Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Let Them Eat Cake

Thanksgiving is replete with images of prosperity and plenty. The huge warm

turkey filled with stuffing. Yams, greens, mashed potatoes, breads made from scratch and

pies, Oh! the pies. Apple, pecan, mince are just a few brought out for dessert. The sights

and smells of Thanksgiving are a staple of American myth and lore about the richest nation

on earth.

As America sits down for this year's edition of the Pilgrim's meal, a new report is

out from the Agriculture Department showing the number of Americans worried about

having enough to eat rose 31% last year. According to the Wall Street Journal, this translates

into 49 million Americans (including 17 million children) worried about and not receiving

enough to eat. The article goes on to say Americans are not as bad off as people in many

developing nations; but 6.7 million American households experienced hunger and disrupted

eating patterns, and that is 47% more than the previous year.

This new report comes as the Senate debates a healthcare reform bill designed to

provide health insurance to more Americans. Forty-seven million Americans do not have

health insurance and thousands die each year due to lack of medical care.

Over six million households (four people compose "the household" for government

purposes, so this translates into over 24 million people) couldn't get enough to eat. Forty-

seven million people cannot get insurance to pay for medical care. Can there be more basic

needs than food and healthcare? The richest nation on earth hasn't got the resources to feed

and care for it's people?

While you fight with Uncle Arthur for the wishbone this year, the people who staff

and run food banks and pantries and dining rooms report a 30% increase in demand for their

services. Unemployment appears to be the problem.

While Americans get hungrier and sicker, the government gave Wall Street

$750 billion. While many Americans struggle to put food on their tables and can't afford

to see a doctor for an illness, the government has spent close to $1 trillion for the wars in

Iraq and Afghanistan and the President is contemplating sending additional troops to

Afghanistan. It's clear that the military-industrial complex is not suffering.

While unemployed Americans try to hold their households together, corporations

shelter billions of dollars offshore to avoid paying taxes, taxes that could be used to feed

and care for our needy here at home. At a time when individual Americans often face

economic ruin if they become sick, one Wall Street firm has a pool of over $15 billion from

which to pay year-end bonuses.

As Americans struggle with the basics, some of their representatives fight to reduce

food stamps and school lunch programs and oppose extension of unemployment benefits.

As Americans fight to keep their heads above water, some of their elected officials are

committed to killing healthcare reform which would expand health insurance to more than

30 million people who currently cannot afford it. While American parents try to feed their

children and keep them healthy, many of their representatives want to spend hundreds of

billions of dollars to expand a war with no definition of victory or how long victory will

take to achieve, if ever.

Want more? Thousands of veterans are currently homeless and millions more

Americans have lost or are currently losing their homes. Thousands of veterans die each

year due to lack of healthcare. Suicide is at an all time high in the military and the Pentagon

admits there are not enough mental health professionals available to deal with the increasing

problems caused by deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Are you sensing a pattern here? The infrastructure of our country is falling apart.

Tens of billions of dollars are needed simply to repair existing roads and bridges. Billions

more are needed to upgrade the electrical grid which has been described as a third world

system which can and has blacked out large swaths of our nation. Fewer and fewer Americans

have access to higher education due to the cost. Our community college system, once touted

as the best entry level system for higher education, is overwhelmed and turning students away.

So, the richest nation on earth is having trouble feeding, healing, sheltering,

educating, and transporting it's people; but has no trouble bailing out profligate banks,

protecting rapacious insurance companies, and conducting wars in far off lands justified

with lies and deception.

The gap between the rich and poor continues to grow with 5% of Americans

controlling as much as 90% of the nation's wealth. The richest 1% of Americans dramatically

increased their wealth at the expense of middle and lower class Americans.

As you consider what to give thanks for this year, perhaps it might do us well to

think about the kind of country we wish to be. Do we desire to be a nation where a larger

and larger share of the country's wealth is going to fewer and fewer people as the middle

class shrinks and the ranks of the poor and working poor grow? Do we want to be a society

where families have enough to eat, healthcare readily available, education affordable, and

shelter plentiful? Do we want an America where parents envision a future where their

children can achieve more economically and socially than they did? This is not a zero sum

game. We really can have a nation where all boats are lifted and we don't need to trickle

down on anyone.

Good jobs, based on a good educational system and protected by union contracts,

could be an option. Tax money devoted to research rather than arms would unquestionably

spur innovation and the creation of new industries. The fact is, there are many options we

are simply not being offered. Having a government dedicated to the everyday American

rather than AIG or the military arms industry would be a start we could truly give thanks

for. So, please stop for one moment amid the fragrances and sounds of Thanksgiving day

and give thanks for those feelings within your heart that care for the less fortunate; those

who are hungry, cold, uneducated and fearful, the forgotten and ignored among us. In caring

about these you are caring about yourself. This path has a future. It's time we re-discovered

America in it's people, all it's people! Trust me, there's enough cake (pie) for everyone.

What do you think? I welcome your comments and rebuttals. Please send them to


Friday, November 20, 2009

Thanksgiving #19

For eighteen years I wrote a Thanksgiving Prayer out of gratitude for the unselfish

generosity of so many people and in the hopes the prayer would be used by families

throughout the area as they gathered on Thanksgiving. I didn't write one last year because

my pride, shame, guilt, and sorrow seemed to preclude one. I was wrong. In the midst of

depression and pain and recrimination is precisely the time to be most thankful and filled

with gratitude for so much. Here is my prayer for this year...


Bless this day and all who gather to be thankful. As we pray this year, let us

remember those who have lost jobs, homes, confidence, and faith. This year has left many

with less and in great need. Bless those who are scared and worried. Help them to see a

way back to hope and out of fear. May we remember those who grow and produce the food

we have this day. We are so grateful for those who spent long hours and days cooking and

preparing the meal we gather to share. Some families will be separated on this day. Bless

them and help them to bridge any distance with the love and care they hold for one another.

Lord, give us the grace to appreciate all we have. It is so easy to take love, friendship,

generosity, and forgiveness for granted. Thank you once again for those who contributed

their time and treasure to help strangers in need...the least of their brothers and sisters.

These are times when it is easy to despair. Thank you for all those in our lives who care

enough to reach out and comfort and encourage us. Finally, Lord, never let us forget all

we have been given; how the darkest times can reveal the best in ourselves and others;

and on this Thanksgiving Day, how the World Is Alive With he Grandeur of God.

Can I Take a Mulligan?

The President of the United States likes sports. According to Maureen Dowd

of the New York Times, he likes to talk sports, watch sports, and play sports. It is a big

deal to get invited to the White House to play in pick-up games on the new basketball

court out back. The President likes to play golf; and this too is a coveted invitation because

the chance to spend five or six hours talking and walking and joking and betting with the

President is worth it's weight in gold in the world of influence in Washington.

Recently, accusations began to surface that Obama has only been inviting men

to join in his favorite pastimes. He and "the boys" were enjoying male bonding, no women

allowed. Sensitive to any perception he might discriminate or exclude any one particular

group, the President invited a woman to play golf with him. He invited Melody Barnes,

his domestic policy chief, to "ruin a nice walk" and play as part of his foursome. Barnes'

father taught her how to play golf; and she shoots 100 for 18 holes.

Reaction to adding a woman to his formerly all male retinue has been mixed.

Some people were concerned this was the latest example of uber-political correctness.

Still others bemoaned the loss of another place where men could simply be with other

men. Does this forebode that when the President plays or watches sports, all groups

must be represented? Dowd seems to think it's all silly; but at the same time leaves

the impression that excluding women gives men a leg up with the President. Could it

be she simply wants an invitation?

Over the years I've argued for the right of men to hang out with men. Whether

it's all-male schools or the Olympic Club (which is now coed), I have always thought people

have a right to associate with whomever they wish. The same goes with all-white clubs

or all-black ones. As long as there is no economic benefit, as long as membership dues

and expenses cannot be deducted from one's taxes, let people hang out with whom they


Having worked with some amazing women and being married to a woman who

loves sports and was an athlete in high school and college, and having two daughters,

changed me enough to realize how why and who we exclude is in truth actually very telling

about who we are.

The President likes pick-up games of basketball, so does my second oldest daughter.

She's currently on a full athletic scholarship at a Division 1 university, where she competes

against the likes of Notre Dame, USC, CAL, and Stanford. On a basketball court, one of

her team mates observed "...she doesn't guard you, she hunts you". Pick-up games are

rough and tumble affairs. There is plenty of trash talking and posturing and less than

polite language. My daughter can talk trash, swear like a steveadore, and if you try to go

to the basket on her she will put you into the wall. The President is said to have a pretty

good cross-over move, good with both his left and right hands, and goes to the basket hard.

My daughter wouldn't back down from him or anyone else on the court. She is intense,

funny, skilled, and she is not alone. There are plenty of women like her. It would be wrong

for the President to include a woman just to have one there; that would be patronizing.

But why shouldn't he include people outside his normal comfort zone?

My other daughter, the oldest, loves baseball. I can't tell you the number of games

she and I attended the year the Giants went to the World Series. For sure, she will never

forgive Dusty Baker for his management of the sixth game of the Series against the Angels.

She still asks me to explain why he pulled Russ Ortiz! She's planning on being a lawyer

and could end up in political life. So, when the President invites key lawmakers, including

Republicans, to come to the White House to watch sports and have some barbecue; she

would be able to handle herself perfectly well. She would fit in, comfortable in her game

knowledge and self-presence. Once again, she is not alone. The President would not have

to search very far for women to include playing or watching or talking sports.

Since the passage of Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, the number of women playing

high school, college, and professional sports has increased exponentially. These athletes

are now in every walk of life and every profession. For males whose egos are delicate or

threatened, the rise of women in sports, politics, law, or any number of other arenas is

uncomfortable. They often point out how women can't compete with men at the highest

levels. The pick-up game behind the White House or the foursome out on the links are

not sports at their highest levels; but the reality is there are plenty of people who are

interesting and can compete. And although not everyone can be fortunate enough to be

invited for sports-related fun at the White House, there's no reason women shouldn't be

in the mix.

One of the most exciting moments in sports for me was watching the American

Women's soccer team beat the Chinese team on penalty kicks. These are great athletes

and it was a great moment. Maureen Dowd wants to play Scrabble against the President.

If he is into Scrabble, bring her on. But when it comes to basketball, if she can't take a

charge on the White House court, leave her out. If she can't put worth a damn, don't invite

her for a Sunday match. If she doesn't know the difference between a balk, walk, or the

infield fly rule; wouldn't she feel out of place watching the World Series "with the boys"

on the White House 62-inch flat screen TV?

There are plenty of women who the President would enjoy playing against, and

there is nothing wrong with them being included. I love the fact the President agrees with

me on this. This same line of thinking would encourage more law firms to bring them in

as partners, more corporations to put them on their boards, and more companies to pay

them the same pay as men for the same jobs. When this happens, women will have arrived.

And I hope they arrive soon. What do you think? I welcome your comments and rebuttals.

Please send them to lionoftheleft@gmail.com

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Drinking the Kool Aid

In an appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1970, now

Senator John Kerry questioned the committee on how you ask a soldier to be the last one

to die for a mistake. That was about Vietnam. Fast forward to today. Kerry, just back from

Afghanistan and Pakistan, has had an obvious change of heart. He now appears willing to

ask our latest generation of soldiers to die for the same mistake again. An adamant opponent

of the War in Vietnam, Kerry has somehow come to feel Afghanistan is not Vietnam.

Afghanistan is the good war. This is the war that's OK to fight. Somehow the cause in

Afghanistan is just, even as it was unjust and a mistake in Iraq and Vietnam. Will we never


Recently, the New York Times had an article explaining how the Taliban of

Afghanistan is very different from the Taliban of Pakistan. The Taliban in Afghanistan is

led by Mullah Omar. They are a nationalist movement whose goal is to once again control

Afghanistan as they did prior to 2001. They are a group composed mainly of Pashtuns,

the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, and they defeated a Northern Alliance of warlords

mainly composed of Tajiks. They have a shadow government already in place in the parts

of Afghanistan they control. They collect taxes, provide some social services, and even have

a court system based on "Sharia law". The Taliban of Afghanistan were created with the help

of the Pakistani intelligence service in order to counter the influence of India in Afghanistan.

According to the Times, they do not share the global jihad sentiments of the Pakistani

Taliban or al Qaeda.

Despite Senator Kerry's assurances, Afghanistan resembles Vietnam in any number

of ways. First, it is a civil war as was Vietnam. Just as it was North Vietnam vs. South

Vietnam, Afghanistan pits the forces of the Northern Alliance and President Hamid Karzai

from the North/West against the Taliban in the South/East. Second, like South Vietnam,

the government is corrupt and losing support among the people. According to the Times,

warlords who used to fight the Taliban have joined them to fight Karzai because of the

corruption. There is no way to defeat the Taliban without an honest government that enjoys

popular support. This is true in Afghanistan just as it was in Vietnam. In Vietnam, President

Kennedy approved the assassination of the South Vietnamese President in order to replace

him with someone the people might support (a puppet government approved by the U.S.).

It didn't work. The U.S. recently pressured Karzai to call a new election because the previous

one was proven corrupt. If he is re-elected there will still be no guarantee of popular support.

Third, as in Vietnam, we face an enemy on their home turf who are battle-hardened with

lessons learned in their war against Soviet occupation and techniques taught to them by

those currently fighting us in Iraq. They are comfortable waiting us out and inflicting

unacceptable levels of casualties, elementary tactics of guerilla warfare. Finally, as in

Vietnam, no one can define what victory would look like in Afghanistan. No one can lay out

an exit strategy nor can they say how long our troops would have to fight in country.

General McChrystal says counter-insurgency takes at least ten years. Is Senator Kerry

saying we will commit American blood and treasure for at least ten more years? And then

what, ten more years after that?

Senator Kerry says Afghanistan is the "good" war because they committed mass

murder on September 11th. The reality is the Taliban allowed al Qaeda to have a safe haven

and operate training camps (as Pakistan does now). However, the Taliban played no role

in the September 11th attacks; just as Saddam Hussein played no role in them either. Yet

now Senator Kerry wishes to use September 11th as a justification for increasing American

military forces and America's commitment. He hasn't yet endorsed 40,000 more troops,

but he is not articulating a policy which Americans can judge and decide whether the effort

is worthwhile or not.

There is no government in Afghanistan with popular support. There is no infrastructure

of police, courts, local government, or even decent roads in much of the country. People

do not feel safe and don't like the large number of NATO troops currently occupying their

country without producing what was promised, better security and better political progress.

For eight years, Afghanistan was ignored by the Bush Administration. Bush, as

Commander in Chief, allowed Mullah Omar and bin Laden to escape at Tora Bora and then

stripped the country of equipment and personnel. That's history. President Obama recently

sent an additional 20,000 troops and according to General McChrystal things have gotten

worse. Once again, we have a direct parallel to Vietnam. Presidents Kennedy, Johnson,

and Nixon sent more and more troops at the same time as the situation was deteriorating.

North Vietnam was willing to sacrifice one million men and women in order to win. Winning

was easily defined for them. If America leaves, Vietnam wins. No definition of victory

existed for America then as now. American soldiers are once again being asked to go tens

of thousands of miles away from home. They will be fighting on the enemy's home field.

They will be facing a battle-hardened enemy willing to die in order to win, an enemy fighting

for their own land and families and future.

We need to end this pattern of starting and sustaining wars which have no chance

of victory because our leaders have no idea what victory would mean. If the Taliban in

Afghanistan agreed to keep al Qaeda out, restrict or reduce the opium trade, and not allow

their country to be used to destabilize Pakistan; would we accept this?

It is being reported President Obama, Vice President Biden, Senators Kerry and

Levin and others want to send more troops, but just not as many as General McChrystal

asked for or says he needs. This is just creeping incrementalism and also parallels the

experience of Vietnam. We cannot ask another soldier to die or a family to lose a child

for a cause which is as clear as mud. Bring them home. Are we ever going to learn the

lesson that repeating the same action over and over again while expecting different results

is truly the definition of insanity? What do you think? I welcome your comments and

rebuttals. Please send them to lionoftheleft@gmail.com

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

I'm Hen-er-y the Eighth I Am

There may not be anyone burnt at the stake, drawn and quartered, or water-boarded

anymore (water-boarding was used extensively during the Inquisition), but the war between

Catholics and Protestants still goes on and the Catholics just fired the latest salvo. The

Vatican announced if you are a disgruntled member of the Anglican Church (Church of England

AKA Episcopalian in the U.S.), you are welcome to join the ranks of the Roman Catholics.

You remember the Catholic Church, don't you? In 2000 years of history, the Church has

instigated wars, tortured dissidents, sold passes to get into heaven, locked up Galileo,

helped Nazis escape to South America, stopped scientific inquiry into everything from

mathematics to biology, and supported dictators and tyrants across the globe. The Protestants

also tortured and killed, fought wars and crushed dissidents, denied scientific theory, and

brought to America a kind of Calvinism giving them the right to wipe out native peoples

and take their land all in the name of a religious belief called "manifest destiny". These

two groups have been at each others throats since the day Martin Luther nailed his 99

Theses to the cathedral door in Wittenberg. The Vatican saw a chance to gain the upper hand

on the Church started by Henry VIII and they seized it with great delight.

Some members of the worldwide Anglican community are unhappy with recent

decisions by their Church. The Church has voted to ordain women and allow openly gay

members to be priests and bishops in the Church. The Church has vocally opposed wars

from Vietnam to Iraq to Afghanistan. The Episcopal Church in America has been a strong

advocate for the poor and disadvantaged. Church leaders have been at the forefront of

equal rights for women and openly welcoming members who were gay, lesbian, or

transgendered. Regressive factions within the Church objected to many of these positions

and many have broken away to form their own associations. These associates oppose the

ordination of women to be either priests or bishops and oppose the ordaining of gay men

to similar positions. Ironically, they find themselves on the same page as Regressives in

the Catholic Church; and now the Church, led by a Pope who has dreamed of bringing the

heretic protesters back into the fold, is taking this opportunity to offer unhappy Anglicans

a new home.

I hope this irony is not lost on anyone that the main reason the Anglicans broke

with Rome was over the primacy and authority of the Pope. Now it is that very same

authoritarian occupant of Peter's chair who is offering them a home. It is the same Vicar

of Christ who continues the prejudices and bigotry of sexism and anti-gay rhetoric they

find so appealing and so lacking in their own church. The very evolution of morality and

understanding allowed by the Anglican structure is impossible in the Roman Church and

the Pope is hoping opposition to women's rights and continued bigotry towards gays will

be a reason for Anglicans to jump ship and come back to the bosom of Mother Church.

Progressive Catholics have to be embarrassed by such a naked appeal to prejudice

and bigotry. The message from the Pope "...come join us, we still keep women in their

place and will never recognize homosexuals as God's creation" is a message which takes

the Papacy back to the wonderful days of the Borgia's and Medici's. Benedict XVI sees

himself in the footsteps of Popes who led the Crusades, the Inquisition, and welcomed

Hitler into Austria.

The one Pope Benedict will never be mistaken for is John XXIII. Upon election,

John announced an Ecumenical Council to be held in Rome. This council was to bring

"Aggiorniamento" (openness) to the Church. John invited representatives of all the worlds

religions to come to Rome and begin a dialogue aimed at finding common ground and ending

the hostility which existed between Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and

others. John wanted a church which models the principles of Jesus. He wanted more

collegiality between the Vatican and bishops and priests throughout the world. He defined

the Church as "...the people of God" and every Catholic was a part of the "priesthood of

believers" by virtue of their baptism. John took a church frozen in place for over 400 years,

since the Reformation, and opened it's windows and doors to let fresh air and fresh

perspective blow through. With the latest Vatican announcement, Benedict signals a desire

to continue the counter-reformation reuniting errant Protestants back under the banner

of Rome. He senses a way to drive a wedge between Anglicans and he seized the opportunity.

Perhaps this completes the efforts by Church regressives to reverse the gains and influence

of John and Vatican II and return the Church to earlier, more doctrinally comfortable times.

Reaction from Anglicans is mixed. In the U.S., dissident Anglican communities

rejected the idea of converting to Catholicism. In Nigeria and parts of Africa, where the

Anglican Church is strong, reaction has also been cool. The Archbishop of Canterbury says

he does not see this as an attack on his church, but acknowledges the differences between

his Church and Rome are not minor disagreements.

The Roman Church inn America is in serious trouble. Studies show the Church

has lost 30% of it's members. The actual numbers would reflect that loss if not for the large

influx of Hispanic immigrants into this country. Roman Catholic priest's average age is now

over 60. New ordinations do not make up for the priests retiring and many parishes face

the prospect of one priest shared among many parishes. Rumors have been rampant about

priests from other nations, mainly Africa, being brought in to staff American parishes. The

Church is in danger of losing an entire generation of young people unable to relate or respond

to a geriatric clergy and a message of intolerance and bigotry. Rome has no answer for those

who ask how the Vatican can continue to prohibit priests from marrying and champion

celibacy while at the same time allowing Anglican priests to join the Church and bring their

wives and families with them. Is celibacy integral to being a priest or not?

I am absolutely convinced of the existence of the Holy Spirit. The latest actions

by this Pope and his minions and a 2000 year history replete with every sinful action known

to man, convince me the spirit of God and a set of rituals and sacraments which touch us

at our deepest levels as humans, is what has kept this Church from imploding long ago.

The same spirit which brought us John, the same spirit which produced people like Floyd

Lotito, the Berrigan Brothers, Thomas Merten, Francis, Ignatius and Dominic, Dorothy Day,

Claire and so many others, is the Spirit which calls us to renounce prejudices and bigotry

and embrace all of God's creation.

I know the American Catholic hierarchy looks more and more like a wing of the

Republican Party; but when I go to St. Anthony's Dining Room in San Francisco, Sacred

Heart Community Services in San Jose, or St. Vincent de Paul in Oakland, when I see hospices

and housing programs run by Catholic Charities, when I listen to priests who inspire me

and call me to be a good and faithful servant; that Spirit is alive and well and despite the

actions of the current occupant of the throne of St. Peter, Her presence will ultimately

prevail. What do you think? I welcome your comments and rebuttals. Please send them

to lionoftheleft@gmail.com