Friday, July 31, 2009

Bubble living

I really do live in a bubble -- and I'll stay right where I am, thanks.

Among people I know, it would be impossible to find anyone who does not believe that President Obama was born in the United States -- but the media keep discussing the so-called "birthers" who cling to this lunacy.

Turns out there's a reason I've never met one: they are clustered (quarantined?) in the South.



H/t Washington Monthly. Only 47 percent of Southerners know the right answer -- and we can assume most of the Black ones get it right, so that implies a strong majority of whites get it wrong.

This vein of ignorance is an example the core logic of white supremacy: no Black man could be qualified to be President; a Black man is President; hence he must be unqualified. Huh?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Taking stock of Obama's war


You probably have been watching the health care bruhaha in DC if you were paying any attention to politics in these lazy summer days -- but for too many people, both U.S. soldiers and their involuntary hosts and allies, we've got a war on. (Two actually, but this post is about Afghanistan.)

George C. Wilson has been a print reporter for more than a half century. He has some cautions to offer as the U.S. digs a deeper hole in central Asia.

In Afghanistan today, as in Vietnam yesterday, American military leaders are stressing the need to win the hearts and minds of the people. But as I saw for myself as a combat correspondent in Vietnam in 1968 and 1972, the job of keeping the bad guys out of remote villages day and night -- espe­cially at night when it is easy for guerillas to hit and run under the cover of darkness — is a constant, uphill struggle requiring thousands more troops than combat commanders think they can spare for pacification.

This is why the front page, off-lead story in The Washington Post of July 11 rang so true to me. It said Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the new field commander in Afghanistan, “has concluded that the Afghan security forces will have to be far larger than currently planned if President Obama’s strategy for winning the war is to succeed … "

Here we go again.

If Obama defines the U.S. mission as pacifying the Afghan countryside and propping up a viable Afghan government, the mission's own logic will have him sending more and more troops until people in the U.S. get sick of casualties and expense in a faraway place. The peoples of NATO allies are already in this state. Meanwhile Obama will have become a failed President.

The only semi-rational mission for the U.S in Afghanistan is to define a doable victory and get the hell out as soon as possible. Killing Osama bin Laden or some other prominent plug-ugly would serve. But Julian Barnes reports in today's L.A. Times that's no longer our agenda:

U.S. military leaders have concluded that their war effort in Afghanistan has been too focused on hunting Al Qaeda, and have begun to shift Predator drone aircraft to the fight against the Taliban and other militants in order to prevent the country from slipping deeper into anarchy.

There's a proven recipe for failure in this trajectory. Sad for those, Afghan and U.S., who will have to suffer before this horror plays out.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Sadism and blowback


Khalilah Sabra, a spokeswoman for the Raleigh Muslim American Society, read a statement from Sabrina Boyd to a press conference.

Cambridge Massachusetts isn't the only jurisdiction whose cops have been acting stupidly lately. In fact, if this story is true, and I have no reason to doubt it, federal agents in North Carolina are not only being stupid, they are behaving viciously.

According the Raleigh News & Observer, here's how the feds treated the wife of the guy they arrested on terrorism charges this week.

[Sabrina] Boyd, whose family lives in the Johnston County community of Willow Spring, described a harrowing experience Monday afternoon when she answered the door to find a man she thought was a family friend wearing a shirt that appeared to be bloodied. He told her that Daniel and their three sons, Dylan, Noah and Zakariya, were in a serious car crash. He asked her to get into a Highway Patrol cruiser that would take her to Duke Hospital, where they were being treated.

Boyd summoned her daughter and pregnant daughter-in-law. They wrapped their heads in scarves, grabbed their Qurans and flew out the door. For Boyd, it was a particularly painful experience. Her 16-year-old son, Luqman, died in a car crash near their home in 2007.

When they arrived at Duke Hospital, the cruiser took them to a construction site at the rear of the facility. A man dressed as a doctor came out and asked whether she was the wife. When she said yes, he extended his hand. She told him she does not shake men's hands. He then grabbed her wrist and handcuffed her.

"I'm not a doctor. I'm an agent and your family is not in the hospital," he told her. "You're being detained, and you need to cooperate with us."

Boyd estimates she was then surrounded by 30 agents who frisked her and asked whether she had weapons or weapons of mass destruction.

While this ruse was going on, federal agents ransacked the Boyd home looking for evidence of Daniel Boyd's alleged involvement in terrorism. Guys, did you ever hear of just serving a search warrant? Presumably you had one.

The Washington Post has some interesting background on Mr. Boyd. Apparently the U.S.-born convert to Islam fought alongside the Afghan Muslim guerrillas the U.S.-backed against the Soviet Union during the 1980s. Bet the feds thought he was a useful guy then. But now:

"This case underscores the potential threat that U.S. citizens with foreign fighter experience pose upon returning to the United States, specifically in terms of inciting other U.S.-based individuals to follow their example," said David S. Kris, assistant attorney general for national security. "They return from conflict zones with combat experience, a network of contacts overseas and strong credibility with . . . recruits seeking an authority figure."

Ever hear of blowback? Wonder how we're going to feel in 10 years about Don Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney's pet mercenaries who were so servicable for privatizing current imperial wars?

A U.S. court may find that Boyd is guilty as hell -- we don't know that. But the feds, by their behavior and utterances, could hardly work harder at undermining trust in their case.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

In transit today


Lighthouse at Gay Head.

Regular posting will resume from the other side of the country tomorrow.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Not done on the torture front...

Still catching up on what was happening in the world the last few weeks while I was working on changing the Episcopal Church. ...

On July 14, Jane Mayer, author of The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals, was interviewed on Fresh Air about disclosures of novel government misconduct under the Bush regime that keep leaking into the light.

The New Yorker journalist made a wise observation:

[DAVE] DAVIES: You know, with the revelations that have come out over the past, you know, days and weeks, do you think the balance has shifted in terms of the pressure on President Obama to more aggressively investigate alleged wrongdoing during the Bush days, or will he stay on the course that he has charted so far, to do as little as possible?

Ms. MAYER: You know, I just don't know that he can stay on this course. I understand very much why he wants to do it. This - you know, he doesn't want to tangle his presidency up in endlessly trying to deal with the problems that the former president created in the war on terror. And you know, clearly President Obama's got his own positive agenda. ... The country probably agrees with his priorities in many ways, yet there is something about these legal problems that are coming out of the Bush years that you can't just sweep under the rug.

And I've been interviewing a number of experts on this area who say it's very much the experience that other countries have had when they've had scandals that involved allegations of torture. Frequently, everybody wants to just fix it and move on, but it doesn't go away - that these allegations are so serious, and they strike so much at the core of our values that people don't feel comfortable just letting perpetrators off the hook. And so it just keeps bubbling up and bubbling up until there's some kind of either a truth and reconciliation commission or some kinds of prosecutions or some way of just opening up what happened here because, you know, we're an open society, and torture is a major crime. So it's very hard to forget it.

My emphasis.

The whole transcript is worth reading. Mayer points out clearly why Eric Holder is loath to start with even the most clear cut prosecutions of offenses by CIA operatives and contractors: the line that will be taken by any competent defense will necessarily lead up the chain of command straight to the former Vice President's office and probably G.W. Bush himself. And that would (will?) make for a partisan political crisis in the current political context.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

In which we revert to being a one-car family...


Can two fairly high functioning urban U.S. adults share only one car? We're about to find out. The 19-year old Honda went off to charity (or perhaps to be melted down for scrap) yesterday. We kept the 10-year old mini-SUV.

This shouldn't come as a horrible shock to us. Neither of us drive much. My diligent professorial partner bikes to her teaching job. I work from home and walk or BART everywhere I can. And living at 24th and Mission, that's a lot of places. The exceptions are for bulk shopping at the likes of Costco and getting to pretty places with soft trails on which I can run. How ironic is it that exercise-addiction leads to my driving?

Actually, we're returning to our roots. We lived together with only one vehicle (a truck as I was working in construction most of that time) for 14 years. Then the demands of work and caretaking came to mean we needed more conventional, individual transportation. So for 14 years, we've been multiply vehicular.

We don't think we need two cars anymore. It may turn out that we do. Employment demands may change. Rainy winters might discourage the bicyclist. The daily negotiations over who might need the car might discourage us both.

Since we live only a block from car sharing lots (CityCarShare and ZipCar), if this doesn't work so well, we'll probably consider that alternative.

I feel a little lighter...

Saturday, July 25, 2009

NASA climate mapping toy

By way of the always interesting James Fallows, here's a site that lets you make your own maps of world temperature data since 1880.


This familiar projection of the world map shows that July has been getting warmer in the northern hemisphere over the last decade. Perhaps you might be less impressed by climate changes in winter if you live in Brazil or Argentina.


On the other hand, this polar projection of the same data shows very clearly that winter warming is significant on one side of Antarctica. No wonder chunks of ice shelf are falling into the sea.

Go play for yourself.

John Yoo gets schooled



Catching up on the world outside my sick bed and the Episcopal General Convention, I ran across this. [1:40] It seems to be from Australian TV.

If the legal system can't reach this apologist for torture, how long will universities be happy about having a guy around who draws this kind of activity?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Friday critter blogging:
The owls of San Francisco

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They loom over the city on roofs ...

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...and perched on trim details.

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They are intended to discourage pigeons. No chance. The perfectly adapted urban avian scavenger knows better ...

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... than to be disturbed by a plastic bird that comes from a garden store.

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I like this one, seen in an artist's garden. Bet it doesn't bother the pigeons either though.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Are we getting better yet?


The Dow soared over 9000 for the first time this year today; and this gent had parked his home by the local library.

The state is cutting everything, especially education, aid to the poor, parks and cities and counties. This budget is so bad that even state Democratic Party Chair John Burton is rallying grassroots activists against parts of the deal legislative leaders from his own party cut with Gov. Arnold.

These atrocious budgets happen because the voters of this state were conned by right wing initiative mongers into passing a requirement for a 2/3 vote in the legislature to pass a budget -- and into imposing short term limits that guarantee that Sacramento pols are so busy looking for their next jump among the political musical chairs they never do the state's business.

This is just fine with state Republicans -- they refuse to be taxed for the common good and apparently think they'll be able to buy individual solutions as the state burns. They may be wrong as climate change dries the place up.

California needs democracy -- majority rule tempered by legal process -- restored. For that matter, watching the healthcare runaround in Washington, maybe the whole country needs democracy restoration. Why should a few people make megaprofits while most of us have to scrape by?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

On feeling swine flu-ish


Our Kaiser Health plan says what has laid this household low probably is the H1N1 swine flu first observed in Mexico this spring. We can't say that for certain; they are not bothering to test us as we're not seriously ill, just miserable. And we did just come from a huge convention where germs from all over encountered each other and apparently found new hosts.

After shutting down Mexico for a week and tearing through the Southern Hemisphere (a young Chilean friend was hospitalized), the swine flu is expected to hit the U.S hard in the fall. Stuck out here on the leading edge of misery, I thought you might want to know what having a mild case feels like:
  • Body aches. For both of us, this is the worst of it. Our legs and glutes have been screaming without provocation (use). It has been bad enough to keep us from sleeping deeply for several days.
  • Lack of sound sleep. Everything feels worse when you can't rest.
  • Fever. One of us has been burning up at over 101F when she doesn't keep her level of ibuprofen consumption up. The other has no fever.
  • Respiratory congestion. I feel as if I had a vice ready to tighten around my chest. So far it hasn't clamped down; it just sits there.
  • Cough. My friend has a painful cough, productive of nothing in particular.
We are not happy about any of this, though we may be acquiring some immunity that will come in handy when everyone else gets this in the fall.
***

When it became apparent that the Mexican outbreak was the precursor of a global flu pandemic -- but not the terrifying, super-high-human-mortality, bird flu mutation so many have been worrying about -- I looked away from the news about it for a bit. Now that I've got it, I'm catching up. Here are some links:

Center for Disease Control flu page. The CDC map at the head of this post shows swine flu is "widespread" in California. It suggests hand washing (did that at Convention to no avail) and avoiding people-to-people contact (doing that) to prevent further spread. The CDC emphasizes that just because lots of people get sick, this doesn't mean that this H1N1 pandemic is particularly dangerous in most cases.

WebMD on vaccines and you. This is an excellent, understandable timeline on what is happening/will happen with vaccine development. Short form: medical researchers don't yet know if a tested vaccine will be ready in time to limit this swine flu. Very interesting in that the culture of U.S. medicine and public health demands that huge resources be spent on vaccine development that may, or may not, assist people in the presenting outbreak.

The Reveres at Effect Measure. These folks are public health professionals, bringing a panoramic view to the swine flu pandemic. Their conclusions are thoughtful and interesting. They doubt there is time for vaccine development to help much, but urge measures to reduce the public's sense of disruption and any consequent panic. Along these lines, they concentrate on reducing on potential TV news images that will get people riled up:

... a calm, steady and rational approach will serve best. It is easy to anticipate the media images that will produce the opposite. Images of overwhelmed health services and out of stock necessities will make communication very difficult. Other effects will have less impact. ...

They urge hospitals to plan now for how they'll serve an overflow of emergency room flu sufferers and for pharmacy and other inventory systems to get ahead on supplies of face masks. If we can reduce the prominence of these visual markers of social distress, we'll weather the flu season less stressfully, they contend. Read it all for a sensible approach to the public aspect of health.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

No posts today

We have a new doctor in the house (a PhD, that is) and a nasty flu, probably swine. If you want a janinsanfran fix, go on over to Time Goes By for my latest Gay and Gray column. Later folks; I need to be fuzzy.

Monday, July 20, 2009

A 'family' welcome

Working for LGBT inclusion at the Episcopal General Convention would have been a lot harder if it hadn't been for the warm welcome offered by the Courtyard Marriott where Integrity had set up its headquarters.

On arrival, each of the 20-or-so of us on the team received a letter with this greeting:
anaheim welcome letter top.jpg

This in a hotel where the rooms feature not only the obligatory Gideon Bible in a bedside drawer, but also The Book of Mormon. The manager had even printed our logo on his stationary for the occasion.
anaheim welcome letter-bottom.jpg

We used Mitch's hotel for a home base and video production studio for nearly two weeks -- without much disturbing the other Disneyland-bound guests, I hope. Sure, we provided some traffic to the bar, but mostly we were too tired even to eat, much less party.

At our farewell dinner, our hosts provided an appropriate gift to the happy crew:
thank-you-card!.jpg

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Thanks to the staff and management of the Anaheim Disneyland Courtyard Marriott.

Blogging will be disjointed for a bit


Forty years ago today, my partner and I watched the moon landing together. (No, we hadn't become a couple yet -- that took another 10 years.) Our reaction: "Oh no, the first thing they do is start littering ..."

Today she defends her doctoral dissertation on the subject of U.S. torture in the post-9/11 context.

And both of us are bone tired, the special tiredness that follows on reaching the climax of a time-limited campaign. Not that all campaigns for justice and peace don't go on forever, but their interim moments do, as an early mentor told me, leave one feeling "flattened as if run over by a truck." The General Convention of the Episcopal Church was a grand experience, one with many lessons for progressives, no matter how little they identify with religious organizations. I intend to write more about it. But probably not today.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Things I won't miss from Anaheim

Maybe I'm just out of touch with my culture, but I wonder -- is it customary for hotels in vacation destinations to surround themselves with rocks ...


... that bleat Muzak?


I jumped a bit when I first heard one of these start up.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Yes we did -- at General Convention


We're on the road home today, driving the long, hot freeway I-5 between Anaheim and San Francisco. If I do more blogging than this entry, something is wrong.

The General Convention of the Episcopal Church has concluded. This mainstream religious institution has moved into a new place that situates its ponderous body well within the same current of change that swept in a new President last November. And it has done so through its own idiosyncratic, legitimating processes -- this protracted, enormous legislative convening. I'll write more about that in future days.

Today, just some excerpts from various reports. From Integrity, the LGBT advocacy outfit I've been working for:

Thirty three years after promising a "full and equal claim" to the gay and lesbian baptized, the Episcopal Church has affirmed equal access to ordination processes for all orders of ministry for all the baptized, has approved a broad local option for the blessings of our relationships, and has called the church to work together toward common liturgical expressions of those blessings.

Walking with Integrity

Yes, it was a 33 year campaign. That's the kind of disciplined effort and devotion that real change requires of us. Many brave, determined people built the foundation on which this year's achievements stand.

Yet another set of past "outsiders" jumped into the action during this Convention -- and made their presences felt:

"It was a true privilege to participate in the legislative process of this Church, to bear witness to transgender lives and experiences, and to urge the Episcopal Church to fully include and to stand in solidarity with us," commented the Rev. Dr. Cameron Partridge, a member of TransEpiscopal and Integrity USA. "I am thrilled to be able to say that the General Convention voted overwhelmingly to put the Episcopal Church on record in support of such legislation as the Matthew Shepherd Hate Crimes Act and the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, and analogous efforts at municipal and state levels. But I am even more moved to say how many people spontaneously shared with us how their eyes have been opened, their hearts turned, by our presence and stories here. To have someone stop me in a coffee line to say, 'I had never thought about this issue before, and I’m going to take what I have learned here and share it with my little congregation in the Ozarks' means more than I can say."

TransEpiscopal

And this Convention wasn't just about sexual orientation and gender (though that sure covers a lot of ground.) The Episcopal Church put itself solidly in support of such causes as single-payer health care, labor law reform that would make the rules fairer for workers, and even decided it needed to make sure its own lay employees are eligible for pensions! A long time activist with the Episcopal Peace Fellowship told me, "we've never gotten so much support at a Convention."

Sometimes very true observations come from opponents. The Rt. Rev. Martyn Minns, who left the Episcopal Church to become a bishop in a conservative spin-off formation, told the Los Angeles Times:

"Clearly the activists have done a good job promoting their agenda..."

July 15, 2009

Yes we did!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Sartorial silliness

People used to call Episcopalians "the frozen chosen." They had obviously never seen the folks at this 2009 General Convention. I've spent the last few days in the enormous House of Deputies, enjoying the antic outfits that many chose to sport, perhaps in order to temper the seriousness of the deliberations.

First, a note of explanation about these photos. Most are images of big screen projections, 300 feet away from the camera, that showed the people on the podium or at microphones. And many include some portion of this bucking bronco.



Some deputations attach "mascots" to the pillars next to their seating. This animated plastic horse bounced around all day directly between my vantage point and the screens. You've been advised: that shiny brown object in some of these shots is a horse's hindquarters.


The President of the House of Deputies, Dr. Bonnie Anderson, is one of the more subdued figures on the podium, presiding in full (and earned) academicals.


The parliamentarian at her left however, dresses the part, as you'll see in this sequence.


The sartorial tone is ultimately set by the inimitable Gregory Straub, Executive Officer and Secretary of General Convention. This is actually a subdued Straub outfit.


Here's a shot found on the web of Mr. Straub at the 2006 General Convention.


The Rev. Thomas Brown, Integrity's (LGBT advocacy organization) floor manager, fit right in.


And this young deputy also adopted the style (having borrowed the coat).


Lest anyone think the sartorial silliness was a masculine affliction, note that Deputy Mickey Mouse spoke repeatedly (and sensibly) here in Anaheim.


There was also the Hawaiian shirt variant as illustrated by the estimable Deputy the Rev. Canon Michael Barlowe.

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None of these folks quite equaled the splendor of this gent seen wandering the exhibit hall.

And yes, these folks accomplished many good things, for news of which I'll refer the reader to Integrity's web page.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

More from IntegriTV



If my partner is going to begin a career as a TV anchor, I can hardly be so churlish as not to post the effort. This makes about her 100th arena of demonstrated competence ...

More seriously, in this clip, you are watching a generational transition in a large mainstream institution as it is in process. And that despite the fact that the anchor and many other leaders here belong to an older cohort.

Tidbit of Tutu on capitalism

Archbishop Tutu explains:

Western capitalism has created a great deal of wealth and prosperity, but have we computed the costs? ...We have tended to treat the weak, the poor, the unemployed, the failures with disdain because success and power have become the gods at whose altars we have burned incense and bowed the knee. ...[W]e are told capitalism cannot easily tolerate compassion and caring. ...

A great hardship that occurs from capitalism's endless desire to make hierarchies of worth and human value is that it inevitably generates self-hatred. ...One of the most blasphemous consequences of injustice and prejudice is that it can make a child of God doubt that he or she is a child of God. But no one is a stepchild of God. No one.

God Has a Dream

This is a wonderful book. The Bishop read it for an audio version and it is very special experienced that way. Highly recommended.
***

Until July 18, I'll be working my butt off at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, trying to move us closer to full inclusion of all baptized people, including LGBT people, in all the life of the Church. This time is what we political junkies call "campaign mode" -- the crazy, exhausting 18 hour days of frenetic activity that sometimes win changes we seek and sometimes lead only to deep disappointment. I'm hopeful about how this project will work out. If you are curious about how we're doing, you can follow all the General Convention news at the LGBT advocacy group Integrity's GC portal. I don't expect to blog during this time except perhaps a few photos, but I've got at least a rudimentary post set up for every day, many of them more reflective than the time-sensitive political commentary I often write here. Enjoy.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Familiar face



Friends and neighbors of janinsanfran will recognize the anchor of this segment of IntegriTV from lovely Anaheim. She's a trooper!

Justice for Disney workers

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The organizers of UniteHERE Local 11, the hotel workers' union, know a good thing when it comes to town. And if you want religious leaders who'll support low-wage Disney workers, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church is a very good thing.

Ada Briceno, an official from Local 11 of UNITE HERE, a Los Angeles-based union that includes hotel and restaurant workers, said they have been working without a contract since February 2008. Disney wants to replace the union-funded health plan with a corporate plan, she said, which in time, will cost a minimum-wage worker about $500 a month for insurance for a family. "These are low-paid workers, making on average about $11 an hour," she said.

Episcopal Life

Meanwhile, Disney is one of the most profitable corporations around and is hitting up the City of Anaheim to subsidize its expansion plansw.

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Every morning since we've been here, hotel workers have greeted us with sign up cards for a solidarity vigil and march that finally happened this afternoon.

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I escaped briefly from my tasks here to take a look at the demonstration. It sure was nice to find some of my favorite bishops hanging out with the organizers. Left to right, that's Briceno from Local 11, the Rev. Henry Atkins of Los Angeles, Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, Bishop Barbara Harris, and Bishop Mark Beckwith.

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HERE provided monitors at the ready.

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And gradually the workers assembled.

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The bishop of Los Angeles prayed and encouraged while workers listened intently.

And then, before the march, which was reported by include over 1000 workers, I had to go back to my work. It was a nice solidarity break.

There's nothing "natural" about the "free" market

You have to like a guy who practices what he preaches. Dean Baker is a macroeconomist who abhors the success that conservatives have had mystifying most of us in order to shovel unearned benefits to the wealthy. Their stratagem? They insist that any number of economic arrangements are facts of nature, the result of the operation of the "free market." In fact many seemingly "free market-based" practices are the product of political choices that help determine who wins and who loses.

The Conservative Nanny State: How the Wealthy Use the Government to Stay Rich and Get Richer rips into how immigration policy creates shortages of "knowledge workers," including economists, thereby increasing some people's pay, while ensuring an oversupply of unskilled dishwashers and hotel maids who compete with each other, keeping wages down.

Issued back in 2006, Baker was right on top of how CEOs, by packing corporate boards with their friends and counting on stockholders to sell rather than fight, ensured outlandish pay packages for themselves. They are not rewarded for corporate success; their pay depends on gaming a completely "unnatural" system.

Baker also deconstructs the political gains the right gets from coddling weak small businesses that, though numerous, add little to the well-being of most of us. And he has a great chapter on how they've managed to jigger the tax laws to encourage tax evasion by the rich, while auditing close to 20 percent of low income workers who got back a maximum of $4000 from the Earned Income Tax Credit.

Baker digs into the functioning of patents and copyrights. He describes these as residues of the medieval guild system. Then he proposes alternative ways of encouraging and rewarding research, creativity and invention without the current mega-profits that pharmaceutical companies get for designing copycat drugs or the lawsuits the entertainment industry brings against internet file sharing. And he has practiced what he preaches: The Conservative Nanny State is available for free as a .pdf download at the link -- and even as a free audiobook at Audible.com, a commercial vendor. I assume that Professor Baker got a grant from somewhere to support this writing; that method of rewarding an author is no less natural than the system we're accustomed to.

Check it out. It's an easy, if disturbing read.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Ubuntu revisited

This theme is rich indeed. A couple of days ago, I shared Bishop Desmond Tutu's explication of this African concept as well as some musings of my own. Here at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, we've heard much more.

Jenny Te Paa, the "ahorangi" or dean of Te Rau Kahikatea (College of St. John the Evangelist) in Auckland, New Zealand, addressed the House of Deputies here on July 11. A portion of her remarks that deals with the inevitable question of cultural appropriation by the rich and strong that arises when one culture enthuses over the core values of another follows.

... one of the markers which we indigenous peoples have found most helpful in these matters is to ask of those seeking to enter more fully into the very different socio, politico, spiritual, cultural worlds of ‘the constructed other’, are you intent on becoming one with or one of ‘the other’?

The most respectful of these options is of course the former. In this way we are each freed to become fully whom God created us to be and to flourish into that God given identity. The actions of one seeking to become ‘one with’ are those of selfless, sacrificial and loving solidarity whereas the actions of one seeking to become ‘one of’, are likely to be characterized by unashamed self-interest! The former option is thus more likely to be true ubuntu, but then I would not be so bold to determine such a thing! I simply raise a respectful cautionary flag.

Episcopal Life Online

[my emphasis]

The Very Reverend Rowan Smith, the Dean the St. George's Anglican Cathedral at
Cape Town, South Africa, shared an additional African perspective in the first few minutes of this video.


If anything is "unAfrican" it is to exclude anybody from community. Ubuntu speaks about our togetherness, about our sharing a common cup ... [F]or the Episcopal Church to take a stand around this [for full inclusion of all] ... is to give hope to particularly Black gays and lesbians in Africa.

If curious about the folks I'm working with, you can watch the rest of the video. The lovely clerical gay man in the piece, Jon Richardson, is my comrade and friend in the legislative monitoring operation. So far so good in this effort -- the Episcopal Church continues to grope toward full inclusion of all, including its gays and even its transpeople. More here.

Monday, July 13, 2009

When financiers fail

Liaquat Ahamed, author of The Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World, writes from within the "great men" school of historical narrative. He chronicles the work and foibles of the central bankers who set the course for finance in Great Britain (Montagu Norman), Germany (Hjalmar Schacht), France (Emile Moreau) and the United States (Benjamin Strong) in the period between the end of World War I and the great Depression of the 1930s.

For those of us who seldom imagine that powerful financiers are also just people, this gossipy history is amusing and slightly disconcerting. Yes -- these guys apparently were just as myopic and unimaginative as my more censorious assumptions would have predicted. And Schacht did end up a Nazi. But by telling his story through personalities, Ahamed does make developments in the decade that set the stage for the Great Depression accessible to an ordinary, marginally economically literate, general reader.

And yes, the only major economic thinker who comes out of this narrative looking pretty well is John Maynard Keynes.

I was particularly struck by Ahamed's description of the process when the Bank of England went over the brink, ending all pretense of being the financial center of the world:

As the world financial system ground to a halt [in the summer of 1931] the City of London, with tentacles that stretched into every corner of the globe, found itself especially vulnerable. ...

During London's heyday as a financial center, British industry and British banking had complemented each other. The large export surpluses generated by what was then "the workshop of the world" had provided the funds to finance Britain's long term global investments and underpinned London's status as banker to the world. After the war and the return to the the gold standard, Britain's manufacturing capacity had stagnated. Throughout the 1920s, however, London, determined to maintain its primacy in global finance, continued to lend [billions in current dollars] to foreign governments and companies. But because Britain was unable to generate the same export surpluses as before the war, the City had to finance its long-term loans by relying more and more on short term deposits.

That is, Britain was borrowing money expensively in order to be able to continue to loan money, often cheaply, in order to continue a pretense to a world empire that had been undermined by the costs of World War I and subsequent international blundering.

I have to wonder, will someone someday write the same sort of story about Messrs. Geithner, Bernanke and Summers? Is the contemporary financial bailout just a last gasp attempt to defend and pretend to a U.S. financial primacy, rapidly being undermined by rising resource costs and new national productive giants? I can't say I know the answer to that question, but I think it is the right one to be asking.
***


Until July 18, I'll be working my butt off at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, trying to move us closer to full inclusion of all baptized people, including LGBT people, in all the life of the Church. This time is what we political junkies call "campaign mode" -- the crazy, exhausting 18 hour days of frenetic activity that sometimes win changes we seek and sometimes lead only to deep disappointment. I'm hopeful about how this project will work out. If you are curious about how we're doing, you can follow all the General Convention news at the LGBT advocacy group Integrity's GC portal. I don't expect to blog during this time except perhaps a few photos, but I've got at least a rudimentary post set up for every day, many of them more reflective than the time-sensitive political commentary I often write here. Enjoy.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Green Jobs for a Green Future

Van Jones, an old friend, got a job as the Green Jobs evangelist for the White House. It's a great fit for him. Learn all about it. [3:25]



He said he wouldn't go inside the system, but I'm glad he did. If we're serious, we need to go where we can to get things done that need to get done.
***

Until July 18, I'll be working my butt off at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, trying to move us closer to full inclusion of all baptized people, including LGBT people, in all the life of the Church. This time is what we political junkies call "campaign mode" -- the crazy, exhausting 18 hour days of frenetic activity that sometimes win changes we seek and sometimes lead only to deep disappointment. I'm hopeful about how this project will work out. If you are curious about how we're doing, you can follow all the General Convention news at the LGBT advocacy group Integrity's GC portal. I don't expect to blog during this time except perhaps a few photos, but I've got at least a rudimentary post set up for every day, many of them more reflective than the time-sensitive political commentary I often write here. Enjoy.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

What's a circus without a sideshow?


The title was offered by a wise observer of the proceedings.

For more on the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, visit Integrity's GC Portal.

Stroke of Insight

Jill Bolte Taylor was a Harvard neuroanatomist when a blood vessel malformation inside her head blew out, flooding the left hemisphere of her brain with blood, a toxin to her neurons. My Stroke of Insight is the story of that brain trauma, how it felt as it happened, how she recovered, and what she learned. From within the belief system of a person of faith, what she acquired is no less than an ability to separate out and describe, as a witness, the physiological processes by which we know the Unknowable.

When I experienced the hemorrhage and lost my left hemisphere language center cells that defined my self, those cells could no longer inhibit the cells in my right mind. ...My stroke of insight is that at the core of my right [brain] hemisphere consciousness is a character that is directly connected to my feelings of deep inner peace. ...

The consciousness of our right mind appreciates that every cell in our bodies ... contains the exact same molecular genius as the original zygote cell that was created when our mother's egg cell combined with our father's sperm cell. My right mind understands that I am the life force power of the fifty trillion molecular geniuses crafting my form! (And it bursts into song about that on a regular basis!) ...

Freed from all perceptions of boundaries, my right mind proclaims, "I am a part of it all. We are all brothers and sisters on this planet. We are here to help make this world a more peaceful and kinder place."...

My left mind is responsible for taking all that energy, all that information about the present moment, and all of those magnificent possibilities perceived by my right mind, and shaping them into something manageable.

To a person who approaches the Unknowable through the Christian paradigm, she's saying that this cellular dance is how we know Jesus. Heretical? Well, the mystery is supposed to be about Incarnation, isn't it? Worth contemplating and digesting!
***

Until July 18, I'll be working my butt off at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, trying to move us closer to full inclusion of all baptized people, including LGBT people, in all the life of the Church. This time is what we political junkies call "campaign mode" -- the crazy, exhausting 18 hour days of frenetic activity that sometimes win changes we seek and sometimes lead only to deep disappointment. I'm hopeful about how this project will work out. If you are curious about how we're doing, you can follow all the General Convention news at the LGBT advocacy group Integrity's GC portal. I don't expect to blog during this time except perhaps a few photos, but I've got at least a rudimentary post set up for every day, many of them more reflective than the time-sensitive political commentary I often write here. Enjoy.

Friday, July 10, 2009

What to wear

This is a postscript to Tidbit of Tutu: the gender of God. One of the very good ways that the Episcopal Church, whose General Convention I'm working at, has confronted this conundrum has been (in very modern times) to admit women into all the roles of sacramental, priestly leadership. Heck, we not only have women priests and bishops, we have a woman as Presiding Bishop -- that's a sort of elected leader of the bishops.

Having all this woman leadership naturally leads to that always challenging question as women break into the professions: what should they wear that conveys the seriousness of their roles and satisfies their desire to be recognized as womanly. I've noticed that many women priests (and academics) solve this problem by wearing colorful "ethnic" jackets over whatever else they wear. Having walked around the marketplace at General Convention, I now know where they get them.

jackets.jpg

Priests also have issues of fit in their professional garb and there are offerings for them.

womanvest.jpg

One could wish that the issue of what women should wear in order to be both taken seriously and feel attractive might lessen over time, but we aren't there yet.

Tidbit of Tutu: the gender of God


Archbishop Tutu writes:

I refer to God as He in this book, but the language is offensive to many, including to me, because it implies that God is more of a He than a She, and this is clearly not the case. Fortunately in our Bantu languages in South Africa we do not have gendered pronouns and so we do not face this problem.

... It is a liability of many languages that they are gendered and therefore we must speak of God as a He or a She but rarely both. There is something in the nature of God that corresponds to our maleness and our femaleness. We have tended to speak much more of the maleness, so we refer to the Fatherhood of God, which is fine but incomplete. We have missed out on the fullness that is God when we have ignored that which corresponds to our femaleness. We have hardly spoken about the Motherhood of God, and consequently we have been the poorer for this.

God Has a Dream

That would be easier. Do read the book.
***

Until July 18, I'll be working my butt off at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, trying to move us closer to full inclusion of all baptized people, including LGBT people, in all the life of the Church. This time is what we political junkies call "campaign mode" -- the crazy, exhausting 18 hour days of frenetic activity that sometimes win changes we seek and sometimes lead only to deep disappointment. I'm hopeful about how this project will work out. If you are curious about how we're doing, you can follow all the General Convention news at the LGBT advocacy group Integrity's GC portal. I don't expect to blog during this time except perhaps a few photos, but I've got at least a rudimentary post set up for every day, many of them more reflective than the time-sensitive political commentary I often write here. Enjoy.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

The future of human rights advocacy


Irene Khan, Amnesty International Secretary General:

One of our goals is to bring the two top nations of the world, the United States and China, to develop a common basis. We want the U.S. to sign up to the United Nations Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and we want China to sign up to U.N. Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Der Speigel via Salon, June 1, 2009

I'd say they'd bracketed what the world needs nicely, wouldn't you? I'd also say, it's nice to encounter such a strategic vision for a more just future.
***

Until July 18, I'll be working my butt off at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, trying to move us closer to full inclusion of all baptized people, including LGBT people, in all the life of the Church. This time is what we political junkies call "campaign mode" -- the crazy, exhausting 18 hour days of frenetic activity that sometimes win changes we seek and sometimes lead only to deep disappointment. I'm hopeful about how this project will work out. If you are curious about how we're doing, you can follow all the General Convention news at the LGBT advocacy group Integrity's GC portal. I don't expect to blog during this time except perhaps a few photos, but I've got at least a rudimentary post set up for every day, many of them more reflective than the time-sensitive political commentary I often write here. Enjoy.
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