Friday, January 22, 2010

It's the end of the world as we know it...

Yesterday the Supreme Court made a ruling which will have huge and long-lasting impact on our democracy, although you wouldn't really know it if you were following the news. The Court ruled that limits on the amounts the corporations and other organizations can spend on campaigns is an unconstitutional violation of the first amendment. I am a staunch supporter of the first amendment, but there are several problems with this claim.

The first is that you still have limits on the amount of money that you, as an individual, can send to a candidate or party. I have not read the opinion, but everything I have heard has not said that this was struck down.

The second, and the absolute worst part, is that corporations are considered as people. Now this is nothing new, the Court ruled on this in two major cases in the 19th century. The problem is this has not created individuals but instead super-individuals. A corporation cannot vote, cannot run for office, cannot be indited and sent to prison, it cannot do a lot of things that you and I can do, nor can they be held accountable the way you and I can for our actions. But, what they now can do is to give as much money as the possibly want in order to get the candidates they want in office, and if you don't think that money matters in an election you haven't been paying attention (and this is true regardless of what I said in my prior post about campaigning). The only analogy I can think of of Orwell's 1984 in which "all animals are equal" was changed to "all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others." Except for a very small number of people, no one can give in the volume that major corporations can. What will become very interesting is the political fights that will now take place in corporate boardrooms as they look to decide to whom shall receive the money.

Now conservatives will throw back that unions are also now afforded the same rights as corporations and they can spend as much as they want, and that is indeed true, but that doesn't make it any better. The simple fact is corporations can outspend unions every day of the week, which is one of the reasons so many pro-corporate politicians have been pushing for this change. In the past unions could get their members out campaigning which gave them a decided edge in some localities, but that is no longer the case because money talks and walks.

What I think most conservatives also miss, is that while they can crow now, if this plays out the way it can play out, and probably will without any checks made on the system, they will end up paying the price in the end as well. Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, et al, make their living out of bashing the government and talking about everything that is wrong with them. If that institution is now run by corporations they will quickly lose that ability either through indirect means, such as losing their advertising done by these corporations, or by more direct means. Corporations are not going to want people criticizing their entity. Instead, they will want everyone to be saying how great they are and what a wonderful job they are doing. It is a brave new world, and don't fool yourself, this is straight forward judicial activism. You know the thing that conservatives are always attacking liberals about. There is no legal precedent for this, they just created it out of thin air.

This Sunday we read from Luke about what is at the heart of Jesus' message, which is care for those who are the least in any society: the poor, prisoners, blind, the oppressed. Corporations don't care about any of these groups, because that is not what they are designed to do. A corporation's sole and only purpose is to make money, that is their reason for being. Corporations are not interested in anything or anyone which does not facilitate that goal, and as Christians this should concern us, because if corporations are running the government they will only do what is right for corporations, and this flies in the very face of the Gospel. Non-profits don't have the same motivation of corporations but can be as blind as corporations in their push for things. Checks and balances are absolutely necessary for any system, and the church can and should act as a check on the excesses of society and to warn people where their is trouble. This is one of those places.

Is all hope lost? Of course not. Congress and the people can still do something. Contact your representative and senator and tell them they need to enact laws to counteract this ruling, such as making it mandatory that corporations publish immediately how much and to whom they are donating, and then putting in stringent penalties for violation. Let them know that unchecked power will always lead to disaster, and nothing less than our democracy is at stake.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

More Reasons Why Baseball is Better than Football

Let me first start this by saying I like football. I watch it and follow it, but it doesn't even compare to baseball. In 1987, Thomas Boswell wrote a piece entitled "100 reasons why baseball is better than football." One of my favorites is #53 "Football fans tailgate before the big game. No [self-respecting] baseball would have a picnic in the parking lot." (My addition) Some of them are out of date, but still funny. Here are two that Mr. Boswell did not add, but maybe should have:

1) A perfect quarterback rating is 158.3. How is that possible? What mathematical genius would ever come up with anything and say it was "perfect" when it's not even a round number. A perfect batting average? 1.00. A perfect ERA? 0.00. A perfect quarterback rating? 158.3. It's ridiculous on its face, and the fact that sportscasters never talk about how ridiculous it is shows how ridiculous it is.

2) According to a recent study conducted by the Wall Street Journal, not exactly the bottom of the media pool (although Rupert Murdock will eventually take it there I am sure), the average three hour football game has an average of 10 minutes 43 seconds of action. 11 minutes total! 75 minutes of time is spent showing the players roaming around between plays. Commercials eat up another 60 minutes, and the rest of the time is spent looking at the coaches and then watching the same play over and over again. Cheerleaders were only shown for an average of 3 seconds, and that number was skewed upwards because of the Dallas games. Some broadcasts spent more time showing the kicker warming up for a kick (7 seconds) then they did cheerleaders. The next time you hear someone say that baseball is boring that they prefer to watch football, please remind them of this, because it actuality there is much more action in baseball than there is in football.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Haiti and UMCOR

As many of you heard on Sunday, Rev. Sam Dixon, exectuive director of UMCOR died as a result of his injuries sustained in the earthquake last week. Word just came out that Clint Rabb, who was director of mission volunteers for UMCOR, who had been in intensive care in a Florida hospital has also died from his wounds. Our prayers go out to their families and friends, but the work does not stop.

They were in Haiti because UMCOR had a permanent location there in order to help the people even before the quake. This is what UMCOR does. Not only are they often the first ones into a location, but they are often some of the last ones to leave as well, because the devistation doesn't go away when the cameras go away.

We raised more than $5,000 on Sunday and the outreach commission has pledged another $2,000 which has already been sent. We will have another offering again this Sunday, but you may also make a donation online. Make sure to chose "Haiti Earthquake" on the donation line. Remember that 100% of the funds that you give to UMCOR go directly to the affected area because we fund their operations through our One Great Hour of Sharing offering which will take place on March 14.

Being in service to the world is what we are called to do, as Jesus told us that as we do to the least of these so we do to him.

Let the Blaming Begin

So the Democrats have lost Ted Kennedy's seat in the Senate to a relative political unknown and now everyone is starting to point fingers. While there might be plenty of blame to go around, having watched this from the inside, unlike the commentators who live elsewhere, the blame has to be placed squarely at the feet of Martha Coakley. She campaigned harder to win the nomination then she did for the actual seat. For the primary she was running ads all the time, there were signs up all over town and people on the streets carrying her signs as well. When I went to the polls on primary day she had about twenty people standing outside with her signs urging people to vote for her. Yesterday there were three people outside and they were all for Scott Brown. She did absolutely nothing to mobilize the base. Don't believe all the hype about this was anger at the Democrats or the White House or anything else. This was all about campaigning, plain and simple. If Coakley had run even a semblance of a competant campaign she would have won, but she didn't.

It appears she made the deadly assumption that merely because she was the Democratic candidate in a Democratic state that she was going to win, and basically shuttered her campaign for well more than a month. You cannot do that. I did not vote for her in the primary and she did absolutely nothing to win me over, and even less to win over the moderates. She again assumed that people in the middle and on the left would simply hold their nose and vote for her over Brown, but that isn't what happened. Her commercials were stiff and uninspiring, and while Brown did not win me over at least his commercials made it seem as if he was human and actually interested not only in the campaign but the position.

On Saturday I drove down to Framingham to go shopping and when I got back home I told Linda that Coakley was going to lose. When she asked me why, I said because there were no Coakley signs anywhere on the roads, but there were Brown signs including homemade ones, at the grocery store there were people campaigning for Brown but not for Coakley, and we had already received three phone calls from his campaign and we are not even registered Republicans. On the last weekend before the election, even though the polls were incredibly tight, there appeared to be no effort being made to reach average people. I know the President came in to help on Sunday, but who cares? Maybe if he was here two weeks ago it may have mobilized the base, but on Sunday it looked like an act of desperation, and did not get anyone out onto the streets.

Brown simply wanted it more and worked harder for it, and that will often make a difference. When I was in college, one of my political science professors was head of the Democratic Party for the county. When he couldn't get anyone to run for the state legislature he decided to run himself. It was a district in which the seat was held by the third generation of a Republican family, and no one could even remember when a Democrat held the seat. But, he literally went to every house in the district asking for their vote, and got to most of them a second time and those he didn't get to others in the campaign did. He worked his butt off and only lost by 54 votes. When the campaign started no one gave him even a fighting chance, and yet he nearly won. Why? Because he simply worked harder than his opponent. He out campaigned him in every aspect.

Let us not forget that our last governor was a Republican, so it's not as if they can't win a statewide election, but that's certainly how the Democrats acted. And don't go saying that it was simply because the national GOP dumped a lot of money. There is no doubt that they did, but the national Democratic Party did a lot as well. As Tip O'Neill said, all politics is local and if you act like you don't care or are taking people for granted, then you will lose. It's that simple.

So congratulations to senator elect Scott Brown, I will pray that you represent us well. But I do wonder, have we ever had a senator serve who has posed for nude photos before?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Prayers Requested

Bishop Peter Weaver has called on all United Methodists in New England to be praying for the situation in Haiti. Reports are now putting the death toll conservatively at 100,000. There were several United Methodist work teams in Haiti participating in projects, including the top executive of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).

We will be holding a special offering this week for UMCOR relief efforts during worship. Donations can also be made directly through UMCOR's webpage here.

Here is a prayer by Taylor Burton-Edwards from the General Board of Discipleship website:

The seas roar, the earth shakes,
buildings crumble, roofs topple
and walls turn to dust.

Have mercy on the people of Haiti, O God.

Nations watch, alarms sound,
traffic halts, utilities stop,
and news is hard to verify.

Give us compassion to weep with those who weep, O God.

People die, families mourn,
mountains split,
infrastructure and superstructure alike are gone.

Make us swift to help and persistent to rebuild,
not just things and structures, but lives, O God:

Through Christ, the solid Rock.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Waste of Resources

Today, in 1995, the murder trial of OJ Simpson started. Regardless of what you think of OJ or the results, there were several things that I always thought were completely overlooked.

The first is that most people considered this an issue of race. But it was more importantly an issue of class. If OJ had been a bus driver, probably using a public defender, he would be in a jail cell today, and depending on the state may be sitting on death row since his victim was a white woman. In other words, he received the trail he did, and his acquittal, because he had the financial wherewithal to hire a great legal team, and this is true whether he is innocent or guilty. Racism is our country is often used to cover up, mask, and dilute class issues. By keeping people who have common interests and concerns apart because of racial issues, those at the top of the economic and power structures can continue to get away with things they would not be able to if blacks, whites and Hispanics united together on issues of common concern.

The second piece is also somewhat related to the first. A friend of my parents worked in the forensics lab for the LAPD at the time of the trial. For several weeks everyone in the lab, except for one, was doing nothing except working on the OJ case. Let me say that again, only one person was doing the forensics work for the entire city of LA while everyone else worked on just one case. Doesn't that seem like an enormous waste of resources? What about those other cases? Weren't those crimes just as important? The entire thing was just another example that our priorities are totally out of alignment.

More Adventures in the Stating the Obvious

So yesterday Mark McGwire admitted to using steroids. As I have said before, the real interesting story of the steroids issue in baseball is not who used steroids but who did not use steroids. Everybody always assumed that Big Mac has used them so what's with the surprise, or with the high moralizing that's taking place? Who owns the rookie record for most home runs ever hit? If you look it up, you'll find it's Mark McGwire. He has always been a home run hitter, and if you don't believe me check this out.

McGwire said in his statement that he does not believe that the steroids helped him hit any home runs. In that I would disagree but not because of the reasons normally given. The media routinely calls steroids "performing enhancing drugs." The simple fact is that is wrong. People who actually study steroids will tell you they do not enhance your performance. If you cannot hit a curve ball, steroids are not going to help you. What steroids do is to allow you to work out harder, longer and sooner without the attending break down that would come with working out that hard. In other words they keep you healthier (I know about all the side effects that actually hurt you long term) and help you recover faster from injury. Barry Bonds was doing 300 lbs leg presses just two days after having knee surgery. Your muscles would not allow you to do that without assistance to keep them from tearing apart.

That is the reason, I believe, why so many home runs were hit. Rather than breaking down as the season went on and losing their strength through the dog days of summer, and therefore losing their power, they were able to maintain it for 162 games. That means it did help them hit home runs that they might not otherwise have hit but not because they were able to hit home runs only because of the steroids. God gave McGwire his swing, not steroids. If you ever saw him play, his swing was a thing of beauty even when he was striking out. Steroids did not make him study harder, or concentrate and walk through each at bat in his mind before he went up to the plate, he did that by himself. What steroids allowed him to do was to keep his power up for more than 500 at bats, which gave him opportunities to hit home runs that he would not have otherwise had.

If steroids had been available to Mickey Mantle I have little doubt that he would have taken them simply because they would have allowed him to stay healthy, and if he had ever been healthy for an entire season Maris' record would have never existed in the first place because Mantle would have blown Ruth's record out of the water. And let us not forget that Mantle was injecting himself with lots of things and was also taking greenies which had to have helped his performance on days that he might not otherwise have played or would have been dragging. So in that sense those things helped his performance, the same as steroids help performance, the same as cortisone injections help athletes, but I don't hear anyone complaining about that cortisone is performance enhancing. If an athlete would be sidelined or playing in considerable pain, and thus not playing at optimal level, without the shot, then under the steroid argument there can be little doubt that their performance is being chemically enhanced.

I saw the last game McGwire ever played, and it is something I will always treasure as a memory. For those who want to rewrite history and forget everything that McGwire did for the game, let us not forget that without him and Sosa in '98 baseball would be in a very different place today. Everyone looked the other way, and the simple fact is most people, other than sports writers, don't care, and it was the sports writers who failed to report on it in the first place. And, if they say they didn't know they are being just as disingenuous as baseball execs, owners, players and fans.

Let's face the fact that it was the steroids era, just as other eras have been "assisted" by various factors, including excluding some of the best players in the country from being able to compete, and treat it for what it was. There can be little doubt that Mark McGwire was one of the greatest players of his generation, and that's really all you can compare to. There can also be little doubt that the vast majority of players, including the pitchers, were taking steroids. There is nothing that can be done to change that, especially ridiculously incomplete studies ordered by the commissioner and undertaken by an owner, so let's deal with the time for what it was (and the time is 1984-2004) and move on. But let's also not be fooled by Selig's ridiculous statement that the game is now clean. Is it cleaner? Yes, it probably is, but many people have just moved onto things for which there is no reliable test.

Here is a funny piece from Jim Caple in which he is writing other confessions that might be made. You can find it here:

Random columnist: "Yes, I suspected McGwire took steroids while he was playing. How could I not? He was the size of a garbage truck. It wasn't anything new. People had been talking about steroids in the game for a decade -- remember how fans chanted 'Steroids! Steroids!' at Jose Canseco in the 1988 postseason? But I still glorified McGwire because I loved seeing him hit home runs, the same as everyone else did. I said he was saving the game. And now I'm demonizing him because he ruined the game.

"So does that mean I should also admit to being a hypocrite? Well, sorry, I'm not going to. And I'm not going to vote for him for the Hall of Fame, either.''