Saturday, March 30, 2013


 It isn't an accident Easter is in the spring.  Spring is the time of new life on trees and foliage.  It is lambing season and the time of new birth in the animal world.  It is the reason bunnies and eggs are associated with Easter.  (Cadbury combines them both)  Just as Christmas takes advantage of the pagan festival of the winter solstice, so too Easter (the name comes from the goddess Eastare) is placed in the center of spring fertility rites and nature's cycle of rebirth...for Easter is a celebration of life and love and a new relationship between God and us.

     Christians are Easter people.  You cannot be a Christian if you don't believe in resurrection.  (while no one has to be a Christian, if you call yourself one, then Easter is at the center of your theology)  I have written and talked before how the message of Easter is that Jesus opened a relationship with God, the depth of which had never existed before.  This relationship is endless and thus death is no longer something to be feared.

     The Good News (gospel) is we go...On.  Why is that so hard to believe?  Before any of us were born, we didn't exist.  Our birth is the creation of something unique which will never be duplicated again.  Yet, we view this coming into existence from nothing as an everyday occurrence worthy of little thought or examination.  At the same time, the idea our essence, (soul?) continues to exist after our body ceases to function is somehow spooky, otherworldly, incomprehensible and we harbor grave doubts about its reality.  Birth is nothing to get religious about, but continuing on is the stuff of faith.  (Einstein says you can't destroy energy...only change it.  The essence of who we are is the energy which enervates us.  Why is it so difficult believing that energy is immortal?)

      Much of the emphasis on resurrection at Easter, masks even better news.  Jesus spent his public life teaching people how to live, be at peace, not be afraid and have a full life.  He taught by example and promised if you lived like he did...forgive an infinite number of times...turn the other your enemy...clothe the naked...feed the hungry...heal the for the least of your brothers and would be happy and fulfilled and be so close to God it would be as if you were Mother and child.

     The Good News is you can have this amazing life.  How many of us live in fear on a daily basis?  How many of us go to bed worried and troubled?  How many of us search for and seek out some way to improve our lives and how much money is spent trying to buy, manufacture, lease or in some way obtain happiness?  Our entire capitalist economy is based on consumption and consuming.  We are promised happiness is contained in a sleep number bed, light beer, Carnival cruise, man-cave (with its 80 inch flat screen TV, surround sound, streaming video and bar).  We are bombarded with the message we can buy the peace and happiness we desire.  Easter is the antithesis of this quintessential American message.  (and perhaps why so many Americans have trouble adopting the way of life it points to)

     Jesus spends his public life trying to convince others of what He knows.  God loves us...wants to be loved in return...wants to communicate with us...wants us to have a full life in which to draw nearer and closer to Her.  His is the most radical philosophy of living ever proposed.  It threatened the power structure then, just as it would now if it ever truly catches on.  In the end, Jesus dies because of how much He loves us and his absolute conviction death doesn't end his relationship with God.  Easter is the fulfillment of that belief.

     On this Easter Sunday, if I were still hosting God talk, we would have started with Sandi Patti singing, "Was It A Morning Like This?"  I would greet you with," Alleluia, Alleluia, He is risen."  We would spend three hours celebrating this central event of the Christian story.  However, since my sins destroyed all of that and hurt so many, I write to you and hope you can breathe in this life-altering message.

     If you are worried, scared, lonely or despair about life...STOP.  If you go to sleep hoping tomorrow will somehow be better than today...STOP.  If you are sad and searching for happiness or don't feel life is what it should be for you...STOP.  If peace is something you look for "out there" and think it is something external to yourself...STOP.  On this Easter Sunday, we celebrate life and the Good News that a full life is yours if you want it.  We give thanks for all we have been given and look to share with others.  We gather with family and friends to share a meal and enjoy the Spirit among us.  I am separated from those I love the most, yet my sadness is tempered because I have been given so much and know they love me as I love them.  I'm forgiven by God and them, and the distance which separates us is not insurmountable.  I have all of you and you are always in my thoughts and prayers.  In the upper room, Jesus greets his friends with, "...peace, do not be afraid."  On this Easter Sunday that wish is offered to all of us.
                                                                   HAPPY EASTER ! !

Friday, March 22, 2013


  Republicans just spent $10 million to find out they couldn't win a national election if they ran unopposed.  The National Republican Committee report says unless the party changes its messages it will continue to shrink on the federal level.  The party is described, in its own report, as ideologically rigid...still clinging to the days of Ronald Reagan...unable to speak to a wider electorate and indifferent to the struggles of average people.  Focus groups said the Republicans are "scary, narrow-minded, out of touch and the party of old men."  Duh.

     In response, the party chief announced outreach programs designed to make the party more appealing to young people and minorities.  Of course if you are a young or minority woman, the Republicans want you to know they want you in their tent but you wont be allowed access to contraceptives or control your body or fertility.  They want to tell your doctor what she can or cannot tell you including whether you will have a healthy baby or not.  They would love you to go to college, but they are cutting Pell grants and you will have to take on a mountain of debt to pay for your degree.  They will continue to sponsor laws making it more difficult to vote and will oppose two same sex partners from getting married.   That they are trying to reach you, of this there is no doubt...that they see no reason to temper their message is equally certain.

     The report recommends Republicans address the perception they don't care about people.  At the same time the report was released, Republican Congressman Paul Ryan, chair of the House Budget Committee, released his budget plan for the next few years.  His plan would end Medicare as we know it, privatize Social Security giving Wall Street billions of your dollars to gamble with, turn Medicaid into a block grant program not indexed for inflation meaning the states would have to make up any federal shortfall and millions of poor people would lose access to health care.  Oh yes, he also wants to totally repeal Obamacare meaning insurance companies can refuse insurance for pre-existing conditions, your children will be kicked off your insurance and millions more Americans won't have access to health insurance.  If that isn't the definition of caring, what is?

     At one point the report advises Republicans to "be inclusive and welcoming" in stances on social issues to attract young people and women.  "Hi, welcome to the Republican tent.  You'all 'r welcome in as long as you are straight, wealthy, virgins who have concealed weapons and are ok if we start with a prayer."  (sample)

     Republicans need to embrace comprehensive immigration reform, according to the report, if they wish to attract more Hispanics to the party.  This goes hand in hand with Senator Marco Rubio and former Governor Jeb Bush's immigration proposals to let illegal immigrants work in this country without any chance of ever becoming citizens.  Could you see the torrent of new Hispanics rushing to get inside that tent?

     The recommendations likely to have the most traction are the ones having to do with organization.  Republicans have too many presidential debates.  It seems numerous debates allow less well-funded, well known, and bat-shit crazy candidates to garner a following.  (attention Herman Cain, Michelle Bachman or Newt Gingrich)  In a democracy, allot of debates is a bad thing, according to the report, so in the future there will be one debate and that's it.

     The report also says the national convention is too late in the summer.  It will now be held in March directly after the one debate.  Republicans don't have enough field offices and were high-teched into oblivion by Obama.  The unlimited money PACs are now allowed to give to Karl Rove and the boys, should now be spent on staff and field offices and buying computers.  A former head of Bain capital has been recommended to develop a voter database and to reach out to the crazy regressives in Silicon Valley for help.

     One group of voters was totally ignored by the report.  Angry white voters get no love from this post-mortem.  These voters who find homosexuality abhorrent, want a fence around the country and 12 million Hispanics deported...the same voters who oppose gun control, the Environmental Protection Agency and are in favor of drilling for oil anywhere and everywhere...the voters who support a woman who has been "legitimately" raped, accepts less equal pay with men and is ok with no representation in Congress...these voters are ignored and left on their own.  They are now supposed to go to the back of the tent.

     I have learned, exclusively, the original title of this ten million dollar effort was, "Rearranging Deck Chairs on the Titanic", but it was changed when Republican National Committee members thought it was too honest for public consumption.


The column is entitled, " Ten Years Ago An Honorable War Started with Wide Support."  It's author, Fouad Adjami, is one of many supporters of the Iraq war who are using its tenth anniversary as an occasion to re-write or lie about history in the hope they can convince Americans this was a war worth fighting and that they don't have innocent blood on their hands.  Adjami, along with Richard Pearl, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and other architects of this policy, is obfuscating, fudging, stretching and cherry-picking facts in the hopes the worst foreign policy decision since Vietnam (or maybe the Mexican War) won't sully their reputations.  It cannot be allowed to stand.  History is too important.

     In 1998, most of the future members of Bush's national security team signed on to a position paper created by the Project for a New American Century.  The paper called for an American invasion of Iraq, toppling Saddam Hussein and using Iraq as a "strategic pivot" to pressure and influence other nations in the region.  The paper admitted this would be a tough policy to sell to the American people and would require its own "Pearl Harbor" moment to convince them to support it.  This was the start of the Iraq war. (I leave open the question of whether September 11 was that moment)

     We know from former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neil's memoir, at the first Bush cabinet meeting in January of 2001, attacking Iraq and deposing Saddam was on the agenda months before September 11th.  The day after September 11th, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld demanded quick details on military targets to bomb in Iraq and had to be reminded Iraq did not attack us.

     Adjami refers to an honorable war with wide support.  What he doesn't say is the wide support for the war was based on a campaign of lies perpetrated by the White House Iraq Study Group with the complicity of the corporate media.  The White House consistently conflated September 11th and Saddam.  By the time of our invasion, over 50% of the American people thought Saddam either planned or facilitated the attack on this nation.  A key architect of the war, Paul Wolfowitz, admitted to Vanity Fair in order to sell this war they needed a strategy and the only one everyone could agree upon was to stress the danger of weapons of mass destruction posed by Iraq and the possibility Hussein would give a  nuclear, or biological, weapon to a terrorist group to be used in the U.S.  They new this was a lie, but also knew scaring the American people is an easy proposition.

     Scott Ritter, a U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq, and others publically challenged the administration's facts.  Ritter stated all the weapons had been destroyed by the  mid-nineties.  He was ignored and the corporate media refused to interview him as we got closer to war.  Some journalists tried to get the truth out, but were thwarted.  The Washington Post now admits it buried stories critical of the administration or which called the President's facts into question.  Former Ambassador Joe Wilson wrote an op-ed in which he accused the President of lying in his state of the union message about Iraq trying to acquire yellow cake uranium in order to make a bomb.  To shut him up, and intimidate anyone else who might try to commit truth, his wife, a C.I.A. covert agent, was exposed to the public by Cheney and Scooter Libby.  Scientists at the Oak Ridge Lab in Tennessee concluded that metal tubes, which Judith Miller of the New York Times, and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, claimed were designed for centrifuges which refined uranium into fissionable material, could not possibly fulfill that function.  They were never consulted even as Rice coined the most famous sales pitch of the war crying America could not wait to attack Iraq or the next smoke over New York would be a mushroom cloud.

     Pete Wilson used to always bristle when he heard me say this, but the popular support Adjami sights was the result of lies, and damn lies left unchallenged by a craven media more concerned with profit than truth.  I know I will face a barrage of disparaging names when I come home, but nothing compared to how I, and anyone who raised warnings about all this information, were treated.  I was called a traitor, terrorist lover, Jew hater, Muslim lover, apologist for extremism and someone who should shut up because I could not possibly know more than the President.

     The high point of this campaign of lies came when then Secretary of State Colin Powell addressed the United Nations.  Powell made numerous claims about Iraq including the claim it had mobile chemical weapon laboratories constantly producing more supply...chemical weapon warheads could be placed on Iraqi missiles within 45 minutes of the order being given and photographic evidence of a chemical weapons lab being abandoned before inspectors could arrive on the scene.  Not one of Powell's statements was true.  Yet, the media trumpeted his presentation and said it slammed the door on any doubters about the justification for war.

     While Bush were selling a war, they were also getting ready to execute it.  Despite telling the world he was working with the United Nations and wanted to give Saddam every chance to cooperate, we now know Bush already had decided to go to war long before March of 2003.  The Downing Street Memos show Britain's head of M.I.6 reporting to Tony Blair on a trip to Washington in which he learned Bush was committed to going to war with Iraq and just had to "cook the books" to get the American people to go along.  This was in July of 2002, almost a year before the invasion.  Assets were transferred out of Afghanistan in preparation for war and we missed the chance to kill Osama Bin Laden and Dr. Zwahiri in the mountains of Tora Bora.  ( a tragedy which allowed them to escape and decentralize Al Qaida making it more difficult to crush and enable it to still be alive 10 years later)

     Bush has help in his war effort.  Not only did the corporate media shill for his case, Congress also refused to confront him.  Bush scheduled the vote on the use of force in Iraq right before the midterm elections knowing Democrats would be too scared of being accused of being soft on terrorism to vote against him.  He was right.  The craven Democrats made a political choice to sacrifice the lives of our youth to protect their jobs.  Hillary Clinton might well be president today if not for her lack of political courage in voting for this war.  In Congressional hearings, Paul Wolfowitz said the war would pay for itself with Iraqi oil revenues.  Congress never held him to his word and allowed the president to get away with borrowing to pay for the war instead of imposing a war tax.  (Bush knew a tax would kill support for this honorable war)  As Wolfowitz was shinning Congress on, Cheney was predicting we would be greeted as liberators and Bush kept saying we had no choice.  One voice in the wilderness was General John Shalikashvili, who told Congress it would take at least 300,000 troops to win the war and the occupancy.  While Bush kept his job and Cheney his, the general was fired.  He was also right.

     President Obama was also right when he said this was a war of choice.  He was correct when he said it was the wrong war.  To this day, neither Adjami, Pearl, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld or Bush can answer Cindy Sheehan's question, "...for what purpose did my son die in Iraq?"  Almost 5,000 other families and as many as 1,000,000 Iraqis could ask the same question.

     The Iraq war destroyed any moral high ground this nation enjoyed after September 11th.  The over $1 Trillion butcher's bill, borrowed on the nation's credit card to make the war go down easier, drowned the nation in red ink from which we have yet to recover.  It was an Al Qaida recruiter's dream.  In one fell swoop we eliminated Iran's worst enemy without them having to spend a dime or fire a shot and left them the most influential player in the region.  (just look at their role in Syria if you have doubts)  The American military is broken.  The cost to repair it is astronomical.  (and we haven't begun to add up the costs for all the Veteran's services we will have to provide)

     An honorable war?  We invaded a nation which had done nothing to us.  We showed Iran, North Korea and any other rogue nation the way to check American aggression is to possess nuclear weapons, thus destabilizing most of the world.  An honorable war is not built on lies and cover-ups.  Bush wanted a war to show up daddy.  Cheney, Wolfowitz wanted Saddam gone at the suggestion of the Likkud party and Netanyahu and to prove you could impose democracy at the point of a gun.

     Today the Shiite leader of Iraq is trying to build a dictatorship...the Sunni's are in opposition and wreaking havoc on the civilian population...Al Qaida is alive and well in Al Anbar province and crossing over into Syria to further exacerbate the civil war and Iran remains the dominant player in the region.  No amount of revisionist history can change the truth.  The question is will we learn from it?

Sunday, March 17, 2013


Two new blogs from the Lion:

 As a guest of the federal government, the last question you would expect from numerous people is what I think about the new Pope.  You would be wrong.  I have been asked this question everywhere I walked over the last few days by both fellow guests and those who represent the powers that be.  My answer is a mix of hope and pragmatism along with a dash of cynicism.

     Cardinal Jorge Mario Gorgoglio is an Italian born in Argentina.  The most consistent theme about him in news reports is his humility and simple life style.  As cardinal of Buenos Aires, he refused to live in the archbishop's mansion, cooked his own meals, rode the subway and didn't like the title "your Excellency".  His first day as Pope, he took a shuttle bus back to his residence and paid his hotel bill and asked the throng in St. Peter's Square to pray for him.  He also chose the name Francis.  (which should really tweak the Franciscans to see a Jesuit taking on the name of their founder)  It is not clear yet whether the name is in honor of Francis of Assisi (the patron saint of San Francisco) or St. Francis Xavier, a Jesuit missionary.  All of the above is good.  The new Pope won't be seen wearing any red Prada booties and is alleged to have a sympathy and empathy towards the poor.

     The fact he is a humble man who cares about the poor and isn't interested in a lavish lifestyle is not the reason he was elected.  Pope Francis was runner-up to Pope Benedict in the last papal election.  (an election in search of a successor similar toJohn Paul II)  Pope Francis has worked in the Curia (the bureaucracy which runs the church) so he isn't about to radically alter its operations and was a top leader of the Jesuit order.  The quick election means the cardinals were comfortable with him...expect him to maintain the current status quo...believe he is a continuation of the policies and direction of his two predecessors...not a threat to established power structures.  If a consensus candidate had not been found...if there was a real desire on some cardinal's part to elect someone more progressive or willing to clean would have taken 4 or 5 days of votes to convince the regressives they didn't have enough to elect their guy and support coalesced behind someone else.  Pope Francis is a straight company man.

     At 76, with only one lung, it would also seem the cardinals did not want to elect someone who would be around too long, like John Paul II, and whose stamp on the Church will be limited at best.  Since almost all of the cardinals were appointed by John Paul II or Benedict, to expect something different is to show an ignorance of both human nature and power structures.

     Pope Francis will continue to insists on priestly celibacy.  He is opposed to a married clergy and sees no way women can be ordained priests...thus effectively shutting out over 50% of the Church's members from the levers of power and policy.  He will promulgate the Church's opposition to abortion and the use of contraceptives and he will proclaim homosexuality a "disordered" condition.  As Cardinal of Buenos Aires, he stated allowing homosexuals to adopt children discriminated against the children.  Perhaps most troubling are the reports on his actions, or lack thereof, during the "dirty war" in Argentina when tens of thousands of citizens "disappeared" never to be heard from again because of their political views and opposition to the military junta running the government.  Pope Francis was essentially silent during this time.  While there are stories of him assisting a few individuals avoid being captured by the government, there is also at least one incidence of him turning someone over to them and the impression. consistent with Church support for the Nazi's in Austria, Hungary, Poland and other nations, based on the idea the government was fighting against Marxism, Marxists and atheists and the Church was not going to get in their way.  The new Pope opposes liberation theology, the belief the Church's first fundamental option should be to the poor, because many of its proponents used Marxist terms and analysis in their preaching.

     The election of the new Pope is trumpeted as an example the Church understands its interests are far less in Europe and far more in a part of the world, Latin America, where over 40% of the world's Catholics live.  He will help to slow defections from the Church to evangelical Protestant denominations in Latin America and will better relate to Catholics in Africa and Asia.  None of this is particularly attractive or spiritual to me.

     I am glad he is humble, rides on buses and in subways, cooks his own meals and isn't caught up in the lavishness available to him as a cardinal or Pope.  However, a Latin America Pope, who continues the Church down its current path, is not an occasion for celebration.  He has little to say to the generation of American Catholics represented by my children.  He will not reverse the trend of a dying priesthood in this country.  He will continue to persecute American nuns for concentrating too much on social justice and the poor and not enough on the moral prohibitions of the Church and he will be seen as a another in a long line of church officials trying to reverse the spirit and policies of the Second Vatican Council.

     This Pope has had his moment of  conscience and appears to have failed.  The bishops of Argentina, the new Pope included, have issued a public apology for their lack of action during the "dirty war".  I have no expectation he will suddenly grow a conscience when it comes to women in the Church (sexism is a sin) or the Church's dependence on rich, regressive Catholics, or when it comes to taking on the godless march of international corporatism.  He seems like a nice man, who chose a nice name and who, when all is said and done, will leave the Church exactly where is was on the day he was elected.  I hope I'm wrong.


Ohio Republican Senator Rob Portman has voted for a constitutional amendment prohibiting same sex couples from being married.  He has voted for the Defense of Marriage Act blocking the federal government from recognizing same sex marriage as legal.  He voted for a law making it illegal for same sex couples to adopt children.  All of these votes were based on his religious and social belief that same sex couples were unnatural, would cause children irreparable harm as parents and were violating God's moral law.  Like Saturday Night Live's Emily Lettella, Portman would now like to say, "...never mind".

     In the midst of anti-gay screeds and fealty to the bigotry and prejudice of his party, Portman was told by his son, a freshman at Yale, he was gay.  Confronted by the fact gays were now "us" and no longer "them", and the fact he loved his son, Portman has now reversed his stand and wishes DOMA were rescinded and same sex couples allowed to marry.  (However, Portman says it should be left up to the states and must hope his son chooses to live in Massachusetts knowing that if lives in Ohio, dad will not do anything to help him secure his rights.)

     This is not the first time, nor will it be the last, when regressive Republicans find themselves reversing field when confronted with a family member or situation which hits them where they live.  No greater champion of straight, macho values than Vice President Dick Cheney, changed his position on homosexual rights when his daughter announced she was a lesbian.  The congressional patron saint of the anti-abortion movement, Georgia Congressman Bob Barr, paid for at least two abortions for his wife (and drove her to at least one), and the great moral intellectual Dan Quayle admitted on Larry King if his daughter got pregnant he would help her get an abortion if she so desired.

   I can't stand it.  Have they no shame?  Isn't it now clear all these moral positions and value posturing are just for political consumption and when push comes to shove they abandon God and church and morality as fast as Jimmy Swaggert getting out of a motel room.

     If God says homosexuality is unnatural, or disordered or that abortion is murder and an abomination, it applies to all of "them" out there and applies to your own son or daughter or wife.  There are no codicils or sub paragraphs to the 10 commandments when it comes to family or loved ones.  If homosexuals will harm the children they adopt, so will your son Senator or your daughter Mr. Vice President.  If God intended marriage to only be for a man and woman (Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve), then supporting your gay son's quest to be married violates God's wishes.  How can it be so many of these regressive politicians can spout chapter and verse of what God is thinking, except when applied to their own family?  If you look up hypocrisy in the dictionary there will be a rogue's gallery of their pictures.

     Senator Portman's son tweeted he has never been prouder of his father.  Is he proud his father told God to take a flying leap?  Is he proud his father was willing to demonize anyone who was gay as long as they weren't family?  Is he proud of all the damage his father's, and his father's party, have done by characterizing homosexuality as deviant or dangerous?

     It is said regressives believe government governs best which governs least.  Yet, they consistently want to use government to invade the most personal and private places in our lives.  Hanbaugh, and the Weiner, and the rest of the regressive media machine, are outraged by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's attempt to regulate the size soda cup you can purchase.  Yet, they are quite comfortable regulating what a woman can do with her body or what two consenting adults do in the privacy of their own homes, unless of course they are family.

     Senator Portman deserves no kudos.  He is a modern day Pharisee who changed his rules when they would hurt his son.  There will be no chapters set aside for him in future editions of Profiles in Courage.

Monday, March 11, 2013


The cardinals will celebrate Mass on Tuesday, March 12, and then process into the Sistine Chapel, close and lock the doors, and begin the job of electing a new Pope.  The question is what kind of Pope?  Will he be chosen for administrative capabilities with a mission to reform and clean up the Curia, the Church's civil servants?  Will he be someone to minister to Africa, Asia and Latin America where the Church is growing?  Will he impress the assembly with his affinity for social media, a telegenic personality, and the new worldwide face of the Church?  Will they search for someone who can reverse the losses of Catholics in America and Europe?  These are some of the questions for the conclave.  They have to elect a Pope who has an idea how to staunch the bleeding from the priest sex abuse scandal.  He will have to cope with a 300-page report, sealed in his private safe, chronicling corruption in the Curia along with allegations of extortion and a cabal of gay priests.  Even with all of the above agenda, it would appear there is not much hope the cardinals will select a Pope to address the real world concerns of Catholics, Christians or anyone who cares about individuals in their community.

     The New York Times published a poll of American Catholics which should give some guidance to this nation's cardinals.  American Catholics overwhelmingly believe the Church hierarchy is out of touch and the Church needs a new direction.  While a majority support the Church's continued opposition to abortion and the death penalty, (positions the same majorities disagree with) they want a young Pope elected who will turn the Church towards something inspiring which will draw people back to the pews.  A majority of American Catholics want the Pope to allow priests to get married and women to be offered a chance to be ordained.  They want support for the use of contraceptives and the Pope to encourage the use of condoms to prevent the spread of H.I.V.  Majorities are in favor of same sex couples being married in the Church and more acceptance of homosexuality.  While Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI pushed a regressive agenda, American Catholics want a new Pope to liberalize the message and focus of the Church.  You could probably find the same results in a poll of European Catholics.  However, the growing populations of Catholics in Africa, Asia and Latin America would not be as socially progressive.  A Pope chosen from these areas will be just as regressive, socially, as his two predecessors.

    Ironically, the poll of American Catholics does not ask a single question based on the essence of Jesus' message.  If you look to Matthew 25, the clear mission of a Christian is to draw closer to God.  This is accomplished by how we treat each other.  We are to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, visit prisoners and heal the sick.  This is the key to redemption and salvation.  Yes, a married priesthood and women priests are long overdo...yes, a church which opens its arms to people of all sexual orientations makes religious sense...yes, a church which encourages real family planning and helps prevent the transmission of a deadly disease is doing God's work, but it's not the meat of what we are all supposed to be about.  It's the equivalent of re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

     The message of the Jewish carpenter from Nazareth is the most radical ever proposed.  Not only do you have an obligation towards the least of your brothers and sisters, you have a duty to love one another, forgive your enemies, turn the other cheek and go sell all you have to follow Jesus.  How about a Pope who is concerned about all of this?

     The gap between the rich and the poor continues to grow in the developed world and the gap between the wealth of some nations and everyone else also continues to widen.  There is a worldwide movement, by corporations and their minions, to sacramentalize "free market" capitalism.  It is very much a rival religious movement and is as much a threat to the Church as Islam or any other system.  Temples to the worship of money and power are being built every day.  This is a movement which bristles at attempts to regulate, modify or rein it in.  Its patron saints are Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman and Frederick Hayack.  Its goal is to create vast amounts of wealth for the few and to tempt everyone else into chasing the non-attainable achievement of becoming one of the 1% while ignoring any obligation or care for each other.

     What would American, African, Asian or Latin American Catholics say to a Pope who stands with the poor and working people and calls for economic equality and condemns "free market" unregulated capitalism as immoral?  How would the world react to a Pope who challenges the international corporate hegemony currently in place...a Pope who calls on all Catholics to press for economic justice and fairness...a Pope who calls on Catholics to be stewards of the Earth and leave it in better shape than they found it...a Pope who supports worker collectives (unions) and micro lending...a Pope who declares usury a sin again...a Pope who says it is immoral to spend trillions of dollars on the weapons of war while all over the world people go to bed hungry, thirsty and without a roof over their Africa, a Pope who condemns war and terrorism and exploitation of natural resources for the benefit of multi-national corporations, and developed nations, for the increased wealth of the powerful, at the expense of everyone else...a Pope who calls on America to shelter all of its citizens and make sure workers earn a living wage.  It would be a risky message, and could cost the Church donations from the 1% outraged at a Pope butting in where he has no business being, but it would inspire and witness to the true Spirit in the Church.

     My children's generation is searching for purpose in life.  What would their response be to a Pope who challenges them to throw off Madison Avenue, and its call to consume, and instead offered them ways to teach and build and work in communities all over the nation who are in dire become lawyers people can afford, who take on the corporate power structure and doctors committed to care about patients and not overwhelmed by paperwork?  Can you imagine such a Pope saying Mass in East Oakland, Compton, East St. Louis, Detroit and in the poorest and deepest parts of Mississippi and the South and calling for a new spirit, new commitment, new evangelization to these and any place in this country in need of good works and good news?

     I would love a new Pope who welcomes married and women priests.  The priesthood is dying in America and Europe.  I'd love one who cleans up corruption and responds effectively to scandal.  It would be nice to have a Pope who actually lives in the 21st century.  All of this would be desirable.  But, I really want a Pope who is animated by that Jewish carpenter and who is burning to spread the Good News and have it touch every corner of the Earth.  I want a Pope who will witness, and call others, to the radical imperative to love God and your neighbor, make peace and care for all.  I don't expect my wish to happen, as the collective inertia of these cardinals is enough to prevent even the Spirit of God from penetrating the walls of the chapel, and the last miracle of this scale was on Pentecost.  It's still worth hoping.

Friday, March 8, 2013


U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, in a letter to Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, says he could envision a situation where the Obama administration could call for a drone strike, in this country, against an American citizen...hypothetically of course.

     Holder's admission should chill you down to your bones.  It is an admission this government has already "gamed" out this possibility and believes it to be legal.  They use the same rationale the previous administration used to justify torture and spying on Americans, that is, the bomb is about to go off and we only have 24 hours to get information or stop it and we have to do something now.  (it doesn't make any more sense if Obama says it than if Bush does)

     Holder's letter to Paul raises both constitutional and legal questions.  Drones are controlled by the C.I.A.  Since the C.I.A. is prohibited from acting inside this nation, the use of a drone would be an illegal use of force.  I'm not naive enough to believe this law would deter anyone, since the Bush administration was more than willing to ignore the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and ordered the National Security Agency to enlist telecom companies to spy on their own customers.  Bush and company went further and ignored international treaties, and American law, against torture, rendition (kidnapping) and assassination in the period after September 11th.  The Obama administration has cloned this part of the Bush/Cheney DNA and continues to hold to many of these actions and most of the principles justifying them.

     Equally disturbing is the apparent trashing of key elements of the Bill of Rights.  A drone strike, in order to be affective, has to be secret and thus extra-judicial.  Since it is used in secret, and its use cloaked in darkness, there cannot be any indictment or grand jury or bill of particulars before hand.  The "target" does not get to face his or her accusers in court, file a habeas corpus petition to show the government has the wrong person or demand the government show probable cause for its actions.  Witness testimony, wiretaps, documents and other surveillance information, all used to justify the drone attack, would not be open to challenge or cross-examination.  The "target" would not have any idea the government had signed a death warrant...a warrant not subject to judicial review.

     For those of you not sufficiently outraged, imagine for a moment Dick Cheney sending a letter to Barbara Boxer confirming the possibility the government is considering the assassination of American citizens (murdering) as part of the Bush Administration's war on terror.  Progressives would be apoplectic in their reaction.  Why aren't they now?

     What is the difference between a C.I.A. hit team killing an American citizen in this country and a drone doing the same thing?  What happened to the concept of innocent until proven guilty?  What happened to the 6th amendment right to due process...4th amendment right to probable cause, a warrant and judicial review...the 8th amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment?  Every time I turn around the Bill of Rights is smaller than it was and all of these dilutions and watering down of civil liberties are justified by the need to fight the terrorists.  The terrorists claim the people killed on September 11th were not innocent victims, but rather were complicit in America's war against Islam.  We reject this argument completely, yet the Attorney General is making the exact same argument for killing an American citizen with no due process.  What's the difference between the two positions?  Apologists would point out how we would never make a decision to use a drone cavalierly.  We would have justification and evidence to support such an action.  We would never cross this threshold lightly and, if all these arguments fail, you just have to trust us.  Really?

     When pressed, Holder will claim he was just answering a hypothetical question with a hypothetical answer.  He will declare there is no policy, or intention to seek a policy, to assassinate American citizens.  He will feign anger and take umbrage at the thought anyone could think this administration would entertain such an action without a thorough vetting by legal authorities and his protestations wouldn't be worth the paper they were printed on.  A decision to use a drone to kill an American citizen would be done in secret.  It would be cloaked in a veil of national security so thick, the family of the victim would not even be allowed to sue or go to court to force an exposure of the evidence.  No judge or judicial official would be involved and afterwards the courts would collaborate to prevent any redress under the auspices of national security.

     Nowhere has the Obama presidency been a bigger failure than on matters of national security and civil liberties.  We leave a disaster that is Afghanistan.  Guantanamo is still open for business.  Federal courts are off limits for terror suspects replaced by military tribunals.  We conduct war now by drone strike creating future terrorists as we go.  While we claim to have cut the head off of Al Qaeda, we quietly open new war fronts in Africa and new military bases in Nigeria.  We don't know what to do about Syria and our failure to secure Gaddafi's weapons in Libya resulted in a weapons bonanza for Al Qaeda, and other terrorists, in Africa.  No one could have predicted a day when the chief law enforcement officer in the nation casually admits his administration is quite willing to ignore the Constitution, when it's convenient, in order to fight "terrorism".

    Terrorism is supposed to scare us because if the terrorists win, our freedoms are lost.  (isn't that what they say the military is fighting for, to protect our freedom?)...if the terrorists win our experiment in democracy is over...if the terrorists win they will declare an Islamic caliphate in this land...if the terrorists win, the beacon of civil liberties is extinguished.  It would appear if Holder and Obama win, the difference between the administration and the terrorists is a difference without a distinction.