quality), liberty (education, meaningful jobs, full opportunity) and happiness (personal security and preservation of our natural bounty) for all.

If this sounds like liberalism, it is. If this even sounds like socialism, it is. It is democratic, free-enterprise socialism, very much like that which exists in every other modern industrialized country in the world. The right wing likes to confuse socialism and even liberalism with communism — to keep people frightened of it — but it isn’t. The extreme and totalitarian expression of socialism is communism, just as capitalism, in the extreme, becomes fascism. Only in its excesses does either system become dangerous, and we are presently much more dangerously close to fascist philosophies and policies than to communist ones.

This country’s founding documents and philosophies nowhere mention or guarantee unbridled capitalism as the economic system of this nation. In fact, this country has been in a running battle throughout its history to preserve freedoms from the excesses of naked capitalism — such as slavery, child labor, monopolies created by robber-baron capitalists, and environmental and resource exploitation. We are in such a period now. Freedom is being misrepresented to mean unlimited capitalism, when it is really about the quality of life for all citizens. It is that quality of life, extended to all citizens, which is the spirit and strength of a nation, and it is that quality of life which is threatened by the naked greed and self-serving hypocrisy of the prevailing conservative ethic.

Freedom does not mean unlimited profits for CEOs, hospitals, doctors, insurance and pharmaceutical companies. Freedom means that those who need health care can get health care. Freedom does not mean those who can afford quality education can create their own schools; it means that we pool together as a society and solve the problems of education for everyone. Freedom does not mean that those who can afford to invest in the stock market can have financial security in their old age; it means that we have a valid and solvent retirement system for all citizens. Freedom does not mean that those who control the economy get to make more money than anyone could ever spend, while many fall further and further behind; but that livable incomes and benefits are available to everyone through meaningful employment. Freedom does not mean the luxury of unsustainable energy and resource policies that [bring] short-term profits, but rather that environmentally sound resource systems are developed that benefit all, well into the future. Freedom does not mean that the environmental bounty of this nation is exploited until there are only a few small privatized natural parks for the elite, but that our environment is preserved and accessible to all.

“Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all” — that’s the American ideal. It is such a great ideal that other nations, all over the world, have adopted it, as they shook off their autocratic, oligarchic pasts. How sad, how tragic, that the great democratic experiment that inspired them is flirting so dangerously with a return to oligarchy. Liberalism has been discredited for trying to implement this nation’s great ideals (and, in the process, creating a new set of problems) — but the problems are not inherent in the ideals, just in the mistakes of implementation.

Bureaucracy, mushy-headed political correctness and runaway litigation are the problems, not liberalism, and these problems are not limited to government, as anyone dealing with a managed-health-care company or corporate personnel department has experienced. Let us, as a nation, tackle the problems of bureaucracy and the obsessive rules which emerged in our litigious culture — and not throw the baby out with the bath water. Let us continue to strive towards being a shining light of human decency in the world, and not just the runaway engine of profit that we now confuse with success. We cannot truly believe it is good that human and environmental consequences can be damned, as long as corporate profits continue to climb and those who already have so much get to have still more.

Let us answer the question, “Are we a society?” with a resounding, “Yes!” We cannot continue this descent into the short-sighted philosophy of “more for me,” gussied up and called freedom — for it is not: It is a sure road map into barbarism.

The measure of a society is the quality of life for the least of its citizens, not the excesses of its privileged and fortunate. We can create the just, prosperous and fair future that we once believed would be the 21st century, but it must be done as a society, not an aggregate of individuals trying to grab as much as they can for themselves. We must bring our creativity and resolve to the collective problems of humanity, and not just concern ourselves with “how can I get as much stuff as possible for myself.” For in the long run, there is no prosperity or security, if all do not participate in it and enjoy it. Nor can we continue to ignore the needs of future generations, simply to make ourselves richer today. History has taught this, and the future depends on it.

— Bill Walz

Corporate Godzillas lurk in our forests

This summer, Godzilla is not the biggest or most expensive monster around. The more horrifying threat is the destruction of our national forests from logging and timber-road-building, because it’s real and it’s funded by our hard-earned tax dollars.

In the last nine years, taxpayers have lost $2.8 billion in subsidies to the timber industry.

This devastation goes beyond our pockets. Less than 5 percent of old-growth forest remains standing today. Logging and timber-road-building not only destroy habitat, but also lead to soil erosion, mudslides and pollution of our waterways.

Soon Congress will decide how to spend our money next year in the national forests. Instead of throwing it away on wasteful programs that benefit only corporate Godzillas, Congress should focus on spending that will protect our natural resources. This is the year to end destructive timber subsidies.

Last year, the House of Representatives missed an opportunity to end a portion of these subsidies — timber-road-building — by one vote. Fortunately, this March they defeated a bill that would have increased logging in our national forests and wasted millions of taxpayer dollars.

Unfortunately, Rep. Charles Taylor has voted consistently to support the taxpayer-funded destruction of our national forests. I hope Rep. Taylor will reconsider his position and, in the future, vote to stop wasting our tax dollars on destructive logging subsidies. I also urge Rep. Taylor to support the Furse Amendment, which would cut $144 million in timber subsidies.

Godzilla may just be in the movies, but the destruction of our forests lasts forever. Congress should act now to stop this monstrous program.

— Julie Pearson

Let’s get logical, Mr. Cline

I would like to comment on Andrew Cline’s commentary [June 17].

Perhaps Cline’s parents withheld food from him, or he lived in a neighborhood where other kids made fun of him because his family had an older Buick, instead of a new Volvo. He comes across as a man who is afraid someone might put one over on him, or manage to take something he worked hard to get. One wonders if he loses sleep because some people have a bigger house than he does.

Cline seems to be a firm believer in the free-enterprise system. It basically boils down to, “I’ll get mine, and if you don’t get yours, that means there’s more for me.” In the strictest sense, he is correct: If you can’t afford the ride, then walk or stay home. However, if taken to its logical conclusion — and Cline obviously prides himself on his logic — there could be dire consequences for society at large.

If your house catches on fire, my tax dollars pay the wages for other people to drive expensive trucks and try to put the fire out. I don’t have children, yet I pay for schools. When I want a book, I go buy one, yet I help support libraries. I should be able to choose to maintain only my street — who cares about yours, except you?

Nothing is pure in this country, though. The last “American” motorcycle is full of Japanese components. Our tax dollars subsidize the auto industry and farmers. We further subsidize other industries, through wasteful military spending. How is that free enterprise in action?

Health care is not yet a recipient of tax dollars — but, on the other hand, why go to all the trouble of saving a burning house, just to let the resident die of something less spectacular?

A well-rounded person — and society as a whole — embraces other concepts, such as ethics, morality and, perhaps, even vision and responsibility. Fairly recently, a person died in front of a hospital because no one could ascertain if the person had medical insurance.

This past week, a dentist … refused me treatment, because I didn’t want a Hollywood smile — I just wanted my cavities filled. What happened to, “First, do no harm”? Are medical people crossing their fingers behind their backs when they recite the Hippocratic Oath?

Health-care costs have far outstripped inflation. Doctors and hospitals now focus on acquiring machines, instead of healing. Apparently, the oath that doctors now take is, “First, make a lot of money.” Strictly speaking, that is as it should be in the free-enterprise system.

Fire has nature’s right to eat your house, Mr. Cline. I’d like to cut my taxes by eliminating the Fire Department. When your house catches on fire, call me, and we’ll discuss my fee for coming over and throwing water on it.

Oh, and no personal checks, please.

— Paul Saint Clair

Stop the health-care whiners

People: The lesson of Andrew Cline’s philosophical ramblings [Commentary, “Health care is not a right — and here’s why,” June 17 Xpress] is that people without health insurance should stop whining and get a job with benefits.

Is this supposed to be constructive?

Cline’s use of eighth-grade algebra to try and prove the laws of nature only demonstrates how out-of-touch with reality he seems to be. Surely, he must know that, at this very moment, people who can pay for health care are, in fact, shelling out for those who cannot, as well as subsidizing a huge bureaucracy to process insurance claims. Does he think it really costs a hospital $4 for an aspirin?

The simple solution — a “single payer” system — may not solve all our problems, but it would take a huge amount of money that now goes to “paperwork” and use it to pay for actual health care. It would also spare Mr. Cline’s poor unfortunate “haves” from having to fork over more of their hard-earned cash.

— Joshua Tager

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