Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Elizabeth Warren thanks Bill Clinton

Elizabeth Warren earned my respect the day she first set foot on the national stage with her work in establishing the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The U.S. senator- elect for the state of Massachusetts demonstrates a strength of character too often missing in American politics. For one thing, Warren deftly sidesteps Rovian-influenced Dems who would like to see party leaders like the Clintons and Obamas at one another’s throats.

As a Warren supporter from the get-go, I continue to enjoy emails from her campaign headquarters. Most recently, she reminds us that in her efforts on behalf of the middle class, she’s following in the footsteps of Bill Clinton, and she invites us to join her in thanking him:


Bill Clinton made headlines for his political speeches this year, but it is his tireless work to improve people's lives and create opportunity that really inspires me.

He often says that hard work, intelligence, and ability are equally distributed -- but opportunity isn't. That's why the Clinton Foundation focuses on providing opportunity where President Clinton sees it lacking, both here in the United States and around the world.

The election is over, and there's a lot of work ahead. But while we have this moment to catch our breaths, can you join the Clinton Foundation and me in thanking Bill Clinton for his tremendous efforts to help hard-working families?

If you've heard me on the campaign trail, you know how hard I've been fighting for real investments in our future -- putting the conditions in place so that the next kid can get ahead, and the kid after that, and the kid after that.

Bill Clinton has spent his whole career fighting for the same thing.

Since leaving office, his foundation has helped provide access to life-saving HIV/AIDS medicine to over 4.5 million people. They've helped small business owners, smallholder farmers and entrepreneurs gain access to markets and investment capital to help their businesses flourish. They've helped our children have better schools, cleaner air and healthier nutrition so they all have the chance to succeed.

For nearly 40 years, Bill Clinton has continued to give a boost to people here in the United States and around the world to live their dreams.

I've told Bill Clinton personally how grateful I am for his leadership. Can you send him your own thanks today as well with a personal note?

Thank you for being a part of this,


Monday, December 10, 2012

A word to the Tea Party: extremism is a destructive approach to governance

Extremism from either the left or the right does not support good governance; it imperils it, as well as the party that adopts its tactics. Read Earl Ofari Hutchinson’s take on how the extremist Tea Party element has become a GOP liability:

The resignation of South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint from the Senate followed close on the heels of the desertion from the Tea Party of Freedom Works head Dick Armey took some by surprise. DeMint and Armey were the two biggest and most identifiable fish in the Tea Party affiliated pond. DeMint could be relied on to broker his name ID and prodigious fund raising prowess to every Tea Party backed Senatorial candidate--and loser.   

Armey was a tireless advocate at big, stagey Tea Party rallies and confabs for the Tea Party's anti-big government hard line message. Now both are out. If that wasn't bad news enough for the Tea Party, GOP conservative House leaders turned on it and ousted Representatives Tim Huelskamp of Kansas and Justin Amash of Michigan two of the loudest Tea Party position advocates from the House Budget Committee. They were kicked to the curb almost certainly because GOP House leaders know they have to make a deal with President Obama on the budget or risk being further dragged through the public and media mud as being the   cause for shoving the nation over the fiscal cliff. The Tea Party's brand of patented loose cannon obstructionism is too threatening to a GOP still reeling from the election flop.   The ouster of the Tea Party hardliners and desertions by GOP bigwigs from the movement was hardly the first rumbling that the lights are dimming for the Tea Party.

A year earlier, polls showed that far more Americans had an unfavorable view of the Tea Party than when it roared on the scene a couple of years earlier. The disaffection cut across all lines and that included many conservatives.   The reason for the plunge in Tea Party backing in Red State districts support wasn't hard to find. When Tea Party affiliated candidates scored big victories and even upsets of GOP incumbents in some races in 2010 they had one mantra and that was to shrink government, and shrink it fast. Millions of Americans cheered their war call, and voted for the candidates that yelped it the loudest. But it's one thing to scream about big government, bloated federal spending, and whopping federal debts, and it's quite another to actually hold Congress, and by extension, the nation hostage in an uncompromising, shrill battle to chop down government.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

You never outgrow the holiday classics

Courtesy of TV Guide.
A couple of weeks ago, my middle-aged son and his wife and I watched How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Wizard of Oz. We three adults were as entranced by our evening’s entertainment as we were the first time around.  Although we watched the holiday shows annually at our house when the kids were growing up, it had been years since I’d seen Grinch’s transformation, or Dorothy’s realization that you’ll most likely find what you’re seeking in your own back yard.

Marlo Thomas lets us know we aren't the only ones who get all sentimental watching the holiday classics:

Someone once said that the holiday season is the "ultimate sense memory," and that is so true. We all carry inside of us our collective Christmases and Hanukkahs -- the sight of twinkling lights and glowing candles, the sound of caroling and chanted prayers, the smell of pine trees and freshly fried latkes -- and it all comes rushing back to us every December.

The holiday season also triggers wonderful memories of our favorite classic Yuletide movies and TV specials. And often after the big family feast -- when the turkey's tryptophan starts kicking in -- doesn't someone always retire to the den and find one on the tube?

And what great old shows there are to watch. No matter how many times you see Charles Schulz's fetching animated special, A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965), it's hard not to have your heart go out to poor Charlie as he and the Peanuts gang try to decorate their sad, little tree (though, thankfully, Linus always reminds us of the true meaning of Christmas by the end). And speaking of tinsel-trimmed cartoons, is there anyone who can't sing at least two songs from Dr. Seuss' sweet-and-sassy 1966 musical adaptation of How the Grinch Stole Christmas ("You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch!"). That's a holiday keeper.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Obama’s big boy pants

Winner of the Nobel peace prize for his good intentions, our president is fast achieving the kind of notoriety that Dubya momentarily commanded with his “mission accomplished” swagger. 

Neocons praise Obama for putting on his big boy pants the first time he made a secret kill list and checked it twice before unleashing Predator drones programmed in the name of anti-terrorism to unleash acts of terror against other nations

The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf urges Congress to wake up to Obama’s dramatic expansion of executive power, which, of course, includes the right to maintain the above secret kill lists:

Even the Obama Administration agrees that the lethal drone program it runs permits the executive branch to kill too easily. Its officials felt it urgent to codify various constraints when they thought Mitt Romney might win the election, The New York Times recently reported, quoting one official who said, "There was concern that the levers might no longer be in our hands."

The story went on to report that the efforts are less urgent now that President Obama has won reelection (as if he alone is trustworthy enough to extrajudicially kill all willy-nilly, or to delegate that power to unerring paragons of good judgment like retired CIA Director David Petraeus). Still, the effort goes on with as much transparency as you'd expect: "The draft rule book for drone strikes that has been passed among agencies over the last several months is so highly classified, officials said, that it is hand-carried from office to office rather than sent by e-mail."

So consider this.

The Obama Administration thinks that on the president's authority it can adopt secret rules to a secret killing program, and that the rules will bind future presidents to Obama's notions of prudence?

That isn't how it works. Some David Addington/Harold Koh type could write up a memo demolishing any prudent safeguard the next president found hobbling in no more than a week or two.

Monday, December 3, 2012

The media runs hard to catch up with Hillary

Photo courtesy of the

To hear the New Yorker’s David Remnick tell it, Hillary Clinton is now the recipient of the adulation bestowed on Barack Obama in 08. Remnick apparently considers it a given that Hillary will run in 2016.

Whether Hillary runs or not, long-time supporters can’t help but chuckle as we watch her nimbly outwit a clumsy punditry incapable of comprehending a woman with more complexity and depth than the “dumb blond” stereotype of days gone by.

Stupefied in 08 as the first viable female presidential candidate revealed both her proven leadership credentials and her relational skills, our lemming-like journalists dipped into their store of bigoted epithets and labeled Hillary as “Sybil.”

Remnick tries too hard to be clever in this piece, but he does offer some insight into the state of the 2016 race even before incumbent Obama’s inauguration:

Hillary Clinton is running for President. And the Israeli political class is a full-blown train wreck. These are two conclusions, for whatever they are worth, based on a three-day conference I attended this weekend at the annual Saban Forum, in Washington, D.C.

A word about the scene: Haim Saban, an Israeli-American media and entertainment mogul, has for the past nine years been hosting a conference, sometimes in Jerusalem, more often in Washington, focussed on the Middle East. The attendees are mainly government officials, present and former; business people; institute-niks; a few reporters. There are very few Arabs; this year the most notable exception was Salam Fayyad, the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, though he didn’t stick around long, since the Palestinian Authority, thanks in large measure to Israel, is in grave peril, losing ground all the time to Hamas. Except for a few events, Chatham House rules obtain: meaning the official events are off the record. The presumption is that the incidental meetings are more important than the panels and speeches.

Friday night, however, was on the record—and surprisingly revealing. Hillary Clinton was the main speaker. In a packed ballroom of the Willard Hotel, she was greeted with a standing ovation and then a short, adoring film, a video Festschrift testifying to her years as First Lady, senator, and, above all, secretary of state. The film, an expensive-looking production, went to the trouble of collecting interviews with Israeli politicians—Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak, Tzipi Livni—and American colleagues, like John Kerry. Tony Blair, striking the moony futuristic note that was general in the hall, said, “I just have an instinct that the best is yet to come.”

Read more:

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The media picks up the pieces of its shattered stereotype of Hillary Clinton

Hillary shatters her media stereotype.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has successfully shattered the media’s stereotype of her that emerged from its collective sexist imagination in the 90s. As Hillary strode onto the world stage in her current role, the mainstream punditry, supported by unapologetic bigoted bloggers, scrambled to make excuses for their earlier misrepresentations of this powerful woman. The preferred explanation is not that the media saw her through the lenses of sexism and misogyny, but that she has changed over the years.

As the media would have it, Hillary Clinton, now in her 60s, has suddenly learned how to kick back and enjoy a cold one; she displays extraordinary ease and confidence out on the dance floor, and she has a sense of humor!!

Hillary’s many longtime friends and acquaintances assure us that she hasn’t changed – this is the Hillary they’ve always known and loved.

What a shocker. Acknowledged world leader Hillary Clinton is also a loving and relational human being who knows how to relax and have a good time.

The above thoughts helped me fill in the blanks in this piece by Margaret Carlson at Bloomberg that focuses on the secretary’s latest farewell tour:

As if a peaceful Thanksgiving dinner wasn’t enough of a challenge, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had to spend her holiday chasing an even more unattainable ideal: peace in the Middle East.

So Clinton left her and President Barack Obama’s trip to Asia to broker a deal between Israel and Hamas. She met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel (who was slightly more accommodating after his romance with failed presidential candidate Mitt Romney did not prove fruitful). She met with President Mohamed Mursi of Egypt. She met with leaders of the Palestinian Authority. The end result was a cease-fire that got photos of teddy bears amid rubble off the front page.

Like too many of her achievements, however, this one was soon spoiled -- or at least overshadowed -- by a man: Mursi, feeling empowered after delivering a Hamas cease-fire to the U.S., issued a decree essentially declaring himself above the law. Clinton is used to men complicating her life, notably her husband, Bill, and then-senator Barack Obama. The latter destroyed her presidential campaign, the former her marriage (almost).

In the annals of those who pick themselves up and dust themselves off, Hillary has no peer -- unless it is Bill. They now rest at (she) and near (he) the top of lists of the Most Admired Man and Woman in the World.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Successful surgery and a happy Thanksgiving!

Dear Katalusis readers,

Following successful knee replacement surgery on Nov. 6, I returned home from the hospital and transitional care on Nov. 20. My stay in the hospital and temporarily being unable to care for myself has been a powerful reminder of the importance of family and friends in my life - including faithful friends of Katalusis.

My son will be picking me up at around 11 a.m. today for Thanksgiving dinner with him and my daughter-in-law. I'm looking forward to this occasion to focus on gratitude for all the gifts I've received lately.

May each of you have the best Thanksgiving Day ever!

Virginia Bergman

Monday, November 5, 2012

Busting the myth of President Obama as peacemaker and Secretary Clinton as warmonger

Saying no to both the above.
As noted elsewhere on this blog, I’m scheduled for knee replacement surgery tomorrow morning and may not be able to post for a few weeks. Yep. That’s right. Surgery on election day, but I’m ahead of the game; I voted absentee the other day.

The final presidential debate left me no choice but to vote third party. In the concluding minutes of the debate, Gov. Romney enthusiastically voiced his support of the Obama Administration’s use of drones and presumably the president’s kill list, which he continues to develop. I could not in good conscience vote for either of these men.

And keep in mind, if you will, that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton early on urged Obama to cut back on the use of force and develop a more comprehensive approach to fighting terrorism.

So much for the myth of Obama as peacemaker and Hillary as warmonger that Obama loyalists continue to perpetuate despite the growing evidence to the contrary.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Minnesota way

NY Times columnist Tom Friedman's report on a recent visit to his hometown in Minnesota reiterated all of the reasons this native Ohioan fell in love with the North Star state back in the 60s when I moved here with my husband and our two kids. Friedman describes changes in St. Louis Park, the suburb where he was born and raised, but the principles espoused by state political leaders like Klobuchar and Franken have long been upheld here:

I was debating whether to go to the Turkish-Syrian border this week or to visit my old high school in Minnesota. I decided to make the exotic foreign trip and go to Minnesota. I thought it might be useful to look at this election through the window of my hometown of St. Louis Park. I have not been disappointed. I found in this little suburb of 45,250 people outside of Minneapolis — which was memorialized in the movie, “A Serious Man,” directed by the Coen brothers, who also hail from here — all the key trends impacting America.

For starters, there is the changing face of the town. We had two African-Americans among the 2,500 students at St. Louis Park High when I graduated in 1971, and everyone there was either Christian or Jewish. When I walked through the high school cafeteria on Monday, there were six teenage girls covered in colorful Muslim hijabs and the principal, Robert Metz, explained to me that “today we have more Muslim students than Jewish students.” This is the byproduct of the huge influx of Somali refugees to Minnesota. Metz said my old high school, which now has open enrollment and competes for students from around Minneapolis, attracts young people both for its academic rigor and because they want to go to a richly diverse school that mirrors the world in which they’ll be working. There are more than 30 languages spoken in the elementary school near my old house — exactly 29 more than when I lived here. 

Read more:


Sunday, October 28, 2012

How can I keep from singing

Nobel Laureate Elie Weisel (
I was reading Elie Weisel’s novel, The Gates of the Forest, in the summer of 1999, well before the terrorist attack on 9/11 that propelled America down the road of retaliation. That August I served as guest preacher at a Minneapolis church where I offered words that may be even more appropriate now than they were then. The sermon below, How can I keep from singing, was based on the following readings:

Paul's letter to the Romans  12: 21: Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Contemporary reading from The Gates of the Forest by Elie Wiesel:

In Elie Wiesel’s novel, The Gates of the Forest, Gregor, a survivor of the Holocaust, is living in Paris.  A friend has persuaded him to visit the Rabbi.  After some intense discussion about God’s role in the Holocaust, the Rabbi asks Gregor what he expects from him.

“Rabbi,” he said, “you asked me what I expected of you, and I said I expected nothing.  I was mistaken.  Make me able to cry.”

The Rabbi shook his head, “That’s not enough.  I shall teach you to sing.  Grown people don’t cry; beggars don’t cry.”

The Rabbi added, “Crying is for children.  Are you still a child, and is your life a child’s dream?  No, crying’s no use. You must sing.”

“And you, Rabbi?  What do you expect of me?”


And when Gregor started to protest, the Rabbi added, “Jacob wrestled with the angel all night and overcame him.  But the angel implored him:  Let me go, dawn is approaching.  Jacob let him go; to show his gratitude, the angel brought him a ladder.  Bring me this ladder.”

“Which one of us is Jacob?” asked Gregor.  “And which the angel?”

“I don’t know,” said the Rabbi with a friendly wink.  “Do you?

Gregor got up and the Rabbi took him to the door.

“Promise to come back,” he said, holding out his hand.

“I’ll come back.”

“Will you come to our celebrations?”


How can I keep from singing

It may seem odd to bring together a passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans about love and not returning evil for evil with a reading from holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel’s novel, The Gates of the Forest. The holocaust is a symbol of evil that for most of us remains beyond our powers of comprehension. How can we ever hope to overcome such evil with good?

I read The Gates of the Forest for the first time a couple of weeks ago. For years I had avoided reading Wiesel’s works and other major holocaust literature because I was afraid. I feared I would be overwhelmed by the enormity of the suffering and be swallowed up by despair. I was not. Out of the depth and breadth of his soul, Wiesel’s words overcome the evil of the holocaust. As someone else has remarked, The Gates of the Forest is “shot through with a strange humor of forgiveness.”

When the novel begins, Gregor, a young partisan has been left alone, hiding in a cave during the war. His father promised to return in three days, but three days have passed, and Gregor has stopped counting. I won’t forget Gregor’s thoughts as from his hiding place he sees the clouds hovering over the village below: “They were not clouds properly speaking, but Jews driven from their homes and transformed into clouds. In this disguise they were able to return to their homes where strangers now lived.”

To Gregor, on clear nights the stars in the heavens were Jewish children who had died in Hitler’s ovens.

It is true what they say about Elie Wiesel, also known as the Great Reminder: “He does not describe, he casts a spell.” I was caught in that spell as I read the effect on first Gregor and then his companions, when in their various hiding places, they gradually discovered it was the intent of their persecutors to completely annihilate the Jewish people.

The enormity of it.

If there has been a paradigm shift in theological understanding since the holocaust, it is the realization among a few at least that our perception of reality depends on where we stand. It seems obvious now, does it not, that those with power see reality differently from those without power?

Reading The Gates of the Forest altered my perception of reality in all experiences of time, backward, forward, and in this present moment. I’ve not yet integrated the force of the evil it reveals or the strength demonstrated by the survivors of the holocaust to continue to live with hope and love and miraculously, forgiveness.

We know in our own country, anti-Semitism continues to flare up here and there in hatred and vilification of innocent people. It did not end with the holocaust. What must it do to the children? Inevitably, they must learn about the holocaust- and then, too often, experience firsthand the cruelty of irrational hatred. In bewilderment, just as Gregor and his companions did, they must cry out, “What have we done that was so wrong?”

Thus, those who would persecute the innocent continue to inflict psychic wounds even on those too young to protect themselves.

I met such a psychically wounded child nearly 20 years ago on the campus of Mankato State University where he and I were both students;  I was a non-traditional student in my 30s, married, and the mother of two children. He was probably right out of high school. He was in some of my classes. He may have been drawn to me by comments I made in our class discussions - I don’t know. I was a Unitarian at the time, not nominally Christian, and I had a tendency to be outspoken, especially when the topic of bigotry arose. In any case, the young man began to follow me around as the weeks elapsed.

This was the 70s,and at Mankato, we were still feeling repercussions from the student revolution of the 60s. There were occasional bomb threats. Students wore outlandish costumes. But this young man stood out even in that setting. He favored military uniforms, often decorated with Nazi symbols. On one occasion, he confided that he was Jewish. He observed that the Jews had been the underdogs, and he added, “I choose to identify with the Nazis because they had power.”

On another occasion, he told me he had guns stockpiled in his small apartment. I can’t remember my earlier responses to his remarks. I do remember noticing the fineness and delicacy of his features. And that his eyes were clear, and he had a gentle face.

One afternoon, my young friend sat down across from me at my table in the student union. Once again, he began describing the arsenal he maintained in his apartment. I don’t know what prompted my words to him that day. It could’ve been the impatience of a mother who had heard about enough nonsense. I looked him in the eye, and said, “When are you going to stop trying to impress me and admit that you’re just a nice young man?”

He stood up, walked around the table and bent over to kiss me gently on the cheek. When I ran into him a few days later, he told me he got rid of his guns. I noticed as time passed that his style of clothing changed, and I even recall seeing him around campus in a neat blue suit, white shirt, and tie. One day he introduced me to the young woman who had become his fiancée.

Once in awhile over the years, I’ve had occasion to remember him, always with affection, as a bright young man with a sweet face, who only needed a brief acknowledgment of his humanity to be who he really was at heart.

I remembered him after the shooting in Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. My son Steve lived in Milwaukee at the time, and he and I were on the phone discussing the horror of the Columbine incident. It was one of those moments, when I said, “Son, did I ever tell you about...”

And I told him about the young Jewish student who had forever touched my life at Mankato.

There are many among us, I think, who would benefit from a brief acknowledgment of their humanity, an acknowledgment that opens the door for love to overcome the nightmare of alienation.

Several years after the incident in Mankato, where I majored in English, with a concentration in writing, I took a part-time job as a receptionist at an adult residential mental health facility; the job allowed me to contribute to the family income while trying my hand at freelance writing.  From my desk in the front lobby, I had the opportunity to visit with many of the residents and develop relationships of trust with them. My hours during the week were from 5-9 p.m. One evening as I walked through the front entrance I saw a drama unfolding. A young male resident with whom I had become friends and a male staff member were circling each other, fists drawn. The administrator stood helplessly by.

I walked over to the main desk and told the receptionist on duty to stay there. I picked up an empty coffee cup and walked to a spot where the young man could see me. I lifted the cup up high and called his name. When he glanced toward me, I said, “Let’s go get a cup of coffee.”

In that moment, the trust he and I had established held. An expression of relief swept over his face. His arms went down. He glanced at his opponent as if to say, “I don’t have time for you.” And he and I walked together into the cafeteria.

On my way past her, the administrator whispered, “Thanks.”

At coffee that evening in the cafeteria, the young man confided what his therapist told him that day. She said that deep down in his heart, there was a rosebud, which was now tightly closed, but in time it would unfold, and he would be healed and whole. His face was radiant as he shared this with me.

I never learned what triggered the incident I interrupted that evening. I suspect the therapist’s words had so filled the young man with hope he became agitated and unable to maintain his self control. To be safe and healed and whole is what we all long for, I believe. Whether we are Jew or Christian, male or female, straight or gay, black or white, young or old; it matters not.

It has been said that in our lifetimes we human beings move from the age of innocence to the age of experience when we can sometimes get lost in that too prevalent state of cynicism and despair where from one day to the next a primary motivation is to get even with those who have hurt us. We Minnesotans are yet in the developmental age of experience when, in reference to Gov. Jesse Ventura’s former life as a professional wrestler, we display bumper stickers that read, “My governor can beat up your governor.”

The third age to which human beings can aspire is the age of wisdom. It is the same wisdom that teaches us to not be overcome by evil, but to overcome evil with good. I don’t think any of us progresses neatly from one stage to the next, rather we continue to visit each of the three from time to time and hopefully as we mature, we most often choose the way of wisdom.

In its concluding chapters, The Gates of the Forest draws us toward the age of wisdom. Gregor has come to see the Rabbi in search of answers. They engage in a prolonged and intense discussion in which Gregor wants the Rabbi to acknowledge that in the holocaust God has abandoned the Jewish people.

To a certain extent the Rabbi acknowledges this harsh reality but in his next words to Gregor, we know that he understands it was not God who abandoned the Jewish people, it was other human beings who abandoned them: “Who says, that power comes from a shout, an outcry rather than from a prayer? From anger rather than compassion? Where do you find certainties when you claim to have denied them? A song on the lips is worth a dagger in the hand...”

The Rabbi continues, “There is joy as well as fury in the Hasid’s dancing. It’s his way of proclaiming, ‘You don’t want me to dance; too bad, I’ll dance anyhow. You’ve taken away every reason for singing, but I shall sing. I shall sing of the deceit that walks by day and the truth that walks by night, yes, and of the silence of dusk as well. You didn’t expect my joy, but here it is; yes, my joy will rise up; it will submerge you.’”

Thus, the Rabbi instructs Gregor in the art of standing for himself without standing against anyone else - one of the most difficult arts any of us ever has to learn.

That evening, the Hasidic Jews sang and danced, and Gregor saw “the joy roll in great waves over the hall; they shouted out their happiness, climbed invisible ladders, discarded them when they ceased to be of use.”

“Bring me that ladder,” the Rabbi told Gregor.

“Which of us is Jacob and which is the angel?” Gregor asked.

“I don’t know,” the Rabbi replied, “Do you?”

We never know, do we? It is best perhaps that we do not.

A few years ago, I organized a talent show and acted as the emcee for the residents of a long-term women’s shelter, long term meaning they could live there for a maximum of two years. Each woman had a personal history of immense pain and suffering and faced many obstacles toward getting back on her feet again and rejoining the mainstream.

The shelter was located on the grounds of a convent. The audience the night of the talent show included the shelter staff and the nuns from the convent. Both orders came, the active and the contemplative. I was told it was rare for the contemplative sisters to attend something like this.

We framed the talent show as a means of thanking God for the many gifts of the participants and celebrating those gifts. One woman sang the Ave Maria. Another played a whimsical flute solo. There was also a piano solo. A woman read a moving poem she had written. One gave a demonstration of pottery making; another demonstrated flower arranging. There was dancing and a couple of skits which poked gentle fun at the ways of the shelter. The child’s little red wagon, loaded down with hundreds of pages representing the shelter’s rule book, drew laughter from our audience as one of the women pulled it across the stage.

I’m here to tell you there were ladders passed back and forth the evening of the talent show. And no one there could have told who the angels were in that rather unique crowd. At the conclusion of the program, the participants and the audience stood and together sang the hymn, How Can I Keep From Singing.

As I helped the women fold up the chairs and put them away that evening after the show was over and the audience had left, I heard many comments such as, “That was fun. We should do things like that more often.”

Their lingering joy was pleasant to witness.

“No, I will not teach you to cry,” the Rabbi said to Gregor, “I will teach you to sing.”

“And what do you expect from me,” Gregor asked the Rabbi.

“Everything,” the Rabbi replied.

I should guess that everything is expected of us, too.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Let’s stand at this time and sing How can I keep from singing, number 25 in the New Century Hymnal:


Follow the link for the lyrics and to listen to How can I keep from singing:

Friday, October 26, 2012

John Brennan, Obama's killing czar, opposes drone war?

President Obama listens to Brennan's report. Credits: Public domain.
John O. Brennan's official title is Deputy National Security Advisor for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, as well as assistant to the president.  Unofficially, the Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf has dubbed Brennan the Obama Administration's Killing Czar. And according to Friedersdorf, even Brennan has qualms about the drone war:

In Djibouti, a small East African country on the Gulf of Aiden, the United States launches killer drones that strike in Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere. Last spring, as one of the drones sat on a runway, it suddenly came alive "without any human direction, even though the ignition had been turned off and the fuel lines closed," the Washington Post reports. "Technicians concluded that a software bug had infected the 'brains' of the drone, but never pinpointed the problem." It's an anecdote that underscores how easily things can go wrong as America rapidly expands drone fleets and missions. It isn't just that drones are frequently crashing, sometimes on urban neighborhoods, in the part of the world where John Brennan, the top counterterrorism adviser to President Obama, says that he's been most successful controlling the unmanned program. It's that a drone there isn't or wasn't entirely under the control of its minders!

With that in mind, let's turn to Pakistan, where America has carried out more drone strikes than anywhere else. Remarkably, the man who has more power than anyone save Obama over America's kill list has unwittingly made an air-tight argument that the drone war, as presently waged, is deeply problematic. That's what I gleaned from a close reading of the three-part Washington Post series on kill lists, which quotes Brennan and others familiar with his thinking at length.

Read More:

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Theological opposition to Marriage amendment and Voter ID amendment

United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities
"Standing on the side of love and inclusion," the faculty of United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities, my alma mater, recently issued a statement against the proposed Marriage Amendment and Voter ID amendment to Minnesota's Constitution ( I already voted no on those amendments with my absentee ballot):

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

America's use of terrorism to fight terrorism abroad

Justice Party's  Rocky Anderson.
The Washington Post's article on the Obama Administration's long term plans for continuation of using drones to take out those on the president's kill list and any innocent civilians who get in the way is scary and sickening stuff to read - it's referred to in the article as America's developing blueprint for fighting terrorism. In other words, America is using terrorism to fight terrorism?

In the final presidential debate Monday night, Gov. Romney expressed his support of the Obama Administration's policy of using drones for targeted killing of suspected terrorists abroad.

Justice Party candidate Rocky Anderson, a former Democrat, got it right when he said: “The Constitution has been eviscerated while Democrats have stood by with nary a whimper. It is a gutless, unprincipled party, bought and paid for by the same interests that buy and pay for the Republican Party."

When I completed my absentee ballot the other day, I could not in good conscience vote for either Obama or Romney. I voted instead for the Justice Party ticket: Rocky Anderson and Louis Rodriguez.

Read more about Rocky Anderson here.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

An uninspiring final presidential debate

A neighbor and I chatted a few minutes yesterday about the 2012 campaign. We were both wondering why superpower America was incapable of producing more inspiring leadership. And uninspiring is how last night's final presidential debate struck me. Scanning the online coverage this morning, I found the Christian Science Monitor most nearly agreed with my assessment of the 3rd round of exchanges between Obama and Romney.  Without declaring a clear winner, staff writer Howard LaFranchi argues that both men appeared to have achieved their goals for the evenings:

President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney each used Monday night’s third and final debate to try to close the deal with a divided American electorate.
In a debate without any glaring gaffes and largely held in a more congenial tone than the combative encounter of last week, both men seemed to accomplish what they may have set out to do: Mr. Romney to come across as an acceptable commander in chief, Mr. Obama to portray a successful presidency while planting seeds of doubt about a challenger who recently has had the momentum.    
While the debate’s theme was ostensibly foreign policy, both candidates time and again brought their answers back to the domestic economy, jobs, and who would do the better job of building an America for the 21st century.

“After a decade of war, I think we all recognize we have to do some nation-building at home,” Obama said more than once.
“I certainly don’t want to go back to the policies of the last four years,” Romney retorted. “It hasn’t worked.”\

Read more:

Monday, October 22, 2012

Politics and religion in Defiance, Ohio

Welcome to Defiance, Ohio.
I was born and raised in northwestern Ohio, and I'm not surprised that conservatism, both religious and political, still prevails in the city of Defiance, located in Defiance County.  Rosalind S. Helderman's article in yesterday's Washington Post, headlined GM is alive in Defiance, Ohio, but Obama’s hopes here may not be, caught my eye:

For more than 50 years, the economic fate of this tiny town in northwest Ohio has been inextricably linked to the health of General Motors, its largest employer.

And so when two local lawyers put up a billboard in the cornfield across from Defiance’s GM plant with a picture of the GM logo above the word “alive” and a photo of Osama bin Laden above the word “dead,” you might have expected nods of approval.

Instead, in this deeply conservative corner of the state not far from the Indiana border, the billboard — and two others posted in town — have proved highly controversial. 

For Democrats, this may be the town President Obama helped save with the auto bailout. But, in a twist, Defiance and places like it could end up saving Mitt Romney in all-important Ohio.

That’s because Obama won Ohio four years ago in part by peeling off support in Republican-leaning parts of the state such as Defiance. Now, Romney is making a play to get those voters back, hoping that, here on the brightening side of the recession, the election is not all about the economy, and that juiced GOP turnout might swing a state that no Republican president has ever lost.  

Read more:

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Breaking news: Friendships are key to longevity!

Image courtesy of

That "friends halve our grief and double our joy" is one of my favorite truisms, and recent research suggests that our social ties also have a significant effect on our longevity. David R. Hamilton, Ph.D. reports:

Most of us accept that the secret to living to a very old age is either down to genetics or lifestyle. In reality, it's a bit of both, with genetics actually only contributing 20-30 percent of the likelihood of living to 100.

Ultimately, lifestyle is the bit that we can control, so most longevity research (research into lifespan) has focused upon this. Most of us know that eating a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, not smoking, drinking in moderation, and reducing stress in our lives is the way to go.

But one additional vital ingredient is missing from this menu. That ingredient is friends!

Read more:

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

No clear win for Obama in last night’s debate

Forgive me but I didn’t see last night’s debate as a clear win for the president. In my opinion, Obama and Romney were pretty evenly matched, while debate moderator Crowley sounded whiney most of the time.

The Washington Post’s Stephen Stromberg was also unimpressed, but he did give the edge to Obama:

President Obama might have saved his campaign at Tuesday night’s presidential debate. Not that his performance was all that great.

At the first presidential debate two weeks ago, Obama seemed prickly and disengaged. This time around, he retired the arrogant grin and delivered his lines with force. He did voters the courtesy of bringing his A game, instead of conceited complacency. Mitt Romney, meanwhile, went from confident and affable two weeks ago to defensive and pushy Tuesday night. He often sounded flustered, even repeatedly arguing petty points of procedure with moderator Candy Crowley. By the end of the debate, members of the
audience clapped after Crowley called Romney on a fact he got wrong.

Obama also did a better job hitting Romney on a few matters of substance. The president calmly added up the numbers in Romney’s mathematically-challenged tax plan, insisting that Romney the investor would never accept such a “sketchy” deal. Romney’s response to the criticism of his numbers was about as convincing as his usually are: “Of course they add up,” he insisted, following that with no plausible reason to believe him.

On substance, however, Obama still only looked great relative to Romney’s unrealistic tax plan. 

Read more:

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Secretary Clinton takes responsibility for 9/11 attack on Benghazi (video)

On the eve of President Obama's second debate with Gov. Romney, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton demonstrated once again her loyalty to the administration she serves by taking responsibility for the 9/11 attack in Benghazi, Libya that cost the lives of Ambassador Stevens and three other Americans:

Monday, October 15, 2012

Injured Pakistani girl flown to the UK for treatment

Malala Yousafzai
We have to wonder how many young girls and women around the globe are brutalized every moment of every day, even as one courageous young girl continues to fight for her life. The BBC reports:

The 14-year-old Pakistani girl shot in the head by Taliban gunmen is being flown to the UK for medical treatment.

Malala Yousafzai has until now been at a military hospital in Rawalpindi, with doctors saying her progress over the next few days would be "critical". 

She remains in a serious condition after the attack, which the Taliban said they carried out because she was "promoting secularism".

Pakistan's interior minister has said the attack was planned abroad.
Those involved would soon be caught, said Rehman Malik, without giving further details. 
Malala left Pakistan on board an air ambulance provided by the United Arab Emirates, accompanied by a full medical team. 

It was not immediately clear whether any of her family were travelling with her.

She is being taken to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham - an NHS (National Health Service) hospital which has a specialist major trauma centre.

The cost of her care and rehabilitation is being funded by Pakistan.

Read more:

Sunday, October 14, 2012

70-year=old Barbara Streisand at sold-out show in Brooklyn (video)

Here's Babs in the 60s (Wikipedia).
You gotta love Barbara Streisand. At the age of 70, she's still going strong - watch!

Thanks to Tenn. Guerilla Women for posting this via the Advocate.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Doonesbury's mockery of Romney's missionary work for the Mormon Church

Trudeau in 2012: Courtesy of
I've long been a fan of Gary Trudeau's comic strip, Doonesbury, but lately I've been deeply offended by the strip's series (Oct. 8 - present) mocking the youthful Mitt Romney's thirty months as a Mormon misionary in France. This is none other than religious bigotry at its worst.

In mocking Romney's missionary efforts, Trudeau has borrowed in detail the Obama camp's  attacks on the Republican nominee's character, charging him with flip-flopping, insincerity, etc.. (Evidently, Obama supporters have forgotten their candidate's sudden lunge to the center immediately after he received the Democratic nomination in 08.)

Character attacks have become par for the course in the political arena - recall the Obama camp's strategy for defeating Hillary Clinton in the 08 primary and further back, the swift-boating of John Kerry.

Nevertheless, the license to slander one's opponent in the political arena does not justify mocking and ridiculing a candidate's religious practices. Gary Trudeau has clearly crossed the line this time around, and his fans should call him to account.

Friday, October 12, 2012

VP debate: Biden won on substance; Ryan won on style

VP debate: screenshot courtesy of US
After watching last night's vice-presidential debate, I called it a draw. I gave Ryan points for demeanor and style; I thought his bearing was more dignified and presidential than Biden's, whose laughter and other antics were on display throughout the debate. Nonetheless, I gave Biden points on substance; with his many terms in the U.S. Senate and four years as vice-president, one would have questioned his intelligence had he not demonstrated more knowledge of the issues than the youthful Ryan. Accordingly, I think this morning's editorial in the NY Times was a little over the top in its assessment of the debate:

Thursday night’s vice-presidential debate was one of the best and meatiest political conversations in many years, showing that real differences on public policy can be discussed with fervor, anger, laughter and real substance. In contrast to the dismal meeting last week between President Obama and Mitt Romney, this debate gave voters a chance to evaluate the positions of the two tickets, in part because Representative Paul Ryan’s nonanswers were accurate reflections of his campaign.

Vice President Joseph Biden Jr. would not sit still for a parade of misleading and often blatantly untruthful descriptions of the state of the economy and the Republican prescriptions for it. Though his grins and head-shakes were often distracting, he did not hesitate to interrupt and demand an end to “malarkey.” The result, expertly controlled by the moderator, Martha Raddatz of ABC News, was both entertaining and enlightening. 

Read more:


Thursday, October 11, 2012

Elizabeth Warren speaks out for "all of our daughters and granddaughters!" (video)

Debating Scott Brown in Springfield, Elizabeth Warren drew a big round of applause by standing up for "all of our daughters and granddaughters." Watch:

Saturday, October 6, 2012

It's "Mr. President," not "Your Highness"

Regardless of party, anyone who witnessed the 08 primaries and general election and subsequent coverage of the Obama Administration is aware of how the media has continued to pamper Barack Obama, despite his inaccessibility. In the aftermath of the first presidential debate in 2012, it comes as a surprise to see how unanimous the punditry has been in its negative critique of the incumbent's performance. The Washington Post's Dana Milbank has a message for Obama:

Barack Obama received a valuable reminder in his drubbing at Wednesday night’s debate: He is a president, not a king.

 In the hours after the Republican challenger Mitt Romney embarrassed the incumbent in their first meeting, Obama loyalists expressed puzzlement that the incumbent had done badly. But Obama has only himself to blame, because he set himself up for Wednesday’s emperor-has-no-clothes moment. For the past four years, he has worked assiduously to avoid being questioned, maintaining a regal detachment from the media and other sources of dissent and skeptical inquiry.

Obama has set a modern record for refusal to be quizzed by the media, taking questions from reporters far less often than Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and even George W. Bush. Though his opponent in 2008 promised to take questions from lawmakers like the British prime minister does, Obama has shied from mixing it up with members of Congress, too. And, especially since Rahm Emanuel’s departure, Obama is surrounded by a large number of yes men who aren’t likely to get in his face. 

Read More:

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Obama's lackluster debate performance

Even though President Obama's leadership in the past four years has been spotty, I plan to vote for his re-election. So it was disappointing to watch Mitt Romney run circles around the lackluster incumbent onstage in Denver last night.

As a Hillary supporter in the 08 primary, I was having flashbacks of the sprightly candidate Barack Obama telling Hillary, the obviously better qualified candidate, that she was "likable enough," As we all know, despite the dashing young senator's lack of executive experience and legislative skills, an enraptured media embraced Obama and carried him over the finish line.

Obama was not so dashing last night and the morning after, the punditry appear to unanimously declare Romney the winner.. In Campaign Stops at the NY Times, columnist Stanley Fish offers his take on the first presidential debate of 2012:

Mitt Romney on points, in all areas. The first sign that this was a Romney night came early, when the governor accused President Obama of championing “trickle down government,” Jim Lehrer asked the president to reply, and he didn’t — and the accusation stuck and was repeated later without response.

Nothing stuck to Romney, who was able to handle everything Obama pitched. He refused to accept the $5 trillion tax tag and declared that he won’t propose any tax cut that adds to the deficit. So he was able to say that he would cut taxes and he wouldn’t at the same time, without leaving any opening for an attack.

 He then took the opportunity to highlight an important difference between himself and the president, when he pointed out that his health care plan was the result of bipartisan co-operation because it had to be — 87 percent of the Massachusetts legislature was Democratic during his term — while Obama was famously unable to get a single Republican vote. An Obama partisan might say that all this proved was Republican intransigence; but that’s not how it came across. It came across both as a fact (I did it by reaching across the aisle) and as a promise (when I’m president I’ll do it again) — a promise he made again near the end.

(I can't resist noting here that in 08 the Obama camp and the media labeled Hillary Clinton as "too polarizing," even though she had built a bipartisan reputation in her two terms as a US Senator. Ironically, Obama is now on record as the most polarizing president in recent history.)

Read more:

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Krugman’s public service reminder: “Simpson Bowles is terrible”

Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles

Today is Sunday, and I hadn’t planned to post anything new, but Paul Krugman’s public service reminder about Simpson Bowles shook me up, and I felt obligated to link to it this afternoon:

Nate Silver gives Mitt Romney a 16 percent chance of winning, and gives Republicans a 22 percent chance of taking the Senate. A month is an eternity in politics, it ain’t over until it’s over, yada yada, but the main suspense right now is whether the Democrats can retake the House — I’m eagerly waiting for Nate’s take.

And what this means is that in DC thoughts are turning to … Simpson Bowles.

You know what will happen if the expected result materializes and Obama is reelected: all the Very Serious People will clamor for him to return to the pursuit of a Grand Bargain, built around S-B.

Read more:

Saturday, September 29, 2012

How NY Times columnist and amateur psychologist David Brooks supports the NRA

The urbanity of NY Times columnist David Brooks, author of The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement, conceals at times the underlying crassness of his positions on issues, e.g., when he glibly spouts psychological nonsense in support of arming the populace. Allen Frances, professor emeritus of Duke University, would like a word with Brooks:

I have an offer for David Brooks. If he promises to stop being an amateur psychologist, I promise to stop being an amateur columnist.

What Brooks doesn't know about psychology is a lot. Everything he says about it has a shallow ring, is misinformed, and displays the same bias and ulterior motive. Brooks is a complacent apologist for the status quo. Whenever events scream out that there is an obvious defect in one of his cherished social policies, Brooks comes to its defense with a muddled pop psychological explanation -- hoping in the process to deflect attention away from any serious policy discussion of what has gone wrong and what can be done to correct it. The consistent tactic is to rationalize a failing public policy by putting all the blame on messed up individual psychology.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Despite the swirl of rumors regarding her plans in 2016, Secretary Clinton toils on

Secretary Clinton at the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York. U.S. State Department photo.

While Campaign 2012 rages on in its full negativity mode and rumors swirl about a possible Clinton candidacy in 2016, the AP reports that hardworking Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is on the job trying to calm Asian waters:

NEW YORK — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged China's top diplomat on Thursday to peacefully resolve increasingly tense maritime disputes with Japan and its smaller neighbors in Southeast Asia.

A senior U.S. official said Clinton had pressed Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi on the importance of settling its conflicting claim with Japan over the Japanese-held Senkaku islands, called Diaoyu by China, along with numerous competing claims in the South China Sea with members of the Association of South East Asian Nations.

The official was not authorized to publicly discuss the private discussion between Clinton and Yang on the sidelines of the annual U.N. General Assembly and therefore requested anonymity. Clinton was expected to make the same case to Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba when she meets with him in New York.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

All we want are the facts, Sir!

Detective Joe Friday in Dragnet.

Many of us remember Detective Joe Friday’s insistence on the facts in the 1950s tv series, Dragnet. Today’s websites devoted to fact-checking unavoidably remind us of that earnest detective. But the facts being checked are not criminal (we hope), but rather political, during yet another heated presidential campaign in which the truth is too often a casualty.

The Nation’s Ari Melber discusses the impact of fact-checking on the Obama and Romney campaigns:

A tabulation of recent rulings from PolitiFact, a prominent but increasingly controversial website devoted to fact-checking candidates' claims, found that “statements by Mitt Romney and other Republicans” were rated false “twice as often as statements by President Obama and other Democrats.” That's a lot more false statements by Republicans, which makes it harder to cling to the false equivalency that “both sides do it.”

Or maybe not.

A snap poll of conservative reactions shows that the study of Politifact, from George Mason's Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA), proves the conservative theory that the fact-checkers are out to get Republicans.

“This discrepancy is not because the Romney campaign is egregiously truth-challenged,” explains The Weekly Standard, “but because the 'fact checking' enterprise is more often than not partisan.” When you're done attacking the messenger, go for the refs! That approach may be welcomed by CMPA, however, which has played up its past studies as proof that life is hard for the GOP. (Press release headlines include “GOP Candidates Were Big Joke to TV Comics in 2011,” “TV News Coverage Helped Sink Santorum…”, and, for good measure, “Arab Media Boost Obama.” Oh that Arab Media—it just loves American presidents.)

In the end, it's true that your view of the findings depends on your view of Politifact, though, because if you think they generally get it right, then cumulative data like this is still bad for the right: