Friday, November 23, 2007

An Awkward Moment

An awkward moment occurred at our Thanksgiving table this week when one person mentioned the oft-cited lament that whites in our great country will soon be in the minority. There was a moment of silence and quickly shared glances until one brave soul responded by inquiring whether or not, in effect, a Hitlerian-type solution to this problem was being suggested. This was, of course, followed by more silence and a quick dropping of the subject. On to more genial topics and the feast at hand. Upon further reflection, the question in my mind is whether this ultimate reality (that we, as whites, will someday be a minority in our great country) is really at the heart of the anti-immigrant animus that is such a large part of the presidential campaigns. Actually, the last statement is not entirely correct. Other than Bill Richardson, the Democrat hopefuls try to avoid the issue entirely while the Republicans, except for John McCain try to outdo each other with their tough guy approaches to the issue. Numbers are tossed about as though they are facts. I have read that somewhere between eleven to thirteen million people are in the United States illegally, but where does this figure come from? Apparently it is a Republican issue to thwart the potential legalization of these people because they might vote as Democrats. Its either that, or as one candidate persists in claiming, that undocumented illegal aliens take away jobs from those citizens who actually need the work. Yes, and I do believe in the tooth fairy. And I will not write home to my friends and family in Mexico that many employers in the United States are willing to hire and pay substandard wages to workers off the books. And yes, Virginia, here is a Santa Claus. But I digress.

There is an entire symptom complex that feeds into the fear that the face of America is changing in ways in which "whites" consider undesirable. One of the symptoms is the aversion to languages other than English. To put it most simply, you cannot be an American unless you speak English. You cannot be an American and share in America's rich cultural heritages if you sing the Star Spangled Banner in Spanish. I am bandying about the topic and, instead, I should just say what is on my mind directly. What is wrong with our society just welcoming foreign speaking persons and asking them to assimilate into our society on a gradual basis, allowing them to immerse themselves in the fabric of American life, including its ideals (all men are created equal)? From what I have observed in Florida, albeit superficially, Hispanics are the hardest working group of people in America. They treasure family values. When given the opportunity they assimilate into our society very nicely and become responsible, law-abiding citizens. When I was a kid, I lived in a neighborhood which was comprised mostly of Italian and Polish immigrants. Most of my friends' parents couldn't speak English. Politicians at the time did not mock these people officially, but the populace in its own way did. Calling someone a WOP or a Polack was a regular part of our every day conversation if the 1950s, not to mention the use of the n-- word as well.

What I think is at the heart of this fear is that whites think if they are to become a minority, they will be treated as badly as tradition and practice in America has been to treat other minorities badly. There I've said it. I don't imagine I could run for president with such thoughts being expressed. People in power want to stay in power. The real solution requires trusting; trusting our systems, trusting each other.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Out of Touch

In an effort to reduce my codependency on the quality of my golf swing in determining my state of happiness in retirement, I spend my Friday mornings seeing clients at Manasota Legal Aid in Bradenton, Florida. This organization provides pro bono legal services to a variety of individuals whose income levels cannot exceed certain limits. My point in writing about this is not to focus on me, but rather to a rather startling wake up call I have received from sitting and listening to the various stories of these people. Example: Last Friday, my first appointment was with a man who, because of physical disabilities, is totally dependent on SSI to feed, clothe and shelter his family of four, including two small children. By way of background, please keep in mind that I drive approximately 15 miles from my very nice home in a gated community with three magnificent golf courses. The average car filling the golf courses' parking lot is somewhere between a Mercedes convertible and a Lexus SUV. Last Friday morning, the temperature in Bradenton was a chilly 45 degrees at 7 A.M. I think it was a few degrees colder during the night. This guy walks in and tells me that his electricity had been turned off by the utility company at 4 PM the previous day. The man and his family had been receiving limited assistance from a local charity who had run out of funds for the remainder of the year. During the course of our interview, I made calls to four different organizations whose purpose is to serve the needy. All four were out of money for the remainder of the year. I then called the utility and was placed in touch with a very nice lady who said she would do what she could to help this man and his family. This ended my legal relationship with this man, but I was dumbstruck with how out of touch with reality I had become. One can read about poverty in the United States or listen to the presidential candidates, but it isn't until a man sits face to face with you and describes what he goes through ("Can I borrow fifty cents so I can take the bus back home?") that the real impact of the problem touches a nerve. The bone-chilling thought of this young man huddled under blankets with his family in a near-freezing house as we approach our Thanksgiving holiday brings tears to my eyes. What can I do? What can we do? I know where I'm headed today after finishing my round of golf.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Thoughts on Global Warming

In an era of unprecedented partisan politics, it is difficult to think clearly about the ramifications of global warming without worrying about vehement partisans labeling one a tree hugger or worse. But as the long standing international commission has just warned in summarizing its years long effort to analyze the threat to civilization that warming presents, it is time to act, now. Significant negative changes are likely to occur within our lifetimes if an aggressive stance against those practices which contribute daily to the warming trend is not undertaken. Most Americans, good people all, bust their collective humps to make life good for their kids and grandkids. Our focus has been on the economic and moral aspect of the legacies we leave. Give the kid a good education, teach about life's travails, and we have done our job. It is time to adjust our thinking. We must elevate our thoughts on the subject of global warming and become shepherds of policies and efforts to allow future generations to survive. Yes, survive. This is not a misprint or an over dramatic statement. What is at stake is the survival of human beings in our world. If one gets their thoughts wrapped around this concept, issues such as Iran's potential nuclear capability pale beyond significance. Who is going to be left to bomb if the world's population is forced to live on drifting pieces of plywood necessitated by a forty feet elevation of the world's seas and oceans?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

It's Not Just the Man, Stupid

A theme has emerged in the presidential campaign that is akin to the elephant in the room simile where no one within the family of an alcoholic appears to notice the aberrant behavior of the drunk. This theme has as its imprimatur that all of the bad things that have happened to our country in the last eight years can be credited to one man; George W. Bush, and that the Republican party apparat had nothing to do with it. In the Oct. 21 Republican debate, President Bush’s name was mentioned only seven times, five of them by the moderators, an intriguing sign of how candidates from the president’s own party want to be identified with him as little as possible.
The net result is that all of the Republican presidential candidates are being given, for the most part, what amounts to a free pass on the accountability issue of who or what is responsible for the current mess in which we find ourselves. The campaign strategy is to avoid lambasting Bush as if to ignore a sensitive topic will make it go away. It is more subtle than that however. To be clear, Bush has done some things which, in my opinion, justify his impeachment and removal from office; warrantless wiretapping of American citizens as one major example. However, Bush is merely the poster boy for what has gone wrong. A substantial percentage of Republican voters apparently believe that the Republican party is entitled to a free pass for the damage done to our country in the past eight years and that the electorate should ignore, or leave unsaid and unconsidered, the misdeeds because all it takes is someone else in the White House with Republican credentials to right the ship. Voting citizens, in general, are not that stupid. For all the money and effort Mitt Romney has put into his campaign effort, I believe he lost any opportunity to become our next president when he endorsed the concept of 'doubling' the size of Guantanamo. In that one simple declaration, he put the knife right into the heart of his aspirations. Why this is so is really the essence of this essay. This statement declares that Romney will function in his presidency much like the current administration, if not moreso. Republicans and Democrats alike want no more of this. Just in case this sounds like an anti-Republican rant, let me say that the Democrat candidates are not much better because they tend to focus on the man and his misdeeds rather than taking on the underlying policy considerations. It is easy for candidates to beat up the straw man here; one side actively and the other by pointedly ignoring him, but the underlying undermining of our constitutional values is really what this presidential campaign is all about.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

My Feelings are Hurt

My feelings are hurt. No, I shouldn't say that. My feelings are not at issue, but my thoughtful concern about publicly expressing an opinion which I consider worthy of public discourse is. I sent a recent comment to the New York Times Opinionator in support of Rep. Dennis Kucinich's recent call for impeachment. In fact, Kucinich calls for the impeachment of Dick Cheney. Instead, I am a proponent of the ideal espoused by 'the buck stops here' president Harry Truman and advocate the impeachment of George W. Bush. The comment, to my chagrin, was not accepted. From my understanding, the only reasons submitted comments may be rejected are because of being abusive or not on topic. Somewhere deep within the bowels of the New York Times there is someone who doesn't want my views on our current president to be considered by the readers of this newspaper. The essence of my submitted comment is set forth below in the blog of November 1, 2007 (Bush's Mental Health). Judge for yourself. Have I violated the concept of 'abuse' by suggesting that our current president ought to be impeached because of his consistent and steadfast refusal to follow and uphold the laws of our nation? I have written the Opinionator to ask for the reasons for rejection. To date, no response. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Over the Top

First, let me begin by saying that I am an over the top unabashed so-called, self-designated liberal when it comes to rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. I am so liberal that I read between the lines to find the right of privacy embodied four-square in the heart of the principles set forth in that document (much like our Supreme Court did in Griswold v Connecticut which allowed women to take birth control pills which subsequently formed the rationale for that Court's decision in Roe v Wade). My liberalism extends completely to the rights of free speech as protected by the First Amendment. As I get older I find that my liberalism is occasionally tempered by the realization that the right to speak carries with it the right to be stupid. It is up to us, the listeners, to evaluate what is being said. What triggers my thought process in this regard this morning is the latest flap over a comment made by presidential candidate Fred Thompson. Apparently he was waiting to be interviewed in a Fox TV channel office and someone said "We can't keep the next President waiting" and he commented "Me neither" or words to that effect. A segment of the media has jumped on that statement as a purported declaration by Thompson that he himself thinks he can't win the election, etc., etc. I have read again and again what Thompson said and I find it difficult, impossible, to see or hear anything other than the humor and self-deprecating comments of a classy man. Another example is the brouhaha over the 'ganging up' on Clinton by the other presidential candidates during the last Democrat televised debate where a shrill segment of the voting population claims that was done because she is a woman. Ladies and Gentlemen of the left. I have a prediction to make, reluctantly so, because I believe that to continue to raise issues such as the above will to be to (as the saying goes) shoot oneself in the foot. I hereby suggest an amendment to the first amendment. "Thou shall not say stupid things just to create a headline." Amongst the caterwauling of persons struggling to make their thoughts known are real issues needing to be thoughtfully analyzed and discussed. The new Democrat controlled Congress has given us an inkling of what we can expect from Democrat presidential hopefuls if one of them ascends to the presidency; more of the same. My suggestion, in addition to the already-mentioned constitutional amendment, is to treat the American public like they have a brain. Don't talk down to us. Don't evade topics that are likely to generate anger. I need to know how the next president proposes to pay for the costs of the Iraq war in that Bush has kept the billions already spent off the books. The answer is obvious; it will be necessary to raise taxes to meet this tremendous financial burden. This is only one example. We are not interested in the numbers of angels that can dance on the head of a pin. The campaigns on both sides of the aisle are breaking down; we expect more. We need more.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Bush's Mental Health

Rep. Dennis Kucinich has done this country a major service by bringing the issue of Bush's mental health to the public forum. Alas, he makes the lay person's mistake in pronouncing this diagnosis by focusing on what Bush has said about Iran and World War III. I would respectfully submit that it is more appropriate to examine the conduct of this president in the performance of acts purportedly on behalf of the people of the United States. Nearly eight years ago he swore to uphold the Constitution of the United States in the performance of his duties as president. He repeated that vow less than four years ago. Throughout his tenure he has behaved consistently in denouncing and violating the fundamental principles of the Constitution in a pattern that does, in fact, suggest characteristics of a major mental disorder.

The following points describe my concerns about his mental state insofar as they impact on the American people: First, Signing Statements: The Constitution is a simple document that has served our country well for now more than 220 years. It takes about 30-45 minutes to read it from beginning to end depending upon one's reading ability and the level of attentiveness one brings to the task. One of the major and unique features of the document is that it created three branches of government; Congress, executive and judicial. Responsibilities are apportioned among the three such as to create a balance of power. For example, Congress is enabled by the document to pass laws and the executive branch (i.e. the president) is charged with the responsibility of carrying out these laws in the day to day functioning of the government. Nothing in the Constitution permits or hints that the president has the right to choose which laws will be obeyed, disregarded or violated. But Bush has issued more than four hundred signing statements during his tenure which, in effect, declare that he has no intention of carrying out laws that Congress, in the performance of its constitutional duties and responsibilities, has passed. Second, Disregard of Treaties and Judicial Safeguards: The United Sates is a signatory to the Geneva Convention which, among other things, clearly outline whether persons are subject to the protections of international law and how procedurally the status of an individual in the custody of a state may be determined. Situations such as torture and assessment of an individual's status are addressed with particularity. The Bush administration has placed itself above the law in disregarding the basic provisions of this international treaty. Indeed, respected commentary, nationally and internationally, suggest that the Bush administration may be guilty of war crimes. Another aspect of the Bush disregard for the Constitution is the warrantless wiretapping scheme. The point and commonality of raising these issues in the context of Bush's mental status is not to debate the fine points regarding the claimed justification for these acts, but the simple observation that the conduct is unnecessary. Torturing people to obtain information is a notoriously unreliable means of obtaining information anywhere on this planet except by Jack Bauer on the TV program "24". Can anyone seriously argue that the screening of hundreds of millions of telephone conversations between American citizens serve any worthwhile purpose? Third, the Rush to War: The whole weapons of mass destruction thing has long been exposed for what is was, a sham excuse to start a war against Iraq. The drumbeat that Bush is now making about Iran has a disturbingly familiar tone to it. What happened to the man who stood on national television in 2000 and declared that he would not engage in nation building? Hundreds of billions of dollars and two failed countries later, he appears ready to begin a third effort, waiting for the slightest provocation or excuse to do so.

To summarize, this is scary stuff. It is scary because the man does not react appropriately to the demands his job requires. He is in a state of constant and abject denial about his acts and the impact of his acts on the integrity of this country and the rule of law as embodied in the Constitution. Denial is the key word to my argument. Bush is an alcoholic, self-professed. The major symptom of alcoholism, intake of ethanol aside, is denial. The alcoholic, dry or wet, uses the defense mechanism of denial as the justification for behavior. Denial enables its user to claim that it is always some other's fault for negative events. Blaming is part of the symptom complex of denial. Blame the liberal press for negative reporting on Iraq. Blame liberals for their needless concerns about the fact that there telephone conversations are being monitored. Blame France for having the temerity to stand against the Iraq invasion. Blame Iraq for sending 18 men from Saudi Arabia to the United States to destroy the World Trade Center. Blame judges for making laws on a selective basis when the result is considered unsatisfactory. Blame, blame, blame. The untreated alcoholic surrounds himself with others who agree with him. e.g., Alberto Gonzalez, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, and avoids contact of any type of person who may disagree. Campaign speeches are given to pre-selected audiences to ensure that no one will ask an embarassing question or wear a T-shirt with a message he doesn't want to see or hear. Bush is sick. His sickness is destroying the moral fiber of our great nation. He needs to be removed from his office. Now. We can't wait for him to finish out his presidency. Impeach him.