Archives for: March 2009
It's an old sexist joke about a farmer and his new wife. I remember hearing variations as far back as childhood. There have been several cleaned up versions. The best, I thought, was in a sermon one Sunday at a Presbyterian Church outside of Philadelphia. Abington is near what was once a frequent route for me between Washington and New York. It was years ago, but I wouldn't be surprised if Reverend Brent Eelman still preaches there. He has a way with effective stories.
That Sunday, he told of two brothers riding a buggy. The horse stubbornly stops, and the older brother calmly says, "That's one." The horse eventually continues but shortly stops again. The younger brother is a bit agitated at the misbehaving animal, but the older brother is placid. "That's two," he says in the same calm voice. In a moment they continue. When the horse stops yet again, the older brother says "That's three" and, emotionless, shoots the horse dead. His shocked younger brother yells at him in surprised outrage. The older brother quietly points his finger at him and says, "That's one!"
In the last few months, President Obama fought for and got temporary funding for the auto industry. It was not easy. Led by Republicans, there was plenty of opposition to the bailout of an industry that had made horrible decisions in the past, and which showed only slight promise of a sustainable future. Conservatives played fast and loose with the truth, claiming workers were being paid nearly three times their actual wage. The President put a lot on the line to get the funding. Essential to the deal was the agreement by the big three to present detailed plans, with concessions from creditors, workers, and stockholders. Everyone would suffer, but everyone would survive.
The deadline was the end of March. The end is today, and General Motors announced that the plan could not be hammered out in time. It seemed to some of us a cynical lack of effort. After all, the government had blustered but had done little to the bonus abuses by the financial industry. When you are too big to fail, government can be expected to hector, then flutter a bit, then give in to save the rest of the nation. The beneficiaries can learn to live with angry glares as long as the dollars flow.
A Republican friend jeers. He has his own story: a parent writes to a stern teacher. "If little Mary misbehaves, please don't put her through the trauma of a scolding. Just slap the child next to her and she will straighten out." He suggests Obama has just slapped someone outside the financial industry.
I think the President finally counted to three. He now calmly points at AIG, the financial wizards clamoring for bonuses, and other stunned abusers. They watch in sudden stillness as the deposed Wagoner dissolves in the gentle breeze. They hear, all too clearly, that familiar rock steady voice:
In 1982, a science magazine ran a headline writing contest. One entry dealt with the hypothetical publication of a Moral Majority approved dictionary removing all sexual, scientific, irreligious, unAmerican, or foreign sounding words. The proposed headline: Abridged Too Far.
I thought of that contest as I came across an angry piece in World Net Daily, carrying the news that the Merriam-Webster dictionary had redefined marriage to include same sex couples.
A well composed dictionary is not an arbiter of meaning as much as a monitor. A cross section of publications is scanned for frequent and consistent use of a word. When the use changes, the definition reflects the change. As Andrew Sullivan discovered, World Net Daily was more than a little late with its reaction. The change actually dates back to 2003.
In fact, we find many conservative objections to the common use of words.
Like conservative. After many conservatives had unsuccessfully tried to brand Franklin D. Roosevelt a failure for not ending the Great Depression, the Wall Street Journal redefines a word or two to declare that FDR did, after all, lead a successful recovery because his approach was conservative.
Deregulation is also a target. This comes from a recent CNN transcript with House Republican Leader John A. Boehner about recent massive deregulation, leading to the current crisis: "Wolf, you have to understand, there was no deregulation of anything in the financial services industries. As a matter of fact, there was an increase in regulation."
From conservative authority Fox News, we find a complete explanation for all this. Bill O'Reilly and Bernard Goldberg were discussing whether a Jewish word which had been used as an epithet against President Obama was really a racial slur.
"We're living in a society where anything is uttered about any minority group, Media Matters or somebody else will say you're a racist," said O'Reilly unintentionally accusing critics of using the dictionary definition of "racist".
It turned out that the Jewish word in question had as part of the dictionary definition: "often disparaging and offensive."
"Forgive my arrogance," said Goldberg.
"The dictionary is written by some liberal person."
There you have it: Words are biased against conservatives.
"I love Jesus," goes the old saying. "It's Christians I can't stand."
Via Blue in the Bluegrass and Pharyngula comes an account of smug heartlessness that most Christians will find appalling. We begin with human grief beyond imagination. A recent airline accident resulted in the deaths of 14, including 7 children. One man lost several loved ones. The "father of two and grandfather of five who were killed in that accident; he lost a shocking great swath of his family in that one sad afternoon." The man experiencing the loss is the owner of "a chain of clinics that also does abortions."
On Christian Newswire, a true believer is featured. "I don't want to turn this tragic event into some creepy spiritual 'I told you so' moment," says my Sister-in-Christ, who then does exactly that. The man had it coming. Sorry about the kids. Maybe now he will repent. There is no editorial rebuke.
Both accounts carry a judgment. "Christianity is a breeder of evil, a cesspit in which the most hateful and inhuman commitment to lies and delusions can ferment. Don't ever preach at me about Christian morality: I've seen it, and it is empty of love for humanity..."
The temptation often is to paint with a broad brush. On September 11, 2001, and in the days after, my daughter wept with me by telephone. She was a student near Washington, DC. She had friends who had lost loved ones. Some of those friends grieved while in hiding. They faced danger just walking on the street. They were part of that evil Muslim religion.
There is much to criticize in us. I have known, even among those close to me, a sort of Christian tribalism, a repellent smugness, the demand for a special government endorsed status to our group. But tribalism is not Christianity. A former drug dealer I met while working late talked with me one evening. He showed me his bullet wounds. He described his life in prison. He worried that his son, just learning of his father's past, might want to follow in his footsteps. He is not unique. In casual conversation I hear terrible stories that sometimes end with hope: "but that was before he became a Christian."
The great vulnerability in Christianity is our humanity. We are subject to great flaws. One person, whom I admire quite deeply, refuses to go to worship services. "I do not want to participate in organized hypocrisy." I respond with mock indignation, "That's not fair! We're not organized!"
We join our pastor in prayer before each sermon. He asks the Lord to allow the Word to be received despite the sin and contradiction in his life. In my own life, I cannot see myself gloating over the death of a child. But I am quite capable of other very crummy things. I am trying to pray more. I pray to be helped to live a better way. Finally, fervently, I pray that others may be gifted to look beyond my human frailty to a powerful, transformative message.
Nuggets of internet gold:
- RANDOM THOUGHTS discusses the Republican charge that the President lacks focus with a suggestion that he can multitask.
Let's be candid about this. I was raised in an environment that regarded homosexuality as a perversion. There was no debate about it, no controversy at all. Boys will be boys, and they had better stay that way.
And so it was up into early adulthood. There was little to challenge that view. Look at movies from those days. The most despicable villain I can recall, the one provoking loathing as much as hatred, was Caligula as portrayed by Jay Robinson in movies like The Robe. Campy, evil, and effeminate. I bought it. They were perverts, end of story.
My views have, shall we say, evolved. I do not believe gay marriage should be allowed. I think it should be encouraged. As a society, we should regard it as tragic when two people in love never make a life long commitment.
But society is not there. Not yet. I have hopes for the future. Bigotry does have a way of vanishing over time, although the arc of the moral universe is long enough to be discouraging. The misnamed Defense of Marriage Act does keep natural rights from being recognized by government.
"Junior" Oliveira, an immigrant from Brazil who, in 2005, married Tim Coco in Massachusetts cannot declare his marriage to obtain residence in the US.
His case is not based on gay rights. It is based on the human right to be free from physical persecution. He was raped as a teenager in Brazil and faces more of the same when he is forced to return.
So far, he has not fared well in court. A judge ruled against him. What is astonishing is the legal reasoning. It does not tax the imagination that a decision might be based on lack of evidence of rape. It may also have been possible for a reasonable jurist to have ruled that Brazil is a large enough country to make residence as safe as in the United States.
More than most South American countries, Brazil has put into place legal recognition of gay rights. It is not gay marriage. It is not even the equivalent. Recognition of civil unions has not prevented well organized violence.
The judge in this case relied on reasoning that is separate from these considerations. He ruled that rape does not constitute harm.
Senator John Kerry has asked the Obama administration to review the case. Opponents of gay rights, including many of our Christian brethren, might consider how far they are willing to go in denying gays and lesbians "special" rights. Does this ruling cross a line we can all recognize?
Protection from sexual assault is not a special right. It is a right.
Economic strategy has become a contest between two versions of reality.
Here is one:
When housing was continually going up in value, it started to get easier to get a mortgage. Lending seemed like a pretty safe bet. Mortgage holders began bundling their holdings and distributing them to buyers so that figuring out who held what became a little like unscrambling an egg. But it didn't matter. If the occasional homeowner defaulted, the house was worth more than the mortgage and, best of all, was going up. So the bundles were divided and subdivided. Derivatives and hedge funds, a sort of financial insurance, became subverted in a no-lose side bet.
Then the downturn hit. A few folks became unemployed, then indeed lost their homes. The homes went on the market. Supply and demand took effect. That brought the market price for houses down a bit. So folks started getting a little cautious. The economy slowed a little more, and more folks lost their jobs, then their homes. People became wary of buying property that might be going down in value. And homeowners who might want to sell began to hesitate. Maybe they could wait out the bad times. So the volume of sales dried up on both sides.
What happens when supply and demand both go down? Well, the main supply of houses on the market became desperation sales: forced by circumstance; loss of a job, transfer to a remote location, death in the family, and so on. Artificially low. Not even owners knew whether their property had value. Other values went down, and lending for any reason became very risky. Remember the scrambled egg?
The key is to jump-start the value of property to its natural level with governmental guarantees. We are bailing out a boat carrying us all.
But there is the other view.
Property values in general were never that high. Never. Only property in specific regions were that high, because of trade routes, proximity to industrial development, and so on. As technology made it easier to move factories to less expensive locations, property values became more diffuse. Owners of property near a large factory found themselves living near a large abandoned building. Those property values went down because they were ... well ... less valuable. We are bailing out the ocean.
We are now betting on the competition of those two views.
The first doesn't have to be completely right.
But the second had better be totally wrong.
An intense, six-month campaign of Predator strikes in Pakistan has taken such a toll on Al Qaeda that militants have begun turning violently on one another out of confusion and distrust, U.S. intelligence and counter-terrorism officials say.
Who could be surprised? President Obama, when he was still candidate Obama, promised this approach with exactitude. Before a vote was cast in the general election, President Bush reversed course and adopted the new strategy. Military people speak of the new approach: "Finally we took off the gloves." The key seems to lie in going around official lines of authority in Pakistan. Years of getting permission cost time in which those targeted got away, and produced leaks from Pakistani agents tipping off the targets.
What took so long? Those who believe that obsession with Saddam overruled any desire to crush the 9/11 killers can point to Tora Bora, where the administration denied pleas for forces to capture or kill bin Laden.
There is a simpler explanation. Until their last few months in office, the Bush administration was dominated by those who knew in their hearts, independent of any evidence, that an elaborate plot to fly planes into multiple locations within the United States could not have been engineered by the leader of a lunatic fringe group hiding in a cave on the other side of the world. The real world functions through the actions and maneuvering of nations.
The attacks might have come through al Qaeda, but they had to have been sponsored by a real player, a country. Saddam. The possibility that he acted in concert with other nations led to talk of an unlikely "Axis of Evil." That two members of the axis desired nothing more intensely than the blood of each other did not deter the thought. And so bin Laden was allowed to escape so that the administration could go after the real culprit. Saddam would not get away with it. Iraq would follow. Meanwhile, Pakistan was our friend.
Then Rumsfeld left involuntarily. Cheney's influence finally, at long last, waned. Things changed with new leadership in the Pentagon.
A new strategy has proven itself sound, perhaps even successful, in Iraq. It involves talks with some of the insurgents that used to be the government. They are the very groups Cheney-Rumsfeld theology would have suspected of involvement in 9/11. Talks with Iran are also contemplated. Similar moves are floated in Afghanistan with some non-al Qaeda elements of the Taliban.
In Washington, the reality-based community is back in town.
As the French Revolution came to be, a mob of 7000 mostly women, marched on Versailles to take the royal couple. The hardened wives of fishermen, construction workers, and farmers carried sticks, scythes and pikes. They were motivated by more than economic progress. They were plain mad at unfairness and insult. "Let them eat cake" indeed.
What is the most basic of human needs? I think history teaches us what Maslow's Hierarchy leaves out. Look from the hunger-thirst at the bottom rung to self actualization at the top. You will not see justice. But it is there.
If justice does not square with other desires and needs, folks will often invent it. The love of money may be the root of all evil, but rationalization is fairly near the base of the stem. White folks did not institutionalize slavery because they were racists. They did it for money. But a developed society by the standards of recent centuries could not tolerate the injustice of slavery. Racism came from the need to justify one human owning another. If the slave is not really human, or is even a sort of subspecies of human that is much closer to animal, justice is served. And so racism came to be.
Those who could not buy it became abolitionists.
President Obama confronts the AIG bonuses with dispassionate curiosity. His mild response inadvertently stokes the fires of anger by those who should most strongly support him. Heck-of-a-job Timothy Geithner is not helping. At very least Timmy should be taken to the woodshed.
Republicans and FOX have adopted a mantra: Obama now owns the economy. That is not true as a reality. It is not true as a perception. The economy is still seen as the product of a Republican administration and is likely to be seen that way for a while. Obama does not need to solve the economic catastrophe in the near term to remain politically effective.
He does need to be seen as on the side of ordinary folks, working for them, fighting for them. That means more than a well intentioned program of economic reform. It also means meeting a more basic need.
The authors of economic devastation are seen rewarding themselves with non-performance based compensation totaling hundreds of millions, while ranting on television against economic losers facing eviction. Democrats, of all people, are being blamed. The public again gathers with sticks, scythes and pikes.
What is wanted from our President, what is needed from our President, is barely contained, tight lipped fury.
It was a curbside conversation that seemed to encapsulate much of what had kept me away from Christianity for many years before I came around.
The young lady is known and appreciated by many older members of the church for her frequent expressions of pride in her faith, a pride they share. I am sure she expected my gratitude at her recognition of my own development in the church. She congratulated me on the growth in faith that she has seen in me in the last few years. "You remind me of myself twenty years ago." She took on a reflective tone as she recalled the past, "I have grown so much since then."
As she walked away, pleased that she had graced a newer member with uplifting encouragement, I thought of other conversations in other times, all with the same smug tone. With enough diligence, introspection, and prayer, I might someday reach the level she has attained. Yeah, I'll get right on it.
Surveys reinforce what I have found in talking with less pious friends. Americans in the past several years have expressed a growing sense of spirituality in their personal lives. But they have shown less willingness to participate in worship services of any kind.
Conventional wisdom outside of church circles seems not to have permeated very far within. It is that folks are less likely to participate in fellowship with Christians that seem intolerant. Some of the image comes from television, from both skeptical and religious outlets: Rush Limbaugh at prayer.
Each example seems calculated to turn rational folks away from spiritual fellowship. The other day, a Faith and Forum Institute to fight "satanic wickedness" and "Godless citizens" was announced in Washington that will "lead America back to the knowledge of God in order to save the nation..."
But I suspect that conventional wisdom is only partly right. One survey showed that a major motivation among evangelists, especially those who grew up in faith, is fear of Hell. They want to rescue folks. Yet the motivation most often expressed by new Christians has nothing to do with Hell. They seek transformation in their lives. Fear is offered to those who thirst for hope.
A more destructive spirit may come from a personal superiority that Jesus was explicit in condemning. My personal experience is with a disrespect that is implicit but quite real: that you who are unchurched should join and learn from those of us who have achieved spiritual success. I was struck many years back by what one television pastor felt was a better evangelical attitude; that of a homeless and hungry beggar talking with another. "I know where we can get some food." Okay, that might work for me. Bottom line:
Part of respect for each other, might be respect for the path each must take toward spiritual truth, and the differing insights each finds on that path.
Nuggets of internet gold:
Nancy Hanks at The Hankster posts about Arlen Spector who wants to change primary laws and might run as an independent.
- Max's Dad gives his careful analysis of St. Patrick's Day. Okay, so it's one picture and a caption.
The avalanche started by Rush Limbaugh continues to echo. Most Republicans have taken up the mantra. Obama must fail. Those GOP office holders who opposed Rush on patriotic grounds quickly ended up apologizing, forced to humiliate themselves in public. In the House and Senate, the GOP votes as a unit.
Any charge of a lack of patriotism would need some corroboration. After all, Democrats were unapologetic before 9/11 in wanting President Bush to fail. They explained that his policies would hurt the country. They wanted him to fail only to the extent that they wanted the country to succeed. Some Republicans have tried to strike the same balance regarding President Obama. They want him to fail in enacting policies, but only when those policies would fail and so hurt the country. That is fair enough, right?
So Rush clarified his comments in a rousing speech to conservatives. He projected his feelings onto Democrats. Even though those who watched Iraq slipping into chaos publicly hoped for success but saw only failure, Rush and his audience knew those predictions were wishful thinking, not expressions of concern. Rush repeated his own hope, and he confirmed that it is political. "I do want Obama to fail." Conservatives cheered until they were hoarse.
Republicans want to win elections. They can't if Obama is successful.
Republicans need to oppose and defeat Barack Obama on a wide range of issues, wrote William Kristol after the President spoke to Congress. The danger, as Kristol sees it is that Obama's policies will succeed in advancing the nation in "energy, health care and education." The success for America will make him another FDR. That success will reduce Republicans "to the unpleasant role of bystanders or the unattractive status of complainers, as Barack Obama makes history."
Michelle Bachmann also fears Obama will become an FDR, whom she regards as another socialist. In a recovery, Democrats will "be able to, for all time, secure a power base that for all time can never be defeated." She calls for action. "...we need to do everything we can to thwart them at every turn..."
Former Senator Rick Santorum, R-PA was interviewed. "...absolutely we hope that his policies fail."
"Creating 600,000 new jobs might help cement Virginia in the Democrat column, making it harder for Republicans to retake the White House." This comes from Ken Blackwell of Ohio.
The dominant wing of the GOP lies awake and sweating in the dark of the night, with a growing conviction that President Obama's policies are sound.
Decades ago, a new Democrat in the House of Representatives was paying his dues. Dues in those days consisted of seeking out established members and soliciting their advice, then keeping quiet, avoiding the spotlight, and waiting however long it took to earn a turn. The new member was coached by an older Congressman, a mentor of sorts. The new guy asked about a bill to feed needy children in his area. The sage agreed to push for it, but cautioned against hope. The enemy would kill it.
The younger Representative was confused. Democrats had a convincing majority. The older Congressman regarded him coolly, then patiently explained. "Republicans aren't the enemy," he said. He motioned toward the Senate side of the Capitol building. "There's the enemy."
For months, even before the last election, House members have been expressing a low boiling frustration with the Senate. Those of us who care about the potential role of government in fostering a more reasonable world have shared some of that vexation.
Republicans are an easy target. President Obama seems to play them about right. He talks with them, absorbs their ideas, rejecting what he cannot agree with, considering the rest. He does not seem to mind their Stepford approach to reflexive rejectionism, and it is the right thing to do. The public has been an honest broker, and so far he has been rewarded for his efforts. His numbers remain high. Republicans are sinking like a stone.
A few Democrats are the frustration. When House members devise some legislative proposal that is popular with the public, good for the country, easy to support, and has the additional benefit of being damaging for Republicans to oppose out in broad daylight, it strikes the uninitiated as a no-brainer. But a small number of Senate Democrats scale back such measures. Their wearisome reason is oft repeated. They feel their Republican colleagues could object, so why bother with issues of disagreement?
A small group of Democrats oppose recovery spending and want to keep tax cuts for the very wealthy alive. They are apprehensive about measures that will help struggling workers in danger of losing their homes. They oppose aid for state governments to repair worn out infrastructure and so keep workers working. Credit card companies being forced in bankruptcy proceedings to renegotiate extreme interest rates? Forget it.
They rarely oppose measures out of policy principle, or political difficulty at home. Policies are buried for fear that Republicans might not sign on.
These Democrats are not the real enemy.
They just sub for the real enemy when Republicans are not in the room.
Steve Benen, a moderately liberal blogger at Washington Monthly, is incredulous. Frank Gaffney, Ari Fleischer and others are joining with Dick Cheney to justify the US invasion of Iraq. What makes their case a modern marvel is their resurrection of the completely discredited tale that there was a connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda.
Here is Gaffney, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy in Ronald Reagan's administration:
He [Saddam] kept saying he was going to try to get even against us for Desert Storm, so it wouldn't be unreasonable for people to conclude maybe that that's what he was doing. There is also circumstantial evidence, not proven by any means, but nonetheless some pretty compelling circumstantial evidence of Saddam Hussein's Iraq being involved with the people who perpetrated both the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center and even the Oklahoma City bombing.
Ari Fleischer is succinct. "After Sept. 11, having been hit once, how could we take a chance that Saddam might not strike again?"
Others join in the speculation. Are these fellows dishonest or just plain crazy? The Stepford nature of this zombie repetition of such a thoroughly torpoedoed connection does seem a bit out of the park. Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden hated each other. al Qaeda established a base in a section of Iraq Saddam could not control, proof to a few die-hards that there was a link between them. A putative meeting in Europe between representatives is seized upon but turns out never to have happened.
But the certainty was never a matter of evidence. It was what motivated the invasion of Iraq. The falsifying of evidence, the assertions of dangers that never existed, were the policy equivalents of zealous police framing someone known to be guilty. They lied to serve the truth and a mission. As they watched innocent people choosing between incineration and suicide, they knew what they must do. Saddam would not get away with it.
The record shows this group was loosely composed of anti-Saddam advocates well before the attacks of 2001. 9/11 solidified what they already knew. They needed no evidence. A major assault on two United States cities and on the heart of US military strength had to have come from a renegade state. Iraq was the only possible candidate.
Such an attack couldn't, just couldn't, have been orchestrated by a lunatic leader of a fringe group hiding in a cave on the other side of the world.
So there you have it. A young President goes out on a limb to benefit what the public sees as undeserving businesses but does it for the sake of the economy. He then gets publicly slapped as those same businesses take advantage and screw the country.
It was April 1962 and John F. Kennedy was visibly angry. Large steel companies had warned the President that new demands by labor would force them to raise their prices, spurring inflationary pressures on the country. So he had lobbied United Steel Workers to sign non-inflationary contracts. His cajoling, arm-twisting, and appeals to patriotism had paid off. But within weeks, big steel companies, one after another, announced price increases anyway. United States Steel was first. Others followed within hours.
Publicly, Kennedy was irate. "Some time ago, I asked each American to consider what he would do for his country, and I asked the steel companies," he said. "In the last 24 hours, we had their answer." Privately, he was furious. "My father always told me businessmen are sons of bitches. I never believed him until now" In a display that cemented a reputation for ruthlessness, FBI agents began surprising steel executives in their offices, country clubs, and homes. The focus was on possible violations of antitrust laws. Within days, each company capitulated, rolling back prices.
Now we have the spectacle of a young President facing down even more egregious abuse by insurance executives. AIG, American International Group Inc, has gotten $170 billion in loans and guarantees from taxpayers in order to avoid going under, dragging the economy with it.
A few weeks ago AIG was forced to postpone abusive bonuses in order to get most of the Bush bailout. It now appears the company has decided first to take the money and then to distribute additional bonuses. Republicans and Democrats are outraged. But it gets worse.
Most of AIG's troubles can be traced to a small shop in London where the bizarre and complex manipulation of financial instruments was devised. The $165 million in bonuses is going straight to that small group. AIG says, sorry, that deal as made early on, and a deal is a deal.
President Obama has directed his Treasury Secretary to "pursue every legal avenue" to block this latest outrage. To begin with, there is a total of $32 billion in US funds, committed but having not yet crossed the finish line. Those billions will be frozen until things are resolved. And there promises to be more action to come. Let's see if JFK wins again.
As Rick Santelli and Wall Street traders rant against homeless losers, it is clear that Joseph Kennedy's observations apply to more than US Steel.
I've been struggling to find a useful analogy for Jon Stewart's complete destruction of Jim Cramer on The Daily Show.
Andrew Sullivan calls it a cultural moment, his comments are headlined To Catch A Predator. "It was a storming of the Bastille," he says.
Tucker Carlson represents what has to be a minority viewpoint, describing Stewart as "a partisan demagogue." He attacks Stewart's motives: "His real sin was attacking Obama's economic policies. If he hadn't done that, Stewart never would have gone after him. Stewart's doing Obama's bidding. It's that simple." Carlson is full of beans, of course. Stewart goes after everyone, including Obama. Cramer was destroyed because Rick Santelli skulked out of an appearance. Santelli led angry, wealthy, securities traders in a now infamous rant against economic "losers", newly unemployed homeless.
The heart of Stewart's attack on Santelli, Cramer, and CNBC is this:
I understand you want to make finance entertaining, but it’s not a (bleeping) game. And when I watch that, I get, I can’t tell you how angry that makes me. Because what it says to me is: you all know. You all know what’s going on. You know, you can draw a straight line from those shenanigans to the stuff that was being pulled at Bear, and AIG, and all this derivative market stuff that is this weird Wall Street side bet.
Stewart's critique was nearly on target. It was misdirected mainly because it was not more global. CNBC and the other financial networks were not simply caught up in a financial culture in which anything goes, in which looking the other way was considered an essential ethic. They were more directly caught up in a journalistic culture of not really telling the truth.
One side in a controversy makes a charge. The other side denies the charge and makes a counter-charge. When the real facts can be found and reported, today's journalism just reports what both sides say, then calls it a day.
As I watched Jim Cramer's dissection by a real journalist in comedian's clothing, I thought of a knife to a gunfight comparison. Cramer going into a battle of wits with Jon Stewart. But it seemed inadequate.
Then I read about an unfortunate thief who targeted a Karate master:
Man unwisely tries to rob Tae Kwon Do studio.
Yeah, sounds about right.
Christian outreach is often work. It means walking about with friends, passing out literature, spreading the Word. In our church, this explicit sort of evangelism often has at its center what we, for some obscure reason, call the Visitation Committee.
The new chair is a woman I have considered a bit of a personal hero for a few years now. She rather heroically has taken the lead in caring for her elderly mother-in-law who seems still to see her as not quite good enough to have married into the family. She routinely goes above and beyond.
Last week she sent out an email to several active members telling them of her progress with "Visitation". She had gone to the church last Saturday to organize groups. Members were to place little door hangers she had designed around the neighborhood. They are attractive pieces inviting folks to our weekly contemporary service. When she arrived at the church, she found herself there alone. Nobody has showed up. Nobody.
This month carries a rough schedule for me. A discussion group I lead Sunday nights requires more preparation and introspection than I had anticipated. So I suppose I felt the Lord would understand if I slept in one morning. But her message bothered me. The picture in my mind of this self-sacrificing lady alone at church waiting for volunteers who never came, well, it was not tolerable.
So yesterday, I made it a point. She, her grown daughter, and two beautiful little grandkids, and I made the rounds together. The weather was nice, and we did come across a few very gracious folks, although hanging stuff on doors does not involve meeting many people. It was a pleasant walk.
Last Sunday, a lady at church told a joke. A puppy is not allowed to accompany a boy into a school. God descends and consoles the pup. "They won't let me in either." I don't think she knew the joke is an adaptation of a story from segregation days and all white churches.
The movement to involve government in spreading Christianity has been in decline. But the impulse remains strong. Schools and public gatherings are focal points. I confess to a certain empathy with those who want to force other people's children to listen to God's word, or who demand that public funds, buildings, or even gatherings be enlisted to spread the good news of the transformative power of Jesus. Getting government involved in evangelism is coercive and immoral. A few churches argue that it is satanic.
But, for many of my Christian brethren, a captive audience does beat investing Saturday mornings going door to door.
Nuggets of internet gold:
Conservative Wigderson Library & Pub carries the story of a County Executive whose stubborn refusal to cooperate in a federally funded project cost his constituents millions. The site somehow neglects to mention the eerie resemblance to some Republican governors. Lack of space?
RANDOM THOUGHTS scolds Governor Sanford for playing around with economic stimulus and Obama for continuing to hold folks without trial, despite dropping the designation "Enemy Combatant". Here is the more sad than angry analysis.
- Conservative Chuck Thinks Right criticizes folks like ... well ... me for blaming President Bush rather than Democrats in Congress the tanking of the economy just because Bush happened to have been a recent President. No mention of deregulation. Must have slipped Chuck's mind.
Several decades ago, I was hired as a sales manager by a clothing manufacturing company experiencing a sales slump. I met with each member of the staff each week and reviewed what they wanted to achieve in income, learning, professional development and anything else we could think of. We spent our time together reviewing whatever the sales person wanted to cover, and made commitments to each other for the future. Within weeks, sales far exceeded the fondest projections of the company.
A very pleased President asked me to his office. He congratulated me on the phenomenal results. He wanted very much for the team to continue our upward climb, and he had only two items he would insist upon. Small, really, in comparison with the vastness of our success. He wanted my weekly meetings with employees dropped so we could devote the time to more sales, and he wanted sales commissions limited in order to save money and increase profits. So the company was excited about the results and just wanted to adjust a few of the things that made the result possible.
Whenever I encounter extraordinarily goofy logic, I think back to the clothing company. Government often has provoked my memory over time. Spending during economic hard times is an example.
A family with maxed out credit cards and outlays exceeding income should have a family priority of lowering debt by cutting back expenses and figuring ways to increase income. The objective of a family budget is not to revive the national economy. It is to keep food on the table and a roof overhead, avoiding risks. Balance the budget and hope for the best.
The federal government has goals a family does not have, like fixing the economy. President Obama came into office facing a recession that threatens to become a depression of Hoover dimensions. But he has an advantage that Hoover did not dream of. The science of economics has significantly advanced. We know that government has a remedy to severe downturns: push money into the economy like crazy. This increases money supply and increases financial activity. Dramatic increases in government spending are at the heart of the stimulus package passed by Congress and signed by the President.
Families need to work harder and cut back to survive.
Government needs to spend enough to get the economy going.
Almost all Republicans and a substantial number of Democrats react to this with trepidation. With dull sincerity, they return to the same objection. We want to revive the economy, but why don't we just take out all that spending? After all, businesses and families cut back during hard times.
Reminds me of my youthful experience with the head of a clothing company.
As a child, I was entranced by my grandfather's occasional rages against the world outside his home. He was active in church and would rant about some personality issue. He liked reading the paper and would wonder aloud why the paperboy was showing up yet again for payment.
But most entertaining of all were his ravings at politicians. Officeholders weren't paid much, his logic went, so they must be in it for the graft. He would go through the logic each time, then blow up toward nobody in particular about the outrage of the thieves. How DARE they!
I sometimes consider why ordinary folks participate, often winning elective positions. There are crass motivations: greed, arrogance, and love of power. As a student studying government in Washington, DC, I was impressed at the continuous activity around United States Senators as they strolled through the halls. Most never opened a door or touched a steering wheel.
I also saw idealism and sometimes even courage. Albert Gore, Sr., the father of should-have-been-President Al Gore, sacrificed his Senate career over the Vietnam War and Civil Rights. Democrats in those days, and since, could be in it for the underdog, folks who were treated unfairly, or who simply did not experience many breaks. They could be in it for peace, or perhaps just for a better world. They could believe in what government can do.
Republicans have fewer opportunities for idealism. Certainly many can believe, against available evidence, that tax breaks for the very wealthy will eventually benefit the economy at large. They may believe, against available evidence, that torture yields useful intelligence information. They may believe that minorities are too pampered or that women have it made. But would any sane person sacrifice a large part of life to cut wealthy taxes 7 percent, or to torture someone, or to try to hurt minorities or women?
That leaves Democrats somewhere between the dark side and helping humanity. And it leaves Republicans with .. well ... the dark side.
Senator David Vitter, R-LA, puts a new wrinkle on the dark side. A champion of family values, he was caught frequenting prostitutes in Washington and back home in Louisiana. A few days ago he was too late for a flight at Dulles Airport. He pushed past a security entrance, setting off alarms, then tried to bully a gate attendant who stopped him: "Do you know who you're dealing with?" He fled when the attendant stood up to him and called security.
So Vitter has discovered another reason to run for office, one my grandfather never thought to include in his rants.
From brothel to airport, the proving of Senatorial manhood.
Werner Heisenberg was a major contributor to quantum mechanics, the science that refined discoveries based on Einstein's Theory of Relativity. Essentially, he postulated that an atomic particle could be only partially tracked. Either its position or momentum could be determined, but not both. It is called the Uncertainty Principle. (The marker at his burial site: "He lies somewhere here") His equations have spawned all sorts of talk about alternate universes and differing realities.
Republican Norm Coleman, until recently the undisputed United States Senator from Minnesota is suggesting a sort of uncertainty principle as a novel electoral legal argument. You may remember why there are fewer than 100 members of the Senate. The major candidates from Minnesota have seemed to be replicating the 2000 Florida battles, at least in the minds of casual observers. Both camps have been arguing over who won the election. It was very close. Very.
When, out of almost 3 million votes, Al Franken ended up with a 225 vote lead, representatives of both sides ended up in a sometime funny, most often tedious, examination of each vote. The Coleman folks gambled heavily on overturning what is called Rule 9. The rule allowed local election officials to count original ballots whenever duplicate absentee ballots were discovered. Rule 9 was insisted on by the Coleman people on the theory that absentee votes would favor Coleman. They didn't want accidental duplicates to eliminate legitimate first votes. Franken's folks agreed. After all, legitimate votes should count.
But Franken's legal votes added up to a win, so Coleman's lawyers angrily challenged the rule they had originally demanded. The "Secretary of State abdicated his function by allowing two political parties to set aside a statute" one Coleman lawyer argued, a bit absurdly. Rule 9 was upheld.
Then they began delaying tactics. They inundated local election boards with demands for detailed information on data practices, interrupting the recounts the law mandated. Then they pointed to the delays as evidence the numbers should be looked on as unreliable. The court is charged by law with certifying a winner as soon as possible. But Coleman now says that the court has the "obligation to certify the number of 'lawfully cast ballots' for each candidate." The courts should certify all 3 million individual votes.
Now Coleman, faced with the reality of a Franken victory, is demanding a new election. It's all so uncertain, we need a new vote. The root problem is Minnesota voters failed to adequately represent their Republican Senator. But Norm Coleman is a gentleman. He will give them another chance.