Sunday, September 21, 2008

WSJ: "Why the Surge Worked"

The Wall Street Journal has an interview with retired 4-star general Jack Keene - the architect of "The Surge" in Iraq. It is an interesting read.

Keene is asked about why the surge worked, and what the current threats in Iraq still are. These are critical things to understand as whoever wins in November takes control of Iraq policy in January.

In late 2006, after the midterm election debacle for Republicans, pressure rose for a quick if dishonorable exit from Iraq. Gen. Keane met Frederick Kagan, who was putting together a report on an alternative strategy for Iraq at the American Enterprise Institute. On Dec. 11, both men found themselves at the White House to push the plan. Congress, the Joint Chiefs, Iraq commander Gen. George Casey and the Iraq Study Group all wanted a fast drawdown. President Bush ignored their advice. Gen. Petraeus was sent out in February to oversee the new, risky and politically unpopular surge.

Even Gen. Keane didn't expect the new strategy to work so fast. "It's a stunning turnaround, and I think people will study it for years because it's unparalleled in counterinsurgency practice," he says. "All the gains we've achieved against al Qaeda, the Sunni insurgency, the Iranians in the south are sustainable" -- a slight pause here -- "if we're smart about it and not let them regroup and get back into it."

Gen. Keane wants to make sure people understand why the surge worked. "I have a theory" about the unexpectedly fast turnaround, he says. "Whether they be Sunni, Shia or Kurd, anyone who was being touched by that war after four years was fed up with it. And I think once a solution was being provided, once they saw the Americans were truly willing to take risks and die to protect their women and children and their way of life, they decided one, to protect the Americans, and two, to turn in the enemies that were around them who were intimidating and terrorizing them; that gave them the courage to do it."
For the future, he noted some items:
  1. Gen. Keane still considers a robust American ground force "the secret to success" in Iraq.:
    "It is a myth for people to assert that by pulling away from the Iraqis, by pulling away from the Iraqi political process, that somehow that becomes a catalyst to do things that they would not do because of our presence. That is fundamentally wrong. It is our presence that is helping Iraqis move forward."
  2. helping the Sunnis back into the political system.

  3. Sectarian tensions remain a worry:
    "It appears that Maliki is using the guise of security to enhance his political base and to diminish his political opponents," says Gen. Keane, citing the Baquba incident. "That is a danger and that is something we should not tolerate."
  4. Another potential threat looms from Iran.
    Iran wants a weak Iraqi central government unaligned with America. "We know that they intend to come back on the kinetic side, attack U.S. forces exclusively with less attacks, but more spectacular. I don't believe for a minute they're going to be able to resurge and be successful as long as we stay on top of it, keep our head in the game, maintain our force presence in the south."
This is a discussion (outside of tanning beds in the Alaska Governor's mansion) that folks need to have. The vision for how American policy will evolve in Iraq is critical to the Presidential race - since Commander in Chief is one of, if not the, the President's most important jobs. Indeed, as Keene points out:
"Despite the fact that President Bush did preside over a strategy that was failing for three plus years, and he has been criticized for that," says Gen. Keane, "he also deserves a significant amount of credit because all around him people were advocating a failed strategy, particularly key leaders around him, and he had the wherewithal to make a tough decision that flew certainly in the face of political opposition even in his own party."

Read more!

Bible in a Year:
Week of September 21st

Many people have simply never read the Bible from cover to cover; and yet many people have many opinions about what is there. The first time I read it through the actual scope and flow of the Word became apparent - the underlying plan and it's unfolding.

The idea is that over the years this resource can grow as folks add their own comments, links to commentaries and other tools, etc in the comments to this index.

  1. Do you have a viewpoint on a particular piece of scripture? Go to that place and leave a comment.
  2. Heard or read a great sermon on a section of scripture? Link the audio file or text in the comments.
  3. The possibilities are many.

9/21: Amos 5:1-9:10; D: 1 Maccabees 11

9/22: Amos 9:11-Micah 1:7; D: 1 Maccabees 11

9/23: Micah 1:8-7:7; D: 1 Maccabees 11

9/24: Micah 7:8-Habakkuk 2:1; D: 1 Maccabees 11

9/25: Habakkuk 2:2-Zephaniah 3:20; D: 1 Maccabees 12

9/26: Haggai 1:1-Zechariah 3:10; D: 1 Maccabees 12

9/27: Zechariah 4:1-9:8; D: 1 Maccabees 12

Things to look for each day:
  1. Lessons to be learned
  2. Examples to be followed
  3. Promises to be enjoyed
  4. Jesus to be revealed
A good journaling question: How will I be different today because of what I have just read?

Next Week: Week of September 28th
Index to whole series

Read more!

Monday, September 15, 2008

What about Sarah Palin?

I have spent a lot of time the last week dealing with some of the outrageous stuff thrown at Sarah Palin in the first week of her addition to McCain's ticket. The reason for that is both simple and complex:

  • I had said that McCain's running mate was going to matter more than Obama's because of his age.
  • Just as when I defended Hillary Clinton - I have this streak of chivalry. What can I say: I am old-fashioned.
  • Whatever the supporter's of Barack Obama want to say - the level of sexism, crudity, and distortion unleashed on Sarah Palin was unprecedented in my experience.
So, where do I stand on Sarah Palin after this first flurry; and hopefully as we begin to have her confronted on her positions rather than her person.

Earmarks: this is a non-issue to me.
  • Her requests for earmarks both as Mayor of Wasilla and Governor of Alaska were not that extreme.
  • Earmarks are not necessarily "pork" - and at least the Wasilla earmarks were rational and necessary to upgrade their infrastructure - and it is smaller units like Wasilla who most need Federal and state help
  • No candidate in the Presidential race has any ground to stand on in regards to earmarks except John McCain - both Barack Obama and Joe Biden have been deeply involved in using the earmark system in congress.
  • Finally, she did kill the Bridge to Nowhere. Yes, Congress said the money no longer had to be spent on the bridge - but Alaska still got the money (only not tied to a specific project). If she really supported the bridge - nothing kept her from building it anyway. She used the money she could have used for the bridge for other projects. Again, her explanation is just fine with me.

Troopergate (and general management style): this is a problem. I am waiting for more to surface - especially in Alaska. Palin's explanation was "reasonable" - and the state police chief has been quoted all over the map - but it makes me nervous. I have a sense that she attempted to pressure Monegan to fire the ex-brother-in-law; and I think that was only partly personal - the trooper should have been fired (but Palin only knew his history because he was family at one point). The same is true of the library issue - "reasonable" explanation but unsettling nevertheless. On this last, the made up list of books didn't help her critics case - if there is really something there you shouldn't have to "embellish" your story with a fabricated list.

I do not have any problem with her firing folks because they are not loyal - especially because they were in a small town. As to hiring old friends, those folk's supervisors have said they were qualified to do the job. There is a bunch here that makes me nervous - and that I will be watching - but nothing that "kills her" in my mind (yet).

Experience (especially foreign policy): There are so many double-standards floating around in this category I hardly know where to start. Barack Obama has no foreign policy experience, and indeed his experience as a state Senator in Illinois and as a US Senator doesn't impress me at all. He spent most of his time in those offices running for higher office - and has not shown a particularly good record of bills authored, committees run, etc. to impress me with his job performance as a legislator. Barack Obama is not a "heartbeat away from the Presidency" - he would be the President. Joe Biden has spent his life in the Senate - a group I think has really done squat for a while. Sarah Palin only palls in comparison to them if I factor in John McCain's age. Otherwise, she is just fine as a Vice-President - indeed I think Barack Obama is not qualified right now to be more than Vice-President (if that - maybe he should prove he can be a good Senator first. Or, perhaps run for Mayor in Chicago).

Sarah Palin's job performance in encouraging growth and modernization in Wasilla, battling corruption in her own party and Alaska in general, and pushing through projects like the natural gas pipeline (against the wishes of "big oil") are impressive. She has more executive branch experience than Biden, Obama, and McCain put together - and a better quality of experience if you want someone willing to "buck the system" and be a reformer. Again though, she seems to have that "bull in the china shop" style reformers bucking the system tend to have: insular, concerned about loyalty, and perhaps a bit paranoid - or at least intensely aware folks were "trying to get her".

Separation of Church and State: The "God's will" stuff has just been c--p. As someone said, praying for direction for our leaders so that out policies follow God's will is just "Christianity 101".

In office, she has not been a religious ideologue. Period. Again, the distortions oft repeated about her being a "creationist" who wants to teach it in the schools is nonsense - as well as all the other distortions of they way her religion affects her policies as an executive. Barack Obama's use of religious imagery has been just as high as Palin's - and she has been an executive so we can see how she has carried out secular executive duties. She has done just fine IMO.

The biggest proof of this is her veto of a bill passed by a Republican legislature blocking benefits for gay partners of state employees. Even though she doesn't believe in gay marriage, she vetoed the bill because it violated the state constitution in her opinion. She chose the constitution over the Bible and her religious beliefs.

She also increased the funding for a program for unwed mothers by 350%.

Iraq: Nothing to say here really except that she has a personal investment - the life of her son - that the other candidates do not have. That counts for something. McCain is my choice on Iraq policy over Obama - he was a lonely supporter of "The Surge" - the strategy that worked to turn the war around in favor of the Iraqis. Even those that said it would never work have had to admit that it worked. At this point, no Democrat could get my vote if Iraq were the only gauge of that vote. If Obama and Biden want my vote, based on Iraq, they are going to have to be very concrete about what more they will change - and how that matches our obligations to the Iraqi government and people.

Abortion: she did nothing as Governor or Mayor to forward her opposition to abortion as government policy. Certainly, if she were President I would assume she would appoint Supreme Court justices that would overturn Roe (although in view of Casey that would be largely symbolic); and, IMO, President Bush did not appoint Supremes committed to overturning Roe even though he said he would.

I am always in that perpetual quandary about whether I think control over abortion should return to the states, or stay with the Feds. The conservative in me says "states"; and the pragmatist says "Feds". I have a problem with abortion becoming the defining issue in every state election for the next 30 years - as it is now at the Federal level. I think that is the reason, rhetoric aside, that President Bush did not pick justices committed to overturning Roe to the Supreme Court. Frankly, I do not think abortion will ever be removed by law in the US - and I think it is a distraction for pro-life folk to be working on making it illegal rather than doing the real person-to-person, heart-to-heart work of making it unchosen.

All that said, abortion will not be a determining factor in who I vote for for President - unless they make it clear that they want increased Federal control over the states in this area. That would include any support for any federal law, or amendment, that would further remove control of abortion from the states - either pro-life or pro-choice. However, that is true of every issue.

Bottom line: At this point, I think Sarah Palin is probably "more qualified" to be President than Barack Obama - at least on an experience level. She has certainly done more than any of the other three to actually counter and change an entrenched system. McCain and Biden have years in the Senate -- but that in itself isn't really a qualification to me. I do not really think the Senate, in general, has done much to make itself look good in the last 8 years (or more).

However, I want more concretes on actual policy positions away from all the character, personality, and experience "stuff". None of their characters turn me off, none have experience I really think "qualifies" them for the job of President, and they all seem OK on a personal level.

Let's talk about issues now - shall we?

Read more!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Bible in a Year:
Week of September 14th

Many people have simply never read the Bible from cover to cover; and yet many people have many opinions about what is there. The first time I read it through the actual scope and flow of the Word became apparent - the underlying plan and it's unfolding.

The idea is that over the years this resource can grow as folks add their own comments, links to commentaries and other tools, etc in the comments to this index.

  1. Do you have a viewpoint on a particular piece of scripture? Go to that place and leave a comment.
  2. Heard or read a great sermon on a section of scripture? Link the audio file or text in the comments.
  3. The possibilities are many.

9/14: Daniel 4:1-6:28; D: 1 Maccabees 9

9/15: Daniel 7:1-9:27; D: 1 Maccabees 9

9/16: Daniel 10:1-Hosea 1:1; D: 1 Maccabees 9

9/17: Hosea 1:2-5:15; D: 1 Maccabees 10

9/18: Hosea 6:1-11:11; D: 1 Maccabees 10

9/19: Hosea 11:12-Joel 2:27; D: 1 Maccabees 10

9/20: Joel 2:28-Amos 4:13; D: 1 Maccabees 10

Things to look for each day:
  1. Lessons to be learned
  2. Examples to be followed
  3. Promises to be enjoyed
  4. Jesus to be revealed
A good journaling question: How will I be different today because of what I have just read?

Next Week: Week of August 21st
Index to whole series

Read more!

Friday, September 12, 2008

False Witness:
Kirsten Powers on ABC Palin Interview

Kirsten Powers says something in her New York Post article I agree with - because obviously I have been saying about the same thing.

In her article - "ABC'S Bungles: Botches mar Palin Interview" her intro says:

At times, Palin seemed to know less than she should. On the other hand, Gibson sometimes seemed to "know" things that just aren't so.

Her responses to Gibson's cross-examining seemed canned and rehearsed, a little like the answers you might give in a tough college interview. But that may be a result of the ham-fisted editing - which seemed to cut her off mid-thought on many answers. ABC should release the entire, unedited interview, so that Americans can judge her more fairly.

The biggest concern is that she appeared to not know what the Bush Doctrine is. There are, in fact, different definitions of it - but all have had an impact on this nation. One hopes Palin is more up to speed than she seemed.

Of course, she needs to be questioned on many issues - but this interview left us with little new information about her.
She continues:
her answers last night are already being misrepresented. She said - quite correctly - that, if Georgia and Ukraine are admitted to NATO, the United States may be obliged to defend them. This has been morphed into an assertion that we might invade Russia. And ABC News bears much of the blame: It actually sent out a pre-broadcast alert to that effect.

So now we can play this stupid game, pretending she wants to invade Russia instead of debating real issues.
Exactly my point in my recent series of posts. The issue here is what US policy should be toward the admission of Georgia and Ukraine to NATO - since we may be obliged to defend them if they are admitted. Now we will get to discuss Sarah Palin's and/or McCain's bloodlust to invade another country.
ABC's errors didn't end there. The interview seemed to show a lack of good faith, with the blatant misrepresentation of comments she's made about the Iraq war.

Gibson - probably relying on a sloppy Associated Press report - told Palin she has said that, "Our national leaders, are sending [U.S. soldiers] out on a task that is from God."

In a part of the interview that was edited out (but is available on ABC's Web site), Palin says, "You know, I don't know if that was my exact quote."

Gibson snaps: "Exact words."

Sorry, Charlie - let's go to the tape.

In the video of her remarks, Palin says "Pray for our military men and women who are striving to do what is right. Also, for this country, that our leaders, our national leaders, are sending [US soldiers] out on a task that is from God." She is clearly praying for wisdom for our national leaders - praying that they are following God's will.

This is Christianity 101, not some fundamentalist plot to wage a holy war. Presumably, Obama, as a Christian, utters similar prayers for our country as well.

There's more: Gibson also accused her of saying of Iraq, "There is a plan and that that plan is God's plan."

Here's what she really said: "That's what we have to make sure that we're praying for, that there is a plan and that that plan is God's plan."

Despite Gibson's insistance that she'd said things that she clearly hadn't, Palin was polite and seemed unrattled.

We need to get beyond the stereotypes. Palin has been cast as a right-wing nut job in the media, yet her actual record suggests something more complex. She is a Republican who made herself the enemy of oil companies in Alaska. She raised funding for pregnant teens and learning-disabled children. She has expressed concern that we don't have a clear strategy in Iraq.

But she also was mayor of Wasilla at a time when women were charged for rape kits - we need an explanation why. And what of her opposition to abortion even in the case of rape or incest? Is that a personal position, or does she seek to impose it on all Americans? And, even if no books were banned in the Wasilla library, why did she inquire as to how the librarian would react if they were?

There are real questions that Americans need to hear Palin answer. But they're ill-served by the game the media has played so far. Rather than real insights into this woman, we get exchanges that will lead to arguments about whether she's a religious fanatic - arguments based on a comment she never made.

This is completely destructive to the public debate.
Exactly! I even agree with the issues I think Palin should explain - although the "troopergate" issue is not on her list and it is on mine. There is more on the rape kit issue though. The statement the Wasilla police chief, Fannon, made that has been reported as:
Wasilla Police Chief Charlie Fannon does not agree with the new legislation, saying the law will require the city and communities to come up with more funds to cover the costs of the forensic exams.

In the past we've charged the cost of exams to the victims insurance company when possible. I just don't want to see any more burden put on the taxpayer, Fannon said.

According to Fannon, the new law will cost the Wasilla Police Department approximately $5,000 to $14,000 a year to collect evidence for sexual assault cases.
continued [HT: Amanda Carpenter]:
Ultimately it is the criminal who should bear the burden of the added costs, Fannon said.

The forensic exam is just one part of the equation. Id like to see the courts make these people pay restitution for these things, Fannon said.

Fannon said he intends to include the cost of exams required to collect evidence in a restitution request as a part of a criminals sentencing.
He did not say the victim should pay - he said the cost should be passed on to the rapist as part of the restitution in the case. Incidentally, Fannon's axe:
Palin appointed Fannon as police chief in 1997. His predecessor was fired by Palin over his willingness to limit the town’s bar operating hours. Fannon was one of three candidates considered for the job and the City Council confirmed him in a 5-0 vote.

Palin later tangled with Fannon when he ran for Wasilla’s mayoral office during her gubernatorial race. Fannon created campaign ads containing a false endorsement from Palin. Palin did not support Fannon for mayor. She supported his rival, Curt Menard.

Read more!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

False Witness
Parableman: "Palin Derangement Syndrome"

From Jeremy Pierce:

I think the only way to describe what's going on with Sarah Palin is that Bush Derangement Syndrome has now been transferred to Palin. There's no other way to explain how such blatant misrepresentation and distortion could so consistently and comprehensively turn so many of her views and actions into something completely different (even leaving aside the deeply insulting personal remarks, rumor mongering, and sexist double-standards).
I do not think this has quite reached the soul-twisting hatred directed at the Bush Administration -- only Nixon Derangement Syndrome came close to that; but the shotgun attack from her political opponents (trying to find something that sticks) is about as bad as I have ever seen -- ever.

Now, it may be that the plethora of lies, half-truths, and distortions will actually help the Democratic ticket win in November. Or, it may be that some of the largely transparent nonsense will actually backfire -- especially (PC Alert) since folks are "picking on a girl". Certainly, it is working that way with me. As I hear "stuff" that I know sounds "too bad to be true" -- and research it for myself -- I am finding out that I like Sarah Palin more and more. This is most true when I here about her religious beliefs - and I know they do not match the churches she attends.

Jeremy is happy though:
I'm glad someone has put together a numbered list of these myths, because so many of them have been perpetuated by major news organizations that I find myself repeating myself over and over. Directing someone to this site and a number in the list will be much easier.
I agree, that will be useful. Jeremy picked a few highlights (1,23,37,38,50,66) but he is right:
you've got to read it yourself to see some of the crazy rumors, especially 8 and 10. I'm not sure what 22 is doing on the list, but I had a similar response to 21.
Jeremy has also done the work every Christian voter should do when faced by something that seems extreme. Remember, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, John McCain, and Sarah Palin have been "vetted" by voters in a number of elections prior to this one - they are probably not loony "snake handlers". If something makes you go "Why would anyone vote for someone who [believed, did, voted for] something like that?", then most likely you need to check out both sides of the story -- they probably didn't [believe, do, vote for] something like that. You are most likely being fed a half-truth or outright lie.

So, what did Jeremy do when he read a story on the AP --"Palin church promotes converting gays" -- that started with this paragraph:
Gov. Sarah Palin's church is promoting a conference that promises to convert gays into heterosexuals through the power of prayer.
He did what any self-respecting informed voter does -- he went to the website of the conference organizer, Focus on the Family, and looked up the conference. This is what the website says about Love Won Out:
Are you here to "cure" gays? Absolutely not. The only time you'll ever hear the word "cure" used in relation to our event is by those who oppose Love Won Out. They also like to claim we want to "fix" or "convert" gays and lesbians and that we believe people can "pray away the gay." Such glib characterizations ignore the complex series of factors that can lead to same-sex attractions; they also mischaracterize our mission. We exist to help men and women dissatisfied with living homosexually understand that same-sex attractions can be overcome. It is not easy, but it is possible, as evidenced by the thousands of men and women who have walked this difficult road successfully.

But your goal is still to make gays straight, right? That is a gross and narrow oversimplification. We aren't here to "make" anybody do or become anything; we are here to offer a biblical and experiential perspective on the issue of homosexuality that is, sadly, underreported in the mainstream media. Our goals include aiding parents who want to learn how to better love their sons or daughters without compromising their faith; helping people who want to better understand the many factors that can lead to someone adopting a homosexual identity; and assisting those who struggle with unwanted same-sex attractions and want to discover how they might also start upon the path ― a difficult path, as noted above ― to overcoming those desires.

Do you believe homosexuality is a choice? We do not believe anyone chooses his or her same-sex attractions. We concur with the American Psychological Association's position that homosexuality is likely developmental in nature and caused by a "complex interaction of environmental, cognitive and biological factors" ( We would also agree with the American Psychiatric Association when it states "some people believe that sexual orientation is innate and fixed; however, sexual orientation develops across a person's lifetime." If you ever hear us use the word "choice," it is in relation to men and women who struggle with unwanted same-sex attractions choosing to steward their impulses in a way that aligns with their faith convictions.
As Jeremy points out (but not about me), that is exactly what I sought when I was confronted with a scriptural, and spiritual, direction to be celibate. He is also right that Rachel D'Oro's failure to even do a little bit of research on her story makes it largely a partisan hit-piece - and not journalism on any level.

Now, many (if not most) gays will find plenty to argue with in the quote above - and at least then they will be arguing against a real, and not a straw, man. If someone really wanted to argue against the real Palin, instead of a straw woman, they would factor into their concepts of how she views the separation of church and state (and it's relation to gay rights) the following largely ignored fact:
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin vetoed a bill Thursday that sought to block the state from giving health benefits to the same-sex partners of public employees, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

In the first veto of her new administration, Palin said she rejected the bill as unconstitutional despite her disagreement with a state Supreme Court order that directed the state to offer the benefits.

"Signing this bill would be in direct violation of my oath of office," Palin said in a written statement Thursday night. --
This is not to say that she supports same-sex benefits -- she says she doesn't. What it says is that on a volatile issue she followed the dictates of the Alaska constitution and rejected a bill passed by her own party in the Alaska legislature; and
While the previous administration did not implement same-sex benefits, Palin complied with a state Supreme Court order and signed them into law.[28]
That is a very positive statement about her views of executive branch responsibilities in it's relationship with both the legislative and judicial branches.

Jeremy has also confronted the "Palin is a creationist" lie as well in his "Palin and Evolution" post . It is well-researched and presented.

Read more!

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Life You've Always Wanted
An Undivided Life Part I

[Number twenty-four in a series]

I am beginning to look at Chapter 11 ("An Undivided Life: The Practice of Reflection on Scripture") of John Ortberg's The Life You've Always Wanted. The study questions are from the back of the book, and were written by Kevin G. Harney.

The book is about spiritual disciplines. The most important thing I have gotten from the book about spiritual disciplines in general is that we should not do them just so we can check them off a list. They are not a barometer of spirituality or a way to earn favor with God. They are a way to enable the transformation God wants to make in your life.

Small-Group Discussion Questions:

  1. Please read:
    A whole department of the federal government, the Food and Drug Administration, is charged with monitoring and protecting the purity of what we eat. But our standards of purity are not always what we might hope. Here are the federal guidelines of purity for a few familiar products:

    Apple butter: If the mold count is 12 percent or more, if it averages 4 rodent hairs per 100 grams or more, if it averages 5 or more whole insects (not counting mites, aphids, or scale insects) per 100 grams, the FDA will pull it from the shelves. Otherwise, it will go right onto your English muffins.

    Coffee beans: (Caffeine addicts beware!) Coffee beans will get withdrawn from the market if an average of 10 percent or more are insect-infested or if there is one live insect in each of 2 or more immediate containers. (The FDA says people just don't like getting too many live insects with their coffee beans-one container is okay, but with more than that we draw the line.)

    Mushrooms: Mushrooms can't be sold if there is an average of 20 or more maggots of any size per 15 grams of dried mushrooms.

    Fig paste: If there are more than 13 insect heads per 100 grams of fig paste in each of 2 or more subsamples, the FDA ruthlessly tosses the whole batch. (Apparently other insect body parts are tolerable, but we don't want to be staring at too many insect heads.)

    Hot dogs: You don't want to know about it.
    • How do you feel when you realize that these are the real standards for the food you buy at the local grocery store?

    • If there was an organization like the FDA that established national standards for moral and spiritual purity, what might these standards look like?

  2. Watch video clip. It's message is that life should be centered on "one thing".
    • When you look around you, what are some examples of the "One Thing" people seem to be seeking?
    • Why is it deeply important that we pick the right "One Thing"?

  3. Read:
    Romans 7:14 For we know that the law is spiritual – but I am unspiritual, sold into slavery to sin. 15 For I don’t understand what I am doing. For I do not do what I want – instead, I do what I hate. 16 But if I do what I don’t want, I agree that the law is good. 17 But now it is no longer me doing it, but sin that lives in me. 18 For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For I want to do the good, but I cannot do it. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but I do the very evil I do not want! 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer me doing it but sin that lives in me.
    • Describe the condition of the apostle Paul's heart in this passage.
    • Describe a time you felt the way Paul feels in this passage.

  4. When defining multiplicity, the author gives three examples:
    1. "We desire both intimacy with God and we flee from it.
    2. We long to be generous, but we also hoard and covet.
    3. We sometimes attempt to be servants and sometimes are driven by arrogance and self-serving.

    What are some other areas of multiplicity followers of Christ can face?

  5. Read:
    Ephesians 5:25 . . . just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her 26 to sanctify her by cleansing her with the washing of the water by the word, 27 so that he may present the church to himself as glorious – not having a stain or wrinkle, or any such blemish, but holy and blameless.
    Tell about a time when you experienced a spiritual washing as you studied God's Word. How did God bring cleansing and refreshment to your life through his Word?

  6. Read:
    2 Timothy 3:16 Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work.
    What are some of the specific kinds of work God can do in our lives through study of his Word, and how have you experienced one of these in the past month?

    • Why are a repentant spirit and a soft heart essential when we read the Scriptures?
    • What are some of the dangers when a person reads the Bible simply to accumulate knowledge?

  7. What is one passage in the Bible that has sunk deep into your heart and how has this portion of Scripture brought transformation to your life?

Read more!

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Bible in a Year:
Week of September 7th

Many people have simply never read the Bible from cover to cover; and yet many people have many opinions about what is there. The first time I read it through the actual scope and flow of the Word became apparent - the underlying plan and it's unfolding.

The idea is that over the years this resource can grow as folks add their own comments, links to commentaries and other tools, etc in the comments to this index.

  1. Do you have a viewpoint on a particular piece of scripture? Go to that place and leave a comment.
  2. Heard or read a great sermon on a section of scripture? Link the audio file or text in the comments.
  3. The possibilities are many.

9/7: Ezekiel 32:1-34:31; D: 1 Maccabees 6

9/8: Ezekiel 35:1-37:28; D: 1 Maccabees 7

9/9: Ezekiel 38:1-40:37; D: 1 Maccabees 7

9/10: Ezekiel 40:38-43:27; D: 1 Maccabees 7

9/11: Ezekiel 44:1-46:24; D: 1 Maccabees 8

9/12: Ezekiel 47:1-Daniel 1:21; D: 1 Maccabees 8

9/13: Daniel 2:1-3:30; D: 1 Maccabees 9

Things to look for each day:

  1. Lessons to be learned
  2. Examples to be followed
  3. Promises to be enjoyed
  4. Jesus to be revealed
A good journaling question: How will I be different today because of what I have just read?

Next Week: Week of August 21st
Index to whole series

Read more!

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

False Testimony
The Wasilla Earmarks

Someone pointed out this article from the Washington Post: "Palin's Small Alaska Town Secured Big Federal Funds":

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin employed a lobbying firm to secure almost $27 million in federal earmarks for a town of 6,700 residents while she was its mayor, according to an analysis by an independent government watchdog group.
I am a fiscal conservative. I believe that - to the highest degree possible - things should be organized, and paid for, at the lowest level of government possible. It is part of my belief in subsidiarity:
One of the key principles of Catholic social thought is known as the principle of subsidiarity. This tenet holds that nothing should be done by a larger and more complex organization which can be done as well by a smaller and simpler organization. In other words, any activity which can be performed by a more decentralized entity should be. This principle is a bulwark of limited government and personal freedom. It conflicts with the passion for centralization and bureaucracy characteristic of the Welfare State.

This is why Pope John Paul II took the “social assistance state” to task in his 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus. The Pontiff wrote that the Welfare State was contradicting the principle of subsidiarity by intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility. This “leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending.”
One of my criticisms of the Bush administration is that they have spent "like a drunken sailor on shore leave": more massively than any administration in US history. Indeed, it is difficult for me not to laugh when folks talk about the Bush administration cutting social service spending - no administration has ever spent more by any gauge.

However, subsidiarity doesn't mean that higher levels of government do not exist, or that they do not need to collect and spend money in support of lower levels of government. The principle is that lowest possible level of government should do the work and raise the money - the one closest to those served. Sarah Palin, as a mayor of Wasilla and Governor of Alaska, has supported this idea - saying that Wasilla, or Alaska, should attempt to do what it needs to do without higher levels of funding.

Higher levels of funding are necessary though. There are issues that cannot be resolved by a single city, or a single state. There are necessary and important improvements that a smaller entity may not be able to afford. Believing that spending should occur at the lowest level does not mean that all higher spending is necessarily wrong. Indeed, this comparison in the Washington Post article seems to me exactly wrong:
In fiscal year 2002, Wasilla took in $6.1 million in earmarks -- about $1,000 in federal money for every resident. By contrast, Boise, Idaho -- which has more than 190,000 residents -- received $6.9 million in earmarks in fiscal 2008.
A city of 190,000 should be better able to "pay its own way" and receive less Federal or state funding than a city of 6,000. Right? Also, I haven't looked into why the shift in years for the comparison - what did Boise get in 2002? If they picked on Portland, OR during the years when we have received the bulk of the funding for the Light Rail projects, our numbers might approach a billion. Finally, Boise has existed and been building infrastructure a lot longer than Wasilla - or indeed Alaska. That is one of those ways half-truths are hatched.

What is an "earmark"? The article says:
federal spending sought by members of Congress to benefit specific projects
That is technically correct; but fails to identify the real problem with earmarks. Barack Obama identified the problem as he teamed up with Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, and John McCain to call for an end to earmarks (at least until the election):
"We can no longer accept a process that doles out earmarks based on a member of Congress' seniority, rather than the merit of the project," Obama said in a statement. "We can no longer accept an earmarks process that has become so complicated to navigate that a municipality or non-profit group has to hire high-priced D.C. lobbyists to do it." [Notice that Obama just explained why Wasilla had to hire a lobbyist]
Earmarks are line items inserted directly by members of Congress into legislation - typically large bills. This is not a reference to spending by executive department branches as part of their granting process. The problem with earmarks is:
On paper, earmarks are intended to go through a public process. Lawmakers recognize needs which exist in their respective states or districts, and submit a written request to the appropriate congressional subcommittee asking for the panel’s support. In reality, however, earmarks are often not judged on their merit. Rather, earmarks are typically handed out as favors in exchange for votes on key pieces of legislation by party leaders and appropriations chairmen.

In addition, earmarks are rarely considered by the entire U.S. House of Representatives or U.S. Senate during the construction of a bill. Rather, they are often added during the conference phase, which is when House and Senate leaders meet to iron-out the differences in their respective pieces of legislation on a particular issue. Following the conference, both houses must approve the legislation again, but if a member wishes to oppose a particular earmark, he/she must vote against the entire bill in order to do so. Given that most earmarks are inserted into massive pieces of legislation which fund the federal government, members of Congress are often reluctant to oppose them simply over an earmark. In addition, through the process of logrolling, members often agree to support a bill with another’s earmark in exchange for the same treatment. The result is bills with hundreds, if not thousands, of specifically-directed funding projects. Thomas A. Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste, said that 98 percent of earmarks to appropriations bills in 2005 were added in the conference phase.
Earmarks have been defended:
In 2001, Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.) argued that politicians know better than federal agencies how to properly spend money for higher education. He stated, “Nobody knows their constituents or their academic institutions or their programs better than the members of the House or the Senate who represent these organizations...We are in a better position to evaluate the merits of these programs than any executive agency.
Again, the distinction is Congressperson directed spending and not executive branch directed spending -- and really about largely unexamined spending. So, let's look at that list in the first linked article:
A sampling of the 14 earmarks, totaling $26.9 million, directed to the city of Wasilla from 2000 through 2003. Sarah Palin was mayor from 1996 to 2002.
  • $1.9 million for the Wasilla Intermodal Transit Project, to realign rail and bus routes to increase use of public transit in the region. First, this was not an earmark - it was a grant from an executive branch agency - the US Department of the Transportation. Second, it was built in Fairbanks and not Wasilla:
    The Alaska Railroad Corporation will use the $1.9 million grant to build the new intermodal facility to accommodate future expansion and tourism growth . . . “We understand that transportation plays a key role in the economy of Fairbanks . . . The new location is easily accessed from downtown Fairbanks and the airport . . . Major construction is scheduled to be completed in April 2005 with passenger operations set to begin in mid-May. Final completion of the center, including exterior landscaping is expected in July 2005 and will serve passengers arriving from and departing to Denali National Park and Preserve, Talkeetna, Wasilla and Anchorage.
    One down

  • $500,000 for Kids Are People Inc., an emergency shelter for youths transitioning out of juvenile detention facilities. This was an earmark - and you will find it on page 8 of the linked PDF. And, it was actually built in Wasilla. One up.

  • $15 million for a rail project to connect Wasilla with Girdwood, the home town of Sen. Ted Stevens (R). That was the cutest rhetorical trick here. Do you think Stevens is the only resident? This little chunk of railroad is part of this overall plan to solve commuter and recreational traffic problems between Anchorage and the Mat-Su borough - home of 57,000 people of whom 35% commute into Anchorage:
    Wasilla is located in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough in south-central Alaska on the (Anchorage to Fairbanks) Parks Highway. Located 43 miles north of Anchorage, Wasilla (and the Mat-Su Valley) is among the fastest growing regions in Alaska. Wasilla . . . is located alongside the Alaska Railroad mainline which stretches from Fairbanks to Anchorage, and then on to Seward.

    Population growth has been rapidly shifting from Anchorage to the Mat-Su Borough over the past 15 years. The population growth in the Borough is partly attributable to the lack of affordable housing and developable land for new residential land tracts in Anchorage. The Mat-Su Borough gained more than 20,000 new residents between 1990 and 2000. The 2000 census states Mat-Su’s population at 59,322, up from 39,683 in 1990, and 17,816 in 1980.

    The majority of people live in the southern part of the Mat-Su Borough (the Mat-Su Valley) within about an hour drive time of the Anchorage metropolitan area. The two largest towns in the Mat-Su Borough are Palmer and Wasilla, each with a current population of roughly 5,000 residents. The “Core-Area” of the Mat-Su Valley is largely residential. Approximately 35% of the employed labor force commutes south to Anchorage on a daily basis

    . . .Direct road access to and from Anchorage through Wasilla came with the construction of the Parks Highway in the early 1970s. This development enabled Anchorage workers and their families to live in the Wasilla area, and commute each day to the city for employment. Support and service industries began to expand to meet the needs of new residents. The City of Wasilla incorporated in 1974, and has developed as the retail and commercial hub of the central Mat-Su Borough.

    Land use patterns have been largely shaped by the early development of the rail and highway corridor. As Wasilla grew, it grew linearly along the rail/highway corridor. As the population increased, demand for north-south crossings of the rail/highway corridor also increased. When the population was small, these crossings were not a problem. With the community’s rapid expansion over the past 15 years, however, the growing population and roadway traffic has overburdened the road network and increased the traffic crossing the highway and railroad as well as the traffic running along these major corridors. The increasing cross traffic (road and pedestrian) coupled with increasing through traffic causes safety concerns for at-grade crossing of both rail and highway facilities. Recreational land development north of Wasilla increased through traffic dramatically and now presents its own problems burdening local traffic pattern. The growth and inefficient layout of the road network exacerbates conditions.

    To deal with the growing traffic problems, the State has embarked on an aggressive road construction program in the area. The state’s emphasis on the Parks Highway corridor reflects the highway’s importance as one of the state’s main commercial corridors and Mat-Su Valley’s rapid growth. Up to 20,000 cars and trucks a day travel along the Parks Highway south of Wasilla. Wasilla is the hub for several regional roads, including the Palmer-Wasilla Highway, Wasilla-Fishhook, and Knik-Goose Bay Road.

    For many years, long-term transportation plans in Wasilla have included either a rail or a highway bypass. The 2002 Parks Highway Corridor Management Plan calls for a possible second or even a third corridor to address the traffic volume anticipated by 2030. The Plan says that if all the roadway(s) have direct access, as many as 12 lanes could be needed to carry the expected east-west traffic in downtown Wasilla. A 1982 Parks Highway location study investigated alternative alignments for the Parks Highway through and around Wasilla to accommodate the projected traffic growth. Eventually, additional travel lanes will be needed on any section not bypassed.

    To help alleviate the growing travel demand through the corridor into Anchorage, the Alaska Railroad has been pursuing rail improvements that, when complete, will provide commuter rail and enhanced passenger services through the corridor
    Sounds to me like part of a comprehensive plan to re-work the entire transportation pattern of a rapidly growing commuter area coupled with a great deal of recreational traffic. Probably not about Steven's house. Two down.

  • [Update 9/14/08: ABC also dealt with this $15M in their "Palin's Record on Pork: Less Sizzle than Reported". Alaska Railroad received this money - not Wasilla; although Wasilla supported the request]

    I included that whole description because one of those "half-truths" is that Wasilla is some "small town" with 5,000 people. Obviously, the description of the region above makes it clear that there is a whole lot more going on in the Mat-Su valley than that.

  • $1.75 million to upgrade emergency communications between authorities at the Wasilla dispatch center. It was a Homeland Security grant, and not an earmark. Also, I found one explanation of part of its use - $440,000 for a mobile communications command vehicle:
    During the flood disaster in August, scouring rivers cut two phone cables. For residents from Willow north, cell phones and the Internet didn't work at one point. Flood responders had fewer paths to communicate through as well. Krill said he and others drove up suitcases of radio equipment that had to be set up in Talkeetna. "We did it piecemeal," Krill said. "With this, if communications are disrupted, the command van can fill that void. We can take it anywhere in the Borough and have an already-established communications operation."
    Three down.

  • $600,000 to upgrade bus stations.. Couldn't find this - so call it an earmark. It is part of the whole intermodal transportation plan for the Mat-su above. two up

  • $900,000 to upgrade water and sewer facilities. This is an earmark that was part of (see page 136)
    $40,000,000 for grants to address drinking water and wastewater infrastructure needs in rural and Alaska Native communities
    Three up. Again, this is a rapidly growing area - and the need to upgrade water and sewer facilities to safeguard the health of the citizens is obvious.

  • So, three of the six earmarks were actually earmarks - and actually directly aimed at Wasilla. The reception of those three is not, in and of itself, a problem. As Barack Obama stated the problem with earmarks is that they are not necessarily judged for their necessity and importance - we do not really know whether Congress did that or not. You now have some information to judge their necessity and importance; and thereby the fitness for office of the one who sought them (and of course the Congress that approved them). Was she representing her community well as its Mayor, or
    "She certainly wasn't shy about putting the old-boy network to use to bring home millions of dollars," said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense. "She's a little more savvy to the ways of Washington than she's let on."
    Another issue is that one commenter criticized Wasilla (and Sarah Palin as it's Mayor) for:
    • Placing itself in debt through bond issues in order to pay for infrastructure; and

    • avoiding debt by seeking funding for necessary infrastructure from the federal government; and

    • doing what Obama pointed out was necessary in order to get federal money - hiring a lobbyist
    How then is Wasilla supposed to pay for necessary infrastructure? As a spokeswoman for Palin said about all this:
    Palin sought the Wasilla earmarks because she was "working in the best interests of Alaska, working within the confines of the current system."
    The political decision: Does this experience recommend Sarah Palin as a Vice-Presidential candidate; or speak against her. Did she feed at the public trough like the rest of the pigs; or did she do what was best for the well-being of the folks she was elected to represent? If you think the earmarks process is broken, will her executive experience seeking and receiving them be a benefit in that reform; or not?

    Read more!

    Monday, September 01, 2008

    "You shall not give false testimony . . ."

    How about acting on false testimony? Any 'ol person can walk into a voting booth and vote for whomever and whatever they please - based on whatever information they desire to use. However, Christians are called to a bit of a higher standard (one we do not particularly live up to) about our political engagement.

    Certainly, we can not say whatever we wish about a candidate or issue - because of one of the Big Ten:

    Exodus 20:16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
    While the precise reference would be to legal proceedings, the law probably had a broader application to lying about other people in general (see Lev 5:1; Hos 4:2). Jesus cranked this up a notch - making it clear that our enemy was our neighbor; and one that we had a responsibility to love:

    Luke 6:27 “But I say to you who are listening: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you . . . 32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same . . . 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to ungrateful and evil people. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
    There are also specific calls not to gossip, and Paul's injunction:
    Ephesians 4:29 You must let no unwholesome word come out of your mouth, but only what is beneficial for the building up of the one in need, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 You must put away every kind of bitterness, anger, wrath, quarreling, and evil, slanderous talk. 32 Instead, be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you.
    So, I think the guide for Christians engaged in debate need to focus continually on "Why and How to Debate Charitably"

    Also, I think we both have a responsibility as followers of Christ to be good citizens (meaning vote at least); and I think all of those injunctions mean we also have to vote responsibly. Now that the political season is deeply upon us, we are all going to be confronted with truths, half-truths, and outright lies that we have to sort through as we figure out who, and what, we are going to vote for. That is hard work.

    Already, earlier in this political season, we have seen the lies spread about Barack Obama (he is a secret Muslim, etc.) - as well as any number of "spun" arguments that focus on what the arguer wants you to look at - while ignoring pertinant facts that would alter the "spin" of the object. We are, I think, not only required not to create such false witness -- we also must not to pass such gossip on. Indeed, I would posit that we, as the "jury" of sorts for the political arena, have an obligation to sort through all of that (that we can) before we step into the voting booth.

    We have no recourse to "I was lied to" as an excuse for allowing this stuff to impact our views. We have a responsibility to look at both sides of the argument, examine original sources when possible, and in all ways make sure, as a member of the jury, the witnesses are telling us the truth. We have to listen to the attorneys and witnesses for both sides in order to come to a righteous decision.

    In the last two days, the newest arrival to the Presidental political arena has been the subject of at least two such attacks - one obviously and incredibly false. The other just half-false. I am sure, as well, that she will be defended by her faithful with equally false, or half-false, defenses.

    Sarah Palen had to defend herself against the worst kind of "Occam's Razor" dulling, counter-intuitive, made-up nonsense on the planet: that her son born this year was not her son but her grandson. Now this one struck me as crazy to begin with - and it was really the worst-kind of "tin-foil" hat foolishness. Yet it caught on and began to spread. So much so, that it still hasn't quite died even though Sarah Palin's daughter is actually pregnant - now the same folks are trying to figure out whether the daughter had enough time to have a child, and get pregnant again. Duh.

    Now that story is just a little crazier than the "Obama is a closet Muslim" story - but only a little crazier. It doesn't take any time on Google to figure out that Barack Obama was raised in a secular surrounding by a "fallen away" ex-Muslim father; and an agnostic (at least) mother. Admittedly, it was much harder to find any current website continuing or advancing this story.

    Those are really the simple kinds of stories: either so extraordinary that they should require extraordinary proof; or so easily debunked there is no excuse to believe it once you first know it is questioned. Of course, even if you started out believing one of those - checking the story and reading the other side should have pointed out the problem. The kind of story that isn't so easy, and can actually be viewed from two reasonable perspectives, is this one:
    That "wealth of experience" and "success" in "governing well" includes bringing $20 million in unnecessary debt to a town of 6,715 people.
    Let me be clear - this isn't particularly a "false testimony" - it is just an incomplete testimony. It represents one side of a complex issue - and it is stated as if it is just a given. However, the City of Wasilla obviously didn't think this was a cut-and-dried "given"; and to judge their decisions (or try to hang them exclusively on Sarah Palin) is to abdicate the responsibility to truly understand something on which you may be basing an opinion. This, to me, came down to three issues:

    • Was the debt, if accurate, "unnecessary". That is a value judgment only definable by the people of Wasilla, Alaska. Was the Multi-Use Sports Facility unnecessary for their community? This is a value judgement, so I guess folks can make that decision based on their values. Our values do seem irrelevant for Wasilla's decision.

    • Necessary or not: was the $20M number accurate or not.

    • Was their unnecessary expense because the town's taking of the property was poorly handled?
    I know something about Alaska, and I think the Wasilla Sport's Facility was important to the community, and they have been committed to the task. Second, the town only has $15M in debt right now, and only $7M of that is the Sport's Facility. Finally, I can see no evidence that the taking was bungled - indeed I think it was handled in an agressive manner that will probably save Wasilla money in the long run. Again though, this last is a subjective opinion - others could freely and perhaps accurately disagree. However, understanding the process is why we do the work.

    This is instructive really. This is how it all started:

    The land debate began several years ago over property near the city's municipal airport.

    Lundgren planned to build an industrial park there, he said. He is a former Fairbanks resident who owns business parks and mini-storage warehouses in Alaska, Idaho, Washington, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Panama and Colombia.

    Lundgren negotiated with the national office of The Nature Conservancy to buy the land. Meanwhile, Wasilla city officials decided they wanted the land too, and began negotiating with the Alaska office of The Nature Conservancy. Offers were extended to both parties. Lundgren closed the deal. Wasilla sued both Lundgren and The Nature Conservancy for title to the land. The case went to a federal appeals court, where Lundgren won rights to the property.

    Meanwhile, a city-appointed citizens' committee studying where to put a new sports complex agreed that the land near the airport was the best place for a city-owned hockey rink and turf court. City voters in 2002 approved a half-percent sales tax hike to pay for the new facility. The appeals court ruling in Lundgren's favor came after construction was underway, Klinkner said.

    Wasilla filed for eminent domain to get the property. That case has sputtered along while Lundgren and the city disagreed over appraisals and other details.
    One argument is, that in starting to build before the land issue was settled, that the city violated the property rights of Lundgren. However, it is obvious from takings law that the city was 100% certain of being able to take the property under imminant domain - and the only question was the price that would eventually be paid. That is how it has played out:
    The land would be worth much more than $837,000 today, but the values are frozen at the date the city took the land. Lundgren disputes that date and asked the Alaska Supreme Court to change it. Doing so would recalculate the value of his land and could add another $5 million to the land value, he estimated.
    The value of the land got "fixed" (at this point) on the day that Wasilla began construction - the date that Lundgren is trying to appeal. The later the date - the more the land costs the city. So, aggressively beginning construction on the property while the ownership was in flux will probably save Wasilla $1.5M. Or, it may commit them to a property that is going to cost them vastly more than they thought. Therefore, was the decision aggressive, or foolhardy?

    Certainly, that is one of the political decisions here for those judging the case - and it is the nuances, and not the spin of one side or the other, that gives the reality on which to make the decision. Without work - you would not get to the nuance. Folks could equally decide that Wasilla (and Palin) acted irresponsibly in building the arena, or how they secured the land; or that the city thought the arena was important, measured the cost, and moved aggressively to secure the land. Those are the politics of the situation.

    Many important decisions are going to be made in November - and for Christians those decisions require that we are accountable not to give false testimony; and to try to avoid being the victim of false testimony.

    Part II: "The Wasilla Earmarks"

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