Our collective futures depend on your willingness to uphold your duties as a citizen. To vote. To speak out. To stand up for others, especially the weak, especially the vulnerable, knowing that each of us is only here because somebody, somewhere, stood up for us.
-- President Barack Obama, the 2016 State of the Union address
This week's featured posts are "The Positive Republican Message, Annotated" and "There's a Lot to Know about the Militia Takeover". As always on MLK Monday, I want to flash back to my attempt to guard the radical career of Martin Luther King against those who would reduce it one over-simplified quote: "MLK: Sanitized for Their Protection".
This week everybody was talking about the State of the Union
Tuesday, President Obama gave his final State of the Union address. [video, text] I see it as the beginning of his victory lap: No matter what you may hear from the Republican presidential candidates, the United States is much better off than it was when he took office. Other than ObamaCare or the Iran nuclear deal, his accomplishments haven't been flashy. But he came into office telling his administration "Don't do stupid stuff" -- like invading Iraq, say, or passing another huge tax cut for the rich -- and for the most part they haven't. It's amazing how well America can do if the president isn't doing stupid stuff.
No doubt the victory lap will peak with an appearance at the Democratic convention this summer. I expect the delegates to clap for a long, long time.
This week President Obama frustrated yet again everyone who wants a war with Iran. Tuesday, Iran seized two American patrol boats and the ten sailors aboard them, claiming they had entered Iranian waters (which seems to be true). The next day the boats and the sailors were released without anyone needing to "unleash the full force and fury of the United States" as Ted Cruz pledged to do at Thursday night's presidential debate.
At the time the nuclear deal with Iran was being debated in Congress, critics objected that the Obama administration was "leaving behind" several Americans held in Iran, including Christian minister Saeed Abedini and Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian. The administration argued that those negotiations were better handled separately rather than putting everything together in an omnibus package. Well, Saturday, the United States and Iran completed a prisoner swap that included Abedini and Rezaian. They weren't left behind.
It's probably not a coincidence that Saturday also marked the end of economic sanctions against Iran, as the International Atomic Energy Agency verified that Iran had complied with its part of the nuclear deal. The sanctions had frozen Iran's deposits in the international banking system, which have been estimated anywhere from $50-$150 billion.
Republican candidates try to make this sound like a U.S. payoff to the Iranians. For example, Donald Trump characterized the deal as: "They get $150 billion, plus seven [prisoners] and we get four [prisoners]." But the money was always theirs; we were simply holding it hostage. Obama "gave" the Iranians nothing.
What the end of sanctions will do is let Iran return to the international oil market. The anticipation of Iranian oil coming onto the market is part of why oil prices have been collapsing lately. So yes, President Obama does deserve some credit for gas prices falling below $2 a gallon.
and the continuing Oregon militia stand-off
I cover that in "There's a Lot to Know about the Militia Takeover".
and deaths of cultural icons
If you're my age, chances are David Bowie meant something special to you. It was always hard to separate his life from his art, and now it is hard to separate his death from his art, as in the "Lazarus" video from his final album Blackstar.
I feel remiss in not having noted the death of Meadowlark Lemon when it happened at the end of 2015. Like all athletes who make it into their 80s, Meadowlark long outlived his glory days. Many young people probably know nothing about him, and possibly nothing about the Harlem Globetrotters in general, who still exist but aren't the cultural force they once were.
The Globetrotters began in an era when American professional sports leagues were still segregated, and black athleticism was only safe for whites if it came wrapped in comedy. (In baseball, Satchel Paige was a similar package of athletic skill and comedic showmanship.)
In Meadowlark's lifetime the NBA was open to blacks, but for working-class white boys of my generation it still was chancy to openly imitate black stars like Bill Russell or Oscar Robertson. (I never told anybody that my reverse lay-up was styled after a photo of Elgin Baylor. That's one reason the "Be Like Mike" series of Gatorade commercials in the 90s -- with kids of all races pretending to be Michael Jordan -- could sometimes make me tear up.) But imitating a funny stunt by Meadowlark or his wild-dribbling teammate Curly Neal was OK.
and the Episcopal Church
The Episcopal Church is one of the oldest religious organizations in America, going back to the Church of England's extension to the North American colonies. George Washington attended the Church of Virginia, which why a bust of him has been in the crypt of St. Paul's in London since 1921. (I've seen it.)
Thursday, that centuries-old connection frayed, as a convocation of primates from the Anglican churches of 44 countries met in Canterbury, and suspended the Episcopal Church from participation in governance of the Anglican Communion. The primates' official statement says:
we formally acknowledge this distance by requiring that for a period of three years The Episcopal Church no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity.
The "distance" arises from the Episcopalians' increasing tolerance of homosexuality, which is particularly odious to the African Anglican leaders. An openly gay Episcopal bishop was elected in 2003, and same-sex marriages were officially recognized in July. The role of women is also an issue, though many other Anglican churches ordain women as priests. Katharine Jefferts Schori was presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church from 2006-2014.
Such issues have led to the formation of a rival Anglican Church in North America, which is not officially recognized by the Anglican Communion, but is recognized by numerous African Anglican churches.
It's hard to see how this issue resolves in three years, or in anything other than a permanent separation, since Episcopalians don't seem likely to back down. "We're committed to being a house of prayer for all," said current Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. The most eloquent expression of that position came from Jim Naughton, the former head of the archdiocese of Washington, D.C.: "We can't repent what is not sin."
The Daily Beast's Jay Michaelson sees the Anglican/Episcopal rift as
just the surface of a much deeper division, reflecting the polarization of Christian life in the 21st century.
and you might also be interested in
This week's guns-make-us-safer story concerns an Ohio man who killed his son. The 14-year-old's skipping-school plan involved sneaking back into the basement after apparently going out to catch the bus. His father heard a noise downstairs and shot at what he believed to be an intruder.
Sociologist Victor Tan Chen elaborates on the recent study showing declining life expectancy for working-class whites, predominately due to despair-related health problems (like suicide and addiction) in middle age. Chen focuses not just on the declining economic opportunities for less-educated whites (a problem they share with less-educated non-whites, whose life expectancy is still increasing), but the simultaneous decline in sources of community (like church or union membership), and in long-term marriages. When economic disaster strikes, a go-it-alone attitude and an ideal of rugged individualism may leave a person more vulnerable to despair than a better-connected person who is even worse off financially.
Charles Alan Martin tells how his thinking about Black Lives Matter has changed:
Up until this point, I’ve stubbornly held onto the presumption that BLM needed to somehow deliver their message in a way I could find palatable when, in reality, I wasn’t owed a damned thing.
I had a similar realization just before I wrote "Why BLM Protesters Can't Behave".
The debate over whether Ted Cruz is a "natural born citizen" of the United States -- which the Constitution mentions as a requirement for the presidency -- has heated up.
I admit, it's satisfying to watch Cruz have to deal with this after all the completely baseless noise he and his fellow conservatives (like his Dad, for example) made about President Obama's citizenship. I think this is a bullshit issue, but Cruz has made a career out of bullshit.
Even so, my position is simple: We have to respect the clear constitutional requirements (like being at least 35 years old), but any ambiguity should be interpreted to maximize voter choice. I will be very sad (and worried) if the American people elect Ted Cruz as our next president. But the place to stop him is at the ballot box; I don't want to disqualify him on a technicality.
Cruz is also dealing with the revelation that he funded his Senate campaign with loans from Goldman Sachs, where his wife works, and didn't report it properly. NPR explains the possible ramifications.
And I question how much influence David Brooks has on the Republican electorate, but the conservative NYT columnist wasn't pulling any punches in "The Brutalism of Ted Cruz":
Ted Cruz is now running strongly among evangelical voters, especially in Iowa. But in his career and public presentation Cruz is a stranger to most of what would generally be considered the Christian virtues: humility, mercy, compassion and grace. ... He sows bitterness, influences his followers to lose all sense of proportion and teaches them to answer hate with hate. This Trump-Cruz conservatism looks more like tribal, blood and soil European conservatism than the pluralistic American kind.
BTW, "tribal, blood and soil European conservatism" sounds to me like a roundabout way of saying "fascism".
And while I'm on that subject (again), here's a fascinating historical tidbit from Robert O. Paxton's The Anatomy of Fascism:
The term national socialism seems to have been invented by the French nationalist author Maurice Barrès, who described the aristocratic adventurer the Marquis de Morès in 1896 as "the first national socialist." Morès, after failing as a cattle rancher in North Dakota, returned to Paris in the early 1890s and organized a band of anti-Semitic toughs who attacked Jewish shops and offices. As a cattleman, Morès found his recruits among the slaughterhouse workers in Paris, to whom he appealed with a mixture of anticapitalism and anti-Semitic nationalism. His squads wore the cowboy garb and ten-gallon hats that the marquis had discovered in the American West, which thus predate black and brown shirts (by a modest stretch of the imagination) as the first fascist uniform.
Keep that in mind as you watch Ammon Bundy and his fellow militia yahoos in Oregon.
Some insight into Trump supporters from a Muslim woman who attended a rally in a hijab.
Now that Michael Bay's Benghazi movie 13 Hours is out, the long-debunked myths about Benghazi are likely to be trotted out again. Fortunately, Media Matters has put together a convenient video debunking yet again the four biggest Benghazi myths. Bookmark it, and use as needed in Facebook arguments.
If you vote for a party that's against government regulation, don't be surprised if your tap water ends up poisoning you.
and let's close with something you can start watching tonight
War and Peace, the miniseries.