Thursday, January 1, 2009

* One of the few things more difficult to give up than vanity and potato chips is power. On January 20th Barack Obama will assume a presidency that over the last eight years has gone far beyond the authority and secrecy exhibited by previous chief executives. The Bush overreach is broad and includes signing statements altering the intent of legislation, ignoring international laws and agreements, circumventing the Constitution and politicizing virtually every department of the federal government to its own advantage and that of its favored special interests. This occurred because the Bush team was resourceful in finding and inventing ways to avoid congressional and public oversight. President-elect Obama has noted on many occasions that his presidency would be responsible and transparent. The transition period appears to adhere to this commitment. The real test will be when he is in power. Will Obama and congress correct the loopholes and constitutional fissures that allowed the executive branch under George W. Bush to go unchecked or will the aphrodisiac of power be treated like a bowl of potato chips at a pot party?

*Virginity Pledgers ~ Sex Education Deniers – “Teens who take virginity pledges are just as likely to have sex as teens who don't make such promises -- and they're less likely to practice safe sex to prevent disease or pregnancy.” This is the finding of a recent study at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Anyone who has been the parent of teenagers will not be stunned by this study. Pledging responsible behavior is always to the good. The failure of “abstinence only” is not preparing a teen for the realities of disease and unwanted pregnancy should the pledge be broken.

In a related story that is in the category “only in America,” Alaskan Governor and religious fundamentalist Sarah Palin’s 17-year old daughter Bristol has been offered $300,000 for the first photos of her baby Tripp, born this week out of wedlock. Perhaps the photos are being acquired to adorn an “Abstinence Only” poster.

* Re-runs ~ a slice of Americana – On Christmas day I was watching a one or two-year old episode of House. A Caucasian Dr. House is treating a senator who is African American and considering running for president of the U.S. House tells him to forget this ambition by saying, “It’s not called the White House because of the paint job.” The shelf-life of many of our entrenched perspectives grows increasingly shorter.

* The other day I saw the movie Doubt. The performances of Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams are outstanding and the production is riveting. About halfway through the movie people sitting behind me began talking, a distraction most of us have experienced. My companion turned to the group and asked that they be quiet and they acquiesced. In another part of town this same day a similar event occurred with a different result. A movie patron asked a family sitting near him to be quiet. They chose not to be cooperative. The annoyed patron left his seat and approached the talkative clan. When the father of the chatty family stood in defense of his family he was shot in the arm and the shooter was subsequently arrested.

While reading about the shooting incident I thought about the horn blower in heavy traffic, or the line jumper in a busy supermarket or the star receiver of the hated Dallas Cowboys scoring a touchdown, or a patron talking during a movie when I said to myself, “If I had a gun I would shoot the bastard.” It is fortunate we are held accountable for our actions, not our thoughts. The temptation to cause harm with a weapon, an action or even a word is an ever-present balancing act for us mortals.

* I wish that she had been my high school French teacher ~ grades dreamed of but unearned – In an interview on CBS this past Sunday Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was asked, “What kind of grade do you give yourself and this Administration on foreign policy?” Her response, “Oh, I don’t know. It depends on the subject. I’m sure that there are some that deserve an A-plus and some that deserve a lot less. … We’ve left a lot of good foundations.” I am sure that good foundations could be found at Victoria’s Secret or Bloomingdale’s lingerie department. Foreign policy foundations established under Bush would not support the weight of a silk thong. The world is more unstable and violent today than it was eight years ago. The Bush administration did much to contribute to this situation. If I had conducted the interview I would have asked Secretary Rice which foreign policies earned an A. Truth be told, the “F” I received in French class is the same mark Bush and Rice have earned in Foreign Policy.

* The good old days – Remember when one of the most prominent arguments in a divorce settlement was over who would get the house? With one in six homes worth less than the mortgage owed on it the fight is now over who gets stuck with the property. Some couples are deciding to stay together because there is no asset to help them start over. That Roman god Cupid is some trickster!

* Speaking of the good somewhat old days – More than enough people have more than enough reasons to make saying goodbye to 2008 more bitter than sweet. Sue Katz at Consenting Adult explains why she is throwing a great big shoe at 2008. Ms. Katz rarely misses her target.

* Salacious foreign policy – The CIA has been distributing the erection enhancement drug Viagra to Afghan chieftains in order to lure their support. One would hope that the support lasts more than four hours. One wonders if libido-dampening drugs had been administered to the bring-it-on Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld chieftains in 2003 the Iraq invasion would not have occurred. Call it salacious fantasy.

* The test of freedom - In recent weeks there has been discussion at this blog about gun control and gun rights. Through this discussion I was introduced to the blog Sensibly Progressive that speaks from the perspective of pro gun rights. I highly recommend a recent post titled, Guns are empowerment ... but empowerment is not always for the best. It is a thoughtful and multi-layered look at the issues surrounding the tragic story of a man dressed as Santa Claus who massacred nine people at a Los Angeles Christmas Eve party. The following observation is best read within the context of the article but stands alone as a universal truth: “ALL freedoms are dangerous, because freedoms are empowering and humans are a complex species that will use empowerment both for the greater good and for evil.”

* Woe is me ~ woe is us – Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales sat for an interview with the Wall Street Journal. In a self-pitying display of cluelessness he said, “I am a casualty of the war on terror.” I would suggest that 50,000 Americans and a much greater number of Iraqis have suffered life and limb casualties as a result of the referenced fiasco. Mr. Gonzalez is a casualty of self-serving ignorance. This Harvard-educated lawyer never understood the transition that was required going from President Bush’s personal lawyer to White House counsel to Attorney General. As our nation’s highest law enforcement official AG Gonzalez’ fiduciary responsibility should have been to the American people – not the machinations of Karl Rove and Dick Cheney. Under Gonzalez’ watch the Justice Department placed its head under a pillow while the Bush administration strafed national and international law. Under the Gonzalez watch the independence of the department was deeply compromised. I expect we will learn a great deal more about Mr. Gonzalez’ damaging incompetence in the ensuing months as more is learned about the Don Seligman and other questionable prosecutions, the firing of prosecutors perceived as not in tune with the Bush agenda and Justice’s hiring policies that precluded lawyers with a hint of being liberal, gay or a Democrat. If Gonzalez thinks he looks bad now, the worst is yet to come. To the rhetorical question that Gonzalez asks, “What is it that I did that is so fundamentally wrong, that deserves this kind of response to my service?” Think Progress offers detailed answers.

* Chinese wall is not so great – Added to the continually growing list of Chinese-produced products that pose a health threat is dry wall. A number of counties in Florida are reporting that dry wall from China used during the construction boom in 2004 and 2005 may be emitting one of several sulfur compounds including sulfur dioxide or hydrogen sulfide. “Some common symptoms are irritated eyes, coughing, sneezing, difficulty breathing, and symptoms similar to bronchitis and asthma… exposure to hydrogen sulfide can be deadly.” Among the umpteen million problems that Obama needs to address is safety inspections of imported products - a responsibility too often abdicated by the Bush administration and American importers.

A complex society requires oversight. Bush and Republicans argued and governed otherwise. I suggest that a corollary to laissez-faire capitalism is lazy government. Conservatives are fond of warning us about too much government. They had their eight years in the sun and it has been a failure of monumental proportions culminating in burdensome debt, a crumbling financial structure and unsafe products, unsafe air, unsafe water and reduced work place safety. With a U.S. population of over 305 million (2.7 million people were added in 2008) conservatives calling for smaller government simply is not practical. What is required is a liberal dose of intelligent governance.

* “In the long run the pessimist may be proved right, but the optimist has a better time on the trip.”
Daniel L. Reardon


Sue Katz said...

I feel very naughty to say so, but from the moment I heard that Bristol Palin named her son Tripp, I cannot get the image of Linda Tripp (remember Monica Lewinsky's girlfriend?) out of my mind. I picture this child looking like a mini-boy-version of Linda Tripp. Now the idea of this image gracing "an 'Abstinence Only' poster," as you so wittily suggested, makes me want to recommend to the transition team that they hire you, Stephen, as Secretary of Posters.
Happy New Year. At least I have your postings to look forward to.

Ruth Z Deming said...

What would I ever do without my weekly dose of SVN! And now, once again, you've made it into the Philly Inquirer Letters with your unusually mild rebuke to one of their ultra-conservative (as in Republican Bush apologists) columnists.

As you say in your Letter, the fourth estate must be ever vigilant or we end up with the likes of the lawless anarchy of a 2-term Bush presidency.

I look forward to more witty & incisive commentary from SVN in the New Year as Obama steps up to what surely must be the most daunting US presidency ever!


Tom Elsasser said...


As you suggested, I have read your blog. I would really be interested in your view of the news that is coming out of Gaza.