Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The real problem with Ebenezer Scrooge

A Christmas CarolHow can I even begin to review the book that, more than any other source, gave us the modern Christmas?!

I've read A Christmas Carol at least 6 times and I always find something new to enjoy about it with each read. The narration is absolutely entrancing, the dialogue beautiful, and the story - even to call it "gripping" is to underestimate it.

The story is too well known to repeat here, but I should point out that, as a result of over saturation with many film adaptations, we don't properly understand the story. All too often, we think of Scrooge as a greedy miser who simply does not want to be charitable. Though this is correct, it is trivial and even peripheral to the character. Scrooge's basic problem is a failure to relate.

Scrooge is first introduced to us as a man who was

a tight-fisted hand at the grind- stone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.

Nobody ever stopped him in the street to say, with gladsome looks, "My dear Scrooge, how are you? When will you come to see me?" No beggars implored him to bestow a trifle, no children asked him what it was o'clock, no man or woman ever once in all his life inquired the way to such and such a place, of Scrooge. Even the blind men's dogs appeared to know him; and when they saw him coming on, would tug their owners into doorways and up courts; and then would wag their tails as though they said, "No eye at all is better than an evil eye, dark master!"

But what did Scrooge care? It was the very thing he liked. To edge his way along the crowded paths of life, warning all human sympathy to keep its distance.

As if that were not enough to clarify that Scrooge's real problem is his refusal to relate to other people in any way other than through doing business, Scrooge tells us as much in his conversation with the "Portly Gentlemen" who come collecting funds for the poor

"At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge," said the gentleman, taking up a pen, "it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and Destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir."

"Are there no prisons?" asked Scrooge.

"Plenty of prisons," said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.

"And the Union workhouses?" demanded Scrooge. "Are they still in operation?"

"They are. Still," returned the gentleman, "I wish I could say they were not."

"The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?" said Scrooge.

"Both very busy, sir."

"Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course," said Scrooge. "I'm very glad to hear it."

"Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude," returned the gentleman, "a few of us are endeavoring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?"

"Nothing!" Scrooge replied.

"You wish to be anonymous?"

"I wish to be left alone," said Scrooge. "Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don't make merry myself at Christmas and I can't afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned -- they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there."

"Many can't go there; and many would rather die."

"If they would rather die," said Scrooge, "they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population. Besides -- excuse me -- I don't know that."

"But you might know it," observed the gentleman.

"It's not my business," Scrooge returned. "It's enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people's. Mine occupies me constantly. Good afternoon, gentlemen!"

Seeing clearly that it would be useless to pursue their point, the gentlemen withdrew. Scrooge returned his labours with an improved opinion of himself, and in a more facetious temper than was usual with him.

Scrooge here comes off as an extreme libertarian who simply wishes to be left alone and to leave others alone; his affairs are no concern to them, nor should their affairs be any concern to him. He does not refuse to donate to the poor out of greed, so much as he simply thinks that he and the poor have nothing to do with each other, and he does no appreciate an attempt to get him to put himself in any kind of personal relation to them.

Most tellingly, Scrooge fails to even identify himself as a unique individual. He answers to the name of his firm, Scrooge or Marley! Scrooge has reduced all transactions, all relations with others, and even his own identity to matters of business transactions!

The story of his redemption is the story of reconnection. Scrooge remembers the relationships from his past, sees what relationships he fails to attain in the present, and, in the future, sees what life would be like if his wish to "be left alone" were granted ... he finally would be alone, "unwept, unkept, uncared for...." he finds that he cannot stand it.

So when you read A Christmas Carol read it with new eyes. Don't think of this as as story of a greedy jerk who learns to be kind and generous. Think of the novella rather as the tale of a man who thinks he wishes to be left to himself "warning all human sympathy to keep its distance" until he sees what that wish would really mean and what he misses out on by trying to live it.

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Peace On Earth? A closer look

I just learned about a 1939 cartoon called "Peace on Earth." It is really a creative and remarkable twist on the fake good will and meaningless peace that too often adorned home decor and greeting cards this time of year!

Check out more about it here

You owe it to yourself to watch this short!

After you have played this video ask yourself, can we ever really have peace on earth without the scenario imagined here? Could peace on earth be obtained with human beings still here? Or is our species perpetually doomed to violence and warfare?

Sadly, I fear that in a real human being created apocalypse the we'd take the poor animals with us.

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Monday, December 13, 2010

Peace on Earth: Justice and the meaning of Christmas

Each December I bring out my DVD of "A Charlie Brown Christmas." The climatic scene occurs when an exasperated Charlie Brown yells out "isn't there anybody who can tell me what Christmas is all about?!!" Linus' famous soliloquy answers that question:

Whether Linus is right that Christmas is all about "Peace on Earth and good will to men" depends very much on how we understand those phrases.

All too often these are just empty words. "Peace on earth" and "good will toward men" are simply part of the seasonal decor, like Rudolph, and Frosty, and multi-colored light bulbs. Those who rail at Christmas as sheer commercialism frosted with empty sentimentalism and manufactured good will, are clearly correct about how much of Christmas is celebrated. But the Hallmark version of Christmas need not be the way we celebrate this holiday.

The Christmas stories in the gospels are about justice. Jesus is born a poor peasant child in both Matthew and Luke. In Matthew this poor child is attacked by an oppressive ruler; King Herod. In Luke the message of Jesus' birth if first delivered to a group of highly despised and marginalized social outcasts; Shepards. To see how clearly the gospel message of Christmas it he message of justice, one need simply read the central lines of the Magnificant:

He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts
of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and
lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
sent the rich away empty.

The Christmas stories make it quite clear: Herod and Caesar (remember that story about the census) are cruel tyrants who oppress the people; but Jesus is a people's champion who fights against oppression and for inclusion, equality, and non-violent justice.

The most famous secular Christmas story is probably Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. This book also is concerned with social justice and the plight of the poor. The story is too well known to repeat here, but seldom noticed is the fact that the tale is not so much about the reform of a man gone wrong, as it is about the need for a deep transformation away from selfish isolation and toward the good of the community, particularly its least well off members.

Dickens nicely sums up the message of peace on earth with his strange figure of the Ghost of Christmas present:

It was clothed in a a simple green robe, or mantle, bordered with white fur. This garment hung so loosely on the figure, that its capacious breast was bare, as if disdaining to be warded or concealed by any artifice. Its feet, observable beneath the ample folds of the garment, were also bare; and on its head it wore no other covering than a holly wreath, set here and there with shining icicles. Its dark brown curls were long and free; free as its genial face, its sparkling eye, its open hand, its cheery voice, its unconstrained demeanour, and its joyful air. Girded round its middle was an antique scabbard; but no sword was in it, and the ancient sheath was eaten up with rust.

The rusted and empty scabbard is particularly telling. Remember that the Ghost of Christmas present sits in a well lit room overflowing with good food, warmed by a blazing fire, and filled with joy. When all are fed, warm, and cared for, there will be peace on earth. The scabbard is rusted and empty because violence will never bring about peace, only good will and plenty can do that.

Dickens understood the social message of the gospels' Christmas stories.

Finally, even jolly Old Saint Nicholas (who has been sadly commercialized and turned into the coca cola Santa) is originally a figure of social justice. A protector of the poor, of sailors, of children, and other marginal figures, Saint Nicholas was originally a non-violent warrior for those who were left out.

In short, let us forget about the over-commercialization of Christmas. We should ignore that. Let us divorce the holiday from its sappy and falsely sentimental trappings. Christmas is - or least should be - about justice, about food for the hungry, clothing for the naked, shelter for the homeless, and inclusion and acceptance of the excluded and marginalized.

Let us have a just Christmas. Perhaps then we can, like the reformed Scrooge, know how to keep Christmas well.

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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Why we must Raise Taxes on the Wealthy

The great lie fed to us is that tax cuts are necessary during this recession. Some argue that if we raise taxes, then job losses will multiply and things will get worse. But we've had big tax cuts for a long time now. The Bush Tax cuts are nearly a decade old and they have failed to create jobs and improve the economy. In fact, these tax cuts have added to the deficit by costing the treasury hundreds of billions of dollars. By what logic then, should we extend these tax cuts? If they have failed to do anything positive in a decade, why do we think that they will now magically fix things?

Trickle-down economics has been forced down our throats for decades now. But tax cuts for the wealthy never trickle down. Giving rich people big tax breaks does not, in the long run, help the rest of us. Such cuts increase the deficit, do not create jobs, and simply widen the gulf between rich and poor, fermenting social unrest and populist rage.

Simply listen to Warren Buffett in this video

Buffett knows what he is saying. He's been a key insider in the world of finance for a very long time now. This should, however, be obvious in all of us. The most prosperous time period for the middle class, for poor and working people, even for the nation as a whole, was when taxes on the wealthiest were at their highest.


Just look at the tax rates tax rates from previous decades, during the prosperity of the 1950s and 60s. Income tax rate on the wealthiest Americans during that period were never lower then 70% and often much higher. They still lived privileged lives and the nation as a whole has never been more financially healthy.

Since we began to undo all this, slashing tax rates for wealthy people (most of whom make their money by underpaying middle class employees, ripping people off by advertising and selling overpriced products, slashing benefits, and taking handouts from tax payers) we have had recession after recession and the plight of working people has become steadily worse.

No one in their right mind can honestly suggest continuing the Bush era tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans.

No doubt some will rant and rave about "punishing the successful," or "socialism," or it being "unfair to take someone's hard earned money, to that logic I respond with a previous blog post of mine, part of which I quote here:

In order for society to function we need public services and only a progressive income tax can provide the government with the money to properly create and maintain such services. Let us put ideology aside here and just look at these facts.

The most common objection to the progressive income tax is that it is unfair to take a rich man's "hard-earned money" and give it to somebody else. There are numerous problems with this objection.

First, that someone makes 300,000 dollars a year and someone else makes 45,000 seldom has anything to do with how hard they work. The hardest workers in our country are blue-collar working people, who sometimes work 60-70 hours a week and will never see a pay check over 40,000. So the hard work argument is absurdly false. Indeed, wages don't even depend very much on education. I will have my Ph. D. in May and will never make more than 60 or 70 thousand. There are people with Bachelors' degrees who make twice or three times that much. And this is not always - not even all that often - because of the importance of my and their respective occupations' importance for society

Second, the person making 300,000 a year did not create that money all by themselves. People who defend this "don't raise taxes on the wealthy" line of argument often talk as if such wealthy people accomplished this entirely through their own power. This is absurd. Take a person making six figures. Someone built the roads he drives on, the car he drives in, and the clothes he is wearing. Someone built his home, set up the plumbing and wiring in it, his cable, and so on. Someone slaughtered his food, processed it, packaged it, and sold it to him in the grocery store. Even more telling, he had teachers who gave him the tools for success.

None of us are self-made men, none of us operate in a void. We are not atomistic souls pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps. We are all part of a network of relationships, we are interdependent, interconnected, and interlinked with those who are in our community. Unless you live in the woods, built your own house from trees you chopped down, hunt and cook all your own food, and wear only the fur from your kills - you are radically dependent on other people. Without the hard work of millions of others, we could not survive and certainly could not flourish or earn high salaries. We owe a great deal to a large number of hard working people - many of whom live on meagre incomes and are often in need of public services and government aid.

If you earn six figures most of these people earn far less than you. The teachers who taught you the basic skills needed to function in society made a scant salary; many who provide you your food and clothing made far less than that. Is it really too much to ask that Uncle Sam take a few percent more of your income and then redistribute it so these people who teach our kids, build our roads, feed and clothe us might have health care? Or food stamps? Can you honestly look these hard working people in the face and say that the government cannot provide needed social service because it is wrong to raise taxes on the wealthy by 1 or 2 percent?!

Finally, the whole logic of this argument misses the point. It is NOT the case the a progressive income tax takes money from party x to give it to party y. The government takes income from party x in order to provide necessary social services available to everybody - including party x should he fall upon harder times. So we are not taxed to support "other people." Rather, we are taxed according to our means so that all people - and that includes us and our loved ones should we need it - may have access to necessary public services and government aid.

I remain convinced by these arguments. To be honest, I cannot see how anyone looking at the issue of income tax rationally and with an open-mind could honestly conclude any differently.

If we fail to end the Bush era tax cuts on the wealthy, we will be adding to our deficit, failing to do anything to create jobs, widening the gap between rich and poor even further, and harming ourselves and our futures.

It is immoral to extend these tax cuts.

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Monday, November 8, 2010

Bill Maher rightly chastises Jon Stewart

I'm no fan of Bill Maher, but he's right about this. Please Watch:

Let us please keep in mind here (as I don't think Maher does), that there is a difference - often a large difference - between a conservative and a right-winger. The one should not be confused with the other. Nor does being Republican mean that one is on "the right" either.

The right-wing, as I understand the term, applies to militia groups, people who think that Obama was born in Kenya, Fred Phelps, the late Jerry Falwell, people who think Climate Change is a liberal conspiracy, and other such radical loonies.

The right-wing has become absurdly extreme and very dangerous. There are, however, a great many thoughtful conservatives and moderates, many of whom are Republicans, I want to stress that, at least for me, the right-wing is the danger, not all Republicans are all conservatives.

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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Why we must Vote Democrat

There is much to criticize Obama and the Democrats for, Just read Glenn Greenwald and Paul Krugman for some of the best of such criticism. Despite this, however, it is very clear that we must vote for Obama's Democrats.

Think they have done nothing for us? Think again .... Rachel Maddow explains the legislative victories of this president in the video I embed below. I'm more critical than she is, but I agree on fundamentals.

No rational and informed person can listen to John Boehner, Mitch Mcconell, Newt, Palin, or the Tea-party loons; no intelligent voter can read the GOP's "Pledge to America," or the "Tea-Party Manifesto" and not decide that the Democrats, despite great flaws, must get our vote.

To bring the point home, please watch Ms. Maddow's articulation of what the Democrats have done ...AND PLEASE VOTE TODAY!!!!

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Monday, October 25, 2010

God, Reason, and Sam Harris

I have long been troubled by the fact that public discussion of and media attention to the existence of "God," assumes that the word "God" refers to a supernatural person who is rather like a super version of a human person, a "guy" who lives way "out there" somewhere, answers our prayers, and occasionally performs magical acts called miracles.

I do not understand the term God to be restricted to signifying this cosmic super-being, and many professional theologians and philosophers do not either. Just read Charles Hartshorne, Paul Tillich, J.A.T Robinson or David Griffith and you will quickly see that there are other possibilities.

I've posted on this before and I refer my readers to my previous posts on God and religion, for my own views. Public discussion, however, has very seldom recognized this distinction.

I am happy to report that Newsweek has changed this trend. In a recent article on so-called "atheist" Sam Harris We learn that for Harris

The answer to the question “Do you believe in God?” comes down to this: It depends on what you mean by “God.” The God Harris doesn’t believe in is, as he puts it, a “supernatural power” and “a personal deity who hears prayers and takes an interest in how people live.” This God and its subscribers he finds unreasonable. But he understands that many people—especially in progressive corners of organized religion and among the “spiritual but not religious”—often mean something else. They equate God with “love” or “justice” or “singing in church” or “that feeling I get on a walk in the woods,” or even “the awesome aspects of existence I’ll never understand.”

Even more encouragingly

According to a 2008 study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, a quarter of Americans believe that God is “an impersonal force.” Among Catholics, the Eastern Orthodox, and the unaffiliated, the number rises to a third. Among Jews, it’s half. In a Gallup study done in May, 9 percent of respondents said they believe in a God who doesn’t answer prayers.

When polled about God, “people substitute in their own ideas,” says John Green, senior research adviser at Pew. “People have a vague, fuzzy notion of transcendence, and they substitute God for it...When you try to make the definition more specific, fewer people answer in the affirmative.” Or put another way, “If you let the concept of God float a little bit, almost everybody is a theist,” says Stephen Prothero, author of God Is Not One. What Sam Harris believes in—rationality, morality, transcendence, humility, awe, community, selflessness, and love—meets a fairly common definition of God.

It seems that a sizable, though I confess a minority, of people who think that they believe in God reject the idea of a divine super person who answers prayers and performs miracles, they believe in "God," but don't believe "the old man in the sky."

Harris has a reason for his beliefs, a reason that will resonate with many spiritual people

Harris is ... promoting The Moral Landscape, his new book. Even here, he briefly explores the connections between spiritual experience—especially an experience of selflessness—and human happiness. “I see nothing irrational about seeking the states of mind that lie at the core of many religions. Compassion, awe, devotion and feelings of oneness are surely among the most valuable experiences a person can have,” he writes. Over lunch, he says with a smile how much he looks forward to working on the next project, which will allow him to pull back, after six long years, and focus on things that support human flourishing. “Ecstasy, rapture, bliss, concentration, a sense of the sacred—I’m comfortable with all of that,” says Harris later. “I think all of that is indispensable and I think it’s frankly lost on much of the atheist community.”

This is really quite astounding. I've very often been told by atheists and theists alike that because I don't believe in a rather crudely anthropomorphic conception of God, I am really, therefore, an "atheist," despite my claims to the contrary. It's refreshing to finally see a major news magazine, and a popularly known atheist, recognize and embrace the fact that the world "God" need not refer to merely one idea.

I hope this becomes far more common.

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Saturday, October 23, 2010

Tea, Racism, and Armey's Billions

Please watch the following video to the end, look at all the signs:

Now, can anyone honestly tell me that these "Tea-Party groups" are really but a grassroots movement of "simple folks" who just don't like big government?!!!

No. They are largely a pack of racists and other extremist bigots. Nor are they grassroots. The Tea-Party is pretty much bankrolled and organized by far right billionaires. Their mental illness, ignorance, xenophobia, religious fanaticism, homophobia, and racism is being used to protect and serve corporate interests.

Don't believe me?

Check out the following:

or this

And finally,

Enough of this game of pretend. The Tea-Party is not a group of decent conservatives who are just "mad as hell," they are, rather, a group of radicals and unbalanced lunatics who are bought and paid for by corrupt rich men looking to increase the size of their already grotesquely swollen wallets.

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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Other Political Halloween Masks

It turns out that you can find Halloween/monster images of other political figures:

here are a few:

First: Reaganstine

It will be noted that this mask, unlike the Obama mask, is actually rather "cute" and "cuddly." The guy looks more like Herman Munster than the genuine Frankenstein's creature.

Next, Sarah Palin as a "rogue Zombie."

A bit more gruesome than Reaganstein, but still a nice smile and much more clearly a "funny" and "goofy" Halloween Mask.

Again contrast that with the cruel face of Baruckula:

The difference strikes me as very marked. Finally however, there is a parallel to Obama, with Bush as a Vampire:

It would appear, then, that my worries about Racism in portraying Obama were without foundation? Not so fast. Here again is the Obama statue of Liberty/Vampire picture:

Notice that obama's features are greatly exaggerated in a parody of stereotyped ideas of African American faces, but Bush's normal face is used. Why is that?

Why is "Barackula's" mask cruel and malicous looking, but Reaganstine, lovable and grandfatherly? And why is Palin's mask merely goofy?

Perhaps the vampire images of Obama are not racist, I don't insist that they must be, but the differences in portrayal cries out for explanation, and racism is clearly a possible explanation of these different looks.Bookmark and Share

Friday, October 8, 2010

Obama Vampire Mask: Racism and Xenophobia for Halloween

It is obvious to anyone who has paid attention that Barack Obama has been demonized by the right-wing. He is regularly referred to as a "Keynan anti-colonialist," birthers rave that he was not really born here, and others shriek that he is a secret muslim terroirst!

It appears that this demonization has gone to new extremes. I checked out some of the seasonal Halloween stores the other day and found the mask you see in the above picture.. The mask was called "Barackula." It is normal to make and sell masks of political figures, I have not, however, ever seen one as a vampire. This mask is not an isolated incident, the image of Barackula has been used fairly regularly by the far right, as a simple Google search will reveal.

And look at the picture: Obama is here portrayed clearly has a bloodthirsty demon. I can't help but see racism behind the image. The reason I see racism here, is that the stereotype of African-American physical features are the very features that seem to be cruelly twisted into the the disturbing and demonic features of the vampire. And, then, of course, there is this image form a Tea-Party rally:

Before some reader protests that portraying Obama as a vampire is not racist, remember three things; first the vampire is regularly portrayed as an embodiment of the frightening "other." For instance, in Bram Stoker's Dracula, the Count is clearly a foreign and alien power who has come to destroy all that is good about "our" British society. Now, and this is my second point, I've not seen other Presidents portrayed as demons or vampires. I grant, however, that it could have been done. If anyone knows of such a case, please point it out to me. Finally, I could avoid reading "Barackula" in terms of "the other," and the "alien," were it not for the already mentioned hysteria about his Kenyan ancestry, and the lunatic conspiracy theories that he was not born here. It seems likely that the mask is part the fears of some people who see Obama as an alien force, threatening "real Americans."

If this is an instance of racism, it may very well be about Obama's perceived "Muslimness" and not his "blackness." I am even willing to believe it merely reflects anger at "liberals" - though I suspect all three biases are at work here - but it is clearly a demonization. If any of my readers are prepared to see the mask as something intended to simply be funny, look at the image again. The face is cruel, nasty, and terrifying.

But what do my readers think? Am I right to fear that racism, or, at the very least, tremendous hatred of Obama is manifested in this Halloween mask?

Personally, in light of the tradition of portraying "the other" as a vampire, the xenophobia and racism of prominent groups who oppose Obama, and the actual appearance of the mask, I find myself greatly disturbed and can't help but ask the question if this image does not cater to that kind hostility towards our President. In the end, I am strongly inclined to think that it does appeal to the demonization of Obama constantly spewing forth from right wing extremists.

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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

White House Summit On Community Colleges

Today the White House held a massive summit on Community Colleges. This is crucial for putting such institutions center stage.

Most higher education is very expensive and, therefore, favors the wealthy and powerful. Community Colleges serve the middle and working classes. It follows that this is higher education for the rest of us, for the people! We have a moral duty as a nation to support such colleges.

The Chronicle of Higher Education provides a good analysis of the merits and problems with this summit and the administration's treatment of Community Colleges. Rightly angry that the funding for Community college has been greatly cut from what Obama originally promised, as well as the hasty and half-hearted nature of the entire summit, the Chronicle nonetheless claims that
most participants said they were looking forward to the event and appreciated the fact that the summit will thrust community colleges into the spotlight like never before .... At least three national efforts to expand the work of community colleges are scheduled to be announced at the summit. President Obama plans to announce a national public-private partnership to help retrain workers for jobs that are in demand. The national program is in response to frustrations that have been expressed both by workers and by employers who complain that public-retraining programs frequently do not provide students with employable skills. The new program is intended to help better align community-college curricula with the needs of local companies.

The Aspen Institute, a Washington-based not-for-profit, private research organization, will run the partnership, named Skills for America's Future. The president will also announce the creation of a government task force that will include representatives from the Department of Labor, the Department of Commerce and other federal agencies. The task force will ensure that federal efforts are coordinated and facilitate the private sector's access to federal training and education programs.

Melinda Gates, who is attending the summit, will announce that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will spend $35-million over five years to help increase the graduation rates of community-college students. The Completion by Design program will award competitive grants to groups of community colleges, which will then use the money to devise and enact new approaches to making the colleges more accessible to students, especially those from low-income families.
Community Colleges are filled with great teachers, fine administrations and students of a very high quality. Watch the summit here, I embded the videos for the full summit below:

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Saturday, October 2, 2010

Remembering Mr. Gandhi

Today marks the anniversary of the birth of Mohandas Gandhi. I paste the following video of Gandhi's words to remember what he stood for.

I find that, unlike Gandhi, I cannot fully embrace total non-violence. For instance, Gandhi opposed the use of force even against Hitler! Even in self-defense! I don't say he was wrong, just that I cannot take the doctrine that far myself.

Non-violence, however, is more than just not using force. It is a commitment to a way of life, a way of life that rejects the normal injustice, discrimination, and brute use of power by governments, in relationships, and between people in every day encounters.

For Gandhi, we must stop responding to each other in hostile terms, stop thinking of each other as separate and opposed. Non-violence is really about our connections with each other, the unity of the human family, and the rejection of hostility and power struggles as part of our relationships to one another.

It is this rejection of hostility and distrust and its replacement by cooperation, love, and peace that we remember when we remember Mr. Gandhi. In the current political climate, where extremists shout out fears of government take overs and communism, where tea-baggers bring automatic weapons to political rallies, and where disagreements on policy are primarily expressed by ranting and raving and bullying your opponents ... we would do well to reflect on the example of Gandhi

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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

More Nonsense from Global Warming Skeptics

This is beyond absurd at this point. The scientific data is so compelling that one has to be either (a) unable to actually understand science, (b) brainwashed, or (c) simply lying in order to deny that global warming is happening and that we are the cause.

But the deniers are with us and their numbers keep growing.

For some of you deniers out there, first. 97% of climate scientists agree that Global Warming is real and that it is caused largely by human pollution. Even more problematic to skeptics who will not accept proper expert opinion, the empirical evidence and causal reasoning behind why climatologist believe this is nearly impossible to dispute, as can be quickly viewed in a handy video from National Geographic, posted here below:

For those who cannot accept the solid conclusions of firm scientific reasonsing and expert consensus, by all means shout out your madness so that we know you for madmen; but for God's sake, be honest; admit that you simply don't trust science, or that you feel (in your insatiable greed) that money made from oil is worth the losses, don't lie about the facts anymore .... PLEASE!!!

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If Jesus came back as Glenn Beck

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Friday, September 24, 2010

Colbert before Congress

In what may be his greatest feat since the White House Correspondents dinner of a few years back, Stephen Colbert, once again, publicly and boldly calls our government out:

See the whole story at Talking Points Memo

What one must wonder, however, is whether such a satirical assault on congress has any kind of positive effect? Any thoughts from my readers?

UPDATE: Colbert has contexuaized the issue of immigration and migrant farm workers, on which he testified, on his show. Check out those videos here and here.

UPDATE 2: Colbert did apparently briefly come out of Character, Politico shared that video. It is very moving and sheds new light on his testimony.

Here it is (do watch):

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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Crossan's Revolutionary Prayer Book

The Greatest Prayer: Jesus's Revolutionary ManifestoThe Greatest Prayer: Jesus's Revolutionary Manifesto by John Dominic Crossan

John Dominic Crossan's newest book - besides offering tremendous literally criticism and poetic insight - provides much needed depth into a subject matter that those who ascribe to liberal theology sometimes struggle with.

Accustomed as we are to a Christian tradition that all too often reduces prayer to "asking God for things," but at the same time philosophically unable to think of God as a person-like being, we simply don't know what do to with prayer; or as Paul of Tarsus (quoted approvingly and used at length by Crossan) puts it "We do not know how to pray as we ought" (Rom. 8:26).

Crossan shares a rejection of any crude anthropomorphic understanding of prayer, "it is an immature view of prayer that addresses a Supreme Being radically apart from us who thinks, and wills, knows and hears, grants and refuses more or less as we do, but with infinite broadband" (28).

Noting that the Prophets of ancient Israel seem to reject prayer and insist that God requires distributive justice (care for widows, aliens, and orphans) instead of prayer and ceremony, Crossan nonetheless does not think we are faced with some either/or. For him, prayer and justice are distinguishable but inseparable. Like two sides of a coin, we cannot have prayer without justice or justice without prayer (20-21).

From this starting point, Crossan turns to the most well known prayer in the Christian tradition, variously called the "Our Father," or the "The Lord's Prayer." This prayer, Crossan argues, expresses the heart of the message of Jesus. The prayer asks us to come together as equals, to become heirs of God, and to work together to establish the divine reign here on earth. We do this by sharing with each other fairly and equally.

Crossan spends much of the book describing the vision of an egalitarian justice found throughout the pages of the Bible. Most striking is his thouhtful examination of the use of the Sabbath tradition. Crosssan argues, persuasively, that the Sabbath is the crown of creation in Genesis Chapter one, and that the later traditions of the weekly Sabbath, Sabbath year (every Seventh year), and year of Jubilee (a kind of super Sabbath every fiftieth year), is designed to recall and enact a world of unity, non-violence, equality, and peace. His discussion of the Sabbath is among the finest I have read.

Prayer, Crossan argues, is meditation on the divine vision of a just, fair, peaceful, and non-violent world. The message of Jesus is a message that we can and must work together with God to bring about such a world. When we pray, then, "The Lord's Prayer," we remind ourselves that God and God's kingdom are present only when share our resources, forgive others their debts, and work together for peace, and that God's kingdom will only be fully present when ALL have enough, when ALL debts are forgiven and when ALL people are free to live together and live peacefully.

The book builds on Crossan's earlier work, especially God and Empire, and most of the themes are found throughout his writings. Yet there is a freshness to the presentation here, an application that warrants attention. Although most of the themes are not new for Crossan, how those ideas effect our prayers, and particularly how we say "The Lord's Prayer" is a novel application of them.

If you are open to non-traditional Christian theology and a faith informed by reason and historical method, this is the prayer book for you.

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Friday, September 17, 2010

Constitution Day

Today is "Constitution Day," the Anniversary of the ratification of our nation's founding document. Though George W. Bush dismissed the Constitution as "just a god damned piece of paper," most of those who share his right-wing ideology think of themselves as its greatest defenders. The Tea-Baggers carry copies with them to rallies - almost as often as they carry firearms and racists political signs.

Of course many of them have a very narrow and literalist view of the document; much like many of the same people have a very narrow and literalist view of scripture. Just as the Bible, in their mind, is an eternal document and must be followed with wooden and a-contextual literalism, so too the constitution must be read as carved in stone, exhaustive, and eternal.

I encourage those of us who don't share Bush's dismissal or the Tea-Baggers fundamentalism to actually reflect on our constitution today. Think about it deeply, carefully, and critically.

If we do not examine it carefully, we sacrifice our founding document to the constitutional idolatry of the Tea-baggers. And just as we should not sacrifice the Bible to the wacko fundamentalists who worship it, as if paper and ink were their God, we must not allow the Constitution to suffer such a fate either.

Postscript: Here is a little info on Constitution Day

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A Move toward Socialism? Hardly.

Nice story from NPR here. Could we stop using the term "Socialist" without understanding what it means or how it works? Please, listen to this interview and let's start to think more clearly about what's really going on.


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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Labor Day casts a grim shadow

Labor Day has come and gone. The ceremonial ending of summer, a holiday - for federal workers, but not many of the rest of us - has been celebrated, grills made use of. Sadly, however, we find the outlook less than rosy on this holiday meant to honor working people.

It has been some time since being a working person in America has been a worse bargain. Unions - which give workers their only power to bargain for fair wages and decent benefits against massive corporations and other big employers - have been, with some notable but few exceptions, abolished, or at least broken and neutered, rendered impotent by pro-corporate legislation passed by the bought and paid for members of the United States Congress and White House, over the last 30-35 years. The gulf between rich and poor continues to grow and the those who are not rich are seeing their standard of living drop further and further.

Our current economic collapse shows no real sings of abetting, and nobody is adding jobs. Even federal employees, once thought safe from such disasters, are seeing their wages and benefits reduced.

To borrow a phrase from Obi-Wan Kenobi, "it is a dark time for the empire."

I would like to say something optimistic, to praise working people, and to argue that they can get some of their rights and power back. And indeed, I am quite sure that they can do so. But the immediate outlook is grim.

By pursuing fairly conservative economic policies, by eschewing more progressive ideas, Obama has failed to create jobs, failed to boost the economy. The stimulus was too small, too weak, too focused on tax cuts and minor lending. There was no real attempt to move the country toward a green economy, which would have created far more jobs, no attempt to hire more teachers, no attempts to bolster public service ... at least no more than minimal attempts. Apparently when we require money to build bombs, bail out banks, and kill people in distant lands, we have a bottomless pit of funds, but when it comes to building better roads, hiring more nurses, hiring teachers and paying them better, funding public libraries, and so on, we just "can't spare the cash."

Obama, I think, did this because he did not want to seem too "radical" too "liberal." And what has he accomplished? In all probability a radically far right, and, to be honest, rather crazy, GOP will probably take control of both houses this November. They will undo even the minimal gains Obama's white house has brought us. They will hurt working people more than they ever did before.

Ironically, many working people will vote in to office the very hacks and liars who are going to destroy their livelihood even further than it has already been destroyed.

Not only is it a dark time for the empire and for working people, but, to quote now from the Scarecrow in Wizard of Oz, "I can't be sure, but I think it's gonna get darker before it gets lighter."

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Friday, July 30, 2010

What Democracy means

At a time when we are losing our democracy to the interests of the rich and powerful, we should be reminded what Democracy is, how we got it, and what we must do to keep it.

With that in mind, I offer this video, from a few years back, narrated by former MP Tony Benn:

I think Benn is correct. We have never really had much democracy, we have had to fight hard for what little we do have, and we better keep fighting hard to stop losing it and to get more of it.

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Case for Elizabeth Warren

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Petition - A Petition in Support of Elizabeth Warren as Director of Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection: U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (Vermont)

Petition - A Petition in Support of Elizabeth Warren as Director of Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection: U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (Vermont)

Please sign the above position to tell your president that we want Elizabeth Warren to lead our consumer protection agency. She is one of the few people who combine the competence, energy, honesty, and real concern for the people who we have in Washington.

This is, for once, a chance to put a real democratic populist in a position that can do people good. She is not a stooge for the big banks, nor a wall street puppet; unlike most of the people in D. C.

Fight to put Ms. Warren in charge of this post!

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Health Care Reform Will Help Everybody

The following post is contributed by Barbara O'Brien, who blogs regularly at Mahablog

Many Americans assume the new health care reform act will benefit mostly the poor and uninsured and hurt everyone else, according to polls. As Matt Yglesias wrote, “Basically, people see this as a bill that will take resources from people who have health insurance and give it to people who don’t have health insurance.” Those who still oppose the reform say that people ought to pay for their own health care.

We all believe in the virtues of hard work and self-reliance, but these days it’s a fantasy to think that anyone but the mega-wealthy will not, sooner or later, depend on help from others to pay medical bills. And that’s true no matter how hard you work, how much you love America, or how diligently you take care of yourself. The cost of medical care has so skyrocketed that breaking an arm or leg could cost as much as a new car. And if you get cancer or heart disease — which can happen even to people who live healthy lifestyles — forget about it. The disease will not only clean you out; it will leave a whopping debt for your survivors to pay.

And the truth is, we all pay for other peoples’ health care whether we know it or not. When people can’t pay their medical bills, the cost of their health care gets added to everyone else’s bills and insurance premiums. When poor people use emergency rooms as a doctor of last resort, their care is not “free.” You pay for it.

Another common fantasy about medical care is that the “free market” provides incentives for medical companies to develop innovative new drugs and treatments for disease without government subsidy. It’s true that private enterprise is very good at developing profitable health care products. But not all medical care can be made profitable.

For years, the U.S. government has been funding medical research that the big private companies don’t want to do because there is too much cost for the potential profit. This is especially true for diseases that are rare and expensive to treat. An example of a recent advance made possible by government grants include new guidelines for malignant pleural mesothelioma treatment developed by MD Anderson Cancer Center researchers. Another is a blood screening test developed by mesothelioma doctors like thoracic surgeon Dr. David Sugarbaker. The health reform act provides for more dollars for such research, from which even many of the tea party protesters will benefit.

The biggest fantasy of all was that people who had insurance didn’t have to worry about health care costs. But the fact is that in recent years millions of Americans have been bankrupted by medical costs, and three-quarters of the medically bankrupt had health insurance. And yes, insurance companies even dumped hard-working, law-abiding patriots. But the health care reform act will put an end to that, and now America’s hard-working, law-abiding patriots are more financially secure, whether they like it or not.

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Saturday, June 12, 2010

Death, Fear, and Division in the Holy Land

PBS presents us with a story about the murder of a Palestinian child and the story of how his organs went to six other children. The father of the murdered boy meets with each of the kids who received his son's organs.

This video is hard to watch. It is painful, it is tragic, is shows how much hatred and fear can divide us.

Watch the full episode. See more Need To Know.

I am particularly disturbed by the fellow who says that he "hopes the organs come from a Jew, not an Arab," and later says that the Palestinian father should "immigrate to the US or Turkey, since there is nothing for him here." Even in the face of an outstanding act of Generosity, that gentlemen holds on to his hatred and fear.

The whole situation is just plain heartbreaking.

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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

In Defense of Erin Andrews and her Wardrobe

Erin Andrews is now being attacked for wearing "sexy" outfits on dancing with the stars. First by Elizabeth Hasselbeck and now by the New York Daily article. Here is what the Daily piece claims:

Andrews' "Dancing With the Stars" stint fulfills a longtime dream. Dancing has been her own sport; she was a member of the University of Florida Gators basketball dance team while at the school. Can't a female journalist dance?

Sure, but the trouble is that Andrews wants it both ways. She wants to be considered a journalist. She wants to be the observer, not the observed. But a journalist uncovers the facts, not her navel.

Let's face it: Andrews is a sports sidelines reporter. While she undoubtedly knows the games she covers, she's still there as eye candy.

She was voted America's Sexiest Sportscaster - twice - by Playboy, and accepted the kudos. She's posed for racy photoshoots in Sports Illustrated and GQ. She has sought celebrity.

But when when the peephole perv story broke and the paparazzi transformed her from storyteller to The Story, she called 911 and yelled to the operator, "I'm being treated like f---ing Britney Spears!" (Ironically, she employs Spears' stylist Paige Geran to dress her for her ESPN gigs.)

Now that "Dancing with the Stars" is over, Andrews is going to have to decide whether she wants to be a proper journalist or continue to be a journalistic lightweight who's light on her feet.

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