Tuesday, February 24, 2009

I Don't Know, Either, Bill Maher

The documentary by Bill Maher, "Religulous," was released last week and I had to rent it. I already saw it in the theater last summer, but decided it was worth a second viewing.

The theater I saw it in is located in a conservative 'burg of the twin cities. I drove to the show with much anticipation and a little trepidation. Would the viewing have the local Baptist ministries picketing outside on a warm summer eve? Or worse, would the church elders have purchased tickets and be waiting for their affront to everything good in the universe in that big, dark room? I thought, "God, if you're out there, it's me, Patty. Please, please, I beg thee, don't let a group of religious zealots talk through the whole thing."

I got my agnostic fix and then some in the well done, very funny documentary that was one part exploration of the world's religions and two parts crusade on behalf of the world's not-knowers. I wouldn't say the movie was for nonbelievers, though my husband thoroughly enjoyed the film. It was more a nod then shout to those of us who say earnestly and honestly, "I just don't know what happens after this life."

This seems such a moderate position, this not-knowingness. In most of the modern, Western world it is considered a moderate position. But here in the states those of us with a position of not-knowing the answers to the ultimately unknowable still hold a quiet, tongue-biting minority.

But this is my response to Maher's challenge to those not-knowers out there. I'm putting it out there in a public, if rarely viewed website. I say it loudly, "I don't know either, Bill."

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Pawlenty: Party, Not County, First

Governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota made a point to get himself heard and seen nationally in opposition to the stimulus package that got signed in Denver yesterday. I strongly suspect he's positioning himself to be the leading GOP presidential candidate in a few years. His nod from McCain for the running mate job then cold shoulder must have stung, but he kept up his party-first attitude through the entire failed GOP run last fall.

No matter how absurd and painfully ignorant McCain and Palin exposed themselves to be on the most important issues facing our country, Pawlenty was there on Morning Joe or whatever cable tv show would have him putting party first. The country, it seems these GOPers think, is for their enjoyment to rule over, not a solemn responsibility to their fellow Americans.

What makes Pawlenty an excellent example of the profound failure of Republican political imagination, intellect, and integrity is that not only did he fail to provide any new, well-considered alternative suggestions to the stimulus bill, his hand flew from his side to accept the monies being offered in it to the state he is governor of. What a worn position is yours, Mr. Governor: support failed policy, promote opposition to attempts to solve our country's truly horrendous problems while offering no real helpful alternatives, then accept whatever advantage comes your way no matter its source.

If you truly believe this stimulus package is bad for our country, Mr. Governor, why don't you refuse the federal monies being sent our way and pool your energy into getting other Republican governors to do the same?

Why won't Pawlenty do this? The answer is painful and obvious, it's will-to-power before responsibility-to-people with these folks.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

That's How It's Done

Congrats to the House and Senate for managing to put together the last great hope for rescue from the sinking ship of our economy. The Huffington Post is reporting today that insiders tell the story of Joe Lieberman when talking political shop on how this bill got put together. Apparently, the process was floundering as the Dems struggled to keep their focus (big surprise) and keep each other behind closed doors and away from the cameras (no easy job when dealing with this population). But it was that homely old man, a regular "blood traitor" for you Harry Potter fans, that stepped up when he saw things going sideways and got the process moving in a forward direction.

Now this is how politics is done.

One of the most amazing things to me about the previous thirty years is the strong-hold people of modest to non-existent political gifts have had on politics. By making party loyalty akin to fidelity in a marriage, the Republicans somehow managed to pervert a perverted system. Over the last thirty years (and it's hard to discount the Clinton years all said and done) mutated the low-grade case of political Clap that keeps the lawmakers alert and motivated into a deadly, thrill-killing kind of political AIDS that destroys its host by attacking the very systems in place to protect its long-term survival

Our ingenious political system influenced not only by great European thinkers of old, but also the forms of government our founding fathers observed in the Iroquois tribes of the Northeast (their longhouse counsels provided a framework for the two houses of Congress) is designed to tolerate low-grade infection. The new administration understands this. By bringing the wandering Lieberman back into the fold, Obama created a necessary ally.

In the end, the possibility of service for the people was made available. It remains to be seen if this new rescue plan can act as lifeboat for the people whose livelihoods are sinking with the ship. But I'd rather have something done than nothing. And I hope this most recent political intrigue is further evidence that Obama is able to minister to our sick political system not to its perfect health, but at least to its relative health.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Plane in the River Apt Metaphor

The US Airways plane that ditched into the Hudson River a few weeks is, for me, a remarkable story and a useful metaphor when seeking to imagine our current economy. Even more unlikely than a large plane being taken down by a flock of geese, was the extraordinarily competent landing of the plane by the pilot onto a body of water and the survival of every person on board. I was watching my favorite news/commentary show last night and became agitated by the frenetic energy of the journalists and policymakers. I had to turn it off and consider the matter in silence. When trying to arrive at an understanding of our current economic situation that rises above fear, I remembered the story of that airplane and its passengers.

The images were remarkable. A large plane landing so gracefully on the water that one observer said it took him a moment to realize the plane wasn't supposed to be landing on the Hudson. This may be the best our economy can do at this point, a purposeful ditch. Our economic vehicles, especially in the forms of the banking and automotive sectors, have run straight into difficulties that, though foreseeable, were not, in the end, avoidable. The plane is going down and the most this administration and those with significant power in these matters can do is decide how and where to land it in a way the manages to do what is most important, save the passengers.

When watching tape of the airplane story, most of us were not thinking, "Oh no, US Air lost a plane. And it's been generally such a tough year for airlines." Of course not. We were thinking, "Holy shit, every single passenger survived their plane getting ditched in the Hudson!" (Or something to this effect). With an economic ditch, this too should be our most fundamental intention. It doesn't matter ultimately what becomes of the outer vessel. Our economy is a system by which the goods that sustain life are produced and distributed. This is its most sacred purpose and should be our primary concern.

It seems that there is much posturing around what form the stimulus package should take and how our economy should look in the end. But we can take a lesson from the US Air flight situation. There were life rafts in the plane already, as there are some safety features built into our economic system, but it was ferry boats that provided the vessels that brought people to safety. Captains paying attention headed over to the crash site immediately and a transport system became a rescue mission.

What do our people really need? What does our economy really need in order to provide these things? People must have housing, food and clothing. Our economy must have a banking and credit system to make those thing available in large part through supporting businesses that provide jobs. The economic stimulus package may do well to abandon it's flight plan and focus on finding a safe way to ditch the plane and identify economic rescue vessels that can be used to get our people safely to shore. Fund jobs (jobs that will create more jobs), food stamps, figure out some quick, temporary fix for keeping people in their homes or help fund organizations that find affordable rental properties for families who lost their homes, and shore up enough banks to keep the system afloat (saving every bank need not be a priority, just the ones that can help the most people the fastest).

If our economy, and thus our people, are in as dire straights as the president is saying we are, then he and everyone else need to make decisions from an emergent perspective. Get as many people out of the water as fast as you can. The rest can be worked out from the relative safety of a stabilized economy.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Will Obama's Achille's Be Deep Irony for Electorate?

Obama demonstrated his awe-inspiring acumen in understanding other people through extending an open hand when he gave his first interview from the White House to an Arabic TV news reporter a couple weeks ago. The remarkable peace with which Iraqis went to the polls over the weekend may be in part an expression of the disarming of international tensions Obama seems literally designed from conception to promote. However, peace is not the order of the day here at home with the economic stimulus package heading up nearly every news half hour and front page.

There is much ado about this package now going in front of the senate after sailing along the Democratic majority in the house. Unfortunately, the ado may not be about nothing. The package is deeply unpopular among Republicans, who in typical "C" student fashion didn't stay until the end of their microeconomics class where the other side of the balanced budget equation was revealed: cut spending when you cut incoming revenue. But the irony here is going to be revealed if the Democrats, in holding to their fiscal ideals of middle class tax cuts and increased government spending, fail to turn this outgoing economic tide back towards land.

The reality seems to be that we cannot afford to cut taxes to middle class families who are currently enjoying stable, reliable income. This campaign promise needs to await a new day. What Obama and the Democrats can do is insist, better yet, impose ethical reform to tax laws particularly in terms of the upper-most income brackets and run-away corporate tax breaks. Make this a fair equation and most reasonable people will tolerate the continuation of income taxes at this rate without deposing the Dems next election cycle. That is, however, if jobs are created quickly, national debt stagnates then decreases, and the war in Iraq dwindles into a small, police-action-sized endeavor.

I believe Obama is uniquely qualified to create a sense of political understanding between peoples that will greatly expedite the ends to both the Iraq and Afghan wars. Further, the Democrat impulse to spend government monies are future-reaching projects like infrastructure and clean energy development as well as honoring American human potential through challenging schools and parents to produce world-class students. But making nice with the middle and working class right now with tax cuts across the board is folly.

Obama told us he would be honest with the American public. The honest truth is that we must pay our taxes and find innovative ways to help each other out through these difficult days without bankrupting our future in a misled attempt to get ourselves out of hawk right now.