Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Another Secret Giveaway to Health Insurance Industry

GOP leaders, meeting in closed session with no Democrats present, made a change in a Senate version of a healthcare bill, and gave $22 billion back to the health insurance industry:

House and Senate GOP negotiators, meeting behind closed doors last month to complete a major budget-cutting bill, agreed on a change to Senate-passed Medicare legislation that would save the health insurance industry $22 billion over the next decade, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

The Senate version would have targeted private HMOs participating in Medicare by changing the formula that governs their reimbursement, lowering payments $26 billion over the next decade. But after lobbying by the health insurance industry, the final version made a critical change that had the effect of eliminating all but $4 billion of the projected savings, according to CBO and other health policy experts.

That change was made in mid-December during private negotiations involving House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and the staffs of those committees as well as the House Energy and Commerce Committee. House and Senate Democrats were excluded from the meeting. The Senate gave final approval to the budget-cutting measure on Dec. 21, but the House must give it final consideration early next month.

The change in the Medicare provision underscores a practice that growing numbers of lawmakers from both parties want addressed. More than ever, Republican congressional lawmakers and leaders are making vital decisions, involving far-reaching policies and billions of dollars, without the public -- or even congressional Democrats -- present.

White House Knew about Potention Hurricane Devastation

Just another example of our President's complete lack of integrity:

The White House was told in the hours before Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans that the city would probably soon be inundated with floodwater, forcing the long-term relocation of hundreds of thousands of people, documents to be released Tuesday by Senate investigators show.

A Homeland Security Department report submitted to the White House at 1:47 a.m. on Aug. 29, hours before the storm hit, said, "Any storm rated Category 4 or greater will likely lead to severe flooding and/or levee breaching."

The internal department documents, which were forwarded to the White House, contradict statements by President Bush and the homeland security secretary, Michael Chertoff, that no one expected the storm protection system in New Orleans to be breached.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Black Churches Tackle Homophobia

The LATimes reports on a gathering of black church leaders to take on homophobia among blacks:

Traditional African American churches are not known for being tolerant of homosexuals — especially not in the Bible Belt.

But on Friday, more than 100 pastors and theologians from around the country filled Atlanta's First Iconium Baptist Church for a summit on homophobia in black churches.

"We may not all agree on gay marriage, but at the very least we can say that every child of God deserves to be affirmed in the family of God," the Rev. Kenneth Samuel, senior pastor of Victory Church in Stone Mountain, Ga., said in an interview.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Process theology

Over on the VOS (Voices for an Open Spirit - Brethren progressives) listserve I posted two replies yesterday in response to 1) a rip on process theology and 2) a question about it. I am not a process theologian and not an expert on it either, but have read process theology through the years and found some of it good. My first post was in response to someone who suggested that they didn't like process theology because in process theology God doesn't know the future, and this doesn't square with the possibilities opened up in modern physics, and process theology was still trying to make sense of an outdated 19th century materialistic understanding of the world. I said:

I don't pretend to understand Whitehead, but I do know that Whitehead is one of the few brilliant people in the world who could honestly say he understood Einstein, and he was working out his view of God in large part as a response to Einstein's theory of relativity.

Furthermore, process theology consistently rejects the notion that all that we can know is known from our sensory perception, which is the basis of materialism. I am too lazy to key in the quotes, but if you read David Ray Griffin's "Reenchantment without Supernaturalism" you will see lengthy discussions of this. Process theology says that our knowledge is perpetually unfolding. It does reject the idea that God intervenes in the world in a supernatural way, but says that the presence and activity of God is built into the unfolding fabric of the natural world. Knowledge of that natural world includes not only physics but metaphysics.

It isn't fair to say that God doesn't know the future in process theology. God knows all the possibilities of the future, whereas we only know some. God does not, and cannot, intervene to change the outcome of the future. That would be supernatural. God's presence acts as a lure toward deeper love, and in the midst of all the choices we can make at each and every moment of our lives, we feel the lure of that love, and to the extent that we follow it, we grow closer to God. We, of course, can choose otherwise, and God not only won't, but can't, stop us.

Process theology's notion that we are an enduring succession (what gives us personhood) of actual entities (at each moment we are brand new and have free choice) is worked out by current process theologians in conversation with quantum mechanics and presupposes the notion that there are possibilities that can't be explained by Newtonian physics. Again, the important point is that the explanation won't be found in supernatural causes, but in our unfolding understanding of the universe where God is "naturally" active.

A final point for the moment. You say " Even while Theology seems to be attracting agnostics and rejecting the supernatural, Physics seems on the verge of *proving* that the two most basic tenets of atheistic Materialism--(1) that there is nothing outside the observable material universe, and (2) if we can't measure it, then it doesn't exist--are BOTH simply flat-out wrong."

You seem to suggest in this passage that at the very moment theology is rejecting supernaturalism, physics is embracing it. Process theology, at least, does reject the supernatural, and many of us who do not consider ourselves process theologians 'also' reject the supernatural. Both physics and process theology reject the tenets of materialism. But that doesn't mean that physics is moving to embrace the supernatural. It simply means that physics is opening us to the presence of different levels of reality. And as these levels of reality become known and understood, they will be tested and retested and scientific theory about them will become established. In short, "we can't measure it" -- yet! But we will, and it won't be supernatural.

In the second post I responded to a question about whether process theology held that God could be changed. I said:

Creativity and becoming are core ideas of process theology. There is nothing unchanging, including God. There are aspects of God that do not "change;" God is love and God is always present and God always knows all future possibilities, but at every "moment" God, like us, is recreating herself.

We are participating in that recreation. We add love to God. For process theologian Charles Hartshorne, this was one of the important differences between classical theism and process theology. In classical theology, God's love is given to us and we are to love God in return. But does our love change God? No. What is love then? If God is not affected by the world, then "God is love" has no meaning. Love changes hearts, minds, creates possibilities not dreamed of before. Our love changes God; if not, then what is the point. Our love becomes part of the loving energy of the universe that makes it possible for the universe to recreate itself anew in each moment. God, like us, is both subject and object.

Process theology is not pantheistic. God is in us but beyond us. God is part of the history that makes us who we are, in us as we exist at each moment, lure inviting us to a better future, and there to receive our love when we are dead and gone.

One of the reasons I have continued to read process theology through the years is that I have appreciated its approach to the question of evil and God. Why does God allow bad things to happen? I have never been satisfied with any answer that I have read in classical theology. In process theology God doesn't "allow" evil to happen because God isn't an all-powerful deity who could do something about evil but chooses not to, and occasionally does pop-in to do something about it, and don't you worry He will do something about it eventually... In process theology God wants to prevent suffering and evil, but can't, at least in the sense of having the potential omnipotent power to step in at any moment and stop it. God works in the world by persuasion not coercion. Evil happens in the world because we allow it to happen, not because God allows it to happen. God's hands, our hands. Jewel was right.

Wheaton College Dismisses Professor who Converts to Catholicism

In Sojo Mail, Sojourner's online newsletter, David Batstone comments on the news that Wheaton College has dismissed a professor who converted from Episcopalian to Catholicism. The professor said he would still be able to sign the faith statement required of faculty members, but was told that it wouldn't be possible for a Catholic to adhere to the faith statement since a Catholic believes that the Pope has authority equal to the scriptures.

Great Climate Science Site

Real Climate: Climate Science from climate scientists. Great source of information on climate change.

Wayward Christian Soldiers

Charles Marsh is a professor of religion at the University of Virginia. In a NYTimes editorial today he says that American evangelicals have compromised their faith in order to gain access to power.

IN the past several years, American evangelicals, and I am one of them, have amassed greater political power than at any time in our history. But at what cost to our witness and the integrity of our message?

Recently, I took a few days to reread the war sermons delivered by influential evangelical ministers during the lead up to the Iraq war. That period, from the fall of 2002 through the spring of 2003, is not one I will remember fondly. Many of the most respected voices in American evangelical circles blessed the president's war plans, even when doing so required them to recast Christian doctrine.

Charles Stanley, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Atlanta, whose weekly sermons are seen by millions of television viewers, led the charge with particular fervor. "We should offer to serve the war effort in any way possible," said Mr. Stanley, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention. "God battles with people who oppose him, who fight against him and his followers." In an article carried by the convention's Baptist Press news service, a missionary wrote that "American foreign policy and military might have opened an opportunity for the Gospel in the land of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob."

As if working from a slate of evangelical talking points, both Franklin Graham, the evangelist and son of Billy Graham, and Marvin Olasky, the editor of the conservative World magazine and a former advisor to President Bush on faith-based policy, echoed these sentiments, claiming that the American invasion of Iraq would create exciting new prospects for proselytizing Muslims. Tim LaHaye, the co-author of the hugely popular "Left Behind" series, spoke of Iraq as "a focal point of end-time events," whose special role in the earth's final days will become clear after invasion, conquest and reconstruction. For his part, Jerry Falwell boasted that "God is pro-war" in the title of an essay he wrote in 2004.

The war sermons rallied the evangelical congregations behind the invasion of Iraq. An astonishing 87 percent of all white evangelical Christians in the United States supported the president's decision in April 2003. Recent polls indicate that 68 percent of white evangelicals continue to support the war. But what surprised me, looking at these sermons nearly three years later, was how little attention they paid to actual Christian moral doctrine. Some tried to square the American invasion with Christian "just war" theory, but such efforts could never quite reckon with the criterion that force must only be used as a last resort. As a result, many ministers dismissed the theory as no longer relevant.

Some preachers tried to link Saddam Hussein with wicked King Nebuchadnezzar of Biblical fame, but these arguments depended on esoteric interpretations of the Old Testament book of II Kings and could not easily be reduced to the kinds of catchy phrases that are projected onto video screens in vast evangelical churches. The single common theme among the war sermons appeared to be this: our president is a real brother in Christ, and because he has discerned that God's will is for our nation to be at war against Iraq, we shall gloriously comply.


What will it take for evangelicals in the United States to recognize our mistaken loyalty? We have increasingly isolated ourselves from the shared faith of the global Church, and there is no denying that our Faustian bargain for access and power has undermined the credibility of our moral and evangelistic witness in the world. The Hebrew prophets might call us to repentance, but repentance is a tough demand for a people utterly convinced of their righteousness.

This is the essential flaw in popular evangelical faith: certainty. There is no self-criticism or self-doubt. They are absolutely certain that they speak for the "truth," for God, and understand the meaning of Christian scriptures. They believe there is a received Truth that is without error, and they believe they have it. A more nuanced evangelical message holds that there is a received Truth that is without error, and our task is to humbly try and conform our lives to it. Nuance, however, does not win elections or get media attention.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Roy Blunt Starts my Day off with a Laugh

Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Missouri) is majority whip and candidate for the House leadership post. In today's Wall Street Journal he writes (subscription only) that Republicans can be proud of what they have accomplished as the majority party:

House Republicans have cut the tax rate on capital gains and dividends, substantially lowered personal tax rates, and set in motion a plan to eliminate the death tax once and for all. In just the past year we have reformed our bankruptcy laws, placed limits and restrictions on class-action lawsuits and--for the first time since 1997--passed reforms in mandatory spending programs to reduce the federal budget deficit. And after freezing regular domestic discretionary spending the year before, we enacted a real cut in spending this year.

House Republicans even enacted an energy bill that included reforms that helped us through the energy crisis after Hurricane Katrina. We have begun the long process of reforming our health care system by enacting one of the first elements of consumer-driven health care in the form of Health Savings Accounts.

The message to the readers of the WSJ: we have taken care of our rich friends, and don't you forget it. Nevermind that we are hopelessly corrupt, that the size of government has exploded under our watch, that there is no oversight of anyone in the legislative or executive branch... We gave you all those wonderful tax cuts and have taken care of all our corporate friends and wealthy donors. You don't want to lose that do you?

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Campaign Finance Reform

Republicans are scrambling to come up with a campaign finance/lobbying reform package, a true sign they know they are in trouble. Dems are set to announce their own plan soon. But Kevin Drum links to this quote in the Washington Monthly, where James Carville and Paul Begala offer up their own real plan for reform. Would it pass? Probably not? Would it change the culture in Washington? Definitely.

NOT ONE DIME....Tired of wimpy proposals for cleaning up the corruption mess in Congress? In the March issue of the Washington Monthly, James Carville and Paul Begala offer up their red-meat version of campaign finance reform:

First, we raise congressional pay big time. Pay 'em what we pay the president: $400,000....In return, we get a simple piece of legislation that says members of Congress cannot take anything of value from anyone other than a family member. No lunches, no taxi rides. No charter flights. No golf games. No ski trips. No nothing.

And when it is campaign time, incumbents would be under a complete ban on raising money. You read that right. No president or member of Congress could accept a single red cent from individuals, corporations, or special interests. Period.

Challengers, on the other hand, would be allowed to raise money in any amount from any individual American citizen or political action committee. No limits, just as the free-market conservatives have always wanted....The day after you disclose [a contribution], the U.S. Treasury would credit the incumbent's campaign account with a comparable sum — say 80 percent of the contribution to the challenger to take into account the cost of all the canap├ęs and Chardonnay the challenger had to buy to raise his funds as well as the incumbent's advantage.

There are more details, so read the whole thing before you raise technical objections — of which there are plenty. However, Carville and Begala think that it may be possible to bulldoze through these problems simply because modern fundraising is such a degrading, soul-destroying pursuit for members of Congress. "You should never underestimate how much these folks hate spending half their time — or more — sniveling for money."

I don't know if their plan would work, but I'd sure like to see congressional Dems put something like this on the table. It's going to be hard to get any serious attention from anything less, and practical or not, at least it gets us talking about the core issue instead of arguing over minutiae like toothless travel bans and meaningless extensions of "cooling down" periods.

So let's talk. What do you think?

POSTSCRIPT: This proposal is from Taking It Back, Carville and Begala's new book.

Update: Well, I don't know the details of the Dem plan, but I like the way they have named each part (from Tapped):

And anyone worried that the Democrats would make the mistake of entering into this debate with an eye toward reaching a constructive compromise with Republicans and producing real reform legislation can rest easy. It's not just the rhetoric (as Slaughter said, "The same Republican members of Congress who put America up for sale have neither the ability nor the credibility to lead us in a new direction, and they shouldn't even try."). The Democrats' reform package has GOP labels for each proposal: “The Tony Rudy Reform” to close the revolving door; “The Ralph Reed Reform” to toughen lobbying disclosure; “The Jack Abramoff Reform” to ban gifts and travel; “The Grover Norquist Reform” to end the K Street Project; “The Scully & Tauzin Reform” to require disclosure of outside job negotiations; “The Frist and Hastert Reform,” which pertains to procedural rules governing conference committees and floor activity, etc.; “The Brownie Reform”; and "The Halliburton Reform." It's that kind of package.

War's Stunning Price Tag

In the LA Times, two economists estimate the cost of the war in Iraq will run between $1-2 Trillion. Enough to save Social Security many times over. Imagine that amount of money invested over the next decade in education, poverty reduction, renewable energy, transportation, foreign aid. Instead we are living in a less-safe world, and saddled with an incredible mountain of debt. Depressing. Absolutely the worst president ever.

Global Warming Isn't Going Away

While the daily news cycle keeps us riveted to Iraq, Iran, Republican corruption, Supreme Court nominations, and sports (for some of us), David Ignatius reminds us in today's Washington Post that a really important issue is flying under the radar -- global warming:

What got me thinking about the recondite life rhythms of the planet, and not the 24-hour news cycle, was a recent conversation with a scientist named Thomas E. Lovejoy, who heads the H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics and the Environment. When I first met Lovejoy nearly 20 years ago, he was trying to get journalists like me to pay attention to the changes in the climate and biological diversity of the Amazon. He is still trying, but he's beginning to wonder if it's too late.

Lovejoy fears that changes in the Amazon's ecosystem may be irreversible. Scientists reported last month that there is an Amazonian drought apparently caused by new patterns in Atlantic currents that, in turn, are similar to projected climate change. With less rainfall, the tropical forests are beginning to dry out. They burn more easily, and, in the continuous feedback loops of their ecosystem, these drier forests return less moisture to the atmosphere, which means even less rain. When the forest trees are deprived of rain, their mortality can increase by a factor of six, and similar devastation affects other species, too.

"When do you wreck it as a system?" Lovejoy wonders. "It's like going up to the edge of a cliff, not really knowing where it is. Common sense says you shouldn't discover where the edge is by passing over it, but that's what we're doing with deforestation and climate change."

Lovejoy first went to the Amazon 40 years ago as a young scientist of 23. It was a boundless wilderness, the size of the continental United States, but at that time it had just 2 million people and one main road. He has returned more than a hundred times, assembling over the years a mental time-lapse photograph of how this forest primeval has been affected by man. The population has increased tenfold, and the wilderness is now laced with roads, new settlements and economic progress. The forest itself, impossibly rich and lush when Lovejoy first saw it, is changing.

For Lovejoy, who co-edited a pioneering 1992 book, "Global Warming and Biological Diversity," there is a deep sense of frustration. A crisis he and other scientists first sensed more than two decades ago is drifting toward us in what seems like slow motion, but fast enough that it may be impossible to mitigate the damage.

The best reporting of the non-news of climate change has come from Elizabeth Kolbert in the New Yorker. Her three-part series last spring lucidly explained the harbingers of potential disaster: a shrinking of Arctic sea ice by 250 million acres since 1979; a thawing of the permafrost for what appears to be the first time in 120,000 years; a steady warming of Earth's surface temperature; changes in rainfall patterns that could presage severe droughts of the sort that destroyed ancient civilizations. This month she published a new piece, "Butterfly Lessons," that looked at how these delicate creatures are moving into new habitats as the planet warms. Her real point was that all life, from microorganisms to human beings, will have to adapt, and in ways that could be dangerous and destabilizing.

So many of the things that pass for news don't matter in any ultimate sense. But if people such as Lovejoy and Kolbert are right, we are all but ignoring the biggest story in the history of humankind. Kolbert concluded her series last year with this shattering thought: "It may seem impossible to imagine that a technologically advanced society could choose, in essence, to destroy itself, but that is what we are now in the process of doing." She's right. The failure of the United States to get serious about climate change is unforgivable, a human folly beyond imagining.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Tayor Branch Writes on King

Yesterday I mentioned that I listened to Dan Barreiro of KFAN interviewing Taylor Branch. This morning I discovered that Branch had an Op Ed piece in yesterday's New York Times. Here is a part:

These and other sweeping trends from the civil rights era have transformed daily life in many countries, and now their benefit is scarcely contested. Yet the political discourse behind them is atrophied. Public service has fallen into sad disrepute. Spitballs pass for debate. Comedians write the best-selling books on civics. Dr. King's ideas are not so much rebutted as cordoned off or begrudged, and for two generations his voice of anguished hope has given way to a dominant slogan that government itself is bad.

Above all, no one speaks for nonviolence. Indeed, the most powerful discipline from the freedom movement was the first to be ridiculed across the political spectrum. "A hundred political commentators have interred nonviolence into a premature grave," Dr. King complained after Selma. The concept seemed alien and unmanly. It came to embarrass many civil rights veterans themselves, even though nonviolence lies at the heart of democracy.

Every ballot - the most basic element of free government - is by definition a piece of nonviolence, symbolizing hard-won or hopeful consent to raise politics above anarchy and war. The boldest principles of democratic character undergird the civil rights movement's nonviolent training. James Madison, arguing to ratify the Constitution in 1788, summoned "every votary of freedom to rest all our political experiments on the capacity of mankind for self-government," and he added that no form of government can secure liberty "without virtue in the people."

By steeling themselves to endure blows without retaliation, and remaining steadfastly open to civil contact with their oppressors, civil rights demonstrators offered shining examples of the revolutionary balance that launched the American system: self-government and public trust. All the rest is careful adjustment.

Like Madison, the marchers from Selma turned rulers and subjects into fellow citizens. A largely invisible people offered leadership in the role of modern founders. For an incandescent decade, from 1955 to 1965, the heirs of slavery lifted the whole world toward freedom.

Weariness and war intruded. In the White House, President Lyndon Johnson wrestled the political subtleties of sending soldiers to guarantee liberty at home. "Troops leave a bitter taste in the mouths of all the people," cautioned Defense Secretary Robert McNamara. The president moaned simultaneously over predictions of bloody stalemate if he sent troops to Vietnam, saying the prospect "makes the chills run up my back," but he succumbed to schoolyard politics. The American people, he feared, "will forgive you for everything except being weak."

Lamenting religious leaders who accommodated the war, Dr. King defended nonviolence on two fronts. "Have they forgotten that my ministry is in obedience to the one who loved his enemies so fully that he died for them?" he asked. "What then can I say to the Vietcong, or to Castro, or to Mao...? Can I threaten them with death or must I not share with them my life?" In politics, Dr. King endorsed a strategic alternative to violence. "We will stop communism by letting the world know that democracy is a better government than any other government," he told his congregation, "and by making justice a reality for all of God's children."

Pressures intensified within Dr. King's own movement. To battered young colleagues who wondered why nonviolence was consigned mostly to black people, while others admired James Bond, he could only commend the burden as a redemptive sacrifice. Change was slow, however, for a land still dotted with lynching, and frustration turned to rebellion as the war in Vietnam hardened the political climate. When offered incendiary but fleeting fame in 1966, the leaders of various black power movements repudiated nonviolence along with the vote itself, which they had given so much to win.

Meanwhile, Lyndon Johnson steadily lost his presidency at home before he could forge any political order in Vietnam. Although casualty figures confirmed the heavy advantage of American arms, Johnson fell victim to a historical paradox evolving since the age of Napoleon: modern warfare destroys more but governs less - one reason military commanders seem, in my limited experience, more skeptical than civilians about the political use of lethal force.

Dr. King grew ever more lonely in conviction about the gateway to constructive politics. "I'm committed to nonviolence absolutely," he wrote. "I'm just not going to kill anybody, whether it's in Vietnam or here." When bristling discouragement invaded his own staff, he exhorted them to rise above fear and hatred alike. "We must not be intimidated by those who are laughing at nonviolence now," he told them on his last birthday.

His oratory fused the political promise of equal votes with the spiritual doctrine of equal souls. He planted one foot in American heritage, the other in scripture, and both in nonviolence. "I say to you that our goal is freedom," he said in his last Sunday sermon. "And I believe we're going to get there because, however much she strays from it, the goal of America is freedom."

Only hours before his death, Dr. King startled an aide with a balmy aside from his unpopular movement to uplift the poor. "In our next campaign," he remarked, "we have to institutionalize nonviolence and take it international."

The nation would do well to incorporate this goal into our mission abroad, reinforcing the place of nonviolence among the fundamentals of democracy, along with equal citizenship, self-government and accountable public trust. We could also restore Dr. King's role in the continuing story of freedom to its rightful prominence, emphasizing that the best way to safeguard democracy is to practice it. And we must recognize that the accepted tradeoff between freedom and security is misguided, because our values are the essence of our strength. If dungeons, brute force and arbitrary rule were the keys to real power, Saudi Arabia would be a model for the future instead of the past.

Gunfire took Dr. King's life, but we determine his legacy. This holiday, let that inspiration remain our patriotic challenge.

Monday, January 16, 2006


I was on the way home today from Mankato, and tuned the radio onto KFAN, the sports radio station in the twin cities. Dan Barreiro was on, the former Star Tribune writer. Much to my surprise he was interviewing Taylor Branch, the author of a three-volume biography of Martin Luther King, Jr. The final volume, At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years, is just out. It was a good interview.

I was particularly struck by Branch's answer to a question by Barreiro about what was the most important lesson of the King legacy that is still relevant. Branch said that the most important lesson of the King legacy, one that he said was largely dismissed after his death, was the power of non-violence to spread democracy. Non-violent protest in the civil rights movement led to a great expansion of democracy in the country as blacks gained the franchise, and, interestingly enough he pointed out, in many southern states women gained them, too. Branch contrasted that with Vietnam, where we were spreading democracy through military action. The use of violence to spread democracy was a colossal failure; the use of non-violence was not.

We still haven't learned that lesson.

back to college

I took Meagan back to Mankato today.

Friday, January 13, 2006

On Alito

Courtesy of DailyKos, I read this exchange on CNN between Wolf Blitzer and Judge Robert Bork, who might have been the last Supreme Court candidate to speak honestly during confirmation hearings, and it cost him a seat on the court -- fortunately. In any case, this is Bork on Alito:

BLITZER: Here's what Samuel Alito said about you, back in 1988. Let me put it up on the screen. "I think he - referring to you - was one of the most outstanding nominees of this century.
He is a man of unequaled ability, understanding of constitutional history, someone who had thought deeply throughout his entire life about constitutional issues and about the Supreme Court and the role it ought to play in American society."

He was asked about those remarks on Tuesday. Listen to what he said.


SAMUEL ALITO, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: When I made that statement in 1988, I was an appointee in the Reagan administration and Judge Bork had been a nominee of the administration, and I had been a supporter of the nomination. I don't think the statement goes beyond that. There are issues with respect to which I probably agree with Judge Bork, and there are a number of issues with which I -- on which I disagree with him.


BLITZER: Very diplomatic answer, I must say. How do you think he handled himself?

BORK: Very well. He's walking away from a lot of things. That was one example.

BLITZER: Including you, right.

BORK: Yes.

BLITZER: So why do you say he handled himself very well?

BORK: The object nowadays is to get confirmed. People will say pretty much -- or avoid saying pretty much in order to get confirmed.

Bork is right about what it takes to get confirmed, and right about Alito. The most contentious moment in Alito's hearing was about his membership in the Concerned Alumni of Princeton Club (CAP) during his years there as a student. He doesn't "remember" now anything about being a part of the club, but when he was applying for a job in the Reagan Justice Department, he listed CAP as one of his past conservative bona fides. This was not the action of a just-out-0f-law school kid who was trying to ingratiate himself with his potential employers. This was the action of a 35 year old lawyer who was trying to ingratiate himself with his potential employers. Either he was proud of his involvement there (and he only listed CAP and the Federalist Society) or he was lying. Either way he was willing to say whatever it took to get the job. And that is what we saw in the SC confirmation hearings.

Maryland Forces Wal-Mart to Pay More for Health Insurance

From CNN:
The measure would require companies with more than 10,000 employees to spend at least 8 percent of their payroll on health benefits, or pay the balance into a state low-income health insurance fund.

Wal-Mart is the only large company in the state that doesn't meet the requirements of the bill. It will certainly be challenged in court. Wal-Mart is but a symptom of a much deeper nationwide problem, and the only solution is some kind of nationwide single-payer healthcare program. It is not going to happen, though, until companies like Wal-Mart are facing Maryland-like pressure all around the country and decide that the time has come to lobby for a government response. So good for Maryland; let's hope more states follow their lead.

Update: Jonathan Cohn says essentially the same thing over at TNR's The Plank.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Robertson apologizes - sort of

Pat Robertson has apologized for saying that Israeli Prime Minister Sharon's stroke was God's punishment for Sharon's decision to dismantle some Israeli settlements and cede land in Gaza to Palestinians. Robertson had said that Sharon was "dividing God's land" and God wasn't happy.

Two points are worth noting here. First, this apology came after Israel announced that Roberton would no longer be involved in the business venture to develop a theme park along the Sea of Galilee. Second, Robertson apologized for being "insensitive." He didn't apologize for saying that God was punishing Sharon.

Christianity as the true religion

Reading Lost Christianities by Ehrman reminds me once again how the Christian propensity to claim that there is only one way to God, and Christianity is it, is ancient and genetic. Judaism made the same exclusivist claims, but managed to coexist with the various pagan religions in the Roman Empire:
But then came Christianity. Soon as some of Jesus followers pronounced their belief that he had been raised from the dead, Christians began to understand that Jesus himself was, in some way, the only means of a right standing before God, the only way of salvation. But once that happened, a new factor entered the religion scene of antiquity. Christians by their very nature became exclusivists, claiming to be right and such a way that everyone else was necessarily wrong. (Page 92).

My own understanding of the Jesus scholarship I read is that the Johnanine "I am" claims are John speaking and not Jesus. Jesus probably held typical Jewish monotheistic beliefs. But from Paul on, Jesus was the only way. This is one of those places where I part ways with what I read in the Christian Scriptures. There is no place in our world anymore for those kinds of exclusivist claims.

Hajj Stampede Kills Hundreds

Seems like this happens every year.

Bart Ehrman

The works of Bart Ehrman have been creating something of a stir over on the Church of the Brethren progressive listserve, Voices for an Open Spirit (VOS). Yesterday I posted this as a reply to a couple of evanglical blog reviews to Ehrman's book Misquoting Jesus. PJ Williams is the evangelical blogger (You can read his review of Ehrman's book here). Part of the issue on the VOS list was that Ehrman has apparently identified himself as an agnostic, and that troubles some. It doesn't trouble me any as long as the scholarship is good. It is. Anyway my post, and I will comment more if anything comes along over there worthwhile:

Thanks for the links to the reviews of Ehrman. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the full posts, in particular the blog of PJ Williams. I admit to being ignorant of evangelical scholarship and assume you are quoting these posts because you think they represent well-thought-out reviews.

I have a couple of comments and then a question.

First, one of the essential criticisms of Erhman in these posts seems to be that Erhman misrepresents or doesn't understand or oversimplifies the evangelical notion of the divine inspiration of the scriptures. This may be true, but a quick reading of Williams' reply to Ehrman along with the handful of writers who responded to Williams leads me to believe that (even a handful of)evangelicals do not agree among themselves what constitutes inspiration of the scriptures.

My sense is that Ehrman takes aim at what I would call the common-sense, lay-persons view of divine inspiration, also promulgated by the prominent TV preachers, that God inspired the original writers who then wrote down the words of God. This happened in a "privileged" time when God was working in the world in a unique way, and what was witnessed and recorded was inspired and recorded essentially without error. This seems to have been Ehrman's early view himself as a new born-again Christian. My hunch is that many Christians of all stripes have this view and are completely unaware that there even are textual variants, are but vaguely aware that there are differences in the texts on things like the birth stories of Jesus but don't think them important...

And, that most pastors are perfectly happy to allow people to stay ignorant because it stirs up trouble. (My question, to follow in a moment, pertains to this issue.)

Second, a week or so ago I said in a post that I believe that once you go down the road of biblical scholarship, ala Ehrman, it is pretty hard to put the genie back into the bottle. This issue is addressed in the snippet of conversation that follows from Williams' blog when C. Stirling Bartholomew wishes that someone would aggressively take on Ehrman's "project." Williams replies that this is not easy because evangelical textual criticism is not in a "very good state," in part because "Ehrman is only able to make his argument so plausible because he begins from an existing consensus about textual criticism that is itself not particularly conducive to evangelical belief." Jay: I.E., the "existing consensus" of modern biblical scholarship is dangerous to one's faith. The quote follows:

>>C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

>>Ehrman exaggerates the problem for verbal inspiration posed by textual variants. However, there seems to be no way to avoid some level of residual uncertainty about the original reading in a minute fraction of the NT text. So what should I say to a 21 year old bible student who asks about Ehrman's argument?

>>The stock and trade answer, no doubtful reading places orthodox theology at risk, leaves Ehrman's objection essentially untouched. I would like to see a more aggressive deconstruction of Ehrman's project. Why should we let him go on year after year publishing these books without a substantive and devastating reply?

>>Someone with a orderly logical mind needs to show us why Ehrman's argument that uncertainty about some readings in the NT text does not render useless the notion of verbal inspiration. I have been looking on the web for an answer to this and all I can come up with is the textbook stuff I was taught 30 years ago in seminary.

>>P J Williams said...

>>C. Stirling Bartholomew,
>>I agree that Ehrman needs some more substantive reply. However, we should not be tempted into any premature reply. Evangelical textual criticism is not, in my view, currently in a very good state. This is partly because we have been too content with cosy, but not ultimately satisfactory, replies. There is no easy cut-off between 'doctrinal' and 'non-doctrinal' variants since, in historic evangelical theology, history and doctrine are linked. Ehrman is only able to make his argument so plausible because he begins from an existing consensus about textual criticism that is itself not particularly conducive to evangelical belief.<<

Jay: Thinking about this just makes me wonder about how much middle ground there is anymore between conservatives and liberals on the "authority" of the scriptures.

But, then, I also wonder, and this is my question(s): who really reads this stuff anyway? I now know... that some evangelical biblical scholars are reading Ehrman and feeling the need to reply. But who else is buying his books? And why? And how many pastors are using this kind of material in their bible studies and sermons? Do those of us who are pastors feel any need to have our church members be aware of biblical scholarship? How do we answer those who have genuine questions about the inconsistencies in the scriptures when they discover them? And, to those progressive pastors on this list, how much have we contributed to "losing" the middle of Christianity to popular conservatism because we haven't done the hard work over the years of educating our folks about how to read the bible with a "critical" and thoughtful eye?

Intelligent Design

A group of California parents sues school district over 'intelligent design' class. The LA Times reports that the parents, including one Quaker scientist, is taking on the school for offering a "philosophy of design" class:
An initial course description, which was distributed to students and their families last month, said "the class will take a close look at evolution as a theory and will discuss the scientific, biological and biblical aspects that suggest why Darwin's philosophy is not rock solid. The class will discuss intelligent design as an alternative response to evolution. Physical and chemical evidence will be presented suggesting the earth is thousands of years old, not billions."

The course, which began Jan. 3 and is scheduled to run for one month, is being taught by Sharon Lemburg, a special education teacher with a bachelor of arts in physical education and social science, according to the lawsuit.
The article also notes that she is married to an Assemblies of God minister.