Sense from Seattle

Common sense thoughts on life and current affairs by a Seattle area sexagenarian, drawing on personal experience, years of learning as a counselor to thousands of families and an innate passion for informed knowledge, to uniquely express sensible, thoughtful, honest and independent views.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Dem Debate #1

I don’t know how the podium standing chart was written for the first debate of Democrat presidential candidates last night, but it seemed almost like a political spectrum, with Bill Richardson at their right and Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel at their left. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were in the middle, with John Edwards to Hillary’s left.

My personal views had me agreeing most often with Kucinich and Gravel, but the important contest was taking place in the middle of the stage. I was most interested in how the middle two would come across to me, and this is my report on my impressions.

I have admitted being turned off by Hillary and turned on by Barach, but last night was a formal opportunity to see them operate side by side. Hillary narrowed my visceral gap. Her calculated answers and deliberate positioning were evident, but they came across as signs of her capability and wisdom. Barack’s charisma and suavity were also present, but they seemed to reveal undertones of posing and pretense.

Hillary’s answers I remember; Barack’s I do not. Each only had about ten minutes of actual air time, but I remember Hillary talking about going to ground zero after 9/11 as a NY Senator, going with the President to Columbine High School after the killings there, and talking about what she learned from her failed attempt to overhaul our health care system. She obviously was center stage material.

But what about the “dynasty thing”; are we ready for a Clinton II? Bill Clinton was born a politician; Hillary Rodham was not. Bill mentored her, while also using her as a resource. She learned from his successes and mistakes, and from her own. Bill’s stupid sex lark while President gave Hillary a stronger independence, which she has used wisely. Hillary needed Bill to become the first viable female candidate for our Presidency, not because of any shortcomings on her part, but because of our backward American attitudes about women being empowered. Bill and Hillary achieved power based on personal ability, not on family history like the Bush dynasty, which enabled two of its family to rise way beyond their ability.

If nominated, can Hillary win, especially with the viciousness that will be thrown at her by the rabid right? Do a Google image search for Hillary Clinton and look at the images that come up first, the most popular ones showing her looking hideous, and you will get a sense of the hatred some people hold for her. But for what reason? The question includes the answer; there is no legitimate reason that comes from unreasonable people. But those nuts will not decide the election. They are the ones who still support George Bush in the polls. We reasonable Democrats should not let the nuts prevent us from nominating Hillary if we think she would make the best President.

Quick impressions of the “also rans”:

Edwards seems to have only one or two notes to sound.
Biden does like to hear himself talk.
Dodd is mainstream sensible to the point of being unnecessary.
Kucinich shows that being right is not as important as being imposing.
Richardson seems to be running for Hispanic status and a cabinet position.
Gravel provides the impatient passion of a senior maverick, with comic relief.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Gonzales Testifies

Yesterday’s testimony by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales could be paraphrased as follows:”I believe I don’t recall having any recollection of anything except that I did not do anything for a wrong reason, though I also believe I don’t recall what the actual reason may have been.”

Gonzales became a Bush sycophant when George wanted to run for Texas Governor without disclosing his drunk driving arrest and Alberto figured a way to hide it. Gonzales kept that same focus as White House Counsel and Attorney General. His testimony to the Senate was in the same mode, hiding the truth, but he has also come across as an incompetent administrator. His only significant supporter is Bush, who may keep him around to hide other wrongs.

The most potentially explosive aspect of this scandal is the use of the Republican National Committee e-mail by White House officials like Karl Rove to conduct government business in a more secretive way. That mail trail supposedly has been obliterated, but electronic trails are particularly hard to totally eradicate. If the trail can be found and published, it promises to be quite revealing of the duplicity of the Bush Administration.

Catholic Court

The 5-4 ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the Federal ban on so-called partial birth abortions, imposing the Court majority’s medical opinion in place of the medical opinion of the mother’s doctor, and in spite of numerous District and Circuit Court rulings and prior Supreme Court precedents to the contrary, has an interesting religious overtone. The five Justices who voted for the ban are all Catholics: Kennedy, Scalia, Thomas, Roberts and Alito. The two Jews, Ginsburg and Breyer, and the two Protestants, Souter and Stevens, were outvoted.

As this page from shows, Catholics and Jews are over represented on the Court compared to their portion of the U.S. population, while Protestants are under represented. This decision shows religious beliefs of Justices inform their decisions, just as political ideology played a central role in the Court giving the Presidency to George Bush in 2000.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Guns and Me

The horrific shooting attack at Virginia Tech prompts me to write about guns, trying out the new approach here of bringing in my life experiences.

I was born on the brink of the Second World War, and when I was old enough to go off on my own with the neighborhood boys, we played war in the “woods” [actually an overgrown empty lot]. One boy had a dummy M1 rifle, the kind used for marching in parades. He was kind enough to give us turns using it, the non-users having to make do with pieces of lumber carved to look somewhat like a rifle. We would dig a foxhole to hide from the enemy and roast marshmallows between popping up and shooting attackers. The dirt clods from the hole made great hand grenades which exploded when we bounced them off trees.

Cowboys and Indians was another popular game, spurred on [pun intended] by early TV shows. My favorite was “The Lone Ranger”. I loved the mystery of his life, the super hero who lived a monastic life of personal anonymity, leaving only a silver bullet as a souvenir for the heroine. His “faithful Indian companion” Tonto has been ridiculed as a sycophant, but to me he seemed a super competent co-hero, restrained in his social actions only by the prejudice of the world in which he lived. Growing up in a black neighborhood before the civil rights era, I saw the parallels. The Lone Ranger also fit in with the Catholicism I learned at school. Because he was such a good shot, it was never necessary for him to kill or even wound a desperado; his bullets would just hit the gun in their hand, stinging the villain into dropping it. To my great surprise, my request for a Lone Ranger gun and holster as a birthday present was honored, but it was so beautiful, I don’t think I ever played with it outdoors, and I do not recall ever matching the generosity of the M1 owner and letting any friends play with it.

Guns disappeared as girls were discovered. Then in teenage years, I started eyeing the BB gun my step-dad employed to scare birds from his garden. After a little target practice to learn its quirks, I decided to shoot at a live target, a Robin perching on the back fence. I heard the pellet hit the back of the bird and saw him react and then hesitate. As I waited for the bird to fall dead from the fence, a terrible feeling grabbed my gut and I felt like a total jerk. Fortunately, the gun was so weak the Robin quickly shook it off and then flew away, and I never touched the stupid gun again.

ROTC was mandatory the first two years of my college days. We marched with dummy rifles, but I don’t remember going to a firing range to shoot real ones. My only firing range experience was in Air Force basic training. I was one of only two guys that got an extra series of shots - because we shot so poorly the first time, we did not qualify. I had misunderstood which target was mine and fired all my first series at the target of the man next to me, who likely qualified as a sharpshooter thanks to my help.

Guns were not common on the streets when I grew up. I only heard gunshots one time, at a nightclub which a friend and I entered just in time to hear a gun discharged, followed swiftly by a mass exodus, which we eagerly joined. Teenage gangs of the day used knives and also weapons for hitting. There was talk of homemade “zip guns”, but I never saw one. In fact, a lot of gang talk was probably just that - talk - and strutting around in gang jackets.

I never felt the need to have a gun for self-defense or to protect my home and family. In fact, once I had a family, my greatest security was knowing I had no guns around which could injure my kids. As a lawyer I was aware of my second amendment right to bear arms, and as an opponent of the war in Vietnam, I disagreed with what my government was doing, but in view of the nuclear capability of Uncle Sam and mindful of my feeble Robin attack and errant firing range experience, I did not consider armed rebellion.

Genealogical research led me to a German immigrant ancestor who came to America before 1840 and settled in Tennessee. He was a jeweler and gunsmith and had a contract to supply weapons to the Confederacy. His son grew up around guns and was an adept shooter, enlisting for the South at 16 and surviving the War to become the second Mayor of Hot Springs, Arkansas. I’m reading a book about his time there in the 1880s, when gambling, crime and corruption were rampant. The City actually had a ban against carrying weapons in public, but the penalty was only a token fine. Local juries almost always acquitted everyone involved in shootings, on grounds of self-defense. Innocent bystander victims were regretted, but ignored as to recourse. My ancestor must have tired of the “Hot Springs Gunsmoke”, as the book is entitled, because he soon moved to Chicago, where he died peacefully.

When Michael Moore dialogued with Charlton Heston in “Bowling for Columbine”, I think he elicited the truth as to why so many white Americans historically have vehemently asserted their right to bear arms. It is rooted in the days of enslavement in America, when minority white populations lived in fear of a revolt by greater numbers of blacks, and guns were the white equalizing defense.

The second amendment was intended to protect Americans from a potentially oppressive government. The need for armed revolution is no longer likely, nor would paramilitary conflict be a realistic way to address such a problem. The amendment should be changed to say that neither the Federal government nor the States can make any law interfering with the right of the people to have their governments regulate weapons. Then the process of regulating guns and other weaponry for the public safety could proceed without having to contend with an archaic constitutional concern. The new amendment also might include a provision requiring a significant portion of our armed services to be composed of draftees, which would provide a more likely and capable group to oppose government oppression, thereby keeping government better in check. Congress would have been much less likely to enable the Bush invasion of Iraq if the lives of draftees had been involved.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


As a student in Catholic grade and high schools, the first Friday of the month was a day we were all expected to receive Holy Communion. In order to do so, we had to be morally clean, so the afternoon before, we would be taken to Church to have our confessions heard, and if we were careful enough, we could avoid sinning that evening and still be good for Communion in the morning.

I liked Confession. I wanted to be a good person, and when I did bad things I felt bad, because the bad things I did usually hurt other people and always hurt God and made him sad. The ritualistic dialogue with the priest in the dark of the box was not particularly meaningful to me. In those days they never did much counseling; they just listened to your sins, asked “how many times” and then pronounced your sentence of how many prayers to say. The most meaningful part of the process for me was not the secret meeting in the confessional; it was the very private time between me and God, examining my conscience in silence before getting in line to enter the box, and then going to the altar rail to quickly get my sentence out of the way so I could spend extra time telling Jesus that I really would try harder to be good.

In grade school, the girls lined up on one side of the box and the boys on the other, and the priest alernated in hearing the sides. When a boy entered the box, the priest would be hearing the confession of the girl on the other side. You were supposed to avoid trying to hear the girl, but even if you tried, all you could hear was muffled mumbling. The girls who spent the most time in the confessional were supposed to be the ones out for a good time. Timing female confessions did not seem like the best way for a young man to prepare for his own confession, but I admit I gave it a try a couple times. It was quite disappointing when the least attractive girl took the most time, and I felt unworthy when I realized the girl I was most attracted to would be shocked to think that I would time her confession.

I have no particular memories of high school confessions. While the Holy Names nuns at Immaculate grade school inspired me with their religious devotion, the Irish Christian Brothers at O'Dea had the opposite effect. By the time I graduated from O'Dea, religion seemed to be graduating away from me. Another reason high school confessions were not memorable to me may be that O’Dea was an all boys school, and I was quite uninterested in the sins of other boys.

Since I am no longer a practicing Catholic, I have not been to confession for many years, but I do have a small confession to make here. My confession is that writing for Sense has become sort of a nagging burden. I suppose that has been apparent, since my postings have waned. This posting is my examination of conscience, confession and firm purpose of amendment.

After Bush was unjustly handed the Presidency in 2000, my political interest skyrocketed. Having just retired, I had time to indulge the interest. Those close to me were exposed to my ongoing discourse, including e-mail dialogue with John in Phoenix. As the 2004 campaign heated up, John suggested I publish some of my writings, and this blog ensued. Blogs were new to many of us in 2004 and the election interest was quite high, so those early days of Sense saw several readers offing comments and dialogue. Since then, this blog has joined most amateur blogs in having an average dedicated readership of one [our man John in Phoenix] and a part time readership of a few family members.

“Common sense thoughts on life and current affairs by a Seattle area sexagenarian, drawing on personal experience, years of learning as a counselor to thousands of families and an innate passion for philosophical knowledge, to uniquely express sensible, thoughtful, honest and fresh views.” So says the preamble at Sense from Seattle. Keeping up with current affairs has proven to be an overwhelming task, with notes for possible Sense comments accumulating into huge folders. Thoughts on life in general have been shortchanged here, for fear of boring readers; yet the limited readership of friends and family are the people most likely to have a mild interest. Passion, sense, thoughtfulness and honesty are usually present in my postings here, and sometimes they are fresh, but personal learning from experience has mostly been absent.

Researching for a political blog and providing useful and reliable links takes time, and I confess I have become weary. Keeping informed on current affairs and developing my opinion is a vital part of who I am, but it is very time consuming and does not leave much time for expression and action. There also seems less need for political voices like mine now than there was before the 2004 election. Public opinion has changed for the better since then, with the Bush administration largely discredited and the Democrats put back in control of Congress in the 2006 elections. The 2008 election is still of vital interest with the Democrats having a chance to hold Congress and take the Presidency, so opinions on that must be given time.

I will try to spend less time at Sense on semi-pro political blogging, and more time writing about my sense of current events based on my own life experiences and observations. I hope to do this in a way that is more witty, fun and entertaining than Sense has usually been.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Bush Balks Again

For almost 100 years it has been a tradition for American Presidents to throw out the first pitch to open the major league baseball season. The picture to the left is of George Bush making his pitch in 2005. As his popularity has plunged, Bush has become more fearful of appearing in truly public settings, not wanting to hear the rising chorus of boos from the crowd. Last year Bush sent Cheney, who fortunately did not have the firepower to injure any errant targets with his attempt at an opening pitch. This year, with 13 openers on schedule, Bush and Cheney both balked.

If Bush could have followed his preferred photo op practice, the stadium would have been cleared of all but a couple dozen pre-screened fans standing on bleachers installed behind the pitcher’s mound, where the camera could catch them in the background as the dapperly uniformed Bush wound up and released. The perimeter would be secured by scores of secret service agents and the air space protected for miles around by squadrons of fighter aircraft, none of which would ever be shown on screen.

John McCain just had a Bush style photo op in Baghdad, strolling in his protective vest with a couple soldiers and pronouncing how the media is not telling the true story of how safe it is now to wander around that city. But if the cameras pulled back, we would see a hundred heavily armed soldiers clearing the way and intensely guarding him, while overhead three Blackhawk helicopters and two Apache gun ships secured his air space.

The first quarter2007 campaign contributions reports show McCain only in third place in the Republican league, trailing frontrunner Romney by $8.5 million. Many people were surprised that Romney took in almost $21 million, but considering his background and contacts in financial circles, I think it was to be expected. Hilary appears to have led the Democratic league and the majors with $26 million, but Obama has delayed releasing his numbers for a few days as part of his messianic image building.

Bush continues to have trouble getting hits against the pitching of the Supreme Court, even with the two friendly relievers he added to their roster. Yesterday they struck him out on his attempts to let the EPA take a walk on environmental protection. In fact as this NPR report explains, the courts have been doing quite a bit to protect the environment from Bush.

Bush has one more baseball season in the White House before his contract expires. On opening day 2008, if he again avoids the pitcher’s mound, the crowd should go to the White House and give him the thunderous chorus of boos he so definitely deserves - as a prelude to his eventual enshrinement in the Presidential Hall of Shame.