a prayer for the United States of America on the occasion of her anniversary…

I am an American. There are days I take the blessing, privileges and rights  that come with my citizenship for granted. (okay, that’s most days). There are days when I turn a blind eye to the injustices committed in our past and present (that’s even more days). As I look to the future I’d love to say my track record will improve, but if Dr. Phil is worth his salt July 4th, 2015 is likely to bear eerily consistent statistics where my Americanness is concerned. My prayer for us as a people is not my own, but that of another disciple’s. #bobdylan

It might have something to do with the guns









One piece of this puzzle is the national rate of firearm-related murders, which is charted above. The United States has by far the highest per capita rate of all developed countries. According to data compiled by the United Nations, the United States has four times as many gun-related homicides per capita as do Turkey and Switzerland, which are tied for third. The U.S. gun murder rate is about 20 times the average for all other countries on this chart. That means that Americans are 20 times as likely to be killed by a gun than is someone from another developed country.

The above chart measures data for the nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which includes all Western countries plus Turkey, Israel, Chile, Japan, and South Korea. I did not include Mexico, which has about triple the U.S. rate due in large part to the ongoing drug war.


The Freedom Of An Armed Society

In the midst of the massive volume of discourse after the Newtown tragedy, I recently found this gem: The Freedom of an Armed Society. The author is questioning the mantra that the NRA recites: “An armed society is a polite society.” But if liberal democracy is preserved by free, open and frank speech, do guns encourage or discourage such speech? When you see someone attend a political rally where the President is speaking carrying an unconcealed firearm, are you more or less likely to engage them?

Far from preserving civil society, an increasingly armed citizenry will likely erode it:

As Michel Foucault pointed out in his detailed study of the mechanisms of power, nothing suits power so well as extreme individualism. In fact, he explains, political and corporate interests aim at nothing less than “individualization,” since it is far easier to manipulate a collection of discrete and increasingly independent individuals than a community. Guns undermine just that — community. Their pervasive, open presence would sow apprehension, suspicion, mistrust and fear, all emotions that are corrosive of community and civic cooperation. To that extent, then, guns give license to autocratic government.

Why Presidential Elections Matter

I was having dinner with some friends the other night when the question arose, “How important is the Presidency anyway?”. The person that asked it wondered why they were inundated for two years straight with presidential politics on every imaginable media outlet. It’s seemingly inescapable. Do we really need to focus on presidential elections this much? Is it just some deranged cult of personality hero fetish? Do we need to tune all of this stuff out?

No, we don’t.

Several people of different political persuasions catalogued various policy achievements of past presidents, money spent, judges appointed and wars fought. But the presidency is much more than a list of policies enacted or decisions made. It’s an institution, one that helps Americans know who we are, what we want, and what our hopes and dreams are.

This time around around we have seen a Republican party torn. Republicans don’t like Obama for a number of reasons, and Willard Mitt Romney seems like the man to beat him. And yet, Romney isn’t coasting to an easy coronation. There are social conservatives who don’t trust his reliability on abortion and gay marriage. There are fiscal conservatives that think Romney will be the return of the Bush era big government conservative with a vengeance. There are libertarians that worry about expansive government overreach that will continue to erode what little is left of the Constitution’s authority. There are dovish conservatives who worry that we just can’t handle another decade of military adventurism and nation building.

It looks as if this discordant host will not prevail and that Mitt Romney will be the Republican nominee. But this is not a foregone conclusion. Five million dollars in Newt’s coffers certainly make things more interesting (interesting is of course a clinically neutral term). But whether or not the five million dollars the former Speaker of the People’s House will make the difference in the coming weeks, the subsequent elections still matter.

The exit polls in New Hampshire revealed something interesting. Ron Paul’s supporters said that they would support Romney as the nominee if he wins, but that they wanted to send a message. They wanted to send a message. Presidential elections matter and they get enough media coverage to make us want to be Amish and swear off social media for a reason. Presidential elections give us a chance to regularly revisit our ideals as a people. They give us all together as Iowans, Alaskans, Pennsylvanians and Californians to decide what makes us a people, and what would serve to make us a more perfect union. The primaries do divide us, but they also unite us. They help us to identify what are the most important questions, and what the answer to those questions are. True in the end when November rolls around we only get two choices, but those choices are the product of a refining process, one that winnows it down to what matters most to the most of us.

So this election season, don’t tune out. Tune in and make your voice heard. The conversation won’t be the same without it.

The Illogic and Injustice of Progressive Taxation, the bottom half don’t pay.

Many Republicans have decried the class warfare employed by the Left in this country, and have long wanted to replace our oppressive progressive tax system with a fairer, flatter tax. This video demonstrates the sensibility of those sentiments.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
World of Class Warfare – The Poor’s Free Ride Is Over
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David Brooks on the State of Presidential Politics

David Brooks offered his usual insightful analysis of last night’s GOP debate. It’s early in the primary season but he’s already fed up with what he sees as the inevitable tone of the ensuing national discourse:

Voters are in the market for new movements and new combinations, yet the two parties have grown more rigid. The Republican growth agenda — tax cuts and nothing else — is stupefyingly boring, fiscally irresponsible and politically impossible. Gigantic tax cuts — if they were affordable — might boost overall growth, but they would do nothing to address the structural problems that are causing a working-class crisis.
Republican politicians don’t design policies to meet specific needs, or even to help their own working-class voters. They use policies as signaling devices — as ways to reassure the base that they are 100 percent orthodox and rigidly loyal. Republicans have taken a pragmatic policy proposal from 1980 and sanctified it as their core purity test for 2012.
As for the Democrats, they offer practically nothing. They acknowledge huge problems like wage stagnation and then offer… light rail! Solar panels! It was telling that the Democrats offered no budget this year, even though they are supposedly running the country. That’s because they too are trapped in a bygone era.
Mentally, they are living in the era of affluence, but, actually, they are living in the era of austerity. They still have these grand spending ideas, but there is no longer any money to pay for them and there won’t be for decades. Democrats dream New Deal dreams, propose nothing and try to win elections by making sure nobody ever touches Medicare.
Covering this upcoming election is like covering a competition between two Soviet refrigerator companies, cold-war relics offering products that never change.
What is Brooks’ prescription? Something that might be too sensible to be embraced by any candidate:
If there were a Hamiltonian Party, it would be offering a multifaceted reinvigoration agenda. It would grab growth ideas from all spots on the political spectrum and blend them together. Its program would be based on the essential political logic: If you want to get anything passed, you have to offer an intertwined package that smashes the Big Government vs. Small Government orthodoxies and gives everybody something they want.

Why Does Michael Vick Enrage Us?

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This recent MSNBC commentary on the conversation that reportedly occurred between President Obama and the owner of the Eagles concerning Michael Vick is certainly insightful, measured and nuanced. Melissa Harris-Perry certainly makes salient points about the racist legacy of our justice system and the American story in general. But at one point she questions the way we respond emotionally to Vick’s crimes, alleging that it is in part due to the “fetishization” of canines, setting them apart from other animals because they are our pets. Jim Gorant provides a better explanation as to why we respond with such emotion in the introduction to his book The Lost Dogs, which chronicles the story of Vick and his dog fighting ring:

…“Why does it matter, they’re just dogs?” The more verbose in this camp might elaborate: “People are dying and starving every daybigger problems. No one cares if you kill cows or chickens or hunt deer. What’s different about dogs?”

What is different about dogs? I had not directly addressed the question in the article. On some level it seemed obvious to me, but at the same time I couldn’t put a satisfying answer to words. As I started work on this book, the question hung over my head. As I was interviewing experts, reading books on canine history and behavior, touring shelters, and talking to dog lovers, I processed a lot of the information through the prism of that question.

The answer, cobbled together from all those readings and conversations, took me back to the beginning. Men first domesticated dogs more than ten thousand years ago, when our ancestors were hunting for their meals and sleeping next to open fires at night. Dogs were instant helpers in our struggle for survival. They guarded us in the dark and helped us find food by day. We offered them something, too, scraps of food, some measure of protection, the heat of the flames. In an article about the origin of dogs that ran in the New York Times in early 2010, one expert on dog genetics theorized that “dogs could have been the sentries that let hunter-gatherers settle without fear of surprise attack. They may also have been the first major item of inherited wealth, preceding cattle, and so could have laid the foundations for the gradations of wealth and social hierarchy that differentiated settled groups from their hunter-gatherer predecessors.”

Certainly, as man rose in the world, dogs came with us, perhaps even aiding the advance. They continued to guard us and help with hunting, but they did more. They marched with armies into war, they worked by our side, hauling, pulling, herding, retrieving. We manipulated their genetic makeup to suit our purposes, crossbreeding types to create animals that could kill the rats infesting our cities or search for those lost in the snow or the woods.

In return we brought them into our homes, made them part of our families. We offered them love and companionship, and they returned the gesture. From the start it was a compact: You do this for us and we’ll do that for you.

Our relationship with dogs has always been different than it has been with livestock or wildlife. The only other animal that comes close is the horse, which has undoubtedly been a partner in our evolution and a companion. But a horse can’t curl up at the bottom of your bed at night, and it can’t come up and lick your face when you’re feeling down. Dogs have that ability to sense what we’re feeling and commiserate. There’s a reason they’re called man’s best friend.

Melissa Harris-Perry is right to point out that our sensitivities to any form of animal cruelty ought to be higher. But the natural horror that the story of the dogs abused and murdered by Vick evokes is not the product of a recently developed fetish that could have only emerged in a consumeristic society of excess and decadence. The story is so horrific because it involves dogs, creatures that we can easily empathize with because they have developed, through the evolutionary process, the ability to empathize with us. They understand human emotion and that very capacity makes the depth and breadth of their suffering so painful.

In the Problem of Pain C.S. Lewis describes the process of training a dog as follows:

…the association of (say) man and dog is primarily for the man’s sake: he tames the dog primarily that he may love it, not that it may love him, and that it may serve him, not that he may serve it. Yet at the same time, the dog’s interests are not sacrificed to the man’s. The one end (that he may love it) cannot be fully attained unless it also, in its fashion, loves him, nor can it serve him unless he, in a different fashion, serves it. Now just because the dog is by human standards one of the ‘best’ of irrational creatures, and a proper object for a man to love—of course, with that degree and kind of love which is proper to such an object, and not with silly anthropomorphic exaggerations—man interferes with the dog and makes it more lovable than it was in mere nature. In its state of nature it has a smell, and habits, which frustrate man’s love: he washes it, housetrains it, teaches it not to steal, and is so enabled to love it completely. To the puppy the whole proceeding would seem, if it were a theologian, to cast grave doubts on the ‘goodness’ of man: but the full-grown and full-trained dog, larger, healthier, and longer-lived than the wild dog, and admitted, as it were by Grace, to a whole world of affections, loyalties, interests, and comforts entirely beyond its animal destiny, would have no such doubts. It will be noted that the man (I am speaking throughout of the good man) takes all these pains with the dog, and gives all these pains to the dog, only because it is an animal high in the scale—because it is so nearly lovable that it is worth his while to make it fully lovable. He does not house-train the earwig or give baths to centipedes. We may wish, indeed, that we were of so little account to God that He left us alone to follow our natural impulses—that He would give over trying to train us into something so unlike our natural selves: but once again, we are asking not for more love, but for less.

Dogs have a capacity to be taken up into a web and world of relations that is theirs not so much by nature as by grace. And being taken up into that relatedness can also cause them more suffering and pain than could be borne by their evolutionary ancestor the wolf.

Many animal rights activists wanted all of the Vick dogs destroyed citing the potential danger they could do to the already sullied reputation Pit Bulls. But in the end only 2 of the 51 dogs seized from the Bad News Kennel had to be euthanized. Many were fully rehabilitated and some even serve as therapy dogs today.

In the end of the introduction to The Lost Dogs Jim Gorant relays the feelings of one of the team members that worked with the rescued dogs:

To this day, I believe Donna Reynolds, one of the founders of Bay Area Doglovers Responsible About Pitbulls (BAD RAP), a rescue organization at the center of the Vick case, said it best. “Vick showed the worst of us, our bloodlust, but this [rescue effort] showed the best. I don’t think any of us thought it was possible—the government, the rescuers, the people involved. We like to think we have life figured out, and it’s nice that it can still surprise us, that sometimes we can accomplish things we had only dreamed of. We’ve moved our evolution forward. Just a little bit, but we have, and I’m happy to have been a part of that.”

Perhaps our bloodlust is also revealed in the vengeful outcry against Vick. Certainly what he did was inexcusable, but Vick wasn’t born wanting to do this. He grew up as part of a broken family system in an area plagued by poverty and crime. His sins were certainly shaped by being sinned against. Reading the story of the redemption of the Vick dogs gives me hope for the redemption of Michael Vick, and for every human soul.