Tom's Thoughts

Location: Granite Falls, North Carolina, United States

I'm an ordained United Methodist minister no longer pastoring churches, a former media producer with skills ten years out of date, a writer trying to sell my first novel, and a sales associate keeping body and soul together working for the People's Republic of Corporate America. I'm married to the most wonderful woman in the world, who was my best friend for 17 years before we married.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

On Christian Action

I just read Bill Moyers' s speech at Occidental College:

It started me thinking about my Christian faith, and what I'm doing about it. Last night in class we talked about Isaiah and Micah. Last week we talked about Amos and Hosea. One theme common to all Old Testament prophets is concern for the poor. Unanimously they condemn the rich for exploiting the poor, just as John the Baptist and Jesus Christ do in the New Testament. In fact, if you count the verses Jesus has more to say on this subject than any other.

But what do the "Christians" of today emphasize? The Christian Action League (or Association, or whatever they call themselves) concern themselves with keeping ABC stores out of communities, opposing liquor-by-the-drink, and other such matters of personal morality. What do they say about Wal-Mart exploiting their workers, forcing them to work off-the-clock, underpaying them and forcing the rest of us to cover their medical care through Medicaid?

Not one single word.

Locally, a Baptist church sold money for a new Wal-Mart that the majority of the community did not want built. The only stipulation was that this Wal-Mart would agree not to sell alcoholic beverages. Of course, the Walton family have enough high-powered lawyers to get them out of any such agreement in a very short time.

But why was a Christian church so unconcerned about something Jesus obviously cared so much about? Why is it all about personal behavior and policing other people's bedrooms while the weightier matters that the Old Testament and New Testament provide such a strong witness about are totally ignored?

Maybe it's all about the offering plate. They want the big donors in their pews to pay the salaries of the pastors and staff and to finance ambitious building programs. But where is the ministry? Where is the prophetic voice that this nation so desperately needs now?

Where are the prophets calling us out of our complacency and condemning the powers that be for selling out the poor, giving tax breaks to the rich, and increasing the burden of sustaining society for the rest of us while the fat cats get a free ride?

Where is the outrage?

I pledge to continue to be a lonely voice in the wilderness. I just wish I could hear some more voices locally to reinforce God's word in this world.

A wise man who I looked to as a mentor (Carlyle Marney) once told his distinctions of clergymen: There are the priests who bless the status quo and the prophets who call us out of our comfortable lives. Then there are the regular church pastors who try to balance the two roles in their careers.

Well, I am no longer a pastor, so I am free to be a prophet. Lord, show me where you want my voice heard, and give me the words to say to make a difference.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

One More I've Got to Share

I just saw this on Think Progress:

Was Carol Lam Targeting The White House Prior To Her Firing?

lamReferring to the Bush administration’s purge of former San Diego-based U.S. attorney Carol Lam, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) questioned recently on the Senate floor whether she was let go because she was “about to investigate other people who were politically powerful.”

The media reports this morning that among Lam’s politically powerful targets were former CIA official Kyle “Dusty” Foggo and then-House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-CA). But there is evidence to believe that the White House may also have been on Lam’s target list. Here are the connections:

– Washington D.C. defense contractor Mitchell Wade pled guilty last February to paying then-California Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham more than $1 million in bribes.

– Wade’s company MZM Inc. received its first federal contract from the White House. The contract, which ran from July 15 to August 15, 2002, stipulated that Wade be paid $140,000 to “provide office furniture and computers for Vice President Dick Cheney.”

– Two weeks later, on August 30, 2002, Wade purchased a yacht for $140,000 for Duke Cunningham. The boat’s name was later changed to the “Duke-Stir.” Said one party to the sale: “I knew then that somebody was going to go to jail for that…Duke looked at the boat, and Wade bought it — all in one day. Then they got on the boat and floated away.”

– According to Cunningham’s sentencing memorandum, the purchase price of the boat had been negotiated through a third-party earlier that summer, around the same time the White House contract was signed.

To recap, the White House awarded a one-month, $140,000 contract to an individual who never held a federal contract. Two weeks after he got paid, that same contractor used a cashier’s check for exactly that amount to buy a boat for a now-imprisoned congressman at a price that the congressman had pre-negotiated.

That should raise questions about the White House’s involvement.

On Missed Opportunities

I just ran across this, and I had to share it:

In this guest article, Peter Dyer recalls one such moment in the early days of George W. Bush's "war on terror":

There is universal agreement that the events of Sept. 11, 2001 altered the course of history. However, the response of the Bush administration to 9/11 eventually had a far greater impact than the original tragedy.

Seen in that light, Oct. 14, 2001 was an even more momentous day.

That was the day President George W. Bush rejected an offer by the Taliban to hand over Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the 9/11 terror.

Afghanistan’s deputy prime minister, Haji Abdul Kabir, had announced that if the United States stopped bombing Afghanistan and produced evidence of bin Laden’s involvement in 9/11, "we would be ready to hand him over to a third country."

Bush responded: "There's no need to discuss innocence or guilt. We know he's guilty. … Turn him over.”

Some U.S. officials had doubts about the sincerity of Kabir’s offer as well as the ability of the Taliban to deliver bin Laden.

But according to Milton Bearden, a former CIA station chief who oversaw U.S. covert operations in Afghanistan in the 1980s: “We never heard what they were trying to say. We had no common language. Ours was, 'Give up bin Laden.' They were saying, 'Do something to help us give him up.' … I have no doubts they wanted to get rid of him. He was a pain in the neck.'' [Washington Post, Oct. 29, 2001]

The President’s Oct. 14 decision to continue the bombing closed the door on any possibility of a peaceful, legal and relatively rapid resolution of the shocking terror of 9/11.

It essentially cemented a course of American military aggression in the region which was to lead to the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq and to the threat of invasion of Iran.

If the United States had seriously pursued the Taliban’s offer, managed to apprehend Osama bin Laden peacefully and arranged a fair and transparent trial, such as the Madrid bombing trial currently underway in Spain, al-Qaeda might have been neutralized without firing a shot.

No war would have meant no Guantanamo, no Military Commissions Act, no suspension of habeus corpus or debates about torture.

Soon after 9/11, President Bush said: "I see opportunity.” He was right. This was an opportunity to provide the world with a splendid demonstration of American dedication to the rule of law and a world without war.

U.S. international moral authority, high in the weeks following 9/11, would have increased. Instead, the opposite has happened.

In a recent survey by the British Broadcasting Corp.'s World Service more than 28,000 people in 25 countries were asked to rate 12 countries – Britain, Canada, China, France, India, Iran, Israel, Japan, North Korea, Russia, the United States and Venezuela – as having a positive or negative influence on the world.

The United States had the third highest negative ranking, behind only Israel and Iran.

“It appears that people around the world tend to look negatively on countries whose profile is marked by the use or pursuit of military power,” said Steven Kull, director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes.

The tragedies of 9/11 are still unresolved. The loss of innocent life has been compounded exponentially. Thousands of civilians have been killed in Afghanistan. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians and soldiers have been killed. Over three thousand U.S. soldiers have died.

In addition to the waste in human lives, the economic costs have been monumental. Congressional Budget Office figures show that between 2001 and 2006, the U.S. spent $503 billion on the “war on terror.”

This figure, of course, does not reflect the devastation of the economy of Iraq.

As high as the price of the “war on terror” has been, the results are even more discouraging, according to a study by Peter Bergen and Paul Cruikshank.

Based on data gathered by the National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism, an organization funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the study concludes that since the invasion of Iraq, the average yearly incidence of fatal terrorist attacks by jihadist groups around the world has risen 607% with a 237% increase in the rate of fatalities.

In other words, the decision made by President Bush on Oct. 14, 2001, has contributed to a seven-fold increase in worldwide terror.

Meanwhile, over five years later, Osama bin Laden remains at large.

Peter Dyer is a journalism student who moved with his wife from California to New Zealand in 2004. He can be reached at .

Just think: If Bush had followed up on this offer, there would be less misery in the world, fewer terrorist attacks, and he wouldn't have had to steal a second election to get back into the White House.

As I (and others, since it is not original with me) have pointed out before: The Clinton Administration was able to hunt down, arrest, prosecute, convict, and imprison the perpetrators of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center; thwart Saddam Hussein's plot to kill George H. W. Bush; stop al Qaeda's plot to bomb the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels and the Los Angeles Airport, all without having to prosecute an illegal war or resort to an unconstitutional Patriot Act.

Of course, if Bush had accepted the offer he would have had to find other excuses to invade Iraq and shred the Bill of Rights at home.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

On Convincing Ourselves

I read this on P. M. Carpenter' online column:

'Theologian and all-round genius Reinhold Niebuhr once put it succinctly: "Frantic orthodoxy is never rooted in faith but in doubt. It is when we are not sure that we are doubly sure."'

That explains why Faux News commentators, Rush Limbaugh, and the like tend to shout down those who disagree with them rather than debating the facts of the issues before them.

I remember one particular confrontation I had a couple of years ago and it still gets under my skin. I won't identify the parties involved, but I had been patiently listening to one Bush supporter lambasting liberals and going on and on about how terrible Democrats were, etc. Then another person present passed along a wisecrack about Bush and the Bush supporter went ballistic, calling us "you libs," and even, "Communists!"

I realize now he was trying to convince himself more than he was trying to change anyone else's opinion. This is why I have been called all sorts of names by those who respond to my letters to the editor. They are trying to convince themselves. I hit on a truth that makes them uncomfortable, and they go on the attack--ad hominem attacks.

So, if you have to get aggressive to get your point across, if you have to shout down your opponents, you need to look at how seriously you trust in the beliefs you are shouting about. If you didn't doubt it, you wouldn't have to shout it.

And I always remember one of my favorite quotes from the late newspaper columnist Sydney J. Harris: "The first one who uses labels such as 'liberal' or 'right wing' is the one who has lost the argument on its merits and is now falling back on name-calling."

Monday, March 12, 2007

On Image vs. Substance

The American electorate seems all hung up on symbols and rhetoric. The news media feed this shallowness. Look at the ''talking points" you hear repeated over and over:

Republican voters care about "family values": Yeah. The first divorced president was a Republican, and had had his first child five months after he and Nancy were married. The three front runners in the current presidential race on the Republican side have eight living wives and ex-wives among them. Gingrich admits he was having an affair while criticizing Clinton for his affair. In 1971, George W. Bush paid for an abortion for a girl he had impregnated. BUT: They make the right noises about gay marriage and abortion. These noises are reported by their stenographers at the mainstream media and repeated ad nauseam.

Republicans are strong on the military: Wrong. They know how to TALK tough. But talk is all it amounts to. Ronald Reagan sent Marines to the Beirut airport for no apparent reason, except to have a show of force during the civil war there. When a suicide bomber blew up a barracks and killed over 200 of the Marines, Reagan slunk out of there like a dog with its tail between its legs. BUT he beat his chest and said militant things. These got repeated in the media, so Reagan was seen as a tough President. Bush II sent American forces into Iraq with no preparation, insufficient armor, and no plan to handle the victory. BUT, the spin machines keeps talking about terrorism and falsely linking Iraq to 9/11, so the lack of care for wounded veterans and their families is ignored until some courageous reporter at the Washington Post dared to speak out.

Democrats are weak on terrorism, and the Clinton Administration's neglect let 9/11 happen: Let's look at the record: George W. Bush made his first million in the Carlyle Group with Osama bin Laden's brother. When Saddam Hussein was threatening Kuwait, Osama bin Laden went to the Saudi royal family asking for permission to take Saddam out. They refused his request and called in the Americans instead. This turned bin Laden against America. Clinton put out a contract on Osama bin Laden, which Bush retracted when he came to power.
The Clinton Administration stopped terrorist plots against the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels and the Los Angeles Airport and thwarted Saddam Hussein's attempt to assassinate George H. W. Bush, all without having to resort to an unconstitutional Patriot Act. Bush has absolutely nothing to show for the trillions spent on no-bid contracts, no-warrant wiretaps, and other transgressions against the Constitution, not to mention giving aid to groups with ties to al Qaeda just because they're Sunnis.

John McCain is a straight-shooter: Don't make me laugh. The darling of the media, St. John McCain has changed his mind over and over, flip-flopping on gay marriage, the Confederate Flag over the South Carolina state house, and abortion, among other things. BUT, he established his reputation in 2000, and the spin is still running his way.

I could go on and on, but I'm too tired to continue for now. Maybe I'll add more later.

But First....

I was going to post about Daylight Saving Time, but I ran across this, dating from 2004, but it's still relevant:

Day in the Life of Joe Middle-Class Republican

by John Gray

Joe gets up at 6:00am to prepare his morning coffee. He fills his pot full of good clean drinking water because some liberal fought for minimum water quality standards. He takes his daily medication with his first swallow of coffee. His medications are safe to take because some liberal fought to insure their safety and work as advertised.

All but $10.00 of his medications are paid for by his employers medical plan because some liberal union workers fought their employers for paid medical insurance, now Joe gets it too. He prepares his morning breakfast, bacon and eggs this day. Joe’s bacon is safe to eat because some liberal fought for laws to regulate the meat packing industry.

Joe takes his morning shower reaching for his shampoo; His bottle is properly labeled with every ingredient and the amount of its contents because some liberal fought for his right to know what he was putting on his body and how much it contained. Joe dresses, walks outside and takes a deep breath. The air he breathes is clean because some tree hugging liberal fought for laws to stop industries from polluting our air. He walks to the subway station for his government subsidized ride to work; it saves him considerable money in parking and transportation fees. You see, some liberal fought for affordable public transportation, which gives everyone the opportunity to be a contributor.

Joe begins his work day; he has a good job with excellent pay, medicals benefits, retirement, paid holidays and vacation because some liberal union members fought and died for these working standards. Joe’s employer pays these standards because Joe’s employer doesn’t want his employees to call the union. If Joe is hurt on the job or becomes unemployed he’ll get a worker compensation or unemployment check because some liberal didn’t think he should lose his home because of his temporary misfortune.

Its noon time, Joe needs to make a Bank Deposit so he can pay some bills. Joe’s deposit is federally insured by the FSLIC because some liberal wanted to protect Joe’s money from unscrupulous bankers who ruined the banking system before the depression.

Joe has to pay his Fannie Mae underwritten Mortgage and his below market federal student loan because some stupid liberal decided that Joe and the government would be better off if he was educated and earned more money over his life-time.

Joe is home from work, he plans to visit his father this evening at his farm home in the country. He gets in his car for the drive to dads; his car is among the safest in the world because some liberal fought for car safety standards. He arrives at his boyhood home. He was the third generation to live in the house financed by Farmers Home Administration because bankers didn’t want to make rural loans. The house didn’t have electric until some big government liberal stuck his nose where it didn’t belong and demanded rural electrification. (Those rural Republican’s would still be sitting in the dark)

He is happy to see his dad who is now retired. His dad lives on Social Security and his union pension because some liberal made sure he could take care of himself so Joe wouldn’t have to. After his visit with dad he gets back in his car for the ride home.

He turns on a radio talk show, the host’s keeps saying that liberals are bad and conservatives are good. (He doesn’t tell Joe that his beloved Republicans have fought against every protection and benefit Joe enjoys throughout his day) Joe agrees, “We don’t need those big government liberals ruining our lives; after all, I’m a self made man who believes everyone should take care of themselves, just like I have”.