Friday, December 31, 2004

Peace in 2005

I can think of only one wish for 2005....peace.

Peace in the United States. Peace between political parties. Peace within families. Peace between neighbors. Peace in our churches and schools. Peace in our President's plans and heart. Peace in our nation's desires.

Peace for the people of Iraq. Peace for our soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Peace in violence-wracked Africa. Peace in the Ukraine. Peace wherever strife and war are present. Peace at the United Nations.

Peace for the tsunami-ravaged nations of Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Sumatra. Peace for the survivors of the tsunami. Peace for aid workers bringing food, medicine and supplies to victims of this disaster. Peace for aid workers everywhere who provide help to the helpless.

Peace, and a desire for peace, in all of our minds, bodies, hearts and souls. Peace in our comings and goings, in our everyday lives. Peace in 2005.

"Lord, make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred, let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
Where there is sadness, joy
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled, as to console
To be understood, as to understand
To be loved, as to love
It is in giving that we receive
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned
It is in dying that we are born to eternal life."
----- St. Francis of Assisi

Thursday, December 30, 2004

The Compassionate Conservative Gets Irritated

Much has been made of George Bush's stingy response to one of the world's great modern-day disasters. After much prodding, the self-proclaimed compassionate conservative pledged a paltry $35 million in federal aid to Asian countries who lost 115,000+ citizens and will face monumental health and reconstruction emergencies.

Bush's recoronation festivites will cost $40 million, and that's before the cost of security fit for an emperor. He spends $35 million in five hours in Iraq. $35 million is a small fraction of the tax relief he's gifted to America's wealthiest. $35 million is a pebble on the beach of $2 trillion he proposes to give to investment bankers to overhaul social security.

So yes, George Bush's begrudgingly-given $35 million is sad, clear reminder of just who he is......a Christian in words only. Jesus preached constantly, clearly and consistently about helping others, helping the poor, helping our neighbors. In his public life, Bush has never shown a flicker of interest in those parts of the Bible.

What struck me as particularly ungraceful was his obvious irritation at his Crawford press conference, at which he sullenly commented on the Old Testament-proportion disaster. Four days after the tsunami traversed across the Indian Ocean, Bush was forced to interrupt his vacation, put on a suit and say a few kind, comforting words. It required maybe 30 minutes of his time, but that apparently was too much to ask of his royal highness.

He wasn't successful in comforting anyone. The self-anointed compassionate conservative displayed to the watching world irritation, anger and defensiveness, not compassion, caring or even a comforting smile. He didn't even bother to look much interested.

What a jerk.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Bush-Hitler Comparisons Are Uncanny and Frightening

"While he could be an opportunist when the occasion required, he saw himself not as a Machiavellian but as an instrument of God. He believed in his ideas. And most important, he established his government on the basis of those ideas. Indeed, seldom in history has the theory of government been so ruthlessly consistent with its practice; never have ideas been more fully implemented in a society. His ideas on racism determined the laws, the art, the education....they determined that physics in the universities must be taught without Einstein, and psychology without Freud."

"Leaders of Western democracies in the 1930s underestimated Hitler disastrously and misunderstood him almost completely because they thought (quite rightly) that his ideas were ridiculous and beneath comtempt. They failed to realize that Hitler believed in those ideas. They greatly overestimated his opportunistic and manipulative side, and underestimated his commitment to ideology."

--- pages 74-75, "Adolf Hitler: The Psychopathic God" by Robert G.L. White, 1977

Substitute the word religion for the word rascism, and please explain to me how George Bush is different from this description of Hitler.

Here's more, this time from pages 76-77.....

"The essence of Hitler's political thought was distilled in one speech delivered at Chemnitz on 2 April, 1928....

'The first fundamental of any rational Weltanschauung is the fact that on earth and in the universe, force alone is decisive. Whatever goal a man has reached is due to his originality plus brutality...All life is bound up in these three theses: struggle is the father of all things; virtue lies in blood; leadership is primary and decisive.'

Struggle was indeed 'the father of all things.' His memoirs repeat the refrain:

'He who wants to live should fight, therefore, and he who does not want to battle in this world of eternal struggle does not deserve to be alive...this is the way things are...victory is forever contained only in the attack.'

From a speech in Munich on 21 November 1927....

'Man is the most brutal, the most resolute creature on earth. He knows nothing but the extermination of his enemies in the world.' "

Remember the loyalty agreements campaign rally attenders had to sign before they were allowed into Bush election events? Have you heard about the new unconditional loyalty contracts required of all Bush second-term cabinet members?

From pages 80-81...."An important way of connecting the people with their leader was to require that they swear direct personal oaths to him....When the boy grew up, more oaths comfirmed his boyhood experience. If he became an educator, he joined all other teachers in Nazi Germany in swearing to be 'loyal and obedient to Adolf Hitler.' Similarly, every member of the German armed forces was required to take an oath unique in the history of national armies in the modern era---

'I swear by God this sacred oath, that I will render unconditional obedience to Adolf Hitler...and will be ready as a brave soldier to risk my life at any time for this oath.'

And then there's the subject of the political use of fear and terror, page 87...."Hitler relied primarily upon terror and propaganda to gain control over others. He had a remarkably keen understanding of the psychological mechanism of terror and realized that it was politically effective when it evoked insecurity, fear and anxiety. These politically desirable feelings could be achieved by making terror indiscriminate and irrational. Uncertainty was essential. "

This early section of the book ends thusly, "Such, in the main, were Hitler's ideas: exultation of the Fuhrer and the degradation of democracy; militarism and war; conquest of Lebensraum and the enslavement of other people; anti-Semitism and racism; propaganda and terror to force a nation to do the will of one man."

Again, substitute "ultra-conservative evangelical Protestantism" for "anti-Semitism and racism" and the comparisons are uncanny between present day George Bush and the Hitler described in these passages.

And I haven't yet gotten to the concentration camp comparisons....Abu Gharaib, Guantanamo, many others in Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond, to Hitler's hideous torture, humiliation and death chambers.

So as a result.....I'm checking this book back into my local library. It's giving me nightmares. And a frightening, historically-based reality check.

Trading Chocolates and Photos on the Warfield

From Sojourners by founder Jim Wallis....

"Silent Night," by Stanley Weintraub, is the story of Christmas Eve 1914 on the World War I battlefield in Flanders. As the German, British, and French troops facing each other were settling in for the night, a young German soldier began to sing "Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht." Others joined in. When they had finished, the British and French responded with other Christmas carols.

Eventually, the men from both sides left their trenches and met in the middle. They shook hands, exchanged gifts, and shared pictures of their families. Informal soccer games began in what had been "no-man's-land." And a joint service was held to bury the dead of both sides.

The generals, of course, were not pleased with these events. Men who have come to know each other's names and seen each other's families are much less likely to want to kill each other. War seems to require a nameless, faceless "enemy."

So, following that magical night the men on both sides spent a few days simply firing aimlessly into the sky. Then the war was back in earnest and continued for three more bloody years. Yet the story of that Christmas Eve lingered - a night when the angels really did sing of peace on earth.

Folksinger John McCutcheon wrote a song about that night in Belgium, titled "Christmas in the Trenches," from the viewpoint of a young British solder. Several poignant verses are:

"The next they sang was "Stille Nacht," "Tis 'Silent Night'," says I.
And in two tongues one song filled up that sky "
There's someone coming towards us!" the front line sentry cried
All sights were fixed on one lone figure coming from their side
His truce flag, like a Christmas star, shone on that plain so bright
As he bravely strode unarmed into the night.

Soon one by one on either side walked into No Man's land
With neither gun nor bayonet we met there hand to hand
We shared some secret brandy and we wished each other well
And in a flare-lit soccer game we gave 'em hell.
We traded chocolates, cigarettes, and photographs from home
These sons and fathers far away from families of their own
Young Sanders played his squeeze box and they had a violin
This curious and unlikely band of men.

Soon daylight stole upon us and France was France once more
With sad farewells we each began to settle back to war
But the question haunted every heart that lived that wondrous night
"Whose family have I fixed within my sights?"
'Twas Christmas in the trenches, where the frost so bitter hung
The frozen fields of France were warmed as songs of peace were sung
For the walls they'd kept between us to exact the work of war
Had been crumbled and were gone for evermore."

My prayer for the New Year is for a nation and world where people can come out of their trenches and together sing their hopes for peace. We here at Sojourners will carry on that mission, and we invite you to continue on the journey with us.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Half-Serious Proposal for Bush's Half-Baked Social Security Plan

I have a tongue-in-cheek, half-serious proposal for Bush's half-baked social security privatization proposal.

Let those who voted to reelect George Bush have their social security privatized, Bush-style. Let their benefits be reduced because he converted social security from a reliable defined benfit plan, to an unpredictable defined contribution plan that transfers all investment risk to the retiree. Let their lifetime of FICA payments be whittled away by huge fees charged for the forced privilege of privatization by investment bankers, accountants, trustees, plan administrators and the like. Let them gamble their retirement funds in the stock market, or pay dearly for investment advice that rarely pans out anyway.

And let those retirees, widows, disabled and other social security recipients who didn't vote to reelect Bush....let those who have paid FICA earnings for 20, 30, 40 years to the federal government and didn't vote to reelect Bush....let all those who rely on social security to keep them from hunger and homelessness and who didn't vote to reelect Bush.....

Let them keep the full,guaranteed benefits of "the only safe and secure source of retirement income for millions of Americans. Social Security has lifted the lives of millions of Americans, and it will lift the lives of millions more if we commit to strengthening, not raiding, this incomparable program."

"Social Security has been a resounding success---Social Security benefits have been paid on time and in full every single month for almost 70 years."

Let those who voted to reelect George Bush experience the insecurity of his privatized social security program. Let the rest of us not be robbed by George Bush of receiving back the reliable retirement that we paid for through our many years of labor.

(quotes courtesy of US Senator Harry Reid and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, in a joint release dated December 16, 2004)

Monday, December 27, 2004

Interesting Book From the Other Side of the Aisle

Political pundit and writer, and blog pioneer Hugh Hewitt comes from the right side of the aisle, while I occupy the moderate Christian left side.

His new book,
Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation That's Changing Your world, sounds interesting, however, and I look forward to reading it. (Love the sly wink to Christians via his use of the religious-tinged word, "reformation.") Instapundit has read the book, and has glowing words for it.

Two Blogs to While Away a Gray Day

Looking for a good read on a bad-weather day? I recommend two blogs today to pleasurably while away a rainy or snowy day. Enjoy!

Hootsbuddy's Place.....always interesting, well written, thoroughly researched. They say great minds think alike. You won't find me disagreeing much with John Ballard's blog.
Various Miseries...laugh-out-loud funny and right on target. Right now, he has a quiz about who said what.....Osama bin Laden, Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson. His material would make Letterman or Stewart proud.

Studying the Bushian "Ownership Society" Concept

I'm spending today studying up on President Bush's key domestic agenda, the "Ownership Society." Like so many of his initiatives, this one has a clever name. We've learned, though, that clever Bushian program names often obscure goals and actions the very opposite of the appealing name (i.e. The Clean Air Initiative, The Patriot Act).

Meanwhile, for your reading pleasure, I offer an article I, too, am reading today. From the Boston Globe on December 24, 2003, "Bush's 'Ownership' Scam" by Robert Kuttner....

"In President Bush's upcoming State of the Union address, we will hear a lot about something called an "ownership society." The idea is that American workers aspire to be owners -- of stock for their retirement, homes, businesses, good health insurance, and skills they need to navigate multiple changes of jobs and careers. It sounds just great.

Take a closer look, however, and you will recognize the trademarked Bush combination of inspiring themes coupled with an absence of useful tools. In other words, bait and switch.

Recent examples include No Child Left Behind (millions were); the Medicare drug bill (covers less than half the costs and mainly subsidizes drug companies), and, of course, three tax breaks that went mostly to the wealthy. But I digress.

How does Bush propose to create this "ownership society?" Mainly through more tax credits. If people lack reliable health care, there are tax-favored savings accounts to buy health insurance. If corporations are abandoning good pensions, there are new tax incentives to set aside retirement savings. If jobs are precarious, there are tax credits to purchase retraining when your job moves to China.

What's wrong with the entire approach? For starters, the very people who lack the decent health insurance, the money for retraining, and the secure nest eggs are short of adequate earnings from which to take out savings. So most of the tax breaks, like the rest of the Bush tax program, will go to people who don't really need them, while those who rely on genuine help will come up short.

The hallmark of the Bush era has been rising incomes at the top and stagnant wages for the rest. The increased national income in the current economic recovery has gone mostly to corporate profits with a record low proportion to wages. If we want an ownership society based heavily on increased individual savings, we need to start with decent incomes so ordinary people can afford to save.

But individual savings alone aren't enough. Look at how America actually became a society of broad middle-class ownership in the years after World War II. Wages went up (thanks in part to unions), so it became possible for working people to imagine buying cars, homes, and the other material trappings of the good life.

Corporations started paying decent pensions and health insurance benefits. Radical conservatives think that government help undermines individual initiative. But government programs like the GI Bill, FHA loans, Pell grants, community colleges, and federal aid to public schools allowed a lot of individual hard work to pay off. Social Security institutionalized the custom of retirement, which stimulated supplemental retirement plans. Guess who opposes all this?

Decent wages and benefits and real government help are what Bush's ownership society leaves out. To Bush, ownership means that the lone individual is made the sole owner of the problem. Lost your job? Better get yourself some new skills. Corporation cancelled your pension? Better sock away more savings. Company health insurance plan raising premiums and copays? Congratulations! You're an owner! This ownership society walks away from the social investments of the past six decades that actually made the United States a society in which most people could reasonably aspire to be owners. It leaves people on their own with a fistful of tax credits that most people can't afford to use.

Interestingly, there is a very different version of an ownership society that actually works. It is called asset development. Tony Blair in Britain has already made a start on this approach, by giving every child a subsidized savings account at birth that grows and compounds and can be used in adulthood to subsidize everything from education to first-time homeownership and ultimately to supplement retirement.

In the United States, Al Gore proposed a variant of this. I've been working with Larry Brown, one of the pioneers of this approach at the Asset Development Institute at Brandeis University, on an even bolder version.

The difference is that genuine asset development gives people genuine opportunities using real public outlays, the way the GI Bill did. Bush's approach relies mainly on the funny money of tax credits, which are often useless to the very people who need them most.

An ownership society is a wonderful idea. Liberals have been expanding it ever since the New Deal. When you hear about Bush's ownership society, read the fine print and keep your hand on your wallet."

Robert Kuttner's is co-editor of The American Prospect. His column appears regularly in the Globe.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Bush Dishes Cruel Dishonesty for Christmas Dinner

As poverty, homelessness and hunger grow in the US under the Bush administration; as President Bush continues to renege on his own funding promises to hunger and aid faith-based and other charities (see my my Dec 22 post) ; as 45 million American children, women and men continue to become unnecessarily ill, incapacitated and even prematurely die because they have no health insurance coverage; as the cost of a college education spirals upward, making it unaffordable to lift one's self up out of poverty, and while Bush cuts education grants for the needy and deserving; as Bush strives to give even more tax breaks to only the wealthy; as he works tirelessly to deprive working men and women of their desperately needed social security retirement.....President Bush dishes appealing and pretty, but cruelly dishonest words of compassion for Christmas dinner.

This is a prime example of Bush talking the Christian talk, but absolutely not walking the Christian walk.

"What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has not deeds?....Faith is not just believing something. Real faith is doing things that show our faith to be real...As the body without spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead." ---- passages from James 2

Excerpt from AP on Christmas Day, "Bush Calls for Compassion on Christmas" By SCOTT LINDLAW, Associated Press Writer ......

"President Bush issued a Christmas Day call for compassion toward the sick and suffering, urging Americans to volunteer to help the neediest among their fellow citizens.

'The Christmas season fills our hearts with gratitude for the many blessings in our lives, and with those blessings comes a responsibility to reach out to others,' Bush said in his weekly radio address.

'Many of our fellow Americans still suffer from the effects of illness or poverty, others fight cruel addictions, or cope with division in their families, or grieve the loss of a loved one,' he said.

'Christmastime reminds each of us that we have a duty to our fellow citizens, that we are called to love our neighbor just as we would like to be loved ourselves. By volunteering our time and talents where they are needed most, we help heal the sick, comfort those who suffer, and bring hope to those who despair, one heart and one soul at a time.' "

What I can't figure out about he actually aware of the huge, hypocritical divide between his hollow words and his mean-street actions, or is this just another case of his "fantasy strategy," wherein reality for US voters is what Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld say it is, regardless of obvious cruel reality under this administration?

Do you think he laughs later about people swallowing his lies?

Friday, December 24, 2004

Faith Is Not a Photo Op - Silliness & The Spirit of the Season

I will return on Monday, December 27, from celebrating Christmas with my family. Until then, savor this wise and lovely piece by Pulitzer Prize winning author Anna Quindlen, from the current issue of Newsweek.

Warmest blessings of the season to you and yours!

Without even breaking a sweat you could find at least a dozen performances of Handel's "Messiah" in New York City during the month of December. There was one at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, at Avery Fisher Hall, at Queensborough Community College, at Carnegie Hall, at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center. The Mormons had a sing-along version at their building near Lincoln Center: "For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth! Alleluia!"

From the plastic creches on the lawns in the boroughs to the giving trees set up in the back of churches downtown, Christmas came in all its many manifestations to New York. This is a city of nearly a million Jewish residents, where Muslims are one of the fastest-growing religious groups. But the Christian holiday is celebrated in all its red-and-green glory, with lights and candles and gifts and prayers. And in the spirit of the season, let us make this solemn vow: we will not insist, in the name of piety, on rubbing the faces of those who don't believe in Christ's divinity in the anniversary of his birth.

"Humbug!" cried Scrooge before he got a chance to spend the night practicing a little empathy, and that's the best word to sum up the current hue and cry about the demise of Christmas. While cars zoomed by with trees lashed to their roofs and worshipers crowded the pews to listen as John the Baptist prepared the way, a wave of organized outrage suggested that Christmas is being driven out of existence. Who killed it? Liberal orthodoxy, secular humanism. Whenever people start throwing around science-fair phrases it's a bet that they want their opinions to sound inviolate because they are not.

So the silly annual examples are trotted out, the schools that censor Christmas carols, the townships that insist that the evergreen decorated with lights is a holiday tree. No one searches his soul about how we came to this pass. It has little to do with separation of church and state or liberal politics and everything to do with the way the blunt cudgel of Christianity has been heedlessly used, the tyranny of the majority. After years of Jewish parents' sitting through school concerts listening to the words "It is the night of our dear savior's birth," maybe oversensitivity was inevitable, since any other kind of sensitivity had been in short supply.

From the trials of witches in Salem to the talking-head evangelists of the present day, we have a rich tradition of faith-based bullying in this country. "The fact is, 96 percent of us celebrate Christmas," said a representative of a swat team of lawyers organized "to serve the body of Christ" by orchestrating challenges to inadequate public celebration. Humbug. One study estimates roughly 75 percent of Americans are Christian; the rest are Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, agnostics. "We must never allow our children to forget that this is a Christian nation," Jerry Falwell recently said from the pulpit. Humbug. Two out of three Americans in one poll said they oppose any attempt to make it so by constitutional amendment.

Christmas is being observed exactly where it ought to be, at homes, in our hearts, among friends and families. The modern movement to exhibit it in town squares and mall food courts is precisely what has led to the secularization of one of our most solemn holy days. That's why some Jewish leaders have been uncomfortable with reducing the Chanukah menorah to a dueling religious symbol, paired with a Christmas tree for the sake of equal time. Faith is not a photo op.

Sure, it sounds silly when you hear that a holiday concert at one public school included Chanukah and regional folk songs but no carols, or that the kibosh was put on a production of "A Christmas Carol" because Tiny Tim's curtain line is "God bless us, every one!" So touchy, onlookers say. Christian onlookers, that is, who never have to worry about feeling like second-class spiritual citizens. Maybe in the future the carols will return, and Tim with his little crutch, too. Maybe someday we will be a country and a culture so accepting of differences that all will feel their traditions are honored.

In the meantime, if the secularized greeting of the perfume spritzer in the department store affects your celebration of the birth in Bethlehem, you've really lost your way. Luckily, for most truly religious people, observing the feast is not about shouting "Merry Christmas" at passersby to show that you believe even if they do not, an exercise in smug superiority disguised as faith. It is an interior process of considering the lessons the child in the manger would teach once grown.

So if people are really worried about keeping Christ in Christmas, they might personally exhibit tolerance and charity, kindness and generosity. It is the ultimate exercise of style over substance to whine about the absence of "O Holy Night" at public events. The real point is in taking the lyrics to heart: "Truly he taught us to love one another/His law is love and his gospel is peace." And if saying "Happy Holidays" rather than "Merry Christmas" offers someone who is not of your faith more comfort and joy—well, 'tis the season for both.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Democratic Leadership Rethinking Abortion Issue

An encouraging story today about much-needed fresh thinking on the abortion issue within the Democratic Party, from the Los Angeles Times , By Peter Wallsten and Mary Curtius.

You might also want to reread my November 29, 2004 blog post, "Abortion Is the New US Prohibition - A Plea to Democrats," for my reasoning as to why the Democratic Party should, and would be wise to, reconsider an unabashedly pro-abortion stance.

"After long defining itself as an undisputed defender of abortion rights, the Democratic Party is suddenly locked in an internal struggle over whether to redefine its position to appeal to a broader array of voters.

The fight is a central theme of the contest to head the Democratic National Committee, particularly between two leading candidates: former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who supports abortion rights, and former Indiana Rep. Tim Roemer, an abortion foe who argues that the party cannot rebound from its losses in the November election unless it shows more tolerance on one of society's most emotional conflicts.

Roemer is running with the encouragement of the party's two highest-ranking members of Congress, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco and incoming Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada. Dean, a former presidential candidate, is popular with the party's liberal wing.

If Roemer were to succeed Terry McAuliffe as Democratic chairman in the Feb. 10 vote, the party long viewed as the guardian of abortion rights would suddenly have two antiabortion advocates at its helm. Reid, too, opposes abortion and once voted for a nonbinding resolution opposing Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion.

Party leaders say their support for preserving the landmark ruling will not change. But they are looking at ways to soften the hard line, such as promoting adoption and embracing parental notification requirements for minors and bans on late-term abortions. Their thinking reflects a sense among strategists that Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry and the party's congressional candidates lost votes because the GOP conveyed a more compelling message on social issues.

But in opening a discussion about new appeals to abortion opponents, party leaders are moving into uncertain terrain. Abortion rights activists are critical pillars of the Democratic Party, providing money and grass-roots energy. Some of them say they are concerned that Democratic leaders are entertaining any changes to the party's approach to abortion.

A senior official of one of the nation's largest abortion rights groups said she would be concerned if the party were to choose Roemer to head the Democratic National Committee."We want people who are pro-choice. Of course I would be disappointed," said the official, who asked that her name be withheld because of her close alliance with party officials.

Gloria Feldt, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said Democratic strategists who were pushing for the abortion discussion had misconstrued the results of the November election by overstating the strength of "values" voters.She said the party should remain committed to the "women of America, and their health and their lives and their rights."Feldt said she had spoken to Kerry and Roemer on Wednesday, and that both had sought to allay her concerns. Both assured her that the party was not changing its stance on abortion, but merely wanted to be more "inclusive."

The debate among Democrats comes at a time when abortion rights supporters are feeling particularly vulnerable. Congress passed a ban on what critics call "partial-birth" abortion last year that Bush signed into law. Last month, abortion opponents were emboldened when four conservative Republicans were elected to the Senate. Also, anticipated retirements from the Supreme Court could give Bush the chance to nominate justices that would tilt the court against Roe vs. Wade.

The race for Democratic Party chairman remains wide open among Dean, Roemer and several other contenders, including longtime operative Harold M. Ickes, New Democrat Network head Simon Rosenberg and South Carolina political strategist Donald L. Fowler Jr. The field of candidates is likely to remain in flux until days before the February vote.

In an interview, Roemer said he would not try to change the minds of abortion rights supporters. But he also said he would encourage the party to eliminate its "moral blind spot" when it comes to late-term abortions.

"We should be talking more about adoption as an alternative, and working with our churches to sponsor some of those adoptions," Roemer said Wednesday from his Washington office. He said he was calling 40 to 50 delegates a day to make his pitch. Most of all, he said, he thinks that abortion opponents would be more comfortable if the party talked about the issue in a more open-minded manner."We must be able to campaign in 50 states, not just the blue states or 20 states," said Roemer, referring to the most Democratic-leaning states.

Dean declined through a spokeswoman to talk about the issue, but earlier this month he signaled that he would maintain the party's defense of abortion rights, telling NBC's Tim Russert: "We can change our vocabulary, but I don't think we ought to change our principles."

Votes will be cast by 447 members of the Democratic National Committee, many of whom are among the party's most liberal members. These members are thought to be friendly to Dean and less receptive to Roemer. But the former Indiana congressman is getting attention amid reports that Pelosi and Reid urged him to run.

Roemer has also highlighted his service on the independent panel investigating the government's response to the Sept. 11 attacks, saying that credential builds his appeal to security-minded voters. He noted that he was an elected official from Indiana, a "red state" where Democrats want to make gains.

A Pelosi spokesman said the House Democratic leader liked Roemer because of his national security credentials. But a senior Democratic congressional aide said Pelosi also thought that Roemer's stance on abortion could be an additional benefit."She is pro-choice and very staunchly pro-choice," the aide said of Pelosi. But at the same time, the aide said, "she supports showing that this is a big-tent party."

In the presidential election, Kerry, a Catholic, said he personally opposed abortion but did not believe in imposing that belief on others. He said he would not appoint antiabortion judges to the bench. But after his election loss, the Massachusetts senator concluded that the party needed to rethink its stance. Addressing supporters at a meeting held by the AFL-CIO, Kerry said he discovered during trips through Pennsylvania that many union members were also abortion opponents and that the party needed to rethink how it could appeal to those voters, Kerry spokesman David Wade said.

On the other side of the debate, Wendy Wright, senior policy director for Conservative Women for America, which opposes abortion, said she thought it would be "very smart" for Democrats to elect Roemer chairman of the party."It would make sense for Democrats as a whole to recognize that Americans want protections for women and unborn children, want sensible regulations in place, instead of forbidding the law to recognize that an unborn child is a human being," Wright said. "To not pass legislation just to keep the abortion lobby happy is nonsensical, and it appears that some Democrats have recognized that."

Wright said it was too early to know whether Democrats would change their votes on upcoming antiabortion legislation, or would only change the way they speak of abortion. She said the comments of some party leaders led her to believe that "it would just be changing of wording, just trying to repackage in order to be more appealing — really, to trick people."

Some local Democratic leaders said they would be open to an antiabortion chairman under the right circumstances, but that it would be difficult to envision those circumstances."That would be a very large philosophical mountain for me to climb," said Mitch Ceasar, a Broward County, Fla., lawyer who is a voting member of the party's national committee.

Ceasar said he took note of Roemer's abortion stance when he received a letter recently from him. He said he was surprised to learn that abortion was an issue in the contest to succeed McAuliffe. "It never occurred to me before his candidacy," Ceasar said. "I never wondered whether Terry McAuliffe was pro-choice or not."

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Rumsfeld Emotes About His Feelings and Sleep Habits

From the Associated Press about two hours ago.....

"Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, stung by criticism that he's insensitive to the needs of the troops and their families, offered his most impassioned defense Wednesday.

The normally stoic Rumsfeld said when he meets wounded soldiers or relatives of those killed in battle, "their grief is something I feel to my core."

'I am truly saddened by the thought that anyone could have the impression that I, or others here, are doing anything other than working urgently to see that the lives of the fighting men and women are protected and are cared for in every way humanly possible,' he said.

'And I hope and pray that every family member of those who have died so bravely knows how deeply I feel their loss ......

The defense secretary was criticized again last weekend when it was reported that he did not personally sign letters of condolence to the families of dead soldiers, but instead relied on a mechanical device to affix his signature. He immediately abandoned the practice.

On Wednesday, Rumsfeld said, 'I, and I know others, stay awake at night for concern for those at risk, with hope for their lives, for their success...' "

Mr. Rumsfeld, with all due respect....this is not about your feelings or your sleep habits. This is not about making you feel or sleep better. This is not about soothing or saddening you.

This is about your actions and your words, and their effects on the lives of others. This is about making others feel and sleep better. Or living to see their families again.

This is about walking in someone else's shoes.....about caring for someone other than yourself. Or even comprehending, let alone caring.

Bush Reneges on Promises to Help the World's Poor

For the next week, I'll be celebrating the holidays with my family. In lieu of my musings, Heart, Soul & Humor will feature provocative stories from many sources. Enjoy!

Also, please see my post of Dec 21 to contribute to alleviating world hunger.
As the Bush administration prepares to request $100 billion to spend in Iraq in 2005; to justify $2 trillion for investment bankers and ilk for a questionable redo of social security; to hold what may be the most expensive and lavish Presidential inauguration in history; to continue to insist that $2 million be set aside for a Presidential yacht..........they renege on promises to contribute $100 million to aid the world's poorest and hungriest. (This situation is another fine example of Bush's self-proclaimed Christian priorities in action.)

The following are excerpts from a New York Times story today,
"U.S. Cutting Food Aid Aimed at Self-Sufficiency" By Elizabeth Becker.

With the budget deficit growing and President Bush promising to reduce spending, the administration has told representatives of several charities that it was unable to honor some earlier promises and would have money to pay for food only in emergency crises like that in Darfur, in western Sudan. The cutbacks, estimated by some charities at up to $100 million, come at a time when the number of hungry in the world is rising for the first time in years and all food programs are being stretched.

As a result, Save the Children, Catholic Relief Services and other charities have suspended or eliminated programs that were intended to help the poor feed themselves through improvements in farming, education and health.

"We have between five and seven million people who have been affected by these cuts," said Lisa Kuennen, a food aid expert at Catholic Relief Services. "We had approval for all of these programs, often a year in advance. We hired staff, signed agreements with governments and with local partners, and now we have had to delay everything."

Ms. Kuennen said Catholic Relief Services had to cut back programs in Indonesia, Malawi and Madagascar, among other countries.

Officials of several charities, some Republican members of Congress and some administration officials say the food aid budget for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1 was at least $600 million less than what charities and aid agencies would need to carry out current programs.

Ellen Levinson, head of the Food Aid Coalition, said the best estimate for the amount of food that was not delivered in November and December was "at least $100 million".....

One administration official involved in food aid voiced concern that putting such a high priority on emergency help might be short-sighted. The best way to avoid future famines is to help poor countries become self-sufficient with cash and food aid now, said the official, who asked not to be identified because of the continuing debate on the issue. "The fact is, the development programs are being shortchanged, and I'm not sure the administration is going to make up the money," the official said....

Several Republican and Democratic members of Congress are joining with food aid advocates to convince the administration that food aid should not be cut.

Last month, Representative Jo Ann Emerson, Republican of Missouri, led an effort with more than 30 other legislators that persuaded the administration to release 200,000 tons of grain from a trust fund for emergency food aid to Sudan.

Now she is lobbying the administration to finance foreign food aid programs fully and, if possible, increase the money. "I'm not saying the president is opposed to this, but we haven't had any indication what will happen," said Ms. Emerson, who emphasized that hers was a bipartisan effort.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Appeal for the Hungry in Africa

For those wanting to extend a helping hand in this holiday season to mitigate the severe food shortage in Africa, Scott Shields has a link for the World Food Programme's appeal on Friday for $9 million to maintain food aid for 224,000 Kenyan refugees. Food is rapidly running out for these poor souls.

Read about this urgent appeal at Scott's sites at either DemWatch or DailyKos.
I will be scarce the next few days due to preparing for and celebrating the holidays with my family.

In lieu of my musings and ramblings, I'll be posting pieces you might find interesting or outrageous.


Monday, December 20, 2004

LA Times Calls Bush Social Security Plan "Fraudulent, Confused"

Los Angeles Times Editorial on Social Security, December 20, 2004....

President Bush is setting out to convince the nation that the danger is imminent and can be addressed only with bold action. Sound familiar?

The White House is deploying the strategy it used to sell the war in Iraq to sell its plan for partial privatization of the Social Security system.

The intelligence might not be as flawed, but the spin is equally disingenuous. If no changes are made to Social Security, according to the latest educated guesses, the program will not be able to pay out all its commitments by 2042. But it's absurd for Bush to equate this long-term actuarial shortfall — which could change dramatically over the years — with real deficits that make financial markets wary.

That didn't stop the president from doing it at a two-day economic pep rally he hosted in Washington last week.

The assembled discussion panels also offered sometimes conflicting narratives tailored to the Bush agenda.

Some said trial lawyers and their class- action suits were placing the United States at a competitive disadvantage, while others hailed the chief's tax cuts as the reason the nation was growing at a much faster rate than Europe and Japan.

The assembled cheerleaders weren't supposed to connect the dots. After all, the economic growth rates that they claim could be achieved by extending the president's tax cuts would avert that Social Security shortfall altogether.

Bush's argument is that borrowing $2 trillion now to cover the cost of allowing individuals to directly invest a portion of their own contributions is prudent because it would avoid borrowing trillions more later. If you buy that argument, there are some weapons of mass destruction in Iraq you might want to acquire as well.

Social Security's projected shortfall, though admittedly something the government needs to worry about, is not a real liability adding to Washington's already alarming mountain of debt, or pressuring interest rates. That $2-trillion IOU Bush wants Uncle Sam to sign would be such a liability.

The administration wants to have it both ways. To pursue its privatization agenda, it wants to alarm Americans into thinking that Social Security is deeply imperiled.

But Bush refuses to support the obvious remedies available if the program really were in danger, such as raising the cap of $87,900 on the amount of a person's income subject to payroll taxes.

The United States has been unable to tether its growing trade and budget deficits, which is why the dollar's value keeps tumbling on world markets.

The Bush administration is not only insisting, rather daftly, that it can cut the deficit while extending its tax cuts; now it wants to borrow trillions more to confront what it fraudulently labels an imminent threat.

Bush's intentionally confused economic policies all contribute to a different sort of shortfall — the U.S. credibility deficit on the global stage. For a spendthrift borrower, that poses a real, imminent danger.

Sanctity of Life for Our Soldiers

No issue is closer to my heart than respect for human life......all life.....and revealing American hypocrisy, religious, political and personal, in revering God-given life. During this holiday season, I am presenting a series of articles and data excerpts that I hope will enlighten you about areas wherein America can do better in actively showing compassion and love for fellow men, women and children.

In my post yesterday, I presented info regarding the death penalty and gun-related violence in the US. Below is an extraordinary piece about the 140,000 soliders who will spend this Christmas in Iraq.

(As an aside, if you're searching for a way to aid wounded soldiers, there is a great need for prepaid phone cards for our soldiers hospitalized at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Contact the Medical Family Assistance Center there. For soldiers now in Iraq, we can offer support to their families, and we can pray. )

A New York times op-ed today By BOB HERBERT

Greg Rund was a freshman at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., in 1999 when two students shot and killed a teacher, a dozen of their fellow students and themselves. Mr. Rund survived that horror, but he wasn't able to survive the war in Iraq. The 21-year-old Marine lance corporal was killed on Dec. 11 in Falluja.

The people who were so anxious to launch the war in Iraq are a lot less enthusiastic about properly supporting the troops who are actually fighting, suffering and dying in it. Corporal Rund was on his second tour of duty in Iraq. Because of severe military personnel shortages, large numbers of troops are serving multiple tours in the war zone, and many are having their military enlistments involuntarily extended.

Troops approaching the end of their tours in Iraq are frequently dealt the emotional body blow of unexpected orders blocking their departure for home. "I've never seen so many grown men cry," said Paul Rieckhoff, a former infantry platoon leader who founded Operation Truth, an advocacy group for soldiers and veterans.

"Soldiers will do whatever you ask them to do," said Mr. Rieckhoff. "But when you tell them the finish line is here, and then you keep moving it back every time they get five meters away from it, it starts to really wear on them. It affects morale."

We don't have enough troops because we are fighting the war on the cheap. The Bush administration has refused to substantially expand the volunteer military and there is no public support for a draft. So the same troops head in and out of Iraq, and then back in again, as if through a revolving door. That naturally heightens their chances of being killed or wounded.

A reckoning is coming. The Army National Guard revealed last Thursday that it had missed its recruiting goals for the past two months by 30 percent. Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, who heads the National Guard Bureau, said: "We're in a more difficult recruiting environment, period. There's no question that when you have a sustained ground combat operation going that the Guard's participating in, that makes recruiting more difficult."

Just a few days earlier, the chief of the Army Reserve, Lt. Gen. James Helmly, told The Dallas Morning News that recruiting was in a "precipitous decline" that, if not reversed, could lead to renewed discussions about reinstatement of the draft.

The Bush administration, which has asked so much of the armed forces, has established a pattern of dealing in bad faith with its men and women in uniform. The callousness of its treatment of the troops was, of course, never more clear than in Donald Rumsfeld's high-handed response to a soldier's question about the shortages of battle armor in Iraq.

As the war in Iraq goes more and more poorly, the misery index of the men and women serving there gets higher and higher. More than 1,300 have been killed. Many thousands are coming home with agonizing wounds. Scott Shane of The Times reported last week that according to veterans' advocates and military doctors, the already hard-pressed system of health care for veterans "is facing a potential deluge of tens of thousands of soldiers returning from Iraq with serious mental health problems brought on by the stress and carnage of war."

Through the end of September, nearly 900 troops had been evacuated from Iraq by the Army for psychiatric reasons, included attempts or threatened attempts at suicide. Dr. Stephen C. Joseph, an assistant secretary of defense for health affairs from 1994 to 1997, said, "I have a very strong sense that the mental health consequences are going to be the medical story of this war." When the war in Afghanistan as well as Iraq is considered, some experts believe that the number of American troops needing mental health treatment could exceed 100,000.

From the earliest planning stages until now, the war in Iraq has been a tragic exercise in official incompetence. The original rationale for the war was wrong. The intelligence was wrong. The estimates of required troop strength were wrong. The war hawks' guesses about the response of the Iraqi people were wrong. The cost estimates were wrong, and on and on.

Nevertheless the troops have fought valiantly, and the price paid by many has been horrific. They all deserve better than the bad faith and shoddy treatment they are receiving from the highest officials of their government.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

US Justice and the Sanctity of Life

As we enter the Christian season of celebrating hope and new life, many focus on the birth of Jesus as a time to reflect on the sanctity of life. God created, and reveres and respects all life, not just newborn and unborn life. He clearly commanded man to do the same.

The following is an excerpt from the website of the Australian Coalition Against the Death Penalty, a non-profit human rights organizatian not affiliated with any religious or political organization.

My hope is that readers will ponder this info, and use it in 2005 and beyond to formulate their support and votes for elected representatives, and to advise and guide such elected officials.

And that readers will consider the effect that the angry and oft arrogant, judgmental mood and violent behavior of the American people is having upon the sanctity of life in the US.

"The USA is the only western nation that has NOT abolished capital punishment. Since 1976, the USA has executed 935 prisoners. During 2004, 59 prisoners have been executed - an average of one per week. Since 1990, the USA has executed the most child offenders in the world.

In 1968, there were 517 prisoners on death row in the USA. Currently, more than 3,400 death row prisoners are awaiting execution. Death row numbers have increased about 4.9 times as fast as the American population. 68% of all death verdicts are eventually reversed by courts due to various serious errors in the criminal justice system. Since 1973, 117 prisoners have been exonerated from death row.

The USA incarcerates the most people per head of population than any other country in the world. More than 2.2 million of the world's 8 million prisoners are incarcerated in the USA (1 in every 75 males). America has over half-million more prisoners than China with only one-quarter of China's population. Since 1980, the American incarceration rate has more than tripled. Currently, 6.9 million Americans make up the correctional population. More than 4 million on probation and almost 800 thousand on parole. 1 in every 31 people are either in prison, in county jail, in police custody, on probation, on parole, or on community service.

Each year, America incarcerates more than 10 million people. More than 10,000 child offenders are held in high risk adult prisons. In 2004, the adult correctional population reached a record high. If recent incarceration rates remain unchanged, an estimated 1 in every 19 people will be incarcerated during their lifetime.

Each year, there are some 3,000 reports of deaths-in-custody. Ten years ago, only 150 deaths-in-custody were reported. The incarceration rate in the USA is currently 715 per 100,000 people. America has some of the toughest prison sentences in the world, which include the death penalty and life without the possibility of parole. In Australia, where capital punishment has been abolished, the incarceration rate is 143 per 100,000 people. Almost two thirds of world countries have incarceration rates of 150 or below, per 100,000 people.

All the above being the case, the USA should be the safest country to live in ... yet ... it is a country of which has the most violence !

On average, the American homicide rate is 7-9 per 100,000 population. In the city of Los Angeles alone, there are 20-50 murders every 24 hours. Texas, the country's leading execution state, has actually experienced an increase in the homicide rate. There are 35 firearm-related deaths per one million people.

America has the highest rates of childhood homicide, suicide and firearm-related deaths among 25 industrialised countries. The overall firearm-related death rate among American children less than 15 years of age, is 12 times higher than in all 25 industrialised countries combined. The overall firearm-related homicide rate is nearly 16 times higher. The firearm-related suicide rate is nearly 11 times higher.

(source: U.S. Bureau of Justice stats - Nov. 2004, FBI stats, U.S. Sentencing Project, U.S. Department Health and Human Services, Death Penalty Information Centre, Amnesty International, Australian Institute Criminology, AusStats.)

Friday, December 17, 2004

Muslim-Americans Are the New Japanese-Americans

From AP today by William Kates, Associated Press Writer

"ITHACA, N.Y. - Nearly half of all Americans believe the U.S. government should restrict the civil liberties of Muslim Americans, according to a nationwide poll.

The survey conducted by Cornell University also found that Republicans and people who described themselves as highly religious were more apt to support curtailing Muslims' civil liberties than Democrats or people who are less religious.
'It's sad news. It's disturbing news. But it's not unpredictable,' said Mahdi Bray, executive director of the Muslim American Society. 'The nation is at war, even if it's not a traditional war. We just have to remain vigilant and continue to interface.'

The survey found 44 percent favored at least some restrictions on the civil liberties of Muslim Americans.... The survey showed that 27 percent of respondents supported requiring all Muslim Americans to register where they lived with the federal government. Twenty-two percent favored racial profiling to identify potential terrorist threats. And 29 percent thought undercover agents should infiltrate Muslim civic and volunteer organizations to keep tabs on their activities and fund-raising. "

So this would be similar to US restriction, and eventually internment, of Japanese-Americans during WWII?

But with 60 years hindsight, isn't that considered one of the most shameful US government discriminatory mistreatments of an ethnic group's civil and property rights in American history?

Buying into Social Security Failure

New York Times op-ed today By PAUL KRUGMAN

As the Bush administration tries to persuade America to convert Social Security into a giant 401(k), we can learn a lot from other countries that have already gone down that road.

Information about other countries' experience with privatization isn't hard to find. For example, the Century Foundation, at, provides a wide range of links.

Yet, aside from giving the Cato Institute and other organizations promoting Social Security privatization the space to present upbeat tales from Chile, the U.S. news media have provided their readers and viewers with little information about international experience. In particular, the public hasn't been let in on two open secrets:

Privatization dissipates a large fraction of workers' contributions on fees to investment companies. It leaves many retirees in poverty.

Decades of conservative marketing have convinced Americans that government programs always create bloated bureaucracies, while the private sector is always lean and efficient. But when it comes to retirement security, the opposite is true. More than 99 percent of Social Security's revenues go toward benefits, and less than 1 percent for overhead. In Chile's system, management fees are around 20 times as high. And that's a typical number for privatized systems.

These fees cut sharply into the returns individuals can expect on their accounts. In Britain, which has had a privatized system since the days of Margaret Thatcher, alarm over the large fees charged by some investment companies eventually led government regulators to impose a "charge cap." Even so, fees continue to take a large bite out of British retirement savings.

A reasonable prediction for the real rate of return on personal accounts in the U.S. is 4 percent or less. If we introduce a system with British-level management fees, net returns to workers will be reduced by more than a quarter. Add in deep cuts in guaranteed benefits and a big increase in risk, and we're looking at a "reform" that hurts everyone except the investment industry.

Advocates insist that a privatized U.S. system can keep expenses much lower. It's true that costs will be low if investments are restricted to low-overhead index funds - that is, if government officials, not individuals, make the investment decisions. But if that's how the system works, the suggestions that workers will have control over their own money - two years ago, Cato renamed its Project on Social Security Privatization by replacing "privatization" with "choice" - are false advertising.

And if there are rules restricting workers to low-expense investments, investment industry lobbyists will try to get those rules overturned.

For the record, I don't think giving financial corporations a huge windfall is the main motive for privatization; it's mostly an ideological thing. But that windfall is a major reason Wall Street wants privatization, and everyone else should be very suspicious.

Then there's the issue of poverty among the elderly.

Privatizers who laud the Chilean system never mention that it has yet to deliver on its promise to reduce government spending. More than 20 years after the system was created, the government is still pouring in money. Why? Because, as a Federal Reserve study puts it, the Chilean government must "provide subsidies for workers failing to accumulate enough capital to provide a minimum pension." In other words, privatization would have condemned many retirees to dire poverty, and the government stepped back in to save them.

The same thing is happening in Britain. Its Pensions Commission warns that those who think Mrs. Thatcher's privatization solved the pension problem are living in a "fool's paradise." A lot of additional government spending will be required to avoid the return of widespread poverty among the elderly - a problem that Britain, like the U.S., thought it had solved.

Britain's experience is directly relevant to the Bush administration's plans. If current hints are an indication, the final plan will probably claim to save money in the future by reducing guaranteed Social Security benefits. These savings will be an illusion: 20 years from now, an American version of Britain's commission will warn that big additional government spending is needed to avert a looming surge in poverty among retirees.

So the Bush administration wants to scrap a retirement system that works, and can be made financially sound for generations to come with modest reforms. Instead, it wants to buy into failure, emulating systems that, when tried elsewhere, have neither saved money nor protected the elderly from poverty.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

CalPERS Moves to Block Privatization of Social Security

From the Associated Press today....

"LOS ANGELES -- The nation's largest public pension fund has moved to oppose plans to privatize part of the Social Security retirement system.

The California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) voted Wednesday to oppose the Bush Administration's plans to privatize the system. CalPERS says such a plan will contribute to the national deficit, cost retirees more in management costs and potentially risk their retirement savings.

Although Bush Administration officials have talked about allowing younger workers to invest some of their payroll taxes into personal investment accounts, it has not yet adopted a formal plan.

In order to pay all promised benefits, Social Security is facing an estimated $3.7 trillion shortfall over 75 years."

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Allow Alabama Judge to Wear Ten Commandments on Judicial Robes

An Alabama judge yesterday pioneered a new judicial-political fashion statement.....traditional robes festooned with the Ten Commandments in bold gold lettering. Large enough to be clearly read from the attorneys' bench.

Circuit Court Judge Ashley McKathan must be a clever fellow. Nothing publicly separates true, moral believers from the howling liberal heathens like forcing Democrats to be seen hiding biblical passages. Little raises the heat and energy of righteous conservative indignation more than motiviating the rank-and-file religious right to defend the sacred Word of God from evil non-believers.

Just in time for the first tough issues debates since the election. The first big fight of Bush's second security. By design or not, the close-to-depleted tank of far-right fuel can be replenished for new national issues fights by Judge McKathan's adroit baiting of the law and horrified press.

George Bush earned "political capital" in his decisive election, but he's already spent some on passing intelligence reform legislation, the arrogance of Donald Rumsfeld and on the wasteful, failing war in Iraq. Defense-of-the-Bible incidents serve to create more far-right political capital for the President. George Bush defending his Almighty Father, even if Mr. Bush had nothing to do with the whole hullabaloo.

Rather like waving a red flag at a bull, Judge McKathan is begging authorities to make him a revered Christian martyr of the judicial circuit. Remember how appalled we all were that young French women were ordered to remove their Muslim head scarves? That they couldn't publicly exercise freedom of religious expression on their own persons?

The judge is aching for the same confrontation. He and his cohorts would love nothing more for Christmas than for him to be challenged about his manner of dress. Imagine the indignant press conferences.....the photo-ops of Judge McKathan displaying the offending robes.....of protestors surrounding the courthouse, chanting to save the Bible. Ahh...Santa Claus would be hard-pressed to find a more appreciated gift for conservative Alabama judges.

I know that separation of church and state is a deep and complex issue. I realize that too close a relationship between church and state corrupts the church, perverts religious teachings, and it violates cherished democratic rights to freedom of worship. I don't mean to treat separation of church and state lightly.

Regardless of media blather, this is not a constitutional issue with clear-cut, easy answers. Currently, four federal circuit courts and one state Supreme Court hold that displays of the Ten Commandments are constitutional, while three federal circuit courts have ruled them unconstitutional.

But it is really so terrible that the Ten Commandments hangs on a courtroom wall, or is emblazoned on clothing? Versions of the Ten Commandments are basis of law and wisdom for both Christianity and Judaism (although presumably Judge McKathan would only post Christian words). Sure, it opens the door for displays of passages from other major religions. What's wrong with that? What's wrong with displaying a passage from the Koran? Sections of the Torah? Words from the Teachings of Buddha? A proclamation from the Roman Catholic Pope?

Snippets of morality from a myriad of religious sources might actually speak to courtroom inhabitants. It might provide moments of inspiration, strength, enlightenment during times of stress.

And get real.....they're just words on a wall. Gold letters on clothing. They're not violence or poverty or hunger or homelessness. They're not 45 million American children and adults without health care coverage. They're not discrimination. They're illumination. They're merely words for the reading and wisdom for the taking. If you don't want to read them, don't! Avert your eyes. Turn your head away. Save your venom for real issues.

My hope? That the uber-conservative judges who so desperately want to display the Ten Commandments READ THEM. That they open their minds to truly "hear" the words, and that they, at last, take them to heart.

Besides, if ignored, this becomes a non-issue. Merely a quirky judicial fashion faux pas, like Supreme Court Justice Rehnquist's chevrons on his otherwise austere robe.

If we make a big fuss about Judge McKathan's robes, it will surely come back to bite us in collective, conservative moral outrage again. Just like the good judge wants.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Blackmail, Bankruptcy and Bush

Why is Congress allowing George Bush to bankrupt our country? I just heard on Wolf Blitzer's morning fest that Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld will ask for $100 billion just for the Iraq War only for 2005.

$100 billion. Why? What are we fighting for?

Read over the weekend (at Defense Tech) that, to pay for new armored Humvees, the Pentagon is dipping into the soldiers' salary pool. Thus, when the fund for our soliders' pay runs short in May 2005, every last member of Congress will be forced to vote for the administraton's request for more funds, or be publicly smeared for not voting to pay soldiers.

Isn't that called blackmail? (Are these Bush's "Christian" values in action?)

That must explain why Congress is allowing Bush to bankrupt our country. To save their own jobs.

Makes me wonder exactly when our system of governance broke.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Quick, Half-Price Fix for Social Security

President Bush wants to "borrow" $2 trillion...yes, destroy and remake the venerable social security system, which was brilliantly created by FDR and for six decades, has successfully aided American families. Sort of the way he has destroyed Iraq, and now Halliburton gets to rebuild it. Same concept.

Here's an idea........just use half that sum....$1 "save" the existing social security system. One-third would easily do the deed. Probably even one-fourth.

Oh wait. Then Business Friends of George wouldn't get their $2 trillion return-on-investment (ROI, in business school lingo) payback for reelecting he and Cheney for four more years of business-friendly policies.

Silly me. I thought this was about helping families.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Social Security is the New Saddam Hussein

And so George Bush's panic-inducing fearmongering begins once again to intimidate the American public into accepting his worldview.....

Social security, as it currently operates, is Bush's new Saddam Hussein. The clear and present threat to American life as we know it. An "axis of evil" sort of plot to disrupt the lives or our children and grandchildren. A stupid idea concocted by that failure of wacko liberalism, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. You know the Bush-Rove story line.

The language of fear was clear and frequent in Bush's radio address today. Looming danger. Crisis. Costs of continued inaction. Bankrupt.

But to describe his position, he today also used terrms appealing to the religious right. The buzz words used to energize his Republican voting majority on November 2. Blessed. Moms. Courage of leaders. Duty to seniors. Great moral achievements. Essential promise. Nest egg.

So why would the wealthy Bush family care so deeply about overhauling the social security system that Mr. Bush would use his most effective arsenal, the linguistics of Armegeddon-like doom? Why drag out the heavy artillery: the silver-tongued method he used to deceive a nation into the pointless war in Iraq? And why so early in his battle to win this particular issue?

George Bush is hardly a compassionate guy. Poverty, homelessness, hunger, lack of adequate (or any) health care, even abortion have all spiraled upward significantly during his administration, and he continues to cut social services spending. He doesn't give a damn about our families' retirement liquidity.

Here's my educated hunch as a former longtime "Big Eight" auditor. Follow the money, and it will all make sense. It always does with Bush/Cheney.

As Halliburton is to Iraq, the various professional service providers of this social security transition, with their price tag of $1 to $2 trillion, are to this radical change in the social security system. And of course, the fat cats of Wall Streets who are licking their chops in hungry anticipation of all that new money set to flow into their greedy paws.....will also be great beneficiaries of Bush's latest "moral" imperative.

Such a massive transition will necessarily require the services of vast armies of expensive attorneys, accountants, investment bankers, fiduciary trustees, financial consultants and the like. And then God knows..... someone needs to invest and account for all those funds. Just imagine the richness of that perpetual income stream. Fees fees fees.

In other words, George Bush's very biggest contributors. The base! Those people who got all the gigantic tax breaks. The corporations that pay negligible taxes.

Here's my question. Was this the price for their support of his reelection? Perhaps a guaranteed return on investment?

The monetary take by Friends of George via this latest "moral crusade" will make the fortune raked in by Halliburton in Iraq look like peanuts.

Besides...wars end. This never will.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

These Are Christian Values? Callousness & Immoral Disregard for Soldiers

Just in case you missed the new heights of callous dishonesty and blind arrogance displayed yesterday by Donald Rumsfeld to no less than our brave troops....

As you read this, please reflect on the lavish and continual praise George Bush has heaped on Donald Rumsfeld for a job well done as Secretary of Defense, and that Mr. Rumsfeld is widely considered to be extraordinarily secure in his cabinet position. To the President, Mr. Rumsfeld personifies effective leadership.

A New York Times editorial from today, "Please, Sir, May I Have Some Armor?"

We're used to hearing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld answer questions about things that went wrong in Iraq by saying they went right. When he does that to reporters, it's annoying. When he does it to troops risking their lives in his failed test of bargain-basement warfare, it's outrageous.

Yesterday, Mr. Rumsfeld told soldiers at a staging area in Kuwait to ignore "the doubters" who say the escalating war is not going well. Then he invited the troops, some of them headed to their second combat tours, to ask him "tough questions." They evidently thought he meant it.

A National Guard scout from Tennessee asked why there was still an equipment shortage that forced units to scrounge for "hillbilly armor": "pieces of rusted scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass that's already been shot up, dropped, busted." When the cheering died down, Mr. Rumsfeld said that, really, there was plenty of armor and in any case, "all the armor in the world" might not save you from a roadside bomb.

"You go to war with the Army you have," Mr. Rumsfeld fumed, "not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time." He may have forgotten that the timetable for invading Iraq was dictated by politics, not military necessity. The armor shortage was also an outgrowth of his zeal to prove that a country can be invaded and occupied by a small and lightly armed force. A spokesman for the questioner's unit told reporters that 95 percent of its 300 trucks were not sufficiently armored.

Later, a woman said she and her husband "joined a volunteer army" but were serving extra tours under the "stop loss" program, a forced-duty clause in military contracts. "The 'stop loss' has been used by the military for years and years and years," Mr. Rumsfeld lectured. "It's all well understood when someone volunteers to join the service."

Mr. Rumsfeld talks a lot about supporting the troops. We wish that someone powerful would explain to him that doing so includes treating them with respect and telling them the truth.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Democracy and a Turquoise Parakeet

Citizens of our American democracy are a bit like my family's turquoise parakeet, Maui. He spends countless hours furiously pecking his mirror image, as he wants to be the only bird in his cage. But he'll never win his futile battle, as he's fighting himself.

Democracy is defined in Webster's New Pocket Dictionary as "Government in which power is vested in all the people." Emphasis on all. Not some. All.

We are one country. One American family. As US Senator-elect Barack Obama famously preached at the Democratic Convention, "...there's not a liberal America and a conservative America---there's the United States of America. There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq, and patriots who supported it. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the star and stripes, all of us defending the United States."

Democrats thrilled and cheered at Obama's healing words of vision, maturity and strength. We cheered them when we fervently believed Kerry/Edwards would win the election. But they didn't. The Democratic candidates for President lost the popular and electoral vote, as one party always does in a democratic election.

We now have the opportunity to show we truly believe Obama's words. That's the deal in democracy. One candidate wins and the others lose. And four years later, we have another chance to elect the President of the United States. All the people spoke, and they elected George Bush. If you buy into the concept of democracy, and all the freedoms and privileges that it offers, then you accept George Bush as the will of the people for the next four years.

Please understand that the idea of another four years of Bush/Cheney policies and leadership profoundly bothers me. I'm hard-pressed to comprehend why anyone voted for these two men.

But they did. And "they" are part of this American family. There is only only one parakeet in the cage. We are one family. One country. The United States of America.

Therefore, if I intend to spend the next four years with a healthy blood-pressure level and sanity intact, it's time to accept and learn how to make the best of Jan 20, 2005 through January 19, 2009.

Democrats need to appreciate that all the people have spoken, and move on with the rich privileges of dissent and discussion in a democracy. Drop contesting election returns. Drop obsessing about the campaign. Drop the narcissistic moaning and groaning. Kerry/Edwards lost. Deal with it.

And get back to the noble work of championing the hungry and homeless, bolstering our faltering educational system, securing healthcare for the 45 million American children and adults who have none, bringing our brave soldiers home from an immoral war, and preserving our God-given environment.

And necessarily and cleverly reinventing the Democratic party as the new, common sense fiscal conservatives....minimize spending, cut the trade deficit and balance the budget.

And praying that the other half of our beloved American family has better sense in four years.