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The political scene in Washington, 2010 - 2011

Click here for reports and comments
from Pres. Obama's Inauguration through the end of 2009.

Click here for news and comments
from the Election through the Inauguration

(Nov. 4 through Jan. 20)

Click here for items from Oct. 25 to Nov. 4, 2008

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June 2007 - Oct. 14, 2008

What are your thoughts about the current political/legislative situation in Washington?
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to be shared here.

The 'New Nixon'

By Berry Craig
AFT Local 1360


Double-divorced draft evader Newt Gingrich tossed a big chunk of red meat to Christian conservatives at the “Thanksgiving Family Forum” GOP presidential candidate debate in Iowa.

The former House speaker is still the leading anti-Romney candidate in the polls. Feeling feisty among friends, he dissed the Occupy Wall Street movement, claiming it shows “how the left has collapsed as a moral system.” Gingrich followed up with a sound bite old Spiro Agnew would have loved, admonishing the protestors to “go get a job right after you take a bath.”

Interestingly, more than a few Occupy Wall Street protestors say Christian morality motivates them, too, notably Jesus' denunciations of greed. He considered greed immoral and said so in no uncertain terms. Christ's running the moneychangers out of the temple in Jerusalem is one of the most famous episodes in the New Testament.

A trio of Republican-friendly religious right groups sponsored the debate. They and other Christian conservatives generally view "morality" differently. Often as not, they define it in terms of marital fidelity and confining sex to the marriage bed.

Somehow, though, Christian conservatives find forgiveness in their hearts for their all-time hero, Ronald Reagan. He dumped Jane Wyman, his first wife, and later married Nancy Davis, who was pregnant when they tied the knot.

Will religious rightists forgive Gingrich for his serial adultery? He is on his third marriage. Gingrich cheated on wives one and two and ditched them for his paramours.

In any event, Christian conservatives are big on patriotism, too. They put “country” right after “God.”

“If you're not brave, you're not going to be free,” said Gingrich, a God-and-country guy who saw Vietnam as noble crusade against the Evil Empire. Yet while the bullets flew, Gingrich was stateside in civvies, shielded from the draft, the Viet Cong and Uncle Ho's NVA regulars by a coveted college deferment.

Gingrich is one of several graying, long-in-the-tooth Republican saber-rattlers who assiduously avoided military service in their salad days. Check out and you’ll discover that Gingrich is not the only aging GOP conservative who gave Vietnam a pass:

“Kenneth Starr, Clinton’s legal nemesis, had psoriasis; Jack Kemp, Dole’s running mate in 1996 [Dole was a genuine World War II hero], was unfit because of a knee injury, though he heroically continued as a National Football League quarterback for another eight years; Pat Buchanan had arthritis in his knees, though he soon became an avid jogger.”

Rush Limbaugh is a big Gingrich fan. Snopes says he used an anal cyst to escape the draft and Vietnam. Draft evasion landed Limbaugh and Gingrich in the New Hampshire Gazette’s “Chickenhawk Hall of Shame.”

The hall includes a whole roost of right-wing bellicose birds who, according to the Gazette, distinguished themselves for “choosing to ‘support’ war, while also choosing not to serve in the military.”

Of course, it remains to be seen if the GOP’s “family values” faithful will absolve Gingrich the way they did Reagan, both of whom are members of Pensito Review’s online “GOP Adulterers Hall of Fame.” Reagan, Pensito says, “…was… the first politician to benefit from the Republicans’ cynical pretense of moral superiority in order to win votes. His was the first presidential campaign to actively court Christian nationalists, who were organized back then as the ‘Moral Majority,’ under the leadership of the late Jerry Falwell.”

Gingrich is making the same pitch to Christian conservatives, and it seems to be working. Jonathan Alter says Gingrich is counting “on good old American amnesia” to sustain him as the comeback kid. (Unable to hound President Clinton out of office or to keep Democrats from winning more House seats in the 1998 Congressional elections, Gingrich, his popularity plummeting, resigned his speakership and House seat in 1999. He is still the only House speaker disciplined for ethics violations.

In a recent column in The National Memo, Alter adds that Gingrich's "game plan is to place in Iowa and New Hampshire, then win South Carolina, which neighbors his home state of Georgia and contains a lot of veterans, who respond well to his bombast despite his failure to serve in the military during the Vietnam War.

“Newt is like the ‘New Nixon’ in 1968 -- unattractive in a general election, unsuited temperamentally for high office and yet undaunted. Richard Nixon [and Agnew] won that year despite his skeletons, and Gingrich genuinely believes he will, too, after all those Churchillian years in the wilderness. He will fight them on the beaches! In the woods! In the lobbies!”

But not in Vietnam, though Gingrich loves military metaphors and has claimed "politics and war are remarkably similar situations."

For the record, I'm 62 and not a veteran either. But I wasn't gung ho for the Vietnam War. I didn’t want anybody going to Vietnam. I guess that makes me just a plain “chicken.”

Berry Craig is an associate professor of history at Paducah Community College, and a fourth-generation member of Mayfield, Ky., First Presbyterian Church. He and his wife, Melinda, a high school English teacher, have been members of the Witherspoon Society, and now are part of Voices for Justice.  Berry is also currently active in the struggle for labor union rights.

Bachmann's prophecy, joke or not, has lots of company         [8-30-11]

Everybody (well, quite a lot of people, anyway) is talking about Michele Bachmann’s suggestion that the recent earthquake and hurricane were messages from God – specifically warnings to that wayward monster, Washington. Was she just joking, or was she serious? Whatever you choose to make of it, Daniel Burke, writing for Religion News Service, points out that she is not alone in viewing natural disasters as divine punishments. He notes:

Nearly six in 10 white evangelicals believe natural disasters are a sign from God, according to a survey conducted last March by Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with Religion News Service. A majority also believe that God punishes a nation for its citizens' sins, the survey found.

Many of us might affirm that “God works in history,” but might not say it in quite those ways. So what would you say to Rep. Bachmann and the millions who would more or less agree with her? Please just send a note, and we’ll post it here!

Latin American Protestant leaders criticize U.S. budget decisions    [8-24-11]

Jerry L. Van Marter, of Presbyterian News Service, reports on August24, 2011:

More than 100 Protestant leaders from 12 countries in Latin America, representing diverse denominations and ministries, have written an open letter expressing their concern over the economic crisis in the United States and the decisions being made by the U.S. Congress to address it.

In their letter addressed to Christians in the United States, the Latin American leaders urge them to “lift up the voice of the millions of people who do not have a part in the major economic decisions being made in Washington, D.C.”

They call upon U.S. government officials to recognize that the actions they take have consequences not only in the U.S. but also on the economies of other nations, and therefore in both the short and long terms, they will be affect millions of people in the countries of the global south.

For the rest of the news report, and the full text of the letter from Latin American church leaders >>
Government’s bad, says the Tea Party. Why not go see how that works?

Some reflections from your WebWeaver, Doug King    [8-20-11]

The latest conservative Republican to join the crowded race for the party’s presidential nomination, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, said in his announcement speech on Saturday, August 13 at the RedState Gathering in Charleston, S.C.) that he would aim, as president, to make sure government gets smaller, to the point where it just won’t be a part of daily life for most of us. He stated with nice clarity what the Tea Party folks have been saying loudly for months: government is bad.

The same day we heard renewed reports of the terrible suffering in Somalia, as thousands of children are dying of thirst and starvation and, now, disease. But if the Tea Party is right, shouldn’t they be better off than all the rest of us? After all, for years the people of Somalia have essentially lived without a government, and even now, with outside help, their government has tenuous control of just a few areas of Mogadishu, the nation’s capital city. The rest of the country is free of government. Lucky them!

I wonder whether it would be helpful for some of the Republican would-be candidates, including Michelle Bachmann and Governor Perry along with some of the Tea-Party leaders, to spend a few days visiting Somalia, just to learn what they are asking for.

Just one suggestion, though: They should be sure their immunizations are up to date, and take with them food and water to sustain themselves for their stay. Why, maybe they could even take along a little extra to help a couple children live.

Then they could come home to the U.S. and tell us how much happier we’d be without all the burdens imposed by having a government.

I received a nice comment from a good PVJ member:

Doug's reflections on the less government issue that the GOP is spouting should go further than this web-site. Why not send it to the Washington Post, the New York Times, or I know, send it to one of those Texas papers or all of them for that matter. Jody Phillips, Brighton, CO

Well, I haven't tried all the papers Jody suggested, but I have sent my little letter to our local paper, the Minneapolis Star Tribune.  We'll see if it sees the light of day there.                 Doug King

Any other thoughts? 
Please send a note, to be shared here!

A few justice-oriented comments on the budget/debt/default mess

Or what would YOU call it?    [8-1-11]

You’ve no doubt heard and read more than you want about the crisis in Washington. So why add more? But this may be one of the most significant crises of the 21st century – which has already had its fair share of crises.

I’d like to share with you a few reports that seem to shed a ray or two of light in the gloom. And we’d like to hear from you – your thoughts, concerns, suggestions for any helpful ways to look at the issues involved.

The PC(USA) bears witness in Washington

First, the PC(USA) has been deeply engaged in the debate in Washington, both through the active role of the church’s Office of Public Witness and its director, the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, and through the participation of the Stated Clerk, the Rev. Gradye Parsons, joined other faith leaders (Christian, Jewish, and Muslim) on Tuesday to meet with Republican and Democratic Congressional leadership, lifting up those struggling with poverty in the U.S. and abroad.

Click here for a general report from the Office of Public Witness, posted on August 1, 2011.

More on the arrest of Herbert Nelson, along with nearly a dozen other religious leaders, on July 28 while engaging in prayer and civil disobedience in the U.S. Capitol Building. Their action was to protest the fact that their pleas to the Administration and Congress to protect funding for the nation’s most vulnerable people are being ignored.

More on Gradye Parsons’ statement

He expressed the purpose of the group’s visit in these words: “We have come to Washington to meet with Congressional leaders and to join with you in daily prayer for a global economy and a federal budget that breaks the yokes of injustice, poverty, hunger, and unemployment throughout the world.”


Christian Century says this is “a time to spend”

Lawmakers in Washington have reached a deal to raise the debt ceiling and reduce government spending. But spending cuts will do nothing to meet the country's most pressing economic need: jobs. . . . Read more


Some fresh perspectives from out of the past

The Rev. Gordon C. Stewart, pastor at Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska, Minnesota, offers a few sharp observations on the crisis – with quotes from people ranging from Robert Kennedy to Ronald Reagan to Mahatma Gandhi and more.  Click here >>


Yours, mine and ours – under threat

For a more radical – and I think perhaps more Biblical – view of our economic woes and how to deal with them, Jay Walljasper, formerly an editor of Utne Reader and now editor of, asserts that most of our “wealth” is not private property, not under the control of corporations or government; it is rather the riches of nature and culture and relationships that enable us to survive and to thrive.

He begins:

Here's some great news in these tough times. Everyone has a long lost aunt who's leaving us an inheritance of incalculable value: clean water, public services, the Internet, parks, scientific knowledge, fashion styles, and much more.

The name of our aunt is "the commons." While she is metaphorical, the commons is as real as Lake Itasca, Excelsior Boulevard, the University of Minnesota, public hunting lands, the National Weather Service, hot dish recipes, Ole and Lena jokes, the local police force and the latest dance steps. [So, OK, he’s writing this in Minnesota for Minnesotans – but you can adapt it for your own setting.]

The commons means everything that belongs to all of us, and to future generations. Although few of us ever stop to think about the commons, it runs right through the center of our lives -- from the tap water we use to brush our teeth in the morning to the fairy tales we tell our kids at night.

The full essay >>

Jay Walljasper is also author of the new book All That We Share: A Field Guide to the Commons.



Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness

The PC(USA) Office of Public Witness has been working diligently with faith groups around Washington to advocate for a just and compassionate federal budget.

As elected leaders in Washington, D.C., continued to squabble over a deal to raise the federal debt ceiling, the faith community urged them to protect the poor and vulnerable from the effects of indiscriminate budget cuts. In a time of anemic economic recovery, our country is relying on Unemployment Insurance, Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, SNAP (formerly Food Stamps), and countless other federally funded services that make a difference in the lives of millions of people. Severe cuts to any of these programs, or even across-the-board budget changes like a global spending cap, debt trigger, or Balanced Budget Amendment, would increase suffering and exact the most sacrifice from those who can least afford it, while exempting from additional responsibility those who can afford to pay more.

“Inspired by a common spiritual conviction that God has called on all people to protect the vulnerable and promote the dignity of all individuals living in society,” Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons joined other Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders on Tuesday to meet with Republican and Democratic Congressional leadership, lifting up those struggling with poverty in the U.S. and abroad.

In addition to meetings with Congressional leadership and their staff, the religious leaders led a daily prayer vigil on the grounds of the United Methodist building on Capitol Hill, where Reverend Parsons said, “We have come to Washington to meet with Congressional leaders and to join with you in daily prayer for a global economy and a federal budget that breaks the yokes of injustice, poverty, hunger, and unemployment throughout the world.”

For Rev. Parsons’ full remarks, please visit

After their meetings with Congressional leadership, religious leaders were struck by the pessimism they encountered when they expressed hope for a productive, balanced approach to the nation’s fiscal woes. The Reverend Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, PC(USA) Director for Public Witness, who attended the meetings with Reverend Parsons said, “There seems to be no movement and no hope among political leaders. Now is the time for faith leaders and the faith community to take deliberate and forthright action to express disgust at the current situation and to demand a fair solution. We must be actively involved in this debate, both in Washington, D.C. and across the country.”

Frustrated that their pleas to the Administration and Congress to protect funding for the nation’s most vulnerable people are being ignored, the Reverend Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, together with nearly a dozen other religious leaders, was arrested Thursday afternoon in the U.S. Capitol Building while engaging in prayer and civil disobedience. The leaders refused to end their public prayers for an equitable resolution to the debt ceiling debate, despite repeated warnings from the U.S. Capitol Police and we then handcuffed and escorted to holding cells and were released later that evening.

Joined by Presbyterian ministers Jennifer Butler, Executive Director of Faith and Public Life, and Michael Livingston, past-President of the National Council of Churches, Reverend Nelson led religious leaders in prayerful civil disobedience, kneeling down in the Capitol Rotunda to pray for a debt ceiling deal that does not sacrifice the poor on the altar of political ideology. His participation was a matter of personal conscience and public witness. He said, “We are in a political quagmire. Due to the inability of the Congress to work together, the good of people across the globe is being compromised by the self interest of our political leaders. I am convinced that this is not the fault of Republicans, Democrats or Tea Party members alone. Too many Congresspersons of all parties are trapped in a space where commitment to the common good is diminished for the sake of personal gain and the seduction of power. In this process, the American people and others all over the world are left to suffer. Our denomination cannot stand idly by and watch while the mandate of the gospel to love our neighbors is violated in the halls of Congress.”

To see pictures of their prayer vigil in the Capitol building, find us on Facebook at Presbyterian Church (USA) Washington Office.

This weekend, Congressional leaders and President Obama announced a negotiated deal details of which are slowly trickling into the mainstream media. Congressional action is expected. On Wednesday, August 3rd at 12pm Eastern, Leslie Woods, Representative for Domestic Poverty and Environmental Issues, will work with interfaith partners to present a webinar explaining what the latest budget deal means for your community.

To participate, click at 12pm Eastern on Wednesday, Aug. 3rd.

Published by the Office of Public Witness, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

100 Maryland Avenue, NE, Suite 410, Washington, DC 20002 (202) 543-1126;

For more information about the content of this article, please email us at If you would like to receive this information directly, please go to

Reject a Constitutional Amendment to Balance the Budget    [7-21-11]

This Action Alert was issued on July 19, 2011, by the PC(USA) Office of Public Witness 

This week or next week, Congress is expected to consider an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would require the federal budget to be balanced each year. Writing this requirement into the Constitution would pose a serious threat to our economy and to the well-being of millions of people by forcing large and indiscriminate spending cuts. In the event of another economic downturn, which would result in a drop in federal revenues, a BBA would exacerbate hardship by reducing the government’s ability to respond to newly created need (as it did in 2008-2009).

Click here to contact your members of Congress and tell them to oppose a balanced budget amendment!

A balanced budget amendment would impose caps on spending that would force serious cuts in essential programs – including Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, SNAP (formerly Food Stamps) and other anti-hunger programs, education, HIV/AIDS programs, and countless other initiatives that make a difference in the lives of millions of people. Rigid multi-year spending caps, whether enforced through a constitutional amendment or by other legislation, will harm our economy and our people.

Through the prophet Isaiah, God challenges a nation that, on one hand professes delight in seeking God and knowing God’s ways, but on the other serves self interests, oppresses workers, neglects poor and hungry people and quarrels to no good end. Isaiah calls the nation to a righteous practice that loosens the bonds of injustice, lets the oppressed go free, and breaks every yoke. (Isaiah 58:1-12)

Don't wait! The House is expected to vote TODAY and the Senate sometime later this week. Please tell Congress to vote against a balanced budget amendment and other spending cap measures in order to protect vulnerable people and the economy. Click here to contact your members of Congress!

In addition, the Office of Public Witness recently took part in an interfaith conference call when religious leaders, including Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons and Director for Public Witness J. Herbert Nelson, expressed “grave concern and dismay” that cuts to poverty alleviation and prevention programs are on the negotiating table. Their message: The religious community cannot make up the difference caused by cuts to poverty alleviation programs. Click here to read about it on our blog and to listen to a recording!

General Assembly Guidance:

The 207th General Assembly (1995) called on Congress “to defeat any proposals that base budget or deficit reductions primarily on the services provided to children, families, the needy, and the homeless and urged strengthening federal commitments to these groups.” The Assembly called on Congress “to insist on a government that follows ethical values of justice for the poor, welfare for children, hospitality to the stranger, and assistance to the disadvantaged.” (Minutes, p. 718)

Calling for a “Circle of Protection” for the poor

Presbyterians Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk, and Gradye Parsons and Carlos Malave, Associate for Ecumenical Relationships, join in letter calling for a “Circle of Protection” for programs that aid the poor

Jim Wallis, of Sojourners, reports:

What is the Circle of Protection?

Yesterday, the leaders of more than 50 Christian denominations and organizations drew a line in the sand of the budget debate, and asked our political leaders to do the same. We united around the basic principle that those who are already suffering should not be made to suffer even more in order to reduce the deficit. Evangelical, Roman Catholic, mainline Protestant, black, and Hispanic church leaders came together to say that Christians will form a "Circle of Protection" around programs that assist poor and vulnerable people.

Click here for the full text of the letter >>

And we encourage you to click here to sign on to the letter yourself >>

Calling for a “Circle of Protection” for the poor

Presbyterians Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk, and Gradye Parsons and Carlos Malave, Associate for Ecumenical Relationships, join in letter calling for a “Circle of Protection” for programs that aid the poor

Jim Wallis, of Sojourners, reports:

What is the Circle of Protection?

Yesterday, the leaders of more than 50 Christian denominations and organizations drew a line in the sand of the budget debate, and asked our political leaders to do the same. We united around the basic principle that those who are already suffering should not be made to suffer even more in order to reduce the deficit. Evangelical, Roman Catholic, mainline Protestant, black, and Hispanic church leaders came together to say that Christians will form a "Circle of Protection" around programs that assist poor and vulnerable people.

Click here for the full text of the letter >>

And we encourage you to click here to sign on to the letter yourself >>

Ecumenical Advocacy Days slated for March 25-28, 2011

Event also provides special opportunities for Presbyterians to learn, connect, celebrate


by Bethany Furkin, Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE – Presbyterians will again gather with other Christians in Washington at the end of March for Ecumenical Advocacy Days, an event that mobilizes Christians around pressing issues through worship, education and lobbying. This year’s focus is on women.

The theme of the March 25-28 event is Development, Security and Economic Justice: What’s Gender Got to Do with It?

Using Proverbs 31:31 — “Give her a share in the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the city gates” — as a key scripture, the event calls men and women of faith to be a force for the better treatment of women around the world and to recognize their important economic, social and political contributions to their societies.

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) special events

In addition to the regularly scheduled EAD activities, Presbyterians will have two opportunities for education and celebration within the denomination.

On March 25, before EAD begins in the evening, the PC(USA)’s Compassion, Peace and Justice ministries will offer a training event. Designed to link denomination-wide ministry programs with those of local congregations and Presbyterians interested in social justice and public witness, the event will offer several speakers and workshops.

Featured ministries include the Presbyterian Hunger Program, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, Self-Development of People, Environmental Ministries and Child Advocacy.

The event is free for registered EAD participants and $25 for those not attending EAD. To register, download a copy of the Washington Report from the Office of Public Witness.

On March 26, the PC(USA)’s Office of Public Witness (OPW)  will celebrate its 65th anniversary with a dinner cruise on the Potomac River.

OPW Director the Rev. J. Herbert Nelson II said the office has been “speaking truth to power” since its founding. It is now in a time of transition, said Nelson, who began his role in May after the office had been without a director for two years.

OPW is working to extend its work outside of Washington and into the greater church. The CPJ training at Advocacy Days and a revamped internship program are two ways the office is reaching out, Nelson said.

A third way will be introduced during the cruise, when OPW will launch a respectful dialogue initiative. Aimed at training Presbyterians to lead discussions in their communities leading up to the 2012 elections, the program will be “the most important work of this office in the next few years,” Nelson said. While the program will focus on the political sphere, it will also be applicable to discussions within the denomination, he said.

“The answer to our struggles is not on the right and it’s not on the left. It’s somewhere in the middle of a dialogue that’s based on engaged listening,” Nelson said.

The specifics of the program are still being fine-tuned and will be presented during EAD.

To register for the dinner cruise ($40), download a copy of the Washington Report  from OPW.

Untellable Truths    [12-16-10]

by: George Lakoff, t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed

George Lakoff has been writing insightful essays for some years, showing how our political rhetoric often obscures or distorts the fundamental ethical issues of our society, and how our politics might be improved by a little ethical clarification. He opens this essay:

Democrats of all stripes have been so focused on details of policy that they have surrendered public political discourse to conservatives, and with it the key to the nation's future.

Here’s one brief indication of the “untellable truths” that he wants us to see – and speak – more clearly:

All politics is moral. Policies are proposed because they are assumed to be right, not wrong. The moral values behind a policy always should be made clear.

Conservatives and progressives have two different conceptions of morality.

Democrats need to unite behind a simple set of moral principles and to create an effective language to express them. President Obama in his campaign expressed those principles simply, as the basis of American democracy. (1) Empathy - Americans care about each other. (2) Responsibility, both personal and social. We have to act on that care. (3) The ethic of excellence. We have to make ourselves better, so we can make our families, our communities, our country and the world better. Government has special missions: to protect and empower our citizens to have at least the necessities. I don't know any Democrats who don't believe in these principles. They need to be said out loud and repeated over and over. [Italics added by your Webweaver.]

Leaders need a movement to get out in front of. Not a coalition, a movement. We have the simple principles. Those of us outside of government have to organize that unified movement and not be limited by specific issue areas. The movement is about progressivism, not just about environmentalism, or social justice, or labor, or education, or health, or peace. The general principles govern them all.

The full essay is worth a careful read >>

Critics still waiting for action from faith-based office    [10-23-10]

Religion News Service reports:

Six months after advisers turned in 164 pages of recommendations to the White House’s faith-based office, thorny church-state questions remain unanswered and some critics say the office has been used to push the president’s health care reform.

Much of the work done by the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships has been low profile, and successors to the blue-ribbon advisory panel that ended its work in March haven’t been named.

Outsiders say whatever progress has been made has been done too quietly and that the White House has dragged its feet on a promise to change Bush-era rules that allow federal grant recipients to hire and fire based on religion.

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s been six months of silence,” said the Rev. Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, who served on a task force charged with reforming the office.

Joshua DuBois, who was tasked by President Obama with overhauling and expanding the office, estimated the administration has started or finished implementing at least half of the advisory council’s 64 recommendations.

The rest of the story >>    
(But click here for another side of the story.)

Random Thoughts on Losing, by Bill Peach

Being “an unabashed, self-professed Liberal ... in Williamson County,” Tennessee, is never easy. Holding public office as a member of the school board has not been easy, either, for Bill Peach. He has shared various thoughtful essays with us in the past, including one on the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to President Barrack Obama in October, 2009.

He was again a candidate on Thursday, August 5, for the local school board, but this time he lost. His reflections on that painful experience may be helpful for many of us as a close-up look at the politics of our time. It’s not a pretty picture, but one worth our attention.  More about the author >>

When one loses an election for any office the first order of business is to thank supporters and voters. Thank you very much! I had a pleasant concession handshake with the winner Thursday night. My workers had spent the day working the polls for 12 hours with him and his wife and sons, and his campaign workers. Overall, it was a pleasant but grueling day in the heat and the rain. This email is 1905 words of sincere gratitude, public concession, a touch of hubris, and humble apology to friends and families in public education for not having campaigned earlier and harder.

I am leaving public office on school boards with a career record of 10-2. This has been a rewarding working relationship with students, parents, board members, county commissioners, seven directors of schools and public school educators. I had not intended to retire at the age of 74, and really wanted to be re-elected. I lost 827 to 479, which was painful with some diminished respect for some elected officials and friends.

There is no logical reason why or how anyone who is perceived to be an unabashed, self-professed Liberal could or should be able to hold public office in Williamson County. I have previously been blessed to have the support of many Republican friends who hold diametric political, religious, and cultural positions in matters not related to education. I have been fortunate that the only elected office to which I have aspired allows and dictates the anonymity of being listed on the ballot as a designated Independent.

The Williamson County School Board has 12 members, one elected from each district. Each represents the interest of a district, but more importantly the interests of the total quality of education in all schools in all parts of the county. Being a member of a 12-member board requires some degree of awareness of teamwork and realistic interpretation of one’s role as advocate for the education of children.

Being a board member is a delicate balance of arms-length oversight and micro-managing. It requires collaboration with state and local funding authorities without compromise of pupil-teacher-ratios and instructional essentials. We do not come to the board as educators. Our role is to create and maintain an atmosphere within which academic excellence can thrive.

Our enrollment has grown at an average of 1400 students per year for the last five years. This requires building one or two new schools every year. A fully-equipped building built on required acreage costs from $22 to $45 million. We usually design elementary schools for a capacity of 800 students and high schools 1800, with middle schools with some variations of capacity. We repeat floor plans to reduce design costs. We also have to work with existing buildings – location, capacity, and potential expansion.

With this comes the dichotomy of over-crowding or transferring students to a new school or to a different existing school. With our new computer program we are processing data for a county-wide plan for transportation zones and student assignment. This will include our current policy of grandfathering at the present school with provisions for siblings and parents providing transportation.

Our current transportation zones have evolved from adjustment to rapid growth and the time needed to acquire building sites in or near heavily populated areas. With this comes the requisite of infrastructure – roads, water, sewer, and institutional zoning. New families move to Williamson County because of our academic excellence and the quality and aesthetics of school buildings. Many parents purchase homes near schools assuming consistent feeder-patterns from kindergarten through high school. If someone has a child in the first grade, the high school that child will attend probably has not been built.

Almost all of our parents are happy at the elementary school for which they are zoned. Feeder patterns are complex, with fewer middle schools and greater travel distance. Friendships are often separated in the transition to middle school. This uncertainty is conducive to concern, real or imagined. Such was the case with this election and untrue rumors were repeated frequently during the day. There was a surprising presence of campaign workers and parents with no children in public schools reciting emotional misinformation about zoning issues.

I have no experience in serious campaign strategy. I assumed that I would be elected or defeated based on public acceptance of performance of the board as a group and me as their representative. I had conducted a broad survey of parents in the Pearre Creek/Grassland/Winstead areas and helped shape the fall 2010 zone lines. With our provisions for grandfathering options, I did not anticipate this being a volatile area of concern about future zone lines yet to be drawn for assignment to schools yet to be built.

Early in the campaign I learned that my opposition had acquired the endorsement or support of – our Republican State Senator, a former Republican State Senator, a Republican State Representative, the Chair and Vice-Chair of the county Republican Party, the two Republican County Commissioners in our district, a Republican Judge, and a Republican Assistant District Attorney. Once we identify candidates by party affiliation or designations of liberal and conservative I only have 30% of the vote. In the actual final count I came in with 37%. I am grateful to Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn who assured me that she was not part of that effort.

“The world will little note, nor long remember what we did here.” For what it is worth, I hope it merits some word of caution for the future of elected office in public education. In Williamson County, the party mandate for election diminishes the talent pool by 30% and school boards could eventually be inaccessible to many dedicated supporters of public education. The current national mood, which had a local presence in this election, is increasingly moving toward advocacy for non-public education.

In the course of the campaign, on facebook, mailings, and newspaper coverage I became aware of our diametric priorities. My position on leasing our buildings to any and all religious groups is primarily to avoid potential costly litigation and the negative economic impact of damage to buildings and sub-market rent revenue. My concerns for unlimited access of military recruiters to students during their lunch period should be obvious to any parent of a minor in a captive environment. With these two issues, he successfully built an anti-Christian, unpatriotic image that resonated with many voters. My effort to focus on academic excellence and the role of our school system in the growth and attractiveness of the county did not seem to resonate with the voter base. He never in any piece of literature mentioned academics. The emphasis was on rezoning, athletics, and the potential vulnerability of positions I have taken in what I believe to be the best interest of our students and wise stewardship of school buildings and public funds.

What we had not expected was the emotional intensity of the non-academic issues. One of the earliest voters asked which of us would vote “most like the Tea Party.” Another asked, “Which of you is the most anti-Obama?” Someone asked which candidate was pro-life, and would we quit serving pork in our cafeterias to accommodate Muslim students? We thought these were anomalies, but as the candidate portrayed himself as the “conservative” candidate the questions followed a pattern of social and cultural sound-bites that had no relevance to public education. My three daughters worked the polling places and were painfully subjected to many harsh comments. They came home in tears, which recurred for several days as we recalled incidents and conversations. This was not about losing. We were prepared for that probability from the initial endorsements.

Our concern is that the priorities may now shift slightly from emphasis on academics. Every new board member brings a minor ideological shift in the board configuration. Any undefined appeal for change has the potential of being regressive or personal. I remember the former days of a combative and divided board. The current board members have been able to put aside their ideological nuances and find harmony in a unified commitment to the best interest of children in all schools in the district.

My greatest concern is that the cultural polarity of America with conservative/liberal intonations with political endorsement of party leadership has now come to the last vestige of non-political Independent public office. If conservative positioning becomes tantamount to election, there is the risk that the traditional attributes – honesty, character, experience, logic – may become meaningless. It is difficult for me to imagine what my life would have been if in 1976 I had been denied my first of ten elections and re-elections to the two school boards. In October, I will be back in school at Lipscomb University taking one three-hour course – ED 2312 “Schooling in America” for my seventh decade in college. I intend to continue to be an advocate and defender of public education and the importance of academic excellence and continuing adult education. I will be working with Power of the Pen and Family Resource Center to promote writing projects and competitions, and an occasional guest author appearance in an English IV Honors class. My life will not change much, and I won’t venture far from the school district.

The scars from the verbal abuse of Thursday will eventually heal, erased by your expressions of appreciation for my twenty-four years on two school boards. The contributions my daughters and I have made to education in this county have been more than repaid by what education has done for our family and the county.

I probably should have taken a stronger campaign approach to religion, patriotism, and the flag. I didn’t feel that my church affiliation, my Sunday school teaching experience, and my occasional role as guest speaker at a church were requisites or standards for holding public office. My six years of Reserve military service was a reluctant alternative to the draft. It seemed irrelevant politically. I probably should have been more aggressive, but that is out of character for me, and sometimes counter-productive and intrusive.

I brought instead a passion for education and three daughters who are teachers and media specialists in public education. My contribution will last at least another generation.

My daughters and I listened to accusations of secular or liberal disregard for holy days, enmity toward start-up churches, an unfriendly attitude toward military recruiters, and repetition of rumors and misinformation about zoning and student assignment. In my advocacy for a First Amendment non-sectarian public education, I am frequently called many things including liberal, humanist, secularist, and atheist. I have come to expect and accept that.

Early Thursday at Johnson Elementary, one of my spiritual idols, who is a senior pastor of a Franklin church and a great humanitarian, a proponent of and leader in promoting racial harmony, a community activist in a place we call “Hard-bargain” came to vote. I didn’t at the time know for certain that he voted for me, but as he was leaving he stopped and said, “Thank you for all you do for this community. You are truly a man of God.” This is not something I would want to deny, nor something I could have printed on campaign literature.

Public education is not a thankless job. Thursday was also a day of thumbs-up, high-fives, and hugs. Those who embrace and defend liberal principles as their traditional values of ethics and logic lost another seat at the public forum. I like to believe I served you well.

Bill Peach

The author: Bill Peach lives in Franklin, Tennessee, where he has been in the men’s clothing business for most of his working life. But he also describes himself as a politician, preacher, and philosopher, who received his Bachelor’s degree at the age of 51. He has authored a number of books, including Politics, Preaching & Philosophy, published in 2009 by Westview, Inc.
Big Money Talks – and the Supreme Court says its freedom of speech must be protected

by Gene TeSelle, former Issues Analyst of the Witherspoon Society  

We had suspected it for a long time, but now, thanks to a swing vote by Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, the United States is officially a plutocracy.
On the dubious and probably perverse principles that corporations are legal persons and that political contributions are "speech" protected by the First Amendment, restrictions on corporate spending during political campaigns have basically been thrown out, as long as they are somehow "independent" of the campaign organization.

The decision, says Mark Green in the Huffington Post, allows "a Katrina of corporate money" to "overwhelm the levees of democracy."

The Supreme Court majority, in a paroxysm of judicial activism, gratuitously went beyond the legal precedents, and even beyond the legal issues that both sides had agreed upon, to overturn a century of law.  Corporations that already have much arbitrary power in the workplace and have recently demonstrated their effectiveness in lobbying legislators have now gained new power in the public square.  The result will not be an advance in free speech or in the quality of public debate; rather it will be a new opportunity to buy elections.  Despite the references to the First Amendment, this is not about "human rights."  It looks more like a reprise of the Court's 1886 decision declaring corporations to be legal persons, in an era during which it repeatedly denied equal protection under the law to African Americans.

In recent years we have seen how effective the power of money can be in the political process. It is most dramatic in the way it influences Congress, and especially the Senate, where key members receive more out-of-state than in-state contributions, especially from industries affected by the committees on which they serve. We just saw the Senate, in full public view, haggling over every detail of the health care bill, responding to one special interest after another. The response to this sausage-making process was disaffection in public opinion polls and perhaps a shift in the Senate vote in Massachusetts.

The power of money has also been evident in the takeover of newspapers and television networks by mega-corporations, which have downsized their news reporting staffs and increased the number of pundits who are in a position to poison public opinion through shock statements, half-truths, and in some cases downright fabrications. Congress and the FCC have accepted this situation with general passivity, despite their ability to set a regulatory framework that would ensure a freer flow of news and opinion.

The power of money also extends to the executive branch. The Clinton administration gave us NAFTA and the World Trade Organization – agreements that amounted to a vast transfer of sovereignty from national, state, and local governments to shadowy panels of referees who belonged to the world of international trade. And the Obama administration has looked to Wall Street insiders for guidance on how to deal with financial institutions in the midst of a serious downturn in the economy. It has often been said that we have a one-party system based on the sanctity of property and markets, with the Republicans basically calling the shots and the Democrats coming in when there is an emergency.

Now political propaganda will join lobbying, advertising, executive bonuses, and travel as deductible expenses for corporations.  Farther down on the food chain will be employees and community stakeholders -- and perhaps even stockholders.

Under such conditions it is worth reminding ourselves how the Roman Republic gradually became a plutocracy.  Reformers like the Gracchi were sneered at on the grounds that in trying to solve one problem they were creating a worse one -- the familiar "two wrongs do not make a right" argument.  The Republic came to be ruled by a triumvirate of wealthy men, then by Caesar Augustus as emperor (which simply meant commander-in-chief).  The Republic and the Senate technically continued to exist (the emperor was simply "princeps," "first citizen").   But the power relationships were drastically changed.   And the rich got richer, holding vast estates in multiple regions and expecting to receive official positions in the provinces or at the imperial court.

The position of the New Testament on such matters is clear. It tells of the fall of "Babylon the great," whose merchants have traded their cargoes of gold and silver, fine fabrics, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, "and slaves, that is, human souls" (Rev. 18:3-13). More temperately, the Sermon on the Mount and the Epistle of James warn about the role of money in setting moral values and guiding behavior.

In the private sphere, the determinative relationship during the Roman Empire was that of patron and client. You got security, status, and respect through your patron. Even the relationships in the early Christian church were shaped to some extent by these customs, since local churches had to meet in the home of someone, whose name might be Nympha (Col. 4:15) or Priscilla (1 Cor. 16:19). They at least tried to transform these customs, laying down guidelines for the behavior of those who exercised special responsibilities.  After the fourth century the church became a large landowner and thus played the role of patron over many people.  But it did see the care of the poor as one of its standard responsibilities.

The bad news, then, is that this is the kind of world in which the Christian church was born. The good news, such as it is, is that the Christian church did survive under such circumstances, building an alternative community with an alternative message. And while the "triumph of Christianity" has turned out to be a mixed blessing, we are not without resources for meeting a new set of challenges.

We welcome your comments
on the Supreme Court decision
permitting corporate contributions to political campaigning.
Just send a note, to be shared here.

Other comments:

bullet Mark Green: The Court Allows a Katrina of Corporate Money
bullet Political Fallout From the Supreme Court Ruling - The Caucus Blog -



Some blogs worth visiting

PVJ's Facebook page

Mitch Trigger, PVJ's Secretary/Communicator, has created a Facebook page where Witherspoon members and others can gather to exchange news and views. Mitch and a few others have posted bits of news, both personal and organizational. But there’s room for more!

You can post your own news and views, or initiate a conversation about a topic of interest to you.


John Shuck’s new "Religion for Life" website

Long-time and stimulating blogger John Shuck, a Presbyterian minister currently serving as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton, Tenn., writes about spirituality, culture, religion (both organized and disorganized), life, evolution, literature, Jesus, and lightening up.

Click here for his blog posts.

Click here for podcasts of his radio program, which "explores the intersection of religion, social justice and public life."


John Harris’ Summit to Shore blogspot

Theological and philosophical reflections on everything between summit to shore, including kayaking, climbing, religion, spirituality, philosophy, theology, The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), New York City and the Queens neighborhood of Ridgewood -- by a progressive New York City Presbyterian Pastor. John is a former member of the Witherspoon board, and is designated pastor of North Presbyterian Church in Flushing, NY.


Voices of Sophia blog

Heather Reichgott, who has created this new blog for Voices of Sophia, introduces it:

After fifteen years of scholarship and activism, Voices of Sophia presents a blog. Here, we present the voices of feminist theologians of all stripes: scholars, clergy, students, exiles, missionaries, workers, thinkers, artists, lovers and devotees, from many parts of the world, all children of the God in whose image women are made. .... This blog seeks to glorify God through prayer, work, art, and intellectual reflection. Through articles and ensuing discussion we hope to become an active and thoughtful community.


Got more blogs to recommend?

Please send a note, and we'll see what we can do!


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