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

Weekly Tracking Poll: Republicans Remain Deeply Unpopular

It’s true, Pres. Obama’s poll numbers have dropped 7 points since June.  The healthcare debate was bound to do that. If a decent version passes, his numbers will go back up again. The public respons to Getting Things Done positively. It responds to news dominated by Washington fighting negatively–no matter the content of the fight.

Obama’s numbers will also improve as the economy revives.

If I were a Republican elected official or strategist, I wouldn’t take too much delight in less popularity for Pres. Obama: He’s still at 62% popularity (well above W at this point in his first term and statistically even with Clinton at same point).  Further, Congressional Republicans are at 10% popularity and, considering that the public wants the healthcare bill they are trying to kill, “success” could hurt them badly.  Congressional Democrats are down to 40% popularity, but much of that is due to the “Blue Dogs” kissing up to the healthcare industry instead of doing what they were elected to do.

July 31, 2009 Posted by | U.S. politics | 10 Comments

2009 Joint Conference for IVAW and VFP

Here’s a heads up for interested parties:  Iraq Veterans Against the War and Veterans for Peace are teaming up this year for a joint national conference. Details at the link.

July 30, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Comments Off on 2009 Joint Conference for IVAW and VFP

Medal of Freedom Winners

Well, the healthcare debate is depressing as a senator from Idaho representing 1/4 of 1% of the population is threatening to kill a public option in healthcare desired by 72% of the population (90% of Democrats and even 50% of Republicans!). And the civil rights situation is depressing–from Skip Gates arrest at his own home because he was rude to a cop (I don’t which scares me more: that this was racially motivated or that it wasn’t and the new police policy is to  arrest anyone in our own homes without warrant or probable cause if we aren’t humble enough!) to the fact that it took 7 years and two ACLU suits and two different federal judges ruling in his favor before a 12 year old boy could be released from Gitmo.  So there is much in the news to make me cringe right now.

But some things are cheering.  After seeing the Bush administration demean our nation’s highest civilian award (The Presidential Medal of Freedom) by giving it to such undeserving persons as former CIA head George Tenet and former Australian President Howard, it is refreshing to see the contrast with Obama’s first 16 winners. Here they are below.:

  • Nancy Goodman Brinker, founder of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure, a grassroots organization that invests in research to fight breast cancer.
  • Pedro Jose Greer, Jr., founder of the Camillus Health Concern, an agency providing free healthcare to over 10,000 homeless patients a year in Miami, FL.
  • Stephen Hawking, one of the most famous theoretical physicists and mathematicians alive, this quadrapelegic man worked through severe disabilities to pioneer academic research in math and physics.
  • Jack Kemp, winning posthumously, was a U.S. Congressman, Secretary of the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (in the Reagan administration) who worked to help eliminate poverty in urban areas (the empowerment zones).  He was also former Sen. Bob Dole (R-KS)’s VP running mate in the ’96 presidential campaign.
  • Sen. Edward (“Teddy”) Kennedy (D-MA), who has served as a U.S. Senator for 46 years, is awarded for his lifelong fight for quality healthcare for all Americans, especially for seniors, children, and people with disabilities.
  • Billie Jean King, professional tennis player in the ’60s and ’70s for her pioneering work for equality as the first openly lesbian major sports star.
  • Rev. Joseph Lowry, of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, has been a leader in the struggle for civil rights, especially racial equality, but also equality for the sexes and for GLBT persons.
  • Joe Medicine Crow-High Bird is the last living war chief among the Plains Native Americans and an award-winning author on Native American history and culture.
  • Harvey Milk, receiving the award posthumously, was the first openly gay man to be an elected official in any American city when he joined the San Francisco Board of Supervisers in 1977. He pushed the civil rights agenda of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people and was assassinated for his efforts.
  • Justice Sandra Day O’Conner, retired, was the first woman to be appointed as a justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. (A Reagan appointee, I did not expect much from Justice O’Conner and was very pleasantly surprised. Overall, she was an excellent justice and I still regret her retirement.)
  • Sidney Poitier, was the first African-American actor to be nominated and win an Academy Award for Best Actor.
  • Chita Rivera, was the first Latina recipient of the performing arts award from the Kennedy Center.  In 1957 she made her breakthrough performance as “Anita” in the Broadway production of West Side Story and has won two Tony Awards.
  • Mary Robinson, was the first president of the Republic of Ireland and later United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. She is now the founder of Realizing Rights:  The Ethical Globalization Initiative, an organization that focuses on the link (positive and negative) between human rights and the process of globalization.
  • Janet Davison Rowley, is a human geneticist, and the first scientist to identify a chromosomal translocation as the cause of leukemia and other cancers.  In 1999, she was awarded the National Medal of Science, the highest scientific award in the United States.
  • Desmond Tutu, is a retired Anglican Archbishop of Capetown and a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate (1984) who played a major role in ending racial apartheid in South Africa. As the head of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Archbishop Tutu also played a major role in the healing of racial tensions in post-apartheid South Africa.  He has been a major voice for nonviolence, human rights,  democracy, and peace throughout the world (and is a personal hero).
  • Muhammed Yunus, economist and founder of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, pioneered the practice of no-interest micro-loans to the poor as a path to ending poverty. (The Grameen Bank has a 90% repayment rate, far above that of traditional banks to  the middle class or even the wealthy.) The micro-lending movement has now been adopted in many places around the world. For his  efforts combatting poverty and promoting “social businesses” alongside traditional, for-profit, businesses, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.

This is truly an amazing list of people. These are the kinds of people and efforts that our nation should be honoring.

July 30, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

“Kill, Kill, Kill Without Mercy”

Speaking of Mike Broadway and his fine blog, he has a briefer piece, Making Killing a Habit, that questions whether or not the increasing cases of post-traumatic stress disorder, and domestic violence by returning soldiers is connected to the way in which they are now being trained.  Studies after WWII found that a large % of American soldiers on the front lines either would not fire or would not aim to kill. So, the military changed its training methods after that. Now in subsequent wars our soldiers (and marines) kill much more effectively and this may be a partial reason why we have so many fewer fatalities among our soldiers–but may also be why they are involved in more atrocities (civilian killings) and in domestic violence, homicide,  and suicide when returned to civilian life.  Check out Mike’s reflections and enter into dialogue about this at Earth as it is in Heaven.

July 28, 2009 Posted by | war | 5 Comments

Economic Recovery for All?

My friend, Mike Broadway, who teaches theology and ethics at Shaw University Divinity School, is just finishing an 8 part series on Economic Recovery for All: Theological Reflections on the Economy over at his blog Earth as it is in Heaven.  I  urge my readers who are interested in economic justice,  especially on solid theological reflections from a Christian  faith perspective to go to Mike’s blog and read that series (based on a working paper for an ecumenical campaign for economic justice) and interact with Mike on it there.  It’s really fine stuff and I only wish the deliberations of Congress and the White House were informed by such powerful reflections.

July 28, 2009 Posted by | economic justice | Comments Off on Economic Recovery for All?

Brief Blog Break

I was working on a follow up to the socialism in America post, but yesterday our family dog, a Scottish Terrier named Angus, took a tumble off the front stairs and shattered his left foreleg. He’s in a splint and Monday goes in for reconstructive surgery.  Because he’s 11,  I worry about the anesthesia.  So, I don’t have the energy to blog, today. Will play games with friends on Facebook, instead.

July 25, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 4 Comments

“Socialism” is as American as Apple Pie

I’m getting tired of the rightwing fear meme that “Barack Obama is turning us into a socialist state.”  First of all, it is patently false. No socialist would begin an economic recovery plan by bailing out Wall Street instead of nationalizing the banks (at least temporarily), opening their books to see what crimes were committed and using the anti-trust laws to break up all institutions “too big to fail.” This administration has not even worked for CEO pay caps. Everything has been done to stabilize the markets, not stabilize main street or move to a full employment economy.  The Obama economic team is full of recycled neo-liberal Clintonites who laid the groundwork for the Bush  economic disaster.

But the other thing about this that enfuriates me is the idea that “socialism” is some alien ideology that threatens “the American way of life.”  Sure, the Framers of our Constitution were propertied white males, many of them slaveowners, who sponsored what Howard Zinn calls “a kind of revolution” in his A People’s History of the United States.  But the story of the capitalist power and privilege is only one part of the story.  Woven throughout our history is also the story of utopian experiments (many of them religiously inspired, such as the Oneida Community, the Shakers, and others) of sharing and struggles for economic justice:  the abolitionist movement, the Grange and farmers’ coops, labor movements, etc. 

Nor was this confined to a particular region of the country. Some of today’s most conservative bastions were once hotbeds of social unrest. Take Kansas, a state so conservative that it last elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate in 1936.  But Kansas was once such a crossroads of radicalism that it was known as “Burning Kansas.” When it came into the Union, farmers armed themselves as border guards to enforce the “Missouri Compromise” rather than let slave-owners bring slavery into the state.  Later the Grange wars were centered in Kansas. 

We teach history as the names of generals and presidents and of rich, powerful, capitalists. There is no doubt that these people make their mark, often destructive, on the nation and the world.  But our history includes labor leaders and activists, too.  Socialist Norman Thomas became the “third party” candidate who won a larger % of the popular vote than any other third party candidate, 20%–and he did that while “campaigning” from behind bars.  Emma Lazarus, the poet whose poem is inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, was a socialist.  Francis Bellamy (1855-1931), the writer of the original version of the Pledge of Allegiance, was a Baptist minister–and a Christian Socialist who wrote two utopian socialist novels, Looking Backwards (1888), and Equality (1897) and originally wanted the word “equality” in the Pledge (“with liberty, equality, and justice for all”), but decided to omit it because he was afraid pro-segregationist schoolboards wouldn’t approve it and he was trying to use the Pledge to promote national unity and a progressive vision in a post-Civil War world.

Theologians from Walter Rauschenbush to Reinhold Niebuhr to Paul Tillich were members of various Socialist parties.  Michael Harrington, an early President of Democratic Socialists of America, wrote The Other America which exposed the poverty hidden from the American Middle Class of the ’50s and early ’60s–a book that helped launch the Great Society’s “War on Poverty.” 

“Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital.  Capital is only the fruit of labor and could not have existed if labor had not first existed.  Labor is the superior of capital and deserves much the higher consideration.”  Who said that? Karl Marx? Vladimir Lenin? The “socialist” Obama of GOP mythology? No.  That pronouncement was by Abraham Lincoln.  Another Republican president, Teddy Roosevelt, took on the monopolies, championing the anti-trust laws.  After TR quit the Republicans and formed the Bull Moose Party, they became the first U.S. political party to propose universal healthcare–in 1912!    President Eisenhower, another Republican, not only claimed that any political party which tried to abolish Social Security would disappear (and it’s interesting that the GOP’s current woes began after they tried to privatize Social Security in 2005), but taxed the upper 1% at a 90%–far beyond the modest tax increases on the upper rich proposed by Obama–of other modest increases needed to finance universal healthcare or revitalize public education.  Even Richard Nixon, nobody’s liberal, saying, “We’re all basically Keyenesians now,” used wage and price controls to try to move the United States out of “stagflation” in the 1970s.

None of this makes socialism–or any other movement for economic justice and democracy–correct.  It doesn’t make capitalism wrong.  To conclude either one would take philosophical arguments and testing in the laboratory of history.  But this history DOES expose the lie that “socialism” or any movement to “redistribute wealth” or eliminate poverty or work for economic justice is somehow “Un-American.” Socialism, and work for economic justice in general, is as American as apple pie.

July 23, 2009 Posted by | economic justice, social history | 17 Comments

Thought for the Day

We have always known that greed was bad morality; what we have learned is that greed is also bad economics.”  Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1933.

July 20, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

This Day (20 July) In History

20 July 1304  Francesca Petrarcha, Italian philosopher and “Father of Renaissance Humanism” was born. Petrarcha (1304-1374) was a major force ushering in the Renaissance and modernity–with all the gains and losses that entails.

20 July 1925 Frantz Fanon, psychiatrist and anti-Colonial revolutionary and Marxist theorist was born. Fanon (1925-1962), who lived in the island nation of Martinique, was the author of Black Skin, White Masks (1952) and The Wretched of the Earth (1961), two major texts in post-colonial thought. 

20 July 1969  American astronauts Neil Armstrong and “Buzz” Aldrin became the first human beings to set foot on Earth’s moon.

July 19, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Parents of School Children Beware!

The Texas board that determines textbook content (always trying to remove any mention of evolution) is now deciding that children may not learn about Cesar Chavez (inappropriate role model) or Thurgood Marshall (inappropriate historical figure)!  If you live in the U.S. but outside  the Lone Star State, still be alarmed. Because, for reasons that escape me, public school textbook publishers often use the Texas market to determine content for what they publish for the REST of the nation, too! So, they could be dumbing down ALL our children.  Time to make a stink about this.  Our children would not learn about the first African-American on the Supreme Court (who also argued the winning case in the Brown v. Board of Education case that desegregated the schools)–somehow he’s “historically inappropriate.”  And they would be deprived of learning about Cesar Chavez, leader (along with the still struggling Dolores Huerta) of the United Farmworkers union and an apostle of nonviolent protest–an “inappropriate role model.” Do I detect a bias among Texans deciding on textbook context that favors oppressors–or are they just racist bigots?!

They are trying to disappear down the memory hole the heroes of the ’60s who changed this country for the better.  As George Orwell knew, he who controls the past, controls the future.  In an era of a rightwing court dominated by the semi-fascists Scalia, Alito, Thomas, and Roberts, remembering Thurgood Marshall is a dangerous, subversive memory. In an age of agribusiness and of workers deprived of ever more of their rights and  of increasing white fears of Mexican-Americans, remembering Cesar Chavez–who was a key figure in turning Bobby Kennedy from a Cold Warrior to a candidate for president who campaigned for the poor and for peace–is a dangerous, subversive act.  We don’t want to, I don’t know, INSPIRE new generations, now do we?

July 18, 2009 Posted by | education, heroes, human rights., race | 12 Comments