Monday, May 25, 2009


This blog is less than two months old. In that time I have written about a number of subjects of interest to me and which need progressive input. It is my hope that as you read these pieces they will make you think. It is not the purpose of this enterprise to convince you to agree with me or to indoctrinate you. I hope to spark both thought and thoughtful discussion. This is intended to be a dialogue; and I hope you will add your thoughts and comments when something I write strikes you one way or the other. This is also a place where I hope the information and perspective will give you some tools to take these issues and arguments back to your home, school, or workplace and add to any discussions taking place there as well. The corporate media is decidedly Regressive and not a good source of progressive thought or reflection. This blog is an attempt to balance some of that with thought and reasoning that you might not get from many other media sources.

To that end, I thought I would update a few subjects already posted to this blog. I wrote about the need to legalize drugs. This is a subject that evokes a lot of emotion; as people worry about easy access to drugs hooking more and more people, particularly young people. The movement to legalize drugs has been seen in the past as a fringe movement made up of burned out sixties hippies and the odd Libertarian or two. However, that began to change with the growth of the medical marijuana movement and the passage of laws in a number of states legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes. When the Obama administration announced that they would no longer raid medical marijuana clubs; that was another good step. Since I called for the legalization of all drugs, and made the case for the revenues government could accrue through the taxation of legal drugs, something fascinating has happened. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has publicly stated that legalizing marijuana in the state of California might be a good idea. The Republican governor cited the fact that the state could receive between one to two billion dollars in tax revenues at a time when it is facing a financial crisis. Who'd a thunk it? The governor was serious; and when the story received news coverage, the idea was not laughed at or giggled about or dismissed as the ranting of some wacko. The irony is that the Governor did not go far enough. Not only would the state receive billions in tax revenue, but it would also see law enforcement costs drop dramatically. The millions spent on anti-marijuana campaigns in Northern California (CAMP programs) could be saved and used elsewhere. The cost of prisons and prison guards would drop since a large percentage of people in California prisons are there on possession and sale charges, with marijuana being the most prominent drug used and sold. Local police and District Attorneys would have more money to prosecute real crime and reduce local budgets or ease the pressure from cities and counties in the state for more revenue sharing. The Governor is right. There is no downside to legalizing marijuana unless you want to argue that use will increase. That is certainly probable; but if marijuana use increased but alcohol use decreased (which studies have shown is a probable outcome), would that be a bad thing?

On this space I made a plea for the California Supreme Court to overturn Proposition 8 as unconstitutional. Proposition 8 outlaws same sex marriages. Proposition 8 singles out gays and lesbians for discrimination without being able to show what compelling interest the state has in singling them out for the loss of this right. Since I wrote that, extraordinary events have occurred. In the heartland of America, Iowa, the state Supreme Court declared the ban on same sex marriage to be unconstitutional; and couples, gay and lesbian, will now be able to legally marry. In Maine, the state legislature passed a bill to legalize same sex marriage. The governor, a Democrat, was on record as opposing gay marriage and in favor of civil unions. He had said that marriage should be preserved for a man and a woman. However, when faced with the reality of a law legalizing same sex marriage, Governor Baldacci signed the bill into law. While that was occurring, in Washington DC an emotional drama was playing out in which the city council, despite emotion-charged attacks from local evangelical black church leaders, voted to legalize gay marriage and to recognize the marriages of gay and lesbian couples married in other states. This measure will now go to the Congress which is responsible for approving all laws passed in the District. Stay tuned for that debate because it ought to be a doozy. What is clear is that the momentum is clearly swinging towards the approval of gay marriage throughout this nation. If the California Supreme Court does not overturn Proposition 8, there is already a movement to put another initiative on the ballot to legalize it in the state. Given the momentum current events are causing, it is not unreasonable to foresee California voters approving such an initiative.

I also wrote about the controversy surrounding the invitation by the University of Notre Dame to President Obama to speak at this years Commencement exercises. On Saturday, May 9th, New York Times columnist Peter Steinfels wrote a column on the same subject. He wrote about the "civil war which appears to be breaking out in the American Catholic Church over the issues of abortion, the role of Catholic Universities, and how the Church should respond to politicians who disagree with stands the Church takes on moral issues." Steinfels quotes one American Bishop who declares "...we are at war with those who oppose us", and who claimed that people who were pro-choice were tools of Satan. I will write one of these days about why I don't believe a case can be made for the existence of Satan; but for now lets just all agree that that is an example of some over-heated rhetoric. Steinfels refers to a number of polls in which American Catholics, by a good margin, agree with the decision to invite Obama to Notre Dame; as well as a poll of graduating seniors who also, by a majority, want to hear what the President has to say. I told you about these polls and how the American Catholic hierarchy is out of step with their own people. The one point that Steinfels missed, but that you can read here, is the blatant hypocrisy of the stance by Church leaders who wish to make abortion a moral litmus test for American Catholics and Catholic politicians while ignoring or downplaying issues like the death penalty, poverty, hunger, nuclear weapons, or promulgation of illegal and immoral wars.

I admit that a little of this is tooting my own horn; however, I also worked to update you and show that this space is going to be a place where the issues discussed will be both timely and important in your life and the life of this nation. I will never ask you to agree with me. I will ask you to read and think and comment and create a place where progressive thought can be tested by the heat of the market place of ideas and see if it can take the heat. What do you think? I welcome your comments and rebuttals. Please send them to

A Taxing Dilemma

When my children began working to earn extra money, I remember vividly a scene which was repeated with each of them. They would get their first paycheck and open the envelope with great anticipation only to be crestfallen when it didn't add up to what they thought they were going to earn. "Who and what is this FICA and what happened to all the money I earned? I was supposed to get more than this." It was at this point that we sat down to have "the talk". This wasn't about the birds and the bees, but just as sensitive and contentious. We talked about taxes, Social Security, and Medicare; and we talked about citizenship and responsibility. We explored the necessary evil that taxes are, and the idea that everyone paid their fair share as part of the bargain for sharing in all that this country represents. We talked about patriotism and shared pain as well as shared vision. They didn't like it. They wanted all their earned money; but at least they understood the principle behind the imposition of taxes.

To this day I still hate paying taxes. I hate even more that I don't like how my taxes are used. Regressives scream loud and often about their taxes going to projects they don't like, television they don't watch, and human decisions (like contraception or abortion) that they don't support. I scream loud and often about my taxes going to illegal or immoral wars, immoral institutions like the Pentagon, or to fund torture and illegal spying. Yet, despite all our screaming, most Americans pay their taxes. Most pay, but not all.

This week President Obama proposed closing tax loop holes that allow American corporations to hide their profits outside of this country, and thus avoid paying taxes on the money they earn. The figure are staggering. It is part of Obama's promise to end tax breaks for companies that send jobs overseas. The President claims, according to the New York Times, closing these tax breaks for multi-national corporations and wealthy individuals would save $210 billion over the next ten years, and help to pay for tax cuts for middle class Americans.

This seems like a no-brainer to me. My children, your children, all of us have to pay our taxes. Should we try to hide some income or even innocently declare deductions that can be questioned, we face the wrath of the IRS. Is there a government agency more feared or reviled than the IRS? They will hunt you down and take your first born child, if necessary, to make sure you pay your fair share. To get a letter from the IRS is to feel a chill run down your spine before you even open it. Yet, now we find out that everyone from General Electric to Pfizer to Citibank have stashed billions in profits offshore in tax havens like the Caymen Islands to avoid paying billions in taxes. The President says that this should stop and they should pay their fair share. No-brainer, right? Wrong! These corporations employ an army of lobbyists. They are already screaming about raising taxes during a depression (despite the fact that these proposals won't take effect until 2011). If we are still in a depression then, many of these companies won't have profits to tax.

How bad is this abuse? The average American middle class family pays approximately 25 % to 30% of their income to a combination of income and payroll taxes. For some families or individuals that percentage can climb to 35%. The top corporate tax rate is supposed to be 35%. However, according to the Treasury Department, in 2004 (the most recent year available), American corporations paid $16 billion in taxes which translates to a top tax rate of 2.3%. Imagine for just a moment if you only had to pay 2.3% of your income in taxes. Imagine how much more money you would have. Imagine how much easier that would be. Imagine how it would feel when April 15th rolled around. They made $700 billion and paid $16 billion in taxes. No wonder they will fight the President tooth and nail to stop him. As for the wealthy, Warren Buffet has said on more than one occasion that his Administrative Assistant pays a higher percentage of her income in taxes than he does. The Swiss are finally admitting that they have been allowing rich Americans to hide their wealth in Swiss banks to avoid taxes. The Caymen Islands are another favorite place to hide wealth. According to the Times, there is one address in the Caymen Islands that"houses" over 18,000 corporations.

So why are experts predicting a fight that the President might lose? Do you mean to tell me that members of Congress will vote to protect these corporations while letting the average American live in fear of the IRS? Do you believe that American voters will look the other way while their Representatives protect corporate profits at their expense? Who among you would vote for someone who protects corporations and wealthy individuals at your expense? Which members of Congress will stand and defend Exxon, Chevron, and Goldman Sachs against Joe the plumber and main street America? Yet, commentator after commentator says that the President has a tough fight ahead; and that the corporations could prevail and continue to hide profits from the Treasury.

Our tax system has been getting less and less progressive over the last forty to fifty years. Starting with President Kennedy, the wealthy have seen their tax rates steadily drop from a high of 90% to an effective rate of 15-17%, and even lower for some. At the same time, the effective tax rates for the middle class have risen. The idea that those who make the most should also pay the most is no longer operative in this country. Don't be fooled by the argument that the rich pay most of the taxes. The question is what percentage of their wealth do they pay in taxes, and that number has never been lower. If you isolate just the richest 1% of Americans, they have seen their wealth increase and their tax rates decrease dramatically over a generation.

If the corporations can beat back the President's attempt to restore some fairness to the tax system, if they can prevent him from punishing them for taking jobs overseas and getting tax breaks for doing it, if the American people allow members of Congress to kneel before the corporate royalty at their own expense; then this experiment in democracy is doomed.

This is one of many fights that this President has to win. He will win it only if armies of average Americans storm the hall of Congress and rout the forces of corporate America. Don't expect any help from the corporate media. Rupert Murdoch, Clear Channel, and NBC (owned by General Electric) all like things the way they are. You won't see much coverage; and what you do see will demonize the President and his supporters as un-American socialists who want to stifle the patriotic corporations. The rich will be represented by millionaires like Limbaugh, Hannity, and O'Reilly. You can already make their arguments against this idea before they voice them. Only you can rise up and help the President and yourselves. The question remaining is, will you? What do you think? I welcome your comments and rebuttals. Please send them to

How Very Un-Liberal of Me

At one point in this nation's history, police and fire departments were entirely composed of white men. I am not talking ancient history here. As recently as the 1970's, African Americans, Hispanics, Asians and women were filing lawsuit after lawsuit against these departments in city after city alleging discrimination in hiring practices. They were right of course. These had been closed shops from which they had been excluded and this wrong had to be corrected. It was. Today these same departments contain members from all these groups and the closed shop is no more. This is a good thing and I am all for it. However, along the way something else happened which I have opposed consistently all my adult life. I have supported the idea that all Americans should have equal opportunity. However, this idea has been turned on it's head into a proposition that minority groups don't just deserve equal opportunity, but also equal results.

Using Title 7 of the Civil Rights Act as their cudgel, African American, Hispanic, female and other minorities have sued and have pushed for the idea that whenever a civil service test is administered, in which whites and minorities participate; if the minorities do not perform as well as the white applicants, the test is de facto discriminatory. If ten whites, ten African Americans, and ten women take a test; and eight white applicants pass, but only five African American and two women pass, the test is "in fact" discriminatory. It doesn't matter why. Even if the minority applicants didn't study or deliberately performed poorly, it did not matter. The test had to be thrown out or they would sue.

The Supreme Court just heard the case of white firefighters in New Haven, Connecticut, who took a promotional exam for lieutenant. The white firefighters scored better than the African American or Hispanic applicants, and secured the most spots for promotion. (Despite published reports, there were Hispanics and African Americans who had been promoted too.) The city of New Haven threw the test out and promoted no one because of fear of a lawsuit from African American firefighters who would not be promoted. A number of white firefighters sued; and the Supreme Court heard oral arguments about whether or not this was reverse discrimination. It is reverse discrimination; and the Court should rule that way.

Some of you may be shocked that a progressive like myself would side with the white firefighters; but it is precisely because I am progressive that I do side with them. Every person has the right to equal opportunity. No one has the right to equal results or outcome.

In San Francisco, this theory of equal results has been taken to extremes. When a test is given, the top finisher may not get a job or promotion. The city will look at a "band" of applicants(say the top twenty); and from that band they can take anyone. In a test for lieutenant or captain, they choose the 20th best person and deny a promotion to the top performer. They could take the 100th best performer and ignore numbers 1-99. Imagine a firefighter coming to your home who was number 100 on the list versus number one; and ask yourself if that makes any sense.

The results, in a city like San Francisco, is a department where height requirements, strength requirements, fire science requirements, and on the job expertise have been diluted or weakened so that more minorities can be hired. Thus, firefighters are hired who are not tall enough or strong enough to pull ladder off a truck to fight a fire. Valuable minutes are lost. In a city where the houses are very close together, a delay of minutes can be disastrous. A former fire chief told me of female firefighters who could not handle the saw that is used to vent roofs on a structure fire. Even worse was the promoting of inexperienced minority firefighters to officer positions where they directed other firefighters into dangerous situations. Years ago, at the Geneva Towers, an inexperienced officer led firefighters to an apartment fire, did not read the situation correctly, and ordered a door broken down. The resulting back draft critically injured a number of the firefighters.

No one argues that the test given in New Haven was unfair, prejudiced, or that it gave some advantage to white applicants. They argue that because minority applicants did not perform as well as whites, the test must be "de facto" discriminatory and thrown out. In essence, any test in which whites perform better is illegal. They want equal opportunity and equal results; and that is wrong.

A number of years ago, a controversy arose over the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. The complaint was that there were not enough minority members. It turned out that auditions for he symphony were "blind". In other words, the judges had no idea who was playing because the person auditioning sat behind a screen. In order to increase the number of minority members the solution was simple...remove the screen.

The Supreme Court needs to uphold the legality of equal opportunity. Minority and female applicants have to be given all the help they can. Classes, tutoring, etc. should be offered. Strength training and conditioning classes should be offered. In New Haven they were told what books the questions would come from. However, the moment the door closes and the tests are opened, everyone should be on their own. Let the chips fall where they may. There is nothing immoral or illegal about someone outperforming someone else on a test. Jim Crow is not reinforced if a white applicant out-performs an African American; and feminism has not been harmed if a male out-performs a female. As long as it can be shown that everyone had an equal chance, that the playing field is level, we should be comfortable with the results. No one is claiming that the white firefighters in New Haven had an advantage. No one is claiming they cheated or received special treatment. No one is claiming minorities were given a different exam and did not have the opportunity to study. The city threw out the test because some applicants did not perform as well as others, and federal law would have allowed them to sue; so the city abdicated and dumped the test.

The Court should rule that all Americans deserve equal opportunity, but no American deserves a guarantee of equal results. Such a definition would be the definition of Progress. What do you think? I welcome your comments and rebuttals. Please send them to

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Fail Safe

The federal government is releasing the results of it's stress test of banks. It is a computer simulation to see if the banks have enough cash reserves to weather an even deeper economic crisis than the nation is experiencing at the moment. Nineteen banks are being tested; and many will be told that they must raise additional capital. These include famous names like Bank of America and Wells Fargo. The Obama administration has said it will not allow any of these banks to fail; so the possibility of more bailout funds going to thee institutions lurks over the entire exercise.

The question I have is, what would happen if the government were to give us a stress test and would we be allowed to fail? With unemployment approaching 10%, home prices continuing to fall, foreclosures up, credit markets paralyzed, state budgets in shambles, and more and more families under water; this would seem to be an ideal time to administer a national stress test and see if we can handle things getting worse or even if we can continue to tread water until conditions improve.

Home prices in Phoenix have dropped over 50% since the economy started to melt down. A national study shows between 20-40% of homeowners "underwater", meaning that they are in danger of losing their homes. Homeowners are reporting that when they try to communicate with the banks holding their mortgages, no one will return calls or write back when queried.

Because of all the problems in the housing market, furniture industry business is down as much as 40% inn some parts of the country, with many companies and sole proprietors having to close stores and lay off workers to try to survive. This sounds pretty stressful to me. We know the government says it won't let the banks fail; they won't let them get too stressed. But, what about us? The Senate last week had a chance to pass legislation that would have allowed a bankruptcy judge to require lenders to modify home loans, reduce interest payments, extend the terms of loans, even reduce the principal if necessary to keep a family in their house. This was legislation that President Obama was said to champion. It could help thousands of working Americans stay in their homes. It would have kept them from failing. The Democratic dominated Senate couldn't find 60 votes. They couldn't muster 50 votes. They barely managed to find 45 votes for this legislation, so it failed. Published reports say the Obama Administration did not put any pressure on lawmakers to pass the bill, even though the President said it was an important piece of the home mortgage solution. Democrats, like Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska, voted against the bill because of fears that it could cause interest rates to rise if banks had to reconfigure a lot of these loans. Opponents said that this legislation would lead to a rise in bankruptcy filings by people trying to save their homes. (No, really? Gosh, how un-American to want to keep your home!) Senator Nelson was outraged that his interest rates might rise in order to "bail out" homeowners who shouldn't have been given a loan to begin with. He was not going to vote to reward such bad behavior. Apparently, fifty-one of his colleagues agreed because the legislation failed.

I wish you could see how much my pen is quaking from the anger, outrage, and incredulity I am feeling right now. I wish the printed word allowed more emotion to seep through so you could share in the disgust this fosters within me. The average American is a hamster in a wheel, a workhorse, a minion, a cog, in the great machine that is the United States; and we can lose our jobs, homes, and livelihoods etc. We can fail in any number of ways; and that is just the cost of doing business. We shouldn't have been given those loans. We should have been scrutinized more thoroughly. We should have known better. Our bad behavior cannot be rewarded. We need to learn an important lesson to live within our means; and to remember that if it's too good to be true, it probably isn't. We need to be more fiscally responsible. Senator Nelson explained that he voted "No" because he didn't want "someone" to cram down their interest rate or principal, and raise his interest rates in favor of those who should not have gotten a loan to begin with. He wasn't going to reward their profligate behavior. It would send a bad message to reward such scofflaws. Are you picking up a theme yet?

Is there anything rising off the paper as you read this? Can you smell it? The whiff of hypocrisy and double standards fill the rarified air of Capital Hill. The Senate and House passed a bailout bill for banks and insurance companies worth over $700 billion in a span of a few weeks. They have given billions of dollars to everyone from AIG to Citicorp and Bank of America. They couldn't move fast enough to shore them up after discovering behavior that would cause a Mafia Don to blush. These companies, wearing $5000 Armani ski masks, robbed, cheated, stole and pilfered trillions of dollars, while making the people running them millionaires and perhaps billionaires. They took the world into a global financial meltdown and passed out billions of taxpayer dollars to the very architects of this international crime. But when given a chance to help average working Americans keep their homes, stabilize their families, and relieve the unbelievable stress that comes from losing their home; only 45 Senators could find the will or spine to push the "Yes" button. The rest were too worried about rewarding bad behavior or letting some irresponsible borrowers off the hook.

I apologize for my shortcomings as a writer because I cannot come up with the appropriate vocabulary to adequately express my anger and embarrassment at the hypocrisy of this action in the Senate. It is also troubling that the Obama Administration apparently did nothing to try and pass the proposal to help average working Americans.

By the way,this is just the beginning. In the months to come, there will be more stress tests for us; and I don't predict much relief. High School juniors and seniors will soon be discovering that there is no money to help fund their college educations. Financial aid is stressed to the breaking point and families are scrambling to find ways to pay for their children's education. Will there be a bailout to help them so their children do not fail? Obama wants to end the program of government guaranteed student loans and have the government lend directly to families. It will save billions of dollars that could be used for college. However, the banks that have made billions from this program over the years are fighting back furiously. Who do you think will win, American families or American banks? (of course you know my position is that college should be free...for less than 10% of the bailout money, every college eligible student could go for you think that will happen?)

By the end of the year, the Obama Administration wants healthcare reform legislation passed. They have begun hearings. The one proposal which would reduce costs for the average family and average small business would be a single-payer plan which eliminates private insurers and guarantees universal coverage. Health insurance companies do not contribute anything to healthcare. They simply pass through the money while taking their share. They stop good healthcare from being administered if it gets too costly. Yet, not a single advocate for single-payer was invited to testify at any of these hearings. Once again, the best solution for the American family fails under the pressure of these paragons of morality and sensitivity, the health insurance companies.

If most of us were given a stress test right now, we would fail. Blood pressure across this nation is at an all time high. Sleepless nights are the norm for most of us (unless we run a bank). Will we be allowed to fail? What do you think? I welcome your comments and rebuttals. Please send them to

Justice Souter and the Supreme Court

The leak was like a thunderclap across the cable television's landscape. United States Supreme Court Justice David Souter informed President Obama that he intended to retire as of June of this year. The timing is designed to give the President the time to name, and get confirmed, a replacement who would be in place for the new session on the first Monday in October. Souter, 69, is said to be tired of Washington, DC, and wishes to return home.

Thank God that Barack Obama is the President of the United States and not John McCain. McCain. McCain had said he would appoint justices of similar outlook and temperament to Justice Antonin Scalia; and the result would have been the overturning of Roe vs. Wade among other contentious issues the court would handle. Who sits on the Supreme Court effects every American; and that effect can last 20-30 years depending on the age of the appointee. Yet, in poll after poll, Americans rarely have the issue of the Supreme Court even in the top ten issues they care about when voting for President.

I tried to interest people in the issue of the Supreme Court during he race between President George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry. For months I railed about what would happen if Bush won. Iraq was nowhere near as important an issue as who Bush might appoint to Supreme Court vacancies should he win. Questions about Presidential power, illegal spying and wiretapping, torture, illegal search and seizure were all going to come to the court and yet it was nearly impossible to get Americans to focus on the court as an election issue. Polls showed that in 2004, the issue of the Supreme Court was not even in the top 20 for most voters. It was beyond frustrating to face such apathy or disinterest among the electorate.

With Souter's announcement, the President has the opportunity to add a new member to the court who will maintain the current status quo and, if young enough, outlast some of the regressive justices appointed by Republican presidents over the years. In 2004, the re-elected President Bush was given two chances to put his stamp on the court for years to come. He did not fail to move the court in a more regressive direction. He appointed Justices Alito and Roberts; and with these choices widened the ideological gulf on the court. With Roberts as Chief Justice, and by replacing centrist Sandra Day O'Connor with a regressive ideologue; the President ended up with a pro-business, anti-consumer, anti-regulation, and constitutionally suspect majority to protect Republican gains even as the nation rejects much of the party's ideologies in election after election. Now Obama must do the same thing. It's time for progress.

The President says he wants the new Justice to be a person of empathy. He wants someone who knows how hard it is to raise a family, save money, keep a job,and live in a world where many times you feel powerless and discriminated against. Immediately, Republican Senator Orin Hatch condemned Obama's comments and called "empathy" a codeword for appointing an "activist" judge. Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy responded to Senator Hatch that the Court is already packed with activists that Senator Hatch loves because "they are regressive like he is."

For those of you that voted and rejoiced over the election of Barack Obama, now you will get to see if your faith in him is well placed. One of Obama's tendencies in office so far has been to avoid controversy when he can and give the appearance of someone seeking consensus at all times. This is not the Obama we need on this issue. This is not the time for moderation or consensus. Neither Alito nor Roberts are moderate; nor did George Bush care about consensus. He shoved through their nominations with the acquiescence of many weak and frightened Democrats. Obama cannot allow himself to be pushed or prodded or cajoled into seeking a consensus nominee. He needs to choose a Progressive. He must pick someone who reads the Constitution as a living, breathing document, rather than one frozen in time in 1788.

This is time for political hardball. This is the time to use some political capital to get a nominee who will add Obama's stamp to the court. This is the time for the President to let it be known that he will brook no dissension in the ranks. Every Democrat has to understand that this is one of "those" votes. Yes, it would be nice to get some Republican votes to confirm whoever the President nominates; but it's not necessary nor is it valuable enough to derail a good nominee. As for the nominees themselves, he or she (and it would be good to appoint another woman to the court) should follow the pattern of recent nominees when they appear before the Judiciary Committee for confirmation hearings. When asked their opinion on issues like abortion, school prayer, torture, illegal wiretapping or stem cell research, etc.; they should respond exactly like Alito and Roberts did during their confirmation hearings by saying nothing. They can remind senators that they may be required to rule on many of these subjects in the coming years; and they don't wish to pre-judge the issues at the moment. They can respond that they really haven't given a lot of thought to these issues up to now (a famous response given by a regressive nominee when asked about a woman's right to choose, and yes, he was confirmed anyway). Obama's nominee can respond to contentious questions by promising to "keep an open mind and look at all sides of the issue", knowing full well that they already have made up their minds; but there is no reason to share these thoughts at this time. In other words, the nominee should duck, bob, and weave through the minefield of questions, and if pressed for specifics; remind Senator Hatch and his regressive colleagues that they are getting the exact same responses to their questions that proved perfectly acceptable from nominees of their same ilk.

I would love to see the President nominate a brilliant thinker, accomplished writer, and a person possessing great oratorical skills. I hope he nominates someone passionate about the law. We need a nominee who believes in the Bill of Rights, particularly a strong proponent of the Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure. (kidnapping, rendition, national security letters, illegal spying and wiretapping anyone?)

One group the president should avoid is anymore Catholic nominees. The Regressive wing of the court is made up entirely of Catholics. Scalia, Thomas, Alito, and Roberts are all Catholic. Anthony Kennedy, a frequent swing vote with the Regressives, is also Catholic. Surely the President can find someone to nominate who doesn't look to Rome for guidance. (Remember these are Catholics from the Torquemada wing of the Church...for them the Pope speaks directly to and for God.) Maybe it is time for our first atheist on the court. Would an atheist be any less wise or knowledgeable as a theist?

Once again there will be great noise and thunder from regressive radio about how the President must nominate someone who represents all the people. The corporate media will also pressure the President not to appoint anyone pro-labor or who believes in the legality of government regulation. The US Chamber of Commerce and the business lobby will call for someone who respects the free market; while the social regressives will demand a nominee who is anti-gay, anti-choice, and in favor of Christmas displays in the town square. The President needs to receive pressure from you to fulfill his promise of a nation that is open to all and a government that protects the weak and vulnerable from the powerful and rapacious. You have to create such pressure that he cannot backslide even a little. Will you? What do you think? I welcome your comments and rebuttals. Please send them to

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Obama vs. the Church

Is there a difference between the University of Notre Dame and Liberty University? How about the difference between the University of Santa Clara and Bob Jones University, or can you distinguish between Fordham University and Oral Roberts? Which schools would you want to send your child to, and what would be your expectation of the kind of education they would receive? Do parents want their college-age children "educated" or "indoctrinated"? This question is not purely an academic exercise; as it is at the core of dispute between officials of the Roman Catholic Church, Notre Dame, and the Obama administration. At issue is the invitation that Notre Dame gave o President Obama to give the commencement address at this year's graduation ceremonies, and the honorary degree which will be conferred upon him. Some bishops and Catholics including Notre Dame alumni from the Torquemada wing of the Church are outraged that the invitation was proffered. They site Obama's position on abortion (he thinks a woman should control her own reproductive life) and stem cell research (he is in favor of federal research dollars going to explore the possible benefits of using stem cells from fetuses which would possibly be destroyed or frozen forever). Obama also wants to reduce the number of abortions in this country through the use of better contraception and better sex education, both positions the Church finds objectionable. Because of these policy differences, they have been pressing Notre Dame to rescind the invitation and not allow the President to speak. They argue that Notre Dame is a Catholic University, and therefore must adhere to Catholic teachings and cannot give the appearance of honoring or approving moral positions that the Church opposes. Thus the questions at the beginning, what kind of a school is Notre Dame and what kind of school do we want it to be? Is it to be an education of all peoples and beliefs an open market place of ideas where all sides of an issue can be explored, a place that teaches critical thinking; or is it a place where students go to be indoctrinated in their faith, given one position to hold and not others, a place where critical thinking gives way to fundamentalism, a place where you check your brain in at the door and pick up your crayons? The Church finds itself in the unique position of being opposed by the majority of it's own adherents. Recent polls show that the majority of Catholics disagree with the Church's positions on abortion, stem cell research, contraception, married clergy, female clergy, and sex education. In fact, Catholics are more liberal on these issues than their Protestant contemporaries according to Pew Research Poll. The Church also finds itself out of step with it's members in the role of the Catholic University. American Catholics do not believe that great universities like Notre Dame should indoctrinate their children, but rather educate them. Higher education should prepare them for the future, rather than point them to a by-gone era of intellectual despotism. Many Catholics agree with President Obama that reducing the need for an abortion is a good moral goal, while preserving a woman's right to control her own life. The Church also opens itself to the charge of hypocrisy on these issues. The American Catholic Bishops declared the war in Iraq to be immoral and that it did not fit into the "just war theory". As many as one million innocent Iraqis have been killed, many of them pregnant women and children. The use of torture in Iraq, at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay in Cuba has been declared immoral by the Church. The use of illegal chemical weapons against civilian populations(like the use of white phosphorous on the population of Fallujah) is another immoral act condemned by the Church. Yet, despite all of those condemnations, the American Bishops have never criticized or sanctioned a single American politician for their support and active participation in the funding of and prosecution of that war. Further, Pope John Paul II declared the death penalty to be an immoral action, as have the American Bishops; and yet again not once have they ever criticized or sanctioned an American politician for being in favor of the death penalty. New York's late Cardinal O'Connor once remarked that "men of good will can differ on some of these issues." Of course, he excluded questions about abortion from that good will. The late Cardinal Joseph Bernadine of Chicago tried to get the American Bishops to adopt the idea of the "seamless garment" of morality. He wanted the Church to take a strong stand for life in all forms. This would include opposition to abortion; but also include opposition to nuclear weapons, the death penalty, poverty, homelessness, and any other issue that denigrated human life and progress. Cardinal O'Connor led the fight to defeat Bernadine's proposal. In his mind it was morally acceptable to kill tens of thousands of innocent people in an immoral war, execute possibly innocent Americans with a lethal injection, and develop weapons which could end life as we know it on this planet as long as you don't allow a woman to have an abortion or have access to effective and affordable contraception. It is not a coincidence that a Church as out of step with its own members cannot inspire many of them to advance the interests of the Church in this country. The average age of an active priest in parishes across this nation is 60+ years old. Vocations have been a disaster for at least 20 years now. There are rumors that the American Bishops could begin importing large numbers of African priests (where there is a surplus) to serve in parishes in this country because of the lack of native clergy. Perhaps the lack of workers in the vineyard is the Holy Spirit's way of telling the Church to clean up its act and begin ministering to all of its people. One thing is clear, no one wants to send their child to a university to be indoctrinated. Catholics are proud of the tradition of intellectual rigor at their universities; and President Obama will be received like a rock star when he stands in front of the Golden Dome to present a message of hope to graduates about to enter a scary world. What do you think? I welcome your comments and rebuttals. Please send them to

Four Questions

In the tradition of the New York Times, and since the President chose to take a four part question in his national news conference, the same four questions should be answered by Obama supporters as an indicator of how they feel about his presidency so far. So the question to you, or questions, are what are you most surprised, troubled, enchanted and humbled by so far in the Obama administration? I will answer for myself and then hope more people will add their list so that we can get feel for where progressive minds are at this juncture of history. I am surprised at the centrist nature of so many positions the President has taken on issues and how he dances away from controversy at every opportunity. If ever there was an example of free market capitalism failing, it is seen in the economic meltdown had by the world financial sectors. If ever there was an example of how capitalists will always be greedy and that their appetites know no bounds, it is this crisis. I once asked if there is a level of profit or wealth that is immoral; and the answer from capitalists appears to be "no". It is surprising then to see the President send hundreds of billions of dollars to shore up banks, non-banks, and hedge funds and rebuild the very institutions that started this whole mess. He says there will be new regulations and the market will not be so free anymore; but many people are concerned that the regulations will not contain enough teeth and will not be funded enough so that regulators can truly exercise oversight. Many Obama supporters are surprised that he still envisions a health care system which includes private health insurance companies. If ever a group deserves to be ushered into the dustbin of history, it has to be health insurance companies. They provide no services or care. They are simply pass-through entities who siphon off 20-30% of the premiums paid while passing the money through to your doctors. Pre-existing conditions, high-priced prescriptions, capitation fees that strangle good medical care and practice; these are all the fruits of the health insurance industry, not to mention a constant pressure to pay as little as possible when you actually get sick and need the coverage. President Obama appears to envision a health care reform that continues to allow them to exist; and that is surprising. There are many areas where an Obama supporter can be troubled. Start off with his open-ended commitment to the war in Afghanistan. It feels like he was stampeded into this course of action and without a lot of due diligence. As of today, there is no definition of what victory would entail nor any exit strategy. The President has not asked Congress for hearings, and a vote on this commitment hasn't gone before the American people to make his case. How many more times will American presidents commit the military to a war without first getting the American people on board? Is an American soldier dying in Afghanistan more honorable than a soldier dying in Iraq? The President says water boarding is torture, but he will not prosecute the torturers. The President is defending in court the denial of legal rights to prisoners at Bagram Air Force base in Afghanistan, a continuation of Bush policy. The President opposes an investigation into the illegal spying, wiretapping, and electronic surveillance of American's email; and he has yet to issue new policies banning such practices. So far, the President has not used any of his political capital to push Congress to pass the Employee Free Choice Act; which would establish open union elections , and is vital is we want to see a rise in trade unionism in this country. Enchanted is an interesting word, and the President didn't like it much when asked to use it in his press conference. I like the word, and there are a number of actions taken by his administration that have enchanted me. The Justice Department says it will stop raiding medical marijuana clubs in states where the voters approved marijuana for medical purposes. Despite claims to believe in a new federalism and states rights, the Bush Administration was raiding and jailing operators of such clubs at an alarming rate. The President has used executive orders in enchanting ways.
he closed the prison at Guantanamo Bay within a year. He banned torture. He reversed a number of horrible Bush gifts to industry including attempting to stop coal companies from dumping the sludge and waste from mountain top mining into nearby rivers, and reversing a rule allowing people to carry guns in national parks. He ended the federal ban on stem cell research; and ended the ban on foreign aid to nations that promote birth control and abortion as part of family planning. He has started to change our policy towards Cuba and Iran, and is no longer a rubber stamp for whatever policies Israel promulgates. He released the torture memos and gives me hope that he will release more of the Bush administration's justification for un-American and illegal acts. It is enchanting to see that the President knows how to play old fashioned hard ball politics too. Despite great opposition from Republicans and some Democrats, the President put intense pressure on Senator Kent Conrad, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, to include a provision in the budget bill that would allow health care reform legislation to pass on a simple majority vote, preventing a filibuster by a minority. This was power politics at it's best. The Republicans are screaming like stuck pigs about how unfair and un-democratic this provision is, even though they used the very same tactics to pass two of the most disastrous tax cuts in American history. Finally, one cannot help but be humbled by the calm and focus of the President and his ability to stay on message. His personal popularity is high and in a span of about five months, the majority of Americans (more than 50%) believe the country is on the right track again. It is also humbling to realize how many issues still have to be addressed. Education needs new ideas and new funding. No Child Left Behind needs to be left behind. College tuition needs to be free. We have a shortage of primary care doctors; and we need a whole new generation of skilled craftsmen, artisans, carpenters, and electricians. Green industries need to be nurtured and jobs created. Immigration has to be addressed with an amnesty for those already here and a better procedure for those who want to come here. Our infrastructure is falling apart; and we are one blown transformer away from massive blackouts in many parts of this nation. Social Security and Medicare have to be reformed, and the military budget has to be drastically reduced. On top of all that, we must address global warming and a fresh water crisis worldwide that could lead to a pandemic of social unrest and massive migration of peoples ignoring national borders. The one consistent theme that seems clear in all of these issues is that we want progress. We do not want to regress or go backwards. Progress is the key to whether or not our children inherit a better environment and the hope of a better life than their parents. It is no longer left or right. It is Progressive policies vs. Regressive retrenchment. I opt for progress. What do you think? I welcome your comments and rebuttals. Please send them to

Friday, May 15, 2009

100 Days

The first one hundred days of a Presidency has become one of the earliest measurements of how well a new President is doing in office. The tradition comes from the amazing first one hundred days of the Franklin Roosevelt Presidency when he introduced a dizzying set of legislative proposals that laid the foundation for his fight against the Depression and ushered in a New Deal for both the Presidency and the nation. One hundred days has become shorthand for " he doing anything? How is he doing? Does he know what he is doing? Does he have any idea? Do we have hope?...etc." It is an artificial and arbitrary measurement for which scholars are totally mixed in their opinions as to whether what happens in these first hundred days sets the agenda for the rest of a Presidential term. Be that as it may, you will hear nothing but talk from radio and TV about the first one hundred days of the Obama Administration and those doing the opining will divine, from the first hundred days tea leaves, everything from the future of the economic health of this nation to the success the U.S. will have in Iraq and Afghanistan and how history will judge Obama in his tenure. These are some pretty powerful leaves if I say so myself. So, being the sheep and lemming that I am, I will wade into the leaves and attempt to assess how well our President is doing and the implications for the future of our nation and the world. I also invite you to add your thoughts to this unscientific and totally subjective measurement, so that together we can get a sense where this nation is headed under this new administration. In every resume guide, job advice column or during employment counseling, prospective employees are told that first impressions matter a great deal. So what kind of first impression do we get of the President from one hundred days of performance? The best way to answer that is from the President's own mouth. At a nationally televised press conference, the President was asked why he had not commented quickly when he heard about the bonuses AIG was paying some of it's executives after receiving federal bailout money. The President responded "...I like to know what I am talking about before I speak." How refreshing to have a President who doesn't say "...bring 'em on" or "...we will get them dead or alive". Or how about "Mission Accomplished"? The impression that this President presents so far is that of a man who thought about what he wished to do as President and is doing it. He did not expect the economic meltdown left to him by his predecessor to be as deep and serious as it is; but he clearly has a plan and is sticking to it. He gives the impression of optimism and that he really believes he can turn things around; and despite the horrible economy, he never wanders far from his three central goals of reforming the health care system, reducing dependency on foreign oil, and fixing the education problems this nation faces. He gives the impression that adults are again in charge, and the children have been sent to bed. First impressions are important, but ultimately substance is what we are looking for from this man. There are three areas of substance to examine and from which to draw initial conclusions: domestic policy, foreign policy, and relations with Congress(without which you cannot accomplish much in the above mentioned policy areas). The President has set out an ambitious domestic policy agenda. He says he has a plan to restore the financial system to health, create millions of new jobs(many of them from emerging "green" industries), and keep as many Americans in their homes as possible. He also wants to fund an education system that prepares our children for the challenges of a new technological era and reinvent a health care system in which Americans pay more for health care than any other people on earth, but get half the benefits. In the first one hundred days, the President has been focused almost exclusively on the economy. He has proposed a huge fiscal stimulus package. He has given hundreds of billions of dollars to the financial sector. He has sent hundreds of billions of dollars to states and local governments for infrastructure projects which will create thousands of new jobs. He is proposing new regulations and expanded oversight of banks, brokerage houses, and hedge funds; and he has appointed an aggressive new head of the SEC. His critics on the Progressive side accuse him of timidity, not going far enough, limited vision, and being ideologically kidnapped by the likes of economic advisors Lawrence Summers and Fed Chief Ben Bernanke. I don't know if any of his plans will work. Will massive deficits lead to runaway inflation? Will the money get in place fast enough to create new jobs soon? Will he be able to get banks lending again? Will all this focus on the economy derail his ambitious plans about health care, energy and education? The one clear image this President presents is that he is focused and sticking to his plan; and he believes it will work. What is also clear is that his loyal opposition has literally no idea or plan at all. The Republicans issued a 13 page budget proposal that was laughed out of town. They have been reduced to carping on the sidelines about deficits and big government and increased taxes. They have all been given a memory potion from Harry Potter that has made them forget that they presided over eight years of government growth, foreign adventurism , and an explosion of debt unequaled by any Democratic plan in history. Many of us would like to see the President declare "...the era of unregulated, free market capitalism is over"; but he does not seem ready to blow it all up and start again. He might get there one day, but not yet. The first one hundred days on the foreign policy front are an equally mixed message, but with some very positive signs and one serious negative policy so far. The President has ordered the closing of Guantanamo Prison within a year. He has announced that most American troops will be out of Iraq by 2011. He has signed an executive order prohibiting the CIA from using torture as an interrogation technique. He sent a video message to Iran indicating his willingness to talk with that regime; while telling Israel that they no longer can do anything they wish to the Palestinians and be ignored by the White House. He has signaled a change in our policy toward Cuba, shook Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's hand and was received as a rock star on his first European tour. However, the President has committed himself to escalating the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and escalating the violence associated with that conflict. Without a definition of victory nor an exit strategy, the President has committed the U.S. to a war that cannot be "won" and has made the same mistake his predecessors have made. He has not asked the American people whether they want this or not. He is making the same mistakes made in Vietnam and Iraq by engaging in in war without first getting the people behind his concept. He has not explained that the Taliban are not "outsiders" like Al Qaeda was in Iraq, but rather is composed of mainly members of the Pashtun tribe, which is the majority in Afghanistan. He has not explained the role Pakistan plays in this war; and he has not explained how he will achieve victory or even what victory looks like. Just this week the Pakistani government made a deal with he Taliban allowing them to impose "Sharia" law in the Swat Valley in return for a peace treaty. The result has he Taliban calling for the end of secular courts in the whole nation and the establishment of an Islamic Fundamentalist government. The President's decision to increase American troops in Afghanistan could come back to haunt him and us. It is the only decision of his first hundred days that could derail his international popularity and his domestic agenda. In his first one hundred days in office President Obama has instilled confidence in the middle of a disaster. He appears calm and upbeat at a time when Americans need hope and don't need a Cassandra declaring that the sky is falling. He appears to know where he wants the nation to go and how to get there. He has called for this to be a bipartisan effort, but so far that call has been ignored; which brings us to his last grade on how well he is getting along with Congress. In these first days the President has taken unprecedented steps to seek out Republican input and ideas. He has invited the GOP leadership to meetings in the White House, backyard barbeques, and even a Super Bowl Party. He has not engaged in overheated partisan rhetoric despite being at the receiving end of a great deal of rancor and criticism. Republicans refused to support his economic rescue package or his budget. The titular head of the GOP, Rush Limbaugh, publicly hopes Obama will fail. Without any counter proposals, the Republicans are left with only one role, obstructionists. They will use the filibuster in the Senate to stop legislation and their policy approach will be anything but what Obama wants. Democrats will oppose Obama on some things; but he has to hold them together on his key pieces of legislation. He held them together for votes on his stimulus package and budget. Whether they fracture and end up stopping him as they did with Carter and Clinton remains to be seen. The first one hundred days finds Obama's approval rating at 70% in a new ABC poll; with most Americans thinking he is on the right track and has a plan. He has restored some of America's reputation and signaled a new beginning between the U.S. and it's allies and enemies. He could make a tragic mistake with Afghanistan; but overall most Americans see a clear difference between him and George Bush and they like what they see. What do you think? I welcome your comments and rebuttals. Please send them to

Thursday, May 14, 2009

In Our Name

From the first time I took a civics or government class, I have been told that this democracy is a republic. We don't get to directly vote on issues, but rather "We" select representatives to act on our behalf. The government is acting in our stead. The reality is that in the eyes of the world "We" invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. "We" abandoned key missile treaties and "We" encouraged elections in the Palestinian territories and then ignored the results because "We" didn't like who was elected. In the world's eyes "We" tortured prisoners in violation of our own laws and international laws too. How do you feel about these acts being done in your name? The latest revelations on "torture-gate"(I had to say it) just keep getting worse and range from incompetence to ideological immorality. The New York Times reports that the architects of the new torture rules (have you noticed how the corporate media scrupulously calls it "enhanced interrogation techniques" rather than torture?) including the head of the CIA, George Tenet, had no idea that the techniques they were adopting had been used on Americans by the Chinese to torture false confessions out of them. They had no idea that the United States put Japanese military officials on trial for war crimes because they engaged in water boarding. The psychiatrist who had been the moving force behind the use of these new techniques had never conducted an interrogation himself; and the CIA and the Bush Administration ignored memos from knowledgeable rank and file officers telling them that these techniques could backfire, and actually hurt attempts to gather information from key suspects. The Justice Department point man, John Yoo, in the Office of Legal Council, according to the Times, was ideologically committed to promulgating a view that the President, as Commander in Chief, could violate the law, ignore Congress, and violate international agreements because he is acting to protect the nation "at war" with the terrorists. Yoo, a disciple of Vice President Cheney, was appalled at how the Presidency had been weakened since Watergate; and he was building new legal opinions that would rebuild a strong and dominant executive branch. In opinions that Yoo is alleged to have written, he suggested that the President could order the military into the streets of American cities and carry out arrests for various offenses including the exercise of free speech (in violation of posse comitatus laws, not to mention the Constitution), and could order torture to be carried out in violation of both American and international law. Yoo wasn't interested in the effectiveness of the techniques or their history. He was only interested in building an ideological case for a President as war time dictator. Documents released by the Obama administration and the Senate Armed Services Committee show that Condoleeza Rice lied when she claimed no involvement in the torture regulations. She lied when she claimed the United States doesn't engage in torture. The Senate report claims she gave verbal approval of the new rules in 2002. The Armed Services Committee Report also goes on to state that there was a direct relationship between the promulgation of these torture techniques and the abuses that occurred at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The report shows that Bush Administration claims that the abuses at Abu Ghraib were carried out by "...a few bad apples" was totally false. What happened in that prison was a direct result of these rule changes adopted by the CIA with the approval of the President and his administration. In the case of one prisoner, Abu Zubaydah, the Times reports that lower level CIA officials had argued that they had gotten all they could out of him, and these new torture techniques would not accomplish anything. They were ignored and he was tortured. The scene was so horrific that veteran interrogators had to leave the area so as not to hear the screams nor see what was being done to this man. Remember, this was all being done in your name. This man was being tortured for you. George Tenet and John Yoo were working on your behalf and with your permission. The actual torturers were acting honorably in the highest tradition of service to their country, to you. Yet, not one tape exists of even one of these honorable interrogations. Why not? If all of this was necessary and effective and honorable, why destroy all the evidence of what was done? The more we learn about what happened and the process that produced these new torture methods, the less honor there is to go around. Where was Congress during all of this? Who was watching the watchers? Why didn't they step in and say no, stop, this isn't going to happen? Where were the Democrats and Republicans who represent you, to stand up for the rule of law? It turns out they did nothing. The Bush Administration claims that the Congressional leadership was thoroughly briefed about all the new torture rules. They claim that the heads of the intelligence committees and the ranking minority members were informed about what was going on. As of today, there is no evidence that even one of them raised any questions or voiced any opposition when briefed. They were prohibited from talking to their staffs or any other member of Congress about what they learned. They were prohibited from seeking out experts in torture and interrogation to get opinions as to the efficacy and advisability of using torture. The system is set up so that actions taken by the executive branch which raise some of the most profound moral and legal questions, and require a check from the legislative branch, are the very acts that are protected from congressional scrutiny. The evidence also appears clear that those members of Congress who knew what was happening, did nothing to stop it perhaps out of fear of being labeled "soft"on terrorists and terrorism. The cavalier manner and slipshod way that these torture rules were implemented is beyond shocking. It is criminal and immoral. We are told that everyone was expecting another attack. We are told that everyone thought there was a ticking bomb. We are told that it's easy to second guess now, but that times were different then. In other words, the end justifies the means. However, neither Vice President Cheney nor former CIA director Michael Hayden can point to a single attack that was stopped or imminent plans disrupted through the use of torture. More importantly, they cannot say that whatever information was acquired could not have been obtained using techniques that were legal and moral and would not have involved torture. President Obama says that no CIA officer who acted in good faith, in light of these legal opinions, will be prosecuted. He says he will leave it up to his Attorney General, Eric Holder, to determine whether to prosecute John Yoo and the other lawyers in the Office of the White House Counsel for the opinions they wrote. Members of Congress are pressing the White House to create a commission similar to the one that investigated the September 11th attacks to investigate torture done in your name. The President has refused so far, and says Congressional investigators could get too partisan and divide this country. Could it be true that Republicans favor torture, secrecy, and a dictator president; while Democrats oppose the very same things? I do not believe that for a minute. If we say this is torture, but we won't investigate or prosecute the torturers; what difference is there between the United States and numerous banana republics around the world? These policies did not just have ramifications and implications in this country. The Senate Armed Services Committee report shows a direct connection between the torture approved by then Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and the use of the same torture at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan, in secret CIA prisons in Eastern Europe, and in Iraq, particularly Abu Ghraib. This went from the top down. It wasn't a few "bad apples"; it was the whole tree and it went from the President to the troops in the field. Recently, I heard a former CIA operative say that if another September 11th attack occurred, CIA officers might refuse a direct Presidential order to torture to get information. He said this controversy will cause them to second guess and refuse out of fear of being prosecuted here or in other parts of the world...Good! What do you think? I welcome your comments and rebuttals. Please send them to


Talk of marriage is in the air lately. New York Governor David Patterson introduced legislation to legalize gay marriage. In every major Christian denomination, the question of who can marry and who can't is being debated heatedly. Some lawmakers in the South have proposed a new form of marriage that would be designed to make it harder to get a divorce; and studies show that the percentage of couples living together without benefit of marriage is rising. So it was of interest to me to see an item in Newsweek written by someone of Indian extraction(the nation, not Native American) about how arranged marriages were more stable, less prone to divorce, and preferable to the standard practice in most "Western" nations. The moment I read "arranged marriage", my mind began to spin. Images of Jane Austin, the Middle Ages, and dowries danced in my head. Being able to "arrange" a marriage evokes a time past when women were chattel with no rights, just a piece of property to be handed from one owner to the next. No, absolutely not, we will never take a step backward and reduce women to a business transaction again. It might be acceptable in a backward, chauvinistic, fundamentalist nation like India, but never in a modern future-looking female friendly country like ours. The whole idea is ludicrous, isn't it? We believe in choice. We support individuals coming together in love, committing to a future together. We believe that this is not something that can be "arranged". We believe that there is a special magic and special scheme out there for everyone, don't we? Would any of us trust our parents to pick us a mate? Thank God we have evolved, moved forward, and have abandoned such silly notions. We do this mating dance so much better than they do. Our young people are taught from the age of puberty on that marriage is an ideal to strive for. They are constantly reminded about that dream day when you walk down the aisle in your Vera Wang dress, surrounded by flowers and candles, attended to by bridesmaids and ushers. You invite hundreds of friends; and after the sacred ceremony retire to a hall or ballroom to eat, drink, and be merry. Who could forget such blessed moments as Star Jones' wedding with a carriage, footman, and all the trappings that go with a million dollar wedding; or Princess Di walking down the aisle with a train that stretched for miles? Those were beautiful, romantic, artistic beginnings to a life of marital bliss. Magazines, books, newspapers, television, and movies tell us to search for that one true love. Love is why we marry. Love is forever. Love will bring us together. (I have been trying to work the Captain and Tenniel into a conversation for a long time.) We fall in love, search for love, pine for the love of our life, dream of that love coming along and sweeping us off our feet. We flock to movies like Knotting Hill, Four Weddings and a Funeral, An Affair to Remember, Sleepless in Seattle, and You've Got Mail because they speak to our belief and desire to find that one elusive person who will fulfill our lives, make us complete, who we can ride off into the sunset with, and grow old together with into our twilight years. We are a nation of movers and shakers. We are on the cutting edge of all the new technologies, and the way we search out a partner is equally systematic. We have establishments where people gather to converse, mingle, watch, and look. We call them bars. At these "bars", we drink beverages with cute romantic names like "Sex on the Beach" or the "Screaming Orgasm". We get loose and feeling good, and then we "hit" on each other and maybe even go home together; another match made in heaven. During certain seasons, like spring, we go to resorts and bake in the sun, drink quaint concoctions like a "Suicide" or "Kamikaze" and "hook up" knowing that the love of our life is just around the next round. We have "love" cruises and entire companies set up to help us play and meet so that we can begin a life of stable, tranquil happiness. With the advent of the computer, we can join e-Harmony, Facebook, or we can Tweet each other or sign up for If that is too slow or cumbersome, we can try "Speed Daddy" and meet 25 possible future spouses in less than an hour. If all else fails, if none of this works, if you haven't found someone at work or the local watering hole; you can always use the sure fire, can't miss approach...the blind date. We, the enlightened West, know that eventually one of these methods will work; and we get married and live happily ever after. Don't we? Well, the divorce rate in our nation is said to be over 50%. This must be because those people met in a bar, online, or at spring break. If they had met in church or through a church group, and believed in God; then their marriage would last, be blessed with children, and be the model of stability and longevity. Maybe, but the states with the highest divorce rates, except for Nevada, are all below the buckle of the Bible Belt. It does not appear that reading the Bible literally helps very much in keeping a marriage together. In the Newsweek piece the author noted that arranged marriages have a lower rate of divorce. He pointed out that they don't marry because they are in love; but rather marry and grow into being in love. Since parents are involved in the arrangement, they have a vested interest in seeing it work. They help the couple economically (money worries and disputes being one of the top causes of divorce). They can provide care for children when the couple is stressed to the max. They, and other family members, represent a form of peer pressure to settle disputes, and not let them get out of hand. They are an informal network of marriage counselors and "shoulders to cry on" on occasion. I spoke to a friend recently who comes from the "gypsy" culture in this country. Their roots go back to Eastern Europe, but they are entirely Americanized now. Yet marriages are still "arranged" for many members of the community. It is not mandated; and some choose to go their own way and find their own partners. He told me that the "arranged" marriages rarely end in divorce; but that the marriages of those who choose their own partners seem to end with the same frequency as those in the society around them. So should we all find someone to arrange a partner for us and live happily ever after? Should we abandon the ideal of romantic love for the pragmatic practice of having someone picked for us? No, I am not arguing for that; but I am saying we need to ask if there is anything about an "arranged" marriage that might help us understand what we truly want in a partner and how to make it a success. How we meet someone and what we know about them and their family could be keys to a successful relationship. Parents know the other family. They may work together or socialize together. They know if there are shared values and desires. Perhaps that is what eHarmony is trying to duplicate with their 300 question survey, etc. How many couples marry only to discover that the other person shares few if any of their values? We are a mobile society. The extended family has vanished for most of us. We don't have uncles, aunts, and cousins to act as a safety valve, counseling service, childcare provider, etc. Most of us are a nuclear family at best. So how in todays society do we find substitutes for what the family used to and sometimes still does provide? Should we find substitutes? An arranged marriage still sounds very wrong to smacks of another time and place. It brings up memories of a male dominated society with women as property. It is a non-starter. However, if it is true that divorce is less and relationships more stable; is there anything we can learn from that system? What do you want for your children? A stable, happy, long-lasting relationship or a series of short-termed encounters that can be traumatic and less than happy? Marriage is not for everyone, but if it is for you; how will you do it the best? What do you think? I welcome your comments and rebuttals. Please send them to


I belong to a union. Because I belong to a union, I will get a pension when I turn 65; and I know how much I will receive. My pension is defined and is not at the mercy of free market forces which have devastated 401K plans across this nation. Because I belong to a union, I will have medical benefits when I turn 65 and will not be totally dependent on Medicare. My benefits do not exist because of the generosity of my employers. My employers fought every provision proposed by the union that would benefit me. However, my union negotiated deal after deal which required my employer to pay into a health and welfare fund that benefitted those who went before me and will benefit those who come after me. Marx thought that the economic gap between the capitalists and the workers would widen to a point where the poor working class would revolt against the rich capitalists and overthrow the system. One of the things that Marx did not anticipate is the rise of trade unions. Unions in this country forced the rich industrialists to share some of their profits. Union members suffered political defeats, ruthless tactics, and even death in order to organize and win for American workers everything from the eight hour day to laws guaranteeing a safe work place. For most of the second half of the 20th century, the upper classes of this nation have fought a sustained war of attrition with the labor movement. When Ronald Reagan busted PATCO, the air traffic controllers union, it signaled the beginning of the end for working class Americans in their struggle to get an equal share of the economic pie. Since that time, the gap between the classes has widened, wages have stagnated, health care costs have skyrocketed, and union membership has plummeted. Around 7% of Americans are members of unions today. It is no accident that as union membership declined, the political influence of labor waned. It's no accident that as the labor movement weakened, jobs were outsourced out of this nation with little if any thought as to the plight of the working person left behind. Warren Buffet is quoted as saying that "there has been a class war going on in this country and my class is winning." The victory he is referring to is in no small manner a result of the wage war against working people and unions that has been going on for the last fifty years. Among other weapons used by the rich and powerful against working Americans has been employing union busting law firms to break the backs of unions and bring in non-union workers. One of their most effective tactics is to make organizing as difficult as possible. Through the use of threats, disinformation, thuggery, and physical violence; American business was able to stop and reverse the growth of unions. American business poured money into the coffers of the Republican Party and were rewarded with legislation and executive orders that made it harder to organize and harder to punish businesses engaging in illegal union busting actions. If FDR opened the door to a strong labor movement through the National Labor Standards Act and the National Labor Relations Board; the Republicans countered with "Right to Work" laws, striker replacement legislation, and packing the Board with pro-business anti-labor commissioners. You can directly track the erosion of buying power and standard of living for working Americans with the erosion of the labor movement. Do you honestly believe that American corporations would be allowed to renege on pensions and medical benefits promised to retired workers if the labor movement had not been decimated? Do you honestly believe that United Airlines would walk into bankruptcy court and abrogate the promise they made to retired workers, some of whom had put over thirty years into the company, if first the unions hadn't been castrated and neutered? To this day I don't understand how anyone with a conscience could patronize United Airlines after they jettisoned retired workers pensions and medical care, while still paying high salaries to the executives running the company. There is a battle raging right now in the halls of Congress to reverse this trend. This could be the last battle and both sides know what is at stake. The rich and powerful capitalist class sees a chance to crush the labor movement once and for all; and the unions see a chance to rebuild and return influence to working Americans. According to "The Nation" magazine, very few Americans even know this is happening; which means this is a battle that will be won by whatever side organizes better and brings political pressure to bear. You aren't going to find much coverage in the "corporate" media because they are at the forefront of breaking the very unions representing their workers. This is a battle designed for the alternative media and the internet; not CNN, NBC, or CBS. So calling all cars, all hands on deck, ollie ollie oxenfree, y'all come, general quarters, it's time for you to get involved. It's time for the same grassroots so crucial to the rise of Barack Obama to rise up now and throw their weight around again. It's time to let every Democrat in Congress know that there is no pass, no equivocating, no gray area. It's time to let them know that no Democrat can claim to be a friend of working Americans who does not support making it easier for workers who wish to join or form a union to do so. The legislation is called the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). It has been introduced in the House and the Senate. It would make it easier for workers to form unions and then gain the power to negotiate with companies over everything from wages to medical care to retraining programs for older workers. The opposition is backed by the usual suspects like WalMart, the US Chamber of Commerce et al; and some not so usual suspects including people like Warren Buffet, who was a big supporter of President Obama. What should send you screaming into the streets is the campaign of opposition carried out by corporations receiving your taxpayer bailout money including Bank of America and the infamous A.I.G. Too many times I am told to stop bitching and propose solutions. OK, here goes. EFCA would increase the power of working Americans. EFCA would mean workers could force WalMart and corporate America to share more of their profit and improve conditions under which Americans work. EFCA would enable unions to fight harder for funds to retrain laid off workers. EFCA would organize workers, making them a more potent political force, allowing unions to counter the financial advantage corporate America currently enjoys in the halls of Washington. It's time to call, fax, send email or snail mail; but contact every Democratic House and Senate member and tell them to vote for EFCA. It's time to inundate the White House with demands that the President throw his support behind this. Believe me, the other side is doing this in spades. This is our window of opportunity. Your children deserve to join a workforce in which they can influence their own fate. You can help them. Will you? What do you think? I welcome you comment and rebuttals. Please send them to

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


Monday, May 4, 2009


One of the most powerful movies I watched as a kid was the Judgement at Nuremburg. Spencer Tracy, Montgomery Clift, Maximilian Schell and Burt Lancaster were among he stars. Lancaster played a judge who had presided over show trials in which people were condemned to the death camps. He was prosecuted for his acts and criticized for allowing the law to be used as a political vehicle to rid the society of unwanted elements. One of the phrases that was condemned over and over in both the movie and in the real Nuremburg trials was the claim that "...I was just following orders." After Nuremburg, the claim that one was ordered to commit a horrible or immoral or illegal act became a non-starter. In fact, the court established the rule that a soldier or government official had a duty, a moral obligation, to disobey orders if what they were told to do was immoral or a war crime or illegal. They had a duty to disobey or be held accountable. The United States prosecuted German war criminals and executed some of them. We did the same thing to members of the Japanese High Command for war crimes involving mass murder, rape, the Bataan Death March and others. When Sergeant William Cally tried to claim he was just following orders when he destroyed the village of Mei Lai, that defense was rejected. An Ohio man, John Demjanjuk is facing deportation because he was a death camp guard who escaped to this country 60 years ago. This government argued that there was no statute of limitations on crimes like his and he had to be punished. A court in Spain found General Augusto Pinochet guilty of war crimes in Chile and sais not even the leader of a nation is immune from prosecution. Sloboden Milosevich was captured and turned over to the World Criminal Court at the Hague, as was Radivan Karadsik for the horrible crimes that they ordered and oversaw in Bosnia and Yugoslavia. Recently, the same court issued an arrest warrant for the current President of the Sudan accusing him of crimes against humanity for the genocide in Darfur. What is a consistent theme in all of these examples is that you cannot hide behind the law when you commit immoral or illegal acts. You cannot claim some special exemption from culpability because you are at war or believe your country is under attack. You cannot hide behind the law of the land and shield your actions even if you wrote the law or run the country. You cannot claim you were just following orders, nor can you use fear of any group to single some out for torture or illegal imprisonment or any other illegal or immoral act. Perhaps most important of all, the Nuremburg trials and all subsequent legal opinions established clearly that the "end can never justify the means." So this week, when we discovered that American citizens, government employees, and CIA agents had been given permission to torture suspected terrorists; that they had in fact engaged in torture and that they had engaged in violations of both American law and international law. I felt sure that they would be prosecuted and brought to justice. How wrong could I have been? It appears that when Americans engage in torture, illegal detention, or human rights abuse; that they are immune from prosecution. In fact we were told that when CIA agents water boarded, slapped, electro-shocked, stripped naked, or used sleep deprivation against prisoners; they were acting honorably(according to former CIA directors and the current one Leon Panetta). We are told that because the Office of Legal Counsel in the Bush Justice Department wrote an opinion that such actions were in fact legal and appropriate; that these agents who followed orders and who took advantage of this legal cover were acting honorably and should be thanked for their service. We are told by President Obama that nothing will be served by pointing fingers and affixing blame. We are told by the President that it would be too divisive to hold these government employees accountable for their actions. We are told that if these criminals and torturers are tried, it will make agents timid and they will think twice before they do what must be done for fear of being prosecuted. We are told that after 9/11 we were all scared and thought another attack was imminent and just ordered the CIA to do what must be done, and besides, the lawyers said it was legal. We are told that this President and Attorney General will give a blank check to our intelligence agencies when the chips are down. When it's in America's interest torture is acceptable. The President signed an order saying "don't do it anymore." But if things get sticky again, we will ask our "honorable" CIA agents to hit, torture, and terrorize at will, knowing that they will never be held accountable. Legal scholars who have read these torture memos say they are not legal opinions, but merely political cover for acts the Bush Administration wanted to engage in after 9/11. The CIA destroyed all video tapes of these interrogations. Why did they do that if what they were doing was honorable and legal? If what the CIA was doing was justified, because of the fear of another attack, would it have been acceptable to torture the wife and children of these men if they could be captured? Could a White House lawyer write an opinion on the legality of torturing family members and make it an honorable thing to do? In a piece in the Wall Street Journal, two prominent intelligence and legal figures argued that it was terrible that these memos were made public. If Americans find out what the CIA was doing, it could prevent them from engaging in activity like this and make our intelligence gathering weak and less effective. The argument is made that weak and ineffective intelligence led us to being vulnerable to a 9/11 type attack. This is revisionist history at it's worst. Prior to 9/11, the CIA and the National Security Advisor Richard Clarke had "their hair on fire" that entire summer because they were sure something was about to happen. On August 6th, 2001, the CIA briefed the President in Texas with a paper concluding that Osama bin Laden was going to attack the United States and possible use our planes. Bush is alleged to have told the agents "...thanks, you have covered your ass" and then went fishing. Richard Clarke was told not to mention Osama bin Laden anymore in the White House. There was plenty of intelligence, but no interest in it in the Bush national security apparatus. President Obama has sent a terrible message to the rest of the world. When you engage in torture, kidnapping, and illegal activity, you will not be held accountable. When we do it we are acting honorably, and there will be no accountability. In a fair and just world, every one of these agents would be prosecuted. In a fair and just world, the lawyers who issued the opinions justifying these crimes would be prosecuted and disbarred. In a fair and just world, the President would condemn such acts and put in place the oversight necessary to prevent it from happening again. In a fair and just world, those who had been tortured at Guantanamo or any of the secret prisons run by the CIA or at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan would have access to the American justice system to sue those who had tortured them. If the President Obama is worried that trials would be divisive or prosecution would weaken the CIA, then at the very least he could endorse Senator Leahy"s call for a truth commission. He says he wants a transparent administration. The American people have a right to know how close we came to the destruction of the Constitution and the creation of some form of authoritarian government under George Bush. The American people deserve to know the truth. No one will be prosecuted; but we need to know how deep the torture went, how extensive the illegal spying was, how many lies were told to get us into Iraq, and how many laws were broken to keep Bush and Cheney in power. Americans need to know the truth. In the movie Judgment at Nuremburg, Burt Lancaster, the chief judge, is on the stand trying to justify why he gave his legal imprimatur to the acts of the Nazis. It dawns on him that he had subverted the very institution which was supposed to protect the people from the government's illegal acts. It dawns on him that he should have said no and refused to cooperate, but too late. There was no honor in the torture rooms and prisons. There was no honor in the pain inflicted. There was no honor as people screamed and begged for mercy. There is no honor trying to hide the truth. The only honor that can come from this tragic incident will come from shining the light of day on these modern war criminals and making sure they do not do it again. What do you think? I welcome your comments and rebuttals. Please send them to