Wednesday, March 31, 2010

What you don't understand about the Tea Partiers

Part 1

The way many fellow UU bloggers talk about the Tea Party phenomenon makes it clear to me that they really don't understand what is motivating them; their emotions, their fears, and most especially why now? While I am not a Tea Party organizer, I have been an old line (meaning not religious right) conservative all my adult life; perhaps I can give you a few insights.

The first thing to understand is that this is not a Republican party movement. Even many Republicans- the type who believe that conservatives must be Republican by default- misunderestimate that this is a truly new phenomenon in American politics. The Tea Parties were organized because people felt equally betrayed by both political parties; Bush was actually a bigger disappointment to conservatives than liberals because they had expected better. My proof? Here in Indiana, the Libertarian party is now the second largest party in many counties- and the party displaced is as often the Republican as the Democrat. My prediction (and remember that I predicted the passage of healthcare reform back in August of last year) is that the next election will see a record number of third party candidates elected nationwide.

The next thing to understand is what they mean when they say that government is the problem, or call new programs socialism, or say of healthcare reform, "This wasn't a victory for the people, it was a victory over the people". Tea partiers are not anarchists, like the ones who riot at G-8 summits; those are left wingnuts. They are not protesting government as keeper of the peace, or provider of services; they are protesting government as just another special interest group. They believe that the government is no longer a "civil service", but a ruling class, ever getting richer while the poor get poorer.

How can they think such a thing? Well, we can start with the fact that the average pay for federal employees is $72,800, while the national average wage is $42,270- and next year the federal average will increase to $75,419... how many of us are going to get a raise like that this year? Of course, even the current average federal wage would look mighty nice here in Indiana, where the average wage is $37,770; especially considering that wages have been dropping here, as they have most places around the country.

Worse than that gap is the accelerated pace at which that gap is increasing. From "Since December 2007, when the current downturn began, the ranks of federal employees earning $100,000 and up has skyrocketed. According to a recent analysis by USA Today, federal workers making six-figure salaries - not including overtime and bonuses - “jumped from 14 percent to 19 percent of civil servants during the recession’s first 18 months.’’ The surge has been especially pronounced among the highest-paid employees. At the Defense Department, for example, the number of civilian workers making $150,000 or more quintupled from 1,868 to 10,100. At the recession’s start, the Transportation Department was paying only one person a salary of $170,000. Eighteen months later, 1,690 employees were drawing paychecks that size." And not only are the wages increasing, the number of federal employees receiving those wages is increasing, according to CBS News; "At a time when the official unemployment rate is nearing double digits, and 6.35 million people are receiving unemployment benefits, the U.S. government is on a hiring binge. ... Some of the Feds' hiring increases have been stunning. If you look at the four-year period from 2006 to 2010, the number of Homeland Security employees has grown by 22 percent, the Justice Department has increased by 15 percent, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission can claim 25 percent more employees. (These figures assume that Congress adopts Mr. Obama's 2010 budget without significant changes.)" Has your company been hiring at that rate? Most tea Partiers think most of that hiring is just plum jobs for political supporters- and one does have to wonder why the Nuclear Regulatory Commission needs 25% more employees when we haven't built a new reactor in 30 years.

Liberals see the class struggle as between the evil corporate profiteers and the poor working class; Tea Partiers see it as between the citizen and the bloated ruling class. It comes as no surprise to them that the richest counties in the country are not in New York, where those evil corporations are headquartered, nor in Hollywood where movie stars and glitterati live- 6 of the 10 richest counties in U.S. are in DC area.

Next: What Tea Partiers are afraid of.

Friday, March 26, 2010

We just saw "Alice In Wonderland"

in 3-D, and drew two conclusions:
1. It was a very, very good movie.
2. I was very, very glad that Pirates Of The Carribean III was not in 3-D

We've all seen dogs chase cars

Have you ever wondered what would happen if they caught one?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Obamacare opponents, don't pin your hopes on lawsuits

Lawsuits have already been filed by several state's attorneys general asking that the new healthcare reform law be found unconstitutional on two grounds, both based on the 10th amendment, which reads "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people." The first complaint is that the federal government has no authority to regulate strictly intrastate commerce, only interstate commerce, and health insurance is intrastate only; one can only buy health insurance from a company licensed in the state in which you live- there is no interstate commerce in health insurance. The second complaint is that the Constitution grants the federal government virtually no powers over the individual citizen, leaving such things to the states; therefore, the federal government has no authority to require that an individual citizen buy an insurance policy from anybody.

These might seem reasonable arguments to the layman- especially that second one. That the Constitution grants few powers over the citizen is undeniable; there's not even a federal law against murder. (Unless the murder occurs on federal soil or the victim is a government employee, or it is an act of high-seas piracy, all of which are reasonable areas of government interest) The federal government wasn't even allowed to tax a citizen for over a hundred years; it required a constitutional amendment to give it that power. The language of the 10th amendment seems quite clear on this.

But that was then; this is now. Today, we live in a post modern, Alice In Wonderland world where words mean what we say they mean, and dictionaries be damned. "Interstate Commerce" no longer means what a dictionary might say that it means; this was established in
WICKARD v. FILBURN, 317 U.S. 111 (1942). In that case, a farmer had been charged with growing more wheat than the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938 allowed. The farmer claimed that the wheat had not been sold, it had been used to feed his own family; no commerce was involved. Since the Agricultural Adjustment Act dealt with commerce, and none had occurred, it wasn't any of the government's business what his family ate. To counter this seemingly reasonable argument, the court invented a new legal doctrine called "Total Incidence", which in layman's terms means "What if everybody did that?" If everybody grew their own wheat to eat, that would depress the price of wheat, which would have an affect on the whole wheat market; therefore the bread on his table, despite having been neither sold nor bought, was involved in interstate commerce.

The irrationality of this argument means nothing to the law. Of course "everybody" isn't going to grow their own; growing wheat is an expensive, difficult, time consuming process that few would undertake- that's why wheat farmers exist in the first place. Hells bells, I once killed an air plant. But I digress.

This bogus expansion of the commerce clause was taken a step further with
GONZALES, ATTORNEY GENERAL, et al. v. RAICH et al., 2005. In this case, the federal government overruled California's medical marijuana laws, which allowed citizens of California to grow marijuana for their own consumption. California argued that as there is no interstate commerce in marijuana, the commerce clause did not apply, so the 10th amendment rules. But, of course, there was no way such a reasonable argument was going to be allowed to stand.

The court said "The similarities between this case and Wickard are striking. Like the farmer in Wickard, respondents are cultivating, for home consumption, a fungible commodity for which there is an established, albeit illegal, interstate market... Here too, Congress had a rational basis for concluding that leaving home-consumed marijuana outside federal control would similarly affect price and market conditions." Did you catch that? "fungible commodity" means something that can be transported, and doesn't have anybody's name on it. Which means that it's physically possible for a California cancer patient to carry his joint across state lines, and once there, sell it. So despite the fact that the smuggling and the resultant sale are both already illegal, he is, by the Wickard precedent, involved in interstate commerce, and the government has a legitimate interest in regulating the price and market conditions even of a market that has no legal existence. And inherent in the logic is the government's right to assume that capability implies intent; a new precedent in its own right, in my opinion.

To any rational person, this argument too is bogus. It is tantamount to saying that the Constitution gives the federal government the right to regulate your sex life because since you can carry your genitals across state lines, you might then indulge in a little prostitution, which would then be interstate commerce. But again I digress.

Those who have filed the lawsuits against the new healthcare law are arguing that neither Wickard nor Gonzales apply, as health insurance is not a fungible commodity- you can't carry a blank policy across state lines, sell it, and the buyer then be able to use it. The counterargument is that since we are a mobile society, if your state doesn't offer a policy you like you can move. By "Total Incidence", this would affect the insurance policies in all the other states, and so Wickard applies.

I find this logic very, very dangerous. If you can stretch the commerce clause that far, than everything is a federal issue; the 10th amendment is dead. The raison d'etre for our (formerly) weak federal system, and the 10th amendment, was so that we could vote with our feet. The Founding Fathers knew that national mistakes are, by their very nature, huge and difficult to reverse. (Does anyone remember Prohibition?) Their intent was that the individual states could experiment with policies, and the rest of the country could wait and watch to see if it was a good idea; they called this concept the Laboratories of Democracy. If California passes a lot of foolish policies, Indiana does not suffer for them; if Idaho prospers, Indiana can learn from it. That way, the whole nation would not fall from one bad decision.

So which argument will the Supreme Court buy? I've noticed that in lawsuits against the government, there is a strong element of what I call the "Lola" factor. (Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets...) Look at Eminent Domain. In the past, the "compelling public interest" for Eminent Domain was things like roads, (and postal roads are specifically mentioned in the Constitution), bridges, military installations. Today, your land can be taken away from you and given to Wal-Mart if they are capable of paying more in property tax than you are- snatching up great honking wads of cash are now a "compelling public interest", sufficient to override your rights as a citizen. Same goes for forfeiture laws; we've had cases of cars used in a crime confiscated by the state even when the perpetrator did not own the car, and did not have permission to drive it- the GHWOC doctrine applied.

I have no great faith in the Supreme Court's commitment to individual rights or the text of the Constitution. One former Justice actually admitted that in some decisions, they had started from what they wanted the decision to be, then worked backwards to try and find a legal justification for it. Some call that liberal; some call it a violation of their oaths. Will the court find any emanations of the penumbra of the 10th amendment in the healthcare case? It could happen, but I'm not betting the rent on it.

Monday, March 22, 2010

I finally saw "Avatar"

And I cannot remember a time I was so disappointed. If you haven't seen it yet, or if you have seen it and liked it, you may want to skip the rest of this post.

There is a famous rejection letter that goes, "Your novel is both good and original. Unfortunately, the parts that are good are not original, and the parts that are original are not good." I have never seen a work in any medium that deserved that critique more than Avatar. Let's start with the parts that are good, but not original, more or less in the order I recognized them.

Call Me Joe "Call Me Joe (1957) is a science fiction story by Poul Anderson about an attempt to explore the surface of the planet Jupiter using remotely controlled artificial life-forms. It focuses on the feelings of the disabled man who operates the artificial body... Anglesey uses a wheelchair and is bad-tempered... He is allowed to stay on the station only because of his ability to establish a telepathic connection with and thereby control Joe, a creature designed to survive the hostile conditions on the Jovian surface." Ok, I'll come clean; I remembered the 70's comic book adaptation rather than the '57 original, but that's probably why it came to mind so quickly- the visuals of the wheelchair.

Double Star "Double Star is a science fiction novel by Robert A. Heinlein, first serialized in Astounding Science Fiction (February, March, April 1956) and published in hardcover the same year. At the 1957 Worldcon it received the Hugo Award for Best Novel of the previous year.
" In Double Star, the Martians’ standard greeting is “I see you”, and it is clear that by “see”, they mean more than vision, an understanding.

Dune “Dune is a science fiction novel written by Frank Herbert, published in 1965. It won the Hugo Award in 1966, and also the inaugural Nebula Award for Best Novel. Dune is frequently cited as the world's best-selling science fiction novel.” Is it a coincidence that the production company that financed Avatar is named Dune Entertainment? You decide: Dune is about a planet that is the only source in the galaxy for something that sells for millions per gram; it’s being mined by evil offworlders. One offworlder accidently falls in with the locals- and isn’t killed out of hand because they receive a sign. So the daughter of a chief is assigned to teach him the ways of the planet and the people. Naturally, they fall in love. Passing a test of manhood- which involves riding a huge wild beast- he is accepted as one of the people, and using a mix of his offworld knowledge and his new understanding of this world, he becomes a war leader. They ride their beasts into combat against the high-tech offworlders and win.

While this is going on in the Na'vi scenes, we learn in the HQ sequences that the entire biosphere is one vast neural net. Two things about that- first, it renders nonsensical all the talk about Pagan spirituality, worshipping nature, etc. I don't care whether you're the Pope denouncing it or a Pagan approving it- either way, it's BS: the Na'vi weren't worshipping a forest Goddess, they were talking to a living biological organism! More powerful than human, yes- after all, it was established that it had tens of thousands more neurons than the human brain- but it was a living organism, not a deity. How many gods do you know who have had their brains mapped by a neurologist?

The other point about this revelation more directly applies to the story itself- that they handled it poorly, revealing the interlinked-mind effect waaay too early in the movie. It destroyed dynamic tension; had we not known until nearer the climax that this wasn't primitive religious woo, but a biological fact, the ending would not have been telegraphed so far in advance. Once you knew for certain that the planet was a living organism, then of course you knew it would fight for survival, that the Ewoks would swarm out of their trees and destroy the Imperial walkers with forest power. Oops, sorry, wrong movie- that the Eywa would use forest power to destroy the Marine powered exoskeletons.

And the really bad thing about a telegraphed ending is that it gives you too much time to think- a bad thing in a movie that is depending upon visuals to prevent you from noticing holes in the story. And let me say right here that yes, the visuals are stunning- I actually had moments of vertigo in some of the flying scenes. (You may remember that I'm not good with heights) In fact, in some ways they were too stunning; I began to wonder if they weren't using visuals to cover poor pacing in the story. That led to wondering other things, like the Hallelujah Floating Mountains... obviously they were just saturated with Unobtainium, and in a highly concentrated form- how many floating mountains do you know? Why didn't they start their mining there? They were undefended and indefensible, and disturbing a pterodactyl habitat wouldn't as bad PR back home as killing humanoids so similar to us that you can make human/Na'vi hybrids.

I began to wonder at the poor state of veteran's benefits they had in the future; not only did they not grow new legs for Jake Sully, they gave him that crappy wheelchair, when even now they're making experimental exoskeletons that allow paraplegics to walk again, and cost about the same as a good wheelchair- surely they'd be standard technology by then, if they're using bigger ones in combat. That got me wondering about the state of their technology- for example, why weren't they using drones, for minimally invasive observation? Radio controlled pterodactyls are easy enough to make, and real birds don't mind flying with drones Which got me to wondering about the Banshees the Na'vi were flying on. BS. Those wings weren't nearly large enough to carry the weight of a rider whose torso is nearly as big as your own. I'll spare you the science (unless you actually want to discuss it), but it just ain't gonna happen.

Was I over thinking it by then? Hell, yes- I was losing my willing suspension of disbelief... but that's their fault. Grand visuals do not a movie make; it is the job of a storyteller to keep you so engrossed that you don't care about plot holes or a big helping of handwavium. There was no memorable dialogue- do you remember any great lines? The only complex, interesting character was Jake himself; the others were pretty much stock cut-outs. There was no B plotline to keep you interested between developments of the main plot. There were no mini-climaxes sprinkled throughout to maintain interest. (other than visual ones- but a touchy flower or an Archimedes screw winged helicopter bug are not a substitute for plot) Look at a previous hit scifi flic with groundbreaking visuals: Star Wars. Look how complex that story was by comparison, how many characters you actually cared about, how well paced the shocks were.

Ginger told me afterwards that the ending seemed to her to be kind of gratuitously happy; it rarely works out that well for messiahs. I agreed, but I had expected it by then. They had not treated the story itself honestly; I hadn't expected them to treat me any better.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

I'm listening to the healthcare debate in the House

on Fox radio as I write. Why? Because I don't have cable TV, so I don't have C-Span; ABC, CBS, and NBC local affiliates have 8 digital channels between them, and none are carrying this historic debate and vote. Nor is the Fox TV affiliate. The local public television affiliate, with three channels, is not carrying it. Nor is public radio around here.

I find it ironic that the only broadcast source in the 10th largest city in the nation that is carrying the whole debate live is the much-reviled right wing AM talk radio, specifically NEWSTALK 1430 WXNT I'll try not to be snarky the next time one of the big public radio/TV fans at church tell me how ignorant talk radio listeners are.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Monday, March 15, 2010

Church as school

In her most recent post, Kim Hampton asks Are we afraid of religion? Her thoughts had been inspired by this quote from the GA-listserve: "Advocacy has always been..and will always be…at the core of UU…", and she asks, "Really? ADVOCACY has been, and always will be, at the core of UUism? Really?" I know that many UUs believe it to be. Indeed, if you read the comments to The UUA Presidential Election and The Point of Our Faith at Elizabeth's Little Blog, you'll see that there are people who get incensed at the very idea that anything else could be at the core of our religion.

I was thinking of this when I read the following passage from a story by Neil Gaiman:
Rose Walker's Journal:
I've been making a list of things they don't teach you at school.
They don't teach you how to love somebody.
They don't teach you how to be famous.
They don't teach you how to be rich, or how to be poor.
They don't teach you how to walk away from someone you don't love any longer.
They don't teach you how to know what's going on in someone else's mind.
They don't teach you what to say to someone who's dying.
They don't teach you anything worth knowing.

It struck me hard, because I had made the same list myself many, many years ago. Not in exact detail- for example I did not yet need to know what to say to someone who's dying; at that age, I was more concerned with questions like "How do I accept the responsibility for my actions without being paralyzed by fear of consequences". But the spirit of the list, including the fact that I actually wrote it down, was the same. And I knew, even at that age, that this was the purpose of religion: public schools are the schools where you learn what you need to know to earn a living; churches are the schools where you learn what you need to know to live. And I knew, even then, that the lessons that are the most important are on how to live- Simon and Garfunkel taught me that.

What I didn't know then was that there were two philosophies of religion, just as there are of schools: one teaches you answers, and the other teaches you how to find answers. Religions such as Christianity and Islam are of the first sort; UU and a number of Pagan religions are of the second sort. Or at least that's what I had thought when I first discovered, in order, Paganism and UU. But as I got to know more people in my congregation, and then people from other congregations through travel and the internet, I learned that there was a third school of thought: church was where you went to learn the status of House Joint Resolution 234, and who the committee chair overseeing it was.

I agree with Kim; I hope that the core of our church is not that third sort, "Cuz if it is…friends…we are dead." Not merely because we're not really very good at it, (though as she says, and I have written many times, we're not) but because we'll have forsaken what religion and only religion can do- help us learn how to live. There are a hundred places where one can learn about community organizing, but only one school where you can learn the things on that list- church. And if we aren't there to provide the Montessori school of religion, then where is one to go if the fixed set of answers school of religion doesn't satisfy one's soul? Do we really want a country in which the only school offering the lessons of life is the Religious right? I think that being an alternative religion is the ultimate social service we can perform.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

An important milestone for a Pagan blogger

is this, my 666th post! I mean, people keep telling me I'm a Devil worshipper, after all. So I thought this post should be about Satan. The problem is, I don't know much about him- he is a Christian deity, not a Wiccan one. So I thought I'd tell the story of the Devil and Dan McGee- I hope you like it as much as I did when it was told to me back in 1968.

There are two things you have to remember about Dan McGee... the first is that he was prematurely bald, and sensitive about it. The second is that he was a bad man. So when Dan died, he went to Hell.

Dan was met at the gates of Hell by the Devil himself. "Welcome to Hell, Mr. McGee," Satan said. "Are you ready to choose your fate?"

"I have choices?" Dan asked.

"Certainly," Satan replied. "You're going to be spending eternity here; we want to see you properly settled."

"So what are my options?"

Satan snapped his fingers, and Dan found that they were now standing in a vast field of broken glass- and all about him he could see people standing on their heads in the broken glass. "How about this one?" Satan asked.

Dan looked at the tortured souls around him standing on their heads, felt his own bald head, and coldly replied "I think not."

Satan snapped his fingers again, and they were at a vast parking lot. The asphalt was molten, fuming... and there were the damned, standing on their heads!

Dan turned on Satan, screaming at him in anger. "These aren't proper punishments! You're just making fun of my bald head- admit it!"

Satan laughed so hard it took him two tries to snap his fingers again. This time they materialized in a lake of steaming, runny, disgusting doody. A pig who had consumed only curries for a month before getting dysentery would be shocked by horrible this lake was... and the damned were standing waist-deep in it, holding cups and saucers, drinking coffee! "Is this more what you were expecting?" Satan asked.

Dan considered for a moment. The lake was disgusting, but then, this was Hell... and he did like a good cup of coffee. And nobody was making bald jokes. "I'll take it," he answered.

Satan disappeared, and Dan found himself in the lake, holding the cup and saucer. Juan Valdez's donkey came and poured him a cup of fine Columbian. But before he could raise it to his lips, a huge demon with sergeant's stripes on his arms and a massive whip came through shouting, "All right! Coffee break's over- back on your heads!"

Monday, March 08, 2010

Impeach Obama!

That was the centerpiece of the campaign K. Rogers ran in the Texas primary elections for the 22nd Congressional district. It was shouted from a sound truck, and posted on an 18 foot banner. During the campaign, Rogers denounced warnings of global warming as imperialist genocide, proclaimed that London banking interests are bent on ruining America's economy and accused Obama of “pissing on the legacy of President John F. Kennedy”

So what, you say? The Republican party is chockablock full of right wingnuts, especially in the south; what's one more racist teabagger? Well, there's more:
Rogers won the primary, and is now the party's candidate for Congress from the 22nd district.

Again, so what? As Peter Jennings famously said after Reagan's reelection, "The angry white male has had his little tantrum"- let the Republicans keep marginalizing themselves. Well, there's still more:

Kesha Rogers is an African American woman, and she won the Democratic party's nomination for Congress. Here is a news story about the election, and Ms. Roger's website. Note the campaign broadcasts on her website, with their cute "Down with the traitors" theme song.

My point? One more bit of evidence that it's time to stop blaming Republicans for the lack of progress. When you own the Presidency, both houses of Congress, a majority of Governorships, a majority of state congresses, a majority of big city mayors, and a majority of those city councils, it starts getting really old really fast when you keep blaming the other party for an inability to pass legislation or implement policies.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

On the UUAWO and staff cuts

Scott at "Boys in the Bands" has two posts on the announced staff cuts at UUA HQ, Bad day for the UUA, and Thinking about the UUA staff cuts, and we had this exchange of comments: "Joel Monka wrote: Why “oh crap?” I was calling for the elimination of the UUAWO years ago, before the fiscal crisis. Scott Wells wrote: And you were wrong. But more about that later."

I think from the second post that he may have misunderstood the nature of my disagreement with the UUAWO. My argument is neither from political policy reasons nor from polity reasons- nor is it anti-democratic. My primary complaint is that the UUAWO, and our other social justice organizations, for that matter, often do not take their stands strictly on principle but on political expediency. For example, does anyone remember this UUAWO mass emailing?

For information on the “nuclear option” and judges, including UUA letters of opposition, Visit
With a vote expected on the “nuclear option” on Tuesday afternoon, religious people committed to protecting the rights of the minority to speak on issues that effect all Americans, must publicly stand for pluralism and democracy. We are committed to a pluralistic society with respect for the beliefs and rights of all people. Our Unitarian Universalist faith guides us on a path of affirmation of difference and preservation of the democratic process.
“To claim that minority-party senators and their supporters are acting ‘against people of faith’ because they wish to preserve the Senate filibuster is an affront to millions of devout Americans."— Rev. William Sinkford, President, Unitarian Universalist Association"

That was five years ago- fast forward to today: the president is calling for majority leadership in the Senate to abuse the budget reconciliation process to bypass the filibuster, and Senators Begich (AK); Bingaman (NM); Brown (OH); Durbin (IL); Harkin (IA); Johnson (SD); Kerry (MA); Lautenberg (NJ); Lieberman (CT); Shaheen (NH); Udall (NM) and Rep. Jim McDermott have all introduced or cosigned legislation to eliminate the filibuster. Where's our outrage now? Where's our "Save the Filibuster" campaign? If the filibuster is that central to democracy, don't we believe in democracy anymore? The answer, of course, is that then it was a Republican majority and we disapproved of what they were doing; today it is a Democratic majority, and we approve of Democratic Party policies. It was never about the filibuster per se, nor our democratic principles; our outrage was cynical political manipulation then, and our silence is cynical now.*

But my objections to the UUAWO go beyond the fact that they make us appear to be not an independent church, but merely the Democratic Party's chaplain office. They are a complete waste of resources. And no, Scott, I am not whingeing about how expensive the UUA is to run, and I agree that if anything, most are underpaid. Nor do I wish people who have served loyally to be tossed out in the streets- they are capable people who could do useful work elsewhere in the UUA. My point is that even if I agreed with the general principle of church as lobbyist**, our efforts are so ineffectual as to be a waste of resources. There's no reason to believe that our efforts have ever changed a single vote in Congress. There's more evidence for the existence of God than for "...the UUA Washington Office for Advocacy... influencing public policy decisions made by the U.S. Congress and Administration."*** Even if a lawmaker has ever heard of us- by no means a guarantee- he's unlikely to be impressed by our efforts. In fact, the more he knows about us, the less likely he is to be impressed by our efforts.

Why should he or she be impressed? Our vast numbers? If every UU in the entire US moved to a single congressional district, they would still only represent one quarter of the vote for that one Congressman! Because of our famous independent streak? If they know anything about us at all, they know there's nothing whatsoever that would make the average UU vote for a Republican; if there's a Democratic candidate so bad a UU could no longer hold his nose to vote- and I've never heard of one- the most that UU would do is stay home. Because having a church behind him is good cover? The only reason a Congressman would need a church endorsement is if he's taking heat from the religious right, in which case our endorsement would do more harm than good- the religious right does know us, and doesn't like us; I know Southern Baptists who would grant more grudging respect to The Covenant of the Goddess than to us. Because of our unflinching realism in facing human rights issues? After the former president of our association said, “I could not imagine the current U.S. president taking the time to honor questions about his actions the way Ahmadinejad did today.”?

The only kind of advocacy office that would be truly effective is one that serves as a resource, guiding members to organizations in their neighborhoods that can actually do something; a dollar given to an organization with a real voice and presence is worth a thousand dollars given to a group no one has ever heard of. And isn't that what the UUA is supposed to be- a resource to help the member congregations be more effective? Sure, it's an ego boost to have an official "UUA Committee to XYZ", but isn't actually accomplishing something more important than feeling good about being enlightened? I say, when it comes to "... influencing public policy decisions made by the U.S. Congress and Administration.", leave it to the pros, and let the UUA Advocacy offices be our guides to these pros instead. Stop compromising our principles to no effect, put the members of the UUAWO into positions where they can use their time and expertise assisting the congregations, (you know, the raison d'etre of the UUA) and use the money saved in these lean times to make UU a religion that new people will want to join, and current members will want to stick with. Perhaps if we do that, we will grow to the point where we have the numbers and influence to make a Washington office worthwhile. (though I would still have philosophical problems with it)
*And before you say "You're a conservative and are just against our positions", I want to point out that the filibuster issue I mention above was over the confirmation of a Supreme Court judge. I am on record, in writing, that my position is that elections matter, and that the President gets whoever he (or she, hope springs eternal) wants, barring an objection high enough that it would cause impeachment if it were found after confirmation- I supported both Alito and Sotomayor on those grounds. I stood by my principles through Clinton, Bush, and now Obama, even when it meant backing someone I didn't like. I will further point out that Senator Byrd- hardly a right winger- opposes the plan to eliminate the filibuster; he is being consistent with his positions. The UUAWO cannot say the same thing. So much for democratic principles.

**I am firmly against the role of church-as-lobbyist. The first reason is that corruption is a two way street; many who think they've bought a politician find that they have too much invested in said politician to walk away from him when they disagree. Then the rationalizing starts- "hold your nose and vote for him because at least he's good on the important issues"... then "Hold your nose and vote for him because even though he can't be counted on, at least he keeps the Democratic majority"... then you realize you sold your soul and didn't even get your payment for it.

The second reason is more philosophical. There are two types of things lobbyist fight for- the first is to get an obscure, less than obvious problem that is nonetheless vitally important to those affected looked at by Congress. Perhaps it's florists wanting a two week quarantine on man eating orchids because they might carry a blight of some kind. This is exactly the kind of thing the founding fathers were thinking of when they put the right to petition in the first amendment. I'm all for that kind of lobbyist- but that's not us. The other kind of lobbyist is fighting a social issue of some kind that he cannot get the general public to support- these range from prohibition to abortion to sexual issues. This sort of activist/lobbyist has discovered that you don't have to sway 150 million people to get your way- you only have to sway the right 268 Congressmen and Senators. Then the government will do your convincing for you, and use tax dollars to do it- it's the modern version of converting the king to your church, then gaining the whole country as converts. And it's so easy to rationalize... this is THE RIGHT THING TO DO (tm)- that gives us the right to sneer at those we disagree with, and cram our position down their throats by government fiat rather than listening to them, addressing their fears, and convincing them.

***from the Draft Statement of Conscience on Peacemaking

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Nasty computer pictures

No, not nasty pictures stored on a computer, but pictures of nasty computers! See what grows inside your PC