Chavez Gets First Defeat

And an important defeat it is.

Humbled by his first electoral defeat ever, President Hugo Chavez said Monday he may have been too ambitious in asking voters to let him stand indefinitely for re-election and endorse a huge leap to a socialist state.

“I understand and accept that the proposal I made was quite profound and intense,” he said after voters narrowly rejected the sweeping constitutional reforms by 51 percent to 49 percent.

I will admit to being (pleasantly) surprised at the outcome. I thought that Chavez’s attempts at vote buying in the constitutional changes (more “free” money to the people) would clinch it for him. Apparently, enough people have had their eyes opened and saw what Chavez did with the power he already had and didn’t like it. I am a bit concerned, though, that this was a razor-thin margin of victory, and that simple turnout may have been the deciding factor. But it wasn’t the slam-dunk that other Chavez elections have been, so that is encouraging.

Chavez knows he overplayed his hand, and realizes he has to move more slowly. He’s even making nice to those he called “traitors” just days ago.

Chavez told reporters at the presidential palace that the outcome of Sunday’s balloting had taught him that “Venezuelan democracy is maturing.” His respect for the verdict, he asserted, proves he is a true democratic leader.

In a matter of days, these “traitors” have become proponents of a democracy that is “maturing”. Like the joke about the nature of diplomacy, sounds to me like he’s saying “Nice doggy” until he can find a rock to throw at it.

Some will no doubt point to this first defeat in years for Chavez and claim that democracy is alive and well in Venezuela. But if the ruling party in the United States were only to lose one election or, in this case, referendum in 10 years, people wouldn’t necessarily say the same thing, but that’s a double-standard the US lives with all the time. I won’t even begin to consider that democracy is still alive in Venezuela until the checks and balances that their Congress temporarily eliminated, letting Chavez rule by edict, expires.

[tags]Venezuela,Hugo Chavez,democracy[/tags]

Are the Primary Debates Necessary?

In the aftermath of Wednesday night’s CNN/You Tube debate debacle, one of the questions that should be asked is whether the primary debates are really necessary?

Yes, CNN bungled the debate. Given how they did during the last Democratic debate, hopes for a dramatic improvement when the Republicans took the stage were grossly misplaced.

Some would argue it was helpful for Republicans to be put on the spot to answer tough questions. While that may be true, Republicans generally face more adversarial questions from the MSM so I don’t know that the debate questions necessarily helped. It struck me that the focus of the debate became more about creating “gotcha” moments that the MSM could endlessly club the candidates with in the coming weeks.

The fact is that this year’s debates have been more like Presidential beauty contests than honest debates designed to bring out not only differences in policy positions between the candidates but reveal their character as well. Rather than focusing on clear policy differences (if there really are any) success in the debates comes down to who can come up with the best soundbite that can be replayed on talk shows and in news reports.

The debates also force voters to focus on who is most “electable” rather than vetting the candidates (think John Kerry in 2004).

As this year’s primary debates come to a close, both parties would be well advised to carefully examine what went wrong during this year’s debates and how they can improve them. It is the only time that Americans get to see their candidates without the benefit of media or campaign spin. Voters need to know who the candidates are and what they stand for. Based on this year’s debates, that’s hard for anyone to figure out.

Register Republican for Better Mental Health

OK, that’s a bit outlandish, but if you’re already Republican, Gallup suggests you are significantly better off mentally. (Well, at least you say you are.)

Republicans are significantly more likely than Democrats or independents to rate their mental health as excellent, according to data from the last four November Gallup Health and Healthcare polls. Fifty-eight percent of Republicans report having excellent mental health, compared to 43% of independents and 38% of Democrats.

And it’s not because Republicans are (supposedly) richer.

One could be quick to assume that these differences are based on the underlying demographic and socioeconomic patterns related to party identification in America today. A recent Gallup report (see “Strong Relationship Between Income and Mental Health” in Related Items) reviewed these mental health data more generally, and found that men, those with higher incomes, those with higher education levels, and whites are more likely than others to report excellent mental health. Some of these patterns describe characteristics of Republicans, of course.

But an analysis of the relationship between party identification and self-reported excellent mental health within various categories of age, gender, church attendance, income, education, and other variables shows that the basic pattern persists regardless of these characteristics. In other words, party identification appears to have an independent effect on mental health even when each of these is controlled for.

Now, as I’ve said many times in the past, I hate polls, especially ones where the respondents are asked about something that is outside their area of expertise. So I’m not sure how qualified most people are to gauge their mental health, but what this does tend to show is that Republican folks are generally more content with their lot, whatever lot it is.

This probably explains some of Arthur Brooks findings about how conservatives tend to be more charitable. Also note that according to Brooks, liberal-headed families make slightly more money on average that conservative-headed families, so it really isn’t a case of more money making you happy. And if you want to extend that correlation, religion is the single biggest predictor as to whether someone is charitable, and most of the religious are on the Right (hence the label). Someone might connect the dots to suggest that religion plays a positive role in mental health.

Or, perhaps, they already have.

[tags]mental health,religion,Republican,Democrat[/tags]

What Stifled Dissent Really Looks Like

Those who protest that civil liberties are being eroded or at least being chilled don’t know how good they have it. First, Hugo Chavez calls those who vote against his constitutional changes “traitors”, and now this.

The Kremlin is planning to rig the results of Russia’s parliamentary elections on Sunday by forcing millions of public sector workers across the country to vote, the Guardian has learned.

Local administration officials have called in thousands of staff on their day off in an attempt to engineer a massive and inflated victory for President Vladimir Putin and his United Russia party. Voters are being pressured to vote for United Russia or risk losing their jobs, their accommodation or bonuses, the Guardian has been told in numerous interviews with byudzhetniki (public sector workers), students and ordinary citizens.

Doctors, teachers, university deans, students and even workers at psychiatric clinics have been warned they have to vote. Failure to do so will entail serious consequences, they have been told.

Analysts say the pressure is designed to ensure a resounding win for the United Russia party and for Putin, who heads its party list. The victory would give him a public mandate to maintain ultimate power in the country as “National Leader” despite being unable to stand for a third term as president in March.

I love my civil liberties as much as the next guy, but when the hyperbole comes out against Bush, let’s just remember what real curtailing and threats look like. Fight for those civil liberties, but just keep your perspective.

[tags]Vladimir Putin,Russia,United Russia Party,dissent,civil liberty[/tags]

Teaching Media Evangelicalese

For almost 30 years my day job has included the challenge of introducing the work of the Christian community to media of all stripes. For many years, I could count on one hand (with fingers left over) the number of front page stories each year in major American newspapers on the good work and the impact of evangelicals. Dull days for evangelical public relations.

It became impossible to ignore the evangelicals in the 1980’s, and the amount of coverage of Christian leaders and activities has increased steadily since then. The role of evangelicals in the 2004 presidential election made us players, or so it seemed to media, and there is no shortage of attention.

The quality of coverage has improved, as well, although there is plenty to complain about, and most national reporters still have an adversarial relationship with people of potent Christian faith.

I’ve had a lot of interesting interaction with mainstream media over the last two years through my work with the Evangelical Climate Initiative. ECI has been espousing a position of concern for climate change, a position with which the MSM is almost entirely in sympathy–so the problem isn’t negative coverage. But there are concerns.

I wrote an op-ed that appeared in the Atlanta Journal Constitution about my concern that media and others are assuming that because many evangelicals are becoming more green that means they are becoming more liberal–which is not a direct correlation. Then a couple of weeks ago I was interviewed at length by Curtis Brainard, a reporter with Columbia Journalism Review. I’m quoted extensively in the article, titled Evangelicalese 101.

Here’s a sample:

Clearly, many disapprove of Bush’s war in Iraq and his reluctance to address climate change; their apprehension about the current selection of GOP presidential candidates is even more emphatic. It is far less certain, however, that the fissures in evangelical society are deep enough to cause a major political realignment.
It’s not that the press has misunderstood this situation, but journalists tend to use language that describes today’s “average” evangelical as more liberal or moving toward the left. Consider, for example, a headline that appeared in The Washington Post last August: “Warming Draws Evangelicals Into Environmentalist Fold.” This probably seems accurate to most Post readers, but many evangelicals do not like it, according to Jewell. Evangelicals don’t want to be part of the “environmentalist fold.” Instead, they want the press to describe the changes happening within their society as something organic and complex, rather than something passive and simple, like the adoption of liberal values.

Russia, Venezuela, and Global Warming: Catching Up

I’ve been on an extended Thanksgiving vacation, but I didn’t completely ignore the news. Here are some of the things I noted during the past week:

* Russia’s Vladimir Putin lashed out at the West for allegedly meddling in Russian politics. But he didn’t stop there.

He accused unidentified Russians of planning mass street protests, like those that helped usher in pro-Western governments in the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Ukraine in 2003 and 2004.

“Now, they’re going to take to the streets. They have learned from Western experts and have received some training in neighboring (ex- Soviet) republics. And now they are going to stage provocations here,” he said.

Putin seemed to refer to anti-Kremlin demonstrations planned for this weekend in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Police have used force to break up several marches and demonstrations, beating and detaining dozens of protesters.

Putin doesn’t seem to value democracy all that highly. Even if his vague charges are true, aren’t protests part of the process? Yes, even in the US we have problems when protests get out of hand, but read the whole article. It’s rather disconcerting.

* This weekend, the referendum in Venezuela will determine the fate of Hugo Chavez’s constitutional “reforms”. Recent polls show that support is coming up short, so Chavez is ratcheting up the rhetoric, calling those who vote against it “traitors”. An article on the liberal site AlterNet is predictably in favor of this power grab, and on a point-by-point basis makes its case for the reforms. The problem is the big picture, and how it matches up with autocrats from history. Chavez may be getting these changes by a popular vote, but he’s doing it by buying those votes. He grabs all the oil industry profits, and gives back a smidgeon to the people so that they’ll keep him in office, and give him the power to stay there a long, long time. Each thread of his proposal looks reasonable, but the tapestry is instead a straightjacket, woven by a paranoid nut.

* The whole idea of tying global warming to hurricane activity has been dealt another blow.

Despite alarming predictions, the U.S. came through a second straight hurricane season virtually unscathed, raising fears among emergency planners that they will be fighting public apathy and overconfidence when they warn people to prepare for next year.

I think those that are most fearful are the ones that made those “alarming predictions” in the first place. Their government funding is at stake, dontcha’ know?

[tags]Russia,Vladimir Putin,Venezuela,Hugo Chavez,global warming,climate change,hurricanes[/tags]

Character Still Counts

During the 2004 election, I wrote (here and here) that a candidate’s character should be a key factor in deciding who to vote for in an election. Four years later it’s still true: a candidate’s character should be carefully examined before deciding who to vote for.

Character is exactly why Hillary Clinton’s support is crumbling among Democrats and why Mike Huckabee’s support is rising among Republicans.

If you look at the positions of the candidates of each party, it’s easy to see they are fairly similar within their respective parties. Policies and voting records are certainly important to consider, but when it comes down to the final decision, it’s a candidate’s character that will matter most. When voters fail to consider a candidate’s character, they do so at their own (and ultimately) the country’s peril.

Hillary Clinton: Not So Inevitable

Critical articles of Senator and Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton are nothing new. On any given day, you can find a number of columns outlining all the reasons she is unfit to be President. I couldn’t agree more. But I don’t normally pay attention to such articles. I realize that most conservatives like myself have no intention of voting for her. But this article at Blogcritics caught my attention mostly because it came from one of her own supporters. I wonder if there are many of her other supporters who are now rethinking their position especially in light of these new polls?

My question to liberal voters is this: in light of her recent debate performance and the issues raised in this article are you still willing to support her in the upcoming election? I have the feeling that the nomination that was thought to be hers may not be so easy to obtain as the media has made it out to be.

Looking Towards the 2008 Election

Over the course of a 162 game baseball season, the best teams will lose about a third of the games they play. The Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians both had the best overall records during the regular season and both lost 66 games apiece. The worst teams will also manage to win about a third of their games. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays had the worst overall record in the major leagues this year and finished 30 games out of first place in their division and yet still managed to win 66 games. The key difference between being a World Series Champion and finishing in the basement is how the team does in the other third of their games.

Presidential politics is similar in that both the Republicans and Democrats manage to each get about 40-45% of the overall votes in a given election. Unless there is a viable third party candidate capable of siphoning off large amounts of votes from one or both parties (think Ross Perot in 1992) or someone who can alter the outcome in a key state or two (Ralph Nader in Florida in 2000) someone has to be able to capture the majority of the 10 to 20% of the votes that are routinely up for grabs. These are the so-called independent or “swing” votes because they do not consistently vote for a single party regardless of the candidate that party has put forward.

Already we see the dynamic of party politics at work. For many Democrats, it doesn’t matter who their nominee is as long as the Republicans are defeated. By the same token, the priority for Republicans is holding onto the White House and has less (at least at this stage) about who the nominee will be. When the Republican candidates started focusing on Hillary Clinton as the target of criticism rather than their fellow Republicans, it was clear that this dynamic was at work.

This begs the question of what it will take to win the 2008 election. What will be the issues that will decide who is victorious next November? In reviewing all the issues that have been discussed so far (and as Michael Barone points out a debate about issues has definitely been lacking to date) it seems to me that this election will boil down to three major areas of concern.

1. The Global War on Terror

According to the Democrats, the 2006 Congressional election was about changing the direction (i.e., withdrawing) in Iraq. But after no fewer than 40 attempts to cut off funding the war, Democrats have failed to change the course. Instead, the President changed the military strategy and as a result the situation is improving. But other threats such as Iran loom on the horizon. Americans seem to have a better understandng that this war is unlike any other that we have previously fought. In order to remain safe, we have to continue to remain on the offensive. Therefore, any President is going to have to have a coherent strategy for continuing to prosecute the war on terror beyond the stabilization of Iraq.

2. Immigration

As Hillary Clinton learned the hard way, immigration is a big issue. It goes hand-in-hand with the war on terrorism as we need to know who is in the country and why. It’s also a thorny issue as voters are becoming touchy about whether to offer government benefits and services to immigrants especially if they are here illegally. Neither party has fully developed a comprehensive position on immigration and this is one area where there is tremendous opportunity to appeal to swing voters.

3. The Role and Size of Government

This has been an area where the two parties have traditionally been able to stake out differences. But recent big spending by President Bush and the Republican Congress (when they were in charge 2000 to 2006) has made Republicans as much the party of big government as Democrats. But there are still a wide range of issues (taxes, climate change regulation and government role in health insurance, to name a few) that the parties have an opportunity to stake out positions on that will provide a sense of choice for voters. With the recent debates within Republican circles over federalism it is clear that they are still trying to map out a coherent vision of what the role of government should be.

It may not be until after the nominations are sown up that we start to see a real debate over issues. But don’t be surprised if these issues aren’t at the top of the candidates’ agendas by next summer.

Stem Cells Without Ethics Issues

As I’ve noted over and over and over again, adult stem cells are a win-win situation; they have amazing curative powers and have none of the ethical issues associated with embryonic ones. Well now, we hear of yet another source of stem cells that fit that category.

Scientists have made ordinary human skin cells take on the chameleon-like powers of embryonic stem cells, a startling breakthrough that might someday deliver the medical payoffs of embryo cloning without the controversy.

Laboratory teams on two continents report success in a pair of landmark papers released Tuesday. It’s a neck-and-neck finish to a race that made headlines five months ago, when scientists announced that the feat had been accomplished in mice.

The “direct reprogramming” technique avoids the swarm of ethical, political and practical obstacles that have stymied attempts to produce human stem cells by cloning embryos.

The fact that adult stem cells have been reprogrammed and used successfully isn’t mentioned in the article. You’d think the didn’t exist or were still very experimental by reading it. It’s unfortunate that these successes don’t get more play from the media, but then again, it’s a liberal media, and liberals have a fixation on embryonic experimentation, so that’s to be expected, claims of objectivity notwithstanding.

Still, it’s wonderful to hear the press acknowledging that there are indeed ethical considerations and that this new research could very well remove the need to wrestle with them. This kind of research is something we can all get behind, I believe, regardless of political and/or religious pursuasion.

There are still some issues to be worked out, notable the cancer risk, but this quote is incredibly promising.

“People didn’t know it would be this easy,” [James] Thomson [of the University of Wisconsin-Madison]said. “Thousands of labs in the United States can do this, basically tomorrow.”

Let’s hope so.

[tags]science,stem cells,cloning,direct reprogramming,ethics,morality,James Thomson,University of Wisconsin-Madison[/tags]

Hysteria Begets Cash

Given this statement…

“There was a tendency toward alarmism, and that fit perhaps a certain fundraising agenda.”

…what subject is it referring to? Global cooling in the 1970s? How about global warming of the 2000s? Don Sensing has a poll going about what people think this refers to. One of the seven is the right answer, but the statement applies just as easily to the other six. Alarmism spurs research grants, “carbon credits”, and all sort of cash transfers,so it’s no wonder that there’s a tendency to make things worse than they are.

In this case, the statement is referring to the AIDS epidemic. While there’s no doubt it is a scourge, the UN is revising it figures down; way down.

The United Nations’ top AIDS scientists plan to acknowledge this week that they have long overestimated both the size and the course of the epidemic, which they now believe has been slowing for nearly a decade, according to U.N. documents prepared for the announcement.

AIDS remains a devastating public health crisis in the most heavily affected areas of sub-Saharan Africa. But the far-reaching revisions amount to at least a partial acknowledgment of criticisms long leveled by outside researchers who disputed the U.N. portrayal of an ever-expanding global epidemic.

The latest estimates, due to be released publicly Tuesday, put the number of annual new HIV infections at 2.5 million, a cut of more than 40 percent from last year’s estimate, documents show. The worldwide total of people infected with HIV — estimated a year ago at nearly 40 million and rising — now will be reported as 33 million.

Having millions fewer people with a lethal contagious disease is good news. Some researchers, however, contend that persistent overestimates in the widely quoted U.N. reports have long skewed funding decisions and obscured potential lessons about how to slow the spread of HIV. Critics have also said that U.N. officials overstated the extent of the epidemic to help gather political and financial support for combating AIDS.

“There was a tendency toward alarmism, and that fit perhaps a certain fundraising agenda,” said Helen Epstein, author of “The Invisible Cure: Africa, the West, and the Fight Against AIDS.” “I hope these new numbers will help refocus the response in a more pragmatic way.”

But…but…I thought the scientific community didn’t work this way. If the science is settled, it’s settled, not bought. Right?


[tags]AIDS,global warming,United Nations,Helen Epstein[/tags]

Huckabee Says Abortion is a Federal Issue

Mike Huckabee, candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, says that states shouldn’t be given the chance to determine their own abortion views.

Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee rejects letting states decide whether to allow abortions, claiming the right to life is a moral issue not subject to multiple interpretations.

“It’s the logic of the Civil War,” Huckabee said Sunday, comparing abortion rights to slavery. “If morality is the point here, and if it’s right or wrong, not just a political question, then you can’t have 50 different versions of what’s right and what’s wrong.”

“For those of us for whom this is a moral question, you can’t simply have 50 different versions of what’s right,” he said in an interview on “Fox News Sunday.”

As much as I like Huckabee’s positions, I have to take issue with this. Government’s job is not to say what is right, but what is legal. Sometimes those two coincide, and sometimes they don’t.

I don’t believe that government should be the leading indicator of what’s right and wrong. It is very unfortunate that, for too many people, if it’s legal then it’s right. However, we can’t use that situation to then say that the government should pass laws against all that is immoral. This may sound funny to some, coming as it does from this evangelical Christian, but there are a couple of ideas at play here.

First is the idea that any set of rules made by men as to what is right and wrong is, by definition, going to be flawed. We can’t do it, and that’s taking on a job that God has exclusive rights to. Passing a low solely because it fits my moral code is, therefore, not a good idea. (Bear in mind that I’m emphasizing “solely”. We’ll come back to that.)

Second is the idea that my personal morality can inform what I want government to do. So based on my reading of the Bible, I may be against state-run gambling. My concern over taxing the foolish and government-sponsored co-dependence are moral stances, and they contribute to my opinion of laws regarding them. The Civil Rights laws of the 1960s were largely informed by a religious view of equality among people, equal in the sight of God. The laws were both morally right and a proper use of government in that they promoted liberty, equally, for all. For example, gambling promotes slavery to an addition.

So, while writing a pure moral code into a man-made document is doomed to fail, there is still a place for the Christian (and any religious person) in the creation of laws for the state or country. And while I appreciate Gov. Huckabee’s stance on the issue of abortion, I’m a little leery of him suggesting that the federal government should do it solely because it is right. That suggestion opens the door to abuses by more well-meaning politicians, and can result in less liberty as the government encroaches on the individual.

Now, having said all of that, I’m going to spin you in further circles and say that I do agree that the matter of abortion should be decided at the federal level. The reason is that protecting the right to life is a primary function of government, and without the right to life, no other rights can be enjoyed. Further, the Roe v Wade decision did nothing but muddy the waters as to what the Constitution really says about privacy. So yes, I think it should be overturned, and indeed I think abortion, as a matter of liberty, should be a matter of federal legislation.

But to do it because it is “right”, from a political standpoint, invites abuse. Government has a specific purpose and it should be used accordingly.

[tags]Mike Huckabee,abortion,gambling,church and state,morality,liberty[/tags]

You Cry Out

Thanksgiving is coming.  What are you thankful for?

That and other topics in this open thread.

Tipping Point in Iran

All that negotiation and all those harshly worded reports from the UN have brought us to this point.

Iran has installed 3,000 centrifuges for enriching uranium – enough to begin industrial-scale production of nuclear fuel and build a warhead within a year, the UN’s nuclear watchdog reported last night.

The report by Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), will intensify US and European pressure for tighter sanctions and increase speculation of a potential military conflict.

The installation of 3,000 fully-functioning centrifuges at Iran’s enrichment plant at Natanz is a “red line” drawn by the US across which Washington had said it would not let Iran pass. When spinning at full speed they are capable of producing sufficient weapons-grade uranium (enriched to over 90% purity) for a nuclear weapon within a year.

The IAEA says the uranium being produced is only fuel grade (enriched to 4%) but the confirmation that Iran has reached the 3,000 centrifuge benchmark brings closer a moment of truth for the Bush administration, when it will have to choose between taking military action or abandoning its red line, and accepting Iran’s technical mastery of uranium enrichment.

Those who wish to avoid war at any cost are seeing the fruits of their, er, labor. Given their behavior up to this point, why do we think they’ll change their minds after another resolution or IAEA report? If you want to complain that Bush is driving us to war, the reality of who is doing the driving may come as a surprise to you. Not that it should, but I’m sure it will.

[tags]Iran,Mohamed ElBaradei,United Nations,IAEA,International Atomic Energy Agency,Natanz[/tags]

Book Review: The Gospel & Personal Evangelism

If you ask the average Christian what it means to evangelize, who should evangelize or even why evangelize, you’re likely to get a wide range of answers that may or may not line up with what Scripture has to say. it’s a safe bet that many Christians don’t fully understand what evangelism is or what role they play in spreading the Gospel.

Thankfully, there is a terrific new resource available that will help churches, pastors, and individual Christians better understand what evangelism is all about. It is a new book by Mark Dever called The Gospel and Personal Evangelism.

In this slender volume, Dr. Mark Dever seeks to answer the most basic questions about evangelism that most Christians are likely to ask. His answers are clear, concise, and, most importantly, based on Scripture.

As I was reading this book I was both challenged and convicted as I realized that many of the assumptions I had made about evangelism were false. I also realized that my past efforts at evangelism simply didn’t match up to what Scripture requires. Dr. Dever methodically addresses our misconceptions and points us to the New Testament truths that will help us develop a lifestyle of evangelism.

The Gospel and Personal Evangelism is a tremendous resource. If you are a church leader or simply someone who wants to have a better grasp of what Scripture requires of you in evangelism, be sure to pick up this book.

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