Saturday, April 19, 2008

Joyous Passover!

Tonight is the first Seder. That is the first night of Passover for Jewish people and for me it is a fond memory. I was raised in a Jewish household. My father was Jewish and my mother was a Christian who converted. Passover was always a very special time and one of my favorite celebrations.

The service, unlike other high holy days is conducted in the home. It is in effect a celebration of family and tradition as well as the deliverance from bondage in Egypt. The evening meal is framed by a ceremonial meal and service conducted by family members and because of that I got to play my own part in the festivities. I got to ask the “4 questions”, the pivotal moment in the meal when the Passover story is explained and the tale of the Jews and the Exodus is told year after year.

Today, I am a Christian, but I still love Passover. I even tend to buy matzoh and gefeltifish this time of year just because of the memories it brings back. It is not too strange that I became a Christian, since our family always celebrated Christmas and Easter with the relatives on my mother’s side of the clan. My father even helped put up a Christmas tree every year at our home, he loved the tradition and knew I would be exposed to the secular part of Christmas anyway.

For me, Christianity is not that far removed from my Judiasm. After all, Jesus was a Jewish teacher and his audience were Jews. The message of Christianity resonates with me just as it much have for those early followers and the transition seemed natural. More importantly, because of my Jewish religious education I understand much about the stories in the gospel and how to interpret them. They are Jewish stories after all, and like the stories of the Old Testament they hold great truths even though they are not meant to be historical accounts. That is a hurdle many people who were raised in the Christian faith have trouble with.

So though I will not celebrate the Passover this year, I still will recall the story of liberation it represents, and I will embrace the new freedom the Exodus gave our ancestors. It was not so much a liberation from Pharaoh, but a liberation from the oppression of idolatry and prejudice. A journey to a new life with God’s promise. That journey is one we are still taking. May your first Seder be filled with the love of your family and the joy of the freedom the festive season brings.

Obama Draws Record Crowd In Philadelphia

Facing the largest crowd in his campaign, Barack Obama stood before 35,000 people who crowded into Independence Park in Philadelphia. He spoke of the events that brought our country into existence over 200 years ago in the same place, then he turned to the presidential race.

He spoke of his opponent, Hillary Clinton and her tenacious challenge for the Democratic nomination. In doing so he painted her as part of the politics of the 1990’s. Then he said it was time to move beyond that kind of politics.

"Her message comes down to this: We can't really change the say-anything, do-anything, special interest-driven game in Washington, so we might as well choose a candidate who really knows how to play it," Obama said.

Well said and the exact reason I support Obama over Clinton.

Bush, The Environment & A Great New Theory

Sometimes a columnist hits the nail on the head so firmly that there is no better way to state the issue. Such is the case with the op-ed column in the New York Times by writer Gail Collins. Her piece entitled “Fat Bush Theory” is must read material for anyone interested in the environment and our failed public policy towards it.

Read it here.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Bush Appoints Another Cronie - Loyal, But Clueless

OK, so why is this news? Bush has appointed another loyalist, Steven Preston as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. No surprise, it’s what he has always done and he always will. Bush in incapable of finding anything good in a person if they are not loyal to him first. That flaw in his character is exactly why our country is in such a mess.

It’s why “Brownie” screwed up in New Orleans after Katrina, it’s why the war in Iraq is a debacle and it is why his administration will go down as the worst on record.

Want proof of Bush incompetence in selecting major cabinet level appointees? Well Preston is a classic case. He replaces Alphonso Jackson the previous Secretary who left in disgrace for fixing contracts and other malfeasance. Preston has absolutely no experience in public housing and was an executive at Servicemaster prior to his appointment. His company is also legendary as a bully when it comes to small businesses. Look it up!

November cannot come soon enough!

The Debate About The Debate - Enough Already!

I have waited to weigh in on the ABC TV debate between Hillary and Barack until today. I was disgusted by this debate in general and by the moderators in particular. They made little attempt to remain objective. For proof look at Charlie Gibson “lecture” question about capital gains taxes and supply side economics. And George Stephanopoulos is hardly an impartial moderator. He served in the Clinton White House! Even the audience jeered the moderators a few times as they should have!

Both candidates were questioned endlessly on matters of their campaigning style and not on issues. Why? Because there is little need for any more debates. We know the candidates stand on issues and the press is trying to “sell newspapers” by creating controversies that are non-existent. The whole kerfuffle surrounding “bittergate” is as ludicrous as digging back into Hillary’s past and showing how her previous positions have now changed just in time for the Pennsylvania primary.

I think Obama sums up the whole thing nicely in this clip.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Texas Winds, Pollen & The Myth Of Clean Coal

As I woke up this morning and began coughing and wheezing, I began wondering about the recent growth in asthma. When I was a child, my asthma was an anomaly. I was the weird kid with the inhaler who couldn’t play in PE because he would start wheezing and turn blue.

Today, seeing a kid with an inhaler is commonplace, and in fact seeing adults with them is common as well. Older Americans develop asthma-like symptoms in record numbers and childhood asthma is growing in epidemic proportions. So why isn’t anyone upset?

Well, here’s my take. Asthma is a chronic disease that can be pretty much controlled with the right medication. That means there is a multi-million dollar market for asthma drugs and since there is no cure, it’s a money machine for pharmaceutical companies. Steriod inhalers, with patented formulas sell for $150 a pop and last the average patient about a month and a half. That makes the yearly cost somewhere around $1200. Now if you have an insurance plan that covers it, no problem, but if you live without medical insurance or have no drug plan, too bad!

Why the rise in asthma? There are a few explanations and most involve the environment both indoors and out. Allergens cause the majority of asthma and pollution from fossil fuel burning is a major contributor. In specific coal burning power plants really add to the toxic brew we breathe every day.

While I was in East Texas last week, I drove through several miles of hill country with row upon row of majestic wind turbans spinning in the persistent Texas breeze. They looked graceful and otherworldly and even more attractive because they emit no pollution. Scattered among them were a few oil wells slowly pumping the last drops of oil from the West Texas fields. The contrast was interesting.

Wind power has been a source of energy since men first sailed ships using cloth sails. It cost nothing but the infrastructure to harvest it and when properly used has a minimal environmental impact. Oil on the other hand requires a lot more investment and leaves a huge environmental footprint on the land and in the air.

Why am I going on about the air? Well, I keep seeing the oxymoronic phrase “Clean Coal” being bandied about on various TV ads and as I take another hit off my inhaler, I have to wonder how much my breath is worth. Aside from the drug companies who are reaping a windfall, pardon the pun, there is little reason to continue to pollute our skies, land and lungs with the byproducts of any fossil fuel.

With so many companies standing to make a profit from the suffering of our citizens it is understandable why it has taken so long to recognize the problem. Business controls the media and they have a vested interest in keeping us ignorant. The change is that some businesses have found ways to make a profit generating power without adding to the pollution. My hope is that they will prevail and the need for my inhaler will become a necessity only when the Texas winds blow pollen my direction.

Monday, April 14, 2008

AFA Hate Video Warns ‘Gay Activists’ Are Plotting To ‘Take Over The Cities Of America’

Fear is the only weapon the right-wing has remaining. They warn us of the terrorists, the Iranians, the North Koreans, and now…THE GAYS!

The right wing hate group the American Family Association has begun distributing a DVD titled, “They’re Coming to Your Town”. The promotional material depicts a neighborhood with a rainbow sky flowing downward toward the unsuspecting citizens.

The video according to the trailer, “tells the tale of an uncharacteristically diverse resort town’s government infiltrated by a handful of homosexual activists and bent to their will through the enactment of the town’s domestic partner registry on June 22, 2007.”

Oh the humanity! Run for the hills the GAYS are coming.

This is what Sally Kerns apparently had been watching prior to her hate-filled speech in Oklahoma a few weeks ago. What the AFA missed was the fact that studies show property values actually rise when gays move into a neighborhood. If anything the small towns like Eureka Springs, Arkansas (the subject of the video) should welcome GLBT people with open arms. Gay and Lesbians have shown consistently they have a knack for finding neighborhoods that can be revitalized, “fixer-uppers” if you will.

Obama Is Right, Americans Are Bitter

What is all the brouhaha about? Barack Obama actually points out that people in America feel powerless and disenfranchised and yes, “bitter” and he gets jumped. First he has the right-wing talk show hosts clamoring after him and then Hillary calls him “elitist”. This coming from rich media figures and a former First Lady/multimillionaire!

Well here is the truth. Americans do feel bitter. They feel like nobody listens to them they are cynical and in many cases rightfully so. Politics today is about big money and media. Most people do not have the time or inclination to actually listen to the candidates positions and compare them in a rational manner. They may be simply too busy trying to put food on their family’s table or they may feel like it doesn’t matter. More than once I have heard people say we have to “choose the lesser of the evils” with the candidates. Can there be a more cynical view of our political system?

According to some polls about 81% of Americans feel our country is headed in the wrong direction. They feel powerless. When our Vice President says he doesn’t care what people think, he confirms this. No wonder people are bitter.

Well, here is the deal. We can succumb to the cynicism and just ignore the political system. “Let McCain or Hillary or whoever get elected, it won’t make any difference.” And if we take that attitude, it really won’t make a difference. People without hope tend to let things stay the same. After all, “why bother”, they say, “it’s Washington politics as usual.”

That is the attitude that has kept the real elitists in Washington and has kept the status quo. That kind of hopelessness is what has kept Bush in office and prevented any attempt to call into question potentially illegal activities by this administration. “After all, he won’t be impeached, nothing will change.”

The secret is that as long as we believe things won’t change, they will not disappoint us. Washington will only move to change if we make our representatives change. That requires work and, more importantly, hope. That is why the people who are in power are trying to kill that hope with massive doses of cynicism.

Barack Obama speaks the truth and they call him “elitist”. Why? Because that word will play well with people who feel hopeless. After all “elitists’ are what people used to refer to as “high-hat”. That term was used to smear Franklin Roosevelt. He indeed did wear a high hat and smoked cigarettes with a gold cigarette holder. Yet Roosevelt challenged the cynics of the day with a populist agenda that helped end the Great Depression and assure the security of generations of retirees. Now that doesn’t sound like an elitist to me.

Obama, though well educated and prosperous worked as a civil rights lawyer and community organizer to actually make a change on the streets of Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods. Doesn’t sound so elitist now does he?

I suspect that if enough people can get beyond the semantic game that is being played out by the Clinton campaign, they will agree with Obama’s point of view. After all, people who feel they have no control try to gain at least some control over their lives. In some cases that is reflected in rigid defense of the right to bare arms or the seeking of solace in a religion that comforts them with clear and simple answers. They are not foolish or ignorant, they are merely tired of feeling like they have no voice.

Powerlessness is a bitter pill, and washed down with a healthy dose of cynicism it leads to numbness. If anything Obama was soft peddling the truth. The right-wing and the Clinton campaign know this and are exploiting it. If they succeed, the people whose senses are numbed by the clatter of the cynics cannot taste the sweet possibilities of hope.

IRS Audits Of Big Business Plummets

If you ever needed proof that the Bush administration has made the government an adjunct of big business, just look at the recent study by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.

The study speaks of “a historic collapse in audits” of big companies, defined as those with over $250 million in assets. Big companies have only a one is four chance of being audited this year. In 1990 that was a three in four chance of an audit.

The study reports that the focus of IRS audits has shifted from big companies to small ones, private partnerships and smaller entities. To be fair, part of the shift is due to large corporations forming small partnerships to shield scrutiny by the IRS, yet the shift has brought surprise from tax professionals.

To ignore the “big boys” and go after easier to intimidate small companies may boost the bottom line for the IRS, but it is far from fair. Big companies like Exxon-Mobil have made record profits in recent years and I have to wonder what intricate accounting schemes they are using to shield them from the IRS. I suspect having the President on the metaphoric payroll might be a start. Bush and Cheney are both oil men first and foremost, and anyone who believes otherwise is living in “their own reality” as the Neo-cons were fond of saying.