Friday, July 31, 2009

Dodd's Integrity Shines Again

Because of his strength on Constitutional issues, of the nine original candidates, Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) was my second choice during the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries. I have, however, sadly soured on him in more recent months because of his poor handling of the Countrywide mortgage scandal (standing in stark contrast to Kent Conrad's candor), his initially poor handling of financial regulation reform, and his committee's partisan approach to the health care debate.

Perhaps my faith has been at least partially restored. Dodd announced today that he has early-stage prostate cancer but that he will continue to seek re-election in 2010 (as perhaps the Senate's most endangered Democrat) and will continue to keep up his busy schedule as a top Senator on both financial regulation and health care. That's all to be expected since they caught the cancer early. What really impresses me is this: Dodd said the cancer was diagnosed over a month ago and that he knew about it during his committee's mark-up of the health care bill in June but never said a word. He could have used his cancer as a political tool or emotional sideshow, but decided he didn't want the debate to become about him. In politics even more than normal life, that's admirable. Welcome back, Senator Dodd.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Nuclear Power: The answer to climate change?

Well, I certainly don't think nuclear power is THE answer to climate change - the problem of carbon emissions is far too complex to have just one simple answer - but when you have an energy source that clean with technology that advanced and that available, there's no way you can't include it as part of your solution package.

On June 23, The Hill, one of three newspapers on Capitol Hill, published a special section on energy and the environment with Op-Eds by nine Members of Congress and one White House aide. All told, their were four GOP articles, four Democratic articles, and one bi-partisan piece. To The Hill's credit, all but one of these Op-Eds were promoting specific solutions rather than sniping at the oppositions' plans - it was the newspaper of multiple yeses rather than the party of no. (I guess Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) didn't get the memo.)

Three of the four Repub articles focused on nuclear energy. It's not often that I agree with mainstream Repubs (at least of this century) on environmental issues - just look at Sarah Palin's head-in-the-sand Washington Post Op-Ed arguing on behalf of coal and oil - but I think they have a point here. Of the three Op-Eds, I think Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN)'s was the best. An excerpt:

The thermal plants in the West take more than 30 square miles — that’s about five miles on a side — to produce the same electricity you can get from a single nuclear plant that sits on one square mile. And to generate only a fourth of a nuclear plant’s electricity with wind, you would need an unbroken line of ridge-top windmills from Washington, D.C., to New York City — and we’d still need that nuclear plant for when the wind doesn’t blow. We are going to need some breakthroughs before we can rely very much on renewable electricity.

The way forward is to encourage what is being called the “Nuclear Renaissance” and start making nuclear energy the backbone of a new industrial economy. To that end, Senate and House Republicans propose that, from the years 2010 to 2030, we build 100 new nuclear reactors.

During the 20-year interval from 1970 to 1990, we built almost every one of the 104 reactors that now provide us with 20 percent of our electricity. If we built another 100 by 2030, we’d be able to provide well over 40 percent —getting us to a clean-energy economy faster, safer and more cheaply than any other plan under consideration in Congress or by the president.

But that’s only the beginning. I also believe we should make half our cars and trucks plug-in within 20 years. Brookings Institution scholars estimate that we can power half our automobiles by plugging them in at night without building one new power plant. That would reduce by one-third the oil we import from foreign sources.

A major hat tip to the conservative Alexander for getting out of the conservative echo chamber and quoting the liberal Brookings Institution instead of something like the Heritage Foundation. He goes on to explain why nuclear power is not just a clean and efficient option but a safe one, as well.

Alexander's is not the only piece on nuclear power worth reading. While I hate to say it, the usually bat-looney Michele Bachmann brought up some important facts, as well:

In 1999, the U.S. Department of Energy and the Energy Information Administration reported that nuclear energy is the single most effective emission control strategy for utilities. And a 2002 study by Paul J. Meier, a scientist at the University of Wisconsin, reiterates that finding, revealing that nuclear energy emits less carbon dioxide than coal, natural gas, biomass, solar PV, and hydroelectric sources...

Currently, a fifth of U.S. electricity is generated by nuclear power, which is relatively small, particularly given its extraordinary environmental benefits. Other nations have fully embraced nuclear power, such as France, which relies on nuclear energy for more than three-quarters of its energy. Three other nations — Lithuania, Slovakia, and Belgium — get more than half of their power from nuclear generation.

If the Repub Party ever wants to shed its image as the "party of no" and provide some detailed ideas and bills of its own, nuclear power would be a great place to start. I have no desire to help the Republicans back into power and would much rather see my fellow Democrats embrace this idea, but hey, turning a good idea into law is always a good thing for America, no matter who it is that gets it done.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Stupidity is (gasp) bad

In my continuing series of posting YouTube videos rather than substantive comments, here's CBS' Craig Ferguson explaining why America is stupid and why that's bad. H/T Salon.com.


I admire his restraint in not bringing Sarah Palin into it.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Musical Monday: The Michael Gungor Band



H/T my former campus minister and CDSP student Andy.

And you told your math teacher you'd never use this stuff

My former roommate A-Bar, who is an all-around awesome dude as well as a Master of Science, used calculus to get out of a traffic ticket today. Here's how:

Specifically, I used an application of the intermediate value theorem.

OK, so story.

I was backing out of my driveway, which is on a corner with a stop sign. I reversed out, and then did that thing where you don't use the brakes to stop but just put it in drive while coasting backwards and then you go forwards, right in front of the stop... and a cop was watching and pulled me over, and said I ran the stop.... Read More

In a moment of stunning clarity and audacity, I said, "Actually, technically I did stop" and I explained to him that since I went from going in reverse (negative velocity) to drive, at some point, for an instant, my velocity HAD to have been zero, which means I was stopped. Calculus proves it.

He laughed and said that since I taught him something new, I could go free.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Episcopal Bishop in Texas Monthly

He sports a grey goatee, hip glasses, and funky contact lenses. He's 42, his name is Andy, and he is the new Episcopal Bishop of Texas.

I bring up the Rt. Rev. C. Andrew Doyle, consecrated earlier this year, because there is a lengthy interview with him in the current edition of Texas Monthly. You have to have an account with the webpage to read it, but registration is free. An excerpt:

Each and every one of us is on a journey of becoming who God is inviting us to be, and that journey isn’t different today than it was before I became bishop. You, as editor in chief of Texas Monthly, are continuously discovering who you are, and the people reading this interview are discovering who they are. What’s interesting is that a new vocabulary has inserted itself into the dialogue I have with God and the larger community...

Human beings have an amazing tendency to split up into like-minded camps with incredible efficiency. The reality is that not just the Episcopal Church but every church has been divided over the years. Here’s the thing for me that seems important: On the night Jesus was taken into custody, he prayed that his followers would be unified. So difficult is the task of a healthy, thriving community that our Lord had to actually pray for it. We can spend a lot of time talking about every issue that divides us, but what about the challenge that we’ve been given to be one people in the midst of our great diversity? I’m not sure that wholeness and unity isn’t exactly what we’re supposed to be aspiring to.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Llamas With Hats

Warning: This is kind of morbid, and a little creepy. It's basically a long joke about death and murder, with some weird anthropomorphism. I find it hilarious, but others may find it highly off-putting. Whatever, it's my blog. H/T to my high school Algebra teacher.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Ignoring the Rising Cost of Health Care

What I wrote last week - that the while the health care bills currently before Congress insure the uninsured, they don't do much to control health costs - has since become conventional wisdom. I (and everyone else) based what I said primarily on the Congressional testimony of CBO Director David Elmendorf and partially on my own meager understanding of the issue. There's a lot more to base it on now. In the seven days since that post, some of the folks echoing this argument include:
  • The Mayo Clinic, one of President Obama's favorite examples of health care done right, which says, "The proposals under discussion are not patient focused or results oriented... Unless legislators create payment systems that pay for good patient results at reasonable costs, the promise of transformation in American health care will wither."

  • David Brooks of the New York Times, who accuses lawmakers of claiming, "We’re going to eliminate the biggest, hairiest, most entrenched problem in the country without fundamentally changing the system and without asking for sacrifice from anybody."

  • Financial Times columnist Jacob Weisberg in the weekly Slate.com Political Gabfest: "The three bills that are working their way through Congress, I think, look deeply, deeply flawed. They basically accomplish the one goal of covering the uninsured, but they are very weak... on cost control and I think they are very weak at what I would call the structural reform: Are you trying to change the system of fee-for-service medicene, which drives a lot of the inflation? Are you trying to do something about having an employer-based system which doesn't make sense anymore?"

In the interest of fairness and presenting both sides, I should say that New York Times columnist and Nobel laureate Paul Krugman is lauding Obama for focusing on controlling Medicare cost--to which I say, that may be true, but Obama has largely removed himself from this debate by not introducing his own bill. He has allowed the Democratic Congress to take the reins, and Congress is falling flat. If Obama wants praise for focusing his speeches on the right details, he should put that focus in a bill since it's become obvious that no one else will. I like the White House's new talking point that the cost of inaction is the highest cost of all, but while that's true, it isn't enough.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Chris Matthews opens up a can on the birthers

I was going to start a series of posts on climate change today, but instead, I think I'm going to run some errands and get caught up on correspondence. So here's a video clip of Chris Matthews going to town on Rep. John Campbell (R-CA) and the "birthers," ie, those conspiracy nuts who say Obama's not a citizen.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A Personal Update (or, why I'm moving to Nebraska)

There have been a lot of big changes in my life lately, and I thought I would post an update here about where I am now (vacation), where I will be next year (Nebraska), and what I hope for in the future.

I graduated from Dartmouth on June 14th with a Bachelor's in Government and Native American Studies (after the most grueling finals period I'd had in all four years). Pictures here. I stuck around New England until June 30th in order to attend the wedding of two friends at Dartmouth's Mt. Moosilauke and spend a weekend in Cambridge, MA to tour Episcopal Divinity School and retreat at the Episcopal monastery there, the Society of St. John the Evangelist (SSJE). Now you know why, until last week, blog content has been sparse! :) After hanging out with friends and family in Idaho for a week, I spent July 7-18 in Arizona's White Mountains with my grandparents. The rest of the summer will be spent driving/camping around Montana, generally hanging out, and attending more weddings. NH, MA, AZ, ID, MT... this may well be the last summer vacation I ever get, so I intend to milk it for all its worth!

On September 5, I will move to Omaha, Nebraska, to take part in the Episcopal Service Corps's (ESC) nine-month long Resurrection House internship. In a nutshell: I will live in an intentional community with three other interns in a house next door to the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection in urban Omaha. 50% of my time will be spent working at a local parish, doing whatever they need me to do; 25% will be spent at an internship TBD, hopefully something environmental; and the remaining 25% will be spent in spiritual direction and theological education. I am also planning on going through the formal discernment process while there and would like to take vacations to Buffalo, NY for a wedding and, if I have the time, Washington DC to visit the many friends I have there. It's not quite the year I was expecting, but it looks like a good program, the DC job market was tough, and the priest who interviewed me sounded really cool, so I went ahead and accepted the program's call. I look forward to new friends and mentors and to an exciting year.

I only know for sure what the next year looks like, but I have a rough idea about the five years after that. I'm hoping to find an entry-level policy job in DC when the ESC program ends in May. I'd like to stay in DC for a couple years - working, hanging out with my many friends already there, doing the first year or two of EFM, and possibly getting a Master's from GWU - and then move on to an Episcopal seminary, which will take three years. I'm still learning about the various seminaries, so can't tell you which one I like best yet.

I have a few goals/dreams/ideas for life after seminary including joining the military as a chaplain and getting a PhD in international relations, but as they say, the best way to make God laugh is to tell him your plans. I'd have to be an idiot to think I can plan out the next 15 years of my life: the discernment committee could say no; the bishop could say no; the seminaries might reject me; the DC job market might be too tough; the Army could reject me; I could change my own mind and goals; God could show me something new and better; I might have a family that requires a different path; so on and so forth. In short, life happens.

I only know one thing for sure: assuming my limbs and my lungs are intact, come September 5 I will be moving to Omaha, and I wanted to be sure to invite my readers along for the ride.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

An icon passes, and with him, an era

I try not to make more than one substantive post per day, but this news is worth giving my post on health care costs a little less time on top of the page:

Legendary journalist Walter Cronkite died today. He was 92.

Nothing in this post comes from today's obituaries - it is all from my own memory. Cronkite's is the first of the many recent celebrity deaths that I truly mourn. I don't say that to impress you, but to make this important point: Only a great man can retire from journalism and almost three decades later have some 22 year old punk know this stuff about him.

Cronkite was the anchor of the CBS Evening News from the early 1960s through the early 1980s, a span of nearly 20 years that included three major assassinations, the Civil Rights Era the Vietnam War, the Great Society, Watergate, the beginning of the Israel-Palestine conflict, and the 1970s oil shocks. He was the first, and dare I say the last, heir to the legendary Edward R. Murrow. Many journalists today may try to claim that legacy but Cronkite was the only man to succeed. A poll once named him "the most trusted man in America," a title no reporter could ever attain in today’s era of niche and partisan news. Unlike today's television journalists, Cronkite took his job seriously. Part of the reason Elvis' death did not receive the same attention as Michael Jackson's, that pretty missing white girls are a recent news phenom, and that war was analyzed rather than thrown to the partisan wolves was that serious people were in charge of the national discourse. Cronkite did not see the news as a profit center, he did not sensationalize it, and he did not make his broadcasts about himself. He told you about the important things that were happening in the world, he told you why they were important, and he treated them with dignity and respect. He did his job; nothing more and nothing less, because that was what the country needed done.

Cronkite will be remembered for:

  • His anchoring of the JFK assassination, removing his glasses to wipe away a tear. "From Dallas, Texas, the flash, apparently official, President Kennedy died at 1 p.m. Central Standard Time.”
  • Anchoring the Apollo 11 moon landing 40 years ago this very week, again removing his glasses, this time in shock and pride, the only time in 20 years of anchoring that he was left speechless.
  • Breaking down the complexities of the many layers and bureaucracy of the Watergate scandal with a graph his viewers could understand, turning a distant DC scandal into something relevant to the people of America.
  • His one Olbermann-style “special comment,” in which he told American citizens from Vietnam that we were losing the war in Vietnam. When Lyndon Johnson saw this, he said, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost middle America.” Johnson would not run for re-election.

No current television journalist can claim this importance, this gravitas, or this relevance, nor can any current television journalist claim they deserve it. So why do I, a child of cable news, write this paean to Walter Cronkite? Because not only am I a political and news junkie and history buff fortunate enough to have watched many of his old tapes in class, I am also a boy who wishes he could walk in Cronkite and Murrow’s footsteps. I want to make a difference in this world, but believe that it is must be easier for a politician to be elected President than it for a journalist to become a Cronkite, Murrow, or Woodward. It is hard to do more than just pass along the facts, especially in this profit-obsessed age of corporate news. I choose to go into ministry and policy because I think that is where I can leave my mark on this world—but if I thought it were possible to be a Cronkite, if I thought I had half a chance of carrying on his legacy, than I would choose journalism over other professions in a heartbeat.

And that's the way it is.

Picture credit.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Controlling the Cost of Health Care

I haven't had very much to say about the current health reform fight in Congress - it is neither my top priority (that would be climate change) nor an issue about which I am overly informed. Given, however, the issue's current prominence in the national debate and its importance to another pet cause of mine (fiscal sanity), I feel compelled to offer a few thoughts regarding the spiraling cost of health care.

My position is basically this. I don't really care what the actual reform is - single-payer, expansion of the current employer system, health co-ops, etc.* - as long as it accomplishes these four goals: if it gets insurance for at least thirty million of the 47 million uninsured Americans, if it improves insurance for the fifty million or so Americans with bad insurance, if it is paid for, and if it brings skyrocketing costs under control, I will support it.

Unfortunately, we learned yesterday that while each of the plans currently under consideration in Congress would accomplish the first three of these four goals, none would bring skyrocketing health care costs under control. What are these costs? For starters, if you think the current deficit is bad wait until you see what Medicare and Medicaid will cost in just a few short decades. In May, Medicare trustees announced that Medicare will be insolvent by 2018, two years earlier than expected. According to the New York Times, "The trustees predict that average Medicare spending per beneficiary will increase more than 50 percent, to $17,000 in 2018, from $11,000 last year." Per the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), overall health care spending as a percentage of the GDP is even worse: "Over the past 30 years, total national spending on health care has more than doubled as a share of GDP. Under the assumptions described above, according to CBO’s projections, that share will double again by 2035, to 31 percent of GDP." In other words, over the next three decades, U.S. health care expenditures will grow from one in every six dollars spent to one in every three.

Unfortunately, Congress, in typical fashion, is focused on the short term rather than the long term. House liberals just unveiled a plan that they would pay for by slightly raising taxes on the rich. The Senate Finance Committee (disclaimer: I used to intern for Chairman Max Baucus) is exploring a number of different ways to pay for their plan, including ending the $200 billion subsidy we call the employer-sponsored insurance tax exemption. All of these proposals would expand health coverage and pay for the expansion, but yesterday, CBO director Doug Elmendorf informed Congress that none would actually lower costs.

Elmendorf is right, expanding health coverage isn't enough. Here are five ideas I’ve heard for changing the actual care, not just the method of insurance. Two frequently-discussed ways of lowering the cost of prescription drugs are making Medicare competitive and allowing purchases in Canada. According to a speech New York Times economics reporter David Leonhardt gave at Dartmouth in February, two other ways to lower costs include digitizing health care records (a frequently discussed option) and accepting less flashy treatment. We must remember, he says, that new and experimental options aren’t always better than tried and true methods; that surgery is not always superior to treatment; and that sound diagnoses do not always require dozens of tests and procedures. Finally, in the upcoming New York Times Magazine, Princeton professor of bioethics Peter Singer argues that while politically untenable, rationing health care may also be a necessary part of bringing costs under control.

White the possible exception of rationing, I cannot for the life of me understand why Congress is not embracing these ideas as part of its discussion on health reform. The status quo might make more money for hospitals, insurance agencies, and pharmaceutical companies, but that does not mean it provides the best care for patients or the most affordable care for a nation in dire fiscal straits. When health comes before profit, then we will finally have an affordable, healthy, and ethical health care system.

*If the jargon surrounding different forms of health care is as Greek to you as it is to me, check out this helpful article from Salon.com, "Healthcare for dunces".

Thursday, July 16, 2009

In Defense of Empathy and Wise Latinas

The months-long run-up to Judge Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearing centered around two things: the president's stated desire to find a nominee with "empathy" and that eventual nominee's own quote about "wise Latinas" being better able to render a sound decision than white men. It's no surprise, then, that the Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee have focused on these two issues during the official hearing rather than on, say, the nominee's actual judicial record. Personally, I see very little wrong with either of these quotes. This blog post is divided into three parts: one, a discussion of when the judicial process requires empathy; two, a defense of the "wise Latina" quote and the role of experience in the law; and three, a video exposing Senator Jeff Sessions for the bigot he is.

On Empathy
President Obama has twice stated that he wants to nominate a Supreme Court justice with empathy - once on July 17, 2007 and again on May 1, 2009. He's taken a lot of heat for this, but I agree with him.

It is important to understand that empathy is not the same thing as sympathy. A good description of the difference between the two, and I forget where I read this but it is not original, is that if I have sympathy, it is about me, whereas if I have empathy, it is about you. With sympathy, I feel bad for you, whereas with empathy, I understand that you feel bad and recognize the importance of your perspective. Sympathy is an emotion, whereas empathy is the intellectual understanding of emotion.

On May 28, conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks defended the role of emotion in the law:

In reality, decisions are made by imperfect minds in ambiguous circumstances. It is incoherent to say that a judge should base an opinion on reason and not emotion because emotions are an inherent part of decision-making. Emotions are the processes we use to assign value to different possibilities. Emotions move us toward things and ideas that produce pleasure and away from things and ideas that produce pain.

People without emotions cannot make sensible decisions because they don’t know how much anything is worth. People without social emotions like empathy are not objective decision-makers. They are sociopaths who sometimes end up on death row.

A judge's empathy gives her a better understanding of the facts at hand. I can think of six examples of judicial deliberations that require empathy, three about rendering opinions and three regarding legal technicalities. First are cases of free speech. Two clichéd understandings of freedom and free speech are that no one has the right to falsely scream "fire" in a crowded theater and that my right to swing my fist ends where your nose begins. (Interestingly enough, I looked up both these clichés to write this post and found that they each come from the same source, former Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes.) The understanding of these quotes is that we are not free to endanger others, not even with our speech. To understand when speech becomes dangerous, judges need to be able to understand how that speech will be received by an audience. They need to know how hearing "FIRE" will make the crowd feel and how the crowd will then react to that feeling. This knowledge is gained by understanding the crowd's emotion. Without empathy, we have no clue that screaming FIRE will cause panic, since panic is an emotion that results in an action. My second example is judging self-defense. An empathetic judge can say yes, I understand why you felt threatened and pulled out your gun when you heard a series of rhythmic thumps in your living room at 3AM. That same judge would know that it is not okay to shoot blindly at a few small scratches in the wall, thus killing mice and sending bullets through the wall and into your neighbor's house rather than nailing a burglar. Empathy yields an understanding of the difference between feeling threatened and being paranoid, an important difference in judging a self-defense defense. Third, many laws deal with motive and intent (which are understood through empathy). If your intentions are pure, "Good Samaritan" laws may absolve you of guilt. On the flipside, if you kill a man with sinister motives, you’ll be charged with murder one instead of murder two or manslaughter.

My fourth example moves away from opinions and towards process: when can you compel a witness to testify? It is through empathy that a judge determines whether or not an old or potentially crazy witness is competent enough to testify or allows a rape victim to avoid the stand with the defendant in the room. Fifth, there are times when laws conflict with each other. Going off Brooks' words about empathy teaching us value, empathy can help a justice determine which law is more important given the particular facts of a case (assuming that neither law conflicts with a higher law, like the Constitution). Six, it is the Court's job to interpret laws, a job that often requires an examination of the legislative record. In trying to determine what a statute means, judges and justices will look at what the legislators who wrote that law said during debate. To understand what a person says, you can't always just look at their words; you must also look at their tone. You have to read between the lines and understand their emotional overtones. Clearly, Sessions' complaints aside, empathy is as much judicial as it is political. To those who argue that any of these six decisions could be made in a cool and calculating way without emotion, I return to the Brooks column:

The mind tries on different solutions to see if they fit. Ideas and insights bubble up from some hidden layer of intuitions and heuristics. Sometimes you feel yourself getting closer to a conclusion, and sometimes you feel yourself getting farther away. The emotions serve as guidance signals, like from a GPS, as you feel your way toward a solution. Then — often while you’re in the shower or after a night’s sleep — the answer comes to you. You experience a fantastic rush of pleasure that feels like a million tiny magnets suddenly clicking into alignment.
Now your conclusion is articulate in your consciousness. You can edit it or reject it. You can go out and find precedents and principles to buttress it. But the way you get there was not a cool, rational process. It was complex, unconscious and emotional.

On Wise Latinas
While "empathy" is an Obama controversy, the "Wise Latina" quote comes from Sotomayor herself: "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life." Sotomayor has since backed off the quote, explaining that she was just trying to inspire women and minorities but phrased it very "badly."

That’s too bad. I’ve always felt that the only problem with Sotomayor's quote was her use of the phrase "more often than not," but that if one takes away that line, it's a perfectly reasonable statement to make. There are some cases in which a wise Latina will offer the best ruling. There are also cases where a wise white male will offer the best ruling. The same is true for a Muslim orphan or a Kenyan farmer. We learn more from our own experiences than we do by listening to others recount theirs, and are best suited to make decisions in cases dealing with similar experiences. The more experiences we have, the sounder our decisions will be.

While Sotomayor has backed off the "wise Latina" wording, she has at least stood by her belief that our experiences influence our understanding of the world. This view appalls Senator Sessions, whose questions to Judge Sotomayor make it clear that he believes it is entirely possible to be completely impartial. I disagree; it is impossible for a person to set aside their worldview. If we could achieve full impartiality, then we’d only need one justice, not nine – or at the very least, there would be a lot fewer 5-4 decisions. As Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) (pictured) said in his opening statement, “I particularly reject the analogy of a judge to an ‘umpire’ who merely calls ‘balls and strikes.’ If judging were that mechanical, we wouldn't need nine Supreme Court Justices. The task of an appellate judge, particularly on a court of final appeal, is often to define the strike zone.”

The fact is our experiences influence our worldviews. Different perspectives yield different understandings of the facts. Sessions claims this is a matter of choice: “When I present evidence, I expect the judge to hear and see all the evidence that gets presented. How is it appropriate for a judge ever to say that they will choose to see some facts and not others?” If it really were a matter of picking and choosing, he would be absolutely right, but it is not. The facts we fail to notice and the facts that our minds are naturally drawn to are a matter of worldview and experience, not of rational choice. And indeed, as Sotomayor replied, “Our life experiences do permit us to see some facts and understand them more easily than others.”

On the subject of objectivity, I would quote filmmaker Marguerite Duras: “Journalism without a moral position is impossible. Every journalist is a moralist. It's absolutely unavoidable. A journalist is someone who looks at the world and the way it works, someone who takes a close look at things every day and reports what she sees, someone who represents the world, the event, for others.” What is true of journalists is true of all people. As ASU instructor and Arizona Daily Star columnist Sarah Gassen wrote, “Humans don't receive information like computers, absorbing data with no response.” That category—humans—does not exclude judges.

On Jeff Sessions
But hey, maybe these silly critiques aren't such a bad thing - they are helping to expose Judiciary Ranking Member Jeff Sessions (R-AL) for the racist and buffoon that he is. For the record-and this is the definition of irony-the man injecting race time and time again into Sotmayor’s confirmation hearing was once rejected for his own federal judgeship by the very same committee he now presides over because his own party considered him too racist for the job. Watch this clip about his behavior during the hearing from Tuesday night's Rachel Maddow Show and then read this article from The New Republic about Sessions' racist past, which includes calling a white lawyer a “disgrace to his race” for taking on black clients.


(Note: if you're reading the imported version of this post on Facebook instead of the original on my blog, you may not be able to see the video. Link to it here.)

Picture Credit One. Picture Credit Two.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A Note to Abortion Protestors

Unlike most of my readers, I am "pro-life" - an awful, misleading term, but nevertheless the closest one in the political lexicon to describing my position on abortion. I do not, however, consider myself to be a part of the current "pro-life movement". The hateful, vengeful, ideological message it sends about both its opponents and its own message does not represent me.

If you're reading this post on my blog as opposed to the imported version on Facebook, you'll see a video below of abortion protestors disrupting Sonia Sotomayor's Senate confirmation hearing. I have some questions I hope these protestors can answer: What did you do for your cause and our shared belief this week? In what way are the unborn children of our nation better off now than they were before you loudly interrupted the hearing? Is the public now aware of Judge Sotomayor's views in a way they weren't before? Were the slogans you screamed persuasive enough to change her mind, or the minds of anyone on the Senate panel or watching at home on television? Did you manage in your five seconds to make a more articulate point than any of the pro-life Senators questioning Judge Sotomayor? Because if not, I must ask, why did you do it?

A peaceful protest or march with signs and speeches can raise public awareness of an issue, but disorderly conduct never helps a cause. If anything, it is a counterproductive measure. The audience is going to look at you and think you're a rude buffoon, dismiss what you say since it's short slogans rather than in-depth arguments, and then reflect their negative view of you onto your cause, sending your movement BACKWARDS rather than forwards. A good rule of thumb for any form of advocacy is to alway ask: How is my cause going to be better off after I take this action than it was before? And if the answer is, it won't, then don't it. So to the abortion protestors at Sonia Sotomayor's hearings, to my fellow "pro-lifers," I say: your actions make you look like disrespectful jerks and do nothing for the infants you seek to protect. Please, learn some respect and stop poisoning our national discourse.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Humanity vs. IKEA?

I don't know all that much about IKEA, the cheap furniture store. My exposure to it has been limited to looking at the catalog as a kid and this entry on Stuff Hill People Like. Two recent articles from Salon and the Atlantic Monthly, however, raise troubling questions about the company, and will be important for me to remember when I begin setting up a young professional's lifestyle in another year or so. The articles' key take-away is one Americans tend to forget: the dollar sticker on the store shelf is not the only price you pay for your consumer goods. The one thing I learned from my environmental science class last year is that our society does not internalize the externatlities and so we fail to realize what we're actually paying. According to Shell and Zacharek, in the case of IKEA, consumers are not only paying a few bucks but also a piece of their planet while simultaneously helping to perpetuate a culture of waste, materialism, and ingratitude.

From the Atlantic's annual summer ideas issue comes "Buy to Last" by Ellen Ruppel Shell:

Can we afford to keep shopping at places where an item’s price reflects only a fraction of its societal costs?

IKEA designs to price, challenging its talented European team to create ever-cheaper objects, and its suppliers—most of them in low-wage countries in Asia and eastern Europe—to squeeze out the lowest possible price. By some measures the world’s third-largest wood consumer, IKEA proudly employs 15 “forestry monitors.” Eight of them work in China and Russia, but illegal logging is widespread in those vast countries, making it impossible to guarantee that all wood is legally harvested. (The company declines to pay a premium to ensure that all timber is legally harvested, citing costs that would be passed along to the consumer.)... Nor, despite a lot of self-serving hoopla, is energy conservation [the company's goal]: the company boasts of illuminating its stores with low-wattage lightbulbs but positions outlets far from city centers, where taxes are low and commuting costs high—the average IKEA customer drives 50 miles round-trip. Cleverly, IKEA transfers transport and energy costs onto consumers... IKEA bookcases and chairs, like most cheap objects, resist involvement: when they break or malfunction, we tend not to fix them. Rather, we buy new ones. Wig Zamore, a Massachusetts environmental activist who was recently recognized for his work by the Environmental Protection Agency, is working with IKEA and supports some of the company’s regional green initiatives. But as he put it, “IKEA is the least sustainable retailer on the planet.” And in real costs—the kind that will burden our grandchildren—that also makes it among the most expensive.

And with a review of Shell's new book is Stephanie Zacharek's in Sunday's Salon with "IKEA is as Bad as Wal-Mart":

In her lively and terrifying book "Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture," Ellen Ruppel Shell pulls back the shimmery, seductive curtain of low-priced goods to reveal their insidious hidden costs. Those all-you-can-eat Red Lobster shrimps may very well have come from massive shrimp-farming spreads in Thailand, where they've been plumped up with antibiotics and possibly tended by maltreated migrant workers from Burma, Cambodia and Vietnam. The made-in-China toy train you bought your kid a few Christmases ago may have been sprayed with lead paint -- and the spraying itself may have been done by a child laborer, without the benefit of a protective mask.

"Cheap" is hardly a finger-waggling book. This isn't a screed designed to make us feel guilty for unknowingly benefiting from the hardships of workers in other parts of the world. And Shell -- who writes regularly for the Atlantic -- isn't talking about the shallowness of consumerism here; she makes it clear that she, like most of us, enjoys the hunt for a good deal. "Cheap" really is about us, meaning not just Americans, but citizens of the world, and about what we stand to lose in a global economic environment that threatens the very nature of meaningful work, work we can take pride in and build a career on -- or even at which we can just make a living...

Shell's chapter on IKEA is the most gently damning in the book. Shell is quick to admit that IKEA products -- from bookshelves to tables to lamps -- are very nicely designed. And the ingenuity of designing furniture so that it can be shipped efficiently, compactly and cheaply, with an eye toward environmental concerns, is admirable. But Shell also points out the hypocrisy inherent in IKEA's philosophy. As a clever IKEA commercial, directed by Spike Jonze, points out, an old lamp (or bookcase or table) doesn't have feelings; any piece of furniture can and should be replaced at any time. The ad, and the whole IKEA approach, suggests that objects have no lasting meaning or value. They're disposable; when we tire of them, we should just throw them out.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Musical Monday: Tiny Tim

Because this is so not what you were expecting.

Thanks be for D025!

So I said I wouldn't be blogging about General Convention, but I do want to briefly express my thanks to the many deputies participating today, the day that Resolution D025 passed the House of Deputies! To the 30% or so who voted no, thank you for participating, and for your continued participation, fellowship, and love. To those who voted yes, especially those on the blogroll who will stumble across this message of gratitude, THANK YOU! I am so proud to be a part of such a welcoming, affirming, and inclusive church! May the House of Bishops take the same bold and affirming stance. Even if this move leads to the shrinking of The Episcopal Church, it does help the larger Body of Christ to grow, and that is nothing but a good thing.

For the "uninitiated," the resolution, in a nutshell, says this: One, the Episcopal Church will continue its love, gratitude, participation, and full financial support in and of the Anglican Communion and its various instruments of polity and communion. Two, we recognize the presence of committed, monogamous homosexual couples within our church and the importance of listening to homosexual voices. Three, in a move that more or less overturns the 2006 resolution, "affirm that God has called and may call such individuals to any ordained ministry in The Episcopal Church, which call is tested through our discernment processes acting in accordance with the Constitutions and Canons of The Episcopal Church." Four, perhaps most importantly, we respect persisting disagreements over this issue. Full text of the resolution here.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Why Palin Matters

With his column in today's New York Times, "She Broke the G.O.P. and Now She Owns It," Frank Rich has about the best explanation I've seen yet on the importance of Sarah Palin. Read the whole thing here. Here are two excerpts:

In the aftermath of her decision to drop out and cash in, Palin’s standing in the G.O.P. actually rose in the USA Today/Gallup poll. No less than 71 percent of Republicans said they would vote for her for president. That overwhelming majority isn’t just the “base” of the Republican Party that liberals and conservatives alike tend to ghettoize as a rump backwater minority. It is the party, or pretty much what remains of it in the Barack Obama era. That’s why Palin won’t go gently into the good night, much as some Republicans in Washington might wish. She is not just the party’s biggest star and most charismatic television performer; she is its only star and charismatic performer. Most important, she stands for a genuine movement: a dwindling white nonurban America that is aflame with grievances and awash in self-pity as the country hurtles into the 21st century and leaves it behind...

It’s more likely that she will never get anywhere near the White House, and not just because of her own limitations. The Palinist “real America” is demographically doomed to keep shrinking. But the emotion it represents is disproportionately powerful for its numbers. It’s an anger that Palin enjoyed stoking during her “palling around with terrorists” crusade against Obama on the campaign trail. It’s an anger that’s curdled into self-martyrdom since Inauguration Day.

Its voice can be found in the postings at a Web site maintained by the fans of Mark Levin, the Obama hater who is, at this writing, the No.2 best-selling hardcover nonfiction writer in America. (Glenn Beck is No.1 in paperback nonfiction.) Politico surveyed them last week. “Bottomline, do you know of any way we can remove these idiots before this country goes down the crapper?” wrote one Levin fan. “I WILL HELP!!! Should I buy a gun?” Another called for a new American revolution, promising “there will be blood.”

These are the cries of a constituency that feels disenfranchised — by the powerful and the well-educated who gamed the housing bubble, by a news media it keeps being told is hateful, by the immigrants who have taken some of their jobs, by the African-American who has ended a white monopoly on the White House. Palin is their born avatar. She puts a happy, sexy face on ugly emotions.

General Convention Update from the Spokane Deputation

Received this e-mail Thursday from Bob Runkle, a lay deputy to General Convention for the Diocese of Spokane from St. Luke's Coeur d'Alene, with permission to disseminate. It's a first person account of General Convention and the LGBT discussion.

Today I had the privilege of speaking twice on behalf of two legislative sessions dealing with issues impacting our GLBT and GLBTI members. My testimony was well received by the Chicago Consultation team, in particular by Ruth Meyers, Bonnie Perry and Gene Robinson. For the afternoon session, I was seated near the front of the auditorium and just before the testimony started, Gene Robinson came in and sat next to me. I spoke early in the session, and when I returned to my seat, he congratulated me on my statements. Afterwards, several people from the Chicago Consultation congratulated my on what I said.

Then later, Bonnie Perry called me twice and told me that I had to testify this evening when the B033 testimony process happened. I confirmed that would testify and was early to sign up. I again sat near the front, and just before the session started, Gene Robinson came and sat right behind me. This time he was second to speak, and was very eloquent. I spoke maybe tenth out of the 35+ speakers. When I returned to my seat, Gene Robinson squeezed my shoulder and thanked me. After the whole session was over, several people I didn't know thanked me for my statement.

Both sessions were recorded, maybe live TV (not sure) and there were several hundred people in the audience. The committees were probably 25+ in total both sessions - totally different members. Both the afternoon and evening sessions were filled with emotions, sad stories, talks about suicides, talks about 8 year old children worried because their rector told them their gay sibling was headed to hell because they were gay, talks by both gay and lesbian couples about being denied various rights of TEC because of their sexual orientation; people talking about how the wished the TEC would openly recognize them as full members of God's community. The ratio of pro speakers to con speakers was dramatic - probably 4-5 to 1 on the pro change side of the equation.

The biggest uncertainty is where the House of Bishops will decide later in the GC process. Some question whether the House of Deputies will support the change, but many feel that the House of Deputies will eventually go for change. Much less confidence that the Bishops will support the change. We'll just have to wait and see.

Two big other developments today. In the morning, the House of Deputies met as a Committee of the Whole, and openly discussed the Windsor process and the developments behind B-033, which was passed at the very end of the 2006 General Convention. Mary Beth and I were in Columbus, OH for that convention, and were on the floor of the House of Deputies during the process that led to the passage of B-033. This was a very emotional decision, sort of crammed into the last few hours of the process on the last day. The former Presiding Bishop (Griswold) and the incoming new Presiding Bishop Katherine, came to the House of Deputies with a plea for the House to pass B033 which had been passed by the House of Bishops. The House of Deputies had just defeated all related legislation - the two Presiding Bishops essentially convinced the House of Deputies that with Lambeth in the offing, the General Convention had to give Katherine some sort of message to take to Lambeth that responded to the requests and concern over Gene Robinson's election. Following the presentation of what had happened at the 2006 GC and at Lambeth, the each diocese's delegation to the House of Deputies was instructed to leave your own delegation and to address three questions: How has B033 affected you? How has B033 impacted your congregation/diocese? And what is God calling us to do regarding B033 now? The process took almost 45 minutes and everyone honestly and quietly took the questions to heart and spoke with their counterpart from another Diocese. I shared the process from a deputy from the Diocese of Michigan, who I think expected someone from Idaho and the Diocese of Spokane to be conservative - he rapidly found the contrary - and we learned quickly that our belief structures were similar.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Obama off to a slow start on executive power

I can't say I am all that thrilled with the President this week. Don't get me wrong, I am certainly pleased with his push for the climate change bill, his demands that Congress pay for the health care bill, and his focus on diplomacy and climate change at the G8 summit. It has not, however, been a good week for the third issue in my personal issue triumverate, executive power, an area where the President has fallen twice just this week.

(Note to Facebook readers: This is not a Facebook note, but an automatically imported post from my blog).

The first and more jarring story comes from The Hill, which reports that "The House rebuked President Obama for trying to ignore restrictions to international aid payments, voting overwhelmingly for an amendment forcing the administration to abide by its constraints." Apparently Obama attached a signing statement to an international aid bill declaring that while he was indeed signing the bill into law, he would ignore certain provisions in it that require restrictions on World Bank and IMF funding.

Signing statements are basically letters a president signs at the same time that he signs a bill. They can serve one of two purposes: One, to express gratitude or other such sentiments about the bill and the people who worked on it, or two, to express policy views on the bill itself, such as declaring that part of the bill is unconstitutional and that the president won't follow it. This second form of signing statement has two purposes: The first is basically an end-run around the checks and balances of a veto: I don't like this bill, but instead of risking Congress overturning my veto, I just won't follow the law. The second is to get the President's views into the official printed record in the hopes that a) the Courts will take his views of the bill's meaning into account alongside Congressional debate and b) indoctrinate the bureaucrats about how to execute the new law.

Bush used the second form of signing statements more than any other president in order to assert his executive authority, rejecting many Congressional bills and yet refusing to veto them. Thanks to Dick Cheney, he subscribed to the Reagan-era unitary executive theory, which basically says that only the president has authority over executive matters, and only Congress can touch legislative matters. The problem is, he labeled virtually everything as "executive." I consider this to be an unconstitutional legal theory given that it a) completely rejects everything about checks and balances and is b) based on a distorted reading of just two or three passages from the Federalist Papers and one line in the Constitution. (I did a 30-page research paper on signing statements in March '08. There is scant academic work on the issue - a fellow Dartmouth '09's honors thesis work on the subject may help fill a void - but Charlie Savage, now of the New York Times, brought the issue to public attention in 2005 with his Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reports for the Boston Globe.)

McCain took a stronger stand on signing statements during the campaign than did Obama, one of the few issues where I agreed with the former more. (And small wonder McCain feels that way - Bush once used a signign statement to effectively veto the McCain torture amendment.) That campaign issue has now become a governing issue, given Obama's initial refusal to enforce the World Bank and IMF restrictions that Congress had passed and he had signed into law. I don't know enough about economics to know whether or not those restrictions are a good thing, but given that they passed the House 429-2, I know that the approach, if not the position itself, is a direct slap in the face of the United States Constitution and a dangerous approach to executive power.

The second executive power issue of the week is the President's veto threat of the Intelligence Authorization Bill currently winding its way through Congress. According to the New York Times, the veto could come if the bill contains

a provision that would allow information about covert actions to be given to the entire House and Senate Intelligence Committees, rather than the so-called Gang of Eight — the Democratic and Republican leaders of both houses of Congress and the two Intelligence Committees. A White House statement released on Wednesday said the proposed expansion of briefings would undermine “a long tradition spanning decades of comity between the branches regarding intelligence matters.” Democrats have complained that under President George W. Bush, entire programs were hidden from most committee members for years.

I'm no intelligence expert, but I am inclined to disagree with the president here. I don't care much for Speaker Pelosi, but as she said last night on Rachel Maddow, how can we call the current set-up "oversight"?

MADDOW: You can‘t speak out about the content of what you have been briefed on. But isn‘t there a way that you can say, “I‘m a senior member of the house intelligence committee. I believe that we are doing something we ought not to be doing?”

PELOSI: You cannot do that publicly. And that‘s something that I think we have to change in terms of - because your hands are pretty much tied.

MADDOW: You think the rules should be changed in terms what members of the Oversight Committee can‘t fight.

PELOSI: Well, you know, who can you go to? You know, can you go to the chief justice of the Supreme Court? These are issues, mind you, that you can‘t even talk to your staff about. I have a security adviser, but you can‘t talk - you can‘t talk to anybody about it. And that just isn‘t right. That isn‘t right, because it gives all the cards to the administration. And then if you say anything about it, you have violated our national security, and it shouldn‘t be that way.

The real problem here, however, is the mindset, not the details. This "just trust president fill in the blank" approach (Keith Olbermann's words), when combined with the unconstitutional arrogance of the signing statement, indicates a very dangerous understanding of the balance of power on the president's part, former Constitutional Law professor or no. Like deficits, if it was wrong under Bush, it's wrong under Obama, and is certainly a scary direction for our country and its government.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Not Blogging GenCon09

I sure blogged a lot during last year's Lambeth Conference. That won't be the case with this year's General Convention. I am on vacation with my grandparents in Arizona as of yesterday, and get home the day before our diocesan deputation does same. I will definently blog some from here, but it probably won't be about GenCon, and it certainly won't be consistently about GenCon. All the other fabulous Episcopal bloggers from Kirstin to Mimi to James to Susan will take care of that, I am sure.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Sixty!

Al Franken is being sworn in as a United States Senator today. For more, we turn to cartoonist Joe Heller:


H/T Dave Oliveria.

And here, then, is the man who according to Fox News' Brian Kilmeade, is "an embarrassment to America," a "hateful character," "a clown of a person," and "maniacal by nature." To sum it all up, "He is an angry, evil person who wrote two hateful books. He is a bitter, partisan pundit without any depth to his character and the people of Minnesota have thrust him upon us."



For the record, speaking of those "two hateful books" (I wonder which of Franken's three political books Kilmeade didn't finde hateful?), I loved "Lies and the Lying Liars that Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right" but could have done without "Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot: And Other Observations." The first was well-researched political commentary with jokes and satire thrown in; the second was comedy with a side of politics. Funny, but not really worth the time it took to read. "Lies" was brilliant, though! I've seen few books better-researched.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Musical Monday: Naturally Seven

I'm just sayin': the combination of family and good friends, good conversation, good bourbon, good cigars, and a good movie make for a good evening. And now, for your generally-weekly Musical Monday selection. From NPR's Weekend Edition YouTube channel, members of the band "Naturally 7" show off their individual talents. To see them all come together, just search YouTube for "Naturally 7." The Paris subway clip is particularly a lot of fun.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Upholding blog stereotypes everywhere

So about that last post, the one about Sarah Palin... it's true... I am (momentarily) blogging from my parents' house, in my pajamas... but in my defense, since the wireless is currently down, it was written upstairs rather than in the basement!

Sarah Palin: Running in 2012, or just running for cover?

Why is Sarah Palin resigning almost two years before the end of her term in a move almost as shocking as Mark Sanford's downfall?

While I'm sure her stated family concerns are a legitimate worry of the admirably-doting mother, I will argue the following in this post: Palin's own quirkiness, ignorance and alternative reality; Alaskan politics; and the arguments of conservative pundits like Mary Matalin and William Kristol all suggest that Palin wants to run in 2012. This is not to say that she IS running. It is entirely possible, even likely, that she will write her books and give her speeches and then test the 2012 waters, only to discover that this move didn't play out the way she expected it to.

I'd like to believe her stated reasons for resigning, but they sound pretty thin: "Many [outgoing governors] just accept that lame-duck status, and they hit the road, they draw a paycheck, they kind of milk it. And I'm not going to put Alaskans through that." If one buys this reasoning, than all politicians who are not going to run for re-election should resign before their term is over, and that's a load of malarkey. Folks often complain that politicians are always running for re-election rather than governing, and now we're supposed to believe it's bad when they're not running? Moving along, her words about her son Trig were somewhat touching, and for perhaps only the second time in electoral politics I am slightly inclined to believe the family argument. But while I'm sure family is a real concern, it's clearly not the only thing on her mind, given that she also talked about helping her party in a new role. So what else is she thinking about?

The first thought that comes to mind for many is that, given how unorthodox and even bizarre this move is, perhaps a scandal is brewing and she's getting out of the way early. This is, for now, nothing more than a conspiracy theory. It might be logical, but there's no evidence to back it up, so I'm not going to play that game.

The second possibility is that she is preparing for a possible presidential bid in 2012. Pundits aren't so sure, arguing that the move may make such a run harder for her. I'll look at both sides of this debate and come down on the side of, she wants to run. Summing up the arguments of the nay-sayers is Politico's Jonathan Martin:

Many establishment GOP operatives and political commentators of various stripes were withering, both about the decision and the way she announced it — in a jittery, hyperkinetic news conference that rambled between self-congratulation and bitter accusations at the foes she says are eager to destroy her... Even if it's only the small stage of Alaska politics she hopes to escape, skeptics say Friday’s events also diminished and perhaps even demolished what was left of her viability as a 2012 presidential candidate...

And as Slate's John Dickerson reminds us, this also leaves her with less than three years as Governor, hardly a solid response to critics who say she has little to no experience. Finally, I would add that it makes little sense to resign office this early to prepare for a run. The shadow primary (small Iowa speeches, backroom discussions, fundraising, etc.) hasn't even really begun. The PAC and major speech portion won't start until after the 2010 midterms. Usually when someone resigns to run, it's with less than a year to go, not 3.5 years with 2.5 of them before the main event.

It is important, however, to remember this: Sarah Palin makes up her own rules, and then assumes that everybody else plays by them, too. She doesn't live in the same political world as the rest of us. To her, this move just might make 2012-sense. To respond to Dickerson's point that she has no real experience, she thinks she does. Remember that foreign policy crack about Putin rearing his head and coming into our airspace?

A pro-2012 argument I haven't really seen elsewhere is that her popularity in Alaska is sliding. Sure, a 54% approval rating ain't bad, but this is down drastically from a 2007 rating of over 90%, and doesn't compare very favorably with that of fellow-Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski's 76%. With a 35% drop already, where is the floor? Could it be as low as 40%? Unpopularity at home always makes national voters uneasy, and this move might be coming just in time to save that required hometown image.

Conservative pundits Mary Matalin and Bill Kristol (who is a, Palin's biggest backer, and b, a nitwit who never ceases to amaze me) both had good things to say about the resignation. According to the New York Times, "Mary Matalin, a top Republican consultant, called Ms. Palin’s move 'brilliant' although she said she was initially taken aback by the news. But she seconded the notion that the governor’s decision was smart in the sense that it will free her up, as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has been, to travel the country to make inroads with potential voters." The Weakly Standard's Kristol (or is it Kristol's Weakly Standard?) agrees:

She's freeing herself from the duties of the governorship. Now she can do her book, give speeches, travel the country and the world, campaign for others, meet people, get more educated on the issues - and without being criticized for neglecting her duties in Alaska. I suppose she'll take a hit for leaving the governorship early - but how much of one? She's probably accomplished most of what she was going to get done as governor, and is leaving a sympatico [sic] lieutenant governor in charge.

And haven't conservatives been lamenting the lack of a national leader? Well, now she'll try to be that.

As argued above, I don't buy the argument that leaving office this early helps a politician on the campaign trail (see: Hart 1988, Bradley 2000, Romney 2008, Edwards 2008), but clearly some do. Perhaps Palin, like Matalin and Kristol, is one of them. My conclusion, then, is that resigning now hurts Palin's 2012 chances, but that she still did it to help them.

Palin's repeated responses to any and all reporters who ask her harsh questions or criticize her shows me that she has the thinnest skin of any major politician right now. To be fair, many of the criticisms are over-the-top sensationalism, but a national figure has to expect that, and the tough questions about complex issues are only fair. And yet, this woman seems to believe that anyone who dares criticize or disagree with her is an unAmerican idiot. This narrow-minded arrogance will be her ultimate downfall. Although it is way too early to make such guesses, my own no-money-on-the-table-quite-yet prediction is that the Republican Party's nominee for president in 2012 will be Mitt Romney.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Putting Native ministries first

On the heels of my post highlighting several stories regarding Native Americans and Christianity comes this OpEd from the Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori. Titled "Learn About Native American Concerns," it chronicles her recent interactions with nations and tribes around the continent and concludes thusly:

I note several common themes in all of these conversations: self-determination for peoples whose cultural traditions and identities often have been suppressed or obliterated; the overwhelming poverty in many Native reservations and off the reservation; the resulting negative impacts on health, lifespan and what we insist God wills for us all – abundance of life; and the gifts of awareness of connection with creation that Native traditions and communities can offer to the wider church.

General Convention will present us with several opportunities to address these issues. I urge you to learn more – about residential schools, about reservation poverty and about the inculturation of the gospel.

Read the whole thing here.