The Supremes

June 28, 2015

One of the most secretive institutions in our republic is not the CIA or the National Security Agency, but rather the Supreme Court. The nine jurists, appointed for life, meet in private to discuss and vote on cases that were presented to them months earlier. There may be a few clerks and secretaries in the room. but they are sworn to secrecy; any leaks to the press would end their careers.

From the over the top reactions of the four justices who formed the minority in the gay marriage decision that meeting must have been one hell of a shouting match. Justice Kennedy, a Catholic conservative, wrote the majority opinion and in a closing paragraph that will be quoted for years to come talked about the dignity of married life as he enshrined marriage as a constitutional right, while the dissent of Justice Scalia, a Catholic conservative, went ballistic and personal as he lamented the end of democracy, a wholesale misreading of the constitution and the liberal elitism of the majority. Reading Scalia’s dissent reveals a sore loser and the reactions of a bully who didn’t get his way.

Gay marriage is now law but the harsh words and the personal animosity expressed by Scalia and also Chief Justice Roberts suggests that the collegial and non-political character of the high court may be in the past. Expect that the justices on both sides of the issue of gay marriage will go public in the coming days and enter the debate about this new right and the traditional concept of marriage. Even worse, conservative politicians have promised to make the Court’s decision a campaign issue. In a manner similar to the reactions of the Warren Court in the 1950s and 1960s which supported desegregation and civil rights, conservatives running for president are already talking about impeachment proceedings against the majority and a constitutional amendment to overturn the decision. Those efforts are a complete waste of time.

Whenever the Supreme Court expands rights or re-interprets the words of the Constitution and its amendments critics will condemn judicial activism, except of course when the expansion and re-interpretation suits their agenda and ideology. Judicial activism is nothing more than defining the law of the land to suit changing circumstances and mores; or as the textbooks say “making the constitution a living document.” The constitution was written over 200 years ago and for those like Justice Scalia who hold to the view that what was written by James Madison and others can never change or be updated are judicial hypocrites-witness the campaign finance rulings penned by conservatives on the Court which defined financial contributions a form of free speech. Madison, I am sure Madison turned over in his grave with that tortured logic.

Thank goodness the Supreme Court will not reconvene until October and the Congress is out of session until the fall. Most importantly, the so-called failure of democracy that Scalia crows about in his dissent fails to take notice of the fact that now over 60% of Americans support gay marriage and see the sanctioning of this union as a right.

My humble advice to Justice Scalia and his three other dissenters is to move on, get over it. Love won out.

Family Values – The Duggars

June 4, 2015

Family values is one of those keywords that has been defined and used with great effectiveness by the Christian right. The poster family of family values has for years been the Duggar clan – 19 children raised in a bible-based home by a mother and father who have gained national attention, and of course a reality television show.

Family values has been translated as a mother and father, steeped in the teachings of the bible, opposed to the secularization of American society and its validation of gay marriage, abortion, marijuana legalization, contraception, feminism, Hollywood, and whatever the liberal left cooks up as essential for the “common good.” The Duggars with a dominant father, an obedient wife, and smiling home-schooled children reflect all that is good about their version of family values. If only Americans would adopt this version of family values, the country would not be in a state of moral decline.

With the molestation of young girls by Josh Duggar, including at least one of his sisters and Mother Duggar robo calling Americans to rail against homosexuals, transexuals, and other alternative lifestyles, perhaps it is time to revisit family values in this country. The Duggars no longer corner the market on family values.

Family values, 2015 style, likely starts with the premise that the family is changing – divorce, gay adoption, delayed marriages, cohabitation, and childless parents. It is certainly safe to say that the family of 2015 is not the Duggars. But family values is more than the current trends in American society. It is the values part of the equation that needs to be reexamined.

The family of 2015 could easily embrace values such as respect for others, tolerance of differences, concern for those less fortunate, a hunger for social justice, a commitment to volunteerism, and a desire to make the planet a better place to live and grow. Now the Duggars and the Christian right may indeed support these family values, but too often they are so wedded to narrow biblical guidelines that they often ignore the life and teaching of Christ and the message of the New Testament gospels.

Family values need not be fire and brimstone preaching, intolerance, and lock step adherence to a few lines of the Old Testament. Family values instead can become treating all God’s children as equals and becoming more human and humane.

Beyond Nuts

May 26, 2015

Talk about fringe conservative nut jobs, hundreds of Texas “patriots” are preparing to take on the United States army as they engage in a military exercise called Jade Helm 15. These nut jobs are convinced that President Obama is using this exercise as a means to establish martial law in Texas and bring the conservative movement in that state to its knees.

After you read some of these off the wall comments of these nut jobs, a rational person would easily wonder how people can be so out of touch with how the real world works. But then the picture becomes clearer when the governor of Texas Greg Abbott gets the state national guard to stay on alert to fend off the US troops and US Senator Ted Cruz gives further credence to the dastardly exploits of our president.

This is what the Tea Party, Fox News, Ann Coulter, and the gun rights advocates have wrought among some in Texas ( and probably elsewhere -its only a matter of time). Certainly it is a lot easier these days to mistrust the federal government or to loose faith in popular democracy, but to think that any military official in the Pentagon or at nearby Ft. Hood would buy into much less obey an order from the President to impose martial law is just plain bizarre.

Fear- mongering is the lifeblood of the conservative movement. Coupled with undertones of racism against Barack Hussein Obama and the unfiltered nonsense on the internet and there is a perfect recipe for preparing for a military takeover of Texas ( or maybe even the end of times).

This country just recognized the sacrifice of thousands of American heroes who gave their life for this country in far away places, all so that we can live free and and secure. Then along comes these phony patriots who are preparing for war against their own troops because charlatans and talk radio kooks have dreamed up a scheme to gather attention. It’s not only shameless but nuts.

A Flesh Wound

May 21, 2015

President Obama described the fall of the Iraqi city of Ramadi as a “flesh wound” and a  “tactical setback.” This is the kind of double speak that was often heard during the Vietnam War as President Lyndon Johnson and his generals tried to reassure the American public that what appeared to be significant defeats were merely temporary bumps in the road that would easily be overcome.

Those bumps became potholes as this country eventually lost the war and was forced to leave the country to the Communist Vietcong. Years later historians and journalists concluded that the Vietnam was was never winnable and that our war policy was made within an isolated bubble often termed group think – an aversion to seeing the reality of a situation and an unwillingness to tell the man in charge what he didn’t want to hear.

Now the current Iraq war against the Islamic State is not another Vietnam, in large part because President Obama pulled our troops out and left behind a token force. The Iraqis told us to leave and the American public has lost its will to fight for a corrupt and incompetent government in the Middle East.  But the original decision by President Bush to dismantle the leadership of the Iraqi army coupled with President Obama’s decision to take our troops out has led to disaster on the battlefield.

Obama still clings to the view that this is not our war and that others will have to defeat the Islamic State. Claims by critics of the President that 10,000 US troops should be embedded with the Iraqis fall on deaf ears as the President is in no mood to return to Iraq- American is no longer the policeman to the world. The result of is that we are left with bland assurances that victory over the fanatics is within reach and the loss of key real estate is but a “flesh wound.”

It’s time to talk straight to the American people and admit that the Iraqi forces are unable to defend what is left of their country and that our strategy is really no strategy at all, except to send in advisers, weaponry and an occasional special operations attack. The fanatics cannot be defeated with this non-strategy, only a Bush-like surge of 10,000 US troops will drive the Islamic State back. But with the American people seemingly behind him and the Islamic State posing only a tiny threat to the homeland the double speak, group think and non-strategy is what our Iraq policy has become. Don’t look for the Marines in Ramadi any time soon, they left years ago.

Commencement Wisdom?

May 19, 2015

I have been to enough commencement exercises in my academic career that I can be considered as something of an expert at listening to high-priced men and women of distinction impart their wisdom  to the graduates, who in most cases just want to get the diploma and head out to dinner and those envelopes with congratulatory checks stuffed inside.

What usually happens at these commencement events is that after a few jokes and stories the speaker in full regalia and an honorary degree settles down to emitting the following standard pearls of wisdom:

” Follow your passion”

” Work hard”

” Chase that dream”

” Don’t avoid a challenge”

” Don’t let setbacks get you down”

” Control your destiny”

” Reach for the stars”

Blah, Blah, Blah

It is a rare experience when I have heard a commencement speaker offer the following words of advice, words that touch on the reality of the workplace of today and tomorrow:

” You have a lot to learn, so listen to those with experience”

” The world doesn’t owe you anything”

” Accept responsibility for your mistakes, don’t blame the person in the next cubicle”

“You’ll probably get fired once in your career”

“Just try your best”

And as Winston Churchill said,” never,never, never, never give up”

Congratulations to the Class of 2015, Good Luck, it’s a tough world out there.

Watergate and Deflategate

May 12, 2015

This blog entry won’t be long since just about everyone in New England has offered their opinion on Tom Brady, the Patriots and the National Football League. What I will say is that one of the lasting lessons of the political crisis of the Nixon administration, commonly called Watergate, is that often the cover-up is more damning than the crime.

Breaking into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee to steal documents was indeed a crime and low level crooks got arrested and did time. But the Watergate crisis occurred because President Nixon engaged in a cover-up by not releasing documents related to the case, told his underlings to engage in all sorts of legal and political maneuvers to stop the special prosecutor, and likely destroyed a Oval Office recording device that probably held incriminating conversations.

Nixon stonewalled, held fast to his arrogance of power, saw his tormentors as enemies, and in the end brought himself disgrace as he resigned from office.

That was 1974, but Deflategate has many similarities to Watergate – an unwillingness to cooperate with authorities, a refusal to hand over phone texts, outright lies to the press, the prosecutor, the public, and a view that the Patriots are somehow above reproach and deserve to be treated in a special manner.

Sure the PSI of the football is to most fans insignificant ( that really had no impact on the outcome of the game) and Tom Brady is the best quarterback in football ( and a football god in these parts). But when faced with allegations of actions that gave the Patriots a competitive edge during a championship game, what did the all-American hero do? He engaged in a modern day cover-up filled with lies, half truths; he refused to cooperate with the NFL; and  he revealed an arrogant attitude born from the view that he and the Patriots were above the rules. Luckily for Tom Brady, he only got a four game suspension, the team lost two draft picks and owner Bob Kraft, a billionaire, has to pay a million dollar fine. Remember for his cover-up Nixon lost the presidency.

The Charm City

April 28, 2015

Watching Baltimore face the worst night of violence and destruction since the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, the reporters, pundits, experts and the people on the street of what is proudly called ” Charm City” laid blame for the chaos with a wide net. From young thugs to an out of touch mayor to brutalizing police to absent parents, it seemed that just about everyone in Baltimore was at fault.

Lost in this blame game were state and local officials who took pride in revitalizing the Inner Harbor at the expense of Sandtown; the banks that approved but a handful of loans to build new homes and businesses; the corporate sector that left Baltimore never to return leaving one in five residents of the black community unemployed; and let’s not forget the media who in one tragic night all of sudden recognized that there was a poverty, inequality, injustice problem in the “Charm City.”

Baltimore was indeed on the way back with many examples of change and development, but the progress was painfully slow and the resources necessary to make a real dent on poverty, inequality and injustice were grossly insufficient. It doesn’t take an urban planner to see that with 16,000 abandoned homes in Baltimore the task of bringing the city back was akin to rebuilding Europe after World War II.

Because hope is always the antidote to negligence, many of the fine people of Baltimore took the city away from the chaos and began the long road back. It was truly heartening to see the people who love Baltimore cleaning up the streets and helping those who lost everything. It is important to remember that riots do nothing but bring senseless destruction; lawlessness is no answer to community failure; and isolating a racial group in the modern equivalent of a ghetto is a sure-fire recipe for retaliation.

Baltimore is now in the hand-wringing stage as government officials, religious leaders and community activists will form a blue ribbon commission tasked with making a long list of recommendations for reform. Some of the reforms may see the light of day, but what Baltimore needs more than anything is to admit that a city with 20% unemployment in the black ghetto, 16,000 abandoned buildings, and a power structure that is risk averse to pour resources into a forgotten part of the city needs a major make-over.


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