Thursday, January 22, 2009

Inauguration Day Impressions

The Inauguration of President Barack Obama occurred under sunny yet cold skies. I cannot recall a time when I saw that many people filling Washington, DC. (One estimate put the total at 2.5 million, and that number is plausible.) Despite the cold, the enthusiasm level among the attendees was truly impressive, likely topping even that found at a Super Bowl. Certainly the enthusiasm far exceeded the enthusiasm that greeted then new President George Walker Bush in 2001. The spontaneous, boisterous chant of “O Ba Ma! O Ba Ma!” that greeted him as he stepped up to the podium felt very genuine and spontaneous.

I really enjoyed the chamber music composition “Air and Simple Things” by John Williams and played by a truly world class quartet. To me, this affirming composition suggests that the Obama Administration will be a much kinder, gentler, more humane Administration than the one that ended yesterday. At Greg Laden’s Blog (, several commentators suggested that Aaron Copeland’s “Fanfare For the Common Man” would have been more appropriate. While they do have a point, I disagree. While this is also a timeless American masterpiece that I never get tired of hearing, it sets the wrong tone for this new Administration. The “Fanfare” conveys a bit of a militaristic tone. Conversely, the Williams composition is affirming and healing.

The decision to include this composition in the Inauguration is a master stroke from another angle. Within the composition, the “Simple Things” part comes from an old Quaker hymn. Including this in the Inauguration, particularly immediately before Obama’s Oath of Office, can be seen as affirming Obama’s independence from any background Muslim influences. Whether it will quiet his critics or not remains to be seen.

The Oath itself nearly turned into an embarrasing event. Right at its start, Chief Justice John Roberts appeared to fumble the Oath script he was reading from. There were several tense seconds while he got squared away and left Obama unsure of how to proceed. Once squared away, the Oath did proceed smoothly until the closing affirmation,

The Presidential Oath traditionally ends with the affirmation “so help me God.” The Chief Justice is expected to read this as the statement it is. Then when the President elect echoes it back, the swearing in is officially concluded and the Chief Justice confirms the successful conclusion by saying “Congratulations, Mr. President” as he shakes the new President’s hand.

Chief Justice Roberts, however, departed from this standard script. Instead of reading the expected text for Obama to repeat, Roberts quite pointedly restated it as “So help you God?” Obama looked a little surprised at this, so he repeated the expected text any way. My lingering impression is that, instead of going on and saying “Congratulations, Mr President” the Chief Justice again pointedly asked Obama the same question. Although gracious, frankly, President Obama looked irked the second time through.

I don’t know exactly how to interpret this unusual Oath administration. First, was the initial fumble due to unfamiliarity of the process by the Chief Justice? Possibly, although he had plenty of time to practice the text and process. Could this have been a subtle way of showing his intent to use the Supreme Court to thwart the Obama administration whenever possible? Only time will answer this question, but it does seem possible.

Second, what motivated his startling departure from the Oath’s wrap up? Suspicion about the new President’s loyalty to the US is one somewhat plausible answer. Suspicion about his loyalty to Christianity is another plausible answer. Either way, I feel his actions merit close investigation by the new Administration. The question that needs to be answered is whether his actions violated the clause prohibiting religious tests or affirmations as a condition of qualifying for elected office. Personally, I saw his latter action as sufficiently suspicious to warrant consideration for a possible impeachment action by the US House.

Friday, January 9, 2009

In 2009, What Should the US Government Focus On? One Citizen’s Opinion, Part 2

This post wraps up my personal “Top 10" suggestions for the incoming Obama Administration. Domestically, what should be the new administration’s domestic focus?

First, restore the broadcasting fairness doctrine This doctrine, abolished by President Reagan, mandated equal air time (on radio and television) for opposing viewpoints. In its absence, right wing conservative talk radio has run amok since the Clinton era. If the incoming Administration hopes to accomplish any meaningful goals over the next four years, this doctrine must be fully restored, accompanied by FCC enforcement clout to ensure compliance. Otherwise, Republican-backed talk radio hosts (and a few television hosts as well) will stymie the Administration by egging on the remaining conservatives in Congress to disrupt Democratic proposals.

Second, enact a transgender inclusive ENDA This was attempted last year, and failed due to Bush Administration opposition and less than honest efforts by the leadership of the Human Rights Campaign. This year, with a new Administration in Washington, this long-overdue legal patch needs to be passed early in the current Congressional session. The era of legalized discrimination against the GLBT community in the United States must end sooner rather than later. ENDA is an ideal place to start humanizing the US.

Third, sharply reduce the administrative overhead in the Medicare and Medicaid programs Both programs are administratively top heavy and need to be placed on Administrative diets. For starters, the number of required medical procedure prior approvals needs to be massively reduced. This should make a noticeable dent in both budgets while reducing the paper work burden placed on health care professionals while improving the overall quality of US health care.

Fourth, eliminate all unfunded mandates placed on the states Mandates are Federal requirements that states must comply with. Unfunded mandates mean just that: requirements placed on the states with the expectation that full compliance expenses will be covered by the states. This practice transforms the Federal government into a political bully. A very good example is the ill-designed Real ID requirement dreamed up by the Bush administration. This is a bad idea that needs to be scrapped because it will not provide the level of protection against terrorism that its proponents claim. I have read the Final Rule (twice) in its entirety, and, in my opinion, it contains too many holes that can (and will) be exploited by terrorist organizations. Providing the states with a palette of approved license designs to choose from will make it easier for counterfeiters to develop passable forgeries. Further, I came away from both readings with the distinct impression that the rule does not extend to state issued ID cards. To me, that represents a fatal flaw in the entire idea. But there are many other such mandates that need to be suspended or scrapped in order to help the states cope more effectively with the current economic downturn.

Fifth, repeal the recently enacted federal health care conscience rules These rules, enacted late in 2008 by President Bush, protect health care workers from repercussions when they refuse to provide medical care to any patient on the grounds of the care violating personal ethical, moral or religious beliefs. Further the rules effectively use the threat of federal funding termination to coerce health care organizations into enforcing the rule. While this rule supposedly is aimed only at women seeking birth control information or products, it has implications that are ominously broader. A recent case out of Great Britain gives a look at what could start happening in this country if these rules are not repealed. A 59 year old disabled man called paramedics because he was experiencing chest pains. When they arrived, they decided that, in light of his age, the fact that was disabled, and that his house was unkempt and filthy (in their eyes) he wasn’t worth their efforts, so they stood by and let him die. Clearly these rules must be repealed early in this Congressional session.

Sixth, allow all of the Bush tax cuts to expire Now I know that economists will scream that allowing the tax cuts to expire will further damage the economy, but I disagree. Given that the dominant majority of these tax cuts only benefit the ultra rich elite, it is time for the spoiled brat rich to begin paying their fair share of taxes. Once the economy does show definite signs of stable, sustainable recovery, then it would make sense for the Administration to reinvent the income tax structure so that the middle and lower classes benefit the most from future tax cuts. One change that I do champion is a deep cut in the federal corporate tax rates coupled with significant new tax credits for meaningful investments in alternative energy research and design. The tax credits ought to encourage corporations to significantly ease the need for federal funding of this badly needed research.

Seventh, end federal funds availability to religious organizations that are exclusionary in nature Exclusionary rules exist to selectively exclude individual Americans from organizational activities or services based on one criterion or another. In this way, discrimination and covert bigotry continue to spread throughout the country. In my blunt opinion, any clinic, thrift store, soup kitchen, homeless shelter or church-run social services program that refuses to help those in need because of their history, their current life situation, or who they are plants a black eye on the face of Christianity. By providing federal tax dollars to such organizations the Federal government is promoting the kinds of discrimination that were outlawed in the 1960's. At the same time, by either fully or partially funding such organizations, it gives the impression that the First Amendment separation of church and state doctrine no longer exists in the US. If this is the case, then I don’t see how the American Muslim community can feel any sense of security, given that the government is openly supporting a variety of organizations who openly shun Muslims on religious grounds. A much fairer approach would be to provide a set baseline funding level for religious organizations, and then extend significant bonuses to those organizations that can document an open door policy that screen no one out, not even transsexuals.

Eighth, end the Federal stem cell research ban This policy did more to damage the biomedical sciences in the US than any other policy by encouraging a researcher brain drain to other countries where such research is legal. Further, it has set back chronic disease research for potentially many years, which, in turn, will set back the development of effective treatments even longer. For perhaps most Americans, this debate had no real meaning because the science behind it is rather complex. For others, myself included, this outrage is personal. One disease that research suggests stem cells as a viable curative treatment is Parkinson’s Disease. This presently incurable, degenerative disease saps the patient’s quality of life by making normal movements problematical, then impossible. I know first hand the devastating effect this disease can have on the patient and those trying to provide proper care: in the 199's my own dad died from the disease, and I seriously damaged my own health trying to take care of him at home. Diabetics are another group who quite possibly could be cured through stem sell research derived treatments. How can it be moral for a government to force these human beings to needlessly suffer, and die far younger than they otherwise would have, just so some twisted, failed form of Christianity can be adhered to?

Ninth, make non petroleum-derived transportation fuel development a national priority Simply put, the US needs to begin weaning itself off of foreign oil imports in the very near future. Petroleum is a non-renewable resource. When the world’s supply of crude oil and recoverable shale oil, it is gone. So it is imperative that the federal government begin now to encourage the development of petroleum-free yet viable fuels that can be produced within the US borders. What form these fuels might take in the future isn’t clearly known currently. Personally I champion hydrogen as a gasoline and diesel replacement because of its abundant presence in water and because its combustion, by itself, adds no new pollutants into the atmosphere.

Tenth, restore governmental transparency to pre-Reagan levels For some reason I have yet to figure out completely, Republicans give the appearance of almost worshiping secrecy. President Bush was especially notorious with this, frequently ordering documents already in storage at the National Archives pulled and declared to be secret on accounts of “national security”. The curious thing is that possibly a majority of these documents had no connection at all to national security issues, yet they still were declared to be off limits to the country. This practice has got to end in order to restore accountability to the Federal government, its departments and agencies. Indeed, complete honesty about just how far into debt the Federal government actually is will be both a very good, and a very necessary place to start.

There. This private citizen’s armchair observations on what I see as the necessary top priorities for the new Administration is now complete.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

In 2009, What Should the US Government Focus On? One Citizen’s Opinion, Part 1

Around the end of one year and the beginning of the next, the practice of drawing up various lists is slowly becoming a cottage industry. Earlier this week I skimmed several lists of “Ten Products I can’t live without” on some of the tech blogs at Gizmodo and Tech Crunch and a list of ten suggestions for the incoming Administration published on line at Front Page Magazine. That latter list ed on Homeland Security exclusively. As I read it, the sense emerged that it was too narrowly focused and overlooked several pressing issues confronting the new Administration.

The twin lists below (and in Part 2) are my personal opinions, thus they are not based on professional training in Federal policy making. The first list merges homeland security with foreign policy because, to me, the two are inextricably linked. Another way to express this is “if I was the President, what would my Administration focus on this year?

First, finish the job in Iraq. This is critical to the standing of the US in the eyes of the world community of nations. To be taken seriously as the sole free world super power, the Federal government simply must develop a track record of completing foreign projects that we start. Among older adults, the specter of Viet Nam still looms large. If we cut and run from Iraq with the reconstruction unfinished, the damage to America’s reputation will be immense. More critically, it will empower Islamic (and possibly Palestinian) extremist groups to more aggressively attack US interests around the globe.

Second, end the war in Afghanistan This invasion served no practical purpose from the beginning. Contrary to initial claims by the Bush Administration, it is now clear that capturing Osama Bin Laden was not the objective from the get go. There is a commonly held belief here in the US that we invaded Afghanistan and toppled the ruling Taliban government to serve US petroleum industry interests. Thus, this corporate military action needs to be brought to a close.

Third, locate and eradicate all Al Qaeda hideouts in Pakistan This is necessary for continuing security of US interests globally. As a side benefit, it should help increase the domestic security of US allies as well.

Fourth, defer any changes to Homeland Security until after 2010 With any new administration, there is always the temptation to revise or eliminate creations left by the previous Administration. Even though the current set up of DHS is far from perfect (as FEMA’s response to Hurricane Katrina showed). However, the Administration would be wise to leave this protective apparatus alone until it has cleaned out the last Al Qaeda hideout and stronghold. Once that task has been accomplished, then it will be appropriate to give DHS a badly needed reinvention so it fulfills its mission far more efficiently.

Fifth, make bolstering cybersecurity a priority As computers grow progressively smaller and more sophisticated, the number of misguided individuals who can access the raw computing power needed to hack into, and damage, critical computer systems increases. With the global nature of the world wide web it is possible for cyber terrorists to hide almost anywhere and attack critical energy, financial, law enforcement, and transportation computer systems in this country. For this reason it is imperative that the Administration develop innovative techniques for hardening computers against outside attacks.

Sixth, appropriately harden US borders The focus needs to be on stopping smugglers more than terrorists while making it easier for legitimate cross border traffic to both enter and leave the US. Perhaps the best approach would be to seek regional collaboration with Canada and Mexico on entry requirements. At air ports, the mandatary scanning of every traveler’s shoes needs to come to an end.
Also, it seems to me, for airports to be truly secure, the security checkpoints belong just inside the front doors so everyone entering the terminal must pass the screening process, not just those traveling.

Seventh, sign the UN International Declaration on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity That the Bush administration refused to do this shows how out of touch that bunch truly is. It should be a point of national embarrassment that Canada, Mexico, Cuba and Nicaragua all signed it, along with 62 other countries. To me, this confirms the Bush administration as the most deeply bigoted and cruel administration in American history. Given that France took the lead in presenting this proposed declaration to the UN General Assembly, I can’t help wondering if this refusal to sign could also be Washington’s payback for France refusing to join the US led Iraqi coalition in 2002.

Eighth, continue to be wary about Iran and North Korea Both countries are regional bullies with strong dislikes for the US. Both may be near to developing viable nuclear weapons (or not), which makes them doubly dangerous. Iran also has the potential for uniting a wide swath of the Muslim world in its hatred of US interests regionally and globally. At the same time, all diplomatic channels of international dispute resolution must be exhausted before any military action is initially considered for two reasons. First, the US cannot budgetarily afford another war any time soon. Second, military action against either one could draw China into the conflict, and that is something best avoided.

Ninth, enhance DODs high tech superiority The US military simply must remain ahead of what the rest of the world defines as cutting edge military technologies and techniques. The era of massive infantry and artillery formations shooting at each other from foxholes dug into the landscape, a la WW I and II is over. More and more it seems that military actions are more urbanized, localized and conducted by sophisticated small units now than ever before. Also, the more US forces are able to conduct operations using remote controlled robotic drones, the fewer American lives will be lost .

Tenth, back away from the hard line mind set of the present administration Since 2001 the Bush administration has maintained an illogical mind set when it comes to foreign affairs. His “either you’re with us, or you’re with the terrorists” remarks reflect an inappropriate mind set for the leader of a super power. At the same time, Washington’s staunch anti abortion (and anti contraceptives) stance with regard to foreign aid must stop. The US is not the world’s morality guardian. In my opinion, no nation possesses the right to impose its moral code on any other nation. Softening these hard headed attitudes should help improve America’s reputation abroad.

In Part 2 of this blog, to be posted tomorrow, I will focus on the domestic scene. Obviously, the shaky economic situation impacts this list far more significantly than the foreign agenda.

Friday, January 2, 2009


New Year’s Day is a day of boundless hope tempered this year by searing reality. The years in development credit crunch continues with no clear end in sight. As a result, new employment creation is at a virtual standstill as businesses small and large no longer have easy access to the fresh capital needed to expand. Further tempering this is the on-going run of small business and corporate bankruptcies and failures. So there is plenty of economic material available to justify wallowing in gloom and doom.

To combat this temptation I choose to take a longer term look at things. This current recession will resolve itself in time and the credit markets will loosen up. Employment will begin growing again, and consumer confidence will once again turn from negative to positive. Only time can tell whether Wall Street investors will be able to regain the $7 trillion in paper asset value the markets lost in 2008.

From a long term perspective, this is but a hiccough in life’s path. So rather than wallow in abject misery driven by fear and worry, my mind is focusing on the world that will still exist when this nightmare is over. Like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr in 1963, I dream of a better world.

Lying within the human mind is an ability to produce great works when inspired. Fortunately, many of these are very positive. Great works of literature, art, architecture and music are examples, as are the major breakthroughs in science and technology that make modern life possible. Sadly, others are works of great evil, as seen in a recurring pattern throughout history. For the gender variant, my mind envisions a world free from evil’s predations. With a new Administration set to assume the mantle of power in Washington, D.C., I feel it is once again safe to dream of a bright, positive future.

I dream of a world where all mankind is safe and free to move about the planet as whims or opportunities arise. In this world, effective laws provide protection from hate, and other violent, crimes by removing truly dangerous criminals from society. In this world the transgender community is finally free to boldly move forth free from fear of becoming a crime statistic, and free from the fear of arrest for using the public restroom that matches their inner identity, rather than the one flagged as appropriate by some piece of paper (like a birth certificate).

The Preamble of the US Constitution asserts that mankind is granted certain rights by his creator, including “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” In the modern world, pursuing these bedrock rights requires access to money, which means holding a job. Too long have racial minorities, the disabled and handicapped, older workers, women, and members of the GLBT community suffered from various forms of the same discrimination and persecution visited upon African Americans for the better part of a century following America’s Civil War. Consider the parallel: for decades throughout the South, drinking fountains and restrooms were routinely labeled “Whites Only.” today, fully dressed male to female transsexuals risk arrest and incarceration just for using women’s restrooms. Apparently law enforcement would rather they enter a men’s restroom while outfitted in a skirt, blouse, pantyhose and heels. This rank discrimination must end.

Along this line, it is now all too clear that the soon to be departing Bush administration is by far the most blatantly transphobic Administration in history. In the name of the “war on terror” one regulation is explicitly anti-transsexual. Employers are now required to cross check employment application information with Social Security records, and any applicant (or current employee) whose application form gender indicator does not match SS records must be rejected. A regulation like that does not belong in a free, democratic society. Likewise, pre-op and no op transsexuals must submit to being identified by their birth identification on US Passports while post op transsexuals can list their real gender without opposition. Finally, recently implemented changes in Federal health care policies may make it impossible for transsexuals to receive any medical care at all.

As a case in point: a few years ago, a pre op transsexual woman was injured in a Washington, DC traffic accident. Even though her injuries would not have been fatal with proper medical attention. However, when the responding EMTs discovered her transsexuality, they laughed and allowed her to die unattended at the scene. Under these new regulations, by claiming transsexuals violate either their personal values or their religious beliefs, they would get away with murder. In the world I dream of, such regulations do not exist.

In this world of which I speak, comprehensive health care is available to every citizen without regard to ability to pay, sexual orientation, gender identity, or citizenship status. This would be true universal health care that covers all aspects of cradle to grave medical needs, and would cover all costs attendant to the transsexual journey, including feminizing plastic surgery and reassignment surgery. In time, all chronic diseases would be cured through a combination of stem cell and gene therapy. Indeed, in this world, physicians would be able to practice medicine free from the burden of bureaucratic red tape and record keeping mandates that have nothing to do with sound medical decision making.

Changes in Federal employment law would guarantee a true living wage for all employees, along with time and a half for all employees, without regard to job title or employer’s economic sector. The practice, reportedly widely practiced in the retail sector, of requiring employees to work for free, or “off the clock,” would be rendered illegal by new laws that would require full back pay for all such hours. Likewise, employees would be meaningfully protected from sexual harassment on the job, and would be protected from termination for any reason other than job performance.

In this world, the family would be strengthened by the churches being restored to what they were in earlier eras: institutions that focused solely on the spiritual needs of their congregations and on helping the less fortunate members of society. Separation of church and state would be strengthened in the Constitution and become a two-way barrier: government would be prevented from regulating or controlling religion in any way, and the churches would be blocked from controlling government. At the same time, gay marriage would be converted into a non issue by a simple change in terminology. Unions entered into in a religious ceremony would be called marriages, in accordance with custom, while those entered into in a secular ceremony presided over by a public official would be called civil unions. Both options would be open to everyone without regard to sexual orientation or gender identity.

This world of which I dream would finally bring to fruition the dream that Dr. King so eloquently expressed in August, 1963. I have kept that dream alive within myself since his murder in 1968. Within my being that dream is of a time when people are judged on what they can do, not who or what they are. When mankind reaches that point we truly will be “free at last.”

is the world portrayed above merely a pipe dream, or can it be achieved in our lifetimes? I truly believe the world portrayed above is attainable in time IF the transgender and LGB communities can come together and form a united front consistently pulling in the same direction and sharing the same message. In 2009 I truly hope this united front does emerge and begin speaking with one voice.