Monthly Archives: October 2011

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Madoff,

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Madoff,

How are you? I am fine. I heard on the news that you were both very sad after you found out that Mr. Madoff’s fraud was going to be public. Sudden publicity can be shocking, so I can understand why you both might be depressed. What bothers me is that you did not feel sad enough to not perpetrate the fraud in the first place.

I’m not saying that I’m perfect. We’re all human, and it’s human nature to make mistakes. It’s also human nature to sometimes do bad things. When we do a bad thing, though, we’re supposed to be sorry for it and to try and undo what was done. You both, however, used the court system to try and keep some of the money you had basically stolen from others. Because the US Government accepted the plea, you both now get to keep some of that money. This is bad because it is not good.

Your scandal made lots of other people very sad. Many of those people are still sad. They are deeply and profoundly sad. Some of them thought that the deep and profound sadness was behind them after they got out of the Auschwitz murder camp, but you found a way to shatter their peace and security in their last days on earth. When I tell people about how life can be unfair, I will be sure to use that as an example, Mr. and Mrs. Madoff.

I don’t think I’m being overly judgmental to say that what you did was bad and that you need to try harder to make it right. You’ve still got some of that money and before you say you need it to live off of, think about what the people that you made very very sad are going to live off of. They were planning to live off of the money you are living off of.

I hope you both choose to make things right while you still have time. As long as you’re alive, you can change and do the right thing.

Please try harder,

Dean Webb

Dear Michele Bachmann,

Dear Ms. Bachmann,
How are you? I am fine. I saw you on the news this morning, talking to Bob Schieffer. Your hair looked very nice. You said some things, though, that made me worried. You said that Barack Obama failed the USA and Iraq by withdrawing all troops that were not attached to a diplomatic mission. This makes me think that a President Bachmann would have kept the troops there. This would be a huge mistake.

Iraq’s government refused to grant US forces immunity from prosecution. This would leave the US soldiers there wide open to all sorts of legal hassles. Even if our forces made no mistakes, locals could still sue the deep pockets of the USA whenever they felt lucky. Should a soldier make a mistake, he or she would be fully liable for damages. That is bad because it is not good. If you kept soldiers there, Ms. Bachmann, you would put them all in legal jeopardy.

It’s not like the soldiers are going that far away, either. Kuwait still keeps a huge US military presence in the region. Kuwait is next to Iraq. If we had to invade Iraq again, we could do it like we did the last time, and use the troops in Kuwait to do the job.

But then you criticized President Obama for getting the US involved in two more conflicts, so that got me confused. Do you want the US Army involved in foreign conflicts or don’t you? You criticized him for the US’ involvement in Libya, but that involvement is pretty much over. There’s no need to prop up Qaddafi now that he’s dead. The other involvement sent 100 troops into Uganda to help end a reign of terror imposed by the Lord’s Resistance Army, which does horrible things.

As a side note, I find it extremely ironic that right-wing commentators questioned Romney’s Christianity but were quick to defend the Christian connections of the LRA, even though the LRA engaged in mass rape, dismemberments, and other atrocities. To the best of my knowledge, nobody has ever accused Mr. Romney of mass rape, dismemberment, or other atrocities, unless one considers provided broad-based health care to be an atrocity. But I digress.

Obama got the US involved in a war that is now over and another conflict in an advisory capacity. You complained that when the US troops leave Iraq that there would be fewer troops there than in Honduras. I want to know why you think it’s necessary to keep US troops in Honduras. You said that every time the US deposed a dictator, it left troops behind to keep a handle on things. Actually, Ms. Bachmann, the US troops helped to prop up a different dictator until he was able to establish his own death squads and other security apparatus like that. Iraq is trying to not have death squads, so maybe that’s for the best.

You also accused Iran of being ready to pounce on Iraq and snap it up. Iraq won’t let that happen. There are many reasons why the Iraqis, even though most of them are Shi’a, won’t agree to domination by Iran. Biggest among those reasons is that the Arabs of Iraq know that the Persians of Iran have a very hostile opinion of them.

Turkey won’t let it happen, either. They’re active in northern Iraq, fighting the Kurdish PKK there.

Besides, Ms. Bachmann, the war in Iraq pretty much did end about 3 years ago when the Sunni Iraqis decided to stop working with al-Qaeda. Since then, the violence in Iraq dropped by about 90%. Northern Mexico is now more dangerous than Iraq.

You also said we’re being kicked out by the people we liberated. Those people don’t see the US regime as a liberation. While Saddam Hussein was deposed, the subsequent occupation and the rules that went with it were hardly up to the standards of the good ol’ USA. At best, we were protecting Iraqis from their own nasty elements. The Iraqis will have to enact laws and agree to live in a civil, corruption-free society on their own in order to liberate themselves.

What really got me was when you demanded that the Iraqis reimburse the USA for the cost of the invasion and occupation. I suppose they would if they were in turn reimbursed for the hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties killed in US military actions. Or is that ingratitude?

Trying to understand your logic is really starting to make my head hurt. Maybe I should just stick to commenting about your hair, which really is nice. Who does it for you?

Also, one more thing: since there’s no way in the world you’ll win the nomination for the GOP’s presidential candidate, who do you endorse? Or are you going to do the “crazy” thing and stay in the race? Just curious.


Dean Webb

“It’s Been Peaceful So Far…”

That’s what the newscaster said as the Molotov cocktails flew in the background, engulfing a few policemen in flames. Greece is a mess, this we know. How much of a mess it is, we don’t know so much. The extent of the ails in Greece is past the comprehension of most people, including the Greeks themselves.

Let’s just say the police let the protesters through and the Parliament all resigned. Then what? Even if the people successfully take back their government, have their debts 100% forgiven, and establish a regime of peace and wonderment, they still have to eat. The Greek economy as it is cannot feed its own people. It does not provide enough to sustain the population therein. It can’t change fast enough to help them all. We’ll be looking at a refugee situation in that scenario.

I’m not at all one to support fascist bully-boys putting their jackboots on the throats of freedom, but maybe, just maybe, the Greek police there are actually all that stands between that nation having a depression, the good scenario, and a complete Somali-style state collapse into the hands of warlords, the less desirable scenario.

The people of Greece are enraged because their government lied to them. They also lied to themselves, adding to that anger. What they need to focus on is how they’re going to survive beyond the end of this crisis, because no amount of shouting, pointing, and Molotov tossing is going to put food on the table, let alone take care of the aged, infirm, and orphans.

It’s most certainly *not* peaceful in Greece, and that’s what worries me most.


I told my daughter yesterday that if she wanted to maximize her chances of getting scholarships she should read as much as possible. Upon reflection, reading as much as possible is good, regardless of age. So go read. Wikipedia is good, because it usually leads to more reading elsewhere. So read. Enjoy. Find one of those books that’s supposed to be totally awesome and find out why.

Dear Pastor Jeffress,

Dear Pastor Jeffress,

How are you? I am fine. While I was at church yesterday, teaching children the ages of 2-11 songs about Jesus, news came out about how you said my religion was not truly Christian. This makes me sad. I believe in Christ, and I think that’s pretty much what one has to do in order to be a Christian. I’ve also been baptized by full immersion, just in case that helps any. I accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior, and I even capitalize those words out of respect. So what is it that makes me not a Christian, but allows Catholics, Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans, Greek Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, Coptic, Nestorians, Anglicans, and other denominations that aren’t yours to still fit in your definition?

It can’t be the extra books business. Yes, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price. We also have a different translation of the Bible. The Catholics have centuries of papal pronouncements that help to give form and shape to their religion. The Copts in Egypt have quite a few extra books in their New Testament, attributed to Mark, which are absent in other denominations’ Bible. The Ethiopians have even more books – their Bible is the largest of any Christian sect, and they claim it is that way because they never endured persecutions such as existed in the Roman Empire. Why, then, don’t we use their Bible? Is it because they’re Black?

Because, Pastor Jeffress, when you were pressed between choosing between either Romney or Obama – who is a Christian by your definition when Romney is not – you unequivocally supported Romney. If this isn’t racism, then it’s confusing and illogical.

How about this, Pastor Jeffress… Maybe, just maybe a group of people in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (emphasis mine) are Christians. You may not agree with everything we teach, but perhaps you would find common ground in our assertion of the divine nature of Jesus Christ, in encouraging our members to take care of each other and our neighbors in the event of disasters “even as the Savior would have done”, how we emphasize reading scriptures, daily prayer, fasting, charitable donations, and in avoiding evil influences.

According to most Protestant theology, accepting the Lord Jesus Christ as a personal Savior is sufficient for salvation. Some will also add in the baptism protocol. That’s it. There’s nothing else in their view that’s required to be Christian. Pastor Jeffress, I’ve done all that. I’m a Christian. I’d much rather share my witness than have to explain over and over again that I have such a witness.

But, yes, Pastor Jeffress… “Mormons” are Christians.

Hope this helps,

Dean Webb

Plessy v. Ferguson

In the many years I’ve taught either US History or US Government, covering Plessy involved saying that it upheld the constitutionality of the doctrine of “separate but equal.” That’s it. As I was writing the above summary, I wanted to check on the date of the ruling and went to the Wikipedia article about it. I noticed in the article that Plessy was actually only 1/8th Black. He was 7/8th White. That means he had only one great-grandparent that was Black. If one switches “Black” out and replaces it with “Jew,” he would have been considered as part of the Volksdeutsche under Hitler’s Nuremberg Laws. Louisiana law in the 1890s held that a person’s ancestors from three generations back could condemn a man to a life as a second-class citizen.

The story about Plessy has more interesting details. Plessy boarded a Whites-only streetcar as an act of civil disobedience. He had grown up in Reconstruction-era Louisiana, with no restrictions at all based on race. There was no segregation in his world until after the federal troops left Louisiana in 1877, when Homer Plessy was 15 years old. Heck, Plessy was pretty much a white man in appearance – that’s him in the photograph at the start of this articl. He just associated with the Colored society of multicultural New Orleans.

In 1890, Louisiana passed its strict segregation laws and Plessy was part of a group that wanted to challenge those laws. Plessy wanted to challenge the laws because he felt that, as an American, everyone should get equal treatment. He could have it if he wanted, but that option wasn’t available to other people singled out by Louisiana’s draconian law. The railroad companies wanted to challenge the laws because they didn’t want to take on the expense of additional passenger cars. In 1892, Plessy bought a ticket for the streetcar, sat in the Whites-only car and, when asked if he was White, said he was only 7/8th White. In the four years the case took to get to the Supreme Court, the Court became more segregationist in its makeup and they ruled that since the streetcars for Blacks were equal to streetcars for Whites, the Louisiana laws were constitutional. Never mind that the schools and other facilities for segregated Blacks were of inferior quality: the case dealt with a streetcar, and so only the equality of streetcars was in question.

Justice Henry Billings Brown wrote the majority opinion:

The object of the Fourteenth Amendment was undoubtedly to enforce the absolute equality of the two races before the law, but in the nature of things it could not have been intended to abolish distinctions based on color, or to enforce social, as distinguished from political equality, or a commingling of the two races upon terms unsatisfactory to the either. … If the two races are to meet upon terms of social equality, it must be the result of voluntary consent of the individuals.

In other words, if a majority didn’t like a minority, that minority was going to receive a beatdown from that majority. The one judge that dissented, Justice John Marshall Harlan, wrote:

I am of opinion that the statute of Louisiana is inconsistent with the personal liberty of citizens, white and black, in that state and hostile to both the spirit and letter of the Constitution of the United States.

How different would our history have been if it had been Justice Brown in the minority and Justice Harlan writing the majority opinion? We would have not had 58 years of Jim Crow segregation. We would not have had William Rehnquist, later a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, write the following down when he was a law clerk for the Supreme Court in 1952:

I realize that it is an unpopular and unhumanitarian position, for which I have been excoriated by ‘liberal’ colleagues but I think Plessy v. Ferguson was right and should be reaffirmed… To the argument… that a majority may not deprive a minority of its constitutional right, the answer must be made that while this is sound in theory, in the long run it is the majority who will determine what the constitutional rights of the minority are.

A year later, Rehnquist wrote:

The Constitution does not prevent the majority from banding together, nor does it attaint success in the effort. It is about time the Court faced the fact that the white people of the south do not like the colored people: the constitution restrains them from effecting this dislike through state action but it most assuredly did not appoint the Court as a sociological watchdog to rear up every time private discrimination raises its admittedly ugly head.

This man later was nominated to serve on the Supreme Court by Richard Nixon, where he became one of the most conservative justices to sit on the bench. Had we not had that majority ruling in Plessy, would Rehnquist’s opinions have been possible? Would they have been tolerated in a Supreme Court Justice?

We live in an America where what happened, happened. We live in an America where not only was Rehnquist hostile to the idea of using the courts to roll back laws that created second-class citizens, he was also hostile to the doctrine of selective incorporation. The journalist Bob Woodward said of Rehnquist that he ruled, “with the prosecution in criminal cases, with business in antitrust cases, with employers in labor cases, and with the government in speech cases.”

So what did I learn from my dalliance with the Plessy case? Civil rights for minorities did not follow an ever-upward path in America. There were times when rights were on the ascendant, and times when reactionaries pushed back. Obama’s election is by no means “The End” of the struggle for equality in the United States. Racism in America has produced conditions we may find unimaginable today – and that it can produce them again.