Christmas and Politics

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As the political season winds down until 2016, and Christmas approaches, it is worthwhile to consider the differences between the two and their places in our lives.

Politics is full of sound and fury, self promotion and a shading of the truth, even among the most conscientious public servant.

There is a soullessness to politics, no matter the candidate, party or election. Politics is full of sound and fury, self promotion and a shading of the truth, even among the most conscientious public servant. Yes, politics can be noble, and it does address issues that matter. But it doesn’t fill the aching inside of us all, the desire for something more in this life.

Christmas is different. Not the bustle and the rush, not the shopping and cooking, not all the preparations. Christmas speaks of something better, something too wonderful to even contemplate. If you do believe in God, the Christmas story sounds just like the way He would arrange things. It rings of the truth, the truth with a capital T. And the love of God fits with the facts. John 3:15 makes sense in a logical manner, even going beyond one’s faith.

There are realities in this world we must address during our lives, both individually and collectively. And politics tries to do this in an earthly manner. Spiritual necessities, on the other hand, transcend our daily grind and force us to transcend ourselves in a way politics never can.

For the skeptics among us, consider the following: a long list of facts proving the existence of God and a long list doing the opposite sometimes seem to fight each other to a fifty-fifty tie. And that percentage proves the existence of God more than anything else. Isn’t that just the way God would arrange things? So to break the tie, we need to take a leap of faith. And once that leap is taken, the scales fall from our eyes, and we can’t believe how blind we have been. And that’s when we know that we know that we know. And we begin on the road to sanctification.

Politics, no matter how noble, can never take us on a journey like this. It can never fill the deep yearnings of the soul, though God knows it often tries to do so. Its upside-down world rewards self-promotion when humility is the real answer.

Keeping Terrorism in Perspective

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Last night’s Republican Presidential debate was dominated by discussions about  terrorism and national security. Yet while Paris and San Bernardino have captivated U.S. news coverage recently, it may be useful to take a moment to keep these events in perspective.

But we give terrorists too much credit when we react to a handful of deaths as if the sky were falling.

Thousands of people died during 9/11 and two iconic American structures, the buildings of the World Trade Center, came crashing down. But that tragedy occurred more than a decade ago, and the subsequent attacks have been more than minor in comparison.

Your chance of being decimated by a terrorist attack is approximately the same as being hit by lightning, and while the shooting in San Bernardino was a tragedy, when you compare it to the geographical and population of the entire United States, it is just a blip on the map.

That’s not to say that the lives needlessly lost are not worth troubling about. It’s just that if this is the best the terrorists can do, we should not obsess about it.

The United States does remain vulnerable to terrorist attack, and we must thwart these criminals wherever they wish to strike. And there are indeed other more horrible scenarios to contemplate, generally concerning germ or chemical warfare, or even God forbid, a nuclear weapon. But when we overreact to minor strikes, we can lose the focus we need to maintain on these true vulnerabilities.

Cyber warfare remains a major concern, especially concerning our electrical infrastructure, and nuclear power plants could be another source of trouble, especially when located near population centers such as Indian Point and New York City. But we give terrorists too much credit when we react to a handful of deaths as if the sky were falling.

Consider the Boston Marathon bombings. An entire city was paralyzed by an act of violence perpetrated by a small bomb, and one that was not even very effective at that. Yes, let’s fight terrorism, but let’s not give more credit to the terrorists than is there due.

Talking About Terrorism

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The bubble of Fox News watchers, those who get all their news from that illustrious channel, are living in a different world than the rest of us. With their information strictly controlled, they have become fearful and jittery by the coverage, part of the reason why President Obama felt compelled to give a speech from the Oval Office last night.

That doesn’t mean sending 100,000 troops to die in the Middle East, an action that could only be described as a temporary loss of sanity.

Of course, the Republican Presidential candidates panned the speech; they would have done so no matter what he said. But is their talk about terrorism any more realistic?

In a land where more than 10,000 people die by gun violence every year, and murder rates are surging across the United States in 2015, the impact of terrorism is miniscule at best. Of course, the calling card of terrorism, the unexpected nature of it, the impact on young and old alike, does deserve a muscular response.

But the loudest response should be coming from the Muslim community itself. God forbid, if Christianity or Judaism were generating violence, you would see all kinds of Pastors and Rabbis rushing to the pulpit to condemn it. We still don’t see that kind of response from Imams in the United States, or if it is occurring, the media has failed to report it.

Meanwhile, we need to respond in kind to the attacks against us. That doesn’t mean sending 100,000 troops to die in the Middle East, an action that could only be described as a temporary loss of sanity. It may require a temporary no-fly zone over Syria and the establishment of “safe places.”

But we need to push back against “the sky is falling” rhetoric being waged by Republican Presidential nominees. Their comments are aimed at a small minority of the Republican electorate and should not needlessly alarm our citizenry.

 

The Peculiar Nature of Terrorism

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Terrorism and violent political attacks, while relatively rare, strike a peculiar chord on citizens in advanced nations. We often take for granted the safety we have created for ourselves, the bubble-like environment we move about in our daily lives. The number of deaths we experience from terrorists represent a small percentage of total fatalities and have often been compared to getting hit by lightning and other rare occurrences.

We often take for granted the safety we have created for ourselves, the bubble-like environment we move about in our daily lives.

Yet this form of asymmetric warfare successfully changes our way of thinking and actions far more than other dangers. The peculiar nature of terrorism forces us to put ourselves in the place of the victims, mourn their untimely ends and then, drive us and our governments into a frenzy.

Major attacks such as 9/11 are the exception to the rule. Most of the massacres generate a death toll in the hundreds or less. Yet the unexpected nature of their occurrence and the innocence of those affected can force entire cities or even countries into lock down. Think about the Boston Marathon attack. Boston was paralyzed by two people acting alone.

And no matter how the target countries and citizens pledge not to fear afraid, the more you can see it in the frenzy our governments mobilize to prevent. When going to the movie theater doesn’t seem safe or when people take into account the likelihood of a bombing in their daily lives, the peculiar nature of terrorism is working it way deep inside our cultures.

Politicians can often contribute to the frenzy, but they are only reflecting the concerns of everyday citizenry. The reaction of the populace to a terrorist attack often demands security at any price. This results in excessive power given to the police, laws like the Patriot Act and the state of emergency in Paris and many other actions often difficult to reverse.

I’m not sure what cure to recommend for a stricken nation, but it seems decisions like these require the “pause” Republicans are recommending for other issues.

Third-World Terrorism Targets

parisIn the world of terrorism, it’s location, location, location. The destruction of the idyllic reverie of Paris startled the world. The attack the day before in Beirut did not. Not many know that 43 were killed there and more than 200 wounded. The Paris attack generated wall-to-wall cable coverage for more than a week.

The destruction of the idyllic reverie of Paris startled the world.

And what about the attack in Mali just yesterday. News programs are covering it out of necessity, because it relates to Paris, but if another terrorism attack hits a first-world country, who knows how we’ll react.

Of course, innocent civilians are just as vulnerable in Africa or Asia, but they’re used to violence and bombings, or so the story goes. But it’s clear from the media capitals of the world that a European life is more valuable than an African one, and especially more than the Middle East.

It’s not fair, but that’s how the world works. And eventually, the terrorists are going to figure that out, and that’s when we really need to worry. Of course, unlike much of the world, in America, we can go down to the corner store or the supermarket without wondering if we will encounter an explosion along the way.

But I have a feeling those days are numbered. As terrorists learn how to manipulate our system, and they will, we will have to join the rest of the world in a very tragic state of affairs.

One Man Against the System

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Some of my most liberal friends, and I say that as a form of praise, like Donald Trump, and I’m inclined to agree. Though I would never vote for him (Hillary has my heart), his whole style and shakeup of the Republican establishment is something to behold. His sizable ego aside, sometimes you just have to chuckle at his comments. Yesterday, I heard him parody Marco Rubio and actually laughed out loud. Trump said, and I’m paraphrasing, “Have you ever seen anyone sweat so much … and he drinks so much water. Glug, glug, glug, and then he’s sweating away again.” Of course, it has no bearing on Rubio’s skills, which are severely lacking, but Trump had the insult down to a tee.

The last time someone has taken on the system like Trump was Bob Dylan many years ago.

Despite their begrudging acceptance that Trump is in it for the duration, the other candidates don’t like him because nobody can control what he says. The last time someone has taken on the system like Trump was Bob Dylan many years ago. And that’s good company for a comparison.

Of course, if I were Hispanic, I would be troubled by Trump’s statements … as well as the rest of the Republican Party … and if you are a minority, today’s Republican Party is definitely not for you. And Hillary is starting to pick up her campaign now as she continues to learn how to become a better candidate. Hillary is actually a lot more feminine than she comes across on TV, and her humanity seems to get leached away by the coverage. Still, as she engages in retail politics over the next year, her compassion, intelligence and hard work will become known to all. Just like it was to New Yorkers when she became our Senator.

Basking in Benghazi?

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We all know those who are fair-weather friends, but even some of Hillary’s supporters could be forgiven for doubting her. Yet after a stellar week, she has put to rest rumors of her demise, spread incessantly by Fox News. And even in the face of relentless coverage of her personal email server, she has fought back against the partisanship freely admitted among Republicans.

… that’s the way that the cookie crumbles in elections. Unexpected events or misinterpretations or simple spin can affect the result. We do not live in a perfect world, and I do not hear Republicans complaining that much about the faulty Supreme Court decision that elected President Bush …

Unlike some on the left, I can understand why the Republicans are upset about Benghazi. If word had spread that the attack was a terrorist action instead of a reaction to an odious video, it could have upset President Obama’s narrative about al Qaeda on the run. And it could have changed the election results.

 

But that’s the way that the cookie crumbles in elections. Unexpected events or misinterpretations or simple spin can affect the result. We do not live in a perfect world, and I do not hear Republicans complaining that much about the faulty Supreme Court decision that elected President Bush over Al Gore, even when the votes in Florida clearly went the other way.

In Jeb Bush’s famous words, “stuff happens.” Democrats would be right to complain about the lack of voting booths in Ohio, for example, a fact that caused many voters, particularly in urban environments, to wait for hours for the right to vote. Maybe, if all those who left instead were given another chance, that state would have swung the other way, and Kerry would have been elected.

So, yes, the spin on Benghazi affected the election. That doesn’t make Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama murderers; they were just good politicians. So suck it up Republicans — you would have done the same thing were the situation reversed.

Hillary Does Her Homework

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Hillary Clinton was exquisitely prepared for the Democratic debate this week, and it showed. Moreover, she has consistently studied and learned her lessons throughout her public career.

When Secretary Clinton was elected as Senator of New York, partly due to the dignified way she handled the Monica Lewinsky crisis, she could have relied on her celebrity instead of focusing on the minutiae of her job. But that would have showed, and she chose the harder path.

She kept her head down, assumed a low profile and concentrated on delivering the best representation possible for her constituents.

She kept her head down, assumed a low profile and concentrated on delivering the best representation possible for her constituents.  Hillary learned from other Senators, and she did such a good job that she was easily re-elected.

The entire nation is just beginning to see her productivity and diligence in the way she is handling this run for the Presidency. Running a national organization takes practice, and Hillary is learning from the last time around, focusing on securing delegates and building an efficient campaign infrastructure. This infrastructure will stand her in good stead for the general election and will ultimately result in the first woman President of the United States.

This week’s debate was just the start of a reintroduction to the American people, and we need a well-prepared President to deal with the complex situations in today’s globalized world. We should trust her to handle her duties conscientiously.

Morality in Foreign Policy

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The United States will always win out in foreign policy versus the Russians for one overriding reason. Morality plays a major role in our foreign policy decisions, and the world knows that. In an arena where so many decisions are underpinned by Machiavellian considerations, the morality factor both restrains us and acts as our greatest benefit.

Now, the Middle East is faced by a re-entry of Russians into their arena. The aerial bombing they are conducting on behalf of their client, Bashar al-Assad, threatens to change the balance of power and perpetrate continued rule by this ruthless dictator. The United States has been largely relegated to a minor role.

The United States will always win out in foreign policy versus the Russians for one overriding reason. Morality plays a major role in our foreign policy decisions, and the world knows that.

While President Obama’s usual opponents are wringing their hands, he may be treating the situation exactly right. The Russians are not, and never will be, loved by their clients. Resorting to their assistance represents a last chance act of desperation by Assad. And the Syrian civil war shows little sign of abating any time in the near future.

But resolutions in the Middle East occur over the long term, over centuries rather than years. And Russia’s bombing raids are making enemies quickly among people who don’t forget.

So President Obama may be correct in his observations about the Russians entering a quagmire. And he may be doing our nation the greatest favor ever by keeping us relatively uninvolved.

The Republican Conception of Jesus According to Maher

U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney speaks during a political fundraiser in Washington, September 17, 2002. Cheney said that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's offer to let inspectors back into his country was simply "meant to obfuscate and deter action" and did not signal any significant progress. REUTERS/William Philpott WP - RTRAM1I

Yesterday, Bill Maher observed that conservative Republicans have created another Jesus, one unrelated to the Jesus of the Bible. Here is a brief excerpt of his famous weekly monologue, New Rules:

“. . . and the fact that this story played out last week during a papal visit exposed just how little these so-called Christians of the far right believe in what Jesus actually said.

… [this] papal visit exposed just how little these so-called Christians of the far right believe in what Jesus actually said

How could they? There is not a tent in the world big enough to fit under it both Jesus and Ayn Rand.

In order to be both Republican and Christian, they had to create an entirely new Jesus. We don’t only have two Americas; we have two Jesus’s now.

It’s true. Liberals have the traditional Jesus who hated the rich and wouldn’t shut up about how they should give away all their money, and Conservatives made up a completely new Jesus, a small businessman from Galilee, whose main gripe is big government and who wants to make Nazareth great again.

I call him supply-side Jesus. He’d love to help the less fortunate, but he’s got investors to think about.

Like the time supply-side Jesus performed a miracle and created a bounty of loaves and fishes, and then gave them all to the top one percent so they could trickle down to the “takers.”

Or the time supply-side Jesus came upon a leper who asked to be healed, so supply-side Jesus bought the company that makes leprosy medication and jacked up the price …”

To listen to Bill Maher’s entire dialogue about Another Jesus, visit the clip on YouTube, Republicans Don’t Like the Real Jesus so They Made Up a Fake One.