Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Papal Kiss

I’m outraged! Benetton put out an ad featuring the Pope kissing the imam of the Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo. I’m outraged … that they pulled it … after one day. Now, I must confess I’m not sure how showing the Pope kissing an imam helps sell anything, but I love it. I love it because it challenges good taste and religious sensibilities at the same time. I’m not against religion … not at all actually. I am, however, against people who put too much importance in religious symbols and leaders and rules, and not enough importance in core principles and their interaction with the real world we all live in. Doctoring a picture to have the Pope kiss an Imam is a wonderful affront to those whose focus is in the wrong place. Pulling it after one day is an affront to good sense and intelligence. Did Benetton not think people would get upset? Really? They aren’t new to controversy and people have been targeted for assassination for far less. What happened in that first day that they didn’t think would happen? Benetton officials have said that the theme of the campaign, which features the locked lips of prominent folks normally thought of as something other than friends or allies, is love between world leaders. Maybe that’s the problem. Maybe they thought that all religious people operate on the premise that love is important. Love, however, isn’t easily penned in by rules, many of them hundreds, even thousands, of years old. It doesn’t stay confined by original intent. It’s heavily circumstantial … contextual. It even has a bit of a logic … and if you believe that the world was created in six days that might be a problem. If you believe that God strikes down people who fall in love with other people, then that might be a problem. It might even be outrageous.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Looking for more in God

I’m picky. I don’t want just any God. I want a God that won’t smite a man for loving another man. I’d also like a God that wouldn’t smite a woman for having an abortion. I’d like to think that my God wouldn’t punish me for making any genuinely tough decision, even if God thought I made the wrong decision. In fact, I’d be most comfortable with a God that wasn’t a world class smiter. I’m more into building than destroying. I’d like God to save his anger for killing twins, burning women, keeping folks in slavery, mutilating girls, and stoning people. I’d prefer a God that took longer than six days to create the world, maybe just because I’d like to think my world took a little longer to make. I’d like my God to have had to work a little harder than the average God. I’d also like him or her to be less omnipotent and less rule bound. It would be good to think that doing the right thing would get you a reward, even if it didn’t involve going to church or checking with the Bible. It would also be nice if tolerance were rewarded, rather than blind and disrespectful evangelical furor. I’d want my God to have the qualities you want anyone else to have. I don’t like authoritarian leaders, rule bound ministers, uncompassionate doctors, or cruel teachers. Why would I want God to have those qualities? Why wouldn’t I want God to be just like my favorite high school teacher? Why wouldn’t everyone? I just don't know. I do know, that if God is the way most people seem to believe he is ... well they can keep him. I want more than that.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Making Mistakes

Newsflash … we all make mistakes. No one is perfect. Not you. Not me. Not Obama. Not Herman Cain. Not Michele Bachmann. Not Joe Paterno or Mike McQueary. It’s amazing how many people know exactly what heroic steps they would have taken had they been a lowly graduate assistant and come upon a respected coach having anal sex with a ten year old boy in a shower stall. It’s equally amazing how many people know exactly what they would have done when told this tale by a graduate student about someone you had known well and worked closely with for a very long time. Somehow, a mistake in either situation is simply unfathomable and enough to outweigh a ton of good deeds. It’s not surprising that in a place where mistakes are so unimaginable and unreasonable those who get caught making them blame every one under the sun other than themselves. If you put your foot in your mouth on the campaign trail, it’s the fault of the person who asked you the question. If someone accuses you of past indiscretions, they are to blame for bringing them up. Why would you take the blame for anything if taking the blame for anything meant you were going to be seen as not only automatically unqualified for the job you want but a horrible person with few redeeming qualities. Personally, I don’t want a perfect leader. I don’t want a perfect leader, whether in politics or sports, because I know I can’t have one. There is already more than enough in my life that I want but can’t have, like a good night’s sleep. I’m willing to settle for qualified, smart, thoughtful, and flawed folks. I think that’s better than misguided, unprepared, out of touch, and perfect. You can call me crazy. You can call me mistaken. I’m OK with that, I’ve made mistakes before.

Friday, November 11, 2011

What our elected representatives should say: taxes

I will never raise taxes lightly. I will always seek out your feedback before supporting a measure that raises your taxes. If, however, I think that raising taxes is necessary, I won’t hesitate to do it. I believe to pledge to never raise taxes is either a major abdication of responsibility or an admission that you don’t know much about governing and are living in a fantasy land. There are a lot of different taxes that impact people in many different ways, and frequently one or more of them has to be increased. A responsible representative would tell you that rather than making you a promise that he or she knows will have to be broken, whether he or she does the promise breaking or wimps out and pushes the burden of doing so up or down to other elected officials. I won’t ever hesitate to raise taxes if that is what I think has to be done. I won’t ever hesitate to do what I think has to be done, regardless of how popular my position is. That is a pledge I have no problem making.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Political Improvisation

Here is the way the script goes these days. The question posed is something like this: “Is it true that you, Mr. Republican, Candidate, did or said something that was wrong.” The answer is “no, and it’s the fault of the liberal media.” It doesn’t matter that that same liberal media spent over two years reporting on whether or not President Obama was born in this country and a lot longer than that on Clinton’s sexual escapades. It doesn’t matter if the liberal media targeting them isn’t liberal at all, like Politico, who broke the Herman Cain harassment story. It doesn’t matter if the liberal media includes Rupert Murdoch, not exactly a liberal. It doesn’t matter if the leftist attorney and Democratic operative who is representing one of the women accusing Cain also brought down Anthony Weiner, who is very much a liberal. Logic doesn’t matter. If it did, no one would suggest that the decline of the print media is due to dissatisfaction with leftist reporters and publishers rather than the rise of the internet. If it did, no one would blame Republican rivals and the Democratic machine in the same breath. If it did, people would simply respond to allegations by saying that they weren’t true and explain why -or- by admitting that there was truth to them and telling us why they shouldn’t matter. Instead, it’s the fault of the liberal media that four women made allegations that Herman Cain made unwanted sexual advances. That, apparently, is what’s in the script. Personally, I think we need more improvisation.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


Rick Perry wants to close down three federal agencies: education, commerce, and … what was that third one? Tonight, at a debate, Perry didn’t remember. “Ooops.” For the record, it was energy. I wish I could forget so easily that people who are proposing to close down the departments of commerce, energy, and education are serious candidates for the office of President of the United States of America. I would love to be able to forget that a tax plan to shift the burden of taxes from the wealthy to the middle class and poor has driven a candidate to the top of the heap (and it is a heap). The universal assault on the rights of homosexuals and environmental regulation and worker’s rights would also be nice to let slip out my mind. It would be wonderful if these candidates were being discredited for ever supporting such regressive and frightening positions, rather than misspeaking in a debate or fondling women. If it is popularly accepted that the only thing disgraceful about Herman Cain is that he put his hand under someone’s skirt, than another candidate can just pick up his policies and positions and continue merrily along. The problem here is that one of our two parties is putting forward policies and positions that can’t possibly hold up in the light of reason, and people are not only letting them do it but helping them do it by voting for them. When we finally realize the extent of this mistake, it will be way too late to say oops.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Joe Paterno Must Go ... Now?

It is looking increasingly likely that Joe Paterno will be forced out over his response to knowledge that a former assistant coach may have been having inappropriate sexual contact with minors. People from all walks of life have been calling for his firing. We don’t know what he knew, except we know that he did not have any first-hand knowledge of transgressions. The legal process is far from having run its course, and it seems highly unlikely that its course will ever intersect with Paterno. Paterno passed on what he knew to his superiors. It is clear that there wasn’t a good system for handling suspicions of these kinds. Still, apparently it is the moment to fire Paterno from his job of nearly fifty years. If the proper response to serious accusations is to immediately fire every one that could be involved, then this is proper. If quick action is always the way to go, then fire away. If he has annoyed you and/or you wanted him to leave because you thought it was best for the program to start fresh long before any of this came out, then by all means call for his firing because of this transgression. Some professional screamer from Happy Valley was on a national sports radio show this morning … screaming. He was livid. He didn’t think Paterno should coach another game. When talking about what he would ask Paterno at a news conference, he said you have to be careful because Paterno doesn’t understand questions anymore and never really felt it necessary to answer them all anyway. I am sure he is not jumping for joy that someone was molesting young boys, but I am almost equally sure that he smiled a little about this opportunity before he seized it. I have a hard time not seeing this call for Paterno’s head as a witch hunt. Some folks are seizing an opportunity to get rid of someone that they had no chance to get rid of a week ago. Others are just reacting to react. Whenever there is the hint of a scandal, we are out looking for some folks to take the fall. We need someone to blame … immediately. The hell with details. The hell with context. The hell with a fifty year relationship. It may well turn out that Paterno knew what was going on and decided to do as little as possible. It may well turn out that Paterno should be fired. I just don’t think most of those calling for his head have any idea how it will turn out, and that is a problem.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Will you vote Tuesday?

The online poll question on the website of The Bucks County Courier Times is straightforward: “Will you vote Tuesday?” Equally straightforward is my opinion of someone who would take the time to seek out this pole question online in order to indicate that they won’t be voting … or to choose the third option: “Has American Idol's new season started already?” These people (twenty two percent of about forty folks as of this moment), are a problem. I’m more worried about these folks than I am about the one percent that has people occupying parks all over the country. These folks are at least somewhat connected to their communities and the news, as they read at least some of the paper. They are certainly impacted by the decisions made by those of us that are voting and the people we are choosing to represent all of us. So, why aren’t they taking the time to weigh in? Why aren’t they taking the time to shape their own lives in one of the easiest ways possible? Maybe they are all restricted to bed rest in their homes, and have only been in this condition for a few days so didn’t have time to get absentee ballots. Maybe they just aren’t being responsible citizens. Maybe we’re better off that they aren’t. I don’t know, maybe what we need is an online poll to figure it all out.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Occupy This

There is a fundamental difference between Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party. Both play to anger and fear. Both target boogie men (big corporations and big government). Both can, and often are, cast by supporters as movements to recapture and/or defend the American Dream. One, however, contains the threat of much more radical change. The Tea Party is really much more conventional. It is a not so unusual combination of an effort to protect wealth and an effort to avoid change. Some Tea Party members have wealth and want to protect it. Some don’t. Those that don’t have a feeling that their chances of having more are worse than ever before, and they trace that situation to the disappearance of traditional ‘American’ values. It is the presence of non-Christians, the rise of minorities to positions of power, the influx of folks who don’t speak English, the increased recognition of ‘alternative’ lifestyles, and restrictions on American ingenuity and entrepreneurship that must be responded to. It’s not that the system is being set up against them, but that it is being overrun by foreigners and foreign ideas. The wealthy should be wealthy. They earned it. We all can too, as long as America stays powerful, Christian, and out of the way of its best and brightest. We’ve been headed in the wrong direction, what with welfare and the Civil Rights Act (and maybe even the Civil War), but that can be reversed. None of the people occupying Wall Street are protecting wealth, and many of them believe that it is the system that is victimizing them. Most of them also believe that their opportunities are dwindling, like less well off Tea party sympathizers, but they believe that they are simply being written out. College is moving further out of reach. Home ownership is more difficult to hold on to. Food is harder to put on the table. Influence on the government is more difficult to imagine. And all of this is because their fellow Americans, mostly Christian and White, are denying it to them. Reducing the role of Government isn’t going to help this. Increasing it might not help either. Electing a particular party might not help. It’s not as if Obama has overseen radical reform of the financial regulatory system or been able to protect rights and benefits that had been fought for and won. When we think of home grown radicals we think of militias and neo Nazis, but the bigger threat may come from the left. Many of these folks may be in the process of deciding that they have no options within the system. They may conclude that the American Political institutions are now only serving to protect increasingly caste like divisions. If they do, and if they do in any number, than the threat is much greater than any threat arising from the Tea Party. The anger of the occupiers is not one being used by holders of wealth to protect privilege and inequality; it is one that is targeting it. This difference may amount to nothing. It may, however, amount to considerably more. Whether that is good, or bad, or ugly is far from clear.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

What our elected representatives should say: Abortion

No one supports abortion. Most of us would like to see fewer abortions take place. Abortion presents a problem most of us would like to be able to solve. The way to solve a problem is to find out what is causing it and see if those things can be changed. So, we need to pay attention to why women get abortions and attack those root causes. This probably means providing more access to contraception. People will have sex. We can’t really stop that, and we don’t need to. There are a lot of ways people can have sex without making babies. We need to provide easy access to whatever people, including young people, need to be able to have sex in these safe ways. That should be the really easy part. The harder part is to address the more systemic problems which cause women to seek abortions, like poverty and sex crimes. If we stopped spending money fighting about the legality of abortion, there would be more money to attack these systemic problems. If I am elected, I would approach abortion not as a divisive issue involving deeply held values and beliefs. I wouldn’t waste my time talking about rights and definitions of death. I would take the issue back from the folks on the fringes who have hijacked it for their own aggrandizement, and reframe it as a simple problem that we all want to solve … a simple problem that we should be able to sit down together and work on. That’s all abortion really is, a problem that we could solve if we showed any interest in solving it. That’s all I’m really interested in, solving problems.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

I Just Caint Stand It

Now Herman Cain is blaming this whole sexual harassment scandal on a man who helped him in a previous campaign, and is now tangentially working for one of his rivals. Pundits continue to act as if this is part of a continued attack on black conservatives dating back to ... well dating back to the only other comparable incident, Clarence Thomas and the coke bottle. Is Bill Clinton a black conservative? What about Anthony Weiner? Arnold Scwarzenegger? Eliot Spitzer? I'm really sick of all these games. It doesn't matter who tipped off what news organization. It doesn't matter who is gloating over the allegations. It certainly shouldn't matter that Cain is black and conservative. Do we let black conservatives harass women? What matters is the substance of the allegations and how Cain has handled them in the last week. What did Cain do to these women? Does it matter what he did to these women? How did he handle this whole hullabaloo, and what does that say about his ability to govern the country? These are questions that we should be dealing with. Enough already with all the talk of racism, liberal conspiracies, and bitter Republicans. Well, maybe the bitter Republicans ...

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

No He Caint

I don’t care if Herman Cain sexually harassed someone. I’m more worried that he is prejudiced against Muslims and wants to erect an electric fence on the border, and oh yeah has a silly tax scheme that will increase the tax burden on the poor and working class. If I was tempted to vote for him I would also be worried about the way he has handled this sexual harassment story. He was all over the place on Tuesday, contradicting himself left and right. This vacillation was despite the fact that he obviously knew about this and had been made aware that the story was being pursued days before it broke. He and his campaign had plenty of time to have a response ready. The fact that Tuesday’s mess, followed by the blame game on Wednesday (the liberal press, his Republican rivals, the alleged victims, who knows who else), is what they came up with doesn’t instill a lot of confidence in what they could do in the White House. The bottom line is that Herman Cain is not qualified to be President, and that it has nothing to do with sexual harassment and everything to do with his views and beliefs and the new questions about his competence to handle everything involved in being the President.

The Liberal Media Cain't to Blame

The news stories concerning sexual harassment allegations against Herman Cain are not part of a smear campaign overseen by the liberal media. Period. There is no way that anyone who is thinking logically can reach any other conclusion. Here is why.

First, the story was broken by Politico. Politico is not a hotbed for left leaning socialists. It has actually been accused of leaning to the right. The President of Politico was a staffer in the Reagan White House and is now Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation. Joe Scarborough is an opinion columnist.

Second, the media really isn’t controlled by the radical left. Have you heard of Fox News? Rupert Murdoch is many things, but left leaning is not one of them. Reporters also aren’t out there doing their own thing. Most news providers are really part of multi-million dollar corporate conglomerates, which aren’t usually headquartered on communal farms.

Third, Mr. Cain isn’t being targeted because he is a conservative, or because he is black. He is being ‘targeted’, if that is even the right word, because he is running for President. Bill Clinton was neither conservative nor black, and you can’t be more of a target for this sort of thing than he was.

Fourth, sexual harassment is a serious charge and it is a charge that can be seen as bearing on Cain’s fitness to be President. I personally would not consider it. I’m not that interested in knowing whether my Presidential candidate is a lout. I am far more interested in knowing whether he or she can govern effectively. Cain’s response worries me more than whether or not he harassed someone. His bungled response to this story casts doubt on his ability to effectively handle crises (and the normal workload) in the White House. I can see, however, where someone might be concerned with this and what it says about Cain’s character.

Fifth, and perhaps most importantly, responding to allegations by blaming the liberal media is avoiding responding in a reasoned logical manner. I don’t want Cain to blame someone else, I want him to address the allegations and/or tell me why they shouldn’t matter. Don’t blame the meesenger, deal with the message.

So … let’s drop the liberal media crap. The liberal media, if they even exist, are not to blame. Blame shouldn’t even be an issue. Cain should have just been honest and told us his side of the story, and we’d have been done. If he doesn’t want to address things like this, he shouldn’t run for President.