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Mike hopes to see the world turned upside down through local communities banding together for social change, especially churches which have recognized the radical calling to be good news to the poor, to set free the prisoners and oppressed, and to become the social embodiment of the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. He lives with the blessed memory of his wife, in Durham, NC, and has three adult children living in three different states. He also shares his life with the Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, the faculty and students of Shaw University Divinity School in Raleigh, NC, and the faithful fans of Duke and Baylor Basketball in his neighborhood.

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Bailout 6: Don't Stop Paying Attention

In the past week, a couple of reminders have come around that caught my attention. We have to recall that the deep causes of this financial downturn lie in unregulated and deregulated management of capital and in the "bubbles" created by wishful thinking about dot-com businesses and inflated housing prices. Risk trading, debt swapping, and all that mess played with other people's money, and the banks and large money companies thought they could keep bleeding the low- and middle-income people for greater and greater profits. One of the better places to read and hear about the economy is a blog called Planet Money. I also get plenty of good insight from Truthout, as the comments below will illustrate.

The first reminder came from Dean Baker, and I heard it elsewhere, asking whether any executives have had their pay cut. Are CEOs and executives whose companies have been bailed out by our taxes had to feel any of the pain? We are not getting any such reports.

Second came the reminder in an article posted on Truthout that banks getting an influx of taxpayer money seem to be planning to keep on paying out dividends as if nothing has happened. Dividends come from profits, and profits come from a good economy. If the dividends come from taxpayer bailouts, then what's up with that? I don't pay taxes so stockholders can make dividend income. If I have to pay to keep banks from failing, that is one thing. But dividend income is another.

Is the Treasury Department looking out for the public interest here? We have to keep watching and calling for accountability.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Rwanda's Lingua Franca

Rwanda struggles to recover from the terrible events of more than a decade ago. The continuing disaster now plays itself out in Congo, where armies battle over control of the eastern part of the country.

I came across a couple of stories today. One tells about the decision to replace the French language with English as the primary language of international conversation. Students will be educated in English in the public schools. The primary reasons: neighboring countries and trading partners speak English, and school textbooks in English cost much less than those in French. It will take some time for a generation or two to make this transition happen. I wondered if the engagement of groups like Saddleback with their PEACE plan has had any influence on this.

The other article describes the revolutionary changes going on in gender relations in Rwanda. Women, a large majority of the population after the genocide and exodus, hold the majority of seats in the legislature. Many laws which discriminated against women are being systematically repealed and replaced. It will be fascinating to see how these changes continue and what influence a more egalitarian Rwanda may have on other African countries.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Frank Schaeffer--Country First?

Frank Schaeffer had an op-ed this week that caught the attention of left-wing activist Amy Goodman. Here is here interview with him. His critique of the religious right is fascinating. He says that their deep anti-Americanism of awaiting Armageddon and hoping for things to get worse and worse has been twisted into a hypocritical Country First boosterism. Yet ultimately, he believes it remains a secessionist, full-scale attack on the U. S., one whose vicious, hateful head has appeared in recent rallies for McCain and Palin. He believes their attempt to pin the label "terrorist" on Obama will lead to an unleashing of violence. Let's pray it does not.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Bailout 5: How the House of Cards Began to Tumble

According to some new information, Wells Fargo analysts and others have come to conclude that Wachovia's mortgage-based securities are probably worth 85¢ on the dollar, with a few of the worst ones worth 74¢ on the dollar. That is lower than earlier estimates that I had read, but not so low as the market was pricing them. No wonder Wells Fargo was willing to pay much more than Citigroup had offered to buy out Wachovia. I reiterate that the mortgage losses in real dollars are not nearly so bad as what the market would make it seem. Citigroup was very angry that someone called them on their extreme low-ball offer and sued Wells Fargo. Now they are fighting it out over who buys Wachovia. If the market stabilizes, who knows if someone else will even offer a better price.

On the other hand, the market in loans between banks and in commercial paper (short-term loans to large businesses to keep their cash flowing day to day) got into a serious crisis over the past months and weeks. I got a tip to listen to an outstanding description of just why this crisis came to be seen as so serious. I was surprised to find out that it was on the public radio program This American Life, usually known more for its quirkiness than for hard-hitting financial reporting. I don't mean they never tackle hard topics--their work on school reform is also some of the best I have ever heard. So if you have about an hour to listen and learn, you won't be disappointed by listening to Another Frightening Show About the Economy. If you want to dig a little deeper, another hour will allow you to hear about the housing bubble and unorthodox mortgage practices which laid the groundwork for this recent crisis in the show called The Giant Pool of Money.

Finally, the point that the people of the U. S. who are being asked to bail out these businesses need to get a share of the profit from their recovery. Another Frightening Show will explain the idea of making sure the government takes an ownership share through preferred stock in whatever companies it bails out. A growing swell of voices are asking for this. It is written as an option into the bill that Congress finally passed, but not because Paulson or Bush were advocating it. So if you want to know what to say to your representatives and senators, then ask them to support this way of dealing with the money our taxes will make available. Here is how one economist describes it.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Carter's RACE 3: Cavanaugh, Baptists, and Practices

In note 74 on p 393-94 of Race: A Theological Account, J. Kameron Carter helps me identify what seems to me a shortcoming in William Cavanaugh’s turn to the sacrament as the practice of formation leading out of the dilemmas of the modern nation-state in his remarkable and powerful book, Torture and Eucharist. In reading Cavanaugh, certain aspects of his RCC sensibilities concerning the Eucharist did not quite settle well with me to me and remained alien from my own formation as a Baptist. I wondered whether I would be able to appropriate his arguments about the sacrament, or whether I would need to substitute a different account of counterhegemonic practices of the church.

Yet I also have been grateful for the ways that Cavanaugh was describing an alternative to one of the great losses of the Baptist tradition. Too often Baptists have settled into acceptance of a Zwinglian memorial view of the sacraments and the reduction of sacraments to ordinances.

Luis Rivera helps give some perspective this problematic in his counterhistory of the conquest of the Americas with its imposition of Christianity through forced baptisms (A Violent Evangelism). Part of what the Baptists a century after Columbus and Cortez were unhappy about was the way that state hegemony had become intertwined with ecclesial hierarchy to discipline bodies through control of the sacraments. The sacramental practice often seemed alienated from its covenantal institution and embodiment in the living Christ. Thus, the Baptists were demanding a restoration of the sacrament in new covenantal practice dissociated from such blatant state hegemony. In their own ways, they also failed to see the ways their vision of baptism and the Supper would be coopted by the powers and authorities. So my reservations about Cavanaugh's account were no less reservations about what my own tradition ultimately also failed to analyze and understand in its own practices.

The Baptists often lacked an adequate understanding of the full political nature of the church, and thus quickly followed, perhaps afar off, the magisterial vision of the divided body and mind and the two regimes, two kingdoms, etc. Acknowledging these shortcomings and the corrective offered by Cavanaugh, I still think there is room for, even need for, an account of other sacramental ecclesial practices, as suggested by Jim McClendon’s hermeneutical device of word, worship, work, and witness in Doctrine. I find Cavanaugh’s argument to suggest, or at least be receptive to, such an account of ecclesial practices, not unique to Roman Catholicism in the production of bodies (politic).

Cavanaugh’s effort to reconstitute the unity of body and mind, of religion and politics, in the sacrament is in the right direction. However, Carter points out that Cavanaugh does not apply his excellent critical skills to the ways that the sacraments become tools of hegemonic power in colonialism. I must confess that I also missed these critical features of modernity in my earlier research and writing. Carter affirms that racial and colonialist reasoning are central to the constitution of modernity. He extends the work of scholars like Cavanaugh in trying to provide an account which incorporates this problematic of race, politics, and theology, the genealogy of their interrelationship in modernity, and ultimately a Christological critique of modern racialized theopolitics.

Carter's RACE 2: The Racialized Jew

With apologies once again to Dr. Carter if I have misunderstood his argument, I am attempting to articulate some of what I am learning and thinking about as I read his new book.

In his critique of Cornel West and analysis of Michel Foucault (in Race: A Theological Account), J. Kameron Carter raises a matter of particular concern for professional theologians. There is a tendency in the profession of theology to be overly confident of the power of language. Thus, the critique of modernity, and if Carter is right, the critique of racialized understandings and structuring of bodies (politic), can emphasize the discursive structures of racial reasoning without adequate attention to the nondiscursive structuring, the production and reproduction of racialized bodies (politic), the “dynamics of relationships of force” (48).

This problem, it would seem to me, shines a light on the difficulty for white theologians to identify the effects of whiteness on theological theory and practice. Thus we find ongoing attempts at therapy through language to eliminate racism and racialized thinking. The most na├»ve form would attempt to create terminology to substitute for racialized language in a kind of idealistic method of changing the reality by changing its name. While this has some therapeutic value, it cannot in and of itself uproot and dismantle the power relations and structures of production which are the inherent logic and grammar of a racialized theopolitics. Next, Carter will interrogate Foucault’s concept of biopower and biopolitics as a more material analysis than West offered.

West, it would seem, probes the emergence of a discourse of biblical interpretation and other intellectual productions which deployed elements of the new scientific vision, Cartesian philosophy of mastery, and the normative gaze of classical aesthetics. The discursive structures “circumscribe how people of African descent come to be situated in the modern imagination” (49). The shortcoming of West’s excellent work, according to Carter, is that it can provide explanation for the conditions of the possibility of the emergence of white supremacy, but it does not explain why white supremacy was the actual result. He implies a level of contingency, which he then fails to name; thus, a hint of inevitability or necessity hangs in the air. Foucault goes on to recognize the moment of anxiety over the racialized Jew in modern Europe which elicits a pseudotheological articulation of a notion of the white nation around which an entire hierarchical construction of race comes into being. The biopolitics of the nation appears in the dialectical relationship of decentralized individualism with centralized administration and surveillance, such that the people themselves police nationhood in their own racialized, individualized, modernized, pseudotheologized bodies.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Bailout 4: How to Use $700 Billion

$700 billion dollars for what? All of a sudden, George Bush thinks there is another $700 billion dollars available to spend. This is the guy whose advisers told him the Iraq war would finance itself, or at most cost about $50 billion. The bill for that debacle is fast approaching $600 billion after five years. What's another $700 billion going down into an abyss?

Of course, these same people say there is no money to fully fund No Child Left Behind, closer to $20 billion per year. There is no money to provide health care for the uninsured (not even for uninsured children through SCHIP), which $700 billion would cover for six or seven years. There is no money to support the Millenium Development Goals which the World Bank says could be funded with $40 to $60 billion per year spread among all the contributors. For Christians familiar with the Micah Challenge, this last example is a part of the shared agenda of churches in many nations.

A few comments from this week's discussions at the United Nations General Assembly seem appropriate here ("No Bailout for the World's Poorest").

Father Miguel d'Escoto Brockman of Nicaragua, the newly-elected president of the General Assembly, warned that the current financial crisis will have "very serious consequences" that will impede the significant progress, "if indeed any progress is made", towards the targets established by the MDGs, "which are themselves insufficient".

"It is always the poor who pay the price for the unbridled greed and irresponsibility of the powerful," he said, taking a passing shot at the staggering 700-billion-dollar bailout proposed by the administration of President George W. Bush to save the high-stakes investment banks of New York from bankruptcy and collapse.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg told delegates that "money doesn't seem to be a problem, when the problem is money".

"Let us look for a moment at what is happening on Wall Street and in financial markets around the world. There, unsound investment threatens the homes and jobs of the middle class," he added.

There is something fundamentally wrong, he argued, "when money seems to be abundant, but funds for investment in people seem so short in supply".

Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding told the General Assembly that the crisis currently rocking the world's financial markets reflects the inadequacy of the regulatory structures that are essential to the effective functioning of any market.

But it is more than that. It represents the failure on the part of the international financial system to facilitate the flow of resources into areas where they can produce real wealth -- not paper wealth, he added.
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