In Washington County, Emmer officials changed their strategy on Tuesday. On Monday, Republican observers asserted that ballots that had no marked vote for either gubernatorial candidate implied a vote for Emmer. On Tuesday, Emmer representatives abandoned that practice, said Kevin Corbid, Washington’s elections director.

No, really.  What the hell kind of strategery is this?  For those who have been following the recount, this level of cynicism is actually a little surprising.  It’s not to say that the Coleman/Franken battle wasn’t bad, but it exposed a lot of problems in the system.  We thought we took care of them.  We created a category of “Frivolous” challenges that didn’t move the count so that it was harder to game the narrative on the news.  But why do we tolerate that screaming little bastard, Sutton, and his constant attacks on the Minnesota electoral process?

Challenging a blank ballot should be a sanctionable offense.  We made rules after all.  We decided what made up for voter intent.

The sheet was created by then-Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Eric Magnuson when he served on the ’08 recount Canvassing Board….But now Magnuson is a lead attorney for Republican Tom Emmer in the disputed governor’s race, and the sheet is proving little guide for Republicans disputing ballots in this recount. Ballots that would have been deemed valid by Justice Magnuson in 2008 are being aggressively challenged by attorney Magnuson’s team this time.

At the end of it all, I want to know what the price is for Eric Magnuson’s soul.  All we know is it’s under 1 million.  He should have bargained for more.

What is the difference between Ireland and Iceland, Alex?

Yes, I’m stealing the joke, but it is a rather darkly funny one borne out of the latest round of currency crisis.  The EU is coming under fantastic pressure right now, as the spread between German debt and the weaker members of the union widens.  Unless you have a real stomach for potential losses, I would not be holding Irish, Portuguese, Greek, Italian, or Spanish debt right now.  There might be some interesting plays in there for short term gains, but the bailout plans that Germany has offered have been telegraphed to involve the bondholders taking losses.  So trade away, but don’t be caught holding the hot potato.

There are a lot of factors that go into all of these crises, and it would be far to simple to identify one factor.  But there are some common threads that explain some of what happened.  In my not so humble opinion, I think there has been some good press covering the unevenness of revenue collection in several of these nations.  Iceland is a little different, but it will share a root in the problem of shared goods and costs.

The NYT did a good story on tax evasion in Greece, and Vanity Fair had one on the Vatipedi Monestary and their role in land swaps and private enrichment.  And now, in the story at the top, we see another strange imbalance.  An unreasonably low business income tax that gives name to the Double Irish, a tax evasion scheme that is used by large multinationals to bury profits and inflate losses.

I will grant my colleagues on the right one thing.  Eventually, a tax rate can become so high as to induce evasion.  But what that doesn’t say is how that rate gets raised.  In my mind, there are two great promises we’ve made that we can’t keep.  The first is an effective rate of business taxation that allows for hyper-wealth creation.  I know our rates are still respectably high, but as long as there is low ground elsewhere, money will move.  Evasion makes sense if there is somewhere to go.  The other promise comes in the form of pensions and entitlements.  I acknolwedge that many of these may need to see reductions in future years.  But those promises were made to individuals, ones who right or wrong, depended on the assurances they recived.  A last minute clawback can’t be considered fair.  See also, the Minneapolis Police/Fire pension mess.  We shouldn’t have promised those benefits.  But we did.  We might be wiser about future promises when it comes to entitlements, but it really is too late to negotiate most of the deals we’ve made in the past.

The first promise, however, is one that has been implicit, not set in stone.  Businesses do rely on it, but they were never granted such assurances.  They still have the possibility to generate income against which to balance increased liabilities.  Austerity measures rightly get a bad rap.  They are generally creatures of conservative governments willing to create economic retrenchment to avoid re-balancing the field.  The rich always survive a recession better than the poor.

But how else to talk about laying clear which promises we can’t keep?  Or to take a hard look at the effect of a Irish level business tax? Austerity implies a harshness, but it also invokes a simplicity and clarity..the equality of monastic asceticism.  Should a Irish deal go forward, or the German economic engine be further required to backstop European losses, it is my sincere hope that austerity will mean a renewal of shared sacrifice, not saddling Labor with a bill that Capitol rang up.  Let’s take this moment to say collectively…you can’t run a nation on a 12.5% business tax rate, or with huge numbers of people evading ever rising taxes.

When Iceland and Ireland were pressed to assume the debts of their banking sectors, we saw the urge to nationalize losses similar to our own TARP and bailouts.  This, to some extent, will remain irresistible.  Immediate losses require capping for the general good.  But the question is if the resulting austerity will be the poverty of the people who took losses on both ends of the transaction, or if it will be a clarity about who will pay the next round?

So…I’ve been making some snarky jokes and getting upset about the new TSA backscatter machines and the “enhanced” patdowns.  But I thought I’d be a little more honest with what is upsetting to me in this situation.

I learned about these changes after we had made plans to travel to CHI.  I didn’t have a lot of choice in rescheduling or driving down.

I knew there was a chance I would be selected for additional screening.

At that point my choice is, be viewed naked by someone I can’t see, have someone touch me in ways I may not consent to, be fined 11k and face civil charges for trying to leave the area.

As someone who was sexually assaulted as a child, these choices suck.  As someone with anxiety, these choices suck.  Hell, as a regular Joe…the choices suck.  People who are powereful rarely feel choices like this.  The consequences aren’t that bad, or they quickly return to a world in which they set out the options.

I want to take this moment to realize how far reaching a power is if it can make someone take these choices.  Maybe their job is at an airport concession.  Or they have to travel for work.  Or they are trying to see someone for the last time.  There are lot of reasons a person might not have a choice in refusing this screening.  There are even more reasons a person might not be able to bear to have this happen to them.

I don’t think about what happened to me that often.  I don’t experience strong flash backs, but it does come up from time to time, and it affects me in ways that can really hurt.  Standing in line, I was trying to force a smile so that I wouldn’t be selected.  It felt an awful lot like that bus ride when I was young…hoping not to be targeted.

I just can’t think of a good reason to make anyone feel that way.

27th Week of Common Time, Year C

Job 19:23-27a

‘O that my words were written down!

O that they were inscribed in a book!
24 O that with an iron pen and with lead
they were engraved on a rock for ever!
25 For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
26 and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
then in my flesh I shall see God,
27 whom I shall see on my side,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
My heart faints within me!

With many thanks to Nicole Mullen’s “Redeemer,” i’ll try to say a few words about what this passage is saying to me at the moment.  Job is one of those great teachable moments in scripture, where lessons abound.  There is the silent vigil as well as the eponymous comforts that his friends afford him.  There is the questioning, and the open ended rebuke.  For the textual critic, there are additions and emendations to pour over.  Working with the received text, there is a great deal of layer and back and forth to deal with.

What i’m finding fascinating today, however, is the way that words preface this great declaration.  Pens of iron, letters set in lead on stone…these are fantastic things to be thinking about.  what does the certainty of knowledge have to do with redemption?

plenty, of course.  it seems obvious to us, especially those in the church dedicated to apologetics.  we talk about luther’s anxiety over salvation, wesley’s method, and the carefully chosen rhetoric of the revivalist.  whatever your particular approach to salvation is…you had better know where you stand.  entering the second millenia of the church, we’ve lost any sense that salvation in christ is surprising.  it is a fact.  the means are debated endlessly, the borders of grace are fought over, and the interpretations split the church.  each one holds their truth to be written in iron.

perhaps the missing piece here is that salvation, is of course the ultimate surprise. the person being saved does not have expectations.  they are brought out of the shock of their peril and into the shock of the rescue.  they sputter for breath, they act as though they were still in danger, they still hold the same fear.  some time later,they come to their senses.  but if we are being saved by grace, we should scarcely claim we’re taking it better than a drowning man does being dragged back to shore.

job’s certainty doesn’t come from abstraction.  his knowledge comes out of trauma.  it comes out of dramatic reversals and unimaginable pain.  it foreshadows a resolution that hardly seems to answer the questions of good and evil that are raised.  much to himself as anyone, he cries for certainty to cover over the wrenching loss he’s gone through.

feel the certainty of grace.  but feel it as the surprise that it is, the gift of salvation come into a world that cannot ever preserve that moment.  not in iron.

26th Week of Common Time, Year C

perhaps i shall back track a bit from my previous post.  saying one thing, then saying the opposite is in fact a delicately christian art.  we call it tension.  it is often muddy and confusing.  but living in this tension is pretty well what we’ve got.  to live in dying, and to glory in the cross.

Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah! What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls…

If you think about all of these things as the output of a semi-organized agrarian economy, then it pretty well lines up with the consumer goods of our day.  Perhaps Coke, a Disney movie, and a BMW.  There is not much use in offering up directly the work of our hands.  It is hard to imagine then, that shareholder rights are really high up on God’s list of things to accomplish.  Why then, should they receive more than a passing thought from me?

We some how imagine that the commands we hear shall be accomplished when we have more to give, are stronger to that we might help the weak.  This is a particularly difficult imaginative frame to break.  It seems borne out in some ways.  The doctor who does not protect herself will soon find herself of no help against a plague.  But there is something insidious about the new buildings full of well-fed aid workers that stands over the refugee tents.  I wish I had answers here, but sadly, all i’ve got is a question here.  There must be purpose to that work of our hands, so that it becomes set apart.

When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.

The passage then ends with some hope.  God tells Isaiah that they shall argue it out…and the sins of the people will be cleansed.  But it takes that argument to get there.    In celebration of all God’s Saints, and in hope for all souls…

Let us argue it out.  Let us learn how do as we are commanded.

back by popular demand.

in other words, one of my friends told me she’d “read the shit out of” this blog.  and since i do owe her for loaning me a cocksucking copy of fucking Deadwood, i’d best oblige.

that, and it just doesn’t take much for me to start writing again.  whether i keep up with myself is another question.  i thought this time around i’d try to mix things up.  i’ll still try to do some reflections on the lectionary on sundays or thereabouts, but i’d also mix in some financial news with my regular pomo-ness.

it’s not something i studied, or have some special insight into…except as someone who has both gotten a good and raw deal from the american economy as of late.  so from time to time, i’ll put a few words up about what i’ve learned.

i’ve been thinking about the govenor’s election a lot, and how the donations to MN Forward played out.  what i keep coming back to is that I’m glad i don’t own any Target.  it’s not that the expenditure was particularly large, or the blowback that painful.  but it was clear that the management was willing to risk store openings in key urban locations just to have their say in local politics.  and there’s something really odd about that.  if you own a stock for the long haul, i’d venture that there are very few political issues that will actually be worth donating for.  and many would be too radioactive to be smart.  unless your sector has a truly burdensome regulation…think stem cell research….politics is just too short term to really have an impact on your investment.

but for the c-level exec, politics matters a great deal.  your shelf life is short enough that no matter what the board might say about long-term incentives, there is just too much for them to lose in a year, a quarter, or even a day.  so they look to protect it by chasing faster moving money.  the tax treatment of profits, the power they can wield to render corporate boards toothless, and otherwise take the capitol of others and turn it into private income…these are all the short term interests of the ceo looking to hir stock options.

so oddly enough, Citizens United and the flow of corporate money might not actually be a very capitol friendly tactic.  it is, however, awfully kind to the professional management class that has stepped in…the Tony Haywards, the Jack Donaghys, Angelo Mozilos of the world.  they might be rich, but not on the same scale that a Ford, Rockefeller or Carnagie was.  Certainly, they never own the percentages of the underlying company that those guys did.  and so their time frame is shorter than we as a society need it to be.

so as we start trying to move our nation again, i have the following suggestion.  look at institutional ownership percentages.  and support shareholder rights laws.  the new player in the economy is going to be the retirement fund…the endowment officer, and the trust manager.  the folks who have as long a horizon as the rest of the nation.

honest services laws might prove too vague to actually pin folks to the wall, but modern capitol behaves too erratically, too dangerously for us to really be okay with it.

-sc

Oh, I’m late. Very late. I can’t keep hoping for perfect. I have learn to just let them go.

I think I’m going to just link to the readings, to keep things shorter on the page. I really do suggest going and reading them, however, since these aren’t so much free standing sermons as short form reactions to the text. My nasty little habit of preaching is to unlink the topic from the text, and this blog experiment is about trying to cure that. Today’s writing is mostly about the passage in Matthew 2.

Jesus and his family will go down to Egypt. The murder of children hangs in the air. The salvation of the people of Israel is playing in a surreal reverse gear. Jesus is being placed into history, one story at a time. He will wander in the desert for 40 days, he will bring forth water, and finally, re-image the sign of the serpent raised above the people, and go to the cross. The stories of the exodus play out again before our eyes.

It seems hard to read this year.

I wish to pray, once again, for peace in our time. Israel’s incursions into Gaza have compounded an increasingly unconscionable occupation and strangulation of an entire population. I recall watching the removal of settlers from Gaza with such great hope…and find only bitter disappointment at what has happened since.

In Hebrew, Egypt is called “the narrow place,” or mitzrayim. God calls the people out from there, out from narrowness, slavery and death.

By this, we do not mean a modern nation or people. We are talking about God’s Chosen people, who are always identified by their need for God’s restoration (no matter what creed they approach God by). And we are talking about a memory and history of slavery, a narrow place.

And that is precisely where Jesus goes. In fact, this time, Egypt is the refuge, a place of safety when Judea is about to be wracked with the murder of children. It is not the place. It is the idea. God is not brought low by narrow places. God is present there, not locked up, but as the lighthouse, the key for the door, the voice that tells us that we are not alone.

I watch the news, I see that thin strip of land, between Israel and Egypt. And I see a narrow place.

It is a narrow place. It has become a mitzrayim. Not the land itself, which would bloom if allowed. Not the people, who have been displaced and scarred by war. The walls are narrow. The commitment to violence, and “disproportionate response.” The helplessness that those in power proclaim. The true helplessness into which children and their parents are forced into. The hunger. The death.

It is a mitzrayim, and we cannot abide it. Who will God send to preach against it? Whose voice will tear down the walls? Whose hands will build a lasting peace?

Christ enters Israel’s history, goes down to Egypt, and comes back. Christ enters our history, goes down to death, and comes back. And this is all we need to know. No matter what the narrow place is, God shall go there to find us. There is no place that we can be confined, or shut ourselves away in that God With Us will not go.

The fears of depression, the pain of rape, the denial of the closet, the separations of racism, the terrors of war. From Darfur to Guantanamo to Gaza, here and there, all earth is full of narrow places. And they are being broken. For God wills us to life, and life abundantly. God will always go. Going forth into the world, going to create, going to redeem, going always in love.

Let us give thanks. Our narrow places cannot hold us anymore. And when we are healed, what is beyond us? To know that we are free?

We can turn to our neighbor. We can go forth into the world. And we can love.

Blessed be the God of redemption.

Amen.