Archive for November 2008

Oblivious

They say ignorance is bliss and our most shinning example of this adage is the guy who is presently occupying the oval office.  In an interview with his sister published on Friday he said:

“I would like to be a person remembered as a person who, first and foremost, did not sell his soul in order to accommodate the political process…..I came to Washington with a set of values and I’m leaving with the same set of values.”  Then he said, “I surrounded myself with good people.  I carefully considered the advice of smart, capable people and made tough decisions.”

Let’s just start with the first part.  Said another way it could have been, “I came to Washington with a fixed set of ideas and I didn’t let reality or objective facts sway my beliefs.  With events swirling around me and the world in constant changing flux, I never once considered changing my approach to changing circumstances.  Flexibility is a dirty word”  The man is a marvel of ignorance.  But let’s not forget he enforced his ignorance on the rest of us by trying to stifle scientific findings and changing scientific recommendations. This was the administration whose ideology was more important than fact.  When fact was counter to their beliefs, they tried destroy the facts.  That is one way to hang on to your values.  Wasn’t it the Catholic Church back in the 16th and 17th century who stifled scientific thought (Copernicus and Galilio)?  We have come a long way.

Then maybe we ought to examine the values he hung on to during his reign of terror.  Would that be the torture he allowed?  The rendition?  Or could it be the waiving of our basic right of habeas corpus?  Could that be the signing statements that tried to destroy the balance of powers between the three branches of government?  Were those values the ones that allowed him to misrepresent the facts about the Iraq war and then change the reason for the war three times (WMD, freeing the Iraqi people, establishing a beach head of democracy in the Middle East)? Was that the straight talker who promised to fire the one who leaked Valerie Plame’s name and then when discovered said, oh never mind?  Would that be the values that allowed him to pardon Scooter Libby but ignored the unfair sentencing of thousands on non-violent drug offenders? Or would that be the values that allowed him to provide aids treatment to millions at the same time he denies women access to birth control information?  It’s okay if they get it, then we will give them drugs.  I wonder how many people have been abuse or died because of his ignorance.

Then there are those good, smart, capable people he surrounded himself with.  Would that be Karl Rove, Dick Chenney, or Scooter Libby?  How about Rummy? Would that be Ms. Rice and her mushroom cloud? Would that be the Attorney General Gonzo and the political lackeys that politicized the Justice Department?  Would that be all the Neocons? Let us never forget Brownie.  Or would that be all the wonderful people who are at this very moment trying to gut the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, Environmental Protection laws (as you read this he is expanding and reducing the limits on surface mining of coal and dumping the wastes into the watershed), removing regulations on businesses that protect workers, and secund his ideologues in civil service jobs?

If results are important, what advise did these people give him that allowed him to make the tough decisions that have improved our country?  Is he oblivious that we are a shell of a country overseas?  The last election was a referendum on all the good things they did.  The economy is in shambles, and by the way, No Child Left Behind is a joke of testing and lack of funding, not learning critical thinking skills that he wouldn’t know if it ran over him.  The terrorist threat is worse, not better, and we are bogged down in two wars we can’t win and have to find a way out of.  He if makes any more great decisions before he leaves office, it could be the beginning of the great depression.

But last but not least President Moron informs us that, “I would advise politicians, however to be careful about faith in the public arena.  In other words people should not be judgmental people based upon their faith.”  Good lord, do you think he knows our Constitution is based upon that principle?  It is like some great insight he has had instead of learning that in 10th grade Civics class.  Can he look around the world and see that almost every major threat in the world is between warring religious parties?  Yet the moron used his religion to justify stifling stem cell research to help people, outlawing providing birth control information, not funding any world birth control efforts other than abstinence, and trying to interfere in peoples private decisions about end of life decisions.  In fact that is exactly what he did, use his religion to judge what we can and can not do.

He arrived in ignorant bliss, the ignorant put and kept him in office, and based upon his statement he leaves in ignorant bliss.  It’s true; ignorance is bliss because neither party, Bush or the people who put him in office, are willing to own up to the damage they have done.  But for many of us, his ignorance could cost us our retirement and our well being.  For others it has cost them their lives.  Would he just leave and close the door behind him on the way out.

Change?

It is really kind of fun to watch the liberal left partake in self-flagellation about Barack Obama’s picks for his cabinet.  Between that and the discussions in the TV media about what should Barack Obama be doing in each crisis, who is really in charge, he or President Bush, the fun just never stops.  But let’s start with the “kids” and their claims of betrayal of his message of change.

The Daily Kos, Olbermann, Maddow, and others have expressed real fears that through Barrack Obama’s choices in old Clinton hands he is reinventing the past instead of creating real change for the future.  He seemed to have sent them over the top when he decided to keep Bill Gates on as Secretary of Defense.  To the first, if you are a Democrat who has any experience the federal government, you would have been part of the Clinton administration.  Does that mean you are a Clintonite?  Hardly.  It may mean that you worked, you observed, you learned, and you now want change.  If you don’t believe that, consider why so many of Bill Clinton’s people supported Barack in the primaries.  But more important, who would know best how to change an organization as large as the federal government than those who know how it works?

Specifically to the choice of Bill Gates for Secretary of Defense; what the “kids” are missing is that in large organizations, change really doesn’t come from the top.  There are a million ways to sabotage change in the federal government from the minions who work in its labyrinth bowels.  So if you send the new kid on the block in to turn the ship around, he gets thwarted at every step of the way just because he is the new kid and doesn’t appreciate the institution.  But if you selected an old hand who is respected throughout the organization, then his visions of change are much more likely to be accepted and internalized.  It is true that Bill Gates has carried Bush’s water, but he also has represented an organization that knows they are overstretched and needs to disengage from Iraq.  He is more likely than anyone to start a real realignment of the Military.  It also sends an important message to the world that the Department of Defense will not be in chaos as we have a change in leadership.  We are going to disengage from Iraq, and we are going to rethink our approach to Afghanistan, but it will be done with a continuity of leadership.  Remember, Mr. Gates thinks we ought to close Guantanamo, negotiate with Iran, and he has started the military on a process of thinking about their future roles.

What Barack is demonstrating in these picks is not the mistake of the Bushies, ideology and loyalty, but in competence and pragmatism.  Those of you who lament the failure to pick new progressives for these posts are making the same mistake as your archenemy the Bush Administration, choosing ideology over competence.  The solutions of the future are not conservative or progressive (although most conservative solutions of the past have proven at best ineffective, at worst destructive), but what works.  Rejoice in the fact that Barack gets this and is picking people who have the best chance of carrying out his policies within the Federal government.  As he said on Wednesday, it’s his vision and their job to carry it out.

Now to the question of who is in charge, it is George Bush you nitwits.  We only have one President at a time who has their hands on the levers of power.  So while Barack Obama can sooth fickle markets with words and picks for his advisors and cabinet, it is only the hope for the future that he can manipulate.  What is actually done in the present is all up to President Moron.  And by the way, while all of you are now admiring his wonderful demeanor in the handover, you are ignoring what is going on out of sight in changes in regulations, opening up national parks to exploitation, secunding conservative lackeys into civil service to thwart progressive change, and pardons.  He is who he is and that is an unrepentant conservative who in the face of total failure of his philosophy, blithely continues to pursue it.  Don’t ever turn your back on this group of jackals.

The one thing I will agree with the progressives about is the concern that we may let the torture issue slide by not investigating and prosecuting those that broke the law.  I understand the logic in that we need to end it and heal, but we also need a reckoning to face what we actually did.  This means an in-depth investigation to expose to the doubters in the United States just exactly what was done.  The decision about legal liability will come later, but the focus should be on those who authorized it and knew better, not those who thought they were carrying out legal orders of our Commander-in-Chief.  We committed some horrible atrocities and we need to look it in the face so we can recognize our failures and learn from our foolishness.  Sometimes healing requires facing a great deal of pain.  Hopefully Barack will understand that we must face our demons to rid ourselves from them.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING FROM LIGHTNER VINEYARDS

THE END OF THE SEASON, BUT OH WHAT A GLORIOUS END

THE END OF THE SEASON, BUT OH WHAT A GLORIOUS END

Reality’s Slap in the Face

Most Americans are starting to understand what deep doo-doo we are really in.  This economic crisis isn’t some minor hiccup that could pass.  It could bankrupt all of us.  Tom Friedman has been trying to wake people up to the fact that next year at this time things are going to be worse, a lot worse.  In his Sunday column, “We Found the WMD”, he tried to wake up America to the problem.  They will eventually do just that as businesses close and many of us face losing our homes and economic security.  But what will come next is the anger.  In his column on Wednesday, “All Fall Down”, he started to identify what happened.

“So many people were in on it: People who had no business buying a home, with nothing down and nothing to pay for two years; people who had no business pushing such mortgages, but made fortunes doing so; people who had no business bundling those loans into securities and selling them to third parties, as if they were AAA bonds, but made fortunes doing so; people who had no business rating those loans as AAA, but made a fortunes doing so; and people who had no business buying those bonds and putting them on their balance sheets so they could earn a little better yield, but made fortunes doing so.”

But it gets worse.  He quotes Michael Lewis of “Liars Poker”, a classic if you want to know how little morality there has never been on Wall Street, how the mangers were either grossly stupid or were in on the deal and knew it would all fail, but were in it to get their loot.  And as more people start to understand that these “Lions of Wall Street’ and the wonders of the marketplace was nothing more than a ponzi scheme to screw the rest of us there is going to anger, a lot of anger.

Now the initial problem is that banks won’t loan and the theory was that if we give them an infusion of cash, then they will loan.  But the Banks know something the rest of us are ignoring:  We have only seen the tip of the iceberg.  Banks know there is still a ton of bad paper out there not yet identified, but they don’t know who has it, so they don’t want to start the flow of cash to an institution that may not be around in a couple of months.  As Tom points out, we have no choice, we have to save them or we all go down.  But it hurts to bail out the people who really caused this thing.

The real problem right now is that the bailouts are based on old economic theory that you give the markets money and then you get out of the way or you hinder the invisible hand and screw up the whole thing.  What we really need is a piece of the action where the U.S. Government (we the people) can say here, have some money, lots of money, but you morons that got us into this thing, you are fired, there will be no bonuses, and if you don’t loan x% of what we give you, we will let you fail, and oh by the way, here are the new rules you will have to operate by.  Certainly we don’t want to go overboard and stop some investing that might look risky, but may be the venture capital for the next round of innovations.  But in the short term, we are going to have to take control because you need training wheels again to relearn you are part of the human community.

But here is the real lesson as your anger grows, that will be obfuscated by our friendly conservative zealots that got us into this mess who want to “cut spending and lower taxes”:  Conservative economic theory doesn’t work.  What we have had since Ronald Reagan is a belief that government has no role.  And they have proved it by, as James K. Galbraith put it in his book, “The Predator State”, “the systematic abuse of public institutions for private profit or, equivalently, the systematic undermining of public protections for the benefit of private clients.”  They have made greed king and they have promised you a free ride with the magic of the market place and trickle down economics.  It’s low taxes and no government and everything will be fine.  Let the Masters of the Universe create wealth for all of us.  And after 28 years of this nonsense we are in deep doo-doo.

And one last thing that may really make your head spin around.  Balanced budgets may not be a good thing.  Every time we focused on reducing the deficit to zero we killed our economy (this discounts the aberations of the Clinton years when the Dot Comm bubble had revenues up).  Savings may not be related to economic health on a macro-economic level.  Government spending isn’t necessarily bad and could in fact be the path to our salvation if it is invested in our future, not some hand out, stupid frivolous war, or tax cut.  The magical hand of the market place will not insure that the just get rewarded.  Putting money in the hands of citizens is not always the best answer, and governments have a major role in determining our path forward.  It’s called planning and our future depends on it.  Please don’t fall back on old ways of thinking that have put us right where we are right now, and that is in deep doo-doo.  Politicians are only good at spouting conventional wisdom to make you feel warm and fuzzy.  The way out of our economic disaster is going to be new thinking that makes you feel very uncomfortable.  Comfort is how we got here.

Unable to Climb Out of the Box

I am beginning to wonder if we are the problem.  Or said another way, I am not sure we know what we know.  We think in comfortable patterns or frames, that is, ways to conceptualize things, and I am wondering if we have almost everything wrong.  Let me give you an example:

I was watching/listening to Rick Sanchez on CNN yesterday at lunch while I worked out.  Rick’s news show tries to involve the listener into the news.  He is using feedback from Twitter, email, etc.  Yesterday he had a group of “average” citizens who he was interviewing about various news items.  The one that caught my attention was the one about the 8-year old that shot his dad and a friend, or alleged to have.  He invited on of his guest to comment and she began by saying, “I have an eight year old and…..”.  She has an 8-year old like the rest of us haven’t at one point in our lives and now she has real insight into this event.  Not only do we not know what we don’t know, we are using this misinformation as informative.  My point is simply this:  Someone who has studied child psychology and deviant behavior might have had some insight into this child, and been able to a give us a little perspective.  What we got was the blind leading the blind masquerading as informative.  She could have had some real insight or it could be totally misleading based upon anecdotal experience.  We don’t differentiate anymore.

Why do I bring this up?  Because we are facing challenging times that require us to rethink everything we have been doing.  It would appear that we have gotten almost everything wrong.  We thought we could bully our way through the world and it has turned out to be a nightmare.  We find out there are limits to military power.  We thought the ends justify the means when interrogating “terrorists” and now we have a compete mess at Guantanamo.  We thought the market would make all the right decisions if we just let its invisible hand flop free.    Now that we have found that all these “conventional wisdoms” were wrong and we are looking for answers, my fear is that we have a tendency to fall back on false logic once again.

The biggie out there is the economy and what to do about it.  We all have lived under the sway of conservative economic philosophy that says low taxes stimulates the economy, along with few government regulations, low government spending, low deficits, and lots of savings.  Guess what, that may all be wrong.  I would recommend a wonderfully challenging book, “The Predator State”, by James Galbraith, that questions many of these beliefs.  To make a long story short, he challenges all these premises with, oh dare I say it, facts.  For instance he says we will always have a deficit in our economy and attempts to wipe it out have caused some of our severe recessions.  The point here is that he is afraid liberals have bought into the conservative group-think and we could be prolonging our misery.

Now Barack Obama’s economic team is coming up with a plan that challenges some of these assumptions and he is going to have a fight selling it because there are some who just can’t let go of the old ideas.  John Boehner, House Minority leader has challenged the Democrat’s plan of major investments in infrastructure to stimulate the economy by chanting the conservative dogma, lowering taxes and reducing government spending.  Now this appeals to us because it is the conventional wisdom and we are use to believing in it, but if you look around us, all you see is lowered taxes that did not stimulate the spending necessary to jump start the economy, and cutting government spending will just further exacerbate the problem.  In fact maybe lowering taxes just allowed people to have more money to spend on frivolities that does not move us forward instead of investing in our energy future through government planning and spending.  Anybody need another Hummer?

So it is time to think outside the box.  Clearly the knee-jerk reaction is where is this money for spending going to come from.  We are going to have to grow the deficit.  We have no choice.  The real discussion here ought to be about how we invest in our future through investments in infrastructure (roads, bridges, water treatment, high speed railroads, alternate energy), while keeping the deficit manageable.  In other words, what is a manageable deficit?  Haven’t heard that one discussed because we are still in the debt free mode.  As Obama and his team try to actually think outside the box, the media and the mindless criticism based upon old thinking is all the rage on the cable news shows.  Just keep in mind that the people who didn’t see this coming are the same people who are now experts on criticizing plans to get us out.

One last little thought here:  Yesterday there was a report compiled by prominent former policymakers from the United States and Latin America by the Brookings Institution that basically found that our whole approach to Latin America is backward.  Most prominent was a call to totally reverse our strategy of isolating Cuba.  What we have been doing is counterproductive.  No fooling.  We have allowed policy to be set by old thinking, conventional wisdom, and of course a lunatic fringe in South Florida.  It is just another example of thinking outside the box and doing things that work instead of things that satisfy some emotional or idealistic need.  It is time to step back and really see what’s around us instead of reflexively doing what we have been doing.  Kind of the opposite of being conservative.

Bits and Pieces

Once a week or so I like to just gather up little snippets of news that tells us much about ourselves and try to draw a few inferences.  This week’s lineup includes:

  • Campbell Brown of CNN was interviewing Peter Schiff, author of “The Little Book of Bull Moves in Bear Markets: How to Keep Your Portfolio Up When the Market is Down”, about the auto industry bailout.  He railed against their “union contracts” and then said, “And what we don’t want is the government determining what type of automobiles GM should be manufacturing, because if we think they’re losing money now, wait until we see how much more money they would lose when the government is running them.”  This is classic conservative thinking.  Anything government does is bad.  I guess that would include setting tough mileage standards that might have made them competitive today.  By the way when you look at their labor contracts, they have already been renegotiated and they are the type of contracts (sans healthcare that our government ought to provide like every other industrialized nation does) that would reinforce and create a strong middle class.
  • In the same vein have you noticed that all the economic talking heads that up until the crash, didn’t predict the crash, are all experts on what we should be doing with our money and how we will get out of this mess?  It really is frightening when the spouters of the conventional wisdom that never saw this mess coming are the “experts”.  To get out of this mess we are going to have to spend our way out and recreate a strong and growing middle class.  Conservative economic theory is only about how we facilitate the rich to get richer.
  • By the way for you investors out there, I meet a really interesting fellow in New York who was staying at the Mercer.  Actually he was living there so you get the drift on his economic status.  He had an investment firm he sold a few years ago as he said he saw this thing coming and was now producing a documentary film.  He said that the bottom of the market will be 7500 and at the time I took that with a grain of salt.  Well it almost got there Thursday.  He said when it stabilized out at 7500, buy.
  • Nebraska finally amends their drop-off law to 30-day-old infants.  When people started dropping off their teenage kids, I remember the response of many about how these parents are scum.  Reality, however, is that many of these parents have children who are truly troubled and they can’t get help.  While legislators blovate about how there are plenty of services available and these parents were just failing to actively pursue these other avenues, several parents like Lavennia Coover, a kindergarten teacher who dropped off her 11-year old son, told a completely different story.  It is never quite as simple as we think, especially if we have never walked in their shoes (New York Times).
  • There was a recent story in the New York Times about the waning power of Russia to meddle in South American affairs with the demise of the price of oil.  Isn’t it interesting that Iran, Venezuela, and Russia are all dependent upon the West’s economic well being for their own power?  Gives diplomacy a whole new lease on life.
  • As the protests in Iraq continue over the Security Pact (New York Times), did you ever wonder what we are committing ourselves to?  The commonly reported story line is that we will be out by 2011, but I wonder what is in the small print?  Ever wonder why our press has not gone through it and found the little details that we might not like?  I have to wonder because we keep letting contracts to build stuff over there.
  • Here is a shot at all those who are complaining that Barack is bringing back in old Clinton hands and those already in the mainstream of Washington.  First, except for Hillary herself, these people backed Obama not Hillary and that was risky in itself.  What does that tell you about these old Clinton people?  Second as David Brooks pointed out in his column on Friday, “The Insiders Crusade”, these people are not ideologues, but pragmatic experienced politicos.  That my friends, has been why the conservatives have failed.  They were ideologues who could not provide a flexible response to changing conditions.  From my first item above, the guy just can’t get off the idea that the government is the problem.  Sometimes it is, and sometimes it is the solution.  Show him the door.  Treasury Secretary Paulson threw money at the banks assuming they would do the right thing and that would fix the economy.  Well they did do the right thing…for themselves.  But self-interest is not necessary the best thing for all of us.  We need people who will try new things, and move on if they don’t work.  We need people who will try bold approaches unhindered by ideology.  Hopefully that is what we are getting.  So those of you who are despondent that he didn’t bring in a whole new set of liberal attack dogs, chill out.
  • Gas prices are going down and everyone is rejoicing.  Well think about this:  If you believe the market place works, we need to put (not my idea, but Tom Friedman’s) a $1 surcharge on gas so that the price never again dips below $4/gallon.  We use the income for alternate energy research and infrastructure improvements that move us away from oil.  Keep reminding your self that Europe pays almost twice what we do and is why they have such a wonderful mass transit system.  If we don’t, we will fall back into old habits.  Already the use of mass transit has started to fall here at home.
  • One last thought:  This week the pundits have been ringing their hands over Obama’s pick of Hillary as the Secretary of State and who will be in charge, will their be a clash of approaches, what will Bill be doing.  Forget it.  Just trust in his judgment.  That is why we elected him.  This is cocktail fodder, not news.

The end of another week and I am in sunny San Diego enjoying the weather, the sun, and the ocean.  Could life be any better?  You have to take one day at a time.

More Religious Follies

I watched an interview on Wednesday between Rick Sanchez of CNN and Pastor Mark Holick from the Spirit One Christian Center who posted a sign outside his church that said, “America, we have a Muslim president. This is sin against the Lord.”  This was an interesting interview and it tells much about religion out of control, but it was also interesting to see Rick challenge this man in a polite and respectful way.  It was more than I could have done and Rick is a better person than I for his tolerance.  Anyway here are some snippets from Pastor Holick’s interview (CNN):

HOLICK:  “Well, let me start out by saying that as a Christian pastor, I believe that God’s word states “blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.” And that America became the most blessed nation on earth not because we’re any smarter than any of the other peoples of the Earth, but because of the Lord and his laws.”

In other words we are chosen people.  Now right here are grounds for justifying all kinds of atrocities if you think your fellow man is a lesser human and only you have the right path. Does he remember the Inquisition?  He probably thinks the Crusades were fully justified.   But it gets better.

SANCHEZ:  …let me read to you what Barack Obama says, you know, himself.  He says: “I am a Christian, so I have a deep faith. I’m rooted in the Christian tradition. I believe that there are many paths to the same place. And that is a belief that there is a higher power — a belief that we are connected as a people.”  So he’s saying he’s a Christian, but it sounds like he’s saying that he admits that there may be many paths to the same place.  Why not take him at his word?

HOLICK: Well, his very words that you just read to me is not a Christian belief. As a Christian, we do not believe there are many paths to the same place. In fact (INAUDIBLE)… In John, Chapter 14, Verse 6, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life and no man comes to the father but by me.”

In other words you either believe as I do or you are damned to hell.  When Rick raised the fact that Pope Paul II had also said there are many paths to Jesus Christ, I thought Rick really doesn’t get this guy.  These people don’t think Catholics are Christians. Rick also raised the tolerance preached by Billy Graham, but I don’t think in Pastor Holick’s rigid world Billy Graham is a Christian either.  Oh, but it gets even better:

SANCHEZ: Let’s talk, then, about your first point. You made a point about the fact that this is part of why we are the most blessed or cherished nation on Earth. But we’re also a nation whose forefathers were wise enough to make sure that we separated how we prayed with how we governed. It’s that old adage we’ve always heard, separation of church and state.  Do you not believe in that?

HOLICK: No. And our founding fathers didn’t believe in that, either.  Number one, separation of church and state is not found anywhere in the Constitution at all.

(Actually in the Establishment Clause it says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..” The phrase “separation of church and state”, which does not appear in the Constitution itself, is generally traced to an 1802 letter by Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptists, where Jefferson spoke of the combined effect of the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. It has since been quoted in several opinions handed down by the United States Supreme Court.  So it really is our established law although a somewhat porous wall, but let us not be dissuaded by the facts)

SANCHEZ: Well, but Thomas Jefferson had as much to do with that Constitution as anybody, sir. Both he and James Madison did.  Here’s Thomas Jefferson: “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act the whole American people, which declare that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state.”

HOLICK: Well, what you’re quoting is not the Constitution. You’re quoting a letter. And the wall of separation was one way that the state would not interfere with the church. But certainly the church had every right and even a duty to its elected officials.

Okay, I will give that Jefferson was in France during the drafting of the Constitution and Rick is confusing the Declaration of Independence with the Constitutional Convention (Madison was a major player there however and he was writing Jefferson furiously), but it is clear what the Framers were trying to avoid, the 400 years of religious wars that had occurred in Europe.  The man is poorly educated on world history or what was the genius of progressive thinking of the day that separated out faith from reason that allowed us to establish a government based upon reason, peaceful disagreement, and compromise.  It was called the Enlightenment.  If you follow his logic, there is never room for compromise and government needs to reflect the one right truth and no others are tolerated.  Then you can do away with the Congress and just let the leader of the church who interprets the Bible with the one right word think for all of us.

Pastor Holick is not a bad man, he just wants to have certitude about his life and he got that by checking his brain at the door of rational thought.  Remember Jim Jones and the cool aid.  Same logic.  It is clear that the Bible was written in many voices, so which voices from the past do you think had the gospel, so to speak?  Speaking of Gospels, What about the Gospels they threw out?  Many of the passages can be interpreted differently so whose interpretation is the right one?  My favorite is the story of Job.  You can make your own judgment about a kind and just God from that one. There are some outright falsehoods in the Bible (like that 4000 year old stuff, or Adam and Eve and the talking snake) so what does that say about certitude?  Then of course why did we need a New Testament?  What was wrong with Old one and who decided?  Or as Lewis Black said, did God take anger management classes for an improved version in the New Testament?

Real religion is an intellectual trial to try to live the philosophy of your beliefs in an evolving and complex world.  Dogmatic beliefs unexamined by reason are an exercise in ignorance that simply denies the basic tenets of the Christian religion, tolerance and forgiveness.   Defining your faith by some set of dogmatic rules makes you less human, and your religion tyranny.  Poor Pastor Holick.  He has no idea what a constitutional democracy (republic actually) is all about or that the real gift of life is that there are so many different paths to enlightenment.  But he is in the judging business.  He who lives in glass houses……

The Auto Industry Bailout

Well should we are shouldn’t we?  Lets sample some opinions.  Our fun loving Republicans are against it:

“Just giving them $25 billion doesn’t change anything,” Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, the Senate’s second-ranking Republican, said on Fox News Sunday. “It just puts off for six months or so the day of reckoning.”

Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the senior Republican on the Senate banking committee, called the plan “a road to nowhere.” He called the “Big Three” — Detroit’s three major automakers — “a dinosaur,” and said on NBC’s Meet the Press that they are “not building the right products. … They don’t innovate.”  He also called it, “unnecessary and economically harmful” and a “gross misuse of American taxpayers’ hard-earned money.”

Of course you should note that Senator Shelby has in his home state Honda, Toyota and Mercedes-Benz, foreign-owned companies that would not be eligible for bailout funds.  But if it is good money after bad what’s the point?  Some Republicans and the American Enterprise Institute say it would be better to let them go into bankruptcy and then be forced to reorganize.

The other side of this argument goes something like this:

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D-MI):  “Well, this is a national problem, first of all, without any question.  We’ve got at least three million jobs dependent upon this industry surviving.  We’ve got–this is a Main Street problem.  We’ve got 10,000 or more dealers.  They, they cover the country in every town of this country.  The auto industry touches millions and millions of lives.  One out of 10 jobs in this country are auto related.  Twenty percent of our retail sales are auto related or automobiles.  So this is a national problem.”

MR. TOM FRIEDMAN:  “You know, Carl Levin, what did he say?  He said, “You know, just give us this $25 billion and, and we’ll be OK.” Tom, if I thought with $25 billion we could save this industry, I’d be for it, OK?  But I see no plan right now, no reason to suggest that these people who have driven this industry into a complete ditch have a plan to get it out in the long term and not come back to a six, three months from now, for another $25 billion.  Show me that plan.”

And so there is truth on either side.  It is interesting that the Republicans are not that concerned about the domino effect of putting so many people out of work and maybe really driving us into a depression.  President Elect Obama weighed in on Sunday on 60 Minutes with:

“So my hope is that over the course of the next week, between the White House and Congress, the discussions are shaped around providing assistance but making sure that that assistance is conditioned on labor, management, suppliers, lenders, all the stakeholders coming together with a plan what does a sustainable U.S. auto industry look like? So that we are creating a bridge loan to somewhere as opposed to a bridge loan to nowhere. And that’s, I think, what you haven’t yet seen.”

On the issue of bankruptcy being a better solution, he said:

“Well, you know, under normal circumstances that might be the case in the sense that you’d go to a restructuring like the airlines had to do in some cases. And then they come out and they’re still a viable operation. And they’re operating even during the course of bankruptcy. In this situation, you could see the spigot completely shut off so that it would not potentially permit GM to get back on its feet.”  (He means there is no available credit to fund a reorganization because the markets have dried up).

Isn’t nice to know that we finally will have a President who isn’t reactionary and has his head squarely planted on his shoulders?  For my part, we will have to bail them out, but only with either a realistic “plan” or a “bridge”.  This is the last of the major manufacturing we have left in America and we will need it down the road.  If they go down, the impact to our economy could be catastrophic and do we really want to take that chance?  What I think is coloring everyone’s vision right now is the need to punish those who have squandered our economic might, and in this case that would be auto executives and the politicians that protected them for years.  But this is not the time to be looking for scapegoats.  It is time for solutions.

On the issue of bankruptcy and the comparison to United Airlines that went into bankruptcy and came out a better company that the Republicans like to quote (better company at least from the bottom line perspective as opposed to customer comfort).  There are two things that make this non-analogous:  First as noted by our President-Elect, there is no money out there for them to borrow to restructure while the creditors are held at bay.  Second, they make cars.  If people suspect that they could go out of business, why would buy one of their cars that may not have service or easily to obtain parts down the road?  Buying an automobile is really a long term commitment and putting that commitment at risk could just end their business.

One last thought:  Republicans are willing to let the market place play out through bankruptcy with the possibility of millions of jobs being lost and pushing us into a real depression.  Democrats want tough love, but want to be more proactive in these perilous times.  We have let the market place run free and it has gotten us into major trouble.  Maybe a little direction is not a bad thing if it works.

Religious Freedom and Politics

I always have this debate with myself on religion.  Being a confirmed non-believer, I look at many of the problems in our little world that revolve around religious belief and wish it would just all go away.  But on the other hand I also know the sometimes belief is what gets people through impossible situations and helps them overcome what seems like insurmountable odds.  Doesn’t make it true, but does make it useful.  So is there a balance?  Only if the religious can live by and keep their beliefs to themselves.  Just as an aside, I prefer to look at the philosophy of a religion to judge its efficacy and worth, not in its “revealed word” or belief in some personal god guide.  Where religion gets to be a real problem is when the “revealed word” of one religion tries to mandate that revealed word on the rest of us through political action and the power of government.  We have seen three cases of this recently and they speak volumes about keeping religion out of politics.

The New York Times reported last week in “Mormons Tip Scale on Ban on Gay Marriage” that the Mormon Church joined the battle against gay marriage with major fund raising and door to door campaigning:

“First approached by the Roman Catholic archbishop of San Francisco a few weeks after the California Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in May, the Mormons were the last major religious group to join the campaign, and the final spice in an unusual stew that included Catholics, evangelical Christians, conservative black and Latino pastors, and myriad smaller ethnic groups with strong religious ties.”

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I thought religious freedom meant you could believe what you want, as long as it didn’t hurt anyone, and you didn’t use your religion as a political force to use government to jam your beliefs down the throats of others.  But in this case, that is exactly what they did. Of course the good Mormon Church has a history here as they were a major force in defeating the equal rights amendment back in the 70s.

Another ugly face of religion to raise its ugly head was a Catholic priest in North Carolina who refused communion for Obama supporters.  As reported by MSNBC:

“A South Carolina Roman Catholic priest has told his parishioners that they should refrain from receiving Holy Communion if they voted for Barack Obama because the Democratic president-elect supports abortion, and supporting him “constitutes material cooperation with intrinsic evil.””

Now once again, it may just be me, but is this not using the church as a political lever to control you political choice?  Now in both of these examples, the religious see no problem since they are just expressing their religious beliefs, right?  But the reality is they are not just expressing them, but they are trying to force them on the rest of us by the use of the voting box and religious pressure to get government to implement their religious agenda.  This to me is quite all right as long as we now recognize these institutions as political institutions and yank their tax-exempt status.  And that is why you are seeing the picketing of the Moron churches in California and Utah.  They are now fair game as political organizations that have a political agenda to force their beliefs on the rest of us just like any other political action group.

Finally, there is the case before the Supreme court (from Utah) about who can erect religious dogma monuments in a public place.  In a public park there is a monument to the Ten Commandments.  So a fruit loop group wants their own statue that reflects their rather out there views.  Of course the local government rejected them resulting in a free speech suit.  The problem is if you allow one, which one.  When you choose, government is in the business of promoting a certain religion. USA Today.  From my point of view fruit loop is in the eye of the beholder and as a government you either allow all, or you allow none.

If you think life begins at conception, don’t get an abortion, don’t use any advancement of science as a result of stem cell research, and don’t ever utilize artificial insemination to start a family, but don’t prevent others who don’t share your belief from sharing in these practices.  If you don’t approve of gay marriage, don’t marry a gay person, but don’t prevent others from finding a little happiness in their lives. If you want to promote religion or formal prayers in pubic schools, consider whose religion, whose prayer.   How hard is that?  Ah, but they have the only “revealed word” and they must enforce it on the rest of us.  Anybody ever wonder why there are so many different versions of the “revealed word”?

And that is when religion gets very dangerous.  We now have people in the political process who believe compromise is sin and their way is the only way.  Sounds pretty much like Republicans, except worse.

The Elephant in the Room

It has been fun listening to Republicans try to reinvent themselves this last week.  I listened to Sarah Palin, “the rock star of the Republican Party” repeat her campaign speeches and when pressed for new ideas, said basically, there were lots of them.  Kind of like Supreme Court cases that she would like to overturn, she couldn’t name any.  But she is only the tip of the iceberg.  I listened to Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, one of their purported new young rising stars, talk about how they needed to get back to a party of inclusiveness, and address the issues of younger people.  I would agree that’s what they need, but I don’t have any clue about how they are going to do it.  I have yet to hear anything like a good idea.  Here is an example from Charles Blow from an Op-ed piece in the New York Times on Saturday:

“To be modern, you have to go back. Return to fiscal conservatism and ease up on social conservatism. Obsess more about controlling spending and less about controlling other people’s bodies. Reach out to poor people in the cities as well as those in the sticks. Make space for minorities, and re-examine the position on immigration.”

How do you reach out when you have been demonizing them and you have no ideas about helping them except “controlling spending”?  Could it be to help them you might actually have to spend some money?  And that is the elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about.  The Press has been listening to these pronouncements of Republicans, but never asking the question how.  The Republicans seem to think that the only thing wrong with their policies is that they got off track.  That if they could just go back to small government and frugal spending it would be Reaganville again.  The only Republican who isn’t preaching this bag of hot air is Arnold Schwarzenegger, who says he doesn’t care about ideology, just being pragmatic.  I believe the Govenator because that is what he is trying to do in California with ideologues on both sides of the isle blocking his every move.  But for most of the rest of his party, they really haven’t examined the elephant in the room, which is does basic conservative ideology have anything to offer us anymore?

Here is what I would like the Press to ask some of these born-again Republicans:

  1. After years where the Republican Party has used divide and conquer, racial politics, and fear as a strategy and the party is basically a party of white people, how specifically are you going to attract those you have demonized in the past?
  2. With this new approach to new ideas, how can you keep you social conservatives who feel that these issues are a litmus test for candidates?  Do you still want to?
  3. How does “control spending” solve the problem that right now the economy will need major stimulation and what is your plan for stimulating that economy?  If it is more tax cuts for the rich or lower capital gains how is this going to help when that is what we have been doing for the last eight years?
  4. How can smaller government be consistent with what is generally believed to be things government needs to do:

a.    Invest in Alternate Energy?
b.    Rebuild our infrastructure?
c.    Provide healthcare for all our citizens?
d.    Make higher education more available?

Now you know what they will say.  We need tax incentives and a more vibrant market place and then let the market place solve these problems.  Vibrant market place, by the way, is code for, no regulations and no government interference.  That is how we got where we are today.  So ask how the market place can solve any of these problems.  Marketplace solutions have not fared well in these arenas.  What conservatives have done in the past is do nothing and wait for the market place to move.  It hasn’t.  And in many cases such as energy efficiency, it has lead us in the wrong direction.

The sad thing that they haven’t figured out is the Democrats have taken what they had right and co-opted it.  For example, clearly their is a major role government has to play in getting us down the road to alternate energy, but they understand leveraging the free market to innovate.  For infrastructure rebuilding, it will be government funding with private sector executors.  Once again the strategic direction will have to be decided by the government.  Remember, we let the market place decide on cars and we got the Hummer and now they are going broke.  Healthcare will never be solved by the market place where private health insurance providers can skim the healthy or deny care to increase profits.  It is not a system set up to provide healthcare, but to provide profits for investors.  As for higher education being more available and affordable simply means we all have to contribute and invest in our young.  This is not a Republican value.  It would be “spreading the wealth”.

So if Republicans were clever they would push “smart government”, not less government meaning more effective and efficient government; smart regulations that protect us, but are not economy killers; smart spending where our investments are focused where they will give us the biggest return for our investment; and so on.  The trouble is, that is exactly what the Democrats are doing.  So if they want to really partake in the debate about what are the “smart” things, they need to jettison much of what they believe.  I haven’t heard that one yet.  In the meantime, John McCain is down in Georgia campaigning for Senator Saxby Chambliss, whose ad against Max Cleland, a triple amputee back in the 2002 campaign, “worse than disgraceful. It’s reprehensible.”  I guess for Republicans Party is thicker than values.  Maybe they can’t help themselves.