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Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

“Natural Born” Presidents

In Culture, International, Opinion, Politics on July 28, 2009 at 3:41 pm

Michael Lind asks on Salon.com why an immigrant couldn’t be President of the United States. It’s an interesting article, and one that the so-called “Birthers” should read. He lists the three ways you can become a citizen of the United States and explains the probable reason why the “natural born” qualification was was included in the Constitution. (If, as the Birthers would have it, “natural born” means being born on American soil, then even John McCain wasn’t eligible: he was born in the Panama Canal Zone.)

Why are the Birthers so upset about this issue? What would be so bad about having a president who was foreign born? Read the article. It will make you think.

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True Leadership

In Culture, Politics, Self Improvement on May 7, 2009 at 7:18 am

“A true leader does not take the public to where the public happens to be, because the public is already there. A leader takes the public to where the public should be, according to that leader’s view of the society’s highest ideals – ideals that the public shares but which have not yet been realized.”

So says Robert Reich in a post this morning on Salon.com.  This is one of the best definitions of a leader that I have ever read.

Only time will tell if this definition applies to Obama, but so far he seems to fit the criteria. There have been many examples, but one that strikes me the most is his stance on gay marriage. He hasn’t said overtly that he is for gay marriage, but he has been totally supportive of gay rights, and ultimately those rights include the right to marry. Since he’s been in office, several states have either changed their laws to allow gay marriage or are in the process of revisiting them. But before Obama became President, the states seemed to be influenced by the Religious Right and conservatives in general.

Even so, there has been a relaxing of this society’s antipathy toward homosexuality over the past decades. Witness shows like “Grace and Will”, movies like “Philadelphia” and the acceptance of Ellen Degeneres, an “open” lesbian, as a talk show host. And these are but a few examples. Acceptance has been slow but steady. It is only a matter of time before most of the states recognize the validity of gay marriages. But it has taken a true leader to give the public the encouragement it needed to follow its instincts.

You could argue that the public doesn’t know what it wants, but only follows the lead of those at the top. But that argument underestimates the public’s ability to rock the boat when its leaders set a firm course toward a destination it does not desire. Most people are not activists. They prefer to stay in the background and to preserve the status quo. It has been easier for the past eight years to follow the path set by Bush and his ilk, partly because he led by fear-mongering: fear of change, of challenging traditional values, of breaking with the past. However, that doesn’t mean that the majority actually believed the same way Bush did.

I believe that most people believe in their innermost beings that being tolerant is the most important characteristic to have if we are to solve our societal problems. They demonstrated their tolerance when they voted Obama into office. If you would have told me right after 9/11 that we would, a scant eight years later, elect a president whose middle name was Hussein, I would have said you were crazy. I never expected to see a black president in my lifetime. People were ready for change, not so much because they embrace it (most people don’t), but because Obama provided what they had been needing: a leader who will bring out the best in them.

For the past eight years we have been locked into a mentality that chafed us. We didn’t want to be racist, to be a nation of xenophobes, to go to war, to turn our back on the most unfortunate in our society. We wanted to be open and accepting–that has always been the American way. Yes, I know that there are still plenty of bigots and isolationists who would be happy to turn things back to the ’50s. But most people would rather look ahead and explore a world that has been waiting to be born.

And thank God, we have a leader who is ready to assist in the delivery.

Tea Bagging

In Culture, Opinion, Politics on April 16, 2009 at 8:22 am

Yesterday, on tax day, thousands of people protested the government’s spending policies by having “tea bag” protests. (How cute!) What these people don’t realize is:


  1. We have to have some way of providing services and aid for those who are less able to take care of themselves.

  2. We also have to provide basic services and amenities (fire and police departments, trash collection, parks, etc.) for the average citizen, who could not afford to pay for these things by himself.

  3. Very few, if any, people understand how we got into this mess to begin with and know what it will take for the U.S. economy to recover, but doing nothing is not an option.

  4. It’s a good bet that most of the people doing the protesting are not going to have to pay more taxes. How many of them make over $250,000 a year? How many CEOs and doctors, college presidents, etc. were in the crowd?

  5. Instead of having protests, people should be educating themselves about the economic crisis and then contacting their congress people and the President with their criticisms and suggestions, or maybe–what a revolutionary idea!– get involved in politics themselves.

  6. People who are against governmental spending for social services would do well to look to the European model. They pay more in taxes, but have safety nets that we don’t have here in the States. And it is the lack of safety nets that has most people running scared.

  7. No one is asking for blind support for the President and his policies, but we do need to give him time to affect change. He has only been President for three months so far!

  8. Those who are protesting any kind of change are being short-sighted. We obviously don’t want to keep on doing what we’ve been doing.

  9. Some protests have been skating on the edge of calling for secession. (The governor of Texas, for example.)

  10. The protestors are hypocrites, because they’ll take government money and services when it suits them (which is often). Texas, for example, gets back 88% of every dollar it sends to Washington.

  11. Conservatives may not fall into the class of “right-wing extremists,” but the reverse is certainly true. There’s no denying that there are fringe elements who are getting out of line (for instance, with allegations that Obama is another Adolf Hitler, or slogans that are patently racist).

  12. Some conservatives are equating the Department of Homeland Security’s findings about the rise of “right-wing extremism” with an attack on them, when it obviously is warning about groups like white supremacists and individuals like Timothy McVeigh. I’m assuming that the average conservative has no truck with that kind of “conservativism.” They are also accusing the Obama administration of coming up with findings like these in order to attack conservatives when papers saying the same thing were being produced under the Bush administration.

The problem with these kinds of protests is that they are often fueled by emotions, not sound and careful thinking. Americans are feeling threatened and they want to find someone or something to blame. They also want quick fixes. (I’m one of them!) But the fact is, we’re not going to get out of this mess any more quickly than we got into it.  We need to educate ourselves about what went wrong and what we can each do to make sure it doesn’t go wrong again. Tying teabags to our hats and protesting on State House lawns is not going to cut it.

[Note on 4/19/09: Tea Party Fallout from The Huffington Post.]

Bonuses

In Money, Politics on March 23, 2009 at 11:18 am

The banking industry is protesting that it made contracts with the employees that received bonuses stating that they would be given the bonuses. Last time I checked, a bonus was “something given or paid in addition to what is usual or expected.” So how could a bonus be contractual? I always thought that bonuses were paid out for performance, and since the banking industry obviously did not perform well (or at all), then why should anyone receive bonuses?

My daughter works in the banking industry and used to get bonuses, until her bosses decided that they couldn’t afford to give them right now.  She works for a bank that received federal funds, but it isn’t one of the giants like AIG. I don’t know if any of her higher-ups are still getting their bonuses, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they are. Her bonuses were based on how many calls she made per month, which I can see. The bonuses were directly tied to work that can be quantified.

I have a problem with bosses getting bonuses anyway. All too often they get them based on someone else’s performance and those who did the work receive no bonuses at all. (It was that way when I worked for the U.S. Postal service in the ’80s and ’90s.) It could be argued that the bosses were responsible for getting good work out of their employees, but all too often what they do has nothing to do with the results. In fact, in my view, at least half the time (and I’m being generous here) the bosses made it harder for the workers to do a good job.

I’ve never been a boss; perhaps if I had, I would be singing a different tune. But I like to think that I would feel guilty receiving bonuses when those I supervised–who did the actual work–received nothing.

Another thing that bothers me about this whole “contractual” argument is that no one raises a stink when workers are asked to give up pay or hours or benefits because of tough economic times. This happens even when the workers’ unions had contracts with the employers that ensured them so much pay, hours and certain benefits. But it is seen as okay to “bust” the union or the workers–they’re making too much anyway, right?

Poor Losers

In Politics on February 23, 2009 at 8:46 am

To hear Alexandra Pelosi (yes, Nancy’s daughter) tell it, the 58 million who didn’t vote for Obama is a deeply disaffected segment of our society, one that the rest of us ignore at our own peril. She went on the campaign trail this past year specifically to take the temperature of the conservatives (i.e., McCain supporters). Her premise was that the media, which she says is liberal, doesn’t give the Right its due. And as a result, these people are feeling disenfranchised and they’re not happy about it.

How does she view, then, 2000 and 2004, when the Right triumphed with the elections of George Bush? Presumably the media was just as liberal then as it has ever been. Was there anyone then who was reporting on how the “liberals” felt? How disaffected or angry they were? I don’t remember any of that. To me it felt like everyone was on Bush’s bandwagon, especially after 9/11, and you didn’t dare say so if you weren’t. It was considered unpatriotic, even traitorous. Now there is this concern about how the poor conservatives are taking their reversal in fortune. I say, they should suck it up and deal with it, like the Left had to do for eight years (which was eight too many as far as I’m concerned).

Judging by the Republicans’ lack of support during the stimulus votes, it appears that they are sore losers. If the game isn’t played by their rules, they just want to take the ball and go home. If they weren’t so worried about pandering to that 58 million, they might be able to do what the Left was expected to do when Bush won: be bipartisan. Everyone gets so incensed when Democrats hold onto their political ideals. But when the Republicans do it, they’re taking care of their poor constituents, as if they deserve some kind of consolation prize.

We’re past the point of partisanship. What is needed now are measures that benefit this society as a whole. Not just the ones who voted for Obama or for McCain. After all, the economy is no respector of political orientation, not this time. Trickle-down economics isn’t working because those at the top are being hit as hard as those at the bottom. Everyone is afraid of losing their jobs. McMansions are going into foreclosure at as high a rate as the lowliest middle-class homes. Everyone is afraid to spend their dwindling reserves of cash, let alone take out more credit.

According to Gallup, Obama had a 68% approval rating when he went into office. That’s 17 points higher than Reagan and 11 higher than Bush their first times around. That sounds like a majority to me. That’s what a democracy is like. The “losers” might not like it, but if they keep acting like spoiled brats, we’re all going to be losers. Of course, they’ll try to blame it on the Democrats. But they need to take responsibility for their own actions and attitudes. They need to be models for the rest of us. We hold them to a higher standard because we want them to be our leaders. Let’s hope they start acting like it.

Obama’s First Interview

In Politics, Religion on January 27, 2009 at 1:16 pm

President Obama’s first interview since taking office was with Al Arabiya. I think this was a tremendously smart move on his part. The Muslim world is waiting with bated breath to see how this new leader of the United States  is going to handle “the Muslim question.”

I work with foreign students, most of whom are Muslim. The day after Obama’s election, one of them greeted me with a big smile, held out his arms and said, “Congratulations on Obama!” It was obvious that he was almost as delighted as I was. Why would that be so, unless he felt that Obama held out hope for peace, or at least better relations, between the Islamic and Judeo-Christian world? Isn’t that what we all want?

I pray daily that God gives Obama wisdom and strength to tackle the hard issues he has before him. This is certainly one of them.

Rick Warren’s Inaugural Invocation

In Politics, Religion on January 21, 2009 at 11:49 am

I was more interested in Pastor Rick Warren’s invocation than in President Barack Obama’s speech. (Read the text here.) I’m sure it didn’t satisfy everyone–how could any prayer do that in this multi-religious (and anti-religious) world? There was so much controversy about his selection, I was a little surprised that there hasn’t been more reaction to it. It’s still early, though; there undoubtedly will be.

What did I think of the prayer? I thought it was outstanding. Unlike some, I was not put off by his references to Jesus (in several languages) because he prefaced them with the phrase, “I humbly ask this in the name of the one who changed my life,” making it not a point of doctrine, but a personal testimony. Surely he is allowed that much.

I was impressed by his use of the Hebrew phrase: “Hear, oh Israel, the Lord is our God; the Lord is one.” It’s hard to imagine how he could have been more inclusive, without turning the prayer into a travesty. (As an aside, the phrase in Hebrew is “Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha’olam”–I don’t know what the name Barack is supposed to mean but it bears a passing resemblance to “blessed” in this prayer. Interesting.)

I was glad that Warren didn’t make any political references in his prayer–to abortion or homosexuality, for instance. But I didn’t really expect him to. That’s why I wasn’t riled up by his selection the way a lot of pro-choice and gay activists were. From what I know of the man (which, I admit, is second-hand at best), I never expected him to divert attention from his central message: “Help us, oh God, to remember that we are Americans, united not by race or religion or blood, but to our commitment to freedom and justice for all.”

I particularly like the passage that followed:

“When we focus on ourselves, when we fight each other, when we forget you, forgive us. When we presume that our greatness and our prosperity is ours alone, forgive us. When we fail to treat our fellow human beings and all the Earth with the respect that they deserve, forgive us.

“And as we face these difficult days ahead, may we have a new birth of clarity in our aims, responsibility in our actions, humility in our approaches, and civility in our attitudes, even when we differ.”

Amen.

McCain’s Gracious Concession Speech

In Politics on November 5, 2008 at 3:10 pm

Don’t Vote

In Politics on October 30, 2008 at 5:29 pm

And here is a sequel that I couldn’t get on YouTube, so you have to click on this link to get it: The Don’t Vote video.

Faith Priorities For This Election

In Politics, Religion on October 28, 2008 at 1:40 pm

I can’t say it as well as Jim Wallis says it in his God’s Politics blog post, “My Personal ‘Faith Priorities’ For This Election,” but here are my own. These are my non-negotiables.

1. The candidate has to be pro-choice and pro-life. This may sound like a cop-out, but hear me out. I want a candidate who is pro-life in all its forms: for unborn fetuses and the prospective mothers, against the death penalty, temperate about war, and concerned about each person’s quality of life. But he or she also needs to recognize that what each person does is between him or her and his or her God and it is not for us to judge or stand in the way of that relationship.

2. As I said above, I want a candidate who will use diplomacy before a show of might. Who will talk softly while carrying a big stick. Senator McCain emphasized the big stick in the second presidential debate, but it’s understood that the U.S. has that; what it needs more of is the soft talking.

3. I want a candidate who fights for the the unfortunates and against the those who are greedy and self-seeking. Who believes in the common good. Who recognizes that one of the roles of government is to pool together all our resources in order to take care of all our countrymen and -women.

4. The candidate has to be a proponent of women’s equality in all phases and sectors of life. A corollary to this is a concern for children and families, which means that the candidate must seek ways to make work more equitable, flexible and rewarding, to supply adequate child care programs for all children, to curb and punish violence in the home, to offer affordable educational opportunities to all people (from whatever class and whatever age), to protect and expand the Family Medical Leave Act, to fight for maternity and paternity leave (ideally paid), and to provide health care for all.

5. The candidate has to care and pass measures to protect our environment. These means policies that explore green ways to provide energy as well as to take up the mantle of the sacred trust that is ours: responsible stewardship of the planet and all that is on it.

6. This is related to #2, but I want a candidate who seeks to work cooperatively with all nations, to not seek only what is good for America, to not wage wars for fiancial gain, but based on justice and human values and to join the planet in fighting global warming and for other environmental concerns.

7. I want to see compassion in my candidate, a caring and respect for all people regardless of sex, gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, religion and social class. I want a candidate who is willing and eager to work and act locally and globally.

8. The candidate must work to rehabilitate America’s stature in the world and among its own citizens. To do that he must have impeccable character and sensitivity toward others.

9. The ideal candidate must also have humility and a willingness to listen to his opponents as well as his advisors.

10. And finally, the candidate must have wisdom and spiritual maturity.

If a candidate fits all these requirements then I believe he or she will be in line with Christ’s mandates to His followers, whether or not he or she is a Christian. I believe in a technical separation of church and state, but not a separation of values and actions. And I believe that a nation led by such a president can be an agent for good in this world. God will be able to work wonders such as we haven’t seen in this country in a long time. I truly believe that.