Tuesday, September 30, 2008

On Failed Leadership



H/T Jerome Armstrong. Here's hoping the 111th Congress ousts Pelosi and Boehner... at least with Boehner it's a somewhat realistic hope. Five virtual fist bumps and two high fives to the first commenter that can tell me who the guy screaming "WRONG" is and who he's parodying.

"Pass this dreadful bailout"

I’m no economics expert. I’m a Government and Native American Studies major, so when I want to know something about the economy, I turn to my Rockefeller Republican father who has read oodles and oodles of financial books, or my Goldwater conservative friend Alex, who starts as an analyst at Goldman Sachs next summer. That being said, I don’t think America has heard enough uninformed opinions over the last few weeks, so I’m going to do my patriotic duty and throw in another two cents - one penny in favor of the bailout and one penny to tar and feather the bums who fancy themselves leaders.

The name of this post is the headline of today’s lead Boston Globe editorial, and sums up my feelings about this whole mess pretty well. I’m a budget hawk. The LAST thing I want is a $700 billion measure passed for, well, just about anything. And clearly no Wall Street fat cat deserves any kind of help or reward. Capitalism involves risk, and what kind of a system is it if we take away the most serious risks? The price of greed in this arrogant society is societal pain in exchange for individual gain. In a Globe article of man-on-the-street interviews, one Victor Thomas says, "I know one thing for sure. These guys on Wall Street aren't our friends." He’s right, but while I can’t think of anything less Christian than such reckless greed, this “Christian nation” has defended it at every turn for the last 27 years, and perhaps the last 232.

I’ve never had much respect for the financial industry. It’s just money for the sake of money. Even shady salesmen actually produce something. Kevin Trudeau may be a lying huckster and a thief, but he doesn’t just pull money out of the sky; at least he researches and writes books. Bill O’Reilly might by a bully and a blowhard, but at least he’s interviewing politicians and punsters. But while authors and salesmen deal in actual products, Wall Street makes money by pushing money. It’s a disgusting, incestuous cycle that starts nowhere and leads nowhere.

But like it or not, Main Street does intersect with Wall Street, and when investment banker run stop lights, they often hit the real Americans who had the right-of-way. As bad as it is to help out the financial gluttons, it is even worse to step back and let millions of Americans lose their 401Ks, insurance policies, student loans, and mortgages. Today’s lead New York Times editorial, “What’s Worse Than a Flawed Bailout?”, after an excellent list of the bailout’s problems, answers its own question: nothing. “The imperfections in this bill are the result of a democratic process that can be rethought, revisited and reworked. It is better than nothing, which is what some backward-looking House Republicans gave Americans on Monday.”

This crisis – Bear Stearns, Wachovia, Washington Mutual, Lehman Brothers, AIG, Merrill Lynch, Freddie and Fannie – is probably the fourth most important thing to happen in my lifetime so far, behind only 9/11 and the ’04 and ’08 presidential elections. If in the coming weeks Nero fiddles while Rome burns, the collapse will shoot right past those elections, because this time, the fires will spread to the countryside. And yet yesterday, Congress decided to audition for the role of Nero. Not only did 2/3 of House Republicans and 40% of House Democrats (including both my NH and ID congressmen) decide to vote against the bill, they couldn’t even explain why. House Minority Leader John Boehner said it was Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s fault for making a partisan speech before the vote. When I told this to my dad, he got quite upset and said anyone fickle and petty enough to vote based on a speech doesn’t deserve to be in Washington. The Globe’s editorial board expressed a similar sentiment: “Oh, come on. While most Democrats were willing to take the heat for an unpopular but necessary bill, Boehner got less than a third of his side to vote for a bill advanced by a president of his own party. Are House Republicans really so timid that a few tough words from Pelosi will scare them off?” Indeed, Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) broke from her leader to roll her eyes and say, “I want to assure you that was not the case. We are not babies who suck our thumbs. We have very principled reasons for voting no.” So, thumbs down for both party leaders, one for serious partisanship and the other for extreme pettiness. Thumbs down for the presidential candidates, as well. Jonah Goldberg of the LA Times has a nice summary:

This is not to say that McCain knows what to do. Faced with an unprecedented financial crisis involving frozen global credit markets and a maelstrom of moral hazard, his standard response is to talk about wiping out earmarks and eliminating waste, fraud and abuse. Memo to Mr. McCain: Waste, fraud and abuse are the only things holding the system together at this point.

Obama is no better. The man has spent two weeks irresponsibly excoriating his opponent for saying the fundamentals of the economy are strong -- a perfectly leaderly thing for McCain to have said during a panic. Then, campaigning in Colorado on Monday, the day the market plunged 777.68 points, Obama proclaimed: "We've got the long-term fundamentals that will really make sure this economy grows.”

On a related note, let us no forget the shortness of Obama and McCain’s coattails. NBC’s First Read takes both to task, first asking, who’s in charge of the Republican Party?

Apparently nobody. Perhaps the most startling political development was the amazing lack of leadership on the GOP side of the aisle. Let's run down the list of Republican leaders who attempted to persuade skeptical House Republicans: President Bush, John McCain, Dick Cheney, and John Boehner… Bush's leadership and trust issues within his party has been evidenced for quite some time, and the icing on the Bush legacy cake is that fact that he could only convince FOUR Texas House Republicans to support his bill. And then there's John McCain, who last week decided to insert himself into the process and then (before the bailout failed) took credit for getting wavering House Republicans on board. Perhaps he did get a few wayward House GOPers on board -- but it wasn’t enough. Now McCain gets a double stomach punch: He's stuck being seen as supportive of this bailout (which isn’t exactly popular with the conservative grassroots) and he gets to share in the blame for the defeat since he didn't have enough political capital to get this done (By the way, not a single member of the Arizona GOP delegation voted for this bill). …

Pelosi missed a huge opportunity to become an historic speaker and instead invited comparisons to Tom DeLay by deciding to deliver a more partisan speech than necessary at the time. There would have been time for partisan politics AFTER the vote, but to do it before seemed like a strategic blunder… Obama, who as McCain pointed out (probably jealously) kept a healthy distance from this process, didn't seem to try and exert any influence on some of the "no" votes from the progressive/liberal side of the Democratic caucus. A large chunk of those "no" voters were very early supporters of Obama during the primary. Would a true campaign by Obama to vote for this bill have persuaded another handful of Dems? Possibly.

There are good people in Washington and even in Congress, but if they’re speaking the truth right now, they’re not doing it very loudly. Chalk me up as one of the 75% of Americans who disapprove of the job Congress is doing, and if you figure out who the 17.8% are, do us all a favor and take away their voter registration cards. While I recommend liberal NYT columnist Bob Herbert’s column blasting free market Republicans and the McCain campaign, I’m going to give the final word to his Times colleague, right-of-center columnist David Brooks.

Let us recognize above all the 228 who voted no — the authors of this revolt of the nihilists. They showed the world how much they detest their own leaders and the collected expertise of the Treasury and Fed. They did the momentarily popular thing, and if the country slides into a deep recession, they will have the time and leisure to watch public opinion shift against them.

House Republicans led the way and will get most of the blame. It has been interesting to watch them on their single-minded mission to destroy the Republican Party. Not long ago, they led an anti-immigration crusade that drove away Hispanic support. Then, too, they listened to the loudest and angriest voices in their party, oblivious to the complicated anxieties that lurk in most American minds.

Now they have once again confused talk radio with reality. If this economy slides, they will go down in history as the Smoot-Hawleys of the 21st century. With this vote, they’ve taken responsibility for this economy, and they will be held accountable. The short-term blows will fall on John McCain, the long-term stress on the existence of the G.O.P. as we know it.

I’ve spoken with several House Republicans over the past few days and most admirably believe in free-market principles. What’s sad is that they still think it’s 1984. They still think the biggest threat comes from socialism and Walter Mondale liberalism. They seem not to have noticed how global capital flows have transformed our political economy…

The American century was created by American leadership, which is scarcer than credit just about now.

Monday, September 29, 2008

On the House's anti-rescue vote

I met the Presiding Bishop on Saturday. I'll blog about that later this week, among other things. In the meantime, here's the letter I sent to my Congressman, Paul Hodes (D-NH), who voted against the financial rescue plan today. I also sent a modified version to my family's Congressman, Bill Sali (R-IDiot). Interesting side note - Hodes is the president of the Democratic freshmen class, and Sali president of the Republican freshmen.

Dear Congressman Hodes,

I am a voting constituent and supporter of yours, as well as a college student. Though I would not expect you to remember me, we have met on several occasions, including an hour-long interview I conducted with you during the 2006 campaign for a Dartmouth newspaper.

Congressman, you voted against the financial rescue plan today, and I want you to know something. If the Dow drops 1000 points tomorrow like it dropped 700 points today, or if there is no help available to the thousands of ordinary citizens with 401Ks, insurance plans, mortgages, and student loans held by these Wall Street companies, I will blame you.

I am well aware that $700 billion is a lot of money. I am a budget hawk, and opposed the earlier $250 billion stimulus because it was not paid for. I do not want your generation’s debt passed along to those my age and younger. But this month, it is different. The government stood a strong chance to recoup most of this money, and without the rescue plan, our nation’s entire economy could collapse and take down some of the foreign markets with it.

So I say it again. As a strong Democrat, I will blame you.

Respectfully,
Nathan Empsall

Friday, September 26, 2008

Wow

Regular blogging to commence shortly. Until then, here's this. I'm not sure what makes my jaw drop more, the "logic" in this video, or tonight's USC/OSU game.





Maybe Couric was a good choice for anchor after all!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Ain't nothin' in this world like a good fiddle

I can't say I care much for this music video, but I *love* this song from 2001, "Wagon Wheel" by Old Crow Medicine Show. OCMS' Ketch Secor based the song off a Bob Dylan bootleg riff, "Rock Me Mama." It doesn't take much to get it stuck in my head:



The Inland Northwest's own Jeremy McComb has covered this song country-style. I don't like the lyrical changes he made and it's a song best left to the folk and bluegrass crowd, but other than that, his version ain't bad.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Roadtripping the Blogroll

I'm roadtripping down to Moscow, ID tonight and will be back late tomorrow. After that, I'm hoping to go canoeing on Hayden Lake. Sunday is pretty booked up as well, and I'm flying back to New Hampshire on Monday. Tuesday will be spent moving into a new house, and I believe classes start Wednesday (if I'm lucky, Thursday). The point is, it'll be tough to blog regularly for the next week or so. I'll try to write an entry or two - there's a high chance of YouTube - and I'll pick up regularly next week. I guess this means my St. Luke's sermon will enjoy some extra time on the blog's frontpage! :)

For now, here are four new blogroll entries. Updating the Episcopal blogroll earlier this week, I shamefully overlookd FranIam and Ruth's Visions and Revisions. Also, to the "Other Good Links" section, I've added two excellent American Indian news sources: Indian Country Today, the largest Indian newspaper, and Indianz.com, another good pan-Indian news source based out of the Winnebago Reservation in Nebraska (with an office in DC). I've had professors hand out Indianz articles in class.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Nicholas Kristof has a new YouTube channel

My favorite journalist has a new YouTube channel for his New York Times videos. I'm the 27th subscriber, and you should be the 28th (or whatever they're up to now)! Here's the one uploaded video so far, about trying to apply for a protest permit in China:



Kristof is also on Facebook. I like Kristof not because he's a great writer, although he is, but because of what he does to highlight vital social justice issues that don't recieve much coverage. Few have done as much as Kristof to highlight both human rights violations AND personal progress in China, and the west's knowledge and awareness of Darfur would not be even what it is without him.

His column today is about CEO pay:
One of our broad national problems is rising inequality, and it is exacerbated by corporate executives helping themselves to shareholders’ cash. Three decades ago, C.E.O.’s typically earned 30 to 40 times the income of ordinary workers. Last year, C.E.O.’s of large public companies averaged 344 times the average pay of workers... A central flaw of [corporate] governance is that boards of directors frequently are ornamental and provide negligible oversight.

As Warren Buffett has said, “in judging whether corporate America is serious about reforming itself, C.E.O. pay remains the acid test.” It’s a test that corporate America is failing.

These Brobdingnagian paychecks are partly the result of taxpayer subsidies. A study released a few weeks ago by the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington found five major elements in the tax code that encourage overpaying executives. These cost taxpayers more than $20 billion a year.

Read the whole thing, the rest of his analysis and examples are well worth it.

Mary Verner for President! (and other McCain/Palin news)

Although many of us thought an Obama-McCain matchup would be the cleanest, most honorable campaign in our country’s history, it has sadly turned into a mudfest. Many Americans are now dissatisfied with both candidates, so I gave it some thought and tried to come up with a new alternative. I think I found someone: Mary Verner!

The mayor of Spokane is a Northwest woman, just like Sarah Palin. If you average the size of the two governments Sarah Palin has led – 7,025 in Wasilla and 683,478 in Alaska – you get 322,752, comparable to Spokane’s 205,400. Clearly, Verner has as much executive experience as Palin, so must be ready to lead our nation. I admit that she can’t see Russia from Spokane, but she makes up for that by not lying about her record on earmarks or how much energy Spokane produces. And unlike Palin, she has three degrees in subjects that address actual policy rather than campaigning: anthropology, environmental management, and law, as opposed to communications.

Clearly I jest. Verner is an impressive woman, but no one would think her ready to lead the nation. Palin, who has only been a Governor for a year and a half, is comparable to Verner - an accomplished woman, but not yet the kind of accomplishments that justify a run for national office. If Hillary Clinton was “ready to lead from day one,” Palin will be ready to lead once her tutors are done explaining the Bush Doctrine. Five highly visible conservative columnists and one Republican senator have voiced similar concerns, but before quoting them, I’d like to talk about the polls.

John “the fundamentals of our economy are strong” McCain got quite a bounce from the Sarah Palin rollout, but the economic downturn seems to have had an effect. Of the six major polls out the last two days, four favor Obama, one McCain, and one a tie, for an aggregate of Obama up 2.0 points. I don’t like Likely Voter polls, given that this year’s primary season smashed the likely voter model, but if you throw out the four LV polls and look only at the two Registered Voter polls, Obama still leads. The LVs do include his strongest showing (five points), but also McCain’s only win and the tie. Obama leads one RV poll by 3 and the other by 4. (I’m not going to bother breaking down sample frames and methodology; with a strong pattern emerging, I’m willing to take the aggregate at face value.)

I don’t expect Obama to run away with this thing – it’s going to be close – but McCain-Palin may have peaked. The more people look at her, the less they like what they see. The New York Times’ David Brooks is the latest conservative columnist to voice concerns about her resume. The whole thing is worth a read, but here’s just one excerpt:

Governance, the creation and execution of policy, is hard. It requires acquired skills. Most of all, it requires prudence.

What is prudence? It is the ability to grasp the unique pattern of a specific situation. It is the ability to absorb the vast flow of information and still discern the essential current of events — the things that go together and the things that will never go together. It is the ability to engage in complex deliberations and feel which arguments have the most weight.

How is prudence acquired? Through experience. The prudent leader possesses a repertoire of events, through personal involvement or the study of history, and can apply those models to current circumstances to judge what is important and what is not, who can be persuaded and who can’t, what has worked and what hasn’t…

Sarah Palin has many virtues. If you wanted someone to destroy a corrupt establishment, she’d be your woman. But the constructive act of governance is another matter. She has not been engaged in national issues, does not have a repertoire of historic patterns and, like President Bush, she seems to compensate for her lack of experience with brashness and excessive decisiveness.

Brooks’ attacks on his party’s ticket aren’t really a surprise. He is a moderate conservative, more right-of-center than right-wing. He takes a level-headed approach to most issues, and was initially an Obama fan. In many ways, he and I think alike; we just take our thoughts in different directions. Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE)’s concerns are also no surprise, given his opposition to the Iraq war and refusal to endorse McCain. More startling is this admission from Washington Post columnist and neoconservative Charles Krauthammer, one of my least favorite pundits. He accuses McCain of making a purely political choice in going with Palin:

McCain's strategy: Make this a referendum on Obama, surely the least experienced, least qualified, least prepared presidential nominee in living memory.

Palin fatally undermines this entire line of attack. This is through no fault of her own. It is simply a function of her rookie status. The vice president's only constitutional duty of any significance is to become president at a moment's notice. Palin is not ready. Nor is Obama. But with Palin, the case against Obama evaporates.

Then there’s George Will, also writing for the Post. Will strikes me as an intellectual and a paleoconservative with no ax to grind. His argument, rooted in history, is my favorite of the three:

The word "experience" appears 91 times in the Federalist Papers, those distillations of conservative sense and sensibility. Madison, Hamilton and Jay said that truths are "taught" and "corroborated" by experience. These writers were eager to "consult" and be "led" by experience. They spoke of "indubitable" and "unequivocal" lessons from experience, the "testimony" of experience and "the accumulated experience of ages." "Accumulating" experience is "the parent of wisdom" and a "guide" that "justifies," "confirms" and can "admonish." America's Founders were empiricists and students of history who trusted "that best oracle of wisdom, experience," which is humanity's "least fallible guide."… Experience is not sufficient to prove a person "qualified" for the presidency. But it is a necessary component of qualification.

Also check “Palin: The Irresonsible Choice?” from former Dubya speechwriter David Frum and ”Sarah the Unready” from Atlantic senior editor Ross Douthat.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Join the Episcopal Public Policy Network!


When Christians get involved in politics, the mainstream media tends to assume they'll take conservative positions and focus only on abortion and homosexuality. The Church has gained this image for a number of reasons, including that many journalists don't understand religion and that conservative Christians are better at using the media than liberal Christians. But the truth is, mainline Protestants rarely resemble non-denominational fundamentalists (many of whom are broadening their own focus), and most denominations have an office in Washington, DC for lobbying Congress to act on social justice issues.

I just finished an internship with The Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations, which “represent[s] the social policies established by the General Convention and Executive Council, including issues of international peace and justice, human rights, immigration, welfare, poverty, hunger, health care, violence, civil rights, the environment, racism, and issues involving women and children.” The wonderful staff, pictured here, lobbies Congress, networks with other advocacy groups, makes presentations to events like the Lambeth Conference and the Episcopal Youth Event, and maintains online resources such as background papers and bulletin inserts.

OGR also maintains the Episcopal Public Policy Network, which I hope you'll consider joining! EPPN members receive a small packet in the mail that includes information about EPPN's mission, and then get about one e-mail every week (they make sure not to clog inboxes) either asking them to write public officials about important legislation or providing valuable information like how that legislation is progressing or what your parish can do to help publicize the Millennium Development Goals. Recent EPPN alerts have focused on remembering the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, supporting comprehensive sexual education, stopping cluster bombs, and passage of the Global AIDS bill. During Lent, the e-mail alerts focused on the link between climate change and poverty.

Prior to my time at EPPN, I interned for Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), so can testify firsthand to the value of contacting your Senators and Congressperson. True, calling your Senator may not have the same impact it did thirty years ago, but it still matters. In Senator Baucus’ office, a staffer reads every single letter and writes a reply (or picks a form reply, depending on the letter’s content). Then, tallies of the letters’ subjects and positions are made and passed along to the Senator and his Chief of Staff, Legislative Director, and executive assistant. So, even if the Member never reads letters him(or her)self, they do see what their voting constituents care about the letters do help to inform the staffers who inform the Members. (House members are more likely than Senators to read a few letters themselves.)

EPPN is an important arm of The Episcopal Church. The Presbyterians, Lutherans, American Baptists, and others have similar outreach efforts. Christ calls us to take care of God’s children and God’s creation, and we do that when we forgive debt in a modern Jubilee, distribute medicine and education to the least of these, try to create affordable housing, raise the minimum wage, and fight teenage pregnancies. If you’re an Episcopalian, I hope you’ll peruse EPPN’s website today and make just a couple of quick clicks to join the cause!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Blogroll Update

I've updated my blogrolls at left - cleared out some old blogs that haven't been updated in quite some time (I'll re-add them if they come back to life) and added the following new ones (or at least, new to me):

EPISCOPAL LINKS AND BLOGS

Eruptions at the Foot of the Volcano - Leonardo Ricardo, a frequent commenter here, blogs from Latin America

Father T Listens to the World - The king of the Episcopal blogosphere, Father Jake, is back, but this time he's using his real name!

The Friends of Jake - Hardly a new Episcopal blog, but like I said, new to me. I'm still getting the hang of the whole blogosphere thing and don't comment on others' blogs nearly enough. :(

Just Another Black Sheep - Cany, a frequent commenter here, has her own superb blog

Fr. Scott & Co. Ask Some New Questions

Off-Topic Allowed

The Reverend Boy


DARTMOUTH LINKS

The Thin Green Line - My friend Max, who loves movies and loves Obama.

Prof. Samwick’s posts at Capital Gains and Games - The economics professor and director of the Rockefeller Center has moved from Vox Baby.


INLAND NORTHWEST LINKS

The Life of Erin - A high school friend of mine

Little Fox in the Underdark - Another high school friend of mine


OTHER GOOD LINKS

Brian McLaren - The Emerging Church leader and kickbutt social Gospel teacher.

XKCD: A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language - The sarcasm is my favorite part.

GraphJam: Music and Pop Culture in Charts and Graphs. - Hilarious. A recent example (click to enlarge):

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Pentecost XVIII: Complexities, Reconiliation, and Forgiveness

Father Pat at St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Coeur d'Alene was kind enough to let me deliver the sermon at all four services this weekend. I thought I might repost it here as well, sans a couple of inside jokes. The basic message is this: the Bible and the world are far too complex to allow for arrogance; we must look instead to reconciliation, which I believe is a form of forgiveness (the theme of the readings).

***************************************************************************************

Readings for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 19, Year A:
Old Testament: Exodus 14:19-31
Psalm: Psalm 114
New Testament: Romans 14:1-12
Gospel: Matthew 18:21-35

May I speak in the name of God, Creator, Liberator, and Sanctifier.

Good morning. For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Nathan Empsall, and the only thing that really matters about me is that I’m John and Glenda’s kid.

We joined this parish after moving here from Texas in 1999, when I was 12. Alas, I haven’t been able to see it much the past three years. I’ve been going to college in New Hampshire, double majoring in Government and Native American Studies, and will start my senior year next week.

What I want to talk about today, and what I see in these lessons, is the complexity of the Bible and why that demands that we as a society set arrogance aside. There is nothing more beautiful about this world is how intricate it can be. What I love most about Scripture is how truly layered it is, that politics aren’t the only thing Christ talked about.

When Father Pat told the 10:30 crowd last week that I would be sharing this weekend, he said he’d try not to let me get too radical. I don’t blame him. Similarly, several friends said at coffee hour that they were looking forward to my take on the election. Well, I’m not going to speak much about politics today, but I don’t blame folks for thinking that I might. Of the 36 months since going off to college, I have spent 23 months working on or writing about the New Hampshire presidential primary, 5 on the 2006 midterms, 6 working in DC, and just 2 stopping to catch my breath. Every job I’ve ever had was either Episcopalian or political in nature - or at least, those that didn’t involve French fries and mops. In fact, for the past three months, it was both faith AND politics. I’ve most recently been interning at the Episcopal Public Policy Network in DC.

The intersection of faith and politics excites me. I hope to build my house on that intersection, and plan to base my career around justice issues. Christ was seen, in His day, as a political figure. Bible verse after Bible verse refers to governments, justice, and poverty.

But if 75% of the sermons I give are political in nature, today has to be that 25%, for there is a danger in focusing too narrowly on one aspect of the Bible, as I am clearly wont to do. While the political implications of Christ’s words are what fire me up most about faith, they are not the most important thing about the Bible. The most important thing about the Bible is its complexity, the fact that it holds so many different messages, not just in the same book but often in the same passages, and that all of those messages are equally true.

Unfortunately, many of us find it easy to get bogged down in just one element of these truths, and part ways with those who get bogged down in another. That’s why I went on for so long about my political involvement, to show I’m as guilty of that, if not even more so, than most. Modern Christianity has so many fractures – evangelicals who look to the Great Commission as perhaps the only commission, knocking on doors to save souls; fundamentalists who talk about personal purity and avoiding the behaviors of the night in Paul’s epistle last week; theologians who use big words like exegesis and metaphysics; social justice advocates like myself. We squabble about which message the Bible actually contains, but here’s the rub – it contains all of them. We argue about which is the focus, but when you look at the whole text, there’s no escaping of any of them; they are all a focus – sometimes, even in the same verse.

When I was in DC this a spring and summer, I tried to attend a different Episcopal church every Sunday. Due to a severe love of sleeping in, I only made it to 8, but in them, I saw a large diversity. I attended two of them on the same Sunday morning, the Sunday when the Gospel was Jesus and the Canaanite woman. The two sermons I heard were radically different from one another. At an African American Episcopal church, St. Mary’s Foggy Bottom, the preacher talked about Jesus growing into his true identity not as the savoir for Jews but the savior for all people, and said we too are being called into larger missions and identities. An hour later at an Anglo-Catholic parish four blocks away, St. Paul’s K Street, the priest literally brought tears to my eyes as he recounted an experience in college when he, an Episcopalian, was turned away from confessional at the Catholic University of America during his darkest hour, just as the Canaanite woman was initially turned away. I would not have thought to preach either sermon, as my take on the lesson was entirely different. One could draw from it lessons of persistence or the power of faith; the recurring theme of the Apostle’s ignorance; or gender relations and the way Christ tried to change them. I had a friend in Texas who told me way back when we were in elementary school – he’s that smart a guy – that what he saw in this verse was a human Jesus, a Jesus with imperfections we can all relate to – why, he called this woman a dog, even HE got angry and insulted people! Clearly, the argument isn’t over what the passage means, but over how many meanings it has.

And yet, even though all these meanings are real and valid, fights over which matter more are commonplace. We’re always losing the full message. And it’s not just happening to mainline vs. fundamentalist Christians like I talked about earlier, but to the larger United States. We’ve begun to vote on these differences, and to call one another names – those elitist liberals who control the press and want to socialize medicine, those backwards conservatives who ignorantly cling to their guns and want to take us back to the Stone Age. I don’t deny that I’m guilty of this too!

These differences may not be splitting St. Luke’s, but they are beginning to creep into our larger Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion. We see this in the Bishops of San Joaquin and Pittsburgh, attempting to break away from the larger whole while gaining power for themselves, and in the Archbishops of Nigeria and Sydney, refusing to attend the Lambeth Conference. We’re at a point where some in our society, on both the left and the right, won’t even TALK to those who emphasize a different element of the faith.

But step away from the conflicts and look at the actual text. It’s all there, the justice AND the purity. I am so proud of the Jubilee Ministry here at St. Luke’s. The things that have developed here over the last six years are nothing short of breathtaking – the St. Vincent’s ministry, the MDG funds, Father David’s weekly e-mail reflections. I was proud to watch this new direction begin when I was in high school, and my only regret about leaving town for college is that I haven’t been here to watch it flourish and develop. But while we do have amazing justice ministries in this parish and this diocese, we don’t deny the messages of sin and grace in the Bible. We’ve had many sermons and studies on that topic too. We hold these themes in concert.

I have a friend in New Hampshire, his name’s Jim but we call him “Thork.” Thork graduated two years ago, and shared his faith at the Navigators Christian Fellowship senior spotlight night that year. Thork noted that our campus’ Christians usually split into the same old two groups – social justice vs. personal purity. He said that despite the split, these two facets of Christianity are two sides of the same coin. You can’t have a coin without two sides, and you can’t have true Christianity without both serving “the least of these” and an effort to “go and sin no more.” The two Christian camps should stop quarreling, and recognize one another’s validity and importance. Nevertheless, it is a good thing both camps exist. We need challenge, and our natural inclination is to focus only on the part of faith that comes easiest to us as individuals. The existence of that other group of individuals, whichever group it is, throws Scripture back in our faces and provides us with that challenge.

Thork later e-mailed me, “My prayer is that as we draw closer to Christ, he would draw us closer to each other. My vision is that we (conservative and liberal Christians) are climbing opposite sides of a pyramid. We can come together – and we can only come together - as we draw closer to He who is at the peak.”

Thork’s right, we do need that challenge if we’re going to find Christ, for again, every little verse contains a wealth of different meanings. Every little verse contains a wealth of different meanings. It is that complexity that convinces me that the message of forgiveness in today’s readings is so very vital. And yet even these readings contain multiple lessons.

In the Gospel, we see Jesus telling Peter to forgive not seven times, but seventy seven, and giving us yet another beautiful parable: “In anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Well, I searched the Internet yesterday for the words “forgiveness Bible,” and Google.com came back with 4.9 million different results. That’s a lot, but “forgiveness sermon” was a little more manageable, with a mere 1.7 million webpages. So I narrowed the search down even further to “sermon, Matthew 18:21-35,” and it still came back with over 29,000 results. That’s a lot of different meanings and lessons for just one passage. There are, of course, the basics: the importance of forgiving, how hard it is to forgive, and how wonderful it feels to unburden yourself of anger. One could discuss personal vs. societal forgiveness, or the Sacrament of confession. There’s historical context of a world where forgiveness could only be obtained at the central Temple location. Even the importance of the number seven, and other Biblical numbers. What resonates most with me is not so much the importance of forgiving others, but the importance of ASKING for forgiveness for one’s self.

The beauty about forgiveness is that, when we are able to do as Jesus says and let it come from the heart, all hate and anger washes away. Forgiveness doesn’t have to be patronizing, although it can feel that way when we are the ones being forgiven. “I forgive you. You are the bad person here, on the shameful end of the stick, and I the victim, but I am a big person and I forgive you.”

No, true forgiveness, from the heart, is much more soothing and Christ-like than that. We’re taught that sin is not just bad behavior; it is anything that separates us from God and God’s will. In that case, I would suggest forgiveness, as that which heals sin, is anything that brings us closer to God. Reconciliation, a process that brings split groups together and heals the body of Christ, is a mutual form of forgiveness, and it is something that our Anglican Communion, our world, and our country all so desperately need.

We see that the Bible is complex – the multiple messages contained in passages about the Canaanite woman, or this verse about forgiveness. Our Book of Common Prayer’s catechism may only be one one hundredth the length of the Roman Catholic catechism, but the two do agree on at least one thing: the Bible was inspired by the Holy Spirit and God still uses it to speak to us thousands of years later.

But while the Bible may be infallible, we are not. The lens through which the Bible is read – our eyes, our minds – is a very foggy lens indeed. Just because the book’s words contain the truth does not mean we understand those words; it does mean that it can be read so easily. The Bible is the truth, not necessarily my interpretation of it. When a book is so complex, when a passage can contain so many meanings, there is no way for any person or church to have the market cornered. There is a certain arrogance in believing otherwise, and I see that arrogance in the crisis facing our church today.

As a college student in New Hampshire, I feel I have two bishops – one, Jim Waggoner, whom I love and admire very, very much, but also the infamous Gene Robinson, who is ultimately in charge of my campus ministry and parish. And I think he’s great. He is, bar none, the best Episcopal preacher I have ever heard and an inspiring leader. But, that having been said, when The Episcopal Church decides that it knows what’s best for the Anglican Communion, that it knows better than other Anglican provinces what the Bible says about justice and sexuality and decides to abandon a communal agreement made only five years prior and expects everyone else to just deal with it, it is taking on that arrogance and ignoring the world’s complexities. It doesn’t matter if we are ultimately right, as I believe we are; we can’t treat our brothers and sisters in such a dismissive way.

Yet by the same token, when the Archbishops of Nigeria and Uganda say only THEY know what Scripture says and that THEY are the world’s only true confessing Anglican church, when they declare themselves the new leaders of us all and say that if we refuse to adapt their views we are guilty of practicing COLONIALISM, they too show that arrogance.

There is no forgiveness in the scenario that confronts us Anglicans today. As long as fingers are being pointed out and not in, the church will continue to walk apart from God. If we listen to today’s Gospel and seek true forgiveness from the heart, then we seek reconciliation. Forgiveness, reconciliation, is willing to admit that our opponents – be they conservative Anglicans or liberal Anglicans, be they Obama Democrats, McCain Republicans, or, yes, Paul and Barr Libertarians – that our opponents may actually have a good point once in awhile, and that we must always listen to them if we’re to ever hear that point. If God really does love all His children, if they really are all equal, then we must walk together.

This is where Paul’s epistle comes in: “Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.”

When asked to define Anglicanism, Desmond Tutu said simply, “We meet.” We meet. We forgive, we look past our differences and worship God together. We set aside arrogance, recognizing that in a world so complex with a Bible so layered, there is no room for hubris. Like Paul says, we ALL stand before God, and it is never up to us to judge.

What’s more, reconciliation isn’t just about Scriptural interpretation in a post-Lambeth world, or even economic complexities in an election year when even the good guys are distorting the facts and simplifying reality. No, the need for reconciliation and forgiveness, for healing, is everywhere we look. There’s no room for impatience in the grocery checkout line when the person in front of you has 90 items and takes an extra 5 minutes to count out exact change. There’s not even room for hatred when a black Ford F250 with a really big trailer swings out of the Super One parking lot on Hayden Avenue and swerves into your lane forcing you right off the road last week when you’re just trying to drive to Rustler’s Roost for lunch with a friend from church! He’s lucky I made it!

But forgiveness is not a one way street. The guy endangered me, he was wrong. I thought unchristian thoughts, I was wrong. Nor is forgiveness condescending, or the property of a mere few. It is the healing of mutual wounds, and it is any process that draws us closer to God. It is what is demanded of us in a complex world by a complex book, and Paul shows us that it leaves no room for arrogance. Talking to Fr. David last night, I was reminded that arrogance is also in the parable, when the forgiven slave refuses to forgive. He only goes halfway, refusing to pass along that gift, allowing his master to lift him up but refusing to do the same for those beneath even him. That belittling of others, tat accepting forgiveness while refusing to forgive, is an arrogance, and he was punished for it. It’s right there in our Lord’s prayer: forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.

Yet arrogance is probably the sin I myself am most guilty of. I am just a 21 year old SNOT who has not yet received any formal theological training, so I ask your forgiveness for any arrogance that I may have displayed in this sermon or at any point in the last eight years. With any luck, the places I have been the last three – New Hampshire, New Orleans, DC, Kootenai Medical Center – have shown me that the world is too complex for that behavior.

These complexities should come as no surprise. OF COURSE the God who gave us the intricate patterns of a butterfly’s wings, the ins and outs of the laws of physics I sure don’t understand, the molecular structure of an earthworm, the interconnections of our circulatory and respiratory systems – OF COURSE that God also gave us a complex operating manual. And these real world complexities are why I am convinced that God exists. Nothing so intricate, and nothing so beautiful, can possibly be random. All politics aside, that’s what I love most about my Jesus.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Hurricane Prayers

Hurricane Ike is scheduled to make landfall near Galveston around 2am on Saturday, so I've set this entry to automatically post then. Here are two hurricane prayers I have posted in the past, with slight adjustments:

A Prayer for Hurricane Ike

Through the storm, through the night, lead me on to the light.
Take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.
- Be present, O God, with those who are discovering that loved ones have died, that homes and jobs are gone. Embrace them in your everlasting arms.
- Be present, O God, with those who suffer today in shelters, hot and weary from too little sleep and too much fear. Let them know they are not alone.
- Be present, O God, with those who wonder what they will find when they return to homes battered by the storm. Teach them to hope.
- Be present, O God, with those who have not been able to reach loved ones, who are frantic with worry. Offer them consolation.
- Be present, O God, with those who have hardly recovered from last year’s storms, who are unsure how much they can bear, who yearn only for quiet. Grant them peace.
- Be present, O God, with all who respond - mayors, police, firefighters, FEMA employees, Red Cross workers, pastors, church disaster response coordinators, and all others. Their work is just beginning, and may not end for many months. Strengthen them for service.
- Be present, O God, with the people of any destroyed houses of worship, and with the people of your Christian Church in storm damaged areas, and especially with the staff and members of the Episcopal Dioceses of Texas and Louisiana where we fear so much has been damaged. Inspire us by their determination to care for others amid their own trials.
- Be present, O God, to each of us as we pray, that distance may not deter us from generous giving and enduring companionship. Help us remember tomorrow, and next week, and next month.
- Be present, O God, with all affected by this storm, and with those still suffering from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. May Immanuel, God with us, our precious Jesus, take every hand and lead us home.
Amen.

-John H. Thomas, General Minister and President, United Church of Christ, August 30, 2005; Adapted/Paraphrased Nathan S. Empsall, February 2, 2007 and September 11, 2008

Prayer for Hurricane Season

O God, Master of this passing world, hear the humble voices of your children. The Sea of Galilee obeyed your order and returned to its former quietude; you are still the Master of land and sea. We live in the shadow of a danger over which we have no control. The Gulf, like a provoked and angry giant, can awake from its seeming lethargy, overstep its conventional boundaries, invade our land and spread chaos and disaster. During this hurricane season, we turn to You, O loving Father. Spare us from past tragedies whose memories are still so vivid and whose wounds seem to refuse to heal with the passing of time. O Virgin, Star of the Sea, Our Beloved Mother, we ask you to plead with your Son in our behalf, so that spared from the calamities common to this area and animated with a true spirit of gratitude, we will walk in the footsteps of your Divine Son to reach the heavenly Jerusalem where a storm-less eternity awaits us. Amen.

- Fr. Al Volpe, Cameron Parish, LA. Originally dedicated to the victims of Hurricane Audrey in 1957.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The truth about Joe Biden and plagiarism

One of the more common attacks on Joe Biden, Barack Obama’s running mate and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is that he committed plagiarism during his 1988 presidential campaign and during law school in 1965. These accusations are patently false and highly irrelevant, and anyone who bothered to do a little research wouldn’t sink to the level of repeating them.

Biden always quoted and cited British Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock in his stump speeches, but forgot to make the citation during his closing remarks at an Iowa State Fair debate. He writes in his memoirs that the memory slip was because he'd spent the previous few days in his role as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee preparing for Robert Bork’s confirmation hearings rather than properly preparing for the debate. He readily admits that he made a mistake in not gathering the reporters afterwards to say, "Hey guys, I messed up."

The dropped citation only became a scandal when Michael Dukakis campaign manager John Sasso leaked a tape of the slip-up. Reporter after reporter refused to print the rubbish, until New York Times reporter (now sour columnist) Maureen Dowd took the bait and ran a hack job. The result? Dukakis fired Sasso, the man who had convinced him to get in the race in the first place. Now, why would Dukakis fire Sasso if his allegations were true?

Several other plagiarism myths were also debunked, but not until they had formed a pattern in voters’ minds, much like the Bush-is-stupid, Gore-is-a-liar, and McGovern-is-weak memes. Biden was accused of quoting Robert Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey without attribution, but says the quote was slipped into his stump speech by irresponsible aides like Pat Caddell. He was also accused of plagiarizing a law school paper in 1965, but the Delaware Supreme Court’s Board on Professional Responsibility cleared him of any wrong-doing. The paper was poorly written and used the wrong citation format, but completely honest – lazy and stupid, but not unethical.

Even if Biden had done something wrong, which of course he didn’t, these scandals date back 20 and 43 years, to before Biden's life-altering brain aneurysms and "long slog back to credibility." Given the challenges we face in today's world and the fact that people change with time, a non-scandal from a different era should not be an issue. I’ve met with Biden and his family members on numerous occasions, and am proud to be a long-time supporter. He is one of the most honest and upstanding persons in all national politics, and if this nation has its priorities in line, it will choose to focus on his authorship of the Violence Against Women Act and expertise on Middle Eastern affairs rather on smear journalism from days gone by.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

September 11, Hurricane Ike, and a Wayward Anniversary

Today is the second anniversary of this blog, and this is the 402nd post. Far, far more importantly, of course, is the seventh anniversary of September 11. Just now I tuned into MSNBC hoping to find some coverage of Hurricane Ike, about to strike my boyhood home, and instead found that they were re-airing their 2001 coverage - "9/11, As It Happened." It was very moving. There's not much I can say about 9/11 that hasn't been said, but I would feel remiss if I didn't somehow mark the anniversary, so here is the most moving tribute I have ever heard to that terrible disaster, Alan Jackson's "Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning."



Also important is Hurricane Ike, about to bear down on my old haunts in Texas. I remember as a small boy in Montgomery County, I was probably about five, asking my mom if we would ever get a hurricane at our house. She assured me that no, we were too far inland. (I use the word "assured" because that's what she probably thought she was doing, but I actually thought that a monster storm could be pretty cool). She was absolutely correct - there was no reason to think we would get a hurricane a full two hours from the shore - and yet Ike will be the second monster storm to strike Conroe in just three years (Rita being the first). You think Katrina was bad? Just look at this picture. We're talking 20 foot storm surge in some places. Dad said he heard a National Weather service bulletin say if you live in a one or two story home in Galveston and don't evacuate, even with the seawall, the surge will kill you. You. Will. Die. It's not that the storm is strong (although it could be by Saturday morning), but that it's big. The red area alone looks to be larger than Louisiana!!!

My friends and family are far enough inland that I'm not too worried about them, but I fear for the Gulf's population, and for the economic impact the whole country could feel. I will post some hurricane prayers when the storm makes landfall.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Real McCain

From Brave New Films. H/T Desert's Child. I've got my doubts about Barack Obama, but he sure beats the heck out of this guy:


And this take from another POW, courtesy The Cajun at On Transmigration:


I want the 2000 McCain back. And I'll bet we can get him if we kill his presidential aspirations and send him back to the Senate.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

EDOLA Gustav Update

Pete Nunnally, of EDOLA's Office of Disaster Response, sent the following wrap-up report about Hurricane Gustav to members of the EDOLA Rebuild team's Facebook group. And of course, Grandmère Mimi, who lives in Thibodaux, has a number of updates about her situation over at The Wounded Bird.
Hey guys, here's the report from Gustav. As someone who was there, I want to give an eyewitness account of some of the things that happened before and during the storm.

The city evacuation was excellent. they had 17 pickup sites for those who don't have cars, and they did their best to get the information out to people. The re-entry wasn't as good, but there are an incredible amout of moving parts that make perfection impossible. Mayor Ray Nagin, who has failed at pretty much everything since he's been in office, did a great job of scaring people into leaving the city. He was emphatic and serious, and he urged people to leave early.

Our team evacuated to Baton Rouge, and stayed at St James Episcopal Church. This actually put us right in the path of the hurricane, but St James is like a fortress, and we were very safe, and had a good deal of fun waiting out the storm. We lost power for a couple days, and then moved to St Alban's Chapel on campus at LSU. Go Tigers!! Baton Rouge was damaged pretty badly, mostly by fallen trees on powerlines, with some roof damage as well to houses and businesses. The place was pretty desolate, but we did find an asian seafood market open (running generators) the very next day!! We were hoping it was a chinese buffet, but close enough. Baton Rouge will be without power for the next few days, maybe even weeks.

We got back around Wednesday to a New orleans that was nearly deserted. There were and still are tons of military police and national guard troops ehre cruising in humvees and carrying M-16s. The media seems to think this is a bad thing. UNTRUE. We all love the fact that there are a lot of troops in the city now. They are keeping New Orleans safe and preventing looters--thank God for them, and we'd love them to stay as long as they want!!

We are continuing to work on rebuilding houses flooded by Katrina. The need only becomes greater as the days wear on; imagine how much you want to be home now after another hurricane comes through and you're still in a trailer.

We are opening another front on the war on hurricanes, however, and are busy helping some parishes become community centers, where those without power can come and enjoy some air conditioning, and have a place to relax that isn't their home. These parishes can become a distribution center, or a place where people can list their needs and others can list what they can offer. For instance, If one neighbor has a chainsaw, and another has a tree on their house, they can help themselves out. We're also busy coordinating supplies and ferrying them in from out of town and to the places they're needed. There is still a huge lack of gas in some areas (lines a mile long) and prices for some things have gone out of control. So goods from out of town is the best thing so far. We're currently working in small town/rural areas west and north of baton Rouge, ane we're about to start delivering resources to hard hit areas south of New Orleans, in areas like Houma (Homah) and Bayou Du Large.

Please, if you feel moved to donate goods or money for us to buy them (sometimes more efficient) contact me and we'll direct the resources to where they're most needed. Rent is still due for many folks, and rent assistance is another need, along with toiletries, diapers, baby wipes, tarps, etc. If you know of anyone in Texas or Alabama or Mississippi or Northern Louisiana who wants to help us, please get them in touch with me!

Thank you so much for your thoughts and prayers. More updates to follow...
Pete

Episcopal Senators and Congressmen

A number of folks have found this blog by Googling such phrases as "Episcopalian Senators" or "Is John McCain Episcopalian?" They find this page because I write a lot about both politics and The Episcopal Church, but I've never had exactly what they were looking for - until now. To help those Googlers, here is a list of Episcopalian Members of Congress, courtesy the Episcopal Public Policy Network. The original EPPN page also has their contact information.

SENATE
Evan Bayh (D-IN)
Saxby Chambliss (R-GA)
Chuck Hagel (R-NE)
Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX)
Blanche Lincoln (D-AR)
John McCain (R-AZ)
Ted Stevens (R-AK)
John Warner (R-VA)
Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)

HOUSE
Robert Aderholt (R-AL 4)
Robert Andrews (D-NJ 1)
Judy Biggert (R-IL 13)
Jo Bonner (R-AL 1)
Charles Boustany (R-LA 7)
Michael Burgess (R-TX 26)
Jim Cooper (D-TN 5)
Ander Crenshaw (R-FL 4)
Barbara Cubin (R -WY AL)
Sam Farr (D-CA 17)
Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ 11)
Jeb Hensarling (R-TX 5)
Jack Kingston (R-GA 1)
John Kuhl (R-NY 29)
Jim McDermott (D-WA 7)
John Mica (R-FL 7)
Brad Miller (D-NC 13)
Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC)
Todd Russell Platts (R-PA 19)
Adam Putnam (R-FL 12)
Ralph Regula (R-OH 16)
Dennis Rehberg (R-MT AL)
Peter Roskam (R-IL 6)
Robert Scott (D-VA 3)
James Sensenbrenner (R-WI 5)
John Shadegg (R-AZ 3)
Louise McIntosh Slaughter (D-NY 28)
Chris Van Hollen (D-MD 8)
Greg Walden (R-OR 2)
Don Young (R-AK AL)

This list will undoubtedly change come January - on the Senate side alone, Warner and Hagel are retiring and Stevens will almost assuredly lose his reelection bid - and you can check back with EPPN for the new list.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Palin vs. the rest of us

Given the "enthusiasm gap" that existed before the Republican Convention, could this be the first election where people actually vote for the bottom rather than the top of the ticket? I don't know, it may well be a waste of time to critique Palin rather than McCain, but I'm going to go ahead and post this anyway because it's just too important to pass up.


Obviously this picture isn't comparing Barack Obama to Jesus, no matter what the right-wing spinners would have you believe about people who vote for that member of the United Church of Christ. No, it's just pointing out that Governor Palin's executive experience isn't all it's cracked up to be, and that her party could do a better job of staying in touch with local communities and the "least of these." A H/T is to Cany at Just Another Black Sheep, who got it from Padre Mickey. Also, The Knowledge Box says you can get a similar bumpersnicker, button, or shirt here.

To understand the importance of community organizers, read Cany's "25 Years of my Life Dissed by Palin". Other Palin commentary from Cany is here, from Susan Russell at An Inch at a Time, and from Huckelberries Online's Bob at The Unbearable Bobness of Being. Also, here's Joe Biden on the Governor's acceptance speech - sounds like he's got a cold, but his points about the middle class are still important:

ERD helps Haiti recover from Hurricana Hanna

Episcopal Relief and Development, which has the highest possible rating from Charity Navigator, has sent out the following fundraising request for the sound thrashing Haiti recieved from Hurricane Hanna.

As we begin to assess damage from Hurricane Gustav in the Gulf Coast, and work with our partners in Louisiana and Mississippi to provide electric generators, food and water to those returning home, a new storm has already hit the Caribbean.

Tropical Storm Hanna has stalled over Haiti, devastating the country, dumping torrential rains that have caused massive flooding, isolated whole communities, and left many dead.

Episcopal Relief & Development’s partners in the Diocese of Haiti are overwhelmed. Homes and offices are under water. Staff members are taking refuge on roofs. Power lines are down and communication sporadic.

We are working to quickly get essential relief supplies to victims of the storm. Water, food and materials for shelter are all in short supply, and are urgently needed.

Please support this lifesaving work today by contributing to our Hurricane Relief Fund. Your help is essential at this critical time.

Haiti and other countries in the Caribbean have been battered repeatedly over the last few weeks. Hurricane Gustav devastated crops and left many dead in its wake. Now continuous rains are causing mass mudslides along Haiti’s deforested hillsides. In Port au Prince, strong winds have taken down most of the city’s remaining trees. And with Hurricanes Ike and Josephine brewing in the Atlantic, we know that the worst is far from over.

Please support our Hurricane Relief Fund so that we can help devastated communities in which we work -- be they in Haiti and other parts of the Caribbean, or here at home -- prepare for disaster before it strikes.

And with your help, we’ll also provide the resources, materials and expertise required to rebuild after storms hit.

Please click here to contribute to our Hurricane Relief Fund today.

Be as generous as you can, and please join me in praying for all those touched by these powerful storms.

Yours faithfully,
Robert W. Radtke
President

Friday, September 05, 2008

Kayaking the Potomac

I've lived just about my entire life amidst the lakes of North Idaho, rivers of east Texas, and New Hampshire banks of the Connecticut River, and yet my first time kayaking came during my short stint in Washington, DC. Go figure. But, it was a lot of fun, and courtesy of my friend Jenn, here are some pictures. The first three are of me and the fourth of Jenn's sister, which is included because it's a great shot of the Kennedy Center, Watergate Hotel, and Washington Monument. It was a pretty good spot to kayak - we rented the boats from a little dock in Georgetown; in one direction, we could see the city and its landmarks; in the other, no buildings, some islands, and so many trees that you could almost pretend you were back in East Texas rather than just minutes away from Reagan National Airport.





I enjoyed it. I'll have to do it again some time, in Idaho or New Hampshire. If I wasn't a student with a student's budget, moving around all the time, I'd even buy one. We can all dream.

Joe Scarborough on McCain's Speech

Remember, Joe Scarborough is a former Republican Congressman from Florida:
Scaborough: 'It wasn't the most inspiring speech. It seemed a little flat to a lot of us. But does that really matter to you guys?'

McCain campaign manager Rick Davis: 'No - I think you gotta look at what we're trying to do. What we're trying to do is have a conversation with the American people.'

Scarborough: 'You can't have a conversation if they're asleep.'

And New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, whom I rarely read but did today, not on McCain but on how his hand-picked surrogates are trying to exploit the politics of resentment:
Can the super-rich former governor of Massachusetts — the son of a Fortune 500 C.E.O. who made a vast fortune in the leveraged-buyout business — really keep a straight face while denouncing “Eastern elites”?

Can the former mayor of New York City, a man who, as USA Today put it, “marched in gay pride parades, dressed up in drag and lived temporarily with a gay couple and their Shih Tzu” — that was between his second and third marriages — really get away with saying that Barack Obama doesn’t think small towns are sufficiently “cosmopolitan”? ...

Yes, they can... Don’t be fooled either by Mr. McCain’s long-ago reputation as a maverick or by Ms. Palin’s appealing persona: the Republican Party, now more than ever, is firmly in the hands of the angry right, which has always been much bigger, much more influential and much angrier than its counterpart on the other side.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Random news that caught my eye: Stewart exposes conservative hypocrisy, Klein on Palin coverage, and Newsweek says Cheney's target is still injured

From Tuesday night's Daily Show - Jon Stewart exposes the hypocrisy of right-wing bloviators Karl Rove, Bill O'Lielly, and Dick Morris (who actually has no wings, he just flounders around in the mud) regarding Sarah Palin's nomination.



Next, still on the Sarah Palin kick, Time Magazine's Joe Klein defends the media's right to scrutinize politicians. H/T Todd Beeton. Yes, I know, suggesting that the media should be more than an echo factory for right-wing talking points is a controversial position, but stay with me here:
There is a tendency in the media to kick ourselves, cringe and withdraw, when we are criticized. But I hope my colleagues stand strong in this case: it is important for the public to know that Palin raised taxes as governor, supported the Bridge to Nowhere before she opposed it, pursued pork-barrel projects as mayor, tried to ban books at the local library and thinks the war in Iraq is "a task from God." The attempts by the McCain campaign to bully us into not reporting such things are not only stupidly aggressive, but unprofessional in the extreme.

Next, Newsweek updates us on the dude Dick Cheney shot in the face a couple years back. Get this - HE STILL HAS SHOT IN HIS EYE.
Whittington still practices law in Austin. He says he's fully recovered, though pellets in his larynx changed his voice, and he still has birdshot in his chest, throat and eyes. Though Cheney's been "very kind" and calls him to check up, Whittington is no longer involved in Republican politics. "My biggest question," he tells NEWSWEEK, "is trying to figure out, 'Lord, why me?' "

And remember - it wasn't Cheney who apologized to Whittington, but Whittington to Cheney. Eep!

And finally, a fun jab at certain voters - many voters - from the Spokesman Review's Paul Turner:
Let's say you don't follow local politics all that closely. And you have a neighbor with a cluster of campaign signs in the yard. Well, let's further imagine that a couple of the signs endorse high-profile candidates you are eager to vote against. OK, then isn't it reasonable to assume that the lesser-known politicians represented in the phalanx of signs are also people you would not want to support?

...The only real alternative is to be well-informed. And survey after survey shows that, after four hours of TV and three hours of recreational Web surfing, many people say they don't have time for that.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Why executive experience is irrelevant

John McCain’s new running mate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, will speak at the Republican National Convention tonight. She has received some intense media scrutiny over the past week, but very little of that criticism has been the product of respectable journalism and so has done nothing to change my own opinion of the woman. She’s under investigation for illegally removing a state trooper from the force, but when you look at what that cop is accused of doing, it seems to me that it’d be a bigger crime if she ISN’T guilty. And of course, Barack Obama told the media to lay off the Governor’s pregnant daughter, and he was absolutely right. No, the only story so far with any real viability is the one about Palin’s resume. I don’t know enough to judge her competence, partisanship, or integrity, but she is too conservative for me and too inexperienced for America.

I’ll be voting for Barack Obama, but I’ve made no secret about my own hesitations regarding the Illinois Senator’s resume. That being said, he does have more leadership experience than Governor Palin. She was mayor of a town of less than 7,000 people for six years; he was a member of the state legislature that helped govern the nation’s third largest city for seven. Come January, he will have been a member of the US Senate for four years; she a Governor of a state with 1.2 people per square mile for just two. The Republican response is, predictably, that her experience is EXECUTIVE and his merely legislative. McCain surrogate Carly Fiornia, who was once ousted as CEO of Hewlett Packard, has made that argument and insists that anyone who dares disagree with her is sexist:

“I am appalled by the Obama campaign's attempts to belittle Governor Sarah Palin’s experience. The facts are that Sarah Palin has made more executive decisions as a Mayor and Governor than Barack Obama has made in his life.

“Because of Hillary Clinton's historic run for the Presidency and the treatment she received, American women are more highly tuned than ever to recognize and decry sexism in all its forms. They will not tolerate sexist treatment of Governor Palin.”

I wonder, would Fiorina call herself a racist for criticizing Obama and ignoring his work on ethics reform, death penalty reform, and nuclear proliferation? But I digress. Republican spinners and the conservative bloggers who take their marching orders have widely missed the mark about Palin’s inexperience. Can someone explain to me just why executive experience is so much better than that of the legislative variety? I can only think of two possible reasons, and neither makes sense.

The first is that the President, as head of the “Executive Branch,” runs the government – but what’s in a name? The President doesn’t handle the nuts and bolts of management. He’s got a Chief of Staff to run the White House and a Cabinet to run the various departments and agencies. Whether we acknowledge it with a Constitutional label or not, the President’s legislative role is just as expansive and important as his (or her) management role. He battles with Congress over every law and nomination, and frequently sends staffers and Cabinet members to the Hill for negotiations. The State of the Union address largely sets the legislative agenda.

Yes, perhaps being Governor does prepare a person for part of the Presidency, but not for the whole thing, and the same can be said of the Senate. So let’s stop trying to suggest one is better than the other – especially since there are at least 16 American cities with larger populations than Alaska. You could even say that Joe Biden gained more executive experience running the Senate Judiciary and Foreign Relations committee staffs than Sarah Palin gained running the village of Wasilla – a job Palin herself said was “not rocket science,” Fiorina’s insistence to the contrary notwithstanding.

The second argument for executive experience is that four of our last five Presidents were Governors – but this just means Governors make good candidates, not good Presidents. Their resumes may have helped these four men reach the White House, but they didn’t necessarily help them do a good job once they were there. Jimmy Carter was, well, Jimmy Carter. Ronald Reagan helped speed up the end of the Cold War, but also left us with a then-record deficit and was either complicit or negligent in Iran-Contra. Bill Clinton botched health care negotiations with Congress and left office with no major accomplishments. George W. Bush appointed hacks like Michael Brown, Alberto Gonzalez, and Don Rumsfeld, mismanaged Iraq and Katrina, and left both the Constitution and America’s reputation in tatters. Just what about these four Governors is supposed to fire me up about executive experience? I’m left yearning for the days of SENATOR John F. Kennedy, when responsibility was taken for mistakes (the Bay of Pigs), tax cuts were responsible, and cooler heads prevailed during the most perilous moment in our nations’ history. (To be fair, both Roosevelts were Governors.)

No, when you get right down to it, the ideal presidential resume is one with both executive and legislative experience, but when you’ve only got one or the other, it doesn’t really matter which. Senators Joe Biden and John McCain have the requisite resumes; Senator Barack Obama probably doesn’t. Governors Bill Richardson (D-NM) and Bobby Jindal (R-LA) are more or less ready for the White House; Sarah Palin, not so much. And that’s just about the resumes – anyone who excludes character (and obviously policy) from the discussion is turning a blind eye to both history and electoral politics. Richard Nixon and John Edwards are proof enough of that.

Given Obama’s short resume, Democrats shouldn’t hammer Palin on her lack of experience – although he is quick to point out that his campaign has a larger staff and budget than does Wasilla, AK. At the same time, though, Republicans should drop the experience attacks on Obama lest they seem like hypocrites, and they should drop the line about executive experience unless their goal is to remind us that McCain, like Obama, has none.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Happiness is Washington in my rearview mirror


Well, I’m back home with my parents in good ol’ Coeur d’Alene, Idaho now, where it is a balmy 58 degrees. I still have several DC posts to make – four more church reviews and some reflections on the Holocaust museum – but they will all be retrospectives. I enjoyed my five months in DC and may well spend a year or two there after college is done, but the truth is, I am happy to leave it behind for now and return to Idaho and New Hampshire. Something I have learned over the past few years is that I am NOT a city boy. I didn’t exactly grow up in the sticks, but Democrat or not, I’m a lot more at home with camping tents and Duckin’ Donuts coffee than I am with skylines and lattes. I like my buildings between trees, not my trees between buildings.

Looking back at the past few months, I’ve put together several brief lists – things I will miss, things I WON’T miss, and things I wish had gotten around to doing. I’ll post the things I will miss list first just to stay positive and upbeat, rather than accentuating the negative and dwelling on my hatred of cities. Here also are some pictures I took of the Jefferson Memorial on Friday night. The colors are in no way enhanced - it was stunning, like looking at a graphic novel in real life. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. Also, some random shots from Capitol Hill's First Street NE at the bottom.

Things I will miss (in rough order)
  • Evensong at St. Paul’s K Street – what an amazing choir!
  • Riding Amtrak through VA or MD, especially when I went business class
  • Multiple Episcopal churches with outstanding choirs, sermons, and sanctuaries to choose from – I’m not used to such variety!
  • Fireflies.
  • Reading Roll Call on a regular basis.
  • A plethora of downtown sandwich shops, fine dining and coffee shops to choose from. I swear, Union Station alone has more options than either Coeur d’Alene or Hanover.
  • Diversity, both racially and culturally. Growing up in homogenous towns of 30,000, I’ve never understood the appeal of people watching. Now I do.
  • Public transportation - being able to walk or catch a ride everywhere, from work to coffeeshop to home, and being able to go out at night and not worry about who’s driving!
  • Living only minutes away from a Major League Baseball team (and a National League team at that!)

    Things I will NOT miss (in no particular order)
  • People (tourists) who don’t get the whole “stand right, walk left” concept on Metro escalators.
  • Tourists in general. Fat, loud slobs with cameras.
  • The Metro in general, environmentalism and my comment above notwithstanding. Public transportation is great, but crowds, long waits, and grimey windows are not.
  • Incessant honking.
  • Ducking the same protestors and beggars every day.
  • Having to travel a good hour or more to find a tree that wasn’t purposefully planted.
  • Seeing only two stars on even the clearest of nights.
  • My apartment, what with its ratty furniture and the bugs.
  • The whole city feeling in general.

    Things I wish I had done, but guess I can save for next time
  • The Newseum
  • Return trip to the Holocaust Museum
  • The National Archives
  • The pandas at the Zoo (though I did see them in high school)
  • Tour of Arlington Cemetery (although I did make a personal visit to my grandfather’s grave)
  • The Spy Museum

    Here also is a picture I took Thursday on Capitol Hill. On the right is the Supreme Court; on the left, across Maryland Avenue from the Court, is the United Methodist Building, in which my office was located. Beyond that are the Senate office buildings, some parks and parking lots, Columbus Circle, and Union Station. Next to the Court on the other side is the Library of Congress, and across the street from the LOC and the Court, the United States Capitol.





    This last photo is of the House of Representatives and the Washington Monument. And yes, the title of this post is an homage to Mac Davis.