Saturday, November 22, 2008

Arguing the Case for Marriage Equality

On Nov. 4th, Proposition 8 was approved by California voters seeking to override the State Supreme Court determination that the law cannot deny full marriage rights to couples on the basis of sex. The full text of the ballot initiative appears below.



This initiative measure is submitted to the people in accordance with the provisions of Article II, Section 8, of the California Constitution. This initiative measure expressly amends the California Constitution by adding a section thereto; therefore, new provisions proposed to be added are printed in italic type to indicate that they are new.

SECTION 1. Title: This measure shall be known and may be cited as the “California Marriage Protection Act.”

SECTION 2. Section 7.5 is added to Article I of the California Constitution, to read: SEC. 7.5. Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.


In the public debate surrounding Proposition 8 - and over same-sex marriage rights in general - it has become fashionable among main stream (straight) liberals to support "civil unions" while demurring, at best, on whether those unions are entitled to recognition under the law on equal footing with heterosexual marriages. Big name libs continue to dance around the logical conclusion that not to go all the way and recognize gay marriages as legal violates the fundamental principle of separation between Church and State.

It is the liberal's Achilles heel: wanting to have it both ways. In trying to appease opposing ends of the political spectrum most of our prominent allies in the straight world come off as only half-hearted in their support. While they carefully avoid the explicit language freely used by avowed homophobes who regularly pontificate on the "sanctity" of marriage, they still show reticence on the issue for reasons that derive from nothing more than an undue deference to religious values held by the majority.

Often unacknowledged for its influence on the nonreligious, it is only religious doctrine - particularly interpreted - that gives extra points for the specific genders of marriage partners in any moral assessment of committed human relationships.

In our secular American legal system, reason holds that capitulation to the religious tenets of any ruling authority amounts to a betrayal of the values held by the framers of our Constitution. Former colonists and ex patriots, they fought against an oppressive government's imposition of religious doctrine to which they had been subject. We are taught this in grade school: the early settlers came to this land to escape religious persecution. The ruling authority they established derives from "We the People," generally determined by plurality votes and delegated representation.

Recently, Newsweek editor Jon Meacham - a professed supporter of same-sex marriage - responded to the assertion that the separation of church and state demands full equality for such marriages with all the finesse of a liberal politician in the middle of a run for national office. Appearing on Bill Maher's TV show last week Meacham asserted that "this is a very complicated issue." Backpedaling further, he went on to defend a liberal forbearance for the current American majority's religious motivations in their political actions, as if the freedom of religion guaranteed in the Constitution trumps everything else enumerated by the Bill of Rights. It doesn't.

Yes, the First Amendment states up front that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..." But though this clause precedes even the mention of free speech it does not objectively supersede any other right to which we are entitled. In fact, putting this point first on the list of declared freedoms could just as well speak to the potential dangers the founders may have seen in the tendency of the masses to allow their majority beliefs to infringe on the right to religious and other freedoms equally guaranteed to those in the minority.

It is important to remember that the Constitution, including the Bill of Rights and all further amendments, is written in such a way that does not presume to grant rights to the people. Rather, the founders mindfully crafted it in order to define the extent to which We the People allow our government to impose on our freedom.

Amendment 9 spells this out quite clearly: " The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."

But it is Amendment 10 that those who seek to deny equal marriage rights to same-sex couples mistakenly interpret as the basis of their authority to do so: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people."

I contend that these two clauses, while allowing states to expand their marriage laws to explicitly include same-sex couples, actually prohibit them from restricting the right to marry in any way. Though they get away with it until challenged, states are prohibited from contravening the Constitution's fundamental concepts regarding basic human liberty and equality.

The 9th Amendment generally bars states from enacting laws that are more restrictive of individual rights than what is contained in the Constitution, as determined by the U.S. Supreme Court. California's untested referendum system notwithstanding, it is the function of the courts - not the populace - to interpret how the law may be applied in all states.

Decisions such as that in the 2003 case of
Lawrence vs Texas instantly invalidated the laws against sodomy in Texas as well as those still on the books in any other state. In 1963 the case of Loving vs Virginia struck down all state laws that banned interracial marriage. No Supreme Court challenge has yet been brought against any state's discriminatory laws that deny marriage to citizens based on a question of gender or sexual identities. But it is only a matter of time before it happens.

After the election on Proposition 8 three lawsuits were filed seeking to invalidate it. On November 19th, 2008 the California State Supreme Court announced that it will hear the arguments in those cases. If the outcome of this case upholds the result of the election this will very likely be the breakthrough that finally brings the issue before the U.S. Supreme Court where it may be settled once and for all.

I am looking forward to a very interesting read when the not-too-future Supreme Court issues its final decision. Cases of this nature, of which there have been few, tend to serve as a platform for justices to exercise their most high-falutin' oratorical muscles in either affirming the decision or dissenting from the majority (All except for Clarence Thomas who is known to keep pretty tight-lipped on most subjects). You know that right-wing ideologue Antonin Scalia - the most grandiloquent justice of the last century - will have a field day with his emotional dissent. He will likely decry the inevitable decision by his colleagues to legalize gay marriage everywhere in the US as the end of civilization as we know it.

The assenting Justices of the Court should see fit to have their majority decision rendered by Justice David Souter, as it would provide him with a grand occasion to make his debut as the highest ranking, finally out-of-the-closet gay man in American history. It will be his duty to recount for the ages the multitude of long-standing injustices that will be rectified thereafter when committed partnerships of the heart are equally recognized under the law of the land.

Going straight to the heart of the matter, the recorded decision must assert the right - too long denied - of all citizens to lives of liberty and happiness which can only be possible when there are no more gender-based legal barriers to our fulfillment as partners in pursuit of the American dream.
The right and ability of responsible adults to marry as they choose is the one prerequisite for civil propagation of society itself. Finally, the doors will be thrown open to those untold legions of couples across this land who were previously routinely denied the very opportunity to participate in society whose basic unit is held to be the family.

Before it get all that deep though, I would very much like to hear the arguments before the Court to include a consideration what actually defines the legitimacy of a marriage. Even by religious standards this is generally dependent in large part on both marrying partners' capacity for physical consummation of their vows.

It has to be argued that exclusively heterosexual individuals, by definition, have little to no known capacity - much less will - for physical consummation of any relationship with a person of the same sex when people of the opposite sex are available. So heterosexuals have nothing to loose, nothing to give up in reversing the Court's original decision that extended marriage rights to homosexual couples. The original complainants who brought the matter to referendum in California - and anyone who would challenge an eventual positive ruling by the Court - should therefore be found to have no standing in the case. It clearly does not affect their access to marriage as it is.

To be clear, "standing" is defined as "the legal right to initiate a legal action or lawsuit. To do so, a person must be sufficiently affected by the matter at hand, and there must be a case or controversy that can be resolved by legal action." As the 9th and 10th Amendments only compel the People to surrender rights and protections that are theirs to begin with it follows that the only people with standing and Constitutional liberty to invalidate the legal rights of same-sex couples to marry are same-sex couples themselves.

Your honor, I rest my case.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Assassination Holiday and the War on Xmas

I. Assassination Holiday

In her fun, fact-filled 2005 travelogue, Assassination Vacation, the always delightful Sarah Vowell shares her road trip experiences through a variegated landscape of American sites and communities connected to the deaths of three of our four presidents who were murdered while in office. Vowell had set out to investigate a number of often obscure historical anomalies and previously known but unexplored circumstances surrounding - and sometimes tying together - the separate fates of Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley.

At a packed-house promotional appearance for the book - where I was lucky enough to have a prime seat - the author answered a question about her rationale for choosing to exclude from her book anything about JFK, our only other martyred president after those three. "Oh, it's been done to death," she deadpanned. But this was just her witty and concise lead-in to a well reasoned off-the-cuff explication of how she limited her scope of interest for this book. Like anything else that passes her droll lips, this held the entire audience rapt, hanging on every word.

What I took away from all she said, beyond how wonderfully she said it, was a basic understanding of her wanting to avoid having to sort out all the "urban legend" sensationalism from the stuff that constitutes actual folklore in the traditional sense. The assassinations she writes about long predate the concept of "urban legend."

For those of us still around and lucid after having survived that nearly half-century old national trauma, Vowell also feels that her distinctive humorous perspective on the subject might just be a little, uh... "too soon?"

November 22 marks another anniversary of the day modern history took that traumatic turn. Up until the numbers 9 and 11 came to be the presumed reference for any suggestion of a "National Day of Remembrance," it was Kennedy's assassination that we all flashed back on as the incident seared into our collective living memory. We never thought we would ever get past that. And we didn't until we were able to witness an even more spectacular earth-shaking blow to our national psyche after 38 years of technological advances brought live coverage of it through the magic of hi-def TV.

This recent reassignment of our deepest psychic dread, marked off on the calendar to be relived each year, must provide a measure relief to people like my friend Jim, whose birthday is November 22. Since he was born in the decade before JFK's assassination he grew up with the misfortune of having to celebrate every birthday on our annual day of mourning. I can only imagine what kind of reaction others may have had if his response to the question of what he was doing when
IT happened were, "opening presents, eating cake, blowing out candles, singing happy songs..."

My birthday comes months later. When the original IT happened I was 10 going on 11 myself and my memories of the day involve sitting in my boring 3rd (?) grade class when some now forgotten nun came barreling through the door in tears and just told us all to leave. "Go home, children. Leave!"

Sister Mary Whatsherface didn't try to explain anything to us kids. I guess she didn't have it in her because of that whole Kennedy/Catholic thing. But of course we kids were ecstatic to be cut loose! The whole lot of us ripped out of the building yelping and screeching like a bunch of third graders. We had no idea we wouldn't be going back for a week or more. Walking home through a neighborhood of adults all zombie-like in shock, hearing them talk and sob, I pretty much pieced together that everybody on the planet was totally bummed out. By the time I got to the front door of the house where my family was already gathered it was clear that no one was going to tolerate anything but resolute sadness out of me, even if I didn't fully understand what had happened.

For more than a week there was nothing for a kid to do but keep your mouth shut and just stay put. So I glued myself to the floor in front of the black & white TV set watching the live wall-to-wall coverage of the somber carryings on.

I sat silent through most it, eyes totally glazed over by the time they finally marched the rat fink villain Lee Harvey Oswald out in front of the cameras - boo! hiss! I remember how someone held high the rifle he supposedly used to kill our president Catholic - a fuzzy jagged image floating in the upper part of the TV screen. It only later occurred to me what an odd touch that was in a perp walk.

The alleged murder weapon hovering so prominently above the huddled bunch of wrinkly suits scurrying along that hallway reminded me of the floats in Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, which we would normally be looking forward to watching live from New York at that time any other year. But then, naturally, all hell broke lose and the jittery camera zoomed in on Oswald's grimacing grey face as he clutched his stomach while the suits hastily grabbed at the fat guy in a white jacket who had suddenly appeared from the side of he TV screen.

The crisp air cracked with my screechy little voice yelling "Mom! Mah-ahmmm!!!!!! Somebody just shot Oswald!!"

This thing was far from over. It was clear then: we would not be watching any coverage of the Thanksgiving parade that year.

Happy Birthday, Jim.

II. Xmas Wars

'Tis the season!
Every year around this time those wacky right-wingers start putting their dukes up to defend the "right" side in one of their favorite imaginary wars: the one on Christmas. All it takes is for someone to say "Happy Holidays!" to get them snarling. The Riff Blog at Mother Jones e-mag posted an article on
"Attack of the Atheists" about how the opposition is striking back. Predictably, it generated a good deal of spittle and defensive flack from either side. I put my own two cents into the folderol as follows...

Not to add to their fanatical bellicose fantasies but I have a suggestion to those who imagine there is some kind of "war" on Christmas. If Christians really want to de-secularize and de-commercialize it, why don't they just move "their" Christmas to a more appropriate time of year other than the arbitrary day they celebrate the birth of Jesus? The real day he was born is hotly debated but universally recognized by scholars as certainly not December 25.

I have no personal stake in Xmas as a religious holiday -no more than I have in anything else religious. But I LOVE the "Commercial" aspects of it.

If people were honest about it - especially the Christians among us - they would have to admit a similar kind of fondness for the non-religious nature of this time of year too. Come on, people: this is the time that commerce comes alive in our cities, towns and malls! It's fun! It's kitschy! It's good for business and for most of us it brings back happy childhood memories better than anything else ever does.

I was raised Catholic but got over all that a long time ago. I never put up lights or a tree or send cards - none of that. But I do appreciate how so many people get themselves into a happy festive mood that stretches out over two months time. But I'm sure 99.9% aren't thinking any holy thoughts till they get ready to fulfill their religious obligation for one hour on that one day if they can find the time. Once that's out of the way they go back to being total heathens and continue to have fun. There is nothing wrong with that. If you say it to me I'll say "Merry Christmas" right back at ya! I don't care. It's the same as when I answer "God bless you" back when someone says it to me. Doesn't mean a thing to me but it seems to make them feel good.

Self-righteous hypocrites who invented the lie of a "War on Christmas" only get all bent out of shape over people who don't buy into their religion but still find joy in this highly commercial time of year. Christians don't own the season. I think they just feel guilty for enjoying the "commercialization" of it - not to mention those pagan trappings of tree-decoration, etc. - more than they enjoy whatever their religion may have to do with it.

Happy Holidays Heathens!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Separating Politics from Religiosity - Again!

As the Obama Administration takes over we all rightly expect to see a sharp waning in the influence of dogmatic sectarians on the overriding issues that call for real national leadership today. There is obviously a grab bag of grave economic, environmental, infrastructure, energy and national security debacles that the outgoing administration is leaving its wake. Religious ideologues never belonged at the table for such discussions in the first place but they have nonetheless gotten way too comfortable in weighing in on any and all policy debates throughout the Bush years.

It would be a mistake, however, to think they will now just shut up and go away. Even after the crushing defeat of the Republican Party, we must remain on guard against the creeping bible-thumper backlash that has evidently already started. After all, there is doubtless more to the religious right than their inclination to offer themselves as hapless political tools for the GOP.

The [thankfully] lame duck Republican Party is primarily devoted to lucre - secular big money interests. They lied us into opportunistic wars, ravaged the environment and ruthlessly stifled domestic civil liberties in order to advance their unholy corporeal ambitions. They were only beholden to those backwater fundamentalists because of how responsive they found them to be on manipulative hot-button social issues which are totally inconsequential to the true GOP agenda. But such issues always put a fire under the base and never failed to get them out to vote as they were told every time.

In the end we may be relieved to know that the effusive lip service Bush and his cronies lavished on them would never be enough to achieve the religious right's major ideological goals. Ultimately, the GOP failed to come through for them. The Constitution still stands. They did not manage to supplant it with a base interpretation of the Old Testament, which is still the highest priority for the typical American religious extremist.

But even if they were only used as GOP enablers in the last seven biannual elections - radical fundamentalists were in turn brought to the table and treated to a titillating taste for the blood of our body politic. They are not about to stop sucking hard at it after one whopping setback.

The religious right is still easily fired up over their patron party's empty promises to alter the Constitution with amendments that would outlaw abortion and gay marriage forever, as could be seen in their rousing flurry of support for Sarah Palin. This came only too late after their demonstrated reluctance to rally around John McCain whose stand on their issues was seen as lukewarm at best.

Four years ago it was in their resulting "success" - which only retained Bush in office - that Democratic Party losers found the dubious inspiration to mimic tactics employed in the Republican's winning game plan. Democrats shamelessly amped up their competitive pandering for the votes of those who are more religiously motivated than political. I always deplored that desperate turn as a cowardly strategic error that could only speed the erosion of our sacred principle of separation between Church and State - which was now apparently expendable.

It was more than just a little embarrassing to hear liberal Democrats talk up their own churchgoing habits in a desperate but unconvincing grab at political gain. After they had long tended to downplay their personal beliefs and practices in the interest of a professed tolerance of religious diversity they seemed suddenly poised to sell their souls at public auction in order to save the Party.

This may be seen as something of an overinflated point of view now. But in 2004 the Democrats' newfound eagerness to flaunt their religious proclivities threatened a wholesale sellout of JFK's seminal assertion of a reasonable modern perspective that wisely sought to clear religious bias from government affairs. He laid the groundwork for it in his memorable 1960 campaign speech on religion and politics. At that time the first Catholic to head the party's national ticket famously addressed public doubts about where his loyalties would lie as President. In the speech still lauded as one of his finest, Kennedy declared his strong belief "in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute." [Imagine any candidate getting through the 2008 primaries after making such a blunt statement as that!]

As it turns out, this recent backward straining by the Democrats to re-inject religiosity into their political discourse was not what was needed to save the Party. Pandering to voters' religious sympathies simply cannot be shown to have done as much as many other factors that helped turn the tide in the Democrats' favor this year.

No, Barack Obama's winning strategy was fashioned after a different chapter ripped from of the Republican playbook. It relied on a massive effort to register new voters rather than just trying to motivate party loyalists and converting the opposition [as if!]. He re-worked this scenario to emphasize his unique advantage to disaffected voters, offering a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to participate in an emotional history-rocking event.

Obama's increasing viability as the first black candidate with any real chance of winning appealed deeply to disenfranchised black-identified voters as well as a coalition of other minorities, young and first-time voters, and progressives of all stripes. The potential effect of this election resonated at a visceral level that surpassed any traditional religious grounding without necessarily seeming to compromise it. The best evidence for this is in the California vote where it is said that some 70% of black voters who supported the strongly pro-gay candidate also supported the anti-gay Proposition 8 rescinding same-sex marriage in that state.

The twisted conflict in this support for Proposition 8 was largely promoted and fueled by the ultra-conservative, almost exclusively white Church of J.C. of Latter Day Saints. Its Utah minions funneled a boatload of money - more than $20 million - into conscious manipulation of minority voters who are the target consumers of the Mormon's message their young missionaries are sent out of state to sell. Their sales pitch, of course, includes a strong condemnation of homosexuality.

Mormons are fundamentally homophobic but they are not stupid. They likely presumed their "heathen" targets would naturally support the first black nominee for President on the basis of racial and ethnic identity alone. For the amount of money they were putting up I suspect that the business savvy elders performed an extensive cost analysis before committing to fund the project.

Any assessment of their potential return on investment [ROI] would have to factor in the probable outcome of the presidential race. This was, after all, bound to be the driving motivation that would bring voters out en masse while Proposition 8 was merely placed on the same ballot. A possible Obama victory could only be calculated as an acceptable risk - a loss leader - before the Mormons put so much of their money on promoting this controversial ballot measure. I don't know how they actually accomplished it but there had to be some devious way to sell their ideological product while not alienating their targeted customers: voters who may not even show up if Obama were not on the ticket.

Though some Mormons have apologized for their Church's part in this, it is important to recognize this point about who was behind Proposition 8. Especially for us outraged supporters of same-sex marriage and those across the country who have been staging massive demonstrations to decry the California vote. The anger of activists over one state rescinding civil rights formerly recognized by the courts as due their citizens - and by popular vote no less - is understandable. I am dismayed about it myself. An enlightened society would never subject the approval of civil rights to the volatile majority opinion.

But it would be prudent, I feel, to be clear about exactly what we are protesting at this crucial time. Besides taking care about what and who are to blame for the passage of Proposition 8 (another hint: it is not a black & white issue) we must consider as well what good our demonstrations can actually accomplish in furthering the effort to overturn the referendum.

Moreover, what do we stand to lose at this time with any showy theatrics in registering our righteously angered response to this contemptible referendum?

Normally I am all for taking to the streets in protest as well as in demonstrations of visibility for the LGBT community lest we be otherwise stigmatized by the ignorant masses as a shadowy bunch of stereotyped degenerates (no offense intended to the beloved degenerates among us). We are fully deserving of full equal rights and protections under the law. At this transitional moment, however, those newly bruised and banished religious right wingnuts are just itching to seize on any signs of a national uprising by disaffected supporters of marriage rights for homosexuals who are regarded as anathema to the faithfully bigoted.

Not that we should give a damn about their insane belief that our open existence in the world is a sure sign of the coming apocalypse. We should, however, seriously consider the relevance of what happened during the last transitional period from a conservative administration to a liberal Democratic one when our concurrent acting out on a specific issue of simple justice was made to totally backfire and carried long-term consequences.

You can bet that those bitter wingnuts who are watching the news reports of this weekend's rallies are reflecting on the still unsettled contention over "gays in the military."

If we recall how hopeful we were when Bill Clinton and Al Gore defeated the elder Bush and swept into office on the promise of repealing the ban on gay people in uniform, we must also remember where that ended up. The absurd and more restrictive gag rule known as "Don't Ask Don't Tell" remains the law of the land to this day. It was never a personal issue for me but as a good soldier for the cause and a devoted team player I reluctantly took part in several demonstrations in support of the repeal that were staged between administrations. I even marched for it once in front of the White House where, ironically, I had marched any number of times in my life but before then it was always against anything involving the military.

Reactionaries in Congress, aggressively resistant to any kind of institutional tolerance, used Clinton's early attempt to fulfill a campaign promise as a means to undermine his effectiveness as a champion of liberal and progressive causes. And they branded him forever as weak and possessed of immoral sympathies. This of course won the GOP beaucoup points with the homophobic religious right which were parlayed into enough votes two short years later to win a majority of seats in the House of Representatives and immediately put out their "Contract on America."

Until then conservative Republicans spent 40 years struggling to regain a majority in the House. They had been ousted in the 1950s after conducting over-the-top red-baiting witch hunts in HUAC: their House Un-American Activities Committee.

Our ill timed 1992 high-visibility actions on a hot-button issue for the religious right helped define their role as the neo-cons' base, helped return the Republicans to power and altogether far outweighed anything positive it achieved for the cause of gay people in the military.

Admittedly, things are very different in 2008 than they were in 1992 with a major exception being that the Republicans are once again reduced to a desperate minority, this time in both houses of Congress.

As much as it may hurt to admit it, President-elect Obama's pragmatism in stopping short of endorsing same sex marriage rights during the campaign has already proven to be the politically savvy decision for us as well as for him. It not only won him the Presidency - with our support - it also makes it harder for the religious right to tie him to any public spectacle we make by loudly decrying the vote on Proposition 8 in zany California.

They will still tie him to it of course. And that will rattle their own lemming-minded flocks who are predisposed anyway to think the worst of Obama and any Democrat who doesn't support their anti-gay anti-black anti-American agenda.

But Obama is not obligated to waste time and political capital in defense of his stand on "our issue."

It would be nice to hear the President-elect make a comment on the wrongness of such measures as Proposition 8. But he should be excused if he opts to stay focused on the job of preparing for his new position. In the midst of setting his course for the next eight years, saying little or nothing about any high-profile demonstrations may help assure his longevity as a champion of future causes that will more fully impact our lives and well being.

We need to keep soon-to-be President Obama strong and on our side so he can go to bat for us throughout his tenure rather than letting him fall on our account to the point where he pulls something like our hero Bill Clinton did midway through his second term when he secretly signed the 1996 anti-gay "Defense of Marriage Act" into law.


Thursday, November 13, 2008

This is what 21st Century Democracy Looks Like

During this transition of Administrations that should take us from the Dark Ages to somewhere closer to Reality in the 21st Century, there are many ways We the People can try to have our voices heard on every issue that may affect us as Americans. If you are anything like me you have received any number of emails that urge you to Let Obama Know how you feel about certain issues. If you do not know how you feel there are plenty of them who will tell you. They have your email already composed with all your personal information already filled in. All you have to do is push the button and let fly your message that parrots however many also got the memo and followed instructions.

Who knows if it will really have any significant effect? But I think of it as kind of a another chance to vote -- and who thought voting would ever actually bring about any real change?

Gotta keep hope alive.

I have been busy sending dozens of messages through various groups' websites that continually flood me with email. Of course, I rarely just let someone else speak for me so I almost always add my own two cents worth even if what I have to say doesn't completely jive with what I'm told I'm supposed to think. But I always try to be respectful to the reader and not totally contradict the message of whatever group has given me the opportunity to push their agenda.

One I sent this morning from the Union of Concerned Scientists was meant to urge the new President to let science guide US policies on Nuclear Weapons and Global Warming. I do agree with the sentiment and I added the following after my signature on their petition.

"Science = Reality, filtered by reason rather than dogma. The outgoing Administration's policies were beholden to the interests of religious extremists who deny any sense of reality that conflicts with their static view of life. Such an attitude dangerously subverts any attempt to deal with real-world issues because they are not based in reality as we experience it. It is solidly based on fears that any action we take may violate some religious law. Those sects beliefs are contradictory among themselves but they all fear for our destiny in the afterlife rather than the current and future lives of anyone while we live on this Earth. As President-elect I know you understand this. When you take the Oath of Office you will be swearing on the Bible to uphold the Constitution. As someone else famously said, 'You will NOT be swearing on the Constitution to uphold what is in the Bible.

The Obama/Biden Transition Team has created its own mechanism for tuning into your vision for the future of America. I urge to go to and wing it. You may be adding extra value to your vote!

This video gives you one option for giving input to the new National agenda. You also have a limited time to submit your written ideas through

Here is another place you can put your two cents worth in about how to help repair America's image and moral authority in the world: CLOSE GITMO!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

On the Political Theatre of the Absurd...

When the curtain came down, it all ground to an abrupt and halting revelation. 

The political drama through which our leadership and representation is determined has proven once again to be little more than a charade that exists outside of any truthful concept of democracy.  

Yet, for many of us watching the often surreal events leading up to the election of our next American President, political theatrics had ominously threatened to take over as a new way of life. While the world crumbles around us we have become all but inured to the increasingly petty battles and bitter straw man arguments that had grown more disturbing in tone and direction than anything we encountered along the low road that George W. Bush had led us down these last eight years. 

By tradition, the drama of a Presidential campaign presents two stark and divergent visions of the future. This time was no exception. The ruling party made the usual appeals to stay the course with minor corrections. But as the status quo had become wholly intolerable its diehard supporters grew steadily more giddy and divorced from reality. They increasingly vilified any challenge to their hold on power with baseless attacks so twisted and easily debunked as to do little more than raise serious suspicions about their own compelling desperation. In real life this boded a frightening rift in our social fabric that could have proven disastrous and irreparable if things had played out differently. 

Remarkably though, as the votes were tallied at the conclusion of this bitter spectacle the high pitch emotional celebration of the victorious side was met by a mood of relatively quiet resignation on the losing side. Even among the vanquished, there was evidence of an underlying awareness that the historic milestone represented by the election's outcome was always a matter of a shared karmic destiny. 

As the curtain dropped on Tuesday, concluding the long-awaited last scene of this tragi-comic drama the cast of characters filed onto stage to take their bows. Those who had played villains finally pulled off their masks, suggesting that the roles they willingly stepped into did not necessarily define their real selves. 

Did you remember to suspend your disbelief?

The performance of veteran actor John McCain was viewed as erratic at best in his role as the stalwart Republican who would deny destiny and do his best to prevent history from happening. Critics have nonetheless lauded his delivery of the anti-climactic concession speech wherein he was forced to give a gracious nod to the powerful significance of having been bested by a black man in his role as wanna-be President. 

Pathetically ill-cast in the role of McCain's running mate, former beauty queen Sarah Palin gave an over-the-top portrayal of a "Real American" that was so unconvincing her critics now seem determined to thwart her far-fetched dreams of an acting career on the national stage. They have continued to hound the washed up actress with exposes of her backstage diva antics even as she retreated to her home in Alaska after the play's closing. 

As a supporting actress appearing briefly in the final few scenes, the plainly conceited newcomer clumsily tried to upstage the lead players who could barely conceal their resentment of her even while still in character. Her simplistic interpretation of the part only played well with those audience members whose previous experience with the theatre was limited to attending the annual Thanksgiving pageant at their local grade school. Those parents, likely failed actors themselves, gloated over Palin as they would over one of their own bratty kids who fumble through the roles forced on them as Pilgrims, Indians or turkeys.         

Palin's character was scripted to effectively hammer away at the Illinois Senator's supposed ties to terrorists, his seditious leanings toward socialism, his subversive disdain of real Americans, and any other lie that could be dreamed up and sometimes ad libbed in order to demean the man who would soon be President. Her exaggerations were amateurish and merciless. Yet slinking away from the national spotlight, even the ultimate loser Palin had to backpedal enough to cast a condescending wink in the direction of history.    

Joe Biden, on the other hand, in in a role scripted as the equivalent of Palin's, pretty much played it straight. He did flub a few times particularly in those improvisational moments called for by the script. This provided plenty of fodder for critics always on the lookout for a gaffe. But as a long-time player on the national stage Biden's idiosyncrasies are familiar territory to most of them who maintain a measure of respect for him based on his body of work as a whole. In fact, Biden's acceptance of a supporting role is a departure from the traditional leading-man parts he has played for most of his career. That may have been a factor in his occasional awkwardness in the part. This time, however, the kind of gaffes he is known for would have cost him less as a secondary player than they have in the past when they totally derailed him as a lead.    

The rising star who dominated the stage in every act, Barack Obama, wowed the swelling crowds with a natural coolness and thoroughly convincing portrayal of the eventual winner of this staged competition for the Presidency. Critics declared Obama's accomplishment to be just about the most believable portrayal of an American President in the history of political theatre. This despite his obvious personal attributes which, in other actors with his characteristics would demand an unlikely stretching of the imagination if an audience were to see the play as serious drama rather than farce. But if we ever actually had a black President, this is what he would probably look and sound like - a spot-on performance by an accomplished young actor. The role would only be considered to miss the mark by a flaw in the script regarding the character's name. 

It may be feasible in some modern African nation but US Presidents just do not get elected with names like Barack Hussein Obama. George Bush, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford - these are the waspy kind of names we give our Presidents. 

But it has long been said that life imitates art. As if to prove it against all odds, when the lights went down on this drama's two year run, Barack Obama stepped out of his starring role with a standing ovation that will follow him right into the White House as the real-life President-elect of the United States.  

Bravo, Obama, Bravo!       

While we drink it all in, the conclusion of this electoral soap opera seems to portend a liberating return to reality that has already inspired an outpouring of passionate testimonies. To mark the genuine momentous occasion commentators from across the media spectrum of TV networks and weblogs, quickly shifted gears. Deftly moving from whatever it was they claimed to be doing - being "objective," "balanced" or partisan - they are still rushing to wax eloquent on the meaning for all humanity that may be found in what happened here on Tuesday. 

Digging deep for solemn words that may adequately express and record our awesome national achievement, writers are naturally prone to overreach. As a frame of reference they may stumble a bit over the inconsistencies in our national experience with prior historic moments. Of course, the most pertinent area of risk in assessing history as we make it is our persistent awkwardness with issues of race. 

We are, after all, a country that still suffers from deep unresolved conflicts between racial injustice and resentment, shame and denial. Can any single moment of historic magnitude really negate the enduring effects of those none-too-rare racially based lapses of humanity that continue to belie the nobility of our nation's founding principles? 

Much of the reflection we read today recalls those high-minded promises laid out by our founding fathers, who we exalt as visionaries, ahead of their time. In our unbridled esteem of them however, we must face up to their glaring failure in having allowed unconscionable exemptions among the lofty ideals they would bequeath to us: foremost among them that "all men are created equal." 

Among today's diverse American population the idea of "equality" that our founders professed may rightly be seen as a sanctimonious, self-serving deception. Still unfulfilled, the promise of equality enshrined in our Constitution has always seemed to allow such extrene contradictions as the denigration of an entire race of human beings to non-human, slave status on the basis of skin color and national origin.

But putting that aside for now, nearly a century and a half since the abolition of slavery the man we have willingly elevated to rule over us from the highest office in the land is a modern descendant of a people once afforded nothing under our Constitution other than the right to be bought and sold as human chattel.

Truly, there is profound meaning in this. It is huge and I do share in the exhilarating emotional response to the daring feat We the People have finally pulled off with our participation in the vote. It is an awesome achievement made all the more so by the incredible obstacles that any non-white male candidate for public office still faces in most parts of this country. 

I applaud anyone who has managed to rise to the occasion and articulate their feelings in strongly resonant words and images. 

I admire the pluck and gallantry of those who have found a voice to register our shared sentiments at this time, resisting the temptation of cynicism or any pull to a normally fashionable sardonic point of view. The magnitude of this moment calls for reverent reflection. We are witnesses to a fundamental turning point in history, long in the making, and this imposes on us a solemn responsibility to those who will later look back on the record for an accurate assessment of its meaning and impact on their own time in the future.

I, for one, just feel overwhelmed by the responsibility. 

Sunday, November 2, 2008


C o n g r a t u l a t i o n s,  M r. President!

You are the man!

Party now - you deserve it. We deserve it. Celebrate! Gloat! Carry on tonight.

Soon enough, when tomorrow comes - and Bush et al go - it'll be time get to work and start to show us your mettle. 

For an interactive map that shows up-to-the-minute searchable results visit this Google site.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Presidents & Their Legacies

Three More Days!

When the dark forces of the GOP seized control of our government in 2000 and installed George W. Bush as Commander 'n Thief, they gave the little gremlin nominal rule over a nation at peace and an economy that was relatively trouble-free. Though the Bush/Cheney debacle would begin to play itself out pretty quickly the country more or less acquiesced to it until after he was re-installed in '04.

As Bush went about making our country into a global laughing stock, dragging us into devastating opportunistic wars, and chewing up the Constitution, our sense of security as a nation was bolstered for a long while by the knowledge that Clinton had left us in good financial shape with the highest budget surplus and lowest trade deficit in history.

Who could have imagined that things would get as bad as they have in eight short years?

Back in 2000, the departing "tax & spend" Democrat was seen even by his own Party as a fallen angel who had brought indefensible shame to the Presidency by committing adulterous acts right in the Oval Office. Bush ran for the office on a pompous vow to "restore dignity to the White House." When the campaign was over Bush II led a procession of holier-than-thou zealots straight to the doors of our national treasury, then still bulging under the pressure of those riches Clinton had piled up.

And there it all sat - just ripe for the pilfering!

Today it no longer seems likely that Clinton's legacy will forever be mired in the overblown Lewinski affair that led to his impeachment, as it did when he left office with his head held high. After enduring eight years of the global embarrassment that is George W. Bush it has become nearly unimaginable that the most embarrassing or potentially incriminating thing a President can be remembered for is getting caught in a scurrilous sex scandal with a consenting adult.

The prudish Christian Right will still say that the scandal was more about Clinton's lying to cover up his infidelity than anything else. Yeah, right. That's because there was nothing else to it. Yes, he lied about cheating on his wife. But, somehow through it all Bill the sinner managed to patch things up with Hillary. And together they preserved the sanctity of an institution that is supposedly held most sacred to the fundamentalist Christian Right - a heterosexual marriage blessed by a Christian church.

And today the Clintons are still together.

John McCain, on the other hand, dumped his first wife in a messy civil divorce after she became disfigured in a horrible car crash, He then took up with a rich hot bimbo whom he later married and made at least seven homes with.

So much for Republican family values.

And then there is one Levi Johnston who sweats out the shotgun wedding that has loomed in his future ever since he knocked up the unchaste daughter of the Christian Right's current media darling - who also happens to be the Republican nominee for Vice President.

So much for Christian family values.

As for lying to cover up adultery, those two-faced Republican moralizers may tell themselves that "Joe the Plumber" was always upfront about screwing around on his wife - but she seems to have left him for some reason anyway.

So much for Plumber family values!

Remember: George W. Bush ran for President to restore "dignity" to the White House. As we begin to assess what will be Bush's legacy, how do you think that all worked out? 

When he was finally appointed by the Supreme Court - against the will of the people - W, who never owned up to his AWOL experience, was put in charge of our military that was not involved in any major foreign wars. We were still largely respected by the rest of the world and relations between whites and minorities in this country were at such a high that Clinton was known affectionately as America's "first black president."

Of course, the favorable things we now see as making up Clinton's legacy - and any list of ways we were better off before Bush stumbled on to the scene - could go on and on. As we prepare to close the door on the Bush/Cheney years forever you could draw it all out to lengths that would extend in direct inverse proportion to the shortness of our collective memory of a time before we got our fill of this bumbling Bush. 

I know I should be careful about sounding overconfident and I do not wish to seem presumptuous about anything. But I recently stumbled onto a short animated video that illustrates the legacy that Bush will be leaving once President Obama (get used to it) takes the oath of office in January.

A second short video from the same excellent source cleverly breaks down the mind-boggling cost of Bush's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Both are viewable below.

For an interesting effect I suggest running both videos at once. But viewing them individually and full screen is the best way to appreciate their clever artistry.

Bush's Legacy: What President Obama stands to inherit

Video by: Max Joseph, Chris Weller

In 2003, Donald Rumsfeld estimated a war with Iraq would cost $60 billion and not last more that six months. Five years later, the cost of Iraq war operations is more than 10 times that estimate. So what's behind the ballooning figures?

Joseph E. Stiglitz and Linda J. Bilme's exhaustively researched book, The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict, breaks down the price tag, from current debts to the unseen costs we'll pay for many years to come.

The Crisis That Will Test President Obama - Paying for Bush's Wars

Video by: Matt Owens , MacKenzie Fegan, Andrew Bouvé, Rus Garofalo, Michael Schaubach, Lindsay Utz, Morgan Currie, Jason Bishop | Music by: Audio Dregs Recordings

See more videos at Good/video