Friday, August 31, 2012

Honest Politicians?

I have become a fan of PolitiFact, installing it's app on my iPhone and iPad. The app allows me to check on the truthfulness of statements made by politicians and the PACs that support them. I particularly like PolitiFact's Pants on Fire rating, given for statements that aren't simply false, but outrageously so. 

The sad reality of the political climate today is that both parties' presidential and vice-presidential  candidates have earned Pants on Fire ratings. 5% of 56 statements by Vice-President Biden earned the rating, as did 1% of 603 statements by the President. Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney's running mate, earned the rating for 9% of 22 statements. Mr. Romney won that rating for 9% of 161 statements. 

Michael Steele, the former Chairman of the Republican National Committee, was interviewed on Thursday by Jon Stewart. One of Mr. Steele's comments was that with new communication technology people may challenge false statements made in political campaigns. I am not optimistic, given that PolitiFact's check of 18 statements posted on Facebook found that none were true and that 28% of them earned the Pants on Fire rating.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Rape is Rape

The current controversy over Rep. Akin's comments about "legitimate rape" and his later use of the phrase "forcible rape" sent me to search for another term, aggravated rape. Criminal codes often provide for this more serious charge being made when the rapist causes additional bodily harm or in cases of gang rape. But rape is rape whether the rapist is brutal or gentle, whether the rapist is a stranger or a friend or her husband. Rape is rape because she didn't consent or was too young to consent or not able to consent. Rape is always violent, a violation of another person, always forcible, and never legitimate.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Rand and Ryan

I have to admit that I have never read anything that Ayn Rand wrote and have only watched part of an interview in which she explained her philosophy. It is pretty obvious, however, that her philosophy is inconsistent with Christain faith. That raises a fundamental question about Paul Ryan. How could this faithful Roman Catholic embrace Rand's philosophy so enthusiastically? I understand that he has recently said that he rejects it, but that statement seems inconsistent with his earlier statements at a meeting of the Atlas Society and his requirement that his interns and staff members read Rand's books. If he has had a conversion experience and no longer agrees with Rand's philosophy, I wonder how that conversion might change his views on the role of government and might lead to a new Ryan budget that more clearly reflects his Catholic faith.

Just wondering.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


I was sorry that I had to decline an invitation to work for Elizabeth Warren's campaign this Saturday. For democracy to work citizens have to do more than vote. Working for a candidate is only one way to help make democracy work. We can also hold our elected officials' feet to the fire, letting them know our views on important issues and holding them accountable for their actions or their inaction. Doing that effectively requires that we do our research about the issues and think through how our own values would best be translated into public policy. That may seem like a lot of work, but that's the kind of work that lobbyists do to try get the values of their clients translated into public policy. If we don't want public policy to be shaped by others, we need to invest some of our time in becoming effective advocates for our own values.

Benjamin Franklin was asked, at the close of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, whether we had a Republic or a Monarchy. Franklin responded, "A Republic, if you can keep it." Keeping it is work that all of us need to do.

Friday, August 3, 2012

What's in a Name?

During the years that I was at Saint Matthias Church, I often chided my colleague amos acree for the way that his denomination had captured two of the titles which might well be claimed by all Christians - The Christian Church and The Disciples of Christ. amos did not mind the chiding at all, as he does not take himself all that seriously. He told me once that when people see his habit of putting his name in lower case as a sign of his humility, he corrects that misperception. Using lower case gets him noticed and remembered.

Names are important and, in spite of my chiding, I understand how his church came by its two names. But some names can be a little off putting. A lot of Episcopalians get irritated when Roman Catholics refer the their church as simply the Catholic Church, as if Anglicans didn't belong to a catholic church. We also hear stories, many of them apocryphal, about how there was a schism in the Church of God and those who left are calling themselves the True Church of God. But a true story about a church plant near me made me wonder how the planters chose the name, Next Level Church. I read the article to see if there was an explanation, but couldn't find one. That left me with the uneasy feeling that these brothers and sisters in Christ might imagine that their church is a level higher than other churches. That is very dangerous thinking for any Christian. All of us are, as Luther pointed out, at the same time sinners and justified by grace and grace alone. All of us are called to walk humbly with God, because that is how God walks with us.

I pray that this new church plant will reach unchurched and dechurched people with the Good News of God's love. And I pray that if they are imagining that theirs is a church a level above others God would forgive them.

Thursday, August 2, 2012


The controversy over Chick-fil-A's desire to have a store in Boston not only caught me by surprise, it also revealed how little I knew about the company. Our daughter had to correct me when I got the name wrong and mispronounced it. But even starting late I have formed some opinions about the controversy.

1. Mayor Menino did not abuse his authority when he urged the company to reconsider its plans to locate in Boston. Although the letter was on official stationary, he was careful to limit his comments there to his personal opposition to a store in Boston.

2. If the Mayor has said elsewhere that he will block the granting of a license to Chick-fil-A, I think that would be an abuse of his office. It would not, on the other hand, be an abuse of his office if he encouraged people to express their opposition to Chick-fil-A's plans.

3. Ido not care how good the chicken is. I will not support with my business a man whose views are so contrary to mine and I hope Chick-fil-A decides to stay away from Boston.

The Bottom Line

We will probably never see more of Mr. Romney's tax returns and we will be left wondering if he is hiding something. But what we do know now is that Mr. Romney's overall tax rate is less than most of ours. That is because the tax code is designed, maybe not intentionally, to benefit those who can afford to hire tax advisors to lower their liability. To eliminate that inequity will require more than eliminating the Bush era tax cuts for folks with incomes above $250,000. It will require a major overhaul of the tax code, one that will not be about soaking the rich, but about establishing greater fairness. Given the size of the the deficits in the federal budget, the overhaul of the tax code may mean somewhat higher taxes for most of us, as it seems impossible to me that budgets can be balanced simply be cutting expenditures. However, I agree with one of the early investors in Amazon that it is middle income households that are the true job creators as they have enough disposable income to buy things. Companies don't hire more workers unless there is more demand for what they produce. Any overhaul of the tax code that leaves more money in the pockets of the very rich and less in the pockets of middle income households will not be good for the economy.