According to historical mythology, when Galileo was brought up on charges and forced to recant what he had seen through his telescope, his real crime was contradicting the prevailing beliefs of church authorities. He was ahead of his time, and ignorant clerics of the day could not get past their opposition to science and knowledge.
This is largely untrue. The church had within it the intelligentsia of Europe. It was well known by those versed in the sciences that celestial measurements had long before disproven the teachings of Ptolemy. That the earth was the center of the movements of the cosmos had been rejected by pretty much everyone. That included those educated within the church.
The problem with Galileo was that he talked about it. By publicizing what he had seen, that the moons of Jupiter were circling another planet and not the earth, Galileo would cause the unsophisticated subjects of Christendom, those who merely worshiped, to harbor some small seed of doubt. Who could tell where that slippery slope might slide?
Five weeks after the mass execution of a classroom of small children in Newtown, Connecticut, President Obama faced the cameras and gave a major policy speech on gun violence. He set up a commission on gun safety to be headed by Vice President Joe Biden. He called on Congress for action. And he issued 23 executive actions.
It was those executive actions that provoked the fury of the farther fringe of gun advocates. One action in particular revived research that had withered for 17 years:
And while year after year, those who oppose even modest gun safety measures have threatened to de-fund scientific or medical research into the causes of gun violence, I will direct the Centers for Disease Control to go ahead and study the best ways to reduce it. And Congress should fund research into the effects that violent video games have on young minds.
We don’t benefit from ignorance. We don’t benefit from not knowing the science of this epidemic of violence.
What the President was referring to was a specific congressional ban on a certain type of research. In 1995, a newly elected Republican Congress, at the urging of the NRA, put into law a prohibition. The law said that no federal funds "may be used, in whole or part, to advocate or promote gun control."
That created a bit of a stir for researchers. Nobody knew for sure what was being prohibited. Research studies don't really need federal laws to tell them not to engage in political advocacy of any kind. Advocacy is not what reputable research is about.
For example, a number of recent studies have pretty conclusively established that geographic areas that are right next to each other can have dramatically different minimum wage laws with no difference in employment rates. The obvious policy choice would seem to be to increase the minimum wage pretty much everywhere and to do it right now. But no study has said that the minimum wage should be increased. They just present the facts.
So how does a "Just the facts" study conform to an order to stop going beyond the facts? One way might have been to continue on as usual. But Congress controls a lot of funding, so bureaucrats scrambled to try to figure out what conservatives wanted.
The Center for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health have funded important research on homicides and suicides. Some research continued, but phraseology became important. "By lethal means" was substituted for any reference to firearms. So the children in Newtown died "by lethal means."
Even artfully delicate wording raised the ire of some Congressional conservatives. A decade later, Joe Barton (R-TX) spoke for many conservatives as he complained about one study, "It’s almost as if someone’s been looking for a way to get this study done ever since the Centers for Disease Control was banned from doing it 10 years ago."
Researchers were asked to submit lists of any independent research, funded from private sources or on their own, they might be doing on gun violence. For years, those lists were then forwarded routinely to the NRA "as a courtesy."
President Obama was within the law as it was passed when he ordered federal agencies to stop the prohibition by proxy. If Congress wanted researchers to stop doing what they don't do, then don't do what you don't do. Just don't take it any farther than what the law plainly says.
So, presumably, research into gun violence will continue once more. Research will not advocate gun control. And researchers will also stop beating their spouses and will refrain from barbecuing live kittens, which they also don't do anyway.
In following the language of the law, agencies will be subverting the obvious desire of conservatives. Facts tend to be biased against the current form of advocacy that contemporary conservatism has become.
Gun violence is not the only area of fact prohibition, nor is the United States the only location where research is found to be objectionable because it might cause doubt among the faithful.
Via Jonathan Portes, we learn of the reaction of European conservatives to the failure of austerity policies in the European Union. Economists such as Paul Krugman, the bete noire of conservatives, had warned of the consequence of reducing deficits during a recession. The evidence had been clear. Predictions of increased investor confidence and a resulting explosion of growth turned out to be faulty.
Krugman called it a belief in "confidence fairies" and said the expansion wouldn't happen. All that would result would be unnecessary hardship.
Sure enough, the promised explosion into prosperity didn't happen. And unnecessary hardship did result.
Krugman has a history of correct predictions. He denies any special genius, although he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 2008. In fact, he was the only one to receive the award that year. He insists that he is doing no more than applying the lessons available to any college freshman who pays attention during class in Macro Economics 101.
You don't cut and slash government during a recession, unless you want a long and deep recession.
So Jonathan Portes found and published a letter (pdf)written by conservative European Commission Vice President Olli Rehn. Rehn has been an advocate of austerity policies as the way to prosperity. No pain, no gain. In fact, Rehn has been positively Hooverish in predicting prosperity that is just around the corner. Everyday of the past few years has been a bright new day with the sunshine of good times about to peek through the clouds any second now.
Rehn now says that prosperity isn't exactly due this week. Or next week, or next month, or next quarter. He says that the promised prosperity will come, we can trust him on that. It will get here ... oh ... late this year. The second half.
The letter was sent to the Ministers of Finance of the European Union. In it, he tells them directly what is causing the delay. It has been all those studies, research, scholarship, and debate:
I would like to make a few points about a debate which has not been helpful and which has risked to erode the confidence we have painstakingly built up over the last years in late night meetings.
If only the facts had been dealt with more discretely, if the public and investors had been protected from such reality, confidence would have prevailed and prosperity would already be shining through.
The conservative objection to facts is nothing new. Everything would be so much better if Galileo would stop encouraging folks to look through that damned telescope.
It has been a staple of economics for ... well ... for pretty much forever. Raising the minimum wage will, at least marginally, increase unemployment.
The response of most of us, at least most of us who have paid attention to that unfortunate fact of economic life, has been that the tradeoff is positive. A few who might have been hired might not be, but those who are employed earn a more reasonable wage. The net amount that is put back into the economy is more. Those earning a bit more than the minimum wage end up earning a bit more than a higher minimum wage. Money circulates and the entire economy grows faster.
Higher wages, more jobs, more growth. God's in his heaven, all's right with the world.
But still ... the nasty little drawback has remained. Raising the minimum wage raises unemployment. At least a little.
It's Economics 101. It's right up there with Adam Smith's invisible hand. It's the crossing lines of supply and demand. You make something more expensive, you find demand for it goes down.
And there has been some evidence to back it up. Not a lot, but some. The reason there wasn't a lot of evidence was that, up until a few decades ago, the golden standard for minimum wage measures has been the federal government. There have always been state minimum wage laws. But they were largely rendered irrelevant by a higher federal minimum wage.
But a few decades ago, the federal wage began to lag. Conservative hostility to increasing the minimum wage resulted in a new approach. Conservatives pushed the Earned Income Tax Credit. The reasoning was that the social benefit of liberating low income workers from life in abject poverty should not be achieved at the expense of small businesses. If society as a whole wanted to accomplish a higher wage at the low end of the scale, society as a whole should provide it.
Liberals went along. For the most part, they didn't have any particular loyalty to one approach over the other. They just wanted to make it a little easier, through hard work at a minimum wage job, to gain entry into the middle class.
So workers earning a low income could supplement that income with support through the tax system.
Comparisons between regions of the country began to be viable. In a few parts of the country, states and localities, the minimum wage went up, not quite keeping pace with inflation, but going up. Those that rose above the federal level could be compared. There were some differences between employment levels in higher minimum wage areas and levels in lower wage areas, but they weren't precise. Economic gyrations and regional factors made meaningful comparisons almost impossible. Besides, knowledge of basic economic principles had provided the answer a long time before. Why study what simple math would tell us?
New trends become stronger as times change. Republicans remain hostile to a federal minimum wage. It is still government interference in the free market. They have also turned against the Earned Income Credit. It represents a government expenditure that is, however small the amount, a transfer of wealth. And, to be accurate, there is a fair amount of expressed conservative hostility toward those who are on the lower economic rungs.
Liberals are becoming skeptical as well. The minimum wage does not, for the most part, restrict small business. Large corporations are the main employer of those who are paid very little for hard work. The Earned Income Credit tends to provide a mega-business reason to keep wages even lower. After all, government will make up the difference.
As the federal minimum wage has stayed static, minimum wage levels other than that established by the federal government have had a larger effect. At least some local and state laws have largely gone above federal minimum wage levels.
Arindrajit Dube of the University of Massachusetts had an interesting idea. Rather than simply compare before and after effects of minimum wage changes, which are distorted by economic variations over time, or comparing regional averages, which are overrun by other regional conditions, there was a more accurate path that was possible.
So he began a new sort of study. He and other colleagues found 316 counties that shared a border and had significantly different minimum wage laws over a period of more than 16 years. They compared employment rates. They compared employment trends. They compared different industries, some with high proportions of minimum wage workers, some with lower levels, and some with almost no minimum wage workers.
It was the first major valid study with a fair measurement of the effects of raising the minimum wage. It ruled out regional variables, time variables, and accounted for industry variables. Was the cost in jobs a large difference, as opponents have always maintained? Was it a relatively small difference as supporters of a minimum wage have suggested?
The political judgment of whether the loss of jobs was justified by the social and economic benefits of more money in paychecks is beyond such studies. Researchers try to rule out value judgments. But it would certainly provide a reasonable basis for the rest of us to make those choices.
And here is what the study showed:
There is no measurable effect. None. Zero.
It was a shocker. The study was peer reviewed. The data was examined and re-examined. It is public data, so verification wasn't hard. The totals added up no matter how they were cross indexed. The results were always the same.
Raising the minimum wage, it appears, has no effect on unemployment as a whole, or unemployment for low income workers, or unemployment in any specific industry, or economic growth, or much of anything else: Except it puts money in paychecks that wouldn't otherwise be there.
The study, entitled "Minimum Wage Effects Across State Borders: Estimates Using Contiguous Counties" (pdf) was published in November, 2010 in the Review of Economics and Statistics.
A series of subsequent studies surprised researchers with similar results. The negative effects of minimum wages laws were non-existent.
We don't yet know why a growing body of empirical evidence indicates that increasing the minimum wage has none of the effects, to any measurable degree, that we have always assumed, been taught, and known as an established fact. There is no lack of speculation. But all we know for sure, as yet, is what we have known for thousands of years: that intellectual honesty demands that some respect be paid to real world data.
That, of course, has had little effect on the Republican response to President Obama's proposal to raise the minimum wage to $9 an hour. Republican Majority Leader of the House of Representatives John Boehner, reacted last week.
When you raise the price of employment, guess what happens? You get less of it. At a time when Americans are still asking the question "Where are the Jobs?" why would we want to make it harder for small employers to hire people?
Thanks to careful, repeated research, the need to "guess what happens" is now gone, outside of the hermetically sealed universe created by partisan Republicans.
Introduction, Traditional Service,
9:00 AM, February 17, 2013
St. Mark's United Methodist Church in Florissant, MO
The cross does not separate us from Jesus.
It brings him to us.
When we’re in pain, Jesus has been there.
When we’re in despair, Jesus has been there.
When dreams are shattered, when hope is gone,
when you are giving in, you are not alone.
Jesus is walking with you.
His hand is on your shoulder.
All who pass this way, look and see
See the Lord of Life, see him dying.
You are worth dying for.
Life is worth living.
The path is worth walking.
And you will never be alone.
Found on Line:
"All Who Pass this Way"
composer: Hal Hopson
Performed by Arizona School for the Arts
Phoenix First United Church of Christ
April 17, 2011
Rumproast seems to share the sense of awe many of us feel as the NRA tips over into a sort of bizarro type Wayne's World. Wayne is Wayne LaPierre, breathlessly screaming "Annie get your gun," itemizing the conditions we will face as we go to the supermarket: Hurricanes. Tornadoes. Riots. Terrorists. Gangs. Lone criminals. Frankly, Wayne is too mild. He didn't mention zombies. My take is here.
Why can't conservative politicians get their media consultants to stop with the hallucinogens? Michele Bachmann can't keep her two wild and crazy eyes on the camera. She talks to one of the voices in her head, apparently standing off to the side. Bobby Jindal's folksy entrance into camera range comes off like he's been wandering around like a confused bar denizen after a few too many. And now, well... Mad Mike's America can't resist reviewing poor Marco Rubio who proved that you can indeed give a major policy speech while high diving into a little bottle of water. Who the heck put that water so far away? In a bottle! The pastor of our church, with a membership of just a few hundred, is provided water to drink within easy reach, on a stand, in plain view, in a glass, at every worship service. It is routine. I love the guy, but he is not a speaker widely known outside the borders of Missouri. Did it occur to even one advisor to these national figures that a live broadcast to an audience of millions might merit at least one rehearsal? Did I mention putting water in easy reach? On a stand? In a glass? IN A GLASS, people?
As long as there is life, there is a morning after. Tommy Christopher of Mediaite covers Marco Rubio's interview one sleep after his unusual presentation. Unfortunately Senator Rubio gets into substance, and Tommy applies a scalpel. The good Senator should have continued gulping bottled water.
Nancy Hanks at The Hankster links to discussions about whether political party primaries should be functions that are strictly for political parties.
The Heathen Republican examines whether the Republican Party is dying, and concludes that losing a national election does not mean the GOP has collapsed. Quite so. The demise of the Republican Party is based less on 2012 than it is on this.
Infidel 753 explains the significance of Charles Darwin and the mechanism of evolution. My favorite story about Darwin concerned his interaction with a religiously conservative ship's captain who threatened to have Mr. Darwin thrown overboard.
Watching the hardships endured by those poor captives of a disabled cruise ship, it is difficult for me to imagine anyone with a soul so callused as to observe the callamity without laughing. Max's Dad contemplates the coming lawsuits and wishes himself on one of the juries.
This seems a little obscure to me. Conservative James Wigderson covers a Q and A session that included a candidate who once said, in a legal proceeding, that she was discriminated against. Now she is asked if she ever lied under oath. She answers no. James is aghast at the assertion. There she goes again! There must be some reason to think she lied before and is lying now than what James reveals. At least it seems such to me. Can someone explain?
Where was the Obama campaign getting the money?
For months, predictions were that the mammoth financing of the Romney campaign and its unaffiliated allies, the secretly funded PACS, were ready to overwhelm the Obama ground game of on-the-street volunteers with a huge 20 to 1 advantage in television and radio advertising. But someone checked and it wasn't happening.
Just before the election, reports were coming in from all over the country. The Obama campaign was beating Romney to a bloody pulp in broadcast advertising. The New York Times carried what may have been the best summary.
For every five commercials Mitt Romney and his allies ran here in this vital swing state in the last two weeks of September, President Obama and Democrats ran seven, accusing Mr. Romney of having a “tough luck” attitude toward the middle class and asserting that Mr. Obama has brought the economy back from the brink.
In Florida, the disparity was greater. The number of pro-Obama ads outnumbered pro-Romney ads by almost 50 percent — some 13,000 of them accusing Mr. Romney of outsourcing jobs to China, trying to gut Medicare and hiding his tax returns from the public.
The same story was repeated in one battleground state after another. The Obama campaign was airing more advertising spots than the Romney campaign. A lot more.
The New York Times headline was direct: Obama Outspending Romney on TV Ads.
Where were they getting the money?
After the campaign, the headline turned out to be wrong. The Obama campaign had been massively outspent on broadcast advertising. Oh, Obama had more ads than Romney, that part of pre-election coverage was correct, but the cost to the Obama side was a lot less. A non-partisan group of experts that studies such things, the Campaign Media Analysis Group, was set up by Kantar Media to provide analysis and data to both political parties and to news organizations.
Interviews with Obama campaign officials as well as independent analysts show that the Obama team, in carrying out its ad strategy, took advantage of discount rates and used sophisticated buying techniques and precision targeting to make the most-effective buys.
The story behind the story is compensation.
One traditional way of compensating key campaign strategists is with a percentage of broadcast advertising expenditures. The more that is spent, the more they are compensated. It is traditional, and the Romney campaign followed that tradition. The Obama campaign did not.
So Democrats paid less and got more.
Something similar seems to be happening in health care. A lot has been said about the emphasis of Obamacare on electronic data sharing. You get a test in one facility, the results ought to be accessible by another facility across town. Why take the same expensive test multiple times? Electronic data storage has gotten some coverage as well.
Savings from the reduction of duplicative procedures is intuitive. People can understand it. Computerization is more mysterious, but folks watch NCIS on the boob tube and see Abby do magical things on her keyboard. Nobody quite knows what she's doing. Most of it is gobbledegook. But people do get a sense that electronics are awesome.
What is not so intuitive, and is usually a bit under reported is the change, through Obamacare, in financial incentives. Organizations will no longer be compensated purely for the number of procedures they conduct. Compensation will be based on quality of care. Cost will go down, health will go up.
The last couple of years have seen a mysterious slowing of cost increases in healthcare. Last week the Congressional Budget Office had to revise their projections of budget deficits. Deficits are trending downward because of a slowing of health care costs.
Most of Obamacare has not been put into effect. But organizations are gearing up for the changes.
Some insurers have moved away from simply paying per procedure by giving health care providers financial incentives to reduce complications and rehospitalizations, for instance. Doctors, nurses and hospitals have also taken steps to reduce wasteful treatments. Many of the changes predate the 2010 health care overhaul, but the law has also contributed to the changes by offering some financial incentives, health care experts say.
The next time some politically motivated yahoo bloviates about how Obama is stealing from Medicare, it might advance truthful debate if some bystander will cheerfully point out that better care at lower cost isn't such a bad deal.
The gun safety debate is filled with the requisite amount of scary disinformation - "Senator Feinstein told 60 Minutes she intended to confiscate all guns," except she didn't. When you boil away the gullible repetition of deliberate deception, the arguments of anti-restriction advocates boil down to two. The government will be strong or the government will be weak. Which, I suppose, covers the bases.
That the government will be strong supposes a Nazi like "Amerika" that will oppress real patriots. Armament is needed to fight the onrushing tyranny. The coming conservative revolution that is destined to overthrow the United State government will require weapons sufficient to destroy US military personnel and local police. For example:
I disagree with Mr. Deming that it boils down to whether a shooter has to reload after 6 shots or after 60. It boils down to whether We The People will retain our God-given right to defend ourselves against a tyrannical government when it becomes necessary to do so.
Under the tyrant Obama, our Bill of Rights is being steadily eroded, and the loss of the 2nd Amendment, even in a small way, diminishes our ability to defend the rest of them.
And Obama knows it.
This is what I see as an oppressive violation of human rights.
The government is uncaring and callous if it provides inadequate protection for the future right to carry out the massive killings that will be needed to carry out the revolution.
The movie fantasy of mowing down the military minions of a future oppressive authority is not always confined to the juvenile right wing. Some conservatives, while they do not share the revolutionary zeal of their brethren ("I am not advocating nor anticipating having to engage in armed conflict against our government"), nevertheless introduce into the assault weapon debate an historical analysis that abuts the coming overthrow:
While America today is not like Nazi Germany of the 1930’s, there are increasingly similar circumstance that are developing ... That said, if there are lots of like-minded people with such firearms, the possibility of survival is definitely improved.
In our household, we are certainly comforted by the thought that some conservatives see the killing of dozens of little kids at a time as an undesirable, but necessary, risk. The more important objective is the killing of multiple members of the of US Marines, infantry, and other military personnel in the coming armed insurrection. The target, we are assured, is not a classroom of children, but rather our own young Marine.
The other argument is that our government is too weak, and we must be prepared to take the law into our own hands when the inevitable anarchy comes upon us. The NRA's Wayne LaPierre envisions the second term of the Obama administration: "terrorists, crime, drug gangs, the possibility of Euro-style debt riots, civil unrest or natural disaster."
Statistics may show illegal immigration at a low with increased Obama-ordered border law enforcement. FBI data may show that states along our southern border have the lowest crime rates. That is to be disregarded. Civil disorder during natural disasters is almost unheard of. Mr. LaPierre is unswayed. International terrorism against the United States is suffering one hammer blow after another as President Obama subjects al Qaeda and associated terrorists to deadly force. We are all missing the point.
Mere facts do not overrule principle.
Government will collapse under the Obama administration. Hurricanes, earthquakes, massive terror attacks, illegal immigrants roaming the streets hunting for any patriots not huddled fearfully out of sight:
Gun owners are not buying firearms because they anticipate a confrontation with the government. Rather, we anticipate confrontations where the government isn't there -- or simply doesn't show up in time.
The Not-Too-Filling vs Tastes-Great factions join in the mirror arguments, reflections of each other. Because the government is too strong/weak the coming revolution/collapse into tyranny/anarchy requires real patriots to stockpile, and defend at all costs, military grade weapons.
There is no certain stopping point here. If freedom requires patriots to carry surface-to-air missiles toward airport runways, government must not interfere.
The giving up on civil society, the tossing aside of social norms, the assumption of roles we used to entrust to police and military, is also reflected in other, less lethal, rhetoric. Calhoun-style nullification, secession, rejection of democracy itself in voter suppression laws, the manipulation of electoral laws and legislative procedures to thwart the majority are lesser effects of the same reasoning.
The new insurgency has been brewing for a while. This fringe of conservatism pits itself against the rest of America. As they see it, the American majority has let them down.
They turn on the America that has turned on them.
Cross-published at Mad Mike's America
Watching the flames blaze forth from a cabin in the woods, a sense of finality dominated. The finding of a murderer's body was almost anticlimactic. The nightmare of shootings of police, murders of family members, and a self-aggrandizing manifesto was, at last, at an end.
Rage, I am guessing, most frequently comes from frustrated expectation, disappointment combined with a sense of injustice. Suffering is often hard to bear. Injustice can sear the soul.
Ambition, professional and otherwise, powers human progress on an individual and a community level. And there is a strong human impulse against unfairness. How do these common traits go so wrong in a few tragic and dangerous cases? How did they spin out of orbit for this would-be officer of the law, the man who once carried a badge?
For many of us, family and job are the twin pillars of self esteem. Our sense of self-worth becomes fragile when these collapse.
Dorner felt that a dream of professional success as a police officer had been unjustly broken. His second chance, that of a Navy reservist fell away as well. That was not all. A series of romantic relationships, including a marriage ending in divorce, became successive disasters. The marriage lasted less than a month.
Pain is a part of life, and injustice is the way of the world. Everyone has experienced both. It is pointless to compare degrees of anger. Anger and its causes are not easily measured. "I know how you feel" is almost always untrue.
But we can say that identification of self with career and relationships is sometimes exaggerated. In Dorner's case, it seems to have gone way beyond reason. It happens to some. In my own experience, two acquaintances, one of those a co-worker, have been lost to suicide.
Whether by religious faith, or by wisdom through introspection, the singular milestone of life is the discovery of an inner value that is independent from circumstance or accomplishment. The best among us go beyond a proscriptive respect for the rights of others, managing a recognition of an inner worth possessed by each of us.
Most religious faiths would call for mourning for the victims and, as well, for a lost soul. I grieve for the daughter and her fiance, the young couple who were the first of those murdered. I am stunned and saddened by the ambush style killing of a succession of police officers. I am disheartened by the injuries to innocents by panicked members of law enforcement.
But I confess my share of human failings. Whatever his complaints, whatever the injustice he experienced, there is little feeling left in me for the tattered soul of Christopher Jordan Dorner.
Even as we talked, I could see how the religious terms we were investigating could apply to Republican politics. A reaction by proxy set in. A few friends might suggest that I've been writing about the GOP for too long. I doubt I'll break the habit soon.
The music director had asked me to begin participating again in our praise band. Contemporary Christian music has a special place in my heart. I relate to it on a visceral level more than I do traditional hymns. For me, it is less ritual and more genuine. I was among those who began leading the singing when we began contemporary worship.
I admit that what I lacked in talent, I tried to make up in enthusiasm. I began by knowing the obvious, that the role of a praise band is musical. But I also started to see our role as one of leadership. That leadership was partly non-verbal, visual. After I found myself singing with a microphone in one hand, the other hand in my pocket, I decided that hands in worship are not made for pockets. The gestures that accompany songs could, I began to feel, help create an environment of spiritual expression.
Several years into it, medical and scheduling problems began taking me away from weeknight practice. I eventually had to drop out. Each Sunday I would join the hand clappers, the active participants in worship. Worship affects me. I could not help it. The message of hope, of universal human worth, of a loving God seeing value in each of us, called to me. The theology of a God becoming human, sharing human pain, human despair, seems part of that hope, that love.
That, I believe, is why I was not the slightest bit resistant when our music director worked schedules with me to come back, at least as long as I could do it. So I found myself talking with old friends as a group for the first time in almost a year as we waited for the sanctuary to open for a brief, final pre-worship rehearsal. And we talked.
The pastor would be speaking about gifts God had given to each of us, talents we may not even be fully aware we have. He would read aloud of the burning bush, of the hesitation Moses expressed to God in leading his people out of bondage. How would he convince them he had, indeed, talked with the Lord? God asked Moses what he had in his hand. Moses showed the rod he was carrying. God had him throw the rod to the ground where it became a serpent, then pick it up as it became a rod again.
The message was that God's question to all of us, in scripture, prayer, or the still small voice within, is "What is in your hand?" The word "Transfiguration" appeared in the bulletin.
And so we pondered on similar words and what distinction they carried from each other. We decided that the belief in some churches, that communion wine and bread literally turned to the blood and flesh of Jesus, was transubstantiation.
Transformation,, we decided, is a keeping of the same identity but in a fundamentally changed state. We go to worship seeking transformation. We want to become better people. We want our transgressions washed away. We want to embrace the voice of compassion and love, we want the message of Christ to prevail in our lives. We want to grow in spirit. We want to walk with Jesus. Our identities are intact, but we seek a fundamental change. That continuity, combined with change, is transformation.
Transfiguration was left for us. We finally decided that this meant a change in appearance. As Moses threw down and then picked up the rod he was carrying, only the outward appearance changed. On the ground it was a rod that appeared to be a serpent but it remained, in its true essence, a rod. And so the gifts God calls on us to use as part of his plan are often with us from the beginning, unrecognized and sometimes undeveloped, until we are surprised by them as they are called forth.
The thought came to me that, as Republicans talk of embracing a more positive message, appealing more inclusively to minorities and women and young people, their policies are not likely to change. They can't really. They are held hostage by a core base constituency that remains hostile to policies that promote the general welfare. And many officeholders are true believers in that hostility. In addition to their political constituencies, they are each beholden to a personal constituency of one.
Transubstantiation, a wholesale change of political identity, would be impossible. If it was possible, it would not be desirable. Why have two Democratic parties?
Transformation, a Kemp style application of conservative principles in the service of lifting those in poverty into the middle class, of making opportunity increasingly available to the middle class, of jobs, security, and advancement to those under economic threat, would be nearly impossible. The hostility of those in control of the party toward important parts of society is genuine and heartfelt. It would be difficult to appeal to minorities, for example, while actively seeking their exclusion from full and fair participation in elections.
Which leaves the only option, the option currently being followed by the Republican establishment, and resisted by many in the base. Transfiguration, the change of outward appearance while keeping the essential nature of the party, is possible. It seems unlikely to be convincing to voters.
As we walked in, I felt a brief twinge of guilt at applying our spiritual discussion to secular politics. When we began our final practice, those thoughts faded and my mind and heart became entwined with the message of the music.
But not before the final thought intruded: Transfiguration had worked for Moses, now hadn't it?
Legend has it that Daniel Boone moved from Kentucky to what now is Missouri in 1791 because it was getting too crowded. He knew this because he could see smoke coming from a neighbor's chimney.
The story is almost certainly false, invented by writers generations later to help sell magazines and books. The move was likely made because most game had been killed off in Kentucky and Boone had a desire to continue to feed his family.
The nearest we have to neighbor-aversion is more a motivation of hermits, who don't want to be close to humanity, and Republicans, who don't want to come near non-conservatives.
Okay, okay. It's not a perfect analogy. Republicans don't avoid everyone, just ideas that differ from their own. It isn't an intolerance to disagreement, it's a complete insularity from other views. Liberals are more likely to peruse National Review online than conservatives are to glance toward the New York Times.
The core reason for this lack of contact with other points of view is technology. The computer chip, and all that flows from it, give Republicans a new opportunity to a universe separate from the outside world. Cable television and the internet did not exist a generation ago.
There are, of course, other forms of insularity. A while back, I was invited to join an audience for a panel discussion. It was conducted as part of the formulation of the new federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. I came away deeply discouraged. With some exceptions, the experts on the panel were quite unaware that ordinary consumers, those they seek to protect, did not share their viewpoints, their knowledge, or even their vocabulary.
The panel devoted a substantial part of the discussion to various implications of "REO lending." There was not a word of explanation of just what REO lending is or why it is important. Actually, REO property is real estate owned by a lender, and it involves a class of lending that impacts on the treatment of ordinary mortgage buyers.
Members of that panel would, I suspect, have been surprised to find most of their audience, and almost all Americans, to be unaware of what was consuming their professional interest. It was only one of several examples of how disconnected the experts were from ordinary lives of ordinary people, and how their expertise could affect those lives in positive ways.
It is not technology that insulates them. It is their own expertise. Their efforts to hone that knowledge puts them into daily contact with other experts. A mutual vocabulary, a shared way of thinking, develops. And a realization that everyday Americans are not part of their little world fades from consciousness. An empathy with a mortgage holder faced with misrepresentation or fraud, or a foreclosure during which alternatives are not offered, is also lost.
Deficit spending is a Washington DC obsession. Ordinary Americans worry about employment, and regard deficits as an issue to be solved after current economic survival is assured.. Mainstream economists, and those students who have taken Macro-Economics 101, are concerned with deficits as a vitally important long term problem, one that does not need short term solutions,particularly during a recession.
It is one of those instances in which what is apparent to average folks, and what is apparent to experts in economic models, pretty much coincides, at least for now.
But those in Washington are insulted from both groups. Journalists, pundits, congressional staff members, and lobbyists do not lunch or commune with economists. The rare mainstream economist that comes across the radar, insisting that deficit reduction is a bad thing during recessions, is regarded as something of an outlier - a bit of a kook. And most who roam the halls of Washington have little daily contact with everyday Americans, those concerned with jobs and paychecks.
Their contact with the narrow groups in the nation's capital put them into a stream of habit and concern that has been shaped by 30 years of conservative political dominance. That deficits are evils in all times and places is not a conclusion, based on evidence. It is a premise, impervious to challenge.
Thus politicians and pundits regularly assure national audiences that deficits represent a problem that must be solved right now. As they speak in serious tones about the need for instant austerity, they seem to be unaware that they are saying anything that is at all open to disagreement.
The insularity, the separation from expertise and ordinary experience, is at least partly cultural. But like the technological insularity that is killing a political party, and the academic insularity that disconnects experts from ordinary people, DC cultural insularity has very real effects. When ideology overrules the real world, unnecessary suffering is almost always the result.
Simple economic theory is based on a century of real evidence, reinforced every year. It coincides with current mainstream thought among the public. Deficits are a problem during times of prosperity. They are to be solved by cutting costs and raising taxes during the good times.
Austerity during a recession is a cure that kills the patient.
Killing the patient is generally thought to be a bad idea, outside the insular world of Washington DC.
Introduction, Traditional Service,
9:00 AM, February 10, 2013
St. Mark's United Methodist Church in Florissant, MO
God calls to us in many ways,
in scripture and prayer,
in compassion and love,
in a still small voice in the wilderness of the soul.
We look within to that voice.
We do not see what God sees in us.
We only see that we are too weak,
that we will fail our God and ourselves.
But we walk by faith,
and we trust in the one who created the world,
and in the promise: that we have what we need,
for our part in God's plan.
We walk the path,
we take the journey.
The hand of Jesus is on our shoulder,
and we are not alone.
Found on line:
by the Sensational Nightingales
Why do we have to do this, Sir? is back (Yay-y-y-y!). I had always identified the word "epiphany" with Paul's revelation on the road to Damascus. Our friend explains another epiphany: the discovery by Jesus that his mission was not restricted to the Jewish people.
The Heathen Republican, an excellent writer whom we occasionally harpoon for his straw man misinterpretation of liberal arguments, this week laments the sad inability of liberals and conservatives to understand opposing viewpoints. I tried to find some sense of irony, even a trace, but I ran out of time.
Tommy Christopher of Mediaite notes yet another wisecrack at MSNBC about Governor Chris Christie's weight, and springboards into a few thoughts on the topic. For instance, the governor had a valid point in getting annoyed about a physician's long distance diagnosis. My own thoughts go to a President famous for his weight. There was less significance to President William Howard Taft's girth than to his strengthening of the Interstate Commerce Commission. Chris Christie has been a pretty good sport about it all. Let's move on.
A conservative sheriff who is black, and a Democrat, and wants to arm pretty much everyone, thrills tea party types in Wisconsin, right down to their tippy toes. But conservative James Wigderson takes a look at the fulfillment of his public duties and is less than impressed.
Max's Dad goes nucleotoid over a bill in Iowa that takes personhood-at-conception to a new level. It declares zygote destruction to be murder with the woman being the one to be prosecuted for a capital crime. My take is here.
Infidel 753 carries video of a fellow who goes to a courthouse, declares that rules do not apply to him because the federal government has no jurisdiction over citizens of a state, and eventually gets tazed and arrested. Especially impressive is the patience of authorities before the guy tries to push his way into a no-camera zone with his camera.
Last of the Millenniums researches a conservative message from Bill Cosby, tired of, and angry at, liberals and their crazy programs. Turns out to be yet another fake, traced to a Republican state legislator. Not all chain mail frauds come from the fevered imaginations of dishonest conservatives, but I get at least some occasionally. Here is my take on one.
Nancy Hanks at The Hankster brings news of the upcoming annual conference of an organization of political independents. An organization of people declaring themselves independent of political organizations is not necessarily a self-contradiction. Could be an irony, though.
Rumproast reacts to a fun loving Republican public figure who tweets giggles about a black kid killed by violence, gays, and those who drowned in New Orleans during Katrina. Well, HEY. Can't anyone take a joke? Well . . . Maybe we have the next Republican nominee for President.
In Response to Burr Deming's
Abortion - New Bill Will Charge Women With Murder
If she takes a morning-after pill, she will be charged with murder.
- Burr Deming, February 8, 2013
This idea right here, I feel, is key to understanding why people say there is a war on women and a war on science.
A conservative position, as I understand it, is that life begins at conception, ie: when the sperm and the egg meet. I think it's important to remember this is opinion, but that's irrelevant to my point.
Accepting the above position, any act which "kills" the zygote (the cells before implantation) or the fetus (the cells after implantation) is homicide. And if it's a human life worth the same as every other human life, the "death" of these cells should be investigated, which Mr. Deming goes into in his post. But this too is irrelevant to my point.
Here is what bothers me:
Neither the birth control pill nor the morning after pill destroys these cells. They both prevent ovulation (the woman from releasing the egg). If there is no egg present, there can be no conception and therefore no life as defined by conservatives. But the facts on how these pills work is ignored or not known. Even the FDA labels are bad: (here is an article about it)
So while I disagree with the idea of life beginning and conception and think personhood bills are horrible for all the reasons Mr. Deming described, I am doubly enraged because of the bad science and what reliance on poor science leads me to believe. I have no doubt that the effect of these bills will be to outlaw the morning after pill and potentially the birth control pill as well. And trying to ban the birth control pill or the morning after pill because of a belief that life begins at conception is beyond disingenuous.
It shows that certain people are more interested in controlling women and controlling their sexuality than in protecting life, implanted or not.
Emily frequently participates in our comment-section debates. We appreciate her further contribution today. Welcome aboard, Emily.
It used to be the howitzer of abortion debate. Consistency.
Life is a continuum. It does not begin at conception. It begins back when lightening or cosmic rays or something provoked the tiny stirrings in an earth filled with amino acids. Life began a long time before conception. Conception is simply not a practical place to draw the line.
But that did not stop the passion of those holding to revealed truth. Debate was strongly on the side of abortion rights. Politics was on the side of anti-abortion advocates.
The debate was one sided. It involved the sober contemplation of consequence. Consistency was a heavy burden.
If you insist that life begins at conception, what should be the penalty to a woman who uses a morning after pill? Murder is, after all, a capital offense.
A tiny egg, once fertilized, must attach itself to the wall of the uterus. Commonly, that does not happen, and pregnancy does not occur. If that failure must legally be considered the suspicious death of a zygote, how will a woman be investigated? By what means will authorities enforce the legal requirement that every woman account to them for each instance of sexual activity?
If a childless couple seeks in vitro fertilization, the last best hope many have for children, the procedure provokes many such fertilized eggs to get to the wall. With luck, one will succeed. What penalty must a couple be subjected to after prosecution for murdering the many zygotes that don't make it?
A woman who actually seeks an abortion in the early weeks after a zygote begins to attach to the wall of a uterus will be prosecuted for murder. Will she be imprisoned for life, or will execution be more fitting?
When a rapist goes on trial, should the rape victim who later seeks an abortion go on trial separately? Or, since proving the rape and proving the murder of the zygote will involve some of same evidence, would it be more practical to prosecute both in a joint proceeding?
Such arguments, meant to show the absurd but logical outcomes of a legal standard that protects the survival of every zygote, were once regarded with eye rolling contempt by anti-abortion activists. The ultimate logic of restricting the freedom of women was sort of dodged. Activists cast women as the victims, not the perpetrators. It was doctors who should be prosecuted, not the women who sought them out.
The dodge was obvious to most folks. A legal standard that elevated a few cells best seen through a microscope above the rights of a woman would have involved some - uh - inconvenience.
As long as the logical limits weren't reached, the debate about when life begins held all the drama of a theology construct about angels and heads of pins.
Politics was another story.
The political debate was not framed by majority, but by intensity. Most Americans are not crazy about outlawing all abortions, but the argument was not central to their political outlook. Those whose moral code included the rights of each zygote to life, liberty, and happiness were, and still are, much more willing to vote their convictions. That is how a minority view sometimes prevails in a democracy.
But when "transvaginal" was introduced into our vocabulary, and it turned out not to be an airline, the seriousness of zygote citizenship hit home to many. A bill backed by Virginia Republicans, including the governor, was introduced that would have required every woman seeking an abortion to have a probe inserted. Each woman would then be ordered to view an ultra-sound image.
The uproar was heard round the nation and Republicans eventually backed away. The effort continues by fits and starts. This week a similar bill in Michigan, requiring a transvaginal probe so that women might be better instructed in the evils of personal choice, was also withdrawn by Republican sponsors.
The weakness of the anti-abortion argument has been the severe constriction of personal liberty that must be imposed on every woman of child bearing age. When that complication goes beyond philosophical speculation about the nature of life and is imposed as an incontrovertible fact of life, the theoretical turns into a rock solid bloc of votes.
In Iowa, this week, Republicans introduced legislation that would take those silly arguments of a few years back into legal reality, and impose the charge of murder if the existence of a zygote is ended. And those penalties are directed at women.
If a woman interrupts the journey of a zygote toward the wall of her uterus, she will be charged with murder.
If she takes a morning-after pill, she will be charged with murder.
If she seeks out, then undergoes, an abortion, she will be charged with murder.
Rape victims will be charged with murder if they do not nurture the zygote into development of a baby. Incest victims who are impregnated will be charged with murder if they deliberately fail to produce a child.
We must, I suppose, mourn the loss of a powerful debating point. As the anti-abortion movement does indeed become a war, with any sexually active woman regarded as the potential enemy, anti-abortion advocates are eliminating an opposing argument.
Republicans are innocent of inconsistency.
Michael Isikoff's summary of the Obama administration drone policy seems pretty scary. The President can order an American killed if that citizen crosses the border and stands outside the United States.
Although some allegation has to be made of an imminent threat, the word "imminent" is treated a bit cavalierly. It doesn't have to be an immediate threat, only imminent. The distinction may be lost on the uninitiated.
And there is no procedure except that the President, or an appointed bureaucrat, makes the accusation, considers the charge, determines the verdict, and executes the sentence.
I listened to a conservative Republican yesterday morning as he mocked those of us who protest against torture, but express not a murmur against killing someone without trial. Isn't killing a bit more extreme than torture?
Some policy we've got here.
Well, maybe not.
Isikoff chooses his words a little more carefully than that. He implies, rather than states. But his source is impervious to challenge.
The document he managed to obtain (pdf) is a White Paper put out by someone in the Justice Department. For a White Paper, it is surprisingly brief, only 16 pages, including footnotes. And it is readable. Each point is referenced with multiple legal citations, Supreme Court decisions with standing, much of it going back a hundred years.
For the most part, the legal justification deals with wartime protocol. If an American citizen puts on the uniform of a hostile army, that citizen sacrifices certain procedural rights. You don't hold a trial before shooting such a person on a field of battle. When practical, attack and ambush are not only justifiable, but mandatory. In a war of terrorism, the lack of a uniform is not a barrier.
It is not until page 9, a little more than halfway through, that the authors get to the analogy that seems clearest, at least to me. If a US citizen begins firing at a police officer or at others while within range of that officer, nobody questions the right or the duty to respond with deadly force. And it is all done without a jury, or a warrant, or a judge.
I think of the deranged man in Alabama who killed a courageous bus driver, then kidnapped a youngster from the bus. When the FBI determined that the man had a gun and supposed a danger to the child, the man was killed. There was no judicial process before the kidnapper/murderer died. There was no proof that he was about to kill the little boy, only a reasonable possibility. Still, there was no objection from any reasonable person.
The argument is a bit dodgy. A police officer is subject to after-the-fact review of any death. I suspect the FBI action is also subject to some scrutiny.
As for the hypocrisy of opposing torture: if a suspect was not killed, but only wounded, we would object if that suspect was tortured after capture. Killing may be worse than torture, death being an everlasting condition, but killing may be justified when torture is not.
The principle is that not all killing is murder, and not all extra-judicial killing is illegal.
The conditions, as outlined in the discovered document, are as defined as can be expected without a specific case in mind.
There must be no reasonable opportunity of capture.
There has to be an imminent threat, which may be a pattern of action. The fact that the deranged individual in Alabama had killed a bus driver made the threat to the child several degrees more likely.
The window of opportunity for attack must be found to be limited.
The action must be proportional, to the degree that risk to bystanders be low.
- If there is some signal of surrender, that surrender must be permitted.
What seems to me to be missed is that the document is not, at least as far as I can see, an expression of policy. It is a legal analysis of the farthest possible limits of the law. If policy does take us to the extreme, you may go this far but no farther.
If the document is not policy, and nothing indicates that it is, it leaves open the question of just what the President's policy may be.
And it leaves open future actions. If the law is as the document describes, it is leaves a lot of latitude. Former Presidential Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski advocates the establishment of a procedure of formal review. I see that as a necessity.
I trust President Obama. I could have trusted a President Mitt Romney. But there are a lot of potential candidates.
I don't want to trust everybody.
I am not on what anyone would consider the leading edge of popular political opinion. That, I'm afraid, includes opinion about the torture of captured terrorists.
I greeted, with a sort of grim amusement, Senator Lindsey Graham's unusual defense of what was euphemistically called "enhanced interrogation."
Let’s have both sides of the story here. I mean, one of the reasons these techniques have survived for about 500 years is apparently they work.
In countless cinematic productions, we had once associated torture with totalitarian regimes, as Americans or captured allies were squeezed for information by actors with sinister accents. The cultural prohibition against torture is so pronounced, a sort of verbal hide-and-seek is required to escape it.
The definitions vary. If it doesn't cause organ failure, it isn't torture. If it doesn't actually kill, it isn't torture. CIA veteran, author, and noted apologist for such techniques, Jose Rodriguez, offers a novel approach. If the pain ends when cooperation is obtained, it isn't torture.
Detainees were given the opportunity to cooperate. If they resisted and were believed to hold critical information, they might receive - with Washington’s approval - some of the enhanced techniques, such as being grabbed by the collar, deprived of sleep or, in rare cases, waterboarded. (The Justice Department assured us in writing at the time that these techniques did not constitute torture.) When the detainee became compliant, the techniques stopped - forever.
Such is the murky surrender that language is forced into when it is subjected to torture.
But Lindsey Graham was not speaking about morality. He was talking about 500 years of effectiveness.
"Unless Senator Graham shows that those tortured in past centuries were actually witches," I wrote at the time, "history will show the real agents of Satan were those who ordered the torture."
Torture has worked. It has produced what it was mostly intended to produce: confessions: False confessions, true confessions, confessions. Just tell the subject what you want to hear, and you will indeed hear the desperate echo. The real message is a simple one: give me the words to say, but then make it stop.
That is why, in the inquisition Senator Graham referred to, those subjected to waterboarding, sleep deprivation, physical "discomfort" and other techniques of the time, desperate people confessed to crimes. I'll confess, I'll confess to anything. Just end this. People subjected to the practice welcomed death.
Those were more forthright times. Nobody knew that torture could be enhanced.
There is a practical problem with torture. The basic problem is that it works. It gives you a fire hose of information. The information ranges from untrue to unreliable.
Dictatorships most often have not relied on torture to get at truth. Confession has been the objective.
The movie Zero Dark Thirty depicts torture in a way that implies that it was the essential information technique that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden, something that then CIA Director, now outgoing Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta disputes. Torture was used in the early days, but its role was not essential to the operation. "I think we could have gotten Bin Laden without that."
Part of the torture operation was conducted in other lands, places without the cultural inhibitions that require American operatives to use convoluted definitions. In the Bush administration, the routine practice of rendition, the returning of a suspect or criminal to the country with jurisdiction, became "Extraordinary Rendition." It became an enhanced program of transfer for torture.
The original meaning of rendition is somewhat restored now. The Obama administration gets some justifiable criticism for merely seeking "assurances" from other countries that torture will not be used. There is an argument for their position. At very least, it appears the subterfuge of rendition for the purpose of torture has been curbed. It is not easy to see how anything more than assurances can be demanded, when jurisdiction is firmly established.
It appears to some, which is to say me, that torture in the early Bush administration was used for a more traditional purpose. The administration was firmly convinced, educated through several generations in a long and dangerous struggle with the USSR, that a comic book villain in a distant cave could not have planned and executed the 9/11 attacks. There had to have been state sponsorship, and Iraq had to have been that sponsor.
Dick Cheney and others already knew in their heart-of-hearts that Saddam was behind the 9/11 attacks. They did not need evidence to be convinced. They needed evidence to convince others. The torture of captured terrorists was not for the purpose of gathering intelligence. It was to manufacture intelligence.
And they succeeded.
Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a Libyan captured in Pakistan was sent to Egypt for Cheney type enhancement. And, oh man, he did talk. He told authorities all about the connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. In fact, Saddam had arranged for weapons of mass destruction and the training required to use them. The captured terrorist told everything.
He later recanted, but the administration's hard certainty was now confirmed. President Bush announced the link between Saddam and al Qaeda as he spoke in Cincinnati. Secretary of State Powell asserted the connection in his presentation to the United Nations. Condoleezza Rice warned of mushroom clouds over American cities if we failed to invade. Other officials carried the message forward.
It formed a major reason for invading Iraq.
The torture had worked. And the US objective for launching a second war, even at the cost of letting bin Laden and the al Qaeda leadership get away, was clear. We were going after the real source.
And it was all false. It was a confession gotten by torture, costing thousands of American lives, and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives. The logic of torture had prevailed.
We invaded Iraq to hunt down Senator Graham's witches.