Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The War on Sin

Inauguration Day, January 20, 2013:  President Santorum started his work day as President by sending his signature campaign program to Congress for immediate consideration.  The Ten Commandments Covenant for America was the foundational promise of his campaign, and he aimed to capitalize quickly on his electoral momentum.  His 10-point plan includes specific steps to shore up the nation’s crumbling moral infrastructure, create high paying faith-based jobs, and begin a Reformation of the tax code.

Key points from his Ten Commandments Covenant for America include, in order:

1.                   “I am the Lord your God. You shall have no other gods before Me.” – To honor the First Commandment, Santorum requests a law outlawing the worship of false gods by the U.S. Government.  Specifically, the secular gods of “climate science”, “diversity”, “feminism”, and “Social Security” are listed for exorcism from the federal budget and all federal departments in his legislative request.
2.                   “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them.” – Santorum’s 10 point plan includes a controversial request for funds to demolish of Mt. Rushmore and all other statutes on federal land of any non-Christian Americans, such as the Rev. Martin Luther King.
3.                   “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.” – His proposal calls for no more cussing in public, although private cussing would remain protected speech.  In a bow to the political realities, there is a conscious exception for hitting your thumb with a hammer and really satisfying sex, as long as the goal of that sexual encounter is procreation.
4.                   “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work.” – Santorum’s proposed law eliminates the Fair Labor Standards Act imposition of a 40 hour work week and replaces it with a 6 day, 144 hour work week as prescribed in the Commandments.  If passed, all NFL games would be moved to Saturday.  NASCAR would still allowed on Sundays as turning left over and over is considered “rest”.
5.                   “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.” – This amendment would codify in the law that it is illegal to honor your father and your father, and your mother and your mother.
6.                   “You shall not murder.” – In Santorum’s submission to Congress, he specifically requests that personhood be defined as beginning with “the twinkle in your father’s eye” in order to protect the potential of life in all circumstances.  The right of murder is then reserved for the state alone when it has a really good reason, like suspecting a non-believer of terrorism or promoting freedom and democracy abroad.
7.                   “You shall not commit adultery.” –Newt Gingrich campaigned against this plank, dubbing it a “fundamental overreach”.  It is the only amendment thought to have little or no chance in a Congress consisting of 90% men with important needs.
8.                   “You shall not steal.” – Congressional observers expect this amendment to watered down significantly by changing the wording to “You shall not be caught stealing”.  Others have argued that it will not survive committee mark up, and it will be recommended as a state’s rights issue for consideration.
9.                   “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” – This commandment is noticeably absent from Santorum’s submission to Congress.  Many administration insiders believe that this commandment would result in SuperPACs being silenced in violation of their First Amendment right to purchase the politician of their choice and spend as much speech as possible on adverting prior to an election.
10.               “You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor's.” – Since this Commandment is the basis for the free market and all capitalist systems, this commandment is also excluded from the final submission.  

President Santorum reiterated that these Commandments need to be passed quickly to protect the nation from the existential threat of the Prince of Darkness, Satan.  He also reminded lawmakers that unless the Ten Commandments were entered into the Constitution, we would never have true religious freedom in the United States.

“You are either for us or you are against us.  If these Commandments are not passed, the terrorists win.”

The Democrats in Congress accused Santorum of overreach, and nailed their 95 Objections to the front door of the White House.

Undeterred, President Santorum then reiterated his governing doctrine as outlined in his 2008 speech at Ave Maria University:

“This is not a political war at all. This is not a cultural war. This is a spiritual war. And the Father of Lies has his sights on what you would think the Father of Lies would have his sights on: a good, decent, powerful, influential country - the United States of America. If you were Satan, who would you attack in this day and age (Lindsay Lohan maybe?)….

“He didn’t have much success in the early days. Our foundation was very strong, in fact, is very strong (well, except for that little skirmish between the states that pitted brother against brother). But over time, that great, acidic quality of time corrodes even the strongest foundations. And Satan has done so by attacking the great institutions of America, using those great vices of pride, vanity, and sensuality as the root to attack all of the strong plants that has so deeply rooted in the American tradition. (Apparently, back when we had a sweatshop labor force, legalized slavery, and more than half the population was defined as male property by law, our “foundation was very strong” and Satan wasn’t involved in any of that).

“He was successful. He attacks all of us and he attacks all of our institutions. The place where he was, in my mind, the most successful and first successful was in academia (which is why Galileo was excommunicated, I presume). He understood pride of smart people. He attacked them at their weakest, that they were, in fact, smarter than everybody else and could come up with something new and different. Pursue new truths, deny the existence of truth, play with it because they’re smart. And so academia, a long time ago, fell (Adam only bit into that apple because of his sinful intellectual curiosity).

“And you say “what could be the impact of academia falling?” Well, I would have the argument that the other structures that I’m going to talk about here had root of their destruction because of academia. Because what academia does is educate the elites in our society, educates the leaders in our society, particularly at the college level. And they were the first to fall (Santorum has a doctoral degree from an Ivy League school, by the way.  Maybe he is possessed by Satan.).”

When told that polls showed his Ten Commandments Covenant for America had little chance of passage, President Santorum blamed the media...and Satan, in that order.

Monday, February 27, 2012

The War on Brains

From Revenge of the Nerds:

Gilbert:  I just wanted to say that I'm a nerd, and I'm here tonight to stand up for the rights of other nerds. I mean uh, all our lives we've been laughed at and made to feel inferior. And tonight, those bastards, they trashed our house. Why? Cause we're smart? Cause we look different? Well, we're not. I'm a nerd, and uh, I'm pretty proud of it. 

Lewis:   Hi, Gilbert. I'm a nerd too. I just found that out tonight. We have news for the beautiful people. There's a lot more of us than there are of you. I know there's alumni here tonight. When you went to Adams you might've been called a spazz, or a dork, or a geek. Any of you that have ever felt stepped on, left out, picked on, put down, whether you think you're a nerd or not, why don't you just come down here and join us. Okay? Come on. 

Gilbert:   Just join us cos uh, no-one's gonna really be free until nerd persecution ends.

Being college educated is worse than being on life’s Bridge to Nowhere.  It is the fast track straight to Liberalville and godlessness, and the President of the United States is behind the wheel.  That’s this week’s campaign message from Rick Santorum.  Well, today I am here to stand up for college education and encourage greater access to college for all Americans.  Everyone deserves the opportunity to become an intellectual snob without fear of ridicule.  No one’s gonna really be free until ‘college educated’ persecution ends.

The War on Brains has been waged by the GOP for several cycles now, and Rick Santorum is just the latest in a long line of champions of academic mediocrity.  George W. Bush reveled in his cluelessness and wore it as a badge of honor.  He held up his average grades as proof of his ordinariness, and he bragged about getting his information from limited, biased sources.  Reading would only soften his resolve.  Rick Perry bragged about being 13th in his graduating class of 12 students (it was part of his stump speech) which practically celebrates his status as The Child Left Behind.  A college education is the road to snobbery, and no one will vote for a snob, especially not in Texas.

Thanks to Mr. Santorum and others, we also know that a college education is the path to liberalism.  Santorum derides President Obama’s efforts to make college more affordable and accessible to people as part of his Master Plan to manufacture and indoctrinate more liberals.  That could be.  Since watching lots of cable TV seems to have created more Republicans, so perhaps the opposite is true and higher education creates more Democrats.  Being open to new ways of thinking, being open to the fact that we live on a globe inhabited by others with different opinions can cause one to consider some liberal positions, much as learning only from Mom and Dad and your pastor can cause one to consider only their less nuanced positions.  A reasonable conclusion from Santorum’s partisan theory is that we’ll have more conservatives if fewer people obtain a college degree.  Brilliant. 
Kids, stay in school – elementary school, that is.

The debate ratcheted up another notch this weekend.  Now college is a path to snobbery, liberalism, AND godlessness.  Santorum has proof!   He claimed that “62 percent of kids who go into college with a faith commitment leave without it,” but declined to cite a source for the figure.  That’s sounds about right.  Young adults in college are always losing things.  When our kids come home from college to do laundry, their innocence is misplaced and they have questions about authority that they never asked before.  Of course, the “before” period refers to when they were only 10 years old and obeyed our every instruction out of fear.

The facts, however, do not support Santorum’s position on the loss of “faith commitment”.    A study published 2007 in the journal Social Forces - which PBS reports that Santorum’s claim is based on - finds that Americans who don’t go to college experience a steeper decline in their religiosity than those who do.

“Contrary to our own and others’ expectations, however, young adults who never enrolled in college are presently the least religious young Americans,” the journal concluded, noting that “64 percent of those currently enrolled in a traditional four-year institution have curbed their attendance habits. Yet, 76 percent of those who never enrolled in college report a decline in religious service attendance.” 

Uh oh, that would mean that NOT going to college led to LESS religious commitment, but that’s impossible because Obama supports it.
Hey, Rick, correlation does not mean causation.  Perhaps a person’s maturity causes more questions about the faith traditions they learned as children, regardless of their college “indoctrination” by those tweed jacket wearing Alinskys.  It’s more fun to rail against liberal, godless snobs, though, isn’t it?

Putting aside that Liberty and Bob Jones Universities are options for those like-minded conservatives to attend if they so choose, Santorum’s argument ignores an important fact of market-based labor supply and demand.  For many of the job openings today, we have the numbers of people but not the people with the required skill set.  The unemployment issue in this country is exacerbated by a skills deficit.  That leaves us with a few choices:  We can export the jobs to countries that are investing in their populace to learn those skills; we could import the talent from other countries through legal immigration; we could develop our own talent with the citizenry we already have.  If developing our own talent pool for the existing jobs that require a higher education to succeed, we might want to stop accusing those who strive for college as “snobs”.  They are our future.

Santorum used to agree.  His 2006 campaign website had the following text:

 “In addition to Rick’s support of ensuring that primary and secondary schools in Pennsylvania are equipped for success, he is equally committed to ensuring the every Pennsylvanian has access to higher education.  Rick Santorum has supported legislative solutions that provide loans, grants, and tax incentives to make higher education more accessible and affordable.”

It used to be a smart political strategy to encourage those on the lower rungs to aspire to reaching the higher rungs.  Lifetime earnings increase on average for those who are more highly educated.  6 years ago, Santorum understood that.  Even Romney, with little to no political instincts to speak of, knows that you should hold out the hope of being rich to the masses.  Santorum prefers the class warfare track (yes, I went there), and that’s his choice.
It seemed to be working at his rally.  Here are some quotes from the attendees at his Troy, Michigan event (from Politico):

“They try and disguise it with, you know, ‘equal opportunity’…” Stephen Clement began.

“It’s communism,” Murrow said, cutting him off. “The professors are all teaching the kids…”

“Where does the social engineering stop?” Clement jumped back in, fired up. “Does it stop after we send everybody to college, or does it stop after we set their curriculum and said, ‘these are the things you’re allowed to study?’ Does it become the Soviet Union?”

Yes, improved access to college for American children is equal to boarding the slow boat to the Soviet Union.  I don’t see it that way myself, but I went to college.  What do I know…

As Maureen Dowd noted, the name Santorum comes from the same Latin root as sanctimonious.  If you don’t believe me, just google his name.

Rick Santorum (channeling the ghost of Revenge of the Nerds character Coach Harris): You know, when you were a baby in your crib, your father looked down at you, he had but one hope - some day my son will grow to be a man. Well look at you now. You just got your asses whipped by a bunch of goddamn nerds.  *Nerds*! Well, if I was you, I'd do something about it. I would get up and redeem myself in the eyes of my father, my maker, and my *coach*!

Now Vote Santorum – or side with the godless, liberal snobs that go to college.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Pink on Education

Last week, bestselling author Daniel Pink publishing the following on his blog site (, and I’d like to get a reaction from educators out there, those of you on the front lines.  I’m not in the profession, but his points make sense to me.  I have long thought that our educational system was designed 60 years ago for a workforce of the 1950s.  It was designed to produce mindless office workers not committed to life-long learning, but fully committed to watching the clock from their assigned cubicle.  Not sure that serves our kids or our national interest.  What say you?

By Dan Pink:

In today’s Washington Post is another story about “merit pay” for teachers. But this one, by national education correspondent Lyndsey Layton, spends some space on my own thoughts on the topic.
For those new to the issue, or coming to the Pink Blog from Tweets about the article, let me summarize my views as succinctly as I can:

1. Some rewards backfire. Fifty years of social science tells us that “if-then” rewards – that is, “If you do this, then you get that” – are great for simple, routine tasks and not so great for complicated, creative tasks. Since teaching is creative and complex rather than simple and algorithmic, tying teacher pay to student performance (especially on standardized tests) flies in the face of the broad evidence.

2. Contingent pay for teachers just isn’t effective. What’s more, the specific evidence – a cluster of recent studies that have examined “if-then” pay schemes in schools – has shown them to be failures. See, for instance, this piece of research by Vanderbilt University or this one by Harvard’s Roland Fryer or this study by Rand that prompted the New York City public schools to abandon its pay-for-performance plan.

3. Money is still important. The fact that “if-then” motivators often go awry doesn’t mean that rewards in general or money in particular are bad. Not at all. The research shows that money matters. It just matters in a slightly different way than we suspect. Paying people unfairly — say, when Jane makes less than June for the same work — is extremely demotivating. And, of course, low salaries can deter some people from pursuing certain professions. Therefore, the best use of money as a motivator, at least for complex work, is to compensate people fairly and to try to take the issue of money off the table.  That means paying healthy base salaries – and in the private sector, offering some non-gameable variable pay such as profit-sharing.

4. There’s a simpler solution. My own solution for the teacher pay issue, which I’ve voiced many times both in writing and in speeches, is to strike a bargain: Raise the base pay of teachers – and make it easier to get rid of underperforming teachers. Not only is this approach more consistent with the evidence, it’s easier to implement and doesn’t require a new bureaucracy to administer. (To her credit, Michelle Rhee launched some efforts to move in this direction.)

5. We’ve got the wrong diagnosis. The notion that the central problem in American education is lack of teacher motivation is ludicrous. The vast majority of teachers in this country are some of the most hard-working, dedicated people you’ll ever meet – folks who work their butts off in difficult conditions for little recognition. Pay for performance is a weak prescription in part because it’s based on a faulty diagnosis.

6. What really ails us. The real problems, at least in my opinion, are twofold. First, the American education system itself, which is based on 19th century principles and structures, is woefully antiquated. Second, we’re ignoring the issue of poverty and the overwhelming evidence that, absent comprehensive and expensive interventions, socioeconomic status is what drives much of educational attainment and performance. (This is one thing I actually liked about No Child Left Behind. It held someone’s feet to the fire for schools that were criminally negligent in serving low-income kids.)

7. Teaching isn’t investment banking. I find it peculiar that we single out teachers for “if-then” pay when we wouldn’t consider it for other public servants. Should we pay police officers based on how many tickets they write or whether the crime rate in their district drops? How about compensating soldiers based on whether our borders have been attacked or how many of their colleagues have been injured or killed? Would legislators, who are behind much of the bonuses-for-test-scores push, ever agree to hinge their own pay on whether budget deficits rose or fell?

8. Turn down the heat, turn up the light. One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that the people on both sides of this issue are men and women with good intentions. Nearly everyone I’ve encountered is trying to do the right thing. Reasonable people can disagree about weighty matters. And most people are reasonable. The trouble is that much of our education policy — from how we finance it down to how we schedule buses — seems designed more for the convenience of adults than for the education of children. If we reckon with that unpleasant truth and have an honest conversation that places our kids at the center of our efforts, we can make a lot of progress.

Friday, February 24, 2012

A Reach Too Far

I watched most of the new PBS documentary on the Clinton Presidency on Tuesday night (“most” because my children occasionally demanded my grudging attention).  As a student of history, it was good to revisit the period and to be reminded about all that took place, both the good and the bad (read “salacious”).  Historical context is sometimes lacking in daily political tweeting, and seeing the 1990s events again in detail provides some context.  I don’t often think about the Oklahoma City bombing as a turning point in his presidency, or how the events in Bosnia and Slovenia shaped the Clinton Doctrine (whatever that was – insert your own joke here) and his subsequent foreign policy decision-making.  It’s been 20 years since Bill was first elected, so dispassionate perspective is just coming into view.

As you can imagine, the government shutdown and the impeachment trial were seminal events that loomed large over the Clinton story.  Both stories dominated the news for months, and both stories ended up playing to Clinton’s political advantage.  While both stories began as potential death blows to the president’s standing nationally, both resulted in a backlash against the GOP.  After the public blamed the government shutdown on the GOP, Contract With America architect Gingrich resigned, and Clinton’s popularity and power grew.  As the Starr investigation and subsequent Senate trial dragged on, public sympathies accrued to the Clintons, and he emerged damaged, but still popular.  What happened?  How did this tax-and-spend liberal sexual harasser gain the upper hand on the tax-cutting family values Republicans?

The theory was floated during the program that overreach by the GOP Congress at the time contributed to Clinton’s revival in public opinion.  How so?  First, the GOP thought that they could force Clinton into huge concessions on Medicare in exchange for funding the government.  Clinton had been seen as a weak leader wounded by his own universal health care overreach.  Gingrich and his crew saw an opportunity to finish him and the pillar of LBJ’s Great Society in the process, but the entire ordeal painted Clinton as a victim of mean-spirited and inflexible Republican lawmakers more interested in winning a battle than in winning a compromise.  The Starr investigation was only one of many that ran throughout the Clinton years.  There was Travel-gate, Whitewater, Vince Foster, and the list goes on.  There were so many charges and conspiracy theories floated that a legitimate inquiry into a president lying under oath during a legal deposition seemed like a pretense to oust a man they clearly didn’t like.  To twist a Michael Corleone phrase, it wasn’t business; it was personal.
Is that what the GOP is doing now with Obama?  Are they reaching so far that even legitimate critiques are seen as partisan rants without factual basis?

·         When dealing with a serious matter, such as the Fast and Furious program run by the ATF, as soon as the Right twists this into an excuse to accuse Obama of working to take away our guns, the public tunes out. 
·         When you spend years questioning Obama’s place of birth, you start to lose credibility with the 4-6% you’ll need to swing an election in your favor. 
·         When you question his religious faith as a Christian (while simultaneously chastising him for sitting in a Christian church for 20 years listening to the same pastor), you start to lose credibility. 
·         When you question whether or not he hates white people when you know full well that his mother was white, you start to lose credibility. 
·         When you advance the theory that Obama is ignoring gun control issues because he secretly wants to take your guns away once reelected, you start losing touch with reality. 

Attacks on Obama are starting to fall on deaf ears, not to the rabid base that laps this stuff up for their daily fair and balanced sustenance, but to independent voters – you know, the ones who pick presidents.

The GOP has push so far to the Right, and has insisted on such ideological purity that no one person can meet, that moderate Republicans are viewed as Socialist liberal Saul Alinsky radicals with Kenyan anti-colonial worldviews.  Really?  It’s no wonder that Obama’s personal popularity is growing in the polls.  The public recognizes overreach when you claim (as Newt Gingrich has) that Obama plans to “attack the Catholic Church” on the first day after Election Day should he win reelection.  The public recognizes overreach when you claim (as Rick Santorum has) that Iran will have a nuclear weapon as soon as Obama is reelected.  The 4-6% that decides elections starts ignoring your positions, at least until SNL decides to mock you for them.  Then the public will pay attention, but only to laugh and snicker.  When you start being ignored, you need to be even more outrageous in order to get attention again.  When the 4-6% starts laughing, it’s not overreach to say that they are laughing at you, not with you.

Remember the old political joke from Will Rogers: “I don’t belong to any organized political party – I’m a Democrat?”  That has been true for most of my lifetime.  In the past 2 years, that joke has flipped: “I don’t belong to any organized political party – I’m a Republican.”  The longer debate season has dragged on, the steadier has been Obama’s climb in the polls.  People are watching, and the more they see, the better Obama looks.  I blame rhetorical overreach (really, Newt, does every statement need to include the word “fundamental”?) and wild scattershot blasts of attacks about what Obama ‘might’ do, or what he is ‘planning’ to do.  Better to focus on reality, guys.  It plays better in Peoria.

Overreach against Clinton?  His popularity soared.  Overreach against Obama?  History could be repeating itself.  (Of course, you could just point the finger at the media and blame them.  That usually works for awhile.)

When the documentary of this period is filmed, “overreach” could be the theme.  If the ACA was Obama’s overreach, the GOP has outdone him with their own attack dog overreach, and it’s biting them right now.
The GOP is becoming the Big Tent party they always wanted, but they should have been more careful of what they wished for – the Big Tent is covering up a 3 ring circus.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

"This was supposed to be the Summer of Mitt!"

Mitt Romney’s candidacy has suffered from the perception that he is not a man of the common people.  His favorability ratings have been restrained by the belief that his privileged upbringing has shielded him from the everyday experiences that all of us Joe the Plumbers out here in the Real World have suffered.  I, for one, thought he should be cut some slack. 
After all, George H.W. Bush didn’t know the price of a gallon of milk, and why would he?  He was a Congressman, head of the CIA, and a diplomat.  His resume mattered more to me than his grocery shopping expertise.  Obama likes fancy lettuce.  So what?  He graduated Harvard Law.  I accept that he runs in different economic and gastrointestinal circles than I do.  He’s entitled.  I don’t want to elect a person just like me.  I’d like someone smarter, as I am sure my readership would as well.

Romney is wealth.  Congratulations.  If he wasn’t, he could even consider a run at the White House.  If you are wealthy, I will assume that you do not do your own laundry, take out your own garbage, or mow your own lawn.  If you were wealthy, would you? 
Last night during what we hope was the final GOP debate of the season, however, he allowed his elitism to slip through his manicured facade in a manner that that I consider unforgivable.  It was a folly that truly separates him from middle class America.  He tried to pretend to be a man of the people, but erred so egregiously that he only managed to reinforce the perception that he is a wealthy hipster doofus shamelessly pandering to the 99%. 
He misquoted George Costanza.

At the beginning of the Arizona candidate debate, when the audience began clapping during his introduction, Romney quipped, “As George Costanza would say: When they’re applauding, stop.”

No, Mitt, that is NOT what George Costanza would say, and he never did.  Mitt, I think you were reaching a line from the classic Seinfeld episode 172 (The Burning), when Jerry preached leaving the room on a high note.  Yes, in that episode George left a business meeting at Kruger’s Industrial Smoothing after telling a particularly well-received joke.  I believe what he said was closer to, “Alright!  I’m outta here!” as he exited the scene.  All you did was reinforce the conventional wisdom that severe conservatives lack a sense of humor (which is different than saying that they aren’t funny – I think they are hilarious.  I laugh at them as often as I can).

I watched Seinfeld.  I considered myself a fan of Seinfeld.  Mr. Romney, you’re no fan of Seinfeld. 

I would have much preferred, and been more open to your candidacy, had you worked this Elaine/Puddy dialogue from the same episode into the debate last night:

Elaine:     Do you believe in God?
David Puddy:     Yeah...
Elaine:    Is it a problem for you that I'm not religious?
David Puddy:     No.
Elaine:    Why not?
David Puddy:     I'm not the one going to hell.

Now THAT would have humanized you to us envious lowlifes in the 99%, and it would have been safer than reliving the Kramer/Mickey exchange about pretending to have gonorrhea, also from episode 172.  STDs may sell to the base, but the middle class independent voters will not be amused.

You could have explained your "position evolutions" by pleading ignorance, much like Costanza in Episode 29: 

Was that wrong? Should I not have done that? I tell you, I gotta plead ignorence on this thing, because if anyone had said anything to me at all when I first started here that that sort of thing is frowned upon... you know, cause I've worked in a lot of offices, and I tell you, people do that all the time.

Next time you want to pretend to be a student of pop culture, memorize your lines.  In fact, you should be using this Costanza classic in your stump speech.  It is much closer to accurately defining you to the electorate:

“It’s not a lie, if you believe it.” George, Episode 102, "The Beard"

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Temporarily Giving Up

The revelry and debauchery of Fat Tuesday has passed, and now it is time to begin the annual 40 days of suffering and atonement, also known in baseball circles as spring training.  Actually, the tradition of self-denial during Lent extends beyond baseball and beyond church pews.  It has extended beyond its original religious purpose of preparation for the joy of Easter and has become a cultural ritual of dieting, exercise, and Filet O’Fish sandwiches on the Dollar Menu.  Everyone gets in the act during Lent, even the pagans among us.  Americans love a challenge, and denying ourselves anything can be a challenge.  We have replaced American Exceptionalism with American Excessivism, but for 40 days, we valiantly try to turn back the clock.
We will try to suffer just enough to impress our friends but not enough to influence any long term behavioral changes.  I mean, we’re not ascetic monks, right?  Figuring out what to give up for the season can be tough since we really would prefer not to sacrifice anything at all.  So we look to our leaders to set an example that we loyal minions may follow.  What is Oprah giving up for Lent?  After all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and it is easier than thinking up our own sacrifice.

What will some of our more popular political and cultural figures sacrifice for the 40 day Lenten season this year?  MSRP has The List:
  • Rick Santorum – Sleeves
  • Newt Gingrich – Humility
  • Mitt Romney – Michigan
  • Ron Paul – Hope
  • President Obama – Pretending to like Republicans
  • Vice President Biden – Shaving his legs
  • Donald Trump – Nothing
  • Chris Christie – Taking the stairs
  • VA Governor Bob McDonnell – Women’s dignity
  • Kate Upton – Self-consciousness
  • Tim Tebow – Winning
  • Tiger Woods – Losing
  • Charlie Sheen – Winning
  • The NY Mets – Losing (nah – just kidding; they couldn’t really give that up for 4 days let alone 40)
  • Bill O’Reilly – Grieving periods
  • Kim Kardashian – NJ Nets courtside seats
  • Gisele Bundchen – Super Bowl after parties
  • The New England Patriots team – Gisele Bundchen
  • Jeremy Lin – Privacy
  • Carmelo Anthony – The Spotlight
  • Payton Manning - $28 million
  • Daniel Radcliffe – Harry Potter
  • The Catholic Church – Tax exempt status
  • Saturday Night Live – Cultural relevance
  • The Far Right – Science
  • The Far Left – The Far Right
  • The Republican Party – 2012 Independent voters
  • The Democratic Party – 2012 Pessimism
 So what will you sacrifice this Lenten season?  As long as it isn’t reading my nonsense.  That’s a guilty pleasure no one should deny themselves.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The North and South Going Zax

I have a liberal friend who questioned the apparent paradox of a conservative friend’s political position.  My liberal friend thought that being pro-life while at the same time being pro-death penalty (as many conservatives leaders are) were incompatible ideas.  My conservative friend responded that denouncing the slaughter of innocents while supporting the just sentence of convicted felons who benefited from the opportunity for due process and endless judicial review is not the same thing.  The unborn do not enjoy due process.  He added as a point of clarification that my liberal friend was either “stupid or intellectually dishonest” to make such a comparison.

Such is the state of the pro-life debate in America as it is being played out on Facebook.  For a tool meant to unite us with newly discovered acquaintances and long lost friends, it certainly can bring into focus profound fissures within our friendships and our social fabric.  That said, these two liberal and conservative friends do get along swimmingly.  They just happen to disagree about everything.  I guess opposites do attract.

After some reflection on my two friends’ collegial Facebook debate, I think I have found the disconnect.  Maybe I can help bridge their understanding.  I could be the uniter, not the divider.  As I see it, their disagreement is caused by ingenious marketing.  My liberal friend thought pro-life meant pro-life in all circumstances.  In reality, this is not the case.

The genius of the pro-life movement is its name.  It is impossible, assuming you can inhale and exhale regularly, to be anti-life.  Sure, everyone can have a bad day, but generally speaking, if you are alive and would prefer to stay that way, you are at your core pro-life.  In marketing, it is better to be “for” something than “against” something.  In this case, if you are not pro-life, then you are by definition anti-life, and that is an absurd position to defend in a moral society. 

The reality is that pro-life doesn't really mean pro-life for everyone in every situation, as my liberal friend understood the movement.  Pro-life means anti-abortion and anti-euthanasia only.  It does not include a variety of other life-related issues, but pro-life as a title sells better.  Other areas of life and death can therefore rest comfortably outside the traditional, what most people understand it to be, pro-life movement. 

For example, support of capital punishment, regardless of its proven chance to exterminate the wrong person, is different to many pro-life advocates (like my conservative friend).  Those defendants were found guilty in our “exceptional” system, and we need to protect the innocent and deter other potential criminals.  Mistakes happen.  Capital punishment support and pro-life sensibilities can live together in this world. 

The slaughter of over 100,000 Iraqi citizens in the name of democracy, the ones who were killed in a war started on misinformation, is different.  We were spreading freedom, and wars can be justified as moral imperatives.  The use of torture on prisoners without the precious 'due process' is necessary in the name of security, and is different.  The targeting of U.S. citizens for assassination is different because we know by looking at them that they are guilty.  The destruction of natural resources and the collateral damage that does to people living nearby is necessary for the living to thrive economically, so it is different.  Many a pro-life advocate is comfortable with these positions.

No wonder my liberal friend was confused.   

The bottom line is that my conservative friend was arguing an anti-abortion position, and that's fine.  That’s what pro-life means to him.  Once you accept that life begins at conception, everything else becomes clear.  My liberal friend thought pro-life was a more expansive belief that would bias my conservative friend’s other policy opinions about the period between conception and natural death.  He was wrong.    

Turns out the pro-life is only focused on the beginning and the end.  All other life situations in between come with the caveat "but in this situation it is different".

Too harsh?  At the GOP debates during this campaign cycle, the death of an uninsured person was cheered.  The high number of executions in the state of Texas was cheered.  The candidates supported torture as a reasonable means of national self-defense, and the crowd did not voice their opposition.  I will guess that the audience at these events would describe themselves as staunchly pro-life, but the aforementioned situations – well, they’re different.  None of those people were innocent in their minds.  The uninsured person wasn’t poor – he was insufficiently disciplined and self-reliant.  The executed man wasn’t innocent – the all-white jury said so.  The people who were tortured – they were guilty of 9/11, weren’t they?  That’s what we were told. 

There may be things I don't know, but I do know that someone who believes there should be more people put to death and more people tortured is stretching things when they call themselves "pro-life".  But it is darn good marketing. 

I’m sure this will all get sorted out in the highest court in the land someday - Facebook.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Manning, Lin, Repeat

Each year, the national sports calendar has only two dead spots – two days in which nothing much is really happening.  It’s the day before and the day after baseball’s All-Star Game.  For those 2 days every July, there is no football.  It’s off season and camps haven’t opened yet.  There is no basketball.  The Finals ended a week or so prior at the latest.  Hockey is on ice until training camps open in September.  College sports are on hiatus.  Wimbledon is still a few days away, and any scheduled golf tournaments wouldn’t start until that Thursday.  The quadrennial Summer Games are never in early July.  In fact, with the ascension of the Home Run Derby as spectacle, you could argue that the day after the All Star Game is the only respite for the avid sports fan.  Otherwise, the action and entertainment of professional sports never sleeps.

When nothing is happening, the sports talk air time must be filled with something, and for years, that July void has been filled with Brett Favre un-retirement rumors, Tiger Woods marital woes, and Mel Kiper, Jr.’s mock draft board.  Now I know what can consume that dead space on the airwaves the day after the MLB All Star Game this year – Lin-Sanity and Manning-Mania.

Driving around in my car this week, I think I am trapped in that boring, action-free July Wednesday here in mid-February.  Sports talk radio is becoming the sound track to my own personal Ground Day hell when the same stories get repeated over and over and over.  Nothing can be happening in sports today.  They are filling the time with only 2 topics, and detailing it from every conceivable angle – Payton Manning’s future and the meaning of a Chinese American playing point guard in New York.

These are big stories.  I know this not just because the pundits keep picking the stories apart for hours on end.  It’s because each story has a catchy name.  Jeremy Lin is in the eye of the Lin-sanity hurricane.  Peyton Manning is living inside Manning-Mania.  For the past 5 days, on an endless loop of talk, I have learned about Lin’s Harvard GPA (3.1), Manning’s maximum reported throwing distance as of this moment (25 yards), Lin’s career numbers as a starter (after 6 games, ranks 5th all time since the merger in total points scored), and Manning’s throwing yards during his last full season (4,700).  If anything else has happened in the world of sports since Sunday, you would never know it by listening to the radio.

There should be some discussion of the final quarter of the hockey season.  We could use a little respite to discuss Tiger’s chances of winning on tour this season.  We could begin the analysis of the new California Angels line up with Albert batting 4th.  I even think that other teams are playing basketball while Jeremy Lin is lighting up Broadway.  Judging from the coverage, I could be wrong, though.  Maybe nothing else is happening.  Maybe Mel Kiper Jr. doesn’t even have an updated mock draft board this week.  It’s possible (but not probable).

At least there are no Penn State-gate stories right now.  We could use a break from the sports “–gate” stories.  I’ll take a –sanity or a –mania story over a –gate story any day.  In fact, the Lin story is the exact opposite of a –gate story, at least until some blogger finds a college girlfriend he cheated on or an English paper he didn’t properly footnote.  Even the Manning story is safe so far since he is pretty well liked as a sports personality.  The Peyton Haters Club has poor meeting attendance.  It’s rare that safe stories like these dominate together.  But I am still over them both.  I am starting not to care. 
Time to get in the car and turn on sports radio.  It’s Ground Day all over again.  I wonder if I’ll get to hear from Jeremy Lin’s high school biology teacher, or the guy who cleans the doctor’s office where Peyton Manning once visited for a consultation.  Probably both.  After all, it's the day after the All Star Game all over again. 

Bonus:  Check out The Onion's take on the Lin story -,27395/ 

Friday, February 17, 2012


Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell has signaled his intention to sign a bill that would declare that life begins at the moment of fertilization, thereby guaranteeing a number of rights to the unborn, including the right to life.  The intention of the bill is to directly challenge the legality of abortion and embryonic stem cell research, and proponents hope the bill will begin the legal process towards overturning the controversial Roe v. Wade decision of 1973 that legalized abortion in the United States.  Many McDonnell supporters have warned, however, that by signing this bill, the Governor may be killing his unborn national hopes. 
“Bob McDonnell’s opportunity to be a Vice Presidential candidate deserves an opportunity to live, and this controversial political decision will abort that chance for him,” claimed an unnamed Romney supporter.  “The last thing we need is a guy on the ticket that distracts from Mitt’s job creator message.  I can see the Obama SuperPAC ads now – ‘one supports corporate personhood, the other supports personhood amendments.  The only thing they won’t support are We the People.’  Those ads will sink us.”

McDonnell was clear in his conviction.  “It’s my body of work, and I am in control.  This decision is my choice, and it is a choice I do not take lightly.  I have consulted with a panel of experts who provided confidential counseling, and I have decided to end my national hopes should the bill reach my desk, with this pen.”

Personhood Amendments similar to the proposed Virginia law have been rejected in Colorado and most recently, in the conservative bastion of Mississippi.  Mississippi voters rejected the proposed law by a stunning 16% (58% v. 42%) in a November statewide election.  While the Personhood Amendment has a devoted following among extreme factions within the Republican base, it has not demonstrated any large scale support in any polling or any jurisdictions in which it has appeared on the ballot.  Even Republicans have been skeptical of the amendment and some within the GOP have vowed to soften its language before a vote, a move that some on the Right have called legislative “selective genetic engineering”.

A second Romney support who was too embarrassed to be identified said, “If signed, we’ve got to snuff out this law as quickly as possible.  Once the legislation is in force for 20 weeks, the equation will change.  McDonnell’s opening to be on the ticket with Romney will then be full viable, and it will be more difficult for the governor to change his mind and abort his plans.”

“If we had a law in the Commonwealth that forced the Governor to look at a digital representation of his national future before signing this bill, perhaps it would change his mind.  It would force him to realize that those ambitions would lead to a real, breathing entity that deserves a chance.”  He added, “I just can’t handle another 4 years under Communist rule.  I just can’t.”

Conservative voters across the Commonwealth gathered in candlelight vigils and organized rosary recitations to pray that Governor McDonnell changes his mind.  One protester who described herself as a “Hold Your Nose for Romney” voter, put it this way:

“Why couldn’t he just focus on the economy, government spending, and entitlements?  If he stayed away from these culture wars, he might have a chance to really make something of his political life.  Please give your national political hopes the same opportunity you had as a young politician.  Don’t destroy them before they have even had a chance to live!”

“We like the amendment, but we’d like to get back into the White House even more.”

 Others in the GOP were more circumspect.  “I don’t care what he does.  I’ve seen some tests on his national viability, and frankly, I am not sure they would have survived outside the protective bubble of Red State Virginia.  It is probably best that his ambitions be eliminated now, before more resources are devoted to it.  You know, national ambitions can be expensive, especially in the early years.  I’m not even convinced they would have lived anyway.”

Conservative voters hope McDonnell’s decision to terminate his national ambitions by siding with the extreme culture warriors won’t come back to haunt him later in life.
“If the governor had only used the protection of a singular focus on the state budget and transportation issues, we wouldn’t be in this situation.  Those issues are where the rubber meets the road, so to speak.”

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Dream Team vs. SuperPAC Man

 The announcements of Newt’s Conservative Dream Team and Faith Leader’s Dream Team are real.  The rest is purely educated speculation on my part.  The world needs more super heroes.

Last week at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, DC, Speaker Newt Gingrich unveiled his bold battle plan for 2012.  With conventional weapons off the table for the near term in the battle for the GOP nomination, Gingrich announced the formation of a Conservative Dream Team, a ragtag group of fearless and feckless conservatives who have sworn their allegiance to half-truths, street justice, and the American Exceptional Way.  The conservative heroes that have pledged their fealty to his candidacy include Governor Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Senator Fred Thompson, Michael Reagan, J.C. Watts, Chuck Norris and others as he combats the evil radicalism of SuperPAC Man, the powerful henchman of his severe arch-villain rival, Mitt Romney.

Each Conservative Dream Team members brings their own unique super power to the table.  Fred Thompson can put his enemies to sleep instantly with a few words; Rick Perry has the power of invisibility in a crisis; Herman Cain can deliver a hot pizza in 30 minutes or less; Chuck Norris can kick anyone’s ass.  These Dream Teamers are united, armed and ready for action. 

“Romney’s evil SuperPAC Man doesn’t have a Judeo-Christian prayer against my forces for good,” said Gingrich via conference call from his Fortress of Solitude.  “I am a kryptonite nightmare for SuperPAC Man.”

Mitt Romney and SuperPAC Man countered with their own Dream Team of surrogates.  The Romney Dream Team consists of Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley and John Stockton, among others.  His Dream Team has a proven record of success in the international arena, and should provide needed foreign policy gravitas to the campaign.  The Romney Dream Team’s victory in Barcelona remains the gold standard for Dream Teams.

Campaign spokesperson, Joseph Smith, released a written statement about the Romney Dream Team’s super powers.  “Jordan can fly, Bird can hit from anywhere, Barkley can rebound, and Magic Johnson has magic.  Stockton – he played in Utah.  We can compete with anyone, even Chuck Norris and his kung fu grip.”

Not to be overshadowed, this week the Gingrich campaign has announced a second "Dream Team", this one focused on faith. The 'Faith Leaders Dream Team' consists of "several fearless Christians" such as Don Wildmon, Tim and Beverly LaHaye, George Barna, JC Watts, Chuck Norris (yes, Chuck is on TWO Dream Teams), Mat Staver and others who will back Gingrich as he takes on Romney’s SuperPAC Man and SuperPAC Man’s newest companion of evil, the Obama administration.

Rick Santorum, not to be outdone by Gingrich and Romney, has announced his own superhero Dream Team of One.  Jesus Christ will serve as the leader of Santorum’s Dream Team, arguing issues of public policy, faith, and economic growth.  Christ will be providing rapid response services against SuperPAC Man whenever he unleashes his diabolical Propaganda Machine across the public airwaves. 

“My days of turning the other cheek are over now that I have Jesus on my Dream Team,” bragged Santorum.  “The guy walks on water in my book.  Speaker Gingrich likes to claim that his campaign has risen from the dead several times.  Well, my Dream Team of One knows a little something about that!”

Jesus’ super powers are well documented, and his addition to Team Santorum certainly has the potential to change dynamics of the race.  Romney Dream Team captain, Michael Jordan, was less than impressed.

“I’ve seen Jesus out there.  He can’t go to his left and he’s soft on defense.  He’s only on the team because of His Dad.”

The Dream Team announcement race escalated again this afternoon when the Romney campaign introduced its newest Immigration Reform Dream Team, with Aquaman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman and Robin.  He is in talks with The Flash and Green Lantern for their support as well.

“You want us on that wall.  You need us on that wall,” thundered the Caped Crusader in a rousing defense of stricter border enforcement.  “We use words like honor, code, loyalty...we use these words as the backbone to a life spent defending something. The Left uses 'em as a punchline. We have neither the time nor the inclination to explain ourselves to liberals who rise and sleep under the blanket of the very freedom we provide, then questions the manner in which we provide it!  I'd rather they just said thank you and went on their way.”

Rick Santorum, trying to one-up the former governor, made a follow up announcement that Dave Mustaine, leader of the heavy metal band Megadeth, is ready to rock out for him.  While not technically a superhero, he is pretty cool. (Editor’s Note: This is real, too.  Go figure.)

Ron Paul, struggling for media coverage, countered this announcement with his introduction of the Super Models Fantasy Dream Team backing his insurgent candidacy.  Cheryl Tiegs, Christie Brinkley, Carol Alt, Elle Macpherson, and Gisele Bundchen have all agreed to combine forces on Paul’s behalf.  Ron Paul is betting that this Dream Team will raise his profile and erect stronger, longer lasting support for his candidacy. 

“This Super Models Team is the breast that America has to offer, and I am proud and aroused intellectually to have them in my camp.  I imagine that they will each perform well on the stump.  Who wouldn’t want anyone of these Super Models on their stump, providing full-throated affirmation of your positive qualities during the heat of the moment?”

“My advisors felt that my messaging lack enough meat.  My Dream Team will change that.”

While each GOP campaign is fighting each other with their various Dream Teams, none have lost sight of the evil SuperPAC Man and his super power ability to carpet bomb an entire regional with negative ads in a matter of hours.  SuperPAC Man wears his Shield of Dollars that enables him to crush any enemy.  Whoever has the Dream Team that can control SuperPAC Man and his evil powers will be able to use those same weapons against the King of All Evil, Barack Obama (aka The Community Disorganizer). 

The band of GOP superheroes should beware.  Obama’s superpower?  Teflon.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Blunt Talk

Since the GOP cannot repeal the Affordable Care Act, it will just try to render it ineffective with amendments and then argue, “See?  We told you it wouldn’t work.”

The latest attempt at weakening can be found in the Blunt Amendment, which would “ensure that health care stakeholders retain the right to provide, purchase, or enroll in health coverage that is consistent with their religious beliefs and moral convictions” under the Affordable Care Act.  Doesn’t that sound nice and inclusive?  I’m sympathetic to the idea that, as a matter of conscience, people shouldn’t be compelled to pitch in and pay for products or services they find morally objectionable.

For the Catholics, contraception and abortion can be excluded. For the Jehovahs Witnesses, no coverage for blood transfusions or clotting factor.  For the Mormons and the Muslims, you have to prove your liver disease was caused by something other than alcohol before you get treatment.  For the Scientologists, no psychiatric drugs covered, for the Christian Scientists, most other drugs not covered.   For Orthodox Jews, no coverage for injuries that occur while violating the Sabbath, such as riding in a car.

In other words, it’s easy to be coldly analytical, even dismissive, of beliefs that aren’t very popular, even though, technically, one of the founding principles of our nation is that religious truth isn’t a popularity contest.  “Religious beliefs and moral convictions” can be a bit messy when the beliefs and morals don’t match your own.

At some point, shouldn’t we recognize that our government is, thank goodness, in no position to referee the validity of particular moral claims of faith groups?  Shouldn’t we recognize that participation in society sometimes requires people, for the greater good, to set aside their divinely ordained beliefs and get with the program?  I mean, people work on Sundays nowadays, but they didn’t always.  Keep Holy the Sabbath is Rule # 3 last time I checked, so that means it’s in the Top 5.

The popular issue in the press involves Catholic beliefs and teachings, but there are other examples of religious freedom being abridged in America.  It was only last year that Park 51 was the hot topic.  Remember that?  Muslims wanted to build a mosque a few blocks from Ground Zero, and zealots found that particular exercise of religious freedom unacceptable.  In Minneapolis in 2007, controversy swirled when Muslim cab drivers refused to transport passengers from the airport that were carrying alcohol.  The Metropolitan Airport Commission reported that 5,400 would-be taxi passengers at the airport were refused service for this very reason.  Passenger Bob Dildine says he waited for 20 minutes, and five cab drivers would not give him and his daughter a ride. He was carrying wine he bought on vacation.

"They're here to provide service to people," said Dildine. "We were a lawful customer, and we were denied service. That's not our way of doing things."  Apparently, one man’s religious accommodation or exercise of religious freedom conflicts with another’s.  And that’s the crux of the argument, isn’t it?  It is not a question of religious freedom – it’s a question of competing rights, and finding the perfect balance is difficult.

Noah Millman of the American Conservative asks us to perform a thought experiment: Pretend it’s not the Catholic Church at the center of the current controversy over the rights of religious institutions to exercise moral judgments regarding their employees’ health care plans.

Instead, Millman suggests we pretend it’s the Church of Scientology.

 And pretend that the flash point of controversy isn’t coverage of contraception, which violates Catholic teachings, but coverage of mental-health services — psychology, psychiatry and mood-stabilizing drugs, all of which violate the teachings of Scientology.

If the Scientologists operated a network of schools and hospitals, would the pundit classes be rushing to the ramparts bellowing about religious liberty in defense of the right of these schools and hospitals to deny mental-health coverage even to employees who don’t belong to their faith?

More likely, Millman suggests, the dispassionate public-policy question would be, “Should it be OK to systematically disadvantage employees of Church of Scientology schools because that church has a weird hang-up about mental-health services?”

I was wondering whether Mormon employers are allowed to exclude insurance coverage for treatment of alcoholism?   For example, would they deny a claim for emergency detox?  Would they exclude coverage of the drug, Antabuse?  If they have done so in the past, will they seek a "religious exemption" under the AHCA, similar to what the Catholics did?  After all “religious beliefs and moral convictions” are at stake here.

The highest courts in New York and California held that Catholic Charities must abide by the rule that mandates contraceptive coverage in employer policies in those states.  They ruled that there was no violation of the First Amendment right to free exercise of religion. That’s because the law doesn’t “substantially burden” anyone’s religious practice and is one of general applicability that was not targeted at infringing a particular religious practice.

To permit religious beliefs to “excuse compliance with otherwise valid laws regulating matters the state is free to regulate,” would, the California Supreme Court wrote in its 2004 decision, quoting from a U.S. Supreme Court case, “‘make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself.’”

“Every citizen to become a law unto himself” may be a Libertarian fantasy, but I do not see that as a recipe for a healthy society.