October 2009

Women Need Not Apply.

The Roman pontiff can and ought to reconcile himself, and come to terms with progress, liberalism and modern civilization. Pope Pious IX (1792-1878)

When I read that the Catholic Church was making overtures to England’s Anglicans to “come on down to Rome,” I thought this sounds familiar but I couldn’t exactly put my finger on it until I thought of Tricky Dick Nixon.

In case you haven’t heard the latest church news from the pews (Ha!) Pope Benedict XVI has told disaffected Anglicans that if the thought of women and, oh my gawd, homosexuals having positions of leadership within the Anglican Church perversely repugnant, well, there’s always the good ol’ Boys Catholic Church for you. Ah, there’s no place like a “home” where uppity women and queers need not apply.

This approach to undermining “the opposition” by mining (manipulating) fear(s) is a timeless ploy and one best illustrated by example.

In the 1960s, the United States Congress heatedly debated Civil Rights Legislation. You remember don’t-cha? We still hung “negroes” from trees and beat “negro” women and children silly with truncheons; that is when we weren’t bombing black churches and killing “Northern freedom marchers.” Although most of the “overt” violence was a Southern “experience,” all over the good ol’ U.S. of A., black Americans were subject to violence, intimidation and brutality.

Both President’s Kennedy and Johnson became appalled at the state of race relations but it took the gutsy, persistent Lyndon Johnson to get the 1964 Civil Rights Act passed. The act was opposed by Southern Democrats and was filibustered for days in the Senate. The opposition was led by Senator Richard Russell (D-GA) who said, “We will resist to the bitter end any measure or any movement which would have a tendency to bring about social equality and intermingling.” There’s a real American patriot calling a spade a shovel

According to political lore as President Johnson put down his signing pen he whispered to an aide, referencing the Democratic Party, “We have lost the South for a generation.”

A generation? Only a generation? Boy, was President Johnson off on that one. How many Southern whites voted for Obama in 2008? Oh, oh, oh, so sorry, Obama’s blackness was/is not a consideration at to all Southern whites. Examples: in Georgia 23% of whites voted for Obama. Louisiana: 14%, Mississippi: 11%, and Alabama: 10%. My goodness, 10%, that’s one in ten of white Alabamans voted for Obama. What do you want?

And how exactly did this transition of the fearful, disaffected Southern white Democrat moving to the Republican Party happen just as the prescient President Johnson predicted?

Well, enter President Dick Nixon and the “Southern Strategy.” Although Tricky Dick did not originate the political term he definitely popularized it. In a 1970 New York Times article, Kevin Phillips, an aide to the President said, “From now on, the Republicans are never going to get more than 10 to 20 percent of the Negro vote and they don’t need any more than that… but Republicans would be shortsighted if they weakened enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That’s where the votes are.” Don’t you just love quotes?

So, c’mon down all you disaffected whites to a political party that understands your frustrations with uppity, ungrateful, pushy people of uh, “coluh.” And, voila, the “Southern Strategy” was hatched, morphed into the euphemism of “Reagan Democrats” and continues to this day if you look at the “core” constituency of a nationally shrinking Republican Party.

And that is what came to mind as I thought of Pope Benedict XVI’s ploy to peal off disaffected Anglicans. Women with leadership roles in the Church? Gay Priests? My goodness, what next? Modernism? Relevance?

I have to think that all the boys of the Church are afraid women will naturally look better all tricked out in the priestly garb reserved only for men. Ha! Too funny. Simply recall the bright red shoes the Pope wore. He’s a Prada, Gucci wearing Pope.

Seriously, what are the reservations to women having authority in the Catholic Church? I researched at length this very question and came up with a number of reasons offered by the privileged male hierarchy of the Church. All of it is gibberish to an outside observer but it seems to boil down to three reasons: (1. Christ was a man, (2. He only chose men as apostles and, (3. Authority, in that women cannot be allowed to teach men in the Church. “I do not permit woman to act as teacher” (2 Timothy 2:12).

Historically, there has been consistent resistance to women having any positions of authority (outside of managing children). You know what though? It’s interesting to me that objections to what women can and cannot do are most vociferously and emphatically uttered by men (that hypocritical Phyllis Schlafly to the contrary).

What do Islam and the Catholicism have in common? No women in management.

Oh, it is asserted, you cannot argue with church doctrine and you know what, in reality, that is spot on. But that isn’t the point is it? Arguing with intolerance.

I personally find it perversely strange that in the 21st century, one of our major Western institutions maintains, by way of example and practice, a public and prominent policy that women are unacceptable as leadership aspirants and participants. Unequal by any other name.

And for that institution, the Catholic Church, to promote a policy of appealing to Anglicans upset, unsettled and unaccepting of women and gays in positions of authority, well, that is repugnant.

It is too sadly reminiscent of Nixon’s Southern strategy of appealing to disaffected Southern whites who feared and resisted black integration and the acceptance of blacks as human beings. C’mon over to our Party, Republicans said, if you can’t stand . . . In this situation, substitute women for black and you’ve a comparable and deplorable ethical equivalent.

No matter how the Church spins it.

The memory of my own suffering has prevented me from ever shadowing one young soul with the superstitions of the Christian religion. Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

That women are or should be subservient to male hierarchies is an unacceptable superstition (practice) in need of an exorcism. Ya think?

Tea Bag That One Time.

I am of several opinions, rather feelings, about America at the moment. I am a borderline goofy optimist, an inveterate Pollyanna who finds himself more and more in a deepening despair over my nation’s prospects. I sympathize, I do, with the frustrations expressed by the nation’s rightwing Tea Baggers. I do not agree so much with their perceptions as to what ails America but I get their concern, their fear that something is slipping away.

Issues that are critical to me, however, do not even register on the national consciousness.

For well over a 100 years America has been an imperial power. We are imperialists. We wrap our imperialism around the flag of noble sounding sentiments of spreading democracy or keeping the world “safe for democracy,” but America has been an aggressive imperialistic power since before our shabby little war with Spain in 1898. In the 20th century, only one war, WWII warranted our involvement; the rest, arguably, are examples of American “nobility” having run amuck.

I want to explore what it means to America to have become a militaristic, imperial power, how that one singular fact subverts and erodes the democratic foundations of our nation. And it is not as if we weren’t warned.

This is what James Madison, Founding Father and considered the principal author of the American Constitution said in 1795, “Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes … known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few… No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”

Okay, say Madison isn’t convincing enough for you, let’s go to the “original” source of America. Here is what George Washington, Revolutionary general and the prototype for every subsequent president said in his September 17, 1796 farewell address to the nation, “Hence, likewise, they [the American people] will avoid the necessity of those overgrown military establishments, which, under any form of government, are inauspicious to liberty, and which are to be regarded as particularly hostile to Republican Liberty.”

I ask my conservative readers to consider that if they are going to employ the 18th century words and logic of our Founding Fathers in the advocacy of a better 21st century America that they acknowledge what these prescient men had to say on perpetual war and the corrosive influence of an “overgrown” military establishment.

To suggest, as I do, that America has repeatedly warred for ignoble reasons and that the industries that feed, nurture, and promote our war-making a cancer upon our nation will be received by deaf, indifferent or hostile ears. Generations of American servicemen who have loyally served our nation do not want to accept that they were used and deployed on questionable missions that did/do not make our nation safer. They are quite understandably soldiers still in their advocacy of militarism, in their unquestioning defense of bloated Pentagon budgets and military adventurism. Who wants to entertain the idea that what they sacrificed was for the fools errand, that war in America has become a gargantuan profit center, that we have been deceived (or do we willingly embrace?) war and the preparation for war as America’s noble calling and necessity.

President James Madison: “No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”

General George Washington: “Avoid the necessity of those overgrown military establishments.”

Of all the world’s spending on preparation for war the United States is responsible for 41.5 per cent of the world total, followed by the China (5.8% of world share), France (4.5%), UK (4.5%), and Russia (4%). We spend eight times on defense what China allocates. And that is America’s targeted 21st century “enemy?” What lunacy. America spends 44% of its collected federal taxes on preparing for war.

What an insidious, ultimately self-destructing circle America finds itself. Defense contractors have strategically spread their factories throughout the nation, into hundreds of Congressional Districts. Appropriations for defense (what a euphemism that has become), appropriations for America’s never-ending war, well, what congressman or senator has the cojones to say, “Enough!” Jobs! Jobs! Jobs! Challenge defense appropriations and you might as well guarantee yourself one term. See veterans mobilized (manipulated) into opposition. All patriotically wrapped in the Red, White & Blue.

Here is what General Eisenhower said in his Farewell Presidential Address to the nation in 1961: “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

General George Washington and General Dwight Eisenhower 165 years later said virtually the same thing. America’s premier generals directly and emphatically said to the nation: beware the permanent formation of an all-powerful military establishment. We are there folks. It has happened. It is fact.

I have a solution. It is all about money and power. Tell America’s war contractors they are going to receive the same appropriation(s) as last year but instead of preparing for war, they prepare for America’s future. Instead of tanks and planes, they design and build new technologies of energy. Build efficient and accessible mass transit. Actually transform health care delivery. Create new technologies and methods to clean our polluted environment. Pay our war contractors to actually build (contribute to) America as they build their stock price.

It ain’t gonna happen. America has enemies don’t-cha see! FOREVER! And we’ll wonder what in the hell happened to America—as we fold from within while idiotically astride our shiny new state of the art war machinery. All dressed-up, spiffy for war, yet maimed and limping, ironically and tragically, from self-inflicted wounds. That is America’s future I fear.

Tea Bag that one time. And I’m there.

A Sad Day In America.

Someone asked me recently what I think of the average voter. “Not much,” was my reply. I am not as enamored of the “average man,” as American mythology might suggest I should be. The unsophisticated plainsman with a patriot’s heart of gold, settling the West, spreading democracy through word and deed. Un-huh. More apt, a mindless goober, a rube who didn’t know up from down. Actually, that is my assessment of a lot of today’s voters.

Example: approximately 42% of Americans do not believe in evolution. They believe in creationism or “intelligent design.” Ha! That is too funny. If we are the product of “intelligent design,” well, so much for the “original” design vision. Should people who embrace superstition even be allowed to vote? Perhaps, they get three-fifths a vote, America, after all does have the precedent of discounting human worth. Rather than on race, we justifiably discriminate on the basis of intelligence and to the degree you embrace superstition determines your eligibility to vote. Seriously. Being stupid is no virtue regardless of what you hear from the pews.

Brother, can you spare me some charity. It is hard to envision any Republican ever again being elected President but as we all know the tide doth turn. And do I feel sorry, already, for that individual? Yes, actually I do. What Obama has received from the GOP opposition will be returned in spades (no pun intended) on that Republican President. I am unsure if deference, restraint and civility will ever again be remotely a quality of American politics.

I was thinking about what my expectations were for an Obama administration. I was listening to a TV commentator proclaim last week, “Hey, Obama never said he was going to pull out of Afghanistan. He publicly campaigned saying Afghanistan was the necessary war. So, all you voters on the Left, what did you think was going to happen in that war?”

This was in response to Obama’s ongoing review of “OUR” war in Afghanistan and General McCrystal’s request for 40,000 more American troops. And, this type of discussion prompted my review of what I wanted from Obama as President of the United States of America.

This is what I wanted (want) from President Barack Hussein Obama.
1.) All American forces out of the Middle East. Today.
2.) Enlightened regulatory oversight and reform of America’s financial system. Far-reaching decisions to bolster, strengthen and diversify America’s economy. An economy that “lifts” all.
3.) Protection of species. Land preservation. Clean water. Clean air. Clean land.
4.) Clarity of thought and speech (this in response to previous President).
5.) Protection and progress in reproductive options for men and women.
6.) Rein in “Eisenhower’s” Military/Industrial complex. Shift federal dollars from militarism to addressing America’s pressing domestic problems. What good an imperial military defending an unsustainable, economically weakening America?

Those were the areas I had identified (and written) down prior to last year’s election. I had started to write a seventh category but regrettably failed to continue that list. No doubt, the coffee water was boiling and needed pouring. Ah, distractions. Obviously, other citizens developed their own list of different priorities and ideas much more comprehensive from mine.

Aside: speaking of delightful distractions, go see the movie “Bright Star.” It is about poetry and erudition and love. And desire. If words and romance are your cup of tea, see this movie.

I am having a difficult time believing today that Barack Obama is the “change” I hoped for. And America so desperately requires. He did campaign, it’s a fact, that Afghanistan was the necessary war but quite candidly I thought that campaign rhetoric, words mouthed but not believed in order to get elected. Oh, I can hear the clamor associated with that assertion. But only recall the moniker applied to George W. Bush when he was running for the presidency, that he was a “compassionate conservative.” If you ever require an example of what an oxymoron is, simply use “compassionate conservative.” It’s actually a clearer example than what I once coined, “a bad orgasm.”

Yes, folks do campaign for office under false pretenses because they cannot be elected if they were/are totally candid. Republicans have so successfully labeled Democrats as weak on defense that any candidate running for virtually any federal office has to salute the flag of militarism. It’s fact. That, and our Second Amendment right to bear arms at christenings, a Brit Mila, or your cousin’s wedding. Not to mention, public political demonstrations.

I thought Obama too smart to enlarge “OUR” war in Afghanistan. Alas. Sigh. Oh, and let’s not even go into the lost (forever?) opportunity to reform and regulate Wall Street and America’s banking system. I do not know which makes me more disappointed in my fellow Americans, our complacency, our willingness to accept that America is will/be (read Orwell’s “1984”) forever at war with the world or how we so quickly forget that the nation was so recently and egregiously had (hosed!) by America’s moneyed elites.

What is it about Americans that have so many of us listening to the Glen Beck’s, the Rush Limbaugh’s of the world? Is it, we want someone else to do our thinking for us, that we want scapegoats to blame, or require simple solutions to complex problems? It’s all of the above plus we want it entertaining. It’s my understanding, or at least, it is portrayed that the band played nearly to the end as the Titanic sank. If you require a metaphor.

I do not know how a nation overcomes an expanding stupid electorate, one incapable of voting for even its own interests. But that is where America finds itself.

And let’s say you do not agree with my positions at all, that you naturally and comfortably see America from a different, right-leaning perspective. Well, can we, at least, agree on the “facts” of the issues and problems confronting our nation? Just the facts, Ma’am!

You bet you say. But first you have to attend a sermon on how God sprinkled the earth with dinosaur bones and that the reason there are no unicorns today is because the Tyrannosaurus Rex that Moses brought on the Ark gobbled’um up as they boarded. So very sad for little girls everywhere.

And then you have to listen to Beck & Limbaugh. So very sad for thinking Americans everywhere.

Katy, Bar The Door!

Why is a little bit of democracy okay, but too much is tyrannical? That’s going to be our topic today, class. Is it the old maxim that “Too much of anything is bad thing?” Is too much democracy a bad thing?

I suppose too much “clean” water can be a bad thing to a drowning man. No doubt, too much air to a scuba diver recovering from the “bends” is a bad thing. Too much alcohol is a bad thing. But democracy? How can democracy be too much of a bad thing?

Aside: Is it not a conundrum that we can elect an American president with a simple majority (50% plus one vote, assuming the Electoral College reflects actual vote totals) yet to secure healthcare for all Americans requires 60% in the U.S. Senate? Intellectually, how do you square that circle? That electing a President is less important than passing legislation?

What prompted this essay was an October 1, 2009 Orlando Sentinel “My Word” opinion by a Mr. Steve O’Dowd who owns a consulting firm and happens to be Vice President of the Home Builders Association of Metro Orlando. I do not know Mr. O’Dowd but I found his observations on democracy interesting. Mr. O’Dowd was commenting on a Mike Thomas (Sentinel writer) column dealing with the Hometown Democracy Initiative. That initiative would require voter approval for any changes to the Comprehensive Land Plans Florida municipalities must have in place regarding all land use and development.

Mr. O’Dowd takes umbrage with that scenario arguing 1.) a business knows best what its land use needs are, 2.) local governments (elected officials) have in place professional staffs to oversee this process and, 3.) requiring voter approval is antithetical to capitalism and besides, voters are too unsophisticated to understand land use laws and are subject to easy subversion by elements hostile to development. I believe those are Mr. O’Dowd’s arguments in a nutshell.

Let’s examine these arguments. First, I totally agree that business knows best what “its” land use needs are. Who could argue with that? But it does not necessarily follow that “those interests” axiomatically benefit the larger society affected or impacted by development. Actually, a strong case can be made that that isn’t the case at all. Because you as a developer profit from a transaction does not mean the community benefit is commensurately equal. Nor necessarily should it be. But does not the “greater” community have a “dog” in this fight from a quality of life perspective?

So, reviewing the premises in the last paragraph, where, historically has the idea of “checks & balances” entered into the equation to ensure development with public oversight and protection. Two places. Your local elected officials and the professional staffs (city, county, state) hired to oversee and enforce regulatory oversight of development.

In the best of all possible worlds, long-term community interests would be weighed and considered and all development would be evaluated and approved based on “said” development “meeting” existing land use laws.

I once served on a local city council and part of that community had zoning laws that allowed BIG BOX development (Walmart, Home Depot, etc.). A BIG BOX applied for a building permit but the “public” didn’t want that particular BIG BOX there. I voted for the BIG BOX because “it” met our zoning standards. It met the rules we had established (years before) as a community. It was not approved.

My point in this illustration is elected officials are no guarantee of anything. You may say, “Gee, isn’t it great another BIG BOX wasn’t allowed to build.” But that wasn’t the lesson I gleaned from the experience. Your elected government officials serve for any number of reasons. They can be persuaded to vote any number of ways for any number of public and/or private reasons.

I am reminded of the Mayor Crotty case a number of years ago. He was invited to participate in a South Florida land deal put together by Orange County developer Daryl Carter. In little over a year Crotty made over $112,000. What is wrong with that you might legitimately ask? Well, Carter was regularly before the Orange County Commission seeking land use changes and development approvals. $112,000 net profit in a year. I, personally, found that such a sweetheart deal for Crotty questionable. Appearances alone would suggest as much. He was cleared, however, of any conflict of interest.

If you look at the donors to any campaigns for local public office, developers are often substantial contributors. Legitimately so. What they secure with their contributions, at a minimum, is the returned phone call. Money buys access. It doesn’t necessarily buy votes. But let’s not be completely naïve. Besides, it will be argued, “We’re talking jobs! It’s good for everyone!” And, of course, there is always the next election. You do want to be re-elected, don’t you?

Your city/county engineer and zoning staffs are only as good and as ethical as the men and women who run said departments. That’s a fact. Collusion, corruption and indifference to the “public welfare” are not unknowns.

The Hometown Democracy Initiative didn’t all of sudden sprout out of the ether for no reason. Time and time and time again it has been demonstrated in Florida that development interests will trump community interests, that money buys access and that special interests get special treatment. And, yes, Mr. O’Dowd, that is capitalism. Of a sort.

What most intrigued me by Mr. O’Dowd’s comments was the following quote, “Maybe he [Mike Thomas] should let the tens of thousands of unemployed Central Floridians review and vote on whether his articles should be published.”

This is an odd observation. First, I do not see any correlation between a newspaper columnist requiring prior approval and a developer securing prior approval for a development. Words and land use are two different concepts and have far different community implications. Let alone the First Amendment implications.

More interesting is why the singling out of unemployed Central Floridians. Are the unemployed somehow tainted as citizens? Have they forfeited their interests in society because of their employment status? Surely, Mr. O’Dowd is not being disingenuous by attributing anyone’s current unemployment to the, as yet unapproved, Hometown Democracy Initiative. Regardless, once you censure ideas and opposing opinion, well, Katy, bar the door! On all manner of “quality of life” issues.

I totally get why developers oppose The Hometown Democracy Initiative. I also totally get why it is on the ballot. Vote accordingly.