Monday, September 29, 2008

Bailout Shot Down BY EVERYONE

Well, not by everyone, but a majority shot the bill down. What I find surprising is the amount of spin it is getting in the press. The spin goes something like this:

"Republicans in the House of Representatives shot down the Bailout legislation causing the largest single drop on Wallstreet to date. Could this result in a modern economic depression?"

I do not want to devalue the many folks who's investments are in flux at this moment as a result, but it is just shoddy reporting to blame the Republicans. Let me explain why.

On Monday the bill was voted down in the House of Reps: True enough.
Republicans voted it down: quite true to a large degree.
Democrats voted for the bill but were squashed: Not quite true.

In the House, 133 Republicans voted against the bill, leaving 65 Republicans voting "for" the bill. That's nearly one third of all of the Republicans in the House voting "for" the bill, for the record.

At the same time, in the House, 140 Democrats voted"for" the bill, while (surprisingly we don't hear about THIS in the press) 95 voted against it. Again, more than a third of the House Democrats voted the bill DOWN.

Let's do the the math another way to keep things honest here. In the House the Democrats have 235 members. At the same time, right now there are 198 Republicans in the House. That means that Democrats comprise a bit more than half of the House. Now, I hear a rumor going around that says that to pass a Bill successfully through the House you need a 2/3rds majority. Let's imagine that this was true and so, if 65 Republicans voted for the Bill along with all of the available democrats (235) then you still only have 65% of the House, right? So that must be why the Bill was shot down. Those horrible Republicans!? Wait? Oh, it ends up you only need a majority. Wait? If the President was about to veto the Bill then you would need a 2/3rds majority to overrule the veto (now, that is where that 2/3rds rule comes into play.)

So let's consider the real facts as a result of this number crunching. Since it was Bush who presented this legislation his administration wouldn't likely fight it to hard. So he wasn't to blame... hmm? And since it only takes a simple majority to vote the bill through the House, since the Democrats comprise a solid majority (4% more than is required) that means that even if all of the Republicans simply refused to vote it shouldn't change the outcome, so they aren't to blame... hmm? In fact 36 Democrats could have voted against it, and the bill could have still passed... double-hmmm?

So who is left to blame then? Democrats anyone?

When Obama talked about Iraq in the first presidential debate he said that the real question is, "Why are we in Iraq to begin with?" Later when discussing the economy he blamed McCain for voting in favor of deregulation. So let's take a tact from Obama's playbook and ask a few similar questions.

Why is wallstreet in the position it is in, to begin with?

Well, Obama would have you believe that it is the fault of McCain. But the fact is that under the Clinton administration, financial advisors Mr. Summers and Mr. Rubin architected the deregulation of Wallstreet.... under Clinton. Let's watch the timeline a little bit.

So Bush comes into office and four years later the Democrates take both the House and tied it up in the Senate. So, in Congress, the Democrats are sitting as the "king" of the proverbial "hill" and have for the past four years. How did this happen? The 110th Congressional Democrats ran an unprecidented campaign for "change" and overturned more seated Republicans to take the majority. Does a campaign for change sound familiar?

So what has happened in the last four years then? Each Congress (this is the 110th Congress of the U.S.) gets a nickname and this Congress has been called the "do nothing" Congress. Wow? Really? Campaign for change, then do nothing. Wait don't they have a majority? That is enough to push bills through, right? What happened? Who cares if Republicans all voted against their bills, how didn't they seem to get the job done? Remember, they aren't known as the "the republicans shot us down" Congress. They are the "do nothing" congress.

The 110th Congress has worked less than any Congress on record. Talk about Falling asleep at the wheel. So, then if that were true, wouldn't we be all upset about that? Well, we are. Polls show that the 110th Congress has the lowest approval rating in HISTORY. To compare it to another poll that gets a lot of press, for quite some time now, the 110th Congress has lower approval rating than President Bush. Ouch! So, should we really be blaming Republicans? Equally as important, is McCain to blame as Obama asserted?

To bring this full circle, do you know any of the names of Obama's financial economic advisors? Here are two named you might now know: Mr Summers and Mr. Rubin. So if we are pointing fingers, Mr. Obama, who is to blame again?

To be fair, Mr. Obama decided on Sunday that we shouldn't care about why we are in this situation right now, but just rather focus on fixing it. Interesting that on Friday he wants to blame McCain and when the truth comes out about Mr. Summers and Mr. Rubin, the Clinton Administration and his desire to take the advice of these same folks, now we should suddenly stop pointing fingers.

The voting in Congress is all about getting this bill right. Nobody wants to make the situation worse, so I am in favor of making smart decisions about getting this right. The bottom line is that Republicans and Democrats voted in favor of deregulating congress and it is politics at its worse to simply blameshift. I am in favor of working to fix stuff, but I am not in favor of the obvious revisions to history Obama is trying to sell to the American people.

Keep it real. Don't be hoodwinked.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Enough is Enough

It's time. There is only so much a reasonable person can endure. After this Friday evenings debate, where McCain clearly schooled Obama on having an understand and confirmed reasonable plans to deal with diplomacy, foreign relations, Iraq and Afghanistan as well as a better understanding of his and Obama's plan for taxes and their affect on the economy, I am now formally fed up with the bias in the media. Having watched Nightline and read reviews of the debate in a number of newspapers, they completely leave out the exchange of facts and non-contextually quote McCain leaving out the incredible and expert handling of the facts and issues by McCain and rant and rave about how “Presidential” Obama looked. What? Really? Remarkably they give McCain credit for being more accurate factually, but yet they declare Obama the winner based on issues like “Obama faced the camera, sculpting his talking points with verbose hand-movements, while McCain stood stoically, chopping at the air.” Apparently, since Obama cannot win on content, the debate was reduced to a fashion show as the virtual tie-breaker. Someone shoot me now!

It amazes me that there were no press references to the schooling Obama received on his verbalized approach to handling issues in Pakistan and Iran. For that matter, Obama had one story of experience he shared that night, when he anecdotally referenced a recent visit to Green Bay, WI, whereas McCain rained down story after story of legitimate applicable experience working with world leaders in first hand locations across the planet.

If I were cheering for Obama right now I would be embarrassed. The best retort the Obama Campaign came up with in regard to the debate on Friday night was a claim that all of McCains experiences simply characterized him as "old." What? Really? What an obvious tact. What a shameful attempt. Why didn't they just say “McCain is ugly.” or “I know you are, but what am I?” or “YOUR MOMMA!” The fact remains that Obama, from his own understanding of taxation, to the economy, to his opinions on the continued war effort, is clearly without understanding. What in the world does he bring to the table? I have yet to figure it out. How does identifying an obvious need for hope and change uniquely qualify him to lead? Someone please explain how playing Captain Obvious but without having real answers somehow equals a good presidential option?

I am happy to itemize the many issues I have with Obama. And while I have attempted to be reasonable so far during this campaign season, now that Obama has had a chance to debate McCain and the press still attempts to imagine he is the same caliber candidate as McCain, I think it is time for the gloves to come off. So here are a few myths worth shattering in round one of uncovering Obama.
  1. He is going to solve healthcare in America: false. His outrageously expensive plan leaves millions of Americans without healthcare and only attempts to provide for children. Get ready to pay more and get less. (According to Obama supporter Hillary Clinton, his healthcare plan leaves something around 15 million Americans out in the cold.)

  2. He really care about fixing wallstreet via regulation and taking care of mainstreet: Not even close. Wallstreet is where the pocketbook of mainstreet resides. Separating these two issues is naïve and an oversimplification by Obama. The fact is that his financial advisors Mr. Summers and Mr. Rubin, advisors of Obama, were party to the deregulation of Wallstreet during the Clinton era. That's right. Obama is connected directly to the people who created the problem in wallstreet. (UPDATE: Obama is seeing his connection with the problems in wallstreet and while just a few days ago he was accusing McCain of being at fault, SUDDENLY blaming someone is not supposed to matter any more. FLIP-FLOP! I guess he only now gets the connection of wallstreet to mainstreet now that the debate is over. Thank you for joining the rest of us! When will naïve shifty hypocrisy end!?)

  3. He will solve our woes in Iraq and Afghanistan: If by solve our woes you mean: put our soldiers in harms way, divert funding in ways that diminish our current gains on the current war fronts, and as a result keep us going back to the Middle East again in the future... Then yes, sure, under that definition, his shallow examination of the dollars invested in Iraq and short-term view of savings at the expense of increased instability in that region, then by all means vote for the man. But understand that you will not be able to find a military leader involved in Iraq and Afghanistan that sees Obama's recommendations as anything but naïve or at best completely dangerous. Obama, at best pointed out some poor estimations McCain made about the Iraq war, but then again many people on the left side of Congress made some of those same assertions at the same time. For the record, Obama said more about questioning our exit strategy for Iraq when it started. His was a question of nailing down a more detailed plan for Iraq (not that he had one) and not sp much an ideological statement about not belonging in Iraq, like He and so many want to pretend it was. That plays out well now, but is revisionist.

  4. Obama is going to better the opinion of America in the world: His significant lack of experience will almost certainly work against any possibility of this. Obama, in his lack of experience was schooled by McCain with regard to Obama's hypothetically imagined hunting of bin Laden via bombing Pakistan without that countries cooperation. His attempt to sound brave and solid as a potential Presidential Commander in Chief ends up, yet again, seeming naïve and an oversimplification of an legitimate strategy. What was at one time an attempt by Obama to sound reasonable with regard to pursuing diplomacy in intense world situations, now makes his lack of experience seem like a liability. I can't believe for a minute that someone listening to Friday debate truly thinks that Obama really understands presidential diplomacy let alone how to manage a military effort.

  5. McCain represents big government and big business and Obama represents benefits to regular people: Obama completely doesn't understand his or McCain's written policies around taxation and entitlement programs. For one, both McCain and Obama have plans to close loopholes in corporate tax rules, despite what Obama says. At the same time Obama wants to jack up taxes in the companies that employ us, redistributing that money to the poor among us. This isn't even fully accurate. Yes. He will increase taxes to the companies that employ us. (Tell me, how do you think that will affect your wages, employment and future raises?) Then understand that Obama is simply granting, in return, a tax credit to Americans, which means that you get to pay less taxes. You don't get money, you don't get benefits, you simply are granted the opportunity to be DEMANDED LESS TAXES by the government (though, this isn't even true based on a reasonable analysis of Obamas tax plan.) At best, will this offset any of the outcomes of higher corporate taxes? Imagine that Obama is right to assume that the trickle-down of benefits isn't working in America (while we know it does because people get raises and new opportunities get created.) What we know, by gas prices alone, is that there is an non-debatable trickle-down of cost to the consumer when these companies get taxes jacked up by Obama. Suddenly, a smaller government with less taxation starts to look good the whole way around. It is an interesting if not irresponsible piece of fiction to imagine that Obama and regular folks equal “us” and that somehow the corporate world equals “them” and that these two eco-systems are not intimately tied together. Wake up Obama! Hurting any cost-related segment of our economy ALWAYS trickles down to mainstreet!

  6. Obama believes in me and says, “yes we can”: No,... he can't. You are the largest component of his plan. It is hilarious to me how many people throw money into the lottery each month imagining that there one dollar will turn into a million, yet they never count the cost over the months, never realizing they are putting in way more than they will ever get out. I think that people following Obama see these vague hope-filled naïve and oversimplified programs by Obama and imagine that the dollar they are putting in will turn into a million coming out. But the fact is that the devil is always in the details. And the details, especially in the hands of big government, tend to yield far less return over a lot long period of time than if you had been left to make many of these decisions in the manner of your choosing. You are not the recipient of the "we" in his rhetoric. You are the mule that will facilitate his political agenda through your mainstreet pocketbook!

Well, that's enough for now. And I am not so naïve as to think that this list of facts changes anything at all. Regardless of the complete lack of legitimate experience that Obama has, his followers will still have to talk-up how presidential he looks and how important that must somehow be. I just hope those same followers would feel as good when he actually has to resolve some world conflict and then be reduced to a puppet following the advice of anyone other than himself because of his lack of real world qualifications.

In conclusion, I am not saying don't be a democrat. I am saying... don't be a sucker for this guy. It is time to say, enough is enough.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Terror From Iraq: 17 years later

America is tired of Iraq. Why? Who cares? They are exhausted. They don’t want to hear anymore about it. This is very much due to the general disappointment that we are still engaged in a war that some Americans feel we shouldn’t be involved in. This is often followed by heartfelt emotions:
  • Why are we half a world away fighting unprovoked people we don’t even know?
  • We shouldn’t even be there.

This is usually followed by a set of (somewhat) true but misleading statements:

  • Osama bin Laden doesn’t even like Saddam Hussein!
  • They didn’t find a single Weapon of Mass Distruction in Iraq!

Get ready for your head to hurt as I quickly unpack these items and shed a little light.

These first two questions supposes specific answers. They really aren't questions. It is a statement that we are half way around the world fighting people we don’t know. It also implies they were all loving little bunny rabbits all nestled down in the Garden of Eden and we came out of nowhere with our bombs and started murdering someone's defenseless grandmother. I am knowingly packing this paragraph with words that evoke emotions to make the point that the phrase is meant to evoke emotions in support of these unprovoked peace-lovers.

The question "why" won’t be answered for many people and I am not going to try to answer it here other than to say that the U.N. and NATO all placed sanctions on Sadam and Iraq and that was a large part of why we were there to begin with. Another good question I have heard was, “Why attack Iraq when we did? We were fighting bin Laden in Afghanistan. Why suddenly go for Iraq? Wasn't the Iraq War a knee-jerk cowboy thing?"

Here are three reasons why the top two heartfelt emotions should be examined:

  • Sadam didn’t comply with those sanctions. He defied the U.N. and knowingly maintained his ability to create WMDs and worked hard to be ready to create and use WMDs:
  • After the U.N. left Iraq exhausted, President Bill Clinton launched an attack (along with the UK) for four days against Saddam and called for an Iraq regime change. After President George H.W. Bush dodged an attempted assassination on April 16th by Saddam, Bill Clinton launch an attack on Bagdad again. When George W. Bush became president, Clinton briefed Bush stating regret that Saddam and bin Laden were still at large. Clinton told Bush that Saddam will “cause you a world of problems.” (Chollet, Derek and James Goldgeier (2008). America Between the Wars. Public Affairs, Perseus Books Group. )
  • Early in 2003, the U.S., U.K. and Spain proposed the 18 resolution to support the previous 17 by demanding a deadline for full compliance and room for U.N inspectors to have complete and unfettered access to all situations and account for the litteral tons of WMDs and their associated materials that were not found in the two previously blocked U.N. inspections. Reports showed that Iraq was being affected by the sanctions to the degree that Saddam seemed unable to build new weapons, but tons of the old weapons and materials were still missing. On January 20th the French Foreign Minister declared “we believe that military intervention would be the worst solution.” Later, it was determined by records found at Bagdad that the French were trading with Saddam in defiance of the U.N. resolutions.

We keep hearing that the Iraq War was this knee-jerk decision to run into Iraq like a drunken cowboy foregoing diplomacy and declare war for the sake of war. What we do know are a few things:

  • Saddam was successfully trading in defiance of U.N. sanctions including in items of a military nature.
  • Saddam was talking about having WMDs post U.N. sanctions and inspections.
  • Numerous independent reports confirm that while Saddam wasn’t building new WMDs (determined after the war) he was still not complying with the U.N. inspectors and accounting for the remaining yet-to-be-accounted-for WMDs.
  • Saddam was recorded by those same sources as maintaining his ability to put WMDs back into production as soon as possible.
  • We know that George H.W. Bush, President Bill Clinton and President George W. Bush all supported and acknowledged the need to unseat the Saddam regime.
  • We know that Saddam attempted to murder President George H.W.Bush.
  • We know that we had been dealing both militarily on three occasions (one under G.H.W. Bush and two situations under B. Clinton) as well as diplomatically with Iraq from 1991 until 2003 (12 years) on these issues.

To say that Iraq was sudden, or knee-jerk, or baseless, or simply all about WMDs would be a massive over-simplification.

So, again, rest assured that both claims in world news are true. One, we haven’t found any new stockpiles of WMDs in Iraq. While that is true, we have found old stockpiles of WMDs that are degraded and should never have been there post U.N. resolutions. Click here to read about the aged WMD stockpiles that were found and that shouldn’t have been there.

To this day, the new Iraq Government is searching for those not-accounted-for WMDs. Just because the CIA stopped searching doesn’t mean there is nothing to find. The torch was simply passed. While it may be true that we didn’t find new stockpiles, the old ones are still missing. Click here to read about the end of the U.S. Search and the continued search by the new Iraq government.

The fact that Osama and Saddam aren’t the best of friends is nearly irrelevant. Going into Iraq and going into Afghanistan were two different issues addressed by Congress. There is no question that Iraq has an Al Qaeda connection. Click here to read about the Al Qaeda Iraq connection.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Bridge to Nowhere: The Records of Obama and Palin on Earmarks

I have definitely been one to say that I am surprised there haven’t been more comments about the amount of inexperience that Barak Obama is personally bringing to his campaign. Compared to almost all other candidates, Republican or Democrat, Obama sits somewhere in the middle (just below Palin) in the “years of elected public service” category. Obama takes his non-elected service scenarios and adds them to his service record, but for that matter so could any candidate. It doesn’t bump his “service record” above Palin or anyone else. The upside of a politician not having a lot of experience is that there are less years to examine when it comes to trying to figure out their record of involvement.

Big on discussion boards is the topic of “The Bridge to Nowhere.” Here is some history for you on that project, so that you are getting a little more than spin. If someone mentions the Bridge to nowhere without knowing this info at the minimum, then they are simply riding the soundbite train like many other lemmings. Read on to get off the soundbite train.

You can judge if I am being biased or not by my perspective. Read on!

The Bridge to Nowhere project started many years ago. In fact some Alaskan state politicians have claimed to have been a part of trying to fund the bridge project for the better part of twenty years. Here is a quick overview of that story.

The island Ketchikan, has the second largest airport in southern Alaska. That part of the country only sees about $1 million in tourism dollars per years and the island itself has a population of around 50+ people with traffic of about 350,000 by ferry and 200,000 by the airport per year. The bottom line is that the island community has no chance of bolstering the local economy through the inconvenient location of the airport and tying the airport to the mainland via a bridge seemed like a good idea to increase the flow of tourism and business. The proposed bridge was to be taller than the Brooklyn Bridge, and nearly as long as the Golden Gate Bridge (I think a lot of people imagined a smaller bridge and tinier community, but that is neither here nor there.) From cruise ships to accommodating ships that drive through the “Alaskan Marine Highway,” this bridge would have to be tall beneath it to allow water-transportation to pass under.

Two political champions of the project were Alaskan senators Ted Stevens and Don Young. They felt it was important to pursue funding for this project on behalf of Alaska.

When Sarah Palin ran for governor in September 2006 she made remarks about supporting solving the transportation issues in that community and funding the bridge project.
Now, let’s take a step back. In 2005 Ted Stevens’ efforts to fund the bridge assisted by federal funds was nearly a reality. At about the time the bill was going to be enacted by Congress Katrina hit and the funds were reallocated from Alaska to aid recovery. So, no “bridge to nowhere.”

But wait… there is more. In October, during the election Sarah Palin was asked if she supported the continued state funded pursuit of the bridge(s). She said yes. She felt that there was good continued support in congress to send earmarked funds to Alaska in this specific infrastructure project.

Recall not too long ago bridges collapsing in Minnesota? This was a smaller bridge but it took the lives of people. I do recall people making an emphasis at that time about the importance of investing in America’s infrastructure. Again, neither here nor there. This isn’t about a transportation being a fundamentally bad need. This is about an expensive bridge partially federally funded being the wrong answer.

In December of 2006 Sarah Palin was elected Governor of Alaska. She started her Governorship continuing to talk about turning Alaska toward a more fiscally responsible set of values and financial ideals by reforming spending. Everything in the budget was going to be examined and potentially revised to match a fiscally responsible set of values.

Since 2005 Congress, who had diverted bridge funds from Alaska to help in Katrina aid decided to provide those funds to Alaska... again. The state senators were happy but a smaller contingent of Congress (much led by Senator John McCain) continued to argue against earmark funding.

A few months later in 2007 Governor Palin, in keeping with her fiscally responsible agenda, stated that Alaska would be submitting a budget that would force the state to “live within their means” and reject the $185 million earmark for the bridge project. In July of 2007 she said that Alaska would find a “better way to reach the airport” and added that “a $398 million bridge is not the answer.” She didn’t say that the need for a transportation scenario like a bridge was a bad idea. She simply said that the plan for $398 million bridge project was the wrong answer. Like she later told the nation, if Alaska needs a bridge then they will find a way to build a bridge without Federal funds. (It is worth mentioning that at the same time Palin is turning down the $185 million earmark bridge budget, Obama is earmarking around $330 million for Illinois.)

Governor Sarah Palin within six month of coming into office rectified a nearly half a billion dollar expense. That isn’t the only cut she made to the state budget plans. Government officials across the state have noted that the state’s budget runs in a surplus and continues to make cuts that match the Governor’s fiscally responsible agenda.

As a result of the cuts, are Alaskans angry at Palin and see this as a political flip-flop? A typical result of “Angry Alaskans” should show up as a negative popularity poll, traditionally. Based on the press’ coverage of the topic, one might think her state would likely despise her. Surprisingly enough popularity polls show her to be the #1 most popular State Governor in the nation with a score of 90.

So, in summary, the need in their state isn’t bad or wrong. Under Sarah Palin it was determined that the bridge was simply the wrong answer to a relevant question inside her state. Federal funding given to states isn’t necessarily wrong either. I think that generally speaking Democrats and Republicans agree that the Federal Government plays a valid role in maintaining our transportation infrastructure. So, in my estimation the Democrats and the Republicans both had it right:

Dems: Sarah Palin did support the “bridge” (project.)

Reps: Sarah Palin acknowledges the need for solving the issue of transportation in that part of Alaska, previously known as the bridge to nowhere, but feels that the bridge was not the answer when it was time for her to set a budget as the elected Governor of Alaska.

Final note: So what of Earmarks? Both McCain and Obama don’t want them? What is that about?

Obama/McCain Earmarks Quick History:

McCain has never sought earmarks for Arizona, where he is the senior Senator for the state. He has been opposed to them from the beginning. That means he hasn’t asked for an earmark in his 26 years of Congressional service. Senator McCain calls this responsible.

Obama has petitioned for $860 million in earmarks over his total of four years as a junior Senator for the State of Illinois. Last year alone he sought more than $330 million in earmarks. Obama has joined McCain in not asking for earmarks for fiscal year 2009. Obama calls this “not asking” a moratorium. Why is he not asking? Obama said, “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.” This isn’t too surprising coming from a junior senator with only four years under his belt.

I am not saying I don't agree. McCain himself said that if a project is worth investing in, it gets supported in a New York minute! I just think it is not at all suprising that the reason Obama gives for not supporting earmarks has to do with the fact that senators with less experience (him) don't get funded as often.

The smartest thing I have heard Senator Obama say in the last months was his desire to not put a timeframe to the war in the Middle East until he might be president and could review the situation from that vantage point with advice from on-the-ground leadership. This is what he has said. Obama is imagining how the view as President might affect his decision process. He has to imagine, because he doesn't have a parallel experience to draw from since State Senators are not empowered like that to make such decisions.

Governor Sarah Palin has demonstrated that she can make a tough decision to reverse years of poor investing to turn down millions of dollars as a result of having analyzed the situation from the vantage point of an empowered Governor. These aren’t words about change after years and nearly $1 billion of a track record in the wrong direction. She doesn't have to speculate or imagine. She has been there and made the tough decision. You don’t have to simply say something for it to be a lie. You can also just live the lie for years like Senator Obama.

Sounds Funny When It's True

I remember growing up in the south (well, Florida, and while that is geographically southern in the U.S. it isn’t considered the “south”) and when I moved to Minnesota in the seventh grade everybody talked funny. It was a goofy time because I remember listening to this kids that sounded like they had marbles in their mouths and they all thought I was the funny sounding one.

A few decades later and I sound like I have marbles in my mouth and I am listening to East Coast accents everyday (since I’ve moved to New Jersey.) People here sound like stereotypical “New Jersey” and “New Yorkers” while I am told I sound like I am from “Canada.” (What? Canada? Really?) In any case accent is a funny thing.

Nothing much has changed since I was a kid. Movies used to make the New York accent sound “tough” and the southern accent sound “ignorant” or “narrow minded.” Later, movies like Fargo made northern U.S. folks sound naïve at best. Accent just helps entertainers exaggerate a point in a super humorous manner (regardless of whether or not the stereotype is true.) I think I can say that from an observed perspective. Anyone who travels much at all knows that there are ignorant, narrow-minded, naïve folks all over this fine country, regardless of their accent.

Did you watch Saturday night live recently? The presentation of Governor Palin was a classic presentation of a stereotypical naïve beauty queen. Fundamentally it is the same treatment (funny stuff.) But then I read people say stuff like “Funny because it is true” and it gets me thinking. I still think the skit is actually very funny, but as a follow-up to a previous blog post I wrote on humor on Presidential candidates, it isn’t funny because it’s true. It is funny because it is familiar (the jokes are familiar.) Here is a funny set of facts that are actually funny because they are true.

On Palin credentials compared to other candidates during this election period:

First a review of Gov. Palin’s credentials: 4 years of town council experience, 6 years as mayor, 1 year on state regulatory commission, 2 years as governor.

On the Democrat side:

Obama: 8 years in the Illinois state senate, 2 years as a federal junior senator from Illinois.

Hillary Clinton: nearly 8 years in government elected positions.

Kathleen Sebelius: 8 years of experience in the state legislature, 8 years as state insurance commissioner, 6 years as governor of Kansas.

Mark Warner: seriously considered as a possible candidate for election before publically stating he didn’t want to be considered (he only served 4 years as governor of Virginia.)

Tim Kaine: served as a mayor in Virginia for 4 years and more recently as the governor of Virginia for 3 years.

On the Republican side:

Mit Romney: considered a viable choice for Presidential candidate as well as Vice Presidential candidate (served only 4 years as Governor of Massachusetts.)

The issue for me is that overall this is the election that will go down in history as the first set of candidates with the least Washington experience. Oddly enough, at the same time, some of the candidates have copious amounts of experience. McCain (Republican Presidential candidate with 26 years of government experience and 15 years of military experience) and Biden (Democrat Vice Presidential candidate at 34 years of government experience) are leading the pack.

To be specific McCain didn’t get into politics until 1981, while Biden has been in Washington since 1973 (McCain, at that time was finishing up a 15 year career in the military, after being released as a prisoner of war after 6 years in 1973.)

The funny but true part: Palin sits in the middle of the “group with not a lot of experience” list, and ahead of Obama in number of years serving in an elected government position, yet after many, many months of having had an opportunity to laugh at Obama for not having much experience, it is late-comer Palin who is the butt of the jokes. If SNL did a skit about Obama not having a lot of experience, would it suddenly not be funny or would the same folks say “funny because it’s true?”

SNL joked about her foreign relations experience amounting to “seeing Russia from (her) backyard.” More funny but true:

As Governor Sarah has been on the ground in Kuwait visiting troops (Alaskan National Guard troops to support her state.)

Governor Palin has visited troops in Germany (again, this is about supporting her state’s U.S. military citizens from Alaska.)

Governor Palin manages a large border state with Canada and so an element of our U.S./Canadian relationship.

As Commander in Chief for Alaskan National Guard troops, they train Mongolian troops each year (both PR as well as military experience for Palin.)

Alaska has the largest area of U.S. International waters to deal with (and all that this includes as a point of practical management and experience.)

As Governor she is responsible for the Missile Defense System that protects the U.S. from countries like North Korea.

As governor of a state with a critical oil pipeline that serves the country, she is responsible for the protection of that pipeline.

The funny but true part: Palin is the butt of jokes about not having foreign relations experience.

As governor, she deals with Canada, Mongolia as well as Japan with a number of State related issues. Again, we are not simply talking about “visiting troops” or “shaking hands with foreign dignitaries.” We are talking about real responsibility in addition to shaking hands. But yet where are the Obama jokes about his “extensive” foreign-relations experience? Nobody is questioning McCains foreign-relations experience… then again McCain is running for President not Vice President. Would this joke remain funny if SNL made fun of Obama’s experience?

There are other funny moments that make all of us laugh in the SNL skit (amongst other SNL political skits.) And I continue to think they are funny… well, because stereotypes are funny. But not so much because they are true but because they help us not take ourselves too seriously. I am not sure, though, that people are saying these jokes are “funny but true” for such reasons.

I will never understand why Palin who seems to get talked about for issues like (1) having religious beliefs, or (2) not having enough experience, but at the same time Obama is getting a pass on (1) having religious beliefs, or (2) not having enough experience.

I will end with a joke.

Two candidates are running for office. One candidate says, “Hey, they tell me I don’t have enough experience and you have about the same level of experience I do! What gives?” The other candidate says, “Yeah, well, you see I have the right kind of "not enough experience" while the problem is that you have the wrong kind of not enough experience!”

Funny because it’s true.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Polls Are In: Big Media Lost

nOBAMAforBIDdEN-2008 Presidential Badge

Of 100% percent of Americans influenced by big media, 115% of them claimed to be influenced from 0 to 250% of the time.

Statistics make my head hurt. Not really, but what is worse is when statistics hold no bearing on reality. In a last ditch effort to do the political thing before it drives me crazy I thought I would share some of these more recent stats with everyone.

In the last two elections, polls leading up to and in the election had George W. Bush losing the presidential race, or at least that is what Big Media would like you to think.

Over the last two elections, two major blunders seemed (to me) to play out: everyone thought that young adults were going to come out in droves and vote. At the same time, big media houses promoting statistics that didn't represent reality seemed to have an adverse affect on the looser (presumptively, I will admit. It seems that if people think their candidate is winning, then they don't bother going out to vote.)

Ignoring statistics completely, based on the buzz that surrounds Obama vs. McCain, which way do you think the country is leaning? If the amount of support and buzz equals poll results, what do you think those statistics should look like? Is Obama leading the charge for change in the minds of American voters? Is McCain the maverick this country needs according to poll results?

Surprisingly I haven't heard a lot about polls so far this election. If I do, then they are about a very specific demographic on a very specific topic. But what about polls with regard to the general election. Let's take a look at the same poll source that the LA Times refers to.

Before you run out to re-examine the political bias of the LA Times, understand that RealClearPolitics is there source (in some cases.) RealClearPolitics takes a look at a number of polling firms to get a larger picture of how the polls measure up across polling companies. So how do the numbers look at this time then?

According to the polls page of RealClearPolitics when taking into account polls from the major networks, Associated press, Gallup and others (ten sources in all on the frontpage) seven show McCain leading the polls, two show Obama with a one point gain, and one shows a tie, giving McCain more than a two point lead (notice that USA Today shows McCain in more of a lead than FOX News.)

Interesting stuff.

Side-note: RealClearPolitics, on the same page, offers insight into the approval rating for congress. Wow. Hanging at or around an all time low. Asking the same question as this article in the LA Times, wasn't this the congress that outed the GOP and took over the majority role, campaigning for change, promising to clean up Congress? So let me get this right. Campaigning for change, promising to clean up congress, in the voting majority, outcome equalling the lowest ratings of Congress in history. I know that I definitely hear the press talk about how frustrated and disappointed and unapproving the population is of Republican President George W. Bush. Seldom do we hear that the Democrat-led-Congress is also achieving an all time low in the minds of voters. Blameshifting asside, Washington seems romantically infatuated with promoting change. Sadly, current history tells us that we as a population are just getting hoodwinked by politicians again and again, bringing us the earcandy that we love and not delivering much else.

Again, if you want change, then look at the change-agenda of the presidential candidates this election and hope that your candidate will do what they say. All we have is hope. "But Steve, I don't trust the other guy. He is shady. I am voting for the lesser of two evils." Ah, they are all Shady, don't kid yourself. Just vote for the one who's talking points you most agree with and hope they keep their word.

I have said it before. I think all of the candidates have issues that make them look good or bad, visionary or revisionistic, substantial or shallow, etc. I am just affraid that this election might be the biggest goof-up in history when we simply don't take the time to listen and learn, but rather we are obessing about what Sarah Palin might have said about Dinosaurs. (if you don't want to take the time to follow the link, here is the hint: the quote was a fake quote made up as a joke.)

So whether you think Sarah Palin doesn't have the prerequisit experience to be Vice President, or if you think that Obama, who has less years of experience than Palin, doesn't have enough experience to be President, get into the real facts and stop pimping rediculum.

UPDATE: A friend of mine sent me a couple link that might be of value to you. Yahoo! has setup a political dashboard that simplifies a view into general election polls. You can view this here:

Yahoo! Election 08 Political Dashboard

As well, if you are interested in hearing about why the nation is going McCain, here is an article from Politico on Yahoo! News.

Comedians Lay Off Obama

The LA Times pointed to a recent report about how comedians seem to be laying off of Barack Obama while laying into almost anyone else (relatively speaking.)

The report doesn't explain why, however. Interestingly enough when questioned comedians seem to believe they are joking about Senator Obama, but the numbers show that they are laying off of Obama. The perspectives of the jokes are also seemingly different. The article outlines the nature of some of the Obama jokes and to share my opinion, they are almost flattering at best.

In my opinion almost all of the material for humorous fodder has been exhibited by both sides of the presidential run (commedian John Stewart did a report on the changing opinions of John McCain, and while he could have easly done a similar report of equal size on Obama, but chose not to. the closest example of joking about Obama is here and Stewart has to remind the audience that it is OK to laugh. Is that canned laughter then? maybe.) For whatever reason, while there doesn't seem to be a universal lack of material, McCain is being targeted more than Obama.

In asking a friend about his perspective with regard to this, he said, "Well, it's a comedy show." Fair enough. The trouble is that this comedy gets youtubed and travels the web carying remarks like "well, somebody needed to say it." Statistically, someone could "need to" crack the same jokes about Obama (because they are there just as often), but they just aren't getting said. Why are McCain foibles "needing to be said" but Obama foibles are lost to commedians? Listen here to just a sampling of issues that surround Obama's political career. This is the exact kind of goof-ups and affiliation with other shifty politicians that McCain jokes are laced with.

I have a theory and it goes like this: agenda, agenda, agenda.

I am not saying that the jokes aren't funny. I just wish the networks would be more evenhanded on doling out the humor. Everyone should get a chance to laugh, regardless of their political position.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Recently at work a few folks got into some interesting discussion about Obama and McCain and their proposed affect on taxes if they were elected. It was a neat talk and the conversation ended with one person referencing information from

This is where I digress in general from political conversations and back into blogging about technology and everyday life. I am absolutely interested in the election, absolutely intend on voting and would encourage everyone I know to stay engaged in the issues to the best of their ability. What I really like most about is that it seems very bi-partisan. It isn't about being conservative or liberal. It seems to be pretty well dedicated to just figuring out the truth in a political claim. For example, there are claims in TV ads from both candidates that make some compelling points about each other. does a good job bring those claims into context. They are dwarfing my ability to analyze the larger landscape of issues and fact research and so rather than continue to pimp my perspective (which blogs are generally good at doing) I will point folks to them on interesting issues. I am not saying I won't blog about stuff I care about. I am just saying that this site handles facts pretty well and I might just point to them rather than write a 9-page blog on a topic.

So if someone makes a compelling (or frustrating) political claim, I completely encourage everyone to review the research on this site. They could have already addressed it!

Final note: The site does a good job of exposing context. If Obama or McCain references some Associated Press article that says "This candidate has successfully solved issue X," factcheck will also show that the same article also says not-so-flattering contextual comments as well. My hope is that it won't become additional fodder for more rhetoric, but just a better overall view of the political landscape with regard to facts that matter when we go to vote soon!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Christians Shouldn’t Legislate Morality (and other myths)

I recently read a blog that named this as a top reason for not caring about abortion issues in the coming election. The argument in greater details goes something like this…

“Christians, since the Garden of Eden, have had the right to choose poorly. We aren’t saying that there is no such thing as choosing poorly. We are simply saying that we do not favor legislating morality via the American political system. We may not all choose wisely, but we should defend the rights and freedoms of people to choose poorly.”

Rather than actually write some apologetics about abortion specifically (though I will use it as an example), let me start some conversation about why this logic has some huge holes in it and as Christians we need to consider examining the validity of dialog that makes us seem a bit naïve with regard to the issue of legislating morals.

Laws do not legislate the right to choose poorly. People always have the freedom to choose things that hurt themselves and others. Laws do not control people. At best, laws influence people. Another good question is, “What exactly do laws intend to do for society?”

There seem to be at least two modes for laws: directly rendering value-based judgments on certain activities and behaviors, and mitigating risk proactively with regard to perceived harm around certain activities and behavior.

Directly rendering value-based judgments on certain activities and behaviors.

Laws that render judgments on stealing, for example, fit into this category. Society is not on the fence about valuing the respect of personal property here in America. If you steal something, then you have broken a social agreement with regard to this moral / value-based legislation.

Mitigating risk proactively with regard to perceived harm around certain activities and behavior.

Laws about speed-limits fit into this category. Speed-limit laws do not pretend that going fast is a bad moral judgment. The law simply mitigates the risk of people creating harm that hurts human life by making a poor choice with regard to the speed of their vehicles within the context of other people, property or traffic. Again, this law isn’t pretending that speeding is morally wrong. It does pass a judgment that the risk is too high at a certain point to allow people the possibility of creating harm (a value judgment.)

So, laws are very much about a social contract on value judgments. Other laws fall into these two modes. Think about it: underage sex, consumption of alcohol as a minor, appropriate licensed driving ages, etc. Some fit into the category of a direct value judgment on the act, and other draw the line sooner to mitigate the risk associated with the possibly harmful outcomes of certain behavior.

Laws are a social contract based on value judgments that are a reflection of our morals. So, fundamentally laws do in fact come down to morals. Nearly by definition, laws legislate those morals based on our values. So legislating morals and values isn't really a Christian thing, so more specifically it isn't an issue of bad behavior from Christians.

If this is true (I am open to discussing this… please write comments) then it isn’t fair to imagine that one side of a debate (anti-abortion) is legislating morality in an unreasonable manner while the other side (pro-abortion) is morally agnostic. Both sides reflect morals based on our values. I don't see a way around it.

I have known plenty of people that defend their position on pro-abortion and they acknowledge that they want laws that defend their values. I have known people who also feel that they would prefer the laws defend their anti-abortion values. It is relatively new to imagine that one side of the argument is morally agnostic and without certain representative values. I am a little worried that Christians who are shopping this logic around in their conversations are, at best, making Christians seem a little naiive, or at worst, struggling to justify their position in support of abortion in the absense of other convincing arguments surrounding the issue, maybe?

In the up-coming election we can see two candidates that have voiced their desire to enact legislation that defends one side or the other of this particular issue on abortion. Both want to create laws. Neither is morally agnostic. Neither of them is without underlying supported value judgments. Either side requires considerable respectful examination to which your vote draws us into movement toward their social and political end.

End note: I think that the issue is very polar at the moment (the abortion issue) and people typically fall into a number of categories (including not supporting abortion as a means of reversing a pregnancy as an elective surgery, but supporting it as an act of saving a would-be-mothers life) well beyond the pro and anti categories. As a result I think we need to be tollerant of people who don't agree with our perspectives. I am defining tollerance as a willingness to co-exist in a kind and friendly manner with people whos morals or values you don't come into agreement with on this or other issues. I don't define tollerance as thinking that all opinions are equal OR that all opinions are valuable OR that all opinions are right or lack right-ness or wrong-ness. I think that regardless of why we morally feel and value, we shouldn't let our position turn us into people who treat people in detestible ways.

Upsetting the applecart specifically on the political abortion issue: I have heard people saying that the abortion issue is nearly a moot point since the president’s only real power in this area is appointing Supreme Court Judges. This is not true. Like I said, both sides are looking to implement legislation that won’t require any Supreme Court Justice appointments. Anyone who says it comes down to Supreme Court Justices is either ill-informed or deceiving you. My hope is that they are just not thinking this stuff through, rather than trying to deceive you.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Experience: Palin vs. Obama

Recently there has been a lot of buzz about Alaskan Gov. Sarah Palin, Republican Vice Presidential candidate. Specifically, there have been questions about her experience level and more specifically her lack. Then the talk, somehow, on the web and in conversations turns to explaining how Obama clearly has more experience. The conversations go something like this:

(This is a fictional account compiled by a number of conversations both with friends and in my head! I will leave you to figure out which is which!)


Well, experience matters.


Yep. Obama has more. 7 years in the state government, as a senator, 3.5 years in the federal government, as a senator, and seven years of prior legal experience, for a total of 10.5 years of government experience and seven years of dealing with the law.


Well, Palin has 10 years in local government, as a managing major and committee membership, 1.5 years as a state governor. That is 11.5 years, which is actually more government experience, but not as a senator, but a person with daily responsibilities over the administration of a states government.


Yeah but we are talking about ALASKA here. A Huge barren state with less people than Chicago!


True. Alaska is large mostly barren state. In fact, it is larger than 18 sovereign nations on the planet. There is a lot of responsibility there. Mind you, SENATOR Obama never GOVERNED Illinois.


Well, all Alaska is, is just large, that is all. Large doesn’t mean complicated! The other day Obama said that the town Palin was mayor over, Wassilla, had only 50 government employees in it. Obamas campaign has 2,500 EMPLOYEES in it! He said Wassilla had a budget of maybe 12 million dollars and Obamas campaign goes through THREE TIMES THAT in just one month!! Obama said, “Our ability to manage large systems and to execute, I think, has been made clear over the past couple of years and certainly in terms of the legislation I’ve passed in the past couple of years, post-Katrina.”


Well, a lot of people, Republicans and Democrats, we in favor of that legislation, for example, to make it a priority to get elderly and disabled people out of the path of a Hurricane. I think claiming that as his personal success is a little bit reaching.

And while all of that is true about Wassilla, she was NOT only a major in Alaska. She was the GOVERNOR. Being a governor of a state is like a microcosm of being a President of a country. Yes Chicago has more people, and Alaska has only a bit over 600,000 people in it. But the state manages a lot of natural resources and that works out to being a state with a 12 billion dollar budget (the size of a small country.) Even so, when she began the governor she kept her promise and sold the state jet saving the state tax payers millions of dollars. As well, as GOVERNOR she cut her own paycheck, as she promised she would.

Obama may have 2,500 employed in his campaign, but Palin heads a state government with 25,000 EMPLOYEES. In fact, to add a little perspective, Alaska has the SEVENTH LARGEST STATE ECONOMY IN THE US!

Obama was hand picking statistic that don’t seem to encapsulate the reality of her experience.


OK, ok, ok. BUT with McCain getting up in years, would you really want someone with only 11.5 years of government experience and who has only managed a budget of 12 billion dollars ...when the US federal budget is 3 trillion dollars... running the country!?


Well, Sarah Palin is running for Vice President… VICE PRESIDENT, not President.

And while she has as much of a chance to “take over” as any other Vice President if the President dies… mind you, she would have VP experience by then as well… you are talking about voting for Obama for PRESIDENT, and he ONLY has 10.5 years of government experience.

The closest he has ever come to looking at a billion dollars is when after seven years in the senate he has tried to pork-barrel over a billion dollars of federal money back into HIS states economy by amending unrelated spending to bills that didn’t get passed!



Hey, why are we comparing Obama, a Presidential candidate, to Palin, a Vice Presidential candidate anyway!? Apples to oranges man, apples to oranges!


That would likely be because Obama has a better chance, if not a failing one, to try and say that he is more qualified than SOMEONE on the Republican ticket. Basically, if we were to agree at this point that he has more experience than Palin, all we would be saying is that he would make a slightly more qualified Vice President. But it seems that the raw numbers hold Palin as more experienced here. The Republican VP candidate is more experienced than the Democrat Presidential candidate.


You are right. I never took the time to run the numbers. Even so, there is a good chance I will continue to keep saying stuff like “ALASKA is a big barren state!” and “There are more people in Chicago” rather that consider her years of experience, the budget she manages, or the economy of her state, even if those numbers are larger than anything Obama has personally managed. Don’t confuse me with the facts. Obama still has a social and health care program I am excited about and so I will vote for him because that is important to me!!!


Well, McCain and Palin have a plan too! If that's what you want, you should read about that before you assume Obama has cornered the market on caring for Americans. Go to his website and read about it. But... remind me again... how was Obama going to pay for his social programs and healthcare plan?




That’s what I thought.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Conservatives Do Care

I really do get the democrat mindset. I really do believe that Democrats honestly want to help people, and I really think that they are exhausted watching people not "get" or share their values. While I come from a family that was predominantly conservative, but poor (couldn't put me through college... I had to pay for it myself), I've definitely had friends who were worse and better off than me. But you might be surprised to find out that you share the same values, more than you think, but you just don't share the same road to those shared goals. Let me explain.

Conservatives do care and want to help. Check out the following link and read the article to understand why the author wrote the book a couple short years ago:

Mind you, this site is not politically alffiliated (that is a good thing!) It is all about people being philanthropic (mostly financially philanthropic) and the article says that conservatives are statistically more generous with their money than democrats. So why all the fighting!? Why do Republicans/ conservatives always get a bad rep in this area?

Ideology means everything in this situation. I am going to leave behind the ridiculous fighting comments and just write what I hear people say in this discussion.)

The Democrat mindset:

  • We care about people.
  • We value good social programs with an agenda that cares for people.
  • We need people to give and I don’t think they will unless something bigger than us, like the government, facilitates it.
  • God tells us to help our neighbors, and since conservatives talk about God a lot they should be cool with good programs that care for their neighbors.

Let’s take it from the top!

We care about people. I totally believe that. I believe that it is easy to get behind any conversation where we are talking about helping people. The funny thing is that the average person doesn’t want take a phone call from people asking them to give, doesn’t stop to help out someone on the street, doesn’t want to answer a similar solicitation from someone walking up to their house door, or doesn’t want to give at the office (even when the United Way shows up!) but they might use that as an excuse to why they aren’t giving (i.e. “Hey I gave at the office.”)
So how do we all tend to give? Well, we help out our friends or our friend’s friends. If it is personal, then we tend to “show up” and “help out.”

We value good social programs. I can see that and believe this to be true. Surely nobody wants to get behind the opposite: a bad social program. Right? Here is where Republicans and Democrats start to take different roads.

Everyone has to admit that “philanthropy through taxation” makes giving a little easier. (At least) once a year everyone “gives” to those “good social (government-driven) programs” so being philanthropic is dead simple. That is the upside. What is the downside?

The government requires that all non-governmental groups that receive public funds disclose how they spend the money. If they are raising money for a specific purpose, they have to spend it on that specific purpose (no illegal conversion-of-funds please.) They regularly report as to their effectiveness. If they receive money from the government (grant or otherwise) the rules get even more strict! This is a good thing. Let’s compare giving to a non-governmental group to giving to the government through taxation.

The downside: government social programs don’t report effectiveness. Since they run on tax money, they don’t have the same conversion-of-funds issues.

So while the government has these programs, we have no way of knowing (1) if they help, (2) how they help other than providing services (do they help people in such a way as to help people up from needing the services going forward, to being more self sufficient – which many struggling family, if not all of them, would love to be able to do), and (3) if they are effective enough to keep investing in. An government program can tell you, “We gave away (X) services in the last 12 months,” but we don’t know if that is a little or a lot, if it is solving a problem or a stop-gap. As tax-payers, we have to give anyway… it is taxation.

So what about private charities? Private groups still have some of the same problems. Go visit a non-government-driven food reserve / pantry in your town and they will tell you how many families they help each week / month / year. They can tell you if that number is going up or down. They can’t tell you if they are helping people out from needing their services or if they are simply a stop-gap service with a larger problem that isn’t being addressed (unemployment in a town with a poor economy, such that it isn’t the fault of the family needing food.) But here is the difference. Maybe you want to care for people who need a stop-gap service, but you REALLY want to give into a situation that is helping people out of a bad situation and into a better one! In a non-taxation philanthropic situation, then YOU DECIDE! You aren’t being taxed! It’s your money and your desire to help.

The book referenced in the article above challenges Democrats (from someone who looks to Democrats as kindred spirits) to put their money where their mouth is. It is one thing to “give” to tax-based social programming without the kind of accountability demanded of non-government-driven charities, and another thing to give into situations that care and where you can ensure your giving makes a difference.

How many people (Democrats or Republicans) volunteer their time in government-driven social programs? How many volunteer in non-governmental helps services? In government programs, most people are relegated to giving fanancially (through taxation) and not more personally. With non-government-driven charities, you can give financially and of yourself, personally. I hope that you can see why Republicans consider themselves caring and philanthropic. I am willing to extend the same attitude toward Democrats that feel they are caring by investing through taxation for government-driven programs. I hope you can see that it comes down to mostly a philosophy on giving and specifically ideas about how to achieve those goals.

We need people to give and I don’t think they will unless something bigger than us, like the government, facilitates it. Again Republicans tend to like the idea that as individuals… we decide. And statistics bare that out. Republicans do decide how to give, and give big (or bigger than their Democrat counterparts.) It is worth remembering that Republicans are still paying taxes along side their Democrat friends. But they are giving beyond that as well. I can only imagine that as a demographic group, Democrats are waiting for the government to ask for more money in order for them to give more. The upside is that they don’t have to wait for the government to tax them more, for them to be more generous. There are plenty of good social non-government-driven groups that are accountable to report their effectiveness and are waiting for Democrats and Republicans to give more in a spirit of caring.

God tells us to help our neighbors, and since conservatives talk about God a lot they should be cool with good programs that care for their neighbors. As you can see, if what you give is any measure of how well you are hearing the call to care for your neighbor, then conservatives are heeding the call. Again these are only statistics and you might well know Republicans as well as Democrats that are quick to say, “Bah, humbug!” to the philanthropic call. But it is about averages, and the average conservative seems to hear and heed a call to care. What you won’t necessarily see from the Bible is a New Testament call for the God-fearing to give to the government, so it can give to people FOR you. In the New Testament, it is a lot more personal than that. But here is where I would side with Democrats as well as Republicans and say, “Hey, it was meant to be personal!” I don’t think it was God’s plan to have us give all of our philanthropic funds to a large government or a large non-government-driven Charity. I think the God of the Bible would have us save some back to be ready to give to the people who are around us everyday: the down-and-out, the single mom, the struggling family.

In conclusion, I think that I can see that even though Democrats mostly want to give through government-driven programs (mostly, compared to conservatives), that they do really want to give and care for and help people. As well, I believe that just because Republicans are not in favor of government-sanctioned philanthropy, that because they are proven to give privately, they do in fact give, and care and want to help as well.

A final Test in acknowledging the differences in philosophy:

Last year I was discussing the fact that it seemed potentially good that George W. Bush had made it possible for non-government-driven charitable organizations to receive federal funds. I was told that the program was a bit of a flop due to the fact that it was too complicated for non-government-driven charitable organizations to get access to those funds.

Here is the response to that reality from both sides of the political fence.


Well, that demonstrates that the blurring of the philanthropic line is mostly ineffective. Where is that money today? It didn’t seem to benefit those charities out there? It would have been better if those funds had simply remained available to the good social programs that are government-driven, rather than weaken those programs by spreading out those funds in such a complicated and unsuccessful manner.


This is a great example of why the money is better off when it is simply not in the hands of the government. Rather than have that money be taxed away from individuals, if those people could have selected responsible charities and given directly, then we could have done away with any government overhead, as well as the red-tape that seems prevalent in the government (at so many levels.) I like it that the government saw that everyday people running charities were a good social philanthropic investment, enough to take taxed money and turn it over to those charities. I just wish that they would see the people they are taxing in the same light and just trust them to be generous with charities directly rather than tax them and then pay themselves to be generous FOR us (and then mess it up.)

Special Director's Cut of "The Earwig Adventure"

Here, for the first time anywhere!!!!

Actually, every couple of years Kate and Eli would ask me to find this video so we could watch it. Last night I was watching the movie "Son of Rambow" (if you haven't seen it, go rent it) which got me wanting to dig up the earwig adventure. Funny enough, youtube didn't exist when this movie was made (I don't think) so there is something kind of fun about taking a movie made many years ago and you now get to see "The Earwig Adventure" on youtube.

A little backstory: If you don't know what an earwig is, it is a lot like a millipede, but the rumor is that it climbs into your ear and lays eggs. Well, the kids are certain they saw earwigs in the basement, if I am remembering correctly, which had them a little freaked out to go down there. Sadly, a Wisconsin winter can get a little long be pretty crappy and so it is best if kids have plenty of room to play and have fun indoors. So reclaiming the basement via a playful movie that undid the fears around earwigs seemed like a good idea at the time.

Anyway, after years of being lost in a box, here it is!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Emerging or Emergent: Which one will emerge?

I have been doing a full-scale hort-load of reading lately on the topic of Emergent / Emerging as a church movement and while it seems to have been a hot topic about six months ago (more importantly a few years ago when it was born in the Anglican church in England) I still find it intriguing as a topic. Mostly because I consider myself “enlightened” by a world view that combines (1) a need for Biblical understanding in the context in which it was written, as well as (2) challenged to hear how that affects my life today in a planet that exists more than 7,000 years since the first history recorded in the Bible (not including creation stories.) This doesn’t make me emergent, by all means, but it does mean, I think, that I am interested in many of the same Christian issues (I will call them) that are currently being discussed. There are a few issues, though, within the Emergent movement that are of particular concern to me. But before I get into that, I would like to quote a person from within the Emergent “conversation” (a term the emergent movement likes to use to describe theological discussions) Dr. John Piper, describing the difference between Emergent and Emerging:

“The single greatest concern for me is their attitude towards doctrine… I've talked with some emergent types and tried to understand even their concept of truth, and you can't get your hand around it… Now let me clarify one other thing. I said earlier that emergent and emerging aren't necessarily the same… Emerging might be used by some people—like Mark Driscoll—to describe a proper reaction that is taking place against some of the negative things going on in the church, but a reaction that doesn't throw away the doctrines… The Mark Driscoll "emerging" type would put a very high premium on biblical faithfulness, truth, doctrine and propositions. But the emergent types would not put premium on that, but would explicitly say on their websites that they regard that kind of emphasis as harmful.”

Now, I have struggled to understand this difference for some time now. I have read authors who seem to use the terms interchangeably. For a while at least, one of those authors was Brian McLaren. But it seems that, not completely unlike the rift that historically separated the Catholics from the Protestants, or the Calvinists from the Wesleyans, or the splitting of the Pentecostal movement, there seems to be a segmentation brewing between Emerging believers who value doctrinal proposition, Biblical faithfulness and truth, and those Emergent folks who, to borrow a phrase, think the “evangelical world is majoring too much on clarity.” So how does this change the price of beer (how does this really matter?) Read on to read a few of my concerns.

Emerging believers seem to carry the same general reactions to “church as usual” that Emergent folks tend to battle with, but their conclusions still seek to be in harmony with the Bible as a foundational instrument in Christianity. This is a funny thing to say if you imagine a version of Christianity could exist without a foundational relationship to the Bible. But the fact is that the nature of that relationship is a core “topic of conversation” within the greater Emergent movement. For example, an employee / leader of Emergent Village (the group that is currently leading the movement from an organizational perspective) recently blogged a frustration in that a secular news group defined Emergent’s relationship to doctrine as “unorthodox” (meaning not based on the authority of Biblical scriptures.) This kind of made the employee angry seeing as he has written books on behalf of the movement and feels that he is backing up his “conversations” with scripture. You can see here that it is a clear struggling point in the movement. So, when you are thinking Emerging, you might want to be thinking about a group of folks that want to get away from “church as usual” (I am oversimplifying here… as they itemize this list of frustrations far better than simply “church as usual”) but that also value Biblical faithfulness. Said another way, they are cool with doctrine and while we may not agree with all of the conclusions or their interpretations, they may come to some valid views that pass the litmus test of being in agreement with the whole of scripture but are not necessarily the commonly accepted traditional view (mind you not all views are really “new” and more importantly not all Emerging or Emergent views are in agreement with scripture, but we will get to that.)

To me, Emergent is the slightly scary brother to the more acceptable (but still nebulously defined) Emerging believer. Why so scary? Let’s take a look at my concerns:

The claims are overstated, hyperbolic, (unfair) generalizations, lacking in scholarly objectivity and evenhandedness that renders much of its early writings full of egregious errors.

Wow, what a claim! Someone punch me now for being so arrogant as to say this! If it were true, who would read such ridiculous Emergent commentary, which must be to say that I am crazy for saying it!? Or maybe I am just quoting Brian McLaren’s preface to his generally accepted Emergent book “A Generous Orthodoxy.” Yep. In an effort to sound humble, I am sure, he started off his book by saying that his book was laced with this kind of writing. Wow, huh? Some are quick to respond, “Well, at least he is keeping it real,” or “Now, that is genuine and approachable.” The trouble is, even if I start a sentence saying, “I really hope this doesn’t totally come off as painful, but I am about to punch you in the face,” does it forgive me for punching you, or more importantly does it make it less painful?

Emergent authors tend to promote the idea that humility means unloading concepts like certainty, proof, argument, and trading them in for dialogue, conversation, intrigue and search (to paraphrase McLaren from his book “Adventures in Missing the Point”.) The problem with this statement is that McLaren is building a straw man here. At first glance things like dialogue, conversation, intrigue and search feel like good things. Why wouldn’t they be? The trouble is that you don’t have to throw out certainty, proof and argument (apologetics is a slightly more acceptable term without a negative connotation that makes defending or discussing your faith sound like a battle) to embrace them. It is, honestly, an author’s linguistic grammatical trick to pit two things against each other and use positive versus negative terms to subjectively make your point. Like the authors of “Why we are not Emergent”, I firmly agree that we ought to have an “AND” where McLaren puts and “OR” to simply make his point. Oddly enough McLaren seems to not believe his own writing. A while later in his book “The Secret Message of Jesus” he recalls for the reader his writing that we should unload concepts like “certainty”, but in this book he says, “In one of my previous books I said that clarity is overrated… but here, I want to say, clearly, that…” So it seems that in the Emergent movement you can reject clarity on points you disagree with, but when you are ready to make a point yourself, it is time to embrace clarity. It is my opinion that whether intentionally or unintentionally McLaren, a person who was an English Major in college, is fully in command of his writing skills and so, at best, if he doesn’t know what he is doing to mess with people, we should just be most careful to notice these contradictions and guard our minds if we read what he writes, OR at worst he knows what he is doing, and other Emergent folks should call him to task for what seems to be cheap manipulative language. Not to single out McLaren (though I believe we need to tread lightly into his writing for these and other reasons), but even authors like Rob Bell like to trade in clarity for ambiguity at opportunistic times. Rob Bell in Velvet Elvis wrote that the “Bible is open-ended.” But the fact is that I have listened to an uncountable number of his sermons on MP3 and he asserts on a regular basis contextual statements about the history behind a set of scriptures. So, in those cases, Rob on one hands wants us to believe the Bible is open-ended, and in his teaching he wants us to embrace his less-than-open-ended perspectives (I reference Rob Bell because he and his wife reference Brian McLaren as having shaped their developing theology by reading his book “A New Kind of Christian.”) As a final example in this category, McLaren wrote on a Christianity Today blog, “I am no doubt wrong on many things. I am very likely wrong about my personal opinions on homosexuality.” This sort of attitude is confounding. Admittedly I prefer the attitude that simply says, “I don’t know” or “I am looking into this,” over the perspective, “I am likely wrong.” It makes no sense to cling to something you believe you are likely wrong about. But it seems that McLaren knows this about himself and continues to bring a skeptical confusion into the “conversation” anyway when he writes in his book A Generous Orthodoxy, “They’ll say I am being evasive, cowardly, afraid to take a stand and (that I) write smoke. No one can blame them.”

In the worst case of all, there seems to be theology running around the Emergent camp that definitely fails the litmus test of compatibility with scripture. Again, not to pick on McLaren but he seems to find his way into the middle of a lot of controversy, McLaren writes the forward to Spencer Burkes book “Heretic’s Guide” where he says of its contents “any honest reader can find much truth worth seeking.” The book outlines the oddest if not fully heretical attempt at reinventing doctrine that doesn’t seem to jive with the rest of scripture:

“Could it be- beyond religion, reason and conventional wisdom- grace is something to be opted out of rather than opted in to? It is not something you get but something you already have?”

Burke also writes…

“When I say I am a Universalist, what I really mean is that I don’t think you have to convert to any particular religion to find God. As I see it, God finds us, and it has nothing to do with subscribing to any particular religious view.”

In defense of McLaren, we have no idea if he finds these particular statements to be “truth worth seeking.” But endorsing the book with such a message contained within it seems a bit pluralistic or Unitarian at best, to me. But this seems to go along with the being the norm for McLaren. My best guess is that he simply doesn’t want to alienate anyone by taking or expressing his opinion on stuff. But that reality seems to put McLaren squarely in the middle of the Emergent (rather than Emerging) group.

Finally (for this blog entry) I would like to say that in the Emerging believer realm, there are good things going on. Albeit, I don’t believe they are truly new by all means (comfortable living room furniture in the church experience is not a postmodern thing, but a first century church thing, since the church primarily met in home for the first few hundred years of the Christian faith.) As well, I believe that the distinction will grow between what is Emerging and what is Emergent. To quote John Piper…

“I just kinda kept going back on my heels, like, I don’t understand the way these guys think, and so there are profound epistemological differences - ways of processing reality - that make the conversation almost impossible; just kind of going by each other. My question sort of is, how profitable would it be to press on with that when your worldviews seem to be so different and your ways of knowing seem to be different, the function of knowledge in transformation, what the goals of transformation are - all those are so different that I’m not sure we would get anywhere.”

In the mean time, my prayer is that apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers, and those in eldership will continue to watch the gate on this stuff, not swallowing these ideas whole, but examining them for congruence with the Bible as their foundation.

Like it says in James 3:1, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”

My prayer is that any coming judgments will render itself as a grace-filled corrective guiding by the Lord through his church, rather than a hard discipline for having led people away from the Lord by focusing on Biblically incompatible doctrines simply because they asked provocative questions.

Post-thoughts: It is worth mentionging that there seem to be plenty of people that really love Jesus, are tired of "church as usual" and that consider themselves "emerging." I think because emerging beliefs are still "unsettled" categorically, there is room for people to call themselves emerging and still not fall into agreement with the more unorthodox doctrines coming from that movement. The jury being out on emerging doctrine is a valid reason to remain associated with the "emergent conversation" as an active participant or even as observer. Equally so, there seems to be an element of the movement who are not as much unsettled and in persuit, but rather choose their words carefully so as to keep things intentionally nebulous. These folks appear "generous" in their orthodoxy, but in reality simply come from the camp of eternally skeptical, unconvinced by people as well as scripture. They are wandering around a smorgasbord of world religious views, chews, but never swallowing, and surely never sitting down, calling their commentary and questions "a conversation" but not truly getting conversant. (More on that in the next blog.)