Sunday, January 30, 2011

When prosperity preachers hustle, they're making your God a shill

  "And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not."  2 Peter 2:3

Apparently it's nothing new, using God's name to make one's fortune. But with the advent of television and the internet, it's become an art form--a lucrative if predictable art form.  It goes something like this: God spoke to me just this morning and told me he would perform financial miracles for X number of His people if they'll commit X number of dollars to my anointed ministry in X amount of time. 

"Quickly, quickly", they say, "Don't even think about it!  Get out your checkbooks, max out your credit cards if you have to. Yes, you heard me right!  God says MAX them out!  Send in your next mortgage payment--have faith that it will all return to you 10-fold, 100-fold.  Do it NOW!  Operators are waiting to take your call."  (Cue the tearing up, the catch in the voice.  Say the word "MIRACLES" emphatically, sharpen the S and hold it.)

These people are bloodsuckers.  They whip up their audiences, promising prosperity just around the corner if they'll make the supreme sacrifice and send in their last dollars.  Have FAITH that God knows what he's doing. (Insert Abraham's willingness to kill his own son if God so ordered it.)  They've latched onto the con to end all cons, perfected over centuries, and still going strong.  It must be startling even to them, how easily they can get rich just by pretending that God speaks to them.  It does indeed work never-ending miracles.  For them.

They get caught in their lies, they're exposed by countless sources presenting overwhelming evidence of their scams, and still they keep a following large enough to enrich their already lavish lifestyles.

"Pastor" Mike Murdock is the leader of the pack.  Other con artist preachers look up to him for guidance.  Tell us, Mike, how do you do it?  What's your secret?  The secret, as I see it, is that he plays on the desperation of his audience and never lets up.  Quickly!  Quickly!  Operators are standing by!  He throws in a few stories not to be believed by any thinking person about the money miracles arriving at doorsteps after those with the sorriest of lives, at the end of their ropes, see their last salvation in sowing the Murdock Seed.   Now and then you see that he can barely hide his disdain for the poor folks who take him at his Word.  At other times, an itty bitty tear starts to fall.  (You can do that if you're conscience-free.)

 So here I am, just another in a long line of outraged watchers trying to show the evil in these people.  Watch and be warned.  Or not:

  An $80 Passover offering will bring seven blessings--and a Mezuzah.

Jan Crouch says, "Little women, send your little grocery money":

Eddie Long on Tithing.

The anointing never ends.  Their followers keep sending money.  What a show!

But the last laugh's on them. . .

(There.  Not much accomplished, but I feel better on this Sunday morning.  But I'm warning you:  Don't get so excited by this that you'll want to send me money.  I'll slap you silly.)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Honoring Boundless Hearts

Sarge was an idealist, a man of boundless heart, and a hard-headed businessman who from the ground up built a government program—and he was never afraid to call it just that because he disdained anti-government stereotypes—that has become an enduring force for American purpose and compassion, vastly popular at home and around the globe.
George McGovern on Sargent Shriver,  1/19/11

Two years ago today, on the day President Obama was inaugurated, I published the first entry in my blog, Ramona's Voices.  When I woke up that morning I didn't know I was going to launch a blog.  It was only after the events started that I was moved to create one more sounding board where the voices of people I admired might be heard, where their actions could be encouraged and celebrated  (and where the movements of the people who seem bent on destroying the soul of this country could be recorded and exposed).

There was just so much good will floating around that day, mingling with hope and anticipation.  My heart was full.  I saw sunshine ahead; I was sure the dark days were behind us.  It was a day to remember.

Last year, on the first anniversary of the inauguration of both the president and my blog,  I wrote "I'm not ready to write Obama off.  I'm nervous about a lot of what's been coming out of the White House this past year--I admit it.  When I saw Wall Street move in, I chewed my fingers to the nubs.  When Rahm Emmanuel became the head whip-cracker, I felt a distinct shiver up my spine.  And when Barack Obama stopped talking about labor, even as hundreds of thousands of our workers were losing their jobs every month,  I gave up any inclination I might have had to genuflect.
I keep reminding myself that the Good Man took on what amounted to a national nightmare.  There were no easy fixes, and nobody pretended there would be.  But I would have slept better this past year if only I had been able to see the president as a "people person".   Was he ever that?  I don't know.  We might have made him into our own images, taking much needed comfort in an illusion of our own making.  Maybe he is what he is.  But what is he?  After a full year of hosting him in The People's House we're no closer to knowing where he stands, or, more importantly, where he's going.
And yet. . .  And yet.  I trust him"

I knew this anniversary day was coming and that I would want to write about it, but what would I say as I stood beside Obama saying farewell to Year Two, heading into Year Three?  That all of my wishes came true?  That all of my fears were justified?  That nothing much has changed?  That I now know what kind of man my president is?

I can't say any of those things.   I am at times proud of my president, disappointed in him, enraged by his actions or inaction, fearful of the direction he is taking us.

I'm impatient and feeling increasingly impotent as I'm forced to watch more and more jobless citizens give up, more and more home-owners become homeless, more and more of the sick and dying having to give over their lives to insurance company paper-pushers.  I want the wars to end.  I want the corporate giants to finally understand the consequences and do something about their destructive practices.  I want the GOP and certain members of the Democratic Party to fulfill their obligations to the citizenry--the entire citizenry--in a time of unparalleled crisis, and act like a responsible governing body.  I want our president to be a leader of the people.

I want us to be a country of boundless hearts.  I want the people who advocate goodness and mercy to be heard, and not looked on as quaint, anachronistic know-nothings.  There is a place for this kind of talk, just as there is a place for the analyzing and dissection of every political action, left or right.  It all leads to a greater understanding, and possibly real solutions.

As I'm entering Year Three of Ramona's Voices, this is how I view my blog:  It is what it is until it no longer is.  That's the beauty of this dazzling, dizzying world called the Internet(s)--we all have a chance at putting our voices out there.  Distinct and different, interesting or not--it's an equal opportunity world.  The ultimate exercise in free speech.  What's not to love?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Why aren't these Two Women in Jail?

In a righteous world, someone in control would watch this video and then use it as evidence in a courtroom.  Instead, because the victim is a child and the perpetrator is her mother and they're participants in a reality show, it is aired as a part of a segment and nothing happens.

It was posted on Huffington Post early yesterday but I just got it in my email a few minutes ago.  I haven't seen it talked about anywhere else.  That's why I'm posting it here.  If this isn't the most abusive kind of torture, I don't know what is.  If you think I'm overreacting, please tell me why. (And also tell me how someone could stand there and film this without doing something to intercede?  What about the other patrons?  Could nobody step forward and help this child?  My God.)

See video

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Foreclosure for Fun and Profit

There is a lovely new residential-shopping complex in Myrtle Beach called "The Market Common".  We haven't been there yet this year, but last year we walked around it a few times.  In my wildest dreams I couldn't afford anything in their shops, but honestly?  I never saw anything I would be willing to give up my entire SS check to buy.  Still, I kind of took a liking to the place, faux as it was.

But this morning I saw an article in the paper titled "Familiar Face buys Market" and was surprised to see that Market Common had been in some trouble last year.  They weren't paying their bills.  Imagine that.  Now bear in mind that I know literally nothing about high finance or luxury real estate or anything, in fact, that has to do with money in the six figures, but something about this story stinks to high heaven.

Let's see if I got this right:  Company A takes out a construction loan for $105,000,000 in order to build the place, but after a couple of years prices drop and the place isn't worth that much so somebody makes the decision to stop making payments.  The entire complex goes into default and is foreclosed.  Then the parent company of Company A goes to the same bank that brought about the foreclosure and says how about we buy it back from you for. . .oh, I don't know--$19,000,000?

The bank (JP Morgan-Chase) says okay and everybody, including the Myrtle Beach city manager, is happy.  No pain--much gain.  The Sun-News says, "The owners of the Market Common probably would have been able to continue to make payments on the loan, but chose to default because the property is no longer worth what it would cost to build, said Dan McCaffery, president of McCaffery Interests in May."

The loan, it turns out, is what's called a "non-recourse loan", which means that in case of default the bank can't come back and claim either the company's or any company employee's assets. Handy.

McCaffery said the property's value has dropped, and there were better investments than continuing to pay on the loan, despite nothing being wrong with the project.

Tom Leath, the MB city manager is thrilled:  "We are pleased that the purchaser is tied to Leucadia [the defaulter] because we think obviously they know exactly what the issue is, and they understand the market having been here a few years.  There is no learning curve with them."

Leath also told the Sun News that companies throughout the country are choosing to walk away from properties that have substantially lost value and are no longer sound investments, so this situation is not unique.

"If you look at the foreclosure as a calculated business decision," he said, "then I don't think it's odd that they got back in line to buy it back."

So. . .you know where I'm going with this, don't you?  Say I'm Joe Blow and I took out a mortgage on a house a few years ago, but now it's worth far less than I still owe on it, and I want to get out from under it but nobody in their right mind is going to pay me what I think they should.  Not in this economy.  I decide I don't want to make payments on a losing investment anymore so I go to my bank and tell them,  "I owe you a whole bunch of money but I don't see any future in paying any more on that losing proposition of a house, so how about this?  We let it go into default, but you hold it for me and I'll pay you about a tenth of what I owed on it before."

What do you think they would say?

(Cross-posted at Dagblog here.)

Saturday, January 8, 2011

No more pussyfooting: The Republicans and the C of C are trying to kill us

Historically, nothing has terrified conservatives so much as efficient, effective, activist government. “A thoroughly first-rate man in public service is corrosive,” the former president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce argued in an interview published in the journal Nation’s Business in 1928. “He eats holes in our liberties. The better he is and the longer he stays the greater the danger. If he is an enthusiast–a bright-eyed madman who is frantic to make this the finest government in the world–the black plague is a housepet by comparison.” 

Rick Perlstein, "Enemies of State"

My thanks to AmiBlue, who wrote about this in a piece called "Don't tell 'em, sell 'em" over at Dagblog.  This is powerful stuff.  The Big Business assault was (and is) even worse than we could ever have imagined.  The quote above by the C of C flack would be chilling enough today, but considering it was the battle cry already in 1928, it shows clearly the kind of relentless, never-ending  propaganda we're up against.

 From Perlstein's article:
Consider the famous December 2, 1993 memo by William Kristol entitled “Defeating President Clinton’s Health Care Proposal.” The notion of government-guaranteed health care had to be defeated, he said, rather than compromised with, or else: “It will revive the reputation of the party that spends and regulates, the Democrats, as the generous protector of middle-class interests. And it will at the same time strike a punishing blow against Republican claims to defend the middle class by restraining government.” Kristol wrote on behalf of an organization called the Project for a Republican Future. The mortal fear is that if government delivers the goods, the Republicans have no future. 

They have big money behind them.  They have the recent supreme court decision behind them.  They have the Republican Party, the right wing media and much of the mainstream media behind them.  And they have an astonishing number of just plain folks who just don't get it behind them.

Incredible, considering their goal has always been to do the rest of us in so that they can grow richer and stronger--but that's the enemy, that's the battle, and that's what we're up against.

We have to keep working at stopping them, and what worries me is I'm hearing from so many people on our side who say they're disheartened and discouraged and disgusted and are ready to quit.  This is not the time to quit!  They may have big money and big numbers on their side, but might, dammit, does not make right.

They'd like nothing better than to see us all surrender.  They're thrilled by the cave-in of the only other entities with enough power to puncture their armor--the White House and a solid number of  Democrats in Congress.

If you can read that stuff above and still walk away, then do me this one last favor:  Turn around and look out there.  Weep with me on the shore as we watch our beautiful ship taking on water, listing, groaning, losing power.  I see it as a battle ship.  You might be seeing it as a cruise ship.  Either way, it's ours and it's sinking and if there are lifeboats on the way, they're too little, too few, too late. 

But have a nice day.
Cross-posted at Dagblog here.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The New Year's Random Ramble

I'm in the midst of unpacking bins and boxes and suitcases and looking for the cord for the printer and for the thingy that lets me plug in a bunch of USB cords.  That is, I should be in the midst of those things.  Instead, I'm thinking about my dad on the 100th anniversary of his birth and I'm thinking about a couple of memorable quotes from Mark Twain and Spongebob Squarepants.  (I thought about quoting Joe Scarborough, who couldn't think of Walter Reuther's name this AM while he was knocking the unions, but I want this to be a positive, maybe even fun blog and tomorrow's another day.)

I jumped the gun and wrote about my dad last year on his 99th birthday.  I knew I should have waited for the Big One, but I was feeling it then (just as I'm feeling it now).  Out of a family of 12, only his two baby sisters are left.  One is 83 and the other is 91.  They have skin like velvet, even now, and if they ever lose their Italian sense of drama, I will just die.

My father, having been the only one in his entire family to move away from his birthplace, striking out on a life of his own, was a lapsed Catholic for most of his life.  My mother was a ho-hum Lutheran.  His background is Italian; hers is Finnish.  He was dark and she was blond.  In his family, no one had ever not married an Italian--until then.  In my mother's family, no one had ever not married a Finn--until then.  There was some concern about how my Italian grandmother was going to take the news, but she accepted it as graciously as an Italian mother of a son could do--and eventually grew to love my mom (and later, me and my brothers) dearly.

My mom learned to sing Italian songs, which thrilled my grandfather no end.  This man, Giuseppe, loved music.  I remember at an early age being stunned and frightened by the sight of him, Uncle Victor's cask wine in one hand, a foul Italian cheroot in the other, weeping, sobbing, in a self-inflicted agonizing ecstasy, as he listened to records of Enrico Caruso and Beniamino Gigli .  Music moves me in the same way--even worse, now that I'm older--and I love the fact that I got that trait from that old man who spoke little English, who loved his Italian tenors, and who, in other ways, was as strong as a bull and just as sure of himself.

My father--his son--liked but did not love music.  My mom did.  My mom loved to sing and was actually pretty good at it.  I was, too, as long as I didn't have to sing solo in front of anybody.  Then something besides music came out.  Oddest damned thing.  I could warble like a songbird as long as I was alone or my voice was mixed in with others.  But let me try and sing for you and the sound of a cawing crow would have been music to your ears.   A painful thing to admit, but it's better than not knowing and causing all kinds of grief for everybody.

So. . . for Christmas I always get a book or two from my oldest grandson.  He was hinting for suggestions early on, but since I already owned "Blowing Smoke", and hadn't really made a list, I sort of put off answering him.  He winged it and gave me the new "Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1".

I have to say, it is the most amazing gift!  First off, it weighs exactly four pounds and looks to be about six inches high.  (When it's not a book, it's a footstool.)  It holds 738 pages and is printed in what looks like a teeny tiny 8 pt. font.  And this is just Volume One!!

But I love Mark Twain AKA Samuel Clemens, and as soon as I devise a carrier for the thing, I'm going to do some serious reading of what I just know is some funny, witty stuff.

Already I'm finding this funny:  The actual "Autobiography of Mark Twain" fills only 264 pages!  The book's remaining 474 pages cover a 58 page introduction, 142 pages of "Preliminary Manuscripts and Dictations", 182 pages of "Explanatory Notes", Appendices, Notes on the text, Word Division, references (31 pages) and an index.

There are photographs of manuscript pages, which are more exciting to me than those teeny tiny printed pages.  This, after all, is Mark Twain's own hand.  On one page I found this:

What a wee little part of a person's life are his acts and words!  His real life is led in his head, and is known to none but himself.  All day long, and every day, the mill of his brain is grinding, and his thoughts, not those other things are his history.  His acts and his words are merely the visible thin crust of his world, with its scattered snow summits and its vacant wastes of water--and they are so trifling a part of his bulk!  A mere skin enveloping it.  The mass of him is hidden--it and its volcanic fires that toss and boil, and never rest, night nor day.  These are his life, and they are not written, and cannot be written.  Every day would make a whole book of eighty-thousand words--three hundred and sixty five books a year.  Biographies are but the clothes and buttons of the man--the biography of the man himself cannot be written.

An odd comment coming from a man who was, in fact, directing his own autobiography at the time.  But I get what he means.  We tend to choose carefully the parts of us we're willing to expose.  But sometimes we just say to hell with it.

So while I was looking at the Mark Twain book, counting the various sections and finding that alone quite amusing, I was eating a frozen Yoplait Gogurt.  My method is to push the frozen yogurt slowly up to the top and them lop it off little by little.  Then when I'm almost done, I press the tube flat from the bottom up, getting the last little bit out of it, like a toothpaste tube.  Normally, the next step would be to toss the flattened tube into the trash and be done with it, but I happened to glance at the package and saw that Spongebob had issued a challenge:  Fill in the missing word from the quote:  "I smell the smelly smell of something that smells __________."

Rancid!  Putrid! Fishy!  No, wait. . . .smelly!  I got it!  Yes, I got it!  Or rather, Spongebob got it and gave it to me.  I had been vaguely trying to think of a one-liner to describe the newly Republican-dominated House and all that goes with it, and there it was:

I smell the smelly smell of something that smells smelly.

It really kind of made my day.  It takes nothing away from either my dad or my mom or my grandfather or even Mark Twain, no matter what you're thinking.  They all would have got a laugh out of it.  (Okay, maybe not Giuseppe.  I'll give you that.)
Cross-posted at Dagblog and Open Salon