Monday, August 26, 2013

What I Read Today - Monday August 26, 2013

Threatened by the Armageddon Caucus By E.J. Dionne Jr., Published: August 25 From the Washington Post Are you ready for the Big Magilla of American politics? This fall, every important domestic issue could crash into every other: health-care reform, autopilot budget cuts, a government shutdown, even a default on the national debt. If I were betting, I’d wager that we will somehow avoid a total meltdown. House Speaker John Boehner seems desperate to get around his party’s Armageddon Caucus. But after three years of congressional dysfunction brought on by the rise of a radicalized brand of conservatism, it’s time to call the core questions: Will our ability to govern ourselves be held perpetually hostage to an ideology that casts government as little more than dead weight in American life? And will a small minority in Congress be allowed to grind decision-making to a halt? Congress is supposed to be the venue in which we Americans work our way past divisions that are inevitable in a large and diverse democracy. Yet for some time, Republican congressional leaders have given the most right-wing members of the House and Senate a veto power that impedes compromise, and thus governing itself. On the few occasions when the far-right veto was lifted, Congress got things done, courtesy of a middle-ground majority that included most Democrats and the more moderately conservative Republicans. That’s how Congress passed the modest tax increases on the well-off that have helped reduce the deficit, as well as the Violence Against Women Act and assistance for the victims of Hurricane Sandy. All these actions had something in common: They were premised on the belief that government can take practical steps to make American life better. This idea is dismissed by those ready to shut down the government or to use the debt ceiling as a way of forcing the repeal or delay of the Affordable Care Act and passing more draconian spending reductions. It needs to be made very clear that these radical Republicans are operating well outside their party’s own constructive traditions. Before their 2010 election victory, Republicans had never been willing to use the threat of default to achieve their goals. The GOP tried a government shutdown back in the mid-1990s, but it was a political disaster. Experienced Republicans are trying to steer their party away from the brink, the very place where politicians such as Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) and a group of fourscore or so House members want it to go. Particularly instructive is the effort to repeal health-care reform. The very fact that everyone now accepts the term “Obamacare” to refer to a measure designed to get health insurance to many more Americans is a sign of how stupidly partisan we have become. We never described Medicare as “Johnsoncare.” We didn’t label Social Security “FDRsecurity.” Tying the whole thing to Obama disguises the fact that most of the major provisions of the law he fought for had their origins among conservatives and Republicans. The health-care exchanges to facilitate the purchase of private insurance were based on a Heritage Foundation proposal, first brought to fruition in Massachusetts by a Republican governor named Mitt Romney. Subsidizing private premiums was always a Republican alternative to extending Medicare to cover everyone, the remedy preferred by many liberals. Conservatives even once favored the individual mandate to buy insurance, as MSNBC columnist Tim Noah pointed out. “Many states now require passengers in automobiles to wear seatbelts for their own protection,” the Heritage Foundation’s Stuart Butler said back in 1989. “Many others require anybody driving a car to have liability insurance.” Since all of us will use health care at some point, Butler argued reasonably, it makes sense to have us all in the insurance pool. But that was then. The right wing’s recent rejection of a significant government role in ending the scandal of “a health-care system that does not even come close to being comprehensive and fails to reach far too many” — the words were spoken 24 years ago by the late Sen. John Chafee, a Rhode Island Republican — tells us why Congress no longer works. The GOP has gone from endorsing market-based government solutions to problems the private sector can’t solve — i.e, Obamacare — to believing that no solution involving expanded government can possibly be good for the country. Ask yourself: If conservatives still believed in what both left and right once saw as a normal approach to government, would they speak so cavalierly about shutting it down or risking its credit? This is what’s at stake in the Big Magilla. Read more from E.J. Dionne’s archive, follow him on Twitter or subscribe to his updates on Facebook. Read more on this issue: Greg Sargent: Ted Cruz is right about Obamacare Jennifer Rubin: The ‘dumbest idea’ is threatening to defund Obamacare Eugene Robinson: The GOP in Fantasyland Dana Milbank: Republicans’ Obamacare search-and-destroy mission © The Washington Post Company

Thursday, August 8, 2013

What I Read Today - August 8, 2013

The Bible's case for immigration reform From the LA Times Showing compassion to foreigners and strangers is central to biblical morality, and evangelical Christians have joined the fight to pass commonsense reform. By Jim Wallis August 8, 2013 Some say it will take a miracle for Congress to pass common-sense immigration reform. That miracle may be in the making, helped along by Christians who want to put their faith into action. On July 25, 300 evangelical Christians from 27 states had 110 meetings with their mostly Republican representatives on Capitol Hill to ask them to let personal faith replace political fear. Republican leaders told us we represented a "new factor" in the debate on immigration, a grass-roots constituency for reform that can influence the political right. We offered a clear message to every member of the House, but especially those who consider themselves people of faith. Christians, including millions of evangelicals, believe fixing our broken immigration system is long overdue. We aren't primarily motivated by political considerations or even by the clear economic benefits immigration reform would bring. It is the biblical call to "welcome the stranger" and Jesus' concern for "the least of these" that inspires us. Congress needs to pass immigration reform because it is the morally right thing to do. Of course, God never ordains or endorses particular pieces of legislation — bills are always the product of compromises and limitations. But the principles contained in the common-sense immigration bill put forward by both Republicans and Democrats in the Senate are the right ones. The proposal could bring 11 million people out of the shadows, reunite families, provide an earned, achievable pathway to citizenship, respect the rule of law and secure the border — all goals that are broadly consistent with biblical values. When three of the largest Republican constituencies — evangelicals, law enforcement officials and business leaders — are in favor of an immigration overhaul, it's hard to fathom the arguments against it. Those whose position on reform is based on political fear, unacknowledged racial prejudice or worries about losing primaries to far-right ideologues are too often the same people who trumpet their religious convictions as guiding their decisions in public life. Our claim to them is simple: Politicians who are professing Christians need to consider what their faith has to say about immigration. If they oppose reform and refuse to offer compassion to our immigrant brothers and sisters, they should justify their positions on moral grounds. We join with other faith communities in asking for a moral and religious conversation about immigration reform — not just a political one. We don't think a faith-based argument exists against immigration reform, at least if you're reading the Bible closely. God's passionate, abiding concern for immigrants and foreigners, strangers and travelers — and for our neighbors — is obvious to anyone reading through Scripture. In the Old Testament, the Lord commands: "When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself … " (Leviticus 19:33-34). The biblical word "ger" for the foreigners in our midst occurs an astounding 92 times in the Hebrew scriptures, with the consistent instruction to protect them. In the New Testament, the stranger, and all who are vulnerable, are at the very heart of the Gospel. In the book of Matthew, Jesus offers a vision in which caring for them is the defining mark of God's kingdom: "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me" (Matthew 25:35-36). That evangelical Christians would finally act to reform the immigration system should surprise no one, and not just for theological reasons. Undocumented immigrants have joined our congregations; we understand the problem firsthand. They are our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ. And we know that by reforming our immigration laws, we can create a system that also reflects the best values of our nation and the highest ideals of our faith. We act because, as the book of James reminds us, "faith without works is dead." Conservative Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida has connected his faith with his vote: "I think the biggest change hasn't been in the pulpit; it's been in the pews.... It's one thing when 11 million is a statistic. The other thing is when one of those 11 million is your friend, a human being who you now know … as a father, as a husband, as a mother, as a worker, as a worshiper.... Our faith has always been about compassion and it compels you to do something. If you took compassion or the principle of compassion out of the Bible, it would be in tatters because it's all over the place." Compassion is indeed all over the Bible. I pray it will also be found in the House of Representatives. It's time for Christians in the House to stand up in support of immigration reform, or to explain why they won't — as Christians. If they follow their faith, we will see the miracle we need. Jim Wallis is president of the Washington-based Christian organization Sojourners. His new book is "On God's Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn't Learned About Serving the Common Good." Copyright © 2013, Los Angeles Times

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

What I Read Today - August 6, 2013

From the New York Times - Monday August 6, 2013 The A-Rod Problem By DAVID BROOKS I started writing a column for The Times about a decade ago, and I endured a tough first few months. That was, in part, because, like anybody starting a new job, I wasn’t sure I could pull it off. So, especially in the first few months, I had a self-preoccupied question on my mind: How am I doing? There was no noncrazy-making answer to that question. I was always looking for some ultimate validation, which, of course, can never come. But, after a little while, I settled into a routine and my focus shifted from my own performance to the actual subjects I was writing about. This shift from performance to subject may not have made the columns any better, but it sure did improve my psychic equilibrium. That period was a lesson in the perils of self-preoccupation. I think of this because of the news on Monday about Alex Rodriguez’s suspension from baseball through the 2014 season. Judging from the outside, the rest of us are pikers of self-preoccupation next to A-Rod. When you see him standing on deck or running off the field at the end of an inning, you see a man who seems to be manufacturing his own persona, disingenuously crafting a series of behaviors designed to look right. When he gives a press conference, he doesn’t look like a man giving a press conference. He looks like a man giving a performance of giving a press conference. Even his off-the-field life — dating Madonna, partaking in soft-core kabbalah, dragging along his publicists and entourage — leaves the impression that he is always observing himself, and measuring to see if he lives up to the image of a superstar. Rodriguez was a baseball prodigy from his earliest years. He batted an insane .505 his senior year in high school and had up to 100 scouts at every game. When he was drafted first over all by the Seattle Mariners, he hired the superagent Scott Boras, who damaged whatever chances Rodriguez had of become a normal human being. Boras turned him into a corporate entity. In her book “A-Rod,” Selena Roberts reported that, in the middle of his first contract negotiations, Boras had Rodriguez read a statement accusing the Mariners of being “low class.” In other words, he was told to attack his first organization in order to squeeze a few dollars out of them. From the beginning, Rodriguez’s preoccupation was not with team, it was with self. Rodriguez then retained a guru named Jim Fannin, who further isolated him from his teammates and who molded him according to a self-conscious, prefab self-help formula. By the time Rodriguez became a free agent, he was the marketing facade of A-Rod Inc. When negotiating with the Mets, Rodriguez’s handlers asked for the use of a private jet, a special hotel suite when on the road and a personal marketing staff. By the time he reached the Texas Rangers, according to Roberts, a clubhouse attendant was required to put a dab of toothpaste on his toothbrush after every game. Of course, this sort of egomaniacal behavior alienated him from his teammates, isolating him in the zone of his own self-concern. He was always the most talented player on the field but never a leader. He developed a reputation for caring more about personal stats than team wins. Even when he tried to be a good teammate, that was little naturalness or spontaneity. Self-preoccupied people hit the right notes, but often so hard that they sound tinny. Self-preoccupation creates an ego that is at once overinflated, insatiable and overly sensitive. Self-preoccupation also seems to make it hard for supremely talented people like A-Rod to deal with their own talents. One of the mysteries around Rodriguez is why the most supremely talented baseball player on the planet would risk his career to allegedly take performance-enhancing drugs? My theory would be that self-preoccupied people have trouble seeing that their natural abilities come from outside themselves and can only be developed when directed toward something else outside themselves. Enclosed in self, they come to believe that their talents come from self, are the self. They have no outside criteria that tells them what their talents are for or when they are sufficient. Locked in a cycle of insecurity and attempted self-validation, their talents are never enough, and they end up devouring what they have been given. As Rodriguez’s former manager, Joe Torre, once wrote, the really good hitter has to “concern himself with getting the job done, instead of how it looks. ... There’s a certain free-fall you have to go through when you commit yourself without a guarantee that it’s always gong to be good. ... Allow yourself to be embarrassed. Allow yourself to be vulnerable.” At every step along the way, Rodriguez chased self-maximization, which ended up leading to his self-destruction.