Wisdom for Our Generation, with Illustrations

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                  Without honesty, reality withers and dies. -- Henry F. Senn

Letters to the Editor, Editorials and Other Responses to Commentary

Pile of Key Words

Ayn Rand, Big Government, Big Idea, Christians, Class Warfare, Conservative, Conservatism, Darwin, Distribution of Wealth, DNA, evolution, Evolution in the Classroom, Fundamentalists, Gun Ownership, Guns Health Care, Higher Taxes, Imbalance of Wealth, Intelligent Design, laissez-faire, Lords and Serfs, middle class, NRA, Obama, Kathleen Parker, Public Education, Redistribution of Wealth, Rich Get Richer, Eugene Robinson, Rush Limbaugh, Science, Second Amendment, Socialized Medicine, Tea Party



Higher Taxes

Published in the Utica Observer Dispatch, July 27,  2011

We have become a nation, not of the brave, but of self-serving tax whiners.

We do not pay nearly enough taxes.

We cannot solely blame our elected representatives for the deficit. We all looked the other way while they increased spending and lowered taxes simultaneously. Nor can we blame government employees, the retired, the sick, teachers, immigrants, the impoverished, unions, or any other group you might choose to scapegoat.

More taxes are required if we want the U.S. to: lower the deficit; spend more on defense than any other nation; fight terrorism and do nation building; have an infrastructure that is safe and efficient; be the world leader in science and industry; be first in health care; be first with opportunity for everyone; and have true justice and safe streets.

All these things and more will happen, and there will jobs aplenty, if we invest in the nation and in each other. None of this will happen if we view government as an enemy and only see taxes as lost income.

Do not expect private enterprise to make any of this happen on its own. It is never motivated by the welfare of its employees, customers, or the nation, but only by profit for its investors. It would happily move out of the country if that best served this purpose.

Finally, tax rates must be progressive so that no matter how poor or wealthy we are as individuals, the pain is about the same when we examine our tax obligation.


Distribution of Wealth

Published in the Utica Observer Dispatch, December 13, 2010

A Nov. 22 letter writer accuses everyone who is not wealthy of not working hard enough. To support his view, he quotes Ayn Rand's naive laissez-faire theories from 60 years ago.

The vast majority of people in the U.S. works hard, but will never be wealthy.

If you are a nurse, for example, your hard work may earn you a living but will not make you rich. Still, you are needed and appreciated. We cannot all be over-valued CEOs. Unlike the writer, who sees no problem with 3 percent of the population controlling 90 percent of the wealth, we should be very concerned. It is a disaster and the main reason people are suffering economically.

Government initiatives intended to keep the middle class prosperous are not about looting the wealthy as Rand believed, but is about giving the next great industrialist or scientist that opportunity. Public education is a premier example of a social program that empowers, not threatens, democracy and free enterprise. We all pay school taxes in line with our assets because an educated populace is fundamental to a free dynamic nation.

Rand's views assumed a world where resources are unlimited and everyone competes honestly, but that has never been a reality. Most wealth is not earned by hard work but is inherited. Much is gained not by producing goods but by financial voodoo (think derivatives), and a great deal is made by predatory industries that exploit human frailty. One should think carefully about who the looters really are.


Atheist Ayn Rand gives atheism a bad name.

                        Henry F.Senn May 5, 2011



Imbalance of Wealth

Published in the Utica Observer Dispatch, October 14, 2010

Much has been said about tax cuts for the wealthy. Since Reagan’s election in 1980, the Republicans have had only one disastrous idea: “Shift more wealth to the already wealthy by lowering the top tax rate and they will use that wealth to create jobs.”

Instead of jobs, a huge imbalance of wealth has been created. Eighty-five percent of the nation’s wealth is now in the hands of just 20 percent of the people and 35 percent of that is in the hands of a mere 1 percent of our citizens.

While everyone is looking for socialist bogeymen under their beds, the U.S. is slipping toward a nation of lords and serfs. Neither Democracy nor free enterprise can survive without opportunity for everyone and a strong middle class that can purchase goods and services. This can only be assured if government is allowed to maintain economic balance through progressive tax codes and empowering social programs.



Tea Party

Published in the Utica Observer Dispatch, March 28, 2010

If this were a movement that sincerely wanted to work toward better government and to seek out the best ideas and the most constructive candidates, I would join them myself. Instead, they scrape the bottom of the barrel for extreme conservatives whose grasp of history, economics and science would not pass muster in a seventh-grade classroom. They are dupes of entertainment personalities who play with the truth to incite anger and create enemies for the sake of ratings.

The Tea Partiers have it better than 90 percent of the people on Earth, yet all they do is whine about big government and taxes. Even so, they are clueless as to the countless ways their big government protects them and eases their way through life. Most would call themselves Christians, yet they seem to have missed the lessons because they are most incensed that a minuscule portion of their taxes might go to assist someone worse off than themselves. If they want to discover one thing that is wrong with the country, they should look in the mirror.

Conservatism means going nowhere. If we had listened to conservatives, the U.S. would be a monarchy, not a democracy; there would be no Constitution or Bill of Rights; African Americans would still be slaves; most of us would be illiterate; women would not be able to vote or hold public office; we would be working 60-hour weeks without benefits; and so on.


Wood Ibis, Howey-in-the-Hills, Fl


Health Care

Published in the Utica Observer Dispatch, September 23,2009

Hooray for socialized medicine! Let's try it Working people need to be freed from the fear of losing their health care so that they can be flexible in their career choices, and the elderly should be provided with the health security they have earned.

And why not? Instead of rational debate, all we hear from conservatives is name-calling. Obama is a racist. Obama is a Nazi. Obama is not a citizen. Obama is going to knock off Grandma. Obama supports garden slugs. What nonsense!

Name-calling is the refuge of the uninformed and fearful. It should have been left behind on the third-grade playground. Those who benefit from the status quo are using these labels to stir up public hysteria and prevent anything from being accomplished toward improving national health care.

Well, the status quo has had many decades to improve health care and all we got is tens of millions wasted on Viagra ads. Nearly all developed countries have benefited from socialized medicine and they have left us behind. In a list of 51 countries posted at http://www.infoplease.com , the U.S. is number 20 in infant mortality and number 16 in life expectancy.

Despite this mediocre performance, we now spend more of our income on health care than any other developed country. We are now spending more on health care than we spend on our food. Rather than being frightened by political labels, it is these facts we should be frightened of.

Angel fish decal found on bedroom door of an older home,

 perhaps from 60 years ago



Big Idea


E-mail response to Eugene Robinson's article titled "Why progressives need a Big Idea" and posted Here  on Thursday, July 28, 2011.

Great article titled “Power of the Big Idea’ in my paper the Utica Observer Dispatch.

You are right about the “big Idea” but liberals/progressive need one other thing, the propaganda machine called AM talk radio.

Few will say it but I will. Rush Limbaugh is the most influential man in America and he has been for 20 years. Rush has turned “liberal” into such a bad word that even you are afraid to use it. Rush has turned the entire blue-collar class against the liberal policies that they have benefited the most from. He has even convinced those who are middle class and lower to feel sorry for the wealthy who are beset by taxes and Government regulations.

Rush, unfortunately for the nation, is charismatic. He is very convincing and if he were religious person, he would be a TV evangelist operating out of a mega church in California. Rush has demonstrated to others how profitable it is to up the excitement level and invent enemies like liberals and our own Government, and many have followed on his coat tails. Even FOX News would probably not exist if Rush had not paved the way.


Class Warfare


E-mail response to Kathleen Parker's article titled "In Washington, newspeak on deficits, debt and the financial crisis" and posted Here on Sunday, December 19, 2010.

As I often do, I was perusing your most recent essay titled “ Stoking fires of class warfare isn’t the way to get out of debt” in my newspaper, the Utica Observer Dispatch. I did not at first understand the title because the first 3/5 of your article complains about Republican and Democratic obfuscation. I agree with that.

Then, using the Democrats as a springboard, you delve into your own brand of obfuscation. How are words like, “engorged, profligate, demonize, class warfare, distortion, dishonest brokers” not obfuscation, or not heated rhetoric? Words matter!

To begin with, you are confusing two issues either out of ignorance or on purpose. The first is deficit reduction. Of course, continuing tax breaks for either the wealthy or the middle class will contribute to the national debt. These tax cuts are adding to the national debt even as we write simply because there was no compensatory reduction in spending at the time they were enacted, and there is not any on the immediate horizon. It’s just addition and subtraction, Kathleen.

The separate, more complex issue is whether it is fair to single out the wealthy for discontinuing the Bush tax cuts. Well it definitely would make good sense. Whether it is fair may depend somewhat on who you are. Why does it make good sense? First, it would at least lower the rate at which the national debt is growing and second it would slow the growth of the huge imbalance of wealth in this country. The numbers vary but they all point in the same direction (See http://sociology.ucsc.edu/whorulesamerica/power/wealth.html for example). This imbalance is turning our once vital economy into a stagnant aristocracy.

Is singling out the wealthy for discontinuing tax cuts redistribution of wealth? Absolutely! Apparently, you have never given much thought to the old saw, “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer”. This is more than a lament of the poor. It is a natural law. There are reasons for this that have nothing to do with working hard. Most prominent is that wealth buys influence. We are seeing that all the time in our elections. Excess wealth also earns its own keep. If you have a great deal of extra cash there are numerous ways to multiply your wealth many times over without lifting a finger. If you are a wage earner, just making ends meet, you would not have influence or be able to multiply your wealth. If you want to see real class warfare just stand by and let this imbalance grow. Eventually this will lead to the have-nots, which would be most of us, taking to the streets with all kinds of extreme solutions.

Redistribution of wealth is a valid and necessary economic tool of a good federal government. It is to be sure that all the wealth of the country is not concentrated in the hands of a few who would end up controlling everything and everybody-- in effect, a ruling class. It is to be sure that the productive middle class has purchasing power, and has hope for doing better. It is to be sure that everyone is able to participate in democracy and free enterprise if they are willing to work. Most importantly, we redistribute wealth because we are human beings. A signature of all humane society is that we care for our defenseless young even if they are not our own. We care for our aged because they have taken care of us, and we care for the weak who are physically, psychologically, or socially damaged but are still fellow human beings.

Do you actually think that proclaiming the Government is engorged and profligate is not obfuscatory or heated rhetoric? You are no better than the tea party when it comes to making global statements without backing them up. How did you come to this conclusion other than listening to other people’s rhetoric? What makes you think this? Give examples? Do you honestly think that Government employees are all overpaid, lazy and incompetent and that all private enterprise employees are like miracle workers? What part of Government would you like to eliminate, maybe the FDA? Do you not want someone watching our drug and food supplies? Maybe you would be perfectly satisfied not knowing what is in your food and where it came from.

In the past, we have redistributed wealth through a progressive tax code, public works, and social programs. I believe in Eisenhower’s time the top tax rate was 91%. Judging by the 1950’s this worked just fine. It should have stayed that way. The national interstate system was a Government public works program that benefited the US economy and every American. To build a reliable and safe interconnecting system the Federal Government proportionally funded states according to their ability to pay for the stretches of highway through their territory. The premier example of a social program is the public school system. I am sure the wealthier members of my community paid more for my public school education than my own parents who were of modest means, but are you willing to say we should not try to educate all children because it is stealing from the wealthy?

Perhaps the most obfuscatory thing you say is: “to demonize “the wealthy” as if they somehow have wronged their fellow citizens by working hard”. Are you implying that people who are not wealthy do not work hard enough? Do you think the wealthy are the only ones that create jobs? If they do indeed create jobs, where are they? Jobs are created when there is a demand for a product and the middle class is perfectly capable of not only creating that demand but also serving it.

I find it hard to believe that you are so naive that you imagine most wealth derives from hard work. Most wealth is inherited. How does inheritance require hard work? A great deal of wealth in this nation derives from unproductive financial flimflam. Yes, it requires some creativity, but sweat and ethics? I do not think so. Preying on fellow human beings creates another source of great wealth. Examples include ponzi schemes, phony TV evangelists, gambling establishments, and tobacco manufacturers.

There are real rags-to-riches stories, but they are the exceptions rather than the rule. Nobody is demonizing or blaming wealthy individuals. This is not about individual behavior, good or bad, of the rich or poor. It is about the big economic picture. Few have an issue with the successful business person who starts small, deals honestly, offers a useful product, treats his employees fairly, works hard, and eventually ends up with a nationwide business. Mostly we admire these people. They are not the embedded, unproductive wealthy described in the paragraph above.

You ask the question, “How does money in someone’s own pocket add to another’s debt?” Here is the main answer. Wealth is not a limitless quantity that anyone can accumulate if only they work hard enough. Coins and bills are merely tokens that represent the natural resources we can command. These natural resources are limited, rare, expensive to retrieve, and often have a serious environmental cost. So there is a limited pie of wealth to dish out, and if you cut too big a slice for the wealthy, there is not enough left for the middle class. See http://www.henryfsenn.com/Pag6.html for more on this.

Oddly, you attempt to illustrate the redistribution of wealth issue by pitting two people without money, Joe and Mary, against one another. Your illustration would have made more sense if you had compared Joe the investment banker who is grossly overpaid for selling derivatives of derivatives with Mary the honest working girl, perhaps a waitress, having difficulty making ends meet no matter how hard she works for tips.

I am surprised at you. Your article suggests that you have bought, hook, line and sinker, every cliché heard on AM talk radio without ever giving one moment’s deep thought to these issues.


Gun Ownership

Published August 18, 2008

It looks like we have five activist judges on the Supreme Court, something our conservative friends detest, or so they say.

In the recent court decision overturning Washington, D.C.'s, gun laws, five judges negated, without the people's permission, the phrase, "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State" from the Second Amendment. I am sorry, gun fanciers, but an individual alone at home, clutching his firearm, afraid that government troops are coming for him, does not constitute a well-regulated militia.

Now there is a legal method to amend the Constitution. It is a long and tedious process, but everyone does get to vote. Gun enthusiast need not worry. Sadly, there are plenty enough Clint Eastwood wannabes in this country who would vote overwhelmingly for an amendment granting gun ownership without qualification.

This leads me to the guest column by Dave Workman, published July 16 in the Observer-Dispatch. In his main thesis, Workman is so wrong he is not even right. The purpose of the Second Amendment was not to protect us from our own government. Its purpose was to provide a means of protection from powerful foreign governments and yes, sometimes Native Americans, for a fledgling country without a formal national defense.

The founding fathers were well aware of the contributions citizen soldiers played in the Revolutionary War and granted them the right to bear arms for purposes of the common defense. That is why the first phrase of the Second Amendment is written as it is.

Workman's whole article stinks of anti-government paranoia. It presents an extremely negative view of our not always perfect government that does nothing to foster better government. What Workman and his like-minded friends seem to forget is that our greasy-fingered government, as Workman describes it, is what safeguards our rights and provides a stable economic environment where we can thrive.

Thinking beyond the politics, however, I have to wonder why there is such an obsession with guns in this country. A fascination with weapons is tantamount to a fascination with violence, death and destruction. Anybody can pull a trigger and destroy in an instant a tin can, an ignorant animal's life, or even a human life, but it is difficult to make a tin can, and no one can create a life. I can only surmise that guns are mainly an attraction for fearful, inadequate men who need a weapon to make them feel more powerful.

Real men, however, do not need a weapon or need to indulge in anti-government fantasies. Real men are positive thinkers and spend their precious time on earth partaking in constructive endeavors.

Yes, there are times when a weapon might be needed. It is not a perfect world. But we should no more glorify a weapon than we would glorify the garden hoe hanging in our garage. Our nation is flooded with guns. Any criminal or lunatic can get their hands on a gun in this country because the gun laws are so lax.

The solution Workman and the NRA would propose is that everyone should get a weapon so they can protect themselves from everyone who has a weapon. We also might consider putting out a fire by throwing gasoline on it.


Evolution in the Classroom

Published May 15, 2005

In a March 30 column, Joseph P. Bottini gives us a short history of the democratization of public schools and agrees that "this is how it should be ..." But then his true agenda rises to the surface as he declares secular humanism, a non-religion, to be a religion that is allowed to teach evolution in the classroom. I cannot help to wonder at this point, how a supposed educator could be so confused about the word secular and about science.

He then attempts to give the impression that a literal interpretation of the biblical creation story and the currently popular faith-based idea of intelligent design are equivalent to scientific theory.

Now the story of creation from the beginning to the banishment is a wonderful story consisting of about 2,000 words in the King James Version of the Bible. But 2,000 words cannot suddenly be turned into science.

Indeed, the Western world has been through all this before. Early scientists walked the earth collecting and examining evidence that they were sure would support the creation story in its most literal sense, but that was not to be. Instead, they discovered that the earth is truly ancient, and that life on earth has changed over time and can be organized by common characteristics. This recognition, however, did not cause them to lose their faith. They had the imagination to understand that God's work may be much more intricate than what could be described in a simple story told to an ancient, God-fearing people.

Intelligent design is the notion that life on earth is so complex that there must have been an intelligent designer behind its creation. Now there is no harm in believing this, but it also has no place in science because it would not be possible for any scientific method to demonstrate its truth.

The vast majority of scientists in the life sciences and every other field of science do believe in God. Thankfully, when they have been confronted with complexity in the natural world, they have not thrown up their hands in despair and said God's work is just too complex to understand.

Rather, they have been challenged to learn even more, and the results of their discoveries include cell phones, dishwashers, life-saving medical care and numerous other products that make our lives easier, safer, healthier and much more interesting.

The suggestion that either the creation story or intelligent design should be part of a science curriculum demonstrates an abysmal ignorance of the history and depth of science, and belittles the centuries of laborious fieldwork and laboratory investigation performed by thousands of scientists.

What is really going on here is that fundamentalists like Bottini so want to believe that they are God's special creation that they just cannot accept the idea that they are part of the great chain of life on this planet, and, God forbid, related to apes.

But to know the truth of this one does not require Darwin or evolution. All one needs is a lesson in comparative anatomy and perhaps a strand or two of DNA. Incidentally, intelligent design does not rule out evolution. If one accepts that there is an intelligent designer, could anyone of us say exactly how he or she went about the business of creation?

So that he can demand equal time in the science classroom for his own limited views, Bottini has conjured up a straw man in the form of a secular humanist. Do not fall for this.

Good science is indeed a secular activity - even when performed by a scientist of faith. If it were not, it could not function as it does. Science is just not in the business of faith, and it takes no stand for or against religion. Science only seeks to take the next step in the understanding of the workings of nature, and if possible, put this knowledge to work for the benefit of mankind.

A case in point is the discovery of DNA, the book of life that records the history, commonality and differences of all life on earth, including mankind.

To allow fundamentalist dogma into the classroom is to escape from reality, bring science and knowledge to a stop, and to send civilization hurtling back to the dark ages.

For more info see National Center for Science Education