Sunday, December 14, 2014

Dick Cheney Needs to Go Away

I wish Dick Cheney would just ride off into the Wyoming sunset. But no. He insists on climbing up out of whatever dark hole he has lurked in since leaving Washington, sluicing away the slime and mud, putting on a suit, and appearing before cameras to defend torture.

His arguments, which boil down to “those things we did—they were not torture. (We know they were not torture because our lawyers told us they were not torture.) And anyway, the stuff we learned from the tort…enhanced interrogation techniques--saved American lives.  I would do it all over again.”

Couple of quick points: 
  • Dick Cheney did not “do” any of the interrogations, so he could not do them all over again.  In fact, Dick Cheney is the classic “chicken hawk.” During the war in Vietnam, Cheney applied for and received five deferments. When asked about it, he later said, “I had other priorities in the ‘60s than military service.”
  • Depriving prisoners of sleep for up to a week at a time, force-feeding them rectally for no medical reason, and threatening summary execution can be nothing BUT torture. If any enemy of the United States did that to a captured soldier or civilian, we would call it torture. 
  • The Senate investigation of the CIA’s role in the capture and interrogation of people after the attacks of 9/11/01 found at least 26 prisoners had been taken by mistake, subjected to torture, and then released. Let me repeat that—at least 26 innocent people were captured, whisked away to secret CIA prisons, tortured, and then released. And Dick Cheney would do that all over again. That is simply evil.

In summary, Dick Cheney insists the torture inflicted in my name and your name is not torture. He says it made America safer. I do not think that is true. It is certainly not true for American soldiers who might be captured by Islamic militants. It is only a matter of time before some of these same “enhanced interrogation techniques” are used on our soldiers.

Dick Cheney needs to go away.  Wyoming would be fine. Europe would be even better. People there know he is guilty of ordering torture, (which is a war crime,) and maybe there he would have to face the consequences of his actions instead of strutting around like the aging pathetic chicken hawk he is.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Dear Republican Majorities: Do Your Job or Shut the Hell Up

Is there a Republican plan to replace Obamacare? Is there a Republican immigration reform plan? If so, please someone, show me what they are?  Why have I not heard about them yet?

The only Republican Healthcare plan I have heard of so far consists of more than 40 votes in the House of Representatives to repeal Obamacare. While allowing Republican House members to feel good, these votes have been a waste of time and money.

As THE Legislative Branch of the American Government, if you do not like a plan that has tackled a huge national problem, you are in a position to propose an alternative. Nullification is not an alternative plan, it is reversion to the status quo of six years ago—which is not acceptable.

Same with Immigration policy. President Obama has offered to sit and negotiate with House and Senate Republicans for years on Immigration policy and they have not taken him up on the offer.  They have their reasons: They want to keep the issue alive as red meat for their base; they know if they sit with the President they will be Tea Party primaried, and they wanted President Obama to take unilateral action so they could complain about that, too.

Now that the President has acted, the House and Senate Republicans have easy recourse. They can write a law that reforms immigration policy and they can pass the law. If it has enough support, it could even withstand a Presidential veto, (of course, to do that it would have to be moderate enough to convince some Democrats to vote for it. But if it is moderate enough to convince some Democrats to vote for it, it will lose the support of the Crazy Wing of the House Republicans—which is a fairly sizable wing at this point.)

So, in the end, it boils down to this for the Republican majorities in the House and the Senate:  Write new laws or shut the hell up.

I cannot take their whining any more and I hope the President feels the same.  Maybe this most recent electoral walloping will free him up to do the right things on climate, immigration, the Keystone Pipeline, and more.  I certainly hope so.

And again, if the Republicans don’t like it, they should do the job of a lawmaker and actually make some laws. Buckle in, these next two years could be a hell of a ride.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

My Drive to Indiana

Fall is, by far, my favorite season. It used to be Winter, but as I have gotten older Fall has taken its place at the top of the seasonal heap. Summer is too full of sweat. Spring is way too flashy for someone like me. Winter is a close second to Fall, but it lacks the feeling of change that I have come to like so well.

I especially like a long drive alone in the car in the Fall. Loud music, beautiful sunlight, colorful hills, and that feeling of change in the air—what is better?

So I was in absolute heaven two weeks ago on a Friday afternoon that was the Platonic ideal of a Fall Friday afternoon. It was 61 degrees, the sun was shining, there was a light breeze carrying the smell of the fires people had lit in fireplaces all over Upstate New York that morning to take the chill out of their living rooms, and I was alone in the car, driving 520 miles across New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and part of Indiana. I had a local, low-power radio station on and the DJ was just nailing it.

It was one of those public stations that gives the small-time DJ latitude to play whatever the hell he or she wants to play. This particular guy was playing the Avett Brothers, the Kinks, Bonnie Raitt, Bob Dylan, Regina Spektor, and Wilco. While driving west on Route 79 I was transported to another plane. It was one of those moments where, even in the moment, you are aware of how stinkin’ good it can feel to be alive.

And then I heard the first few notes and hummed lines of the Paul Simon song “Slip Slidin’ Away.” (This song is one I have written about before. Immediately, thoughts of my Dad drifted in with the music. He died a few months ago, fairly unexpectedly while cutting the grass. Thinking about him and hearing the line “believe we’re gliding down the highway when in fact we’re slip slidin’ away”  led me to think about my own death, whenever that will be. And, oddly, these thoughts of death didn’t really take away the great feeling I had about being on a road trip in the Fall. Instead, they co-existed right alongside each other. In fact, the awareness of death actually made the happiness stand out even more pronouncedly. It was never more clear to me than in that moment how the pleasure and the pain of life are inextricably bound to each other.

The pain makes the pleasure even more valuable; and the pleasure makes the pain more endurable.

Our awareness of our own death is just baked right into the mix.  Ain’t none of us gets outta here alive. And while this truth sucks more than any of us can put into words, it is also this very suckiness that makes the good moments so much richer and deeper and better. Nothing lasts. Summer turns to Fall. Things die. People die. And it hurts like a kick to the gut when somebody good in your life dies.

Fall contains all of this and what I feel in the Fall makes me feel more alive than any other season.

This, in the end, is why I like the Fall so much. And yet, even as I write this, that moment in the car is already two weeks old. And it too is slip slidin’ away.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Zephyr Teachout For Governor

I am a political junkie.  I was a child during the Vietnam/Watergate era and my political consciousness formed while the country was steeped in dissent and scandal. My entire large family voted Republican. I, on the other hand, wanted nothing to do with Richard Nixon or the Republicans. At seven years old I was pulling hard for George McGovern because, to my seven-year old mind, war was bad and he would get us out of the war.

Sadly, most American voters did not feel the way I did and McGovern was crushed by a Nixon landslide. It was a couple of years later that the corruption and lies of the Nixon Administration brought down his Presidency and led to his resignation in disgrace.

Those early events formed the heart of my political identity. Mixed in with a real reluctance to commit American troops to uncertain causes with unclear objectives is a deep distrust of political power and those who misuse it.

The governor of New York does not have much say in issues of war and peace, but the governor of New York does have a lot of influence on the ethical climate of the state. By this measure, Andrew Cuomo has been a failure and has not earned a second term. Cuomo ran as someone who would clean up the mess that is Albany. After the arrests of several state legislators and the refusal of the New York State Senate or Assembly to do much about ethics reform, Cuomo launched a Moreland Commission to investigate corruption, charging the commissioners to “follow the trail wherever it took them.”

Turns out, he was not really serious about that last part. Whenever the commission’s investigation took them anywhere near Governor Cuomo or people who were strong supporters (i.e. big donors) Cuomo’s chief of staff sent word that the commission should back off.  There is a long and damning article about Cuomo and the Moreland Commission here. After several months of hard work and frustrating walls thrown in their way, it became clear that the Moreland Commission was not  given the room it needed to do what Cuomo had promised the people of New York it would do.

And then, to reward the Assembly and Senate for working through a tricky budget negotiation in a way the Governor approved of, Cuomo simply pulled the plug on the Moreland Commission. He thanked them for their good work and sent them home, their “good work” mostly incomplete.

That one action told me all I need to know about Andrew Cuomo. He is not serious about reforming the ethical cesspit of state politics and he never was. The Moreland Commission was just another tool of power to get the legislature to do what he wanted. It was a threat he wielded and then took away. It seemed no one in the state was willing to take on the entrenched corruption that taints both sides of the aisle in Albany.

Into the void of ethical leadership stepped Zephyr Teachout. She is a Fordham Law Professor and she is running against Andrew Cuomo for the Democratic nomination for Governor of New York. She is an expert in corruption and has made a career fighting for the underdog. On Tuesday, September 9 she will have my vote against Andrew Cuomo in the Democratic primary. I am not voting for Zephyr Teachout as a gesture. I believe she can win. Party primaries have notoriously low turnout. A challenger with a passionate base of support can beat an uninspiring incumbent.

And that describes the situation in New York today: an uninspiring incumbent (who seems to be calculating the best path to take to steer himself to the Presidency) is facing off against an optimistic and inspiring newcomer whose followers are growing more and more excited about her chances of unseating a disappointing Andrew Cuomo.

If you live in New York and are a registered Democrat, please join me on Tuesday, September 9 and vote for real reform of New York’s culture of corruption. Vote for Zephyr Teachout for Governor.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

My Father is Making Me Sing Duran Duran

My father died two weeks ago while cutting the grass.  It came as a surprise and I am still a bit off balance. His absence hits every once in a while with no obvious cause, leaving me a little short of breath as I go about my day.

I am no fan of Duran Duran, but I have been singing a song of theirs in my head for the past week at my job and in the car and while shopping at Wegmans. The song is called Ordinary World. It was not one of my dad's favorites. In fact, I would be shocked if my father had any idea who Duran Duran was. His taste ran to Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, and Roy Orbison. But the chorus of Ordinary World has always struck me with far more of a wallop than a cheesy early 90s pop song should.

At root, it is about going through something shattering and then realizing that the rest of the world has simply gone on without you. You have been broken and the world has paid no notice.  Everyone else has just gone on with their ordinary lives. And, in fact, you will need to go on with your ordinary life, as well.

A friend sent a message last week talking about how hard the death of her father struck her a year ago. She said that it has continued to reverberate in many surprising ways over the year. Her note drove home to me how utterly common and, at the same time, how utterly devastating the death of a parent is. Most everyone goes through it, and most everyone finds their way back to the ordinary world after a while.

And then we see them a few months later and they look the same as they always did. What we can't see is the scar and the pain and the something missing that will never be filled again.

My father was a good man. I knew him for 48 years and I cannot think of one time where I thought, "That was not an honest/thoughtful/caring thing to do or say, Dad." Not ONE time.  In many ways, he was the man I strive to be. Below is a draft of the eulogy my brother Mike delivered at the funeral last weekend. My father was a good man and I will miss him every day.

"This funeral mass brings together everything and everyone Jerry Dawson loved. His family and friends are here, his brother knights are here, many people he helped in a hundred small ways are here, and it is taking place in Saint Mary Magdalen Church--a church where several of us Dawson kids were baptized, received our first holy communion, and acted as altar servers, where both Jerry and Irene served on the Board, and where Jerry married Irene more than 50 years ago.

The Church meant so much to dad that it is not hard to think of a life for him different than the one he had. In fact, it is pretty easy to imagine him entering the seminary as a young man and becoming a priest. He truly did love the Church and Jesus’s message of eternal life, and he loved the idea of living to serve others.

But that future did not happen for dad. Instead, he met Irene Michaels at a Young Catholic Adults dance and, if he did have any thoughts of a calling to the priesthood, those went out the window after one dance with Irene. He was smitten. She was pretty smitten, too. When he asked Irene’s parents about marrying their daughter, they had one condition: that he first get a job that could support a family.

The young Irene held him to the same standard—in fact, she wrote up a contract for Jerry to sign that held him to attaining a certain level of income in their first years of marriage. Dad had just started working for John Hancock and mom is not saying what the conditions of the contract were, but luckily for all of us, he reached her goal.

Sales was perfect for dad. He loved to talk to people—as many of you can attest---and selling insurance gave him the chance to have long conversations with new people just about every day.

Some people get into sales because they see it as a way to get rich.  That was not my father.  Dad sold insurance because it helped support his quickly growing family and because he truly believed in the value of what he was selling. He believed it made people’s lives better.

And in the end, that was always his main goal—he wanted to make people’s lives better. He did so by selling insurance. But he also did so by becoming active in the union representing his fellow salesmen and women. When he earned a promotion and became a manager in Long Island and then back in Delaware, he took many new salespeople under his wing and mentored them with patience and love and conveyed to them some of his faith in the good work they did and in the products they sold.

Dad often worked ten or twelve hours a day. Yet somehow he managed to make it to just about every baseball, football, basketball, volleyball, and softball game we played through many years of Catholic League games for Jerry, Chris, me, Rich, Teresa, and John.

All six of the Dawson kids could probably tell a story about the time our father embarrassed us a bit with his very vocal support. (But we were also glad he was there.)

When we started having kids of our own, he did the same for the grandkids. He loved his grandchildren and was as proud as a man could be of each and every one of them. Dad truly meant it when he said one time that he was rich in the things that mattered most—he had the love of a good woman, he had a pack of kids who were off in the world living lives he was proud of, and he had nine grandkids who were everything he hoped they would be.

At 55 dad decided that the changes in the insurance business were not changes he could live with, so he took early retirement. It was then that his life took a different focus. He became active with the Knights of Columbus and this group gave him an outlet for his many ideas on how to help spread the Catholic faith to which he was so dedicated. He eventually held many statewide offices with the Knights—including State Deputy.

Mom can certainly attest to the importance of the Knights to dad and to how meaningful they have made the last many years of his life.

It is impossible to sum up a person and a life in a few words. If we were to try to do that for Dad, it might be something like: he loved to sing (even though he often didn’t really know the words), he loved to dance, he loved to revel in his kids and grandkids, he loved to be helpful, and, mostly, he loved mom.

Basketball coach John Wooden once said, "the best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother." Our dad took this advice to heart.

This week mom has said a few times that it is as if someone came and just erased dad away.

It does feel that way.

But if you look around this church today you will see that dad touched many people in his 73 years. No one can erase away the conversations, the bad jokes, the help, and the love he has shared with all of us. We will miss you, Dad."