Tuesday, December 26, 2006
This event should be an object lesson for us all. Don't accept anyone's bona fides before you have checked them. I am membership director for a volunteer ambulance company, and we get applications from the general population. Do I check references? You bet! In a previous life I investigated possible frauds for a major corporation, and I found that people can be very different than they are perceived to be. Since then I've been a great proponent of Ronald Reagan's famous adage, "Trust, but verify."
If the Donald belatedly follows Reagan's advice, we're likely to be reading a follow-up story soon.
Monday, December 25, 2006
It's been a busy day. I volunteered at the ambulance overnight, but we had no calls so I got to sleep, rather poorly. Came home, showered, choir at 9:45, church at 10:30. It was a great Christmas pageant, and everyone who came in the door was offered some kind of costume item - hat, halo, crown, maybe even a robe or some kind of shawl. As the pageant went on, people from the congregation came forward and became part of it. Sounds crazy, but it went over great. All the kids were smiling, and the adults got infected with the good humor. My religion is pretty informal, but one thing I'm pretty sure of is that God loves to hear people laugh for the right reasons.
Then off to the ambulance again, as the medic from 12-3. Looked at a kid's sprained thumb and sent him home with his dad and three ice packs. Went to a home where an older man was having some serious heart and memory problems, and I gave him over to a paramedic for transport to the hospital. Then I took a non-emergency call to verify a death. It turned out I knew the family and was able to help them deal with it, since the older man certainly was dead of a terminal disease. He was the fifth dead person I've had to deal with in the past month, which is an unusually high number. Death is no stranger to me anymore; it's just what happens when we get old, if we're lucky enough to get old. It doesn't take a time out for Christmas.
My oldest son, who is divorced and lives in Detroit, arrived here last night around dinnertime. Late this afternoon we saw "The Good Shepherd", a very dark movie about the C.I.A. The movie was rather slow and confusing, and it made me happy I never wanted to be a spy. Following the movie, we came home and assembled a "luminario" (candles inside paper bags) in my small trailer in the garage. Then we went to the church and placed them up and down the driveways and lit the candles. It was a beautiful sight, since the church was also nicely lit up on the outside. Then home for a quick dinner with the long-suffering wife.
The 9:00 church service, where I also sang in the choir, was packed. The family I had helped in the afternoon was there, and I spoke to the widow again. The minister had good words to say, and lots of people participated in various ways. For some reason the spirit was especially good tonight...maybe it was just rebound from all the troubles of 2006, but it felt so good!
Three couples of long time friends came over to our home after church, and they stayed until almost midnight. We drank a fair amount of wine (I fixed one guy a potent Manhattan, too), ate some scrumptious desserts, and never once discussed a serious subject - a miracle! I have found after 62 years of life that there are few things in life more precious than long term friends. I can be "me" and not have to worry about it. I can hug them all, and be hugged back with a certain firmness that says "I love you." We are family after all these years.
That was the day before Christmas, a long day of responsibilities and accomplishments, focus on God's great gift of life, seeing a period attached to the sentence of another's life, and confirming relationships that add so much meaning to my life. The Christmas spirit provided a burst of energy that somehow sustained me all the while. It's great to have a 100% good day, and that's what this one was.
Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! To all who stumble across this humble blog!
Monday, December 18, 2006
Why am I optimistic? Several reasons. Bush will have no legacy except disaster in Iraq unless some major policy issues are settled during his reign. The republican legislators have been roundly criticized as presiding over the most "do nothing congress" in many years, and that failure was certainly a big factor in the November elections. And the democrats have got to show some vigor in 2007, or their ascention to power will be viewed as pointless. Perhaps the constellations are lined up right for a change!
The big question is: which policy issues have sufficient bi-partisan support to clear all three power centers? Embryonic stem cell research reform may be passed over Bush's veto. An immigrant amnesty bill probably has enough support to get through all the hurdles. Minimum wage uplift is a lock. Much work has already been done on Social Security and Medicare reform, so expect at least some action on one or both of these. If balance of trade talks with China don't move forward, legislative initiatives will come forward to, at a minimum, embarass the administration. There's a good chance that public concern about global warming will force another energy bill, higher CAFE standards, or some kind of tax carrot-stick approach to motivate migration to lower carbon-producing transportation. I'll bet my readers have a list that includes other potential policy breakthroughs.
One area where I don't see potential for progress is the tax code. The republicans and democrats are just too far apart in their basic approach to the economy.
RWorld recently posted a prediction that the blogosphere is gathering steam and has much potential to grow in popularity and influence. I agree with him. The bloggers will not stand for congressional inaction, and they will mobilize their digital armies to hammer the presidential hopefuls into actually doing something that will justify elevating them in 2008. Or am I only dreaming?
Saturday, December 16, 2006
Well, even from the peanut gallery it was obvious that Andre Rieu has a winning formula - fine musicians, lots of action, pretty lady and handsome men singers, engaging banter (sometimes serious), and an obvious dedication to making the audience feel they got their money's worth. He's Dutch, but his bread and butter is Viennese waltzes. In addition to those, his orchestra played some Christmas carols, the Canadian national anthem, and Stars and Stripes Forever. The encores lasted about 30 minutes, which seemed to be part of the plan, and everyone went home happy.
I appreciated the professionalism of the musicians, which was evident at all times - even when they did silly stuff to meet the needs of some audience members. Seeing Rieu one time is definitely enough, but he's a real pro and has got his thing down so well that it's a money machine. As we walked back to our hotel, it occurred to me that Andre Rieu owes a big debt to Lawrence Welk - he's taken Welk's model, exchanged polkas for waltzes, and made it work.
Toronto is perhaps the most ethnically mixed city I've ever visited, even more than NYC. Canada's liberal immigration policies have drawn people from everywhere, and they seem to mix quite well. Maybe our government should offer free vacations there for people from the red states...
Monday, December 11, 2006
This issue has nothing to do with Foley being gay. It has everything to do with his inappropriate conduct, and with the inappropriate conduct of those who knew about his contacts with the pages. Both Foley and those superiors and peers in congress crossed the line, but his resignation seems to be the end of it - nobody broke any rules, so they all get a little criticism and it's over. But it's not over with me.
I serve on the boards of three non-profits who deal with youth in one way or another. These organizations must have written policies regarding sexual harassment and very special rules with respect to conduct with minors. Sunday School rooms are retrofitted with glass panels to ensure visual oversight of teachers, and all youth activities will have two adults present at all times. Needless to say, if any adult in these organizations was found to be emailing a high school age person with sexually-oriented content, there would be hell to pay. The scandal would hit the local papers, would prompt visits from other interested governing bodies, would result in the dismissal of anyone who was aware of it and did not report it, and would severely or mortally wound the organization itself. Yet such conduct by members of Congress, in the end, generated only sound and fury. There were no consequences beyond those paid by the pitiful Foley.
I feel for those administrators who go to bed every night hoping that none of their people put as much as a toe across the line that day. For those conscientious people who run group homes, churches, schools, YMCA's, scouting programs, athletic teams and all the other organizations that deal with youth. They know that one person's lack of discretion, or even an innocent but suspect gesture, can cost them their job and the organization its place in the community. Unfortunately for them, they don't work under the same rules as Congress.
In the idealist's world, those with more power and responsibility are held to higher standards. In the real world, those with power and responsibility ensure they cannot be disciplined for anything less than blatant law-breaking. We let them have their investigations and white-washes, and life for them goes on as usual. What are we, nuts? I guess so.
Monday, December 04, 2006
Life is precarious, especially when you are old. But some older people are more alive than others, and he was one of them. God bless you, old fellow, and watch your step up there!
It began with "Shock and Awe". I guess it's ending with "Shock and Awe".
Never has America been brought so low in one week. Bush got stood up in Jordan by al-Maliki, who at least was a president. Then he met an Iraqi nobody who dislikes him at the White House. What started out as a short vicious war and "Mission Accomplished" is ending with an American president on his knees begging for a way out. Arrogance and stupidity rewarded with ignominy. America's worst enemies couldn't have scripted such a wonderful outcome - for them!
I'm not gloating over Bush's untidy end. This is all about America, and it's sickeningly sad. How is it that a country with so many intelligent, wise, compassionate, and freedom-loving people can be so screwed by one elected birdbrain? If this past week of infamy is not enough to get us smarter, then nothing will be.
I'll end with a question. Is the media going to describe the past week for what it was (ignominy), or will they leave that to the historians?
Friday, December 01, 2006
The need for leadership grows in importance as the size and complexity of the affected organization increases. Maybe a five person basketball team could self-organize for success, but would you predict an equal level of self-organization in a 60 person football team? Maybe a small study group could learn a topic by negotiating research and presentation responsibilities, but could a 400 student survey course at State U. do the same? Is is possible that a GE could stumble without a Jack Welch at the controls? A large organization without effective leadership is like a flotilla of warships steaming aimlessly in a fog, unable to coordinate their efforts and in jeopardy of experiencing terrible collisions, and rarely accomplishing their intended purposes.
Effective leaders have a clear vision of their organization's purpose, and they ferret out the information necessary to identify and prioritize the several goals of their organization. They communicate these goals and get active buy-in from their subordinates. They work diligently to ensure that the sub-groups in their structure plan and act in support of the goals, often coordinating effectively with each other. They measure progress, recover from the inevitable mistakes, and encourage all members of the organization to stay committed no matter how difficult their tasks may be. They recognize the entire group when each milestone is achieved and each goal is met. And they continually update their objectives, recognizing that each new year presents unforeseen opportunites and threats. By doing all these things, they continually build the capabilities of their organization and the trust of the people within it.
Do you see these characteristics in America's leaders? Do we share a vision of what America should be? Are the goals prioritized and clearly delegated to responsible people and structures? If so, then we all should feel confident that:
- America will have effective relations with every country in the world.
- America will have reliable sources of energy for the forseeable future.
- America will educate every citizen who is intent on learning, and reward achievement.
- America's streets will be safe for everyone, day and night.
- Americans will be free to live as they please, as long as they cause no harm to others.
- America will become more and more beautiful as the years go by.
Should not our leaders set the highest standards for our society? Should not our leaders be mobilizing America's incredible human and material resources to make these standards a reality? Must we face a major foreign relations crisis, a critical energy shortage, an incapable workforce, a pervasive lawlessness, a palpable stifling of the human spirit, or a desolate landscape before we demand leadership that makes us confident of the future? Or will it be too late for leadership if these evils come to beset us?
We have a leadership deficit in America. America is aimless. How can it be that our best and brightest seldom carry the banner of America? Maybe the time has come to re-think how we choose those who aspire to lead, or at least to refocus the criteria we employ in our current system. Or do we wait for the crisis?
Thursday, November 23, 2006
In 1991 the post-Duvallier bad guys were in charge and the country was under embargo. For one week I experienced a hell on earth where food was so scarce for most Haitians that no creature on four legs had survived. The fortunate ones were building small boats and launching them into a fearful ocean, to flee the terror of paramilitary gangs and the desperation of utter poverty. Any Haitian who spoke against those in power could look forward to a certain and merciless end. My safety, as long as I did not attempt to organize or support a resistance, was relatively assured by my American citizenship - a priceless commodity anywhere in those days. But the embargo was ineffective: neither the dictator and his henchmen nor the rich oligarchs were hampered in their control of the country or in their ability to live well. When I returned home I cried bitter tears for the Haitians, and I supported an international effort to overthrow the thugs who ruled Haiti.
By 1993 my prayers had been answered by the U.N. (read U.S.) mission to Haiti that installed Aristide as head of government. Food became plentiful, bicycles and even motorcycles were everywhere, children paraded to school, roads were repaired, and the paramilitaries evaporated. Troops in U.N. blue helmets directed traffic in Port au Prince, and the people were optimistic. Little did I know that all this progress was a mirage. The underlying culture of Haiti was ready to reassert itself as soon as the international presence diminished sufficiently.
Sadly, the underlying culture of Haiti soon reasserted itself. Corruption became the hallmark of the new government, just as it had been for the gangsters. The oligarchs resumed piloting their Mercedes' around ox carts and even human-powered carts on the new highways. Stronger members of the poor masses in Port au Prince's endless slums began to acquire guns, and remnants of the paramilitaries began to group together in remote areas. Aristide was exiled, and a power struggle ensued over control of the pitiful assets of the country. Haiti, which had never in its history developed the institutions of democracy or a functioning economy, regressed into chaos once again.
Why do these memories haunt me today? Because in early 2003 the United States national leadership, despite having world class intelligence resources, concluded that invading Iraq was a positive strategy. President Bush and his inner circle disregarded the strong possibility that Iraq would disintegrate into chaos after Saddam was deposed, not understanding that the country would reassert its unstable underlying culture of tribalism and sectarianism. As we now know so well, this is what happened and what is happening, with no end in sight. As in Haiti, when the dictator was removed, leadership and control dissolved. Iraq regressed, until now the people likely wish they lived under the old regime and the war and "liberation" was a bad dream.
These developments indicate that perhaps the old style of pragmatism in dealing with unsavory governments wasn't so bad. Achieving quantum progress toward a better society through regime change has proved impossible in both Haiti and Iraq. Neither country had the capability to create an effective successor government. Consequently, dealing with the unsavory governments, offering public carrots and private sticks, is likely to be a more productive strategy than forcing an uncertain regime change. Certainly the U.S., with its immense wealth and power, could move troublesome existing governments in a positive direction. It has all the traditional tools of diplomacy, including the use of limited force as was done with the "no-fly zone". After seeing the results of Bush's approach, don't you think pragmatism deserves another chance?
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
I was called to a restaurant where an older woman was already being cared for by a paramedic who had arrived in another vehicle. Her husband was speaking for her because her condition was rather poor. The paramedic already had started an IV and cardiac monitoring had been initiated. After fitting her with an oxygen mask, I helped move the woman to the ambulance where the paramedic finished the monitoring setup. My patient was not responding well to stimuli, and I was concerned for her. The paramedic then administered a medication that accellerated her cardiovascular system, and, in combination with the oxygen, she "woke up" as her vital signs returned to almost normal. All this occurred at a measured, careful pace, and we reacted to her recovery with relief. But this was not the pleasant surprise.
After the woman opened her eyes, she looked at me and smiled a beautiful smile. Her eyes were bright and filled with life. But she was not what she once was - Alzhiemer's disease had taken her memories and much of her comprehension, as it has for many of our patients. Yet the core of her being was still there in that smile and brightness of visage, and she began to sing a lovely melody to us as we went on our way to the hospital. The words to her song were long passed from her memory, but the familiar melody remained as did her wonderful voice. La, la, la, la - in a pure soprano that any choirmaster would applaud, and sung in a range that most 30-year-old's would die for. As we sped down the freeway, she sang and sang, and smiled and smiled, and told us how nice we were. And we looked from her to each other and we thought that it doesn't get any better than this. Later she sang in the emergency room and drew an appreciative crowd. I tucked her into her hospital bed and said goodbye to her and her loving husband.
Later that day I returned home and related the story to my wife. She reminded me that several years ago I had taken a brain-damaged patient on a long ride to the hospital. This patient's condition made her verbally abusive, and I was really getting the full treatment from her. Then I asked her what she was doing for Christmas, and, getting a positive reaction, I asked her if she knew any Christmas songs. That did it. For 20 minutes my driver was serenaded by my patient and I singing every Christmas song that she knew - and she knew a lot of them by heart. Christmas started early for me that year.
Then there was the day I went to a supermarket to see about an elderly woman who had fallen but was apparently not injured. There she was, sitting on a chair and not reacting to those around her. Her companion informed us that she had Alzheimer's. We needed to transport her to the hospital where they might determine why she had collapsed, but she would not budge from the chair. Then it came to me - I approached her directly and asked her if she would dance with me. Immediately she came to life, and when I asked her if I could hold her she readily agreed. I reached under her arms and helped her to her feet, at which time she began to hum a lilting waltz. So we waltzed carefully around, maybe two turns, at which time we arrived at my gurney. I thanked her for the dance and asked her to sit down, which she did with a flair. The trip to the hospital was most pleasant for the two of us, and for the paramedic who had watched my effective new patient care technique with some amazement.
Not all ambulance work is so surprising or rewarding as it was on these calls. And some Alzhiemer's patients have been injured too much to respond to any normal stimulus. But the things these ladies loved the most were the last to leave their memory, and they were able to experience joy in the most unusual circumstances. And so was I.
Sunday, November 19, 2006
The day starts in the dark, at about 6 a.m., when we walk to the tree stands where we hunt the "morning hunt". The deer are still out and about (theoretically, at least), and we stay quiet up in our trees, scanning the entire area to identify any movements of these well-camoflaged animals. Following that early morning hunt, we hike to a well defined large area and "drive it". Two hunters start at one end of the area and move through it, hopefully pushing any deer to other hunters who wait quietly at the other end. (Care must be taken to avoid shooting another hunter instead of the intended quarry.) After lunch we do a second drive, and then the "evening hunt" which is another sitting spell that lasts until the light fades.
The temperature this weekend was in the high 30's and low 40's, windy, with occasional spotty rains. The forest was wet, with the low areas filled with large puddles. The sky was totally overcast, so the lighting conditions were marginal. All in all, advantage deer! They are very quiet, camoflaged, and they often lie down to rest during the day in preparation for their nocturnal eating frenzies. In this farm country, deer can find a great late evening dinner at any one of our endless cornfields or alfalfa meadows. This highly nutritious diet makes for extra good venison if one is fortunate enough to find a deer and accurate enough to bring it down. (Of course, one must first "field dress" the deer, which is an activity not for the squeamish.)
It's Sunday evening, and I'm pleasantly tired after a one and one half days of walking through muddy fields and soggy woods. Yesterday I saw a large, puffy-haired red fox hunting in a cornfield. Several hawks circled constantly, and one would occasionally swoop down low over the fields after a small critter they had spotted with their keen eyes. Squirrels chattered at me as I sat in the tree stands, and all the small birds kept busy flitting about and finding insects or seeds to eat. No, I didn't get a deer, but I got a lot of satisfaction from being away from the routine of life, refreshing my amazement at the wonders of nature, and spending time with friends in a ritual older than history.
Friday, November 17, 2006
I meet my three old friends at 5:45 tomorrow morning at a home about ten miles from mine - a home on the low-density fringe of suburbia where farms still dominate. By 6:15 I'll be at my favorite spot in a semi-dense bushy area where a small creek does 90 degree turn. Last year at that spot, 50 minutes into the season, I killed a nice 8-point buck. By the next day he was 120 pounds of boneless deerburger, heading for the local food bank. And there was one less deer for our local motorists to slaughter with their automobiles.
Some people wonder why the Christian ambulance man shoots innocent, beautiful creatures who are just minding their own business. Well, the answer is simple. There are virtually no predators for deer in our area, and the deer are everywhere. They eat the farmers' crops, they eat the suburban shrubs and flowers, and they injure and kill people when they fail to look both ways before crossing the road. There are far more deer in New York this year than there were when the white men bought Manhattan Island for some beads. Somebody's got to be the predator, and I guess it's up to me.
Is hunting a sport? Well, the deer are a lot smarter in the woods than I am. I figure I spend about 20 hours in the cold for every deer that falls to my shotgun. I don't take stupid shots that might wound the animal. And, when the season is over and there's some venison in the fridge, I have some feeling for what life was like in America not all that many years ago...dinner was out there, somewhere, if you were smart enough to find it.
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Generally speaking, religion is about defining the relationship between us humans and God. Over the last few millennia we humans have developed a few major organized religions that, in total, have produced some millions of pages that attempt to define the relationship between the two (or more) parties, and their respective rights and responsibilities. God, however, has not seen fit to conclusively ratify any of these organizations or their literary output, despite the protests of the faithful to the contrary. This lack of clarity has caused a lot of problems, but God seems determined not to get involved in resolving them directly.
In the absence of clarity and direct involvement from God, we as a race seem determined to make all kinds of assumptions about the divine relationship and the rules for our own behavior. With the best of intentions, our religons begin with generalities that often seem fairly similar: for example, God wants us to recognize God's being and God's superiority in the nature of things, and God expects us to assist in the execution of God's good plan for creation. Unfortunately, the devil is in the details.
For Elton John, the painful detail is religion's penchant to reject those who practice homosexuality. For the unfortunate Sunni or Shiite in Iraq, the painful detail has something to do with whichever Imam should have been Mohammad's successor. For the dead bystander in Belfast, it is something about a Pope. For many Mormons who fled in terror to Utah, it is about whether or not one wife is the limit. Organized religions have a way of making rules that result in groups of people being rejected, killed, or chased to remote locations. Each sect seems a lot more focused on enforcing their version of the details than on improving their own relationship with the rather elusive deity.
I just happen to be a United Presbyterian, one of several "Presbyterian" churches that fall under the general category of "reformed" Christians, i.e., those who have returned to the true Christianity that was ruined by the Roman Catholics (who have also since "reformed"). All of us Christians, of course, are different from the many flavors of Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, et cetera. Even God must have some difficulty keeping all this differentiation straight! (I wonder how God is feeling about the potential split of United Presbyterians, again over differing versions of the details?)
So, today I'm calling for religion to get disorganized. If it's too difficult to just put aside the details, perhaps we humans need to minimize the organizations that put muscle behind enforcing them. Tax religious real estate like private property! Criminalize hate speech from the pulpits! Eliminate special tax breaks for clergy! Enforce religious neutrality in the public sector! I have a feeling we United Presbyterians would do just fine if we downsized enough that the details got a lot less attention, and so would all the rest of God's militant minions. Amen.
Saturday, November 11, 2006
Before I checked out of the 101st Airborne Division I had the honor of speaking with friends who had volunteered and had already completed their first Vietnam tour. They were changed men. Some had become emaciated from bouts with malaria. Some were bitter over the gung-ho early tactics that resulted in obscene casualties, and some of the West Point grads were resigning their commissions. Some were going back for more. All of them had experienced something that I could never in my life relate to: a fight to the death. So I am not one of them.
In the years that followed my goodbye to my warrior friends, I've been fortunate to have had quite a number of business associates and friends who, by conventional standards, were the cream of the crop - intelligent, motivated, sensitive to others, and ethical. Yet, looking back, among my top role models were the senior officers who somehow coped with us young lieutenants, and the great NCO's who saved us from ourselves. Calm, forceful, experienced, honorable, dedicated. These are the characteristics I have remembered and attempted to emulate all these years. I will always be grateful for the years I worked and played with them, and I have always been confident in their ability and their willingness to protect our country.
The Vietnam War turned out to be a tragic error. It was not the fault of those brave men. The Iraq War is a tragic error in progress. It is not the fault of the troops who are fighting there under the American flag. Our military is answerable to the civilian Commander in Chief, and to the civilian Secretary of Defense, and then to the military chain of command. They have the opportunity to speak their mind, but in the end they follow orders. The great majority fight only those who wish to fight them, and they abide by the rules of war even in difficult circumstances. They have a job to do, and they do it to the best of their considerable ability. I may grieve over the assigments some of them are given, but I support them all the way.
At the end of the day, it is the citizens of our country who choose the wars we fight. In our electoral process we select men and women who have told us quite a bit about how they will govern, and the President - Commander in Chief is the most important of these. However, we often fail to consider that critical aspect of the President's job until it is too late to change our minds about the person we have elected.
In 2000 a slim majority of electoral votes elevated George Bush, a self-professed Christian man, to the presidency. Mr. Bush had stated he had no appetite for "nation-building", and the voters paid little attention to the neo-conservatives like Dick Cheney who followed him with briefcases full of war plans for Iraq. Then came the tragedy of 9/11. The anger and fear generated by the terrorists provided perfect cover for initiating the neocon plan, which concluded with the pitiful "coalition of the willing" invading Iraq. In no time the man who had purported to follow the Prince of Peace morphed into an acolyte of Mars, God of War. Our military has suffered 2,900 deaths and 21,000 injuries since that fateful day, and untold numbers of Iraqis have perished. We would like to put the blame on George Bush, but we gave him the job and the power. The fault lies with the American people who made a bad choice.
So, on this day I salute the veterans who have done their job, following the orders of our democratically elected government. On this day I mourn all those, friend and foe, combatant and civilian, who have perished in ill-advised wars started by presidents from Texas. May our memories last forever, so that we never again give presidential power to men or women who resort to war before exhausting every opportunity for peace.
Thursday, November 09, 2006
Now it's time for the democrats to prove they can govern, not simply snipe. Pelosi sounds like she's ready to go. Murtha sounds like a sour old man out for vengeance. Now is not the time for looking back. The American people know all about the darkness of the past six years, and they don't want to spend the next year rehashing that grim time. Hearings won't change the minds of the republican faithful, nor will they give the critics any true satisfaction. Now is the time to move on, for the democrats to introduce and pass the legislation needed to get this country's problems solved.
The problem is that introducing and passing this legislation is not going to be painless. Every change creates winners and losers. Fixing Social Security is going to require more taxes and less payouts just to keep the program afloat, assuming the democrats don't flip over and embrace the myth of job growth somehow generating the required tax revenue. Medicare reform will require higher taxes, curbs on procedures available to the very old or very sick, and some serious negotiation with the drug companies. Dealing with the trade imbalance will generate higher prices at Wal-Mart. Energy independence will require some democrats to bend over for nuclear energy and new refineries, and some consumers will have to accept less go-power when they push on the gas pedal. Going forward on stem cell research will alienate some who voted for the overthrow of Bush Jr. All of these issues are touchy. In fact, the only no-brainer is voting to increase the minimum wage to a higher amount that is still under the poverty line.
Will the democrats have the guts to follow through and deal with the big issues, or will they succumb to the pressures of running again in 2008? Right now I give them the benefit of the doubt, and a few suggestions: operate in the open, let all interested parties have their say in public, and make choices based on clear criteria that the 2008 voters can understand. That's democracy. Can the democrats practice it?
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
The election also identified some key trends in social issues.
- Gay marriages were soundly rejected in (almost) every state where it was on the ballot. Gay couples will continue to have only a few states where they can count on civil protections equal to heterosexuals.
- The federal minimum wage will be raised. Every state that voted on it, including the red states, chose to increase their state minimum wage. Republicans were smacked on this one.
- The evangelicals lost ground on abortion and stem cell research. South Dakota did not ban abortion, Missouri OK'd stem cell research, and Santorum got slaughtered in Pennsylvania.
- Arizona went for an official language - look for many more intiatives and statutes on this issue, most of which will pass.
The republican party should give John Kerry its "Motivator of the Campaign" award. He fanned the fury that was only smoldering in many of the red congressional districts, likely costing several democrats their chance to move to DC. The democrats should require Kerry to wear a dunce cap in the senate chambers. (Likewise, the democrats need to fete Rush Limbaugh for his important last minute assistance in Missouri.)
Will the democrat win result in an onslaught of liberal initiatives in congress? I think not. Nancy Pelosi will go centrist in order to keep her flock together. By forcing the administration to either accept compromise legislation it doesn't like or make unpopular vetoes, she will begin the differentiation process needed to hold the congress in 2008.
Meanwhile, the democrats will sit back and let President Bush simmer in his Iraq stew. They have no incentive to grab the reins on this one, since every new death or tactical setback takes another ounce of flesh off the Commander in Chief. Rummy is history, though, and soon. It's unlikely he will stomach explaining his actions to a new congressional committee every week.
As an "old-time moderate republican", I'm pretty happy with the outcome. Like Bush One, I oppose wars aimed at regime change. I believe two-party rule will curb the outrageous spending that threatens America's long-term viability. Threats to personal freedom will be curbed because the "religious right" lost some key battles. Moderates will take center stage for 2008, and I can live with any of those who have a brain, a little charisma, and the toughness to take on the crucial issues facing our country.
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
Some robot called this morning to inform me that the congressional candidate I'm working for will raise my taxes. The caller knows exactly nothing about my taxes (I hope!), and my candidate has stated publically that he will not support raising middle class taxes. None of this matters to the robo-phone; it only wants to find the few voters out of the many it contacts who will vote Republican due to tax fear. Those votes could make the difference.
It really pisses me off that the robo-phone message does not open with an identification of the calling organization. Before the next election we need a law to require this. There is something about a voice that begins "Let me tell you something about Candidate X", that makes my stomach turn.
So, Mr. Rove, I sincerely hope that there are election laws that you can be convicted of breaking. I would celebrate your perp walk like I celebrated Saddam's capture, because I believe you, more than anyone else, are responsible for the breakdown of civil discourse in American politics. Your potent money machine is indeed as powerful as the smug right-wing commentators say it is. You really have the potential to shut down American democracy with your shameless propaganda, repeated ad nauseum.
I was right to be afraid. Please, Americans, use your vote put this guy back in the sewer he came from! Let's all feel more free tomorrow.
Monday, November 06, 2006
I don't blame Americans for being fooled about our invasion of Iraq. We are a trusting people. We truly believe our leaders would not lie to us on a topic so consequential as a decision to go to war, or about the status of that war or the country where we are now engaged in battle. Our trust is a lasting trust; it takes clear evidence to shake it. We want to believe our country is doing the right thing because, by and large, we are a righteous people. But the evidence is now overwhelming. We were fooled into supporting the Iraq war, and we've been deceived since the day our victorious troops stood by, dumbfounded, as the infrastructure of Bahgdad was trashed by the Iraqis they had just "liberated". Will the voters continue to stand by those who have so foolishly squandered our country's young men, our treasure, and our standing in the world?
I don't blame Americans for not understanding that debt, not tax cuts, has fueled whatever economic recovery we are now enjoying. The fact that our national debt has increased 45% under the current administration is not headline news. But the truth is that every American owes $7,000 more to creditors of our goverment than they did in the year 2000, and our country is far more subject to economic blackmail by our enemies than we were six years ago. Will the voters decide to reject this administration because its financial Katrina is overflowing our economic levees?
I don't blame Americans for supporting those who profess the religious beliefs that many think underlie our country's freedoms. Underneath all the simplistic theology that evangelicals blindly accept is a deep concern for the values outlined in the Ten Commandments. They prefer that the recipe for a proper life be laid out in a straightforward manner, no "pinches of this or that", no optional adjustments for differing flavors or textures. Have they come to realize that the leaders they elected for religious reasons are no more genuine than Ron Haggard? Will the voters reject supporters of the George Bush whose hired gun, Karl Rove, uses "false witness" as his primary campaign tool?
I don't blame Americans for thinking a goverment of one party could finally enact new laws to solve the looming issues of Social Security and Medicare, and to simplify the labyrinthine tax laws that support a huge but inefficient industry and drive us all crazy at the same time. Will the voters strike back because their candidates bypassed these substantive issues in favor of pushing "loser" laws regarding gay marriage, abortion, and flag burning?
As President Bush famously said, "You can fool me once -golly, how does that go again?" Have Americans got to the point where they realize the Republicans are trying to fool them again? My antennae tell me that the time has come for true realization, and that the people will speak clearly in this election. They will speak out against a fraudulent war, spendthrift economics, phony religion, and do-nothing debates in congress. If they don't, they will have been fooled twice and deserve whatever carnage the new "old" government will certainly inflict on them.
Saturday, November 04, 2006
Hopefully the Haggard mess will trigger the evangelical movement to become a bit less pastor-centered and a bit more open to the Jesus of the gospels. That Jesus was not enamored with big temples and self-righteous religious leaders, and he did not preach the gospel of success in this world. That Jesus commended praying in secret and said that the poor will inherit the kingdom of God. That Jesus died on a cross, rejecting power and prestige in this world.
As far as I'm concerned, Warren Buffett in his little house and old car and cheap suits is far more of a minister than every TV pastor who looks as though he or she stepped out of a fashion magazine. Warren Buffett has lived right and given his riches to the poorest and most needy of our world, while the TV pastors ask you to live right and give your riches to them!
Ex-reverend Haggard, I pray that the humiliation of this experience will help you renew your striving for God and give you a new heart for the poor and the fallen. I sincerely hope that you have not accumulated wealth and possessions that will keep you from being the servant you were called to be. Your story is not over yet.
Friday, November 03, 2006
Ted Haggard will not be arrested or face a trial in court. Rather, he will be subject to an internal investigation by his church, and he will get a lot of unwelcome scrutiny from the press. The latter will likely fill out the details of the life lived by Ted Haggard, and judgment will be rendered by the public and his congregation. What should their rules be for judging powerful people like Haggard?
First, they must hold powerful people to a high standard of conduct. Like us, powerful people are fallible. CEO's can be honest or steal, police can be squeeky clean or take bribes, and presidents can go to war for the right or the wrong reasons. The difference between the bad choices made by powerful people and average people is often in the scope of the impact.
Ken Lay wrecked the lives of thousands when he trashed Enron; crooked cops facilitate the crimes of those they take bribes from; and, Lyndon Johnson divided a nation and spent its youth for nothing in Vietnam. These examples show that oversight of powerful people is especially important because their bad choices tend to have powerful conseqences. And when oversight fails to identify or deter these bad choices prior to the damage being done, the punishment of powerful people should be stiff.
Ted Haggard held others to a strict standard of morality when he spoke from the pulpit. If he is guilty only of the behavior he has already admitted, his role in the pulpit and the administration of that church should be over. Harsh punishment? Not. Contrition, to be realistic, must have self-imposed penalties - "sackcloth and ashes", for example. If Haggard does not volunteer for exile, he should be exiled by his flock to a new occupation and a considerably reduced lifestyle. He must live by his own rules if they are to have any meaning for his followers.
Is there a parallel between Haggard and Clinton? Perhaps in terms of the level of embarassment they caused their constituencies the cases are similar. But on another level, the cases are very different. Clinton was elected president by people who knew he boasted of having a carpet in the back of his pickup truck. People were aware of Jennifer Flowers. Clinton never claimed to be pure. Haggard, on the other hand, set himself up as an example for all. That makes his claim of "I bought the meth but threw it away" ring rather hollow. He crossed his own line, and that makes him subject to his own rules. More to come on this one, for sure.
Thursday, November 02, 2006
Since I retired at age 53 back in 1998, I've volunteered about 8,000 hours at our local ambulance corps. We get about six calls every day on average, and I've answered about 1,275 of them over the years. Most calls are not too challenging because the patient's condition is not unstable (unstable means they could possibly die). We comfort those patients and their families, provide whatever emergency medical care they need, and deliver them safely to one of the four emergency rooms in our town. Mostly, that's what EMT's do.
On more rare occasions the patient's condition is unstable, and we work pretty hard to keep them alive. If I'm lucky, a paramedic is close by to join my driver and me on serious calls. Sometimes we fend for ourselves during anxious minutes when things are happening fast. The minutes may be anxious, but we are trained to not look anxious. We do what we have to do, quickly and efficiently. Most of the time we get these patients safely to the ER, but sometimes (mostly due to major heart attacks or car accidents) the patients are not so lucky. We do our best, and soon we are back at the base waiting to go out on our next call.
You might think that dealing with death is a tough job, but most times it is not. "We are all terminal", as the saying goes. We deal with the death of an older person in a respectful way, but we accept it for what it is. But the death of a younger person is very hard to take - so much life is now gone. Similarly, some people have major injuries or sudden illnesses that we know will affect the entire rest of their life in a most negative way. Even a badly smashed wrist can be life-changing. The "bad calls" generate traumatic stress, and often the next week is not so good.
It's now 9:45 a.m., and I got 1 1/2 hours of sleep last night. Three calls, two fairly serious but not life-threatening. Those two serious ones were people with medical issues causing "10 on 10" pain - more than they have ever had in their life. I found one person balled up and shivering on the floor of the upstairs bathroom shower stall. Some of the details are too unpleasant to write about. That's the kind of thing EMT's deal with on a regular basis.
If you've got a few hours of free time each week, think about volunteering for your local ambulance or fire department. There are few better opportunities to serve your neighbor and follow the commands of Jesus or whatever deity you recognize. You will soon find out that plenty of other people have it worse off than you do, even on your worst day, and you will wake up every morning thanking God for the good life you've been given.
Thursday, October 26, 2006
I'm afraid because I have watched the Republican Party's campaign commercials on TV, and they lead me to fear that the America whose uniform I proudly wore is in jeopardy from within. The commercials shamelessly distort truth in order to elicit a fearful response from the watcher. These commercials go for the gut level fear - fear of the person not of your race, fear of losing your family's money when you die, fear of your Social Security being taken away, fear of a terrorist shooting up your town, fear of a homosexual stalking your kids (this only worked before Foley - now it's a congressman stalking your kids).
These new Republicans (no relation to the honorable Republicans of pre-Clinton times) know that real gut level fear paralyses many people's brains to the extent that they will choose "protection" over their real societal and economic interests. Consequently, they resort to fear-mongering whenever they feel they can't win by any other means. In their culture, winning is the only thing that matters...winning is the means to achieve their goals, whatever they really are. (I question what their goals are because I never hear them stated coherently.)
Why do these commercials indicate that America is in jeopardy? Because people who would use distortions and fear to win an election would use distortions and fear to lead the country. Could this be true? One need not look farther than the current administration to know it is true. Their enemies are "evil"; they must "fight them there or we'll have to fight them here"; they call the estate tax the death tax, changing the entire tone of the discussion around it. They try to legalize torture while they purport to worship the Christ who said "love your enemies". Could they go from torturing accused terrorists to torturing their political enemies - maybe that's not so far-fetched an idea. Have Americans seen through this win-by-fear strategy of Cheney, Rove, and the rest of these despicable guys? If they haven't, I'm afraid there are some scary times ahead.
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
Yes, I still listen to NPR and even Michael Savage, and I read several newspapers every day, including the Christian Science Monitor (excellent!). And I watch CNN and even, occasionally, Fox. But today, the established news outlets are only part of the story.
OK. I admit I must be one of the last people on the planet to realize that blogs are taking over, even though I've had my own for some time now. The "big" blogs stay close to the news, reporting and correcting and editorializing about everything under the sun. But the little blogs take the temperature of the country in a way never before possible.
I go to Blogger, hit "random blogs", and begin to march through America and the rest of the world (most of which is unintelligible due to language). There I find the most honest and comprehensive expressions of fellow citizens' hopes, fears and opinions - expressions that I would never hear if I met these people face to face. There is something about the keyboard that frees people to be themselves...it must be that cyberspace is not yet considered to be real space. But I find it to be very real, and very revealing.
The blogs show how really different each individual is from every other. The designs differ, the topics differ, and the lifestyles differ (and how!), but the passion for expression seems universal. In just a few minutes I go from a mom's lament about her Caesarian-scarred belly, to a pastor's beautiful and helpful site, to a young man's aspirations to do something special with his life. If more people surfed the blogs they would encounter slices of life that open new vistas to their understanding, and more people are doing just that every day.
It used to be that people's horizons were broadened by traveling to new and different places, but only the fortunate or extra-adventurous could afford the time or make the effort. Now it's possible to be broadened in the privacy of your own PC-space, quickly and simply. Most everyone agrees that the world needs to change if we are to survive as a species, but disseminating the call to arms, getting some kind of general agreement, and pushing the power bases has been difficult if not impossible. Not anymore. As long as the Web stays in an uncontrolled state the potential exists for the people to finally get the upper hand. PC-based democracy! We'll see where it leads us, and how fast.
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
On November 7, 2006, the American people will remove the Republican party from at least the lower house of congress, and possibly the Senate. The primary reason for the devastating defeat will be the failure of Bush's grand plan for Iraq after years of his denying the obvious - that the plan was doomed from the day Iraqis rioted in Bahgdad while unprepared American soldiers watched in amazement. Bush had a plan for the war, but he had no plan for the peace. The post-war chaos gave America's enemies plenty of room and time to develop and implement their strategy for thwarting Bush's ambitions. It is now clear that they have succeeded, and a phased withdrawal from Iraq is now the only option other than staying to face an unsatisfactory war of attrition with an enemy that has all the advantages.
What does this mean for Bush? Basically, he's finished. His credibility is gone, thanks to his and his staff's unwarranted optimism on Iraq over several years...the great majority of Americans finally realized they were being hoodwinked. Now comes the humiliation of the withdrawal amidst the crowing of enemies Bush vowed to destroy. Even Americans who opposed Bush will be embarassed by the catcalls of the Muslim extremists, who now feel more empowered than ever. Will Bush be able to lead America on any front, domestic or foreign? Not likely...
What can Bush do in order to leave office in 2009 with any legacy at all? His only option is to put a hand out to the Democrats on one or more of the big domestic issues - Social Security, Medicare, immigration, or trade. If he can be seen as a pragmatic "pusher" toward solutions the Amercan people will accept, perhaps one or more breakthroughs can be accomplished. These successes ultimately will be balanced against the Iraq failure in calculations that judge his legacy.
Does Bush really have the ability to be a uniter instead of a divider? It's doubtful, but miracles can happen. November 7th is not far away, and by April of 2007 the pattern of politics for the next two years will be settled. Bush, as a power president, is history. We'll find out if he has any other persona.
Sunday, October 15, 2006
Since September, 2001, our national debt has increased $2.6 trillion, which converts to more than $6,600 for every person in the United States. The total debt is $8.5 trillion, or over $26,000 for every person. Interest on this debt, at a low rate of only 4%, is $340 billion every year.
To put the debt in perspective, the 2006 budget for the United States is $2.3 trillion, which makes the debt about four times the annual spending. This is would be like a family that made $100,000 per year having a net long term debt of $400,000 - that is, liabilities exceed assets by $400,000. This family would never be able to get a loan. It's a miracle that President Bush and the congress can borrow more money while our country's debt continues to grow.
The major U.S. social programs, Social Security and Medicare, are also under water. President Bush's Secretary of the Treasury, John Snow, reports that Social Security will begin spending more than it earns in 2017, and will be completely unfunded by 2040. Medicare, however, is in much deeper trouble - virually hopeless, in fact. With the national debt being so large, the U.S. government cannot bail out either Social Security or Medicare. Tragedy lurks ahead!
It's amazing that our elected officials seldom mention these problems, and in many cases they pooh-pooh them. There is no magical solution for them, however, and every year our country becomes more at risk for bankruptcy. If the U.S. defaults, the entire world economy will fail and we will have the greatest depression in history. It would probably be better, therefore, if we got on top of our annual budget deficits and our entitlements. Nobody loves a deadbeat, especially if it's our old friend Uncle Sam.
Thursday, October 12, 2006
Massa's opponent, Republican Randy Kuhl, has no grass roots organization walking the streets, but he has twice the money of my man. Kuhl is already flooding the mailboxes and airwaves with the Karl Rove formula - attack, attack, attack. Rove's winning tactic has been to accuse opponents of being "for" things that the average voter fears at the gut level, such as terrorists in every home, taxes that put his/her family in the poorhouse, and either an abortion clinic or a gay married couple on every street. The sad thing is, this kind of campaign often works. I'm out walking against it.
Tonight we had a little neighborhood campaign meeting. Everyone except the host was retired from somewhere. We had an ex-FBI man, a retired lady schoolteacher, an ex-Xerox systems person, and a bearded professor-like gentleman who was also a Republican like me. Only one of the attendees was a card-carrying left winger. So, times have changed. As we went around the room, it was clear that people of all stripes felt that the current Republican administration and congress were taking our country down the wrong road at warp speed. It was especially interesting to hear the FBI guy talk about how the Bush administration is gutting our freedom with invasive wiretapping and other assaults on personal privacy. Seeing the diversity of people who are supporting my candidate made me feel really good...if they represent the mainstream, perhaps we will win!
I felt even better after arriving home and checking the internet. The head of the British Army now says that they (and us) should leave Iraq and that our presence is exacerbating the bad situation there. How many experts need to tell this virtually self-evident truth before Bush & Co. are forced to change course? Hopefully, not too many more.
It's cold here - about 40 degrees. That means the hike down my assigned streets in Pittsford tomorrow will be not just long but also nippy. I'm hoping my passion for good government will keep me warm. But just in case, maybe I'll take along a thermos of hot chocolate!
Friday, October 06, 2006
I'd just like to remind my loyal readers (probably none) that the terrorists have no air force, no navy, and no organized fighting force with the ability to "come here" to fight us "here". Nor will they ever have such a capability. The only places terrorists are successful are where they have the ability to get where they want to go, and once they arrive, get cover and support from locals. There is little chance that more than a very small group of terrorists could get into the United States and be hidden and supported here. So, the probability of having to fight them "here" is about zero. If any fighting "here" is probable, the fighting will be done with intelligence and police work, not with military forces.
Given that we won't have to fight them "here" under any circumstances, why should we have to fight them "there"? Iraq is the perfect place for terrorists to be able to go where they want to go, and get cover and support from the locals. The bad guys demonstrate every day that they can plant bombs, set up ambushes, and send fanatics to blow themselves up just about any place in Iraq. On the other hand, our troops have no cover. Advantage, terrorists! We need to get out or move our troops to a secure area of Iraq, and let the Iraqis sort things out for awhile.
If we take a much lower profile in Iraq, where will the bad guys go? They will go to places where they have cover and support, and especially to other Arab countries that they would like to destabilize and move toward an Islamic government. The problem will become "Muslim on Muslim", and all the world will understand the risk that these people present. The suppliers of oil to the world will be under attack, and the world - not the U.S. alone - will respond with alacrity and vigor to combat the terrorists. That will be a big improvement over the current situation where the U.S. is isolated and appears to be anti-Muslim.
So, cut the nonsense, Republicans! We don't have to fight them there and we are wasting our men and our money trying to do so. Whoever wins the battle for Iraq will have to produce and sell the oil that is that country's lifeblood, and we will get our share. We don't need to care whether it comes from a democratic country (Bush's fantasy) or not. And that's that.
Monday, October 02, 2006
Why is it that having all the power leads to impotence? My educated guess is that dealing with the big issues that confront our nation requires a) some painful medicine, such as that needed to fix Social Security and Medicare, or b) some compromise that important factions in the ruling party can't live with, such as amnesty for long-term illegal aliens in the U.S. Both the painful medicine and the compromise have more potential to lose votes than gain them, so the ruling party is much more comfortable doing nothing. Well, not exactly nothing.
What does the ruling party do with its time, since dealing with the important issues would cost votes ? Well, handing out "pork" is seldom dangerous, even if the "pork" is purchased with borrowed money - so this congress has doled out record levels of it. Also, it can raise emotional issues that have little chance of being settled, like a "Marriage Amendment" or a "Flag-burning Amendment". And, doing nothing leaves plenty of time for vacations with people like Jack Abramoff.
When the ruling party has everything going for it, "rocking the boat" becomes a cardinal sin. It's "all for one, and one for all" time. Oversight, which involves putting probing questions to members of the ruling party, must be avoided at all costs. One need not look farther than oversight of the Iraq war to see that it does not happen. And, of course, discipline for ethics violations (think DeLay and Foley) involves breaking ranks, and that clearly violates the principles of team play. So the door opens for all sorts of chicanery that inevitably result.
Divided government naturally cures many of these ills. Painful medicine is best administered by doctors of both parties who share the responsibility for unpopular but necessary actions. "Pork" is not eliminated, but it is reduced and the more egregious and slimy pieces never make it past the watchdogs from the other party. Oversight is increased because one branch of the divided goverment has the power to raise issues in an unfettered manner, but that branch is controlled because the other branches can successfully ridicule patently political meddling. Ditto for ethics policing -the bad guys get punished because their sins can't get buried by their pals.
So, here's a shout of approval for divided government. Overly concentrated power is dangerous and naturally ineffective. In the upcoming election cycle the Presidency and the Senate appear "safe" for the Republicans. So, let's get the House transitioned to become a part of the right kind of solution for America!
Sunday, October 01, 2006
Given the warnings that occurred in 2005, the House leadership has nowhere to run. The lame excuses of those in the loop to confirm or disprove unethical conduct already clearly indicate that the issue was quickly and efficiently put to rest. "Stupid" is the only word that fits!
The old adage "the only way to keep a secret is not to tell anyone" is proved once again. When this cat got out of the bag there was only one option - deal with it. But those House leaders who we assume have some political sense decided not to deal with it, and they will pay double for their sin of omission.
So this latest scandal is just one more that exposes a two-faced Republican...the man who outwardly is the point person against child molestation turns out to be a would-be molester or worse. Perhaps there is more to come...and it couldn't come at a worse time for the Fox News "fair and balanced" crew. How do they deal with the fall of one of their top poster boys? As I watch them for a painful moment, I see that they opine "this is not a partisan issue". We'll see.
Thursday, September 28, 2006
The war in Iraq will go down as Bush's most important failure. Successful warriors know that the choice of a battleground has much to do with success or failure. Bush's choice of Iraq, which was surrounded by our enemies and had no consistent culture to rally around, has led to a stalemated conflict where our enemies have all the advantages...time, virtually unlimited manpower, concealment within the indigenous population, and outside technical and financial support. We can't "win" in the traditional sense, but our enemies win because we spend $8 billion per month to continue the fight - $8 billion that we borrow from our children and grandchildren, thus weakening our country's home base for the long term. We should have initiated conflicts only where we could assure victory, thus demoralizing our enemies. Instead, we have fought in a place where our enemies feel successful and they gain support as a result. As Colin Powell said, "You conquer it, you own it." Iraq is a tar baby, and unfortunately, George Bush stepped into it voluntarily.
The Bush administration's fiscal policies are the next most important failure. Our nation's future obligations to its citizens and foreign creditors cannot be met without dramatic changes in our entitlement programs and our management of current accounts like the federal deficit and the foreign trade deficit. The United States is in far worse economic condition than it was six years ago, even though the stock markets have risen. The risk to our nation increases substantially every year that action is not taken. Even though GWB has acknowledged much of what is said above on this topic, he has done nothing. He will be blamed by future generations for their pain.
If the presidency is a "bully pulpit", then the message from GWB has consistently been "come and be stupid with me." There was no call to arms to reduce consumption of, or substitute for, the oil that we depend on our enemies to provide us. Instead, he told us to drill in Anwar, a place where there is a pitifully small amount of oil - as if it could save us from our long term problem with oil supplies. Similarly, on the other side of the energy coin - global warming - he has failed to recognize the threat and mobilize our population and other governments to deal with it seriously. When it comes to the big issues, GWB is nowhere to be found!
I could go on and on about stem cell research, education, corruption (never mentioned by our illustrious president), church and state issues, and the silliness of many of our internal security initiatives. Leadership has been absent, as it was in Katrina.
You have to wonder how a country with so many brilliant and charismatic citizens could elect one of its dullest minds to its highest office. That's democracy, I guess. The good news is that we can recognize our mistake and do much better starting in November!
Monday, September 25, 2006
I carried a "Massa for Congress" sign through the streets of Rochester, and I chanted the chants while smiling at the well-heeled prospective beneficiaries of Republican largesse, who will certainly pad their wallets if Kuhl gets re-elected. But somehow I did not fit into the group that surrounded me - me in my khaki's and turtleneck and rain parka. The others looked like protesters from the 60's - wild young people with mohawks, older guys with beards wearing jeans and t-shirts, "Raging Grannies" in old fashioned clothes and make-up, gay and lesbian activists, advocates for the disabled, people protesting the Medicare drug "donut hole". It seems that regular people do not protest, regardless of how vehement they might feel about someone as outrageous as Dick Cheney. I was disappointed.
I met a lady who had retired before I did from the same company. She was very sweet, but she wasn't too clear on why she was there. When I asked her, she said something like "I go to protests." Apparently there are generic protesters who enjoy the energy emitted from groups of marching, chanting people.
There is a creepy feeling associated with being closely observed by police while you exercise your constitutional rights, and I felt it keenly. Also, people with cameras were filming us, and my picture will probably get entered into some kind of "enemies" database. I guess being known as an enemy of Dick Cheney is an honor of some kind...makes me feel like a distant cousin of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I suppose. Somebody's got to say "no" when the government starts torturing people and limiting their civil rights. Last week it was me.
So, I doubt that the motley 199 plus me protesters had much impact - Cheney raised almost $1,000 for each one of us. But it was kind of fun to engage in the kind of protest that once started the American revolution - people in the streets, demanding justice. Hopefully, come November, America will be at least a little teensy bit more peaceful as a result.
Thursday, September 14, 2006
As I walked the Appalachian Trail this spring in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, I often worried that the excesses of the Bush presidency would continue until he left office in early 2009.
Despite the fallout of the multiple congressional scandals, the Terri Schaivo travesty, Bush's obvious sell-outs to his greedy rich constituents, the stem cell rejections, and the free-fall of his Iraq strategy, there seemed like nothing could stand in the way of Bush and his do-nothing pals in congress. But a new breeze is blowing, and perhaps the November elections will begin a new chapter in our country's governance.
Today marked the revolt of Senate republicans over Bush's proposed trashing of the Geneva Conventions. By a large margin, the Committee sent the full Senate a much-modified version of Bush's bill. It will be very hard for the president to overcome the objections of John Warner, John McCain, Colin Powell, and General Vessey to the bill he put forward. This outright rejection of torture marks a return to the American ideals we thought our government was pursuing all along - until we found out different!
In my own congressional district a Democrat upstart, Eric Massa, is waging a strong campaign against the incumbent Republican, Randy Kuhl. Massa's impeccable military credentials, international experience, and personal integrity make him a formidable opponent for the Kuhl, a small-town political hack who grew up in the corrupt NY state senate. Massa seems to be the kind of guy whose leadership skills will immediately stand out in the House, and he'll be pushing for solutions to the country's big problems. I'm doing all I can to support him, even though I remain an Eisenhower republican.
Our not-straight-shooting vice president, Dick Cheney, soon will be visiting Rochester, NY, to raise some money for Kuhl. I plan to picket the hotel where he'll be selling photo op's for $1,000. This man has done more to harm the United States than anyone in recent history, and he needs to be repudiated at every opportunity.
So maybe the democrats will win the House in November, and we'll be back to divided government. For some reason, the checks and balances of divided government often seem to result in productive compromises. If Bush wants to save his presidential legacy, perhaps the loss of the House will turn out to be his greatest opportunity. Optimism is an American trait, yes?
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
The idea that our adversaries in the war on radical Islamic terrorists resemble Hitler’s Germany is patently ridiculous, and Rumsfeld should be in the best possible position to know this. Perhaps the superficial comparison of Hitler’s dream for a world-ruling Thousand Year Reich to the terrorists’ assumed goal of creating a large Islamic-ruled land mass is enough for Rumsfeld, but it is not enough for any thinking person. The comparison fails in respect to the terrorists' war-making capacity, which are puny in comparison to Hitler’s. It also fails in respect to the degree of organization and the unity of purpose held by the compared organizations. Hitler had a well-defined system of command and control and top-down goal setting, while the terrorists have various factions attached to specific leaders and others attached to governments – with no common understanding of an end-point goal. Consequently, the war on these terrorists is going to be much different than the war on Hitler.
We already know that the war on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was not a war on terror. Saddam’s only goal was remaining in power, and he knew that becoming directly or even indirectly involved with terrorists was not a good strategy for achieving this goal. Saddam was only a token Muslim and had much to fear from the militant Muslims who are now giving the West so much trouble. By taking him out, Rumsfeld simply created a vacuum where the militants can assemble, recruit, and ally with their fellow Shiites in Iran. Bad judgment! If the Iraq war is, in fact, a part of the war on terror it is because he created and/or facilitated our new adversaries there.
Our continued high-profile presence in Iraq incites Muslims around the world to accept a radical outlook and unacceptably drains our military and financial resources - so much that the terrorists have already won that war to a significant degree. Our secondary goal in Iraq (after the WMD justification failed) was to help establish a democratic government there. Such a government has since been elected, and it’s time to let it go to work. If it fails, as is likely, the Islamic world will see how poorly the Shiite religious majority will actually govern. If it succeeds and does not support terrorism, we will have succeeded. If it succeeds and supports terrorism, we will have a defined adversary rather than a terrorist force inside a phony country. All these scenarios are preferable to our continued high-profile presence there, and we need to phase out in an orderly manner.
Yes, we need to take the threat from radical Islam seriously and combat it vigorously. The fact that radicals like Osama bin Laden hate us, and are a real danger to us, is understood even by Democrats! But this war needs to be as much a war of ideas as a war on the ground, and we need a much more pragmatic group of leaders to fight it. There are strong diplomatic approaches that need to be taken with both Western governments and existing governments in Muslim countries, there are major investments that must be made in intelligence and internal security, and there needs to be a strong worldwide police action against terrorism. Military action does not work against decentralized terrorists, and Rumsfeld again is smoking something other than tobacco if he is silly enough to believe that after his Iraq debacle.
Monday, August 21, 2006
I'll be one of those Republicans not at a fund raiser; instead, I'll be going to a coffee for an opposing Democrat. I expect to be campaigning hard for anyone who is not a Republican, and I'll do that until my party gets back to its roots of fiscal conservatism, non-intervention, and social and religious moderation. The best way to do that, I suppose, is to clean house of all the folks who went along with Bush and his crew of passionate but stupid sad sacks.
And that is the issue that most Americans have now figured out - that George Bush and his crew have made far too many major mistakes when they have taken action, and they also have failed to get consensus on actions that really needed to be addressed on their watch...when they had every bit of government power under their control. There is no reason whatsoever to believe that they will not continue to make these mistakes if they stay in power, especially since you can't find a diehard Republican who even admits that mistakes have been made.
In our national government, as well as in every other component of our society - business, academia, religion, and local government - it's the people in charge who set the tone, hire the people, achieve or fail to achieve consensus, and take or hide from responsibility for failures as well as successes. In this Bush presidency the tone has been combative in both domestic and foreign affairs, poorly qualified people have all too often made serious errors, there has been little interest in forming a national consensus, and accountability has been glaringly absent. In too many areas of this administration's performance, FIASCO is a word that fits. Given this record there is no choice but to force change as soon as possible.
Some say that a congress controlled at least partially by Democrats will place too much focus on examining the conduct of the current administration. I say that is just what is needed, even if our national government is embarassed in public. The world needs to see that our democracy can honestly evaluate its leaders and "hold them to account" for the decisions they made. When it comes right down to it, George Bush is just an elected employee of the people, a man who is paid to maximize our interests. He is not a king, and he fails to listen to the people at his peril. The curtains have been drawn for far too long. Let the light of day shine!
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
The current minimum wage is $5.15 per hour, with overtime calculated on the average hours worked during a two-week period. That works out to $10,300 per year for anyone unlucky enough to work fifty forty-hour weeks at this rate. The minimum wage has not increased during a period where the congress has raised its own salaries by over $41,000 per year. So, maybe it's time to consider an increase for the least employable people who want to work!
Unfortunately, that was not on the Republican congressional leadership's agenda. Nothing was to be done. Yet the unfavorable comparison outlined above threatened the campaigns of those Republicans who will be running for re-election in the fall. So, in a stroke of genius, the Republican house leaders concocted a bill to combine a phased increase in the minimum wage with a significant reduction in the estate tax. The bill was passed, with Republicans voting in favor. But this bill will not go into law, since this combination will not pass the Senate. The outcome was known in advance, so the whole exercise was "political cover" for those who need to face their constituents.
The logic for reducing the estate tax is simply this - it's payback for the well-heeled Republicans who have been financing Republicans for house and senate seats. Some have called it "welfare for Paris Hilton". The fact is that great Republicans like Teddy Roosevelt felt the estate tax was necessary in order to prevent the formation of an "American Royalty", a class of people who live in royal fashion simply due to the success of a forebear. And great Americans like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet believe the estate tax must be maintained. But the greedy rich of today's culture, those Christian self-made men and women who funded George Bush want to pass on every penny they couldn't spend to their progeny. Well, that is just too much! The kids will still get plenty, but somewhere down the line they or their kids may actually have to work. That's the American way according to Teddy Roosevelt, and a majority of the senate agrees with him. So, this house bill is DOA.
The minimum wage must be increased simply because few people are willing to work for that amount. It's well below the poverty line, for heaven's sake! If someone's take-home pay still leaves them with a grim existence and dependence on the government and charities for hand-outs, then what satisfaction is there in work and what motivation to take it on? In my view, Americans want everyone to earn a decent day's pay for a decent day's work. Unfortunately, the Republican congress doesn't agree with me. That's one of the reasons we've been separated for some time and heading for divorce.
It would be one thing for the Republicans, who control both houses of congress, simply to state their reasons for not increasing the minimum wage and get on with other business. But this cynical, non-starter package deal is basically another shady lie that will take its place alongside all the other disgraceful deeds of this congress. History will take notice of how these Republicans hijacked a great party, sold it to the highest bidder, and got tossed out like so much garbage when their stink got too strong for even many of their staunchest initial supporters. The fall elections can't come too quickly!
Sunday, July 30, 2006
It is clear that Hezbollah's goal of eliminating Israel cannot be achieved through negotiation and that Hezbollah is therefore not interested in negotiation. Only through effective diplomacy involving those who finance and supply Hezbollah can a lasting solution be achieved to the Arab-Israeli conflict. The facts are clear regarding Iran using Hezbollah as a proxy in its campaign to destroy Israel, so Iran must be confronted and made to change its behavior regarding Israel. If this is not done now, the danger to world stability will only increase over time as Iran becomes richer and stronger militarily.
In general, the world community must unite to condemn and eliminate military actions by non-governmental proxies. Governments are the only entities that can negotiate in good faith and make agreements that will last. Proxies are "loose cannons", often lead by fanatics who have no interest in negotiation and who are willing to sacrifice innocents in order to achieve their objectives. Countries that openly support military-oriented proxies must be held accountable.
With respect to Israel, the only solution to the long term problem is that Israel's arab neighbors guarantee Israel's territorial boundaries and its security. Those boundaries and the conditions for security are negotiable, and it is in Israel's interest to negotiate in good faith toward resolving these longstanding issues. The world powers need to generate the leverage to move the countries in the middle east toward such a settlement. Given the historical framework and religious antagonisms that make negotiations difficult, getting the parties to agree will be very difficult. But what alternative is there? Without a settlement, ongoing low-level proxy war may well mutate into a regional confrontation with worldwide implications. Let us pray, and work, for a solution that establishes conditions where all the middle east countries can prosper in peace.
Saturday, July 22, 2006
The kid's world: nicknames, constant references to friendships (gotta have 'em), bravado (bring 'em on), "can't be wrong" syndrome, wife who seems a lot like a mommy, and lastly, putting hands on pals. That's the kid's world of George W. Bush, who seems to believe he becomes a grownup when he puts on his tailored suit. Sadly, that's not what happens. GWB just does childlike things in an adult disguise. No secret to those other canny folks on the G8 who want George W. to believe that down deep they all want to live in his treehouse.
Looking back, it's easy to see why our current president was nominated in 2000. The Republican powers like Big Dick Cheney and Karl Rove didn't want any candidate who had sufficient brains and maturity to think for themselves. John McCain and Rudy Giuliani were far too adult for Cheney and Rove - they needed someone who could be manipulated. George W. fit the bill perfectly...simple, gullible, looking for approval from parent figures, poorly educated, not well traveled. He was an easy mark, and his strings have been expertly pulled by Big Dick and Company since day one.
Incidents like the one with Angela Merkel occur because even Big Dick can't keep a public "minder" on GWB. Our President's got to go out and mix with the real grownups, and there's no place for a minder to hide - it would be just too obvious. So, don't be surprised by the Angela Merkel massage. It's just the kid in George W. showing up again, and it's too late for him to grow up now.