A Bishop, a Rabbi and an Imam Appear on “Morning Joe,” Advocating Peace

The Web Goddess works for the Episcopal Diocese of Newark, and for over a year has been supporting her boss, Bishop Mark Beckwith, in his work with the Newark Interfaith Coalition for Hope and Peace.  I first discussed this effort after an interfaith service on the 10th anniversary of September 11.

Yesterday Bishop Beckwith and his interfaith colleagues, Rabbi Matthew Gewirtz and Imam Deen Shareef, were guests on “Morning Joe” with Joe Scarborough on MSNBC.  Their measured and thoughtful discussion of the spiritual implications of the Newtown massacre was a sharp contrast to the preceding shoutfest about the fiscal cliff.

The complete segment can be found on the Morning Joe site, which also has a transcript and a nifty ability to create and embed a sub-clip.  For my Episcopal friends, if you can’t spare 8:44 to watch the whole thing, the 1:13 sub-clip below has Bishop Beckwith discussing fear and a culture of violence.

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Time’s “Person of the Year” Essay Provides Insights on Obama’s Victory

It’s no surprise, of course, that Barack Obama was named Time‘s Person of the Year.  In presidential election years, the winner of the election has been named POY in 12 out of 22 times, including 9 of the last 13 and 4 of the last 4. (That’s original research; I counted them up myself.  You’re welcome.)

But I was surprised when I read the magazine’s POY essay. I was expecting a glowing hagiography, reminiscent of when the just-elected Obama was sanctified by the Nobel Peace Prize committee.  Instead I found a clear-eyed assessment of the re-election effort and why it was successful.

The passage I found most persuasive is set up by a statement from the head of the campaign’s research team that “undecided voters… were making a very trust-based assessment between Obama and Romney.”

This became the through line of the brutal and at times unfair Obama attacks on Romney — the cracks about car elevators, the specious mention of his potentially felonious Securities and Exchange Commission filings, the false claim that he supported an abortion ban without a rape exception, the endless harping on a Swiss bank account once held in his wife’s name. It all spoke to a central message built around trust: One man, despite his failures, had voters like you in mind. The other man, by contrast, knew how to make a lot of money for people you will never meet.

Of course, Romney turned out to be Obama’s biggest ally in that narrative.

Indeed he did.  Romney’s “47 percent” blatherings probably ended whatever chance he might have had at victory. As the left gleefully pointed out, he ended up with 47 percent of the popular vote.

One final thought: Is anyone else puzzled by Time‘s decision to dramatically darken the Obama “Person of the Year” cover photo?  Didn’t they learn their lesson in 1994?

Newtown and Chengping: Stark Contrast in the Gun Control Debate

On Friday a madman entered a small-town elementary school and launched an attack on the children, leaving more than 20 casualties behind.  But I’m not talking about Connecticut.

In a coincidence almost too bizarre to believe, a school attack occurred on the same day in the village of Chengping, in Henan Province, China.  News coverage from Newtown is drowning out the atrocity in Chengping, but two key differences jump out.  In China, the casualty toll is 23 injured, zero killed, no life-threatening injuries. That’s roughly the inverse of Connecticut, where along with 26 dead there was only one injured survivor.

The second difference is that in China, the madman had a knife, not a gun.

I should emphasize at this point that I have no love or admiration for the Chinese government, and I certainly wouldn’t want to live there.  The CBS News article indicates that school attacks are, if anything, even more prevalent in China than here:

The attack marks the latest in a series of violent assaults at elementary schools in China. In 2010, a total of 18 children were killed in four separate attacks. On March 23 of that year, Zheng Minsheng attacked children at an elementary school in Fujian Province, killing eight.

One month later, just a few hours after Zheng Minsheng was executed for his crime, another man, Chen Kanbing wounded 16 students and a teacher in a knife attack at another primary school in Fujian. The following month, on May 12, a man named Wu Huangming killed seven children and two adults with a meat cleaver at a kindergarten in Shaanxi Province. That attack was followed by an August 4 assault by Fang Jiantang, who killed three children and one teacher with a knife at a kindergarten in Shandong Province.

In 2011, a young girl and three adults were killed with an axe at an elementary school in Henan Province by a 30-year-old man named Wang Hongbin, and eight children were hurt in Shanghai after an employee at a child care center attacked them with a box cutter.

So a total of 22 dead in China in six school attacks, beginning in 2010.  Horrific as that is, one young man left more dead behind in just a few minutes in Newtown.  The weapons in the six incidents in China: knife, knife, meat cleaver, knife, axe, box cutter.  It would appear that guns are harder to obtain in China than here. Perhaps that’s a good thing, although it comes bundled with a highly repressive government.

Gun control has never been a primary issue for me, and I have mixed feelings about it.  I wrote about the multiple shootings at Fort Hood and in Tucson without explicitly discussing Second Amendment issues, although I expressed admiration for the bystander with a legal concealed weapon who ran toward the gunfire in Tucson, prepared to even the odds.  I’m sympathetic to the argument that the presence of a good guy with a gun could help minimize the carnage when a madman opens fire.

Despite the Second Amendment’s reference to “a well-regulated militia,” in 2008 the Supreme Court ruled in Heller that “The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia,” and I think they got it right.  We can’t ban guns without overturning the Second Amendment, and there is no prospect of that.

But perhaps we can make guns harder to obtain, without becoming China in the process.

(Public domain photo from Wikipedia)

Lesson from the Mislabeled “Fiscal Cliff”: Please Spare Us Any Future Countdowns

A breathless Market Watch

Gimme a break.

Remember Y2K?

I rang in the year 2000 in a windowless Wall Street bunker, part of a multidisciplinary rapid-response team standing by to spring into action and muster resources from across the company in the event of a disaster anywhere in the world.

I performed this solemn duty while playing video games on my laptop.  I also practiced with a putter and golf ball someone else had brought. Every three hours the team assembled for a scheduled conference call with the company’s smaller command centers around the world, giving everyone a chance to tell jokes.

All this comes to mind, of course, during the breathless countdown to the so-called “fiscal cliff.”  Wolf Blitzer shows off the ticking clock every afternoon on CNN, and there are competing websites where you can get your own ticking clock widget for your blog or website. Please don’t.

Here’s Rex Nutting of the Wall Street Journal‘s MarketWatch.com to put it into perspective:

In truth, nothing much will happen to the economy on Jan. 1 or Jan. 2 or Jan. 3, despite the expiration of tax cuts and the automatic reductions in federal spending. … The fiscal cliff is a misleading metaphor. The laws will change on that day, it’s true, but the impact will be spread out over many, many months. In fact, the effects are already being felt, particularly in financial markets. Businesses, investors, workers and consumers have begun to prepare for the changes, and that’s caused the economy to slow a bit already.

It’s not a Niagara Falls, with billions of gallons going over a cliff. It’s more like a bathtub slowly filling up. And, on Jan. 1, it’s going to spill over the edge. Eventually, it will flood the house, but that’ll take time.

Hey Rex, tell it to whoever put a countdown clock on your own website’s homepage! Mercifully, the countdown craze for this manufactured crisis has not yet spread as widely as the craze for the last manufactured crisis — the debt ceiling struggle in 2011.  Here’s my take on that countdown:

Much of the news media is guilty of malpractice for pretending that August 2 was a consequential deadline.  The cable news networks and even the Washington Post had clocks ticking down the number of hours and minutes until midnight August 2, sometimes labeling those clocks as a countdown to default.  But if the clock had struck midnight without a deal in place, the awful consequences would have been… absolutely nothing.

The country would continue to pay most of its bills, including all of its debt-servicing bills, through the time-honored business practice of “maturing their payables” — making some creditors wait.  The next major step would be a partial shut-down of government, which certainly would have ratcheted up the drama.  But we were weeks away from any danger of default.

This countdown is perhaps slightly more real than the debt ceiling because at least it ends on a date where something actually will happen, whereas the deadline for the debt ceiling was an estimate pulled out of Tim Geithner’s ear three months in advance.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce jumped on the countdown bandwagon early, but to their credit they’re not displaying it now.

As a commenter pointed out in my previous post, the January 1 deadline was created by an act of legislature, and the same legislature can vote at any time to stop the clock or overturn the law altogether. If the President and the House Republicans don’t reach a deal before January 1, both sides will begin discussing plans to undo much of the damage triggered by the law.  Then the Republicans will have to fold their tent on the tax issue, unless they want to vote against a tax cut for the middle class.

One more Y2K memory: Later that holiday weekend, when I was off duty, someone found an actual problem to report! I got an urgent call at home from the communications person who was staffing the increasingly irrelevant command center.  I was the intranet guy at the time, managing the corporate homepage for our far-flung internal website. On a locally managed site overseas (I forget where), the Y2K preparations had missed a problematic bit of code.  A script had updated by adding 1 to the two-digit field for the year, resulting in an internal page dated January 1, 19100.

OK, I said.  I’ll call them Monday.


Fiscal Cliff Notes: It’s Hard to See Any Winning Scenario for the GOP

Who'll take the plunge?There’s a school of thought among conservatives that letting the country go over the “fiscal cliff” may be the least-bad option.  The “sequester” — the automatic across-the-board spending cuts that will accompany the tax increases set for January 1 if no deal is reached — may be the only way to accomplish any spending cuts.  Here’s Daniel Henninger in the Wall Street Journal:

Conventional wisdom holds that the sequester is a mindless anti-spending Godzilla. But the sequester, because it is set in legislative stone, possesses what Washington today lacks with the public: credibility.

The only issue on the cliff negotiation table held true by every serious person is that the entitlement crisis is going to crush the country. But nothing is dearer to this president than higher taxes on people defined by him as the wealthiest. If the president’s DNA prevents him from a compromise that also includes a sequester-strength commitment to disarming the entitlement bombs, much less discretionary spending, take the sequester. Better the fiscal cliff than pitching the American people over the bottomless entitlement cliff.

But polls make it clear that the public would blame the Republicans more than the Democrats if we go over the fiscal cliff.  And that’s not the only problem the GOP would have.

Play the game out: let’s say there is no deal by January 1, so taxes increase automatically for all working Americans.  Democrats quickly will propose legislation to reduce taxes on all but the top two percent of earners. Obama will vow to veto any tax cut for the highest earners, secure in the knowledge that such a veto would be easily upheld.  Then the Tea Party caucus  — the segment of the Republican Party which has tax cutting as part of its brand identity — would either have to support the Democratic proposal or explain that they are opposing tax cuts for the middle class as a matter of principle because the cuts don’t also extend to the highest earners. Ugh.

House Speaker John Boehner, at some risk to his speakership, took a giant step toward the president by proposing a tax increase of $800 billion on the highest-earning Americans.  The new revenue would come from eliminating or limiting loopholes and tax deductions — which would have less of a negative effect on the economy than a straight increase in the top marginal rates.  As Kathleen Parker wrote,

Boehner’s good-faith attempts at a deal, offering new revenue through reforms as well as leaning toward some limited tax-rate increases, have been met with mockery. Obama’s laughable idea of a balanced deal includes taking control of the debt ceiling and doubling revenue demands, while offering little in the way of spending cuts.

To go along with the tax increase, the President actually is proposing a spending increase in the short run. The plan includes some new spending, and all of the proposed spending cuts would be delayed by a year, on the pretext of reducing the immediate impact on the economy.  A year is a long time, and Republicans today are likely to find themselves in the same boat as Ronald Reagan — agreeing to tax increases in return for later spending cuts that never happen.

A deal in the next 22 days looks highly unlikely. Obama holds the trump cards, and he’s shown no inclination to make any concessions.

(Public domain photo from Wikipedia.)