Saturday, December 20, 2008

Economic Woes

Lately, there seem to be some conservative talking points coming out about the economy. The gist of it is, yes, the economy is bad, but it is not the Great Depression, and we must resist the urge to throw laissez-faire "Free Market Capitalism" out the window.

One thing that I will agree with is that the constant 24/7 news coverage might make things seem a little bit worse than they actually might be - not much, but just a little.

For instance, when they write about unemployment, they always say that it "surged". When they talk about stocks, they always say they "plunged". When they talk about certain companies, they always say they are "doomed".

What I cannot agree with is the notion that what happened at Bear Stearns, Citigroup, Freddie and Fannie, AIG, Lehman Brothers, Countrywide, was in any way, shape or form sound laissez-faire "free market capitalism".

I cannot agree that the poor management of the big three, spanning multiple years, not just starting with this "crisis" is sound laissez-faire "free market capitalism".

If that were the case, the "big three" and these other lumbering giants on Wall Street would be allowed to fail. I'm not an Economist, or a financial expert, but, isn't that "the rule" of laissez-faire "free market capitalism"? If you are not a survivor, you are weak and should be put out of business to make way for stronger, sounder companies?

Of course, that is not going to happen, and that is probably a good thing. I'm not entirely convinced however that giving the auto makers (or the Wall Street firms for that matter) big piles of cash will make a difference.

How are they going to do it differently from how they've done it in the past? What lessons, if any, have they learned to insure that it doesn't happen again?

And let's not forget the stunningly mediocre performance of the government regulatory agencies that were supposed to protect us from these kinds of things. Like it or not, we need regulation. If you don't have it adequately, you're going to get what you've gotten.

The Founding Fathers knew this with regard to political power. They knew you always needed CHECKS and BALANCES.

This is a great Easy Essay by Peter Maurin. Most of his Easy Essays were written in the 1930's, Depression time frame (here is a link with a lot more Easy Essays - they are GREAT: (Here is a bio of Peter Maurin, a hero for the ages:

"Modern society has made the bank account the standard of values.
When the bank account becomes the standard of values the banker has the power.
When the banker has the power the technician has to supervise the making of profits.
When the banker has the power the politician has to assure law and order in the profit-making system.
When the banker has the power the educator trains students in the technique of profit making.
When the banker has the power the clergyman is expected to bless the profit-making system or to join the unemployed.
When the banker has the power the Sermon on the Mount is declared unpractical.
When the banker has the power we have an acquisitive, not a functional society."

I think there is NO QUESTION that given the events of the past few months that the banker has the power. Ordinary, working Americans DO NOT have the power. To try to make the case that they do, would be laughable, if it weren't so sad.

The Peter Maurin Easy Essay above is a fairly good explanation as to why we taxpayers are bailing them out, while everyday, ordinary Americans are going under in several different ways (Foreclosure, Unemployment, Lack of Health Care, Hunger, etc).

The question to me is, do we currently have a functional society or an acquisitive one?

I think for many years, we've certainly had an acquisitive society. Unfortunately, it was based on a lot of cheap, easily obtained credit. Now, the bills are coming due. They have to be paid, and we don't get to buy any more neat stuff on easy credit. This causes a problem for the people who make and sell things - if nobody is buying (not because they don't have the desire, they don't have the means), that is just one more problem in the economy.

I think we've liked to pretend that we've had a functional society. Certainly we have given the APPEARANCE of having a functional society, with all the "trappings" (until the social order breaks down like it did after Hurricane Katrina, or the panic going on now with this economic downturn).

When the economy does recover (and it WILL recover eventually in some form - but maybe not with huge annual growth from here on out), what will we have learned? Anything? At the end of it all, will the banker still have the power, or will ordinary Americans have taken back the power?

Let's hope it's ordinary Americans.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

A Horrible, Stinking, Rotting, Disgusting, Juxtaposition

Yesterday, a man was trampled by a crowd at a Wal Mart store in New York. And, when others tried to rescue him, THEY were trampled as well. In addition, four other people were injured, including a woman who was eight months pregnant.

When notified that the store would be closing, the customers became irate.

Tis the Season. This is why I have disliked Christmas for years - at least the commercialized, secular version we've come to know and love (or in my case hate) in America.

I cannot even articulate how disgusting and revolting this all is. I'm sure that a lot of other Americans are just as disgusted as I am. I'm sure how a lot will be written, or spoken of on television on how we've lost "the true meaning of Christmas".

All of it will be true.

This is certainly not the first time that things like this have happened in the pursuit of the ideal Christmas gifts. I remember a few years back, when grown men and women were fighting in the aisles over Cabbage Patch Dolls.

Of course, Jesus (Remember that guy? That is what the holiday is supposedly about.) always taught that the possession of things will not make us happy (from Matthew 6:19-21), and that these gifts that were so important to get today, will be unimportant tomorrow:

19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

We continue to pursue those "things" though. But, the reality is, is that they haven't made us any happier. They've just brought mountains of debt, which now has had a hand in bringing the larger economy to a grinding halt.

Several of our fellow Americans are currently hungry or in need, and in the days, weeks and months to follow, several more will be swallowed up in the downward spiral of the economy. During this Christmas season when we eat a lot, drink a lot, and shop and spend money we can't afford to spend, are we thinking at all about "the least of these" (See Matthew 25:31-46) that Jesus taught us to care for?

The most disgusting thing is that for a man's life, this is what the shoppers were getting in exchange:

"Items on sale at the Valley Stream Wal-Mart included a Samsung 50-inch Plasma HDTV for $798, a Bissel Compact Upright Vacuum for $28, a Samsung 10.2 megapixel digital camera for $69 and DVDs such as "The Incredible Hulk" for $9."

Think about it. For a television, a vacuum, a camera and a DVD, a man is now DEAD.

That is all certainly a cruel juxtaposition when you take a look at the prophecy of the coming of the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6), who would ultimately give his life for us:

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Wow. That is sobering.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Just for fun......

Take the quiz below.

This is a Civics Quiz sponsored by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI - not to be confused with Pakistan's Intelligence Agency).

This link is an article by Kathleen Parker reporting on the results of the quiz, and offering some great insight on possible remedies and what might happen in the future if our citizens are not properly educated with regard to Civics. It is probably best to take the quiz first and read the op-ed after, as Ms. Parker gives some answers away in the piece.

In the interest of self-disclosure, I took the quiz and got an 81. This made me unhappy, as I felt like I should have gotten 100%.

Below is the breakdown on the scores, which is very BLEAK.

One of the more frightening aspects is the gap between citizenry and "elected officials" (in the link it states that: "Of the 2,508 People surveyed, 164 say they have held an elected government office at least once in their life.")

The bullet points at the bottom of this link should make every American a little queasy (for example: "Seventy-nine percent of those who have been elected to government office do not know the Bill of Rights expressly prohibits establishing an official religion for the U.S.")

In her piece, Ms. Parker speculates as to what's responsible for the "dumbing down" of America.

"The ISI found that passive activities, such as watching television (including TV news) and talking on the phone, diminish civic literacy."

Passive activities could also include listening to talk radio.......

Ms. Parker then reports:

"Actively pursuing information through print media and participating in high-level conversations -- even, potentially, blogging -- makes one smarter."

I certainly believe that "actively pursuing" information, and participating in high-level conversations makes one smarter. I do not support the idea that blogging necessarily makes one smarter, given some of the blogs I have seen out there (hopefully not this one :-)). Some blogs I've read have been light on facts and comprehensive thought, and heavy on tin-foil hat conspiracy speculations.

The op-ed then reports:

"Civics courses, once a staple of junior and high school education, are no longer considered important in our quantitative, leave-no-child-behind world."

Not to mention that a lot of states are teaching to a "Standards of Learning" test, which focuses on memorization of "factoids" more than comprehensive, deep knowledge of subjects.

So, how are our colleges doing? After all, that is generally the standard in the business world to define if one is "educated" enough for employment (whereas in years past it was having a high school diploma):

"And college adds little civic knowledge, the ISI study found. The average grade for those holding a bachelor's degree was just 57 percent -- only 13 points higher than the average score of those with only a high school diploma."

Ms. Parker offers some recommendations, which I heartily agree with:

"The ISI insists that higher-education reforms aimed at civic literacy are urgently needed. Who could argue otherwise? But historian Rick Shenkman, author of "Just How Stupid Are We?" thinks reform needs to start in high school. His strategy is both poetic (to certain ears) and pragmatic: Require students to read newspapers, and give college freshmen weekly quizzes on current events."

She (Parker) also offers some frightening conclusions if we do not have an educated citizenry:

"Both Shenkman and the ISI pose a bedeviling question, as crucial as any to the nation's health: Who will govern a free nation if no one understands the mechanics and instruments of that freedom?
Answer: Maybe one day, a demagogue."

Thank goodness we're not there. Yet.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Meltdown, one month hence

Up front, a note that this might well be disjointed and fragmented. Lots of different things going on which all interact together, but do not flow well because they come from different sectors of the whole of the economy.

Just to let it be known up front.

To start, a month and a half has gone by since Henry Paulson predicted "financial Armegeddon" if we did not do exactly what he told us, in the time frame he told us.

The situation has not really improved too much, and now, Paulson said that what they originally wanted to do to avoid Armegeddon was probably not the right thing to do, and we need to shift course and do something different.

I don't know about any of my fellow Americans, but this does not engender a lot of confidence.

On top of that, it's starting to come to light that banks are not using the money so graciously loaned to them by their fellow citizens to loan money to "Main Street, and get credit flowing again, but they are using the money to pay stockholder dividends, bonuses, and to acquire other banks.

Every American should be completely filled with rage at this news. Instead we are kind of getting a shrug of the shoulders and an "Eh".

Why? Because frankly, we EXPECT to be screwed. We expect the government and the experts to screw up. There is no faith that it will be done right, and that is a shame. This is the financial equivalent of the handling of Hurricane Katrina. The lack of foresight is the equivalent of pre-9/11 when intelligence agencies were briefing that something big was going to happen, and FBI agents in Arizona and Minnesota were telling headquarters, "hey, we probably ought to check out these Arab guys taking flying lessons".

Isn't it shameful that you know they are going to piss your money away, but there is not one thing you can do about it?

Is there any surprise here? Giving these companies this money is like giving your crack addicted son or daughter $700 to pay the rent. What does that addict do? That addict BUYS CRACK. The addict does NOT pay the rent. It's kind of the same principle here. You give the folks who recklessly ran these businesses into the ground more money, expecting them to do the "right thing" this time. Why is there a surprise when the right thing is not done?

To me, the big story of the economy right now might not be the stock market, or this bailout, but companies like Circuit City going bankrupt, and Best Buy having "seismic" problems with their business. The story of consumer confidence and consumer spending.

To be frank, there is nothing that Best Buy or Circuit City sells that is a NECESSITY. They did pretty good for awhile, sold a lot of stuff, and made a lot of money. They got their money, because when you swipe that credit card, they get their money. So, we bought a lot of stuff, but we did not PAY for a lot of stuff. The economy seems to be telling us now that we don't get to buy any more cool stuff until we PAY for the stuff we have now.

We have lived for a long time, the lifestyle of the rich and the famous. Only we have done it on credit, and by not paying for it when we bought it. We have not saved money. We have just counted on something happening to be able to pay the bills when it came time to pay the bills. This was largely the issue with Sub Prime mortgages too.

Now, it is time to pay the bills and the money is not there. Additionally, to get the economy flowing again, consumer spending must be ramped up. But, guess what. The money is not there to ramp up consumer spending.

Pessimistically, I can not really see this ending any other way but bad. I think, at least for awhile the days of rapacious conspicuous consumption are severly curtailed, if not completely over.

The latest economic news being discussed (disgust) is the idea of bailing out the Big Three Auto Makers. There are a lot of arguments by economists, pundits and others, pro and con. These companies mostly were as poorly managed as the other companies we are bailing out. They guessed wrong every time they had a chance to look at market trends or energy trends. Not only did they guess wrong, but some would say that they willfully tried to push their vision onto consumers who were looking for more fuel efficient quality cars. This is why Toyota has been consistently moving up and doing better than the big three.

I do not know about this at all (bailing out the big three).

I do know that we need to really figure out what is going on, and get America back on the right track. Otherwise, we are going to be in deep trouble.

Now is not the time for small, timid thinking. Now is the time for audacious, bold thinking. Is our government up to it? They have not shown over the past several years that they were. I would be pleasantly surprised if this time they were.

See, I said it would be disjointed and fragmented. That must be caused by the anger.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Arabs to the left of us.....

Arabs to the right. Here I am stuck in the middle with you......

I haven't spent any time writing here on the Presidential campaigns. While sometimes interesting, surreal, groundbreaking and entertaining, I just haven't felt the need to say anything.

Until now.

First off, a guy in Minnesota says that he's afraid of raising his child in a country where Obama is President. To which, John McCain replies there is no need to fear Barack Obama. He's a decent family man, a decent man, to which the crowd replies BOOOOOOO!!!!!!!

Then, later another lady says she cannot trust Obama, because, and I'm not making this up, he's an Arab. John McCain then snatches the mike out of her hand and says, no, he is not an Arab. Come on. If you are going to hate someone for their race or the color of their skin, at least get it right. He's a BLACK GUY. Last time I checked, being Arab was not illegal - one more 9/11 attack, and MAYBE it will be. Certainly I know a lot of Arabs FEEL like it's illegal to be Arab in America.

I cannot wait to hear how this will be spun on Monday. But I think it will go something like this (bulletized for your convenience):

  • Why did you not have any of the good comments, only the bad ones (maybe a fair assertion)
  • Well, that's just the liberal media trying to make John McCain look bad (when in reality, it made him look good by taking control of a situation turning ugly)
  • People are angry. Stuff happens. The liberals have anger too, but the MSM just refuses to cover it.

I think that John McCain looked genuinely hurt that this happened. I really sensed that. You could see it in his face. For one second, I felt kind of sorry for him. But, then I remembered "I'm John McCain and I approved this message".

For most of the last two weeks, the McCain campaign, in an effort to take the eyes off the molten meltdown of the economy have been touting Barack Osama (oops, I mean Obama) as a terrorist and a terrorist sympathizer. The most dangerous man, trying to become President. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

So, when it turns ugly, you can't really now say, well, hey, he's a great guy. A dedicated family man. All that other stuff we said? Hey, you know, that's just part of the campaign. Wink, wink. We really didn't MEAN it.

We need to get off of this negative stuff. People are losing their homes. Their jobs. Their life savings. The Dow is dropping faster than a big rock dropped into a deep lake, with all the ripples that you get when you drop a rock in a lake emanating out into the world financial markets.

And what doe the McCain campaign want to focus on? Some board Barack Obama sat on with some guy several years back, and the guy on that board did bad things - of course, Barack Obama was EIGHT YEARS OLD when those things happened. Simply by KNOWING the guy, that makes him a terrorist.

I think Americans are looking for leadership, but, sadly the candidates don' t have anything else other than to bring stuff like this up. The Republicans simply cannot stop this campaigning because it is all they've known for twenty years or more. First with Lee Atwater, then with Karl Rove, and now the disciples that Karl Rove trained up. It's pretty hard to throw the manual out the window, especially since it worked - until now.

America saw last night some real ugliness. When it goes bad, it's easy to blame minorities and outsiders. History has a long list of that happening. Most of those situations turned out bad.

I hope that we're better than that.

I don't know though.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

CRA? Please. Give me a break

The newest story put forth by Conservatives is that the current financial meltdown can be blamed on some do gooder, socialism minded liberals and minorities.

The abridged story told by the Conservative spin machine is that a program called the Community Reinvestment Act passed in the seventies and beefed up by Bill Clinton FORCED banks to give minorities bad loans, which led to this current crisis. So, it is all the fault of community organizers (hey, wasn't that Barack Obama guy a community organizer?), Liberal Democrats and minorities.

I am going to post a few articles from various sources below which debunk this story quite nicely. The problem is that those who are disposed to believe this will not believe the stories because they come from the LIBERAL spin machine - the mainstream media.

Of course, if you look hard enough you can find articles to justify that the CRA was to blame (go to any conservative talk radio person's blog or web site and I'll bet you'll find it). The above is just a random sampling of several articles supporting the idea of this fallacy. I could probably post 15 or 20 that I've found.

Most of the bad loans given were given by institutions NOT covered by the dictates of the CRA.

They gave those loans out not because of any altruism that they wanted to see the joy of someone owning a home, or fear of government regulation. They gave those loans out because they made a lot of money doing so.

There has been a lot of talk about the loan givers. Not much talk about the loan takers. At the risk so sounding cold and politically incorrect, some of those people had no business owning the homes they were put into. Some of them could not afford the homes, but the desire for instant gratification, and the American desire for consumption made the loan an easy take. The loan guy probably said, well, one more loan won't hurt the system (IF he had the scruples to think that way), and the loanee, in most cases said, well, I MIGHT get a better job before the big numbers come due, or I MIGHT get a raise.

What we got in the end was disaster.

There are several reasons this story (the CRA = Housing Crash/Credit Crunch story) needs to be pedaled now. One is to try to take down Barack Obama's campaign a few notches. The most important reason though is to blame a powerless group to divert attention from the big companies who gave out these reckless loans and the other ones that ran their companies into the dirt through risky and reckless accounting practices. Also to divert attention from a system in Washington which turned a blind eye while all this was going on.

It is also to deflect attention from their child like mantra that if you only take the hands off the market, the market will do the right thing, and will eventually correct itself. This works great, right up to the moment the government has to step in and pump massive infusions of cash in to save whatever capitalist venture that has gone wrong.

If they admitted to these things, they would have to admit that their premises about capitalism and economics were mostly incorrect.

Never mind all of this stuff above.

Does it really sound plausible that handing out a few bags of shekels to some minorities could be the cause of the WHOLE WORLD ECONOMIC SYSTEM to crash in a violent and cataclysmic manner? I don't even know how they can say it with a straight face.

And if that small event could cause the whole system to crash, what does that say about the robustness of the system? The resiliency of the system?

Not much in my opinion.

There is something fundamentally wrong with the system. In the weeks, months and years to come, we MIGHT find out what it is, or we might not.

It is acknowledged now that a lot of folks thought they understood the system, but that it has become so fast acting and complex that they do not understand it at all.

In the mean time, the need exists for those who can look at the WHOLE economy. Not just the bits and pieces that strike the media fancy that day (i.e. the stock market one day, unemployment the next).

Going to be some interesting, painful, scary times.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


I have been watching, like the rest of my fellow Americans, this financial meltdown mess.

I have also been watching the Treasury Secretary's efforts to "correct" the problem in the form of a $700 billion dollar tax payer funded bailout. Of course, this does not even bring into the windshield view all the other issues, like the $2 trillion dollar (that is probably a conservative estimate) "time bomb" created by the never ending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

That bomb will go off eventually and it WILL come due.

There has been much written and much said. Why do I feel qualified to address this? I have not done any worse than the "experts" in their predictions on the state of the economy. I am not any smarter than anyone else, I just largely did what I did with the Iraq war. Listened to what the government "experts" were saying and believed pretty much the polar opposite.

On August 14 2007 in this blog I wrote:

"Our economy, while APPEARING strong is a house of cards built on credit and the promise of cheap, plentiful energy, either of which could evaporate at any moment (and as far as credit goes has been heading that way)."

On March 7 2008 I wrote:

"One of the things I've been talking about over the past several days to my friends is the idea of looking at the economy as a whole. The people in Washington count on the idea that Americans are going to look at the economy in somewhat of a fragmented way - almost as if there are "economy boxes" - there's the energy economy box, the health care box, the housing box, the manufacturing box, the war box. It is ALL ONE BOX.What happens to one sector of the economy affects ALL sectors of the economy."

This is an excerpt from a piece by William Greider, in which he cites Section 8 of this provision. Hopefully, this will change:

"Section 8. Review. Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.

This seems to be giving the government nearly dictatorial powers to deal with the economy. This is not even remotely American, OR Constitutional. The decisions of a lot of totalitarian governments with regard to their economies have been "non-reviewable" through the years. How many of those economies are still thriving?

This reminds me a lot of the rapid passing of the Patriot Act without much comment and review in the raw emotional times after 9/11.

It is also interesting to read that some economists do not absolutely believe this is the best way to handle the crisis.

The path of least resistance which Treasury is taking seems to be to hit the taxpayers. Why? Because there is not much, in reality we can do to stop them. We could not stop them from going to war, and we can not stop them from doing this. They seem to be telling the Congress that if you don't do this, it is YOUR fault whatever happens. Congress seems to be falling in line from the bullying.

I do not know if this bail out is the right thing to do or not - I have my doubts based on what I've read. I certainly believe that it is prudent to independently monitor this. We must act swiftly, but not so swiftly that we give away the farm.

I'm also certain that the people who got us into this mess must hate the demand for independent review. When you turn that rock over in your back yard that has been sitting there for awhile, it is very interesting to see what kinds of things crawl out from under it.

A lot of people have compared this plan with Socialism. I think that is a pretty good analogy. My view is that they see us as working mules (or sheep) - not very smart, and an unending flow of easy cash to take and spend as they see fit.

Our contribution to it all is to just give them the money, and let them take care of the problem for us.

I'm not sure that is good enough.

Friday, August 1, 2008


It's unfortunately becoming more common. Guy walks into "x" locale heavily armed and shoots up the place (and just today, some maniac up in Wisconsin ambushed some kids swimming in the river).

This happened just recently in Knoxville, where one Jim Adkisson shot up the Unitarian Universalist Church during a children's performance of the musical Annie.

There has been a lot of coverage that Mr. Adkisson did this despicable act to get at the liberals (stating that he couldn't get at the "Liberal Leadership - whoever the heck that is so he decided to shoot up this church because they are known for their liberal tendencies).

There has also been a lot of coverage that Mr. Adkisson was a fan of Limbaugh, Hannity, Coulter, Savage, etc.

At the outset, the blame for this act should be laid squarely at the feet of the shooter. It is obvious that he is a profoundly broken human being.

The case will be made by those media outlets that lots of people listen to and read those peoples books every day and don't shoot up a church, so they couldn't have had anything to do with it.

This may be true. But, this guy was unemployed. So, what did he do all day? Probably stayed home and listened to the radio, and read the books. Day after day, hour after hour of ingesting those ideas that only agreed with and aligned with what HE personally believed.

This one deranged individual excluded, I think this is a bigger example of the polarization of this country. I also believe this is indicative of a new kind of coarse "entertainment" - that which disguises itself as "news" and "discussion" of the issues. In reality, these folks seek to divide (while saying they seek to unify), they seek to make us deathly afraid of the "other" whether that be someone of a different color, different faith, different nationality, or whatever.

Fear is their stock and trade, and fear is what they want to sow. Oh, they wrap it up quite righteously saying they only want to "spread the truth". But at the bottom, it's fear they want to spread.

For there is power in making people afraid.

I find it laughable that conservative talk radio and television hosts complain about the "liberal media" and yet they have literally 24 hours of total coverage somewhere on the media spectrum. Whether it be Fox News, or EIB, or whatever.

There is not even a good division anymore of what constitutes a liberal or conservative. For instance, Hannity, et al say that if you don't support the President and his wars, you are a disloyal traitorous liberal. But since day one of the wars conservative pundits such as Pat Buchanan and Paul Craig Roberts have been extremely tough on this war. NO ONE would EVER accuse Pat Buchanan of being a liberal. His conservative credentials are well known, and are certainly not in doubt.

Another thing that interests me is that the mainstream media gives so much attention to these bottom feeders. Witness the talk about Rush Limbaugh affecting the primaries. Witness the recent flap over Michael Savage and Autism. Why not just ignore them? By giving them the press, you give them EXACTLY what they want - publicity, and a platform for them to whine, mule and cry about how they are being persecuted by that mean old liberal media machine.

I believe that the proliferation of shows like Limbaugh, etc prove just how shallow we've become as a people, and despite how much we say we want to debate and understand the issues, we really just want to make all the issues a simple x = y event.

If "x" happens it is because of "y". And so much the better "y" is black, latino, an immigrant, on welfare, or whatever.

We are in deep trouble as a country. Watching Fox News or listening to Rush Limbaugh will not help us solve our problems which are extremely deep and widely systemic. We have economic woes. We have social woes. We are running two wars which the conservative press would like you to believe we are winning. Most likely we are not (and Bill Lind has a GREAT piece on that called something like Why McCain is Wrong - EVERY American should read Bill Lind), and the wars are slowly bleeding the life out of this country.

I think the labels Conservative and Liberal are so overused and tired that they really don't mean anything anymore. I also do understand that those on the left sometimes trade in as much hate and fear as those on the right.

I don't consider myself Liberal or Conservative, nor have I for a few years. I call myself a "Recovering Conservative". Like when you decide to get sober of alcohol or drugs. You go to a meeting and get a poker chip.

My mother told me once that my politics were to the right of Pat Buchanan. I am somewhat ashamed that I ever held such views. I now like to consider myself independent. Hopefully a systems thinker. Progressive. Anything but those two other labels.

So, in the final analysis, what is the solution? Do not ban Limbaugh, etc. That will only make them what they want to be: Radio Martyrs. This will "prove" to them and their followers that the world is out to get them. The final solution is to turn them off and ignore them. Read a book. Talk to your wife and kids. Go to the library. Love your neighbor as yourself as Jesus taught us.

Anything but feeding off of those parasites.

Nothing Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter, Michael Savage, Michelle Malkin say is profound or deep. Nothing they say is particularly important in the grand scheme of things either.

Friday, July 4, 2008

The Declaration of Independence

I have a 4th of July tradition. It's not going to see fireworks (although I have done that). It's not eating barbecue (although I have done that, and will do that again today). My tradition is to actually READ the Declaration of Independence each year.

A few years back, I used to post on a certain message board. I put this quote from the Declaration, and then I asked folks to comment on it - especially the question, is our government "working" for us anymore:

"That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security"

A few people on the board accused me of being a traitor and calling for armed insurrection against the government (which I did not, nor would I ever advocate). Others said that since we had our independence, and now had a constitution, that particular line in the Declaration no longer mattered.

I have often wondered what Jefferson, Washington and Franklin would think of the state of the Federal Government, and what they'd say about the state of the Republic. A lot think they would be proud of our actions of late. Others aren't so sure. Since I don't know, they are all dead, I can only go by what they said and wrote when they were alive. Most of their writings indicated they were DEEPLY suspicious of centralized power, and were afraid of it accumulating. Others were deeply suspicious of militarism and standing armies and foreign entanglements. Still others were repulsed by an unholy unity of organized religion and the government.

Of course we are continually told 9/11 changed all of those quaint notions of a weak central government. We had to, in the words of the recently deceased Tim Russert "Go Get Em", before they got us. And, of course, since we were a "Christian" nation, it was all a righteous cause we needed to take to combat the evil in the world (meaning all those who don't believe as we do).

Washington is ruled (yes, ruled, not governed) by a specific class of elites, lobbyists and special intersts. I don't believe it is any longer by the people and for the people. I think there are good people up there, but I believe some go to Washington with good intentions and are co-opted by the system (lured by the power and riches). Others, like Congressman Ron Paul are trying hard, but are swimming upstream.

In asking the questions how our government is working, you have to wonder about the huge outlays of money (the most recent installment of $162 BILLION, almost all of it borrowed, thus mortgaging the future of our country) for continuation of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And recently the revelation of an authorised $400 million for covert operations against Iran (many thinking that it being a preparation for ACTUAL military action). They are spending obscene amounts of money which we don't have.

Meanwhile, our economy at home is hemorrhaging deeply. Many analysts believe that rumors of more war in the gulf against Iran add $40 to $50 dollars per barrel in risk assessment. In the event of an actual war, most analysts now won't even guess at what the price of oil will be. $200? $300? $400? Our infrastructure is crumbling. Many Americans are out of work. Many Americans can't get basic access to health care. This doesn't even consider the horrible misery caused in places OTHER than America due to rising petroleum and food costs.

When pointing out these discrepancies that the money we are spending for war could be used elsewhere, Americans are basically told to shut up and not question. It is traitorous to question. And, oh, by the way to give Americans access to health care and to help them out here at home would be Socialism. We are told that they should get a job so they can get all that stuff for themselves, and that personal responsibility would solve all the problems.

Never mind, a lot of them are working and still falling further behind. Never mind that a lot of people - good hard working people who obey the rules and have faith in the system - in the months and years to come will simply be swallowed up and will not be able to survive without assistance.

What then, am I thinking on this Fourth of July? A few days ago, I wrote about 6 points regarding freedom from fear of war. I think I shall consider those my personal "Declaration of Independence".

I see signs of hubris and arrogance where there is no evidence that we are in a position to be arrogant. We need to wake the hell up before it's too late.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

It continues to amaze me

Lately, there is a lot of talk about an attack on Iran to stop their nuclear program, and their work on nuclear weapons (never mind that the administration has chosen to ignore the NIE which says that Iran is not working on nuclear weapons, and has not been for some time - they choose to believe Israeli "intelligence" or their own, which says that Tehran is only a few years from the bomb).

Hmmmm. Where have we been burned by bad, fabricated intelligence before?

The talk of late has been about Israel attacking Iran (although it is known that US decision makers are dabbling in the idea despite their weak protestations. Most certainly, we will be drawn in anyway, giving us the excuse of having to "defend ourselves"). Most believe that an Israeli attack would not stop the Iranian nuclear program in any way, shape or form - at the very best case, it would only delay it a few years. Most believe that it would be devastating to the world economy.

Where there is great difference is what an attack on Iran would mean, and what would the response be.

Many of those advocating an attack have written that Iran doesn't have the ability to mount any kind of resistance, and the attack would be met with very little resistance. They want you to believe that it would be a "cakewalk".

What amazes me is that people continue to pay any attention to Kristol, Bolton, etc. They have been so wrong, for so long on virtually everything they've said on Afghanistan, Iraq. Why any American would believe them now is as mystifying as anything has ever been to me.

Let's review a little history.

A quick "victory" against the Taliban in Afghanistan. This is what the administration touted. Others said that the Taliban was only stopping the war for a season. Regrouping. Many felt that they would defend Afghanistan, and that Afghanistan was very important psychologically.
Afghanistan is psychologically important because of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Well, a few years have gone by and Afghanistan is as hot as ever (not to mention being a major source for the flow of illegal drugs into the United States) - casualties even eclipsing the casualties in Iraq.

After the quick "defeat" of the Taliban. The Administration moved on to Iraq (never mind that they quit looking for Osama bin Laden, the guy who actually attacked us on 9/11. Never mind that they again left Afghanistan in the lurch as they had done 20 years before when the Soviets left, creating the climate of civil war and anarchy that enabled the Taliban to come to power).

The things they were wrong about in Iraq have been well documented. A few worth remembering is their prediction of the shortness of the war, the President declaring Mission Accomplished, no weapons of mass destruction or any evidence of a weapons of mass destruction program, an insurgency that was unexpected (although it was expected by some. The rag tag insurgencies both in Afghanistan and Iraq have fought the worlds finest Army, essentially to a draw - and the question is really pondered, what could the Iranians do?). The list literally goes on and on.

What's interesting is that after it all, they try to go back and rewrite history - like they expected it all to go down the way it did. Unfortunately, there is that pesky historical record of what they said and how they voted.

So now we come to Iran. The NIE says no nuclear program. Well, the administration of course knows better. They have their own "intelligence". There IS a nuclear program. And the Iranians ARE building a bomb. It exists because we say it exists. Like connecting Saddam to 9/11 and continually saying he had weapons of mass destruction (despite inspection evidence to the contrary), they seem to think if you say it enough it becomes truth.

Then there is the speculation on the Iranian response to an attack. Bill Lind (every American should read Bill Lind has said that an attack on Iran could literally lead to the loss of the Army in Iraq. How that could happen is well explained by Mr. Lind in his "On War" columns.

Today, the US Navy said that no matter what, the Persian Gulf would be kept open. Of course a lot of Americans believe that the Navy is entirely capable of this. What could a bunch of Iranians in little speed boats do to us (sort of along the same lines as what could 19 guys with box cutters do to the mighty US of A). Americans should read about a man named General Van Riper and a war game called Millennium Challenge 2002. This is certainly one avenue available to the Iranians.

All of the other empires in history (and yes, I know. We are not an "empire". Right) have had these cataclysmic, empire changing, or ending events. Usually this occurs when the hubris and arrogance has gotten to the point where the empire thinks itself completely invincible.

I see signs in the government, in the media and in the people, that we are there, or getting close.

Up till now, our entanglements in the war on terror have been much worse than predicted (but apparently not bad enough to give most Americans pause and question what is being done in their name). 4000+ dead Americans (and an untold number of Iraqi's) tells us this is true.

We haven't yet had that cataclysmic, empire changing (or ending) event. But, just because it hasn't happened to us, doesn't mean that it isn't possible. It could happen with any foreign policy misadventure the administration decides to take.

I PERSONALLY believe that an attack on Iran will happen. I have believed it for a long time (just as I have always believe that Saddam's fate was sealed on 9/12/01 if not sooner, despite the Administration's claims they wanted to solve the Iraq problem diplomatically - DOES THAT SOUND FAMILIAR??????) I also believe that no amount of debate or protest will stop it. The media and Congress are compliant co-conspirators in any attack on Iran because they have FAILED to critically ask the questions (and in certain cases they have voted on bills to make it easier to justify an attack). Just like most of them FAILED to ask the questions in the run up to the Iraq war (not that it would have made a difference there either).

What can you do. You just pray, write, talk about peace and hope for the best. You hope you are being paranoid about the things that the Bill Lind's and the General Van Riper's are saying (although you suspect that at some point, our luck is REALLY going to run out).

This gang is going to do what they want to do regardless of the will of the people.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Freedom from fear, aversion to war - 6 points

These are some things I've been thinking about over the past few weeks.

I realize that those who are convinced there are terrorists behind every mail box, and every Muslim is out to kill us and take away our way of life will think me terribly naive, and out of touch with reality. Like I care. We are continually told that "everything changed on 9/11". Some things did change. What changed is that Americans were willing to trust the government, and to trade freedom and liberty for "security" (and in the process got less of both). What changed is that a lot of Americans started to believe that it didn't matter what happened to anyone else in the world, as long as we were safe, fat, dumb and happy here in America, everything was OK. What changed is that we were willing to let go of some of our deepest values, the rule of law, the fact that we don't do empire, and the fact that we don't torture.

1. I will not call anyone my enemy just because my government tells me to. This includes Iranians, Iraqi's, Afghani's, Pakistani's, or any other country who happens to take a turn in the Administration's "Axis of Evil"

2. I will not be afraid because my government tells me to. Some Americans are terrified that they are going to be killed by terrorists. The Administration has done a GREAT job of stoking that fear. The media has been a willing co-conspirator. I have never been afraid of terrorists. I have a better chance of an unlicensed, uninsured, AMERICAN drunk driver plowing into me and killing me on any weekend night than to be killed by a member of Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas or the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

3. I will not give my government a pass on killings or torture just because they say they were "terrorists". There has been a lot of coverage on the killings in Haditha. All of the Marines involved have been let off the hook in one way or another. The people on the right have been crowing that this "proves" that they did the right thing. But, the fact is that 24 people, most of them women and children are still just as dead. There has also been a lot of coverage on torture, our use of secret prisons, Guantanamo Bay, etc. Some of the stories sound more like they should have come from Soviet Russia, or other ruthless dictatorships. Certainly NOT America.

4. I will keep myself informed. There is nothing more valuable to the current Administration than uninformed Americans. Uninformed Americans enabled the Administration to be able to convince that Saddam was involved in 9/11 and there were WMD's in Iraq. The Administration is going down the same road with regard to Iran - there are a few more people this time who are questioning it - this, I know must really irk the Administration - the script is not working as well this time. Unfortunately though, no matter how much questioning goes on, they will decide to go to war, and then it won't matter much.

5. I will study, pray for, talk about, write about peace. As I wrote about a quote from an Iraqi Doctor in a previous blog, dropping bombs (or torturing, or occupying a country) signals a loss of imagination. Too many Americans cannot imagine their country ever being able to be at peace with the world. It is not because it is not possible - it is because we do not have enough imagination. It is also because a lot of Americans, in reality simply do not want to live at peace with the rest of the world. I am absolutely convinced that we are on a path to war with Iran. The signs are all there. The Administration weakly bleats that they are trying for "diplomacy" but that "all options are on the table". It simply amazes me that Americans do not remember that this was almost the exact same script used for the run-up to the war in Iraq. It also amazes me that virtually every thing they said about the war in Iraq (we'd be greeted as liberators, the war would be over quickly, it would be paid for with Iraqi oil money) was dead WRONG. Why any American would trust ANYTHING they'd have to say regarding Iran is beyond me.

6. I will try not to lose hope. This is the hardest thing of all. The economy is tanking here at home. Americans continue to die in Iraq and Afghanistan (as well as Iraqi's and Afghani's). If we attack Iran, my belief is that the world's economy will crash in a huge way, and we will see misery worldwide that we cannot even imagine at this point. How can I not lose hope with all of those things? I don't know. But I'll try.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Irresistible Revolution

Just finished reading Irresistible Revolution, Living as an Ordinary Radical by Shane Claiborne

I read this book when it first came out. Normally, I do not read books more than one time, but Shane's book is definitely worth more than one read.

Re-reading Shane's book reminded me of things I had been thinking about and pondering. Mostly I have been very troubled and convicted by the implications of the last verses of Matthew 25 (Sheep and Goats).

Shane is kind of a frightening looking guy, at least to some "respectable Christian folk" (certainly not me). He has dreadlocks, a scraggly beard, weird looking glasses, and he makes his own clothes. Definitely not your typical preacher in a slick $1000 dollar suit.

He is part of a seemingly new, encouraging breed of evangelicals (this group includes Tony Campolo and Jim Wallis as well). These are Christians who are encouraging a more full living of the gospel message (i.e. working for peace, working on Social Justice and environmental issues, feeding the poor, taking care of each other), and not just a few narrow morality issues or evangelizing to get people "saved" and into heaven (certainly that is important, but it can become too narrow a focus, leaving a lot of pain and suffering for those who have to live here till it's time to go to heaven).

Shane lives in a community in Philadelphia called The Simple Way. The book talks a lot about his work on Peace and Social Justice issues. Shane talks about his staying with Mother Teresa in Calcutta (I love that he calls her Momma T).

Shane also talks of his time spent in Iraq early on in the US invasion and occupation. I love the quote from one of the doctors in Iraq that he talks to:

"Violence is for those who have lost their imagination. Has your country lost its imagination?"

I think this line speaks volumes. And it speaks volumes for our dealings with other countries such as Iran. To drop bombs and initiate wars means you have FAILED in diplomacy. I would go one further and say that in the case of Iraq, that diplomacy was not tried at all - only as a means to buy time (and to give the look of legitimacy - as they said "we tried hard, we tried diplomacy, but it didn't "work" so now we have to go to war") to get ready for the invasion which had already been decided on.

In the case of Iran, the signs look eerily similar.

A lot of bad things happened this past Friday with the economy. 5.5% unemployment. Barrels of Oil going up $11 in one day. The stock market crashing. Americans are worried. A lot of people are losing their jobs, losing their homes. Some are on the brink. Everywhere you look there seems to be gloom and doom. Comparisons are made to the time of the Great Depression (and the economy looks bad now, but if you read about the economy then - there is no comparison - the Great Depression dwarfed this economic trouble in terms of scope. That is not to say that the economy might not get worse before it is all over).

And there is a lot of pain both here and in other countries. But, we ALWAYS claim to be a Christian nation. And in the Bible there are answers to these questions on how to survive these times. How we should be taking care of one another. How we should be sharing. How we should be living out community. How we can live alternatively to the "systems" of the world. Shane's book gives great "real world" application of that.

Too often though, Christianity is not real to us. I am not so simplistic as to say that all we have to do is just read the Bible and all will be well (I struggle with the worry and the fear myself, but take great comfort in Matthew 6:28-34). I also do not say that just because you read the Bible or are a Christian you won't lose your job or your house.

What I'm saying is that I think we have lost the sense of community which says that we are to take care of each other (See Acts 2:42-47, Matthew 25:31-46). Since I read the book the first time, I had done a lot of study on the Catholic Worker Movement and the lives of Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin (Shane mentions them several times in the book). I think their work also shows what true community is, and what taking care of each other really means.

As G. K. Chesterton said:

"The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried."

Shane's book shows us a little bit about how we can translate these biblical ideas into real world application.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

What if they gave a war......

....and nobody came?

This is a pretty interesting piece written by a guy named Colby Buzzell. He wrote a book based on his experiences in Iraq and he also blogs (his blog link is at the end of the link below). I confess, I have never read his book or his blog. I picked it up in the library and looked at it though. The point of the piece is that now he is being "invited" by the Army to go back to Iraq for a second time.

I'm convinced in reading this, that he is using this forum to do some pretty serious soul searching. You can tell that he obviously doesn't really want to go back (and possibly end up being a newspaper cliche - "he died on his second (or third, or fourth, or fifth) tour in Iraq), but grudgingly says that he probably will. Who would want to go back? Especially after starting to try to "normalize" your life again.

He also spends a lot of time saying he was glad that he did it the first time, and he'd tell others to do it (so they could go in his place).

But then he gets into the crux of the matter. That the US is making him go because they have access to him, and not any "fresh meat" (those who won't enlist).

This points up the ridiculous assertion the government keeps making that we still have "the worlds finest all volunteer military". Stop loss is on the rise, and they are doing this kind of recall of those who've done their time (and some more than their time) all the time.

What we have is a weird rickety hybrid military draft, held together with bailing wire and duct tape.

But why wouldn't kids want to join to be sent to Iraq for the glory of it? Why wouldn't they want to expose themselves to death or possible permanent dismemberment? Why wouldn't they, IF they were lucky to get home in one piece want to live through the horrors of PTSD? Who wouldn't want to do that for the glory of "fighting for ones country"?

I feel bad that this guy is having to go back to war again. I don't share his assessment that it is the fault of those who are NOT enlisting. It is the fault of those who sent us to war without an accurate understanding of the country they were invading and subsequently occupying. It is the fault of those who sent too few troops into Iraq, despite being told by the likes of General Shinseki that it would take several hundred thousand troops to pacify Iraq (comments which the delusional Paul Wolfowitz called "wildly off the mark").

It is the fault of those who keep this country at perpetual war despite the massive costs to our economy and the day to day, month to month grinding down of our military - spouting the mindless platitudes of "we must win" and "we must not cut and run" and "we are fighting them there so we don't fight them here" - without ever giving any idea of what "winning" in Iraq REALLY means.

Very few ask the questions - what does "winning" mean - they probably don't do it because they get more mindless platitudes and Republican "talking points" (and for a great example of that see Chris Matthews versus radio moron Kevin James). And they also get told that they are traitors, and "appeasers" and un-American. Pretty soon, they just grow despondent, clam up, and go along to get along.

They rationalize it away by saying "well, those guys in Washington and on TV are a lot smarter than me". What can one person do?

They cannot MAKE anyone go to war. THAT is a fact. That is not to say that there won't be consequences (prison, being ostracized, etc), but no one can be MADE to go to war.

From Mr. Buzzell's piece: "What if there were a war and none of the veterans who were called up showed up?" Indeed. What if?

We say that we are a peace loving country and only fight when we have to. Our actions say differently. How many more of these guys are going to have to keep going back? The more times you are in harms way, the more chances there are for something bad to happen.

Like Bob Dylan says "how many deaths will it take till we see, that too many people have died". The answer, according the the administration is not "Blowin' in the wind". The answer is, we'll be at war till we say we're damned good and ready to not be at war (which won't ever happen), and not a moment sooner. And if you don't like it, "So?"

Good luck and God Bless Colby.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

A Picture

I was having a discussion with someone close to me the other day. That particular individual said, why do you talk about the war all the time, why are you so disgusted by it, you know there is nothing you can do about it, so why do you talk about it?


So, maybe I am wasting my time here. Maybe I have wasted a few minutes every ten or fifteen days writing this blog for the past year or so to send to four or five people who may or may not even read it.

In this blog, I've written about the war, the plight of our veterans, a possible new war with Iran, economic and ecological issues and some other things. When I go back and look, a lot of the predictions I've made and the things I've said have held up pretty well. This blog certainly has helped me to flesh out my positions and ideas.

Over the past few days I've been looking at a picture that has deeply troubled me. It is a picture of a young boy, killed in Iraq, when US bombs leveled his house.

Helen Thomas wrote a piece about the picture ( that said generally we Americans can handle the truth about war (I'm not so sure about that - war is ugly, horrible, putrid, sick, demented, twisted - but a lot of the people in the US keep trying to portray it as glorious).

I'm reminded of an episode of MASH, where a shot down pilot wanders into the 4077th. He is talking about how great the war is for him - leaves his wife in the morning, drops his bombs, and is home at night for cocktails at the officers club with his wife. Hawkeye makes him help hauling around bodies. The pilot then sees a little girl of eight or nine who has been hurt by bombs.

He asks, whose were they, ours or theirs? They tell him it doesn't matter. He says it does matter, they say, "not to her".

Later in the episode, Hawkeye is telling the guy that he did what he did on purpose (exposing him to the reality of the war) because he seemed like too decent of a guy to pretend that it was all OK.

Do we believe this little guy's life matters? Or is he just the cost of "keeping us safe here in America" - to use the euphemism "collateral damage"? Are the people in his family likely to support the Iraqi government after this? Are the people in his family likely to look with favor on their occupiers? Are we likely to have won the hearts and minds of his family? Their neighbors? Other Iraqi's who see this picture?

It is amazing that we are so insulated. The Pentagon and the government in general learned their lessons VERY well from Vietnam, all the while telling the lie that we would have won THAT war if the media and others at home would have just minded their own business and let the Pentagon and Washington fight the war the way it should have been fought.

We don't get to see the coffins coming back from the war zone. We don't get to see a lot of the harsh realities of the war on the news. Casualty numbers and Iraq war coverage is downplayed.

They've borrowed most all of the money so we haven't had to feel the pain financially (although we are going to feel it, and feel it hard at some point). There is no military draft, the military is "all volunteer" (unless of course you've been "stop-lossed"). The people performing a lot of the logistics are not drafted either. They are in essence mercenaries - but, hey, they're getting paid for it and paid well.

All of that helps to insulate us from the war. UNTIL we see the picture of this young man. He was not a militia man, nor was he a terrorist. He was a two year old boy killed, in the middle of what is in essence, two groups of Shiites fighting like vultures over control of the carcass of Iraq. A fight which we chose sides in, and a fight which we are now heavily involved in.

In this fight, we are backing what we call the "legitimate government" of Iraq. They are fighting against "criminal militias", "militants" and "terrorists". Is the "government" we are backing and supporting with air strikes and troops viewed as the legitimate government throughout Iraq? The middle east? The world? Chances are, since it's backed by the US, the answer would be no.

Never mind that the government, still after 5+ years cannot provide the most basic services for her citizens.

But, we press on. American soldiers and Iraqi citizens continue to die. No one, including the President or the crop of Presidential candidates can articulate a clear picture of what it means to "win" in Iraq - although they keep saying that's what needs to happen.

Congress, the media, and others don't ask the question - why are we still there? Who gets to decide when we've "won"? What are we really doing in Iraq?

How many more are going to have to die? Unfortunately, probably a lot.

Saturday, April 26, 2008


There is a lot in the news about food lately. Food riots, food shortages, food costs rising, etc.

We even hear about food "shortages" here in the good old United States, breadbasket to the world. These are mostly currently centered on rice, and when you get down to the bottom of it, you find that, yes, it is a shortage, but a shortage of CERTAIN kinds of rice. The people most likely to eat that kind of rice would not be likely to eat any other kind. Many articles have mentioned that rice is a highly segmented market. I don't know if I totally buy into that completely, or they are just saying that to avoid panic. Only time will tell.

Here is just one example - people fleeing Haiti to get away from grinding, horrible poverty.

This is heartbreaking for sure, but disgustingly enough, this is nothing new for this nation. This has been going on for years and years and years. In 1988, I was on Coast Guard ships that were doing the same things for the same reason. The time that has gone by with nothing changing is enough to make you want to cry.

A lot of these famines and food shortages are sometimes driven by corrupt, ineffective governments, lousy infrastructure, poor agricultural planning (sometimes a lot of it centralized in capital cities by the corrupt ineffective governments cited above).

A lot of these "crises" are part of a news cycle, then they go away, and the people forget. Remember Somalia in the 1990's (astonishingly THAT country is in no better shape today either)? We sent troops there just to move the food, and then got involved instead in an ugly little war.

There are a lot of reasons being tossed around for this latest round of food insecurity. Higher fuel prices. Changing diets in India and China (more meat eaten, causing more grain to be used to raise that meat). Commodities markets out of control. Globalization. Overpopulation (although I believe a country like Haiti would struggle to feed her people with even a quarter of their population).

I waiver between believing some of these reasons and not believing some of them. I also waiver between believing this is just more of the same, or crisis of a differing, more permanent quality.

In the final analysis, I believe that at the bottom, this is not necessarily a food "shortage" (although there might be shortages of specific food stuff items), but a recurring system wide distribution problem.

I have read a lot about this over the past few weeks. A lot of the experts (in governments, NGO's, the UN, academia, etc) say that if you take the amount of food produced in the world and divide it between the world's peoples equitably, there is enough.

It should be noted that the UN is asking for more MONEY to distribute the food. There is a HUGE distinction between saying that there is a food crisis and needing more money and a food shortage where no amount of money will do the trick.

I'm not smart enough to know how to solve the problem permanently. I do know that the richer countries will have to get serious, and more importantly REMAIN serious (not just throwing money at the problem when a crisis situation erupts and then forgetting about it after the crisis passes) if we are to eradicate world hunger. I do believe that what is going on now is certainly a setback to progress that might have been made so far.

We like to claim we are a Christian nation. A lot of us tend to balk at the foreign aid that goes to feed a lot of the worlds peoples (although very few Christians seem to have any problem with the spending of billions of dollars in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan).

Why is it my problem if Haiti (or any other country) can't feed her own people because of their own mismanagement?

Recall Jesus' words in Matthew 25 (from the New International Version, not my favorite translation, where he talks about at the final judgement, separating sheep into goats):

"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.

Then the righteous will answer him, Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give your something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?

The King will reply, I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."

It goes on at length about them not doing these things for Christ (feeding, clothing, etc), and they want to know when they saw Christ in all of these situations. Christ finishes with:

"He will reply, I tell you the truth, whatever you DID NOT DO (emphasis mine) for one of the least of these, you DID NOT DO (emphasis mine) for me.

Who would be considered the "least" right now? Haitians, Africans, Asians, Central and South Americans, and the poorest in this country.

If we are the Christian nation we claim to be, we simply have to be an integral part of the solution to this problem.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Way Out West

Just finished a week in Las Vegas.

I spent an entire week, and did not check e-mail once. I did not read really anything news wise on the internet that I normally read daily (the person we stayed with had no internet access). I didn't really watch the news at all only in bits and pieces (I did see enough to see that Barack Obama made a MAJOR misstep in Pennsylvania and left the door open for the Clintons).


The thing that strikes me about Las Vegas both this time and when I went two years ago is that Las Vegas seems entirely unsustainable as a community in the long term.

There are people on top of people (and the automobile traffic is horrendous creating a lot of haze), huge hotels, swimming pools in almost every yard (you can see it when you fly in - and oh, by the way, Phoenix the same thing (we had a short layover in Phoenix on the way back).

There are also a lot of homeless people wandering around (great place for it - good warm weather all year round). Of course they were not on the strip where all the tourists are (they are sent away from there - who wants to pay several hundred dollars to stay in a huge opulent hotel and meet homeless people when you walk out the door), but are all around the city on the fringes.

When you go to Hoover Dam and see how low the lake is after a seven year drought cycle, you understand that at some point there are going to be pretty serious water issues (and there are already water issues). This small water source called Lake Mead is the water source for several million people, and billions of dollars of agriculture over several western states. And there is not much to it, and it's getting smaller every year.

To top it all off, they are building several MORE mega-hotels on the strip. They are building these hotels 24 hours a day - we watched them working at 10:30 at night one night.

I had a great time, and there are a lot of neat things to see (and one of my favorite sights is the Conservatory in the Bellagio), but Las Vegas, at some point will be gone. All those people cannot continue to live there without something giving.

One other thing. People are always walking around like zombies on the strip day and night. One flight attendant I talked to said she HATES flying out of Vegas - people come out of there having not slept in days, consumed massive amounts of alcohol, are dehydrated and have usually lost a good sum of money (probably money they can in no way afford to spend - NOBODY wins in Las Vegas, especially with all the machines now being digital and electronic). In short, they are damned cranky.

It is a place that I think capsulizes most Americans desire for instant gratification and consumption. The amount of food eaten and wasted and the opulence of the hotels borders on the obscene.

I'm not moralizing or sermonizing or saying that people who go there are bad or anything, those are just my observations.

We took a side trip to the Grand Canyon (South Rim). Now, we didn't do any burro riding or white water rafting or flights over the canyon, or hiking. We went to it in a speeding car, spent a few hours there, and then went home in a speeding car. Even seen that way, it is something that every human being should see at least once in their lives. It is simply awe inspiring.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

I gotta call BS on this one

The Vice President is certainly giving a blogger like myself a lot of things to write about this week.

This is another stellar interview with Martha Raddatz (boy is SHE getting some notoriety this week as well).

What I have to call BS on is this line:

"The president carries the biggest burden, obviously," Cheney said. "He's the one who has to make the decision to commit young Americans, but we are fortunate to have a group of men and women, the all-volunteer force, who voluntarily put on the uniform and go in harm's way for the rest of us."

I acknowledge that the President's job in doing that must be hard (although he never convinces ME personally that he finds it that hard).

But who is he kidding?

He bears a bigger burden than a 22 or 23 year old Army wife with one or two small children (maybe working a minimum wage job with limited economic prospects) who finds she's suddenly a widow, left to care for small children alone?

He bears a bigger burden than a young child who is of an age of awareness (not a little baby) that loses his Father or Mother?

He bears a bigger burden than a 55 or 60 year old woman who suddenly is faced with caring for a profoundly broken human being for the rest of both of their lives?

He bears a bigger burden than a person who suddenly has one or several of his friends in the field killed or savagely wounded?

Americans are very uncritical of a lot of the things that the Administration says, but this one should be challenged. It simply is nonsense.

The Vice President essentially goes on in the interview and says that this is an "all volunteer force" (even though Ms. Raddatz tries to ask the questions about "stop loss" he essentially waves her off) - he doesn't come right out and say it, but he is saying, quit whining, and do what we tell you for as long as we tell you. You signed the papers, deal with it.

Then, the Vice President says we must "win" in Iraq. As I have pointed out several times, there is never any real indication of what that really means. Not before this interview, and not in this interview.

I think often of World War II veterans (of which I'm proud to say my Dad was one) who also had to "win" before they could go home. But in that case, it was VERY clear what it meant to win. Defeat Germany and defeat Japan (both of which were accomplished in LESS time than we have spent fighting a rag tag band of fighters).

There is no such certainty here. They are just supposedly to continue fighting till someone tells them to stop? Or are we to trust our leaders to make the correct decisions as to when victory comes?

Of course the President has already said we won once with his "mission accomplished" speech, and even before the war this was supposed to be easy. A cakewalk, welcomed as liberators.

They want you to forget all this.

The historical revision now is that, there is no way we could have known, situation on the ground has changed, and that's why we need to still be there, etc. This is nonsense. Have our senses become so dull and uncritical that we can't see through this?

There were those who predicted EXACTLY what was going to happen. Either they (the decisions makers in Washington) didn't really know (or care) what was going to happen - in which case you have to question their ability to govern, and their judgment, or they knew what was going to happen and decided to roll the dice and do it anyway - convinced we were so powerful that the laws of history and empire simply didn't matter.

Either way, it doesn't paint a pretty picture of how we are governed.

TELL US WHAT IT REALLY MEANS TO "WIN" - don't just say "we must win". I refuse to accept that answer any more. I simply CAN NOT.

I want to know what it means. I think we deserve that as a country. We've contributed billions of dollars (with billions more yet to come, and trillions more in debt yet to be paid back), 4000 of our finest kids (unfortunately, with more to come), and a literally unknown number of our kids profoundly broken physically, emotionally and spiritually (unfortunately with more to come).

We all should refuse to accept that answer any more.

Monday, March 24, 2008

4000 or "So" Deaths

It was almost too much to stomach finding out about the grim milestone of 4000 deaths in the Iraq war during the same weekend Christians celebrated the resurrected Lord Jesus, the Prince of Peace.

Of course, then the standard journalistic cliche comes into play in all the articles that compared to the timeline and violence of other wars, this one is not too bad (then they list statistics like 58,000 or so killed in Vietnam, etc). I'm sure that the families and friends of those 4000 killed are not necessarily thinking that way. Are we so dull that we really believe that line? That we're getting a good deal because not as many Americans have been killed?

Some time before we all found out this grim statistic, the Vice President in an interview with Martha Raddatz, was asked, essentially if he cared what Americans thought of the war, and the worthiness of Americas participation in it. At the end of her line of questioning, he basically told her "So"? As in, I really don't give a crap what the American people think or say. Then he launched into a diatribe about not paying attention to polls, and, just for good measure he compared the Bush administration to President Lincoln during the civil war.

Below is a pretty good op-ed by Mickey Edwards in the Washington Post. I included Mr. Edwards bio on Wikipedia, lest it is thought that he is some wild-eyed ranting liberal America hater ( Looks to me like this is a guy with SOLID Conservative credentials.

Mr. Edwards points out that "It is the people who should decide whether the nation shall go to war. That is not a radical, or liberal, or unpatriotic idea. It is the very heart of America's constitutional system."

He goes on to say that "In Europe, before America's founding, there were rulers and their subjects. The Founders decided that in the United States there would be not subjects but citizens. Rulers tell their subjects what to do, but citizens tell their government what to do"

He doesn't really go far enough in talking about past history. He should also say that despots and dictators in all times and places took their countries to war and KEPT their countries at war without regard to the opinions or desires of the people. And when pressed on it, they usually tried to make it look like they were actually doing the people's bidding.

As 4000 of our finest young Americans are now dead, we should be always asking questions of our government. As Mr. Edwards points out, essentially THEY work for US. A lot of Americans don't really believe this in their hearts, as we've been kowtowed and beaten down and convinced that the people in Washington are smarter than us, and that they really have our best interests at heart, and that since we don't have the money and the power, we have no say in the matter.

The questions we need to be asking, and more importantly ANSWERING:

Are we really a safer country than we were when the Iraq war started? Are we a BETTER country than when the Iraq war started (in terms of nobility, and bravery and honor, and overall standing and perception in the world)? Would this war REALLY prevent any terrorist attacks on the United States? How much longer are we going to send good men and women to their deaths? How much longer are we going to make a small, thin slice of the population sacrifice?

What does it mean to "win" ? Who gets to decide how long we stay in Iraq? What is the criteria to determine if we've "won"?

Has it really been worth it in terms of blood and treasure? Will it have been worth it if it fundamentally changes who we are as a people, and not in a good way?

These are questions I've asked (and others have certainly asked them as well, much more eloquently than me) over and over without expecting any real answers from our "leadership".

It would be tragic if we were still asking these same questions as the counter rolls to 5000 or 6000 or more wouldn't it?

Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday Ruminations

Easter Weekend. It's the time when Christians recognize the crucifixion of Jesus and celebrate his resurrection 3 days later.

We talk a lot about Jesus' death on the cross. We talk about how it was for our sins. We talk about how many believe his life, death and resurrection were all foretold in the Old Testament. This is all well and good.

What we don't talk much about is WHY Jesus was crucified.

The simple fact is that Jesus was crucified because he was a revolutionary and a threat to not only the secular power (the occupying Romans), but the the religious authority of his time as well. In the New Testament he constantly berates the religious leaders of his time - even calling them a brood of vipers, and essentially dead within.

He was a revolutionary. The things he said and the deeds he did were extremely counter cultural then, and they are counter cultural now.

By counter-cultural, I mean that Jesus talked about taking care of each other - loving your neighbor as yourself. Denying self. Turning the other cheek. Seeking peace. Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, etc (Matthew 25). Not buying into the worldly power structures, riches and ideas about "strength".

Those things eventually got him killed.

I've always felt that if you were going to design a religion (or make one up as many atheists contend), Christianity with it's message of peace, denying self and humility would NOT be the religion that man would make up.

I often wonder if he (Jesus) came back now for a short visit and visited any 10 churches chosen at random, would he even recognize American Christianity as espousing his radical life and teachings?

I was watching a news clip of the President talking to a group of religious broadcasters (most likely the likes of Pat Robertson, etc) and saying that toppling Saddam Hussein was the right thing then, and is the right thing now, and will always be the right thing. And these religious broadcasters greeted that with wild enthusiastic applause.

It is no secret that a lot of Christians of every variety support the war. A lot of them believe that George W. Bush and the power and might of the US Military is an instrument of God. Some of them believe that these wars may even hasten the return of Christ, and that is why they are so supportive of it.

I am no theologian or religious scholar (or even a religious broadcaster), but I have to wonder. If Jesus did not topple the occupying regime of his time (the Romans), despite repeated begging by his disciples to do so - to be the powerful, kick butt and take names Messiah THEY wanted him to be, and constant misunderstanding of his mission, why on earth would we think that he would approve any kind of violent regime change now?

A lot of people say that on 9/11 everything changed and that's why we need to have these wars. To "protect" ourselves.

God didn't change on 9/11/01. God's message, and Jesus example of his life and ministry was the same on 9/11/o1 as it was on 9/10/01 or 9/12/01, or now. We changed. We became scared (of course our "leadership" helped us along). We decided to trust in bombers and cruise missiles and tanks and infantry and not God. We decided that we were going to wreak vengeance on the rest of the world in a "Clash of Civilizations" or "War on Terror" or "War on Islamofacism" under the guise of "spreading democracy" and "making America safer".

I think every person in America who is Christian needs to ask and answer some questions this Easter Weekend.

These questions need to be asked and answered by each individual - not just spouting something your pastor said, or something you read in a book and calling the questions answered, but by each individual conscience with the guidance of the Spirit.

Do we REALLY understand how radical the entire message of Jesus really is? This includes his teachings on peace and taking care of the poor. Or are we so dulled by a week after week watering down of the message that we don't recognize it's radical nature?

I think these questions are so critical. I think we ignore them at our peril.

I close this with something I've put in this blog before from Luke Chapter 9, verses 52-56.

Jesus is not accepted in a certian village. Verse 54 says "And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did?

Verse 55 and 56 say "But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them. And they went to another village."

Not to destroy men's lives but to save them. That includes Iraqi's, Palestinians, Africans, Asians, Arabs, Persians, and all other peoples - even the ones our media, government and certain "religious broadcasters" tell us we should hate. Even Americans. That is radical stuff.

Are we helping to save lives? That is another question each individual Christian must grapple with.