Monday, November 23, 2009

Douthat to the Rescue?

For those holding their breath, Ross Douthat, co-author of Grand New Party (my review) and the most conservative Republican writing for the NY Times spells out the Republican party's problems in his op-ed today. Namely, none of the leadership are grasping any of the good ideas being thrown out there by conservative thinkers. There's no excuse for it.

Are you a Republican? Here's the litmus test.

According to ABC News' David Chalain via George Stephanopoulos, the Republican National Committee's January meeting will feature some representatives proposing an "80%" litmus test for candidates desiring RNC funding. A candidate must support 8 out of the following 10:

1) We support smaller government, smaller national debt, lower deficits and lower taxes by opposing bills like Obama’s “stimulus” bill.

(2) We support market-based health care reform and oppose Obama-style government run healthcare.

(3) We support market-based energy reforms by opposing cap and trade legislation.

(4) We support workers’ right to secret ballot by opposing card check.

(5) We support legal immigration and assimilation into American society by opposing amnesty for illegal immigrants.

(6) We support victory in Iraq and Afghanistan by supporting military-recommended troop surges.

(7) We support containment of Iran and North Korea, particularly effective action to eliminate their nuclear weapons threat.

(8) We support retention of the Defense of Marriage Act.

(9) We support protecting the lives of vulnerable persons by opposing health care rationing, denial of health care and government funding of abortion.

(10) We support the right to keep and bear arms by opposing government restrictions on gun ownership.

I disagree with #3 & #6 and I only agree with the abortion part of #9. Anyone who saw 60 Minutes last night saw what happens when we don't effectively ration Medicare. Why should my tax dollars pay for a 93 year old given 3 months to live to have a new $50,000 pacemaker? Insurance companies ration every day, that's why we have 30+ million uninsured. Republicans have become outright dishonest about health care. If we don't ration Medicare/Medicaid, then #1 won't even make any sense!

Most Republicans apparently don't realize that sending McChrystal's requested 40,000 more troops in Afghanistan will end up costing us $40 billion extra a year. This is why I wish Sarah Palin and others would stop complaining about Obama's "dithering" in the same sentence they complain about his massive government spending. They want to cut taxes (#1 on the list) and yet further expensive wars, which is just stupid and partly how we got this massive deficit to begin with. Why do you have to be a war hawk to be a Republican? Didn't Eisenhower teach us anything?

Why, oh why, can't we have smarter Republicans with better lists? The smart ones are probably the "moderates" that don't pass the litmus test.

By the way, the January RNC meeting is in Honolulu. Nice to know my RNC donation would go to pay for their plane flights from D.C. Isn't it ironic that they criticized Obama from being from Hawaii and yet hold their plush convention there? What a nice display of fiscal conservancy it will be.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

4 in a row

Image by Carlos Barria/Reuters in the NY Times.

If you had told me at the beginning of the season that Jimmie Johnson would win his 4th consecutive Sprint Cup title, the first time in 61 years of NASCAR that anyone has done that, and that Hendrick Motorsports would finish 1-2-3 for the first time in NASCAR history, I honestly wouldn't have been surprised.

The only thing that would have surprised me was if you'd have told me that Mark Martin was the #2.

From the NY Times' article:
“I will say that what he has done is incredible and as much as he wins, Jimmie’s one of those guys that you want to hate,” Jamie McMurray said. “But he’s one of the best guys out here. I think he’s very deserving of what he has.”

Congrats Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus on another superb season! You're the best that's ever existed in the sport.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Real Heroes

In our church small group there is a couple who don't have any children of their own. He's in his late 30s, she's almost 30. They've spent the year going through the state licensing program for foster care so they can be a foster home.

They got a call a few weeks ago asking them if they would take a set of 3 brothers who had been split up before. A 3-year old, a 21 month old, and a 5 month old. Immediately!

They accepted and had to transform their house into a suitable home overnight. Pretty unbelievable sacrifice, she used the Family Leave Act to stay home from work for a few days to help the adjustment, and friends & family have donated equipment to them. They haven't yet received any funding from the state, and one birth mother has refused to give her WIC vouchers, so their expenses have risen significantly.

If you don't have kids you may not be able to imagine the sacrifice they've made and how their marriage is completely altered. We saw them on Tuesday and I was completely in awe. This situation might be indefinite, meaning they could end up with permanent adoption (and imagine the pain/sacrifice if the kids are eventually taken away again after they all become attached).

They are heroes. They are role models.

A hero is not someone who gets paid to hit a last-second shot, or coach a team to an upset, or take lobbyists' influence to pass a pork-laden bill. Real heroes have no arenas to get applause in, their applause comes only from heaven.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Book Review (#14 of 2009)

Bounce Back by John Calipari.

This book is supposed to motivate you to overcome setbacks. Coach Cal has even set up a website for you to share your story and motivate others, as well as download his "practice plans," activities designed to help you bounce back.

If you can relate to a guy who's major setback in life was being fired from a multimillion dollar NBA coaching job only to go on to other multimillion dollar coaching jobs after being unemployed (or doing an ESPN gig) for a few months, then this book is for you.

If you can handle cliches like "PractiCAL point," and dialogue like "Put your faith in me, and I'll put my faith in you" then this book is for you.

If you can handle other...clever...phrases like "Let's bounce back, bounce forward, and bounce forever" (last sentence in the book) then this book is for you.

I'm glad Calipari overcame his setbacks and landed on his feet. He makes good practical step-by-step points about how to overcome being fired, or demoted, or divorced, or whatever. Much of it lines up with good scriptural teaching (accept God's will, don't be bitter, find good counselors, etc.). However, there's no mention of him bouncing back from having 2 trips to the Final Four being vacated by the NCAA or how he handles being called a "cheater" by every non-UK fan. The useful basketball knowledge I gained was how he recently decided to adopt the dribble-drive offense.

In all, I give this book 2.5 stars out of 5.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Book Review (#13 of 2009)

Desperately Seeking Paradise: Journeys of a Sceptical Muslim by Ziauddin Sardar
This book was recommended to me about 5 years ago, I bought it but never got around to reading it. That was a mistake. I reviewed a book on chaos theory earlier in the year and discovered that its author was the same.

Sardar is a scientist and deep intellectual. Moreover, he is a learner and a seeker, and so I felt an instant connection to him. Sardar has traveled the world and seen all sides of the umma, and desperately wishes to save it from itself. The book chronicles years in England spent learning from Muslim scholars, years spent in Saudi Arabia bemoaning the Kingdom's destruction of history and ruining the hajj by clogging it with modern pollution, and years spent watching the Muslim world turn more and more insular and backward.

Sardar's circle of intellectual scholars write articles and advise governments to seemingly no avail. He was at a meeting in Pakistan when Osama bin Laden and others in the mujahideen could not find a way to reconcile their differences, and the future was clear. They reached a ghastly depression when their fears were realized on 9/11 and afterward.

I enjoyed Sardar's observations in his travels to places like Turkey, Syria, and Iran. I learned about how much hope the umma placed in the Iranian revolution, and how bad it was when those hopes were dashed by the violent tyranny that emerged.

All along the way, Sardar explains ancient Muslim history and philosophy, illustrating the different schools of thought and what they mean for today. I learned a great deal about Islam that I never knew before. Sardar's problems with Muslim clerics today are very similar to the ones I have with evangelical pastors.

If you're an American who thinks he knows a decent amount about Islam, or has read several books on the subject, think again and afresh and read this book. Sardar believes in a pluralist Islam. It's not clear to me why he rejects Christianity. It seems to me that what he's looking for is clearly found in Jesus and the teachings of the Bible. I'd love to have a conversation with him.

This book was better than I could have imagined, and much different. Wish I had read it 5 years ago.

5 stars out of 5.

Friday, November 06, 2009

The Road to Independence

My 1001st post (today) is too long after my 1000th post. Sad, I've been busy. I've got 2 book reviews coming up though.

David Brooks' column today on "What Independents Want," reads the tea leaves of the weekend's elections. Polls show that the popular pendulum has swung toward demands for smaller government.
"Government should do what it’s supposed to do: schools, roads, basic research."

But as Mark Shields told Brooks tonight:
"But when told that there's a trace of botulism in a can of tuna fish in Pocatello, Idaho, they want to know, where the hell was the federal government? People want results. And they really feel do that the federal government is not on their side."

And that's the sad fact. The more government we have, the more we expect it to do.

The Republican party moved closer to inching me out of their tent this week. No, it wasn't the Sarah Palin-led Tea Party movement to oust the liberal (moderate?) Republican candidate in some New York district I've never heard of. It was more the (broken) Republican spin machine touting their health care bill. Here's Ezra Klein's take:
"CBO (estimates) that 17 percent of legal, non-elderly residents won't have health-care insurance in 2010. In 2019, after 10 years of the Republican plan, CBO estimates that ...17 percent of legal, non-elderly residents won't have health-care insurance. The Republican alternative will have helped 3 million people secure coverage, which is barely keeping up with population growth. Compare that to the Democratic bill, which covers 36 million more people and cuts the uninsured population to 4 percent.

According to CBO, the GOP's alternative will shave $68 billion off the deficit in the next 10 years. The Democrats, CBO says, will slice $104 billion off the deficit."

So, they're touting a plan that doesn't increase the number of insured and would reduce the deficit by 34% less ?? Yes, Republicans have become a laughing stock. While Brooks rightly points out that Independents are voting Republican, remember that ABC poll last week that showed only 20% of the population identify themselves as Republican? There's a reason for that.

So, I'm really close to abandoning ship and just being Independent. Republicans need a few changes:

1. Someone other than chain-smoking John Boehner out front all the time. Remember when he was on the news a few weeks ago for skirting ethics laws with his fancy golf outings with lobbyists? I do. He's embarrassing.

2. The ability to explain basic economics and why incentives matter. "Drill baby drill" and "tax cuts!" are mantras with little intellectual understanding behind them.

3. Actual health care legislation that would work. Like the Brad Delong plan I've harped on. If you're going to put out a plan that's going to fail, why not put out something BOLD?

4. Smarter people. There are a few in the party, but they've been marginalized by the loud and rowdy right.

That is all.