Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Ten Years Ago

It's hard to believe that ten years ago this month, on a suggestion from a friend, I decided to launch my first blog: Christians Against Hypocrisy. Initially, the blog was little more than a sounding board on the growing political influence of conservative Christians in the country.  I still remember that first posting. I asked a simple question.

"Are you, like me, fed up with the conservative right defining your type of Christianity for you?"

A few brave souls took the time to read the piece, which was hardly the stuff of Pulitzer prizes, and chimed in with their comments, all of them encouraging. I can't begin to thank that friend for his suggestion - though I'm sure more than a few could question his sanity. It proved an invaluable release valve for my pent up frustration.

By 2008, with the heat of a presidential election gripping the nation, I began to hone my writing skills. 2009 saw a total of sixty postings, many political. It was clear that the blog was becoming less about religion and more about progressive values. So by early 2010, I decided to launch another blog - this one - which would specifically speak to those values. And over the last five plus years, I have, I hope, done a credible job advancing them.

I have never apologized for my beliefs, though sometimes, I have had to atone for how they were expressed. What can I say, I lead with my chin. And while I have spared no expense going after conservatives in this blog, on more than one occasion, I have focused my wrath on progressives. I find that many of them share one thing in common with the Tea Party. They're too caught up in their own private Idaho. A bubble is a bubble, no matter which side of the political aisle you're on.

And naturally, when I've done that, I've taken my fair share of lumps. Though this blog doesn't get a lot of followers, those who do follow it have never been shy of letting me know what a sellout I am. If there's one thing that makes me nervous about the 2016 election, it's not the Republicans, it's progressives. Had they made even a modicum of effort to show up the last two midterms, Democrats would still control both Houses of Congress. No they're not nuts like the Tea Party, but they're lazy as hell many times. And they can be such cry babies, especially when they don't get their favorite candidate.

Jesus!

No doubt, I'll get some flack for the above. Know what, screw 'em. Wanna prove me wrong? Show up next year regardless of who the Democratic nominee is. Even if it's Hillary.

Anyway, it's been a nice ride so far. I just hope that the next ten years are as fruitful, if not more so. See 'ya around.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

A Pontiff For All Seasons


I've thought long and hard about what it is about this Pope that seems to drive conservatives up the proverbial wall, and I know what it is.

Pope Francis gets it. All of it. This Pope understands what it truly means to be a Christian. It is not an easy walk. It requires humility, compassion and a profound understanding of what it means to be a Shepard for the lost the way Jesus was during his brief ministry on Earth. On our best days all of us barely register a 3 or 4 on a scale of 1 to 10. Imagine what our worst days would look like.

Like Christ, he is not ashamed to wash the feet of inmates. He shuns all outward signs of excess, moving out of the spacial papal apartments and into the Vatican guest house. Guest house? The Pope in a guest house? At night he sneaks out to be with the homeless. On his visit to New York, he got out of his Pope mobile to bless a disabled child on the road. Can't you just see in your mind's eye Jesus doing the same thing.

For this ex-Catholic, these last few months have been extraordinary. I never believed I would see in my lifetime a Pontiff so humbled by his position so as to exhibit such traits. And yet here he is among us, not Jesus incarnate as some have foolishly said, but Jesus personified. A true servant of the people.

His critics - all of them conservative - have accused him of mingling in things he knows nothing about. He should stick, they say, to matters of morality and leave economics and the environment to those best suited to handle such matters. Like that's really worked out well.

But Pope Francis is having none of that. To him, economics and the environment are moral issues. How we treat those less fortunate, goes to the heart of who we are as Christians.  How we treat the world that we have been given, speaks volumes about our ability to be good stewards. I submit that with regard to both we have have been dismal failures. Millions suffer needlessly while a few enjoy untold riches; and slowly but surely we are destroying this planet. The Pope is warning us that there will be a price to pay for such sins.

Perhaps if this Pope had come out railing against homosexuality and abortion, his critics would've been mollified. No doubt they would've stood up and applauded him for being a righteous man of God. But when he speaks about poverty and global warming, he is somehow neglecting his papal duties and abandoning the teachings of Jesus.

There is of course one tiny problem with their logic. It just isn't true. The Jesus they refer to doesn't exist, except maybe in their warped brains. They keep looking for the passage where Jesus commands his disciples to go pull themselves up by their own boot straps. There is no such passage. Just like there's no such passage that reads God helps those who help themselves. Indeed just the opposite; scripture is replete with commands that we are to live out our faith through our actions toward one another. As it is written in James,

Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food, If one of you says to them, "go in peace; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

The Christian faith is not a self-help group. Our role is not to be bystanders while the world around us  is in need. Rather, our faith demands that we put our money where our mouth is. As Jesus himself said in Matthew, "Whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sister of mine, you did for me."

Pope Francis takes these words to heart and he challenges all of us to put them into practice. Like Jesus before him, he rattles the cage and reveals the hearts of the cold and indifferent. He speaks out against crony capitalism and greed, calling it the "dung of the devil."

"The promise was that when the glass was full, it would overflow, benefitting the poor. But what happens instead is that when the glass is full, it magically gets bigger. Nothing ever comes out for the poor."

That might be the most accurate critique of trickle down economics that I've ever heard. But he didn't stop there. In an address to Congress this week, he took aim at what Dwight Eisenhower once referred to as the military industrial complex.

"Many powerful people don't want peace because they live off war. Some powerful people make their living with the production of arms. It's the industry of death."

On the topic of immigration, the Pope had some stinging rebukes for the xenophobic elements that are gaining momentum within the United States.

"The people of this continent are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. When the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past. We must resolve now to live as nobly and as justly as possible, as we educate new generations not to turn their back on our neighbors and everything around us. Building a nation calls us to recognize that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mindset of hostility in order to adopt one of reciprocal subsidiarity, in a constant effort to do our best. I am confident that we can do this."

Small wonder conservatives in this country are having a cow over this Pope. He's had the audacity to unmask their false god of money and expose their racism. And just like the Pharisees of Jesus' time, they aren't taking it well.

Some of the comments from the far Right have been downright repulsive and disgusting, but hardly surprising. I have known for quite some time how vacuous this movement really is, and now, thanks to this former Jesuit priest, hopefully everyone else will know it too.

With all the riches that this world has to offer, it is nothing short of an embarrassment that any one should starve for lack of money to buy food. As Christians, all of us should be ashamed that such atrocities still exist and all of us should take heed of the Pope's charge to us to do something about it. As Jesus said in John 13,

"A new command I give you: love one another."

Friday, September 25, 2015

John Boehner Calls It A Night


Well, that was unexpected. John Boehner, the beleaguered and sometimes reluctant Speaker of the House, announced that he is resigning from Congress, effective October 30. Tell me you saw this coming and I'm calling Bellevue to have that rubber room prepped.

Seriously, though, this moment was four years in the making. Ever since that ill-fated and much maligned 2011 budget deal that brought us the Sequester was enacted, Boehner has been on borrowed time. His base despised him and the establishment, while being sympathetic, had little respect for him. His own number two, Eric Cantor, undermined him at every turn. To say Boehner was between a rock and a hard place would be an understatement.

Still, even with all the dysfunction he has had to contend with, I thought Boehner would survive. After all, thanks to the gerrymandering after the 2010 midterms, he had a super majority at his disposal; a majority that in all likelihood won't be in jeopardy for several election cycles. But even with the largest majority any Republican Speaker has had to work with since the days of Harry Truman, he was never able to control his conference. Too often, the Republican-controlled House looked more like a frat house than a legislative body. The low point for Boehner was when he allowed a small group of escaped lunatics, lead by Ted Cruz, to shut down the government over the rollout of Obamacare. It was a stinging indictment of his leadership ability.

It was clear Boehner wasn't in the mood for a repeat performance over defunding Planned Parenthood. Odds were he was prepared to allow the Senate's clean funding bill a straight up and down vote in the House. And almost immediately after that, he would've faced a no confidence vote from the unhinged contingent. Anyway you slice it, he was screwed. In the end, he fell on his sword. For the first time since assuming the mantle of Speaker, John Boehner had the balls to tell his opponents to go fuck themselves. The government, for the time being, will NOT be shutting down.

And now the sixty-four thousand dollar question on everyone's mind is who follows Boehner. Obviously, the early favorite is current majority leader Kevin McCarthy. But the truth is nobody knows for sure. With all the infighting that has been going on within this motley crew, you never know. These dim bulbs might get so caught up trying to one up themselves, Nancy Pelosi could end up back as the Speaker. Yes, as strange as it might seem, if the Republican conference can't agree on a new Speaker or doesn't have a clear-cut winner that can garner enough votes, Pelosi could actually emerge as the winner. It hasn't happened since 1856, when Nathaniel Banks of Massachusetts won with a simple plurality to become the Speaker.

But while a Pelosi victory would be nice, I doubt it would actually happen. In the end, Republicans should be able to cobble together enough votes to elect one of their own. The real problem will come after the vote. If Boehner couldn't lead this group, how in the hell is McCarthy going to, or whoever ends up getting the gavel?

One thing is for certain. John Boehner's tenure as Speaker of the House may be coming to an end, but the nightmare that is the Republican-controlled House will go on for quite some time.

Oh joy, oh bliss!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Why Scott Walker Imploded


Did you catch Scott Walker's press conference where he announced he was "suspending" his campaign? To tell you the truth, I didn't, at least not live. But I did did manage to catch the part where he said, "I encourage other candidates to do the same (quit) so that the voters can focus on a limited number of candidates who can offer a positive, conservative alternative to the current front-runner. This is fundamentally important to the future of the Party, and more importantly, to the future of the country."

How magnanimous of Scottso to put his party and country first. Such a trooper. And how about the parting shot he took at his party's "current frontrunner." Nice touch, Gov, not mentioning his name. But then it takes a special kind of courage to compare union protesters to ISIS, right?

Regardless of whatever spin the Walker campaign may attempt to put on this "suspension," the truth is that Scott Walker simply sucked as a candidate. His decision to drop out of the race had nothing to do with helping his party defeat Donald Trump; it had everything to do with his lousy poll numbers, which were so low they had to be put under an electron microscope just to be detected.

It's also time to put an end to this ridiculous myth that Scott Walker was some kind of political dynamo in Wisconsin just because he got elected three times - one of them by virtue of a recall. To be clear, Walker received a boatload of soft money and had the good fortune of running against some of the weakest candidates the Democrats have ever fielded in the Badger state. Over the last few months, his popularity there has plummeted.

To those not familiar with Wisconsin, the state is considered by many political pundits to be a toss up, but that's not entirely true. If you take away Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, the state has voted Democrat in every single presidential election going back five decades. In fact, prior to the 2010 wave election that saw the GOP take the House and many gubernatorial races, Wisconsin's legislature was under Democratic control. Far from being a dynamo, Walker seems to have been the beneficiary of some incredible good timing and inept politics.

In the end, his luck and money simply ran out, His donors were bailing on him left and right and he didn't exactly help himself trying to one-up Trump by suggesting we put a wall on the Canadian border. Apparently it never dawned on him that at least one third of the border between the U.S. and Canada is surrounded by water. They're not called the Great Lakes for nothing, Scotty.

But it wasn't just his draconian positions that did him in. He simply had no personality to speak of. In the two debates he was about as flat as you could be. If Jeb Bush was low energy, Walker was practically comatose. And when he did manage to open his mouth, he looked like a really bad stand-up comic who was desperately trying to remember the punchlines to his jokes. Even his most ardent supporters knew they had a dead horse on their hands.

Scott Walker is no leader. In fact, he's a pretty shitty governor with a lousy record in a state that, thanks to his policies, is now facing a budget shortfall of $2.2 billion. Just imagine what he might've done to the country if he had gotten half the chance. A friend of mine on Facebook summed up the news of Scott Walker's departure from the presidential election best. "Scott, who?"

Bye, bye, Governor. Don't let the door hit you on the way out.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Say It Ain't So, Joe


Dear Mr. Vice President:

Recent reports indicate that after weeks of soul searching and weighing all the pros and cons, you are now leaning towards tossing your hat into the presidential ring. Your reasons will likely be as follows: You have been a very good vice president and an enormous asset to Barack Obama; you know how to negotiate with this Congress because you've done it many times; and, lastly, you will never be this close to the presidency again, so why not give it that one last shot, especially given how badly you've wanted it for years.

Those are all valid reasons for running I'm sure, and while I sympathize with all that you have had to go through with the passing of your son, I would strongly ask that you reconsider your decision to enter the race. The reason could not be clearer. You can not win the nomination, no way, no how. Here's why.

You and Hillary Clinton are basically cut from the same cloth. She is a woman, you're a man, but both of you are considered, and rightly so, as part of the establishment. While you enjoy a somewhat higher favorability rating than Clinton, part of the reason for that is that she has stumbled somewhat over the last few months due primarily to the way she's handled the email server issue. The other part, as I'm sure you're quite aware, is that it's easy to be popular when you're not officially a candidate. Once declared, however, most candidates take a hit in the polls. It will be no different for you.

But getting back to this establishment thing. Let's face it, sir, you've been in Washington longer than I've been driving. In fact, I was 11 years old when you won your first senate race. That's about as establishment as it gets. Even Hillary can't touch that. How do you expect to attract younger voters when most of the people who voted for you in 1972 are considerably older than me? Some might even be dead.

The truth is that if you run, you will simply siphon off votes from Hillary Clinton, thus making it easier for Bernie Sanders to win the nomination. Now maybe that ends up being a good thing, especially if it turns out there maybe something more to this email server issue. You never know about these things. Three months ago, I would've bet the ranch that Hillary was home free, and now look at what's happened.

But even if she ends up going up in a ball of flames, that still doesn't give you the nomination. That's because you have the same problem she does. The Left doesn't trust you anymore than they trust her. She's got Monsanto hanging over her head, but you've got the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act hanging over yours. Between the two, you've got the larger burden to overcome. I cannot think of a single legal scholar that thinks the draconian penalties in that Act have been a success. Quite the contrary; it is now all too painfully apparent that this Act needlessly subjected untold minorities to unwarranted incarcerations. To say many in the African American community are pissed would be an understatement. Good luck making amends to them, sir. You've got your work cut out for you.

And then there's the mud-slinging that will ensue. Mud-slinging, you say? What mud-slinging? The mud-slinging that you are going to be forced to engage in with Hillary. Or did you just think you were going to stand up on the debate stage, smile and say, "I think Hillary would make a fine president, but I'm asking for your vote because, well, I kinda like the White House and I was hoping to stay at least another four years. What'd ya say, America. Can ya help a fella out?"

Come, come, Mr. Vice President. This is politics. You're not running to head up the Peace Corps here. Everyone in the country knows what's driving this decision. Hillary is vulnerable. You know it, I know it, the guy living under a rock on the Moon knows it. At some point you are going to have to say publicly what everyone else knows privately. And when that happens, the gloves will come off. It's going to get ugly fast. You are going to have to look straight at the camera and say something like this: "Hey, you know me. I'm trustworthy, I'm dependable, I have no baggage and I can defeat the Republicans in 2016."

And just as you are saying that, you will be ripping apart the presumptive nominee of your party and giving the GOP more than enough ammunition to bring her down in the general election. Think about it. Up until now, most of the rhetoric towards her has been aimed at the minions who hang on every syllable that comes from the mouths of the AM radio and Fox News talk-show hosts. People who weren't going to vote for her anyway. And, as we have seen over the last two presidential cycles, that doesn't hold much water with the overall electorate.

All that changes the moment you open your mouth. You go from candidate to messenger boy in one fell swoop. Why else do you think so many conservatives want you to run? With all due respect, it has nothing to do with your good looks and personality. They don't think you can win, but they do think you can help them beat Hillary. Or even better, prevent Hillary from even becoming the nominee.

As I mentioned above, Bernie Sanders would be the primary beneficiary of a civil war between you and Hillary. He already has a majority of progressives on his side. The huge crowds he is drawing at his events are not mirages. He's for real and whether you run or not, he would be a formidable opponent for Clinton. With you in the race, he would not only win both Iowa and New Hampshire, but also a majority of the rest of the primaries. Far from being a contender, you'd more than likely play the role of spoiler.

So Bernie wins the nomination. What's the problem? Well, apart from it not being you, which I'm assuming was the reason you got in the race in the first place, most of the enthusiasm surrounding the Sanders campaign I've always suspected is overrated. Yes, I know he's leading Hillary in the polls, but the fact is he hasn't had near the scrutiny she has. Have you taken a close look at his platform? You can bet your pension the GOP has and if he becomes the nominee, all that attention Clinton has been getting suddenly shifts to him. Thought you were sick and tired of hearing about death panels? Just wait till you hear the word socialist in your sleep. Give Republicans this much: once they get a hold of someone, they never let go. They will throw everything, including the kitchen sink, at Sanders.

And then there's the black vote. Bernie doesn't poll all that well with them and you're not exactly their sugar daddy. Like it or not, Hillary is the only candidate that manages to hold most of the Obama coalition together. If she isn't the nominee, some of those African Americans who came out to vote the last two presidential elections, might decide to stay home. Did you like the 2014 midterms? You could be looking at a repeat in 2016. Black Lives Matter isn't just a movement, sir, it's a warning to the Democratic Party. Ignore us and pay the price.

Of course, if Donald Trump ends up being the Republican nominee, all that could be moot. He's polling so badly with everyone who isn't white, it's hard imaging Democrats losing. Stranger things, though, have happened. Trump, so far, has managed to make every one of his opponents that have challenged him look small. And, let's face it, Bernie's not exactly the warm and fuzzy type. He looks more like a stern college professor than a presidential candidate. Just what the Democratic Party needs, John Houseman lecturing the country on a national debate stage.

And what if someone like John Kasich should get the nod? I've said this before and I'll say it again: Kasich could win. He could win Ohio and Florida, not to mention a number of other swing states. The point is, are you prepared to take that risk? With so much at stake?

Mr. Vice President, you've had a brilliant career, both as a Senator and as the number two executive in the country. You've been a loyal public servant for the better part of five decades. You have just one more public service to perform: doing everything in your power to keep the Republicans out of the White House.

I pray, sir, that you will do the right thing.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Remembering Katrina


About ten years ago, I wrote a piece - or should I say someone else wrote a piece that I proceeded to "reference" - concerning this tragic storm and what it did to New Orleans. The writer happened to be listening in to a conversation some people were having over lunch about the looting that was taking place in that city in the aftermath.

I was moved by it then and I remain moved by it now. So, once more, I am posting it in its entirety, along with the link to the original piece. I don't know if it is still up, but the message remains relevant nonetheless.


This is an open letter to the man sitting behind me at La Paz today, in Nashville, at lunchtime, with the Brooks Brothers shirt:  
You don't know me. But I know you. 
I watched you as you held hands with your tablemates at the restaurant where we both ate this afternoon. I listened as you prayed, and thanked God for the food you were about to eat, and for your own safety, several hundred miles away from the unfolding catastrophe in New Orleans. 
You blessed your chimichanga in the name of Jesus Christ, and then proceeded to spend the better part of your meal – and mine, since I was too near your table to avoid hearing every word – morally scolding the people of that devastated city, heaping scorn on them for not heeding the warnings to leave before disaster struck. Then you attacked them – all of them, without distinction it seemed – for the behavior of a relative handful: those who have looted items like guns, or big screen TVs. 
I heard you ask, amid the din of your colleagues "Amens," why it was that instead of pitching in to help their fellow Americans, the people of New Orleans instead – again, all of them in your mind – choose to steal and shoot at relief helicopters. 
I watched you wipe salsa from the corners of your mouth, as you nodded agreement to the statement of one of your friends, sitting to your right, her hair neatly coiffed, her makeup flawless, her jewelry sparkling. When you asked, rhetorically, why it was that people were so much more decent amid the tragedy of 9-11, as compared to the aftermath of Katrina, she had offered her response, but only after apologizing for what she admitted was going to sound harsh. 
"Well," Buffy explained. "It's probably because in New Orleans, it seems to be mostly poor people, and you know, they just don't have the same regard." 
She then added that police should shoot the looters, and should have done so from the beginning, so as to send a message to the rest that theft would not be tolerated. You, who had just thanked Jesus for your chips and guacamole, said you agreed. They should be shot. Praise the Lord. 
Your God is one with whom I am not familiar. 
Two thoughts. 
First, it is a very fortunate thing for you, and likely for me, that my two young children were with me as I sat there, choking back fish tacos and my own seething rage, listening to you pontificate about shit you know nothing about. 
Have you ever even been to New Orleans? 
And no, by that I don't mean the New Orleans of your company's sales conference. I don't mean Emeril's New Orleans, or the New Orleans of Uptown Mardi Gras parties.
I mean the New Orleans that is buried as if it were Atlantis, in places like the lower 9th ward: 98 percent black, 40 percent poor, where bodies are floating down the street, flowing with the water as it seeks its own level. Have you met the people from that New Orleans? The New Orleans that is dying as I write this, and as you order another sweet tea?
 
I didn't think so. 
Your God – the one to whom you prayed today, and likely do before every meal, because this gesture proves what a good Christian you are – is one with whom I am not familiar.
Your God is one who you sincerely believe gives a flying fuck about your lunch. Your God is one who you seem to believe watches over you and blesses you, and brings good tidings your way, while simultaneously letting thousands of people watch their homes be destroyed, and perhaps ten thousand or more die, many of them in the streets for lack of water or food.
 
Did you ever stop to think just what a rancid asshole such a God would have to be, such that he would take care of the likes of you, while letting babies die in their mother's arms, and old people in wheelchairs, at the foot of Canal Street? 
Your God is one with whom I am not familiar. 
But no, it isn't God who's the asshole here, Skip (or Brad, or Braxton, or whatever your name is). 
God doesn't feed you, and it isn't God that kept me from turning around and beating your lily white privileged ass today either. 
God has nothing to do with it. 
God doesn't care who wins the Super Bowl. 
God doesn't help anyone win an Academy Award. 
God didn't get you your last raise, or your SUV. 
And if God is even half as tired as I am of having to listen to self-righteous bastards like you blame the victims of this nightmare for their fate, then you had best eat slowly from this point forward. 
Why didn't they evacuate like they were told? 
Are you serious? 
There were 100,000 people in that city without cars. Folks who are too poor to own their own vehicle, and who rely on public transportation every day. I know this might shock you. They don't have a Hummer2, or whatever gas-guzzling piece of crap you either already own or probably are saving up for. 
And no, they didn't just choose not to own a car because the buses are so gosh-darned efficient and great, as Rush Limbaugh implied, and as you likely heard, since you're the kind of person who hangs on the every word of such bloviating hacks as these. 
Why did they loot? 
Are you serious? 
People are dying, in the streets, on live television. Fathers and mothers are watching their baby's eyes bulge in their skulls from dehydration, and you are begrudging them some Goddamned candy bars, diapers and water? 
If anything the poor of New Orleans have exercised restraint. 
Maybe you didn't know it, but the people of that city with whom you likely identify – the wealthy white folks of Uptown – were barely touched by this storm. Yeah, I guess God was watching over them: protecting them, and rewarding them for their faith and superior morality. If the folks downtown who are waiting desperately for their government to send help – a government whose resources have been stretched thin by a war that I'm sure you support, because you love freedom and democracy – were half as crazed as you think, they'd have marched down St. Charles Avenue and burned every mansion in sight. That they didn’t suggests a decency and compassion for their fellow man and woman that sadly people like you lack. 
Can you even imagine what you would do in their place? 
Can you imagine what would happen if it were well-off white folks stranded without buses to get them out, without nourishment, without hope? 
Putting aside the absurdity of the imagery--after all, such folks always have the means to seek safety, or the money to rebuild, or the political significance to ensure a much speedier response for their concerns – can you just imagine? 
Can you imagine what would happen if the pampered, overfed corporate class, which complains about taxes taking a third of their bloated incomes, had to sit in the hot sun for four, going on five days? Without a Margarita or hotel swimming pool to comfort them I mean? 
Oh, and please, I know. I'm stereotyping you. Imagine that. I've assumed, based only on your words, what kind of person you are, even though I suppose I could be wrong. How does that feel Biff? Hurt your feelings? So sorry. But hey, at least my stereotypes of you aren't deadly. They won't effect your life one bit, unlike the ones you carry around with you and display within earshot of people like me, supposing that no one could possibly disagree. 
But I'm not wrong, am I Chip? I know you. I see people like you all the time, in airports, in business suits, on their lunch breaks. People who will take advantage of any opportunity to ratify and reify their pre-existing prejudices towards the poor, towards black folks. You see the same three video loops of the same dozen or so looters on Fox News and you conclude that poor black people are crazy, immoral, criminal. 
You, or others quite a bit like you, are the ones posting messages on chat room boards, calling looters sub-human "vermin," "scum," or "cockroaches." I heard you use the word "animals" three times today: you and that woman across from you – what was her name? Skyler? 
What was it you said as you scooped the last bite of black beans and rice into your eager mouth? Like zoo animals? Yes, I think that was it. 
Well Chuck, it's a free country, and so you certainly have the right I suppose to continue lecturing the poor, in between checking your Blackberry and dropping the kids off at soccer practice. If you want to believe that the poor of New Orleans are immoral and greedy, and unworthy of support at a time like this – or somehow more in need of your scolding than whatever donation you might make to a relief fund – so be it. 
But let's leave God out of it, shall we? All of it. 
Your God is one with whom I am not familiar, and I'd prefer to keep it that way.


Tim Wise is the author of White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son (2005: Soft Skull Press). He lived in New Orleans from 1986-1996. He can be reached at timjwise@msn.com.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The GOP Log-Jam


I have a confession to make. I didn't watch the Republican debate last night. Well, most of it, that is. You see, I was on vacation with the wife and let's just say I got the distinct impression that my life would be in jeopardy if I devoted any meaningful time to watching it.

So I snuck in about three minutes worth. That was more than enough to convince me that this grand old party is in knee deep shit. How deep? Consider this: the only relatively sane candidates last night - John Kasich and Rand Paul - actually bucked their base's line. Kasich questioned the wisdom of walking away from the Iran deal and Paul said George Bush's decision to invade Iraq was a mistake and he wouldn't be sending any more troops back over there.

You can stick a fork in both of them. You don't go against this base and survive. As of now, both men are collectively polling at about the same percentage as Jeb Bush, which is to say barely alive. Speaking of Jeb, his memorable moment came when he stood before the audience and had the nerve to say his brother kept the country safe. Apparently, ole Jeb forgot that his brother didn't take office on September 12, 2001, but January 20th. So far as I or anyone with half a brain is aware, 9/11 happened on his watch and maybe if he hadn't ignored that memo that read, "Bin Laden determined to strike U.S.," three thousand people wouldn't have had to die.

But then what do I know? I'm just a rational human being who can smell bullshit a mile away. What does it say for the political fortunes of the GOP when their two most qualified candidates - or at least the only two that had the guts to put meaningful proposals with meat on the table - are polling just north of Scott Walker?

Michael Tomasky is right. Hillary Clinton was the winner last night. Or Bernie Sanders in case you're hedging your bets. The fact is the more exposure the Republicans get in these debates, the better the prospects look for whoever the Democratic nominee is. As Tomasky correctly pointed out Democrats already have a built in electoral advantage, and with the GOP's top two prospects not even in the teens, it's difficult to imagine a scenario where they take the White House in 2016.

Of course anything could happen. Who knows, maybe the mothership comes back and beams Donald Trump up. Maybe the wingnuts take a second look at Kasich and decide that nominating a popular governor from a swing state isn't such a bad idea after all. I wouldn't count on either happening. I think Trump is here to stay - mothership or no mothership - and I think the Republican base would vote for a fruit fly before they would vote for Kasich.

And that's the (you'll pardon the Trump pun) huge problem for the Republican Party. While both Hillary and Bernie are talking about substantive, populist issues like income inequality, the GOP is focusing its sights on building a wall on the Mexican border, defunding Planned Parenthood and championing the rights of a woman who apparently doesn't know what the Establishment clause of the First Amendment means. As we speak, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell are frantically trying to thwart attempts by members of their own party to shut down the government for the second time in three years. You can't make this shit up.

With 13 and a half months to go till the election, one party is talking about how to make the country work for the vast majority of Americans; the other party is playing to a bunch of xenophobic, homophobic, sexist, racist nativists. One is looking towards the future; the other still thinks it's 1950.

If the rest of the Republican debates go the way the first two have, the Democratic Party is going to laugh all the way to the finish line.

Monday, September 7, 2015

What Part of "You Brood of Vipers" Don't Some Christians Get?


As many of you know all too well, I'm no wall flower. If I've got something to say, I come right out and say it and let the chips fall where they may. I've never had much use for the term "look before you leap." Nine times out of ten, it's nothing more than a copout for not having the courage to do the right thing. As for that tenth time, well, I'll own that one, thank you.

When I look at the state of Christianity today, quite frankly my blood boils. I am appalled at how far off the beam it has gone. I dare say that in most of the Western world, the Church is on the verge of being apostate. It serves some purpose, I'm sure. A food pantry here, an outreach there, but, by and large, the Church, on a corporate level, seems more interested in keeping its doors open than helping the communities it supposedly serves..

As more than a few believers have told me, if its miracles you're looking for, go to Latin and South America, Africa and Asia. You will see miracles coming out of your ears. In those countries, the Church is not only relevant in people's lives, it is growing almost exponentially. Christ's grace and mercy have touched the lives of millions of people who heretofore had no hope or reason to live.

How can this be? How can one part of the Church be so vibrant and alive, while another part of it struggles to maintain a status quo? The answer is obvious. Throughout most of the world, the Church is far more concerned with fulfilling the marching orders of Christ: feed the hungry, cure the sick, tend to the oppressed. While in the West, the Church has, for the most part, opted to appease its congregants and not stir the pot. The former lives out its faith; the latter plays out the string.

But that's not the only reason for the great disparity between the two groups. For even a lackluster and apathetic Church could still find some purpose. As I mentioned, food pantries serve a vital function in so many down-trodden communities. Many would be adversely affected if they didn't exist or were to go away.

It comes down to focus. In other parts of the world, the Church avoids anything that could distract it from its mission. In the West, the Church has become a beacon for every kind of distraction - most of them political in nature - and, as a result, has veered off course. Not only does it enable the worst kind of behaviors of its congregants, in many cases it leads the way.

The latest "distraction" has been the gay marriage issue. Now I don't for a moment expect that the majority of Christians, or the Church as a whole for that matter, will ever be accepting of homosexuality. Even Pope Francis, as progressive as he has been, has not abandoned the Catholic Church's stance on it. But the vitriol over this issue is beyond the pale.

There are, depending on who you talk to, somewhere between 6 to maybe a dozen references in the Bible that speak to homosexuality, compared with some 250 references that deal with the use of wealth and 300 concerning how we should treat the poor and strive for justice. The word love is mentioned 310 times in the Bible; 131 in the Old Testament; 179 in the New. Perhaps the most profound mention of the word comes in John 3:16. "For God so loved the world that he sent his only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to acknowledge that as a theme, homosexuality doesn't appear to be that high up on the food chain. You'd never know that, though, to listen to some in the faith. With millions of Americans living at or just under the poverty level and many children going to school hungry, what are they most corned about? Preventing the wedding of two people who are committed to one another and who wish to spend the rest of their lives together, that's what.

So, like the Pharisees of Jesus's time, they hurl their stones at the "sinners" and fein a righteousness they neither know nor practice in their daily lives. They are no better than those who claim to be pro life, yet concern themselves only with the first nine months of a fetus's life. In your mother's womb we'll defend your right to live; once outside, you're on your own, kid.

And these fools wonder why they are ridiculed so much by so many, and why the Church they supposedly love is in decline. Hypocrisy drips from their very mouths. If ever there was a better example of missing the forest for the trees, this is it.

Sometimes I think Anne Rice was right when she decided to quit being a Christian. Back in August, 2010, she wrote, "It's simply impossible for me to 'belong' to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I've tried. I've failed. I'm an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else."

Rice is hardly the only critic of the faith. It was Mahatma Gandhi who may have had the best putdown of all when he said, "I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."

Sadly, he's right. Christians are so unlike Christ. Not all of them, mind you, not even a majority. But a lot of them. And, as fate would have it, they are the ones typically with the loudest voices; the ones who have taken it upon themselves to speak on behalf of Christianity, while the bulk of the rest of us have decided to sit on the sidelines and quietly go out with a whimper.

Well, I've got a message for the silent majority. Get up off your asses and take back the Church from the Pharisees who have seized it. Don't be content to just squirm in your pews while you hear yet another useless sermon on the immoral, secularized America or the phony war on Christmas or how we lost our greatness when our kids stopped praying in schools.

When you hear drivel like that, call it out. Don't let your fears deter you. Trust me, the other side has no such trepidations when it comes to making their case known. And don't listen to all the "disharmony in the Body" crap that gets thrown your way. Funny, they never seem to be all that concerned about harmony when it comes to them. They feel perfectly obliged to point out your sinful natures so long as it suits their agendas.

They'll call you all kinds of names. One of the more popular ones these days is liberal theologian. That's right, you're some kind of Marxist looking to destroy the country. Didn't you know that? Guess who else is being called that name? Pope Francis, that's who. He's being criticized for venturing out of the realms of morality and theology and into areas like global warming and corporate greed. Jeb Bush was recently quoted as saying, "I don't get my economic policy from my Bishops, my Cardinals or my Pope."

I'm assuming by economic, Bush is referring to money. And if that's the case, I've got some news for old Jeb: the Bible has hundreds of verses devoted to money and greed. One of the most scathing of them is in the book of James.

"Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on Earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you."

I suggest if Bush isn't getting his economic policy from his church, he either hasn't been listening very carefully or he's in the wrong church. Look, I honestly don't know whether Jesus, if he were alive today, would be a socialist, but I'm fairly confident he wouldn't be reading The Wall Street Journal, and we as Christians shouldn't be afraid to say so.

Nor should we be afraid to say that global warming IS a moral issue, perhaps one of the greatest moral issues of our lifetime. I can think of no greater example of Biblical stewardship than the responsibility of taking care of the planet we have been entrusted with.

When Jesus threw out the money changers from the Temple, he wasn't just having a bad hair day. He was giving us an example of how we should deal with greed in our personal lives and he was doing it with a righteous anger that we ought to be employing far more often. Anger, contrary to what some have said, is not a sin. We know this because Jesus, himself, got angry on several occasions. What part of "You brood of vipers" didn't you get from his exchanges with the religious leaders of his time? I can assure you, he wasn't looking for a group hug, and we shouldn't be either.

We know what the other side is against and what they put their treasure in. It's high time we stretched our vocal cords and let the world know what we're against and where our treasure is in. It's time all of us collectively looked in the mirror and asked what we can do to truly advance the Kingdom here on Earth.

That doesn't mean we all have to go to Calcutta or start a mission in Costa Rica, though many great men and women have chosen to do so. Sometimes, the really tough wars are the ones we fight in our own neighborhoods, sometimes in our own homes. We need to keep in mind that Jesus came not to unite but divide.

Much has been written about the love Jesus had for his people, but he was also a man who never shied away from a good fight and would rebuke those closest to him. When Peter challenged him one time, he said, "Get behind me, Satan!"

If it's true you only hurt the ones you love, it's about time some of us started showing some tough love. Remember, it isn't their feelings we should be concerned about, but the welfare of the faith; a faith that has been besmirched long enough.

If it's inspiration we're looking for, we should look no further than these words from Martin Luther King, Jr. that he wrote while in a Birmingham jail cell.

"So the question is not whether we will be extremist but what kind of extremist will we be. Will we be extremists for hate or will we be extremists for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice - or will we be extremists for the cause of justice? So, after all, maybe the South, the nation, and the world are in dire need of creative extremists."

Go get 'em!

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Kim Davis Is Full of Shit


Let's get something straight: Kim Davis is no Mother Teresa. The reason she will be spending the next week in jail has nothing to do with her religious beliefs. The simple fact is, as a government employee, she swore an oath to uphold the Constitution and she violated that oath. The judge who held her in contempt was a conservative who gave her ample opportunity to change her mind and then did what the law required him to do.

Democracy doesn't mean we get to do what we want. We are a nation of laws and when a person breaks one of them, they must be held accountable. To claim an exemption based on faith is patently absurd. Davis wasn't being asked to officiate the wedding ceremony or, dare I say it, bake a damn cake; she was being asked to issue a piece of paper that would allow someone else to officiate the ceremony and bake the cake, and she flatly refused. To paraphrase one of my Facebook friends, Kim Davis isn't being jailed for practicing her religion; she's being jailed for using the government to force others to practice hers.

Because that's what this comes down to in a nut shell. A tiny minority of aggrieved "Christians" who have decided that a few Bible verses, many of which are cultural in nature and none of which were uttered by Jesus himself, have become the sole basis for a new crusade to defend a way of life that for some twisted reason they see as being endangered; as if somehow allowing gays to marry undermines their heterosexual unions, which it most certainly does not.

Kim Davis is their new heroine, a modern-day Ruth, if you will. Funny, the Christian Right always comes up with the worst sort of characters to fulfill that role. Remember when they thought Sarah Palin was their Ruth? Now it's Davis's turn to wear the crown. A woman twice divorced is now the symbol of righteousness for all the God-fearing folk. I guess divorce isn't as high up the food chain of sins as homosexuality.

I'd call Davis and her warped entourage homophobic, but then I realize that would be doing a disservice to homophobes everywhere. You see homophobes, like all racists, are just ignorant fools who need to attack others to make up for their own insecurities. That's not the primary driving force behind this movement. No, Davis is no mere homophobe. Like so many of her ilk, she has convinced herself that her faith demands that she stand her ground. It isn't enough that she knows that gays are going to hell for the unpardonable sin of wanting to spend the rest of their lives together in wedded bliss; she's determined to make sure they know it. And the best way to do that is by denying them the opportunity to experience that bliss and maybe in the process covert them. For her, redemption as justification is the means to an ends. Talk about the ultimate in convoluted logic.

As a Christian myself, I find people like Davis deplorable for two reasons. The first is that the message she sends to others not yet in the faith is that Christianity is a hate-filled religion that appears to contradict many of its own precepts. And that is simply unacceptable. That a movement so insular and ignorant could define a faith I love so dearly is an affront to all I know and cherish. These people cannot begin to imagine the damage they are doing not just to their own souls but to others around them.

Secondly, if Davis and people like her would devote the same amount of energy they expend trying to stamp out supposedly immoral behavior on tackling real issues like poverty, hunger and disease, this world would be a far better place in which to live. Imagine a world where people had enough money to pay their rent, enough food to put on the table and had access to decent and affordable healthcare. I wonder where people like Davis were during the Ebola outbreak? Probably blaming the victims for being Godless heathens.

It's sad, but I seldom here from conservative Christians during such hard times. Typically they are far too busy reminding the rest of us how the world is going to hell in a hand basket, all the while forgetting their contribution to its hellish condition. It's easy to judge the afflicted; it's a lot harder to love and care for them.

As an ex-Catholic, I have grown to admire and respect Pope Francis, and I now know why so many within the Christian church don't care much for him. It's because he dares to speak the truth on so many relevant issues. He not only exposes the hearts of the cold and indifferent, he also challenges the religious authorities, something Jesus did this so frequently it cost him his life. And I also love his style; it's straight out of the Epistle of James. He is a doer, not a talker. He is the embodiment of Christ. Wouldn't it be great if more Christians acted like Christ instead of the Pharisees?

That's who Kim Davis is. She's a modern-day Pharisee. She talks about morality and what her religion forbids her from doing just like the Pharisees did during Jesus' time. She is nothing but a self-serving, self-righteous hypocrite who is full of judgment and most definitely full of shit.

And I personally don't care if she rots in jail for the rest of her life.