Friday, October 31, 2008

Bishop Terminates Gay Priest's Job, Faculties, Salary and Health Benefits

In an article in today's print edition the National Catholic Reporter says that the bishop of Fresno has suspended Geoffrey Farrow, the diocesan priest who said the California bishops were wrong to oppose gay marriage (see post of October 9th, below). A Google search on the priest's name finds more information than NCR included in its report.

First, Father Geoff started
a blog October 7th to address the rationale for his actions and chronicle the fallout he was sure would follow. The blog begins with the text of his October 4th Sunday sermon, discusses his suspension, and has postings through yesterday on his continuing efforts to defeat California's Proposition 8. He also has a national and international audience so far of 166 people who have listed themselves as followers of his blog.

Second, an article published October 13th by two staff writers in the
Los Angeles Times makes it clear that "suspension" barely begins to describe the extent of the bishop's retaliation.

Farrow, 50, has been a priest for 23 years, but except for coming out to his family and a few close friends over the years, never thought of declaring his sexuality publicly or challenging the church's political stance on gay rights.

That changed after he read the bishop's June 30th pastoral letter against gay marriage, which he found at odds with contemporary psychology, his personal experience and the church's own statements that some people experience homosexual orientation as a given that cannot be changed.

But when he did, the bishop not only removed Farrow from his job as pastor of St. Paul Newman Center, which serves students and faculty at Cal State Fresno; he also revoked his faculties to function as a priest anywhere in the Fresno diocese and terminated Farrow's salary and benefits, including health insurance. According to the Times, the bishop also hinted he might remove Farrow from the priesthood altogether.

The bishop has yet to address the central questions Farrow raised in his sermon: "How exactly is society helped by singling out a minority and excluding them from the union of love and life, which is marriage? How is marriage protected by intimidating gay and lesbian people into loveless and lonely lives?"

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Jewish Visitors Understand Pope to Say He Is Considering Freezing Pius XII Sainthood

It well may come down to what exactly Pope Benedict XVI meant by the word ‘it,’ but members of an international Jewish delegation who met with him today perceived him to say he is considering freezing the sainthood process for Pius XII, who was pope during the Holocaust. This, of course, would be very good news for Catholic-Jewish relations. Parts of the report from MSNBC and Reuters follow:

Pope Benedict on Thursday told Jewish leaders he was seriously considering freezing the sainthood process of his Nazi-era predecessor Pius XII until historical archives can be opened, a Jewish leader said.

Some Jews have accused Pius, who reigned from 1939 to 1958, of turning a blind eye to the Holocaust. The Vatican says he worked behind the scenes and helped save many Jews from certain death during World War Two.

Rabbi David Rosen, a leader of a Jewish delegation that met the pope on Thursday, said the subject came up in conversations after formal speeches were delivered.

"One member of our delegation told the pope 'please do not move ahead with beatification of Pius XII before the Vatican archives can be made accessible for objective historical analysis' and the pope said 'I am looking into it, I am considering it seriously'," Rosen told reporters.

Beatification is the last step before sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church. Some Jews have asked the pope to hold off on beatifying Pius until more information on his papacy can be studied.

Pius did not come up in the formal speeches between the pope and Rosen, but the Jewish leader did repeat a request for the Vatican archives to be open for study.

"We reiterate our respectful call for full and transparent access of scholars to all archival material from the period, so that assessments regarding actions and policies during this tragic period may have the credibility they deserve both within our respective communities and beyond," Rosen told the pope.

A Vatican statement said another six or seven years of preparatory work would be needed before the archives on Pius' period could be opened to scholars and the pope would have the final decision.

At issue is whether Benedict should let Pius proceed on the road to sainthood — which Catholic supporters want — by signing a decree recognizing his "heroic virtues." This would clear the way for beatification, the last step before sainthood.

Benedict has so far not signed the decree — approved last year by the Vatican's saint-making department, opting instead for what the Vatican has called a period of reflection.

This month, Amos Luzzatto, president emeritus of Italy's Jewish communities, said making Pius XII a saint could open a "wound difficult to heal" between Jews and Catholics.

"I ask myself why Pius didn't do the same thing to call European Catholics to action. These are questions that haunt us Jews," he said.

As in 1930s, Will Banks Lend Federal Bailout Dollars Until the Government Forces Them?

On 10/28 Houston Chronicle business columnist Loren Steffy said that in its bailout efforts to date, the U.S. Treasury Department has yet to jettison Alan Greenspan's benighted notion that banks will regulate themselves productively apart from government coercion.

The Treasury has given banks billions so that they can resume making loans and unfreeze the credit markets. Yet, Steffy notes, instead of lending the banks are hoarding the funds. Compounding the problem, some banks are using the money to buy up weaker ones.

Steffy says that's because the bailout law actually incents them to do that more than to make loans, "Who can blame them? A provision of the $700 billion bailout plan provides a tax deduction for bad assets when one bank buys another." Unfortunately, that only worsens the credit crunch: "That may remove some struggling players, but we’ll be left with fewer banks making fewer loans."

Steffy says the Treasury needs to do what it said it would do, and what European governments have already done: use the government's new ownership of preferred stock in the banks to demand seats on the banks' boards and to demand that the banks resume lending.

Yet history shows even that may not be enough. What Steffy fails to take into account was covered 10/18 in another Houston Chronicle column, this one an op-ed piece by Steven Fenberg, who has done documentaries and a biography of Jesse H. Jones, the Houston financier who headed the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) during FDR's New Deal.

The original RFC law, passed under Herbert Hoover in 1931, allowed the government to make loans to ailing banks and insurance companies; but that just put them deeper in debt and more employees out of work. Jones, an original member of the RFC board, was apparently the first to suggest that the government directly buy stocks in the banks. Right after his inauguration (3/4/33) FDR submitted an Emergency Banking Act that included that provision, and Congress passed it in less than seven hours.

Although initially the banks would not sell stocks to the federal government, it wasn't long before the government owned stock in half the nation's banks. Unfortunately, however, Jones experienced what Steffy is describing today: they hoarded the cash and would not lend.

Fenberg says the government had to take several additional actions to unfreeze credit. First, "After hounding them for more than a year to loosen up, the RFC finally stepped in and made government loans to consumers, businesses, cities, disaster victims, home owners, farmers and railroads. Jones safeguarded taxpayers by only making loans against marketable collateral."

That worked until 1937, when Roosevelt stopped the program, as part of a premature effort to balance the budget. The economy spiraled downward again. To fix that, in 1938 FDR asked Jones to "organize a national mortgage association in Washington and to provide it with management." It became the Federal National Mortgage Association, known today as Fannie Mae.

So based on the experience of the 1930s, even with owning preferred stock in banks and getting seats on bank boards, the government may still not be in a position powerful enough to force the banks to resume lending. It may again have to cajole the banks into lending by doing more lending of its own. That probably would have to be in conjunction with reforming Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. But it certainly looks unavoidable.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Global Gluttony for Meat Becomes a Deadlier Sin--Stuffing Our Guts and Starving the Poor

In a persuasive op-ed piece in today's Houston Chronicle, nurse practitioner Caroline Trapp says the growing global appetite for meat has a double effect so obvious and ominous that someone should have noticed it before. In fact, she says, someone did: President Harry S. Truman, fifty years ago this fall!

Trapp, who is also director of diabetes education for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, thinks Truman got it when he "called on Americans to avoid meat one day a week to free up grain to feed millions of starving people in a war-ravaged Europe."

Trouble is, as war-ravaged Europe recovered, well-off consumers there and here forgot that grain used to feed cattle is eventually grain not available to starving people around the globe who need it just to survive. So now we have Americans eating an average of over 200 pounds of meat a year, "about double the global norm," with the upwardly mobile in China and India doing all they can to ape our opulence.

If Trapp is right that it takes as much as ten pounds of feed to produce one pound of beef, it becomes pretty clear why that leaves less grain for the less affluent. Trapp argues it's the primary reason that the number of people on the brink of starvation doubled in the last year--from 110 million to 220 million--and why "The World Bank expects that the number of malnourished people in the world will rise to nearly 1 billion this year."

But it isn't just starvation that's doubling. Also growing alarmingly, Trapp notes, are "rates of obesity and chronic diseases linked to high-fat, high-calorie diets." As a result, "Here in the United States, one in three children born in the year 2000 will develop diabetes at some point in his or her life..." Already, "More than 1,600 diabetes-related amputations are performed every week in the United States," and some experts fear our gluttony will double our amputee population by mid-century. In other words, as we starve more people to death we impose more death-penalties on ourselves.

Trapp's analysis is yet another argument that the only Western diet that has proven truly healthy and worth emulating is the so-called Mediterranean diet, rich in nuts, fruits and vegetables. Trapp hopes that the next U.S. president will have the wisdom and the courage to echo Truman's call for more meatless meals.

As she warns, "If we can't find the will to change our meat-heavy eating habits, millions of people around the world, rich and poor alike, will pay a terrible price."

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

In Memphis and Los Angeles, Bishops Say Catholics Cannot Be One-Issue Voters

The National Catholic Reporter says bishops in Memphis and Los Angeles have denied claims by more conservative prelates that Catholics can be one-issue voters or that bishops may instruct them to be:

Memphis Bishop J. Terry Steib this week called upon Catholics to avoid being one-issue voters. He asked them to follow their consciences and weigh all the moral issues they face before casting their ballots.

“We must recognize,” he wrote, “that God through the church, is calling us to be prophetic in our own day. If our conscience is well formed, then we will make the right choices about candidates who may not support the church's position in every case.”

Citing words from a statement, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” a voting guide issued last November by the bishops of the United States, Steib wrote that "there may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate's unacceptable position may decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons. Voting in this way would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil."

“A person might choose not to vote, but voting is a necessary part of our witness to Jesus Christ and a witness to our baptism. So, sometimes hard choices will have to be made.”

Steib wrote that within the past few weeks some denominations have taken on the task of challenging the policy of the Internal Revenue Service concerning the church and politics and that they were deliberately endorsing candidates and urging people in their congregations to vote for those persons in order to force the IRS to determine if the current policy of forbidding such endorsements is proper.

He said he disagreed with the approach because of his “deep respect” for the nonestablishment clause in the First Amendment to the Constitution.

He wrote that some Catholics have been asking their bishops to endorse candidates.

Continuing, he wrote that he has been among those bishops who have received letters from “well-meaning people” telling him for whom he should vote and how he should inform parishioners regarding the candidates for whom they should or should not cast their ballots.

He wrote, “It is not my duty nor is it my role to tell the members of the community of faith in the Diocese of Memphis how to vote.”

Rather he felt the need, he wrote, "to proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ as announced in scripture and articulated by the church.”

“Politics,” Steib wrote, “is not just a game; it is instead a part of the commonwealth of our lives. Just as we cannot avoid drinking water in order to live, so also, as faithful Christians we cannot avoid being involved in the political process and remain good Christians. But if we are to be involved in the political process by voting, then we must have formed our consciences well.”

He called upon Catholics to be prudent when they form their consciences. “Prudence is not easy to define, but according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, prudence helps us to ‘discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it.’"

He posed the question facing many Catholics, asking what is a voter to do when presented with candidates whose views do not reflect the full teachings of the church.

To help answer the question he quoted the spiritual writer Fr. Ronald Rolheiser who wrote the following in his book Secularity and the Gospel:

“In an age of increasing violence, fundamentalism, and the myth that God wishes to cleanse the planet of its sin and immorality by force, perhaps the first witness we must give to our world is a witness to God's nonviolence, a witness to the God revealed by Jesus Christ who opposes violence of all kinds, from war, to revenge, to capital punishment, to abortion, to euthanasia, to the attempt to use force to bring about justice and God's will in any way."

Steib wrote that he understood Rolheiser to be saying Catholics cannot be one-issue people.

In a similar light, in an interview this week, Gabino Zavala, an auxiliary bishop in the Los Angeles archdiocese, said his fellow bishops have long insisted that "we're not a one-issue church," a view reflected in their 2007 document "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship."

"But that's not always what comes out," said Zavala in the Los Angeles Times. Zavala is bishop-president of the Catholic peace group Pax Christi USA. "What I believe, and what the church teaches, is that one abortion is too many. That's why I believe abortion is so important. But in light of this, there are many other issues we need to bring up, other issues we should consider, other issues that touch the reality of our lives."

Steib and Zavala’s remarks come in the wake of a number of U.S. Catholic bishops who in one manner or another have called upon Catholics to vote to oppose any candidate that does not support an effort to overturn Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing abortion in the United States.

The most recent in a string of such bishops are Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput and Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., Bishop Robert Finn.

Chaput recently labeled Barack Obama as “the most committed” abortion-rights candidate from a major party in 35 years. Chaput emphasized he was speaking as a private citizen and not as a representative of the Denver archdiocese. He made the case it is immoral to vote for Obama.

Chaput had already said that Obama running mate Joe Biden, a Catholic, should not present himself for Communion because of his abortion rights position.

Similarly, Finn wrote last week in his diocesan paper that pro-choice candidates are "inviting Catholics to put aside their conscience on this life and death issue." He added: “They want us to deny our conscience and ignore their callous disregard for the most vulnerable human life."

And earlier this month, Bishop Joseph Martino of the Scranton (Pa.) diocese issued a letter warning that "being 'right' on taxes, education, health care, immigration, and the economy fails to make up for the error of disregarding the value of a human life." He added: "It is a tragic irony that 'pro-choice' candidates have come to support homicide — the gravest injustice a society can tolerate — in the name of 'social justice.'"

Six Catholic Scholars Question If Pius XII Did All He Could for the Jews, or Soon Enough

In a letter to The Times of London, six Catholic scholars from Europe, Canada and the United States join three Jewish colleagues to say it is premature for the Catholic Church to canonize Pope Pius XII until all the material in the Vatican archives "is made available and scrutinised and a wider scholarly consensus is achieved regarding his response to the Holocaust." The complete text of the letter follows, along with a list of the signers and their academic affiliations.

As scholars committed to the Christian-Jewish dialogue, we express our concern about any imminent beatification/canonisation of the wartime Pius XII (Pope 1939-58). His pontificate has stirred considerable controversy, with some claiming that he knew much and did little of importance while others argue that he did all he could under very difficult circumstances.

As Pope he condemned the effects of the war on its innocent victims, but did not single out the persecution of Jews, either during or after the Holocaust. Pius XII made some diplomatic interventions regarding Jewish safety but lived during a time, before Vatican II, when anti-Jewish prejudice was common in Christianity. The Vatican has yet to release much archival material that should be opened up with deliberate speed and examined by scholars. We are also deeply concerned about the impact of beatification/canonisation on the remaining survivors of the Holocaust, making the rush to canonisation seem inappropriate.

The evidence released thus far does not satisfactorily respond to whether Pius XII acted soon enough and decisively enough. A more extensive study is still required, one that would draw in the best available scholars in the field. The Vatican will not achieve credibility on the question of Pius XII’s wartime record by relying solely on the work of defenders of Pius XII. We therefore respectfully urge Catholic authorities to continue to hold on a consideration of his canonisation until all relevant archival material is made available and scrutinised and a wider scholarly consensus is achieved regarding his response to the Holocaust.

Until then, it will remain uncertain whether the Pope did all he could and whether he did it soon enough.

Dr Edward Kessler
Centre for the Study of Jewish-Christian Relations, Woolf Institute of Abrahamic Faiths, Cambridge

The Rev Professor John T. Pawlikowski, OSM
Cardinal Bernadin Centre, Catholic Theological Union, Chicago

Dr Michael Berenbaum
American Jewish University, Los Angeles

Professor Mary Boys, NDS
Union Theological Seminary, New York

Dr Hans Hermann Henrix
Bischofliche Akadmie des Bistums Aachen, Aachen

Rabbi Professor Dr Ruth Langer
Centre for Christian-Jewish Learning, Boston College

Professor Michael R. Marrus
University of Toronto

Professor Didier Pollefeyt
University of Leuven

Dr Kevin P. Spicer, CSC

University of Notre Dame

Monday, October 20, 2008

Globalization Giveth, and Taketh Away. And, Shall We Pray, Saveth?

New York Times op-ed columnist Thomas L. Friedman holds out the hope that the "globalization of finance," which helped so many large developing countries start an ascent from poverty but then bit us all in the foot, may yet be the engine that saves the day. Maybe. See the reservations I raise after some of Friedman's paragraph's, below.

So think about it: Some mortgage broker in Los Angeles gives subprime “liar loans” to people who have no credit ratings so they can buy homes in Southern California. Those flimsy mortgages get globalized through the global banking system and, when they go sour, they eventually prompt banks to stop lending, fearful that every other bank’s assets are toxic, too. The credit crunch hits Iceland, which went on its own binge. Meanwhile, the police department of Northumbria, England, had invested some of its extra cash in Iceland, and, now that those accounts are frozen, it may have to reduce street patrols this weekend.

And therein lies the central truth of globalization today: We’re all connected and nobody is in charge.

Globalization giveth — it was this democratization of finance that helped to power the global growth that lifted so many in India, China and Brazil out of poverty in recent decades. Globalization now taketh away — it was this democratization of finance that enabled the U.S. to infect the rest of the world with its toxic mortgages. And now, we have to hope, that globalization will saveth.

The real and sustained bailout from the crisis will happen when the strong companies buy the weak ones — on a global basis. It’s starting. Last week, Credit Suisse declined a Swiss government bailout and instead raised fresh capital from Qatar, the Olayan family of Saudi Arabia and Israel’s Koor Industries. Japan’s Mitsubishi bank bought a stake in Morgan Stanley, possibly rescuing it from bankruptcy and preventing an even steeper decline in the Dow. And Spain’s Banco Santander, which was spared from the worst of this credit crisis by Spain’s conservative banking regulations, is purchasing America’s Sovereign Bankcorp.

I suspect we will soon see the same happening in industry. And, once the smoke clears, I suspect we will find ourselves living in a world of globalization on steroids — a world in which key global economies are more intimately tied together than ever before.

It will be a world in which America will not be able to scratch its ear, let alone roll over in bed, without thinking about the impact on other countries and economies. And it will be a world in which multilateral diplomacy and regulation will no longer be a choice. It will be a reality and a necessity. We are all partners now.

So far, so good. What troubles me is the sentence, "We're all connected, and nobody is in charge." What's troubling is not its accuracy, but Friedman's failure to analyze it and challenge it (as he has in other columns).

It is the job of governments to be in charge of the global economy. And the fact that just about all significant governments have been asleep at the switch is the main reason globalization was allowed to run amok. Governments need to place financial globalization within globally agreed limits. And until governments do, globalization is more likely to give less and take more--from everyone.

Friday, October 10, 2008

High-Profile U.S. Catholics Challenge Some Church Officials' Abortion Politics

Tom Roberts, the National Catholic Reporter's News Editor and Editor-at-Large, has posted an outstanding analysis of the success high-profile U.S. Catholic lay leaders and organized lay groups are having in challenging some church officials' position on the duty of political leaders to outlaw abortion. He also notes support for them from at least one high-profile theologian at Notre Dame. Most of Roberts' paragraphs follow.

For the first time since the abortion issue began to dominate the Catholic political discussion 35 years ago, groups have organized and high-profile Catholics have gone public to insist that Catholic teaching does not prohibit a vote for a pro-choice politician.

Much to the contrary, in fact, groups like Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and Catholics United note that the teaching explicitly prohibits bishops from endorsing or opposing specific candidates, from instructing Catholics on how to vote or from arguing that Catholics need consider only one issue in determining how to vote.

The same point was emphasized in
a talk given Oct. 4 in Kansas City, Mo. by Notre Dame theologian, Father Richard McBrien who cited last November’s election policy statement, which reads: “The consistent ethic of life provides a moral framework for principled Catholic engagement in political life and, rightly understood, neither treats all issues as morally equivalent nor reduces Catholic teaching to one or two issues. ... Catholic voters should use the framework of Catholic teaching to examine candidates’ positions on issues affecting human life and dignity as well as issues of justice and peace ...”

“I think they’ve changed the conversation on abortion,” said Peter Steinfels, long time church observer and writer of the Beliefs column for The New York Times, referring to emerging Catholic lay voices.

Referring to figures like lawyers
Douglas Kmiec and Nicholas Cafardi, both of whom own unassailable pro-life credentials and have publicly endorsed Barack Obama, Steinfels said, “I think that by disconnecting their moral opposition to abortion from their political support for Republican candidates, they’ve actually returned emphasis to the moral question.

"They’ve provided a witness to the moral seriousness of what’s involved in abortion.”

How much that witness influences Catholics, who have a solid record of voting for the popular vote winner, will be apparent in the post-Nov. 3 analyses. We’ll also know then whether a vocal minority of bishops will have convinced Catholics that, as Bishop Joseph F. Martino of Scranton put it, “pro-choice candidates have come to support homicide” and that seeking a legal ban of abortion is the greatest good.

Former St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke also declared recently from his new post in Rome that Democrats risked becoming
“a party of death.”

Steinfels said of bishops who appear to see only one political approach, a total legal ban, to the abortion issue: “I think they’re going to harm the church in the long run and the pro-life cause.”

More distressing to him, however, is the silence of the majority of bishops who refuse to publicly explain that the bishops’ own documents on political responsibility prohibit a one-issue approach as well as either endorsing or condemning individual candidates.

“I feel there is a kind of leadership failing on the part of other bishops who are not happy with that kind of statement,” said Steinfels, referring to the bishop of Scranton. Privately, other bishops will say they disagree, said the journalist and author of A People Adrift: The Crisis of the Roman Catholic Church in America.

“The only way in this media conscious world – if they’re not going to allow the Bishop of Scranton to speak for the U.S. hierarchy – is they’ve got to take a public stand.”

Kmiec, a former official in the Reagan White House who worked on briefs seeking to overturn Roe v Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, announced his support for Obama last spring.

“I believe him to be a person of integrity, intelligence, and genuine good will. I take him at his word that he wants to move the nation beyond its religious and racial divides and that he wants to return the United States to that company of nations committed to human rights.”

In a later panel discussion, Kmiec defended his decision to support Obama, despite the candidate’s pro-choice position on abortion and Kmiec’s earlier work to overturn Roe v Wade.

“We have been at the business of trying to find the elusive fifth vote on the Supreme Court for 30 years,” he said. “We haven’t found it and even if we do find it, overturning Roe would not save a single life, but instead merely return the question to the state. While that would be important, it is not intended and never was intended to close the American mind or, for that matter, the Catholic mind to different or alternative ways to discourage abortion.”

He said one thing he liked about the Democratic Party platform this year “is that it incorporates some of these alternative ways, alternative ways that for far too long have been closed to the Catholic imagination, if you will, because of the way in which the abortion discussion has been conducted.”

Both Kmiec and Cafardi, a civil and canon lawyer and former dean at Duquesne University Law School in Pittsburgh, emphasize that it is wrong to conclude from Catholic teaching that Catholics can not vote for Obama because he is pro-choice. Each also asserts that overturning Roe would not end abortion, but merely turn the question back to the states, so that abortion would remain legal in some states and illegal in others.

Given that circumstance, they say, they have opted for the candidate and the party that has placed a new emphasis on programs that would aid in reducing the number of abortions.

Of course, when Catholic politicans like Rudy Giuliani, Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi have made arguments similar to those of Kmiec, Cafardi, Steinfels and McBrien, bishops of the ilk they are challenging have been quick to slap the politicians down, claim they are disloyal Catholics and in some cases deny them access to communion. It will be interesting to watch whether any of these bishops try similar tactics against the individuals Roberts profiles.

At least one of the lay leaders covered above has taken a pro-active step to head off such a move. A Catholic News Service link within Roberts' article notes that the day before Roberts' posting, Cafardi resigned from the board of trustees at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, as a direct result of his support for Obama.

While the university did not exactly force Cafardi to resign, its president made it clear they were taking heat from the Catholic right both about Cafardi's endorsing Obama and Carfardi's argument that Obama's approach to reducing abortions is politically more achievable than trying to outlaw them nationally. Cafardi said he resigned to prevent those Catholics from "using my association with Steubenville to try to harm that great university."

What may transpire between now and election day is anybody's guess.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

California Priest Says the Bishops Are Wrong to Support Same-Sex Marriage Ban

The National Catholic Reporter says a very brave diocesan priest in California has told his college congregation that their bishops are wrong to support a state initiative to reverse the California Supreme Court's ruling that gay couples have a constitutional right to marry. The bulk of NCR's article follows.

In his Sunday homily Oct. 6, Fr. Geoffrey Farrow, a diocesan priest, criticized church leadership for supporting Proposition 8, a state ballot measure that would make it unconstitutional for same-sex couples to marry.

“In directing the faithful to vote ‘Yes’ on Proposition 8, the California bishops are not only entering the political arena, they are ignoring the advances and insights of neurology, psychology, and the very statements by the church itself that homosexuality is [an] innate [orientation],” Farrow told the congregation at the St. Paul Newman Center at the University of California in Fresno.

In May, the California Supreme Court ruled that a state law defining marriage as between a man and a woman is unconstitutional and that same-sex couples have the right to designate their unions as marriages.

The California bishops called the ruling a “radical change in public policy” that “discounts the biological and organic reality of marriage.” They climbed aboard a movement to reverse the ruling by getting Proposition 8 onto the state ballot in November. And they encouraged “Catholics to provide both the financial support and the volunteer efforts needed for the passage of” Proposition 8.

In a statement to Catholics issued in August, the bishops had written that the court ruling is a “radical change in public policy” insofar as it “discounts the biological and organic reality of marriage” what they consider “the ideal relationship between a man and a woman for the purpose of procreation and the continuation of the human race.”

The ruling also “diminishes the word marriage to mean only a ‘partnership’ a purely adult contractual arrangement for individuals over the age of 18,” according to the bishops.

Farrow told worshippers the bishops’ support for Proposition 8 “has placed me in a moral predicament.” He added, “At what point do you cease to be an agent for healing and growth and become an accomplice of injustice?”

He continued: “The statement made by the bishop reaffirms the feelings of exclusion and alienation that are suffered by individuals and their loved ones who have left the church over this very issue. . . .

“How exactly is society helped by singling out a minority and excluding them from the union of love and life, which is marriage? How is marriage protected by intimidating gay and lesbian people into loveless and lonely lives? . . .

“This ‘theology,’ which is parroted by clerics in polished tones from pulpits, produces the very prejudice and hatred in our society which they claim to abhor. . . .

“I do not presume to tell you how to vote, but I do ask that you pray to the Creator of us all. Think and consider the effects of your vote on others, especially minorities in our society who are sitting next to you in church, and at work. … Personally, I am morally compelled to vote ‘No’ on Proposition 8.”

Farrow also told local media, he is a gay man. “It’s a secondary issue. But, yes, I am,” he said.

Farrow told NCR Oct. 8 that he had taken a personal retreat this week. He said he had written to his bishop, John Steinbock, saying that he planned to return to the Newman Center and his job as pastor there Oct. 13.

A spokesman for the Fresno diocese said Farrow’s whereabouts were unknown and he had no comment about the priest’s status.

A Sept. 18 Field Poll found that 38 percent of likely voters support the initiative, with 55 percent opposed. A CBS poll, conducted Oct. 4-5 among 670 likely voters, showed Proposition 8 winning statewide by a five-point margin, 42-to-47 percent.

Supporters of the initiative have raised $28.6 million, The San Diego Union-Tribune reports, while opponents have pulled in $21.4 million, including a $1.275 million contribution from the Connecticut-based Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal order. Raising funds is crucial in California where television advertising sets the tone, tenor, and messaging for each side.

In Los Angeles, Fr. Kevin Steen, a former Benedictine monk, is working to defeat Proposition 8.

“The bishops are trying to impose their theology on everybody else,” said Steen, who works with California Faith for Equality, a statewide interfaith network of congregations and people of faith. “Marriage is a civil matter best left to [secular] authorities.”

A member of the Catholic organization for gay, lesbian and transgender person, Dignity, Steen says he and others have written to Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahoney, requesting to speak with him. “We send letters and get form letters back. It’s very sad and hurtful he won’t speak with us and listen to our stories.”

A spokesperson for the cardinal said Steen is not in official standing with the Los Angeles archdiocese.

Vatican Refusal to Open Pius XII Archives Continues to Harm Relations with Jews

On October 6th the first rabbi ever invited to speak at the Catholic Church's international Synod of Bishops told Reuters that if he had understood that this week the Vatican also planned to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Pope Pius XII's death, he would have considered not coming.

National Catholic Reporter columnist John Allen Jr. says that Israel's Chief Rabbi of Haifa, Shear-Yashuv Cohen, was taking direct aim at Pius XII when he supplemented his prepared text on the Jewish approach to scripture by saying: “We cannot forget the sad and painful fact of how many, including great religious leaders, didn’t raise a voice in the effort to save our brethren, but chose to keep silent and help secretly. We cannot forgive and forget, and we hope you understand our pain, our sorrow.”

Allen noted: "Cohen's remarks come at a delicate moment, as Benedict XVI weighs whether to move forward in declaring his controversial predecessor a saint. In May 2007, the Vatican’s Congregation for Saints voted to endorse Pius XII's 'heroic virtue,' the first formal step in the process, and a document confirming that verdict is now awaiting a papal signature. Only when that occurs can officials move forward with investigation of a miracle, which is required for beatification. Another miracle would be required for eventual canonization."

In a new posting, however, Allen reports that in a homily at St. Peter's Basilica, "Pope Benedict XVI today issued a ringing defense of his controversial predecessor, Pope Pius XII, the wartime pope whose alleged silence during the Holocaust has long been a sticking point in Jewish/Catholic relations."

The new posting lists various arguments that Benedict raised to defend the way his predecessor acted during World War II. Unfortunately, the Jews have heard all of these arguments before and do not find them convincing.

Allen reports that, anticipating Benedict's intent to move forward with the process to declare Pius XII a saint, "the Anti-Defamation League earlier this week used the occasion of the anniversary of Pius XII’s death to re-issue its call for the Vatican to completely open its World War II-era archives. Up to this point, the Vatican has only published selected materials from that period, citing the normal time lag in opening historical records and the difficulties of cataloguing delicate materials in multiple languages."

Allen quoted Abraham Foxman, the ADL's national director: “Until the Vatican's secret archives are declassified, Pius’ record vis-√†-vis Jews will continue to be shrouded and a source of controversy and contention. We strongly urge the Vatican to make full and complete access to the archives of this period its highest priority and call on all interested parties to assist.”

As I have observed here before, opening the archives might not be enough to convince either side to buy the other's interpretation of Pius XII. But until the archives are made public in full, it is impossible to quiet Jewish fears that the Vatican has something to hide.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Blaming the Credit Crisis on Poor Minority Homeowners Is Another Conservative Lie

In an excellent commentary posted yesterday Newsweek columnist Daniel Gross debunked the claim by the Wall Street Journal, the National Review, Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer and other conservative patrons of financial deregulation, that the current fiscal crisis was caused by bad loans made to the poor. Since this mistaken idea underlies John McCain’s claim in the debate last night that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were the culprits that got the crisis going, it’s important to pay a lot of attention to Gross’s analysis. The bulk of it follows.

Let me get this straight. Investment banks and insurance companies run by centimillionaires blow up, and it's the fault of Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and poor minorities?

These arguments are generally made by people who read the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal, and ignore the rest of the paper—economic know-nothings whose opinions are informed mostly by ideology and, occasionally, by prejudice. Let's be honest. Fannie and Freddie, which didn't make subprime loans but did buy subprime loans made by others, were part of the problem. Poor congressional oversight was part of the problem. Banks that sought to meet CRA requirements by indiscriminately doling out loans to minorities may have been part of the problem. But none of these issues is the cause of the problem. Not by a long shot. From the beginning, subprime has been a symptom, not a cause. And the notion that the Community Reinvestment Act is somehow responsible for poor lending decisions is absurd.

Here's why.

Community Reinvestment Act applies to depository banks. But many of the institutions that spurred the massive growth of the subprime market weren't regulated banks. They were outfits such as Argent and American Home Mortgage, which were generally not regulated by the Federal Reserve or other entities that monitored compliance with CRA. These institutions worked hand in glove with Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, entities to which the CRA likewise didn't apply. There's much more. As Barry Ritholtz notes in this fine rant, the CRA didn't force mortgage companies to offer loans for no-money down, or to throw underwriting standards out the window, or to encourage mortgage brokers to aggressively seek out new markets. Nor did the CRA force the credit-rating agencies to slap high-grade ratings on subprime debt.

Second, many of the biggest flameouts in real estate have had nothing to do with subprime lending.
WCI Communities, builder of highly amenitized condos in Florida (no subprime purchasers welcome there), filed for bankruptcy in August. Very few of the tens of thousands of now-surplus condominiums in Miami were conceived to be marketed to subprime borrowers, or minorities—unless you count rich Venezuelans and Colombians as minorities. The multi-year plague that has been documented in brilliant detail at IrvineHousingBlog is playing out in one of the least subprime housing markets in the nation.

Third, lending money to poor people and minorities isn't inherently risky. There's plenty of evidence that in fact it's not that risky at all. That's what we've learned from
several decades of microlending programs, at home and abroad, with their very high repayment rates. And as The New York Times recently reported, Nehemiah Homes, a long-running initiative to build homes and sell them to the working poor in subprime areas of New York's outer boroughs, has a repayment rate that lenders in Greenwich, Conn., would envy. In 27 years, there have been fewer than 10 defaults on the project's 3,900 homes. That's a rate of 0.25 percent.

On the other hand, lending money recklessly to obscenely rich white guys, such as
Richard Fuld of Lehman Brothers, or Jimmy Cayne of Bear Stearns, can be really risky. In fact, it's even more risky, since they have a lot more borrowing capacity. And, here, again, it's difficult to imagine how Jimmy Carter could be responsible for the supremely poor decision-making seen in the financial system. I await the Krauthammer column in which he points out the specific provision of the Community Reinvestment Act that forced Bear Stearns to run with an absurd leverage ratio of 33:1, that instructed Bear Stearns hedge-fund managers to blow up hundreds of millions of their clients money, and that required its septuagenarian CEO to play bridge while his company ran into trouble. Perhaps Neil Cavuto knows which CRA clause required Lehman Brothers to borrow hundreds of billions of dollars in short-term debt in the capital markets and then buy tens of billions of dollars of commercial real estate at the top of the market. I can't find it. Did AIG plunge into the credit-default swaps business with abandon because ACORN members picketed its offices? Please. How about the hundreds of billions of dollars of leveraged loans—loans banks committed to private equity firms that wanted to conduct leveraged buyouts of retailers, restaurant companies, and industrial firms? Many of those are going bad now, too. Is that Bill Clinton's fault?

Look. There was a culture of stupid, reckless lending, of which Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the subprime lenders were an integral part. But the dumb lending virus originated in Greenwich, Ct., midtown Manhattan, and Southern California, not Eastchester, Brownsville, and Washington. Investment banks created a demand for subprime loans because they saw it as a new asset class that they could dominate. They made subprime loans for the same reason they made other loans: They could get paid for making the loans, for turning them into securities, and for trading them—frequently using borrowed capital.

At Monday's hearing, Republican Rep. John Mica of Florida gamely tried to pin Lehman's demise on Fannie and Freddie. After comparing Lehman's small political contributions to Fannie and Freddie's much larger ones, Mica asked Fuld what role Fannie and Freddie's failure played in Lehman's demise. Fuld's
response: "de minimis."

Lending money to poor people doesn't make you poor. Lending money poorly to rich people does.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Retired Houston Minister: "If I Vote for Obama, I Will Be Over My Prejudice for Sure"

A retired Houston minister and his wife, who both grew up in Port Arthur in the heyday of Jim Crow segregation--of schools, public restrooms and even water fountains--told Houston Chronicle columnist Lisa Falkenberg they've had to pray hard over supporting their party's first black nominee for president. But they say that prayer has healed them of their prejudice--with a little help from Joe Biden's convention speech. The complete column follows.

Charles Bowers isn't proud of his prejudice.

But the self-described Yellow Dog Democrat readily admits that his deeply rooted notions of race once made it hard for him to support his party's first black nominee for president.

"Frankly," the 76-year-old retired pastor from Tomball wrote me in an e-mail a couple months ago, "I was raised during the days of segregation and am not ready for a black family in the White House."

Then came the interesting part: "But I am praying for a way out of my prejudice and think I just may be over it. If I vote for Obama, I will be over my prejudice for sure."

Unlike many white voters struggling with the same issue behind closed doors, in hushed tones in beauty parlors, or in cafes among like-minded company, Bowers and his wife of 56 years, Katherine, invited me into their home to talk openly about how their views have evolved.

In the Bowers' living room, lovingly lined with shelves of Katherine's collectibles of cats and porcelain furniture, Charles relaxed in a T-shirt and shorts on a leather couch, sipping a Diet Pepsi as he prepared for Barack Obama's convention speech in Mile High Stadium.

For hours, the couple talked about the three children they'd raised, their love of gardening and God (they attend the Church of Christ), and their work ministering in various congregations, prisons and hospitals. Charles worked in sales for Nestlé before attending a seminary in Lubbock in the 1960s to become a pastor.

And they told me about growing up in Port Arthur during segregation, where everything from water fountains to public restrooms to schools was divided along color lines. Charles remembers using the N-word like any other word, before he knew it was bad. They weren't ready for desegregation, but they came to accept it.

Charles can still recall the first time a black man reached out his hand for him to shake. He was 17 and not sure what to do.

Katherine tries to explain: If you're taught you can't drink after someone, or go to school with them, how do you know it's OK to touch their hand? To this day, she remembers the first black person who waited on her in a department store.

"I mean, how wild is that? To know how the world is today, to know that was 56 years ago, and I still remember," she said.

But really, her husband said a short time later, he believes most of America is over "the black problem."

"I don't. Hello!" Katherine protests.

"Well, the young people in general. It may not be over for people our age. But we're about dead," he said, laughing.

"I agree,"said his 74-year-old wife. "But people our age are still prejudiced."

"And they need to get that out of their lives," he said. "Because it's a different world."

Charles believes he shed many of his negative notions of blacks at the Sunset International Bible Institute, where he came to regard some of the blacks studying with him as "brothers in Christ."

But he and his wife still struggle with some stereotypes, which they attribute to black "culture," not color. And Charles admits that at first, the idea of a black man, and his black family, in the White House threatened him.

"Not anymore, it doesn't. But it did for a while," Charles said. "That's something that's hard for my generation to put inside their heads."

Some of their doubts were stoked by a barrage of e-mail, which they say come from Republican friends and acquaintances.

Some include racist jokes, one suggesting the need to paint the White House black if the Obamas get in, another mockingly dispelling a rumor that the Rose Garden will be replaced by a watermelon patch.

Others distort Obama's family ties to Islam, suggesting he's a closet Muslim, even though he grew up in a secular household before joining a Christian church and being baptized two decades ago.

But Charles and Katherine both say they've come around to supporting Obama, mostly by listening to him. As Democrats, they naturally agree with him on more issues than with Republican John McCain. They believe in Obama's message of change. Katherine likes his Kennedy-esque call for Americans to give back to their country.

But Charles said Joe Biden's convention speech gave him the nudge he needed. Biden, that is, and the Man Upstairs.

I asked them what advice they'd have for others struggling with whether to vote for Obama because of his race.

"The best thing is to pray about it," Charles said.

His wife is convinced that some, even some church-goers she knows, are incapable, or unwilling to move beyond the prejudice they've always known. But she believes there's hope for those like her, who want to heal.

"They need to realize we're living in a changed world," she said. "And color should not be an issue in this world anymore.

"I think that's the best advice you could give anybody. ...We shouldn't be attacking color anymore. We ought to be beyond that. We really should."

Houston Mayor Lends City Support to Planting a Million Trees in Next Five Years

Last June Houston Mayor Bill White facilitated the destruction of 126 live oak trees to make room for more traffic on a major Houston thoroughfare. He was opposed at the time by Trees for Houston, the volunteer group that had planted the trees 20 years ago.

In what could be construed as public penance for his sin against the environment, the mayor announced yesterday that the city is now joining with
Trees for Houston in what the Houston Chronicle called "a multimillion dollar public-private partnership to plant more than a million trees in the city in the next five years."

Other participants in the plan include the Texas Department of Transportation, Harris County and the Houston Forest Service, as well as corporate sponsors, management districts and other civic groups.

As a matter of timing, the plan comes in response to Hurricane Ike, blamed for the loss of "tens of thousands of trees," the Chronicle said. The city estimates that 3,500 trees were lost in city parks and golf courses alone.

Although the report did not say that the plan would contribute to the planned replacement of the Kirby trees, 38 esplanades on another major street are slated to get 4,500 new trees. Let's say this latest move by Mayor White will not hurt his standing with those who were dismayed with chopping down the Kirby trees.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Turning Lemons into Lemonade: Ike Survivors Keep Finding New Ways

The Houston Chronicle today had several uplifting, inspiring stories of Hurricane Ike survivors who have steadfastly refused to let destruction, loss and death have the last word.

Perhaps the best is entitled A loner in life is looked after in death. It picks up the story of rescue worker Bob Emery, 54, of Big Pine Key, FL, who died last Saturday night in Houston while trying to rescue three dogs huddling against the cement median of the East Freeway. At the end of a 13-hour day clearing brush along the coast, Emery dashed onto the freeway but was hit and killed by a motorcycle.

The city kennel rescued the dogs, who were reunited Wednesday with their owners, a senior-citizen couple who had rescued two of the dogs as puppies abandoned in a Houston park and adopted the third as a young stray.

The Chronicle said Emery lived alone in Florida and was apparently estranged from his family. The wife of one of Emery's co-workers spent time in the Florida Keys this week trying to find the family, so far to no avail. But she said she has been deeply impressed at the outpouring of emotion for Emery in Houston and surrounding areas.

Animal lovers have united in fundraising to ensure that Emery is not buried as a pauper and to create a memorial to his generous acts. No Paws Left Behind, a Houston nonprofit, is collecting funds on his behalf.

Another article is entitled Flower Man's home damaged, but volunteers flock to his aid. It tells the story of 70-something folk sculptor Cleveland Turner, whose home and garden have been hailed as one the nation's best examples of African-American yard art. His art has been featured in scholarly publications, popular articles, a documentary and on the internet. Turner stayed in his home during Ike, but the winds mangled his displays of blooming plants and found items, tore a hole in his roof and ceiling sheet rock and downed a large tree, which toppled 20 feet of a chain-link fence that featured more of his art. Another art-covered fence behind the house was also damaged.

The article includes the encouraging report that tomorrow volunteers organized by the Orange Society for Visionary Art will descend on his home to do structural repairs and clean debris. The volunteers are trying to say "thank you" to Turner for his art, which he says was inspired by a vision he experienced during treatment for alcoholism, toward the end of the 17 years he spent homeless on the streets of Houston.

A third article worth noting is Nursing Moody Gardens back to health. It covers repair to the center's Aquarium Pyramid and the more heavily damaged Rain Forest Pyramid. One upside is that despite loss of 80% of several thousand freshwater fish in the latter, the staff managed to save 70 of the last remaining Lake Victoria cichlids on the planet. The article also talks about the five animal-care staff people and 15 maintenance workers who volunteered to remain during the storm. They included animal husbandry manager Greg Whittaker, who survived his his decision in the calm after Ike's first eye-wall passed to wade from their shelter back to the pyramids at 2 a.m. on 9/13, to check on the welfare of the animals. Meanwhile, the second eye-wall passage began, and he nearly didn't make it back alive.

A fourth article says A Navy veteran's mementos turn up after a surprising journey through Hurricane Ike. It tells the amazing story of the storm washing the display case of Eddie Janek's Navy memorabilia from World War II and the Korean War from his home on the bay side of Galveston Island to Pelican Island, nearly five miles away. The medals washed ashore near Texas A&M's maritime campus. Two A&M officials beamed as they returned the intact display case to its owner.

Finally, there's Emergency naturalization ceremony set for Saturday, which says that 1,240 immigrants whose swearing in ceremony had been postponed by Ike until after Monday's deadline to vote actually will be sworn in tomorrow in an emergency ceremony at Rice Stadium.

Thanks go primarily to U.S. Rep. Gene Greene, D-Houston, who pushed the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for the emergency ceremony, and Lynn Hughes, administrative judge for the U.S. District Court in Houston, who offered to hold an emergency ceremony and arranged for Rice to host it.

Hughes remarked: "There's a lot of harsh talk about immigrants these days, and here are people doing everything right, com;plying with all of the rules, and we let a modest disruption in the paperwork flow put them off. We need to do this because it is the right thing for us to do."

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Hedge Fund Nation: How We're All About to Become Wall Street Investors

About 90 minutes ago Newsweek's Daniel Gross posted a delightful commentary on the Wall Street bailout. I can't resist running it in its entirety.

The Wall Street bailout is alive again. In an effort to make the $700 billion bailout palatable, the architects of the law have larded it up with all sorts of goodies, such as increasing the levels of deposit insurance, sparing some taxpayers the ravages of the Alternative Minimum Tax, and extending tax breaks for alternative energy. Henry Paulson's three-page sprig has sprouted into a 451-page Christmas tree. (The current version of the bill, in all its lengthy glory, can be seen here).

What's most interesting about the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 is just how much it reads like a prospectus for a hedge fund. In the past, hedge funds—secretive pools of capital – were open only to qualified (read: rich) investors. But with the stroke of a pen, President Bush will soon make all American citizens investors in the world's biggest fund--and a democratic one, at that. Taxpayers won't just be the investors. We'll own the management company too. Best of all? For at least a few months, we'll have the former CEO of Goldman, Sachs run our investment for a very small fee. Call it the "Universal Hedge Fund."

Hedge funds use leverage: that is, they borrow money to amplify their returns. The Universal Hedge Fund will use massive leverage, borrowing up to $750 billion, which it will use to buy up distressed assets. The Universal Fund might best be described as a multi-multi-strategy fund. Its stated goals are to maximize returns to its investors, while promoting general market stability and bolstering the crippled housing market.

The Fund's bylaws give the manager (the Treasury Secretary) significant discretion. He can by troubled mortgage-related instruments from finance companies (Section 3(9)(a), page 5). But he can also invest in "any other financial instrument that the Secretary, after consultation with the Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, determines the purchase of which is necessary to promote financial market stability" (Section 3(9)B, page 6). The manager then has the authority to manage the assets as he sees fit (Section 106(B) page 22), collecting revenue streams, holding bonds to maturity or flipping them for a quick profit. (Section 106(c), page 22). Like many of today's sharpest hedge funds, the Universal Fund will also have the ability to drive a harder bargain by demanding equity stakes, or new debt securities, from the institutions it is helping (Section 113(d), page 35). It can also do what many of the big hedge funds, and so-called "funds of funds: do: bring in outside managers to run the investment. (101(C )(3), page 8).

There are some important differences between the Universal Fund and its private sector peers. Hedge funds thrive on secrecy. The Universal Fund will operate with maximum transparency, disclosing all new sales and purchases on the web within two days. (Sec 114(A), page 39) Rather than send in all our money upfront, we hedge fund investors will give the manager $250 billion to start with (Sec 115(A)(1), p. 40). And the proceeds won't be distributed via dividends or end-of-year partnership distributions. Rather, revenues and profits "shall be paid into the general fund of the Treasury for reduction of the public debt." (106(d), page 22).

The Bush administration's desire to turn all Americans into participants in the capital markets through the privatization of Social Security never got off the ground. But in the last months of its second term, it has managed to pull off something of a coup. Soon enough, we'll all collectively own various securities issued by lots of big companies. Too bad the Ownership Society is happening only because we became a Bad Debt Society.

Four Developments Worth Pondering, and Helping Along

The items below address four recent developments that warrant more attention. The first three address dysfunctions in U.S. politics—including another attempt to breach the wall of separation between church and state. The fourth notes progress on religious disagreements between Israelis and Palestinians.

Columnist Fears Congress May Not Be Able to Rescue the Rescue

In a column 9/30, widely respected New York Times op-ed columnist Thomas L. Friedman said that the House of Representatives’ failure to pass the economic rescue package marked the fourth time in his 55 years that he’s been truly afraid for his country. But he finds the current crisis the most frightening:

“…this moment is the scariest of all for me because the previous three were all driven by real or potential attacks on the U.S. system by outsiders. This time, we are doing it to ourselves. This time, it’s our own failure to regulate our own financial system and to legislate the proper remedy that is doing us in…

“I’ve always believed that America’s government was a unique political system—one designed by geniuses so that it could be run by idiots. I was wrong. No system can be smart enough to survive this level of incompetence and recklessness by the people charged to run it…

“I always said to myself: Our government is so broken that it can only work in response to a huge crisis. But now we’ve had a huge crisis, and the system still doesn’t seem to work. Our leaders, Republicans and Democrats, have gotten so out of practice working together that even in the face of this system-threatening meltdown they could not agree on a rescue package, as if they lived on Mars and were just visiting us for the week, with no stake in the outcome.

“The story cannot end here. If it does, assume the fetal position.”


Special Prosecutor Will Investigate Criminal Violations in Gonzales’ Firing of U.S. Attorneys

AP reporter Mark Sherman reported 9/29 that, following recommendations made by internal Justice Department investigators in a 358-page report, U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey named a special prosecutor to investigate whether former A.G. Alberto Gonzales and other Bush administration officials broke the law in firing nine U.S. attorneys.

Potential targets of the investigation include other ‘formers:’ White House advisor Karl Rove, White House counsel Harriet Miers, Justice Department official Monica Goodling, Gonzales’ deputy Paul McNulty and Gonzales’ chief of staff Kyle Sampson.

Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine and Office of Professional Responsibility Director Marshall Jarrett said in their report that despite administration denials, political considerations played a part in the firing of at least four of the U.S. Attorneys, and that lack of cooperation by key Justice Department and White House officials had left “serious allegations involving potential criminal conduct” unresolved.

Perhaps those who abused the federal laws they were in charge of enforcing will yet be called to account.

Pastors Who Endorse Specific Candidates Should Insist on Paying Taxes

In an editorial today, the Houston Chronicle applauds Americans United for Separation of Church and State for filing complaints against five pastors who specifically endorsed John McCain for president—and a sixth who said, “According to my Bible and in my opinion, there is no way in the world a Christian can vote for Barack Hussein Obama.”

Conservative Christian lawyers calling themselves the Alliance Defense Fund claimed they had recruited hundreds of churches to openly break the IRS rule that prohibits nonprofit organizations from using tax-deductible contributions to engage in partisan politics. On 9/29 the group released a list of 33 offending pastors they pledged to defend.

The Chronicle observed that if the pastors “feel so strongly that they have a right to inject politics into their tax-exempt organizations, the ethical stance would be to insist on paying taxes.”


Departing Israeli PM Says Peace Requires Giving Up East Jerusalem and Almost All of the West Bank

In a farewell interview published 9/29, outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said there would be no peace with the Palestinians until Israel agrees to give up East Jerusalem and most of the West Bank.

Olmert saw no hope of Israel perpetually controlling the 200,000 Palestinians who live in East Jerusalem. Although he saw Israel retaining a portion of the West Bank, he said the Palestinians would have to be given the same amount of Israeli area in exchange.

His remarks were ground-breaking, since as mayor of Jerusalem and a hard-line lawmaker, he opposed conceding any of the city and, to extend Israel’s control, encouraged efforts to build Jewish neighborhoods in the largely Arab eastern sector. He was seen as finally coming around to the views of more liberal Jewish politicians—views he has denounced for years.

It remains to be seen whether Olmert’s successor(s) will follow his advice. But it is certainly an advance that a conservative prime minister has faced facts that have been evident to others for decades.