Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Not much Christmas spirit this year.

Recently, a Republican friend of mine (I do have Republican friends) sent me an email, recounting a tale of a Republican father and his hard-working student liberal Democrat daughter who, brainwashed by her profoundly elite college professors, berated her father for his selfishness. The father, giving as good as he got, reminded his prodigal child that Democrats were interested, through some ignorance of the Dickensian realities of life, to surrender all their freedoms; she simply did not understand that the progenitors of individual wealth should not be subjected to redistributionist taxation. Why did she not give part of her hard earned 4.0 GPA to her partying 2.0 GPA friend as a token of her undying friendship? When his daughter refused, he pronounced her a Republican.

The histoire continued in a vein of how Republicans benefited from hard work, self-reliance, control over the self, and how Democrats were willing to surrender all individual freedoms to the common good. Other included pronouncements were that conservatives who did not like guns did not buy them, homosexuals “quietly stayed at home,” (as if there were some shame to that), and how down-and-out conservatives lift themselves up by their bootstraps instead of looking for handouts.
Like all exaggerations the tale had some truth to it, but a little truth is as good as a prevarication. Democrats are hard working people, Democrats are not Socialists, and yes, they have social consciences, they believe that society has a duty to help care for those who cannot care for themselves. Is that not what America says in its constitutional preamble? “We the people…promote the general welfare…?” Do conservatives want to ensure the elimination of the middle class, transforming its persona into a 21st century version of 19th century England? In 1970, the top 1% controlled 9% of the wealth. Now the top 1% control 35% of the wealth. It is of these figures revolutions are born. Perhaps conservatives should think of social progressivism as a way of preserving the societal structure we are now fortunate enough to inhabit.
Lately, the political discourse in America has degenerated to an almost religious dichotomy of thought. The willingness of right wingers to denounce all efforts to help the unfortunate, and the condemnation of social progressives for trying to do so has become the underlying theme of present political reality. And by the same unfortunate token, the progressives depicting conservatives as social brutes stoke the fires of more polarization.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Capital Punishment in an Age of Abolition

John Paul Stevens, 90, about ready to retire from the Supreme Court, has recently written a review for The New York Review of Books, on David Garland’s recent book, "Peculiar Institution: America’s Death Penalty in an Age of Abolition."

The role of capital punishment remains a barbaric remnant of an earlier time, when public executions satisfied the need for “community gratification and fascination with death.” It serves no useful purpose, Stevens maintains. Had he been able to change his vote in the landmark case of Furman v Georgia, he would have voted to abolish the institution entirely.

I frankly do understand the arguments made by death penalty proponents: That some people do not deserve to live, that through the crimes they have committed, they have forfeited their right to life. Serial killers, criminal monsters who have violated every social moray, do not deserve to inhabit the planet; it is hard to argue otherwise. I hold no brief for Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, Jeffrey Dahmer, and the like. I am glad they are gone. But it is so complicated—and expensive for the state to put someone to death. If we shorten the appellate process, we risk rushing to a dénouement that no one really wants—the potential death of an innocent. And if we delay the process with individuals on death row for twenty years until they are executed, then we diminish and even make irrelevant the penalty.

The argument against capital punishment, therefore, is not the merits of keeping of death-deserving criminals alive; it is, however, the evil that our society perpetuates as a civilized undertaking (no pun intended). It has to do with the ability of our society to administer the punishment fairly. In that respect, we have failed miserably, because it is doled out without rhyme or reason, often for matters of race, or for the convenience of politicians being able to show to voters how tough they are on crime. Blacks who murder whites are 11 times more likely to receive the death penalty than whites who murder whites or blacks. Since 1972, 1,300 prisoners have been released from death row because of newly discovered evidence. We as a nation now inhabit the orb of Saudi Arabia, China, and Iran, to name a few other countries, which still put people to death. Criminality is not reduced by capital punishment. And the likelihood of an innocent man being killed is always present. Death is ever so final.

It is time for us to move beyond this primitive enterprise, and to have some leaders who are politically brave enough to say so.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010

I am thankful to live in a country where even those who disagree with us are able to express their opinion, no matter how inane, stupid, or ignorant.

I am thankful for the Constitution of the United States that has, since the founding, provided a framework for such expression.

I am thankful for the knowledge that in order for us to continue such a tradition, we must be constantly vigilant.

I am thankful for living in a country that reveres such a sacred document.

I am thankful for an understanding of the faults of those in power and for a free press that lies as an underpinning of expression and a watchdog against those who would corrupt the system.

I am thankful for our system of laws, courts and trial by jury and for those who labor to make it work.

I am thankful for understanding that “power corrupts and that absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

I am thankful that religious fundamentalists, despite their efforts to dismantle the wall of separation of church and state, have not been able to impose theocracy upon us.

I am thankful to not be living in a place like Iran where governance so antipathetic to human dignity dwells in its most grotesque and loathsome form.

I am thankful that religious fundamentalism is marginalized in our society, despite those who would try to inform our daily lives by casting us as flawed human beings in need of some sort of salvation—and a priestly class that arrogates power to itself by promising to “perfect” us.

I am thankful for understanding that we must strive to do good on our own volition, that each of us can make the world a better place and that kindness and charitable acts are the sincerest form of human effort if they are done for their own sake, with no promise of reward beyond the act itself.

And finally, I am thankful that I am not obliged to be thankful for anything at all, if I do not wish.

Monday, November 15, 2010

George Bush has his new book out.....

George Bush has his new book out. I have not yet read it, but I have heard him interviewed on TV and have read reviews of the book. This frat boy, this pious peddler of religious virtue, this hypocrite now wants to sell his writing (if he wrote it at all) as though he would be regarded kindly by history. He will not. He lacks no chutzpah. Ignorance surely is bliss.

His absence of remorse for sending our young service men and women to fight and die or have a leg or an arm blown off, is an exemplar of hubris and rationalization with which history will be able to evaluate his Presidency for its true worthlessness. Claiming to "protect Americans," he invaded a country that did not present an existential threat to our national security, violating his oath of office to preserve, protect and defend the constitution. Arguably he is a war criminal, having authorized torture and assuming responsibility for the unnecessary deaths of thousands of American youths, as well as around 100,000 innocent civilian Iraqis.

Speaking of audacity, the current occupant of the White House could use some. His potential compromise of the Bush tax cuts, favoring the richest of Americans threatens to perpetuate a growing disparity between the super rich and the rest of us. Imposing taxes to implement social policy, despite Republican protestations, is not a new phenomenon.

Seems that the American people have been fed and are voraciously consuming the malarkey of the conservatives who, despite evidence to the contrary, still believe that these rich folk are benefactors who create more jobs when they fail to pay their fair share of taxes. These are the same people who spent two trillion dollars on two wars and insist that we need a fleet of warplanes and billion dollar aircraft carriers to fight an amorphous band of illiterate religious fundamentalist terrorist thugs who have to smuggle explosive-laden printer cartridges onto airplanes or fill a truck with explosives to attack us. Now we need to get spending under control, they say.

No present day politician, Republican, Democrat or Tea Partier seems to have the courage to tell us exactly what they will cut. Social Security? The defense budget? Veterans Benefits? Medicare? The truth be told, no one dares.

It must be the fault of the lawyers

Monday, November 8, 2010

Thank goodness the election is over.

This is my first blog entry, and a fine time it is for it, if I must say so myself.
Florida has now elected an ethically challenged Republican governor, who essentially flooded the airwaves with negative ads about Alex Sink, the democratic candidate. People who have voted for him will not be surprised if he disappoints by trying to shut the door to the courthouse to "protect" businesses which despoil the environment, drill for oil in pristine seas off the coast, or manufacture harmful products.
On the national scene, people are amazed that tea partiers have gained so many seats in the House of Representatives, by mouthing standard platitudes of how they are going to slash spending. But where? They do not say.
Elected to the United States Senate is Marco Rubio, a 39 year old tea party conservative, who has railed against a woman's right to choose, waffled on global warming, and thinks that America is moving in the wrong direction. He expects to cure this problem by slashing the budget and making "hard choices," but has failed to specify which choices. Not social security because his 80 something mother is a beneficiary, but more likely because he fears the wrath of Florida's seniors. He is supposedly a rising star in the Republican party and since the other tea partiers are pretty crazy, he probably won't be around for his full term, unless he keeps his seat while running for higher office a la Joe Lieberman.
The selling of candidates like bars of soap continues, and the insulting, demeaning ads are over, but the consequences of the electorate not having to think too much about the candidates or listen seriously to debates about complex issues should be troublesome to any thoughtful person.
People in Florida should not be discouraged, however. Now that the GOP has some power, they will be held responsible by the punditry, including yours truly in the next election.