Monday, February 28, 2011

100,000 Protesters Sticking Up for Workers. And Virtually Alone

If I had to choose between unions and corporate heads or their management lackeys, I'd choose unions most of the time. But, the truth of the matter is, if I had to choose between labor and management, I'd choose labor 90% of the time.

That includes management of labor unions.

Seriously, is this the only force we can rely on to counter the effects of the corporatocracy? They're willing to sell out workers left and right in order to maintain what little power they have? Will they be content when they wake up and find they have no power anymore at the bargaining table since they've whittled it all away trying to keep their own jobs? More often than not, they care more for their swivel chairs than those they're supposed to represent.

But then, who is getting a fair shake by the media? Certainly not the workers? Who, after all, represented them on Sunday mornings' roundabouts with Republican leaders on the press shows? Meet the Press had Governor Walker. Was anybody around to counter his lies and misstatements? Did anybody ask him about these truths? Really Bad Reporting in Wisconsin: Who 'Contributes' to Public Workers' Pensions?:
Gov. Scott Walker says he wants state workers covered by collective bargaining agreements to "contribute more" to their pension and health insurance plans.

Accepting Gov. Walker' s assertions as fact, and failing to check, created the impression that somehow the workers are getting something extra, a gift from taxpayers. They are not.

Out of every dollar that funds Wisconsin's pension and health insurance plans for state workers, 100 cents comes from the state workers.

How can that be? Because the "contributions" consist of money that employees chose to take as deferred wages – as pensions when they retire – rather than take immediately in cash. The same is true with the health care plan. If this were not so a serious crime would be taking place, the gift of public funds rather than payment for services...

The key problem is that journalists are assuming that statements by Gov. Scott Walker have basis in fact. Journalists should never accept the premise of a political statement, but often they do, which explains why so much of our public policy is at odds with well-established principles.

The question journalists should be asking is "who contributes" to the state of Wisconsin' s pension and health care plans...

The fact is that all of the money going into these plans belongs to the workers because it is part of the compensation of the state workers. The fact is that the state workers negotiate their total compensation, which they then divvy up between cash wages, paid vacations, health insurance and, yes, pensions. Since the Wisconsin government workers collectively bargained for their compensation, all of the compensation they have bargained for is part of their pay and thus only the workers contribute to the pension plan. This is an indisputable fact.

The workers currently pay 100 percent from their compensation package, but a portion of it is deducted from their paychecks and a portion of it goes directly to the pension plan...

Gov. Walker says that he wants them to 'contribute more' via deductions from their paychecks. But since the workers already contribute 100 percent of the money going to the pension plan the real issue is changing the accounting for this to reduce cash wages.

The mainstream media isn't liberal. Or conservative. They're paid to do what they're paid to do: pretend that everything is all right in the US, and that our corporate overlords have everything under control.

I'm beyond disgusted right now...

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Coming to the table

"I would like for all my FaceBook friends to comment on this status about how we met. However, you must make it up. That's right, I'm asking you to lie."
Click on images and then click on magnifying glass to be able to read these.

Sometimes we get so divided as a people by our ideological disputes. And then we dehumanize our foes. So I like to play games on facebook to get everybody (atheists, agnostics, Evangelical Christians, mainline Christians, Muslims, progressives, conservative libertarians, centrists, neo-cons, lesbians, whites, blacks, latinos, etc.) to interact and laugh together.

"Back when I was your age..."

I think it's a pretty neat trick.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Santorum: (2) Fetishizing the Crusades

Words. Fail.

If you thought that googling "santorum" left your mind dirty, you haven't heard enough Santorum.

Rick Santorum: The Crusades Get A Bad Rap! | TPMDC
If you were worried there wouldn't be a 2012 candidate touting the pro-Crusades platform, then today is your lucky day!

"The idea that the Crusades and the fight of Christendom against Islam is somehow an aggression on our part is absolutely anti-historical," former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) told a South Carolina audience yesterday. "And that is what the perception is by the American left who hates Christendom."...

"[American liberals] hate Western civilization at the core. That's the problem." Sanoturm also suggested that American involvement in the Middle East is part of our "core American values."

"What I'm talking about is onward American soldiers," Santorum continued. "What we're talking about are core American values. 'All men are created equal' -- that's a Christian value, but it's an American value."
He'll probably go the way of an uncharismatic Sarah Palin, but I'll still file this under Reasons Why I'm Embarrassed to Be a Christian. It's hard to see how someone can once claim that the Equality principal is a virtuous and Christian one - one from his own legacy - and then deny that legacy to Muslims and non-Westerners (read, White Europeans).

Or to claim that others have no sense of history while showing such a blatant disregard for current or academic or religious history outside what he learned in fourth grade.

To be fair, though, the Crusades are a lot more complex than current trends suggest. But to imply that they were not acts of aggression (at first, they were largely for protection. But then empires and bloodlust, etc, etc...) - much like whatever war there is between Christendom and Islam Santorum seems to be dreamily envisioning here - is pure Westernized, ahistorical, War-on-Brown-People Fetishism.

Which may well be another definition for Santorum.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Business of the American Church

It's probably not a secret that I'm not a fan of Business-as-Usual in the American Church. I don't care much for consumerism in general (though I admit to being a consumerist), and as such, I don't care for the monster offspring of the American Church and Consumerism, MegaChurch.

Having said that, I can't help but fight the feeling that the following video is a bit of a hit job. It raises some important questions, but I'm not sure I don't have more questions about the accuracy of the video than I do about the business of the megachurch. Either way, I'm embedding the vid because I do think some questions need to be asked:

  • Is the American Church a business?
  • If not, then why is it run like business, with head pastors as CEOs and boards and committees and all that (not just in the megachurches, but in smaller ones too)?
  • How do we settle with the passage of Jesus clearing the Temple of the moneychangers? Wasn't it convenient business?
  • And didn't that convenient business prove to be a stumbling stone for those who couldn't get in the Temple to worship God?
  • What is tithing?
  • What is tithing good for?
  • Shouldn't churches be more accountable than corporations and small businesses? Especially if they make as much money but do not have to pay taxes?

For us, my wife and I do tithe. We feel that our church works within the community in a way that is loving, accepting, and taking care of the least of these, as well as in a serving and ministerial way to those who may already have. And we know for a fact that our pastors (currently car-less) are not eating high off the hog.

But most of the times when I've seen giving to the church used in the New Testament, it's been to support people in need. And I have to wonder: How much of what is given to American churches are given to those in need? How much is going to the already-wealthy? And how much is going to overhead, to continue the Church as a Business?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Why I'm Voting for del Valle - and you should too

Miguel del Valle's record speaks for itself. He's served (SERVED) in city and state government for thirty years (building a reform Latino coalition* with Mayor Harold Washington and working in the poorly-paid state representative and then city clerk, where he brought in transparency) and not a spot of dirt on him. We are talking about Chicago and Illinois, here.

He doesn't make money. Most state representatives have outside jobs because the role of state legislator doesn't pay much. But those outside jobs often conflict with their inside jobs. And people wonder why Illinois is so corrupt...

He also doesn't take money - which is why he's so far behind the other leading candidates. They've taken money from city contractors. If you don't think that's a breech of ethics, congratulations, you're ready to run for office in Chicago. Or as a lobbyist.

In fact, as city clerk, he actually SAVES the city money by not accepting such routine privileges as a city car and security detail.

If you want a further break-down of how del Valle can benefit the city of Chicago and ALL its citizens (rather than just the ones who are doing fine now thanks to their connections and wealth), check out Mayoral Tutorial - especially today's post.

If, however, you like corruption and the Daleys are your type of mayor, then please, continue to support their newest brand: Gery Chico, aka, Daley Lite - 7/8ths the calories. All the hand-wringing. Or, for an added burst of Daley, please vote for Rahm Emanuel - He's Daley on Steroids.

*The other Latino coalition in Chicago - The Hispanic Democratic Organization, or what's left of it - decided to support Gery Chico. No surprise, since they're crooked.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Thursday, February 17, 2011


A good friend started an entire blog just to give me a ribbing today. And that's fine. That's why he's my friend. And like all good friends, he challenged me. My friend - let's just call him Mr. Ed -basically asked, "What's the point of wasting time and bytes arguing about stuff that may not directly affect you?"

If that were solely it, of course, I would say, "There is none. It's a vanity. A chasing after the wind."

But I like to believe that my words here and on Facebook are a sort of ministry - a furthering of my vocation. I learn and teach, that's my lifelong goal and calling. And I believe, firmly, that teaching is a way of redeeming when it's done correctly.

It allows people to ask questions of the world and the way it is: Is this how it should be? Is this how it can be? Is there something else? Is this right? If not, what could be right? How can you and I imagine a better world?

And it gets them in contact with resources they can use in order to answer and keep questioning and implore others and act themselves and then encourage others to act.

Case 1 in point: One of the friends of this blog, Kurt Willems, has been doing a series on non-violent resistance. This helps people like me because my environment - the physicality of it, the geographical mapping of shootings and gang turf wars, the robberies, the tv and movies that surround me, the ads, the reality of third world peoples that I come in contact with through one medium or another - is rooted in violence. It helps and inspires me to creatively ponder other ways of addressing problems in a creative, sustaining way.

Journalism computer labphoto © 2010 ASU Provost Comm Group | more info (via: Wylio)
Other blogs introduce me to ideas, perspectives, means, ends, problems, problem-solvers. And they make me laugh and smile and chuckle. And that is good for the soul.

Additionally, I have gained quite a few friends through the practice of blogging and social media. And for me getting to know them and their stories, pray for them, and even meet some of them (IRL) is tremendously impactful and good.

Case 2 in point: Being involved in politics allows some of us to care for the needs of "the least of us" - those who are disenfranchised, those who are marginalized, those who are not listened to.

And, through the miracles of social media, we can actually do something - even just a small thing such as add our name to an ongoing petition, to add to the voice and stir the conscience of our captains of industry. Take this recent letter sent by, for example:
We are blown away by the incredible impact members have made around the world by starting, joining, and winning dozens of meaningful campaigns over the past few weeks. So we wanted to drop you a quick note to say thank you. And congratulations. And let's keep fighting.

Here are a few of the top victories and successes we’ve had together:

* Late last week, the largest florist in the world, 1-800-Flowers, responded to 54,000 members and agreed to begin selling Fair Trade flowers and insist on a strong code of conduct for all their suppliers to counteract the deplorable working conditions that thousands of female flower workers face in South America. They’ve promised to offer Fair Trade flowers in time for Mother's Day, making 1-800-Flowers a leader in the industry.

* After a devastating clothing factory fire in Bangladesh took the lives of 27 workers, you asked seven clothing companies, including Abercrombie, the Gap, and Target to compensate the victims' families and revamp safety standards in their affiliated factories. After 65,000 of us spoke up, a spokesperson from Target said this to us: "I want to understand what we have to do to get our brand off the petition … Tell me what we need to do, and we will try to do it." All seven companies met your demands.

* An Ohio mom named Kelley Williams-Bolar was sentenced to jail last month for sending her kids to a safer school in a neighboring district. Another mom in Massachusetts started a petition on her behalf – and the campaign gained wide notice in Time, USA Today, and on Good Morning America. We teamed up with grassroots groups Color of Change and MomsRising to deliver more than 165,000 signatures in person to the office of Ohio Governor John Kasich. Less than 24 hours later, Governor Kasich took an important step toward pardoning Kelley.

* After firing a lesbian soccer coach for having a child with her partner, Belmont University heard from 21,000 of us -- including students, athletes, and alumni of the school -- and has adopted a new policy to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. And although there's still work to do to stop Chick-Fil-A from funding anti-gay groups, your activism made national news (including the New York Times!), and Chick-Fil-A’s CEO was forced to post a video responding to pressure from pro-equality advocates and members across the country.

* Kim Feil, a member from Arlington, Texas, has been successfully beating back the massive Chesapeake Energy Corporation from dangerously drilling for natural gas in her neighborhood, with the support of more than 8,000 members across the country. The Arlington city council has now twice delayed its decision -- one member told the local Fox affiliate that the council has been overwhelmed by messages sent by members.

The list doesn’t stop there. You’ve made a jaw-dropping number of victories possible, from pushing Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to grant clemency to Sara Kruzan, to successfully calling on the South African Minister of Justice to meet with activists combating “corrective" rape, to getting Nashville's housing authority to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation.

You can read more about these victories and many others here.

Each victory was only possible because an activist like you decided to start a petition to make change in their community, city, or country. If there's something you want to change, you can start your own petition here:

We're so proud to be working with you. Thanks for everything you do.

- Patrick and the team

In these days, when people are on the move for freedom throughout the Middle East and Midwest, we can align ourselves and support them in solidarity. It does make a difference.

Note: I want to clarify that I mean that activism - and that with risk - is in many ways more important than slactivism. Slactivism supports activism. So, if it's at all possible, join a strike or a march, a boycott. Get involved with your community. Get out of the house and be about justice. If it's not possible, however, support those who are able to do that in whatever way you see fit. No guilt. ;)

Le Moustache

I tried one day. And I wore it. Like a beast... ladies.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

De-segregation: Ending Apartheid, Lost Cause, or Dubious?

The cover story in last week's Chicago Reader is, I think, not to be missed. It deals with the continuing racial segregation that leaves much of the South and Far West Sides nearly universally African American and impoverished. Segregating neighborhoods means segregated schools. And as anybody who has visited, worked in, or been a student as all-black schools knows, the issue of educational apartheid leaves those schools and students with fewer resources. Additionally, there's the issue that Black and White citizens are at odds, largely because Whites - who generally tend to hold the economic and political capital to get things done - do not understand African American concerns. De-segregationists argue that most Euro-Americans do not understand or care about Black community concerns because there are few lasting relationships between Blacks and Whites in hyper-segregated cities like Chicago.

On this date 42 years ago—February 10, 1969—federal district judge Richard B. Austin issued a ruling aimed squarely at a persistent Chicago problem. "Existing patterns of racial segregation must be reversed if there is to be a chance of averting the desperately intensifying division of whites and Negroes in Chicago," Austin wrote.

The case, Dorothy Gautreaux v. the Chicago Housing Authority, concerned the location of public housing—projects were being built only in the city's black ghettos because whites didn't want blacks in their neighborhoods. But the broader issue, as Judge Austin noted, was residential racial segregation, a matter of much concern throughout America back then.

The nation was "moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal," the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders had declared a year before Judge Austin's ruling. Chaired by Illinois governor Otto Kerner, the commission called for sustained efforts to end segregation.

Chicago's ghettos in the 1960s were notorious for their shootings, robberies, rapes, fires, joblessness, single-parent families, dreadful schools and high dropout rates, rampant alcoholism and heroin addiction, abandoned buildings and vacant lots.

Lucky we fixed all that...

most African-Americans are clustered in two areas, as they were in the 1960s: a massive one on the south side, and a smaller one on the far west side. The south-side section, between Western Avenue and the lake, stretches more than a hundred blocks north to south, from 35th Street to the city limits at 138th. This African-American subdivision of Chicago includes 18 contiguous community areas, each with black populations above 90 percent, most of them well above that. The west-side black section includes another three contiguous 90 percent-plus community areas. Fifty-five percent of Chicago's 964,000 African-Americans live in these 21 community areas, in which the aggregate population is 96 percent black. Two-thirds of the city's blacks live in community areas that are at least 80 percent black.

On the flip side are the 33 community areas, most of them on the north and southwest sides, with less than 10 percent African-Americans. In 26 of these community areas less than 5 percent of the residents are black.

Latinos are segregated in some neighborhoods, too, but not nearly as dramatically; they're a buffer group, living in community areas with whites or with blacks, and sometimes with both.

The maps for 1970 and 1980 show that the south-side "black belt" was still swelling in the 70s, to the south and west; the last wave of migrants was arriving from Mississippi and other southern states. From 1980 on, what's remarkable about the maps is their consistency from decade to decade...

This pronounced, persistent separation of the races would be worrisome, or at least curious, even if separate were equal—which of course it isn't. The hypersegregated black neighborhoods continue to lead the city in the same wretched problems as in the 60s. In some ways, things are worse. There's not just a lack of legitimate jobs in these areas today, but also a surplus of people without skills—and more of them have criminal records now as well, from the war on drugs. Predatory lending has multiplied the number of abandoned buildings in these neighborhoods...

Other ethnic enclaves have existed in Chicago, of course, but they were never nearly as concentrated, and their residents tended to assimilate and disperse fairly quickly. For Chicago's blacks, dispersal wasn't an option; given the violence that greeted them when they moved into white neighborhoods, the safest mode of expansion from the black belt was into adjacent neighborhoods. Blacks were met there with bricks and bottles and occasionally bombs, but there was some safety in numbers. Various legal or quasi-legal methods were used to hem blacks in as well, such as restrictive covenants that forbade white property owners in border neighborhoods to rent or sell to blacks.

In the middle decades of the 20th century, southern blacks streamed into Chicago and other northern cities, seeking jobs. Chicago had three kinds of neighborhoods then: white, changing, and black. Or, as white Chicagoans knew them, good, going, and gone. Whites continued to resist the incursions, sometimes violently, but before long they usually fled, moving west within the city or following the newly built highways into the suburbs. Many of the city's biggest employers moved to the suburbs as well. In the ghettos left behind, unemployment and poverty grew.

In the late 1960s, efforts to improve the circumstances of urban blacks began to change from desegregation to "community development"—programs aimed at making ghettos more habitable. White conservatives favored anything that might keep blacks where they were. White liberals liked the money that community development programs provided. Black politicians grew fond of segregation, too, since it provided a stable electoral base.

One of the insidious traits of segregation is how easy it makes it for the haves to ignore the plight of the have-nots. For most whites, concentrated poverty and its many ills are an abstraction—something they read about but rarely see, since it exists in parts of town they don't live in or work in or visit. On the north lakefront, where the neighborhoods are more diverse than most in Chicago, residents may also be fooled into thinking it's the norm throughout the city.

Chicago city-west side     from John Hancock centerphoto © 2009 班森 | more info (via: Wylio)

Much of this, I agree with (I've found true community development programs to be about empowering the communities, rather than relying on the government or other entities perpetually). But then a friend brought up some interesting points to ponder. And I'd like to hear some other voices on this topic, but here's what he had to say:

jason- can institutionalized racism not exist in an integrated city? as much as i enjoy the diversity of cultures and races that exist in this city, i at times question the legitimacy of racial/ethnic integration. i think about the racism and lack of professional connections for black students as i attended my predominately white christian college, while my friends who attended black colleges had all the opportunities my white classmates experienced.

the reason why chicago area has one of the largest black middle and upper class population in the country is because of segregation some would argue. segregation put blacks in position to grow strong businesses and network socially, economically and professionally. sometimes when people say integrate, i hear "deconstruct the black community". destroy our businesses, colleges, churches and social clout. by integrating blacks may be subject to more direct racist influence of white chicagoans. you can't force integration so what is the point? a lot of neighborhoods and suburbs are segregated not b/c of laws, but b/c whites continue to flee once a neighborhood reaches 15% black. why would blacks want to deconstruct the very institutions and social outlets that have allowed them endure jim crow and support their civil rights movement?

many of these ghettos are poor and disadvantaged b/c the people are poor and disadvantaged. historical institutionalized racism put them in that position but integration doesn't have to be the solution. why does a black ghetto have to be dispersed or integrated for people to have appropriate resources for school and stable homes? that's like saying blacks are not competent enough to have a stable community of their own. i know plenty of stable communities w/ populations of blacks above 50%-80% through out the united states.

at the same time this is coming from someone who frequents neighborhoods and night spots that are less than 40% black. i've gone to school w/ white kids my entire life though i lived in black enclaves as a child. i currently live in a community that is only about 20% black at best. i may enjoy diversity but i have noticed i tend to be out of the loop when it comes to networking chicago as an educated black man. that is a huge problem when living is a racist city like chicago.

Of course, I don't think my friend is suggesting, like Justice Thomas does, that segregation is an innocent choice made possible by a bunch of innocent little choices. Many people have argued that the African American community suffers because upper-middle class Black families fled all-Black neighborhoods when given the opportunity, and with them went the resources and the sense of community. But I’m not knowledgeable enough on that subject (and I don’t think I can fix that deficiency with any amount of quick research) to say for sure - which is why I’d like to hear your thoughts on this trend, and the counter-trend.

I do have a few thoughts on this conundrum, however.

Some people who seem to argue for desegregation are really arguing for gentrification – whites moving back to burgeoning areas currently populated by minority families. What this tends to do – unless safe-guarded, which rarely happens – is to drive up the prices for housing in the area so high that the former residents can no longer afford to rent or pay property taxes there any longer. This displaces them from their community and further breaks down the support that impoverished families and individuals need in order to survive and/or thrive. So gentrification has the opposite effect of the intentions of desegregation: black families are exploited for financial gain (usually given directly and in-proportionately to developers), and are driven out of the neighborhoods even as many have tried to stabilize the area. This often puts those same displaced families into other segregated, high-intensity low-income neighborhoods, but without the stability that they have been working on for decades at their last decade.

Another bad reason to de-segregate is a patronizing idea – as my friend pointed out above. Whites, and particularly White Christians, can view their work within minority communities as if they were missionaries going to a strange and savage place. And the gospel that they present is one of middle class Euro-American norms. “If I can live in this area, and the neighbors see me getting into my car every morning to go to work, perhaps they can learn from my industriousness…” The underlying notion, of course, is that black families are inherently lazy and unproductive. The reality, however - thanks to the shortage of jobs in the black community – is that much of the economy runs underground – ranging from hair-dressers to boutiques to drug dealers to retailers to day care centers. Hustlers, in fact, are among the highest regarded males among the youth I’ve worked with. But because of the lack of stable, living-wage jobs offered to African-Americans, the underground economy needs to stay intact, which means that the community that affords that economy needs to more-or-less stay intact.

My contention with segregation, however, is that the African-American community is largely out-of-sight – ignored by the blind and deaf White community which has had centuries of practice in institutionally and psychologically dehumanizing those of a darker skin tone. Most of us don’t know that we are doing it (and we’ll counter and scream that we’re not racist, blah, blah, blah), but we are. It’s practically a part of our DNA – which is why it’s not as noticeable.

De-segregation, however, would mean that we are forced to take the institutional problems of the Black class seriously as those problems would be staring White families down in their children’s schools, and on their blocks. It would mean that the police would need to respond quicker to a 911 call on violence. It would mean that school systems would think twice before they labeled a school as failing and sent the children across town - and through hostile territories - for their basic education. It would mean that certain areas of town aren't dilapidated or ignored, and that public transportation would be readily available in all sections of the city. It would mean that if pieces of the school were falling down on the students, somebody would be paying hell.

Not because the African American community isn't capable of organizing, writing letters, making meetings. But because they are largely ignored.

Which brings me to an area I hadn't really thought about in terms of integration until I compared it to how women are treated in a male-dominated society (ie, everywhere). Most males live with, grew up with, and are surrounded by women. Most of us went to schools that comprised a majority of women. We all came from a woman. They were in our families, in our homes. Many of us are involved in life-long intimate relationships with women.

But that doesn't stop women from making 75 cents to every dollar a similar male makes. That doesn't end domestic violence against women. That doesn't mean that charges of rape are taken seriously, or that Congress wouldn't try a stunt like narrowly-defining rape. That doesn't mean that half of our jokes aren't about how moody women always are because they don't gleefully submit to our every whim. Or that men don't write them off as being flighty or flirty - something many of them have to do because they wouldn't be heard otherwise. It doesn't mean that women don't have to work twice as hard as their male counterparts just to be respected by them.

So... I really don't have any real, quick solutions. Maybe the biggest problem in Chicago - and elsewhere - isn't segregation. Or even necessarily racism or sexism. Maybe it's that those in power don't like to relinquish that power - even if it's just the power to listen and empathize.


Caption Time! (Office Space Darth Vader edition)

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Carne Asada Reporting

Regarding my post on Al Jazeera last week, my friend Ian E-bright e-wrote:
I still can't support AJ showing beheadings. I think it helps to achieve terrorist goals which is paranoia and crippling fear. It plays right into their game.
And then I says:
Me neither.

But I have to think, if I had a choice between showing ALL the effects of war, or cheerleading war, I'd have to choose the former.

And those terrorists weren't in Iraq until our warring brought them in...

However, lost lives should never be celebrated and I don't want to make it seem like I'm exploiting those lost lives for a political/ideological point...
As if to prove my point a new report asserts that over two thousand people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the Drone Wars in Pakistan over the last four years by the CIA.
The report notes that the attacks target Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas where “people usually carry guns and ammunition as a tradition. US drones will identify anyone carrying a gun as a militant and subsequently he will be killed.” Pakistan’s government, which has only a nominal presence in the region, traditionally brands anyone killed by the US a “suspect.”

And while 2,043 is a lot of people to kill in the past five years, over 75% of them were actually killed in the past two years since President Obama took office. 2009 saw over 700 people killed in the CIA drone strikes, and the report shows 929 more killed in 2010.
Some people are thinking to fight back, though they most likely would never, ever win. The title here says it all:

Today's News is Tomorrows Historyphoto © 2009 [BarZaN] Qtr [Boston] | more info (via: Wylio)
The article goes on to mention that the attacks are kept secret by the US government. Which isn't necessarily true. It's not that we aren't allowed to know about the bombings. It's that our media is selective about what to tell us about our own acts of aggression. Which means, they only share The Good Stuff. And they censor out the rest. Not because they're forced to. After all, we have freedom of the press here, right?

But then why?

And of all the things to get upset with Obama about (him being a secret Muslim, or terrorist-sympathizer, or a Marxist or whatever other lie dream they can lie up), hardly anyone is upset that the Obama-led US is terribly great at conquest, at murder, at assassinations, renditions, nation-building...

Horrible, right? Or not such a big deal... Again, imagine it was done on your doorstep, to your countrymen...

Of course, there have always been massive casualties of war (for example, the nukes that fell on civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki) even by many of our nicest presidents. But we never really get around to calling them what they are - unprovoked murder.

Name Recognition

I waved at the guy in the trench coat as he waved at me. We know each other from being involved in the community - he for much longer, and with much more influence than me. And he had huge posters and several volunteers putting those posters on the big, long fence of the big, long parking lot for the small convenience store/pharmacy.

Campaign Signs 3photo © 2008 Ryan Glenn | more info (via: Wylio)

And here I was with the opposition's button on my jacket.

But that's all I needed, I thought. Just give me one button on one man of strong character. Just give me one button shared by a woman of known courage. Just give me one person who I can rely on, one person who's done much for his community. One woman who can neither be bought nor sold.

And then see who he is standing behind, and why.

That is worth more than a million empty platitudes. Worth far more than a thousand posters, than free press for tired exchanges.

The Christian church, as we've mentioned the other day, is pretty complacent to go with the flow. Like those typical volunteers, it realizes what it needs in order to get people into the doors: Name recognition. Brand capitalizing.

We sing songs in church about Jesus, Jesus, that he's so awesome and wonderful and holy and famous. But we don't know why he should have our awe, our attention. Anything more than our vote, if that. There's not much of substance, not much that lasts. All glitter, no gold.

In politics, the entrenched powers know that in order to stay in power, they need to get out their supporters. Usually, their supporters are low-information voters. These voters do as they're told, whether or not they believe they are. They vote for the person they see on TV, or hear about everybody else talking about, or whose name they can identify from some posters. The elected officials count on these people to re-elect them. The worse the elected officials are, the more they depend on these people. And no one else. They realize that if all things were equal, those who dislike them would likely vote them out. So the other end of the campaign - the one worked at through years and years of disgusting practice and psycho-warfare - is to disengage all of the non-dependables.

If your vote can't be trusted on, the Machine would rather you not vote. So they make it seem like there is no point in voting or running against them by destroying nearly every chance at electoral reform tossed their way. Until the would-be reformer voters decide that voting is only continuing the machine of abuse.

Many former church goers - and those within the surrounding post-Christian culture - also feel disconnected and cynical about Christianity - or at the least, churches. The difference here is that it is not as a direct result of deliberate strategy by the entrenched. It is, however, often an indirect result of deliberate actions by the entrenched. Power struggles, to all who've been in any church for any amount of time are well aware, do not only reside in the secular chambers.

Or maybe they figure that the stories they've been told are just repackaged lies. They've been told time and again that if they follow this leader, things will change for the better.

And they look around. And things aren't getting better but for only a few people. And whatever dollars and door-knocking and high-praise they've delivered to the greater cause, they find, is in the long-run taken advantaged of and hasn't amounted to a hill of beans.

And so people see the big signs, they hear the generous words, the high-energy songs, the flowery or blustery oration. And they disconnect, drop out, disappear. It doesn't mean anything. Just words meant to draw attention to the stage while swift hands reach around and into their pockets.

midget jesusphoto © 2004 Jeffrey | more info (via: Wylio)
But what if men and women would stand up and love? Would stand up and serve the greater interests of the entire community, not just those in power? And not just to use those on the outskirts to be in power? But because they truly, honestly, genuinely care and want to make the world a better, safer place?

What if you've been on display all this time. Not because you chose to be on display. Not because you sought to be on display or you're flashy. But because you work consistently for the good of all, not out of favors but out of the generosity of your own heart?

Wouldn't that be attractive? Wouldn't that be someone worth following? Wouldn't that be meaningful, to know that that person is one who is trustworthy?

That's who I want to follow - in politics and in the church. Because that's who I want to be.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Lazy Sunday Reading: The Divine Commodity

Pastor Skye Jathani, in his book, The Divine Commodity: Discovering a Faith Beyond Consumerist Christianity, argues that the Western church's meta-problem is that it is trapped up in the consumerist environment that surrounds it. And it fails to transcend that consumerist culture because it fails to apply a healthy amount of imagination. From the first chapter:

In July 2003, ten thousand Christian retailers gathered for the fifty-fourth annual Christian Booksellers Association convention. The CBA represents the $4.2 billion industry that sells Bibles, books, bubblegum, and bracelets to Christian consumers. The economic power wielded by the CBA has grown so rapidly that President George W. Bush has even taken notice.

Bush, whose ascent to the presidency would not have been possible without conservative evangelicals, addressed the 2003 CBA convention via video. "You know as I do the power of faith can transform lives," he said. "You bring the Good News to a world hungry for hope and comfort and encouragement." Interestingly, Bush was praising Christian retailers, not churches, for spreading the light of Christ. The fact that the president of the United States, the most powerful political figure on the planet, would address the merchants of Christian books and baubles reveals the economic and political influence Christian consumers have attained.

The other memorable appearance at the 2003 CBA convention was actor/director Mel Gibson. The Hollywood hero and devout Roman Catholic gave a preview of his upcoming film The Passion of the Christ. Gibson's movie was promoted as a way for Christian retailers to leverage the Easter holiday. The CBA's president said, "We want to play a role in reclaiming the holiday for Christ. We want to draw people into our stores and drive seekers into the church." Of course, TPotC became one of the most profitable films in history...

The presence of both political and pop-culture royalty at the CBA convention would have been unimaginable just a few years earlier. In the mid-twentieth century some feared America would follow the path of Europe, where the church atrophied to become and emaciated shell of its former glory. That fear drove evangelical Christians to seek cultural, political, and economic influence as a way of ensuring survival. The 2003 CBA convention represented the culmination of their cultural revolution...

Christian researcher George Barna concludes, "American Christianity has largely failed since the middle of the twentieth century because Jesus' modern-day disciples do not act like Jesus." During the same half century that evangelicals were climbing to the pinnacle of cultural influence, the church has largely lost its ability to transform lives and teach people to practice the values championed by Christ. Research conducted by sociologists and pollsters show that "evangelical Christians are as likely to embrace lifestyles every bit as hedonistic, materialistic, self-centered, and sexually immoral as the world in general." Despite the influence of Jesus Christ over Washington, Hollywood, and Wall Street, his power over the hearts and minds of people in America is far less evident... Although megachurches have multiplied across the fruited plains, the numbers show that Christianity in America has been consolidating and not expanding.

Journey Community Churchphoto © 2007 Allan Ferguson | more info (via: Wylio)
The challenge facing Christianity today is not a lack of motivation or resources, but a failure of imagination.

Walt Disney's successors wanted to honor their founder's dream. That laudable motivation is what kept the Epcot [Walt's original dream of a planned urban living environment - an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow - after he died, the plan went on, but as a severely dated amusement park attraction. A very cold and unfulfilling one, as the Simpson's Principal Skinner would remind us] project alive. The problem was not their motivation; it was their lack of imagination. They did not possess Disney's ability to see beyond what was conventionally possible. They simply could not see the city he wanted to build in their mind's eye. As a result they reinterpreted Epcot through the only framework they could comprehend - pragmatics, economics, and market potential.

Likewise, the paradoxical rise of Christian political/economic influence and decline of Christian moral influence is not the product of devious or ignoble motivation. Christian leaders in America are largely admirable men and women who passionately love God and genuinely desire to honor Christ. Many sacrifice time, income, and emotional energy giving themselves to what they believe matters most: Christ and his kingdom. And we certainly do not lack resources...
Our deficiency is not motivation or money, but imagination. Our ability to live Christianly and be the church corporately has failed because we do not believe it is possible... Wanting to obey Christ but lacking his imagination, we reinterpret the mission of the church through the only framework comprehensible to us - the one we've inherited from our consumer culture...

How can a prisoner plot his escape if he doesn't believe a world exists outside the prison walls? The prisoner's imagination must be free before his body can follow. As Albert Einstein observed, "Problems cannot be solved with the same consciousness that created them." And Walter Brueggemann declares, "Questions of implementation are of no consequence until the vision can be imagined. The imagination must come before implementation. Our culture is competent to implement almost anything and to imagine almost nothing."...

We manage our churches with repackaged secular business principles and methodologies pioneered by marketers. A prominent pastor was asked what was distinctly spiritual about his leadership. The pastor responded, "There's nothing distinctually spiritual... One of the criticisms I get is 'Your church is so corporate...' And I say, 'OK, you're right. Now why is that a bad model?'"...

In his defense, for decades ministers have been conditioned by books, conferences, and seminars to revere how secular corporations accomplish their work. It is assumed that the way Home Depot or Starbucks reacts to consumers' desires is how the church ought to react as well. Whether one is selling Chryslers, Coca-Cola, or Christ is irrelevant, the principles of marketing and persuasion apply equally to all. So, why not learn from the biggest and best? Lyle Schaller, one of the most popular church consultants, has said, "The big issue... is not whether one applauds of disapproves of the growth of consumerism. The central issue is that consumerism is now a fact of life." In his book, The Very Large Church, Schaller goes on to coach pastors on how to appeal to spiritual consumers, but he never expects the church to transcend or transform these cultural values. This posture of resignation to consumer culture reveals the utter captivity of our imaginations.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Never Do a Bilandic Again.

Haven't blogged for most of the week for this simple reason:

Apparently, the third biggest snowfall in Chicago, plus gusts going at tropical storm speeds (not really, but for all the noise about The Windy City, this was nearly tornado-y), and snow accumulating at two inches per hour overnight while the thunder was a-cracking and the lightning was a-bursting makes for closed work, closed schools, and shuttled internet connection appointments.

Sometimes, of course, they don't even tell you when they've canceled your appointment. Nor reschedule you.

Fortunately, we moved all of our stuff before the Great Blizzard of '11.

FTR, in Chicago, these Great Blizzards - great enough where the public schools are actually shut down for one or two days - happens about once every fifteen years or so. Another time that it happened in February, the entrenched mayor had sent all of his patronage workers to work campaigning for his re-election. As a result, the city was not prepared for the grinding that so much snow brought upon the city. And it stayed trapped for days on end. Additionally, trains would pass by Black neighborhoods to pick up residents from the western suburbs and bring them to their downtown jobs - when they were working. The lesson learned for Chicago that New York may soon learn? Never Do A Bilandic.

Here's some pics!

Comfortable view from our new apartment.

How High!

Neighbors being neighborly - helping each other to pull out of their parking spaces.

Lawn chairs are as much of a Chicagoland infamous legacy as the Daley's, parking meters, and the Outfit. Also not to be messed with.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Carnage Reporting

With all this scrutiny of the Muslim world again come some chances for typically Christian Americans to redeem ourselves in the Arab and Muslim world - to restart a rather tenuous and falsified relationship. Broken Telegram has a great post on that here, exploring the rise of democratic revolutions in majority Muslim nations recently (and what that means for a society that tends to think of Muslims and Arab people in purely racist terms).

And then comes this startling revelation - for many of us, anyway - that perhaps the best place to get reportage on the goings-on in Egypt and Tunisia is through Al Jazeera English (which, btw, is basically censored in the US. Although you can get it via internet live feeds, it is not available on any cable networks here, unlike in say, Canada). As one Facebook friend-of-a-friend reminded me, Al Jazeera is primarily known as an anti-American, pro-terrorist network that showed beheadings of American citizens and Osama bin Laden's (postmortem?) "Death to America!" tweets.

Of course, Al Jazeera English isn't quite the same as the older station, but there is enough of an obvious linkage that the initial question, "Isn't that the station that showed Americans' head getting cut off?" needs to at least be acknowledged. My response follows:

That's a good question. I found the fact that they would do such to be abhorrent. From a Western point of view, it seemed like a snuff film, or one of those barbarous hangings/lynchings for general amusement from our recent past.

But then I think and wonder, is the focus of news to be entertainment or is it to be the truth? If it's truth, then aJ has done a shameless job in showing the devastating after-effects of the US-led war on Iraq.

While American media was shunned from even showing the caskets of returning soldiers, al Jazeera was showing the bloody streets where 'smart' bombs killed and crippled civilians.

To honestly critique aJ for showing such footage, I wonder if I can put myself in their shoes. What if it was my state, my country, my neighborhood that was being attacked, besieged, and occupied.

What if I lost my wife and daughter to such a war? Wouldn't I want tne world to know the effects that the invading country left us with? Wouldn't I want the whole world to share in my suffering?