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When there is no middle ground

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Jim Opionin by Jim Powers
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“Through measured debate, facts, moderate tones and actual discussion, problems can be solved.” Tony Farkas

I disagree with this statement, and I doubt that measured debate, facts, moderate tones, and actual discussion can resolve that disagreement. The word “facts” is where this breaks down.

A friend and I are driving together to a car show and see one of the exhibitors is driving several car lengths in front of us in a Mustang Mach 1.

“Very nice 1969 Mach 1,” I tell my friend. “428 Cobra Jet with the Shaker hood scoop, just like the one I owned in 1969.”

“No, man, that’s a 1970 Mach 1,” my friend retorts,” It has the 1970 Mach 1 script.”

“No, it has the 1969 Mach 1 script, and besides, it has the 1969 frameless taillight cluster.”

This is the kind of disagreement that can be settled easily. When we get to the car show, we can find the car, look at the ID plate, and agree on the fact that it is, as I argued, a 1969 Mustang Mach 1 428 Cobra Jet. (Super fun car, by the way. It would go 140 mph, Woodville to Livingston in 15 minutes. Don’t ask me how I know.)

Unfortunately, things get much more complicated when we start dealing with social issues. 

While you would think it foolish to continue to debate the year model of a car  when both parties are standing in front of the car looking at the ID plate riveted to the vehicle, the societal analog would be if one of the parties insisted that despite the fact of the ID plate, the rear light design and the fact that the 1969 in question had four headlights and the 1970 only two, that the car, was, “in fact” a 1970, but offered no evidence to support other than a belief that it wasn’t what it appeared to be.

The social and political disagreements we are now contending with are unresolvable because not only can folks not agree on the individual facts, but they also can’t agree on what constitutes a fact. What the meaning of “fact” is. They can’t agree on process. About how to gather and assess evidence to reach agreement.

A current example. Donald Trump insists that he won the 2020 election, that it was totally fraudulent and stolen from him. He has millions of followers that accept that conclusion, even though many recounts and investigations have turned up no evidence of fraud that would have changed the outcome of the election. Yet, millions of Americans still insist, without producing evidence, that there was massive fraud by the Democrats. (See Mike Lindell, who says he has spent $30 million gathering evidence of election fraud, but has repeatedly failed to produce any evidence).

On the other side, a majority of Americans believe the 2020 election was legitimate and Joe Biden won. They accept the many assertions by state and federal officials, both Democrat and Republican, that there was no widespread fraud in the elections. They say the actual counts, that have been counted multiple times in many states, and have been certified by both Republicans and Democrats at all levels of government as legitimate, establish the fact of Biden’s win.

Like many of the social and political problems we face today, there is no middle ground. Either Trump won or he didn’t. But there is no process to reach the facts that both sides will agree upon. They have reached a conclusion and have now insulated themselves from any data that might prove them wrong. Measured debate, facts, moderate tones, and actual discussion are meaningless when there are no accepted facts nor even an agreed upon process for determining the facts.

Consensus is no longer possible in this country. It is too big and too diverse. As a result, I believe it has become ungovernable. And I think the refusal of many to accept reality continues to lead toward us to ultimately bad outcomes.

“We live in a house of mirrors and think we are looking out the windows.”  Frederick Perls

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America, love it or leave it?

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Jim Opionin by Jim Powers
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As the Vietnam war escalated during the 1960s, and the money and weapons we first sent into the war there turned into an ever-growing mountain of bodies of American young men, the number of very large and loud protests by the American public fed up with the pointless, and expensive sacrifice also grew. And there was escalating conflict between those who supported the war and those who opposed it.

“America, love it or leave it,” and “My country right or wrong” became the verbal cudgel war supporters aimed at the protesters. It was hard for me to understand why anyone defended a growing military-industrial complex that was growing rich off the sacrifice of young American men in a proxy war with the Soviet Union that we were not going to win.  But I was a teenager and didn’t yet understand that a spurious nationalism drove many to believe that their beliefs about our country justified accepting atrocity as a means to an end.

Many people believe that the United States was ordained by God at its creation for a special purpose. They say that the U.S. is to be a shining city on a hill, a beacon of hope and salvation for all the world. It’s an outgrowth of the idea of Manifest Destiny, a 19th century idea that the U.S. is destined by God to expand its dominion, spreading democracy and capitalism across this continent, and ultimately the world. That the U.S. was to be God’s instrument to save the world. This is a form of Religious Nationalism, justifying a lot of abuse in the name of God.

Nationalists believe that their nation is better than all others. And that belief is based on a shared experience, whether cultural, social, religious, ethnicity, language. And they also believe that their country is threatened by ideas outside these norms.

Now we have the rise of Christian Nationalism in the U.S. Many people extend that belief that God set the U.S. apart as special, to insist that the U.S. is a Christian country, which should be made up entirely of Christians, who share the same beliefs, the same social norms, and that the government should be the vehicle of enforcing conformity to those norms. That America is a nation that should be by and for Christians alone. Christian Nationalism is anti-democratic.

We see its rise being made manifest this week by the Supreme Court’s ruling on funding religious schools with tax-payer money, thus undermining the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, and by states efforts to abuse religious liberty as an excuse for discriminating against LGBTQ+, religious minorities and women. These efforts are occurring at all levels of government, and we have every reason to believe they are going to accelerate rapidly. Religions don’t have a very good track record of governing countries, though.

What will Christian Nationalism taken to its desired ends look like? What will the U.S. be when they achieve their goals? To use the force of government to impose their beliefs on everyone.

The Taliban is a modern religious nationalist movement. Do a google search. Is that what you want for this country?

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The difference between belief and mandate

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Columnist Tony FarkasBy Tony Farkas
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History teaches us that belief is a powerful thing, and that people holding a belief can be forces for change.

Take Christianity for instance. The Apostles died as martyrs for their faith, practicing their belief and preaching love and tolerance. While not perfect, Christianity in its many forms still exists today.

It’s the prime example of what happens when a belief is shared. You win converts, or at least people who see your point, with the passionate defense of anything.

The other side of that coin is mandates, which by definition is a forced policy. It’s also based on belief, but instead of winning compliance, there is the understood threat of retaliation if compliance is not willingly given.

That normally applies to governments, such as the recent mask and vaccination mandates put in place to combat COVID-19, but it also extends to other areas, particularly the area of equality.

Recently in Dallas, there were a group of children subjected to what was described as a Drag Your Kid to Pride Drag Show. Drag queens danced while children were giving them money and even the children were dragged onstage and made to participate.

There also are numerous examples of libraries hosting Drag Queen Story Hour.

This isn’t about being gay; I’m not qualified to discuss any of that. I can, however, tell you what I believe. And therein lies the difference.
With Christianity, or with politics, or with lifestyles, or with anything that is a passion, if it will stand on its merits, it will not require indoctrination. Further, it will not require force of any kind because it will resonate with the individual. Frog-marching children into drag bars is tantamount to forcing a lifestyle acceptance on them. Sure, churches require attendance, but that’s a matter for parents to deal with, based on what they see as acceptable for their children.

From there, they either come to their belief, or not. I can walk away from a church and they will pray for my soul. I walk away from anything else and I’m branded a bigot, or a racist, or a hater, or some such nonsense, even though I have expressed no sentiment. I’m an adult, and I can make those decisions. Kids can’t, but that’s another column.

The thing for me about mandates is the coercion. Any time force is part of the equation, there always will be a faction that will come out in opposition, leading to conflict. However, there is another issue that I see, and that is whatever is mandated may have issues or is only partially beneficial.

Sure, there was a time in Christianity, for argument’s sake, where force was a major part of the equation. History shows, though, that was about power, not about the message. As churches let the proof be in the pudding, as it were, the community grew.

While it may seem that I’m purposely contrasting the alphabet crowd with Christians, this isn’t the point. The point remains simple in that if people are treated with respect and allowed the dignity of making their own decisions — you know, using honey instead of vinegar — combined with a powerful and compelling belief, then there will be change and there will be acceptance.

That goes for politics, social issues, relationships of every stripe.

All mandates accomplish is setting groups apart, sowing division and rancor.

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Texas Republicans abandon democracy

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Jim Opionin by Jim Powers
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The Texas Republican Party during their annual convention, passed a resolution.

"We reject the certified results of the 2020 presidential election, and we hold that acting President Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. was not legitimately elected by the people of the United States,"

Words matter, and the specific wording here is significant.

It is the “certified results” of the election they reject. Which would indicate a belief that the entire democratic process of voting was fraudulent in the 2020 election. And that, of course, has been the contention of the Republican Party since before the election, that huge numbers of people voted illegally, that the voting machines were rigged, that the people counting the votes were corrupt, and that the national process of certification of the results was illegitimate. If you are unwilling to accept the certified results of an election because your guy lost, then you have given up on democracy. You think this resolution would have been presented had Trump won?

But the resolution attempts to narrow the scope of their rejection by including the words “presidential election.” If there was fraud in the presidential election, there was fraud up and down the ballot, in all states, because it was the same ballot, entered into the same machines and counted by the same people. If there was fraud, then nobody on the ballot was “legitimately elected by the people of the United States.” They should all pack up their offices and go home.

I’m left wandering what form of government Texas Republicans would prefer? Theocracy, autocracy, plutocracy? Perhaps an autocratic head of the country appointed by corporations and billionaires.

How is it that a democratic election process that has worked for us throughout most of our history suddenly failed when Donald Trump lost an election? And that would have been deemed the most successful in history had he won?

We critically need to answer those questions of we are to avoid the collapse of our republic.

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Let’s unleash the entrepreneur

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Lets unleash the entrepreneur

By Tom Purcell

I started my first business in the 5th grade when I convinced a neighbor to allow me to cut her grass with her electric lawn mower.

That project ended in immediate failure.

The mower was powered by a long extension cord — a cord I ran over and sliced in two shortly after I began mowing.

Such is the life of the entrepreneur, a life typically filled with lots more failure than success.

According to The Balance Small Business, an entrepreneur is someone who develops an enterprise around an innovation, manages the new enterprise and assumes the financial risk for its success or failure.

My definition of an entrepreneur is an independent business person who creates a service or solution that the world didn’t know it needed — and who has the passion and drive to continuously perfect that service or solution.

Walt Disney was a failed animator whose never-give-up creative vision filled my childhood with wonderful stories.

Columnist Tom Purcell Tom Purcell Steve Jobs established an inventive approach to computer technology that now makes it incredibly easy for novices like me to shoot and edit funny videos of my dog (#ThurbersTail) and have a blast doing it.

My favorite entrepreneurs, though, are the millions of restless Americans who can’t stand to report to a “boss” and simply want to create their own products or services and rise or fall financially based on their quality and salability.

People like my beloved carpet cleaner, who has refined his technology and technique to get spots out of rental property carpets and furniture nobody else can remove — all while doing zero harm to the environment.

People like the daughter of a fellow I know who, as a high school sophomore, started a business in her basement creating custom protective phone cases for smartphones — a business she turned into a successful career.

The entrepreneurial bug has captivated me for many years.

When I was 17 I decided I was a stonemason and was soon making a significant chunk of money by rebuilding stone and block walls all over hilly western PA.

I got a great offer to join the corporate world after college, but at 27 I jumped at a chance to start an advertising business with a long-time pro.

We risked it all to start an IT support business with a few others, but that entrepreneurial digital dream sent me to the poor house.

For many years now I’ve been self-employed providing communication services.

But I’ve also had solid success with a venture in real estate rentals and, since I got my puppy, Thurber, I’ve had several ideas for pet-related innovations.

Much to my surprise, nobody has invented a solution to end the annoying problem of pet hair. So am decided to find a solution. I expect to soon launch a clever innovation that will help me and a few million others dog and cat owners.

I’ve long believed — and the data backs me up — that the entrepreneur is the lifeblood not only of our economy but of our quality of life (dishwasher, automatic transmission and on and on).

So why aren’t we doing all we can to support our entrepreneurs? Why are patents still so hard and costly to get?

Why do we impose so many unnecessary rules that make business startups harder and costlier?

The United States ranked 6th among 190 economies in the ease of doing business in 2019, but we should be No. 1.

We must remove the regulatory roadblocks to unleash the creativity and innovation of entrepreneurs, because in the end we all benefit from their dreams.

Copyright 2022 Tom Purcell, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate. Tom Purcell is an author and humor columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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