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      The House impeachment inquiry continues this morning with additional witnesses to the Fall of the House of Trump. “Fall” here may not mean Trump’s removal from office, nor “House of Trump” his family, but the party he has put under his boot heel. History will be kind to neither. NBCNews foreign correspondent Richard Engel suggests … Continue reading No exit […]
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      The reason fake news exists is not complicated. The majority of journalists don’t follow a professional ethical code. It’s not that they don’t have an ethical code. It’s that they – or more likely their paymasters — don’t want to be held accountable for breaking it. Four basic elements comprise the Society of Professional Journalism’s […]
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Obamacare and EXTRA taxes

I was reading this opinion piece at the NYTimes about how un-PC it is to complain about being shackled with Obamacare.  The Obama PR campaign has been very effective about laying on the guilt.  Apparently, if you complain about the sticker shock and skinny networks and canceled plans, it’s the equivalent of protesting the Iraq war in 2003.  You’re un-American.  You hate sick people.  And besides, aren’t the lucky Americans who have employer sponsored health care paying taxes for the poor unfortunates, you ungrateful wretch?

Which makes me wonder, don’t we underemployed, or contract workers, or temps or, the blessed entrepreneurs ALSO pay taxes??  Some of us are paying both sides of the social security tax.  We pay taxes out the wazoo.  And we’re still getting the shaft on these skinny network plans, cancellations and the subsidy crunch.  If we make even one dollar more than we should, we could get socked with a monumental bill.

Talk about killing innovation.  I can’t think of a better way to avoid success and innovation than to take people who are forced into entrepreneurship in this economy to scale back so as to not hit the limit on the subsidies.  I can’t think of a better way to encourage getting paid off the books and depriving the treasury of tax dollars than to make a zero-tolerance, not-one-dollar-more boundary for people to qualify for subsidies.

Let me remind some of the Congresspeople who didn’t bother to read this bill before they signed off on it that in 2009, Pfizer laid off every scientist in the company Wyeth that they had acquired in a merger.  Yep, every one of them.  A few found jobs in Pfizer but the vast majority of them, that would be thousands and thousands of BS, MS and PhDs, were just told to go their own way.  Innovate!  Become your own boss!  Which is very odd because if a multibillion dollar international company can’t get drugs through the FDA approval process, what makes anyone think  that a bunch of poor, under equipped scientists are going to be able to do it in their garages working with shoestring and bubblegum?  THAT is a Wall Street MBA’s secret wet dream but hardly reality.

Now multiply Pfizer’s strategy by all of the other drug companies and you get an idea of how many newly minted entrepreneurs are out there, struggling to make a living at companies that don’t pay benefits.  Or think of the Chemical Engineer who works by the project and doesn’t have coverage who is now paying all of his taxes AND is getting a rate hike.

Why should these people be required to foot more of the bill from their income than the people who are sitting comfortably (for now) behind their employer sponsored health plans?  We all feel compassion for the poor who can’t afford insurance or the people with pre-existing conditions.  Not only that but we might even BE some of those people through no fault of our own.

But why should be made to feel guilty about not caring MORE for them?  Why do we need to sacrifice more of our money than anyone else when we are already expected to carry a full load?  Shouldn’t the burden for this fall more evenly?  Or here’s a better question: if we are expected to make this sacrifice, shouldn’t we be getting top notch plans and treatment and be treated with more dignity?

By the way, the lucky who are covered by their employer should think about this long and hard because one day, through no fault of their own, their companies might require them to sacrifice their own jobs in the name of shareholder value and then, they’ll have to suck it up and shut up about how much these crappy plans cost.

It could happen to anyone.

2000 year old mystery solved

Jesus at the first General Assembly on the Mount teaching the Beatitudes

I’m not religious, as anyone who has ever read my blog knows.  But that doesn’t mean I’m not astonished by the power of Christianity.  And by power I mean that after 2000 years, a poor peasant from Gallilee was able to transform the world.  How the heck did he do it?

The historians have looked at the archaeology and the limited historical records and the culture of the time and proposed some interesting facts about Jesus.  They fill in a lot of the missing gaps that the religious leave out, like the details of the social class that Jesus was from and the Israel he lived in and the reign of Herod.  But the facts were missing something intangible.  They were missing a narrative that would explain why the movement became so popular.  It had to be more than the Roman roads.

The religious have the Niceaen Creed, that was put together several centuries after Jesus’ death.  It emerged after a battle between the various sects of Christianity over the divinity of the Christ and how many pieces of God there actually were and other esoterica.  But they came to a consensus eventually, after they threw out all of the Gnostics and other heretics.  They adopted four gospels and some other books.  Why on earth they decided to throw in Revelations we will never really understand.  Maybe they thought fear would make Christians behave.  But their spin on Christianity never made a lot of sense to me either and I’ve seen even the most dedicated and eloquent pastors twist themselves into knots over the transubstantiation.  And the sacrifice to redeem us for our sins?  Ummmm, what?  I know a lot of people believe it and if it makes them feel safe, then who am I to argue.  I’m not saying the resurrection never happened because anything is possible.  But the symbolism just never made much sense to me.

It’s not eschatology.  Eschatology predated Jesus and existed in other Jewish sects after his death.  It wasn’t the treatment of the poor.  The Buddha understood suffering and ignorance long before Jesus came along.  And it wasn’t gnosis because the Greeks had that nailed down.  So, what was it that made this carpenter so powerful?

It wasn’t until this week that I finally got it.  When the pieces came together, I had a “oh, Wow!” moment.  Suddenly, I saw Christianity in a whole new way, one that even most Christians wouldn’t recognize, but would be completely familiar to the original apostles.

Let’s start with an empire.

The Romans were wealthy, militaristic and oppressive.  They bought up client kings in the provinces they conquered or intended to conquer. Their rule was law.  Peasants of client states paid their taxes.  They had a limited number of rights because they weren’t really citizens.  Most people were poor.  The fact that John the Baptist, prophet and eschatologist, had such a thriving ministry is a testament to the feeling of hopelessness among the poor.  Life in Judea could be nasty, brutish and short if you were born into the wrong class and people were generally unsympathetic to their plight.  The lower class, because there was no middle class, put its hopes in divine purification of the evils of the world. The average Jew lived in a country that was not his own and was barely tolerated by the Roman aristocracy and its army. This is the world that Jesus came from.

The story we have is that:

He preached to the poor.  He counselled them.  He was a great teacher.  He told parables and made his listeners think in new ways.  He fed them.  He celebrated with them.  He gave a sermon to end all sermons about peace, mercy, mourning, fulfillment, hunger and persecution.  He condemned the rich and arrogant.  He pissed a lot of people off.  The Pharisees got tired of him making Pharisees out of them.  His teachings made him famous.  He went to Jerusalem with a following planning an act of civil disobedience.  He and his closest friends pooled their money and had one last dinner where he told his friends that the day after next, they probably wouldn’t see each other again.   He goes to the Temple during a religious holiday where people from all over the country are using the place as a giant bank and he throws out the money changers who are collaborating with the Romans.  The Temple priests already overworked on a Jewish holiday and with Rome keeping an eye on them, are worried about this troublemaker his apostles making a ruckus and a mess and disturbing the peace.  So, they reported him into the local police.  He and his followers made camp in a garden and tried to stay up all night.  They were all scared, especially the head troublemaker because he knew he had broken one rule too many.  The Romans came in the middle of the night to break up the camp and arrest him. He tells his followers not to resist because they’re supposed to be all about peace.  His followers scattered.  He is thrown into jail, humiliated and beaten.

There’s some debate in the accounts of what happens next.  Did the Temple priest want him dead or just out of his hair?  Well, whoever turned him in probably knew what was going to happen next but if the Temple hadn’t turned him in, the money changers would have and business would be satisfied.  Better get ahead of the problem. The Roman governor condemned him  and nailed him up to be a lesson to all other future troublemakers.  He was killed.  His followers were disorganized and confused.  But got themselves together after some miracles and spread the word.

How strange.

Here we are in the 21st century and what do we see?

An empire, wealthy, militaristic and brutal.  It has no problem taking what it wants.  The wealthy buy the people they want to do their bidding.  The citizens live in a downwardly mobile world.  They pay their taxes but are at risk of losing everything in a poor economy.  Their votes are meaningless.  People who are poor or become poor through no fault of their own are shown no sympathy.  Eschatology thrives.

A bunch of people see that what has happened to less fortunate countries at the hands of that empire is starting to happen to them.  They decide to take matters into their own hands.  They don’t have a leader but they have a Jewish prophetess who preaches a Sermon in the Park.  But really, anyone could do this.  She just happens to be particularly memorable and moderately well known and she’s good at it.

Naomi Klein gives a sermon in the park

They feed the poor, counsel the troubled, comfort the persecuted.  They come to the great city and set up their camp near the money changers.  They try to turn the money changers out.  The money changers appeal to the police.  The authorities decide that their behavior is setting a bad example of non-compliance and is disturbing to business people.  The police raid their park and arrest them.

They must have seen that coming.

They continue to sacrifice themselves.  The number of their followers starts to swell when the people see how much they are willing to give of themselves to uphold a moral movement.

Now there are a probably a lot of people out there who are rolling their eyes and thinking this is a metaphor stretched too far.  But for me, the pieces of this puzzle finally fit.  The reason why Christianity succeeded was not because Jesus was so important.  In fact, he was just there for the beginning of what was a very long struggle.  It was so successful because it started off as a moral response to an oligarchical rule and the way it went about its actions affected so many people that by the time Jesus was made a sacrifice and an example by the Romans, his followers had reached a critical mass to keep the movement going.  He had laid out a framework of actions and behaviors that anyone could follow.  The apostles didn’t need a leader anymore because they *were* the leaders.  Of course, a miracle story is a good ice breaker but if you are a Christian because of the Christmas story and the Resurrection, you may be missing the point of the movement. It is what the early Christians did in their own communities that made the movement resiliant.  For centuries, they practiced civil disobedience, took care of one another, expanded their membership to include the gentiles and Samaritans (the other 99%), travelled from place to place, gave up what they had to minister to the poor, stayed with wealthy widows like Priscilla, and more modest followers like Mary and Martha, and sacrificed themselves over and over again until they were so popular in the empire that the Emperor himself gave in. By that time, the Christians already didn’t resemble what they started out as.  And that is a danger that a look back through history can help us avoid.

The Jesus movement is the one to emulate, not that it was the original intention of Occupy Wall Street.  It may be that successful grassroot movements have the same things in common.  Conditions for success have to be present, there has to be a tipping point and some of the other factors may not be easy to copy.   Many have tried.  But it takes more than a good communication route.  It isn’t enough to get people together at conferences to discuss politics.  It can’t be directed by a small group of people with money working behind the scenes.  The reason why MoveOn and Netroots Nation and the Tea Party have failed to move the public where Occupy Wall Street has succeeded is that the latter is a moral movement with a simple message and the people in it are willing to make personal sacrifices because they have nothing left to lose.  And the recent brutal crackdown by the authorities is a demonstration of the power of that morality.

Today, we have the benefit of hindsight.  We also know from our own personal experiences that a moral movement does not need a religion in order to succeed even if the religious decide to join it.  A moral movement also knows that it doesn’t need to have a political flavor.  It’s purpose is to lead people to a new way of thinking, new values and set of behaviors, new rules of acceptance and condemnation. When you change the way you think and behave, you become a new person, isn’t that right, Christians?  And a country full of new people becomes a new country.  The closest we have had in this country to such a movement was the Civil Rights movement of the 50’s and 60’s, lead by Martin Luther King Jr. who also made a personal sacrifice.

The tactics that this movement uses is a mix of the highly technical and the primitive.  Anyone with an iphone can record the events, and anyone with a voice can become a leader.  Anyone with a clever and amusing idea can capture the attention of thousands.  The message and tactics combined make this movement accessible to everyone while the images of sacrifice broadcast on the new Roman road can both anger and inspire.

This week, the current movement made its most significant sacrifice to date.  But there will be others.  As the prophetess said, we need to show each other kindness and take care of each other because we have chosen to challenge the most powerful forces on the planet.  And it will be hard.  It will be much easier to conquer each other.  Wise words. But in our lifetime, we may see a new generation of that movement from 2000 years ago.  That rebirth has happened before.  This time, the scale is global and echoes the economic and cultural atmosphere of the originators.  But with perseverance, it shouldn’t take 400 years to gain the upper hand.

Hold hands, look both ways before you cross the street and watch out for each other.

Look around.  You are part of a global uprising.  Don’t be afraid.  Love.  We are winning.

Is it absurd to try to weather the storm?

stormIs it beyond our ken to maintain a noble purpose as we guide our battered ships of state through the dark shadows of this mild squall of an economic crisis? Whom of us will risk life and limb to keep the ships afloat? Who will cast away possessions for the same purpose? Who will act to subvert these sacrifices? How will the storm weather us, as we weather the storm?

I ask these question because these darkling foreshadows are pallid compared to those that will attend the forthcoming Category Six typhoon of environmental collapse. How will that storm weather us, if we weather the storm? Given the tendency of people to adopt default positions in crisis situations, how we perform now, should give us some indication of how we’ll perform in much more dire circumstances.

Curiously, given the introduction, the point of this post is not to delve into the ugliness which portends. The point of this post is to ask the question, “How should we behave when faced with the absurdity that the cultural virtues that we cherish undermine the existential preconditions of our culture?” In other words, what does a wine-inspired poet do, when he finds that greater amounts of drink are fueling his muse, but not curing his cirrhosis and, in fact, killing him?

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