Archives for: August 2012
For some time, CNN has been carving out a niche as the centrist, impartial, entirely fair news network. Not too far right, like FOX. Not too far left, like MSNBC.
The CNN definition of fairness fits nicely with what has been for decades the essence of journalistic ethics in America. A few years back, there was a hue and cry over fact checking. Major news organizations resisted the very idea. Calling someone on speaking untruths was not only unfair, taking sides, it was kind of ... unkind. We trust viewers, intoned one television personality, to do their own fact checking.
Fact checking is slowly making its way into the back and middle pages of print. Occasionally television news has been following.
The procession has been cautious. The tenacity of prevailing habit is strong as steel. Fair is the same as balanced. Balanced is the same as equivalent. Criticism of one side has to be matched by equal criticism of the other.
This year's Republican campaign has been a trial for that standard. What do you do when one side is operating fairly normally, occasionally pushing the edge then pulling back in, and the other side is rushing forward with easily documented ... shall we say it? ... lies. One after another in an endless parade.
Paul Ryan's speech slammed President Obama for instituting Medicare savings that Paul Ryan had advocated. Hospitals had been ordered to cut charges, but they went along because costs would be made up by increasing patient flow as more people could afford treatment under Obamacare. Private corporations raised a howl, but they were merely told to stop overcharging. Insurance companies were told to devote a higher share of premiums to actual care and to refund to families whatever was left.
Still, Paul Ryan told the convention and the television audience that President Obama had attacked Medicare, stealing that same 700 billion dollars from the program.
He repeated the workfare lie. In reality, President Obama had granted Republican governors waivers on work requirements, but only by requiring more recipients be moved off welfare rolls and onto payrolls. Republicans have been falsely saying that President Obama had abolished work requirements.
And he came up with a time travel lie. He slammed Obama for allowing a Wisconsin auto plant to close down, after promising to do everything possible to keep it open. In reality, GM announced the closure seven months before Obama took office. It was closed down five months later. Obama was still two months away from becoming President.
Paul Ryan knew all this. He had lobbied the Bush administration for funding to keep the plant open, making presentations, pushing for funds. The Bush administration decided against him.
It wasn't just Paul Ryan, of course. The theme of the Romney campaign, the core, has been a string of similar untruths. Splice and diced, chopped up video show President Obama proclaiming that business owners never built a business. Of course he never said that. He simply said that business owners have a lot of assets that had been contributed. Teachers had taught them. Police protected them. Roads and bridges provided a means of transport to and from. They didn't build that.
Mitt Romney repeated the discredited Medicare distortion. He added a mythical Obama tax on the middle class. In reality, President Obama lowered middle class taxes. He repeated the lie that President Obama had conducted a foreign "apology tour." In reality President Obama has conducted no such tour, although such a tour has been an article of faith among conservative partisans since President Obama took office.
The word "false" is beginning to find its way into first and second paragraphs of news articles, and occasionally even headlines, as news media throw up their hands at the impossible task of pretending everything is equivalent.
CNN bravely presses on, although ever more awkwardly. This is how Tommy Christopher reported on the CNN reporting:
Their commentary seems to indicate that it doesn’t matter if Ryan is a liar. Blitzer begins by calling it “a powerful speech,” then notes, in the same breath, that “I marked at least seven or eight points I’m sure the fact checkers will have some opportunities to dispute if they want to go forward, I’m sure they will.”
Wow, is that ever hard hitting. Way to stand up for truth, Wolf. I happened to catch part of that. Wolf Blitzer went on to add that fact checkers would also be sure to find a lot of points to dispute in Democratic speeches as well.
Balance rules. Equivalence leads to equivocation. Truth is a last resort.
"You didn't do that!" the breitbarted clip of President Obama's remarks now has a place in television ads and keynote speeches. Diced, sliced, spliced, and reedited to mean something very different from what he said, crowds respond. Here is what actually happened, with the parts in italics showing what was sliced out, the parts in bold showing what was spliced in.
Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there. If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges.
If you’ve got a business. you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.
The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.
The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.
Watching as much of the Republican convention as time permits, a theme strikes me in a similar way conservatism has been increasingly sounding to me in recent years. I don't mean conservatism as a coherent ideological system.
I mean the sort of cultural conservatism that is overwhelmed, dominated by what to many is an earth shattering event. The Presidency of Barack Obama has about the same effect on a huge number of conservatives that historical proof would have on Christians like me that Jesus was never crucified, but rather died running from Gethsemane with a Roman spear in his back. It is similar to the effect that a mountain of evidence favoring Darwin's evolution has had on generations of Christian literalists.
A radio evangelist visited me over 3 decades ago. He explained to me the pre-Cambrian geological layer, impossible biological intricacies that had to have been designed, and, finally, a wonderful explanation of why dinosaur bones can be found, oil is pumped from the ground, and light from galaxies many millions of light years away can be seen.
When the world was created 6,000 years ago, God gave to it "the appearance of age." That's why Adam and Eve had navels and fingernails, and mature aspects of nature existed. The original idea came to Philip Henry Gosse over a century and a half ago, and is called the Omphalos hypothesis after a book he wrote. After my evangelist friend explained his version of Omphalos to me, I offered a counter proposal.
If the Creator of all existence had gone through that much trouble to endow the world and the universe with the appearance of age, wouldn't it be only fair for us as worshipful children of God to go along with the scheme? Wouldn't it be the sporting thing for us to go ahead and be fooled?
But creationists continue lo to this very day, contriving logical loopholes to explain a view of scripture that, to some of us, misses the whole point. Darwin himself is alternately an evil, loathsome lowlife, or a belatedly good man who repented on his deathbed and renounced all evolutionary thoughts.
It's hard for me to keep from thinking of anti-evolution literalists when I consider victims of Obama-derangement, poor lost souls a large part of whose existence is devoted to explaining how all this just cannot be happening to them.
It goes beyond putting words into, or more precisely taking words out of, the President's mouth. The real story is not the falsehoods. Lies are forever with us. When Karl Rove started a whispering campaign that a political opponent famous as a children's advocate was actually a child molester, it wasn't racial hatred that motivated him.
The real story in the age of Obama is the appetite that exists for such fabrications. The tall tale about President Obama slashing Medicare benefits by $700 billion dollars - in actuality, he required corporations to stop overcharging - was about the nagging suspicion that this fellow is out to take your money and give it to those people, undeserving lazy people. Speeches are given about measures taken to strengthen work requirements in welfare programs. And the lie comes in: those measures are said to be the direct opposite of reality.
The redistributionist myth, take from you and give to them, is part of it, but only part of it.
The denials are twins: He didn't get elected legitimately. And he can't be handling himself competently. The pathways of of these twin denials are filled with the debris of justifications.
His all-American story of bootstrap accomplishment had to have been a rigged game.
We see subterranean myths surface episodically. ACORN organized fraud put him in office. A tidal wave of ineligible stealth voters sneaked past poll watchers. He isn't a real American, having been spirited into our country as an infant from Kenya. He is an affirmative action President, put into office because he is black. His accomplishments before entering public life are suspect. Demands go forth for transcripts that will undoubtedly prove his grades were way below his white colleagues. Weren't his literary triumphs, wonderful books about hope and accomplishment, actually ghost written by his radical white friends? Lack of proof is it's own proof of conspiracy.
His accomplishments in office are denigrated beyond what we have always seen in normal political posturing.
Oh, I do remember similar observations about Bush-derangement. I have spoken and written about my own reactions to some Bush mannerisms, and my sometime overcompensation for that. But even my less inhibited anti-Bush friends could be goaded into acknowledgement of occasional points of gratitude. His outreach to Latino voters was more than political ploy. His stand against anti-Muslim bigotry after the 9/11 attacks dampened at least some of the persecution that has gone on since. His actions to fund aids prevention in Africa was gratuitous, without any apparent benefit to him or his party.
I ask conservative friends to name something they like about President Obama, and only occasionally can I get a grudging acknowledgement of the watery home inhabited by the lifeless body of bin Laden. The foreign policy successes are ignored. The anti-terrorism drive is characterized, against all evidence, as weak. Terrorist leaders are killed by scores, yet complaints are rife that they ought to have been captured instead. The turnaround of the economy is slow, but conservatives insist, in the face of evidence otherwise, that the President has destroyed jobs.
And, of course, there is the willful belief in outright documented fabrications.
It goes beyond policy to the personal. He is an undeniably good family man. His family is attacked. He is an accomplished orator, and a silly story is circulated, and instantly believed, that he is pathologically dependent on teleprompters.
The desperation with which so many embrace improbable theories of anti-colonial anti-white mau mau revolutionary socialist plotting is alien to rationality. That he is a strange hybrid of evil genius and hopelessly inept bumbler is not the result of competing images. They are beliefs simultaneously held, often by otherwise rational people.
There were people whose pride in our country deepened at the election of a black man after centuries of slavery, oppression, and discrimination. The effect on actual votes was measurably overridden by those who were shaken, sickened, and ashamed that such a thing could have happened.
The twin denials ignore two facts that ought to be undeniable:
- That he was a success both before and during his political life because of his own hard work and ability, followed by a political ability to inspire and enroll huge numbers of people
- That he has been a far more effective President than circumstances could have caused any reasonable person to expect.
"You didn't do that" is only the latest fiction intended to deny the obvious. It is a reflexive reaction by those who know by looking, who need no evidence, that Obama could not possibly have merited his ascension to the highest office, and that he could not have accomplished anything worthwhile during his tenure so far.
They point at the President and sing from the conservative hymnbook:
"You didn't do that!"
Methodist Bishop Melvin Talbert is in trouble, maybe a great deal of trouble.
The United Methodist Church is, in most places where Methodists worship God, a friendly and open place. And the national Church motto has for some time been "Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors."
One dissenting tract I read was from a pastor in a break-off group. He protested that Methodist open doors needed screens. Keeping out unworthy thoughts was his stated theme. It occurred to me the real message was a combination of keeping out love for the wrong people and especially keeping out those wrong people. As I eventually clicked off, it seemed to me the central idea was that the purpose of screens is to keep out harmful or annoying pests.
I don't meet many Methodists who regard people as insects. Most Methodists I have met embrace the idea of "Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors." Several years ago, I had lunch with an associate pastor who now leads a congregation. At one point, we talked about the issue of gay marriage. It is a burning issue today, and it was then as well. It had nowhere near the support six years ago as it does now. "I don't think gay marriage should be allowed," I told him, parroting a David Brooks line. "I think it should be encouraged."
He jumped up and leaned over the table to shake my hand in agreement. That was something back then.
His agreement was also contrary to a Methodist governing document. It still is. The Methodist Book of Discipline distills the doctrine of the United Methodist Church into a statement of holy law. As a practical matter, it applies to clergy. At least that is where it is enforced. About 40 years ago, a church convention addressed homosexuality directly. "Since the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be accepted as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church."
The sentence has been there unchanged ever since. A few years ago, as I was considering membership in the United Methodist church, I held back for a while on just this issue. A pastor had come out of the closet, revealing her relationship with another woman. They were committed as life partners. She was, I think, acquitted at a trial. Methodist ecclesiastical juries have tended to be a bit technical. Unless homosexual practice is proven, homosexuality is okay. And homosexual activity is hard to prove without some act of voyeurism. Don't peep, don't tell.
But Bishop Melvin Talbert has gone further. He encourages clergy to perform gay marriages.
Now Bishop Talbert is retired. He has no official duties in regard to gay marriage. Some of us might think that even a retired Methodist bishop might be allowed first amendment speech on a controversial issue. But a tiny group of conservative clergy and members don't see it that way.
There is an organized conservative campaign called the Good News and Confessing Movement. It is trans-denominational, outside any one church or sect. Its goal is to push mainline Christian churches into a more traditional, less tolerant set of doctrines. They have campaigned to get a complaint signed against Bishop Talbert. The total number of signatures they have managed to gather is 70.
I have no idea of how long the Methodist Book of Discipline will go against the core of what Jesus taught: that true scriptural law is fulfilled when we love God and love our neighbor. The arc of the moral universe bends toward justice, but, man oh man, that arc is sometimes way, way long.
Still, out of 12 million members of the United Methodist Church worldwide, 70 signatures strikes me as pretty small. Perhaps some jury will decide that, although the Bishop clearly believes in equality for gay couples, he is not actually practicing free speech.
It is always possible the church to which I belong will end its 40 year journey, and finally arrive at a spiritual realization: that Jesus was in a lifelong life-and-death debate against those who insisted on putting screens between God and man. That the struggle continues. That Jesus tells us in scripture and in our hearts, that our neighbors are not vermin to be kept out.
In 1988, Republican candidate for President, Vice President George H. W. Bush, father to the young man who would later become the latter day President Bush, put out the story about his opponent, Democrat Michael Dukakis. It seems Dukakis was a little unhinged.
Michael Dukakis, you see, had been emotionally troubled, emotionally troubled enough to see a psychiatrist during a time of mental depression.
Dukakis and his campaign was caught flatfooted. Their own immediate response was ... Huh?
And so Lee Atwater, on behalf of the Bush campaign, released the evidence in casual conversation with reporters. It seems that some years before, a relative of Michael Dukakis, his uncle, had died. Dukakis attended the funeral. Also attending the funeral was a distant relative who was a psychiatrist.
Get it? You don't?
Okay, reporters, let's lay it all out. Everyone loves their uncle, right? So he was a beloved uncle. If your beloved uncle died, wouldn't you be depressed? So Michael Dukakis had to have been suffering from depression. Now do you get it? No?
Okay, let's break it down. His relative, the psychiatrist went to the same funeral. Have you ever attended a family funeral where you didn't see everyone there? So Dukakis and his psychiatrist relative had to have seen each other, right?
So Michael Dukakis had, while suffering from depression, seen a psychiatrist.
President Reagan was asked some question about the Dukakis campaign and made a Mitt Romney type knee-slapper. "Look, I'm not going to pick on an invalid." Reporters groaned, but they began reporting the Dukakis-is-unstable story as he-said-she-said. Republicans are pushing rumors that Dukakis has seen a psychiatrist while suffering from emotional depression, the Dukakis campaign denies the allegation.
It still strikes me as a filthy campaign. Years later, a dying Lee Atwater apologized for that and other slurs.
This year, even the pretense of legitimacy has been discarded. At least Lee Atwater offered some cockeyed justification, some twisted version to wind a path to a sideways plausibility.
In 2008, candidate Obama mocked at a statement made by a McCain aide. He quoted the aide: "If we keep talking about the economy, we`re going to lose." Four years later, the Romney campaign sliced and edited video to falsely show President Obama as if he was talking about himself. Their advertising showed Obama saying, "If we keep talking about the economy, we`re going to lose."
When asked about the obvious lie, the Romney people replied that this was a political campaign. You could hardly expect truthfulness in a political campaign. That was their justification. Well, it was a sort of twisted frankness, truth-telling about a documented lie.
Today the Romney practice continues, with another Lee Atwater level distortion followed by a documented lie - the opposite of the truth.
The Lee Atwater level reprise is about Medicare. A congressional bill written by Paul Ryan and endorsed by Mitt Romney would eventually replace Medicare as it has come to be experienced by seniors for more than a generation, with a voucher system. That plan has since been replaced with another Ryan written "defined contribution" plan to replace the current "defined benefit." It is a coupon system without the coupons.
Now, Republicans may object to my characterization. They may want to substitute another description that they will regard as more accurate. They may accuse me of distortion or not providing context. I think it would be difficult to find any outright untruth.
Part of the plan passed by the House of Representatives, the one written by Paul Ryan, the one endorsed by Mitt Romney, calls for cuts in corporate giveaways. It would end a lot of outright waste. Medical corporations would be told they could no longer overcharge. The resulting savings would be over 700 billion dollars.
The Ryan plan to take the windfall away from corporate overcharge had actually been put into effect by the Obama administration, even before Paul Ryan included it in his plan.
Which brings us to the Romney distortion. President Obama, says Romney, is stealing $700 billion dollars from the Medicare program. Mitt Romney promises to restore the cuts. The Romney promise will do nothing for those seniors who fall for the tall tale, but it will put more cash in the coffers of overcharging corporations.
Okay, that was the Lee Atwater reincarnation, not the Lee Atwater who apologized. The Lee Atwater with the loving hand of Jesus on his shoulder, about to take the journey home.
Next comes the outright lie, the lie that involves welfare.
In the 1990s the welfare program was reformed. Harsh cuts by the Republican Congress were blocked by President Clinton until Republicans agreed to modify them into realistic work requirements. Included was some flexibility. Waivers could be granted to states who wanted to experiment with different approaches to getting people off welfare without putting at risk children and those unable to work.
After the Obama administration took office, a few Republican governors requested waivers. They thought they had ways to get more people into jobs. The Obama administration granted the Republican waivers, but put into writing the condition that the waivers would only be valid if more people would be put into the workforce with the waivers than without.
The Romney campaign continues to pay for ads that say the direct opposite of the truth.
...President Obama quietly announced a plan to gut welfare reform by dropping work requirements.
Under Obama’s plan, you wouldn’t have to work and wouldn’t have to train for a job. They just send you your welfare check. And welfare to work goes back to being plain old welfare.
This is followed by the traditional endorsement. "I'm Mitt Romney and I approve this message."
There is no fact checking that has found the ad to be truthful, and dozens that have found it to be a documented falsehood. It is not a distortion or an exaggeration or an extrapolation of some grain of truth.
It is not simply a lie. It is a lie with a history, part of a pattern that had gone on since George Wallace first railed against welfare as part of the liberal plot involving integration and voting rights. It is a gamble that years of white resentment will cloud any vision of the real truth. The visual accompaniment reinforces the message. One hard working employee after another reacts to this latest attack on work. Searching for a black face, or the face of any minority, is a variant on "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego."
The hand fluttering over the mouth, oh-my-did-I-say-that, has fluttered too many times. Obama-is-not-an-American-ha-ha-just-kidding-can't you-take-a-joke, has followed in the steps of too many ever so heartfelt statements with a similar message: "I just don't think he knows what America is about."
We no longer wait for the second shoe to drop, or the third, or the fourth.. These folks have either been depleting the Imelda Marcos collection, or Mitt Romney is a centipede.
I have followed the career of Mitt Romney for years. I am not repelled by his ideology. I am repelled by his lack of it. I have always been put off by the absence of core honesty, a casual mendacity that is demonstrated anew every day.
Still, I am genuinely surprised by this newest set of tactics, what is politely and euphemistically called "appealing to the base." Perhaps not shocked, but surprised.
I have never thought, and I do not think now, that Mitt Romney is a racist.
He has simply learned to play one on television.
We were, and are, grateful, of course that he was spared in the successive attacks. But the delay in getting news gave our gratitude a sort of guilty quality. Marines had died, killed by renegade members of Afghanistan's police. The names of those lost had not been released. When we found that he was safe, our rejoicing was tempered by the knowledge that the enormity of grief and pain had been moved to another family.
We knew our prayers, prayers that he be spared, prayers that we be spared, were affected by the horrible zero-sum arithmetic of death. They necessarily involved the guilty hope that some other family would bear the burden. The ones who died had been the sons of other parents, the brothers of other siblings. And there would be new orphans among those who mourned.
His deployment in Afghanistan had ended. His tour was over, his six months had passed. The only thing keeping him there was lack transport. He was on standby. And he was still among targets.
Expressing anxiety to friends was a release that carried its own small price, at first. Well wishers thought they were giving additional words of comfort as they expressed opinions about staying in that war weary country. "I hope your stepson is safe" was often followed by some evaluation of US policy. We should leave. Or we've been there long enough. Or enough boys have died. Or too many have been lost. As if anyone would ever say not enough had been taken.
But I have been on the other side, trying to find something to say and failing. So I recognized the value of selective hearing. I quickly learned to screen out often inept words and accept the expression of emotion. The intent to comfort was all the comfort I needed to take. And that was all I conveyed to his mother. All that mattered, all we needed to know, was that we had another set of prayers from someone who cared.
Technology offers a great advantage that other wars did not carry. Text messages and a frequent Facebook presence would give to us occasional reassurance at just the right time.
One Saturday, messages stopped. There was nothing on Sunday. The Facebook entries were static. We watched the networks for some terrible update, praying for no news. Monday morning came.
I reminded his mom that communication had been completely absent during his transport to Afghanistan six months before. Surely the lack of word meant he was on his way back. She nodded absently. I knew I was trying to convince both of us.
I prayed anxious prayers to and from work. Monday night came. No word.
Tuesday morning was hard. Morning prayer was a tense, momentary release of anxiety. It was as much venting in God's ear as it was prayer. No word came Tuesday night.
Wednesday morning I woke early and wandered out. She was pacing. She had just left me a note. He was out. He was safe. He had, after all, been in transport all that time, with layovers at other bases on the way to his home base. I picked up her note. The last sentence referred to my reminders that he would be out of communication during the trip back. "You were right," it read.
On Wednesday, I joked with associates. "I believe I'll try something different today. I think I'll exhale." The receptionist, a wonderful lady, picked up on it. "If you're going to do that all day, you also might want to inhale."
He will be taking liberty soon, spending time with us. He should be here in early September. We do not know where some future deployment will take him, but for now he is safe.
The last few days have been a blur of quiet celebration. I've been mentally catching up with comments that meant little when they were spoken. bin Laden is dead. The leadership of al Qaeda is nearly wiped out. The terrorist organization is a menacing shadow of a former self. As of a few days before our own Marine left that country, 2,000 military personnel have died in Afghanistan. 2,000 families are without a loved one. God help me, I am grateful our family is not among them.
And yes, it is time to bring our troops home.
On Saturday, I teased my loved one a little as I handed her the note she had written. "I've mislaid my glasses. Would you read that last sentence for me?"
"You were right," she read.
"I'm not sure I got that. Would you mind repeating it?"
"You were right," she read, and added as if still reading, "this one time."
Life in this pinprick sized corner of the universe has become a vast ocean of relief.
Introduction, Traditional Service,
9:00 AM, August 26, 2012
St. Mark's United Methodist Church in Florissant, MO
When we are afraid,
we feel God’s calming presence.
When we feel alone,
we sense God’s love around us.
When we stumble or stray,
we know God still sees the value within us.
We are part of a larger vision,
and God finds many ways to share with us
the worth that is in us,
and the path that is ready for us,
as we share in the unfolding of that vision.
Found on Line at Choristers Guild
Todd Akin has gone from a candidate here in Missouri for the United States Senate to a national joke. Erin Nanasi at Mad Mike's America isn't laughing. She points to a few Christian conservatives who continue to explain that women who are "legitimately" raped don't get pregnant. She traces the myth back to Nazi experiments. Not so funny. The humor really fades as she reviews some of the stories of actual rape victims confronted by this junk science.
At News Corpse, Mark has been watching Fox News so we don't have to. Dick Morris, political analyst, says Todd Akin improves Mitt Romney's election chances.
Mitt Romney makes a little joke about Obama's citizenship, tee hee. Aparently birthers just crack him up. PZ Myers, writing for Pharyngula, has figured out why nobody is asking Mitt Romney to prove where he was born.
Tommy Christopher of Mediaite fame delves a little further into the sad, sleazy story, as Mitt Romney goes Obama-is-not-an-American-ha-ha-ha-just-a-little-joke. Seems a CNN reporter posits that it all proves how tough the GOP candidate can get. Yeah. Tough.
Nancy Hanks at The Hankster posts Independent news featuring a trend among young people toward political anti-partisanship.
Jack Jodell, friend of the working blogger, has a justifiably angry piece at THE SATURDAY AFTERNOON POST about the widespread GOP campaign to keep legitimate voters from casting ballots. Listen guys, if a voter doesn't own a photo ID, shouldn't other valid proof of identity get that voter a ballot?
The Heathen Republican holds a debate with a committed Democrat. Problem is, unless Heathen is holding back on us, the committed Democrat is actually the version that exists in Heathen's mind. I wonder if I could win a debate if I controlled what my fictional opponent was saying. Anyway, Heathen's opponent is left with this final response: "Umm…" Wow. That Heathen Republican is one shrewd debater.
Milwaukee has gotten federal funds to revive a street car track. James Wigderson is not the only skeptic. An organization is running a website against it. James cites the name of the group, Americans for Prosperity, but somehow forgets to mention that it is a front group for the astonishingly wealthy, politically extreme, Koch brothers. I guess you can't have everything.
T. Paine, at Saving Common Sense, takes Melinda Gates to task, quoting an African emigree, for donating funds for contraceptives, for all sorts of reasons, avoiding the real issue for some religious conservatives: Going well beyond abortion, most forms of birth control are murder.
Vincent of A wayfarer's notes has another movie review, this one of a wonderful film about a homeless, troubled, man with an astonishing musical talent, The Soloist. I like most of the films, the ones I have seen, that Vincent occasionally mentions. But I have a confession. I enjoy his reviews even more than the movies themselves.
A Presbyterian I knew as a kid became a frequent visitor to the local Methodist church. She was forever stumbling when she got to forgiving those who trespass. She had, since her own childhood, been forgiving debtors, leaving trespassers to their own devices. The force of childhood habits, like childhood attitudes, is nearly irresistible. There was a sort of juvenile reassurance to seeing adults fumble, a feeling that childhood insecurities were shared in some way.
Sometimes this passive comfort became more active. I enjoyed being able to occasionally correct an adult. The phrase "under God" had just been added to the Pledge of Allegiance by Congress a few years before, and older folks were forever forgetting it. I liked that, and I was grateful for federal piety.
Missouri Senatorial candidate Todd Akin (R-CrazyLand) recently explained a mistake by a television network on the Pledge of Allegiance, after some technician or director or editor had omitted the phrase "under God." He made it very simple, really easy to understand. The network was run by liberals. Liberals hated God and America.
Another day, another extreme statement by Todd Akin.
He talked about student loans that enable kids from poor and middle class families to go to college. He was opposed, of course. But he could not resist talking about his emotional reaction as well. Student support was the socialist equivalent of stage three cancer.
Thing is, he is not an Ann Coulter equivalent. He does not try to insult or create controversy. He is not a publicity troll. He simply states facts as he has always heard them. In the circles in which he has traveled, such judgments are a simple fact, hardly worth noticing, a daily part of normal conversation, something everyone knows. He often seems astonished that some of what he says creates any news at all.
There was a certain inevitability to the outburst of Todd Akin about "legitimate rape." The new definition of Rape Shield was a bit of a surprise. Before now, it was defined as a legality to protect rape victims from aggressive interrogation by defense attorneys concerning sexual history. Was she kind of asking for it? Now it has a medical definition.
The new, very new, Rape Shield, the secretion that unwilling sex caused in women, is not all that new. It may have been news to those outside of conservative circles, but the myth has been around for many years, backed up by partisan self-styled experts. It has caused some misery over generations. It goes back a long way. If a woman is truly an unwilling participant she can't get pregnant. If she does, she must have asked for it, or at least enjoyed it. The harsh reality faced by rape victims was a little harder when they were surrounded by unsympathetic looks by suspicious people who had received such wisdom. If a woman was one of those educated by gossip, an occasional tract, or email, self-doubt could lead to unjustified guilt.
The myth was energized in recent decades by the abortion controversy. It was seized on by a few partisans who saw an argument against any abortion exception. "Legitimate" rape was not invented by Todd Akin. It has been a phrase used to describe real rape, the kind involving genuine unwillingness, the kind that caused the secret secretion, the kind that never actually caused pregnancy.
In a way, the entire debate about abortion is an intellectually frustrating exercise. It is nearly impossible to discover a firm position that is not, in some way, absurd. The political reaction for most people is not so much to be for some position on abortion. It is to be against an opposing stand that seems unacceptable. That is one reason the demonizing of opposing viewpoints is a more common method of reasoning than the adoption of a firm stand.
Most controversies are like that to at least some degree.
One of my favorite corrections for conservatives is the myth that liberals are in favor of big government. I don't know anyone who likes big government. I do know a lot of folks who simply don't see it as an issue. The range of human reaction to size and scope of government ranges from extreme antagonism to abject apathy. The closest liberals come to caring for government is seeing some issue for which an avenue of finding a solution is government. Seeing government as a likely solution for a pressing problem involves wanting to solve the problem. If that involves increasing the size, role, and scope of government, some of us simply don't care. That is quite different from the conservative stereotype that holds liberals as salivating in their lust for bigger government.
Similarly, I don't know of anyone who favors abortion. Those who are pro-choice are, for the most part, as reactive against what we don't like as those who are anti-abortion. The separation of rape into distinctive degrees is what unites most Republican elected representatives. Legitimate rape is determined for Todd Akin by lack of pregnancy. This is kind of an abortion Catch 22. If you get pregnant you weren't really raped. For Paul Ryan and almost all Congressional Republicans, the standard is based less on medical myth than philosophical distinction. If a rape is "forcible," an abortion may be allowable in some limited circumstances. Presumably, interrogation of a victim by appropriate authorities will determine whether a rape meets strict qualifications. Did she struggle enough?
The Republican Convention platform, just decided by a committee of delegates in preparation for the quadrennial national convention, is that there are no distinctions. Abortion will be outlawed as a convenience, as a medical necessity, as a life-saving last resort, as an answer to child incest, or rape: whether legitimate or forcible or otherwise. This is the platform to be embraced by Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.
What defines the debate for those most affected is not some philosophical or medically mythical consideration. It is cold practical effect. The propositions of legitimate rape, forcible rape, transvaginal probes, forced viewings of sonograms, and complete prohibitions, complete with prison time for violation, are the natural consequences of a way of looking at the process of life and the role to which women are consigned by the Bible, by law, or by philosophy.
At the moment of conception, ownership of a woman's body, her right to live as she wants, is temporarily given over to a pre-zygote: a cystoblast. Since a fertilized egg cannot properly exercise ownership, ownership will devolve, in loco parentis, to the tender care of whatever judge, or prosecutor, or anti-abortion activist manages to bring the force of law to bear.
Just as liberals are not particularly pro-big government, and pro-choice voters are not particularly pro-abortion, so anti-abortion activists are not particularly motivated by a desire to force women into second class citizenship.
That is simply the best avenue to achieve a worthwhile goal.
A college student has a "new" car. It's all thanks to a Roanoke auto shop.
Jordan Addison is a student at Radford University. Between March and May of this year his car was vandalized four times. Once at his home and three times on-campus.
"The first time there were some homophobic slurs keyed into the side of it," says Addison, "Then the second time I had dye keyed into it."
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The stories were sad and most of the speakers were nervous. They had experienced a helpless frustration that extended to a voiceless impotence in dealing with banks.
Foreclosure in St. Louis remains an epidemic. When people can't afford to remain where they have lived and invested for years, it can represent for them a tragedy that is hard to communicate. But this went beyond that.
One woman talked of losing her employment, taking on a lower paying job to make ends meet. She knew she couldn't afford to continue meeting her obligations. A loan modification seemed a possibility. She had built up a history of on-time payments. A modification was eventually offered, but it reduced an $1100 monthly payment to $1000. That was still over half her income. She had helped raise her grandchildren in the home she loved. But she knew she had to move. She offered to leave right away, was prepared to sign everything over to the bank, in order to prevent actual foreclosure.
The bank would not even discuss it with her. They held things up for months, began proceedings, and foreclosed. The process was expensive, but they had no motivation to take on maintenance sooner, since a sale would not be quick. The unnecessary legal costs were substantial, but they were simply assigned to her, increasing what was already an overwhelming burden. She had no idea of her rights.
Another homeowner managed to scrape together enough financial help from friends and family to pay back every bit of what was owed. In her case, the bank refused to accept payment. Foreclosure had already started. Money in hand, the homeowner was evicted.
The County Council of St. Louis is considering a regulation that would require banks to enter mediation with an eye to preventing foreclosure when a homeowner asks for it. A counselor would be present. Rights would be explained and options sought. But, in the end, no resolution would be required that did not benefit everyone. The cost, to be borne by the banks, would be a few hundred dollars. Compared to the monthly payments involved, this is nominal.
A couple of evenings ago, I listened at a Council hearing on the proposal.
In addition to homeowners, religious leaders testified. They spoke of the frustration of trying to work out arrangements with financial institutions. Phone calls not returned, fleeting conversations with quick promises forgotten by the following day, hostility, obfuscation, fast shuffling, as pastors tried to help congregants find out the right people to talk with.
Counselors spoke, volunteers and professionals alike, working through non-profit organizations. They told of successes during active intervention, combined with sadness at the sheer volume of homeowners they could not help, simply because there was not enough of each counselor to go around.
The stories varied. The constant thread that began to form into a continuous theme was a careless refusal to communicate. Occasionally it took the form of buck passing, sometimes a seemingly deliberate unavailability of key people, doors closed, phones unanswered, messages ignored. The atmosphere as described was a sort of hybrid of apathy and hostility.
It seemed like a clear cut case to passage of the measure. How many ways does something have to be right?
The hearing room was mostly quiet as each speaker was given three minutes. Voices were soft, stories were told haltingly. Attendees strained to hear what was being said.
Then a banking representative spoke. Someone at a control panel noticed something. I could see a minor commotion. A switch was apparently turned and the banker's voice suddenly filled the room, as if the Lord was speaking to Noah. The banker was an angry God.
He began by talking about the costs. The direct expenses of mediation did not seem to attract his attention as much as the more general, bothersome, regulations. A forestalled foreclosure here, a delay there, an additional meeting, the assigning of personnel to shepherd the process would only increase the cost of doing business. That might have some effect on the interest rates on new mortgages, and could even motivate financial institutions to take their business elsewhere.
Although I didn't know it at that moment, he contradicted the later testimony of an expert who had spent years studying the success of similar regulations across the country. As the banker spoke, I was impressed at his familiarity with every nuance of argument. He was well rehearsed. The facts, as he was presenting them, seemed plausible. But it occurred to me that his case, at its core, was about the financial benefits of rank unfairness.
It is cheaper, he seemed to be arguing, to operate without inhibition. It costs less to do business without regulation. Greater efficiency is a benefit of dealing without someone watching. There are savings to be affected if the industry can move in the shadows, and a price to be suffered if banks are moved into the sunlight. It lowers the cost of doing business if homeowners have no voice, if nobody looks, if every individual who is denied the courtesy of an audience with a banking representative becomes a lone cry in the wilderness. If nobody helps, nobody advises, nobody cares, it will save the industry a few dollars. And the banker promises the savings will be passed on to others more fortunate than the one who stands alone.
But the marginal increase in efficiency, the resulting savings, the decrease that the banker promised would be passed along to consumers (he promised with all the sincerity he could muster), was the kind of bargain that, as citizens, we can't afford.
He was making a strong case for the mediation he thought he was arguing against.
But when he made the final closing argument, the entire mood was transformed. His amplified voice thundered as he pointed at the council. The banking industry would not tolerate regulation at the municipal level. That was the word he nearly shouted. Tolerate. He instructed the council to imagine the volume of litigation they were inviting. The resources of the financial industry are an enormity that can scarcely be comprehended. And the focus of that power would be concentrated against them.
It was a startling attempt at blatant intimidation. We must win, he was telling them, because we are bigger, much, much bigger, than you. And it must have been effective. Just sitting in the audience I was intimidated.
I hoped, and I still hope, that as he thundered menacingly at them, the members of that governing body might find the vision to imagine themselves, not as elected representatives, but as individual owners facing that same power and intimidation, alone and friendless and afraid.
The thundering banker with the amplified voice had made the most powerful closing case I could have imagined in favor of the modest proposal the Council is considering.
They will discuss it again next week.
We always thought he was hilarious. This presentation is awesome.
Deep in the frozen tundra of northeastern Siberia, a squirrel buried fruits some 32,000 years ago from a plant that bore white flowers. This winter a team of Russian scientists announced that they had unearthed the fruit and brought tissue from it back to life. The fruits are about 30,000 years older than the Israeli date palm seed that previously held the record as the oldest tissue to give life to healthy plants.
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About a year ago, Israel opened a new hiking and biking pilgrimage trail that became known as the Jesus Trail. The trail approximates travels by Jesus during his ministry. It actually traces two routes, the return route passing different sites. It joins with other paths in a kind of unified tour. It takes about four days to go through the first trail. So it takes a little more than a week to complete the entire journey.
It winds from Nazareth, where Jesus grew up, through Capernaum where he journeyed to begin his ministry. At several points it touches upon the Sea of Galilee. The Sea of Galilee is a large place, and there is no precision in the travels along the Jesus Trail. The body of water is aptly named. It is like a sea. There are no exact places. Still I understand the reverence that attaches. It is the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus walked on the water, where he enlisted the first disciples from fishing boats, near where he preached the Beatitudes.
It is also where Republican Congressional representatives drank and partied into the night, finally skinny-dipping in the waters where Jesus walked. Only one representative says he was naked. Nobody could see him, he said, and he was without clothing only for a short time. So, he dove in, but he didn't inhale.
Others, joining in the general atmosphere of jovial festivity, jumped off the enclosed deck into the waters, some fully clothed, others not so fully. A little too much drinking can do that.
Like many fellow believers, I hold a certain emotional reverence for the paths that Jesus may have traveled, the places he may have preached, the locales of the miracles he performed. I know that the message and the Messiah are transcendent. Time and distance do not dilute either. The places themselves are no more holy or magical than the mysterious artifacts fraudulently invented and sold since medieval times.
What startled me, I suppose, was that the drinking, partying, and skinny dipping in the Sea of Galilee was within a couple of weeks of the artificial budget crisis that nearly sank the U.S. economy.
Many Americans thought that raising the debt ceiling was the same as raising the debt, or that it was some sort of maximum debt level that would allow the debt to be raised at some future point. It wasn't. A misleading name can ... well ... mislead.
"Raising the debt ceiling" simply gave permission to the United States Treasury to pay existing bills. Like payroll, like bullets for the rifles held by Marines in combat, like the salaries of prison guards, like Social Security checks and Medicare benefits.
Republicans, led by many who drank, then partied in the Sea of Galilee, held the nation hostage, demanding their agenda be strictly adhered to before America's obligations could be met.
There is some irony that the incident happened in the place many of us regard as holy - - holy because of the messenger, holy because of the message: That we must love God, that we must love our neighbor every bit as much as we love ourselves, that we must care for those in need, that we must always take care of our own, that all God's children are our own, that all who are part of humanity are children of God.
The irony is the militancy and rejoicing some take in slashing help for those whom Jesus embraces, cutting lose those who need a hand up, denigrating those who have fallen at the side of the road. The Good Samaritan might have been welcomed at that wild celebration. The victim he took in might not have been. No bootstraps.
To me the incident is iconic. We who follow the Prince of Peace walk the Jesus Trail, uncertain of how close we might travel to the path our Savior walks. And sometimes, we defile the waters of our spiritual baptism. In this, we are all, at one point or another, freshman Republicans partying in the Sea of Galilee.