Saturday, January 24, 2009


I'm very sensitive to the issue of separation of church and state. I know that the United States is, for all practical purposes, a Christian country; however, the founders purposefully established a line between church and state. I react negatively when I see religion mixed into government; the inauguration ceremony of President Obama activated my church-and-state alarm.

The primary assault was the invocation by Rick Warren. An invocation, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is: "1 a: the act or process of petitioning for help or support ; specifically often capitalized : a prayer of entreaty (as at the beginning of a service of worship) b: a calling upon for authority or justification." When I see the word "invocation" on a program, I know that I'm going to hear someone ask something of some god (usually, of course, God). This always bothers me at an event that is not a religious service, and particularly at a government-sponsored event. Any petitioning of any god at a government event should not be allowed - period. Separation of church and state.

The invocation by the Rev. Rick Warren was a very Christian message, quoting the Lord's Prayer and invoking the name of Jesus Christ. I guarantee that every U.S. citizen watching or listening to this speech was not Christian. (As an aside, let's not overlook the hypocrisy of Warren's words in the context of his very public campaign to deny basic rights to gay people: "Help us, oh God, to remember that we are Americans, united not by race or religion or blood, but to our commitment to freedom and justice for all. When we focus on ourselves, when we fight each other, when we forget you, forgive us. When we presume that our greatness and our prosperity is ours alone, forgive us. When we fail to treat our fellow human beings and all the Earth with the respect that they deserve, forgive us.)

Not withstanding the blatant violation of church-state separation, the choice of the Rev. Warren in itself was controversial. Warren's anti-gay marriage (California Proposition 8) stand and campaigning was the primary reason many people, especially gays, questioned the choice. But a quick googling of the man reveals other items that make me wonder. Here's a video with out takes from a Rick Warren talk at a stadium rally in California.

I find this very chilling. If I were using the Sarah Palin Playbook, I would ask if Barak Obama is "palling around" with known domestic religious extremists whose goal is world domination.

Barak Obama asked for the words "so help me God" to be added to the end of the oath of office - it isn't there in the Constitution, Article II Section I. If an elected official wants to add the god phrase to his or her oath, that's OK with me because it is an expression of that person's faith; however, I'm guessing that most people think that the oath comes with that phrase built-in.

Separation of church and state is one of the basic building blocks of our country. We need to be certain that this separation remains.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


I thought the other day about a post I made here in the early days of readmyopionion about the need for a revolution. So I went back and read it, then I went forward from that point through the years and picked out a few other posts that follow a similar thread about the need for new thinking, new leadership, and a new way of being America.

And so dear readers (all 2 or 3 of you), for your reading enjoyment, I present a retrospective. Enjoy.

November 6, 2004. How about some introspection from US?

June 12, 2005. Now is it time for Revolution?

October 2, 2006. This is not my America.

February 25, 2007. Wanted/Needed: a leader for a new world.

May 4, 2008. Why I'm voting for Barak Obama.


What is it about politicians and sex? It seems that every year there are a few more politicians who, um, get caught with their pants down - so to speak. And yes, it's all men (maybe there are exceptions, but none spring to mind).

And so here we are in Portland, Oregon where our newly sworn-in Mayor, Sam Adams, finds himself in the middle of a sex scandal. Sam, who the press loves to point out is the first openly gay mayor of a major American city, had a sexual relationship with an 18 year old man in 2005 (Sam was in his early 40's at the time) and, while running for mayor, vigorously denied it when an accusation was made by another potential candidate. A few days ago, just before a local newspaper broke the story, Sam held a press conference and admitted that he had lied about the sexual liaison, and convinced his young lover to also lie, in order not to jeopardize his mayoral run. And so the scandal swirls and swirls.

The issue here, in my opinion, has nothing to do with Sam having sex - everyone does, I hope. There are a few issues that bother me:

1. Sam lied. He lied to the press and to the public. He now admits to the lie, and asks for the public to forgive this "one mistake" in a long political career. The issue: can Sam be trusted not to lie about other things? How will we know if he is telling the truth?
2. Sam had sex with a teenager. Yes, in Oregon, an 18 year old is considered a consenting adult, but there is something , well, creepy about a 40-something powerful politician having sex with an admittedly confused teenager. Gayness has nothing to do with it, it's just plain out of line.
3. And what does this episode have to say about Sam's judgment? I'd say it shows very poor judgment, particularly for a politician with ambitions of higher elected office. Can we trust Sam's judgment regarding the business of the City of Portland?

The battles are raging in the various media. Some people are defending Sam, others, including our newspapers, are calling for his resignation. Some folks are talking about a recall campaign. Can tar and feathers be far behind?

I don't have a position, yet, on whether Sam should step down or not. But I think the decision has to be Sam's - he needs to look at his role and responsibility as Mayor and decide what is best for the citizens of Portland and the workings of city government. I heard an interview today of the President of the Portland Police Union, who thinks Sam should resign. His issue: as Mayor, Sam is the final word on employee discipline, so what does he do if a policeman admits that he lied about something, but claims it was his only mistake in 20 years of service, and he's sorry?

And so Sam Adams joins the long list of distinguished (and not so distinguished) American politicians who have been caught up in sex scandals, including those of recent memory like Bill Clinton, Elliot Spitzer, John Edwards, David Vitter, Mark Foley and Larry Craig (here's a list of the top 53). Truth be told, I like Sam, and he'll probably be an OK mayor if he hangs on and gets past this - there are other things about his political style and focus that are more bothersome to me. But this situation certainly raises some doubts.

Monday, January 19, 2009


...without the sound of music.

My automatic audio brain alarm was trained when we owned a 1965 V-Dub Transporter (nickname "Truckin'"). That VW engine had a bad habit of bending and breaking push rods, and the driver's ear had to be attuned to very subtle changes in driving sounds.

Something that wasn't right, some subtle sound, woke me at 4AM on the morning of Christmas eve. I wandered around, searching for, and dreading to find, the source of the rapid drip-drip-drip sound. We were in the middle of a Portland, Oregon record snow storm, with lots of snow and ice on the roof. After stumbling around in the dark for awhile, I found the source - inside the closet wall at the back of the house. I didn't see any water, but my bare feet found some oozing up between the hardwood floor boards. Oh crap!

I called the insurance company (Amica - we highly recommend them) on Christmas eve day, and they had a mitigator (not like a Terminator) out on Christmas day. They opened some holes in the closet wall, found water, but also found, on the inner wall (there are four layers of drywall in the common firewall between the two townhouses), what looked like black mold. They sealed up the hole with plastic sheeting, set up an industrial dehumidifier to dry everything out, and left.

We bought this townhouse, one of a duplex, new in 2002. We had looked at older houses, but decided that we didn't want all the issues that came with older homes, including mold - Sherry has asthma and is very allergic to mold. In the days since Christmas, we've had all kinds of inspectors, mold guys, contractors, roofers, etc. out here. The mold remediation company was here yesterday and removed our closet wall and the inner layer of our neighbor's wall (i.e. 3 of the 4 sheet rock layers, plus insulation and studs) - all covered with Stachybotrys chartarum, a toxic mold.

Here's a short video of the moldy 2nd layer of our closet wall.

I guess the message here is: buyer beware. We think the problem is that the roof wasn't done properly, and there has been a chronic leak into the common wall between the duplexes. The damage is on each side of the common wall, so both owners had damage and have repair work to do. We're lucky, I guess, that we had a dripping leak during a record snowstorm that led us to discover the bigger problem. We're also lucky that Amica Insurance covers mold remediation on our homeowners insurance. We're also lucky that the damage wasn't more extensive because the mold insurance has a maximum it will pay (our project will fall below the maximum). But we need to have the roof partially redone, and insurance doesn't cover that. We've talked to the builder, and so far he's claiming that he has no liability.

We'll get through the reconstruction. In fact, the contractors will have to work around us tomorrow because, by golly, we'll be in the next room watching the inauguration of President Barak Obama.

Life goes on - but not for those particular colonies of black mold - they're history!

Sunday, January 18, 2009


I have a dream...
yes we can

I have a dream...
yes we did

I have a dream...
yes we will

Were he alive today,
the eighty year old Dr King
would look down from the mountain top
to see how far we've come

Were he alive today,
Dr King would look up
from the mountain top
and see higher peaks
to climb

The old man and
the young man
The preacher and
the president
climb together in
ideals and spirit

Dr King took on the burdens
of a people
President Obama takes on the burdens
of a world

I have a dream...
yes we can

I have a dream...
yes we did

I have a dream...
yes we must


Understanding the financial system of the U.S. and the world is a daunting task that leads me to a painful form of brain freeze. But every once in awhile I find an article in the popular press that helps, like this recent piece in the New York Times. Yes, I know, I'm assigning you yet another somewhat lengthy piece of reading; but really, is reading and using your brain really too much to ask?

The article gives us a peek inside the tents at the big financial institutions and the government agencies that are supposed to be regulating them. What is revealed makes an ordinary consumer cringe: unbridled and unregulated greed is the credo of our financial system. The goal is short-term huge profit; the reward is even hugher bonuses and other forms of compensation. "Our financial catastrophe, like Bernard Madoff's pyramid scheme, required all sorts of important, plugged-in people to sacrifice our collective long-term interests for short-term gain. The pressure to do this in today's financial markets is immense." The system of financial institutions, rating agencies (like Moody's, and Standard and Poor's), and regulatory bodies like the Securities and Exchange Commission (S.E.C.) each have their hands in the others' pockets, and operate as a very large career revolving door.

The bailout orchestrated by Treasury Secretary Paulson rewarded big firms for making very bad business decisions. And the bailout, dubbed Troubled Assets Relief Program - TARP - has been just that, a tarp thrown over the dirty business in a way that prevents anyone from knowing what's really going on underneath. We don't need a TARP for this mess, we need a piece of clear plastic sheeting through which we can all watch for continuing shenanigans.

My wife and I are among the fortunate investors who only lost about 20% of the value of our investment portfolio (i.e. retirement savings) over the past year (only!). Our financial advisor had the smarts to see this coming and moved a lot of our money into safer investments that aren't making money, but also aren't losing a lot - an "asset protection strategy." Will we get bailed out by TARP? Duh. Once again the ordinary citizen, the consumer, ends up getting screwed by big business and their government partners - under the watchful neglect of an administration hell-bent on awarding it's "base" to the detriment of everyone else.

We live under an economic system that is not sustainable. The system is based on borrowing and spending as if there is no tomorrow - except that tomorrow showed up this past year demanding to be paid. As long as we, the consumers, continue to spend our money on "things," most of which we really don't need, the economic engine keeps running. But the value of these "things," whether they be HD television, SUV gas guzzlers, or houses, has to continue to increase, and we have to continue to buy them, or the house of cards starts to shake. We, the consumers, are merely the drones in this vast hive - as long as we do what we're told - buy, buy, buy - and don't hold onto our money too long (saving? what a stupid concept when you can buy anything you want on credit), everything chugs along. And, oh yeah, the folks at the top keep rolling in cash and laughing at us poor slobs whose pockets they took it from.

So what's the answer? Well, for one thing, I think that free-market capitalism is a sham and a bad paradigm. Is there something better? I don't know, but I think smart people with open minds can answer that question. In my opinion it all comes back to concepts of sustainability, an over used term these days, but one that has deep meanings. Certainly there is enough wealth in this world, created by the labor of human minds and hands, to provide a good quality of life for all of us. The change has to begin somewhere, and maybe it's us, the little people, who can force that change by the way we live our lives.

Saturday, January 17, 2009


I've been smiling more and more each day over the past few weeks. And now it is three days until the Cheney-Bush Cabal exits the stage and a new American Administration takes over. The sense of relief in this country and the world is palpable.

I've spent many blogger words on Dubya and Lord Darth Cheney over the past few years. In a way I'll miss them - hell, I'm going to need some new topics! But good riddance to bad garbage! The Lovable George and Kind Uncle Richard dog-and-pony show that has been spun out in the national media the last few weeks is a sickening reminder of how these bad characters operate. Their attempts to create a fantasy legacy for themselves is, and will prove to be, nothing more than the usual lies and fairy tales. On more misinformation campaign perpetrated on the public. Sorry fellas - were not in a buying mood today. Go peddle your flawed merchandise somewhere else. We've got important work to do cleaning up the mess you left behind.

I've realized something about President Obama (I know, he's not President yet - but in my view he has been more presidential since the day he won the election than Bush ever was in eight years). Obama is a different kind of politician, a different kind of leader. He has a calmness about him, and an apparent lack of vindictiveness and partisanship. It bothers me that Bush and Cheney are just going to walk away. I think they are guilty of a multitude of transgressions - even crimes - for which I want to see them pay, and pay dearly. But our new President thinks we have better things to do than go after them, and maybe he's right. Maybe I need to be a better person in that regard and look more to the future than the recent past.

History will tell the story of the Bush-Cheney years, and I firmly believe history will not be kind to them. This will be especially true if the Obama years turn out to be what the majority of Americans hope and want them to be: not just a "return" to greatness for America, but a moving forward to become an even greater America. Not greater in the sense of military might, economic superiority, and world dominance, but greater in the sense of leading the world on a different journey, one that focuses on peace, prosperity for everyone, growth and development that are realistic for every Earthling, not based on profit for the few. The journey that I think - and hope - President Obama can start us on is more than getting us out of the hole we're in and back to some status quo. And this journey can't be realized unless the majority of us understand where we have to go, what we need to do to get there, and why it is so urgent for us to start.

I'll leave it for others to recount the misery of the Bush-Cheney years, to make the long lists of the wreckage they are leaving behind. My pledge to you, the few and loyal readers of this blog, is to focus on the positive and the future - not an easy thing to do for this old cynic, but hey, anything is possible.

Sherry and I will be hanging our American flag from the front porch on Inauguration Day, and we'll have a big sign next to it: YES WE CAN!

Sunday, January 04, 2009


First, here's a short, interesting piece by journalist/author Jeffrey Goldberg about Nizar Rayyan, a top Hamas official killed recently in Gaza by an Israeli missile. This helps understand some of the basic issues in the Hamas-Israel conflict.

Second, I've thought a lot today about the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas, and it's important to understand that this is war between two countries (assuming it's OK here to call Gaza a country). It's not a "conflict;" it's not a "military action;" for all practical purposes this is a war between two governments.

The death and injury toll of civilians in Gaza is a terrible reality of war. The toll is higher than it might otherwise be because of the population density in Gaza and the intergration of Hamas military structure within the urban areas. I believe that the Israeli military is doing it's best to avoid civilian casualties; however, a high toll is inevitable in this situation.

I've thought about the on-going U.S. and Allies war in Afghanistan against the Taliban, and the similarities of situations with the Israel-Hamas war. Al-Qaeda attacked the United States in 2001, prompting the U.S. to attack Afghanistan because the Afghan government was harboring Al-Qaeda. The initial missile and bomb attacks ("Operation Enduring Freedom") killed and wounded many (thousands) Afghan civilians, and there is still a mounting toll of casualties of Afghan civilians in this war seven years later. (Civilian casualty figures are estimated by a variety of groups and individuals; the consensus appears to be that several thousand civilians have been killed directly in the war, with uncounted numbers dying as a result of injuries and indirect causes such as disease, displacement, starvation, etc.) There have been media reports over the past year or so of incidents of civilian casualties in Afghanistan resulting from U.S. missiles/bombs - the official U.S. response has been that the incidents are under investigation.

Israel lives with self-sworn enemies next door or nearby: Hamas in Gaza; Hezbollah in Lebanon; Iran a missile flight away; and Syria. At least the first three of these have directly sworn to eliminate Israel, "wipe Israel off the map," "kill all Jews," etc. Hamas has been launching rockets and mortars into Israel for the past several years. So why does it shock people that Israel has decided to fight a direct war against Hamas in Gaza?

Finally, I have to write a bit about geopolitics. To do this, I have to step away from emotional and moral concerns and distress about people being killed and injured in this war, and look dispassionately at the politics of the situation. An article in the Sunday New York Times is a good place to start this thought process, if you want to do a bit more reading. The Israel-Hamas war has to be taken within the context of regional politics. In one view, Israel is a proxy for the United States, and Hamas is a proxy for Iran, with each proxy being supported militarily by the larger sponsor. An open war between the U.S. and Iran would plunge the world into chaos; a war betwen Israel and Hamas is much more containable. A loss by Hamas would be a major setback to Iran and it's regional ambitions; a loss by Israel would certainly shift the balance of power in the region.

I don't support war as a way to resolve conflict, although there are times when it is inevitable and necessary. The victims of war are the citizens of the fighting countries, and they are generally not the ones who decide to wage the war. The destruction and human suffering in Gaza and Israel is painful to watch from afar, and it's easy to sit here in my easy chair and opine about the situation. But I also can't sit here and ignore the one-sidedness that always seems to spring out of the woodwork when Israel is involved. I don't think for a minute that Israel has totally clean hands in this decades-old conflict - I've posted about this a number of times over the past few years. What is clear now is that Hamas has provoked the present chapter of this war, and has brought down upon it's own citizens a horrendous level of violence.

I hope the violence ends very soon. I hope that Hamas loses it's grip on Gaza and more rational people find a path towards peace. I also hope that Israel makes positive steps towards resolution of this 60 year old conflict in a way that benefits all Israelis and all Palestinians (see my previous post). I hope this doesn't turn out to be a lose-lose for everyone.

I know, I'm a dreamer, but there is no other way.