Archive for February, 2008

Isn’t He Adooorable?

February 29, 2008

 President Bush on why it would be wrong to hold talks with Raul Castro:

“What’s lost is, it’ll send the wrong message. It’ll send a discouraging message to those who wonder whether America will continue to work for the freedom of prisoners. It’ll give great status to those … who have suppressed human rights and human dignity.

“The idea of embracing a leader who’s done this, without any attempt on his part to … release prisoners and free their society, would be counterproductive and send the wrong signal.”

President Bush.  Talking about Cuba.

Bush.  Cuba.  Prisoners.  Freedom.  Human rights.

Get irony, much?

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The Equity System

February 27, 2008

THE EQUITY SYSTEM (through chapter 30 of “Everything Must Change” by Brian McLaren)

So here’s the problem: The global economic system has produced an ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor. As a result, the poor resent the rich, and the rich are afraid of the poor. This is a combustible situation that would predictably worsen until it explodes.

Now McLaren teaches that rich people shouldn’t take the problem so personally (i.e. it’s all your fault!). It’s the system’s fault. But Jesus says, Subvert the system.

McLaren quotes David Lowes Watson and Douglas Meeks, “Only a fraction of our sins are personal. By far the greater part are sins of neglect, sins of default, our social sin, our systemic  sin, our economic sin. For these sins Christ died, and continues to die. For these sins Christ atoned, and continues to atone… As long as evangelism presents a gospel centered on the need for personal salvation, individuals will acquire a faith that focuses on maximum benefits with minimal obligations, and we will change the costly work of Christ’s atonement into the pragmatic transaction of a salvific contract… The sanctifying grace of God in Jesus Christ is meant not just for the sinner but also for a society beset by structural sin.” (It will be no surprise to Juvenal that McLaren immediately follows this passage with a quote from Walter Rauschenbusch).

So what to do?

The invisible hand of a free market is insufficient. McLaren quotes J.F. Rischard, who claims, “Whether from intellectual laziness or from single-minded pursuit of ideology, what these free-market fundamentalists fail to see is that while central planners were either cretins or fools, the market is a moron. An effective moron, but a moron nevertheless: left to its own devices, it will churn away mindlessly…”

McLaren argues that the answer involves three dimensions:
(1) Apprentices of Jesus practice generosity to the poor
(2) Apprentices of Jesus call the rich to generosity
(3) Apprentices of Jesus set about the work of improving the system

I guess we just go at number one and number two, but to number three, the author spends the last chapter in this section (chapter 30) addressing seven specific systemic areas:
(1) Trade with integrity: integrating free AND fair trade, along with making it easier for the growth of small businesses
(2) Wise economic aid: for example, the One Campaign
(3) Wise debt relief: linked with needed steps of political reform
(4) Respect for environmental limits in terms of both resource consumption and population growth (in other words, both the Global North AND the Global South): maybe even shifting our vocabulary in our section of the world from our “environmental crisis” to our “overconsumption crisis” to focus on the root of the problem
(5) Fair wages: internationally, and even consideration of a “maximum” wage (for example, a factor of fifty – if the lowest paid employee makes $20,000, then the highest anyone could make in that company would be $1 million). In America, the CEO to average worker ratio is 301:1.
(6) The development of effective justice systems: networking to battle against corruption that hamstrings reforms
(7) Community and family development: rebuilding damaged families and communities seeking to recover from abuse at the hands of systemic injustice.

There you have it: thoughts, anyone?

NEXT WEEK: The final section, “A Revolution of Hope”

Clearing the Decks

February 26, 2008

This is neither here nor there, really, but I wanted to get my prediction on the record.

On his blog, conservative Andrew Sullivan has been critical of John McCain throughout the primaries, and falling all over himself with praise for Barack Obama.  Last week, he was off for vacation.  Since coming back, he has, IMO, been clearing the decks to shift from Obama to McCain in the general.  I think he realized during his time off that he’s gotten himself too far out of sync with his political base, and is now working on finding his way back into the fold.

And in other conservative news, it looks like McCain has stuck his foot in it, again, with the talk-radio conservatives.  Bill Cunningham, who I gather is a prominent member of that set, appeared at a McCain rally and made some remarks about Barack Obama that McCain then criticized and apologized for.  Cunningham is now saying on his radio show that he no longer supports McCain.  From speaking at his rally to denouncing him on the radio in a matter of hours: that’s got to be some kind of a record.

Will this linger and hurt McCain among the already less-than-thrilled GOP base?  I have no idea.  Anybody else have one?

CNN: I Can Haz Special Pleading

February 26, 2008

For the record: CNN has stopped trying.

I’m sitting here listening to their coverage of tonight’s debate, and it couldn’t be more clear that Paul Begala has dropped all pretense of being an analyst, in favor of simply advocating for Hillary. Earlier in the campaign, CNN had, under pressure, briefly banned both Begala and Carville, along with others, from covering the primaries because they were so closely associated with particular candidates. I’m not sure when they dropped the ban, or why, but it was too soon.

BTW, I’ve noticed over the months that Begala consistently refers to Barack Obama by his first name. So far as I’m aware, he’s the only person in the known world who does so. Is it a subtle attempt to prevent Obama from getting some slight advantage from the fact that Ms. Clinton is referred to by her first name?

At this moment, CNN is running a report about whether or not both Democratic candidates were wrong when they said the surge in Iraq is not working. To whom did they turn to decide the issue? Michael O’Hanlon. If you’re not aware of O’Hanlon’s record, he was a very vocal advocate for invading Iraq in the first place, and was very vocal again on behalf of the surge. Care to guess whether he thinks the surge is working?

State of the Race, 2

February 24, 2008

Texas and Ohio appear to be essentially dead heats, now, with Hillary still showing a very slight lead in some polls.  Obama’s fundraising numbers for February are expected to set new records, again, with some predicting a number as high as $50 million.

On the GOP side, we’ve had the kerfuffle over the odd NYTimes’ article, which seems to have been trying to insinuate that McCain had an affair in 2000 with a communications lobbyist.  This seems to be a case of reportorial overreaching.  The facts the Times had would support an article about McCain’s intervention with the FCC on behalf of the lobbyists’ client, Paxson Communications.  That might be worthy of notice because McCain paints himself as a man completely beyond the influence of lobbyists and special interests.  (“I’m the only one the special interests don’t give any money to,” he’s famously claimed.)  It remains to be seen how all this will shake out.  It’s safe to say the Times will come off looking badly (and justifiably so).  What’s not clear yet is whether McCain will also be tarnished — not by the Times story, but by some of the extraordinary (and demonstrably false) claims he’s made in reaction to it, like the one quoted above.

More on “What’s to Come” . . .

I’ve seen several articles around the internets to the effect that the primary line of attack on Obama by the GOP this fall will be a claim that he’s unpatriotic.  I don’t claim to know enough to disagree with them, but I do find it odd.  One of the things that’s been most striking to me during the primaries is the frequency with which one hears at Obama rallies the chant of, “U S A! U S A!  U S A!”

Maybe that’s been the case with other recent Democratic frontrunners, but I don’t remember it.  Obama seems to have tapped into a surprising well of Democratic patriotism.  Democrats tend to be liberal, and liberals tend to see patriotism as too close to nationalism for comfort.  (Including yours truly.)  Yet I’ve heard the classic American chant in, I think, every Obama rally I’ve seen any part of on the news.

Another new development: Ralph Nader has, once again, injected himself into the presidential race.  Democrats everywhere are swearing a blue streak, as Nader is generally “credited” with splintering off just enough votes in 2000 to cost Al Gore a victory.  It’s hard to know what Nader hopes to accomplish in these runs, anymore, other than stroking his ego.  The question now becomes if and/or how Obama can suck the oxygen out of Nader’s little corner of the world.  However it works out, it’s safe to say this is good news for John McCain.

What Is to Come

February 22, 2008

Now that we have (nearly) slew the dragon lady, Glenn Greenwald (who is all that and a side of okra) gives us a little preview of what we’ll face this summer and fall.  It’s been easy to forget how ugly it all gets, but there has been foreshadowing, and who among us can forget the examples he cites from previous years?  Sigh.

A Debate We Can/not Have

February 21, 2008

How many times since 9/11 have we heard the outcry from the Right — from the president, from members of congress, from FOX News, etc. — that we just can’t have a debate?  That if we have a debate, it aids our enemies?  That if opposition to some policy or piece of legislation is expressed, it gives comfort to our enemies?  That if specifics are discussed openly, it reveals our methods?

If I get the time, I’ll research it and try to come up with a number and some links, but I think it’s safe to say it’s been quite a lot.

So why is President Bush now revealing to al-Qaeda that without the specific provisions of the Protect America Act, America is unable to defend itself?  That we are wide open to attack?  That they can get together freely and plot anything they want, and we’ll never know a thing about it?

Does it not comfort and encourage our enemies to have our commander-in-chief declaring to all the world that we are vulnerable?  Does it not give them some insight into our methods to have him hyperventilate about the loss of the specific provisions of a specific piece of intelligence legislation?  Can they not ask, “Gee, I wonder what’s so important about the provisions of the PAA as opposed to the provisions of FISA,” and garner a useful understanding of our methods and weaknesses?

Which is it, Mr. President?  Can we debate defense and intelligence policy, or can’t we?

The Prosperity System

February 21, 2008

Since the McLaren discussion hasn’t been that active, I’m not going to push the discussion very much. Still, I need to process the remaining sections out loud, so here goes the next one…

In Part 6, The Prosperity System, of Brian McLaren’s Everything Must Change, the author presents Jesus’s teachings as a counter to “the acutely suicidal machinery of theocapitalism.” He presents his case in four parts:

#1: Jesus replaces the law of progress through rapid economic growth with the vision of good deeds for the common good.

McLaren focuses in on the Parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12: 13-21) as the ultimate example of an unsustainable economic system (where self-centered pursuit of wealth eventually gets you). He summarizes his argument this way: “In case after case, Jesus calls people to repent and defect from the goal of growing their personal wealth portfolios, and instead he calls them to grow their good deeds portfolios for the common good, especially the good of the poor and marginalized. The result will be a qualitative improvement in the lives of everyone.”

#2: Jesus replaces the law of serenity through possession and consumption with satisfaction through gratitude and sharing.

In this section, McLaren argues against the idea of happiness through consuming more and more, and compares the concept to the result of the story of Adam and Eve. Happiness (or serenity), he argues, is found instead in appreciating what one already has in possession and sharing with others.

#3: Jesus replaces salvation by win-lose competition with salvation through seeking justice.

McLaren uses the story of James and John’s mother’s request for prominent positions for her sons in Jesus’s kingdom as an example of the “prosperity law” that claims we succeed by rising above the competition. Instead, the author argues that Jesus teaches we prosper when our hunger and thirst for justice – not competition – is satisfied.

#4: Jesus replaces the law of freedom to prosper through unaccountable corporations with freedom to prosper by building better communities.

In this final section, McLaren argues that both the rich and the poor need saving: the rich from their addictive wealth, and the poor from oppressive poverty. McLaren focuses on the Zacchaeus story to demonstrate how both rich and poor are liberated simultaneously – “salvation” according to Jesus.

NEXT WEEK: “The Equity System”

The State of the Race

February 20, 2008

Obama won the Wisconsin primary last night by 17 points, just when people were saying Hillary’s plagiarism ads were making inroads. He won among “working class” voters. He won among whites. He came within 2 points among women.

It’s hard to think up a reason why WI doesn’t count, as the joke goes. It’s a primary, not a caucus. It doesn’t have a lot of black voters. It’s not a red state. It is an open primary, however, so maybe that’s the Clinton campaign’s “out” on this one. But 17 points? Yikes. And this is a state she was almost universally expected to win a narrow victory in, even after Super Tuesday.

With the big WI loss, her roughly 150-delegate deficit, her lead narrowing in Texas, and her campaign inexplicably just recently noticing how the Texas primary-caucus hybrid works, it’s possible Obama could pretty well seal the deal on Mar. 4th, when Texas and Ohio open their polls. He can’t win enough delegates to have a majority, but if he wins TX or OH, he will have a big enough lead and enough momentum that the intra-party pressure on Hillary to concede will become enormous.

Of course, indications thus far are that she won’t care about any of that. Her campaign still says the race will be decided not by the pledged delegates (i.e., the voters), but by the superdelegates (i.e., the fatcats). Rumor has it her campaign bus has one of those bumper stickers: “I’ll give up my candidacy when you pry it out of my cold, dead hand.”

But if she loses in TX or OH and still stays in the race, it’s hard to see what her rationale would be — that is, I don’t see how she could possibly win. She would have basically no chance of finishing the primaries with more pledged delegates than Obama. As it is, even before those races, she pretty much has to win every remaining primary by 20-point margins. That being the case, it’s hard to imagine that even her superdelegates won’t start fleeing like the proverbial rats, if she loses TX or OH. Actually, given the numbers, they might jump ship even if Hillary doesn’t win both of those states by huge margins, which she almost certainly will not do.

As best I can tell, Hillary’s campaign is effectively over. The numbers are just too much against her, now. Her campaign strategy seems to have been predicated on knocking out all competition on Super Tuesday, and when that didn’t happen, she had no strategy at all for the remaining races. She basically took a pass on the races in LA, VA, DC, and MD, and didn’t have a clear message in states where she did campaign, like WI and WA. Since Super Tuesday, all her strategists have been able to do is point to TX and OH and mutter, “Firewall.” But after losing so badly in the string of races between Super Tuesday and TX/OH, she’s in a position where defensive thinking like “firewall” just won’t get it done. Obama now has the firewall known as “more delegates.” Hillary has to get out from behind her defenses and go on the offensive: she’s got to start some fires, not hide from them. Having staked everything on TX and OH, she now has to win HUGE in both states, just to stay alive.

BTW, how long before we start seeing Amy Poehler on SNL doing for “firewall” what Darrell Hammond did for “lockbox?”

Don’t Stop Thinking About Morality

February 19, 2008

I guess it’s never too late for someone you used to like and respect to disappoint you.

Now, I’ve been saying since the idea first surfaced, perhaps seven or eight years ago, that there’s no way in hell that Hillary Clinton would ever be elected president of the United States. Look at the electoral college map. Ain’t gonna happen.

And that was why I never intended to support her candidacy or vote for her in the primary. But I figured that if the Democrats were so stupid as to nominate her, I would still vote for her even though I knew she wouldn’t win.

Now I’m not sure I could do that.

It started with South Carolina. Using racism as a political tactic is something Republicans do, and they do it very well — the Willie Horton ad from 1988, the “hands” ad that helped get Jesse Helms reelected, the Harold Ford ad from 2006, to name a few examples. It makes me sick that the Clintons would stoop that low. I expected better. It is pretty much unforgivable in my book. Even though it didn’t work.

But I think I am almost as riled about the Michigan and Florida delegate situation as I am about the racism. It’s just so … scurvy, to try to have these delegates seated just because she won more votes in those states (where there were no campaigns), because we all know that if Barack had won them she’d be leading the charge to play by the rules. Keeping her name on the ballot in Michigan and saying it didn’t matter because it wouldn’t count anyway. You know, as if she was planning to cheat from the beginning. This is disgusting to me.

And as if all that wasn’t enough, yesterday we have the “plagiarism” charge against Senator Obama. I was like, Christ, is that all you can come up with? It was cheap, sad, and desperate. I wondered how many of her people were sitting in a room combing through all his speeches, not to mention his garbage, to try to come up with something, anything, against him. This is politics at its worst.

So I’m thinking now something I never thought I would even consider. If Hillary gets the nomination, I may not vote for president. Despite everything that’s at stake, I’m not sure I can support someone who would conduct herself this way, someone to whom winning is more important than living by the principles she espouses.

Am I wrong for thinking this way? Or am I just finally seeing the light about the Clintons?