Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Obama Announces Iraq Pull-Out

See the full text and video of his speech here.

This is not everything a Christian pacifist and nonviolent activist like myself could want, but it is a GREAT step in the right direction.  He has adjusted the timeline:  “Combat” troops out by August 2010; Residual force (mostly for training Iraqis) of 30-50,000 (seems large); ALL troops out by 2011–respecting the Status of Forces Agreement Bush made with Iraq.  We’ve been in Iraq WAAAAY too long and if we in the peace movement can put pressure into stepping up the pace, we should.  But ALL troops out is more than Obama would commit to as a candidate. 

Some on the left and some peace folk are purists who are never satisfied when politicians make good steps.  Others are “true believers” who never want to criticize their leader.  I think both stances are a mistake.  I have criticisms to make, but I want us to notice the good and celebrate it first:

  • Obama was against the  invasion of Iraq from the beginning. This is important to note because this marks a first in U.S. history: The very first time that a principled opponent of a particular war was elected president WHILE THAT WAR WAS STILL ONGOING–and while campaigning to end it.
  • The economic crisis (recession, depression–who knows) helps him work to end it–we simply cannot afford this war any longer.
  • The phase out will involve the United Nations and the surrounding countries–a huge change from Bush’s “go  it alone” policies. 
  • Honoring the SOFU with Iraq,  honoring Iraqi sovereignty, is a major step in rebuilding our compliance with international law.
  • Obama’s withdrawal timetable now has the support of McCain and other Republicans!  I know, this surprised me, too, especially since McCain spent the entire general election campaign last year calling Obama “naive” on foreign policy and suggesting that he wouldn’t care if we were in Iraq 100 years!  But this bi-partisan support–even if the number of GOP supporters is few–will make it harder for the rightwing hawks (in and out of the military) to pressure Obama into slowing down the withdrawal or stopping it–or make political hay out of his keeping this campaign pledge.
  • On the other hand, both Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV)  are expressing concern about the number of residual troops in Iraq and the speed of withdrawal.  This is also good news on several levels:  It shows Congress reasserting itself as a separate and EQUAL branch of government again (per the Constitution, remember?) even with the same party in charge of both houses of Congress and the presidency.  It also gives us allies in pushing for quicker, more complete withdrawal.  (Pelosi noted in that interview that the House voted to end the Iraq war repeatedly in ’07 and ’08, but a timetable got out of the Senate only once and Bush vetoed it.  She did not say why she then kept impeachment off the table–since that could have ended the war sooner.)


Now for the major criticism:  As we are winding down Iraq, we are increasing troops in Afghanistan–and without much national or Congressional debate, with no timeline, no clearly defined mission.  I have mentioned before that I believe Afghanistan could be for Obama what Vietnam was for LBJ–the Achilles’ heal that undoes much  of the good he tries to do domestically.   We need to Get Afghanistan Right! and that means recognizing that there is no military solution–even if there theoretically was one when Bush largely abandoned Afghanistan to invade Iraq–a nation uninvolved with al-Qaeda or 9/11 and which was no threat to us! 

Watch the video, sign the petition, and contact your members of Congress to Rethink Afghanistan!  New polling suggests that the American people want to find a way out of Afghanistan, too–certainly by 2012 at the very latest.

Meanwhile, Paul Rieckhoff of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), points out that the country needs to get ready for the return of these vets. We already have too many homeless and jobless vets and these returning soldiers will be coming back into the worst economy in decades.  We aren’t prepared for their return and MUST get that way, quickly.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is heading to the Middle East next week to begin work on peace in the region and between Palestine and Israel particularly.  It  is my hope that she lays the groundwork for a full Middle East Peace Summit by July–with full participation by the Arab League, the EU, the UN, the US, etc.–and with Pres. Obama front and center in this process. (A July date gives time for planning, is during Congressional recess so Obama can’t work on more of his domestic challenges just then, and is hopefully soon enough that the hawks of the new Israeli cabinet will not be able to sabatouge things.  Hawks from other groups, like Hamas and Hezbollah, however don’t seem to operate on a predictable timetablee.  Much to pray about here!)

Overall, these are positive developments. Now, as peacemakers and persons of faith, let’s do our part to keep things moving in these directions.

February 27, 2009 Posted by | Afghanistan, foreign policy, Iraq, Israel-Palestine, just peacemaking | 20 Comments

Were Modern GOP Politicians EVER “Fiscally Responsible?”

O.K., I keep wanting to blog about broader religious ethics things, but the news keeps me coming back to the political–especially because I feel an obligation to set the record straight when the talking heads and the “conventional wisdom” is simply dead wrong.  The new GOP talking point is to admit that they were spendthrifts under Bush but claim this as a kind of “temporary insanity” as they get in touch now with their inner deficit hawks.  This plea is receiving more of a sympathetic ear from the mainstream media than it should because the huge GOP megaphone and echo chamber since Reagan has led this to become conventional wisdom: Democrats are tax and spend liberals who run up huge budget deficits while saddling the average taxpayer with an incredible tax burden. This leads to poor economies and “generational theft” as our children and grandchildren have to pay for these bad actions.  Republicans, meanwhile, generate more revenue by tax cuts that increase productivity and income for all. They couple this with cuts to wasteful spending that shrinks bloated government bureacracies and leads to balanced budgets.

That’s the conventional wisdom.  The GOP then explains the last eight (8) years by saying that George W. Bush wasn’t a true conservative (???!!!!) and did grow government with wasteful spending and the GOP-led Congress went along out of misplaced loyalty in the aftermath of 9/11 and patriotic loyalty.  They now repent and are working against the evil tax and spend liberal/socialist Obama who is prolonging a simple downturn in the business cycle by returning to the horrible Keynesian economics of the failed New Deal.  If the U.S. citizens will only trust them with power, again, they will save the country by returning to the low-tax, high-income, small government, balanced budget, no debt years of Saint Ronald Reagan.


In the chart below (from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office) you see budget deficits and surpluses in various presidential terms from Jimmy Carter through 2006 of George W. Bush.  Notice how tiny the budget deficit was under Carter.  Carter was a budget hawk who inherited a recession caused by the end of the Vietnam War. (Because the huge size of federal spending during WWII led to the end of the Great Depression, many people think wars are generally good for economies.  The opposite is the case: recession usually follows war.) Although he created the Departments of Education and Energy, Carter watched every dime of federal money–and broke his campaign promise to work for universal healthcare because he thought the country couldn’t afford it.

Reagan ran huge deficits every year of his presidency, mostly because of his giant military spending.  He did cut many social programs, but nowhere near enough to shrink government.  And his huge tax cuts were followed by tax increases–those are the years when his deficits go down some.  The first George Bush was right back when he campaigned against Reagan in the 1980 GOP primary:  “Trickle down” Reaganomics really is “voodoo economics.”  It didn’t work–and the end of infrastructure improvements and revenue sharing between the federal government and the states led to the disastrous state of our current infrastructure.  But Bush I had to embrace Reaganomics when he wanted to be president in 1988–thus  his infamous “Read my lips, no new taxes” pledge.  Gulf War I led to a recession, coupled with the Savings and Loan scandal and bailout and Bush I had to break that pledge and raise taxes–which probably shortened the recession even though it cost him his presidency.  Clinton inherited a recession, raised taxes on the wealthy, shrank the government, and, over 8 years took the government from record deficits to huge budget surpluses.  George W. Bush inherited that surplus blew it by huge tax cuts, mostly on the rich. Then, he spent like a drunken sailor on Gulf War II  and occupation (with a 2nd round of tax cuts, even more skewed to the upper 1%), plus the poorly written Senior Drug Benefit which ended up being an insurance giveaway.  That led directly to the the horrid deficits which Obama inherited–along with a total financial meltdown due to rampant deregulation and a culture of greed.budgetdeficitorsurplus


Republican fiscal irresponsibility is not recent.  They talk a good game of fiscal responsibility, but their record is horrendous.  In fact, studies have shown that tax cuts have seldom shrank government at all–just led to revenue losses which had to be made up by bigger tax increases down the road.  Let us remember, too, that while Congressional Democrats were trying to restore “pay as you go” rules into the budgets in ’07 and ’08, the same Republicans that are now worrying about the deficit were then claiming that “deficits don’t matter.”  (Of course, they also claimed that there would be no more downturns in the market and that they had created a “permanent Republican majority.”)

I am not saying that high taxes cannot be bad for both individuals and an economy as a whole.  Progressive taxation has to be well thought out and take context into account:–there’s a reason that Obama is letting the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy expire in 2011 rather than repealing them now–namely, that he hopes the recession will be over then.

Nor am I saying that all Democrats are economic geniuses and all Republicans economic idiots.  Nor that everything is perfect (far from it!) with Obama’s stimulus package and first proposed budget.  There is plenty of room for constructive criticism–and not just from the left as I tend to give it.  If the GOP have truly workable alternatives, they should propose them. 

But the following claims are simply false:

  • Tax cuts are always good for the economy. (In recessions, tax cuts tend to be saved and so do little to stimulate the economy.)
  • Cutting taxes for the wealthy benefits everyone because it creates wealth that “trickles down” to everyone else. (Income inequality has grown by leaps and bounds since 1981. Some economists have compared it to having every middle class taxpayer hand over $10,oo0 per year to the wealthiest 1%–redistributing wealth upwards.)
  • Government spending is inherently wasteful.
  • Government spending never creates jobs.
  • Republicans are more fiscally conservative than Democrats.
  • Deficit spending is always bad.  (Every business knows that it needs to go in debt from time to time to retool or to invest in improvements that will increase profits down the road. Likewise, nations sometimes need deficit investment in jobs, infrastructure, education, energy, the environment, etc.)  It IS true that deficits should be monitored and not allowed to get too big for too long.  During recessions or depressions, when government must go deeper into the red in order to restart the economy, it should also take steps via the tax code or other mechanisms to be able to quickly reduce the deficit once recovery begins.

February 27, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Sean Hannity Advocates Treason

UPDATE: More rightwing incitement to violence.  At the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC–the movement conservatives that basically run the Republican Party), Samuel Wurzelburger, a.k.a., “Joe-the-Plumber” (who isn’t a licensed plumber, doesn’t pay his taxes, and doesn’t make anywhere NEAR enough $ to buy his own plumbing business as he told Obama and McCain on the campaign trail last Fall) believes some members of Congress should be shot!  And this came only a day after former Bush Ambassador to the United Nations (a recess appointment because he couldn’t be confirmed by the U.S. Senate) came to the same CPAC conference and joked that Obama would take the “Iranian threat” more seriously if Chicago was nuked!  The violent wingnuts have completely taken over the Republican Party!  This is the party of Lincoln? Of Teddy Roosevelt (who took on monopolies and big business)? Of Eisenhower? of Harold Stassen? Chuck Hagel? Mark Hatfield?  Good Grief! These nutjobs would freak out the likes of former Justice Sandra Day O’ Connor or even Barry Goldwater!  I wonder if they’d even freak out Nixon!

I have to admit that several times during the last 8 Bushyears, I wished there was a NONVIOLENT revolution in this country to restore the Constitution.  After all, Bush  was SELECTED by a Supreme Court (with several justices appointed by his father) after losing the popular vote AND the voter suppression and fraud in Florida (where his brother was governor). He was never legitimately elected president.  And, in ’04, although he narrowly won the popular vote, there was widespread voter fraud and intimidation in Ohio (with Ken Blackwell as OH Sec of State). So, both Bush “elections” were narrowly stolen. But these were daydreams.  A nonviolent movement to stop the war and end torture would have been nice, though. (We still need one to keep pushing Obama on the same issues. All politicians tend to backslide and Obama has shown the usual Democratic tendency to worry more about his right flank than his left. )

So, I get it if Republicans are freaked by Obama’s (legitimate, not even close) win. I understand their feelings that their nation has disappeared–I felt the same way.  But Fox Noise nutjob Sean Hannity has gone too far. His website is now actively advocating treason and insurrection.  I believe in Freedom of the Press, but shouldn’t the FBI be investigating him for inciting treason?

Hannity’s website has a new poll asking “What kind of revolution” his fans prefer: a military coup, armed rebellion, or war for succession?  See the evidence here

There has been a problem with Rightwing talk radio and tv for some time inciting violence against those with whom they disagree.  Michael Savage has repeatedly advocated violence against Muslims–without even an FCC warning.  Last Spring, Rush Limbaugh (who now wants a summit on why women hate him!), urged McCain supporters to start riots at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, CO–but backed off when threatened with legal action by the mayor of Denver and the governor of Colorado.

But this is beyond any limits of loyal opposition. This is advocating the violent overthrow of the U.S. government–which is treason by definition. 

Call the FBI and the FCC to complain. Then find Hannity’s advertsiers and urge them to drop him.  It’s time to stop the free reign of rightwing hatespeech–especially when it incites to violence and now, outright treason.

February 26, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 10 Comments

Book Review: We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land

peace-in-holy-land2Jimmy Carter, We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land:  A Plan That Will Work. Simon and Schuster, 2009.


Full disclosure: 1. Jimmy Carter is one of my heroes. I voted for him when I turned 18 and took his loss to a B-grade movie actor almost as hard as he did.  2. Like Carter, I have a deep passion for a lasting peace between Israel and Palestine–a just peace.

Those biases do not blind me, however.  I recognize that Carter was only an average president (you have to win reelection to have a chance at being a great president, even though second terms are usually much rougher than first ones).  Since his good diplomatic skills abroad were not matched with an ability to get even his own party to cooperate domestically, perhaps Carter would have made a better Secretary of State than president.  Even his human rights policy wasn’t perfect–if he hadn’t backed the Shah, perhaps the Iranian revolution would not have turned in an anti-Western direction and history would have been very different.  Carter’s great record in his post-presidency cannot make up for the average job he did as president.

I also know that the odds are stacked against a Middle East peace deal.  In fact, the odds have been getting worse since 2001:  After the collapse of the Clinton-backed talks, Ariel Sharon deliberately provoked the Second (more violent) Intifada and Arafat and the Palestinians played right into that.  Whereas the first Intifada had been led by a nonviolent wing (allthough the Western media focused on those, like the stone throwing youths, who broke nonviolent discipline), the 2nd Intifada centered on suicide bombers–many of them women!  Then came the Likud election of Netanyahu and then Sharon and things got continually bloodier while Bush didn’t care.  Then came the re-occupation of the West Bank, Arafat a prisoner in his own compound, civilian deaths skyrocketed and the suicide bombings increased.  Then Israel built its “security fence,” a huge wall that ate up miles of Palestinian land and turned large sections of the West Bank into giant  open air prisons.  Plus the constant bulldozing of Palestinian homes. Then, after Arafat’s death, the Palestinians became frustrated with a weakened Fatah in charge of the Palestinian Authority and elected Hamas–which led to an ever worse situation. Civil war broke out in the Territories and Fatah claimed the West Bank and Hamas got Gaza.  The Hamas rocket attacks (even if mostly missing any targets) were designed to provoke a disproportionate response and they succeeded–With the Israeli total war against Gaza.  Just when things seem like they can’t get any worse, Israeli politics takes a sharp turn to the FAR Right. For although the Kamida Party won the most votes, they don’t have enough to form a government, not even in coalition with Labor.  So, Netanyahu and Likud will return to power in coalition with rightwingers so extreme (like Avigdor Liebermann) that even the ISRAELI press likens them to “Jewish fascists.” In such a context, can any peace plan be realistic?

When Carter promoted his book and plan on MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show (my favorite cable news program, hosted by the only out-lesbian in U.S. broadcast journalism–a young Rhodes scholar with a D.Phil. in political science from Oxford and a veteran of the liberal radio network, Air America–and a quirky sense of humor), Maddow asked him if the (then-upcoming) Israeli elections would make a difference in the chances for peace.  He said that the particular cabinet would mean more, although he was clear that a Likud victory would be a setback.  But Carter puts his hope in several facts which give us a window (but narrow one) for a lasting peace:

  • Despite all the negative events and crimes on both sides, vast majorities on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide (upward of 80%) still favor a two-state peace solution.  No matter who is in power in either side, those numbers MUST push them to peace–especially if the U.S. and Europe prods them.
  • The basic shape of a successful, lasting peace deal has been agreed to IN PRINCIPLE by all parties since the late ’70s:  The Israel-Palestine borders return to the pre-1967 ones (these are the only borders that have been recognized by international law); Israel removes the Jewish settlements from Palestine and either removes the wall or moves it BACK to the border, NOT cutting off any Palestinian land; Palestine is an unarmed state except for police/security forces; Palestine gets a seaport; Jerusalem is a shared city.  These are agreed to by ALL the major parties–the question is how to get there.
  • A major sticking point is the problem of the Jewish settlers in the West Bank.  Carter suggests removing only about 85% of them, leaving the settlements just outside Jerusalem. IN RETURN, Israel would trade Palestine an equal amount of land, acre by acre, to create a corridor that connects the West Bank and Gaza, making Palestine a far more viable nation state.
  • Another major sticking point is the “right of return.” When Israel was founded in 1948, and again during the 1967 war, thousands of Palestinians lost their homes–some of which had been owned for 2000 years. Under international law, such refugees and their descendants are entitled to return to those homes.  But if ALL the Palestinians returned to homes in Israel, they would outnumber Jewish Israelis, making a Jewish state impossible.  Carter suggests that Palestine could accept in its borders the majority of returnees. Others could be compensated monetarily for lost homes.
  • A solution of this kind has been proposed for years.  A few years  ago, the Arab League sweetened the deal for Israel:  IF they would agree to such a two-state peace, then EVERY MEMBER of the Arab League would not only recognize Israel’s right to exist, but cease harboring pro-Palestinian terrorist groups and open FULL DIPLOMATIC relations with Israel. This is something Israel has wanted for over 50 years: It would greatly strengthen its security and economy. To date, only Egypt and Jordan, out of the Arab League, recognize Israel–and the recent Gaza war has led many in their publics to call for cutting off these diplomatic ties.
  • There are Arabic citizens of Israel, not just in Palestine.  Because Israel’s birthrate is  low and Diaspora Jews no longer are moving to Israel, the high-birth Arab Israelis are threatening to soon outnumber the Jewish Israelis.  This would be sped up considerably if Israel simply tried to annex the Palestinian territories. This would mean the death of a Jewish state.  This demographic clock (which all in Israel know about) pushes even the most hawkish Israeli to try to find a peaceful two state solution before it runs out and demographics destroy the Israeli experiment as 50 plus years of war never could.
  • There is also a clock for Palestine: the desperation and despair of the youth.  The rise in suicide bombings  is a sign of a lack of hope for the future.  Between the settlements and the Israeli army, Palestine could soon find it impossible to HAVE a viable state.
  • The Obama administration, unlike the Bush administration, is very interested in a two-state peace.  Obama did not reveal just HOW MUCH he was interested in this until after the election. During the campaign he said far more about the imperative of U.S. protection of Israel than  he ever did about the rights of Palestinians.  It is now clear that he was keeping the pro-Israel Right from using his concern for a Middle East peace as a “wedge issue” to win the election and put the hawkish McCain in the White House.  But since the election, and even more since inauguration, Obama has signalled that U.S.-Israeli-Palestinian relations are changing:  He placed his first presidential overseas phone call to the head of the Palestinian Authority. He appointed George Mitchell as special envoy for Middle East peace. (Mitchell, a former U. S. Senator, was instrumental in negotiating peace in Northern Ireland. He also has street cred with both Palestinians and Israelis.) Obama has warned Israel against more Jewish settlements in the territories–even threatening to cut off U.S. military support.

So, while making peace in the Holy Land will be hard, it is not impossible.  Carter’s book is a step-by-step plan to get it done and he has been advising Obama on this since the election.  And Carter, we remember, negotiated the 1978 Camp David Accords which led directly to the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty– not one line of which has ever been violated. 

It seems to me that the level of distrust between Palestinians and Israelis is the major obstacle to peace–and requires outside intervention.  The U.S. must be a major player not because of any U.S. peace virtues (if we even HAVE any) but because we are the one nation Israel CANNOT ignore–they depend heavily upon us for economic and military support.  The European Union and the Arab League must be deeply involved because Palestinians need them.

Like Carter, I have deep faith-based reasons to care deeply about this: Christians are to be peacemakers; we have a sense of solidarity with Palestinian Christians–many of whose communities date back to the very first generation of Christians; we have a sense of solidarity with Jews  because our faith is the daughter of Judaism; we have (or should have) a sense of solidarity with mainstream Muslims because ours is a sister faith.  We want a peaceful land that is Holy to all  3 of the Abrahamic monotheistic faiths.  We won’t agree on whether Jesus is the Messiah or the Son of God (God has no children, say Muslims and the Trinity is disguised polytheism say Jews), but we have much else in common and deep reasons to see peace come to the Holy Land.  For Carter this is the cause of his life because he believes it is the very will of God.

But American citizens, whether or not they share anything like Carter’s religious reasons for working for Middle East peace, have deep reasons of self interest to push for success here.  1)The plight of the Palestinians is the NUMBER ONE recruiting tool  for extremist, anti-Western Islamist groups that promote  violence and terrorism.  Some of them, like Hezbollah, are sincere, but many are simply cynically using the Palestinians for their own ends.  In any case, a two-state peace robs these groups of their single biggest recruiting tool. It robs Hezbollah of a reason to exist!  As Arab League nations said to  then-Sec. of State Colin Powell in 2002 when he was trying to recruit allies for the invasion of Iraq–it would be better to make peace between Israel and Palestine. Such a peace is the single-biggest blow to Islamist terorists possible. 2) The U.S.’ apparent one-sided support for Israel channels this concern for the Palestinians into a hatred of America if such hatred were not there previously. 3) The Israel/Palestine fued and series of wars and crises is a drain on U.S. resources: in terms of the level of military support to Israel (our largest % of foreign aid, of all types, is military aid to Israel) and in terms of constant drain on our diplomatic resources. 4) The constant humanitarian crises in Palestine is also a drain on our resources–an economically stable and peaceful  Palestine would not need such support from either Europe or the U.S. 5) We get a constant influx of Palestinian refugees into the United States–it’s amazing that none of the anti-immigrant Lou Dobbs types don’t rail against this.  Our already over stressed social safety net (whose strength was eroded by GOP fiscal priorities long before the current economic crisis) doesn’t need the added burden–and it is inevitable that a few extremists come in with the legitimate refugees. 6) A prosperous and peaceful Israel and Palestine could import U.S. exports, helping us get out of recession.

So, there are many compelling pragmatic as well as moral reasons to invest heavily in Middle East peace.  It won’t be easy–and the recent Israeli elections are the biggest obstacle since the Palestinians elected Hamas!  But it CAN be done–and Jimmy Carter’s book outlines the way forward.

UPDATE:  Even as he is forming his government, new PM Netanyahu is telling reporters that he will work with Obama for peace with Palestine.  While his past record should make us skeptical, we should also see this as a hopeful sign that even Netanyahu realizes that the political context has changed.  Now, if only Obama will push all parties equally instead of returning to the usual U.S. carrot and stick policy:  all carrots for Israel and all sticks for Palestine.

February 22, 2009 Posted by | Baptists, books, foreign policy, Israel-Palestine, Jimmy Carter, just peacemaking, terrorism prevention | 13 Comments

Holder: Americans are “Cowards” About Race Issues

Eric Holder, the first African-American U.S. Attorney General, has given an excellent speech on the problems of racism in the U.S. in 2009.  Holder talks about the progress made in the U.S. since the end of legal segregation (’64, ’65), but also spells out how far we have to go.  He notes that the media has been far too quick to view the election of Barack Obama to the presidency as proof that we now live in a “post-racial” society.

Noting that most workplaces are now integrated, Holder also points out that work is about the only place that whites and blacks (not to mention Asians, Latinos, etc.) associate regularly.  We mostly don’t live in the same neighborhoods.  We don’t hang out with each other after work.  On weekends, we mostly associate only within our own racial groupings–both in terms of socializing and definitely in terms of where we worship. (11 a.m. Sunday is STILL the most segregated hour in America as very few churches make any real efforts to be multi-racial or multi-cultural–even if they are located in such areas.)

Holder also claims, rightly, that while most Americans no longer use openly racist language, we are “cowards” about talking about racial issues–especially with those of other racial/ethnic groups.  Because such conversations are uncomfortable, and could offend, we avoid them–and thus avoid challenging ourselves to go beyond superficial friendliness or civility to actually breaking down barriers of misunderstanding.

The speech lacks the power of Barack Obama’s Philadelphia speech on race and religion in America last year during the Democratic primaries.  But this is still a bold speech that is provocative in a manner that may actually help us as a nation.  I do think some critics have a point that Holder could have gone further and spelled out some of the issues that should be raised in these painful, uncomfortable dialogues–but this speech is a beginning, not an end.

Read Mr. Holder’s full remarks here.  Then, take him up on the challenge: Invite colleagues from work who are of different racial/ethnic background home for dinner.  If you have friends from different racial/ethnic backgrounds, try to find ways to begin such conversations.  Challenge your church (and, if it is not multi-cultural, it should team up with one or more churches of different backgrounds) to provide “safe space” for such dialogues.

Honestly, folks: The military was integrated in 1948 and, sadly, it remains one of the most integrated institutions in the United States.  I went to a mostly black junior high in Orlando in the ’70s (I was easy to spot in school group photos!) and to a pretty mixed (Caucasian, black, Asian, Latino) high school in Jacksonville Beach later in the same decade.  I have taught at two historically black colleges (an experience both fun and VERY challenging) and I live in a mixed neighborhood and go to a somewhat multicultural congregation (it used to do better than  currently). And I am constantly surprised at how far we HAVEN’T come in this country.  We are having to fight the resegregation of the public schools (not helped at all by the “home schooling” movement). 

How many white pastors or theologians regularly read African-American, Latino/a, or Asian American theologians or biblical scholars? (If you look at the footnotes and bibliographies of “minority” scholars, they are always fully abreast of the scholarship of the dominant Caucasian culture, but the reverse is not very often true.)  Look at how little diversity there is in major news anchors (although local stations do better than the networks). If you are a well-read, college educated, white American and I came over your house, how many non-white authors (fiction, non-fiction) would I easily find on your bookshelves?

Is it any wonder we are so incredibly IGNORANT of each other–and, thus, regularly fear and misunderstand each other even when we have no desire to be personally prejudiced? 

Our current Attorney General has laid  down a significant challenge.  Let’s take him up on it, shall we?

February 19, 2009 Posted by | prejudice, race | 14 Comments

A Few G.O.P. Governors Consider Turning Down Federal Stimulus $

Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA), Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX), Gov. Mark Sanford (R-SC), Gov. Haley Barbour (R-MS) and Gov. Sara Palin (R-AK) are considering turning down their states’ share of the Economic Recovery Money passed by Congress over Republicann objections–despite how much their constituents need the money. 

I say President Obama should call their bluff:  Give them two weeks to decide and then publicly tell those states’ residents that their governors turned down the chance at new jobs and development and redistribute the funds to other states that need them most.  Then the White House should help Democratic challengers to each of those governors make commercials pointing out to their constituents just how their governors messed them over!

I know that CA, FL, MI, IN, NY, PA and MANY other states (including my state, KY) would be more than happy to help divide up funding from refused states.

February 19, 2009 Posted by | economic justice, U.S. politics | 15 Comments

I Love Mountains Day

mountaintop-removalToday is “I Love Mountains Day.” This is the day when citizens throughout states with Appalachian regions, but especially West Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and here in Kentucky, lobby there state legislatures for an end to mountaintop removal: the coalmining process that is so evil that it makes strip mining seem like an ecologist’s dream come true.  About 40% of Eastern KY’s mountains have had their tops blown off for the profits of (mostly out of state) coal companies that own the mineral rights to land that belonging to the poor of Appalachia.  This not only destroys mountain beauty, but farmland (nothing grows afterward) and rivers.

Unfortunately, King Coal owns the legislators of both parties in KY, WV, NC and TN.  The legislators will refuse to come see the destruction for themselves, citing the sanitized reports of the coal companies against any independent ecological or economic impact statements.  Legislation banning mountaintop removal FINALLY cleared committee last year in KY, but it died in the full legislature–for economic reasons.  Instead of finding ways to attract eco-friendly development to Eastern KY–giving alternatives to the coal mines, our legislators would rather trade short-term profits for an eternity of ecological devastation–and that to burn one of the leading causes of global warming.

My  beloved wife, Kate, a native of East Tennessee mountains, is today with a group from our church in Frankfort (along with KY author Wendell Berry and the actress Naomi Ashley Judd, a KY native) to try to get the legislators to do the right thing.  I pray for their success. Come see KY’s beautiful mountaiins–while  they’re still there.

Update: My wife says that our wonder U.S. Congressman, Rep.  John Yarmuth (D-KY) is introducing anti-mountaintop removal legislation at the federal level to compliment our efforts at the state level! Good News!

February 17, 2009 Posted by | ecology, economic justice | 3 Comments

At Least One Banker Gets It Right

My economic populism and deep concern over the income gap and lack of economic justice in this nation (and around the world) is NOT a hatred of wealthy people per se.  In fact, in a recent post which few people seem to have read, I highlighted the good work of the affluent Americans who form the group Responsible Wealth which lobbies for increases in their own taxes to fund economic justice for their employees and ordinary citizens.  Bravo! I even emailed the White House and suggested several of these folk would make good candidates for Commerce Secretary (or could replace the horrid Larry Summers as Senior White House economic advisor–when Summers helped create the deregulation of the ’90s!).

Here’s another rich person who gets it–and this one is even a banker! Leonard Abess, Jr., a Miami Banker, has used $60 million of his own money (not our tax money) to give bonuses–not to high paid executives, but to his tellers, bank guards, and other ordinary employees–even tracking down some former employees and including them!  Way to go, Leonard! Caring for your employees in a time of economic crisis rather than just yourself. Wow!

Living proof that wealth does not HAVE to mean motivated soley by greed. Blessings on you, Mr. Abess.

February 16, 2009 Posted by | economic justice | 1 Comment

“Why I Am” Series

I invite guest posts for some testimonials explaining some of your basic conviction and commitments: religious (or anti-religious), political, etc.  They should be in the 1,000 word range.  Examples: Why I am a Christian, Why I am an Atheist, Why I am a Democrat, Why I am an Environmentalist, etc. 

I don’t expect any of these essays to explain ALL of the writers’ basic commitments and few if any of us know ALL the reasons for our views (parental upbringing–either in agreement or reaction–rules far more of us than we’d like to admit). But I am not concentrating on the psychological or sociological reasons as much as the logical reasons–what makes you think such a view is RIGHT.

I myself will probably contribute several essays to the series: Why I am a Christ-follower (since “Christian” now seems to make “following” or discipleship optional, unlike the original meaning of the word); Why I am an (ana) Baptist; Why I am a Pacifist and Conscientious Objector; Why I am a Democrat; Why I am a (Male) Feminist.  Maybe others. But I won’t start the series and I will only put my own contributions in among the others. Folks shouldn’t have to read just me all the time.

February 16, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Comments Off on “Why I Am” Series

Americans Want Universal Healthcare & Bush Investigations

President Bush once completely dismissed 2 million Americans in the streets protesting the planned invasion of Iraq (2002) (and 10 million people doing the same worldwide) as a “focus group.”  He spent his entire presidency ignoring the opinions of ordinary Americans.  So far, President Obama, though far from driven by every poll, looks to be far more responsive to the input from ordinary Americans–to remember for whom he works.  I hope that continues:

The majority of Americans now say they want universal single-payer healthcare (Medicare for All): 59%.

An even larger majority (62%) want the Bush/Cheney administration investigated for possible criminal wrongdoing, although that is split between those who want a criminal investigation by the Department of Justice (41%) and those who favor a Congressional-led “truth commission ( 30%). I actually favor a blend of these approaches:  Use the congressional hearings, with some immunity deals for lower-level folks, to bring all matters to light, then have the Atty. Gen. appoint an independent special prosecutor to convene a grand jury for those who seem clearly guilty of criminal action (which, it appears to this layperson, would include Rumsfeld, Yoo, Ashcroft, Gonzalez, Harriet Miers, Karl Rove, Wolfowitz, Bush and Cheney at a minimum).  The hesitancy of some Democrats to pursue this matter is that investigations could reveal that some Congressional Democrats are complicit in some actions (Sens. Diane Feinstein and Jay Rockefeller come to mind).  But public pressure is building against Obama’s preference to simply ignore the past and concentrate on the future.  As Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) says, “You can’t turn the page until you at least read the page.”

Support is also growing (weirdly, faster among Republicans than Democrats–at least in Congress) for some form of bank nationalization (at least temporarily) as a means to curing the crisis in the financial industry.  And here the economists and the public seem ahead of both Congress and the Obama admin on the way forward.  Although leadership definitely includes needing to dissent at times from the views of the people you’re leading, I hope this president keeps in touch with the people instead of repeating Bush’s error of surrounding himself with an “echo chamber” of his own thoughts.

February 16, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Comments Off on Americans Want Universal Healthcare & Bush Investigations