First, the week's foolishness:
- On Friday, the House of Representatives went on record as being irrevocably against the law of the land -- the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. The only difference in this, their 41st or 42nd vote against it is that now, they are going to tie the defunding of Obamacare (which will never happen) to keeping the federal government up and running. To me, it is unbelievable that a so many Republicans can be so incredibly against a program that hasn't yet gone into affect. One member of Congress warned, " . . . we cannot stand idbly by now, as the Nation is urged to embark on an ill-conceived adventure in government medicine." Another chimed in "We are going on the assumption that this is not socialized medicine. Let me tell you here and now it is socialized medicine." A third said "It is socialism. It moves the country in a direction which is not good for anyone, whether they be young or old. It charts a course from which there will be no turning back." And yet a fourth bellowed "I am not exaggerating the folly of this legislation. The saving it forces on our workers is a cruel hoax." (Oops! Turns out these quotes are from: 1) Rep. Durward Hall (R-MO), 08/1965; 2) Rep. James Utt (R-CA), 08/1965; 3) Sen. Carl Curtis (R-NE) 01/1966; 4) Kansas Governor Alf Landon, Oct. 15, 1936. The first 3 were speaking about the dangers of Medicare, and Governor Landon about Social Security.)
- On Thursday, the Republican-led House voted 217-210 to cut $39 billion in funds over the next decade for food stamp programs. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that if the bill also passes the Senate, up to 3.8 million people will lose food stamp benefits next year. Republicans stressed that the bill is needed to stop runaway spending in the food stamp program, which has roughly doubled under the Obama administration. They also said the bill is focused on reducing payments to able-bodied adults and focusing payments on more needy populations."There's no denying that SNAP provides important support for many Americans who are struggling," said House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.). "It serves a noble purpose to help you when you hit bottom. But it's not meant to keep you at the bottom."
- As of yesterday, it would appear that the American/Russian diplomatic effort to pressure Syria into getting rid of its chemical weapons is working. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the watchdog group known as the O.P.C.W. that oversees the international agreement banning poison gas, said on Friday that Syria had provided "an initial declaration" of its chemical weapons program. The submission met the first deadline for Syrian compliance that was set down by the framework agreement that the United States and Russia concluded in Geneva last weekend. (Needless to say, there are those who claim that joining the Russians in this diplomatic -- rather than military -- effort, only goes to show that President Obama is "weak," "rudderless," and "has no foreign policy.")
- Over the past week, there have been several goodwill gestures and hints of diplomatic flexibility coming from Iran's ruling establishment. In a near staccato burst of pronouncements, statements and speeches by the new president, Hassan Rouhani; his foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif; and even the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the leadership sent Rosh Hasnahah greetings to Jews worldwide via Twitter, released political prisoners, exchanged letters with President Obama, praised "flexibility" in negotiations and transferred responsibility for nuclear negotiations from the conservatives in the military to the Foreign Ministry. And, in a little-reported move, Iranian Internet users woke up to find that they can now access Facebook and Twitter without having to evade the government's firewall, which had blocked direct access to the sites for years. Whether or not these moves are due solely to the fact that the Western embargo is working or that President Rouhani is really, truly seeking accommodation is at this juncture an unknown. Nonetheless, it is a welcome change from the rhetorical excesses of Rouhani's predecessor, the bellicose Achmadinejad.
- In a wide-ranging interview the other day, Pope Francis affirmed his support for gays and lesbians, spoke candidly about his mistakes and doubts, and made clear that the Vatican, in his estimation, has fixated for far too long on a narrow set of controversial issues and "small-minded rules." "The church's pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently," he said. "We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards." In describing that new balance, the pope's language was suffused with ambiguity, uncertainty and doubt -- in other words, the language of reality. And perhaps most strikingly, he showed himself to be comfortable with change.
- In Saudi Arabia, Members of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice in Saudi Arabia have been told not to arrest women driving cars. "There is no law or specific text that allows the Commission members to do it," a source at the religious organisation said, the London-based Saudi daily Al Hayat reported. "The arrest of women driving cars is within the powers and jurisdiction of the security authorities. The Commission for the promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice applies the rules of the state and cannot go beyond them." The Commission members have been told not to interpret cases or commit offenses related to the prosecution of women on charges of driving, the source said. For a country in which, until recently, women were even forbidden to ride bicycles, this is a move in the right direction.
Have the stars realigned? Has a sane breeze begun wafting over an otherwise psychotic planet? Only God knows. But for me, I will take momentary delight not in the worst of last week, but in its best -- in what Boz called ". . . the season of light . . . the spring of hope."