Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Right to Life v the Right to Own Guns

The cornerstone of our democracy, of our constitution and its Bill of Rights, is the principle stated in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal and are endowed with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness ...  That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men.”  The Bill of Rights, including the 2nd Amendment’s right to bear arms, stems from this combination of the right to life and liberty and the government’s responsibility to create a system where that is reasonably possible.

If you asked most people what is one of the most important ingredients in leading a happy life, they would say being secure ... whether it’s secure in ones job, ones financial situation, or ones relationships, or being able to go to the theater or send your children to school without worrying whether you/they will be massacred.  The government can’t do much about job security or your financial situation and nothing regarding your relationships.  But physical security is one area where the government has a clear responsibility and ability.  Whether it’s the local police force or the national defense, an acknowledged primary role of government is to insure that people can go about their lives without worrying for their physical safety.

What happens when one right, here the right to physical security, bumps into another right, here the right to bear arms?  The courts have been clear that none of the Bill of Rights is absolute ... not even the right of free speech.  If the government has a compelling reason, such as protecting large numbers of people from harm, it can regulate these rights so long as it does so in the least restrictive manner.

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that the latest Supreme Court decision that the 2nd Amendment gives individuals a constitutional right to bear arms is indeed the correct interpretation.  (I say let’s assume because that decision was the first time in the court’s history that it interpreted the amendment in that way.} As already stated, that does not mean that the government cannot restrict that right if it has a compelling interest and the opinion explicitly acknowledges this, giving several examples of existing or possible regulatory restrictions.  The implication is that even the current conservative majority on the Court would find that protecting the safety of the general populace is a compelling interest.

What are the statistics on gun deaths?  In 2010, guns took the lives of 31,076 Americans in homicides, suicides and unintentional shootings.  In addition, 73,505 Americans were treated in hospital emergency departments for non-fatal gunshot wounds in 2010. Firearms were the third-leading cause of injury-related deaths nationwide in 2010, following poisoning and motor vehicle accidents. Between 1955 and 1975, the Vietnam War killed over 58,000 American soldiers – less than the number of civilians killed with guns in the U.S. in an average two-year period. In the first seven years of the U.S.-Iraq War, over 4,400 American soldiers were killed. Almost as many civilians are killed with guns in the U.S., however, every seven weeks.

Clearly, guns deaths and injury are a very serious national safety and health problem.  While the massacres that have occurred in schools, shopping centers, or movie theaters grab the headlines, the volume of deaths caused by individual shootings is far greater. Given that the option of eliminating guns from the marketplace is not a realistic option, how can the government proceed in the least restrictive way, meeting its responsibility regarding public and individual safety while respecting the rights of people to own guns?

I would ask two questions.  What types of guns are not needed for either hunting or self-defense?  How best keep guns out of the hands of those who should not own them ... criminals and the mentally ill?  If the government were able to address these two issues successfully, the problem of gun violence in the United States would be greatly reduced.

The first question is easy to answer.  AK-47s and other assault rifles and semi-automatic pistols and rifles are not tools needed for hunting or self-defense.  These are weapons for murdering large numbers of people.  Yes, rifles like the AR-15 that was used in the recent Connecticut school massacre are rifles favored by many hunters and gun enthusiasts, but a semi-automatic rifle just isn’t necessary for hunting.  Sales to the public should be banned.  Sales to authorized agencies, such as the police, should be direct purchase from the manufacturer, rather than through a wholesaler, to eliminate a potential source of illegal sales.  

The second question is more difficult to answer, but there is a logical series of actions.  The first is that no firearm or ammunition sale, regardless whether at a store or at a gun show should be made without a thorough background check.  Second the data base accessed in searches needs to be improved.  Third, the penalties for the sale of guns and ammunition illegally, that is without following mandated procedures, should be severe.  The combination of these actions would not stop the flow of guns into the wrong hands, but it should greatly restrict it and sharply reduce the number of such incidents.  And they would do so without impacting the legitimate rights of citizens to own a gun or rifle for hunting or self-defense.

There is no rational reason why gun control and gun rights should be at cross-purposes.  No one who wants a firearm for a legitimate reason has anything to fear from the types of regulations I’ve suggested.  It is only the hysteria fostered by the National Rifle Association which is heavily funded by firearms manufacturers that has caused this seemingly loosing battle in Congress over gun control. It is firearms manufacturers who fear the impact of gun control on their lucrative sales, so much so that Remington has threatened to move from its birthplace in New York State if the state proceeds to enact gun control legislation.

The time is past due for the President and Senators and Congressmen from both parties to come together to enact reasonable legislation that protects the right of average American citizens to live a life free of the fear of them or their children being gunned down in a massacre.  Protect the legitimate rights of citizens to own guns for self-defense and hunting, but control the rest.  Let not the 20 children in Newtown, CT die in vain.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

When Ego Drives Politics, Can There Be Any Hope?

We can rant all we want about the insufferable and destructive attitude and policies of the Tea Party and its fellow travelers, but truth be told, virtually all politicians are sorely lacking.  

A politician should be first and foremost a public servant ... there should be no greater interest than to serve the interests of his or her constituents and the greater public good.  And where the greater public good conflicts with the interests of constituents, politicians should back the greater public good because the welfare of the nation should always take precedence over the narrow interests of a locality.

Why is it that there are no, or at best a handful, of politicians today, and for that matter in the past, who encompass this ideal?  The short answer is that all politicians, and indeed all people, are driven primarily by their ego ... which is to say the sum of their learned experience that forms how they view themselves and the world around them.  All people and all politicians are programmed by their upbringing and societal environment to look at things a certain way.  They cannot really do otherwise.

And what is the primary lesson that our culture teaches?  Is it that we must work for and if necessary sacrifice for the good of the community, or is it that we should insure first and foremost that #1, ourselves, is taken care of first.  During much of our history there was a balance between these two messages.  But over the past 30-40 years, it has become increasingly the latter.  Everything else is secondary, at best.

When one combines the self-centeredness of politicians with their programmed view of the world, the result is often disaster for the nation they are supposed to be serving.  In the past, while politicians and people have always been driven by ego, most people were exposed to a strong centrist tradition ... for example the news broadcasts of the three networks and most major newspapers ... and that formed the core of their political learned experience.  Thus they were able to see it in their interest to come together, not on all issues but with sufficient frequency, to serve the public good.

But as the power of corporations has increased in politics and as the attitude of the people has become more extreme, especially on the right due to the emergence of right-wing cable news and right-wing radio talk shows, there remains virtually no issue on which the two Parties can come together in the nation’s interest.  The result is the total dysfunction that we’ve been seeing in Congress.  The result is a growing fissure in our society.  The public good and the interests of those most vulnerable suffer.

Our political system is a mess.  The electoral system is a mess.  Our society is a mess.  Is there any hope out of this morass?  There is no hope so long as even well-meaning politicians and people seek to find answers within the system as it exists because within those constraints there can be no real change.  There is no hope without being willing to examine the concepts that lie at the very core of our culture.  For it is these concepts that make people what they are and make our system of government what it is.

What in the world am I talking about, you might ask.  It means going back to basics.  The core moral ethic behind all the world’s great religions is, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  Yet there are few people, even among those who profess themselves to be ultra-religious, who practice this core ethic.  

Why is that?   The bottom line reason is that most people are insecure, both individually and as groups.  If you are insecure, you only think of yourself, not others.  Yes, many people, groups, and nations may appear to have strong egos and are full of bluster and bravado, but deep within, people whether low or high are insecure.  That’s why those on top are typically so imperious.  It’s a mask.

And why are people so insecure, even those who have “made it” in our society and have so much?  The answer is that most people were not brought up with unconditional love and compassion.  

I know this sounds very new age, but don’t laugh.  We are all cursed with the learned experience that we have to be someone other than we are, we have to be better than we are, in order to be loved and respected.  We learn this in childhood from our parents and later from our peers and the broader culture that bombards us with messages that we need to be or do more.

If on the other hand, we were all brought up with the constancy of unconditional love and compassion ... and mind, this does not mean no criticism; it means that criticism is done with loving kindness; children need direction, but there’s a way to do it and a way not to do it ... then we would not be insecure as children and we would not grow up to be insecure adults.

This atmosphere of unconditional love and compassion would not be limited to the family, but would extend to all people in the community, in the country, indeed to all mankind because we would be taught that all of humanity is one.  We are all children of the same God (if there is one), we all suffer in the same way, we all are programmed by our learned experiences to act the way we do.  No one is innately bad or evil, but history has shown that it is surprisingly easy to teach people to be bad or evil.  With that knowledge we can have compassion and love for all, even those who seek to harm us.  

This new attitude does not mean that we would not defend ourselves, as a nation or individually.  But with this new attitude we would have a chance to break the cycle of hate with love.   To show those who are insecure that they have nothing to fear from us; that there is no need to be aggressive.  And with time, this new force of love would gain in strength, encompassing ever more people and nations.  Slowly but surely the aggressive traits that we have assumed are part of the human condition would be replaced by a more spiritual perspective based on unconditional love and compassion for ourselves and for all others.

Martin Luther King said, "Someone must have sense enough and religion enough to cut off the chain of hate and evil, and this can only be done through love."  To that I say, "Amen."

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Media and the Polarization of America

We have become so accustomed to the extreme polarization of our country that began in earnest during Clinton’s second term and has gone off the deep end during the past few years with the creation and ascendency of the Republican Tea Party movement, that it’s hard to remember that there was a time not that long ago when things were very different.  But they were,

After Lyndon Johnson fought for and signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the deep south turned Republican, the red states were (with the exception of the 1964 Goldwater debacle) pretty reliably the deep south, the plains states, the Rocky Mountain states, and the west coast.  The Republicans expanded their take of states in Nixon’s elections, Reagan’s, and Bush I’s.  In 1988 they did lose Washington and Oregon, and in 1992 they lost California, which have since been permanently in the Democratic camp.  But after Clinton, they seem to have permanently gained the lower Midwest (Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana).  Likewise the blue states have been pretty consistent, with the exceptions noted above.

So we have existed for the past 48 years at least with a large number of states reliably red, a large number reliably blue, a few changing from one to the other, and a few being the swing states, which is to say they have no established pattern.  But despite that fact, there were circumstances or candidates ... like Goldwater in 1964, McGovern in 1972, the Iran Hostage crisis in 1980, and Reagan in 1984 that turned the presidential map almost totally blue or totally red.

We were in other words a country with a distinctive political map which nevertheless responded to events or personalities in a way contrary to that pattern.  People were far more flexible.

This flexibility could also be clearly seen in the workings of the party’s representatives in Congress.  Although Republicans and Democrats have always disagreed on many things, acrimony was not common.  More common was a tone of civility and frequently “crossing the aisle” to work together in the country’s best interest.  The vast majority of legislators were centrists, as was the electorate.

So what happened to turn our country from a nation of partisans who nevertheless could be bipartisan in the interest of the country and who could, as lawyers say, “agree to disagree,” to a country where one party ... the Republican ... has become a hotbed of rabid, radical, ideological partisans who will brook no compromise?  The answer I think is to be found in the evolution of media in the United States.

Prior to 1980, people got their news from the three major TV networks, all of which were mainstream and centrist, and newspapers which were for the most part also mainstream and centrist.  Whether it was Huntley-Brinkley or Water Cronkite, these were the men who formed public opinion about current events.  Whether you lived in a major urban area or in an isolated rural one, they were your eyes to the rest of the world.  And the respect with which they were held impacted how people, whether Republican or Democrat, saw the major issues of the day.  Even after 1980 when CNN was founded and programmed news 24 hours a day, the basic pattern of centrist news organizations continued.  The result was that people were in general more centrist in their outlook.

Radio was also pretty much a centrist medium prior to 1987, when the FCC abolished the Fairness Doctrine, which had required controversial viewpoints to be balanced by opposing opinion on air.  One year after that, Rush Limbaugh started his nationally syndicated show on ABC.  Many other right-wing personalities followed suit.

Then in 1996 Fox News started its cable broadcast.  Now you had right-wing news interpretation available 24 hours a day.  That together with the large panoply of right-wing radio talk shows available nationally ... they’re called “conservative talk” but they hardly fit the classic definition of “conservative” ... means that Republicans throughout the country, whether living in small rural towns or in urban areas, now can choose to get their news and their opinions from Republican [sic radical] conservatives, rather than from mainstream broadcasters in the mold of Concrete and Huntley-Brinkley or Brokaw.

This shift in the nature or function of media is, I believe, the single most important factor in the rise of extreme partisanship on the right and our nation’s current polarized state, even more than the rise of the Religious Right during this same period.  People who may have had such opinions before didn’t have them validated by national media.  Now they are emboldened and feel they are in the vanguard.  And those who didn’t have such thoughts have now been brainwashed by the constant barrage of right-wing commentary and have become right-wing radicals.

Add another notch to the belt of the deregulators.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

We Must Reform Our Election System

We have just witnessed the most obscene election in American history.  Obscene in the sense that $2.6 billion was spent on the presidential race.  Obscene in that the Supreme Court’s decision that money = speech gives new meaning to the phrase, money talks.  Obscene in that the Supreme Court’s decision that corporations are people entitled to their right of free speech meant that corporations as well as individuals could spend unlimited amounts of money in support of their preferred candidate.  

Obscene in that the principle of one man, one vote has been distorted because of the power of a small number of individuals and corporations to greatly impact the outcome due to the influence of their advertising dollars.  Obscene because even in a race with such clear differences between the two candidates and their positions, we have strayed far from the idea that free speech and elections in our democracy is about the contest of ideas.  This was a campaign based on slogans, which are not ideas.  Ideas require understanding, and there was no attempt at any stage of the process to provide voters with an understanding of the competing positions.

If we wish to save our democracy then we need to reform the electoral process.  The underlying principle is simple ... remove the influence of private funds from the election.  The campaigns would be financed by public funds, and outside PACs would be strictly regulated so that no individual or corporation could contribute more than a small amount of money to such efforts.

Such a system would entail a different approach to the campaigns.  No longer would they be premised on huge television ad campaigns with their resulting huge budgets and empty sound bites.  Instead we would have a true contest of ideas.  The candidates would have a certain amount of free air time on the radio and television to present their positions to the American people.  There would continue to be debates, but with a difference.  The moderators would have the authority to challenge the candidates when they provide misleading or factually incorrect answers.

Further, federal elections should be governed by federal, that is to say uniform, rules.  States can make their own rules for state elections, but the rules for elections for federal office should be the same regardless the state ... this includes the form of the ballot and type of voting machines.  Also, redistricting should be done by state nonpartisan or bipartisan commissions following federal guidelines.  Candidates need to be on the same footing everywhere and all citizens must be assured of the uniformity and fairness of the process.

Unfortunately, I can’t imagine such basic reforms ever being enacted by Congress.  The interests arrayed against such reforms are simply too powerful and entrenched.  

But at least such reform needs to become part of the public discussion.  Someone in Congress needs to have the guts make this his or her cause.  And perhaps one day, just as public opinion has evolved on other matters. the public will come to demand such reform and the politicians will have to comply.

Friday, November 2, 2012

How Can Evangelicals Embrace Capitalism and the Republican Party?

Over the past 30-40 years, the Religious Right has gone from total noninvolvement with politics to total involvement to partial domination.  As a general matter, and more specifically in recent years, they have endorsed capitalism and the concept that each person is responsible for himself, they have endorsed a limited role for government, and they have tenaciously fought for the right to life of the unborn and against same-sex marriage or any kind of gay rights that gives homosexuals the approval of society.

As Christians who believe in Jesus, Evangelicals are fond of saying that we need to bring morality back into our government and our private lives, and that we need to bring God back into our government.  But do they practice what they preach?

What is the most central ethic of Christianity, or indeed of all the world’s great religions?  It is, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  It is, “Love they neighbor as thyself.” It is viewing the community of man as one of shared responsibility.  From the Old Testament’s, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” to the many affirmative answers to that question in the New Testament such as that we are to “love one another” and that we are to “serve one another,” “bear one another’s burdens,” and “consider one another,” there is no question that to be Christian is to support the idea of a social contract among the citizens of our country.  

In ancient times it must be said that these sentiments were confined to relationships between those who were believers.  But in more modern times, as the world and its religions (not all) have become more progressive in their thinking, these concepts have been broadened to include a responsibility towards all humanity.  For if man is created in the image of God, then are we not all his children, regardless of our religion or lack thereof?  It is in this light that I will examine the positions taken by Evangelicals on several key contemporary issues.  

First, let’s look at capitalism.  While the commonly used phrase “Godless communism” refers to the fact that Marxist communism denies the existence of God and is, or at least used to be, totally against all religion, is capitalism any less Godless in fact or in practice? While it is true that capitalism is not against religion, history shows that the very premise of the capitalist enterprise is Godless in the sense that it is all about making the most money one can for oneself and ones associates regardless at what cost to others.  This is surely not behavior that Jesus would endorse.

In the first half century of the industrial revolution, unfettered capitalism showed it for what it was ... a rapacious system that would stop at nothing to make money.  Whether it was having no care for their workers’ safety, beating them, producing products that could harm the user, or fowling the air and water, capitalism showed a total disregard for the welfare of both its workers and the broader community.  

It is only the presence of government regulation, which began in the early 20th century and has grown over the years, that has resulted in corporations [capitalists] being able to claim to be responsible members of society.  But they are not reformed.  Even today with all the regulation we have, if there is an area where there is no regulation, or it is hazy, or they dislike it, capitalists will do whatever they can get away with regardless of its impact on the broader society or their workers.  It is simply the nature of the beast.  

Bottom line, capitalism has no soul, and since it has no soul it is Godless.  As such, Evangelicals and other Christians should not embrace it uncritically but insist that if it be allowed to continue that it be strictly regulated in order to insure that workers, users, and the broader community are protected.  The role of government here is critical.

Then there is the issue of public morality.  When this issue is raised by Evangelicals, as in “the culture wars,” this means that they are against any rights for homosexuals and they are against abortion. Before commenting on their stands on these two issues, what is troubling is that Evangelicals do not seem to think that public morality includes the concept of doing to others as you would have them do to you, of loving your neighbor as yourself, of feeling a shared responsibility for the welfare of their fellow Americans, if not for all of humanity.  

This is clearly the position that Jesus would take, but not his most righteous followers today. Their emotional, if not rabid, fight on the issues of homosexuality and abortion seems to have blinded them to the true admonitions of their faith.  And so they have become the front line soldiers of the Right, backing the most radical Tea Party and conservative Republicans ... the new Republican Party ... because they have these two causes in common, even though their partners have no interest and disdain government involvement in the broader social welfare.

As regards their campaign against homosexuality, it is troubling on so many fronts that one hardly knows where to begin.  But perhaps most troubling is their, and others’, misuse of the Bible, much as the Bible was used for years to support slavery, segregation, and the submissive status of women.  

The Old Testament certainly has some bad things to say about “men lying with men as with women.”  But one must put this in context.  

The same sections of the Bible also have equally bad things to say about many other acts. In fact, the Bible terms more than 60 actions an abomination.  Included are:  lying (Proverbs 12:22), eating food that isn’t kosher (Leviticus 11), a proud look (Proverbs 6:16), lying with a menstruating woman (Ezekiel 18:6-13), and what is highly esteemed among men (Luke 16:15).  Likewise, it is not the only sin singled out for death.  The Bible says that anyone who curses his father or mother should be put to death (Leviticus 20:9) and that a man and woman who commit adultery should be put to death (Leviticus 20:10.)  In Exodus 35:2, it says that anyone who works on the Sabbath shall be put to death.  

Clearly, Evangelicals and the Catholic Church are against homosexuality ... plain and simple.  And so they conveniently pick sections of the Bible to use in support of their campaigns, ignoring the fact that no one today, except perhaps the Jewish ultra-orthodox, would call these other acts an abomination and seek to ostracize perpetrators.

The issue of abortion is a far more complex one.  If one truly believes that life, in the legal sense, begins at conception, then one can understand why that person feels that abortion is murder and should not be allowed.  The problem is that while it is a scientific fact that “life” biologically begins at conception, there is a major disagreement as to when a legal status attaches to the fetus ... when the fetus becomes a human life ... resulting in abortion being illegal.  There really is no resolution to this disagreement.

My take on the issue is more sociological.  There are few things worse then a child being born to parents that do not want the child, for whatever reason.  There are few things worse then children being raised in our chaotic foster parent system, since the majority of unwanted children carried to term are not adopted.  

Evangelicals, however, do not deal with this issue.  They speak merely of God’s gift of life.  And so if their will were law, hundreds of thousands of children each year would be sentenced to a living hell while their parents would be dragged down into a variety of wrenching problems.  It’s all fine and well to speak of the responsibility of the mother or parents.  But ultimately, the burden of the Right to Life position would fall most squarely on the children.  And I for one would say that it is better not to be born, than to be born unwanted.  Life is hard enough without that burden.

But the issues of abortion and homosexuality are digressions.  The point is that if one wants a more moral nation, a more moral government, a nation under God, then many aspects of our system need to be changed.  First and foremost would be changing from a capitalist system in which everyone is chiefly out for themselves with no sense of responsibility for their fellow citizen to a system of regulated capitalism and a commonly accepted social contract with government performing its function of leveling the playing field, guaranteeing that all have the opportunity to pursue their “inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  

The Democratic Party, in its own sometimes fumbling way, is trying to reach for that more moral nation.  As such, it deserves the support of all God-believing people and secular humanists alike.

Monday, October 15, 2012

What If All Religions Viewed Other Religions As Equal?

First let’s start with some basic facts.  For millennia now, three of the world’s major religions have believed in one God. Whether one is Christian, Jewish, or Muslim, when one speaks or prays to God, one is praying to the same being. Indeed, the ancient history of these religions are to be found in the same story.  Where they separate is in their belief of who the true prophet of God was and then they further separate based on the institution that best represents the faith or the sub-prophet that is more worthy of adoration.

Religions, from the earliest forms to the present, exist to make the universe, nature and man sensible to man, setting up an orderly relationship between nature and man, and between man and man. As such, religion has been central to the core identity of its adherents, be they individuals or nations. While in the modern world, the ties of religion have been markedly reduced for many people as they have found other ways of explaining the universe and man, it continues to be a primal force for probably the vast majority of mankind.

It is this primal identity with religion coupled with the belief of most religions and sub-sects that they are the true and only source of communication with God ... the exclusiveness of religion ... that has made religion, either on its own or as a tool of nationalist leaders, the cause of much conflict, persecution, and death over the centuries. Indeed, it is safe to say that religion has either been the cause of or lent itself to the cause of more human misery over the ages than any other force. How ironic and how sad. 

And we’re not only talking about conflict between Christians and Jews or Jews and Muslims. As we know all too well, there has been deadly conflict between Protestants and Catholics (most recently in Northern Ireland), and between Shia and Sunni (still ongoing). And while the conflict has usually not been deadly, the conflict between ultra-orthodox Jews and all other Jews is intense.

All of these religions have an institutional authority, some more formal and absolute like the Catholic church.  Conflict has continued over the centuries because the people in leadership positions have seen it to be in their religion’s or sub-sect's  best interest to foment discord and conflict with the members of other religions or sub-sects.  

Now of course, such individuals always speak in the language of faith ... that God has ordained whatever the object is.  But really it is man who has ordained these conflicts and positions just as it was man who created each of the religions or sub-sects, whether it was the result of a received vision or otherwise.

If someone truly believes in God ... and remember here that we are in all cases referring to the same God ... can he or she honestly believe that God would wish such misery on the members of another religion? If man is made in the image of God, then even those who don’t believe in Yahweh, let alone those who believe in a different prophet, are still his children.  Do Christians believe that Jesus would do what they have advocated over the centuries? Yes, the God of the Old Testament was often wrathful and jealous, but for most people, Jews included, that God of the ancient Hebrews has been replaced by a loving God.

My point is that all it would take ... and I know this is an over-simplification, but its impact would be enormous ... would be for the leaders of Christianity, Judaism, Islam and their sub-sects to come together and say, in the presence of the leaders of Hinduism, Sikhism, and Buddhism, 

“Enough is enough.  We all believe in the same God.  We are all children of the same God.  We may have our own prophets, our own rituals, our own institutions, but there is no question that it is against the will of God to continue to fight with one another.  We choose to reject the conflicts and forgive the misery that has been inflicted over the centuries.  What is past is past.  And beyond our religions, today we join with leaders of the eastern faiths ... Hinduism, Sikhism, and Buddhism ... and say with them that from this day forth, we declare an era of peace and respect between us and all other religions.  

We therefore say to our followers: may you love your fellow man regardless of their religion, or indeed regardless whether they believe in God. May you always follow the Golden Rule and do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

And so the world would come to a point where all religious conflict, or religious-abetted conflict, would be a thing of the past.  No longer could a nation claim that God was on its side and not the other’s.  The waging of war would be made much more difficult for political leaders if the world’s religions took the position I advocate in a steadfast and very visible way.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

What Obama Should Have Said But Didn't

Opening Statement:  I want to be a president for all the people, whether rich or poor, Democrat or Republocan ... not just the 54% that don't receive any government benefits.  I will not write off any American.

Entitlements:  Just a few weeks ago, Governor Romney, in a private gathering of donors, sounded very different from the way he is sounding tonight speaking to all of you. He said that the 46% of Americans who receive government benefits feel like victims, that they have become dependent on government. It sounded like he felt they were losers.  I strongly disagree.  The seniors who have paid into Social Security all their lives, the injured veterans coming back from Iraq and all our wars after having fought for their country ... these are people who have paid their dues, they are indeed entitled to support from the government at this point in their lives.  What about the poor?  The poor who have never had a fair chance to get ahead because of poor schooling, a government obligation, deserve the support of the government to help them pursue their dreams of life, liberty, and happiness.  That is why President Clinton turned welfare into workfare.

The Role of Government: As it says in the Declaration of Independence, the role of government is to "secure these rights" ... meaning the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In other words, government's role is to create a situation where everyone has at least an equal opportunity to pursue those rights. The government needs to be there for all the people, and especially those who are at a point in their lives when they are facing hardship and are vulnerable ... whether it is from old age, from natural disaster, from injury received in defense of their country, from unjust discrimination, or being born on the wrong side of the tracks. That is the ethic of the American sense of government, the American social contract.     

Health Care:  No, Governor, you're wrong.  We do not have the best health care system in the world.  Far from it.  Despite spending more money by far on health care per person than the rest of the world, the United States consistently scores near the bottom of the pack of industrialized countries on almost every measurable outcome of national health. That is why the board, that you are so fond of mentioning, was created.  While places like the Cleveland Clinic and several others have instituted practices that have delivered better health care at lower cost, the rest of the health care industry has not embraced those examples and so our costs keep rising while we have unsatisfactory health care outcomes. This is clearly confirmed in a recent report by the Institute of Medicine.  The board was created so that these excellent health care practices developed by private clinics would be mandated for the entire health care industry.  So that we can at the same time significantly lower costs while improving people's health.
Closing:  I have tried to be the President for all Americans.  Countless times during my first four years, I have reached across the aisle on all the major issues to try to work with Repulican legislators.  But in virtually each and every case, the Republicans just said, "no."  They have stated very bluntly, as did the Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, that their sole goal was to see that I would be a one-term president.  Every decision they have made was to weaken me by weakening the country. During the Republican primary season and at the nominating convention, Governor Romney sounded like the most radical of the radical Tea Party Republicans.  He wrote off almost half of America's citizens, half of you. Tonight he tried to make you believe he is now once again the old caring Mitt Romney who was Governor of Massachusetts. I ask you ... who is he?  How will he really govern?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Romney Shows His Dark Side

Whatever else one could say about Mitt Romney … that he was a flip-flopper, an opportunist, that there was no “there” there … one couldn’t say that he was a nasty man. One felt that he would do or say anything he had to to become president, but that he would stop short of being nasty.

Well, that barrier has fallen.  On the stump the other day, Romney said that no one had ever asked him for his birth certificate … that everyone knew without question where he was born, where he was from.  How despicable!

Clearly, this was a reference to the Obama birth certificate canard.  Although obliquely, Romney with this statement signaled to the “Birther” movement that he was one with them.  And he signaled that no blow would be too low for him to throw in this election campaign.

So not only is Romney an opportunist … witness his most recent proposal that states be given the right to control drilling and mining on federal lands … but far worse than that (for among politicians this character trait is not unusual), he has shown that he has no shame.  And that should be beyond the pale, certainly for someone aspiring to be president of this great nation.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Republicans’ Seven Biggest Lies

The propaganda theory of “the big lie” is that if you tell a lie big enough often enough, people will begin to believe it, and the Republicans are masters of this tactic. The Republican Party has been selling the American public a bill of goods and unfortunately the public is falling for the scam. They want the average American to think that they are going to protect their interests and that the Democrats will ruin them.  This is a classic “big lie” if ever there was one.

Their “argument” is based on the following subsidiary lies, which fall predominantly into two categories … the economy and health care/Obamacare:

Lies About the Economy

Lie #1: The financial crisis and joblessness is the fault of big government, of government regulation.
            Fact:  The financial crisis was caused by rich investment bankers and mortgage brokers trying to find a way to make a fast buck at the expense of ordinary Americans or small-fry investors. It happened because people in the financial industry are greedy and cannot be allowed to regulate themselves.

Lie #2: The financial crisis continues because of the failure of the Obama stimulus package and the increasing government deficit.
            Fact:  The Obama stimulus package, while not creating many new jobs, resulted in preventing the elimination of millions of jobs, especially state and local jobs.  This kept the country out of a second Great Depression.
            Fact:  Once the stimulus funds were spent, Republican-led efforts to slash the budget in order to cut the deficit have made the jobless crisis far worse by reducing support for state and local governments, causing increased unemployment in that area that the stimulus had prevented and stalling the recovery.
            Fact:  The deficit, while large and undesirable, is more of prac†ical concern to investors in government bonds, and interestingly rather than fleeing from US bonds, investors continue to flock to them as a safe haven in this volatile global financial market.

Lie #3: The key to getting the American public back to work is cutting taxes for the rich and corporations, as well as cutting the deficit.
            Fact:  Cutting taxes for the rich only helps the rich get richer.  There is no trickle down effect, as was proven during the Reagan years.   Reducing corporate taxes only results in corporations and their investors making more money; it does not encourage investment and job creation unless the tax cuts are specifically tied to that effort. Corporations are into doing more with less labor; they have no interest in job creation or giving raises.  It’s not that they don’t have the money … they are sitting on $1.74 trillion … yes trillion … dollars of cash.
            Fact: Income inequality between the very rich and the rest of us is worse now than at any time in US history.  And income stagnation for the average American is a real crisis. 
            Fact:  Cutting the deficit by cutting funding for all sorts of programs and support for state and local governments will only make the job situation even worse by increasing layoffs at all levels, as it has already done.

Lie #4:  The answer is not the government; government is the problem.
            Fact:  The crisis was caused by market forces working in a for-all-practical-purposes unregulated atmosphere.  Its only guide was greed.  Even Alan Greenspan has admitted that his theory that the market would be self-regulating was an error.  The answer to protecting the American public from this type of thing happening again is regulation of the financial sector that has teeth in it.  The Republicans are dead set against such regulation. The Democrats support it.
            Fact: We got out of the Great Depression through massive government spending including the WWII effort.  In a financial crisis, the private sector has no interest in investing.  Their only concern is protecting or growing their profits.  Thus they find ways to do less with more, which is great for their shareholders, but bad for the American worker.  We need more government stimulus, hang the impact on the deficit, in order to get the unemployed back to work.

The Lies About Health Care/Obamacare

Lie #5: Obamacare will get between you and your doctor and reduce the quality of your medical care.
            Fact: There is nothing whatsoever in Obamacare that would do this.  It is built on the existing private insurance system. It is not a “government takeover” in any sense, which Medicare actually was, although interestingly everyone loves that.

Lie #6:  Obamacare will force individuals to get health insurance. The implication of this is that individuals who cannot afford health insurance will be forced to buy it or suffer a penalty.
            Fact: One of the main drives behind the enactment of Obamacare was to provide health insurance to the millions of Americans who don’t have it as part of their jobs and who can’t afford to buy it.  It does this by subsidizing health insurance for those who can’t afford it. The individual mandate will provide health insurance and proper medical care to millions of Americans who currently can’t afford access.
            Fact: Republicans have for the last 20 years urged the individual mandate as part of any health care reform.  It was central to the bill that Governor Romney supported in Massachusetts. Now they are against it solely because it’s a Democrat-passed program.

Lie #6: Obamacare will ration health care.
            Fact: There is nothing in Obamcare that would ration health care. There are measures in the law that encourage the medical profession to apply their group knowledge more consistently so that everyone gets the best care and money is not wasted on unnecessary or counterproductive procedures.
            Fact:  Contrary to the statements of Republican talk show hosts and some Congressmen, there is no “death panel” in Obamacare. What the law does encourage is for doctors to talk about end of life issues with their patients so that the patients’ desires regarding various levels of medical effort will be known and respected.

Bottom line … Republican politicians and radio talk show hosts have presented a Big Lie to the American public. And by saying it over and over again, and by the Democrats not effectively countering the lie, a large segment of the American public has come to believe the lie. But in fact, Republicans are only concerned with protecting the interests of the rich and corporations; they have no concern for the average American. It is instead Democrats who are fighting to protect the well-being of the average American.

There is no question that government is not the entire solution … the private sector and individuals have a major role to play … but government is certainly a necessary part of the solution.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

A Troubled Republic On This July 4th

As we celebrate this July 4th, the state of our republic is troubled. Two core principles of American democracy are under attack … the role of government and the democratic process. And the attack is cynically being waged under the banner of protecting our system and our rights from the power of government.

As we all know, the Declaration of Independence’s most famous line is, “All men are created equal,” and that they have “unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Less commonly known are the words that follow … “That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men.” In other words, the role of government is to act in a way so as to secure the rights of the people to equality, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Both of these thoughts were truly revolutionary in a world where governments were in the hands of and benefited solely those with power and wealth. This new view of the role of government and the equality of all people was the cornerstone of the American republic, despite the fact that it would take almost a century for African-Americans to become legally equal and another 50 years for women.

Over the course of the last century, after suffrage was made universal and all citizens were finally deemed to have the rights embodied in the Declaration, the role of government in securing those unalienable rights for all evolved of necessity to helping the less fortunate through a variety of government programs.  Prominent among them have been universal education, Social Security, labor laws, government welfare, and Medicare/Medicaid.

Without these programs, government recognized that the legal equality of all people was meaningless. People needed to be given real equal opportunity to pursue their rights. Both Republicans and Democrats agreed on this basic principle, but would of course regularly disagree on the particulars of government programs to secure that equality.

With regards to the process of our democracy since universal suffrage, it can best be summarized by the dictum, “One man, one vote.” This means that every citizen of voting age should be able to vote and that each person’s vote should count the same.

Viewed in this light, the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United makes a farce of our democratic process by caring only for form, not substance. If those with wealth and power have the ability through television advertising to in effect control an election because of the disproportionate influence of such advertising, then those with wealth and power have achieved their aims through the back door.  Who votes is of little consequence if the real power lies elsewhere.

Only if candidates are on an equal or relatively equal financial footing can there be the fair contest of ideas that is essential to our democracy and to the efficacy of freedom of speech.

The health of our economy and the business community is of vital importance to the health of our country and the welfare of its citizens. But we have long since passed the day when one would say, “What’s good for General Motors, is good for the country.” The same criticism holds true for the radical pro-business, anti-government policies of the Koch brothers, the Tea Party, and their Republican allies. Our democracy depends on a balance between private rights, the public good, and government.

We are as Lincoln said, a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Let us not pervert that heritage by making our system a government “of big business, by big business, and for big business.” Let us learn from the past, not return to it.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Savings Lives Doesn’t Count If There’s No Profit!

Another example of the failure of American-style capitalism appeared recently in a New York Times report.  There is a generic drug, transexamic acid, which was shown in a large multi-country trial in 2010 to save the lives of hemorrhaging trauma patients by slowing their bleeding.

The British and American armies began using the drug immediately with great success, saving lives of badly injured soldiers.  It is used in British hospitals and is carried in British ambulances.

The drug could save an estimated 4,000 lives in the United States each year  … victims of car crashes, stabbings, and shootings. Yet American hospitals have been “slow” to begin using it.

Why? The drug is cheap.  So cheap that there is little profit in it for its manufacturer, and so it has not marketed the drug, hasn’t pushed it. And if a pharmaceutical company doesn’t push a drug, it doesn’t get used.

Finally, however, hospitals in several cities are now “debating” its use. But in most others, it is not being considered.

This is a scandal and yet another indictment of American-style capitalism. There’s nothing wrong with making a profit. But profit should never be a factor when it comes to providing health care.

If everyone in the health care field … from drug manufacturers to hospitals to doctors groups … were by law required to be not-for-profit organizations, we would not have many of the types of problems that we have with health care in the United States. 

To those who will say that taking away the profit incentive would negatively impact innovation, I say, “nonsense.” Three reasons. First, the people inventing drugs or delivering services do so because they are motivated and have professional pride. Second, drug companies would continue to innovate because new products and increased sales leads to greater security for its labor force. Third, it might actually increase innovation because a drug would not be deep-sixed because it wasn’t going to be sufficiently profitable.

Taking the profit motive out of American health care would more than likely greatly improve the entire system and the quality of care Americans receive, which contrary to the posturing of some politicians is consistently shown in international studies to rank rather low compared to the other industrialized countries.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Energy Policy Ignores the Elephant in the Room: Saving Us from Global Warming and Peak Oil

In current thinking, the issues presented by global warming concern using less fossil fuel and replacing that energy source with alternative”clean” energy.  We are all familiar with the options that are on the table: solar power, wind power, ethanol, and nuclear power. Oh and I suppose for accuracy one should add clean coal. There is also modest incremental talk of conservation.

However, there are problems with all of these “solutions.”  Clean coal, which requires the deep burial of carbon dioxide, will never be politically or economically viable.  For one, the energy companies want to be left off the hook legally if the gas should happen to escape its underground habitat and kill people.  Then there’s the problem of removing mountaintops and the resulting environmental degradation to access the coal.

Nuclear power, at least nuclear fission, has the inescapable and unsolvable problem of what to do with the nuclear waste product that will remain radioactive for thousands of years.  Nuclear fusion, which would be safer and produce less radioactive waste is still experimental; a test reactor is under construction in France.

The remaining “green” options are generally agreed not to have the capacity to provide anywhere close to our massive energy needs.  And even the green options, including electric cars, would need massive amounts of energy … generated by fossil fuels, of course … to be financially viable. Corn ethanol, which has only thrown world corn markets into a frenzy resulting in increased food costs for the poor, has been proven to be worthless as an energy saver.

If one is objective, one therefore has to say that all the talk about substantially reducing our carbon footprint through the use of alternative energy sources just is not very realistic, given our current  and future dependence on energy, which will just get worse as the world population grows and more of it experiences modern development.

And as one thinks about this issue, it is important to remember that there is another energy-related catastrophic event waiting to happen out there … it’s not just global warming. At some point in the future … whether it’s starting to happen already as some argue or will happen in 20 or 50 or 100 years … we will reach “peak oil.” The availability of oil then will be drastically reduced and the price of what oil is available will skyrocket to unimaginable heights.

So if one is trying to plan for the future, the inescapable question that must be addressed is how can modern man live, with a reasonable level of creature comfort (one must be practical), using only a fraction of the energy that is being used today. Only if that question can be realistically answered is there any hope for mankind’s future. If that question is not answered, sooner rather than later our economies will collapse, our standard of living will evaporate … the world will become a very ugly place, not all that different from the futuristic world depicted in “Mad Max.”  We will have destroyed ourselves, not by nuclear weapons, but through our insatiable greed.

I certainly do not have the answer.  What’s scary though, is that I am not aware of any great minds or think tanks that have addressed this issue and come up with various models for how we could live using only a fraction of the energy being used today. No one seems to be thinking or talking about this. This goes way beyond what could be achieved through conservation, energy-efficient appliances, green buildings, and the like. This would most likely require a massive change in the way we currently live.

To my mind, government and industry must join forces in a project even larger than the fabled Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bomb. The future of our children, and certainly our children’s children, will depend on whether and how this issue is addressed.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Rush Limbaugh, Have You No Shame, No Sense of Decency?

After many years of ruining peoples lives as part of his anti-Communist witch hunt, Senator Joseph McCarthy finally went too far in 1954 when he gratuitously exposed a young lawyer with a great future as having for a short time in the past been a member of what McCarthy termed a “Communist front organization” as a way of getting at, embarrassing, Joseph Welch, the lawyer for the Army, which was being attacked by McCarthy.

The response by Welch is famous.  After saying that, “Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty, or your recklessness,” he said, “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?

Today, Rush Limbaugh sunk to a far more unfathomable low.  He was commenting on a young woman who had testified before Congress supporting the provision of the Health Care Reform Act that requires health insurance, with the usual limited religious exemptions, to provide free access to contraception.

Although I think it bizarre, I have no problem with him being against that provision, as is the Catholic Church and many evangelical leaders. Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. It’s the American way.

But Rush Limbaugh did not just speak out against this provision.  Instead, he lashed out in the most vile, misogynistic, cruel, and reckless manner at the young woman who testified.  Here is what he said:

First he called her a “slut” and a “prostitute.” Then added, “So Miss Fluke, and the rest of you Feminazis, here’s the deal. If we are going to pay for your contraceptives ... We want something for it. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch.”

To which I, and I hope all of America will say, “Sir, have you no sense of decency at long last?  Have you left no sense of decency?”

I urge all the companies who sponsor his program to withdraw their support, thereby making a statement that such reckless vilification is not acceptable. It is against everything that America stands for.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

You Say You Believe in the Bible?

I think that if someone believes in the Bible as God’s word and thus infallible, then you need to treat everything in the Bible in the same manner, following all of His instructions.  You can’t pick and choose which rules you want to follow and which ones you deem outmoded or not appropriate for the times because that would make it your Bible, not God’s.

The Catholic Church, Evangelicals, and others on the Right use the Bible to argue that homosexuality is a sin, indeed an “abomination,” and thus should be outlawed and not given any support or recognition by society or government.  While the lesson of many of the passages often cited by opponents (for example, Sodom and Gomorrah) have nothing to do with homosexuality (in the case of S&G, it is about violence and inhospitality), there are without question two passages that directly speak to the issue of male to male sex (although the Bible puts it more quaintly, the point is clear). 

In Leviticus 18:22, male to male sex is termed an “abomination.” Leviticus 20:13 goes further and says that those engaging in male to male sex “shall surely be put to death.”  Pretty strong words, no doubt.

But let’s put these sections in context.  The Bible terms more than 60 things an abomination.  Included are:  lying (Proverbs 12:22), eating food that isn’t kosher (Leviticus 11), a proud look (Proverbs 6:16), the proud of heart (Proverbs 16;5), adultery (Ezekiel 18:6-13), lying with a menstruating woman (Ezekiel 18:6-13), and what is highly esteemed among men (Luke 16:15).  With the exception of adultery, no one on the Right would argue that these acts be outlawed or termed a serious sin (with the exception of the Jewish ultra-orthodox … they are consistent).

But, someone on the Right may say, these other acts don’t carry with them a death penalty; we may not believe such sanctions are appropriate in this modern age, but surely that signifies the seriousness of the sin and sets it apart.  Sorry, but that doesn’t work either. 

The Bible says that anyone who curses his father or mother should be put to death (Leviticus 20:9) and that a man and woman who commit adultery should be put to death (Leviticus 20:10.)  In Exodus 35:2, it says that anyone who works on the Sabbath shall be put to death.  Again, with the exception noted above, I doubt that there are many people, regardless how far Right, who would say that people who curse their parents or work on the Sabbath are guilty of a serious sin that should have legal consequences.

So unless those who foam at the mouth about homosexuality being an abomination are willing to have all the other abominations and death-sanctioned acts treated in the same way … ostracized from society, criminalized, and with no support or protection from government … then I say that they should take their Bibles and their picket signs (“God Hates Fags”) and go home and do some serious spiritual meditation on what they believe.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Republicans Say the Common Man Be Damned

In their desire to stop Mitt Romney from getting the Republican nomination, several of his opposing candidates have over the past week highlighted his role in Bain Capital, a private equity firm. They said Romney took over companies not to heal them and make them prosper but to gut them, fire employees, and eventually close them while making a tidy profit for Bain.  The term coined was, “vulture capitalist.”

This was too much for the capitalist backers of the Party, even for some strong conservatives that generally have little use for Romney.  Gingrich and Perry were admonished for their attacks on capitalism.

The headline that the Democrats should make sure is emblazoned in the minds of all voters from this episode should be, “REPUBLICANS SAY THE COMMON MAN BE DAMNED.”

If nothing else the Republicans are being consistent.  Whether it’s their position on companies like Bain Capital or the fraudulent activities of the big banks that precipitated the current economic crisis, or their opposition to any meaningful regulation of the financial industry to protect the consumer and the economy as well as virtually all environmental regulation, the Republicans have only one interest … protecting the interests of their big business donors.  Let them do what they want to fatten their wallets. If the average man suffers, tough.

Next to the positive message of where the Democrats want to lead this country and how that will help the average citizen, branding the Republicans is of critical importance if they hope to be victorious in 2012.  All voters, and especially middle-income voters, need to be very clear on where the two parties stand on issus affecting their welfare.