Friday, September 30, 2005

Where are the Fiscal Conservatives?


The Wall Street Journal ran a story yesterday about a country that is "Counting on a Miracle with U.S. Debt." It is not a pretty picture.

Worst of all, these are debts that we are leaving for our children and grandchildren to pay.

Note: The WSJ's chart shows net international investment. A comparable chart of the actual U.S. national debt would cast a certain administration in much poorer light.

Controversy, Over Torture?

Thanks to Normon Solomon for his essay "Torture and the 'Controversial' Arc of Injustice."

He expresses the incredulity of many Americans when he writes:
Torture. Controversial. In 2005 -- not 1505, 1705 or 1905 -- in the 21st century, in a country that claims to be at the world's vanguard of democracy and human rights.

The only thing I find more incredible is the guilty silence of most "evangelical" church leaders on this issue.
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Thursday, September 29, 2005

Revolting Images

BBC is reporting that a Federal District Court Judge has ruled that unreleased Abu Ghraib images must be released. The government is certain to appeal.

In my mind, it would be far better for the government hold the images and start terminating the military commanders and cabinet heads who are responsible for setting the policies that led to these atrocities. Instead, the government has covered-up their directives and scapegoated the subordinates who followed them to their logical conclusions.

There is little doubt that the images, video and audio in question is explosively revolting. Textual descriptions alone are enough to turn strong stomachs. Here's a link.

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Back on the Road

I am heading to Austin this afternoon to attend the Texas Freedom Network conference on Reviving Progressive Values in American Politics.

Mainstream Christians who are not familiar with the Texas Freedom Network could well spend some time on their website reviewing the work that they are doing.

Their report on The Bible and Public Schools is a good example of the outstanding work they have been doing.

On the Legal Superiority of Presidents

Before we set up a constitutional democracy with checks and balances over the power of the executive, America was governed by a monarchy that ruled under extra-legal authority associated with the divinely superior rights of Kings.

Raw Story has published an article about the frequency with which the current administration has exercised an extreme interpretation of an obscure doctrine known as Unitary Executive Theory. Behind all the legalese, it appears to this layman that this administration thinks that Presidents, like the Kings of old, are above the law. Here's why:
Several mainstream legal scholars have declared that the President's claim of unlimited executive power turns the Constitution on its head. University of Texas law professor Douglas Laycock told the L.A. Times that "It is just wrong to say the president can do whatever he wants, even if it is against the law."

On Managing Federal Money to Churches

Thanks to Welton Gaddy, Executive Director of the Interfaith Alliance, for speaking out against the political opportunism that is using money for hurricane relief to tear bricks out of the wall separating church and state. In the end, it will not be good for either the church or the state.

Here's a taste of what Gaddy says:
This ill-advised, unconstitutional plan raises a number of immediate concerns. These include the separation of religion and government, political expedience and accountability. Then there's the possible specter of the government inspecting the financial records of houses of worship to determine which ones will receive taxpayer dollars, how much the reimbursements will be and how those funds can be spent.

Now more than ever, government needs to do its job and let the religious community do our job, without confusing the two.


Wednesday, September 28, 2005

On Just War Theorizing

Kudos to Bob Allen at Ethics Daily for taking Richard Land to task for his outspoken support for the second gulf war in Iraq. More than anyone else, Land bears responsibility for making Southern Baptists America's war denomination.

History will surely note that, as the global supply of oil was peaking, the chief ethician for the Southern Baptist Convention provided theological justification for the world's greatest oil consuming nation to launch a pre-emptive military strike under false pretenses on a country with some of the world's richest oil reserves.

Seventy years ago, the failure of theologians to adequately assess and address the actions and intentions of certain political leaders demonstrated the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of theological liberalism and led to its demise.

Time will tell whether American fundamentalism suffers the same fate.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Religious Leaders and Torture

In a Buzz Flash Guest Contribution Ray McGovern, a former intelligence official, asks:
Where do American religious leaders stand on torture? Their deafening silence evokes memories of the unconscionable behavior of German church leaders in the 1930s and early 1940s.

I'm sure that the Christians whose silence is deafening on torture will be quick to label McGovern's analogy to Nazi Germany extreme.

So would the German church leaders in the 1930s and early 1940s.

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Strained Relations Between Southern Baptists and Europeans

Ethics Daily has published a report that "European Baptist Leaders Criticize IMB Strategy."

It has been clear for a long time that Southern Baptists are more concerned about spreading their sterile bibliolatry than about sharing the gospel. SBC Executive Morris Chapman says they intend to create "a network that shall extend to every corner of the earth."

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Monday, September 26, 2005

Pope Meets with Hans Kung

The Associated Press is reporting that the new pope met with Hans Kung this weekend.

Kung was fired from his teaching position in 1979 after he criticized the doctrine of papal infallibility.

Perhaps the Vatican is signaling a willingness to reconsider its theologically indefensible doctrine of papal infallibility. That doctrine is a major roadblock to Christian unity.

DNA and Intelligent Design

Today's Washington Post has an outstanding article on how DNA research is confirming the theory of evolution.

I've known that DNA research provides the evidence that Intelligent Designers are least prepared to handle six years ago. I learned it from Phillip Johnson, the architect of the Intelligent Design wedge strategy. In 1999 Johnson came to a church in downtown Oklahoma City to spout his lawyer's case for ID (Johnson is a lawyer, not a scientist).

When Johnson finished his presentation he received questions. After fielding a number of comments from fundamentalist Christians who clearly failed to perceive the distinction that Johnson was trying to make between ID and "creation science," Johnson got a question from a molecular biologist who explained that DNA research shows we share chains of "junk DNA" with primates and asked Johnson how ID could explain that.

As soon as Johnson began to speak about DNA, the building's fire alarm went off and Johnson loudly exclaimed that it was not unusual for evolutionists to try to sabotage his speeches. Then at an inaudible tone of voice he tried to time a response to the question in the brief intervals between the alarm's ear-splitting sirens.

I saw the same fire alarm routine at a church in Albuquerque, New Mexico in the early 1970's when Henry Morris was making a presentation on Creation Science and had to field a difficult question from a paleontologist.

In both instances, when people left the meeting, most of them left talking about the alarm and the kind of person that would set it off. Only the most astute realized that the alarm's timing perfectly coincided with the most significant challenge to the speaker's presentation.

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The Toxic Fundamentalist Flood

Ethics Daily has published my blog on The Toxic Flood of Fundamentalism.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Renewing Debate over Lite Theocracy

The Moveable Theoblogical weblog has posted a blog renewing the debate over the "lite theocracy" of Stanley Hauerwas. That debate can be found in the comments that were made to an entry I made in May on Ecclesiological Fundamentalism.

My comments on Moveable Theoblogical are awaiting approval by the blog's author. Here's something similar to what I posted in the comments section there:

"Please don't take my criticisms of Hauerwas to indicate that I disagree with all that he says. I agree with him more than I disagree with him.

I'm just tired of being called a "secularist" because I believe that governments ought to protect the religious liberty of everyone. In my mind, that is the necessary political prolegomena to sharing the gospel in a pluralistic world. It creates a free marketplace of ideas where the gospel is free to compete for a hearing. It is wrong for the government to lend the weight of its authority to any religion in this free marketplace of ideas."

Friday, September 23, 2005

Repealing One Civil Right at a Time

Two weeks ago Paul Pressler, the architect of the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention, described how the Religious Right intended to deal with Roe v. Wade. After expressing his elation with the selection of John Roberts as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court he said, "Roe v. Wade won't be revoked, it will die the death of a thousand cuts and qualifications and regulations until it gradually disappears."

I suspect that Pressler has described the Religious Right's strategy for dealing with more than Roe v. Wade. They are already applying the same strategy to repealing the First Amendment and civil rights legislation.

One of the most egregious examples is the authorization that congress gave churches and religious groups to discriminate in hiring yesterday. Churches and religious groups have always been free to discriminate in their hiring when they were spending money received from private donations. Yesterday congress authorized them to discriminate in hiring with the money they receive from federal grants.

First, this administration opened the flood gates for churches and religious groups to receive billions of dollars from the federal treasury. Now they are permitting the churches and religious groups to ignore laws protecting the civil rights of minorities when using that federal money. Already they have seized on hurricane Katrina as an opportunity to distribute more federal money to faith-based organizations and give vouchers to private and religious schools.

It's not hard to see what is happening here if you just ignore their pious sounding rhetoric and look at the reality of what they are doing. They are slowly creating an established church. It is being established not by a direct act of congress (that would violate the First Amendment which says "congress shall pass no laws respecting the establishment of religion"), but indirectly by government appropriations. Christian churches and religious groups are being funded while minority faiths, with tokens here and there for the Jews, are being marginalized as a matter of public policy.

A good example of this establishment of religion by appropriation is taking place in Houston. A couple weeks ago Texas State Representative Garnet Coleman told participants at an Americans United forum that Second Baptist Houston "bought" the right to direct relief efforts for the victims of Hurricane Katrina in the city. He said they came in with a million dollars and offered it for the relief efforts on the condition that they take control of the effort. He also indicated that the church's much publicized assent to work with the interfaith community was forced upon them by the mayor of Houston. Coleman asked, "Why is this church that never showed an interest in helping the poor in the past suddenly interested in leading this effort?" He answered, "They are making an investment. They know that billions of dollars are going to be funneled into this and they are the ones who will be in position to control it."

By the time the graft, corruption and injustice of what is now being done in the name of "faith-based initiatives" and "hurricance relief" is widely known and publicized, the Supreme Court will be stacked with jurists who will deny minority rights and interpret the constitution to mean that Christianity has always been the established religion of our nation.

Iraq Disintegrating

One of America's closest allies in the Middle East is telling us that Iraq is disintegrating and may engulf the entire region in war. It doesn't look like the administration is listening. Here are the lead paragraphs from an article in today's New York Times:
Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, said Thursday that he had been warning the Bush administration in recent days that Iraq was hurtling toward disintegration, a development that he said could drag the region into war.

"There is no dynamic now pulling the nation together," he said in a meeting with reporters at the Saudi Embassy here. "All the dynamics are pulling the country apart." He said he was so concerned that he was carrying this message "to everyone who will listen" in the Bush administration.

When is this administration ever going to face reality?

Thursday, September 22, 2005

SBC Suffers Under Toxic Flood of Fundamentalism

Twenty-five years ago fundamentalists vociferously contended that unnamed "liberals" at SBC seminaries were leading the denomination on a slippery slope that would undermine our effectiveness in proclaiming the gospel. As moderates tried to focus the SBC on Bold Mission Thrust with the goal of evangelizing the globe by the year 2000, fundamentalists organized what they called a "conservative resurgence."

Now, twenty-six years after a surge of "conservatism" began breeching the levees of evangelical moderation at a SBC convention meeting in New Orleans, the toxicity of the fundamentalist flood waters that swept over the SBC are being clearly documented.

First, the good reputation that Southern Baptists once had in many American communities has been destroyed. Southern Baptists have always been suspect in the northern states. That is a residue of the denomination's shameful failures in regard to slavery. In most southern states, however, in 1979 Southern Baptist churches were still the most influential and widely respected churches in the community. Today Southern Baptist Churches are undoubtedly more influential politically, but they are increasingly loathed and derided by most Christians and nearly all of the unchurched in their communities. Many Southern Baptist churches are disguising their denominational identity and removing Baptist from their name. Even denominational organizations like the Baptist Book Stores and the Annuity Board are disguising their denominational ties under names like Lifeway and Guidestone. They are responding to the reality that Tony Cartledge's blog at North Carolina's Biblical Recorder disclosed -- every year, fewer and fewer Americans are willing to identify themselves as Southern Baptists. There is little doubt that more people were willing to identify themselves as Southern Baptists when moderates were in leadership.

Second, the outreach of Baptist churches since the fundamentalists took over the SBC has been "anemic." Southern Baptists have failed to keep up with the growth in the population of the country. Over the last decade, the largest increase in the religious preference of Americans is under the category of "no religious preference." Underneath their claims that it would have been worse were it not for the "resurgence," is the indisputable fact that the "harvest of souls" that takeover leaders predicted the SBC would reap under their leadership has proven to be woefully barren.

Third, the number of Baptist young people who responded to the call to full-time ministry has dropped precipitously. I've blogged about this before, so I'm going to be brief on this point. In 1979 Southwestern Seminary in Ft. Worth had around 5,000 students. Today it claims to have around 2,000 students. Those figures alone are enough to tell this story. There is no denying the fact that Baptist young people responded more readily to the call to full-time ministry when moderates were in leadership.

Fourth, the Cooperative Program by which Southern Baptists pooled their resources to more effectively do the work of missions, education and evangelism is dying. Bob Allen's article at Ethics Daily effectively surveys the downward sloping ground that fundamentalist leaders are finally admitting is keeping their finances slipping behind. There is no denying the fact that the Cooperative Program was a lot healthier under moderate Baptist leadership.

The sad truth is that resurgence of fundamentalism in the SBC is as toxic as the flood waters that Hurricane Katrina left on the streets of New Orleans.

Senators Protest 9/11 Cover-up

The New York Times is reporting that both Democratic and Republican Senators are protesting the cover-up of the "Able Danger" intelligence operation.

A coalition of national security whistleblowers is also criticizing the cover-up. They are also disatisfied with pending legislation to protect whistleblowers. Sibel Edmonds, President of the group, said:
"Considering the unprecedented number of national security whistleblower cases since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, it is appalling to see that the Chairman of the House Government Reform Committee refuses to extend protections to those courageous individuals coming forward."
There are too many conscientious citizens blowing whistles on the 9/11 cover-up for this to go away. The only question is how long it takes for the lid to blow on this story.

On Shaking Foundations

Ethics Daily has posted my article "Shaking North Carolina's Biblical Foundations."

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Able Danger Gagged

Thanks to CNet for their timely report on testimony in Congress about the data mining efforts of the military intelligence unit that was known as "Able Danger."

There are obviously some inexplicable reasons why orders were given to destroy the data "Able Danger" discovered 2 years before 9/11 about the potential threat that Mohammad Atta and other 9/11 hijackers posed.

Ashamed to be Southern Baptist

Kudos to Tony Cartledge for blogging on the Editor's Journal of the Biblical Recorder about the dramatic decline in the number of people willing to be identified as Southern Baptist. While the percentage of people who identify themselves as being Baptist has remained constant, the number of people who identify themselves as Southern Baptist has dropped from 10% in 1995 to 4% today.

Here's Cartledge's conclusion:

Many people who once took great pride in their Southern Baptist identity now look at the denomination like a wayward uncle with whom they no longer want to claim any relation, and that's a crying shame.

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Remembering Christian Realism

Sunday's New York Times published an essay on "Forgetting Reinhold Niebuhr" by Arthur Schlesinger Jr. that deserves wide circulation. Niebuhr described his political philosophy as a "Christian Realism" and it corrected the modernist underestimation of human sin and fallibility that was in vogue prior to World War II.

Hopefully Schlesinger's essay will remind American Christians of the rich and mature heritage of theologically informed political thought that existed before the moral majority and Christian coalition took over the public square. Here's the conclusion to Schlesinger's essay:
The last lines of "The Irony of American History," written in 1952, resound more than a half-century later. "If we should perish, the ruthlessness of the foe would be only the secondary cause of the disaster. The primary cause would be that the strength of a giant nation was directed by eyes too blind to see all the hazards of the struggle; and the blindness would be induced not by some accident of nature or history but by hatred and vainglory."

Faulty Levees Led to New Orleans Disaster

The Washington Post has published an article quoting experts who contend that the flooding in New Orleans was not caused by water topping levees but by poorly constructed, faulty levees. If true, Uncle Sam would bear ultimate responsibility. Here's an excerpt from the article:
Congress authorizes flood- control projects -- after receiving recommendations from the Corps -- and the Corps oversees their design and construction.

John M. Barry -- who criticized the Corps in "Rising Tide," a history of the Mississippi River flood of 1927 -- said that if Katrina did not exceed the design capacity of the New Orleans levees, the federal government may bear ultimate responsibility for this disaster.

"If this is true, then the loss of life and the devastation in much of New Orleans is no more a natural disaster than a surgeon killing a patient by failing to suture an artery would be a natural death," Barry said. "And that surgeon would be culpable."

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9/11 Cover-up Continues

The New York Times is reporting that the Pentagon is refusing to permit public testimony about the military intelligence operation named "Able Danger." In an article "Pentagon Blocks Testimony at Senate Hearing on Terrorist" a spokesman for the Pentagon gave little justification for the decision.

Agents involved in 'Able Danger' have already publicly revealed that they identified Mohammad Atta and three other 9/11 hijackers two years before they flew planes into the World Trade Center. Such information was ignored by the Commission that investigated 9/11.

There are a number of gravely serious questions about the thoroughness and integrity with which 9/11 has been investigated. This is but one of a number of serious issues that, at best, have been glossed over or, at worst, have been covered-up.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Street Prophets Blogging

Pastordan and others have launched Street Prophets -- a new blog community to discuss religion and politics.

Pastordan is a thoughtful and intelligent blogger who is widely respected in the progressive religious community. His periodic summaries of insights from religious bloggers are some of the most valuable posts to be found in the blogosphere.

I just bookmarked this site and plan to visit it frequently. I've also signed up for an account to post comments and diaries and I encourage others to do likewise.

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Why the President Doesn't Get It

Common Dreams has published an essay by Robert Reich on Bush Administration Paradox Explained." Reich succinctly explains why the President doesn't understand what is going on around him:
Bush officials have become yes-men incapable of sounding alarms. The price of dissent is high. Soon after Glenn Hubbard, then chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors, warned that the cost of the Iraqi war would be in the range of $200 billion -- almost exactly what it's cost so far -- he was fired. After Paul O'Neill, his Secretary of the Treasury, worried out loud that federal budget deficits didn't seem to matter any longer -- a prescient concern -- he was fired, too. Can it be any wonder why this president doesn't seem to get it?

On Southern Baptist Relations with Jews

Thanks to Ethics Daily for posting the essay, "SBC President's Anti-Jewish Remark Helped Spark Conservative Revolution." Daniel Goodman reminds those of us about the climate under which the fundamentalist takeover began.

I've been trying to figure out why Paige Patterson thought it was necessary to give a speech on the "exclusivity" of Christ at Southwestern's religious liberty conference a couple weeks ago. Goodman's essay reminded me of how persecuted fundamentalists like Patterson and Bailey Smith felt when they were challenged for openly speaking their deepest convictions.

In their mind, all the First Amendment does is secure their right to speak such convictions openly and in public. Indeed, the First Amendment does secure that right. It also guarantees the same right to those who disagree with them. To openly and publicly disagree with them is not to persecute them.

Twenty-five years later, it is informative to examine the differences that have been wrought by the fundamentalists. The fundamentalists are still proclaiming their message about the "exclusivity" of Christ. The Jews are still offended by Bailey Smith's remarks. The moderates who challenged Smith for the insensitivity of his remarks have all been eliminated from positions of leadership and silenced.

Who has really been persecuted?
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Oklahoma Church Aligns with Texas Baptist Convention

"364 days a year the Red River is a mile wide and an inch deep. One day a year, when Oklahoma and Texas play football in Dallas, its a mile wide and a mile deep." said Bob Stephenson of NorthHaven Church in Norman as he encouraged his church to align with the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

Traditionally, Baptist churches have respected state lines when they have affiliated with other Baptist churches for fellowship and the work of missions. That was before fundamentalists took over the Southern Baptist Convention and started ostracizing ministers and churches that would not toe their rigid and sterile theological line. Recently, moderate churches have begun leaving their fundamentalist controlled state conventions and crossing state lines to align with moderate state conventions. Texas and Virginia are the two Baptist state conventions that moderates are finding most attractive. Both have made constitutional changes that permit Baptists from other states to fully participate in the life of those conventions. It is part of the reconfigurations that are taking place in Baptist life since the takeover of the SBC.

NorthHaven Church is a new church start, associated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, that has grown to a solidly committed 125 members in less than eighteen months. Last Sunday, on the same day that the church voted to secure its first bank note and begin construction of its first church building, the church overwhelmingly approved a motion to align with the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

NorthHaven's relationship with BGCT builds upon the partnership that the church had with BGCT's WorldConnex Mission Agency in supporting Houston and Charlotte Greenhaw's mission work in Brazil. The Greenhaws left their more than 20 year service with Southern Baptist foreign missions when the SBC's International Mission Board began terminating missionaries who refused to sign the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message statement. First Baptist Church of Norman, NorthHaven and BGCT formed a partnership to support the Greenhaw's work for another eighteen months -- until an indigenous leader was trained to continue the ministries they began.

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Monday, September 19, 2005

Baptist Joint Committee Improves Website

The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty has done a lot to improve the look and feel of its website. The most valuable change is more frequent updating.

A good is example of the improved timeliness is Brent Walker's essay today on "Roberts' testimony 'more encouraging' that his church-state record."

The BJC also has some valuable links on the Bible Curriculum Controversy out of Texas.

Carter and Baker Call for Vote Changes

The Washington Post reports that a commission involving Jimmy Carter and James Baker have concluded that a number of changes are necessary to restore integrity and trust to our system of voting.

The Post says there was "no credible evidence of partisan manipulation of the election in Ohio."

That depends on who decides whether evidence is credible. Here's a link to information about the hearing that U.S. Representative John Conyers of Michigan held on vote fraud in Ohio during the last election.

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American Dream Turns into Nightmare


Working For Change has posted a must-read BuzzFlash interview with Barbara Ehrenreich about her new book "Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream." Here's a quote:
A lot of our young people -- college students, who are encouraged to major in things like management or marketing. The most popular major in the United States on our campuses today is business -- it's business-related majors. Today's students think that this way, they'll be secure. The thinking is, don't go into art history or philosophy, which might be more interesting to you, but stick to what should pay off, and then go into that corporate world and play by the rules, and conform to all the detailed expectations, and do reasonably well -- and you should be comfortable for life.

But that's not how it works out any more. The whole relationship between corporations and their white-collar employees has broken down since the beginning of the nineties. Now people are tossed off, out of their jobs for the slightest reason, or just because it's part of making the CEO look good because he's made the corporation leaner and meaner.

Ehrenreich is right on target about the thinking of college age young people. I heard my underemployed Rice graduated son employing similar logic about business-related majors as he was enrolling in graduate school. I plan to buy him a copy of Ehrenreich's book.

South Carolina Paper Says Christian Coalition is Fading

South Carolina's The State published an article yesterday entitled, "Christian Coalition Fading Fast." Here are the lead paragraphs:
Rocked by financial debt, lawsuits and the loss of experienced political leaders, the Christian Coalition has become a pale imitation of its once-powerful self.

Some say the group -- now based in Charleston and headed by a South Carolinian -- is on life support, having been eclipsed by higher-profile, better-funded groups such as Focus on the Family.

One of the best funded groups replacing the Christian Coalition is the Southern Baptist Convention as organized by the "values voting" efforts of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Anyone who attended the Religious Liberty Conference at Southwestern Seminary a couple weeks ago, could have easily mistaken the conference for either a Christian Coalition conference or a GOP meeting.

Free Press for Louisiana Baptists Drowns

Kudos to Tony Cartledge for his blog "Another Loss in Louisiana" about the Louisiana Baptist newspaper being absorbed by the Louisiana Baptist Convention. Cartledge writes:
Across the Southeast, where a number of healthy state papers once flourished, a growing number have been effectively neutered by conservative trustees who place strict limits on what stories can be published and what opinions the editor can express.

Such self-censorship makes it impossible to have a truly free press, turning robust newspapers into promotional publications.

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Inhofe Adds Pork for Robertson


A couple days ago the Virginian-Pilot published a story about the role Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe played in securing $5 million for an interchange near Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network. Here are the lead paragraphs:
When Congress approved a new $286 billion transportation bill last month, local road planners were baffled by the inclusion of $10.8 million to help build an interchange along Interstate 64 near the Christian Broadcasting Network.

The Hampton Roads Metropolitan Planning Organization, which sets regional transportation policy, had not sought it. Neither had the Virginia Department of Transportation.

It turns out that an Oklahoma senator was responsible for a $5 million chunk of the money.
If President Bush is serious about looking for wasteful spending to cut back, here's a good prospect for holding the funding.

Thanks to Rob Shumacher and his Online Magazine blog for the graphic.

An Unholy Alliance

Thanks to Ethics Daily for publishing Gerald Johnson's essay "Neo-conservatives and Evanglical Christians: An Unholy Alliance." Johnson is emeritus professor of political science at Auburn University. Here's how Johnson describes the differences between the neo-conservative and the Christian understanding of government:
Neo-conservatives are the new conservatives that now control national politics and have great influence in the current White House. They believe in rugged individualism, market opportunities, privatization and individual initiatives, specifically those that make money.

They have less patience and little empathy with the common good as provided for by government, especially if it interferes with market opportunities. Thus, for them, less government and lower taxes makes sense, even if only in the quarterly balance sheets.

The goals for Christians, however, include the common good, care for those who cannot make it on their own, fairness and justice for all and, consequently, a positive role for government in providing a civil order in which individuals may make the most of opportunities and benefit, when needed, from the protection and peace and order provided only by civil governments.


Sunday, September 18, 2005

FEMA's Fraud and Waste

FEMA's fiasco in New Orleans is nothing new to the agency under this administration. The South Florida Sun Sentinel has published a noteworthy investigative report into the fraud and waste at the agency before Hurricane Katrina. Here are the lead paragraphs from one of the stories in the report:
The federal government's mishandling of the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe is only the latest bungling in a national disaster response system that for years has been fraught with waste and fraud.

A South Florida Sun-Sentinel investigation has found that the Federal Emergency Management Agency in five years poured at least $330 million into communities that were spared the devastating effects of fires, hurricanes, floods and tornadoes.


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Friday, September 16, 2005

Bush is Taxing My Grandchildren


I don't have any grandchildren yet, but should my children ever produce any, President Bush is assuring that they will have to work twice as hard to achieve the same standard of living that I enjoy. Associated Press just reported that President Bush has ruled out a tax hike to pay for hurricane recovery.

What kind of parent runs up debts for his children and grandchildren to pay? Bush has already left the bill for his war in Iraq for my children to pay. Now he's leaving the bill for rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina to my grandchildren.

When evangelical Christians teamed up with the neo-conservatives to secure power, they turned the government over the most devious, elitist, myopic ideologues in the country.

Pay day will come some day. The aftermath will be no more pleasant than the aftermath of Katrina. Already, too many sensitive and intelligent young people are rejecting Jesus right along with the discredited supply-side economics that most evangelicals have embraced. A supply side Jesus would endorse the money changers at the temple, not throw them out.

Thanks to Carlos Stouffer at Jesus Politics blog for the Cartoon

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A Google Hit


FACT: I just ran a Google search on the word failure. This is the first entry listed:

Biography of President George W. Bush
Biography of the president from the official White House web site.www.whitehouse.gov/president/gwbbio.html - 33k - Sep 15, 2005 - Cached - Similar pagesPast Presidents - Kids Only - Current News - PresidentMore results from www.whitehouse.gov »

Thanks to Rob Shumacher's Online Magazine for the picture. Thanks to Harold Brooks for advising me that the picture was produced by Despair, Inc.

Teens and Oral Sex

Today's Washington Post has published a story about a survey that says more than half of teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19 years of age have engaged in oral sex.

There is little doubt in my mind that Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky has something to do with the dramatic increase in oral sex among today's teenagers. I also believe that Clinton's indiscretion received a lot more notoriety and publicity than was necessary when the preaching of right wing evangelicals became fixated on oral sex as Clinton was being impeached.

Clinton didn't talk about oral sex over and over again in mass media. TV preachers did.

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CBF Oklahoma Active in Hurricane Relief

The national office of CBF has posted a story about T Thomas, Coordinator for CBF Oklahoma, and a team of volunteers from Northwest Baptist Church in Ardmore who have been in Gulfport, Mississippi assisting victims of Hurricand Katrina with debrise removal and clean-up.

A few days ago I posted a picture of T in the front of the CBFO office in Norman. I guess I can't pretend that he's still standing around on the sidewalk.

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More Evidence of 9/11 Cover-up

Associated Press just published a story that gives more information about this administration's cover-up of intelligence it had concerning Mohammed Atta before 9/11.

This article describes the destruction of "2.5 terra bytes" of data. That is the equivalent of 1/4 of all the printed material in the Library of Congress.

Destroying that much data probably means that the interests of national security past, present and future have been subordinated to someone's need to cover-up gross incompetence or worse. Why would anyone interested in preserving a factual record from which the truth could be accurately determined give such a command?

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Shaking the Foundations

The September issue of Mercer University's Baptist Studies Bulletin is out.

This month they've published my article, "Shaking North Carolina's Biblical Foundations."

GOP Abandons Social Security Reform

Raw Story reports that the leaders of the Republican Party have decided to abandon this administration's agenda for Social Security reform.

Privatizing Social Security proved to be harder to sell than the President thought it would be.

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Dr. Coburn Induces Nausea

Until Tom Coburn was elected to represent the Senate District in which I reside, I thought that the worst politico I would have to endure as my representative was Steve Stockman. For a time, Stockman represented the Congressional District in which I resided in Texas.

Coburn is more openly radical and extreme than was Stockman and Stockman was pretty bad. Yesterday, Coburn was filmed working on cross-word puzzles instead of listening to the testimony at hearings for Supreme Court nominee John Roberts. That's a very small example of the flippancy with which Coburn discharges his responsibilities.

Those who have the stomach for discovering what Coburn takes seriously should read Max Blumenthal's article, "The Many Faces of Dr. Coburn" that was posted on the Nation Magazine website this morning.

WARNING: The information in Blumenthal's article could induce severe nausea in some readers.

On Civil Religious Exercises

Kudos to Robert Parham at Ethics Daily for his essay on "What Do a President and a Prophet Say about a National Day of Prayer?" He accurately describes the preaching of the ancient Hebrew prophet Amos. Parham says,
What then would Amos say about a national day of prayer?

The text about feasts and solemn assemblies in the context of a message about social injustice gives us a straightforward answer. Amos would condemn a national day of prayer, if it is severed from a commitment to do justice.

He would likely see a nationalistic piety as false worship, offering comfort but not justice.

For Amos, justice today would mean a transformative faith in a sinful world. Justice means practicing fairness in the market place, working for an equitable society, empowering the poor, protecting for the powerless and pushing rich Christians to adjust downward their lifestyles.

Amos would surely condemn those political leaders who plan tax cuts for the wealthy, wage cuts for the working poor and budget cuts in programs that care for society's weakest members.


Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Newdow's Case to Return to the Supreme Court

Michael Newdow's challenge to forcing school children to recite "under God" in the pledge of allegiance will soon be back before the Supreme Court.

Last year the Supreme Court dismissed the case on a technicality. Newdow refiled the case with new complainants and a District Court in California has upheld the findings of the previous Newdow decision.

This case is the most egregious example of the duplicitous witness of evangelical Christians in American history.

In court, evangelical Christians will argue that the words "under God" do not violate the First Amendment prohibition against establishing a religion because the words have "no significant religious content." In other words, "under God" in the pledge of allegiance does precisely what is proscribed in the ten commandments when men are commanded to not take the name of the Lord God in vain and make it meaningless.

In public, evangelical Christians will argue that the words "under God" refer to the Divine and lament that the courts are persecuting people of faith and trying to kick God out of the public square.

The only prominent figure on the right who does not engage in doublespeak on this issue is Judge Roy Moore. He is open and honest about expressing his belief that Christianity is the established religion of the United States and that the words "under God" in the pledge of allegiance mean something.

Although I strongly disagree with Moore about the U.S. having an established religion, I strongly concur with his admission that the words "under God" in the pledge of allegiance have religious meaning. They are not symbols of "ceremonial Deism," they are intended to express religious content, and for evangelical lawyers to argue otherwise is an outright lie -- which violates the prohibition in the ten commandments against bearing false witness.

What is the value of breaking two of God's commandments in order to force children to mouth the words "under God" at school?

Blogging for ICTHUS

Vaughn Thompson's blog has moved to a new address and added additional contributors to his ICTHUS blog. Vaughn is the founder of the Progressive Christian Network and frequently posts some very thoughtful blogs and gives broader circulation to the best postings of others.

A good example of the work that Vaughn is doing is his latest blog on "Purpose Driven PyroMarketing" about the marketing of Rick Warren's Purpose Driven Life.

Red Cross Scrutinized

Raw Story has posted an article scrutinizing the resp0nse of the Red Cross in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

At this time, I think it is premature to comment on this. It is a story worth watching.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Lamentation for New Orleans

Thanks to Tim Youmans of the Anabaptist Monk blog for posting Clyde Fant's Lamentation for New Orleans.

I was moved in particular by Fant's five woes:

Woe to you, Republicans!
For you pumped wealth from their lands and sent their sons to die in your wars,
But they are as nothing to you.
"Who is my neighbor?" You do not know yet the answer to this ancient question.
Your only neighbors are your friends in the country clubs or the "good old boys" in the redneck bars.
Your grandfathers set the slaves free, and you return them to a worse bondage of perpetual poverty!
Your fathers segregated them, but you ghettoize them;
Then you redistrict them to take away the few voices they have,
But God will cause the ruined city to cry on their behalf!
Shame! Shame for your hypocritical use of my name to lure the unwary.

Woe to you also, Democrats!
You were the fathers of slavery, first sons of the South!
You damned the poor to generations of ignorance and want.
Your fathers segregated them, and you promised to bring them into your family.
But where were you when they needed you?
For you lack the courage of your convictions! You curry the favor of the enemies of your own people!
You have become impotent by your timidity.
You endorsed the wars.
You approved the miserable crumbs for education and employment.
You courted the indifferent, smug suburbs--may you live among them eternally, bored forever by their white sameness!
Shame! Shame for your graft in the statehouses,
Your selfishness that has turned your people from you in disgust.

Woe to you Christians who pride yourselves in the name Conservative,
Who call all generous spirits and inclusive hearts liberals,
Who see wars as strength and peace as weakness!
The Prince of Peace rebuke you!

Woe to you also, Liberal Christians!
You scorn the common and cause the simple to feel inferior in your midst.
Your hearts are ever open, but your pocketbooks are always closed!
He who lived among the poor rebuke you!

Woe to you, television preachers and megachurch pastors! False prophets!
You deceive the people with your bleats of piety while you endorse wars and favor your rich benefactors.
Your prophecies of end times have come true--in your own generation!
Look upon the city! Look upon hell on earth!
See what your leaders have wrought, the shame of the earth!
All mock us and call us fools,
We who send armies across oceans but cannot cross the Mississippi to help our own!
Shame, shame upon you!


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The Mission FEMA Did Accomplish

Common Dreams has posted a story entitled, "Did FEMA "Buy" Votes for Bush?" that describes the one mission that FEMA did accomplish for this administration.

The only difference between this and what happened in New Orleans before help arrived is that no one has issued an order to shoot the FEMA administrators who were looting the public treasury to buy votes.

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Is the President In His Own World?

I've been reading stories on the internet about President Bush being cold, insulting and rude to people who tell him things that he doesn't want to hear. Previously I've suspected those reports were Democratic dirty tricks or stories planted by Democrats to discredit the President.

Since Hurricane Katrina, stories like this are appearing in the mainstream media with increasing frequency. Yesterday's Washington Post has a story, "Now They Tell Us," that says the President is "surrounded by an echo chamber of terrified sycophants." Time Magazine has an article entitled, "Living Too Much in a Bubble" and Newsweek ran a story about "How Bush Blew It."

Five years ago I thought the mainstream media had credibility. Today I am much more skeptical. If these stories are true, they paint a picture of a man who is out of touch with reality. I suspect the unvarnished truth is that he has surrounded himself with incompetents. That's more than enough to be worried about.

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Monday, September 12, 2005

Paul Pressler on the First Amendment

Paul Pressler gave his interpretation of the First Amendment when he spoke at the conference on Religious Liberty at Southwestern Seminary last week. He said, "The prohibition (in the First Amendment) is not on worship (the church), but on congress (the state)."

He explained, "The Bill of Rights did not prohibit a state or municipality from establishing a religion. . . . Until 1947 (Everson vs. Board of Education) that was the opinion of the Court."

In Pressler's opinion it was the Everson case and not the 14th Amendment that applied the First Amendment to the states.

During the Q & A session a student asked Pressler about an unintended consequence of his interpretation. He asked, "Were it not for Everson, would states and local governments also be able to restrict religions?" Pressler responded that it meant that the federal government would not be able to use the First Amendment to deal with violations of religious liberty, but assured the student that while this was theoretically possible, it would not be a problem "in this day and age."

In other words, once participants like Barret Duke, Ben Phillips, Richard Land and others finished railing about the threat of "secular fundamentalists," Paul Pressler concluded the conference by saying that secularists really weren't that much of a threat "in this day and age."

To Those Who Think It Can't Happen Here

I've been hearing the same, "The pendulum swings both ways and finds its way back to the middle" arguments from moderates discounting the threat of theocracy in America that I used to hear from moderates about the threat of fundamentalists taking over the SBC. Mainstream Baptists know how inaccurate that mindset proved to be in the SBC.

The same methods and tactics that were used to takeover the SBC have been used to takeover the GOP. Many of the leaders of the SBC takeover helped lead the GOP takeover. Chief among them are Paul Pressler, Paige Patterson and other SBC leaders who have been members of the Council for National Policy.

The Religious Right now controls the GOP, many of them even more extreme than Pressler, and the GOP now controls the White House and both houses of Congress. Judge Pressler announced at Southwestern last Friday that he was on a conference call last week with national GOP leadership discussing the next Supreme Court nominee and indicated that his strong support for Edith Jones was favorably received.

If you liked the quality of leadership Pressler secured for the SBC, you'll love the leadership he's working to secure for the highest court in the country.

Bill Moyers' speech at Union Theological Seminary last Friday ought to be read by everyone who still thinks there is no danger that the U.S. could become a theocracy. Here are a few pertinent excerpts from Moyers' speech:
True, people of faith have always tried to bring their interpretation of the Bible to bear on American laws and morals - this very seminary is part of that tradition; it's the American way, encouraged and protected by the First Amendment. But what is unique today is that the radical religious right has succeeded in taking over one of America's great political parties - the country is not yet a theocracy but the Republican Party is - and they are driving American politics, using God as a a battering ram on almost every issue: crime and punishment, foreign policy, health care, taxation, energy, regulation, social services and so on.

What's also unique is the intensity, organization, and anger they have brought to the public square. Listen to their preachers, evangelists, and homegrown ayatollahs: Their viral intolerance - their loathing of other people's beliefs, of America's secular and liberal values, of an independent press, of the courts, of reason, science and the search for objective knowledge - has become an unprecedented sectarian crusade for state power. They use the language of faith to demonize political opponents, mislead and misinform voters, censor writers and artists, ostracize dissenters, and marginalize the poor. These are the foot soldiers in a political holy war financed by wealthy economic interests and guided by savvy partisan operatives who know that couching political ambition in religious rhetoric can ignite the passion of followers as ferociously as when Constantine painted the Sign of Christ (the "Christograph") on the shields of his soldiers and on the banners of his legions and routed his rivals in Rome. Never mind that the Emperor himself was never baptized into the faith; it served him well enough to make the God worshipped by Christians his most important ally and turn the Sign of Christ into the one imperial symbol most widely recognized and feared from east to west.

. . .

This is the crux of the matter: To these fundamentalist radicals there is only one legitimate religion and only one particular brand of that religion that is right; all others who call on God are immoral or wrong. They believe the Bible to be literally true and that they alone know what it means. Behind their malicious attacks on the courts ("vermin in black robes," as one of their talk show allies recently put it,) is a fierce longing to hold judges accountable for interpreting the Constitution according to standards of biblical revelation as fundamentalists define it. To get those judges they needed a party beholden to them. So the Grand Old Party - the GOP - has become God's Own Party, its ranks made up of God's Own People "marching as to war."
. . .

It has to be said that their success has come in no small part because of our acquiescence and timidity. Our democratic values are imperiled because too many people of reason are willing to appease irrational people just because they are pious. Republican moderates tried appeasement and survive today only in gulags set aside for them by the Karl Roves, Bill Frists and Tom DeLays. Democrats are divided and paralyzed, afraid that if they take on the organized radical right they will lose what little power they have. Trying to learn to talk about God as Republicans do, they're talking gobbledygook, compromising the strongest thing going for them - the case for a moral economy and the moral argument for the secular checks and balances that have made America "a safe haven for the cause of conscience."

As I look back on the conflicts and clamor of our boisterous past, one lesson about democracy stands above all others: Bullies - political bullies, economic bullies and religious bullies - cannot be appeased; they have to be opposed with a stubbornness to match their own. This is never easy; these guys don't fight fair; "Robert's Rules of Order" is not one of their holy texts. But freedom on any front - and especially freedom of conscience - never comes to those who rock and wait, hoping someone else will do the heavy lifting. Christian realism requires us to see the world as it is, without illusions, and then take it on.


Sunday, September 11, 2005

Remembering 9/11

In remembrance of the lives that were lost on this day four years ago, here's a link to a speech I have in the House chambers at the State Capitol in Oklahoma:

And Justice For All: The Price of Freedom and Security

On Never Having to Say You're Sorry

The Washington Post reports that that the "Pentagon Revises Nuclear Strike Plan" to include pre-emptive strikes.

Apparently this administration has found a solution to the problem it created for itself when it made a pre-emptive strike against Iraq's non-existent weapons of mass destruction. If they had used nuclear weapons to subdue Iraq, they could have claimed the the WMD's were all incinerated. Then they would never have to say that they were sorry for their mistake.

Then again, this administration never admits to being sorry anyways.

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Saturday, September 10, 2005

On the Road Again


I participated in an Americans United forum on theocracy in Houston this morning.

This afternoon I am on the road back to Norman.

I'll post some more blogs about the conference at Southwestern over the next few days.

Pictured above is Noche, Paige Patterson's dog. Tom White director of Southwestern's Center for Leadership Development is petting the dog. Paige Patterson is seated to the left of them.

Noche slept through Paige's speech.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Barrett Duke on the Source of Religious Liberty

Barrett Duke, a VP at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, opened the conference last night with an address on whether religious freedom is a fundamental right given by God or a temporal right conferred by culture. Among Baptists in any generation the answer to that question has a foregone conclusion. That religious liberty is a right given by God has been a Baptist conviction from the beginning.

What was new in Duke's speech, in comparison to what was expressed at Southwestern Seminary in the 1970's and 80's, was frequent mention of the Vatican's 1965 Declaration on Religious Freedom and a little appreciation for its arguments for religious liberty based on natural law. In the 1970's and 80's what the Vatican said about religious liberty would have gotten little more than a passing mention, if that.

What was missing at Duke's speech was any kind of noticeable reaction among the students or audience to his assertion that "the" Baptist position on prayer in the public schools was in accord with the Supreme Court ruling in the 1960's. In the 1970's and 80's had a James Dunn or an Oliver Thomas or a Brent Walker said that on campus, he would have been challenged by fundamentalists from every corner of the room.

It was good to hear that, at least officially, Baptists may still not be supportive of Ernest Istook's constitutional prayer amendment. I wish the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission would make its position more widely known. It would certainly be news to Southern Baptists in the pulpits and pews in Oklahoma, Texas and elsewhere across the country.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Live From Ft. Worth


I'm in Ft. Worth today attending a conference on religious liberty that the Center for Leadership Development at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is sponsoring. I decided to do a little opposition research to see if Southern Baptists still believe anything that they did when I went to this school in the late 1970's and early 80's.

I arrived a little early and drove to the new (to me) alumni conference center named for one of my former professors, Dr. Jack MacGorman. My hotel room at the conference center is literally across the street from where Kylene (my wife) and I lived for the three years that I worked on my master's degree. That house was torn down long ago to make room for a Baptist Book Store -- now LifeWay. Fittingly, my room in the conference center is called the "Jimmy Draper Guest Room," named after one of the takeover presidents of the SBC who became the head of the Baptist Sunday School Board which operates LifeWay.

This is the first time that I have been on campus since the day after Dr. Russell Dilday, former President of the Seminary, was fired -- sometime in the early 90's (I've forgotten the year, but remember the time well).

The most noticeable difference between those days and today is the vacant atmosphere of the campus. I expected to have difficulty finding a place to park. That was the biggest problem around campus when I was a student. It was still a problem in the early 90's. Today the parking lots are empty, and numerous parking spaces are open on every street around the campus.

I knew that enrollment was down at the Seminary, but until today the magnitude of the decline escaped me.

Truthfully, in those days it was harder to find a parking space around the Seminary on a Saturday, when classes were out, than it is to find one today when classes are in session.

Whatever else the Fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention did, it didn't do anything positive for the enrollment at Southern Baptist seminaries.

Mexican Troops Bring Aid to Hurricane Victims

Voice of America is reporting that Mexican troops are crossing the border to bring aid to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Here's a quote:
In another development here in Texas, the Mexican army is crossing the border tobring help to New Orleans and its stranded citizens. This is the first time Mexican military troops have crossed into Texas since 1846, during the war between the United States and Mexico that resulted in Mexico losing the vast area now known as the American southwest. The Mexican soldiers will not be armed and the 35 trucks in the convoy will be loaded with blankets, water, food and mobile kitchens.

Thanks to our good neighbors on the Southern border.

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On FEMA's Faith-based Response to Catastrophe

Kudos to Max Blumenthal for his essay "Pat Robertson's Katrina Cash" published on The Nation magazine's wesite. Blumenthal recounts Robertson's less than stellar record at charitable service and asks how Robertson's Operation Blessing managed to make FEMA's list of approved charities while the disaster relief group Operation USA did not. Here's a quote:
With the Bush Administration's approval, Robertson's $66 million relief organization, Operation Blessing, has been prominently featured on FEMA's list of charitable groups accepting donations for hurricane relief. Dozens of media outlets, including the New York Times, CNN and the Associated Press, duly reprinted FEMA's list, unwittingly acting as agents soliciting cash for Robertson. "How in the heck did that happen?" Richard Walden, president of the disaster-relief group Operation USA, asked of Operation Blessing's inclusion on FEMA's list. "That gives Pat Robertson millions of extra dollars."

Though Operation USA has conducted disaster relief for more than twenty-five years on five continents, like scores of other secular relief groups currently helping victims of Hurricane Katrina, it was omitted from FEMA's list. In fact, only two non-"faith-based" organizations were included. (One of them, the American Red Cross, is being blocked from entering New Orleans by FEMA's parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security.) FEMA, meanwhile, has reportedly turned away Wal-Mart trucks carrying food and water to the stricken city, teams of firemen from Maryland and Texas, volunteer morticians and a convoy of 1,000 boat owners offering to help rescue stranded flood victims. While relief efforts falter in the face of colossal bureaucratic incompetence, the Bush Administration's promotion of Operation Blessing has ensured that the floodwaters swallowing New Orleans will be a rising tide lifting Robertson's boat.

Perhaps the untold story of this hurricane is how this administration's promotion of ill- equipped and newly created faith-based services has undermined the country's preparedness to meet national emergencies. Here's a quote from Harold Myerson's essay in the Washington Post on "The 'Stuff Happens Presidency'":
The problem goes beyond the fact that we can't count on our government to be there for us in catastrophes. It's that a can't-do spirit, a shouldn't-do spirit, guides the men who run the nation. Consider the congressional testimony of Joe Allbaugh, George W. Bush's 2000 campaign manager, who assumed the top position at FEMA in 2001. He characterized the organization as "an oversized entitlement program," and counseled states and cities to rely instead on "faith-based organizations . . . like the Salvation Army and the Mennonite Disaster Service."

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Toxic Aftermath

Common Dreams has posted a story about "After Katrina: The Toxic Timebomb." The environmental damage with its toxic aftermath may prove to be unprecedented on American shores. Here's an excerpt:
Toxicologists and public health experts warned yesterday that pumping billions of gallons of contaminated water from the streets of New Orleans back into the Gulf of Mexico - the only viable option if the city is ever to return to even a semblance of its former self -would have a crippling effect on marine and animal life, compromise the wetlands that form the first line of resistance to future hurricanes, and carry deleterious consequences for human health throughout the region.

The full extent of the danger is unknown and unknowable, but the polluted waters are known to contain human and animal waste, the bodies of people and animals, household effluence, and chemical and petrochemical toxins from the refineries that dot the Gulf coast in and around New Orleans.

Even before the pumping is complete, a process city officials said yesterday would take at least three weeks (some engineers believe it could last months), the consequences for all living creatures - humans, animals, fish and micro-organisms - are likely to be dire.

"We're talking about a mass of decomposing dead bodies and animals. This is going to produce a horrible festering of unknown consequences," said Harold Zeliger, a chemical toxicologist and independent consultant based in New York State.

The waters now swilling around the streets and neighbourhoods of New Orleans will probably end up either in the Mississippi River or in Lake Pontchartrain, just to the north of the city, where they are likely to react with the oxygen in the water and deprive all living creatures, starting with the fish, of the means to life.

"We're looking conceivably at zero-dissolved oxygen, which will lead to the death of fish and other organisms," Dr Zeliger said. "If the migratory birds who pass through the area find any fish to eat, they will be contaminated so the birds will start dying in large quantities ... Reptiles and snakes are going to be driven out of their nests and habitats, which has implications for human safety. We're going to see water moccasins [a highly venomous snake], which are nasty critters, and alligators threatening people."


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Rehnquist's Ironic Legacy

I've given some thought to writing a blog about the irony of Rehnquist dying as the nation was facing a hurricane. Tony Mauro's article "Ironies abound as Rehnquist leaves us" in today's USA Today says more than I knew to say. Here's an excerpt:

The balance of power between state and federal government is a perennial debate, and Rehnquist spent much of his career on the Supreme Court trying to readjust that balance in favor of states. Following what he believed to be the intent of the Constitution's framers, Rehnquist tried mightily to rein in Congress and keep it and federal agencies from turning states into unimportant subsidiaries that must depend on the federal government to act. The Bush administration is filled with adherents to Rehnquist's doctrine; Michael Leavitt, the secretary of Health and Human Services who has become a familiar figure since the hurricane, first gained national attention as a Utah governor who pushed hard against federal domination of the states.

So at a policy level, it probably should have been no surprise that the Bush administration hung back too long before federalizing the relief effort. In a broad context, there are valid arguments to be made against excessive federal power. If you think about it, it should be difficult to send U.S. soldiers into the streets of the USA for essentially law enforcement duties; it is in our national genes not to want federal troops used against our own citizens.

That said, though, there has to be a way to overcome this reluctance more quickly when troops are needed domestically for humanitarian reasons. And the hurricane aftermath proves the seemingly obvious point that there are times when a swift and strong federal response must pre-empt competing or confused state and local interests. The terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, also showed the need for a strong national government; states and localities are not equipped to chase after Osama bin Laden.


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Tuesday, September 06, 2005

On an Unfamiliar God

Thanks to Streak for salvaging what is of value from a passionate article by Tim Wise that is laced with too much profanity for me to recommend.

The God that Wise finds so unfamiliar is foreign to the spirit of more Christians than he thinks.

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Death Count May Be Horrendous

The Shelbyville Times-Gazette in Shelbyville, TN is reporting that Homeland Security's Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team has been advised to prepare for the bodies of 40,000 victims from hurricane Katrina.

I pray they got the number wrong.

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Baptists Relief Efforts

Virtually all Baptist churches and organizations are involved in efforts to aid the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Here are a few of the efforts of which I am personally aware and recommend for those who are looking for places to make donations:

In Alabama: Alabama Cooperative Baptist Fellowship

In Louisiana: The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Louisiana

In Mississippi: The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Mississippi

In Austin: First Baptist Church

In Dallas: Wilshire Baptist Church

In Houston: South Main Baptist Church
South Main Baptist Church of Pasadena
University Baptist Church of Clear Lake

In San Antonio: Trinity Baptist Church

Throughout Texas: The Baptist General Convention of Texas
The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Texas

In Oklahoma: The Cooperating Baptist Fellowship of Oklahoma

Across the Country: The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship

Monday, September 05, 2005

Novice Nominated to Become SCOTUS Chief

President Bush wasted no time in naming his nominee for Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. John Roberts has been on the federal bench for less than two years, hasn't even been confirmed to sit on the Supreme Court, and already Bush is nominating him to be Chief Justice.

Given Bush's record for naming disastrous leaders -- Mike Brown, Michael Chertoff, John Bolton, etc., etc., etc., ad nauseum -- I hope Congress has enough sense to question such an imprudent nominee for Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

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On Federal Lethal Ineptitude

Paul Krugman's editorial in today's New York Times labels the federal response to hurricane Katrina "lethal ineptitude." That's putting it mildly.

Those who have seen video of Aaron Broussard (in Quick Time format), president of Jefferson Parish, on yesterday's Meet the Press might begin to wonder if the ineptitude wasn't criminal in its negligence.

The video of Broussard is "must see" viewing -- even if you are on a slow internet connection. It is five minutes of video that is worth whatever time it takes to download.

Here's video of Broussard's interview for Windows Media Player.

Thanks to the Crooks & Liars weblog for providing the video.

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Sunday, September 04, 2005

Federal Officials Briefed about Effects of Hurricane Before Landfall

As federal officials continue insisting that they had no idea that New Orleans levees would be breeched, the New Orleans Times Picayune is revealing that prior to landfall both FEMA Director Mike Brown and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff were part of briefings that predicted the levees would be topped. Here are the lead paragraphs:

Dr. Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center, said Sunday that officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Homeland Security, including FEMA Director Mike Brown and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, listened in on electronic briefings given by his staff in advance of Hurricane Katrina slamming Louisiana and Mississippi and were advised of the storm's potential deadly effects.

Mayfield said the strength of the storm and the potential disaster it could bring were made clear during both the briefings and in formal advisories, which warned of a storm surge capable of overtopping levees in New Orleans and winds strong enough to blow out windows of high-rise buildings. He said the briefings included information on expected wind speed, storm surge, rainfall and the potential for tornados to accompany the storm as it came ashore."We were briefing them way before landfall," Mayfield said.

"It's not like this was a surprise. We had in the advisories that the levee could be topped."

The level of official incompetence in response to this disaster is mind boggling.

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Spinaction in Action

Today's Washington Post has an article that explains why FEMA has been trying to spin news to cover it's inaction (spinaction = spin + inaction). Here's a telling quote:

The roots of last week's failures will be examined for weeks and months to come, but early assessments point to a troubled Department of Homeland Security that is still in the midst of a bureaucratic transition, a "work in progress," as Mencer put it. Some current and former officials argued that as it worked to focus on counterterrorism, the department has diminished the government's ability to respond in a nuts-and-bolts way to disasters in general, and failed to focus enough on threats posed by hurricanes and other natural disasters in particular. From an independent Cabinet-level agency, FEMA has become an underfunded, isolated piece of the vast DHS, yet it is still charged with leading the government's response to disaster.

"It's such an irony I hate to say it, but we have less capability today than we did on September 11," said a veteran FEMA official involved in the hurricane response. "We are so much less than what we were in 2000," added another senior FEMA official. "We've lost a lot of what we were able to do then."

Note the spinaction in Allbaugh's response below:

New leaders such as Allbaugh were critical of FEMA's natural disaster focus and lectured senior managers about the need to adjust to the post-9/11 fear of terrorism. So did his friend Michael D. Brown, a lawyer with no previous disaster management experience whom Allbaugh brought in as his deputy and who now has the top FEMA post. "Allbaugh's quote was 'You don't get it,' " recalled the senior FEMA official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "If you brought up natural disasters, you were accused of being a pre-9/11 thinker." The result, the official said, was that "FEMA was being taxed by the department, having money and slots taken. Because we didn't conform with the mission of the agency."

"I'm guilty of saying, 'you don't get it,' " Allbaugh said. "Absolutely." The former FEMA chief said he had encountered bureaucratic resistance to thinking about a "monumental" disaster, such as Katrina or 9/11, rather than the more standard diet of "tornadoes and rising waters."

"But Experts in emergency response inside and outside the government sounded warnings about the changes at FEMA. Peacock said FEMA's traditional emphasis on emergency response "all went up in smoke" after 9/11, creating a "blind spot" as a result of a "police-action, militaristic view" of homeland security. When it came to natural disasters, "It was not only forgetting about it, it was not funding it."

Frankly, the Washington Post puts it mildly when it says that the hurricane exposed the "disarray" at the top of this administration. This administration is filled with neo-conservatives. Neo-conservatives are social darwinists. In their eyes, it is each man or woman for themselves. Survival of the fittest. They've been working to dismantle what they call the "nanny state" -- a state that takes responsibility for the health and welfare of its populace -- for more than thirty years.

The hurricane merely exposed the harsh truth about the ideology that has been driving this administration's dismantling of FDR's "new deal."

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