Friday, December 2, 2005

Moral Authority and the First 1,000

Today is a sad day in our country. Today is the day the 1,000th execution since the Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1977 took place in North Carolina. Kenneth Lee Boyd was pronounced dead at 2:15 a.m. after receiving a lethal dose of chemicals for a double murder in 1988 of his wife and father in law.

Today there is a debate raging in our country about the death penalty. Is it humane? Is it fair? Is it accurate? Is it a legitimate action for a state to take against one of its citizens? Today, I will not be touching on any of these issues. Instead, I want to focus on just one aspect of using the death penalty. Is capital punishment effective?

Just after 9:00 this morning in Houston, Texas, a clerk at Vega's Meat Market was shot during the course of a robbery attempt. He died later at the hospital. Just eight hours after the 1,000th execution in the modern era of capital punishment took place, a murder was committed in the state with the most executions during the same period. Clearly the threat of execution was no deterrent to the two men seen fleeing from the scene.

One argument for the death penalty is that it deters people from committing crimes, yet murders continue to occur. Crime has not gone down since the death penalty was reintroduced. If there is a way to deter crime, we either have not found it, or at least are not using it. When murders occur constantly across the country, there is clear and present danger to our society, and we must do everything we can to stem the tide of blood that flows through our cities. If capital punishment is the best solution we can come up with as a society to solve this problem, however, then I feel ashamed to call myself a member of this society.

I do not know what the best answer is. Maybe it is to increase funding for education. Maybe it is increased restrictions on handguns. Maybe it is increased restrictions on ammunition. All I do know is that we are not better off now that Kenneth Lee Boyd is dead, and as long as would have remained locked away in prison, we are not any safer than when he was alive.

The only other thing I know is that our moral authority is at stake. I do not know how we can claim to have the moral high ground on any subject when we still carry out barbaric practices that keep us in league with Iran, China, Singapore, and Saddam Hussein's Iraq. I am looking forward to the day when no one is led into the death chambers at San Quentin, or Terra Haute, or Raleigh, or Huntsville, or anywhere else. We will all be better off when we are not killing anybody as a society.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Still Seeking a Newer World

Where have all the great speeches gone? Does anyone even listen to the President's weekly radio address? Does anyone care what Senators say on the floor of the greatest deliberative body in history? Can anyone remember a single speech from last year's campaigns?

There used to be a time when our leaders inspired us, when what they said could ring true deep within us and spur us on to actions that we never thought we could accomplish. Speeches used to be about dreams and visions for a better country, speeches used to be calls to action, not just about taking potshots at the other side. In the world today, we are short on practical idealists.

This is a day to celebrate the life of one such practical idealist. Robert Francis Kennedy would have turned 80 today. Attorney General, Senator, Presidential Candidate, world traveler, inspiration to millions, idealist, protector, husband, father, brother, son. Any number of words can be used to describe the man, but all seem to fall short in one measure or another. History will record Kennedy's last wave to the crowd, his final public words, and that horrifying scene moments later with him lying on the ground bleeding from the gunshot wound to his head. But he could have been so much more, and his words were the kind that called a generation to public service, and he took the nation and the world to task for injustices that he saw.

Among the many speeches he gave during his public life, from his time as Attorney General to the Senate to the 1968 Presidential Campaign, three stand out. One is from Kennedy's trip to South Africa in 1966. The second was given at the University of Kansas on March 18, 1968, one of the first days of his campaign. The third in this trilogy of great speeches was delivered on April 4, 1968, in Indianapolis, after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Kennedy biographer Arthur Schlesinger said of the South Africa speech "It was Kennedy’s greatest speech." At Kennedy's grave in Arlington National Cemetery, there is a quote from the speech that exemplifies the man's vision of the world: "It is from numberless acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance." In the home of apartheid, Robert Kennedy was not afraid to take his hosts to task, and his words inspired generations of South Africans who worked tirelessly to sweep down those walls of oppression and helped to create the new, free South Africa that exists today.

The speech at the University of Kansas, titled "Recapturing America’s Moral Vision" by Edwin Guthman, at one time Kennedy's press secretary, is a vision of what America can and should be. "Too much and too long we seem to have surrendered personal excellence and community value in the mere accumulation of material things. Our gross national product now is over eight hundred billion dollars a year, but that gross national product, if we judge the United States of America by that, counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage … But the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play ... It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America, except why we are proud that we are Americans." The words come clearly and ring true from a man who did not want to be President of the United States for personal glorification, but to further a mission that he had spent his entire life furthering, the pursuit of justice, goodness, and truth for America and the world at large.

The third speech is from one of the darkest days in American history, the day Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. Learning of his death upon landing in Indianapolis, Kennedy went straight to the city's ghetto, where a crowd of mostly African Americans had been waiting for him and had not heard the news. After telling them of King's death, Kennedy, speaking without notes, told the crowd of the deep anguish he felt at his brother's assassination five years earlier. It was a moving, personal moment in a very public campaign, and it was the only time in his life that Robert Kennedy spoke about John Kennedy's death in public. He continued speaking that night: "What we need in the United States is not division, what we need in the United States is not hatred, what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness, but love and wisdom and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or they be black. Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man, and make gentle the life of this world." The appeal to peace did not go unheeded. While many cities across the country erupted in flames and riots and violence that night, Indianapolis remained quiet. While King, throughout his life a peaceful man, would have hated the violence that followed his death in Detroit and elsewhere, he would have been proud and happy at the calm that Kennedy brought to Indianapolis.

These are just small parts of just three of the speeches that Robert Kennedy gave throughout his tragically short life. He was an inspiration to millions of people around the world, from the young anti-war crowd in the United States, to the discriminated against and the disenfranchised in South Africa. From the old liberals in the northeast, to the migrant workers of the southwest, Robert Kennedy stood as an image of peace and justice. A calming influence, even in the midst of the massive crowds that followed him everywhere he went. Gunned down by an assassin's bullet just after midnight on June 5, 1968, Kennedy's heart would not stop beating until the early hours of June 6. His death left a void in the country, and added to the myth of the Kennedy curse.

Robert Kennedy was a hero, an inspiration, and a leader. The words of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel speak of him to generation after generation, "It is indeed a loss not to have met him."

Friday, October 28, 2005

Justice, Truth, and Unintentional Virtue

This week brings to light two of the greatest things that define our country. One, the impact that a single individual can have on all of us, the fact that one person can make a difference in all of our lives. The other is the fact that our leaders are accountable, that no one is above the law, and that there are consequences for our actions.

A Real American Hero

Rosa Parks died Monday. Half a century ago, she showed us all that an individual, even one of small stature, can make all the difference in the world. Just a tired woman who would not give up her seat simply because of her race, Parks was arrested. This set off the Montgomery bus boycott, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which lasted for over a year. Parks' action, which was not a planned arrest but instead a spontaneous decision of a citizen to not take any more abuse, brought to national prominence one of the greatest leaders of the civil rights movement. Rosa Parks, by not standing that day, stood up for all that is good about the United States, and she truly is an American hero deserving of the honor of lying in the Capitol Rotunda.

How the Mighty have Fallen

Today, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby resigned after being indicted in the investigation surrounding the leak of former CIA agent Valerie Plame's name to reporters. In this case, we see again that political power does not put a person above the law in the United States. One of the most powerful men in terms of influence in the government, Libby has now resigned in disgrace and faces federal charges of lying to FBI agents. With the investigation not over yet, the Bush administration could lose another key adviser in Karl Rove. Although he appears to have squeaked by for now, Rove could still face charges and justice in this matter might finally be achieved.

Justice and the Spirit of the United States

The Scottish essayist Thomas Carlyle wrote "The history of the world is but the biography of great men." This week shows us that he could not have been more wrong. The history of the world is but the biography of simple people who do great things. Rosa Parks is one such person, whose personal actions drove us all to be better people. Scooter Libby's indictment and resignation show us that the strength of the United States is rooted in the idea that our leaders can be brought down peacefully and justly, and we can still go on, stronger than we were before.

"Justice is rather the activity of truth, than a virtue in itself. Truth tells us what is due to others, and justice renders that due. Injustice is acting a lie." – Horace Walpole

Friday, September 23, 2005

Vouching for the Short Term

In the midst of discussions on ways to move the recovery from Hurricane Katrina forward, the Bush administration has proposed a laundry list of possible programs and changes that they claim would help in returning New Orleans and other affected areas to their previous economic strength. While the intentions of those formulating these proposals are good, and their goal of getting the region back on its feet are admirable, we must be very wary of proposals that push ideological and political positions instead of those that would bring about the most broad-based economic support.

Foremost among these ideological proposals is to provide students with vouchers, allowing them to attend private schools and to have the government pay for their tuition. Aside from clearly conflicting with the separation of church and state, since many of the private schools that would be receiving federal money are religious schools, the proposal is a blatant political ploy by the Bush administration to use the disaster as a way to achieve a goal that it has thus far been unsuccessful at. Since 2001, Congress has repeatedly denied the President the opportunity to get a voucher program passed, much to its credit.

Voucher programs are detrimental to public education and a wide variety of well-respected organizations disagree with the idea on various grounds. The National Parent Teacher Association, the Anti-Defamation League, and the NAACP all stand opposed to school voucher programs.

Hurricane Katrina is a disaster beyond what most of us who do not live in the area can comprehend. Countless houses and schools have been damaged or destroyed, and the basic way of life in southern Louisiana has been changed forever. We need to help the people of the region rebuild their lives, their homes, and their schools. But we cannot neglect the next generation of students and destroy the foundation that public education provides for so many students around the country. School vouchers divert money from public education and put it in the pockets of private, often religious schools, something that goes against one of our basic principles of government.

On Tuesday, the Washington Post published an article on the school vouchers proposal. Here are two quotes from the article:

"It makes it even worse," Paul Houston, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, said of the idea that all displaced families could obtain money for private schools. "It is really a tone-deaf response to the crisis. It is a real grab to get an ideological position across that they haven't been able to achieve under normal circumstances."

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (Mass.), ranking Democrat on the Senate's Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said, "Instead of reopening ideological battles, we should be focused on reopening schools and getting people the help that they need."

To read the rest of the article, here is a link to it.

This needs to be exposed as exactly what it is: an attempt by the Bush administration, panicking over extremely low approval ratings, and trying to get an extremely controversial program pushed through Congress in order to claim any victory they can by any means necessary.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Small Steps and Great Leaps

Forty-three years and one week ago today, at Rice Stadium in Houston, Texas, President John F. Kennedy announced a new national priority for the United States. Here are the highlights from that speech:

"We meet at a college noted for knowledge, in a city noted for progress, in a State noted for strength, and we stand in need of all three, for we meet in an hour of change and challenge, in a decade of hope and fear, in an age of both knowledge and ignorance. The greater our knowledge increases, the greater our ignorance unfolds...

"No man can fully grasp how far and how fast we have come, but condense, if you will, the 50,000 years of man's recorded history in a time span of but a half-century. Stated in these terms, we know very little about the first 40 years, except at the end of them advanced man had learned to use the skins of animals to cover them. Then about 10 years ago, under this standard, man emerged from his caves to construct other kinds of shelter. Only five years ago man learned to write and use a cart with wheels. Christianity began less than two years ago. The printing press came this year, and then less than two months ago, during this whole 50-year span of human history, the steam engine provided a new source of power.

"Newton explored the meaning of gravity. Last month electric lights and telephones and automobiles and airplanes became available. Only last week did we develop penicillin and television and nuclear power, and now if America's new spacecraft succeeds in reaching Venus, we will have literally reached the stars before midnight tonight...

"There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation many never come again. But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?

"We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too...

"Transit satellites are helping our ships at sea to steer a safer course. Tiros satellites have given us unprecedented warnings of hurricanes and storms, and will do the same for forest fires and icebergs.

"We have had our failures, but so have others, even if they do not admit them. And they may be less public...

"To be sure, all this costs us all a good deal of money ... even though I realize that this is in some measure an act of faith and vision, for we do not now know what benefits await us...

"However, I think we're going to do it, and I think that we must pay what needs to be paid. I don't think we ought to waste any money, but I think we ought to do the job."

Today, we are again preparing for a return trip to the moon, as NASA announced its $100 billion, 13-year plan to land a crew of four on the moon for initial explorations of seven days. The numbers are daunting and the costs are high, but I think they are more than worth it. Thirty-three years after the last moon landing, we are long overdue for a return trip to our closest neighbor in space. We sent just half a dozen manned missions to the lunar surface, and only 12 men have left permanent footprints there. This is not even close to the amount of exploration we need to conduct in order to learn everything that we can from the riches of the worlds around us.

Already members of Congress have started to howl at the costs. In a time of natural disasters here, with engagements on this planet, how can we look elsewhere? Some may even see this as a way for President Bush to deflect some of the criticisms that have been leveled against him. I do not see this as correct, however. This is something that we have to do. Discovery is not planned. What we will learn is immeasurable. No one can predict what benefits we can accrue from these missions to the moon and later ones to Mars. The benefits will far outweigh any and all of the costs.

Worlds are waiting for us. It is time that we go explore them. The money has to be spent, the research and planning done, and the ships launched. I cannot state the case any better than President Kennedy did all those years ago. I only hope we can be as successful in the next two decades as we were in the decade after President Kennedy spurred us on to small steps and great leaps a quarter of a million miles from home.

Thursday, September 8, 2005

On Civil Rights, Privacy, and Kowtowing to the Right

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is trying to have his cake and eat it to. On September 6, the California Legislature approved a bill that would formally recognize gay marriage in the state. This is the first time that a legislative body has voted to recognize the right of same-sex couples to marry. Schwarzenegger, however, has said that he will veto the bill, leaving California law in its current discriminatory state.

While it is not the right thing to do, Schwarzenegger is well within his rights as governor to veto the bill. The problem arises when it becomes obvious that the veto is not out of any personal opinion by the governor, but instead is clearly a political play to the conservative base of the Republican Party. Schwarzenegger's spokesman has said that the Governor "believes gay couples are entitled to full protection under the law and should not be discriminated against based upon their relationship." What, then, could be the explanation for the impending veto of a bill that would explicitly give homosexual couples the "full protection" that the governor supposedly believes in? Only to kowtow to the conservative right and to ignore the will of the elected legislature.

No matter what happens on the Governor's desk, however, the bill's passage represents a great blow for equal rights for all Americans. This is the first time that gay marriage has been recognized by an elected body instead of by an individual official or by a court. The tide is turning towards equal rights for all, as it did with interracial marriage and the civil rights movement in the last century. Gay marriage is a civil rights issue and a privacy issue. It should be not only allowed, but it should be instead embraced and welcomed. Far from destroying the institution of marriage, as its detractors would argue, gay marriage would strengthen the institution, bringing in a group of devoted couples that are married in every sense of the word but one. It is time to give them that legal standing and recognition. Not just in California and Massachusetts, but in Oklahoma and Texas and Alabama and Mississippi and Washington and across the rest of the nation.

The tide is turning towards what is right. Today, I am proud to stand up and say that I am a citizen of California, where at least the legislature recognizes that we cannot discriminate against so many of our citizens simply based on who they love.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

700 Club Economics

The poster boy for the Christian Right has once again shown that the name of the movement is a double misnomer. Pat Robertson has called for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, and has justified this claim by saying "It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war."

Robertson is abdicating his duty as a spiritual leader. His justification for killing Chavez is economic. On "The 700 Club," he said "We don't need another $200 billion war to get rid of one strong-arm dictator." This kind of utilitarian justification for an assassination is deplorable and nauseating. Robertson is not an economics expert. He has a degree in history, a law degree, and a Master of Divinity. In other words, his so-called area of expertise is in morality, spirituality, and the law, most likely as seen through the lens of history. But at the same time, he has forgotten the history of the religion that he preaches, which is founded on the ideas of peace and love, and adamantly opposed to murder.

Robertson is an interesting and enigmatic person, at least as shown through his contrasting views on the subjects of life and the law. He is opposed to abortion and supports a moratorium on the death penalty, and yet he calls for the assassination of Chavez. He has a law degree, yet calls for an act that would violate the law as articulated in executive orders banning political assassinations issued by two presidents, Ford and Reagan, both of whom, like Robertson, are conservative Republicans.

A man who claims to preach a religion that at its core espouses the virtues of peace should not be advocating the murder of anyone. For this person to advocate the political assassination of the leader of another country is even worse. For him to advocate this based on economic interests, both in the potential cost of a nonexistent war and in the threat of reduced oil supplies, is grotesque. Robertson needs to apologize and stick to spiritual matters. He can start by going back to the source and reading the parts of the bible that speak of peace and love.

The day may come when we have a confrontation with Venezuela and Chavez. That day, however, is neither today nor will it be tomorrow. If that day does come, we have numerous means at our disposal, most diplomatic, some military. But assassination is never the way to go. In America we value the rule of law, and while we may not like Chavez or be the best of friends with Venezuela at the moment, we cannot simply remove him from office in a "Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!" style.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

On Their Own

Yesterday in Iraq, the committee writing that the new constitution for that country gave themselves an extra week to finish the document and work out compromises on the last few issues facing them before sending the completed constitution to the Iraqi National Assembly. While the Iraqi leaders missed their deadline for completion, they did so in order to not send an incomplete document to the assembly. It is easy to say, as the Sunnis have requested, that they will work out issues of federalism and self determination, as well as women’s rights, next year, but this will lead to an unstable country filled with violence and the potential for civil war.

While the Bush administration is putting the best face that it can on the delay, it is obviously disappointed that the Iraqis could not complete the constitution by the August 15 deadline. The administration had long pushed for a vote on the constitution, even if it did not resolve all of the issues that Iraq is facing as it begins to make its way in a post-Saddam Hussein world. I am not going to speculate as to whether democracy can take hold and succeed in Iraq. However, what I do know for certain is that for democracy to succeed, it has to begin on Iraqi terms. They need to hammer out compromises and solutions to their problems. If they come to the United States with questions or for advice, then it is our place to advise them. Otherwise, the process needs to be their own.

If a new Iraq starts out with Iraqi solutions to Iraqi problems, then that country can be a peaceful oil powerhouse in an increasingly globalized world. If, on the other hand, a new Iraq starts out with American solutions to Iraqi problems, it is very likely that the country will fail and collapse under internal pressure from opposing forces. The people writing the new constitution know that they have to finalize the document soon, or their country will never get off the ground, but the process cannot be rushed to a so-called "completion" that leaves the most pressing issues for a later date.

We can hope that the final product will include equal rights for all Iraqis, men and women, Muslims and Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis, but we cannot dictate to them how to accomplish this. The greatest thing that a country can do for its own future security and success is to dictate how it will govern itself. Here in the United States, it was men like Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, and Madison who wrote, debated, amended, voted on, approved, and signed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. These men are celebrated as great Americans who changed the course of history with their words and deeds. How could we deny Iraq the right to have its own great leaders in the same vein?

The Iraqis will finish their constitution. Iraq will emerge as a peaceful economic power. There will be an additional measure of stability in one of the most historically volatile places on earth, the Middle East. The world will be a safer place because of what the Iraqis are doing for themselves right now. But this can only happen if the United States remains hands-off and lets the Iraqis find solutions to their own problems.

Monday, August 8, 2005

"To Seek, to Find, and Not to Yield"

Peter Jennings died yesterday at the age of 67. The face and the voice of the news for more than 20 years for millions of Americans, the Canadian-born Jennings brought the world into our living rooms for so long that for many people, including myself, it is hard to remember a time when he did not keep us informed of the goings on around the world. The first man on the scene at so many of the defining moments of the second half of the 20th century, Jennings was the man we turned to on September 11, 2001. He provided us with the information we needed and was a source of comfort and consistency on that most bizarre and inconsistent of days. It is hard to imagine who the world will turn to when the next major event occurs. On September 11, Jennings was on the air for 12 straight hours. There was no script prepared, and we experienced the emotions of the day through his reporting.

Jennings' impact on America and the world goes beyond simply reporting what was happening half a world away. He had a personal influence on people that was shown in the reaction to his sudden announcement in April that he was battling lung cancer and would have to leave the anchor desk at ABC News. Countless current and former smokers hurried to their doctors for screenings and tests to see if they were in the same fight, and it is impossible to say how many lives were saved because of his announcement. Jennings had a choice in his announcement. He could have stepped down saying that he wanted to spend more time with his family, or that he felt that it was time for there to be a new face in the business, or because it simply was his time to leave. Instead, he felt that he had a duty to those who had spent so many years depending on him, and that he should tell the world that he was in a fight for his life, and many others are in this same fight whether they know it or not. I personally know someone whose life was saved by Jennings' announcement, and I am thankful for his courage in sharing what is often a very private fight with the world.

Peter Jennings brought us the world every day for over 20 years. In tribute to his life of traveling the world and being part of the world he reported, I am including three quotes from Alfred Tennyson's "Ulysses" that I feel exemplify the man and his mission to the world.

"Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honour'd of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers;
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am part of all that I have met…

"The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die…

"Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in the old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal-temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."

Saturday, August 6, 2005

Sustaining Democracy

In ancient Athens, the government was run through a system of direct democracy. Members of the Athenian Assembly were chosen by lot for each day the body would meet. This way, all citizens had the opportunity to participate in the political process. Each could voice his own views and debate publicly with his fellow citizens. But citizens of Athens had not only the opportunity to participate, but the duty as well. If a man who was chosen by lot for the assembly did not participate, a police officer would go to the man’s house and paint his toga red, so that everyone would no that this man had chosen to not participate in the Athenian government.

The United States is a far cry from the days of Athens. Today, especially in the youngest group of voters, it is a challenge just to get citizens to vote, no less to voice an opinion. People are disillusioned with government, and do not feel that it can or will do anything for them. So, instead of trying to change the way government operates, they sit idly by and let others make decisions for them.

But there was a time in the not-so-distant past that our government did make monumental changes that changed the lives of its citizens. Elected leaders opened up the franchise to many Americans who had been denied their rights as citizens of this country. Congress gave a voice to the silenced and opened democracy to all citizens of the United States, ending the discriminatory practices that had plagued the country since the Civil War.

Today is the 40th anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act. This act set up the mechanisms to enforce the 15th Amendment, guaranteeing the right to vote to all citizens of the United States, regardless of race. Over the last four decades, Congress has amended and renewed this act several times. The act, according to the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, "is considered to be the most effective civil rights statute ever enacted by Congress." Legendary leaders like Lyndon Johnson, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and John Lewis worked for its passage. The Voting Rights Act gave a voice to those who needed to speak the most, and dealt a serious blow to those trying to stop the extension of democracy to all Americans.

The franchise is the birthright of all Americans. The United States is founded in the idea that every citizen has the right to vote and be heard. This idea has developed from the early days of democracy, and is the historical heir of the democracy of Athens and the republic of Rome. To be a citizen means that you have a voice. The way we express our voice is through the ballot. Millions have fought and died for this idea over the years, decades, and centuries. The march of democracy spread all over the world in the 20th century, from the Middle East to Latin America to Eastern Europe. And the right to vote was extended in this country to the heart of the confederacy through the Voting Rights Act to Alabama and Mississippi.

Only when everyone has the right and ability to vote can we get to the point of making sure that everyone exercises that right. The Athenians knew that to sustain the democracy, everyone must participate in it. The red paint was a mark of shame for an Athenian citizen, just as declining to vote when one has the opportunity should be a mark of shame in this country. There is a saying that "If you don't vote, you can't complain." This is what the franchise is all about, giving everyone a voice.

The Voting Rights Act did a lot of good in its first 40 years, but there is a long way to go. Today, as we celebrate the signing of this great act, we must also work for its renewal again. The march for democracy is not over in this country. The fight for equality is not concluded. The right to vote must still be preserved for all Americans. When it returns from its recess, Congress needs to acknowledge the accomplishments of the Voting Rights Act in the way that those who worked so hard for its original passage would want, by having democratically elected representatives vote to renew the act.

Monday, August 1, 2005

A Kick-Down Appointment

President Bush today used a recess appointment to make John Bolton the ambassador to the United Nations. In taking this action, President Bush has bypassed the Senate, which has held up the appointment because of Bolton’s reputation as, according to a former colleague, "a quintessential kiss-up, kick-down sort of guy." This is not the kind of representative that the United States should have in the UN, and President Bush has again shown his true colors as one of the most divisive political leaders of our time, instead of as the uniter that he promised to be in the 2000 campaign.

The position of ambassador to the United Nations, more than almost any other Presidential-appointed position, should go through the process of being confirmed by the Senate. This is not a position within the executive branch where the job, while officially to run an agency or department, is primarily to advise the President in a specific policy area. Instead, the UN ambassador represents the position and interests of the United States to the rest of the world, and it should represent the entire United States, not just the President and his inner circle.

Before the attacks of September 11, 2001, President Bush had begun a policy to steer the country towards a more isolationist position in the world. The events of that day again thrust the United States into the world spotlight, however, and there was no way that we could go at it alone. By sending John Bolton, a man who has questioned the value of the UN, to take part in the UN, President Bush has sent a very clear message that the United States has little, if any, respect for the world body.

This is a huge mistake that will have effects on the U.S. position in the world long after Bolton's temporary appointment expires. At a time when the U.S. is at its least popular in world opinion in decades, and in an increasingly global society, we need as many allies as we can get in as many areas of the world as possible. President Bush thumbing his nose at the world by sending John Bolton to speak for him cannot help in this quest.

After the September 11 attacks, President Bush said repeatedly that nations were either with us or against us. With this appointment, Bush has clearly shown that he is against the world. On March 18, 1968, during his campaign for the Presidency, Robert F. Kennedy spoke at the University of Kansas on the quality of life in America and America’s position in the world. Here is the end of his speech:

"From the beginning, our proudest boast was that we, here in this country, would be the best hope for all of mankind. And now … we wonder if we still hold a decent respect for the opinions of mankind, and whether they have maintained a decent respect for us, or whether like Athens of old, we will forfeit sympathy and support, and ultimately security, in a single-minded pursuit of our own goals and our own objectives."

Appointing John Bolton to the United Nations clearly shows that President Bush does not hold any respect for the opinions of mankind, no less a decent one, and instead is going ahead with a single-minded pursuit of his own objectives. This appointment can only lead to a weakened U.S. position in the world, exactly the opposite of what a UN ambassador is supposed to do.

Friday, July 29, 2005

The Politics of Hope, and the Hope of Politics

Act I: On the Wings of Discovery

While the launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery went smoothly this week, it now appears that a piece of foam may have struck the wing of the orbiter, causing damage similar to that which caused the breakup of Columbia two and a half years ago. After countless modifications to the design, this just shows how much of space travel is beyond our control. NASA is traveling in a medium that we only have half a century's experience in. Clearly we have a long way to go and a lot left to learn.

But the crew of Discovery is not afraid. They are inspecting the shuttle for serious damage, testing new procedures, and conducting the mission that they were sent into space to conduct. They are following in the footsteps of great men and women who traveled into space before them, and carry the hopes of every child who wants to grow up to be an astronaut. The world is watching, and I am confident NASA and the crew of Discovery will rise to the occasion and the crew and the orbiter will return safely to the Earth.

For more on Discovery’s mission, go to NASA's "Return to Flight" page.

Act II: Frist's First

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist announced on the floor of the Senate today that he has changed his previous position and now supports opening more lines and allowing more federal funding for stem cell research. This marks a major break between Frist and President Bush, who adamantly opposes any increases in federal funding for this groundbreaking and critical research. Frist, a surgeon by trade, has realized that research on stem cells is a moral imperative, and that, as a physician, he has no other choice than to help people live longer, healthier lives any way he can.

President Bush has threatened to veto any modification to his 2001 limitations on funding for the research. But in losing his strongest ally on the matter on Capitol Hill, he now has to rethink his position. Senator Frist has taken a brave step, and while some might question his motives, as he is a potential 2008 presidential candidate, I do not. Instead, I see this decision as a doctor staying true to the oath he took, and I commend Senator Frist on his declaration of support.

Act III: Hope Springs Eternal

And, finally, we come to Great Britain. In the wake of the terrorist attacks in London, the Irish Republican Army has announced that it will completely disarm and has asked its volunteers to turn over weapons. After 35 years of armed conflict to try to force Northern Ireland out of Great Britain, the IRA has formally ended its armed campaign and will engage in negotiations. The prospects for peace on the Emerald Isle are better now than they have ever been, and the work done and the accords signed in recent years are finally coming to fruition.

The peaceful end to this long and bitter struggle gives hope to those of us who look forward to the day when all similar armed struggles will end, and the prospects for peace everywhere are improved and their potential realized. This goes for Israel, Sri Lanka, and everywhere else in the world where violence, war, and terrorism are daily facts of life. Hopefully the IRA disarmament is not the exception, but instead that we can look forward to peace in all of these areas soon, so that everyone can go about their daily lives without the fear of terrorism and without the strain of civil war.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

With Eyes Turned to the Heavens

And once again, we look towards the sky. After a long delay since the last shuttle launch, NASA has put human beings into space. All systems have been checked, both previously known and newly discovered problems have been fixed, and NASA can resume its mission and again explore the final frontier.

Space exploration is the only way to answer so many of our most fundamental questions. Where did we come from? Where are we going? How did this accident that we call life occur on this random rock that we call Earth? The answers are out there, and the only way to get them is to send a satellite to study the sun, a probe to crash into a comet, and human beings to go into space. The only way to see what is out there is to actually go there. There is no other option.

For nearly 50 years, we have been exploring space. Starting from the humble beginnings of Sputnik and the early Mercury launches, we now have satellites that have left the solar system and men that have landed on the moon. Yet we have so much more to learn, and so much further to go. The Hubble Space Telescope has taken the clearest pictures yet of the distant universe, looking not only out into space but back into time. We have seen the birth and death of stars and discovered new planets. But this is only the beginning. The Hubble needs to be replaced with a more powerful telescope before it is retired, and even then it should only be retired when it is no longer useful.

Space exploration is filled with dangers and its history is marked with failures. The first attempted launch of an American satellite never got off the ground. The first manned Apollo mission ended in flames. The third planned moon landing nearly ended in disaster. And, of course, there are the tragedies of Challenger and Columbia. But what all of the victims and near-victims of these disasters have in common, other than their drive to explore beyond our world, is the drive that exploration should not end with their death. They went out into the great unknown, and would want others to follow them.

Today, after an additional delay due to a faulty fuel sensor, Discovery lifted off the launch pad. It will dock with the International Space Station, taking much needed supplies to the crew that has been living there, and perform scientific experiments and tests of new shuttle procedures before it touches down. NASA has worked for two and a half years to make this mission as safe as it can be, and the final delay shows how seriously NASA is taking every possible issue that crops up, but even so, space flight is inherently dangerous. The crew knows this, and yet they are flying into space anyway.

No matter what happens on this mission, and all hopes and expectations are that it will be safe and successful, we can never stop exploring and never stop learning. Be it in shuttles, space stations, or something as yet untested, we must continue to fly beyond Earth and out into the great expanse of space. There is no other option for a species that has a higher consciousness. We have to explore, to learn, to know.

Good luck and godspeed to NASA and the crew of Discovery. Come home safely with the proof that we can still bring astronauts safely to the Earth, and with the message that we have to keep looking for more and can never be satisfied with what we know right now.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Words and (Hypothetical) Deeds

Colorado Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo on Friday deplorably undermined the United States when he painted the war on terrorism as a war on Islam. Speaking on a talk show in Florida, Tancredo said that if the United States were attacked with nuclear weapons, and if it was determined that "extremist, fundamentalist Muslims" were responsible for the attack, then the United States could "take out" Islam's holy places, including the city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

Time and time again the war on terrorism has been stressed as not a war on Islam or on Muslims. The terrorists who committed the attacks of September 11, 2001 were just as he put it, extremists. Attacking Mecca because of the actions of a radical fringe group of Muslims is just as deplorable as incarcerating Japanese Americans was during World War II. Mecca is the holiest site in Islam for all Muslims, including those who live in the United States and want nothing more than to go about their daily lives. Osama Bin Laden's followers make up only a tiny fraction of the worldwide Muslim population. It goes against the very nature of the United States to punish the entire Muslim community for the actions of a few extremists.

This is not to say that there should be no response in the event of this kind of attack. The United States would have to respond, and bring those responsible to justice. Those who planned, financed, advised, aided, abetted, and carried out an attack should be captured, brought to the United States, stand before a judge, face a jury, have a fair, public trial, and sentenced to a prison term that will have them locked up for the rest of their lives in a federal prison. But their families, their friends, and their fellow Muslims are off limits. The Constitution expressly forbids punishing a family for the crimes of one of its members. We would deny our own identity if we resorted to this extreme measure to punish what would be a relatively small number of people who attack our country.

In addition, if the United States were to attack Mecca, we would quickly have on our hands a crime to fit our punishment. All over the world, Muslims would be united against America, and we would truly have a holy war on our hands, and this time it may even be on legitimate grounds. If the war on terrorism became a war on Islam, as the bombing of Mecca would indicate, then we would be justifying Osama Bin Laden, and the September 11 attacks, as well as this theoretical future attack, would look like a small riot in comparison with the world-wide bloodshed that would follow.

Congressman Tancredo tried to walk back his comments, saying he was speaking hypothetically, but a four-term Congressman should know better. His words mean something, not only to his district in Colorado, but to the entire country and the world at large. Words like these seem to justify the very hate that brings about the terrorism we are trying to fight. Congressman Tancredo should be ashamed of what he has said. His so-called explanation has left a lot wanting. His words portray him as an out-of-touch extremist filled with hate.

There is no appropriate time to speak about bombing Mecca, just as there is no appropriate to speak about bombing Jerusalem, just as there is no appropriate time to speak about bombing Washington. And beyond all of this, there is never a time when these words should be translated into deeds.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Moral Research for the Majority

In dealing with abortion and the Terry Schiavo case, the Bush Administration and conservatives in Congress speak volumes on the so-called "culture of life." They conveniently forget about that claim, however, when given the opportunity to improve the quality of life for countless Americans and millions more around the world. Stem cell research holds the promise of a better future for all of us, but it is very likely that, even if a bill currently under consideration passes the Senate, President Bush will veto it, leaving science without federal funding for this supremely important, cutting-edge research.

It is especially important for those who are suffering from diseases like Parkinson's or Alzheimer's. It is not just the individual who suffers, but it is the families who often suffer even more. Alzheimer's disease is a terrible thing to watch a family member go through. As the mind disappears, it is so frustrating to see the shell of what should still be a great man reduced to the mental capacities of a small child. We all take for granted the ability to control our bodies, but the patient with Parkinson’s does not have that luxury. There are other diseases and conditions that stem cell research has the potential to find a cure for. Among them are diabetes, some spinal cord injuries, and some types of cancer.

How can the President and Congress deny these people the chance at a cure? The "culture of life" should go beyond simply preserving life at any cost. Instead, it should be focused on improving the quality of life, and should try to better the lives that already exist. While it will take more than the stroke of a pen to cure these diseases, it is an extremely important step. Federal funding will allow the research to make great leaps forward and bring us so much closer to the day when we will not have to worry about watching a grandparent disappear into a fog or a friend lose control of his body.

The Senate needs to pass the Harkin-Specter bill on stem cell research, and President Bush needs to sign it. There is no other moral option, and if the President wants to make a claim that he is doing his best to improve the every day lives of the American people, he has to take this concrete step that will provide funding to this groundbreaking research.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Half a World Away, and Yet so Close to Home

I am consistently amazed by my personal experience of locations where events around the world take place. A suicide bomber murdered four people and wounded 90 others in the Israeli city of Netanya today. While it has been posted on various news web sites, America for the large part has ignored this type of attack since the war in Iraq began. While the Israeli peace process is still said to be important to this country, very often it is ignored and relegated to the back burner in the field of foreign policy. Of course it is true that a war that has American troops in harm's way should take precedence in our government over another country's security, but the security of Israel is and should be linked with the security of the United States.

Israel sits on one of the most inhospitable strips of land in the world, and has thrived in the region. It is a beautiful land, rich in history and culture. It is the center of the three great western religious movements, and, until the recent elections in Iraq, the only democracy in the Middle East. For nearly 60 years, Israel's single goal has been survival. Everything else has been secondary and subordinate to this one thing. To this end, Israel has pursued peace with its neighbors as well as with the Palestinians, and has offered everything that has ever been asked of it, only to have the offer thrown back in its face and rejected.

The bombing in Netanya today strikes especially close to home for me. Five years ago I spent six weeks in Israel, traveling around the country getting to know the culture and history personally. I spent a long weekend in Netanya, including a good amount of time at that same shopping mall, and am struck by the prospect that for at least the third time in my life, I have personal experience at a place that has seen an attack of one sort or another. Shortly after I returned home from Israel in August of 2000, the second major Palestinian uprising against Israel began. A news clip showed a group of youths throwing stones at Israeli soldiers in Jerusalem at an intersection that I recognized as being about a block from a hotel where I had spent over a week that summer. In June of 2001, I took a tour of the Pentagon, and walked around the hallways of the Department of Defense headquarters. We all remember what happened there less than three months later. Now I read about the bombing in Netanya at a place that I can picture with complete clarity in my mind.

Israel has been living with this kind of attack on almost a daily basis for close to its entire history. We in the west have only started to experience it on a larger scale for the last decade. The solution is to be vigilant, to watch for attacks, to be careful, but most importantly, to continue and maintain our way of life, and not to have the reaction that they are going for, namely to instill terror in all of us. We can find their leaders and freeze their funding, but in the last analysis the only way to end terrorism long-term is to capture the hearts and minds. The vast majority of Arabs want peace with Israel. The vast majority of Muslims want the United States as an ally. The vast majority of the followers of Islam in Great Britain just want to go about their daily lives. The few who actually want to conduct terrorism will die out. The hope is that we do not lose the next generation of minds to terrorism and extremism.

"Peace does not appear so distant as it did. I hope it will come soon, and come to stay; and so come as to be worth the keeping in all future time. It will then have been proved that, among free men, there can be no successful appeal from the ballot to the bullet; and that they who take such appeal are sure to lose their case, and pay the cost." – Abraham Lincoln.

Friday, July 8, 2005

On Open Society

On June 7, terrorists attacked London's mass transit system. Three bombs were detonated in the subway, and another destroyed a double-decker commuter bus. The attacks are deplorable. While they are on a smaller scale, and, thankfully, fewer people were killed, the attacks are no different than the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. A faceless enemy struck a vulnerable city center, killing indiscriminately and grinding the city to a halt.

Hopefully, however, this is where the similarities end and the stories of September 11 and June 7 diverge. Hopefully our friends in Great Britain will learn from the disastrous mistakes that the Bush administration, aided and abetted by the Republican-controlled Congress, has been shoving down the throats of the American people over the last four years. The Patriot Act, habeas corpus violations, and military tribunals have been hallmarks of this administration that is driven to "protect" us from anything, including ourselves and our neighbors.

This is not how a free society operates, and this is how terrorists win. When we change the very foundations of our society, when we give up those very rights and freedoms that they were trying to attack, when we give in to the fear, to the terror, that they tried to implant in us, then we are letting the terrorists win. Spying on the American people, be it through library records, phone taps, or any other totalitarian method, takes away from what we stand for. America should stand for freedom of speech and of thought, as well as freedom from fear and from tyranny. America should not be about authority and power, except for the power to persuade that comes from being honest, open, and respected.

Britain, and specifically Tony Blair, is now in the unenviable position of having to make decisions about the security of the citizens of his country. He has to decide if he will follow a model of freedom, or the model of the United States. I wish that these were the same, or at least similar, but this administration has denied all of us that. Britain now needs to lead the way in showing how a democracy responds to terrorists. Increase security in the subway, but do not go digging into personal records.

There are risks that have to be run in order to have an open society. One of these risks is that people from all over can come into the society and change it. Sometimes, as in the case of Congressman Tom Lantos of California, who came from Europe and today chairs the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, these changes are for the better. Sometimes, as in the case of terrorist attacks, they are for the worse. But an open society has to take the bad with the good. The only other option is to change the very nature of the society, and to become something that we have always fought against. The Bush administration made the wrong choice for the United States. Hopefully Tony Blair will make the right one for Great Britain.

Tuesday, July 5, 2005

Musings and Philsophy for July 5

"I am sometimes a fox and sometimes a lion. The whole secret of government lies in knowing when to be the one or the other." – Napoleon Bonaparte

Revealing the name of a CIA agent sentences that agent, as well as any secret contact they may have had, to death. Causing someone to be unjustly executed is also a capital offense. Being against capital punishment, I think it is fair to be merciful and to sentence Karl Rove to life in prison. Of course, everyone knows that a presidential pardon is probably already written and sitting in Bush's desk drawer, but at least someone responsible will answer for it. Maybe now Rove will back the idea of a journalist's right to keep his sources private.

"Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." – Benjamin Franklin

The USA Patriot Act is showing its true colors as a war on Americans. Richard Kreimer, a homeless man, has filed a lawsuit against a New Jersey suburb saying that they used the Patriot Act as an excuse to evict him from the train station where he was sleeping. Already an unconstitutional, anti-American piece of legislation that violates our most fundamental rights, the Patriot Act is now taking us another step closer to a totalitarian government, spying on its citizens and preying on the weak.

"For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others." – Nelson Mandela

Commercials over the weekend coinciding with, and having the same goal as, the Live 8 concert series featured Nelson Mandela speaking to a crowd about debt relief and aid to Africa. "We know what to do, and how much it will cost," he said. Mandela is a great world leader, and a man who has dedicated his life to the betterment of those around him. We can only hope that the world leaders meeting this week in Scotland at the G8 Summit listen to him and pledge the aid needed. The richest owe a debt to the poorest. We can and must spend the money and send the aid. To borrow from the Declaration of Independence, whose anniversary we celebrated yesterday, nothing less than our sacred honor is at stake.

"Justice is rather the activity of truth, than a virtue in itself." – Horace Walpole

President Bush now has the opportunity to nominate a new Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. Bust has repeatedly declared his admiration for Justices Scalia and Thomas, the most conservative members of the Court. Instead of following this line, Bush should look to Earl Warren as the ideal justice. A man of vision and daring, Warren presided over many of the greatest moral decisions the Supreme Court has ever made, including the landmark Brown v. Board decision in 1954. Oh, and by the way, Earl Warren was a conservative Republican from California appointed by President Eisenhower.

"All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them." – Galileo Galilei

On July 4, NASA successfully crashed a probe into a comet to learn more about the origins of our solar system. Another success for the oft-ridiculed agency deserves accolades and applause. Revealing our past can help us learn about the future. Where we come from can help point us to where we are going. Hopefully more successes will be forthcoming, and NASA can return to the prominence it had in the heyday of Apollo success.

America has come a long way in 229 years. Our nation was founded on the ideals of freedom and justice. There are people who work every day for these causes, and towards furthering freedom around the world. We stand in the shadows of great men and women who have gone before and worked to bring us to where we are today. I only hope that it does not all come undone before our eyes, and that we can, in the words of the Constitution, "secure the blessing of liberty to ourselves and our posterity."

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Sleeping in Farragut Square

On June 28, I had the opportunity to view two very different Washingtons. First, I was on Capitol Hill, attending a hearing on religious tolerance at the Air Force Academy and a press conference and platform rollout for the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Great Congressional leaders like Lynn Woolsey and Barbara Lee spoke about the need to protect equality of opportunity, not just the top one percent, and the importance of a safety net for those who cannot always do the job themselves. Jesse Jackson spoke of the need to protect the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which has been under attack as the Bush administration stands idly by and lets states chip away at our most cherished and most important right.

After leaving Capitol Hill, I took the metro down to Farragut Square and saw why the goals of the Congressional Progressive Caucus were so important. Four blocks from the White House, in the capital city of the richest nation that the world has ever known, people were sitting on benches in the square, with everything they own in the world in a bag next to them. These people, men and women, were dirty, looked tired, hungry, and dejected. They could see the affluence around them. People were going to and from work wearing suits, talking on cell phones, listening to music, and all they could do was stare blankly ahead. Most would probably not have a roof over their head that night, and where their next meal would come from was unknown.

The system failed these people. They are Americans. They deserve both opportunity and security, but they have fallen through the cracks. Undoubtedly some of them are veterans, and wore the uniform and defended this country, only to come back and be neglected and ignored. Even if they are not veterans, however, no one deserves to be treated this way.

And yet President Bush believes that there are no problems in America today that cannot be fixed with a tax cut. I wonder if President Bush has taken the opportunity, as he speeds through Washington's streets in one of his armored limousines or over the city in his Marine helicopter on his way to his private 747, to look around him and see the problems in the streets. This is not an unreasonable question. It is not like he has to go to New Delhi, Mozambique, or Mexico City, or even to San Francisco, Atlanta, or the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn. All he has to do to see the poverty that Americans live with every day is walk four blocks to Farragut Square.

A society is judged be the least of its citizens. President Bush has forgotten this and is instead toadying to his cronies and saving them money with his tax cuts for the top one percent. These super-rich executives and heirs should realize that yes, they pay more in taxes than the average American, but they also earn more and therefore have a responsibility to those who and cannot make upwards of $500,000 per year, and in some cases over $1,000,000.

America is best served when we raise everybody up. We all benefit when no one is sleeping on the streets. President Bush needs to end these disastrous tax cuts for the wealthy. Trickle-down Reagonomics did not work in the 1980s, and it cannot work today. Instead, we need to build up our foundations, reinforce the least of our society, and provide assistance to those who need it. Then we can and will be the great nation envisioned by so many of our greatest leaders on both sides of the aisle. Only then can we truly say that we have reached the American dream, the true manifest destiny, an America where no one has to sleep in Farragut Square.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Supreme Court puts Journalists in the Line of Fire

On June 27, the Supreme Court refused to hear the appeals of two journalists who would not identify their sources, letting their convictions stand and forcing them to face prison time. The Court has made a grievous error in issuing this non-decision. In denying the appeal and ducking the issue, the justices have again restricted one of the fundamental rights that protect democracy and hold the government accountable for its actions.

The First Amendment to the Constitution provides for, among other things, a free press in this country. Journalists follow a calling that takes them around the world to report back what is going on around us, be it charges of torture at Guantanamo, news on the elections and deaths in Iraq, or on cases of the President of the United States violating the law in covering up a crime. We were reminded again just a few weeks ago how important investigative journalism can be when Mark Felt unmasked himself as Deep Throat, the secret source who was critical in uncovering the Watergate break-in and cover-up that brought down the Nixon presidency.

It is even more appalling that in this environment of renewed interest in investigative journalism and awareness of the importance of legitimate, high-placed anonymous sources, the Supreme Court has denied reporters this important avenue of information. Without the guarantee of the protection of anonymity, it is much more likely that those with information will not come forward. While their information can be critical, their coming forward may depend on their identity being protected. It is the same reason we have witness protection and whistleblower laws, so that fear of retribution does not get in the way of someone doing the right thing.

In 1965, the Supreme Court recognized that there was a right to privacy in what was termed the "penumbra of rights" in different amendments to the Constitution. This set the precedent for recognizing and protecting fundamental rights that were not specifically listed in the document. The protection of non-enumerated rights is especially important when the right in question is related to one of the fundamental rights listed in the constitution, as is the case here.

The First Amendment specifically says that the press is protected, but, in this case, the Court has taken the teeth out of that right. It is as if they have handed journalists a flashlight, complete with batteries, but have taken away the light bulb inside. It looks good, almost as if it could work, but in truth is nothing more than a shadow of what it could and should be.