Wednesday, February 27, 2013

CRIME AND PUNISHMENT


Former Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. pled guilty to misusing campaign funds for personal gain.  Among the items he purchased were a $43,000 Rolex, Michael Jackson's fedora and toilet paper from Costco.  In total, he took $750,000 from his campaign.  He now awaits sentencing and could face over 4 years in prison.  It's too much.

     The purpose of prison seems clear.  It is to punish someone for engaging in a criminal action and it is supposed to convince them not to do it again.  It is an expensive proposition for taxpayers, and if it is not a successful deterrent, it can become a perpetual motion machine devouring public money while its population repeats their actions over and over again, to everyone's detriment.

     The public perspective is that the more years you give someone in prison, the more effective the deterrent.  If you give life, of course there is no worry about recidivism, but anything less leaves room for repeat offenses.  In reality, the number of years has little to do with predicting how someone will act upon release.  A strong family structure, education, personal growth and reflection are some of the ingredients which result in someone not re-offending.  Certainly public embarrassment, humiliation, loss of career and social standing also factor into a desire to never offend in the future.

     You, as a taxpayer, are being played.  Billions and billions of tax dollars are wasted every year on a system for hundreds of thousands of offenders.  You are told it's for your protection...it's necessary for public order...it's important to be tough on crime and the "system" works.  It's not true, nor is it smart.

     Jesse Jackson Jr. could be sentenced to a year of less.  He could be put on home detention wearing an ankle bracelet.  Either decision would accomplish its intended purpose of punishing him and encouraging him never to do it again.  Jackson has been publically humiliated and embarrassed.  He now carries the scarlet "F" for felon.  His political career is over.  His home and possessions are in economic jeopardy.  His actions have been broadcast all over the world.  By being convicted of a felony, he is precluded from employment in a large swath of occupations.  Even were he not excluded by law, he would find it difficult to find someone who would hire him.  He has lost, or will soon have taken from him, everything including the support of many friends and acquaintances.  If he is self-reflective at all, he understands all the collateral damage he has caused.  He has embarrassed and humiliated his dad, Jesse Jackson Sr., and his mother and the rest of his family.  His actions reflect on them.  His children have to endure the public censures and ostracization of their dad and figure out how to deal with what he did.  Close friends and family, who did nothing wrong, are trashed, because of association with him and by the same public wave of derision which engulfs him.

     It may be difficult to believe, but the collateral damage...facing the approbation, criticism and condemnation of people you love...being thrown under the bus by people you thought were friends...explaining your actions over and over again and engaging in an infinite loop of apologies...knowing people you care for are suffering because of your stupidity and poor judgment...is far more powerful and oppressive than spending time in prison.  All of the lessons you want Jesse Jackson Jr. to learn...all of the punishment you want him to endure...all of the motivation not to do it ever again happen the first few weeks in a country jail waiting to find out the disposition of your case.

     This is not a Pollyanna or Officer Krupke approach to crime and punishment.  There are people who give up their right to be in society by virtue of their actions.  The violent, sociopathic, predatory and amoral members of our society, who commit crimes, have to be isolated and we protected.  However, this is a small universe and it's worth noting that nowhere else in the developed world, other than China and Russia, is crime and punishment structured like it is here.  In the Netherlands, and across Europe, 3 years is a serious sentence for most crimes.  Virginia Senator Jim Webb has publically stated the way our criminal/justice system is designed says Americans are either the most evil population on earth or there is something wrong with how we approach the subject.  (we lock up more of our own than any other nation on earth)

     It is further worth noting, states does not impose anywhere near the length of sentences common in the federal system.  However, even with that caveat, prisons in California require more funding than the entire University of California system.  Is it possible historians in the future will point at this time as the beginning of our decline by observing we were willing to spend more money for prisons than for educating our future?

     It's time for a new paradigm.  Paradigm shifts do not come about easily, but they are necessary to keep a people from being ossified and stagnant.  We have already seen the start with laws passed in California where first time drug offenders don't go to prison.  They get another shot.  They are offered rehabilitation and programs to get straight.  There actions are treated as a health issue rather than something for the criminal/justice system.  They have saved money and reduced crime.

      The way it is today, a person coming out of prison faces a world of few possibilities of employment, a stressed or collapsed family and society condemnation.  Paying ones debt to society is as real as Harry Potter and Hogwarts.  Released prisoners are taught, by prison officials, how to get food stamps, apply for welfare and Social Security benefits, find places to get meals and how to get into government housing.  All of this implies you can't make it on your own once you have been in prison and you will become a permanent member of the welfare state.  (also costing you the taxpayer a ton more money)  While Jesse Jackson Jr. is in prison, so is his family.  Five million Americans, perhaps more, are directly connected to a family member in prison.  This is crazy.

     If you think this a brief for personal relief, relax.  Any changes or reforms which are proposed would kick in long after I go home.  All the damages and negative effects of this experience have already hit.  However, I have an insight most people, thank God, do not possess.  A system which uses shorter sentences, gives counseling and therapy and real-time, real-world job skills, allows someone to stay in their community with their family, requires counseling and therapy to reflect and grow so as not to make stupid choices again, and understands the entire family is going time, not just the individual...a society which spends more on its universities than on prisons...a society that realizes politicians who revel in being "tough on crime", are shills for a criminal/justice industry which is sucking up billions of dollars and failing at its most basic purpose...a society that understands most of the punishment has occurred for someone like Jesse Jackson Jr. before he sets foot in a prison, ends up with both punishment and deterrent without mortgaging the future.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

AN I.D. FOR ALL SEASONS...


 If you still have your original Social Security card, take it out and look at the bottom of it.  It says it is not to be used for purposes of identification.  How did that work out?  Refusing to give your Social Security number can prevent you from renting a car, flying, or buying underwear at Macy’s.  Even though federal law prohibits it from being used as an I.D., it has become the de facto national identification number for Americans.

     If you aren't careful, it's going to happen again on an even larger and more intrusive scale.  The Wall Street Journal reports key senators, who are working on a comprehensive immigration bill, are entertaining the idea of creating a national identification card, which every U.S. worker would be forced to carry.  According to the Journal, this high tech card could use fingerprints, or biometric markers, to prove whom you are and whether you had a right to work.

     4th amendment defenders, and those concerned with the increasing loss of personal privacy in America, are worried such a card could be used not just to establish legitimacy to work, but also could be used to track Americans at airports, or hospitals, and every other place in their lives, where such a card could be required to be produced.  It is a very valid concern given the history of the Social Security card.

     The creation of such a card would necessitate the building of a national database by the government to confirm the identity of someone using the card.  This database does not currently exist.  What do exist are government, and private, databases that already are too intrusive and have eroded a host of privacy protections.  Those various sources of information are disparate and have to be searched individually.  A whole industry has sprung up to aggregate personal information about you.  Every time you post to Face Book, send a tweet, search the web or write something on Tumblr, you are exposing more of yourself and losing privacy.  At least it takes time to aggregate and there are still options if you would like to keep some aspects of your life private.

     A national I.D. card would take all your personal information and collect it in one place.  This data vacuum would suck in items about everything you ever purchase, what movies you rent, library books you borrow, places you travel or visit and much more.  It would contain all of your personal health information including anything about mental or psychological treatment.  All of your financial records and transactions would be stored.  (those proposing this will deny any of this, of course, and promise the scope of such a card will be limited, just as they promised the Social Security card would not become a national I.D.)  It is a virtual one stop shopping place if you wanted to investigate someone or look into what they are reading or whom they associate with.  Add this to insurance companies who want to you to put a device on your car so they can monitor how you drive, various On Star services which can track where you drive (along with that little transmitter on your windshield which automatically pays your toll on the bridge) as well as federally mandated little black boxes on all new cars, and George Orwell seems to have underestimated the reach of Big Brother.

     You and I know exactly how this would work.  Every business would require you to let them scan the card before you could buy anything.  You would have to show it to board an airplane, train or boat.  Your bank would require it, as would any government agency.  Almost anything you regularly do, even buying gas or fur-lined handcuffs, would be scrutinized.  All of this information would be on a government server.  It is estimated it would cost as much as $25 billion to build this system and another $1-2 billion per year to maintain it.  Money well spent?

     Where this gets real interesting is if the system screws up or fails.  What happens if it says you aren't you?  What if it says you are dead or what if it can't find you?  Since this is the government, you know it will fail and make mistakes and mis-identify.  What do you do then?  This also gives government this massive treasure trove of information.  The same government who illegally wire tapped and spied on you, wants to fly drones over your house...the same government which can secretly bug your home and computers without having to tell you....the same government consistently being hacked and losing data which exposes your personal private details to strangers, and would, to save money, sell your information to private corporations as long as they were willing to pay a good price...is the government which now wants to make you carry a national I.D. card.  Right, no reason to be concerned.

     This immigration legislation is still in its infancy.  You can crush this idea of a high tech, biometric I.D. card.  If there is enough of an outcry from average Americans to their representives, this idea will be abandoned.  If, however you are quiet and roll over and say nothing, you will have ended any possible use of the 4th amendment and your right to be free from government intrusion into your personal life forever.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

DRONE ON...


 A proposal by the Alameda County Sheriff's Office to begin using a drone for various purposes drew a large crowd to the chambers of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors.  The cops say they want to fly the drone to patrol remote parts of the county and use it to assist in search and rescue operations.  They promise not to use it to spy on people because they are staunch supporters of the 4th Amendment and would not violate anyone's privacy.  If you believe this, I have some beachfront property in Arizona for sale.

     The written proposal submitted by the department has so many holes you could play it as a wind instrument.  The department's protestations not withstanding, there is nothing in the proposal which would prevent them from using the drone to monitor assemblies, demonstrations and other constitutionally protected actions.  It is no accident everyone who stood up to speak on the issue opposed it.  The American Civil Liberties Union says this idea raises serious civil liberty questions.

     The Alameda County Sheriff, and his minions, are shocked...shocked their integrity is being impugned and they are not trusted to keep their word.  Really?  There is no organization in this nation less concerned about privacy, and protecting people from unreasonable search and seizure, than law enforcement.  The history of this country is one of constant pressure, by the police and federal agencies, to water down or eviscerate the 4th amendment.  Law enforcement is the premier engine behind the dilution of any number of our protected rights.  They operate under the moral ethos the end justifies the means, which gives them license to pick and choose which constitutional protections to observe or ignore.

     A recent report sighted frequent instances of police lying and committing perjury in criminal trials.  Former San Francisco police commissioner, and dean of the Golden Gate School of Law, Peter Keane is on the record describing how police are incentivized to lie.  Prosecutors suborn perjury from the police.  They also deliberately withhold evidence of innocence from defense lawyers.  (There isn't enough space here to list all the examples of people freed from jail after it was discovered the police and prosecutors had conspired to lie and cheat them, but look up the case of Sen. Ted Stevens if you want a classic example.)

     If you need further proof, you might remember former President George Bush (43) ordering the National Security Agency to ignore the 4th amendment and illegally wire tap and spy on American citizens.  You will also remember Congress, Democrats and Republicans including Barack Obama, voted to approve such spying and immunize the telecom companies who violated their terms of agreement and rolled over for the federal government.

     The Alameda County Sheriff says they would never compromise anyone's privacy while using the drone.  When Occupy Oakland was engaged in confrontations with Oakland police and elected officials, do you think anyone would have hesitated to use the drone to survey the crowd, take pictures, and give logistical support to the Oakland police?

     In Seattle, the mayor had to abandon a plan to let police use a drone for surveillance when it became know to the public.  Thank goodness.  What clich├ęs do you prefer on this subject?  The Sheriff's proposal is the camel's nose under the tent...a slippery slope we could easily slide down....all the king's horses and all the king’s men won't be able to put the constitution back together again...Cliches may be hokey, but they get to be clich├ęs because they contain an element of truth and such is the case with this drone proposal.

     As drone technology becomes less and less expensive, and easier to use and maintain, police agencies across the land will fight to get permission to use it.  They will say it's a money saving measure and the drone will relieve manpower of specific duties freeing them to protect you.  They will play on your fear and fiscal concerns.  They will ask you again to trade liberty for security, hoping you don't remember Ben Franklin's admonishment those who make such a bargain get neither.

     There are those who say we have already lost the battle over privacy.  They sight evidence young people who use Face Book, Twitter, Tumblr, Google or Instagram have already given up any expectation of privacy.  Add to this the suggestion of a national database, for immigration purposes, which would contain all your pertinent information, and any rational person can see the cause it lost.

     I don't care.  I will continue to fight for any shred of privacy I can and hope you will too.

  Communities need to agitate and lobby to keep from losing any more ground.  We cannot give law enforcement any more ways to spy and infiltrate our family and friends at their most intimate moments.

     The Sheriff will try again.  Police agencies in San Francisco, Seattle and all over the nation will continue to pressure for access to this technology.  Whether they succeed is totally up to you.  In Seattle, they won for now.  It's time to replicate their victory in cities and towns as people wake up to the danger to their civil liberties technology represents.

Monday, February 11, 2013

THE KEYS TO THE KINGDOM...


  The announcement by Pope Benedict XVI, that he intends to abdicate February 28th, raises many questions and opens many possibilities.  Since it's the first time in 600 years a Pope has stepped down voluntarily, instead of dying in office, Vatican officials are scrambling to figure out the logistics of the transfer of power.

     All kinds of questions come to mind.  After a Pope dies, the conclave to elect a new one is called within 10 days.  How many days after a Pope resigns do the cardinals meet to vote?  Can the old Pope vote for the new one?  Is the old Pope still called Pope?  Where does the old Pope live?  If the Pope is the successor to St. Peter, who is the successor, the new Pope or the old one?  If both of them are, then can there be two Popes at the same time?  Does the old Pope get to sit in the secret conclave and influence the choice of the new Pope?  When a Pope dies, his papal ring is destroyed and buried with him.  What happens to the papal ring when he resigns and is it still a symbol of the papacy?

     There are probably more questions, with the most prominent being why did Benedict do this?  You can take him at his word and believe his health was deteriorating and he wasn't up for the job anymore.  This is probably part of the reason.  Benedict is alleged to have been scandalized by watching Pope John Paul II whither away and his last years reduced to moving him from place to place with little accomplished.  He had given an interview, two years ago, suggesting if a Pope became too infirmed to do the job, he had a duty to step down.  However, Benedict also faced a number of scandals including accusations the Vatican Bank was laundering drug money and the sex abuse scandal continued to spread worldwide.  (the recent documents released in Los Angeles raise serious questions about whether Benedict, as Cardinal Ratzinger, ignored warnings and refused to act on a number of suspect priests brought to his attention by then Cardinal Roger Mahoney.)  The Pope also was facing a crisis in America and Europe.  The number of Catholics continues to drop along with the numbers of priests.  (if not for Hispanic immigration to the U.S., Catholic numbers would be down significantly)  This is a Pope who is largely irrelevant to a majority of Catholics in North America and Europe.  All of the above could have weighed on him and affected his decision.

     The focus now turns to his successor.  The fastest growing region of the world for Catholicism is Africa.  The choice of an African Pope would sound a loud message about the importance of this continent for the Church.  An African Pope would be a voice against the rampant materialism of the West.  An African Pope would be a strong voice against income inequality and the gap between the rich and poor nations.  He would call for a new view of capitalism.  (Pope John Paul II had taken the position free market capitalism was immoral.)  An African Pope would call for more corporate accountability, regulation, transparency and would be a voice for the environment and climate change both of which are huge concerns for the African people and world wide.  (the rights of people to control their own natural resources and water, opposing the continued encroachment by corporations and nations, such as China, would also figure prominently into his approach)  Much of the above could be applied if the Pope were elected from Latin America.

     While choosing a Pope from Africa or Latin America would mean a prominent economic voice for the poor, and would call on the developed nations to change their actions and priorities, they would also be socially conservative.  They would continue to support a celibate, all-male clergy.  They would condemn homosexuality and be opposed to the use of contraception.  They would be adamant in their opposition to abortion.  All of these issues are issues the majority of Catholics in America, Canada and Europe disagree with and would be a source of conflict with any new Pope.
     Here are two more new posts:

The Church could choose an Italian Pope.  Such a choice would send a signal the status quo is to be preserved and would be intended to tamp down any talk of change whether economic or socially progressive.  One thing seems clear, there is little to no chance of an American being considered.  No American cardinal has a strong presence or worldwide reputation.  No American cardinal has much to say about the Church in the developing world nor have they shown any inclination to address the materialism and corporatism which defines this nation.

     The Church in America and Europe is in deep trouble.  The crown jewel of the American church, its education system, is slowly being dismantled as diocese after diocese closes more and more of their parish schools.  Catholic universities are having an identity crisis.  Should they be the Catholic versions of Liberty University (founded by Jerry Falwell), Ave Maria University (started by Dominoes founder Tom Monaghan) or Bob Jones University, and be fundamentalist propaganda machines designed to force feed theology to their students accepting no dissent?  Or are colleges like Notre Dame, Georgetown, Boston College, Santa Clara and the University of San Francisco supposed to be open markets of ideas, discussions and values?  Regressive Catholics were outraged when Notre Dame invited President Obama to speak.  Some local bishops and cardinals have tried to rein in the secular realities of many of these institutions.  As the education system is threatened, the American Church faces a bigger crisis as the priesthood in America is in free-fall.  The average age of a priest in this country is approaching 65.  As more and more priests retire, there are few replacements.  Perhaps even worse, the entire millennial generation, my children's generation, could be lost to a church which has little to say to them and few relevant messengers.  (it isn't an accident that as priests aged and became scarce, and its social positions became more polarizing, more and more young people identify as nones, meaning they profess no attachment to any religion)  There is no generation of priests for these young Catholics.  Unlike Africa and Latin America, where vocations soar, vocations in America have decreased and those being ordained are generally in their thirties or early forties.  Their regressive social message is also an obstacle for young Catholics.  (there is talk of importing priests from Africa to serve parishes in this country.  It is a band-aid solution to a much larger problem)

     I have no crystal ball, but my hunch is the next pope will not be Italian.   What I do know is whoever the new Pope is; he faces a Church in crisis all over the globe.  The abject poverty of the third world, in contrast with the vast wealth of the developed nations, cannot be ignored.  The lack of inspiration in America and Europe, shortages of priests and dwindling numbers have to be addressed.  In Latin America, evangelical denominations are making strong inroads into traditionally Catholic communities.  The Vatican Bank must change its policies and the new Pope has to acknowledge a Church more concerned with its reputation than with the welfare of its members.  The new Pope must confront a misogynist structure which relegates over half its members to second-class status.  The inequities of the international finance system must be addressed and attacked.

    Perhaps the biggest challenge for the new Pope will be to address the call of Matthew 25 to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, visit prisoners and produce a Church which reflects the good news of the little Jewish carpenter from Nazareth.  It is a Church which has lost its way.  Can the new Pope guide it back to its roots?

A ROOTING INTEREST...


The show runners of contemporary TV production know the key to a good show is a good story.  Within that story they want to generate conflict and character development and they need you, the audience, to take a rooting interest in what happens to these characters and their lives and decisions.  This is true in comedy or drama.

     Recently, I encountered two programs which have turned this rooting interest on its head and ask the viewer to go against type as to who they root for and who they sympathize or identify with.  One, The Americans, (the C is a hammer and sickle on the show), asks us if not to root, at least sympathize with two Soviet KGB agents sent to infiltrate and spy on this country.  The other, Continuum, asks us to root for a cop whose goal is to protect a future America controlled by corporations who have suspended, if not eliminated, the Bill of Rights.

     You may be asking yourself why I'm writing about TV shows?  I love TV and grew up on it and it is great entertainment and it is a window on current cultural patterns and sentiments amongst society.  However, I'm writing about these two particular programs because I find their premise intriguing and disturbing at the same time.

     "The Americans" is a limited episode program on FX.  I believe it will run for about 6-8 weeks.  Its main characters were sent to this country in the 20's to take on the role of a typical, American, suburban couple with children who run a travel agency as a front for their espionage.  It is an "arranged" marriage and one of the questions raised is whether they have grown to love each other or whether it is still a utilitarian relationship.  Reagan has been elected and is talking about massive military buildups, a 600 ship navy and funding research for an anti ballistic missile system.  The Soviets are freaked and press these two agents into riskier and more dangerous assignments gathering information.  Their new neighbor is an FBI counterintelligence agent tasked to find Soviet undercover agents.

     If the intention of the creators was to create sympathy and empathy for the spies working to harm this nation, they have succeeded.  In an interesting juxtaposition, the husband has gone native and loves living in America.  "...the food's good, we have air-conditioning and the electricity always works."  He also is concerned about their two children's fate.  They do not know about their parent's real identities.  His wife is the more doctrinaire and committed Soviet, willing to die and lose her family for mother Russia.

     The FBI agent, and American law enforcement, do not generate the same rooting interest.  They are the predators.  In their search for spies, they breach laws and violate civil liberties and, ironically, operate in the way the KGB would in the Soviet Union.  It's fascinating.

     Do we want them to get caught?  As they follow their orders, we have the advantage of knowing the Soviet Union falls apart in a few years and their efforts are fruitless.  Should they lose their lives and their children and their marriage when we know they won't win?  How comfortable are we with an FBI and government which trashes the Constitution to catch them knowing these practices continue to this day?  Who do you root for?

     The other program is on the SciFi channel.  Continuum opens in the year 2072 to a world where government has collapsed.  Unable to provide enough stability and peace, they have been replaced by corporations who run the world based on a corporate code which has supplanted the Constitution and civil liberties.  Basic human rights have been outlawed.  It is illegal to criticize the government.  There is no freedom of association, due process, or protection against unreasonable search and seizure.  All of this is justified by the corporations as necessary to maintain order and benefit the people.

     The police of the future use huge computer systems to spy on the people.  There is no privacy.  The cops have chips inserted into their brains to become cyborgs attached to the computer system.  They fight "terrorists" who want a return to basic freedoms the country once enjoyed.  As the government defends oppression, the terrorists embrace violence as a way to achieve their goals.  They blow up a building killing thousands and are sentenced to death.  However, they are able to time travel back to 2012 and intend to try to change the future.  A cop gets sucked up with them and now she is fighting to prevent them from succeeding.


    Once again, who do we root for?  The cop, the hero, wants to return herself and us to a future controlled by corporations...(maybe we are already there)...where the Bill of Rights is a memory.  She longs for a nation in which speech and thought are controlled and monitored all in the good name of order and peace.  The "terrorists" want a world of rights and protections which is messier and dysfunctional, but represents freedom to them.  They are willing to be violent and kill innocent people to achieve their aims.

     So who is the hero or villain?  Is the cop worth rooting for?  Can we find ourselves sympathizing with the terrorists?  The creators of the show clearly intend the cop to be the hero.  She cries as she thinks about her children and all she wants to do is return home.  The "terrorists" are portrayed as psychotic, sociopaths, ex-military, willing to kill anyone who gets in their way.  It is clear how the show runners want us to feel.
 
     I find myself rooting for the "bad guys".  I want them to succeed.  I don't want an Orwellian future where oppression is justified as providing order and stability and where dissent and disagreement are criminal offenses.  We should root for the cop, who if successful, guarantees a future in which corporate values carry the day?

     The Americans is interesting because we know the spies fail ultimately and we see they are in love and we think about their children and the FBI acts like the KGB.  Continuum is disturbing.  It reeks of propaganda and an agenda.  It seems perfectly suited for a nation where corporations wield more and more power and influence over our lives.  It argues for a world dominated by Exxon and Apple rather than one under the auspices of a Constitution which protects the minority from the majority.

     For better or worse, Continuum offends me far more than the Americans.  Creating sympathetic spies doesn't grate on me anywhere near as much as arguing for a world controlled by the largest corporations using a sophisticated computer system to spy and violate privacy, and eliminate basic rights in order to maintain control.

     The Americans is intended to be a short-lived series.  I hope Continuum is as well.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

SHOULD YOU BE WORRIED?


  -that the president believes he has the power, and legal right, to decide whether an American citizen can be deemed a threat and executed.  A whole new category of "citizen" has been created.  It's one in which the protections of the Constitution are suspended...no due process...no presumed innocence...no judicial review...no protection from cruel and unusual punishment.

     -that the president, two presidents, believe this nation can violate the sovereignty of another country and kill its citizens with impunity even if they are not engaged in a plan which is an immanent threat to this country, but "may" be planning one.  Does this set a precedent?  Does this mean China or Russia or North Korea or Iran could use drones to kill an American, in this country, they deem a threat?

     -that the military has successfully tested a drone controlled by a computer with no human operator.  The potential for disaster is breathtaking.  Can the computer program be hacked?  What about human reasoning and decision making necessary on the run or when conditions change?  (if another nation knocked out one of our positioning satellites hurting drone and other functions, would that action be considered a declaration of war?)

     -that the mayor of Seattle had to cancel a plan by the city's police department to use drones to patrol and watch over citizens.  The plan, drawn up clandestinely, evoked outrage among the citizens of Seattle and forced the mayor to cancel it.  You know what's coming to a city near you.

     -that Congress may implement a guest worker program as a part of an immigration reform package.  If ignorance of history guarantees a repeat of the same mistakes, forgetting about the "bracero" program of the 50's and 60's will result in a guest worker concept where the workers are exploited...pay is stolen or withheld...working conditions deplorable...worker's rights ignored or denied...agricultural corporations reaping huge profits on the backs of immigrants forced to leave at the end of the season with little or no opportunity to pursue legal remedies against employers.

     -that Catholic, Mormon and evangelical officials argue allowing gay Boy Scouts will result in an increase in boy on boy sexual abuse.  Really?

     -that corporate America is getting away with the claim there is a "talent" gap in key industries with jobs going wanting because employers can't find qualified employees.  All of this caused by a lack of training and education resulting in shortages in construction, manufacturing etc.  Companies have driven wages so low, and busted so many unions, they try to pay a skilled machinist, electrician, welder or pipefitter $10 an hour and wonder why no one takes them up on their offer.  The refusal of corporate America to pay decent wages, and the refusal of Americans to support unions, puts the bottom line ahead of the need for skilled labor and this will continue to exacerbate the problem and widens the income gap between the 1% and everyone else.

     -that CNN has eliminated its investigative journalism unit.

     -that the Justice department has not brought criminal charges against any of the banks engaged in manipulating LIBOR (London Interbank Offering Rate) or banks engaged in money laundering for drug cartels because of a fear of hurting the global financial markets while not caring a whit about all the families and communities wrecked by the overzealous prosecution of regular American citizens

     -that President Obama could agree to allow the export of natural gas.  Pressure is building on him from the oil and gas industries to export natural gas despite the reality such a policy would drive up the price of gas for domestic consumption and raise manufacturing and energy costs thus making America less competitive with manufacturing competition and killing the nascent movement of companies to bring manufacturing plants back to this country.

     -that several states controlled by Republican governors and legislatures are attempting to rig the Electoral College vote process to benefit a Republican presidential candidate.  After gerrymandering safe Republican congressional districts, they now want electoral votes determined by who wins individual congressional districts.

     -that one of the fastest growing sections of debt in this country is still student debt.  (why isn't college free?)

     -that the Forty Niners couldn't score from the 7-yard line and win the Super Bowl.  (Ok I’m still not over it yet)

Saturday, February 2, 2013

A MENTOR, A FRIEND AND A GREAT TALK SHOW HOST


  I found out today, from Christine Craft, about the passing of Lee Rodgers.  The news has made me sad and wistful and also caused a flood of memories about Lee and the role he played in my getting an opportunity to be talk show host on KGO.  Lee was part of the real golden age of KGO.  Ronn Owens, Jim Eason, Lee Rodgers, Michael Krasny and Ray Taliaferro were the best lineup of talk show hosts in the nation.  To have been able to be around them, and to learn from them and to watch them work was the equivalent of earning a degree in this discipline.  I am so lucky to have known Lee and any success I achieved at KGO was directly attributable to his help and guidance and example.

     I started Godtalk in 1985.  As it was on Sunday, I came up with any and all reasons to be around KGO during the week.  I hoped someone might call in sick and I could fill in for them.  I was a pest to management, but persistent.  I talked then news director, Bruce Kamen, into letting me try my hand at reporting.  It meant I was in the station later in the day and would run into Lee as he prepared for his show.  (Lee would come in by 11am to start preparing for a show that didn't start until 7pm.)

     Lee would ask me about a news item.  His usual opening line would be something like, "...can you believe what those whiney liberals are up to now?"  Or he would hook me with, "...your commie friends are at it again."  He knew I had worked for Barbara Boxer, as her chief legislative assistant, and I was progressive and his needle was always out.  Never one to pass up an argument, I would engage him and occasionally hold my own.  He liked that.  He liked we could argue, but not become argumentative.  I liked listening to him and watching his work ethic and learning how he constructed his show.

     One night, we were going back and forth and I walked into the studio with him.  He didn't want to let go and abruptly suggested I sit down so his listeners could hear how crazy, loony and nuts my positions were.  It lasted the whole first hour.  We both enjoyed the competition.  Over the next few months, he would occasionally invite me in and we would do it again.  Program director John McConnell loved it...thought it was great radio...saw its potential and suggested we formalize the bit and this is how the Monday Night Fights came to be.

     It took off.  People found it compelling.  No matter which side of an issue you were on, you heard your side articulated and defended.  We shouted and picked on each other and responded to callers and we would have a great time.  No matter how heated it got, and some nights I thought the sprinklers might go off in the studio, at the end of the hour we would both comment on how well it went and how much fun it was.  Lee never took it personally and neither did I.  On any number of occasions I would give him a ride to BART after the show.  Lee is the only talk show host I have ever encountered, including Hanbaugh,O'Reiley, the Weiner, Coulter, Buchanan and more, who was so comfortable in his own skin...so confident in his positions...so secure with his ego that we could beat each other about the head and shoulders with verbal cudgels and be friends and walk out of the studio talking about family and sports.

     I would watch what topics he picked for his show and see how he would structure each hour.  He taught me how to conduct interviews and make the subject comfortable and feel like you had read the book or really wanted to know what they had to say.  It never bothered him to share how to do this thing right.  He took pride in his professionalism and preparation and didn't treat all of this like it was a classified secret, nor did he fear a rival or someone new on the scene.

     One day, KGO came up with something called The Cruise For A Cure.  It was a luncheon on a Hornblower yacht and included a live broadcast.  (it was fundraiser for Leukemia research)  They needed a fifth host and to this day I think Lee got me included.  It was Owens, Eason, Rodgers, Taliaferro and me.  It was a free-for-all broadcast.  (it would eventually lead to the All Star Remote broadcasts of legend)  I was too young and new and dumb to be deferent to anyone on the panel.  I went after them all.  I always got the feeling Lee was the only one not to wish me thrown overboard.  He enjoyed good exchanges as they made for good radio.

     I eventually got my own show at 10pm.  Our fights became less frequent.  Lee left KGO to go to KIRO radio in Seattle and then was wooed back to take over the morning drive show on KSFO.  We would never fight again, and our paths ceased to cross.  It was too bad because I was the best antagonist Lee ever encountered and I brought out the best of his wit, and wicked tongue, and he did the same for me.

     I never got to talk to Lee about the trouble I got myself into and my stupidity.  I know he would have excoriated me for being dumb and tell me he was disappointed in me, but he also would have asked if there was anything he could do to help and he would have filled the air with expletives about the government and its heavy hand and crushing of civil liberties.  He would have been Lee.

     Lee Rodgers provided hundreds and hundreds of hours of entertainment and information for years in the Bay Area.  He was easy to listen to and the consummate professional.  He understood the balance between information and entertainment.  Most importantly, he was a man never threatened by another's success...always willing to help advance a career...open enough to invite a neophyte to share in his spotlight and he was my friend.

     Lee and I never talked about religion.  However, today I believe he has discovered his attitude of caring, being open and accepting the friendship of a whining, limousine liberal with communist leanings and socialist desires, is being rewarded in discussions with a God who welcomes him with Her arms wide open.

     Eternal rest grant unto him oh Lord and let perpetual light shine upon him.
                                                                                                                    AMEN