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July 19, 2007

Recently I listened to a speech by one of my favorite Senators, Byron Dorgan D-ND. He was angry at

what he described as the incompetence of the current administration. It made me angry, too - at Senator Dorgan.   The truth is that this administration, since its ordination by the Supreme Court, has not made a single mistake.   Not one!

When each and every decision promotes the intended goal, none can be called mistakes. In the case of this administration every decision has furthered one of the following objectives.

1. Divide the populace on issues having extreme emotional impact, thereby ensuring their full attention on those issues.

2. Destroy the people’s confidence in the federal government. Make them believe that the government can not or will not do anything to help those in need.

3. Elevate the strength of corporations and pure capitalists, those who truly own the corporations, at the expense of all wage earners.

4. Eliminate the provisions in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights which allow the people to protect themselves from government abuses.

5. Elevate the president’s role as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces to that of the Commander in Chief of Everything by neutering the Legislative Branch of government and subverting the Supreme Court.

Why do these things? The only rational conclusion is that it is an attempt to neuter the worlds first and strongest government “of the people.”   Our representative government, our system of laws, is the greatest obstacle to the power and growth of multinational corporations and, in essence, the creation by those corporations of a world wide indentured working class.   In fact, it may be the only obstacle.

Consider the enactment of “free trade” agreements – which transfer power to corporations, blur national borders and move jobs to countries with cheap labor. Consider the actions which have drained the national treasury:

an unnecessary tax rebate,

an unnecessary war,

unnecessary tax relief for high profit industries,

unnecessary tax reductions for the super rich, and

the movement of as many government jobs as possible to the private sector.

Come on America, wake up!

First the corporations took over the news media most watched by those who labor with their hands. Now the most respected news outlet for those who labor with their minds is being purchased by the same people.   Some might flippantly ask “so what?”   Those who ask that question are willing participants in their own destruction.

President Bush says thinking is hard work.   On that point he’s right.   Thinking is so hard, in fact, that far too many folks would rather do anything than sit down and ask themselves “Why do I believe this?”   As a result, they are likely to follow any leader with a sound byte slogan that’s easy to feel in their gut rather than to engage their minds to try to understand the full and far reaching impact of their momentary gratifications.

Now I think you know why I’m angry at Senator Dorgan.   I’m angry at him for the same reason I’m angry at other people I respect, such as Paul Krugman, Keith Olbermann, Bill Moyers, and every other pundit who dwells on the emotional issue of the moment and fails to link them all in a way that the people of this country can understand.   Which Senators, pundits, journalists, or others with a large audience will begin to open the eyes of the people to the collapse of our nation of laws?   It will certainly take more than a few of them.

Think about it.   There are three editorials in the New York Times this morning: Vetoing Children’s Health, Power Without Limits and FEMA Runs for Cover.   As presented these are three unrelated issues.   They are not unrelated, but which media outlet will say it?   Probably none.   The administration’s machine is ready to unleash caustic ridicule the instant the case is made.   The feigned laughter over some “grand conspiracy” is the weapon aimed at anyone who would make the point.   Before an article hit the streets the entire right wing media – main stream press, radical web sites, right wing talk radio and every republican pundit – would attack with the same phrase.   Probably something like “Grand conspiracy? Get the rubber room ready”, or “Grand conspiracy? What did that idiot have for breakfast?”   You get the picture.

Today we are still a nation “of the people”, but not “by the people,” it is increasingly “by the rich” (a person has to be rich to run for office) and not “for the people,” it is “for the corporations.”   The truth of this is seen in who has benefited by legislation in the past six years.

It’s long past time for people to wake up and pay attention, but it’s not yet too late.   But, if we don’t, this country will be in the sewer, people will be dying of sewer gas and the exit will be locked.   When we see something that strikes us as contrary to the constitution we must tell our legislators, tell the editor of our local paper, tell our friends.   But absolutely let someone know we see it.   Disinfecting daylight may be a worn phrase but it’s still true that hidden agendas wither in the light of day.   We must get over the idea that political parties are sports teams that require fervent, unthinking support.   We must question what our political leaders are doing.   Think about it.   OK, it’s hard work, but think anyway.   Exercise is a good thing.

By the way, it isn’t just happening here.   No right wing government wants it’s people to think.   While Americans are known for chatting about the weather, the French are notorious for discussing politics.   Another article in the New York Times this morning is titled, New Leaders Warn Pensive French of the Drawback of Thinking Too Much.   This is the new French government’s advice to it’s citizens who are pensive about new tax cuts for the wealthy.   A thinking populace is a danger to the goals of multinational corporations and the super rich in any country with a representative government.

Finally, don’t take my word for anything.   Just think about it.

March 26, 2007

Eleven Democratic Senators Thumb Their Noses at the Less Fortunate

While it is true that the Democratic tent is very large and lock step politics is unlikely at the best of times, there are some issues that, historically, have enjoyed wide and solid support. Differences of opinion within the Democratic party on the issues of abortion and the war in Iraq are expected. However, Democrats standing up for the working class is something which, at least until now, had been pretty much a given.

During the recent budget debate an amendment drafted by Senator Sanders (I-VT) would have rescinded the recent tax breaks granted to the top 1 percent in order to fund several programs to benefit those on the very bottom, and to help curb the growing shift of federal funding responsibility from federal to state and local governments. Senator Sanders presentation was fact-filled and impassioned, comparing the size of the tax cuts for single families with the cost of programs which would benefit millions of individuals.

When the results of the vote were announced, 47 Republicans had voted no. Two Independents and 36 Democrats voted yes. Two Democrats and two Republicans didn’t bother to vote. Then there were the Eleven.

Eleven Democrats voting against the amendment were: Max Baucus (MT), Maria Cantwell (WA), Thomas Carper (DE), Mary Landrieu (LA), Blanche Lincoln (AR), Ben Nelson (NE), Bill Nelson (FL), Kenneth Salazar (CO), Jon Tester (MT), Jim Webb (VA) and Ron Wyden (OR).

I voted for Jim Webb. I let him know what I thought, and wondered how many other letters he might receive. But then I saw no mention of this vote either in mainstream media or news blogs. I wonder how few of the working class folks who voted for one of these eleven Senators are aware of what happened. How many would be writing or calling to express their displeasure if they were aware? How many might think twice before voting for these particular Democratic Senators again?

We hear with some regularity that the average American isn’t smart enough to vote properly. I disagree. I think that the problem isn’t lack of intelligence, the problem is lack of information.

Now I continue to wonder. The information is out there. What will be done with it?

 

January 19, 2007

With the Supreme Courts upcoming review of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform which tries to keep people who are outside of a candidate’s campaign out of the electoral process, maybe it’s time to reflect on a different approach.  Let’s face it, there is no law that will ever stop rumors, and there is no way to stop the press from reporting them. So, like the famous “swift-boat” ads, and the “caught red handed” ads, and the outrageously racial ads in Tennessee, stuff is going to happen. The question is, is it libel, and what do we do when it is.

In a nation that honors free speech, a lie in court will put you in jail. In a predominantly Christian nation that cites “Thou shall not bear false witness,” as one of its most precious precepts, slander or libel of a candidate for elected office should do the same. The problem we have is that the courts take too long to be of value during a campaign. That condition could be addressed with a special court to address candidates’ charges of slander or libel against each other or any third party. In the case of slander and libel of persons running for elected office, these should be criminal offenses with punishments equal to the destruction of the electoral process which is done by them. Such a court would be in session 24-7 in the months before a national election.

When charges are brought, the premise of such a hearing would be simple. The person or group charged with slander must immediately display the evidence on which any questionable statements were based, and unequivocal proof that the information distributed about a candidate was true and in proper context, or go directly to jail and pay for the distribution of ads in all of the places where the lie was presented which; 1) admit to the deception and 2) present the truth as determined by the court. If we value our electoral process, the jail time won’t be short, and the cost of corrective ads will come directly and only from the guilty party(ies).

Now to put the shoe on the other foot. The person charging slander or libel should not be able to do so risk free. That would only fill the court with frivolous gestures so that an opposing ad could say that so-and-so was charged. In order to reduce the likelihood of this scenario, if the original material was found to be not slanderous or libelous, the plaintiff at his or her own personal expense – not campaign contributions – must immediately distribute equal time ads in the same markets admitting to the truth of the original.

If such a court was operational, money and time could not protect those who would corrupt the legislative process with lies and innuendo. It would not stop everyone, of course. There are always those who believe they can get away with anything. That’s why the punishment for such a crime should be swift and severe.

The U.S. has many special courts for special circumstances. I suggest that anyone who says that this can’t be done simply doesn’t want it done. Speaker Pelosi, Senator Reed and the appropriate House and Senate committees could do this if they wanted to.

Just maybe . . . . . .

 

November 11, 2006

There's light on the horizon, it's a new day.  I was holding my breath waiting for Burns and Allen to sign off.  They weren't very funny this time anyway.

The elections over -- but what does that mean to us?

Yes, the Democratic party is in charge, but coming out of the election it’s a different party than it was going in. This Democratic victory was in no small measure due to those who managed to overcome their personal identification with a political team in order to cast a ballot for “the other guy.” Those folks are now independents, and it took a lot of frustration and a lot of courage to make that move. You can be sure that they are going to be watching carefully to see that they didn’t make a mistake. 

Just to set the stage, in the past both parties seemed to huddle in dark corners to come up with a platform which would entice voters. The object of the election, from the party’s point of view, was simply to get enough votes to stay in power. Two things have happened which might indicate the beginning of a new political culture and an end to that scenario.   

First, Howard Dean’s outreach to individuals for contributions has paid off big time. Until now, both parties have been beholden to the lobbyists and corporations who have been their major contributors. There can be no doubt in anyone’s mind that in the past they have legislated accordingly. Along the way they gained the label, “The best government money can buy,” which was certainly hard earned and well deserved.

However, Howard Dean’s outreach did more than just attract funding. What happened is that people dug into treasured savings, gave up nights out and turned the stuffed furniture upside down to find the money to buy the government back from special interest groups. We may still have the best government money can buy, but the number of owners is now too large to allow for narrow legislation.

Second, groups such as MoveOn.org, surveyed the membership for consensus on what needs to be done, and then backed those politicians most likely to work for those goals - regardless of party. The result is that the Democratic Party must now be even more responsive to its voting constituency, and the long criticized “large tent” of the democratic party is even larger today. You can bet that tomorrow’s news will be full of critics who will still say that there are so many opinions that nothing will ever get done.

BULL! Finally enough voters have said ENOUGH! Finally enough voters have decided that “My way or the highway” is the wrong way – that we have to find some other way. We are seeing the beginning of a move away from divisive politics. Apparently fed up with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the attack on civil liberties here at home, and a political strategy intended to inflame rather than enlighten, enough people are willing to consider compromise on some issues in order that progress is made on the most important ones.

For example, under the Democratic tent are pro-lifers and pro-choicers. I believe both the extremes in these camps – those who are adamant about abortion on demand, and those who demand birth at any cost, will finally be silenced in an effort to find ground rules acceptable to the majority. It’s about time.

I said many times before that “the future is in our hands” – meaning literally that the buttons pushed in the voting booth would determine our future.

It was, we did, celebrate and get over it, the jobs not done.

Today, the future is in our hands in a more figurative sense. Now we have to pay attention to what our new representatives do with the power they’ve been given. History has taught some hard lessons. One is that no matter how hard we try to elect honest and honorable people, some not-so-nice folks slip through. Another is that even the finest people can sometimes be corrupted.

It has been our history to ignore Congress after the elections and trust that what we thought would happen would in fact happen. Well, it doesn’t. We still have a job to do. The job description has changed from selecting candidates to appraising performance, and we can’t let it go.

Have no doubt – if we don’t pay attention, we will certainly pay penance.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

It seems now that I have no choice but to accept the fact that I’ve gone mad. It’s the only possible explanation for it. There can be no other. No matter how hard I try, I can’t arrange the pieces of the puzzle to look the same as the picture the editors of my local paper come up with.

When I first entered what is now undoubtedly an asylum, I began to work with the puzzle pieces and put the round pegs in the round holes and the square pegs in the square holes, and when I finished I would tell myself I’d done a good job. A lot of my friends agreed that I had done a good job, but those folks who write the reports always looked at my work, shook their heads and clucked a lot. Today I understand. The object was never to match the peg with the hole. The object was to rise above that simple reality. The feat was to recognize that a tool was needed. A pocket knife. Something to help shape the blocks and the board into something we imagined they could be.

So, for all these years that I’ve been reading the paper, searching for separate but related news items and trying to discern what was real, I’ve been doing it wrong. Now I know that what I was supposed to do was to decide what reality was before reading the paper, search for those items which might be useful, trash anything which might get in the way, and put the results together to make my picture – the way I want it. I can’t do that, so by all comparison with the norms of the editors, I am mad.

Not just mad, I’m really mad. Even though I understand what I’m supposed to do, I just can’t. No matter how hard I try I can’t bring myself to change the shape of the pegs to fit the holes, or to turn the board upside down and hide the holes. I am obsessed with the idea that square pegs go in square holes and so on. But, the editors keep trying to teach me better.

Case in point, The Virginian Pilot editorial on October 25 on endorsing a candidate for the House of Representatives. Here are the first two paragraphs of that editorial.

“Thelma Drake, the U.S. representative from Virginia’s 2nd District, has grown in her job. She knows what she believes, and knows what she thinks, and impresses with her articulate, genial manner.
“She knows that the War in Iraq must be won, no matter the cost. She knows that Virginia’s coast must be opened to drilling by oil and gas companies. She knows that America needs a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. She knows that tax cuts to benefit the richest Americans must be extended. She knows these subjects backward, forward and sideways. And on every one, Rep. Drake is wrong.”

Now, it seems to me (which is why I must be mad) that given this information, I assume that even a three legged dog that barks with a lisp is better than someone who will 1) vote to endanger the environment, 2) amend the constitution to strip part of the population of their rights because of their choice of life partners, 3) steal from the poor to enhance the bank accounts of the already rich, and 4) vote to deny the right of habeas corpuses. (I just had to throw that in, but I’m mad, so just ignore it.)

Just to prove that I’m mad, the editors at the Pilot followed their first two paragraphs with this:

“Despite that, the first term congresswoman deserves to be returned to Congress over her opponent, overmatched Virginia Beach Commissioner of the Revenue Phil Kellam, who seems to be running a campaign built on the fact that he’s not her.

Duh! What did I miss? Isn’t not being her precisely the idea? Evidently not.

I refused to use my pocket knife again, so the idea that Phil Kellam isn’t running around telling everyone exactly what he will do before he gets all the inside information doesn’t bother me. What bothers me are a lot of little things.

You know, those really trivial, not worthy of much concern things we would rather not talk about. Like, protecting the environment, saving jobs, paying as we go instead of mortgaging our children’s future, remaining a constitutional democracy – with all it’s associated rights, responsibilities and privileges. Remember those? To be secure in our person and protected from unreasonable search and seizure. To be able to practice the religion of our choice, and not be forced to follow the dictates of another. To be protected from incarceration without recourse to the courts.

But, by the Pilots own admission, the needs of the community far outweigh the concerns of a nation. (It’s the typical NeoCon I-Me-Mine extended to a close group of friends.) And, our incumbent has proven that she can elbow her way up to the trough with the best of them.

But, I’m mad, and I shouldn’t be bothered by those minor, insignificant things. Or – the guys in the white coats are really inmates who have taken over the asylum, and I’m the sane one. Who knows? Who cares? The way things are going I’m not likely to find out anytime soon.

 

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

So, you think the leaders of the Administration are short a few high cards do you? Think again. It takes brilliance to appear totally incompetent while advancing a hidden agenda. This Administration is incredibly adept at creating situations in which singular, highly emotional events dominate our thinking, and keep our focus on events in isolation.

The nation is divided on Iraq. “Stay the course” versus “cut and run” are the slogans used to elicit an emotional response and minimize rational thought. When emotions are set aside, the question of why this administration would ignore the obvious outcome of attacking Iraq and refuse to fully staff an occupying military must be asked. More than enough people with sufficient information to determine that Iraq could not sustain even a short period without central leadership came forward to object well before the first bomb was dropped.

Former President Bush made it clear that the U.S. was unprepared for such an undertaking when he did not oust Saddam Hussein in 1991. Even as the current administration was planning to invade Iraq, several high-ranking military leaders were vehement in their pleas for enough troops to contain the peace. The warnings were ignored and Iraq is now in a state of anarchy. It must be clear by now to anyone who considers the question seriously that this was the intended outcome. The question is who has gained, and who will continue to gain, from the current condition.

The U.S. has entered in to “Free Trade” agreements with various parts of the world which have resulted in astronomically high balance of payment deficits and the loss of thousands of good paying American jobs. Again, the title “Free Trade” elicited an emotional, rather than rational response, and provided for a discussion not on merit but on feeling as the agreements were debated in congress. Initially, partner countries were monitored for compliance to agreements on the status of labor in the exporting nations, but not anymore. Requirements for fair labor practices have been ignored and reports of child and slave labor are being talked about on the floor of the Senate. Talked about, but ignored by the Republican leadership. American workers cannot compete against this kind of workforce and maintain a hard won standard of living. Again the question is who has gained, and who will continue to gain.

In the past five years, new laws have been passed which erode freedoms and protections guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. Pharmaceutical manufacturers cannot be sued if hastily distributed vaccines harm the user. Gun manufactures cannot be sued if their laxity in controlling weapons in their factories results in the distribution of firearms to criminals and innocent people are injured or killed. As of last Thursday, non citizens, even if in the U.S. legally and in possession of a green card, can be arrested and detained indefinitely without formal charges and without access to legal recourse. Wiretapping without a warrant seems innocuous by comparison, but it is an erosion of the rights of Americans none-the-less.

Other new laws simply sock it to the working class. In the Medicare Prescription Drug Plan, the government is forbidden to negotiate for lower prices. When the same drugs are shipped from here to Canada and sold at half the price, we are forbidden to buy from Canadian sources. The administration tells us it’s for our own good because the drugs haven’t had the benefit of FDA oversight. Who honestly believes that Canada doesn’t have a similar program just as able to provide oversight? Get real.

While we are at war, taxes for the richest Americans have been cut dramatically as the debt continues to rise. It’s ok though, because we won’t have to pay the debt, it is being passed on to the next several generations. At the same time, pension plans have become a source of income for corporations in need, while the needs of workers are being disregarded with disdain by the Congress. Labor can no longer rely on the National Labor Relations Board for relief from overbearing companies. Unionization is at its lowest ebb in six decades. The middle class is disappearing.

Just to be sure that no one pays too much attention, the Administration and the Congress talk about abortion and gay rights. They don’t talk about ways to minimize the impact of these issues, but rather they go out of their way to create major points of argument between differing segments of society. David Copperfield couldn’t perfect a better misdirection.

Once again the question remains, who is it that has gained, and who will continue to gain, from the current condition.

As I said at the start, when advancing a hidden agenda, the trick is to get everyone to look at events in isolation. However, once a person steps back from their own personal agenda and looks at events in totality, that which was hidden begins to become visible. In the past I talked about a class war between the worker and a moneyed aristocracy. True, but incomplete – because it doesn’t clearly identify the participants. The provoking participants are the nearly invisible, super rich, super greedy, super miserly, principal owners of multinational corporations. They alone stand to benefit now and in the future by each and every one of the conditions outlined.

The idea of national sovereignty, even as we argue about the viability of the United Nations, has been all but totally eroded by multinational corporations. Make no mistake, the military unrest in the Middle East and political instability in the Americas is promoted because it makes it easier for corporations rather than governments to take control of the vast natural resources of the affected regions. It’s not just a problem for the United States, but it is the Constitution of the United States with its attendant large, well educated, working middle class which is the greatest obstacle to corporations in their efforts to exert an even heavier hand in world governance. Why, because a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, is simply inconsistent with corporate tyranny.

As a result, it is the Constitution of the United States which is under attack. In the past five years every aspect of the constitution has been challenged. From individual rights to states rights to the balance of power between branches of government and the separation of church and state, not one area has been unscathed. All of this has been done with such brilliance that the nation has been complicit in its own demise.

In the past several years we have been goaded into attacking the constitution with an amendment to define marriage which would clearly negate contractual rights for some. The attempt to pass an amendment against flag burning was clearly an effort to negate freedom of speech for others. Religious arguments over abortion and near-death medical decisions would clearly trample the rights of other individuals to control their own bodies. No, these efforts didn’t succeed – this time. But, the process did provide a momentary diversion for the hapless public.

To top it all off, our right to elect the individual of our choice for the various positions of power in government has been severely eroded by electronic voting machines without a voter verified paper trail. As things stand today no one can be sure that those in power were ever the peoples’ true choice. Unfortunately, those on the “winning” side don’t care enough to complain and those who do complain are seen as poor losers and rebuffed as malcontents. So much for government of the people.

If the attack on our Constitution is to be thwarted, and the rebuilding of the great American middle class is to begin again, we must first fix the election process. Election day must be a national holiday – everyone must have a chance to vote. No person directly affected by the outcome of any election must be allowed to participate in the planning or control of that election.

Every vote must be accurately tallied and if called into question, all votes must be able to be recounted.

 When, and only when this is done, can we be sure of installing in office representatives of our own choosing. If we are to survive as a nation we must have Senators, Congresspersons and a President who will honor, uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign, domestic, religious or corporate.

Our fate is still in our hands – at least for now, but maybe not for long.

 

Thursday, September 7, 2006

I’m outside, away from the TV so I won’t be tempted to get up to see what’s happening in the Senate. The past two days have been so full of things to write about that it’s impossible to pick just one. In fact, there was so much to baffle the reasonable mind over the past two days, that by the end of the day yesterday viewers had to have been in a state of “Shock and Awe.”

We got shocked and awed on Tuesday when George Felix Allen pushed his way ahead of Dick Durbin to present an amendment as his own that Durbin had tried to pass on an earlier bill and was preparing to present again. Durbin had little choice but to allow the amendment to go forward with Allen being the author of record. We have known for some time that the central core of the Senate majority has no shame. Now we know that they have no honor either.

Yesterday it began again. The shock was that the Democrats have finally gotten off of their collective backsides and have begun to speak strongly about their dissatisfaction with the Administration in general and Rumsfeld in particular over the conduct of the war in Iraq. The awe was in watching the collective gall of Republicans who immediately criticized Democrats for speaking out at all.

As usual, it was John Cornyn, Ted Stevens, Jon Kyle, Jeff Sessions, Rick Santorum and Saxby Chamblis who were the most dismissive of reality in their responses. In essence their response was to repeat the lies of the past – that Saddam Hussein had something to do with 9/11, that just because WMD’s weren’t found doesn’t mean that they weren’t there, that the administration is fighting the good fight protecting us from the “terrorists” keeping the fight off-shore, we’re safer today because of it, and anyone who would speak out against the conduct of the war in Iraq is somehow unpatriotic and bordering on treason.

Not one Republican had the nerve to say yesterday what they’ve been saying in public for weeks – that Rumsfeld has gone too far and needs to be replaced. The Republicans did have the nerve to use procedural tactics to keep Harry Ried’s “Sense of the Senate” resolution from being voted on. The only plausible reason for the action was to keep the public from seeing how many Republicans have gone as far as they can go in support of a failed Administration.

Enough on that subject.

Yesterday evening the last speaker was Jay Rockefeller. By this time it was hard to imagine that there could be one more “Shock and Awe” assault on the senses of the American people. It happened anyway. Rockefeller is the ranking member on the Intelligence Committee. His complaint was that for the second year in a row the Intelligence Appropriations, which have been part of the Defense Spending Bill since the early ‘70's, has been dropped from the bill by the Majority Leader, Bill Frist, for the second year in a row. We know that the Republican leadership doesn’t want to conduct oversight of the Administration, but the brazenness of this tactic, refusing to give the committee the power to function, is more than the people should be asked to endure.

Today Senator Rockefeller is going to present an amendment which would reinstate the Intelligence Appropriations in the current Defense Spending Bill. Reasonable Americans can only hope that the Senate will recover, and then exercise the power to oversee the actions of an out-of-control, loose-cannon Secretary of Defense. His decisions have cost much too much in terms of money, prestige, international allies, and world leadership – not to mention the 2700 lives of our military and the thousands of innocent civilians.

9/8 Addendum:    Jay Rockefellers amendment  was "withdrawn" by the Majority Leader - it didn't even get a vote.

 

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Good old Superman. Every day at 6:15 he would fly around inside my radio. Muscles bulging from eating Kelloggs’s Pep, he always knew when he was needed to defend “Truth, Justice and the American Way.”

As a kid I was sure that I knew what those things meant. Today, I’m not so sure. And, you know, I don’t think our government knows either.

Truth should be easy to define, either what is said matches reality or it doesn’t. If it does it’s true, and if it doesn’t it’s not true. Simple enough until we are told so many lies that reality gets painted over and lost to all but the most insistent searchers. Who was it attacked us on 9/11/01? And why did they do that?

Justice always seemed easy to understand. If you did something wrong and got punished – that was justice. If you didn’t do it and got punished, or if you did it and didn’t get punished that was not justice. Easy, right? Not exactly. The Supreme Court recently punished a whole lot of folks who simply had the audacity to own property that some rich folks wanted.

Now, as for The American Way, it doesn’t look at all like I remember. I remember Superman, Tom Mix, Sky King, The Cisco Kid and a host of others who spent all their time protecting people from the intrusion of others. To be an individual, and to let others be individuals, was the key. As long as people understood and honored the line between their rights and the rights of others they were acting in the American way.

So, what does it say about the American way of life when our government intrudes on the rights of individuals to raise a family or not, to live in pain with an incurable disease or not, to set up housekeeping with the person of their choice, or not? I know, by recent polls, that most Americans still believe in the old definitions, but far too many seem to feel that their rights supercede all others, and their rally cry is “My way or the highway.”

As the song says, I have to wonder “whatever happened to Randolph Scott” and the rest of the heros who taught us values? Today we have Pat Robertson telling us to love our neighbor, but kill Hugo Chavez, and Jerry Falwell telling us that his God punished New York because gays lived there. What’s astonishing is that these guys weren’t ridden out of town tarred and feathered and hanging from a rail.

It’s true that the old heros didn’t teach us about a god, but they did teach us how to live in a way that, unless someone followed us around, no one would ever guess we didn’t go to church every Sunday. Our new “heros” get some of us to do and say things that make other people wonder if we ever saw the inside of a church or even heard of Jesus Christ.

Come next November we’ll all get a chance to see if in Virginia, and elsewhere, the old American Way is a reality or a myth. We will find out then if the staunch individual who respects other individuals is really the hero America wants, or if exercising authority over others and demanding “My way or the highway,” is the new American Way.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

In the field of dreams that is the United States,

some are yanking up the flowers of democracy by the roots

The flowers of democracy are the informed citizens who exercise their right to vote. The soil the flowers grow in is made up of the multitude of media outlets known around the world as America’s free press. The nutrient in the soil is truth. The more truth, the more growth. The method of distribution is the journalists and editors who see to it that the whole truth is told about the things we need to know.

In some parts of the United States the soil is good, the nutrients are well distributed and flowers grow brilliant and tall. In other parts of the United States the soil has become rancid and the nutrients have lost their strength to provide sustenance. In these areas the flowers don’t bloom and the field of dreams begins to fail.

I have learned this week that the soil where I live is rancid. This is how I know.

Not long ago I got a call from MoveOn.org organizers. They were planing to run some political ads in my area, and were looking for someone to be the local spokesperson. I had joined the MoveOn group online some time ago and had submitted a few thoughts about what the direction should be, etc. Evidently someone liked what they saw and they called me about joining the upcoming events. I agreed, and the fun began.

The Congressperson in my district had cast several votes in the House of Representative which clearly favored various lobbying groups and also received significant campaign contributions from these same groups. While this is not incontrovertible evidence of wrongdoing, it is far from a stretch for a reasonable person to question the possible connection of these events, or even draw a more definitive conclusion.

A series of three ads were run. The first one not only irked the congressperson, but also the largest newspaper in the area. The paper ran an editorial highly critical of the MoveOn ads as misleading, but said nothing about even more misleading ads the congressperson had released against both the previous and current opponents. I thought it a little biased, but dissenting letters were printed in later letters-to-the-editor and I let it be.

At the same time the editorial was run, events were covered by the newspaper staff and were reported in a manner any journalist would be proud of. Clear and complete articles were published. No one was misquoted and nothing was taken out of context. The soil had begun to smell, but the carriers of the nutrients were able to get the job done.

The second ad passed with a few short articles about the “over-the-top” and misleading MoveOn ads, but no serious breaches of trust on the part of the media.

The third, and last, ad was released last week, and vinegar began to replace the water in the irrigation ditch.

The congressperson’s lawyers sent threatening letters to all media running the ad. ABC, NBC and CBS replied by stating that there was nothing about the ad to cause them to pull it, and the ad continues to run on those stations. The response of the local cable distributor was quite different.

After beginning to run the ad on Wednesday, they decided at 4:30 on a Friday afternoon to comply with the congresspersons request and pull the ad. MoveOn was not contacted before the action was taken. On Monday a prominent article appeared in the aforementioned newspaper telling the community about the cable company pulling the “misleading” ad. Several attempts on my part to glean some information from the company were met with polite stonewalling.

The local newspaper ran another scathing editorial which included references such as “a left-wing advocacy group (think Michael Moore)” and “liberal wacko.” One columnist did a piece which in which her dislike of liberals was plainly stated. She also has a blog, where all of her articles are posted and can be commented on. I went there and took the time to get a password and of course add my two cents to the half-penny column. When I went back later to see if my comment was posted, I found that the column had been pulled from the blog. All of the columns before and after were still there, only the one I responded to was gone. The air was getting worse.

On Monday I submitted an article. On Tuesday I was contacted to say that it would run on Wednesday. Here things got sticky. Because I was representing MoveOn, I let the organizers know and they asked for time to review the piece because they were planning some legal maneuver and it might have an impact. Time passed, and MoveOn asked me to hold off on publication for a day. I called the editor I had spoken with and, although he seemed disappointed, he agreed.

Later that day I learned something new about the cable company exec who pulled the ad. He had made significant personal contributions to the Congresspersons political party, and so had another exec from the cable company. It was getting hard to breathe.

This morning I learned from the newspaper that my column presenting the MoveOn position wouldn’t be run - that the news department would handle any new activity. At noon we had called a press conference to let the people in our town know that we weren’t going to take this sitting down. The press had always shown up before, but not today! When we refused to shut up, they took away our megaphone.

Not much chance for the flowers of democracy to grow here, the soil’s gone rancid and the field of dreams is in serious peril.

How 's the soil in your neck of the woods?  

 

May 4, 2006

Who is minding the Virginia Beach municipal wallet?

When I left the house to vote Tuesday, I imagined using the punch card system that Virginia Beach has been using for years. Although a bit out-dated, the system has worked well and did provide a sense of security that tallies could be recounted should there ever be a question about the electronic tabulation. The ability to recount if necessary is important to me. So much so, that on July 19, 2005 I went to Richmond to address the Joint Subcommittee to Study the Certification, Performance, and Deployment of Voting Equipment. At that time I spoke in favor of a requirement for a Voter Verified Paper Trail.

I was very happy to learn that on January 11, 2006, SB 424 Electronic voting equipment; pertaining to procedures and requirements was introduced in the Virginia Senate.

Summary as introduced:
Election procedures; pollbooks, voting equipment requirements and audits, and recount procedures. Requires (i) that electronic pollbooks provide a contemporaneous and continuous paper printout of the voters' names and identifying information as their names are recorded and that the local electoral board conduct a postelection audit of the electronic pollbooks; (ii) that direct recording electronic devices be equipped to produce a paper record of each vote that can be verified by the voter and used in recounts and that audits be conducted of a percentage of the equipment; and (iii) that the source codes for software used in voting equipment be placed in escrow with the State Board of Elections prior to certification of the equipment for use in Virginia and that the source codes be examined by technical experts. The bill also prohibits any form of wireless electronic communication capability on any direct recorded electronic voting machine, optical ballot tabulator, or other voting or counting device and requires that a percentage of paper ballots be audited during recounts.

Then, on 01/31/06, Senate: Continued to 2007 in Privileges and Elections (13-Y 0-N)

So, the Bill was presented and would be addressed in 2007. However, the sense of the committee had been delivered to the Senate. Imagine my surprise to see Diebold Electronic Systems ACCU-VOTE TSX voting machines where the punch card stations used to be. The warm sense of security that my vote could be recalled and recounted if necessary was gone in an instant. I hurried home to my computer.

After some online research, I found that The Virginian-Pilot did report, on June 15, 2005, that Virginia Beach would switch to these machines before May 2006. The title of the article was “In Chesapeake”, so I’m not surprised I missed it. (http://www.verifiedvotingfoundation.org/article.php?id=6002)

However, on July 27, 2005, California Secretary of State Denied Diebold AccuVote-TSX Machine Certification citing problems in testing, (http://www.verifiedvotingfoundation.org/downloads/Bruce-DieboldMcPhersonLetter.pdf) and made the test results public. (http://www.ss.ca.gov/elections/ voting_systems/vstaab_volume_test_report.pdf)

And then on August 3, 2005, an article in the Daily Review stated “Diebold’s Problems Worse Than Reported, Tests Find.” (http://www.verifiedvotingfoundation.org/article.php?id=6257)

All of which leaves me with a very nagging question.

Why would Virginia Beach buy 899 ACCU-VOTE TSX voting machines, at a cost of about $2,900 each, when

1. The machines didn’t pass California testing requirements.

2. They may not meet Virginia requirements in the very near future.

At $2.6 million couldn’t we have waited one more election round in order to make sure that our money was spent wisely? Maybe those who were elected by voters using these machines will do a better job of looking out for our wallet. We can only hope.

 

April 28, 2006

The noise at the pump isn’t the only sucking sound you hear.

For five hours yesterday, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) stood his ground demanding a vote on his amendment to the Emergency Spending Bill now before the Senate. He says that his amendment will generate more than twenty billion dollars in revenue from oil companies to partially offset the 97 billion in emergency funds requested by President Bush. Senator Wyden talks about eliminating diminished royalties and sweetheart deals which were setup with oil companies at a time when oil was in short supply and the cost was around $16 a barrel. It was an interesting five hours.

In the first place, it took a while to really get a feel for what the situation was that Senator Wyden was trying to fix. The way I see it the situation is this. Sometime back in the early ‘70's I remember that OPEC raised the price of its oil and cut output. I was on a road trip, and the price of gas went from 22 cents a gallon to 43 cents a gallon overnight. We needed to do something to reduce our dependence on OPEC, so we reduced the speed limit to 55mph and agreed to let oil companies drill on public lands. This is where things get really murky.

I listened carefully, but I never did hear just how much the oil companies pay us for the oil they suck from our property. Yes, I said our property, yours and mine. In this case, what we are talking about is a natural resource that belongs to the U.S. Government, which is us.

Evidently, whatever price we thought was OK for the oil companies to pay when the market value was $16 a barrel is still OK at $75 a barrel. Senator Wyden takes exception to this idea and so do I. Unfortunately, We-The-People seldom get to see the actual words that describe what our Senators say they are trying to do, so we have to make some assumptions. Since I don’t know exactly what is written, I assume that if the amendment is passed we will begin to receive a fair market value for the oil we own.

Based on Senator Thad Cochran’s (R-MS) many refusals to agree to a vote on the amendment, and Senator Pete Domenici’s (R-NM) insistence that these provisions don’t cost us anything, some in the Senate are insisting that whatever deals were made with the oil companies remain in place. The fact that Exxon made about 35 Billion dollars last year and nine Billion already this year doesn’t seem to faze these Senators.

To be fair, Senator Cochran seemed to be doing the job of a good soldier and following marching orders from Senator Frist. Having said that, I have to note that he was certainly not reluctant to do so. Senator Domenici took a different tack, and stated that Senator Wyden’s amendment was unnecessary because the deals with the oil companies don’t cost us anything. I guess that means that since it’s oil and not cash that’s flowing into the oil companies coffers it doesn’t count. Or maybe it’s because if the oil stays in the ground we don’t get anything for it at all. I don’t know which reason he used, but either way the logic sucks as much as the pump.

Obviously, the oil reserves in the Arctic won’t be such a prize for the oil companies either. If they have to pay us full value for the oil, maybe they won’t want it. As far as I’m concerned, that’s just too bad. But, there is something else that is also too bad.

Senator Wyden stood almost alone during his five-hour filibuster. The only substantial support came from Senator Durbin (D-IL) who took the time enter into a mock debate, which Senators often do to make a point when both parties are on the same side of the question. Had a few others helped in this way, maybe he could have gotten agreement for a vote. Unfortunately, it was apparent that his cause was not important to other Senators who simply wanted him to give up the floor so they could propose their own amendments.

Senator Wyden relinquished the floor at 3:20 yesterday afternoon with the comment that evidently he will never be allowed a vote on his amendment. I hope he is wrong. He took it upon himself to champion a cause for us. He has been rebuffed. It is we who stand to lose. I, for one, will be watching carefully to see how this plays out.

The November elections aren’t that far off. Maybe if enough people pay attention to what each Senator is doing, more of them will do what’s right for us.

A final note for the Senate. I know it sounds better to call it public lands, but that’s our oil the oil companies are sucking up from our lands. Work with us here. Make them pay full value for it.

 

March 12, 2006

On Capital Hill, the game is called on account of rain.

The game was not going well on Thursday, when Billy had a tantrum. He had gathered with his friends for a little game of give and take, but they just wouldn’t follow his rules. So, little Billy rained crocodile tears, ranted that the other side wouldn’t play ‘fair’, and stopped the game. Since he’s the leader, it is his house after all, he can do that. "And, since I can, I will," seems to be what he told the rest of the kids who came to play.

No amount of adult counseling made any difference. The game could not continue. But, that was not the real tragedy. The spectators didn’t even seem to care. Maybe that’s because the sports writers only interviewed their favorite players, and then chose to take sides rather than report the game. If it were a Major League game, the fans would have stormed the field if the players wouldn’t play. Obviously, this wasn’t the Majors, it wasn’t even the Minors, it was just a sand lot game on Capital Hill.

The stakes in the game this week were high. Rules are needed for the younger players in the game because there is no such thing as a common agreement of the definition of sportsmanship. The new players have, most assuredly, proven to the fans that any display of honor and integrity is just for show. So, now rules are required. Players must be told how to act. You might think that this would not be necessary, but in reality, the players in this game are subject to the same foibles as players in the Majors. Some hot shots just won’t accept being subject to the same rules as the rest of the team.

The other prize this week was just as great. Billy’s uncle George was making a deal to turn over part of the playing field to a foreign government. Not a foreign company, a foreign government. Most of the players seemed to be in agreement, they wanted to stop the deal. But, Billy’s uncle George had already been embarrassed enough by the players in the other game, and that’s when little Billy threw his tantrum.

Since Billy and his friends have gotten control of the game, only one team gets to bat. It doesn’t matter anymore how good a player may be, how much experience he or she has, or how many fans support them, if Billy doesn’t want them to bat, they can’t bat – and that’s the end of that. What fun is there in watching this sort of nonsense?

Fans today ignore the game.

But, why should anyone complain?

No adult can save the day

when little Billy wants his way.

As little Billy hangs his head,

and crocodile tears are shed.

He mutters that ‘they’ won’t play fair.

It makes me want to pull my hair.

It used to be a grown-up’s game,

in the days before the children came.

 

February 17, 2006

Watching the Senate, If Only it was just a Movie

One of the few movies I’ve seen in recent years was The Horse Whisperer. I really enjoyed it. But, it was enjoyable only after having turned away from much of the first fifteen minutes. The visual description of events leading up to the horrific accident, which was the foundation for the movie, was agonizing. The audience watched the truck and horseback rider as they moved closer and closer to the ultimate and unstoppable disaster. Finally it happened – the gut wrenching impact in excruciating slow-motion detail.

When I left the theater, I told myself that I never wanted to see anything like that again. Yet every day I record the Senate on C-Span. Every day I am transfixed by the events which have already reached the point of disaster-in-slow-motion. And, this time I’m not watching an accident. What I see is the contrived destruction of the Senate as a deliberative body. Day by day and bit by bit Senator Frist, in his position as majority leader, denies and disregards the rights of other duly elected Senators to participate in the legislative process. Yesterday was no exception.

When Senator Feingold was denied the opportunity to propose an amendment to the Patriot Act, the horse’s head hit the grill of the truck. Senator Frist spent several minutes lamenting what he called obstructionism on the part of the minority. With tedious disingenuous sincerity, he disgorged a litany of phony crimes committed by the minority. At the same time Senator Frist was presenting meaningless amendments of his own simply to “fill the tree,” which seems to be some rule about how many amendments can be scheduled to be heard. But that was not the worst of it.

Several Senators spoke about how Senator Feingold’s amendments should be heard, repeatedly citing that the purpose of the Senate is be a participative deliberative body. The key word being participative. As I have watched the proceedings of the past year I have heard many speeches. However, discussion and debate on the floor of the Senate have become nearly nonexistent. By abusing his authority as majority leader, to manipulate who gets to offer amendments, and by insisting on cloture motions before any meaningful debate can take place, he has halted the legislative process. In its place, Senator Frist has instituted a President's Rubber Stamp Entourage of political zealots.

Yesterday, the minority was complicit in the implementation of Senator Frist’s new PRSE. When Senator Frist made a motion for cloture on the Patriot Act, which should truly be renamed the Un-American Activities Legalization Act, the PRSE approved the motion 97-3, and meaningful debate was terminated. Several provisions of the Act clearly undermine provisions of Constitutional Amendments 1, 4, which have already been declared unconstitutional in Circuit courts. So much for the Bill of Rights.

Regardless of the failings of the Act, cloture should have been denied by the minority solely on the basis of ensuring the legitimacy of the legislative process.

By disregarding this opportunity to put the brakes on the abuse of power by Senator Frist, the truck hit the rider, and the rider is badly injured. Our duly elected Senators are in a state of shock. Walking and talking but unaware of their surroundings, they need to wake up - soon. Who will whisper to them?

 

February 15, 2006

News or Views?

Where you get your news can cause you to reflect, or cause you to react.

Yesterday the Senate voted to uphold a point of order on S852, a bill addressing problems with asbestos litigation. The result of the vote returns the bill to committee for reassessment. A comparison of the reports of two major news sources provides some insight into what readers are up against in their search for understanding.

In the New York Times, a report by Steven Labaton on Wednesday, February 15, 2006, carries the headline “Asbestos Bill is Sidelined by the Senate.” From the Washington Post, the headline of a report by staff writer Shailagh Murry, on the same day reads “Senate Foes Block Proposed Trust Fund for Asbestos Victims.” One headline states a bare fact, the other presents that same fact with an emotional kicker.

The opening paragraphs are also different in the same way. From the Times we are told, “with powerful interests on both sides [the vote] did not break down along party lines.” But, the Post tells us that the vote was “a victory for Democrats and their trial-lawyer allies who waged a relentless campaign to defeat a bill that took five years to negotiate.”

Following the opening paragraphs, both articles provided numerous quotes from both sides and a clear understanding of the issues, what occurred and why. However, the headlines and opening paragraphs provided two completely different windows on the news. The Times window was clear and unobstructed while the Post window had a definite republican red tint. Before presenting the news, the Washington Post article emphasized “a relentless campaign to defeat a bill that took five years to negotiate.” The only purpose for making this statement is to elicit emotional response, and shade the content which follows.

Purely as an aside, who cares how long it takes to build something that doesn’t get the job done? This argument was restated ad nauseam on the floor of the Senate. It’s a bad argument. When a wheel chair is needed, a crutch just won’t work, no matter how long it took to manufacture.

When I write I want to elicit emotional response. I want people to see my point of view, so I use adverbs, adjectives and nuance to set the stage for what I want to say. I know that if I can adjust the perspective of the reader, I can change the weight of information to either emphasize or diminish its impact . But, I am not a news reporter, I editorialize. I know it and you know it. You take that into account when reading this article. I don’t call what I do ‘reporting the news’, and neither should anyone else who does what I do.

Therefore, I will end with this thought. Editorial comments are not only a right, but an obligation of all major news sources. After all, who else has access to as much information and the time to read and analyze it? Shading editorials is expected, how could it be otherwise? But, readers beware, the difference between education and indoctrination can be almost indiscernible when presented by a trusted and skillful source. When a major news source shades the news, either red or blue, they do an immense disservice to the journalism profession, and to their readers.

February 15, 2006

A little more Roosevelt to Rove

Elected in November 1932, three years into the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt became the 32nd President of the United States in January 1933. Beginning with a nation of farmers and wage-earners permeated with a sense of hopelessness, he ended with a nation filled with hope. In twelve short years he transformed the political landscape, and in January of 1945 he proposed a ‘Second Bill of Rights’. This second bill of rights would ensure that everyone in the United States would share in the benefits provided by the vast resources and wealth of a great nation.

On April 12, 1945, he died. On that day an effort began on behalf of the moneyed interests in the United States, to undo each and every social program he introduced. It was an enormous task. The ideas which FDR presented in the Second Bill of Rights had taken hold, and much new legislation to achieve his goal was already in the planning stage.

In September of 1945 I started school. FDR was history on the day I began watching the hope for a real Second Bill of Rights dissipate, and the original Bill of Rights viciously attacked. It took the wealthy oligarchs fifty-five years of working behind the scenes to prepare for the dismantling of a government dedicated to sharing the wealth of the country. On December 12, 2000, the battle was engaged in earnest.

On that day, the Supreme Court took it upon itself to interfere in the contested election of a President. As defined in Supreme Court opinion No.00-949, issued on December 12, 2000, the Court found for the plaintiff and stopped a recount in process. The concurring opinions all stressed the letter of vague Florida law, while the dissenting opinions stressed the intent of the law, and the right of the lower court oversee the process. To an outside non-lawyer, my interpretation was, and remains, that the judgment was predetermined and the law was searched for corroboration. The effect of this decision was that a candidate who did not win the popular vote, nor win the election according to exit polls, was placed in the office of President of the United States.

A review of the evidence which has been on full display in the public forum leaves is only one rational conclusion. The United States government and the American people have been, since January 20, 2001, under siege by a moneyed oligarchy fronted by a so-called Neo Conservative movement. Outrageous, you say! Yes, it most certainly is outrageous.

With phase one completed, that of acquiring the Presidency, the Neocons began to implement a series of moves intended to marginalize, if not fully decimate, the Legislative Branch of government. A somewhat Neocon Supreme Court had already begun the process of redefining some Congressional legislation and simply dismissing other pieces of legislation as ‘unconstitutional’. The result of these decisions minimizes the power of the Legislative Branch of the federal government by shifting power to the states.

In addition, President Bush’s use of “signing statements” at the time of signing bills into law, further marginalizes Congress in the eyes of the public. What good is a law if the ultimate enforcer, the President, can choose which parts of which laws he will or will not enforce? The result is that the Congress becomes a ‘weak sister’ instead of an equal partner in the government.

The Neocons know that an educated and aware public could do something about this situation at the polls. Therefore, it was necessary to keep the public ignorant of the truth, angry at Congress and, at the same time, otherwise engaged in purely emotional issues. Under these conditions it is easy to diminish the value of government in the eyes of the electorate.

There are a number of ways to do this, and the Neocons have used them all. Our once rich nation is now broke and in debt to our most formidable economic adversaries. How did it happen? First, the treasury was raided by a ‘tax return’ which gave a few pennies to the farmers and wage-earners while showering huge amounts of money on the already rich. Second, we were conned into a war which expended our military assets which then had to be replaced. Third, we were besieged by theft, graft, and corruption by the mercenary corporations hired to do the jobs our military should have done for itself. The result of all of this is an empty treasury and a national debt that generations of farmers and wage-earners will pay for in poor health care, low wages and no retirement.

To make matters worse for the nation and better for the hidden oligarchy, Hurricane Katrina presented a marvelous opportunity to further diminish the public’s faith in our government. By doing almost nothing, by performing badly when something was done, and by opening the flood gates to more graft, corruption and thievery, it was demonstrated to everyone that not only the Legislative Branch, but the Administrative Branch as well, is uncaring and incompetent.

Why, then, should anyone vote? Why, then, should anyone take the time to investigate candidates so a good choice can be made? If you think these thoughts, the Neocon process is working just fine.

But, that’s not all. Just neutering the U.S. government only takes care of a small portion of the worlds farmers and wage-earners. In order for the oligarchy controlling corporate interest to fully succeed, national borders have to be negated. Again this means overcoming an FDR initiative which came into being shortly after he died. In 1945 a meeting was held in San Francisco attended by representative of fifty countries. The UN charter was drafted. It was ratified on October 24,1945.

In recent years, Neocons have launched attacks on the United Nations at every opportunity. The fact that it was under funded, limited by the veto power of the Security Council, and that some of its members, including the United States, were susceptible to corruption, helped a great deal. The Neocon effort to marginalize the U.N. is well under way.

In addition, our government either aided in, or choreographed the destruction of several neighboring democratic governments which were properly elected and led by advocates of the people. There isn’t room here to present the evidence, so I’ll leave it to the interested and concerned reader to do a little research.

Why did it take forty-five years to prepare for this onslaught? Simply because none of it could have been done from positions outside the governments which needed to be dispensed with. It took a lot of planning and organization to get enough Senators and Congresspersons elected who would be complicit in attaining their objectives. Attaining the Presidency in 2000 by any means possible was an absolute must. Placing Neocons on the Supreme Court and in positions of power in the U.N. have just about completed this phase of conquest. There is little left to do except to administer the Coup de Gras.

Many, maybe even most readers, will dismiss these words with ridicule. How could this be? Such a long drawn out conspiracy is unimaginable! It is unimaginable that people such as Senators, Congresspersons, Supreme Court Justices, and Ambassadors to the U.N. would participate in such a process! It’s lunacy!

I sincerely hope that those people are correct, and that my analysis of events is utterly wrong. I would even accept ‘Idiotic’. Unfortunately, everything I have seen and heard since I started paying attention in school sixty years ago, and especially everything I have seen and heard in the last six of those years, says I’m right.

If I’m right, we have no more than a few short years, as an enlightened and aware electorate, to excise the Neocon cancer from our government through the electoral process. After that it will be impossible. If I’m right, we may soon find ourselves in a world controlled by corporations which can ignore national governments, buy and sell natural resources and people at will, and even wage war with corporate armies. If I’m right, in a future of corporate governors, corporate laws, corporate police, and even corporate armies, the world of George Orwell’s 1984 may very well be dreamed of as paradise.

I don’t think it would be wise to simply hope that I am wrong.

 

February 14, 2006

The Presidents Apologist

In an interview on cspan this morning, Senator Kyle defended the President’s initiative of warrantless wiretapping by the NSA. He did so in the same fashion as has been evident in much of the press coverage. What’s wrong with wiretapping in a search for terrorists, he asked? The answer to that question is obviously that there is nothing wrong with wiretapping in a search for terrorists. There is a problem, however, with doing it without a court order. It says so in the Bill of Rights. But, that question was not addressed this morning, and will never be addressed by an apologist for the President.

“Partisan politics” is a phrase which was repeated many times during Senator Kyle’s speech and in the Q&A which followed. Pointing to “the Democrats,” Senator Kyle suggested that the people who call for investigation and even possible impeachment of President Bush are doing so because they are Democrats. That is simply not the case. In fact, he’s got it backwards. They are Democrats because they believe in the principles of the “New Deal,” “the great society,” and the Bill of Rights.

There is one thing common to all Democrats. They insist on being individuals. Because of this, one of the favorite lines for a Republican is that Democrats have no central core ideology. Well, that’s right. Democrats don’t look at party politics as a religious endeavor. They are people who think alike and have banded together. They are not people who banded together to learn how to think.

When a Democrat thinks through an issue and then speaks their mind, and is then accused of being ‘partisan’ - simply parroting the party line, that individual has received the ultimate insult. Senator Kyle should be ashamed of himself. Surely, he wouldn’t want his careful deliberation reduced to such a level. However, since Senator Kyle has opened the door, I have this to say about that.

As I watch C-Span, I find that much of the apologetic rhetoric which attempts to justify the excesses of the President is about as shallow as a puddle of water on a glass tabletop. Therefore, I find those arguments without reflective thought and clearly partisan. I find Senator Kyle’s effort in this regard to be on that same level. It is amazing, to me, how easily Senator Kyle avoided all mention of the one salient underlying issue during his speech. I didn’t hear him once mention the Fourth Amendment, which clearly and concisely prohibits unwarranted searches.

The President does not have the authority, no matter how much he wishes he did, to disregard the Bill of Rights. Saying he has the right does not make it so.

It’s one thing for political pundits, and even corporate news editors, to engage in spin, obfuscation, misdirection, and all the other methods used to redefine reality. It’s quite another when a Senator, someone who should be demonstrating the epitome of honor and integrity, uses these same tactics.

February 13, 2006

Neocon is not Republican

Who was it that tattled on the President for spying on us? The Neocons are hot on the trail. When they find that despicable individual who couldn’t keep his mouth shut I hope he gets just what he deserves – The Congressional Medal of Honor. While we wait for that to happen, though, we are getting another lesson in the propaganda process of the Neocon movement.

To be sure, not everyone who voted for Bush/Cheney has had a change of heart. Many are getting exactly what they wanted and expected. However, major news polls show us that, as prices rise and wages fall, the number of voters in that group is dwindling. What is a good Neocon to do? The answer is out there in the news.

Nobody wants to have to admit they were ever wrong about anything. So, the thing to do is to give people a quick comeback which is so outrageous that it stops rational thought long enough for them to get away. That way they never have to admit to themselves or anyone else that they were complicit in their own destruction.

A lot of good God-fearing people are still repeating the Neocon lie that Iraq was involved in 9-11. But, a lie is still a lie. People talk about how Republicans support our troops. But, in Iraq the troops don’t have enough body armor. If troops buy their own armor, the military threatens to strip death benefits if soldiers die while wearing it. (See Soldiers for Truth) Neocons support the military/industrial complex, not the troops. Neocon support for the troops is a lie.

The President tells us he has the right to spy on us. Congress disagrees. Congress wrote the legislation, so the President is lying. But, you still hear the lie repeated in the press.

And, how about the “I care about seniors,” lie. I turned 65 last year. As I prepared my taxes this year, I was more than a little upset. This is the first year I can remember that being 65 didn’t qualify as an additional dependent deduction. So much for the “I care about seniors,” lie.

What can you say to the person who insists on repeating a lie simply to keep from saying “I made a mistake?” Nothing. When a person tells you the water is cold, sticks their hand in it and gets scalded, and then still tells you the water is cold, there is nothing to do but shake your head and pity them. Any expectation of those folks ever becoming thoughtful, informed voters is sheer idiocy.

A few Republican Senators appear to have come to the conclusion that lies have influenced their prior thinking, and that Neocon values are not Republican values. They are saying so on the floors of Congress today. We can only hope that their change of heart is the result of soul searching, and not the November elections.

Outside of Congress there are a number of articles still being written which excuse the Presidents’ crimes and lies. That’s the beauty of the Neocon strategy. So many people seem to rely on lies to defend having voted for the Neocon regime. Believing the lie saves face.

 

I might suggest that those folks are pouring good money after bad, but unfortunately a whole lot of them are broke. Buying the lies, saving face and losing your shirt. What a shameful epitaph for the democratic system.

By the way, what was that Commandment about lying?

 

February 11, 2006

What about that asbestos bill?

The Senate Judiciary Committee finally launched S852 on the sea of the Senate last week. After days of assault from all sides, asbestos or not, S852 is burning badly, and there may be just too many holes in it to keep it afloat. A juggernaut, S852 was commissioned to conquer the many problems associated with asbestos litigation.

S852 has an icebreaker bow, intended to plow through the frozen court system. Breaking the ice consists of stopping all litigation immediately, unless it is being heard by a judge or jury. In the process, it capsizes Amendment 7 of the Bill of Rights in the bow wave.

Buried in its dark and almost impenetrable hold, is a collection of monetary notes called a ‘trust fund’. How it was determined who will pay, and how much they will pay was established by a subcontractor of the design committee. Unfortunately the subcontractor who designed the ‘trust fund’ had to be subpoenaed to find out how it was constructed. This part of the design has been classified ‘Confidential’, so repairing it may be quite difficult.

S852 is intended to sail for 50 years on the fuel provided by the notes in the hold. Unfortunately, actual fuel consumption data is unavailable and many believe the ship is destined to flounder before it completes its journey. In its wake, along with the dashed hopes of those who have been preparing for court, but not there yet, will be Amendment 7 in the Bill of Rights.

The best thing about the S852 is that it has a deck for many victims who had been left adrift on an old slave ship. By government decree, anyone who was contaminated with asbestos while performing military service could not sue the government, or anyone else, for damages. So getting those people off of the slave ship and on the deck of S852 is a really good thing.

Watching the battle, as a fleet of destroyers attacks S852, is a sad reminder of real life on Senate Sea. There are so many destroyers engaged in attacks, and so many shots from S852s tenders, that the waves are just too high to build a solid dry-dock platform on which to fully inspect the juggernaut.

A really conscientious design team might do this:

1. Scuttle S852.

2. Redefine the mission as: Fully protect all victims of asbestos poisoning at a minimum cost, without endangering the rights of citizens to petition the courts.

3. Using the examples of those states having already made progress in reducing and streamlining litigation, remove any statute of limitations on the right to petition, and institute a ‘pending’ docket for anyone not presently showing symptoms of asbestos disease.

4. Require ‘doctor/patient’ relationship between the certifying physician and the claimant.

5. Set limits on awards which ensure that victims are ‘made whole’ for past and future medical expenses and lost wages, but eliminate a jury’s ability to assess punitive damages, or windfalls for ‘pain and suffering’.

6. Set attorneys fees at payment for ‘billable hours’, to be assessed and paid separate and apart from the plaintiffs’ award.

7. Create a trust fund similar to S852 to ‘make whole’ the military personnel who were exposed to asbestos products manufactured by the same companies being sued in civil court, but are themselves denied access to the courts.

8. If, in the course of a hearing, corporations are found to be criminally negligent or indifferent to the harm caused, they are to be charged and prosecuted in criminal court.

If these design criteria were used, the resulting ship would likely sail effortlessly through the courts and deliver its cargo of compensation to all victims of asbestos disease until the disease has run its course. However, the battle continues with a number of tenders and destroyers fully engaged. No seaworthy flagship, with a contingent of conscientious designers, is to be found. The battle will end, but there is little hope that the war for the relief of asbestos victims will end well.

If S852 is sunk, the military victims of asbestos will remain on their drifting slave ship, waiting for some other ship to rescue them. If S852, with its destructive wake, survives, it may very well not make all the intended ports of call, leaving far too many victims of asbestos to survive on their own. Even more unfortunate, there is no other ship in the builder’s yard.

If only the fleet would raft together, calm the sea, and design a proper ship for the task.

 

February 8, 2006

Like most Americans, I get a lot of requests for donations to political campaigns. Every day someone is telling me what’s wrong, and how they need my money to fix the problem. Each letter or email addresses one or two issues that happen to be in the limelight at the moment. Not one of them addresses the underlying problem. Today the buzz word is asbestos legislation or the Fair bill, which seems about as fair as the games at the local carnival.

I detest frivolous lawsuits, and the get-rich-quick litigants who expect far more than they deserve for compensation of sometimes nearly imperceptible harm. Even more, I detest the huge unwarranted and monopolistically imposed 30-40% attorneys’ fees. However, over the past several years, under the guise of correcting this problem, our government has been instrumental in moving money from the poor to the rich, and destroying the right of the people to petition for redress.

Today the Senate is discussing another bill, the third in a series of legislative initiatives, which accomplish this goal. First it was the arms manufacturers, then it was the pharmaceutical industry, and now it’s the asbestos industry. Systematically, the right of the individual to challenge corporations in court is being written out of our laws. But, these things only hint at the problem.

Couple these efforts with the effort of the President to amass power in the Administrative Branch, and his dismissal of the Bill of Rights, our democracy is being marginalized by the very people we expect to protect it.

It is absolutely mind boggling that so many of our Senators and Congresspersons are willing to support measures which dismiss the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. There can be only one reason for their actions. The United States is fully engaged in a civil war between the haves and the have-nots. Only one side knows the war is raging. It is painfully evident that very many of those we elected to fight for the people have become mercenaries of the have-mores.

Consider this:

Efforts to pass legislation to protect the electoral process from abuse can’t get to the floor of either house. The only possible reason for this is that such legislation would guarantee the proper function of the democratic process. Enough evidence exists to seriously question, if not prove outright, that major elections have been stolen in recent years.

Entitlement programs, which were initiated to ensure that even the poorest in our nation would share in the wealth derived from our tremendous resources, have been decimated. At the same time, the richest are given tax breaks they don’t need. Is it so that the rich can hoard money they can’t possibly live long enough to spend in even the most reckless fashion? No. The purpose can only be to bankrupt and minimize a government which gets in the way of corporate interests.

Further, secrecy has become the byword of the majority in congress. It appears evident that the only purpose can be to ensure that any information which might truly enlighten the people of the United States is kept from them.

The painful truth is that only a democracy of the people and by the people will ensure that our government is, and remains, for the people. A fully functioning democratic republic, with elected representative who truly worked for the people, would not stand for the kind of legislation passed in recent years.

There are a number of champions of the people in Congress. They work hard to support average Americans on each piece of legislation. However, not one of them has addressed the undeniable cumulative effect of the legislation in total. At least not in a public forum. The true danger to average Americans can be seen by anyone who will take the time to look carefully at Congress in action. Our representative government, and the right of all individuals to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, is under siege from within. The war is fully engaged. Only one side is aware, even though casualties on the other side mount as health care becomes more expensive and less available.

 

February 6, 2006

Is it News or is it Propaganda

An article in the New York Times on February 6, 2006, Calling Clinton ‘Angry,’ G.O.P. Chairman Goes on the Attack, is a story in itself. It reports an event, an interview of Ken Mehlman by George Stephanopoulos. It is news because the speaker is a prominent political figure. There is nothing in the article to cause anyone to question the truthfulness of the report itself. That's the beauty of it.

 

The following three paragraphs from that article tell another story which, based on a lack of reporting from other sources, goes virtually undetected.

“"I don't think the American people, if you look historically, elect angry candidates," Mr.Mehlman told George Stephanopoulos on the ABC program "This Week."

Referring to Mrs. Clinton's assertion that Republicans were running Congress like a plantation, he said, "Whether it's the comments about the plantation or the worst administration in history, Hillary Clinton seems to have a lot of anger."

"There's a lot of talk about a new Hillary Clinton, but if you look at the record, it's a very left-wing record," Mr. Mehlman said, adding that her record did not reflect the values of most Americans.”

Nothing wrong there, right? Look at the exchange again. The country has just been given a lesson in the application of the Neocon debating formula. Take note that these are Neocon, not Republican, debating rules. They are not the kind of tactics used by my Republican friends, but the ideas are often repeated as fact. Which, of course, is the intent of the debating formula in the first place.

Note: This writing is not a pitch for Senator Clinton. I don’t live in New York, and 2008 is still a long way away.

Here are the rules:

1. Create a false foundation.

2. Place the subject firmly on the foundation.

3. Vilify the subject with a carefully crafted distortion.

4. Reinforce the first lie with another lie.

For the record, I consider anything which is not totally factual, the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, to be a lie. Looking back at the interview, here is how it worked.

 

False foundation – the American people don’t elect angry candidates. Consider the anger of the Republican Party about corruption in government, how that anger was expressed, and who won control of the Congress in 1994. So much for the false premise.

Associate the subject – “seems to have a lot of anger." I don’t think even Mrs. Clinton would argue about that, but - it’s the association with the initial false and misleading premise that is important.

Vilify the subject with a distortion – Hillary Clinton has a very left wing record. The question here is the word “very.” Obviously, as a Democrat, Senator Clinton is left of the Neocon position on just about everything, but not that far left of moderate Republicans. She stands to the right of the extreme liberals on abortion and solutions for Iraq, and in working with Republicans on several issues.

The closing lie – Senator Clinton’s record does not reflect the values of most Americans. This is a double score in the debate. It introduces the catch word “values” and helps make a lie seem like the truth. In fact, according to several polls, Senator Clinton’s record is consistent with the views, sensibilities and values of a majority of Americans. For confirmation, I refer you to http://projects.washingtonpost.com/congress/ to review her voting record for yourself, and to any of the nationally recognized polling sites to see what Americans really think.

 

The effect of the process is to alter the publics' perception of reality. Unfortunately, it works. It works well. But, it is only part of this story. The other part is the news media. What facts did the reporter uncover? What information did the article present that anyone really needs to know? How does this article help anyone make the kind of informed decision required of a voter? Why was the article printed in the first place?

If this were a single article presented in a single U.S. news outlet, these questions would be no more than good discussion points for a journalism class. However, articles like this have become increasingly more evident in the past several years and have significantly shaped the political landscape. Attacks in this format have been the undoing of the likes of Max Cleland, John Kerry and John McCain. In all cases, the attacks were presented as ‘news’ by the media, and given much more time and space than the efforts made to correct the misconceptions.

 

There is only one plausible conclusion to be drawn from this. The major news outlets which are complicit in this kind of pseudo-journalism are no longer the unbiased protectors of truth that they once were. Honor and intellectual integrity are values which have been discarded by corporate owned media in favor of politically motivated propaganda.

That’s the story behind the story –

Now the Epilogue.

 

America is in dire need of a national political news outlet which will present the truth substantiated by fact, and refuse to participate in the convoluted pseudo-journalism which has decimated our faith in the industry. A very costly endeavor to be sure. Who among the wealthy will take up the cause of restoring honor and intellectual honesty to the Fourth Estate? Who will lead the effort to ensure that our government of the people, by the people, and for the people, does not, as Lincoln said, perish from the earth? Is there anyone?

February 1, 2006

Solving the Riddle of the State of the Union Speech

 At times it looked like a High Catholic Mass with all those well-dressed folk sitting, standing, sitting, standing ad nauseam while the preacher spread the word. That’s as far as the analogy goes, however. There was a lot of colorful content in the President’s speech. And, since the audience was wearing colored glasses – a different color for each faction – it’s no surprise that the true colors of the presidents words were not easily discernable.

The truth is carefully hidden. The trick is to find out what color the president’s glasses are. That is not an easy task, because he doesn’t want you to see what he sees. But, it is possible. By watching those whose glasses you can see, and paying attention to how colors mix to create new colors, you can get bits and pieces of the picture from the audience. What you have then, is a box of fragments – like a jigsaw puzzle with no picture on the box.

When you shake the box to view the pieces, a lot of different images come to mind. No matter, it’s part of the game. Just keep shaking the box until one image comes to mind more often that the rest. But remember, you are also wearing colored glasses. You and I and our neighbors, each with different colored glasses, will then try to convince each other that what we see is the true picture. But, is there only one true picture? No. There are several, so what do we do now, argue about which is more true than the rest? That is what usually happens. Let’s try something different.

Let’s imagine that each picture can be etched on a sheet of glass. Then let’s put all the pictures in a pile, line them up, and see if we get a new composite picture, or just a nonsensical blur.

There is a picture of America engaged in a righteous and glorious war against terrorism in Iraq, for which $350 billion well-spent dollars and 2300 soldiers lives have been paid.

There is a picture of America engaged in an imperialist adventure in Iraq, which has wasted 350 billion dollars and destroyed many thousands of innocent lives.

There is a picture of a strong American Economy with high corporate profits and high return on investments.

There is a picture of a failing American Economy with stagnant or falling wages and rising cost of necessities.

There is a picture of a strong American President using the full constitutional power of his office, boldly leading the country to preserve freedom, spread Democracy and protect the homeland.

There is a picture of a President overstepping his authority, taking us to unnecessary war, spreading American corporate interests, and doing little to protect the homeland.

There is a picture of a President urging Congress give him rightly needed new authority to gather intelligence on Americans because some of them might be working for the enemy.

There is a picture of a President already abusing his authority now demanding new power from Congress to spy on his personal enemies and any Americans who might not approve of the direction of his leadership.

There is a picture of a President championing the cause for strong support of Christian values, which are the values of the majority.

There is a picture of a President demanding that the rights of some are trampled for no better reason than ensuring the support of the self-righteous.

There is a picture of an American President working hard to unite the country by providing clear goals which should appeal to everyone.

There is a picture of an American President carefully manipulating his words and the legislation he suggests to create and maintain deep divisions in society.

There is a picture of a President asking Congress for the power of Line-Item-Veto in order to help stamp out pork-barrel-spending.

There is a picture of a President who is demanding Line-Item-Veto power in order to disregard those compromises of hard-working members of Congress that don’t fit his purposes.

There is a picture of a President asking congress to balance the budget by reducing spending for entitlements.

There is a picture of a President asking congress to renege on earlier promises to assist those most in need.

There is a picture of a President asking for tax cuts for the nation.

There is a picture of a President asking for tax cuts for the rich.

When the pictures are finally stacked, one on the other, there is little doubt about the underlying reality. There are two clear and indisputable images which show through all the conflicting visions of right-wrong, good-bad, peace-war, etc. The images are of the movement of money from the poor to the rich, and the movement of power from Congress and the Court to the Presidency. The combined effect of these movements is to concentrate wealth, and to ensure that the voice of the people, acting through Congress or the Court, will soon be too weak to do anything about it.

President Bush’s State of the Union Speech was carefully crafted to present the proposals which keep these processes moving. At the same time the speech was intended to blur our vision with images which played to our emotions of fear, hatred, greed, and self-righteousness. The speech was extremely well written, and President Bush presented it with the skill of a great orator.

The future is now in the hands of those who still have the power to reverse these movements. Only if they have the wisdom to perceive, the desire to act, and the determination to prevail, will we avoid a future in which a very few enjoy the fruits of the labor of a vast majority.

You've heard my answer. Did I solve the riddle or not? The most important question is -- what do you think?

January 29, 2006

A Time For Impeachment

Why is America so politically divided? Could it be that a game mentality has replaced wisdom in our government? This should be a rhetorical question, but unfortunately it is not. Winner-take-all may be good for baseball, but definitely not for a democratic government. Far too many citizens seem to feel that when "their side" wins an election, the elected representative is responsible only to them. The representative also relies on this bizarre notion to press the agenda of the party they represent. This position is selfish, childish and extremely destructive to our form of democratic government.

Many recent elections have been decided by an extremely thin margin. The adolescent winner-take-all mentality demonstrated by a majority of Senators and Representatives today allows them to dispassionately disregard up to 49.9% of the people they are supposed to represent. The voting records which substantiate the positions taken by each Senator and Congressperson are available at http://projects.washingtonpost.com/congress/. Unfortunately, the decisions of the Executive Branch are classified secret and have been impounded.

In the past five years of dominance over both houses of Congress and the Presidency, the Republican Party has taken this high school definition of winning to a degree seldom seen outside the arena of spectator sports. One thing is certain, the opinions of half of the population of the United States today are having little impact on decisions which affect them.

The latest cries of Bush-won-so-give-him-what-he-wants, is an extreme example of adolescent thinking. When we elect a President we understand that he will have leanings toward one position or another which are different from many of us. However, we do not expect the "losing side" to be ostracized from the political process. We do not expect that the President will act like some college football star and insist that his way is the only way, and only the wants of his team matter. We do expect the President to be an example of wisdom and statesmanship. We expect that his leadership is such that not one citizen feels that their opinion didn’t matter, even when decisions are made contrary to that persons desire.

President George W. Bush shows every indication of desiring Coronation. His use of recess appointments and signing statements demonstrate a contempt for the will of the people which is further demonstrated by his condescending doublespeak. There can be no doubt that our President lied us into war, we have documentation to prove it. There can be no doubt that his agenda trumps ours, and he keeps his agenda carefully hidden. There can be no doubt that he perpetuates a divided electorate in order to keep us busy fighting amongst ourselves so we have little interest in watching him unravel our Constitution. The smirk on his face, when presenting his position was once considered an unfortunate mannerism. The performance of his branch of the government in times of crisis leaves not a hint of doubt that his smirk reflects his security in knowing that even if we can prove he is lying there is nothing we can do about it.

To make matters worse, reflections of the President’s condescension can be seen on the faces of far too many members of Congress as they disregard confirmed facts during their speeches in favor of uttering hyperbole when justifying their positions. Those congresspersons play the adolescent game of follow-the-leader instead of demonstrating the compassion, understanding and wisdom we should hope for and expect to find in those elected to such high office. Every day that passes brings us closer to the destruction of the government our founders formed and fought for.

That fight, the American Revolution, was necessary, as we know, in order to get out from under the contemptuous rule of their own King George. Our government, and the very essence of who we are, is at risk today. It is past the proper time for impeachment, but not too late to get the job done. If we don’t do it now, we may very well not have sufficient rights remaining to get it done in the future. In the game being played today there will be only one winner. If it is the President, he will assume winner-take-all. For all our sakes, the winner must be "We the People."

January 23, 2006

Are those books for Education or Indoctrination?

 

Due to our public schools failure to prepare young adults for participation in our government, the phrase, "a government of the people, by the people, and for the people," is little more than a collection of pretty sounding words which convey a warm, fuzzy feeling. Our constitution tells us we are a "nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal." Abraham Lincoln’s question of whether "any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure," is being answered in the negative as we watch.

Today we are in a class war, but only one side knows it’s raging. We are in an economic war, but only one side understands the rules. Our government is waging war against itself, but it is being ignored because the average voter believes they have no voice in the matter. A lot of prominent people and a great many ordinary citizens have stated that most voters aren’t smart enough or aware enough to properly exercise the duty and responsibility of voting. That’s a very harsh pronouncement. The fact is that the electorate is intelligent enough, but woefully uneducated in critical areas. The vast majority appear to be simply ignorant of exactly how our social, political and economic systems work.

High school students are prepared to work and earn a living in society, and that’s good. But, they are not taught to be critical of the social, political and economic system they live under until they have had a chance to cast their first ballot. Probably most, by that time, have adopted the political party and social attitude of their parents or peers without a second thought. Then, if they attend college they may begin to discuss these issues. The discussion, unfortunately by that time, is undertaken with extreme prejudice.

There are three basic lies taught to every public school child. These lies are incessantly repeated and reinforced until graduation. 1) America is a classless society. 2) Anything which is good for business is good for the working people. 3) Judges, Congresspersons, and the President work equally hard for all citizens. Anyone who believes even one of these lies is not prepared to function as part of "We the People" when it’s time to vote.

This situation was born in the late 1940's, after the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the end of World War II. In the years prior to that time, our society and our economy were becoming more and more socialist, as the Congress and the President worked to ensure the well being of all citizens. Then, under the guise of keeping our country safe from our enemies, Senator Joe McCarthy launched his campaign to drive communism out of the country. No one was beyond the reach of his powerful committee, and by the time the committee was disbanded there wasn’t a grade school student in the country who could define democracy, socialism, capitalism or Communism as a unique idea. Capitalism is the economic system of a democracy, which is what we have, and it is good. Socialism is the economic system of Communism, which is what they have and it is bad. The accepted definitions were so muddled as to be meaningless for any purpose except political indoctrination.

We see the results of this kind of education in the news every day. Questions concerning the authority of Congress, the role of the Supreme Court, and the power of the President are being discussed, and commentators and editors are making their feelings known. Unfortunately, much of the discussion is simply beyond the scope and understanding of the listener. It is well past time for a change.

Senator Joe McCarthy has been denounced for his excesses in routing out communist sympathizers. Times have changed, so we are told. However, public schools, still seem to avoid discussion of alternate economic theories beyond indoctrination levels, or even discuss capitalism in depth without political overtones. The result is that the majority of the working class does not have sufficient foundational education to even be concerned about what is happening around them – or to them. To add real-world clarity to a discussion of capitalism, our children, the next influx of labor, need a working definition of capital which will help them think more clearly about what they are told.

Historically we have said that capital is the money which is used to purchase or create the means of production. This is a good definition for looking at an abstract process, but it lacks both depth and clarity when it comes to teaching about the impact of capitalism on society. When we talk about capital, we should be teaching that it is the money that some people have in excess of what they need for food, clothing, shelter, healthcare and a little bit for leisure activities, which is used to purchase the means of production.

This is money that the majority of the working class will never have. As a result, by definition workers are not capitalists and the vast majority will never become capitalists except in the sense of political attitude. The essence of capitalism is that capitalists, those with capital, buy the servitude of those without capital at the lowest price possible in order to use their labor, manual or intellectual, to amass more money. Everyone who cannot exist for the extent of their lifetime with only what they have in the bank today is a member of the labor pool. The fact that some of the laborers can live for an extended period of time without additional funds can hold out for a higher price, does not remove them from the labor pool. This condition simply allows them to enjoy a less obvious position of servility. The result is codified class slavery as was the case when the word was coined. 'Slavonic captive': the Slavonic peoples were reduced to a servile state by conquest in the 9th century.

When we think of slavery in the United States, we imagine a person captured from a foreign country and sold to an individual to do labor for that individual. Most people would add that the labor is done for free, but that was never the case. No money changed hands, but if the slave owner wanted work done, the slaves needed food, clothing and shelter, as well a some level of health care. After all, how much work can a hungry, sick person do?

Amendment XIII of the constitution refers to the elimination of slavery in the United States. Section 1 states: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." Section 2 states: "Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation." But the laws have not eliminated slavery, only bondage. A form of slavery, however benign, remains the essence of our economic system.

Everyone who lives from paycheck to paycheck is enslaved to some degree. Selling whatever talent they have to the highest bidder in order to obtain food, clothing, shelter and health care, they enter into an undeniable slave/master relationship. That relationship becomes astoundingly clear when we look closely at our political parties and their platforms. Historically, the Republican Party’s form of capitalism has been based on maintaining a starving workforce with an absolute minimum ability to confront the owners of the means of production for the betterment of wages or working conditions. Both of these things require either additional capital or reduction in profit. The Democratic Party has historically insisted on a more moderate form of capitalism. The Democratic Party’s brand of capitalism is based on the principle of a content workforce, and as such embraces some socialistic principals to some degree, which might be considered a more humane application of capitalist principles.

Neither party will speak about the inherent owner/slave relationship of the capitalistic economy. What they do speak about are things which can be done at no cost to the rich. How much does it cost to limit marriage to a man and a woman? How much does it cost to refuse an abortion to the victim of rape or incest, or someone who simply can’t provide the basic necessities of life to the newborn? How much does it cost to provide social freedoms to people who have been denied such freedoms by bigotry and hatred? The answer, of course, is that these things cost nothing. As a result, keeping their real objectives secret, the political parties go to great lengths to use their cost free principles to divide and conquer the electorate.

During this last run of Republican political dominance, the economic principle, that of keeping the workforce in need and powerless, has reached an extreme. It was during the tenure of President Franklin D. Roosevelt that the conscience of the government reached its apex in favor of the working class. With FDR’s passing, the wealthy reacted immediately to reverse the swing of the pendulum. The question is then, how long will it take the working class to begin to reverse the swing of the pendulum this time?

So what does all this talk of politics have to do with education? Well, the working class has recognized that something is wrong. Unfortunately, when they are told that the problem is rampant unfettered capitalism many react as if the very idea is unpatriotic. This response is not founded in education, but in indoctrination. If they cannot get past the political indoctrination to deal with economics, whose fault is it? Well, it is not their own fault. Neither is it the fault of their parents. How can a parent be expected to recognize what is missing from an education when what is missing was never a part of their own?

For the same reason, it’s also not the teacher’s fault. When it comes to democracy and capitalism, we have all been subjected to indoctrination since the 1940's. The responsibility for this lack of awareness of economic principles – and how the use and misuse of these principles can affect the lives of American citizens – rests directly, and heavily, on the educational system.

In order for our form of government to survive, every high school graduate must have a thorough, not a cursory, understanding of our government and our economic system. By allowing political and economic ignorance to exist through high school, the educational system fails in its duty to fully educate. Students graduating from high school today understand DNA and RNA, which very few will ever need. How their economic system works, and how their government – the best ever conceived – is supposed to function, appears to be beyond them. This is a national disgrace.

Based on all available evidence, the majority of today’s electorate lacks a solid understanding of the social, political and economic principles which underlie our society. This, unfortunately, includes those who become journalists and use their profession to spread their misunderstanding. Our only hope for the survival of our nation, a nation created to throw off a tyrannical rule, is that the public school system begins very soon to educate rather than indoctrinate.

January 13, 2006

Dear Senators,  In regard to Judge Alito . . .

After eighteen hours of listening to Senators question Judge Alito, very little has changed except that what was once just hearsay is now first hand evidence. Judge Alito, if given the opportunity, will vote to decimate Roe v. Wade. He will, if confirmed, support the Presidents’ power to ignore the laws passed by Congress. As a Justice, Judge Alito will strengthen the power of law enforcement to intrude on the lives of ordinary citizens. A Justice Alito can be expected to enrich corporations at the expense of the rights of workers, and reverse gains made by women and minorities. He will, if given a share of the final and unquestionable authority of the United States Supreme Court, diminish the ability of Congress - and the Supreme Court itself - to oversee the actions of the Presidency.

No, not even once did Judge Alito directly confirm any of these statements. He also did not, even once, choose to deny them. Instead, hiding behind some supposed ethical tenet which keeps us from knowing his position on the law, refused to answer direct questions. But, in his refusal, his careful choice of words left his innermost beliefs unmistakable. Samuel Alito, the man, showed himself to be extremely sincere and intellectually honest. So much so, that even as he dodged issues, he could not bring himself to even feint toward a belief he doesn’t truly hold. The result was that what he did not say provided volumes of solid information.

Judge Alito is undoubtedly a warm hearted, gentle and humble individual who obviously believes he is not following an agenda. The glowing testimonials delivered by his fellow judges made it clear that, in their minds, Judge Alito is the epitome of self-restraint in his application of the law. However, we must remember that they too spend their lives in the intellectual pursuit of dissecting the words of earlier decisions in order to apply the ones which strike them as most reasonable.

Therein lies the rub. What Judge Alito honestly believes to be reasonable is quite different from the vast majority of his peers, especially when it comes to individual rights, corporate responsibility, Congressional authority and presidential power.

Those who would support Judge Samuel Alito’s confirmation as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States primarily on the belief that Roe v. Wade must be overturned would be well advised to consider carefully the total long term cost of that action.

To those who would say that Judge Alito's digressions from mainstream thought have been minimal in number and should be disregarded, I suggest the opposite. Judge Alito's digressions from mainstream thought have been, and will continue to be, tremendous in impact, and should carry tremendous weight in the Senate's decision.

Senators, the rest is up to you.

 

January 3, 2006

Preparing for Nov. 7, 2006 Election: 10 Months to Study for the Test, and Only One Chance to Pass

This morning each one of us woke up as one of 300,000,000 citizens of the United States. Two hundred twenty million of us are old enough to vote, and are supposedly responsible for our own well being. Five million of us are old enough to fight and possibly die for our country, but not yet old enough to drink. Some of us pray for the rest of us, and some of us prey on the rest of us. Far too many of us just don’t give a damn one way or the other.

We are told that we live in the "Information Age", but real information is scarce. As we browse the morning paper or surf through various TV news stations we seem to get a lot of information. Unfortunately, most of what we’re getting is misinformation, disinformation, cherry picked information and, all too often, just outright lies. So what’s a person to do? Well, it seems that a lot of people simply decide not to pay any attention at all. Certainly the fact that only slightly over half of those eligible to vote bothered to do so the last time has a lot to do with how we feel about what we hear from those who are supposed to "know."

But, if people don’t pay attention, and people don’t vote, then how are we supposed to get our country back? Oh, that’s right -- more than half of us don’t even know we lost it. For those of you who still don’t know it yet, consider this. Last year the Congress passed at least two major laws which took away our recourse to petition the court when we’ve been wronged. First the gun lobby managed to cut the judicial branch out of the picture when it comes to the misuse of firearms. Then, the last thing the Senate did before breaking for Christmas was to approve a measure which took away our rights to judicial recourse if we have been wronged by the pharmaceutical industry. However, I fail to see in the Constitution of the United States where the legislative branch has the power to deny the people access to the courts. Evidently, they wanted the power -- so they took it.

Doing first, and asking for forgiveness later, seems to be the way our country works today. By now everyone is aware that our President used an executive order to allow wiretapping without the oversight of the judicial branch of our government. Congress did not give him the authority to issue such an order, so the administrative branch disregarded both the legislative branch and the judicial branch to do as it pleased. Does anyone still not agree that the people need to get their country back?

Or maybe a better question is - do enough people care? Do enough people really care that our elected representatives tell us what we want to hear, through commercials paid for by their corporate sponsors, and then do just enough of what they promised so that maybe people won’t notice how well they kept all of their promises to their sponsors?

For the past five years the Congress has applied a shadow preamble to our constitution which apparently reads, "Of the corporations, for the corporations, and by the corporations." During the next ten months, "We, the People of the United States of America," need to get off of our collective behinds, separate the sugar from the salt, decide what we want from our government, and elect the right people for the job.

It is hard not to wonder if it is possible that about half of voting age citizens simply want someone to rule the country so they can be left alone? If that’s the case, maybe trying to get them to want their country back is a waste of time. Why should they want back what they never wanted in the first place?

In ten short months, those who care will be trying to sort the wheat from the chaff. However, the skill with which the news is manipulated and spun by those in power is making the job more like separating fly specks from pepper. No one else will do the work for us and give us anything but leftovers. If we want to be governed and not ruled we must educate ourselves and vote accordingly, and convince as many others as we can to do the same.

Regardless, come next November we will have the opportunity to choose again. And this time we need to be sure that everyone eligible to vote can vote, and that all votes are properly tallied. Then we need to spend the rest of our time making sure that those we elect work for us and not for some corporate sponsor with a hidden agenda.

Our fate is in our own hands.

December 24,  2005

Christmas Presents from Congress

Did you get Diamonds or Coal?

Have you ever gone to a movie you wish you hadn’t, but you knew that to have missed it would have been worse? Well, I just finished watching three days of the U.S. Senate, and what I saw and heard was both riveting and repulsive. As irritating and angering as it was, I wish that every American citizen was required to watch and listen as those we have elected speak for us go about the business of ensuring our life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. My own view of the proceedings was from a seat in the center of the middle class gallery. This perspective, of course, has a lot to do with how I feel about what I experienced.

During these three days in the Senate several pieces of legislation were considered. There was the Patriot Act Conference Report, the Deficit Reduction Conference Report, the Defense Appropriations Conference Report, and the Defense Authorization Conference Report. Because the Senators insisted on speaking about whichever legislation interested them, regardless of which one was supposed to be under consideration at the moment, it was easy to get lost trying to keep straight which item was improperly added to which conference report. And, just maybe that was the point.

On Monday, Senator Byrd’s speech, “No President is Above the Law”, was a moment to remember, as was Senator Boxer’s speech on Tuesday evening on the same subject. They brought up the same welling up of pride for the American way as movie goers experienced watching Jim Carey’s speech in The Majestic, or Gregory Peck’s closing argument in To Kill A Mocking Bird. Then there was Senator Dorgan, who spoke eloquently for the American worker and Senator Durbin who pointed out the reversals in separation of church and state in education through a national voucher program for Katrina victims.

Senator Byrd made another speech about following the rules of the Senate, particularly Rule 28 which states that no item which has not been previously agreed upon either in the Senate or in the House may be added to any bill in conference. Senator Kerry also spoke to this issue along with several others. None, however was more outraged over the behind the scenes machinations than Senator McCain who, in red faced anger, enumerated the items his staff had found in the conference report, which was much too long for any one person to read and comprehend in the time allotted.

In the end, however, the speeches rang somewhat hollow as the speakers voted and bills were passed, albeit with some of the problem areas reconciled, still containing items not previously discussed and certainly not agreed with by the majority of either house. It made me think again about what I had witnessed over the past three days. What I saw was a mugging by a gang of thugs with brass knuckles, knives and bacteriological weapons.

The procedural ability to object to the presentation of a bill or amendment, or even a resolution, was used as brass knuckles to keep Senators from being heard, and issues from being discussed. Items were inserted in committee reports against Senate rules and used as knives to the throat in order to get votes for less damaging, but still seriously injurious legislation. Using ANWAR as the knife to the throat, to get some Senators to accept the loss of a little finger, managed to keep other provisions in the “Deficit Reduction Act” which were never approved by either the House or the Senate.

That’s where the biological weapon was released. It came in the form of denying Americans the right to use the courts to recover damages from the pharmaceutical industry. This type of assault is particularly insidious, because it hides in the civic body without symptoms. No pain, no discomfort, no problem – until you need to use the court and find the doors closed and locked.

When the fight was over, the victims were not those Senators who spoke out against the legislation that was passed. The victims are the constituents of each and every participant in the fight. No one with an income above middle class even got bruised. In fact, while cutting the legs out from under the poorest to show a $40 Billion “deficit reduction”, a $70 Billion tax cut was enacted for the benefit of millionaires and above.

When the smoke cleared, the Patriot Act Conference Report was successfully filibustered and the existing Patriot Act was extended for six months. The Deficit Reduction Conference Report, (more appropriately called the Sheriff of Nottingham Success Story) which Vice President Cheney passed with his personal tie breaking vote, was passed with just enough changes to require it to be reconsidered by the House. The ANWAR provision was stripped from the Defense Appropriations Conference Report, but as passed still contained items in conflict with Rule 28. It too returns to the House. The Defense Authorization Conference Report passed and I did not see or hear about anything problematic buried in it.

Another piece of legislation was discussed on the floor of the Senate concerning the Intelligence Committee funding. Although there are several issues for this committee to be investigating with regard to its mission of congressional oversight, I did not see that it was passed. Although Senator Frist many times accused the minority of obstruction, not allowing this committee to fulfill its mission appears to me to be a shameful display of arrogant power.

The House met briefly today to pass a five week extension of the Patriot Act which the Senate will have to take up this evening. The battle continues. I will continue to watch, and I can only hope that many others watch as well. Our legislature, during the past five years, has bloodied the middle class with legislation which consistently reduces their discretional spending by increasing the cost of necessities. Whether those congressional champions, who are never so much as bruised by the results of the battle, will ever prevail on behalf of the middle class and the poor is highly doubtful in today’s political environment. We can only be grateful that they continue fighting.

A lot of questions about specifics have been left unanswered here. Anyone who doesn’t already have the answers will have to look them up. Good! That’s the best thing that could happen.

I sincerely believe that if everyone was required to pay attention to what is being done in their name by those they have elected to serve, the political landscape would change as quickly as being washed away by a tsunami. However, as long as a majority of Americans consider their daily lives too important to interrupt in order to be well informed, we will continue to get exactly what we collectively deserve.

Next November the whole House and a third of the Senate need our permission to continue looking out for us. Things can be changed if everyone pays attention to what Congress is doing in our name Who the nation picks to serve will take us where we want to go -- or not.

Our fate really is in our own hands.

December 11,  2005

The rantings of the fundamentalist fringe are stunting our growth as a nation and hindering our passage to maturity. The incessant repetition of claims that the Bible is the literal word of God by the radical fringe of Christian leadership has managed to maintain control over the thoughts and actions of about ten percent of American citizens. This is a rough, low end estimate based on what the few available survey results indicate.(1) However, if even as much as ten percent of Americans are willing to state publically that they believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible, our country is in real trouble, and it’s well past time to speak truth to this misled group.

First of all, the Old Testament is simply an anthology of stories handed down before the advent of writing. Every group of people, as they became aware enough to ask themselves who they were, wanted to know where they came from. Unfortunately, no one who was around at the beginning left any clues to how they came to be, or how the world came to be. The only thing left to do was surmise, and surmise we did, sometimes in short stories and sometimes in novels. If you are not already familiar with various stories of creation, you might find them interesting. I’ve presented some brief overviews as an addendum.

Today, the vast majority of the American public views these stories with humor. Yet too many Americans persist in beliefs which have no more foundation than the oral histories of the Egyptians, Africans, Aborigines, Shinto or Iroquois. They believe, and teach their children, that the earth just appeared, out of nothing, at a thought from God, and in six days God created everything we see. Then, they have the absolute audacity to refer to those who don’t believe their stories as heathen, and declare that unbelievers will spend eternity in some fiery underworld.

Why should we care? Because, those that refuse to accept what they can see in favor of that which they choose to believe, are having an extremely negative effect on our quest for maturity.

I never dreamed that I would ever be so passionate about publically pointing out flaws in someone else’s belief. Even as I type, it feels rude, crude and indecent. But, the passionate believers have no such compunction when it comes to belittling what I believe. And, no amount of polite writing or polite distancing on the part of those who are anchored in a tangible reality has done a thing so far to stop the incessant clamor of the pompous, self righteous, and hate mongering fanatics of the extreme Christian sects. If those who want to follow a literal translation of the Bible don’t want to associate with blacks, gays, or liberated women – ok, do that. If they would just keep those narrow and hateful personal views within their own community and out of public schools and government affairs, I, for one, would be content to let them be. Unfortunately, they will not.

“Have a Merry Christmas,” they insist on chanting to strangers who may be Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, etc. A more socially sensitive greeting would be, “Happy Holidays,” but let’s not confuse sensitivity-to-others with evangelism. I might be able to respect their position more if they were consistent, but consistency is also not part of their makup. Christmas is Holy they cry-- but only 150 years ago churches said just the opposite. It was, according to Presbyterian, Baptist and Methodist churches, a heathen, pagan holiday, not to be honored by the church.(2) I wonder how many children today, or adults for that matter, know that.

The story of creation is not the only myth that needs to be questioned. Remember those folks who thought salvation came in a space ship behind a comet and died to get there. Well, another group is waiting to be taken to God in the Rapture. Is only one of these groups misguided?

In addition to the myths there is still an even greater impediment to maturity – outright hypocrisy. At the same time the fundamentalists claim to have higher standards and beliefs than the rest of us, they demonstrate exactly the opposite. They tell us that they have been saved by Christ, yet turn to the old testament for solace when the teachings of their Savior run contrary to their innermost desires and impulses. As I have said before, it’s much easier to follow the bigoted prophets of the Old Testament. Following Christ means walking a hard road. It means putting aside prejudice, hatred, personal revulsion, and vengeance.

So why do people allow themselves to be led and to continue to repeat what even they may think is questionable. I think it is simply the safety of having a community. How could any one person stand up in a church full of neighbors, friends and family and say, “I think we’re going the wrong way.” Those who do feel that way simply stop going to church and remain silent about their reasons out of fear of alienation. In strong fundamentalist communities religious alienation can be torturous.

Yes, this writing is harsh, but it is also necessary. There are a lot of people who firmly believe that the fundamentalist’s teachings run counter to our nations growth toward maturity. Fundamentalist Christians tell themselves it is their duty to evangelize – they don’t have to be sensitive to the sensibilities of anyone who does not accept their position. If the rest of us remain silent, out of some misguided sense of politeness or propriety, our period of adolescence will be very long indeed.

Along the way though, there is nothing wrong with having a good time, so I wish that each and every one of you, –

 

Have a Merry Spending Time,

enjoy a Happy Receiving Day

and revel in a Joyous Commercial Binge Season.

Sources

(1) www.religioustolerance.org

(2) www.nytimes.com/2005/12/04/opinion/04sun3.html

Addendum:

According to the Egyptians, in the beginning there was only water, which the Egyptians called Nu or Nun. It was out of Nu that everything began. Eventually there was flooding, and when the floods receded dry land emerged. On the first dry hilltop, on the first day came the first sunrise.

In Africa different stories were told. In one the world was created through a powerful being named Bumba, who regurgitated the sun, moon, stars, and the first nine living creatures. In a Kabyl tale of creation the world just is, and starts out with just one male and one female. They live underground, and eventually find each other and mate, having fifty sons and fifty daughters. The rest is history.

Aboriginal Stories tell us yet another tale. They explain how the world came into being during the Dreamtime when powerful beings woke up underground and emerged on the surface.

Shinto stories explain the birth of the earth. Izanagi no Mikoto and Izanami no Mikoto stood talking on the floating bridge of Heaven. "Is there not a country beneath?" So they poked around with a shaft and found the ocean below. When they lifted the shaft, brine dripping from the point of the spear coagulated and became an island. Eventually, the Sun Goddess Was produced.

The Iroquois tell a long and involved story. It began in the Sky World. In the Sky World, there was no sickness or death, or greed or hatred. It’s a long story, but the gist is that an unfaithful wife and her lover were to be banished. A hole was dug next to a tree so deep that it went through Sky World, and below it was a globe of water. The couple was thrown in the hole. On the earth one day, Sky Woman simply appeared. Her lover, however, showed up as a spirit who could fly and throw fire. What follows, in a very long and detailed story, is the creation of the five races, and the interaction of men and spirits.

 

November 30, 2005

Taking Up the Gauntlet Thrown Down by the Radical Wrong

We the people of the United States are presently embroiled in a serious cultural war. A war which is being waged daily in the news, in the courts, and in school systems across the nation. It’s important to note that in this war only one side has generals, lieutenants, and foot soldiers. The other side is an unorganized collection of civilian resistance fighters, a few unlinked cells and a lot of victims.

The generals of the evangelical army are well known. They parade in public, soaking up the power and monetary rewards of their position. This is what a few of them have to say.

Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Coalition of America, tells his followers, "There is no such thing as separation of church and state in the Constitution. It is a lie of the Left and we are not going to take it anymore." In addition, he says, "Feminism encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians."(1)The Reverend Jerry Falwell declares, "I hope I live to see the day when, as in the early days of our country, we won't have any public schools. The churches will have taken them over again and Christians will be running them. What a happy day that will be!" He also says that, "AIDS is the wrath of a just God against homosexuals." And, "Blacks, Hispanics, women, etc. are God-ordained minorities who do indeed deserve minority status." (1)

Phyllis Schlafly, president of the Eagle Forum, wielding the influence of any male general hypocritically states that, "Feminism is doomed to failure because it is based on an attempt to repeal and restructure human nature.”(1)

Then there’s Gary Bower, President of the Campaign for Working Families, who says, "We are engaged in a social, political, and cultural war. There's a lot of talk in America about pluralism. But the bottom line is, somebody's values will prevail. And the winner gets the right to teach our children what to believe."(1)

These are not the only generals, but what they say is repeated by the rest. The position and words of the generals are carried by the lieutenants in their congregations, and finally by the foot soldiers in their letters to the editor.

The statement by Gary Bower, “. . . to teach our children what to believe,” is particularly noxious. This group of fanatics doesn’t have any desire for our children to obtain a solid foundation for independent thought. Rather what they want is a nation of superstitious sycophants to adore them and shower them with their tithe.

Can there be any doubt about why a determined resistance effort has emerged?

One of the fronts in this cultural war is Darwin’s Origin of Species, vs. the Greek philosophy of Intelligent Design. One side demands tangible, repeatable and verifiable evidence, the other demands faith. The Darwin position started from a position of “I don’t know” and details a search for understanding. The Greek philosophical position is simply, “I can’t imagine any other possibility, so it must be God’s hand.” Will we follow the thoughts that came AD or BC? That is the question.

Considering AD or BC, why is that politically incorrect? It seems to me that whether a person believes that Jesus Christ was the human manifestation of God, or that he was a Devine prophet, or that he was just a very persuasive ordinary man who preached brotherhood and good will, there can be no doubt that he existed. There can also be no doubt that his existence had an impact on the world worthy of being chosen as a point in time from which to measure our growth.

Everything we have learned about Christ’s life is found in the New Testament, and in various works of his contemporaries discovered, but not included in the Bible for reasons which are open to debate. This is important because it is the book of Good News that is the creed and the binding force of the evangelical army. Or so the generals say. In truth, most of Christ’s teachings are disregarded in the evangelical army’s justification of their views. This is why the culture war is not between Christians and the rest, but between evangelicals and the rest, which appears to include many, if not most, Christians.

Christians, by definition, study and work to emulate the example of Christ. The four Gospels of the New Testament agree on several very important teachings of the Prince of Peace. We know from those teachings that Christ railed against the pompousness and wealth of the clergy. We know that He told his followers too only pray alone – in private, to be our brothers’ keepers, to not be judgmental, to forgive rather than punish. All of these teachings are ignored by the generals of the evangelical army in deference to the words of Old Testament prophets who said things the generals could use to rally their foot soldiers, to rally them by playing on their prejudices, their fear of different lifestyles, and their desire to exercise control over others – to make everyone like them. So much for the belief in free will.

Rather than evangelical Christians, a better reference might be evangelical Levitcans, or evangelical followers of Moses, or any other title taken from the Old Testament works they value. Christ seems to have no place in the personal value systems of these so called “Men of God” who go about preaching dissidence and hate.

Contrary to the ravings of Pat Robertson, here in the United States everyone has the right to practice the religion of their choice in the privacy of their own home and in the sanctum of their own church, synagogue, mosque, etc. But, we are also protected from the oppression of religion. A couple of hundred years ago the founders of our constitution used reference to God to emphasize the rights of the people. But! Those same highly regarded statesmen made sure that the constitution clearly and specifically removed the possibility of religion ever being instrumental in the laws of the United States by forbidding the use of a religious test for any and all offices of government.

Today, near the end of the two thousand and fifth year AD, we have digressed to the time of the Crusades, with self-proclaimed champions of God vengefully determined to destroy any and all who disagree. However, they are overlooking a very important reality. Crusades have often spawned enemies where none previously existed. No one should be surprised that the most rapidly growing religious/spiritual/ethics grouping in the US is not an organized religion; it consists of non-believers (Atheists, Agnostics, etc.).(2)

By definition, a “resistance” has never started a war, but it has often spawned a relentless fervor to triumph over those who would limit the rights and repress the freedoms of others.

1. www.defconamerica.org

2. www.religioustolerance.org

November 27, 2005

Introspection: A Frightening Journey Toward the Light

Recently, former Senator Bob Graham of Florida told us what he knew, as chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence before we invaded Iraq. It was a lot more than most Senators and Representatives knew. Because of what he knew, he voted against the invasion of Iraq, but, unfortunately could not discuss his reasons in pubic, or even in private, with anyone not holding a high enough security clearance. (1) 

Also recently, Vice President Cheney, in remarks before the American Enterprise Institute, said that critics of the Administration were engaging in "revisionism of the most corrupt and shameless variety" . . . "Any suggestion that prewar information was distorted, hyped, fabricated by the leader of the nation is utterly false," . . . (2) 

The question is, which position best supports your pre conceived position? Which person will you quote the next time you are brave enough to discuss politics with friends? Do you really want the truth at all? If you had incontrovertible evidence that the position you held was in error, what would you do? 

A serious problem facing our nation is personal intellectual dishonesty. Knowing the truth is one thing, accepting a new truth in a blizzard of pride, prejudice and denial is quite another. Pride keeps us from changing our mind because then we have to admit to ourselves that we were mistaken – a serious blow to our self esteem. Prejudice keeps us from accepting the truth from anyone outside our social community – we might lose the safety of our chosen group. Denial simply keeps us from thinking – we don’t have to deal with something that isn’t there. 

How easy it is, for politicians and preachers alike, to use our pride, prejudice and denial to tear apart the very fabric of our democracy, our schools and our communities. Do you believe that there were serious problems with the counting of votes in the last two presidential elections? Do you believe that Intelligent Design is a contrary but legitimate scientific theory? Do you believe that homosexuals are entitled to the same rights and privileges as the rest of us? How much of your belief is based on pride, prejudice or denial? 

Yes, intellectual dishonesty has been a problem since man began to think. And, it is not just the other person’s problem. We are all subject to pride, prejudice and denial to some degree. How long we allow it to cripple our thought process is a purely personal decision. Probably the most important thing to keep in mind is that intellectual dishonesty has a survival instinct of its own. It works tirelessly against our efforts to eliminate its impact. 

There is one truth which virtually everyone will accept. Because of the overwhelming military and monetary power of the United States, its voting age citizens, by virtue of whom they elect to govern, who they choose to guide their moral character, and what they decide should be taught to their children, will impact not only the United States, but the entire world. So, the next time you’re having a congenial but heated debate about politics, religion or the nature of democracy, ask these questions out loud.

1. Am I defending my position simply because I can’t accept being wrong?

2. Am I refusing to accept new facts because of the reaction of my peers?

3. Am I ignoring any fact which may be damaging to my position?

The answers may be comforting, or they may not, but the answers to these questions will certainly tell us about us. There is nothing that could possibly instill more fear into the hearts of those who would lead us astray than for us to begin to know our own minds.  

Do we have the courage to find out who we are? 

Our fate, and quite possible the fate of the world, is in our own hands – and our hands are guided by our thoughts. 

(1)http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/11/18/AR2005111802397.html

(2)http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/11/21/AR2005112100276.html

November 19, 2005

Friday, November 18, about 3:00 P.M. on the floor on the U.S. Senate, an elderly white-haired, straight-backed, distinguished looking gentleman made his way slowly to the podium. He began to speak haltingly about changes in the weather, the beauty of the countryside, and the colors of the leaves. Then, like a fog that creeps up and surrounds you before you recognize its presence, the scene has changed and its not falling leaves but fallen soldiers in Iraq. Descriptions of people giving thanks during the coming holiday season turns into Thanksgiving tables with empty chairs. Senator Robert Byrd is delivering the kind of speech that would have theater audiences teary eyed because of the undeniable link between his words and our emotions.

As he continues his speech, he quietly inserts that we need to question government policy – that questioning policy is a patriotic duty. He had been speaking somewhat softly, and with a bit of hesitation. But then in a strong, clear steady voice he said, “I opposed the war in Iraq from the outset. But our troops were ordered to go to Iraq, and they went. The question is now: When will they come home? The Administration has so far laid out only a vague policy, saying our troops will come home when the Iraqi government is ready to take responsibility for its country. That sort of political doublespeak is small comfort to the mothers and fathers of our fighting men and women.”

As he continued, Senator Byrd shifted from soft and halting speech to a clear, strong voice like a musician, using his voice as much as his words to convey the importance of his message. Here is more of what he had to say.

“Wednesday evening, the Vice President of the United States even claimed that criticism of the Administration’s war in Iraq was "dishonest and reprehensible." The Vice President’s comments come on the heels of comments from President Bush, who said, "What bothers me is when people are irresponsibly using their positions and playing politics. That’s exactly what is taking place in America."

“The President and the Vice President need to reread the Constitution. Asking questions, seeking honesty and truth, and pressing for accountability is exactly what the Framers had in mind.”

Then, speaking directly to the Senate, he said, “We are the men and women who are tasked with seeking the truth. But instead of working with the Congress, instead of clearing the air, the White House falls back to the irksome practice of attack, attack, attack, obscure, obscure, obscure.

“The American people are tired of these reprehensible tactics. Circling the wagons will not serve this Administration well. What the people demand are the facts. They want their elected leaders to level with them. And, when it comes to the war in Iraq, this Administration seems willing to do anything it can to avoid the truth - - a truth that I believe will reveal that the Bush Administration manipulated the facts in order to lead this nation on the road to war.” . . .

“This week, the United States Senate had the opportunity to establish some very basic benchmarks for progress in Iraq, benchmarks that would have clearly outlined goals and provided accountability in meeting them. The proposal, offered by the Senior Senator from Michigan, Senator Levin, was a modest, flexible approach that would have given our troops, their families, the American people, and the Iraqi people some basic guide posts. Unfortunately, the Senate could not see the wisdom of this approach.. . .

“The Vice President also lashed out at those who might deceive our troops: “The saddest part is that our people in uniform have been subjected to these cynical and pernicious falsehoods day in and day out.” Was the Vice President trying to clarify some of his past statements on Iraq?

“On March 24, 2002, the Vice President said that Iraq “is actively pursuing nuclear weapons at this time.”

“On August 26, 2002, the Vice President said, “Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt that he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us.”

“On March 16, 2003, the Vice President said, “We will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.”

“Are these the “pernicious falsehoods” that the Vice President believes our troops have been subjected to?”

His closing statement was, “I for one believe that it is time to say “well done” to our brave fighting men and women. May Almighty God bless them -- one and all. Let’s say, job well done, and start to bring the troops home.

I have been waiting a long time, and I’m sure others have also been waiting, to hear a Senator express on the floor of the Senate what many have been thinking and feeling. However, even though his speech was moving and replete with facts to support his personal contentions, I’m sorry to say that I found no reference to Senator Byrd’s remarks in national media or the web so far this morning.

The complete transcript of Senator Byrd’s speech can be found on his website at http://byrd.senate.gov/speeches/2005_november/start_to_come_home.html . As clear as those written words are, they cannot come close to the impact of the Senator’s presentation. For those who may not be aware, Senator Byrd of West Virginia is the most senior U.S. Senator. He entered state politics in 1946, served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and has been in the U.S. Senate since 1958.

 November 16, 2005

Since the day the Supreme Clerics ordained George W. Bush the unelected president, he has taken on the role of the anointed speaker for Born Again Christians. Using the office of the president to advance his particular religion, Bush has taken on the role of Ayatollah, making proclamations based on the word of his god and issuing fatwa-like proclamations. I think this is a good thing.

Six years ago I wouldn’t have written this sort of article for public view. Long ago I came to the conclusion that religion is just superstition dressed in fancy clothes. But, I wouldn’t have written it because I felt that to attack any religion was to display a gross insensitivity to the most personal of beliefs. I still believe that it’s the inherent right of an individual to believe whatever he or she may decide is right for them. But, I do not believe that they have a right to decide for me. I have not changed. Times have changed.

For the past five years my sensibilities have been incessantly attacked. It has been some time since we read about military colleges pressing evangelical Christian observance on military students in order to succeed. Most people seemed to think that this was wrong, so the evangelical proponents waited until last week to sneak in an amendment to help ensure their efforts. Last week the Senate passed a measure to allow for the beginning of activities at military colleges with a moment of silence for prayer. A small thing, sure, but I expect it will be used differently than has been stated.

In speaking for the amendment, Senator James Inhofe, R-OK, related how our founding fathers prayed together for Gods help to win the war for independence. From this he drew the conclusion that Christianity was somehow inherent in our government. Our founding fathers did recognize that for many, including themselves, faith is a part of their existence, but it was not to be confused with governance. It’s too bad that Senators aren’t required to read that copy of the constitution they carry in their pocket. This spectacle on the floor of the Senate does much to lessen my regard for those presently in office, and once again pushes religion into my face whether I want it there or not.

Another Ayatollah, Pat Robertson, has said that their God would somehow punish those in Dover, PA who voted the proponents of the “Intelligent Design” myth out of office. The Kansas school board has decided that intelligent design is to be taught in science classes. Their reasoning is that man is so complex he could not have evolved on his own. Therefore, because their imaginations are so limited by their religious training that they cannot conceive of anything except creation by a god, everyone must be taught to quit thinking.

I heard the other day that the Kansas school board has proposed a new test for science students. They’re to be put into a burlap sack and thrown into a river. If they float, it is assumed that God wanted them to pass. Facetious? Of course. But how far from reality is it – when the myth of creationism is to be taught in a science class. In a philosophy class or a class on comparative religion maybe, but science?

Much of this I have said before, but every time someone pushes their religion in my face I get angry all over again. I am outraged that zealously religious people tell others to have children even if they can’t feed or clothe them, or preach hate for others because of their sexual preference. These same folks tell us to go to war to protect their faith. To kill. And what is the basis for their actions? A belief in a system of superstition created by man to honor a god. The fact that so many people have so many ideas about the nature of a god, and about what any particular god’s will really is, should tell us something about the nature of what we call religion. How is it that Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists have different ideas about the creation of the world, different ideas about what rituals are sacred, and major differences about what happens to us when we die. The reason is quite simple. When a belief system is built on myth, the story teller gets to say what is and isn’t so. The result is that religion reduces mankind to the level of a pet kept by a sometimes loving and sometimes hateful master.

 I said earlier that the actions of our president in these matters are a good thing. It is. Finally people are getting upset. People are talking openly about the function and place of religion in our society. Several editorials have been written about the fiasco in Kansas – even here in Pat Robertson country of Virginia Beach. Every day, it seems to me, more people are joining in the fight to keep our country from devolving into a primitive society ready to turn our decision making over to some invisible creation of the human mind.

Earlier I said that I have not changed. That is not exactly true. My thoughts are the same, but in the past when I was approached by a Jehovah’s Witness trying to sell their faith I would nod politely until they went away. Now I interrupt them to say firmly that I’m not interested and please move on. I do not accept the word of those who say that I must live by blind faith values which divide people, and deny the possibility of the formation of a civilized society based on humane coexistence.

Humanity does not need a god to tell us that to live in peace we should not kill each other. It is unnecessary for a god to tell us to not steal, or lie or bust up someone else’s marriage in order to get along with our neighbors. If we could simply not do these things and at the same time follow the advice of two thousand years ago, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” we would be living in a better world today.

Toward that end my friend Ed Burge and I have founded Mutualist Alliance, a place on the web for people who want to engage in a discussion about what we can do to promote a society based on humane coexistence. The hope is that by working within a democracy, of by and for the people, we can overcome the despotic influence of religion of by and for a god. Faith and democracy can live well together, but religion and democracy cannot.

If you choose to visit the site, the URL is www.mutualistalliance.org. The site was not created to make money, there is no advertisement and you will not be asked to contribute anything but your sincere participation. Like the idea, the site is in its infancy. Now would be a good time to pick a topic for discussion and possibly create the first post.

Our fate is in our own hands.

November 7, 2005

From Roosevelt to Rove - America's Undoing

I grew up during the time that our elected leaders were promising things like, “Two cars in every garage and a chicken in every pot.” Our high school Civics lessons included grand visions of the future for the vast middle class. We were being prepared for a life of an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work. Future wages of the middle class were expected to cover all the necessities of life – and then some. Leisure time and a few frills were expected as a reasonable reward for labor. Things didn’t work out that way for nearly as many of us as was promised. One of our presidents saw the broken promise coming, and tried to alert us to the danger.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in his last State of the Union address more than sixty-one years ago said,

      “We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all—regardless of station, race, or creed.

Among these are:

          The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;

          The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;

          The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;

          The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;

          The right of every family to a decent home;

          The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

          The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;

          The right to a good education.

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens.”

Since the time of his presidency, there has been an open, unabashed effort to derail his vision of American society. The New York Times reports today that, “A $54 billion proposal headed for a floor vote this week amounts to budget cuts for the poor and environmental licentiousness. ”Who would lead such an effort? And, why? The only group that has a reason to oppose the implementation of these rights is the group with most to lose, the richest Americans. These are the people who own the means of production.

President Bush called these rich Americans the “Have More’s” as he was asking for their money to help him win the election in 2000. Those who comprise the unspoken of American ‘Aristocracy’ happily opened their wallets, and you can be sure they expected them to be filled. But all of this is nothing new. The purchasing of political favors by the rich has been going on since the first coin ever changed hands. The assault on President Roosevelt’s second Bill of Rights began as soon as he died.

It was apparent to the “Have More’s” of that time that the United States was headed in a direction which would put a drain on profits. In this new country, with its constitution written purposefully to root out all of the ills of other governments, President Roosevelt was leading the “lower class” toward a richer existence. What is it about the second Bill of Rights that so bothered this ‘aristocracy’?

Consider this.

1) Money is not self propagating. No matter how long it sits, money never duplicates itself. Until such time as all manufacturing and agriculture can be mechanized, no amount of money will ever increase without the addition of manual or intellectual labor. By simple deductive reasoning, this is true even for the insurance and financial industries.

2) People who don’t have to worry about the basic necessities of life have the time and the incentive to educate themselves.

3) Educated people understand that money is not self propagating, and will demand a fair price for their labor.

4) Subsequent worker demands for wages and benefits would lead to diminishing the wealth of the “aristocracy.”

Simplistic? Maybe -- but true none-the-less.

Since 1945, through the careful doling out of money and favors, this ‘aristocracy’ appears to have subjugated the leadership of the Republican Party, and spent the last sixty years working to ensure that the second Bill of Rights never sees the light of day. When President Regan refused to bargain in good faith with air traffic controllers, essentially making them slaves of the federal government, a major blow was struck in the fight against unionization. Since that time, the National Labor Relations Board has not been favorable to union growth.

There can be no question that every penny available in the U.S. today was harvested from the physical labor or intellect of those who work for wages. All the means of production in the world are simply inert objects without labor. It is only the workers who can make capital gains a reality. It seems rather greedy, selfish, and arrogant for the wealthy owners of production to expect labor to work for subsistence wages while they flaunt their excess wealth.

However, government actions over the past five years have demonstrated an all-out effort to create a rich-poor class structure. Everything that the Republican triumvirate of Senate, House, and Presidency has done with regard to trade, labor practices, and their own spending spree has generously spread the fruits of labor on the table of the rich while setting up those who do the work to pay the tab. But credit must be given where credit is due.

All of this has been accomplished with the consummate skill of a magician. Being fooled by a Harry Houdini or David Copperfield is a lot of fun. Being fooled by a con artist prompts a much different response. Either those taken in are angry enough to do significant bodily harm, or too embarrassed to admit they were taken. But when the con goes really well the mark never realizes it, and passes his loss off to some other cause.

How well the (neo)con artist gets the job done is entirely dependent on making up a believable lie and providing sufficient distraction so that the lie never gets questioned. The team pulling off the present (neo)con are very good. When the president signs legislation that appears to favor the people he does it with great fan fare. When he’s handing out the gifts to corporations and wealthy individuals, he often does it at 40,000 feet in the shadows of Air Force One. Then, about the time someone might be paying attention, the triumvirate begins talking loudly about abortion, changing the constitution to revise the definition of marriage, or about teaching “intelligent design,” aka “creationism.” Everyone gets riled up and that’s when they put yet another hand in the pockets of the “lower class.”

That budget which the congress is working on today was predicted in 2001. An analysis of the final tax-cut package in 2001released by Citizens for Tax Justice states that: “The typical tax cut for the median income taxpayer will be $600 a year. For the 78 million taxpayers in the lowest 60 percent of the income scale, the tax cut will average $347 a year. In contrast, at the top of the income scale the average tax cut will be $53,000 annually–“ Robert S. McIntyre, director of Citizens for Tax Justice reports that. "As a result, over the upcoming years, average taxpayers will pay dearly for this tax cut plan in reduced public services, a return to budget deficits or, most likely, both." One of the more stark comparisons is that the bottom 1% of individuals share in 0.9% of the overall tax breaks, and the top 1% – an equal number of individuals– share 37.6%. The entire analysis can be viewed online at www.ctj.org/html/gwbfinal.htm.

This raid on the national treasury in the first months of 2001 should have told us something. To cover up what was really happening, President Bush told us he was giving us a rebate. People on the streets were so happy to receive a few crumbs that they didn’t even see that cake and caviar was being served in the penthouses. Since then, additional tax legislation has continued to enrich the already wealthy owners of the means of production, while significantly lowering disposable income for the vast majority of working Americans.

How long will we let it go on? How long will it be before those who have been led into poverty with a dangling carrot of favor for their religious leanings wake up to what has been taken from them. How long will it be before those who are so consumed with passionate feelings against welfare, national healthcare, and any other so called “socialist” idea, wake up to what has been taken from them? How long will it be before small business owners realize that they are not considered part of the ‘aristocracy’, and wake up to what has been taken from them? The list goes on. There’s a lot of waking up to do.

Finally, there is the question of pride. Even if everyone wakes up to what is happening, how many will really accept the idea that they were taken in by temporary heros who took advantage of their own greed for money or power? Hopefully both the waking up, and the humility that comes with acceptance, occurs before we are forced to deal with the truth in FDR’s words.

““Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.”

History has clearly demonstrated that when a greedy, miserly and arrogant aristocracy gains unchallenged dictatorial power, it rarely falls by any means other than by succumbing to an armed insurgency.

The foreseeable economic future of our children and grandchildren is much less than it was for us. Something must be done soon. The framers of our constitution provided us with a sane alternative to insurrection, but it will only work if we use it. Hopefully we will not waste the opportunity.

We must avoid the future which is being written for our heirs. A future which is now much less promising than the one we had for ourselves. Those who work for wages must work together to support and elect a President and those Senators and Congresspersons who will see to it that we do not revert to a Mediaeval society.

Our fate, and the fate of our children, is in our hands.

November 1, 2005

Left, Right, Lock Step, Cadence Count

One, Two, Three, Four, One Two – THREE FOUR!

The militant fringes - those who would have government, of them, by them and for them - are marching across the country. As they do, they leave behind them the ravages of a social war. Disillusionment, despair, disgust and distrust are heard in the voices of those who write letters to the editor, call in to talk shows, and converse openly in restaurants and bars. It isn’t a loud voice, you have to listen closely sometimes, because the volume - not the logic - of the rhetoric from the fringe seems to have rendered the vast majority in the middle just really stupefied. It seems that most folks in the middle have drawn themselves up into a protective shell of concentration on daily affairs.

This shell helps them avoid even thinking about the issue of church-state, and how it may affect their lives. Something has happened which provides an opportunity to clarify much of the national debate over the separation of church and state. The United Methodist Church Judicial Council defrocked Irene Elizabeth Stroud, an openly lesbian minister, and reinstated Rev. Edward Johnson, pastor of South Hill United Methodist Church who had refused to allow a gay man to become a member of his congregation, and was suspended for this action by fellow ministers in Virginia. The United Methodist Church Judicial Council has taken a position to protect itself against what they perceive is an assault on their moral guidance.

What we will see in letters to the editor which will be prompted by this action are fairly easy to predict. The far right will be feeling verified in their position against gays, and calling or national laws reflect their views. The far left will be feeling vilified and being made less-than-equal in the eyes of the church, and will demand that the state step in to regulate against discrimination. They are both wrong, and for the same reason. Both ends of the political spectrum see the government as a means to impose their will, the will of a tail-of-the-curve minority, over the will of the majority.

It doesn’t take a social scientist or someone with the wisdom of Solomon to see that this is true. If they did stop to consider the problem, I think those in the middle would agree on two very important points.

One - the government is elected by all the people for all of the reason proclaimed in the Preamble to the Constitution. Everyone knows what these reasons are, or should, but here they are again, anyway: establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessing of liberty to ourselves and our posterity. 

Two - people join a church, temple, synagogue or mosque to worship their chosen personal deity and find moral guidance in a world filled with incomprehensible events.

It is clear in the wording of the constitution that the government, of, by and for the people, is charged with ensuring that no one is either forced to participate in a religion, and to ensure that no person is prevented from participating in the religion of their choice. Based on my interaction with society over the past sixty-five years, I can say with some certainty that the vast majority of people understand and agree with these principles. They expect the government to protect them from civil injustice and the church to guide them in personal moral decisions.

So why doesn’t the issue of separation of church and state simply dissolve into the night like a bad dream? Because those in the middle have no voice, no champion, no leader, and therefore little hope. Where is the prominent public figure who will say, “We have a government and a church, They each have a purpose, and a roll to play in our daily lives. Keep them apart and let us get on with living together as a nation.”

Even if this person existed, the chance that their opinion would be the center of a nationally televised news show or radio broadcast is all but nonexistent. Until we move away from two-party politics, the militant fringe will always be in the spotlight. Controversy makes news. Good sense does not. It’s a fact of life. A change can be made, but it requires that people who have a desire for a peaceful and humane coexistence band together in political unity. We need to get together, not in a militant lockstep, but a peaceful walk in the same direction.

Both political parties prey on the fringe for votes simply because it’s easy. Those on the fringe want to be heard. Those in the middle want to be left alone. But often, to be left alone, we have to display a countenance that says “stay out” to those who would impose themselves on us. In this case, the ballot box is the only thing the middle has to stand on. If we support radical causes simply because of our professed identification with the political party of one or the other fringe army we will lose what little control we have left over our own affairs.

Our fate is in our hands.

October 27, 2005

Manipulating public opinion, or:

How to be a successful national news pundit.

Yesterday on Public Radio I heard the statement, ‘Senator Kerry, who supported going to Iraq, now has a plan to begin pulling troops out’, or verbiage very close to that, I can’t remember exactly. I was driving, and didn’t stop to write it down verbatim. What was said did not get my attention as much as what was not said. I keep waiting for the first time a reporter with a national audience says instead, “Senator Kerry, who was duped into voting for the Iraq resolution along with most of the rest of the Congress, is calling for a planned withdrawal from that country.” Now that would be refreshing.

Unfortunately, the media has gone even further than using verbal nuance, inflammatory adjectives and a refusal to tell the “whole” truth in an effort to manipulate public opinion. When Joe Wilson’s wife’s career was ended with a single news article, some thought it was ok because Wilson had contradicted the President. I know it makes some people feel really good to be able to utter things like “Payback’s a#$%&@, isn’t it?” But, I don’t know that those are really good people. I, for one, don’t want to hear anything else they might have to say.

In a blatant and unapologetic fashion some folks who call themselves journalists have taken up the cause of minimizing the actions of Scooter Libby and Carl Rove. The latest phrase that has caught my attention is the “criminalization of politics.” I guess it means that lying is a natural part of public service and is to be accepted as such without any higher expectation. In today’s news casts I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to hear someone say, “What’s a little chatting among friends?” to describe Scooter and Carl’s collusion to defame Joe Wilson, and to punish him by taking it out on his wife. And when they lie about it I expect to hear, “So what? So do all the rest of the kids on the block.”

Aha! Therein lies the truth of the matter! What I hear today from far too many journalists makes me believe that growing old is important to getting a job, but growing up is not. Listening to the “Yeah!” – “Oh Yeah?” exchanges between partisan journalists who remain in the spotlight day after day says, to me, that growing up might actually be a detriment to a career. It certainly gives me pause.

I used to be a staunch believer in the freedom of the press, because I also believed that the press was on the side of truth regardless of political position. Was I fooled, or what? The deluge of garbage news totally unfit for public consumption continues to flood the streets, and seemingly, not one national news organization will take on the task of draining the swamp. At this point in time I would be happy to support a law requiring that any journalist who knowingly misleads the public by ignoring the facts, or is simply too lazy to go out and get the facts, be tarred and feathered in the town square and taken to jail on a rail. Enough, already!

To all nationally syndicated news media I make this pledge. I promise to be a faithful listener, reader or viewer of the first national news entity to make truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth their binding motto, and require that it be the personal creed of each and every reporter on their staff. I bet I’d have a lot of company. Until then, the internet will have to do. Grab your keyboards friends, and be thankful that the surf’s up.

October 15, 2005

Who's Fault is it Anyway?

What’s the big deal with paying taxes? After all, it is our government. And the things we want have to be paid for somehow. Whether it’s garbage collection at the local level, or defense of the nation, there is a cost. And, what’s so hard about budgeting within our means. The 90% of us who have to work for someone else to get enough money to make ends meet certainly know how to get it done. Well, most of us anyway. So why can’t our Congress get it done?

The answer should be obvious. Most of our Congresspersons and Senators are not in the bottom 90%, and they have never had to learn to budget like the rest of us. When someone always has money remaining at the end of the month, no matter what they’ve bought or given away, a budget just isn’t necessary. What we have is a Congress that spends our money the same way they spend their own.

What they do is called “Pork Barrel Spending.” What we’ve been doing is “Slopping the Hogs with Taxpayers Dollars.” The result is that we’re broke. We owe more than we can pay to people who may someday use our debt as leverage against us. But whose fault is it really? Come on – don’t be shy, you know the answer to that one.

That’s right. The fault lies with that person in the mirror. The question is, how long will we go on being blinded by self interest? How long will we go on voting for those who have contributed to reducing our treasury to the verge of bankruptcy? Those folks spending our money were put in place by us. They got their jobs with our votes, driven by our interests. What were those interests anyway? Does anyone remember? It certainly appears that we have all been so wrapped up in getting everyone else to do things our way on specific issues that the leadership quality of fiscal responsibility just didn’t matter. What was it that was so important?

Let’s see now – the overriding issues have been gun control, abortions, welfare, gay rights, affirmative action, – the list is endless. We elected those who supported our pet causes – that is the right thing to do. But there must come a day when, while we are asking candidates about our pet concerns, we are also telling them that if they want our vote they must pledge to be fiscally responsible. Where are the candidates who will speak for these issues AND promise fiscal responsibility? If we start looking for them, they will show up almost out of nowhere. It’s called politics. But it will only work if we let it be known that we won’t have it any other way. No one is going to do it for us. It is our responsibility.

We have to insist that the people we vote for pledge to maintain a pay-as-you-go budget, and never spend the earnings of our grandchildren. What is even more important is that those we elect must pledge to shift the major burden of taxes away from the wage earners and place it on the broad shoulders of those who harvest their money off the backs of the working class.

Let today be the day we begin to accept our responsibility for our future. Money doesn’t grow on trees. At least it doesn’t for the vast majority of Americans.

Our fate is in our hands.

October 12, 2005

The Radical Right and the Radical Left

Twin Tornadoes Mowing Down the Middle Ground

The U. S. Constitution is undoubtedly the finest social contract ever written. Hopefully it will withstand the battery of tests it will receive from both fringe whirlwinds. In the meantime the voices of reflection and compromise are being drowned out by the high-pitched noise of the gale.

The loudest shouts are heard coming from those fixated on the extremes of pro-life and pro-choice. One side would outlaw all abortions regardless of circumstances, and refuse a suffering, terminally ill person the right to die at the time of their own choosing. The other side would have abortion and assisted suicide on demand. Their positions are indelibly carved in the rocks picked up by the storm of controversy and hurled against those who would dare to search for compromise.

Part of the reason for this polarized debate appears to be a common refusal to link the issue of quality of life to the issue of the existence of life. The same group that has zero tolerance for abortion also has zero tolerance for national health care and a national program to take care of those who are out of work. On the other side, those with total acceptance of abortion and assisted suicide on demand argue for tax paid national health care and welfare without a requirement for repayment through, for example, community service. Surely there is some room for compromise.

Suppose we started with a premise such as this. We accept a ban on abortion, with the single exception of the health of the mother, and, as a nation, we accept the responsibility that goes with bringing a child into the world. We accept that those who can no longer care for themselves must continue to live against their will, and the nation accepts the responsibility of caring for those in that condition. If the quality of life is given as much attention as the simple state of being able to breathe, maybe the tornadoes will begin to wind down. If we begin with any premise that links both parts of the problem, then possibly a discussion of particulars could result in a real compromise that enough people would endorse so as to provide a cultural norm that works.

There are, of course, other sources adding impetus to the destructive winds. Positions on the issues of capital punishment, gay marriage, corporate responsibility, affirmative action and workers rights are extremely contentious, and so the tornadoes continue to whirl. There may be a chance to reduce their fury before the middle ground becomes uninhabitable, but it will require a very strong conviction that compromise is the absolute best answer. In our democratic republic the only chance we have is for those who still live in the middle ground to demand that political candidates clearly express their commitment to compromise before we contribute to their campaigns or promise our vote.

We are in desperate need of leaders who will discuss issues with an unwavering intent to do the most good for the most people. We are in desperate need of leaders who will not tolerate our constitution being used, abused, twisted and torn by the fringes of society, who trying desperately to make it conform to their own narrow interpretations. Our next chance is November 2006.

Our fate is in our own hands.

October 6, 2005

A belief in a god, whether it was Apollo, Ra, the God of Abraham, or simply the Great Spirit, has been part of humanity for all of recorded history. Every culture has developed a religion of some sort based on the existence of a supernatural power. In each case, the premise of the existence of the god of the time was not to be challenged. Of course it was always challenged by a few ‘unenlightened’ people who were almost certainly ridiculed, often became objects of hatred and sometimes even human sacrifices to the god of the time.

Nothing is different today. To speak openly of a belief that mankind must prevail on its own, without the help of some deity, that it must solve its own problems and deal with its own mistakes, will certainly be met by a chorus of ridicule. That said, and with eyes wide open, I will say:

Before I reached the age of seven I was told God lived in heaven.

Someone whom I could not see was always watching over me.

He could see me in the dark, He watched while I played at the park.

And, if I was good, I’d get to heaven. I learned all this, then I was seven.

But, there was more I’d learned by then, I knew about the bogeymen.

And other things that gave me pause, the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus.

Then as I grew and went to school my friends and I learned what was true.

Bogeymen, Santa and the Bunny were simply lies, but they were funny.

When we discovered we’d been had, we laughed, and no one thought it bad.

But no one ever dared suggest – That God was just another jest.

We knew we should not call it funny – folks go to church and pray for money.

Prayers by farmers for the rain could not be said to be in vain.

And surly our great heads of state, who tell us that god guides their fate

cannot be said to be unwise. So we don’t speak, just sympathize.

But all the while we’re being civil, constantly we’re handed drivel.

How gods’ word is better than the guidance of an honest man.

There may really be a Heaven – as I learned ‘fore I was seven.

But I don’t know just what it’s worth if we must live this Hell on earth.

All around us today, the religious of all faiths try to tell us what to do about everything, based on words written two thousand years ago. As a well-known Colonel Potter used to say, “That’s just plain Horse Hockey.” Those who are enamored of the words of the past and who pray for better times should do it in the privacy of their own home, as they were told to do by Christ as related by Matthew, Chapter 6, verse 5 & 6.

If we continue to elect leaders who continually tell us to look to heaven while they pick our pockets we are certainly lost. If the common man is to survive the two hundred year onslaught of rampant capitalist greed, we will need leaders who believe in themselves, leaders who believe in the need for global peace, leaders who believe in the need to insure the basic needs of existence for all people.

Men and women whose feet are firmly planted on the ground, whose desire to improve the human existence is sincere, and require any Divine guidance to be substantiated by the facts at hand are out there waiting to be chosen by an informed electorate. Our fate is in our own hands.

September  25, 2005

Somewhere between 100,000 and 300,000 people showed up in Washington, D.C. yesterday, to protest the war in Iraq. There were people who traveled from as far as Florida, Texas, Wisconsin, and Vermont. These folks made the trip, many at considerable expense. These demonstrators came: not to be heard shouting, but to be counted marching; not to be seen as individuals, but to be seen as one of many -- a dramatic example of the growing anti-war sentiment in the country. Being there was important enough to interrupt their lives, spend their money, and endure the travel just to be counted.

Many, if not most, are still there today. They don’t know yet that the Fourth Estate has passed judgment and found their efforts unworthy of being seen, or maybe just too uncomfortable to deal with. They don’t know yet that their concerted personal effort was overshadowed by such earth shattering events such as the rescue of a dog from a hurricane. They don’t know that although their freedom of speech was unimpaired, their right to be heard has been crushed by the corporate owned media. With the exception of CSPAN, there was no TV coverage of the event. But, that isn’t all.

A review of the front pages of one hundred ninety-five U.S. newspapers, this morning shows that sixteen of them, a whopping 8.2%, thought that a protest against the Iraq war by about 200,000 Americans from across the nation was worth noting on the front page. Of those sixteen, nine ran articles written by their own staff and the rest picked up AP or other news outlet accounts. The sixteen newspapers represented only nine of the fifty states.

Personally, since last year’s election, I have been privately protesting most of the corporate media. I don’t watch FOX, CNN, MSNBC, ABC, NBC or CBS except on very rare occasions. My protest continues today with the addition of one of the shows which had been an exception to my rule. Last night, when we got home after spending an hour on the Metro followed by a four-hour drive, my wife turned on the TV to find out what they had to say about the day. My remaining used-to-be-favorite commentator was saying that about a hundred thousand protested in DC and that all hundred thousand had called in to ask why they hadn’t been covered. Then he said, they’ll just have to understand that Rita was the news of the day and as such it was just too bad that the events coincided. What’s really too bad is that at that moment I lost my last ounce of trust, faith, desire to believe, call it what you will, in any corporate or state run media. Actually, after all of this, there is no way to tell if the government controls the press or if it’s the other way around, but in any case the people just don’t seem to matter anymore.

Monday should be a very interesting day. Somewhere between 100,000 and 300,000 people will find out Monday morning that they get to talk, that’s their freedom of speech, but they don’t necessarily get to be heard, that’s decided and controlled by the media. They will wake to find that have been totally dissed by the people they needed most. They will wake to find that their efforts have been dismissed, disregarded and dispensed with by a media which treated them with disdain. Soon, I expect that the media may find the protests much closer to home.

September 17, 2005

A Parody

Do you remember Willie Nelson's Riding on The City of New Orleans?  Well, this is the way I think it Scatter from the City of New Orleans

Busted levees, flooded streets and homes

People left to die alone in darkness

Bodies rising as the water falls.

 

Some they say are looters, some just scrounging food

don’t suppose that color is the cause.

Cops spent more time protecting, those things bought with gold,

than helping people left out in the cold.

 

Good morning America, how are you?

Are you waking up to see what you have done.

It was once a place, the City of New Orleans,

now just a place to leave behind and run.

 

So, scatter from the City of New Orleans,

Where armed guards walk with automatic guns.

And hope you find someplace that’s more inviting

at least for now while you keep making news.

 

Just don’t try to cross the bridge in search of food and rest,

the deputies will shoot you if you do.

‘Cause your not welcome everywhere no matter what you’ve heard,

The folks in Gretna don’t want folks like you.

  

Good morning America, how are you?

 Aren’t you proud to see what you have done?

You gave your gold to those who didn’t need it.

Do you feel good while you watch the rising sun?

 

So, scatter from the City of New Orleans

But be careful on the way to look ahead.

‘Cause in this land that’s born of ‘We the People’,

Some folks can’t seem to get it through their head.

 

This land of mighty vistas, with it’s stores of natures wealth

could feed and clothe each one of us with pride.

But the rich now own the country, corporations hoard the gold,

and poverty is rising like the tide.

 

Good night America, how are you?

Can you see the people left behind by greed?

Well, this really is the land of ‘We the People.”

And, there’s lots' of folks who want to make it right.

This really is the land of ‘We the People.”

And, there’s lots' of folks still want to make it right.

September 1, 2005

The Weasel in the White House

He’s done it again! He told us he was worried about us and our well being, and then last year cut $71 million from the Army Corps of Engineers budget to protect New Orleans from high impact hurricanes. Then, when the levee’s broke he said how sorry he was, and told us it will be years before things are back to normal, but we would be stronger for it, and smiled. No kiddin’, he smiled.

First he lied us into a war, and still talks about those who voted to give him the power ‘if necessary’ as if they in fact voted to go to war.

He said he was for unity, and at the first opportunity he said, “Your either with us or against us.” And then had to twist a lot of arms to build a dictated ‘consensus’.

He said the war was about destroying weapons of mass destruction, there were none.

He said the war was about defeating terrorists on their own turf not ours, but they’re not defeated, they’re stronger.

He said the war was about taking democracy to the arab world, but the basis of their constitution is theocratic not democratic.

He said a lot of things to match the latest reality that couldn’t be hidden from the public, and now he says our military has to stay in Iraq to protect the oil from the terrorists. What he doesn’t say is for who?

He gave us each a few hundred ‘feel good’ dollars while he gave millions to the already millionaires. Got any of the money left? I sure don’t. But, if I did, it would have gone for gas this week anyway.

He says his ideals are Christian, but he has fired or tried to destroy each and every opposing voice in government. Unfortunately with way too much success.

He says he believes in Christian values, but Christ was the Prince of Peace, and he still talks of a long, drawn out war.

He says he believes in the Constitution of the United States and freedom for all. Then he got a lot of middle class white guys to go along with his ‘gay’s are for bashin’, and women are for makin’ babies’ proposals for changing both the constitution and standing Supreme Court decisions.

He says he believes in democracy, but then advocates theocratic principles for education.

Is anybody angry yet? I don’t mean miffed, or ticked, or upset, or irritated, I mean ANGRY! I’m talkin’ about, foot stompin’, nail spittin’, hold me back I’m gonna’ hit somebody, pissed off. You are? Good! It’s about damned time. So, what are you going to do about it?

Clear September 24th from your calendar and pack your bags for Washington D.C. Join the rest of us who have already tied a knot in the end of our ropes to keep hanging on. You don’t have to stand up and shout, you don’t have to wear slogan tee shirts, you don’t even have to listen to those you might not totally agree with. Just being there will show the country just how many people are fed up with the current state of affairs. It will also let you sleep better knowing you didn’t just sit on your hands while our emperor fiddles away everything we’ve managed to accomplish in the last two hundred years.

August 30, 2005

A Democratic Republic

 Going. . . .Going. . . . .

There are a lot of issues that have to be dealt with today. New Supreme Court Justices, Intelligent Design in schools, ending the war in Iraq, and preventing war elsewhere. All serious issues, to be sure, but there is a single overriding issue that is screaming for attention. The overriding issue is that without a well functioning Democratic Republic, all other issues will be beyond our influence or control.

Today our future, our children’s future, the continued existence of our Democratic Republic, our system of one person - one vote, is being dismantled bit by bit. Our government is under the control of one party with a very clear economic and social agenda, and a penchant for using the civility and trust of others against them. They, of course, include anyone not in conformance with the party line.

How did we get to this point? Some will tell us it’s the will of the people. Others will say we’ve been had. The arguments that our elections have not been legitimate since 2000 are not without merit. Actually, many of our elections in the past have been less than democratic, the ‘Daley Machine’ of the ‘50's and ‘60's in Chicago being probably the most infamous, but there are many other examples. The fact is that people in power will do anything to keep it, and those not in power will do anything to get it. It is truly a Machiavellian world, and the only thing that allows it to survive as such is the silence of the people.

It was only fourteen years ago this month that another republic, the Union of Soviet Socialists Republic, ceased to exist. Much has been made of Capitalism over Socialism as the cause of the downfall, but we shouldn’t be so quick to assume that what we are told is in fact what happened. There is ample evidence that the underlying cause was the disintegration of the party from within. A one party republic became unmanageable when there were opposing points of view about the direction of the country, and there was no means for a disenfranchised citizenry to even let its will be known. Regardless of what path the citizenry would choose to follow, a focused government would most likely have survived.

So, what does that have to do with us?

We have a Democratic Republic.

We have a vote.

Or do we?

Anyone not convinced that serious problems exist, should read Civil Action No. C2-04-1139, which is available online at www.nvri.org/about/ohio_cobb_ badnarik_counterclaims_123004.pdf. It is a filing in Federal Court, which presents to the court the evidence of a political party in Ohio working in it’s own behalf while supposedly representing all of “We the People.” In addition, a group of prominent statisticians working together in the group, U.S. Counts Votes, has presented data demonstrating the practical impossibility of the differences between exit polls and verified tallies across the country, that were seen in the last election.

In addition, The Presidents’ recent appointment of John Bolton during the congressional recess seems to be not only a slap in the face of the Senate, which votes on our behalf in this case, and thumb in the eye of “We the People,” but by my reading of the constitution is obviously illegal.  Section 2. Paragraph 3. reads as follows:

The President shall have power to fill up all vacancies that may happen during the recess of the Senate, buy [sic} granting commissions which shall expire at the end of their next session. (A reasonable measure in consideration of the difficulty of communication at the time.)

Clearly, this vacancy did not happen during the recess of the Senate. This section of the constitution was obviously put in place to allow an office to continue functioning when an unexpected vacancy occurred during the Senates recess, not one that was left open and under consideration by the Senate. It is also clear that the obvious self-serving misuse of this provision to circumvent the democratic process does great harm to our democracy. But, it happened in a one party system, and while there were voices of dissent, there was no power to intervene.

But, the past has been written, and there is no eraser, so a great many people will ask, “What’s the point?”

The point is, that even though several Senators and Congresspersons have prepared bills to address the inequities in the electoral system, the issue is mute on capitol hill. Our present day one party government is ensuring that the issue of voters rights, and reforms to the electoral system don’t even get to the floor of the congress - in either house. What better way to silence the voice of the people?

Are we powerless? No, something can be done. If the people of the United States, regardless of party preference, will rise up and demand that the system be repaired, it is likely we will avoid finding ourselves in the same position as the people in the now defunct USSR, without a meaningful voice in our government. If the people don’t give voice to their concern and demand to be heard, it won’t matter which party is in control, our interests will not be served.

Unless, and until, a very large number of people demand that their representatives in congress address the problem of honest elections the problem will not be addressed. The need for verified voter paper trails, for every eligible voter having a reasonable opportunity to cast a ballot, for elections to be overseen by non partisan officials, is absolutely necessary for the defense of our democracy.

The election process needs to be repaired. It only takes a minute to send an email to a Senator or Congressperson. Each has a website with a page for comments. The addresses are easy to remember, www.lastname.senate.gov or www.lastname.house.gov.

A long letter isn’t necessary, just a note that says, “I realize that there is a lot to do, but first fix the electoral system,” is enough to make the point. Do it now.

A continued apathetic silence will only ensure that the democracy in our Democratic Republic is              going. . . .going . . . .Gone!

August 26, 2005

Recently there have been several calls for questions to present to Judge Roberts at his confirmation hearings.  This is what I sent to MoveOn.org.

Judge Roberts,

I am not an attorney, just a 64 year old man who has served in the military and believes in what we profess to the world are our ‘freedoms’. I believe that everything that follows the preamble to our constitution is the best effort of the best men to put into a legal framework that which they had in their hearts, and that any interpretation of the articles of the constitution has to be done with that in mind.

I direct your attention to Article 6, paragraph 3, and the words, ”but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”, and to the words of the First Amendment, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;”.

Based on the intent to, “insure domestic tranquility,” I interpret the previously quoted sections to mean that we can not ask any nominee for any office what his religion might be, and that the legislature can pass no law which, by virtue of elevating the dogma of one religion to the level of law, would then reduce in stature the dogma of another religion, and in doing so would then 1)disrupt the domestic tranquility, and 2) tacitly raise one religion above all others, to the level of the religion of the state, thereby interfering with the free exercise of another.

Judge Roberts, my questions are these:

1) Do you agree with my interpretation of the constitution as I have stated?

2) If not, how does your view differ?

3) If so, can you assure me that you will maintain this interpretation when making your judgments as a Supreme Court Justice?

Thank You

Guy Sturino

August 25, 2005

Intelligent Design,

A counter-productive exercise.

Sometimes what we do in support of an idea does more to undermine our position than help it. Intelligent Design is an incredibly good example. I recently published an article titled A class on Intelligent Design. The idea was to follow the process of applying the basic principles of science to the theory of Intelligent Design.  I wrote the article as a real time exercise, in that I didn't plan what was to be said, I followed the natural progression of scientific investigation which is the heart of scientific investigation.  I guess it's not common knowledge, although I had thought that it was, the science is not taught like English, Algebra, Literature, or any other subject.

When teaching those subjects, the basic intent is to provide students with a basic understanding of what has been determined correct in the use of language, what has been shown to be true in mathematics, what has been written in the past, and so on.  In science, although their are certain facts that are related, even those are subjected to experimentation to provide proof positive.  For example, students are not simply told that water freezes at 0 degrees Centigrade or 32 degrees Fahrenheit, they are given water, a thermometer, a method to cool the water, and told to perform the experiment themselves, following the scientific method.  The idea is to learn about scientific investigation as well as scientific facts, hypotheses, and theories.

If Intelligent Design is taught in a science class, where students questions and observations are never dismissed out of hand, the question of "What is the 'intelligence' behind Intelligent Design?" will have to be addressed.  Even in a college or university setting some students, by virtue of their upbringing, will be subjected to a necessary, however painful, examination of things they have taken as truth all of their lives.  As an example, here are extracts from my previous article.

Science has established that the earliest animate life on earth was in the form of microbes. We know that later there were small life forms in the oceans. After that there were fish, of sorts, and eventually land animals. We have evidence that there were land animals that walked on all fours and had a physical structure somewhat like man. Later, we have evidence of the first hominid, a creature that walked upright and had the basic structure of man. Knowing only this much, and based on these observations, what is the first hypothesis we can form?

I propose the hypothesis that the intelligence behind Intelligent Design was experimenting with the creation of living creatures. Based on that hypothesis, I predict that there will appear on earth, more hominid life, each time more refined than the last. Since all of this is in the past anyway, it’s a good bet that I will find evidence to support my hypothesis. And, of course I do. At different times there were the Cro-Magnon, the Neanderthal, and eventually, Homo Sapiens. We have evidence that the same type of increasing complexity can be seen in reptiles, birds and plants. So the theory now is that the intelligence behind Intelligent Design made man through a process of experimentation.

This is not a proof, it is simply following the principles of scientific investigation to a logical conclusion, and then stating a theory which fits the evidence. The problem is this, the conclusion is contrary to belief.  My daughter wrote, "Dad, . . . I like the article, but to think we are part of an insensitive experiment is not settling to well with me."  The truth is that the only basis behind intelligent design is that our own intelligence is incapable of coming up with any other answer for our existence as highly developed biological machines.  However, it should be noted that evolution and Intelligent Design are not mutually exclusive except for when the bible is taken literally.  It is only the highly structured dogma of a fundamentalist religion that is insisting that Intelligent Design is a contrary theory. But, a theory it is not.  Creationism, which is what the backers of Intelligent Design really want to pursue, cannot stand up to scientific investigation, it is a religious belief.

As a religious belief, Creationism belongs in Sunday School, not public school.  Intelligent Design adds nothing to the scientific, investigative curiosity about the nature of our universe, and as such is a waste of time, energy and resources much better spent in providing our children with the tools necessary to succeed in a multi-cultural and multi-religious society.  With all that students have to learn in a few short years between Kindergarten and graduation, I can only hope that a science teacher can say to his or her class that whether or not there is an intelligence behind evolution, this is what we know about how evolution works. 

I am personally dismayed to the point of anger over the polarization of our society by those who, for the sake of church revenue or just personal fame, would tear us apart. Lewis Carroll wrote, "The time has come," the Walrus said, "to talk of may things.  Of shoes, and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings."  These things are proper subjects for a public school classroom. Religion is not.

Comments can be emailed to guy@sturino.com.

 

August 22, 2005

A Class On Intelligent Design.

Imagine a science classroom in the year 2010, and the Intelligent Design theory is the topic under consideration. Since it’s a science class,  students are required to apply the scientific method to any points of discussion or experimentation. Before we can begin, students must know what the scientific method is. The scientific method is, very basically: 1) to observe some aspect of the universe, 2) form a hypothesis (a working assumption), 3) make a prediction based on the hypothesis, 4) test the hypothesis by experiment or additional observation, 5) modify the hypothesis if required, and 6) continue testing and observing until there are no differences between prediction and results. At this point, the hypothesis becomes theory (a conceptual framework that explains existing observations and predicts new ones).

In this case, Intelligent Design is being presented as theory. Therefore, students must presume that all of the steps in the scientific method have been followed, and the theory has been previously tested and retested such that it is accepted by the majority of scientists. It follows then that there must be an intelligence behind Intelligent Design. So what kind of hypotheses can we form about the nature of that intelligence based on our observation? 

Science has established that the earliest animate life on earth was in the form of microbes. We know that later there were small life forms in the oceans. After that there were fish, of sorts, and eventually land animals. We have evidence that there were land animals that walked on all fours and had a physical structure somewhat like man. Later, we have evidence of the first hominid, a creature that walked upright and had the basic structure of man. Knowing only this much, and based on these observations, what is the first hypothesis we can form?

I propose the hypothesis that the intelligence behind Intelligent Design was experimenting with the creation of living creatures. Based on that hypothesis, I predict that there will appear on earth, more hominid life, each time more refined than the last. Since all of this is in the past anyway, it’s a good bet that I will find evidence to support my hypothesis. And, of course I do. At different times there were the Cro-Magnon, the Neanderthal, and eventually, Homo Sapiens. We have evidence that the same type of increasing complexity can be seen in reptiles, birds and plants. So the theory now is that the intelligence behind Intelligent Design made man through a process of experimentation.

Here are some things we know about Homo Sapiens. Their body is an intricately designed biological machine. Energy is provided by breaking down proteins in their food. Their food consists mainly of parts of various plants, and the meat of fish, mammals and reptiles.  They sense their environment through sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. Any of these senses can result in pleasure or pain. This is also true of the fish, mammals and reptiles in their diet. From these observations, I have formed the hypothesis that the intelligence behind Intelligent Design is either unaware of, or completely insensitive to the pain of the creatures which have been created.

Continued observation reveals that all creatures continue to exhibit the anguish which comes from physical discomfort. That this has been going on for many thousands of years, and yet no new species has appeared which does not have the capacity to feel pain. The resulting theory is that the intelligence, in fact, is either unaware or totally insensitive to the pain suffered by the creatures which have been created.

What do we know about the way Homo Sapiens interact? What history tells us is that although many can live in peace and harmony in small groups, larger groups have always fought one another over resources. Few, if any nations have not been at war, and some earlier tribes hunted each other as food. What can be surmised from these observations about the attitude of the intelligence? A reasonable hypothesis would be that the intelligence is unaware of the activities of Homo Sapiens. Another would be that it is part of the experiment to see which ones prevail. And, yet another could be that the spectacle is somehow enjoyable.

In any event I propose the following hypothesis. The intelligence behind Intelligent Design has not, does not, and will not intervene in the affairs of it’s creations. Aside from anecdotal accounts, related third, forth or fifth hand in myths and legends, there is no physical evidence of any intelligence, other than man, who has ever been involved in the outcome of any dispute, skirmish, or war at any time in the history of Homo Sapiens.

So class, you have had your introduction to the theory of Intelligent Design. It is time, now, to consolidate your knowledge and propose a comprehensive theory based on the findings to this point. Mine is the “We’re on our own” theory. The intelligence behind Intelligent Design is either oblivious of, insensitive to, or derives pleasure from the perpetual anguish of man. I have read no history, heard no news from anywhere in the world, nor seen anything for myself which would deny the validity of this position.

August 18, 2005

I can’t remember the first time I said it, but over time the feeling has become stronger. My dear friend Ed and I have been discussing the state of the world for several years. “What has happened to us?” I would ask. “How did we get this way?”. Ed, the eternal pragmatist, would simply say, “It’s not good, but that’s the way it is, and there’s nothing we can do about it.” And, that’s when I would say, “If I was God, and this was my experiment, I would flush it.”

What could bring me to such a harsh judgment? The reasons range from seeing someone park in front of a supermarket door not 20 feet from an open parking space, to seeing one man cut another mans head off to make a point. Both actions say the same thing, “Why should I care what you think is right or wrong, when it’s obvious that my well being is important, and you are worthless.” In between those two extremes of incivility is a myriad of examples of humanity’s failure to progress since the fabled Cain killed Able.

Walk into a supermarket any day of the week and see the aisles blocked by people who seem totally unaware that others are also there to shop. Drive on a four-lane expressway and find four cars traveling side by side blocking the flow of traffic, also unaware of the long lines of cars behind them. Pick up the paper and read about the mother who kills her children because they’re just too much to handle, and the teenager who blows herself up in a crowd because life, as it is, doesn’t seem worth living.

Somewhere on a street in a major city one man is robbing another of a few dollars. Somewhere in the world one army is stealing the land from another country. Somewhere in the U. S. a child is starving, while on the other side of the globe a nation is starving. Wealthy people in the small town say, “Too bad, but I don’t believe in welfare,” and the wealthy government officials in the starving nation say, “Too bad, but you’ll have to fend for yourselves.” And, through it all, those not directly effected say, “Too bad, why doesn’t’ someone (else) do something about it?”

So, Ed and I talk. Ed and I are different in our beliefs. Ed is a Christian who firmly believes in God, and I am an agnostic who is all but positive that there is no god. Our values, however, are the same. We share a belief in the social teachings of Jesus Christ, and lament the loss of his teachings in the modern church. We disagree on the issue of whether abortion should ever be chosen as an option, but we agree that it’s a personal decision. There are other issues on which we disagree, but we talk. We respect each other, and each others’ point of view.

What’s the point? While Ed and I are talking, somewhere someone is trying to incite one group of people to act against another group of people. It’s Protestants vs. Catholics in Ireland, Muslims vs. Jews in Gaza, Evangelicals vs. homosexuals in the U.S., white supremacists vs. everyone else everywhere. The list is unending. After thousands of years, it still isn’t wrong to hate, it’s a badge of commitment to a cause, it isn’t wrong to amass wealth while others starve, it’s the capitalist way. It isn’t wrong to kill people who are just trying to live in peace and raise their children, its collateral damage. For some it’s heaven, for some it’s hell, and for most it’s just a place to live until we die. Who cares?

At this point a lot of people will jump up and say, “But I do!” with little thought about what’s really important to them. Chances are good that what’s really important is the size of their paycheck, the size of their house, the newness of their clothes, the look of their car or truck, and being seen at church. I want to be wrong, but I’ve seen little to convince me otherwise.

So, Ed and I keep talking. That last time we talked, I told him of my idea for finding people who felt the same about things as we did. I came up with a name, the Mutualist Alliance. The basic premise being that everyone born into this world has an equal right to existence.

I said that a Mutualist is someone who believes in the mutual right of humankind for food, clothing, shelter, health, and safety; has a strong desire for universal peace and goodwill; and has a high regard for the virtues of tolerance and charity. And, I said that a Mutualist would be able to carry and defend the message of humane coexistence when speaking with friends, family and others. That a Mutualist could accept that we don’t all believe in the same god and be able to at least tolerate the religion or spirituality of others. Finally I said that a Mutualist would seek out and support like-minded individuals for leadership positions in their community and country.

Then it was time for action, not talk. I prepared my website and made it possible for people to add their name to the list of people who felt as they did. I posted an article about it and I waited for the deluge of names to overcome the website server. As of today there are five names on the list. Maybe it was the article, not good enough to attract attention. Maybe I said something in the wrong way that turned people off. Maybe people considered it not worth the effort. Or just maybe people don’t care enough about what happens to someone else. I don’t know, and I don’t expect I ever will.

Ed knows. I’m sure when we talk this afternoon he’ll tell me, “I told you, Guy, it’s just the way it is.” And, I will ask again, “But, Ed, is that the way it has to be? Isn’t there something we can do?” And, Ed will say, “No, there isn’t.” Which leaves me where I started.


If I was God and Earth was Mine

I’d think about a future time

when it was clean again and free

I’d leave man out – just plant a tree.


A tree that’s tall, and straight and lean

and never get to feeling mean.

Of course there’d be no love to share,

but not one tree’d have hate to bear.


And only by an accident

would ever one small tree get bent

or broken by an errant breeze

which only meant to kiss the leaves.


No more would I watch people die

As bombs, bullets and rockets fly.

No more would I watch people steal

because they haven’t had a meal.


I gave man life and room to play

And long I’ve waited for the day

Humanity would learn to share

the gifts that I spread everywhere.


Instead thè're those who think that they

are better than the rest. They say

“Those gifts are mine!” And then they sell

the water from my gift - a well.


So is it any wonder now

I ponder how it is that how

so few have taken unto them

the earth that I gave to all men.


If I were god these things I’d feel

and in the end earth’s fate I’d seal

For I can see no other way

that earth can see a better day.

No, it’s not a happy thought, but I’m not ashamed of the conclusions I’ve drawn from the past sixty-five years. I despise capitalism for how it has elevated greed above all other human virtues, and I despise organized religion for how it has played it’s part in turning people against one another the world over. Between the two, the possibility of even the hope of peaceful and humane coexistence across the face of this planet is extremely remote.

Regardless of the poem I remain staunchly agnostic. If there is a god, there is no evidence for me to presume that god is a benevolent spirit. Maybe the Mutualist Alliance was a pipe dream better left to the smokey haze of a lost evening. Perhaps the best anyone can hope for is to find those who share their values and pray that they are not preyed upon by the rest. As for me, I will continue to write about what I see, and continue to search for like minded people. 

August 14, 2005

Thanks for checking in.  The following is a proposal for a philosophy of purpose.  My hope is to generate a community of like minded people.  Many of us have been speaking out, but few have been able to generate any constructive action, including me.  The river of change is running hard against We the people, and it's time to change it's course.  None of us can do it alone.  If what you read here is only a seed for a better way, then it has served a worthwhile purpose.  Please click on the Mutualist Alliance link at the left.

August 6, 2005

of Politics, Religion and Naiveté

Naiveté: a lack of experience, wisdom, or judgment. Experience: having had practical contact with and observation of facts or events. Wisdom: an ability to use all experience to make good judgments. Judgment: the ability to make considered decisions or form sensible opinions.

Anyone discovering naiveté in themselves usually explodes with something like “!@#$, how could I have been so stupid!”

If you have all of the facts and experience surrounding the issue, it’s a fair question. If not, don’t kick yourself too hard, especially when it comes to politics and religion. The reason is simple. Those who lead in politics and religion work night and day to keep the average citizen in a constant state of naiveté. The first method is to simply avoid a contrary truth, and the second is to maintain secrecy. When these things aren’t working, a campaign of disinformation is started. Either they tell us we just don’t have all the facts, or they give us a new, twisted version of the facts that we have.

A cynical view? Absolutely. Does it apply to each and every leader? Of course not. The problem is that after hearing the truth buried in a cacophony of disinformation who’s to say what is true or not? Trying to ascertain the truth from today’s news is a lot like trying to find a grain of white sand in a bowl of sugar. As proof I offer the letters to the editor section of any newspaper. Go ahead, read the whole section on any given day while keeping in mind what I have said.

Why talk about this today? Because this morning while reading the New York Times, I had the embarrassing opportunity to ask myself, “!@#$, how could I have been so stupid!” The first paragraph of an article by Laurie Goodstein, Published August 6, 2005, reads:

“The Presbyterian Church U.S.A. announced Friday that it would press four American corporations to stop providing military equipment and technology to Israel for use in the occupation of the Palestinian territories, and that if the companies did not comply, the church would take a vote to divest its stock in them.”

I was momentarily stunned. Why would a church have so much money that they could invest an amount so great that major corporations would fear their withdrawal of funds? Since the church is Christian, and Christ admonished his apostles to accept no more than food, clothing and shelter while spreading His word, this amassment of money seemed, for a moment, unbelievable. On further examination of my experience, however, I was only stunned by the openness of the church. I have accepted for a long time now that within the hierarch of the majority of Christian churches, the word Christian only refers to an acceptance of Christ as savior, and a truly unbelievable avoidance of any of His teachings which do not coincide with the immediate wants, needs and desires of the leadership.

As for politics, the evidence of almost all politicians’ intrinsic intent to maintain our naiveté is insurmountable. All you have to do is observe a politician trying to answer a direct question about their position on any subject. All of the devices, avoidance, secrecy, and twisted facts, are used constantly with an unabashed disdain for our intelligence.  

So the answer to the question, “!@#$, how could I have been so stupid!” is simple - someone wants it that way. But, there is a more important question that needs to be answered. Are there enough of us who don’t want to remain ignorant of the truth to make a difference in our churches and our government? It is definitely hard work to find the grain of white sand in the bowl of sugar. But, is it so hard that we won’t even try? Is it so hard that we are willing to accept a constant state of naiveté? Is it so hard that someone could say to us what the father of a friend of mine said to him? One day while my friend was trying to avoid some hard work he was told, “While you’re standing there, keep your legs spread so when the lead falls out of your backside you don’t break both your ankles.”

When it comes to politics, religion and naiveté, I’m not worried about my ankles, but I am gravely concerned about the state of our nation. I hope that you are, too.

 

August 2, 2005

    I wasn't going to post again so soon but the President made it impossible to refrain.  This is my letter to my Senators today.  You're welcome to use any and all of it to write to your Senators.

Dear Senator Allen and Senator Warner,

The Presidents’ appointment of John Bolton during the congressional recess seems to me to be not only a slap in the face of the Senate and “We the People,” but by my reading of the constitution is obviously illegal. Section 2. Paragraph 3. reads as follows:

The President shall have power to fill up all vacancies that may happen during the recess of the Senate, buy granting commissions which shall expire at the end of their next session.

Clearly, this vacancy did not happen during the recess of the Senate. This section of the constitution was obviously put in place to allow an office to continue functioning when an unexpected vacancy occurred during the Senates recess, not one that was left open and under consideration by the Senate. It would take an obvious self serving intent to override this section for any lawyer to argue differently.

Senator Warner, I have been watching the Senate proceedings carefully, and it is obvious to me that Senator Frist has gone out of his way to minimize your effectiveness because you succeeded in blocking his drive to remove the filibuster. Even though I don’t always agree with your positions, I was disgusted beyond words as I watched it happen. Quite frankly I have been disgusted by much of what the senate has done in the past week. It appears to me that neither the Senate nor the President gives as much as a hand full of salt for “We the People.”

The reason for this letter is two fold. First, I want you to know that the sense on the street today is that the United States has the best Senate money can buy, and a President who speaks and acts much more dictatorial than presidential. Second, “We the People” are in desperate need of a greater number of champions in both houses of congress who have not only read, but believe in the Preamble of the Constitution.

Everything that follows in that document is meant to establish how those goals can be achieved. Deliberate misinterpretation of the constitution so as to provide for the good of a few over the good of the many is absolutely unacceptable.

It is my hope that my Senators of Virginia will prove to be proud examples of elected servants of “We the People,” and work to turn the tide which seems to be flowing fast and hard against us.

Most Respectfully,

August 1, 2005

Under Siege from Within

           Last week I watched helplessly as the Senate passed legislation to protect the gun industry from the people. Since the constitution was written on behalf of “We the People,” and not “We the Corporations,” this action was absurd. The congress has passed another “Fair Trade Agreement” which again is only “fair” to corporations. The impact of these agreements on “We the People” has been absolutely horrible. Each job that has been lost was not only lost to the person fired, it no longer exists for his or her children or grandchildren to move into when they need jobs. The Congress, which again per the constitution is convened to protect “We the People,” has, instead of looking out for us, picked our pockets and moved the country precipitously close to bankruptcy.

           The worst thing our government has done is go to war with Iraq. By the agreement of all nations belonging to the United Nations, attacking another country for the purpose of changing its leadership or government is the absolute worst crime that a nation can commit. None-the-less, our government, in the name of “We the People,” has engaged in an unlawful war, a war of aggression totally unsupported by any requirement of defense.

           During the past five years it seems that almost every day something which I once believed was an absolute right by virtue of being a citizen of the United States has been challenged. I thought it was an absolute right to challenge a federal election and have all of the votes recounted to ensure that the correct person took office. I was wrong. I believed it was an absolute right that any person could present a bill, or an amendment to a bill, through their Senator or Representative. Again, I was wrong. I believed that the separation of church and state was a given - another absolute right - not to be subject to the dogma of a faith to which I did not subscribe. In that, I was absolutely wrong. While our government seems to have trained legislative weapons of mass destruction on our own society, we are turning our weapons on ourselves.

           Our individual civil rights, at least what I thought once were unassailable, inalienable rights, are being attacked by religious zealots, who, unfortunately, believe deep in their hearts that they are the chosen people. Their foundation for action is that simply because they believe, they are more righteous in their pursuits than the rest of us. They know, according to them, that they will experience the “Rapture,” and the rest of us will be relegated to an existence in hell. In schools across the country they are attacking reason with superstition. Today I read in the New York Times that proponents of a bible class in high school have professed that, ". . . documented research through NASA" backs the biblical account of the sun standing still. And, some folks believe it! And, the only reason they can do it is because the rest of us believe in the freedom of the individual to express themselves. It puts those of us who put functioning on intellect ahead of functioning of faith in a seriously handicapped position. Our adversaries have no such belief in individual rights, so they can attack our views without compunction.

           I’m over it. There is no way I want anyone in any school to teach my grandchildren that the earth was made in six days, that the sun is motionless in the heavens, and some invisible creature fashioned the first man out of a hand full of clay, and then fashioned woman from his rib so she could serve him. It is time to engage this group of fanatics from within and speak out to those who would deny the intelligence of man. Some would say that it is already too late, too late to get the congress back to the business of serving “We the People,” too late to stop killing people in Iraq, and too late to stop the relentless attack on civil rights and personal liberties from the religious fanatics. If you believe that it is too late, then it is true. I, for one, do not accept that this internal struggle against superstition is over. I will not accept defeat until I can no longer fight; the education, intellect and sensibilities of my grandchildren require it.

July 28, 2005

          I think the best way to describe the last two days in the Senate is to say that William Shakespeare could not have contrived a greater farce. Under debate has been Bill S 397, introduced by Senator Frist, and characterized by 90 of the nations leading law professors from our most prestigious law schools as nothing less than an immunity for the gun industry and its distribution network from prosecution for negligence and misconduct. That’s sad, but it’s not a farce. What is farcical is the approach taken to defend the bill.

          Between Senator Sessions of Alabama, and Senator Craig of Idaho, I don’t know which gave the better performance. With a straight face, these men, these Honorable men, stood up and talked about how gun crime was going down due to enhanced enforcement, and suggested that anyone in opposition to the bill was out of touch with the average gun owner. But the bill has nothing to do with either of these things, it has to do with eliminating the public’s right to sue a negligent manufacturer, distributor or seller if the guns were subsequently used in a crime. It does nothing for anyone except those groups, and does so by taking away a victim’s right to seek redress for negligence or even knowing misconduct if that conduct doesn’t break an existing law.

          Watching those opposed to the bill, both democrat and republican, speak directly to the wording and resultant impact of the legislation was well worth the time. They stayed on the point and gave real examples of the effect of the law on cases now under consideration in the courts, which would be thrown out because the bill as submitted is retroactive. They also listed and described those cases already settled which would not have been allowed to be heard in court under the proposed legislation.

          The apologists for the bill might as well have begun with, “"The time has come," the walrus said. . .” considering that they spoke of unverified costs to the gun industry for frivolous suits, and how these suits were going to devastate the gun industry in the U.S., again without any substantiation. That this bill is the product of the NRA lobby is painfully evident. That those speaking of behalf of the bill are afraid to look at it up close and personal is also painfully evident. That, under the current republican leadership, we have the best Senate money can buy, is intuitively obvious to the casual observer.

          If you live in a state with a Senator who is backing this legislation, call them. Call them anything you like, but call them.

 

July 26, 2005

Since we went into Iraq, I have been one of those who firmly believed that we had to finish what we started.

My reasons were simple, we broke it and we ought to fix it. But the obvious sad truth is that we cannot control the growth of cruel and vicious acts which have been unleashed.

It has taken a long time, and a lot of really bad stuff to happen in order for me to come to my senses. What many others have understood for a long time now is that every day we are in Iraq we give more people an excuse to be the worst they can be.

It’s time for us to bring home the troops, quit stirring the pot, and very humbly ask the entire world for their help.

July 24, 2005

Pandora’s Box

         The Sequel

A long, long time ago, when the ancient gods decided that man needed a companion, they created the beautiful Pandora. Not wanting to give man a gift too pure, they instilled in her a great curiosity. One day, so the story goes, she finds herself in a room with a box which she was told not to open. The men, trusting her not to bother with the box, left her alone while they went out to enjoy the beautiful spring day. Unfortunately, overcome by curiosity, Pandora opened the box which spewed out insects somewhat like moths, each with a different pestilence or disease which they spread over mankind.

Having closed the box quickly, Pandora had held inside one more spirit, who cried out to be set free. After some hesitation, Pandora opened the box a second time and out came hope, who began to ease the pains of pestilence and disease.. In the end, although mankind had pestilence and disease to deal with, they had hope for a better future.

And so it was through the many ages of man, until now. It was several years ago now that Georgie was growing up. He was a bit selfish, a bit wild, a bit lacking in conscience, but he grew anyway. He was daring and tried everything at least once, until it came to be that his obsession with himself and his use of drugs and alcohol began to turn off even his friends. That’s when he met Billy.

Now Billy was just the opposite of Georgie. Billy had made his way in the world by helping people and showing them how to get along, and teaching them about his god, Jesus, and being Saved. He explained things to Georgie, and Georgie decided that he too needed to be Saved. He followed the teachings of Billy, quit drinking and using drugs, and felt the glow of being Saved. People began to really like him and he became a person of great power. But, they didn’t know that he hadn’t really been Saved.

Like Pandora, Georgie was given a box, and told by his father not to open it. He was told that there were bad things in there and he should leave them alone. But, Georgie hadn’t gotten over being a bit spoiled, and besides, he knew better than his father, anyway. And, Georgie’s box wasn’t a real box anyway. It was a country called Iraq. Well, since Georgie couldn’t open it by himself, he used an army. But, unlike the men around Pandora, the people swarmed around Georgie in great numbers to tell him to leave the box alone. Unfortunately, Georgie was only Georgie and he couldn’t listen if he wanted to, because if he did listen to someone else he would look weak.

And Georgie would not look weak. Besides, he’d been Saved and he could do no wrong. So, he sent his army and destroyed the buildings and the water supply, and the electricity grids, and the schools, and the medical facilities, and the police stations. The bad things just couldn’t remain hidden anymore.

So, out into the street they poured. Hate, Meanness, Cruelty, Perversion, Greed, and every other malformed virtue of the human soul spread around the world faster than Noah’s flood. This time there was nothing new in the box to help relieve the suffering. And, the new diseases are infectious and insidious. Even Billie's friends are taken in, and Cruelty is fought with Cruelty, Meanness fought with Meanness, Hate countered with more Hate, and innocent people die. And, innocent people die.

And, the only thing left uncorrupted today is hope.

But, is hope strong enough today to grow in the meager soil that remains, while innocent people die?

Only if people really want it to be so.

 

July 20, 2005

Yesterday I went to Richmond and gave my speech. It was received well by the public, but that wasn’t really important. I arrived early, and listened to the part of the meeting that was held before the public had a chance to speak. By the time it was my turn at the podium it was apparent, to me anyway, that what I had to say someone else had already said, and the committee had listened.

There were, of course, opposite opinions expressed from the podium, including the person from Maryland who was in complete charge of the Maryland voting system. Her almost under her breath comment as she stepped down, in response to a question from the committee about a paper trail, was “Over my dead body,” or words to that effect.

None-the-less, when I left, I felt good - not about having said my piece - but about having seen for myself that the committee has taken the issue of the need for a paper trail very seriously. I saw the unexpected - a bipartisan group who didn’t appear to have made up their minds prior to gathering information and making decisions about the need to have a paper trail in Virginia. It gives me hope that there are some in government who aren’t just toeing the party line, but are really interested in protecting the rights and respecting the sensibilities of all of us.

Today is a better day.

 

July 18, 2005

I have just gotten off the phone after confirming my time to speak to the Virginia Legislature's Subcommittee on Voting Machines.  For me, writing is much easier than speaking, so I hope my voice won't break, crack, flutter, or do any of the other things it has been known to do under similar circumstances.

Here is the text of my speech.

Joint Subcommittee (of the Virginia Legislature) to Study the Certification, Performance and Deployment of Voting Equipment

Ladies and Gentlemen:

I have not driven here today to tell you how to do your job, nor tell you which voting machines to recommend, nor what the display should look like. What I am here to tell you is what I, and without exaggeration everyone I know, believes you should keep in mind while you do what you have been convened to do. I am carrying a message for all of my family, friends and acquaintances. That message is this: Preserve our democratic republic.

Why should I drive all this way to say something so obvious? Because, what I am hearing and reading today, and what I have seen in the past five years gives me cause for alarm. With every questionable outcome of the voting process anywhere in the country, the word democratic in democratic republic seems to be fading away. The word democracy has only one simple meaning. “We the People,” vote for those who will serve in the Republic. Our right to vote means more than just showing up at the polls. It means that our votes must be recorded exactly as intended, and counted exactly as cast. That is the essence of democracy.

The first time I heard about a voting machine that did not produce a paper trail and was not subject to recount I was astonished that any elected official would condone such a practice. As I watched the process play out in the courts I was alarmed at the state of our nation. After seeing what has happened in other states I am angered and appalled at the blatant and abject disregard some elected officials have displayed for “We the People.”

There are two absolutes if there is to be faith in our ability to vote properly and to be sure that the proper person takes office.

 1.       Every voting machine must display the voter’s choice prior to being cast.

2.       Every voting machine must produce a verifiable paper trail subject to recount.

I have heard that corporations who make the machines tell us that their code is proprietary and therefore can not be checked by a government employee. And, oh by the way, the machine can not make mistakes. Well if that is true then I must believe that every case of improper recording that has now been verified by US Counts Votes was not a mistake, but an intentional change due to the machine code. So what is true? Is it a mistake, or are we being taken on a sleigh ride. The answer to this question is not important. That the question can be asked is extremely important.

Then I have to ask myself a question. “ Just how stupid do they think we are out here anyway?” And, again, no matter what the answer, it is unconscionable that we should allow a major corporation which stands to benefit from the results of an election tell us that its code is proprietary and voting machines do not require a paper trail. The idea is mind boggling.

In conclusion, I will say again that I did not come here to tell you how to do your job, but simply to ask you to keep these thing in mind while you do it. “We the People” expect our elected representatives to serve in our interest, and to do absolutely everything possible to preserve our democratic republic.

Respectfully,

July 12, 2005

As most of you know, Virginia Beach has, for me anyway, the dubious distinction of being the home of Pat Robertson's Regent University. That translates into a lot of press for the religious conservative element. Because of that, I find myself thinking a lot about how new found religious values have made their way into politics. What those values are based on continues to be a mystery to me, and I send a lot of stuff to the Virginian-Pilot, our local but widely read newspaper, which is a bit argumentative. Yesterday I submitted another article which I expect won't get printed. None-the-less, I’m really getting tired of all that “I’m holier than you are” crap, and it needs to be said.

Here’s the article as it was submitted.

Once again in the news I find reference to “People of Faith,” meaning Christian. One thing is certain, if everyone followed Christ’s teachings we would be a much better society than we are. His primary rule for living a good life is “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” He also said “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” and “Do not judge lest you yourself be judged.” Millions of people profess to be Christians; followers of Jesus Christ. That’s the good news.

Unfortunately, churches formed to advance his teachings very often disregard his words in favor of some prior prophet when the words of Christ are hard to follow. There are many examples, and each one of them starts with someone’s personal feeling about what is right or wrong or, what is good or evil, and ends with a frantic search for a biblical verse to justify the feeling of the moment. But, wait a minute. If the Christian belief is that of the Holy Trinity then it must be believed that Christ is GOD.

So how is it that His words are being superseded by those of Leviticus or any other previous prophet? In truth they can’t be - all the words in the Bible are not equal. If we search the bible, we can find justification for going to war, capital punishment, denouncing homosexuals, killing abortion doctors, and any number of other antisocial behaviors. However, these justifications are never found, and in fact they are contradicted, in the words of Jesus Christ.

The article ended there for purely political reasons - I wanted at least a chance of being in print.  However, every time I hear some evangelical Christian, such as Jerry Falwell or Pat Roberson, say that the bible was written by God, and everything in it is true, I get nauseous.

July 10, 2005

Mr. President, 

I read again this morning that you are taking a position against an Oregon law which grants a right to die for people suffering from painful and untreatable conditions. Where, in the Constitution of the United States are you granted that power? Where in the constitution does it indicate, even remotely, that you should have anything at all to do with issues so far from the normal activities of government? President of the United States is an awesome job, but it is still just a job. It has a job description and compensation, and the position is ultimately accountable to the people and the Congress of the United States. The job description does not provide for absolute authority over anything but the military.

Twice now I have heard you swear an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States. As a Marine I once swore an oath to defend my country from anyone who would attack it. It would seem, on the surface, that we are on the same side. Unfortunately, we are not. During my 64 years I never dreamed that our constitution would ever be threatened by my President. I am no longer a Marine, and my weapons are only words, but I must defend my country.

Mr. President, you have professed to be a man of faith. That is an admirable thing. Anyone who lives by the Ten Commandments is sure to pass unnoticed except for the good that they do. Unfortunately, based on what I have seen in the past five years, I do not believe your faith is more important to you than your desire to rule.

The laws of the United States only cover four of the Ten Commandments, and by what I have seen, Mr. President, it does not seem to bother you to ignore at least three of those four.

Thou shalt not kill. The civilian death toll during your watch has been atrocious.

Thou shalt not steal. Maybe its semantics, but reducing social programs for the poor while giving tax cuts to the rich seem an awfully lot like stealing to me.

Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor. What you said was reason for war was simply not true. In fact from here it looks a lot like a premeditated lie.

There is a fourth commandment which you appear to ignore. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor’s. If it wasn’t for WMD’s, and Saddam had no ability to attack us, why did you insist on war? The only possible reason is that there was something in Iraq that you wanted, or you wanted to ensure the continuance of our military based economy. Either way this last commandment seems to escape your attention.

I wish that were all, but it’s not. Mr. President, by your words you have encouraged hatred in our society. By choosing one group of people to be unworthy of the rights and privileges of the rest of us based on some archaic religious pronouncement you have taken a so called religious position which cannot be attributed to Jesus Christ. In fact it is contrary to His teachings of mercy, compassion, and non-judgment of others. This, added to your obvious disdain for at least four of the Ten Commandments makes it difficult to understand how you can call yourself Christian. In the end, however, we elected a president nothing more. Please, sir, get on with the job as it is described in your contract.

 Respectfully,


Guy Sturino, a citizen - not a subject - of the United States.

 

 

July 8, 2005

This is an open letter to

Senators Boxer, Clinton, Kennedy, Kerry, and Reid.

Congresspersons Conyers, Scott, Pelosi.

Copy to: Howard Dean

 I know that all of you are extremely busy, and I sincerely appreciate all that you do for the 99% of us who are not one of the “have mores” that President Bush referred to in his last campaign. I also realize that getting things done in a congress controlled by republicans is more than a daunting task. Having said that, there is one single issue which I believe must be addressed with all of the strength of the democratic party before the end of this year. That issue is our voting system.

There are a good many people who have come to the conclusion that, if all the votes properly tallied, Al Gore would have won in 2000, Max Cleland would still be in office, John Kerry would have won in 2004, and who know how many other races would have turned out differently. The statistical evidence continues to mount and to point directly at voting machines without a paper trail, or machines which do not verify the voters choice prior to being cast.

Please, if nothing else goes our way this year, please, do everything you can to require by law that, in order of importance,

1.       Every voting machine produces a verifiable paper trail.

2.       Every voting machine displays the voter’s choice prior to being cast.

3.       Voting day is a national holiday to ensure that no one is disenfranchised because they have to make a living.

4.       No state official may be a party chairman and also hold responsibility for the voting process.


It is unconscionable that a major corporation which stands to benefit from the results of an election can tell us that its code is proprietary and that paper trails are unnecessary. Just how stupid do they think we are out here anyway?

If we are to restore faith in the electoral process, and ensure that ‘democracy’ is not just a word equivalent in strength to the English ‘monarchy’, we must take it out of the hands of corporations. By passing legislation which covers all four, the first three, the first two, or even just the first one of the listed conditions, the people of the United States will have won a major victory in the fight to maintain our democracy.

Corporations have already made substantial inroads into negating the congress and relegating it to the position of a rubber stamp for a corporation controlled administration. Failure in the effort to take back our power of election will result not only in a lack of interest in the process by those citizens who think seriously about our government, but also the continued growth of corporate strength in running our country.

Again I ask that you please make this your highest priority for the rest of this year.

Respectfully,

July 1, 2005 (second post)

          I was taking a shower, preparing to work in the yard, when I heard the Hornet fly over. Not an unusual occurrence, but the words “Sound of Freedom” flashed in my mind. Then I thought, no, the sound of death. Now, before you begin to think “here comes another crying liberal,” you should know that I believe the most important task for any nation is to “provide for the common defense.” I believe that a strong military is absolutely necessary in order to further peaceful relations with other countries. Not to bully them, but to insure that we are not bullied. I would like our military to be thought of as a sleeping giant who no one would dare waken.

          Back to the “Sound of freedom.” This phrase was constructed to gloss over the real use of the weapon. Make no mistake, it is just a very expensive weapon. One designed to kill. Whether we are democrat or republican, moderate Christian, Jew, Muslim, or a moderate of any other religion, I believe that most of us feel strongly that killing is a last resort of self defense. The jets I listen to are practicing for redeployment in Iraq. They are practicing to kill. And not in the defense of our freedom, because the only threat today is from terrorists. Terrorists, if we allow, can make us afraid to go outside, but not stop exercising any other right of freedom.

          In fact, the last time our sleeping giant was wakened to defend our freedom was on December 7, 1941, when we were attacked by the Japanese. Since waking up, unfortunately, it has been difficult to get him back to sleep. Our giant has meandered around the world much like a bull in a china shop ever since. The problem is that those who want war are very good a making up slogans like “Sound of Freedom.” Words which mute the intellect and turn the emotional volume higher than the jets themselves. It is one way to keep us from thinking. The other is to refuse us the information with which to make sound decisions.

          During the past several years there has been an attack on our freedom. Not from without, but from within. The strength of democracy is an informed electorate. The Freedom of Information Act has been all but reversed legislatively by enacting bureaucratic rules for even asking for information. This should bother, or more accurately alarm, all of us, again regardless of party or religion. But, I bet you didn’t even know that. I wonder why.

          The next time you hear the phrase “Sound of Freedom,” don’t think about the noise, picture the aircraft dropping a bomb on a building without the pilot knowing who is inside. Think about what you believe about killing being the last resort in self defense. Think about what it means to be an American. And, think about how to get the giant back to sleep.

 

July 1, 2005

Yesterday on Cspan I watched Senator Byron Dorgan deliver a clear and concise argument, complete with historical evidence, that showed beyond any doubt what the past free trade agreements had done to our middle class. Speaking against CAFTA he demonstrated graphically, with government data, the number of jobs lost, the effect on balance of trade, and the overall effect on the ownership of the U.S. dollar. In addition, he described how the information he used from earlier free trade agreements was no longer available in a form which could be properly evaluated by the Senate.

You might think that the facts would be hard to ignore, but somehow the Republican party, forever the champion of corporate interest, managed to do just that and spit in our eye once more.

I did the only thing I could.

I donated to Bob Caseys campaign against Rick Santorum.

I donated to the DNC.

I donated to Hillary Clinton's campaign.

I am sending this paragraph to my senators, Allen and Warner.

 

Also, here are a couple links to truthout articles. The first is a clear explanation of how the corporations came to have so much power. The second is a good example of how, even if you watch Cspan on a regular basis, the Senate can sneak in some disastrous legislation.

The Supremacy of the Super-Citizen
By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

http://www.truthout.org/docs_2005/063005X.shtml

When China Owns Our Utilities
By Lynn N. Hargis
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

http://www.truthout.org/docs_2005/063005Y.shtml

 

June 15, 2005

Politics 

politics >pl. n. [usu. treated as sing.] 1 the activities associated with the governance of a country or area. ->a particular set of political beliefs or principles. 2 activities aimed at improving someone's status within an organization: office politics. 3 the principles relating to or inherent in a sphere or activity, especially when concerned with power and status: the politics of gender 

political >adj. 1 of or relating to the government or public affairs of a country. ->interested in or active in politics. 2 chiefly derogatory done or acting in the interests of status within an organization rather than on principle.

            And people wonder why it’s so hard to get a point across. It’s not the primary definition that’s the problem, but rather the listeners inability to separate and hold the secondary and tertiary nuances aside while trying to absorb what’s being said. Or, maybe it’s just that the listener isn’t clear about which definition is intended. Of course, it’s not just the word ‘politics’, but it makes the point.

            Anyway, in all my previous writing I have tried to tackle one problem or another within the framework of today’s political climate. This time it’s different. I’m going to start from the beginning – the very beginning.

            Several thousand years ago humans made their appearance on earth. We can argue about whether we were created by a god as is, were coaxed out of the ooze to develop or evolve per some plan, or were just a lucky mix of chemicals in a salt bath that evolved on our own, but we are here. If we are ever going to make it as a civilization we better get used to the idea that everyone has an opinion, but no one has proof. Get over it.

            Now, who owns this place? Obviously, in the beginning either no one did or we all did. Then, I surmise, folks decided that some things, like the ground we stand or sleep on, can’t really be shared, and some form of stewardship was agreed on. From there, with a little bit of greed, all hell broke loose. The most powerful took control of places and things, the good ones shared some, the bad ones didn’t. Some folks got enough to eat, some didn’t. Some folks had a place to live, some didn’t. Some lived, some died. Some cared, some didn’t. Which are you?

            Back to ownership. I believe that the earth and all it’s resources belongs equally to all members of the human race. And, that claims made in the past of ownership of natural resources were enforced by power alone and not worthy of continuance. No human being has the right to horde resources while any other person is without food, clothing or shelter. This business of “I worked for what I have, let the beggars do the same”, doesn’t hold water as long as anyone who wants to work can’t. There’s only so much to do, and way too many people for all of them to be doing it at the same time. If we’re really civilized, we’ll share. Are you? – civilized?

            Civilized. Now there’s a word we should talk about. 1 [usu. as adj. civilized] bring to an advanced stage of social development. 2 [as adj. civilized] polite and good-mannered. The problem is that we probably have different opinions about what an advanced stage of social development is. Truthfully, neither of these definitions is what I think of when I say civilized. I need another word. What I mean is living together in peace and harmony, striving for the betterment of all, caring for the weak while cheering on the strong, respecting others views and striving for consensus – or at least peaceful and mutual agreement to hold different opinions. For now let me refer to this state as ‘humane coexistence’. One more thing – we need to do this because we know it’s the right thing to do, not because of a message from god or an order from on high somewhere, but just because it’s right.

           I will never see the world in a condition of ‘humane coexistence’, and neither will anyone reading this today. Although rarely spoken of openly, I think that everyone who takes the time to consider the human condition eventually will come to the same conclusion. Every day newspapers, radio and TV news are filled with evidence of humanities failure to attain even a semblance of ‘humane coexistence’. The primary cause of this failure is the desire of an individual or group to possess and control something or someone. The lack of, and desire for, possession or control of people or things is the primary cause of just about every antisocial or uncivilized act committed by an individual or group. The obvious exception to this condition are acts committed by those unfortunate individuals lacking the reasoning power to know and understand the difference. The earliest inhabitants of North America, the Aborigines of Australia, and a few other ancient cultures attained a high level of civilization, but were overcome by more technically advanced, and, unfortunately, barbarian cultures.

           Although a product of a technically advanced barbarian culture himself, Karl Marx, initially on the right track, became ensnared by the same tendencies he was attempting to combat. Most of the major organized religions, beginning by teaching the brotherhood of man, have either preceded or followed Karl Marks by succumbing to the same desire to possess or control. The result, in all cases, has been rampant brutality. The alternative is simple, straight forward, and unattainable without the advent of some phenomenally outrageous disruption of the status quo. Maybe that is why a few of us read about the predictions made by various prophets of doom and, usually secretly, wish them to be correct about a coming clean slate. They look forward to having a new, undefiled book in which to record new laws of civilization.

            As of today there are approximately 110 people per square mile of land surface, or about 5.8 acres each. Unfortunately, only 30% of the land is arable, but it’s still enough to feed everyone -- for now.   What are your thoughts?

 

June 02, 2005

Turn up the radio and TV. Listen to the sound of greed. Get an earful of the Neocon propaganda machine. All this noise because the people of Europe don’t want the rampant uncontrolled capitalism of the U.S. corrupting the more civilized form of controlled capitalism they fought hard to establish. Primarily a mainland European creation, a sharing of the wealth to insure a safe and secure population is under attack. As in the U.S., it is big business and the wealthiest individuals who want an end to the social programs which require them to share. Deriding “Welfare” programs as too costly to continue, they insist on taking from the poorest to benefit the richest.

Sound familiar? It should. Fortunately, the Europeans have a better chance to succeed in keeping greed from destroying their hard won gains in retirement and healthcare. The difference is that in Europe it’s harder to convince the working class that they are really a part of the upper class. We, unfortunately, have barely middle class voters who insist on identifying with the wealthy, and support issues which deny the poor even a modest level of security. I suppose the reason lies in their hope of getting there some day, but to vote with miserly intent when there is nothing to protect is beyond my understanding.

If I could have my way, I would claim all natural resources in the name of humankind. All the gold, diamonds, iron, copper, oil, everything which is as natural as being born. Wouldn’t that throw a wrench in the works? I think someday it will happen. Civilization can’t elude us forever. Until then, however, the best we can do is insist that those fortunate enough to control these resources share as much as possible. The people of Europe are doing it, and its high time we join them.                                                        

 

May 02, 2005

A question of liberal bias:  this from the New York Times this morning:

“The Republican chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting [Kenneth Y. Tomlinson] is aggressively pressing public television to correct what he and other conservatives consider liberal bias, prompting some public broadcasting leaders - including the chief executive of PBS - to object that his actions pose a threat to editorial independence.”

If you listen to PBS regularly, you’ve probably noticed a slightly less probative style on the part of the interviewing reporters, a new, however slight, willingness to accept convoluted answers assumedly meant to distract from the intent of the question. I have noticed this particularly on call-in shows where there is a screening process for listeners questions. In the past I haven’t been likely to call in because someone usually asked the question I had in mind. Now, I don’t hear the question, and have yet to make it to the air when I call it in.

Mr. Tomlinson seems to think there is a liberal bias - his word for leaning toward the Democratic Party. The truth is that there can be no “liberal” bias, because being liberal is a condition not a sensibility, a condition of being free from constraint. The basic idea of a free press is “liberal”, and when it works reporters ask questions until the respondent answers the question that was asked, not the one they wanted to hear. In the current political arena this question avoidance syndrome automatically leads to a confrontational position because of the incessant ‘spin’ that keeps our minds constantly searching for equilibrium.

Mr. Tomlinson’s actions, which you can read in the article, are of grave concern to me because I have already eliminated FOX, CNN, MSNBC, ABC, NBC, and CBS from my news sources. George Orwell’s 1984 has arrived, and corporate control of news in firmly rooted in the TV media. Any resemblance to ‘truth’ is purely coincidental. For national/world news I rely on AlterNet, Common Dreams, and TruthOut on the net, the New York Times and USA Today in print, and PBS on radio

I can only hope that the Chief Executive of PBS can withstand the pressure from a politically motivated oversight committee.

March 1, 2005

Yesterday I was sort of half listening to PBS while driving, when I heard someone refer to Europe as a “Welfare State.” The combination of the words and the contemptuous tone made me listen closer. The speaker used the term again, and then the interviewer used it, in the same manner, in a question. In the next ten minutes the term “Welfare State” was used several times with the same condescending tone. Even though the speaker talked about how nice it was to be able to go to a doctor and not even get a bill for services, his contempt for a “Welfare State” was clear. When I got home, I went to the net to see if I could find a transcript of the interview and identify the participants. The program was ‘To the best of Our Knowledge’ from Wisconsin Public Radio, and the speaker was TR Reed. He has written a book called The United States of Europe, which covers a number of topics from economics to religion, and how they contrast with the United States. You can hear the program yourself at http://www.wpr.org/book/

As Mr. Reed was talking about how the Europeans were used to their socialist hand outs and six weeks of vacation each year, I began to wonder why Americans would consider this a bad thing. Here, our love of capitalism and free market has all but obliterated the European concept of ‘nobles oblige’, or the obligations of the rich, to the point that far too many Americans would rather watch their fellow citizens die of starvation or serious health disorders than consider socialist economic reforms.

This exercise in comprehension took me back to a time when social programs aimed at protecting the health and welfare of Americans were flourishing, a time when looking out for the welfare of all was seen as a good thing. Unfortunately, that is not all that was happening. I started school in an industrial town in Wisconsin in 1945. World War II was over, and there were no enemies on the immediate horizon. By the time I reached high school, however, we had found another enemy, Communism, and it served as the antitheses for democracy as we were taught the functions and methods of government. The name Karl Marx became synonymous with everything bad in the world, and democracy was everything right. What we were not taught, and as I look back I do not believe the teachers even made the connection, is that communism is not the antitheses of democracy, but rather the antitheses of capitalism. What we wound up being taught, through an extremely powerful subliminal message, is that democracy, a form of government, is synonymous with capitalism, a system of economics. The only place where this is absolute is in the United States, and it permeates every aspect of our lives.

The heart of capitalism is the ‘free market’ society where the price of commodities is based on ‘supply and demand’ which is a euphemism for ‘whatever the market will bear’. The most insidious teacher of this sentiment is the board game Monopoly. We learn very early that to amass money at the expense of our friends is a good thing. So if it’s good to take from our friends, it’s probably even better to take from strangers. In order to win at Monopoly, all the other players must be out of money, and we don’t even consider the idea of more than one ‘winner’. For those who don’t have anything left at the end of the game, well that’s just their hard luck. Is it surprising then that our brand of capitalism is synonymous with greed? Is it surprising that even the poor kids raised playing Monopoly become adults not willing to share through a system of taxation which would insure a reasonable quality of life for everyone?

Maybe this is the reason so many have contempt for a ‘Welfare State’. They won’t even call it by it’s proper name, an ‘Enlightened Socialist Society’, which is what it’s called in Europe. I wonder how far this love for money will take us. Will we really eliminate Social Security? Will we really eliminate Medicare and Medicaid? If so, what’s next. What will we do about the hungry unemployed? Where will we drive our cars when the jobs are gone and the streets are packed with homeless? Absurd you say? Maybe everyone should take some time to wonder.

January 25, 2005

This article was submitted to The Virginian-Pilot and New York Times.

A little heart to gut conversation.

Let’s be honest, folks, the word ‘marriage’ is being used as an emotional battle cry for those who suffer revulsion at the sight of, or even the thought of, two men or two women loving each other enough to share a life. It is no different than the explosiveness of seeing a mixed race couple not too long ago – and many have not gotten over that hurdle yet. The word ‘marriage’ can be replaced by many other words with the same connotation. If it were only the word being protected, for some purely emotional, knee-jerk reaction, it probably wouldn’t be much of a deal at all.

The truth is that it is not the word but the relationship that is being challenged. And for what? How does the fact that a same sex couple lives down the street impact how you live? Not at all – except for the learned, gut wrenching revulsion some feel at the thought of it. If the church decided not to marry gays and they simply went to the court house and filed a civil union contract, and were accorded the same rights and privileges as any other common law or court sanctioned union, they would still be persecuted by the ‘righteous’ gay bashers. 

Are you thinking, “That’s just not true!”? Think again.

Right now a coalition of holier-than-thou fanatics, called the Arlington Group, is trying to hold the government hostage to their demand for a constitutional amendment to prohibit gay marriage by not supporting Social Security reform until they get their way. What they want is not just a prohibition on the use of a descriptive word, but a prohibition on granting same sex couples equal rights under the law – so that even if a state, or an employer, or an insurance company wanted to recognize the union, they could not. This isn’t holiness, it’s hatefulness.

Instead of “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” leaders of faith are preaching prejudice, bigotry, and hatred. Is it because that’s what they believe, or is it because it’s what their followers believe, and so it can be used to unite the faithful and increase their own importance? If you think what they are doing is wrong, let your priest, minister, pastor, rabbi or spiritual leader know about it. Do something in the spirit of universal brotherhood that reflects what you believe in your heart – even if your gut doesn’t like it.

January 13, 2005

   I've heard that the first thing you have to do to get out of a hole is to quit digging.  I did that, but letting go of the shovel to start climbing turned out to be an even harder thing to do.  No, I'm not talking just about myself.  I've been fuming over the election results -- not the re-election of Bush as much as the self flagellation of the Democratic Party.
    Our leadership has been tricked again by the Republican Party spokespersons and the media into thinking that there is something wrong with our  basic position on the issues.  The truth is that we have been done in by a political machine that makes the Chicago and New York political machines of the past look like child's play.
    As I've said before, the values of the Democratic Party are the basis of a free and open society which takes pains to provide the the best possible personal life for the greatest number of people.  The election was lost by 3,000,000 votes, about one and one half percent.  Can someone please explain to me why this constitutes a reason to reassess our fundamental values?    We simply failed to convince enough people to look beyond prejudice and bigotry long enough to vote in support of a progressive national movement to improve the quality of life for everyone.
    If The Democratic Party had been as effective at demonizing prejudice and bigotry as the Republican Party was in demonizing "Liberal" we would have won.  If we spend the next four years making religiously condoned prejudice as openly shameful as it is inwardly hateful we will win.  But it takes guts.  It means not being silent when someone we otherwise respect voices hateful opinions, even if it will damage a relationship.

December 10, 2004

 

An open letter to the Democratic National Committee

 

         There is absolutely nothing wrong with the goals and ideals of the Democratic party. We are a very diverse group of people who strive for the best solution for the most people all of the time. In the process we talk to a lot of people, do a lot of research, and even change our minds in the face of new information. The only problem we have is overcoming who we are when it comes to defending ourselves against an onslaught of negative comments.

         There is an old engineering saying; the definition of a camel is that a camel is a horse designed by a committee. Our camel is our public persona. Unlike the camel, with one hump or two, our persona has more bumps than a garden toad. This is expected and nothing to be ashamed of, on the contrary it’s something to be proud of – but we do need a common, single sentence argument, and a common, single sentence rebuttal when faced with an opportunity to speak in public. The republicans have this down pat.

         During the course of the campaign it was impossible not to notice that all of the republicans, whether from California, Texas, Iowa, or North Carolina, all had the same message. Whether that message was “Saddam was part of 9/11,”or “Kerry is a flip-flopper,” the message was carried by every representative of the republican party, and they never missed an opportunity to state the message. More than anything else, it was this single minded approach that said to the American public, “This is who we are,” and the public said “I know.”

         Since the day after the election, the republicans have been saying that the democratic party is in disarray – that it needs new direction. It’s being repeated so often that the democrats are being taken in. Before its over, if we don’t put an end to it, we will be in such disarray that we won’t be able to mount a consensus if our lives depend on it. (Which, it seems to me, is exactly what they want.) We need, in the Democratic National Committee, someone who can draft our common message and common response at the moment it is needed. We need to disseminate that message or response quickly. We need have the support of all factions of our party to participate in getting those sound bites out to the media.

         There is one more thing that we need. We need a canned response to the barrage of off the topic, adolescent level put downs that the republicans have become so good at spitting out. A republican today called John and Theresa Kerry the millionaire from Massachusetts with the Gypsy wife, and the democrat who responded ignored the insult. That is unacceptable. We need a quick one-liner that responds to all comments of this type. A one-liner that points out the adolescence of the speaker and the republican party line. A one-liner which will make others want to disassociate themselves from the speaker. I’m not a psychologist, and I have not been able to come up with a suggestion, but I do know that in the democratic party there is someone who can. That is our strength – our ability to talk with, mix with, learn from, and lean on each other when necessary.

         So, in my opinion, what we need for the future is to be who we are, but to add a common theme to tie together our inherent diversity. Maybe it’s as simple as “Democrats stand against bigotry of all kinds,” but it probably needs to be more. Whatever it is it needs to become a mantra, one that can be at the heart of our goals and aspirations. We can’t let people say that they don’t know who we are or what we stand for anymore.

December 8, 2004

         How many times have you heard the question, usually put to democrats in a partisan exchange, “Do you think that the world would be better off if Saddam was still in power?” And, the hapless target of the question says, “Of course not.” Does anyone else ever wonder if thinking has gone out of style? Saddam was a ruthless dictator who used chemical weapons against the Kurds, but, is the answer really, “Of course not.” I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am one who thinks that America should be ashamed, not proud, of what has been done in Iraq.

         Saddam killed 12,000 Kurds, and we have, either directly or indirectly, caused the death of nearly ten times that number. As I watch the news and see the utter destruction of homes and businesses in Baghdad , Falusia, and other areas, I recall pictures of London after the blitzkrieg. I am appalled at what we have done and continue to do. Yet the apologists continue to spin a yarn of history, and the American public, with their silence, continue weave it into the cloth of perceived reality.

          And that’s just in Iraq. What about the bombing of the trains in Spain? What about the recent bombing in Jeddah? How many other terrorist attacks have been carried out, in Iraq and around the world, by militants who didn’t exist as militants before the invasion of Iraq?

          Each day that the war continues; each bomb that kills more civilians; each time that I read about the physical abuse of prisoners; I take less comfort in knowing that I didn’t vote for the party in charge. Today I feel shame. A shame that stems more from what did not happen that what did. I did not protest strong enough. I was too busy to go to Washington, D.C. to march. I wrote a few letters, but not enough, and not to the right people. I am not content to wallow in my shame, wring my hands, and chant, “It’s out of my control!” It’s not. I still have my anger. I still have a voice. I still have a local newspaper. I still have my website.  

         In two short years we will again elect all the members of the House and a third of the Senate. Will we continue to elect those who support continued aggression on the part of our country and in our name? I hope not, but hope is not enough. The remaining questions are: (1) will the newspaper print my outrage? (2) do you share my outrage enough to write a letter?; and (3) will you pass this on to others who will share my outrage and write letters of their own?

         If only wishing could make it so.

September 18, 2004

Is there a Christian in the house?

           I am not an economist, just a college graduate with a course in economics and 45 years over the age of contractual right. As a truck driver, die caster, machinist, engineer, quality manager and quality director in multi-billion dollar corporations, I have seen how money is produced and where it goes. The truth is that money is only produced when there is an occurrence of something called ‘value added’.

             Few people want to do nothing but work and sleep, but many people are satisfied with adding just enough value to a raw material in order to exchange it for a sufficient amount of money to provide food, clothing, shelter and a comfortable and enjoyable leisure period between work and sleep. If everyone involved in the exchange process were satisfied with this arrangement, they would all enjoy the fruits of their labor.

            However, since the more money one has, the more things that person can acquire, many others are not content until they have acquired more money than they could spend in a lifetime. Unfortunately for them, there aren’t enough hours in the day for an individual to add sufficient value to anything which would provide for this level of ambition. So, what’s that person to do?

The solution is obvious. If a person has control of a necessary resource, say water, they could then ask a price for it far beyond its intrinsic value. They could, for example require all the iron a miner can dig in a day for enough water to keep him alive for a day.

            This is a greatly oversimplified expression of a highly complex situation. However, history tells us that, however unkind, this scenario has played itself out over and over again. So much so, that most people believe it is a fundamental principle of existence. Our economists call it supply and demand. It has created the have’s and the have not’s. The aristocracy and the proletariat. The corporation and the worker. Economists tell us that we have a ‘trickle down’ economy. The truth is that we have a ‘suck it up’ economy which keeps the worker in debt to the company store.

            Our corporations today are the ultimate expression of the greedy individual, pricing their products to extract the most currency from the market as they possibly can. I was once told, by the president of an international, multimillion dollar corporation, that there was absolutely no connection between cost of manufacture and price of the product. Price was strictly the result of ‘whatever the market will bear’. By another individual in the same corporation, I was told that after we had extracted all the cost saving ideas we could from the workers, the next step was to reduce our labor cost.  

            In a recent speech, President Bush said that the rich don’t want to pay taxes, that’s why they have lawyers and accountants. For those with money, this condition is perfectly ok. For those without money it is disastrous. Some in America get drunk on champaign while others are literally starving to death, and the only difference between the two is the happenstance of birth.

            Our country is about 90% “Christian” based on census. However, based on the leadership we have elected, and the obvious level of indifference to the condition of so many, Christianity is not being practiced, by the majority of Christians, outside the walls of the churches. Certainly, it is not reflected in the actions of our leaders, who extort the glories of corporate profits and turn a blind eye to destitute individuals. They will tell you to your face that those without money simply don’t want to work for it. But, remember, what you know in your heart, the difference between the two, again, is simply the happenstance of birth.

            Since all the money that the corporations have was generated by the labor of the working class, it’s truly a time for change. It’s time to elect a leader who recognizes the value of labor as well as the value of capital. We need a president who will moderate the upward flow of wealth such that those who produce it can benefit from it. This, I believe, is consistent with the very basic Christian definition of brotherhood.

            Today we have another opportunity to choose our leaders.

            Today we have another chance to make a difference.

            Today it is time to decide if we are, in fact, a Christian nation, and, if so, take action based on brotherhood and not on greed. Always keep in mind, the happenstance of birth. 

September 2, 2004:  Sent to USA Today.

What I experienced watching the Republican convention was truly heartbreaking. When Senator Zell Miller shouted that God is on our side and was greeted with a stirring round of applause I knew that Bin Laden had accomplished his first objective. He has divided our country. Nearly half of the American people seem to be willing to fight the war on terror as a religious war. But, that is only the beginning. When religious fervor begins to burn in the human heart the basic essence of compassion is the first to boil off. As the fire burns hotter it begins to engulf the mind and drives us to identify the infidels, the others, anyone who is not the same.

Certainly, all of the targets of religious fervor existed before September 11, 2001, but attacks on those targets were held in check, for many people, by social norms, and the constitution. Now we have engaged the enemy on his terms, and in the absence of a visible target many have turned their rage on their comrades in arms in the war on terror. In the name of religion it’s ok to bash gays, in the name of religion it’s ok to insist that a mother die to protect an unborn child, and, if your religious enough, it’s ok to lie and vilify a.political opponent in order to win an election..

In my 64 years of experience I have never seen our country so divided. Even what I have read about the divisiveness of the Civil War pales in the face of today’s bitter exchanges between individuals. The war on terror does not frighten me, no matter who is president, I know we will win, but what we may be when the war is over scares me to death.

However, while we are focused on the war on terror, our present government is waging war on us. If, however unlikely, the constitution is amended to disenfranchise gays, and religious zealots in judges robes are appointed to the Supreme Court, our country, as we know it, will not survive.

Rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights have already been reinterpreted to deny their application. Our treasury has been depleted and we now are poised to have the value of our currency dictated by our debt to other nations. Labor laws protecting our work force have already been assailed, while at the same time our great grandchildren are being born into indebtedness to other nations. So great is the pending monetary disaster that if action is not taken now the American middle class will be little more than indentured servants to a moneyed aristocracy in the form of corporations.

If you value your freedom and the freedom of others;

If you want your children to have leisure as well as food, clothing and shelter;

If you want America - and not corporations - to lead the world;

today you only have one choice.

The Bush administration must be replaced NOW.