Thursday, April 30, 2009


I came back home from Chicago today after a great 4 days in the Windy City.  This was my second time to visit the shores of Lake Michigan and I was reminded again that Chicago is a great city.  For me, it ranks up there with New York, Washington D.C., and San Francisco as my favorite American cities.  After my trip this week I am more fascinated by Chicago than ever.  In honor of the great time I had, here are Carl Sandburg's immortal words:

Hog Butcher for the World
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat
Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders:
They tell me you are are wicked and I believe them, for I have seen your painted women under the gas lamps luring the farm boys.
And they tell my you are crooked and I answer: Yes it is true I have seen the gunmen kill and go free to kill again.
And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the faces of the women and children I have seen the marks of wanton hunger.
And having answered so I turn once more to those who sneer at this my city, and I give them back the sneer and say to them:
Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive and course and strong and cunning.
Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on job, here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against the soft little cities;
Fierce as a dog lapping for action, cunning as a savage pitted against the wilderness,
Building, breaking, rebuilding,
Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with withe teeth,
Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young man laughs,
Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has never lost a fight,
Bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the pulse, and under his ribs is the heart of the people, Laughing!
Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of Youth, half-naked, sweating proud to be Hog Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.

Sunday, April 26, 2009


I am going to Chicago for a few days and will not be posting.  Be good this week and I will post again in a few days.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The End of this Affair

Back in late November Conservative MP Damian Green was arrested in an investigation into leaks of government secrets.  Recently prosecutors announced the Mr. Green will not face any charges in the matter.

The ending to this affair is a major embarrassment for a lot of people.  Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, continues to face questions about her job performance and about the relationship between the Home Office and police officials.  As polls continue to indicate that Labour is getting ready to drive off an electoral cliff it continually appears that the Home Secretary is helping to steer the party into oblivion.

Scotland Yard continues to reel.  The Green affair and accusations of misconduct and abuse towards protesters at the G20 summit continue to put the police under a harsh light.  Some serious reform might be in order for Scotland Yard.

Speaker Michael Martin and House of Commons staff also do not come of well because they did not do a good job protecting the rights of Parliament or MPs.  One of the main jobs of the Speaker is to protect the privileges of  the Commons and its members.  There is some question about whether the Speaker will stand at the next election.  This episode may sway his mind towards standing down.

Damien Green the Tory MP whose arrest started this whole affair perhaps summed it up best when he said "I cannot think of a better symbol of an out of touch, authoritarian, failing government that has been in power for for too long."  That is why it looks like there will be sweeping changes next spring.


Iraq Torture Question

Given the revelation that torture lies behind the attempts to justify the Iraq War, is it possible for anyone to continue to try to justify the war?

All wars, even "good wars" like World War 2, damage a nation's soul.  An unnecessary war with torture behind its justification just may lead to the shattering of our country's soul.  That is way we need to strictly and completely adhere to the terms of the Status of Force Agreement and have all of our soldiers out of Iraq by 2011.

What a Wonderful World

Spring has come to Red Oak and The Backbencher celebrates with the great Satchmo.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Double Standards

In the torture memo dated May 10, 2005 Steven Bradbury noted that the "United States condemns coercive interrogation techniques and other practices employed by other countries.  Certain of the techniques the United States has condemned bare some resemblance to some of the CIA interrogation techniques."  In other words its okay when we torture by not when countries we despise do it.  This attitude is on display when President Obama and other leading administration officials declare their intention to look forward, and say they are not seeking to prosecute those involved in torture.

This week U.S. officials began deportation proceedings against John Demanjanjuk.  Demanjanjuk is an 89 year old retired auto worker who immigrated to the U.S. in 1951.  U.S. officials are seeking to deport him to Germany so that German authorities can prosecute him for being a concentration camp guard responsible for the deaths of 29,000 people at the Sobibor extermination camp.  

The United States government correctly views the Holocaust as being such a monstrous evil that it still works to bring forth any small measure of justice it can; even if it is 64 years after World War II ended.  However, it refuses to consider looking back 4 years to its own torture program and  prosecuting the government officials who participated.  Instead, government officials turn a blind eye and speak about "looking forward."

The double standard is shocking, disturbing and a little scary.  

Backbencher of the Week

Over at Balloon-Juice I came across this post about Rep. Eric Massa(D-NY-29).  The short version is Time-Warner was going to start consumption billing in the Rochester, New York area.  DougJ, a blogger at Balloon Juice, asked his local congressmen to help.  Rep. Massa responded at a town hall that he was willing to put the "full force of his incumbency and all the risk associated with that behind stopping this very, very ill-thought decision by Time Warner."  Watch Congressman Massa's statement at the link.  The end result was that Time Warner decided to scrap the plan 

It is important to recognize anytime a congressman sides with his constituents over one of the business lobbies whose money fuels the political system.  We thank Balloon-Juice for the post, and thank you to Rep. Eric Massa for standing up for his constituents when the money play was to side with Time Warner.  Congratulation Rep. Massa for being Backbencher of the Week

Thursday, April 16, 2009


Married life is hard when your wife keeps leaving the door open and letting the devil in.

Torture Memos

I blogged about the debate within the Obama administration about releasing a series of Bush administration legal memos that provided cover for Bush's torture program.  Today, President Obama ordered the memos released with only the names of CIA agents redacted.  

This is good news and given Obama's occasional embrace of Bush's legal justification's over stae secrets and various Bush anti-terror programs a bit of a surprise.   I think Obama is haltingly, and only with a strong push from civil libertarians, slowly moving towards establishing some accountability for Bush era torture.  This is a good decision and should spur us to continue to push more transparency and accountability.  

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Brown's Reelection Hopes are Smeared

Over the weekend Damian McBride a top aide of Prime Minister Gordon Brown resigned because a blogger known as Guido Fawkes leaked e-mails in which McBride discussed using the internet to spread rumors about leading Conservatives.  The rumors included accusations of drug use, frequenting prostitutes and affairs between MP's, and were aimed at leading Tories including David Cameron and shadow chancellor George Osborne.  Even worse is that the wives of Cameron and Osborne are also thought to have been targets of the smear campaign.

Tories are outraged and are demanding apologies and thinking about lawsuits.  LabourParty officials are telling Brown that this could be the final straw that ensures a defeat in the next General Election.  Loyalists to former Prime Minister Tony Blair claim that they also were smeared by unknown people in the Labour Party.  

This scandal hit close to home for Brown.  Not only are some of his top political advisors implicated but Cabinet Office Minister Tom Watson is also mentioned in the leaked e-mails.  

It is sad but it seems like there is little hope for Brown to win reelection because he is his own worst enemy.  From the failure to call an early election in the summer of 2007 to getting involved in a smear scandal right after hosting a pretty successful G20 summit, it appears that Gordon Brown will go down in history as the prime minister who could pull defeat from the jaws of victory.  

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Backbencher of the Week

This week's Backbencher of the Week is shared by Rep. Jim McGovern(D-MA-3) and Rep. Walter Jones(R-NC-3) for their work on issues regarding home care and hospice.  Back in the late 90's and the early part of this decade there was a congressional working group focused on issues related to home care an hospice.  As recently as 2000 there were 66 members of a U.S. House working group dedicated to issues relating to home care and hospice.  However,  the group died out over time.

Just last month, Rep. Jones and Rep. McGovern circulated a letter to their colleagues stating their intention to reform this working group.  Home health and hospice are rapidly growing areas of medical care but have spent the past few years dealing with attempts to cut the Medicare reimbursement for these programs.  Due to the efforts of Rep. McGovern and Rep. Jones home care and hospice now will have a group of strong advocates in Congress.

For their work on behalf of home health and hospice we are pleased to award this week's Backbencher of the Week to Rep. McGovern and Rep. Jones.  Congratulations.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Abuse of Pulpit

My dad told me about this article in my old hometown paper.  First Baptist Church of Jacksonville used a police detective who also serves on the church security detail to investigate Thomas Rich who blogs at  The detective also investigated two other blogs that are critical of other churches but not FBC Jacksonville.  The detective discovered the identity of the blogger who previously was anonymous and even though discovered no crime turned the identity over to church authorities.  Armed with this information FBC issued a trespass order and effectively kicked Mr. Rich out of the church.

FBC is the most prominent church in Jacksonville and it appears that they used that prominence to try to silence a dissident voice.  The detective claimed he turned over the information to FBC authorities for their own "internal action."  If internal action was required, and thus it was never a criminal matter, why was the Jacksonville Sheriffs Office even involved?  It looks like the church misused its position and that the JSO was a willing accomplice in an internal church dispute.  A dispute which should not be the business of the JSO or any other government agency.  It is an abuse of the prominence of a major pulpit to use a criminal investigation as a means of silencing criticism in a church, and an abuse of the power of a police detective to engage in this type of investigation. 

The Southern Baptist Convention is a denomination that is increasingly following an authoritarian model of leadership.  The blogs mentioned in this article and a blog run by a man named Wade Burleson have become thorns in the side of the SBC leadership.  I don't agree with them at all theologically but I support their efforts to bring light and transparency to the actions of SBC leadership.  Though I have recently become more closely associated with the UCC, I was born, raised, and educated as a Baptist.  One of the things I learned from my Baptist life is that God is way more often on the side of the dissidents and not on the side of totalitarian preachers.


Tuesday, April 7, 2009


The fact that the Obama administration is using still using Bush administration state secrets arguments and is using the Patriot Act to expend government secrecy is simply unacceptable.  Torture and illegality thrive in secrecy.  Obama was elected on a promise of transparency and to end Bush's trashing of civil liberties.  If he continues down this path he will break those promises.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Monday Night

Tonight is the end of March Madness and I present to you your One Shinning Moment.

Predicition: UNC: 82
                      Michigan State: 68

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Backbencher of the Week

A lot of the work that we recognize for Backbencher of the Week is legislative in nature that mostly includes passing bills, taking a stand on important issues, or doing important but unheralded work on issues that do not receive a great deal of publicity.  However, there is a theatrical aspect to the job of being in Congress and today the Backbencher of the Week is awarded to a Congresswoman who takes the theatrical aspect of her job seriously.

Today we recognize Rep. Corrine Brown(D-FL-3) for the speech she gave recognizing the Florida Gators for the BCS Championship.  From her robe to her creative use of the English language, Rep.  Brown captures the theatrics of politics.  This week Congress dealt with the serious issue of the budget, and it is good to know that even during serious times some in Congress are able not take themselves so seriously.

Thank you Rep. Brown and Congratulations for being Backbencher of the Week.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

"Holy Hell"

This is what has broken loose in the Obama Administration over a decision to release the torture memos.  According to Michael Isikoff, the Obama administration is divided over releasing memos that provided legal approval for many aspects of the CIA's torture program.  Attorney General Eric Holder approved the decision but White House national security aide John Brennan is working to reverse Holder's decision.  Brennan is a noted supporter of Bush's torture policies and his concern is that public disclosure of these memos will lead foreign allies who participated in various programs to feel embarrassed.

President Obama needs to step in and order the release of these memos.  Some shame and embarrassment is miniscule compared to the actual pain inflicted by torture and a small price to pay for conducting a torture program.

Fire the Bankers

Yesterday we learned that President Obama's chief economic advisor, former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, received about 5.2 million dollars in compensation from a hedge fund.  Today we learned that the Obama administration is trying to establish its bailout programs in such a way as to avoid many rules that Congress imposed on companies that receive bailout money.  Some of these rules include restrictions on executive pay for companies that get federal money.  This week new reports also told us that Wall Street firms are planning on using some bailout money to buy assets from their troubled Wall Street Competitors.

One of the Obama administration's faults is that it is too close to Wall Street Financiers. Early in his first term Bill Clinton followed Robert Rubin's advice and focused on deficit reduction and since then the Democratic Party has grown closer to Wall Street interests and this is a problem.  

Part of the financial crisis is due to large Wall Street investment banks that grew "too big to fail."  They grew this during way in part during the Clinton administration and the deregulation legislation favored by Treasury Secretaries Rubin and Summers.  Now Summers is back in the government after making million on Wall Street.  Current Treasury Secretary Time Geithner is a Summers acolyte and spent his entire career as a civil servant but he is connected with many of the government officials whose policies led to this fiasco.  

President Obama needs to realize that it is not enough to restore Wall Street to health.  He and his administration need to restore balance between the financial sector and the rest of the country.  He can't do this if he keeps the same people in place that got us into this mess.  I am not ready to call for Geithner's resignation and I am skeptically optimistic about his public/private plan to deal with troubled Wall Street firms.  However, Lawrence Summers has got to go and go now.

This imbalance and perceived favoritism toward Wall Street will doom a lot of needed future recovery programs.  President Obama needs to get rid of those helped bring on this crisis, he needs to listen to those who warned what was going on, and he needs to guard against any real or perceived bias in favor of Wall Street firms.

Failure to do this, I fear, will lead to a nationwide recovery becoming merely just a Wall Street Recovery.   

Friday, April 3, 2009

Yay Iowa

The Iowa Supreme Court struck down the Iowa law that limited marriage to being between a man and a woman.  The court rejected Polk County's argument that gay and lesbian couples are not the same as heterosexual couples because straight couples can procreate.  Instead the court held that the purpose of marriage "is to provide an institutional basis for defining the fundamental relational rights and responsibilities of people in committed relationships."  Since that is the case then legally preventing gays and lesbians in a committed relationship from marrying fails the principle of equal protection.  The court also concluded that "the benefit denied by the marriage statue is so closely correlated with being homosexual as to make it apparent the law is targeted at gay and lesbian people as a class."

According to the Iowa Supreme Court sexual orientation deserves special scrutiny because "gay and lesbian people as a group have long been the victim of purposeful and invidious discrimination as group, there was no evidence that sexual orientation bears any logical relationship" to a person's "ability to perform productively in society." The Iowa court also said that sexual orientation is central to a person's being and that gays and lesbians are not politically powerful enough to overcome the discrimination over sexual orientation.
The court dispatched the arguments made by Polk County with relative ease.  For example, it dismissed the best interests of the child argument by noting that the state allows other "less than optimal parents."  

Iowa's Supreme Court also addressed the religious issue.  It acknowledged that some religious people hold a sincere belief that marriage would undermined by extended marriage rights to gays and lesbians but the court also acknowledged "other equally sincere groups have espused religious views yielding the opposite conclusions."  "These contrasting opinions, the court finds, explains the absence of any religious based rationale to Iowa's same-sex marriage stature." The court is also emphatic that this decision relates only to the civil contract known as civil marriage and "does not prescribe a definition of marriage for religious institutions."

This a complete victory for supporters of same sex marriage.  The decision was unanimous and Justice Mark Cady, who was appointed by Republican Governor Terry Branstad, wrote the opinion.  It is a great day to be in Iowa.

The opinion is here and a summary can be found here.  Follow the celebration at liturgygeek.

Thursday, April 2, 2009


Back when I was a senior in high school I took AP English and I had to read Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness.  This week I noticed a copy on liturgygeek's bookshelf, and I picked it up and started to read it.  This time I found Heart of Darkness to be a much better and gripping read than I remembered.  I wonder what this says about my growth and maturity.