Stephen W. Browne Rants and Raves

October 16, 2015

Democratic Socialism

Filed under: Op-eds,Politics — Stephen W. Browne @ 10:11 am

I got into an online discussion the other day, slammed someone down hard, felt first smug, then kind of bad.

Well I guess I started it. Vis-à-vis Bernie Sanders presidential campaign I said, “Socialists hate corporations so much they want to turn the whole country into one big corporation.”

Someone replied that though some socialists favor central planning, not all do.

Then he said, “Look it up, I know research is hard.”

So I let him have it.

“I lived in several countries in Eastern Europe 1991-2004. I was elected Honorary Member of the Yugoslav Movement for the Protection of Human Rights in 1997. I’ve smuggled cash to support families of imprisoned dissidents in Belarus. I know what jackboots and rubber truncheons applied to tender places feels like. I don’t know how much more research I can stand.”

I was expecting a huffing and puffing reply, and prepared to uplift the virtual finger, when to my surprise he apologized for the snark and said he sincerely appreciated the good I’d done.

“We American socialists” want nice stuff for everybody without all the nasty stuff that’s been associated with some socialist regimes abroad he said.

OK, point taken. I’ve been preaching and trying real hard to practice civility in public discourse. Because I think we’re getting dangerously uncivil. As in nearing the point of “the heck with it just shoot ‘em” uncivil.

“Please forgive me if I seem impatient,” I replied. “But do you imagine I’ve never heard this before? Do you think nobody in the old Soviet Union ever said, ‘Why can’t we have socialism but free speech and be nice to people too?’ Socialism doesn’t work and can’t be made to work. The best socialism is like a big corporation, the worst is hell on earth.”

I’ve had this conversation so many times over my adult life and it just seems to go round in circles. What’s wrong with this noble sounding ideal?

Because it does sound good. Take care of everybody. Make sure everybody has a good job, a decent place to live, health care, and a comfortable retirement.

Don’t we all want that?

Sure do, but how to go about it?

The simplest solution seems to be to let the government take care of everything. Take our taxes and do all that nice stuff. After all, the body has a brain that makes decisions. Isn’t the government the brain of society?

For people who don’t find that analogy creepy, let me point out something.

This thing we call “the market” is not a real thing. It’s the name we give to the uncountable number of decisions we all make every day.

Am I going to get up and go to work or slack off? Am I going to brush my teeth and shave? What tooth paste, shaving cream and razor do I want to buy?

And that’s just the first five minutes after waking up.

I’ve heard socialists like Bernie Sanders argue; sure we need soap, toothpaste, shaving cream, etc. But do we need so many companies making so many brands? Isn’t that wasteful?

Economists can explain why it’s not. But to me socialism, whether it’s the mild kind that tries to make the economy jump through hoops to the not-so-nice kind that made National Socialist Germany or the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics so unpleasant, is all about taking those choices and concentrating them in fewer and fewer hands.

Lately it’s been about health insurance. “We don’t like your plan, here’s another.”

Maybe theirs is better, maybe not. Point is, it’s not your decision anymore.

Obviously some things can’t be left to your decision. You don’t get to make up your mind which side of the road to drive.

And obviously people make lots of bad choices. That’s why there’s a liquor and heroin industry.

So do you think it’s better a few people make the important choices for everybody else?

Now that socialism is respectable again, that’s the question they need to answer.

October 1, 2015

Waiting to watch a man die

Filed under: News commentary,Personal — Stephen W. Browne @ 2:41 pm

Yesterday (Wednesday, Sept. 30) I got up, packed my kids off to school and prepared to drive two hours to see a man die.

But for the second time in two weeks he didn’t die, and I’m exhausted.

I was covering the third attempt by the state of Oklahoma to execute Richard Glossip for the murder of his employer Barry Van Treese in 1997, for the online magazine Red Dirt Report.

Glossip was convicted in two trials for hiring Justin Sneed to murder Van Treese. Murder for hire is considered heinous enough to merit the death penalty, even though the actual killer got only life in a medium-security prison.

I will state up-front that I’ve mostly heard from the people who think Glossip is innocent. I have tried to look for the case for the prosecution to be fair, but I must say the level of uncertainty here is enough to make me very nervous about killing a man.

The case for the prosecution appears to consist of the testimony of a meth head petty thief, plus Glossip’s highly suspicious actions following the murder. Glossip did not report the murder immediately and locked the motel room where the body was.

However, there are other explanations for this behavior – the obvious one being panic.

The prosecution’s theory of motive seems very far-fetched to me. That Glossip hoped after the murder of his employer that his widow would just give him both of Van Treese’s motels (in Oklahoma City and Tulsa) to manage.

Come on! How likely is that?

Neither jury saw a video of Sneed’s interrogation where he changed his story multiple times, and only implicated Glossip when the detectives suggested Glossip put him up to the murder.

The defense team is not stressing this, but Glossip is certainly guilty of being an accessory AFTER the fact. For which he would have quite deservedly gotten some time, but likely been out by now.

I got into this riding on the coat tails of Tim Farley, who has followed this story from the beginning. He’s done all the work and I stepped into it just because I’m doing some casual free lancing for The Red Dirt Report and have the time to travel.

So there I was, preparing to go to join the press pool at the media center of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, popularly known to us Okies as “Big Mac.”

I told my son, 14, and my daughter, nine, where I was going and what I was going to do. I told them there were corn dogs in the freezer and that I’d likely be home late if the execution went through.

“Then I hope you come home early Daddy,” my daughter said.

I told her they had cookies at the media center.

“Ohhh, can you bring me some?” she pleaded.

“No!” surprising myself a little with how vehemently I said it.

“Why?” she asked.

“Because Daddy is a superstitious Celt at heart and I’m not going to bring my baby girl cookies from an execution party,” I explained.

“You’re mean,” she said.

You can follow the link to the story I wrote for the Red Dirt Report. I’m rather proud of it, considering I wrote it late at night, dead tired, after I’d driven home, fed my kids, did the eye exercises for my girl’s ambliopia, and put them to bed.

I’m still processing this experience, and it’s not over yet. I want it to mean something because a man I think is probably innocent, and certainly hasn’t been convicted with enough certainty to warrant death, may yet die in another 37 days.

Like a lot of people I’m conflicted about the death penalty. I’m terrified of mistakes, and since the death penalty was reinstated more than a hundred people have been released from death row in America, 10 of them in Oklahoma alone.

Worse, the guilt of some who have been executed has been called into question.

But, I’m glad Roger Dale Stafford and Sean Sellars were executed. I’m glad because they scared me. Like a lot of people, I want to have my cake and eat it too.

And I want this to mean something to my children, because the world is a dangerous place, especially for those who don’t know how dangerous it can be.

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