Thursday, April 30, 2009
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Was it for sheer political calculation? He knew he could only win the next election as a Democrat? Undoubtedly this is a major fact in his decision, let's be honest about that. But it seems that the Republican party has gone so far right that he knew not only that he could not win reelection but that there was no place for him in the party.
Moderate Republicans are being punished and pushed out, that's the sad truth about today's GOP:
But here is the question for Democrats? Does this mean Specter will be more inclined to vote for Obama's agenda? I think it will and for two reasons: 1) he will not longer be pressured by Conservatives to vote against such measures, and 2) his reelection will depend on support from his new party. Specter is, obviously, something of an opportunist and will not want to bite the new hand that feeds him.
This is good news for key items like Health care reform and the transformation to Green energy.
But the first 100 days has not only been less than stellar, Obama's first 100 days have been rather disappointing.
Here is the how the Green Party grades Obama's first 100 days (remembering, of course, that they represent an Ideology as well)
Civil liberties: F
The Executive Branch is finally following the law by releasing and repudiating the Bush Administration's legal memos that attempted to justify torture. The President also raised the possibility of prosecuting those responsible for providing that justification.
However, the Obama Administration defends the illegal wiretapping program, leaves the door open to outsourcing torture through "extraordinary rendition", and argues that prisoners can be denied habeas corpus if they are shipped to the Bagram prison in Afghanistan instead of Guantanamo! The Administration also opposes a Congressional truth commission to investigate torture by the Bush Presidency, although citizen pressure may successfully force an investigation.
Obama supporter Glenn Greenwald, who writes for Salon.com, recently wrote: "What's being asserted here by the Obama DOJ is the virtually absolute power of presidential secrecy, the right to break the law with no consequences, and immunity from surveillance lawsuits so sweeping that one can hardly believe that it's being claimed with a straight face."
The Obama Administration has taken some positive steps on global warming by allowing the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases as pollutants, initiating legislation to reduce greenhouse gases, and providing funds for alternative energy in the recently passed economic stimulus bill.
Unfortunately, the Administration has committed to spending only $145 billion on alternative energy over the next 10 years, about 0.1% of our country's gross domestic product (GDP). In contrast, the proposed military budget for 2010 alone is $664 billion. The Administration supports nuclear power and "clean" coal, and its proposed cap and trade scheme is vulnerable to abuses such as free giveaway licenses for utilities to emit greenhouse gases. In the European Union, free licenses have resulted in increased emissions from coal plants that have offset the reductions gained from new wind power.
The Obama Administration's economic stimulus bill is headed in the right direction with new infrastructure projects that can put Americans back to work. Plans to let the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy expire are also encouraging.
However, the stimulus was too small and too focused on tax cuts. The Administration's plans for repairing the financial system are likely to result in a great deal of wasteful spending, reward those who got us into the current economic crisis, and ignore the fundamental problems. It is unfortunate that the Administration has rejected calls to nationalize the largest and most insolvent banks in favor of a plan that loans nearly $1 trillion to hedge funds to indirectly subsidize the banks. By contrast, Wall Street Journal recently reported that only "10% of borrowers in some stage of foreclosure appear to be eligible for the federal aid to homeowners program."
Health Care: D+
The Obama Administration has proposed substantial increases in federal spending in order to extend health coverage to more Americans. The Administration's spending plans will extend coverage only to about one-half of uninsured Americans and are short of effective methods for cost control.
Foreign policy/military: D
The Obama Administration has taken a few encouraging steps, such as starting to at least open talks with foreign leaders. The President has shown an increased willingness to negotiate with Iran, and has stated plans to discuss nuclear arms reductions with Russia. However, there are numerous loopholes in the agreement to withdraw all troops from Iraq by the end of 2011, and the Administration is re-deploying some of the troops to Afghanistan. The U.S. is also continuing to launch military operations in Pakistan that have killed and displaced many civilians and contributed to destabilizing the country. The Administration also plans to maintain unnecessarily high levels of military spending.
For a fuller analysis read
Hari's article praises some things about Obama, but reminds us that WE must pressure him to make real change, we cannot sit and watch him operate at his own will. According to Hari:
Should we have "faith" he will do the right thing? Absolutely not - and the very idea is dangerous. You should pick the best leader available, and then pressure him or her like hell. Obama is dramatically better than Bush - but in the end, he will only be as good as the pressure put on him by ordinary people. FDR came to power as a budget-balancing centrist, until the American people forced him to the left, and to greatness. One hundred days in, are they ready to shove Obama to act on his own best instincts? He ain't Franklin Delano Obama yet.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Shameful! But it gets worse, Michelle Bachman said that it's "interesting" that swine flu happens during Democratic administrations (she's wrong, the last one happened during Ford's Presidency), and Rush Limbaugh said that swine flu resulted in Mexico from Obama's visit there!
And finally Glen Beck - that paragon of insanity, perversity, and villainy - not only blamed this on "poor border control," but claimed that swine flu was deliberately hyped-up by the Obama administration to pass their health care agenda!!!!
Here is Beck's claim:
Put this together with their continued defense of torture and you have something very crazy and very scary. Arlen Specter's deflection should wake the GOP up, but they seem to be merely slipping further and further into madness.
And it's quite sad. I'd like to see viable alternative parties. If the GOP continues down its plunge into such dark and terrifying places, there will really only be one party left - we will be a one party system.
Monday, April 27, 2009
I came across this little piece of news this morning:
It covers this past weekend meeting of the World Bank and the IMF to discuss what further actions are needed to face the global crisis. This caught my attention: Bank President Robert Zoellick expressing the bank's concern that the economic crisis will become a calamity for poor countries. "There is a widespread recognition that the world faces an unprecedented economic crisis, poor people could suffer the most and that we must continue to act in real time to prevent a human catastrophe."
What is it that they plan to do? "The bank will respond by tapping its healthy balance sheet to increase lending." Brilliant! Because your lending has helped so much in the past, right? Because between the two of you, you have managed to help strengthen the economy of so many previously "poor countries," rather than sending them further down and keeping them there? Of course the idea of condoning the existing debt of these countries never crossed their minds. Protesters in Washington have an even better idea: "IMF, tear it down. World Bank, tear it down."
Anyway, no surprises here but I thought to share.
Sunday, April 26, 2009
The following two clips are from the 1989 Film Wittgenstein, directed by
It seems to me that profound implications follow from the realization that the self is public, not private. If our language, thought, and sense of self is essentially embedded in our culture and our relations with others, the implications of that are truly far reaching.
An isolated Cartesian self, principally self-focused and inward looking is a very different creature from an essentially public self, embedded in a world and a culture, created and shaped by relationships. The political implications of this are enormous. Think about policies that assume a world of Cartesian egos as opposed to policies that assume fundamentally relational and public selves.
I think our relationships to others differ on each model just as significantly. If I am fundamentally a Cartesian atomistic self then my chief problem is self-discovery and I must do this by shutting the world "out there" off and looking within. But if I am a relational public self - the goal might still be self-discovery, but with and through discovering others. Relationships with others here are primary not secondary. This is critically important.
Friday, April 24, 2009
In a recent speech Obama quoted the conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount. I have to ask: is Obama and the rest of D. C actually willing to meet the man who authored that Sermon? I don't mean in an evangelical sense - personal savior and all that.
I mean this: are they willing to confront a man who said that "it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God." Can they confront the man who warned us to beware of those who seek to sit in the places of honor, and to lord it over others. The man who pronounced the poor blessed, told the rich young ruler to give up his possessions, and who declared that the greatest among us in the one who serves?
In short Mr. President, are you - unlike your predecessors - honestly asking us to consider the teachings of a radical from Nazareth who fought to rebuke violence, include outcasts, defy empire, heal the sick and downtrodden, and turn us away from wealth and greed to healing, forgiveness and community?
Do you really mean to evoke this man? Or are you - like so many who have come before you - paying lip service to the teachings of man you have no real intention of taking seriously?
Some argue that he used the equivalent Armenian term. Perhaps, but that will not anger Turkey. Others will argue that he was fierce, telling us that his views on this matter (he has in the past called it a genocide) are unchanged. Again, that will not offend Turkey.
What Obama has done is to try to be as diplomatic as possible to all sides. He has attempted to please Armenians and those of us others who recognize this horrible genocide for what it was, while at the same time carefully avoiding offending his Turkish allies. In short Barack Obama proved today he's a calculating politician who will avoid conscience and choice to appear as likable and good as possible.
When we take this failure to call the events of 1915 a genocide, and his refusal to prosecute those Americans who tortured, we find that Obama is simply an opportunistic politician who will compromise on all sides.
It is true that president Barack Obama did not use the word Genocide when referring to the mass killings of the Armenian population in Eastern Anatolia (today's Turkey), however, he used the Armenian very respected equivalent of Genocide "The Meds Yeghern" two times in his speech. Armenians use the phrase The Meds Yeghern when referring to the Genocide....
In other words Obama did a great political move: he satisfied both Armenians and Turkey. Today the newspapers are writing "Obama refrained from using the G word," but tomorrow all of them will write, Obama used the G. word, but the Armenian equivalent and two times in his speech. In my opinion "The Meds Eghern" is a stronger way of labeling the mass atrocities It's also a respected way of labeling the deaths.
I am not yet sure what to think about this. Is my initial response for Huliq News correct? is Armen's article right? Or something in between? Any thoughts?
For the facts about the Armenian Genocide look here.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Keith Olbermann explains - with references to our own law and our own history - that we have no choice but to consider water-boarding torture and a crime:
Historically piracy is the direct result of poor working conditions, dire poverty, and systematic economic exploitation of the lower classes. As the following quote makes clear:
In an honest Service, there is thin Commons, low Wages, and hard Labour; in this, Plenty and Satiety, Pleasure and Ease, Liberty and Power; and who would not balance Creditor on this Side, when all the Hazard that is run for it, at worst, is only a sower Look or two at choaking. No, a merry Life and a short one shall be my Motto
—Pirate Captain Bartholomew Roberts
This does not mean Pirates are nice simple folk. Indeed, they are usually a rough and criminal type. But what gives them the final push into piracy is the economic despair they find themselves in. Take that away and you take away the root cause of piracy. Try simply to fight them or execute them and you just create heroes and martyrs to inspire more pirates.
Check out the following clip from Democracy Now after doing so, I highly recommend reading Two Piracies in Somalia
What is very clear from this interview and this essay is, just as in past centuries, Piracy is the direct result of economic exploitation and dire poverty. By all means arrest and punish pirates for their crimes. I think, however, the crimes that lead to piracy must also be stamped out if we are actually to end it.
Monday, April 20, 2009
Rachel Maddow takes Newt and his buddies to task for their criticism of Obama's handshake with Chavez. It is very interesting that these "right wing critics" have no problem with all the dictators we "shook hands with" in the past. Just look at the picture of Rumsfield with Saddam Hussein during the Reagan years!
Oh I get it! When Bush holds the Saudi King's hand and kisses him on the cheek that's o.k. But how dare Obama bow to him?! Reagan can deal with Moscow and Noriega, but Obama can't talk to Chavez. It's o.k. for Republicans to consort with dictators and enemies, just not democrats. O.k. I get it now.
The strangest thing about this is I've yet to hear one person explain why they think Chavez is so bad a guy. What evidence do they have? He opposes American imperialism in Latin America and hated George W. Bush. That hardly places him in the ranks of Stalin and Pol Pot! Although it aligns him nicely with most of the rest of the world!
In fact, there is much positive to say about Chavez. And on any view he is hardly a dictator.
Friday I attended the kick off of Marquette's new Women and Gender Studies program. It was very insightful and intelligent. I like the look of the program.
I went to two talks: one focusing on concepts of gender in the Health sciences. One of the speakers there spoke of the struggles of veterans within the framework of the paradigm of conventional masculinity - a reminder that "gender studies" includes men too!
What particularly stood out to me, however, was a session called something like "Do you call yourself a feminist? What's in a label."
The Interesting points of the conversation centered on why the label "feminist" has such negative connotations and whether we should reject the label and simply embrace the views and positions.
I said there, and I repeat here, that we cannot drop labels merely because some groups heap negative connotations on them. If we allow "feminism" to be a dirty word, then once we champion feminist ideas we are inviting ourselves to be dismissed as "those rotten feminists" and considered "beyond the pale" of appropriate social discourse.
Also mentioned were basic mis-perceptions of what feminism is about, and some suggestions about what it might really be about. In that vein, I stumbled upon the following videos ... which are much in the same spirit:
First the misperceptions and ignorace:
Now an accurate view of feminism:
Thursday, April 16, 2009
And Here is what Obama said today about his vision for the highspeed rail program:
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
On this date in 1947 Jackie Robinson played in a major league baseball game for the Brooklyn Dodgers, breaking the color barrier and beginning what would turn out to be a huge victory for civil rights.
In honor of this man MLB commissioner Bud Selig is having every major league player wear Robinson's number (42) today. And Rightly so. Robinson was a remarkable man, not only a great ball-player, but a true hero who really cared passionately about the struggle for rights and the injustice of racism.
We should honor him. Robinson is a powerful symbol of the fight for freedom and dignity.
Today such men are too easily forgotten. As I write this today right-wing lunatics are holding "tea-bagging parties" to protest the fact that the taxes of the wealthiest Americans will rise from 36 to 39% - 10% lower than it was for most of the Reagan administration.
The following clip explains what these "Tea-baggers" are up to.
For these People allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire is a violation of fundamental human rights. Shame on them! Look to Jackie Robinson, look to the experience of African-Americans, a truly oppressed and exploited group.
How dare you lunatics whine about rich people paying a little more on their taxes?! Take a look at the American tax rates from the New deal until the end of the 1980s and learn a little history.
Instead of joining the "tea-baggers" I will spend today remembering Jackie Robinson and what he stood for and fought for.
Here's to you Jackie! Here is to those who really fight for freedom and rights!
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Or maybe I just don't like teams from New York? I've long hated Eli Manning and his N. Y. Giants, and every right thinking person must hate the Steinbrenner Yankees - as one must hate any evil empire. So I guess the Mets might get some of that hate too?
Or maybe I just love it when my hometown San Diego Padres win!
Whatever the motivation: it gives me great joy to announce that the Padres are the victors of the first game ever played at the new Citi Park:
Sunday, April 12, 2009
The case for a physical resurrection is made clear in this video clip:
I have to confess that this talk of Jesus moving in and out of Space-Time and the image of him taking off his death clothes and walking out of his tomb strikes me as weird. This is a thought world I cannot find myself able to live in.
The Case for a non-physical/Spiritual resurrection is made in this clip:
This view of the resurrection as spiritual but non-physical, makes a great deal of sense to me. On this view, one need not believe in the past resuscitation of a corpse, but one can have one's "eyes opened" and experience the living Jesus as a source of empowerment.
For those who are not interested in Easter at all, this post will not matter. Also, for those who do celebrate Easter, but as a family (non-religious) holiday, or fertility festival, this post is not relevant either. I have no quarrel with these views, I merely am not addressing them here. Fertility festivals and family holidays can be very fine things, but I want to write on the importance of Easter as a commemoration of the resurrection of Jesus.
Let me state clearly that I affirm the resurrection of Jesus. There is, however, a twist. I do not believe that Jesus was physically raised from the dead. That is, I do not believe that on the third day the body of Jesus was physically transformed and his tomb found empty.
The reasons I doubt this are lengthy and complex and I will here only summarize them: 1) most crucified victims were not buried, and if by rare chance one was they were dumped in a common or shallow criminal's grave. The burial of Jesus by Joseph of Arimathea reads like a contrived tale to (a) save Jesus from this fate, and (b) help account for the resurrection in narrative terms. 2) The stories read like symbolic accounts. The resurrection is said to happen at sunrise, there are angels, the stone is magically "rolled away." This reads like legend. 3) The appearance stories in the gospels cannot be harmonized and are the clear inventions of their authors' theology. 4) It seems clear to me that by presenting the stories as they do, the gospel writers did not intend to convey literal fact. 5) Paul, our earliest Christian writer and a self-proclaimed "witness" of the risen Jesus says nothing about an "empty tomb," and strongly indicates that the resurrection of Jesus - whatever it was - was not the transformation of a corpse.
Nevertheless, I don't want to press this issue. If you believe that Jesus really did bodily rise up from the dead on Easter Sunday, and the tomb was really empty, then fine. I have no desire to combat that belief. My question is this: can the resurrection of Jesus be affirmed by one who does not believe the empty tomb story? Who does not affirm bodily resurrection?
I believe that it can.
Here is how I understand what the earliest followers of Jesus were saying: When Jesus was crucified they were afraid and they fled in despair, but they soon found that the power that they knew in Jesus was still present in them! Not only that, they felt that it was still Jesus bringing this power. That is, the earliest followers of Jesus were somehow aware (visions were most likely involved here) that Jesus was still with them, empowering them to do what he did; to heal the sick, condemn injustice, champion the poor, and include the outcasts.
I do not mean by this that they merely continued Jesus' mission or that his teaching or ideas lived on. Rather, I mean to say that the disciples of Jesus felt the "living presence" of Jesus empowering them to do as he did, and this forced them to say "Jesus lives." Jesus, they now believed, was "with God" and "with them." And I believe they were right.
Don't get me wrong, I have no idea what happens after death. I do not think traditional views of heaven and hell are likely to be true. And I have no idea if any of our personality survives death, in fact I lean against that. But I do think that something of the essence of what we are is eternal and not merely mortal. It is this contact with and experience of the eternal aspect of Jesus' being that caused his disciples to say "He is risen!"
But "Jesus Lives" is only half of the Easter proclamation. These disciples affirmed also that "Jesus is Lord." For them, Jesus did not merely continue to be with them, but to call them and challenge them, and bring to them the very being and power of their God. The risen Jesus challenges those who encounter him to radically reorient themselves; not only his presence but his call to mission is the heart of Easter faith.
I do not profess to know what kinds of experiences these disciples had. I was not there, and what we have (other than Paul) are the purely symbolic accounts in the gospels. But I am convinced that they experienced the real presence of the real Jesus as a compelling power within themselves.
The success of the Jesus movement resulted in the fact that these experiences of the "risen Jesus" were not isolated, but could be had by others. Christians who had never known Jesus during his life, could and did experience him as a "living power" calling for their authentic response.
And what was the call of Jesus? The call to "follow him." And this meant, a life committed to forgiveness, inclusion, compassion, healing, non-violence, social justice, and peace. It is this life that the risen and living Jesus still can bring to those who look to him, and to me this is what faith in the resurrection of Jesus means.
So, what happened to the body of Jesus? Presumably one of the few horrid fates that befell most crucifieds. But it is irrelevant. As the gospels rhetorically ask us, "why do we seek the living among the dead?" The spirit of Jesus lives on calling us. If we answer that call he can empower us to walk as he did and follow his way.
He is risen indeed!
Friday, April 10, 2009
On Good Friday Christians around the world commemorate the death of Jesus. I confess I've never been able to entertain the strange notion that Jesus' death magically takes away our sins.
There are various versions of how this works: the most common being a very primitive and barbaric suggestion that Jesus died in our place. Such a claim presents a view of God that is hardly lovable.
So I don't prefer to think of today as the day of remembering how Jesus "died in our place" or some other such weird notion.
What I choose to remember is that Jesus was crucified by imperial power. The reason, historically, that Jesus was executed - think about that executed! - was because he disturbed the status quo. In the name of the Kingdom of God - the Jewish God of justice and peace - Jesus condemned the ways of empire, and the system of domination and exploitation.
The death of Jesus was a direct result of his passionate commitment to peace, justice, and compassion in the name of God and God's kingdom. That is what ought to be remembered.
The great Medieval theologian Peter Abelard argued that Jesus' death should not be understood as a substitution or a ransom paid, but as an example of divine love. An example that, if we truly contemplate it, transforms us so that we become better people.
Abelard, it seems to me, was right. The importance of the death of Jesus is that it shows how committed he was to the central goal of his life, and inspires us to be just as committed.
The religious importance of this death, for Christians, is this: Jesus' death was not merely the result of his commitment to justice and compassion. Rather, it was also his firm conviction that God is found chiefly in a life of Justice and compassion; a life he himself embodied.
Thursday, April 9, 2009
Though I am not myself Jewish, I recognize - and think we should all recognize - the incredible influence Judaism has had on western history. Not merely the idea of one God, but of social justice, liberation, and the value of the individual person. These ideas all come to us via the Jewish people.
Let us honor therefore the Passover. Passover is the celebration of freedom, of liberation. Perhaps then the best way to honor it, is to ask ourselves to what we are in bondage? And then to ask how we can break free? We might also want to ask ourselves what freedom really means?
Enjoy the following video clip to that effect:
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Same-sex marriage is rapidly becoming legal. The tide has, I think, turned decisively with Iowa's decision to legalize gay marriage.
First Iowa did it. Now Vermont has followed. And the trends are clear. With each passing year there is more and more support for gay marriage.
In spirit, in essence, the fight for the rights of gay people is already won. Now let's just work to make it a reality.
Monday, April 6, 2009
Sunday, April 5, 2009
Friday, April 3, 2009
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost
This is the last straw. Larry Summers must go. He has now demonstrated not only that he is incompetent but also corrupt.
Mr. Obama please fire Summers and find a new economic adviser.
Thursday, April 2, 2009
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
This post is inspired by a recent essay from Time Magazine.
Be sure to play the music from the video below and make the connection with the picture.
The choice is: (a) the Reagan way. Cut taxes, deregulate, give corporations free reign and slash education, health care, and social welfare and security programs, or (b) The Obama way. Tax, spend on education health care, social welfare and security, and green technology and jobs.
I have been critical of President Obama and still am, but the contrast with the Reagan ideology is dramatic and important.
As Mel Allen would say, "you make the call."
This is far too Orwellian for me! What is next Mr. President? "Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia"? Or "All animals are created equal. But some animals are more equal than others."
Although I am still glad Obama is our President and not McCain or Bush, I think Paul Krugman nailed the guy in his Op-ed column on March 28, 2008:
"Mr. Obama is widely portrayed, not least by himself, as a transformational figure who will usher in a new era. But his actual policy proposals, though liberal, tend to be cautious and relatively orthodox."I've seen nothing so far to cast doubt on Krugman's claims, and much to fortify it.
"The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible. . . . Newspeak was designed not to extend but to diminish the range of thought, and this purpose was indirectly assited by cutting the choice of worlds down to a minimum. . . . A Party member called upon to make a political or ethical judgment should be able to spray forth the correct opinions as automatically as a machine gun spraying forth bullets" (Orwell, 1984).