Saturday, July 23, 2011

Speaker Boehner responds — sort of....

I recently wrote House Speaker John Boehner an email cordially and generously giving him my carefully considered advice for solving nation's deficit problems.

Here is a synopsis of my suggestions:

* Get the mega-rich to pony up their fair share (They are pursuing happiness — and life and liberty — to the detriment of the rest of us).

* Slash defense spending (stop playing the cop-on-the-block to the world).

* Get rid of tax loopholes and corporate subsidies.

* Go after off-shore corporate tax havens.

* Hands off Medicare and Social Security.

* Get rid of the new "health care reform" and institute universal health care (a REAL revenue saver, John).

Ever the optimist, I was hoping for a point-by-point reasoned response. No doubt the Speaker's predictable refutation, followed by my thoughtful and cordial rebuttal, would lead us to a productive exchange — all in the name of saving the Republic. At some point, I conjectured, John and I might invite the President to join us. Perhaps in the Rose Garden.

Fat chance.

Instead somebody in the Speaker's office punched the wrong "response" button on the computer. Or perhaps a more charitable explanation is that John, weary from visits to the White House or flailings on the fairways, simply lapsed into mindless ingratiation larded with Republican orthodoxy.

I'm sharing his words as a public service, just in case you were thinking of writing the Speaker with the expectation of receiving a response worthy of Boehner's tax-paid salary and perks.

Dear Mr. Seifert:

Thank you for taking the time to contact me. It's good to hear from you.

Your ideas, comments, and questions help make possible my goal of leading a House of Representatives that listens and reflects the will of the American people. That's why I'd like to ask you to keep speaking out by:

Visiting to sign up for email updates on issues that concern you; Offering your solutions and engaging other Americans on the challenges facing our country at; Joining the conversation on; and Connecting with my office on

I made a Pledge to America to focus on removing government barriers to private-sector job creation and economic growth - that includes cutting spending to help end the uncertainty facing job creators; repealing the job-crushing health care law and replacing it with common sense reforms that lower costs; reining in excessive regulations; and promoting an American Energy Initiative that increases energy production to create jobs and lower energy prices. I also pledged to lead an effort to reform Congress and rebuild the bonds of trust between the American people and their representatives in Washington.

I hope you'll stay engaged and keep me updated on your thoughts as we work to keep this pledge.

Thank you again for contacting me and please stay in touch.


John Boehner
Speaker of the House

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Friday, July 22, 2011

How the Internet shapes decisions — a Quaker's perspective

Communicating via e-mail, texting and Facebook exchanges present a host of inherent problems. Unless you are a Writer (that’s with a capital “W”), such communication is often one-dimensional, lacking inflection, dramatic pauses, and texture.

If you agree those limitations pose problems, consider the loss Quakers experience as they try conducting business on the internet.

Traditionally Quakers rely heavily on silent "gathered" reflection to discern what to do. Yet silence “plays” about as well on the internet as it does on talk radio. Imagine Rush Limbaugh interrupting a debate (usually one-sided) with “Let’s pause a moment in silence to consider what the caller is saying.”

Quaker silence gets even more complicated because Friends seek to be “spirit-led” in the stillness of reflection and meditation. When was the last time you sought the spirit as you were e-mailing or texting? I’m not saying it doesn’t happen (it is more likely in the pauses of text exchanges than in, say, board room discussions or political debates), but it’s increasingly unlikely in this rapid-fire world.

For many Quakers, “spirit-led” means led by God. As a Friend recently commented, “When I look into the eyes of another, I am looking into the eyes of God.” The comment comes from the core Quaker belief that there is “that of God (or the Spirit, or both) in everyone.”

But if you aren’t looking at another person, you are unlikely to fully feel in the presence of their divinity. And if they are not looking into your eyes, your own divine presence may be forgotten. Our communication is shaped by that presence, or, alas, lack of it.

I raise these questions because of the tendency to conduct more and more business through the internet, conference calls, and, yes, video conferencing. I’m suggesting, as many others have, that every medium shapes its content — and hence the outcome of communication.

We all should ask ourselves how our decisions are altered by the medium we choose. And then we should consider what we might have decided had we met face-to-face — sharing in timely silence, allowing the “spirit” to lead us, seeing the divine presence in each other’s eyes.

Question: How might the decisions of our democratic institutions (Congress, the judicial system, elections) be different if they adopted these practices?

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Monday, July 18, 2011

'War is the Enemy'

In 1942, just after the U.S. entered World War II, and the propaganda machines rallied Americans to the cause of the “Good War,” A..J. Muste, a devout and articulate pacifist, wrote a pamphlet addressed to his fellow Quakers.

In it, he proclaimed the on-going need to speak out against war during war time. His pamphlet carefully and rationally lays out why.

I came across Muste’s essay on line after watching a recent PBS Newhour segment featuring First Lt. Paul Rieckhoof, who heads Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. Rieckhoof told the TV audience that more US military personnel engaged in the Iraq an Afghanistan conflicts are now dying by suicide than are dying in the fighting.

Last year, 468 suicides occurred throughout the armed forces. Of those, 301 were in the regular Army, Reserves, and National Guard, up more than 20 percent from the year before.

As Rieckhoof pointed out, the problem of war-related suicide is even bigger than these figures indicate. “We're not even tracking the 2.3 million veterans who have come home and have cycled out of the military since 9/11."

The PBS story grew out of the President’s announcing a policy change regarding presidential letters of condolence. The President has decided to add the families of military personnel who died by their own hands to all families receiving the letters.

Mounting suicides, the civilian deaths and the damage caused by the post-traumatic stress of war all reveal how, even after the fighting stops and the enemy retreats or is vanquished, the shock, pain and grief never end for those who have experienced war.

The words that immediately came to me were “War is the enemy.”

Certainly, I thought, this phrase couldn’t be original. I searched for it on line and up popped Muste’s nearly 70-year-old essay.

Its title...“War is the Enemy.”

The link to it is HERE.

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