Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Judiciary and The Federalist Society's Vision

As we focus our attention on the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court we also might want to remember that at least one hundred and twenty federal judgeships are set to be filled by this new president.

It is also useful to recall that these vacancies were a result of the concerted efforts by the Republican controlled Congress to block, stall, and otherwise prevent a significant number of Obama appointees from their fair hearing and eventual seating. As Eric Lipton has chronicled in his work with The NY Times, this persistent stonewalling was inspired and supported by the Federalist Society under the direction of Leonard Leo and the substantial underwriting of the Koch Brothers. Not coincidentally, the current nominee for the Supreme Court is a long standing member of this organization whose stated purpose, among other things, is to promote an agenda featuring the elimination of governmental regulation and the reduction of federal intervention into the activity of the private sector. Exercising it's influence through judicial appointments is essential to the Federalists vision of radically limiting the scope of the federal government while advocating a laissez fairer attitude with respect to the affairs of private business and 'free market' forces.

Trumps cabinet and advisory appointments have also reflected this ideological trend. Scott Pruitt's placement as the head of the EPA was preceded by a thorough vetting by Leo and earlier by the late Antonin Scalia and Justice Thomas, both of whom were and are Federalist Society members. Another devotee to this ever influential organization and chief advisor to DJT is Steve Bannon who has orchestrated the philosophical direction of this administration from the beginning and further underscores the decidedly conservative tendency toward an austere and constricted concept of governmental purview. Indeed, Steve Bannon has taken it a step further by publicly declaring his intention to 'deconstruct the administrative state'. He also ominously stated that early efforts at deregulation were only the beginning when he invoked a baseball analogy by saying 'we are only in the top of the first'. While Bannon, Gorsuch, Leo, and the Federalist Society are currently enjoying their moment in the field of play, we can be emboldened by the fact that the rank and file of a newly politically active people in this rapidly evolving and diverse nation will ultimately bat last!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Meals on Wheels and What It Means To Be An American

When considering the recent White House proposal to discontinue certain programs as a 'waste of resources', allow me to remind my brethren that Meals on Wheels is one of the most successful, partly government-sponsored programs in this country serving those who would otherwise be compromised without it.

It really becomes a matter of who we decide to be as a nation...a caring, compassionate, and thoughtful people whose goal it is to provide for the common good; or rather, a self-interested, greedy, and indifferent society dedicated to self-preservation, the perpetuation of a 'zero-sum' mentality and the sanctity of the bottom line.

The Beneficence of Paul Ryan

Paul Ryan's claim that under the new health care plan people will now have the free choice to pick any plan they might desire is a bit like telling the average middle class person that  purchasing a house in San Francisco is merely a matter of personal preference and really has nothing to do with its affordability. Furthermore, when that same person has saved enough through the ensuing years in order to actually afford the minimal down payment that house on the hill, he is then told that there will be a 30% surcharge on the property because he was not sufficiently wealthy or, for whatever reason, was disinclined to purchase it in the first place.

In the meantime, further up the hill, the privileged few who benefited most from the near $150 billion in tax relief over the next decade will look down in satisfaction as they revue their now inflated savings account balance.

Speaker Ryan will have to find a way to excuse that middle class voter for not giving thanks for the Republican leader's magnanimity and largess as the medical bills increase and his tenuous hold on middle class status rapidly disintegrates.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Musical Explorations of Rich Osborn

For second time, in as many months, Debby and I had the great privilege to be in attendance as Rich Osborn once again mesmerized his audience with an hour long exercise in guitar mastery and deep musical exploration. Last night's venue was The Battery, a rather posh private club located in the historic Barbary Coast district of San Francisco, nestled between the Financial and North Beach districts in the heart of the City.

The concert included such familiar songs as In A Monastery Garden which was again performed with intricate delicacy; the somber and deeply felt Still I Will Be Merry; the beautifully rendered American classic Streets of Laredo; the plaintive prayer of Breton Fisherman's Song reminding us of our relative position within the vastness of the Universe, and the joyous Going to the Beach House which invokes a feeling of release and freedom from otherwise dire circumstance. It was wonderful to hear these songs played again, live, as Rich has an uncanny ability to bring a sense of immediacy to each piece thus creating a completely original experience with each masterful rendering.

Added to the playlist performed last month in the more modest setting of Stranded in the Mission district, were three selected pieces each suggesting a separate yet somehow perfectly connected musical journey. The Open Road was a delicately fingered piece which invited the soul to reach into an invisible space where all things are possible; Cloud Towers paid homage to and was inspired by Bach and was performed by Rich with all the rich complexity of the original master. The highlight of the evening for this audience member was the exquisite rendition of Pasha (in honor and celebration of the bureaucrat!) that Rich introduced while recalling his seminal and favorite concert (performed in front of one solitary man on the side of a road in India) given some years ago. This deeply layered and multi-leveled piece allowed for a listening adventure which I imagined paralleled the artist's own life changing moment as the image of Rich serenading his fellow traveler presented itself to me throughout the song.

Whether performing a familiar melody or introducing a new voice, Rich Osborn succeeds in creating a unique musical experience and takes us on an ever deepening journey, through the sheer brilliance of his virtuosity, into uncharted spiritual territory while applying the same notes we perhaps have heard many times before. This is made possible by the artist's complete and utter commitment to each song, each iteration of his genius, each individual journey which is communicated to the listener as an intense personal revelation simultaneously being experienced by the artist himself. Knowing this helps explains what Rich shared with me after the concert when he spoke of the difficulty he sometimes has in transitioning between songs. His complete devotion to the sanctity of experiencing each piece and to the unique moment of creation in which he becomes so totally immersed while giving birth to each musical moment makes it clearly understandable why this artist might find it difficult to easily and instantly move on to the next journey. On this evening, we all were quite happily rewarded by his decision and ability to do so!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Redefining Liberalism

I'm on board with Webster's definition of the term, liberal: 'manifesting a free and generous heart; exhibiting an enlightened mind; free from narrowness, bigotry or bondage to authority or creed'...less so as practiced by the Democratic Party of the recent past. The liberal/progressive distinction as represented by the respective candidacies of Clinton and Sanders clearly illustrated the widening gap between the two categories. To remain viable, the Democrats must close this divide by embracing the millions of young voices who were ignored by the party establishment in 2016, turn away from the neo-conservative practice of foreign interventionism, renew its focus on protection, preservation and sustainability of the environment, and redefine their relationship with corporate America by severing its dependency on same for its life's blood.

It would be a fatal mistake for the Democratic Party to simply wait for the likely implosion of the Trump regime and then retreat to a default position of reiterating the tired and failed policies they presented during last year's election cycle. To do so would be turning a deaf ear to the unmistakable call to reevaluate the basic assumptions upon which the party has based its platform in recent years. The Sanders' candidacy was a helpful beginning and signaled the direction forward into a new and truly progressive era where liberalism is restated as a term more reflective of the actual will of an active and engaged electorate.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Importance of the Fourth Estate in the Age of Trump

In response to recent attacks on journalists and media representatives in the midst of an administration seemingly dedicated to their demise, it has become necessary to remind ourselves of the importance of a free functioning press in a healthy democracy.

Steve Bannon sent shock waves of concern when recently declaring the media as 'an enemy of the people' in what was eerily reminiscent of Stalin's label of anyone opposing his autocratic rule as 'enemies of the State'. This echo of past dictatorships was later underscored by press secretary Sean Spicer's declaration that he would be barring certain members of the press (noteably, CNN and NY Times) from attending regular White House briefing sessions. This was followed by the president himself decrying the existence of leaks and calling for journalists to reveal the identities of their sources. This statement suggest either an ignorance of or outright disregard for one of the core principles of any democracy: the unfettered exercise of free expression and the protection of sources. Since the days of three pointed hats and midnight rides, the life blood of good journalism as been the reliance on information from the interior of government (leaks) and the anonymity of news sources. If it were otherwise, originators of stories would disappear for fear of reprisal, persecution, and/or prosecution from a government set in opposition to the exposure of truthful testimony for the benefit of an informed public. In its wake, the only news source then available would be the official governmental version of events...a state of affairs more closely associated with totalitarian regimes. As Steve Bannon seems to envision and perhaps even welcome, the healthy functioning democracy ceases to exist the moment when the press becomes 'the enemy'.

Some suggested that Spicer's prohibition of selected members of the media was no different than the Obama administration's attempt to bar Fox News from access to the briefing room. In large part, this was actually true in spite of the fact that Fox was guilty of airing verifiably untrue stories (Obama's origin of birth, his Muslim religious affiliation, etc) whereas CNN and The NY Times had published verifiably true stories (albeit unpopular with DJT) regarding the nature and margin of Trump's victory over HRC, the size of the inauguration crowd, etc. In either case, however, networks and press affiliates have a constitutional right to be in attendance in the People's House for the purpose of baring witness to those in the seat of power who are, at the end of the day, beholden to the will of the national constituency. It is the duty and responsibly of these journalists to inform the public and hold elected leaders accountable and, in so doing, act as a check against the abuses of power to which the frail human spirit is most susceptible. This is the fundamental identity of the Fourth Estate is equally vital to the success of the nation as are the other three official branches of government.

The Bannon/Trump/ Spicer cadre will be well advised to rethink their recent invectives directed to the very institution which is central to their political viability and, more importantly, essential to the survival of our country as a democratic entity.

Folly and the Exploitation of Grief

As journalist Glen Greenwald well illustrates in his recent article for The Intercept, Trump's focus, in his address to the joint session of Congress, on the death of the navy Seal 6 service member reiterates the routine bi-partisan practice of exploiting and highlighting the loss of American life and the grief thereof while ignoring the tragedy of millions of civilian deaths at our hands for the conscious and express purpose of promoting and furthering a perpetual war on terror. The counterproductive consequence of this repeated folly was neatly captured by none other than Donald Rumsfeld when he rather cynically declared with characteristic smugness: 'for each terrorist we kill, we create another two in their wake'. So thusly, the horrific parade of carnage will continue in what Gore Vidal labeled 'the endless war for endless peace' aided and advanced by an administration who intends to significantly invest in the war machine while drastically cutting our diplomatic efforts around the world. Indeed, may God bless America before it is too late for redemption.