20 March 2014

I am Fred Phelps' Keeper

I write not to praise Fred Phelps, but to affirm that God loves him too.  Rev. Fred Phelps devoted the last three decades of his life, more or less, to a crusade against "fags," and with the monomaniacal laser-sight of someone captured by fanaticism, he found fags everywhere.   Even Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Bill O'Reilly -- all of whom exploited homophobia for personal and political gain -- did not escape his ugly words of wrath.

There will be very few eulogies said for this man.  His earlier life as a legal champion of African-American civil rights in Kansas is (understandably) eclipsed by all the media attention that he and his Westboro Baptist Church, his rock of righteousness and citadel against the world's depravity, courted.

According to his Wikipedia page, Phelps wrote in a sermon of 2008 that Arminianism* was "a worse blasphemy and heresy than that heard in all filthy Saturday night fag bars in the aggregate in the world." 

It is as an emotionally frail human being that I consider Phelps my brother.  I too have known the energizing and clarifying force of being a "true believer."  As I review the man's biography, certain facts leap out to me:  like me, he was born in the Southern US and attended college on the West Coast. 

Phelps would doubtless have denounced any suggestion that he would be spending many decades in Purgatory, carrying massive boulders long distances and walking zero-visibility smoky paths.  (THOUGHTS BRED OF ANTICHRIST, I expect his response would be.)  Still, that is where my theological imagination places him right now, having his pride and wrath cleansed away.  It gives me no pleasure to picture him being tortured in Hell alongside Jerry Falwell. 

*Phelps was a Particular Baptist, believing that Christ died only to redeem God's elect, not all humankind, and that God decreed the election of some even before the expulsion from Eden.  These beliefs are not at all on the fringe in Calvinist history, although whether John Calvin would have accepted them is quite dubious.  (Read the entries "Arminianism" and "Calvinism" in Essential Theological Terms by Justo Gonzalez for more details.)

15 March 2014

I've been following this Vox Media / gay-homophobe-hiring brouhaha like a lot of folks.   As a gay man and (more to the point here) a reader of Outsports.com , which carries the owned-by-Vox Media  SB Nation brand label, I am a little mystified why Ezra Klein is mystified that there's been a backlash to hiring Mr. Ambrosino.

An excellent broadside, focused on the emptiness of "diversity" as a buzzword in mass media, can be found here.

Hopefully, by 2018, Mr. Ambrosino will have come to his senses regarding what sexual orientation is.  If not, brace yourselves for an ideologically diverse piece about how it's for everyone's good that the Russian government is putting gay people in re-education camps during the World Cup (and, perhaps, turning Robbie Rogers away at the airport).  Hey, maybe the Ukraine crisis four years ago could have been avoided had those pesky gay leftists in Russia read my thoughtful essays on the chosenness of homosexuality! 

07 March 2014

Derek Thompson:  for the love of God stop writing bullshit think pieces about generational trends, right now.

Specific points from the Pew survey results that he masticates and regurgitates, scrambled, for us all:

----"About half (51%) of Millennials believe they will get no benefits from Social Security and 39% predict they will get benefits at reduced levels. However, much like older adults, 61% of Millennials oppose benefit cuts as a way to address the long-term funding problems of Social Security."

Considering how often Social Security cuts are pushed by Beltway elites in both major parties, and dallied with by our president, it is hardly "confused" for most Millennials to say that they actually (dang nabbit!) don't want their 60-something parents to be impoverished and/or forced to work until the last feeding tube is pulled out, and yet, given the way things are going in Washington, they don't think the program will survive to help them when they are elderly.

---- "But even though Gen-Y started off in the tank for Obama; and even though they support universal insurance by the widest margin of any group (54-44 percent); and even though they're most supportive of big government, Millennials' view of the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a.: Obamacare) is just as negative as the rest of the country. Yes, even though it keeps them on their parents' insurance plan until 27. "

Yet again, the assumption is that everyone who has an unfavorable view of the Affordable Care Act hates government-regulated health care.  Thompson's whining about my generation's ungratefulness to Obama bears the condescending tone that can only emerge from a cosseted position in the media - political bubble of David Gregory and Luke Russert.

Thompson ignores the wording of this very survey.  Pew found that 54% of Millennials believe that "It is the government's responsibility to provide health insurance for all" -- provide, not "subsidize in a very uneven fashion."  Could it be conceivable that some Millennials have heard of those wondrous lands, Canada and the UK for example, where (and our respectable fingers hesitate to record such wild possibilities) there is a right to universal health care ?

A bevy of polls have done more than ask about simple approval / disapproval of the ACA.  You can find some of them here.  There is no excuse for pundits and journalists to continue pretending that 'Americans dislike the ACA because it's a big-government overreach,' or some variation on that theme.  Barack Obama promised a "public option" in 2008, which may have had a little something to do with why so many millennials supported him then.

20 January 2014

Lawrence Lessig has strange hobbies.

Don't get me wrong, I'm glad some people have chosen to march with him through nasty winter weather for a good cause.  Civic virtue is a good thing, and should be exercised year-round.  I am appalled at the level of institutional corruption in our federal government and I can't fault Lessig for feeling the same way. 

I just know that the forces of institutional corruption -- the powers and principalities of K Street, if you will -- are going to look at this protest, and read about Chris from Perrysburg, Ohio who took his son George to walk in solidarity with it, despite a "bit of a foot issue," and laugh.  Probably uproariously. 

I do not say this to mock Chris or any other participants in the NH Rebellion.  I have been in some extremely quixotic protest actions myself, and still came away feeling better about the world.  If protest is fun, it has already served an important purpose.  The issue at stake here is why intellectuals and celebrities with a national platform think they can "change the conversation" by asking candidates of the two major parties to tell us how they will fix things.

Really, that's all that Lessig says he wants to do:
we will recruit citizens in New Hampshire to do one critical thing: to help us guarantee that at every presidential event between now and the 2016 primary, every candidate gets asked at least this one question: “How will YOU end this system of corruption in Washington?” By asking this question again and again as we walk across the state, and encouraging all we meet along the way to ask this question with us, we hope that New Hampshire can make this the central issue in this next campaign. This was the issue that won McCain the New Hampshire primary in 2000. We want it to determine the primaries in 2016.

Besides the implicit belief here that the New Hampshire primary is the most important event in American politics, which is certainly myopic, there is a problem of privilege here.  This is the kind of privilege that straight white men in this American age are especially prone to:  it usually takes the form of a conviction that the dominant institutions of the nation are fundamentally sound, and that systemic problems will be solved when we get the gatekeepers of those institutions -- RNC and DNC chairs, national news publishers, Oprah Winfrey -- to listen to us.  Because we are clearly well-informed and reasonable, and these reasonable gatekeepers will be swayed if we target them.

Lessig has spoken about the anti-corruption potential of a Constitutional Convention.  So why isn't he lobbying the Massachusetts state legislature, and other state legislatures, to call one?  Why is he freezing his balls off in New Hampshire, trying to sow the seeds for an all-too-brief debate on corruption in 2016*, when he could be helping build a movement that will culminate in a permanent transformation of American government? 

I will conclude by reminding Professor Lessig and other abundantly privileged liberals that there is right now a national party that stands for publicly financed campaigns (plus universal healthcare and a demilitarized national budget).  This party's 2012 presidential nominee, Jill Stein, was on 85% of the American public's ballots, including in Professor Lessig's home state of Massachusetts. 

Jill Stein didn't get into the big TV debates--although I can testify that she is very photogenic.  She doesn't sit on the same boards as Robert Rubin and Arianna Huffington.  She is a doctor and probably knows more about setting broken bones than Alexander Hamilton's theory of republics.

Some of us don't have the luxury of waiting for career politicians with national stature and big war chests to take notice of problems that impact our lives.  Some of us want to aim higher than just getting a Granny D Haddock Anti-Corruption Act passed in January 2017.  Some of us are looking for a political organization that takes the entire nation's interests seriously, not just those of New Hampshire and Iowa.

*Really, does anyone think Hillary Clinton and Scott Walker would undergo some kind of ethico-spiritual rebirth because they were forced to come up with some plausible-sounding plan for rooting out corruption?

15 January 2014

I, for one, love the 2007 Massachusetts law creating buffer zones around abortion clinics.

Would it be too much to ask the lawyers and anti-abortion activists now wailing about "free speech" and feeling "intimidated" by having to stay 35 feet (yes, thirty-five) away from the abortion clinic doors to show the same concern about TSA airport screenings?  the "free speech zones" routinely used at major-party political conventions? 

I do hope all the Justices remember the kind of vitriol and murderous violence that has always been part of the anti-abortion movement.  Not that other protest groups don't have violent elements, but that far too often doctors and vulnerable women have been the only victims of this violence. 

13 January 2014

In days gone by I was very sympathetic to libertarian organizations and even enjoyed reading publications such as Reason magazine. 

The possibilities of a Libertarian - Green coalition in American politics seemed boundless.

And then I started noticing that most libertarians (at least most of those who wrote columns) had no problem with corporations violating every human right under the sun.  Villainy, for them, has always been more inherent in your local school board than in your HMO or who you might buy gas from.

Liberty, I am bold to say, means jack shit when the natural world around you is incapable of sustaining human life.  And that is what is bound to happen when energy interests buy out governments* so they can take as much as they want from the earth.

*a short list of those governments (with varying degrees of corruption):  Alaska and West Virginia states, Alberta province, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia.

09 January 2014

There had been three classic ways in which Controllers-General had dealt with the growing burden of French government finance:  disguised bankruptcies, loans from domestic and foreign syndicates and new taxes.  Louis XV's last controller, the AbbĂ© Terray, had used all three.  Louis XVI's first controller, Turgot, repudiated all three.  Instead, he proposed the lessons of liberal economic theory, in particular that of Physiocracy, whose very name proclaimed it to be the "Law of Nature" and thus irrefutable.  The "sect" of the physiocrats argued that was corporatism, regulation and protection -- the heavy hand of the state -- that was stifling productivity and enterprise in France... [after this was removed] the urban and rural sectors would coexist in charmed reciprocity and France would swarm with contented, rational rustics all plowing, producing, saving and spending to the deep rhythm of the market...When Turgot came into office as Controller-General in 1774, having served briefly as minister for the navy, it was not just as an economic but as a political liberal.  Only if he could depend on support from the noble Parlements could he deliver policies that avoided the most arbitrary excesses of the previous reign in respect of bankruptcies, loans and taxes.  So, with the King's warm endorsement, he rescued the Parlements from the limbo into which Chancellor Maupeou had sent them.  His mistaken assumption was that they would back his reforms out of a combination of gratitude and rationality...It followed from Turgot's sympathy with physiocratic ideas that the liberalization of the French economy would, of itself, generate the kind of prosperity that would solve the financial problems of the government.  This would happen in two ways.  Public confidence, that most alchemical of economic quantities, would revive, disposing of the need for additional new loans since the old ones, duly honored, would suffice.  Trade and manufactures would flourish to such an extent that they too, from increased turnover, would yield enough revenues to repair the damage.  All this was, of course, the direct ancestor of supply-side public finance, and had just about as much chance of success as its version two hundred years later in a different but similarly fiscally overstretched empire.

Simon Schama, Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution, Chapter 2: "Blue Horizons, Red Ink"