St. Patrick’s Day: ‘There’s No One as Irish as Barack O’Bama’

I wrote earlier about The Photo Not Taken as I sped through Moneygall, Ireland, birthplace of Barack Obama’s great-great-great grandfather a few days before the historic 2008 U.S. elections.

What do you know? Canon Stephen Neill, Anglican priest in the diocese of Limerick, Killaloe who blogs at Paddy Anglican, sent me the photo that I missed!

Sign outside Moneygall, Ireland. Thanks Stephen!
Sign outside Moneygall, Ireland. Thanks Stephen!

Video: ‘Thank You’ MTV’s Sway Williams! Obama Speaks on Climate Change


This week MTV’s Sway Williams got President Obama to break the climate silence, asking him a tough question about global warming. Obama says he’s “surprised it didn’t come up in the debates.”

Unfortunately, Obama’s answers are based on trying to get the U.S. to the Copenhagen carbon target, which scientists around the world resoundingly agree are woefully inadequate.

According to UK’s The Guardian, “The pledges made by governments resulting from the Copenhagen climate conference are nowhere near enough to hold global temperatures to the summit’s agreed goal of no more than a 2C rise, researchers have calculated. The results, which are the most rigorous analyses yet made of pledges submitted to the UN …, will increase pressure on rich countries to make far deeper cuts in negotiations over the next year.”

The key climate defense strategy right now is three fold (read more at Why Bill McKibben is the New Noah). If we do these three things, there’s a possibility that we can reverse climate change, restore health to our skies, earth, and oceans, and move forward into a future where our grandkids can not just survive, but thrive.

Here’s the plan (and look for Bill McKibben’s “Do The Math” tour this fall):

1. Divest or get active regarding all stockholdings in these six corporations: ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Chevron, Peabody, Arch, and BP. These are the primary oil, natural gas, and coal companies operating in or through the United States that top the charts as carbon polluters. If Americans focus on U.S. companies, then we can be the tipping point for a transnational shift. If you — or the portfolio you influence — own stock, then get rid of it and tell the company why. If you don’t want to divest, then you need to decide now to become a shareholder activist. If you’re not a stockholder, then pressure your faith institutions, universities, and local governments to get out of “planet-killing” profits. This is the economic part of the plan.

2. Push for carbon “fee-and-dividend” laws on corporate carbon emitters at the local, state, and federal level. No more free rides for oil, gas, and coal companies. You pay taxes to have your garbage hauled away. Why shouldn’t they? The fee is charged at the point of origin or point of import on greenhouse gas emitting energy (oil, gas, and coal). The fee is progressive (increases gradually) over time. The fee is returned directly to the public in monthly dividends to individual taxpayers, with limited-to-no government involvement. Australia initiated this legislation in June. We can learn from them. This is the legislative part of the plan.

3. Take personal responsibility. Everyone can continue to limit energy consumption, use renewable energy sources, and build out a sustainable footprint for our homes and churches. But we also need people to step up and put their bodies on the line to stop the mining of tar sands in Alberta, Canada, and prevent the construction of the Keystone XL and Northern Gateway pipelines that are being built to transport Alberta’s unconventional “tar sands” oil. Scientists around the world say that opening the Alberta tar sands and pumping this non-traditional oil through these pipelines will put the planet on a one-way road to climate disaster. That’s why fighting the Keystone XL Pipeline in the U.S. and the Northern Gateway Pipeline in Canada is critical. This is the direct action and personal responsibility part of the plan.

Read more about this here.

Video: Obama’s Address at Cesar Chavez National Monument

“At its fundamental level,” writes Frederick John Dalton in The Moral Vision of Cesar Chavez, “the farm-worker struggle Cesar Chavez led is the struggle of the poor to be recognized as human beings. Cesar Chavez and La Causa bear witeness to the morally perverse situation of oppression in the name of freedom, exploitation in the name of competition, suffering in the name of efficiency, and impoverishment in the name of private property.”

Watch President Obama’s address to the overflow crowd at the newly appointed Cesar Chavez National Monument:

Below is an excerpt from Obama Dedicates Cesar Chavez National Monument by Michael A. Memoli:

KEENE, Calif. – President Obama’s stop in this remote and sparsely populated San Joaquin Valley town was about as far off the campaign trail as a candidate could be so close to an election. But his message as he dedicated the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument was not without political significance, as he honored the legacy of a civil rights and labor leader whose “si se puede” credo was an inspiration for his own historic campaign four years ago.

Speaking on the 187-acre property that served as both home and operational headquarters for Chavez and his United Farm Workers movement, Obama said Chavez’s tenacity on behalf of a new generation of workers was part of “the story of who we are as Americans,” meriting such a tribute alongside other national monuments like the Statue of Liberty and the Grand Canyon.

“It’s a story of natural wonders and modern marvels, of fierce battles and quiet progress. But it’s also a story of people, of determined, fearless, hopeful people who have always been willing to devote their lives to making this country a little more just and a little more free,” Obama said.

Have You Done Your ‘State of the Union’ Homework?

Tonight, President Obama is slated to “go populist” on America in his third State of the Union address. Insiders say he’s going to lay out a “blueprint for an economy that’s built to last.”

The speech will continue a theme President Obama laid out in Kansas last month – that in today’s economy the game has been rigged against the nation’s middle class.

On December 6, Obama gave an important and revealing speech in Osawatomie, Kansas — the best we’ve heard from him since the campaign trail. Building on Theodore Roosevelt’s New Nationalism language from Roosevelt’s Aug. 31, 1910, speech in Osawatomie honoring abolitionist John Brown, Obama reprises his platform of populist economics. But Obama is not yet Roosevelt. (See The Osawatomie Speech: Obama and Roosevelt.)

“We grudge no man a fortune in civil life if it is honorably obtained and well used. It is not even enough that it should have gained without doing damage to the community,” Roosevelt said in his speech. “We should permit it to be gained only so long as the gaining represents benefit to the community.”

Before watching tonight’s State of the Union address, read up on its historical context. Read Roosevelt’s original speech and President Obama’s December address. Here are some quotes from both:

“One of the chief factors in progress is the destruction of special privilege. The essence of any struggle for healthy liberty has always been, and must always be, to take from some one man or class of men the right to enjoy power, or wealth, or position, or immunity, which has not been earned by service to his or their fellows.”–President Theodore Roosevelt

“Long before the recession hit, hard work stopped paying off for too many people. Fewer and fewer of the folks who contributed to the success of our economy actually benefited from that success. Those at the very top grew wealthier from their incomes and their investments – wealthier than ever before. But everybody else struggled with costs that were growing and paycheques that weren’t – and too many families found themselves racking up more and more debt just to keep up.”–President Barack Obama

Continue reading “Have You Done Your ‘State of the Union’ Homework?”

Weak Republicans = Weak Obama?

Kai Wright
ColorLines editor Kai Wright always provides incisive commentary. As the Republican candidates move from New Hampshire to South Carolina and on to Florida, I’m wondering how to push Obama to change abusive economic policies and practices that “crush my people, and grind the face of the poor into the dust” (Isaiah 3:15). Wright says that the collapse of the Republican party may allow Obama to maintain a politics of the mushy middle, rather than the progressive reforms he campaigned on. Here’s an excerpt from Wright’s recent column:

” … [O]nce we set the horse race of partisan politics aside, the Republican collapse begins to look less gratifying. Here’s the thing: Elections are for incumbents all about being held accountable for their choices. And what the Obama White House needs more than anything at this juncture is a jolt of accountability from the social justice reformers who believed in the change it sold four years ago.

Democratic Party leaders have for generations distracted their own base with the horrific threat of their Republican challengers. From LGBT people to unionized workers, the message is too often the same: Never mind our failings, look at the scary other guys. That’s long been a winning strategy for uniting the Democratic coalition. But the Obama team has wielded it against progressive critics with particular vengeance. Indeed, the tea party has in some ways been as helpful a distraction for the White House as it has been an obstructionist tool for the Republicans.

In this light, the Republican field that’s emerging from Iowa and New Hampshire is tailor made for the Obama administration to avoid a much needed reality check with its own reformists supporters. The president will be able to run simultaneously against the lunacy of a Rick Santorum—or, whoever wins the so-called “conservative primary”—and the weakness of Mitt Romney. The latter poses little threat with voters and the former keeps picky progressives off his tail. As long as he faces no meaningful challenge, the president has little reason to vow a course correction from the choices of his first term. …–Excerpt from Why The GOP’s Spectacular Collapse Isn’t Good For Social Justice by Kai Wright

Video: ‘Say No to the Pipeline’

Much thanks to Heather Wilson and Cathleen Falsani over at Sojourners for dressing up the video of my speech last week outside at the rally against the Keystone XL pipeline.–Rose

Say NO to the Pipeline from Sojourners on Vimeo.

Sojourners Associate Editor Rose Marie Berger addressed hundreds gathered outside State Department hearings in Washington, D.C. last week, to protest the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

If approved by the Obama administration, the pipeline would transport crude oil from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada 1,600 miles south — through the American Heartland — to the oil fields of Texas near the Gulf of Mexico.

In the September/October issue of Sojourners Magazine, environmental activist Bill McKibben called the Keystone proposal, “the ugliest project you’ve probably never heard of.” McKibben, author of The End of Nature and founder of the group 350.org, explained:

And make no mistake — that pipeline is a radical act. It helps unlock the planet’s second-largest pool of carbon, outmatched only by the oil wells of Saudi Arabia. There’s enough carbon up there that if you could burn it all off you’d raise the atmosphere’s carbon concentration from its current 390 parts per million to nearly 600. Even burning a much smaller amount of these tar sands would mean that it’s “essentially game over” for the climate, according to [NASA scientist James] Hansen.
The pipeline is ugly for other reasons too — it trashes native lands and endangers prime American farmland (can you imagine running an oil pipeline atop the Ogallala Aquifer?). But it’s beautiful for one reason: President Obama, all by himself, can stop it. Since it crosses national borders, it requires the man himself to sign a piece of paper saying it’s “in the national interest.”

On Oct. 7, the State Department held its final public hearings on the proposed U.S.-Canada pipeline, including testimony from various activists and faith leaders, such as the Rev. Jacek Orzechowski of the Franciscan Action Network, the Rev. Mari Castellanos of the United Church of Christ, John Elwood of the Evangelical Environmental Network and Joelle Novey of the Greater Washington Interfaith Power and Light.

C-SPAN has made video of the lengthy hearings (4+ hours) available online. Watch HERE.

A decision on the Keystone XL pipeline is expected from the Obama administration by the end of the year.

The video of Rose Marie Berger was produced by Heather Wilson, associate web developer at Sojourners. Cathleen Falsani, Sojourners’ Web Editor and Director of New Media, also contributed to this report.

You’ve Got Mail: Barack Sends His Thanks to YOU

President Barack Obama signs the healthcare reform bill Tuesday in the White House as 11-year-old Marcellus Owens looks on. CHARLES DHARAPAK / AP
President Barack Obama signs the healthcare reform bill Tuesday in the White House as 11-year-old Marcellus Owens looks on. CHARLES DHARAPAK / AP

This morning I had a doctor’s appointment at Kaiser. I was sitting in the waiting room when the CBS special report came on the TV announcing that the President of the United States was making a speech before he signed into law historic legislation to reform how health care is delivered in this country.

All the hum of talk died down and everyone turned toward the television. “It’s about time,” said one. “Them Southern states are gonna fight it,” said another. “Let ’em try,” chimed in some one else. “Is this gonna help with my mother’s prescriptions?” somebody asked. And the whole room cried out, “Yes!”

When President Obama finally signed the bill (and signed and signed and signed it with all those “historic” pens), everyone sitting around me gave a little cheer — nurses, patients, doctors, janitors, everybody.

In the President’s speech today, he thanked YOU. Because it’s been the push from every corner of the country that kept health care reform from dying. It’s not a perfect bill. It’s not universal coverage. It leaves out the undocumented workers among us. But in order to build a new house, you first have to pour a foundation. That’s what this bill is — a solid foundation on which to build. I know you all are working hard out there on many issues that you care about. But take a moment to savor this change and to drink in a President of the United States telling you thanks for your good work. Here’s an excerpt from his speech:

After a century of striving, after a year of debate, after a historic vote, health care reform is no longer an unmet promise.  It is the law of the land.  It is the law of the land.   And although it may be my signature that’s affixed to the bottom of this bill, it was your work, your commitment, your unyielding hope that made this victory possible.  When the special interests deployed an army of lobbyists, an onslaught of negative ads, to preserve the status quo, you didn’t give up.  You hit the phones and you took to the streets.  You mobilized and you organized.  You turned up the pressure and you kept up the fight. When the pundits were obsessing over who was up and who was down, you never lost sight of what was right and what was wrong.  You knew this wasn’t about the fortunes of a party — this was about the future of our country.

And when the opposition said this just wasn’t the right time, you didn’t want to wait another year, or another decade, or another generation for reform.  You felt the fierce urgency of now. You met the lies with truth.  You met cynicism with conviction.  Most of all, you met fear with a force that’s a lot more powerful — and that is faith in America.  You met it with hope.  Despite decades in which Washington failed to tackle our toughest challenges, despite the smallness of so much of what passes for politics these days, despite those who said that progress was impossible, you made people believe that people who love this country can still change it.  So this victory is not mine — it is your victory.  It’s a victory for the United States of America.

For two years on the campaign trail, and for the past year as we’ve worked to reform our system of health insurance, it’s been folks like you who have propelled this movement and kept us fixed on what was at stake in this fight.  And rarely has a day gone by that I haven’t heard from somebody personally — whether in a letter, or an email, or at a town hall — who’s reminded me of why it was so important that we not give up; who reminded me why we could not quit. …

Now, as long a road as this has been, we all know our journey is far from over.  There’s still the work to do to rebuild this economy.  There’s still work to do to spur on hiring.  There’s work to do to improve our schools and make sure every child has a decent education.  There’s still work to do to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.  There’s more work to do to provide greater economic security to a middle class that has been struggling for a decade. So this victory does not erase the many serious challenges we face as a nation.  Those challenges have been allowed to linger for years, even decades, and we’re not going to solve them all overnight.

But as we tackle all these other challenges that we face, as we continue on this journey, we can take our next steps with new confidence, with a new wind at our backs — because we know it’s still possible to do big things in America —  because we know it’s still possible to rise above the skepticism, to rise above the cynicism, to rise above the fear; because we know it’s still possible to fulfill our duty to one another and to future generations.  So, yes, this has been a difficult two years.  There will be difficult days ahead.  But let us always remember the lesson of this day — and the lesson of history — that we, as a people, do not shrink from a challenge.  We overcome it.  We don’t shrink from our responsibilities.  We embrace it.  We don’t fear the future.  We shape the future.  That’s what we do.  That’s who we are.  That makes us the United States of America.

Read the whole address here.

Sheena Iyengar: Health-care Debate and ‘Different Views About Freedom’

artofchoosingI was listening this afternoon to social psychologist Sheena Iyengar interviewed on the Diane Rehm show. Iyengar, who has a new book out called The Art of Choosing, made a very insightful comment on President Obama’s role as mediator and consensus-builder between Republicans and Democrats in reforming the American health-care system. She said:

The job of the mediator or the leader becomes how do I make sure that I surface all these ideas and take them in a constructive direction and don’t allow this group to disintegrate into a dysfunctional conflict. …

“[The leader’s role is] is to create a truly phenomenal choice that will work. And that’s actually Barack Obama’s challenge right now. If you think about the Republicans and the Democrats in terms of the health care debate. What they are really arguing about at its essence is the different views they have about freedom.

On the one hand, the Democrats are saying the only freedom that’s fair, the only freedom that I value, is one that gives everybody the same outcomes, the same health care. The Republicans are saying the only freedom that’s fair, the only freedom I value, is one that ensures equal opportunity, not equal outcome. So that means that anybody who’s worthy or who has more money or who has better health, whatever the criteria is for greater merit, the people who are more meritorious should get better health care and the people who are less should get less.

Neither position is particularly right or wrong but they are so fundamental to the two parties different views that Barrack Obama has this major challenge on his hands as to how is he going to come up with a health care option that will speak to both models such that people believing in either one of those models will believe in the choice he’s providing.”–Sheena Iyengar

Sheena Iyengar, researcher and S.T. Lee Professor of Business at Columbia University, is the author of The Art of Choosing.

Kwok Pui-Lan: From Tiananmen to Tehran

puilan4website

Kwok Pui-lan is Professor of Christian Theology and Spirituality at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA.

She is an Asian feminist theologian that I’ve always been very impressed with. Her writing on the role of the Bible in a non-Bible culture was eye-opening–as well as all of her scripture interpretation from the perspective of the colonialized.

In a recent blog post at Religion Dispatches, she examines the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square revolt with the current uprising in Iran:

On the twentieth anniversary of June 4, Tiananmen Square was relatively quiet and heavily guarded by the police. Hong Kong, as a Special Administrative Region, was the only place in China where a public candlelight vigil could be held. Several Christian groups in Hong Kong have helped organizing these annual vigils and pushed for the vindication of the June 4 demonstrators. The Hong Kong Christian Patriotic Democratic Movement issued a twentieth anniversary prayer, which says:

Righteous and peaceful God,
We pray to you.
The tears of Tiananmen mothers have not dried.
The curse of the wrongful deaths has not been lifted.
We pray that we will have a gentle and humble heart
To hold steadfast to our belief
And not allow distorted history have the last word . . .
Even though the dark night may be long
The light of our hope will be as long. . .

Last week as the world watched the demonstration of the Iranian people, images of the Tiananmen crackdown flashed back on many people’s minds. President Barack Obama invoked the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” He continued, “We are bearing witness to the Iranian peoples’ belief in that truth, and we will continue to bear witness.”

Read her whole post here.

Kwok Pui-lan’s the author of Postcolonial Imagination and Feminist Theology, and editor of the major 4-volume reference work Women and Christianity (coming out in October 2009 from Routledge).

Obama Defends Closing Guantanamo and Cleaning Up Bush-Cheney Mess

breakingthesilence_dianna_fCleaning up the Bush-Cheney mess will take some time and take careful and responsible work by this new administration. They must be guided by humanitarian principles and the clear separation of powers and protection of citizen’s rights outlined in the Constitution.

If you haven’t preached a sermon on what’s wrong with torture, I suggest you get on it! (Read Back to Basics: T is for Torture to understand why we need to teach from the pulpit that torture is a sin.)

Preach with the lectionary in one hand and President Obama’s national security speech in the other. Consider using Psalm 1, if you’re using the Revised Common Lectionary:

Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law they meditate day and night.

Or Ephesians 1:20-21, on this Christ who was tortured, if you are using the Ascension readings:

God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.

Following is an exerpt from the text of President Obama’s speech this morning on national security issues, as released by the White House.

We’re currently launching a review of current policies by all those agencies responsible for the classification of documents to determine where reforms are possible, and to assure that the other branches of government will be in a position to review executive branch decisions on these matters. Because in our system of checks and balances, someone must always watch over the watchers — especially when it comes to sensitive administration — information.

Now, along these same lines, my administration is also confronting challenges to what is known as the “state secrets” privilege. This is a doctrine that allows the government to challenge legal cases involving secret programs. It’s been used by many past Presidents — Republican and Democrat — for many decades. And while this principle is absolutely necessary in some circumstances to protect national security, I am concerned that it has been over-used. It is also currently the subject of a wide range of lawsuits. So let me lay out some principles here. We must not protect information merely because it reveals the violation of a law or embarrassment to the government. And that’s why my administration is nearing completion of a thorough review of this practice.

And we plan to embrace several principles for reform. We will apply a stricter legal test to material that can be protected under the state secrets privilege. We will not assert the privilege in court without first following our own formal process, including review by a Justice Department committee and the personal approval of the Attorney General. And each year we will voluntarily report to Congress when we have invoked the privilege and why because, as I said before, there must be proper oversight over our actions.

On all these matters related to the disclosure of sensitive information, I wish I could say that there was some simple formula out there to be had. There is not. These often involve tough calls, involve competing concerns, and they require a surgical approach. But the common thread that runs through all of my decisions is simple: We will safeguard what we must to protect the American people, but we will also ensure the accountability and oversight that is the hallmark of our constitutional system. I will never hide the truth because it’s uncomfortable. I will deal with Congress and the courts as co-equal branches of government. I will tell the American people what I know and don’t know, and when I release something publicly or keep something secret, I will tell you why.

Read his whole speech here.