Thursday, April 30, 2009

Current Southside Unemployment Rates

Another month, another set of abysmal unemployment statistics. Martinsville has a 20.8% unemployment rate, up from 20.2% last month. Martinsville has the highest unemployment rate in the state, and is the only locality with a 20+% rate. Danville saw a slight decrease, from 12.3% down to 12.2% unemployment, but in terms of metropolitan areas, Danville's unemployment still tops the state.

Patrick and Henry Counties saw a slight increase in unemployment: Henry, from 14.6% up to 14.8%; Patrick County, from 13% up to 13.2%. Pittslyvania County saw a slight decrease, from 11.5% to 11.2%.

The state's unemployment rate is 7%, the same as last month.

Religion and Globalization

Robert Wright has a provocative article on religion and globalization. I've been a long time fan of Wright through his books A Moral Animal and Non-Zero. This is a long article, but very much worth your time to read it. Creative, brilliant, and mind-blowing. Typical Robert Wright.

Some background on Wright. He is an evolutionist and atheist, however he is empathetic to claims about the existence of God; while he doesn't personally believe, he can understand, through history, the possibility of divine guidance. He posits, via the evolutionary model, that the trajectory of earth's history goes from simplicity to complexity through non-zero sum relationships - basically two entities, human or non-, working together in mutually beneficial relationships.

Back to the article. Using the socio-historic contexts of the earliest phases of the Christian movement as a template, Wright seeks to understand how the Abrhamic traditions can peacefully co-exist in an age of globalization. Money quote:
In any event, whether or not history has a purpose, its moral direction is hard to deny. Since the Stone Age, the scope of social organization has expanded, from hunter-gatherer society through city-state through empire and beyond. And often this expansion has entailed the extension of mutual understanding across bounds of ethnicity, religion, or nationality. Indeed, it turns out that formative periods in both Islam and Judaism evince the same dynamic as early Christianity: an imperial, multiethnic milieu winds up fostering a tolerance of other ethnicities and faiths.

Now, as we approach the global level of social organization—and see the social order threatened by strife among these Abrahamic religions—another burst of moral progress is needed. Success is hardly guaranteed, but at least the early history of Christianity and indeed of all Abrahamic faiths gives cause for hope. However bleak a globalizing world may look at times, the story could still have a happy ending, an ending that brings out the best in religion as religion brings out the best in people.

Using biblical scholarship and textual criticism, however suspect in my opinion, Wright shows that the early phases of the Christian movement, seen through the marketing and management skills of Paul, were predicated, via enlightened self-interest, on brotherly love and ethnic toleration. The early histories of post-exile Judaism and Islam both highlight a similar pattern. As such, there is a time-tested moral principle that can guide the Abrahamic religions through the growing pains of globalization. Saith Wright:

For all three Abrahamic faiths, then, tolerance and even amity across ethnic and national bounds have a way of emerging as a product of utility; when you can do well by doing good, doing good can acquire a scriptural foundation. This flexibility is heartening for those who believe that, in a highly globalized and interdependent world, the vast majority of people in all three Abrahamic faiths have more to gain through peaceful coexistence and cooperation than through intolerance and violence. If ancient Abrahamics could pen laudable scriptures that were in their enlightened self-interest, then maybe modern Abrahamics can choose to emphasize those same scriptures when it’s in their interest.
But if, as a matter of fact, the prudent pursuit of self-interest has over time led humanity closer to a moral truth—namely, that people of all ethnicities and faiths deserve respect—that lends at least some heft to the argument that there is a larger purpose in human affairs.

The scriptures do strengthen this argument—not by
asserting it but by corroborating it. In all three Abrahamic religions, amity and tolerance cross national or ethnic bounds when people feel they can gain more through peaceful interaction than through conflict. And the fact is that history has relentlessly expanded the range across which these dynamics hold.
Wright then draws out and inter-relates his non-zero sum theory:
To put the point more technically: history expands the range of non-zero-sum relationships—relationships in which two parties can both win if they collaborate, or lose if they don’t. Technological evolution (wheels, roads, cuneiform, alphabets, trains, microchips) has placed more and more people in non-zero-sum relationship with more and more other people at greater and greater distances—and often across ethnic, national, and religious bounds.
Globalization is the culmination of this trend, and it features so many non-zero-sum filaments that we lose sight of them. ... “[T]he Muslim world” and “the West” are playing a non-zero-sum game; their fortunes are positively correlated. If Muslims get less happy with their place in the world, more resentful of their treatment by the West, support for radical Islam will grow, so things will get worse for the West. If, on the other hand, more and more Muslims feel respected by the West and feel they benefit from involvement with it, that will cut support for radical Islam, and Westerners will be more secure from terrorism.
He concludes, using this trajectory, with a possible positive eschatology. While I question his biblical hermeneutic, I do find this a dialogue-provoking and entertainable argument.

What do you think?

Double-shift: Tom's a legislatin'

Today, Congress passed an amendment Rep. Perriello attached to the Credit Cardholder's Bill of Rights Act of 2009. Perriello's amendment would require that a 6-month minimum period for promotional or teaser rates credit card companies use to entice new and potential cardholders, usually targeting vulnerable college students. Saith Perriello:
“The movement for accountability scored a victory today against the tricks, traps and usurious greed in the credit card industry. If they can't sell the product without using traps, that's a good time for consumer protection,” said Perriello. “This bill and my amendment put in place common-sense regulations that will protect all consumers, but especially college students who are disproportionately targeted.”
Perriello's amendment passed by an unanimous voice vote, and you can see a video of him, on the House floor, articulating his amendment here.

From Perriello's press release, some background on the Credit Cardholder's Bill of Rights Act:
[T]he Credit Cardholders’ Bill of Rights Act of 2009 ... would create new protections for consumers facing excessive credit card fees, sky-high interest rates, and unfair, incomprehensible credit card company agreements.
The legislation would ban retroactive interest rate hikes on existing balances (except when payments are more than 30 days late), double-cycle billing, and due-date gimmicks. Specifically, the bill protects cardholders against arbitrary interest rate increases, and empowers them to set limits on their credit and requires card companies to fairly credit and allocate payments. It also prohibits charging fees just to pay a bill by phone, charging over-the-limit fees unless a consumer opts-in in advance or issuing credits cards to minors.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Virginia Foxx on Hate Crimes

Today, the Hate Crimes bill passed Congress, and according to her twitterfeed, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) managed the rule debate. According to that tweet, she thought the bill was about "Thought Crimes" not hate crimes, a significant difference. Salon's Glenn Greenwald, an opponent of hate speech laws, whom Foxx quoted to build her argument, offers this common-sense distinction:
Hate speech laws and hate crimes laws are entirely different, since the former punishes the pure expression of ideas while the latter involves the commission of actual crimes, usually quite violent and serious crimes. One can easily and coherently oppose the former but support the latter.
Congress Matters also notices Foxx' floor presence. During her time, she mentioned that the hate crime behind Matthew Shepard's murder, the tragic precedent to this bill, was a hoax; he was murdered during a robbery, not for being gay, according to Foxx. Media Matters catches the video (below) and offers historical meda clips to disprove Foxx' theory, as well as does AmericaBLOG. Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) also reacted to Foxx' statement:
"She should be ashamed," said Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), himself a victim of a hate crime during the struggle for civil rights. "That is unreal, unbelievable. The law enforcement people and almost every reasonable person I know believes he was murdered because he was gay."
Glad I'm outta that district.

Quote of the Day

Sen. Olympia Snowe's (R-Maine) NYT's op-ed column on the Republican loss of Arlen Specter:
In my view, the political environment that has made it inhospitable for a moderate Republican in Pennsylvania is a microcosm of a deeper, more pervasive problem that places our party in jeopardy nationwide.

I have said that, without question, we cannot prevail as a party without conservatives. But it is equally certain we cannot prevail in the future without moderates.
There is no plausible scenario under which Republicans can grow into a majority while shrinking our ideological confines and continuing to retract into a regional party. Ideological purity is not the ticket back to the promised land of governing majorities — indeed, it was when we began to emphasize social issues to the detriment of some of our basic tenets as a party that we encountered an electoral backlash.
A moderate Republican Senator giving voice to the on-going death spiral of the Republican Party.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

This makes me cry a little inside, like my youth was robbed by artistic laziness.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Changes in Religious Affiliation, Understanding Religious Unaffiliation

A new poll by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public life provides an analysis behind our changes in religious affiliation and the meaning of increased numbers of religiously unaffiliated. Methodologically speaking, this poll surveyed 2800 Americans, an in-depth follow-up to a poll completed last year. Money quote:
Americans change religious affiliation early and often. In total, about half of American adults have changed religious affiliation at least once during their lives. ... The survey documents the fluidity of religious affiliation in the U.S. and describes in detail the patterns and reasons for change.

The reasons people give for changing their religion - or leaving religion altogether - differ widely depending on the origin and destination of the convert. The group that has grown the most in recent years due to religious change is the unaffiliated population. ... Additionally, many people who left a religion to become unaffiliated say they did so in part because they think of religious people as hypocritical or judgmental, because religious organizations focus too much on rules or because religious leaders are too focused on power and money. Far fewer say they became unaffiliated because they believe that modern science proves that religion is just superstition.

The (frequent) movement between religious affiliations does not suprise me, because of our lack of denominational identification and denominational loyalty. But, I was surprised to read some of the analysis behind religious unaffiliation, in light of the increasing numbers nationwide. While this unaffiliation is an indictement of organized religion, those religiously unaffiliated are "surprisingly open" to religion; their current dissatisfaction with religion does not necessarily preclude interest to religiously re-affiliate. So, to me, its not that the unaffiliated are necessarily espousing athiestic principles, its that they are both rebelling against the flaws of organized religion and simultaneously seeking a good spiritual fit.

On Arlen Specter

Everybody is talking about the defection of Arlen Specter today giving the Democrats 60 Senate seats, with the assumed, yet unfulfilled, seating of Franken and with the caucusing Independents. I wanted to add my two cents, but my take is relatively conventional.

Specter, along with Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, voted to support the Economic Stimulus Package, a vote that marginalized him within his party. With growing rebuke and declining personal poll numbers within his base, Specter, a long time supporter of labor, tried to shore up his right flank, to fend off a possible primary opponent, by coming out against Employee Free Choice, effectively angering Pennslyvania's Big Labor organizations. It didn't matter. Club for Growth President, Patrick Toomey, who lost to Specter in a Senatorial primary by less than 1% six years ago, threw his name in the hat. Multiple polls, both internal and public, showed Specter losing to Toomey by over 20+ points. Specter saw the writing on the wall, and he realized that he could not be re-elected as a Senator as a Republican. At this time, Democratic courting ensued with special attention from Vice President Biden. Because of blue-ness of Pennslyvania, the difficulty of running as an Independent, and the inability to run as an Independent if he lost a primary, Specter realized, pragmatically speaking, that his only chance to maintain his power was to become a Democrat. And, it doesn't hurt that, since Specter's defection, all Democratic potential challengers have now dropped out, and Pres. Obama has provided a full-throated endorsement for Specter, including promises of future fundraising.

As a Democrat, I am excited to reach the threshold of 60 Senate seats required to stop filibusters. But we should all remember that his defection from the Republican party does not mean newfound philosophical allegiance to Democratic ideals. As Specter stated, he will not be an assumed vote for cloture. Specter will still be Specter. While some Democratic activists are not overly thrilled by this move, I think there is a lot to be optimistic about. Specter is now automatically the least progressive Democrat in our caucus, but now that he caucuses - attending actual policy and strategic planning meetings - with Democrats, I would expect a slide leftward. Sure, he is not as progressive as I would like, but I'll take it - every day of the week.

Breaking the 60 seat threshold, however, should not come without any unease for Democrats. Now Democrats have complete ownership of Obama's agenda. We have lost the ability to blame Republicans for legislative obstruction. The Republican party is almost irrelevant, and we bear that burden of success, possibly a drowning millstone. Democrats are more powerful than the Republican party was during the Bush Administration, and that power did not work out so well for Republicans. Democrats must be careful and learn from recent history.

Finally, the death spiral of the Republican party is almost complete. Outside of Maine, and including the retirement of Sen. Judd, New England is almost exclusively Democratic territory. Democrats have won almost all of the swing states/districts countrywide, and Democrats have made major gains in ruby red states/districts. As such, moderate Republicans are going the way of the do-do bird. The Republican party is becoming a Southern, white, conservative party, which, ideologically speaking, is out of touch with the mainstream of current American sentiment. The nucleus of the remaining party espouses a growing intolerance for moderation, and as Specter stated, the big-tent Democratic party is now the party of moderates, of middle America.

What does the Specter spectacle mean to you?

Monday, April 27, 2009

Athiesm the New Gay-Rights?

The New York Times has an article on atheism, highlighting two groups of atheists and their outreach programs. Although atheism is still a small minority, its numbers are growing, especially in response to recent events:
Local and national atheist organizations have flourished in recent years, fed by outrage over the Bush administration’s embrace of the religious right. A spate of best-selling books on atheism also popularized the notion that nonbelief is not just an argument but a cause, like environmentalism or muscular dystrophy.
The article also discusses the discrimination atheists have experienced, Pres. Obama's respect of non-religious adherents, the growth and fostering of atheist communities, and their evangelistic outreach, including the belief of and growing lobbyist efforts for a strict separation of church and state.

I, however, found it interesting, though skeptical of its validity, that the atheists interviewed in the article compared their experiences to the struggles of the gay-rights movement:
They liken their strategy to that of the gay-rights movement, which lifted off when closeted members of a scorned minority decided to go public.

“It’s not about carrying banners or protesting,” said Herb Silverman.... “The most important thing is coming out of the closet.”
The article provides several "coming out" stories. While I cannot speak to feelings of discrimination or to the sense of hiding one's true identity, I feel this comparison belittles the struggles that gay men and women have experienced. While my intuition is predicated solely upon anecdotal evidence of several friends, I think that atheists, while perhaps compelled to silence by sociological pressures, do not experience the sense of internalized shame that many gays feel. "Coming out" for a gay can alienate close friends and family members, and I just can't envision the same with atheists. But, I'm not an atheist. What are your thoughts on this comparison?

Addressing the Uranium Mining Hype (Guest Post)

(Reader Linda offers this guest post responding to the hype of uranium mining. If you are an activist who cares about this issue, take the time to read this post!)

I hope one day to meet Joe Bouchard and hear more about what he says to answer the questions that were posed in this article. In the meantime, I have my own answers and a few questions about points made in that article.

Mining promotes energy independence.

Energy independence is not a retreat from global economic interdependence, a move that would disrupt free market trade and that would lead America toward economic and politial isolation. Nor is energy 'independence' dependent upon mining. Energy independence means that a search for alternative energies must be a global effort. The point, in my opinion, is to create alternative energy supplies that run on renewable resources. Uranium is not renewable.

It could hold down electric rates.

First, I'm unsure how much uranium is to be mined at Coles Hill, and I doubt anyone knows this amount for certain. Secondly, the assumption - at least the one that this Washington Post story took last year - was that the uranium in this particular project would supply the country's nuclear 140 power plants for about two years.

I'm unsure whether this is a true statement or not, so I won't get into the financial logistics of the cost of the mine and mining compared to two years' worth of nuclear power nationwide, but it seems disproportionate. The real cost behind this mine is the land values, water safety and individual health. While a handful of families plan to make money on their properties, others may lose everything they have. In fact, the mine proposal already has affected home sales and business recruitments in the area. While the statement above seems to provide hope for the immediate future, in the here-and-now just the mere topic of this mine is costing this area money.

Thankfully, this statement uses the word, "could." Any time that word is used, it means that no one knows the answer.

It complements existing nuclear design and construction operations in Lynchburg and Newport News.

I'm of the opinion that nuclear power is no safer than it was two decades ago, because uranium mining and depleted uranium - or, the before- and after-products of nuclear power - are the "dirty" parts of this picture that have changed little since this country began to use nuclear power. If Virginians want to mine uranium, then Virginia also should create an enrichment plant and plan to store depleted uranium so populations in other states won't be affected by Virginia's decision to mine and transport yellowcake.

The Coles Hill mining project is expected to produce yellowcake (also called urania). The uranium ore is mined and then milled on the mine site to separate the uranium oxide from other substances. This yellowcake is then put into containers and shipped off to be enriched - but, sometimes the yellowcake simply is stored at other facilities in hopes that prices will increase on this commodity. Yellowcake is owned by various business entities and governed by U.S. and international laws. That uranium from the Coles Hill project could end up anywhere. Take, for example, Lehman Brothers' ownership of 450,000 lb of uranium stored in Canada.

Currently, the only enrichment plant in the U.S. is located in Paducah, Kentucky - however, some yellowcake also is shipped to a plant across the Kentucky River from Paducah at Metropolis Illinois, and other enrichment plants are planned (such as the one at Lea County, New Mexico, five miles east of Eunice). Other enrichment plants are located in Canada.

To understand more about how the market sees yellowcake, please read this Forbes article written in 2007 - this article was written just when the market began to see a possibility that nuclear reactors might make a comeback. However, pricing uranium is another story - previous to twenty years ago, uranium was not privitized. Therefore, pricing uranium is a risky business. This is not stopping many risk-takers in their efforts to mine, mill, enrich and store depleted uranium products and byproducts in this country. Uranium, to these folks, is an investment opportunity rather than a source of energy.

Uranium mining further complements this state's lack of renewable energy resources (But, customers can purchase "green" energy through renewable energy certificates (RECs), which Virginia's power companies purchase from other resources).

Mining is potentially hugely profitable, and, by extension, a potent source of local and state tax revenue. A mine would generate jobs in a region rapidly losing them to the collapse of manufacturing.

Uravan, Colorado, a mining town that was shut down in the early 1980s when the demand for uranium and vanadium waned, is uninhabitable even after the Superfund cleanup (which lasted twenty years at a cost of $120 million). The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) plans to turn a portion of the Uravan area into a campground with a museum focused on the history of uranium mining in Colorado. Yet, more than 13 million cubic yards of mill tailings, evaporation pond precipitates, water treatment sludge, contaminated soil, and debris from more than 50 major mill structures on the site and from a nearby abandoned mill in Gateway, Colorado, and mill tailings from the Naturita, Colorado, millsite are contained in the ground at Uravan.

Why a campground? Because homes cannot be built there. Granted, Uravan was a major project that lasted almost five decades. And, because of that project and others, a special program was set up just for uranium miners who worked with radioactive substances. If uranium was not a health problem, why was this program developed?

Outside of total depletion of land values with uranium mining, I've never met a rich miner, no matter the substance he or she was mining. So the question I would ask here is, "hugely profitable" to whom? As I mentioned previously, uranium prices are subject to fluctuation and have no historic bearing to help determine the actual price of yellowcake on the market. To state that yellowcake is a "potent source of local and state tax revenue" is making a promise based upon a theory.

Uravan consisted of about 800 people, and that number included wives and children of the miners. That town was involved with active mining with no other income from businesses that would sustain that town outside the mining. If the Coles Hill mine is expected to carry the county with the loss of manufacturing businesses, it sounds to me that Coles Hill is about to become another Uravan.

While I've never met a rich miner, the cost to the miner is high. Here's another link to the RECA, or the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act. If you scroll down the page, you'll see that a miner isn't eligible for a claim on this act unless the claimant worked in a uranium mill for at least one year beginning January 1, 1942 and ending on December 31, 1971. What I find interesting is the information in the first paragraph, which shows that uranium miners from this era actually receive higher compensation than anyone who was exposed to a nuclear weapons test. This attests to the fact that long-term exposure (at least one year) to uranium mining and milling is, indeed, hazardous.

The time frame mentioned in the RECA compensation is important, because it means that this compensation may not apply to miners who work at the Coles Hill project. Taxpayers have granted $1,396,375,620 [PDF] as of 23 April 2009 for radiation exposure claims through this program and taxpayers may still pay the Navajo Nation for the deaths, birth defects and diseases caused by uranium mining on their lands. But, this latter struggle is now ten years old. What would a miner expect from a private company, if previous uranium miners still are fighting for compensation for illnesses from the U.S. government?

Finally, at the end when all mining is done, who cleans up the site? Although most contracts for uranium mining put this onus on the mining company, the first story I've seen about a company that has been forced by the government to clean up a mining site was published just this April. Atlantic Richfield Co. has agreed to spend $10.2 million for future and past cleanup efforts at an old copper mine in Yerington, Nevada. This was not a uranium mine, but it was a mine that produced a uranium byproduct, which contaminated the site along with arsenic and other heavy metals. Other than this site, taxpayers pay for remediation for sites such as those on Navajo land. Other sites are now claiming funds for cleanups that have been decades in the making. These cleanup operations now are paid by Superfunds or stimulus funds (such as Moab, Utah).

What makes me think that a private company would do a better job than the government at protecting their workers and cleaning up - which was a lousy job at best when done by the U.S. government? What could make me believe that this project may cost local, state and national taxpayers more than it proposes to benefit those taxpayers? I don't have the answers, but it appears that many government entities, geologists and others who want this Coles Hill mine are repeating many of the same things that the government told the Navajo Nation and the Uravan workers fifty years ago.

How does repeating history make uranium mining dramatically different and far safer today than it was when it was run by the government?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Resiliency of Christianity

EJ Dionne has a response to the provocative post-Christian America article a couple weeks ago. Echoing my belief that Christianity is resilient, Dionne argues that Christianity is undergoing a change but will re-emerge anew, stronger. Money quote:
In fact, the United States has gone through many periods in which religious enthusiasm and affiliation waned, only to be renewed in a subsequent revival. Christianity is a rather durable faith. Many believers would ascribe this to the power of its truth claims, but its resilience also speaks to the adaptability of its core message.

But, yes, something is changing, and that change will strengthen rather than weaken the Christian church over the long run.

According to Dionne, the major change Christianity is currently experiencing is the divorce between conservative politics and conservative religion. The severing of this relationship will refocus and strengthen religion as a whole:

Religion is always corrupted when it gets too close to political power. It's possible to win a precinct caucus and lose your soul, to mistake political victory for salvation itself.

It is this approach to Christianity that is decidedly in decline, thank God, in part because conservative Christians themselves are rediscovering the Church's mission to the poor, the sick, the strangers and the outcasts. This augurs new life, not decay.

FY 2010 Appropriations Requests By VA Representatives

In the spirit of transparency and public accountability, here are the earmark requests for FY 2010 appropriations by each of our congressional congressmen (database here). Methodologically speaking, I'm not smart enough to differentiate between types of earmarks (i.e., earmarks that several representatives requested together), so if a congressman listed a request on his site, I added it indiscriminately. Importantly, as I understand it, these are requests, not actual earmarks.

Gerry Connolly (11th) 57 requests (page 1, page 2) totaling $3,045,975,992
Jim Moran (8th) 166 requests totaling $1,556,834,000
Glenn Nye (2nd) 87 requests totaling $814,803,476
Bobby Scott (3rd) 58 requests totaling $439,857,799
Randy Forbes (4th) 55 requests totaling $168,889,934
Tom Perriello (5th) 51 requests totaling $159,660,155
Rob Wittman (1st) 44 requests totaling $102,776,000
Frank Wolf (10th) 4 requests totaling $92,000,000
Rick Boucher (9th) 36 requests totaling $50,343,648
Bob Goodlatte (6th) 3 requests totaling $7,747,000
Eric Cantor (7th) 0 requests totaling $0

p.s. This took forever to put together.

GOP's Brewing Internal Rebellion

We have all heard warnings of a impending GOP civil war, between those who believe the party is not conservative enough and those who believe the party should be more moderate. Politico has an article discussing a "rebellion brewing" between the GOP base and its leadership. Money quote:
A quick tour through the week’s headlines suggests the Republican Party is beginning to come to terms with the last election and that consensus is emerging among GOP elites that the party needs to move away from discordant social issues.

... The party’s top elected leaders in Congress, meanwhile, spooked by being attacked as the “party of no,” were recasting themselves as a constructive, respectful opposition to a popular president.

But outside Washington, the reality is very different. Rank-and-file Republicans remain, by all indications, staunchly conservative, and they appear to have no desire to moderate their views. GOP activists and operatives say they hear intense anger at the White House and at the party’s own leaders on familiar issues – taxes, homosexuality, and immigration. Within the party, conservative groups have grown stronger absent the emergence of any organized moderate faction.
While I am an ardent Democrat, I must admit that, during moments of lucidity, I do yearn for a strong and creative Republican minority. This imagined minority, unlike it's contemporary counterpart, would be able to offer constructive alternatives to Democratic legislation, in effect creating a robust dialogue of ideas, strengthening our political system. Unfortunately, the current Republican party is far from providing positive checks and balances to Democrats, and, I believe, that a movement further right, instead of towards a moderate middle, will prolong the party's current political death-spiral (1, 2, 3).

Irreconcilable Goods: Religion and Politics

The New Republic's Damon Linker argues, using an Aristotelian model, that religion and politics are irreconcilable goods. That is, they are both good for humanity, but the profound interaction between the two, taints both. As such, the Religious Right's political marriage was doomed to failure:
These divergent loyalties might not come into direct conflict every day, but they nonetheless stand in deep and abiding tension with one another, forever threatening to pit the theological duties of the believer against the political duties of citizen. It is possible for a person of moderate or lukewarm faith to be a great president because his spiritual convictions will give way in the event of a clash between the two spheres. ... And the opposite is equally true: The purest man of God might be capable of serving as a moderately good president, but his devotion to the Lord will prevent him from compromising with the wickedness of the world to the extent sometimes required by his office.

That's the core Aristotelian lesson about religion and politics: Our saints will not be statesmen and our statesmen will not be saints. Whether the religious right has been definitively defeated or lives on to fight another day, it can never succeed in its goals -- because those goals deny this ineradicable truth about the permanent tensions between incompatible goods.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Politics of the Four Virginias

The Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech released an election brief entitled, The 2008 Presidential Race: A Geographic Analysis of the "Four Virginias." Although somewhat facile in their geo-political boundaries, the memo divides Virginia into four regions: Northern VA, Shenandoah (Southside/Southwest VA), Capital Region (Richmond area), and Hampton Roads. In each of these regions, despite similar turnout percentages, Obama made signifigant gains compared to Kerry in 2004. Obama, compared to Kerry, ran up huge numbers in Democratic strongholds and he cut significant margins in areas he lost.

Focusing soley on Northern Virginia, the authors also break this area into four sub-regions (Inner Suburbs, Mature Suburbs, Emerging Suburbs, and Exurbs). Similar to the state as a whole, Obama did exceptionally well in strong Democratic areas, and made huge gains, compared to Kerry in 2004, in traditionally Republican areas (Emerging Suburbs and Exurbs).

The brief concludes stating that, politically speaking, Northern Virginia has many similarities with New Jersey suburbs of New York, and the rest of Virginia has similarities with, interestingly, South Carolina. With regards to future elections, the authors conclude:
Despite the fact that Barack Obama made considerable gains across the entire commonwealth of Virginia and won the state handily, it is much too early to tell if the Democrats have built a lasting majority in the state. There are a lot of macro-factors that influenced the outcome of the 2008 presidential race, including the overwhelming desire for change. Regardless, the 2008 Virginia race will be viewed as a window into the 2009 and 2010 campaigns.
This report finds that Northern Virginia’s Emerging Suburbs and Exurbs will be a primary battleground in state and national elections long into the future.

Despite the insights gleened from this report, I am unsetteled with the emphasis given to Northern Virginia here. The reality, however, electorally speaking, is that NoVA is the most crucial voting bloc in the state given it's massive, and growing, population density, especially for Democratic state-wide campaigns. I understand that, completely, and to argue differently would be naive. But, studies like this one, unintentially, consign Southside and Southwest Virginia to second-class status. Given, the logic goes, the vote-rich areas in other regions, the huge land mass of rural Virginia (i.e., time and travel), the meme of rural Virginia's political conservatism (sigh), state-wide candidates then, generally, focus their efforts in NoVA and elsewhere. But, let's remember Mark Warner, Tim Kaine, and Tom Perriello and the victories they earned by focusing beyond these urban, vote-rich centers.

(h/t hokie_guru)

This is your brain ... on God

ReligionDispatches has a 10 question interview with the authors, Andrew Newberg and Mark Waldman, of How God Changes Your Brain. Take-home message money quote:
Spiritual practices, be they secular or religious, are inherently good for your body, and especially your brain. Meditation and prayer—be it about God, or evolution, or peace, or the Big Bang—will strengthen important circuits in your brain, making you more socially aware and alert while reducing anxiety, depression, and neurological stress. And meditation can be adapted in endless ways.
Meditation and prayer, then, are value neutral. Secularists and athiests, those who practice meditation and prayer, can still reap the physiological and psychological benefits that religious adherents receive; these benefits are not exclusive to religions. When asked about possible misconceptions of their work, Newberg and Waldman discuss whether or not their research proves or disproves the existence of God:
People use our research to say that we’ve proven that God exists. Other people use the same research to say that we’ve proven that spiritual realms are solely a construction within the mind. In fact, we are saying neither. We argue that the human brain can only grasp a vague notion of what actually exists “out there,” and we document how the brain uses its perceptions to build useful models of the world, other people, morality, and God.
That's right. Finding the biological mechanisms for faith and spirituality does not implicate the existence, or lack thereof, of a divine power, showing, instead, how the body functions during spiritual moments. Finally, although the interview covers some random and off-the-wall questions, I want to conclude with this quote:
Basically we document that overall, most people, be they religious or secular have good hearts and high morals, showing altruistic compassion for the majority of people in the world. That’s good news for many, and it contradicts many recent books criticizing religion and spirituality in the world.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Earth Day: Obama vs. Limbaugh, Beck

The Christian Science Monitor has a couple posts contrasting how Pres. Obama and Rush Limbaugh each celebrated Earth Day yesterday. While Pres. Obama was in Iowa visiting a green manufacturing facility that builds wind turbines, Limbaugh, on his show, celebrated the plastic grocery bag, coal miners, and the gasoline-powered automobile. And in a similar contrasting piece, the CSM quotes Limbaugh:
Meanwhile Rush Limbaugh announced on his radio program that he will personally see to it that he destroys two acres of rain forest.

“What else am I going to do for Earth Day?” he asked. “I’m going to have every one of my cars driven as much as possible today; I’ve got my airplane flying to Los Angeles and back; … all the lights are going to be on, the air conditioning down to 68 degrees in all, well, four out of the five houses — the property manager in [the fifth house] likes the temperature down to 65 degrees.”

Limbaugh's flippant attitude towards Earth Day was outshadowed by Glenn Beck. Beck, apparently, had a "forest manager" on his radio show who, while on air, cut down several trees at the request of a gleeful Beck, obviously meant to enrage progressive environmentalists.

Big Texas, Republicans, and Secession

Last week during the Tea Parties, Gov. Rick Perry opined that Texas might secede from the nation. From the Dallas Morning News:

Perry told reporters following his speech that Texans might get so frustrated with the government they would want to secede from the union.

"There's absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that."

Immediately following this statement, several polls surveyed this sentiment among Texans. Two days after Perry's statement, Rasumussen released a poll stating that 75% of Texans would not vote to secede, 18% would vote to secede, and 7% unsure.

Today, the Daily Kos/Research 2000 released their poll. The poll asked two questions on the issue. First, would Texas be better off being an independent nation or as part of the United States of America. To this question, 61% of Texans thought that Texas should remain with the US, and 35% thought Texas would be better off as an independent nation. What is absolutely striking is that Republicans were split evenly on this poll: 48% with the US, 48% as independent nation. Second, when asked if they approved or disapproved of Gov. Perry's statements on possible secession, 58% disapproved and 37% approved. Among Republicans, 44% disapproved and 51% approved. More Republicans than not approved of Perry's secessionist comments.

I lived in Dallas for almost two years, and I quickly realized the immanent pride Texans had for their state, more palpable than anywhere else I have lived. But, to actually vote to secede? In the 21st century? Really? I know this is a poll, but still.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Religion and Climate Change

Reader LF passed on this great post by statistics savant, Nate Silver. Silver translated a Gallup survey, reporting on the percentage of a country's citizens that have an awareness to global warming, into the chart of religions and the belief of global warming (see right).

Although Christianity rates fairly high overall, Catholics are the most likely to believe in human-made global warming, followed closely by Buddhists and Jews. Protestants and Muslims score very low in the belief that global warming is human-made, with the lowest score to the tribal/indigenous faith group. Silver is at a loss to explain this poll, and without controlling for other variables, he couldn't, with any integrity, say that "religion itself is the cause of these differences." He, however, does seem to insinuate that the Catholic social justice bent and papal sympathies on the issue lead to their predisposition.

Silver also highlighted a USA poll from late last year with religious views on global warming inside America. Here, stateside, Jews and athiests are most likely to believe we are on the verge of an environmental crisis, while Evangelicals were least likely to believe. Catholics were middle of the pack.

Road to 60

Yesteday, I said that the Republicans are likely to pick up House seats, as the climate and history favors them, but Republicans would still have a steep mountain to climb if they think they can become the majority party. What about the Senate?

The Senate is a different situation, as Democrats are likely to pick up even more seats. With the retirements of six Republican Senators (Judd, Voinovich, Brownback, Hutchinson, Martinez, Bond), New Hampsire being a strong Democratic state, three in notorious swing states (Ohio, Florida, Missouri), the high unfavorability ratings of Sen. Bunning (Kentucky) and Sen. Burr (North Carolina), and the serious primary fight of Sen. Specter (Pennslyvania; another strong Dem state), the Republicans are likely to have another disastrous election cycle. NRSC Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) fully expects losses:
“That’s going to be real hard, to be honest with you,” Cornyn said of keeping Democrats from reaching 60 seats, adding: “Everybody who runs could be the potential tipping point to get Democrats to 60. We’ve not only got to play defense; we’ve got to claw our way back in 2010. It’ll be a huge challenge.”
If Obama hadn't named Napolitano and Sebelius to cabinet positions, Democrats would have been heavily favored to capture more seats, in these cases Arizona and Kansas, respectively. Democrats, however, are not without their problems (see Sen. Dodd's high unfavorabilities), but on the whole, clearly the scale favors Democrats again. After two election cycles with severe losses, as it currently stands, Republicans are in for a long 2010. As I have said many times, however, two years is an eternity in political realtime.

Double-shift: Tom's a legislatin'

Rep. Perriello is at it again, this time teaming up with freshmen Representatives Hodes (D-NH) and Giffords (D-AZ) to unveil the Clean Law for Earmark Accountability Reform Act (CLEAR Act). This law would make it illegal for congressional campaigns to get contributions from top executives who requested earmarks, effectively breaking a link between earmarks and campaign contributions. Money quote:
This act would make it illegal for lawmakers to accept campaign contributions from companies and their top executives who have requested any earmarks.
The CLEAR Act would mark a major reform in curbing earmark reform, as it will eliminate all possible ethical and legal dilemmas. Additionally, the Representatives hoped that this act would help to reinvigorate Americans confidence in their elected officials.
In a press release from Perriello's office, Perriello states:
“While I’m living up to my commitment not to accept contributions from corporate PACs or lobbyists, I think the entire Congress should be held to a higher standard,” said Perriello. “We must demand a new era of honesty and accountability in Washington and on Wall Street to get this country back on course.”
This legislation, according to the press release and RealClearPolitics, comes after Democrats tabled five resolutions from Rep. Flake (R-AZ) - which Rep. Perriello agreed and broke ranks with his party over, one of only a handful to do so - to link ethics investigations between earmarks and campaign contributions, specifically with regards to the PMA Group.

When Beauty Pageants Affect State Legislation

Dem Bones reader, Vince, an Alabama native, sent me this gem today. In response to Miss California's loss, due to her answer on same-sex marriage, in the Miss America's Pageant, one Alabama State legislator introduced a resolution praising Miss California for her stance against gay marriage:
A resolution has been introduced in the Alabama House that praises Miss USA contestant Carrie Prejean for speaking out against gay marriage during Sunday night's televised pageant.
[Republican Rep. Jay] Love said Prejean showed she was willing to stick to her convictions even if it meant losing the pageant.
I know that pop-culture events do garner legislative resolutions, like national championships and such, but it is still funny to me that a beauty pageant can affect actual state legislation.

We can have a serious debate about the issue of gay marriages, but Prejean's answer was just dreadful. Despite my disagreements, I feel she bumbled her way through the answer with phrases like "we can choose opposite marriage" and "in my country;" everyone was American in that room, and, despite the issue of choice and semantics of "opposite marriage," in 45 states same-sex marriage is not possible. In her moment to shine, she shrunk. I don't believe, and I would like not to believe, despite my disagreements, that her beliefs contributed to her loss, but the presentation of her answer sure enough did.

Rep. Perriello's First 100 Days

The Danville Register & Bee editorial staff offers their view on Rep. Perriello's first 100 days in office. Money quote:
The bottom line is Perriello kept his promise to work hard for the people of the 5th District. In Congress, he’s voting like a moderate Democrat. In the district, he’s a frequent visitor, who has worked on economic development projects.
Overall, Tom Perriello’s first 100 days in Congress have been marked by hard work, kept promises and the right votes on the issues. He’s not perfect — and he’ll never win over some people — but Perriello continues to work hard for the people of the 5th District.

That’s all anyone could ask of him.
The Daily Progress and Martinsville Bulletin also have written on Perriello's tenure.

Theologian Responds to US Representative Regarding Climate Change

Last week, I offered a YouTube clip and some thoughts on Rep. Shimkus (R-IL) citing Bible verses to refute the notion of climate change during a House committee hearing. Check out both, if you have a second, as they provide background to this post.

Rep. Shimkus at the beginning of the old clip asks for theologians and people of faith to engage in discourse over climate change. Prominent theologian Dr. Phillip Clayton takes up on this call and responds to Rep. Shimkus. As you will see, Clayton is well versed in both science and (process) theology, and he has written many books on the interaction of the two. Clayton in this clip shoots down Shimkus' choice and interpretation of biblical verses, as well as Shimkus' scientific and environmental understanding. Clayton calls for sophisticated discussion on the issue and a long-term view of the environmental crisis, not a view based on proof-texted verses and immediate job cuts.

Good stuff. Interestingly, Dem Bones readers, I am told that Dr. Clayton reads and enjoys this blog.

Happy Earth Day!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Martinsville Suffers More Job Losses

The Martinsville Bulletin reports that GSI Commerce Inc., a call center located in town, is going to close down, laying off 279 people. GSI has four call centers and will consolidate down to three; Martinsville was the unlucky loser. To an already depressed economy, this is another colossal set-back.

Remember that Martinsville has the highest unemployment rate in the state at 20.2%. And remember that Republicans just shot down amendments expanding eligibility criteria for unemployment benefits, and in effect, turning down $125 million in stimulus funds for helping displaced workers. Absolutely infuriating.

Republican Takeover in 2010?

Chris Cillizza weighs the possibility of a Republican takeover in the House next election cycle. He begins by quoting Eric Cantor (VA-7), House Minority Whip, on the subject, who expectedly voices strength and optimism:
"I'm very confident we will pick up seats midterm if we do the necessary work of finding good candidates," Cantor said. "I don't remove the prospect that we could take the majority back in 2010."
After two superior cycles where Democrats picked up a net total 52 seats, there is a strong likelihood that Republicans will pick up seats. Also, historically speaking, the party out of power usually gains seats after the election of a new president. Democrats have taken almost every swing district and have made inroads into ruby red districts, and as such, national prognostications have many more Democrats considered vulnerable compared to Republicans. The climate clearly is advantageous for Republicans. But will they take over the majority? Saith Cillizza:
No, because the crisis state of the economy makes the political atmosphere even more uncertain than unusual.

But, today, it is right to describe a 40-seat Republican pickup -- given President Obama's popularity ratings, the likely fundraising edge for Democrats and the lack of a cogent Republican message -- as a decided long shot.

Two years is an eternity in political realtime, but Cillizza is correct. If elections were held today, Democrats would do rather well. Republicans are not out of the woods yet.

The Jedi as a Legitimate Religion?

Gary Laderman of ReligionDispatches discusses the actual existence of the Jedi Religion. Apparently, 8 police officers in Scotland, on a diversity survey, listed their religion as "Jedi." They, however, aren't alone. According to the article, the BBC reported in 2001 that in England and Wales there were over 390,000 are self-professed adherents of the Jedi religion; the option was on the census form, after several "Jedi Knights" earned official recognition of the religion. With this in mind, Laderman provides the argument for the legitimacy of this religion:
On the one hand, the narrative itself provides viewers with a mythology that is vivid and gripping as it covers well-trodden, mythically familiar territory—good battling evil, revealed mysteries about the true order of the cosmos, innocence lost, self-discovery, transcendence of death, and ultimate reconciliations.

On the other hand, the series has made a dramatic impact over the years on the lives of devoted fans: personal identities have been transformed; tight-knit communities have been formed; complex and meaningful ritual systems have emerged in cyberspace, at conventions, with video games, and in other non-theater settings. Seeing the films is simply not enough for many who seek to bring the Star Wars mythology to life and into their own lives.

Laderman recognizes the inevitable disdain from theologians and biblical scholars, as unserious or passing fancies, but concludes with this thought:
Welcome to the twenty-first century, when sacred matters are not limited to the monotheists, or confined by conventional religious traditions. ... Master Yoda and Obi Wan Kenobi are legitimate guiding religious lights whose words and actions stir the imagination and rally the faithful in ways those of us who study religion are only beginning to understand.
Count me, a fan of the movies, in the disdainful category. Within the growing secularization of Europe and the United Kingdom especially, providing atheists - how the government actually recognizes this group - and jokers, people apathetic to religion, with a "fun" option, and viola!, you get a sizable religious following.

Or maybe the Force is just not with me.

Monday, April 20, 2009

National Wealth and Religiosity

One of my friends wrote a paper in Divinity School positing a correlation between religious conservatism and economic conditions in Appalachia: the poorer the area, the more conservative the theology. After reading his paper, I became interested in how religiosity and religious world views are influenced by socio-economic contexts. For example, we have all heard, erroneously, that the recent downturn in the economy has increased church attendance (1, 2, 3); it's not true (1, 2, 3, 4).

I stumbled upon a recent Gallup poll correlating the average national income with the importance of religion in a person's life:
A tour of the world's most religious countries wouldn't be all mountaintop shrines and magnificent temples -- it would also take you to some pretty bleak places. Gallup Polls in 143 countries reveal that among countries where average annual incomes are $2,000 or less, 92% of residents say religion is an important part of their daily lives. By contrast, among the richest countries surveyed -- those where average annual incomes are $25,000 or more -- that figure drops to 44%.
Gallup offers several theories. An older theory positing a relationship between secularism and modernity has become come under fire recently for its incompleteness. Newer theories show that religion provides a sense of hope for those who have greater exposure to social vulnerability, and that religion provides an emotional lift to those in most need, especially through religious communities and social networks. As such, in countries where there is the highest religiosity, there is the highest rates of life satisfaction. With these theories in mind, Gallup concludes:
Gallup Poll results support the idea that the social and psychological benefits of religion are strongest in the world's poorest countries. However, these effects vary from country to country, and as history has shown, religion is often associated with devastating conflict as well. One implication seems to be this: Strategies for development in the world's poorest countries should seek to leverage the positive power of religion by promoting conditions, such as interfaith harmony and low state interference, under which its benefits are most likely to come shining through.
I feel that, while these theories seem correct, we are missing more explanation from the other direction. I wonder if it could be said that a richer person credits their economic success to him/herself, while a poorer person credits his/her success to God. Transversing up the socio-economic ladder, belief in personal and individual success starts trumping the belief that success is derived from God. Just a thought.

Rep. Perriello's First 100 Days

The Martinsville Bulletin today also had an article on Rep. Perriello's first 100 days of service (the Daily Progress' take here). Money quote:
Looking back on his first 100 days in Congress, 5th District U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello said his “double shift” is paying off with some early victories.
As a freshman lawmaker, Perriello said, “I wondered whether I was going to have much influence, but having my first bill become a law within a month” was among some “really concrete victories.”
The rest of the article talks about his legislative accomplishments, critical votes, national security, jobs and the economy, Southside's potential leadership in the new energy economy, and a typical day. Concludes Perriello:
“I just feel blessed to have any job right now, particularly one where I can help bring jobs to Southside,” he said. “I don’t want to waste any hour where I can make a difference.”

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

So much for dinner and a movie:
James A. Rush was so smitten with a woman he met last week in a Naperville bar that he called in a phony 911 report of gunfire on the city's far northwest side, according to a written Naperville police report.

Rush, 33, now faces trial on a charge of placing a false 911 call. The three-page police report indicated he did so in the hope officers who were checking on the welfare of a drunken woman would race off to investigate the "gunshots," giving Rush the opportunity to take the woman home.

This is one creep-tastic moment in history; thankfully this plan got thwarted.

(h/t Huffington Post)

Virgil Goode: The Creeping Influence of Islam in America (updated)

Last week, Virgil Goode, the day after the Tea Parties (1, 2), was to speak to Liberty students about the on "the dangers of Radical Islam and it's attack on our Country." The event, unfortunately, was canceled due to lack of interest.

The Young Americans for Freedom of George Mason University, however, have invited Goode to speak to them next Monday night (4/27, 7:30). Money quote, emphasis original:
His address on "The Creeping Influence of Islam in America" should prove very interesting. There is likely to be some opposition to his presence and topic. Your attendance and support can make a difference.
According to the Mason YAF's events page, other "notable and special guests" will also be in attendance. Interesting how they assume that his mere presence and choice of topics will incite "opposition."

Providing faulty information coupled with way-out-of-district engagements (Northern Virginia isn't exactly in Central and Southside Virginia), in my opinion, is not exactly a stellar way to position yourself for a possible election rematch. In due fairness, maybe I shouldn't be looking at these engagements through the lens of a future election. But, whatever your motivations, sir, keep on, keepin' on.

Update: In a similar fashion, Goode is going to be delivering a speech to UNC students on immigration entitled "Hate Speech, Free Speech and the Multiculturalism." The campus chapter of Youth for Western Civilization is hosting the speech. (h/t JohnCos)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Rep. Boucher Talks Jobs, Economy in Henry County

From the Martinsville Bulletin, Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Abingdon) came to Henry County yesterday and talked about job creation and the economy. Of note, Henry County is divided between two congressional districts, represented by Congressmen Perriello (5th) and Boucher (9th). According to the Bulletin, Boucher is going to work hard to bring a "data center," more details upon its announcement, to the area, and, in partnership with Rep. Perriello, Boucher will bring money for sewer projects.

Boucher also discussed the current state of the economy and views health care reform as an integral component for economic revitalization. He offered right and wrong approaches to this reform, and he stated that there are current glimmers of hope in the economy, though we aren't "out of the woods" yet. Finally, Boucher said that he was very impressed with President Obama's work, both domestically and internationally, thus far.

Rep. Perriello's First 100 Days

The Daily Progress reports that last Wednesday was Rep. Perriello's 100th day in office. Their article combines highlights of Perriello's brief tenure intermixed with a day-in-the-life type experience. A brief recap on those highlights: Tom's legislative accomplishments (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) , voting for the stimulus, and voting against the budget (1, 2).

Former district Congressman L.F. Payne is very complementary of Perriello's hard work:
Albemarle County resident L.F. Payne ... said he is hearing from his former colleagues in Congress that Perriello has quickly gained a reputation for being "hard working, smart and doing what's in the best interest of his district."

"He's doing quite well," Payne said. "It takes awhile to learn the ropes up there, but he's gotten involved and started performing about as quickly as I've ever seen. He's already making a name for himself. He's certainly off to a good start."
"He's not just voting party line," Payne said. "He's voting in the way that he perceives to be best for the folks back home."

Former Congressman Virgil Goode, however, was less than complimentary, and he criticized Perriello, specifically, for his vote on the stimulus.

The Daily Progress also offers three great slide shows of this day, capturing Tom in and between volunteering, meetings, and events.

Does Religiosity Correlate With Intolerance?

Earlier in the month Gallup released a poll showing that there is a correlation between the religiosity of a nation and the perceived ethnic intolerance within - the more religious the country, the more intolerance of ethnic minorities. Money quote:
Gallup Polls conducted in 139 countries between 2006 and 2008 reveal that in countries where a higher percentage of citizens say religion is important in their daily lives people are also more likely to say that their communities are not good places for ethnic or racial minorities to live. However, this trend is not linear. Countries with average levels of religiosity -- comparatively speaking -- report about as much intolerance as the world's most religious countries.
Among self-identified adherents, Hindus (14%) were the least likely to report the intolerance to ethnic minorities in their countries, followed by Secularists (24%) and Christians (27%). Jews (52%) were the most likely to report the existence of ethnic intolerance. To a large extent, however, intolerance may have more to do with cultural and geo-political realities rather than religiosity:
[T]hese group differences may reflect historical and political factors, such as long-standing conflict over territory, rather than religious ideology per se. A case in point involves Jews and Muslims living inside and outside Israel. A majority of Jews and nearly half of Muslims living in Israel say their neighborhoods are not good places for ethnic and racial minorities. Outside of Israel, however, only about one in three Muslims and about one in five Jews say the same thing.
Although articles on this poll have generally tended to imply that religion promotes intolerance (i.e., this United Press International article), this poll actually concludes with a hopeful trend. Historically speaking, the levels of religious intoleration, over time, are decreasing:
Critics of religion have often noted that religion has historically played a major role in fueling and maintaining ethnic tensions. From the Crusades of the Middle Ages to the ancient tensions that flare daily in the Middle East, religion is certainly connected in some ways to ethnic tensions. This fact notwithstanding, the present findings suggest that most modern religious traditions seem to have made some progress, at least since the Middle Ages, in promoting ethnic understanding and cooperation. Although there are some connections between religiosity and ethnic and racial intolerance, these connections were generally small and inconsistent ... (emphasis mine)
While I'm not exactly sure how Gallup polled the Middle Ages to make this comparative claim, I do think we generally understand, despite breaking news stories to the contrary, that humanity is developing past these shallow forms of intoleration. In an ever shrinking world, via technological and informational inter-connectivity, we understand that exposure and dialogue between (and within) the world's major religions are necessary for a peaceable future. On the one hand, we are slowly heading in that direction, and on the other, as this poll indicates, religion still has some house-cleaning in order.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Rep. Perriello Visits Soldiers in Afghanistan

Rep. Perriello visited Afghanistan with a bipartisan congressional delegation on a mission with the Health Subcommittee of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs. There he surveyed the health care systems and hospitals provided to our wounded sisters and brothers in this combat zone. Saith Perriello:
"I am deeply grateful for the heroism and professionalism of our medical units saving lives overseas, and I want to ensure we're providing that continuity of care from the battlefront to our veterans back home," said Perriello.

He added: "As we prepare to make serious decisions about our policy in Afghanistan, it was important to me to listen to the men and women risking their lives to defend our country and the generals leading them."
Anyone following Perriello knows that both Afghanistan, seen in his background and non-profit work there, and veterans issues are important to him. I'm glad to see him continue this work.

Virgil Goode at the Lynchburg Tea Party

Think Progress has a short YouTube report of Tea Parties in Lynchburg and Charlottesville, as well as scenes of congressional Republicans speaking at these events around the country. In the clip, Virgil Goode and Bob Goodlatte offer some thoughts.

At the 2:55 mark, speaking at the Lynchburg event, Virgil Goode rants on illegal immigration:
The next thing Obama and his followers in the House and the Senate want to do is tell the illegals, "Come on in. We're gonna give you another amnesty." 12 million people that he wants to give amnesty to.

Do not crucify the United States of America on the cross of political correctness.
It's probably best, in my opinion, especially in light of our recent Easter celebrations, to stay away from both the United States of America equals Jesus and the political correctness equals sinfulness analogies.

Noah's Ark and the Economic Crisis

Using the economic crisis as an advantageous, yet painful, metaphor to launch your biblically-inspired hotel:
[Hong Kong]'s three billionaire Kwok brothers have just the answer for the rising waters threatening the global economy: the world's first life-size replica of Noah's ark, built to biblical specifications off the coast of this recession-struck Chinese financial center.

The message in its 450-foot-long hull, its rooftop luxury hotel and 67 pairs of fiberglass animals: "The financial tsunami will be over," says Spencer Lu, the Kwoks' project director at Noah's Ark, which is opening soon.

The land-bound ark wasn't built in response to the current global turmoil; it has been in the planning for 17 years. But the financial storm provides a nice marketing hook for the Kwoks' ambitious project, which will probably need to lure visitors from beyond Hong Kong's city limits to be an economic success.

(h/t RNS Blog)

Increased Religious Polarization in America

Michael Gerson has another great op-ed responding to the Newsweek article on the emergence of a post-Christian America. While Gerson believes there was wisdom in the article, though the true picture of the American religious landscape is incomplete. Gerson interviews John Green, of the Pew Forum of Religion and Public Life, who offers five qualifications of the Newsweek article:
  1. [T]he rise of the religiously nonaffiliated is a trend -- but a very gradual one.
  2. [Green] notes that the unaffiliated are not identical to the nonreligious.
  3. Green observes that this group [the unaffiliated] is "bigger, but not static."
  4. Green argues, "the growth in the unaffiliated has not come at the expense of evangelicals, who continue to grow. It has come at the expense of mainline Protestants and white Catholics."
  5. Green warns that the polling could reflect not changing numbers of the unaffiliated but changing pressures in society.
To which Green concludes:
... Newsweek has "told half of the story." "There are certain people moving to the left on cultural grounds. . . . But we can't ignore the other side, the growth of more conservative believers -- evangelicals and conservative Catholics. . . . We may not be seeing the decline of Christian America, but polarization on religious grounds."

This polarization is reason to mourn. But Green warns that we should be careful in allocating blame. "One reason could be the growth of a secular reaction against the Christian right. But it could be the other way around -- the reaction of the Christian right against the growth of secularism. Or they could feed off each other."

Friday, April 17, 2009

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

What ever happened to, "It's either me or the dog?":
Police say a Colorado woman wrapped her boyfriend's dog in packing tape and stuck the animal upside down to a refrigerator because he wouldn't get rid of it.
Police say [Abby] Toll, 20, used packing tape to bind the legs, snout and tail of [her boyfriend Bryan] Beck's dog, Rex, a Japanese breed called a Shiba Inu. She told police she stuck the dog to the refrigerator because she was angry Beck wanted to keep it.

Former McCain Campaign Manager on Religion and the GOP

Former McCain campaign manager Steve Schmidt, talking to the Log Cabin Republicans, argues that the GOP's relationship with conservative evangelicalism threatens to destroy the party, especially concerning gay marriage. Money quote:
"If you put public policy issues to a religious test, you risk becoming a religious party," Schmidt declared. "And in a free country, a political party cannot be viable in the long term if it is seen as a sectarian party."
"... [R]eligious views should not inform the public policy positions of a political party because... when it is a religious party, many people who would otherwise be members of that party are excluded from it because of a religious belief system that may be different. And the Republican Party ought not to be that. It ought to be a coalition of people under a big tent."
Indeed, the shrinking of the GOP tent, he prophesied, was due not to one individual actor but from a quasi-religious political brand that was "off-putting to many people."

Q1 Congressional Fundraising Numbers

Eric Cantor
(7th) - $963,908
Glenn Nye (2nd) - $380,755
Gerry Connolly (11th) - $316,419
Tom Perriello (5th) - $222,794
Rick Boucher (9th) - $153,147
Bob Goodlatte (6th) - $136,120
Jim Webb (Senator) - $99,336
Jim Moran (8th) - $79,686
Rob Wittman (1st) - $74,239
Randy Forbes (4th) - $69,032
Bobby Scott (3rd) - $19,522
Frank Wolf (10th) - $5,203

Other Notables:
Virgil Goode - $3,933
Judy Feder - $3,823
Thelma Drake - $0

Drake and Goode are strongly rumored to be re-running for their old seats, against Nye and Perriello respectively. They need to step up their fundraising efforts, however, if they are seriously considering re-matches. And, while there are some abysmal numbers here, Frank Wolf's are especially low. Is he retiring? Of note, I did not see Mark Warner's numbers.

(note: I put their total receipts here, and not the numbers for individual and PAC contributions. If you click the links, you can find this information for each individual.)

(Guest Post) On Susan Boyle

(By now we have all seen this video of Susan Boyle, and I must admit, I have been thinking about it for a couple days now. She exposed my shortcomings and my prejudice, with her seemingly unimpressive introduction and her angelic voice. In this guest post, A Faithful Reader offers his thoughts on Susan Boyle.)

“Now God has made everything beautiful in its time. God has also set eternity in the hearts of all people; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

"beauty is its own excuse for being. " - Ralph Waldo Emerson

On Saturday, April 11, 2009 the world changed a bit for the better. This change did not occur through the actions of a political leader; it did not come to the world because some long hard fight for justice finally came to a dramatic end. This change for the better drifted across the world like a ray of sunshine from the most unlikely of places, the audition hall of Britain's Got Talent. From the wings of the stage came Susan Boyle of Blackburn, West Lothian, Scotland. Her unremarkable appearance, coupled with her village manner gave little indication that Ms. Boyle would survive the ordeal. The judges, Simon Cowell, Piers Morgan and Amanda Holden, all known for their biting criticism of new talent, sat ready to stew her alive. Then, in a moment’s time, a heavenly voice rose from the dowdy exterior, filled the room, with such beauty that critics found agreement, sceptics became believers, and the listeners (some 21 million on YouTube alone) were filled with wonder.

What happened was not just a spinster from Scotland wowing the world with her voice, there was something divinely spiritual that emerged. It was one of those teachable moments (hermeneutical moments if you prefer) when pure truth steps out into the light just long enough for anyone watching to be struck by a profound lesson. The lesson here was more than “don’t judge a book by its cover” or even “judge not less you be judged.” Certainly both these wisdom statements apply. The lesson here is that the peace that accompanies something of beauty can so captivate that all worries melt in it’s presence. When Susan Boyle sang, for a short period of time, the horror of war, the reality of the blistering economy, the words of political wranglers, and other shocking things, were dismissed from our minds. The lesson here is that where there is true beauty, there is no need of airbrushes, fashion statements, color coordination and sound mixers. Where there is beauty there is no need for political spin, treaty negotiations, rules and procedures. Beauty dissolves all of that and replaces it with simple peace and awe. Two things the world is in sore need of, and received in proper dosage when Susan Boyle sang.

There are other great truths to ponder coming from Susan Boyle's performance. A person waiting almost 48 years in a society that demands instant gratification for a chance to be heard. Being interviewed and fawned over by the great talking heads of the western world, and insisting that whatever may come will come in baby steps rather than hurried paces. A village so used to a heavenly voice that it was hardly noted at the karaoke in the local pub, or not featured to any great degree in the local church where it was cultivated to near perfection. These are worth pondering, but need not be considered to any conclusion here and now.