Archives for: February 2010
St. Mark's Methodist Church in Florissant, Missouri, has a history of social involvement in the community. Tutoring in a neighborhood school has been supplemented by an outreach educational program in a low rent apartment building. Volunteers work with kids on homework and projects after school.
An all day sales event is kind of a once a month thrift shop. Folks donate items, while other folks come from miles around to buy. The proceeds stock a food pantry for those down on their luck. Some activities express the love of Christ through one-time acts of kindness. A small group set up a one day free coffee and cookies event at a time when long, long lines were anticipated at a local motorist licensing office.
Two generations ago, the church declined to take a stand on open housing. It was a bit of a victory for segregationists, but folks on both sides of of the should-not-have-been controversy left the church. The price is paid to this very day, as black membership is only recently noticeable. But two years ago we were one of only a very few churches who were willing to invite a mostly minority start up congregation to hold afternoon services. It is not charity. They pay their own way, but joint services are common, and cross participation is not at all unusual.
It seems an obvious move, but it wasn't until recently that we took several major steps actively to attract people outside the congregation. In one move, a few of us were sponsored by the church as a Christian band. Contemporary worship began a year ago, with separate 10:30 service. Contemporary service is enthusiastic and growing, as we continue to develop new ideas to praise God and develop in fellowship.
We were impressed early on by a visit to the Church of the Resurrection in the Kansas City area. They had specifically targeted non-Christian skeptics, hosting discussion/debates, even promoting books by atheists. A few may have come to jeer but stayed to worship. Some were just curious at first.
I'm comfortable with skeptics. They represent a visit to what had been my long term ideological, spiritual home. I respond to questions, and occasional challenges, with cheerful respect. I don't really rebut the issues expressed, I suppose, as much as I simply testify about my own experiences when those experiences apply to the discussion.
I confess to being more puzzled than surprised by the reaction of Christians to those with a non-theistic outlook. A meeting between a few members of the Obama administration and a couple of groups of non-believers has raised the blood pressure of some Christians. "It is not likely that this outreach to anti-religious activists--many of whom would crush Christianity if they could--will do anything to calm the fears of people of faith" says one Christian activist. "Indeed, it will only alienate them even further."
I dunno. Attacking non-Christians like that seems ... well ... unChristian.
People of faith, especially Christians, have good reason to wonder exactly where their interests lie with the Obama administration. Now we have the definitive answer.
- - Bill Donohue, President Catholic League, February 26, 2010
Nuggets of internet gold:
Sadly, Ned Williams at WisdomIsVindicated joins those miseducated souls who believe Senatorial filibusters were invented by Constitutional founders. Note to Ned: unlimited debate in the Senate came later, and was, until 2009, never used to block everything, everything.
Gwendolyn Barry with New Global Myth becomes strangely rhapsodic about what you might otherwise have thought to be traditional public figures. Beware automatic music on your PC speakers.
Jack Jodell, friend of the working blogger, at THE SATURDAY AFTERNOON POST manages odd sympathy for an ailing former Vice President and accurately anticipates GOP Senators at this week's health summit.
- Slant Right's John Houk hates it even more than that when anti-Muslim hate speech is called ...well... anti-Muslim hate speech.
Have a safe weekend. Pray for those in financial trouble, and those who are ill and cannot afford treatment. Be careful out there.
Imagine you are a Senator who is really REALLY opposed to some measure that may become law. If you are a liberal Democrat, it may be a bill to suspend human rights for Chinese anti-Communist freedom fighters (which conservatives backed, by the way). If you are a conservative you may be opposed to continued funding for Social Security.
You don't have the votes to defeat the measure you oppose, so what do you do? Well, you might try to keep the bill from coming to a vote to begin with. Democrats did that on a few judicial nominations a few years back for judges who seemed to have little regard for basic rights. Conservatives did that through the 1950s and 1960s on bills that would have kept white mobs from lynching or burning to death black people for such outrages as trying to vote.
So you talk the bill to death. Eventually other Senators give up and the Senate moves on. Or they come up with 60 votes (it used to be 67) and force the bill to a vote. If they manage the 60 votes, you stick to your guns and vote against whatever measure is so over the line you were willing to tie up the Senate forever. In the past, senators who opposed a bill and intend to vote against it, still voted to force a vote. They thought the Senate should have the chance to vote on it, even if they personally opposed it.
If you are for a bill, you will vote for it. If someone tries to tie up the Senate, keeping from a vote, you vote to end debate and force it to a vote.
OR if you oppose it, you will vote no. If someone tries to tie up the Senate, keeping from a vote, but you don't consider an important principle at stake, you will vote to end debate and force it to a vote, then you will vote against it.
BUT, if you consider a bill so outrageous that you just cannot tolerate it, you will vote against allowing it to come to a vote at all. Then if it does, because supporters got 60 Senators to force it, you will vote against it.
That's it, right? Well no. This week, a jobs bill was filled with measures Republicans have insisted on for years: tax cuts, exemptions for businesses who hire people, breaks for the wealthy in exchange for bringing back out of work folks. It was composed of GOP solutions, but Republicans still thought it was so outrageous, they tried to tie up the Senate. It barely got to a vote. But then it passed with more votes than when it all started.
6 Republicans thought the bill, intended to help families by creating jobs, was excellent enough to vote for. But the same 6 also thought the bill was so horrible they had to oppose allowing it to come to a vote at all. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Thad Cochran (R-MS), James Inhofe (R-OK), George LeMieux (R-FL), Lisa Murkowski (R-AL), and Roger Wicker (R-MS) all voted to keep themselves from voting for the jobs bill. Apparently, putting food on family tables was the most excellent, horrible, great, and terrible idea ever. "I'm about vote for jobs," we hear each cry out. "Someone please stop me."
...if this pattern continues, you're going to see an inability on the part of America to deal with big problems in a very competitive world, and other countries are going to start running circles around us. We're going to have to return to some sense that governance is more important than politics inside the Senate. We're not there right now.
- - President Barack Obama, December 23, 2009
On the new Republican practice of blocking every vote, even votes on
Republicans are getting hit for what some of us may call hypocrisy. The conservative Washington Times sued and got a treasure trove of secret letters. One GOP official after another has denounced the Obama approach of creating jobs: making up as much of the employment deficit as possible, helping families stay afloat. The same critics secretly lobbied after the jobs.
Here in Missouri, Senator Kit Bond fought hard against economic recovery efforts. A year ago he told us why. "Unfortunately, this bill stimulates the debt, it stimulates the growth of government, but it doesn’t stimulate jobs." He slammed the jobs creation bill, angrily insisting it would not only create no jobs but would cost jobs. At the same time, he wrote secret letters demanding that some of the jobs he denied would be created be directed to projects in Missouri, where the funds would, in his behind-the-scenes words, "create jobs and ultimately spur economic opportunities." Now that the secret letters are out, he has switched gears and backs a mild new Jobs bill.
Remember Joe Wilson, the "You Lie" fellow who interrupted President Obama's presentation to Congress? He insists that jobs created by the Recovery Bill are fake, created only on paper. While opposing the recovery in public, he told a different story in secret. He demanded that jobs be created in his area. "We know their endeavor will provide jobs and investment in one of the poorer sections of the Congressional District."
Senator Bob Bennett (R-UT) publicly opposed Jobs Recovery while demanding jobs for Utah. Representative Pat Tiberi (R-OH) Joined in the public denunciations and the secret demands. Senator Mike Johanns (R-NE), Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Representative John Linder (R-GA), the list continues on and on.
You could argue that, since the bill was bound to pass, it was okay to argue against it, then play by the new rules for your state or district. The problem with that logic is the public insistence shared by all of the Republicans that the money being assigned to create jobs would actually destroy jobs. Why would anyone insist that large chunks of that job destroying program be aimed at their constituents?
In fact, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, and economists pretty much across the board agree that the Jobs bill last year created millions of jobs. Estimates of the exact number vary depending on whether you factor in the well known multiplier effect. Jobs created directly tend to create many more jobs because people who might otherwise be broke can purchase products that would have been unproduced.
Republicans who demand that government "tighten it's belt" the way families and businesses have to, seem to know better in their secret diaries. Government is not a family. It's there to help families. And government should not be out to make a profit when actual families need help in finding work.
The proposed project would create 38 new jobs and bring broadband to eight hospitals, five colleges, 16 libraries and 161 K-12 schools.
- - Senator Mike Johanns (R-NE), February, 2009
Secret letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, discovered by the
conservative Washington Times in a recent lawsuit
I wish I had been wrong back in February when I said that the transportation sector jobs estimated to be created by major infrastructure projects would never materialize
- - Senator Mike Johanns (R-NE), July 9, 2009
Press release attacking the President for the same jobs program
Estimates vary on how many million people are employed as a result of the funds Senator Johanns demanded in private while attacking in public
You are sponsoring a birthday party for your child. Next door, I am bird watching. I can scarcely believe my good fortune as I see a rare specimen unheard of in my part of the country. As I reach for my camera, a series of small balloons blocks my view. Angry, I sue for damages and accuse you of trespassing, since I own the air above my property. You respond that my logic would mean that I can prohibit aircraft from flying overhead. In fact, you argue, my reasoning would give me temporary ownership of planets and stars as the earth rotates. Your objection is valid. The case is thrown out.
The abortion rights debate in this country is frequently defined by taking an opponent's arguments and carrying them past the point of reason. It is not an unfair approach. It illustrates the absurdity of a point of view. Logicians refer to it as reductio ad absurdum. The problem is that pretty much any position in the fiery debate over abortion is absurd. If you are for abortion rights, as I am, what reasonable distinction can you make between a new-born baby and the not-quite-born? If you draw the line at a trimester, you run into the same quandary. Even if the line you propose is the point of viability, you have problems, since medical discoveries on the one hand, and disabilities on the other move that line all over.
Abortion opponents usually do not want to consider their own absurdities. Can a court order a woman forcefully confined if a doctor advises bed rest and she can't afford to lose her job? Should a woman be prosecuted for murder if she gets an abortion? Should every woman suffering a miscarriage be investigated for possible manslaughter? Usually such hypothetical examples are dismissed. "Oh, now you're just being silly."
The forced bed rest is not so far fetched. This actually happened in Florida. A fanatically religious doctor went to court and kept a woman from checking out of a hospital. She was even prohibited from getting a second opinion.
Last month in Iowa, a woman became light headed after an upsetting argument on the phone with her estranged husband. She fell down some stairs. There was no miscarriage, but she was arrested on suspicion of falling down on purpose.
These incidents can be dismissed as distortions of existing law, and they are. Judges overstep bounds, prosecutors occasionally let their religious beliefs overrule the law, and not every doctor can be said to be a humble advisor to patients.
Utah is a different story. A bill is soon to become law that will explicitly subject a woman who suffers a miscarriage to criminal prosecution if a prosecutor accuses her of not having prevented it.
We no longer have to take opposing arguments to extremes to demonstrate their absurdity. The extremes have become a fact of pro-life.
I wasn't about to hold the bill up
- - State Representative Carl Wimmer, (R-UT), February 18, 2009
On why he refused to alter provisions that will result in prosecuting
victims of domestic violence when their beatings result in miscarriages
A couple of years ago, I told of an incident from my youth. An adult neighbor demanded to know what I thought about politics, and so I answered.
Pointing his finger in my face, he screamed that young bums like me just wanted to tear the country down, that we had no respect for the law. I managed to blurt out that I had not broken any laws that I knew of, but that only made the man more angry. In a flash, I had become the manifestation of every unpatriotic punk he had seen on television, burning flags while our brave boys died fighting communism.
My mom quickly spirited me out of the fellow's house while my dad stayed behind to calm the enraged man. I could hear him yelling behind us as we went down the street. "You broke my law. You broke MY law." Before we got home, the neighbor's son caught up with us. "Man, that was COOL."
A syndicated columnist, Leonard Pitts, shares his frustration at similar logic, expressed with less drama. A reader of his, writing to his office, insisted that no black US soldier had ever been a combat hero before 1947. He was under the impression that, since the armed forces had been segregated up to then, black men had been barred from combat. Documentation would not sway him. He knew for a fact that black Americans had never seen combat, and any evidence to the contrary was liberal trickery.
As conservatives repeat the most elemental untruths as fact, we on the not-lunatic-right-wing roll our eyes at outrageous acts of false witness. A couple of days ago the Republican Governor of Mississippi, Haley Barbour expressed his opinion that Americans have rejected the health care proposals passed by the Senate and the House. Nothing wrong with that opinion, and you can make the case, depending on what poll you use. But then he explained why he believes Americans don't like the plan under consideration. "Their idea of health care reform is the cost should go down. And in this one, CBO says the cost will go up." Actually, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office says the exact direct opposite. Reform would lower health care costs and reduce the deficit.
The Governor went on. "So this is a system that is very bad for jobs because it clobbers small business." In fact, only 14% of America's businesses, the largest mega-corporations, would have any shared responsibility requirement.
As it happens, polling shows that the more Americans are informed of what is in health reform plans, the more they are enthusiastic in supporting reform. It is possible that Republicans are simply as deceptive as they appear. Never let the truth interfere with a good story. An alternative is that they genuinely do not know what they choose not to know.
The number of children who are born subsequent to a first abortion with handicaps has increased dramatically. Why? Because when you abort the first born of any, nature takes its vengeance on the subsequent children.
In the Old Testament, the first born of every being, animal and man, was dedicated to the Lord. There's a special punishment Christians would suggest.
- - Bob Marshall, Republican State Legislator, Virginia, February 18, 2009
I regret any misimpression my poorly chosen words may have created as to my deep commitment to fighting for these vulnerable children and their families.
- - Bob Marshall, Republican State Legislator, Virginia, February 22, 2009
The left, which is to say most interested folks who are not right wing radicals, tends to portray Republican office holders as sort of Machiavellian tricksters. We get a mental picture of mustache twisting, black caped villains.
Economic background news this week presents a different picture. We have a chance to see Republicans as political street fighters, skilled almost beyond belief in the art of public manipulation. We also can see them during the most serious threat to the Republic outside of an act of war. They react to policy options going beyond bumper stickers with glazed eyes and yawns.
George W. Bush is widely described as being an almost President until after the September 11 attacks. He fumbled with a bullhorn, complaining that it was not working. A rescue worker yelled "I can't hear you!" The President, figuring out what button to press, mastered the bullhorn. "I can hear you! I can hear you! The rest of the world hears you! And the people -- and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!"
But history may eventually decide that he was a President eclipsed until his final two years. He replaced the hapless Don Rumsfeld in November 2006 with Robert Gates, a certified, matriculated grownup. A few months before, in June 2006, Henry Paulson had replaced John Snow as the Treasury Secretary. Rumsfeld, together with Dick Cheney, had pretty much determined American foreign policy. Snow, undercut by pretty much everybody, determined nothing. Cheney and Rove decided economic policy.
As the deregulated US economy unraveled, Paulson had a horrible vision of a Depression that would dwarf the Great Depression of the 1930s. According to his own accounts, the prospect made him physically ill. That is not hyperbolic. He would briefly duck out of meetings to throw up. He is a lifelong Republican, and so the contrast he noted between conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats is telling. Democrats Barney Frank, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi worked with him. He describes the economic analysis offered by Republicans in general as less than helpful, "a complete waste of time for us, when time was more precious than anything." They were dullards.
Economists across the political spectrum endorse the view that the collapse of the economy would have been catastrophic had Paulson not saved the day, with the active backing of President Bush, and the support of Congressional Democrats, who agonized with him in finding patchwork solutions. Later, Obama's recovery program was pared down by conservative Democrats and opposed completely by Republicans. The millions of jobs created have only partly made up a terrible employment deficit. The GOP has managed to convince voters that saving millions of households from the brink has been a wasteful intrusion. No good deed goes unpunished in politics.
But one man who knows is Henry M. Paulson Jr. His friends know him as Hank. Fellow Republicans are now told to call him Mr. Paulson.
Well, you know, to me I find it interesting that you have a lot of the Republicans running around and pushing back on the stimulus money and saying this doesn't create any new jobs, and then they go out and they do the photo ops and they are posing with the big check and they say, isn't this great? Look what the kind of -- the kind of money I provide here for the state, and this is great money to create jobs, and this has created 10,000 new jobs and this has created 20,000 new jobs. And all of these kind of things. It doesn't match up.
- - Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA), February 21, 2010
It was years ago. I sat at a dining room table with a young lady I had been dating. We were drinking coffee and chatting. It was late. Her son, a fellow in his early twenties, I would have guessed, came home.
I took him to be a bit of a street thug. He was not thrilled to meet me, either, and had no hesitation about letting me know. He had met folks like me and he was emphatically unimpressed. He sat, glared at me, and asked what I thought was a disparaging question about my then recent family breakup. I answered evenly enough that, yeah, my family had been torn asunder the previous year. I was living in an ocean of pain. The unspoken ending to my response was: So what of it? I was inwardly prepared for snide comments.
Instead, he stared for a second. When he spoke, it was with concern. The years have erased his actual words. He told me I could not keep going on that way. We spent the rest of that long night talking about my life and his. We talked of hopes and dreams. It went nearly until the dawn. Three months later, I spoke at his funeral.
It has occurred to me since then that something aside from this concerned young man was speaking to me, demanding that I turn my life around. I often put it into a religious context. Jesus speaks to us in many ways.
I thought of my young friend a few months ago as I read news accounts of a group of Muslims gathering for public worship outside the Capitol in Washington. As they tried to pray, Christian protesters screamed at them through megaphones. The Christians quieted only after one Muslim gave them a fair variant of what Jesus teaches us: "We would never come to a prayer meeting that you have to make a disturbance. Please show us some respect. This is a sacred moment. Just as your Sunday is sacred, our Friday is sacred." And so we are instructed to do unto others.
In Nashville, Tennessee, earlier this month, a television station pretty much invented stories about a gated Muslim community. Implied, but not stated, was that a terrorist training camp might be there. In the body of the story they revealed that nothing was going on. Move on, folks, nothing here to see. But a mosque on the other side of town was vandalized. Graffiti proclaimed local bigotry. "Muslims Go Home" was sprayed right next to crudely painted crosses. But that did not end the drama.
Local neighbors showed up with paint, brushes, and indignation at what had been done. An unemployed truck driver wept as he donated additional paint. What was supposed to be a small open house at the mosque was crowded with over 150 Catholics, Protestants, and Jews. They came to learn and to show support for their brothers and sisters who follow Islam.
We often can learn the message of hope, the message of Christ, from others. Sometimes Jesus even speaks to us through Christians.