Eden Hill Journal

Comments, dreams, stories, and rantings from a middle-aged native of Maine living on a shoestring and a prayer in the woods of Maine. My portion of the family farm is to be known as Eden Hill Farm just because I want to call it that and because that's the closest thing to the truth that I could come up with. If you enjoy what I write, email me or make a comment. If you enjoy Eden Hill, come visit.

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Two Terrified Turkeys

Is it my imagination or has President Bush taken on something of a terrified persona? And what has become of Dick Cheney? Even here in this pre-Thanksgiving ceremony at the White House where Bush is attempting humor, he doesn't seem relaxed at all. He seems stressed, nervous, stumbling over his own script which focuses, believe it or not, on the pardon of two White House turkeys!
If I were Bush (God forbid!) I think I might be concerned about a pardon as well. I have no doubt that Bush and Cheney were hoping for a McCain/Palin victory. They didn't get one. Now their one remaining hope is that Obama's outspoken desire to sweet-talk the opposition party into cooperation leads him to overlook Bush and Cheney's many misdeeds.
What misdeeds are you referring to, some may ask. Yes some in America still see Bush as flawless. Some even go so far as to give Bush God-like powers where good is defined by what He, Bush, does. Whatever Bush says is, by definition, Right since Bush Himself is "The Decider."
I'm not that generous, as you may know.
I still haven't gotten past the 9/11 thing, the remarkable coincidence of it. You had the Project for the New American Century white papering its way out of the 20th Century about how essential it is becoming at the turn of the century for America to build up its military so we can protect our strategic energy interests in the Middle East. They state that the only thing holding us back is the American public's resistance and that this resistance will block this neo-conservative dream unless some Pearl Harbor type catastrophe hurls public opinion forward.
Next you have Bush taking over the White House and this neo-conservative PNAC dream team taking over America's offense - Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Libby, Bolton, you name it.
Then, oddly enough but conveniently, you have the new Pearl Harbor happening not even a year into Bush's presidency - 9/11.
Immediately you have the neo-conservative dream team taking the field and planning the offensive that would take over and essentially colonize the Middle East. You have dream team neo-conservative think tanks within the Pentagon coordinating with their counterparts in the Vice-President's office to feed bogus "intelligence" to the White House and the State Department as well as to the head of the Defense Department. This bogus intelligence is fed to the American people and the world and leads to the US invasion of Iraq, presumably to rid Iraq of its massive stockpile of WMDs.
Then just to put icing on the cake, you have Rumsfeld himself testifying to the 9/11 Commission that 9/11 was a "blessing in disguise." To back him up you have both Rice and Powell testifying essentially the same thing, although without the use of that term.
So you have prescience, coincidence, conspiracy, and thanksgiving. And on top of that you have an intense politicized media campaign geared to assure that we have those four things in exactly that order. Heaven forbid that we should have the conspiracy component happening prior to the miraculous coincidence that was 9/11. How unpatriotic it would be for any red-blooded American to think that was possible!
We all know that McCain and Palin would have been OK with it even if it somehow turned out that conspiracy did precede coincidence, that somehow this prescience demonstrated so clearly by PNAC's white papers actually led to some plan of action that resulted in 9/11. After all, conservatives all knew that the American public needed a jolt. Conservatives pretty much are unanimous in believing that the US invasion of the Middle East was necessary and good. Conservatives all know that the end justifies the means.
But what does it mean to have Democrats in power?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Housing Inflation

Here's a prescient article from 2006, just as the housing bubble was bursting. This isn't too far off from what I've been thinking, that somehow the inflation calculations weren't taking into consideration the rising cost of owning a home. This article certainly explains that clearly enough.
But imagine where the economy might be right now if the housing bubble had been factored into the inflation rate over the past ten or twenty years, especially over the past eight years of the Bush administration. During the Bush years we were seeing low rates of inflation being driven up mainly by the rising cost of energy - and here again there must be some way that this rising cost of energy is masked over by inflation calculations. Meanwhile housing costs were skyrocketing, being driven up by the demand side of the supply/demand curve which was being driven up by historically low interest rates. People buying houses weren't paying much attention to the actual cost of the houses they were buying. They were paying attention to the monthly payments. It wasn't can I afford a $250,000 home, it was can I afford the payment and with record low interest rates, the answer was yes.
So under this demand-side pressure, house prices rose sharply during the Bush years. But because Washington in its wisdom has elected not to factor housing costs into the inflation rate, we all perceived that inflation was low, insignificant, nothing to concern ourselves about. And by we, I am including the investors who were making all this inflationary mortgage money available in the first place. We did not exercise the caution in lending that we would have exercised had we known the real inflation rate. Again, read that article to see what I mean by that. It was the perception of inflation that dried up the mortgage credit market.
Had that perception been there all along, investors would never have made low interest mortgage money available in the first place. There wouldn't have been the inflationary demand for housing at any cost that created the housing bubble. There wouldn't have been a housing bubble at all and our economy might be strong right now instead of stumbling drunk into the ditch.
But instead, here we are still trying to ignore the fact that the actual price of houses has anything at all to do with inflation. Here we are again trying to re-ignite the fire that inflated the balloon in the first place, easy credit. Here we are still stuck in the Reagan mentality that we have inflation by the tail because of free trade. Here we are, Democrat and Republican alike, wondering when this train wreck will be back on the tracks.
Maybe when we all begin to wrap our heads around the concept of housing inflation, inflation in the cost of buying and owning a house, maybe then we can lay a foundation for a new economy. But I don't see that happening any time soon, do you?
And for those of you who still argue that housing costs shouldn't be factored into inflation because house prices never fall since houses are an investment from which you always get a return, it should soon become clear to you that this is delusional reasoning. Calculating inflation in such a way that it masks the real increases in the daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly cost of living might help politicians stay in office, but it is crippling the economy. There is absolutely nothing wrong with keeping housing costs down. This trend to drive housing prices up as high as they can stand to go to get a better return on investment is not a good thing. It is a bad thing. It's time we began to understand that fact again. We need to avoid conditions that encourage house prices to rise. We need to remove speculation from the calculation of a house's worth and get back to the real value again. Real value is the value of property right now, as it is being used right now. Speculation over what the value would be if this or that were to happen has become so normal that we now base property taxes on the speculative value of property instead of its real value. The housing bubble was fueled by speculation about the future value of property. The sale prices of homes were based not on anything real, but by speculation of future value. Now we are in a race to the finish to discover what the real value actually is of all this inflated property.
But have no fear, Chris Dodd is here. If there's any way in the world to keep that from happening, he's on the case.
Change we can believe in doesn't have white hair, have you noticed that?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

No Clue

So today it was another how much? 800 billion US dollars? For what? The credit card industry? The mortgage industry? The lenders? Again? And are they lending what we handed them before? Has that money run out already because Americans are just borrowing so much these days? Not.
I've recently been hearing the Diane Rehm show on Public Radio in the afternoons. Yesterday they were talking about the Citibank thing and today it was this new $800 billion bailout. She takes calls but also has a panel of "experts" to answer questions. What I noticed yesterday and today is this growing uneasiness and even disgust with the way that even the experts have absolutely no clue where this money is going or what it is doing to help the economy. There is zero transparency and so far, no results. "It could have been worse" is the best anybody has come up with so far and even that comes without references to support the claim.
But doesn't it strike anyone yet that it is ironic the way Middle Class America is loaning all this money to the rich so the rich will agree to loan Middle Class America enough money so they can afford to go to work tomorrow? I mean what in Hell is going on here? The banks have money. The wealthy are still wealthy. If the point of going through this economic slide-down is to rid us of "easy money," then what's the point of working-class America investing our future prosperity trying to keep easy money flowing? The economy will recover when the wealthy want it to recover and not one day sooner. What's so hard about that to grasp?
But we go on and on about how this or that bailout kept it from getting worse while all around us it keeps getting worse and there's nothing to show for all the bailouts so far other than that the corporate executives are still getting their bonuses and living high on the hog.
No, these "stimulus" bonuses that the Fed (a private bank, if you recall) and the US Treasury are giving away to the wealthy aren't about saving the economy. These are just payback from the Republican Party as this Reagan wave of conservatives fades away. Consider this an investment in the future of the Republican Party. This money raised on the backs of working class Americans will finance the next wave of right-wing politics which is coming closer and closer to inevitability the more we send taxpayer money off into the abyss. Between this (stimulus) tax burden and direct conservative obstructionism, Obama doesn't stand a chance, or so the thinking goes. And when conservatives rise again, this money will be there waiting for them.
They wanted to rob us blind by using our Social Security withholdings to pump up Wall Street. They failed at that, but they aren't failing this time. The wealthy have Middle Class America by the balls this time. The squeeze is on. And when Obama moves in, watch out. There are a lot of people in this country who have a lot of money and influence who don't want Obama and the Democrats to succeed. Obama's stated goal is to bring the Middle Class back their wealth. There are a lot of wealthy people in this country who see working class wealth as socialism. A lot of wealthy conservative Americans don't believe that working class Americans deserve good pay.
These last few months of Bush economics are contributing hard to that goal.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Fideism

I bought a book at a thrift store this summer titled The Swiss, The Gold, and the Dead: How Swiss Bankers Helped Finance the Nazi War Machine written by Jean Ziegler and translated from German by John Brownjohn. The book is heavy reading. It's not calculus, but it takes at least a second reading for it to sink very far into my thick skull. Ziegler's thesis is that the Swiss, for the sake of convenience as well as for the huge profits they made in doing so, laundered the gold that the Nazis were stealing from the Jews and helped finance Germany's military leading up to and continuing throughout World War II. Swiss neutrality, rather than opposing war, translated into doing whatever was practical from a financial perspective.
In Chapter 2 - titled "Resistance," Ziegler introduces the term "fideism" - page 61 - attributing the term to Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologiae. Ziegler suggests that this term explains how it came to be that the Swiss, despite their ability to understand the higher principles involved, believed these higher principles were "impracticable" and were "inhibited by overriding constraints."
How easy it is for people to fall into that trap. It has always annoyed me that idealism is looked down upon by the older, wiser generations who understand this principle of practicality. Even the Serenity Prayer alludes to this: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."
Fideism, though, appears to have an even more significant meaning than what Ziegler attributes to it with the Swiss. Wikipedia defines fideism this way:
"Fideism is the view that religious belief relies primarily on faith or special revelation, rather than rational inference or observation"
So fideism is the word that describes the tremendous unnamed gulf between my wife's way of looking at things and my own way. My wife is faith-based. She finds it very easy to downplay the importance of reason and logic and science when it comes to religious beliefs. I look for reason and logic in any belief. Faith is nothing if it can't stand being tested by reason and logic. In fact, in my view faith is what takes reason and logic astray. It is very easy to use this belief in fideism to justify completely unreasonable ideas and behavior in the name of faith.
A few years back, our daughter was engaging in an online debate with a former youth pastor of hers and one of the things that came up in that debate was that man's insistence that when faith comes into conflict with rational thinking, it is faith that a true Christian has to follow. To her great credit my daughter just couldn't buy that illogical argument. But at the time, neither she nor I had a word we could use to embrace this concept. Fideism is that word.
It's not that I am anti-faith. Any reasonable assessment of my ideas clearly points to my use of faith. I believe in things that I don't have enough evidence to prove. We all do that. Life would be empty without that. No, it's not that I insist on evidence-based reason or nothing at all. That isn't the problem. The problem is that when faith comes in clear conflict with the evidence, do you use reason and logic to test your faith or do you disparage reason and logic and insist that only through the higher power of faith can understanding be gained?
The fideist (word added to my spell checker but present in the Wikipedia article) throws out the evidence and attempts to impugn and invalidate the logic on the basis that faith is the higher form of thinking.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Theocracy

Off and on ever since I began blogging years ago I have touched on the notion that in the background while the rest of America was asleep, the Christian Right, America's religious right, have been working hard to take over our government. Over the past year there have been several situations that reminded me again of this, specifically Alaska Senator Ted Stevens's comments after his conviction and Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's nearly successful campaign for the White House despite swirls of controversy over her honesty. Why is it that the American public supports people like this?
Why, when Monica Goodling, Alberto Gonzales, and Lurita Doan crashed and burned and even when Jack Abramoff of all people (think Ralph Reed), and Tom DeLay from Texas fell from grace, was there talk of the honorable things they were involved in, the service to God they had been rendering?
How can God be at the center of all this Republican slime?
The common thread binding all these people together - Palin, Stevens, DeLay, Goodling, Gonzales, Doan, Reed, and many others including George W. Bush himself - is what appears to be a developing consensus among rightwing Christians that the end justifies the means, that God supports anything that will bring about the fulfillment of His plan for America and the world.
The official term for what is going on is Christian Reconstructionism. Alarmists have coined the term Dominionism.
As with so many other movements that the common person is only aware of as undercurrents, Dominionism is not a movement that we perceive openly but a movement that we sense if we are aware of political momentum. Most Americans are in denial of the idea that right-wing Christians are trying to take over our government, that they have organized and have been very successful in putting agents of their theology into public office, agents who have used the powers of their office in illegal ways to cement the power of this theology in American politics.
Although it was the Terri Schiavo case that really brought this fiasco into the spotlight, it was the US attorneys' firing investigation after the 2006 takeover of Congress by the Democrats that brought this boil to the surface. Americans watched in disbelief and disgust while congressmen grilled lying DOJ officials, officials whose official responsibility in government is to ensure that the truth is told. Bush and Rove literally threw Gonzales to the dogs, but we the American people finally got to see this Dominionist "end justifies the means" theory in practice. Anything, including the DOJ head's lying under oath, goes.
It has taken me a long time to realize that this political movement is actually succeeding. But this weekend I stumbled on a website, Theocracy Watch, that has been tracking this movement. I'm planning on reading this website over the winter to come to a better understanding of all the things I have been suspecting but didn't have enough information to prove. Have I been correct in my suspicion that the Republican Party is attempting to bankrupt our country? Why would they want to do that? What role is Sarah Palin playing in this movement? Why did she excite the religious right, reinvigorate the base? Who and what are this base that she reinvigorated? How is this religious base connected to the other Republican base, the wealthy among us?
And what are their plans now that Obama, not just Democrat but half African, is our president?
Fun reading, folks. Theocracy Watch

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Destiny

It's strange sometimes the way my personal philosophy gets shaped and defined. I was brought up attending Protestant churches, the local Congregational church and the Methodist church. By my mid-teens, though, I had pretty much made up my mind that all this God talk made no sense. Religion and science seemed to be on divergent paths and I intended to walk with science. My dad and an older half-brother of mine became involved in a "fundamentalist" church in a neighboring town but I didn't see any point in that. I was an atheist when I finished high school and joined the Air Force.
In my early 20s I had a few drug experiences that changed my mind about God. Those experiences showed me that "reality" can melt before your eyes. Reality as experienced by a human being is a graphic model existing in the mind and is based on a highly filtered system of perception. It has only fleeting resemblance to what is really "out there," to the actual existence of things. It's no wonder there are so many conflicting realities in politics, religion, and life.
I became a "born again Christian" a year or two after leaving the military. I was looking for answers to my drug experiences and this evangelical, Bible-believing Christianity promised to provide those answers. It took years for me to finally conclude that I was being duped by this religion. I kept blaming it on myself, that there was something wrong with me, something weak about my faith, that my doubts were blocking my spiritual experience. But at the same time I kept running into situations where these right-wing "fundamentalist" Christians kept insisting that any real spiritual experience was evil if it couldn't be traced directly to the text of the Bible. It kept coming up and being reinforced that real spiritual experience comes after a "saved" person dies. While here in the body on earth, the deceiver is the one in control and our only hope of spirituality is that we be saved by God and go to Heaven when we die.
As ignorant as that theology is, it's also quite simple. It places virtually no demands on you, the person. All you need to do is yield to the power of God and then use the Bible as a check and balance to ensure that your beliefs are really from God and not from the deceiver.
My doubts won out in the end. The hypocrisy of fundamentalist Christianity was overwhelming for me. I had to get out and I did.
But having been in there, I am now faced with needing to understand what this power was that had me in its grips. It's not that I went back to not believing in God. It's obvious to me that there is an intelligence far exceeding human intelligence and that everything in this universe and beyond is awash in this intelligence. What had me in its grips was a theology and all theology is based in fallacy. There is no one correct theology capable of calling all the rest false. All theology is false. The reason it is false is because it comes from intellectual thought, not from actual spiritual experience.
Fundamentalist Christianity claimed to get around this because it was based on the Bible, writings that were gathered by an act of God into a canonized collection containing all of God's writings to mankind. God wrote the Bible by miraculously inspiring human authors. Furthermore, the inspired truth of the Bible somehow managed to survive the English translation process. God was at work even there. Anyone who seriously doubted this in the fundamentalist church was suspect - suspect of what, nobody was really saying, but suspect just the same.
But the problem is that it always seemed to me like someone had come along in the fundamentalist church and established theologies that weren't really being exposed in the presentation of the Bible. Someone long ago used the Bible to intellectually concoct theories of what the truth really is and those theories were what was actually being taught in church. It's not like anyone was hiding from me the fact that theology existed. I heard about Calvin and Luther and Scofield. But no pastor in my experience ever actually referenced these theologians. They presented the theology but they didn't reference the source. Instead, they made it appear that the source was the Bible. Church leaders made it appear that the source of their theology was the Bible and that it was fact, not theory.
Now, years after leaving all this behind, I am just beginning to understand the power that theology had over the teachings of these fundamentalist churches. And I am just now coming to realize that probably the most influential of all theologies was and remains Calvinism.
I am puzzled about how Alberto Gonzales could have felt righteous about what he did, even after his resignation.
I am puzzled about how Tom DeLay can claim his innocence even in the light of all he did to corrupt government and make it serve him.
I am puzzled how Senator Stevens can call himself innocent in light of his seven felony convictions especially considering his own knowledge and recorded phone calls showing his understanding of what he was involved in.
And I am puzzled by Sarah Palin's professed innocence of virtually every claim made against her. It's as if she has never told a lie and never been found out to be less than what she wants her image to suggest she is.
In all of these cases, the culprits claim to be in service to God. How can that be? How can you deceive and corrupt and mislead in service to God? How can such clearly self-serving behavior be God's work?
Well the key is the belief in destiny.
Sarah Palin had something interesting to say this week after her and John McCain's defeat in the election. She was reflecting on Obama's victory as a minority candidate and on the rise of the Black race in America and according to a FOX News article she said, “America is going to reach her destiny.” Maybe that shouldn't have struck me as odd but it did. Why? Because as I see it, America isn't on a road to destiny. America is, if anything, a destiny in itself. America is where the people of the world look when they want to see freedom and independence and constitutional protection of those values in action. It isn't that some day in the future we will reach that destiny and the Obama victory is a big step in that direction. In my mind it is that the Obama victory attests to the fact that America already is the place where this is not just possible but happening. It has been happening all along and it will continue to happen as long as America defends its Constitution.
So what possible "destiny" could Sarah Palin be referring to?
I'm not going to go putting words in her mouth or claiming she believes things I don't know that she believes, but I know she is the kind of Christian that we have seen in action in the Republican Party over the past decade. She is the DeLay/Gonzales/Stevens kind of Christian Republican. Everything she does serves herself first and in the name of God.
But why is this getting to be such a common thing and why does the idea of destiny keep coming up?
If destiny has to do with Christianity and it has to do with popular theology, chances are it has to do with Calvinism. And that's where I'm at in my study. I want to understand what Calvinism is and what effect this theology is having as it is applied in America's right-wing churches. I know what the world's destiny is thought to be under Calvin theology, but to what extent do Republicans want to see this destiny fulfilled and what are they doing to help God do it?

Innocence

She is as innocent as Senator Stevens, if not more so! She just never did any of it! And if she did she's sending it back! It's just all those bad apples making that barrel smell. It's not her! She doesn't smell! She doesn't stink!! Oh no!!
"Ms. Palin said that her experience made her realize how brutal national politics could be." Oh really????? Gosh! And she discovered this when people were criticizing her, not when she was tossing out so may criticisms of her opponents that some in her audiences were calling for the death of her opponents? Oh, right, she never heard anyone saying anything like that. Heck, she probably didn't even hear herself being nasty! Maybe that's why she has that tinny nasal sound to her voice. She has the feedback line to her ears shut off at the source!
Ya gotta love Palin. She's amusing if nothing more. And her daughter Bristol has turned 18 according to some reports. When is she due? December? January? Won't it be wonderful when she and little Levi finally marry his dad?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Day After

It's now the end of the day after the day of the election, 2008. The pundits have all done their thing. The speeches are so in the past that they aren't even being played on network news tonight, or if they were I missed it. Everyone's focused on what a great achievement this was for racial progress in America. Oh? I didn't realize this was even about race! Yes I understand in a distant way how this must feel for a person of color to finally realize that King's "dream" has arrived at the front gate of the White House. But as I told a friend last night, my hope, my belief, is that Obama will make sure that we all understand that the "White" in White House has nothing to do with skin color. This isn't about race. This is about victory over ignorance, Obama's victory over the Republican Party's pride in its own ignorance. This is about the audacity of some Democrats to believe that an American leader can be a rational, intelligent human being, that the country isn't forever lost in the insanity of reactionary politics. The fact that Obama is a man of color just adds color to the beauty of this event.
But the sleaze continues. In Alaska it appears that voters will send their felonious Senator Stevens back to Washington for Washington to sort out whether or not "ethics" still has any meaning in the U.S. Senate. Should the Senate give him the boot, it turns out that Governor Palin can't just appoint a replacement. Alaska would need a special election. Some speculate that Governor Palin herself might run for the job. If you ask me, she'd make a great replacement for the king of earmarks and sleaze. This today in TPM (from Newsweek)...
I especially like the remark about the Palins being "Wasilla hillbillies looting Neiman Marcus from coast to coast." Sarah has been reminding me of Ellie May Clampett for some time now. This article paints Palin in a whole new light if you didn't notice. I had been under the impression that the campaign insisted on the new clothes, that Palin resisted. Yeah well she resisted the way she resisted the bridge to nowhere. And some of the clothes have gone missing? Gee! Go figure on that one! Wonder whose closet those clothes are hiding in!
I can only feel sorry for all the women in America who had hopes that this woman would represent them. Girls, you picked the wrong mama!