Tuesday, December 31, 2013

How I've grown in 2013

This quote surfaced several years ago when my Fortune 500 company employer put all of our jobs at risk by downsizing the regional office: "Hard times don't build character, they reveal it."

The  thought has recently occurred to me that the challenges we face - if they don't destroy us - might possibly do both: reveal and simultaneously build our character, and that might be a good lens through which to review this passing year.

Rather than asking myself what I accomplished in 2013, I'm asking myself this New Year's Eve, how have I grown? That's a much more difficult question. My answer: It's much easier for me now to ask for help when I need it. Whether it's reaching out to someone to assist me across an icy pavement - I use a cane - or seeking guidance during a conflict in my community from a neighbor who happens to be a Benedictine nun. We easily connected with one another despite the differences in our religious beliefs, and she proved to be a wonderful source of support and wise advice.

So I'm looking forward to a neighborhood New Year's Eve party this evening while focusing on further development in 2014 of personal characteristics of compassion and loving-kindness.


Thursday, December 26, 2013

Spreading compassion throughout your community and beyond

Charter for Compassion email banner
Your Opportunity to Spread Compassion Throughout Your Community and Beyond

December 24, 2013
Dear Friend,
It is with a profound sense of gratitude that I write to you today to extend an invitation to join with me in supporting the Charter for Compassion at this holiday season of 2013. 
The Charter for Compassion has grown into a truly global movement.  Thanks to your efforts, compassion has touched the lives of thousands of people in countries, cities, business and other organizations, schools, and faith communities around the world.  Here are some highlights:
  • Our friends in Pakistan have now introduced compassion curricula and mindfulness training for teachers in over 50 schools with a goal of 500 more by 2015.
  • In the wake of my visit to Indonesia last summer, four major cities in that country now host thriving public compassion campaigns.
  • The Islamic Society of North America has made the Charter for Compassion a principal platform for engaging young Muslims.
  • The Vision Council of Botswana has endorsed the global compassion movement and the Botho Movement trained over 250 government employees, social service providers and educators.
  • Over 1,000 educational institutions worldwide have signed our Charter for Compassionate Schools since September of this year.
From Amsterdam to Saint Augustine, from Zagreb to Johannesburg, groups of citizens in over 200 cities are springing into action to help bring the principles of the Charter for Compassion to life in a myriad of practical, measurable ways.  
Since the Charter was launched in 2009, we’ve understood more deeply that every resilient, innovative community, institution or partnership in the world is stitched together with the thread of compassion. In our dangerously polarised world, compassion is the only route to a safe, just, peaceful and viable world.
Your gift this December is essential to realizing the transformative potential of the Charter for Compassion. Won’t you please step forward today with a significant gift? Thank you again for your support of the Charter for Compassion and the important work that lies ahead. 

Karen Armstrong
London, UK
Charter for Compassion International (www.charterforcompassion.org) 
PS: Contribute $250 or more, and we’ll send you a signed copy of my book, Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life. Also, a generous donor has volunteered to match every donation to the Charter in December with her own donation of up to $25,000, so you can double your impact! Thanks again for your help.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a blessed New Year

Good morning, Katalusis readers and Facebook friends,

I was up very early to make the dressing and stuff the turkey for Christmas dinner today for my son and his wife. After spending last Christmas in the hospital recovering from surgery, I feel so blessed and yes, celebratory on this special occasion.

Reading the news, my heart goes out on this day of all days to the people without power during this frigid weather. I hope they will soon experience relief.

I'm also thinking of all the suffering people around the world this morning, whatever the cause, and send them prayers and positive energy.

Someday, one can only hope, the central message of major religions to care for the poor and practice the golden rule toward even our "enemies" will become the ethical standard for each of us and for every nation.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a blessed New Year to all.


My turkey is now in the oven, and I've cleaned up my kitchen.:)

Monday, December 23, 2013

Give the gift of compassion this year!

I just finished reading Karen Armstrong's inspirational memoir, The Spiral Staircase. Armstrong is a noted author of books on comparative religion and was instrumental in creating the Charter for Compassion, shown below:
The best idea humanity has ever had…
The Charter for Compassion is a document that transcends religious, ideological, and national differences. Supported by leading thinkers from many traditions, the Charter activates the Golden Rule around the world.

The Charter for Compassion is a cooperative effort to restore not only compassionate thinking but, more importantly, compassionate action to the center of religious, moral and political life. Compassion is the principled determination to put ourselves in the shoes of the other, and lies at the heart of all religious and ethical systems.

The text of the Charter for Compassion:

The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect. 

It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others—even our enemies—is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.

We therefore call upon all men and women to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion ~ to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate ~ to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures ~ to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity ~ to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings—even those regarded as enemies.

We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensable to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.

To sign the charter, go here: https://charterforcompassion.org/node/6371

Saturday, December 21, 2013

95 % of economic gains go to the wealthiest 1% of Americans

How many Americans are left out in the cold this holiday season?
Christmas is near, and I'm looking forward to having family over for dinner. I've got all the necessities on hand for our traditional holiday meal, my decorations are in place, and gifts for my guests are wrapped and under the tree.

In the meantime, I'm anticipating going to the theater this afternoon with a friend.

However, the joy of the season has been dampened for me by this op-ed by Robert Reich, Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy, University of California at Berkeley: The meaning of a Decent Society. Reich reminds us that our nation is not living up to its pretensions of equality for all:

It's the season to show concern for the less fortunate among us. We should also be concerned about the widening gap between the most fortunate and everyone else.

Although it's still possible to win the lottery (your chance of winning $636 million in the recent Mega Millions sweepstakes was one in 259 million), the biggest lottery of all is what family we're born into. Our life chances are now determined to an unprecedented degree by the wealth of our parents.
That's not always been the case. The faith that anyone could move from rags to riches -- with enough guts and gumption, hard work and nose to the grindstone -- was once at the core of the American Dream.

And equal opportunity was the heart of the American creed. Although imperfectly achieved, that ideal eventually propelled us to overcome legalized segregation by race, and to guarantee civil rights. It fueled efforts to improve all our schools and widen access to higher education. It pushed the nation to help the unemployed, raise the minimum wage, and provide pathways to good jobs. Much of this was financed by taxes on the most fortunate.

But for more than three decades we've been going backwards. It's far more difficult today for a child from a poor family to become a middle-class or wealthy adult. Or even for a middle-class child to become wealthy.

The major reason is widening inequality. The longer the ladder, the harder the climb. America is now more unequal that it's been for eighty or more years, with the most unequal distribution of income and wealth of all developed nations. Equal opportunity has become a pipe dream.

Read more:

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Interfaith holiday greetings for 2013

Dr. Barbara Ann Holmes is the recently installed president of my alma mater, United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities. Dr. B offers a heartwarming, inspiring interfaith message from United this December:

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Killing wolves for the sake of killing

For up close wildlife photography, including wolves, check out Dr. Mary Lundeberg's website.

Yellowstone Wolves Still Under the Gun

Jamie Rappaport Clark, Defenders of Wildlife Wed, Dec 11, 2013 at 6:40 AM
eoy wolves under siege email
The War on Wolves is Far From Over
832F 06 wolf
The shooting of Alpha female 06 was a heartbreaking loss to Yellowstone wolf-watchers and researchers alike.
 save wolves button
Dear Virginia,
Of all of the wolves gunned down after they left the safety of Yellowstone National Park in 2012, none left a legacy quite like the wolf affectionately known by park visitors as “06."
Last week marked the one-year anniversary of 06’s tragic demise. Sadly, the relentless killing continues, with wolves mercilessly gunned down and trapped by the hundreds, victims of reckless killing for killing’s sake.
The alpha female of Yellowstone’s Lamar Canyon pack, 832F (researchers affectionately dubbed her 06) was truly spectacular – she was killed during a rare foray outside the park over the 2012-2013 hunting season. The tracking collar she wore revealed that she and her pack stayed within Yellowstone’s boundaries 95 percent of the time.
A Nationwide Epidemic
The anniversary of this wolf’s death is a disturbing reminder that she is only one of nearly 2,000 wolves that have been killed by hunters, trappers and lethal control since wolves were delisted in the Northern Rockies.
Mothers, pups and packs continue to fall victim to the extreme hunting and trapping policies and state politics are pulling the trigger. Make no mistake – there is a war on wolves and these magnificent and misunderstood top predators need our help.
We won't let her death be in vain. Will you?
Please remember that our wolves continue to face incredible challenges and threats —  let this tragic anniversary of 06’s death remind us all that the fight to save America’s wolves is far from over – but we can’t finish the fight alone. We need the support of dedicated members like you to help us face them head-on.
Your generous donation will go to work immediately and support our efforts to: 
  • Defeat the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's (FWS) proposal to delist nearly all gray wolves in the Lower 48. If they win, the bloodshed we’re seeing in the Northern Rockies could become even more widespread, and wolf recovery elsewhere will become even more difficult;
  • Protect Yellowstone’s wolves from hunters and trappers by seeking to eliminate quotas in buffer zones around the park; and
  • Continue to fight in federal court the delisting of Wyoming’s wolf population – which gave rise to the tragedy of 06 in the first place.
Defenders has been at the forefront fighting to protect wolves in the Northern Rockies, and your critical support provides us with resources that are essential when responding to emergencies surrounding other vulnerable species.
Thank you in advance for standing up for wildlife.
Jamie Rappaport Clark, Defenders of Wildlife
Jamie Rappaport Clark
Defenders of Wildlife
P.S. WHAT OUR DONORS ARE SAYING: “Defenders is a beacon in the storm. The flag we can all rally around on the battlefield.” Vicky H., NC

Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Mindfully Happy Thanksgiving

In the midst of a difficult "them vs. us" situation in my apartment building lately, I drew on mindfulness teachings and shared the prayer with several involved parties that I say every morning on behalf of myself, family, friends, neighbors, and our building management.

May we release all burdens of guilt, shame, fear, and loss from past trauma that no longer serve us and needless fear and anxiety about the future;
May we forgive those who have trespassed against us; and may we be forgiven by those whom we have trespassed against.
May we be filled with loving kindness;

May we be protected from all internal and external harm;

May we be as healthy and whole as possible;

May we enjoy both spiritual and material well-being;

May we be centered, peaceful, and at ease;

May we be happy.

 I included a favorite quote from Thich Nhat Hanh:

“Our capacity to make peace with another person and with the world depends very much on our capacity to make peace with ourselves…When we have peace within, real dialogue with others is possible.”
May all those who read this post today enjoy an especially happy Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Bring Military Rapists to Justice

This hit my inbox this morning, and I urge all Katalusis readers to support Sen. Gillibrand's bill to bring military rapists to justice. Please sign the petition.

The simple bill to bring military rapists to justice 
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. Photo public domain.

1 message
Heidi Hess, CREDO Action Sat, Nov 16, 2013 at 8:09 AM
Reply-To: "Heidi Hess, CREDO Action"
To: Virginia Bergman
CREDO action
Tell Sens. Levin, McCaskill, Ayotte, Fischer, Graham and McCain: Stop trying to kill Sen. Gillibrand’s bill to bring military rapists to justice
To Sens. Levin, McCaskill, Ayotte, Fischer, McCain, and Graham:
"The Senate finally has a chance to vote on sensible reforms to fight the epidemic of sexual assault in the military. Stop blocking Sen. Gillibrand’s Military Justice Improvement Act."
Automatically add your name:
Sign the petition ►
Dear Virginia,
Protect victims of sexual assault in the military
There were 26,000 cases of sexual assault, rape, and unwanted sexual contact in the military in 2012. It’s an epidemic of sexual assault that is made even worse because the assaults are under-reported and under-prosecuted, with victims often facing devastating retaliation.
It’s clear that the military is failing to protect victims of sexual assault and punish perpetrators. Now the Senate finally has a chance step in.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s Military Justice Improvement Act would remove sexual assault cases from the military chain of command.1 It’s a smart, sensible reform endorsed by 47 senators and three former generals,2 but vehemently opposed by the Pentagon.

Outrageously, six senators are willing to protect rapists in order to appease the Pentagon.
Tell Senators Levin, McCaskill, Ayotte, Fischer, McCain and Graham to stop trying to kill Senator Gillibrand’s bill. Click here to automatically sign.

Of the 26,000 instances of self-reported sexual assault in 2012, only 302 went to trial.3 This is partly due to a rule that gives commanding officers the final say over prosecution of service members under their command. The rule suppresses reporting of assault because victims fear retaliation and don’t trust that their cases will be handled fairly.

It also encourages ill-trained commanders to avoid prosecuting people under their command -- protecting careers instead of victims. In 2012, a commander in the Air Force used her power to overturn the conviction of an officer under her command who was found guilty of abusive sexual contact and aggravated sexual assault.4 And when military hearings do occur, victims are often subjected to a degrading and antagonistic process.5

The Military Justice Improvement Act will remove sexual assault cases from the military chain of command and put military prosecutors in charge of deciding which sexual assault crimes to try. It will be voted on as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. Democratic Senator Carl Levin, the head of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is organizing fellow pro-Pentagon Senators McCaskill, Ayotte, Fischer and McCain to kill the bill and pass a watered-down version instead. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham has vowed to do “whatever it takes” to defeat it.6

Senator Gillibrand has worked tirelessly to advance this bill in the face of pressure from the Pentagon and high-ranking members of her own party. She has organized 47 senators, including eight Republicans, who are ready to vote to protect victims of sexual assault in the military. It’s outrageous that Senator Levin and his colleagues are trying to pander to the Pentagon at the expense of victims of sexual assault in the military.

Tell Sens. Levin, McCaskill, Ayotte, Fischer, McCain and Graham: Stand up for victims of sexual assault, and stop trying to kill Sen. Gillibrand’s Military Justice Improvement Act. Click the link below to sign automatically:

Thank you for standing up for victims of sexual assault in the military.
Heidi Hess, Campaign Manager
CREDO Action from Working Assets
Automatically add your name:
Sign the petition ►
  1. Text of the Military Justice Improvement Act
  2. Some brass back Kirsten Gillibrand's sexual-assault bill,” Darren Samuelsohn, Politico, September, 23, 2013.
  3. Gillibrand’s Drive Challenges Senate Power Brokers on Military Sexual Assault Remedy,” Adele M. Stan, RH Reality Check, September 19, 2013.
  4. "Senator continues to block promotion of Air Force general," Craig Whitlock, Washington Post, June 06, 2013.
  5. Rape in the Ranks,” Dorothy Samuels, The New York Times, November 7, 2013.
  6. Kirsten Gillibrand faces 60-vote bar on sex-assault reform”, Darren Samuelsohn and Anna Palmer, Politico, November 4, 2013.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Powerful typhooon strikes Philipines

Heavy snow piled up at the local shopping center. Photo by V. Bergman.
Up here in Minnesota, we have a blizzard now and then in the winter months and an occasional tornado in the spring, summer, or fall. Most of us have come to terms with our weather extremes; the rest have become what we fondly refer to as our "snowbirds" - they keep the Florida economy booming.

It's when we read about storms like the typhoon that struck the Philippines on Friday that we realize our Minnesota weather is moderate in comparison and even when it's severe, we are usually well prepared with fleets of snowplows at the ready, etc. In the modern era, we seldom receive news of wide-spread deaths of our citizens due to bad weather.

It's jarring to read this report from the Philippines:

MANILA, Philippines -- MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Rescuers in the central Philippines counted at least 100 people dead and many more injured Saturday, a day after one of the most powerful typhoons on record ripped through the region, wiping away buildings and leveling seaside homes with massive storm surges.

With communications and roads still cut off, Capt. John Andrews, deputy director general of the Civil Aviation Authority, said he had received "reliable information" by radio from his staff that more than 100 bodies were lying in the streets of the city of Tacloban on hardest-hit Leyte Island. It was one of six islands that Typhoon Haiyan slammed into Friday.

Regional military commander Lt. Gen. Roy Deveraturda said that the casualty figure "probably will increase," after viewing aerial photographs of the widespread devastation caused by the typhoon, which was heading toward Vietnam after moving away from the Philippines.

Read more:

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Election day 2013, St. Paul and elsewhere

Chue Vue, courtesy photo.
Here in St. Paul, we re-elected Mayor Chris Coleman for a third term, and we elected incumbents Jean O'Connell and John Brodrick along with newcomer Chue Vue to the school board. The Christian Science Monitor provides a comprehensive roundup of election news around the nation:

His pitch bipartisan and inclusive, Republican Gov. Chris Christie cruised to re-election Tuesday in Democratic-leaning New Jersey amid talk of a possible 2016 presidential run. Democrat Terry McAuliffe narrowly won the Virginia governor's race, leading what Democrats hoped would be their first sweep of statewide offices in decades.
New Yorkers chose Bill de Blasio as mayor, electing the first Democrat since 1989.

In other, widely scattered off-year balloting, Houston rejected a plan to turn Astrodome into a convention hall, likely dooming it to demolition, while Colorado agreed to tax marijuana at 25 percent. Alabama Republicans chose the establishment-backed Bradley Byrne over a tea party-supported rival in a special congressional runoff election in the conservative state.

Taken together, the results in individual states and cities yielded no broad judgments on how the American public feels about today's two biggest national political debates — government spending and health care — which are more likely to shape next fall's midterm elections.
Even so, Tuesday's voting had local impact, and it mattered in ways big and small.

The outcomes of both governors' races and the special Alabama GOP congressional primary signaled that, in the midst of a deep division within the Republican Party, pragmatism won out over ideology.
In Virginia, McAuliffe turned back a late-game push by state Attorney General Ken Cuccinnelli, a Republican. Both Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton made appearances for McAuliffe in the final weeks, and so did President Barack Obama over the weekend. The Democrat also dramatically outspent his GOP rival in TV ads in the final weeks.

Read more:

Friday, November 1, 2013

It's not the big bad wolf; it's the big bad hunter and trapper

Just got this from Jamie Rappaport Clark, and the "big bad wolf" is not the villain in this story; it's the big bad hunters and trappers over in Minnesota's sister state of Wisconsin:

(See more photos of wolves here. )

Take Action
 CRISIS: Wisconsin Wolves Killed in Record Numbers
Wolf in snow Robert Weiman
 In Wisconsin, more wolves have been killed in 16 days than during the entire 2012 hunting and trapping season.
Demand Protection for Wolves Button
Dear Virginia,
In Wisconsin, more wolves have been killed in 16 days than during the entire 2012 hunting and trapping season.
Yes, you read that correctly.
In just over two weeks, hunters and trappers in Wisconsin have killed off more than 181 wolves. This represents a horrible and disturbing trend of accelerated anti-wolf attitudes and killing. 
How did this happen?
Reports suggest that the state Wolf Advisory Committee is now overrun by livestock and hunting and trapping interests – and the deck is now completely stacked against wolves.
This committee makes recommendations on quotas, policies and even population goals. But several scientific experts have been removed from the committee, and livestock and hunting and trapping interests have been added on in their place!
No outside scientists are on the committee, and only one pro-wolf group is represented. There are, however, seven livestock, hunting and trapping groups represented!
We’ve come so far in our efforts to restore wolves to their historic range in the Great Lakes region. But with anti-wolf forces more aggressive than ever, we’re at a crossroads.
Thanks for all you do.
For the wolves,
Jamie Rappaport Clark, Defenders of Wildlife
Jamie Rappaport Clark
Defenders of Wildlife

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Drones allow America to violate national borders for selective killing

The chief selling point for America's drone program is that rather than the mass killing of all out war, drones allow us to violate the boundaries of other nations, e.g., Pakistan, and kill targeted individuals. Of course, that's based on the either-or fallacy that all out war or drone attacks are the only U.S. options. It seems the White House, under both Bush and Obama, has consistently refused to consider a comprehensive approach to fighting terrorism, which would include education and outreach.

Was anyone listening recently when Mallala Yousafzai told President Obama that drones create terrorists?

Today the Huffington Post headline above Matt Sledge's article reads: Why did America kill my mother?

Sledge writes:

WASHINGTON -- He thought little of the U.S. drone buzzing over his family's house one day last year, its incessant sound just one more addition to the rhythm of daily life in northwest Pakistan. 

As he walked home from school, his grandmother told him to eat a snack before coming to the field to help her pick okra. It was the eve of one of the holiest holidays in Islam, when they would gather for a favorite family dish. He went outside.

Dum, dum -- the sounds of missiles pierced the air.

"All of a sudden things became very dark," Zubair Rehman, 13, remembered. The next thing he knew, his grandmother, Mamana Bibi, was gone. "It was like she was exploded to pieces."

Read more:

Monday, October 21, 2013

Social Security and Medicare cuts threatened again

Signing of the Social Security Act.
It's my understanding that Ronald Reagan was the first to use the term "entitlements" in reference to Social Security and Medicare. Since then political leaders have chosen to use "entitlements" to cover their suggestions to gut programs to aid the poor and the elderly. Well, yes, Democrats toss the term around as well, including President Obama. Guess what? Those "entitlements" are on the precipice again as Congress considers a new budget.

In response to Zach Carter at the Huffington Post, yes, it's legitimate for the public to worry whether the Democrats will cave on Social Security and Medicare:

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on Sunday opened the door to Social Security cuts as part of a budget deal with congressional Republicans. But Durbin pushed back against GOP calls for entitlement cuts as the negotiating price to curb or extinguish the economically damaging sequester cuts.
"If this is the bargain that the Republicans are now pushing for, that we have to cut Medicare to avoid cuts at the Department of Defense, they need to take a step back," Durbin said on "Fox News Sunday."
Congress is currently negotiating a new budget, with a December deadline. The talks were mandated by last week's deal to raise the debt ceiling and end the government shutdown. 

Also speaking on "Fox News Sunday," Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) explicitly offered up trading some of the short-term cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act, known as the sequester, for long-term Social Security and Medicare cuts. He argued that Republicans had the tactical advantage on such an exchange.

"If you're in a divided government and you're arguing against the law, you're at a disadvantage," Blunt said, noting the failed GOP effort to defund Obamacare that resulted in a government shutdown. "The Budget Control Act is the only thing we've found that actually controls spending."

Blunt said that if Democrats aren't willing to negotiate over "entitlement savings versus some additional spending," to ease the sequester, then Democrats will have to live with the sequester cuts.

Read more:

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Little cause to celebrate as shutdown ends

Americans have little cause to celebrate this morning even though Congress finally ended the government shutdown. Possibly the most noteworthy part of the negotiations that led to the resolution of the fiscal crisis is the leadership role played by women leaders in the Senate. Nevertheless, good citizenship requires at least taking a look at the short, medium, and long-term results of the bill spelled out in the Decoder Wire (Christian Science Monitor) by Peter Grier:

Yes, it’s finally over. The US government reopened Thursday morning, and the Treasury prepared for a normal day of paying the nation’s bills after Congress approved a bill to raise the debt ceiling and end the 16-day federal shutdown.

President Obama signed the measure into law shortly after midnight Thursday.
In the short term, the resolution of the fiscal crisis represented a decisive defeat for congressional Republicans. At the urging of tea party-aligned conservative members, the House GOP at first demanded the defunding of Obamacare in return for continued government spending. What it got was a slight tightening of procedures for the verification of income levels for those applying for Obamacare subsidies.

The legislation also sets up a process for a House-Senate conference on a long-term budget and tax plan for the nation.

“We fought the good fight. We just didn’t win,” said House Speaker John Boehner in an interview with an Ohio radio station.


Friday, October 4, 2013

Promoting social justice onstage and in the classroom

courtesy of minnesotamonthly.com.
I had the privilege yesterday of meeting Sarah Bellamy in person and sitting in on Bearing Witness, the class she's teaching at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities. Sarah is the daughter of Lou Bellamy, the founder of Penumbra Theatre, where she serves as associate artistic director. Like Penumbra, Sarah's class focuses on the theatre and storytelling as powerful tools to bring about social change.

Watch the video below of Sarah's talk at United's spring convocation last April:

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Sen. Elizabeth Warren on the government shutdown (watch)

Addressing senate colleagues, Sen. Elizabeth Warren nails the Republican Party's primary motivation for shutting down the government (watch):

Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Protestant leader welcomes the words of Pope Francis

Courtesy of uscatholic.org.
Courtesy of Christianpost.com.

Jim Wallis is a Protestant Christian leader for social change; editor of Sojourner's Magazine; and author of On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned About Serving the Common Good. I was introduced to Jim Wallis while attending a progressive seminary in the late 1980s, and I continue to be inspired by his work.

 It's typical of Wallis to publicly celebrate and make common cause with Pope Francis. In a piece titled Pope Francis: We Need You in Washington, D.C.,Wallis writes:

Suddenly, unexpectedly, and almost miraculously, the values of simplicity, humility, welcome, and the priority of the poor have burst on to the international stage. A new pope named Francis is reminding us that love is also a verb -- choosing the name Francis because of his commitment to the poor, to peace, and creation in sharp contrast to the values of Washington, D.C.  

Last week the House of Representatives voted to cut food stamps. The previous week marked the 5th anniversary of the financial collapse, and showed more American inequality than before the recession. And now we face a threatened shutdown of the government unless the health care promised to tens of millions of uninsured people is repealed.  

Pondering all that, I saw the interview with Pope Francis in America magazine and his profile in the new issue of Sojourners. And from every direction, things that the new pope was saying were breaking through the political news cycle. Even my students at Georgetown were telling me that their young friends, Christians or not, were putting Francis quotes up on their Facebook pages. 

Read more:

Friday, September 27, 2013

Drum roll: Wendy Davis, the next governor of Texas!

Wendy Davis, Courtesy of Wikipedia. 

We've not forgotten those red tennis shoes worn by Texas State Senator Sen. Wendy Davis when she filibustered 11 hours for abortion rights against "Texans without uteruses."

Wendy's performance on that occasion brought her national prominence and since then, a groundswell of support to run for governor of the Lone Star State.

Here's the good news:

Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis and her advisers have begun informing influential Democrats that she intends to run for governor in 2014, according to multiple sources familiar with Davis’s conversations.

The Fort Worth legislator made a national name for herself in June when she mounted a filibuster against new proposed abortion clinic regulations. Texas Republicans ultimately passed those restrictions into law in a special session called by outgoing Republican Gov. Rick Perry.

Davis advisers declined to confirm that she will enter the governor’s race, but Davis consultant Hector Nieto said the senator has made up her mind about 2014 and will unveil her plans next week.
(PHOTOS: Wendy Davis’s filibuster)

“Sen. Davis has decided what she will do and she looks forward to making that announcement with her grass-roots supporters on Oct. 3,” Nieto said.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The humble Pope Francis

Courtesy of www.uscatholic.org

Pope Francis is capturing this non-Catholic's attention and making me smile on occasion as well. Frank Bruni at the NY Times captures how Francis' humility paradoxically empowers his leadership in response to the usual controversial issues:

Bruni writes:

IT’S about time. The leader of the Roman Catholic Church has surveyed the haughty scolds in its ranks, noted their fixation on matters of sexual morality above all others and said enough is enough. I’m not being cheeky with this one-word response. Hallelujah. 

But it wasn’t the particulars of Pope Francis’ groundbreaking message in an interview published last week that stopped me in my tracks, gave fresh hope to many embittered Catholics and caused hardened commentators to perk up.

It was the sweetness in his timbre, the meekness of his posture. It was the revelation that a man can wear the loftiest of miters without having his head swell to fit it, and can hold an office to which the term “infallible” is often attached without forgetting his failings. In the interview, Francis called himself naïve, worried that he’d been rash in the past and made clear that the flock harbored as much wisdom as the shepherds. Instead of commanding people to follow him, he invited them to join him. 

And did so gently, in what felt like a whisper.

What a surprising portrait of modesty in a church that had lost touch with it.
And what a refreshing example of humility in a world with too little of it.

That’s what stayed with me, not the olive branch he extended to gay people or the way he brushed aside the contraception wars but his personification of a virtue whose deficit in American life hit me full force when I spotted it here, in his disarming words. Reading and then rereading the interview, I felt like a bird-watcher who had just stumbled upon a dodo.

Read more:

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The best and the worst of Obama's leadership in the Syrian crisis

Some of the comments by the White House and the media regarding the latest developments following Obama's threat to attack Syria have been laughable, and I don't often laugh at desperate attempts to give a favorable spin to the hard truth.

Ron Fournier, a seasoned political reporter, cuts through the nonsense and reports the "best and the worst" of Obama's leadership in the current crisis with Syria:

The good news is we're not at war. The bad news is … almost everything else about President Obama's handling of Syria -- the fumbling and flip-flopping and marble-mouthing -- undercut his credibility, and possibly with it his ability to lead the nation and world.

As he addressed a global audience Tuesday night, liberal elites blindly accepted White House fiction that Russian intervention this week was somehow part of Obama's master plan. Their conservative counterparts practically rooted against a diplomatic breakthrough, preferring an Obama black eye over peace.

Obama won! Obama lost! The fact is it's too soon to keep score. In the long view of this past week, I suspect the Syria standoff will come to be an example of the best and worst of Obama's leadership. Granted, in the heat of the moment, it's far easier to catalogue the worst.


Open-minded: The man elected in part as repudiation of President George W. Bush's narrow approach to decision-making never closed off his options. He is paying a price for waffling (more on that later), but the president deserves credit for rethinking his plan to wage war without congressional approval. For anybody unwilling to cut Obama some slack, ask yourself: What would Bush and Dick Cheney have done?

Unflappable: From all public appearances, this was the "no-drama Obama" his aides brag about. Certainly, he was affected by public criticism and even swayed by polling, but the president kept searching for a way out of a complicated situation. He may have stumbled into peace but that's better than rushing into war.

Principles: He deserves credit for trying to do something about the slaughter of innocents. The "red line" that looks laughably opaque today will look better in time if (and this is a big if) Syrian chemical attacks stop. In his address from the White House, Obama made a compelling moral argument to respond to last month's chemical attack in Syria. "The world saw in gruesome detail the terrible nature
of chemical weapons," the president said.


Naive about the levers of power: Where to start? Obama reversed course on congressional authorization at the last minute, after a private chat with his chief of staff, and to the surprise of his national-security team -- all in violation of presidential best practices. He then left the country on a quixotic trip to Russia, allowing misgivings to grow in Congress and the public before he could build a case for striking Syria. Boxed in, Obama seized upon a Russian proposal to put Syria's weapons in the hands of the international community. It's an impractical solution, a fig leaf. Either Obama trusts Russian President Vladimir Putin (a mistake) or he is a partner in deceit (an outrage). A Democratic strategist who works closely with the White House, and who requested anonymity to avoid political retribution, told me, "This has been one of the most humiliating episodes in presidential history."

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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Muddling the issues for attacking Syria

The news this morning on the latest developments between the US and Syria is confusing. As a result of Secretary of State John Kerry's rhetorical comment the other day, Syrian President Assad has apparently agreed to a Russian proposal to turn over all of his chemical weapons to international supervision. In the meantime, Secretary Kerry has described US plans for a military strike against Syria as "unbelievably small," and as far as we know, President Obama still plans to make a case for attacking Syria in his speech this evening. Even Eugene Robinson, one of Obama's most loyal supporters among the punditry, is confused. In his recent column at the Washington Post, Robinson asks, "Does Obama want to attack Syria or not?"

The Obama administration keeps undermining its own case for a punitive strike in Syria. If the president wants permission from Congress and support from the American people, he and his aides had better get their story straight.

The “messaging,” to use an unfortunate Washington term, has been confusing, contradictory and halfhearted. The nation simply will not approve going to war if its leaders cannot coherently explain what they want to do, how they plan to do it and why.

Secretary of State John Kerry threw mud into turbid waters Monday when he said the attack would be an “unbelievably small, limited kind of effort.” This punch line came at the end of a string of similar assurances: no “troops on the ground,” nothing “prolonged,” merely a “very targeted, short-term” affair.

But if the attack is designed to be so limited, why bother? Why not just send a special envoy to give Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad a stern talking-to, followed perhaps by a reassuring hug? 

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