Archive for August, 2008

Thieves

Monday, August 25th, 2008

“And with him they crucify two thieves; the one on his right hand, and the other on his left.” Mark 15:27

Associating with criminals has pretty much the same stigma these days as it did 2000 years ago. The difference is that Jesus sought out those associations because those were the people who needed his message the most. Elected officials, on the other hand, while they also seem to seek out criminals, aren’t looking for redemption – just money.

If this election is going to be about character and personality rather than substantive issues, let’s at least try to separate the facts from the fiction.

Over the next several weeks I’ll post some comparisons.

Let’s start with documented associations with criminals.

Obama
Tony Rezco
Here a link with a detailed history.

Here’s a summary

In 2003 Tony Rezko was a member of Obama’s fundraising committee for his senate campaign. In the fall of that year, the Obamas purchased a home in Kenwood and Tony Rezko’s wife purchased the lot next door – both from the same doctor. Obama paid $1.65M which was about $300K below the asking price and Mrs. Rezko paid full price for her lot. The Obamas then purchased a portion of the adjoining land from Mrs. Rezko for $104,500. Eight months later Tony Rezko was indicted for a kickback scheme. Federal prosecutors maintain that $10K of the kickbacks in question ended up in Obama’s campaign. When informed of the claim, Obama donated $10K from his political fund to charity.

Obama has called the incident “boneheaded” because it created the appearance that the Rezkos were doing him a favor.

McCain
Charles Keating
Here’s a link to a wikipedia article with the details

Charles Keating made political contributions of $1.3M to various US Senators. In return he got their help in reigning in bank regulators who were concerned about questionable practices at a Savings and Loan which he owned. The regulators did back off. The Savings and Loan (Lincoln Savings and Loan) eventually failed. That failure cost mostly elderly Lincoln customers $285M. The government assumed $2.2B in liabilities when they took over the institution.

Keating contributed $112K to McCain’s campaign in the early 80’s. McCain’s wife and her father invested $359K in what the New York Times called a sweetheart Keating shopping center deal. A year later, McCain met with regulators to encourage them to back off Lincoln. By that time McCain and his extended family had also made nine trips at Keating’s expense including some in Keating’s private jet to Keating’s vacation home in the Bahama’s. Those trips were valued at $13K. They weren’t repaid until years later when Lincoln began to fail.

McCain was part of the Keating Five senate ethics investigation. He was cleared of all charges, but was criticized for exercising “poor judgment” by encouraging federal regulators to back off. McCain has said: “The appearance of it was wrong. It’s a wrong appearance when a group of senators appear in a meeting with a group of regulators, because it conveys the impression of undue and improper influence. And it was the wrong thing to do.” He has also written that attending the two April 1987 meetings was “the worst mistake of my life”.

As far as picking friends, seems like both men have had some issues. The significant difference, though, is that McCain’s poor judgement cost a bunch of folks in Southern California their life savings and put him through an ethics investigation by his peers.

Next up – Religion.

Spin

Saturday, August 23rd, 2008

“Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.” John 8:44

This was part of a long passage in John that started with the scribes and pharisees bringing Jesus an adulterous women and ended with them attempting to stone Jesus because he claimed to be God’s son.

Clearly this was a frustrating time for Jesus because he was doing his best to get his message across. At every turn, however, the Jews insisted on their interpretation of his words. Here’s just one example.

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death. Then said the Jews unto him, Now we know that thou hast a devil. Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and thou sayest, If a man keep my saying, he shall never taste of death” John 8:51-52

In political circles, this is called spin. It is a regular part of most modern campaigns. Karl Rove’s mastery of spin played a big role in George Bush’s two presidential victories.

Spin is just a pretty word for lying.

The problem is spin is so pervasive, that I’m afraid the daily conversations in the presidential campaign are not about issues or even history. They are just about the daily spin.

Here’s an example.

In May, President Bush used the occasion of a speech in Israel to characterize Senator Obama’s willingness to negotiate with Iran as, “the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history”

Senator McCain was even more direct saying, “the belief that somehow communications and positions and willingness to sit down and have serious negotiations need to be done in a face to face fashion as Senator Obama wants to do, which then enhances the prestige of a nation that’s a sponsor of terrorists and is directly responsible for the deaths of brave young Americans, I think is an unacceptable position, and shows that Senator Obama does not have the knowledge, the experience, the background to make the kind of judgments that are necessary to preserve this nation’s security.”

Yet by July, not two months later, Secretary Rice was doing exactly what President Bush and Senator McCain criticized Senator Obama for proposing – negotiate with Iran without pre-conditions.

Did Bush and McCain apologize to Obama for their previous comments or somehow give him credit for being right after all? No they didn’t need to because they assume that the American people are stupid and won’t hold them accountable. If the polls are any indication, they are right.

Here’s another that you might enjoy.

In March President Bush said of a proposed timetable for Iraq withdrawal, “The consequences of imposing such a specific and random date of withdrawal would be disastrous. Our enemies in Iraq would simply have to mark their calendars. They’d spend the months ahead plotting how to use their new safe haven once we were to leave.”

John McCain was more specific in May, “For Obama to talk about dates for withdrawal, which basically is surrender in Iraq after we’re succeeding so well is, I think, really inexcusable.”

Now it’s August and guess what. We just signed a deal with the Iraqi’s that includes – a timetable to withdraw our troops! The people who insisted on it – the Iraqi’s. Why did the current Iraqi government insist upon it? Because they knew that they were going to get a much better deal negotiating with the Bush administration than they would negotiating with an Obama administration. This is exactly the sort of political reaction that Obama predicted.

Did President Bush and Senator McCain apologize to Senator Obama or at least acknowledge that he may have been right about a timetable after all? No they didn’t because they assume that American people are lazy, have short attention spans, and won’t hold them accountable. Besides they have been successful in convincing the American people that Senator Obama’s foreign policy judgement can’t be trusted – so why bother.

Wheat and Chaff

Sunday, August 17th, 2008

he will throughly purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his garner; but the chaff he will burn with fire unquenchable.” Luke 3:17

We didn’t even make it to the conventions and the right wing smear machine has rolled back into the campaign. Right on cue, the lunatic swift boat author, Jerome Coursi, has a new attack book and conservative book clubs have made it a best seller. When he doesn’t have a democratic presidential candidate to slander, he spends his time writing books about the conspiracy to form a North American Union and eliminate our government and our currency. The problem is, that much of what he says will be repeated as fact by those looking for reasons to justify voting for McCain.

I’ve seen the effect in our own local newspaper where there are weekly letters to the editor advocating votes for McCain based repeating the same sort of mistaken information about Obama.

So what is a thoughtful voter to do?

How do you sift the chaff from the wheat?

I recommend a site called procon.org.

It is a not-for-profit unbiased site that attempts to compare the candidates positions side be side on key issues.

When you go through the site, you find some very interesting things.

First, there are many more things that both candidates agree on than they have in difference.

Even the differences are not nearly as stark as some may suggest.

Here are a couple of examples.

There was a recent letter to the editor suggesting that all Christians should vote for McCain because he is the only candidate who opposes abortion. When you read his position on the procon site, all he really advocates is that the decision be left to the states. This represents a move away from a pro-choice position he expressed two years ago.

Another letter writer complained that Obama has the most liberal voting record in the senate and then went on to quote a conservative magazine (National Review) to support his claim that liberal policies are bad for the country.

The problem is that it isn’t that simple. The same magazine that rated Obama as the most liberal senator did so with an incomplete set of votes. Because of campaign obligations, Obama came back to Washington to vote only on the most important issues which were generally party line commitments. McCain. on the other hand, missed so many votes that the magazine couldn’t rate him at all. Other sites that use other methods regard Obama as a liberal and McCain as a conservative, but neither as radicals.

We’ve already talked about abortion. What’s more interesting from ProCon is to examine their positions on other traditional liberal/conservative issues like taxes, religion, stem cells, social security, gun control, environment, and NAFTA.

One would think that the liberal candidate would be pro-labor/pro-government and the conservative candidate would be pro-business/anti-government, but it’s not that simple.

Taxes
Obama doesn’t want to extend the Bush tax cuts to the rich and McCain does. McCain, however, voted against the original bill and as recently as April of this year McCain opposed the plan because there was no balancing reduction in spending.

Religion
Neither candidate has expressed a clear position on federal funding of faith-based initiatives.

Stem Cells
Obama supports federal funding of Stem Cell research. McCain supported it too in the May 3, 2007 Republican debate but opposed it in a position paper issued on Nov 30, 2007.

Social Security
Obama opposes privatizing the system. McCain supports it.

Gun Control
Obama supports it, but also supported the recent Supreme Court decision rejecting the DC gun control laws. McCain opposes it.

Environment
Both candidates agree on global warming and increased fuel efficiency standards.

NAFTA
Obama opposes it. McCain supports it.

Even the war in Iraq is becoming more nuanced. Obama wants to shift forces from Iraq to Afghanistan based on a timetable. Now the Iraq government is on board too. McCain, on the other hand, finds himself in a strange position of staying until the Iraq’s can defend themselves, but rejecting the Iraqi claim that they are ready to do that.

It is tempting to become cynical about the whole process, but it is also an occasion for prayer. Truth is after all a quality of God. That quality is reflected in all of God’s creation. We are his highest creation and possess a natural hunger for Truth. So though we go through times when it is hard to find, Truth, just like the sun on a cloudy day, is always there and eventually shines through.

Governing

Monday, August 4th, 2008

“O let the nations be glad and sing for joy: for thou shalt judge the people righteously, and govern the nations upon earth.” Ps 67:4

There is no question regarding God’s government. It is what we all aspire to. Unfortunately, the human rarely approaches the divine. This election cycle is no exception. As I watch it unfold, I can’t help but ask, “Is this really the way that we want to choose our next President?”

John McCain, who had prided himself in the past on his strong character and high ethical standards, is running what appears to most to be a smear campaign against his opponent.

The political pundits suggest that he doesn’t have much choice because the weakening economy domestically, and the shift of emphasis from Iraq to Afghanistan leave him very few issues to use to differentiate himself. So he is going to use the only obvious issue he has. He is old white man with an anglo-saxon name. His opponent is a young African-American man with a Muslim name.

So barring any big developments between now and November, here are the two themes that you are likely to see played out for the American voter.

McCain – Obama can’t be trusted.

Obama – McCain is running for Bush’s third term.

Here’s an example of the cycle.

McCain challenged Obama to go to Iraq. In response, Obama goes and gets a better reception than our sitting president. In response, McCain criticizes him for being a celebrity. In response, Obama cancels a visit to an army hospital because of concerns of politicizing the plight of wounded soldiers. In response, McCain criticizes him for ignoring the wounded.

Obama criticizes McCain for being in the pocket of big oil. In response, McCain blames Obama and the Democrats for high gas prices because of their unwillingness to expand domestic drilling. In response, Obama supports a bi-partisan compromise in the Senate to open responsible drilling in Alaska in return for an aggressive push for alternative energy sources.

You starting to see a pattern here?

If so, get used to it because this is likely going be the drum beat for this election.

Obama will continue to demonstrate that he is qualified to be President. McCain will spin every action Obama takes to question Obama’s character and trustworthiness.

What is ironic about the whole thing is that if anyone should be accountable for changing their position, it’s John McCain. Here’s a list over the past few years.

To be fair, here’s a similar list compiled of Obama’s changing positions.

Hopefully these both demonstrate that the whole idea of flip-flops is another silly extension of this whole unproductive “character” discussion. At the end of the day, don’t we want a politician to respond to the feedback they get? We’ve seen the results of eight years of “my-way-or-the-highway” politics and it wasn’t pretty. The whole “character” issue is just a short cut for people who don’t want to do the work to develop an opinion. They can listen to talk radio, hear why the guy they like is good and the guy they don’t like is bad, and develop an opinion that has nothing to do with policy and everything to do with partisanship, manipulation, and fear-mongering.

Rather than have an election that will give the voting population an opportunity to express their opinions on issues (Economy, Healthcare, Iraq, Oil, Education, etc), the Republicans are determined to have another election decided on fear. In 2000 it was fear of moral decay. In 2004 it was fear of terrorists. In 2008 it is going to be fear of an African American with a Muslim name.

It is remarkable that this tired ploy continues to work. Bush won the first election on a pledge to run a principled administration that would advance the social concerns of fundamentalist Christians. That didn’t work out so well. Bush won the second election on a pledge to win the war on terrorism and ban gay marriage. That isn’t working very well either. The only reason that the Republicans even have a heart beat this election cycle is the fact that the Democrats are not running a old rich white guy like Chris Dodd or Joe Biden. The sad truth is that if McCain does win the election, it won’t because he has better ideas. It will be because he convinced a majority of Americans that another four years of old failed Republican policies is a safer choice than a young African American with a Muslim name.