Tag Archives: Politics

An Open Letter to a Fundamentalist Theologian

Dr. Robert A. J. Gagnon
Associate Professor of New Testament
Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Dear Dr. Gagnon:

Today on All Things Considered, you said that your fellow Christians in the Exodus program that sustained a relationship with the Lord after discovering that they could not be “cured” of their homosexuality should not expect to be redeemed in the eyes of God as long as they continued in homosexual relationships.

“The problem is, you can’t assure people that are engaged in serial, unrepentant sin of an egregious sort that they’re going to be in heaven,” you said.

I have a question.

My government engages in serial, unrepentant war. Today, commenting on a story about a family decimated by an American air assault, one of our officials said they conduct targeted, “legal” assaults against persons – with grudging regard and regret for collateral damage to neighboring families – deemed terrorist threats by some sort of undisclosed due process. I am not sure which of the people involved: the pilots or the commanders or the defense department or congressmen, whomever, but they seem to persist in this sin. If they seek forgiveness, will they find a welcome at the Pearly Gates?

And then there are these bankers – they might even be members of your church – that obscure credit terms and manipulate other people’s investments such that usury is committed and theft occurs. They do this with serial consistency and I do not know whether they have repented or not, but they sure resist any regulation to limit their inequities. What are their chances of a reward in heaven?

And, Dr. Gagnon, there is in my country an institution, a church proclaiming the name of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer, Teacher of Grace. This church, in many denominations regarding themselves as carriers of fundamental truth, spends great energy condemning. They condemn not the war mongers, not the cheating money changers – they condemn people who, by nature or nurture, lifestyle or genetic formation, have a different orientation. This institution, this church, commits the sin of judgment with serial, unrepentant venality.

Could you please explain this to me, for the God I grew up to worship created all things, loves without limit and sent his only begotten Son to liberate us from envy, spite, hate and bigotry.

I look forward to your clarification, for my heart is somewhat troubled by your testimony this afternoon.

The Truth about Legal Marriage: None of Your Business

We simply must divorce marriage from religion, and religion from the law. Religion is private, the law is public.

You are free to worship as you choose, and practice whatever moral code you wish as long as you do not harm or deny property to someone else. Your sexuality is none of my business, and the sex lives of our fellow citizens are none of our business.

The law is a public commodity, available to all citizens and residents of this nation. If two people are allowed to join in a shared partnership with intentions of remaining so for the remainder of their lives, it makes no difference what gender either person is.

Religion is held by individuals, often in relationship to a religious order – a church, temple, parish, denomination, sect, ashram, faith, circle, whatever. If two people are to exchange vows in front of an assembly gathered in a church, learning of and agreeing to the covenant of marriage with the blessing of that community and their deity – that’s none of our business. It’s a private ceremony. The couple asks the congregation for their blessing and support, and that blessing and support may come with a mutually-held moral code.

The law does not make a marriage last, and neither does religious ceremony. The relationship between two individuals evolves. The community can influence the interactions and decisions the couple make about the relationship, but it does not keep them together nor tear them asunder. So family integrity may be supported by religious belief and fiscal consequence, but it is most certainly not assured.

Thus make no law you cannot enforce. Do not deny couples the right to be together when one is sick. Do not deny couples the right to make a long-term financial commitment, such as a mortgage, together. Do not discriminate against another solely because their morality and views do not agree with yours.

It’s a simple matter of respect. You would not tolerate a ban on heterosexual marriage no matter how many hearts have been broken, people swindled, children traumatized or infidelities committed in the name of marriage.

Now, let’s stop arguing about the stupid stuff and fix the nation.

I Marched with Dr. King on Monday

I marched with Dr. King on Monday.
He was Pregnant and pushing a Stroller,
Committed to raising all Children,
Red and Yellow, Black and White,
Rich and Poor, raising All Children
to Fulfill the Dream.

I marched with Dr. King on Monday.
He was wearing a Corporate Volunteer tshirt,
Committed to making Opportunities for all Workers,
Management and Laborer, Hourly and Salaried,
Investor and Freelancer, opportunities for All Workers
to Pursue Happiness.

I marched past Dr. King’s House on Monday.
He had Signs out front, not fancy mass produced signs,
He had Hand-Lettered Signs, Old Signs, Signs inked that very Morning,
Signs of Free Speech, Signs of Faithful Belief,
Calling, “Use well your Voting Rights
We fought too hard to win them for you to let them pass unused.”

I heard Dr. King speak on Monday,
Not on the Big Stage with its megascreen displays,
But on the Martin Luther King Freedom Bridge,
All the way down Martin Luther King Boulevard
Across the Pittman Sullivan fields,
100,000 Strong he was, People making use of the Banker’s Holiday,
Making their Stand One Step at a Time, Singing:
“Do what you must to us, take all the advantage you must, but
Freedom will Last, Freedom will Last,
Thank God All Mighty, Freedom will Last.”

– gary s. whitford

Dear Joe Pags: Why We Have to Negotiate with the Taliban

We’re stuck. Boots on the ground is a tar baby trick – Osama Bin Laden threw four planes at American landmarks. We moved righteously to punish the Taliban with regime change. They ran into Pakistani mountains and hid. We sought them out to kill them in their sleep.

That was eight or nine years ago. Thousands of the most honorable, courageous troops in the world have died, ten times more have lost limbs and suffered traumatic brain injury. We replaced the Taliban with a corrupt, incompetent government that cannot defend itself. We are outnumbered in the hearts and minds of the Afghan people. While we have not been attacked again, every foiled attempt (Times Square, Shoe Bomber…) merely serves to terrify some and lull others to complacency.

If all we needed to do was punish the Taliban, we could have done that from 30,000 feet. We would have killed and maimed civilians, but we’re doing that now. If we’re going to stick around and defend Karzai, we’re going to be there for decades. We can’t afford it. President Bush started this very ill-advised war by borrowing money and keeping it off the books, and it has cost us billions of dollars and immeasurable respect in the world. Whether we negotiate with the Taliban or merely “phase out” of Afghanistan and Iraq, we need to support our troops – by bringing them home.

Just my opinion.

America, be brave

If healthcare reform failed to pass Congress, your costs would have become unaffordable and coverage unreliably spotty.

Failure to pass healthcare reform would validate the Republican assertion that it’s too hard to do and the American people prefer unbridled insurance companies designed and operated to make healthy profits off healthy policyholders. This assertion finds it acceptable for a large population of uninsured people who get inadequate healthcare, developing chronic diseases, catastrophic illness and bills that bankrupt them and the public health systems that keep them alive. In addition to escalating premiums and copays, the employed middle class pay the taxes that support those public healthcare systems while they pay premiums that profit private healthcare.

The Republicans and insurers  fought reform tooth and nail. They have good, secure coverage and they want you to think you do too. All those stories about recision and dropped coverage are just other people’s bad luck. They want you to be afraid that healthcare reform is socialism and you’ll face oppression and long waits for the doctor. They want you to quake at the notion that someone will make economic decisions about your medical care besides profit-driven insurers.

Do not drop your guard. The Republicans will continue to excoriate this bill, they will rail against the horrors and contest the progress that will come from the bill. They will use this bill as a rallying cry for their attempt to take a majority in both houses. They are strongly motivated by stubborn conviction and unrestrained corporate contributions to block other necessary reforms – banking, environmental regulation, consumer protection and economic justice.

Sadly, they cannot seem to argue these issues on their merits. They tell big lies, ask ridiculous questions as if they were based on fact (the “birthers” are an example). They need to make the middle class wonder, and worry, and quake. It is a campaign of terror. We cannot abide the fear-mongering. We must stand together, find solutions that bring together a Democratic majority, and use majority rule to enact the change that is so badly needed to restore our democracy.

We have to stand tall against the ridicule, we have to shout back when the fear-mongers distort, lie and threaten. If we are to have peace and clean air to breathe, we must stand together. If we are to preserve our democracy, establish truth and justice and live in a land of liberty, we must unite and demand change.

We have to be home of the brave to save the land of the free.

The reason nothing has gotten done

The reason we haven’t gotten anything done is: the Republicans are united in “no, you won’t” and not enough Democrats say, “yes we will.” Nothing has gotten done because the Republicans stand as one and proclaim, “don’t you dare!” and too many Democrats don’t dare. Nothing has gotten done because the people who are most negatively affected by change stand to make consistent quarterly profits from the status quo. Vested interests have sufficient influence to intimidate Congressional representatives and terrify the middle class. The president is cowed, trapped by the rigid opposition’s relentless hate speech and his own party’s debts to united states of special interests.

There are so many things we absolutely must do something about, and most of them involve the word, “reform.” We were naive enough to believe that we could accomplish fundamental economic change without resistance from companies raising record revenues and executives bringing home multi-million dollar compensation. The social issues and terror alerts given strident voice by right wing journalists, commentators and politicians are aimed directly at the heads of households afraid they’re going to lose their jobs (or already unemployed and afraid they will never work again). Fired up by talking heads, they rise in defense of a system that exploits and oppresses them.

My child’s generation is passing into their third decade and responsibility for our nation. The ones I know are greener, healthier, socially tolerant, and more conscious than our generation. But then, my generation – the boomers – were greener, healthier, more socially tolerant and conscious than our parents, and we didn’t quite get the revolution done.

So I’ll listen with interest and pride as the president fights for the change we need. I will cheer the small victories we may achieve. I will passionately support his re-election and continue bitching out loud about the corruption eating our proud democracy alive. We are such a great people. We have inestimable value, one person to the next. But people are controlling our lives to sustain their own power. They proclaim liberty, tell you the world wants to take it away from us, and you are convinced that you cannot get ahead in this country unless you agree to their contract. We are better than that, fellow Americans. But I’m not sure we can do anything about it.

Compelled to reply all

I was mindin’ my own business, and this email comes around about Barack and Michelle holdin’ the left hand over their hearts during a pledge. The writer was outraged and wanted to “Take America Back.” Who could resist? I reply all:

Take America back from whom? You have no more or less control over this country and its fortunes than you have ever had. No one is forcing you to do anything.

What will you do with this country when you get it back? For eight years, a Republican president and congress cut taxes for some while denying others basic health insurance, exported jobs and fighting wars with money intentionally left “off the books.” They facilitated a free market that facilitated Wall Street creation of hideous investment instruments generating false profits that have bankrupted – not the bankers, but the silent majority of investors who  gave control of their retirement savings to corrupt and deceitful brokers, “talented” managers who continue to take outrageous (47% of revenues) “bonuses” for defrauding us so well.

Defeated at the polls, Republicans doubt birth certificates and scour the planet in search of some damning evidence against someone trying to balance these cratered affairs? They are outraged by a president who would make peace with the world instead of wasting lives and wealth trying to secure foreign deserts. They cannot defend the Bush Administration and their own intransigence, so they forge stupid pictures, outrageous slander and unadulterated fear mongering?

No one has taken the country away from anyone else. The American people elected Barack Obama and a Democratic congress with too many votes to fudge. The victory was overwhelming, yet left just enough power in Republican hands to dilute, obstruct and bully. You have at least one network willing to buy in to any controversy – no matter how unsubstantiated or trivial – to secure the freedom to cheat and defraud us some more.

You want America back? Earn it with some solid plan for growth and prosperity (I’m not falling for the cutting taxes and relaxing regulations). Show us some change that will create jobs and restore peace. Demonstrate some understanding of the burden placed on the planet by ignorant consumption and stubborn carbon emissions, and propose a solution that may restore some of earth’s natural beauty.

Lee Atwater is dead, Cheney and Rove are discredited. If you want to change America, you’re going to have to do better than claim this intelligent, patient, articulate president doesn’t know what hand to raise when pledging to defend our democracy against the plundering hordes of nationalist, aristocratic ninnies.

Symbols of liberty blind us to true freedom. Protestations of loyalty to the flag fail to indicate a true sense of the common good. Is Barack too smart to be able to lead us? Or are we too stupid to see the truth, too lazy to undertake change? Those of us who elected him by choice, instead of by revulsion of ignorant pride, we need to support him. Expose the lies and damnations for what they are, stand up and dare America to be great.

Stop the wars

I have asked most of the people in my life to refrain from asking questions that start with “why…” But I make decisions on a much smaller scale than President Obama is facing right now, and none of my decisions will kill anyone. So I would ask the President to consider our reasons for being in Iraq and Afghanistan as he makes the anguished decisions he has before him now.

We have no real reason to stay in Iraq or Afghanistan. Neither country seems to be able to sustain any kind of clean government, maintain internal security or behave as a trustworthy ally. Iraq was a mistake and we accomplished our revenge in Afghanistan in the first year of our occupation there. Since then, both countries have exacted their revenge on our troops, our allies’ troops and anyone in either country that supports our notions of democracy and good world citizenship.

Now they just suck money and lives and spread hate for our “imperialist” ways. We continue to demonstrate that countries who attack us or show pretentions for weapons of mass destruction will – at the most – face regime change and a long, destructive occupation by our military machine. The resulting war, as we continue to demonstrate, will be one of attrition where we send a limited number of troops to fight nasty, dangerous skirmishes against “insurgents” who pick us off one Hummer at a time. Mighty military machines cannot stay in a foreign country and fight off native rebels forever. We should stop now.

Our best bet for securing the homeland is to establish a real deterrence. We have killed thousands of innocent civilians in our efforts to “win” these two wars. It is regrettable, it is bad public relations, it is immoral (all war is immoral). However, if we are going to fight, we need to fight with our best weapons. If we are the superior military power, we need to use our superiority, and that capability has two wings and heavy bombs.

Mr. President, I recommend that you bring our ground troops home and bomb the hell out of anyone who threatens us. If the Taliban and Al Queda have bunkered in to the mountains, level the mountains. We will kill civilians in the process, but we are killing civilians in the process now.

Iran and Korea are acting fearlessly, proceeding toward nuclear weapons without heeding our warnings. We need to scare them into proper behavior. Take out military targets – total destruction. Continue until they capitulate. We have a lot of airplanes, a lot of bombs, and it doesn’t take very many to obliterate a target.

We can no longer afford to fight wars like we have fought Iraq and Afghanistan. More importantly, the world cannot afford for us to continue to lead with stupidity. They need us to lead, they need us to become the superior power we are. The Soviet Unior discovered that they cannot keep up – no one can. We have the power. Let us use it with wisdom. Let us speak of peace, prosperity, freedom and democracy and carry our explosive stick with honest promise to use it when we have to.

Stop fighting stupid wars, start defending the country with our best tools. It will – in the long run – benefit the entire world.

Healthcare: Stop arguing and fix it

Congress will return after Labor Day and reconsider healthcare reform. Good, because they haven’t done so well quite yet. Lawyers make everything so… complicated.

The problem with healthcare is that 47 million people are not formally covered. That doesn’t mean that they cannot get healthcare when they are on the verge of death or catastrophically ill. It just means that when that happens and the current public health system (yes, Virginia, there is a current public health system) takes care of them, they are left with medical bills they cannot pay. Our tax dollars cover the expenses of the public health system and the recovered person has a debt that scars their credit forever. If they are poor, they can’t afford credit anyway. If they weren’t poor before they got sick, they are poor when they get well.

In the current healthcare system, most people are covered by private health insurance that is subsidized by their employers. Working Americans expect healthcare to be part of their employment. I am not sure whether the employer’s contribution is tax-deductible, but it should be. The employee’s premium, conveniently deducted from their paycheck, is more or less up for grabs, tax-wise, but I would counsel caution before raiding that pantry.

People with private health insurance get a higher standard of healthcare. Compare the menu at local private hospitals to the “food” distributed at local public hospitals, and you’ll see why universal public healthcare terrifies the majority of Americans with private coverage. If food were the only difference (we all wait hours past our appointment times to see the doctor), universal care may be tolerable. It’s not.

I advocate healthcare reform, but I do not want to see the private system endangered. I agree with the president that we are wasting enormous sums in the lavish corporate offices of private insurance companies, but those lavish corporate offices give most Americans a comfortable hospital bed to fall in when they most need it. When compared with healthcare in Spain, England, Japan and Canada, our private hospitals look awfully nice. The average working American – me – wants access to those institutions, and they want our population.

Congress can reform healthcare without eliminating the current system. Simply extend Medicaid to uninsured Americans who cannot afford health insurance. Americans who are working but have no employer-supported healthcare should have access to a moderately-priced, moderate level of healthcare – including affordable meds and preventive care. The private companies, with tax incentives and other government subsidies, should be able to provide such plans. If not, then they deserve competition from a public option.

A word about our doctors and healthcare professionals: America provides quite possibly the best medical education in the world. It costs a lot of money, many years of hard work, but an M.D. (and, in cascading levels, nurse practitioners and RNs) can make a decent living. In order to extend healthcare – good, high quality healthcare – to everyone that needs it, we will need more doctors, nurses and technicians. Therefore, expansion of the medical education system needs to be part of healthcare reform. Generous scholarships should be offered to professionals willing to undertake the rigorous educational demand. In return for the educational grants, the professionals will be required to give years of service to the public healthcare system. It means that some docs won’t get to private practice until their mid-30s, and that the public healthcare system will get the most inexperienced physicians. I’m glad American medical education is as good as it is, because we will need it.

This post is less than 600 pages long, but it outlines a reasonable reform option for American healthcare:

  • sustain the employer-subsidized status quo and keep it tax-deductible
  • create affordable private health insurance for small business owners and others who cannot participate in employer-subsidized plans
  • extend Medicaid to the uninsured that cannot get any other health insurance, and prepare to build up the public health system because they will need massive growth to cover the load
  • expand the medical education system to produce more doctors, nurses and technicians.

Of course some streamlining needs to occur in American medical practice – electronic medical records, tax excesses in the private insurance industry, increase the inventory of medical professionals available to the system. But all of that will occur as the marketplace adjusts itself.

America is the most powerful nation on the planet. There’s no reason we should be delivering an inequitable, inefficient, inadequate level of healthcare. Stop arguing and fix it.

Hey kids, what time is it?

It's time to stop this war.

It's time to stop this war.