Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to you and your loved ones! Happy holidays to everyone!

Christmas celebrates a God who was born in a manger among animals. A God who was adored by shepherds and angels. When the wise men came, they attracted danger and the holy family had to seek refuge on foreign soil.

Like our savior, millions of children live in poverty, not only abroad but in our midst. The Nobel Price winning economist Amartya Sen even documented that child mortality is higher in the United States than in the southern Indian state Kerala. New Orleans revealed to us that ten to twenty percent of our countrymen live in third world conditions.

If I encountered baby Jesus in the manger today, would I be concerned about the quality of his health care? What about Mary, the mother of God?

And then what? Would I support Joseph's need for a living wage?

Would I do my part that even those who have to live in stables enjoy a life of rights and dignity?

The genius of Christianity is that God became a man. He lived among us and suffered with us. That's how he was born and that's how he redeemed the world.

If I don't step up for those of my neighbors who share Christ's predicament then I can neither claim to love my God nor my neighbor.

Have a Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Where Are the Conservatives?

In Germany, I was a conservative. I still have conservative predispositions and lead a conservative lief style. In the United States, however, conservativism has degenerated into a label for a worldview beyond reason.
  • The rejection of science: intelligent design, stem cell research, denying global warming in spite of the consensus of the scientific audience.
  • Fiscal irresponsibility: structural deficits as far as the eye can see, more spending and more tax cuts every year.
  • Scapegoating: blaming gays for the crisis of American families.
  • Lack of support for the military: reducing the size of the army from twelve to ten divisions, cutting the budget of the Veteran's administration every year, trying to take combat and family separation pay from soldiers in Iraq and Afganistan, six draft deferments by Cheney.
  • Cronyism: cost-plus contracts for Halliburton and Bechtel.
  • Wishful thinking instead of cold blooded analysis: going to war assuming the best, never planning for the worst case.
  • The middle class squeeze: the evaporation of affordable housing, health care, and higher education.
  • Lacking commitment to democracy: the lack of commitment by Republican elected officials to provide equal voting rights, providing too few voting machines in black neighborhoods, emaciating the civil rights division in the Department of Justice.
That's not conservative. Conservative is about tradition, stability, responsibility, service, and the common good. Until the Republican party recovers these values they are merely a tribe with a tribal agenda at the expense of the nation and our children.

But not even tribalism is the ultimate end of the Republican party. It is only a cover in the pursuit of personal wealth. The Bushies are spending billions so that their friends can make millions. We might as well be governed by self-righteous robber barons.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Unions: Making Markets Work

Lots of labor news today. The Copley News Service reports that the gocery chain Ralphs broke a strike by surreptitiously rehiring locked out workers. That happens to be illegal.

In New York the Transit Worker's Union is initiating strikes after negotiating past the contract deadline.

Why can't workers negotiate their contracts individually? Because we are living in a world of large organizations. When you bargain with a government or a multi-billion dollar corporation then employers make all the rules. When workers unite then balance is restored and contracts reflect the market rather than a power imbalance.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Poor People Taking Charge

The Washington Post reports how a group of Black and Latino tenants banded together to buy Capitol Manor, which otherwise would have been redeveloped. That's an exciting model.

Unfortunately, it's also the exception to the rule. The National Low Income Housing Coalition released its annual report today. To afford a two bedroom apartment, workers have to make $15.78 per hour. That is more than three times the national minimum wage, which means that parents may both work full time but cannot provide decent housing for their children. The problem is that rent has been rising faster than wages for years.

So have health insurance and tuition. Middle class Americans shouldn't kid themselves. The problem is reaching dimensions where it affects us, too.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

What Polygamy Tells Us About the Mormon Experience

One of the grand achievements of the rule of law is the separation of public and private spheres, which gives meaning to the concept of individual liberty. Polygamy established a political order where the powerful regulate the sexual behavior of particular individuals.

The ability of the Mormon alpha male to regulate people's sexual relations and to deploy his power in the pursuit of marriage, takes us straight back to the law of the jungle. Such arrangements inevitably increase levels of political violence.

In other words, polygamy is the most striking manifestation of Smith's claim to unlimited power. Attempts to organize power around claims of prophecy amounted to a civilizational disaster that cost many people dearly, not least Joseph Smith himself.

Talk about a tragedy.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Jerry Falwell's Christmas

There's nothing like law suits and boycotts to celebrate the birth of the Lord by Colbert King:

Silly me! And here I've been thinking that Target, Home Depot, Wal-Mart, Kmart and America's malls are places where people go this time of year to shop. But thanks to the Rev. Jerry Falwell and others in his wing of Christendom, I now know that those stores are there during the holiday season to serve as places of worship. What other conclusion can be drawn?

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Another Child Tax Hike

Republicans are exacerbating the budget deficit with another round of "tax cuts." This one will amount to an additional $94.5 billion dollar deficit. Somebody will have to pay back that money. Once again Republicans consider it appropriate to finance voodew economics on the back of our children.

Then there is the issue of compound interest. Lets assume that we will be paying 4.5% interest for thirty years on the debt for this "tax cut." In that case we will pay over $249 billion dollar interest. And that is the price sticker for merely one year.

That's not a tax cut. It's taxing our children.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Conservative Principles and Same Sex Marriage

The conservative position is that people who have sex ought to be married. Gays and lesbians have sex. Therefore gays and lesbians ought to be married.

Monday, December 05, 2005

"We May Be Immigrants But We Are Human Beings First"

Those are the words of immigrants in the custody of the Homeland Security Department after they witnessed the death of Richard Rust who died from a heart attack because he was denied medical care.

Uncovering a series of deaths, NPR asks whether there is a pattern of medical neglect in Homeland Security detention centers.

Alexis de Tocqueville observed that one can tell a lot about a country by how it treats its prisoners. Here is how an expert on prison health care evaluates the evidence:

But nationally respected specialists on prison health care told NPR that if the detainees accounts are true -- their stories are remarkably consistent -- then the prison's efforts fell far short of the required standard of medical care. "It's unconscionable in my opinion," says Dr. Robert Greifinger, who has investigated health care systems in prisons for the federal and local governments. Greifinger has not personally investigated Rust's death, but he says if the detainees' accounts are accurate, the Oakdale staff's "inaction in the face of his life-threatening condition could have been a cause of his death."

Greifinger says the detainees' story suggests the possibility that the staff's response "was more than negligence -- that it was what, in legal terms, is called ‘deliberate indifference' to serious medical needs. If there's deliberate indifference, it constitutes cruel and unusual punishment."

Sunday, December 04, 2005

St. Barbara Day

Today is St. Barbara Day. Traditionally, we go and obtain cherry or forsythia twigs and mark them with ribbons for each member of the family. Indoors, the twigs begin to bloom. Whoever's twig has the most blossoms on Christmas day, will be the luckiest in the coming year.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

"Atheists Make Better Comics"

Seth at Kingdom of Heaven argues that atheists make better comics. Why would that be true?

For one thing, if one is willing to acknowledge how ridiculous the human condition turns out to be then that precludes a lot of bad theology that justifies a belief in god by appealing to our vanity. Intelligent design is merely the most recent example.

What do you think?

Friday, December 02, 2005

Voting and the Golden Rule

According to De Sententia, the Bush administrations unwillingness to support auditable voting machines now hurts its allies in Venezuela. The Venezuelan opposition who has to contend with President Chavez feels vulnerable because the Diebold voting machines might be manipulated.

Democracy begins at home. It would be nice if we had auditable voting procedures in the United States.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

A Jubilee for the Gulf Coast

Roasted Tomatoes celebrated the deliverance of Israelite and Mormon refugees by flocks of quails that supplemented their meager diets. That reminded me of the sad state of affairs at the Gulf coast where many people are still living in tents.

I am concerned that poor, working, and even middle class Americans at the Gulf coast are getting screwed. While corporations such as Halliburton capture multi-billion dollar no-bid contracts, people cannot meet their obligations to their creditors. That means that they will loose their properties to mortgage banks.

According to All Things Considered many Gulf coast victims have resigned themselves that they will not be able to recover. They lost their homes and their jobs.

In Biloxi, apparently, the casinos are not even preserving seniority for rehired staff. How is a fifty year old woman going to make ends meet with entry level wages after a year of unemployment?

In this day and age where information empowers us to be everyone's neighbor, we shouldn't rely on God or happenstance to make things right. We can make it right for people who are down. The American people have already donated unprecedented amounts to emergency relief. Now we need to demand rules and conditions that allow our Gulf coast neighbors to get back on their feet.

Here is an idea: lets have a jubilee or a Sabbath year for the Gulf coast. Zero interest on mortgages for one year for everyone devastated by the hurricanes. No payments on the principle for one year and debt forgiveness for the working poor.

The people at the Gulf coast deserve a new start. We can give them that. No reason to wait for divine intervention.