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Fundamentalist Chickens Come Home to Roost

A lawyer lays out photos of a child who died at day care, as his father looks on. (Kelly Wilkinson/The Indianapolis Star)

Here is a sad story, worth telling because one family’s tragedy is directly traceable to America’s so-called culture wars – which have nothing to do with whether you prefer Mozart, Gaughin or Woody Allen. Two parents in Indianapolis took their little boy to day care, just like millions of other parents do every day. Except this time the little boy didn’t come home.

Juan Carlos Cardenas, age 1, wandered off during lunch, but none of the adults noticed. When they finally went looking for him, they found him face down in the baptismal pool. He drowned.

Why was there a baptismal pool at the day care center? Because it was held at a church; specifically the Praise Fellowship Assembly of God.

The newspapers never have said, to my knowledge, how far away the baptismal pool was from the main day care area; or whether the pool was covered with a lid when not in use; or whether he had to climb up to get to the pool; or whether it was sunken into the floor, so that anyone could trip and fall into it; or how long Juan Carlos was gone before the adults noticed and went looking. The Indianapolis Star, whose story this is, has always been vague about the details – except for a very salient fact: day cares aren’t licensed in Indiana if they’re run by churches.

In Indiana church day cares are “registered,” not licensed. They are exempt from all the safety and staffing requirements state government imposes on commercial day cares and secular non-profit versions. The state legislature decided, after pressure from churches, that they didn’t have to comply with the legal requirements. The church-run centers have lower costs that way; the state doesn’t interfere with their “exercise of religion.” Juan Carlos sadly exercised himself all the way to the room with the baptismal pool.

How many staff were on duty that day? The Star doesn’t say, never has. I guess that’s up to the judge to find out, because a lawsuit’s coming – against the Indiana state government.

Thank you, legislators, so much.

By “registering” church day cares instead of licensing them, the state knows that they exist and takes a role in advising churches how a day care should be run. The state can even do inspections – but it can’t force compliance, because that would interfere with “religious freedom” – to run a day care that kills a kid.

But wait, there’s more: it turns out the state legislature decided, faced with the obvious need for more day care facilities, that it would give out vouchers to qualifying families to send their kids to day care – without requiring them to go to a licensed facility. The Cardenas family enrolled their son at the Praise Fellowship.

Thus the state is deeply implicated here, and probably liable to some extent, though a judge will eventually decide. The church itself has already settled with the family – and shut down the day care center by refusing to accept the vouchers anymore. The state didn’t order the shutdown, they left that to the church.

Indiana sent an inspector to examine the facility back in November, four months before little Juan Carlos was drowned. The inspector cited the facility for 18 violations. However, the church was exempt from complying. See how this works?

After the child’s death, the state sent another inspection team, but by then it was too late, and besides, the state couldn’t close what it never licensed to open.

All this so the Assembly of God, and every other congregation like them, could practice its religion.

No doubt they were well-meaning, but that didn’t keep the child safe. He wandered off and nobody noticed, probably because there wasn’t enough staff.

The Star has never said whether the baptismal pool was considered a violation. Pity the poor inspector whose hands were tied by the legislature. She was busy counting the number of marked exits and making sure the applesauce was refrigerated and not expired, but never got trained in what to do about a baptismal pool. Clearly baptism is a religious matter.

A rational state – New York comes to mind – would handle this differently, I suspect. There, if a church wanted to open a day care center, the state would have welcomed them with open arms – and then told them that religion notwithstanding, they had to be licensed. If they got licensed, they would be eligible for the state to send children there and pay for them.

Not in Indiana.

I hope the state pays through the nose for the parents’ loss. I wish, though it will never happen, that the settlement funds had to come out of the salaries of state legislators. They’re the ones who failed the kid by not requiring oversight.

Why did they do it? Because the churches wanted them to, and had a thousand reasons why they couldn’t comply with the regulations. These aren’t just day care centers, but “ministries,” and everyone knows you don’t mess with a ministry, no matter how wacky it is. Indeed, politicians are eager to do everything they can to help out churches – including giving them money to take in kids like Juan Carlos.

The stupidity of all this need barely be mentioned. A child is dead and politicians killed him. They didn’t mean to, the kid just wandered off.

Surely however we can see many connections between religion, politics and the nation’s problems. Are you worried about the budget deficit? Try paying for your wars next time. Whose wars? George W. Bush’s, the Lord’s Anointed. That’s what the Fundamentalists said; by invading Iraq, Bush was going to remake the Middle East, guarantee Israel’s safety and thereby usher in the Second Coming of Christ.

I’m still waiting.

We could make long lists of the failed promises and lies of Fundamentalist preachers and politicians, but instead let’s ask another question: why and how did mainline Protestants let these goons take over in the first place?

Or: how are Episcopalians responsible for the wholesale theft of the Christian religion?

Fundamentalism is a 20th century movement, and its roots go back to developments in the 19th century, a period of great scholarly ferment among theologians. New methods of Biblical “criticism” arose, and many reactionary Christian leaders became alarmed. They launched a movement to stress the “fundamentals,” no matter what discoveries scholars made about the texts.

They decided to take over Protestant Christianity – and they did it, because Episcopalians didn’t want to dirty themselves fighting back.

They decided to write papers instead, and become even more scholarly. To the triumphant Fundamentalists, it meant God slew all the Amalekites. Piece of cake, really.

Now a hundred years later we are living with the results – when we’re not dying from them, like Juan Carlos Cardenas.

Does anyone realize how many state legislatures, like Indiana’s, Fundamentalist Christians now control?

Here’s a map of the 2004 presidential election results, which I submit as a proxy to answer the question. St. George the Bush won, of course.

It’s a vast swath of the United States.

But maybe you’d rather look at it by population; we’ve got a map for that too. This map is called a cartogram.

2004 presidential results, weighted by population.


That looks a little better perhaps and helps reveal the closeness of the popular vote and Electoral College. But it doesn’t do Juan Carlos or his parents one bit of good in little red Indiana, or a pregnant rape victim any good in Todd Akin’s Missouri.

God help you if you’re a Muslim in Murfreesboro, Tennessee or a Gay kid in Casper, Wyoming.

The unwillingness to fight of Episcopalians and others these past hundred years has real consequences. If the questions were only theological they wouldn’t matter so much. But Fundamentalist Christians want to make themselves the Established Church in the United States, and every other country they can get.

Christian Fundamentalists act just like the Taliban in Afghanistan and the “ultra-orthodox” in Israel. They want to control everything and everybody, and they’ll happily use war to get it.

It’s that last part that freaked out the Episcopalians so much and paralyzed them. “These people are warlike!”

Well, d-uh. Memo to theologians and bishops: there’s no sense arguing when your enemy’s got a gun in his hand.

So they surrendered. They won’t admit that’s what they did, but the evidence is all around us.

Todd Akin, the Republican Senate candidate in Missouri who’s “no abortion, no exceptions,” would have told my grandmother, “We don’t care if this pregnancy will kill you. Your maybe-baby is more important than you are.”

(My grandmother did die in childbirth. If she’d had a safe, legal abortion, I wouldn’t be here – and I still think she should have had a choice.)

As I consider my own Church, and how willfully useless it’s been in fighting for an accurate, balanced, faithful and intellectually respectable Christianity, I think back to the great heroes and heroines of the faith, who were never afraid to fight back. Our calendar of saints is filled with intrepid fighters, who didn’t shed blood but gave their lives combating heresy and preaching what the Church calls “pure doctrine.” We celebrate these people every day and every year. What made us so wimpy when challenged in our own time?

We’ll never fully know, and can’t turn back the clock, but here’s the good news: Fundamentalism can still be defeated, if we’ll take up the tools at hand and fight for the full, entire faith – including its nuances, doubts and contradictions too. I give credit to the 20th century bishops and theologians, they preserved and enhanced the faith for those of us inside the walls. That’s no small achievement. But it doesn’t bring back that little boy, either.

Fundamentalists don’t like the truth, and are afraid of it, so they rely on lies. This is a position of great weakness, because the truth can beat them every time, and the keyboard is mightier than the sword. Mine isn’t, but ours are; Leonardo Ricardo has pointed out the similarity between the Arab Spring and America’s future choices if the Fundamentalist-Tea Party-Republicans succeed this fall. We are not powerless, no matter how many billionaires line up for Romney. If the Assembly of God takes over the government, Americans won’t like it one bit. (In many places, when Fundamentalists have taken over the school board in one election, they’re thrown out the next. Even Kansas finally got rid of its militant anti-abortion attorney general once they saw what he was like.)

No side will ever win a complete victory. But we have power if only we’ll use it.

My hope for the Episcopal Church is that the next time we elect a Presiding Bishop, we’ll pick one who isn’t afraid to fight for the truth. Jesus doesn’t care if two men or two women get married, but he cares very much about how we treat women – children – the poor – the elderly – the sick – the homeless – the oppressed. Since Fundamentalists are intent on marginalizing powerless people, we can count on having his power on our side.++

Valentin de Boulogne, c. 1618: Take That, Goldman Sachs!



What Kind of Country Will the United States Be Next Year?

(Eric Thayer/The New York Times)

Mitt Romney has picked Congressman Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin as his running mate. Whoopee! Conservatives say this is a game-changer, while liberals are licking their chops and going on offense.

I’ll save my invective; I don’t see a need for it today. My sturdiest observation is that now the voters get to choose what kind of country we’ll be. We can pick Romney, Ryan, Adelson, the Koch Brothers, an end to Medicare and Medicaid, the EPA and financial regulation; or we can choose Obama, Biden, George Clooney, Barbra Streisand, Obamacare, clean energy and Dodd-Frank.

I’m rooting for the blue team, but it should be a good game. It’s the Good Guys vs. the Bad Guys, no matter which side you’re on. We’ll all get to cheer the good guys and boo the bad ones.

Let’s hope the refs at SCOTUS don’t try changing the outcome again.

Coming off the bench, do you like Ayn Rand or Elizabeth Warren? Pick one.

Up to now the polls have shown Obama with a slight but clear edge, in the country as a whole and in each of the swing states. Unemployment is high and people seem to think Romney would be better at handling the economy. They like Obama better, though; they think he’s much more likable than Romney.

Almost 70% of people want to see higher taxes on the rich, like Obama does. Romney wants to cut taxes for the rich and raise them for you.

“Health care reform” as a concept is unpopular—but its component parts do win favor; insurance coverage for nearly everyone, no disqualification for pre-existing conditions, carrying adult children on their parents’ policies until the kids get older and can buy their own. People like those things, they just don’t like “Obamacare.”

They don’t like that Romney made his money buying up companies, laying people off, shutting down plants and moving them overseas. They don’t like that he doesn’t pay much in taxes, or takes a $70,000 deduction for his wife’s show horse. They don’t like that he has secret bank accounts overseas, but wants to be President here. Which is it, pal?

They don’t like his being a Mormon, but they didn’t like Jeremiah Wright either. So that’s probably a wash.

They don’t pay much attention to foreign policy; it’s “over there somewhere.” Some of them know that Obama ended the war in Iraq (more or less) and killed Osama bin Laden. And some know the war in Afghanistan is still going on, though no one can really tell you why. But by and large, people don’t really care—even though these wars, started by George W. Bush, have been tremendous drains on the national treasury, which a lot of people claim to be concerned about—the money, that is, not the wars.

We could save money by ending the war in Afghanistan.

Not many people know that Romney likes saber-rattling and threatening war with Iran. Nobody likes Iran, but neither can they find it on a map or tell you the difference between Iran and Iraq. Iraq’s the one with the Q in it; that’s about the level of our knowledge. Both of them are Muslim countries “over there” somewhere. Are Sikhs Muslims? Americans don’t know. Sikhs wear turbans, and anyway they’re all foreigners.

In short we’re massively ignorant in this country, and I find myself wondering, with such a stark difference between these candidates, which way we’ll end up going.

Will we finally see through Obama and find the socialist he really is? Or will we finally see through Romney and find an abusive capitalist who really couldn’t care less about anyone who isn’t a millionaire?

Will Adelson and the Koch Brothers succeed in buying the election? I wouldn’t put it past them, but on the other hand they haven’t so far. Adelson’s first choice was Newt Gingrich, who went over like a lead balloon.

This election will put to the test, once and for all, the conventional wisdom about democracy: namely, that you can trust the voters to make the right choice.

They didn’t in 2010; they didn’t this year in Indiana, when they voted out Senator Dick Lugar. But they did in 2008, I believe, when they voted for President Obama, a Democratic House and a Democratic Senate.

What we got from the 2008 vote was Obamacare—no small thing—and tourniquets to stop the economic bleeding. The patient hasn’t recovered yet but at least it didn’t die.

(I hated Lugar’s record on domestic votes, but support him on foreign issues. In his previous election Indiana Democrats didn’t even put up a candidate.)

The person I most trust on investments, John C. Bogle of the Vanguard Group, is a Republican who voted for Obama in 2008 and is going to do it again this time. Bogle makes sense.

Trust the voters? That’s as much a crapshoot as buying stocks and bonds.

My frank belief is that the USA isn’t a democracy anymore. We’ve become a plutocracy instead. But that’s an unfamiliar word to Americans, so we’re not riled up at all. (It means government by the rich.)

If I’m right, this is our last chance at a fair election. With all the billionaires lined up against him, if Obama can pull this out, then power still rests with the people, at least for awhile yet. I don’t think democracy will last much longer, but I don’t want to see it die before I do.

We face a moral choice this year, more than an array of policy choices, which every election presents. Do we idolize the rich and demonize the poor, or do we give everyone a fighting chance?

Do people get rich because God blesses them with wealth? Many religious leaders teach this. Jesus didn’t, he taught the opposite, but he’s not on the ballot this year—and I’m not sure he’d win if he were.

Romney’s crowd believes they’re rich because God blesses them—which means that anyone who isn’t rich doesn’t live right. That belief’s built right into Mormonism, and many Protestants and Catholics embrace it too.

I do not. To me, this is the most obscene photograph I’ve ever looked at.

That’s Mitt Romney, right in the front.

I ran it on dailyoffice.org during Lent, as an illustration of greed—one of the 7 Deadly Sins, you know.

It’s a promotional photograph for Bain Capital. It shows money coming out their ears.

Is that the kind of country you want to live in, where you elect a guy like that to rule over you?

Are dollars your God? Vote for Romney.

If God is your God, you cannot vote for Romney. You may not like Obama but you have to vote for him.

Who will win? I don’t know, but this election will determine what kind of nation we are forevermore.

I’m more optimistic about Obama than I am about the longterm future. I think we’ve already sold our souls to the devil, and that it started the day we traded “entertainment” for corporate brainwashing on TV.

Your cellphone is a tracking device. Big business wants to know where you are and what you’re doing at all times. Step out of line and the government wants to know too.

Your devices own you. You sold your soul already. Satan didn’t tell you the terms of the deal, but you didn’t ask. “Oh, look what this thing can do!”

Voting becomes less and less important than our daily choices. The guys who make money from those choices love this era we’ve entered. The rich get richer and you’re a chump.

People who live on the East and West Coasts know all these things, or sense them, but they don’t understand why “the heartland” doesn’t get it. Why, they ask, do non-millionaires vote Republican, against their own obvious self-interest?

Answer: people don’t pay attention anymore. They watch TV and soak up impressions. Obama is nice but “dangerous”; Romney is boring but “successful.”

Mostly they just vote the way their parents did. For “lesser offices” (no matter how important), they just vote the name they know.

They vote their emotions, which are mostly a product of TV.

Adelson’s putting $100 million into TV.

Obama may win this time, but I think the war’s already over. The United States got conquered by internal enemies, who work on a few streets in New York, Wall Street and Madison Avenue.

If Romney wins, we’re done. That’s what I think. So get yours while you can, I suppose. What else can you do when it’s “every man for himself”?

It’s human nature. There is no American Exception.

Love the one you’re with. While you can, anyway.++

Brigadier General Tammy S. Smith with her wife Tracey Hepner, a former Army captain. Smith just got promoted and is now the first openly-Gay general in U.S. history. Romney and Ryan would kick her out of the military, cut food stamps for the poor, and turn Medicare into a coupon program to limit health care for seniors and the disabled.


Tea Party? No. Fascist Backlash.

Margaret Hamilton, absolutely fabulous as the Wicked Witch of the West.

I woke up this morning thinking about the upcoming election, that what we’re seeing is a fascist backlash since the election of Barack Obama.

I’m not sure that “fascist” is the right word, but it’s as close as I can come right now. “Right-wing extremists”? “Jack-booted thugs”?

The point isn’t the name-calling; the point is the backlash, and finding the most accurate description of these self-named “tea partiers” who have nothing to do with the Boston Tea Party. Our country is not controlled by a foreign imperial power. The Boston Tea Party was about independence, which is no longer an issue.

Instead what we’re seeing is a very large resurgence of John Birch Society-type ideology. It’s strange, because Americans dismissed these folks as the lunatic fringe 60 years ago. Why are they back?

Why are there so many of them? And why are they so loony?

• Christine O’Donnell tells us she is not a witch. Claiming to have flirted with being a witch made her money ten years ago, but now it costs her, so she isn’t one. Never was; “I am you.”

• Rand Paul’s county coordinator stomps a young woman on the head – and then demands an apology.

• Sharron Angle, doing a fast walk away from a reporter asking about her foreign policy, says, “Yes, we have two wars.”

• Carl Paladino threatens to “take out” a reporter.

• Joe Miller hires active-duty soldiers for his security detail, and they handcuff a reporter who annoys them.

• Ken Buck says Gay people are born with a predisposition like alcoholics.

• Jan Brewer, governor of Arizona, is incoherent and can’t even start an answer during a televised debate.

• Sarah Palin can’t tell Katie Couric what newspapers and magazines she reads – because she doesn’t read any.

Meanwhile the Democrats flounder too, unable to explain what’s going on in a simple pithy phrase.

Maybe that’s why I came up with “fascist backlash.” If you’ve got a better label, leave a comment. “Fascist” seems a little too strong to me, but I don’t know what else to call it. So focus on the backlash.

I just watched President Obama give a campaign speech in Bridgeport, Connecticut on behalf of Richard Blumenthal, the Democratic Senate nominee, whose opponent is Linda McMahon of phony wrestling and “Sexy Bitch” yacht fame.

The President spoke well, with all the fire and eloquence and truth-telling of his 2008 campaign.

I’ve been hugely critical of him, because he’s been the last person to understand the fascist backlash. But once again, listening to him today, I was drawn back into his vortex while it lasted.

He’s so talented, and so smart; he’s earning his increasingly gray hair, which he joked about today, then tore off a rip-roaring speech (without TelePrompters, as if that’s a serious issue).

He was heckled at one point by a sizable group of AIDS activists, and it was interesting to see how he dealt with them. George W. Bush would have manipulated the crowd to drown them out, and then had goons drag them off. Obama didn’t handle it that way.

He engaged them, answered them back, pointing out that Democrats are increasing funding for world AIDS treatment and research, not Republicans.

(President Bush did receive good marks on this issue – for Africa, not the U.S.)

From there Obama got back on message and roused the crowd; “If we turn out this year like we did two years ago, we will win.”

Fact is, I hate what he’s done/failed to do on Gay rights. When a politician starts hurting my people, as Obama has done with his “emergency” appeal on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, I turn against that politician.

Still, this guy might actually be learning on the job, so I waver back and forth on supporting him. I definitely want to minimize Democratic losses next Tuesday; if the self-proclaimed tea partiers win – any of them – it will be bad for the country. The fact is, none of them are qualified for the offices they seek; none of them. And this isn’t just ideology on my part; a Senate candidate proclaims, “I am not a witch”?

Angle runs away, Palin runs away, Wilson runs away, Brewer runs away; this is a conscious strategy to keep from answering questions. Palin thinks Twitter and Facebook are all she needs – but she’s wrong. You can’t govern a country by 140-character tweets.

So let’s recognize what we’re actually dealing with here: Obama prevented a Great Depression.

He’s paying the price for the Great Recession. He’s done several things right and several things wrong, but I’m still in my house and so are most of you.

The banking system did not collapse; it’s seriously messed up, as the foreclosure scandal illustrates, but banks are open, still taking deposits, still clearing checks.

It would be nice if they also made loans, but even FDR didn’t fix everything in a week. (And Obama’s no FDR.)

Maybe Obama’s naivete is finally wearing off; today in Bridgeport he pointed out that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s #1 goal is defeating him in 2012 – not creating jobs, not returning America to world leadership in education, science, technology and manufacturing, but defeating the Dems at all costs.

Where is the patriotism of Republicans? They parade it at every chance, but they don’t act patriotically. It’s all about politics to them, it’s all about the next election.

Meanwhile Sharron Angle threatens “Second Amendment remedies” – armed rebellion, treason – if she doesn’t win.

So does some black Republican preacher/candidate in Texas; “nothing should be off the table.”

That’s why so-called “tea partiers” showed up with guns last summer at Obama speeches. That’s why they march through the streets with AK-47s.

They’re threatening to shoot their way to power. I say that’s fascist.

Obama isn’t a Nazi, isn’t a socialist, isn’t that old bugaboo, a Communist. He’s a cautious and moderate Democrat.

He’s also Black, and that’s what’s brought out these extremists.

I wish he were more of a fighter (as he was today in Bridgeport) and less of a philosopher. But he is what he is, a far better President than the last one. Despite all of his missteps on Gay rights, he still deserves our support. He’s an honest man with convictions – and he invoked Lincoln again today, which I appreciate.

He mentioned getting us out of Iraq today, a subject never mentioned by any other candidate, and people cheered.

I wish he’d get us out of Afghanistan too; I supported his initial push with more troops there, but now I think it’s hopeless. We can’t tie the USA to a crook like Karzai, when the real issue is Osama bin Laden.

Al-Qaeda in Yemen is sending airbombs to synagogues in Chicago. Thank God, the Saudis and the Brits, they never got there.

We’re being battered on all sides, and so is our President. He sure isn’t perfect, nobody’s messiah, but the smart choice is to dance with the one who brung ya.

Angle, Palin, O’Donnell, Buck, Wilson? They’re Christian Dominionists; click the link. Palin is the worst; O’Donnell and Angle are the dumbest.

The shorthand way to understand them all is this guy. He sought total control, which is the opposite of human liberty celebrated in Boston.++

“Inside Job”: They Got Away with It. And Obama Let Them.

A.O. Scott of The New York Times is out with a review of “Inside Job,” a documentary by Charles Ferguson of the Wall Street Meltdown of 2008. I’m going to quote from Scott’s review; you can read it all here.

Two years ago at this time, a month before the presidential election, my friends and I were wondering if we’d all lose our homes and end up sleeping in tents in the woods. (I’d head for the Iroquois River a few miles from my house, because the fairgrounds are public land.) People were buying guns and ammo, and I asked, “Will everyone have to have a gun?”

I’ve only fired a shotgun once in my life, and that was plenty. It had more kick than the Indianapolis Colts. I hate guns, but there I was, asking if the chaos to come would mean total lawlessness, a complete breakdown of society.

That did not come to pass. I credit the bank bailout known as TARP passed two years ago this week by Congress under President Bush.

Senator Barack Obama supported it; Senator John McCain “suspended his campaign” for President, then sat on the sidelines because he really had nothing to do with it. It took two tries in Congress before the bill went through.

It was of course the most politically unpalatable piece of legislative garbage any politician has ever swallowed. But we needed it to prevent a rerun of the Great Depression. Other countries also bailed out their banks, some were nationalized, some were sold for pennies on the dollar, and the whole world squeaked through.

Sen. Obama was elected President a month later, and then made the worst mistakes of his life, more disastrous than Bush’s invasion of Iraq. Obama will be entirely to blame for whatever losses Democrats suffer in the upcoming election.

Why? He let the crooks get away with it.

In doing so he followed standard political advice; but never were political advisers more wrong than the same folks – Axelrod, Plouffe, Emanuel – who carried out the most brilliant political campaign in history.

I don’t want to punish the current president; I like him as a man. But gee whiz, how dumb can you get?

The standard political advice for an incoming administration is “turn the page.” Don’t go after George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, or you’ll have nothing but political warfare.

I agree with that, even though I hated every minute of Bush-Cheney; holding them accountable under the law would have led immediately to political gridlock.

So what do we have now? Political gridlock.

I agreed, very reluctantly, with Gerald Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon, even though by rights he should have died in prison.

You simply cannot put an elected President of the United States in prison. You just can’t, no matter how much he may have trampled on the Constitution. An elected President has a democratic mandate no court but the elected Senate can remove. When Democrats didn’t impeach Bush and Cheney in 2007, it was Game Over. (That was Nancy Pelosi’s bad advice. Someone should have told her Bush’s illegal war is not Clinton’s blowjob. But she was scared of the media and more gridlock.)

There’s a big difference between indicting Dumb and Dumber, and indicting people who were never elected to anything but a cushy job at Goldman Sachs.

Obama should have sent U.S. Marshals to Wall Street to round them all up. If he’d done that, Democrats would win 80 more seats in the House next month. He’d be the most popular president ever.

Instead he leaves us with this mess.

Joe Biden can whine all he wants to about “whining liberals,” but I have no sympathy. Obama lost the liberals and the moderates because of his own stupid decisions.

He let Wall Street get away with it, while millions of people have lost their homes, their jobs and their retirement savings.

From A.O. Scott’s review:

As I was watching “Inside Job,” Charles Ferguson’s meticulous and infuriating documentary about the causes and consequences of the financial crisis of 2008, an odd, archaic sentence kept popping into my head. The words come from the second chapter of “The Scarlet Letter” and are spoken in frustration and disgust by an old Puritan woman who watches Hester Prynne, publicly disgraced but without any sign of remorse, making her way from Salem’s prison to a scaffold in its market square. She “has brought shame upon us all …” the anonymous woman remarks. “Is there not law for it?”

“Inside Job,” a sleek, briskly paced film whose title suggests a heist movie, is the story of a crime without punishment, of an outrage that has so far largely escaped legal sanction and societal stigma. The betrayal of public trust and collective values that Mr. Ferguson chronicles was far more brazen and damaging than the adultery in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel, which treated Hester more as scapegoat than villain.

The gist of this movie, which begins in a mood of calm reflection and grows angrier and more incredulous as it goes on, is unmistakably punitive. The density of information and the complexity of the subject matter make “Inside Job” feel like a classroom lecture at times, but by the end Mr. Ferguson has summoned the scourging moral force of a pulpit-shaking sermon. That he delivers it with rigor, restraint and good humor makes his case all the more devastating.

Two years ago while I was wondering if I’d lose my house, my car and all my savings, I couldn’t help but remember that “the last time this happened,” (not true; it was 1920), somebody bombed J.P. Morgan’s headquarters at 23 Wall Street, injuring 400 and killing 38.

I don’t want anyone hurt, but why, I wondered, was public rage not directed at Wall Street’s self-described “geniuses” who nearly brought down the entire world financial system?

No arrests, no indictments, no nothing. Just complaints from Wall Street wives that they couldn’t be seen tramping around with bags from Tiffany’s and Bergdorf’s without getting nasty looks. Poor babies!

A.O. Scott in The Times wonders why so little rage has been directed at the Wall Street titans. Yes, there were a few chartered buses to scout out their mansions in Westchester, but nothing came of that. He writes about the movie:

This call to arms makes you wonder why anger of the kind so eloquently expressed in “Inside Job” has been so inchoate.

It’s a good observation, but it’s easy enough to answer; when the Hopey-Changey Democratic President doesn’t complain about Wall Street’s crimes and abuses, much less lead a raid on all their headquarters, what’s an ordinary person to do?

When Obama didn’t say anything, neither did the most prominent members of Congress. I guess they were expecting him to lead or somethin’.

Meanwhile there were Axelrod, Emanuel and Plouffe saying, “Turn the page. Work on your own agenda. Let bygones be bygones, get some watered-down bills passed.”

They squandered the greatest political advantage since the LBJ landslide of 1964.

So I have no sympathy for them. They made the worst imaginable miscalculation, by conflating Bad Elected Officials (Bush, Cheney et al.) with Bad Boys on Wall Street.

After all, Obama got a lot of help from Wall Street; for the first time that I can remember, the Democratic candidate got more donations from financiers than the Republican. Wall Street knows what a winner looks like; did they buy him off?

No, I don’t think so, though there’s no doubt their contributions were part of the calculus. I think Obama appointed Wall Streeters to the Treasury and the Fed because… “that’s where all the experts are.” Politicians always appoint insider-experts, right?

It’s one more example of the horrible advice this President has acted on. He isn’t nearly the “think-outside-the-box” intellectual he was portrayed as.

Meanwhile Lou Dobbs (remember him?) was excoriating Mexican immigrants as scapegoats (and Gay people are always available if that doesn’t work), Rush Limbaugh gave the Republicans their talking points and Fox “News” amplified and repeated them. John Boehner and Mitch McConnell decided to obstruct everything Obama tried to do (which was smart politics, but horrible governance), and the President ended up looking like an emasculated jerk, when he was such a stud candidate.

And there’s poor Joe Biden, telling all the Democrats this is all their fault. It’s halfway comical, but this is my country at stake!

• Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: still in place.
• Guantanamo: still open.
• Iraq War: still dying.
• Afghanistan: worse than ever.
• Jobs: sorry, not hiring.

And we’re all supposed to be thrilled because some time after I’m dead, Americans will finally get a small version of health care as a human right?

It’s your own damn fault, Barack; you blew it.

I guess you missed that lecture in PoliSci 102, which is also conventional wisdom: the pollsters and strategists who helped you get elected don’t know the first thing about running a government.

You’re the one who’s supposed to know – but you don’t.++

Bring back this guy, former Fed chairman Paul Volcker; he's the only one who makes any sense.

The Politics of Rage

If you need a politician to advise you about masturbation, this Delaware tea person is ready.

The primaries are over, at last. The nominees for Senate, House and governor are set. The general election will take place in about six weeks, November 2nd. To a lot of the media this is a big whoop-de-doo, but to most normal folks it’s more like a big whoop.

(Note to Dutchmen and other foreigners: a “big whoop” isn’t one.)

This is not to say it won’t be an important election; it will be, perhaps as important as 2008. But America’s in the midst of a collective funk, and the only people excited about voting are right-wing extremists, who’ve convinced themselves they have a chance to bring back Jesus, John Birch and new episodes of “Gunsmoke.”

I call it the politics of rage. “We want our country back!”

But as I look around me, Indiana’s still where it always was; Illinois’s right next door, with Michigan on top of us, Ohio to the east and Kentucky down south with all the hills and hollers.

I think the tea partiers are way too optimistic. A new poll by The New York Times shows that Americans’ view of the movement skews a bit negative, with 29% unfavorable to 23% favorable, while the majority hasn’t figured it out yet or isn’t even paying attention.

This is not what I’d call a wildfire with only six weeks left to go – and they’ve been at it for over a year now, guns, Hitler and Stalin images at the ready.

Meanwhile the media-ocracy is busy proclaiming that this is a Republican year, with takeovers of one or both houses of Congress routinely predicted. The economy’s bad, Obama is weak, the Democrats are clueless, and look at all this tea party enthusiasm!

No one can predict the future, but I suspect there are surprises yet to come. My sense is that the results will be mixed, with most races turning on local issues and personalities, not an outburst of national fervor one way or the other.

This election may not be “a referendum on Obama.” I doubt it will be a referendum on much of anything, except whether Nevada goes for unpopular Harry Reid, unpopular Sharron Angle or very popular “none of the above.”

If “none of these candidates” wins, Reid’s likely to be re-elected, because Nevada throws the election to the next-highest vote-getter.

This isn’t Britain or the rest of Europe; we don’t vote for parties here, we vote for candidates. There will be 435 local elections for the House of Representatives, plus a third of the Senate and 37 governors.

The country as a whole is likely to get redder, but I bet we’re still purple in the end.

Still, these are exciting times for political junkies; I’ve never seen a dynamic like this one. The closest analogy I can see is the presidential election of 1980, when Jimmy Carter was weak and had a strong opponent in Ronald Reagan.

But lemme tell ya, these tea people are nothing like Ronald Reagan. He was a two-term governor of California, the biggest state; he wasn’t an unknown who came out of nowhere, he was a movie star and an experienced politician. He was handsome and genial; his ideas were backward but people liked him – and they did want to register their disapproval of the incumbent. He looked like a president, acted like one and people voted for him. He was cynical, but he was also skilled, and he took the White House despite all the power of the presidency to prevent it.

These tea people may have some ideological affinity for him, but they are nothing like him. He was a star; these folks wouldn’t make it as extras on “Bedtime for Bonzo.”

• Sharron Angle in Nevada threatens that if the tea partiers don’t get their way, “a Second Amendment remedy” may be necessary – in other words, we’ll shoot people. Let’s have armed insurrection.

• Christine O’Donnell, the anti-Gay bigot/Senate candidate in Delaware, used to make anti-masturbation videos for Jesus and MTV. She doesn’t pay her taxes, has no real income, pays her living expenses from campaign contributions, claimed she graduated from college 17 years ago when it was only last month, and even lies about how well she did in the last election. There is no Google in Christine’s world.

• Carl Paladino, the new Republican nominee for governor of New York, likes to send racist and pornographic e-mails to his friends. He threatens to take a “baseball bat” to Albany, the state capital.

• Rand Paul in Kentucky thinks the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a bad idea because the Federal government “intruded” on the right of business owners to refuse service to African-Americans. That’s not the “free enterprise system” he’s for!

They’re all like this. Every one nuttier than the last.

Abolish Social Security! That’s sure a winner politically.

Abolish unemployment insurance! Make jobless people and their kids starve to death, that will surely pick up the economy.

Make welfare recipients go to prison – and while they’re there, make them listen to lectures about personal hygiene!

Secure the borders! – As if illegal immigrants don’t contribute billions to the economy.

I live in a small town, in a depopulating rural area. Mexicans are visible and audible here, though there aren’t very many of them. Considering that this town was all-White when I grew up, even a few people of different color and nationality would be visible. But they rent houses and apartments and work jobs and start businesses – and best of all, we still have a grocery store. The four nearest towns have all lost their grocery stores. Immigrants provide population stability in my hometown! They’re the difference in whether I can buy a can of peas or not.

But to the enraged, they represent the “others.” Life isn’t what it used to be, back in the days of “Gunsmoke.” Back when General Motors was a big business; back when Wall Street wasn’t robbing everyone blind; back when the Soviet Union was a constant threat; back when Jesus reigned supreme; back when the president was always White.

The tea partiers have won Republican primaries in state after state – which mostly proves the complete political bankruptcy of the Republican Party. It hasn’t taken much for the new folks to muscle in.

Sorry, Mitch McConnell, being the Party of No gets you no-where.

After Obama shellacked John McCain, and the GOP realized how rudderless it was, Just Saying No was the only alternative. As a strategy it’s empty, but as a short-term tactic it may prove successful, especially given Obama’s squandering of every political advantage he ever had.

He reminds me of the newly-ousted mayor of Washington, D.C., Adrian Fenty, hailed as a star four years ago, and with a considerable record of accomplishment he thought would see him through to re-election.

The chairman of the City Council trounced him. Fenty made a series of classic mistakes (hubris, cronyism, remoteness) and now he’s out on his behind. Maybe this will happen to Obama in 2012; it happened to Carter, when faced with a very talented opponent.

Obama’s best hope is that… there aren’t any talented opponents. Newt Gingrich? One sex scandal after another, now reduced to promoting anti-Muslim paranoia. Sarah Palin? Too dumb to read a magazine – and too smart to leave TV Land, where she’s making big bucks. Mitt Romney? Mike Huckabee? Mitch Daniels of Indiana?

Lou Dobbs? Bill O’Reilly? Glenn Beck? Jon Stewart can take down every one of them.

Meghan McCain? Lightweight. Dick Cheney’s daughter? Been there, heard that. Marco Rubio, when Bobby Jindal didn’t exactly work out?

I fault this president nearly every step of the way. I worked my ass off for him and he didn’t deserve it. I saw it when he failed to take down Hillary Clinton in debate prior to the Texas and Ohio primaries in 2008; she gave him the perfect opening and he wouldn’t walk through it.

If you can’t demolish an opponent you’re not worthy to be president of the United States – and he can’t, so he isn’t. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, anyone? “I promise to end the war in Iraq and shut down Guantanamo.” Hasn’t done it. Never will.

Can’t defend his health care bill, so neither can any other Democrat on the ballot. He’ll never say it, but let me write his speech for him, the one he’s too timid to say: “Some people call it socialized medicine; some people say they don’t want it. I guess they liked it when the insurance company could cut you off for a pre-existing condition. I guess they liked it when the insurance company could deny you a treatment that would save your life. I guess they liked it when 45 million Americans couldn’t get health insurance – and the rest of us had to pay for it with higher premiums to cover the ER’s losses, or the uninsured had to go bankrupt. So now it’s all about ‘socialized medicine.’ Well, let me tell you how the alternative works. Here’s how capitalized health care works. If you’ve got the capital, you get the health care. If you don’t have the capital, you’re stone out of luck.”

If Obama doesn’t have the balls to tell the truth – and he doesn’t – why should I drive three blocks to my precinct?

Blue Dog Democrats are running away from him as fast as they can get. Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-South Bend) is buying ads attacking Nancy Pelosi, his own Democratic Speaker of the House.

Meanwhile Obama’s surrounded himself with every Goldman Sachs exec he can find. The man’s not just tone-deaf, he’s stuffed his head with earplugs.

I like him as a person but I have no reason to vote this year. I live in a Democratic district; my Congressman is one of the “ten most corrupt members of Congress,” according to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

His opponent, a perennial landslide loser, isn’t worth listening to. So I have no reason to vote for Congress.

The Senate? The Democratic nominee, Brad Ellsworth, is an anti-Gay, anti-abortion, anti-Obama Blue Dog. He’s slightly better than his Republican lobbyist opponent, but not by much; what if it rains on Election Day?

The Indiana Legislature is a perennial hotbed politically, with Republicans controlling the Senate and Democrats barely in charge of the House; but I don’t even know who the current candidate is. The last two Assembly races here were very close, with my hometown sheriff running on the D side; but now he’s the U.S. Marshal (Matt Dillon!) for Northern Indiana and his replacement is a non-entity. Here 2010 is a census year, a reapportionment year, with control of the legislature and the Congressional delegation very much up for grabs, and whoever the Democratic candidate is he’s a ghost, invisible. Why should I vote?

Despite my disillusionment, I expect to turn out; I know the county assessor, a Democrat and former social studies teacher. I interviewed him once and I think he’s probably honest. I also favor the Democratic nominee for county prosecutor, because he’s not the ex-liquor store owner who got into a bar fight at 2 a.m. this spring in a nearby town. This is a Republican county, but Democrats do win locally here (more than when I was a kid), and if I have to I’ll grab an umbrella and punch a computer card for Lester, the assessor, and maybe the mom of the kid who used to mow my yard, who’s also running for a courthouse job. She turned out a revolving-door Republican this spring and, y’know, the kid mowed my yard more or less.

Not exactly a referendum on Obama, is it.

Then there’s Brad Ellsworth, the former sheriff in Evansville, two-term Congressman/Blue Dog trying, but poorly, to succeed the awful U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh (who just like George W. Bush thought he was smarter than his daddy; in this case Birch Bayh, an actual liberal). Why vote for Ellsworth? There’s one thing only in his bio that speaks to me. It’s the only good thing about him I know.

Years ago he was a young deputy sheriff, and there was a proposal before the Vanderburgh County Commission to buy bulletproof vests, protective gear. The Democrats on the commission were in favor of spending the money, but the Republicans balked; $40,000? How can we justify this to the taxpayers (when we’re totally committed to spending nothing extra ever, so we can get re-elected by proving we never raised taxes)?

When the local-yokel Republicans weren’t willing to spend a pittance to save the lives of the officers who protected them 24/7/365, non-political Brad Ellsworth became a Democrat.

I wish he’d remember that incident more often; I wish he’d remember it every day, because the middle class is getting hammered in this economy, and the poor (including cops) are getting wiped out.

The real reason for the tea people’s rage isn’t the end of the Cold War or the demise of James Arness; it isn’t the arrival of Muslims and Hindus and Mexicans and Gay people; it isn’t that we have a half-Black president and a watered-down health care plan when it takes effect five years from now.

It is that the America they knew is not the America we’re becoming – and they have every right to feel concerned and even angry. But they’ve been led by commercial interests (Goldman Sachs, Rupert Murdoch, Republican politicians) to target the wrong folks.

They should have taken their pitchforks to Wall Street. (I’m still a bit surprised that they did not. The last time this happened, someone tried to blow up J.P. Morgan’s Bank, and even killed a couple of folks.)

Instead “We’ve got a socialist in the White House.” No, we’ve got an idiot in the neighborhood, who will not survive scrutiny by the voters.

No one needs a senator to advise them about masturbation. You want “the land of the free”? Shut the damn door.

House: Republican. Senate: Democratic. President: Re-elected.

Democrats: wounded. Republicans: collapsing. Extremists: marginal. Common sense: modest but still in control.++

Brad Ellsworth, back when he stood for something.

Dumb Dog Democrats

Yup, Joe Donnelly's an outsider, all right, but he's still got the flag and Capitol thing going.

They’re not Blue Dogs, they’re dumb dogs.

Ind. Democrat Donnelly blasts Pelosi in new ad

By Tom Coyne, Associated Press Writer

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Indiana Rep. Joe Donnelly is taking an unusual jab at his party’s leadership in a campaign ad that refers to climate change legislation as “Nancy Pelosi’s energy tax.”

The two-term Democrat is pulling a page from Republican strategists in trying to distance himself from policies that have some voters wary.

In one ad, Donnelly says he voted against Pelosi’s “energy tax on Hoosier families.”

Another ad touts his votes to crack down on illegal immigration. Donnelly says he doesn’t work for the “Washington crowd” as a photograph of President Barack Obama, Pelosi and House Minority Leader John Boehner flashes by.

Indiana once had liberal Democrats in Congress, but the dumb dogs don’t remember that. Birch Bayh, Vance Hartke, Andy Jacobs, Julia Carson, Ray Madden – liberals, all of them. They believed in a compassionate society full of opportunity, and they knew how to defend their beliefs and get re-elected.

The current crop of Indiana Democrats (including the worst of them, Birch Bayh’s son Evan) are hapless, craven and lily-livered. (I’d call ’em queers but it’d be a step up.) You wonder why they even bother hanging a D behind their names.

They’re pussywillows. They’re joyless. They live in fear of Fox News and Sarah Palin, who’s nothing but a female bully. They’re all afraid to knock her down, when it’s the only thing that works against bullies. She’s dumb as a rock. I know grizzly bears with more intelligence than Sarah Palin. She doesn’t read, remember? I bet she doesn’t know how.

Yet here are these guys catering to her, afraid of her.

So Joe Donnelly takes a swing at Nancy Pelosi instead. She oughta deck him. Pelosi isn’t afraid of a fight.

The other day Barack Obama tried to get me to commit to vote this year. I put his e-mail in the trash, so he sent me another one. I emptied the trash.

I mean, how pathetic; I was Obama’s county coordinator in 2008, and now he’s asking me to promise I’ll vote? Give me something to vote for, birdbrain!

Pete Visclosky, one of the 15 most corrupt members of Congress, according to the Committee for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. To guys like this, the flag is just a prop.

I have nobody to vote for. My congressman? He’s a D, but he’s a crook. There’s no evidence that he benefits financially, but Pete Visclosky trades corporate earmarks for campaign contributions. It’s kind of sad, really; you’d think he’d at least get a fishing boat out of it, or an “institute of government” at NYU.

Rangel at work for the taxpayers of America.

Charlie Rangel, the Harlem Democrat, was once my Congressman; I was proud to vote for him. Not no more. He’s got four rent-controlled apartments (limit: one) plus a little villa down in the Dominican Republic he forgot to tell anyone about. It makes a nice chunk of change he doesn’t pay taxes on. And he was the chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means?

Pelosi ditched him.

Mind you, I’m not too wild about her either, but at least she exercises a little discipline and gets bills passed – watered-down bills, health care by-and-by, which is all these bedbug Democrats can manage lately; but without her Obama would have nothing to show for himself.

We pulled “all combat troops” out of Iraq this week, while leaving 50,000 soldiers there. We’re still up to our necks in Afghanistan. Guantanamo is still in business, and Gay and Lesbian soldiers are still getting drummed out of Rahm Emanuel’s military.

The de facto president. Apparently the Oval Office is vacant.

I’m fond of Barack Obama personally. But he gets the worst advice any president has ever received, and at some point (like now) he becomes responsible for that; he picked these bozos, including half of Goldman Sachs as his economic advisers, and personal goodwill is not enough.

If he doesn’t have the mental flexibility to realize that Republicans are not going to compromise, they’re only going to obstruct; that they have no ideas and no candidates; that all they’ve got is Fox and Palin; that there is no point in being post-partisan when his opponents are all partisan; and that his only alternative is to become as partisan as they are, then he’s the new bus driver heading right over the cliff.

And no, sir, I will not vote for that.

You either come up with a jobs program and repeal the Bush tax cut for millionaires, or you don’t. Screw the deficit if you have to, interest rates are miniscule! Either be a Democrat or go home.

Stand up or shut up. Either the bullies rule or you do. Which is it going to be?

If you can’t beat this guy, you can’t beat anybody.++

CNN & FOX: The Death Machine


This is in response to Frank Rich’s column, “Who Is to Blame in the Next Attack?” in the Sunday New York Times.

For my money Frank Rich is the best commentator in America, but today he didn’t go deep enough. He describes the ailment, but doesn’t diagnose it or prescribe any treatment.

So I, naturally, do. 🙂 See what you think.

The question Mr. Rich’s column raises (and doesn’t sufficiently answer, in my view) is why current members of Congress and the media are still intimidated by Darth Vader, the most repudiated American politician since Tricky Dick and even more despised; Nixon had an accomplishment or two, but Cheney, nothing.

It all has to do with the non-stop news cycle, or as I like to call it, Ted Turner’s Death Machine.

Television is all about filling up the time between commercials. That’s why non-events and phony ones get replayed endlessly; cable TV can’t think of anything else to say. And our scummy politicians have their eyeballs glued to it even in their sleep.

So the Death Machine takes on a life of its own, while newspapers, which actually take a whole day (and lots of shouting matches) to put together, are now seen as quaint antiques.

How many times do CNN and FOX have to be wrong before people stop paying attention? A thousand times, a hundred thousand, a million times? They passed that threshhold long ago. Remember Columbine and the “trenchcoat mafia”? It took the author Dave Cullen ten years to understand that horror and put it in perspective; ten years, not ten minutes.

But the audience’s eyes are as glued to TV as the politicians’ are, so tragic follies keep compounding. We can’t just blame Ted Turner anymore; try Pogo, “the enemy is us.”

The same ideology that’s ruined the entire world economy – American greed and its willing partner, consumptive materialism – is ruining our political system; and the fallout from that may be far worse than the Great Recession. If liberal democracy goes down, chaos is poised to follow.

There’s no other way to explain why Democratic senators refuse to shut down Gitmo; they’re terrified of criticism. If some whackjob on FOX says something, head for the hills! Never mind what the truth of the matter is; “the Limbaugh is coming! The Limbaugh is coming!” Senators are intimidated by him, instead of standing up to the British like we did in ’76.

Paper tigers, all of them. Limbaugh’s alleged power comes from being on low-tech AM radio, which skews elderly. Talk radio is the last dying gasp of an inferior, staticky technology, and it’s conservative because its core audience is too set in its ways to upgrade to FM. Granny grew up with WOWO or WLW and it’s the only thing she knows. If AM didn’t have Limbaugh and his imitators, the entire band would have long ago gone bankrupt. Station owners don’t care how lunatic he gets, as long as he makes profits.

The only leader I see resisting this madness is President Obama, and he caves in to the Death Machine more than he needs to.

Where, oh where, is Toto when we need him to yank back the curtain on the Wizard of Oz? Dick Cheney’s nothing but an old man with a microphone and a smoke machine. Show him for what he is and he shuffles offstage.

Cheney’s image:


The reality:


But emphasize his mic like cable news does, and he’s frightening indeed, at least in Washington, D.C. Nowhere else, but that’s the place where mics count.

Cheney had to give his speech at the American Greed Institute because no one else would have him. Let him come to conservative, rural Indiana and hell, no one would even show up.

None of my neighbors, most of whom voted for him twice, will ever trust that man again with their sons and daughters. The old draft-dodger doesn’t think twice about sending them off to their doom.

It takes a lot for Hoosiers to vote for a Black man; but we did it anyway, because we understood Obama’s the only one standing between us and total geopolitical meltdown. He ain’t no messiah but he’s the only hope we’ve got.

The Democrats in Congress are as worthless as the Republicans; but in the midst of it all Barack took Michelle to dinner and Broadway. Thank goodness someone’s still attuned to normal life.

Darth Cheney? Come and gone.++