Tuesday, December 21, 2010

New START Treaty Ratification

Earlier today, the Senate moved in a procedural vote closer to ratification of the New START nuclear weapons reduction treaty.  Eleven Republican Senators joined Democrats in the vote, following the advice of experts of both parties.  Perhaps most persuasive is the endorsement of the treaty by eight former Republican Secretaries of State, including Henry Kissinger, George Schultz, James Baker, Colin Powell, and Condoleeza Rice.

Among GOP Senators on the "nay" side of the vote were Mitch McConnell, John Kyl, John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Richard Burr.  These Republicans have raised objections that are not justified in either the text of the treaty or in the long history of negotiations on nuclear weapons quantities and proliferation.  In my opinion, these obstructionists are on the wrong side of the merits of the treaty, and on the wrong side of the politics.

Our country cannot afford two more years of the party of "NO" rejecting good policy and reasonable compromise on legislation that is good for our nation's future.  Government must work for the common good, and cannot be held hostage or treated as a political "game" where passing any legislation is seen as a "victory" for one side or another.  The people deserve politicians who work for the common good, not for campaign sound bites to be used in the next election.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Under Siege

Ross Douthat joins the chorus in today's New York Times of American Christians who feel that their holiday is under siege.  He complains how hard it is to be a Christian and celebrate Christmas, with every "Happy Holidays" greeting grating at the core of the "true believer." But I believe Mr. Douthat's fears are unfounded, or at least he is mistaken on the attacker that is threatening Christmas and the American Christian.

When we go back to the Biblical narrative, there is absolutely no mention of the "Acts church" that is often held up as our model giving any special significance to the birth of Christ.  Paul mentions the actual birth of Jesus in passing, if at all, in all of his writings.  There is no evidence of the Disciples having any kind of birthday dinner or other celebration, no family get-togethers, no gifts exchanged.  Outside of the two completely independent birth narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, the birth of Christ is given little ink in the New Testament.

The earliest recorded feast day set aside for the celebration of the birth of Jesus was in the 4th century.  Even then, the date was not settled, with various scholars and church leaders.  Some had the date in the spring, others at various other times of the year.  By the 5th century, the date settled around the winter solstice, where it remains today.  But even then, Christmas Day was overshadowed by the feast of Epiphany in the early Church.

In early America, Puritans who came to Massachusetts from England actually outlawed the celebration of Christmas, as part of a broader rejection of Roman Catholicism and its high ritual.  Other groups in the colonies, including Moravians in North Carolina and elsewhere, continued their celebrations in the German tradition, including introducing Christmas trees to America.  But after the Revolution, Christmas fell out of favor, being seen as an English custom. Our modern American Christmas is a hodgepodge of various traditions dating back to Roman celebrations of the winter solstice and other pagan holidays.  Very few of these traditions have anything remotely to do with honoring the birth of Jesus the Christ.

The ancient prophet Amos perhaps speaks more directly to us today:

I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
   your assemblies are a stench to me.
Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
   I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
   I will have no regard for them.
Away with the noise of your songs!
   I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice roll on like a river,
   righteousness like a never-failing stream!
So we sit piously in our pews, listening to the choir singing Christmas carols.  We spend way too much money on things that our cousins and nieces don't need, and will promptly pitch into the landfill or put in the basement to "regift" next year.  Instead of a time of peace and goodwill, we turn a friendly "Happy Holidays" greeting from a stranger into a perceived attack, perhaps an early sign of paranoia disorder.  Sure, we pitch a few pennies into the kettle, smile politely at the bell-ringer, and Jack Horner-style think to ourselves "what a good boy am I."

Christmas is indeed under siege, but not from the "holiday parade" or the prohibition from putting a creche on the town square.  Rather, Christmas is being attacked by unbridled consumerism, unmitigated greed, and unholy piety.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Full Stop on New START

The New York Times is reporting today (Sunday, December 19) that Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and other GOP Senators will oppose ratification of the nuclear weapons treaty known as New START.

Their stated objections revolve around concerns with our ability to continue development of strategic missile defense technology (sometimes referred to as STAR WARS),  and the treaty's failure to address tactical nuclear weapons.  Veteran nuclear weapons and foreign affairs experts of both parties have endorsed swift ratification of the treaty, and have pointed out that the objections by Mr. McConnell and the others are completely unfounded.  These veteran diplomats all stress the importance of the treaty to our relations with Russia in particular, and our geopolitical interests in general.

Given the strong support across the political spectrum, the only explanation for Mr. McConnell's opposition is to be obstructionist.  The GOP leader in the United States Senate has made a political calculation that he and his party can somehow gain some political advantage by holding up ratification of this treaty, which all credible observers say is vital to our national security and international relations.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

DADT and the DREAM Act

This lame duck session of the 111th Congress is monumental.  In addition to repealing the Bush/GOP Tax Increase of 2011, extending unemployment benefits, and reducing the payroll tax to stimulate the economy, the Congress has taken action on two bills important to our military.

First, the Senate invoked cloture and moved toward passage of the repeal of the "don't ask don't tell" (DADT) policy toward gays in the military.  The policy, implemented by President Clinton shortly after taking office in 1993, basically allowed gay men and women to serve, but they could not disclose their sexual orientation, and could not be asked about their sexual orientation.  The repeal of this policy would allow gay men and women to serve without fear of being discharged or punished based on their sexual orientation.  There would still be regulations governing conduct, as has always been the case.

Secondly, the Senate failed to invoke cloture, thus effectively killing the DREAM Act.  This act, among other things, would provide a path to citizenship for those who entered the country illegally as children, but served honorably in the military.  These folks as young children did not legally consent to becoming "illegal immigrants," but went to to get their education, get accepted into military service, and served honorably.  They have without a doubt earned the opportunity to enjoy the rights of full citizens.  To deny them a path to citizenship is to dishonor their service to our country.

WELL DONE on DADT, and SHAME ON YOU on killing the DREAM Act.