Monday, March 31, 2008

The Nagging Problem of the Bottom Billion

Bono in Mali

Both Bono and I are interested in Africa, but Bono gets all the press. How is that fair?

Vast sums of money are spent trying to figure out why the people of that continent are so beset with poverty and oppression. One can simply resign oneself to the mess, saying "This is Africa," as Leonardo DiCaprio's character does in Blood Diamond (2006), but, as "God gives us all things richly to enjoy" (I Timothy 6:17), it must be on account of some sinful perversion of God's created order that these people are sitting on top of such wealth and yet in such want. The answer is not in the infusion of capital from the wealthy west (which was poor until we developed it). The answer is in Africa!

Paul Collier has written a book entitled The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It (Oxford, 2007). What we once called The Third World (neither the Soviet sphere nor the Western alliance), we have come to call The Developing World, and indeed much of it is doing just that. But of the world's 6.7 billion people (last I checked), there are a billion who appear to be inextricably stuck in poverty and generally in a manner of life unworthy of human dignity. Collier calls it "the fourteenth century: civil war, plague, ignorance." Collier reports that most of these people are concentrated in 58 countries, and 70% of those people are in Africa.

He identifies four "traps" that have these people ensnared:

1. The Conflict Trap (e.g. civil war, recent tribal conflict in Kenya comes to mind),

2. The Natural Resource Trap (over dependence on extracting and exporting these, typically mismanaged by a corrupt government),

3. Landlocked with Bad Neighbors, and

4. Bad Governance in a Small Country.

It strikes me that all of these seem to come down to bad government. But if Western governments put the slightest pressure on these dictators they cry "colonialism!" and all the people rally to them (as well as the American left, needless to say).

He rejects the aid-oriented solution advocated by Jeffrey Sachs (The End of Poverty, 2005) and Bill Gates. But he is not quite as opposed to it as William Easterly (The White Man's Burden, 2006). Aid is not a solution, but "a holding operation preventing things from falling apart." It is subject to a law of sharply diminishing returns. Collier actually suggests military intervention in what we have come to call "failed states," but I'm skeptical. Benevolent conquest is always tempting to well-meaning Americans, but for some reason the beneficiaries of our thumpin' good will never seen to recognize their blessings. Furthermore, it would require terror which only the resulting insurgents have the stomach to pull off. Beyond that, he suggests improving trade and various laws and charters for government to sign and honor.

Ah, yes. It all comes back to government. Why should these gangs of thugs called "governments" bind themselves to principles of justice? They need counterbalancing centers of power. Church. Economic interests. The small size of many of these countries is a problem for which James Madison has wise words in Federalist Paper #10. How do you trade with people who don't produce anything worth having? They won't produce anything without capital investment. No one will invest unless property is secure. If people can be sure of enjoying the fruit of their labors, they will labor.

The latest discussion of the merits of aid to Africa is in the City Journal (Winter 2008), "Hearts of Darkness: Trendy paternalism is keeping Africa in chains" by Michael Knox Beran.

You should also look at a recent New York Sun essay by Amity Shlaes ("One Flawed Gift," Feb. 28, 2008) author of The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression. Her point is, "The 2.3 trillion in aid America and allies have spent in Africa over a half century has been a counter-productive distraction from achieving stable growth."

A missionary to a particular African country who, unlike his suffering church, was recently released from prison and expelled from the country, recommended Martin Meredith's The Fate of Africa which, I am told, attributes much of Africa's problems to bad governance. That conclusion should be universally obvious. Sadly, it is not.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Relentlessly Forgiving Life

The Wall Street Journal recently devoted the middle editorial, "War and Forgiveness," to "the heroism and remarkable forgiveness of Jacob DeShazer, a bombardier on the famous Doolittle raid over Japan of April 18, 1942." This was the daring, national morale boosting bombing raid depicted in the movie Pearl Harbor (if that helps).

The Doolittle bombing raid was close to a suicide mission, a one-way trip to bring the war to the Japanese homeland for the first time. Coming not long after Pearl Harbor and before the Pacific island victories to come, the raid was a huge boost to domestic morale. Corporal DeShazer was one of five crewmen on Bat Out of Hell, a B-25 aircraft that took off from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet, dropped incendiary bombs over Nagoya, and then flew on to Japanese-occupied China, where the crew was forced to bail out.

DeShazer was taken prisoner, and was starved, beaten and tortured by his Japanese captors. For 34 of his 40 months in captivity, he was kept in solitary confinement. His pilot (Lieutenant William Farrow) and engineer-gunner (Sergeant Harold Spatz) were killed by firing squad. But DeShazer survived the war, was liberated after V-J Day in August 1945, and went on to get a degree in Biblical literature from Seattle Pacific College (now Seattle Pacific University). In 1948, he returned as a Christian missionary to the country that had nearly killed him, and he would continue his ministry in Japan for 30 years.

DeShazer died on March 15 at his home in Salem, Oregon, at age 95. It is one of life's safer bets that he is resting in peace.

In Forums, reader Kimble D. Stohry, Colonel, USAF (ret.) of Ellettsville, Indiana, tells us this:

Another Doolittle Raider, Robert Meder, had witnessed to DeShazer while they were pulling weeds one day in a Japanese POW camp in China. Meder later died in captivity. That short conversation (and the calm manner in which Meder had died) sparked an interest in DeShazer to read the Bible when he later received a Bible in prison camp; he devoured it. Coming to Romans 10:9-10, he read and then simply believed in what it said; and was saved. After the war, and seminary, Missionary DeShazer (supported by other Raiders) passed out a gospel tract [unbeknownst] to Mitsuo Fuchida in Japan. Fuchida, as a Japanese naval aviator, had led the attack on Pearl Harbor years earlier. Fuchida later believed and was saved. It's a small world in the Lord and this part got started with a simple conversation ‘while pulling weeds’.

Romans 10:9-10 reads (in the King James version, which he would have used): "That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation."

You can learn more about DeShazer at

Read Mitsuo Fuchida's 1953 account of his conversion to Christ by the ministry of his former enemy, DeShazer, here.

The Relentlessly Political Life

David Brooks's characterization of the "relentlessly political life" (Hillary Clinton's in particular, but it could be any number of others) struck me as useful to any student of politics:

For nearly 20 years, she has been encased in the apparatus of political celebrity. ...Think of the thousands of staged events, the tens of thousands of times she has pretended to be delighted to see someone she doesn’t know, the hundreds of thousands times she has recited empty clichés and exhortatory banalities, the millions of photos she has posed for in which she is supposed to appear empathetic or tough, the billions of politically opportune half-truths that have bounced around her head. No wonder the Clinton campaign feels impersonal.
Politicians aren't like us. They want us to think that they are, but they're not. They can't be. Democratic politics does things to office seekers and to offfice holders. Certainly there are exceptions, but there is no way of changing what they have to be and what they become on account of the democratic process. What the democratic citizen can do, however, is be aware of what is going on between vote seeker and voter, and be vigilant without becoming cynical.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Hal Riney, 1932-2008. Good job.

Hal Riney, one of the greatest American admen, has died of cancer at age 75. Read about him in the NYT obituary.

Politically, he gave us "It's Morning Again in America" for Ronald Reagan's re-election in 1984 as well as "A Bear in the Woods." Watch several fine political ads from Reagan-Bush '84 on

Obama Has Lost His Post-Racial Credibility

Am I being unfair to Barack Obama over the Philadelphia speech? He hasn't complained to me. Nonetheless, when I saw Bob Herbert's column in the New York Times, "With a Powerful Speech, Obama Offers a Challenge" (March 25, 2008), I saw a good opportunity for being corrected if I was being too crusty and partisan. Make me admire the speech and the man! I'm open to it. Really, I am.

Herbert sees the speech fundamentally as a call to stop the racial madness and move us toward, in Obama's words, "a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America." Obama stated the challenge this way: We have a choice. We can accept politics that breeds division and conflict and cynicism," or "we can come together and say, 'Not this time.' This time, we want to talk about..." and then he goes on to give the bleak picture of America that he always does. According to Herbert: "The great challenges this country continues to face...cannot be solved, Mr. Obama said, in an environment riven by divisiveness and hostility."

Well who can disagree with that? My problem is with the fellow speaking these words. He has no credibility with me. This is why.

What Herbert calls "an environment riven by divisiveness and hostility" is where Barack Obama has received his spiritual formation, which at Trinity United Church of Christ is indistinguishable from political training because their religion is a political religion and their gospel is a merely social gospel. Obama-skeptics continue to pick apart the speech, not out of racial animus, but out of suspicion that Obama is putting one over on us. He's a politician. There's a lot of power at stake. We've had bad experiences with politicians. Forgive me.

Herbert quotes from the 1968 speech Robert Kennedy gave from the back of a flatbed truck when he broke the news of Martin Luther King Jr's death to a largely black audience, and Herbert tries to use Kennedy's noble and stirring words to shame anyone who finds fault with Obama's speech instead of heeding the call to march with the candidate into a brave new post-racial world.

In this difficult time for the United Sates, it is perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in. For those of you who are black ... you can be filled with bitterness, with hatred and a desire for revenge. We can move in that direction as a country, in great polarization — black people amongst black, white people amongst white, filled with hatred toward one another. Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand and to comprehend, and to replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand with compassion and love.

Yet, what Kennedy warns his audience against--bitterness, hatred, polarization--is precisely what Obama's pastor and his church are all about, and Obama has chosen to remain in association with them all these years. It was only when he became serious about a presidential run that Obama agreed with Wright that they would have to put some distance between themselves. ("A Candidate, His Minister and the Search for Faith," New York Times, April 30 2007.)

The issue is not Barack Obama's decision this month not to break with his beloved mentor. That is what he defended in his speech. The issue is his decision of the last 20 years, a decision he made 20 years ago and has been affirming ever since, to embrace Jeremiah Wright's teachings and worldview. No one so affiliated and so trained is in a position to lead us in bridging what he calls the "chasm of misunderstanding."

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Trouble in Fairyland for Obama

There must be something going terribly wrong in the Obama campaign because even the New York Times has made the editorial choice of recognizing in print what other less smitten sources have seen for some time: the self-proclaimed post-partisan candidate, supposedly the Uniter of these United States is not himself post-partisan, but a hard-left liberal. ("Obama's Test: Can a Liberal Be a Unifier?" Mar. 25, 2008.)

At the core of Senator Barack Obama's presidential campaign is a promise that he can transcend the starkly red-and-blue politics of the last 15 years, end the partisan and ideological wars and build a new governing majority. To achieve the change the country wants, he says, “we need a leader who can finally move beyond the divisive politics of Washington and bring Democrats, independents and Republicans together to get things done.” But this promise leads, inevitably, to a question: Can such a majority be built and led by Mr. Obama, whose voting record was, by one ranking, the most liberal in the Senate last year?

Yes, there's trouble in fairyland.

In addition, how Obama can sustain any credibility under the withering prose of Christopher Hitchens is astonishing ("Blind Faith" in Slate, March 24, 2008). Consider how he (quite properly) characterizes Obama's reprehensible use of Grandma Dunham in The Speech.
You often hear it said, of some political or other opportunist, that he would sell his own grandmother if it would suit his interests. But you seldom, if ever, see this notorious transaction actually being performed, which is why I am slightly surprised that Obama got away with it so easily. (Yet why do I say I am surprised? He still gets away with absolutely everything.)

Well, perhaps less and less so. Good hearted European Americans have been joining good hearted African Americans in heeding Obama's call for a post-racial United States of America. But we can expect Obama's offensive and indefensible equation of his dear old grandmother's occasional candid moments with Jeremiah Wright's decades of racist rantings to cool the warm affections of White voters, even Democratic ones. There is "an inchoate resentment among many white voters who are damned if they will be called bigots by a man who associates with Jeremiah Wright."

Of course, Ole Hitch sees all this as evidence that "religion poisons everything." But he has it backwards. It is people who poison everything. People like him, Jeremiah Wright, me and you. The prophet Isaiah told Israel what is true of us all: "all our righteous acts are like filthy rags" (Isaiah 64:6). People poison religion, marriage, the life of the mind, little league baseball...everything. But Hitchens doesn't see this because, like the Chicago preacher whom he calls "wicked and stupid," he too is self-righteous. The remedy for the poison that flows from every human heart in one form or another is the grace of God in Jesus Christ who said, "In this world you will have tribulation. But take heart! I have overcome the world." In the face of a multi-thousand year human history of poisonous mutual destruction, what hope is there that either Christopher Hitchens or Barack Obama is going to "fix our souls" (to use Michelle Obama's words)? This requires a miracle. It requires an act of re-creation.

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." - II Corinthians 5:17

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

John Perkins' Gospel Response to Racism

Barack Obama excused the racism and black separationism of his pastor and spiritual mentor, Jeremiah Wright, on the basis of what Wright had observed and suffered in an earlier, segregationist, and overtly oppressive age. But one cannot invoke this excuse without adopting the whole victim culture that is preventing the black community and the Democratic party from embracing social remedies that hold out greater hope for reconciliation, prosperity and all manner of liberty.

The tragedy for our nation is that a gifted man like Barack Obama fell in with a character like Jeremiah Wright instead of with a truly great Christian leader and black leader like John Perkins.

I heard John Perkins speak at a Reformation and Revival Conference in 2003. It was an honor just to be in the same room with him. No stewing in victimization. No recriminations. And, let me add because it is spiritually telling, no culturally excused vulgarity. What I heard in his testimony and what has been confirmed in his life was suffering and a gracious, Biblical, Christ-like response to suffering.

His brother died in his arms, shot by a deputy marshall. He was beaten and tortured by the sheriff and state police. But through it all he returned good for evil, love for hate, progress for prejudice and brought hope to black and white alike. The story of John Perkins is no ordinary story. Rather, it is a gripping portrayal of what happens when faith [i.e. Christ] thrusts a person into the midst of a struggle against racism, oppression and injustice. It is about the costs of discipleship the jailings, the floggings, the despair, the sacrifice. And it is about the transforming work of faith [i.e. Christ] that allowed John to respond to such overwhelming indignities with miraculous compassion, vision and hope [editorial additions mine]. (

If you see all religion as at best just "religion" and at worst either self-delusion or mass deceit, mark this difference: In Jeremiah Wright, you see the religion of man. In John Perkins, you see the religion of the risen Christ. In Jeremiah Wright, you see the flesh. In John Perkins, you see the Spirit. In Jeremiah Wright, you see the religion that comes up from a sinful heart. In John Perkins, you see the religion that comes down from heaven and graciously transforms a sinful heart. In Jeremiah Wright you see a social gospel and a political religion. John Perkins's gospel is the gospel of the Biblical, risen Christ. It is the gospel of new birth to people hopelessly dead in sin. As such, it is profoundly more comprehensive and world transforming than a merely social gospel or political religion could ever hope to be.

The Acton Institute summarizes Perkins' 3-R approach to community development (relocation, reconciliation, redistribution [non-governmental]). These are the principles underlying the John M. Perkins Foundation for Reconciliation and Development.

He is best known for his book, Let Justice Roll Down, for Voice of Calvary Ministries, and for the Christian Community Development Association.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Sunday Reflection: Trust Not In Princes

We speak of John McCain's resurrected campaign and of Barack Obama's campaign of "hope" and we wonder if Hillary Clinton can come back from the dead politically.

But today we should remember not to put our trust in princes nor our hope in the sons of men, whether left or right, man or woman, black or white. There is one man who rose from the dead to bring hope to the world. If you pin your hopes on the political leaders of this world, you will be disappointed (and if the best of them are what they claim to be, they will humbly join me in that warning).

But Jesus--the Son of God, who was promised to Israel, born of a virgin, suffered hell on the cross for our sins, rose from the grave for our justification, ascended into heaven to reign with the Father, and is coming in glory to gather his people and to judge the earth--that Jesus will never disappoint you.

"Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12)

Friday, March 21, 2008

Obama's Old Whine in a New Whineskin

Many have remarked on the bizarre, even reprehensible equation Barack Obama drew in his Philadelphia speech between Jeremiah Wright on the one hand and both Geraldine Ferraro and Obama's grandmother on the other. Charles Krauthammer, for example.

Sure, says Obama, there's Wright, but at the other "end of the spectrum" there's Geraldine Ferraro, opponents of affirmative action and his own white grandmother, "who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe." But did she shout them in a crowded theater to incite, enrage and poison others?

"I can no more disown (Wright) than I can my white grandmother." What exactly was grandma's offense? Jesse Jackson himself once admitted to the fear he feels from the footsteps of black men on the street. And Harry Truman was known to use epithets for blacks and Jews in private, yet is revered for desegregating the armed forces and recognizing the first Jewish state since Jesus' time. He never spread racial hatred. Nor did grandma.

Yet Obama compares her to Wright. Does he not see the moral difference between the occasional private expression of the prejudices of one's time and the use of a public stage to spread racial lies and race hatred?
But there is another criticism that builds on previous observations that behind all this talk of bringing America together and getting beyond the old polarities is the same old big government, forget-liberty-and-collapse-in-my-big-strong-arms, nanny state liberalism.

Jonah Goldberg found the speech initially "thrilling," and listened with hope that, for a Democrat, Obama was going to set a new course. Then, "Sigh, Here we go again."

For all the wonderful rhetoric and tantalizing promise of Obama and his speech, there's not much that's new here. This was largely a restatement of Wright's indictment of America, delivered in University of Chicago parlance instead of South Side Chicago diatribe.

The old baggage has been replaced with shinier suitcases, but the contents are the same. Black America's problems can be solved by spending more money on the same old Great Society programs. Any talk about blacks' problems that takes the eyes off that prize is a "distraction." Yet again, white Americans can prove their commitment to racial justice by going along with more big government. My hope for something better proved too audacious in the end.

Krauthammer also touches on the new eloquence with which Obama packages the old complaints and the old destructive remedies. "This contextual analysis of Wright's venom, this extenuation of black hate speech as a product of white racism, is not new. It's the Jesse Jackson politics of racial grievance, expressed in Ivy League diction and Harvard Law nuance."

Krauthammer then declares our presumptive young emperor naked, and poses these devastating questions:
But Obama was supposed to be new. He flatters himself as a man of the future transcending the anger of the past as represented by his beloved pastor. Obama then waxes rhapsodic about the hope brought by the new consciousness of the young people in his campaign.
Then answer this, senator:

If Wright is a man of the past, why would you expose your children to his vitriolic divisiveness? This is a man who curses America and who proclaimed moral satisfaction in the deaths of 3,000 innocents at a time when their bodies were still being sought at Ground Zero. It is not just the older congregants who stand and cheer and roar in wild approval of Wright's rants, but young people as well.
Why did you give $22,500 just two years ago to a church run by a man of the past who infects the younger generation with precisely the racial attitudes and animus you say you have come unto us to transcend?

We have not heard the end of this. In a war, it is usually with aerial bombing and artillery that you soften up the enemy before you send the troops in to topple what's left. In this political battle, Hillary Clinton and John McCain are just watching The Self-Declared-Moral-Future jump up and down on his own land mines.

Hillary has one eye on Obama's self-destruction, and another on polls like this one from Rasmussen. "Nationally, Barack Obama now holds a statistically insignificant one-point advantage over Hillary Clinton, 45% to 44%. Before the story broke about his former Pastor, Obama led Clinton by eight percentage points."

For his part, McCain is seeing what Rich Galen is seeing:
According to the Gallup poll track, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is sitting on a five percentage point lead over Obama 48-43. This is in contrast to the Gallup measure on March 16 (two days before The Speech) when Obama had a two point lead over Clinton – 47-45.

What do polls in March mean for the general election in November? Sure, but keep this in mind:
Given the state of the economy, the fifth anniversary of the war in Iraq, the lack of any positive news for Republicans at the US House or Senate level and the constant claim of the popular press that Democrats are so much more energized than Republicans, how can this be?

Hillary and Barack should be beating McCain by 20 points.

Jeremiah Wright should be beating McCain by 15.

At some point the national political press corps is going to come to the realization that the prospect of a Democrat being sworn in as President on January 20th next year is becoming increasingly dim.

I'm upbeat. This is why I have said that Barack Obama is quite beatable. But for that very reason (grumpy, brittle conservatives!), it is vital that we beat him!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Obama's Speech and Deeds

People are swooning over Barack Obama's Philadelphia speech on his association with Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Today, Nicholas Kristof calls it "the best political speech since John Kennedy talked about his Catholicism in Houston in 1960. ... It was not a sound bite, but a symphony." Better than any of Reagan's speeches? Better than MLK?

This Wright association is bringing into focus a number of issues that have been nagging at those of us who have been untouched by the fog of enthusiam that has overcome many others who have been observing Obama's political advent. Put it together:

His wife, Michelle, who is out campaigning for him separately as though she were his running mate, says that she has never in all her adult life been proud of her country. In her view, America is a miserable, oppressive place--something like Eastern Europe under Soviet domination or South Africa under apartheid.

Barack seems to hold the same opinion, though he covers it over with positive rhetoric. Though he affirms the country's goodness, we all know that people who seek the highest office in the land have been known to package themselves suitably for the election and tell people what they want to hear. This was the Republican suspicion of Mitt Romney, whether justified or not. Ronald Reagan had a long history of speeches and deeds, and so no one suspected him of just putting on a patriotic face.

In Obama's campaign speeches, he talks about the grimy, oppressive, hopeless America for which his candidacy is our only hope. Thus, Michelle's new found civic pride. In "Obama At The Top" (Wall Street Journal, Feb. 14, 2008), Daniel Henninger describes Obama's view of today's America as "unremitting bleakness." That is also Jeremiah Wright's view.

Consider also that during the Iowa campaign, he stopped wearing the American flag pin--what he called "that pin"--choosing instead to show his patriotism by proposing policies for helpful change. Can't you do both? The link is to the video of his 32 second statement on the matter to ABC News.

Here we footage of several candidates at an Iowa event hosted by Sen. Tom Harkin. The national anthem is playing and everyone has his hand over his heart, including Hillary Clinton and John Edwards. But only Barack Obama refuses to put his hand over his heart while the Star Spangled Banner plays.

Jeremiah Wright had a profound effect on Obama's developing worldview. Jodi Kantor describes this in her April 30 2007 article in the New York Times, "A Candidate, His Minister and the Search for Faith."

He had sampled various faiths but adopted none until he met Mr. Wright, a dynamic pastor who preached Afrocentric theology, dabbled in radical politics and delivered music-and-profanity-spiked sermons. ... It is hard to imagine, though, how Mr. Obama can truly distance himself from Mr. Wright. The Christianity that Mr. Obama adopted at Trinity has infused not only his life, but also his campaign....He titled his second book, “The Audacity of Hope,” after one of Mr. Wright’s sermons....Mr. Obama was entranced by Mr. Wright, whose sermons fused analysis of the Bible with outrage at what he saw as the racism of everything from daily life in Chicago to American foreign policy.

She quotes his spiritual mentor as saying, “If Barack gets past the primary, he might have to publicly distance himself from me. I said it to Barack personally, and he said yeah, that might have to happen.”

Turning to the Philadelphia speech (the Obama website also has the text of the speech), first of all, I didn't think it was as good as people say. He was certainly no MLK in his delivery. The speech itself was too full of objectionable equivalences to to win over or placate any impartial observer. He equates the one remark by Geraldine Ferraro, a faithful liberal by any standard, with the decades of hateful, ranting paranoia by Jeremiah Wright. He even puts his dear grandmother, whom he tells the whole nation has been guilty of an occasional kitchen table stereotyping remark, on the same level as preacher Wright whose remarks have been loud, public, widely distributed, unrepentant and consistently voiced for decades. What's that? Hiding behind an old woman (his grandma, no less!) and letting her take the bullets? In addition, what he claims are isolated remarks ("views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation; that rightly offend white and black alike"), he continues to embrace the man himself who is inseparable from those views.

Michael Medved has a fine analysis of those odd equivalences in "Three Big Problems With Barack's Speech."

Shelby Steele, in "The Obama Bargain" (Wall Street Journal, March 18, 2008) questions just how post racial he can be with this church background. "How does one 'transcend' race in this church? The fact is that Barack Obama has fellow-traveled with a hate-filled, anti-American black nationalism all his adult life, failing to stand and challenge an ideology that would have no place for his own mother. And what portent of presidential judgment is it to have exposed his two daughters for their entire lives to what is, at the very least, a subtext of anti-white vitriol?"

With almost five weeks before the Pennsylvania primary, lots of time for America to ruminate over these things and digest the implications, Hillary Clinton must be smiling quietly. John McCain must be taking notes.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

What The Obamas Learned in Church

Michelle Obama stunned us with her bombshell statement in Wisconsin on February 19, though it was not the first time she expressed the sentiment.
What we have learned over this year is that hope is making a comeback. It is making a comeback. And let me tell you something -- for the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country. And not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change. And I have been desperate to see our country moving in that direction and just not feeling so alone in my frustration and disappointment. I've seen people who are hungry to be unified around some basic common issues, and it's made me proud.
We puzzled over how she could forget or dismiss all the good for which this country stands, the good that has happened in this country and happens every day, and that this country has brought to the nations of the world over that past 30 years, i.e. over the course of her "adult lifetime."

We have recently discovered the plausible source for these views, however: the America-hating, race-centered victimology-posing-as-theology that is the crowd pleasing demagoguery preached up at Obamas' church where they have been attending for twenty years--Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago.

Consider these fiery arrows let loose from the pulpit to a cheering and even back slapping congregation by the church's long time preacher, Jeremiah Wright. The video from which I draw these proclamations has itself drawn from sermons delivered on several different occasions. I offer these transcriptions largely without editorial comment, though I have arranged them thematically.

U.S. Imperialism and 9/11
  • "We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought back into out own front yard. America's chickens are comin' home to roost!"
  • "We cannot see how what he are doing is the same thing as al-Qaeda is doing under a different colored flag, calling on the name of a different God to sanction and approve our murder..."
Race and 9/11
  • "Yes, 9-11-01 happened to us. And so did slavery happen to us. Yes, the World Trade Center happened to us. And so did white supremacy happen to us. Yes, the Pentagon happened to us. And so did the Tuskegee Experiment happen to us. Yes, Shanklin Pennsylvania [he means Shanksville] happened to us. And so did the Sharpeville Massacre happen to us [actually to black South Africans in South Africa in 1960]. A government sponsored religiosity makes you suffer from amnesia."
  • "White America" he calls "US of KKKA."
  • "We believe God sanctioned the rape and robbery of an entire continent. We believe God ordained African slavery. We believe God makes Europeans superior to Africans and superior to everybody else."
  • "Black men turning on black men. That is fighting the wrong enemy. You both are the primary targets of an oppressive society that sees both of you as a dangerous threat."
  • "Oh, I am so glad that I got a God who knows what it is to be a poor black man in a country and a culture that is controlled by and run by rich white people."
  • "Barack Obama knows what it is like to be a black man living in a country controlled by rich white people."
  • " them drugs, build bigger prisons, passes a three strike law, and then wants us to sing "God Bless America?" No, no, no! Not God bless America...God damn America. That's in the Bible for killing innocent people. God damn America for treating her citizens as less than human. God damn America as long as she tries to act like she is God and she is supreme."
He Doesn't See the Irony...
  • "He taught me, Jesus did, how to love my enemies. Jesus taught me how to love the hell out of my enemies and not be reduced to their level of hatred and bigotry and small mindedness."
The Preacher Behind Obama’s "Change" and "Hope?"
  • "We have got to change the way we have been doing things as an arrogant, racist, military superpower."
  • "Hillary ain't never had her own people say she wadn't white enough! Jesus had his own people siding with the enemy! [Remember, Wright claims Jesus was black.] That's why I love Jesus, y'all. He never let their hatred dampen his hope." (Rich Lowry reports in "The Dishonesty of Hope" that the first sermon Barack Obama heard from Wright was entitled "The Audacity of Hope--later, the title of Obama's book--was a diatribe against "white folks' greed" and had a formative influence upon the young Obama.)
Notice that when describing America as "a country controlled by rich white people" he makes no distinction between rich white Republicans and rich white Democrats, between Republican and Democratic administrations or between Republican and Democratic controlled legislatures. Whether it's one or the other, it's all just the U S of KKKA.

In a separate video, Wright claims, in an especially vulgar reference to Monica Lewinsky, that President Bill Clinton betrayed the confidence of the black community. "Bill did us just like he did Monica Lewinsky." He then makes lewd gyrating motions and puffing sounds right there in the pulpit!

How many other black political leaders have been fed on this sort of rhetoric that passes for spiritual counsel? How many other black churches are preaching up this stuff? If we are concerned about the radical Muslim teachings at certain Mosques and madrassas, why should we not be concerned about this?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Obama's Religion and America

Barack Obama's understanding of Christianity has been fed for the last twenty years by a strange and controversial church. Perhaps you've seen videos of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the longtime preacher at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, spouting hatred for white people and for America. Sen. Obama claims that this happened so infrequently that he always missed it when he attended church.

But the church itself has a very strange theological foundation. It is a form of Marxism called "Black Liberation Theology." This is from the church's website, though the information there seems to change in response to media attention, as it did after Sean Hannity probed the issue on Fox's Hannity and Colmes. In his interview with Sean Hannity, Wright directly and explicitly associates his "black value system" with the "liberation theology movement" in Nicaragua "26, 28, 30 years ago," i.e. during the time of the Marxist revolution there.

The vision statement of Trinity United Church of Christ is based upon the systematized liberation theology that started in 1969 with the publication of Dr. James Cone’s book, Black Power and Black Theology. Black theology is one of the many theologies in the Americas that became popular during the liberation theology movement. They include Hispanic theology, Native American theology, Asian theology and Womanist theology. ... Black liberation theology defines Africans and African Americans as subjects – not the objects which colonizers and oppressors have consistently defined “others” as. ... To have a church whose theological perspective starts from the vantage point of Black liberation theology being its center, is not to say that African or African American people are superior to any one else [though in the second video clip linked above, Wright says they are]. ... African-centered thought, unlike Eurocentrism, does not assume superiority and look at everyone else as being inferior.
Wayne House, professor of theology at Faith Evangelical Seminary, in "An Investigation of Black Liberation Theology" (Bibliotheca Sacra, 139:554, April 1982), gives this summary of Black Liberation Theology:
The modern liberation movement often combines biblical liberation themes with Marxist ideology and methodology. Wolfhart Pannenberg (Lutheran), Jüren Moltmann (Reformed), and Johannes Metz (Roman Catholic) represent the theology of hope movement from which more radical political theologians such as Rubem A. Alves, James Cone (black theologian), and Camilo Torres (Roman Catholic), and Gustavo Gutiérrez have developed a theology of violent revolution. Pulling from Marxism more than from Scripture, they pursue a forceful overthrow of oppression and see this as God's method of working in the world today.
The Questions for Obama

It is harder for Obama to distance himself from this because, according to his pastor, it has been the clearly stated and operational theology of the church for the last 26 years. It would be like attending Jerry Falwell's Thomas Road Baptist Church for 20 years and being unaware of the church's emphasis on believer baptism and family values.

In light of this information, it is reasonable to ask: Behind all this "hope" rhetoric, is Barack Obama really a black separatist? Given the correspondence between Michelle Obama's evident hatred for America and that of the Obamas' preacher, Jeremiah Wright, does "hope" for "change" in Obama's rhetoric mean hope for America to go from presently despicable to something of Obama's making? Would that America be shaped more by the liberation theology of Gustavo Gutierrez than by the liberal constitutionalism of James Madison? What role does Black Liberation Theology play in his thinking?
Does Barack Obama believe, as his church apparently would, that James Madison and John Locke (the greatest theorists of the American political tradition), or Jonathan Edwards and John Calvin (the greatest theologians of the American religious tradition) were "Eurocentric" and thus racist? Is Barack Obama in a cult? (In addition to other troubling indicators, his church has honored Louis Farrakhan, a cult leader, with a lifetime achievement award.)

Of course, it would yield nothing simply to ask the likely Presidential candidate these questions. Answers must be culled from the record of his speeches and deeds. Get going, press corps!

Just below the surface of all the lovefest in the Obama campaign and all through Obama's record is a scary and bitter hard-left radicalism. His Sunday religious training explains a lot of it. The mainstream media didn't give any attention to Eliot Spitzer's demons until the crash came. They would do well to give serious attention to Obama's demons. Then if he wins, the people elected him with full knowledge of what they were getting.

Lastly, Mitt Romney came under a lot of scrutiny and criticism for his somewhat bizarre and cultish religion. But Mormonism is far more compatible with the best of the American political tradition that this stuff. If Mitt Romney got a hard time over his religion, Barack Obama should get at least double.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Obama's Sob Story

I bought some campaign buttons and a sign from the Obama people, so now they send me mailings. In the recent one, Obama responds to the charge that he is "eloquent but empty." In refutation of this charge, he offers three stories. One concerns a little old lady who wants change so badly that she mailed him a money order for $3.01 and a Scripture quote. Touching, you'll agree.

The other two are sob stories of people suffering in this nation of poverty and despair. (Obviously, he's entirely in agreement with his wife in being ashamed of our country.) What interests me about one of the stories in particular is that I have heard it before...more than once. I have seen only a few Democratic debates, but I have heard Obama tell this story twice, and now here it is again. Clearly, the campaign find that it strikes a chord with Democratic audiences. I' don't get it.

There's nothing empty about the call for affordable health care from the young woman who told me she spends the day in college, works a night shift, sleeps three hours and still can't pay her sister's medicine bills.

How does this involve the federal government? Her problem is not the government's failure to arrange affordable health coverage. Her problem stems partly from unwise decisions she is making. She is trying to do too much at once. If, for some reason, she is having to take care of his sister (who is presumably an invalid since she is unable to pay for her own medicine), she should not also be trying to study full time in college. These are decisions all of us face all the time.

Furthermore, where is the rest of the family? I know that the Democratic party believes that the nanny state should provide for all the benefits that family relationships (so unreliable) used to provide, but the rest of us still recognize that if there is a sister in need there are usually parents, grandparents or other relations who can step in and assist. If this woman's situation is so desolate and unusual that she is the only family to which this poor sick sister can turn (and there's no church to assist?), then she should certainly not be offered as justification for a massive new government entitlement.

But Barack Obama thinks that this story will win votes with the American people, that we will rise up in anger against the brutal system that allows people to find themselves in this situation, regardless of what choices they have made to get themselves there.

The Democrat Distinctive

This appeal--that Obama would make it and that the party faithful would buy it--illustrates an important difference between the two parties. Democrats believe instinctively that if there is any human suffering, it is the proper responsibility of the federal government (not just any level of government, mind you) to provide a remedy. Neither families, nor markets nor voluntary associations can be trusted to provide an adequate remedy. They are all either too selfish to address the matter honestly, or either insufficiently committed or inadequately equipped to follow through on the task. Only the public authority can be trusted, and they trust public authority without question. It is by definition public spirited, and it's adequacy for the task is only a matter of funding.

Consider the panic with which Democrats react when Republicans suggest letting young workers invest some of their social security money in the stock market. "Risk!," they cry. If people invest their own money, they'll lose it. But you can trust the government. Never mind that the whole system is on the verge of bankruptcy. Even if it only a few people who might blow their nest egg (unlikely), Democrats see that as justifying centralized government control of the entire system for everyone.

Consider also what a conversation stopper is any suggestion that a consumer driven health care system might be the best way to serve the public. They draw in voters with the rhetoric of choice, only then subtly to maneuver the system into a single payer, government run system. Never mind that the existing government run systems, Medicare and Medicaid, are vastly expensive and which, if universalized, would bankrupt the country.

For the Democratic party, facts from experience are irrelevant. Democrats are driven exclusively by moral sentiments uninformed by practical considerations. It is their fierce egalitarianism. Better everyone a slave than that anyone is ruined by the imprudent exercise of liberty. Better that everyone is equally poor than that anyone is left behind while others prosper. This approach has kept them out of the White House since 1968. The exceptions were Jimmy Carter (1977-81) who squeaked in on account of Watergate and Ford's pardon of Nixon, and Bill Clinton (1993-2001) who ran as a "New Democrat" in opposition to these ideological excesses.

The Republican Opportunity

Far from being the great uniter of these United States of America, Barack Obama would be perhaps the most statist liberal candidate for president we have seen in almost half a century. John McCain shouldn't have a problem playing that angle all the way to the White House.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Truth That Transforms

Ravi Zacharias once compared philosophy and the gospel this way:

The greatest difference between Jesus Christ and moral and ethical teachers, who have been deified by men, is that these moralists came to make bad men good; Jesus came to make dead men live.
Ravi's words remind me of what Augustine said in "On True Religion."
If Plato and the rest of them, in whose names men glory, were to come to life again and find the churches full and the temples empty, and that the human race was being called away from desire for temporal and transient goods to spiritual and intelligible goods and to the hope of eternal life, and was actually giving its attention to these things, they would perhaps say (if they really were the men they are said to have been): That is what we did not dare to preach to the people. We preferred to yield to popular custom rather than to bring the people over to our way of thinking and living.

In other words, Plato and his philosophical circle did not even attempt on a wide scale to make bad men good. It was not in the nature of "the many" to be susceptible to arguments for virtue, much less for the love of what is intelligible and unseen. Augustine, himself philosophically learned, pours contempt on philosophy in comparison to Christianity because of its impotence. Philosophy, for all its boasts and ambition, has no power to transform people. If human vice, dare I say evil, were simply a matter of the uninformed intellect, then moral philosophy and public education would be sufficient for the progress and perfection of the human race. But you cannot simply argue someone into virtue, nor into the Kingdom of God.

Thus, those who are skeptical of Christ, and of the heart transforming power of his grace, will ask:

1. Do I need to be transformed? The issue here is, at its root, not education but repentance.

2. Does anyone need to be transformed? The issue here is the view of human nature, which is rooted in the view of oneself, which is at root the matter of repentance.

3. Can anyone be transformed? At issue here is the resurrection.

4. Has anyone been transformed? This is the question of the spiritual power of repentance in Christians, the resurrection life of Christ in Christians. Is Christ indeed risen and does he bring the dead to life with him?

Consider these questions--Christians and skeptics both--as you approach Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

What Spitzer Teaches Us

In view of the Spitzer drama, let me add to the lessons that others have shared a few of my own.

The Moral Compass Lesson:

"I have acted in a way that...violates my, or any, sense of right and wrong." When you are handling lots of power, or if you simply have an ambition to handle what you think is a lot of power, you need more than just a vague, ill-defined "sense of right and wrong." You need specifically delineated moral principles. And they cannot be of your own making, because those are too easily recrafted for moral convenience. They must come from outside of you and above you. They must precede you, and must be sure that they will outlive you. They must be such that you live in reverence for them down to marrow of your bones.

The Congeniality Lesson:

It pay to be nice in politics. "Steamrollers" can accomplish only so much in a democratic government with multiple centers of power. Bill Clinton survived his Monica Lewinsky scandal partly because he had charm, he was up in the polls, and he had good standing within his party. Eliot Spitzer, by contrast, we thought on both sides of the aisle to be arrogant and obnoxious, had made himself enemies even within his own party and had slid swiftly from a 70% electoral victory to a 30% approval level. No one came running to his defense.

The Improbability Lesson:

Anything can happen in politics. George Bush was very popular after the first Gulf War to the point that Mario Cuomo, the Democratic favorite, declined to run against him. He overcalculated the predictability of politics. The events of 9/11 changed George W. Bush and his presidency in ways no one could have foreseen. In the spring of 2007, Barack Obama seemed to be running for the office of vice-president...then whoosh! Who would have thought that Gov. Steamroller would suddenly stop dead in his tracks instead of going on to run for President?

The Character Lesson:

The is not the same as The Moral Lesson. It pertains to what ancients called "the soul" but which we would call character. It is striking how everyone simply stood in awe of this man, 70% of us approving him to lead us as Governor. (I say everyone, but of course there were critical voices.) Now that he has crashed so spectacularly, everyone is coming forth with wise observations on his tragic character, on his type of soul that is so ill-suited to healthy political leadership. His prosecution of Wall Street barons is now widely observed to have been excessive, unmerciful, self-serving. (Read Amity Shlaes, "Spitzer's Apologies," New York Sun, March 12, 2008.) Perhaps this is training in the art of spotting these characters before we elect them. We will see if the critics of Gov. Spitzer who have recently emerged will apply this lesson to the candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination. (The Republican decision has been made, but we can still reflect

The Rule of Law Lesson:

It is heart warming to see, at least in the essays I have read, the call judicious restraint in dealing with this man at the bar of justice. I have been seeing respect for the rule of law that comes out of the British legal political tradition and a call to resist the temptation to return evil for evil, a concern for conscientious justice that comes out of the Christian tradition. In yesterday's Wall Street Journal, an editorial entitled "The Spitzer Rules" offered these wise words:

These columns have noted that there would be a certain rough justice in Mr. Spitzer, the Governor, being treated in the way that Attorney General Spitzer had treated his targets over the years. Nevertheless, in our system of justice, prosecutors enjoy broad discretion, and that discretion must be wielded wisely. ... It is tempting to argue that Mr. Spitzer deserves the Spitzer treatment more than many of those he made targets while a prosecutor. That may well be true in the sense that many of his victims were innocent. But the proper exercise of prosecutorial discretion dictates that the power of the state not be wielded merely to settle a grudge. Mr. Spitzer never learned that while in office, but playing by his unrestrained rules is not the same as seeing justice done.

Amity Shlaes ended on the same note in her article. "The best revenge for those on the receiving end of Mr. Spitzer's attacks is to avoid descending to his level. Even Mr. Spitzer's most-damaged targets will find odd comfort in watching him get a deliberate and fair hearing, and measured jurisprudence if it comes to that. May the law accord to him what he denied to others."

It is good see a public discussion about the nature of justice, judiciousness, and equity. The Lord brings good out of evil, and shows his mercy where we least expect to find it.


John Fund in "Eliot the Enforcer" points to Spitzer's "arbitrary use of power" and points to the "warning signs" we should have seen -- signs that liberals chose not to see because he taps into themes that tickled their ears. "Mr. Spitzer cloaked his naked devaluation of the rule of law with gauzy rhetoric that was perfectly pitched to make many liberals ignore his strong-arm tactics." In his Lyceum address, Abraham Lincoln warned us against men of ambition, Napoleons, who would not be content to build on another's foundation. For his part, Fund also alerts us to be cautious against men (or women, of course) of unconstitutional ambition.
An enduring lesson of the Spitzer meltdown should be that crusaders of all types who operate outside the rule books themselves merit a gimlet eye of scrutiny. An enduringly popular symbol in our culture is the man on the white horse who comes to clean up the town and purge it of its errant ways. But in the harsh reality of politics, for every selfless Lone Ranger who arrives on his trusty steed and does good, there are many more budding Napoleons who harshly impose their will -- and fall prey to vices they pledged to root out.

Kimberley Strassel takes the press corps to task in "Spitzer's Media Enablers." Disgraceful. But they never seem to learn.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Eliot Spitzer and His Kind of Democrat

Eliot Spitzer illustrates the special relationship that Democrats have with power.

It is no secret that politics attracts people who seek power. As bank robber Willie Sutton once said, "I rob banks because that's where the money is." Politics is where the power is. But the most obsessively power hungry politicians tend, in my observation, to be Democrats.

Here, in God's providence, we have Hillary Clinton and Eliot Spitzer sharing the stage of history at the same time. Both have been climbing their way to the highest office, destroying whomever it was necessary to destroy along the way, and both are devoted to big government liberalism. It should not surprise anyone that the party that stands for the maximization of government power (albeit within the bounds of constitutional democracy--am I being generous?) is also the party that attracts the most power hungry of political people.
Eliot Spitzer drank deeply of that power and he was intensely aware of his powerful ability to knock people out of his way or cast them under his feet...even people who were very powerful in their own right such as wealthy Wall Street executives and major corporations. His reckless indiscretions and violations of the very laws he aggressively prosecuted others for breaking was an exultation in what he thought (perhaps just felt) was his invincibility.

Bear in mind that this man wanted to be President of the United States. Because of the unhealthy relationship that Democrats have with political power, we need to be especially careful when we consider giving one of them federal executive authority.
In light of the fireworks to which the Democratic Governor of New York has treated us, Hillary Clinton's ferocious bid for the presidency comes naturally to mind. But Barack Obama is no less committed to government control of the economy and of everything that moves. Of course, I have no doubt that he is faithful to his wife. But I am equally certain that he has a reckless disregard for our constitutional understanding of liberty.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Democrats the Party of Aristocracy

British House of Lords, 1893

Though the Democratic Party has made use of superdelegates at its presidential nominating conventions since 1984, it is only now, in this unusually tight race for the presidential nomination between an unusually powerful woman and an African American of unusually broad appeal, that the character of the system is drawing public attention. This is quite embarrassing because, true to their name, the Democrats claim to be the more democratic of the two parties. Hence, unlike those elitist Republicans, the Democrats award delegates on a proportional basis so as to reflect the will of the people more accurately.

But then there are these "superdelegates." How does that feature enhance democracy? Well, it doesn't, if democracy strictly speaking is what you want. In 1982, The Hunt Commission sought to blunt the disproportionate influence of the highly ideological, activist wing of the party in the nominating process, having in mind the 1972 defeat under leftist George McGovern and the crippling effect of Ted Kennedy's challenge to Jimmy Carter in 1980. Superdelegates--elected and party officials--were expected to represent the more considered and seasoned view within the party and exercise a moderating influence. For a brief summary of the matter, see Thomas E. Mann and Norman Ornstein, "Delegates of Steel," New York Times, Feb. 15, 2008.

The embarrassment is that the self-consciously more democratic and supposedly more egalitarian party distrusts the democratic process in its own presidential nominating system. The "people" too often choose foolishly. So the superdelegate feature provides what is essentially a House of Lords for the review of decisions made by the all too often ignorant and passionate rabble at the grassroots level. It is telling that the percentage of the total number of delegates has grown from 14% to 20% as party insiders have crowded their way into this privileged position.

The key word is privilege. Geraldine Ferraro, for example, has a lifetime peerage when it comes to selecting the Democratic nominee. So Hillary Clinton has two parallel campaigns going at once. One is pitched at "the people" and the other addresses "the peers." So, fearing that she will come up short in the popular vote, she looks to the lords and ladies of the party to put her over the top on the basis of her supposedly greater electability and then re-electability (she is more likely to govern successfully), though ordinary Democrats have failed to recognize this in sufficient numbers.

But of course this system is more true to the actual character of the Democratic party which is instinctively paternalistic. Their health care proposals are an example of this. People cannot be trusted to make their own choices in health care, so the best solution is a centralized, government run system, or a deceptively choice based system that gets us to the single payer system as quickly as possible. They opposed the privatization of Social Security for the same reason. Washington has prevent people from losing all their retirement savings in the stock market. (Again, they're stuck back in 1936. I see this repeatedly.)

Perhaps the Democratic Party should rename itself Aristocratic Party. Although after a century in which so many totalitarian governments have called themselves "democratic," the word may be sufficiently meaningless now that all this "embarrassment" is just in my imagination.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Lighting Up Africa

If you are interested in global economic inequity, this picture from a recent article in The Economist might strike you as it struck me. The article begins:

Seen from space, Africa at night is unlit—as dark as all-but empty Siberia. With nearly 1 billion people, Africa accounts for over a sixth of the world's population, but generates only 4% of global electricity. Three-quarters of that is used by South Africa, Egypt and the other countries along the north African littoral.

Only 17 of Nigeria's 79 power stations are working. Yet Nigeria is an oil exporting country.

Only 6% of Congolese have access to electricity. Yet the mighty Congo River has the potential to produce 39,000MW of electricity by environmentally clean hydro power. That would require capital investment, however, and it seems that neither country that goes by the name Congo (yes, there's two of them now--one on either side of the river) has a good reputation for protecting investments.

These cases are typical. Yet ever more people are leaving the villages for the cities, adding to the strain. (The Economist writer reported several power outages in the course of writing his story in Dar Es Salaam.)

So is anything good happening?
Lilliputian windmills, water mills, solar panels and biomass furnaces could have a big collective impact.

Talk of the mass production of biofuels in Africa is premature, but advances have been made. Some investors are backing jatropha, a plant whose seeds produce an oil for burning in generators. There is also an effort to tap geothermal energy. The Great Rift Valley, from Eritrea to Mozambique, could produce 7,000MW. Kenya hopes to get 20% of its energy from geothermal sources by 2017.

Engineers think they can also use the steady winds in Africa's mountain ranges for power production. And if the costs of using the sun's warmth can be reduced to 30% below its present cost, vast solar farms could offer cheap, clean energy for African cities and in doing so boost incomes in rural areas. Egypt, which relies mostly on natural gas, is looking hard at solar power.
The World Bank has undertaken an initiative called Lighting Africa. We'll see how much of that is either frustrated or pillaged by local governments. Perhaps there will be some residual good.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Beating Obama Easy...and Vital!

As Hillary fades (is she?), and Barack Obama becomes more certainly the presumptive nominee, the press, always needing something new to say, will turn an increasingly critical eye toward Obama's past record and his future proposals. As this happens, Americans will come to see what those who are sober have been seeing all along: Barack Obama is vulnerable not only on account of his foreign policy commitments but also his domestic policies. Consider these recent stories.

Michael Gerson, President Bush's former speech writer, imagines "Obama's First 100 Days" (New York Sun, Mar. 6, 2008) in the Oval Office. He takes Obama's publicly stated intentions, projects the predictable responses from our friends and enemies abroad and presents the resulting mess. He concludes with this:

Mr. Obama's 100-day agenda would be designed, in part, to improve America's global image. But there is something worse than being unpopular in the world — and that is being a pleading, panting joke. By simultaneously embracing appeasement, protectionism, and retreat, President Obama would manage to make Jimmy Carter look like Teddy Roosevelt. Which is why President Obama would probably not take these actions — at least in the form he has pledged. Sitting behind the resolute desk is a sobering experience that makes foolish campaign promises seem suddenly less binding. But it is a bad sign for a candidate when the best we can hope is for him to violate his commitments. And that's a good sign for John McCain.

It is not difficult to point these things out in the national campaign and in such a way that is easy to understand and suitably frightening to sensible people.

Peter Wehner, former Bush deputy assistant and now at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, shows in "Al-Qaeda Is Losing the War of Minds" (Financial Times, Mar. 5, 2008) that we are not only defeating al-Qaeda militarily in Iraq but also politically (should we press it deeper and say "socially"?) across the Muslim world. He cites "prominent voices within the jihadist movement" condemning bin Laden and al-Qaeda. These include Sayyid Imam al-Sharif who was once al-Zawahiri's mentor, Sheikh Abd Al-‘Aziz bin Abdallah Aal Al-Sheikh who is the highest religious authority in Saudi Arabia, and Sheikh Salman al-Awdah a prominent Saudi cleric for whom bib Laden has had very high praise in the past. To this he adds the so-called Anbar Awakening which has led to "Iraqis en masse siding with America, the “infidel” and a western “occupying power,” to defeat Islamic militants."

The campaign question is: Why won't the Democratic candidate for President do the same? Barack Obama doesn't see this this success and refuses to acknowledge it, but polls show that most voting Americans are seeing it and are feeling more hopeful about Iraq and about what came come out of it...speaking of hope.

On the domestic front, John Fund has a characteristically fine article ("Obama and Chicago Mores," WSJ, Mar. 3, 2008) on the emerging Obama-Rezko scandal involving campaign fund raising and a corrupt land deal. He provides indications of many sewer lids ready to be cracked open. Jay Stewart, the executive director of the Chicago Better Government Association, summed it up when he told ABC "We [in Chicago] have a sick political culture, and that's the environment Barack Obama came from." You don't emerge from that as clean as Obama boasts of being. At the moment, McCain has the luxury of letting others dig up the dirt, but it seems that it might be thick and capable of providing dirty but publicly useful work right up to November.

Then of course there is health care, a subject that is as useful for the Republicans now as it was in 1993, but this time only if they wholeheartedly embrace and clearly advocate the consumer-driven alternative that is all worked out and freely available. On that, see my earlier summary of the issue, "Hope for the Health Care Mess."

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Friend of Western Civ Speaks Up

Western Civilization still has its friends...yes, even at home. It may still be the fashion in many of our major universities and in some of our colleges to view Western Civilization not as a heritage to receive but as an evil to be overcome. But in this land of the free there is thankfully still a vigorous defense not only of its legitimacy, but of its moral superiority.

In the recent issue of City Journal, Ibn Warraq responds to Tariq Ramadan with this short but stirring and spirited argument for, "Why we should not be reluctant to assert the superiority of Western values" ("Why the West Is Best," City Journal, Winter 2008). This just a taste. You should read the whole thing (835 words).

A culture that gave the world the novel; the music of Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert; and the paintings of Michelangelo, da Vinci, and Rembrandt does not need lessons from societies whose idea of heaven, peopled with female virgins, resembles a cosmic brothel. Nor does the West need lectures on the superior virtue of societies in which women are kept in subjection under sharia, endure genital mutilation, are stoned to death for alleged adultery, and are married off against their will at the age of nine; societies that deny the rights of supposedly lower castes; societies that execute homosexuals and apostates. The West has no use for sanctimonious homilies from societies that cannot provide clean drinking water or sewage systems, that make no provisions for the handicapped, and that leave 40 to 50 percent of their citizens illiterate.

Ibn Warraq is a secularist scholar of Islam and the Koran born on the Indian subcontinent and educated in the West. It is no surprise, therefore, that he must write under a pseudonym. That's life when you want to speak freely about the so-called "religion of peace." Among his books are Why I Am Not a Muslim (1995), The Origins of the Koran (1998), and Quest for the Historical Muhammad, (2000). He is the founder of the Institute for the Secularisation of Islamic Society and is a senior fellow at the Center for Inquiry.

Another heroic defender of Western liberty against the creeping advance of stifling Islamic social control is Dutch lawmaker, Geert Wilders of the PVV (the small Party for Freedom). He has made a 15-minute film, Forbidden (in Dutch, Fitna), which is provocatively critical of Islam. As a consequence, Muslims are beside themselves with rage, Pakistan restricted access to to YouTube last week, and the Dutch government is trying to persuade Wilders to abandon the film. Essentially, let's adopt elements of tyrannical political culture for the sake of improving relations with tyrannical governments and societies.

Watch the trailer for Forbidden on the recklessly irresponsible YouTube.

The Canadian Press story, "Backlash begins even before Dutch legislator's anti-Qur'an film airs," reminds us that Dutch filmmaker, Theo van Gogh, was murdered in 2004 "by an Islamic radical enraged by his short film, "Submission," a fictional study of abused Muslim women with scenes of near-naked women with Qur'anic texts engraved on their flesh." Watch part of the film that earned him death. It doesn't take much. Charles Krauthammer gives a vivid picture of what is at stake in these conflicts:
Last Nov. 2 [2004], Theo van Gogh, Dutch filmmaker and descendant of the painter, was cycling through Amsterdam. He was accosted by Mohammed Bouyeri, who shot him six times as Van Gogh pleaded ``We can still talk about it! Don't do it!'' Bouyeri then cut his throat with a kitchen knife, severing his head all the way to his spine. Bouyeri was not done. He then took a five-page Islamist manifesto and with his knife impaled it on van Gogh's chest. On trial now in Holland, Bouyeri is unrepentant. In court he turned to van Gogh's grieving mother, and with infinite cruelty said to her, "I do not feel your pain.'' ("Europe's Native-born Enemy," Washington Post, July 15, 2005)

There is natural human tendency toward tyranny and slavish submission to it. For that reason, "eternal vigilance is the price of liberty"--understanding it, fierce attachment to it, and then courage and sacrifice.

Monday, March 3, 2008

President of a Disappearing Russia

The Russians have elected Dmitri Medvedev as their new president on the friendly advice of the (sort of) outgoing Vladimir Putin. If there have been themes in the Putin presidency they would be kleptocracy, (quietly) re-establishing the KGB and restoring the greatness of Russia. Partly on account of rising oil prices and partly through diplomatic obstinacy, Putin is widely credited with returning Russia to the position of major international player. But this illusion cannot be maintain given the alarming trend of Russian demographics over the last 15 years.


After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the population of Russia went into remarkable decline. In 2000, President Putin made it a priority to reverse this trend but on it goes. First a growing economy need a growing population. A shrinking population portends economic implosion. Furthermore, a shrinking economy is symptomatic of deeper and profoundly distressing problems.

In 2000, the BBC reported that "Drug use, alcoholism and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are leading reasons for the decline, said Murray Feshbach, a senior scholar at the Smithsonian Institution's Woodrow Wilson Center....About 15% of Russian couples are infertile, he said. And as many as 75% of women experience serious medical problems during pregnancy." In 1999, the fertility rate was 1.17. The replacement rate simply for a stable population is 2.5.

Feshbach said that STDs are a big part of the problem. "'There's syphilis, gonorrhoea, chlamydia, HIV/Aids, prostitution,' he said. He estimates that there are between 450,000 and 500,000 cases of syphilis in Russia, out of a population of 145 million." He also remarked that these diseases affect the health of those who are born, and thus their ability to function (he said their "quality," but we know what he means).

Life expectancy for a man in Russia is 59, and for a woman it is 72. Alcoholism continues to be a huge problem. In 1999, the United Nations Human Development Report ranked Russia 72nd of the 174 countries surveyed.

Unless they can stabilize their people morally, give them economic hope for the future, and attract immigrants, Russia is headed for the "failed state" category. China is facing similar demographic problems. They have an annual economic growth rate of about 10%, and yet their population is approaching decline. In the last decade, China has seen significant decrease in population under the age of 20. In the next 15 years, they will see a shrinking population of people under 50. China's problem has not been syphilis. Rather, they have been systematically killing off their own children. Sin has natural consequences. Perhaps our own workforce problem, manifesting itself in illegal immigration (the complaint of the right) and outsourcing (the complaint of the left) has something to do with our less systematic killing of our children since Roe v. Wade made abortion a constitutional right.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Sunday Reflection: Happiness

Modern man is determined to be happy, but he is determined to obtain it quite independently from God. It has been held from the Philosophes of the Enlightenment to the Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins of our own day that God, his religion, and his followers are the chief impediments to human happiness. If men are to be happy, they must find it in this world and by their own efforts.

What makes modern man modern is science: experimental, technological science that is oriented toward what Francis Bacon called “the relief of our estate” or, in a word, happiness. Bacon, the original architect of the modern scientific project, wrote the New Atlantis to present his vision of a world transformed by the scientific conquest of nature. The people in that tale declare, “Happy are the people of Bensalem.” (The name of this technological paradise means “son of peace.”) Bacon’s message was that if we would only reorient our societal resources toward research and development, the benefits in terms of comforts and conveniences for the broad mass of people would be seemingly limitless. But 400 years later, though we are comfortable, are we happy? By contrast, Jesus offers the gospel of peace. He is the Prince of Peace. He says, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you.” His promise is Shalom, happiness in the most profound sense. “And the peace of God that passes all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” That peace is rest for the soul in the enjoyment of God, the summum bonum, forever.

So between modern man and the Son of Man, whither do we look for happiness? How are we to know who is happy and who is not? Do we look at spending patterns, divorce rates, drug and alcohol abuse, endorphin levels? Statistics would no doubt be inconclusive between Christians and materialists. I suggest, however, that if you examine those who seek their happiness in the fruits of science and who enjoy them most fully, viz. the self-indulgently Western wealthy, you will find that they are also the most miserable. By contrast, I expect that if you consider those who are not only self-identified as Christians, but also most centered in Christ, those who are most advanced in godliness, you will find people who are unusually content, joyful...happy. They will tell you, however, that their fullest happiness is yet to come!

It was a sermon by the great London preacher of this last century, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, "Reason and Revelation," that put me on this train of thought. Alas, it appears to have disappeared from