Monday, September 28, 2009

What Really Matters!

Taxes, spending, budgets, politics.......oh the heck with them!

My Dodgers are about to.....sink without a trace. From the best record in baseball to losing 3 of 4 against the Pirates! I guess there is always hope with Manny, Matty, and Andre.

My Browns are well, my Browns. I guess there is always hope for next year.

The Reds of Liverpool are third in the table and contending for the League title....of course that is where they always are at the end of September. I guess there is always hope with Gerrard and Torres.

The Fighting Leathernecks of WIU are....well I really don't want to write about that. Their coach, Don Patterson stepped down for health reasons. By all accounts a good man who is one of the most successful coaches in the league's history, the program might nevertheless be well served by his retirement. Acting Head Coach Mark Hendrickson had the 'Necks playing better ball last season during Patterson's treatment than I had witnessed during three years on campus. No surprise there. It is tough to coach football while beating cancer, and so far Patterson has the cancer on the run. The rational middle wishes the best to the coach and his family.

I guess that last paragraph shows were the hope ought to be. What really matters is, far to often, all those things we think of when we are fighting, yelling, screaming, and worrying about the artificially important things in our lives.

The rational middle invites you to find someone whose blood pressure is entirely to high, and give them a hug.....(editorial hint....look for a teabagger!).

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Sexiest Plane Ever...

The B1-B is hot. The plane is, in my opinion, the best looking airframe ever built. The bomber also has a stunning list of attributes; very low RCS (its stealthy), the ability to fly at over 600 mph at low altitudes, and an impressive payload of over 70,000 lbs.

It is also a plane without a mission.

When President Obama said this week that politics would not play a roll in defense policy, I was unable to suppress a chuckle; U.S. defense policy has been guided by politics for over 50 years now. Most of the nation assumes that Republicans plus up spending, and that Democrats reduce it; but politicos from both parties jump on board when local bases and factories are involved. The debate on Afghanistan is all politics; for a country with no history of national identity, the notion of building a state that can defend itself is ridiculous. Whether to send in more troops, or remove them all together is a political calculation for the Obama Administration; as with all Democratic administrations, they are vulnerable to "soft on defense" charges.

Just ask President Carter. The B1 was designed pursuant to a SAC strategy called "saber-penetrator"; where the Air Force portion of the nuclear triad would be carried out by "penetrator" aircraft dropping nuclear bombs, and stand-off platforms firing nuclear cruise missiles. The B-1 was intended to be the penetrator until the B-2 Stealth was ready for the role, at which point the B-1 would act as the stand-off element. The Air Force high command and President Carter both came to the conclusion that B-52s and FB-111's could hold down the fort until the B-2's arrived. That combined with the realization that the Navy's version of the triad (with its Ohio class SSBN's having a probability of mission failure as close to zero as possible in war) was the only one that was needed.

Carter canceled the program. Reagan jumped on Carter. When Reagan won, he restarted the program. The program exists today entirely because of politics. I have found it comical seeing a multi-billion dollar system, designed to penetrate the most advanced integrated air-defense system in the world, orbiting defenseless targets in Iraq and Afghanistan with the mission of delivering laser guided bombs that other existing systems could handle with equal efficiency.

Again...a gorgeous and dynamic airframe...but with no point. President Carter fully funded a number of programs the fill that role admirably; from the Tomahawk, B-52 upgrades, FB-111, to the F-117. Politics, politics, politics.

Both Gulf Wars were exercises in shared targeting; how many weapons systems can we get kills for before the war ends? The F-15E, a dubious use of the most effective role fulfilling airframe in military history, was pushed into missions that would have (and eventually did once the F-15E's suffered loses) go to the infinitely more survivable A-10. F-16's designed as lightweight dogfighters and used as tactical bombers in roles that Navy A-6's and Air Force FB-111's could handle. Politics, politics, politics.

Now, folks are screaming about F-22's, the Seawolf project, and the European missile shield. Secretary Gates recommended that the current shield plan, with ten interceptors and one radar station (and a deployment date of 2017), be replaced by a seagoing version with proven SM-3 interceptors that could be on-station in months. The Seawolf submarines are hunters without targets, whereas the Virginia class littoral subs, built on Seawolf keels, are purpose designed for modern, shallow-water combat. The F-22 is a manned interceptor designed to replace the F-15 (an airframe that remains, literally, undefeated). Most observers reluctantly acknowledge that the next U.S. interceptor should be, sadly, unmanned. Hey, I wanted to be a fighter-jock, but the fact is that unmanned planes can carry higher warloads in stealthier airframes that can pull more g's than manned versions. Politics, politics, politics.In a perfect world, military planners would update threat assessments and formulate strategies that would be supported by specific programs funded appropriately.

Contractor/lobbyists and congressional aides should not decide what is in our interest. If contractors were held to account and programs were designed without political interference, the budget would not be an issue. The former problem, as Senator McCain pointed out in the campaign, is the largest one. Contractors are essentially above market pressures, and they act like it. Boeing put a brand new design, the 777, into production less than 8 years after it was proposed, and the SR-71 was proposed, designed, and flown in about the same time frame. Both are cutting-edge platforms. On the other hand, the specification for the F-22 (called the advanced tactical fighter) was issued in the 80's and took twice as long as the above aircraft to fly first. Every year of development costs money...lots of it.

President Obama would like to believe that politics will not come into question, even though his first defense budget (an increase over the last Bush budget) was blasted for "cuts". Still, he has the power to make it about the mission and the men, if only he has the political courage of his convictions. Perhaps Senator McCain will tell the leadership of his party to suck eggs and become the President's point man on the issue. I am not so sure though. As much as the rational middle would like this issue addressed, the retrenched ideological warfare that has consumed our democracy makes me skeptical.

We wait in hope for your commentary....

Friday, September 18, 2009

Do We Need A Lawyer For Everything?

A quick post today on some good news; Coach David Stinson was acquitted on charges of reckless homicide and wanton endangerment. The Kentucky high school coach was charged after one of his players, 15 year old Max Gilpin, collapsed during wind sprints and died later in the week. If the jury had found him guilty, the verdict would have represented another brick in the wall being constructed by some in society between children and sport. More and more, parents are demanding that youth coaches who are mostly volunteer or low paid high school folks, spend money from their own pocket or time stolen from their own families to provide services beyond teaching the game.More and more, parents are also demanding that children be allowed to play sports without risk; in the minds of many, children coached by responsible people are never injured or at risk of trauma.

During my time as a coach, I was stunned at the number of parents able to entertain the notion that their children had a future in professional athletics, while at the same time reminding me that I shouldn't require the kids to do "too much". "My (14 year old) child is going to get a scholarship in 4 years to go to college, but it is expecting too much for him to memorize a playbook and learn his snap counts." In specific reference to the case in Kentucky, I have had innumerable conversations with parents about proper hydration; "Hydration does not mean stopping at McDonald's for a soda on the way to practise."; "Hydration does not mean bringing an energy drink for the beginning of practise and a Gatorade for the end."

The heat index on the day max Gilpin was stricken was just over 100 degrees; a temperature well beneath those I practised in during two-a-days in high school. Millions of kids have and continue to play sports in challenging temperatures, with a handful stricken as severely as Max was last summer. From the case it appears that he, like most of the other children and adults who are stricken with heat-related illness (doing a variety of things) every year, had contributing factors. He was on medication as well as creatine (the label for which is clear in the absolute necessity of drinking more WATER to maintain hydration), which both contributed to his problems. It is not clear that extra conditioning drove him over the edge, but it is clear that it was an accident.

Let me be absolutely clear; Max Gilpin and his parents are not responsible for his death. It was an accident. But the case was clear in the need to manage risk by all parties involved; parents, coaches, and athletes. One of my coaching mentors used to talk about the need to know the difference between being hurt or injured; I would suggest that another need involves the difference between being fatigued or distressed. Sometimes, those lines are pretty fine. This means that a little knowledge shared with a lot of people will go a long way.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Afghanistan....Are we there yet?

We Americans have spent almost two and a half centuries charting our own course and creating our own identity. We take pride in a unique system of governance, a dynamic economic engine, and our ability and success to serve as melting pot for the world. Many of us also revel in the fact that we are not Europe.

The apple, of course, did not fall as far from the tree as we would have liked. We share many of our worst traits with the Europeans (despite their protestations to the contrary).

How we relate to the rest of the world is a singular reflection on the whole of European history and European attitudes on "they" that live outside of Europe. At the dawn of the age of discovery, when European nation-states first took to the seas in earnest, they spent centuries traversing the globe and "discovering" new places. That those places had people living at them did not matter much to the Europeans, they would "save the savages" and establish "European-style" government and society. Peter Beagle, writing almost 40 years ago, described the period succinctly; "Thieves planting flags, murderers carrying crosses".

After WWI, the victorious western allies went to great lengths to punish Germany and her allies. The punitive actions taken at the Versailles conference served as the foundation for WWII. The parallel actions taken by the west were, perhaps, just as dangerous to the future; Western generals and political leaders took out the maps and began redrawing the world. Spheres of influence were created, new nations were carved out of the dust, and pro-western puppets were installed. The origins of the Gulf War begin not with Saddam Hussein, but rather with the creation, out of the desert sand and for the purposes of oil security, the nation of Kuwait.

All of this, of course, brings us to today. Afghanistan has been a challenge to the European sensibility for well more than a century. The British tried to control it as a colony, the Americans tried to influence it as a Cold War puppet, and the Soviets tried to install and support a pseudo-communist government there as a bulwark between their southern border and the oil-rich and politically contested Middle East. The problem that all have run into, and that most have forgotten, is that much of Afghanistan does not want to be a nation-state in the Western sense of the phrase.

We cling to the notion of "U.S.-style democracy", despite the fact that the U.S. is the only place where the form exists. In fact, I would argue that democracy only works where it is paid for, and the price for democracy is, ultimately, the blood of those who live within it. All the successful democracies that I know of, were born out of strife or rebellion fought by the citizens of the home country; it is not something that can be fought by proxy. And so it goes with Afghanistan.

The history of Western intervention there is typical of most of our attempts at "foreign policy". We don't really understand what is needed, and what our limitations are; we just know what is "right". Like a man running out of a bright room into a knife fight in a dark alley, we are blinded by what our eyes are accustomed to. After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, we attempted to assist the insurgents fighting the Soviets. Our CIA built solid relationships with members of the mountain tribes that inhabit the region to the south and east of the nation. Known as the Mujaheddin, these freedom fighters proved to be a tough and resourceful group in fights against the invaders. When faced with the extreme tactical problems presented by Soviet aircraft (in particular the deadly "Hind" transport/gunship), the CIA supplied our friends with Stinger anti-aircraft missiles.

The most successful of these groups of freedom fighters were led by foreign-borne fighters, mostly rich idealists, from Muslim nations such as Saudi Arabia. They were loosely organized into a larger operational group called "the base".

"The base", in Arabic, is Al Qaeda.

At this moment, the best and brightest of our nation are fighting in Afghanistan against people who have lived there all there lives. We support a government that exists predominately on paper and is, at best, corrupt. Its leader, Karzai, was a Shell Oil executive when he was tapped by the Bush Administration as the leader of Afghanistan and is largely distrusted by the populace. Most of the country has no desire for any kind of government, and no tolerance for foreigners. The mountainous areas that proved so difficult to the Soviets are just as inhospitable to our folks; it is not about right and wrong, or communism and capitalism for these people. They just don't care about our problems. Most people in the region live in the same valleys all there lives, raising sheep (or opium) and minding their own business.

Which brings us, finally, to the problem; what should our goal be in that "country", and can we achieve it? Folks, this is not about the toughness or tactical ability of our troops. Just as in Iraq, our military has daily won tactical engagement after tactical engagement, victory after victory. But there is no endgame. The military needs to know how the game is won, and then they need the support to win it. Thus far in his administration, President Obama has yet to correct President Bush's mistake and formulate an achievable result that stands for final victory. As a result, the military has no real idea what it needs to accomplish that goal.

We are on that bloodiest of treadmills; one that we have seen before. Vietnam lasted ten years, cost 58,000 lives lost (an innumerable lives damaged and disrupted), and carried an economic cost that helped to push the nation into the downturn at the close of the seventies and early eighties. We need to figure out how to get off and make real progress.

We need to do this I right this post, someone is losing their child in the mountains of a country that doesn't really exist, for a cause that isn't well-defined. The troops have their honor, they have our love and support, and they daily have their victory...

The rational middle would like to show them the respect they have earned by establishing, once and for all, the goals they must achieve that they may come home to their families.

We look forward to your commentary....

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Thank You For Checking In!

Twenty posts in, and the Rational Middle continues to grow. I wanted to take a moment and thank those of you who have logged in over the last ten weeks, and to welcome those of you who are new. The mission of this space is to provide a place for civil conversations on our democracy, business, sports, and the world.

Through the growing pains (and the typos and questionable grammar) many of you have been regular readers and shared your comments with me through email and in person. I have appreciated all of the conversations, and continue to look forward to more in the future. The one thing that has been missing is commentary on the blog itself. I would like to encourage everyone to take a moment after reading a post to type your thoughts into the space provided.

This blog, and (I think) any other space that purports to report or comment on current events, is meaningless without conversation and contrast. The commentary I will welcome the most is that which diverges from or criticizes the content of my points. It is easy to have civil conversation when all in the room are in agreement on the topic. The exercise and challenge comes when divergent points of view are registered. So please speak up!

Finally, I would like to invite any who wish to register as a friend of the site (the blog defaults to "follower" which is a term I dislike...I would be creeped out if I had followers). Also, please don't hesitate to pass along the site address to other friends who might be interested. The more the merrier!

So once again, thank you for checking in and, as always, the rational middle looks forward to your commentary!

Joe Wilson's War

Representative Joe Wilson yelled at the president last night. His outburst was a departure from the normal etiquette of the chamber, and was rebuked by Republicans almost as quickly as Democrats. He apologized to the President and the President's chief of staff almost immediately, and was torn to pieces by several columnists and commentators throughout the post mortem.

Representative Joe Wilson is a passionate defender of his constituents and a deeply committed patriot. His outburst represents the norm in today's idealized debate, and accurately reflects the feelings of perhaps one third of the American public. His actions last night, calling the President a liar when he insisted that he had never tried to get illegal aliens coverage during the health care debate, are a microcosm of the whole process.

This whole exercise, from its beginning this past spring, through the tumultuous summer, and on to the present, has been a succession of angry and off target attacks. What began with so much bipartisan progress has degenerated into a hate-filled contest of shouting and name-calling. It seems like the American people have been rounded up and placed, against their will, into typically politicized groups; Marxist, freedom hating reformers, or greedy pro-business insurance stooges. Missing, of course, is a rational debate over an issue constructed on a foundation of well documented facts.

The rational middle has detailed the facts over the past several weeks and, along with many more prominent sources, has begged for a reasoned debate. I am hopeful that Joe Wilson's war will be learned from. His passionate response last evening was both out of order and factually wrong; HR 3200 along with all of the President's statements have been specific in their exclusion of illegal aliens for benefits. Rep. Wilson was doing what so many other Americans have done over the last few months; he was reacting to bad information he received from people he trusted, about plans being presented by someone he fundamentally does not trust.

To restate, there is nothing wrong about distrusting the President. As a point of fact, it is an American principle to distrust the President and other elected officials. The responsibility borne by all Americans that goes with the right to distrust is the mandate to search for facts. A citizen with the time to write a letter to the editor, attend a town hall meeting, or post an email to their congressman, has the time to get on the Internet and look up specific provisions in bills before Congress. Furthermore, Senators and Representatives, equipped as they are with paid and volunteer staff, are always the ability to verify facts about legislation.

This summer has largely been a time where folks on every side of the issue have neglected their responsibility to verify, while taking advantage of their right to be heard. This is a dangerous reality that can and should be corrected by citizens acting responsibly. Additionally, legislators who think that Limbaugh and Maddow, Olberman and O'Reilly, and Matthews and Beck, are final sources for information do their constituents a disservice.

Perhaps the President's speech, including Joe Wilson's disturbance and the fair and civil GOP response from Representative Boustany, will serve as the beginning of a civil debate that, once and for all, shapes a reform bill that Americans from every party, state, and ideology can be proud of.

We can still get good things done in our country, and in our government. Maybe it is because I still believe in fairy tales, but I think this democracy....our democracy...still works.

The rational middle hopes for your commentary....

Monday, September 7, 2009

Schoolkids and Presidential Propoganda

Tommy Tomlinson, writing in the Charlotte Observer the other day, led off his column with quotes from the President's speech to kids. He pointed out that the critics were correct about the speech being all about politics as you can tell from these snippets:

“We've been working to take an economy that was in bad shape and get it moving and growing again; take our national defense and make it first-rate again after a long period of decline; and to restore reason, respect and reality to our foreign policy, and I think it's fair to say that we've made a good deal of progress.”

“We want to make your future better, because tomorrow belongs to you. And since you're the leaders of tomorrow, I wanted to talk to all of you as a friend about the things you'll have to do to ensure a prosperous nation and a peaceful world.”

Then Mr. Tomlinson drops his bomb; these comments don't belong to Obama's speech to kids, but to President Reagan's speech to kids in 1986. President Reagan, of course, was not the last President to make such a speech, as the elder President Bush addressed the nation's schoolchildren as well. The Charlotte Observer and other news sources tell similar stories regarding the criticism levelled at Reagan and Bush prior to the speeches by Democrats and readers; there was no criticism.

The rational middle, in this post, simply desires to point out the exercise our nation has been engaged in for the last 10 months; attack President Obama for everything.

“President Obama has turned to America's children to spread his liberal lies, indoctrinating America's youngest children before they have a chance to decide for themselves.”....Jim Greer, Chairman Florida GOP

Mr. Greer uttered those comments prior to seeing the contents of Obama's speech. This seems similar to Teabaggers attacking the President for tax increases and gun laws that haven't happened (or abuses of freedom that were committed by the Bush Administration). This also seems similar to Democrats and independents attacking the surge strategy before hearing the pertinent details; or spectators assuming that all ballplayers are on the juice.....

Do you get the impression that we just aren't paying attention anymore? We took a strange turn somewhere, and started carrying on like reality shows with scripts. One of my bosses from the past, a quiet and thoughtful man from Alabama, tried to teach me to wait. He told me not to react to what a customer said, but to think about what they said. He told me to relax and pay attention. He told me, "closed mouth, open eyeballs". When I manage to take that advice, I do well for myself. He is a smart guy, and his advice works well for the world at large.

Stop reacting, and try listening, thinking, and responding.....Reid, McConnell, Pelosi, and Boehner...that goes double for you!

For your contemplation and interest; the full text of President Obama's prepared remarks,

as well as the speech made by President Reagan (for comparison or reminiscence),

The rational middle hopes you all had a great Labor Day!

Marxists and Teabaggers

Dick Cheney had a hunting accident a few years ago.

I know that isn't news, but the circumstances seem to be repeating themselves; you see the (former) Vice President wasn't trying to shoot his hunting partner, and he isn't as incompetent as many would believe. It is easy to loose your bearings in a wooded area and fire on the wrong target. When you are primed and on the adrenaline rush, any movement in the brush can seem like fair game.

Thus the Teabaggers. Oh I know that their "movement" didn't draw anything like large crowds; but they are a passionate bunch driven by a legitimate love of country. Polling is not an exact science, but the numbers would suggest that up to 20% of the country may harbor the same concerns as the Teabaggers. In today's political climate, that number grows as fast as fear spreads amongst the ill-informed...and that is pretty fast.

A summary of their beliefs would, I believe, be beneficial:
  1. President Obama is a Marxist, non-citizen, who wants to turn the United States into a communist nation.
  2. The President has driven an unprecedented series of legislation through the Congress using the massive liberal majority, and has used executive orders to radically change the nation.
  3. The President's legislation has placed the United States under an insurmountable debt burden, unprecedented in U.S. history.
  4. The President has raised taxes.
  5. The President is determined to take away Americans firearms.
  6. The President is determined to further open the borders to illegals, and give them amnesty, health care, and welfare dollars.
  7. The President is determined to begin the journey to communism by starting with control over banks, automakers, and health care providers. He is further committed to the idea because he supports the progressive income tax system, which redistributes wealth.

I hope I haven't missed anything. The rational middle believes that Teabaggers, and other good citizens who reside in the opposition, have many targets in the woods that they should be shooting at. The seven points above represent the hunting accident in progress. Towards the end of this post, I will articulate points that I believe the President should be carefully and vigorously scrutinized for. In the meantime, I will answer the arguments above.

  1. The first point is a largely subjective matter, although the question of his citizenship has been repeatedly answered. His voting record in the Senate is strongly liberal, but still to the right of people like Bernie Sanders and Ted Kennedy. It is ironic that Obama can be called a Marxist by some of the same folks that criticize his ties to banking and finance. Folks, those two sentiments just don't mix.
  2. The President has been criticized by the left for not using executive orders to reverse Bush-era policies enough. He has also faced round criticism for his unwillingness to fight with the political aggressiveness of his GOP predecessor. The stimulus bill is the major piece of legislation passed this year, and its effects are temporary (the fear by some economists is that they will be too temporary).
  3. If the Congress passes HR 3200 without change (unlikely), then the debt burden at the end of budgeted period will be almost identical to that faced by the nation following the Reagan budgets of the early 80's. This friends, is not a coincidence. The devastating recession faced by this nation in the early 80's was broken by the big federal spending of that period; no different than the New Deal spending of the 30's or the stimulus package.
  4. The President passed a tax DECREASE as part of the stimulus package. No increase. The President will allow the Bush tax cuts to expire, but if you are prepared to call that a tax increase, then you must also credit Obama for given you back assault weapons; he is letting that ban expire as well.
  5. President Obama is the first Democratic candidate I can remember whose action plan specifically acknowledges that the Second Amendment creates an individual right to gun ownership. The rank and file of the Democratic party has all but given up "gun control" as an issue.
  6. Then Senator Obama was an early supporter of and voted for the Secure Fence Act (the bill that built the border fence). It is again ironic that Obama's weakness in the primaries was his poor relationship with the Latin-American community, whereas now he is portrayed as somehow pro-illegal. There seems to be sentiment that it takes a new law for illegals to get hospital treatment. Folks, anyone will get health care when they present to a facility with an illness or trauma...this happens now without health care reform.
  7. The President had the authority to nationalize the banks and did not; also note that the bulk of the funds injected into the financial system were done by the certainly not Marxist Bush Administration. The automakers begged, and I do mean begged, the government for funds. President Obama represented his constituents by getting an equity stake in those firms in return for the cash. When the stake is repaid plus interest, the control goes with it. Also keep in mind that the auto "czar" is tasked with reviewing major capital spending only...the government is not running the company. Finally, there is health care. Even the so-called "socialized medicine bill", HR 676 (the one that has no chance of passing) does not "control the means of production" as is necessary for communism. It is single payer, just like Medicare. For-profit hospitals and doctors work with Medicare while controlling their lives, practices, and operations at their convenience. The bill that has (or had) a shot of passing would add perhaps 30 million to the rolls of Medicare or a parallel organization. The President has remained clear that the private insurance structure must remain intact in the United States, and that the Government should not intrude on Doctor/patient relationships.

Public statements and detailed goals don't seem to grab people's attention anymore. It is easier if you don't like someone to grab a clause from a 600 page bill written by congressional staffers, take it out of context, twist and pervert it, and place it in an email to concerned folks as evidence that "He" is out to get us all. Aren't we all a bit too old to be taken in by boogieman tales?

The signs are amazing; "Marxist Muslim", "Hitler, Stalin, Obama", "Communist Nigger", "Soon to be dead Communist". These are the signs visible at the rallies; and they are a reflection of what you can hear from the people attending. Fear and hate are symbiotic twins, and ignorance is their cold tool. I have a profound dislike of the policies and methods of George W. Bush, and believe that he took steps that threatened the present and future of this nation. That said,if I were present at the event, I would beat on the idiot who threw a shoe at my President. There are lines that we used to respect in this country that are being crossed by the very Conservatives who were once the stylized arbiters of respect and tradition.

Fear and hate can blind you.

There are issues, I would suggest, that need to be addressed to the President:

  1. Why has there been no declaration of policy towards Africa, the two Koreas, or Syria?
  2. What is the plan for long term success in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where it is clear that we are engaged in a no-win scenario (particularly in Afghanistan where Bush-puppet Karzai has been unmasked as corrupt and ineffectual)?
  3. How come there has yet to be real work done on financial services reform that supports the market while protecting investors from frauds and hidden risk exposure?
  4. Where is the articulated plan for the green economy that was supposed to drive recovery?
  5. Where is the plan to save manufacturing jobs for Americans and leverage our comparative advantage in services?

These are just five points quickly pulled from the top of my head. More valid lines of questioning would occur to the members of the rational middle. The questions need to be asked, oversight needs to be maintained, bills need to be scrutinized, costs and benefits need to be assessed. None of this can be done effectively or fairly in an atmosphere and climate of hate, fear, and confusion.

The rational middle hopes that those passionate folks who love their country will take a breath and a good second look....

Thursday, September 3, 2009

God, Politics, and Thomas Jefferson

One of our most famous Presidents won a tough battle against an incumbent who attacked the challenger for his "non belief" in God. The challenger, a man who deeply believed in individual spirituality and considered Jesus the greatest morality teacher in history, was nonetheless beset by statements he made about God and religion....

"Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burned, tortured, fined and imprisoned. What has been the effect of this coercion? To make half the world fools and half hypocrites; to support roguery and error all over the world..."

"Fix Reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve the homage of reason than of blindfolded fear. ... Do not be frightened from this inquiry by any fear of its consequences. If it end in a belief that there is no God, you will find incitements to virtue in the comfort and pleasantness you feel in its exercise and in the love of others which it will procure for you."

"The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."

"The Book of Revelations are....merely the ravings of a maniac, no more worthy nor capable of explanation than the incoherences of our own nightly dreams".

The inflammatory statements above came from the mind of Thomas Jefferson...a Founding Father if ever there was one. These statements begin to explain why he fought so hard for a separation of church and state, but they also crystallize the conflict that rages today. All Americans benefit from the religious freedoms that Jefferson and the other founders and framers put in place. For most Americans, the journey that leads them through belief, non-belief, and all of the points along the path is a lifelong trip. Religious freedom allows this journey to happen at a pace chosen by the individual.

Beliefs, of course, affect others; this becomes the fundamental challenge in our society. All rights demand the same toll of free citizens; a respect for actions and beliefs that do not meet with the citizen's approval, and an acknowledgement through one's actions that another's beliefs have value. The trick in a democracy is for the majority to express itself without trouncing on the minority; and for the minority to hold the line on their rights without attacking majority beliefs simply because they can. Human beings instinctively want to share their beliefs and knowledge; we Americans have made a special skill out of "sharing" our beliefs with the rest of the world. It is not surprising then, that we have so many battles with lines drawn along religious or philosophical divides.

The rational middle is tired of being shot at by both sides of a battle that should not, in a free country, have to exist. The battle is driven by anger over past actions, and fear over imagined consequences. Fundamentally, it is driven by hypocrisy and irrationality shared equally by both sides. Most Americans, far better than a simple majority, are content with compromise and an end to conflict. For politicians and a media animal that feeds of off conflict, the drive to continue the arguments is too potent to ignore.

Some examples...or food for argument...

For a group of people who champion two-parent households, and those parents responsibility towards teaching morality to their kids; why are you focused on teaching religion in public schools? For committed atheists and others who raise children in a world filled with fairy tales; what harm is there in having a moment of contemplation after the Pledge; where is the harm in Christmas/Hanukkah and Easter/Passover, traditional holidays celebrated or acknowledged by (perhaps) 90% or more of the democracy, being recognized in those same schools?

The states that mandate abstinence-only sex-ed are among the most challenged in the union in terms of teen pregnancy. The folks on the other side that insist that teaching abstinence is silly ignore the fact that it is the most effective strategy when applied.

Those who insist that provisions in abortion laws that allow for procedures in the third trimester for the health of the mother are immoral have never personally asked a women to carry a dead fetus to term. Those pro-choice individuals who claim to be rationalists depart from the path of reason when they insist that physical birth changes anything in the status of that life. ("Viable life" is quite possibly the least scientific and most irrational idea ever...the notion that a 6 month old baby is more viable than a 32 week fetus is a fairy tale of, dare I say, biblical proportions.)

The rational middle has a question for each side....

If God exists, why does His law need justification or support from the courts and congresses of men; if God does not exist, where is the harm in a prayer or representation that offers comfort or support to a believer?

The founding fathers were a mix not unfamiliar to today's eyes in religious terms. Some were Christians all their lives, others spent their time departing and returning. Many were Deists who believed in the "God of Nature". Jefferson ultimately produced a document now called the Jefferson Bible. Basically the New Testament without prophesy, miracle, or divinity, the book created by Jefferson expressed a fundamentally American theme: a citizen searching for his or her spirituality or moral compass in a nation that allowed the search to happen without restraint.

God Bless America!