Trade Unions vs. Tea Party: The Emerging Brawl in American Politics

The division between the Tea Party and “regular Republicans” is well publicised, but not so well understood is that between public trade unions and the “gentry” (I prefer limousine) liberals:

My subject today is the civil war raging in one of our great political parties, as highlighted in recent primary elections.

No, I’m not talking about the split between the tea partiers and the Republican establishment (is there a Republican establishment any more?). I’m talking about the split between two of the core groups of the Democratic Party, as witnessed in the Sept. 14 primaries in heavily Democratic New York (63 percent for Barack Obama in 2008), Maryland (62 percent Obama) and the District of Columbia (92 percent Obama).

In each there was a split between the public employee unions that do so much to finance Democratic campaigns and the gentry liberals who provide Democratic votes in places like Manhattan, the Montgomery County suburbs of Maryland and Northwest Washington, D.C. And in each case, the public employee unions won.

Given that the public trade unions and the tea partiers have diametrically opposing economic interests, and that both are in the ascendant, that’s a set-up for an ugly brawl that will be fought in ideological terms but will be in reality an economic struggle between two groups played out on the political stage.

The only saving grace is that the two aren’t necessarily strong in the same places.  But when the conflict is nationalised (think 2012 Presidential race) it will be especially gory.

Putting Our Free Speech Rights in the Subjunctive

Yes, we all know that the White House “should” retract insurance industry threats:

Everybody loves to hate health insurance companies. Who doesn’t have their favourite story about arbitrarily denied claims and, especially these days, excessive premiums?

So why would anyone care about their free-speech rights? You should, if you care about your own free-speech rights.

The issue came up when Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius issued a stern warning to the insurance industry in response to certain companies supposedly advising policy-holders that premiums would increase because of the enactment of Obamacare. In her letter, Sebelius wrote:

There will be zero tolerance for this type of misinformation and unjustified rate increases. We will not stand idly by as insurers blame their premium hikes and increased profits on the requirement that they provide consumers with basic protections.

She also warned that errant insurers would be barred from participation in the health exchanges, which will service individuals and small groups starting in 2014.

Whatever your view of or experience with the insurance industry, this kind of threat should alarm all of us. While some have characterized these threats as “thuggish” or “nasty stuff,” their offensive nature is not the issue. Their impact on freedom of expression is.

Americans have always considered their rights–especially the one of free speech–as “inalienable.”  And why not: after all, it’s in our fundamental national document, isn’t it?  Isn’t that why we make such a big deal of “rights?”  Because they’re important and legally enforceable?

Well, in reality the extent to which rights can be defended depends upon the recourse we have when they’re violated.  If we live in a country whose economic system is dispersed, our recourse is better because our ability to sustain ourselves through the process is easier.  But when wealth and its disbursement is centralised, then our rights are compromised by our economic dependence.

Put in terms more people can understand, we all know we don’t formally give up our constitutional right to free speech in the workplace.  But we also know that we have to be careful about what we say–especially if it regards our boss, the company, and to some extent our coworkers–because our employer sends us money every now and then for what we do, and if they’re displeased about our actions, that cash flow can stop.  It’s the same with centralised health care: as long as the federal government basically holds all of the cards, they can deprive insurance companies of cash flow and thus exercise some control over what they say.

In a system of state socialism, when government controls the entire economy (in theory at least,) their control over people is nominally absolute, no matter what their constitutions say.  People who spoke out could find themselves unemployable in a hurry.

That’s the extreme example, but hopefully you get the idea.  The more economic centralisation we have, the more our rights will be in the subjunctive rather than the indicative, where they belong.

Maxine Waters and Nancy Pelosi: I Thought You Were My Friend…

The operative word here is “were”:

Three staffers working for embattled Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) were asked by security officers to leave an event in downtown Washington on Thursday after they tried to display large campaign signs just as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was about to speak.

The aides were holding lawn signs that defended Waters from the ethics charges she is facing in the House.

“Let’s fight for Maxine Waters,” read a headline on the signs above a large picture of the congresswoman. Smaller headings read: “No improper action. No benefit. No failure to disclose. No one influenced. No case!”

This reminds me of something I witnessed during my first trip to the old Soviet Union.  We (me, my brother, and our rep) were sitting in the “eating hall” of the Mozhaisky Hotel in Moscow.  Across the hall they were having a wedding reception.  Things were going well until too much vodka was under everyone’s belt, when one of the guests got mad about something another had said, shouted “I thought you were my friend!” and starting slugging.  Things went downhill after that.

That’s about where the Democrats are right at the moment.  They ran the table in Washington, with their groom in the White House.  They celebrated, but drunk too much of the vodka of power.  Now the fight starts.

I’ll bet that Maxine Waters has Stenny Hoyer’s cell number…

The Real Origin of Barack Obama's Attitude Toward the Country He Leads

Evidently Robert Gibbs isn’t happy about the discovery either:

Dinesh D’Souza has drawn a torrent of criticism with a Forbes cover story that accuses President Obama of adopting “the cause of anti-colonialism” from his Kenyan father.

But while most detractors focus on the author–and Newt Gingrich, who embraced the critique–the White House is aiming its ammunition at the business magazine.

“It’s a stunning thing, to see a publication you would see in a dentist’s office, so lacking in truth and fact,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says in an interview. “I think it represents a new low.”

Gibbs is meeting with Thursday afternoon with Forbes’s Washington bureau chief, Brian Wingfield, to discuss his objections. “Did they not fact-check this at all, or did they fact-check it and just wilfully ignore it?” he asks.

If Gibbs thinks he’s found a new low, he’s probably just looked in the mirror.

Personally I think that D’Souza is wrong.  Obama never knew his father, Bill Ayers’ book notwithstanding.  His mother was another story.  A far better explanation for Barack Obama’s attitude toward the country he now leads came from David “Spengler” Goldman in 2008:

“Naivete” is a euphemism for Ann Dunham’s motivation. Friends describe her as a “fellow traveller”, that is, a communist sympathizer, from her youth, according to a March 27, 2007, Chicago Tribune report. Many Americans harbour leftist views, but not many marry into them, twice. Ann Dunham met and married the Kenyan economics student Barack Obama, Sr, at the University of Hawaii in 1960, and in 1967 married the Indonesian student Lolo Soetero. It is unclear why Soetero’s student visa was revoked in 1967 – the fact but not the cause are noted in press accounts. But it is probable that the change in government in Indonesia in 1967, in which the leftist leader Sukarno was deposed, was the motivation…

Barack Obama received at least some instruction in the Islamic faith of his father and went with him to the mosque, but the importance of this experience is vastly overstated by conservative commentators who seek to portray Obama as a Muslim of sorts. Radical anti-Americanism, rather than Islam, was the reigning faith in the Dunham household. In the Muslim world of the 1960s, nationalism rather than radical Islam was the ideology of choice among the enraged. Radical Islam did not emerge as a major political force until the nationalism of a Gamal Abdel Nasser or a Sukarno failed.

Barack Obama is a clever fellow who imbibed hatred of America with his mother’s milk, but worked his way up the elite ladder of education and career. He shares the resentment of Muslims against the encroachment of American culture, although not their religion. He has the empathetic skill set of an anthropologist who lives with his subjects, learns their language, and elicits their hopes and fears while remaining at emotional distance. That is, he is the political equivalent of a sociopath. The difference is that he is practising not on a primitive tribe but on the population of the United States.

This prescient piece was the basis for my own There’s a Reason Obama Didn’t Pledge the Flag.

Barack Obama obtained the negative attitudes he has towards this country from his white mother.  The idea that a white person could turn on this place like she did is incomprehensible to many on the right, and that her son could play his cards so close to the chest for so long on it even more so.  What’s worse, such attitudes permeate the upper reaches of our society more thoroughly than most people want to admit, although one only needs to read what they put on the Internet to be disabused of any illusions one might have.

If that fact ever sinks in, the Tea Party will be truly but a tempest in a teapot.

The Original Tea Party, Led by King David

The “man after God’s own heart” started it all:

David therefore departed thence, and escaped to the cave Adullam: and when his brethren and all his father’s house heard it, they went down thither to him. And every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves unto him; and he became a captain over them: and there were with him about four hundred men. (1 Samuel 22:1, 2)

If he did the same thing today, he’d have lots of women, too.

The Next Event of the Season Will be at Christmas 2011

For Publix, at the end of the quest, victory:

The Town Council has granted Publix’s request for expanded construction hours so the supermarket chain can get its new store built as quickly as possible.

Publix plans to demolish the existing store in April and build a larger one that is scheduled to open on Dec. 19, 2011. But Publix officials say they couldn’t meet that schedule when construction is only allowed from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. The council agreed Wednesday to allow workers to assemble at the job site as early as they like, and perform noisy construction from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. from the April 25 start through May 30.

On June 1, construction hours will expand to 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. because fewer residents are in town. The expanded schedule will last until the shell of the new store is built, estimated for June 28.

It’s interesting to note that the construction during these expended hours will take place near Sunrise and Sunset Streets!

Readers of this blog will note that the Publix market in Palm Beach is a favourite subject of mine.  The controversy around its original construction in 1971 is the basis for my “Christmas” piece The Event of the Season, and, although the original opening wasn’t at Christmastime, the new one (assuming they can stick to the schedule) will be.

It’s still a great example of why the ordinary is still important, even in an extraordinary place.

If Cuba Can Reduce the Public Sector, Why Can't We?

They’re starting out to do just that:

Communist Cuba will shift hundreds of thousands of state employees to the private sector in 2011 as the government prunes more than 500,000 workers from its payroll.

The official trade union federation said on Monday that eventually more than a million jobs would be cut.

“Job options will be increased and broadened with new forms of non-state employment, among them leasing land, co-operatives and self-employment absorbing hundreds of thousands of workers in the coming years,” the union statement said.

According to a document circulating within the higher ranks of the Communist party in preparation for the “reorganisation of the labour force” announced on Monday, 465,000 non-state jobs would be created in 2011, of which some 250,000 would fall under the category of new licences for self-employment.

It’s interesting to note that the privatisation is starting with small businesses, which are–for both political and elitist snob reasons–the bête noire of our current Administration, their propaganda notwithstanding.

Cuba is starting down the road that every country that has adopted Marxist-Leninist state socialism (with the exception of North Korea) has done.  Although it’s tempting to tell them to speed things up, it’s a tricky transition that can end well (China) or in a mess (Russia.)  They need to manage things carefully; state socialism didn’t happen overnight, has been there for a long time, and will take some time to undo.

The real problem here is that the U.S. is working its way into the situation that Cuba is working its way out of.

So How Does One Work a 65% Job? Plus, Charlie Crist Takes the Heat for Republican Party Expenses

The Town of Palm Beach is to be commended on passing a budget without a tax increase…

The smaller budget is necessary because of a nearly 12 percent dip in taxable property values, which has reduced the town’s tax base, and because the council decided against increasing the property tax rate.

But their cutback, laudatory though it is, has a curious twist:

The budget calls for the elimination of 32.65 jobs and does not contain raises for employees. It does not, however, require layoffs because virtually all of the disappearing jobs have been vacated through attrition and a hiring freeze.

Eliminating 32 jobs, though painful to those affected (although it helps doing it via attrition), makes sense.  But what about this 0.65 job?  A 65% job?  We all know of employees who do a “two-thirds” of a job but are paid for the whole thing.  And we also know of people who have part-time jobs.  But I have never seen a part-time job–assuming that’s what’s being referred to here–delineated quite that precisely.


Meanwhile, while thinking about Florida, Charlie Crist is looking at a very deadly torpedo coming right at his campaign ship:

State Republicans moved the three-way U.S. Senate race to a new level Saturday, with party leaders pointing to an audit of their books they say implies Gov. Charlie Crist — now an independent candidate for U.S. Senate — ran up potentially “hundreds of thousands” of dollars in inappropriate charges.

Party Chairman and state Sen. John Thrasher said the expenses came to light during the just-completed forensic audit by Alston & Bird LLP — which was the examiner in energy giant Enron’s 2002 bankruptcy. He said the party may sue their former standard bearer to get the money back.

The announcement is rife with political implications, given that Crist and Republican Senate candidate Marco Rubio are running neck and neck in many polls, with Democrat Kendrick Meek a distant third.

Although intraparty disputes like this may not be of interest to most people, up here in Tennessee we just witnessed a former TN GOP Chairman’s congressional campaign sent to the bottom under similar accusations not anywhere near this large.  This is potentially deadly.

The Difference Between Image and Likeness in Genesis

This is the sixth in a sporadic series on the Catechetical Lectures of St. Cyril of Jerusalem. The last post was Touch not God’s Anointed.

In the last instalment of the series, Cyril is quoted in saying that the newly baptised and chrismated believers were now the “images of Christ.” (XXI, 1) Concerning the image of God, elsewhere he says the following:

At that time God said, let us make man after our image and after our likeness. (Genesis 1:26) And the image he received, but the likeness through his disobedience he obscured. (XIV, 10)

That simple passage of scripture contains two words that, in the history of Greek theology, are loaded ones.

The first is image, eikon or more simply ikon. Icons, of course, are a hallmark of Orthodox churches. You walk into one and are greeted by the iconostatis, that large structure around the altar defined by the icons. The use of icons provoked the last controversy that the Orthodox felt necessitated an ecumenical council. The idea of “imaging,” that is to say God impressing his image on his creature, is a core concept in Orthodox thinking

The second is likeness, omoiosis. The central dispute in the Arian controversy was whether Jesus Christ could be said to be omoousios (of one substance) with the Father, omoiousios (almost the same substance) as the Father, omoios (like) the Father as is the case with the rest of us, or even anomoios (not like) the Father, which would have put Our Lord below the rest of us.

In any case the distinction between the image and the likeness of God that he placed within us at the creation is a consistent theme in Greek theology, drawn from their use of the Septuagint. In short, as Cyril explains, the image remained after the fall, but the likeness was obscured. It’s an important point because it highlights the difference between the Orthodox and the Western view of the fall. As Valerie Karras explains in her piece Beyond Justification: An Orthodox Perspective:

For the Greek Fathers, this spiritual capacity of human nature is encapsulated in the language of Gen. 1:26-7: God created humanity according to God’s own “image”. Furthermore, both the Eastern Church and the medieval Latin Church distinguished between the “image of God” (Latin imago Dei) and the “likeness” or similitude of God, based on the differences between Gen. 1:26 and 1:27. The image designated the potential or capabilities inherent in all human beings, i.e., qualities such as reason; the likeness meant true likeness (at the level of human existence, of course) to God, the realization of human potential as the perpetual fulfillment of a dynamic process between the human person and God. The Greek Fathers in particular developed a generous anthropology around the concept of the imago Dei, even for postlapsarian human nature; as Gregory of Nyssa states in his Sixth Homily on the Beatitudes, the divine imprint may be obscured but it is still intact.

I say “Western” view of the fall, because, thanks to Augustine, Catholic and Reformer alike shared the same view of the effect of the Fall on free will. As Karras continues:

The question of the imago Dei is significant because it is here that East and West disagree on a second important element of theological anthropology: free will. While Orthodoxy maintains that free will is a constitutive element of the imago Dei, both Roman Catholicism and Lutheranism – sharing an Augustinian heritage – assert that one of the aspects of original sin is the loss of free will with respect to humanity’s orientation toward God. Human freedom was one of the issues at the heart of the fifth-century Western Christian debate over faith and works, i.e., over the relative divine and human contributions to salvation. The Western Christian historical context has caused many theologians, particularly evangelical Protestant theologians, to experience great difficulty thinking “outside the box” of the Western either/or approach to this topic. For instance, at a 1999 conference sponsored by the Society for the Study of Evangelicalism and Eastern Orthodoxy, J. I. Packer distributed a copy of some course materials. I noted that under the topic of faith and works he listed the Orthodox as “semi-Pelagian”. He was “semi-right”. As Bishop Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia proclaimed at the beginning of his address for the 1998 Bellarmine Lecture at Saint Louis University, “I suppose I should tell you straightaway that I am an Arminian.” Ware’s comment was amusing but also truthful because, in Eastern Christian soteriology, human freedom plays an important role, but not as Pelagian foil to Augustinian determinism.

A more detailed explanation of this distinction can be found in Fr. Titus Fulcher’s series on the subject, catalogued here (HT to Fr. Greg for putting me on to all of these articles).

Needless to say, Protestants have taken exception to this by pointing out that the Hebrew doesn’t make the same distinction as the Greek Septuagint does. In this regard we should consider the following from Moses Maimonides, first on the term zelem (image):

Some have been of opinion that by the Hebrew zelem, the shape and figure of a thing is to be understood, and this explanation led men to believe in the corporeality [of the Divine Being]: for they thought that the words “Let us make man in our zelem” (Gen. i. 26), implied that God had the form of a human being, i.e., that He had figure and shape, and that, consequently, He was corporeal. They adhered faithfully to this view, and thought that if they were to relinquish it they would eo ipso reject the truth of the Bible: and further, if they did not conceive God as having a body possessed of face and limbs, similar to their own in appearance, they would have to deny even the existence of God…As, however, it must be admitted that the term zelem is employed in these two cases, viz. “the images of the emerods” and “the idols” on account of the external shape, the term zelem is either a homonym or a hybrid term, and would denote both the specific form and the outward shape, and similar properties relating to the dimensions and the shape of material bodies; and in the phrase “Let us make man in our zelem” (Gen. i. 26), the term signifies “the specific form” of man, viz., his intellectual perception, and does not refer to his “figure” or “shape.” (Guide for the Perplexed, I, 1)

Then we turn to his idea of the demut (likeness):

Demut is derived from the verb damah, “he is like.” This term likewise denotes agreement with regard to some abstract relation: comp. “I am like a pelican of the wilderness” (Ps. cii. 7); the author does not compare himself to the pelican in point of wings and feathers, but in point of sadness…As man’s distinction consists in a property which no other creature on earth possesses, viz., intellectual perception, in the exercise of which he does not employ his senses, nor move his hand or his foot, this perception has been compared-though only apparently, not in truth — to the Divine perception, which requires no corporeal organ. On this account, i.e., on account of the Divine intellect with which man has been endowed, he is said to have been made in the form and likeness of the Almighty, but far from it be the notion that the Supreme Being is corporeal, having a material form. (Guide for the Perplexed, I, 1)

Although Maimonides doesn’t make the same distinction between image and likeness as the Greeks do, he doesn’t subscribe to the same idea of free will as the Latins came to do:

The theory of man’s perfectly free will is one of the fundamental principles of the Law of our Teacher Moses, and of those who follow the Law. According to this principle man does what is in his power to do, by his nature, his choice, and his will; and his action is not due to any faculty created for the purpose. All species of irrational animals likewise move by their own free will. This is the Will of God; that is to say, it is due to the eternal divine will that all living beings should move freely, and that man should have power to act according to his will or choice within the limits of his capacity. Against this principle we hear, thank God, no opposition on the part of our nation. (Guide for the Perplexed, III, 17)

This not only puts him in opposition to the Augustinians (who were contemporary to him) or the Reformers (who came after him) but to the Muslims as well (of whom he had personal knowledge, to say the least).

As Maimonides placed at the beginning of his work:

“Open ye the gates, that the righteous nation which keepeth the truth may enter in.” — (Isa. xxvi. 2.)

Is Roman Catholicism Really the Ultimate Form of Fundamentalism?

That’s what David Phipps of the Church Society tells us re John Henry Newman’s conversion to Catholicism:

No one can be a Catholic without a simple faith, that what the Church declares in God’s name, is God’s word, and therefore true. A man must simply believe that the Church is the oracle of God.

When he became a Roman Catholic, he was committing himself to whatever the Church had taught, or would teach in the future – whatever it was. He tells others that if they are contemplating the same step, then they should count the cost. They could not pick and choose, they could not examine (and possibly reject) individual doctrines. Their faith had to be in the Church and not in the doctrines of the Church. It was all or nothing.

Becoming a Roman Catholic on these terms really is a fundamentalism of the most extreme kind. All rational and critical faculties have to be switched off in a conscious act of intellectual abdication. Not only is it a sin to deny what the Church teaches, it is an expression of doubt, and thus a sin, even to open the Bible to check that the teaching of the Church is there. Newman says that it is an act of unbelief to come to the Bible to look for truth. This displays ‘an unbelieving spirit.’ One simply has to take the word of the Church.

It’s easy for Phipps to come up with that kind of thing, but for me, that’s exactly what I was faced with in the fall of 1972 when I converted to Roman Catholicism.  That’s what my family (especially my father) told me, even when they were hardly enthusiastic Christians.

For those of us who made the switch–even those who have reversed it–the issue is more complicated.

Most people who convert to Roman Catholicism do so in part (or sometimes in whole) for the institutional stability.  They want a church which says something and sticks with it.  They want a church with answers on not just a few things but just about everything.  Right or wrong, the Roman Catholic Church offers that.

Protestants generally interpret that as “checking your brains at the door,” as Phipps does.  But the truth is more complicated than that.  Today we have the spectacle of a Supreme Court with a good number of Catholics but no Protestants.  I’ve whined about the dominance of Ivy Leaguers on that institution, but our SCOTUS people are smart people.  How can this be in a church which supposedly demands such blind obedience?

The answer lies in the nature of Catholic vs. Protestant thought.  Protestants and especially Evangelicals have achieved success because their religion is limited in scope re the questions it answers.  It’s focused on getting people to heaven, which is why “progressive” Evangelicals need to quit belittling people who supposedly only offer “fire insurance.”  As far as getting from here to there, if you have a simple life and follow simple precepts, it’s going to be good.  “Why?” is a question that Protestants, immersed in sola fide and sola scriptura, hate just about as much as “The General” did in the Prisoner television series.

Roman Catholicism actually has a stronger intellectual tradition and as a result has made pronouncements on a wider variety of issues.  Sometimes this gets the church into trouble, as it did with Copernicus and Galileo.  And what looks to be the “teaching of the church” to Protestants isn’t always as definite a pronouncement as it looks.  Catholic theology can be an enormously nuanced and complicated affair, with “authoritative” statements on a surprisingly small range of issues.

So, who is the bigger “fundamentalist” here depends upon how you look at it.  And then, of course, there are fundamentalists of other stripes: secuarlists, New Atheists, Muslims, etc…

The biggest problem with Roman Catholicism is not as much what it teaches as what it believes about itself.  Roman Catholicism posits itself as an active mediator between man and God, and this is flatly contradictory to what the real Mediator taught in the New Testament.  That, more than anything else, is why you should think before you convert!