Saturday, November 29, 2008

India terror aftermath - Greater integration needed

This morning's AP headline reads "Pakistan U-turns on sending spy chief to India." Three links down on the Google "news page," its collection of links is the Hollywood Today headline: "Mumbai Massacre Now Linked to Pakistan: War to Follow?" making it clear that those who generate current world problems are not merely the lawless and conscience-less villains at the extremes, but rather that our problems stem with near equal abundance from dysfunction, irresponsibility and dangerous blindness in the heart of the "mainstream." While my heart grieves for the innocent in India, a country so beloved to me, I struggle to suppress a heart of anger at institutions like Hollywood Today. I struggle for a moment to cling to the ideal of free press in moments like this. The problem is that the term "free" is false. The vast amount of world media slaves under its yolk of its economic need or lust, and this is not freedom. It is bondage. A cure must be found.

Yet the problem of living more responsibly, and with a more reasonable and holistic grasp of political life, lies not only with much needed reform of media, but also with "the body politic," namely us. We must make it increasingly possible for political leaders to have the breathing room they need to navigate sensitive and fragile territory, especially in hair trigger moments.

The AP article leads with the observation:

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistan on Saturday withdrew an offer to send its spy chief to India to help investigate the Mumbai terrorist attacks, damaging efforts to head off a crisis between the nuclear-armed rivals.

Indian officials have linked the attacks to "elements" in Pakistan, raising the prospect of a breakdown in painstaking peace talks between South Asian rivals that has alarmed the U.S.

First, how does it help to desribe these countries as rivals? Everyone are rivals in some areas. And they are partners, collaborators or neutral in others. This is true for India and Pakistan. Why could not the copy read, "painstaking peace talks between South Asian neighbors"? Is this any less true?

Secondly, if indeed this week's horrifying attacks in Mumbai are linked to "elements in Pakistan," why should this be reported as "raising the prospect of a breakdown in painstaking peace talks between South Asian rivals"? Surely there is a vast likelihood that the Mumbai attacks are linked to "elements in Pakistan." Any 10 year old could tell us that. Shocking news would be if the attacks were not at ALL linked to ANY elements in Pakistan. In our world today, everything is linked, and it is like reporting that someone breathed in then breathed out to note the likelihood that terrorists link across national boundaries. Why should such a pat, dull observation "raise the prospect of a breakdown in painstaking peace talks"? Surely Prime Minister Singh was not suggesting that the government of Pakistan was smuggling soul-less animals into Mumbai to shoot up Indian guests and citizens.

The primary point of the AP article notes that Gilani reversed an earlier agreement to send the head of the Inter Services Intelligence agency, had been changed so that a lower-ranking intelligence official would travel instead.

OK. Yes, this can be seen as a disappointment certainly. But it is understandable. Gilani received sharp criticism from Pakistani opposition politicians and a cool response from the army, which controls the spy agency. How hard is that to figure out? Everyone knows the difficulty and stranglehold domestic partisanship poses for national leaders. This is what I mean when I say we (as the body politic) should think in ways that is supportive, helpful, constructive, and reasonable. And we should refuse to continue consuming news presented in ways that we simply know better. These realities are not complicated. Give the leaders room. Let us and the media stop playing pretend. We already know the story. Every national leader is a target from domestic opposition. Each country has a different power configuration, and things are hard.

For these reasons, the greater the persistence for quiet back channels to remain open among leaders the better we can move forward toward peace. Let Gilani and Singh stay in constant communication, and let common sense world citizens support them in all ways to deepen bonds and shared hopes and needs in the region.

The US, despite the decline of its reputation under the current administration, is always a powerful influence in global affairs. Presently nations must navigate quite a radical transition: The current US administration has being trying to persuade Islamabad to shift its security focus from India, with which it has fought three wars, to Islamic militants along the Afghan border, whereas President-elect Barack Obama has identified rapprochement between India and Pakistan as a main plank of his plan to stabilize Afghanistan and defeat al-Qaida.

The former mentioned pressure from the current administration is self-serving and short sighted, whereas the Obama position reflects insight into how stabilization expands. Should India and Pakistan succeed to develop a unified, harmonized and integrated alliance, every last sector of human enterprise in the region would flourish a hundred fold. Such a rich horizon, more than anything else would seek its own natural call through the northwest borders inviting all to the benefits of peace and prosperity.

In the dreams of such a time let us all, especially media, serve such hopes with a more constructive and more common sense to the obvious realities of life and the simple to understand challenges of national leaders.

Frank Kaufmann is the director of the Inter Religious Federation for World Peace. The opinions here are his own.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Natural and Effective Response to Poverty

1. What is poverty from a theological point of view?

If one hopes or presumes to address this wellspring of human indignity, the first and most important task is to establish one's theological assumptions regarding the nature of poverty. Is poverty the will of God? Is it a "natural evil" (like predation in nature for example)? Is it a curse or a punishment?

Is it curable? Or are the demands of our conscience to respond more like a hobby or a self improvement program?

What does God have to do with poverty? Why is it here? Can it be solved? Or are we compelled to respond even though it is a permanent aspect of the human condition?

All actions in relation to poverty must take these questions into account. It is the position of this writer that there is an expression of poverty that is natural, eternal and constructive, but that widespread poverty affecting billions of healthy, well-meaning adults is an evil, an evidence of human failure. Two matters must be solved in order to address these ills: 1. What dimensions of poverty are evil, 2. Where in the process is intervention best applied.

2. Constructive poverty?

What on earth could possibly be described as poverty that is natural, eternal, and constructive? Quite simply it is the pattern of economics that occurs naturally in the family. If we were to analyze matters purely in terms of economic and material welfare, one must confess that comparatively speaking, parents are rich and children are poor. Parents have everything and children have nothing. Why is there nothing wrong with this naturally (and infinitely) arising form of poverty? It is because of the natural impulses, reactions, and response of parents (except when these God-given wisdoms are broken or damaged and replaced by some aberrant malfunction).

Sans brokenness parents naturally respond beautifully to this "imposition of poverty" into their lives. The first thing we do is take care of those matters that are urgent. Parents make sure that "the poor" have food, clothing, shelter, and are protected from danger. No questions asked, no demands made, nothing required in advance or in response. Needs must be addressed. Next (in fact simultaneously) is the natural impulse of parents to respond to the "poverty" that springs up in their household by investing in education for “the poor." Parents naturally provide education for their children, raising them up so that the latter will realize their talents, and become able and equipped to generate their own wealth, acquire independence, and even develop the ability to help others in need . How splendid this is? Also, along the way, others chip in. Parents are not the only ones who involve themselves in lifting up "the poor." Very often older brothers and sisters help too. This constantly and naturally arising "poverty" is the occasion of so much that is sweet, lovely, good, happy and memorable.

For those who claim to be troubled by the evils of poverty and are driven from within to respond, HERE lie our guidelines. This most natural reality and response provides everything we need to know about poverty, and what our proper response should be. In these circumstances (i.e., family) we gain the direct personal experience that instructs us first hand what the ideal, essential response to "poverty" should be. We experience directly that the proper response to "poverty" is natural, good, feels good, and IS good. Poverty is only a problem whenever we fail to respond in this perfectly natural and innate manner. The gift of family life provides all people with the clear ability to respond to “poverty” in good, healthy, loving, constructive, and creative ways.

3. Where to intervene

Interestingly, this "immediacy" or "intimacy of poverty" as it occurs in its natural form (with the birth of our little ones) also shows us the ideal "intervention point" for reversing the forms of poverty that clearly are evil, and violate innate human impulses and the realization of our responsibilities.

Providing there are is no “brokenness” or malfunction in the parents who live at the center of a young family, who are the ones best equipped to address the “needs of the poor,” that attend the joys of child-birth? Is it the state? The “village?” The rich guy down the street? Quite obviously, the persons best equipped to respond are the parents. When everything is in good working order, the best mediator for everything that will lift the newborn from “abject poverty” to wealth, independence, and even to being charitable, are the parents. Many can and do help. Parents alone should not presume to, nor be left to address this transformation on their own. Nevertheless, parents (without dysfunction) are best situated of all to mediate this transformation.

The point to note from this observation is that poverty is best addressed from the “immediate outwards.” Programs or structures that “skip a step” do not work. An overpaid head of an international body for poverty reduction, living indulgently is NOT a good figure to address the evils of poverty. He or she suffers from the lack of intimacy. They are too remote from the distressing impact poverty evokes, regardless of such a person's education or expertise in the academic dimensions of poverty. The efforts of such persons and organizations “skip too many steps.” The projects are unnatural. They violate what is plainly taught and revealed in the natural structures of family.

A person driven to respond to the evils of poverty, should first raise up his or her family to inherit his or her passion and concern. Families should help families. As these bond together and experience first hand the joys and wonder of “ending poverty,” they then can go on to form larger groups and organizations that take up the responsibility to help, support and uplift groups of the next size and next level of social organization.

The point simply is that divinely infused nature reveals and carries with it everything we need to know about the alleviation of poverty. Immediate needs first. No questions, no demands, no expectations. Then (in fact simultaneously) an effective education toward self-sufficiency and independence. Secondly, intimacy first, then expansion. No “skipping steps.” Thank you for reading, now can we treat you to lunch? The kids put in some of their own allowance money too!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

First signs, early communications

Here is Obama's first press conference. His focus is economic recovery.

Here is Obama's first radio address. He focuses on economic recovery

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Visitor

I was deeply moved by this film

I hope you have enough time to watch it

Thank you

It plays and slowly downloads here (<-- click)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

What just happened? What should happen now?

Perhaps the flying out of the box analysis and public reflection is better left to those whose job it is to keep speaking to us all the time. I am still putting my thoughts together.

I did manage to get out into one of the world's crowds to take in the day the world changed. Here are some images and a video of New York's Times Square on election night.

Perhaps images can help gin up some first thoughts on this moment. Here's at least one thing that just happened:

Below are two good articles to get us started in thinking through what is needed now. These are serious times.

Please be sure to go down past the New Yorker article to the Daily News article. Schoen offers excellent and important analysis of the voting patterns that brought about the coming Obama presidency.

What just happened? What should happen now?

The weekly lead in The New Yorker called "Talk of the Town" looks at challenges facing the president elect through an analysis of the current economic meltdown, and what measures have been taken to date to respond.

In this piece Steve Coll identifies what he believes to be the two major policy demands facing the new administration:

The Test

by Steve Coll November 10, 2008

In 1934, President Franklin Roosevelt asked Frances Perkins, his Secretary of Labor, to draft a plan that might help Americans escape poverty in old age. “Keep it simple,” he told her. “So simple that everybody will understand it.” On August 14, 1935, after bargaining in Congress, Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act at a White House ceremony. The law “represents a cornerstone in a structure which is being built but is by no means complete,” the President said. He continued:

It is a structure intended to lessen the force of possible future depressions. . . . It is, in short, a law that will take care of human needs and at the same time provide the United States an economic structure of vastly greater soundness.

Roosevelt hoped that the elderly would also receive health insurance; Congress balked. It took thirty years—until July 30, 1965, when Lyndon Johnson signed the Medicare bill—to protect older Americans from the ravages of sickness as well as poverty. These were Democratic initiatives, but they gradually became national compacts: Ronald Reagan defended Social Security, and George W. Bush expanded Medicare. They, too, came to recognize that a sound system of social insurance enabled by government makes capitalism and its splendid innovations (the iPhone, the Cartoon Network, the Ultimate Fishing Tool, etc.) more balanced and sustainable.

Last week, the Department of Commerce reported that the economy is shrinking. Almost certainly, the United States has entered its twelfth official recession since Roosevelt’s death. Most of the past eleven recessions have been short and mild, in part because of the “automatic stabilizers,” as economists call them, created by New Deal-inspired insurance and regulatory regimes. The current financial crisis, however, has already proved so severe and so volatile that it has smashed or bypassed a number of important shock absorbers. Some economists fear that this downturn may therefore be atypically long and painful.

The country is fortunate in one respect: the sudden buckling of financial safeguards has put just about everyone in touch with his inner New Dealer. Even Alan Greenspan recently confessed to Congress a crisis of faith in self-regulation. Meanwhile, former free-market true believers in the Bush Administration have tossed out money from the public vault like looters, and just as untidily; if they can sort out exactly what they have done, the Treasury’s mandarins must soon prepare PowerPoint presentations to document for their successors the most expansive nationalizations undertaken in the United States since the Second World War. The Administration seems giddy with a discovery familiar in the palaces of certain despots: yes, you can just print the bills on your own presses and hand them out to your friends.

Embedded in this festival of emergency measures, however, is an important and possibly durable ideological shift. Last week, in an op-ed in the Washington Post, Martin Feldstein, the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers in the Reagan Administration, and, more recently, an adviser to John McCain, endorsed large-scale spending on public works as a way to stimulate economic recovery. This was a bit like Al Gore embracing coal. The essay’s appearance indicated that a broad coalition is emerging, where none existed a year ago, in favor of New Deal-style expenditures on roads, bridges, broadband lines, alternative energy, and the like, to support economic recovery and future growth. Such investment could strengthen the economy for a generation, as Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System did.

It’s not enough, of course, just to be like Ike. The campaign of 2008 was notable for its misleading narratives about how Presidents are tested. From the wacky competition over 3 A.M. phone calls to McCain’s alleged campaign suspension, it was suggested repeatedly that Presidents are best measured by their day-to-day crisis-management skills. Of course, sound judgment under pressure is essential to a successful Presidency, and its absence can prove disastrous (see Bush, post-Afghanistan; see Bush, post-Katrina). Coolheadedness on its own is sometimes enough to earn lasting gratitude (see Kennedy, Cuban missile crisis). Yet, great Presidencies can arise only from great causes. To define them and deliver on them is the truer test of the officeholder.

The next Presidency has within its reach at least two generation-spanning causes: the need to jump-start a new energy economy, and, in so doing, help to contain climate change; and the need to enact a plan to provide quality health care to all Americans, and, in so doing, complete the project of social insurance that Roosevelt described in 1935. Each of these projects is urgent, but it is health-care reform that speaks more directly to the economic and human dimensions of the present downturn.

The accumulating failures in the country’s health-care system are a cause of profound weakness in the American economy; unaddressed, this weakness will exacerbate the coming recession and crimp its aftermath. A large number of the country’s housing foreclosures in recent years appear to be related to medical problems and health-care expenses. American businesses often can’t afford to hire as many employees as they would like because of rising health-insurance costs; employees often can’t afford to quit to chase their better-mousetrap dreams because they can’t risk going without coverage. Add to this the system’s moral failings: about twenty-two thousand people die in this country annually because they lack health insurance. That is more than the number of Americans who are murdered in a year.

Presidents who help right a wrong of this character are generally immortalized in granite, but to succeed they require a transformation-minded Congress, too. The next Congress will likely be without the active leadership of its great lion of social reform, Ted Kennedy. There is only one senator with the wonky expertise, work habits, and political stature to fill Kennedy’s place: Hillary Clinton. The psychology she would bring to this inheritance would surely be complex, but no health-care-reform bill will pass without her. Lyndon Johnson, also a person of complex psychology, understood this politics of legacy well. At the Medicare signing ceremony, he invited Jimmy Roosevelt, F.D.R.’s eldest son, and the aging Harry Truman, who had pushed hard for health-care reform, to share the glory. Johnson, in his remarks, linked them (and himself, of course) to the Social Security Act and its “illustrious place in history,” and he carefully recited an “honor roll” of fifteen congressional leaders who contributed to the bill’s passage. It was, Johnson said, a “time for triumph.” It is, even more so, today.

What just happened? What should happen now?

Here is an article in the New York Daily News.

It provides a very good analysis of the voting patterns that resulted in the Obama victory, as well as draws some legislative implications based on these patterns:

Moderates - not liberals - Made Barack Obama President

By Douglas Schoen

Thursday, November 6th 2008, 4:00 AM

The general consensus of Election Night commentators was that our center-right country has become a center-left country. I must offer what will be, for liberals, a buzz kill: Barack Obama owes his victory not to the left, but to the middle. As he sets out to govern, he forgets that at his peril.

First, and probably most important, the ideological composition of the electorate this year was virtually identical to that of 2004. This year, 22% of voters were liberals, 44% were moderates and 34% were conservatives. In 2004, 21% were liberals, 45% were moderates and 34% were conservatives.

In the voting booth, it was moderates who made the difference. They had given John Kerry a 9-point advantage in 2004; in 2008, they gave Obama a 21-point advantage. That change, in and of itself, is worth most of the swing from Kerry's narrow loss to Obama's big victory.

And look at the voting behavior of self-described conservatives. Here, Obama picked up probably an additional 1-1/2% of the total vote by increasing his share to 20% from Kerry's 15%. Liberals, by contrast, were virtually identical in their levels of support from Kerry to Obama.

The real change between 2004 and 2008 came in the number of people calling themselves Democrats. They had been basically equal in numbers to Republican identifiers in 2004. In this election, exit polls reported self-declared Democrats outnumbered Republicans, 39% to 32%.

Translation: The country has not shifted further left. Rather, in all likelihood, the Democratic Party has shifted further right.

But what about those much talked about, map-changing wild cards - African-Americans and young voters?

African-Americans had been 11% of the electorate in 2004. In this election, they were 12%. Obama did slightly better than Kerry among them, but not by enough to have materially impacted the outcome.

And youth? In 2004, 18- to 29-year-olds made up 17% of the electorate. They were 18% in 2008. While again here Obama did better than Kerry, this would account for only a point or two.

The hidden story of the exit polls, in fact, is that there remains real doubt about expansive government programs, tax increases and, to a lesser extent, Obama himself. A bare majority, 51%, said that government should do more to solve our problems; 43% said that the government is currently doing too much.

When asked about an Obama presidency, 30% said that they were excited by it, while 20% said that they were concerned and a quarter said that they were scared. So, though "hope" is one of the buzzwords of the Obama campaign, there's also palpable fear out there.

What conclusion then, should Obama and the Democratic Congress draw from all this?

One: There is little appetite for a supersized Democratic agenda. Polling does show support for another stimulus program and initiatives to help beleaguered homeowners. But it is hard to see how other Obama initiatives like raising the capital gains tax rate or raising the tax on dividends in the face of a bitter recession will be well-received by an already nervous electorate.

Two: At a time when our deficit is approaching $1 trillion, the public will not be receptive to massive spending programs. On issues of great importance like health care, the electorate is looking for an incremental approach rather than a sweeping effort to cover all 47 million uninsured Americans.

Finally, Democrats must resist the temptation to take on symbolic issues that appeal to the left and divide the country. The failure of pro-gay marriage initiatives around the country should give pause to similar initiatives on the federal level, and the mixed results on affirmative action suggest how important it is for Obama to initiate social change on a class basis, rather than a racial basis.

America has not changed as much as many commentators think it has. Rather, there has been a rejection of George Bush and failed Republican ideas. Carefully crafted bipartisan policies offer the greatest chance to strengthen America and rebuild our battered national psyche.

Schoen, who was President Bill Clinton's pollster in 1996, is author of "The Power of the Vote."

Monday, November 3, 2008

Interreligious reception at the American Academy of Religion conference

Please read about the recent panel and reception held by the Inter Religious Federation for World Peace, and the New World Encyclopedia at the annual conference of the American Academy of Religion.

12 simple ways to supercharge your brain

This is a very good article

It has some very good (and pretty easy to follow) advice

Please click through to read it:

Despite being the strongest computer on the planet, our brains do lapse. It's hard to blame them really. As humans, we spend much of or existence stuffing our brains with stuff.

No matter how powerful our brains are, they need recuperation time to be kept in shape.

Here's the article