Tuesday, October 29, 2013


  When you think of Thanksgiving, what images immediately jump to mind?  Turkey and all the fixings...green bean casserole...freshly baked bread or rolls...pumpkin and minced pie...family 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 aisles...mom and dad with children trailing behind them their eyes dancing with delight at the overfilled shelves...kids 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 south...team 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 et.al. ...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 et.al...Losers...Cruz, 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 anymore...no one has to feel they have no choice...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 rewards...an 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 dollars...no one stole tens of thousands of homes from average Americans...no one required trillions of taxpayer dollars to bail them out...no one caused unemployment to skyrocket and entire cities devastated economically...no 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.


 In an interview with Jesuit magazine editors, Pope Francis I said it was time to restore some balance to our God talk.  The Pope said for too long the Catholic Church has been very good at preaching what it is against, with too little emphasis on what it is for.  Regressive Catholics had to blanche when Francis called for less rhetoric about abortion, contraception and homosexuality and a return to the central message of the gospels.  (Whatever you do for the least of your brothers and sisters you do for Me.)

     The Pope did not reverse any of the Church's positions on these hot button issues.  He didn't plough any new theological ground.  His was a call to restore some balance to a message which had been buried under a pile of judgmental and Pharasitic pronouncements about sexuality which ignored the individual person and instead made the Church appear more concerned about these issues, never mentioned in the gospels once, while ignoring the central message Jesus says he came to proclaim.

     New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, titular head of the Catholic Church in America, appeared on CBS to comment on the Pope's remarks.  His praise for the Pope and his message was effusive and enthusiastic.  The Pope was simply calling attention to Jesus' message according to Dolan.  The Pope was calling Catholics to focus on the real essence of Christianity and he, Dolan, welcomes the remarks.  Really?

     With the selection of Popes John Paul II and Benedict the XVI, the Church has for over 30 years been trying to close the barn door, which was the Second Vatican Council, after the theology got out.  The American Church became a bastion of regressive theology...bishops were picked not on charisma or lifestyle or fidelity to the message of Jesus, but rather on their adherence to orthodoxy.  The Church rarely found time to talk about anything other than gays, abortion and contraception.  Dolan, and his predecessor Cardinal O'Connor, presided over an American church which seemed embarrassed by Matthew 25...puzzled by stories of Jesus eating with sinners, prostitutes and tax collectors...oblivious to Jesus' insight that God wanted us to love our neighbors as ourselves, forgive with no limit, turn the other cheek and proclaim the Good News.

     While the gap between the 1% and everyone else widened to Grand Canyon-like proportions...while millions of Americans found themselves in need of food stamps, unemployment insurance, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid...while Wall Street, and the nation, lost themselves in the pursuit of more and more riches and the poverty rate increased...while this nation engaged in two immoral wars...the American church and its leaders were no where to be seen or heard.

     When a Catholic Republican Congressman, Paul Ryan, proposed a budget plan for the House of Representatives which gutted funding for the poor...called for an end to Social Security and Medicare as we know it...demanded tax cuts for the 1% and increases in military spending, Dolan et.al had nothing to say.  Even worse, when Catholic sisters raised their voices in protest and attacked the proposal as a repudiation of the Church's call for social justice towards the poor, not only did they receive no support from the Church hierarchy, they, and fellow women religious, were subjected to an inquisition questioning if they were somehow rogue or renegade women out of control and in need of being reigned in.

     While neither of his two predecessors had a discouraging word for a nation which prized money and possessions over everything else, you couldn't shut them up when sex was the topic.  American prelates were more than willing to enter the political fray over the question of women and choice.  They could be counted on to condemn, hypocritically, any attempt to use contraception to plan and manage a family's shape and size.  They went to war with President Obama when his new health care plan required them to make contraception available to employees in their health plans, employees working in Church public institutions.  They formed political alliances with the Ryan's and the very political forces leading the charge to shred the social safety net while calling for lower taxes on the rich and corporations.

     In California, the Catholic Church spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, not feeding or clothing people, but to help pass Proposition 8, which would ban same sex marriages in the state.  This despite the fact no church would be obligated to participate in such marriages.  Dolan and Church leaders visibly and vocally supported the Defense of Marriage Act as well as any state attempts to control or sanction homosexuality.

     While willing to publicly condemn any politician, including Ted Kennedy, Mario Cuomo and John Kerry, who felt the matter of choice was up to individual women...felt contraception was something which should be available to all Americans...felt that what two people did in the privacy of their bedroom should not expose them to discrimination, Catholic bishops went so far as to state they would deny communion, the centerpiece of all Catholic liturgy, to these men and anyone else who agreed with them.  As they tried to stop Notre Dame from inviting President Obama from speaking because of his position on choice...these same Catholic leaders refused to criticize or sanction Catholic law makers who publicly and consistently supported the death penalty, opposed increases in the minimum wage, fought against regulations for clean air and water, and pushed a military industrial complex which brought death and destruction in its wake.

     The Pope now says "enough".  Yes, the Catholic Church opposes abortion and thinks homosexual sexual activity is a sin.  (However, the Pope recently asked how he could be expected to judge a good person striving to get closer to God who also happens to be gay?)  He emphasized in the interview the strongest voices in the Church have to rise up in support of the least among us.  To be a Catholic means working for justice...acting in a loving way towards others...working to improve the conditions of those most in need.  Catholics must reject a culture of unregulated free-market capitalism which prizes those who die with the most "stuff".  A nation as rich as America cannot have millions going to bed hungry, without adequate shelter and clothing.  The Pope is calling for a restoration of balance in the Church's emphasis and message, a balance long ago lost in the name of ideological purity and Puritanism.  For the Pope, a church which only engages its members when it comes to sex is a church which has totally abandoned any claim to be called followers of Christ.


If you read or listen to "them", "they" will inform you President Obama's foreign policy decisions over the last five years have been marred by indecision, waffling, quibbling, and a lack of backbone.  From regressive talk radio, (by the way how is Hannity doing these days?), to the corporate media, to the foreign policy elite, the President has suffered set back after setback and numerous embarrassing missteps.  Some have even compared Obama to Chamberlin for his reverse pivot on attacking Syria.  There is plenty to be disillusioned about with the president, but as I sit here, it hit me the analysis has not exactly been fair and balanced.

     When Obama was elected in 2008, one of the most dramatic lines of demarcation between him and John McCain was over his promise to end the Iraq War and get us out of Afghanistan.  He also pledged diplomacy would replace military force as the go-to response of the White House.  He has us out of Iraq and out of Afghanistan next year.  (none too soon, and it should have been sooner as the country is a dysfunctional, corrupt, basket case not worth another American life)  Much of the isolationism we see in American today is a direct result of George Bush, and the P.N.A.C.  (Project on a New American Century) crowd, lying and dissembling to get Americans to support the Iraq War, and their total incompetence when it came to Afghanistan.  Pundits blame Obama for the resistance to any military action in Syria by the American people, but his hands are clean.  Americans don't trust Washington, and didn't want any more wars because of the duel debacles of Iraq and Afghanistan.

     Obama's critics are correct when they point out how disorganized and disheveled his administration has been in reaction to the Arab Spring.  The U.S. was late in supporting revolution in Tunis and Egypt and looked the other way while Saudi Arabia crushed dissent in Bahrain.  Obama seems unwilling, or unable, to pressure Israel into stopping the construction of illegal settlements or starting new construction in East Jerusalem.  While he showed some good diplomatic skills in leading from behind on Libya, neither Obama nor any European nation did the due diligence necessary to secure Libya's arms stores or make sure there was someone who could produce stable political reform.  Whether we like it or not, the Egyptian people seem comfortable with a military dictatorship which protects them from the Muslim Brotherhood, and restores some calm stability to their nation, and Obama could not prop up Mubarak and couldn't save Morsi whether he wanted to or not.

     We will ignore Benghazi because it was a security disaster and breakdown and not a diplomatic failure and while more heads could roll, the consulate's destruction, and the loss of life, is an embarrassment for the State Department and C.I.A., but not a failed diplomatic effort.

     The President decided not to attack Syria after first indicating he would use force.  For this he is accused of being wishy-washy, a coward, a defeatist and much worse.  He decided to let Congress weigh in on the decision and for this he was pilloried and accused of weakening the imperial presidency.  His White House was in tatters and America's enemies are licking their chops at the thought of going up against this weak-kneed, sissy-Nancy of a president.

     In the last few weeks, Syria has released an inventory of its chemical weapons stores which the U.S. and United Nation's officials say is far more comprehensive than expected.  The international agency charged with destroying the weapons reports Syria has not tried to prevent them from doing their work and having access to information.  Inspectors go into Syria in the next few weeks and a new report suggests the weapons could be destroyed in a matter of six months.  The United Nations Security Council has now passed a resolution acknowledging if Syria doesn't continue to cooperate and make progress, force can be used to compel compliance.  Russia is now on the hook as Syria's protector and guarantor.  By agreeing to pursue Russia's diplomatic entreaties, Obama shifts the onus onto them...makes it much easier to go back to Congress for a resolution to use force...forces Europe to step up against a recalcitrant Syria and even has Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu publically admitting the approach to Syria is progress.  If the chemical weapons are reduced dramatically, or destroyed completely, a precipitous fall of the Assad government is nowhere near as frightening since the fear of the weapons falling into the wrong hands will be reduced.  It is a fair criticism to say the U.S. should have done a better job of supporting the moderate elements of the rebels in Syria, but this is a 1,700-year-old civil war which we cannot end.

     Then there is Iran...no one has been more consistent on Iran than the President.  Over the last five years, he has built a diplomatic coalition which has economically isolated Iran.  Inflation could be running as high as 100% per year and the Iranian currency has easily lost half of its value.  Oil revenue is drying up and middle class Iranians feel the pain and voted for a new president who built his campaign around the promise to restart the relationship with the West and get the sanctions reduced.  The president's critics have repeatedly pooh-poohed and made snarky comments about how sanctions will never work and military force is the only thing the Iranians understand.  (these are the same voices which said force could impose democracy and stability in Iraq and Afghanistan and want force used in Syria)  Now the president of Iran says he wants to talk.  For the first time in over 30 years, high level meetings took place between the U.S. and Iran, meetings which continue in Geneva in the month ahead and which were characterized by the British foreign secretary as "productive".

     There are still more questions than answers diplomatically.  Are Iran and Syria just stalling for time?  Will Iran use these talks to allow them to further develop a nuclear weapon?  Is Russia willing to support the use of force in Syria?  Will the U.N. need Russia's support to act?  Can the governments in Libya and Egypt be stabilized?  Can the Syrian civil war be prevented from engulfing Lebanon, Jordan and Israel?  Can the U.S. pressure Israel to engage in serious peace talks with the Palestinians?  However, without firing a shot, Obama could see the end of chemical weapons in Syria...a deal to gain more transparency and progress on nuclear disarmament talks with Iran...a more stable Egypt...talks between Israel and the Palestinians...and in Asia, a possible return of U.S. naval forces to the key base at Subic Bay in the Philippines part of a diplomatic shift towards the Pacific the president has been touting.

     Even if it is all because of dumb luck, it isn't a bad record of possibilities and accomplishments and it is said I'd rather be lucky than good.


  As of this writing, the United States government is shut down.  Congress has failed to pass a single appropriation bill to fund government operations.  As painful as this is for government workers who are sent home and for those who need some of the services that will not be available, the real crisis is yet to come.  Around October 17th, the Treasury Department says the United States runs out of the ability to pay its bills.  If the debt ceiling is not raised, the U.S. can be declared in default...its credit rating downgraded...global money markets in chaos...the fragile U.S. economic recovery threatened and all of this because regressive Republicans admit losing the White House and the Senate has left them with little to no leverage to force their political agenda on the American people.

     The Republicans don't like the Affordable Care Act.  They want the Keystone pipeline built.  They want to roll back environmental regulations on new power plants that burn coal.  They want to cut billions of dollars in food stamps, cut taxes on the 1% and prevent 20 to 30 million Americans from getting access to health insurance for the first time.  Since they do not have the votes to accomplish any of these goals, they are willing to jeopardize the economy and cost hundreds of thousands of jobs by holding the debt-ceiling hostage.  If you needed the definition of a circular firing squad, they have provided it in spectacular living color.

     Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah claim the Affordable Care Act "could" kill American jobs.  (The Congressional Budget Office says a government shutdown or debt ceiling default "will" put hundreds of thousands of Americans out of work.)  They say the American people don't want the Act to go into effect.  (OK, then let it happen and crush the Democrats in the 2014-midterm elections and win back the White House in 2016...that is if you believe your own rhetoric.)  They argue the Affordable Care Act will explode the deficit.  (Numerous studies show the biggest threat to the deficit, and future economic health, is the exponential growth of health care costs.  Since the Act passed Congress, health care costs have risen at their slowest rate in over 30 years) Regressives scream about Congress and its staff being exempted from the Act and keeping their current benefits.  (They are so right about this...this is a disgrace...members of Congress and their staffs should be treated like any other American and live within the strictures of this new health care world.  This exemption has to be reversed just out of fairness and for no other reason.)  Attaching defunding this Act to either a budget bill or as a condition for raising the debt ceiling, or adding a full Christmas tree worth of attachments and demands in return for increasing the ceiling, shows how elitist and out of touch these regressives and their Tea Party minions truly are.  Threatening the economic health of the nation, costing people jobs, because it's the only "leverage" you have, is a recipe for disaster.

     Perhaps regressive opposition to an expansion of health care access wouldn't seem so crass and cynical if they offered up an alternative vision and let the two compete in the election marketplace.  Unfortunately, "they" have nothing to offer.  When asked about the provision prohibiting insurance companies from using pre-existing conditions to deny coverage, Sen. Cruz, during his 20 hour verbal diarrhea on the Senate floor, opined the "market place must be reformed."  Huh?  When asked about letting children stay on their parent's insurance up to age 26...about capping how much insurance companies can charge due to catastrophic illness...about eliminating caps on how much insurance companies have to pay to cover an illness...about expanding Medicaid so 20 million more Americans have access to a doctor (eliminating the use of emergency rooms as health clinics and dramatically reducing costs to hospitals and taxpayers)...Cruz, Lee et.al. are silent and bring nothing to the table except talk of medical savings accounts and selling insurance across state lines.

     It doesn't take a rocket scientist to explain why Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, and his second in command Texas Senator John Cornryn, publically oppose the tactics of Cruz and Lee and their fellow crazies in the House.  They understand destroying the village to save it is not a good political platform for future electoral success.  The Wall Street Journal, no radical liberal rag, is against any attempt to "leverage" the budget agreement or debt ceiling increase.  (hell, the Wall Street Journal editorial page makes the Koch brothers look like Commies)  If I might offer a word of advice...go for it guys.  Shut the government down and cause the government to default and cripple our credit rating knowing you can't defund the health care act.  Fall on your swords.  Come on you can do it.  (to quote Rob Schneider)  Take us all down with you as you put principle ahead of pragmatism.