Tuesday, December 28, 2010
My first Christmas separated from family and friends was an emotional disaster. I was incapable of wishing anyone a Merry Christmas including my wife and children. Joy was nowhere to be found. In its place was recrimination, pessimism and a feeling I was in a deep hole and someone was still digging. Because of my actions, loneliness and alienation were constant companions and God was a distant, in approachable, silent force.
This is my third Christmas in this state, and it represents years of self reflection and evaluation of who I am and what is important and valuable in my and our lives and ways to come in from the weeping and gnashing of teeth, come out of the darkness and begin to close the yawning gaps and distances between me and those I love. It started with a Mass on Christmas Eve which was powerful and joyful and filled with hope. It was a liturgy built around symbols of light and dark which Christmas evokes. We filled the sanctuary and altar with candles of every size and variety. Some were broken and others barely had enough wick left to burn for any period of time. the chapel lights were out and as the priest processed in, to the strains of Angels We Have Heard On High, he carried a lone candle which would be the source of light for all the others. Light spread across the front of the chapel and on the altar, and as we sang hundreds of men, separated from everyone they love, raised their voices and spirits. At the end of the liturgy, I walked out feeling God less distant and hope a possibility.
It was on Christmas Day this theme and feeling took off and time and distance, separation, loneliness and sadness, guilt and recrimination were rendered impotent if only for a moment. It was because of "the prayer". I was able to join intimately with my wife and children in a way I would have bet was impossible. We had spoken on the phone several times...early in the morning to say Merry Christmas as they rose to open presents; around 1pm while at brunch at Granna's house and now at dinner time to say good night. My daughter, Darcy, answered her phone. She said they had just sat down at the dining room table for dinner. (the tablecloth would be red, place mats red and green, candles in Christmas colors and the china...the good stuff...passed down from on generation to another) All of a sudden I can tell I'm on a speaker phone and Darcy says, "...ok dad go ahead." I didn't know what she meant. She had put the phone in the center of the table and said, "go ahead and say the prayer." We would always start a special meal with a prayer. I would lead it in times past. Again she says, "go ahead dad, are you there?" When it hit me what she was suggesting, my knees buckled and legs were rubber. "Go ahead dad." she pleaded. "Wait, give me a second," I stammered. Someone else added, "...remember start with the sign of the cross." (very funny) So I did..."In the name of the Father...then Bless Us Oh Lord and these Thy gifts..and finally thank you for the love around this table. Thank you for our family, remember all those who don't have food on their table or a roof over their h heads or clothes on their backs." I offered a couple of intentions and then finished with,"...we ask all of this through Christ Our Lord." At that moment there was a chorus of "Amen." they then all said we love you and Merry Christmas and hung up.
For one nano second, there was no separation between us. In that one moment we were all around the table basking in the warmth of the love and care we share. Distance had been bridged, loneliness banished. We were one. ON Christmas Day it was an experience of transcendence and immanence which is what Christmas symbolizes...God's transcendence and, through the birth of Jesus, Her immanent presence in the world.
How did she know to do that? What motivated her to just put the phone down and say,"..go ahead dad?" Where did the inspiration come from and how did they know this one act would cause time and space to alter and would touch me at my deepest core? My four children and wife treated this like an everyday occurrence, a natural response to our current condition, no one batted an eye and yet when I hung up the phone, I had been transformed. Tears covered my face and I had no voice. I was unable to tell anyone what had happened. I had experienced a moment of true love and grace which rendered me speechless.
At one point I couldn't even say Merry Christmas and now I'm given a gift by those I cherish the most and it shuffles the laws of physics and unites us, touches us, brings us together and becomes a tangible, touchable, transcendent, event capable of moving and re-shaping the soul.
I don't know what lesson this teaches. What I do know is the Spirit was present at that moment. I could feel the love at that table no different than if I had been physically present and the news is really good. I'm not alone and that love I felt can never be taken away from me and all of it is available to you too.
This account could be tightened and edited so it reads better and is more concise. It could be less rambling and more cohesive. However,"the prayer" gave me glimpse of what an encounter with God must be like and it requires poetry not prose. A talent for poetry is not a gift I've been granted, so this is my best shot. I hope it makes sense to you, but even if it doesn't its proof the same power and spirit and ability to effect us exists and is available even if its through a smart phone and a loving family. Happy New Year.
President Obama is in some serious need for love this year. The Republicans urged voters to put coal in his stocking, but we can do better. My gift for the President is a "stick". Over the next two years he can use it to draw lines in the sand and possibly get re-elected in 2012.
Sarah Palin may want Santa to help her move from Wasilla to Washington, but when she opens her gift she will find a globe, so at least she can know the difference between North and South Korea, a Rosetta Stone DVD to help her English language skills and a Tom Tom GPS locator to assist her in discovering she is in the 21st century United States and not the Gilded Age of a century ago much as she may wish it to be so.
For the new Speaker of the House John Boehner, a bottle of SPF 100 sunscreen and the new anniversary boxed set of the Wizard of Oz with a special feature on the scarecrow. While he is busy watching movies, his colleague, and former occupant of the speaker's chair, Nancy Pelosi will open two gifts. The first is a San Francisco street map highlighting all available venus for her to hold town meetings with her constituents and the second is a copy of the "Back Bencher's Guide to Bomb Throwing" by Newt Gingrich.
Governor elect Jerry Brown loves to be on the cutting edge of technology so Santa will bring him an iPhone4, Blackberry, iPad, Macbook Air and a Kindle. They will all contain the same software package enabling him to actually be organized. Included on the Macbook Air will be a prescription for Ritalin to help with his advanced case of ADD. Our about to be former mayor and soon to be Lt. Governor, Gavin Newsom, will get some of the heaviest gifts this season for use in between meetings. Included in his gift box will be copies of "War and Peace", "Ulysses", the entire James Michener catalogue and all six Harry Potter novels.
Senator Jim Demint of South Carolina will receive signed copy of "The History of the Know Nothing Party" autographed by former Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forest while former speaker of the House, and recently minted Roman Catholic, Newt Gingrich will unwrap a framed portrait of Torquemada along with a biography of Galileo.
Christmas present are sometimes about what we need instead of what we want. It's the reason we open boxes of socks or underwear or vacuum cleaners and George Forman Grills. In this case we have a gift for Hanbaugh. It will be a ruling from the FCC mandating that any radio license require each station to produce a certain percentage of local content. They will finally find out if they are as talented and entertaining as they think they are or just the default setting for most radios in America. Dr. Laura, who has moved to satellite radio, will open a chic box of 600 count sheets, enough for revery day of the week.
Christmas is a time for NFL playoffs and college bowl games and sports gifts are popular. The California Golden Bears will get a gift card good for one decent quarterback coach. Meanwhile, down on the farm, Stanford is getting the game, "Where's Waldo" so they can get into practice searching for football coach Jim Harbaugh as he criss-crosses the country trying to decide which new coaching offer to accept. The San Francisco Forty-Niners will get the Blu Ray edition of the Marx brothers classic, "Is There a New Doctor In the House?" accompanied by a CD of " You Don't Want to Know the Way to San Jose".
As for the rest of us...my wish is we get a new year in which people go back to work, our nation gets its fiscal house in order, but not on the back of the middle class, someone on the regressive side of the aisle discovers a true love of country and everyone reads Matthew 25 and commits to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, heal the sick, and do whatever we can for the least of our brothers and sisters. Now that would be a great way to welcome the child in Bethlehem into the world.
What issues or principles are so crucial to President Obama, he is willing to risk being a one term president? He says he will fight to prevent repeal of his health care reform. Where is the line? What exactly will he fight over? This week, drug companies said the new law prohibits them from discounting drugs for children's hospitals. The White House was silent. McDonalds and other corporations requested, and received, exemptions from the law so they can continue to offer a pathetic shadow of health coverage to employees. A federal judge declared part of the law unconstitutional. Had there been a public option, a mandate to purchase insurance would have been legal. The line in the sand was the public option. It was the game changer. Over 60% of Americans supported the concept. President Obama abandoned it in order to compromise. No line here.
The President campaigned on ending the Bush tax cuts for the rich. He said it was a matter of fairness. He promised a new foreign policy which included closing Guantanamo, winding down two wars, pressing Israel to end illegal settlement construction and end the abuse of using claims of national security to shield government from scrutiny. He promised to clean up corruption in Afghanistan and to end the existence of banks "...too big to fail." He also said he would fight to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell in the military. His opponents called his bluff on everyone of these lines in the sand and he capitulated. He said the era of torture and extra judiciary practices by the Bush Administration and then announced the US would try to kill an American citizen it accuses of being a terrorist...no trial being necessary. While Main street is drowning, Wall Street is giving out bonuses. Banks are still too big to fail, houses are being lost to foreclosure despite the President saying he would change and modify loans and the White House is deathly afraid of the word "stimulus" in any form. To bring this Clintonesque performance full circle, Obama trotted Clinton out to hold a press conference endorsing the tax deal as a good bipartisan compromise and announced a new free trade deal with South Korea that even Obama admits wont create one new job, but will benefit some of the biggest corporations and banks in the country. These aren't lines in the sand, it's sand being kicked in working America's face.
Last week, Obama announced he was giving up on trying to get Israel to quit building illegal settlements on the West Bank. The new construction derailed peace talks with the Palestinians and hasn't cost Israel a dollar of foreign or military assistance. Obama is now being praised by the US Chamber of Commerce, the most evil organization in America, for his free trade stance and his tax deal. Business leaders who poured money into Republican coffers for the midterm elections, are now going to Washington for a summit buoyed by what they say is a new spirit of cooperation at the White House.
So, the question remains...what issue is so dear to the President...what principle is the sine qua non of his administration which he would go "all in" on in a fight with his opponents?
Contrast Obama with Bush and the fighting Illinoisan comes off even worse. Bush came into office promising to take care of "...the haves and have mores." He turned a surplus into a deficit by transferring over $1 trillion to the rich through tax cuts. He let the oil and gas industries write the environmental laws. He wanted to attack Iraq. He did. He and Cheney wanted to restore power to the executive branch so they illegally spied and invaded American's privacy. They created secret prisons, abrogated treaties, re-instituted torture and the Congress didn't blink. Bush refused to include funding for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in his budget, choosing to use emergency appropriation requests avoiding the scrutiny of how the money would be spent. Congress posed no obstacle. CAn you think of anything Bush didn't get in his first term? Do you remember him daring Democrats to vote against him? Hell, he even scheduled the vote on the Iraq war just prior to the midterm elections kicking sand in the Democrats face spoiling for a fight. He won.
I can't name a single issue Obama will go to the mat for and risk his presidency. He is looking more Clintonesque every day. It's not a good look. Clinton was a disaster as a president for progressive issues. His triangulation gave us everything from NAFTA and GATT to Don't Ask, Don't Tell, to the Telecommunications ACt of 1996, which gave us Hanbaugh et. al, to the repeal of Glass Steagall and the roots of the present economic crisis.
Maybe I'm not trying hard enough. the President says he has many lines in the sand which he will defend. Can you think of any? What's the old cliche? A man who doesn't stand for something will fall for anything.
Monday, December 13, 2010
You are at home with your family and the power goes out plunging the house into darkness. Confusion, and concern are quickly present. You wonder what happened. You call out for others in the house. You scramble to find some source of light. (And if you are like most of us, the batteries in your flashlights are dead; you can’t find the emergency light and with the darkness comes fear.) Even if all you accomplish is one lit candle, the light it provides makes the situation less frightening and gives hope other sources of light can be found. The darkness has been defeated.
Once you have some light, you break out the radio. Once again, there is fear and a sense of dread. As you listen to the news, and as the news is broadcast, your sense of unease and your fears are reduced. Information brings some level of comfort and perhaps action. Light enables you to muster resources and huddle together, and when the power comes back on, there is a great sense of relief. It is no accident the symbols of Christmas are light and new information... "Good News".
God created each of us as an act of love. God wished to know us and have us know Her. God reached out and revealed who She is. She is loving and open, forgiving and hopeful, compassionate and faithful. We were invited to love back, forgive, and spread compassion and hope and to draw as close to God as we desire. In fits and starts, we would take a step forward only to backslide into our own egos, our own needs, and ignore God. Despite God's best efforts, no one seemed to fully grasp what was offered. We lived in a dark world searching for light. We prayed for guidance. We asked God for help, for a sign, for a way to find meaning and hope in a dark world. We were afraid of the dark and looking for news of God's presence. We huddled together wishing for answers.
The Christmas story, the amalgamation of Matthew and Luke's infancy narratives, is about light conquering darkness and hope defeating fear. The light of the star, the power of angelic voices, the searching by magicians all culminate in a manger in Bethlehem and the message goes forth..."Good News (gospel) of great joy for all people. A savior has been born who is Messiah and Lord." What's so good about this news? How does it bring light and what does it mean for us?
Matthew says this child, Jesus, will be called Emmanuel. It means "..in Him, God is with us." With the birth of Jesus, one human being finally gets it. He is the candle, the emerging light. He has news and something to tell us about how to end darkness and that everything is going to be alright. We don't have to be afraid any more. For the first time, God will love and be loved totally and completely in return. Jesus will choose to live His life as fully human as possible and draw so close to God as to describe it like being Father and Son. Because of Jesus, God will now offer Her grace to us fully and completely. Our fear about life and death is ended. Our worry about our purpose and goal in life is over. It will never be dark again.
Christmas is the celebration of one person, Jesus, who accepts and returns God's love so deeply, God now is able to offer the same opportunity to all of us. God is intimately involved in the world through Jesus' humanity, and now knows the joy of having that creative love returned. With the birth of Jesus, we are out of the darkness which despair and loneliness cause. We heard the "Good News". The result is the dawn of a new era, peace on earth and goodwill for all people.
I hope you will surround yourself with light on this Christmas...candles and lamps, brightly illuminated nativity scenes and stars on the tops of trees...as well as the love of family and friends. The "Good News" is the true light has come and with him a full life is available to you and a loving God awaits. Not a bad reason to celebrate. Merry Christmas to you all.
A CHICKEN IN EVERY POT.....
The richest 1% of taxpayers won a double victory in Washington. Their income tax rates will not increase and their children will inherit more money after they die. At a time when the conventional wisdom attributes Republican electoral gains to public anger about federal deficits and spending, one might wonder how the uber-rich were able to pull off this one-two punch? The answer resides in the White House. Despite campaigning against the Bush tax cuts and promising to repeal them and despite going on 60 Minutes and bemoaning how we cant afford to borrow $700 billion to pay for them, once again President Obama has given away the store in negotiations over whether to allow the tax cuts to expire at the end of the year. In return for getting Republicans to support an additional 13 months of unemployment insurance, Obama abandoned his promise to restore Clinton era tax rates for the rich and caved on the size and scope of the estate tax. At a time when Republicans led a national weeping and gnashing of teeth over the profligate Democrats and their spending and borrowing ways, Obama and Republicans have agreed to borrow to pay for the unemployment insurance extension and acknowledge the tax cut extension will reduce revenue to the treasury by hundreds of billions of dollars thus adding to the national debt. Knowing how Democrats, particularly in the House, would react to such a complete capitulation of principle, Obama didn't even consult them while negotiations were ongoing. Obama now must depend on Republican votes to pass this deal. They rolled him like a cheap cigarette.
Here are a few facts about what Obama has wrought. The richest of the rich, who for 10 years have enjoyed tax rates at their lowest levels since 1970, get at least two more years or largesse. By agreeing to a 2-year extension, Obama guarantees the Republicans can use taxes as an issue in the race in 2012. The super rich also get a deal on the estate tax which will only effect estates over $5 million now, is reduced to 35% and only applies to less than 1/10 of one percent of tax payers. This deal will also add billions to the national debt. At the same time, people who have been on unemployment for than 99 weeks (slightly more than a year and a half) don't get any additional help. The rich get 12 years of tax relief, but if you have been out of work for close to 2 years, you don’t get squat.
Do the rich need the additional income? Have they been particularly hard hit over the past 30 years by class warfare led by socialist Democrats anxious to steal their money? In 1976 the top one percent of American taxpayers took in 9% of the nation's pretax income. In 2007, the figure was over 23.5%. Their pretax income increased 10% every year while the median income for all other Americans declined and the poverty rates increased.
The President said if he didn't agree to this deal, and tax rates increased at the end of the year, the country could lose 1 million jobs. Since the Bush tax cuts were implemented, along with a guarantee of increased job growth as the rich "trickled down" on the rest of us, the US lost more than 10 million jobs and experienced the worst economic upheaval since the Depression. Cutting taxes for the rich didn't create jobs when Reagan did it nor with Bush while adding trillions to the national debt and now the President agrees to continue a ruinous policy for the sake of some bread crumbs from the tables of the rich for people out of work. (But only recently out of work)
Warren Buffett has said, "...there is a class war going on in this country and my class is winning." President Obama has run up the white flag and announced you can’t count on him to try to reverse the trend. The trend is destroying this country. The gap between the rich and the poor is at levels not seen since the Gilded Age. The middle class continues to shrink. The American dream slips away from more and more Americans, a dream where their children perform better and have more security than their parents.
I am totally perplexed by Obama. During the healthcare debate, a majority of Americans consistently supported a public option to compete with health insurance companies. He gave it away for nothing. In exit polls on Nov. 2, 60% of those polled were in favor of letting the tax cuts expire. He capitulates again. Why won’t he fight for what average gum-chewing Americans say they want? What is he afraid of? What does he stand for?
The Wall Street Journal, that bastion of progressive journalism, says this deal will increase the President's popularity with moderate and independent voters. It will show he can get along with Republicans. Of course he can get along if he folds like a house of cards every time they object. The last Democratic president to get along with Republicans supported NAFTA, gutted welfare, de-regulated the TV and radio industries costing over 50,000 jobs and leading to the rise of Hanbaugh and company, repealed Glass-Steagle and set the stage for an economic disaster of global proportions. Is that what you voted for when you voted in 2008? Did you vote for Obama so he could cooperate with Republicans or to reverse years of disastrous policies, tax cuts for the rich, unnecessary wars and naked aggression against the Constitution?
Perhaps its time to think about who should challenge the President in the 2012 primaries. Perhaps its time to admit he is not a progressive. Perhaps its time to look for someone who will represent all of us. Do you have anyone in mind?
Sunday, December 5, 2010
Republicans made a great show of recently voting to ban "earmarks"; special funding requests politicians make for their home states. It is what used to be called pork or was known as bringing home the bacon. Republicans were responding to the screams of those in their party allegedly upset about federal spending and to voters angry at Washington for an ailing economy and high unemployment. In any given year, earmarks can represent billions in additional spending added to appropriation bills by members of Congress. Earmarks are used to fund everything BART to high-speed train projects to highway and bridge projects. The official position of the Republican Party is no more earmarks, no more pork, fiscal responsibility. Maybe...
Two of the nation's major ports are in Savannah, Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina. Both ports need money to expand and deepen so they will be able to handle bigger ships. The Panama Canal is being widened to handle much larger container ships and if these two ports are not enlarged the ships will go to New York or Virginia to unload. This could cost Georgia and South Carolina thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in lost revenue. Both Savannah and Charleston want money to dredge and deepen their channels. In the past, this would be handled by having members of Congress insert a specific request for the money into an appropriation bill. They would "earmark" the funds for the projects. However, Republicans now say they have ended this abusive practice. They heard the anger of voters and the days of log rolling and pork are over. Maybe...
Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina voted to ban earmarks. He is opposed to pork. However, when asked about money for Charleston, Graham says if he has to use earmarks to get the money to expand the port, he will. "I'm in a spot where I have to get the port deepened for economic reasons," he said. Graham says the expansion of the port is vital. This is not a bridge to nowhere or a frivolous request and he needs an exception to the ban. He is not alone.
Both Georgia senators, Saxbee Chambliss and Johnny Isakson have gone to great lengths to tout their opposition to earmarks. They point to the profligate Democrats who have ruined our economy by spending too much and for spreading pork throughout the nation. They are both champions of fiscal conservatism. So what do they say about the $400 million the port of Savannah wants from the federal government to deepen its channel? Chambliss says, "my position has consistently been support for reform or total elimination of earmarks." BUT "if a project is vital to the economy and jobs in my state. I'm sent here by the people of my state to make sure their interests are looked after." (I smell bacon frying.) What about Senator Isakson? He says he supports the ban on earmarks BUT he would "...continue to fight for funding for projects...that is critical to my state and US trade." Do I hear oinking in the background? The late senator Robert Byrd, who brought more pork to his state than any senator ever, could not have said it any better.
There are still Republicans who say they will honor the ban. Sen. Jim DeMint says he wants a merit-based system instead of earmarks. Of course, he believes Charleston has more merit than projects in other states and he will fight to get funding to deepen the port. (A rose by any other name?)
Just like sleeping in their offices to show they aren't part of the Washington establishment, the earmarks ban is another stunt Republicans have used to curry favor with the voters. The reality is every senator and member of the House will continue to bring home the bacon if they want to get re-elected. The out of control spending Republicans want to control occurred when they controlled the Congress for 6 years. The out of control federal debt ballooned while they ran the entire government from the White House to the Supreme Court. Now we are to believe they got religion and they are going to change. There's a new sheriff in town. Maybe...
The term earmark may disappear, but the practice will not. They will call it something else. The purpose of government is to give money away. Whether you are a Democrat or a Republican depends on who you want to see get the money. We need spending on infrastructure...roads and bridges etc. We need funding for research and development of emerging technologies, green technologies, and innovation in order to compete against China and India et.al. The Bay Area needs money for mass transit, bridges, roads, a smart electrical grid, universities and many other projects. There is nothing wrong with requesting funds for these purposes. We don't need political stunts and we need to call out the Republican hypocrites for exactly what they are.
Are there billions of tax dollars spent on unnecessary pork? Yes. Are there members of Congress who get funding for projects to pay off campaign contributors? Yes. Should there be some sort of point or scoring system to determine which projects will be funded? Yes. Will political stunts and hypocrisy get us there? Not in my lifetime.
I've written about this in the past, but feel an overwhelming need to hit it again. The Pentagon has finished studying whether or not it is a good idea to repeal their "Don't ask, don't tell" policy which prohibits gay soldiers from serving openly in the military. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, based on the results of the study, is now calling on Congress to repeal the ban. According to Gates, changing the policy would create only isolated disruptions with the troops. Good. The idea a citizen cannot defend or serve his or her country because of their sexual orientation is long overdue for revision. Tens of thousands of gay Americans have fought, and many died, for their country since it’s founding. It's time to honor them.
The reason I bring this up again is to encourage you to contact your member of Congress and ask them to vote to repeal the ban. Pressure should also be put on the White House not to wait for Congress. President Obama could end the ban by executive order as Commander in Chief. This whole study process was just cover for the President who promised to end the ban when he ran for the office. Now he needs to fulfill that promise.
There is one part of this exercise which totally eludes any understanding on my part. The Pentagon went to soldiers and asked them if they would be opposed to lifting the ban. Why? Gates said 70% of service members saw a positive or neutral impact if the policy is changed. So what? Who cares? I keep going back to 1948 when President Truman ended segregation in the military by executive order. Can you imagine if he had commissioned a study and went to the white soldiers to ask if they would mind living in the same barracks as African Americans and being commanded by African Americans and having whites and African Americans fraternizing together? 1948 was the year Strom Thurmond ran for president as a Dixiecrat on a platform of segregation and any attempt to change Jim Crow laws in the South. Separate but equal was alive and well in American schools and society. Racial prejudice was celebrated in this country. Can you imagine President Truman asking if the soldiers would be offended by integrating the armed services? Where did this idea come from we should consult those who are bigoted or prejudiced for their opinions about ending a prejudicial practice? Since when is the military a democracy? What answer would Truman have received if he had asked soldiers opinions in 1948?
Some African Americans bristle when their struggles for equality are equated with the push for gay rights. Homophobia is still rampant in African American communities, particularly in African American "Christian" churches. Despite their sensitivity, there is no difference. Prejudice is prejudice and bigotry in a free society is anathema. Stereotypes that lead to prejudice are destructive and usually wrong. Defenders of segregation in the military said African Americans were too stupid to lead men into combat. They were lazy and lacked a will to fight. We laugh at such characterizations now. However, those beliefs permeated the entire military in 1948.
One of the concerns of soldiers in the study was concern about sharing barracks and bathrooms with gay or lesbian soldiers. They wanted "separate" facilities. Sound familiar? Have you ever heard this before? Notwithstanding the logistical nightmare building and maintaining separate quarters etc would cause, and realizing it could never be done in times of war, the stereotypes and prejudice such a request reveals is precisely the reason this question should never have been put to soldiers in the first place.
"Don't ask, don't tell" needs to be ended now. No American should have to face discrimination because of their sexual orientation and certainly any American who wants to put their life on the line to serve their country should be welcomed with open arms. Don't you agree?
In order to show the "get it", many newly elected members of congress plan to sleep in their offices rather than rent an apartment in Washington. The Wall Street Journal reports as many as 15% of the 94 newly elected members will bunk down in their offices to show the folks at home they aren't typical politicians and Washington isn't their "home".
As a former congressional staffer, my advice is please re-consider. As a taxpaying American, my reaction is here we go again. Staff show up early and stay late in congressional offices. The last thing any of us needed was to encounter our boss emerging from her rollout cot trudging to the House gym to get a shower. As a voter, I don't care where you live. I care about whether you will attempt to solve an economic and political mess and not engage in theatrics, which accomplish neither.
The "sleeping in the office thing" has been tried before. In 1994, when Gingrich and the Republicans took over the House, many of their members made a great show of sleeping in their offices. They weren't part of the Washington "elite". They weren't there to find a home. They weren't going to become permanent fixtures in the Washington scene. They were there to implement a contract on America. We all know how that turned out. Is the American public really duped by this kind of silliness?
Since the mid-term elections, Republican leaders have let it be known their top priorities are to extend Bush-era tax cuts for the richest 2% of tax taxpayers, repeal the health care reform act, politicize the Federal Reserve, starve all new regulatory bodies of the funding they need to do their jobs, (including the new consumer protection department and a more robust Securities and Exchange Commission), and oppose a new strategic arms treaty with Russia. Nowhere in their post-election bliss, have Republicans talked about a single plan for increasing jobs. They oppose extending unemployment insurance, but they say nothing about putting Americans back to work. At a salary of $174,000 a year, they hope living in their office can distract unemployed, or under employed, Americans from the fact they have no plan and no desire to fix the most pressing problem this nation faces.
Republicans are to meet with President Obama this week. They have postponed the meeting a number of times. They have no sense of urgency and seem unaware of how many Americans are hurting. The anger that caused Americans to throw out the Democrats seems lost on Republicans. If it is not lost, it is misinterpreted. The GOP believes voters want them to cut spending and reduce the federal debt. These are classic regressive issues near and dear to their hearts. (Well not to any left over from the classes of 2001-2006 as they drove deficits and the national debt to the stratospheric levels Obama faced when he came into office). Polls on Election Day, showed balancing the budget and reducing federal debt weren't even in the top five of voters concerns. The economy and jobs were number one. Voters didn’t give a damn about the teaparty. They want to work.
Some Americans are working today because of President Obama and the Democrats. The economic stimulus package, while too modest, kept hundreds of thousands of teachers, police and fire fighters working. The bail out of General Motors is a success story. The company recently raised $18 billion from an initial public offering and announced plans to open two new factories employing hundreds. Republicans opposed the stimulus package and fought any help for General Motors. Now, they want to sleep in their offices to show they "get it". It makes you want to scream or go eat a gallon of Oreo Cookie ice cream.
I don’t care where a member of Congress sleeps. (Not even Sen. David Vitter) I don't care how they spend their six-figure salary. I don't need stunts and political symbolism. I want the Congress to implement policies that will further stimulate the economy and create jobs. I want unemployment insurance extended. I want tax credits for employers who hire new workers. Money needs to go into research and development so we can compete with China and the rest of the world on everything from bullet train technology to super computers. Roads and bridges need to be repaired. The electrical grid needs to be rebuilt. We need to make things in this country again and use rising productivity and technological breakthroughs to offset the higher wages we pay American workers.
Refusing to meet with the President, setting priorities which will not create a single job, engaging in political theater for the benefit of...well for on one's benefit, are luxuries we cannot afford. Sit down and do what the voters want you to do. Restore the economic health of this nation, put people to work, support policies which will enable us to compete globally. Sleep on your own time.
Texas Governor Rick Perry may run for president in 2012 and he needs an issue to differentiate himself from the rest of the field. He needs a populist message, which will resonate with the average gun-chewing American. Ideally, he would love an issue that can be reduced to a bumper sticker. He thinks he has found one. "United States Into Mexico". Perry has started to beat the drums calling on the United States to send troops into Mexico to combat the drug cartels currently at war with the Mexican government.
For Perry, this issue has winner written all over it. It isn't a Tea Party issue and it quickly separates him from Sarah Palin. It portents to give him foreign policy street creed which most governors lack. Americans don't like Mexicans very much and a large majority in red states hate so many Mexicans illegally entering this country. Being against drugs is a no brainer and going to war with drug cartels is something the American people can understand. It's the Untouchable all over again. It's romantic and for once you have clear good guys and bad guys. It's so simple. Bring the troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan and send them into Mexico. You can hear the anthems being written and sung on every country radio station across the fruited plains and Hanbaugh will have testosterone overdoses pushing for America to finally "win" one like we used to do.
I wouldn't be giving Perry much attention, after all he's the one who suggested Texas could secede from the union if Washington ticked them off too much, but I heard a supposed moderate to centrist talk show host on KGO endorsing the proposal and that caused my ears to perk up and my stomach to turn.
The argument goes like this. Violence in Mexico will inevitably spill over into Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. American lives will be in jeopardy. The Mexican government is incapable of dealing with the causes so we, the most powerful n nation on earth, will step in to quell the violence and save the day. Oh, and if anyone should argue against this idea, they are acknowledging the United States has become and impotent, toothless, paper tiger unable to protect its own. Santayanna is doing cartwheels in his grave.
We heard similar arguments to justify this nations engagement in Vietnam as well as Iraq and Afghanistan. We were told young Americans had to go fight and die in these countries in order to protect us here at home. We were told if we didn't fight in Vietnam, eventually the enemy would be crossing the Mexican border. Better to fight them there than here, remember? If we didn't fight in Iraq, Saddam would use weapons of mass destruction against us. (Remember the mushroom cloud in Manhattan warning?) Obama upped the ante in Afghanistan based on the premise failure there would lead to destruction here. How have those wars turned out so far? Did the peoples of those countries welcome us with open arms? Now, we are told we should send troops into Mexico once again to safeguard the homeland. Will we ever learn?
What would American troops do in Mexico? Would they dash across the border every so often to hit a cartel and then dash back? Would they engage in full-blown warfare in Mexican cities and towns, doing to them what we did to Falujah or Anbar province in Iraq? What do we do if the Mexican government objects? How far into Mexico will we go? Will we limit ourselves to just border towns? How would the world view America invading another nation? How would the Organization of American States (OAS) respond to the invasion of Mexico? Will we call it a police action as we did in Korea? What would the cartels do? Would they take us head on or term this into another guerrilla war? What's our success rate on guerrilla wars in foreign countries? Are you ready to occupy another country and how will average Mexicans view our actions in light of the fact we stole Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California from them to begin with?
The one image I can’t get out of my mind is American soldiers rolling into Mexico and coming under fire from weapons sold to the cartels by American companies. American guns killing American soldiers. I can't think of a worse scenario. The war in Mexico is fueled by tons of arms blowing into that nation from our nation. The way some people like Rick Perry, who want to sacrifice our blood and treasure in Mexico for political gain, are also opposed to any efforts to restrict the flow of guns from this nation to Mexico. Perry and the NRA oppose restrictions on gun shows. They oppose everything from waiting periods to mandating registration of firearms. Any attempt to dry up the arms flowing into Mexico to kill our soldiers, would be fought tooth and nail by the very same people who would support an invasion. This is beyond crazy.
In order to stop violence in Mexico, we would have to occupy a large portion of that nation. Where would we get the troops and the money to pull that off? The Republicans got back into power promising to cut the federal budget. Now the head of the Republican Governors Association floats the idea of spending hundreds of billions of dollars and destroying any relationship we have with Mexico and its people.
When Lyndon Johnson started to beat the war drums of Vietnam, I thought the American people would never buy what he was selling. When George Bush started talking about weapons of mass destruction and the threat of Iraq, I figured he could never sell the American people on his plan. Now Rick Perry is drumming away again and already some media types are rallying to his side. What will happen this time?
If you are a male prostitute who uses a condom to protect against the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, the Pope says you are in good moral territory. If you are a heterosexual married couple, where one of you may be HIV positive, using a condom to protect against infection is morally wrong. This is the upshot of the Pope's comments to a German journalist.
This kind of moral shape shifting is necessary because of the Church's nonsensical position on contraception. The Pope twisted into a pretzel and picked a male prostitute so he could avoid commenting on the use of condoms by heterosexual couples. Neither the male prostitute nor his partner can procreate, so allowing condom use is a morally grey area to the Pope. The prostitute may use the condom because it could be the first step towards taking responsibility for his actions and an awakening realization of how actions have consequences. The condom protects him and the Pope finds that acceptable. What about a married couple who want to protect themselves? The Pope is silent. What about a married couple where another pregnancy could cause serious mental or physical harm to the mother? Silence. What about a married couple whose family will be economically devastated by another child? Not a word. In fact, in each of these cases, the Pope would counsel the couple to live like brother and sister and never have sexual intercourse again...ever, a sure recipe for a healthy relationship.
In 1968, Pope Paul VI had set up a commission to study changing the Church's approach on birth control. The majority of the commission supported changing the Church's stance. After originally going along with their recommendation, the Pope was counseled if he adopted the majority view Catholics would leave the Church in droves. The authority of the papacy would be undermined. He would cause moral confusion. He eventually caved and issued an encyclical entitled Humanae Vitae, (on human life), in which he reiterated the Church's belief contraception is "intrinsically evil". The result was exactly as predicted. Well sort of...many did leave the Church, but thousands of them were priests and nuns who left in protest. Catholic lay people ignored the Pope and opted to use birth control to plan their families. The Pope and the bishops saw their authority under minded and found themselves irrelevant to this crucial debate about life.
In Africa, where the spread of HIV is devastating whole populations, some Catholic bishops, seeing condoms as one of the few ways to stop this epidemic, began giving tacit approval for married couples to use them. Others condemned the practice and exposed themselves to accusations of insensitivity and moral absolutism at the cost of human lives. Husbands and wives could not use condoms to prevent the spread of the disease even though the ensuing pregnancy could result in a child born with HIV as well.
According to Humanae Vitae, every act of intercourse has to be both unitive and open to procreation. How can a marriage be united if the two people can never make love, or when they do, they do so in utter fear of what the results of a pregnancy could do their family? Any unity which may have existed will be destroyed and the marriage over.
So, the Pope takes a mini step to acknowledge condom use and its applicability to preventing the spread of disease and death. In doing so, he looks to be as out of touch with reality as his predecessors were in their antagonism to Galileo. When a couple uses the "rhythm" method, which is approved by the Church, they use the calendar to chart the days when having sex will not produce a pregnancy. Their "intent" is to have sex but not procreate. This violates Humanae Vitae but is allowed because it's "natural". The "intent" of a couple who use a condom or pill is exactly the same, but their action is intrinsically evil. You can hear robes and stoles bending and twisting in the Vatican even now.
Does God care if a couple in a loving marriage...a marriage committed to permanency, to loving each other, to sacrificing for each other and being faithful to each other...uses contraception in order to control their fertility while maintain a strong marriage? NO. She does not care. God created us to love Her and ourselves and to treat other with the same attitude.
The Church lost touch with the Spirit when Paul VI didn't listen to God, but rather to Vatican apparatchiks concerned about maintaining the status quo and with it their power. The theological yoga the Pope is currently engaged in, is a result of that failure to heed God's Spirit and it will continue as long as the Church puts rules ahead of loving common sense.