Monday, April 28, 2008


The Rev. Jeremiah Wright

Some of Mr. Wright's sayings have been widely repeated in commentary and ads on TV. Pundits agree that he is being a hindrance, not a help to Barack Obama's campaign for the nomination to the Presidency. One pundit says that the problem is that Barack has been trying to play down the racial aspect of his candidacy, but that Mr. Wright's sayings remind people that, in Black Churches at least, race is a very important topic.

From what I've heard, mostly from interviews that Mr. Wright has given lately, he is saying that Black people not only have been treated very badly by Europeans and European-Americans, but that bad treatment still occurs. He has also said, or quoted someone who said, that the 9/11 attacks were pay-back for some parts of American foreign policy in past years.

I find nothing wrong with either of these statements. No one can deny that Black people were kidnapped from Africa and brought to this country to be sold into lifetime slavery. No one can deny that many slave owners treated their slaves in inhumane ways. No one can deny that, even after the Civil War and our constitution was amended to banish slavery and guarantee equal treatment of former slaves Black people were subjected to humiliating forms of discrimination and worse. Black men were periodically lynched to serve as examples to other Black men.

With regard to 9/11, it was reliably reported that the organizer of the attack was a Palestinian who was angry with the United States for its uncritical favoritism toward Israel. No one can deny that the United States has never lifted a finger to stop Israel from continuing its secret plan to squeeze the native Palestinians out of their part of what is to be the restored biblical state of Israel. No one can deny that in any confrontation between the Israelis and the Palestinians the United States has always sided with the Israelis.

It is known that the leader of Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, is angry that Saudi Arabia has permitted Americans to establish a military base in Saudi Arabia. He is angry at both the Americans and the Saudi government. The attacks that his organization have made against American installations are a result of this anger.

This is not to say that there have been reasons for American foreign policy in the region containing Israel, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and other neighboring countries. Some of the reasons may have been good ones, others not so good. Whatever the reasons, our foreign policy does have consequences, some of them unexpected. That is my understanding of what the Rev. Jeremiah Wright is saying. I also believe that our foreign policy can have unexpected consequences, or "blow-back" as the CIA says.


Sunday, April 27, 2008


Justice Antonin Scalia

Leslie Stahl interviewed Justice Antonin Scalia tonight on the program SIXTY MINUTES. The judge comes across in the interview as a pleasant, likeable fellow who loves an argument. He knows that his opinion is the right one and smiles when he says it. Clearly he expects an attempt at rebuttal.

Anyway, leaving aside his personality and his personal friendship with people with whom he disagrees, I believe he has a mistaken idea of the federal constitution. To him the constitution is not a "living" document. It is a "dead" document, and must be interpreted according to the original meaning of the words and the language at the time each part of the constitution was adopted. He is, in his own words, an originalist, or one who believes that the original intent of the writers is the compelling interpretation.

I beg to differ. My father used to tell me that the constitution is a means to an end, not the end in itself. It is a means to achieve a more perfect union and an effective, representative government. The constitution should be reinterpreted in terms of what the framers would decide now, if they were somehow magically brought back to life. The framers were practical men. If they were alive now, there would be some women among them. Justice Scalia himself stated that the opening phrase "We, the people" had a different meaning in 1787 from what it has today. The phrase would not have included Leslie Stahl, or any of the slaves then living, or, in fact, anyone who did not own property.

To be fair, Justice Scalia believes that change in our way of life, our values, etc., should take place by State legislatures enacting laws. The constitution has no reference to abortion, homosexuality, or gay marriage. If a State wants to legalize gay marriage, it can do so. If a State wants to permit, forbid, or regulate abortions, it can do so. If it wants to permit or punish homosexual behavior, it can do so. To extend what I believe to be his philosophy, the federal courts should not be viewed as the last refuge of persons seeking an end to unfair and discriminatory treatment, except in so far as various amendments have been adopted to assure that every man and woman has the right to vote, has the right to free speech, etc.

It seems to me that an important consequence of Justice Scalia's thinking eliminates the legal principle of precedent, or stare decisis. Most legal scholars believe that a previous decision by the Supreme Court has the same legal standing as the constitution itself. The court interprets the constitution for the rest of us. To Scalia, a wrong decision made by the court ten, fifty, or two hundred years ago is still wrong and should be reversed. Actually, I should say a decision he believes to have been wrong should be reversed.

Mr. Scalia is an entertaining and likeable fellow. However, I would not like to have eight other justices just like him on the Court.

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Saturday, April 26, 2008


True Love

The phrase "true love" is often used. I now wonder whether some of those who use it have a deep understanding of what true love means. I think I know the meaning. In my case, it is the feeling I have for my late wife, with whom I was married for more than 57 years. She's gone and I miss her. I know now that I truly loved her.

True love does not necessarily give happiness. In my case, it gives me a sense of loss and grief. When my wife was alive and in good health, I loved her but I didn't have the understanding I now have of the meaning or the implications of that love. In fact, we occasionally disagreed and quarreled. We lost our tempers, then made up. Making up was pleasant, probably the most pleasant experiences of our life together.

During the twilight weeks of her life we had home hospice care for her. The same hospice organization now provides groups of men and women who are grieving for recently lost spouses. I am a member of one such group. It meets once a week for about an hour and a half. We exchanged stories of feelings of grief and loneliness, stories of experiences with our spouses in past years, and advice to each other about whether it is acceptable to grieve and how and when and whether and how to share our griefs with our children. The group is a good thing. We never speak of love, but it is obvious that we all loved our spouses very much and miss them deeply. We all have vacant spaces in our lives that can never be filled. We look for activities and new acquaintances to divert our minds from these vacancies. We will not forget them. We will never stop missing our spouses, but we hope that we will be able to think of other things most of the time.

Sometimes I think that I have come too late to understand that I truly loved my wife. Did she understand my feeling for her? Did she have a corresponding feeling for me? I think so. She was very perceptive and understood many things better than I did.

Rabieb, I will always love you and miss you.

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Thursday, April 24, 2008


Hillary may pull it off

California, along with several other "large" States, moved its presidential primary election up from the first Tuesday in June to a Tuesday in February. The excuse was that voters in California were tired of voting in a presidential primary late in the season when one candidate had already accumulated enough delegates to win the nomination at the convention. We Californians are still frustrated that our big State didn't have a decisive effect on choosing the nominee of the Democratic Party. Now we are wishing that we hadn't gone to the trouble of holding the presidential primary in February. If we had not yet voted, our State could be the one to decide the nominee.

Aside from that, we are left to watch the maneuverings of the two candidates, Clinton and Obama. Clinton seems to be better at back-room gutter-level politics than Obama. Take the case of Michigan. Michigan broke the rules set by the Democratic National Committee by voting before February 5. Clinton and Obama at the time agreed to the rule. Obama honorably did not enter his name in the balloting that did take place. Clinton had her name on the ballot. Michigan voters were given the choice of "Clinton" or "Other." Of course "Other" could have been any of several candidates: Obama, Kucinich, Edwards, Gravel, Dodd, etc. "Clinton" received about 55 percent of the votes cast. Nobody believes that the vote represents a clear choice of Michigan Democrats for Clinton. If other names had been on the ballot, her vote would probably have been lower. According to the rules of the Democratic National Committee, the vote in Michigan shouldn't count.

Now Senator Clinton is insisting that it should count. She claims that she "won" Michigan and delegates chosen by the process in Michigan should be seated at the convention. To me, agreeing to ignore the vote in Michigan, then insisting that it be counted amounts to an example of underhanded gutter politics. More than one Democrat of my acquaintance is disgusted with Clinton.

The real reason for holding the primary elections early in the year, with several large States voting in February was to select the candidate early. The various Democratic elected officials favored Clinton early on and agreed to the early vote with the expectation that she would be able to gather enough delegates in February to clinch the nomination. It didn't work out that way. Upstart Obama came along and acquired a lot of delegates, too many to let Clinton claim the nomination after the February primary elections.

It's clear that the Democratic "machine" favored Clinton and probably still does. Democratic voters incline toward Obama. Clinton spent years working the "machine" and massaging the elected officials to grease the skids toward the nomination. She is one tough, determined lady and isn't going to give up the prize without an awful fight. She will do whatever it takes - reneging on promises and agreements, among other things - to gain the right to campaign against the Republican opponent in the fall.

All of this gutter politics may not dissuade dedicated Democrats like myself from voting for her if she does indeed become the Party's nominee. It will turn off some of the independent or non-partisan voters that we must depend on to win the general election next fall. Will enough of these independent voters support the presumably squeaky-clean and honest McCain rather than Hillary Clinton? This is a thought that I wish Hillary herself would consider and do some soul-searching about.

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Saturday, April 19, 2008



Some news pundits are dumping on Barack Obama for recent comments he has made about working-class people in small towns being “bitter.” Senator Obama, in common with Senators Clinton and McCain and, in fact, all the other ninety-seven senators, is a rich man. Does being rich and having a Harvard law degree disqualify him from being President? Mr. Obama was not born rich. He was raised by a single mother in straightened circumstances. By hard work, skill, intelligence, and good luck he was able to earn a law degree at Harvard University and go on to a successful career in Illnions politics and eventually become a United States Senator. In the process he has also amassed a personal fortune. That is to say, he is now a lot richer than I am.

Compared with Senators Clinton and McCain, it seems to me that Obama should have the best appreciation from his own life experience of what the “bitter” working-class folks in small towns are experiencing. He lived in poverty as a child. Neither Mrs. Clinton nor Mr. McCain can make that claim. Actually, they can, but no one will believe them.

Does a childhood of poverty or near poverty qualify one to be President? Presidents Lincoln, Truman, and Nixon come to mind. Lincoln and Truman are rightly revered. Nixon is scorned for his crimes, but he was in other respects a better than average President. He managed to extricate us from Viet Nam and he created an opening to the new Mao regime in China. He tried to establish a system of universal health care. On the other hand, he spawned a school of thought, championed by Vice-President Cheney, that the President is and ought to be free of legal restraints imposed by the Congress and the Constitution.

The charge of elitist applied to Obama implies that he is not electable, not that he wouldn’t be a good President. Candidates who appear to be “elite” turn off the ordinary working-class voter, or so it is said. I don’t think that charge can be proved true by history. My recollection of Presidents and Presidential candidates goes back as far as Herbert Hoover. I recall candidates Hoover (1932), Roosevelt, Landon (1936), Willkie (1940), Dewey (1944 and 1948), Truman (1948), Stevenson (1952 and 1956), Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon (1960 and 1968), Johnson, Goldwater (1964), Humphrey (1968), McGovern (1972), Ford, Carter, Reagan, Mondale (1984), Bush I, Dukakis (1988), Clinton, Dole (1996), Gore, Bush II, and Kerry. I’m not sure of which ones should be called “elitist” because I’m not sure what the word means. However, I’ll assume that it means that the person is, either in fact or by repute, a member of the “well-born and able” class rather than an ordinary person like you or me. By this definition I would classify Roosevelt, Willkie, Dewey, Stevenson, Kennedy, both Bushes, Gore, and Kerry as members of the “elite.” Out of the nine, four of these were elected to the Presidency. Eisenhower and Truman defeated “elite” candidates Dewey and Stevenson. Non-elite candidate Clinton defeated elite candidate Bush I. Bush II defeated Gore and Kerry. All three men belonged to the “elite” or “well-born and able” class. One can argue that Bush II has taken great pains to try to distance himself from the “elite” class into which he was born by adopting the speech mannerisms of poorly educated residents of western Texas. The fact remains that if he were not a member of the “elite” Bush family he would have gotten nowhere in politics.

So, there we have it. We’ve had Presidents who experienced poverty or near-poverty in childhood, Presidents of “ordinary” parents, and Presidents who were born rich. The best one in my lifetime was Roosevelt and the worst was the present Bush. Both men were born into wealthy households and had good educations. By my definition they were members of the elite. Presidents Truman, Ford, Nixon, and Clinton could all make the claim that they grew up in either poor or lower middle class households. They were “average Americans” and better than “average” Presidents. There seems to be no correlation between a President who is “just like the rest of us poor slobs” and the achievements and benefits of his term of office. Also, there seems to be no correlation between “electability” and membership or non-membership in the “elite” class.

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Thursday, April 17, 2008


Consistency in the Law

Our Supreme Court has just decided that death by lethal injection is not unconstitutional. It has agreed to let State legislatures decide whether and how to administer the death penalty in the several States. One can say that the Court has decided in favor of local option.

In another case, decided last year, the Court decided that State legislatures or even State voters do not have the power to permit the use of marijuana for medical use. The federal government has that power and federal law must prevail over State laws or local ordinances with respect to the use of cannabis.

Do I detect an inconsistency here?


Sunday, April 06, 2008


Poor Hillary!

You've got to feel a lot of sympathy for Hillary Clinton. All her life she's been planning to become the first woman to be President of the United States. She married an ambitious and capable young man who became governor of a small State, then President. She spent eight years in the White House learning all the things that a President must do. She put up with a husband who was notoriously and publicly unfaithful. Then she succeeded in winning election to the Senate from a large and important State. Since then she has been assiduously courting influential Democrats all over the country to get their support for her presidential bid. She had it all wired. The skids were greased. All the observers and political junkies predicted that she would be the Democratic nominee for President in 2008.

And then this upstart two-year Senator from Illinois got in the way. He was going to be the first person of African descent to be President of the United States. Now he is running a bit ahead of her in delegate count. All the Democratic officials and other party functionaries who make up the "super" delegates are having second thoughts about supporting her. It's enough to drive a person insane. Stark raving mad insane!

Clearly she's angry. She's angry enough to make intemperate statements about her upstart rival. Recently she has disparaged his experience or knowledge of foreign affairs. That is, she says he has no such experience. She goes on to assert that she and Senator McCain are the two people in the race that do have the experience to deal with foreign affairs. That's a very damaging assertion and it may be the statement that loses the election for whichever Democrat wins the nomination. One of the strong arguments the Democrats have had until now is that McCain is temperamentally not to be trusted in dealing with foreign affairs. She has given that argument up in her increasingly desperate attempt to win the nomination from Senator Obama.

Until now I was willing and happy, even, to accept either Senator Obama or Senator Clinton as the Democratic nominee. I still believe that either of them would be a much better president than Senator McCain. I am no longer happy with the choice. I wish that Senator Clinton would just shut up and go away and I wish that the unwise statements she has uttered recently could somehow be undone if not forgotten completely. I'm afraid they can't be undone or forgotten. The Republicans will remember them and use them to advantage against whomever the Democrats nominate.

We Democrats seem to have a tendency to mouth off and shoot ourselves in the foot. We lose elections that we should win. We should have won the election of 1988 when President Reagan was termed out. Instead of waging a campaign of criticizing his policies, which were never very popular, our candidate made the assertion that nobody was prepared to believe that Democrats were "more competent" than Republicans. Today, of course, after seven years of Bush, that argument might sell. It didn't sell in 1988. In 2004 the Iraq war was already very unpopular. However, John Kerry blew the election when he said that he would still vote to threaten war on Iraq if the vote were held that year, assuming he knew only what he had known in 2001. John Edwards, on the contrary, said that he would not vote for the war and apologized for his vote for it in 2001. Incidentally, Senator Clinton is still having difficulty with her vote for the authority to go to war in 2001.

There hasn't been a year this favorable to a Democratic victory since 1932. Why do our political leaders have to blow it by talking too much? Why is Senator Clinton being such a poor sport that she attacks her Democratic rival in a way that gives the Republican opponent a big advantage?

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Tuesday, April 01, 2008


Our Democratic (?) Government

From time to time we Americans like to boast about our form of government, our constitution, and about how we were pioneers and leaders in forming a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. We like to believe that our government is the best and most democratic in the world. Our government respects and follows the will of the American People.

Lately it seems to me that our government is not as democratic or representative of the will of the people as we like to think. A case in point is our President's bellicose attitude toward Russia and Iran. Mr. Bush insists on setting up balistic missile detection facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic. The Russian government, not just Mr. Putin, feels that these facilities are intended to deter Russian missiles. The Russians feel irritated, to say the least, that the United States seems bent on resuming the Cold War.

The Administration says that the detection stations are intended to detect missiles launched from Iran, not from Russia. Well, I guess that's a good thing to say. I wonder why, if they are intended to detect missiles launched from Iran, they are not located near or next to Iran. Turkey, Israel, Qatar, Pakistan, and India come to mind as having territory much closer to Iran than Poland or the Czech Republic. Why not put them there?

I believe that the Administration wants to put the missile detection stations in Poland and Republika Czechy for the same reasons that another Republican Administration wanted to put them there twenty-five years ago. Our administration does not trust the Russians. Not only that, but it is following a policy that is certain to anger the Russians and probably start another arms race.

Is this policy in line with the thinking and the wishes of the American People? I don't believe it.

Is the continued attempt to pacify Iraq and impose on it a government subservient to the United States, no matter what the cost will be in lives and money in line with the thinking and wishes of the American People? I don't believe it.

These policies are just two examples of how far we are from having a representative and democratic government. It's time for a change.


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