Wednesday, December 11, 2013


Before Roger Bannister ran a mile in under four minutes, scientists and experts said it couldn't be done because the human body wasn't capable of running that fast.  Today, high school kids run under four minutes and the world record is close to 3 minutes and 40 seconds.  Before Joan Benoit won the first Olympic women's marathon, those same experts and scientists opined a woman is incapable of enduring such a physical undertaking and a race that long would destroy her body, reproductive organs and might be fatal.  Women now regularly run such distances, and more, and keep getting faster.  At one time, it was said it was impossible to climb Mt. Everest.  Since it was conquered by Sir Edmund Hillary, Everest now entertains hundreds who climb it annually.  Our history is full of examples of achievement thought impossible until one person has a vision and makes a breakthrough and then everyone who comes after them benefits and has the opportunity to move the needle even further.

     We are about to celebrate another Christmas.  We will honor the birth of Jesus.  The reason we remember Him is because He busted a barrier never achieved before and we are get to share in His triumph.  (it has also been called redemption)

     When God created us.  She did so knowing our potential...knowing what we were capable of reaching.  God created us as an act of love and anticipated a relationship which would be deep and intimate.  However, since an act of love is freely given and must be freely received and returned, God was continuously disappointed by the human capacity for sin...the choice to dehumanize ourselves or others.  She was amazed at how we would ignore revelation, inspiration, prophets and the all the various ways She tried to help us understand how simple it is to be close and enmeshed in this love, this grace, which is ours for the asking.  Instead, as Alfred North Whitehead observed, God weeps and is constantly let down by the choices we make. Imagine a parent who helps create a child and can't wait for the wonders of loving that child and receiving love in return.  (I can think of nothing more tragic or painful than to be cut off from my children and not have them return my love...something my actions caused me to fear and could easily have occurred over these last years)   God offered us the gift of creation only to confront weak humans and our fitful stops and starts.  The story of Hebrew scripture is a story of God revealing and humans listening sometimes, but also ignoring and refusing to live and love and open up all the possibilities of this relationship.

     What we had was a world in darkness...a world which can seem hopeless...a world where we wonder what life is for and know there is something better, but fail to achieve it.  Some say it can never be found.  Others offer, food, wealth, selfishness, ego...and a promise these will result in satisfaction.  Still others, like Nietzsche, say there is nothing, no reason to search and no there there.  Maybe this is all a myth.  Maybe it's fools gold for the sucker.  Maybe it's just about being afraid to die.  Like the 4-minute mile, a woman running 26 miles or someone climbing Everest, it cannot be done and shouldn't be attempted and we are doomed to the darkness of our frustration and fear.

     The good news of Christmas...the glad tidings...the joy to the world brought about by the birth and life of Jesus is that God finally has someone to run or climb or perform in a way no one has ever done before.  Jesus opened up new possibilities, new hope, which was never this deep in the past.  When asked about it, Jesus talked of God not as the other or distant or as lord, but rather as Abba.  (Dad, Pop, Mom whatever your most precious term of endearment is for your parents)  He shocked and scandalized by proclaiming the Good News that God is relatable, caring, loving and we can love Her back.  He announces there is new life.  Even better, He promises us a full life now, here, at this time.  (In 2013 what is the definition of a full life?)   He does something never done before.  He returns God's love in a way never achieved before.  He fulfills God's desire to be intimate with Her creation and, because of Jesus; we all get a chance to do it too.  We all get the same opportunity...the same grace...the same offer.  Christmas is the celebration of the birth of a Jewish child who grows up to redeem the world...make it full of hope...take away the darkness of despair and fear and because of His new relationship with God, we get to improve, advance and deepen our relationship.  Cool huh?

     Ok, so what are the practical results of this birth, this Christmas miracle?  Here is the good news...the promise.  If you can live a life similar to Jesus.  If you can try to love your neighbor, forgive your enemies, turn the other cheek and choose to always act in ways which enhance you as a person and those you encounter, you will have a full life.  (I forgot, even if you screw up you can be forgiven and try some more)  It gets better.  How many of you reading this are afraid and worried and weighed down by so much in life?  The list of what troubles or scares us is endless.  (what are you worried or afraid of right now?)  How many of you have experienced peace and are living with joy and satisfaction?

     The reason to celebrate Christmas...the reason it is a festival of light...the reason to stop and take the time to honor this event is because the birth of Jesus, and His life, have given us a chance to live without fear and at peace.  In the upper room, Jesus greets his apostles, scared out of their minds with fear they are next to die, with the wish of peace and He tells them not to be afraid.  They are transformed as they are filled with the Spirit, and begin living without fear and at peace.

     What I have learned is the more I lead my life in turn with Jesus, the more I trust God, the more I can lead a life without fear and at peace.  I am not there yet.  (and it's so clear how far off track I had gotten, a clarity missed until I lost everything society values)  I still worry so much about family and my future, but I'm better and I now know what is possible.  I now know a mile can be run, a marathon finished, an impossible mountain climbed.  I have hope and the reason for it is the birth in a manger, with songs of Joy floating down from the heavens, that today in Bethlehem a savior has been born and He is called Emmanuel, God with us.

                                                                             MERRY CHRISTMAS !!!


Every so often, a series of news items come together and shine light on each other's point and perspective.  Recently, Pope Francis I issued Evangelii Gaudiam (the joy of evangelization), a pep talk for Roman Catholics.  In it he called on Catholics not to give in to the seduction of the market and criticized trickle-down economics as something to be wary of as naive in that it depends on the powerful sharing with others.  He warned about the tyranny of money and called for a church willing to commit to helping the least of our brothers and sisters.  As the Pope sent out his message, workers at hundreds of McDonald's franchises protested the low wages they are paid.  A leaked memo to some of them encouraged them to cut their meal portions into smaller pieces and eat slowly so as to feel more full and it walked them through the steps necessary to apply for food stamps.  On top of these, a new study out of the University of Ottawa reveals only Italy and the United Kingdom have less economic mobility than does the United States.  The myth of Horatio Alger, the fantasy anyone who works hard and plays by the rules can pull themselves up by their bootstraps to material success, is long dead.  In the United States, the income of your parents is directly correlated to how well you will do, and by age 30 most Americans have reached as high as they can on the economic ladder.

     The attacks on the Pope were swift and predictable.  Rush Limbaugh accused him of being a Marxist and said the Pope's comments were "sad".  Fox commentators took umbrage with the Pope inserting politics in church and other business pundits explained how ignorant the Pope is on economic matters.  Still others pointed out how wealthy Rome is and as such is in no position to cast stones at anyone else.  One critic suggested two verses of the gospel of Luke, where Jesus declines to get involved in an inheritance question, as proof the little Jewish carpenter from Nazareth would denounce the Volker Rule and celebrate collateralized debt obligations.  The squealing from rich regressive Catholics, the ones who always talk about obeying the Pope on abortion or birth control, was only surpassed by those who are fighting increases in the minimum wage.

     According to the gospel of Arthur Laffer, if you give the rich more money the benefits will trickle down to everyone else and lift all boats.  In 2013 the top 1% control more wealth and own more of the nation in any time since the Gilded Age.  Yet, the middle class is shrinking, poverty increases, the number of Americans threatened by lack of food grows and the tools to climb out of poverty, particularly access to higher education, are fading.  How is it that giving the rich more money is a good thing in regressive theology, but paying working Americans more for their labor is anathema?  How is it good to have rich Americans increasing their investment income, which doesn't result in more jobs, but giving working Americans more disposable income, which they will spend in the local economy for food and other essentials, a heresy?  In Europe, where minimum wages are higher, the result is a Big Mac costs about twenty-five cents more.  Whatever the number, who wouldn't be willing to pay some more for a burger if it meant the person serving it isn't going to have to cut up their food into smaller pieces and hope they have enough food stamps to get through the month?

     As the attacks from regressives rain down on the Pope, and on labor activists lobbying for a high minimum wage, no one notices how the economy is stagnating and our economic classes are calcifying into inflexible categories.  When progressives pushed for a G.I. Bill and F.H.A. housing, the result was an entire generation who went to college, improved their economic standing, bought a house and created the largest middle class in history.  Parent's hoped their children would be able to exceed them and increase their economic power.  The American dream was one of upward mobility.  At a time when the top tax rate was 90%, over 35% of the work force was unionized, the government was paying for people to go to school, and infrastructure projects like the interstate highway system were employing thousands, the gap between CEO's and workers was the smallest in the 20th century and the middle class was exploding.  Today, with the richest Americans paying an effective tax rate between 20%-24%, 10% of the workforce belongs to a union, our infrastructure is crumbling and we are told there is no money to fix it, most Americans can't afford to go to college or if they do incur monstrous debt, the gap between the rich and everyone else is reminiscent of the era of Morgan, Carnegie, Rockefeller and the robber barons at the turn of the 20th century.  How is this possible?

     G.K. Chesterton once observed, "'s not that Christianity was tried and found wanting.  It's that it has never been tried."  The Pope has called attention to something we all instinctively know.  Capitalism, by definition and design, produces great wealth for a few people.  It's why Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI both condemned free market capitalism and unregulated markets along with Francis.  The dedicated pursuit of all things economic...the oppression which results when all one's energies are devoted to having and acquiring...the illusion created by the myth of wealth equaling happiness or satisfaction...can only end with one result...a society where we ignore or avoid those in need and canonize those who are at the top for being brilliant and exceptional.

      Today we watch as the McDonalds and Wal Marts of the world drive down wages and benefits in a race to the bottom, which everyone will lose.  We sit back and listen to regressives attack any proposal to raise wages, and improve the economic standing of some Americans, as Marxist or socialist as if those words have any meaning in this new century.  They tell the Pope to shut up and raise their voices in hymns to a new golden calf as they object to a church which wants to follow the guidance and mandate of Matthew 25.  All of this at a time when people all over the globe, in socialist economies, have a far better chance of moving up through their economic system, living longer, healthier, with fewer infant deaths and are rated happier than Americans living in the richest nation on earth.

     The Pope and I disagree on any number of issues.  However, I never doubt for a moment his commitment to following and emulating the teaching and example of Jesus and call on all of us to have similar values.  I welcome the challenge and the role model and am grateful for his courage and vision.

Monday, November 11, 2013


  On this Thanksgiving Day, we ask for the humility to recognize all we have is a gift...the courage to admit we cannot earn Your care...the hope You will offer Your love and grace to all.

     Thank you for a year in which more people are working and fewer are in danger of losing their homes and livelihoods.  Gracious God, thank You for national leaders striving for peace and bringing our war machine home.  Thank you for your servant Francis, who witnesses to your message calling on all of us to care for the least of our brothers and sisters.

     On this day of plenty, we remember all those who bring us this bounty...those who grow and produce our food...those who deliver it to us...those who prepare with love and enable us to gather in our homes or in the community to be together and filled with your Spirit...those who tell our stories each year reminding us who we are and why we gather.  Thank you for the love and care contained in each dish.  Thank you for the warm welcome offered to anyone at our table.  We seek to ensure no one feel like a stranger as we open our hearts and homes to all.

     We gather together on this day, at this table, in this time, confident the prayer and concerns we offer, You hear, and committed to listening when you reveal Your will to us.  God bless the families of all separated by bars and restraints.  Do not abandon those devastated by nature in all its fury.  Comfort those who do not have clothes on their backs, a roof over their head, or food on their table.  Inspire everyone here at this moment to reach out to those society labels lepers or outcasts...not just poor in material needs, but also those experiencing a dark night of the soul overwhelmed with loneliness, isolation, sadness and despondency and who need to see, through all of us, the world is alive with the grandeur of God.


  Why do we pray?  More importantly, why do we pray in public?  The Supreme Court heard arguments this week in a case involving the town of  Greece, New York.  The city council starts each meeting with a prayer.   For most of its history, the prayer has been of Christian origin asking, beseeching the Lord Jesus Christ to do one thing or another.  If not Jesus, they invoked the name of His Father.  When objections were inevitably registered, the town tried to cover its collective posteriors by inviting a Wiccan, Moslem and Jewish representative to lead a prayer.  (sounds like the start of bad joke doesn't it?)

     The court has ruled in the past on prayer in front of civic bodies or legislatures saying since this has been a tradition deeply buried in the American culture, it's acceptable.  The ruling makes no sense nor does the practice of the prayers.

     Why do we pray to open Congress or state legislatures or city councils?  What is the hope?  What will it accomplish?  Why do we pray at high school football games or at public school graduations?  Why are prayers offered at the start of a NASCAR race?  Who decides?  Is this one of those things the majority get to control?  If I'm an atheist, what am I supposed to think when my representatives open their meeting with a prayer?  (remember, the purpose of the bill of rights was to protect the minority from the majority by creating certain rights which cannot be voted away)

     Anyone reading this knows the answer to all of the above questions.  The tradition of public prayer at public gatherings was promulgated as a way to proselytize for particular religious views.  (at one time it could only be Protestant prayers, as God didn't listen to Catholics)  By offering a prayer to God through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the powers-that-be were letting everyone know they believed in God...acknowledged Jesus as Her Son and God...believed in the Trinity...believed in the Christian God and not Allah or Yahweh...believed the Christian God was a part of civic religion to which you must adhere if you want to be a part of the community.  The public prayer is proof we are a Christian nation...a shining City on a hill...a special people blessed by God...(the whole concept of Manifest Destiny was the belief God wanted all of North America to belong to the white Christians who occupy it).  The public prayer is intended to pump wind into the Christian sails and deflate all others.

     How do I know this?  First, the Supreme Court's own ruling acknowledges this truth.  They ruled opening Congressional sessions with a prayer was constitutional because it's a tradition.  What?  Because Christians have dominated government for most of the nation's history...this despite Jefferson's claim organized religion had ruined Jesus' message...Madison compared organized religion to a dung hill and the called the clergy indolent and lazy...Jefferson and Madison wrote legislation to disestablish religion from the state in the colony of Virginia (from which we get the longest word we knew as children--antidisestablishmentarianism--simply meaning someone who opposed Jefferson and Madison's idea), the public prayers which were offered were Christian prayers.  Tradition should never be an excuse to trample constitutional rights.  Second, the very same people who pushed Christian public prayer, fought hammer and tong to keep any other prayer out of the public square.  Finally, public prayer is nothing more than "gimmee" prayer, the worst form of prayer.  In public prayer, what do we do?  We ask God to look down on this august body with favor.  We plead with God to somehow make public officials like each other or cooperate with each other or work with each other...tolerate each mindful of their civic about what is best for everyone...avoid petty partisan politics and more.  Really?  Does anyone think God is listening to the Greece, New York's city council when it prays they can get through their agenda for the night?

     If all you did was constantly ask your best friend, spouse, or child for favor or help...if all you did was tell them your troubles...if the only time they heard from you was when you wanted something how long do you think they would still be around or would listen?  Yet, this is the nature of all public prayer.

     Prayer is communication with God or nature or goddesses or whatever.  Prayer only makes sense if there is a relationship between two entities.  There cannot be a relationship unless one is willing to listen and not just talk.  Silence, contemplation, meditation and quiet are all part of a good prayer life.  Prayer is meant to be intimate and personal.  Jesus says when you pray do so in a closet where no one else can see or hear you.  Yes, we pray in church, but this action assumes it is an extension of the individual private prayer of each person in attendance.

     If we are honest, the real reason for public prayer is "triumphalism".  It is showing off.  It is proof we are a Christian nation, founded on Christian values, blessed by the Christian god and proof Christianity is the one, true religion.  Every other religion is second rate and atheism is anathema.  You want proof?  Imagine what would happen if President Obama did not end a national address by saying, "...God bless you and God bless America."  He would be excoriated as a non-believer, or closet Muslim or atheist.

     Prayer is the most personal and intimate way we touch God and are touched.  Prayer is where we open ourselves, our soul and are brutally honest about our faults and sins with God.  Prayer can be painful and scary and it can come from deep canyons of loneliness, sadness, as well as from moments of transcendent joy.  Prayer is about listening, not talking.  It involves high emotions and the humility to be grateful for our blessings which we did not earn.  Public prayer is none of these things and serves no other purpose except to advance the agenda of those who pick the prayer. 

     We should hope the Supreme Court finally ends this Pharisaical practice once and for all.  Then each of us can pray in our own way and experience something I guarantee...if you pray consistently, humbly, quietly and listen intently, God will respond.  Now go and celebrate that publically.

Saturday, November 2, 2013


We should not be surprised when we discover our government spies on us.  We should not be naive enough to believe our government doesn't spy on our allies and friends, nor should we be influenced by all the outrage emanating out of International capitals from Berlin to Mexico City.  Perhaps we should be sophisticated enough to understand when anyone in the government answers questions about this activity, they will rarely tell the truth.  Now, however, recent revelations would lead us to believe top officials in the government, including the President of the United States and Senator Dianne Feinstein chair of the Senate Committee on Intelligence, do not even know when they are lying or what the real truth is...C'mon man!!!

     Ever since Edward Snowden committed the treacherous and treasoness act of truth telling, we now know the National Security Agency is a runaway train, and we and our privacy are on the tracks.  With every Snowden reveal, we are inundated with forelock tugging, and sincere earnest pronouncements proclaiming the information to be false, over-hyped, outrageous and above all, totally legal.  President Obama assured Americans, and the world, the U.S. was not collecting phone calls, email, and all Internet activity and we were not spying on foreign leaders.  (of course if we were, it's legal)  Feinstein has consistently defended the shredding of the 4th amendment and violation of international law downplaying the depth and width of our spying efforts.  Now both Obama and Feinstein are forced to admit they have no idea what they are talking about.  The Wall Street Journal reports N.S.A. spying on German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and 20-30 other foreign leaders, has been going on since 2002.  Obama was allegedly informed in 2010 and endorsed this activity.  He now denies he knew anything about this spying and Feinstein now says her committee was never informed.  C'mon man!!!

     What are we to think when these two political heavyweights plead ignorance?  How does either of them explain being duped?  Isn't it much more likely this is an example of Sgt. Schultz Syndrome..."I see nothing...I hear nothing"?  What credibility do either Obama or Feinstein have left on this issue?

     In the United States, right now, there are thousands of laws and regulations which carry prison terms if violated.  Even more frightening is the fact they do not require you to know you are breaking the law to be punished.  Pleading ignorance does not save you.  Yet, the President and the senior Senator from California, despite assuring us for months these activities were not occurring...despite promising us they had checked and had not found any smoking gun...despite telling us this was a tempest in a teapot and we should be grateful the N.S.A. is on duty protecting us from "them" and "their" evil intentions...  now have to admit they were talking through their respective hats and their assurances aren't worth the video tape they were captured on.  C'mon Man !!!

     The picture which Edward Snowden has exposed is of a national intelligence apparatus which is out of control and the scope of its activities is so broad no one knows what they are doing or whom they are doing it to.  We now know the N.S.A. lies to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court which is the secret court which is supposed to be exercising oversight and protecting our rights.  We now know their definitions of spying are so ephemeral as to render oversight impossible.  We are told it would be a waste of the President's precious time to inform him of all the ways this country is violating privacy rights in the name of security.  Obama is asked to approve a general outline, but not specifics.  When he answers questions on the N.S.A. and its actions, we now have no way of knowing if he is telling the truth because HE doesn't know if he is telling the truth.  C'mon Man !!!

     Feinstein comes of this looking like a minister for propaganda rather than the chair of an important watchdog committee.  She is now outraged and shocked, shocked I say, to find out we have been spying on our allies.  She is chagrined to discover the F.I.S.A. court has sanctioned the N.S.A. for lying.  She is aghast and agog to discover there are hundreds of operations she has no knowledge of and were never brought before her committee.  She is now the living embodiment of that hoary political cliché that you know a politician is lying if their mouth is moving.  C'mon man !!!

     We are now going to get hearings in Feinstein's committee and a review by the White House of N.S.A. activities.  The result will be to confirm what Snowden so courageously exposed...since 2001, and the passing of the Patriot Act and the illegal orders of the Bush administration, anything you do online...any email or cell phone call...any search request...any topic you read about or discuss...any information you reveal on social media as well as any letter you write or book you buy or borrow are grist for this intelligence machine to grind up and spit out.  C'mon man !!!

     The $64,000 question is who will they spit all this out to?  We know N.S.A. workers were spying on ex's and former lovers.  The F.B.I. illegally used national security letters to target potential political activity.  The I.R.S. has been out of control for at least 75 years.  Who will be tempted to tap into this reservoir of juicy, titillating, personal and private information?  What government agencies will demand access?  Will this information trail be made available to local law enforcement and will it be accessible for use in opposition research in political campaigns?  Will corporations be able to get at this stuff?  What about insurance companies or prospective employers or how about the three big credit rating agencies?  Will your credit score be influenced by all this meta data?

     The age-old question of who watches the watchers has never been more pertinent than today.  Feinstein and Obama assure us they are watching.  The chair of the House Intelligence Committee says he is watching.  The F.I.S.A. court is supposed to be watching.  We now know none of these watchers knows anything and are at the mercy of what the N.S.A. and its cousins choose to tell them.

     Talk of warrants, probable cause, presumption of innocence and constitutionally protected privacy now turns out to be just talk.  The government intrusions prohibited by the 4th amendment now appear to be moot.  What was it Franklin said happens to people who trade security for safety?  C'mon man !!

N.B. If Edward Snowden returned home, is there a jury in the country which would convict him?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013


  When you think of Thanksgiving, what images immediately jump to mind?  Turkey and all the bean casserole...freshly baked bread or rolls...pumpkin and minced and friends.  Perhaps some of you, like my family, get up in the morning to watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and later will watch some football.  Prior to becoming a guest of the federal government, I spent 18 Thanksgivings at St. Anthony's Dining Room remembering all I have for which to be thankful. (maybe a little triumphal?)  Thanksgiving evokes feelings of warmth and a moment to stop and take stock of all we have been given.  I used to say it was the one holiday corporate America...capitalist America...craven America could not commercialize.  I might be wrong.

     Recently, some of the biggest stores in the nation have announced they will be opening their doors as early as 8pm on Thanksgiving.  Ostensibly, their motivation is to provide you with more opportunities to take advantage of Black Friday specials and sales before Friday.  They want you to add to your pallet of warm Thanksgiving images, the especially compelling and touching images of people in lines, pushing and shoving, scrambling for the door-buster items before they are gone.  Their new Norman Rockwell painting of Thanksgiving has mom, dad or maybe older son and daughter wolfing down the turkey...stuffing down the stuffing...cramming the pie into their pie holes and running out the door in the afternoon, before family has even arrived yet, to get to work in time to serve all the customers on Thanksgiving night.  They want Thanksgiving's Kodak moment to be grandma and grandpa using a shopping cart as a walker up and down crowded and dad with children trailing behind them their eyes dancing with delight at the overfilled looking forward to how fast they can eat and get out of the house for the first toys of the holidays.  Oh, and this is being done in your name to enable you to get blockbuster value and to save, Save, SAVE.  This is being done because you have demanded all these stores be open on Thanksgiving because you can't pass up a good deal.  It's being done because Toys 'R Us tried it, didn't get ridden out of town on a rail, made some extra profit and now our culture demands everyone has to try it.

     In stories about this trend, I saw a quote in which the person said," ...hey, we are all looking for something to do after 8 o'clock on Thanksgiving and what's better than shopping and getting a head start on the holidays?"  What's better?  You have to ask?  Recently, Pope Francis I gave an interview in which he talked about balance.  He called on the Church to return to its roots and reject the dominant culture's influence which places so much emphasis on profit, money, consuming and using.  He reminded Catholics about how true happiness and satisfaction is not found in a flat screen TV marked down 50%...not found with the latest smart phone or tablet...not found in closets full of stuff ignored the day the holidays end  (you already know this is true.  A full life is one filled with so much more than a huggable Elmo)

     The ability to give thanks requires humility.  This is a quality I lacked for a long time.  I had earned everything I had.  My job was cool and my wife smart and accomplished.  My home was desirable and my children wonderful and healthy.  We had cars and computers and enough to eat and wear.  It was all due to me.  It was all taken for granted and it wasn't enough.  I pushed management for raises to show I was just as good as any other talent at the station not because I needed the money, but for ego.  I was always looking for more and bigger opportunities.  I was a product of my culture and I bought it all hook, line and sinker.  I paid lip service at Thanksgiving, working away from my family, but in the back of my mind I knew I deserved all I had worked for.  Where I am today is a direct result of that lack of humility and the inability to be able to say thanks.

     I'm not alone.  When stores are opening on Thanksgiving...requiring employees to abandon their families on Thanksgiving...covering the air waves with ads about all the stuff you can buy on Thanksgiving...opening earlier and earlier  (soon they will offer to feed you Thanksgiving dinner at the store so you can eat and shop without losing a minute and they will be considered innovators) When we aren't outraged or offended by this attempt to commercialize something as pure as giving thanks, the Pope is right.  We are out of balance.

     I realize lots of people have to work on Thanksgiving.  I worked 18 straight Thanksgivings.  Police and fire and doctors and nurses and so many others have to work and they deserve our thanks and admiration at their dedication.  However, the hope is they don't want to work.  The hope is it is hard to be away from family or friends that day.  As a society, we want it to be a burden to have to work on Thanksgiving...not because we want anyone to suffer or to miss a day off, but because it's a day offered to us to stop and take stock and add up all the ways we are blessed and it shouldn't be missed.  We want to be a people more interested in assessing who we are and where we are and recognizing what is of true value, than clamoring for the doors to open at 8 pm so we can get the latest hot and trendy item.

     We are told we are a divided nation.  We are politically divided between progressives and regressives...theists and atheists...male and female.young and old...north and red or team blue.  We don't need to be divided over Thanksgiving.  There is common ground for us all.  We can all agree giving thanks is good.  We acknowledge the need for humility and appreciation of those who are important in our lives.  It is a good thing to spend time together telling old stories and feeling a part of something bigger than our individual egos.  We can increase the quality of our lives and society by being counter-culturalists.  We can refuse to participate.  This trend would end the moment stores lost money or reputation.  It's that simple.  It's in our hands.  So often we feel helpless to effect change in our lives and culture.  This time we control our own destiny.

     The American bishops, and all other religious leaders, should ask people to stay home, be with their families and give thanks for the richness of this nation.  They could remind Americans about Matthew 25, and instead of shopping, find ways to help the least of our brothers and sisters.  They should remind us of all we have to give thanks for and how lucky we are to live in this land.  Now that would draw people and differentiate churches and religion from the culture at large.

     The ability to give thanks involves the character to admit we have "earned" little of what we have.  The ability to give thanks reminds us how lucky we are and what is important in our lives.  It mandates an attitude of humility...a trait which is foreign to much of our culture.

     Will you shop 'till you drop on Thanksgiving?  I hope you are too full of satisfaction and reflection to have the time.

Monday, October 21, 2013


 Two new posts from The Lion of the Left:

The Washington Post, thanks to Edward Snowden, is reporting the National Security Agency (N.S.A.) is collecting information on millions of Americans, who have committed no crime, and the people they are in contact with.  The Post story reveals the N.S.A. is sucking up the contact lists on any email or Gmail account you may have.  They are grabbing any contact lists you have through instant messaging.  They even are collecting the emails cover page showing the subject matter of emails your receive and who sent them.  This all comes on the heels of another story, again thanks to Mr. Snowden, which exposed the government has been creating dossiers and building profiles of Americans based on information they place on social media like Facebook and Twitter.  If you combine these two reports, a picture emerges of a government agency run wild and out of control with no accountability...a government agency making its own rules and submitting them to a secret court which doesn't publish any of its findings.  Thanks to Snowden's whistle blowing, we now know the government, controlled by a Democratic supposedly liberal president, has backdoors, or the full cooperation, in Google, Yahoo, Facebook Twitter and despite having broken no laws, and despite a little thing called the 4th amendment, you are being spied on daily by "your" government.

     Spokespeople for the N.S.A...White House...Homeland Security...C.I.A...A.F.T...National Intelligence Chairman etc. rush to assure Americans the government is not listening to their phone calls or reading their email.  They are just collecting "meta" data which doesn't represent a threat to privacy because it doesn't contain direct, personal information which would make it easy to identify whose privacy they are decimating.  Thus, this is not a violation of the 4th amendment.  POPPYCOCK!

     You would be better off if they were actually listening to your phone calls in real time.  You can control what you say on the phone and how much information you wish to disseminate.  You can control what is said to you and what questions are asked.  However, with the data the N.S.A is gathering, they can construct a dossier about you more personal than any phone conversation or detailed email could provide.

     If they have all topics of your in-box and out box, they know what subjects you are concerned about and everyone you are talking to or who is corresponding with you.  Add to that their records of who you call and who calls you, as well as text messages to and from...add to that any location information they gather from your cell phone, On-Star-like device in y our car and insurance monitors like those being pushed by Progressive Insurance Co., your EZ pass to go across toll bridges or highways, and they essentially have everything.  Despite the 4th amendment promising you will be secure in your person and papers...despite requiring probable cause to investigate you...despite laws which make this sort of domestic spying illegal...Snowden has now shown how those laws are paper tigers and we are being spied upon and investigated and followed at unprecedented levels.

     They say it's only "meta" data.  However, with everything they've got, they know if you are looking for a new job and your opinions about your current job and boss and projects you are working on...they know what medications you take (do you do your pharmacy shopping online?) and what doctors you see.  Thus, they know your health or health concerns.  (do you think any of this information would be of interest to your health insurance company or to a possible future boss?)  The "meta" data will reveal if you are having an affair, same sex or otherwise.  It will reveal if you are seeing a shrink and any kinky or alternative lifestyles which might interest you.  The "meta" data will profile what bars you frequent, bookstores you visit, books you read, movies you see, anything you search for online from porn to popcorn.  Are you politically active?  Tea Party?  Oddfellows?  Do you dislike the government?  How much?  Who do you hang with?  What do they think?  Are you getting the picture?

     Ironically, the N.S.A. knows what it's doing is problematic. (We know N.S.A. employees have used these resources to check on cheating spouses and who knows what else.)  The N.S.A. knows they are prohibited from engaging in all this data mining in the U.S., the Washington Post reports again thanks to Mr. Snowden, so the N.S.A. uses foreign servers to access all this "meta" data.  By using Indian, Sri Lankan or Indonesian servers, they skirt the letter of American law and the 4th amendment, while raping its spirit.

     If all this were not troubling enough, the fact this story got almost no national attention...the fact these kinds of revelations are being treated as everyday occurrences by both the corporate media and the American people...the fact Americans are blithely rolling over and playing dead in the face of this assault on their privacy...the fact the powers that be are counting on just such a happenstance...adds up to more and more mining and spying and destroying your privacy and destroying a key element of the Bill of Rights, all to keep you safe and protected from those terrible terrorists just lurking offshore waiting to do you harm.  Just remember all of this is no big deal because it's only "meta" data.


Showing once again a total lack of interest in the substance of the debate over the closure of the government and raising the debt ceiling, every network morning news show wanted their pundits and experts to declare the winners and losers in the latest Washington kerfuffle.  Not to be left behind, and desperately trying to produce the traditional vapid and shallow content of the corporate media, here is my list:

     President Obama...Winner... The president staked out a position and stuck to it.  (this is rare for him)  His opponents assumed he would cave.  He didn't.  He wins for being steadfast.   He also wins because no substantial changes were made in the Affordable Care Act.  Was Obama as smart as all of this makes him look?  Did he see the Republican strategy and know it was a disaster for them?  Did he give the Tea Party enough rope to hang themselves knowing they would kick over the stool on purpose?       Perhaps Obama's biggest win is the fact the disastrous roll out of Obamacare’s website was buried in news cycle after news cycle by all the brinksmanship of the Republicans.  They had a chance to ridicule and embarrass the President, and it would have been deserved, over the incompetence of the online exchange, and they could have spun a cautionary tale of how this is a microcosm of the disaster which Obama's signature program will be, but there was no one to report on it as all the oxygen had been sucked up shutting down the government and threatening default.

     Sen. Harry Reid...Winner...Reid was the face of the Democrats and he did not give an inch.  He even steeled Obama's backbone when he told the White House to cancel a planned meeting between the president and Republican senators.  Reid said he would not attend.  Reid allowed a number of women senators to take the lead on crafting a deal and then presented Mitch McConnell with a fait accompli.

     Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi...Winner sort of... Pelosi, overshadowed by Reid and reduced to a spear carrier's role in the House, held her Democratic caucus together which forced House Republicans to have to bear the whole burden of crafting a deal and appeasing their more reactionary members.  This forced Republicans in the House to fight with Republicans in the Senate and resulted in days of name-calling and aspersions being cast which further divided the party.  While Speaker John Boehner looked dyspeptic, Pelosi was confident and assured.

     Sen. Susan Collins ...Winners...Collins, along with a number of other female senators including Amy Klobershar from Minnesota, came out of this looking like the only grown-ups on Capital Hill.   Collins took on the wrath of Ted Cruz and the gang, and was excoriated on and in regressive media, but she crafted a bi -partisan agreement which the President signed.

     Democrats in Congress...Winners by default... with Americans declaring a pox on both party's houses, Democrats were still able to come out of this better than Republicans.   Democrats stayed on message...they fought a government shutdown...they refused to capitulate in the face of Republican assaults...they stayed out of the way while House and Senate Republicans conducted a circular firing squad...they protected the health care program allowing it to begin to be rolled out.

     House Speaker John Boehner...Loser... it is no surprise Boehner got out of Washington within hours of the President signing the new agreement on opening the government and raising the debt ceiling.  Have you ever seen someone look so forlorn or pained than Boehner walking through the Capital after having to yank his proposal from the House floor because he couldn't get the votes in his own party to support it?   He was so afraid of losing the speakership; he gave the tea partiers their head and then watched them make him look like a beleaguered kindergarten teacher trying to restore order.  (One Republican said Boehner had been reduced to trying to herd cats)  Boehner looked weak, ineffectual and clueless throughout these last few weeks.  (did he ever articulate what it was the Republicans really wanted other than to get Obama to talk to them?)  He did not even get a majority of his own party to vote for the final proposal he endorsed.  He ended up needing Democratic votes or he would have failed.   He now presides over a House caucus deeply divided with moderates looking for opportunities to take revenge on their more regressive colleagues.  He was ultimately reduced to a sound bite, "...we fought the good fight but lost."  That could prove to be more of an epitaph.

     House Tea Party Republicans...Losers...It is difficult to overestimate how badly this group of politicians shot themselves     in their collective foot.   They came across as petulant, spoiled, and inconsolable children.  Their actions...their refusal to help Boehner find a compromise...their holding fellow Republicans hostage to their whims...their ineffective message...all this allowed the whole exercise to be characterized as one giant temper tantrum costing the nation over $25 billion dollars and a great deal of prestige.  Their own colleagues, like Peter King from New York or New Jersey governor Chris Christie, called them frauds.

     Sens. Ted Cruz and Mike Lee...Losers...knowing they had no chance of defunding Obamacare...knowing they didn't have the votes and President Obama could veto anything they passed...knowing a threat to default would turn Wall Street against them...knowing what happened the last time their party forced a government shutdown...Cruz and Lee still went forward, and enflamed their fellow travelers in the House, and shut down the government and refused to raise the debt ceiling.  Cruz clearly saw this as a device to start his presidential bid in 2016 without any regard to what it does to his party.  He was not well known outside of Texas and this was to be his moment to introduce himself to the rest of the nation.  Unfortunately for him, Americans now know him as an intransigent ideologue willing to wreck the economy and threaten another recession all because he doesn't like the President or his health care plan.  If presidential elections are decided from the middle on out, how does Cruz overcome the image he has cultivated as an extremist?

     Senator Mitch McConnell...Loser...McConnell faces a possible tea party challenger in Kentucky and a well financed Democratic opponent.  He simply disappeared for the last couple of months out of fear of alienating tea partiers or the Republican establishment and its big money.  While Cruz was running wild, and while Reid was the face of the Senate, McConnell was M.I.A.  (at one point some thought it profitable to put his picture on a milk carton)  McConnell alienated the tea party anyway...made himself look weak and detached...looked overwhelmed and not in control of his caucus.  He became one of the symbols of what is wrong with the system.  In the final deal, he was totally overshadowed by Reid and by Collins and the other women senators who brokered the deal.

     Hanbaugh, Levin, the Weiner, regressive radio, Fox, Lee, Bachman, King of Iowa and others in the Tea Party, are the darlings of regressive media and they were non-stop on the air with the above hosts and pundits championing their causes and losing badly.  When not on personally, regressive radio carried water for them.  Even worse were those like Levin and the Weiner who openly called for default saying the nation would be better off in the long run.  Whatever credibility they had...whatever legitimacy they possessed...whatever hope they may have had of expanding their audience beyond old white folk is totally gone.

     The American people...Losers...this manufactured crisis shows once again how the opinion of the American people has little influence over their elected representatives.  Over 60% said they opposed the shutting down of the government to get at Obamacare, yet "they" shut it down...almost two-thirds said there should be no attempt to connect the debt ceiling and defunding the healthcare law, yet that's exactly what happened...Americans want bi-partisanship by large numbers and yet watched a small group hold the nation hostage to their ideology...90% of Americans want background checks on gun sales yet saw Congress fail to act...Americans say their number one concern is the shrinking middle class, jobs and income disparity yet they stand by while Congress fights over the debt ceiling and fights over healthcare.  The disconnect between the American people and Congress couldn't be clearer and yet neither Congress nor the President seems interested in doing the people's business.

     OK, just as Hollywood has never met a sequel it doesn't like, (fast and furious 19?)  we get to do this all over again in January and February.  As Yakov Schmirnoff was famous for saying, "...America, what a country!)

Thursday, October 3, 2013


Five new posts from the Lion of the Left:

The Supreme Court of India has ruled Indian voters have the right to reject all candidates on a given ballot.  The court ruled the category of "none of the above" can be included as an option on ballots and Indian voters can legally reject all candidates offered by various political parties in a given election.  Activists say this is the first step towards a system where if "none of the above" receives over 50% of votes cast, new elections would be called with new candidates on the ballot.  HUZZAH !!!! to the activists and court.

     How many times have you heard, or expressed yourself, there is no one to vote "for" anymore in politics?  Voters are constantly being asked to "choose the lesser of two evils...the devil you know vs. the devil you don't...hold your nose and choose someone" in recent local and national elections.  American voters are not offered candidates who truly differ or candidates who inspire them.  Instead, after a political process which rewards negative campaigning, attacks ads and character assassination, they are left with little stomach for either person left standing and many opt out of voting at all.

     Imagine, however, an election where at the bottom of the ballot was the box for "none of the above".  Imagine if a majority of voters check "none of the above" and the election is invalidated, the candidates cannot run again and new ones have to be offered.  This would be a total game changer.  Political parties would have to completely revamp their vetting and choices of candidates.  The candidates themselves would have to be more moderate.  They couldn't afford to alienate a large portion of the electorate.  Voters would embrace new power and the Americans who have opted out of voting after years of parties not fielding candidates which inspire and motivate, would be able to change the process.   The current practice of "carpet bombing" your opponent with negative, and in many cases untrue, accusations could poison the well for all candidates, with voters saying, "a pox on both of your houses or all of your houses" and rejecting the entire slate.

     Being able to vote for "none of the above" would increase voter participation dramatically.  No one is held hostage one has to feel they have no one has to reward one mudslinger over another.  Voting would become a positive experience again and voters would know their voice would be heard even if it were a call to throw 'em all out and start again.

     Political parties would have to scrap their current nomination model.  They would have to seek candidates with positive messages and concrete proposals.  Paying lip service to various constituencies...pandering to them...would be such a negative it would drive the number of NOTA voters to come out in droves.  Where you could really see the effect of this change would be elections with low turnouts.  Conventional wisdom says low turnout elections mean just get your people out...just motivate your voters...just tailor your message for them while attacking your opponent and drive up his or her negatives and drive down the turnout of the other side's voters.  However, if "none of the above" is an option, those tactics easily could backfire resulting in a negative electorate eager to punish both sides.

     What would members of Congress, facing re-election in 2014, be thinking today with the government shut down knowing how angry American voters are about Washington politicians who don't appear to be able to do even the most basic jobs they were elected to perform?  What would the fear factor be if Democrats and Republicans knew there was no such thing as a "safe" district and they could face an electorate primed to throw all the bums out?  Would there even be a government shutdown, or worrying about raising the debt ceiling, if the House and Senate knew they could lose their jobs because people aren't limited to the incumbent or challenger?

     Yes, I know the idea might be pie-in-the-sky speculation and doesn't have much of a chance of coming to fruition, but a proposal which forces parties to choose better candidates...a mechanism which promises the mad dash to the political bottom will no longer produce idea which encourages people to vote even if all it does is cause a do-over...this is something worthy of dreaming and something worth exploring.  If India, why not here?


James Dimon is the Chief Executive Office of J.P. Morgan Chase Co.  At one time, J.P. Morgan was portrayed in the corporate media as the "good" bank which not only survived the economic meltdown of the last five years, but also thrived.  Dimon was the golden boy of Wall Street and Washington.  Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi says Dimon was President Obama's favorite banker.  Dimon is now in high level talks with the Justice Department trying to agree on how big a fine the company should have to pay for all the wrongdoing they engaged in which brought about the economic collapse devastating this nation.  The Wall Street Journal reports Dimon offered to pay $3 billion to make all charges go away.  Attorney General Eric Holder is said to have rejected the offer and suggested "possible" criminal charges.  Dimon has allegedly upped his offer to $11 billion and some say could go much higher.  ($30 billion says one source)  Dimon doesn't care about the money.  What he is trying to do is guarantee there will be no criminal charges against his bank.  It should be an easy sell given past history.

     In the five years since the fall of Lehman Brothers, Americans have been inundated with stories and accounts of theft, robbery, fraud and malfeasance by American banks and financial institutions which would have made the Godfather blush.  (please read anything Taibbi has written on this subject)  There isn't enough space here to give you the whole list, but Goldman Sachs, A.I.G., Citibank, Bear Stearns, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Wachovia, Washington Mutual are just some of the firms who have paid fines or were complicit in actions which would land any individual in a federal prison.  They get fined, but not one criminal charge.  People lost their homes, livelihoods, jobs, even some of lives were lost because of what these 3-piece suit gangsters pulled off, and not one of them will ever be in a jumpsuit, cuffed and shackled while a passenger on Con-Air.

     Holder, and his acolytes, continually repeat the same mantra...losing money on risky bets is not a crime.  They claim they cannot find criminal statutes which will stick or that these companies violated.  The law isn't clear.  This is a murky area.  We can't just go on a fishing expedition.  These executives have rights.  Please don't confuse the rush of insider trading convictions with Dimon and his henchman's actions.  The architects of the worst economic disruption since 1929 have paid fines, sat in front of congressional committees, issued tepid apologies, but none of them has lost his or her freedom.

     Let's take Holder at his word for a moment.  If the law is too murky and there are no criminal statutes which will bring these robber barons to justice, what do we do?  We have plenty of precedent.  In the early 80's the crack cocaine epidemic hit New York.  There too, law enforcement claimed it did not have the tools to combat this scourge.  The result was the Rockefeller drug laws...a series of laws proscribing mandatory minimum terms of prison for even minor infractions.  The laws were specifically tailored by the legislature to make it as easy as possible to get a conviction.  The result was a doubling or tripling of prison populations and the weight of all this new law fell heavily on African American and Hispanic Americans.  (These laws are finally being repealed or modified in New York after acknowledging the huge damage they did and the cost they imposed on taxpayers while not stemming the flow of drugs into the country.)

     When the government couldn't find ways to arrest or convict members of organized crime, Congress passed the R.I.C.O. laws which allowed the government to lock someone up even if they couldn't prove they had committed a crime themselves.  If they were part of an organized criminal conspiracy, they could be convicted and sent to prison.  Even when police were unable to find a crime Al Capone committed, they were still able to get him on income tax evasion.

     Yet, for five years we have been told no one on Wall Street broke a criminal law and there is no way to hold them responsible.  Huh?

     I sit here, as I write, I’m surrounded by people convicted of white collar crimes ranging from cheating Medicare to money laundering to drug dealing.  No one among the 1,500 guests of the federal government here in Lompoc stole billions of one stole tens of thousands of homes from average one required trillions of taxpayer dollars to bail them one caused unemployment to skyrocket and entire cities devastated one sold mortgage backed securities knowing they would fail and then betting against the same securities they sold to their clients...yet here they sit while the movers of Wall Street escape untouched, and if reports are to be believed, they are now engaging in the same behavior as before and banks are still too big to fail.  (hell, they can’t even get the Volker rule written and Dodd/Frank has been castrated)

    Why hasn't Congress passed new criminal statutes to criminalize this behavior?  Why hasn't there been a stampede to the well of the Senate by members with bills to go after these people and their actions?  Why haven't members of Congress run for re-election on a platform of getting tough on Wall Street crime?  Where are they now?  Why are there no new Rockefeller laws for the financial industry?  You and I both know why.  When the criminals are black or brown or poor or small financial potatoes, they are ripe targets for politicians looking to be tough on crime.  They don't contribute to political campaigns and they don't hire lobbyists and they don't socialize with their fellow congressional millionaires.  There is no incentive for members of Congress to give the Justice Department new criminal tools to go after the 1%.  It's not smart politics.

     The next time you go to a town hall meeting, or encounter your member of Congress, and they tout their credentials about being tough on crime and protecting their constituents from "them", ask how many new criminal laws they have introduced or sponsored to "deter" the criminals on Wall Street from doing it again.  I guarantee you it is the quickest, most surefire way to reduce them to a deafening silence.