Commentaries for Steve Conners'
"The Voice of Reason"

 KDBD Radio, Reno, Nevada


From early November, 2005, to early February, 2006, it was my honor and pleasure to give brief commentaries for Steve Conners' radio program at KDBD in Reno, Nevada.  The texts of those remarks follow below.  Unfortunately, KDBD has discontinued broadcasting.

Those familiar with some of my Crisis Papers essays will find that many of these commentaries are adapted from those essays, or from my book in progress, Conscience of a Progressive.

 The sources will be noted and linked.

November 9, 2005

“The Americans will always do the right thing” Winston Churchill once remarked, “after they’ve exhausted all the alternatives.”

For five years, the Karl Rove's output of smoke and mirrors has worked spectacularly well. A majority of the public was falsely persuaded that Saddam Hussein had Weapons of Mass Destruction, was somehow behind the 9/11 attacks and was an active agent of al Qaeda. At the same time, the skeletons of Bush’s past were all kept hidden in the closet. A package of lies about Al Gore was concocted to “prove,” ironically, that Gore was a “serial liar.” John Kerry, an authentic war hero, was successfully portrayed as a coward and a fake.

Thus did the Bush message machine vanquish the Democratic opposition and reduce it to pathetic impotence. However, there was one adversary that Bush, Inc. could not defeat: reality. And at long last, reality is retaliating and the public is taking notice.

Ever so gradually, public opinion has shifted and now the critics and skeptics are in the majority, as Bush's approval ratings sink to the mid-thirties. No longer can dissenters be successfully branded as traitors who “hate America.” More and more of us are remembering that America was born out of resistance to tyranny and has flourished through dissent and open debate. Protest is once again becoming fashionable, and there is a whiff of possible success in the air. The message to the media? “Lead, follow, or step out of the way. You have made yourselves irrelevant.”

Can we, the American people, restore our Constitution, and win back our country? There are no guarantees, and the Bush regime, though injured, still has formidable weapons at its disposal.

However, for the first time since the Supreme Court handed the presidency to George Bush, in 2000 this malignant regime is vulnerable. At this moment of opportunity, resignation and apathy are inexcusable.

Always remember: only we the people of the United States can restore the honor of our country.

"The Sleeping Giant Stirs"

November 16, 2005

Many citizens who, like myself, believe that the 2004 election was stolen, are acutely discouraged by the refusal of the mainstream media to even mention the issue of ballot integrity, much less investigate it. Even so, it is possible that election reform could soon become the dominant domestic issue. .

To begin, Bush is beginning to lose the support of the business sector, as smart business types are coming to realize that Bushenomics is bad for business -- except, of course, for the oil and defense industries. First of all, Bush's unpopularity abroad is seriously affecting the sales of American products. And furthermore, as Bush's policies move ever more cash from the middle and poor classes up to the super-rich, consumer cash flow is bound to decrease, leading to a likely collapse in the economy. In a depression, everybody loses.

Add to this the non-economic disasters that Bush, Inc., has brought about: the Iraq War, the torture scandals, the loss of civil liberties, the decline of social services and public education, etc. Finally, as the polls report, more and more of the public is losing confidence and trust in the Bush administration.

Things can only continue to get worse for Bush -- trust that is lost can never be recovered. With Tom DeLay and Scooter Libby indicted and Dick Cheney discredited, added to the recent election returns, Bush is losing control of the Congress and the Republican party.

How does this impact electoral reform? As political and economic conditions deteriorate, the public will be looking ever more desperately for a way out -- a way to throw out this whole sorry excuse of a government. As this happens, the very idea that they took office and now hold power illegitimately will become ever-more attractive. The media will likely continue to resist and ignore the issue, but as public outrage and lack of confidence in the ballot grows, the media will face the choice: lead, follow, or step aside and get out of the way.

"The truth is out there," the evidence of voting fraud is compelling, and yet, until now, the public has been in denial. Once election fraud becomes thinkable, we may reach a tipping point wherein election fraud becomes THE number one issue. Then media silence and the debunking from the right-wing pundits will no longer matter.

Let us hope. Still better, let's do our best to bring it about. Let's take back our government!

November 23, 2005

History provides an unending chronicle of the ruthless suppression of so-called “human error” in behalf of "God's truth" (the latter in exclusive possession of "me and my faction"). "My way" (which is to say, God's way) "or no way!" We see this today in Northern Ireland, Kosovo, Israel-Palestine, Afghanistan under the Taliban, and Saudi Arabia.. And we are beginning to see this in the United States, as leaders of the religious right demand that the ten commandments be codified as the foundation of our laws, and furthermore that our government officially proclaim that ours is a "Christian nation."

Far better that we follow the good advice of the founders of our republic who wrote and ratified in the First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

An escape from civil and international strife is as simple as it is unlikely. It consists of the acceptance by a "critical mass" of the public and its leaders of just two elements:

First, acknowledge that someone, somewhere, has a contrary religious or philosophical belief, which he or she embraces with a fervor and certainty equal to, or possibly even greater than, our own. (In fact, such individuals number in the billions, and they are everywhere).

And then entertain a possibility, however difficult to believe, that this other individual just might be right and we just might be wrong – or even that all of us frail mortals are mistaken in at least some small degree about our fundamental religious convictions.

That much accomplished, then we can proceed with our lives, firm in our convictions, but tolerant of others and willing in principle to alter our beliefs in the face of superior evidence and argument.

An enduring aspect of Judeo-Christian morality calls this "humility," and regards it a virtue.

Scientists call this "the falsifiability principle." It is a firm foundation both for scientific investigation and for the "domestic tranquility" aspired to in our Constitution. And it should suffice for enlightened religious faith.

Conscience of a Progressive, Chapter 14, "How Would Jesus Vote?"

November 30, 2005

In the play and movie, “A Man for all Seasons,” Robert Bolt dramatizes the life and martyrdom of Thomas More. When More’s son-in-law suggests that he defy the law, More replies:

"[Would you] cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ... And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you, where would you hide.., the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws from coast to coast..., and if you cut them down... do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I give the Devil benefit of law for my own safety's sake."

Thomas More, a legal scholar, believed that so long as he remained silent, the law would protect him, even from the sovereign, Henry VIII. But when that law became subordinate to and a political weapon of that sovereign, Thomas More's fate was sealed.

The founders of our Republic resolved that the inalienable rights of every citizen would be protected by the equal application of the rule of law. They understood that in a just state the rule of law is above politics; the law sets the rules and defines the constraints of acceptable political activity.

The blindfolded Lady Justice makes no distinctions: all are to be protected equally by the law. And when the blindfold is torn off and the scales of justice are weighted in favor of the rich and powerful, and against the opposing parties and dissenting citizens, then the lowliest citizen is not safe. Worse still, when that citizen comes to appreciate this fact, he will no longer look to the law for justice and protection. Law, for the citizen, will then have ceased to be his protector, and will instead have become his oppressor - a political tool of a sovereign that has thus forfeited his right to govern. "When in the course of human events" such misfortune befalls a public, the time has come to replace the government -- peacefully if possible, but forcibly if necessary.

If you disagree, then your argument is not with me, it is with all the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Conscience of a Progressive, Chapter 18,  "Morality and the Law"

December 6, 2005

This was an important day in the life of Congressman Bob Ney, the newly appointed Majority leader of the House of Representatives. He had to catch an early flight from Ohio to Washington, in time to lead the fight in Congress to protect us all against the encroachment of "Big Government" in our personal lives.

And so, upon awaking to his clock-radio, he learned from the US Weather Service that the flying weather was ideal. He then enjoyed a hearty breakfast of ham and eggs, certified Grade A by the US Department of Agriculture, and dutifully took his daily prescriptions, pronounced safe and effective by the Food and Drug Administration. While at the table, he checked the stock quotes in the morning paper, assured by the Securities and Exchange Commission that he had not been swindled. On the way to the airport, he stopped at the bank to take out some pocket money, and was not at all surprised to find that his account was intact, as guaranteed by The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation .

His flight took off on time and without incident, after the aircraft had been certified as safe, and his flight cleared for take-off, by personnel of the Federal Aviation Agency.

Three hours later, Congressman Ney arrived at "Reagan National Airport" safe, healthy and financially secure, thanks to all the above "big government bureaucracies" and still others too numerous to mention.

Firm in his determination to relieve his fellow citizens of the burdens of big government, Bob Ney then led the successful fight to return fifty billion dollars of federal taxes "to the people" (more than half of it to the wealthiest two-percent of "the people.")

In his second debate with Al Gore in 2000, George Bush said: "I think you can spend your money more wisely than the federal government can.”

Sometimes? Of course. Always? No way! I am not prepared to devote the time and expense, or to gain the expertise, to set up a laboratory in my basement to determine if my food and drugs are safe and effective. Nor can I run off to Wall Street and carry out a private investigation to find out if my investments are safe from violations of the securities laws, nor am I qualified to check the innards of a passenger jet to see if it is flight-worthy, and I have no idea how to direct air traffic.

In all these cases, and countless more, I will readily concede that I am less qualified than the appropriate government agencies to "spend my tax money."

"Mr. DeLay Goes to Washington"

January 11, 2006

Twenty-one hundred of our fighting men dead. Over ten thousand wounded. An estimated one hundred thousand Iraqis killed.

What cause could be worth this dreadful price?

As I ponder this question, I recall the scene in Shakespeare’s play Henry the Fifth, wherein Henry the King walks through the camp of his ragged and vastly outnumbered army on the night before the Battle of Agincourt.

The king, disguised by a cloak of one of his officers, sits at a campfire, and hears the following reflection by Will, a common soldier:

If the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make; when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in a battle, shall join together at the latter day, and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afraid there are few die well that die in a battle: for how can they charitably dispose of anything when blood is their argument! Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it.

In the Iraq war, the official “cause” changes with the season: first, the threat of weapons of mass destruction, then the overthrow of a despot, then fighting terrorism, then bringing democracy. And next? Who can say?

        “But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make...”

Was George Bush, like King Henry, burdened by the weight of his decision to go to war? Did he reflect upon the American and Iraqi lives that would be lost -- "some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left?"  Did he think of the bodies about to be horribly and permanently disabled and disfigured?

Did George Bush, like Henry at Agincourt and like Dwight Eisenhower on June 5, 1944, the eve of D-Day, walk among and look into the eyes of the troops he was about to send into battle, and in all too many instances, to their deaths?

Was he willing to face the consequences of this sorry business by honoring with his official presence, the coffins (called "transfer tubes") as they arrived at Dover Air Force Base? Or by attending a funeral of a young soldier killed as a result of Bush's decision to go to war?

I trust we all know the answers to these questions. They are in the public record.

Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it.”

"Henry and George"

If you hand a building inspector an envelope with $10,000 in it and ask him to please overlook the code violations in your apartment building, you are breaking the law, and if the inspector turns that envelope over to an honest DA, you are likely headed for the slammer.

And the same result may await you if you hand a Senator ten grand in exchange for his vote on a housing bill.

But if, instead, you hand that cash over to the same Senator's campaign committee, with the same express purpose of "purchasing" influence and legislation, you are exercising your "First Amendment Right" to free speech.

That is how the Supreme Court ruled in 1976 in Buckley v. Valeo: "cash is speech." But if so, then one's "speech" (which is to say, one's influence with the Congress) is proportional to one's wealth.

Should we apportion political clout with wealth? If so, then it follows that the CEO of a major corporation who earns 400 times as much in a year as the ordinary worker, is entitled to 400 votes, to the single vote of us ordinary peons.

That suggestion is outrageous on its face: Our political traditions and morality forbid such inequality. Fundamental to that tradition is the belief that each citizen counts for one, and no citizen counts for more than one. It is written over the entrance to the Supreme Court: "Equal Justice Under Law."

Why, then, are some citizens and numerous corporations (legally recognized as "persons") permitted to purchase disproportionate access to and influence on our legislators? Must we concede that some citizens are "more equal than others"?

The "free speech" arguments against campaign finance reform are spurious. The right to free speech is not absolute, since all would agree that "the right to free speech" does not allow for slander or for malicious mischief (as with the celebrated example of shouting "fire" in a crowded theater). Why then should it allow for bribery? Why should a ruling that "cash as speech" be permitted to effectively confine access to elected officials to the wealthy and to special interests?

Private and corporate financing of election campaigns lies at the root of the corruption of the United States Congress, typified by the shenanigans of Jack Abramoff.

The remedy is simple and straightforward: public financing of political campaigns -- a practice routinely in force in most countries with free and contested elections. Cash handed over to a politician, either elected or seeking office, for whatever purpose, should be recognized for what it is: bribery. Cash to a congressman in exchange for his vote is illegal. Cash to a congressman's campaign fund in exchange for his vote is not illegal. But both are bribes.

As Michael Kinsley wisely said, "the real scandal is not what is illegal but rather what is legal."

A Bribe by Any Other Name

February 8, 2006

What is a "patriot"?

Washington, Jefferson, Paine, those who pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honor by signing the Declaration of Independence – all these come to mind. But what about Colonel Klaus von Stauffenberg, whose failed attempt on Adolf Hitler's life cost the Colonel his life? Or Andrei Sakharov in the Soviet Union. More recently, how would we characterize John Dean during the Watergate affair, or Daniel Ellsberg during the Vietnam war? How would we characterize Joseph Wilson and Richard Clarke today?

The dominant meaning of "patriotism" today seems to be "support of our nation's leadership during this time of peril." By implication, criticism of our leaders amounts to virtual treason.

By this account, Washington, Jefferson, von Stauffenberg, Sakharov, Ellsberg, Dean, and Wilson were traitors, for they all rebelled against "constituted national leadership," i.e., King George III, Adolf Hitler, the Brezhnev regime, and Richard Nixon, respectively.

Clearly, unconditional allegiance to a leader will not do as a criterion of "patriotism." "I am the state!" was a concept against which our forefathers successfully fought a revolution. In our political tradition, it seems, "patriotism" implies a different object of loyalty than whosoever might, at the moment, be our leader.

The "patriotism" exemplified by the founders of the American republic consists in an allegiance, not to persons or offices, but rather to political and moral ideals as codified in the law. Such ideals as self-determination, the social contract, inalienable human rights, and additional ideals such as those enumerated in the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights.

And yet, if polls and the pundits are to be believed, the American public is willing to accept without dissent and in the name of "patriotism," a curtailment of our liberties as enumerated in the First, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendments, which means our right to privacy, to habeas corpus, due process and competent counsel. In addition, the public appears willing to allow the President, at his own discretion, to set aside acts of Congress, such as the Freedom of Information Act, the prohibition against torture, international treaties, and even the Bill of Rights – in direct violation of the separation of powers stipulated by the Constitution. There is a word for a regime in which the leader is above the law: it is called "dictatorship."

If by "patriotism" we mean allegiance to shared political ideals, embodied in the rule of law, then a President and his Administration must earn the support of the public by exemplifying these ideals and by submitting to the constraints of the law and our national charter, The Constitution. Every President, in his very first act in office, takes an oath that he "will to the best of [his] ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

The President who fails to abide by this oath relinquishes his right to hold his office, and it becomes the patriotic duty of the legislature, the judiciary, and the citizenry to separate that President from his office.

Loyalty to the master is the ethic of the slave. Loyalty to principle is the ethic of the free citizen.

"On Patriotism"


Crisis Papers editors, Partridge & Weiner, are available for public speaking appearances