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The gift

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Most often my morning regimen follows a fairly typical and typically unchanging path; the cup of coffee enhanced in strength by drawing it from the carafe before all the water has flowed through the blend, perusal of the morning papers (the San Francisco Chronicle, the Wall Street Journal, the Marin Independent Journal)that have hit the driveway, then to the Internet for the New York Times, the L.A. Times, the stories that AOL has highlighted, and following the links from those stories that intrigue me.
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This morning, one of those links led me to retiring Supreme Court Associate Justice David Souter's commencement address (http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2010/05/text-of-justice-david-souters-speech/ ) to Harvard's class of 2010 graduating law students. Reading his remarks concerning the task all Supreme Court justices have been charged with is the "gift" the title of this submission speaks of.
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However Souter's entire speech is worthy of reading, and rereading, one sentence in particular was provocative in that it has been the kernel, the cob and the entire corn field I've been striving to encourage others step into for several years: "But we don't often pause to consider in any detail (Italics mine) the conceptions of the Constitution and of constitutional judging that underlie the critical rhetoric, or to compare them with the notions that lie behind our own intuitive responses." From the preceding, simply replace ". . .Constitution and of constitutional judging . . ." with almost any -- or, perhaps every one -- of the issues that are raging and inflaming the national temperament.
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If one lives long enough there will be any number of recollections of experiences where protracted examination and contemplation of alternatives were luxuries that simply did not exist. Just two, though highly realistic, hypotheticals will prove illustrative. In the first, you are driving down the road when you notice a vehicle in the oncoming lane has swerved across the line toward you. Some reaction, the consequences of which are unascertainable, is absolutely demanded of you. In the second hypothetical, you are on an out of town business venture, due to return home the next morning, and find yourself relaxing in a lounge when you strike up a conversation with someone of the opposite sex (assuming you are heterosexual, in this instance) that has romantic potential for the night, should you pursue it.
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Both hypotheticals have life and family history changing potentials, regardless what you decide in the moment. And the consequences you will forever after live with will be a reality you will have had very little to nothing to actually construct. How much of our lives has been, for better or worse, the product of happenstance or intent is unfathomable. Thus the reason, as Souter suggests, that, when we have the time to contemplate what we are truly about and the geneses of "the notions that lie behind our own intuitive responses," we have an undiminishable moral imperative to sincerely do the contemplative work.
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Tragically for us individually and as an aggregated society, leaping to the knee-jerk intuitive response has become that response writ transcontinental.
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A few days ago I submitted "A few things have just got to be said." (http://www.opednews.com/articles/A-few-things-have-just-got-by-Ed-Tubbs-100530-967.html) The article's intent was to summon the "better angels of our nature" relative to the anti-Hispanic immigration laws that are now on Arizona's books and the sentiments that presently pervade not only Arizona, but the nation as well. A cursory review of the 114 posted comments clearly demonstrates that far too many of those comments were drawn from the intuitive depths that Souter warned about. While the intuitive is wholly understandable, intuitive has only by accident led to appositive results.
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Accident ought never to be how we want our laws or our lives written. Although I observed that none of us truly write the screenplays that become our lives, the operative predicate here is "want to."
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Let me insert a truth. The emotions that run the continuum from seething hatred and soul-crushing terror to agape love and unbridled sexual passion compose the cores that make us not only human, but which also compose the only human characteristics that are responsible for whatever actual human progress and civility we've attained. Even reason, logic and the scientific method are but byproducts of those emotions.
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However not the focus of this missive, the matter of illegal immigration into the United States that was corollaritive of the linked article above, needs some embellishment. First, if for no other reason than that the spirit of law and justice necessitates a full engagement of the illegal immigration issue, but on a composed, thoughtful plane.
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No thoughtful person believes we have the resources or the genuine inclination to deport what might be as many as 20 million people, many of whom have been here 20 years or more and are productive members of our communities, and who have children who are US citizens; citizens who would be orphaned and expensive charges upon our society, were their parents to be deported. And that's only presuming their countries of origin would be willing to take them back, which is by no means a guarantee we can or should count on. So, something more thoughtful than "send 'em all back" is as much an essential as is the personal acknowledgement by all of us that an eventual open acceptance of them into the American fabric, whether any of us like it or not,will be a real life eventuality, not a matter that can be forever unresolved.
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But revisiting the illegal immigration issue, as I said, is not what this is about. Grasping the underlying spirit of Souter's commencement address is. Furthermore, as Souter elaborated in the address, an open eye to the near infinite nuances of a circumstance's context, including an honest look at their historical backgrounds that led to the contexts, will provide the best path to a constructive solution.
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As the saw goes, anyone can tear down a barn, but it takes a practiced carpenter to build one. The variety of issues before us require that all of us try to be a practiced carpenter, not a part of a wrecking crew.
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Certainly right now the most topical issue is the ongoing rush of crude oil occurring 25 miles offshore in the Gulf.
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The piercing din from the right is that the calamity is to President Obama what Hurricane Katrina was to President Bush, that just as Bush was responsible for the tardy federal ameliorative response and the loss of life and economic devastation to the region that was a consequence of the hurricane, so to Obama is equally liable for the economic and ecological hell that has been, continues to be, and will in the months and years ahead be a state of being along the coast.
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Understand that I am sourly disappointed in how the president has handled numerous difficulties he faced the moment he took the Oath of Office. But trying to liken Obama's handling of the BP disaster to how Bush dealt with Katrina is nothing short of disingenuously contemptible.
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From September of 2003 through August of '06, I lived in the south Tampa Bay Bradenton/Sarasota/Palmetto area. I went through the storms of 2004, when we marched through the English alphabet of names and into the Greek.
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I fled the Gulf Coast for Port St. Lucie on the Atlantic, as Charlie turned Punta Gorda -- north of Ft. Myers, near the southwest tip of the state --into strewn matchsticks, before ripping a gash through the state's midsection. I hunkered in a designated shelter through Jean.
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I now know hurricanes, and I know that each and every one provides at least a full ten days of advance warning, as it forms off the west coast of Africa. For more than a week, I was watching the television advisories from my home in Palmetto, as the threat and forecasted path ofKatrina developed with ever increasing intensity and accuracy. The Bush administration had a wealth of time and a wealth of solid information with which to compose any number of responses and backup plans. In spite of everything it had at its disposal, and in spite of everything the right tried and tries to get the world to now believe, they knew it was coming, they knew it was going to wreak total chaos, and they did nothing!
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Nor could the Bush administration claim the novelty of Katrina as an excuse for its miserable handling of the natural disaster. Hurricanes the strength of Katrina are part of that region's history. It also had his father's most capable FEMA as a classic textbook example of how to effectively respond to such a storm. Hurricane Andrew tore the ground, the subflooring, the walls and the roofright off Homestead, Florida, just south of Miami, in the fall of 1992. All 41 had to do was give his dad a call, or read the book his father had in large part written. But the long ingrained conservative dicta was that, as government can do nothing well that private enterprise cannot do better, it's better policy to prove the truth of the axiom by staffing every federal agency with incompetent cronies or near-do-well sychophants to the notion, or to cut both their staffs and their funding to the point that competency becomes impossible.
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And that was the MMS (Minerals Management Service), the federal agency charged with oversight for both collection of the royalties due the government by oil drillers and the approval of well drilling permits, that Obama inherited.
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Did Obama know, or should he have known, of the perils posed by deep, offshore drilling and the contaminated relationship that existed between the oil industry and MMS? It's a fair question, to which a legitamately arguableanswer might be "yes."
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But every president -- the slouches, the sleazes and the superior -- enter office with a host of crushing problems that demand prioritized attention. With an economy in free fall, a national employment situation that was hemoraging 500,000, 750,000 jobs, and more every month, a US provoked international financial sector in a death spiral that was threatening Great Depression 2.0, two wars, a North Korea that was test-firing missiles and sinking a South Korean navy vessel, an Iran that was amassing fissionable nuclear material, polar ice melting at alarming rates, and . . ..
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Obama's plate was full; even for a president who asserted a government has to be able to "do more than walk and chew gum at the same time."
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Obama right now is in the same spot Lyndon Johnson was during the Vietnam War: "Like a stranded hitchhiker on an empty Texas highway during a hailstorm: Can't run, can't hide, and can't make it stop." The difference is, LBJ was an active participant in the creation of his hailstorm. Never before in US history has the country experienced anything akin to today's gushing crude oil catastrphe; 25 miles out to sea, a mile deep, and a ruptured pipe that's pushing up crude with all the force the earth can muster, which is an awful lot.The Exxon-Valdez was the result of a ship run ashore. There was a finiteness to that 1989 mess: what was held within the ship's confines, and no more. The only thing that begins to approach what we're sad witness to today is the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill. Yet, to that, every single one of us must believe that considerable oil drilling progress has taken place over the past 41 years, and that oil drillers were both conscientious and competent to completely avoid any Santa Barbara rerun. There existed no reasons to feel othewise. If Obama missed the cue on this . . .. It must also be added that every president is also human. When you are at last composed of unerring perfect knowledge andjudgment, post the alert on the Internet. We'll send a psych crew to pick you up.
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Before wrapping this up I want to draw on one more somewhat elaborated example of where Souter's sage recommendations are worth taking to heart. Currently I'm in San Rafael, California, a dozen miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge. I've been here for several weeks, and for every day during that time the most outrageous of political ads are hitting the air. I'll point to one: Meg Whitman's. Ms. Whitman, the founder and CEO of eBay, is running as a Republican for governor. Here's a link to just one of her ads. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VekQ1F9J-C8 More are available on You Tube by inserting her name in the search box.
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Stipulated to is the factthe Golden State is out of gold and is in serious trouble. That it got to this sad place as a result of both the politicians and the electorate's fairy tale thinking that the same or more could be had by cutting taxes (Prop 13 and 13A), the revenue upon which any governmental entity depends as life blood, is irrelevant today.
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What Meg is arguing is that the root of the mess are "the unions and the liberal politicians that support them."
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Perhaps a component of the miasma (if that's what you care to argue, which I do not; every laborer, as Jesus proposed,is "worthy of his hire."), but the unions are a long, long ways from the primary causes of any state's fiscal distress. Note astutely that Whitman, in the linked ad, refers to "the politicians." In others, however, she takes a more direct shot at our current governor, suggesting that among the "politicians" is also Arnold Schwarzenegger. But that was exactly -- not kinda, not sorta . . . exactly -- the selling point the Governator used, that he was not a politician, when he was running in the special election against Democrat and long-time politician Gray Davis.
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Some of her ads include the promise to "cut taxes" and to eliminate "wasteful government spending." The only problem California or any state has today is a shortage of revenue. Taxes are revenue, pretty much the only revenue a state has. And looking to even the least adjustment to the taxes of those with the wherewithal is "off the table."
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In almost every district and municipality police are being laid off, firefighters are being laid off, teachers are being laid off, schools are being closed or the hours cut back, college tuitions are being increased, roads and bridges are going unrepaired, parks are being let go, some sold . . .. But what no one -- most particularly among the "no one" I include the news media -- is demanding of any candidate are the specific examples of the waste they intend to eliminate.
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Schwarzenegger's submitted FY 2011 budget, the one that will not pass, would cut every state agency funding 10%, result in hundreds of dollars in classroom cuts for every student, close 48 state parks, eliminate lifeguard service on state beaches, provide early release for 22,000 prisoners, eliminate active supervision for 18,522 parolees, eliminate child care assistance, trim MediCal (California's Medicaid) disbursements to the bone, and among other draconian measures trim the Welfare-to-Work program for the vast majority of the working poorest of the poorwho had been depending on it as a means out of the hole they'd been tossed down. (http://www.ebudget.ca.gov/)
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We can argue on the merits of the budget. We can argue concerning solutions. What gets really tough to do is to con the electorate into believing there's this cache of money just lying around in a government closet somewhere.
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So . . . what I want from Meg, what I want from Republicans, what I want from all these shouting conservatives is to be told where ya gonna cut? Where is all this waste? Because all they're doing now is shouting. Exactly what Justice Souter calmly, wisely counsels we need to somehow get away from.
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Every Republican ad airing in the state is an effort to outdo his or her challenger on the basis by being "the true conservative," and not some "liberal," with "liberal" being employed as the most tawdry epithet in the English language. Issues and the manner in which the candidate intends to deal with them -- seriously, as contrasted with Meg Whitman-style shots into outer space -- are locatable nowhere.
But let's take a brief look at what "conservativism" in action has really meant for America and Americans.
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Following the above, every man made economic disaster of the past 30 years, since the inauguration of Ronald Reagan, has been the result of Reaganesque conservative governance. The Saving and Loan --with the S&Ls hardly bastions of liberal minded orthodoxy -- crisis of the 80's was a hands-off any genuine regulation conservative generated crisis that cost American taxpayers $160 billion in bail out money. (Source: an FDIC document -- http://www.fdic.gov/bank/historical/history/167_188.pdf).
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The Reagan tax cuts, disproportionately benefitting the wealthy, in league with his out of control military spending (Googel "SDI" or "Space Defense Initiative") tripled the national debt. Gramm-Leach-Bliley unteathered the banking industry from the restrictions against wild adventurism into speculative investing, and that led directly to the collapse of the world financial construct in 2007. (Yes! A President Bill Clinton signed the Act. But Clinton, with his "entreprenurial government," was, as is Obama today, hardly a liberal.)
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The un-paid-for Bush/Republican tax cuts, ala those introduced by Reagan (VP Cheney: "Reagan proved deficits don't matter."), took the Clinton surplus -- a surplus that conservative Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan worried might result in paying off the national debt -- and flipped it into the largest deficits the country had theretofore known. The un-paid-for Bush/Republican lie-infused and promulgated militaryadventurism into Iraq, a misadventure author Thomas Ricks summed up in Fiasco, has now cost the country more than two trillion dollars in unfunded liability for veterans care and military contracts.
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Whether it was Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, arm-in-arm with the financial industry, or the financial industry alone or disproportionately affecting the collapse, it was Republican conservatism's don't look/don't tell deregulation convictions that hurtled the world off the precipice, and that forced the exponential rescue efforts that were first authored by Bush Treasury secretary Hank Paulson, the previous Goldman-Sachs CEO.
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I am not, and will not, give a pass to Barack Obama, easy or otherwise. It's just that the horrendous lies and mudslinging (Using "liberal" as an epithet, when the very foundation of this country is liberal European Enlightenment philosophies and writings that were in vigorous opposition to the conservatism of the Church in Rome and the Church of England) that are coming from the right are as inaccurate and intentionally misleading as they are deafening and counter-productive to any calm consideration of avenues to address, then seek positive, productive solutions to the myriad of very serious problems facing not only this country, but the world as well.
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If we decide to, we can take Souter's address as a gift that has the chance to keep on giving. Or, we can continue our path to the ditch, yelling and screaming all the way. It's up to us.

 

An "Old Army Vet" and liberal, qua liberal, with a passion for open inquiry in a neverending quest for truth unpoisoned by religious superstitions. Per Voltaire: "He who can lead you to believe an absurdity can lead you to commit an atrocity."

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Currently I'm no big fan of Obama, for a wide vari... by Ed Tubbs on Tuesday, Jun 1, 2010 at 6:58:23 PM
and very thorough. But calm and content response (... by Mark Sashine on Wednesday, Jun 2, 2010 at 7:52:59 AM