Monday, October 14, 2013


Since when did a democratically elected official’s oath in the House and Senate become, “I will do what I want in your best interests even if you voters don’t understand how good this is for you?”

We have elected representatives from Virginia and across the nation who are telling us they are going to disregard what we’re telling them – and vote to attack Syria anyhow.

They treat us like children to whom they’re administering castor oil.

But we are not children, and the members of Congress are supposed to serve us, not the other way around.

More to the point, we should not be putting American lives and honor at risk in an uncertain and questionable act of war against Syria, taking sides, advantaging one side over another, in the midst of “their” civil war.

The Administration proposes to bomb “carefully selected targets” to Kingdom Come for as long as 90 days. 

We’re told we’ll accomplish this without killing any innocents, without spilling a drop of nerve gas, and without putting our nation at risk of reprisal from allies to Syria including Iran.

Most Americans don’t trust what we’re being told and why we need to make this war.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee resolution characterizes this bicameral congressional vote as an effort to “change the momentum on the [Syrian] battlefield.”  We say we’re warring to limit the use of chemical weapons, but the Senate seems to think it is to win the war instead for the rebels.

Of course, any bombing by the United States may not go as neatly as we imagine.  Syria may uncork stores of nerve gas in response, presuming they have already, because our bombing compromised their ability to conduct their civil war?    

My reaction has hardened with the Administration’s hard sell to war in Syria.

The more I hear the worse this plan to war sounds.

I doubt I’d trust any administration these days who told me why we needed to war.   

The bitter irony is that President Obama was our peace candidate (at least in 2008).

Senator Kerry, our Secretary of State, opposed the war in ‘Nam and had an explanation for why he wrongly voted to war in Iraq when he was a presidential candidate.

But when you have the power to war, the impulse is to war.  

Most wars begin with a lie that it’s a war of defense or of for humanitarian reasons – when it’s nothing of the sort.   

We propose to drop bombs in retaliation for those who were killed with nerve gas. 

This action favors the rebels who were unconcerned as a matter of public relations when they broadcast pictures of their own firing squads.

I believe President Jack Kennedy handled the Cuban missile crisis the way he did because he learned from the Bay of Pigs to take his own counsel if he wanted to avoid war. 

President Kennedy learned to dial back from a nuclear confrontation and had the capacity and resolve to resist those who would war rather than negotiate.

Presidents who get these powers, are confused that they are derivative, coming from the people, held in service for the nation, not their own historic legacy, not to see their names immortalized, not to break things up – but too few get JFK's second chance to get it right.

The mid-east is an open wound ready to hemorrhage in a way and at a time when America would be dragged into an international conflict that we, the people, plainly don’t support and can't afford at home.  Nor do you have to have attended West Point to understand this basic point.

“Yes we can”- as a slogan - accomplished a lot of other things.

But, there are some things, the guiding instruction is, “No, we can’t,” for we don’t have the stomach to tolerate this Syrian adventure.

Paraphrasing that great American philosopher Clint Eastwood, a nation ought to know its limitations. It should also know what is right and timely, and this war in Syria is neither.

Op-ed: TRUTH DECAY by John P. Flannery

John Flannery and Former Nixon White House Counsel, John Dean

On 9-11, I was rounding the Lincoln Memorial and had a clear view across the Potomac to the Virginia side where I saw a mushroom cloud that rose to the sky composed of dirt and debris.

I worked in the Cannon House Office Building at the time and called my staff to discover that the twin towers in New York had been attacked by terrorists, as had the Pentagon in Virginia – and the plane that crashed into the Pentagon was that great dirt cloud I watched rise up high into the air.

By October, a bi-partisan U.S. Congress approved the so-called USA Patriot Act.  It was a bitter event because we missed an opportunity to do better.  The House Judiciary Committee had cobbled together a unanimous bi-partisan compromise under Committee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner but at the 11th hour, just before the floor vote, then Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert replaced Sensenbrenner’s Judiciary Committee compromise bill on the House floor with a wide-ranging wrong-headed substitute.

You really should read the bill as most members of Congress never did; there were only two copies of the bill available at the time of the vote.

The bill accomplished two things that haunt us to this day.  There were: first, additional barriers preventing the public from knowing what our government was really doing, and, second, a grant of authority to the government to rummage around in our private papers, hard copy and digital communications, without warrant or cause.

These changes did not protect us from terrorists but did result in serial abuses of our right to be let alone.

What had been outlawed after Watergate, those sneak and peak entries and burglaries, were allowed again against any “terrorist suspect” and the definition of a “suspect” proved quite elastic.

President Richard Nixon’s counsel, John Dean, told investigators when Nixon was in office that there was a burglary of Daniel Ellsberg’s medical files ordered by President Nixon himself to discredit Ellsberg for releasing the “Pentagon Papers.”

President Nixon famously said in an interview with the late David Frost that, “if the President does it, then it is not illegal.” 

Dean has underscored, however, that, while the President has some unstated prerogative powers, those Presidents who have invoked these “prerogative” powers, get in trouble – President Eisenhower with his U-2 spy flights, JFK in the Bay of Pigs fiasco, and Presidents Nixon and Johnson in Vietnam.

Among the many troubling documents released by Edward Snowden before he arrived in Moscow to sip vodka with his cold swekolnik soup, was a top secret court order directing Verizon to turn over to the FBI and to NSA all call detail records created wholly in the United States including local telephone calls – that’s some billion telephone calls.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (“EPIC”) has filed a petition with the Court attacking the secret court order as without any lawful authority since it didn’t involve “foreign” intelligence.  (For more information, you may visit EPIC’s web site - )

The petition says it is “simply unreasonable to conclude that all telephone records for all Verizon customers in the United States could be relevant to an investigation.”

Since this court order applies to “all Verizon domestic customers,” it includes you (if you are a Verizon customer) but also members of Congress and federal judges, including Supreme Court Justices and employees.

The Executive Branch is thus able to scrutinize the communications and associations of the co-equal branches of government, of the Justices, Judges and of the Members of Congress in the House and Senate. 

Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote, “Awareness that the Government may be watching chills association and expressive freedoms.  And the government’s unrestrained power to assemble data that reveal private aspects of identity is susceptible to abuse.”

A government that conceals information critical to public policy decisions while chilling dissent can’t help but cause truth decay.

A Greek philosopher, Anacharsis famously said, “Laws are like cobwebs, for if any trifling or powerless thing falls into them, they hold fast, but if a thing of any size falls into them it breaks the mesh and escapes.”

Is our government too big and arrogant to respect and constrain its conduct by the web of laws and regulations that we citizens respect and obey?  Apparently so, and it’s high time we said, loud and clear, “Enough is enough.”

Op-ed: GAY - IN THE IMAGE OF GOD by John P. Flannery

Pope Francis
In Genesis, it plainly says that “God created man in his own image.”

In the popular single, “same love,” the Seattle-based rap artist Macklemore warns of “man-made rewiring of a predisposition, [of] playing God …”  See .
Macklemore speaks of gay slurs, born of “the same hate that’s caused wars from religion.”

 “When I was at church,” Macklemore intones, “they taught me something else, if you preach hate at the services those words aren’t anointed, that holy water that you soak in has been poisoned.”
Rightly Macklemore concludes, “No law is gonna change us ..and I can’t change even if I tried.”

One school of genetic science says that gay is inscribed in our DNA, thus predetermined, and a person who is gay was made that way, not transformed in some right or wrong alchemic life choice by which one traded his or her heterosexual nature to become gay.

Thus, as gays are born or made, so must God be gay, if in truth the scripture has it right that, “God created man in his own image.”

Of course, nowhere in Genesis is the image of God characterized as having one or other sexual predisposition meaning, nowhere is it plainly stated that God is heterosexual as opposed to gay.
Perhaps man’s understanding of God in our image is where we make our mistake - that we presume to know the mind and nature of God.

Plainly, man and woman are foolish when they discriminate against anyone based on pejorative presumptions that they have not been made in “God’s image.”

Pope Francis this past week made some startling and encouraging declarations about the Roman Catholic Church’s attitude toward those who are gay.

Pope Francis said, “In Buenos Aires I used to receive letters from homosexual persons who are ‘socially wounded’ because they tell me that they feel like the church has always condemned them.  But the church does not want to do this.  During the return flight from Rio de Janeiro I said that if a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge.  By saying this, I said what the catechism says.  Religion has the right to express its opinion in the service of the people, but God in creation has set us free; it is not possible to interfere spiritually in the life of a person.”  (For the full interview – see )

Pope Francis went further, “A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality, I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’  We must always consider the person.  Here we enter into the mystery of the human being.  In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation.  It is necessary to accompany them with mercy.  When that happens, the Holy Spirit inspires the priest to say the right thing.”

While anyone presumes to understand the image of God, we may fairly ask whether we understand ourselves.

Pope Francis said, “human self-understanding changes with time and so also human consciousness deepens.”  Put another way, he said, “So human beings in time change the way they perceive themselves.”  By way of example, he referenced how “when slavery was accepted or the death penalty was allowed without any problem.”  In this manner, Pope Francis says, “So we grow in the understanding of the truth.”

This is how Pope Francis, the leader of a church of more than 1 Billion persons, “manifest[s] his conscience.”

It really boils down to that passage in Matthew, judge not lest you be judged.  How we treat others manifests our conscience – or the failure to have one.

Op-ed: FALL SHOW by John P. Flannery

A Fallen Vermont Maple Leaf
The orange gold of an autumn maple leaf by itself is something to behold, to watch anew with surprise and delight. 

When a tree is fully clothed with these leaves seen in sunny stark contrast with spectral shifts of red and yellow leaves as well as lingering greens from other deciduous trees, this natural palette is so brilliant we can’t help ourselves, we seek it out, travel along tree-lined roads, sit on our back porches, looking and watching, to celebrate this recurring spectacle of nature.

We watch when the transformed leaves lose their hold, as daylight grows briefer, and the leaves’ chlorophyll recedes, unmasking their strikingly bright pigments, and the leaves fly float fall in downward angled paths to rest as a fixed quilt covering our lawns, roads and the forest floor.
John Keats called this time of year a time of “mellow fruitfulness.”

I’ve had an opportunity traveling through the upper latitudes in New England this past week to get an early preview of what’s coming our way.

You have to ask how man can be so enthusiastic about the beauty of trees while so indifferent to their care and preservation.

George Perkins Marsh, of Woodstock, Vermont, born on the ides of March 1801, noticed as a young man what it meant when land was de-forested, to sell the felled timber as lumber, to burn the logs to make ash (potash), and to level forests to make grazing pastures for the myriad flocks of Merino sheep that populated his home state.

This caused the waters to flow across the lands erratically, and to carry off the top soil, undermining the soil’s fertility and the agriculture that depended on the soil.  The destruction of watersheds with their entangling web of roots couldn’t hold the rain that fell from the heavens.  This made floods and, ironically, droughts and dry springs as well, what you have when there’s nothing to retain the flowing waters.  Silt ran off the land into lakes and rivers compromising and destroying fish, clogging their gills, decreasing their resistance to disease, impairing the ability of trout and bass to feed upon what they can’t see. 

Concerned about what deforestation meant to New England, Mr. Marsh became concerned about what it meant to the United States.

Marsh was a man so well read he almost lost his eye sight reading and, unlike many, he could remember virtually everything he ever read; but he walked the woods to occupy himself when he couldn’t safely read. 

Over his lifetime, he studied other civilizations and concluded that they had failed because they abused the natural environment on which their own prosperity depended.

One factor above all that concerned him was how earlier civilizations cut their woodlands too aggressively, bringing down on them great misfortune such as he’d experienced in his home state.

He concluded in his book, “Man and Nature,” that “Man … is to be regarded as essentially a destructive power.”

But he didn’t write in vain.  In New York State in the 1870s and 1880s a forest reserve was created to protect the watershed of the Erie Canal and the Hudson.  In 1885, 700,000 acres were set aside in the Adirondacks as a State Park. 

Our national forests arise out of the view that our woodlands are important for us to conserve and protect.  But despite this sentiment, we don’t do enough, as we continue to clear to develop like we’ve learned nothing at all.  In fact, each year worldwide, we clear an area of trees as large as the nation-state of Greece.

We prove Marsh right that man is a “destructive power” that must be controlled and restrained.
Too many refuse to recognize our interdependence with and upon nature.

Too many protest that man dominates nature and not the other way around but, as Marsh observed, “man cannot at his pleasure command the rain and the sunshine, the wind and frost and snow.”

What man can do when he acknowledges the destruction he’s caused is be responsible to restore what he destroyed. 

Trees are the source of life-giving air and all our talk about the legacy we wish to leave our children is so much blather if we are not protecting our trees and the water sheds that sustain them.

Anyhow, it’s something we might think about when we watch the colors change this year – that this is a nature show we don’t want to close.

Fall colors at Bretton Woods, NH