Thursday, January 31, 2008

Recession or Depression?

Despite the fact that many political leaders in Washington haven't admitted it, we have been in a recession for several years now. It's always interesting about recessions. When we are in one no one admits that we are in one, but years later they refer to the recession of such and such a time.

We've been mired in one for a few years now.

The dropping of banking regulations led to an amazing run of predatory lending. Many folks either overly eager or just ignorant as to what they were getting into, purchased large homes with adjustable rates mortgages with fabulous rates. They were lured by low interest rates and no need for down payments. It was a mortgage bonanza.

Many people purchased homes that they otherwise couldn't have afforded but the low monthly payments made it possible. The problem was that they didn't seem to understand what the word 'adjustable' meant and the person who sold them the mortgage greatly underplayed it. For many, when the rates shot up, their payments doubled or tripled. This has obviously led to lots of defaults and the real estate market became a wasteland.

The people who had the mortgages often had no equity and walked away. Bankruptcy when you have nothing vested in the house became a good option. The banks were fine. These mortgages were insured. The companies that insured them? Huge, huge problems and many of these are on the verge of collapse. Their collapse will be a huge blow to the economy.

Bigger than that is the price of oil. The day that the price of oil hit $3.00 a gallon we were in major trouble. Oil companies got major tax relief and raked in major profits. One would almost think that the President and Vice President had been former oil executives the way this all transpired. As I write this, right now, oil companies are making record profits and we are paying over $3.00 a gallon for gas.

This is catastrophic on so many levels.

First, all those who drive anywhere are paying more money to travel than ever before. It ought to give anyone pause before starting their cars. These vehicles with their own zip codes that burn copious amounts of fuel, their usage of fuel increases demand and raises the cost on everyone.

Secondly, the price of oil means that it costs more to travel, to commute, and to heat our homes. But it also means that the transporting of goods has become more expensive, so items like bread and milk keep going up in price.

Finally, as people spend more and more on traveling, heat, and basic necessities, they have less money to spend on anything else.

I'm also concerned for people who have investments. Real Estate is doing poorly. Stocks are erratic and going nowhere....if we are lucky. Interest rates have been dropped. Bonds are offering nothing. There is no place to invest money right now.

It's almost like economists are saying to keep your investments for the long term, but also feed your pets more to fatten them up in case....

The disparity between rich and poor grows and the number on the bottom is growing rapidly as the middle class begins to collapse.

So, is this a recession or are we on the way to a depression? The thought is frightening.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Random Observations

The Presidential race is interesting and exciting. It looks to me, right now, that the Republicans are going to choose between Romney or McCain and the Democrats will choose between Hillary Clinton or Obama. But who knows? I've never seen anything like this. Indiana's primary isn't until May and it MAY actually mean something this time around.

I was saddened at the death of Heath Ledger. Very sad and such a tragic loss. I was also really annoyed on how the story was handled. First news reports said that there were drugs and he was naked. Later it came out that he had pneumonia. It could have been a drug interaction with the illness or drugs interacting with one another. The drugs they found were legal prescription drugs that were prescribed to him and did not seem to be out of the realm of reason. So, why report this? And why report that he was naked? Sordid journalism to be sure.

I saw the movie Juno and loved it. It was a movie with intelligent dialogue. The characters were quirky and interesting. It was enjoyable.

I missed football this week. Football is my favorite sport and it's always a loss when the season is over. This year, however, my Giants are still playing! Next week is Super Bowl Sunday and I am excited. The Giants, of course, are huge underdogs and have no chance. Perfect!

The swimsuit competition for the Miss America Pageant has changed. My favorite beauty pageant movie was Little Miss Sunshine. That flick seemed to capture the reality of these pageants.

I think I'm going to pass on the Rambo movie. The first movie, First Blood, was actually a very good movie. It didn't need a sequel. It didn't need the second sequel. It doesn't need this one. Sly need to come up with another character besides Rocky and Rambo. The originals were great, but there are limits.

The Oakland Raiders and the Washington Redskins are both having coaching turmoils. Al Davis doesn't like his coach and Daniel Snyder's coach, Joe Gibbs, retired again. Gibbs is a fine man and a fine coach who worked for a goof. It's tumored that Davis is going to ax is coach and the 'Skins are looking to interview a coordinator either from the Giants or the Patriots. They'd be crazy to go to either of these black holes of coaching positions. That's why Jason Garrett would not go to the Ravens or the Falcons. Better to have a decent job with a strong franchise, then to become the head coach of a franchise that will fail.

The Raiders and the Redskins ought to look at Bobby Petrino. They'd all deserve each other.

A lot.

Finally, I don't know if anyone realizes this, but Bobby Petrino is a college version of Bill Parcells.

Bill Parcells coached the Giants to two Super Bowls. After his prized coordinator, Bill Belichick, heir apparent in East Rutherford, left for the Browns, Parcells abruptly quit the Giants leaving them in the lurch.

He moved to the Patriots. Started building them up and quit.

He then moved to the Jets. I'd say he started to build them up, but these are the Jets. Impossible. He jilted the Jets and ended up in Dallas.

Romo, of course fumbles a snap, the Cowboys lost (last year), and Parcells quit. Now he's in the front office at Miami.

He's a smart football guy and knows how to win. Ultimately you want someone with maturity to lead you and he's not that.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Misogyny Raises It's Head

Not to long ago there was an editorial cartoon making the rounds with Hillary Clinton sitting at a desk and the world’s ‘bad people’ all yelling at her with her crying that they were all being ‘mean’ to her.

As anyone who can count to eleven, and keep their shoes and socks on to do so, can tell you that the cartoon, in so many ways, demonstrated an instance of misogyny. It was an example on how to put a woman candidate in an absolutely impossible situation.

Hillary Clinton is and has been a lightening rod for so many people for so long a period of time. She has many people who love her and many people who loathe her. She was a very outspoken First Lady for eight years and has been building a career in the United States Senate. One of the oft stated criticisms of her is that she’s cold and something of an ice princess. She just doesn’t show her emotion very much.

Then, of course, there was the famous exchange where she teared up. The question asked of her was quite personal in its town and the answer brought a tear to Hillary’s eye. This, of course, made her an overly emotional woman who wouldn’t be able to stand up to the ‘bad people’ in the world because they’d all make her cry.

But then, of course, a new statement. Hillary really is an ice princess and a very calculating actress who staged her tears.

Misogyny is alive and well in American culture and it raises its ugly head in far too many instances. Women who have a cooler demeanor, if you will, are ice princesses and not to be trusted. Women who tend to be more emotional are irrational and not to be trusted. Women who are complex and demonstrate coolness and emotion are, well, erratic. Instead of allowing women to be the complex human beings they are, attempts to dismiss them come from a wide variety of angles. So many of the questions posed to her, like the cartoon, are subtle and sometimes not so subtle attempts to diminish her because of her gender.

The fear, of course, for many isn’t that a woman could make a good President. They often don’t worry that she will do a poor job. Their bigger worry is that they would do a good job and demonstrate themselves to be very capable of doing the job. Imagine the number of female candidates there would be.

This is not to say that all people who are opposed to Hillary Clinton are doing so because of her gender. Many on the right loathe her because they have loathed the Clintons for a very long time. Many people on the left do not like Hillary Clinton because she tends to be a political moderate. Barack Obama plays to the left far better than Hillary while Hillary plays better to the center.

I believe that there have been trend to diminish women in recent years.

In church circles the world has changed. Some years ago the Southern Baptist Convention ordained women as clergy. They have since ceased and many of the women who were ordained are no longer considered to be so. For many of these women, fortunately, their congregations still embraced them or they found homes in other denominations.

Churches are also quick to quote St. Paul’s 14th Chapter in 1st Corinthians as proof that women are supposed to remain silent in church or that Jesus chose 12, all male, apostles. The city of 1st Corinthians is galling. Paul was addressing a particular issue in a particular church but also referencing something wider. Women were not, under Jewish Law and Custom, to receive any education about God, the Bible, or their faith. They were told by their husbands how to live their lives as Jews and that was it. In their religious life, the men had the knowledge and the women followed the rules.

As St. Paul wrote this letter, this was the world he was writing to. The problem with the women speaking in church had little to do with their gender and a lot to do with them not having much knowledge. Different era, different set of circumstances, Paul says something very differently.

As for the 12 apostles, they exist. The problem is that the Gospels do not all agree on who they were. And there was always Mary Magdalene who was a constant presence and of unknown status. But, the thing about the apostles is that theologically, Christianity begins with the profession that Jesus was raised from the dead. It is the resurrection that moves Jesus to the Christ, and changes the whole understanding of who and what he was. And the messengers of the first truly Christian message into the world were women. It’s funny how this gets left out of the dialogue about female clergy.

Hillary Clinton may or may not get the nomination. She may or may not be elected. She may or may not be an effective President. If she fails it will have little to do with her gender and more to do with her abilities. People have said that if she got elected and failed, it would mark the end of women in politics. A poor female leader is a poor leader who happens to be female. The rest of the gender ought not to be judged by one woman. After all, we have suffered through many bad Presidencies in our history, all white men. No one seems to say that white men ought not be elected. People are individuals and ought to be viewed as such, men and women alike. To diminish people because or gender is dreadful behavior and I hope that people get beyond it.

Monday, January 21, 2008

As the Blood Pressure Turns....

Anyone who has ever been in my office and has looked at my clock would know which team I am devoted to. Anyone who has looked at the place I put garbage in knows which team I am devoted to. Heck, my front license plate says it all: #1 Giants Fan. I'm probably not the #1 Giants fan in the world, but the Giants are my #1. My favorite sport is football and my favorite team are the Giants. The Colts are great and #2, but the Giants will always be #1.

Yesterday they defeated the Green Bay Packers in Green Bay in bitterly cold conditions. The Giants have set an NFL record for 10 consecutive road wins in one season. No one has done that before. The Wild Card route to the Super Bowl is the most difficult route and the Giants took it and won. One more game and they are better than 2 touchdown underdogs. For fans of the New York Giants that is just the way we want it.

The game last night had so many amazing stories in it.

The game conditions. It was amazingly cold and the players on both teams played amazingly well. All the players on both teams rose to the occasion and played like they were in a championship game.

These are storied franchises. Vince Lombardi grew up in New York and was an assistant coach for the Giants when the Packers hired him. They played two NFL Championship games in the early 1960's and the Packers won both on their way to some amazing glory while the Giants were on their way to a long period of being awful.

There was a story line about two quarterbacks who grew up in Mississippi.

Brett Favre is one of the great all time quarterbacks. He has played with strength, fortitude, and class during a long career. Professional sports teams have had some very poor ambassadors, but
Favre has always been a class act. Would he defy the cold and head to another Super Bowl?

The other quarterback from Mississippi, Eli Manning is still at the earlier days of his career. He has led the New York Giants into the post season three years in a row and was often seen as a failure. He, of course, has an older brother who, like Favre, is destined to be one of the all time greats. Eli plays the most difficult position on the football field, in a city with the world's largest press core, with an older brother and dad who had great careers. Would he rise to the level of a championship quarterback and actually beat his brother (time wise) to the Super Bowl?

Two coaches. Mike McCarthy has done an amazing job with the Packers. No one expected them to have a winning record this year. McCarthy got them to buy into his system, put good players in place, and won.

Tom Coughlin was doomed at the end of last year. He was going to be fired....except the New York Giants are a family run team and that family is loyal to its people. They kept him for one more year and he led them to the Super Bowl. An interesting side note is this. The players wanted him to stay. Most of the players were buying into his system. One player wasn't. That player is now discussing pantyhose on the Today Show.

One reporter said that an hour after the game the players on the Giants still had chattering teeth from the cold. But, in the end, when that final field goal went through, they were a bunch of proud guys.

And, they made their long suffering, oft cynical fans, a very happy group of people. They go to play New England in the Super Bowl. Win or lose, for a Giants fan, this was a great season.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Statesmanship or Cheap Gestures

We have several major economic problems in the United States at the moment.

First is the cost of oil. It impacts each of us in terms of transportation. Every time we get in the car and go anyplace, it costs us money. For people who commute to work, the cost of their job has gone up. Additionally, in the winter, is is oil or natural gas which heats most homes. People either do without heat or they lower the heat a great deal. Needless to say, the cost of fuel drives virtually everything in the economy. Have you bought milk lately?

Secondly, the cost of health care. We can debate the solutions and that's all well and good. But we do have a problem. People cannot afford health care and they cannot afford many medications.

Thirdly, the housing market and home lending issues. The predatory lending practices have turned the housing market upside down. People have lost their homes as well as a large amount of money. The banks who loaned the money got paid----they all had insurance. However, those who insured those mortgages got stuck holding the debt and now several of these companies are about to fold. Jim Cramer predicts that if they do----and it looks like they will---that will plunge the market down 2000 points in one day. And I didn't add an extra 0 in that!

Lastly, we are fighting two wars. On credit. No sacrifice required on the home front.

Statesmanship takes place when leaders confront the problems honestly and directly and work to solve them. True statesmen (and women), are people who work to solve the difficulties no matter what cost they might pay politically.

Alas, a White House spokesperson called the housing market (a looming catastrophe) a 'housing course correction.' Don't worry, be happy.

The President traveled to Saudi Arabia to discuss fuel costs. They smiled and did a sword dance with him. He looked like he was having fun. don't worry, be happy.

Finally, the big gesture. Tax rebates. Everyone gets a check from the government putting the US further in debt and allowing everyone to buy some sneakers for their kids. It will be in the purchase of sneakers for the kids that will solve the health care crisis, the housing crisis, the looming debt, and the price of fuel.

Statesmanship or cheap gesture?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Random Political Intrigue Items

The press can be infuriating.

I think that there are prevailing myths about the press.

One is the liberal media bias. That's a lazy observation from people who don't have a clue as to what the liberal media is. When you compare Mother Jones, Utne Reader, and The Nation to the New York Times or CNN, you'll notice that the differences are huge. The observations of this bias are generally anecdotal and trite in nature. Of course, when our political process is broken down into talking points, one can understand a trite approach.

Frankly, the mainstream media is lazy and pursues foolhardy items. Tim Russert spent an eternity trying to pin Hillary Clinton down on race when there were so many other issues that needed to be addressed and questioned. Russert surprised me. He's usually pretty good at asking difficult questions nicely, but he did a poor job on Sunday.

Sadly, we see this a great deal. For all the coverage the election has had, there has been very little insightful coverage as to what each candidates policies happen to be and how they are comparable and different.

I thought that President Bush had a history degree from Yale. His observations about Auschwitz made me wonder about the history department at Yale. Seriously. He made the statement that had he been the Commander in Chief during World War II, he'd have bombed Auschwitz. One can only speculate what it would have been like had he been the Commander in Chief during World War II.

Here are some facts about Auschwitz and bombing during World War II. It was near a strategic site which we did bomb, but we didn't bomb any of these camps, including POW camps for some very good reasons.

For one, the only bombers that had the capability of traveling the distance were the large, heavy bombers. These planes were most effective from high altitude and often attempted to fly high enough to avoid anti-aircraft fire. Flying low put them at far greater risk.

Secondly, the Norton Bombsight was a magnificent piece of equipment that literally controlled the plane in bombing mode. The inventors said that they could drop a bomb in a pickle barrel from 5 miles up. They couldn't. The chances of bombing the victims inside the camp were as high as hitting the fences.

Thirdly, even blowing the fences off of the camps didn't guarantee very much. The people in the camps were malnourished and often suffering from dreadful communicative diseases. Their chances of escape were very, very slip.

Fourthly, these kinds of precision raids had proven to be incredibly unreliable. In the breakout of Normandy a huge bombing run was made over German lines. The problem was that a portion of that huge bombing run was over American lines. American General Lesley McNair, a major commander in the field, was killed in this run.

World War II was painful and ugly and President Bush's comments were, frankly, foolish. One could only wish that a student of history would have either the insight or the wisdom to do research before speaking about events that have taken place and surmising that they would have done things differently.

Presidents Roosevelt and Truman built on Allied coalition and fought the Germans to defeat on numerous fronts. Concurrently, they managed a campaign to defeat Japan in a completely different part of the world. In history, before the United States did this, no nation had been in two separate wars in two separate parts of the world, and won both of them decisively. Roosevelt and Truman did this. No matter what one may think of them and no matter what political party a person is a part of, what they accomplished had never been done before and has not yet been repeated.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Monday Afternoon Quarterback

I have to admit, I am elated that the Giants won. I'm equally elated that they wiped that goofy grin off of Tony Romo's face. There was an interesting lesson in discipline, talking, and playing that game out of that game. The Dallas players, many of them All-pro trash talked all week as to what they were going to do to the Giants. They had defeated the Giants twice already and were going to be going against a team with a banged up secondary while Dallas had its full contingent of receivers. So they talked and talked and talked. The Giants players had little to say.

Sometimes players believe their own talk and suddenly find that they talked themselves into a loss. In the NFL the game is won by the players playing on the field. Talk is cheap unless you back it up. Silence, on the other hand, never gives anything way.

Tony Romo is a talented player but he lost his cool yesterday. Players who lose their cool, especially quarterbacks, tend to lose. And, frankly, this had nothing to do with his weekend away with Jessica Simpson. Unless it was a distraction to his team mates, stories on that were simply gossip and silly.

The Packers are a formidable foe. Brett Favre is not Tony Romo and will not trash talk this week.

The Patriots. Wow. Tom Brady was almost perfect. One of his incompletions was a drop. I'd love to see the Giants in the Super Bowl but I can't imagine anyone defeating the Pats this year. They are that good.

Lovie Smith coached his team to the Super Bowl last year. Here's what he needs to learn.

All four teams going into this weekend have quarterbacks who can carry the game on their shoulders and win. Favre always has. Rivers demonstrated he could. Brady. Wow. Manning led a 47 second drive to tie the game before the half and has played incredibly well. Both the Bucs and Cowboys made him beat them and he did. The Bears do not have this kind of quarterback. Lovie needs to get one. He also needs to get some offensive linemen. The biggest problem with the Bears offense is that no matter who is running or passing, they are not getting much blocking.

Was the Colts defensive coordinator on vacation? I can't help but wonder if he came to the game. Seriously. They weren't getting pressure and no one called any blitzes. No one called for pressure on the Chargers' quarterback. When their back up came in it was time for a 'welcome to the turf' kind of blitz and nothing. No matter how could your secondary is, when a quarterback has the time to order a hot dog and drink a beer, that secondary will not be able to cover receivers.

Speaking of Tony Romo. Well, I wasn't, but there are random thoughts. His girlfriend is Jessica Simpson who, I guess, is famous. I don't have a clue what she does. I read that she's a singer but I don't recall her singing. All I know her for is getting her picture taken.

Terrell Owens wept about people being mean to Tony Romo about his Cabo trip with Jessica Simpson. He decreed to the world that he always has his quarterback's back.

Jeff Garcia and Donovan McNabb were probably amazed at that statement. It is true, to the extent that Owens always has their back.....with a target on he can thrown this knife and stab them in the back that he has covered.

I'm betting that Tony Dungy retires. He's had a great coaching career and he's one of those guys who I think that when he retires, will stay retired.

Arthur Blank of the Falcons is interested in USC coach Pete Carroll. He thinks that a successful college coach is just the answer. Here's my question. Does this man have a learning curve? I have three names for him to remember. Bobby Petrino, Bobby Petrino, and Bobby Petrino.

I actually saw Chris Redman being interviewed by some sports reporters in a local dining establishment in Louisville. Redman played well for the Falcons and should be able to either sign with them again or sign with someone else. He looked like the quarterback Brian Billick could have had in Baltimore had he (Billick) demonstrated some patience with a young quarterback. I hope that Chris Redman signs a contract someplace and does well. He is a class act.

I'm wondering how long it will take Daniel Snyder (owner of the Redskins) to call Bobby Petrino. It seems like it's about the time for Petrino to be planning to move.

Speaking of learning curves. Two years ago Tony Dungy rested his players and they came out flat and lost to the Steelers. Last year the players played till the end and they came out sharp. This year....

The lesson is that if you're flat in the playoffs you will lose. The level of competition is too good. Every team in the playoffs has demonstrated an ability to win. Any advantage you give anyone, will cost you.

Speaking of costing. Kevin Boss is making good catches as the Giants tight end. He's not a great blocker, but he has good hands and runs good routes. Unlike Jeremy Shockey, he doesn't lose his cool and have huge penalties called against him.

Finally, the experts picked the Giants to win between 4 and 6 games this year. The players, we were told, were disgusted that the Giants organization brought back Tom Coughlin. These guys, we find out, were loyal to their coach and wanted him back. The biggest distraction they had is now discussing pantyhose on the Today Show. The Giants, for their part, are now playing with house money and have no pressure. They've had a great season----no matter what happens.

But I'm not ready for it to be over as of yet!!!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Wow! The Giants Win Again!

Everyone predicted that Tampa Bay was going to beat the Giants. Everyone was wrong.

Most everyone predicted that the Cowboys would beat the Giants. Most everyone was wrong.

The Packers are a formidable foe next week. Giants fans want to win----but every Giants fan is proud of their time right now.

Eli Manning is playing like the #1 draft pick that he was. All the reasons the Giants drafted him are showing up.

Their defense is odd. Their secondary is made up of some rookies and scrubs and one or two hot dog vendors. They've been hit with injuries. As a result the Giants front line simply attacks the quarterback. They led the league in sacks and they pound the quarterback into the ground time after time. It's sweet. They beat the Dallas Cowboys. In Dallas. For a Giants fan, nothing is better than this...

On to other games....I was furious two weeks ago when I said that the Colts laid down like dogs against the Titans. Strong language, to be sure. My problem is that I really like the Colts (my number 2 team) and I felt that they were making a huge mistake. Injuries can happen when you play full tilt; but sluggishness can happen when you don't. Football is such a game of momentum, timing, and touch that backing off is not a good idea. Two years ago I thought that the Colts would have learned this lesson. They looked flat today and their defense never looked sharp. They dropped key passes and made silly little mistakes. The Chargers aren't as good as the Colts and they have defeated them twice this year. It is a stinging loss.

As for yesterday, no surprises. Seattle played like they didn't want to play in the snow and the Jags put up a valiant effort, but, wow, the Patriots are good. Really good. I can't imagine them losing.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

UCC President John Thomas denounces smear campaign against UCC’s largest congregation

Written by J. Bennett Guess
January 11, 2008

A ramped-up smear campaign against the UCC's largest congregation and U.S. Sen. Barack Obama's home church — Trinity UCC in Chicago — has raised the ire of the Rev. John H. Thomas, the UCC's general minister and president, who called the e-mail-driven claims "absurd, mean-spirited and politically motivated."

"Our national offices in Cleveland, as well as other settings of the UCC, have been forwarded countless e-mails that obviously derive from a similar source," Thomas said. "They contain misleading statements obviously meant to undermine the integrity of one of our most vibrant, mission-driven congregations."

Thomas said, while it's not his intent to come to the aid of Obama or any presidential candidate, he does feel it's imperative that "absurd, mean-spirited and politically-motivated attacks against one of our UCC churches be challenged forthrightly."

Obama, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for president, has been a member of Trinity UCC for 20 years.

Since Obama won the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3, a flurry of e-mail messages with identical language and sentiment began circulating across the internet, claiming that Trinity UCC was a "racist" congregation because of its long-stated church motto: "Unashamedly Black, Unapologetically Christian."

"Trinity UCC is rooted in and proud of its Afrocentric heritage," Thomas said. "This is no different than the hundreds of UCC churches from the German Evangelical and Reformed stream that continue to own and celebrate their German heritage, insisting on annual sausage and sauerkraut dinners and singing Stille Nacht on Christmas Eve. Recognizing and celebrating our distinctive racial-ethnic heritages, cultures, languages and customs are what make us unique as a united and uniting denomination."

While Trinity UCC is predominately African American, it does include and welcome non-Black members. The Rev. Jane Fisler-Hoffman, Illinois Conference Minister, who is white, has been a member of the congregation for years.

"Trinity is a destination church for many members of the UCC, a multi-racial, multi-cultural denomination that is largely Caucasian," Thomas pointed out. "When in Chicago, many UCC members flock to Trinity to share in and learn from its vibrant ministries, dynamic worship and justice-minded membership. Contrary to the claims made in these hateful emails, UCC members know Trinity to be one of the most welcoming, hospitable and generous congregations in our denomination."

Trinity UCC was founded in 1961. Ten years later, when the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright became its pastor, the church had 87 families. Today, Trinity UCC has more than 8,000 members, 70 ministries and three Sunday worship services.

Trinity UCC is also the largest congregational contributor to Our Church's Wider Mission, the UCC's common purse for regional, national and international ministries.

The circulating e-mails are written to appear as if they are coming from a groundswell of persons, with different names and e-mail addresses. But each uses nearly identical language, makes similar claims and even manages to make the same mistakes. For example, each makes introductory reference to "Trinity Church of Christ" instead of "Trinity United Church of Christ."

"It's clear that someone is using the internet to give the appearance of widespread concern and, thus, to hopefully create traction for this absurd story," Thomas said.

About the UCC

Formed by name in 1957 by the union of the Congregational Christian Churches in America and the [German] Evangelical and Reformed Church, the UCC's roots in American history are deep. Eleven signers of the Declaration of Independence were from UCC traditions, and a full 10 percent of present-day UCC congregations were formed prior to 1776.

Many UCC churches trace their founding to the early 1600s, when the Pilgrims and Puritans first came to America. These Congregationalists, as they became known, sought religious independence from persecuting political authorities in Europe. They believed firmly in local church autonomy, covenantal church life, personal piety and the priesthood of all believers.

Today, the UCC holds firmly to these early religious tenets. Often recognized for its historical and contemporary social justice commitments, its present-day approach to worship, however, might be considered traditional by most standards.

Interestingly, the U.S. Congregational Life Survey, published in 2002, found that UCC members, slightly more than members of other mainline denominations, listed traditional hymns and biblically-sound preaching as being essential to good worship. Surprising to some, the same study also found that slightly more UCC members self-identified as conservative rather than liberal a tidbit that President Calvin Coolidge, a conservative Republican and the nation's only Congregationalist president (1923-1929), might have found interesting.

Although each congregation's liturgical style is influenced by its heritage and members preferences, as is true in most mainline denominations, the UCC, as one pastor aptly put it, is known for its "beautiful, heady and exasperating" mix.

Known for arriving early on social justice issues, the church's history includes being the first to practice democracy in church governance (1630), the first to ordain an African-American pastor (1785), the first to ordain a woman (1853), the first to ordain an openly gay man (1972), and the first to support same-gender marriage equality (2005).

In 1773, Old South UCC in Boston helped inspire the Boston Tea Party and, in 1777, Old Zion Reformed UCC in Allentown, Pa., hid the Liberty Bell from occupying British forces.

Hundreds of schools including Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, Howard, Fisk, Wellesley, Smith and Oberlin owe their beginnings to the UCC. The UCC's publishing company, The Pilgrim Press, is the oldest publisher of books in North America.

Obama and his family live in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood, which is home to Chicago Theological Seminary, one of the UCC's seven seminaries and the city's oldest institution of higher education.

Largely regarded as a northern church, about 80 percent of UCC members are clustered in the Northeast and industrial Midwest. The UCC is the largest Protestant church in New England, the birthplace of Congregationalism, and it has more than 700 churches in Pennsylvania, the heart of the German Reformed tradition. The UCC is also strong in New York, Missouri, Florida, Hawaii and the Pacific West Coast.

In Iowa and New Hampshire, two states with early Presidential contests, the UCC has 188 and 138 congregations respectively.

In recent years, the UCC has posted growth in the South. The denominations second largest church, the 5,500-member Victory UCC near Atlanta, affiliated with the UCC in 2002. The UCC's fourth-largest, the 4,300-member Cathedral of Hope UCC in Dallas, Texas, joined in 2006, as did churches in Memphis and Nashville, Tenn.; Montgomery, Ala.; and Columbia, S.C., among other places.

Last year, the UCC launched its national Nehemiah Project with plans to start or welcome at least 250 new southern churches within five years.

While Obama is the only UCC candidate in the 2008 presidential election, the 2004 campaign included two UCC members, both Democrats. Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, now chair of the Democratic Party, is a member of First Congregational UCC in Burlington, Vt., and then U.S. Senator Bob Graham is a member of Miami Lakes Congregational UCC in Florida.

The current U.S. Congress includes 10 UCC members -- five Republicans and five Democrats.

Five U.S. Senators are UCC: Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Obama.

Five House seats are occupied by UCC members: Thelma Drake (R-Va.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Jim Ramstad (R-Minn.), Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.).

Other notable UCC members include New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine (D); former U.S. Sen. Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.); actress Lynn Redgrave; current U.S. Poet Laureate Donald Hall; Pulitzer-prize-winning newspaper columnists Connie Schultz (and wife of U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio) and Leonard Pitts Jr.; and Marilynne Robinson, the Pulitzer-prize-winning author of Gilead.

The Rev. Andrew Young former congressman, U.N. ambassador and Atlanta mayor is an ordained UCC minister, who began his Civil Rights activism working for the UCC.

The late Rev. William Sloane Coffin, the legendary social activist who became immortalized as the pastor in Gary Trudeau's Doonesbury comic strip, had ministerial standing in the UCC and served as pastor of the UCC's Riverside Church in New York.

The Rev. Reinhold Niebuhr, a UCC minister considered to be one of greatest Christian theologians of the 20th century, authored the now-famous Serenity Prayer.

Friday, January 11, 2008

More Random Musings

President Bush said in a recent interview that he was going to be supporting a Republican candidate. This piece of information was reported. One has to be impressed by that kind of depth in investigative reporting.

Rudy Giuliani campaign workers are having to go without being paid. Winning and losing in this season tends to direct the money flow. Rudy is not getting the money.

John Kerry endorsed Barack Obama. Talk about getting the political kiss of death. John Kerry did not endorse his former running mate, John Edwards, whose career he, Kerry, probably destroyed. John Kerry. Mr. Loyalty. And he refused to endorse Hillary Clinton because she did not support him when he said something stupid. That seems to indicate that she has an IQ, so he decided to endorse poor Barack Obama. That was as helpful to Obama as Pat Robertson endorsing Rudy Giuliani.

The writers strike is pretty devastating. Last night Jay Leno had on a priest, a minister, and a rabbi to tell, priest, minister, and rabbi jokes. Old, priest, minister, and rabbi jokes.

It's funny how comedians aren't very funny without writers.

This strike, of course, enables us to have more reality shows. If that doesn't depress you, nothing will.

Dr. Phil is in trouble. He, of course, recently diagnosed Britney Spears as being majorly troubled. I'm so glad we have Dr. Phil. I'm not sure anyone else could have concluded that piece of information.

My favorite cable show right now is "Morning Joe." Joe Scarborough, a former Republican Congressman from Florida is the host. His co-host is a long time journalist named Mika Brzezinski whose father is Zbignew Brzezinski who worked in the Carter Administration. They have entertaining banter but also some very interesting exchanges. Lots of major players show up each morning and make the show a very insightful program. This is the show that replaced Don Imus----which I never watched.

Speaking of cable news. Bill O'Reilly tried to push an Obama aid out of the way to get to Obama. O'Reilly was soon reminded of the fact that Obama has Secret Service protection. Despite the fact that it was all filmed and shown on lots of channels, O'Reilly denied this took place. One can only be amazed...

Dennis Kucinich is demanding a recount in New Hampshire. Memo to Dennis. You lost. Get over it.

Also, Dennis, while we are at it, you will lose in South Carolina and Michigan as well as many, many other places. Just brace yourself.

The new buzz is that Barack Obama practices Islam and that the United Church of Christ is really an Islamic front. This kind of stupidity just drives me crazy.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008


My sister passed this e-mail to me. It embellishes part of what I wrote in my previous post. The grammar and spelling issues in the e-mail are not mine or from my sister, but from the wisdom of the person who composed it:

ur country needs to pay attention to the upcoming election!!!! See below:
> Obama mentioned his church during his appearance with Oprah. It's the
> Trinity Church of Christ. I found this interesting.Obama's church:Please
> read and go to this church's website and read what is written there. It is
> very alarming.Barack Obama is a member of this church and is running for
> President of the U.S. If you look at the first page of their website, you
> will learn that this congregation has a non-negotiable commitment to
> Africa. No where is AMERICA even mentioned. Notice too, what color you
> will need to be if you should want to join Obama's church... B-L-A-C-K!!!
> Doesn't look like his choice of religion has improved much over his
> (former?) Muslim upbringing. Are you aware that Obama's middle name is
> Mohammed? Strip away his nice looks, the big smile and smooth talk and
> what do you ! get? Ce rtainly a racist, as plainly defined by the stated
> position of his church! And possibly a covert worshiper of the Muslim
> faith, even today. This guy desires to rule over America while his loyalty
> is totally vested in a Black Africa!I cannot believe this has not been all
> over the TV and newspapers. This is why it is so important to pass this
> message along to all of our family & friends. To think that Obama has even
> the slightest chance in the run for the presidency, is really scary.

Trinity has this posted on their website:

We are a congregation which is Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian... Our roots in the Black religious experience and tradition are deep, lasting and permanent. We are an African people, and remain "true to our native land," the mother continent, the cradle of civilization. God has superintended our pilgrimage through the days of slavery, the days of segregation, and the long night of racism. It is God who gives us the strength and courage to continuously address injustice as a people, and as a congregation. We constantly affirm our trust in God through cultural expression of a Black worship service and ministries which address the Black Community.

The Pastor as well as the membership of Trinity United Church of Christ is committed to a 10-point Vision:

  1. A congregation committed to ADORATION.
  2. A congregation preaching SALVATION.
  3. A congregation actively seeking RECONCILIATION.
  4. A congregation with a non-negotiable COMMITMENT TO AFRICA.
  5. A congregation committed to BIBLICAL EDUCATION.
  6. A congregation committed to CULTURAL EDUCATION.
  8. A congregation committed to LIBERATION.
  9. A congregation committed to RESTORATION.
  10. A congregation working towards ECONOMIC PARITY.
Trinity Church is an active congregation within the United Church of Christ. They fully participate in the life of the denomination and Jeremiah Wright is a colleague and friend of many within our denomination and has spoken at many functions that were racially mixed or almost all Caucasian. What is written in this e-mail is grotesque and untrue.

First, this is not and never has been a 'covert' group worshiping Islam. Wright is, as he states, unapologetically Christian.

Secondly, when they say that they are committed to a Biblical Education, everything, and I mean everything they do there includes Bible Study time. Choir rehearsal is broken into two parts. Part one, Bible Study, and then Part two. They do it this way so no one can come late or leave early.

The commitment to being African is very much based upon the fact that the ancestors of the African American population did not migrate to the United States on their own free will. Being an Italian American there are distinctly Italian traditions my family brought over and still resonate and live within the family. When the African folks were brought here, they were stripped of their culture. Wright's concern is that unless you help people connect with from whence they came, they will never have a complete identity. He is trying to enable folks to see from whence they came and take pride in that.

If you don't like Trinity United Church of Christ, do not attend. If you disagree with their approach, do not attend. But do not pass on things that defame a church in such an irresponsible fashion.

Random Political Intrigue Items

You might not be intrigued by I am a news junkie with politics.

First thoughts are that we need to not presume the press and pundits and polls are remotely accurate. To say that they missed what was going to happen in New Hampshire is an understatement. Something went wrong. I don't know if the pollsters asked the wrong questions or if people lied or what took place. It could possibly be that the people of New Hampshire were annoyed that others were telling them what to do. Maybe the Democratic Party is not yet ready to coronate a Presidential candidate as of yet. I sincerely like Hillary Clinton and always have. I love listening to Obama but I worry that he doesn't have the experience to step in and deal with the mess he's going to have to deal with. I wish he'd been in the Senate longer. I felt truly bad for him last night. He went through the day thinking that he was in the process of having a great win only to find out he lost. It has to hurt.

I'm getting a sense that John Edwards is done.

My wife shared with me that a woman called the Francine show and said that she had attended Worship at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. Trinity is the largest church in my denomination and is pastored by Jeremiah Wright one of the most prominent African American preachers/pastors in the country.

The woman in a magnificent display of religious and cultural bigotry was appalled that this African American congregation in an African American part of Chicago acted like an African American congregation. She was offended that Wright was pro-African American rights.

She said that Wright was anti-semitic. Actually, he's pro-Palestinian which does not make him anti-semitic.

And, of course, this church did the horrible thing of welcoming everyone. She felt that the world needs to know what kind of church Obama attends so that they don't vote for him.


I suspect with Hillary and Barack in this race we are going to see that there is still a great deal of sexism and racism in the country. Someone at a Hillary rally was shouting that he wanted her to do his laundry. Makes you hope that he's single...

In the last Senate elections racist ads ran against Harold Ford and they worked. It is difficult to believe that people would sink low enough to make such is difficult to believe that people still have those feelings.

Many people believe that the northeast is this wildly left wing place where anything goes and will always vote for the most left-winged candidate.

Here are some realities of the northeast.

The old line northeast has a large blue collar population. They work hard and are getting crushed by the prosperity around them----prosperity that hasn't hit them. Growing up in New Jersey, New Jersey is a state of amazing contrasts. It is one of the poorest and most affluent state in the country all rolled into one small package. People vote for the Democrats consistently and pundits misconstrue the region as liberal. It's not. Many of these people still have their homes and give credit to any prosperity they might have to the unions.

I certainly have very mixed feelings about unions. They've done some good and some bad. Big time, both ways. But I understand why people are loyal to them. They are the reason that the Democrats often win in the northeast.

Who will play well in that region?

Hillary already does. Obama probably does, but I don't see him being as strong there as Hillary will be. John Edwards won't play at all there.

Amongst the Republicans, Rudy is a native. Rudy is a walking, breathing, example of many New Yorkers. I wonder if he's too New York to play elsewhere, however.

McCain will play okay there. People do like war heroes and he is one.

Huckabee won't play there at all. It is a largely Roman Catholic region and the Baptist thing doesn't play well there. It just doesn't. It's not because he is Baptist, that's not an issue. It's just so central to who he is and he speaks in a theological language that Roman Catholic people do not speak. Religion is cultural as much as it's theological and the Evangelical culture and the Roman Catholic culture are quite different.

Mitt Romney, however, plays quite well in the northeast. He is very attractive to the 'newer' northeasterners and the people who have been very economically prosperous. His religion, in the northeast, won't matter. He may be a devout Mormon, but it doesn't seem to define him as much as Huckabee is defined.

What I do find interesting about these races is that we are seeing the vastness and the cultural differences of states and regions. It is an amazing civics lesson for everyone.

Except maybe the woman who called Francine...

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Grown Ups Returned

As I watched the results in New Hampshire I came to the conclusion that the grown ups returned. Hillary Clinton and John McCain are actually two people who have a clue. Interestingly enough, they are voices of moderation amongst the looney tunes.

One could not have been very pleased with Mike Huckabee's win in Iowa if one is truly serious. He seems to be a very nice person and does appear to be very sincere. The problem is, from a substance point of view here is what I know. He's anti-abortion, anti-gay, and pro-Christmas. I do like to think that the average American is looking for more.

John McCain, it seems to me, actually has a world view. Whether one agrees or disagrees with him, he's a serious man who ought to be taken seriously.

One could not have been pleased with Barack Obama's win in Iowa if one is truly serious. He is very charismatic and can really work the crowd. He provides a lot of sizzle.

The thing is Hillary doesn't provide sizzle, she provides substance. Like McCain, whether one agrees or disagrees with her, she is a serious woman who ought to be taken seriously.

I can't help but thinking that the people of New Hampshire reminded people of something. Huckabee's a nice guy and Obama provides sizzle. But it's time for the grown ups to step up.

They did.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Football Musings

I'm in a good mood. The Giants played a great game yesterday and won. I want them to win in Dallas, BADLY, and I will feel badly if they lose, but, I will think that they had a great season. They did. I was disappointed at the end of last year when they didn't fire Tom Coughlin. Coughlin coached well this year, got the right man for his defense, and they had a great season under him. Coughlin (and Manning) have brought them to the playoffs three years in a row and that's pretty dang good.

The Giants didn't have a monkey on their backs yesterday, they had an entire zoo. They won and the zoo is gone. Now Giants fans get to sweat out another week.

Some big plays. Burress, object of derision of Ronde Barber, beat Barber on a crucial third and long play.

In the Giants last touchdown, Eli pump faked Ronde out of his jockstrap and threw the ball to Toomer who was wide open in the end zone because Eli had faked Barber out so badly. Sweet, sweet stuff. Those Barber boys are good guys and very articulate and smart. They sometimes say a bit too much, however.

The Chargers looked really good. The Titans stopped LT and Rivers, like Manning, stepped up and won the game for his team.

Vince Young is a second year quarterback who is banged up and he was not very mobile yesterday. He's young and it's difficult to say what kind of player he'll be long term. He's not yet an effective pocket passer. That's not to say he won't be, but that hasn't been his game until now and for better or worse, effective QB's in the NFL tend to be people who can throw from the pocket.

Big Ben is a good QB in Pittsburgh, and his enthusiasm is great. He helped lose the game yesterday, however. Sometimes in trying to do too much, you end up being a detriment.

Thus endeth my thoughts at the moment.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Faith and Politics----A Cautious Dance

The Iowa Caucuses produced two winners who are very up front that they are people of faith.

Much has been made of the fact that Mike Huckabee is a Baptist minister and very much driven by his faith. However, Barack Obama is an equally devout Christian, a member of the United Church of Christ. They are both driven by faith and often their faith drives them in different directions. These two individuals are both, in many ways, very much representative of the much spoken about Religious Right and the rarely spoken about Religious Left.

I believe that both men are sincere about their faith journeys and offer the world a perspective that sincere people of faith can differ in where their faith takes them.

Faith does motivate politics. Very often what people take from their faith challenges them to do something in the public arena.

American history is filled with such instances.

The American Revolution, the desire for freedom, was preached in pulpits.

The issue of slavery saw pulpits in the north and the south speak of the same subject from opposite perspectives. Many of said that if it wasn’t for the forceful anti-slavery preaching of the 1850's the Civil War and the end of slavery might not have come about. (It’s ironic to note that the preaching helped bring about a war...a bad thing...that ended with no slavery in the nation...a good thing.)

Racial justice was a hot button issue in churches. Take note that many civil rights leaders were clergy. Protestations on the war in Vietnam also had foundations in many churches.

Interestingly enough in each instance there was sharp disagreement amongst the churches. Churches in our past have not all had the same message and that trend or tradition continues.

I do believe that faith does drive politics but it is not as clear or as easy as it is often made out to be. For Christians, Jesus did not make this subject particularly easy.

One of my favorite writers was a Roman Catholic priest named Henri Nouwen. Nouwen combined deep spirituality with great intelligence and wrote some incredibly beautiful books. In his magnificent, The Wounded Healer, he said this about Jesus:

"Jesus was a revolutionary, who did not become an extremist, since he did not offer an ideology, but Himself. He was also a mystic, who did not use his intimate relationship with God to avoid the social evils of his time, but shocked his milieu to the point of being executed as a rebel. In this sense he also remains for nuclear man the way to liberation and freedom."

Let me break this down a bit.

“Jesus was a revolutionary, who did not become an extremist, since he did not offer an ideology, but Himself.”

Jesus was not a status quo kind of guy. He was a revolutionary in the fact that he spoke of the Kingdom of God as opposed to the Kingdom of Israel or the Kingdom of Rome. He wasn’t interested in earthly kingdoms and this was revolutionary. It still is actually.

But part of what made Jesus unique was that he was not an extremist because, as Nouwen said so well, he offered no ideology.

I find myself more and more offended by people who use the words liberal and conservative in regards to Christianity. The words are never used in the Bible and, frankly, give people an out from thinking through things. Over the years I’ve had to be entertained by far too many fools trying to convince me that the words are important. All they manage to do is to look more ignorant and to make the point that people are often too lazy to grapple with issues in a complex manner. (As an aside, I’d love to see the word MORON pop up every time a Presidential candidate uses either word. It might actually force them to use their brains instead of slogans...)

Ideologies are paths to things. Jesus had no ideology. He saw himself as the path. When preachers preach ideologies, they are not preaching Jesus.

Nouwen goes on to say:

He was also a mystic, who did not use his intimate relationship with God to avoid the social evils of his time, but shocked his milieu to the point of being executed as a rebel. In this sense he also remains for nuclear man the way to liberation and freedom."

Jesus walked head-long into the social ills of his day. He associated with the poorest of the poor, the prostitutes, the users of prostitutes, tax collectors, and the sickest of the sick. Those who were sick were classified as ‘cursed by God’ for their sins and so his association with them made him a rather large target for his critics.

In ancient times there was a premise of honor and shame. If you ever watched the movie, Gladiator, it pointed this out a great deal. Jesus sought no honor, had no shame, but was actually shameless. He saw himself as a servant leader, as a person who was shocking to the world he lived in. His execution was the only way the culture he lived in could comprehend.

When political leaders are actually willing to HUMBLY address the issues of the day, and truly see themselves as the servants of the people, then we are encountering a person of great faith. That’s the person I’m interested in seeing. Sadly, I doubt I’ll see such an individual in my lifetime.

Thursday, January 03, 2008


Well, my predictions were wrong. I love outsmarting myself once in a while.

The Iowa Caucuses

It is a big night. It's awfully early, but it is a big night in Iowa.

I'll weigh in on my predictions.

For the Democrats, my prediction is that John Edwards will win, followed by Hillary Clinton, followed by Barack Obama who will come in a distant third.

My rationale on this is simple. Edwards did well here and I think of the three he has the most effective populist message. I believe that he plays well and will continue to play well in Iowa. Most importantly, Edwards' people are the most likely to come to the caucus. I think that he will also attract the "I don't think Hillary can win," vote.

Hillary Clinton has an effective machine and has a polished message. That actually may be the problem. She almost seems to be too polished to be real. Additionally, the anti-Clinton folks are always out there.

Obama. I'm not sure if he's the real deal or just the sizzle. He is charismatic and exciting, but I'm still wondering what lies beyond that. He has huge support amongst the young and that's going to hurt him at the caucus. His support is among those who traditionally don't show up. Maybe he will change this.

Among the Republicans.... I predict that Romney is going to come in first, with Huckabee in second, and McCain in third. Romney has a strong machine, he's charismatic, and has demonstrated competence in several levels. Like him or not, he's competent and capable.

Mike Huckabee is likable and sincere and has the knowledge depth of a tissue. I think he'll do reasonably well in Iowa, but will be creamed in New Hampshire and not be able to do much beyond that. He doesn't have the money or the organization.

John McCain is a guy who attracts many independents. Of our last two Presidents, one spent the Vietnam War in England and the other on the barroom floor. McCain is a real American hero and a genuine person. I think he'll be a surprise in Iowa.

Fred Thompson never showed up and Rudy Giuliani is too New York and spent too much time as the major wearing his pants around his knees. I can't see him winning the Republican nomination. Democrats find sexual sins forgivable and monetary corruption sins to be lethal; the Republicans are willing to overlook monetary corruption, but not sexual sins. Rudy doesn't have a prayer.

Am I right? Who knows? It will be interesting to watch.