Friday, November 30, 2012
IN THE BLINK OF AN EYE By John P. Flannery We live a life that is a blink of an eye as compared to the more than 4 Billion years that passed before our mothers sent us down the birth canal into the world as we know it. Our human forbears and our generation and those aborning have only been here for about 150,000 years. But we don’t have much cause to think about this fact, of our temporal insignificance, unless we have a heated argument with someone who thinks the earth has been here for thousands of years rather than billions. I’ve had conversations with some in Loudoun County who believe that the earth is only 8,000 years old because of a sequence of Biblical “begats” that added, one to the other, yield this sum of years and no more. This was a laugh line in the Scopes Monkey Trial. But it’s no laughing matter for many in America. When these folk who believe this nonsense are pressed about the evidence of fossils, carbon dating, layers of sediment, Arctic and Antarctic ice samples that prove that the Earth has been here 4 Billion years and that we humans are recent inhabitants, some have actually said, that “God only makes the earth look older.” (I have not gotten a satisfactory answer as to why the mind of God would “think” to do such a thing – to deceive us – but there it is.) Nor is this bizarre “belief” system an eccentric phenomenon. U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), a nascent presidential candidate, was recently asked how old the earth is for a magazine article, and reportedly answered, “It’s one of the great mysteries.” Senator Rubio is the same person who compared the teaching of evolution to some form of communistic indoctrination. He prefers creationism that has no scientific antecedents. Plainly some can’t distinguish a religious from a scientific text. And this has its consequences to public policy and what we are doing to protect our children and their children. When geological truths are “a mystery,” then we can’t rightly consider global warming, and how humans prompt this endangerment and how they squander our world’s finite resources. We plainly don’t believe, like our species depended on this fact, that we need to be stewards of this planet, itself a small blue spot in an expanding universe of light and dark masses, electrical and magnetic forces, and barely understood physics, not even when scientific studies indicate that, whatever happened in the history of the universe, the delicate balance of gasses and environmental conditions on this blue cat’s eye marble make human life possible when life may exist nowhere else. We tolerate fossil fuels and fight for the right of coal to burn even as it compromises our very existence. Nor is there any doubt about this fact. Some say the planet cools, like in the ice age, or warms, as now. But it’s more complicated and dangerous than that. It cooled when we had too little Carbon Dioxide and it’s heating when we have too much. This is true as a matter of scientific fact. Not our melting polar caps, retreating shorelines, changing and more violent weather patterns, shifting vegetation, lost species, accumulations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, prompting the greenhouse effect, warming our planet, seems to alarm our world leaders. With about 6.7 Billion humans on the planet, we still have political, community and religious leaders, in the highest rank, inviting even more unplanned parenthood, more unwanted children, as many as possible apparently, expecting the food air and water fairy to provide for these armies of maladapted children – persisting in this wrong-headed fashion until, sooner than we think, everyone on the planet has so little space that they are standing shoulder to shoulder, face to face, unable to move, and then, privacy, freedom and human dignity shall be a distant memory. Even in our County, we’ve observed this indifference to the challenge of sustaining our environment so we may continue to survive. We want to drink clean water but won’t act to clean our streams. We put filters in our home air conditioning systems but don’t fight air pollution. We avoid poisons in our home but support sprays in our gardens and from the air, now fifty years after Rachel Carson first spoke of the adverse health effects in “Silent Spring.” Chief Seattle once famously said, “we belong to the earth,” that “we are but one strand within the web [of life,]” and that “whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.” Those who invoke the bible for science would better serve us all if they read it for spiritual guidance instead, including the commandments, particularly the Eighth Commandment that says, “Thou shalt not steal,” for we are the future eaters, and, if we fail to act, we steal the future from our children, even as we say that we care for them – and that nothing’s more important than our children and grand-children.
Monday, November 26, 2012
COME CLEAN ON GENE!
By John P. Flannery
You know that old question about whether you can characterize government in two words, as government “in action”, or by one word, government “inaction”?
We’ve become accustomed to the latter, and expect less to be accomplished, rather than more.
The latest disappointment is close to home, involving our own Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, because an orange-hatted Member of “the team,” Eugene Delgaudio, from Sterling, identified as the head of a hate group that bashes gays, has been charged with campaign finance misconduct, raising funds in county office space, using county staff, and, oh yes, there are additional questions about whether Mr. Delgaudio’s gay-bashing advocacy went so far that he may have violated privacy and copyright laws; in any case, that’s the subject of a pending law suit naming Mr. Delgaudio.
Mr. Delgaudio has been an object of derision and caricature and, with him, so has our county and its reputation in the region and nationally.
Our Board of Supervisors hasn’t helped matters. They have so mishandled the accusations that they’re now in the line of fire – and viewed by some with the same distrust and reservations as Mr. Delgaudio.
The stone walls rose up around the bunkered Board of Supervisors, apparently because they are more concerned about protecting one of their own, at the risk of their own reputations, instead of doing what’s right for them and for the County.
Let’s run this reel back to the Board’s first initiative to “handle” this matter.
The Chairman of the Board, Scott York, learns of the allegations and sends some information about the alleged misconduct, under seal, not disclosed to the public, not even now, to the Loudoun County Commonwealth Attorney, Jim Plowman, who passes some or all of it on to the Arlington County Commonwealth Attorney who says, faster than you can say, white wash, “ah, there’s nothing there,” and “clears” Gene Delgaudio.
With twenty-twenty hindsight, it sure looks like the referral was anticipating the Washington Poststory published in September, alleging in some detail Gene’s questionable conduct and identifying one of several witnesses, Donna Mateer, a Delgaudio aide. Perhaps it was hoped they could say they investigated the matter and it amounted to nothing. But the public outcry was so loud and clear that the Board had to do more than cite some questionable referral clearing Delgaudio.
So the Board of Supervisors lurched into action, let’s call this Plan B, promising a full “independent” investigation and a public hearing. We suspected they would fail on both promises.
They voted to appoint an “independent” investigator and set aside a measly $15,000 for the job. But don’t you wonder why Gene Delgaudio votes for his own investigation – and no one thinks to ask him to recuse himself because it’s about him and ordinarily that’s a disqualifying conflict?
The “independent” investigator they appoint, Dan Wright, turns out to be anything but “independent.” His name was found on the list of political donors that Delgaudio was mining for contributions, as Mr. Wright had contributed to Republican Delegate Tag Greason’s campaign in 2009. Don’t ask why no one reviewed the list before hiring him – or why they proceeded if they had reviewed the list. Mr. Wright resigned. This begs the question, how close and narrow, was the Board’s search for an “independent” investigator that turns up an active Republican campaign donor to conduct an investigation into a list that includes himself.
As for what happens next, the Board resumes plan A.
Our Loudoun County Commonwealth Attorney refers it to the same Arlington County Commonwealth Attorney who cleared Mr. Delgaudio once – asking her to investigate Delgaudio again. Is that really the best way to go? How can we trust any “independent” counsel or prosecutor after this contorted collection of political pirouhettes?
By the by, remember how the Board of Supervisors promised a public meeting to discuss how to handle Delgaudio? Well the Board has now canceled that meeting.
You have to suspect decisions made in the shadows, meaning any public official’s aversion to act in the disinfectant of sunlight.
The cure is to stop these stone-walling practices and make public whatever the Board knows that we don’t.
First, Donna Mateer obviously has no objections at making public what happened, read theWashington Post where she discloses everything, and any privacy that the County has asserted , claiming they are protecting her privacy, appears calculated to protect Mr. Delgaudio and the Board of Supervisors instead.
Second, the best if not the only way to do this is to have Gene Delgaudio appear at a public hearing and to answer questions under oath on all these matters.
I’m prepared to believe it’s not too late for the Board to set this matter right and come clean on Gene.
But it will take public disclosure and Delgaudio under oath to make me a believer.
How about you?
Thursday, November 15, 2012
Billions of campaign dollars spent on a presidential election and what have we learned about our nation?
Charles Reich wrote a book in the 60s titled, the Greening of America, about humans, not so much nature, and a “consciousness” that looked beyond the system as we find it.
Reich was concerned about the restraint on personal liberty.
In this last election, there were several strains that suggest the kind of 50s thinking that former Governor Romney offered was not, on balance, where the nation wanted to go.
When I was a young pol on the East Side of Manhattan, a political patron of mine repeatedly instructed that you can’t pretend to be hungry.
Republican leaders made many groups hungry for change because of what Republicans pronounced what they thought best for women, gays, immigrants, the young, and the working man and woman.
We had Republican white males telling women they were going to probe them if they ever thought of having an abortion.
We had Republican legislators compromise the medical services a woman could obtain if she chose an abortion.
We have Republicans joining with Catholic Bishops to tell women staff what kind of medical procedures they may have insured and whether contraceptives may be taken.
We have had other Republicans running for the U.S. Senate this year talking about “legitimate rape” and the rape that God intends. Plainly, these candidates spoke neither for women nor for God. Exit polls confirmed that 59% of voters believe that abortion should be legal.
Yet, there are Republicans scratching their collective heads after the election trying to understand why President Obama won 36 % more single women to his candidacy over Governor Romney, and how these several women, Heidi Heitkamp (ND), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), and Tammy Baldwin (Wis.), could best Republican candidates for U.S. Senate seats, giving Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, an even stronger hand to play than before the presidential election.
We have had more sanctimonious gay bashing by Republicans in the last couple of years than I’ve seen my whole life, and the Catholic Church doubled down in conjunction with Republican forces to stop same sex marriage initiatives in several states, and these initiatives were rightly upheld by the voters at the ballot box.
When Governor Romney offered no hope for the children of immigrants schooled in America and spoke about “self-deportation,” he should have expected that Hispanics and other immigrants would hunger after an alternative that he did not offer. The Governor garnered only 27 percent of the Hispanic vote; by contrast, former President Bush received 44% Hispanic support when he embraced immigration reform. President Obama granted work permits to undocumented people brought here as children who graduated High School or served in the military. Omayra Vasquez, 43, from Denver, reportedly said, he voted for President Obama because, “I feel closer to him” and “He cares about Spanish people.” The President ran away with 71 percent support among Hispanic voters. That’s how the President won Florida, and Colorado and Nevada.
Republicans talk about the next generation, those aged 18 to 29, but their policies fell far short on school tuition assistance and loans, and on unemployment. Also, the young felt an affinity with women of all ages, the Dream Act, and same sex marriage. Perhaps the Republicans believed some polling “experts” who didn’t think the young would be a factor in this election, or as much as the last election, but their participation actually increased, though slightly, by 1%. The young made up 19% of those voting and President Obama won 60 percent of their votes, as compared with 37 percent for Governor Romney. Had Mr. Romney split the “youth” vote with the President, he would have been President instead.
There is a shift in the nation’s consciousness and it’s away from the 50s. As Charles Reich wrote, “Power is not exercised in this country by force of arms, as in some dictatorships. Power rests on control of consciousness. If the people are freed from false consciousness, no power exists that could prevent them from taking the controls.”
While to some, it looks like nothing has changed, there has been a “greening” in America’s consciousness.
Nor am I saying that the Republican party does not have a role to play as a partner in this grand political adventure.
While the House of Representatives did not change many seats, leaving Speaker John Boehner in charge, he reacted by seeking to engage but it remains to be seen if he can navigate his caucus to a more moderate agenda.
Former Congressman Tom Davis told several of us about a week or so ago that a Speaker without regard to party can’t make up a majority for a vote that doesn’t include a majority of his own party caucus. That’s what derailed the agreement on the debt limit when the Speaker negotiated with the President but, in my opinion, couldn’t deliver because of the now marginalized Tea Party faction.
It is my hope, however, that we find a way through our past differences to engage and resolve America’s challenges, and that we give effective structure to a changing, greening, America.
Sunday, November 11, 2012
This is written Sunday evening, two days before we’ll know the outcome of the presidential election, and I only know now that the election of our next President appears to rest on a razor’s edge of voter disagreement, in our own Commonwealth and nation-wide, that may mean we won’t have any mandate from the voters to do much of anything, no matter who wins.
It is also clear that, if we don’t conduct our government differently than we have, then we will have continued stalemate in our government, suffer a perpetual campaign of vitriolic claims, when challenges at home and abroad demand constructive engagement.
Our elected officials are going to have to work together, and show courage, what Hemingway called, “grace under pressure.”
We the people are going to have to insist our leaders act on our behalf – or it won’t happen.
But, what are the conditions that dictate why and how we must move forward with our government?
We live in an age in transition, changing at an accelerated rate, on an unimaginable historic scale, with an ever-expanding population, that sees a popular and irresponsible demand for unrestrained individual freedom in a crowded shrinking world of finite resources that requires unprecedented personal discipline, complex policy choices, and compromises that many refuse.
The “common” is at risk because of the collective demand on fossil fuels, shelter, food, air, water, and so much more, yet some demand they be let alone to do what they want.
We have to provide for education, health, and retirement although some prefer every man, woman and child be responsible for himself or herself.
We want to rule the world but fear a large government.
If any man ever was an island, he is not now. Thomas Jefferson once said the government that governs least is best but apparently decided that didn’t work once he became President (see the Louisiana Purchase). We live in times so much more complex with an ever-expanding population that eclipses Jefferson’s America, making such diverse demands that no modern-day government could serve its constitutional mandate without being “big.”
Many individuals may fear losing control of who they are and suffer a persistent distrust that anyone else, particularly the government, could have any person’s best interest at heart. These citizens have fallen prey to the tempting tonics of fear dispensed by demagogues who would make them victims, rather than the enfranchised factors for change every citizen is meant to be.
When Alice went through the looking glass and the Queen demanded Alice run at a breathless pace only to remain where they both started, the Queen said that’s why they had to run “at twice the pace to get anywhere else.” We are running to catch up so we can go forward.
We are a country that celebrates business and protect business by law and strengthens business with various legislative measures – as we rightly should.
But we have to dispel the myth that we citizens shouldn’t take charge of our own economic future and that the benevolent wealthy will provide for us. Plainly, they have not provided for us; indeed, the unrestrained malefactors of wealth broke our economy and took a disproportionate share of the nation’s earned wealth, leaving many to fend for the economic scraps.
Many citizens would therefore perpetuate an existing order where the wealthy are our guardians, and the people are the wards of these job “creators” – as they were called.
Thus are the wealthiest encouraged to take more as we so willingly grant them license to command our economic life.
We shouldn’t be surprised when espousing such a subservient arrangement that our government does not represent us the people, so much as they represent these special interests, who spend billions to secure the government for their benefit – not ours.
Going forward, in order to seize our destiny, we must demand political dialogue, public discussions with elected officials, at every level of government, and not what now passes for citizen participation, the mind-numbing series of time-limited monologues delivered without any exchange of views with the elected officials by which we could divine how they are making public policy, so we could influence their choices as unworthy or encourage them to consider an overlooked nuance.
We must also have the information to participate in these discussions but, all too often, government hides the ball and disadvantages full and fair discourse and, unsurprisingly, then government gets it wrong.
The most important lesson learned from the election marathon in its final days is that exercising your franchise on a forced choice in a Fall election every several years is not enough to assure us of good government. But will we force the changes that are necessary to the common wealth?
Thursday, November 1, 2012
Some are convinced that, as goes Loudoun County, so goes the presidential election – and apparently the contenders themselves agree – that we Loudounians are a strong indicator of the outcome – given how often the presidential candidates have appeared here.
What is astonishing, and hardly understandable, is how any sentient being in the voting nation could possibly still be “undecided.” Of course, some may be “undecided” because Romney himself appears “undecided” about what he actually “believes.”
In the Republican primaries, and when visiting Israel, Romney was prepared to war with Iran on Israel’s say-so, but, in the last debate, Romney favored the crippling economic sanctions that Obama put in place with our international partners.
Romney and his tyro Vice-Presidential partner, Paul Ryan, even recently rattled their sabers about Syria, wanting to arm the rebels to fight President Bashar al-Assad, but then Romney, only a week ago, when debating Obama, said we can’t really do more than we are doing.
Romney earlier “thought” we should stay in Iraq and Afghanistan, but, a week ago, he had an epiphany that we’d done enough in both places, and agreed to end military operations in Afghanistan on the same schedule as President Obama.
Gathering up an assessment of Romney’s “true” beliefs, on war or taxes or jobs, is like scooping up a handful of water from a rushing stream and watching what you’ve gathered slip through your fingers.
Our esteemed Loudoun neighbor, Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State, reportedly reviewed Romney’s most recent foreign policy address on October 7th, because, she said, she wanted “to figure out what Governor Romney’s [foreign] policies really are,” and concluded, “I have come out more confused because he has changed his mind on a number of different issues.”
I’m sure there are conservatives who believe that Romney’s resorting to a Trojan horse strategy, saying one pacifistic thing to manipulate moderate voters while harboring a jingoistic mid-East agenda he’ll implement if elected. Radical conservatives take heart from Romney’s foreign policy team, resurrected like a bad Halloween trick, consisting of the terminally bellicose neocons that devised the Iraq war, including Messrs. Carlucci, and Kagan, as well as other significant members of that militaristic imperial minded cohort.
Romney’s public policy lane-shifting has followed the electoral season and public polls prompting Romney to adapt his pitch to his changing audience as adroitly as a fast-talking street-side three-card Monte dealer.
Equally disconcerting as the easily shifting tectonic plates of Romney’s “belief system” is what he doesn’t know as, for example, when he made a foreign policy pronouncement based on a rudimentary geographic fact he got dead wrong, when he said, “Syria is Iran’s … route to the sea.”
On the home front, Romney’s promise to reduce taxes may drive many to support him, but who is he going to help? On the eve of his first debate with Obama, Romney suggested cutting the home mortgage interest deduction, a serious chunk of change to millions of home-owning middle class families, amounting to about 26.8% of the average tax return, and $12,221 in hard cash on the average. After a recession created by questionable mortgage practices, it is distressing that Romney would even consider up-ending the finances of middle class homeowners by taking away their deduction.
Romney’s “flexibility” on a range of issues give anyone cause that his shifts are capricious and his electoral success depends on a public devoid of memory and critical sense.
By contrast, President Obama has been doing the job, actually fighting the war on terrorism, and achieving victories that are generally acknowledged while Romney’s participation in our nation’s progress has been remote and trivial.
President Obama dared to challenge a resistant establishment including Governor Romney that would deny health care to millions of Americans.
Obama bailed out failing banks and the car industry, securing credit and preserving and creating jobs when Romney would have left them to the vagaries of Darwinian chance.
Obama has permitted and promoted vast amounts of fossil fuels while working hard to keep safe the air we breathe and the water we drink and developing wind, solar and geothermal energy alternatives.
President Kennedy was fond of saying, “Bull fight critics row by row fill the enormous plaza full but there is only one who knows and that’s the man who fights the bull.”
Romney runs from his own views, so I expect he’d run from a real fight.
President Obama has proven himself a fighter with the resolve to make a difference for the better, for now and the future, and I’m convinced we shouldn’t change horses in mid-stream and certainly not for Romney.
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