Monday, April 30, 2012

Monday Mishegas April 30, 2012

Two girls were hit by an SUV as they fell asleep sunbathing on a rural Pennsylvania Rd.  Fire for effect:

·         I guess roadblocks are more effective than sunblock when street tanning

·         I have heard of the dangers of UVA and UVB, but never SUV.

·         Pennsylvania, proving it just may not be smarter than a 5th grader.

·         Did their guidance counselor tell them they wouldn’t mount to anything better than a speed bump?

Soybean prices are climbing rapidly due to increased demand and poor yields in South America.  The high price may cause food shortages in the developing world like 2008.  I can hear Sarah Palin already “The President’s failed agricultural policies have led us to near disaster in the farmland.  Sow baby sow, sow baby sow.”

Kurt Mix, a 50 year old BP engineer was the 1st person arrested in connection with the infamous gulf spill.  Mix is charged with two counts of obstruction of justice for deleting emails.  Two years later and a low level engineer is the first and only arrest?  Shameful.  How about the execs who made safety secondary to profits?

Apparently it never occurred to the geniuses who crafted the various ‘Stand Your Ground’ Laws that criminals could use the law as justification for deliberate homicide.  Tennessee Judge Terry Lewis “The law would appear to allow a person to seek out an individual, provoke him into a confrontation, then shoot and kill him if he goes for his gun.”  Lewis knows, because he had to releases two defendants who did just that.

Nightmare scenario, the Romney cabinet:

·         SecState: John Bolton

·         SecTreasury: Lloyd Blankfein

·         SecInterior: Aubrey McClendon

·         SecDefense: Fred Kagan

·         Vice President: Chris Christie

·         National Security Advisor: Cofer Black

Mitt ‘The Etch-A-Sketch’ Romney got me thinking about childhood games:

·         Monopoly: Or what Mitt calls a day at the office

·         Risk: How Romney see’s the world.  That existential threat from Kamchatka.

·         Operation: Sorry no taking out wrenched ankle for you, it’s a pre-existing condition

·         Car Bingo: Dog-On-Roof

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Did Sun Tzu Ever Manage A Political Campaign?

I have never worked on a Presidential campaign, let alone run one.  I watch political television shows, but I am no pundit.  I have never conducted a political poll, let alone been part of one.  So why do I think those that criticize the Obama reelection campaign strategy of attacking Romney as a ‘severe conservative’ are wrong.  Perhaps it’s because I see a chess match where they see checkers.  Perhaps it’s because while we live in a digital world, life is still analog: things aren’t simply 1’s and 0’s.

The Presidential campaign will feature ebbs and tides as we get closer to November.  Poll numbers will go up, go down, move sideways, and the 24 hour news cycle will cause candidates and their surrogates to react accordingly and push the campaign off its planned axis.  All that being said, there is no such thing as a homogenous presidential campaign just like the election is really 51 separate elections. 

Tactic #1: If all politics are local, shouldn’t the message be the same?  Absolutely.  In the southwestern states like Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada, the Obama campaign should fill the airwaves, especially Spanish speaking radio and television stations, with ads attacking Romney’s statements about building fences on the border, calling Arizona policy a national model, forcing immigrants to self deport, and of course “I can’t have any illegal immigrants working for me, I am running for President for Pete’s sake.”    On a similar vein, you can bet that in auto-industry dependent states in the rustbelt, ads about Romney wanting to let Detroit die will be on every TV and radio station from Wisconsin to Pennsylvania. Oh and don’t forget that in states with socially progressive and independent constituencies the messages against Romney will include his attacks on Planned Parenthood, Pell Grants, DADT repeal, and contraceptive access will be highlighted.  Conversely, it will not do the President’s people any good to run the Romney anti-gay ads in Southwest where Hispanics with strong Catholic faith may not be so inclined to agree with the President.  Know your audience and give them what they want.

Tactic #2: Set the battlefield to your liking and your terms.  The popular belief is that the President’s campaign should paint Romney as a flip flopper to make him look bad to independents while forcing the conservatives to stay at home.  They often cite the Bush attacks on Kerry as their basis for such an attack.  The problem is that this isn’t 2004, when we were still mired in the failed Iraqi expedition and any sign of indecisiveness would be framed as weakness while jeopardizing American national security.    Secondly, conservatives will come out to vote for Romney, not out love for the man, but because of hatred for Obama.  But why paint him as ‘severely conservative”?  While many Americans are financially conservative, they’re becoming more and more socially progressive.  This is especially true for independents, like yours truly, who see a role for government as steward of the economy but no role in legislating morality.  In the course of the Republican campaign, Romney was forced to tack so far to the right on social issues that coupled with his anti-middle class rhetoric about Detroit, firing people, and preferring foreclosure to allow investors to swoop in, the Obama campaign will be able to paint him as a free market fanatic with a heavy dose of right wing social engineering.  Oh, he doesn’t worry about poor people.

Tactic #3: Prepare for the pivot.  As predicted by his own campaign, Captain Etch-A-Sketch will try to pivot and he will set out to do so immediately, especially after the ‘severe conservative’ attacks mount.  At the critical moment where Romney has built the irresistible force, remove the immovable object and hammer him with the misguided candidate who can’t figure out what the right thing to do is.  If he attempts to walk back his right wing repressive social positions nail him for pandering.  Also, unless he hasn’t explained his economic plan, which is such a mess it can’t be scored by the CBO, in further detail, make him do so now.  His latest disaster would add $500Billion to the deficit in 2015 and leave us with a debt equal to 96% of GDP in 2021.  Independents will be aghast at hearing that.

In sports, teams have a game plan, in war, commanders have a battle plan.  In both cases, plans often go out the window after the initial engagement.  In the case of campaigns, play it out for four quarters, and change it up as necessary.  Set the tone and be proactive, never reactive.  The Obama campaign must always own the initiative and switch tactics at the right moment.  Make Romney react to the attacks, and then when he has neutralized the current attack, and he will, move onto something else.

Make him react to his own  ‘severely conservative’ label and then get him as a pandering flip flopping empty brooks Brothers Suit.  It’s the best of both worlds.

How did the novice do?

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Weekend Bits and Bites

Why education matters.  The globe is on the verge of another manufacturing revolution, this one driven by technology; surprise.  Over the last twenty years, technology has made the world smaller through IT advancements, products lighter and stronger through material science, factories more efficient through automation, and quality of life improvements through medic al devices and biotechnology.  The rate of advancement and development will continue to increase and suddenly the developing world’s economic advantage of cheap labor will be eradicated through the need for speed to market, rapid manufacturing processes, and mass customization.  The downside is that the traditional blue-collar factory worker jobs in this country will continue to disappear.  The good news is that higher paying technology, engineering, and science jobs will be in great demand to design, develop, produce, maintain, and operate these new manufacturing, information, and healthcare systems.  Through a commitment to vocational and STEM education, America can become a leading industrial power again. 

Argentina, once a shining light in South America, is rapidly heading towards economic collapse AGAIN as the incompetent government of Cristina Fernandez is following the same path of failure as Chavez’ Venezuela.  The recent nationalization of the oil company YPF was a clear cut example of a government disregarding the respect of individual property rights.  This break down in the rule of international law is the latest in a litany of governmental failures: loan default, wasting away a national energy surplus, robbing the nation’s central bank, opening itself up to a complete withdrawal of foreign direct investment, and possible legal action in the WTO.  I think it’s time Argentina be booted from the G20.

Imagine a place with 200,000 political prisoners, where there are no lawyers, judges, or trials, just sentences of slave labor for life. Imagine being taken form your home while your neighbors, friends, and family members not knowing what happened to you.  Imagine being born in a work camp and then have to witness the execution of your mother and brother because of their part in an escape plot.  Imagine female prisoners getting raped and then being forced onto abortions or worse, infanticide.  Imagine escaping this monstrous place to arrive in a neighboring country only to be sent back.  Welcome to North Korea.  We mock and ridicule the regime, it’s silly family Kim, and its failed rocket launch, but this isn’t the least bit funny.  But unless China, Russia, South Korea, and the U.S. get on the same page there is no way change will happen.

Mitt Romney is so full of crap his economic plans go from bad to worse as he panders to all Republican voters.  His bad plan of tax giveaways would have created a $180Billion deficit in 2015.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is his new economic give away plan creates $500Billion deficit.  The man is supposed to be a financial wizard and yet his economic plan has more holes in it than an ant farm the size of New Mexico.

One would think things would be going well for the NRA.  Gun ownership is up, the President has not ‘assaulted’ the 2nd Amendment, states are trying to expand gun rights to public areas, and gun control activists have been muted.  But a deeper look inside the numbers indicates that things aren’t not so rosy.  While the number of guns has increased, the number of gun owners peaked in 1973 and continues to decline.  Worse for the organization, the largest demographic constituency is white males over 40.  Pretty soon they’ll be offering Viagra samples with each purchase of an assault weapon. Further, declining membership and now the Stand Your Ground fiasco in Florida is putting pressure on the political arm of the NRA, and now more and more Americans are calling for tighter controls at gun shows and gun fairs. 

Friday, April 27, 2012

Our own immigrant past

This week the Supreme Court heard arguments concerning Arizona’s anti-immigration law known as SB1070.  As many of you know, I have blogged extensively about 20th century immigration policy, economic impact of documented and undocumented workers, and what immigration reform needs to include.  I believe public officials and pundits conflate immigration and trafficking as they conflate border security with police work.  But this post isn’t about the legal arguments or public policy.  Instead, why is it such an emotional subject?  Why are so many Americans angry at undocumented workers and why have so many of us forgotten our own past?

America has a checkered past of xenophobia and intolerance of immigrants.  Anti-Catholic sentiments led to persecution of Catholics, anti-Semitism was prevalent against many Germans and Eastern Europeans, and anti-socialists and anti-labor movements led to the unlawful prosecutions, deportations, and imprisonments of Russian, Italian, and other European immigrants.  Nativism was also a force against Asian immigrants and remains in effect today.  But if we are truly a nation of immigrants why do so many hate or fear those that are new to this country?

Anti-immigrant fervor correlates with tough economic times.  Major recessions in the late 19th century, early 20th century, the Great Depression, the 1950’s, the late 1970’s, and most recently during the Great Recession.  It also spikes during social upheaval, usually tied to great progressive movements associated with the suffragette movement, minority rights, labor movement, free speech, and the recurring nastiness of the culture wars.  It is neither unusual or unexpected that anti-immigrant flames would burn the brightest during tough times or during major change; people like comfort and Conservatives are addicted to status quo and comfort.

I am sure there is a biological reason why some people identify themselves as progressive while others lean towards the conservative mantras.   What I don’t get, again, is how some people can white wash their own past, the cover up the trails their ancestors blazed, and fall in line.  For American Jews in 2012 to support the likes of Kris Kobach, Russell Pearce, and other anti-immigrant zealots is still strange to me considering our own recent immigration history. 

The story of the Hamburg Lines St. Louis, the infamous Voyage of the Damned, where Jews trying to escape persecution in Germany, faced rejection in every port, including the U.S. only to return to Europe where many of the passengers ultimately ended up in the death camps to be systematically exterminated.  Just 73 years ago this sad story took place, a story of an unwanted people, a people that were feared, hated, and disposable.  I am not comparing the plight of undocumented workers from Mexico or Central America to the genocide of European Jews.  What I am trying to get at is how we can lose our humanity, our empathy, or love for fellow man. 

Some will counter that undocumented workers need to be rounded up, jailed, or deported because the broke the law by crossing illegally.  They are so concerned that these members of the community are a threat that they want to use schools, hospitals, and neighbors to report these individuals as criminals.  Yes the rule of law.  So tell me “by the book” Patriots, you have ever ran a red light? Exceeded the speed limit? Augmented a tax deduction or two?   I am not buying.

Separating families is not about being a law-abiding citizen.  Blaming those that cannot defend themselves is not patriotic.  Making up false claims that undocumented workers cause high healthcare costs or are bankrupting the nation is not defending the notion that all men are created equal.  When we deny our own pasts under the veil of being pro-immigration but anti-illegal immigration we are either deluding ourselves or we have lost our humanity.  When we claim to be Christians but see nothing wrong with creating a two class system, we need a dictionary and a Bible.

But there are signs of hope.  The Mormon Church was instrumental in seeing the bigoted Russell Pearce recalled and defeated in Arizona.  The state of Utah is trying to work on a worker visa program that enables a pathway to citizenship.  And while the majority of Americans support Arizona’s SB1070, they draw the line at using teachers and nurses as ICE agents.

 It is a shame that yesteryear’s victims of bigotry have forgotten their own history.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Monday Mishegas - April 23, 2012

My favorite jokes (yes they’re mine) on the Secret Service scandal:

·         Apparently the agents thought they could get serviced secretly.

·         One of the agents is claiming they did not know the girls were prostitutes.  Really?  The same guys that are expected to identify potential threats to the President couldn’t ID a prostitute when she was sitting on his face.

·         There is no truth to the rumor that The Hangover III involves hookers and blow in Cartagena, Columbia with the Secret Service.  The wolf pack just expanded.

·         The prostitutes claim that the dispute was centered around the agents refusal to pay.  Apparently the agents misunderstood the terms of the new Columbia-America Free Trade Agreement  (CAFTA).

Solutions looking for problems.  Weston, FL has outlawed nightclubs, dancehalls and skating rinks, even though the town doesn’t have any, because these establishments, according the town's mayor, can be harbingers of criminal activity.  I’m seeing Roller Footloose coming to a theater near you, unless you live in Weston, FL.

On June 12, a special election will take place in Arizona for Gabrielle Giffords’ vacant House seat.  The contenders are Democrat Ron Barber, a former Giffords’ aide, and Jesse Kelly, an Iraq war veteran and Tea Party darling.  Kelly is also the GOP nominee that Giffords defeated in 2010, and the same small minded NRA-loving ignoramus who ran an ad in 2010 asking voters to help ‘take out’ Giffords by joining him in shooting an M-16 at a rally. 

Brazil has made abortion legal in the cases where the fetus has no brain.  A similar law here could save us from some Tea Partiers.

According to the New York Times, for every U.S. soldier killed on the battlefield in 2012, 25 veterans will commit suicide.  6,500 veteran suicides are reported every year; more than the total number of lives lost in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.

In one of Silvio Berlusconi’s infamous ‘Bunga Bunga’ parties, it seems two women, dressed up as nuns, stripped for the former Italian PM and then were paid $2,600 to have sex with him.  No word if this is also in the U.S. Secret Service playbook.

Give Julia Louis-Dreyfus the Emmy nomination based on just one episode of HBO’s Veep.  Hysterically funny show.  And to the critics of HBO’s Girls, the show is NOT a young woman’s version of Sex in the City, the only things these shows have in common are they feature women in New York City.  That’s like saying The Walking Dead and Real Housewives of Atlanta are similar because they feature brain dead people in Georgia.  Oh wait.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

and that government of the people, by the people, for the people

Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address concludes with “…and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

The preamble of the Declaration of Independence includes the following: “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights that among these are Life Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

And then there’s the preamble of the Constitution: “ We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare…”

I wonder what Lincoln would say if he could observe what has happened to his government of the people, by the people.  The first Republican President would see the 2012 Republican presumptive candidate calling corporations people.  He would be seeing the rotten fruits of the Citizens United ruling by the politically partisan Supreme Court that called money speech.  He would also see the complete takeover of his ‘government of the people’ by special interests, political action committees, and lobbyists.  $Billions of dollars from faceless donors, and billionaires who like you and I have only one vote, but unlike you and I can buy so many many more.  ‘The Party of Lincoln’ has completely sold out to corporate interests and the opposing Democrat Party is only slightly less corporatist.   We have a tax code that is so complex for the sole purpose of allowing corporations and the wealthy to take advantage of loopholes and exemptions.  The government may not have perished, but the government for the people is hard to locate.

All men are created equal, not some men, not most men, not rich men, not white men.  In fact, my only complaint is that the phrase said ‘all men’ not ‘all people’.  Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all men.  The pursuit of happiness would include the right to marry whom you wanted, no restrictions on adoption, no imposed exclusions based on race, creed, color, faith, gender, age, sexual orientation, etc.  Yes the brave men who brought us our independence realized that liberty for one meant liberty for all.  They didn’t speak of handouts or church hierarchy mandates, they knew life and liberty are our natural rights and not something that can be denied by man.  So the next time a social conservative defends DOMA and speaks against same-sex rights, remind them that they do not have the right to deny what our founders fought for.

This brings us to the Constitution, the greatest single document created in the face of such opposing political and social viewpoints, and yet the law of the land was established.  But what did the founders mean when they spoke of promoting the general welfare?  Did they speak of a federal government that would enable its citizens to achieve what many like to call American exceptionalism?  Clearly welfare in this context is not welfare as we know it today, but certainly one could argue that the role of the government is to establish equality and justice for all, to right wrongs, protect our citizens, and respect our differences. 

These thoughts are my own, and others may have different opinions and draw different conclusions.  That is their prerogative.  That is what makes America unique, though sadly when opinions become rulings and policies that threaten our government for the people, by the people we all must speak out.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

View from an election campaign

“God willing, he will know how to use Christianity in the right way.”

“What do I think about the election?  So far I can only say I am confused.”

“People are willing to vote for him, not because they believe in him, or his ideas or his agendas, just because they are confused and they don’t want to waste their vote.”

“Nobody understands anything – that’s the slogan you hear.  Most of the conversations are filled with questions about basic facts.  And they end with ‘May God grant the presidency to whoever deserves it.’”

The above quotes could easily be from any individual from the U.S. electorate right?  Actually these quotes were taken from Egyptians discussing the coming presidential elections in that country (OK in the first one I substituted Christianity in place of Islam to make the point).  But you have to admit they could be the words of a Tea Partier, a moderate, an independent, and a social conservative. 

Oh, and one more thing Egyptian conservative candidate Mr. Abou Ismail was disqualified from the election race because it was discovered that his late mother held a U.S. passport.  Imagine that a presidential candidate disqualified because his mother held a U.S. passport.  It’s almost as crazy as lunatic opposition calling a presidential  candidate and future Commander-in-Chief un-American Kenyan anti-colonialist, Indonesian, Muslim socialist, because his was Kenyan and he spent some of his early years in Indonesia.  Naw, that could never happen in the U.S.A, the champions of Democracy?  The difference is that the Egyptians disqualified candidates on predetermined grounds, we just make shit up here.

Good to see that Egypt in just one year of the post-Mubarak era has already caught up to our 220+ years of politics and dirty elections. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

Top Ten Indicators Mitt Romney is Out of Touch:

10.   He bets a fellow candidate $10,000 on national TV during a debate.  According to the 2010 U.S. census that would be equal to 10 weeks of income for the median household.

9.       Stay at home mom Ann Romney is a regular fixture at international dressage competitions, considered the most elite form of equestrian activities.  Her prized horse has been rumored to be worth $250,000.  According to the 2010 U.S. census , the median value of owner-occupied homes was $188,000.

8.       The Romneys are installing a car elevator as part of their renovation to their $12Million villa in San Diego.  The renovation includes a 3,600 square foot expansion.  According to the 2010 U.S. census, the median floor area in New Single-Family Houses is 2,169 square feet (in 1973 it was $1,525 sq ft)

7.       Romney owns a Swiss Bank Account.  Less than 1 million Americans visit Switzerland per year.

6.       Romney wants to “get rid of” Planned Parenthood even though 3 million people rely on the organization for cancer screenings, birth control, and other care.  That is not something you RID society of.

5.       He says things like “I can’t have illegal immigrants working for me, I’m running for President for Pete’s sake.”

4.       Romney “I drive a Mustang and a Chevy pickup truck. Ann drives a couple of Cadillacs.” According to the Federal Highway Administration, the average American household has 1.96 cars.  Of course we’re only talking about Ann and Mitt.  Two cars/person.

3.       Romney "I should tell my story. I'm also unemployed."  The Romneys earned $21.6Million in 2010.  .  According to the 2010 U.S. census, it would take the median American household 415 YEARS to earn that much.

2.       Asked if he followed NASACR, Romney responded “Not as closely as some of the most ardent fans, but I have some great friends who are NASCAR team owners.”   John William Henry II is partner in Roush Fenway Racing, and principal owner of the Boston Red Sox and the English Premier League’s Liverpool Football Club.  Oh yeah, he’s worth $1.1Billion.

1.       Romney "There were a couple of times I wondered whether I was going to get a pink slip.” From 1984 – 1999 Romney was head of Bain Capital.  As founder and head of the company, I doubt you were very close to getting a pink slip.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The free market is never free and socialists look an awful lot like oligarchs.

Two ends of an energy story, both of them handled badly.

Here in the U.S., Chesapeake Energy, one of the largest domestic gas producers, saw its shares fall 7% on Wednesday on the news of some questionable deals by its charismatic CEO and co-founder Aubrey McClendon.  McClendon has been one of the natural gas industry’s biggest proponents and one of the first to realize the value and possibility of the Marcellus Shale’s gas reserves.  It seems McClendon has taken out over $1million in loans secured against Chesapeake Energy wells.  Both McClendon and Chesapeake Energy claim nothing was illegal as an arrangement has been in place since 1993 that allows the CEO to buy into some of the company’s wells, an arrangement that has been disclosed in SEC filings since 2007.  The question is whether this represents a conflict of interest; a serious question indeed.  Imagine the CEO of McDonalds has the ability to buy into specific franchise locations.  As CEO he would be able to influence the financial performance of these restaurants through assigning the top managers to these locations, burdening other locations with certain costs to reduce the overhead at his locations, or increasing corporate promotion for these specific locations.  Was it legal?  The courts may decide, yikes, legality; but from an ethical behavior perspective, Mr. McClendon has failed miserably.

Meanwhile in South America, the Argentine government of Cristina Fernandez renationalized its largest oil group, YPF.  What makes this act so egregious is the motivation behind the move.  It had nothing to do with a comprehensive national economic plan, instead it was simply good old crony oligarchy politics.  Pay off some previous political debts, demagogue the large multinational private firms, and play populist.  What’s worse, the Argentine record for managing state owned enterprises is as abysmal as the human rights record in Syria.  Naturally, the owners of YPF, the Spanish energy group Respol and the Spanish government are none to please.  Expect this issue to head to the WTO and World Court.  The lack of acknowledging and respecting property rights is endemic in too many mineral, raw material, and energy rich companies.  Whether it is Russia, Bolivia, Argentina, or Nigeria the government claims may vary, but the truth is always tied to greed and political favor.

So we have free market shenanigans and governmental cronyism.  As former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan famously said “It is not that humans have become any more greedy than in generations past. It is that the avenues to express greed had grown so enormously.”

The free market is never free and socialists look an awful lot like oligarchs.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Poltical Courage: Truman had it, Ryan doesn't

The GOP and its water carriers have gone on and on about how brave Paul Ryan was in submitting the GOP House budget.  The statements of his courage were based on his willingness to be truthful with the American people about the true state of our finances and the potential collapse of our economic freedom by the twin gargantuan entitlements of Social Security and Medicare.  It seems courage and brave are as frivolously applied as ‘celebrity’ in today’s culture.  Before I lay siege to Mr. Ryan’s courage, let’s apply some context:

For the sake of argument and to maintain consistency, I am only considering the notion of courage in terms of the political dimension. 

On a scale of 1 – 10, one would have to place the Founding Fathers, especially the likes of John and Sam Adams, John Hancock, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Thomas Paine, at the top echelon of a 10.  The words and deeds of these men, when the majority of colonists were opposed to protest, let alone revolution.  They risked their lives in the belief that the nature of men was to be free of the yolk of tyranny. 

On a presidential scale, one does not have to look further than Abraham Lincoln and Harry S. Truman.  Lincoln not only put his political career at risk, he put his life on the line and eventually his uncompromising position to keep the union together and to achieve for all men what Jefferson had laid out in the Declaration of Independence cost him his life.    Lincoln showed political courage by bringing his rivals into his cabinet when most of men would have tried to sideline them.  Salmon Chase (Secretary of Treasury), William Seward (Secretary of State), and Edward Bates (Attorney General) became key members of Lincoln’s cabinet having lost the Republican Party nomination to the man they initially despised and even tried to undermine.  But even Lincoln realized that one needed political capital to make bold moves, and even as Frederick Douglass publicly harangued the President for failing to abolish slavery, Lincoln knew he needed to get the general public on his side.  In order to get that, he needed to secure victories on the battlefield.  Once it became apparent to the border states and new territories that the North would prevail, they would be inclined to go along with emancipation.  No matter, President Lincoln was a courageous shrewd politician.

Some could argue that Harry S. Truman wasn’t so much politically courageous as he was politically reckless.  Truman fought an unpopular war in South Korea, angered both management and labor in a series of labor disputes, used an executive order to desegregate the armed forces, inflation, and the firing of a popular general.  Nonetheless, Truman refused to back down from a combative Congress and even though his approval rating was mired in the 20’s, Truman stuck to his guns continued to push what he believed was right for the nation, even if the nation was unwilling to take the tough medicine.

Even President Obama has been too calculating and insufficiently courageous.  He has tried to play both sides of issues such as immigration, same sex rights, marijuana legalization, and the war in Afghanistan.  I know this will strike many liberals as an unfair attack on our Commander in Chief, but it is my opinion based on observing him over the last three years.  True the GOP has been a major roadblock to the President, but the DADT repeal came from the Senate while he has been able to remain ambivalent on the topics noted above because the GOP has routinely painted themselves in the corner of public mistrust and distaste.

But I save my strongest critique for Congressman Paul Ryan and his fellow Republicans who call his 2011 and 2012 budget proposals courageous.  So what justifies these lofty claims? To hear the GOP tell the story, these budgets are honest proposals for the American people because they tackle Medicaid and Medicare.  What Ryan has done is simply packaged the GOP platform into a budget:

·         NO defense cuts

·         NO tax increases

·         Cuts to social programs

·         Privatizing Medicare

·         Sending Medicaid to the states where it can die under the guise of state fiscal responsibility

Where’s the courage in that?  Perhaps a truly courageous Republican budget committee chairman would propose a budget that included:

·         Tax revenue enhancements

·         Cuts in defense spending AND other government agencies

·         Funding for infrastructure and education

·         Medicare reform that reduces benefits to the wealthy via means testing

·         Medicaid reform that eliminates fraud and waste

Yes failing to make a decision due to political winds and polls is not courageous, but building a budget from the same termite-laden lumber used to make the planks in your party’s platform is neither courageous nor honest. 

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Age of Reason: Freethinking, Religion, and Moral Code

Last weekend at the juncture of Easter and Passover I wrote about the concepts of being a good Jew and the Christian thing to do, a topic that received considerable commentary.  After posting the piece, I watched To Kill a Mockingbird,  listened to the religious and political leaders on the Sunday talk shows, and started reading Susan Jacoby’s Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism, which has led me to the nexus of politics and religion.  Much has been written about the 1st Amendment and the establishment clause, so I won’t re-blaze that trail.  Instead, I want to focus on the politics of religion, enlightenment, and the dangers that come from religious based policy.

For starters, we are a nation of laws that is governed by the rule of law: the laws of man.  For those that claim we should follow the rules of God, I ask two questions:  What incarnation of a deity and if you mean the Ten Commandments, while I believe honoring one’s mother and father is a prerequisite to establishing  a civilized society, how does one enforce such a statute or law. (on a side note is NFL Sunday a way of honoring the Sabbath?).   The Ten Commandments provide the basis of a moral code, the same can be said for so many other sources religious and secular documents, mandates , opinions, etc.  Sadly, those great moral codes were nowhere to be found as slavery was to remain so prominent in the nation’s south just a 150 years ago.  Which brings me to two fun facts:

1)      Mississippi (1), Alabama (3), Louisiana (4), Arkansas (5), South Carolina (6), Tennessee (7), North Carolina(8), and Georgia (9) rank in the top ten of Gallup’s most religious states poll.  All proud members of the Confederate States of America who fought to insure that slavery remained legal and EXPANDED to the new territories.

2)      According to the Old Testament and Cecil B. DeMille Moses received the sacred Ten Commandments after leading the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, and in present day it is usually southern communities that seem to be in the never ending civil court proceedings regarding public displays of the Ten Commandments. 

Politics and religion have always been undeniably interconnected.  Many laws were influenced by religious leaders and church hierarchies to establish their faith as the predominant religion at the expressed expense of other faiths or the enlightened secular class.  Our Bill of Rights, while a great legal framework was not an original piece of legislation.  In fact the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights sounds a lot like the British Bill of Rights established following the Glorious Revolution of 1689 which established freedom of speech, right to own guns irrespective of social class and religion, no ‘cruel and unusual punishment’, and a whole lot of restrictions on the monarchy and increasing power to Parliament; sound familiar?  The other source of the Constitution was the Virginia Religious Freedom Act of 1786, which preceded the US Constitution by one year:

Be it enacted by the General Assembly of Virginia that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions on belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect civil capacities.

And though we will know that this Assembly, elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of legislation only, have no power to restrain the acts of succeeding Assemblies, constituted with powers equal to our own, and that therefore to declare this act irrevocable would be of no effect in law, yet we are free to declare, and do declare, that the rights hereby asserted are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any acts hall be hereafter passed to repeal the present or to narrow its operation, such act will be infringement of natural right.

Madison and Jefferson were not atheists, there is even uncertainty whether Jefferson was a deist.  That doesn’t matter.  What matters is at the birth of this nation, there was a war within Christianity to establish this great nation’s laws.  What is clear was our Founding Fathers: Madison, Adams, Franklin, Paine, Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, and others were influenced by their religious beliefs but new the danger of letting religious dogma and doctrine become policy.  THAT is the great gift of our Founding Fathers.

Last Sunday, like most Sundays, I watched the talk shows and as expected, Easter Sunday panels and dockets were filled with religious leaders.  We had Evangelicals, Baptists, Catholics, Jews, though the invitations to the Atheists and Muslims must have got lost in the mail, addressing the laughable so called ‘war on Christianity’, President Kennedy’s speech from 1960, and the place of religion in politics.  The church leaders including New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan who feels the secular left is trying to crowd religion out of the public square: ”I think-- I think politics, just like business, just like education, just like art, just like culture, only benefits when-- when-- when religion, when morals, when faith has a place there. I think the American-- the public square in the United States is always enriched whenever people approach it, when they're inspired by their-- their deepest held convictions.”  And the Southern Baptists Convention’s Richard Land who tried to play down the political fusion between Evangelicals and the Republican Party even when Andrew Sullivan called him on it.  Finally there was the Reverend Billy Graham’s daughter Anne Graham Lotz who said on Meet The Press she would never vote for an Atheist: "I would not vote for a man who was an atheist because I believe you need to have an acknowledgement or a reverence or a fear for almighty God."

Atheists remain the most persecuted subgroup in the greater religion debate.  If anything, one could say, the war on Atheists, Agnostics, and Deists is the real war.  There is no war on thought or expression based on religious belief, unless you happened to be a Muslim, then the attacks from many Christians are all too real.  The issue is when one of our two national parties is so not just fused with the Evangelical Church, but the public policy it pronounces, defends, and cries out for looks more like religious dogma than the Constitution.  Roe v. Wade and the Hyde Amendment are the laws of the land, and while the Pro-Life crowd has every right to pronounce their beliefs, when they attempt to restrict the legal rights of ALL citizens, they have moved from the public square to the policy table.

Finally, there’s America’s greatest literary and screen hero: Atticus Finch, the protagonist at the center of a racial storm in 1930’s Alabama.  Atticus’ religion is not a factor, but his moral code is what makes him a hero.  Is there a better rule to live by:

"If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

I am not denying that faith has its place in the public square and the private life;  just as common sense, enlightenment, and free thinking have their place too.  But what I will always deny is the parallel beliefs in the conservative political mind and the conservative religious mind that fear and coercion are critical beliefs and tenets.  This Evangelical-Conservative fusion that we must fear God and fear those we disagree with (Communists and Islamists)are counter to Mr. Finch and Reverend Martin Luther King’s message of hope, love, and inclusion.

Whatever the source of your moral code may be, it is your code and no one should deny you that.  Your opinion is yours as well and should be welcome in the public square.  I still don’t agree with the need for a Presidential Prayer Breakfast, the need to scrutinize our politicians church attendance records, or the need to end every major political speech with a God bless America.  I would like to think we are more enlightened today, then we were in 1793, but I somehow doubt Thomas Paine’s passage from Age of Reason would win him many friends today or be welcome in the public square:

Every national church or religion has established itself by pretending some special mission from God, communicated to certain individuals. The Jews have their Moses; the Christians their Jesus Christ, their apostles and saints; and the Turks their Mahomet, as if the way to God was not open to every man alike.

Each of those churches show certain books, which they call revelation, or the word of God. The Jews say, that their word of God was given by God to Moses, face to face; the Christians say, that their word of God came by divine inspiration: and the Turks say, that their word of God (the Koran) was brought by an angel from Heaven. Each of those churches accuse the other of unbelief; and for my own part, I disbelieve them all.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Shit if I Know

Checking in from 38,000 feet after a quick business trip that will no doubt end up with more to do on my plate.  Is doing the right thing for your employer necessarily in your best interests?  Shit if I know.

I see Facebook paid $1Billion, yes Billion, for Instagram.  I have no clue regarding Instagram’s product or service.  I do know the company has 11 employees.  Yes 11 EMPLOYEES and the company sold for $1Billion.  Plenty of people will opine on whether Facebook paid too much.  Shit if I know.

Sociologists and anthropologists believe there is a distinct difference between liberals and conservatives that has nothing to do with politics.  The prevailing theory is that liberals tend to empathize with others and feel it is society’s duty to help the downtrodden while conservatives feel individual liberty comes from pulling yourself up from your own bootstraps.  Is that a genetic or environmental force?  Shit if I know.

Revisionist historian David Barton goes out of his way to try to prove that America is a Christian Nation and his followers are as fanatical in their beliefs as Islamist, Zionists, and most other extremists.   The Constitution is a beautiful secular document.  Why do these revivalists insist on calling America a Christian Nation to the point of making it the most important thing in their lives?  Shit if I know.

Left, center, and right all declare their love, admiration, and respect for the 1st Amendment.  Yet as soon as someone says something we disagree with, we call for public apologies, boycotts and terminations.  1st Amendment protection means the government cannot prevent you from speaking or writing what is on your mind (there are limits like the crying fire in a crowded theater), it doesn’t prevent your employer from firing or suspending your ass.  Why do those that go as far as to carry their pocket editions of the Constitution around with them lambaste the ACLU?  Shit If I know.

Genetically modified crops, high fructose corn syrup, super pesticides, beef and cattle hormones, performance enhancing drugs for poultry.  When did kitchen table fare become a the testing ground for laboratories and when is someone going to come clean about the crap in our food and the link to obesity, autism, and other conditions?  Shit if I know.

Not a single news program or energy analyst has mentioned that the high cost of gasoline may be due to the fact that refining capacity in the U.S. is declining in the east coast as foreign sources of crude oil get redirected to the world’s newest and largest refineries in India and China.  There are hundreds more programming hours of news every week compared to 30 years ago but why do we seem to get less information now more than ever?  Shit if I know.

Religious leaders are renowned for telling their followers to have faith in the almighty or whatever deity they profess as their creator.  This faith is based on the words of men, fallible men.  These same men will deny the legitimacy of scientific theories related to evolution, age of the universe, and climate change.  Why are so many people willing to accept the ‘cuz I told you so’ line in lieu of free thinking analysis?  Shit if I know.

Why do I believe in the goodness of man, the power of freethinking, a better tomorrow, the beauty of debate, the worth of wisdom?  You know the answer.