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Saturday, November 26, 2011

Internet Love Messages and Grover Norquist

On this Thanksgiving weekend Saturday morning, like so many others, my husband and I enjoy tuning our radio to Scott Simon's news program on Weekend Edition (National Public Radio). 

Perhaps listening to the radio seems old fashioned these days, but Simon is a modern news man with old fashioned experience. In other words, Simon reports the real news (not entertainment), accompanied by balanced commentary. 

Frankly, I apologize for linking Simon's august program with the name of a sleazy lobbyist like Grover Norquist. But, this morning's show included commentary from former Senator Alan K. Simpson (R-Wyoming), who segued this blog for me. Thank you, Senator, for revealing, with appropriate disdain, the evil impact Norquist has in his campaign to dismantle modern American politics. Norquist uses procrustean (i.e. coercive) tactics, by spending inherited money,  for the nefarious political purpose of dismantling government.  In fact, Norquist wants to reduce government to a small enough size to fit inside a bathtub.  For many, who abhor this intent, the unsaid action following the bath tub analogy is obvious, allowing government to "circle the drain". In so doing, his intention is to eventually eliminate spending on government sponsored programs like Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, Pell Grants for poor students and foreign aid. In other words, cut government programs for the poor where ever in the world they happen to be.

Who is Grover Norquist?  He's an American lobbyist born on October 19, 1956, and a radical conservative activist. By conservative, I mean, his idea of government flies in the face of Christian principles, which call us to care for the least of our people.

Norquist is the beneficiary of the Polaroid company money, which he inherited; but, he's best known for having all Republican Senators and Congress sign a "no tax" pledge (meanwhile, they've also taken a pledge to uphold the US Constitution.)

In a Norquist world, if our publicly paid elected officials refuse to sign his no tax pledge, his political action committee launches a campaign to defeat them in their primary elections. A threat?  Is this coercion really "ransom".  Isn't ransom illegal? 

Which brings me to the point of this blog. 

During this Thanksgiving weekend, I've been party with millions of Americans to receive a litany of messages about how grateful we are for our Constitutional freedoms.  Of course, this freedom includes Norquist's quest to do whatever he wants with his inherited money - which he didn't earn. 

Some people who generate these Thanksgiving love messages are professed Christians. Nonetheless, I dare say, some might jump in line to follow Norquist, especially if he provided them with enough of his money to parrot the "put government in a bath tub" mantra.

If we really believe these colorfully flowered "gone viral" messages, illustrated with American flags and fall foliage, then it's time to step back and think about the essence of their meaning. 

By appreciating our freedoms, we also want every citizen to enjoy opportunities to live in a country where government is compassionate. I want my American governmental freedoms to include providing opportunities to all citizens.

Compassion is more than prettily packaged Internet messages.  Isn't it time for "nation building" at home, as well as for other countries? Let's provide health care, good roads and retirement security to all our citizens.

Norquist is looking for a special bath tub to flush out Americans who live on the edge of financial disaster, who work three jobs to make ends meet, as Scott Simon reported on this morning.  It's not because these hard working people are paying too much in taxes - some hardly earn enough money to pay much in taxes at all. They struggle because they're poor.

In a Norquist world, Darwinian survival of the fittest is the rule, providing security for those too financially fat, like he is, to slip down the drain.

Keeping with the Thanksgiving spirit, I will extend this Internet love message to Grover Norquist.  

Dear Mr. Norquist "....what ever you do for the the least of my brothers (and sister), so you do unto me...." 

Mr. Norquist, many Christians may not know the intention of your bath tub message. In my Internet world, the Thanksgiving message is simple  "...he who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker..." 

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Saturday, November 19, 2011

Super Committee Super Salaries

It doesn't take a rocket scientist blogger to figure out this message. 

It's a "no brainer" where Congress should look first when debating deficit reduction.

After all, when Congress acts, somebody else, somewhere else, suffers the consequences or reaps the benefits. It's time they start cutting budgets from within.

Look at the math for those who have this high level of power over our future (some data is from Wikipedia):


There are 12 members of the Congressional Super Committee authorized under the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction.  Six members of the Super Committee are appointed from the House of Representatives and six are from the Senate, making this a Joint Committee of both houses of Congress. 


Democrats Republicans
Senate members
House members


The annual salary of each senator, as of 2009, is $174,000;[27] the president pro tempore and party leaders receive $193,400.[28] In June 2003, at least 40 of the then-senators were millionaires.[29]
Along with earning salaries, senators receive retirement and health benefits that are identical to other federal employees, and are fully vested after five years of service.[28] Senators are covered by the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) or Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS). As it is for federal employees, congressional retirement is funded through taxes and the participants' contributions. Under FERS, senators contribute 1.3% of their salary into the FERS retirement plan and pay 6.2% of their salary in Social Security taxes. The amount of a senator's pension depends on the years of service and the average of the highest 3 years of their salary. The starting amount of a senator's retirement annuity may not exceed 80% of their final salary. In 2006, the average annual pension for retired senators and representatives under CSRS was $60,972, while those who retired under FERS, or in combination with CSRS, was $35,952.[28]
 
"The current salary (2011) for rank-and-file members of the House and Senate is $174,000 per year. Members are free to turn down pay increase and some choose to do so."http://usgovinfo.about.com/od/uscongress/a/congresspay.htm

http://usgovinfo.about.com/od/uscongress/ss/Wealthiest-Members-of-Congress_2.htm
Many in our US Congress are already multi-millionaires.

Twitter reported that US Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford (D-AZ) wants to introduce legislation to require the deficit reduction process include reductions in Congressional salaries. 

When the US Congress looks to cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the US Military, and Pell Grant funding, among other programs, they should begin by demonstrating ethical leadership.

In the spirit of medical ethics referred to as the Hippocratic Oath - first do no harm.

Deficit cuts should begin with the US Congress and their super salaries, before doing harm to others.

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Saturday, November 12, 2011

Presidential Race Vaudeville

There's several theatrical analogies circulating about this year's litany of GOP Presidential candidates, but Vaudeville is my stage setting scene for how the field of wanna-bees lines up. 

It doesn't take much imagination to create a comedy spectacle with the GOP candidates acting like wanna-be Presidents.  Perhaps it's time for a heroic parade entourage to save this comedic scene from turning into a tragedy.

In my mind, the funniest Vaudeville scene was when two competing Presidential candidates, Congressman Ron Paul and Governor Mitt Romney, both, tried to save Governor Perry's botched debate response last week, but he still couldn't get the words out.  It was like watching elementary school kids passing notes while the teacher writes on the blackboard. Governor Romney doesn't need debate coaching as much as he could benefit from simple civics lessons.  Just how many government agencies are there and, using simple subtraction, how many does he want to eliminate?  Governor Perry stumbled not just because his brain's cortex momentarily froze, but he simply didn't know the information he was presenting.   This stumble isn't funny for a potential US President and World Leader. It's not a Vaudeville Moment.  It's a melodramatic scene in need of rescue.

Even more startling is how Governor Perry's debate debacles ( the series of them) are lost in the spotlight of Herman Cain's sexual harassment situation with multiple women now willing to corroborate the charges. 

So, in my Vaudeville courtroom, the judge looks over the bench at these two candidates. He eyes Governor Perry and says, "I sentence you to 6 weeks of public speaking and civics lessons. You are dismissed."  On the other hand, the same Vaudeville judge peers over at defendant Herman Cain, slams his gavel and says, "Mr. Cain, I order you out of this presidential race, effective immediately!"

At this point, the Keystone Cops remove both candidates, exit stage left. Then, the judge orders the bailiff to find for the GOP a brand new, fresh, candidate- somebody who won't embarrass the courtroom with their presence.

Bailiff approaches the bench to stage whisper, "But Judge, what about Governor Mitt Romney?"  The Judge rolls his eyes and asks, "Oh, yes, forgot about him."


Next act of this Vaudeville is the brilliant White House, where the "Beaver Family" lives in harmony. In fact, before heading for work, the husband faithfully kisses his wife, and kids and pets the dog before going off to  solve the serious problems he faces every day.  Mr. President is experienced, polished, goes to church on Sundays, and, he's never had any personal scandal worthy of being a scene stealer.Plus, this President even knows how to speak in public without looking Vaudevillian.

Final Act is the line-up.  All GOP Presidential candidates, without Mr. Cain, are summoned by the Judge into the line up to be evaluated by  their performance, based on their knowledge of government, public speaking abilities, demonstrated leadership skills, and the ability to convince the judge they should remain on stage despite hooks on the sidelines trying to remove them.

As a reader audience asked to evaluate this Vaudeville performance, I probably don't have to provide an ending to this story.  It could be a Three Stooges ending, leaving everybody laughing.

On the other hand, the ending could be a knight in shining armor saving the day! Somebody, a hero, who enters from stage right, "Very Right", to sweep away the farcical stage rubbish.

We hear piano music bouncing in while the curtain falls. Then, a very cute blond smiling girl with sparkling red high heel shoes walks on stage with a sign board reading,

"....Intermission... until the performing candidates figure out how what it means to act Presidential".

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Saturday, November 05, 2011

Ethical Courage - Andy Rooney RIP

http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/andy-rooney-former-60-minutes-commentator-dies-at-92/2010/09/21/gIQA3gz3oM_story.html

Journalism was once a profession where people sincerely believed what you said or wrote or reported in the news, books or visual media.  Of course, "belief" did not necessarily mean "agreement", but reporting the news is not supposed to be about being popular.

Andy Rooney and Daniel Shurr were among those highly respected ethical news observers who sincerely reported, with courage of their convictions, regardless of what other people or advertisers thought about them or their messages.  

Now, both are deceased.  With them passes an era when ethical courage was a noble attribute rather than a character trait people "took you out" on with labels, slander or electronic bullying.

Yesterday, I was fortunate enough to attend a workshop on courage sponsored by MaineBiz and Key Bank, held in Portland Maine.  I went because the concept of courage has always fascinated me.  It was also a nice way to enjoy lunch with 300 business colleagues.

Motivational speaker Cindy Solomon spoke to us about "The Courage Challenge". She humorously (and Andy Rooney would have appreciated her candor) explained four kinds of courage:  "Role" courage; "Core" courage; "Blind" courage and "Crisis" courage.  In a nutshell, her message of self-awareness informed us how all of us in the audience probably harbored a little of each kind of courage. I would sum the 4 attributes up by saying each one calls for the person to, first, be ethically courageous.

Andy Rooney and Daniel Shorr are both spiritual comrades, sharing these 4 traits, framed by ethical courage.

I certainly don't want to paraphrase Cindy Solomon, so I'll refer you to her website www.cindysolomon.com.

But I will say, Andy Rooney and Daniel Shorr were the journalistic equivalents of "death-drop" journalists - to use an analogy humorously presented by Solomon in her motivational talk.

Did you ever wonder what being a journalist was like when commercial interests did not interfere with reporting the news?  Andy Rooney was a World War II journalist. Yet, he didn't believe in war and said so; but, he also said, ".....I want us to win."  He was a patriot before pacifist.  He told the brutal truth.

At times, it probably pained Rooney to be ethically courageous, week after week, on his 60-Minutes essays.  It takes courage to tell the world how you "really feel" about Modern Art or your messy desk.  Rooney's ethical courage was the antithesis of political correctness, as he seemed to relish taking side aim, to miss being polite.

Nonetheless, with Rooney's death, the National Football League has certainly lost an avid fan.

Daniel Shurr was one of President Nixon's "enemies", but he never seemed to loose his ethical courage, just because a powerful man wanted him to fail.  Shurr outlived Nixon and went on to become another role model for "ethical courage".

Now that both Rooney and Shurr are no longer with us, I want to be sure their legacies are not passed over as they have left this mortal earth.  I'm looking for the next courage in ethical journalistic leadership - but I'm in need of a powerful telescope to find one. Perhaps Richard Engel can make the cut, if commercial interests don't interfere.

Respected pundits are everywhere, of course, but they reflect on public opinion.  Rooney and Shurr spoke and wrote candidly, regardless of what the public thought about them or what they reported on.  They used their Constitutional right to Freedom of Speech to spread truth, and that takes real courage - all 5 kinds of it.

Rooney spoke about death in his last interview with Morley Safer. As a realist, he courageously expressed honesty about how his days on earth were numbered. Obviously, at age 92, he may also have been experiencing poor health.  It took courage to go before the vast 60-Minutes audience one last time, without the cover of nostalgia or hoop-la, to say good-bye his way - speaking the truth about his mortality.

Global news will report on Rooney's life, the time between the dash, but I wonder how many people will truly understand his ethical courage?  Did you ever wonder what 60-Minutes would be like without Andy Rooney?

His courageous career now passed, may Rooney now take the rest of eternity to know he lived a life expressing the truth and Rest In Peace.

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