Friday, January 25, 2008

John Edwards Back-Pedals Cynically on Every Position He Supported in the Senate

It appears that columnist Charles Krauthammer is right: John Edwards knows he will not be president but stays in the race because Hillary and Barack might end up very close in delegate counts, allowing Edwards to play kingmaker and maybe trade for a cabinet position.

But Krauthammer is also right to bemoan the manner in which Edwards has campaigned--running against every important position he took in the Senate, then claiming that his latest positions are "the cause of my life."

Krauthammer's judgment: "Breathtaking. People can change their minds about something. But everything?"

Not only does this call into question the reliability of any stance Edwards might take. It calls into question Edwards' personal integrity. And the columnist notes that even a consistently liberal Democratic Senator says so. Krauthammer concludes:

By his own endlessly self-confessed record, his current pose is a coat of paint newly acquired. His claim that it is an expression of his inner soul is a farce.

A cynical farce that is particularly galling to left-liberals of real authenticity. "The one (presidential candidate) that is the most problematic is Edwards," Sen. Russ Feingold told The Post-Crescent in Appleton, Wis., "who voted for the Patriot Act, campaigns against it. Voted for No Child Left Behind, campaigns against it. Voted for the China trade deal, campaigns against it. Voted for the Iraq War. ... He uses my voting record exactly as his platform, even though he had the opposite voting record."

It profits a man nothing to sell his soul for the whole world. But for 4 percent of the Nevada caucuses?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Fred Phelps Plans More Gay Hate at U.S. Memorial Service for Heath Ledger

Heath Ledger, left, played Ennis Del Mar, a gay cowboy who falls in love with Jack Twist, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, right, in the film "Brokeback Mountain."

MSNBC reports that fundamentalist preacher Fred Phelps, whose tasteless bigotry against gay people was highlighted in a post here 11/1/07, is at it again. Not content with carrying signs saying "God Hates Fags" at the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq, he now plans to do the same at the U.S. memorial service for Heath Ledger. Hopefully all kinds of people will sue him, again, and win, again.

By Courtney Hazlett
The Scoop

The radical Baptist church known for picketing the funerals of American soldiers who lost their lives in Iraq has announced that they intend to protest Heath Ledger’s stateside memorial service because he played a gay character in “Brokeback Mountain.”

"You cannot live in defiance of God. He (Ledger) got on that big screen with a big, fat message: God is a liar and it's OK to be gay,” said Shirley Phelps in a statement sent out by the Topeka, Kan.-based Westboro Baptist Church.

The only compelling reason to ignore Westboro Baptist’s reprehensible intentions is that highlighting the vast inappropriateness of their thoughts and actions only brings the church more publicity. However, if the members of Westboro Baptist get to speak their minds, every individual who feels that this is an affront to most basic standards of human ethics should be able to as well.

“Wow, that should make his family feel great,” one person close to Ledger said angrily in response to the announcement. “I seriously don’t understand what is wrong with people. This is the last thing his family needs.”

The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) told me, “We sincerely hope that Heath Ledger is laid to rest and his family is allowed to grieve in a private and peaceful ceremony.”

On Jan. 22, GLAAD said that “Heath Ledger will forever be remembered for his groundbreaking role as Ennis del Mar in ‘Brokeback Mountain.’ His powerful portrayal changed hearts and minds in immeasurable ways.” Those close to Ledger agree. But moreover, those close to him want Ledger to be remembered as a man who loved his family and appreciated the career he’d had.

To be fair, the people of the Westboro Baptist Church aren’t the only ones displaying poor taste.

Fox News’ John Gibson on Jan. 22 opened his radio show with funeral music and mocked a signature line from “Brokeback,” saying, “Well, he found out how to quit you.” (When Gibson was contacted to explain his comments, he declined.)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Surge Begets Splurge: Foreigners Buy Big Chunks of Citigroup and Merrill Lynch

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd says the U.S. economy has compounded its addiction to foreign oil with a new dependence on foreign loans to stay afloat. The result is a "Red, White and Blue Tag Sale," allowing wealthy foreign investors to gain ownership in and critical leverage over major U.S. institutions like Citigroup and Merrill Lynch. The second half of her column follows.

Two decades ago, we fretted that Japan was taking over America when Sony bought Columbia Pictures and Mitsubishi bought a chunk of Rockefeller Center. But they overpaid for everything.

Now, because of Wall Street’s overreaching, our economy depends on foreign oil and foreign loans to stay afloat.

China and Arab countries have a staggering amount of treasury securities. And the oil-rich countries are sitting on so many petrodollars that they are looking beyond prestige hotels and fashion labels and taking advantage of the fire sale to buy eye-popping stakes in our major financial institutions.

Like the president, Citigroup and Merrill Lynch came with tin cups to Middle Eastern, Asian and American investors last week, for a combined total of nearly $19.1 billion, after the subprime mortgage debacle blew up their books.

Citigroup, which raised $7.5 billion from Abu Dhabi in November, raised another $12.5 billion, including from Singapore, Kuwait and Saudi Prince Walid bin Talal. Merrill Lynch gave $6.6 billion in preferred stock to Kuwait, South Korea, a Japanese bank and others.

(While the great sage Bob Rubin was advising Hillary Clinton on sound fiscal policy, he seemed to be asleep at the Citigroup switch.)

As Warren Buffett has said, we are giving ourselves a party to feed our appetite for oil and imported goods and paying for it by selling off the furniture, our most precious assets.

When the president got back Thursday night from a trip that made it clear he has no clout overseas, he had to rush the ailing economy into intensive care.

Next to the cool, strong euro, the dollar is a comparative runt in the world’s currencies. The weak dollar lets foreigners snap up real estate in Manhattan.

It is striking that the Bush scion, who has tried so hard to do the opposite of his father, also ends up facing the prospect of a recession in his final year in office.

Maybe if the president had spent the trillion he squandered on his Iraq odyssey on energy research, we might have broken the oil addiction.

Now it’s a race between Iraq, stupid, or the economy, stupid, to see which one will usher out W.

The country is engaged in a fit of nativism and Lou Dobbsism, obsessing about the millions of Mexicans who might be sneaking across the border when billions in foreign money are pouring into Citigroup. You figure out what might be a bigger problem.

The national boundaries that really matter are the financial ones: Who’s going to own the American economy?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Library of Congress Curator Finds Three Photos of Lincoln's Second Inaugural

In an amazing turn of events, a curator at the Library of Congress has discovered three photographs of Lincoln's Second Inaugural that previously been associated with another event. America Online has an excellent spread of the new photos with explanatory captions, along with two that had been identified previously.

How King and Kennedy and Johnson and Dirksen Passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964

It was unfortunate that so much negativity was directed toward Hillary Clinton's observation that "Dr. King's dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964... It took a president to get it done." But now that Barack Obama has instructed his supporters to stop trying to inflame a controversy where there really shouldn't be one, perhaps we can at least gain from the episode by improving our understanding of the 1960s.

There was nothing inaccurate about Clinton's remarks. Her point was the pivotal role of presidents in moving the country forward. In fact the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 could not have become law without the support of several presidents. That doesn't mean that Clinton could not have said more. But what she said was factual and apt.

Her statement presumed that Martin Luther King was the civil rights leader most responsible for proposing the Civil Rights Act and getting it enacted. She could have highlighted other civil rights leaders who preceded him and worked with him, as well as Christian and Jewish leaders who supported him and often walked in demonstrations with him.

In highlighting the role of presidents, she also could have added that John F. Kennedy was the first president to propose the Civil Rights Act, which he sent to Congress on June 19, 1963 (not coincidentally, on the day celebrated as Juneteenth in several states of the former Confederacy). But it took the emotional outpouring after Kennedy's assassination, skillfully managed by Lyndon Johnson applying his lengthy experience as Senate Majority leader, to finally get the act passed. She also could have added that Kennedy had not always been an enthusiastic advocate of civil rights and that it was primarily pressure from King that led JFK to propose the measure, as it had been pressure from earlier civil rights activists that pushed President Eisenhower to use military force in Little Rock to integrate the public schools in the 1950s. (See post of 9/25/07.)

Clinton also could have added that from the time he supported the act as Vice President, Johnson knew that it would be so unpopular in the South that those states would no longer vote Democratic. When he pushed the bill as president, senators of his own party warned him it would cost him the 1964 election. As it turned out, Johnson soundly defeated Barry Goldwater, even in most of the southern states. But the South turned solidly Republican for decades afterwards.

As Clarence Page pointed out recently, Clinton could also have acknowledged that because of strident opposition within Johnson's own party, the act could not have been passed without some votes from prominent Republicans. Page singled out "Senate Republican Leader Everett Dirkson of Illinois, who rounded up enough Republican votes to offset strong opposition from Johnson's fellow Southern Democrats." In the Senate the bill was passed by 27 Northern Republicans joining 45 Northern Democrats. The only Southern Democrat voting in favor of the bill was Senator Ralph Yarborough of Texas. The breakdown in the House was similar.

So a more complete telling of the story emphasizes that the Civil Rights Act would not have become law without a lot of work, cooperation, courage and sacrifice from people in the civil rights movement, two presidents, and several members of Congress, including many Republicans.

But the story makes it clear how critical presidential leadership was. Lyndon Johnson's leadership in particular was probably the best of his presidency, and it should be remembered and treasured and held up as inspiration to future presidents. That he did so poorly leading later on Vietnam does not undo his remarkable achievements in civil rights. It simply cautions us that presidents who achieve magnificently can also fail tragically. That, of course, is another lesson the candidates should take to heart.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Ironically, Jews Push Catholics To Stay True to the Reforms of the Second Vatican Council

In an online posting 1/9, National Catholic Reporter columnist John Allen Jr. observes that Pope Benedict XVI has painted himself into a corner—by reauthorizing the use of a Good Friday prayer which the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) found offensive to Jews—and the pope has just nine weeks before Good Friday to fix the problem, or face a direct confrontation three weeks later when he meets in the United States with an inter-religious delegation that will include Jews.

Last July, when he authorized more widespread use of Rome’s 1962 missal for masses in Latin, Benedict also allowed priests to use the Latin prayers for Holy Week. Among them is a Good Friday prayer for conversion of the Jews, which asks God to “lift the veil from their hearts.”

Such a prayer did not square with Vatican II’s statements condemning anti-semitism and affirming that the Jews have a unique and irreplaceable role in salvation history. When the liturgy for Holy Week was rewritten in the decade after Vatican II, it was eliminated. The new prayer asked that the Jews “may arrive at the fullness of redemption.”

As I noted in a posting on 7/19/07, Jews had raised public objection to the news that Benedict planned to reauthorize the offensive language, but he went ahead with it anyway and could not be bothered to even address their concern in his decree or the documents that accompanied it.

But Allen notes that Jews do not plan to let this issue die quietly: “If a reminder were needed of Jewish sensitivities about the Good Friday prayer, … the Anti-Defamation League included it on a late December list of ‘Top Ten Issues Affecting Jews in 2007.’ The ADL called the possible revival of the prayer ‘a theological setback to the reforms of Vatican II, and a challenge to Catholic-Jewish relations.’”

Given the pope’s nonresponsiveness in July and since, there is little clear evidence that Benedict is really motivated to address the issue. Allen suggests it is positive that “the Vatican is working on a document clarifying implementation of the pope’s ruling,” but he concedes he detects no sense of urgency.

This is especially remarkable because a top Vatican official has already suggested a very simple fix. Allen reports: “Last July, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, said the problem could be solved by substituting the prayer for Jews found in the post-Vatican II liturgy for Good Friday, which no longer refers to conversion but rather asks that Jews ‘may arrive at the fullness of redemption.’ Since the original texts of the new liturgy are in Latin, it would be fairly simple to ask communities celebrating the old rite to use the Latin version of the more recent prayer.”

So why not do that? The real issue seems to be that the pope would have to admit that he screwed up in not addressing the Jews’ concern and in other particulars of reauthorizing use of the Latin texts. Allen’s language is more diplomatic than mine, but that’s what it boils down to.

The fear is that if Benedict revises the prayer for the Jews because it reflects a theology that was surpassed at Vatican II, won’t he also have to replace Latin formulations which do the same on several other theological issues?

The answer is yes. Precisely.

As I also noted in the 7/19/07 posting, facing this issue is what Benedict tried unsuccessfully to avoid in his decree, by mischaracterizing the old Latin Mass and the 13 official eucharistic prayers that resulted from Vatican II as “two usages of the one Roman rite” or “a twofold use of one and the same rite.” The old ritual reflects an old theology which the church eschewed in several specific pronouncements at Vatican II. Because the new rituals reflect an improved theology, they surpassed the old one. The officially surpassed rituals should not be allowed to revive the officially surpassed theology.

I have argued here in multiple postings (7/17/06, 5/4/07, 5/24/07, 7/12/07, 7/19/07, 9/6/07) that no one church or liturgy can possibly capture the living God or exhaust the mystery of Jesus Christ. Therefore, the Catholic church needs both a normative liturgy and the widest possible variety of alternative liturgies. The latter should include experiments aimed at improving the liturgy and limited use of older liturgies that have been surpassed by better ones. But I have also drawn the line at liturgical language and practices that contradict sound theology or even undermine the church’s mission to proclaim the gospel.

The objections of the Jews and the numerous other theological issues Allen mentions show how much of the old Latin language needed to be corrected or replaced before use of the 1962 Latin missal was reauthorized. Benedict erred in not doing so.

It is ironic that on this point the Jews are being more accurate than the pope and more faithful to Vatican II. But the Jews are clearly stakeholders in Vatican II, and this won’t be the first time that their insights have reformed Christianity.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Nanu Nanu to Tata's Nano: Critics Say Hello--and Goodbye!

CNN and the Associated Press report that Ratan Tata has unveiled his $2,500 car and dubbed it the Nano, but critics say the Smart Car look-alike is thumbing its snub nose at efforts to reduce global warming.

Climate change experts are not persuaded by Mr. Tata's claims that the Nano will meet Indian and European emission standards. By adding millions more vehicles to India's already clogged roads, the Nano will idle in traffic jams and belch tons of additional greenhouse gases into the planet's already overtaxed atmosphere.

Chief U.N. climate scientist Rajendra Pachauri, who shared last year's Nobel Peace Prize, is not the only one "having nightmares" about the prospect. The Asian Development Bank says that in 2005, Indian vehicles released 219 million tons of carbon dioxide, the leading greenhouse gas blamed for global warming, but by 2035, that number is projected to increase to 1,467 million tons, due largely to the expanding middle-class and the expected rise of low-cost cars.

Yesterday Houston Chronicle business columnist Loren Steffy noted another negative impact: though the Nano, with its lawn-mower size engine, may get 50 miles per gallon, "even the addition of several hundred million lawn mowers" to the road will so increase the demand for oil that the $2,500 car could easily drive the price of oil to $200 per barrel.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

'Pin-Head' Monarch Butterfly Shows Incredible Mental Capacity

Basic to Alfred North Whitehead's organic philosophy is the position that a mental pole is at work in every occasion of experience, no matter how primitive the organism that is the subject of the experience.

An Associated Press article in today's Houston Chronicle provides novel confirmation of Whitehead's view, with a report of new discoveries on how mentality works at the level of a monarch butterfly.

The article covers just published scientific findings that the monarchs, with a brain "no bigger than the head of a pin," have a unique cicadian clock that enables them to find their way from Canada to winter nesting grounds in Mexico by using the sun as a compass.

The story says a seven-member research team led by Dr. Steven Reppert, a neurobiologist at the University of Massachusetts, genetically mapped the butterflies' biological clocks at the molecular level and found proteins common to insects and mammals.

The study was published online yesterday by the Public Library of Science and the PLoS Biology Journal, which has a synopsis providing amazing technical details about the proteins involved and how they work differently in mammals, fruit flies and butterflies.

The synopsis says "In a new study, Haisun Zhu, Steven Reppert, and colleagues reveal the details of the clockwork in the monarch butterfly and show that it has aspects of clocks from both the mouse and the fly, the only other clock types known in [non-human] animals."

The synopsis concludes: "the results in this study suggest that part of the remarkable navigational ability of the butterfly relies on its ability to integrate temporal information from the clock with spatial information from its visual system. This allows the monarch to correct its course as light shifts across the sky over the course of the day."

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Will Tata Motors Lead India's Ta-Ta to Fixing Climate Change?

The New York Times reports that Tata Motors of India will unveil a super-cheap car 1/10 that will allow Third World drivers who have had to get around on two wheels to afford four--but that it will likely fail emission standards on any Western road.

The statement is buried in a cryptic single sentence. The main focus of the article is what Tata's technicians were able to achieve with so-called Gandhian engineering, asking "Do we really need that" about every component of the vehicle. Unfortunately, Tata appears to have decided that one of the things the developing world can live without for now is any contribution to repairing global warming by limiting vehicle pollution.

This is the kind of disaster many climate change experts have been warning about for years. It is one of the scenarios they have predicted would make global warming exponentially worse. Their fear has been that, lacking any responsible leadership from the U.S., India and China would imitate the most climate-polluting aspects of American industrial development--and do so at a pace and scale that will rapidly surpass the volume of greenhouse gases Americans pump into the atmosphere.

It looks like we're about 48 hours away from Tata announcing that it will take the lead in helping India turn this climate-change nightmare into a grim reality.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Vatican’s Top Liturgist Retires, But Says Liturgical Reform Is Irreversible

Archbishop Piero Marini, from 1987 to 2007 the Vatican’s top liturgist and master of ceremonies for papal masses and other liturgical events, has just published a new book, A Challenging Reform: Realizing the Vision of the Liturgical Renewal.

Long regarded as the chief in-house champion of the liturgical reforms endorsed by the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) and implemented by Pope Paul VI in 1969, Marini knew by the end of his career that his enthusiasm had been well corralled.

So it was no surprise that his book gives a new public pitch for the reforms he never let John Paul II or Benedict XVI forget, as he quietly stage-managed them at their sides during their public liturgies.

But given Rome’s efforts over the last 40 years to turn back the clock on the church’s official liturgy, what is remarkable is Marini’s confidence that the liturgical reforms launched by Vatican II were necessary, inescapable and “permanently valid,” and that they set the church on a path that is irreversible.

Not only that: Marini believes that the Consilium—the collegial, consultative, international group of liturgical experts which guided the initial implementation of Vatican II’s liturgical reforms despite having no judicial authority of its own—is a model for a new way the Vatican could operate.

These were his themes in
an interview with John Allen Jr., published in the 12/28 print edition of the National Catholic Reporter.

Marini sees nostalgia for the church’s liturgical past as unproductive, and dangerous. Speaking of young priests so afflicted, he asks: “How is it possible to be nostalgic for an era they didn’t experience? I remember this period. From the age of 6 until I was 23, in other words for 18 years, I lived with the Mass of Pius V. I grew up in this rite, and I was formed by it. I saw the necessity of the changes of Vatican II.”

He compares those who long to march backwards to “the woman from the Old Testament who turned around and became a pillar of salt.”

He finds several principles of Vatican II’s liturgical reforms perennial:

Insistence that liturgy celebrates what is contained in the Bible.

Ensuring that liturgy remains grounded in the practices of the early church.

Remembering that the priesthood of liturgical presiders is derivative from the priesthood of all believers, and not the other way around.

The possibility of adaptation in liturgical language.

Liturgy as both the summit and the source of the church’s communal life.

Marini’s book was finished before last July, when Benedict XVI made it easier for local priests to celebrate the old Latin Mass. Marini tries really hard not to comment on the change. He tells Allen calmly “I might have different ideas.” But he says the pope needs to be taken seriously on two statements that accompanied his decree: that his motive was to re-establish unity with disaffected Catholic conservatives, and that greater availability of the Latin rite “in no way detracts from the validity of the liturgical reform.”

It is no secret that a major piece of Vatican II’s unfinished business is the reform of the Vatican curia, the complex bureaucracy of “congregations” instituted by the pope in 1588 to implement the Counter-Reformation policies of the Council of Trent.

Noting that the church got along for over 1,000 years without the Roman congregations, Marini says “eventually it will be necessary to return to the Consilium as an example of how to streamline the congregations, so that they are not just organisms bound by certain rigid norms, but more flexible bodies for resolving the problems of the world today.”

Marini says this necessitates that the bishops be more involved in decisions about the church. He says that was the intention of Paul VI in creating the Synod of Bishops and encouraging national bishops’ conferences. Unfortunately, he notes, these bodies have been reduced to appendages for creating documents and giving the pope advice.