Monday, February 27, 2012

Judging The Judgment Of Rick Santorum

Any man who would be President of these United States should first be vetted on decisions he has made in the past, and is making in the present, and might make in the future.

Such a thorough examination of Republican Presidential candidate Rick Santorum's judgment would surely disqualify him from becoming Commander In Chief. There have been countless statements and claims made by the former U.S. Senator that can best be described as bizarre.

Much of what Santorum has said or is saying is so ridiculous that it seems incredible that it could come from a Presidential candidate. Opposing the use of contraception is one of the most glaring examples.

The utterance of such statements--that run counter to what most of America is thinking--is politically dumb. Holding to convictions can be admirable, but when they involve opposition to such widely held beliefs as global warming, then the candidate's ability to think in a reasonable, rational way must come into question.

And to attack the words of a President--one whom nearly all Americans of every political persuasion hold in reverence--is, at best, unwise. To say, as he has said in recent days, that a JFK speech "makes me sick", and "makes me want to throw up" is an unforgivable affront to any President, and an inexcusable error in judgment.

We are told to "judge not, lest ye be judged" but Rick Santorum's thinking is the exception to the rule.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Academy Awards -- Prejudice, And Progress

These final days of February are marked by two seemingly unrelated happenings, which, in actuality, combine for a singular story that is worth noting and remembering.

African-American History Month is coming to a close, just as one of the year's biggest cultural events--the Academy Awards--takes place. Both happenings conjure up memories of prejudice, and happier thoughts of progress.

The Academy Awards for 1939 left a blemish on the record of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science, and remains a dark moment in African-American History.

That year, Hattie McDaniel became the first person of color to win an Oscar--for her role in "Gone With The Wind". The honor was marred, however, by the discriminatory treatment she endured that evening. She was given "back of the bus" seating--prevented from sitting with fellow cast members from "Gone With The Wind".

But since that slight, that slap, progress has been swift and steady. Twenty-five years after Hattie McDaniel's Oscar, another actor of color, Sidney Poitier, won the Best Actor award for his performance in "Lilies of the Field", and he was accorded markedly better treatment.

And in today's world, while some prejudice still exists, actors such as Morgan Freeman, Denzel Washington, and James Earl Jones are celebrated for their talent, with little thought given to the color of their skin.

The Academy Awards must be remembered for its prejudice--but also for its progress.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Few Words Of Praise For Volunteers of America

From time to time, readers who are aware of my continuing interest in the fight to end homelessness ask what I think about various homeless advocacy groups and organizations.

I always decline to comment unless I can do so based on firsthand experience. There are many national, regional, and local groups and organizations with a history of impressive accomplishments--but with which I have had no personal contact.

There are, therefore, only a few I can wholeheartedly endorse. The Salvation Army, Family Promise, and the Florida Keys Outreach Coalition all do fantastic work which I have observed up close, and have written about often. The Home Van in Gainesville, Florida also does a great job on the local level.

But the organization with which I am most familiar--one for which I have great admiration and feel great appreciation--is Volunteers of America, which owns and operates the apartment complex where I live in north central Florida.

Volunteers of America is a national, nonprofit, faith-based, human services organization that is one of the largest, and best charities in America.

Founded in 1896, and based in Alexandria, Virginia, VOA offers assistance to seniors, veterans, the homeless, the addicted, the intellectually disabled, and the incarcerated.

Support programs are provided in 400 communities throughout the United States, and services are tailored to the needs of each local community, and therefore, vary from place to place. Amazingly, 89 cents out of every dollar spent goes to support vital community services for people in need.

Volunteers of America is rated a Four Star Charity, the highest possible ranking, by Charity Navigator, America's premier independent charity evaluator. Charity Navigator is generally considered the best guide for intelligent giving.

The Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance provides further credibility, by advising that Volunteers of America meets the standards of charitable accountability.

VOA operates with efficiency, effectiveness, and transparency; while its people compassionately operate in a way that encourages, and energizes all those they serve.
I am, fortunately, and happily, one of those they serve.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Far Right And The Ninth Commandment

Today's politicians violate one of the Ten Commandments nearly every time they speak.

The ninth commandment says, "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor." And yet our politicians continuously do just that.

The guilty come from every political persuasion, but the worst offenders in election year 2012 are those on the far right of the political spectrum. Their target is our President, Barack Obama.

The zingers directed his way range from the embellishment of negative stories, to distortion of the truth, to outright lies. There are insinuations and inuendos that he is not one of us, that he is a Muslim, that he was not born on U.S. soil, that his associates are un-American, that he is a socialist, that he is hell-bent on attacking religion.

Especially sad is the fact that those bearing false witness against our current President include the Republican candidates who are seeking to unseat and replace him. They will seemingly do anything, or say anything to discredit him. And then there are those Republican legislators--who take the floor in the House or the Senate to make false statements, and spew their venom.

All this has been going on for a long, long time, but there is consoling history to consider. In election year 2008, there were enough Americans of good conscience to repudiate the false claims and derogatory remarks and put Barack Obama in the White House.

And there is reason to believe that there will be sufficient numbers of just such Americans in election year 2012 to keep him there.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Romneys -- Like Father, Like Son?

"The apple doesn't fall far from the tree", so says a commonly referenced adage.
Another way of putting it is, "like father, like son".

But if these sayings are the rule, than one prominent father, the late George Romney, and his son, Mitt Romney, are a notable exception to that rule.

George Romney made a strong Republican bid for the White House in 1968, before losing out to Richard Nixon. Mitt Romney is fighting for his political life in the current 2012 race for the GOP nomination. But sharing a common Presidential goal is where the similarity ends.

Geoge Romney was a moderate, who leaned to the left. Mitt Romney sells himself as a Conservative.

George Romney was a man of the people, who spoke--and marched--for civil rights. Mitt Romney has difficulty connecting with the middle class he purports to represent.

George Romney was the epitome of transparency. During his Presidential campaign he made history by releasing a decade's worth of tax returns, famously saying that tax records for only a year would not show the American electorate a complete picture of a candidate's financial dealings.

When Mitt Romney was asked if he would follow in his father's footsteps, he said, "maybe", but then released returns for only two years.

While George Romney was media friendly, Mitt Romney is much less accessible for interviews, and has now bowed out of the last debate before super Tuesday.

George Romney was a popular auto industry executive before becoming a popular three-term Governor of Michigan. Mitt Romney's campaign baggage includes his opposition to the government action at the height of the recent recession, which saved 1.5 million jobs and returned the entire auto industry to a state of profitability.

Like father, like son? Not even close--and that's why Mitt Romney trails Rick Santorum heading into the critical Michigan primary.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The GOP -- I'm Hoping For A Better Tomorrow

This morning at 10:00, MSNBC premiered the Melissa Harris-Perry show, which will air for two hours every Saturday and Sunday morning.

Melissa is an author and professor of political science at Tulane University. Her new cable news program will feature political commentary with guests representing both the left and the right.

If the first edition is a true indicator of what is ahead, Melissa's show will become must-see viewing for political junkies, and time well-spent for the general audience.

Today's commentary included an expression of hope for a better Republican party--a point of view I share.

That doesn't mean that Melissa or I are walking away from President Obama, or leaning any less to the left during these days of Republican party ultra conservatism and Tea Party zealots.

It's simply a recognition of the need for two strong political parties--so as to always have the choice that is so necessary for a true democracy. And at this point in time, it would seem to be within the realm of possibility that November's general election could leave the GOP in shambles.

Even many Republicans admit that theirs is a flawed field of Presidential candidates. Each of the contenders carries heavy baggage, and their policies and proposals reek of extremism. They cater to the far right, and each has taken positions that run counter to the thinking of the vast majority of Americans.

As Melissa Harris-Perry pointed out this morning, it is important that the Republican party take stock, and return to its roots.

Monday, February 13, 2012

When Alzheimer's Hits Home

Last night's Grammy Awards gave America an up close and personal look at Alzheimer's.

This most common form of dementia was evident as iconic entertainer Glen Campbell made his final national, live TV appearance. He is now passing from the early stages to a darker stage of Alzheimer's.

After performing one of his classic hit songs, Campbell looked lost, and could be heard asking of no one in particular where he should go, or if he was supposed to stay on stage. The show's director immediately went to a commercial break.

Incredibly, Alzheimer's now afflicts one out of every two people 85 or older. It is a terminal illness--the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.

Research is desperately needed, and that costs money. But even in these days of debt discussions and budget cuts, President Obama has increased spending for Alzheimer's research in the proposed federal budget he has sent today to Congress.

How can Congress possibly approve such an expenditure?

How about finding justification by finally eliminating those tax breaks and loopholes for the wealthiest of our citizens? How about agreeing to the President's request to place a surcharge on income over a million dollars?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Giving The Gift Of Life

The greatest gift that one person can give to another is the gift of life. And every day, organ donors across America give that gift.

But sadly, there are not nearly enough people who make the decision to become an organ donor, and then follow through by registering at organdonor.gov

And every day on average, 18 people die while waiting for an organ transplant. As of today, February 11, there are more than 113,000 people waiting for transplants

The need is desperate. The United Network for Organ Sharing, a non-profit organization which operates under a contract with the federal government, advises that the gap between the number of committed donors and the number of people on the waiting list continues to widen.

From time to time, we post a reminder of both the need, and the ease with which registering can be done. It is important to note that there is no age limit for becoming a donor.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Why Not Get Rid Of Social Security?

Incredible as it seems to me, there is a never-ending call for eliminating altogether, or drastically overhauling, the social security system.

The hue and cry comes from politicians who believe that all Americans should be responsible for saving the monies necessary for their retirement years.

In theory, that sounds logical; but two words argue against the idea--human nature. The working poor--those who need social security the most--will always have financial "emergencies" that preclude accruing reserves.

When the family car conks out, or a family member calls out for help, or when any one of a number of possible needs arises, human nature takes over and says, "Here it is. Use the money that we've set aside. We'll worry about retirement later".

That's why we started the social security program in the first place--to set aside money that couldn't be touched. Getting rid of social security might be okay for the working wealthy, but not for the working poor, for whom it was created.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Does President Obama Deserve Four More Years?

Yesterday, during an interview with NBC's Matt Lauer, President Obama said that he deserves a second term. In the same sentence, however, the President added that there is still much work to be done.

Half of America agrees with him. Half of America does not. An ABC News/Washington Post poll, released this morning, shows the country evenly divided on the matter--49 percent to 49 percent.

But some of those, who do not think the results are there to warrant reelection, nonetheless still prefer President Obama to any of the Republican candidates. The current President is favored over his closest challenger, Mitt Romney, by six percentage points, 51 to 45.

I find good reason for placing myself in the group that believes the President does deserve a second term. And I definitely prefer him as President over anyone the GOP has to offer.

The effects of The Great Recession are still being felt, and millions of Americans are still hurting; but the economy is steadily, and undeniably improving. Much of the credit must go to President Obama.

The Republican Presidential candidates would have folks believe that recovery would have come sooner, and would be even stronger, were it not for Obama policies.

These are the same Republican wannabes who opposed helping the auto industry, and who claim the stimulus effort was a failure.

Truth is, coming to the aid of "Detroit" saved an entire industry, and the independent, non-partisan Congressional Budget Office calls the stimulus package a success.

Polls continue to show that the vast majority of Americans, including most of those among "the one percent", agree with the President's intention to allow the Bush tax breaks to expire, and to have the wealthiest of Americans pay their fair share in taxes.

President Obama's well-known list of accomplishments in the field of foreign affairs seals the deal for his reelection.

Yes, there is much yet undone on the President's original agenda; but his efforts thus far, despite being dealt a poor opening hand, make him deserving of the four more years he needs to finish the job.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Taking Time To Take In The Trees

(Editor's Note: After receiving a second request, we are posting again an article which originally appeared last summer.)

How often we are urged to take time to smell the roses. And in today's hectic, hurried world, how seldom does an opportunity arise to do so.

The advice to take time to smell the roses is another way of suggesting that we need to occasionally slow down, and look around us; so as to fully appreciate the beauty that is everywhere, and so as to better enjoy this wonderful life we are given.

This morning, if only for a little while, I smelled the roses. I found myself enjoying--appreciating--the beauty around me. To be more specific, I found myself gazing at, and marveling over the trees in the woodlands that surround the apartment building where I live.

There are palms and live oaks and evergreens. There are deciduous species such as dogwood, maple, hickory and sweet gum. There is greenery that is with us year round, but there are also trees that provide a brief period of autumn color.

Gainesville, where I live, is known as "the city of trees", and it has been recognized for 28 consecutive years as "Tree City, U.S.A.", by the Arbor Day Foundation.

But my love for trees precedes my time in north Florida. It dates back to an early age, when an English and Literature teacher named Laura Pell instilled in her eighth grade students an appreciation for trees, through literature. After her class, I never took for granted the beauty of the wooded hills and valleys in my native West Virginia.

"I think that I shall never see, a poem lovely as a tree" has come to mind often over the years, and again this morning I thought of Laura Pell and the poem by Joyce Kilmer that she had us commit to memory.

I've thought of that poem upon first seeing that giant banyan tree on Maui in Hawaii, and the yellow aspens of autumn in the rockies, and the breathtaking beauty of the dogwood and magnolia trees come early spring in the south, and the towering hickory trees around the Hermitage in Tennessee.

And while enjoying the trees of north Florida this morning, I thought about the last line of Kilmer's poem, "Trees".

"Poems are made by fools like me, but only God can make a tree."

Friday, February 3, 2012

Why The Emphasis On Politics?

Someone told me yesterday that I was losing them--"them" meaning a loyal blog follower and a few of her friends.

"You've been putting too much emphasis on politics", she said.

She's right, and she's wrong, according to my way of thinking. Her observation is correct--there has been an emphasis on politics over the past eight or nine months. But "too much"? That's something for individual readers to decide.

The reason, the rationale, for the frequent political coverage and commentary is the belief that, at this time, politics is at least as important a subject as any other.

This is an election year--a Presidential election year. The ratings for the 19 Republican Presidential debates aired thus far are proof positive of the public's eagerness for political news and commentary.

But the most important fact of the matter is that politics--especially Presidential politics--has a direct effect on every area of American life. Who we vote for determines what we are voting for. And what we vote for determines the circumstances and conditions under which we will live.

A wide range of varied, important issues, including--but not limited to--taxes, interest rates, government regulations, job creation, gay rights, abortion, health care, gun control, foreign aid, national defense, and immigration are all directly affected by who we vote for.

Everything about everyday life is determined by politics.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

When Harry Truman Came To Town

"Give 'em hell" Harry Truman has been the subject of previous columns--one of which was about a remark the late President made, many years ago, during a visit to my hometown, Wheeling, West Virginia.

His words immediately came to mind yesterday, while listening to Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney double down on an incredible, insensitive, politically-dumb, and most revealing statement.

Back in '52,'ol Harry was on a whistle-stop train tour, campaigning for the Democratic nominee, Adlai Stevenson. Truman was in the final months of his own Presidency, and he had a warning for voters, saying that, "if the Republicans get in, you better watch out neighbor".

Well, the Republicans did get in, and the country actually did quite well under President Dwight Eisenhower--whose popularity was the beneficiary of a period of peace and prosperity. But that was then and this is now.

Harry Truman's words, his warning, ring truer in 2012 than they did when he spoke them. And it's time to come out of the political closet, and say those words again, for all to hear.

"If the Republicans get in--you better watch out, neighbor!"

That's because it's likely that the Republican nominee for President will be former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, and the possibility of his winning the White House should be a frightening prospect for nearly all Americans--all but the wealthiest one percent.

Yesterday, Romney casually said something that was immediately condemned by Democrats, and criticized by Republicans. Romney told Soledad O'Brien on CNN that he "was not concerned about the very poor".

Looking at the interview in total is to see that there is no way Romney can say the words in question were taken out of context. What he said is what he meant.

Soledad O'Brien questioned his choice of words--giving him the opportunity to retract his statement, or redefine his position. Instead, he doubled down--repeating what he had said. And later, when questioned by reporters, Romney stumbled through what amounted to a tripling down of his original remark.

Yesterday's dubious declaration is just one more addition to a long, ever-growing list of quotes that show just how out of touch Mitt Romney is with most of the American people.

Romney said yesterday that he wants to concentrate on improving the lives of the middle class. He said he wants to focus not on the very poor or the very wealthy, but on the middle class--the "90-95 percent".

Someone needs to get through to Mitt Romney that the very poor constitute much more than five to ten percent of the American people. He needs to be reminded that many of those he considers "middle class", are in reality the working poor.

Someone needs to call him out on his claims regarding job creation. When he boasts about the success stories of Staples and Sports Authority and Burger King, he is obviously oblivious to the fact that these corporations provide mostly minimum wage jobs, which are held by the working poor, and do not help the middle class.

Someone also needs to loudly and boldly question Romney about his economic plan, which, according to independent analysis, gives more to the rich through tax savings, and takes more from the poor by cutting sorely-needed programs.

And then, when Mitt Romney brags that he's a self-made man, who didn't inherit what he has, someone needs to bring up private schooling, an Ivy League education, and the money that got him going in business. Romney's life has always been a life of privilege; a life that has kept him out of touch with the middle class--and "the very poor".

Come November's Presidential election--if this Republican gets in, you better watch out, neighbor.