Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Senator Maloney?

Digby has a great candidate for the open New York Senate seat.

Iowa Politics is Boring by Comparison

Here is the video from Gov. Rod Blagojevich(D-IL) press conference intrducing Roland Burris as the Senator Appointee from Illinois.  Rep. Bobby Rush(D-IL) steals the show.

It's all really sad.  Mr Burris would probably be a good person to serve out the remaining two years of Obama's term but he won't be able to escape the association of some tye of corrupt bargain.  Rep. Rush, who did defeat Obama in a congressional primary, sadly interjects the word "lynch" into this.  Gov. Blagojevich continues to prove that he is nothing but a con man, which is sad in its own way.  It is also sad and disheartening to see the Senate Democratic Caucus get tied up in knots over this and for all practical purposes get played by a shyster like Blagojevich

TAPPED has a good summation of the day's events

Pro Bowl Move

The NFL announced that it will move the Pro Bowl to Miami and play the game the week before the Super.  They are doing this in the hopes that more people will watch the game.

I think they ought to do away with the game.  Football is too dangerous a game to play the Pro Bowl in the middle of the season and risk an injury to a star player and playing the game 3-4 weeks after most teams have ended the season seems just as silly.

My feeling is the NFL just ought to name an all-pro team and leave it at that.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Just War?

Over at The Pocket Mardis, my friend Matt is posting on just war theory.  I am not a big fan of the just war theory.  I find it often to be a way to mitigate the very radical antiwar message of Jesus and to make sure that Christians are treated as "serious" players in the debate to go to war. 

In trying to decide if a war can ever be called just, I go back to Jesus and and I like to focus on the passage in Matthew 26 where Jesus says the all who live by the sword will die by the sword.  This passage occurs in the Garden of Gesthemane when Jesus is arrested.  It is worth noting that in Hebrew Jesus is named Joshua which is a name he shares with the greatest warrior in Israelite history.  Also Matthew is an attempt to tell the Jesus story by using the motif of the Moses story.  So the story is that on passover, which is celebration of God's victory over the demi-god Pharaoh, God dies at the hand of a Roman empire headed by the demi-god known as Caesar.  Among many other things, I believe that the passion story is a story marked by God's renunciation of violence and armed force as an answer for the world's problems.

The only victor in war is war itself.  The war to end all wars led to the good war that led to the cold war and now we find ourselves in the never ending global war on terror.  After observing the carnage of the 1st day of the Battle of the Somme, Edmund Blunden remarked that "The war had won, and would go on winning."

One way to look at the cross is to see that Jesus took upon all the evil in the world and the price has been paid.  Therefore, there is no need for for any response and the debate on proportion becomes moot.  By putting down the sword, God is demonstrating that vengeance will no longer be the source of God's motivation and force the response to all the evil that has been or ever will be done.

This is a weak foreign policy and it may lead us and many others to die but I have to ask, "Don't we believe in the power of the resurrection?"

It is the power of the resurrection that allows all of us, Christian, American, Israeli, and Palestinian to understand that we stand forgiven for the lies we have told, the violence we have committed, the torture we inflicted, and the wars we start.

If all of us are forgiven then all of us can submit to God and to each other.  This radical action is how swords are beaten into ploughshares, and the Kingdom of God becomes a more present reality. 

Just war theory often strikes me as an attempt to short circuit this process and trade the radical message of Jesus for a vain attempt at respectability.  

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Backbencher of the Week

This week's Backbencher of the Week goes to Rep. Pete Stark(D-CA).  

Rep. Stark represents the 13th district of California which includes parts of the East Bay including Alameda, and parts of Oakland.

Rep. Stark is one of the most liberal members of the House and he is one of the founders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. He is known as a strong advocate for the uninsured and he is chair of the Health Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee.  Rep Stark also voted against the Iraq war and is a strong antiwar voice. 

However the reason I chose Rep. Pete Stark to be Backbencher of the Week is because in this week of religious celebration I wanted to honor the only member of Congress to be an atheist.  This led Rep. Stark to be one of nine no votes to Rep. Steve King's(R-IA) bill to recognize the importance of Christmas and the Christian Faith.  As Christians celebrate Christmas, and as our Jewish brothers and sisters celebrate Hanukkah, it is important to recognize that freedom of religion means the freedom not be religious.

Thank you Rep. Pete Stark for reminding us of this important lesson and congratulations on being this week's Backbencher of the Week

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

A holiday message from the Kinks

Have yourself a merry merry Christmas
Have yourself a good time
But remember the kids who got nothing
While you're drinking down your wine

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

It's for the rest of us

Happy Festivus.  May your grievances be aired and may you perform mighty feats of strength.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Danger of High Positions

On Fox News Sunday, Chris Wallace asked  Vice President Cheney to name the high point from his years as Vice President.  Cheney answered by stating that 9/11/01 was the most important.  Various commentators have blasted for the Vice President for this answer.

I am not sure the Vice President deserves condemnation for his answer.  People become politicians because they want to be at the center of events like 9/11.  They want to shape world changing events, and so they enter politics to do just that.

However, Cheney's words do reveal a danger that comes from the people who lust over positions at the center of great events.  That danger is they lose all perspective on the results of their actions.

Let me illustrate with an example.  In World War 2, Winston Churchill had a map room in his underground bunker.  As an aside, Liturgygeek and I saw Churchill's Bunker on our honeymoon in London.  When the US entered the war, President Franklin Roosevelt thought he too needed a map room and he created one on the ground floor of the Whitehouse.  In this room, Roosevelt could track the movements of fleets and armies, and he could communicate with the various theaters of the war.  Roosevelt could also find out the current location of the allied leaders.  A cigarette holder marked Roosevelt's current location, a cigar stood for Churchill, and a pipe represented Stalin.  Access to the map room was limited to Roosevelt and a handful of aides and military chiefs.

Eleanor Roosevelt did not usually have access to the map room but one day she got a peek and what she saw disturbed her.  The First Lady saw President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill studying the maps.  She described them as "two little boys playing soldier.  They seemed to be having a wonderful time, too wonderful in fact.  It made me a little sad somehow." 

That's the issue that the Cheney interview brings out.  It's not that Cheney is a uniquely evil man.  It is easy to to believe that some Democrats approved what the administration did.  What Cheney demonstrated is that it is easy to commit evil when the results are an abstraction or pins on a map.  It's not a real human being that we are torturing but an "enemy combatant."  There is no such thing as the Iraqi people but just people in Iraq.  

The key is not to view Cheney as the disease but as a symptom of country that pursues a policy of perpetual war for perpetual peace.

F*ck Bing Crosby

This is a reminder that the man who romanticized the idea of a "White Christmas" was by some accounts an asshole and spent his entire life on the West Coast.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Potato Soup

The weather in SW Iowa is frigid.  To warm up, I made potato soup for me and Liturgygeek.  She loves my potato soup and in the interest of honesty (if not modesty) I must admit the soup is good.  Here is the recipe:


2-3 baking potatoes peeled and chopped
1 medium onion chopped
1/2 gallon milk
1/2 cup butter
1 can(15 oz) chicken broth
pepper to taste
thyme to taste
8 oz. sour cheese
2 bags of cubed cheese (I like a combination of cheddar and monterey jack)

Combine potatoes, onion milk, butter, broth, pepper, and thyme.  Cook until boiling but make sure to stir often.  When soup starts bubbling add the sour cream and cubed cheese.  Stir until cheese is fully mixed in.  Serve with shredded cheese and bacon bits. 

Backbencher of the Week

A recurring feature of this blog will be the award for Backbencher of the Week.  This award will go to the rank and file member of congress or parliament whose work deserves mention but is overshadowed.  This week's winner is Rep. Hilda Solis(D-CA).

Rep. Solis received a lot of attention this week because President-Elect Obama nominated her to be Secretary of Labor.  Her record proves she deserves this nomination.  She funded a ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage when she was a state legislator in California.  In Congress she is known for her work on immigrant rights, the environment and labor.  

Here is a speech she made in support of the Employee Free Choice Act.

Congratulations Rep. Solis on being named Backbencher of the Week, and on being nominated for Secretary of Labor.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

You need to listen to my wife

Please read liturgygeek's post about Ken Starr and Prop 8.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Jaguars Thread

Tonight the Jacksonville Jaguars play the Indianapolis Colts and I can't see the game.  My cable system does not get the NFL network.  However it does get the Big Ten Network.  Instead of the Jags game, I can watch a replay of an Indiana vs. Minnesota basketball game from a year ago.

This might not be a bad thing.  The Jags have had a horrible season, and not seeing the game might be a blessing in disguise.  And yet the Jags did beat the Colts earlier this year in Indy and if they manage to beat the Colts at home they will at least have swept Indy.  That would be a small comfort in an otherwise miserable season. 

What is a backbencher?

My wife pointed out in her blog, which is located at liturgygeek.blogspot.com, that I should explain the term backbencher.  So, I will.

The term comes from the UK parliament.  Members of parliament sit on benches that face each other.  The party that forms the government of the day(currently the Labour party) sit on the benches to the right of the speaker.  The party in opposition(currently the Conservative Party) and the various third parties(the Liberal Democrats, etc.) sit on the benches on the speaker's left.  Party leaders, either government ministers or members of the opposition shadow cabinet, sit on the benches at the front and are known as "frontbenchers."  Rank and file members sit on the benches behind the party leaders and are known as "backbenchers."

A good description of what a backbencher does can be found in the book Commons Knowledge: How to be a Backbencher by Paul Flynn, MP.  Mr Flynn is a Labour MP for the Welsh constituency of Newport West.  I don't think you can buy the book in the US but you can order it from bookshop.parliament.co.uk.

I chose this as my blog title as nod to my political junkiness and my fascination with the UK parliament   

Improving Presidential Transitions

President-elect Barack Obama likes to point out that we only have one president at a time.  However, Rep. Barney Frank(D-MA) likes to point out that Obama is over estimating the current number of presidents we have.  

One of the problems we have is structural.  The constitution leaves us with a lame duck period of 2 1/2 months.  One of the reasons for such a long period is the president is responsible for filling so many executive branch positions.  It's not just the cabinet and white house staff that Obama must nominate but the president is ultimately responsible for filling about 7,000 positions.

My suggestion would to be to increase the civil service so that the president is responsible for appointing only the top officials in each department.  My idea is very much like the British model in which the prime minister appoints only a handful of government ministers, and top civil servants compose the rest of the top levels of a UK government ministry.   For example, in the UK Foreign Office there are 6 ministers while the rest of the FO is composed of civil service career diplomats.  I think the US system would do well to copy this model.  It would make a lot more positions free of political considerations while ensuring that the top levels of out government are staffed by career professionals and not political appointees of varied quality.

I realize that there is danger of putting too much power in the hands of unelected civil servants are who not directly accountable to the electorate.  However, the benefits are many and they include a US version of the BBC satire Yes, Minister.  We could call our version Yes, Secretary.