Saturday, May 28, 2011

Whitened Sepulchers

For 22 years, no institution gave me more material and subject matter to talk about than the Roman Catholic Church. They are still a gift, which keeps on giving. While I'm sure they believed my voice was silenced, and they didn’t have to worry about hearing from me ever again, I'm sorry to upset their plans or their psyches.

In Christian scripture, one of the best ways to incur Jesus' wrath was to be guilty of hypocrisy. In a confrontation with the Pharisees, Jesus pointed out their hypocrisy and called them "whitened sepulchers"...pretty on the outside but dead on the inside. A number of news items crossed my bunk recently, which cried out for comment and outrage; and I am only too glad to accommodate.

The National Catholic Bishops commissioned a study by John Jay University Law School investigating the cause or causes of the sex abuse scandals, which have plagued the Church for so many years. On the plus side, the study concluded neither celibacy nor homosexuality were causes of the scandal. The report pointed out as more and more gay priests were ordained, the incidents of abuse actually dropped. However, their main conclusion amounts to blaming the 60's for the actions of abusive priests. The report points out most of the priests engaged in abuse were educated in seminaries in the 40's and 50's and were not prepared for the world they encountered as the 60's hit full throttle. The change in sexual mores, the liberation of cultural standards, moral relativism, changing gender roles and an anti-authority ethos overwhelmed these priests and left them with few moral guideposts to depend upon. Most had gone into the seminary after the 8th grade at age 13 and were developmentally stilted and emotionally walled off and when you combined their naïveté with the free sex, no rules, sex...drugs...rock and roll milieu of the 60's, the resultant abuse grew. You can choose to accept their conclusions or not, but the bishop's money was well spent. The report at no time speaks to the real reason the scandal grew out of control. There is no mention of the role Catholic bishops played in covering up and hiding the actions of a few priests. We now know bishops paid hush money and threatened and intimidated parents and demanded non-disclosure agreements in return for monetary settlements. We now know they moved priests around from parish to parish and we now know they were more concerned with the Church's reputation than they were with the victims. Yes there would have been some sexual abuse in the 60's for the reasons stated. What is totally ignored is an examination of how the damage would have been limited and stopped if the bishops had not acted as they did. Where the hypocrisy rises to new levels is Pope Benedict XVI trying to quickly canonize his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, even though he turned a blind eye to almost every report and every accusation of abuse directed at priests throughout the world.

The Bishops of Wales and England are calling on Catholics in those nations to refrain from eating meet on Fridays all year round. As I grew up, we were not allowed to eat meat on Fridays. This was said to be a small sacrifice to honor the day on which Jesus was crucified. The reality is this prohibition was started in Italy as a way to bolster the fishing economy of the country. The practice was abandoned after the Second Vatican Council and is now only followed during the 40 days of Lent. The Welsh and English bishops are concerned with the drop in membership numbers of the Church and in particular the decreasing numbers of young people joining or remaining in the church. They point to studies, which show, as churches become less demanding of their members, membership drops off. They also point to the fact dietary restrictions are one way to set ones group off from others. Kosher rules distinguish Jews from other religions and these bishops want some practices reinstated to distinguish Catholics from Protestants. The Pope is adding his touch by making it acceptable to have Latin Masses throughout the church. The Latin Mass fell into disfavor after Vatican II because the priest stood with his back to the people, the language was foreign and the people were spectators. The Pope thinks returning to such practices will re-invigorate his church. If the Pope and bishops wish to know why there are fewer young people than ever going to church, perhaps they might look at the fact the average age of a Catholic priest in America and Europe is over 60. The average age of new priests is almost 40. There is no ministry leadership in the church, which has any idea how to appeal to or to cope with the world of my children and their generation. Young females have to participate in a church, which treats women as second-class citizens, and the Church's message to young people has little relevance to the world in which they are immersed. Rather than open the ministry to women, encourage a married clergy and speak in a voice relevant to the times, the leadership is rolling out meatless Fridays and unintelligible religious services.

Finally, House Speaker John Boehner has been invited to give the commencement address at the Catholic University of America. His invitation was approved by bishops and cardinals who sit on the board of trustees of the university. In protest to his invitation, more than 75 faculty members of CU and other Catholic universities have written a letter to Mr. Boehner accusing him of shepherding a budget bill through the house, which will hurt the poor, the elderly and the most vulnerable of American society. They remind Mr. Boehner, his budget fails to uphold basic Catholic teachings. "Mr. Speaker, your voting record is at variance with one of the church's most ancient moral teachings," the letter goes on to say "...from the apostles to the present, the magisterial (teaching) of the Church has insisted those in power are morally obliged to preference the needs of the poor. They go on to say his record on this principle is one of the worst in Congress and they call his practices "anti-life". Now here is where the sepulcher gets a good white washing. A spokesman for CU defends the decision to invite Boehner by saying there are diverse viewpoints within the Catholic Church over these issues. I love the smell of hypocrisy in the morning. It smells like cafeteria Catholicism.

Former New York Governor Mario Cuomo, Senator John Kerry, Senator Ted Kennedy and many other Catholic politicians have been attacked, as has President Obama, for being invited to speak at Catholic universities because they support a woman's right to choose. Regressive Catholics call them anti-life. Some bishops have even called for them to be denied communion because they disagree with the Church on this issue. Apparently, there is no allowance for diverse viewpoints here. Catholic politicians voted to go to war in Iraq, despite the National Conference of Catholic Bishops declaring it an immoral war. What did the Church say about their vote to authorize the use of force and the resulting deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis undoubtedly including pregnant women? Were any of them denied communion or opportunities to speak at Catholic schools or institutions? The Church is opposed to the death penalty, but it has never excoriated a single Catholic politician who supports execution. Pope John Paul II said unregulated free market capitalism is immoral and yet regressive Catholic members of Congress and the Senate have worked for 40 years to deregulate our financial industry and the resulting depression didn't elicit a single word of criticism from Rome. The gospel of Matthew says if you want salvation you must feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, and visit those in prison. Whatever you do or don't do to the least of your brothers and sisters you do or don't do to God. In your lifetime, have you ever seen or heard of criticism of a sitting Catholic politician for supporting policies, which make the rich richer and the poor poorer? So, if you oppose abortion you are pro-life in the eyes of the Catholic Church and there is no allowance for divergent viewpoints. However, if you pass budgets which hurt the poor and vulnerable...if you vote for wars which kills hundreds of thousands, if you support execution, the building of vast stores of nuclear weapons and work to bust unions and drive down wages while passing tax cuts for the most wealthy, you are a Catholic in good standing because there are divergent viewpoints on the moral importance of these matters. Boehner, with the worst pro-life voting record in the House, is welcomed at by the bishops and cardinals running Catholic University; but Ted Kennedy is anathema.

I'm tired of the hypocrisy of the leadership of the Catholic Church. They sit back silently as more and more regressives, including people like Newt Gingrich (oh he of three wives), join the church because they feel at home and feel comfortable with its theology and policies. I'm tired of a church, which has strayed so far officially from the vision of its founder; and I understand perfectly why numbers are down. Young people spot hypocrisy faster than most and they just can’t stand it anymore. I watch as church leaders become the new Pharisees living as whitened sepulchers supporting a pro-birth movement while the quality of life of the nation's neediest and most vulnerable is eroding under the practices of people like Boehner and you don't hear a word of protest from them.


ITEM: The Japanese government announced it has abandoned its goal of getting 50% of the nation's power needs from nuclear energy. The prime minister said they would seek to increase alternative energy sources such as wind, solar and hydroelectric energy.

ITEM: As American nuclear power plants come up for re-licensing, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has been accused of being too cozy with the nuclear power industry. Too many industry insiders have been appointed to the commission over the years and its regulatory policies are considered lax.

ITEM: The Japanese Nuclear Industrial and Safety Agency says the Fukushima Daiichi reactor was damaged much worse than originally thought and a meltdown of fuel rods occurred. Tepco Electric Power Co. admits one of the plants six reactors suffered substantial meltdown on DAY ONE. All three nuclear reactors are leaking radioactive material.

ITEM: A commission on what to do with nuclear waster wants to build steel and concrete buildings above ground to store the waste admitting the plan to bury nuclear waste is a political non-starter.

ITEM: Nuclear fuel began melting much sooner than had been previously thought in the damaged Japanese reactors. Much of the chaos and many of the most serious mistakes were made by engineers BEFORE the tsunami struck.

ITEM: An engineer at a Minnesota nuclear plant warned the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that crucial emergency vents, designed to relieve pressure at crippled Japanese nuclear plants, were seriously flawed and could fail in an earthquake. His warning came 5 years before the meltdown in Japan and the NRC rejected his warning and did nothing. The same vents are used in American nuclear reactors.

ITEM: A review of emergency plans in American nuclear plants found them out of date and many poorly designed to deal with multiple crises as occurred in Japan.

You can't turn on the program of Dr. Bill Wattenberg without hearing glowing tributes and passionate defense of the nuclear energy industry. He is not alone. President Obama and some environmentalists have also included increased nuclear plants into their mixture of energy policy in the future. Construction on at least three new plants is currently underway right now in this country. It is so alluring. It's relatively cheap, does not contribute to global warming and is so much prettier and safer for workers than ugly coal mines.

Unfortunately, when the lights come on and everyone sobers up, the picture is much less attractive. We now know the agency in the Dept. of the Interior whose job it was to regulate deep water oil drilling was a joke. It allowed the oil industry to write regulations. Federal employees were winded and dined by oil and construction companies and the result was the Gulf Oil spill. The Securities and Exchange Commission was a fox guarding the henhouse. Because so many of its commissioners and regulators moved back and forth between Wall Street and Washington, the SEC was a walking conflict of interest. It was soft on Wall Street and ignored people like Bernie Madoff even after being warned. In fact, we now know the entire financial regulatory industry failed to protect our interests resulting in the financial meltdown of 2008 the effects of which we are still feeling. The Food and Drug Administration allows pharmaceutical companies to pay for and run their own tests for new drugs. The Agriculture Department does not inspect a tenth of all meat and poultry and egg processing operations. A recent Federal Communications Commission member, who voted in favor of the merger of Comcast and NBC, quickly resigned and went to work for Comcast. Now, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is accused of the same problem. The commission is too cozy with the industry it regulates. It overlooks serious problems when re-licensing old nuclear facilities. It doesn't rigorously review emergency protocols. There is a revolving door between the commission and the industry. This agency tasked with ensuring the safety of nuclear plant design, approving emergency procedures, and forcing the industry to produce a safe product no matter what the cost, is just as corrupt and inept as almost all other federal regulatory agencies. That should make anyone living near Diablo Canyon or San Onofre sleep better at night.

The ultimate reason why nuclear power must be abandoned is the problem of waste. For years the answer was to bury it in Nevada. President Obama has abandoned this plan when it was discovered the deep caves leaked, and the political will to force it down Nevadans throats didn't exist. Now, a commission is proposing building aboveground waste containment buildings. Why not just hang out a large neon sign saying "TERRORISTS ATTACK HERE"? What city or state would want nuclear waste repositories anywhere near them? What would happen if one of these buildings got hit by a 9.0 earthquake or a 200 mph force 5 tornado? Oh, they would be built to withstand such possibilities right? Who would oversee this process to ensure it was done right? The Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Congress, of course. There is no solution about what to do with nuclear waste. Right now it is stored in pools alongside operating nuclear plants. How safe is that?

It is time to admit the truth. Nuclear power plants and nuclear power have to be abandoned as answers to our energy needs. They are not safe and the nuclear power industry will always be trying to build them as cheaply as possible. They will water down regulations and spend millions to lobby Congress to prevent strict oversight. They will fight anything viewed as too stringent or onerous and the federal regulatory process will allow them to continue unabated. They will act like typical American corporations. There is no solution about what to do with nuclear waste. It is only a matter of time before someone with bad intentions gets their hands on some or an accident or natural disaster causes an environmental nightmare.

In Joplin, Missouri, residents say despite being hit by the biggest tornado in 60 years, and losing a third of their city, they will rebuild. There is a debate about whether anyone will be allowed to live within 12 miles of the Fukushima Daiichi plant EVER again.


If you are reading this, one of two truths are in play. Either the world did not end on May 21st, or the rapture occurred, but you didn't make the cut. Welcome to 7 years of pestilence in which reading my musings and observations may be considered the first few rings of hell.

Where I live, everyone is a guest of the federal government. As such, there are plenty of subjects, which rise to the level of conversation. It is no small matter to be sitting at lunch or dinner and have an entire table debating and discussing the possible end of the world and all associated matters. What is it about this concept of the world ending which causes so many to talk for so long about so little?

In Christian scripture, discussion about the end times comes under the title of the "perusia". We are not plowing new territory here in 2011. After the resurrection, early Christian communities were obsessed with the "end times" and the second coming of Jesus. They believed the world would end next week. St. Paul says not to marry, spend time in prayer and don’t get distracted by worldly things or you will miss it. There was urgency to the spreading of the "good news" as no one knew when Jesus would return and they wanted to save as many as they could. Eventually, after the apostles and disciples die, the world goes on and these religious communities had to reset their expectations.

There have been plenty of examples of "prophets” announcing they know when the end times will occur and calling for their followers to prepare. People sold all their worldly possessions, fled to the mountains and waited, only to be disappointed time after time. Despite a 2000-year track record of failure, these apostles of doom and Armageddon are still able to attract followers. How is that possible?

Death scares the hell out of us that's how. Americans spend billions of dollars each year trying to forestall the inevitable. 90% of health care costs are incurred in the last 10% of people's lives. Death is the great equalizer and no one can avoid it. Those who preach the end of the world are selling certainty in a sea of doubt and fear. You don't have to wonder. You don't have to worry. You know exactly when it's going to happen. The uncertainty, and the anxiety and angst which co-exist with it, is what really sets people off. Knowing when death will appear can be very appealing to some.

An additional wrinkle is added when you proclaim to know when the end will happen and you announce there will be a privileged few who will be taken directly to heaven to bask in God's glory. The "rapture" is a way to propagate an exclusive club where members go directly to paradise, do not pass Go and don't have to worry about collecting $200. Being part of the rapture is the ultimate cosmic razz berry, taking aim not only at death, but also at the secondary fear about what will happen to you after you die. The rapture is a supernatural velvet rope. If your name is on the list, open the pearly gates. If not, you get left behind to suffer everything from war and pestilence to the rising of the anti-Christ who will torment human kind for eons to come (sort of like an being required to watch a never ending loop of Jersey Shore). Most traditional raptures say 144,000 souls will be saved. Talk about exclusive.

In the last couple of weeks, you may have joked with friends about the end of the world, seen billboards proclaiming its arrival, watched CNN parse and chew on the subject and, if you are honest, gave the slightest of serious thought to what if its true. Why? Death is always on our minds.

There is nothing in scripture to support a physical ending of the world. There are plenty of references to Jesus' return, the end time and lots of spooky stuff in the Book of Revelation, but none of it is about existence ending. If you think about it, why would God continue to create only to bring all life to an abrupt and untimely end? She would have no motive. If you believe God created each of us on purpose and to love and be loved in return; a sudden world ending makes no sense. If you imagine a loving God who creates for tens of thousands of years, billions of souls, only to save 144,000 you have a better imagination than me; and besides, your God is not one I would want to have anything to do with anyway.

There are hints in Christian and Hebrew scripture about what the "end of the world" could mean. Perhaps no clearer insight comes from Jesus and His Sermon on the Mount. As you listen, you first conclude He must have been on some serious drugs that day. Peacemakers are not blessed and the meek won't inherit anything. No one can look at this world and say the poor will be blessed and rewarded and being persecuted for righteousness just gets you killed. These are the harsh realities of the world. Yet, Jesus persisted. He imagined a world where peacemakers are blessed because we are all committed to peace. The meek will be blessed because we will all be meek of heart towards each other. The poor will inherit the kingdom because when you let go of "stuff” you can live and care for each other...even the least of your brothers and sisters. The "end of the world", in Jesus' view, is the end of the world as we know it...replaced by a world where the rich and poor and peacemakers et. al. reign supreme.

All of this talk about the world ending is fun because death doesn't scare me anymore. It did. I was obsessed with it most of my life. I ruined my 50th year of life because I was devastated to realize most of my life was over and I would die. However, after you lose everything, get your ego crushed, get embarrassed and humiliated in front of the world, have friends abandon you, wake up to all the ways you have blown it and know all the pain you have caused those you love and who love you, the only thing left to do is spend time in reflection until you have that epiphany and realize what is really of value in your life. What could death have in store for me that is worse than my own fine choices to screw up my time in this world?

In the gospel of John, Jesus says, "...I come to bring you life and life to its fullest." He isn't concerned about what comes next. His kingdom is now. His values are about now. His wisdom is about living a full life now. If, like me, you were lost or had your priorities messed up...if you bought the message He who dies with the most "stuff" wins...if all you can imagine is the pleasure and perks you enjoy and hope to acquire more...then death has to be a very frightening specter hanging over your shoulder. However, if you can forgive when you are hurt, love without reservation or condition...if you can pursue a full and abundant life...if you are grateful everyday for all you have been given and realize all life is a gift...if you are meek of heart, committed to peace and willing to witness to what is right...your life will be full and loving and warm and death will not be something to fear.

So, to those of you who were lucky enough to be in raptured, congratulations. The rest of us will muddle along, trying to improve the world, love our family and friends, reach out to our enemies and hope for a full life. I leave it up to you to decide which group is for you. I've made up my mind.

Friday, May 27, 2011


As Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed a joint meeting of Congress, Israel was finishing plans to add 1,600 new homes in East Jerusalem. As the prime minister lectured President Obama about a proposal to start peace talks with the Palestinians based on pre-1967 borders, new settlements are starting and others expanding in the West Bank. As the United States gives billions of tax dollars to Israel, Jewish donors here in this country are threatening to withhold funds for the President's re-election campaign if he doesn't soften his stance towards Israel. As the song goes, with friends like these.....

Since the war in 1967, a war that Israel did not start, the Israelis have occupied the West Bank and built thousands of illegal settlements. This was not an accident. Israel knew the only way they could hold on to this territory was to populate it and make it a de-facto part of their nation. When Netanyahu says the pre-1967 borders are indefensible, what he doesn't say is this has been part of the plan from the beginning. Other than the Israelis, no one in the international community believes the settlements are legal. Even American presidents have agreed with that characterization. They are a deliberate design to annex the West Bank and have it subsumed by Israel. The billions of dollars America has given to Israel were used to offset the expense of building these settlements and to find the Israeli military to enforce their continued existence.

Israel is in a tough spot. As the revolutions of the Arab Spring continue, they face new leadership in Tunis, Egypt, Yemen, and possibly Bahrain, Libya and elsewhere, who are not interested in maintaining the status quo. Egypt brokered a deal between the PLO and Hamas on the governing of the West Bank and Gaza. They say they will open the border with Gaza to allow trade and commerce to resume. Israel faces a demographic time bomb and within a few years could have a Jewish minority ruling over an Arab majority in a new form of apartheid. In September, the United Nations will vote on whether to recognize Palestine as an independent nation. Unless the United States vetoes the proposal, it is expected to pass. (Some think Obama's recent speech calling for a return to the pre-1967 borders as a starting point was an intended to assuage European nations and give them a reason to vote against the UN resolution) Yet, in front of Congress, Netanyahu raised every boogey man and threat scenarios to create a picture of a besieged Israel threatened with destruction daring American politicians to waver in their support and face electoral doom.

According to Netanyahu, Israel must maintain the strongest military in the region, built on American tax dollars and using weapons given to them for virtually nothing, while the Palestinians must be de-militarized. Israel must keep the land annexed in the West Bank while Palestinians live within the claustrophobic boundaries Israel allows. Israel must maintain control of the air; while Palestine asks permission to have their own airport and Israel must be free to cross into Palestine at any time for security reasons as it builds a wall to prevent Palestinians from encroaching on Israeli territory. This asymmetry is the basis for any peace talks so far as Israel is concerned. Therefore, no peace talks can resume and Palestine will be recognized as an independent state and Israel's security will be weakened and imperiled.

On the other side, this is what must happen. The Palestinian authority must recognize Israel's right to exist and that means convincing Hamas to agree as well. There cannot be negotiations if one party doesn't acknowledge the legitimacy of the other. Palestinians displaced by the wars on Israel will not be able to return. That ship has sailed. Palestinians must halt rocket and other attacks on Israel and show they can control the security in their land. Jerusalem has to become an international city under the auspices of the U.N. open to all faiths and not the private refuge of Jews, Muslims or Christians.

In his speech to Congress, Netanyahu had the chutzpah to threaten American politicians who support the rights of the Palestinians. They are selling Israel out and are soft on terrorism. He drew a political line in the sand daring any member of Congress to cross it. Any wavering on supporting Israel is appeasement and will lead to Israel's destruction. Any talk of negotiations is code for weakening Israel and you do so at your own political peril.

President Obama has staked out a clear position. Peace talks start with the pre-1967 borders as a basis of discussion. Land swaps will be part of any talks, but at the end of the day, settlements will have to go and the buffer, which is the West Bank, must change. The President and American taxpayers need to tell Mr. Netanyahu if he disagrees fine, but he does so sacrificing all American foreign and military aid. Obama has to let American Jewish donors know he will not be intimidated nor will he sacrifice American national security to protect an Israel not interested in peace.

We now reach the crux of the problem for the president. America's national security and its ability to fight terrorism hinge on a settlement between Israel and Palestine. Right now Israel is the tail wagging the American dog. American support for dictators in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and other nations in the region was based on maintaining the status quo with Israel. Our national security is compromised as long as this current standoff continues. Over 5,000 Americans died and hundreds of thousands wounded in Iraq because President Bush's national security team, Cheney...Wolfowitz...Pearl...Feith...Rumsfeld...Libby..Hadley...Bolton et. al. were signatories and supporters of the Project for a New American Century which had as its centerpiece policy invading Iraq to eliminate Saddam Hussein because he was a threat to Israel.

I have no illusions any American politician will threaten to cut off aid to Israel. President Obama will court Jewish donors and will soften if not abandon any real attempts to pressure Israel. The status quo will remain. However, the U.N. will vote to recognize Palestine. (What will the US do?) New leadership in many Arab nations will be less supportive of the current situation. The Arab population in the occupied territories will continue to grow and our national security will continue under threat. A two-state solution is the only answer. There must be a solution guaranteeing Israel's security and recognizing the rights of the Palestinians. However this cannot happen as long as Netanyahu leads Israel and American politicians are scared to take him on.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


America's youth are failing at civics. You remember civics class. It was about government and who runs it and how it was established and who your representatives are and how a bill becomes law. I can never think of civics without hearing that schoolhouse rock song, "...I’m just a bill a lonely bill going up on Capitol Hill." Unfortunately, according to a new study, most of the youth of this nation are woefully lacking in knowledge about the workings of their government.

According to former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, we need to redouble our efforts at teaching government to our children. She says they can’t fully participate in this nation if they are ignorant of its beginnings and its functions and how they can influence its direction. I thought I would help Justice O’Connor and present you with my new curriculum for civics. Feel free to forward this to any middle or high school for their use.

One of the weakest areas of knowledge, according to a test, was knowledge of the Bill of Rights. Students didn’t know its origins nor what its importance is or why it was included with the Constitution to begin with. We need to teach them about the first amendment. The first amendment guarantees freedom of speech. We need to develop lesson plans which will stress how corporations are considered persons even though the founding fathers would be rolling in their graves if they knew about this. These corporate "persons" have the right to inundate the political system with anonymous money so their voices can be heard. That this tsunami of money drowns out any ability of average citizens to have an impact on the political process is just an unintended consequence of enforcing corporate constitutional protections. The first amendment is cited constantly on regressive talk radio. They have to be free and unfettered to say anything they wish and any attempt to widen the debate smacks of censorship and totalitarianism. Students need to learn how one corporation can own 1,000 radio stations and newspapers and TV networks and how this lack of competition squeezed out any message other than the one Hanbaugh et. al. want you to hear. It's their first amendment right.

We need a PowerPoint presentation on the latest debate over the 2nd amendment. In states all over this nation, proposals are being put forth to permit students to carry guns on campus of colleges and universities. These are companion pieces to legislation allowing guns in churches, bars, sporting events and those guns can be concealed. Students need to know this latest iteration of the Supreme Court, which expanded first amendment rights for corporations, believes the founders wanted everyone, everywhere to have a gun and any attempt to register or control the supply is un-American and an affront to the Bill of Rights. We are a nation standing in gasoline up to our armpits and the 2nd amendment is designed to give everyone a book of matches.

One of the surprises our students will learn is there is no 4th amendment to the Constitution anymore. It has been rescinded in practice and soon in principle. It is supposed to protect Americans from unreasonable search and seizure of their person and property without probably cause and a warrant. Stop it; I can hear you laughing from here. Yes that is what it says. I know it was rendered moot by the Patriot Act. I know the government can listen to your phone, read your mail, mine your email and Internet activities and never have to ask you for permission or even ask a judge to rubberstamp their activities. I know your employer can make you prove you don’t use drugs with random tests and the police can set up checkpoints in which you are assumed to be guilty until you prove otherwise (actually this also renders the 5th amendment moot...well another chapter covered too). Justice O’Connor wants students to understand why the Bill of Rights is so important. She wants them to know it protects the minority from the protects the individual against the power of the places limits on power...unfortunately what she wants them to know is as quaint as rumble seats and buggy whips.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has announced he wants to be president. He says his campaign will be based on the cornerstone of the 10th Amendment. It reserves for the states any powers not articulated by the Constitution for the federal government and gives them to the states. Gingrich used to call this "New Federalism". In his vision for America we would go back to the day when states were more powerful than the federal government. You remember that golden era don’t you? Jim Crow was alive and well in the South. Women had no voting rights. There were no child labor laws, no 8-hour day or 40-hour week. The world of Newt did not have equal access to education or medical care. Prayer and prejudice were comingled in public schools. Clean water, clean air and a healthy environment would be a thing of the past. Gingrich is the one who said if a school votes to establish prayer, it should be their right and the majority should rule. Perhaps Justice O’Connor could include him in her class.

We should all know more about the Bill of Rights. Like any endangered species, the only way to save it is to call attention to its possible demise. The death of Osama Bin Laden is a reminder of how much we have wrecked one of the great documents of all time in the name of safety and security and because true freedom scares the powerful elites to death.

Friday, May 13, 2011


Back in the day, the news about the separation of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver would have found me engaging in non- stop schadenfruede. When I would refer to Arnold, I used to call him the "boobengrabber". I couldn't believe voters ignored all the stories about his loutish and sexist behavior on movie sets. The L.A. Times faced withering criticism of trying to mess with the outcome when they published their story on all the accusations just days before the election. At that time, Maria defended him completely. Despite the revelations, or at least the rumors, he was re-elected and got a fair amount of the women's vote.

I knew Maria Shriver in passing. I taught her brother in high school, was a guest at her house on occasion and worked with her mother, Eunice, on a project to help reduce the number of teen pregnancies and increase the number of full weight babies born to teens. The few times I encountered her in Washington D. C. or when we were both covering news events, she was aloof, prickly and full of herself. She was in many ways the opposite of her mother and father.

Given such background, and given I thought Governor Schwarzenegger was a disaster for California, the fact of their separation should have been great grist for my mill. Instead, my first reaction was one of sadness. I spent a good portion of my professional life judging others and feeling free to cast aspersions and question personal morality. I was quick to condemn and didn't make much of a separation between the person and their politics or policies. I could be vicious and relentless. I'm not in the judging business anymore. Part of this shift in perspective is a result of my own fall from grace (the old people who live in glass houses adage). I worry people will ignore the majority of my life and reduce it down to one mistake. It's an easy way to put someone in a comfortable box and enjoy their struggles. I don't fit in a box. There was a me before my disastrous mistake in judgment and I resent being reduced to a caricature by some. Having now walked a few miles in the governor and his wife's shoes, I will make a distinction between their public and private selves and allow they could be vastly different.

The other reason my reaction to their separation is subdued is because "...there but for the grace of God go I." When my fall became public, it was both national and local news. It is impossible to describe the humiliation and embarrassment my family had to go through. At that moment, I offered to divorce my wife. It would be a symbolic act signifying she had nothing to do with my behavior, condemned it, and was kicking me to the curb in reaction to it (all of which is true as to her reaction except for the final conclusion). I thought a divorce would protect her from being tarred by fallout caused by my stupidity. She looked me straight in the eye and said, "...I married you for better or worse, and this is the worst ever, but I am not going anywhere." There is not a soul who would have criticized my wife for divorcing me. It made good sense and she would avoid being dragged underwater by the tsunami of coverage and condemnation coming my way. Yet, she did not choose this option. In no way am I trying to suggest we are somehow superior or better than the Governor and his wife, I'm just saying a marriage is a very private and complicated structure and presuming to know why two people act in one way or the other is a dangerous activity to engage in.

The great actor, Jimmy Cagney, was married for 50 years. As Hollywood marriages go, that is extraordinary. He was once asked his secret. His response was one word..."expectations." He said our expectations about marriage are unrealistic and no marriage could live up to the picture painted by the movies and in the minds of romantics. He and his wife kept their expectations reasonable and rode out the highs and lows. Marriage in our culture has become an institution in name only. It is almost easier to end one than it is to start one. We live in a disposable society where we discard anything no longer useful or relevant and move on to something new. It should be lost on no one; the states with the highest divorce rates are below the buckle of the Bible belt. Religious fervor or fundamentalist beliefs are no predictor of a long marriage. It is also ironic one of the most contentious debates in society today is whether or not to allow two people of the same sex to marry. At a time of high divorce rates, and rising rates of people not marrying at all, you would think we would cheer to see a segment of our population fighting for the right to marry.

I have no idea why Arnold and Maria have separated. Perhaps she had played the good wife while he was in political office, but now that it was over she felt it was time to act. Perhaps she was constrained by her Catholic faith in which the Church is opposed to divorce and remarriage. Who knows? Maybe they just fell out of love. The Catholic Church believes every sacrament has an outward sign. The sign of marriage is the love between the two people. If it is no longer there, perhaps there is no marriage anymore. Maybe they will figure out a solution and an accommodation and be able to stay married. They have four children, as do my wife and I. My children are blessed with a mother who decided to try and hang in there and keep the family together and I am committed to rebuilding the damage I have done to our relationship. I hope, no matter what the ultimate outcome, the four Schwarzenegger/Shriver children are loved and cared for by both parents.

There is no joy or satisfaction watching a 25-year marriage disintegrate. Too often, as we argue and attack over political issues, we forget the other side is populated with people the same as us. We want to portray them as the "other" because it makes it easier to demonize them and fun to enjoy their failures and defeats. I will still attack and condemn regressives and expose the harm their policies will cause this nation, but I will try much harder not to portray them as "other" and to commiserate with their sorrow or pain whether they return the favor or not.

The tabloids will have a field day with this latest scandal. It will not be something I want to read about or advance any prurient curiosity in any way. I'm sad a family is in turmoil and it has to be played out in public. It is not an experience I would wish on my worst enemy.

I am a lucky and blessed man. I could have been thrown under the bus and had to endure this trial by myself. Instead, I have a loving wife and children, a marvelous extended family, and friends like so many of you. The gratitude I feel, and the knowledge it could have been so different, causes me to be sad when a marriage ends, when families suffer, when children are left to wonder about the future and my only regret is I didn't have this perspective a long time ago.

Friday, May 6, 2011


Many Americans claim the United States is a nation founded upon Christian principles. A Christian principle is a tenet or belief with which Jesus of Nazareth would agree. Regressive Catholics excoriate their progressive colleagues for picking and choosing which moral precepts they will follow or ignore. These "orthodox" believers derisively refer to these dissenters as "cafeteria Catholics". I wonder how many other Christians find themselves picking up trays in the same cafeteria these days.

This country has seen celebrations crop up all over the land and celebrating the killing of Osama Bin Laden. So, I now ask the question...if pressed, would Jesus have approved of the decision to find Bin Laden and kill him?

Scripture couldn't be clearer on the subject. Jesus demanded his followers love their enemies...turn the other cheek...forgive an infinite number of times...He declared the dictum " eye for an eye", outmoded, to be supplanted by a new God with all your heart and all your soul and your neighbor as yourself. When Peter cut off the ear of one of the men sent to seize Jesus in the Garden He rebuked Peter. He forgave the soldiers who crucified Him and envisioned a world where peacemakers are blessed and the meek inherit the earth. His title is Prince of Peace and yet the actions of the U.S. Seal team on Sunday were anything but peaceful.

President Obama claimed Bin Laden had been "...brought to justice." A columnist for the Wall Street Journal bristled at such a suggestion. According to him, this was an act of revenge, plain and simple and Americans should be proud of a President committed to avenging the attacks of September 11th. Where do you think the majority of Americans come down on this question? Where do Christians stand on this? Was it justice or revenge?

Play this in your own mind. Walk with Jesus as he eats with tax collectors, takes water from a Samaritan woman, refused to condemn the adulteress to death, and calls on His apostles and disciples to let go of the beliefs of the past and embrace a philosophy of total love and compassion. Get His attention and ask him, "...Rabbi is it proper to seek out Osama Bin Laden and kill him?" What would He say?

If we had taken Bin Laden in to custody and gave him a life sentence without the possibility of parole, how many Americans would have been shouting, "...USA, USA" and gathering all over the nations to celebrate? How many "Christians" would have demanded the death penalty?

No one has to be a Christian. However, if you are going to call yourself one, and then ignore the most fundamental tenets of the founder, what does that say about you? What would Jesus say about a nation, which invades another, lies about its motives, kills hundreds of thousands of innocent people and does so in His Mother's name? As our drones assassinate at will and we torture and devastate claiming the end justifies the means, how would Jesus react? So many of the same "Christians" who want to claim special status for this nations's founding principles, are thrilled today with the death of Bin Laden.

What about church leaders? What has the Pope or the Archbishop of Canterbury or the National Conference of Catholic Bishops have to say about the killing of Bin Laden? What about the head of the Southern Baptist Conference or the United Methodist Church, have you heard from them? From Catholics to evangelicals, Lutherans to Baptists, the silence is deafening.

If you are honest and sincere in your understanding of the little Jewish carpenter, you know he would condemn the actions of the Seal team just as He would condemn Bin Laden’s actions as well. To claim otherwise is to bastardize the life and death and resurrection of this man. Those who want to claim this is a Christian nation have no problem ignoring most of what Jesus taught and have folded, spindled and mutilated His simple philosophy into something unrecognizable today.

So, lets admit a few truths. I too felt elation when I heard the President's announcement. It was an act of revenge. Americans would have been disappointed had he been captured and to killed and would have demanded his death anyway. I consider myself a Christian, but I am flawed and sinful. Sin is a Greek archery term which means, " miss the mark." I miss the mark frequently. I wouldn't be where I am today if I hadn't missed the mark badly. However, I can ask for forgiveness and promise not to do it again. I can try to implement as much of Jesus' philosophy as possible. I can strive to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick and visit those in prison. I can have a goal of doing the most for the least of my brothers and sisters. I will still sin, but also continue to draw myself closer to God and feel Her closer to me as I struggle to live the best way I know how.

The question today is this the way most "Christians" approach life or are we a nation of cultural "Christians" who jettison Jesus anytime He becomes a hindrance to what they really want to do anyway?

You are walking with Him and ask Him, "...Master was it right to kill Bin Laden?" What would He say and how would you react?


As we watched the President announce the death of Osama Bin Laden, a fellow federal guest remarked he was amazed at the damage one person could do to the United States. I realized Bin Laden had done relatively little damage himself. The real harm was the result of friendly fire.

It is estimated Bin Laden spent about $500,000 to conduct the attacks of September 11th. In return for t his investment in terror, almost 3,000 people were killed, the World Trade Center destroyed, the Pentagon hit and employees killed and a field in Pennsylvania was damaged. The death and destruction were horrible and tragic, but even Bin Laden himself could not have imagined the ripples of fear and paranoia, which washed across this land fomented by Americans themselves. Or could he?

Did Bin Laden time his attack to coincide with the administration of George W. Bush? Did he know Bush and Cheney, and the Project on a New American Century crowd (PNAC), would seize upon his action to gin up an excuse to invade Afghanistan and Iraq. At the time of his attack, America had a budget surplus, low unemployment and there were talks of a peace dividend. After his attack, Bush pushed through tax cuts for the rich to the tune of $1.3 trillion and started two wars, which will cost well over $2 trillion when, and if, they are over?

Was it just regressive serendipity the attacks of September 11th occurred with Dick Cheney in office as America's first prime minister? Cheney, still angry the first President Bush didn't go to Baghdad and take out Saddam Hussein, (Bush said Hussein wasn’t worth one additional American life), considered the Presidency a weak-kneed, sissy-nancy compared to the days of Reagan. Congress had eviscerated the Executive and he was on a quest to restore it to its former glory. Bin Laden allowed Cheney and his acolytes, Chu...LIbby...Feith...Wolfowitz...Ashcroft...Rumsfeld...Hadley...Rice...Pearl and others, to promulgate policies which resulted in seriously weakening the civil liberties of Americans and weakened the system of checks and balances the founding fathers considered so crucial to preserving the republic. Signing statements rendered the legislative branch impotent. White House counsel opinions allowed the President to engage in torture and ignore treaties we signed and international law we championed. Secret, warrantless wiretaps and Internet surveillance eliminated judicial review over the executive.

When Congress did act, it was as a rubber stamp for administration initiatives. Is it a coincidence within months of September 11th, there was finished legislation written which codified into law every regressives wet dream...the Patriot Act? This lightening quick congressional action battered the 4th amendment beyond recognition. The party of limited government now signed into law a bill which allowed the executive and its agencies to enter your home, bug your computer, mine your email and internet activity, listen in on your cell phone, require all cell phones to have a GPS chip, demand your library records and all of this without every having to inform you or allow you to contest this massive invasion of privacy. The FBI was able to use national security letters, which we now know they abused repeatedly, to investigate citizens and incarcerate anyone who revealed they had been asked questions or provided information about you. American citizens were arrested and put in jail without access to counsel and with no right to Habeas Corpus. Now that is what you call terrorism.

We will never know what Bin Laden thought would happen after September 11th. He knew one attack would not destroy this country. Did he also know American are easily frightened and they will genuflect to anyone who comes along promising to protect them? Did he know us that well? Did he know a $500,000 investment would enable a cabal of like-minded folks to weaken this country from within? No enemy of America ever invested so little and got so much in return.

The America which ended Bin Laden's life is weaker, more divided, less secure and less hope-filled than it was the morning of September 11th. Almost all of this damage has been self-inflicted; we did it to ourselves; Bin Laden had nothing to do with our current condition. As you rejoice in his demise, ask yourself where the real threat to the nation's security resides? Was Pogo right?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


Osama Bin Laden is dead, but in the midst of all the celebrations and congratulations is the bitter knowledge he could have been killed almost ten years ago and thousands of lives spared. America's leaders were more concerned with going to war in Iraq than they were with getting Bin Laden. President Obama called former President Bush to inform him of Bin Laden's death and when he hung up, the former President has to know Obama has cleaned up his mess and accomplished something Bush wasn't particularly interested in finishing.

When American forces invaded Afghanistan in 2002, they quickly chased the Taliban out and discovered bin Laden, and his second in command Dr. Zawahiri, along with Taliban leader Mullah Omar, trapped in the mountains of Tora Bora. They were hiding deep in caves from which there was no exit, but which would require a dangerous operation to go in and root them out. It would have resulted in many deaths for those in pursuit of these terrorists. Instead of using American special forces, the ones used to kill Bin Laden in Pakistan, President Bush opted to allow Afghan troops to take the lead. The result was someone was paid off, or possibly sympathetic to Bin Laden and Mullah Omar, and they were allowed to slip away over the border into Pakistan. Had Bin Laden been killed at that time, Al Qaeda would have fallen apart. Its ability to morph into a worldwide brand and to franchise its terror would have been impossible. The ability to recruit new fighters would have been far less successful. Instead, as the CIA reported in 2006 and again in 2008, Al Qaeda was stronger than ever and had reformulated itself into a more widespread operation, more decentralized with Bin Laden still at its center.

At the time of the Tora Bora operation, President Bush and his national security team had already decided to invade Iraq. Resources were already being diverted from Afghanistan to Iraq. One of the few military units which spoke Pashtun in Afghanistan was replaced by a unit which contained foreign language experts, except they were experts in speaking Spanish. Satellite and other electronic surveillance were shifted to the Iraq theater as well as large numbers of intelligence assets. The end result is the initial successes in Afghanistan were lost, Bin Laden escaped and were able to wreak havoc in Iraq for a number of years as well as in other countries. No one will ever know how many Americans and Iraqis died because Bin Laden was able to continue to operate and coordinate his terror forces.

Some would say this is all sour grapes. We should be celebrating the death of Bin Laden and to bring up the past is just partisan and has no value now. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The obsession which Bush and Cheney had with Iraq resulted in a series of decisions and actions which directly led to the fiasco which Iraq became, caused the lies and propaganda campaign which the Iraq Study Group in the White House conducted to convince the American people to support the invasion, and was the reason for the half-baked effort in Afghanistan. 100,000 American troops are in Afghanistan today, suffering unacceptable levels of casualties, because of the Bush administration abandoning the effort in Afghanistan in favor of the disaster which became Iraq. Trillions of dollars were spent unnecessarily and are still spent to clean up what Bush and company left behind.

The death of Osama Bin Laden is a day to celebrate. He wished to be a martyr and his wish has been granted. His religious fundamentalism, like all religious fundamentalism, had nothing to do with God or Allah but rather with trying to force his version on the Muslim world and he was willing to use violence to accomplish his purpose. He killed innocent people because, in his religious zealotry, no one was innocent who disagreed with him. Fundamentalism is still a grave threat in this world whether it is Islamic or Jewish or Christian. Bin Laden should have died in Tora Bora, but other fanatics, those in the White House, were too obsessed to do their job and protect this nation from a genuine threat.