Friday, January 31, 2014

That speech.

To the extent the State of the Union has degenerated into a political pep rally, I'm not sure why we're there.  Chief Justice John Roberts, 2010

George Washington delivered the first State of the Union address, a practice Jefferson stopped and Woodrow Wilson resumed in 1913.  I never miss this annual ritual.  While some presidents are better orators than others, there is a distinct sameness to it.  That includes a good bit of transparent staging with First Lady guests used as rhetorical or emotional props. Most presidents like to balance touting accomplishments with setting legislative agendas and seeking to inspire.  Some are more successful than others, but regardless of party only at the margin.

Pundits and, to borrow from Frank Rich, bloviators are quick to assess these speeches with largely predictable pontification.  In addition to “performance reviews” their comments generally reflect conventional wisdom about a president’s current standing.  Often presidents are measured against how well they deliver on what the individual pundit thinks should have been said.  When too many legislative objectives are put forward (Clinton’s long laundry lists), they complain about that.  When relatively few specifics are given, the speech is judged too general, lacking substance.  Presidents just can’t seem to win.

Barack Obama is one of our best presidential orators, but pundits invariably follow his speeches expressing disappointmenta man with his skills should have done better.  I don’t seem to recall Ronald Reagan — the great communicator — being subjected to similar criticism.  It’s hard to overlook that Obama is often judged against a higher standard just because of who he is.  You know, a guy representing his people should do better, outperform at every occasion.  But let’s no dwell on that here.

You may not agree, but let me go out on a limb here and say that within their particular oratorical capacity, all the presidents I’ve listened to since Eisenhower do relatively as well with the State of the Union.  The opposition response (started in 1966) has always been a mixed bag including some awkward bombs (Jindal’s flat speech in 2009 and Rubio’s water break in 2013), but the headliners tend to perform well, sometimes at their best.  So what interests me more is not so much the president but his audience. 

I don’t often agree with John Roberts, but his 2010 characterization of the State of the Union as “a political pep rally” is spot on.  According to Article 2, Section 3 of the Constitution, the president “…shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the state of the union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary…”  Over the years, this “information of the state of the union” has evolved into mostly political theater.  It is not only “a political pep rally”, but also a highly partisan one that can get silly, even ugly.

To paraphrase the poetic words of  Ecclesiastes 3, there is:
A time for rising and a time for sitting
A time to applaud and a time to refrain from applauding
A time to cheer and a time to jeer.
Those times during the State of the Union are dictated by what a president says, but more so by the political divide.  The rote and predictable gymnastics of rising and sitting often borders on the comical.  Just keep your eye on the awkward Vice President and Speaker who don’t quite know when to tag along.  Rising, normally reserved for recognizing the extraordinary, loses any meaning with indiscriminate repetition.  When Obama makes a point, Republicans in the chamber tend not only to refrain from applauding; they seem to be sitting on their hands.  George W. Bush experienced the same thing, but in reverse.  Audible jeering is rare, but even in its implied state, makes for a pretty ugly scene.

Partisan reactions to presidential speeches have always been there, but the bitter nature of partisanship since the GOP was taken over by fringe rightists has heightened the divide, made it more consistent and raw.  So the yeas and nays are more numerous, vocal and predictable than ever before.  Nonetheless, there are moments of unity when the entire chamber erupts in applause and in demonstrative standing.  Togetherness abounds when presidents evoke American Exceptionalism.  That may be a straightforward, “America is the greatest” or a patriotic bow to our military — thank you for your sacrifice.  And, it happened when Obama referred to our Olympic team bringing home the gold.  That evoked not only standing cheers but also barnyard chants of USA, USA, USA.

Indeed, the one thing that seems to unite us is this claim of exceptionalism.  It is routinely taken as fact, never questioned or scrutinized.  I have great pride in the land of my birth, in its enduring Constitution and in its people.  We certainly have a lot going for us in comparison with other nations, perhaps even more than most.  But to claim “we’re the greatest” or that “we’re exceptional” is so boastful, so lacking in humility, that at the very least we should feel obliged to regularly put it to test.  I’m not talking here about proving the claim to others, but soberly looking in the mirror and asking if we can substantiate the words to ourselves.

For many Americans, regardless of party, any suggestion that we should question our exceptionalism constitutes blasphemy.  That’s terribly sad.  In fact, I would submit that it could ultimately be suicidal.  Whenever I hear a politician make that “we’re the greatest” claim, it strikes me that she/he is mouthing a platitude and that we’re essentially talking to ourselves.   It’s bad enough when we tell ourselves a story, but really dangerous when we believe our own myth.  How can we expect to “perfect our union” if we aren’t honest with ourselves about how and where it falls short, where it isn’t exceptional?

There have been great empires throughout human history but none have shown themselves to be invulnerable.  Empire is one of those loaded terms.  The British relished it; we have always eschewed it.  We argue that empire neither reflects our reality or intentions.  Let’s not get distracted by semantics.  Empire or not, we have been a or the dominant world power for some time. 

There are many reasons why dominant powers lose their grip, but a sure sign of decline is when an empire nation’s rhetoric and self-proclaimed greatness no longer matches reality.  In the twentieth century, Britain touted its global empire long beyond the time when the title had largely morphed into hollow symbolism.  The Soviets proclaimed its superpower parity, while imploding from within and losing their grip on subservient Satellites.  Both were talking to themselves, telling a story that some of their people still believed or wanted to believe.  The story itself was a killer.

Are we doing the same thing?  Are we really exceptional, the greatest country on the face of the earth?  You be the judge, but I’d suggest that if we want to keep on saying those things we had better address the shortfalls that might one day metastasize into self-inflicted mortal flaws.  Sure we have great universities, but our education system is falling behind and in some respects never matched up to the best around the globe.  We have great medicine including leading edge discovery, but our healthcare system fails to touch all and is delivered at an astronomical cost.  We have no better and sometimes worse outcomes than countries that spend far less.  Our government has become so politicized that it is dysfunctional, not a banana republic or an Italy yet but seemingly heading in that direction.  Economic inequality is growing exponentially headed I fear to a tipping point that could produce the kind of angry disruptions that have undone earlier empires.  We boast democracy and being the greatest when most citizens feel they are losing their grip on their own future and the nation’s direction.  I could go on, but you get the point.

Are we the greatest, the exceptional, nation?  In my lifetime, despite having become the world’s solo superpower, I think less so.  As the past has shown, dominance tends to be fleeting.  Fleeting it will always be, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be extended, can’t be renewed.  I believe it can and should, but first we have to stop talking to ourselves, boasting to ourselves and admit to what’s broken and desperately needs to be fixed.  What time is it?  It’s time to consider the real state of our union.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014


That Jamie Dimon got an $8M raise bringing his 2013 salary to $20M in the aftermath of JP Morgan’s shelling out billions to settle misdeeds is beside the point.  And that Dimon is charismatic or considered a star in the banking world is equally so.  Dimon is overpaid. Anyone who works, especially at a taxing job with considerable responsibility knows how hard that can be.  We understand that embedded in the idea of a career ladder is the expectation that the higher up we get, the more we will earn.  After all, the place relies on our leadership and the burden of performance is greater.  But $20M for a single year’s work — that’s about $55,000 a day assuming one works seven days a week, which we don’t.  Give us a break.

Dimon’s overly generous salary is hardly unique.  It actually pales in comparison with some of his fellow CEOs.  Before getting to that, I should note that because of the different ways companies report and analysts calculate (some include options, others don’t) it’s hard to get a consistent “apples to apples” handle on  compensation.  I am using and relying on listings compiled by Forbes Magazine and Bloomberg.  While some companies question their calculations (especially the treatment of stocks and options) both tabulations are well worth a look.  Check out the links.

Forbes, which closely follows the super-rich and super-compensated, listed McKesson’s John Hammergren as 2011’s top earner with a total take home of about $131M.  That’s right, $359K a day.  To be fair, without disputing the number, his company questions attributing all those earnings to a single year.  I won't get into that.  The important thing is that Forbes applies their methodology consistently.  Using it, they report that fifty-three other top executives were paid more than Dimon.  Interestingly, despite the conventional perception that Wall Streeters are raking in the most, drug and biotech CEOs actually take home 2.5 times as much as bankers.

To say that Mr. Dimon and his compatriots are overpaid is, in my view, a gross understatement.  Ask yourself, how much harder are they working than the multitude of women and men in their companies who come in daily, often putting in extra hours with no extra compensation?  Okay, Dimon may work harder than many and carry a heavier corporate burden, but $55,000 a day — more than most Americans earn in a year? Bloomberg may use a somewhat different methodology, but their calculation compares a CEO’s compensation with that of his/her company’s average wages.  Their listing is for 2012 when Hammergren’s take home seems to have fallen in to $40M ($110K at day), 733 times the McKesson’s average compensation of $54K.  This multiple calculation is revealing, often shocking.  Ron Johnson (whom JC Penny subsequently fired for poor performance) was earning highest take home of all company CEOs — 1,795 times more than Penny’s average employee.  Astounding.

And then there is the issue of pay raises, which have become so scarce or puny that we have generally seen wage stagnation.  In 2011, according to Forbes, “…the chief executives of the 500 biggest companies…got a collective pay raise of 16%...to $5.2 billion. This compares with a 3% pay raise for the average American worker.”  So not only are these executives earning many times more than employees, they are also getting much higher percentage pay raises.  You don’t have to be a genius mathematician to figure out that over the years this differential takes on a huge multiplier effect further exacerbating and widening income inequality.  These are important numbers because, while there is certainly a gap between the 1% and the poor, the overarching and crucial gap is between people at the top and the millions of working people below, often in the same companies.  Income inequality is stretching and often eliminating the middle class.  That touches virtually of us and in multiple ways.

Some people argue, and perhaps rightly so, that multibillion dollar fines imposed on Dimon’s bank notwithstanding, the government has not done enough to prosecute Wall Streets misdeeds.  But also true, and in some ways equally disturbing, is that bank directors have done little or nothing to hold upper management, especially CEOs, accountable.  If Washington is filled with lobbyists and office holders waiting to become lobbyists, and it is, management’s cronies generally populate and control corporate boards.  It is an incestuous relationship where the same directors sit on multiple boards and that includes CEOs.  It’s a buddy system. You sit on my board and I’ll be on yours. You watch my back and I’ll watch yours.  So, in what amounted to a gentle “slap on the wrist” for an arguably gross performance shortfall Dimon’s board reduced his 2012 pay to $12M (about $33K a day).  Wow, that really hurts!

Those 1-percenters, politicians and pundits who decry and classify talk of income inequality, as “class warfare” should be ashamed.  That anyone, for example, may question why (according to Bloomberg) CBS’s Les Moonves is making 1,111 times the salary of his company’s average employee, is not class warfare.  It’s looking at this glaring disparity and coming to the logical, and I’d argue objective, conclusion that there is something very wrong with this picture.  To put it bluntly, the compensation of many CEOs is an obscene manifestation of unfettered greed.  Don’t get me wrong.  CEOs should absolutely be making more than the average employee and even more than the senior executives on their team, but these numbers are simply and blatantly way out of any reasonable proportion.  It is hard to justify them and keep a straight face.

Of course, corporate directors and so-called compensation experts do justify them, which only shows how out of control and routine this money grab has become.  It seems that they, and those who have shrugged this inequity off as “just the way it is” have lost any and sense of values.  Shouldn’t there be some semblance of even-handedness in assessing an individual’s contribution and worth for a year’s work?  Again, I’m not suggesting that there shouldn’t be some premium, even a considerable but appropriate differential.  On Bloomberg’s charting of 250 CEOs pay ratios, William Sullivan of Agilent Technologies has the lowest, only 173x — $10M (27.4K a day) vs. employees averaging $58.6K.  Does that meet the smell test?

Calling our growing outrage about income inequality “class warfare” is a smokescreen.  If there is any war here, let’s be clear that it’s those at the top getting those huge payouts and their enablers who are well armed.  In a corporate setting, they hold all the cards.  They buy influence whether its the current PAC spending of the billionaire Koch brothers or the self-funding a Michael Bloomberg uses to thwart enacted term limits to gain an extra term as mayor of New York (not to mention the office itself).  They do what ordinary people — and that means most all of us — can’t.   Not only are they unwilling to let go, they fight tooth and nail to hold on, often with a good degree of arrogance.  Employees of their companies fear them and so do we.  Perhaps, like buying a lottery ticket, we don’t cry out because we hope, if they can do it, so can I.  But we know, or should know, for 99% of us that’s mostly an illusion.  It’s an American Dream that seems to be dimming with every passing year.

Singling out Jamie Dimon from a cohort that has collectively acted in much the same way — demanded and happily accepted more than their due — may seem unfair.  Don't' feel bad, I think he can handle the kitchen’s heat.  Dimon may be smart.  He may be well regarded on The Street, but he isn’t our hero and he certainly shouldn’t be our society’s role model.  American CEO’s may be doing good work, but I think they are grossly overpaid while most Americans are being left behind.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Liberalism: the challenge.

Liberals were thrilled when 2012 Massachusetts voters sent Elizabeth Warren to the US Senate.  Her victory was particularly sweet both because she defeated the once Tea Party darling Scott Brown and that she reclaimed the seat held for decades by Liberal Lion Ted Kennedy.  Perhaps Senator Warren’s victory signaled a shift in the political landscape.

If the Warren vote seemed a ray of light for liberals, the 2013 election of Bill DeBlasio as New York’s first Democratic mayor in twenty years made it only brighter.  An unabashed liberal, his Tale of Two Cities campaign theme resonated in a city where income inequality stands in such sharp relief.  The new mayor’s predecessors — Republican Rudy Giuliani and poster person of the 1% Michael Bloomberg — had come to office with very different backgrounds and philosophy.  Further evidence of a shift in the political landscape?

Perhaps, but some words of caution are in order.  Warren won in a pretty reliably blue state, the only one captured by McGovern in 1972.  Despite the concentration of wealth in Manhattan, New York is hardly a bastion of the Right.  Also, and this should really give us pause, DeBlasio was elected with the city’s lowest ever (24% of eligible voters) turnout.  That is most troubling especially when so many elections today are pretty much pre-decided in the primary season.  All too often only a fraction of the population determines how, and by whom, we are governed.  While DeBlasio’s low turnout may be attributed to polls projecting a no-contest blowout, we should never accept that as an excuse for not meeting our citizen obligation.

It is remarkable how quickly things can change in this connected age.  In the public arena, the best example is the stunning and unexpected pace with which marriage equality is spreading across the land.  But we should not be fooled by this anomaly.  Shifting widespread electorate sentiment is something else entirely.  Here the status quo is so deeply embedded that real change still moves at a snails pace.  Add to that the success that conservatives have had in discrediting the word “liberal”.  DeBlasio proudly stood under its banner but most candidates/officeholders are loath to do so, even when liberal fits their ideology and actions.  Being thought of as a “centrist” is so much less controversial, so much safer.  Think Bill Clinton.  The really sad and frustrating thing is that while rank and file liberals like to talk (and criticize), they often shun activism or even their responsibility to cast votes.  The Right has its Tea Party movement; the Left has none or at least none that grows or sustains — think Occupy.

So the Warren and DeBlasio votes are only small first steps, signs of a possible shift that need to be tested if they are to be expanded.  In that context, despite the national stage on which senators play, the DeBlasio vote may be more important or more telling.  To say public offices are not the same may be stating the obvious, but there is a huge difference between being a legislator and being a chief executive officer (president, governor or mayor).  Senator Warren is one among one hundred.  From time to time legislators pass laws (remember those days) and they do engage in oversight or constituent service.  But what they do most is talk, regularly (in the Senate) to a camera and largely empty chairs. What they never have to do is deliver on that talk in the sense of making the trains run on time.  Senators, whether named Warren or say McCain, can freely express their (and often our) views in the most direct and ideologically pure way.  We love (or loathe) them for it, but we have little idea of what they might do if charged with getting those trains going.  Almost without exception, they are destined to disappoint if and when taking on that task.  This isn’t because their overriding views necessarily change, though that sometimes happens, but that talking about the rails and keeping cars on the track are two different things.  Purity goes out the window when the nitty-gritty of execution sets in.

Just days in office, Bill DeBlasio has already discovered this reality.  Removing snow from the streets of a huge spread out city is a challenge.  For years people in New York’s outer boroughs or living on narrow streets, DeBlasio among them, have complained that their area wasn’t getting equal attention.  Well, New Yorkers were complaining again, this time residents of Manhattan’s Upper East Side, a haunt of the 1% unused to inattention.  They complain and more importantly they read into what’s not happening (or what is).  In this case, the streets were snowbound because the new liberal mayor is against the rich.  Right.

Bloomberg, a Republican at the time, was the object of similar complaints as have been mayors of all cities throughout our history.  Citizens, having voted or not, are unsparing in judging those who govern.  Governors and presidents are similarly held accountable (think Bush and Katrina), but their portfolio is larger which usually provides them with some degree of cover.  Not so with mayors.  We expect our garbage to be picked up and we know who is at fault when it isn’t.  As an avowed liberal, DeBlasio faces a special burden in the context of a larger environment where liberalism has been so discredited.  Snowstorms aside, sure a successful businessman like Bloomberg can manage and deliver, but can a liberal?  Not only his city but the country will be watching.  I don’t envy him either the messy task of running New York where I spent most of my adult life or the visibility.

And without overstating it, the symbolic stakes are high.  So are the risks.  I have noted in earlier posts how this difference in campaigning and governing has impacted Obama.  He came to office being perceived of as a liberal, though he didn’t run under that banner.  Calling for change — yes we can — in the face of a conservative incumbent let us fill in the blanks.  But effective governing requires a kind of pragmatism that, aside from the mechanics that produce victory, is largely absent from campaigns.  And as I have written before, liberals and all Democrats face a special burden in proving not only that they can run things but that they are not soft on, for example, national security.   DeBlasio campaigned against stop-and-frisk but he will be expected to keep crime in check without it.

The new liberal mayor has also decried development in Manhattan and elsewhere that is skewed toward the wealthy and is pricing out both the middle class and poor.  Walk through New York today and you’ll feel the city is one uninterrupted construction zone.  And speaking of zone, the Bloomberg administration was successful in changing the zoning of many areas which previously had limited such development.  Redirecting that building boom to allow for greater affordable housing will be very difficult.  With permits in hand and zoning changed, developers will unlikely reconfigure their plans much less stop.  The election of a liberal mayor can’t change that and as Barack Obama recently reminded the New Yorker’s David Remnick, executive power is far more limited than one might think.  DeBlasio supporters near and far, especially the purists, will at times be disappointed.  In the end, he is likely to be judged not on whether he could turn a huge ship stuck in a narrow straight but if he managed the behemoth reasonably well and, yes, got rid of the snow.  Meeting that test will help move the cause for liberalism further.

There is talk of Elizabeth Warren running for president.   A chance for an avowed liberal to take on the big job.  We certainly know what her ideology might be expected to bring to the office, but have no idea how she would actually perform.  That can be said of all would-be presidents.  She may be some liberals' hope, but there seems to be a growing groundswell by the liberal establishment to finally crown Hillary Clinton at the 2016 convention.  When it comes to selecting candidates, parties behave more like sitting mayors, governors and presidents than legislators.  They tend, or try to be, pragmatic — not what someone says or her/his ideology, but who they think can win.  They also, and this is especially true for Republicans, often give the nod to those who paid their dues — ran unsuccessfully for the nomination before and are now entitled to the grand prize.  That doesn’t always work out so well (Dole, McCain, Romney and John Kerry).

Leaving aside the question of dynasty, Clinton is more a credentialed centrist than a liberal.  Despite finally disavowing the Iraq war and being our lead diplomat, she remains at heart more hawk than dove.  She generally lobbied for intervention and escalation.  A tireless traveler and effective relationship builder, her substantive accomplishments at State were limited.  If Secretary Kerry is successful in any and certainly all of his bold initiatives, that modest record may not stand up well in contrast.  While a big if given the odds, one would hope hard fast commitments won’t be prematurely made.  Will I vote for a Clinton nominee, and with a high degree of confidence and enthusiasm?  I will.   The choice I made for Obama over Clinton was a hard one, not the least because I believe we are way overdue having a Ms. President in the White House.  Will her nomination or victory advance a resurgence of liberalism in America?  Not so much, or not as much as I and many others would like.  That said, the obvious Democratic bench is small (in large measure do to the assumed Clinton ascension), so we may have to wait a little longer.  After all, losing the presidency would be much more costly and not only for liberalism.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Before going on.

Too often we hold fast to the clichés of our forebears.  We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.

John F. Kennedy spoke those words in his 1962 Yale commencement address.  They are very much on my mind in preparing to go forward with this year's blog posts.  What he said then could be broadly applied — to any of us and any year — but they seem especially appropriate to our time.  Admit it or not, for all our technologically enabled modernity we so often and readily revert to past clichés.  In the current polarized environment we routinely subject facts and almost anything we encounter to our prefabricated set of interpretations.  And perhaps all too often — and that applies to this and other forms of punditry — we do enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.

In a world synthetically and simplistically painted in blacks and whites, it's easy to succumb to jumping on the bandwagon, to claiming as Johnny Nash's 1972 lyric would have it, "I can see clearly now".  And what we can see so clearly is that my truth is the truth.  Avoiding the discomfort of thought, includes considering that those taking a different road may do so for good reason, aren't prima fascia misguided or malevolent.  This is not to suggest in any way that we shouldn't have convictions or should refrain of expressing them clearly and forcefully.  It's only that we should tread with some measure of humility.  We shouldn't see self-doubt or sometimes not towing the party line as a sign of weakness or, as we often do, automatically dismiss others out of hand.  As the new pop star Francis might put it: who, after all, are we to judge others?  And don't get me wrong.  I plead guilty to all these things — knowing from where I speak.

In his 1961 inaugural address Kennedy proclaimed: "Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate".  His admonition came against the backdrop of the Cold War, a time when fear both existed and was widely promoted to prevent us from even considering the other side.  In our time it isn't so much a matter of fear.  Rather we seem to have lost our confidence to engage, to "negotiate", with those of different views.  More to the point here, we who write or speak with an underlying point of view, in my case progressive liberalism, seem more concerned with a kind of orthodox purity than in having the facts, taking them into account, and reaching a fair conclusion.  We jump to opinion rather than being troubled with discomforting thought.  Anything that puts our cherished cliché in doubt is verboten.

Our world and indeed life itself is far from black and white.  It presents itself in complex Technicolor.  So even what seems so simple and clear is far more nuanced than we make it out to be.   Let's, for example, take the Tea Party.  I find nothing in common with their rightist ideology and believe they have had a very negative impact on the Congress and elsewhere closer to home.  But the Tea Party represents an authentic and widespread anger in the land, a sense that our government has not served us well.  In that they have something profoundly in common with the Occupy movement.  Both feel their way of life, the rules of their game, slipping away.  For the largely white Protestant Teas, a dramatic shift in demographics means they can no longer expect to be in absolute control, to have things the clichéd way of their forebears.  For the largely middleclass Occupiers, they see economic inequity translating into being cut off from their promised American dream, the one upon which their forebears could count.  You all know the details of each side's concerns.  The point here is that, while their core philosophy and solutions may be diametrically different, there is a commonly held rejection of the "status quo" (including government policy) in what motivates them.  Of course, given their opposing ideologies, neither group would admit to this.  Perhaps for strategic reasons they can't, but we self-proclaimed pundits  — which is what we bloggers are — shouldn't refrain from pointing it out.  We shouldn't fear to negotiate the complexities.  We work without editors and that gives us a special responsibility to temper both our clichés and opinion, however strongly held, with the discomfort of thought.

A second example of the complex and nuanced is Edward Snowden.  The title of my June 8, 2013 post posed a rhetorical question, "Traitor of Hero".  Seeing it so clearly then, I responded without hesitation, "Hero: no contest".  What followed that writing was a saga that gave me some pause, specifically whether my "hero, no question" had been perhaps premature.  Snowden had violated his employment agreement and the trust of those who gave him access to classified materials.  His post-revelation travel odyssey ultimately took him to Russian, hardly the bastion of free speech or a country that doesn't engage actively in invasive spying on their own citizens and other countries. To say the least, there seems something contradictory, even hypocritical, in his choices.  I don't find Snowden very likable.  But that isn't the point or even relevant.  While I prefer the "Whistle-Blower" characterization in the recent NY Times editorial over "hero", I haven't changed my mind.  The case is complex but I agree totally with their conclusion.  He should be allowed "a plea bargain or some form of clemency that would allow him to return home".  Whistleblowers all have nuanced stories, sometimes ego-serving ones, but our democracy depends on them.

Equally so, putting my views out there in cyberspace is an expression of democracy.  But, in my view, with it comes an obligation: to engage as much in the discomfort of thought as in opinion.  We may come down on one side or the other — the Teas have a rightest philosophy and agenda, Snowden is a whistle blower — but we should not lock ourselves into the cliché’s of our forebears or for that matter of our own ideological clan.  Can I meet that test in 2014 and beyond?  I hope so and will surely try.  I am depending on you not to let me stray from that path.

My book Transcenders: Living beyond religion and the religion wars is available in print and as an eBook.  Both versions are available at Amazon; the electronic iBooks version can be found at iTunes; a Nook version at Barnes & Noble.