Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Does Rev. Wright have it right?

I am very saddened by the appearance of Rev. Jeremiah Wright at the National Press Club yesterday. To call it just another disaster for the public face of American Christianity is too be kind. The church has weathered storms about hurricanes being redirected by prayers. 911 had been called "God's judgment for our tolerance of homsexuals" by one well known White evangelical preacher. The prosperity gospel continues to come out of pulpits graced by white and black preachers. The Pope came and faced up to the sexual abuse scandals of Catholic clergy. It was about time! We have seen worse! Jesus said he would build the church and that nothing would prevail against it. I believe Jesus is the only thing holding the Church together.
We have also seen egotistical preachers use their large followings to influence political campaigns. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson see themselves as kingmakers--as did Bob Jones and Radio broadcast James Dobson. I am saddened that Rev. Wright took it upon himself to sabbatoge the groundbreaking run of one of his parishioners, Barak Obama.The timing couldn't be worse for Obama. The Wright question stopped Obama's move to close the large gap in Pennsylvania. PA was a tough state for him because it is the oldest state (next to Florida) and has a big blue collar population (another Clinton stronghold). PA has few young people (an Obama stronghold) Yet Wright's comments fed all the stereotypical fears American white have about Blacks: they blame whites for all their problems, they are not sufficiently patriotic and oppose American wars of intervention, they are prone to incendiary and irrational views. In sum: they can't be trusted and would attempt to change everything Americans hold dear.
If Wright would have just stayed out of the limelinght for another 10 days Obama would probably become the next President. He was leading by 16% in North Carolina and was ahead 5% in Indiana. If that margin held Ms. Clinton would be hard pressed to continue with no money and no hope to win the nomination. Already the poll numbers have dramatically reversed. It will be bloody but I think Obama is becoing unelectable.
George Will jumped on the "This proves Obama is incapable of being President" bandwagon this morning writing:
"Wright is releveant. He is a demogogue with whom Obama has had a voluntary 20 year relationship. It has involved, if not moral approval, certainly no serious disapproval. Wright is an ongoing fountain of anti-American and, properly understood, anti black rubbish. His speech demonstrated that he wants to be a central figure in this presidential campaign. HE SHOULD BE."

I fear we will get an old man John McCain who has no interest or knowledge of economic issues, no desire to change course on fiscal or health care policy, and will keep 100,000 or more troops in Iraq for another 10 years. The legedendary fiasco of President George W. Bush would get another term. If you question my logic answer this: What ideas has McCain offered that are different then Bush? I have one--he would bring us back into a cold war with China and Russia. Did you catch that foreign policy speech? John --you are losing it!

The large claim Wright made is a church issue--finally a topic I have some expertise. He said that an attack on him is an attack on the whole Black Church. Wow! Such ego! Since when was "The Black church" only about denouncing America (even echoing Louis Farrakhan). I have spoken to African American Presbyterians who worship here and they say Wright's blame america and Blame white is the central pulpit theme in many black churches. It is not the only theme. Wright is not the archetypal representative of the African American church. Martin Luther King had a whole different message. I spent weeks with Rev. James Forbes of the Riverside church--you don't hear that stuff from him. Self help and using "god's help" to overcome barriers of prejudice is a more comon theme in Black churches i have attended.
Eugene Robinson had a great column in the Post about the diversity of the Black church. He gave examples: The civil rights Methodist church he grew up in. The bible thumping, hell fire and damnation perorations that fill Black Baptist churches that focus on salvation instead of politics. Then there are the Pentcost spellbinders like TDJakes. You will notice Jakes was not present yesterday.
All of the great "ism" that plague American society: racism, sexism, and classism are held together by sterotypes. The people in these groups are touted to not be individuals with all sorts of unique character traits and who share common values with the rest of the country. Instead they possess attitudes and views of the world that are out of touch with "American values." These groups should then be not trusted and "feared." When someone who affirms all these negative sterotypes appears on the scene you just let them run their mouth then when they are finished speaking you only have to say:"Well, what did you expect from THEM."

Robinson got it right about Wright. He is trying to throw Obama under the bus for the sin of questioning some of the more reprehensible things Wright has said. Ego maniacs with his type of self righteous--- "it's white America's fault for all what ails Black in America" are not easily silenced. Too bad for Obama. Too bad for the country. Sadly these self defeating attitudes still persist.

Monday, April 21, 2008

What we call sin

I still have not discovered how to edit my posts. I apologize for all the typos and for the factual errors. I mixed up Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen. Joel who wrote about "Uptown Girl" (Christy Brinkely) being with in love with a "Downtown Boy" (Joel) and all the overbuilding in Long Island ("condo Town") also sung about the steelworkers being out of luck in "Allentown."
The economic meltdown in the rust belt was a 1980's phenomena not an event from the Bush-Clinton-Bush Presidencies. The destruction of well paying and secure blue collar jobs is an old, but still painful story. It is still hotly debated in the "blamestorming" sessions of the political campaign committees.

A new survey came about about Americans attitudes about sin. 87% of Americans believe in the concept of sin. Maybe more now that Benedict got such a warm reception. Here's the percentage of Americans who view certain activities as sinful:
Adultery 81% (seems low)
Racism 74%
Use of hard drugs 65% Its scary that 35% think drug use is OK
Abortion 56%
Homosexual activity 52% which is tied with under-reporting income to IRS
Gambling 30%.

We will soon get to vote on gambling in Maryland. Expect a lot of advertising both pro and con. The pro gambling forces will be well financed. The anti-gambling forces will mainly be churches. It is well known that gambling is effectively a tax on the poorest and most vulnerable members of our society. A majority of lottery tickets are sold in PG and Montgomery county -- mostly to poorer citizen. Gambling is justified as a NON-TAX INCREASE way to fund government services. Usually it is packaged as a painless way to fund schools or aid seniors citizen.
I have never purchased a lottery ticket. My wife won't let me walk through the casinos when we are on a cruise ship. I will vote against the referendum. I won't rail against it because my constituency that gambles sees it as a modestly expensive form of entertainment. "See a few shows and play some slots and enjoy a few days out of town."
However, I think we are naive if we don't think legalized gambling corrupts the political system. When will we stop avoiding the need to pay (and tax) for services we deem necessary. These "sin taxes" on cigs, booze and now gambling is seen as a harmless way to let those who want to sin--pay for the privledge. some states are building roads and charging tolls so that the drivers (the ones who can afford it) who use them pay the cost. This turns us further into a class system that American has long adhorred. We need road and we need better public transportation. Decide to build adequate infrastructure--compute the cost--levy the taxes---and get on with it. Or will we call driving on a toll road a "sin tax for not wasting hours stuck in traffic."

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Let me tell you about real small town life

John Cougar Mellencamp has a song about life in small towns (I was born in a small town). It made him a lot of money hawking GM products. John McCain and Hillary Clinton use the song to seek voters who believe they are the real "peoples candidates."

I found out that John Cougar is an Obama Man like the New Jersey megastar Bruce Sprinsteen. I have Springsteens CD's. In the late 1980's Bruce tapped into the bitterness of the decline in Blue Collar life. America, that produced 50% of the industrial products in 1950 now produced less then 15%. Others could produce our steel and alluminum and coal at lower prices. Bruce spoke of the "bitter" pill of the post industrial American life. His "Living now in Allentown" was about the small towns being boarded up because the mills closed down. Like Obama he spoke the truth "and they ain't coming back." Yes folks, the small towns and almost everywhere in the Rust Belt have seen the mythical American small town that Hillary Clinton (and her $109 million dollar blue collar income) claims was where her grandfather taught her to shoot a gun, fall into disrepair. Memo to the meida and any urban/suburban readers: This is not a new story. The decline in Industrial America was a new item back in the early 1980's. I was in Western Pennsylvania when the steel mills closed their doors and the "Steel City" of Pittsburgh was in real turmoil. Families that could count on good wages and good health care and modest (but guarenteed) pension now were left with nothing but minimum wage jobs. We saw the continued effects of the job drain in Pittsburgh last year on our Hosanna Mission trip. The city looks great but the rank and file worker is not doing well.

What I like about Obama and McCain, is that they sometimes let their guards down and actually speak the truth . Yes, folks, small town people are bitter about the life they have lost. I have troulbe visiting my grandfathers farm in Iowa because little Waverly is a shell of what it once was. without the college my mother attended there it would be nothing but boarded up shops. Only 11% of small town people feel good about their prospects. The ambitious youth all flee to the cities. The churches and other community organizations that served as the glue and gathering places for these decent and hardworking people have had to cut back to part time programming (and usually retired, part time clergy) if they stay open at all. It is sad. Yes, they are often bitter --although they are too proud to use that word.

The real question they have is why is something not done to provide them with decent healthcare and some job protections? the New Yorks Times writter Tim Egan said the small town folks serve only as props in the economic debate. Yes they blame NAFTA and other trade deals. In some parts of the country they get reved up by Lou Dobbs and the Mike Savage and rail against Mexican immigrants. There is real racism--I never heard more N words then in my 5 years in Slippery Rock. They do rail against polticians (Democrats) who might help them with economic issues and health care because "they are trying to take away our guns." I used to get verbally assaulted by the gun nuts because I made a comment on the Brady bill that would limit access to AK47's. "Those are legitamate hunting rifles" one drunken man berated me at a wedding reception.
The issues that some of the media have jumped on Obama for was the comment that they "the bitter folks" turn to god. The God part was poorly addressed and it missed Obama's insight into the roots of racism and religious fundamentalism. Fundamentalism (also called Evangelicalism --although not all Evangelicals are Fundamentailists) plays to those fears and they seek to turn back the clock. Put Men back in charge of families. Get rid of sex outside of marriage and killing babies through abortion and if you only got rid of special rights for homosexuals the whole country would get right with god and everyone would be able to gather around and sing "Kum by Yah." Fundamentalims..Christian and Islamic are fed by economic realities of being left behind and jealousy that others are benefiting on their bad fortune. I am sure the news that the top 10 hedge fund managers all made $1 billion dolars or better last years selling short mortgage backed secruitites and gbetting on banks to lose tons of money. Oh, yeah, they also fed the speculation that is driving oil to $120 a barrel. what they should be angry at is the reprehensible spending of the Bush team that has made the dollar little better then note paper around the world.

Who is the most down to earth candidate? My guess is that they are all "elitists." John McCain's wife comes from one of the richest families in Arizonia. It is beer distributer money. Maybe this means that John will be the guy to replace George W as the candidate people would most want to sit and have a beer with. Of course George gave up drinking to salvage his life and got it together just in time to run this country into the ground. I won't repeat my worst President ever comment because no one is left to argue the point. Are Americans as inane as the press makes us out to be?
All of these candidates were well educated at elite institutions. Yes, the Naval Academy is en elite place. Hillary learned to shoot her rifle but then moved on toe elite prep school, to Smith and then Yale Law school. Obama got a scholarship to the Ivy League and his wife was from a comfortable middle class Black family and she recieved an elite education. With books sales the Obama's made over $4 million last year. Paupers they are not.
But do we really need to be led by a President who can yuk it up over pints in Pittsburgh? I wants competence not oh shucks charm. George Bush is well liked by the press--he is a nice guy who like people and would play a pick up basketball game with any takers. But please--get me someone who listens to someone other then "his heavenly father" and thinks that he is the only "decider" in the american constitutional system.
Obama is right. They things are all distractions. The Clintons are working hard to spoil whatever dignity they have left. Thre rap on Hillary is that she will say and do anything to get elected. She proves it more each and every day. Sad to see someone self distruct and take the nation further down the road to "we can't change the system" cynicism. Finaly, don't get me started on the sad "debate" questioning by Charles Gibson. I know the late Peter Jenning's is rolling over in his grave.
Obama offers freshness that is lacking. Maybe if he had the "experience" of running for Presdient like his tow colleagues, he would be more careful what he says and remember to always speak with empty slogans and spend 8 days (yes I am counting Ms. Clinton) harping on the small town folks are "bitter" comment.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Stop Loss

Andrea and i don't go out to the movies very often. Usually it requires the visit of one of my daughters to get us into the theatre. Before Sunday afternoon the last movie I watched on the big screen was "Juno." It had great--albeit highly unrealistic-- dialogue. However, it was good to see teen mothers who get pregnant (a parents worst nightmere short of suicide or fatal car accidents) be responsible and give the child up to a family which really wants to(and is ready to) raise children.

On sunday we saw "Stop Lost" staring Ryan Phillippe (better known as Reese Witherspoons philandering ex-husband). He plays a patriotic young Texan who serves in Iraq in response to the events of 9/11. He and his Texas friends sign up and serve together in Bagdad. You witness an intense alleyway ambush in a Bagdad neighborhood where three of his army comrads get killed and another gets severely burned, blinded, and loses three limbs.
The young guys who survive are relieved to return home to their girlfriends and families. They had done their duty. They had faithfully served their beloved country. They now want to move on. If it were ever that easy.

Ryans character get reinlisted against his will. He gets "stop losted" ---he get automatically re-enlisted because the army is short of trained soldiers. They tell you in the credits that this mandatory re-enlistment has snared over 60,000 soldiers so far. He has no options short of going AWOL. At first he does this only to discover that the only way to avoid prison time is to permanently leave the country. No family reunions. No re-entry; even to attend a fathers funeral. No one in the government will take your case. At first he does go AWOL. He finds people willing to help him leave the country. But ultimately the price is too high. In the end he makes an interesting compromise.

This is a low key anti-war movie about the cost of the war being born by the soliders and their families. The cost is high. The loss of life is not limited to the 4000 who die. Walter Reed Hospital is the post battle destination of thousands more with combat injries. The war just drags on and there are fewer people to willingly fight it. The pro-war forces of patriotism are still pretty strong today. The anti-war movment is weak. By this time (5 years and counting) in Vietnam the college campuses were engulfed in anti-war protests.
There are many Vietnam similiarities. We are told that this is a domino--that if allowed to fall will turn the whole region into a radical chauldron of fanaticism. The movie has a great scene of the heroes coming home to a rally in the small Texas town. "We are fighting the terroist over there so we won't have to fight them here in Texas." We are told that progress is being made and that our troops are the reason. The evidence is that the reduction in violence is because the cities have been racially cleansed and people live in armed camps being preyed upon by criminal gangs. The elected Iraqi government is very weak. Last week they tried to challnege the Mahdi Army--the Spowerful militia of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. After having his forces repelled --actually saved by the US and British forces--he called for a ceasefire.
When will someone challenge the myth of progress.Eugene Robinson in the Post said this latest battle in Basra had us supporting one political figure (Maliki) who was trying to weaken his closest political opponent al-Sadr. Reliable sources have al-Sadr living comfortably in Iran.

I am pretty frustrated by the dearth of moral outrage by the Christian church in America. I ahve yet to preach an anti-war message. I feel gutless but marginalized. I am still reeling from the verbal abuse i took 5 years ago when I questioned the run up to the war. Jesus said to "render to Caesar what is Ceasars and to God what is God's." When it comes to war--Caesars call to arms always trumps calls for peaceful restraint.Why do I get the impression we will still be fighting this things in five more years.
Is everyone asleep about this? Does anyone else feel guilty for not pressing for more answers and some real honesty out of the white House and the Pentegon?

I worry about friends and church members who are serving in Iraq. i worry about other patriotic young men who will enlist and go off to serve their country and come back either dead or forever wounded.

The movie is also about the other costs of the war. the nightmere and the violent outbursts that solider carry with them. You hear of a suicide (something that has a very high incidence rate.