Saturday, August 29, 2009

Conservatives Should Give Up on Christianity

I've always been surprised that more conservatives don't convert to some sort of "Looking Out for Number One"--"God Wants You To Make Tons of Money"--"Screw People Over As Much as You Can"--"Torture Anybody You Please"--kind of religion.

Wait a minute. That's what conservatives have made of Christianity.

But Jesus objects.

Even an atheist like myself can see from the New Testament that Jesus and the authors of the New Testament gospels had enormous contempt for the wealthy and powerful and he hated the Pharisees mostly because he saw them as self-righteous pricks.

People like James Dobson.

Jesus thought of the poor as blessed and headed for heaven. In the Luke version of the Sermon on the Mount from Luke 6:20-24, Jesus proclaims "Blessed be ye poor for yours is the kingdom of God." That sounds nice and well-intentioned. But it's also part of the core of Jesus' theology. The poor are "blessed" and are saved whether they believe in Jesus or not because the human condition of being poor, abused, deprived, and suffering prefigures the sacrifice of Jesus himself. In other words, the poor are like Jesus while the wealthy and powerful are cursed and condemned to eternal suffering because they're a lot like the people who end up crucifying Jesus. Also in Luke 6:2024: "But woe unto you that are rich! For ye have received your consolation. (quotes from King James Version)

But where Jesus really nails the analogy between the poor and suffering and himself was in Matthew 25:31-46. I'll quote this at length.
"Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of these my brethren, even these least, ye did it unto me. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry, and ye did not give me to eat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me not in; naked, and ye clothed me not; sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer, saying, Lord, when saw we thee hungry, or a thirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not unto one of these least, ye did it not unto me. And these shall go away into eternal punishment: but the righteous into eternal life."
Jesus is already in those who are hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, imprisoned, and living in strange lands. That's why those who minister to the "truly disadvantaged" are blessed and welcome in heavy and those who refuse aid are damned and "shall go away into eternal punishment."

What the religious right is doing in the health care debate is "refusing aid" to the working poor, uninsured people, and illegal immigrants in the United States who need help assistance the most. People on the right could say that they just don't want "government" to provide that aid. Given the ferociousness with which Jesus damns those who refuse such aid, it's hard to imagine that he would accept such a lame excuse.

That's why it's hard for me to see why conservatives remain Christians. Who would want to be part of a religion that condemns people like themselves to eternal punishment?

An End to State Funerals

I have to admit that I just hate the kind of "state funeral" that's been mounted for Ted Kennedy today. The monumentality of the wrongfulness and absurdity of this kind of event is beyond my literary ability to conceive and describe. But let's call it depressing, ugly, morally sick, bad democratic theory, bad politics, and bad history for starters.

A state funeral is also a horrifying way to honor Ted Kennedy's real accomplishments.
For the purposes of this post, I'm just going to stick with emphasizing the depressing character of it all though.

Starting with the church in the above picture--the "Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help." In the picture taken from the high angle, the basilica itself looks like a tomb just as much as Ted Kennedy's casket. I'm not a religious person and have not been in a church for a religous purpose for 34 years. But I know enough church language to know that the room where the service was being held is called a "sanctuary." At Kennedy's funeral, the sanctuary looks like a mass grave and the participants look like they're already dead but still under the illusion that they're alive. What happens when Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and the Clintons leave the basilica. Are they going to spring back to life? I doubt it. There are enough images in our culture of the dead having a kind of life as vampires, werewolves, the undead, or whatever Bruce Willis was in the "Sixth Sense" that we can't really tell who's living and dead anymore. The people at Ted Kennedy's funeral look like they're already navigating the line of being dead but not really knowing it.
The effect of living death is enhanced by the fact that the men at Ted Kennedy's funeral are dressed almost uniformly in shades of blue and charcoal-gray. The surface thought is that the "somber" colors are appropriate for a funeral and don't have any significance beyond that. But the thought is mistaken. These are the suits that elite men wear every day of their working lives. What the suits represent in the basilica is what they represent at the White House, in Congress, in business, and in the media. And what they look like to me is little blue and gray caskets for the ashen-faced men within them. Like Diogenes carrying around his coffin with him, all of the important men at the funeral look like they're encased in coffins. But where Diogenes was joking (at least I think he was), the men at Ted Kennedy's funeral look like they live their "undeath" every day. Or maybe they view their everyday lives as an on-going funeral.
What makes this depressing is to think that these men (and women) are the cream of "our" elite, the Democratic, liberal, progressive, socially conscious, rational, caring, thoughtful elite, and that they are just as much the undead as the Dick Cheney's and Rupert Murdoch's of the world. Even if Barack Obama isn't as fully committed to being a war criminal as Dick Cheney, he's still cut from the same blue and grey cloth, still pulled to the undead existence that characterizes the elite, and still pulling the rest of us into the sphere of the undead ourselves.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Broncos: The Path Down Loser Road

The Denver Broncos appear to have given up on playing Pro Bowlers. Quarterback Jay Cutler got out of town as soon as his little legs would carry him after new head coach Josh Marshall tried to trade him. Evidently, Cutler didn't like the idea of being dangled as trade bait after his first Pro Bowl. Now, they've suspended Brandon Marshall and his 206 catches over the last two years for being vocal about his desire to be traded as well.

Actually, I'm not sure that's right. Now that new head coach Josh McDaniel has introduced the "New England Way" of not giving a damn about players, it might be that the Broncos have decided to eliminate all of their professional football players--not just the Pro Bowlers.

Hmm, maybe I should call them and see if I can get a tryout.

Unfortunate About Billy Gillispie

I was disappointed to see that former UK coach Billy Gillispie was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving a couple of days ago.
Lawrenceburg Police said Gillispie was driving a white 2009 Mercedes with Texas
tags around 2:45 a.m. on US 127 when a call went in to 9-1-1 reported seeing the the car driving erratically. Gillispie was arrested and charged with DUI. In Gillispie's arrest report, the arresting officer stated that Gillispie "had a strong fruity smell coming from his person (possibly wine) and had red glassy eyes and slow slurred speech."

What's unfortunate here is the possibility that Gillispie is slipping into alcoholism after being fired from the UK job. From the minute Billy Gillispie arrived in Lexington, KY, there have been rumors about him being such a bad alcoholic that he was booted out of bars and had to be driven everywhere. I'm not in position to either confirm or disconfirm those rumors and I've certainly ridiculed Gillispie for his cluelessness as a basketball coach.

But still, I don't like the thought that he might be deteriorating at this point. Now that Gillispie has no job, it's likely that he has lots of money and lots of time on his hands. If he indeed does have alcohol problems, that's not a good combination.

A Weak Nostalgia Moment

I have to admit it. I finally gave in to Woodstock nostalgia and caught Joni Mitchell singing "Woodstock" on YouTube. I'm "weak, weak, weak."

Great tune though. Surprised that Joni Mitchell was ever that young though.

Even Bigger Banks and the Coming of Finance Socialism

According to David Cho of the Washington Post, big banks like Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo have become considerably bigger as a result of last year's financial meltdown.

J.P. Morgan Chase, an amalgam of some of Wass Street's most storied institutions, now holds more than $1 of every $10 on deposit in this country. So does Bank of America, scarred by its acquisition of Merrill Lynch and partly government-owned as a result of the crisis, as does Wells Fargo, the biggest West Coast bank. Those three banks, plus government-rescued and -owned Citigroup, now issue of of every two mortgages and about two of every three credit cards, federal data show.

A year after the near-collapse of the financial system last September, the federal response has redefined how Americans get mortgages, student loans and other kinds of credit and has made a national spectacle of executive pay. But no consequence of the crisis alarms top regulators more than having banks that were already too big to fail grow even larger and more interconnected.

It almost goes without saying that a higher level of concentration in the banking industry means that the next financial meltdown is going to be even worse--much worse. The Obama administration and the Federal Reserve Board were able to get through the last crisis because there was some margin for error. When BearStearns went belly-up, it could be absorbed by Morgan Stanley. The same with Merrill Lynch being absorbed by the Bank of America.

But there not going to be any Plan B for failed big banks next time. Last year, the "big banks" were "too big to fail." Next time, the even bigger big banks will be "too big to save" within the framework of private corporations. Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo are plenty big, but they're not big enough to absorb teetering monstrosities the size of Citigroup or Bank of America. The only answer to the failure of "bigger big banks" will be to nationalize them.

Whether we like it or not, "finance socialism" has almost arrived.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Note on Ted Kennedy

I've always been very ambivalent about Ted Kennedy and remain so after his death. The negative is hard to shake off. The booze, the womanizing, the hard partying late into his 50's, the death of Mary Jo Kopechne, and the William Kennedy Smith rape case all created an impression of profligacy and waste that can't be forgotten. Kennedy had a lot of embarrassing moments as a politician as well. When Kennedy ran for president in 1979, he couldn't come up with a coherent question to Roger Mudd (then of CBS News) when Mudd asked Kennedy why he was running for president. Kennedy's last two speeches to the Democratic Convention have been painful to watch as well. If George W. Bush wasted his inheritance, the story of Ted Kennedy's life can be seen as wasting a much bigger inheritance.

But I also view Ted Kennedy as a story of personal redemption. After the William Kennedy Smith case in 1991, Kennedy seemed to realize that he was blowing all his opportunities and really became the outstanding senator everybody's now saying he was. That says something very positive about Kennedy's character as a human being and his devotion to the causes of poverty, health reform, education, and immigration reform. Swimming against the conservative tide of the 1990's and early 2000's was tough but Kennedy proved to be more than up to the task. My own opinion is that Ted Kennedy could only come into his own as a political figure after the politics of the 1960's had played out and the era of the Kennedy family's Camelot was completely dead.

The early 1960's was a high tide of political liberalism in the United States and first John and then Bobby Kennedy rode that wave for all it was worth. But Ted Kennedy couldn't show his virtues to their fullest extent until the conservatives took over and started to roll back the Great Society, the Warren Court, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the safety net, abortion rights, and the rights of criminal suspects. Ted Kennedy was at his best in fighting a rearguard action on behalf of the liberal accomplishments of the post-WWII era and pushing a liberal agenda forward despite the prevailing winds of conservativism.

But events move quickly and Ted Kennedy had already become a man of the past even before he was diagnosed with brain cancer. The time for rearguard actions on behalf of liberalism is over and progressive America is looking at an opportunity to advance "the general welfare" rather than just protecting the country against the right. As full of faults as they are, Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Dick Durbin, Joe Biden, and Hillary Clinton are the men and women of this moment. We need to ensure that they get it right.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Does the GOP Have Much Choice But To Oppose Health Reform

Digby claims that Congress actually might pass a decent health reform bill because the GOP refused to give them cover for legislation loaded with corporate goodies. The moderates and Blue Dogs wanted compromise but the Republicans wouldn't budge.
The sell-outs are almost begging the Republicans to help them pass the terrible,
insurance company giveaway bill they want so badly --- and the Republicans just
won't cooperate.

I believe the Democrats are going to get health reform enacted with a "public option" that will serve as competition for the insurance companies. But I don't think the Republicans ultimately had any practical option but refusal to cooperate. The conservative activist core has gone teabagger and they're carrying Republican politicians with them. Any Republican senator or House member who defies the conservative consensus is going to be in trouble. It's easier for senators like Charles Grassley of Iowa to toe the line and pass out Glenn Beck books to the yahoos than compromise with Obama. That's why Grassley indicated that he wouldn't vote for health reform even if the Dems gave him everything he wanted.

If the Democrats want to govern, they'll have to govern without the cooperation of the Republicans on health care or any other issue of substance.

And, like Digby, I don't think that's such a bad thing.

Rudy Giuliani and His Skeletons for Governor

Former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani is thinking about running for governor of New York and is planning on running a classic whistle-stop railroad campaign on Amtrak. Of course, Giuliani will need the full train to carry all the closets with all the skeletons that accompany him wherever he goes. He'll also need somebody to guard his wife while she walks the dog.

I'm all for a Rudy Giuliani gubernatorial campaign. Rudy needs to be in a higher office before my dream of an American Idol type show entitled "Rudy's Next Mistress" can become a reality.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The First Four Theses Against Progressives

Talk about being fed up--the big names of the journalistic left have been firing at the Obama administration with everything they have. Paul Krugman, Glenn Greenwald, Frank Rich, and Digby all speak with one mouth even as they condemn President Obama's approach to health reform. Obama's "weak" and getting "rolled" by the blue dogs and their corporate allies. Obama's betraying progressives on health reform the same way he betrayed progresives on the financial bailout and secrecy. Obama's going to abandon the "public option" and turn health reform into a bonanza for the health insurance companies. Obama's betraying the "progressive base" that drove him to victory over Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries and John McCain in the general election. Finally, progressives condemn Obama for losing the initiative because he's not as ideological and partisan as they are.

Actually, I should say as partisan as "we are." I count myself as a progressive blogger, read the better-known progressive bloggers, and admire their smarts, passion, and talent. I also agree with them on most issues. Like Greenwald, I'm disappointed that Obama has maintained most of the secrecy policies of the Bush administration. Not unlike Krugman, I think the bank bailout is a set-up for the next financial crisis, and want to see Obama aggressively employ the tax system to reduce wealth differentials. Yesterday, I blogged yet again about the criminal culpability of Dick Cheney and the other major figures of the Bush administration. I also want to see socialized medicine in the United States just as much as Dennis Kucinich or anybody else on the left.

But I'm also starting to think that progressive commentators are way off base about the Obama administration. Worse, there are certain ways in which the progressive commentariat is making it more rather than less difficult to enact fundamental health reform.

In other words, I'm starting to get fed up with some of the rigid ways in which progressives are fed up with Obama.

Here's my four theses on progressives.

1. Progressives Are Not "the Base." The Democratic Party has a diverse voting base among largely white progressives, African-Americans, Hispanics, gays, and union members. Those progressives who view themselves as "the" Democratic base are deluding themselves. Obama won the nomination primarily by appealing to moderate and conservative Democrats in caucus states. Obama won the election because he was able to keep moderate and conservative Dems in the fold while appealing to independents. Progressive Democrats may have been necessary to Obama's victory, but other Democratic constituencies were even more necessary. Just like the Republicans, Democratic progressives have a hard time internalizing the extent to which minority support was crucial to Obama's victory.

2. Progressives are One-Trick Ponies. Progressives are primarily playing the defensive role of maintaining the “public option” as part of Obama's proposals. That means attacking the Obama administration, Max Baucus, Ben Nelson, the Blue Dogs, Tom Daschle, the mainstream media and anybody on the Democratic side who's wavering on the public option. By they're so focused on that one point that progressives are doing very little if anything to actually promote the public option concept to the broader American public. Maybe I'm missing something, but I find almost nothing in TPM, HuffPost, or other progressive outlets about how the public option would work, what kind of federal agency would be set up, why (beyond "it won't need to make a profit") the public option would drive down costs, and why the public option doesn't necessarily lead to "socialized medicine." The Obama people have tried to discuss the public option, but their ideas are falling on deaf ears in the progressive as well as the mainstream media.

3. Progressives keep the health care debate "white." Outside the Obama people and the Congressional leadership of both parties, the three main poles of debate are the right, the Blue Dogs, and progressives. Outside that one guy with the AR 15 in Phoenix, the right is monolithically white; the Blue Dogs even more so. Needless to say, progressives aren't that white. Bob Herbert, Eugene Robinson, and Clarence Page come to mind as well-known op-ed writers who are progressives. Pam Spaulding of "Pam's House Blend" also gets considerable play on the big progressive blogs. But the fact is that African-American, Hispanic, and gay perspectives only have token representation (if that) in the progressive media and there are times when I think the progressive media is about as interested in minority views and interests as George Bush was interested in astro-physics. The health care debate has become a debate among the white population and the progressive media bears significant responsibility for keeping the health care debate "white."

4. The Progressive Media Has No Self-Awareness. It almost goes without saying that progressive outlets like Media Matters, ThinkProgress, HuffPost, and TPM are saturated with media criticism. This is so much the case that well-traveled media figures like Chuck Todd and Jake Tapper are probably better known in some progressive households than in their own. But the progressive media shows almost no awareness of its own growing impact. There's no little or no analysis in the progressive media of its general significance as a media voice, it's impact on specific issues like health care or torture, which progressive outlets have preponderant influence, or what influence the progressive media has on the mainstream media, the Obama administration, and the Congressional Democrats. In other words, the progressive media shows almost no self-awareness. By comparison, conservative media shows like Limbaugh's and Hannity's are bastions of self-understanding.

My Last Cookies at Root-A-Baker's

Driving by Root-A-Baker's bakery on Rt 32 (the "Connector" in Morehead-ese), I saw that they had a sign in their yard saying "THIS PIECE OF THE NATION/IS STILL UNDER GOD."

Root-A-Baker's is an excellent bakery and Mrs. RSI and I have patronized them for years.

They're nice people too.

However, as far as I'm concerned, the yard sign was an announcement that "WE'RE A RELIGIOUS RIGHT BUSINESS AND WE'RE MAKING OUR CONSERVATIVE AFFILIATION PART OF OUR ADVERTISING."

They're also saying that people who don't share their politics can't be "Under God."

Of course, the Root-A-Baker's ownership has every right to announce their political affiliations and promote their political views.

But I have rights to political expression as well, and I'm going to exercise my rights by refusing to buy cookies, cinnamon rolls, and birthday cakes from Root-A-Baker's as long as they're a right-wing business.

And I'll urge my friends and colleagues to do the same.

All that sweet stuff probably isn't good for us anyway.