Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Trump’s Birther Denial

September 18, 2016

“President Obama was born in the United States, period.  Now let’s get back to the business of making America great again.”

Not so fast, Donald!  It is not that easy to reverse  course on an issue that you have been so outspoken about for so long.  You have given no indication of the evidence that led you to make the claim that he was not born in the United States.   And you have not given any indication of the evidence that led you to change your mind.

It appears that this statement was issued by Donald Trump only after it became evident to his campaign team that his “birther position” was possibly a liability to his  campaign.  This is just one of many reversals that Donald Trump has made so that he can appear to be a reasonable candidate for which  traditional Republicans can vote.  That may also be the reason he accused Hillary Clinton of being the originator of the birther movement in 2008, although fact-checkers find no evidence for this claim whatsoever,

But he can not walk away from the position so easily.  His constant assault on President Obama’s citizenship was a significant factor in undermining President Obama’s leadership.  The birther issue was used by Trump to question the legitimacy of Obama’s Presidency.  What price, if any, is Trump prepared to pay for the damage that  he has already done?



Can the Clinton email issue be put behind us?

July 31, 2016

The Clinton email issue has been described as a “scandal” and a “criminal offense”, and has led to full-throated cries of “Lock her up!”.  These terms reflect the discussion of the issue that has occurred among her political opponents with Donald Trump leading the way!  There is probably little that can be done to prevent Republicans, or persons opposed to Hillary Clinton, from carrying on in this way through November, and maybe even beyond then.

The FBI Director,  James Comey, apparently did not find a sufficient basis in all of Clinton’s  actions to mount a legal case against her.  But he was unwilling to stop there in his own discussion of the email issue.  He found it needful to characterize her actions as “reckless” and “careless”.  This only led Republicans to cry even louder: “How can actions on the part of a government official be “reckless” and “careless” without being found to be criminal?  I personally believe that Comey’s comments were responsible for setting up the specific focus on this issue at the Republican Convention.  What is sad about this is that these are not legal terms.  Rather, they are terms used by Comey  to express what may have been a professional, yet, nevertheless, a personal judgment on the issue.

Clinton on the other hand, has done nothing to help her cause.  She has  traded on whatever ambiguity there may have been in State Department policies regarding the use of personal servers to justify her decision to make exclusive use of a personal server in conducting her business as Secretary of State.  She used the same server for her personal email which she eliminated prior to turning over the contents of her server to federal officials.  So she turned over 55,000 emails that were related to official state department business, and eliminated 31,000 emails which she identified as personal.  The problem?  She was the sole judge of what was official and what was personal, and once the emails were eliminated she had no basis on which to defend her judgment.

The problem facing ordinary citizens when thinking about this issue is that most of us are relatively clueless as to something so rudimentary to this issue as what a “server”, private or otherwise, is.  To get a clue I would encourage checking the internet.  It is a computer that is used to receive or transmit emails.   In the case of most emails that one sends, it is quite possible that the email passes through more than one server.  Ordinary email users rely on servers that are outside of their home and owned and operated by such agencies as gmail, google, aol, hotmail, etc.etc.  Many businesses because of the volume of their email have their own servers.  Federal agencies, like businesses have their own servers.

What is important about the servers used by federal agencies for email reception and transmission?  Three things.  Security, Record-keeping, and transparency.  Federal government systems have been hacked.  So they are not totally secure.  But Federal agency servers meet whatever standard of security that the federal government has put in place at any given time.  There is no assurance that personal servers will meet that same level of security. All emails sent and received on federal agency computers are preserved as official records of the actions of those who sent or received them, and of the agencies which they represent.  So federal agency servers are a vital means to keeping records.  And because that is so, they also provide a form of transparency to the actions of those who send or receive them and of the agencies which they represent.  If you have a question about who said what and when, the stored emails provide ready access to the answer to such questions.

So there can be little doubt that to say the least, to use the language of Secretary Clinton herself, her decision to use a personal server was a “mistake.”   My personal opinion is that that word is mild to say the least.  The issue is more serious than that language reflects.  But if we are to put the issue behind us, as Bernie Sanders so graciously did, we have to focus on a few facts.  First, there are far greater issues that should be discussed as this presidential election campaign goes forward than the email issue.  Second, however grave a mistake Secretary Clinton may have made, and howver this mistake may influence ones evaluation of her judgment, there is nothing that she can do about it now.
What is done is done.  Third, up to this point in time, as bad a mistake as this may have been, there are no apparent consequences from it that affect the security of this country, or undermine the national interest.  While there is evidence that government servers have been hacked, there is no credible evidence that Secretary Clinton’s personal server was hacked.

So putting this issue behind us, in the last analysis, is, as Bernie Sanders so wisely recognized, a matter of personal choice.  We can get ourselves all wrapped up in this “damned email” business, or we can move on.  The gravity of this coming election and of the issues that the parties and candidates have been framing suggest the wisdom of this latter choice.




Does Business prepare one to be President?

July 23, 2016

Mr. Trump is not the first candidate to point to his business background as a key qualification to become President of the U.S.  George W. Bush also stood on his  business background.  Right at the top let me say that business can be as good a background of experience for a President as many other fields.  There are, however, two qualifications that must be made.

First, “business” is an accordion word.  There are many and diverse activities over which the word “business” can be stretched.  It can extend to being a real estate developer or owning a baseball club.  From my perspective the key question to ask of any business man seeking the Presidency is: “How much management experience have you had?  How many resources did you both acquire and manage?  How many people did you supervise?  What processes were required to produce the service or goods for which you agency was responsible, including skyscrapers and casinos?  How successful were you?  How did you relate to all of the people that were in some way involved in your enterprise?  How did people feel that you affected along the way in your career? What were your contributions to the community both through and beyond your career?

Trump’s daughter, when introducing him on the last night of the convention, spoke to some of these things.  But Trump himself has done little but claim that he has been successful, and the primary evidence that he has presented is that he got very, very rich. If one has had any acquaintance with Peter Drucker, then it is clear that there is a lot more to being a successful manager than getting rich.  If Trump himself does not elaborate on what his experience has done for him in preparing him to be President, the media should take this upon themselves.  The press, especially,  USA TODAY, has done this.  Sadly, what has been uncovered are some pretty dark dealings.  Cable TV should begin to join the exploration of Trump’s business career.

The second qualification of the statement that business can be a good background for becoming President is that business by itself is not politics.  Within most managerial structures there are elements of authority that increase as one moves up the management ladder.  Trump sat at the top.  He knows what it is to have authority.  But does he know what it is to be political.  You can’t order the American people to behave as you wish them to.  You can not tell the Senate, the House, or the judiciary what they must do.  Politics requires some measures of self-effacement, a considerable amount of other directedness, and quite a lot of compromise, not only of take, but also, of give.  To this point, there has been little evidence not only of Mr. Trump’s political prowess, but of any desire on his part to function as a politician.  In fact in his acceptance address all that he had to say about politicians was a series of negative accusations against them.

So a career in business can prepare one to become President.  But in Mr. Trump’s case, it is not at all evident that his career has prepared him for this very overwhelming task.




Buying votes

December 23, 2009

Yesterday I heard an interview with Senator Grahm of South Carolina.  He had asked his state attorney general to look into the legality of the deal by which Senator Ben Nelson was persuaded to vote for cloture on the health care reform bill.   He along with others was appalled that the state of Nebraska will have its share of the increased Medicaid costs resulting from the Health Care Bill waived as a condition for Senator Nelson to vote for cloture.

Senator Graham is not the only person who has asserted that this arrangement does not pass the “smell test.”  Before I continue,  I should say that I do not believe this arrangement to be fair either.  Moreover, I believe it is never a positive development to bribe legislators to vote in one way or another, even though I am realistic enough to recognize that this kind of  thing goes on all the time.

What I do want to go on to say, however, is that in criticizing this arrangement it is important to consider what made it necessary.  The first consideration is that we no longer have majority rule in the Senate.  Almost anything that is presented needs to have the 60 votes to impose cloture on the debate.  In other words, every piece of substantive legislation on which there is any partisan differnce is subject to the requirement of a procedural vote of 60 members.  Under these conditions a legitimately elected majority is prevented from carrying out the mandates on which they were elected.

A second consideration which made Senator Nelson’s vote necessary was the refusal of the opposition party to engage in any constructive dialogue regarding the needs for health care reform and any good faith effort to develop legislation to provide that reform.  When under the leadership of Senator Baucus of the Finance Committee Republicans were given the opportunity to have a direct impact on the bill, those involved chose to use this opportunity to water down the bill, rather than to present positive proposals for reform.

A third consideration is the disingenuous participation of some Republicans and Democrats alike.  Chief among those involved was Senator Joe Lieberman.  Lieberman represents Connecticut, a state in which a large majority of the voters supported including a public option in the health care bill.  Lieberman, however, would have no part of it.  Why?  Because he also comes from a state in which the insurance industry has corporate headquarters, and because his pockets have been well-lined by corporate insurance contributions.  (Lieberman is, of course, an Independent, but Democrats were not exempt from being in a similar position.  Consider Evan Bayh of Indiana.)

So, yes, immediate deals made prior to the post-1:00 am vote early  Monday morning generated a might stench.  But those objecting to the smell must also acknowledge that the entire process was odiferous from its earliest beginnings, and there is plenty of blame to go around for that.  No one source of smell should be singled out either for investigation or criticism.

A Religious Justification for the Prochoice Position

September 18, 2008

A Religious Justification for the Prochoice Position

It is frequently argued by the conservative Christian right that the prolife position is based on the Christian faith, and that the prochoice position cannot be defended from a Christian point of view.  In fact some Christian conservatives go so far as to say that the support of a woman’s right to choose rests on some secular values that exist independently of religion. 

Before addressing this basic contention it is important to point out that one does not have to be in favor of abortion to argue the pro-choice position.  Many defenders of the prochoice position believe that all things considered, abortion should be a solution of last resort to the problem of an unwanted pregnancy.   They believe further that in every case the decision to continue a pregnancy or to have an abortion should be a moral decision, a decision that involves weighing ones options in the context not only of ones personal values, but also values expressed by the communities of which one is a member, whether family, church, or the larger community.  Such persons do not accept the view that abortion is just one option among many that can be chosen with no regard for the value of life in particular,  or moral values, more generally.  Whether from a religious perspective, or a secular perspective, these persons believe that there are way too many abortions, and that ways should be found to reduce the number of abortions that occur.  The premise for this belief is not simply the biblical commandment against killing, but the affirmation common to biblical and secular thinkers alike that in all of its forms, the affirmation and promotion of life is preferable to its destruction.

But is there a religious basis for a prochoice position?  If one thinks within a religious framework is the option of abortion precluded in the context of a pregnancy?  Is there in fact no choice to be made?  In order to answer this question, it is necessary to consider what would have to be assumed in order to eliminate any possibility of choice.  What would have to be assumed is that life when viewed within a religious framework has absolute value, and that, consequently, there can never be any justification for an act which involves the destruction of a living creature.   But is the life of a creature viewed as having an absolute value within the context of what can be described as “conservative Christianity?”

Within the framework of conservative Christianity there are many evidences that the value of human lives is considered to be relative, rather than absolute.  The very fact that human beings are creatures sets them apart from their Creator.  While absolute value may be believed to reside in the Creator, creatures are creatures pecisely because they are not of absolute value.  Their value is always relative in relation to their creator.  They are good, but not good to the point of perfection.  Therefore, the possibility of sin is within them from the moment of their creation. 

The probationary command that is given to Adam and Eve also suggests that their lives are of relative, rather than absolute value.  The probationary command is the instruction that they may eat of the fruit of all of the trees of the garden except for the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  The penalty for failing to follow this instruction is death.  So, the lives of Adam and Even do not have an absolute value.  The value of their lives is contingent upon their obedience to the command of God which they are free both to obey and to disobey. 

Once humans are living east of Eden, they are living in anything but a culture of life.  Cain’s jealousy leads to the death of Abel.  Only a sign from God is sufficient to prevent he and his seed from facing certain death.  As sin becomes widespread, all living creatures with the exception of Noah and his family are destroyed in a flood.  Abraham is directed to sacrifice his son for no apparent reason other than to test his willingness to place obedience to God ahead of the preservation of the life of his son.   The lives of the residents of Sodom and Gomorrah are placed on the table when Abraham bargains with God in order to save these cities.  How many righteous lives must be found in these cities before they  will be spared from destruction? Initially, it is suggested that fifty righteous persons will justify sparing all of those living in these cities.  The number shifts down to forty-five, to forty, then, to thirty, and twenty, and, finally, ten.  Clearly, given God’s assent to these varying numbers of righteous persons, the lives of the residents of these two wicked cities are judged to be of relative value.

When the Israelites leave Egypt they do so only after the first born of every Egyptian family is killed by the angel of death.  In this case the freedom of Israel is what justifies this slaughter. Further death is experienced by Egypt when Pharoah and his hosts are drowned in the Red Sea after Irael has passed through the sea on dry ground.  Relative to Israel’s freedom the life of Egyptians is perceived to have a relative value.  An even more challenging evidence of the culture of death that is found in the Old Testament involves Israel’s conquest of Canaan.  Israel is ordered to slaughter the inhabitants of the land.  When it is not the military force of Israel that accomplishes this, it occurs as the direct result of divine intervention such as at Jericho.  What is clear is that the only condition on which Israel can occupy the land is if those already living there are destroyed.  Also within the Old Testament there is an affirmation of the lex talionis: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and a life for a life.  What is the justification of taking any life if all life is of infinite or absolute value.  The fact that one life is perceived to be the equivalent of any life that is taken is itself evidence that neither life is judged to be of absolute value. 

It may be argued that against the background of this culture of death, the New Testament affirms a culture of life.  Jesus himself said, “I came that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)  This claim concerning the New Testament, however, overlooks the fundamental premise of conservative Christian religion.  This premise is that Jesus came into the world to save sinners by giving his life as a ransom for many.  If there ever was a living creature upon the face of the earth who would be a candidate for having a life of absolute value, it would be Jesus.  For however much he may have shared in the very existence of God, it is the belief of Christian conservatives that he was fully human.  For Christian conservatives, it was necessary that Jesus die in order for humans to receive salvation.  Looking at this necessity more closely, it does not arise from the very nature of humans.  As creatures of God, humans were made in such a way that when God looked upon them, he saw that they were very good.  For Christian conservatives the necessity of Christ’s death is rooted in the sin of human beings.  By any measure, the sin of any one human being is not of absolute value.  Specifically, there is nothing that comes into existence through sin that can be judged to be of absolute value.  Whatever deeds are performed sinfully, one can be sure, produce results the value of which is ony relative.  These finite acts of finite creatures producing results of limited perfection become, however, a barrier to humans entering into and maintaining a positive relationship with God.  So God decides that for these sins of mortals, of finite and limited value, it is needful to have his son Jesus, the righteous one, die on a cross.  If the life of Jesus is of absolute value, it is sacrificed in order to bring into harmony with God the lives of limited, finite, sinners.  For Conservative Christians, this is the good news of the gospel.  This once and for all sacrifice clearly relativizes the value of the life of all those who are redeemed through it, even as it makes relative the value of the life of Jesus himself.   One way of putting this is to say that once it is clear that Jesus the perfect man needs to die, all life, including his is affirmed as having finite, or limited value. 

 Evangelicals demonstrate that life is not an absolute value in other ways. They support war as a means of defending the nation’s freedom. In this case, national freedom, as well as personal freedom is assumed to be of greater worth than the lives of thousands of relatively innocent civilians on either side, not to mention, the lives of the military personal who participate in the conflict. Let their be no mistake about it, one can not affirm war as a national policy without at the same time accepting responsibility for the loss of thousands of lives. Secondly, most evangelicals support capital punishment. In some cases, capital punishment is thought to be appropriate because it is somehow appropriate to cause a person to die if that person in fact has killed another. How does taking one life justify a similar act on anyone else’s part if life is an absolute value? Somehow, the supporter of capital punishment believes that anytime a life is taken, even if that be the life of another human being, that is sufficient justification for taking the murderer’s life. We all like heroes who risk their lives for others. But no one believes that one should blindly throw oneself into a deep pool of water to save another if in fact the one who jumps in to save another can not do anything in water other than become another drowning victim. Becoming a hero is considered to be a matter of taking a calculated risk, and determining that one would risk ones own life because of the possibility of saving another. How is it that becoming a hero should be a matter of relative judgment, but the admiinistration of capital punishment is perceived to be a matter of exercising absolute judgment? Isn’t it possible that the judgement leading to the administration of capital punishment is itself a relative judgement? Surely within our judicial system capital punishment is not uniformly administered for the same crimes. Whenever it is administered, this action is not based upon absolute values, but upon a relative judgment. This is clear if it is kept in mind that capital punishment is not restricted to the actual taking of the life of another. Capital punishment may be administered in cases of violent rape, or in cases of treason, where no lives have been taken by the recipient of that punishment. This, too, suggests that the life of that person is of relative, rather than absolute value.

One further evidence that life is not regarded as an absolute value within our frame of reference is that we believe that there are many values other than life itself for which it is worthy to die. Thus, most Americans consider their national and personal freedom to be values for which they would put their lives at risk. Many Americans would put their ife at risk to defend their property.

So what relevance do all of these considerations pointing to the relative value of human life have to the discussion of whether it is appropriate to be prochoice as well as prolife?  If human life is of relative, rather than absolute value, any time one is faced with allowing a life to continue (as in the case of those who are comatose and require expensive life support systems to continue their life), or one is faced with discontinuing the development of a fetus at earlier stages of pregnancy, a moral choice or decision is necessary.  One cannot deal with these circumstances simply by appealing to the abolute value of living creatures.  One cannot do this, first, because ample evidence has been provided that in the context of the total set of beliefs of conservative Christians, life does not have an absolute value.  But, secondly, one cannot resolve the question of abortion by an appeal to life as having absolute value because the world into which that life may eventually be born is not the world that God contemplated and found to be very good.  It is a world into which sin has entered.  In a sinful world good is never all lined up on one side of any question.  Continuing a life in this present world may lead to a compounding of circumstances which are already evil, even as the life itself at birth is clearly good. 

Far be it from me to hypothesize circumstances in which aborting a fetus is better than letting the fetus to develop to full term and to be born into the particular set of circumstances that will greet the child upon its birth.  Suffice it to say that the consequences of bringing a child into the world are not all lined up on the side of good.  At birth when every child enters the world their are consequences which are both good and evil.  These consequences need to be faced long before the fetus develops to a point at which it is capable of independent life apart from the womb.  There are circumstances, however, in which the prospects of a fetus developing into a free independent person involve shadows in which evil, rather than good results.  One clear example to which most will agree is if the continued pregnancy and/or birth of the fetus poses a real threat to the life of the mother.  Another example is when the continued pregnancy and/or birth of the fetus involve threats to the life of the child.  And, then, there are threats to life that go beyond the threat of physical death.  The risks associated with these threats are, of course. far more difficult to weigh.  What is the consequences for both the life of the mother and the life of the child of having been conceived through a rape or through incest?  What are the consequences for all concerned of being born into a context in which poverty is so extreme that the necessities of life cannot be provided?  As a general rule, it may be that abortion should be avoided. But whether it should or should not be an option in a particular case can not rest only on the general consensus as to the value of the life of every creature or on the negative implications associated with halting the development of life or of allowing this development to continue. This act, deciding to end the development of  a fetus, or of allowing the development to continue, like every human act, will take place in a context marked by complexity.  In the end the judgment to allow the development of a life to continue, or to terminate that process, can only be made by the person that is most intimately joined to that new life. One cannot stand upon some absolute platform and dictate that decision for others. That is taking away not only the freedom, but also the responsibility which each of us has for the decisions that we make.   What is evident in suggesting the above examples where a decision to terminate or continue the development of a fetus may be needed is that from a religious as well as a secular perspective these circumstances confront the mother with the need to make a decision.  For her to make a decision she must have a choice.