Friday, September 29, 2006

WaPo Roundup: Religion Edition

THE WASHINGTON POST is the paper that lands on my front steps every morning. In the past few days I have been fascinated by several stories and features on religion and politics. Quite interesting. Take a look:
  • Here's a bit of a switch, a voter's guide from the Religious Left.
  • Muslim civic leaders are leading a new push to get America's 2.2 million Muslims to vote. The efforts comes complete with ATM-style voter registration machines in mosques.
  • A new feature in the Post called My Faith encourages readers to write in and tell stories about personal spirituality and faith. if you want to give it a go.
  • Ann Hornaday reviews Jesus Camp.

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Foley's Friday Afternoon Trash

FRIDAY IS 'TRASH day' in Washington -- the day bad news is released to the public with hopes that it will get lost in the weekend papers. Somehow I don't think this Rep. Mark Foley's trash is going to go unnoticed.

From The Fix:

Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) today resigned from Congress, putting his congressional seat up for grabs just 39 days before the election.
Foley has represented the 16th District since 1994 and has regularly been mentioned as a potential candidate for statewide office. He was a candidate for the U.S. Senate briefly in 2003 before dropping out, citing his desire to spend more time with his parents.
His abrupt decision to step down from his seat comes one day after ABC News reported the existence of e-mails sent by Foley last fall to a 16-year-old boy who formerly served as a congressional page. In the messages, Foley reportedly asked the boy what he wanted for his birthday and requested that the boy send a photo of himself to Foley. (The St. Petersburg Times caught up with the boy some time ago but waited to report on it until today.)
Foley's departure is likely to create havoc for Republicans in the district. The district carries a Republican tilt -- President George W. Bush won it with 54 percent in 2004. But given the controversy and press attention likely to engulf Foley, this seat could well emerge as a late-breaking opportunity for Democrats.

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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

How Much Do Your Capitol Hill Buddies Make?

WASHINGTON IS ALL abuzz over a new website that lists the salaries of the nearly 20,000 employees on Capitol Hill. The site was shut down earlier this week -- not because of a court order or an act of Congress -- but because the site was getting more hits than it could handle.

Salires of Congressial staffers are a matter of public record, but it used to be rather difficult to get the information because you had to consult thick books or hard to find websites. But no more thanks to Now all the salaries you could ever want are just a couple of clicks away.

If you have friends who work on the hill (and I do), this site provides hours of entertainment!!

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A Presbyterian Pastor's Take on Torture

THIS FROM A recent Daily Dish post.

As a Presbyterian pastor, I continue to be stunned by the unthinking support of many evangelicals for a policy that permits torture. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry when the so-called "Traditional Values Coalition" decided that torture was among the traditional values that they feel compelled to support.

When Jesus was put on trial and handed over to Pontius Pilate, he rejected violence and said, "My kingdom is not of this world." He was then tortured and brutally murdered (three hours in a "stress position" on the cross, as one of your readers aptly noted). "Caesar", of course, went on to torture and brutally murder innocent Christians who were "threats to the state." Now, 2,000 years later, in their wordly lust for power, Christians are hopping into bed with Caesar and signing off on anything Caesar wants, especially if Caesar takes care of the Christian "base".

In my Presbyterian tradition, we are called to stand outside the halls of power and speak truth to those in power, no matter what party is in control. We are not called to become that power ourselves; Jesus' kingdom is not of this world; his values are not Caesar's values.

Last year on Good Friday, my church had our traditional worship service at which we read the story of Jesus' torture and execution. To make the story more than just a past event, we read three contemporary accounts of innocent individuals who had been tortured. If we were going to shed tears for our innocent Lord Jesus, we also needed to shed tears for other innocent victims of torture. One story we read was about Christians in China - "threats to the state" - including a mother who was brutally interrogated while hearing the cries of her son being tortured in the next room. Interestingly enough, the Christian Right would join me in expressing outrage against innocent Christians.

Another story was of a man who described these conditions:

"I saw a cell almost the size of a grave. 3 feet wide, 6 feet deep, and 7 feet high. The cell had no light in it; it only had two thin mattresses (two thin blankets) on the ground ... I was kept in that dark and filthy cell for about 10 months. The worst beating happened on the third day ... they were asking the same set of questions and they would beat me 3-4 times. They would sometimes take me to another room where I could hear other people being tortured ... at the end of the day I could not take the pain anymore and I falsely confessed of having been to Afghanistan."

We read that story last Good Friday. The man's name? Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen, who was arrested at JFK airport in New York. He was then deported by the American government via Jordan to Syria, where he was detained in the cell described above. Just last week Arar and his claims of innocence were completely vindicated by the Canadian government. The Traditional Values Coalition would probably respond: an unfortunate mistake, but torture is still a necessary policy.

And What Would Jesus Do?

Jesus wept.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

The Big Mac Index

FOR SEVERAL MONTHS I've been following the Big Mac Index over at The Economist. It's based on the theory of purchasing power parity -- the idea that $1 should buy the same amount in all countries. According to the theory, exchange rates between countries should move towards the rate that equalizes the prices of a basket of goods in each country. You have to have a password to read the articles, but it's worth it.

Just something fun to do if you're into that kind of thing. (Hey, it's the weekend -- what else are you going to do?)

October Surprise? Ask Rove

BIN LADEN'S DEATH has been, to quote Twain, 'greatly exaggerated' before. Could it be true this time? Time is reporting the following on their website:

The source, speaking on condition of anonymity, says that Saudi officials have received multiple credible reports over the last several weeks that Bin Laden has been suffering from a water-borne illness. The source believes that there is a "high probability" that Bin Laden has already died from the disease, but stressed that Saudi officials have thus far received no concrete evidence of Bin Laden's death.
"This is not a rumor," says the source. "He is very ill. He got a water-related sickness and it could be terminal. There are a lot of serious facts about things that have actually happened. There is a lot to it. But we don't have any concrete information to say that he is dead."

But what makes this latest report so interesting is that it comes on the heels of several conservative web site reports that say Rove has promised key Republicans an October Surprise. Key quote:
According to two conservative websites, White House political strategist Karl Rove has been promising GOP insiders that there will be an "October surprise" before the midterm elections.
"In the past week, Karl Rove has been promising Republican insiders an 'October surprise' to help win the November congressional elections," reports Ronald Kessler for Newsmax

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Role of the Christian Right

MY FRIENDS AT Spectrum Magazine have a link to a new blog that is currently featuring an online conversation between Jim Wallis and Ralph Reed on the topic of values and the American voter. Quite interesting.

Of course, the big question for political types is what role the Christian Right will play in the November elections. There is little debate that groups like the Christian Coalition have lost at least some of their influence during the past year or so. Ralph Reed is a good example. He was snarled in the Jack Abramoff scandal and his close ties with Abramoff are at least partially responsible for his primary defeat in a bid to become Lt. Governor of Georgia. Recent statements by perennial blow-hards like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell haven't helped either. Key primary losses by so called 'Christian Coaltion endorsed' candidates in South Carolina and Tennessee only illustrates this pont more clearly.

However, no good candidate is going to ignore the impact of the Religious Right this year. They tend to rise up at key times, leading GOTV efforts and turning the current debate into an 'on God's side' vs. 'not on God's side' issue. For some reason, that tactic works in many parts of this country.

Like I have said in previous posts on this blog, it's one thing to bring moral witness, rooted in faith, to the public square. It's another thing to align - or detach - God with one party or one candidate. The Wallis-Reed debate is worth a look. Will it help bring some rationality to the religious debate in this country?

We can only pray that it does.

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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

What Would Popeye Do?

I'LL BE THE first to admit that I hated spinach as a youngster. Not even Popeye could convince me that the green leafy vegetable was good for me. Of course, I'm going to partially blame my parents (sorry mom and dad) because the only way they used to serve it at dinner time was...boiled! Come on, how were my sister and I supposed to learn to like boiled spinach?

Now comes word from the CDC that eating spinach might kill you. 10-yr. olds haven't been this happy since 'High School Musical' came out on DVD. But the impact of the E. Coli scare goes far beyond 5th grade classrooms -- it also hits the agriculture and food-service market in a big way as this article helps to explain. The economic impact could be felt for months according to the FDA, and even then, there's no guarantee that the source of the bacterial will be known.

Meanwhile, spinach is off limits until further notice. Stores are pulling it off shelves and restaurants are pulling it off menus. Too bad, because I now love spinach -- as long as it's not boiled.

Here's today's WaPo cartoon on the subject.


Monday, September 18, 2006

One Nation Under God?

THE REVIEWS ARE in for The Holy Vote: The Politics of Faith in America, the new book by Ray Suarez that examines the role of religion in American politics and foreign policy. I read the Washington Post review on Sunday in Book World, and you can read if for yourself here.

The publisher summarizes the book as follows:

the book 'examines the way Americans worship, how organized religion and politics intersect in America, and how this powerful collision is transforming the current and future American mind-set Not since the Civil War has the United States been so polarized -- politically and ideologically. But at the very heart of this fracture is a fascinating rig and paradoxical marriage between our country’s politics and religions.'

I welcome any comments from those who may have read the book already.

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Thursday, September 14, 2006

Primary Roundup (DC/MD edition)

SEPTEMBER 12 WAS a big day for a number of local politicians in DC and Maryland. Here's a quick look at the winners in the key races. To compare the results with my predictions on this site, read my post from last Monday.

District of Columbia Mayor: Adrian Fenty (photo right)
Maryland US Senate: Ben Cardin
Maryland House (8th District): Chris Van Hollen
Maryland House (4th District): Al Wynn
Maryland Governor: Martin O'Malley
Maryland Comptroller: Peter Franchot
Maryland Attorney General: Doug Gansler
Maryland State Senate (20th District): Jamie Raskin
Maryland House (20th District): Sheila Hixon, Tom Hucker, Heather Mizeur
Montgomery County Executive: Ike Leggett
Montgomery County Council (5th District): Valerie Ervin

While all the races will have an impact on local (and perhaps national) races, the stories that are of most interest seem to be the following:
  • Adrian Fenty will be DC's youngest mayor. He's 35! Good luck Mr. Fenty. [read WaPo story].
  • the end of an era for William Donald Schaefer, the former Baltimore mayor and Maryland governor lost for the first time in 51 years. [read WaPo story].
  • DC suburbs showing some muscle in state-wide races. For the first time since 1919, a Montgomery County candidate has won a state-wide election. And this year two candidates did it: Doug Gansler (Rockville) for Attorney General and Peter Franchot (Takoma Park) for Comptroller. [read WaPo story]
  • And Marc Fisher argues that voters shattered stereotypes and voted for candidates based on...gasp...qualifications and ability. An excerpt:
In one contest after another, blacks and whites alike convincingly trashed politicians' cynical belief that voters can be counted on to cast ballots along racial lines. In majority-black Washington, the exceedingly white at-large council member Phil Mendelson trounced vigorous opponent Scott Bolden, who told me on several occasions that it was time for blacks to take back a majority on the D.C. Council. Mendelson -- a charisma-free campaigner who makes Mayor Williams seem like Denzel Washington -- won in every ward of the city, and he won big, mainly because people of every stripe saw through Bolden's divisive rhetoric and arrogant manner.
On to the generals in November!

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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

What's Your Definition of 'Is'?

DID ANYONE CATCH President Bush's statement on torture last week? Andrew Sullivan did in his Daily Dish. Bush's statement reminds him of another famous statement by a sitting President. Look at them side by side:

I want to be absolutely clear with our people, and the world: The United States does not torture. It's against our laws, and it's against our values. I have not authorized it - and I will not authorize it. -George Bush, 2006
Now this from 1998:

I want to say one thing to the American people. I want you to listen to me. I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky. I never told anyone to lie, not a single time, never. These allegations are false and I need to go back to work for the American people." -- Bill Clinton, 1998
Semantic gymnastics, no? Aren't both statements semantic evasions to avoid what is probably a direct lie? It's amazing how similar these two statements are!

Here's Sullivan's take:
Each man is using a private dictionary to redefine a word otherwise clear to any other rational person. But the broader conclusion is obvious: Clinton lied about an extra-marital affair in a civil sexual harassment lawsuit. Bush is lying about one of the core features of a civilized and decent society in the middle of a vital war. The Republicans ridiculed Clinton for his linguistic somersaults - and even impeached him for it. They are mostly silent today. A telling contrast, I'd say.
Is Clinton guilty of having sexual relations with Lewinsky? Is the US guilty of torturing prisoners? Perhaps it depends on what your definition of 'is' is.

Monday, September 11, 2006

If It's Monday

IF IT'S MONDAY, it poll-release day over at WSJ/Zogby. Here are the latest in some of the key Senate races. All the following polls were released on Sept. 11.

WI-SEN WSJ/Zogby Kohl (D) 50.3%, Lorge (R) 35.3
WA=SEN WSJ/Zogby Cantwell (D) 50.2%, McGavick (R) 42%
VA-SEN WSJ/Zogby Webb (D) 50.4%, Allen (R) 42.9%
TX-SEN WSJ/Zogby Hutchinson (R) 47.8%, Radnofsky (D) 39%
TN-SEN WSJ/Zogby Corker (R) 45.3%, Ford (D) 42.6%
OH-SEN WSJ/Zogby Brown (D) 44.7%, DeWine (R) 40.7%
NY-SEN WSJ/Zogby Clinton (D) 57.2%, McFarland (R) 29.1%
NM-SEN WSJ/Zogby Bingaman (D) 58.6%, McCulloch (R) 32.7%
NJ-SEN WSJ/Zogby M enendez (D) 40.4%, Kean (R) 40.2%
MD-SEN WSJ/Zogby Cardin (D) 49.4%, Steele (R) 40.2%
MD-SEN WSJ/Zogby Mfume (D) 50%, Steele (R) 39%
FL-SEN WSJ/Zogby Nelson 51%, Harris (R) 32%
CT-SEN WSJ/Zogby Lieberman (CFL) 46%, Lamont (D) 42.1%
PA-SEN WSJ/Zogby Casey (D) 47%, Santorum (R) 42.9%

Several of these polls have seen significant movement in recent weeks. Most notable, I think, are the races in Virginia and Pennsylvania.

In VA, George Allen hasn't recovered from his bout with foot-in-mouth disease (will voters ever forget 'mecaca'?). Two months ago Allen was leading by double digits and thinking about a possible races for the White House. Now he finds himself trailing Webb in more than one poll. Allen's White House chances are now dead or almost dead (depending on who you talk to) and he's in real trouble in what should be a safe state for Republicans, considering the pro-military influence in the Hampton Roads area. But for the the first time in his political career, Allen is facing a pretty stiff head wind and we'll have to see how he handles it.

In Pennsylvania, Rick Santorum is actually in better shape than he was a couple of months ago, despite new polls showing him down by about 4-5 points. Santorum is desperately trying to hold on to his seat and is facing a lot of trouble at home because of his staunch support for POTUS (Santorum has a 97% 'pro-Bush' voting record -- highest percentage in the Senate). He is now trying to cast himself as an independent thinker (good luck) and is finding new ways to disagree with Bush. Several Washington insiders have written in recent weeks that Rove and Bush have given him permission to bash the Administration if it helps his chances in Nov. Casey, for his part, isn't buying it and is calling out Santorum on his recent view changes. But it looks like the Santorum tactic may be working -- two months ago Casey was leading by double digits.

As always, stay tuned.

Local Voting Guide

IF YOU DON'T live in Montgomery County, Maryland, you'll probably find no interest in this post. With primary day tomorrow (Sept. 12) I'm posting who I'm planning to vote for in several of the state and local races.

Maryland Senate: Ben Cardin
Maryland House (8th District): Chris Van Hollen
Maryland House (4th District): Donna Edwards
Maryland Governor: Martin O'Malley
Maryland Comptroller: Peter Franchot
Maryalnd Attorney General: Doug Gansler
Maryland State Senate (20th District): Ida Ruben or Jamie Raskin
Maryland House (20th District): Aaron Klein, Tom Hucker, Heather Mizeur
Montgomery County Executive: Steve Silverman
Montgomery County Council (5th District): Han Reimer

I am more passionate about some candidates than others.

And in an effort to reveal all bias that I may have, I should reveal that I have worked (unpaid) for the Van Hollen, Silverman, and Reimer campaigns this spring and summer.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Election Central

I HATE TO pimp TPM Cafe more than I already td, but they really do have a great section on their site called Election Central. All the newest polls and up to date info on the races that matter (like there's a race that doesn't matter!!).

Labor Day Note:

As usuual, I spent my Labor Day working the local parade routes with Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD). It's become a bit of a tradition in Maryland -- like much of the county, I imagine -- that Labor Day parades are more about politics than celebrating a day off. In the Kennsington (MD) parade on Monday there were no fewer than 21 political candidates participating in some way or another. State Delegate races, State Senate races, County Council races, Governor's race, US Stenate race, Congressional races, School Board, Attorney General, etc, etc, etc.

Is this what we now celbrate on Labor Day? Political Candidates?