Tackling 'Ulysses'

I have always avoided James Joyce's “Ulysses,” but curiosity finally got the better of me. I want to know WHY the book is in the top 5 on every list of greatest fiction.

After listening to three chapters, I realized I had to know more about the mechanics of the book, so I have copied and read an overview in the online CliffsNotes.

The main character, Stephen, is autobiographical and was the main character in “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,” which I’ve read. "Ulysses" begins around 8 a.m. on a day in 1904 with Stephen and his two Dublin roommates and covers a 24-hour period.

Its 18 chapters include 18 “viewpoints” and numerous writing styles and literary devices.

Think of witnesses to a wreck all seeing different things.

According to the summary, “Ulysses stands as an inventive, multiple-point-of-view (there are eighteen) vision of daily events, personal attitudes, cultural and political sentiments and observations of the human condition.”

Right down my alley.

It’s a good thing I’ve listened to “The Odyssey,” because this is Joyce’s “playful” version of the Homeric epic. (Much like the movie, “O, Brother, Where Art Thou?”) Stephan, the main character, represents the son who goes looking for his father, Ulysses. The book's protaganist, Leopold Bloom, represents Ulysses. (Bloom's wife Molly is a somewhat tainted Penelope.)

The overview or summary I copied is 11 pages in Microsoft Word and has brief chapter summaries which will help me to better understand the novel without actually reading the chapter summaries.

It's against my better judgment to read reviews or plot summaries before I read a book, but with this one I figure I'll need all the help I can get. Joyce once bragged that a whole cottage industry in books developed trying to explain his works. 

When I was in college I tackled complex subjects by first reading about them in the children’s section of the library or in the World Book Encyclopedia. So, this is what I’ve done with this excellent CliffsNotes summary.

Why the book was banned is a different story, and there is a “Foreword” on my digital Talking Books copy which goes into the ramifications of its role in freedom of expression. (Although Rick Santorum would burn it, and former Attorney General John Ashcroft would drape a cloth over it.)


What would Jesus do?

“How should the nation help the estimated 50 million Americans who can't afford health insurance? Christians are as divided about this question as others. Many cite Jesus, but come up with completely different conclusions.”
- CNN.com home page promo

The following is a thought-provoking and balanced post from CNN’s “Belief Blog.” (LINK) I have added my own comments below the article.

Would Jesus support health care reform?

By John Blake, CNN
March 31, 2012

(CNN) – He was a healer, a provider of universal health care, a man of compassion who treated those with preexisting medical conditions.

We don’t know what Jesus thought about the individual mandate or buying broccoli. But we do know how the New Testament describes him. The Gospels are filled with stories of Jesus physically healing the most vulnerable and despised people in his society.

References to Jesus, of course, didn’t make it into the recent U.S. Supreme Court’s hearings on the constitutionality of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. (BJ Note: Not the Act itself, but one provision of the Act.) Yet there is a moral dimension to this epic legal debate:

How should the nation help its “least of these,” an estimated 50 million Americans who can’t afford health insurance, as well as those who could go broke or die because they can’t afford medical care?

Christians are as divided about this question as others. Many cite Jesus, but come up with completely different conclusions.

Trust God or government?

Tom Prichard, a Lutheran and president of the Minnesota Family Council, said it’s ultimately about faith. Who do we trust – God or government?

He opposes “Obamacare” because he has more faith in the market and people, than government.

“Here Jesus’ words come to mind about not worrying and trusting God to meet our basic needs,” Prichard wrote in an online post warning about the dangers of “government run health care.” “Or if we believe it all depends on us, we’ll look to government.”

When reached at his Minnesota office, Prichard elaborated: He said the nation should empower families and individuals to make health-care decisions. If families can’t afford health insurance, private and public entities like churches and nonprofits should step in, he said.

“We all have the same goal,”Prichard said. “We want all people to have health care, even people who can’t afford it. I would argue that having the government be the primary vehicle for providing it is not going to get us to that goal. It’s going to make the situation worse.”

Carl Raschke, a religious studies professor at the University of Denver, evoked Jesus’ words about Rome and taxation.

Raschke cited the New Testament passage when Jesus, after being asked if Jews should pay taxes to Rome, said that people should "Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's."

Jesus was against strictly political or economic solutions because he thought they were too easy when it comes to the real challenges of human life, Raschke said.

“Writing checks won’t solve social problems,” Raschke said. “One has to get involved. If we see someone in need, we just don’t throw a dollar at him or her. You get to know them, you offer yourself, and ask what you can do for them.”

Helping the Good Samaritans of our day

There are some Christians, though, who say that charity isn’t enough to solve the nation’s health care problems.

An estimated 32 million Americans could lose health insurance if “Obamacare” is struck down, including children who can stay on their parents’ insurance until they are 26 and seniors who get help paying for their drug prescriptions. Most observers say health care costs would continue to rise.

Some people believe the health care situation in America would be scandalous to Jesus because he was a prophet concerned about social justice.

Steven Kraftchick, a religious scholar, said Jesus comes out of the tradition of Jewish prophets who preached that the health of a society could be measured by how well they took care of “its widows and orphans,” those who had the least power.

Kraftchick said there’s a famous story in the Gospel of Mark in which Jesus heals such a person. He was the man who called himself Legion. He might have been called homeless and mentally ill. The man roamed a graveyard, so tormented that even chains could not hold him and everyone feared him, Mark wrote.

Jesus healed the man not only physically, but socially as well, according to Mark. The man returned to his community with a sense of dignity, said Kraftchick, a professor at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology in Atlanta.

“A move toward universal health care would be fitting with the prophetic traditions,” Kraftchick said. “When you read the New Testament and look at the signs of the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God, it’s always connected to being physically healed.”

Yet Marcia Pally, an authority on evangelicals, said many evangelicals are wary of government doing the healing. Their reasons go back centuries.

Many are the descendants of people who fled Europe because of religious persecution by state churches. They fought a revolution against a government in England. And they settled a frontier, where the virtue of self-reliance was critical, said Pally, author of “The New Evangelicals: Expanding the Vision of the Common Good.”

Suspicion of government is part of their historical and religious experience, said Pally, who is also a multicultural professor at Fordham University in New York.

Those attitudes, though, may be changing. Pally said she spent six years traveling across America to interview evangelicals. She discovered that a new generation of evangelists now believes that certain issues are too big and complex to be addressed by charity.

“Some note that charity is very good at the moment of emergency relief but it doesn’t change anything unless structures that keep people poor, sick or deny their access to health insurance are changed,” she said.

No matter what the Supreme Court decides, the legal debate will continue. If more Americans go broke or die because they do not have health insurance, more Americans may ask, what would Jesus do?

But don’t expect any easy answers from the Bible, said Raschke, the religious studies professor at the University of Denver.

“People are always looking for support from the Bible for American political positions,” Rashke said. “Would Jesus be against abortion, or would he support a woman’s right to choose? It’s almost become a standard joke in the theological world that you quote Jesus in American politics to support your political views.

“The teachings of Jesus do not fit into the views of any political party."


I would like to add a few thoughts.

I disagree with the last quote. I believe the political party which is most committed to the social and physical welf-being of ALL Americans is most aligned with my interpretations of Jesus’ teachings.

I do not understand the tendency of some Christians to judge harshly the poor. The subject Jesus spoke of more than any other – some 700 times in the New Testament – was “the poor.” Most notably, he said “For the poor always ye have with you." (John 12:8 KJV)

There is a lingering Calvinistic belief that if you work hard enoough, you won't be poor. My daddy stood in one spot for 28 years and made brooms for Mississippi Industries for the Blind. When he made a dozen brooms, he received a token. At the end of the day, he turned in his tokens to determine his pay. If that's not hard work, I don't know what is. I was an editor who worked deadline in a daily newspaper newsroom. If that's not hard work, I don't know what is. Oh, we were blessed, but neither my daddy nor I could  count ourselves among the wealthy.

Our government provides “safety nets” which lift our poor out of poverty and starvation, which in history have fueled bloody revolutions in countries which provided no such compassionate assistance.

In bringing up the history of persecution of Christians by “state religions,” the authority on evangelicals is making a clear case for “separation of church and state,” so why don’t evangelicals understand this principle set forth by Thomas Jefferson?

Finally, I spent five months last year in pain. Over three of those five months I had medical tests, X-rays, ultrasounds and even a nuclear scan before diagnosis and treatment restored me to my normal good health.

These tests were ordered by a primary care physician and cost around $12,000. Fortunately, I was insured. I was insured by Medicare Part B and Medicare Part D (drugs) – both voluntary insurance policies for which Americans pay a monthly premium.

I paid $700 out of pocket. The insurer – the government – paid a portion of the $12,000, but for the most part charges were voluntarily “written off” by the medical providers.

The point is: I could never have paid $12,000, so I would have just had to continue to suffer the pain.

No Christian I know would have paid the $12,000. No church I know of would have paid the $12,000. No nonprofit charity I know would have paid the $12,000. Which is why I said then and say now, “Thank God for Medicare.”

My conclusion comes in the form of a question:

Where would America be today if our government had not stepped in to lift Americans out of desperation – from FDR to Lyndon Johnson?



* S.C.O.T.U.S. - Sifting Controversial Opinions to Understand Scope of the Supreme Court of the United States’ hearings and subsequent decision on the constitutionality of the “mandate” provision of The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

There are quite often reasons for a Supreme Court decision which seemingly don't have anything to do with the exact complaint in the case. In the case of the "mandated coverage" provision of the health care reform law, the Court will be looking at areas such as "states' rights," legislative powers to tax and to regulate commerce, and so forth.

Above all, the Court must look at precedents – decisions handed down in previous cases. According to David Orentlicher in an analysis for CNN, “70 years of judicial precedents provide strong grounds for upholding the law.” With titles to choke a business card printer, Orentlicher is the Samuel R. Rosen professor of law and co-director of the Hall Center for Law and Health at Indiana University's Robert H. McKinney School of Law. Emphasis, I suppose, should be on “law and health.”

In the meantime, the media are portraying the case before the Court as an examination of the constitutionality of the entire law.

Not so.

The Court is focusing on four key issues (LINK):

• Constitutionality of the individual mandate, which will require Americans to purchase health insurance while providing assistance to those who cannot afford it.
• Whether the individual mandate is a "tax," thereby limiting authority of the courts to immediately decide the mandate question.
• Whether other parts of the law can survive if the mandate is struck down.
• Federal vs. state conflict over expansion of the cooperative Medicaid program.

Although I never subscribed, I received an email from Senator Lindsey O. Graham (R-SC), which I'm sure has gone out to many South Carolinians with email. Its title: "Obamacare: A Trail of Broken Promises." What a load of, yep, propaganda, none of it applicable to the question before the High Court. Senator Graham, I am your constituent who demands citations for the claims you make. As for your claim that “Obamacare” is wrecking our economy, you had a hand in that yourself when you rubber-stamped President Bush’s expenditures. Regarding your complaint about the cost of Medicaid, God forbid if South Carolina concerns itself with the health of its poor. I remind you, sir, that you represent them, too.  And, while you claim “Obamacare” – a derisive term – has left “a trail of broken promises,” you fail to mention that many of its provisions don’t go into effect until 2014.

Some light is being shed on this issue. Kudos to CNN.com for taking an objective approach in its reporting, for pointing out the entire law is not under SCOTUS scrutiny and for featuring on its home page stories highlighting ways the health care law actually helps Americans. Here's a typical promo:

"Violet McManus, 3, suffers from seizures that stop her breathing. Until the health care reform law, lifetime caps threatened to eliminate her insurance. Now the Supreme Court is hearing a case that could throw out the law."

It is important, at this point, to explain why the “mandate” is necessary:

In order to force insurance companies to eliminate their “pre-existing conditions” restrictions, they will be required to charge the same fees for everyone ONLY if the public is REQUIRED to purchase insurance. As Orentlicher explains:

“Otherwise, many people would wait until they suffer an illness or injury to buy their policy. In other words, the individual mandate is simply designed to prevent freeloading that would cause the pre-existing conditions provision to fail, and the Constitution gives Congress the power to make sure its laws can be implemented effectively.”

Finally, Republican thinking seems to be, in my opinion, a dichotomy of delusion. "Obamacare" is a name-calling device of propaganda, which interpreted means "if you don't like Obama, you won't like this law." You can bet the right-wing are the first to complain about “freeloaders” not paying their medical bills causing expenses ultimately to be passed on to policyholders through higher premiums. This is exactly what the “mandate” is designed to prevent. But, instead of looking at this law objectively, they’d rather frame it in terms of a wrecked economy and so-called “death panels.” I dare say few have actually studied the law.

Before you go, stop for a minute and learn the makeup of the Supreme Court:

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito comprise the Court’s conservative wing. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor are considered its liberal wing. Elena Kagan is new enough to the Court that her leanings are not statistically known – she had to recuse herself from a large numbers of cases due to her former role as solicitor general – but she is expected to join the liberal wing. Anthony Kennedy, while conservative, is seen as the swing vote on the Court, often voting with the liberal wing. (Clarence Thomas votes the way Antonin Scalia votes – 92 percent of the time according to SCOTUSblog.com!)

With President Obama’s re-election possibly hanging in the balance, will the Supreme Court postpone its ruling until after the November election? If a ruling comes down in June, I cannot wait to read the opinions of the Court and of the individual justices to determine if they are based on “the merits of the case” or if this will be a repeat of what happened on December 12, 2000.dex.html?hpt=hp_t2


Breaking down the real 'bullshit'

• Rick Santorum makes a statement in Wisconsin.
• A New York Times reporter asks him a question about the statement.
• Santorum tells the reporter, “I didn’t say that,” and claims the reporter is distorting his words.
• Santorum tells the Times reporter, “Quit distorting my words. It’s bullshit.”
• Santorum then claims the reporter “attacked” him.
• The thing is, and it’s on the record, Santorum did say it.
• He then becomes the hero of the gullible and uninformed by telling Fox News viewers: “If you haven't cursed out a New York Times reporter during the course of a campaign, you're not really a real Republican the way I look at it."
• Santorum then throws up a fund-raising plea on his Web site asking supporters to contribute $30, which he says is the price of a subscription to The New York Times.

CNN's Political Ticker, March 27, 2012:

(CNN) – Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum on Monday defended his profane comment directed at a New York Times reporter and used the interaction in a fundraising pitch.

"If you haven't cursed out a New York Times reporter during the course of a campaign, you're not really a real Republican's (sic) the way I look at it," Santorum said on Fox News. "It was just one of these harassing moments, and after having answered the question a few times, sort of comes back with the same old fashion, the same old spin."

"I just said 'Okay, I've had enough of this you-know-what,'" he added.

Team Santorum invoked the back-and-forth in a fundraising email to supporters, asking them to contribute $30, what they said is the price of a subscription to the Times.

"I criticized Romney and Obama for their outrageous healthcare legislation. Predictably, I was aggressively attacked by a New York Times reporter all too ready to defend the two of them, and all too ready to distort my words," Santorum wrote in the email. "Let me assure you, I didn't back down, and I didn't let him bully me."

Santorum accused the Times' Jeff Zeleny of distorting his words following a question from the reporter Sunday night.

Zeleny asked Santorum if he thinks Mitt Romney is the "worst Republican in the country to run against Obama," something he said while campaigning in Wisconsin.

In response, Santorum said "I didn't say that. You guys are distorting what I'm saying … Quit distorting my words. It's bulls***."

But shortly before the questioning, at a campaign stop in Racine, Wisconsin, Santorum said, "Why would we put someone up who is uniquely - pick any other Republican in the country. He is the worst Republican in the country to put up against Barack Obama. Why would Wisconsin want to vote for someone like that?"

The former Pennsylvania senator has made criticism of the national health care law and its similarities to the plan passed while Romney served as governor of Massachusetts a centerpiece of his campaign.

His latest "worst Republican" charge came after he was criticized last week for suggesting there are so few differences between Romney and Obama that "we may as well stay with what we have instead of taking a risk," with the Republican frontrunner.

In his defense, Santorum said he would never vote for the president, but that "Romneycare" makes his rival uniquely unqualified to run against Obama in the general election.

CNN's Paul Steinhauser and Shawna Shepherd contributed to this report.


Welcome to Jonathan Swift’s “Confederacy of Dunces,” Saint Santorum.



There’s seeing and there’s seeing.

I suppose if I need quotes to qualify my meaning, the one that comes to mind is: “There are none so blind as those who will not see.”

This is a saying with biblical roots:

Hear now this, O foolish people, and without understanding; which have eyes, and see not; which have ears, and hear not.
- Jeremiah 5:21 (KJV)

Therefore I speak to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.
- Mathew 13:13 (KJV)

Being visually impaired, it is natural that I enjoy quotes about blindness, especially when they go beyond the mere lack of sight.

My niece Debra sent me this one:

A blind person asked Swami Vivekanand: "Can there be anything worse than losing eye sight?" He replied: "Yes, losing your vision!"

Debra made my day when she went on to say, “That is what impresses me about you every day: you stay focused on the future; you never lose your vision. You are an inspiration to all who have the pleasure of knowing you.”


And, here’s a plea from one of history’s greatest and most versatile men:

“Blinding ignorance does mislead us. O! Wretched mortals, open your eyes!”
- Leonardo da Vinci

Looking back, I believe I transitioned to adulthood accompanied by the music of the great Ray Charles. My favorite quote comes from Mr. Charles, who if you really think about it, probably explains my meaning best of all:

Someone once asked Ray Charles what the worst thing about being blind is. He immediately replied, “Well, you can’t see.”


A Valentine from Father Tim

The great thing about waking up in the morning is that you learn something new every day! Some fascinating facts about Valentine’s Day from my dear friend Father Tim Farrell, pastor, Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Farmington, New Mexico:


And a very happy Valentine's Day to you. Isn't it interesting that in the Church's calendar this is actually no longer St. Valentine's Day. It is the Feast of Saints Cyril and Methodius. When Pope Paul VI revised the calendar, he took out a lot of saints who had no true historical basis. For instance, St. Christopher lost his day because there is no actual proof of his existence. The same sad fate befell St. Valentine. Nonetheless it is still a "sweet" day and all my love and best to you this day.

By the way, a few interesting facts about St. Valentine:

1. There were actually three different Valentines over many different centuries.

2. February 14th had originally been a Roman feast in honor of Juno, the goddess of fertility, and so this was "taken over" by the Catholics, who were good at putting holy days on top of pagan days; thus, Easter falling on a different day each year to follow the ancient pagan ritual of fertility -- Easter eggs (fertility), Easter bunnies (fertility), etc.

3. One of the St. Valentines was a priest/bishop in the early church, according to tradition, and he was condemned to death for his faith. While in prison awaiting his execution, he healed the sight of the jailer's daughter. As he was readying for his execution, he wrote a note of spiritual support to the newly-healed girl and signed it "From Your Valentine;" thus, the official greeting of the special day.

4. King Henry VIII, who had so many "Valentines" in his life, loved the day and made it a holy day in the British Isles.

As to all the saints' days, there are so many thousands of them in the calendar that I only deal with the most famous ones. Like today it is Sts. Cyril and Methodius. I can't keep up with all the others, though some of their lives are quite remarkable, obviously.

Speaking of a saint: I was ordained a priest on June 3, 1989, on the Feast of St. Charles Llwanga and Companions. They were Ugandan martyrs from the 1800s. I remember having read a book on St. Charles and those who were martyred with him as I was ordained on that day. Then, our parish began to build two schools and give support to the people of Uganda. When I visited Uganda last year, I actually celebrated Mass at the altar where St. Charles and a little boy were burned alive.

A fascinating fact on this feast day: Pope Paul VI canonized all the Catholics AND the Protestants who died that day, the first time that had happened in the history of the Church.

Anyhow, I have rambled too long. But before I go, a Tim Farrell fact from St. Valentine's Day:

The candy is never very good. The heart-shaped boxed candy always has pink and orange innards. My brother Patrick (in South Carolina) as a little boy would always bite the bottoms to see what was inside and if he didn't like them, he'd just put them back in their place. Ugh! And then there are those tiny, hard hearts that have the consistency and taste of a Tums. Ugh again!

Somebody's gotta come up with better candy for such a nice day!

God bless and enjoy this beautiful, love-filled day!



Thanks, Tim. I think a boxful of heavenly Divinity candy would be just the thing for you!


Is Israeli-Palestinian peace possible?

By B. J. Trotter
February 2, 2012

I hope this in-depth examination of a religious and political impasse is not construed as pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian. I am merely setting forth some observations I hope you will consider.

Two days before Christians around the world celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ, Gallup/USA Today released a report on the religious makeup of the United States:

“Christianity is still the most prevalent religion in the United States, with 78 percent of American adults identifying with some form of the Christian religion in 2011. Less than 2 perent are Jewish, less than 1 percent are Muslim, and 15 percent do not have a religious identity.”

Because 78 percent of American adults base religious beliefs in Judeo-Christian roots, this country supports Israel. Unquestionably, the two percent of Americans who are Jewish and the 1 percent who are Muslim, while both based in the Old Testament of the Holy Bible, come from a heritage divided – a division that greatly affects both U.S. policy and world peace.

What will surprise you, though, is this: there is dissension in America’s Jewish community over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

According to a 2011 “Civility Statement” issued by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, in Jewish communities across America:

"The expression and exchange of views is often an uncivil, highly unpleasant experience. Community events and public discussions are often interrupted by raised voices, personal insults and outrageous charges."

At the forefront of this rancor is divided opinion on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the threat to Israel from Iran.

The following is an in-depth look at the festering sore that seemingly will not heal and its impact on both U.S. politics and world peace. It is well-researched, well-documented and written with objectivity, as I have always sought to do. I do not attempt to trace the history of the conflict as that is available online. Rather, I am relating recent observations with a bit of historical perspective.


Like the American Jewish community itself, I think we must separate our support of Jews and Judaism and our opinion of the current Israeli government, and we should feel free to examine the latter without reprisal.

Let me state, unequivocally, that I do not like the right-wing politics of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party. As for the man himself, there are things to like and dislike. I like that he attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University. I admire his distinguished military career. The way he hogged CNN’s cameras during Operation Desert Storm turned me off. His family tree is notable. I deeply sympathize that he lost his older brother Yoni, who at age 30 was commander of the Israeli Special Forces and was the only Israeli commando killed in the rescue raid on Entebbe. The fact that Netanyahu’s marital record mirrors that of Newt Gingrich does not appeal.

None of this, of course, makes me – or anyone of like convictions – anti-Semitic.


Coincidentally, while working on this article, I listened to Nelson Demille’s novel, “By the Rivers of Babylon,” a thriller pitting Palestinian terrorists against Israelis. Demille opens his 1978 book with two quotes:

“Our stuggles have barely begun, the worst is yet to come, and it is right for Europe and America to be warned, now, that there will be no peace. The prospect of triggering a third world war doesn’t bother us. The world has been using us and has forgotten us. It is time they realize we exist. Whatever the price we will continue the struggle. Without our consent the other Arabs can do nothing, and we will never agree to a peaceful settlement. We are the joker in the pack.”
- Dr. George Habash (1926-2008), Palestinian Orthodox Christian and leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

“We Jews just refuse to disappear. No matter how strong and brutal and ruthless the forces against us may be, here we are. Millions of bodies broken, buried alive, burned to death, but never has anyone been able to succeed in breaking the spirit of the Jewish people.”
- Golda Meir (1898-1978), prime minister of Israel, 1969-1974, Brussels, Belgium, February 19, 1976.

Demille’s book is filled with Jewish heroes, what James Michener in “The Source” calls “the new Jew” – militaristic and no longer pacifists – the rescuers at Entebbe, the avengers of Munich. On a mission to peace talks with Palestinians, they are attacked by terroists and must defend themselves in a seemingly impssible showdown – peace negotiators turned warriors.

Made clear in the novel is that both sides were seeking peace. Extremists thwarted their efforts. So, it is and so it will ever be – until past wrongs are forgiven. And isn’t forgiveness a cornerstone of all religions?


Audience question from a Jacksonville, Florida, man who identified himself as a Palestinian-American:

“How would a Republican administration help bring peace to Palestine and Israel when most candidates barely recognize the existence of Palestine or its people? As a Palestinian-American Republican, I'm here to tell you we do exist.”

CNN moderator Wolf Blitzer threw the question to two of the GOP candidates, whose responses brought applause from the audience:

MITT ROMNEY: Well, the reason that there's not peace between the Palestinians and Israel is because there is -- in the leadership of the Palestinian people are Hamas and others who think like Hamas, who have as their intent the elimination of Israel. And whether it's in school books that teach how to kill Jews or whether it's in the political discourse that is spoken either from Fatah or from Hamas, there is a belief that the Jewish people do not have a right to have a Jewish state.

There are some people who say, should we have a two-state solution? And the Israelis would be happy to have a two-state solution. It's the Palestinians who don't want a two-state solution. They want to eliminate the state of Israel.

And I believe America must say -- and the best way to have peace in the Middle East is not for us to vacillate and to appease, but is to say, we stand with our friend Israel. We are committed to a Jewish state in Israel. We will not have an inch of difference between ourselves and our ally Israel.

This president went before the United Nations and castigated Israel for building settlements. He said nothing about thousands of rockets being rained in on Israel from the Gaza Strip. This president threw --


ROMNEY: I think he threw Israel under the bus with regards to defining the '67 borders as a starting point of negotiations. I think he disrespected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

I think he has time and time again shown distance from Israel, and that has created, in my view, a greater sense of aggression on the part of the Palestinians. I will stand with our friend Israel.


NEWT GINGRICH: It (Palestine) was technically an invention of the late 1970s, and it was clearly so. Prior to that, they were Arabs. Many of them were either Syrian, Lebanese or Egyptian, or Jordanian.

There are a couple of simple things here. There were 11 rockets fired into Israel in November. Now, imagine in Duvall County that 11 rockets hit from your neighbor. How many of you would be for a peace process and how many of you would say, you know, that looks like an act of war.

You have leadership unequivocally, and Governor Romney is exactly right, the leadership of Hamas says, not a single Jew will remain. We aren't having a peace negotiation then. This is war by another form.

My goal for the Palestinian people would be to live in peace, to live in prosperity, to have the dignity of a state, to have freedom. and they can achieve it any morning they are prepared to say Israel has a right to exist, we give up the right to return, and we recognize that we're going to live side-by-side, now let's work together to create mutual prosperity.

And you could in five years dramatically improve the quality of life of every Palestinian. But the political leadership would never tolerate that. And that's why we're in a continuous state of war where Obama undermines the Israelis.

On the first day that I'm president, if I do become president, I will sign an executive order directing the State Department to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to send the signal we're with Israel.



American presidents have sought to bring about peace talks in this ever-volatile situation, but I don’t see such headstrong stances as being conducive to furthering such negotiations.

When I told a knowledgeable friend the title of this article, she said she could shorten my article to one word: no.

Resoltution cannot come without dialogue.

First, there has been violence on the part of both Israelis and Palestinians – widely reported and well documented – two peoples who believe they are defending themselves.

Further, this is a case of arousing an audience that apparently has no idea what President Obama actually said at the United Nations on 21 September 2011. If anything, Palestinians could claim Obama threw them “under the bus.”

Here are the lead paragraphs of The New York Times report on Obama’s address to the UN that day:

“President Obama declared his opposition to the Palestinian Authority’s bid for statehood through the Security Council on Wednesday, throwing the weight of the United States directly in the path of the Arab democracy movement even as he hailed what he called the democratic aspirations that have taken hold throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

“'Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the U.N.,’ Mr. Obama said, in an address before world leaders at the General Assembly. ‘If it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now.’

“Instead, Mr. Obama said, the international community should keep pushing Israelis and Palestinians toward talks on the four intractable issues that have vexed peace negotiations since 1979: borders of a Palestinian state, security for Israel, the status of Palestinian refugees and the fate of Jerusalem, which both sides claim for their capital.”

In addition, Obama threatened to veto Palestinian membership in the UN.

Read the complete article HERE.

Finally, I might be naïve, but how can Romeny and Gingrich demand one people recognize the right of another to exist while at the same time telling those people they do not exist?


American Jews confront internal rancor over Israel

By Joe Sterling, CNN
January 27, 2012

Atlanta (CNN) - When the editor of a Jewish newspaper here wrote this month that the Jewish state might consider assassinating an American president, his column made national headlines and provoked a Secret Service inquiry.

The most striking criticism came from the Jewish community itself, which collectively held its nose and harshly denounced the column by Andrew Adler, who is also the owner of the weekly paper, the Atlanta Jewish Times. Anti-Defamation League national director Abraham Foxman called Adler's words "irresponsible and extremist."

Adler apologized and resigned as editor, but some see the episode as the latest example of an increase in divisive, over-the-top rhetoric within American Jewish communal life, revolving largely around the hot-button issue of Israel and its policies toward the Palestinians.

The tensions have provoked Jewish groups across the country to launch programs aimed at lowering the political temperature in their own religious communities.

Israel is not "one of the great unifying factors" that it once was in the Jewish community, said Samuel Freedman, author of "Jew vs. Jew: the Struggle for the Soul of American Jewry.”

"Since the Lebanon invasion and the First Intifada, it has become a dividing line,” he said, referring to the Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation in the late 1980s. “It's probably deeper now than I've ever seen it."

Tensions within American Judaism are rising as some Jews detect an "existential threat" to Israel, with Iran's nuclear aspirations and Islamist parties coming to power during the Arab uprisings, he says.

Freedman also sees broader trends at work, including the fading line between private and public talk dissolving in the era of blogging and tweeting. The Atlanta Jewish Times incident, he says, is a reminder that words that sound bold in private will "resonate really differently when they are out in public."

Ethan Felson, vice president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, says emotions have been much more "intense and destructive" lately as ideological camps within the American Jewish community harden their views over the contentious U.S. presidential campaign, tensions between Israel and Iran, and issues from health care to marriage.

"This is going to be a brutal year," he says. "We're looking at a scorched earth political environment."

Felson’s group spearheads a nationwide civility initiative and held a "civility institute" last year to help Jewish leaders with conflict resolution, listening and "communicating across polarized divides."

Leaders from 15 Jewish communities across the country participated.

The council recently issued a civility statement signed by a range of prominent Jewish entities, saying the effort has "deep roots in Torah," the Jewish sacred text, and "in our community's traditions."

But the statement also spoke to a troubled Jewish landscape. "The expression and exchange of views is often an uncivil, highly unpleasant experience,” it said. “Community events and public discussions are often interrupted by raised voices, personal insults, and outrageous charges."

Jane Schiff, a Jewish Council for Public Affairs board member who is also on the group’s civility task force, says she has seen the hostile atmosphere take its toll in her Atlanta community, with rabbis backing off from talking about Israel.

"They are afraid it will affect their employment. I'm seeing friends saying to each other, 'I'm not talking to you about that because I want to stay your friend,' " she said of controversial issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Judy Saks, the community relations director for the Jewish Federation of Nashville and editor of the federation-produced community newspaper, can attest to the vituperation.

In May, an online video surfaced about Muslims in Nashville that said they were fomenting pro-terrorist ideas. Called “Losing our Community,” the video was produced by a Boston-based group called Americans for Peace and Tolerance.

A video on the group’s website says one Nashville Muslim figure it regards as radical has been embraced by “self-described progressive Jewish religious leaders," including a rabbi, and is respected as an interfaith activist in the community.

Saks said that the original video blasted three Nashville rabbis but that two were removed after several weeks. Americans for Peace and Tolerance did not respond to a request for comment.

"It brought out such divisiveness in this community,” Saks said. “It pointed fingers at our rabbis for doing what rabbis do."

The organized Jewish community decided to draw up its own civility statement, which supports "robust and vigorous debate about critical issues – as long as it is civil and tolerant" and disagreement "without threats of reprisal."

"This willingness to listen to other points of view honors Nashville's spirit as an open, welcoming and friendly city, our nation's history and our Jewish heritage," it said. "We will not engage with those who threaten the safety and security of our community."

In California's San Francisco Bay Area, controversy erupted over a film about Rachel Corrie shown at a 2009 San Francisco Jewish film festival.

Corrie, an American member of the International Solidarity Movement who was killed in Gaza nine years ago by an Israel Defense Forces bulldozer, symbolizes for many the battle on the left against Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories.

Corrie's mother spoke at the event, angering some Jews, who said her appearance politicized what was supposed to be an artistic moment.

The reaction to the film reflected the political fissures in the Bay Area Jewish community. In response, two community leaders, Abby Michelson Porth and Rachel Eryn Kalish, co-founded Project Reconnections, which included an initiative called the Year of Civil Discourse.

The well-funded effort throughout 2011 worked to bring Jews of different political stripes together for dialogue and deliberation, study and workshops. It also focused on reconciliation in four synagogues beset by political enmity and engaged community leaders over issues such as the Middle East.

Porth, also associate director at the Bay Area Jewish Community Relations Council, says the project helped infuse the community "with the skills and the opportunity to have a rich, meaningful and civil discourse."

She says it got people on opposite ends of the spectrum to stay at the table to understand the other person's point of view and to deliberate thoughtfully over disagreements.

Kalish, the Year of Civil Discourse project facilitator, saw people’s "fight or flight" instincts shift as they learned to communicate thoughtfully and gain a deeper understanding of issues such as Jewish settlements and the status of Jerusalem.

A healthy conversation, Kalish said, helps people think and understand that "maybe there's a third way" to approach a stubborn issue.

She recalls an interaction in one synagogue between an older man, who lived through Israel's War of Independence in 1948 and the Six Day War in 1967, and a young woman who sees Israel through the prism of its criticized actions in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.

The two synagogue members came to understand each other and now work side by side as dialogue "facilitators" at their congregation. Kalish cites this as an example of "pretty dramatic change" in learning how to listen and speak honestly and respectfully.

Mitch Chanin, executive director of the Jewish Dialogue Group in Philadelphia, offers dialogue programs for Jews in synagogues, colleges and other organizations and trains people as dialogue facilitators. The group formed in 2001 and has done work across North America.

Chanin, who says his group refrains from promoting political opinion, says the dialogues have included talking through the tough issues around the Middle East conflict.

"People grapple with the questions of what risks are we willing to take and what actions are ethical. Who can we trust and not trust?" Chanin said. "The likely consequences of Israeli policies. What are the intentions of Palestinian actors?

“What can we do to be safe? When is it OK to kill? When is it necessary? When is it wrong? When are there alternatives?"


Possibly, if “separation of church and state” were understood, but in Israel and in the Middle East this remains an eternal impasse.

Adolph Hitler killed millions while peppering his oratory with praise for the Almighty. The Ku Klux Klan murdered while hiding in white and wrapping itself in the cloak of Christianity. Jews no longer “turn the other cheek” but retaliate with violence. On Tuesday, police in Afghanistan reported a Muslim man strangled his wife to death because she gave birth to a daughter instead of a son, a man so ignorant he doesn’t know it was his sperm that determined the sex of the child – 500 years after Henry VIII.

Religious zealots have waged witch hunts, inquisitions and wars throughout history.

Many atrocities are committed in the name of religious extremism. America felt this at its very soul on 9/11. But, as a Christian I assert that whatever goodness and peace and love and compassion that exists in this world is also due, in large part, to religion. We just don’t read about it in headlines.

If there is to be peace between Jews and Palestinians, it is up to the good people of every faith, like the Jews in the article above, to be willing to talk to and understand each other.

Anne Frank, a Jewish girl who died in a Nazi concentration camp, wrote in her famous diary:

"I keep my ideals, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart."

I do, too, Anne. I do, too.


Gallup/USA Today: Religious makeup of the U.S.

The first GOP debate in Florida.

Obama’s address to the United Nations.

American Jews split on Israeli policies.

Afghan Muslim murders his wife.


Ain't no mountain high enough

“Never miss a good chance to shut up.”
- Detective Alex Cross, Cat and Mouse, James Patterson

Perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned from years of blogging is this: you can pile up evidence mountain high, but if people don’t read it, don’t pay attention to it, don’t act on it, you believe somehow you have failed.

The same fictional detective quoted above also said, “Falling down is not a failure: not getting back up is.”

I have fallen down and gotten back up many times as a blogger. So, I am not going to consider myself a failure if I take this “good chance to shut up.”

Sincere thanks to all who have come this way and left your imprint.



In flagrante delicto

I’m not going to run out and buy a “Cain Ain’t Able” T-shirt. The accuse-deny-accuse-deny coverage of allegations against GOP presidential hopeful Herman Cain do not come close to this week's most important domestic news.

The important story just doesn’t involve sex.

For the third time, ALL Republicans in the U.S. Senate voted against job-producing legislation in order to protect that small and elite segment of our populatiio known as “the nation’s wealthiest.”

Yesterday ALL Republican senators voted against a measure which would have created 450,000 new jobs and rebuilt our nation’s highways, bridges and other deteriorating infrastructure.

ALL Senate Republicans, on October 11, 2011, voted down President Obama’s jobs-creating legislation, pitting millions of new jobs against their stance of not raising taxes on the top tier of American earners.

When a measure came before the Senate on October 20, 2011, that would have created 400,000 jobs for teachers, police officers and firefighters, ALL Senate Republicans again stood fast: no tax increase for richest Americans.

Long after allegations against Herman Cain have faded into oblivion, this week’s top story – the continuing refusal of the GOP to commiserate with Americans who need and want to work – will screw this country.

Ah, there is a little sex in the top story after all.


'Trash heap of discredited ideas'

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former Vice President Dick Cheney might be at odds, but both are out there hawking their books and agreeing that Bush’s invasion of Iraq somehow inspired the Arab Spring.

They fail to acknowledge the obvious: the people of Iraq did not voluntarily rise up against their tinpot dictator.

Book tour constraints must have been the reason Rice and Cheney missed the October 8 report in The Washington Post headlined “Iraq, siding with Iran, sends essential aid to Syria’s Assad.”

So, the Iraqi government is so thrilled with its newfound democracy – won with U.S. blood and treasure – that it is giving both “moral and financial support” to help quell democratic uprisings elsewhere?

Finally, Rice and Cheney must have missed the advice Steven Cook of The Council on Foreign Relations offered back in July:

“It is time to put the Bush boosters’ arguments where they belong: in the trash heap of discredited ideas. There is no connection between the invasion of Iraq and Arab efforts to throw off generations of dictatorship.”


Just Wright for Halloween

My fascination with Frank Lloyd Wright – not just his architecture, but the man himself – began when I was a high school senior. I went along with a friend to visit her classmate who lived in Fountainhead, the Jackson, Mississippi, home designed and built for the J. Willis Hughes family. I remember the boy telling us Wright had lived with his family for three months before designing their home in order to get a feel for each member's individual personality.

In the years since I have toured Wright’s homes and buildings in many areas of the country, including Taliesin, his hillside home in Spring Green, Wisconsin. In the dark and verdant family plot down the road from Taliesin, I picked a wild vine from the architect’s grave, planting it in a Styrofoam cup to keep. Near his grave stands a marker bearing his epitaph, “Early in life I had to choose between honest arrogance and hypocritical humility. I chose the former and have seen no occasion to change.”

For more about this fascinating man, I recommend Brendan Gill’s biography, “Many Masks.”

Many people are unaware of the real-life horror story that haunted Wright throughout his long and colorful life. I found this succinct version on Wikipedia:


In 1903, Wright designed a house for Edwin Cheney, a neighbor in Oak Park, Illinois, and immediately took a liking to Cheney's wife, Mamah Borthwick Cheney. Mamah Cheney was a modern woman with interests outside the home. She was an early feminist, and Wright viewed her as his intellectual equal. The two fell in love, even though Wright had been married for almost 20 years. Often the two could be seen taking rides in Wright's automobile through Oak Park, and they became the talk of the town. Wright's wife, Kitty, sure that this attachment would fade as the others had, refused to grant him a divorce. Neither would Edwin Cheney grant one to Mamah. In 1909, even before the Robie House was completed, Wright and Mamah Cheney went together to Europe, leaving their own spouses and children behind. The scandal that erupted virtually destroyed Wright's ability to practice architecture in the United States.


On August 15, 1914, while Wright was working in Chicago, Julian Carlton, a male servant from Barbados who had been hired several months earlier, set fire to the living quarters of Taliesin (Spring Green, Wisconsin) and murdered seven people with an axe as the fire burned. The dead included Mamah; her two children, John and Martha; a gardener; a draftsman named Emil Brodelle; a workman; and another workman's son. Two people survived the mayhem, one of whom helped to put out the fire that almost completely consumed the residential wing of the house. Carlton swallowed muriatic acid immediately following the attack in an attempt to kill himself. He was nearly lynched on the spot, but was taken to the Dodgeville jail. Carlton died from starvation seven weeks after the attack, despite medical attention.


To my knowledge no motive was given for the axe murders, other than the story that the Barbados manservant "went mad." Wright, 47 years old at the time, died in 1959 at age 91. Following the tragedy, he went on to become America's premiere architect.


'The rich get richer'

My mother had a treasure trove of truisms which expressed her wisdom – none more so, in light of current trends, than “The rich get richer, and the poor get poorer.”

In a display of classic doublespeak Republican Party leaders have accused Democrats of “class warfare” when they themselves are in all-out war against America’s working poor and middle class.

Why anyone of sound mind and a clear conscience would vote for these greedy charlatans is beyond me.

On October 21, after blocking a Senate vote on that portion of President Obama’s jobs plan which would have put more teachers and first responders to work and more paychecks in the pockets of these respected and vital people, Senate Minority Leader Mtch McConnell (R-KY) delivered this doublespeak after Democrats that same day blocked a GOP-backed proposal to repeal a 3 percent withholding requirement for all government contractors:

"It's hard to understand why Democrats would block this bipartisan effort to protect jobs - a provision of the president's bill. I've said a number of times in recent days that the president doesn't want Congress to pass his jobs bill; he wants to blame Republicans and use it on the campaign trail."

The hypocrisy overwhelms. What McConnell didn’t say was that, as reported, “The measure was part of Obama's broad jobs package and has Democratic supporters. However, Democrats and Republicans disagreed over how to offset the costs of eliminating the withholding.”

In their continuing warfare against the working poor and middle class, the field of GOP presidential hopefuls is proposing tax plans which are sheer lunacy.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s proposed 20 percent flat tax rate certainly would make “the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer.” While it would lower taxes on America’s wealthiest, it will increase taxes on 99 percent of Americans. Yeah, that’s a plan.

Equally egregious in this reverse-Robin Hood ripoff to rob from the poor to give to the rich are the dreams and schemes of other Republican wannabes. As reported by the Center for American Progress:

• Mitt Romney: Romney’s tax plan includes a $6.6 TRILLION giveaway to corporations and the wealthiest Americans. Meanwhile, Romney’s Medicaid cuts are even more draconian than the ones in Paul Ryan's plan. Both of their plans also end Medicare, naturally.

• Herman Cain: Cain’s now infamous 9-9-9 Plan would raise taxes on most Americans, while slashing taxes for millionaires by an average of $487,300 each.

• Jon Huntsman: Huntsman’s plan would introduce new taxes on veterans, seniors, the working poor, middle class Americans, students and many others in order to give the top 0.1 percent an annual tax of nearly $500,000 each.

• Michele Bachmann: Bachmann’s plan includes a massive tax cut for corporations and the wealthy paid for in part by increasing taxes on the working poor.

Are the rich getting richer? The New York Times reported yesterday:

“The top 1 percent of earners more than doubled their share of the nation’s income over the last three decades, the Congressional Budget Office said Tuesday, in a new report likely to figure prominently in the escalating political fight over how to revive the economy, create jobs and lower the federal debt.

“In addition, the report said, government policy has become less redistributive since the late 1970s, doing less to reduce the concentration of income.”

Are the poor getting poorer? According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s annual report released 13 September 2011:

“The ranks of the nation's poor swelled to nearly 1 in 6 people last year, reaching a new high as long-term unemployment woes left millions of Americans struggling and out of work.”

The report further shows that “Measured by total numbers, the 46 million now living in poverty is the largest on record dating back to when the census began tracking poverty in 1959.”

And, what about the middle class? It’s no secret it’s dwindling. On 15 September 2011, Forbes.com issued a report titled “America’s Vanishing Middle Class,” which should be a wake-up call.

Why then do so many of America’s working poor and middle class continue to vote for Republican candidates hellbent to continue this trend?

I once was involved in defeating a crook who each time he ran for county superintendent of education pulled out his walking cane and developed a limp as he walked around the courthouse.

The answer is simple: every election cycle the Republicans pull out those old trusty walking canes of “God, gays, guns and abortion.”

Isn’t it time those of us who aren’t millionaires and billionaires drop these one-issue, myopic stances, show our true patriotism and look at the big picture of what is most harmful to most Americans?


Hatred in a young heart

I came of age in Mississippi during the civil rights movement – a witness to history. A lasting impression from those days as a young woman right out of high school is that the rest of the nation seemed to deny that racisim existed beyond the borders of my home state.

I could relate numerous brushes with the stories which have seeped into our conciousness. Here are a few:

• Assisting writer William Bradford Huie with an article he wrote for Cavalier magazine about Mack Charles Parker, who was lynched on my birthday the year before I graduated from high school.

• Witnessing a carload of neighbors head out for Ole Miss to “do something about” James Meredith’s entry there and marrying a man who was marshaled to quell the violence as a member of the Mississippi National Guard.

• Having an extended family member who was friends with Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price, one of those linked to the slayings of Schwerner, Goodman and Cheney.

• Working in downtown Jackson, Mississippi, when “Thompson’s Tank” (Mayor Allen C. Thompson) was hauling newly arrived “Freedom Riders” off to an improvised jail at the state fairgrounds.

• Being sent home by my bosses because a sit-in at the nearby Woolworth’s lunch counter threatened to erupt into violence – then seeing them both appear in a photo of the incident in Life magazine.

• Reading a daily newspaper where the editor, Jimmy Ward, used the word “nigger” in front-page editorials.

• Being emotionally devastated when the grandmother of a four-year-old relative proudly showed me the little boy’s photo in a Ku Klux Klan robe.

Today, at age 69, I am privy to the fact that racism, however subtle, still exists and perhaps always will. I am thankful I learned to abhor it.

This is the story of what such prejucice can do to a young and impressionable mind.

CNN’s investigative team takes an in-depth look at the “backpack of hatred” carried by the Brandon, Mississippi, teenager who is accused of murdering a black man, because he was black.

“Teen murder suspect carried ‘backpack of hatred’” is hard to take and even carries an editor’s warning that the report contains language which might offend some readers. READ IT HERE.

This well-researched and well-written report is followed up tonight with "Mississippi Still Burning?" on CNN Presents, at 8 and 11 ET.


Obama's prescient words

It seems like yesterday that, recalling the phrase “Prague Spring,” I was emailing friends inquiring about the sudden appearance of a new term, “Arab Spring.”

Moammar Gadhafi and I go back decades to the early 1980s when his name was spelled Khadafy and I was editor on a world news desk.

This morning, as news came of the death of the former Libyan leader, I could not help reflecting on an earlier breaking news story:

OSLO – President Barack Obama won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for "his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples," the Norwegian Nobel Committee said, citing his outreach to the Muslim world and attempts to curb nuclear proliferation.
- The Associated Press, 9 October 2009, LINK

To those who scoffed at that announcement and in light of all that has occurred during this “Arab Spring,” I can think of no better time to reflect on President Obama’s sppech made on 4 June 2009 at Cairo University. There is a copy of the speech – “A New Beginning” - in The Reading Room.

There is no question that our president’s prescient words planted a seed in the minds of peoples who have lived in regions of tyranny and turmoil.

Our president.

Isn’t it time this man is given the respect he has earned and deserves?


Shrinking paychecks possible

If your paycheck is suddenly smaller in January, don’t even think about blaming Obama.

A CNN report explains a portion of the president’s jobs plan, which Senate Republicans voted against:

“The largest measure in the (jobs) package is the payroll tax cut, which comes at a projected cost of $265 billion. Employees normally pay 6.2% on their first $106,800 of wages into Social Security, but they are now paying only 4.2%. That break is set to expire at the end of December. Obama wants to cut the tax in half, to 3.1%.”

So, let’s look at how this would affect a worker with an annual income of $80,000:

* If the current cuts EXPIRE at the end of the year, this payroll tax will be $4,960.

* If the tax cuts REMAIN THE SAME, this payroll tax will be $3,360.

* If this portion of Obama’s jobs bill PASSES, this payroll tax will be $2,480.

* If this measure in Obama’s jobs plan FAILS, $2,480 in payroll savings will be lost to the worker in the coming year.

* If you suddenly find your paycheck is smaller in 2012, be sure to write your Republican representatives in Washington a “thank you” note.


A bully pulpit

I am a Christian and a former member of Southern Baptist Convention churches. When fundamentalists began their takeover of the SBC in the early 1980s – quashing any liberal thinking by filling its seminary faculties and college boards of trustees with right-wing ideologues, I left the “flock.” The SBC has gone so far in recent years as to expunge the writings of its former president Herschel H. Hobbs.

Hobbs’ “Fundamentals of Our Faith” laid forth the very cornerstones of Southern Baptist beliefs for a generation of members and did so with wisdom.

What I learned from childhood – from my parents and my church – stays with me and provides an inner gyroscope which helps me keep my balance in a world where the teachings of Jesus Christ have been skewed to fit an ideological mold.

In light of history, I believe in separation of church and state, but that doesn’t make me a member of some Godless “intellectual elite” or “secular elite.”

Frankly, I resent the negative connotation given to intelligence in the following article.

Here then are the views of a man who is in a position to influence greatly what is being proclaimed from the pulpits of the nation’s largest Protestant organization.

SOURCE: CNN Belief Blog

My Take: Are evangelicals dangerous?

Editor's Note: R. Albert Mohler, Jr., is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention and one of the largest seminaries in the world.

By R. Albert Mohler, Jr., Special to CNN
October 15, 2011

Here we go again.

Every four years, with every new presidential election cycle, public voices sound the alarm that the evangelicals are back. What is so scary about America’s evangelical Christians?

Just a few years ago, author Kevin Phillips told intellectual elites to run for cover, claiming that well-organized evangelicals were attempting to turn America into a theocratic state. In “American Theocracy,” Phillips warned of the growing influence of Bible-believing, born-again, theologically conservative voters who were determined to create a theocracy.

Writer Michelle Goldberg, meanwhile, has warned of a new Christian nationalism, based in “dominion theology.” Chris Hedges topped that by calling conservative Christians “American fascists.”

And so-called New Atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris claim that conservative Christians are nothing less than a threat to democracy. They prescribe atheism and secularism as the antidotes.

This presidential cycle, the alarms have started earlier than usual. Ryan Lizza, profiling Rep. Michele Bachmann for The New Yorker, informed his readers that “Bachmann belongs to a generation of Christian conservatives whose views have been shaped by institutions, tracts and leaders not commonly known to secular Americans, or even to most Christians.

Change just a few strategic words and the same would be true of Barack Obama or any other presidential candidate. Every candidate is shaped by influences not known to all and by institutions that other Americans might find strange.

What stories like this really show is that the secular elites assume that their own institutions and leaders are normative.

The New Yorker accused Bachmann of being concerned with developing a Christian worldview, ignoring the fact that every thinking person operates out of some kind of worldview. The article treated statements about wifely submission to husbands and Christian influence in art as bizarre and bellicose.

When Rick Perry questioned the theory of evolution, Dawkins launched into full-on apoplexy, wondering aloud how anyone who questions evolution could be considered intelligent, even as polls indicate that a majority of Americans question evolution.

Bill Keller, then executive editor of The New York Times, topped all the rest by seeming to suggest that conservative Christians should be compared to those who believe in space aliens. He complained that “when it comes to the religious beliefs of our would-be presidents, we are a little squeamish about probing too aggressively.

Really? Earlier this month, comedian Penn Jillette - a well–known atheist - wrote a very serious op-ed complaining of the political influence of “bugnut Christians,” in the pages of the Los Angeles Times, no less. Detect a pattern here?

By now, this is probably being read as a complaint against the secular elites and prominent voices in the mainstream media. It’s not.

If evangelicals intend to engage public issues and cultural concerns, we have to be ready for the scrutiny and discomfort that comes with disagreement over matters of importance. We have to risk being misunderstood - and even misrepresented - if we intend to say anything worth hearing.

Are evangelicals dangerous? Well, certainly not in the sense that more secular voices warn. The vast majority of evangelicals are not attempting to create a theocracy, or to oppose democracy.

To the contrary, evangelicals are dangerous to the secularist vision of this nation and its future precisely because we are committed to participatory democracy.

As Christians committed to the Bible, evangelicals have learned to advocate on behalf of the unborn, believing that every single human being, at every stage of development, is made in God’s image.

Evangelicals worry about the fate of marriage and the family, believing that the pattern for human relatedness set out in Scripture will lead to the greatest human flourishing.

We are deeply concerned about a host of moral and cultural issues, from how to address poverty to how to be good stewards of the earth, and on some of these there is a fairly high degree of disagreement even among us.

Above all, evangelicals are those who believe that Jesus Christ is Lord and are most concerned about telling others about Jesus. Most of America’s evangelical Christians are busy raising their children, working to support their families and investing energy in their local churches.

But over recent decades, evangelical Christians have learned that the gospel has implications for every dimension of life, including our political responsibility.

We’re dangerous only to those who want more secular voices to have a virtual monopoly in public life.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of R. Albert Mohler, Jr.


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The dark world of Greg Iles

Greg Iles’ novels are like cats: each has its own distinct personality. But, Iles, as he describes one of his characters, is “a different breed of cat.” The villains of his imagination are like black cats, waiting, like the deepest shadows of the human soul, to cross our paths.

Iles goes beyond the imagined horrors in Stephen King’s mind. His bad guys exceed the power- and wealth-crazed antagonists of fellow Mississippian John Grisham. Iles has a frightening consciousness of the blackest soul, writing psycho-thrillers which consume you and propel you toward redemption – the knowledge that good must surely triumph over evil.

He inflicts innocent lives with the darkest Dickensian hearts, sweeping them into whirlppols, cesspools and bottomless pools of danger where revenge and survival are only possible by fighting evil with evil – a Freudian look into ourselves.

Only when evil is destroyed, can we emerge from humnity’s sinister underbelly into a world of light and hope, and therein lies Iles’ skill.

The only offering in my experience which comes close to this skill is David Lynch’s film, “Blue Velvet.” And, if you think Frank Booth personifies creepy, you have much to learn from Iles.

“Diabolical” and “a tour de force of suspence,” People magazine describes one book. The Memphis Commercial-Appeal says of another, “A novel which could have as easily and terrifyingly been set in the Kansas of Truman Capote’s ‘In Cold Blood’” “The pace is frenetic, the fear and paranoia palpable, and the characters heartbreakingly honest,” a Cleveland Plain Dealer reviewer writes. No need to single out titles: these reviews cover Iles’ bibliography.

The following titles, available to me from Talking Books for the Visually Impaired, should be read in chronological order as Iles builds on the stories of on-going characters:

The WWII Books:

Spandau Phoenix, 1992
Black Cross, 1995

The Crime Thrillers:

Mortal Fear, 1997
The Quiet Game, 1999
24 Hours, 2000
Dead Sleep, 2001
Sleep No More, 2002
Blood Memory, 2005
Turning Angel, 2005
True Evil, 2006
Third Degree, 2007
The Devil's Punchbowl, 2009

These are the titles I anxiously await:

Unwritten Laws: The Bone Tree (Announced for 2011, tentative title)
Unwritten Laws: The Trial of Tom Cage (Announced, tentative title)


A little background on Iles:

• Born in 1960 in Stuttgart, Germany, where his father was a physician and ran the U.S. Embassy Medical Clinic.

• Reared in Natchez, Mississippi. He married his high-school sweetheart, and they currently reside in Natchez.

• A graduate of the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss), he played guitar and sang with the rock band “Frankly Scarlet” for eight years before beginning his writing career.

• He is a member of the Rock Bottom Remainder, a rock band formed with noted authors, including Scott Turow, Stephen King and Amy Tan.

• Eight of his books have appeared on the NYT bestseller list.

Once you have learned more about Iles, it is easy to spot the autobiographical elements in his books.

Iles’ personal favorites are “Mortal Fear” and “The Quiet Game:” mine are “Black Cross” and “The Quiet Game.”



Just asking

Christopher A. Sims of Princeton, awarded the Nobel Prize in economic science yesterday, will split the $1.49 million prize with co-honoree Thomas J. Sargent of New York University.

“Asked how he would invest his share of the winnings, Sims said he would keep it in cash while he considers what to do with it,” CNN.com reports.

Is it a tocsin when a Nobel laureate in economics says he’s going to “keep it in cash” for a while?

Just asking.


The Dirty Dozen Bank Secrets

Did you recently get a letter from your bank saying that since you’re “such a valued customer,” your bank accounts are being changed to offer you the best service money can buy – your money?

The great new advantages of your new accounts: free checking accounts will now charge fees and accounts which already charge fees will see them increased.

Oh, and if your debit card costs more, banks say it’s all because new regulations are forcing them to, well, screw you.

From the Progress Report, Center for American Progress, 7 October 2011, here are 12 facts you need to know about the nation’s biggest banks:

• Bank profits are highest since before the recession: According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp (FDIC), bank profits in the first quarter of this year were “the best for the industry since the $36.8 billion earned in the second quarter of 2007.” JP Morgan Chase is currently pulling in record profits

• … even as the banks plan thousands of layoffs: Banks, including Bank of America, Barclays, Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse, are planning to lay off tens of thousands of workers.

• Banks make nearly one-third of total corporate profits: The financial sector accounts for about 30 percent of total corporate profits, which is actually down from before the financial crisis, when they made closer to 40 percent.

• Since 2008, the biggest banks have gotten bigger: Due to the failure of small competitors and mergers facilitated during the 2008 crisis, the nation’s biggest banks — including Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo — are now bigger than they were pre-recession. Pre-crisis, the four biggest banks held 32 percent of total deposits; now they hold nearly 40 percent.

• The four biggest banks issue 50 percent of mortgages and 66 percent of credit cards: Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo and Citigroup issue one out of every two mortgages and nearly two out of every three credit cards in America.

• The 10 biggest banks hold 60 percent of bank assets: In the 1980s, the 10 biggest banks controlled 22 percent of total bank assets. Today, they control 60 percent.

• The six biggest banks hold assets equal to 63 percent of the country’s GDP: In 1995, the six biggest banks in the country held assets equal to about 17 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Now their assets equal 63 percent of GDP.

• The five biggest banks hold 95 percent of derivatives: Nearly the entire market in derivatives — the credit instruments that helped blow up some of the nation’s biggest banks as well as mega-insurer AIG — is dominated by just five firms: JP Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Citibank and Wells Fargo.

• Banks cost households nearly $20 trillion in wealth: Almost $20 trillion in wealth was destroyed by the Great Recession, and total family wealth is still down “$12.8 trillion (in 2011 dollars) from June 2007 — its last peak.”

• Big banks don’t lend to small businesses: The New Rules Project notes that the country’s 20 biggest banks “devote only 18 percent of their commercial loan portfolios to small business.”

• Big banks paid 5,000 bonuses of at least $1 million in 2008: According to the New York Attorney General’s office, “nine of the financial firms that were among the largest recipients of federal bailout money paid about 5,000 of their traders and bankers bonuses of more than $1 million apiece for 2008.”

• In the last few decades, regulations on the biggest banks have been systematically eliminated, while those banks engineered more and more ways to both rip off customers and turn ever-more complex trading instruments into ever-higher profits. It makes perfect sense, then, that a movement calling for an economy that works for everyone would center its efforts on an industry that exemplifies the opposite.


Quote of the Day

"We cannot achieve democracy and lasting peace in the world unless women obtain the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society."

- The Nobel committee in awarding the Nobel Peace Prize for 2011 to three female rights activists, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee of Liberia and Tawakkul Karman of Yemen.


Attitude Adjustment

All his rowdy friends have settled down, but Hank Williams, Jr., is still a loose cannon. (I saw him on stage in concert smashing expensive guitars against expensive sound equipment.)

I love Hank, Jr.’s music, though, for the same reason ESPN has featurd his open to “Monday Night Football:” he brings out the shitkicker in his audience.

By now, I’m sure the blogosphere is ablaze with Williams’ comparison of President Barack Obama to Hitler while likening his Republican golf opponents to Benjamin Netanyahu. (LINK)

In a statement after ESPN canned him, Williams said,“Every time the media brings up the tea party, it's painted as racist and extremists. but there's never a backlash, no outrage to those comparisons ... Working-class people are hurting, and it doesn't seem like anybody cares.”

Well now, Hank, that’s where you’re wrong. The Democratic Party cares about working-class Americans, but every effort in their behalf is shot down by Republicans. The GOP seeks to overturn decades of struggles to help the so-called common folk.

And therein lies one of the biggest mysteries witnessed by this longtime political observer: I simply do not understand how the Republican Party – the champion of big money and big business – has convinced the working poor and the middle class it’s on their side.

I am learning, though, that many WASPs - white Anglo-Saxon protestants - simply see themselves as the only true Americans, which, of course, excludes everyone else, including our president.

Hank, these people you care about so much: nothing short of an epiphany will remove their blinders to the fact they’ve been suckered.

What is needed is an “Attitude Adjustment.”


Gimme a break!

It's time for this motor mouth to SHUT UP!


Good news if you missed it

I am listening to Mississippi writer Greg Iles’ “The Footprints of God” in which (spoiler warning) a dying billionaire is attempting to achieve immortality and God-like power by transferring his brain to a supercomputer. (A little closer to possible than in the days of "Open the pod bay door, Hal.")

In this book, Iles explains “The Mushroom Treatment:” “Keep them in the dark and feed them bullshit.”

Forget any perceived resemblance to Rupert Murdoch, Iles’ “Mushroom Treatment” has for too long been the goal of Fox News Channel. Given the cable news (I use the term loosely) network’s ratings and undeniable influence on its viewers (aka "fans"), the following is really good news from CEO Roger Ailes:

Roger Ailes: Fox News Is On A 'Course Correction' Away From Far Right

The Huffington Post/Jack Mirkinson (LINK)
September 26, 2011

Fox News CEO Roger Ailes has given one of his typically candid interviews to Newsweek. The interview was published Monday (9/26/11).

For a man who first made his name as a media guru for Richard Nixon, Ailes is often surprisingly forthcoming about Fox News and his opinions. In previous interviews, he has called NPR executives "Nazis" (he later apologized), said he didn't mind if people thought Glenn Beck was fired from the channel, and admitted that he wants both Bill and Hillary Clinton to join Fox News.

Behind the scenes, Ailes is reported to have clashed with Sarah Palin and told Beck to cool his more controversial rhetoric.

Monday's interview offered up more of Ailes' unvarnished opinions about his network and his employees. He made a big admission to Newsweek, saying that he has made a "course correction" at Fox News, veering it away from the hard-right line it took in the earlier days of the Obama administration. (Ailes offered a preview of this strategy in January, when he told Russell Simmons that he had ordered his anchors and pundits to "tone it down" in the wake of the Gabrielle Giffords shooting.) Beck's departure, as well as a more nuanced approach to his most famous pundit, Sarah Palin, have been part of that strategy, Ailes said.

He also spoke openly about many of his anchors, saying that Bill O'Reilly "hates" Sean Hannity because he's jealous of his radio success (and thus confirming years of rumors about the animosity between the two).

Ailes also called Hannity "predictable" and said that he sometimes has to have a word with Shepard Smith when Smith says things that may not go over well with the Fox News crowd. (He didn't say whether he was referring to Smith's seemingly pro-union comments about the Wisconsin protests, or his saying that the killing of Osama bin Laden was illegal and that American foreign policy is on a dangerous path.)

BJ NOTE: The full Newsweek article is fascinating. Ailes discusses his relationships with GOP presidential hopefuls, including Rick Perry and Mitt Romney. Good stuff! Read it HERE.


Thanks to frequent DemWit reader "Tiny" for keeping me on my toes and not letting this one get by me.


A lingering question

There was a time when I ate, drank and slept sports – circa Brooklyn Dodgers through Archie Manning at Ole Miss. My interest waned when sports – college and professional – became all about big money.

So, it’s not surprising that the book I’m listening to has rekindled a lingering question. In Greg Iles’ “The Devil’s Punchbowl,” the evil that men do manifests itself in an illegal international dog-fighting ring. Iles’ descriptions of the brutality of these events, the breeding behind them and the bloodlust of spectators chills the soul. Tragically, a dog's "game" - the instinct to kill - depends on its loyalty to its master.

Iles' book is set in Natchez, Mississippi, in a state where participation in dog fighting is a felony punishable by 10 years in prison.

Anyone who gets off on watching animals bred for violence tear each other apart is sick – evil to the core. Could such a person change? Could Michael Vick?

To refresh your memory, Wikipedia says, “In April 2007, Vick was implicated in an illegal interstate dog-fighting ring that had operated over five years. In August 2007, he pleaded guilty to federal felony charges and served 21 months in prison, followed by two months in home confinement. With the loss of his NFL salary and product endorsement deals, combined with previous financial mismanagement, Vick filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in July 2008. Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank did not want Vick on the Falcons, and after attempts to trade him failed, Vick was released. He signed with the Philadelphia Eagles and was reinstated in Week 3 of the 2009 season.”

Now, just four years after Vick's guilty plea, I was stunned to learn recently that he had signed a six-year, $100 milliion contract with the Eagles.

The price of a quarterback.

How can anyone call this “sports”? This is no more sports than two pit bulks ripping each other’s throats out.

In a so-called civilized society the only thing that has changed since the days of the Colosseum is the price of the tickets or the big-screen TV.


After-midnight madness

Why in hell am I doing this? The political blogging experience is a two-edged sword. You find yourself either preaching to the choir or leading horses to water they stubbornly refuse to drink. Either result is ineffectual.

Well, somebody’s gotta do it. Am I naïve enough to think I can change the world? No. But, if I can inform just one person who might otherwise miss something as important as this post, I’m willing to do what it takes.

There was a vote in the U.S. House Wednesday that got almost unheard of bipartisan support. The 195 to 230 vote killed a measure which would have robbed a successful job-producing program in order to fund disaster aid for Americans.

The jobs program has created 40,000 new jobs in 11 states, has the potential of creating 50,000 to 60,000 more and will save Americans millions of gallons of gasoline.

The Democrats voted against the measure for obvious reasons. Robbing Peter to pay Paul should not rob Americans of much-needed jobs or disaster aid.

The Republicans voted against the measure  because the $1.5 billion was not ENOUGH to steal from the jobs program.

So, after freely funding rebuilding programs in Iraq and Afghanistan, Republicans are holding back on disaster relief for Americans.

My God, I thought, people need to know these facts. So, why do they prefer to ignore them? I'm betting many Americans, including those who need jobs and those who need or will need disaster aid, are paying little attention to what goes on in the U.S. House.

Some who have read this far will think I’m feeding them a load of Democratic BS. I honestly wish I were.

Read the backstory HERE.

In a spate of after-midnight madness, House Republicans did it – passed a measure by a vote of 219 to 203 to keep the government running a little longer by cutting disaster aid to Americans.

Now, they are ready for a week-long break. But, Mr. Reid says not so fast, the Senate is prepared to forfeit a break to fight this measure.  Read this breaking story HERE.

There might come a day when those who represent us in Washington fight for Americans instead of having to fight each other. My money's on the Democrats.