Today’s Health Care Summit

So today’s SEVEN hour health care summit is over. I had it on in the background for the first three hours. And then it was the lunch break. And I didn’t come back. Coz I figured I could get a pretty good summary later on. (And I can. See  Politico, HuffPo’s live-blog coverage, and the BBC. Chris Cilizza of the Washington Post listed his winners and losers. More importantly, 😉 you can find White House pictures of the event here, and FactCheck.org’s invaluable truth-telling here.)

From what I saw, far too many were trotting out tired old talking points, talking at each other rather than with each other, trying to score political points or to posture for their viewing audience. The President was at his community-organizer-best, trying to find common ground, trying to get people to cooperate and coordinate their efforts. But I have a feeling that, even though there is much in the present bill that Republicans agree upon, they’ve dug themselves into their positions to such an extent–both sides have, actually–that it’s too difficult to climb out and work together. And that’s one of the things that frustrates me about politics.

Anyway, it seems that the President has set an Easter deadline (or target, depending on how you want to look at it) for health care reform to pass. Which means we have four weeks to get this thing done. What happens if nothing gets passed? I dunno … the millions of people without health insurance will continue to go without health insurance, insurance premiums will continue to go up, health care spending will continue to explode our deficit, and America will continue to be the only industrialized country where people can go bankrupt because they got sick.

That’s all.

Whoever has the most money gets to choose our next President

Yesterday, the Supreme Court–the highest judicial body in the land–came to a monumental decision, by a margin of 5-4, to overturn decades of restrictions on corporate and union money in elections.

Somehow, Justices Kennedy, Alito, Roberts, Thomas and Scalia came to the conclusion that corporations and unions have the same First Amendment rights as individuals, which means that corporations and unions are free to spend unlimited amounts of money independently in elections. How corporations and unions can be individuals is sort of bemusing since, as Justice Stevens noted, and I paraphrase: “Uh … you know that corporations can’t vote or run for office, right?”

Neither the President nor Members of Congress held back in their responses:

President Obama: “With its ruling today, the Supreme Court has given a green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics. It is a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans. This ruling gives the special interests and their lobbyists even more power in Washington–while undermining the influence of average Americans who make small contributions to support their preferred candidates. That’s why I am instructing my Administration to get to work immediately with Congress on this issue. We are going to talk with bipartisan Congressional leaders to develop a forceful response to this decision. The public interest requires nothing less.”

John McCain (R-Ariz.): “I am disappointed by the decision of the Supreme Court and the lifting of the limits on corporate and union contributions. However, it appears that key aspects of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA), including the ban on soft money contributions, remain intact.”

Russ Feingold (D-Wis.): “The American people will pay dearly for this decision when, more than ever, their voices are drowned out by corporate spending in our federal elections. In the coming weeks, I will work with my colleagues to pass legislation restoring as many of the critical restraints on corporate control of our elections as possible.”

As one of my friends noted, this is one of the most vigorous displays of bipartisanship we’ve seen in a while! Already, Democrats are planning to push a bill to limit the fallout from what is, in my opinion, one of the most counterintuitive Supreme Court decisions in recent history (and the NY Times doesn’t disagree)–I’m hoping this’ll be a bipartisan effort too.

And by the way, way to go, Justices Stevens, Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Breyer!

If you’re interested, you can read the entire court opinion here.

And, perhaps more importantly, you can take action on this. Organizing for America has a site where you can let your Member of Congress know that you care about fair elections. And the Campaign to Legalize Democracy has issued a petition in response to the ruling. Signatories so far include Brian McLaren, Bill Moyer, Bill McKibben, Howard Zinn, Jim Hightower, Tom Hayden and Rabbi Arthur Waskow.

We, the People of the United States of America, reject the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United, and move to amend our Constitution to:

  • Firmly establish that money is not speech, and that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights.
  • Guarantee the right to vote and to participate, and to have our votes and participation count.
  • Protect local communities, their economies, and democracies against illegitimate “preemption” actions by global, national, and state governments.

On Afghanistan

Okay, the basics first:

Since you asked (okay, maybe you didn’t), and since no one else has contributed their opinion into the ether (okay, so that’s not true either) … regardless, I’m gonna throw my tuppence into the already-overflowing pot.

I’ve read lots of blogs, news articles, journals, op-eds, and more, on Afghanistan, on the current situation, on the pros and cons of putting more troops in, on the pros and cons of taking troops out, and on other strategies and tactics — read them ad nauseam, actually! And the thing is, after reading all of these pieces, I still don’t know.

As a Christian, I know that I want peace and security, not just for us in the US, but for the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan as well. As a Christian, I know that armed conflict and violence is not and cannot be my preferred method for securing such peace and security; but I also wonder if maybe standing up for those who are unable to defend themselves involves doing something about the aggressor. And I’m still thinking about what all this faith stuff looks like in practice.

As you can see, I’m not totally sure. And so it comes down to this: I trust the President. Over the last three years, I’ve come to see similarities and parallels between Barack and me: in temperament, in thinking, in perspective, in decision-making. I’ve come to appreciate that his Christian faith is as real and genuine to him as mine is to me, and that it informs his worldview as much as it does mine. And so I think, I’ve come to trust him. (Some say I’m too trusting, but that’s another conversation for some other day.)

The thing is, everyone has an opinion and everyone has a perspective that’s shaped by their experience, and everyone tends to argue forcefully for their perspective. So, given the differences in opinion on the matter of Afghanistan, I’m trusting that he’s taking all the advice he’s getting from experts — whoever they may be and whatever they’re advocating — and is weighing it all up to make the best and wisest decision he can.

Time will tell if my trust is vindicated.

All of that being said, one thing I am sure of is that we should stop US drones from bombing Pakistani civilians.

I'm a Muslim; so what?

Colin Powell’s endorsement of Barack Obama last weekend was notable for a number of reasons. Most notable for me was the addressing of the issue that no one had yet addressed up to this point. Here’s the relevant section from the endorsement:

I’m also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say. And it is permitted to be said such things as, “Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.” Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim; he’s a Christian. He’s always been a Christian.

But the really right answer is, “What if he is?” Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer’s no, that’s not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, “He’s a Muslim and he might be associated [with] terrorists.” This is not the way we should be doing it in America.

I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo essay about troops who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery, and she had her head on the headstone of her son’s grave. And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards—Purple Heart, Bronze Star—showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death. He was 20 years old. And then, at the very top of the headstone, it didn’t have a Christian cross, it didn’t have the Star of David, it had crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American.

He was born in New Jersey. He was 14 years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he can go serve his country, and he gave his life. Now, we have got to stop polarizing ourselves in this way. And John McCain is as nondiscriminatory as anyone I know. But I’m troubled about the fact that, within the party, we have these kinds of expressions.

As General Powell pointed out, the underlying association that the McCain campaign was banking on was that people would associate Muslims with terrorists, a ploy which undermines any attempts at living in peace together because it grossly misrepresents the majority of Muslims and what they stand for. There are actually great similarities between Islam and Christianity: both the church and the Umma (the Muslim community) stand for ideals of justice, righteousness and peace. Both the Bible and the Qur’an agree that God is one, and generally-speaking, Christians and Muslims believe they are talking about the same God, though their witness concerning God may be different. Both Christians and Muslims believe that this God that they both worship is the Creator, and that he is separate from his creation. Both Christians and Muslims believe that God reveals himself to humanity, whether through the person of Jesus Christ or the words of the Qur’an. Both faiths stress peace and humility in relating to people of other faiths. Though Islam is a missionary faith like Christianity, it says in the Qur’an, “There is no compulsion in religion. The right direction is henceforth distinct from error” (2:256). Likewise, though Christians are called to make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:20), they are also called to reflect the character and attitude of Jesus (Phil. 2:5ff), and to exhibit the fruit of the Spirit—“love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal. 5:22ff). This is especially noteworthy when one considers the complex relationships between Christians and Muslims in the world today.

For many, especially for those of one faith who have not considered the other, it is all too easy to assume, perhaps because of the polarization between the two faiths that we see in American culture and the media, e.g. Islamic extremists and Christian fundamentalists, that our differences are too great. Of course, there are differences between the two faiths—substantive differences about humanity’s nature being fallen or not, or about the final revelation of God coming through the Bible and Jesus or Muhammad and the Qur’an—and these differences should be acknowledged, but I think that more people need to understand that we are not as far apart as those hardline factions in both our faiths would portray us.

Barack Obama is not a Muslim. But even if he were, so what?

Civil Political Discourse

Following up on my Obama/Ayers, it seems that McCain did realize the impact of his words and has tried to tamp back the hostility. (It wasn’t met with too much success.) But Obama recognized this, as Ken Vogel reportsfrom Philadelphia:

“I want to acknowledge that Sen. McCain tried to tone down the rhetoric in his town hall meeting yesterday,” Obama said at a morning rally in North Philadelphia, drawing loud boos from the mostly black audience.

Obama pivoted into a mini riff on civil political discourse, concluding “We can disagree without being disagreeable.”