Monday, December 8, 2008

Bailout Hypocrisy, part 2

Double Standards

In an ongoing series of bailout related news, I am taking the whos of the previous question one further and to wonder what is different between the financial sector and the auto secter.

The media has started to pick up on this story and wonder about it, but I don’t know that it is breaking through, so here it is: why do financial institutions get free cash in amounts of hundreds of billions of dollars and the Big Three Automakers have asked for a few billion in loans, Congress suddenly needs for them to account for every penny and plead their case. When Chicken Littles at Bear Stearns and AIG say that the sky is falling, Congress can’t act fast enough and can’t be saddled with demands for financial scrutiny. But when GM and Ford appear before Congress, hat-in-hand, they say “come back in a couple of weeks when you’ve got your s--- together.”

Another double standard? AIG spent tons on a spa, and Citi, after its $25 billion from Congress, turned around and spent $400 million of that to name the NY Mets’ new ballpark. When the head of GM flew to Washington in his private jet, he was berated as “out of touch”. He needed to make a show of it with his return to Washington in a Chevy Malibu. The hat-in-hand wasn’t good enough, eh?

Rachel Maddow astutely pointed out the real difference between giving $700 BILLION (so big it needs caps) to Wall Street and lending $25 billion to Detroit is just that: Wall Street versus Detroit. The sums and conditions are just icing on the cake. Because Wall Street provides us with a few white collar jobs, these institutions are too big to fail, while Detroit provides us with many blue collar jobs, so they can freely hang out on the chopping block. Regardless of whether these institutions really need our money and regardless of their mistakes, the difference between what happens when these industries fail can never come to the table because Still Pres. Bush and Congress have taken the credit industry out of the discussion. They’ve given a free pass to all of the bad actors, and pig-headed executives while leaving Detroit out to dry. This is really what they think about the so-called Middle Class.

And as they flush it down the toilet, communities that have driven the entire country’s economy and saved us during WWII are to be flushed right down with it. If the Democrats aren’t careful, they just might irrevocably alienate the Midwest the way they did with the Civil Rights Act.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Bailout Hypocrisy, part 1

Who doesn’t love a hypocrite?

Here we are, two months after we were told that the sky was going to fall without a bailout of the financial sector. And lo and behold…it is still standing! Crisis averted!

But here is the question of the hour (and has been for many hours now): who gets ‘em? Which institutions get bailed out?
  • Bear Stearns
  • AIG
  • not Lehman Bros.
  • Citi
  • not yet, Big Three!
Is anyone minding this store? Is anyone paying attention to what is going on with this money? Does anyone care? Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Paulson asked for a blank check of $700 BILLION and pretty much got it from a compliant Congress.

Secretary Paulson is the former Chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs, a company that directly benefited from the downfall of Lehman Bros.

Then he decides that after spending only 1/3 of the money, that he would save the rest for the next president. Nobody seems to be asking why he needed $700 Bil if he were only going to spend $250.

Then he changed his mind again.

Do we have any better idea of who is getting this money?
Who will get this money?
Who has already received this money?
And what the criteria is for receiving this money?

For some reason, these questions continue to go unanswered.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The scandal of Centrism

The relationship between liberalism and conservatism is at an all-time irrelevance.

That modernist thinking of a linear spectrum with liberalism at the left end and conservatism at the right has not only become pervasive, it has encouraged both the intellectual world and the “real” world to check out from the conversation. It means that we don’t listen to either ‘wing’—that each one’s contributions can be easily ignored by the populous. It also means that the sweet spot of American politics is the mythic Center—a concept that I don’t know if we can easily define. Most adherents to centrism simply argue that liberals and conservatives “go too far” or they aren’t comfortable taking either position: two very different (and often at odds) philosophies!

But it has mostly been the conservative movement’s underlying pursuit of not only winning elections and governing as often as possible, but permanently defeating liberalism that has caused a whole-sale rejection of partisanship. Further exasperated by the media's ambivalence and criminal devotion to 'balance', the public interest in centrism therefore is actually the most dangerous ideology in America today.

Most dangerous. Worse than fundamentalism.

This is the true support of that dreaded relativism that ‘true believers’ rail against. Centrism as opting out of partisanship is not only a political dead-end, but it is a shocking reinterpretation of a truly new brand of conservatism—a maintenance of the status quo due to a lack of invigoration and new thinking. The Goldwater Conservative is both an obstructionist and a destroyer—intent on returning the world to a time that is past. A true conservative ideology is interested in maintenance and the eternal present. The purpose of planning for the future is so that tomorrow will look like today. The danger of new Centrism is that it seems to pursue this very purpose indirectly by stunting any prospective growth.

The truth is that political ‘camps’ are never truly at odds. They can only be at odds when one wants to grow and the other wants to shrink, when one wants to live and one wants to die, when one wants to buy and one wants to sell. These are issues, not ideologies. Liberals and Conservatives have different goals, different motivations, and different world views, but they both support the country. It is the same in the church. Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals are traditional “wings” of the Episcopal Church and have often seen their church in very different ways, but they aren’t opposites. In the 19th Century, the Anglo-Catholics were motivated by stuff—vestments, holy hardware, etc.—while the Evangelicals were motivated by evangelism. Do these seem to be at odds? Is there any person in his or her right mind that would consider these as ‘opposites’? Would anyone truly feel the need to take a centrist position and broker a deal that pleases neither group? Of course not! This is ludicrous!

The current political landscape is balancing on a very delicate precipice. Do we take a step toward greater understanding, more transformational work, and faithful adherence to our core principles (as Christians and/or Americans) or do we fall many feet to a ground representing irreconcilable discord, disharmony, and denial? Perhaps this is the importance of our current season of hope. That we can start having opinions and yet work for the common good at the same time. That compromise can be a first step in collaboration—not an end result of legal whittling. That the people can actually take interest in their organizations without betraying that great public interest in centrism. To me, these are great reasons for hope.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

On the Center-Right Myth

We've all been hearing about this for some time.  In fact, we've been pitched this same piece of bologna for decades--ever since the 1980 election, it seems.

It is also a favorite of the talk radio blowhards like Limbaugh and Hannity.  It is almost as if they believe more in the understanding that if you repeat something enough times it will come true than they believe in their ideology itself.  They say it so often that one can't help but think that they are trying to convince themselves.

The recent spate of belief in the United States as a conservative nation (or "center-right" as they are saying today) is an obvious powerplay to discourage the Democrats from doing what they are supposed to be doing.  But there's something else here: that we could be center-anything.

Back in the middle of the Bush presidency when he put up two ridiculously inappropriate candidates for the Supreme Court, whose governing ideology seems to be whatever-I-think-the-Constitution-Framers-meant-regardless-of-what-they-said-as-filtered-through-a-20th-Century-conservative-lens (or in other words, fundamentalism), there was a move by the self-tagged "moderates", whose position wasn't so much to find a "center" position, but merely end debate--which meant ending the filibusters.  In Congress, there is no such thing as a moderate.

It is like the current en vogue classification as "independent".  The independents make the following argument:
I'm my own person.  I don't let a party govern my ideology.  I do what I want.  I vote for what I want.  Look at me!  I'm an independent!  My view is more important than those partisans.  The 100 million or so people in the country that call themselves independents--we're different.  We're our own people.
I never quite understood how one person can be an independent when the plurality of people claim to be independent.  How can you be independent together?  I might also suggest the following dictim:
  • If you voted in 2008 for more Democrats than Republicans, then for the next two years you shall be a Democrat.
  • If you voted in 2008 for more Republicans than Democrats, then for the next two years you shall be a Republican.
  • In the event of a tie, your party affiliation will be determined by your previous vote for president (2004).
  • If you did not vote for any candidate from any party (including Greens, Libertarians, etc), but only for non-partisan races and ballot initiatives, then you are allowed to maintain your independent status.
  • Independent status may be revoked when a vote for a non-partisan race contains candidates that have been endorsed by a party.  This status will be brought before an unelected court of my choosing.
It seems to me that this Center-Right Myth says more about Daddy issues than it does about who we truly are.  It is a desperate plea by conservatives to not be left behind in the new era: as if they don't actually believe in their own ideology.  They need to stack the deck in their favor.

But the daddy issues are about us.  About how we want to see ourselves.  About who we are in relationship to our ancestors.  Clinton and Bush II both seemed to reject their respective party's heritage in their models of governance.  In an age in which the American people have had the most tremendous social influence on the world of recent memory, we have allowed a 'culture war' to lead us into regression.  At a time in which we believe ourselves to be post-racial and beyond bigotry, we have allowed politics of race and sexual orientation to make our government one of the most oppressive in the world.  Immigration, terrorism, torture, and rights for LGBT have revealed deeply-rooted racism, religious intolerance, and sexism in our political process of late.  But these things in no way match our social ideology, personal philosophies, or the vision we have for the future.

In truth, when asked about virtually any issue, the vast majority of people take a liberal position: on education, healthcare, civil rights, free speech, religious tolerance, you name it.  The only one that isn't that way is gun-rights, where it is something like 49% favor gun control.  Everything else has the country supporting typically liberal positions.  Cenk Uygur recently wrote the following in his column:
By the way, one more thing -- this has never been a center-right
country. Of course, there are pendulum swings in the political spectrum
and the country is more conservative at times and more progressive at
other times. But overall, we built the United Nations, we started the
idea of human rights, we expanded voting rights and civil rights for
everybody, we spread the idea of individual rights throughout the
world, and we even rebuilt our enemies after World War II. It is no
exaggeration to say that America is one of the most progressive
countries in the history of the world.
What Uygur gets right is American vision and a country at its most populist.  Liberalism and conservatism in their classical senses are essential to the US's very constitution (and Constitution).  But the truth of the American spirit is that progressive, liberal values must be the guide, as conservatism must serve as the conscience.  Conservatism's very philosophy makes it unsuitable for governing, but essential for checking liberalism's ambition.

I don't think that the United States is center-anything.  We are liberal and we are conservative.  We are progressive and regressive.  We are isolationist and boldly interventionist.  Having disperate ideologies represents an American ambivilence, not an American Centrism.  If the US is a nation of exceptionalism, then it is one of bold, progressive action.  And if it isn't, than we must be one of the pack, like our European cousins.  Neither description could be called "center-right".  Perhaps it is time we claimed American Ambivilence as our honest rallying cry.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Civil war and the strange soul of the Republican Party

According to juliewolf on Daily Kos, the Republican Party can be described according to 6 factions which are beginning a civil war.  I actually agree with her completely.  The suggestion is that each prominent Republican right now only represents part of the coalition, that seems close to losing libertarians and have already lost a great deal of religious and "values" voters.

But a question does remain, even after a resounding Democratic victory a couple of weeks ago: where is the Republican Think Tank crowd, the ones that have been spinning and re-spinning Barry Goldwaterisms for decades on this?  These six groups represent the character, perhaps the various persona of the Republican Party, but where is its soul?

If Reagan is its patron saint, and his undergirding philosophy is wedded to the Goldwaterian bedrock, then what does the Think Tank Republican (TTR) think of the future of the Republican Party?  I can't help but think that their answer would be "yes." 

You read that correctly: What is the future of the Republican Party?  Their answer would be "yes."

Confusing as a yes or no answer is to an essay question, I would suggest it is actually fitting.  The anti-government wrecking crew that are the TTR have been actively seeking the end of government for decades.  The purpose has been to both cripple the government so that it can't do anything and demoralize the public persona of government so that it cannot be relied upon.

I'm not really sure what the true purpose of this goal could be, as TTRs don't seem that interested in anarchy, and obsess enough about tax policy and unregulated profiteering to lead us to believe that they are most interested in a future in which the government goes bankrupt and corporations pick up the slack.

Also strange in this group of elite intelligensia is an inconsistent relationship with the place of and value of the United States.  There appears to be an obsession with American superiority, while championing a system that erodes nationalism.  In fact, "market fundamentalism" encourages us to worship a deity called "the market"--not only implying, but also flatly admitting that the market is more important than the nation.  Evangelism begins the shift away from national boundaries toward incorporating diverse elements that are newly converted.  But just as 19th Century missionaries (and even 21st C versions), the implication is that the newly converted are lesser and must continue to follow the lead of the originators.  This creates a ruling class ideology that undergirds the authority of the United States. 

This model seems to therefore reinforce its most blatantly absurd elements by relying on conflicting concepts: Western superiority and international equality.  Throw in the dead government and you have world run by US-based multi-national corporations (who no longer need to have their offices in the Cayman Islands).  But where does the authority come from in this model if companies are adversaries and the government is worthless?  The pundits and Think Tankers, of course!

I know this may come off as ridiculous to most, but I can't help but wonder what is really going on in Grover Norquist's mind--and why he continues to get invited to Republican strategy sessions.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

What it means

This election has been a lot of things. And, if we know anything about the parasitic relationship between pundits and the media, then one thing is assured: we will have no shortage of evaluations that are a bit too simple, and just a bit too easy.

This is the election phenomenon. There can only be one reason for anything, or at least one big reason for anything, or perhaps the reason that things happen, as if it can be isolated from reality, put in a jar and placed on a shelf for future observation.

The last presidential election was that way. The people were split pretty well in half, just as they had been in 2000. The Iraq Conflict, Bush's approval, and the economy were all tanking, but hadn't reached catastrophic yet. Rove's slime machine was in force and the Democratic Party was in chaos. Exit polls showed "traditional values", Iraq, and economy as important issues, with only a few points separating them. And yet, we remember '04 as the "values voter" year. The height of the political power of the Right-Wing Evangelical Block Vote.

So what will 2008 be? Probably the 'change' election and the 'economy' election. Not to mention the 'historic' election.

But like 2004, there's a whole lot to it. And to see it, one thing has to be acknowledged: President-elect Barack Obama slaughtered McCain. He absolutely destroyed him.

Here are the Electoral Vote tallies for the last few decades:
2004: 286-252
2000: 271-267
1996: 379-159
1992: 370-168

Since the 1960s and the birth of the "Southern Strategy", the only Democrats to win have been Southerners (Carter and Clinton). Nixon, Reagan, and Bush I all won big.

The truth though, is that Bush II actually represents the end. The end of the life of this strategy. His two "elections" represent two of the three closest in modern history.

Obama's campaign seems to represent the next cycle as much as McCain's tried to exemplify the old one. This is why I consider this entire election to be a broad and complext rejection of the 'Neos'. It isn't just a rejection of the Republican Party (which it clearly was), but a rejection of the characteristic ideology of both parties: neoconservatism and neoliberalism. In defeating Sen. John McCain, Obama not only will end the reign of neoconservatism in Washington, but has made the very ideology appear grusome and inhumane: a direct reflection of the Southern Strategy's use of race and culture (xenophobia). The Obama campaign seemed to simply pulled the cloak off this dispicable approach to politics, driving the vampires into hiding.

But in as much as Obama's election repudiates neoconservatism and its unholy marriage between market fundamentalism and war/human lives as a comodity with which the market could be fed, it also is a repudiation of neoliberalism. Both ideologies required hawkishness toward and blind devotion to both market solutions and military interventions. Obama's victory over Sen. Hillary Clinton in the primaries is a visible and symbolic victory over the neoliberal ideology that predominated the Democratic Party in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s.

Both of these ideologies, that ushered in an era of innefective government, served to strip the country of its community and ability to collaborate--the very heart of Obama's appeal.

So, as we all put the champaigne down and begin to stare at the harsh realities around us, perhaps we should avoid those simple and easy descriptions, remembering how significant the time is, how different it is from 2004, 2000, even 1992, or 1980. Obama's dramatic defeat of the two predominating ideologies will take a while to process. It will take a new president to guide us to what this means. Is it traditional liberalism in the mode of LBJ and FDR, or is it something new? Something that we might not even recognize?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Pot about Kettle: They know what "black" looks like, too!

I love this.  Rick Davis, spokesman for the McCain/Palin campaign went out and suggested that Sen. Barack Obama's campaign gets a "free pass" on negative campaigning (story here).

Here's the thing.  Negative campaigning isn't the problem.  It never was the problem. It's McCain/Palin's 1) constant negative campaigning since June and 2) the veracity of the negative campaigning.  It's the terrorist/Bill Ayers/ACORN's stealing the election/Obama's angry and uppity and elitist and dangerous/"he's using the race card"/inexperienced/etc. line of attacks that has gone on unendingly for the past 4+ months.  Most of his attacks have been way over the line and have led to inciting violence and racial epithets (see previous posts).

Sen. McCain's campaign has not only been over-the-line, and continuously so, but has never shied away from encouraging racism.  I couldn't care less whether or not McCain is a racist or whether or not anyone from his campaign is a racist, but his ads, his speeches, and the tenor of his campaign has not only encouraged racism toward Sen. Obama, but seem to have tried to find a way to get the racists onto its side. 

Lastly, and perhaps most disturbing in the political world, is that I have been an active follower of this campaign season since last summer and I have to tell you this:
I can't tell you what John McCain stands for.
Think about it for a second.  What is McCain's vision statement?  What are his plans for the first 100 days in office?  What would the McCain presidency look like?

I know he has it in for earmarks.  I know he thinks that his dad being an admiral and his being shot down and held as a P.O.W. gives him military cred, but I'm not sure what he wants to do with diplomacy.  He likes being in Iraq.  He doesn't want to talk with our enemies.  That's it.  He likes having a "mavericky" VP that might get impeached before the swearing in ceremony on January 20th.  What are his economic plans "I'm not going to raise taxes."  Great solution--in that it actually is the opposite of one.  Um...that's about it.

McCain/Palin has been so negative that it doesn't have any positive contribution.  It can't tell you what its administration would look like--just what it isn't.  And even that is inconsistant, since it is clearly not like Bush's, except the 90% that's identical.  We'll have a spending freeze except on anything that is remotely related to running the government.  Honestly, I don't get it.

So here it is.  We are less than a week away, and a news junky cannot give a positive assessment of anything one of the candidates has planned for the country.  This is in stark contrast to the 30 minute Obama infomercial last night that was on point, explaining economic, international, healthcare, and education priorities, with tangible plans for the first year.

So, Mr. Davis, as you cry foul, has it ever occurred to you that the problem has absolutely nothing to do with us, but in fact, everything to do with you?

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Bush Enigma

It’s too early to write a political eulogy, of course, as his final term is not over yet. And the next person hasn’t even been chosen yet, the one in the unenviable position of cleaning up his mess.

And yet, the one truth that must be addressed before we are able to bury the specter of the George W. Bush presidency is this: the existential crisis of the enigmatic, straight-shooting candidate vs. the belligerent, tyrannical president. That George was a different person as a candidate (both times) from who he was as president is not as surprising as the schizophrenic degree to which the compassionate conservative who wanted to reform government morphed into the emperor demanding our country’s transformation into a near-fascist state.

I figure I will address the monster-in-chief at a later date. But I am more interested in the former, the enigmatic candidate.

First, I will confess that this inspiration came from a review in Entertainment Weekly of the new Bush biopic W. by Oliver Stone. I have not yet seen the movie (though I want to). But the review seemed to expect Stone to either address his subject as a neutral subject, long dead and gone: Ray Charles, Shoeless Joe Jackson, etc.: or as if he were a left-winger bent on revenge. If Stone produces the former, the reviewer could be disappointed for Stone’s lack of vision and if he delivers the latter Stone could be condemned for being a partisan hack (film reviewers can have it both ways). Stone, in including most of the important background info, produced a film that is scattered and unfocused according to the reviewer. A “C+” it receives. All of the praise is reserved for Josh Brolin’s performance as the title character. He seems to channel the spirit of George without relying on ticks and other acting crutches. He gets an “A” for his performance.

What the review for a simple film actually reveals is the true zeitgeist of our 43rd president: a man that we all know without caring to know about. That he is in fact, just a face to us: a living caricature of a president with an archetypal past. We know what we need to know: he was a spoiled rich kid that everyone liked; he rebelled as a teenager, as a young man, and as an adult; his father paved the way for his path to the presidency. He is a born-again Christian who continues to rebel against his East-Coast pedigree by fulfilling his Texas-based dreams of being a cowboy. He is simple and plain and hopelessly devoted to his Dad’s ideology: oil is a good money-maker. This seems to be enough for us. We avoid the truth, even when it is presented to us.

He was an adequate student. He is charismatic and lived on that charisma through his entire life, including his time as president. He uses nicknames to manipulate and gain power over people—a subtle, “folksy” tactic that shows disdain for the individual (only friends get to give you nicknames—the journalist makes the leap to believe that they are now the president’s friend). That charisma got him power and influence that he could not earn on merits of skill, past performance, or knowledge.

Everything George has done in his life has been on someone else’s dime. His Dad’s friends lent him money to start an oil exploration company that failed. Then those friends bought the failed company and reinvested in it, promoting George to head of the new, bigger company. It failed. Then those friends bought it out, promoting George again to head the new, bigger company. He left with millions in his pockets and a 0% success rate in the oil business. Then, he gathered more of those same friends and bought the Texas Rangers. Even though he was only worth 2%, he was given control of the team. His biggest trade resulted in sending Sammy Sosa to the Cubs—before he hit 66 home runs. He was given more stock in the team than was warranted by his ownership position, but we know what that was about, really. By this time he was son of the President of the United States of America. He quits the business world to run for governor of Texas against a popular incumbent. Big bucks flowed in from Washington and a couple of Karl Rove smears later, he is governor of one of the biggest states in the country with absolutely no credentials for the job. His military record demonstrates the same nepotism and favoritism that typified his business activities, getting appointments that he didn’t earn (he failed the flying tests and he was demoted) as well as an early exit that was not endorsed or sanctioned (in other words, he went AWOL).

He is a recovering alcoholic and former drug-user (cocaine). His party-animal reputation continued past his teens and early-twenties and into his late thirties.

So why did anyone think that this man could be fit for the presidency? Because we didn’t really want to examine that past. We knew about it. It was reported and put on the nightly news. Half of us didn’t really care. The other half didn’t take it seriously (“Aren’t they seeing this?” we asked). But this isn’t a Republican/Democrat divide thing. This is willful ignorance. This is willful abandonment of our values.

We expect our president to represent our values. We expect our president to tell us what s/he is going to do. During a campaign, we invite them to prove their worth to us in speeches, debates, and explaining their policy priorities. For some reason, George got a free pass. He used circular non-logic, word-smithing, and character and ethic debates to derail the discussion that we all say we want. And then we blamed VP Al Gore for what came out of Bush’s mouth. And then again to Sen. John Kerry four years later.

George W. Bush the candidate seemed to combine all of the things we dislike about typical presidential candidates (inherited wealth, privilege, a Messiah-complex, insulated upbringing), attitudes that cause us to reject a candidate out-of-hand (drug problem, unsuccessful business background, accounting scandal), and personality traits that cause the electorate to worry (intellectual laziness, hot-headedness, belligerence, blind adherence to faulty logic). And yet, we didn’t care. He seemed to be the embodiment of all the things we dislike with a sprinkle of folksiness and charisma, but all we saw was swagger. Even after he perpetrated the greatest fraud on the American people in the history of our country, we didn’t push him out of office: we let him steal another election. So he upped the ante and we still didn’t get him impeached.

In Bush, we can see where the monster comes from: we can understand how George was able to take the power from those that didn’t guard it wisely. But what is inexplicable is that Bush could maintain that enigma after Election Day. How, in plain view, our democracy could be high jacked with a wink and a nod. Maybe it is charisma. Maybe Bush is just that good. Or maybe it really is us. Maybe it’s our own intellectual laziness that allowed us to trust the untrustable. Maybe it’s our own self-loathing that wanted to be mistreated. Maybe we want the book written about this time to say, like Esau, that we did this because we despised our birthright.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Palin and the scandal of wasting other people's money

You no doubt have heard about these hilarious financial scandals involving the Republican Vice Presidential candidate. The first was the thousands of dollars she forced the Alaskan taxpayers to pay for her per diem—while staying at home. Next was the tens of thousands spent on flights and five-star hotels for her daughters. Now she has spent $150,000 of the Republican National Committee’s money on clothes and makeup.

Jeez, if I didn’t know better, I’d say that she seems to have some problems with the basic concepts of conservatism.

So here’s the thing: don’t attack her for the clothes and the kids (both are actually pretty reasonable expectations). Instead, attack her for this: she really seems to like spending other people’s money. Not just spending it, wasting it. Blowing it. Look at the evidence: she expects the Alaskan people to pay her to stay in her home, spending the night in expensive hotels (while getting a second room for her kids--who weren't invited in the first place), and presumably on high-fashion clothes.

The reality of this argument is not that I expect the governor to stay at a Motel 6, 100 miles from downtown or to shop at TJ Maxx, but I do expect some frugality and responsible stewardship of funds.

Think about the state jet. Alaska, a huge state, much of which is only reachable by airplane, now only has a 28 year-old plane. One that was out of commission for 1/3 of Palin's time in office so far. The other plane, the one that her predicessor purchased so that he could, presumably, meet with constituents in his own state, was a loss. She jeapordized Alaskan infrastructure--and lost money.

In all, these issues reveal two things about Palin: her economic unfitness as an officer of the state and her selfish greed as an individual.

As a governor, she wastes her people's money. She shows little to no prudence and foresight with regards to the economic health of her state. She uses Band-aids when stitches are required. This inspires no confidence in me as she hopes to get to be a heartbeat away from our country's multi-trillion dollar economy.

As a public servent, she greedily extorts the state for her personal gain. This isn't stealing pencils from the office closet, this is bending loopholes in obviously inappropriate ways. The per diem is intended to cover travel, hotel, and food expenses on trips to visit constituants, not a little extra pay for going home. Her visits away from home didn't require first class travel and accomodations for the entire family. She probably could have kept the kids at home with "First Dude", her sepretist husband. And with the deep pockets of the Republican Party footing the bill, she felt no remorse in racking up clothing and makeup bills in the last two months that are greater than the average household makes in two years.

Palin's eagerness to waste other people's money should be a chilling reminder of what is at stake in the current economic environment. We have spent 8 years under one Republican with neither the ability to act with fiscal prudency, nor the moral fortitude to keep from benefiting from the arrangement. Mavericky? No. Bushy.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

McCain supporters commit violent acts

At the last debate, Sen. Barack Obama looked Sen. John McCain in the eye and gave him the opportunity to repudiate the supporters that have called for Obama's death.  And what did he do?  He complemented his supporters.  He thinks their great.

Also during the debate, McCain raised the specter of voter fraud--a favorite Republican bogeyman that actually encourages vote suppression--because of a successful ACORN recruitment effort.  So what happens just days after the debate?  Those wonderful patriots, those incredible citizens that support McCain vandalize ACORN offices and send death threats to ACORN personnel all over the United States as reported by McClatchy Newspapers.

This is what happens when a presidential candidate stokes the racist fears of the puritanical xenophobes.  This demonstrates the danger of the McCain/Palin rhetoric--it has begun spilling over into direct, violent action.  It has moved from shouting death threats to carrying out criminal acts in the form of breaking and entering, theft, and vandalism.  What is next?  What will it take for McCain to reject these acts?

And what does it say about his character?  What kind of maverick lets his supporters behave this way?  What kind of high-minded citizen and dutiful public servant stays silent; or worse, defends those who have gone to far?  Perhaps only one who recognizes his own guilt and complicity in tearing the country apart.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A perfect Special Comment

Last night's Countdown featured the Special Comment I've been waiting for: a plea for McCain and Palin to stop the violent rhetoric. Check it out!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A great comic strip

My favorite comics are the ones that make me laugh--and a bit upset.  Take a look at this one.  It is on Susan Russell's blog, and I just couldn't take credit for finding it!

Monday, October 13, 2008

McCain's gambit and the problem with betting it all

After reading this article on Alternet, which seems to reinforce the statements I've been making for the last week about the McCain/Palin campaign's hate-speech, new things became obvious to me.  Through quotes by journalists and polticians, the article shows the widespread opposition to this strategy, from condemnation as hate-speech at one end to being politically unhelpful at the other.

What is interesting, however, is the original response to this stuff when taken through the lens of what it could lead to.  Let me explain.  In the spring, when Sen. Hillary Clinton was losing ground in the primaries to Sen. Barack Obama, she began mudslinging with some borderline inappropriate suppositions.  The response at the time to "the Kitchen Sink Approach" came in the form of three predominant viewpoints: she is fighting to the end (Hillary supporters), she is handing the Republicans a ready-made campaign (moderate Democrats), she has descended her campaign into the hell that political campaigns must avoid, namely racism and fear (Obama supporters).  When McCain came out slinging at Obama, eager to paint him as unsuitable for the presidency, the worst fears of all (and the total expectation of the majority) of Democrats were realized: a campaign that was destructive and nasty--and entirely worse than anything in recent memory.

But here's the thing that I don't understand--the long-odds gamble.  When Sens. Clinton and McCain started throwing whatever they could find at Sen. Obama, arguing that they are demonstrating what fighters they are, how driven they are to protect America from whatever Obama is supposed to represent, why is it construed by supporters, and worse, the media as "the only choice" and "all [they] have left"?  Isn't pride, decency, and the very fabric of our country's political future worth preserving?  Why shred our ability to transcend partisanship in favor of a selfish desire to do literally everything possible to become president?

Let me say this again, because it is that important.  McCain has a choice.  He doesn't have to be a nasty jerk.  He doesn't have to throw his honor out the window and toss his scruples.  He doesn't have to make a deal with the devil and compromise the country.  He doesn't have to go about spouting vile garbage, insighting riots and lynch mobs.  He has a choice.  He has the option of winning or losing as a decent man.  He has the option of being a humane and humble leader.  But he's not.  He is selfish.  He is willing to throw three decades of public service in the toilet, flushing it with an angry hand because he is that desperate and selfish.  He is out of options and in his mind, the only thing left is to tear it all down.  Like a child playing with Legos and has trouble dealing with a better castle being made by another kid, he is willing to stomp on them, breaking the legos, the playmat, ruining the opportunity for himself, the other kid, and any other children that hope to play there in the future. 

McCain has always had another option.  A candidant doesn't have to live by the mindset: by any means necessary.  You don't have to ruin things for everyone when you don't get your way.  You can choose to run a good, high-minded campaign with every intention of winning.  You can be a good sport.  You can show people how's it's done: by being a role model for other political figures.

Nobody wants to see their husband, their father, or worse, their son running the type of campaign that McCain has.  It is dishonorable and indecent: it is the definition of obscene.  But what is truly tragic is that McCain had all the means of running that other campaign.  He had the opportunity to actually be a Maverick, not pretend to be one.  He had the opportunity to unite the people under important principles of bipartisan unity and debate--he could have made disagreement cool and useful, not a constant means of division.  He had the opportunity to redeem the Republican Party and helped us work toward forgiveness.  He had the the opportunity to be an inspirational figure.  He had the opportunity to out post-partisan his opponent.  He had the opportunity to do all of these things.  And at the end, regardless of how the chips fell, he could have won an historic and politically unprecedented election based on optimism, respect, and honor.  All of that was possible.  But he chose Rove's disciples to run his campaign and chose the low road, only worse.  He chose the subterranian road.

Maybe now we will understand that when you've run out of cards, you don't need to bet it all.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

John Stewart, I love you, but get on this!

I was reflecting on something John Stewart said in the last issue of Entertainment Weekly.  He suggested that he expected the Obama-McCain election season to be different, to be something new.  He was disappointed that we are at the same place we were at with Bush-Gore and Bush-Kerry.

He suggests that the campaign season hasn't improved.  Of course, I think it has gotten worse, but Stewart is looking at historical benchmarks as equals.  By saying that things haven't appeared to improve (kind of a vague, non-descript word), he seems to suggest that the 2008 benchmark is comparable to the 2004 and 2000 benchmarks.  I would reject this for two reasons.  First, this is a narrow sampling of benchmarks.  If all are truly equal, and things are consistently bad, let's include 1992, let's use 1980 and 1976.  Perhaps even 1968, 1960, or 1932!  These benchmarks can give the broad view that Stewart is suggesting, but with a more reasonable understanding of politics.

The second reason is the one that interests me more.  It is the idea that even though Sen. John McCain is trying to do his best to be George W. Bush Revisited, Sen. Barack Obama certainly cannot be Sen. John Kerry or Vice President Al Gore.  A more apt political comparison would be Govs. Bill Clinton or Jimmy Carter, whose campaign staff were from outside of Washington.  Or perhaps John F. Kennedy, who is known for having both a "typical" staff and trusted confidants that could tell him the truth.  This is not what Gore and Kerry had in their campaigns.

But neither is really the reason things are different this time around, and why many things don't seem better.  Yes, there is a back-and-forth.  There is a "my opponent says this, but..." case--but we are naive (or stupid) if we think that will change.  No, what is different is difference between logic and hyperbole, critical thinking and shouting, cogent arguments and lies.  This is the state of the campaign.

To be fair, things don't look different.  But perhaps that has nothing to do with the candidates or our reality.  Perhaps it has everything to do with the way we are covering things today, and what today means when it becomes yesterday.  With Stewart's harping on things not being different, he is trying to absolve himself of that responsibility for shaping how we perceive current events.

I like him.  I think he's hilarious.  I think he covers things the way I wish the network news teams would.  I think he seems to be unafraid to tell the truth when it needs to be told.  But I don't think he pushes the line.  His cynicism betrays the current arrangement.  As I said in the previous post, McCain/Palin have given up lying and moved into reality-fabrication.  They are not only saying something that isn't true, but creating a frame that is incredibly dangerous.  They are pushing a worldview that has a dangerous endpoint that can only lead to violence or sedition.  They have gone way past the line of acceptability and moved into the mad dogs of our past like the segregationist's run for the presidency through fear and racism.  They are adopting a platform that isn't merely racist and bigoted, but one that encourages hatred.

John Stewart is not picking up on this reality.  No one else is either, but we have come to expect more from him.  We have come to expect wisdom and clarity of vision.  We have come to expect truth-telling in the face of adversity.  And yet, silence.  Actually, worse than silence.  He is belittling this American moral crisis by simply suggesting that things haven't improved from 2004 or 2000.  No, they haven't, but a true moral crime is being committed on the American people: we are being stripped of decency.  For the love of God, McCain and Palin are tacitly endorsing assassination and mob 'justice' against a supposed terrorist sympathizer!  That is what there words imply.

But then again, we're all cynics now.  We had big hopes in the early 90's and Bill let us down when he made us parse the word "is".  When he tried to get out of lying about sex, joining Pres. Nixon in the Hall of Shame.  We think that all politicians are of equal 'bad'.  We say they both take money from evil corporations (even when the ratio is 90/10).  We act as if it is all equal.  And we act as if we aren't complicit in defining "now".

When an employee screws up, you put a note in their file.  If they screw up again, you write them up.  Then, when they really screw up, when they cross the line, you have ample cause for firing them.  You don't overlook the little stuff and pretend the problem will go away.  McCain has messed up from day one and we have given him free passes every week. Now that he's gone too far, what are we to do?  We are implicated in 'the now' by what we failed to do yesterday.

Here's to hoping that our journalists take responsibility for themselves today.  That they take responsibility for how they cover the candidates and this election.  That they take responsibility for the way they shape our understanding of reality.  We can't keep relying on the American people's ability to spot a bad apple when they keep acting as if both are bad--or worse--that they are both edible.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

When Mudslinging becomes Hate Speech

Here is the frightening truth of what mudslinging from the right can mean: it might be more than just words.

I've blogged before about the impact of hate speech on TV, radio, and in books written by TV personalities such as Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, and Ann Coulter. These people speak about murder, rape, and other violent acts as hyperbole--as a means of expressing the size of their outrage.

Besides being crass, crude, and inappropriate for anyone on TV (the same TV that fears Janet Jackson's nipple), these statements are dangerous if we are to see even the slightest truth in them. When one talks about wanting to drag someone into the street and having them shot, isn't the impression that you actually do wish bodily harm on that person? Even if you aren't making a suggestion to anybody in particular, aren't you at the very least suggesting that "it would be nice if it happened"?

Now, I'm a fan of Keith Olbermann's special comments, and this one from Monday night was excellent:

Olbermann describes Gov. Sarah Palin, not just as someone living in a glass house, but pointing out that her own criteria for damning Sen. Barack Obama as a terrorist actually makes her one. In fact, it makes her more of one.

Olbermann further goes after the very fabric of her mudslinging. I almost wish that he had waited and read this article by Jeffrey Feldman about what Gov. Palin appears to actually being saying: that she wants a United States Senator to be brought up on treason and terrorism charges or that a civilian mob should kill him. Take your pick.

The truth is that there is really only one avenue for the way the McCain/Palin campaign is going. The nature of the rhetoric, the very substance of their attacks is to charge Obama as a dangerous enemy. The strategy appears to imply that they think that they can get on a transcontinental train, get off at some spot in the middle of the country and that the train won't keep going--and that they aren't responsible for its travel. Or, like the movie Speed, they've strapped a (figurative) bomb to a bus, set the trip at 45 mph and let someone else get in the driver's seat.

The violent rhetoric spoken with both a visceral and (attempted) authentic disdain for Obama and then later with a wink, a smile, and "You betcha", seem to be heard as marching orders. The recent shouts at rallies of "treason", "terrorist", and "kill him" are the obvious and natural outgrowth of the nasty, hate-filled stump speeches by McCain and Palin.

So what does this mean? What are we going to do about hate-speech masquerading as campaigning? What are we going to do that will prevent a future examination of the present that doesn't say "Didn't they see it? What's wrong with those people?" What are we going to do to prevent such terrible violence from becoming a reality?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

He's no maverick

Here's a great article from the New York Times about the orgin of the word "maverick" and the family name from which it is drawn.

By any definition, Sen. John McCain cannot be called a maverick.  And to consider Gov. Sarah Palin one is a bigger slap in the face.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The honesty-deficit and elections

In a college class on mass communication, I read about the 60/40 principle, which stuck with me. It goes something like this: Republicans and Democrats always debate about the effectiveness of welfare. Democrats support it while Republicans oppose it. To defend their positions, Democrats traditionally use a statistic that showed approximately 60% of all welfare recipients were off of welfare within a year. This is intended to prove that the average welfare recipient is not living on welfare forever. Republicans use a similar statistic that showed approximately 40% of all welfare recipients go off of welfare only to return within three years. This is intended to prove that welfare is abused. Like every other discussion, they aren’t arguing about the same thing: the Democrat is talking about the average person and the Republican is eager to pick out the exception to the rule. What it does highlight, however, is the honesty-deficit inherent in the discussion. Both parties attempt to paint a picture that benefits them. But this often leads to outright deception and obvious falsehoods.

You would have to go back to the late 1970s before you can find a president with real integrity. Pres. Jimmy Carter is known for his honesty and “plain-speaking” (before that became a euphemism for bad grammar) and the victim of this honesty-deficit. Modern political scientists suggest that he would have been a better president if he had lied to us, instead of telling us the truth.

Carter’s successors are all known almost as much for their fabrications as they are for any successes: Reagan (trickle-down economics, Iran/Contra), Bush I (“read my lips: no new taxes”), Clinton (“I did not have sexual relations with that woman”), and Bush II (you know the list) all suffered and benefited from an honesty-deficit.

So here we are today: living with a standard that suggests that not only is lying a given, but it is acceptable. Not only is lying a better option than telling the truth, it is considered a mistake if you tell the truth. Yes, Clinton may not have been impeached if he hadn’t lied, but Bush did lie about much more significant matters and he remained in office.

That is why I find this election season so intriguing. Then Gov. George Bush got away with all sort of lies in the 2000 election because the media was enraptured with him and had it in for Vice President Al Gore (check out this Rolling Stone article). In 2004, we allowed lies to circulate because we decided that it wasn’t our job to disprove them, it was the candidate’s; so Sen. John Kerry fell victim to the blatant lies of the Swiftboat ads. This time, Sen. John McCain is using the same advisors (Karl Rove disciples) including Rove himself (while pretending to be an independent journalist for Fox) to run the most negative campaign in recent memory against Sen. Barack Obama. What is interesting about this is that Obama doesn’t seem to be “fast and loose” with the truth, he seems to be assessing the situation and describing it accurately. McCain, on the other hand, seems to be in an all-out lie mode. He puts out cheap, misleading, and downright lying ads and then pretends like he doesn’t know about them in public appearances. He makes cheap, misleading and downright lying statements in speeches all across the country and then pretends like he doesn’t know about it during the debates. During the debate, he tries to score political points with calculated deceptions, such as the tax-increase bogeyman, despite unanimous third-party agreement that Obama won’t raise taxes on the middle class. McCain even knows he’s lying.

This seems to create a certain level of cognitive dissonance: when one is accustomed to “small” lying from candidates and minor deceptions, we aren’t usually that trusting of our candidates, but we want to afford them some credence as experts. But what do we make of debates in which one is a truth-teller and the other is a liar? How do we deal with that? What seems surprising to me is that Gov. Sarah Palin seemed even more adept than McCain at lying in public. Her debate positions were truly indefensible and show an entire lack of credibility.

The question remains: what do we do with this honesty-deficit, and more, this honesty gap? How does a conversation with someone continue when they claim that 2+2=5? How does the media cover such a campaign as that? And how does the voter judge the suitability of a candidate when honesty is not ensured? For the sake of the country, shouldn’t we do more than call McCain on his lies, but instead demand honesty? Shouldn’t he be disqualified from consideration?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

We continue to fall for a racist frame

When Karl Rove whispered in Junior’s ear a few years ago “let’s run for president”, he did so with a particularly juicy strategy: recast the melting pot as a hyper-realized fragmentation set to go to war.  This strategy was much more subtle in 1994 as George W. Bush ran for governor and in his reelection campaign in 1998 (yes, the one in which he promised not to run for president in 2000).  We saw it in full-bloom, however, in the 2000 and 2004 elections.

This story has been well-covered, but hardly examined.  Just take a second to think about it.  Rove’s strategy was to cast southern and western white men with little education and blue-collar jobs as “the real America”.  The idea was that those people that live in cities (69% of the population) are fakers.  Minorities and women have evil agendas and are stealing the white man’s rightful place as king.  Education leads you to the dangerous place in which liberalism sounds pretty good.  White men unite!  We must take back our country.  This was the ideology in 2000’s “Who would you rather drink a beer with?” [preposition placement intentional] and the NASCAR dad phenomenon.  Both were euphemisms for southern, uneducated white men.

It was revised in 2004 to include women: remember the SUV-driving suburban soccer mom that was the target?  However, with the Islamo-fear machine and the culture war rhetoric, these further polarizations' true intent was to encourage white men to respond in a particular way.

So here it was, in late 2007, and the Republicans trot out the frame with all of their candidates flopping over each other in an attempt to seem more racist, angry, and vile than the sitting president: “I’ll keep Gitmo.”, “Well, I’ll double it!”, “Hey, I’ll triple it!”: and then at some point, it dawns on them: we’re taking on a white woman or a black man.  If we use our typical frame, people might actually see through it!  We’ll have to make it a little more subtle.

But really, there was no need: the media did it for them.  Raise your hand if you have heard the following statement from any number of network newscasts or read it in the paper somewhere: “Sen. Barack Obama has a white working-class male problem”.  No need to reference NASCAR dads, no need to talk about the “real” America: the media names the frame for them.

But here’s the real question and the underlying concept: Isn’t the white working-class male a small part of the electorate?  If Obama wins significant majorities of blacks (he will), women (likely), Hispanics (looking good), union workers (very solid), the proverbial ‘middle class’ voter (so far, so good), and even the wealthy (not out of the question!), why should he even bother taking a single white, working-class male?  Is that a notoriously powerful demographic collectively?

Secondly, “working-class” happens to be a strange euphemism.  It seems to imply labor that is traditionally middle class (manufacturing and agro-business) with lower-class pay and status.  It isn’t referencing the working poor that work 40-60 hours a week at minimum wage (a large percentage of our work force), but at the same time doesn’t seem to refer to labor unions or skilled tradespersons.  Perhaps it serves only as a proverbial representation: that auto mechanic that works on the corner with his four kids and has to pay medical insurance out of his pocket and all that he asks of his country is a little bit more of his paycheck in his pocket so that he can make ends meet.  Oh, and bomb the terrorists: he hates those guys.

Isn’t this mercurial concept of “working-class” not another way to say poor redneck?  Isn’t it another way to suggest that Barack Obama isn’t speaking for America if he’s got pretty much everyone on his side, just not the one demographic that matters: those poor white men?  Isn’t it another way of saying that every demographic of society is less important than the southern white guy—the “real” American?  Isn’t this the way of saying that Obama supports the terrorists if he doesn’t wear a flag pin, while Sen. John McCain’s wardrobe doesn’t matter?  Isn’t this just another way of excusing overt racism?

So here it is.  We have a black presidential candidate against a white one.  One is in his prime and the other is significantly past his.  One has spent the past year preparing and setting up a historic campaign with incredible infrastructure and planning and the other has spent the past year (or three) changing his position on every fundamental issue and reassuring his base that he’s one of them.  Both claimed to be above traditional politics (only one of them actually is) and yet we are still talking about a small cross-section of America: the “working-class white male” as if there’s a chieftain that has to ‘sign off’ on Obama!  As if white men get together in meetings to talk about whom they are going to endorse.  Of course I’m not allowed to go because I went to college—only the uneducated are allowed.  I don’t get to count in the white vote—I’m an elite.  Plus, I live in a city of over 100,000, so I’m not a rural voter, so that’s a second strike against me—a second way I don’t count

I thought about getting some statistics, poring through the census and finding numbers based on race and education, and it dawned on me: I don’t actually need them.  This concept is that obvious.  The middle class is a concept defined by percentage: the middle 50%.  According to the amorphous and changing definition of working-class, it excludes the top 75%, and since it isn’t really about “the poor”, then we can discount the bottom 25%.

Or let’s look at it another way.  Whites make up something like 55% of the population of the United States.  Roughly half of those whites are women, meaning all white men make up about a quarter of the population.  Again, not a majority by any stretch.  Now exclude those with a college education and/or live in cities and you approximate a seemingly insignificant demographic group.

And yet, that demographic group gets a veto power in the election?  Why this elevated status?  Why does Obama’s candidacy require this support at all?  The only minorities McCain has attempted to win over are Hispanics and women, both of whose support are compromised by his track record and his current behavior.  Doesn’t McCain need universal endorsement, as Obama appears to, or are uneducated white men the “trump” in the discussion?  Does McCain win the “trick” by getting the seeming endorsement of white men, while losing the vote of women, blacks, Hispanics, and other minorities?  And what about other designations, which include labor and management?  McCain is down 2-to-1 in active military personel, many of which come from this demographic that is McCain's "wheelehouse".

How is this not racism?  Why aren’t we attacking the network news for this overt racism, for framing the discussion in this way?  Why aren’t we calling for a campaign that, just once, doesn’t hold the southern, uneducated white man as the ‘real’ American, and instead embraces the incredible diversity of the American electorate?  Oh, that’s right.  Now we’re wondering how Jews in Florida are going to vote.  For a second there, I thought we had a shot to reverse this racist trend.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Boasting of the flesh

In my reading for today, I read chapters 5 & 6 of Galatians and Psalm 41.  I'm reading The Daily Message by Eugene Peterson, which means that I get a scriptural reading in The Message translation.  And what I came across really struck me.

A while back, I wrote this response to the LA Times that got the Far Right all in a "twitter" about my evil liberalism.  I have read comments and letters carrying such incredible venom, that I can hardly stand it.  I have been charged with many things, perhaps the scariest is that I am a good Episcopalian!  Oh the horror!

It is with this frame that I came across Paul's teaching to the Galatian church that got me thinking.  In Gal. 6:12-16, Paul states:
It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh that try to compel you to be circumcised--only that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ.  Even the circumcised do not themselves obey the law, but they want you to be circumcised so that they may boast about your flesh.  May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.  For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything!  As for those who will follow this rule--peace be upon them and mercy, and upon the Israel of God. [NRSV]
Of course, this wasn't what I read, but what I turned to after.  This is the translation I read from The Message:
These people who are attempting to force the ways of circumcision on you have only one motive: They want an easy way to look good before others, lacking the courage to live by a faith that shares Christ's suffering and death.  All their talk about the law is gas.  They themselves don't keep the law!  And they are highly selective in the laws they do observe.  They only want you to be circumcised so they can boast of their success in recruiting you to their side.  That is contemptible!

For my part, I am going to boast about nothing but the Cross of our Master, Jesus Christ.  Because of that Cross, I have been crucified in relation to the world, set free from the stifling atmosphere of pleasing others and fitting into the little patterns that they dictate.  Can't you see the central issue in all this?  It is not what you and I do--submit to circumcision, reject circumcision.  It is what God is doing, and he is creating something totally new, a free life!  All who walk by this standard are the true Israel of God--his chosen people.  Peace and mercy on them!

In reading this, I could not help but wonder about what causes the radical right such anger and begets such ire. I also couldn't help but notice the circumcision argument.  The first great fight in the church, Paul vs. James over the notion of circumcision represents the greatest theological conversation in church history. In some ways, we are still dealing with its repercussions and ramifications. 

On the one hand, you have Jewish law and scriptural-based traditions that required every Jew to be circumcised.  Further, the practical rationales included the simple fact that Jesus, James, Peter, John, and even Paul were all circumcised.  To be a follower of Jesus, from this view, was to be Jewish.  Some might consider this to be orthodoxy before there was such a thing.

From the other point of view, we have Paul's ministry to the gentiles.  Paul (rightly) recognizes Jesus's willingness to bend and break Jewish laws when they impeded the Great Commandment.  This means that Paul's understanding of Jesus's teaching was to spread the Good News to all people, regardless of their heritage.  By this, I think, we are still in unanimous agreement.  Where it gets sticky, though, is in the part where Paul does not require circumcision of the gentiles, that new converts no longer have to follow the Jewish laws to which we previously adhered.  This is a very different suggestion--and considering the current debate--one that we would not have an easy time today in answering.

And this brings up the root of the hypocrisy.  If scripture is the central authority, how can we denounce Paul?  It appears to me, that if we believe that the "orthodox" (James?) thing to do is to adhere to the law and the authority of Scripture, then how are we to respond to Paul's interpretation of the law?  How do we teach this lesson?  Do we then denounce Paul and throw into question or standing on scriptural authority?  Or do we agree with Paul and, as the Pharisees, appear hypocritical in matters of theology?  Or, as Sunday's gospel suggests, do we pretend that we don't know the answer?

As if that weren't enough, this was in the Psalm today (from The Message):
I said, "GOD, be gracious!"
     Put me together again--
     my sins have torn me to pieces."
My enemies are wishing the worst for me;
     they make bets on what day I will die.
If someone comes to see me,
     he mouths empty platitudes,
All the while gathering gossip about me
     to entertain the street-corner crowd.
These "friends" who hate me
     whisper slanders all over town.
They form committees
     to plan misery for me.

Hey, with friends like these...

Monday, September 29, 2008

Bailout failure brings country's memory back

In the midst of the hardest decision Congress as ever been forced to make in recent memory, the House split over the bailout. Perhaps the split (which defeated the president's plan) represents the closest thing to the first public victory in the new millennium. Seemingly for the first time, the wishes of the people trumped the leaders of both parties, and loyalty to constituencies trumped loyalty to party.

This doesn't mean that the Democratic and Republican representatives that broke from their leadership did so out of unity or for the same reasons (they certainly didn't), but they did so in the midst of the most terrifying time in cultural memory. In September of 2001, the people were in shock--but certainly not this kind of fear. Market volatility and banking crises seemed, for the first time, to be linked with the recent past for people. All of a sudden, deregulation and free trade, gas prices and green energy initiatives, executive pay and unemployment seem to be colliding into the moment many have been waiting for: not a depression, recession, or any other condition, but in a great awakening of consciousness. Its as if things are new today and that our understanding has fundamentally changed.

Suddenly the Keating 5 and the Savings & Loan scandal, which has somehow eluded the election process, despite Sen. John McCain's unethical ties and personal experience from the 1980s having an eery similarity to today's conditions, is now coming up. In fact, it is coming up as people are trying to honestly assess the conditions and feverishly hope to find something in the past to inform our current status and have found it in Reagan's first great boondagle. And the fact that McCain (and his favorite economist, former Sen. Gramm) not only failed to learn the lesson of the S&L bailout, but in some twisted way, seemed eager to replicate it with our banks.

More surprising, I actually heard the following argument on the radio: an economist admitted that there isn't anything we can do. That the only thing that could have been done had to be done a decade ago. That nothing can be saved--perhaps only rebuilt.

And most shocking of all is perhaps the former genius, the former rock star of economics (and former Fed chief) Allen Greenspan is now on the hit list, taking a great deal of the heat for his "love of all things bubble" as it was recently described. His chairmanship, taking Reagan's reverse-economics to the extreme, gambling the entire economy on a principle that doesn't generate wealth for the country or for the poor or middle class, but a principle that could only and always, create wealth for the wealthy, these machiavelian economic philosophies are now being scruitinized for seemingly the first time.

And this moment, this time of political fear and economic shock, a time when it is bad to be a homeowner, a stockholder, or an employee, we are having a truly great awakening, a moment where the country can examine its leadership of the last three decades with sober eyes and say this: how did you fail us? You took an oath. You used your position for personal gain, selling out the country (not unlike politicians in the 1880s and 90's) and brought about the very conditions of a new Great Depression. How dare you ask for a second chance.

Oh, that Tina Fey

Tina Fey is at it again! Her portrayal of Gov. Sarah Palin on last week's Saturday Night Live is even funnier than her first. But it does something truly incredible: it is helping expose the truth better than any news agency.

As Kurt Vonnegut so understood, and often quoted his literary predecessor, Mark Twain, truth is most successfully understood through humor. That is why it is comedians that have directed our cultural future throughout the 20th century (and why the Jerry Seinfeld era was so mind-numbing). In fact, Saturday Night Live was at one time the standard-bearer of understanding our politicians with Chevy Chase's Gerald Ford and Dana Carvey's George H.W. Bush leading the way.

Other comedic voices led the way in the 1990s--late night talk show hosts. Jay Leno--using Clinton jokes well after his presidency was over--and David Letterman directed our understanding of the Clinton years. The increasing influence of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report have begun doing the same for George W. Bush.

But now, it seems as if something is breaking through the fog: SNL seems to be taking on the establishment that it was too afraid to do for a decade and a half--and in so doing, is revealing the danger of mediocrity.

Tina Fey's Sarah Palin is hilarious, and the truly standout performance, with true witty, blatant gags for laughs, with truly subtle undertones of Palin's behavior, revealing the world what all the blather so eagerly overlooks: her intentions to be unqualified and to game the system.

But as you watch the video, make sure you watch Amy Poehler's terrifically understated Katie Couric--representing not just the opposite of the flambouyantly bubbly Palin--but portraying a journalist that can't figure out what to do with Palin; doesn't know how to deal with gibberish; doesn't know how to confront a sitting duck; doesn't know how to reveal truth in the midst of incompetance--perhaps only hoping that other people recognize what she sees.

This short skit reveals the political moment with such clarity (and of course, humor) and such beauty, it actually brings both shame to this industry of the exclusive interview and hope for the political process. It reveals the truth about a craven politician and an innept corporate media in a way that know 'hard hitting expose' or New York Times article ever could.

And it kind of makes me want to watch SNL for the first time in a decade.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

I'm tired of the 'spin' spin

It is getting pretty ridiculous when we can claim innocence for blatant lies by suggesting that we intended (A) but had no idea that (B) might go along with it.  That has been the entire defense of Iraq, the Swiftboat attacks in 2004 against Sen. John Kerry and seems to be Sen. John McCain's entire platform.

So that's what comes to mind when I heard this incredible news:  that a shadow group is sending out DVDs through the New York Times that are a racist, anti-Islam documentary.  According to Ali Gharib, these DVDs will reach 28 million Americans and the company that produced them, the Clarion group, suggests that they aren't trying to influence the election.

I'm sorry, but what else are you doing just over a month before the election, by sending out vile fear-mongering?  What else is there than that?  Are you next going to claim that it is coincidental that the DVD's subject mirrors some of the more disturbing elements of John McCain's platform?

It is funny, that the same week that McCain trashes the paper for being "in the tank" for Obama, they would except money for an "advertisement" of this sort.  It is funny that McCain is trying to play the refs when the refs aren't even paying close enough attention to how they are being played by anybody.  Oh, what craziness is this?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

McCain's "base" no longer sharing the love

I found this today with the best headline ever: "Press Frustration With McCain Bubbles Over: 'Has Your Bus Become the No Talk Express?'.

We let Bush get away with this in 2000 and continued to let him manipulate the press (he is currently doing it over the $700B bailout).  But here is the press finally getting tired of being played.  And it just may cost him...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Racism and the Irish?

This is an interesting note. Senator John McCain has had many different positions on immigration reform, sometimes supporting undocumented workers and other times not. His position was most prominently changed after that recent immigration debate.

So now, the presidential candidate is in favor of giving immigrants a "path to citizenship" (ie. amnesty) long as they are Irish.


McCain supports the Irish immigrants but no longer supports immigrants from Mexico and Latin America? Are you kidding me? What could possibly be different about immigrants from Ireland and Mexico? Hmmm...

So when can we actually deal with the racist elephant in the living room?

The scourge of the purge

In Michigan, as elsewhere, we are seeing the further advancement of the election tactic known as purging the voter rolls.

In advance of the 2000 election, the state of Florida passed an incredibly undemocratic law removing the rights of convicted felons to vote. This allowed the secretary of state (remember Katherine Harris?) to purge millions of voters from the rolls. They did it again in 2004, bringing their total purged well over 5 million.

This, as well as the broad discrepencies in exit polls and inconsistencies in many Florida districts brought the nation's attention to election procedures. This, of course, is a good thing. Republicans, however, turned their attention away from fixing the voting problems and turned instead toward caging and purging--two acts intended to bring down the number of people voting. These acts also disenfranchise the poor and the unrepresented in our culture. This action seemed to have the added effect of appearing to be the needed "election reform" that we wanted after watching the 2000 recount. They passed this off as the needed changes (because inconsistent voting machines should be blamed on having too many people voting?).

Now we have this coming to Michigan. This article here outlines the problem. It is illegal to purge voter rolls based on returned mail, and yet, the secretary of state (a Republican) is doing just that.

The problem, as with everything else, is that there is little time to do anything about this through the legal system. Urging Secretary Terri Lynn Land hasn't worked, and we are just over a month from the election. Even if a lawsuit by the ACLU gets a positive result before the election, it stilly may be impossible to get those individuals purged from the list back on it--and state law prevents them from reregistering that close to the election. Not to mention that the only way most of these people will learn that they have been purged from the voter rolls is when they show up to vote.

This is the height of unethical and immoral (not to mention illegal) procedure. True election reform must happen before the 2010 midterm elections, but if the last 8 years are any indication, I don't expect to see that happen. We must have the political will to make it a priority or injustice will be the standard.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Paul Reiser gets it.

In my last post, I decried McCain as a monster.  Here's another way to look at it supplied by Paul Reiser (yes the comedian), posted on the Huffington Post.  McCain as the childhood bully.

Adding to this the way the Right frames their discussions, there is a certain blogability to the infantiling of the American people by their Republican "Fathers"...perhaps that's next!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

McCain: I’m being an ass because Obama said 'no' to me

Senator John McCain has revealed himself over the last few months to be something truly different as a presidential candidate. No, not a maverick. I'm talking more like, say, a monster or the political version of a serial rapist. Here's what I'm thinking. McCain has said several times, including in Thursday night’s forum on service that had Sen. Barack Obama agreed to tour the country doing joint town hall meetings, the campaign would have a different tone today. It is an interesting suggestion, and probably half-true, since McCain wouldn’t be an ass with Obama on the stage with him. But this forgets political advertising, the very thing that has set this negative tone. I can’t imagine the Republican National Committee and their surrogate 527s running feel-good ads in any event.

The simple problem with this argument is that McCain is comparing Xs and Os. Apples and oranges. Or better yet, Xs with 4s. Town hall meetings—like any in-person campaign event—is a time of conversation with people. Political advertising, on the other hand, the source of tremendous negative mudslinging by the McCain campaign, are one-sided attacks beamed directly into people’s homes without any opportunity for rebuttal. Doing the former in no way precludes the latter. If Obama and McCain did a town hall meeting every night together, we would still have political ads.

And this leads to the grotesque underside of McCain’s argument: if you examine McCain’s comment from the other perspective you see that he is suggesting that because Obama did not acquiesce, he was forced to attack him viciously with lies and slander. The heart of McCain’s argument is, essentially, “she shouldn’t have worn that dress”. He is saying 'I was forced to become a monster because a) I didn’t get my way and b) Obama was allowed to exercise his own judgment.'

This, more than anything I have seen, exposes the darkness within the heart of McCain. It shows how he deals with failure, disagreement, and disappointment. It shows how cynical he is and how little he trusts others. It demonstrates not only an unwillingness to work with those with which he disagrees, but an unwillingness to deal with them humanely and decently. Like the recent article that encourages us to tilt our understanding of McCain to who he was before he was a POW (a bomber pilot, eager to kill thousands of civilian Vietnamese in collateral damage and direct attacks), the recent weeks have exposed John McCain—and the true monster that resides in his soul.

McCain Campaign: A House of Cards

The truth of the house of cards is that it always looks sturdy. It looks like a regular house. Or at least like a strangely-patterned one. It looks like it is strong, well-built, and of appropriate significance—until you blown on it, sneeze near it, or say, walk on the floor within a 20 feet of it.

The truth of the Republican smear machine is that they’ve built the McCain-Palin ticket like a house of cards. Our brains tell us to not trust them (for so many reasons, but let’s just say this: hypocrisy), our guts tell us to worry about them, and yet our hearts seem won over by the tails of gallantry, self-sacrifice, and “realness”. At least that’s what most of us are left with. The corporate media feels comfortable pretending as if they play no part in this, even though they spent the entire Democratic convention trying to expose some underground plot by Hillary’s secret army and the entire Republican convention fawning over the supposed “Tina Fey lookalike”. And this week we had the first public interview by Gov. Sarah Palin, which will do more to inspire confidence in the status quo than it will expose Palin’s true character. A letter circulating around the Internet, written by a Wasilla, Alaska native that knows her, is certainly doing a better job of that than Charlie Gibson seems capable of.

In truth, McCain-Palin are offering us very little reason to support them. In fact, in last night’s event, John McCain was asked about the negative tone of the campaign so far, with the moderator stopping short of nailing McCain on setting that tone. McCain then proceeded to put the blame on Obama, as he has over the last week and a half saying “if he had only agreed to the town hall meetings I suggested.” I don’t think I would have gotten away with that at home if I made a mess and blamed it on my sister: who was in the other room at the time. But the worst of it is that McCain actually stated that the way we know how tactics work is the way people vote; that the winning strategy determines future campaign strategies. What McCain all but admits is that he is running an almost entirely negative and schizophrenic campaign this year because a) it worked in the past and b) if it works again, Republicans will use it in 2012.

But here is where the house of cards analogy comes in: the media is obsessed with polls showing McCain and Obama in a dead heat (despite ample reason to doubt the veracity of the polling, especially an over-representation of Republicans polled in the recent batch) and with the Palin and convention bump. At the same time, they are reluctantly reporting on Palin’s baggage and occasionally pointing out one of McCain’s lies. BUT, they seem to be tied to this need to not be seen as picking on McCain, so they have to either tread lightly or makeup a story to run about Obama to “balance” it out. As of today, the corporate media are the unwitting accomplices to McCain’s lie, lie, suck up, and lie some more strategy. The pessimists in us want to give up—the corporate media isn’t going to do their jobs…unless they do.

What happens to the McCain campaign when somebody gives him the tough questions and makes him answer them, not with lies or pander (The McCain robot’s seemingly only two settings) but with accountability for what he says and for what those around him say. What happens if reporters are actually allowed access to Palin in the way expected of any other candidate? She’s been in the spotlight for a week and a half and has already lied enough times to fulfill an entire term in the House of Representatives under Tom Delay. What happens when the corporate media actually wakes up? All it would take is the slightest movement and all of the cards come crashing to the table.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Perhaps the most fitting September 11, 2001 tribute

I still don't like referring to it as "9/11" or simply "September 11th" as it is not a fitting title or descriptor of the day. I'm not sure what to call it, other than perhaps saving the day for a different purpose. Reserving the day for remembering self-sacrifice and help for others is natural, and is already the feeling many have.

But here is something else. Since I'm on a video kick, check out last night's "Special Comment" from Keith Olbermann:

On a day that still is reserved in many people's hearts as a day of frightening realization, and marked off for at least a decade's time as a day in which much of the world slows down, even still, we should be reminded of what it means to be a human being. We should, as we stop and reflect, take the time to be real people, with compassion for others, not political manipulations.

The truth is that Olbermann's defense of 9/11/01's memory is a fitting tribute, better than shooting lights in the sky, glorious speeches about the human condition, or musical tributes. Olbermann defends the day from crass and cynical exploitation. But more than that, he is defending you. He is defending your right to feel outrage and fear and sadness and worry and joy and all of our human emotions without fear of emotional manipulation. To use the horrors of mass murder as a political ploy is as disgusting as it gets. This isn't telling a story that tugs at your heartstrings or framing the issue to your benefit--this is exploiting America's trust on something we all agreed was off-limits. Shame on you, Rudy, John, and Sarah. Shame on you RNC. This is the lowest of the low.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Real McCain

For more, visit their website here.

No she can't.

Another picture I like:

Lie, Lying, Liar

Lie. It's a good word. We use it to expose more than falsehood. It exposes the root attempt to deceive. We lie because we aren't just spreading an untruth, but we are willfully doing so, directing others' attention to different things.

We use the word lie to expose that root attempt to deceive. We say that someone is lying because we don't want to pull our punches on this: this deception is too big, too important to leave as a "misstatement", "falsehood", or "untruth". It is a lie.

A liar is one who willfully deceives. A liar is a person that is trying to screw you over, swindle, and take from you. A liar is a petty thief or sniveling whelp. A liar is one who is much more than inauthentic, but a boaster and abuser. Liars are unethical and immoral. When we are liars, we are the worst versions of ourselves.

That's why this made my day! It's an article about McCain and why the corporate media seems so reluctant to "Call McCain What He Is: a Liar" as it suggests in its title.

And here's the thing. McCain has become a serial liar of the worst kind: achieving what he can't seem to achieve otherwise. He is the hypocrite that chose mudslinging before he even thought of what his campaign would be about.

The dirty, sick part of McCain, the serial liar, is that it appears to be a strategy. I don't just mean that he is telling "white lies" or that he is "stretching the truth" or using "spin" or any other gentle euphemism for lie. No, I'm talking about willful deception: out-and-out lying. He adopted this stance from the beginning, playing off of the "dottering old man" picture of him that was developing. But first, just think about the last 8 years. Think back to what Governor George W. Bush was saying he would do in the White House and then what he didn't. Think about all of the lies Bush told: about the economy, about terrorism, and yes, about Iraq. Think about Bush's constantly changing reasons for being in Iraq and making claims before he rejects them (and then claims that he never made them in the first place). McCain is inheriting a platform that is based on lies and seems to whole-heartedly embrace an agenda of lying.

Then, we have the lies that are the harmless non-truths. These are the statements that we all make when we've joined the bandwagon late and need to make up for it, so we make zealous remarks about how we feel about it. It's the "hey, I'm the greener candidate" McCain lie. This isn't spin, really. And we don't really want to think of it as an exageration or total lie, right? We just all know that McCain isn't a green candidate, never was, won't be on January 20th, but is using this issue to deceive for political gain. So yeah, McCain really is lying.

Politicians pray that you don't have a long-term memory. They want to say anything today, regardless of yesterday and tomorrow. They want today to be all that matters. Journalists, with their obsession with the "now" story, only feed into that eternal "now". They want today's story to be more important than yesterday's or tomorrow's because they have a scoop.

We are a people of yesterday, today, AND tomorrow. We cannot afford to let lying and other willful deceptions to change our tomorrow, just because everyone seems stuck in today (or last night).

Monday, September 8, 2008

Real Leadership

I'm not sure where this originates, but I found it on An Inch At A Time here.

Oh, and I'll add this: "True that!"

Thursday, September 4, 2008

And that's not all!

With Bush, it's like shooting fish in a barrell, but this was irresistable. Bush, taking any opportunity to push a radical agenda--regardless of his tonedeafness--suggested that Hurricane Gustav represents the perfect reason for offshore drilling. Huh? As I put it a moment ago, that argument is like suggesting that 1 + 1 = apple.

We recognize that the pre-storm efforts were important, and so is
the follow-up efforts. In other words, what happens after the storm
passes is as important as what happens prior to the storm arriving.

Spoken like one of the people that ignored the need to upgrade the levees prior to 2005. He soon suggests:

There are some encouraging signs. For example, during Katrina, rigs
would be -- rigs moved because of the force of the storms and their
anchors drug across pipelines, which caused there to be infrastructure
damage. We didn't see much of that this time, although I will tell you
that it's a little early to be making any forecasts.

Since there wasn't that much damage to the rigs that are there, we should load up out on the shelf! Now he's making the equation 1 + orange = apple.

One thing is for certain: When Congress comes back, they're got to
understand that we need more domestic energy, not less; that -- and one
place to find it is offshore America, lands that have been -- you know,
have been taken off the book, so to speak, by congressional law. And
now they need to give us a chance to find more oil and gas here at home.

Considering that the industry is currently running at capacity and has well over one hundred unused drilling permits, what we need for getting more oil is handing out more permits! Makes perfect sense to me. While we're at it, let's see if McDonald's can sell more cheeseburgers by authorizing the building of more franchises without the company showing any interest in doing so!

I'd much rather, you know, American consumers be buying gasoline
produced from American oil than from foreign oil. I'd rather our
dollars stay at home than go overseas.

Spoken like a man that hasn't paid any attention to what is going on with his country's labor force for, say, three decades! Yes, who wouldn't rather we be energy independent and using the local resources--but your suggestion here doesn't jive with the calls for drilling you are making. New oil discoveries would lead to production for international consumption, not local. And besides, when did you ever care about maintaining U.S. funds in the hands of its citizens--you ran up ridiculous debt to the Chinese and Saudis.

Actually, this is the paragraph that I find the most insulting, because it is something I whole-heartedly believe and it is something that he doesn't give a rat's behind about. He's just trying to sound positive, dressing up a pig, if you will. That is the height of cyncism and makes Bush the most dispicable man in America (VP Cheney is overseas at the moment).

And, you know, I know the Congress has been on recess for a while,
but this issue hadn't gone away. And this storm should not cause the
members of Congress to say, Well, we don't need to address our energy
independence, it ought to cause the Congress to step up their need to
address our dependence on foreign oil.

Another jab at Congress taking a recess--where they go home to both vacation and meet with their local constituants--by a president that is on vacation over 40% of the time!

And there's the part where he is using tragedy to justify drilling. He's back to 1 + 1 = apple.

And one place to do so is to -- is to give us a chance to explore in
environmentally friendly ways on the outer continental shelf.

There's the coup! He thinks by stating that this hypothetical solution to energy independence that won't touch the current price of gas, and won't have it's potential $0.01 price drop for another 10 years will simply make it happen. But better than that, while its hypothetical and not actual, let's throw on there its direct opposite to make it more palitable! Let's call it an "environmentally friendly" hypothesis. Yes, and clean coal won't still be about burning carbon.

Thank you very much.

No, George, thank you!