30 September 2009


I am far from home today, exploring the future of the USA, namely Istanbul. Why I think so I will explain when I get back, but for now let me just say it is not so bad. In fact, we could
do a lot worse. But heck, I have only been here a little over 12 hours. What do I know?

Stay tuned.

22 September 2009

Moaning and Groaning

It got me.

I was feeling a little punky on Sunday, a little more on Monday, but last night I got whole and completely sick.

Yes, I did the zinc thing, but sometimes even that won't stop the viral juggernaut.

After a really restless night have forgone the gym, the most definite proof of my illness. Yesterday I went and actually felt better. Today I am so lousy just going downstairs is exercise.

One of the worst parts is that my presbyopia is worse, meaning my reading glasses are not adequate and my eyes hurt too, but we live in a go-go world where work must be done. So I shall try and do some work at home today. No slack in the system these days, you know.

Of course, I could make all this a parable of health care reform, but today I just too sick to be smart. I am stupid sick. Yes, that bad.

19 September 2009

Since You Asked

A congregant asked me recently which books I have found useful recently. She reminded me that people look for guidance going down the cereal aisle that is modern publishing. Thinking I am a thoughtful fellow whose ideas she respects, she asked me.

Fewer things could be more flattering than to be asked what to read. And more humbling. So as the news has fallen silent this evening and this task has been on my mind, now seems a good moment. I confine myself to books read in the last 18-24 months.

Colored People - A memoir by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. a window into a world most do not know is even there.

The Souls of Black Folk - W.E.B. DuBois, the opening word in the 20th century race (1903) conversation. And still pertinent.

Chronicle of A Death Foretold & One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Who knew brains could work like than and not burst.

Austerlitz - W.G. Sebald - makes despair noble without diminishing its dreadful power.

Great Expectations - C. Dickens. Wild, woolly, hokey, and yet utterly realistic and true.

What Paul Meant - Gary Wills. Redeems Paul the way Paul redeemed Christ.

The Courtier and the Heretic - Matthew Stewart. One of those new pop history books that brings two world changing geniuses together in one book and makes both of them approachable.

The Republic of Suffering - Drew Gilpin Faust. How the Civil War shaped America's attitude toward death and life. Unique idea with rich insights grounded in solid facts.

I judge a book great by how often I find myself lost in thought instead of reading. Each of these made me pause and think often, raising ideas and questions I never considered before. They made me different for reading them.

There is one more, but I am not sharing it with you. That one I have read twice this summer, and still find myself pondering almost every page. It is so challenging to me personally, that I find it hard to read without questioning my faith, my calling, and my courage. Once I have read it probably for the third or fourth time, I shall tell you. (Some already know, but keep you mouths shut) But likely I shall ask my church to read it with me and see if they find it as scary as I do.

17 September 2009

Writer Envy

This is so not pastoral, way not dignified, and downright reckless, but boy do I wish I had said it. Well, at least you can read it. It's from Tim Egan.

"I am not worthy!"

16 September 2009

You Read It Here First!

I may not be a former president, but I beat Jimmy C this week. And you were there! Mareen Dowd looks better and writes cuter, but I was days ahead of her, too.

You realize what this means? Those who read me are ahead of the curve. Felt good, didn't it, to be the one who was there first. While they were all reacting wldly, you stood by nonchalantly. Cool only begins to describe it.

What prescient word will come next? Who knows. But Daily Kos, watch out. Matt Drudge, you de drudge. The prophet has arrived!

(Yes, I am being facetious. But after all this earnest stuff a little goofiness seemed in order. We'll be miserable again very soon.)

13 September 2009

Now, Here's A Thought...

On Wednesday our president likened the hot-potato public option to private and public universities, which struck me as a great analogy. Then I realized it was not as good as it seemed for his purpose, but could be even better than he realized.

As we heard it, and assuming he is not 'lying' (shame on me for ringing that bell) the public option would be a federal program. But public universities are state run. Why have we not been looking at state organized options, which really would be like state universities.

Medicaid is state run. Federally and state funded, it is state administered. Now there are lots of problems with the program, especially in funding it. I suppose this, and that it is meant for low income folks, has kept it from being used even as an analogy. Read more about it here. I can well understand how this would scare folks as a potential future. But this is not the only public form we can consider.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield were for a long time non-profit state chartered health care systems. They are premium based programs that operated more like utilities than government programs. You can read about them as well.

In 1986 the BCBS lost their full tax-exempt status, according to something I read, and that's what got me thinking....

What if the BCBS was remodeled as a state based health utility system, a sort of electric company for health care? We would pay for it as we do electricity, too. If they were also tax-exempt not-for-profits, chartered to provide low cost health care, they could serve as the primary care system I mentioned a few posts ago.

They already manage care for 1/3 of all Americans, many government employees, and yours truly. Perfect it is not, but like our elder friends on Medicare who also then can supplement coverage if they want with private plans. I am sure private companies would love to do that kind of risk based coverage they do now but only for select services and needs.

I am surprised that we have not seen more ideas like this. First from my beloved Democrats, I love them because if I did not I would wring their necks half the time. Hey guys, get creative here. Federal government isn't alone. Use the federal part, the states. Second, for my equally beloved Republicans, whom I wish to throttle more than half the time because I share fewer of their particular values. See how federal law can empower local government and set the stage for creative and responsive answers to the health care question.

This won't happen of course. I am just a preacher, writing a blog read by less than 100 people. Even when I send stuff to my elected officials it is filed and forgotten. But as a many of faith, I continue to hope that someone like me, a little out of the mainstream but with a large vision, might help out a bit.

Besides, after all those fulminating posts it was time for a positive word.

12 September 2009

Still Too Short

Today, 9/12, marchers filled DC to protest Big Government. From what I can tell they are mostly protesting the deficit, which by the few things I read is and was mostly created by the last administration. Yes the stimulus was large, and the bailouts, but in the end , most of the red ink was created between 2001 and 2008 and the recession tipped the ink pot over. You can read all about it here (and comments attached).

Now, let's leave aside the hypocrisy of maligning this administration for not fixing in six months what the last one did in six years. That's like yelling at Hercules for taking too long cleaning the Augean Stables.

But it could be fixed if we - Congress actually - did something even my Republican Representative and I agree would do the job. It won't happen, though.

Raise taxes. Yep that's it. But this is unthinkable. We have become a knee jerk anti-tax nation that will not shoulder its own burden because taxes are bad. I admit they feel bad, but we now consider them to be bad, evil, wrong. and anti-American.

The last administration came to power on this doctrine, the several republican congressional majorities did the same, and then they passed prescription drug coverage and fought two wars while also lowering taxes. And that is what took us from a surplus to a deficit. The recession, something all that untaxed wealth was supposed to prevent, turned it from a deficit to a near collapse.

But the folks in DC this weekend are saying enough is enough. Enough of what? Deficits? or Taxes? And if we cut, what do we cut? Medicare which is the second largest hunk of money after defense?

I believe in put up or shut up, so here's what I am willing to do.

1. Raise the eligibility for Social Security and Medicare until age 70. Sixty five was a high age in 1935. We live longer, we should work longer. Sorry if you're closing in, but would you rather have it go belly up after you retired?
2. Raise the cap on Social Security taxes. Only the first $100k or so of income is taxable for Social Security and Medicare I think. Raise it now, raise it high. I can take it if I have to.
3. Raise income taxes, especially on uber-incomes. Top rates now are 35% of taxable income above $372,000. (filing single) That income, btw, comprises less than 5% of taxpayers, single or otherwise. In 2002 the rate was 38.6% of those above $300,000, which would be more tax for sure. But in the roaring 1990s, the rates were even higher.

Yep, we have to pay in more. We can mitigate that by spending less, but unless we mean to close down a couple of wars and cashier grandma with a death panel real soon, no savings on welfare or schools or other frivolities that involve children (who do not vote after all and so have no voice) will make enough difference.

We charged this whole decade on our national Mastercard and the bill is coming due. Yelling at the president for not paying down the deficit fast enough when someone else signed the charge slip is beyond galling.

08 September 2009

Racism 101

OK, at the risk of offending some of you who get this, but with the sincere hope that this will be news to others, let me tell you a simple fact:

Racism is not about bigotry.

I say this because the intense hostility to our president, yes ours and I do mean all Americans, is profoundly racist. Questioning his citizenship, calling him a socialist, labeling him a fascist, fearing he will brainwash our children, would not happen if he were white.

Saying all the protesters are racist invites howls of protest, of course, because most people who disagree with him are not doing so because he is black. Not consciously at least. Doubtless many of them have black friends and brown friends. They are no hiding under hoods or other foul things.

It is important to see that racism is not about bigotry, because bigotry is a personal feeling while racism is a social system. Our society, not just ours I hasten to add, but ours no less than any, is based on racial privilege. Our constitution inscribed it in the provision for counting people in bondage as 3/5 of a person when enumerating the population. Only black people were in bondage by then. No white people were slaves. But that's only an illustration.

My point is that we organized our country around racial privilege and have been hacking away at it ever since. But like a dandelion, plucking the leaves does not kill the plant. Even if you get some of the root, it will grow back. The whole thing has to be removed, and the country is not yet willing to dig that deep, disturb that much soil, get that dirty.

Because we have not eradicated the whole weed, it grows back.

Would we ever question the natural citizenship of a white person running for president? Heck some Republicans were trying to repeal that provision to help the Governator of California who is undeniably not a natural born citizen.

Did we ever call Richard Nixon socialist (when it meant something) when he imposed wage and price controls or even tried to reform health care?

Did we question the integrity of Bush 1 when he addressed the nation's schoolchildren and asked them to write him telling how they would help him? Yes precisely the same request, but no fears of brainwashing then and no demand for releasing the text in advance.

Is it any surprise that the worst outbreaks of this hostility are coming from the old Confederacy?

Today's suspicion and protest is perhaps stoked by the hyper-partisan climate in which we live. This level hostility has not been seen since Roosevelt (either one btw) was accused of betraying his class. But this is worse. No one told them they were not Americans.

Well, I am telling all those who listen, which are few, that Barack Husein Obama is more American than any one of them. How do I know? Because he actually wants to make us truly,

One Nation, Under God, Indivisible, With Liberty and Justice for All.

If you look at those four qualities, and believe they are American values, and then ask who is truly American, the black man with the African father clearly is.

And that is what frightens so many people. That's why they accuse, indict, and condemn. He cannot be American because he .... does not look like us. I, at this moment, am so sorry I look like them.

How sad, how unutterably sad for everyone.

05 September 2009

I Told You So

Or maybe not. But I told someone...

Below is a newspaper column I wrote in 2002, early in the previous Administration. I thought about it after hearing the hoopla around the current president's speech to schoolchildren coming up next week. The furor is most furious in my former home state of Texas. Which is what my column was about then, and seems even more accurate almost seven years later.

Boom and Bust

So I read in the newspaper (in 2002) about the fall of Atlanta from economic grace. During the 1990s it was growing faster than New York or Silicon Valley, but now it is shrinking just as fast. And as I read it I remembered our short stay in Austin Texas.

We arrived at the end of a down turn, which meant good real estate prices for us. We sold our small three-bedroom home in exurban Boston at a small loss for $130,000 (this was 1990 by the way) and bought large four-bedroom with garage for $101,000. I liked that part. And when we left but four years later, we sold it again for $135,000. I liked that part too.

That’s Texas all over. They call it boom and bust. When things are good they are very very good, as the poem says; and when they bad they are horrid. In Texas, it was the result of a raw materials economy; one based on oil and cotton and thus affected by forces outside the state.

It was also the result of a very hands-off state government, exemplified by the fact that the oil industry is regulated by the State Railroad Commission. This is like putting the New York securities industry under the watchful eye of the State Optometry Board.

This odd state of affairs exists because in Texas everyone has a right to strike oil, make gigabucks, and keep it. Of course, everyone doesn’t strike oil, and even them that do, do not make gigabucks. But the dream that it could happen is sovereign in the state of Texas (a phrase which could be construed as similar to a state of grace or a state of delusion).

Keeping the dream alive is why Texas booms and busts. The price of allowing occasional immense wealth (no state income tax for example) is a state that relies upon property taxes and consumption taxes, which then vanish in slow times. The price of keeping the dream of grandiose wealth alive is a state that punishes poverty as a crime, namely the failure to get rich. Whenever money flows, it flows mostly into a few pockets. And when it doesn’t it mostly doesn’t flow out of those pockets.

The result is a whipsaw economy. It is quite active, but never really grows very much, because every expansion is followed by a nearly equal contraction.
I tell you all this because this is where the nation is heading. America is becoming Texas, which I do not mean in the flattering sense. Since the president was governor of that state, this is not purely accidental. But I am not disposed to conspiracy thinking, so let’s leave that one alone.

What I am saying is that a wild west economic policy, one where rules are few and far between, is not healthy. For every creative advance there is at least one charlatan and rogue. For every great new idea there is at least one catastrophic failure. It may produce booms but it also produces busts and in the long run that weakens rather than strengthens a society.

They key to healthy economic growth for the country is what we have been told to do as individuals. - Invest in solid companies. – Look for slow steady growth. – Change course rarely and reluctantly. – Do not speculate or churn your holdings. - Keep investing at the same rate, through good times and bad.

How does that turn into national policy? Well, healthy economic policy would spend money on education and healthcare so workers could be better workers. Boring but effective.

It would favor businesses that are part of their communities, serving them as well as themselves, for these tend to make real money a lot longer than bubble firms like Enron.

It would realize that the economy is many sectors, each affecting the other, and thus to change one will affect the others, so do it slowly. Business needs stability to thrive.

Likewise, it would not put all its eggs in the stock market basket, or some other industry, or hand out favors or incentives to some because that would affect all those around them

And it would not lower taxes in good times but see this as the price we pay for success, and use that good fortune to ease the inevitable recession, thus making the next recovery sooner and better.

These are the rules I use. I am not rich, but I have moved ahead overall. My bills are paid, and my debts are few. Most of you do the same. So why is this so hard for us as a nation? I am not sure, but I suspect it has something to do with a tortoise and a hare.

04 September 2009

... But Don't The Suit Fit Nice?

Despite the holiday weekend, I am at work, as this will be my first Sunday back in the weekly saddle. Like turning the old magneto crank on a Model T, there is some sputtering and wheezing, but I think the engine will catch in time.

Until then, here is a funky take on global climate change. Turns out it may not be all bad, if you can live for another 20,000 years, that is.

01 September 2009

We'll Be Back After A Few Words...

...from our sponsor of course.

Which is?

Well, take a look at Richard Wright's long Op-Ed in the Times from a week ago. More power to him and them, but this whole God/no-God Creation/ Evolution debate is so 1900. I have no interest in it.

I do know that today is the third of three wonderful days in terms of weather with more to come, that the days are notably shorter and the mornings cooler, that my vegetable garden has long ago peaked and even my sunflowers are wilting, that my porch still needs painting, that work is gearing up fast and I am not ready, that my youngest son is now at college and my eldest on his way to grad school, that I drove over 3000 miles in August and seen half of my living relatives, and that in the next month I will have been to Asia and back, celebrated my 33rd anniversary and spent way too much money.

God or no God, life is rich. I am thankful, and if credit is owed somehow I am sure the creditor knows. I'll resume my rant in a few days.