Morning Report, September 28th: A World of Rattling Sabers, Catching Polanski, Obama: Muslim Community Organizer or Olympic Champion (?), Covering Illegals, Fawning over Clinton, and the Michael Moore Alternative

•September 28, 2009 • Leave a Comment

One Christian’s perspective on the day’s news:

1.  A lot of saber-rattling in the world today.  Iran test-fired missiles on three separate occasions over the weekend, missiles capable of delivering a warhead to Israel, parts of Europe, and U.S. military bases throughout the Middle East (the missiles have a range of 1200 miles).  Initially, even after the announcement of Iran’s second nuclear facility (which was known to U.S. intelligence beforehand), the Obama administration spoke of a deadline of December for Iran to change its ways.  Of course, we had a deadline of early September, but that came and went with a 5-page joke of a letter agreeing to talk about anything but their nuclear program.  Others are pressing for much swifter action from Iran.

My impression is that the Obama administration is trying not to do or say anything too provocative, for fear that it would derail the plan to sit down with the Iranians in a week or so.  Even though the Iranians have said they will not discuss their nuclear program, we are assuming this is a public front.  We are assuming that once the honey pot gets sweet enough, the Iranians will be willing to cut a deal.  I’m not so sure this is true.  Saddam refused to fully cooperate in large part (according to insider accounts) because he believed that we would never attack.  Ahmadinejad may be even more justified in such an opinion.  But will Israel not strike at the nuclear facilities?  If Israel does it, it risks igniting a regional war.  If the United States, or NATO or the UN undertook to bomb them, the chances of a war are lower, lower still, and lowest.  We need to be careful not to put Israel into a position where it feels that it faces extinction unless it strikes first; the consequences could be devastating.

2.  At the same time, India claims it now has high-yield warheads, in the 200 kiloton range.  At the UN General Assembly, Obama proposed that India enter into the Non-Proliferation Treaty (it is not a signee) as a non-nuclear state, and India vehemently refused.

3.  OBAMA: MUSLIM COMMUNITY ORGANIZER?  Muslim Prayers in DC in front of the Capitol building.  Some controversy over the organizers, one of whom has defended terrorists in court, but what I found interesting was that some of the Muslims in attendance were convinced that Obama himself had organized the event.  The conspiracy theorists are going to love that one!

4.  CATCHING POLANSKI.  Roman Polanski was seized at a film festival in Switzerland, and extradition proceedings are soon to begin on whether he can be returned to the United States to be held accountable for fleeing the U. S. justice system and living as a fugitive for over three decades.  There is an unfortunate tendency amongst our cultural elites, in regards to themselves and others, to believe that the elites are above not only the laws but also the common moral standards that govern the hoi polloi.  Not love, but talent covers over a multitude of sins in our society.

Polanski has had a difficult life, to be sure.  Born to agnostics in Poland, a Jewish father and a mother of Jewish and Catholic descent, his childhood was warped by the specter of Nazi oppressions and atrocities, as he lived in the Krakow Ghetto after the Germans invaded Poland; his mother died in Auschwitz, his father survived a different camp, and Roman himself survived with the help of Polish Catholic families.  Even after he became a successful Polish director and then a successful American director, tragedy followed after him.  His first wife left him for another man after two years of marriage; his friend Bruce Lee died, and his actress wife, a pregnant Sharon Tate, was killed in the Manson murders.  Manson had been angry with the previous residents, one of whom had refused to record his music; he ordered his followers (not knowing there were new residents there) to enter the house and kill everyone there.  After the others were slain, Tate pleaded for the life of her unborn child, and Susan Atkins said she felt no pity and set about stabbing her repeatedly.  Roman was in London at the time, and he was briefly a suspect, until the Manson group was arrested on other charges and the evidence of their participation came to light.

But no tragedy in his own life, and certainly no amount of artistic genius, can justify pedophilic rape.  The story is that Polanski was photographing a 13-year-old model (31 years his junior at the time) at Jack Nicholson’s house while the latter was out of town.  He gave the girl alcohol and a part of a Quaalude, and then raped and Sodomized her.  The lawyers agreed to a plea bargain on the sole charge of “unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor.”  The DA’s office agreed to the lesser charge because of Polanski’s fame, and the girl was reluctant to testify when it became clear that the details of her anal rape would be thrown about in the national media.  Before sentencing, anyway, Polanski fled to England and then to France, where French citizens are rarely extradited.  The U.S. requested extradition, and the French have refused.  Polanski recently won an Oscar and the Palme D’Or for The Pianist.  He is a legend in the film-making industry.

Some had been talking about appealing to President Obama for clemency, on the basis of supposed judicial misconduct “uncovered” by a dubious 2008 documentary.  I can’t imagine that Obama would really want Polanski, a hero to a community (Hollywood) that adores him and lines his pockets, dragged back to Los Angeles and put through a trial, or sentenced to prison.  Nor can I imagine that Swiss authorities, not to mention the French, really want that.  Thus, my prediction: Polanski refuses extradition, forcing a hearing, and the hearing fails to grant extradition, after which the case is dropped (perhaps with an agreement that Polanski is not to return to the United States, since that would be bad PR).

Remember, you heard it here first.

UPDATE: More info on the case from Michelle Malkin, including some background to Anne Applebaum (of the Times) and her defense of Polanski (namely, Applebaum fails to mention that her husband is the Foreign Minister in Poland, who has been pushing for the charges to be dropped).  Also, a writer for the Los Angeles Times says the charges should be dismissed because the state is short on money.  It may be the case that Polanski was arrested this time (he has gone to Switzerland often, and owns a home there) because of the whole UBS disagreement between the US and the Swiss.

5.  OLYMPIOBAMA.  Where I can root for Obama wholeheartedly: in Copenhagen this weekend as he presses for the International Olympic Committee to award the honor of hosting the Olympics to Chicago.  I’m not sure whether America should host it yet again, and I’m sympathetic to the argument that Rio should get it, since the IOC has long neglected South America — but if it were in Chicago, I would be able to go.  Finally.  So…GO BARACK!  These votes are practically all about cronyism, and I don’t like the way that media are being hushed about widespread opposition amongst Chicagoans, but hey, I want to go, and Chicagoans are just spoiled.

Another area where I support him: in pushing for more school time, including longer school days and shorter summers.  We should have a balanced perspective:

Obama and Duncan say kids in the United States need more school because kids in other nations have more school.

“Young people in other countries are going to school 25, 30 percent longer than our students here,” Duncan told the AP. “I want to just level the playing field.”

While it is true that kids in many other countries have more school days, it’s not true they all spend more time in school.

Kids in the U.S. spend more hours in school (1,146 instructional hours per year) than do kids in the Asian countries that persistently outscore the U.S. on math and science tests — Singapore (903), Taiwan (1,050), Japan (1,005) and Hong Kong (1,013). That is despite the fact that Taiwan, Japan and Hong Kong have longer school years (190 to 201 days) than does the U.S. (180 days).

Still, kids in some nations do have more hours, and results with charter schools and public schools too show consistently that increasing the school day by an hour, for instance, thus extending each period/subject by ten minutes, leads to marked improvements.

6.  A NEW LOW for popular support of the health care reform championed by Obama and congressional Democrats: 41%.  What might Democrats do now to change popular perception?  Obama can hardly go on television and radio more often than he has already done.  The PR blitz has not worked.  Democrats face two options: they can (1) press ahead and bend enough elbows to get the Baucus bill passed, and hope that people like the legislation better after it’s passed, or they can (2) withdraw the issue for a little while and come back later with a leaner, more moderate, more limited bill.

I prefer #2.  The rancor would only grow if Democrats forced the bill through now; all the people protesting are starting to believe that they have turned the tide; if the White House forced this through, the anger we’ve seen up until now will pale in comparison to what we would see.  A lot of arms would have to be twisted, a fair number of Blue Dogs (at least) would lose their seats in 2010, and what emerged would probably be an extraordinarily complicated and compromised piece of legislation.  That said, once the bill is passed, the issue of health care reform will fade from public attention for a while, since the changes would begin to take effect in 2011 (for taxes) and 2013 (for health insurance).  The rancor would fade slowly, and the Democrats could engage in a sort of slow-motion PR campaign and then hope that people like the changes once they set in.  But 2010 would be rough, and few will be fond of the tax changes in 2011 either.

The second option gives the Democrats a graceful way to press reset.  They could return with a more gradual approach that moves in deliberate, accountable steps.  If you think you can cut hundreds of billions from Medicare and Medicare Advantage without reducing quality of care, then show me you can do that first, and start saving up money for your big program.  If you think you can improve matters by structuring physician compensation differently, then show me that first with Medicare and military care.  In other words, in those places where we can test whether these claims are true, let’s do so — before we completely redesign 1/6th of the American economy on some fairly dubious propositions.  I understand, some changes have to be made in concert.  But not all.

7.  ILLEGAL COVERAGE.  Relatedly, I’m sure that the Democratic leadership would rather not have the words “illegal immigrants” in the air during the health care reform debate (to be addressed later, presumably).  But one group of congressional Democrats is pushing back, arguing that (1) legal permanent residents (non-citizens) should be able to purchase health insurance on the government exchange, with government subsidies, and (2) illegal immigrants should be able to purchase health insurance on the same exchanges, without federal subsidies.

I agree on both points, actually.  The second point would keep illegal immigrants, or at least those who could afford health care plans, from using the emergency room every time they’re sick.  What bothered me earlier was not the notion of giving health care to illegal immigrants, it was the duplicity in claiming they would not be covered.

8.  GENERAL DISREGARD.  The rift between Obama and General McChrystal seems to be widening; otherwise it’s hard to understand why General McChrystal would let it be known, during a television interview, that he has only spoken with President Obama once since he took over command of the Afghanistan war.  Conservatives, of course, question what this says about Obama’s priorities.

In the meantime, the White House officially received McChrystal’s report and request for more troops, and they have officially put the report on the back burner until they have reconsidered their entire approach to the region.  As Ed Morrisey writes:

Shelving the request makes it clear that Obama and the White House want to conduct a political review of the mission.  That’s not illegitimate; after all, part of the consideration has to be whether our allies have the political will to support us in the Af-Pak theater, as well as whether Americans have the political will to continue the fight.  If neither exists, then the entire question of strategy is moot, and the focus will shift to retreat from the theater.

The problem with this is that the Obama administration has already had plenty of time for political calculation.  They have been in office since January, and Obama campaigned for two years on the pledge to fight in Afghanistan with more resources and focus than the previous administration.  The politics of the war have not changed much, at least in terms other than polling.

Obama wanted to be Commander in Chief, and he has had that role for eight months.  The question of politics should have already been well settled by this time.  So far he has done a good job of fighting the war in Afghanistan, but this very public vacillation undermines the projection of American strength in the region and encourages a defeatist attitude.  It’s time to fish or cut bait on the politics and start seriously addressing the strategy, if we’re going to fight and win this war.

9.  If you want to see the very definition of fawning news coverage, check out this article from the French news service, AFP, about former President Bill Clinton.  Yikes.

10.  Background info on the strange “Hymn to Obama” that made the YouTube rounds.  I can’t manage to get too upset about it.  The lyrics were vaguely worshipful, but apparently the song was made and performed at an assembly in recognition of Black History Month in February.  It makes sense to have a song about Obama and his historic achievement.  I could have done without the “Jesus Loves the Little Children” reworked lyrics, but it’s probably more a matter of poor lyric-writing than political indoctrination.

11.  TODAY’S TWO-SIDES, I.  From the Right, Eliot Cohen on the options that remain with Iran.

12.  TODAY’S TWO-SIDES, II.  Michael Moore on why he hates capitalism.  Kyle Smith wonders what alternative he prefers.

13.  COLUMN OF THE DAY: This remarkably clear essay from one former Secretary of Health and Human Services and two former members of the White House Economic Council.  I made this argument long ago: that the health care reform proposed right now is another form of income distribution.

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Sunday Funnies and Inspiration, September 26

•September 27, 2009 • Leave a Comment

First the funny, and let me tell you, this one is funny:

And now the inspiration, a piece from Rob Bell:

How Should Christians Regard Iran?

•September 26, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Fascinating story behind yesterday morning’s announcement by Barack Obama, Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy that Iran has been constructing a second, secret nuclear facility near the holy city of Qom.  Apparently the United States has known about this for years.  The timeline, as best I can make it out, runs something like this.  Iran began building this second nuclear enrichment facility in 2005.  At least one source says that we have known about it “for years,” though I think there is reason to doubt that, so I’m withholding judgment on that point.  In any case the Obama administration has known about it for some time, but has declined to make that information public.  They did not intend to make this information public, either.

Yesterday’s announcement would not have happened if it were not for a leak from the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors nuclear non-proliferation for the UN).  Iran sent the IAEA a letter earlier this week which referenced the construction of a second facility it had not previously disclosed.  It was depicted as a sort of pilot program, and of course it was supposed to be for peaceful purposes.  The IAEA did not make that information public (and defends itself by saying that communications such as these are confidential).  Yet someone leaked the information, and the Obama administration had to get out in front of the issue.  National security folks learned of it Tuesday night, and discussed it with Obama the next morning.  They were “angered,” the New York Times says (though they hardly could have been surprised), that the second facility was depicted as a minor pilot program.

The White House essentially decided to outflank the Iranians, to present to their allies and the public what they believed was powerful evidence that there was more to the Iranian site than just some pilot program. They saw it as a chance to use this evidence to persuade other countries to support the case for stronger sanctions by showing that the Iranians were still working on a secret nuclear plan.

This requires translation, since the Times is clearly conveying the spin it was given: the administration was being outflanked by Iran, which was disclosing the information before the White House could use it or reveal it, and so the White House tried to get back out in front.  They were forced into doing what they had chosen not to do for many months: revealing what they knew publicly to build leverage against Iran.  So the administration presented the evidence that it possessed of the second facility to the IAEA in Vienna.  They brought the New York Times (who else?) up to speed, but asked the Times not to run their story until the morning of Obama’s announcement.  Yet the AP got wind of the story, and the embargo was lifted.  In any case, the administration also hastily pulled together a united front for their announcement.  The Europeans wanted the Obama administration to bring forth the information and confront Iran in the Security Council meeting on Thursday.  The White House refused, fearing it would dilute the non-proliferation plans it had for the council meeting.  So they waited until Friday morning, and gave out details to the press as the announcement was being made.

So there are a number of questions here.  Why didn’t the administration make this information public earlier?  Why did Iran send the letter to the IAEA?  Who leaked the letter?  What do the Russians and Chinese have to say about all this?  And what are we going to do about it now?

I imagine that the Obama administration was happy to have Iran protest its innocence and its compliance with international norms, so that, in the midst of their negotiations beginning soon, they could pressure the Iranians with the threat of making the information public.  Or, if it should not prove necessary to show what we knew, we could use our information (and the sources from which it came) to determine, after an agreement were entered into, whether the Iranians were actually dismantling their program.  Yet conservatives, with some justification, are saying: this information should have been presented to the IAEA long ago, and should have been revealed to the world in order to show that Iran presented a bigger threat, and was even more in violation of international law, than everyone thought.  This also raises questions regarding our 2007 intelligence assessment–much ballyhooed by a press that was eager to head off any strong action by the Bush administration against Iran — that Iran had ceased its nuclear program in 2003.

As Obama said in his announcement, the facility is not consistent with a peaceful, nuclear energy program; so if there is anyone out there who believes that Iranians really are just interested in nuclear energy and radiation medicine, they should know that the Obama administration, which loathes the idea of a conflict with Iran, disagrees.  So, exactly when did we learn about this second facility?  If it was during the Bush administration (and thus passed on from the Bush administration to the Obama administration), why did the Bush administration not do more about it?  Did we know about the second facility when the intelligence assessment was released in 2007?  If not, why have we not publicly retracted that report?

But it gets still more interesting when we consider why Iran sent the letter, and who might have leaked it.  It’s possible that Iran got wind of Obama’s intention to use this threatened disclosure as leverage in negotiations — and decided to disclose the facility preemptively.  This would be a way of sticking a finger in our eye; if you think threatening to expose that information will bother me, well, I’ll show you; I’ll disclose it myself.  I know of no other reason why Iran, having kept this facility secret for four years, would suddenly send a letter about it to the IAEA.  And thus it’s possible that Iran itself leaked the letter when the IAEA did not.  The IAEA clearly could have made the information public, since Iran had been deceiving the IAEA for four years; but that may be why the IAEA was not eager for word to get out.  There is a particular reporter who may have been involved in the leak; but of course the reporter is not a part of the IAEA, so he too would have had to learn about it.  Another possibility is that someone within the IAEA, someone who was bitter against Iran or wanted to show its deceptions, leaked the letter.

This raises thorny questions for Christians, as well as others.  It is a certainty — it is irresponsible to suggest anything else — it is a certainty that Iran will have a nuclear weapon in short order if the current trajectory continues.  Perhaps within a year.  With a warhead, Iran would instantly become the greatest power, other than Israel, in the Middle East.  They could bully their neighbors with impunity, and if they were zealous enough they could attack Israel.  The non-proliferation regime would break down; an arms race could begin in the world’s most explosive region, and Iran (like North Korea) could become a disseminator of nuclear materials and know-how.  This is also troubling for our relationship with Russia.  Did Russia know about this facility?  Did China?  Have they been helping to build it?  I consider it likely that Russia has known and facilitated the construction of the facility.

So what should we do?  Obviously we don’t want war, with all the consequences that would bring.  We would rather not attack.  Crippling sanctions, interdiction of shipping, freezing of assets — these are our best hopes, short of a strike.  We can’t let iran drag out the diplomacy process until they already have a warhead.  Sure, you can throw a match into a powder-keg and hope it won’t explode — but is that really wise?

With all of this information, the Obama administration continues to insist that diplomacy will work.  This was one of the central claims with which Obama was elected.  And perhaps Iran has intended all along, when the international community was most concerned, to cash in its chips and take everything that’s offered on the table.  But let’s get the diplomacy started right away, and give it two weeks.  They’ve lied and deceived for years.  Enough.  And if they spurn our offer, then we impose severe sanctions, with or without Russia and China’s agreement.  And if Russia and China try to continue trade, we force them to stop.

This is going to be a big test for Obama.  If he passes this test, he will soar in my estimation.

UPDATE: More information on how and when we learned of the Qom facility.  I suspected the Bush administration could not have known the full story with Qom, since they would have wanted to make the information public to bolster their case against Iran.  I think I was right:

In fact, the makings of the administration’s strategy was hatched months before, when the White House first came to believe that the complex, built into a mountain on property near Qum controlled by Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards, might be a part of the nuclear program. Over time, the file that intelligence officials accumulated on the facility developed as a cudgel, a way to win over wary allies and test if the Iranians were being truthful in their disclosures.

Senior intelligence officials said Friday that several years ago American intelligence agencies under the administration of George W. Bush discovered the suspicious site. The site was one of Iran’s most closely guarded secrets, the officials said, known only by senior members of Iran’s nuclear establishment. The officials said that housing the complex on the base gave it an extra layer of security.

Mr. Obama was first told about the existence of the covert site during his transition period in late 2008, White House officials said, after he had been elected but before he was inaugurated. But it was not until earlier this year that American spy agencies detected the movement of sensitive equipment into the facility — a sign, they believed, that whatever work was involved was nearing its final stages.

The Times article also claims that administration folks were “angry” but also “satisfied” with the Iranian letter to the IAEA, because it gave them leverage.  But it didn’t give them leverage.  Iran’s admission of having a small, pilot, peaceful program at another base did not give them any leverage they did not already have.  So I regard this as spin.

UPDATE 2: Iran now says they will let the IAEA inspect the facility, that it had never processed uranium, and that the world should be congratulating them for their transparency in half-revealing a facility they had hidden from the world for years.  Really.

Morning Report, Weekend Edition, September 26th: Hart Against the Atheists, Is Obama Narcissus?, Reconsidering ACORN, Moron in Wolf’s Clothing, and the Astounding Kirk Cameron

•September 26, 2009 • Leave a Comment

One Christian’s perspective on the day’s news:

1.  CHRISTIAN POLITICAL ADVOCACY.  The Christianity Today website has begun a weekly roundup of what evangelical political groups, from across the political spectrum, have said and done over the past week.  It’s an excellent new feature and I expect to use it often.  Though it’s not a summary of news and commentary from an evangelical perspective, which this blog seeks to provide (among other things), it tells us how political advocacy groups are responding to the news.

So check out their Political Advocacy Tracker.  It describes the “Value Voters Summit” as well as a meeting of faith leaders at the G-20 summit.  Glen Carey, director of government affairs for the NEA, had these words:

“The global economic crisis has pushed more than a hundred million people back into desperate poverty, erasing many of the economic gains of recent years,” he said. “As our leaders continue guiding a process of economic recovery, we want to make sure that the needs of the poor and vulnerable are at the top of the agenda.”

I’m also encouraged by the response of Rusty Prichard, one of the more progressive evangelicals to add the Value Voters Summit.  According to the roundup:

Of the 1,800 attendees, a few were evangelicals with a more progressive politics. Evangelicals for Social Action’s Rusty Pritchard attended the “Global Warming Hysteria” session. It was not what he expected. “I was delighted and surprised when Cal Beisner, a prominent global warming science skeptic, publicly distanced himself from over-the-top accusations aimed at Christian creation care activist,” Pritchard wrote. “In fact Beisner went out of his way to mention us and welcome us publicly, to express his shock at discovering the ill-conceived workshop title and description, and to admit that some Christians come to opposite conclusions about the validity of climate science and the need for action. He was gracious and civil.”

Pritchard also argued that criticism of Obama’s policies are not racist, and lauded the inclusion of black leaders at the summit. “A big theme repeatedly emerged, which the rest of the Christian church needs to admit. Conservatism and racism do not go hand-in-hand. … Some of the charges leveled against our most conservative brothers and sisters are frankly ridiculous, and we all should do what we can to stop them.”

This, it seems to me, is progress.

2.  HART TAKES ON THE ATHEISTS.  David Bentley Hart is one of the brightest and most original theologians writing today.  He is Orthodox, and still fairly young.  So I was delighted to discover his new book, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and its Fashionable Enemies.  Hart supplies a critique of the so-called New Atheists, but goes far deeper than most, not merely refuting their arguments but showing the way that modernists have created their own mythologies.  Very important stuff.  Although I haven’t read the book yet, I can already tell you that I strongly recommend it.

Here is a piece from a review at Christianity Today:

The New Atheists trade in “fruitless abstractions of religion,” Hart writes, and reduce Christianity to its history’s “bloodthirsty crusaders and sadistic inquisitors”—in other words, to its worst constituent parts. But far from being an obstacle to human flourishing and fulfilment, Hart asserts, Christianity gave birth to the idea of humanity as we know it. Never before the 2,000-year-old religion were slave and free, man and woman, rich and poor, Jew and Gentile welcomed in equal measure and with immeasurable love.

Much of Atheist Delusions reminds readers of the importance of remembering what Christianity has done for us—not just for the believer in personal salvation, but also for the nonbeliever in human history. Would we have had medieval leper hospitals if not for Christ’s teachings of kindness and his charge to seek the good of those less fortunate? Would almshouses, orphanages, and hospitals have come into existence without the Christian message that God dwells in “the least of these”? Hart finds no precursor in pagan society that shows that Christ’s message was anything but revolutionary.

He also refutes many of the New Atheists’ unjustified charges regarding witch hunts, the Inquisition, wars of religion, the destruction of the Alexandrian Library (which supposedly symbolizes Christians’ antipathy toward learning), and so forth. You might think, as I did, that saying that much of Christian history has been distorted in this debate is hardly revelatory. But Hart goes further, asserting that [atheism] itself has a mythology of its own, according to which the Age of Reason came to birth during the Enlightenment (Genesis), scientists such as Galileo have been sacrificed (as martyrs) for the cause, and the superstitions of religion (evil) must be fought in order for science and reason (good) to prevail. Modernity has rewritten the past, editing out the role of the church, the cradle of many triumphs of scientific inquiry.

You can find the book at Amazon.  I’ll see whether I can arrange an interview.

3.  IRANIAN FLANKING MANEUVER.  Fascinating story behind yesterday’s announcement regarding Iran’s second nuclear facility — I will tell the story in a separate post.

4.  STIFFENING THE SPINE.  Conservatives like Stephen Hayes and Ralph Peters (more pungently) want Obama to take a harder line against Iran.  Worth considering.  The latter has this tidbit:

Additionally, an Iranian exile group opposed to the theocrat thugs in Tehran claimed this week that Ahmadinejad’s government operates two secret plants that fabricate detonators for nuclear weapons.

One of those sites is in an east Tehran suburb, another in that enormous city’s exurbs. The major enrichment site that embarrassed our president sits near Qom, Iran’s holiest city.

Ahmadinejad’s boys know what they’re doing. They’ve dispersed their nuclear program across urban areas and deep underground. The network is not only hard to hit — it’s impossible to strike effectively without inflicting thousands of civilian casualties.

5.  OH THE HUMANATY.  Humana, which sells Medicare Advantage insurance plans (which go beyond typical medicare coverage), sent a mailer to its customers saying that the reforms under consideration in Congress would result in cuts to coverage under Medicare Advantage.  Whether or not you believe Humana is telling the truth will depend on whether or not you believe that hundreds of billions can be cut from Medicare Advantage without affecting coverage.  But the government forced Humana and others like it to refrain from any such communications.  Republicans have called this a “gag order” and a suppression of free speech.  It accused Humana of misleading a vulnerable population, seniors.  While this is not exactly a suppression of speech, in my view, it is certainly conduct unbecoming of the executive branch.  Essentially, companies that receive money from the government are being told that they cannot protest the proposed reforms (or at least, cannot protest them in ways the government does not approve), or else they will lose their contracts and perhaps face legal action.  Republicans are protesting.

On a related note, Harry Reid now calls the “trigger” option a “doggone good idea.”

6.  OBAMA = NARCISSUS?  Strong words from Michael Gerson on the “narcissism” of Obama’s rhetoric on the international stage.  I generally find Gerson a fair-minded observer, capable of criticizing both sides.  So I pay attention to what he writes.  What do you think: is Obama narcissistic?  I don’t know, but it reminds me of the need to pray for our leaders, and specifically to pray for their humility and character.

7.  SPEED READING.  Some Democrats are joining Republicans in calling for a bill to be online for 72 hours before any vote.  Seems eminently reasonable, doesn’t it?  Isn’t this something we can all support?  Actually, didn’t Obama promise something like this?

8.  WHY THE RUSSIANS LOVE CHESS.  An interesting story on how the Russians and Soviets subsidized instruction in chess (ever wonder why so many of the great chess masters were Russian?).

9.  RECONSIDERING ACORN.  If you’ve been wondering why Conservatives have long loathed ACORN, and even organizations like it, you could do worse than reading this explanation.  The author is quite entrenched in his ideology, but he explains the case pretty well.

10.  KIRK CAMERON TAKES ON THE ATHEISTS.  If you have a strange desire to hear Kirk Cameron explain the increasing godlessness of our culture, you can find the video here.

11.  MORON IN WOLF’S CLOTHING.  Somehow I missed Wolf Blitzer’s horrid performance on Jeopardy.  Enjoy:

Wow.  Just wow.  Andy Richter’s score: $68,000.  Wolf Richter’s score: $4,600.  The comedian scored over 70,000 points more than Wolf.  Holy smokes.  How embarrassing for a news anchor.

I found it through this very enjoyable review of the week in news.

Dying to Live: On Being a Theologian of the Cross, Part I

•September 25, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Part I: Introduction and Historical Context

A young Martin Luther.

A young Martin Luther.

The Reformation is often said to have begun when the Augustinian canon known as Martin Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Schlosskirche or Castle Church of Wittenberg on the 31st of October, 1517.  Yet the scope of the theses was actually quite limited.  The full name of what Luther wrote is Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences.  He was furious when his parishioners claimed no need to repent for their sins because they had purchased the indulgences that the Catholic Church was selling in order to finance renovations to Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome.  The parishioners felt no need for compunction, and felt as though they had purchased what (Luther believed) was given to them freely by God.  In other words, indulgences spared the faithful from confronting the depth of their sin and thus the magnitude of the grace that forgives it.

Yet the Ninety-Five Theses are less important for what they said than for the reaction they provoked.  The Augustinian order was generally supportive of Luther’s position, and Johannes Staupitz invited Luther to explain himself to a meeting of the order on April 26th, 1518.  If Luther had not used this opportunity to articulate a more expansive vision of the cosmic drama of grace and forgiveness, and had not set forth a theological method that turned scholastic theology on its head, then he would have been the leader of a minor corrective movement within the Catholic Church and not the leader of the Reformation as we have come to know it.  Where Luther began to explain a way of being in relationship with God, and a way of coming to the knowledge of God, that was more fundamentally at odds with the prevailing tendencies in the Roman Catholic Church of his time, was in his Heidelberg Disputation.  It was in consequence of the disputation at Heidelberg that Martin Bucer (who attended the disputation and would come to be another of the great leaders of the Reformation) drew near to Luther’s side, and Johannes Eck challenged Luther to the Leipzig debate.

Martin Bucer

Martin Bucer

The Heidelberg Disputation is, to my mind, one of the most brilliant pieces in the history of theological reflection.  As with the Ninety-Five Theses, Luther enunciated a set of claims that he was prepared to defend at a medieval-style disputation: twenty-eight theological theses and 12 philosophical theses.  Together they construct a revolutionary argument that I will examine in the later installments of this series.  They convey a “theology of the cross,” a theologia crucis, a way of relating to God first “through suffering and the cross.”  Lamentably, this is often forgotten: yes, the Reformers proclaimed sola scriptura and sola gratia, but they also proclaimed the imitatio passionis Christi, that all Christians are called to share in the sufferings of Christ and to know Christ and indeed God through the suffering of the cross.

Before closing, I want to assure you that this series of reflections on Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation will not be merely historical and theological; it will be profoundly existential.  What Luther espouses is not a new body of theological knowledge, but a radically different way of relating to God.  The theologia crucis pronounces a thunderous denunciation over contemporary Christendom; it challenges each of us; it changes the way we live the truth of Christ.  I hope you enjoy the series.

As a way of previewing some of my later contentions, I will offer a quotation from Hermann Sasse, “The Theology of the Cross: Theologia Crucis,” in We Confess Jesus Christ, pp. 47-48, 50, 52:

The theologian of glory observes the world, the works of creation. With his intellect he perceives behind these the visible things of God, His power, wisdom, and generosity. But God remains invisible to him. The theologian of the cross looks to the Crucified One. Here there is nothing great or beautiful or exalted as in the splendid works of creation. Here there is humiliation, shame, weakness, suffering, and agonizing death… [That] “God can be found only in suffering and the cross”… is a bedrock statement of Luther’s theology and that of the Lutheran Church. Theology is theology of the cross, nothing else. A theology that would be something else is a false theology… Measured by everything the world calls wisdom, as Paul already saw, the word of the cross is the greatest foolishness, the most ridiculous doctrine that can confront a philosopher. That the death of one man should be the salvation of all, that this death on Golgotha should be this atoning sacrifice for all the sins of the world, that the suffering of an innocent one should turn away the wrath of God—these are assertions that fly in the face of every ethical and religious notion of man as he is by nature… God Himself has sent us into the hard school of the cross. There, on the battlefields, in the prison camps, under the hail of bombs, and among the shattered sick and wounded, there the theology of the cross may be learned “by dying”… To those whose illusions about the world and about man, and the happiness built on these, have been shattered, the message of the cross may come as profoundly good news.

You can read the theses, and their justifications, here.

Blogopticon 9-25-09

•September 25, 2009 • Leave a Comment

This is the second installment of the Blogopticon, which highlights one of the best entries available on Christian blogs today.  (If you’re not familiar with the idea behind the name, do a little research on the pantopicon, a method of imprisoning people that features prominently in the writings of Michel Foucault.)  The Blogopticon sees all.  Today its gaze fell upon the Red Letter Believers blog, and since it’s a short entry I’ll quote it in full:

We are a lonely people. Even in a crowded room of people we have all heard the cry and ache of our souls. It is pervasive and deep as our whole society is entangled in it’s grip.

Just listen to the frivolous talk and hollow laughter.

Thomas Wolfe said that “loneliness is and always has been the central and inevitable experience of every man.” It surrounds our thoughts. Loneliness robs our passion. It strangles our hearts.

Amazingly, in a world of endless entertainment, active lives and bustling streets that men and women are still be isolated, empty and alone. I put the cause directly in lap of modernism, the god of this age. Modernism teaches us that the material world is the end of all things. This ideal maintains that the scientific method, the world that is measured and observed and touched, is all that ever was and that there will ever be.

Is this all? Is there really nothing else out there?

From this seed has sprouted the weed of thought that technology can solve all our ills. If technolgy is indeed our king, then humankind is it’s servant. Secular society does all it can to silence the supernatural.

The only substitute is an eerie quiet as we are alone with our empty heartbeats. Left with nothing but machines and computers and inventions, we are isolated and empty creatures. While evenings were once filled with visiting family and friends, they are now filled with parents and their children tapping out directions in front of computer screens, exchanging emails and chatting with strangers.

Check out the excellent blog here, including an entry on how “Work would be great — except for the people,” and “Tomatoes, the first frost, and the Christian walk.”

Morning Report, September 25th: Terrorism in the Air, Academic Sins, People for the Ethical Treatment of Themselves, Anatomy of Hate, Dealing with Cancer, and Dealing with a Cancer

•September 25, 2009 • Leave a Comment

One Christian’s perspective on the day’s news:

1.  I don’t think it’s alarmist to say that something is afoot.  Yesterday I noted all of the news regarding terror arrests, terror threats, and terrorist videos.  Today more news arrives: a 19-year-old Jordanian was arrested for a plot to explode a Dallas skyscraper, an Illinois man known both as Michael Finton and Talib Islam was charged for a plot to bomb federal offices, and two suspects in North Carolina (Daniel Patrick Boyd and Hysen Sherifi) were arrested on charges of planning to attack a Marine base at Quantico (and they are among seven charged with providing support and conspiring with al Qaeda).

So what’s going on here?  At first glance, you might think that the searches and arrests in Queens and Denver exposed the network of American terrorists and law enforcement authorities are moving swiftly to gather them up.  But the FBI and others have apparently been following some of these cases for months, developing relationships with the suspects through Arab-speaking informants and undercover operatives.  So we have known about these men for a while — and we chose to roll them all up in the past few days, right after the emergence of video and audio from Ayman al-Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden — video and audio which, it appears (as I explained yesterday — see point #6), we jammed and prevented from spreading quickly.  Were the instructions for attack somehow woven into the video and audio?

Or is it the case that these cells/individuals knew of one another, and capturing one set of them (the Queens and Denver arrests) could lead the others, knowing they will soon be discovered, to take action?  The authorities are being very hush-hush; they haven’t explained any more than they had to explain to justify their detention of suspects, perhaps because they did not want to reveal the extent of what they knew.  And yet, sooner or later, the story will be told.  I’m eager to hear it.

2.  The original suspect was indicted on conspiracy to use WMD.  He got supplies by going from one beauty supply store to another, buying large quantities of hydrogen peroxide and nail polish remover.  Never knew cosmetics could be so dangerous, did you?  I don’t know if we’re quite ready to joke about this one, but someone sooner or later has to make a joke about Tammy Faye as a walking WMD.

3.   The Seven Deadly Sins of the Academy.  Just the name is tantalizing.  A thorough Christian critique of the academy, done from someone with impeccable academic credentials, is sorely needed today.

4.  I am an animal-lover.  It breaks my heart to see what happens to animals in Chinese fur farms, for instance (Google it and watch the video if you dare), and it seems to me that every Christian as a matter of course ought to stand for the ethical treatment of animals.  But that doesn’t mean that you have to stand with the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).  A dissenting view here.

5.  Evangelical Outpost share an article with a “principled conservative” case against universal health care.  Whether or not you agree (or agree and disagree in part, as I do), it’s worth reading.

6.  An excerpt from the Anatomy of Hate video.  I won’t embed the video here, since Fred Phelps needs no more exposure.  What interested me was one person who speaks of how horrible eternal fire would be, and how much it should be avoided.  “And if that means that I have to love my neighbor by telling the truth they don’t want to hear and be hated for it…if that’s what I have to do then I’m going to do it.”  It’s just striking to me that I agree with the general sentiment, that sometimes “loving” a neighbor Christianly really is telling them the truth they don’t want to hear.  I agree with that.  And I don’t know what else the young man says, or even what he thinks he has to tell people.  But it’s followed with all sorts of nasty language against gays.  Is it not also “loving” to tell the truth lovingly?  Can one not tell a person that he is misled or misbehaving without the rancor, the animus, the cruelty?

7.  As payrolls continue to decline in the private sector, the federal government has grown by 1.3%, adding 25,000 jobs.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing.  We will need new government workers to operate our growing government, and in this economy I’m happy for job growth of any kind.  But I do wish that job creation in the private sector were more in evidence.  And I worry that the growth of government only leads to bloat, waste, inefficiency, corruption, to a self-serving institution that always strives to grow itself and never declares its job finished.  If we’re going to cut waste and form a lean government, if we’re going to limit the power of lobbyists, we need to start shedding extraneous government jobs.  Now may not be the time; but soon.

8.  Iran reveals that it has a second nuclear facility–strategically located near a Shiite holy city–for making highly enriched uranium:

President Obama and the leaders of France and Britain blasted Iran’s construction of a previously unacknowledged uranium enrichment facility and demanded Friday that Tehran immediately fulfill its obligations under international law or risk the imposition of harsh new sanctions.”Iran is breaking rules that all nations must follow,” Obama said, detailing how the facility near Qom had been under construction for years without being disclosed, as required, to the International Atomic Energy Agency. “International law is not an empty promise.”

The new Iranian plant, the country’s second uranium enrichment facility, is believed by U.S. officials to be part of a broad effort by Iran’s leadership to pursue the ability to build nuclear weapons. Iran has repeatedly denied having any such goal, insisting that its nuclear program is aimed at generating electricity. U.S. officials said they believe the Qom plant is not yet operational but is intended to produce highly enriched uranium — suitable for nuclear weapons — and will be capable within months of producing enough material for at least one bomb per year.

If we didn’t even know about a second nuclear facility, how can we be so confident that we should not have missile defense against long-range missiles?  Isn’t this a case of “better safe than sorry”?  Ahmadinejad is interviewed about it here.

Also, a strong conservative response to the news from Contentions.

8.  Honda creates a new “personal mobility device.”  Must be seen.

9.  Not afraid of inflation from the enormous expansion of government expenditures?  You should be.  How does 15-20% sound?

10.  Just came across this video.  Stay tuned until the end:

11.  I have at least half-defended ACORN.  Now, after reading this article from the Washington Post, where ACORN is described as a reverse Robin Hood, stealing from the poor and giving to the rich, I’m having second thoughts.

12.  Like Mark Steyn, I never thought much of the argument that Obama could not win the election because America is too racist.  And I don’t think much of the argument now that the opposition to Obama, in any significant measure, has to do with racism.  Still, it’s easier to demonize than to understand, and easier to deny the rationality of the opposition than to take seriously their critique.  This is simply human.

13.  Too funny.  And I’d still like to hear the story behind that peculiar video of children singing about Obama and how all races “are equal in his sight.”  Who created the song — and why?  Some information has begun to trickle out; the person who uploaded the video had already written a children’s book about Obama.

14.  The Congressional Research Service has determined that Manuel Zelaya was lawfully arrested by the Honduran Supreme Court.  He should not have been exiled.  But this was no unlawful coup.

15.  I don’t have that much sympathy for protesters–or reporters–who are repeatedly told to leave, and then receive tear gas when they refuse.  There is a certain responsibility to follow the directions of law enforcement officials, after all.

16.  Carly Fiorina is an attractive candidate in California, and this is worth reading about her recent struggle with cancer.

17.  Today’s Two-Sides.  From the center, Peter Feaver from Foreign Policy.  From the Left, Juan Cole believes that Obama’s clever moves have given us leverage over Iran (assuming that Russia will now be more cooperative, which remains to be seen).  From the Right, Jamie Fly asks (importantly) whether this overthrews the earlier determination, made in 2007, that the Iranian government had suspended its nuclear program in 2003.