Tonight is inexplicable

Tonight, for some reason, I am filled with a most-unspeakable and inexplicable joy. For the first time since my move to DC, there is a settledness of spirit, a calmness of character. There is a renewed hope in my calling, a reinvigorated sense of freedom in God, a restored feeling of confidence in my own creative abilities and in what I hear God speaking to me.

The fire in my belly to create music and to perform and to put my faith into song is back. The passion to write the words (and perhaps books) that I believe God has put on my heart is back. The yearning to live with and laugh with and lead and love the people of God is back.

Perhaps it was the gig I played at on Friday night, where I was reminded of the great joy and satisfaction–a certain assuredness or perhaps even a sense of divine approval–that comes with using the gifts that God has graciously given me.

Perhaps it was the conference I attended this weekend–RootsCampDC–a gathering of progressive organizers. At RootsCamp, I encountered kindred spirits of all ages and colors, and my hope for change and the power of people working together was renewed.

Perhaps it was getting to talk with my dear friend Kate, whom I love and miss dearly, and whom I could best describe–and not exaggerating all that much–as the person in whom I see the peace and love of God embodied. Every time I talk to Kate, I’m reminded not only of God’s perspective on life, but I’m also humbled by how he is at work in her life in ways great and small–and simply because she has given him the space in her life to work.

Perhaps it was the decisions that I made at the start of the Lenten season already beginning to bear fruit.

All I know is … God is good. He’s showing me the path and urging me to go, like a father encouraging his toddler to venture out.

So I go.

Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”

–Matthew 19:26

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Robin Hood: Taxing the Banks to Help the Poor

Check out this campaign by Richard Curtis and Bill Nighy:

Come be a part of the world’s biggest bank job.

Another example of Washington politics as usual

A lot has been made of a number of still-unfilled posts in the Administration. And a lot of the flak has been directed at the President for not moving quick enough. But not so fast.

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) has put an extraordinary “blanket hold” on at least 70 nominations President Obama has sent to the Senate, according to multiple reports this evening. The hold means no nominations can move forward unless Senate Democrats can secure a 60-member cloture vote to break it, or until Shelby lifts the hold.

This report from Talking Points Memo, and confirmed by Senator Shelby’s office.

Oppression, you shall fear me

Oppression, you prey on us when we sleep.
Oppression, you chase after the tired, the poor, the weak.
Oppression, you know you mean only harm.
Oppression, you reach out with your long arm.

But oppression, I won’t let you near me, oh no.
Oppression, you shall learn to fear me, yes you will.

Oppression, you seek population control.
Oppression, to divide and to conquer is your goal.
Oppression, I swear that hatred is your home.
Oppression, you just won’t leave bad enough alone.

But oppression, I won’t let you near me, oh no.
Oppression, you shall learn to fear me, yes you will.

Oppression, I don’t see how you sleep.
Oppression, for your bleeding conscience I weep.
Oppression, you may have the dollar on your side.

But oppression, from the gospel truth you cannot hide.
And oppression, I won’t let you near me, oh no, no.
Oppression, you shall learn to fear me, yes you will.
Oppression, I won’t let you near me, oh no.
Oppression, you shall fear me, yes you will.

–Ben Harper, “Oppression,” from Fight For Your Mind (1995)

The Obama Budget 2011

Jim Wallis says that budgets are moral documents, and that how we spend our money shows what our values are. Introduced today, President Obama’s $3.83 trillion budget treads a delicate balance between trying to get the economy going again and trying to bring down the massive inherited budget deficit.*

Anyway, the budget for FY 2011 is fairly pessimistic one in that it presumes a gloomier economic outlook for the near future and budgets more for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Moreover, it actually expands the deficit in the short-term in order to bring it down in the long-term. As David Rogers at POLITICO writes,

In fact, it’s not until 2014 and 2015— when Obama hopes to be in his second term— that he has any hope of deficits approaching a sustainable level. Even then he is banking heavily on a new bipartisan fiscal commission to really finish the job.

It shouldn’t need to be said (but it clearly does) that comprehensive reform of the health care system–not just piecemeal and insubstantial legislative change–would help curb exploding costs. Tom Friedman reports from Davos that we’re making the rest of world a little nervous, due to the state of our economy, the political logjam in which we find ourselves, and notably the fact that we still can’t push through something as remedial as curative as health care reform.

And while we’re at it, reforming the financial system would help create a more stable and sound economy, less blown by the winds of bubbles and busts. Paul Volcker, chairman of the President’s Economic Advisory Board, says:

I’ve been there — as regulator, as central banker, as commercial bank official and director — for almost 60 years. I have observed how memories dim. Individuals change. Institutional and political pressures to “lay off” tough regulation will remain — most notably in the fair weather that inevitably precedes the storm.

The implication is clear. We need to face up to needed structural changes, and place them into law. To do less will simply mean ultimate failure — failure to accept responsibility for learning from the lessons of the past and anticipating the needs of the future.

* The NY Times evaluates the history of our country’s red ink, concluding that “President Obama’s agenda, ambitious as it may be, is responsible for only a sliver of the deficits, despite what many of his Republican critics are saying.”

Cornel West to Barack Obama: “How deep is your love?”

Excerpts:

Despite your brilliance, despite your charisma, I’m disappointed when it comes to the fundamental question of priorities, of urgency. How deep is your love for poor and working people?

You’ve changed the image of America, but don’t simply be the friendly face of the American empire. Many lives hang on your courage, and you cannot do it alone.

I believe like Martin Luther King that democracy can be reinvigorated, can be revitalized. But it takes courage–you can’t just cut deals; you have to take a stand. You have to have backbone.

In the end, it’s not about you, it’s not about me, it’s not about any isolated set of individuals. It’s about forces that will ensure that poor and working people can live lives of decency and dignity.

The stimulus, health care and progress

According to the latest CNN poll, nearly three out of four Americans think that at least half the money spent in the $787 billion federal stimulus package was wasted. Now according to Recovery.gov and ProPublica, it’s actually more like $792 billion plus change. The stimulus spending in progress is reported in full on those two sites, but here’s the main breakdown:

Spending totaling $580 billion, of which:

  • $172 billion has already been paid out.
  • $157 billion is in the process of being paid out.
  • $251 billion has yet to be paid out.

Tax cuts totaling $212 billion, of which:

  • $93 billion has already been issued.
  • $119 billion has yet to be issued.

So actually, less than half of the stimulus package has even been paid out, let alone wasted, unless you want to call sitting around waiting to be paid out “waste,” which is a little presumptuous. I think those who actually want to know where all the money is going can find out pretty easily with a spot of research.

A large part of the problem seems to be that, as Joe Klein writes (albeit a little more inflammatorily), people don’t really know where the money’s going; and for this the Administration deserves some blame for not being clearer and actually being rather rubbish at publicizing this (beyond those signs you see here and there letting you know where your stimulus money is at work). And the second part is that the stimulus package is being spent veeeeeeeeeery sloooooooooowly. Of course, this may be due to a lack of projects in which to invest, but still …

Which leads me to (a) this very helpful (albeit slightly sarcastic) 16-step guide to help people–specifically, those who oppose health-care reform and the stimulus and tax cuts and … well, most everything on the President’s agenda–understand why they should actually support health-care reform and the stimulus and tax cuts and … well, most everything on the President’s agenda; (b) this very helpful (and less sarcastic) graphic from National Geographic, which I posted yesterday illustrating how freaking much Americans spend on health care–you knew that we weren’t the best at everything in the whole wide world already, right?

I’ve been somewhat frustrated by the lack of progress in the last year. There’ve been little victories–SCHIP, equal pay for women, a moratorium on torture, an openness and humility in our foreign policy, to name but a few–but on bigger things such as health care, immigration, climate change, we’ve yet to see significant progress in reforming broken systems, revising unjust legislation and making wise decisions for long term stability and economic security.