Sunday, March 04, 2012

Knotting Knickers

Bob Schieffer on the CBS "news" show voiced his opinion and dismay that Olympia Snowe announced her resignation from the Senate. Here is a transcript of his words:

I've never liked it when old people remind us things were better in their day, but here I go:
When I came to Washington back in 1969, things were a mess - the country was divided over Vietnam, and a wave of violence had taken the lives of two Kennedys and Martin Luther King Jr.
Yet, even in those difficult days, the government still functioned, and Congress was a much better place - it still passed significant legislation.
The Senate was a place of giants and a blend of all persuasions - Democrat John Stennis of Mississippi was a conservative; Republican Jake Javits of New York a liberal, Washington's Scoop Jackson was a hardliner on defense and a liberal on social issues.
Democrat Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota was a liberal's liberal, and Republican Barry Goldwater was a hard-core conservative.
They came and they went. But none of them left for the reasons given last week by Olympia Snowe, the moderate Maine Senator who said in so many words she was just tired of fooling with it - that the modern Senate with its "my way or the highway mentality" was no longer the place to accomplish anything.
Snowe is not the first to feel that way lately, just the first to say it aloud.
The Senate will be the worse for her absence, but it will survive. But what does it say about the state of our government and politics when serious people conclude that serving in the United States Senate is no longer worth their time and effort?
That's the part that should worry the rest of us.
Our governance is predicated on the idea legislators bring opposing and competing views with them to do their job. The idea is that the media exposes and publishes information about these opposing and competing ideas and, we the people, having had our public educations, can read, reason and distinguish how best to go forward. We the people then communicate our positions to our legislators and our legislators, based on their feel for the majority opinion weighted to what is best for the common good, vote their conscience. In matters that are not simple choices, black/white, yes/no - but - are instead, nuances of choice, in order to tend to the business of governance - you know, get work done -- compromises had to be made. It was how "significant legislation" was accomplished during "divisive" times was made.

I am, unabashedly, a liberal. I am a Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Occupy liberal. A citizen who strongly believes that government is supposed to work for all citizens. A citizen who understands the necessity of complex issues needing lobbyists who inform, challenge and explain these issues to Congress and citizens, but not to the preference over and against the interest of the common citizen. Precisely because I believe in the best governance and government for all citizens, precisely because I believe in an informed and engaged citizenry to help make decisions, I need an opportunity to hear opposing, contrasting and shades of viewpoints so I can make my own best decisions. 

Face the Nation has been on television almost my entire lifetime. Yet, currently the program does not present opposing viewpoints, nor is it very adept at calling out those who pollute the public discourse with out-and-out falsehoods. When George Bush was president, the show, and all the others like it, had a majority of "conservative" politicians and "leaders" like Grover Norquist. When Mr. Obama took office, I looked forward to a more balanced and even guests or, at least, an opportunity for more liberal views to be aired on these shows. In the past three years, they have not changed their guest lists very much at all, with even Dick Cheney still occasionally a guest. We still are subjected to one view point, over and over and over again. When these programs do present someone with an opposing viewpoint, they tend to have as a guest someone who is only marginally in opposition. There is almost never an honest telling of the facts and issues to mitigate the constant stream of straw man arguments set up by guests on the shows.  The best and maybe the only exceptions I ever find are Rachel Maddow and Laurence O'Donnell. 

Mr. Schieffer could do a great deal about the partisan divide and unwillingness of cooperation stymieing our government's ability to function. He should change his show's format and guests and start encouraging an engaged and informed citizenry by first informing them of the facts and then, having guests with varying opinions and ideas present them. The citizenry will then be above to engage in their own government with clear choices and decisions based on facts and not partisanship and ideology. The public discourse would be raised and, I believe, the quality of our governance would also improve. 

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Anti-My Religion

Anti-choice people are extremely disingenuous and dishonest. They like to claim "life begins at conception" and, therefore, most forms of birth control and abortion are sanctity of life issues, just like murder. The vast majority of these same people however, see nothing wrong with supporting the death penalty, with supporting invading and attacking another sovereign country who has done us no harm, with supporting torture and rendition, with supporting the denial of poor children free lunches, with supporting and denying health care and transplants for people who do not have citizenship or health insurance, and, too many more examples of their hypocrisy to continue to list.
It is amazing to me that anti-choice did not line the streets, chain their children to military equipment in protest against our war in Iraq. After all, many THOUSANDS of women, men and children were killed and many thousands more maimed all based on their sanctity of life beliefs. Nor do they behave that way at executions by the state - even those executions where it is believed that the person being executed is INNOCENT.
Catholics started this shit. Southern white authoritarian evangelical ministers who saw an opportunity to subjugate women joined them. IOW, the people behind this are religious people. They are against it for religious reasons. (I find it highly ironic theCatholic church tells the Jews they have misinterpreted their own laws of Moses! Jews DO believe in choice and believe it is a matter between a woman, her doctor and whomever else she wants counsel from.)
Here is a convenient definition for what I am about to say: by definition heresy can only be committed by someone who considers himself a Christian, but rejects the teachings of the Catholic Church. A person who completely renounces Christianity is not considered a heretic, but an apostate, and a person who renounces the authority of the Church but not its teachings is a schismatic.
I want to paraphrase this part:
When this country was formed, in May 1776, we expressed our inalienable rights (those rights we are born having that cannot be voted on, or they wouldn’t be “rights”), we expressed those rights as foundational to our government and governance, with one of those inalienable rights being freedom of religion. However, when it came to actually forming the government and governance by statutes, we purposefully did not make a law asserting, protecting and enshrining each right we listed, including the right of freedom of religion. In October 1776, though, at a general assembly meeting, the constitutional convention did repeal all English laws we had been governed by up to that point that made it a crime to “maintain any opinions in matters of religion”, the laws forcing church attendance, the laws pertaining to how people must worship, and they also suspended the laws giving salaries to clergy – which was made permanent in October 1779. Because of those repeals of the English enacted religious laws, we were left without any laws dictated to us by or through religion, and were left with only those laws coming out of the common law and those new laws we were in the process of making (and would have nothing to do with establishing or promoting any religion, religious law or theology).
In this country, the United States of America, by law passed in 1705, if a person brought up Christian denied the existence of a God, or of the Trinity, or, if they asserted there was more than one God, or denied the Christian religion as being the one true religion, or denied the Bible was an unquestionable divine authority, that person being found guilty of one of those offenses would, on the first conviction be unemployable - either in government, in the clergy, or in the private sector. A second offense and they were stripped of their right to sue, to inherit, to be given money, to be the guardian of a child, to be an executor or administrator of an estate and three years imprisonment without any possibility of bail. If that man was a father, his children were taken from him and were given out to be raised by more “suitable” (Christian) people.(During this time, church attendance was mandatory; religious “sins” were often punished by being put in the town square in the stocks. Capital punishment was also used in New England in religious law context.)
The legitimate powers of government are only supposed to be against acts that hurt others. It does not “pick your pocket” nor does it “break your leg” if someone else has one or twenty abortions or prenatal tests or uses birth control. It is none of your business and does not pertain to you. Therefore, it is not the business of government to intervene. (As for the argument of abortion being “murder”, that is a religious definition, not a legal one, not a secular test such as whether or not the woman medically needs an abortion.)
This is the what Rick Santorum and others would take us BACK to. This is what we rebelled against. Keep your religion to yourself. Stop trying to force me to your religious view. I don’t particularly like misogynists and you have little chance of converting me to your way of thinking.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Lessons forgotten?

The other day, I posted Bobby Kennedy's 1968 speech made the day after Reverend Martin Luther King's assassination and only a few months before his own violent death by assassination. Bobby admonishes us not to allow ourselves to treat our fellow citizens as enemies -- that we are each entitled to our own life and our own determination and pursuit of happiness. He reminds us we may not be of one race, one religion, one mind on any policy - except for that wish to build our lives in our own idea of happiness for ourselves and our families. That idea is America's original idea - its greatness, its exceptionalism in the most classic sense, its homogeneity.

I feel very fortunate to have lived when true, great leaders such as Bobby Kennedy, John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, had the courage to lead our country with such character. In my opinion, a great leader leads his country to work harder to be better, to do better. I can not think of any such leader in our country right now.

In my lifetime though, I have also witnessed terrible leaders who lead us to nothing but destruction. We are a house divided. Politically. Religiously. Racially. By citizenship. By who we love. By our own personal and private decisions and beliefs. The wrong leaders are easy to recognize because they do all they can to pit us, one against the other. They teach that we cannot trust our own neighbor to work as industriously as we do, they teach we cannot trust our neighbor to uphold the laws the way we do, they teach us our neighbors are not real citizens, they teach us our neighbor is unworthy of the love of God. As a nation we allow these people a national stage. That is our disgrace.

It is much more than mere irony that binds together the radical right -- the John Birch Society, its ancestors  and its heirs -- to our national tragedies. For they are all the same disastrous and destructive evil. They are the evil that divides us as a people, as a nation and pits us against each other. Dividing that they might conquer, steal and gain all our collective power.

Will we continue to allow them to take us down this path? Will we learn to look for and elevate to leader,  those people who understand how to elevate us all, to our common good? When will we, once again, begin to chose from the best amongst us? Or, will you and I continue on until we and our loved ones have to face the horror that Sullivan and Sarah Ballou faced so many years ago? Would we have the conviction of the American ideal as strongly as Sullivan Ballou's expressed one in his second paragraph? If we truly did, wouldn't we have honored that debt by not allowing ourselves to come to where we are today? How much more can we devalue those sacrifices made on our behalf, the sacrifices of all the Sullivans and Sarahs, the Kennedys, the Kings, and all of those before us, until they become meaningless and, therefore, worthless?

July the 14th, 1861
Washington D.C.
My very dear Sarah:
The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days—perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write you again, I feel impelled to write lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more.
Our movement may be one of a few days duration and full of pleasure—and it may be one of severe conflict and death to me. Not my will, but thine O God, be done. If it is necessary that I should fall on the battlefield for my country, I am ready. I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in, the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American Civilization now leans upon the triumph of the Government, and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering of the Revolution. And I am willing—perfectly willing—to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt.
But, my dear wife, when I know that with my own joys I lay down nearly all of yours, and replace them in this life with cares and sorrows—when, after having eaten for long years the bitter fruit of orphanage myself, I must offer it as their only sustenance to my dear little children—is it weak or dishonorable, while the banner of my purpose floats calmly and proudly in the breeze, that my unbounded love for you, my darling wife and children, should struggle in fierce, though useless, contest with my love of country.
Sarah, my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me to you with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly on with all these chains to the battlefield.
The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them so long. And hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when God willing, we might still have lived and loved together and seen our sons grow up to honorable manhood around us. I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me—perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar—that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battlefield, it will whisper your name.
Forgive my many faults, and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have often been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness, and struggle with all the misfortune of this world, to shield you and my children from harm. But I cannot. I must watch you from the spirit land and hover near you, while you buffet the storms with your precious little freight, and wait with sad patience till we meet to part no more.
But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the brightest day and in the darkest night—amidst your happiest scenes and gloomiest hours—always, always; and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath; or the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by.
Sarah, do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for me, for we shall meet again.
As for my little boys, they will grow as I have done, and never know a father's love and care. Little Willie is too young to remember me long, and my blue-eyed Edgar will keep my frolics with him among the dimmest memories of his childhood. Sarah, I have unlimited confidence in your maternal care and your development of their characters. Tell my two mothers his and hers I call God's blessing upon them. O Sarah, I wait for you there! Come to me, and lead thither my children.

(Sullivan Ballou was killed a week later at the battle of Bull Run)
Sullivan Ballou (March 28, 1829 – July 28, 1861) was alawyerpolitician, and major in the United States Army. He is best remembered for the eloquent letter he wrote to his wife a week before he fought and was mortally wounded alongside his Rhode IslandVolunteers in the First Battle of Bull Run.

Monday, November 07, 2011

"On the Mindless Menace of Violence", speech, City Club of Cleveland, Cleveland, Ohio (5 April 1968) by Robert F. Kennedy

Victims of the violence are black and white, rich and poor, young and old, famous and unknown. They are most important of all, human beings whom other human beings loved and needed. No one can be certain who next will suffer from some senseless act of bloodshed, and yet it goes on, and on, and on, in this country of ours. Whenever any American's life is taken by another American unnecessarily, whenever we tear at the fabric of our lives which another man has painfully and clumsily woven for himself and his children, whenever we do this, then the whole nation is degraded. Too often, we honour swagger and bluster and the wielders of force. Too often we excuse those who are willing to build their own lives from the shattered dreams of other human beings. But this much is clear, Violence breeds violence, repression breeds retaliation, and only a cleansing of our whole society can remove this sickness from our souls. For when you teach a man to hate and to fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color, or his beliefs or the policies that he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you, threaten your freedom or your job or your home or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens, but as enemies. To be met not with co operation but with conquest, to be subjugated, and to be mastered. We learn at the last to look at our brothers as aliens. Alien men with whom we share a city, but not a community. Men bound to us in common dwelling, but not in a common effort. We learn to share only a common fear, only a common desire to retreat from each other, only a common impulse to meet disagreement with force. Our lives on this planet are too short, the work to be done is too great. But we can perhaps remember, that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short moment of life that they seek as do we, nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and in happiness, surely this bond of common fate, this bond of common roles can begin to teach us something, that we can begin to work a little harder, to become in our hearts brothers and countrymen once again.

Audio of this entire speech

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Christmas 2011 -- Birth of a New Tradition

****Note: These are not entirely my words. In fact, most of this little essay came my way through a friend of a friend. It has been heavily edited and appended by me. I invite you to use this version as you see fit, altering it as you wish to make the message. Together we can accomplish something to help our fellow Americans, struggling in these difficult times.****

As the Christmas holidays approach, the giant Asian factories are kicking into high gear to provide Americans with monstrous piles of cheaply produced goods -- merchandise that has been produced at the expense of American labor. Let’s make this year different. This year, why don’t Americans give the gift of genuine concern for other Americans. Using just a little ingenuity, you can find a gift produced by American labor. It is much easier than you might think.

Who says a gift needs to fit in a shirt box, wrapped in Chinese produced wrapping paper? How about this idea: Everyone – everyone gets their hair cut. How about gift certificates from your local American hair salon or barber? If you know which shop they use, you can visit them and purchase the gift certificate.

What about a gym membership? It's appropriate for all ages who are thinking about some health improvement. Personal trainers, massage therapists, nutritional consults, boot camps, martial arts and yoga instructors are all great gifts that help people invest in themselves and their health.

Who wouldn't appreciate getting their car detailed? Small, American owned detail shops and car washes would love to sell you a gift certificate or a book of gift certificates. Don’t overlook small business mechanics - give a tune up or car inspection. How many people couldn't use an oil change for their car, truck or motorcycle, done at a shop run by the American working guy?

Are you one of those extravagant givers who think nothing of plonking down big money on a Chinese made flat-screen? Perhaps that grateful gift receiver would like his driveway sealed, or lawn mowed for the summer, or driveway plowed all winter, or games at the local golf course.

There are plenty owner-run and family owned restaurants -- almost all offering gift certificates. And, if your intended isn't the fancy eatery sort, what about a half dozen breakfasts at the local breakfast joint. Remember, folks this isn't about big national chains -- this is about supporting your home town Americans with their financial lives on the line to keep their doors open. Plan your holiday outings at local, owner operated restaurants and leave your server a nice tip.

Thinking about a heartfelt gift for mom? Mom would love the services of a local cleaning lady for a day. A great gift not often thought of – hire a window washer to wash all the windows on the house  – inside and out! Hire a painter to repaint and update the colors in the house. Hire a floor refinisher, a carpenter and or handyman for her to-do list, a pool maintenance company, someone to power wash the driveway and sidewalks and/or the house exterior, a person to revitalize the outdoor decks by cleaning and resealing. How about hiring someone to update her baseboards by installing some of the new wider ones? Or having new interior doors installed? A personal chef to prepare a special meal for a family to come together and celebrate on a meaningful occasion?

Do you have family or friends whose computer could use a tune-up  –  find some young guy who is struggling to get his repair business up and running and give his services as a gift. Perhaps you have family members who have started their own business trying to survive in this economy. Give them the gift of a web designer or graphics designer as a gift and you will have given a gift that helps two American business workers!

Okay, you are looking for something more personal. Local craftspeople spin their own wool and knit them into scarves. Some make jewelry, pottery, sew clothing, make furniture and craft beautiful wooden boxes, pens, spoons.

And, how about going out to see a play or ballet at your hometown theater. Musicians need love too, so find a venue showcasing local bands.

Honestly, people, do you really need to buy another ten thousand Chinese lights for the house? When you buy a five dollar string of lights, about fifty cents stays in the community. If you have those kinds of bucks to burn, leave the mailman, trash guy or babysitter a nice BIG tip.

If you do have a small business, commit to finding a way to hiring at least one new person this year, if only part-time. The point is to make your first money, your best money, to be spent on people, not things.

It is about keeping your money local. Do business with the small guy - okay he is a little more expensive than the Big Box guy. It is about helping those who aren't guaranteed a pay check or those having to invent their own way to survive. So, buy less Chinese stuff and when you do have to buy, buy local! Find and utilize your thrift and consignment shops. Look for your local farmer’s market, your local bank or credit union, your local dressmaker or tailor, your local mechanic, handyman, technician, trainer, painter, healer. Find those artisan bakers, jelly makers, cookie makers, tamale makers, candy makers...

Let’s make Christmas not about draining American pockets so that China can build another glittering city. Let’s make Christmas about caring about people in the US, and encouraging American small businesses to keep plugging away, following their dreams. When we care about other Americans, we care about our communities, and the benefits come back to us in ways we couldn't imagine. Let’s make this the new American Christmas holiday tradition.

Forward this to everyone on your mailing list -- post it to discussion groups -- throw up a post on Craigslist in the Rants and Raves section in your city -- send it to the editor of your local paper and radio stations, and TV news departments. This is a revolution of caring about each other, and isn't that what Christmas is about? Let us all Occupy the Holidays!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A person of conscience

There's a blast from the past. A phrase I used to hear in my youth - grown-up talk, as it were, used for serious discussions. It was the hallmark of a serious discussion. I heard it tonight. On television. During the coverage about the execution of Troy Davis.

Dr. Allan Ault, retired Director of the Georgia Department of Corrections and a former warden charged with overseeing executions. Dr. Ault referenced the rehearsing of the execution - the premeditation of killing someone - and how, the state sanctioned pre-meditated murder of a convicted person condemned to death - reduces those prison officials to acts that can only be against the conscience. Dr. Ault said they are "bothered" by it the rest of their lives. Dr. Ault called the governor of my state a psychopath - certainly not by name - but by word and deed - he has presided over the largest number of executions by one governor in this country and by his words at the recent debate where he made the claim that signing the execution orders for so many people "didn't bother him at all". He also talked about the murdered victim's family and how, after an execution, they realize it brought them no closure, no sense of justice.

I used to think there were certain people who "needed killing". Those people that society was better off without - the Ted Bundy's, child rapists and murderers, people who tortured and killed for pleasure. I told myself that society was better off with them dead and not worrying about them escaping or getting out. Of course, I wanted strong evidence of their guilt - DNA, video, undisputed and unambiguous proof of their guilt. However, there were things about these people actually being executed that were problematic for me too.

One problem is the revenge angle. If you murder to avenge a murder it is revenge. There is no escape from that. Another problem is that after they are executed, there is nothing more. No more opportunity to discover where bodies are located as in Ted Bundy's case. No more opportunity to glean information regarding accomplices, motives, and mechanics of the crime. It also cuts drastically the time the murderer has to realize the enormity of the crime, and, maybe, to repent of it. Executions also cheapen life. How can anyone revere life and believe in the death penalty?

Here in Texas, it is widely believed, an innocent young father was wrongly executed for killing his children. Cameron Todd Willingham had been awakened by his 2 year old and the house was full of smoke and flames. He told her to go outside and tried to get to the babies' room but was unable to reach it. Later, he was arrested and charged with his daughters' deaths - the state charged he had murdered his 2 year old and twin 1 year old children by arson two days before Christmas. An expert panel, the Texas Forensic Science Panel, was to investigate the "science" Willingham was convicted on but Rick Perry replaced members of the panel and their meeting looking into this case was cancelled due to Rick Perry's replacement members. Fire investigator Dr. Gerald Hurstor stated unequivocally there was no arson. In fact, he investigated another conviction for arson murder in the case of another death row inmate, Ernest Wills. Dr. Hurstor said the two cases were identical with only the names being different. In the Wills case, the prosecutor had Ernest Wills released! But Willingham was executed. The case can be read about in the New Yorker 2009 article Did Texas Execute An Innocent Man?

Tonight, Texas executed Laurence Russell Brewer for the dragging death of Mr. James Byrd. Laurence Brewer confessed to his part in beating and dragging Mr. Byrd. Laurence Brewer was a member of a white supremacist group, a splinter faction of the KKK, called the Confederate Knights of America and wanted to start a race war. Certainly a heinous crime. There is no doubt of Laurence Brewer's part in the crime since he has readily confessed and has never recanted that confession. Yet, the Byrd family teaches us something - "You can't fight murder with murder. Life in prison would have been fine. I know he can't hurt my daddy anymore. I wish the state would take in mind that this [execution] isn't what we want." , the statement Ross Byrd, Mr. Byrd's 32 year old son made to Reuters yesterday.

This past June, another group of young white haters, decided to beat and rob a black man, James Craig Anderson. One of those young people, 19 year old Deryl Dedmon, is waiting to find out if he will face the death penalty. Mr. Anderson's family though, has made their own position clear. Mr. Anderson's sister, Barbara Young, wrote to the Hinds County DA Robert Smith and told him her family (her mother and two brothers) do not want anyone to face the death penalty. She cited her family's Christian beliefs and their opposition to capital punishment. "Those responsible for James' death not only ended the life of a talented and wonderful man...They have also caused our family unspeakable pain and grief. But our loss will not be lessened by the state taking the life of another." "We also oppose the death penalty because it historically has been used in Mississippi and the South primarily against people of color for killing whites. Executing James' killers will not help balance the scales. But sparing them may help to spark a dialogue that one day will lead to the elimination of capital punishment."

As a person of conscience, I can in no instance, support capital punishment - the death penalty - any longer.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

New Leaf.

Haha. With all my "new leafs" I could've built a heck of a tree! I certainly didn't post very often this past year. I'm going to try and make up for that. I have some things I want to say (okay, those of you that know me, stop rolling your eyes).

I have some stories to tell. I have some rants I want to make. As usual, I'll have my ideas about how things should be done. There are some people who should be told off, and I'm gonna do the telling. So, pull up a chair. I'm gonna be here.