There are times when an abortion is necessary. I know that. When you have a black and a white. Or a rape.
- - President Richard Nixon, Oval Office, Newly released tapes
For decades, our church membership declined. It began in the 1960s during civil rights struggles. I met one delightful elderly woman who finally opened up and told me a little of how she would stand on street corners passing out leaflets for open housing. Gradually, social stands yielded to economic, then demographic trends. A major source of professional employment moved from the area, taking some of the most educated and open minded members. Time took its toll. The average age crept up past 60, finally nearing 70.
When I joined a few years ago, few could recall when membership had not declined. A new music director was nearly pressured out, partly for his acerbic personality, but also for introducing new music. I would have left to seek another church, one less wound up in moribund issues, but I had become friends with the music director. Finally, changes were made. Traditional worship was reduced to a single service. Contemporary worship was introduced in a second service. For the first time in many years, attendance is up, and enthusiasm is palpable.
While still arguing about new proposals, much debate centered around the preservation of an old monolithic pulpit that towered over the congregation. A series of pastors used it only rarely. The debate sometimes became heated, with traditionalists demanding that change be put off. I was unintentionally rude with one lady who insisted that "Christianity has always been based on tradition." She has since forgiven me for bursting out in derisive laughter.
I was initially uncommitted to either side. But I found myself irritated by silly arguments. The silliest, I felt was the debate by proxy. All folks interested in the controversy were asked to present their points of view. Only a few were willing to argue for keeping things as they were. But a host of participants insisted that change was dangerous because other folks, those not expressing an opinion, felt strongly about it. In the end, the issue was put to a vote. ¾ of the congregation cast a ballot for change.
I was thinking about that as I considered arguments against what is called the "public option" in health care reform. I can understand those who oppose the idea based on deep rooted ideological philosophy. I empathize with the politically timid, fearful that constituents might oppose the idea. I can even understand those who put partisanship ahead of the issue itself. That is a primary reason Republicans have pledged to vote against it as a bloc.
I'm still irritated by silly arguments. I do not understand those, all Democrats, who say the option must be rejected because Republicans will be against the idea. Public policy that is not bipartisan is unacceptable to those calling themselves blue dog Democrats. They are Republican partisans by proxy.
Perhaps they should visit our little house of worship, and see for themselves the profound virtue in the firm rejection of proxy reasoning.
Commenting on the Bush Budget, 2001:
If you are old, rich, and dead, this budget takes care of you very nicely.
- - Barney Frank, D-MA, in March 2001
The pictures have gone from clear a week ago, to grainy, blurred, and unsteady as cell phones take the place of cameras.
And there are other differences. We see evidence of the harshness of the government. There is now blood. A woman dies as a cell phone holder records from the edge of the attentive crowd, trying to save her.
The crowds are also different now. A few days ago, people in the streets took a cautious stand against their own fear. Green cloths covered the faces of those who know well the retribution that might await them when protest winds down. Today, the facecloths are gone. Some who march brandish wounds proudly. The angry welts and bruises are red badges of courage.
We can give thanks that we live in a country governed by a secular system of laws. Here, those who kill for God are outside of government. Groups who seek to impose religious law have not succeeded.
Religious folk in the United States have been well served by our secular focus and the freedom of choice it entails. Last week a woman who came to visit our church and returned repeatedly to worship, gave her witness. Amid testimony of friendliness, support in sickness, involvement in the community, she walked to the podium and spoke of a member of her family who had died. Others had judged him harshly for his alternate lifestyle, but she found something different with us. She wept as she spoke and I was happy for our freedom to worship as we choose, or to be free from any worship at all. Religious practices have flourished with a government dedicated to freedom, rather than religion.
Not all government support for religion is theocratic. England has an official church. European countries vary in their support for Christianity, with little discernible reduction in religious freedom, although France has begun prohibiting some Muslim clothing. But polls show a remarkable lack of enthusiasm in those countries for worship. Participation is low and getting lower. Government support hurts Christianity.
Watching the blood and bravery in Iran, small skirmishes in our own country, battles in law and legislative halls, take on an amplified significance. Those who would impose what they proclaim to be God's law should be forgiven, for they know not what they do. When some of our brethren, at Christmas, are told "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas", they are provoked. One told me she knows how Christian martyrs felt. As blood flows on the other side of the world, our mirth at her claim is grim.
Our thoughts, of course, go to those who defy the theocracy. The brutality is testament of the satanic capabilities of those in any land who claim to be God's representatives on Earth.
The president is being roundly criticized for insufficient, rhetorical support for what's going on over there. It seems to me foolish criticism. The people on the streets know full well what the American attitude toward the regime is. And they don't need that reinforced.
- - Conservative George Will, on ABC’s This Week
Nuggets of internet gold:
Bryan Lee Peterson at Johnny No One: I Hope You’re Happy thinks a lot about Iran, religion, corruption, and the end of the world.
- Tim McGaha at Tim's Thoughtful Spot applies his expertise to the US Navy and the future of fusion.
Have a safe weekend. Pray for someone in pain. A lot of them out there this week, the next few could find any of us among them.
In spite of the Great Depression so many decades ago, and the Great Recession our country slowly works its way out of, the GOP has a message for us. Be skeptical of any approach that moves us from a free market.
The big advantage to the market place is that it is self-regulating. Everything is determined by intersecting lines. If demand goes up, but supply stays steady, prices go up to dampen the demand and spur on the supply. If supply goes up, all other things being equal, prices go down. Competition is what does it. Any inefficiency produces a mad race to fill it, with profits going to the winner, and benefits going to consumers. Works out pretty well.
The main alternative, what can be called a command economy with its centralized decision making, didn't work well in the old Soviet empire. Adam Smith's invisible hand served to expose state run bureaucracies for the dinosaurs they were, and they collapsed.
When health advocates promote a possible government run system of medical care, Republicans are there to stop it. A public system would be inefficient, freedom reducing, anti-choice, slow, and expensive as all get out. We will end up in endless lines waiting for routine care. We must resist any effort by faceless bureaucrats to impose such a system on us.
The sly opponents of free markets have come up with a Trojan Horse. They want to introduce a government run system as part of what they are calling free choice. Let participants in a new health care program choose whether they want to join in one of many private care packages by private insurance companies, or they can choose a government run system.
Republicans point out the danger in such a choice. If government competes with private insurers, it will be unfair to private insurers. Conservatives sound the alarm. A government plan would be more efficient, faster, less expensive, and universal. A public option will provide benefits that private industry would have to compete with. They warn that government would push hard for lower prices. Republicans point out that every consumer would choose it. It is blatantly unfair. With low costs, ordinary citizens would be unable to resist the temptation to join up. The danger is so great conservatives are willing to vote as a bloc against it. Can we ignore their Casandra-like warnings of catastrophe?
It may seem complicated, but Republicans have a very simple message that we will be well advised to take to heart. If we don't watch out, we will be doomed to less efficient, more efficient, faster, slower, costly, inexpensive, rationed, universal, unpopular coverage that everyone will choose if it is offered. We must preserve our competitive system by blocking this competition. We are warned. The choice is ours.
Unless, of course, we are saved by another Republican filibuster.
Today, senior diplomats of some Western countries, who addressed us diplomatically up until today, have now removed their masks. They are showing their true faces.
They are showing their enmity against the Islamic Republic system and the most evil of them is the British government.
- - Ayatollah Khamenei of Iran
Comment: In the good old days, America was "The Great Satan"
We have been reduced to a mere secondary evil.
Do we really have to be political wonks to be awed by the splendor of the legislative maneuverings this year?
In Tennessee, Republicans had a one vote majority. They had won it fair and square. So they could vote their guy in to run the Tennessee house, appoint the leadership of all the committees, and pretty much get things their way. Democrats would vote as a bloc for their choice for Speaker, then Republicans would cast their votes, win by one vote, and spend the rest of the day laughing at those Democratic losers (excuse me, that's Democrat losers in Republican speak). And life would go on.
So, as predicted, Democrats began the vote, all voting for .. are you ready for this? ... a moderate Republican. Huh? So when the Republicans got their turn, they all voted as a bloc, except for the guy the Democrats had all voted for. He shrugged his shoulders and voted for himself. He became the speaker, and rewarded the Democrats by putting them in power.
Now it's New York's turn in the center ring of the political circus. Democrats got a majority in the State Senate for the first time in a gazillion years. They put their guys in power and found a lot of skeletons hidden away. Unknown buildings everyone had thought were empty turned out to be secret broadcast centers for political advertising at taxpayer expense. People few had ever heard of had been on the public payroll for years.
A few months later, a couple of Democrats agreed to switch sides. Democrats got wind of it. So, just as Republicans were set to call on a vote on a new Senate leader, Democrats began to scream out motions to adjourn. Later on, Republicans insisted they would still take over. They had the votes, right? But Democrats had the keys to the Senate chambers, so the Republicans were locked out. Republicans said they would hold the Senate vote out on the lawn. Then it turned out one of the two legislators who were switching had a set of keys. So they could vote like dignified politicians.
Now one of the switchers is switching back. This leaves the Senate equally divided between Democrats and Republicans. So, there is now a new legal theory. Republicans insist the newly elected Senate head, a Republican, can break the deadlock by voting twice. Yup. He will try to vote twice. Once with the rest of the Senate, and a second time to break the tie.
The totally unpopular David Paterson, the only Governor in the history of New York to actually have poll numbers below zero, is urging the Senators to resolve their differences. His argument is one seldom heard publicly. All the wrangling means nothing is getting done. That is unfair to THE LOBBYISTS who have worked so hard to swing votes to the special interests. We can't let all their efforts go for nothing. I'm not making this up.
So come on. Isn't this better than baseball?
On Whether NY Senators Can Receive Salaries During Dispute:
It turns out that both conferences have come together and signed appropriate documentation to continue receiving their salaries. So there is a power sharing agreement -- but it only includes getting paid. If the leadership of the Senate can agree on a way to keep getting paid, they can reach an agreement to get back to work for the people of New York.
- - Marissa Shorenstein, speaking for Governor David Paterson
I was startled when I saw it on C-SPAN. I was working on some papers and had the television on in the background, so I thought I had heard it wrong. It was a celebration of that extremely old (now dead) racist Strom Thurmond, who had attained yet another year and achieved a full century of destructive life. He had gone from pro-segregation Dixiecrat, running on a racist platform for President in 1948, to a Republican convert, helping Richard Nixon compose a Southern strategy. What a guy.
Trent Lott put the unthinkable into words. "I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either."
Others picked it up. Conservative friends in internet chatrooms and meeting halls tried to minimize the words. It was an innocent compliment. It was taken out of context. It was exaggerated. And we, on the left, enjoyed quoting Lott's words in full, asking for whatever context we may have missed.
National conservatives stepped up to the plate. Republicans began demanding Lott's head. "Oh, God," Said Bill Kristol. "It's ludicrous. He should remember it's the party of Lincoln." Peggy Noonan was more definitive, "when Strom Thurmond ran for president in 1948 he ran explicitly as a segregationist who would attempt to stop the civil rights revolution. He never, ever should have been elected president of the United States. It is truly weird for a person who lives in our world, in the modern world, to say otherwise."
Trent Lott went on a sort of apology tour, and Civil Rights leaders were quick to forgive their frequent adversary. But Republicans wouldn't have it. He was voted out of any leadership position. He stayed out for years.
A former GOP official in South Carolina posted on the internet a little joke. A gorilla had escaped from the Riverbanks Zoo, but he said, "I'm sure it's just one of Michelle's ancestors -- probably harmless." Well, boys will be Good Ol' Boys. He deleted the comment after being called on it. He was also "sorry as could be..." wait for it "...if I offended anyone." He said the obvious, as if it was mitigating: "The comment was clearly in jest." Well, duh. Then he sought to calm things down a bit with a reasonable explanation. "The comment was hers. Not mine." His point was that Michelle Obama had been claiming that she was descended from apes. What a card, that First Lady!
Another South Carolina Republican posted a joke about President Obama taxing aspirin "because it's white and it works." Apologies all around. And a Tennessee GOP staffer sent a photo of all the Presidents. In Obama's place was a black frame with two white eyes. Get it? A Negro in the White House? The apology went like this: "I went on the wrong email and I inadvertently hit the wrong button." So, how's the sensitivity training going?
We must learn from these sad errors. 1) Always send racist material to the right people. 2) The Party of Lincoln is now the Party of Limbaugh.
Regarding a joke about the amazing lack of intelligence among black people:
I have been asked to send this apology for my earlier email. I am sorry that it was received in a negative manner. I do hope that we are going to be allowed to keep our sense of humor.
As you can now see, it went to very few people. I did add Todd Marks in this apology, as he is in the mix now. I am also sorry to learn that some of these persons are not real team players. There really was no reason for this to go beyond those that I emailed (8 people).
- - Carol Carter, Florida Republican Committeewoman, now resigned
When the jury at the OJ murder trial brought back its verdict, reactions were mixed. Depending largely on demographics, folks were heartened by the repudiation of justice too often unjustly applied in Los Angeles, or outraged by the tossing out of a mountain of evidence on the basis of a racial appeal.
My skepticism did not flow so much from the evidence as from the process. The massive testimony and analysis, the competing interpretations, the timelines, the coincidences, the DNA questions took nine and a half months to present. The hyper-efficient jury managed to weigh every piece of disputed evidence, resolve every issue, and dispose of the case in a mind bending 3 hours and 40 minutes. One juror even managed to retain enough energy to give a power salute to the accused murderer while filing out.
I thought of that jury as I watched the election in Iran. Authorities were crushed by a mountain of paper ballots. Even with computers in some precincts aggregating the tallies, each vote had to be counted by hand.
Misconduct was evident before the polls opened and grew by the minute. Internet communications were impeded, then cell phones were cut off. As suspicious crowds grew increasingly restive, official reaction to protests became brutal. Reports of live rounds being fired into crowds, with deadly results, lend an image of a Middle East version of Tienanmen Square.
The Obama Administration is credited by experts with striking the right note with exactitude. Skepticism is expressed: sympathy short of endorsement. There is no call from Iranians themselves for any US involvement. The danger of Iranian authorities branding opponents as stooges of America has been avoided. The opposition has not been delegitimized. The more primitive of US conservatives call for precisely that sort of intervention, but the administration has done what is right as opposed to what makes us feel good.
Some neo-cons who favor current Iranian authorities over their challengers want to advance the possibility of war. They point to polls that indicate the possibility that an Ahmadinejad victory may have been legitimate. They have not addressed just how the main challenger lost in his own hometown or how another major candidate got less than 1 percent of the vote.
It was an OJ vote tally. 39.2 million paper ballots were hand counted, tabulated, and the results posted in 12 hours. It remains an intimidating display of accelerated human mentality. We must hope such staggering ability never falls into the wrong hands.
As events teeter between laughable official claims and tragic official oppression, people overcome a lack of electronic communication by shouting from rooftops. Iranians are "sending them a message": "They" may be well advised to actually count those ballots.
It's not productive, given the history of U.S.-Iranian relations, to be seen as meddling.
- - President Barack Obama
Put yourself in their place. Walk a mile in the shoes of Republican office holders. The climate is changing, and not for the better. The base is melting fast and a hot environment is getting hotter. It's been going on for a long time, largely unnoticed at first except by a few Casandra like political specialists.
The observable process is a political death spiral. The party is conservative, very conservative. Moderates don't much like their position in the GOP, and, like the ancient Argonauts, they find the siren call of independence irresistible.
As a few moderates leap overboard, the party becomes proportionately more conservative. This alienates more moderates, so they jump ship. Without their influence, the party becomes extremist, and the beat goes on.
This is nothing new. Democrats have gone through their own death spiral. In England, Labour (or Labor, for those of us who are victims of American education), went through the same process. The cure was simple. A couple of electoral losses became the shock therapy of democracy. Labo(u)r turned around. The Democrats became a resurgent party. It was painful. It required re-examination of basic viewpoints. But the next election loomed menacingly, and so it was done.
But that is not happening for the GOP. They have lost the popular vote in 4 of the last 5 Presidential elections. Midterm elections showed a similar pattern. Republicans lost seats in 5 of the last 7. The long term trend has not been reassuring. But Republicans are not going through the same re-examination that began past recoveries for both parties. Technology is the culprit. Internet and cable television have joined with talk radio, providing conservatives with a protective cocoon, keeping reality away. Rush Limbaugh (popular leader of the GOP), Sean Hannity, and Bill O'Reilly soothe anxious conservative nerves. You don't need to change.
So back to leadership and Hobson's classic choice. In this case it is a death choice: burn or freeze. If you go along with the base, you lose elections. If you try to moderate the party, the base tosses you out on your ear.
So what is a loyal party member to do? One possibility is to hunker down, survive for the moment, and hope the country crashes. Republicans vote as a block against economic recovery programs. Eric Cantor (R-VA) says efforts to save the U.S. auto industry are “almost like looking at Putin's Russia." Mark Kirk (R-IL) works behind the scenes, begging Chinese leaders to be skeptical about America's future, warning them the US is a bad bet.
“Republicans should stop the name-calling, roll up their sleeves, and start working with the president and congressional Democrats to turn the economy around,” says Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD).