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I'm an ordained United Methodist minister no longer pastoring churches, a former media producer with skills ten years out of date, a writer trying to sell my first novel, and a sales associate keeping body and soul together working for the People's Republic of Corporate America.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.

Friday, December 14, 2007

On the "War on Christmas"

Once again the puppets of Rupert Murdoch are wailing about a "war on Christmas." It seems that it's suddenly politically incorrect to say "Happy Holidays."

Let's look at this. It was around 70 years ago that the song, "Happy Holidays" came out (theme from Holiday Inn which premiered the song, "White Christmas"). It was around 40 years ago that Andy Williams recorded a song that begins, "It's the holiday season." Yet it's just been in the last few years people have started to take offense.

Now, we have Thanksgiving in late November and a month or so later Christmas. A week after that we have New Year's. In among all that we have Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. Now what kind of days are these? They're called "holidays."

So now do we have to go around saying, "Happy ThanksgivinghanukkahKwanzaannewyear and Merry Christmas"? What is wrong with the wish to express Christian good will by wishing your neighbors well during more than one holiday at a time?

And why do they take the season of celebration of the birth of the Prince of Peace and make it into a time of creating an artificial reason for strife? After all this is an overwhelmingly Christian nation. Even the Congress says so. The spineless Congress that can't stand up to the most unpopular president ever and carry out the will of the majority of the American population could pass a resolution affirming Christianity as the majority religion of this country. Schools are closed on Christmas, government offices are closed on Christmas, and even stores are closed on Christmas.

So creating an artificial and non-existent "war on Christmas" must indicate some underlying motive. What could that be?

First, it could be a distraction from the commercialization of the season about which many of us have been complaining for at least 40 years. I don't think I need to say anything more about that, because everyone has heard everything there is to say about that.

Second, it could be a distraction from the war on the Sabbath that the corporate masters of these mouthpieces carry out all through the year. People buying and selling on the Sabbath, which the Bible condemns, is a staple of the American way of life the way it has evolved over the past 50 years. So to keep people from looking too closely at that they say, instead, "Look over there!" So they invent a controversy over wishing your neighbors well for a cluster of holidays at once.

Pay attention.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Reflecting on 1968

Last night I watched the documentary, "1968" that we recorded Sunday night. A couple of thoughts come to mind.

First, that was the year I had my "Vickie moment." Vickie was a grad student in Music when I worked at the music library on campus at Carolina. Everybody loved her, because she was as sweet as she was beautiful. Her fiance was a lieutenant in Vietnam. I was going through an existential crises during the later months of 1967 and the early months of 1968. I had been in Air Force ROTC, and I had favored a strong military solution for the Vietnam war. I even stood in a pro-war vigil once. But I was beginning to have doubts. I was beginning to wonder if everything I had believed about the war was true. I stopped calling myself a hawk and called myself a vulture instead.

Then Vickie walked into the music library wearing a "McCarthy" button. Gene McCarthy was running for President on the anti-war platform. It hit me that if Vickie could support McCarthy while her fiance was fighting in Vietnam, then I could, too. I could oppose the war and be at peace with my conscience. I became an ardent anti-war activist, and I never let up until the troops came home. BTW, I never knew anyone who ever spit on a veteran. No one. I also never knew anyone in the anti-war movement who ever took Jane Fonda seriously, either.

Now it bothers me when people I'm close to, people I love, mindlessly parrot all the Fox "News" talking points. I never expected anyone in my family to turn into a dittohead. I pray every day that those I love will have their own "Vickie moments."

Now, about the documentary itself, it was good that Tom Brokaw brought a former student protester and a former Chicago cop together to talk about the disturbance outside the 1968 Democratic Convention in which they both participated.

I realize he also had to balance the voices of the era with those of others who didn't find the era so liberating. Pat Buchanan and some woman who writes a column for the Wall Street Journal.

Buchanan said the "silent majority" (a term he coined as a Nixon speechwriter) turned to the Republicans because of the protests on college campuses. I seriously doubt that. I think it was more the fact that the Nixon campaign appealed to their fears (giving those fears the faces of the student radicals, perhaps, but fears nonetheless) and their hatreds. The famed "Southern strategy" was nothing less than a naked appeal to the endemic racism in the South. Buchanan is just playing sleight-of-hand by saying what he did.

The woman from the WSJ talked about the women of the Women's Liberation movement (and the protesters in the anti-war movement) as being rich spoiled brats who were just playing at their protests. Well, I was not a rich kid who indulged in my protests at the expense of a big parental bank account. I grew up on a subsistence dairy farm, and my parents never had a big surplus when it came to money. So I was fighting for my ideals, my beliefs, and my Christian faith. No, the indulged rich kids are the frat boys who are in Washington now, making all kinds of scary noises about nonexistence threats so they can continue sending OTHER people's children into war while ignoring the real threats from the real terrorists.

And as Forrest Gump said, "That's all I've got to say about that." (For now.)

Monday, December 10, 2007

Quoting from DailyKos

Yesterday, Devilstower had one of the greatest blog posts ever. I wish to quote a part of it.

This post was about John F. Kennedy's speech to the Baptists, in which he emphasized America's law and tradition of separation of church and state, and saying that his being a Catholic should have no influence whatsoever on whether anyone votes for him or not. This is the speech the Republicans have been distorting into an unrecognizable form since Mitt Romney has been called out on his Mormon faith and has given that speech which was nothing at all like Kennedy's.

But here is a great passage in Devilstower's post:

In discussing the growing influence of religion in politics, many media pundits have been quick to point toward Jimmy Carter. Carter, an obscure candidate trying to reach a broader and younger audience, agreed to a famous interview with Playboy Magazine, a portion of which revolved around his faith. If it had been a cycle or two later, he might have been angling for a chance to guest host Saturday Night Live, or these days face off with Stephen Colbert. The difference is that rather than being pampered through a few minutes of laughs on television, Carter sat down and talked for five hours, during which he answered hundreds of questions.

Of course, only one of those answers is remembered, the one in which Carter confessed that he had "lusted in his heart" after women other than his wife. It's probably the most famous answer in the history of presidential interviews. But do you remember the question?

The question Carter was answering was not whether he'd been tempted to engage in the kind of activities imagined on Playboy's pages. The question was whether, as a professed evangelical Christian, Carter felt that he was better than anyone else. Carter's response was an adamant no. The media sifted his lengthy answer for that "lusted in my heart" moment because they thought it both titillating and funny. Carter's complete answer was a lot more candid and earthy.

Christ says, don't consider yourself better than someone else because one guy screws a whole bunch of women while the other guy is loyal to his wife. The guy who's loyal to his wife ought not to be condescending or proud because of the relative degree of sinfulness.

And now you know why Carter's Sunday School class is so popular.

The interview also makes clear that Carter was just as adamant as John Kennedy in placing an absolute barrier between church and state. He cites Jesus' admonition to "render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's" as clear instruction that Christians should not insert their faith into political matters, saying that he considered the separation of church and state to be both a constitutional and a biblical mandate.

The current sad state of affairs can't be blamed on Jimmy Carter.

The fault lies in the same calculated cowardice that has dominated Democratic politics post-Carter, and especially in the last six years. John Kennedy went to stand before his opponents and refused to tell them what they wanted to hear, but since September 2001, Democrats have increasingly scrambled to find acceptance, even if that meant reversing themselves so quickly they tripped on their own tongues.

We've reached the sorry state where the Republican Party officially and vocally support everything that John Kennedy stood up against in his 1960 speech. The Democratic Party has adopted a strategy on this and many other issues, in which they either stand aside or lend half-hearted support to Republicans. They do this in the hopes that when Republicans push too far, Democrats can pick up the pieces without having offended anyone. That's the strategy of hyenas. The strategy of vultures.

It's a strategy that wins elections by not losing. But it's also a strategy that advances rarely any cause. After all, when the lions have had their fill, the vultures settle to eat, but the vultures never capture territory from the lions.

In between their efforts to bestow sainthood on bumbling liar, Ronald Reagan, Republicans have recently been trying to remove all evidence of Kennedy's progressive positions so they can claim him as their own. And maybe they deserve him. If George W. Bush can brush the Constitution aside to create his "faith-based initiative," and see it pass the Senate 95-5, how can there be any pretense that the party of John Kennedy still exists? It's worth noting that, previous to the 2002 election, Democrats blocked the passage of this bill in the Senate (even though it had passed the House with the help of 15 Democratic congressmen). If if you're looking for the moment when Democrats officially surrendered the idea of separation between church and state, 2002 is as good a date as any. Sent fluttering by their losses that November, the vultures settled down beside the lions to gnaw away the Constitution.

Forgotten in all this are the issues that Kennedy wanted to address in that long ago speech. The issues that Kennedy called the "real issues" of the campaign. Issues like poverty.

the hungry children I saw in West Virginia

Health care.

the old people who cannot pay their doctor bills

Inequality and education.

an America with too many slums, with too few schools

And the loss of respect the nation was suffering in international affairs.

the humiliating treatment of our president and vice president by those who no longer respect our power

Any and all of those issues might have been the centerpiece of a Democratic speech today, because those issues remain unsolved. And oddly enough, many of these issues were also on the mind of the man who two thousand years ago stood up in his family church and announced that "I come bringing good news for the poor."

When you're too busy trying not to lose, you may win elections now and then, but you rarely advance those causes you're supposed to care about. We've reached the point where Republican voters can claim the philosophy of absolute greed.

"I make a great deal of money through my own hard work. I don't want to pay for someone else's child to eat breakfast at school anymore."

Get that? She makes not just enough money, but a "great deal of money." How dare anyone take it away for something so frivolous as feeding a poor child? And yet Republicans, through their actions in blurring the lines between church and state, have become the "party of faith." Because they say so. Because they are bold in their actions and snarling in their defense.

We need to be just as adamant. We need to not hide behind any abstraction or evasion. We need to be unafraid to address this voter and say "I am going to take some of your money, and give it to that poor kid, because it's more important -- both to the child and to society -- that he eat, rather than that you have an extra week in Cabo."

Note that we should not pretend that "a program will take your money." Or "the government will take your money." This is a democracy, and we are the government. I will take your money. I will. Some of that money you worked hard for and want to keep. I will give it to a kid who is hungry. If your concern is that poverty should be addressed by individuals, then there's a simple solution: feed him. If there are no poor children needing food, I won't have to take anything for them. If your position is that people would be more generous if only the government would stay out of it, then sorry. I'm not willing to put this child at risk to as part of your experiment. Besides, if that were true, then why were their more hungry kids before we started these programs to give them a little breakfast? If your position is that your being able to keep all your money is more important than a child being fed, then I simply think you're wrong. And sick. You want to keep that money? You better beat me at the polls.

The strategy of vultures gives us both a party and a nation that would embarrass John Kennedy. The erosion of that barrier between the interest of the state and that of the church gives us a church that Jesus would not recognize. As an American and a Christian, I find both results terrifying.

Those ministers in 1960 might have hated what Kennedy had to say, but they applauded him for having the courage to say it. What candidate today will have the guts to step forward[?]

Thanks for a great post, DT.

Friday, December 07, 2007

On National Health Insurance

If we go to a single payer plan the way the Europeans and Canadians (in fact, EVERY civilized country except for us) do, there will be more consequences than people are talking about now.

What I'm talking about is this: The employment picture in this country will be drastically altered.

How many people have you talked with who said they hated their jobs, they hated the company they worked for, and the only reason they were staying with it was the health insurance?

Take that away, and they won't have to stay misemployed any more. They can go do what their dreams call them to, and maybe they'll live longer. They certainly will have the opportunity to live happier.

But what about the employers? With such a mass exodus of disgruntled workers, what will they do?

First, they may find they don't need to lay off so many people (or "human resources" as the bean counters call them). Therefore, they don't have to ruin Christmas for so many the way the annual corporate layoffs do around here. They may even be able to build up good will among their customers. Maybe?

But then, they may find themselves shorthanded. They may have to think about what an employee needs to keep them at work. They may discover that their workers actually want to be treated as human beings. A novel concept for Corporate America. They may have to pay a living wage, offer human-scale work schedules, and give family time off and other non-monetary benefits. Managers may have to stop being martinets and start being good managers instead?

What do you think about these consequences?

Well, it's nice to dream. Corporate America and the insurance industry is going to fight tooth and nail to keep the current unsustainable system going, regardless of who is elected to Congress and the White House. That's why we the people (workers, customers, and interested public) need to keep the pressure on. I'll keep writing my senators (when I get some senators) and my Congressman (when I get a Congressman) demanding action to fix the current system. (I don't currently have any representation in Congress. I only have Bush lackeys.)

I encourage others to do the same.