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.”

“We hunt people for Jesus”

My friend Heather spent two and a half years in Afghanistan doing photography and communications work for developmental NGOs. She wrote this blog in response to video footage of an American military chaplain encouraging soldiers to “hunt people for Jesus.”

Training the military to convert those at whom they point weapons is not only a grave misuse of power, but a reinforcement of extremists’ stereotypes, putting American lives at risk.

Hensley’s language of “hunting people” and “sending the hounds of heaven after them” suggests nothing but conquering; it implies perpetrating violence against, and the oppression of, people created in the image of God. Jesus told a parable saying “As much as you’ve done to the least of these, you’ve done it unto me.” Why? Because our treatment of those on the fringes — the widow, the orphan, the alien and stranger … our perceived enemies — is indicative of the moral climate of our society. Our treatment of these is an outworking of the way we love our God.

Jesus did not live and breathe in a political void. Jews had been waiting and waiting for the Messiah to come — for their savior to overthrow the Romans in a violent revolution. Yet Jesus chose not to engage militarily. Instead, he loved and he died. This is my Jesus — leading a life in which love disarms arguments, heals the chasms of stereotype, and makes the feared Other part of the family.

As one of the blog commenters pointed out, Jesus’ words to the Pharisees in Matthew 23:15 don’t often get much coverage from the pulpit:

You cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.

Links of the Day, January 13



Christmastime Links

Hope you all had a great Christmas and are recovering nicely from eating bountifully!


Human trafficking



On Afghanistan

Okay, the basics first:

Since you asked (okay, maybe you didn’t), and since no one else has contributed their opinion into the ether (okay, so that’s not true either) … regardless, I’m gonna throw my tuppence into the already-overflowing pot.

I’ve read lots of blogs, news articles, journals, op-eds, and more, on Afghanistan, on the current situation, on the pros and cons of putting more troops in, on the pros and cons of taking troops out, and on other strategies and tactics — read them ad nauseam, actually! And the thing is, after reading all of these pieces, I still don’t know.

As a Christian, I know that I want peace and security, not just for us in the US, but for the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan as well. As a Christian, I know that armed conflict and violence is not and cannot be my preferred method for securing such peace and security; but I also wonder if maybe standing up for those who are unable to defend themselves involves doing something about the aggressor. And I’m still thinking about what all this faith stuff looks like in practice.

As you can see, I’m not totally sure. And so it comes down to this: I trust the President. Over the last three years, I’ve come to see similarities and parallels between Barack and me: in temperament, in thinking, in perspective, in decision-making. I’ve come to appreciate that his Christian faith is as real and genuine to him as mine is to me, and that it informs his worldview as much as it does mine. And so I think, I’ve come to trust him. (Some say I’m too trusting, but that’s another conversation for some other day.)

The thing is, everyone has an opinion and everyone has a perspective that’s shaped by their experience, and everyone tends to argue forcefully for their perspective. So, given the differences in opinion on the matter of Afghanistan, I’m trusting that he’s taking all the advice he’s getting from experts — whoever they may be and whatever they’re advocating — and is weighing it all up to make the best and wisest decision he can.

Time will tell if my trust is vindicated.

All of that being said, one thing I am sure of is that we should stop US drones from bombing Pakistani civilians.

Links of the Day, December 2

For those who love This is Spinal Tap:



Links of the Day, December 1

It’s World AIDS Day. Watch this vid:

Iron Man 2:


Health care


Finance reform