Sunday, December 16, 2012

On the President's Sandy Hook Speech Tonight

Wow. Just watched the rerun of President Obama's speech at tonight's interfaith vigil. From climate to Afghanistan to Congressional negotiation to general attitude, I have my issues with this administration. But on the personal level, it's clear that Barack Obama is a deep, complex, reflective, and dare I say great man. And i's very different when I watch this speech as coming from the President of the United States, not from Barack the man. I am reminded of the limitations of the office, and then for the first time in a long time, I am blown away.

From the President of the United States: "Why are we here? What gives our life meaning? What gives our acts purpose?

"We know our time on this Earth is fleeting. We know that we will each have our share of pleasure and pain, that even after we chase after some earthly goal, whether it's wealth or power or fame or just simple comfort, we will, in some fashion, fall short of what we had hoped. We know that, no matter how good our intentions, we'll all stumble sometimes in some way.

"We'll make mistakes, we'll experience hardships and even when we're trying to do the right thing, we know that much of our time will be spent groping through the darkness, so often unable to discern God's heavenly plans.

"There's only one thing we can be sure of, and that is the love that we have for our children, for our families, for each other."

Friday, December 14, 2012

On Gun Control, Mental Health, and why Today is the Day

To those saying we should wait to discuss the causes and solutions of gun violence and mental illness: This is the third high-profile shooting in a week. If not now, when? A couple days? Okay, this is a couple days from the Oregon shooting. A month or two? Fine, Aurora and Wisconsin. Years? Okay - Columbine, Virginia Tech, Gabby Giffords, and Omaha. If there's another shooting at the end of whatever waiting period you would have us observe, do we have to extend the waiting period yet again, and let even more people die in the meantime?

Today IS the day to discuss how to prevent these tragedies. Simply talking about the victims rather than actions does nothing for them or their future brethren. If we wait to discuss action, then the fresh feelings of pain and urgency will subside, as they do every time, and policy arguments will go unheeded. The event will no longer be a motivator that can prevent more like it from happening again. In that vein, I can think of no better way to commemorate the victims than to let our grief motivate us to act right away, rather than only let it make us feel sad.

If you do wish to take action now, I haven't seen anything on mental health, but I have seen four gun control petitions - Howard Dean's Democracy for America (a friend wrote this one), Daily Kos's, one from Mayors Against Illegal Guns, and one at WhiteHouse.gov. Indeed, the one from WhiteHouse.gov has over 50,000 signatures, something I've never seen happen that quickly on their tool before.

In response to some of the reasons WHY some folks say wait, I would add that, yes, we are dark on the specifics of today's massacre, but that doesn't matter. Just like monster hurricanes and climate change, it's not about the individual event, but rather, the pattern. Aurora, the Wisconsin Sikh temple, Oregon, today, so many smaller local shootings - and all in a few short months. It's an epidemic, one no other country not in civil war faces. The individual tragedy is now a catalyst that could well be necessary to address the former.

Additionally, though I believe saving lives is worth causing a small handful of individuals a small amount of more pain, I don't believe it's what's happening here. Those families aren't paying much attention to the op-ed pages or social networks today. They have other things to do. And even if they were paying attention, personally, I believe preventing more victims like them and addressing the cause of their situation is the best way to honor and commemorate them. Gabby Giffords's husband, who has of course been one of them, seems to agree; he's speaking out today as well.

But I'll end on a different note. Obviously, it's not just about changing our laws, approach to mental health, or culture of violence. 27 families are in immeasurable pain today, and thousands more are suffering from the tragedy at their school or town. Hundreds of children are at risk of PTSD, and will grow up too soon. I hope that all of these people know that God loves them and their children, and that Jesus suffered a similar pain. Good Friday is necessary to have Easter Sunday. But whether they know that or no, there is no solace today; they will be in pain for a long time. No words can explain or fix it; the ones that come closest that I have found are Phillip Yancey's book, "Where Is God When It Hurts?" But at the end of the day, all I can say is, I hope they feel God's presence and love, or that they will soon. I doubt this is part of some master plan God has; it is what happens in a broken world of pain and free will. But His love and guidance can, and will, pull us through.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

A post-election letter to conservatives

Originally posted on Facebook, with some light edits:

Dear conservative friends - Here's my message to you as a "pro-life", anti-pot liberal from two very red states who knows politics and has been on the losing end of some bruising elections: It will be okay.

As a former professor of mine used to say, a look at history proves that America survives in spite of her leaders, not because of them. He's right. I survived Bush, and you will survive Obama. That's what America does: She survives, endures, grows, leads, and perseveres, and when she does make mistakes (we'll disagree about last night, but surely we agree that there have been devastating mistakes before), she almost always makes up for them. To despair is to abandon your patriotism for America and your faith in God, and I know you're stronger than that.

More importantly, in the long run, our primary focus should never be who is in the White House or the Capitol. To put all our hopes in the ballots of men rather than in God will leave us far worse of than the outcome of the ballot itself, no matter who wins.

Go ahead. Say the country is ruined, the voters were duped, our freedom is gone, we'll never be the same. Of course I disagree; I'm proud of what the U.S. accomplished last night, and we could argue about what happened and what it means. But that's not the point. The point is this: Catharsis is good. Get it out. But on some level, remember that people said the exact same things and felt the exact same way in 2004, 1996, 1972, even, yes, 1984. So take a week, pick yourself up off the mat, and come give us your best shot over this whole fiscal cliff thing. It wouldn't be the same without you.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Final 2012 Predictions

My predictions: Romney wins Florida and North Carolina (Omaha and Indiana also flip but they're more red than swing this time anyway), but Obama wins all the other swing states (yes, VA, OH, WI, NH, and especially CO and NV thanks to field program and Latino vote) and thus wins re-election with 303 electoral votes to Romney's 235. The state I am most uncomfortable about guessing is Florida, with NC, VA, and NH also on the fence, but hey, time to stop hedging and actually guess. Regardless, if Obama loses VA and NH too, he still wins with 286 votes. I think he'll also eke out the popular vote despite Hurricane Sandy suppressing northeastern turnout and Romney racking up the score in the deep South.

Democrats pick up Senate seats in IN, MA, and ME, while losing them in ND and NE. Current party holds in AZ, CT, FL, MO, MT, NM, NV, OH, PA, VA, WI, etc. End result - Dems +1, a far cry from the Dems -2-3 of just a month or two ago. I could also see Dems winning NE, ND, or maaaaaybe NV, and the GOP winning MT or maaaaaybe MO or WI. But again, time to make a real guess.

GOP hold House; slim Dem pickups of maybe 10. Only specific races I'll guess - Guinta (R) holds and Kuster (D) unseats Bass in New Hampshire.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

One month out: 2012 predictions

President (Electoral College): Obama 322, Romney 216

House: Democrats 211, Republicans 224

Senate: 53 Democrats/Independents, 47 Republicans (no net change - specific states to come later)

By the way, based on GOP nominee Ricky Perry, Newt Gingrich's five primary victories, and Romney running mate Rob Portman, I'm having a great cycle predicting things, so, y'know, take this to the bank.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

On redistribution, free markets, and government handouts

I posted the picture at right to Facebook. A high school friend called Obama a "commie pig" in the comments. When rebuked for his words, he wrote this, and then liked his own comment:

People need to learn to fail. Free market means working hard for your money. Let the rich get richer - they earned it, and some day, so will I. I will earn my money from taking from the poor if need be - if they just consume and not contribute themselves. Envy is the character of the left. You all hate the rich, until you are rich yourselves. Fairness and wealth redistribution simply means misery together. Since you all probably rely on government payouts anyway, Obama has already bought your vote. Go ahead and be the middle class, I plan on making millions.
Here was my response:

We don't have a free market in this country - not when the biggest corporations can house profits off shore, get tax incentives that start-ups don't get, buy up the media to decide what consumers learn and what they don't, and receive government protection for their losses while their profits are private. The American free market is a nice idea, but also a myth.

I don't envy Romney's wealth, but I do think that a man who thinks six times the median American income is "not very much" and assumes most parents can afford to pay for their kids' college lacks the perspective on the country's reality that he would need to run that country.

I'm all for the rich getting richer, when they earn it, as many do - but when I'm paying a higher tax rate than Mitt Romney and Warren Buffett, they're not earning all of it anymore, they are indeed engaging in the "redistribution" you otherwise claim to hate so much. Same for when the banks crash the economy and don't pay a penalty for it - their failure, our punishment, they didn't earn that wealth. But no, I don't hate the rich, I just despise certain aspects of the system that bankrupts our country - the system that doesn't ask them to pay the same share to the nation that made them wealthy as the rest of us do. If you think the center-left hates the rich, it's because you refuse to let the left define their own beliefs, and just believe what the right tells you about them. I'm glad taxes aren't where they were under Nixon, Ford, Carter - but they should be where they were under Clinton.

Yeah, we've all gotten government payouts - just like we've made government payins. The government paid me out just tonight, when I drove home on several public roads and pulled over for a public fire truck. It also paid me out when I went to a *public* high school with you. It'll pay out again when I'm old and collecting Social Security and Medicare, to which I'm paying in now. Something tells me that if you do make those millions that you - and every other American - plan on making, you won't stop driving on those roads, refuse those Social Security checks, hire only home-schooled employees without college degrees who want the job because it means they can finally get off EBT or unemployment, or tell the government's military they can let AL-Qaeda into your place.

I'll leave you with this quote from the commie pig - er, excuse me, inventor of capitalism - Adam Smith. "The necessaries of life occasion the great expense of the poor... The luxuries and vanities of life occasion the principal expense of the rich, and a magnificent house embellishes and sets off to the best advantage all the other luxuries and vanities which they possess... It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion."

And also this about the poor who accept help when offered, those whom Christ reminds us to love, not scorn."[Romney's] a guy who sold his dad’s stock to pay for college, who built an elevator to ensure easier access to his multiple cars and who was able to support his wife’s decision to be a stay-at-home mom. That’s great! That’s the dream. The problem is that he doesn’t seem to realize how difficult it is to focus on college when you’re also working full time, how much planning it takes to reliably commute to work without a car, or the agonizing choices faced by families in which both parents work and a child falls ill. The working poor haven’t abdicated responsibility for their lives. They’re drowning in it."

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Morally Disqualified

What irks you more about the Romney "47%" quote -- the inaccuracy, or the insulting elitism?

There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing, to you name it.

For me, it's the latter -- the insipid, arrogant belief that every single person who votes for one of just two options is exactly alike; that we can all be simplified and neatly placed into one of just two buckets, very easy and homogenous.

To be sure, the quote is certainly inaccurate -- 46.4% of Americans may not pay income tax at the moment, true. BUT, the figure fluctuates, some of it is made up of folks who exploit loopholes, 8 out of the 10 states with the highest no-income rates are red states, and virtually everyone pays state, payroll, gas, sales, and other taxes. Then there's the hypocrisy: Romney says it's stupid to pay a dime more than you owe, and yet he gets made at folks who don't pay?

So there is all that. But what really galls me is this. If Romney truly believes that the current half of the nation who don't pay taxes has nearly 100% overlap with the half that votes for Obama, than he has even less perspective on "real America" than we realized. He honestly believes that everyone thinks the same way he does - vote for your wallet and your family, not your country. If you're voting for Obama's policies, it can't possibly because you're doing fine but think the President helps your neighbor -- no one actually votes that way! No, it's because you think you're a victim and the policies help you. Romney is really, truly saying that there is barely a single rich person in this country who wants to use government to help the poor; not a single person who votes for their neighbor rather than themselves. I find that insulting and, yes, un-American.

To be clear, I don't mean conservatives don't vote for their country. Many people, both liberal and conservative, vote the way they do because they think those policies are the best for the poor, for security, for the economy. What I'm saying is that Mitt Romney as an individual seems to tie his political views as much into his individual story as he does a larger vision of America, which is fine, but then he refuses to believe that others with different views can also have a respectable story or motivation. He puts himself first and then puts himself at the heart of America, claiming there's no room for anyone who doesn't behave the same way.

Romney is a thin-skinned jerk who has said nearly verbatim that middle income is five times the country's median income, that all parents can afford to pay for college, and that $374,000 "isn't very much". Wealth is fine, but thinking that everyone is just like him, and that if you're not it's because you're dependent and lazy, shows he really doesn't understand a) the reality of daily American life, or b) that people can react differently to their circumstances than he does his, and that they can have motivations and political values that he does not.

There's also the small matter of the next part of Romney's quote: "My job is is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives." No man who says he doesn't have to worry about half the country's population is fit to run that country. You're not running for President of the People Who Vote For Me; you're running for President of the United States. With that quote alone, as much as with his racially-coded welfare lies and more even than with his foreign policy missteps or dozens of spineless flip flops, Mitt Romney has morally disqualified himself from ever holding any office again.

I pay income taxes - a higher percentage of my income than Mitt Romney, in fact. I'm no more dependent on the government than anyone else who drives on public roads, eats inspected food, walks in public parks, and relies on the protection of the police, fire department, and military. I'm certainly no victim. So by that standard, I'm part of the 6% of the country Romney says he cares about who also voted for Obama in 2008.

But in 2012, I'll still be voting for Barack Obama.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Whoops -- and Veep

So, yeah, I blew that last Newt Gingrich post.

Oops.

Thought about deleting it, but that would be a little cowardly, no? I'm positive enough in my political record to leave it up. But here's my chance to blow it:

Mittens WILL nominate Portman or Pawlenty as his Veep. Maaaaaaaybe Thune or Jindal, but Jindal's going to run for President in four years so he probably doesn't want to be on a losing ticket, Thune voted for TARP, and Pawlenty criticized Romnecare. Thus, my money (literally, $40) is on Portman. It will NOT NOT NOT be Rubio or Christie, or any of the current top GOP women.

So, that's that, for now.

Update, September 18th: Well I'm just a regular Bill Freakin' Kristol this year. Did okay in 2006 and 2008, but perhaps I should just hang up the predictin' hat. One thing I've learned is that living in Washington DC is just about the worst thing a political junkie or organizer can do to themselves...

Monday, January 23, 2012

Four Upcoming States Newt Gingrich Could Win

In addition to my first two posts here since 2010, I also just wrote my first Daily Kos diary since I started front-paging at MyDD in 2009 - and my first political post since going to work for the DNC. It's not progressive, it's not data-driven; it's just a little horserace speculation to get back in the blogging swing of things after such a long hiatus.

I'm going to try and be a blogger again, sharing religious observations and personal reflections here and political thoughts through a new Daily Kos account. (And as always, both on Facebook and Twitter, as well.)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

On discipleship, grace, and headfakes

This morning's Gospel was Mark 1:14-20, in which Jesus called Simon and Andrew to drop their nets and follow Him. My thoughts on this passage involve Rob Bell, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Bruce Springsteen.

Pastor Rob Bell’s Nooma video "Dust" is one I have thought of often since first seeing it in college, and I finally got to watch it again this past week at my church's 20s/30s group. In this 15-minute video (excerpt), Bell explains that most Jewish children in Christ's day went to school and memorized the Torah. The best of the best stayed on for a few extra years to learn the rest of the Jewish Scriptures. But only the best of the best of the best (sir!) would be asked by a rabbi to become his disciples. He would say to them, "Come, follow me."

Because Simon and Andrew are out fishing in this passage from Mark, we know that they weren't following a rabbi. They were no one's disciple -- they weren't considered anywhere near the best. And then, out of the blue, a rabbi comes to them and says (in the Matthew version) those hallowed words they thought they'd never hear – "Come, follow me." Jesus told them, you ARE good enough. Good enough to follow me, good enough to be honored, and, as my rector in DC, the Rev. Cara Spaccarelli, points out, good enough to teach.

That is an honor, a blessed invitation, and it is extended to all of us today. Everyone is worthy of Christ's love, attention, and time, and thus also of ours -- but, our own worthiness comes at a cost.

This morning's processional hymn at Christ Church Parish in DC was William Alexander Percy's "They Cast Their Nets In Galilee." It was one I hadn’t heard before. The melody was "Georgetown," a happy tune with a quick tempo, and the first verse had blissful, over-the-top lyrics like "happy simple fisherfolk."

But it was a happy, simple headfake. When we hit the third verse, I was a bit shocked. My last blog post came to mind, about Bruce Springsteen songs that on casual listen seem to be patriotic ballads but are in fact powerful indictments of a broken system.

They cast their nets in Galilee
Just off the hills of brown
Such happy simple fisherfolk
Before the Lord came down

Contented peaceful fishermen
Before they ever knew
The peace of God That fill'd their hearts
Brimful and broke them too.

Young John who trimmed the flapping sail,
Homeless, in Patmos died.
Peter, who hauled the teeming net,
Head-down was crucified.

The peace of God, it is no peace,
But strife closed in the sod,
Yet, brothers, pray for but one thing -
The marvelous peace of God.


I think the hymn has the right definition for the wrong word. There is a marvelous peace of God, one that calls us to beat swords into plowshares and let the Romans lead away our Savior -- one that calls us to call to use words and love as our weapons against oppression. But at the same time, following Jesus does come with a cost.

In his book, "The Cost of Discipleship," Bonhoeffer warns us against what he terms "cheap grace" -- the belief that we can simply dunk our heads in water with a prayer and have everything be hunky-dorky, and go about just as before with nothing changed beyond Heaven's opinion of us. Or in his more eloquent and passionate words,

The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing... Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate...

[Costly grace] is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him...

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son.


I'm not done with this book yet, but Bonhoeffer's point is well taken: We're not following someone if we're not in motion behind them, if we're not changing a thing. So I'm not sure I can really call myself a disciple of the homeless Christ.

I don't give nearly enough to charity. I haven't cut down much of my consumption or sold off most possessions, instead hoarding the money they could raise and worrying about the security of my stuff. I don't read the Bible on my own very often, and lack discipline even in the simple things like getting myself to go hiking or visit a free museum. I pick jobs that I think will be good for society, but almost never seem to also volunteer my actual free time. So many things that could serve the kingdom and strengthen my relationship with God, yet I spend my time watching movies, mindlessly surfing the Internet, and drinking craft beer.

But there is always hope. At the 20s/30s group, my rector reminded us –- me -– not to feel unworthy because of failings like the ones I list here. Christ's call does not go away -- He is there anew each morning, saying, "Come, follow me." She finished her sermon today saying if you haven’t seen that call in your life, look harder. Bishop Andy Doyle of Texas echoes that on his blog, saying that if you haven't seen it, don't worry; it's still there and it's never going away: "What seems very inspiring here is the notion that this is not a one-time event. We are not to repent and believe; but rather we are to live a life of repenting and believing."

Or as my mentor in Nebraska, Fr. Tom Jones, often said, "Just as I am" is a great hymn -- but though we can come just as we are, we can't stay that way.

It's a continual process. It's costly grace, and it's God’s love. We are called to drop our nets, to follow, to change. And no matter when you read this, it's time we get started.

Friday, January 20, 2012

New Springsteen Song: Born in the USA, Part Two

Awesome news: Bruce Springsteen has a new album coming out March 6. It's called "Wrecking Ball," after his last single, a track he put out in October 2009 to commemorate the destruction of Giant Stadium.

The first track is called "We Take Care Of Our Own," and the music video was released yesterday. On casual listen, it's pretty jingoistic - the music is reminiscent of the album The Rising, with Roy Bittan's uplifting keyboards, organs from newcomer Charlie Giordano, and a driving beat, and the chorus repeats the line "We take care of our own, wherever this flag is flown."

Don't be deceived. This song is actually Born in the U.S.A., Part II. That 1984 song's rocking chorus led Ronald Reagan to use it as his anthem - but the verses were about a Vietnam veteran who was "born in the USA" and then let down by his country. "We Take Care Of Our Own" is the same. The verses tell the story of a crumbling economy - of people who can't get work despite the rhetoric of politicians and pundits who pretend to care. Mostly Springsteen sings bout unemployment, but he even alludes to Hurricane Katrina, "from the shotgun shack to the Superdome." The chorus, like with Born in the USA, only sounds patriotic in order to point out that the promise of our authority figures' patriotism is a lie. It's a perfect song for a country who sees all its GDP growth go to its top 1% - a country where wages for more than 90% of us remain flat even in the boom times.



NPR compares the music to Arcade Fire and Flock of Seagulls, while calling the lyrics "pure boss... patriotic in the style of Mr. Smith and Dr. King." And THAT'S true patriotism.

(There is one theological line, though, where he says "the Calvary stayed home' - not the cavalry. And that seems odd for Springsteen, the man of "Land of Hope and Dreams" that seems almost ripped from the Gospels. I'll let it slide this time - it matches the song's true tone - but nothing could be further from the truth. Christ may not end the rough times, but he gets us through them.)