Sunday, October 25, 2009

Abraham Lincoln: a reflection on the man

In the bicentennial year of Abraham Lincoln's birth writings continue to examine every aspect of his life and personality. One recent writer has even assumed Lincoln was gay because he shared a bed, at times, with other men. We will probably never really know the man who was our Greatest President.

Lincoln was a very private man. Even his closest friends were never truly intimates. Melancholia best describes his personality. While few people ever saw him lose his temper or control of his emotions, he did weep on occasion. He liked telling stories and racy jokes. His sad face would often break into a generous smile with loud laughter of a type and manner indicative of his mid-western origins. He took his time in thinking through issues of all types. He spoke publicly only after careful consideration and preparation.

Lincoln had a moral and ethical nature uncommon for his time. While he could stretch his ethical views as a lawyer he was exceptional in always seeking fairness in his dealings with others. Morality was central to Lincoln's entire being. He took to the golden rule as a personal inner compass.

He loved children and animals and could not abide with the mistreatment of either. He pardoned Tom the Turkey(thanksgiving dinner) for his young son Tad. He had an aversion to executions of any type and pardoned many soldiers during the war as well as native americans tried and sentenced to death for the Minnesota rebellion.

The only major office he had ever held was as a one-term Congressman from Illinois. Yet he was a very experienced politician. In losing races he grew only stronger politically.

He was the first President elected as a Republican. He captured less than 40% of the
public vote, yet swept the electoral college.

What is the new President to do? 7 States had seceded from the Union and 4 more would shortly follow his swearing in as the 16th President. His greatest challenge would be to save the
Union from an uncompromising group of elite men determined to place their rights (States Rights) above the common good of the entire nation. This group of aristrocrat planters wanted an oligarchy and not a democracy. They would breakup the Union rather than compromise.

As a lawyer Lincoln saw secession as an illegal act. It violated the Constitution. The Constitution did not provide a provision for a State to leave the Union. Indeed if a State could choose to secede from the Union could not also a County, City, town, or individual choose not to obey the laws passed by Congress and go their own way? Prior to the Constitution and the formation of the United States the freed colonies had formed a Confederation that proved to be very unsuccessful. Realizing their mistake the founding fathers met and carefully worked out a democracy in the form of a United States.

Lincoln was pushed into a Constitutional corner. While he felt he did not actually have the authority to coerce the Southern States to remain in the Union he did have an obligation to protect and defend federal property and citizens threatened by Southern military actions.

The federal army was very small. Political emotions ran so high that when Lincoln made the mistake of calling for volunteers to supplement the army 4 additional State Legislatures voted to leave the Union. Lincoln was treading on egg shells and any further actions might result in the loss of the border States of Maryland, Delaware, Missouri, Kentucky. Then South Carolina's state militia chooses to fire upon the federal fort of Fort Sumter in the harbor of Charleston.

At this point Lincoln could have wished the South good riddance and be gone from the Union.
But the Constitution did not allow him to do this either. In his legal opinion the South had never left the Union and certain parties were in rebellion. As a result of this thinking he never used the phrase "Confederate States" in any of his speeches or discussion. So therein lies the dilemma. To fight or not to fight. He chose to preserve the Union above all else within his power.

As a lawyer Lincoln had alway seen slavery as a legal act that had to be changed as it was immoral. The challenge was convincing others of this same moral fact. The United States remained one of the few countries in the world still recognizing the legality of slavery. The U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in 1857 (Dred Scot Decision) that black people were not citizens of the United States. Even though the Constitution counted them in the census as people to determine representation in Congress. The Constitution also failed to define what constituted being a slave. So, place yourself in Lincoln's situation. Slavery is morally wrong. The law and Supreme Court say that slaves are not people but property. The vast majority of americans do not care if a black man is free or a slave as long as they live somewhere else. What should he do? Lincoln did what he always did to solve an injustice. Go slow, go deliberate, but move in the right direction.

Lincoln said that if he could save the Union by freeing none or all of the slaves he would do so. Or if by freeing some and not others he would do that. He was a practical man. He saw that extremism in the actions of John Brown failed to free one slave. If slaves could be freed by buying them and sending them abroad to South America or Africa to save the Union he would do that. Lincoln even had a back up plan of compensating slave owners for their slaves and eliminating slavery in the U.S. by 1900, if that would save the Union. When war became the only option due to the South's unwillingness to compromise on State's Rights and slavery this left him only waiting for a major union army victory to impose a limited emancipation for held slaves. In the end even one of his earliest abolitionist critics Frederick Douglass praised Lincoln's approach as the one that resulted in achieving the end of american slavery.

One wonders what might have happened if Lincoln had served out his second term. As far a Reconstruction he said "let them down easy". At the time of his assassination Louisiana and Arkansas were ready to come back into the Union. President Johnson (a Southerner) only wanted to punish the planter elite of the South, rather than use them to help reunite the country. Congress reacted to Johnson's leniency by punishing the South with a big stick and impeaching the President. The South was left to fester. The rough approach by Congress did nothing to solve the deep seated problems that lead up to the rebellion but only suppressed them until they could resurface at a later time.

Would we have had the KKK and Jim Crow laws if Lincoln had lived. We will never know. Shortly before his death Lincoln had urged in his 2nd Inaugural Address that the solution was:

"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Two Wars and Peace

What if?

The war in Iraq were to end with the country divided into 3 or more parts. Kurds in the north,
Shites in the south and Sunni's in the west. Iraq as a nation was a creation of the British with an imposed king. Not such a good idea after all. Most americans can not even find Iraq on a world map. Oil is not worth one drop of american blood.

What if?

We just left Afghanistan and returned it to the CIA war of insurgents. A tribal country remaining a tribal country. Instead of our troops being the objects of hate and murder we simply provide what is needed and necessary to keep the Taliban and other terrorists busy fighting each other. We have been rope-a-doped into this war without end. Eye for an eye and everyone ends up blind. The terrorists have us just where they want us. Trillions of dollars spent, thousands of lives lost with no solution in sight. Are we winning? Just ask yourself that the next time you take a flight and have to remove your shoes and belt before entering security.

Creationism, Evolution or Both

(image source

It is hard to accept that the physics and mathematics used by mankind to explain and explore the physical universe is not the result of some master plan. As a Deist I believe that an enity "God" got the ball rolling by launching the big bang. What if God is a force beyond our level of understanding without a sexual or physical nature? Yet, a force able to bring into existance physical creatures that evolve and grow and have self-awareness.

The biblical verses are stories that we have used over the centuries to explain events beyond our understanding. Perhaps we are embarked on an amazing journey, only just begun, that will allow us to evolve into a universe of beauty and goodness that has been planted and grows beyond the very primitive state that now exists on our planet.

Respect for all life, a need to learn and grow and build upon the achievement of others. The fossil remains do not lie. Mountains come and mountains go. Seas expand and contract. Animals and plants evolve. Everything that is living eventually dies.

If we were not meant to evolve we would just be a creation of mindless creatures fulfilling a script already written with the ending determined long ago. No art, no literature, no science, no civilization needed. No joy, no happiness, no sorrow, no purpose.

The future is in what all of us leave behind.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Labor Day and Free Trade

Labor Day, what a concept for a national holiday. Actually, it is an international holiday celebrating the achievements of labor in economic and social advancement as a result of acceptance of the eight-hour day movement: Eight hours of work, eight hours of leisure and eight hours of rest.

A bit ironic isn't it? Here we are coming out of the worst recession since the Great Depression and labor is not valued as it once was. Due to NAFTA and the concept of "free trade" our workers must now compete against workers willing or forced to work for a few cents a day. Ross Perot was right when he predicted that with NAFTA you would begin to hear a sucking sound as American jobs were sucked out of the country.

How did this happen? I saw it start during the 1980s when the right-wing propaganda machine geared up and started telling us that unions resulted in overpaid and underworked employees. They would point to the automobile workers and claim super-high salaries and inferior products. However accurate this view might have been at the time it neglected to also criticize the incredibly high CEO and management salaries.

NAFTA and "free trade" have indeed brought America lower priced goods. In return we have lost millions of jobs in the textile, automobile and other manufacturing fields. In fact, over 90% of the products sold at Wallmart are made in China. Former blue collar workers with decent salaries are now forced to compete for the minimum wage jobs offered within the "service industry". That means flipping burgers to support your family with no fringe benefits.

The Republican solution to the problem was to further erode working wage jobs by passing "right to work" laws that pretty much destroyed decent salaries for construction workers. With right to work laws you had a right to work at skilled jobs for minimum wages. That is why you see so many illegal aliens, primarily hispanic males, working on construction and developer sites. Has this benefitted the U.S. economy. Well, yes if you only consider the increased profit income of the developers and stockholders in the megasize companies. I know a local fairly young developer that now has 5 Porches, a gold rolex watch, a million dollar home, a showcase wife with diamonds the size of walnuts on her fat fingers, and two vacation homes. While he certainly has the right to his wealth I often wonder at what sacrifice his worker ants had to labor to ensure him of his income.

Union jobs have declined dramatically during the last 20 years. In fact, in is difficult to find a construction union worker now days. When I find one I often feel like telling them to hang in there and fight to keep their job and at a decent working wage.

I am proud to be an American and I am proud of our history of citizens fighting for the right cause. The 8 hour work day, Social Security and Medicare benefits for our retired elderly, a minimum wage, child labor reform, work safety laws, right of women to work, paid holidays, pension and health benefits, all hard won fights by and for our working people.

The right-wing propaganda machine will continue to scream socialism, communism at anything that looks like it might take profits and share them with the workers. Workers who by their daily labor produce the goods and services that enrich our society and the pocketbooks of working men and women.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

National Health Care NOW!

I am not certain what the exact problem is with ensuring that all Americans have access to basic health care. The British have been doing it for over 50 years and it has worked out pretty darn good for them. In fact Margaret Thatcher and other British Conservatives would not touch it when she was PM. The Canadians have a good program. The Japanese are doing pretty well with their system. So what is the problem? We can land a man on the moon and fight several wars at the same time but not offer national health care? Are we to continue to have a Darwinian Society (the strong survive - the weak perish)? At times, I feel we are all in a Dicken's novel with poor children holding out a bowl asking for more gruel . Let's do the right thing!

FDR came close to funding a national health care program and Harry Truman wanted to pass a plan......but in both cases the Republican Party opposed the effort. Just as they had opposed and would oppose Social Security, minimum wages, child labor laws, Medicare, Medicaid, veteran's benefits. FDR could not do it as he was facing a long expensive war and Truman couldn't as he had to fight a hostile Republican Congress.

Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid have worked out well regardless to the original opposition by the Republicans and some Democrats. The administrative costs are much lower than any private plan that would replace them. During the Reagan administration the Republicans even proposed funding the Social Security program with Wall Street investments. Where would that fund be now if that had happened? Yes, the Social Security program has been mishandled. If left alone it would be self-funding without a projected deficit.

I have read recently that a National Health Care plan would be a step toward Socialism and Communism. That it would cost too much. And beat this! A national single payer plan would be unfair competition with private insurance programs. Ah, so that is it. The excessive profits made by insurance companies and hospitals would be at risk for stockholders in these companies.

Federal grants often provide the money needed by the drug companies to do their research on drug therapy research. The companies then obtain a patent and guarantee of non-competition when selling their product....hence outragous costs for all new drugs. We pay for the research and they reap the profits.

700,000 Americans declare bankruptcy each year because of medical costs. I have a friend right now with over $500,000 in overdue medical bills. The answer is to take the profit out of health care. Yes, insurance and drugs should be available on a non-profit basis. Hospitals should be non-profit community hospitals answerable to their health care providers and patients and not a CEO and Board reporting to stockholders. Here in Salem, Oregon you have only to examine a detailed billing statement from Salem Hospital to see where the abuse and unethical profit lies. To top it off the Salem Hospital tore down a fairly new parking garage to builda billion dollar complex of doctor's offices. A grand piano sits in the main lobby.

Yes, poor people and illegal immigrants can walk into an Emergency Room and obtain subsidized medical care. We all bear these costs through increased charges to those who do pay. That is a terrible and inefficent way to run our medical services. A National Health Care Program would cover all Americans regardless of income or employment status. Illegal immigrant care could be funded using a different insurance program that monitors their status and insures that they receive appropriate care. We have a "green card" system why don't we use it and a "guest worker" program that protects us from criminals and illegals using and abusing the system. A person can always be returned to their country for non-emergency medical care.

The moneyed interests and lobbyists in this country are going to fight a National Health Care Program tooth and nail. They will continue to produce a mass of mis-information to undercut any attempt to limit the massive profits made by the drug companies and hospitals. I say yes to paying doctors, nurses and health care providers the salaries they deserve for all of the schooling and training they have undertaken. It is the CEOs and stockholders we need to eliminate from the expense cycle. They do not need to be involved in basic health care for all Americans.

We all deserve a national program on par with what the President, Congress and the military receive. Anyone wanting special medical care beyond what is offered can choose to use a private or alternative medical insurance program. You can always pay for a private doctor in Great Britain. All you need is money.

Guess what? I also believe that coverage should include dental and eye care. If that makes me a socialist .... so be it.

How to fund? Well....we can throw away Trillions of dollars in wars that do not advance our national interest (exception Afganistan). We need to spend our money more wisely. Having a country with a proper health care system is a great return on the investment. The results are increased productivity, healthier children ready to learn, proper care for our elderly and attention to the health needs of our citizens...poor and rich.

Can you imagine no longer having the need for a bake sale to save little Jimmy or Suzy from cancer medical costs? Perhaps even the MDA marathon could end with Jewis Lewis. And what about all of the various walkatons? Fewer tax deductions but a better society?

Now is the time to fight for a National Health Care Program. The system is broken and we need to fix it. Let's take the profit out of health care for our citizens!

The September 7, 2009 issue of Newsweek offers a good view of the lies about the Health Care Debate. Go to:

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The King who looked into the Darkness

Edward VIII the King of England (1936-1936) wanting it all his way or no way. Yes, he gave up his crown for the woman he loved. she was twice divorced American woman who would be the mother he never really had as a boy. His father was a sailor and of German ancestry to boot. So, no hugs in their family. Cold mutton every morning for breakfast? Well, lets just say that he grew up very unappreciated for all of the public relations talents he exhibited beyond his weak will and flirtation with the Nazi movement in Germany. Once his father died (George V) Edward would rule as he liked with the woman he loved by his side. Not so. Even Churchill's support could not save his throne. As King he showed that he could be vain and stubborn and not listen to his advisors or family.

It was the tradition that the new monarch would face in the opposite direction of their predecessor on all new stamps to show a change in ruler. The background had already been prepared for his new stamps and printed on millions of stamps needing only a second printing with the new monarch's portrait. His new stamps would have shadow on the left and light on the right side of the background. Edward however said that his best side was his left side and insisted that he face the same direction his father had faced on his stamps and break the tradition.

Well the result is that we indeed see the best side of Edward. Unfortunately he is facing into the dark and not into the light. An ominous sign of his short reign. The uncrowned King of England.....Edward VIII

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Hawaii: 50 States, 49 States, 48 States

There is a movement afoot in our 50th State to withdraw from the Union. While the group leading the charge is a very small minority it does bring some thoughts to mind. See:

The American Civil War was fought over the issue of State's Rights and the right of a state to remove itself from requirements outlined in the laws of the United States. The South Carolina State government demanded that it should have the right to ignore federal laws it felt were in conflict with its own state laws. This was not the first attempt by South Carolina to remove itself from federal compliance as during the 1830s a Southern President, Andrew Jackson, had to threaten use of federal troops if South Carolina did not withdraw its attempt to nullify federal custom duties. As we all know this merely postponed a wider conflict by 20 years and was resolved at the cost of billions of dollars and 600,000 american lives. What is interesting is that an earlier uprising against the earliest federal taxes was defeated in person by General Washington's (another southerner) army. The revolt was known as the Whiskey Rebellion.

So what is this all about in Hawaii? Our 50th State receives billions of dollars in federal aid from the national treasury. So money can not be an issue. A very high percentage of Hawaiians dip into the tax trough as either government or military retirees, current government workers, or subsidized welfare enrollees. The native islanders (one drop of blood and you are Hawaiian) have received numerous considerations both financial and political to ensure the survival of the Hawaiian heritage and culture. So, what could these separatists really want?

Hawaii belongs to everyone.....all of us....within the 50 States. That was the deal back in 1959, fifty years ago this year. In my opinion, backed up by a Civil War, you just can't have it both ways. Independence means independence and you are on your own. Is that what the crazy Hawaiian minority really wants? Back to the good ole days when the government of Hawaii were controlled by a few rich speculators and native leaders willing to sell their people for a few shiny trinkets. As a Native American I can attest to the fact that with all of the bad and evil dealings forced upon my people for 500 years the one winning effect is that under this nation's Constitution and its laws we are all finally recognized as being Americans and equal. This recognition however brings with it certain rights and certain obligations.

We are always quick to complain about our rights and what is owed to us......but what about our obligations?

If something in Hawaii is not right it can be changed. While not easily done, there is a way, long and hard as it may be politically. Cutting out the star from the 50 star flag is not the answer. Demanding rights not shared by others in not the right course. Millions of people on this planet would gladly trade places with anyone wanting out of this precious union. I am not saying "love it or leave it". I am saying don't destroy it. Build upon this nation's solid foundation established over 200 years ago. Perhaps we in the lower 48 States have been too generous in allowing distant islands into our Union. If they leave we will need to send them a bill for services rendered.

Hey, it is not just the blue liberal State of Hawaii but the red conservative State of Alaska that from time to time raises the separation issue while still holding out their hands for federal dollars. Time to tell our youngest States to grow up and take responsibility. Perhaps it is best not to bite the hand that feeds you.

May our flag forever wave over a land of the brave and a land of the free.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Heroes: The image of reality

Yes, all is not what it appears. The romantic images that Shakespeare and Bernard Shaw portray of Anthony and Cleopatra when "faced" by reality are quite different. We desire the Anthony and Cleopatra from history to appear as beautiful as Liz Taylor and Richard Burton in the movie Cleopatra. What did Anthony and Cleopatra really look like? Before photography we only had the ideal approximate images made in stone, metal or sketches on paper and paintings paid for by the subjects or their patrons.

The Romans were famous for their reputation of copying the works and ideas of others. Beautiful Roman fakes of Greek ideals. But then again we should give those old Romans some credit for originality where credit is due. Look at their coins.

Above is an image of Cleopatra from a Roman coin produced during her lifetime. While no beauty physically she was renown for her intelligence, wit, ruthlessness and survivability. She captured the heart of both Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony. She was willing to bear their children. For power or for love? She was the first Ptolemy to actually speak the local Egyptian dialect in addition to Greek and Latin. Octavian was unaffected by her charms and planned to parade her in golden chains in his official triumph in Rome. She chose death instead of indignity and dishonor. Her son by Caesar, Caesarion Ptolemy was killed on orders by Octavian. Her children by Mark Anthony survived her. It is my opinion that her personality was best captured by an East Indian actress in the recent series: Rome (produced by HBO).

Did Mark Anthony look like Richard Burton? Well no. Above is a copy of a Roman coin portraying Mark Anthony as he looked during the years he lived in Egypt with Cleopatra. He like Cleopatra had an engaging personality and believed that loyalty was the most important trait in love and friendship. How else would you account for Anthony's rapid rise as the right-hand to Julius Caesar? He appears on the above coin with a strong chin and curly hair....but a boxer's face. Loyalty was important to him. He could be cruel and heartless when it advanced his career. Not a book reader, but politically smart when it suited his purposes. He was a man's man yet met his match with Cleopatra and then tied his fate to her.

Now, what about Julius Caesar? That is another story.

Now how about our hero Lincoln:

Abraham Lincoln liked to tell stories relating to his lack of looks. One story he told relates
how he was shaking hands in a receiving line at a political function. A woman greeted him by saying "my God I believe you are the ugliest man I have ever seen". Lincoln replied "I can't help that I am ugly". To which the woman replied "at least you could stay at home." Indeed, where would we be now as a nation if Lincoln had stayed at home.

Hate for Religious and Political Reasons

The Golden Rule is pretty universal. I just don't understand all of the hate and intolerance out there. The majority of it seems to be coming from political conservatives and fundamentalists of all religions.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. What could be more simple than that? Another more recent version is quoted as "What would Jesus do?"

What would prompt people at political rallies to carry guns, wear band aids on Purple Hearts and carry signs prompting people to kill a political nominee and his family? Over the past few years there have been several active heavily funded misinformation campaigns. The propaganda generated strives to convince people to vote and act against their own best interests. One recent example is of a man protesting violently against health care reform. He was beaten up and taken to the hospital and it seems he has no health care insurance.

I know that politically if you throw enough mud some of it sticks. If a lie is repeated enough times it is remembered by some as the truth. We had a President who said that we "do not torture" but facts and reports tell us otherwise. Yes, we had another President who lied about having sex with an intern.

I've noticed that a high percentage of religious and political hate comes from the Southern States. Political and religious developments in recent years make it appear that the Confederate States of America with their demand for separation and trust in state's rights and intolerance must have won the American Civil War.

One political thing that I find incredibly amusing is for hard-core right-wing conservatives to herald President Theodore Roosevelt as their hero. I guess these conservatives are thinking only of the "big stick" and not the Progressive nature of Roosevelt's political philosophy and actions.

The religious thing that I find hardly amusing is for islamic, christian and jewish fundamentalists to believe that blowing up innocent women and children is the surest way to heaven. As a christian I also find it difficult to communicate with "born again" people who believe that "faith-based" christianity rather than the practiced "good life" are the only acceptable true christian path. Faith-based has been misused for centuries as a means to allow individuals leading immoral, unethical life paths to become leaders and mentors. Both the early Catholic Church and the Calvinists have rewritten the Bible and the sayings of Jesus to enable their control over people and money.

Jesus said "You are not listening". Indeed, the message has been lost amid the scramble for satisfying personal greed and gluttony.

Each and every day attempt to live the Golden Rule. As an added bonus try at least once each day to do something good without expecting a reward or anything in return.