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They’ll Stone You (Revisited)

I was thinking about this great old Dylan song today.  Actually, it is not one of the Dylan songs I would usually call “great”, but I think in reflection that he was onto something.  Here are a few more verses based on some things I’ve noticed.

They’ll stone you if your hair’s a bit too long
They’ll stone you and they’ll say that you are wrong
They’ll stone you if you like the taste of meat
Hell, they’ll stone you, no matter what you eat
But I would not feel so all alone,
Everybody must get stoned.

They’ll stone you if you are lesbian or gay
They’ll stone you, and then say you’re not OK
They’ll stone you, no matter who you love,
They’ll stone you in the name of God above
But I would not…

They’ll stone you if your swimsuit is too small
They’ll stone you if you wear no suit at all
They’ll stone you if you take a sip of wine
They’ll stone you, and make you pay a fine
But I would not…

They’ll stone you if you drive too big a car
They’ll stone you if you smoke a big cigar
They’ll stone you if you wear a bit of fur
They’ll scream and shout and make an awful stir
But I would not…

They’ll stone you if you want to stop the war
They’ll stone you if you want to help the poor
They’ll stone you if you want to tax the rich
Hell, they’ll stone you if you want to scratch an itch
But I would not…

They’ll stone you if you smoke some grass
Get caught, and they will really grab your ass
They tell you that you shouldn’t and you should,
Put you in jail, but just for your own good
But I would not…

They’ll stone you if you drive a truck
They’ll stone you, no matter how you make a buck
Then they’ll stone you if you are short of cash
They’ll say that you’re some kind of trash
But I would not feel so all alone,
Everybody must get stoned.

(c) 2011 – Dan Murphy

The Election – What It Means. Or not.

The election is over and the results are in, with a few interesting exceptions.  On the other hand, “what it means” is as disputed as before the ballots were counted.  Many on the Right claim the vote is a repudiation of the entire Obama agenda.  If that is true, then the election of 1982 was a complete repudiation of the Reagan agenda.  Like we say, it all depends on whose ox is being gored.

Unless there are explicit and precise exit polls to substantiate it, any claim that the voters rejected a particular policy or act of Congress is simply hot air.  That the voters were unhappy with the state of things is, however, indisputable.

There is no evidence that the voters were angered by the health care reform bill per se.  Let us recall that Obama campaigned on that issue specifically.  What he did was deliver on his campaign promise.  Unusual, perhaps, but what voters supposedly want from their candidates. Financial reform? By a large margin, exit polls say that voters blame “Wall Street” for the financial mess, so how could they simultaneously oppose regulation to prevent the excesses that indisputably let to the financial collapse of 2008.

The problem is that those bills, even if you give them the benefit of the doubt, promise better times in the future.  Voters, however, vote based on how things are now.  I say again, NOW.  ‘Now’ still sucks for a great many people, and that was the crux of Tuesday’s vote.  The objection isn’t to those pieces of legislation per se, but rather that Obama and the Congress gave them priority over making things better now.

Politicians of both parties are subject to the same flaw: they believe their own hype, and when they win an election, they believe that the electorate has suddenly embraced their agenda and their philosophy.  Well, in those classic words, “It ain’t necessarily so.”  More likely, and certainly as in 2006, 2008, and 2010, it only means that the electorate is seriously pissed with the incumbents and wants to give them a smack upside the head.  Nonetheless, the winners proceed to proclaim their moral superiority and set about to enact their agenda.  That failed big-time for the Republicans after 1994; one can only hope they remember that lesson.  The Dems certaintly did not remember the lesson they should have learned in 1992-1994.

Here’s the bottom line.  “It’s the economy, stupid!” Just as it was in 1992 when Clinton won because the electorate was unhappy with the economy. Get this: if the economy had improved significantly in the past two years; if the unemployment rate had dropped back to 5-6%, then the Dems would have retained much of their seats and offices, regardless of Obamacare and the other bills that got signed.

The President seems now to be getting it.  In comments from an interview published today, he acknowledges that he failed to communicate effectively to the public about the value of the bills that Congress passed and the prospects for the economy.  That is undeniably true.  And it is a significant disappointment for me that, overall, he as failed as President to be the inspirational and motivating communicator that he was in the campaign.

That said, probably no leader in a democratic society can be so effective as to placate the public when the economy is very bad.  It has been noted that the Democrats loss of seats in the House this mid-term election is the worst since 1938.  1938?  Yes, the mid-term election of FDR’s second term — FDR, the now-legendary President who, through his “Fireside Chats” reassured the American public and gave them hope through the Great Depression.

So yes, Obama needs to get back in touch with the everyday folks, as he said, and be more visible as the guy who is working in their behalf.  Even more important, he needs to have the economy improve a lot by November, 2012.  This may mean compromising the “long term” in favor of what works now.  Be successful and he will join Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton in the ranks of Presidents who survived a setback in the middle of their first term.  Otherwise, he joins one-term Presidents Jimmy Carter and George HW Bush who were ousted because of a troubled economy.

There is a difference and it does matter.

During the 2000 presidential campaign, I knew many people who were saying that there was no real difference between George Bush and Al Gore, so they were casting their vote for Nader.  They knew full well it was only a symbolic gesture, as Nader had no chance of winning or even showing up well enough to worry anyone.

Four years later, I could not find anyone who still thought it wouldn’t have made any difference if Gore had been elected.

We need to keep that in mind as election day dawns this year.  Yes, the economy is still in bad shape; yes, there is a war in Afghanistan that many think we should not be pursuing.  However, let us never for a moment imagine that it couldn’t be any worse.  It could be worse.  Far worse.  I, for one, am quite sure it would be worse if we had continued in the same direction in 2008.

For anyone who voted for Obama and his platform of “change” in 2008, to vote the other way now is to turn around and head back into the swamp.  The ship of state was going in the wrong direction in 2008.  Well, it takes some time to turn a battleship around, and we haven’t finished yet.  Let’s not steer the other way again.

And let us never throw in the towel, saying “there is no difference, so it doesn’t matter”.  Remember 2000.

Naked Emperors and Collapsing Buildings

One of the best known fables is the “Emperor’s New Clothes” by Hans Christian Anderson.  You know, where a couple of shrewd peddlers convinced the Emperor that their fabrics were so fine that only highly intelligent people could see them.  When the Emperor paraded through the town in these “new clothes”, everyone persuaded themselves that they were seeing fine gold threads, lest they be considered stupid.  Or worse, incur the wrath of the Emperor.  It was only when a little boy said, “Hey, the Emperor is naked!” and everybody laughed was the illusion broken.

This story has survived and remains popular because it reveals an essential truth of us human beings: our perception can be profoundly affected by what we want to see, to the point where we can deny what is directly in front of us.

This tendency becomes strongest in the presence of great danger.  We have an instinct to turn to our leaders and see everything as they tell us it is.

This characteristic of human populations is the explanation, and the only explanation, for why a number of events of September 11, 2001 are perceived as inaccurately by most of us today as was the Emperor’s state of dress in the old story.  For several years now, there has been an increasing number of people who are speaking out about the stark inconsistencies between the official explanations and what was seen worldwide on 9/11/01 — and can readily be seen again on dozens or hundred of public videos and photographs from that day.  Unfortunately, questioning the “official explanation” for the events of 9/11/01 is branded a “conspiracy theory” and dismissed without examination like many that preceded it. However, the fact that some conspiracy theories are bogus does not necessarily mean that all are.

What’s different in this situation from the usual conspiracy theory of the past is that there are certain events that can be seen directly by all of us from the old videos and photographs. What is obvious in these images is as much at variance with the “official explanation” as is the Emperor’s actual state of dress with the assertion of fine clothing.  I am speaking specifically of the collapse of three buildings that were part of the World Trade Center complex.

Everyone remembers that the two towers each collapsed some time after being hit by airliners.  Everyone has seen video from several different angles of the tower’s collapse — how suddenly, with no warning, each tower collapsed straight down into its own footprint.  And everyone knows it was that collapse that killed police, firefighters, other rescue workers, and those who had not yet left the building — many more than were killed in the initial airliner strikes.  We were told that the intensity of the fire from the jet fuel melted the core beams of the towers and resulted in the collapse.

The tragedy and trauma of that day and those events has blinded us to the simple fact that the “official explanation” is physically impossible.  Only if one absolutely does not think about it does the official explanation hold up.  Even from a casual observation, it is obvious that the fires were on a few upper stories of the towers and so could not have melted core steel columns simultaneously for all the lower floors.  Even wood-frame houses which catch fire do not collapse completely unless and until fire consumes most of the building.  The WTC towers were not wood, they were steel, and no modern steel skyscraper has ever collapsed, whether from fire or impact or any other accidental reason.

The fact that the collapse of the towers was perfectly symmetrical is also physically impossible as the result of any uncontrolled cause such as fire or impact.  Any such event would invariably weaken one part more than another, and any collapse or partial collapse would result in a lean or sideways fall.  The pattern of collapse of the WTC towers is seen, and only seen, when buildings are intentionally demolished with controlled detonations of high-tech explosives.

A fact less noticed or remembered from 9/11/01 is that a third building collapsed — a building that was not hit by any airplane or other sizable object.  Known as WTC7, it was almost 50 stories in height, and like the towers, collapsed straight-down in a perfectly symmetrical pattern.  Even Dan Rather of CBS remarked at the time that it looked just like the pictures we’ve all seen of planned building demolitions.

So what we have for us all to see again at any time is the collapse of three large buildings in a way that has never occurred except in controlled and planned demolitions.  The official explanations of 9/11/01 simply ignore this plain fact.

Many architects and engineers with years of experience with buildings of this type have substantiated these facts.  A group of over 1000 of them have formed an organization calling for a truly independent Congressional investigation. Their website presents the technical details of all I have said above in great detail, as well as many other disturbing facts that show that the official story is woefully incomplete. Fortunately, you do not have to be an engineer to see the buildings collapse in a way that is only seen in controlled demolitions, just like Dan Rather said. You only have to open your eyes and look.

To say that those buildings collapsed because of internal fires is to say that the Emperor is wearing beautiful clothes with golden threads — because that’s what he has told us, and if our eyes see something different, they must be defective.

We owe it to the friends and relatives of those who died in those buildings on 9/11/01 to pursue the truth of why the buildings collapsed.  Until we know that, we do not know who is really responsible for those deaths.  If you agree, you too can sign the petition of the Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth.

What to do about BP

With all the justifiable anger about the BP oil spill, some people want to see BP just “go out of business.”  While gratifying at some level, at least for a few minutes, I don’t think that would be the most effective thing in terms of business as a whole learning a lesson from this.  It would also penalize a lot of “little people” — people who have investments in BP, if only indirectly through mutual funds and, yes, pension funds and the like.

I believe the best thing is that a number of top executives and any others who made key decisions to shortcut safety procedures (and we know there were such shortcuts despite the huge risks) be fired and, most importantly, not walk away with any golden parachutes or the like.  I also think that at least some of them should be subject to criminal process, and if guilty, fined a very substantial amount of their net worth.

There is no such thing as a “corporate decision”.  All decisions in a corporation are made by individuals based on what they think will come out of it.  Only when the individuals in power know that they themselves will suffer for decisions that damage society, including perhaps spending a long time in jail, will they stop making such decisions.

It’s the same with the big bankers.  They caused massive damage to the economic well-being of millions of people, but with very few exceptions, still have boatloads of money from all their bonuses.  Therefore, given the chance, they will do it again.

Fighting non-crime

“Priest, 7 others held in sex sting”.  That is the headline of a story on the front page of our local small-city newspaper.  It’s sad that we are still doing such things here in the second decade of the 21st century and after 2 or 3 millenniums during which we should have learned that “prostitution” cannot be eliminated by legislation or police enforcement. As reported, the police ran ads in Craigslist offering some kind of sex for money at a specific hotel, and when some potential customers showed up, they were arrested.

Does anyone but me wonder why the Nashua police are spending their time and the taxpayers money cracking down on crime that does not exist? The police statistics say there were only three arrests for prostitution in the last two years — not exactly an epidemic. And why are the police advertising in Craigslist for services they consider illegal? From now on, if you happen to see an ad for sexual services on Craigslist, don’t worry — its probably just the cops.

The more enlightened Western countries have laws to protect buyers and sellers of sexual services from exploitation, not drive them into the underground economy where both are at risk. Apparently, the lawmakers in those countries realize there are worse ways to obtain sex than by paying for it from a willing adult provider.

Who are your friends?

In the last week, both before and after the passage of the Health Care Reform bill, we have seen an amazing display of ugly acts here within our own borders. Last weekend, there were demonstrators on the Capitol steps who hurled racist epithets at members of Congress. Some black members said they hadn’t had that kind of experience since the 50s or 60s during the protest marches in the South.

Reports today include “a fax bearing the image of a noose. Profane voice mails. Bricks thrown, a gas line cut. White powder sent to an office” targeted at members of Congress.

We cannot dismiss these as just acts of a lunatic fringe. They are only possible because of the rabid rhetoric of the Republicans and their sympathizers in their efforts to stop the Health Care bill at all costs.

Let there be no mistake. The Republicans did not act as the loyal opposition, using their offices to influence the process as much as they could for the good of the country. No. Their primary objective was to thwart President Obama, and the country be damned. And their rhetoric — threats of communism, socialism, and apocalypse –  gave aid and comfort to those committing the violence.

These acts of violence deserve to be called terrorism just as much as Taliban guerrillas, Islamist bombers, and Nazi Brownshirts. These are terrorists the same as anyone who uses violence and intimidation in attempting to get what they cannot  get in the democratic process, and they are all — 100% — on the side of the Republicans and egged on by flaming talk show windbags like Rush Limbaugh.

Until the Republicans change their strategy and start putting the country before their political rabble-rousing and fund-raising tactics, they deserve to be judged by the company they keep.

Marriage Equality is the Present and the Future

It is town meeting season here in New Hampshire, and many smaller towns have an article up for consideration by petition to ask for a state-wide vote on a constitutional amendment to define “marriage” in a way that negates the decision of the legislature last year.  Some towns have passed this non-binding resolution; others have discarded it.  I am happy to say that my town did the latter.  Here is what I had to say to the meeting.


Mr. Moderator and citizens of Hollis.  Thank you for the opportunity to speak to this issue.

On the day that the governor signed the gay marriage bill into law, I was proud to live in New Hampshire.  Proud that our state chose to do the right thing using the legislative process and taking action through our elected representatives.  No one can dismiss this change by claiming it is just judges exceeding their authority.

I believe that, in passing this legislation, the legislature was acting in the best traditions of New Hampshire where the rights of the individual are held in high esteem and we go the extra mile to be sure our citizens have the freedom to live their lives as they wish without unnecessary interference from government or other narrow interests.

I was proud again in January that the first gay marriage under the new law was celebrated at my church a few minutes after midnight of the New Year.  I emphasize the word “celebrated”.  It was indeed a joyous occasion, just as many weddings have been here and worldwide throughout history.  Many members of the congregation attended, regardless of their own sexual preference or relationship status.

It pains me to think that there is the slightest possibility that the joy and fulfillment of marriage could again be denied to good citizens who, in this regard, wish for nothing more than most everyone here believes they are entitled to.  It troubles me to think that there are those who would have us step backwards on the long road that we have been traveling as a nation toward true equality for all people.

I am confident that the judgment of history will say that we did the right thing in legislating marriage equality.  I believe that 20, 30, 50 years from now, it will be unthinkable to outlaw gay marriage, just as we now find it unthinkable to outlaw interracial marriage or reinstate segregation.

As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”  I ask that we all stand on the side of justice, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the right of all of our citizens to be treated equally and with respect under the law.

I oppose this resolution.

Thank you.

Health Care Reform Is Not a Socialist Plot

The right wing spin machine is trotting out the usual suspects in opposition to health care reform: “it’s socialist”; “you can’t choose your own doctor”; “you’ll have to wait in line”.

Where have these people been? Some other planet?  They are totally out of touch with the lives of average Americans today.  We already can’t choose any doctor — only the doctors in the insurance plan that our employer chooses.  We already have to wait in line and deal with a massive bureaucracy that questions and disputes our needs.  We are already forced to pay into some system not of our choosing — if indeed we even have that option — or face prohibitive costs for the most basic medical care.

This is not just about the basic fairness of offering health insurance to those who may not currently have a 9-to-5 middle class job.  It is about reducing the massive amount of money that the insurance industry sucks out of the health care system — money that does nothing to provide care or support health.  Make no mistake — the people who sit on the telephone with you, arguing about why they won’t pay your claim, are being paid good salaries, and that money is coming right out of your insurance premiums.

We must reject the fear mongering and move into the community of western nations whose systems work much better than ours.  When “social” security was proposed and adopted, the right-wing opposed it as “socialist”.  They always see government as the problem and never the solution.  No wonder that there are no solutions forthcoming when they are running the government.

To reject health care reform because it might help the less well-off is to cut off our nose to spite our face.  It will help the less well-off and it will benefit the middle class.  And the wealthy may have to pay a bit more.  What exactly is wrong with that??

The Wisdom of Barack Obama

Even before they walked into the meeting at the White House on Thursday, the two men at center of the country’s most recent vignette on race and police power were talking and mending fences. Nobody was demanding or giving apologies. After the meeting, Sgt. Crowley said on live TV that he and Prof. Gates had agreed to meet again for discussions on their respective experiences. Gates said “I hope that we can get to know each other better, as we began to do at the White House this afternoon.”

This was the genius of President Obama. Some say it was a mistake for him to have commented on the issue in his national press conference a week ago. Some say this meeting was political damage control.  I disagree.

I can’t say I believe he planned the whole sequence in advance, but he did choose an initial action with wisdom and commitment, and responded to the outcome with another very wise move. This is the mark of a great chess player or a great statesman. We never know for sure where the roads ahead will lead, but the wise leader has the courage to make the better choice, and the flexibility to adjust course when conditions warrant.

I think Obama was exactly right in making those comments in his national press conference. I think it was a necessary and powerful message to the minorities in the country that the guy now in the White House gets it, and he didn’t check his commitment to truth at the door when he got sworn in.  Some may find it upsetting  that issues of race still exist in this country and must be dealt with, but the leader of courage does what is required, even if it makes some uncomfortable.

At this point, we are a better and wiser nation for the President’s actions in this matter. The initial incident in Cambridge, while regrettable, now serves as a “teaching moment” for us all, with the two initial adversaries now looking to, in the words of Prof. Gates, “utilize the great opportunity that fate has given us to foster greater sympathy among the American public for the daily perils of policing on the one hand, and for the genuine fears of racial profiling on the other hand.”  This would probably not have happened if Obama had simply remained silent on the matter.

World Peace, it is said, begins at home. President Obama has shown exactly what that looks like.