Thursday, June 28, 2012

Samantha Corbin Interview (Corrected)

I ran into Samantha Corbin, 2012 recipient of the Maria Leavey award, at a Taco Party on June 19th at the "Take Back the American Dream Conference" in Washington, D.C. She agreed to an interview.

We talk about the training video she did for "The 99% Spring," her work as Actions Director for the "Other 98%," her participation in the Occupy Wall Street movement (OWS), the faith movement within OWS, her non-violent direct action organizing, the increasing political activism of young people under the age of thirty, her sense of justice and injustice, and her understanding of conscience.

My apologies to Samantha for misidentifying her when this blog was first posted.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Living Parable

Bryan Partridge, Minister to Students at NorthHaven Church in Norman, Oklahoma, offers a dramatic interpretation of the older brother in Jesus' parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15) during the June 24, 2012 morning worship service.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Progressive Baptists vs. Citizens United

Rev. Barry Hargrove, pastor of Prince of Peace Baptist Church in Baltimore, MD, talks about the efforts of Progressive Baptists to inform their congregations and oppose the Citizens United ruling.

Hargrove's remarks were made as he participated in a strategy session on "Overturning Citizens United: A Movement Mandate" at the 2012 Take Back the American Dream Conference on June 19th.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Best Legislators and Judges Money Can Buy

The Supreme Court today reaffirmed the right of corporations to make independent political expenditures and summarily overturned a 100-year-old Montana state law that barred corporations from such political activity. The Supreme Court struck down Montana's ban on corporate political money and held that the Citizen's United ruling applies to state and local elections.

The Montana Supreme Court had refused to strike down the state's ban on election spending by corporations. Citing Montana's history of "copper kings" who bribed legislators, Montana's judges challenged the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling.

In the video above, Jason Wiener, a city councilman from Missoula Montana, explains Montana's challenge to the Supreme Court's Citizen's United ruling and the movement to get "dirty, secret, corporate money" out of public elections. Wiener's remarks were made at the "Overturning Citizen's United: A Movement Mandate" strategy session at the 2012 Take Back the American Dream Conference on June 19th.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Wall Street Exposed for Refining Mafia Scams

Matt Taibi's report on "The Scam Wall Street Learned from the Mafia" in the July 5th issue of Rolling Stone Magazine is essential reading for anyone willing to face the facts about the corrupt nature of the American financial system and how the wealth gained from it works to corrupt political processes.

This excerpt, focusing on the role of money in politics, ought to make it crystal clear that both our financial system and our system for financing public elections needs an overhaul:

Defense counsel showed us, for instance, how CDR employees were routinely directed by their boss, David Rubin, to make political contributions to select candidates, only to be reimbursed by Rubin for those contributions later on. This kind of corporate skirting of campaign finance limits is something we've always suspected goes on, but we rarely get to see direct evidence of it.

More interesting, though, were the stories about political payoffs. In 2001, CDR hired a consultant named Ron White, a Philadelphia bond attorney who happened to be the chief ­fundraiser for then-mayor John Street. CDR gave White two tickets to the 2003 Super Bowl in San Diego plus a limo – a gift worth $10,000. As his "guest," White took Corey Kemp, the city treasurer for Philadelphia, who, 16 days later, awarded CDR a $150,000 contract to advise the city on swap deals. But that wasn't the end of the gravy train: CDR doled out those swap deals to selected banks, who in return kicked back $515,000 to CDR for steering city business their way.

So a mere $10,000 bribe to a politician – a couple of Super Bowl tickets and a limo – scored CDR a total of $665,000 of the public's money. If you want to know why Wall Street has been enjoying record profits, here's your answer: Corruption is a business model that brings in $66 for every dollar you invest.

Even more startling was the way that a notorious incident involving former New Mexico governor and presidential candidate Bill Richardson resurfaced during the trial. Barack Obama, you may recall, had nominated Richardson to be commerce secretary – only to have the move blow up in his face when tales of Richardson accepting bribes began to make the rounds. Federal prosecutors never brought a case against Richardson: In 2009, an inside source told the AP that the investigation had been "killed in Washington." Obama himself, after Richardson bowed out, praised the former governor as an "outstanding public servant."

Now, in the Carollo trial, defense counsel got Doug Goldberg, the CDR broker, to admit that his boss, Stewart Wolmark, had handed him an envelope containing a check for $25,000. The check was payable to none other than Moving America Forward – Bill Richardson's political action committee. Goldberg then went to a Richardson fundraiser and handed the politician the envelope. Richardson, pleased, told Goldberg, "Tell the big guy I'm going to hire you guys."

Goldberg admitted on the stand that he understood "the big guy" to mean Wolmark. After that came this amazing testimony:

Q: Soon after that, New Mexico hired CDR as its swap and GIC adviser on a $400 million deal, right?

A: Yes.

Q: You learned later that that check in that envelope was a check for $25,000, right?

A: Yes. I learned it later.

Q: You also learned later that CDR gave another $75,000 to Gov. Richardson, right?

A: Yes.

Q: CDR ended up making about a million dollars on this deal for those two checks?

A: Yes.

Q: In fact, New Mexico not only hired CDR, they hired another firm to do the actual work that they needed done?

A: For the fixed-income stuff, yes.

What we get from this is that CDR paid Bill Richardson $100,000 in contributions and got $1.5 million in public money in return. And not just $1.5 million, but $1.5 million for work they didn't even do – the state still had to hire another firm to do the actual job. Nice non-work, if you can get it.

To grasp the full insanity of these revelations, one must step back and consider all this information together: the bribes, yes, but also the industrywide, anti-competitive bid-rigging scheme. It turns into a kind of unbroken M̦bius strip of corruption Рthe banks pay middlemen to rig auctions, the middlemen bribe politicians to win business, then the politicians choose the middlemen to run the auctions, leading right back to the banks bribing the middlemen to rig the bids.

When we allow Wall Street to continually raid the public cookie jar, we're not just enriching a bunch of petty executives (Wolmark's income in 2008, two years after he was busted in the FBI raid, was $2,464,210.18) – we're effectively creating an alternate government, one in which money lifted from the taxpayer's pocket through mob-style schemes turns into a kind of permanent shadow tax, used to maintain the corruption and keep the thieves in place. And that cuts right to the heart of what this case is all about. Wall Street is tired of making money by competing for business and weathering the vagaries of the market. What it wants instead is something more like the deal the government has – regularly collecting guaranteed taxes. What's crazy is that in order to justify that dream of regular, monopolistic tribute, they've begun to see themselves as a type of shadow government, watching out for the rest of us. Amazingly enough, this even became a defense at trial.

Read more: The Scam Wall Street Learned from the Mafia

Why We Need Another Wall of Separation in the Constitution

On Building Another Wall of Separation to Preserve Democracy from Bruce Prescott on Vimeo.

Excerpts from remarks from U.S. Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota and State Senator Jamie Raskin of Maryland during the strategy session "Overturning Citizens United: A Movement Mandate" at the 2012 Take Back the American Dream Conference on June 19th.

Speaking about the dangers of the Supreme Court's Citizen's United ruling, Raskin says:

"We have to build a wall of separation between corporate money and public elections like the wall of separation between church and state."

Friday, June 22, 2012

Gabby Pacheco and the Movement for Immigrant Rights

Gabby Pacheco, an undocumented immigrant from Ecuador and leading spokesperson for ending the deportation of the undocumented, talks about the current civil rights struggle to secure the passage of the Dream Act.

She spoke at the "Take Back the American Dream Conference" on June 20, 2012. Wade Henderson's introduction of Gabby mentions the cover of Time Magazine.

IRS Not Enforcing 501(c)3 Tax Law

MSNBC has posted a story about "Activist churches bait IRS, but agency won't bite so far" that offers a helpful but brief summary of the status of IRS investigations of preachers (like Paul Blair in Edmond) who endorse political candidates from their pulpits. Here's an excerpt:
In 2004 the IRS created a dedicated enforcement program focused on political activity by churches and other nonprofits.

Called the Political Activities Compliance Initiative (PACI), it investigated in the 2004, 2006 and 2008 election cycles 80 instances where church officials were alleged to have endorsed a candidate during services.

According to IRS tallies made public after each election, the majority of the PACI complaints were upheld and settled with a warning that the organization comply with the ban on political activity.

The IRS did not respond to Reuters questions about its enforcement activities in recent years, or explain why they seem to have ended abruptly in 2009.

IRS church audits seem to have halted entirely in January 2009. That was when Living Word Christian Center in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, successfully appealed an IRS audit. In question were an endorsement of Republican Michele Bachmann for Congress by pastor James Hammond and financial deals that may have benefited him personally, a violation of IRS rules.

IRS audits of churches must comply with strict rules designed to prevent undue governmental pressure. One is that a high-level IRS or Treasury Department official must authorize the audit. In the Living Word case, the U.S. District Court in Minnesota ruled that the IRS staffer who authorized the audit did not qualify.

In July of that year, Minnesota's Warroad Community Church was told by an IRS official that it was closing its 2008 examination of the church "because of a pending issue regarding the procedure used to initiate the inquiry." (Reuters obtained a copy of the letter from the Alliance Defense Fund, which was representing Warroad in the audit.)

Other churches that had been under IRS review received comparable letters, according to their lawyers.

The IRS stopped publishing the results of its PACI initiative. Three years later the IRS has yet to come up with a new set of church audit rules, making it impossible, experts say, for the agency to pursue such examinations.

This is the most egregious example of how the Obama administration has been unwilling to preserve the wall separating church and state.

As long as the IRS refuses to uphold tax laws against this kind of political activity, it is denying equality to those who comply with the law. Under our tax laws, churches are considered 501(c)3 organizations. Contributions to 501(c)3 organizations are tax deductible. That means that persons making financial contributions to churches engaged in partisan political activities receive tax deductions from their federal income taxes for their political activities. Persons making contributions to 501(c)4 organizations and other organizations involved in partisan political activities are denied the right to write comparable contributions from their federal income taxes.

The IRS needs to level the playing field.

Either permit tax deductions for all contributions to those engaged in partisan political action by relaxing enforcement of the law prohibiting tax deductible contributions to all political action committees and 501(c)4 organizations, or resume enforcing the law for all 501(c)3 organizations -- churches included.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Deep Patriotism vs Cheap Patriotism

Van Jones, President and co-founder of Rebuild the Dream, speaks about the difference between deep patriotism and cheap patriotism at the 2012 Take Back the American Dream Conference.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Media and Civil Society in Turkey and the Middle East

Mustafa Akyol, author of Islam without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty, discusses "Media and Civil Society in Turkey and the Middle East" at the University of Oklahoma's Gaylord College of Journalism on April 13, 2012.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Andi Thomas Sullivan Featured in the Economist

Congratulations to Andi Thomas Sullivan, daughter of T & Kathie Thomas and a founder and now the Executive Director of His Nets, who was featured in an article on "Evangelical Voters" in the May 5th issue of the Economist Magazine.

Andi was mentioned as representative of a younger generation of evangelicals who have a broader social conscience than their elders:
In a similar vein, Mrs Sullivan says that the evangelical right’s focus on abortion and gay marriage “overshadows broader social justice issues”. She insists that among evangelicals of her generation such views are not unusual, and the data back her up. In a 2008 poll, a plurality (44%) of young evangelicals characterised their “political views on social issues (health care, poverty)” as “liberal”. Younger evangelicals are more likely than older ones to favour environmental protection and same-sex marriage. And although they remain overwhelmingly pro-life, nearly one-third of them voted for Mr Obama, suggesting greater willingness to vote for a candidate who believes that abortion must remain a matter of choice.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A Protestant Lament About the Apostle Paul

Dr. Stephen Patterson, Atkinson Professor of Religious and Ethical Studies at Willamette University, reflects on how he feels Christians, especially Protestant Christians, came to misread Paul so badly.

Patterson's lecture was part of the seminar on "Paul in Two Worlds: A Jew and a Christian Talk about the Apostle" sponsored by the Oklahoma Institute for Biblical Literacy that was held at Oklahoma City University on May 12, 2012.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Ecumenical Dialogue on the Hope of Eternal Life

Dr. Michael Root's seminar on "The Hope of Eternal Life: Common Statement -- U.S. Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue" at the 2012 National Workshop on Christian Unity.

The Lutheran-Catholic dialogue completed Round XI with agreements that contribute to the ongoing ecumenical journey. The common statement "The Hope of Eternal Life" offers fresh insights into some issues that proved contentious in the debates of the sixteenth century.

Among issues explored in this dialogue were continuity in communion of saints, prayer for and about the dead, the meaning of death, purgation, an interim state between death and the final general judgment, and the promise of resurrection.

Dr. Root is Professor of Systematic Theology at the Catholic University of America.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

On Ecumenical Disaster Response

Rev. Mary Gaudreau's seminar on "Ecumencal Engagement: Providing Healing and Hope Throughout the Disaster Cycle" at the 2012 National Workshop on Christian Unity.

Faith communities hold a unique and valuable role through all phases of disaster: preparedness, response, relief, recovery and mitigation. Gaudreau's seminar introduces participants to some of the well-established national and state level networks through which faith communities engage in vital disaster-related communication, cooperation, coordination and collaboration. Participants also learn avenues through which they can become better prepared to serve those impacted by disasters and to prepare for disasters they themselves may experience.

Rev. Gaudreau is a consultant with the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) and Domestic Emergency Service Office.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

What's the Matter with Oklahoma in a Nutshell

Excerpts from Arnold Hamilton's June 1st talk to Cleveland County Democrats about the recently concluded 2012 session of the Oklahoma state legislature.

Arnold Hamilton is the editor of the Oklahoma Observer and a faithful member of Spring Creek Baptist Church in Oklahoma City.

A 34-year veteran of daily newspapers, Hamilton is a former staff writer for the Dallas Morning News, the San Jose Mercury News, the Dallas Times Herald, the Tulsa Tribune and the Oklahoma Journal. He has been editor of the Oklahoma Observer since 2006.

Much of his career has focused on American politics and government: He covered full-time the state Capitols of Oklahoma, Texas and California, as well as presidential campaigns and national political conventions.

Hamilton spent 18 years as Dallas Morning News Oklahoma Bureau Chief, a regional correspondent and a member of the politics/elections team. Among his notable stories: He covered the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and twice interviewed convicted bomber Timothy McVeigh. He helped chronicle Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign. And he reported on two major hurricanes in 2005, riding out Katrina in a French Quarter hotel and Rita in a Jasper, Texas radio station.

Born in St. Louis, Mo., Hamilton was raised in Midwest City, Okla. He earned a B.S. in organizational behavior from the University of San Francisco and an M.A. in political science from Oklahoma State University.

He is a two-time winner of a Dallas Press Club Katie Award for reporting excellence. His coverage of the Oklahoma City bombing was featured in the 1996 edition of America’s Best Newspaper Writing. And his reporting on Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh’s conviction was honored – along with the New York Times – by the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

In 1997, Hamilton received the Fran Morris Civil Liberties in Media Award from the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Oklahoma. He also was a member of the Dallas Morning News team honored by the Associated Press Sports Editors for investigative reporting on the 2003 Baylor University basketball scandal that included the murder of player Patrick Dennehy.

In 2011, Hamilton was inducted into the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame, joining The Observer’s founding editor, Frosty Troy, who was honored in 1971.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Paul the Apostle in a Pluralistic Age

Dr. Pamela Eisenbaum and Dr. Stephen Patterson talk about what a new understanding of Paul might mean for Jews and Christians living in a religiously plural age.

This lecture concludes a seminar on "Paul in Two Worlds: A Jew and a Christian Talk about the Apostle" sponsored by the Oklahoma Institute for Biblical Literacy and hosted at Oklahoma Christian University on May 11-12, 2012.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Implementing the Surprises of Vatican II

Dr. John Borelli, Bishop Frank Griswold, and Dr. Karen Westerfield Tucker address the topic "Implementing Vatican II: Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations" at the 2012 National Workshop on Christian Unity. Bishop Emeritus Donald McCoid moderated the discussion.

Dr. John Borelli is Special Assistant for Interreligious Initiative to the President of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. He served as Associate Director and the Interim Director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs at the U.S. Conference of Bishops for eighteen years.

Bishop Frank Griswold is the former presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the USA, prior to which he was Bishop of Chicago. He chaired the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission from 1998 to 2003.

Dr. Karen Westerfield Tucker is an ordained United Methodist minister and is Professor of Worship at Boston University School of Theology. She is also president of the Societas Liturgica and the editor-in-chief of Studia Liturgia.

Bishop Emeritus Donald McCoid is the Executive for Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Affairs for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Formerly bishop of ELCA Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod in Pittsburgh, he is the co-chair of the Lutheran-Orthodox International Dialogue.

Friday, June 01, 2012

A Jewish Evaluation of the Apostle Paul

Dr. Pamela Eisenbaum, Associate Professor of Biblical Studies and Christian Origins at Illiff School of Theology, lectures on how getting early Judaism right can help understand the Apostle Paul. She draws from her new book, Paul Was Not a Christian: The Original Message of a Misunderstood Apostle

This lecture is part of the the seminar on "Paul in Two Worlds: A Jew and a Christian Talk about the Apostle" sponsored by the Oklahoma Institute for Biblical Literacy and held at Oklahoma City University on May 11-12, 2012.