Xpatriated Texan - A Maverick Believer in the Garden State

Christian Liberal is not an oxymoron

Location: United States

Saturday, April 30, 2005

Weekly Roundup

First, let me say that I know the subscription service isn't working right. I'm trying to get that fixed. Technology is a wonderful thing.

Second, I'm happy to announce that I've been asked to join Old Towne Review Chronicles. My first post there, which I plan to be an original post, will go up there on Monday (hopefully).

On with "bidnez"

The Revealer has a commercial you have to see that tries to put a face on the contraception issue.

Jim Wallis, who I heard speak this week at Princeton, writes about the Right highjacking faith here. If you haven't read "God's Politics"; I'd put it at the top of your "to read" list.

Body and Soul beats me to the punch to describe how the Paranoid Right is now fighting a cancer vaccination. Wow. You have to read that line twice.

Churchgal gives us a snapshot of how extreme politics of fear destroys churches.

Behind the Surface reminds us that the casualities we hear about in Iraq are someones Husband, Father, and Brother-in-Law. God bless.

Faithful Progressive discusses the use of religious hate speech.

I'm a Christian Too twists a concept to create the term "Progressive of Doubt". It's a good and thought provoking read.

On the lighter side, Preacher Mom reminds us that we are not all normal - whatever normal is.

I have to run for now.


Friday, April 29, 2005

What Bush Didn't Say - and Why

The one most amazing thing to me about last night’s Presidential press conference is that the President didn’t push for more tax cuts. Instead, he said that we have to keep taxes low because things look bright on the horizon. I don’t know what horizon he and his advisors are looking at, but it isn’t the one I see.

It does, however, stick to the Bush Administration’s historical tactic of denying reality. Just the day before, this article showed the economy was actually doing worse, not better, than it has in the last two years. Slowed consumer spending means slowed job creation and lower stock prices. Better take those shades off, Mr. President. Your future isn’t so bright after all.

Part of the problem is the weak dollar. The value of the dollar and the price of international goods have an exact inverse relationship. If the value of the dollar drops; then the price of goods rise the exact same amount. That means that if the dollar drops 5%; then international prices must rise 5% to get the same value. Want to know why oil prices are so high? Part of the problem is the weak dollar.

Why, then is the dollar weak? Part of the reason is the ongoing inability of the Bush Administration to balance its budget. Even Alan Greenspan is admitting that the new record deficits every year is “unsustainable”. Interestingly, Greenspan says Congress should cut spending, but lays the blame on “reasonable projections” at “current tax rates”. I think Greenspan’s Objectivism is getting the best of him, but I’ll not go into that right now.

There are many things the President can’t control about the economy and that shouldn’t be laid entirely at his feet. However, the deficit is one thing he does have some control over – because he suggests a budget to Congress every year. The deficit, in turn, impacts things that he sometimes claims credit for, but rarely accepts blame – such as this report showing that consumer confidence is dropping. While the President likes to crow about housing, the fact is that housing is more a product of interest rates – which are getting ready to explode because of (you guessed it) the deficit. Weak dollars are directly linked to falling sales, though, which the President didn’t mention at all.

That brings us back to the President. The budget he sent to the Congress this year contains another $70 billion in tax cuts. That kind of throws Mr. Greenspan’s projections in the crapper as it exacerbates the deficit. In fact, bigger deficits mean that the dollar will be even weaker and imported goods (like oil) will be more expensive. That means consumer sales drop again as you get even less for your hard-earned dollars.

This is what happens when you try to build an economy on spending rather than on working. Providing high paying jobs puts tons of money into people’s hands and they buy things with it. That makes the economy grow every single time without fail. Encouraging people to spend more, without giving them higher paying jobs, only decreases their savings rate and increases their burden of debt. In economic terms – it creates a growth bubble that hides a weak economy.

The American economy is a juggernaut. It will stumble ahead as best it can. If oil prices keep climbing – and there’s no indication they won’t – and if budget deficits keep robbing the value of the dollar – and there’s every indication they will – then we quickly set the “Way Back Machine” for the 1970s. Double digit inflation and double digit unemployment and no end in sight. It took Paul Volker (the Federal Reserve Chairman before Greenspan) raising interest rates above twenty percent to get inflation under control back then.

Whoever follows President Bush into office may want to keep Volker’s number handy.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Policy - Medicare B

Like I’ve said before, I try not to talk too much about policy around here. No one, even me, likes to sound like a huge geek (note to all Democrats running for office: drop the geek-ness). While I do enjoy talking in general, I like it even more when someone listens. Cats, I find, are good for this (at least they act like it).

But, dig into the cookie bag and reward yourself for being a good boy or girl and listen for a few minutes.

The United States is facing a crisis of health care. Things have changed a lot since my grandma paid the doctor fifty dollars and a live chicken for “birthing” her youngest son (my uncle). I haven’t actually tried to give my doctor a live chicken for seeing me, but I’m willing to bet he would prefer the insurance co-pay.

I’m fortunate and I know it. My wife works for an insurance company, so we are pretty well guaranteed some of the best coverage available – as long as she works there. There have been times when I was not covered. Anyone who refers to health insurance as a luxury has never stayed awake all night listening to the breath rattling in their child’s lungs and praying that it doesn’t stop. They’ve never limped to work with a knee that didn’t quite bend fully. They’ve never watched a doctor’s face change as he noted on your chart that there was no way you could possibly pay for his time, much less the x-rays and CT scans and blood work he’d really like to have.

Health insurance, in modern America, is a necessity.

Yet it is a necessity too many working people do without. I’m not talking about the homeless or indigent here. I’m talking about men and women (mostly women) who get up every day and go work at least eight hours a day and see a deduction in their paycheck to pay for Medicare. It’s inhumane to make someone pay for health care for the elderly while they do without the same benefits. It’s robbery.

A report released today by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation shows that almost a third of all workers in the state of Texas do not have any medical coverage at all. New Mexico, Florida, Montana, Oklahoma, Nevada, and Arkansas all have more than 20 percent of their workforce uninsured. Nationwide, over forty percent of these people have been unable to see a doctor in the last 12 months because of the cost of doing so. More than half of them don’t have a personal doctor and twenty percent rate their health as fair to poor.

According to Regency Blue Cross of Idaho more than 70 million Americans (out of a total of 180 million) go without health insurance for at least one month out of every twelve. The average time spent without insurance by those people is between five and six months (because a new job requires 90 days before you get benefits usually). Better than 60 percent of these people are under the age of 34 and only 20 percent are unemployed. Less than a quarter of these people have less than a high school diploma (meaning they aren’t stupid) and more than a third work for small businesses of less than 25 people (which is too small for group benefits and exactly the type of business the President loves to promote). Almost three-quarters of those without insurance were born in America.

Not exactly the picture of lazy, illegal immigrants soaking up benefits the right likes to paint, is it?

The fact is that everyone already pays for these people not being insured. Think about it. If your child has a high fever are you going to do nothing? Most likely you’ll take them to the hospital – to the emergency room. Of course you can’t pay the bill. Does this care come free? Hardly. Instead, hospitals over-bill others in order to break even (or make a profit).

The top four reasons a person is without insurance are: 1) They can’t afford the coverage offered by their employers; 2) there is no coverage offered by employers; 3) they lost their coverage when they lost their job; and 4) loss of coverage due to divorce or children are too old to be covered on parent’s policy. None of these are the fault of people who are doing their best to make ends meet. To say that it is their fault is to spit in the face of every working man and woman in America.

I suppose Congress believes that the retired poor should have just as crappy a life as the working poor. Congressional Republicans now agree that they will only cut ten billion dollars from the Medicare program instead of the twenty billion dollars the House wanted to strip from the program. At the same time, they are voting for another $70 billion in tax cuts. It’s a good thing they passed that prescription plan for Medicare because it won’t have any money to buy prescriptions anyway. (Oddly enough, they never explain how cutting $10 billion in spending and $70 billion in revenues works towards balancing a budget.)

So what’s the answer? As I blogged not long ago, the answer is to expand Medicare. Allowing every American to buy into Medicare B (or optional C) would flood the program with money. Coupling it with a one dollar an hour hike in the minimum wage would provide almost all of the money needed to buy into coverage. If the cost is split with the employer, who can then get a tax break (remember, small businesses are good), then everyone actually ends up slightly better off than they were when the mess began. Instead of following Wile E. Coyote over the cliff, we actually stop with the Roadrunner and take a step back from the cliff.

I’m trying hard to get this idea in front of enough people to make some headway. It makes sense to me. No one gets hurt and everyone benefits. Why is it so hard to get such an idea in the public arena? Perhaps it’s because it doesn’t scare anyone and, thus, does not translate into votes.

We need Congressional leaders who are more worried about leading and less about how they look when they lead. We need some leaders with enough spine to defy both parties and say, “This is best for the country.” Two nights ago I listened to Rev. Jim Wallis tell a crowded lecture hall, “You are the leaders you are waiting for.”

My friends, today I lay those words at your feet. What you do with it lies on your conscience.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Ethics and Rhetoric

I was happy to see this story concerning Republicans apparently backing down on the ethics rules changes that would have allowed a single person on the ethics committee to save Tom DeLay’s butt. Forgive me for being cynical, but I believe it probably has more to do with DeLay’s ongoing inability to admit that he may have done anything wrong – which transmits into an electoral liability – than it does any real concern for ethics. Not even a ride on Air Force One will save him from this.

While the House Republicans, known for being bulldogs on this issue, are learning how to compromise for the good of the Party - I mean country – the Senate Republicans are forgetting. Bill Frist, fresh from pandering to the Paranoid Anti-Biblical crowd, is saying that he doesn’t want to deal with Democrats and doesn’t have to. Dan Skinner reveals to use how it may have been because of Harry Reid’s blundered attempt to offer an olive branch. I think it is also a sign of why moderates generally do not make good leaders in Congress. Remember when Bill Frist was hailed as a moderate? What a difference two years makes.

Frist’s blatant play to the balcony also brought out this comment from one of the very judges causing this controversy. Ms. Brown has every right to speak her mind, and I defend that right. When someone uses that right to prove they are too biased to sit on a federal bench, though, it should not be ignored. Polling indicates that most Americans oppose changing the Senate rules to allow Republicans to ramrod such extremists through the Senate. Unfortunately, the schizophrenic nature of the American public (cause largely, I believe, by a general problem understanding things over a sixth grade level) also say they want to let these nominees get an open vote in the Senate.

The mixed signals obviously give politicians with no moral compass a bit of a pause. Do they let the court get stacked with Paranoid Anti-Biblical ideologues or do they adhere to the rules of the Senate? Do they simply do the unmentionable (which it shouldn’t be) and challenge the President to send less extreme nominations to Congress?

The problem with that is the rhetoric has already cast it as a war. Anyone who even speaks about moderation at this point is, by definition, a traitor. Everyone is now trapped in the rhetoric of their own making. The push to polarize the electorate is now at a spot that moderate Republicans are finding themselves alienated by the ideologically run Bush Administration.

The Republicans now have enough rope to hang themselves, Democrats just have to have the will power to tie a knot and hang on. More than that, we need a compelling vision to which people can tie their hopes and dreams. We need to stop being against everything and to start being for things. We have to get over the tendency to be nicer Republicans and start being better Democrats.

Remembering Grandma

Stop by and leave a post for Grandma.

We all need someone to let us know that we aren't alone sometimes.


Oil for Peace and Prosperity

I generally try to stay away from extremely technical issues here. I’ve had enough experience trying to talk about energy policy with people to know that their eyes will glaze over as soon as I say, “You have to understand a few things…”

However, I’m going to talk about energy policy today. Sorry, treat yourself to your favorite cookie in compensation. Thank Mainstream Baptist for bringing up the topic of peak oil to get me started on this path.

For those who aren’t up on the idea of peak oil , it’s a theory that the supply of petroleum in the ground is limited. This seems reasonable to me. Most peak oil theorists like to claim that we are past peak oil – meaning that production of oil is bound to start declining and eventually tail out. I disagree.

Using data provided by the Department of Energy’s Energy Information Agency (EIA), it’s pretty easy to see that proven reserves (that’s the amount of recoverable oil know to be in the ground) continues to rise. We actually know there is more oil now than we did last year, the year before, or ten years ago. One reason for this lies just to our north – in Alberta, Canada.

The road to energy independence is a total myth unless we convert totally from hydrocarbon based energy products. This might be a good goal for about a fifty year period. Until then, the best road for our national security lies in working with Canada to develop their oil fields in Alberta. Why? Because if Alberta were to declare independence from the rest of Canada, they would be the second most oil rich country in the world. Alberta’s oil sands hold fully fifteen percent of the oil known to be on the planet.

However, dealing with Canada would take a number of hot issues off of the political table. The recent House bill that authorized drilling in ANWR would be completely unnecessary if Alberta were further developed. It would reveal that the real issue, at least for the residents of Alaska, is the checks Alaskans get from the production of a public resource. It would reveal that the real reason oil companies are foaming at the mouth for it is simply because the US government will lease oil rights below market value .

As we look north, we should also look south. Mexico’s estimates of recoverable oil in the gulf is contested as to the amount, but not as to the existence of them. Mexico and Canada as of 2003 are the second and third largest importers of oil to the United States. Together, they supply over a third of the oil used by the United States. Saudi Arabia outranks them by only about 200,000 barrels of oil per day (which is nothing to sneer at).

None of this changes the fact that the United States will remain dependent on foreign countries as long as our energy appetite remains so high. However, in the grand scheme of things, it is better to depend on Mexico and Canada than it is to depend on the Persian Gulf. Canada is one of the most stable democracies in the world. While Mexico can’t quite claim that as true, oil revenues – if stewarded for the benefit of all Mexicans – could provide a long-term cure for much of Mexico’s internal dissent.

NAFTA was passed on the promise of improving conditions for all North Americans (except Cuba and the rest of those pesky islands). Partnering with Mexico and Canada to fully develop their oil industries would be an excellent way of doing that. Canada and Mexico would both benefit from an influx of American capital and long-term trading partnerships. Americans would benefit from more secure borders and less tendency to send our soldiers into the Persian Gulf to defend the world’s oil supply.

Peace and prosperity are nothing to sneeze at. In fact, they would be a noble goal for our energy policy.

Welcome to Blogosphere

I'm inviting everyone to check out Dan Skinner's new blog here . Dan and I approach things from different directions but end up at the same effective spot quite often. Hey, anyone who walks around with a sign on his backpack that says "SUSPICIOUS PACKAGE" is worth knowing.

It reminds me of Woody Guthrie's sticker on the inside of his guitar "THIS MACHINE STOPS FASCISTS".


Monday, April 25, 2005

Gospel to Gospel - Progressive Era to Now

Could it be that one of the most despicable capitalists of the 19th century may have a few words of wisdom for 21st century liberals?

While doing research on the Conservative movement, I was somewhat surprised to never hear anyone reference the amazing personal story of Andrew Carnegie . This is, of course, the guy that spent his later years building libraries , rewarding heroism , and even building a certain musical hall . He was a real bastard to competing businesses and laborers. He is the archetype in which Bill Gates remade himself.

The reason this almighty thunder-god of capitalism is despised by Conservatives is because – wait for it – he believed wealthy people have an obligation to society. It’s an obligation that goes beyond simply providing low paying jobs so they can eek out a meager existence. It goes beyond ostentatious displays of consumption that create a market for luxury goods. It goes to the heart of the Social Contract itself.

Read “The Gospel of Wealth” . Carnegie, it turns out, was one of the foremost men arguing FOR a national income tax. He fought FOR a national estate tax. He believed it was shameful for a man to die wealthy or to make his heirs able to idle their lives away unproductively.

Notice how Carnegie carefully separates men like himself – the wealthy – from those who simply aspire to live comfortably and pay their bills on time. “It will be understood that fortunes are here spoken of not moderate sums saved by many years of effort, the returns from which are required for the comfortable maintenance and education of families. This is not wealth but only competence, which it should be the aim of all to acquire.” In other words, Carnegie is placing himself directly inside of what is today (and was then) called “class warfare”.

The cure for such class warfare is for the wealthy to see themselves, while they are here on earth and able to administer their estate, as part of the same community as the poor. “The highest life is probably to be reached … while animated by Christ's spirit, by recognizing the changed conditions of this age and adopting modes of expressing this spirit suitable to the changed conditions under which we live; still laboring for the good of our fellows, which was the essence of his life and teaching, but laboring in a different manner.” Carnegie speaks of the wealthy being a good “trustee” for the poor – the Bible speaks of being a good steward. Either way, the result is the same.

It’s important to realize that Carnegie wrote “Wealth” at the height of Teddy Roosevelt’s rabble-rousing Progressive Era . Read Teddy’s 1903 State of the Union Message . He addresses corporate malfeasance – you know, like Enron and WorldComm and half a dozen other corporate criminals. He addresses fair labor without attacking business. Most importantly (are you listening Tom DeLay?) he says, “No man is above the law and no man is below it; nor do we ask any man's permission when we require him to obey it. Obedience to the law is demanded as a right; not asked as a favor.”

Conservatives would really like for use to forget the Progressive Era. It was filled with populist rabble-rousers like Jane Addams who based her Christian Socialism in her Quaker upbringing. How many people remember that a white woman was one of the founding organizers of the NAACP? How many have forgotten the name Hull House ?

It was a time when Upton Sinclair exposed the meatpacking industry in Chicago. Thomas Nast was developing a new form of political protest by exposing Tammany Hall and Boss Tweed in cartoons . The Suffragettes marched and suffered abuse for the cause of gaining voting rights for women. It was an era of trust-busting, advances in workplace safety, and a march towards equality.

The Progressive Era set the stage for the New Deal. The Progressive Era was an era when Christians moved to the forefront of politics – insisting that attention be paid both to the social causes and personal failures of poverty, despair, drug abuse, and corporate victimization. As the anti-Biblical right tries to remake the Bible in their own image and the secular Democrats are rushing for “the vital middle”, it is important to realize that the greatest strides were taken by liberal Christians who didn’t care if they were seen as wing-nuts, muckrakers, or rabble-rousers.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

No Tolerance for Intolerant Paranoid Christians

“Justice Sunday” is only the latest attempt of anti-Biblical Paranoid Christianity to portray itself as a victim instead of the victimizer. As the linked article states, when they start saying that liberal judges are a greater threat to Christians than Al Qaeda, they are stretching so far they should be a laughingstock. Instead, Republican leaders like Bill Frist have chosen to grant them political legitimacy by pandering for their support. Woodshavings gives a nice breakdown of this event (in case you have missed my own writings on it).

Of course, Christians are not being persecuted in this country at all. Do not, however, underestimate the extent to which they will reach to claim victimhood . Simply promoting diversity is an attack on Christian values? I must have missed that in the Bible. Perhaps it is in the apocryphal book of Retribution or something.

Paranoid Christianity always portrays itself as being unpopular and persecuted. They find succor in the words of Mathew 5: 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” I’ve commented several times that this leads to a masochistic philosophy where inciting violence against yourself is seen as pursuing the kingdom of God. If they were of any other faith; they’d be vilified in a heartbeat.

This is brought out in a rather scary fashion by comparing this story of two Muslim girls held in prison without charges because they wrote about suicide bombing (thanks to Old Town Revue for the heads-up) with the comments made by Tom DeLay (thanks to Majikthise for the link)and John Cornyn (thanks to Think Progress for this link) concerning violence against Federal Judges. Muslim girls get locked up for talking about bombs, but both DeLay and Cornyn shrug it off as understandable and don’t even get rebuffed by their own party leader.

No More Apples brings up the point that this grab at theological-political power is both anti-American and anti-Christian. From a prophetic point of view (I’ll admit that Revalations is my weak-point in theology – if the world is ending, I don’t want to know until I’m dead), it appears that the Paranoid Christian movement may actually be doing the work of the anti-Christ. I wonder how they’ll work this into NBC’s television version of the end times . Jesus Politics actually traces this back to the George Wallace campaign – which puts a different spin on the Dixiecrats and Trent Lott’s comment concerning Strom Thurmond’s bid for the presidency .

Deceptionconhell shows how the media goes along with this false victimization. As anyone who has been around a spoiled child can attest, such attention only encourages further misbehavior. However, when the behavior is dangerous – such as a child running into the street or the Paranoid Christians taking over American politics – you have to respond. I expect FOX News to be biased towards this group of core viewers, but CNN has nothing to fear from calling them fear-mongers and, to borrow a term from the < a href= http://ravingatheist.com/ > Raving Atheist , godidiots. That would, I believe, be a more “fair and balanced” description – so you’ll never hear it on FOX.

It is important, I think, to keep in mind that the Paranoid Christians are not just wanting to take out Buddhists, Muslims, and atheists – there is also a significant anti-Catholic bent to their teachings. I remember several times hearing someone in the pulpit talk about how the Catholic church wasn’t really Christian at all. Steve Hart (no relation) at The Opinion Mill reminds us that this prejudice used to be a real threat to survival in this country. Perhaps this is the “good old times” to which so many Paranoid Christian leaders seem to want to turn the clock back.

It’s also the basis of many discussions I’ve had on UnitedStates.com bulletin board on a number of topics. The ones that most immediately come to mind are those concerning the ACLU and Boy Scouts . It also bleeds into half a dozen topics from abortion rights to sex education to school prayer and “in God we trust” on our money.

Christians have been favored by government for so long that they no longer understand what it means to be equal with other religions. For my part, it does not weaken my faith at all if my neighbor worships another God or if they pray at all. It does affect me, however, when someone works in the name of my beliefs and my government to attack my neighbor because of his private beliefs. It’s just incredibly offensive that they do this while proclaiming that they are being persecuted.

I’m not sure what the answer is. At some point, intolerance has to be confronted. Exactly how to do this while maintaining a consistent stance towards tolerance is a bit prickly. Tolerance, it seems, simply cannot be tolerant of intolerance.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Battle Hymn of the Objectivism

There seems no limit to how far Objectivist Republicans will go to take apart the federal government. Old Town Review makes brief mention of this attempt by Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum to outsource the National Weather Service . While they tend to write it off as just one more attempt of a loony politician to gain some attention, I believe it is just a symptom of the ongoing hi-jacking of the Republican Party by Objectivists.

Objectivism , for those who don’t know, is a philosophy created by writer Ayn Rand . Her body of work, including the masterpieces The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged were basically dedicated to one purpose – providing a moral imperative for capitalism. Her basic premise is that, as a private philosophy, on intense self-interest is a legitimate action. She set this out specifically in the treatise as The Virtue of Selfishness .

Objectivism is a simple philosophy – as simple as taking the most selfish action possible at every step of the way. However, everyone has the right to be a selfish bastard if they choose. The problem is that Objectivism is not satisfied with making a meaner world one person at a time. They want to make it a meaner world by overtaking the government.

That makes it a problem for all of us. Part of the “Conservative Revolution” was a uniting of several philosophies into a common political agenda. It was headed by true Conservatives like Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan, but it also included a lot of Libertarians and Objectivists – like Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan. As long as they were in the minority, the specific differences didn’t make a lot of difference. All three groups had an anti-New Deal attitude and agreed that dismantling the social safety net created by Democrats in the 1940s and 1950s.

The problem now is that they are in power. Republicans hold majorities in both Houses of Congress. They have held the White House for all but eight of the last twenty-five years. They have a majority of federal judges that agree with them. What united them for so long now divides them.

You can still see Conservatives arguing that the federal deficit is destroying the freedom of our children by obligating them to higher taxes for our spending. You hear Libertarians arguing that much of the Bush Administration is in direct opposition to the guiding principals of the US Constitution. And you hear the Objectivists applauding pretty much everything the Government is doing now.

Objectivism holds that the only legitimate function of government is to hold a monopoly on force. The monopoly of force is necessary in case of the masses rising up against the wealthy to rob them of their wealth. This is necessary because Objectivist society is based on pure capitalism – what I was taught as a child was called pure greed. Objectivists have moralized capitalism in a manner somewhat reminiscent of John Calvin’s idea that worldly wealth is evidence that God approves of what you are doing.

Of course, strict Objectivism is actually atheistic. The little twist of throwing God in the mix is a result of the constant pandering to the religious right. It’s a dangerous twist, though, because it legitimizes every underhanded capitalistic trick that can possibly be pulled as long as it increases the bottom line. It believes that the poor are poor simply because they are morally inferior – and holds this as self-evident because God would not allow a worthy person to be poor, or sick, or stuck in a war zone.

This is really what is behind the push to privatize Social Security – not that anyone will be better off, but that God will work through the stock market to choose who he wants to be better off. The rest simply don’t matter. This is what is really behind the push to minimize government – in every area except the use of force. This is why the Administration worked so hard to build a (false) case against Saddam Hussein – and why they are now trying to connect him to Oklahoma City and every other bad thing that happened in history – because Objectivism cannot justify pre-emptive war.

If I am wrong, then I am simply a misguided liberal trying to hold on to the social contract that was in place at my birth. If I am right, however, then every one of us has a lot to worry about. Objectivism views every attempt to even soften it around the corner as a moral attack on its basic premise. It views anyone who doesn’t go along with it as a heretic and an enemy.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Wrestling with God's Own Rapist

When one holds a belief in an infinitely powerful God, the question is not whether it is possible for God to work through a rapist – the question is whether or not he would. There is certainly plenty of Biblical precedent for God working through violence. The ancient Hebrews engaged in wars, slavery, and what can be considered excessive physical punishment under Mosaic Law. In fact, most Biblical stories hold some germ of God making something wonderful out of what would otherwise be a horrible experience. After all, rape is no less horrific than offering one’s own innocent son for crucifixion, is it?

I was taught that much of the Old Testament is reflected in the New. Abraham was told to kill his own son to prove his faith to God. Yet in the end, after it became clear that Abraham would do so, God stayed his hand. The lesson, I was taught, was that God will not require of man the same extreme sacrifice that he requires of himself. There is the threat of violence, but in the end there is only mercy.

Jesus manifests this practice. He stays the hand of the angry mob when they would stone the adulteress. He speaks to Samaritans and eats with publicans and tax collectors. He even blesses Judas – the very one that will betray him – with the power to cast out demons and to heal in his name. He forgives Peter for denying him even before it happens. Jesus became flesh so he could more openly demonstrate God’s love and mercy.

So God can work through his own son’s murder, but I cannot conceive of God working through a rapist. God’s Holy Rapist? The idea is offensive. Sin is not the work of God, it is a sign that we have strayed from his presence. Yes, God is powerful and he can still work wonders with the broken pieces made of our lives by sin – but that shows how powerful he is despite sin, not because of it.

So why even broach the subject? After all, it makes decent folks’ stomachs turn and their skin crawl. For those who’ve never experienced that horror, it brings a shudder and thankful prayer. For those who have lived through it, speaking of it invites a re-victimization and opening of old wounds. Isn’t this a subject better left alone? Only a fool would try to justify the work of a rapist as God’s will. Right?

As I blogged here the anti-Biblical right is trying to insist that is exactly what happens. They are insisting that a woman who gets pregnant from a rape attack is no different than a woman who gets pregnant voluntarily or from carelessness. If she gets pregnant by her rapist; then that is a sign of God’s miraculous and imponderable wisdom. God is making something wonderful out of something horrible.

It makes me want to either puke or punch someone in the face – whatever happens first. Rape statistics indicate that a woman in the United States is raped, on average, every two minutes. If you accept the fact that it takes a man at least two minutes, on average, to ejaculate, that means we have an ongoing chain of rape that never ends. That doesn’t sound like God’s work to me – destroying the lives and souls of over 350,000 women per year. Not the God I worship!

Here’s the thing, though. If you can make the leap that God actually wants women to be raped (that’s hard to write); then why can’t you make the leap that God actually wants women to take Plan B? If God wants a woman who is not on birth control to get pregnant, why does he need to do so violently? If something good is coming from the process of being raped; then why does a pregnancy need to even be an option?

The thing is that Plan B does not even cause an abortion – the grounds upon which it is opposed. In fact, if a woman is pregnant when she takes Plan B, nothing happens. It simply gives a woman control over the timing of her menstrual cycle so that enough time has passed to ensure every sperm cell is dead before the egg drops. If that’s an abortion, then every single woman who has a period is having an abortion every month.

The whole concept is as ludicrous as the Spanish Inquisition torturing people into converting. Of course, it often seems that the Inquisition may indeed be the preferred method of government for the anti-Biblical right. They don’t want to turn back the Enlightenment – they want to abolish the Reformation entirely. Like masochists they are rushing headlong back towards the dark ages.

I know the Bible says I should love my enemies, but these guys make it damn hard.

Round Up

I've discovered some wonderful writers during my short time in the blogosphere (is it really a sphere?). These are just a few things I'd like to pass along:

bad christian's "Things that piss me off about christians, vol. 1" - short, but sweet click here

Churchgal - proving that God can send us a message anytime we open ourselves to it - click here

Faithful Progressive - who reminds me I'm not the only liberal Christian struggling through the swamp of American politics click here

The Grace Pages - because he put into words what I've struggled with myself for so long click here

I am a Christian Too - because I forgot to mention Pastor Dan's affirmation project and this guy has the courage to broadcast his personal statement - click here

LA Mom - because she sounds like someone I'd like to share a cup of coffee with and because I do believe that our disagreement on one issue shouldn't separate us totally click here

Progressive Protestant - because with all the heavy stuff, it's nice to see a cuddly picture of a kitty every Friday click here

The Reverend Mommy - for posting "The Voice of Thomas" on my birthday, and I have always held myself to be somewhat like the Doubting Apostle click here

Reverend Mother - who, in her first posted "sermon" showed that she is right where she needs to be click here

Thy Grace is Sufficient - for his response to Derek (scroll down for a good read) click here

If your name isn't up here, don't worry. These are just a few that have caught my eye over the last month or so.

God bless each of you. Thank you for allowing me to add my voice to your chorus, even if I'm singing my own tune.


Wednesday, April 20, 2005

It's a Jihad Kind of World

Well, I finally gave in to the internet silliness of the Unitarian Jihad and gave up the moniker "Xpatriated Texan" By putting my name in a box and clicking, I was renamed "Brother Holy Pitchfork of Forgiving Discussion".

I'm still trying to figure out if that is some unkind remark about my dissing DeLay and Frist.

Try it yourself here .

Perhaps I'll just refer to myself as "The Liberal Formally Known as Xpatriated Texan".

Justice is a Social Phenomenon

Religious Liberal has some remarks about the perversely named "Justice Sunday" that the anti-Biblical right is planning for this Sunday. Building the Beloved Community is holding a juxtaposed service called "Social Justice Sunday" to bring some Biblical sense of community to the day. I hope they can get some media attention.

From the same source, here is an excellent discussion of the issue. Bill Frist, it seems, is intent on being Satan's (aka, Tom DeLay) right hand man.

So I Can Quit Whipping Poor Tom DeLay

Here's one page that is trying to compile a list of all the dirty tricks Mr. Hammer has stooped to pulling. I'm guessing they'll run out of internet before that happens.

Thanks to Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo for the nice ad to this site, too.

At the risk of slight exageration - Tom DeLay is Satan.

More on Hatred, Paranoia and Republican Support of Terrorism

Thanks to Eschaton for Saddam Stole My Car Keys that shows how far Republicans are willing to go to excuse terrorism they apparently agree with. The reference is to this story by Fox News that shows how far into la-la land they are willing to go to pin everything on Bill Clinton.

Giving Republicans their Props

Just to show that I’m not blindly partisan, I’d like to take a moment to offer a cheer for Republican Representative from Connecticut Christopher Shays . It seems that there is at least one Rockefeller Republican left in politics. With the announcement of Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords that he won’t be seeking re-election, it’s nice to know that the people still have a real champion in the Republican Party.

For those who don’t recognize the name, Chris Shays is the Republican who introduced the campaign finance reform bill known as McCain-Feingold into the House. He drew my attention recently with his warning that the Republican Party didn’t really care about state’s right and was fast becoming the party of theocracy. I decided that I needed to learn more about Mr. Shays. I have found a lot to admire, and a bit to regret.

Probably the most admirable thing he has done is something of which I was not even aware. How many people honestly knew that the Equal Rights Amendment had been reintroduced into Congress? Somehow ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, and FOX all missed this! This has to be the single most important development for equal rights in the last two decades and no one even noticed it. For this alone, I may send Mr. Shays a (modest) campaign donation.

Then I found that Mr. Shays worked with one of my favorite Senators, Frank Lautenberg , to pass legislation that would force pharmacists to do their job and dispense all legal prescriptions that pass their desk. I would support a “conscience” clause perhaps if they can show that they also do not sell condoms or Viagra. Otherwise, their “conscience” is just selective – which is not really conscience but political agenda.

He also issued one of the most sensitive and caring statements on the Terri Schiavo matter. By adhering to his principals, he showed that even non-participation can be ethical. His ethics and moral values also led him to oppose the federal budget . He rightfully states that we cannot balance the budget on the backs of poor people.

For this, Chris Shays goes on my list of Republicans to support, or at very least, not attack. That list includes Rhode Island Republican Lincoln Chafee , who got my attention with this statement that he would not vote for George Bush because of his extremist politics. He also got my attention with this quote during the debate on gay marriage. He’s definitely a man of character – and good character at that.

That list includes both Senators from Maine, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins . Snowe has sponsored legislation to protect the ability of women to breastfeed without being hidden like they are something of which we should be ashamed. Snowe has also shown that she really wants to defeat poverty by allowing states to create programs that would send TANF recipients to college so they can get decent jobs. Collins sponsored legislation that would take a first step in enforcing parity in NAFTA (although I don’t think this measure goes far enough, it’s a step). She also sponsored legislature that would increase the stock of cells used to find cures for pancreatic cancer .

Then, of course, there is Senator John McCain , who has long been a favorite of mine. I can’t imagine what made him shake hands with the devil and campaign for George W. Bush. I guess everyone can be forgiven a few failings now and then, though. Regretfully, I cannot add Colin Powell to that list anymore. I support his life of service, but his tenure as Secretary of State simply undermined everything for which he once stood.

I do not endorse the idea of targeting moderate Republicans in order to make the party even more extreme. For one thing, I’d not support any attempt to unseat the above listed people. For another thing, simply unseating them does not give the Democrats a majority – which means that the few voices of moderation in the Republican Party would be totally shut out and the country would be pushed even further to the right.

In political language, two rights make a more extreme right. One of the reasons why George W. Bush seems so moderate to many people is the fact that Bill Clinton was not as liberal as everyone made him out to be. When Clinton co-opted part of the right’s political agenda, he pushed them even further right. Targeting people who are doing good work but happen to be in the opposition party will only work to the detriment of the whole country.

Hats off to Mr. Shays, Mr. Chafee, Mr. Jeffords, Ms. Collins, and Ms. Snowe. Long may you serve your respective constituents and the United States of America.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Let there be peace on earth - and let it begin with me

It didn’t change on 9/11. It changed ten years ago today (click here ).

At approximately 9:00 am, Timothy McVeigh shut the door on a rented truck and walked away. When the clock in the nursery school at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building read 9:02, his hatred tore a gaping wound in our national conscience and forever changed us all. At least, it should have.

It didn’t take long – about as long as was needed to prove it wasn’t really an Arabic person that set off the bomb – for the apologists to begin clamoring. It wasn’t really McVeigh’s fault, they claimed. His cold-blooded murder was the direct result of and response to over-reaching government that had become criminal at Ruby Ridge (click here )and Waco ( click here ). It was, they claimed, like everything else wrong with the world, Bill Clinton’s fault ( click here ).

It’s the same hatred that motivated Eric Rudolph to build and explode four bombs in Georgia and Alabama ( ongoing coverage ). Two women’s clinic, a lesbian nightclub, and the Olympic games were Rudolph’s targets. An off duty police officer lost his life and a nurse lost her eye. Rudolph, like McVeigh, shows no regret but shrugs off the suffering he caused by saying the attack wasn’t personal.

The same is true for James Kopp ( click here ). He was found guilty of the sniper-style death of an abortion doctor in New York. His trial took place five years after he decided to kill someone because similar minded people agreed to grant him shelter and give him food. At least he never claimed it wasn’t personal.

Of course, it wasn’t Clinton’s fault and it wasn’t a rational and necessary act by a freedom fighter. It was a cowardly and despicable attack on the most defenseless citizens of this country. Even if the actions of the government at Ruby Ridge and Waco were criminal, nothing – nothing – excuses such terrorism. Adding to the blood of innocents with even more innocent blood is never a just way to make a point.

It is, however, the rational act of someone in whom a deep-seated hatred was bred. It didn’t occur naturally – hatred never does. It was taught and learned and mastered and passed along again. That hatred still has a palpable heartbeat today – ten years after it should have been snuffed out. Instead, it is now being preached by members of Congress.

Tom DeLay of Texas issued a thinly veiled warning against federal judges after they failed to rule in what he determined was the proper way ( click here ) in the Terri Schiavo case. His buddy, John Cornyn, then used the case to excuse those who take violent action against judges ( click here ). Only ten years ago, this was the rhetoric of the “lunatic fringe” and now it is so mainstream that we actually have people running for Congress on it as a legitimate issue.

DeLay and Cornyn are simply passing along the hatred that is ripping this country apart. It has to stop. It is wrong in every sense of the word. It is anti-American and it is anti-Christian – regardless of the claims that they are done in the best interest of the country and at the behest of a vengeful God. Honestly, isn’t this the exact claims made by Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden?

If we are going to truly wage war against terrorism, then we must start at home. We must root out and destroy the hatred that is the core reason that terrorism exists. We must label acts of violence against innocent people as terrorism – no matter who acts and who is the victim. We must denounce those who speak words that even come close to legitimizing such senseless attacks.

One of my favorite prayers begins, “O Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace.” President Bush should seize upon the opportunity to engage in a national day of prayer and lead us in that prayer. We are a country badly in need of healing, a people badly in need of someone to unite us.

It has been said, “If everyone lives by an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, we will all be hungry and blind.” That is, of course, assuming that anyone is left alive.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

DeLay, Frist Give God the Finger

“Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.”

These are some of the first words I memorized as a Bible verse when I was a child. At that point, it had a very narrow meaning – you shouldn’t say Goddamnit. I’ve come to believe that the phrase means much beyond that childish interpretation.

According to the dictionary, it also means “having no real value”. It means throwing the Lord’s name into causes that are contrary to Christian teachings (such as eating babies every other Wednesday). It means claiming attacks are based on Christian values when they are not. It means – well, everything that has been coming out of the mouths of Tom DeLay, Dan Burton, and now Bill Frist.

Republicans have been caught looking petulant and childish by trying to change the Senate rules that allow a filibuster. Susan Collins and Olympia Snow of Maine, John McCain of Arizona, and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island deserve applause for standing up to the theocracy that has overtaken the Republican Party (watch their re-elections to see how hard they are challenged in the primaries). Unable to look like anything other than sore winners, Republicans are now trying a shameful attack to get Democrats to back down.

Bill Frist is set to address a ravenous group of paranoid anti-Christians who believe the whole world is out to get them. He, along with other Republican leaders, will tell the Family Research Council’s “Justice Sunday” that the effort to block judicial nominations is simply another front in the war against Christianity. (You can learn more about “Justice Sunday here and here and here . This is more than a simple lie – it is a political maneuver to further split the country for Republicans to take advantage of voters and maintain political power.

It is Tom DeLay and Bill Frist joining hands to scream “SCREW YOU GOD! WE HAVE THE POWER!”

The fact is that every single judicial appointment that is being opposed is being done on a specific body of writings and case procedure and decisions. These people are opposed because of their specific actions. It has absolutely nothing to do with religion. It has to do with pushing an extremist Republican political agenda – even if you have to destroy the country to do so.

It is also a sham – and a shame – that Republicans feel it necessary to push this as an issue of religious persecution. I live in ultra-liberal New Jersey. From my front window, I can see two churches. If I walk around a ten block radius, I can find no less than seventeen churches that hold weekly services in English, Spanish, Tagalog, Korean, and Arabic. Where is the persecution? I can’t find one single news story of a Christian being dragged from their church and stoned in the street. I can’t find one single person who has even heard of it in this country.

DeLay and Frist are giving God the big middle finger, and they are doing it while giving the rest of the country an anal exam. It becomes clearer to me every day that these men are not interested in upholding the teachings of Jesus any more than they are interested in upholding the laws and heritage of the United States. All they are worried about is winning and maintaining their stranglehold on power.

The Republican residents of power need to be reminded of the rest of the commandment concerning using God’s name in vain, “for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.” Perhaps the brainwashed, well-meaning anti-Christians they will speak to next Sunday will not demand an explanation, but to use DeLay’s own words, “someday they will have to answer for their actions.” Until then, it is helpful to remember that a stranglehold may keep power in your hands, but it is only the power over a dead body that lies limp in your hands.

Friday, April 15, 2005

State Secrets and Tyranny

If the government derives its power from the consent of the governed, how does it justify keeping its actions secret? How can the governed give consent if it is not allowed to know what is being done?

Apparently these are questions the Bush Administration takes very seriously. They take them so seriously that they have moved to make sure that the governed give their consent by being unable to withhold consent. After all, you do not need to give consent for something that does not officially occur.

William Weaver and Robert Pallitto of UTEP are in the process of exploring this problem. I just finished moderating a panel in which they presented a paper entitled “State Secrets and Executive Power” that provides some details about the Bush Administrations use of State Secrets privilege in court proceedings. Apparently, the 254 times the Bush Administration exerted such privilege represent a record.

The idea of a States Secrets privilege is based on the idea that the government may need to take action quickly and secretly. Traditionally, this has been used to protect such things as peace treaty negotiations and military project development. However, Weaver and Pallitto show that the Bush Administration appears willing to use it simply to avoid being embarrassed. The much ballyhooed example of Dick Cheney’s Energy Task Force is one such example.

More notable to me was the extension of the ability to make government documents secret to the heads of the Department of Agriculture, Department of Health and Human Services, and the Environmental Protection Agency. I fully agree that the State Department and Defense Department need secrecy to fulfill their duties. Exactly what is the EPA doing that requires secrecy?

The news in the last few weeks shows some possible reasons. This story tells of how a study to expose poor children to pesticides was cancelled, largely due to public uproar. The Department of Agriculture is shown here discussing the possibility that cloned meat and milk are probably safe for human consumption. The supervision of the FDA technically falls under Health and Human Services – which maintains a list of recalled drugs here - is entrusted with making sure the drugs we are sold do not kill us (Vioxx anyone?). If these organizations can prevent this information from being used in court simply by saying, “This is a State Secret,” then what recourse will exist to correct such problems? Imagine what could happen if the government could prevent disclosure of this type of information simply because it would implicate the President in a crime (like Watergate).

This is all the more troubling because the States Secrets privilege doesn’t legally exist. Congress has never encoded it into a legal power of the government. While I don’t want to sound like some kook spouting conspiracy theory, the fact remains that the Department of Agriculture should not have the power to hide its actions from the people – us – who give it the power to exist.

Power corrupts, and it is ludicrous to believe that the Executive branch of government will simply not abuse its power if it can hide its actions from public oversight. It is a perversion of our entire system of government. The American Revolution was fought against a dictator that used his power capriciously and justified his actions to no one but himself (sounds a bit like Saddam Hussein, no?). While I do not claim on any grounds that George Bush is behaving like King George. He is simply laying the groundwork for someone else to do so.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

CEO's and the Anti-Christian Right

It is quickly becoming apparent (as if it weren’t crystal clear already) that CEO’s are worried about nothing but their personal enrichment. They don’t care if they bankrupt the company, drive investors into bankruptcy, or destroy the retirement of the people that work for them. All that matters is that their pay continues to increase.

By all accounts, 2004 was not a bang-up year financially. Most companies suffered somewhat, several announced huge layoffs, profits and sales were down, and the overall economy sent mixed signals. According to the Common Dreams news letter (click here), the Executive Pay Watch is reporting that CEO pay rose by an average of twelve percent.

It’s one thing to see your pay boosted when stocks are flying high and profits are rising. How do you justify doing it when your company is doing worse? The Common Dreams newsletter cites Business Week as saying this twelve percent rise in pay was “moderated … by corporate reform, shareholder revolt over astronomical pay levels, and pending accounting changes”. Twelve percent a year is moderate?

The average worker, meantime, saw their wages rise a staggering 2.9 percent. While the average worker makes around thirty-three thousand a year, almost 40 of the nation’s top executives make over $20 million per year. That doesn’t even include the CEO’s profit from selling stock options, either. That’s basic pay.

The tax code used to discourage such crimes. However, the single biggest legacy endowed by Ronald Reagan has been the incestuous marriage between the Republican Party and the anti-Christian religious right. Somehow, lower taxes for the wealthy are somehow seen as being Biblically upheld as a moral good. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The Bible does have a lot to say about money. However, it doesn’t say anything about helping the wealthy save even more money. Instead, it specifically speaks of donating money to the poor, to widows and orphans, to the dispossessed and the weak. It warns that on Judgment Day that many will find out that they turned away God when they turned away the poor and hungry and weak.

Specifically, in the fifth chapter of James, it warns of three sins of the wealthy – hoarding wealth to live in luxury and self-indulgence (forsaking the Biblical lifestyle), cheating workers out of just wages, and condemning and murdering innocent people. The first two are evident from the skyrocketing level of CEO pay (as well as sports and entertainment figures) and can be witnessed from The Simple Life to MTV’s CRIB. The last may appear to be too extreme for modern America at first glance.

A closer examination shows that poor people necessarily take riskier jobs. Low wages for long work are sometimes called, “working someone to death” where I was raised. Surely stringing someone along on the bare minimum they need to survive is condemning them to a life of subsistence poverty.

Any number of politicians can be heard almost daily decrying the state of American morality. It’s true. We are sinking in a bed of slime that we created. It isn’t the abortions or the gay marriages that is sending our country straight down a path of destruction. It’s an immoral tax code that punishes hard work and rewards fiscal trickery.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

When Bad Theology Threatens Life

Sometimes we are at our most hurtful when we are trying to be merciful. It is perhaps one of the fundamental problems with human nature that we judge the world by our own experience. We forget, in our hubris, that even the wisest among us is only of very limited intelligence. We think we are doing right, but we are not. We think we are being merciful, but we are increasing pain and suffering, not lessening it.
Here is the story of the Ali family (free registration required for the full story). I encourage you to read all of it and seriously consider what it means to your view of how we should, as a community, defend life. If you do not find at least one point to challenge you; then you are simply being willfully blind to the paradox the family had to face.
I started out reading with an enormous amount of empathy for both parents. I cannot imagine what it would be like to be in that situation. While I will not question if their decision was correct for them, I will question the religious teachings that framed it for them. I will question a theology that forces a woman to deny reality and for a man to face the very real possibility of losing a wife he loves for the sake of a baby that can never live more than a few minutes. I will question a theology that requires a woman to bring forth a life that is doomed to die in a horrible fashion.
Evangelical theology continues to teach that life begins at conception, and must be defended from the time the sperm cell unites with the egg. This demands that abortion is not an option under any circumstances. Susan Ali’s circumstances were extreme by any measure. Her theology forced her to believe that subjecting her child to a slow death of suffocation under the weight of its own lungs was the will of a loving and merciful God. Her theology forced her to deny the medical reality until it was too late to take action. Her theology forced her to stand against the one person that loves her more deeply than any other in the world – her own husband.
I do believe that life – and especially human life – is a miracle. That we can explain how it happens makes it no less miraculous to me. I do believe that a human fetus is worthy of greater consideration than, say, a cat fetus. However, I can’t really see how the life of the baby was ever a real consideration. The consideration seems to have begun and ended with the evangelical ideology of abortion.
To me, if the life of the child were considered, then it would have been much more merciful to have aborted it early. Even relatively late, when it was discovered that the baby’s lungs were so full of liquid that breathing would be impossible, I believe it would have been more merciful to administer anesthesia and perform a C-section that resulted in the death of the fetus. Killing the fetus in-utero would have been much more merciful and exposed the child much less pain than giving birth to it, then going through the same stages.
It also brings up a point of hypocrisy. The right-to-life theology insists that there is no difference between a fetus at three months prior to birth and one three seconds after birth. If we know that a child will die within five minutes of birth, how can that reasonably be called sin to allow that death to occur before the baby’s pain centers are fully formed? If it is all right to administer medication to prevent a fully formed baby, only minutes from the womb, from feeling pain as it dies; how can it be sinful to administer medication that will end the growing life before it experiences that horrible crushing weight of its own body?
A second point of hypocrisy is that the doctors were allowed to administer this child medication to make its passing painless, but Terri Schiavo was denied the same mercy. If we agree that it is merciful to administer medication to prevent even a brain injured person from feeling a limited amount of discernable pain, then why is it not merciful to grant everyone in that situation the exact same consideration?
The real problem with this idea of “life-begins-at-conception” is that it denies reality. It gave Susan Ali hope beyond anything grounded in reality that her baby would somehow be normal. It put Susan Ali’s life, her marriage, and her future at risk for the sake of a child that never had a scrap of a chance to survive. It taught that her choice was in no way different than someone who was merely inconvenienced by their pregnancy. It taught that mercy was condemning an infant to a painful death that was totally unnecessary.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Punishing the Victim, Promoting Rape

Not long ago, a woman was raped in Denton, just north of Texas. Since her rapist was not kind enough to wear a condom, she feared that she might become pregnant and asked for emergency post-coital contraception. The hospital thought this was a reasonable request and wrote her a prescription which she took to her neighborhood Eckerd Drug Store to be filled. She was then victimized again by the very people that should have been most willing to help her.
Gene Herr, and two fellow pharmacists, refused to fill the prescription. This was not the first time he had done so (read about it here ). Mr. Herr believes that such emergency contraception is the equivalent to giving an abortion. Apparently, he doesn’t care why a woman may be pregnant. She should simply pray about it and live with the consequences.
Don’t think this is just some backwards hillbilly stumbling behind the counter to push pills. Mr. Herr holds a pharmacist license and that stipulates that he has at least a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy. Pharmacists have refused to fill contraceptive prescriptions (and not just emergency contraception) in Georgia, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin ( click here). Although the problem reaches back as far as the early 1990s, it has been increasingly a concern.
Think this is just a bunch of individuals who came up with the same idea independently? Then you need to hear about Pharmacists for Life International (click here). They are actively promoting the idea that pharmacists should refuse to dispense birth control pills. The hypocrisy is astounding. They say they are “for life” but I find no where on their website where they have actually been trying to dispense medications to third world places where truly life-saving medicines are badly needed. They are not for life – they are simply against contraception.
Let’s be clear. This is not a group that is simply against abortion. An abortion is the removal of a fetus – which by definition must have been implanted in the woman’s uterus and begun to grow. Emergency contraception like the kind the Texas woman was refused only works within the first 72 hours. After 72 hours, a fertilized egg is only about eight cells ( click here for a detailed explanation ). Technically, at this point, the proper term is “embryo”. It has absolutely no ability to survive on its own, it cannot feel pain, and millions of them are washed out of women’s bodies naturally every month during menses because of the timing required for pregnancy to occur.
According to Planned Parenthood, up to 22,000 pregnancies occur every year because rape victims are not even told they can use emergency contraception. Hospitals simply are not required to do so. That is 22,000 girls like your daughter or sister that have been impregnated by someone who raped them. Not wanting to stop that is basically siding with the rapists. It’s saying that a woman deserves to be reminded every single day that they were a rape victim.
Yet right at the top of PFLI’s website is a graphic crowing about how the Governor of Colorado vetoed a bill that would require hospitals to inform a rape victim that she could receive emergency contraception. The bill didn’t require that she be administered it – it simply forced someone in the hospital to say, “You can still make sure you don’t become pregnant if you want.” The PFLI blatantly lies when they say they oppose it because, “the so-called emergency contraception sometimes causes an abortion.” They oppose it because they have taken an extreme religious position and are defending it against all reality.
The pro-rapist PFLI is only a symptom of the way theology has torn loose from its moorings in the anti-abortion fringe. They don’t give a damn about women or about life in general. They oppose any form of birth control by anyone anywhere. It is hypocrisy to pull this kind of crap and still dispense any medicine at all. If they are afraid of thwarting God’s will (besides have a God that is WAY too small), then they should seek a new profession because, technically, every medication thwart’s God’s will – if you define letting things happen as God’s will.
God has given us a way to prevent 22,000 women a year from being forced to bear a child conceived from rape. PFLI and other pro-rapist groups are simply trying to throw up a stumbling block to those who actually want to help women take control of their lives. Rather than looking upward for direction, they are looking backward to the time when women were chattel and their place was barefoot and pregnant. Perhaps they need to be reminded that women are as precious to God as men.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Religious Paranoia and an Ethics Challenge

Tom DeLay is making the rounds accusing everyone of hating him because he’s good at his job. He is half right. As a political figure and partisan warrior, there is a lot about DeLay that the opposition can admire – mostly his successes – and hate – the manner in which he wins. It isn’t just that he’s good that bothers people – it’s why he’s good. Beyond that, partisan or ideological differences are simply part of the political world.
DeLay got where he is – the second most powerful Republican in Congress and the most powerful Republican in Texas – because he wins. He wins at any cost. In this, he is the natural heir to his mentor, Newt Gingrich. He honestly doesn’t care if he tears the world asunder so long as he is the one standing astride it in the end. Denny Hastert is Speaker of the House simply because Tom DeLay knew that he was too divisive of a figure to take the position. Of course, being second in command has given DeLay the perfect opportunity to work behind the scenes to make sure that his will gets done anyway. Denny Hastert is a figurehead and George W. Bush is a mouthpiece. Tom DeLay runs things.
This is simply the way things run. This arrangement doesn’t make Tom DeLay a bad man. In fact, from everything I’ve learned about him, he can be a very kind man and he pursues what he believes is good with an abandonment that is a hallmark of the martyr and the obsessive. However, he is a firm believer, apparently, in the belief that the end justifies the means. He is also a man whose religious beliefs include the idea that he will be persecuted for doing the right thing.
For example, he was reprimanded three times in one year for ethical violations. Another ethics complaint is tabled until a court rules on whether the remaining ethics violations are founded or not. A reasonable person would say, “I’ve got to straighten out my act.” Not DeLay. Instead, he launches himself deeper into his religious paranoia. Since Democratic Representative Chris Bell filed ethics grievances against him, DeLay has consistently pandered more and more to the religious right that is his last hard core of support. He also used his position to forcibly redraw Congressional districts in Texas in such a way that Chris Bell stood no chance of being re-elected.
The case that made the news today, where he overpaid his wife and daughter to be his political consultants, really isn’t anything to be concerned over. Honestly, I’d probably overpay my wife and daughter – and son – if I were in his position. There is nothing illegal or immoral about it so long as they provided the required services in a timely and professional manner. The concerns over which group funneled the money to pay for his trip is of concern, but less so in respects to DeLay as to the lobbying community. Sometimes even people we don’t like get taken advantage of and make mistakes. It’s nothing to roast them over.
The other ethics violations show a very real tendency to abuse power for partisan gain. Oddly enough, there is no ethical charge against him for redistricting Texas – largely because he was able to put himself in a weaker (but strong enough to win re-election) electoral position than he was previously. Tom DeLay is a bully, as his recent threats against liberal judges shows.
Even more alarming, though, is the degree to which Tom DeLay has built the Republican Party to reflect his values – win, win, win at any cost. Even right wing fanatics from Gingrich’s tenure are feeling rather moderate as new House members drag the party even further to the religious right. That includes the religious persecution complex, as recent rants about the judiciary and the federal action to pass legislation for Terry Schiavo reflects. Combine the two, and you have a self-fulfilling prophecy of corruption where ethics violations become badges of courage. This is what led the House Republicans to repeal their rule about not allowing members with outstanding indictments to hold leadership positions.
Politics has gotten meaner and dirtier over the last twenty years – and it is tearing this country apart. Tom DeLay is not solely responsible for this, but he is the poster child for the attitudes that are. I have no hope that he will ever step down from his position because to do so would be to admit wrongdoing. That is one thing that Tom DeLay will never do. Like his mentor Gingrich, DeLay seems determined to ride this horse all the way into the ground. For all of his religious conviction, apparently Mr. DeLay never learned that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Prayer Requests and/or Thanks

Since I have gone to some lengths to stress that my Christian faith tends to lead me through my life, I thought I'd give everyone a chance to list any prayer requests they'd like to share with us. Anonymous or specific, be as detailed as you wish.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Save a Life - Build a Park

Hudson County is now considered to be the lung cancer capital of the United States. It’s nice to know that every time I take a deep breath of air, I could be knocking a few years off of my life. As I’ve said before, I’m not afraid of being dead, but I don’t want to go from lung cancer (quick well-wishes for Peter Jennings, who apparently spent way too much time in Hudson County).

The main culprit around here is diesel soot. If you want to know more about diesel soot, simply spray your car with water and idle it next to a semi-tractor for a few minutes. Pretty soon, you’ll have a layer of grime thick enough to write your name with your finger. That’s one reason why you probably put your window up if you are next to a diesel rig in traffic. Even without my quasi-scientific experiment you realized that breathing that stuff was probably bad.

There are two main reasons for diesel soot problems in Hudson County: transportation and electrical utilities. Hudson County is at one end of the two major transportation tunnels into Manhattan (Lincoln and Holland). For now they have stopped trucks from going through the Holland, but that simply makes them use an alternate route through our cities to get around it. In other words, it doesn’t help the air any (it wasn’t meant to – it’s because of 9-11 – you heard about how the terrorists flew right through the Holland Tunnel, right? Right?).

Every truck coming into New York City from anywhere outside of New England or upstate New York must pass through New Jersey. Most of them pass through Hudson County. With several million – and I won’t guess how many – people commuting back and forth continually, this means a lot of traffic and a lot of diesel fumes being pumped into the air. It isn’t bad, once you get used to chewing your air.

The other problem is lightweight fly-ash from electrical utilities as far away as Ohio. Think that’s impossible? Several Ohio utilities recently settled legal cases with the state of New Jersey because Princeton researchers showed they could predict what type of fuel was being burned in Ohio and how much of it was being burned by sampling the air right outside of their window. Of course, there are a few utilities in Pennsylvania, too, and a couple here in New Jersey that add to that mix.

Municipalities, and individuals, are pretty much helpless to stop the sources of this type of pollution. Hoboken just can’t tell everyone to make a wide loop around the state of New Jersey so we can breathe easier. Jersey City can’t tell Ohio to switch to natural gas for their utility services (though it would be nice if they hit upon that idea on their own) so our lungs can finish coughing up one glob of gunk before another plops down there. However, that does not mean they are totally helpless.

Science teaches us that one of the most effective way to pull excess carbon out of the environment is to promote the presence of living things that need carbon – things like grass and trees and flowers. Hudson County could actually cut its average lung cancer risk by tearing down some dilapidated and abandoned buildings and putting in nice lush green parks. I actually had a friend at the EPA tell me that the air immediately downwind of Central Park in Manhattan is measurably cleaner than the air upwind of it – regardless of which way the wind is blowing.

It could actually be a far-sighted economic move as well. As research on carbon emissions continues to build, New Jersey might well be able to sell the carbon-sequestering rights of its parks to Ohio. Think about it, a park that makes money by cleaning up pollution put in the air from a thousand miles away. It beautifies the city, raises community pride and increases the value of the land. It really is a way that everyone can win.

I’m fortunate enough to live across the street from a park. I’ll admit that it is sometimes a pain in the ass – especially when they put the carnival there or when the Little League buys a new sound system. However, it is also a place where I can see families making memories every day – children playing baseball, lovers walking hand-in-hand, mommies pushing their new babies in strollers. It’s a wonderful place.

And it might just be cleaning their lungs, too.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Screw Mexico - We Like our Problems

The good news is that Mexico wants to help us solve the problem with Social Security insolvency. The bad news is that we are telling them to get stuffed. The even worse news is that we are now using armed civilians to do so.
The New York Times reports today that illegal Mexican workers have been pumping billions of dollars into Social Security and Medicare. You can read the full story here (free registration may be required). The reason for this subsidy is simple: poor Mexicans want to work and are willing to risk their lives to get here and take whatever job is available. In return for their hard work and bravery, they are vilified and terrified of being sent home. They will never see one penny of the money they pay into Social Security and Medicare.
The story does not tell the full story, though. Legal immigrants also face this problem. My good friends, Yulia and Artosch, are legal immigrants from Armenia. In order to get a job here, they have to prove that they are not taking a job away from an American. This means that extra forms have to be filled out and submitted by anyone willing to hire them. Even though they are not supposed to have Social Security and Medicare taxes taken from their paycheck, they can show you pay stubs where they have paid into the system for several years. It seems that the company’s automated system doesn’t allow their employers to stop the deduction without purchasing a software upgrade. They won’t buy the upgrade because it costs too much. So, both Art and Yulia are paying into a system where, even if they become citizens, they will not be able to recoup the money they paid into the system during these early years of their careers.
Meanwhile, the flow of Mexicans into the country is so bad, or at least so alarming to some people (not necessarily the same thing), that the Border Patrol is actually utilizing civilian guards to patrol the Mexican border. While they do not have the power to physically detain anyone, the guards can and do coordinate with the Border Patrol when they see someone walking north – make that, someone with dark skin walking north. As an added insult to every principle upon which this country was founded, these patrols are called “Minutemen patrols”. You can read about them here (again, free registration may be required to access the whole story).
The original Minutemen, you may recall, were an armed militia formed to fight for independence from the British King. Exactly how keeping poor Mexicans out of the country is parallel to bravely facing the best army in the world is a bit beyond me. The British, after all, were willing to kill anyone standing up to them – which they saw as rebellion. The Mexicans just want a chance to earn a living – often at sub-minimum wage rates.
The answer, to me, is painfully simple – although politically painful in some areas. You will never stop people from finding some way across the border – you will only make it more life-threatening to do so. Anyone who needs evidence of this need only watch the news for stories about finding semi-trailers full of illegal immigrants from Mexico or overseas shipping containers full of people fleeing from China. We cannot stop someone who is willing to give their life for a cause – the best hope is to co-opt that desire and channel it into a reasonable direction.
If we allowed every Mexican who desires to come into the country and work legally, it would undercut almost all of what is wrong with the system. Illegal workers are abused by employers because the workers are afraid of being sent home if they complain. Giving them legal status would force employers to pay them full wages and to abide by all labor laws. The requirement of full wages would already undercut the economic reasons for seeking out illegal labor.
A free trade area must have free flow of labor as well as capital to work successfully. Otherwise the result is simply an outflow of jobs and inflow of capital as employers abuse the right to repatriate goods without having to worry about labor costs. If NAFTA is ever going to fulfill its promise to bring a better life to all working people in North America, we have to open our borders and provide Mexican laborers with a legal means of protection. Not just for a lucky few who win a greed card lottery, but for everyone who makes it here and wants to be productive.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Help Carol Marsh Win

New York City looms over Hoboken. Chances are; if you see a picture of the Manhattan skyline, it was taken from Hoboken. If you watch the news on TV; chances are that it comes from New York. If you read the paper; chances are you read the New York Times, the New York Post, or (gag) the New York Daily News. The excuse we get for local media coverage in Hoboken is one reporter on semi-permanent duty from the Jersey Journal and a weekly edition of the Hoboken Reporter. Neither one usually ranks high on the reading list of the people in this area.
Now, if you’ve ever been around children, you know that as soon as no one is looking, they find lots of mischief in which to immerse themselves. The same thing is true for politicians. With no one around to root around in their mud, they sink ever lower into the bog of local corruption. It isn’t long before the local government is so mired in the slime that they can’t even find their way out with a steam shovel.
All of this is a long way of explaining that New Jersey may well be the last state that is truly run by machine politics. Actually, it is run by two machines: one Republican and one Democrat. For the most part, both of them agree not to truly contest the other’s safe districts and counties. Every four years, they run a semi-competitive campaign for governor (usually the party that was last found to be corrupt loses) and sometimes a federal Senate seat will draw a competitive race.
Hudson County may well have the distinction of being the dirtiest political machine in existence today. They should be – machine politics was invented right here in Jersey City by Mayor Frank Hague. You think I’m making it up? Just last week the immediate past County Executive was sentence to forty-one months in a federal prison for taking bribes. Next week, sentencing is expected for the immediate past mayor of Hoboken. City Council members, County freeholders, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the dog-catcher, are all being investigated and being indicted almost as quickly as grand juries can be seated.
Meanwhile, the people who live here in Hudson County are getting fed up. You can see it in the growing membership rolls of groups like Democracy for America and NJ Common Cause and People for Good Government. You see it when career politicians try to co-op honest candidates as Hoboken Mayor David Roberts attempted to do four years ago when he asked Tony Soares and Carol Marsh to be his running mates. You see it today when both Tony and Carol decide to remain true to their principles and run against the corruption they found waiting for them when they won their seats on the City Council.
The problem is that winning a campaign comes down to four things: 1) a good candidate; 2) compelling issues; 3) good organization; and 4) money to make it all work. Carol Marsh already is a good candidate with a good grassroots organization. The issue of booting out a corrupt government should excite anyone not in their pockets. All that is needed is money.
It’s easy for corrupt politicians to get money – especially once they are in office. They simply open up their Roladex, pick out a few promising names, and promise a few favors after the election. The next thing you know, they are floating down the Hudson River on a chartered boat and sipping champagne with one hand while signing a fat check with the other. If you aren’t corrupt, and especially if you live under a corrupt regime, it’s a bit harder.
No one wants to be the first to anger the machine. Doing so might very honestly mean the end of your career – even if your career is just throwing garbage in a truck. But people want change. People want an honest government. People want to support Carol Marsh. You can feel it when they talk to you about her. They know she can win. They’re just scared.
I’m asking very simply for only twenty dollars from the small group of people that read this blog. It isn’t much – you won’t really miss it when you pay the bills this month. But it is enough that it can add up. If you really believe that government should be responsible to the people that elect it, I’m asking you to click here and make that twenty dollar donation to Carol’s campaign. My grandpa used to say, “You’re either part of the problem or part of the solution.” I’m inviting you to come be part of the solution.
I know some of you can’t afford even that small amount. It’s okay. I would never ask you to take food out of your family’s mouth for this. You still can help. If you’re in Hoboken, you can always volunteer. If not, please, click here and help Carol win an endorsement from Democracy for America. We are close to winning that endorsement and it could literally mean the difference between winning this race and going back to machine politics as usual. Actually, even Hoboken residents – especially Hoboken residents – are strongly encouraged to help us get the DFA endorsement.
I know some of you are far away. I know some of you are even in other countries. It must seem odd to see someone begging for your money to run a political campaign. The fact is that this is all about helping people help themselves. It’s about building networks – a community of people devoted to the world around them. There are few things that go as far toward improving the world as clearing out the corruption in a government.

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