Tuesday, March 30, 2010

What I Read Today - Tuesday March 30, 2010

From: Our Daily Bread

The Kingdom Of Me?

READ: 1 Peter 3:8-17

Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts. —1 Peter 3:15In 1977, 15-year-old Kevin Baugh and a teenage friend decided to create their own country, just for fun. The Republic of Molossia began as they drew a map, created paper money, and made a flag. Today, Mr. Baugh continues his micro-nation the same way it began—just for fun. When Chicago Tribune reporter Colleen Mastony toured his 1.3 acre kingdom in the Nevada desert, Baugh assured her he still pays US taxes, which he calls “foreign aid.”

“It’s always tongue-in-cheek,” Baugh admits. “I’m doing this for the pleasure and enjoyment of having my own country.”

Not many of us will create our own nation, but we all have a kingdom of the heart where we decide who will rule. The apostle Peter wrote: “Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts” (1 Peter 3:15). “Sanctify” means to set apart Christ as Lord or Ruler of our life.

There is something within each of us that longs to be in control of our lives. It may be only a small corner where we assert our spiritual independence and answer to no one but ourselves.

But true freedom comes when we allow Christ to rule our hearts. — David C. McCasland

’Tis mine to choose if self shall die
And never rise again;
’Tis mine to yield the throne to Christ
And bid Him rule and reign. —Christiansen

When Christ rules in our heart, our feet will walk in His ways.

Friday, March 26, 2010

What I Read Today - Friday March 26, 2010

From: Our Daily Bread

Worthy Of Respect

READ: Philippians 2:19-30

Receive [Epaphroditus] therefore in the Lord with all gladness, and hold such men in esteem. —Phil. 2:29Just before kickoff at Super Bowl XLIII, Kurt Warner of the Arizona Cardinals received the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award—a tribute given to the player who had best combined on-field excellence with off-field community service. “I am humbled the Lord has given me such an amazing life to impact others,” said Warner, a dedicated Christian. “Of all the awards given to NFL athletes, [this one] stands out . . . because of what it represents.” It represents a commitment to giving and sacrificing for others.

Paying homage to those who serve is not a new concept. Paul spoke of it when he reminded the Philippians to honor those who gave themselves in serving Christ. He told them of their friend Epaphroditus, who had nearly died (Phil. 2:30) because of his efforts for Christ in ministering to others—including the people at Philippi. How should they respond? Paul said, “Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness, and hold such men in esteem” (v.29). Clearly, when we think of those who sacrifice in serving the Savior, they are worthy of our respect and appreciation.

Why not look for ways to show gratitude to those who have served you spiritually. Give them the honor they deserve. — Bill Crowder

To honor is to show respect,
To meet another’s need,
To give someone encouragement,
To love in word and deed. —Sper

We honor God when we honor those who serve God.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

What I Read Today - Thursday March 25, 2010

From: Our Daily Bread

Far Better

READ: Revelation 21:1-4

God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. —Revelation 21:4Having suffered greatly—first from cancer, and then from the grueling medical regimen—pastor Dan Cummings was tired. After 2 weeks of treatment in Texas, he was looking forward to going back home to Michigan. In a post on his blog, he wrote: “Today is far better . . . amazing what some hydration will do. . . . Will fly home on the weekend to continue treatment at home.”

Dan did return to Michigan, but several days later, his journey on earth ended. He went home to be with his God—whom he loved with every bit of his weakened body but mighty spirit.

When I viewed his blog a few days later, his words “Today is far better” jumped out at me. I smiled through my tears in the knowledge that Dan was now experiencing a life that is truly “far better” (Phil. 1:23).

Someday we who claim the name of Jesus will also go to that place where there is “no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying.” It’s a place where there is no more pain and where a loving Father promises to “wipe away every tear from [our] eyes” (Rev. 21:4).

The life we have here isn’t all there is. There is a far, far better place that Jesus is preparing for those who love Him (John 14:2-3). — Cindy Hess Kasper

When our life on earth has ended
We will feel God’s warm embrace;
There will be no pain or sorrow
In that far, far better place. —Sper

Heaven—no pain, no night, no death, no tears

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

more What I Read Today - Wednesday March 24, 2010

From: The New York Times - March 24, 2010


Op-Ed Columnist

A Tea Party Without Nuts
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

President Obama’s winning passage of national health care is both exhilarating and sobering. Covering so many uninsured Americans is a historic achievement. But the president had to postpone trips, buy off companies and cut every conceivable side deal to just barely make it happen, without a single Republican vote. If the Democrats now lose seats in the midterm elections, we’re headed for even worse gridlock, even though we still have so much more nation-building for America to do — from education to energy to environment to innovation to tax policy. That is why I want my own Tea Party. I want a Tea Party of the radical center.

Say what? I write often about innovation in energy and education. But I’ve come to realize that none of these innovations will emerge at scale until we get the most important innovation of all — political innovation that will empower independents and centrists, which describes a lot of the country.

Larry Diamond, a Stanford University democracy expert, put it best: “If you don’t get governance right, it is very hard to get anything else right that government needs to deal with. We have to rethink in some basic ways how our political institutions work, because they are increasingly incapable of delivering effective solutions any longer.”

My definition of broken is simple. It is a system in which Republicans will be voted out for doing the right thing (raising taxes when needed) and Democrats will be voted out for doing the right thing (cutting services when needed). When your political system punishes lawmakers for the doing the right things, it is broken. That is why we need political innovation that takes America’s disempowered radical center and enables it to act in proportion to its true size, unconstrained by the two parties, interest groups and orthodoxies that have tied our politics in knots.

The radical center is “radical” in its desire for a radical departure from politics as usual. It advocates: raising taxes to close our budgetary shortfalls, but doing so with a spirit of equity and social justice; guaranteeing that every American is covered by health insurance, but with market reforms to really bring down costs; legally expanding immigration to attract more job-creators to America’s shores; increasing corporate tax credits for research and lowering corporate taxes if companies will move more manufacturing jobs back onshore; investing more in our public schools, while insisting on rising national education standards and greater accountability for teachers, principals and parents; massively investing in clean energy, including nuclear, while allowing more offshore drilling in the transition. You get the idea.

How best to promote these hybrid ideas? Break the oligopoly of our two-party system. Diamond suggests two innovations. First, let every state emulate California’s recent grass-roots initiative that took away the power to design Congressional districts from the state legislature and put it in the hands of an independent, politically neutral, Citizens Redistricting Commission. It will go to work after the 2010 census and reshape California’s Congressional districts for the 2012 elections. Henceforth, districts in California will not be designed to be automatically Democratic or Republican — so more of them will be competitive, so more candidates will only be electable if they appeal to the center, not just cater to one party.

Second, get states to adopt “alternative voting.” One reason independent, third-party, centrist candidates can’t get elected is because if, in a three-person race, a Democrat votes for an independent, and the independent loses, the Democrat fears his vote will have actually helped the Republican win, or vice versa. Alternative voting allows you to rank the independent candidate your No. 1 choice, and the Democrat or Republican No. 2. Therefore, if the independent does not win, your vote is immediately transferred to your second choice, say, the Democrat. Therefore, you have no fear that in voting for an independent you might help elect your real nightmare — the Republican. Nothing has held back the growth of independent, centrist candidates more, said Diamond, “than the fear that if you vote for one of them you will be wasting your vote. Alternative voting, which Australia has, can overcome that.”

Obama won the presidency by tapping the center — centrist Democrats, independents and Republicans who wanted to see nation-building at home “to make their own lives and those of others better,” said Tim Shriver, the C.E.O. of the Special Olympics. They saw in Obama a pragmatist who could pull us together for pragmatic solutions. But hyperpartisanship has frustrated those hopes. (Alas, though, it is not equal. There are still many conservative Blue Dog Democrats, but the liberal Rockefeller Republicans have been wiped out.) If that radical center wants to be empowered, it can’t just whine. It needs its own grass-roots movement to promote reforms like nonpartisan redistricting and alternative voting in every state. It’s tea time for the center.

What I Read Today - Wednesday March 24, 2010

From: Our Daily Bread

Worst Possible Scenario!

READ: Job 1:13-22

When He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold. —Job 23:10When I used to teach at a Bible college in a large city, I sometimes graded papers at a food court while waiting for a commuter train. One day, I accidentally bumped my large cup of coffee. Its entire contents emptied into my open briefcase.

In most cities, there is a quiet reserve on the part of commuters. However, the coffee splash was so dramatic that it could not be ignored. A man sitting nearby said aloud, “Worst possible scenario!”

That comment was obviously an overstatement. But each of us dreads the thought of something in particular: financial loss, the death of a child or spouse, cancer, or another loss or hardship.

The book of Job is a case study in worst possible scenarios. Yet Job wisely assessed God’s role in trying circumstances of loss and poor health: “He knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold” (Job 23:10). From this wise statement we can learn two valuable lessons: One is that what we dread most can be used to test our character and make us stronger. The other is that God will provide the strength and comfort to see us through.

Cling to God. He has promised to work on our behalf, even in the worst possible scenario. — Dennis Fisher

God often sends me joy through pain,
Through bitter loss, divinest gain;
Yet through it all—dark days or bright—
I know my Father leads aright. —Conklin

The living God can take the fear out of living.

Monday, March 22, 2010

more What I Read Today - Monday March 22, 2010

From: The Wall Street Journal

Inside the Pelosi Sausage Factory


Michigan Rep. Bart Stupak sold his anti-abortion soul for a toothless executive order
By KIMBERLEY A. STRASSEL

Last week Republican Rep. Mike Pence posted on his Facebook site that famous Schoolhouse Rock video titled "How a Bill Becomes a Law." It's clearly time for a remake.

Never before has the average American been treated to such a live-action view of the sordid politics necessary to push a deeply flawed bill to completion. It was dirty deals, open threats, broken promises and disregard for democracy that pulled ObamaCare to this point, and yesterday the same machinations pushed it across the finish line.

You could see it all coming a week ago, when New York Rep. Louise Slaughter let leak a breathtaking strategy whereby the House would not actually vote on the unpopular Senate bill. The House would instead vote on a "reconciliation" fix to that bill, and in the process "deem" the underlying legislation—with its Cornhusker kickbacks and Louisiana purchases—passed.

The Slaughter Solution was both blunt admission and warning. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi did not have 216 votes to pass the Senate bill, there never was going to be majority "support" for it, but they'd pass it anyway. The final days were a simple death watch, to see how the votes would be bought, bribed or bullied, and how many congressional rules gamed, to get the win.

President Obama flew to Pennsylvania (home to five wavering House Democrats), Missouri (three wavering), Ohio (eight), and Virginia (four) to hold rallies with small, supportive crowds. In four days, Mr. Obama held 64 meetings or calls with congressmen. The goal was to let undecideds know that the president had them in his crosshairs, that he still had pull with the base, and he'd use it against them. By Saturday the tactic had yielded yes votes from at least half the previously undecided members of those states.

As for those who needed more persuasion: California Rep. Jim Costa bragged publicly that during his meeting in the Oval Office, he'd demanded the administration increase water to his Central Valley district. On Tuesday, Interior pushed up its announcement, giving the Central Valley farmers 25% of water supplies, rather than the expected 5% allocation. Mr. Costa, who denies there was a quid pro quo, on Saturday said he'd flip to a yes.

Florida Rep. Suzanne Kosmas (whose district is home to the Kennedy Space Center) admitted that in her own Thursday meeting with the president, she'd brought up the need for more NASA funding. On Friday she flipped to a yes. So watch the NASA budget.

Democrats inserted a new provision providing $100 million in extra Medicaid money for Tennessee. Retiring Tennessee Rep. Bart Gordon flipped to a yes vote on Thursday.

Outside heavies were enlisted to warn potential no votes that unions and other Democrats would run them out of Congress. Al Lawson, a Tallahassee liberal challenging Blue Dog Florida Rep. Allen Boyd in a primary, made Mr. Boyd's previous no vote the centerpiece of his criticism. The SEIU threatened to yank financial support for New York's Michael McMahon. The liberal Working Families Party said it would deny him a ballot line. Obama deputy campaign manager Steve Hildebrand vowed to challenge South Dakota Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin if she voted no. New York's Scott Murphy was targeted as a part of a $1.3 million union-financed ad campaign to pressure him to flip. Moveon.Org spent another $36,000 on ads in his district and promised a primary. Messrs. Boyd and Murphy caved on Friday.

All the while Mrs. Pelosi was desperately working to provide cover with a Congressional Budget Office score that would claim the bill "saved" money. To do it, Democrats threw in a further $66 billion in Medicare cuts and another $50 billion in taxes. Huzzah! In the day following the CBO score, about a half-dozen Democrats who had spent the past months complaining the bill already had too many taxes and Medicare cuts now said they were voting to reduce the deficit.

Even with all this, by Friday Mrs. Pelosi was dealing with a new problem: The rule changes and deals winning her votes were losing her votes, too. The public backlash against "deem and pass" gave several wary Democrats—such as Massachusetts's Stephen Lynch and California's Dennis Cardoza—a new excuse to vote no.

Mrs. Pelosi jettisoned deem and pass. Once-solid Democrat yes votes wanted their own concessions. Oregon's Pete DeFazio threatened to lead a revolt unless changes were made to Medicare payments to benefit his state. On Saturday Mrs. Pelosi cut a deal to give 17 states additional Medicare money.

By the weekend, all the pressure and threats and bribes had left the speaker three to five votes short. Her remaining roadblock was those pro-life members who'd boxed themselves in on abortion, saying they would vote against the Senate bill unless it barred public funding of abortion. Mrs. Pelosi's first instinct was to go around this bloc, getting the votes elsewhere. She couldn't.

Into Saturday night, Michigan's Bart Stupak and Mrs. Pelosi wrangled over options. The stalemate? Any change that gave Mr. Stupak what he wanted in law would lose votes from pro-choice members. The solution? Remove it from Congress altogether, having the president instead sign a meaningless executive order affirming that no public money should go to pay for abortions.

The order won't change the Senate legal language—as pro-choice Democrats publicly crowed within minutes of the Stupak deal. Executive orders can be changed or eliminated on a whim. Pro-life groups condemned the order as the vote-getting ruse it was. Nevertheless, Mr. Stupak and several of his colleagues voted yes, paving the way to Mrs. Pelosi's final vote tally of 219.

Even in these waning minutes, Senate Democrats were playing their own games. Republicans announced they had found language in the House reconciliation bill that could doom this entire "fix" in the Senate. Since many House Democrats only agreed to vote for the Senate bill on promises that the sidecar reconciliation would pass, this was potentially a last-minute killer.

Senate Democrats handled it by deliberately refusing to meet with Republicans and the Senate parliamentarian to get a ruling, lest it be unfavorable and lose House votes. The dodge was a clear dereliction of duty, but Democrats figure the Senate parliamentarian won't dare derail this process after ObamaCare passes. They are probably right.

So there you have it, folks: "How a Bill Becomes a Law," at least in Obama-Pelosi land. Perhaps the most remarkable Democratic accomplishment this week was to make the process of passing ObamaCare as politically toxic as the bill itself.

President Obama was elected by millions of Americans attracted to his promise to change Washington politics. These were voters furious with earmarks, insider deals and a lack of transparency. They were the many Americans who, even before this week, held Congress in historic low esteem. They'll remember this spectacle come November.

Ms. Strassel writes the Journal's weekly Potomac Watch column from Washington.

more What I Read Today - Monday March 22, 2010

From: Our Daily Bread

Texting God

READ: Colossians 1:3-12

[We] do not cease to pray for you. —Colossians 1:9An article in The Washington Post told about a 15-year-old girl who sent and received 6,473 cell phone text messages in a single month. She says about her constant communication with friends, “I would die without it.” And she is not alone. Researchers say that US teens with cell phones average more than 2,200 text messages a month.

To me, this ongoing digital conversation offers a remarkable illustration of what prayer could and should be like for every follower of Christ. Paul seemed to be constantly in an attitude of prayer for others: “[We] do not cease to pray for you” (Col. 1:9). “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit” (Eph. 6:18). “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). But how can we possibly do that?

Missionary Frank Laubach described his habit of “shooting” prayers at people as he encountered them during the course of each day. In a sense, he was “texting” God on their behalf, staying in constant communication with the Father. Laubach believed that prayer is the mightiest force in the world, and said: “My part is to live in this hour in continuous inner conversation with God and in perfect responsiveness to His will.”

Pray without ceasing. Perhaps what Paul urged us to do can be done. — David C. McCasland

Give me a spirit of prayer, dear Lord,
That I may commune with Thee
As I travel along life’s rugged road,
In Thy company always to be. —Dawe

Prayer should become as natural as breathing.

What I Read Today - Monday March 22, 2010

Got this off a guy's FaceBook Post today:

I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them. -- Thomas Jefferson

Sunday, March 21, 2010

What I Read Today - Sunday March 21, 2010

From: The New York Times - Sunday March 21, 2010


Op-Ed Columnist

America’s Real Dream Team
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

Went to a big Washington dinner last week. You know the kind: Large hall; black ties; long dresses. But this was no ordinary dinner. There were 40 guests of honor. So here’s my Sunday news quiz: I’ll give you the names of most of the honorees, and you tell me what dinner I was at. Ready?

Linda Zhou, Alice Wei Zhao, Lori Ying, Angela Yu-Yun Yeung, Lynnelle Lin Ye, Kevin Young Xu, Benjamin Chang Sun, Jane Yoonhae Suh, Katheryn Cheng Shi, Sunanda Sharma, Sarine Gayaneh Shahmirian, Arjun Ranganath Puranik, Raman Venkat Nelakant, Akhil Mathew, Paul Masih Das, David Chienyun Liu, Elisa Bisi Lin, Yifan Li, Lanair Amaad Lett, Ruoyi Jiang, Otana Agape Jakpor, Peter Danming Hu, Yale Wang Fan, Yuval Yaacov Calev, Levent Alpoge, John Vincenzo Capodilupo and Namrata Anand.

No, sorry, it was not a dinner of the China-India Friendship League. Give up?

O.K. All these kids are American high school students. They were the majority of the 40 finalists in the 2010 Intel Science Talent Search, which, through a national contest, identifies and honors the top math and science high school students in America, based on their solutions to scientific problems. The awards dinner was Tuesday, and, as you can see from the above list, most finalists hailed from immigrant families, largely from Asia.

Indeed, if you need any more convincing about the virtues of immigration, just come to the Intel science finals. I am a pro-immigration fanatic. I think keeping a constant flow of legal immigrants into our country — whether they wear blue collars or lab coats — is the key to keeping us ahead of China. Because when you mix all of these energetic, high-aspiring people with a democratic system and free markets, magic happens. If we hope to keep that magic, we need immigration reform that guarantees that we will always attract and retain, in an orderly fashion, the world’s first-round aspirational and intellectual draft choices.

This isn’t complicated. In today’s wired world, the most important economic competition is no longer between countries or companies. The most important economic competition is actually between you and your own imagination. Because what your kids imagine, they can now act on farther, faster, cheaper than ever before — as individuals. Today, just about everything is becoming a commodity, except imagination, except the ability to spark new ideas.

If I just have the spark of an idea now, I can get a designer in Taiwan to design it. I can get a factory in China to produce a prototype. I can get a factory in Vietnam to mass manufacture it. I can use Amazon.com to handle fulfillment. I can use freelancer.com to find someone to do my logo and manage by backroom. And I can do all this at incredibly low prices. The one thing that is not a commodity and never will be is that spark of an idea. And this Intel dinner was all about our best sparklers.

Before the dinner started, each contestant stood by a storyboard explaining their specific project. Namrata Anand, a 17-year-old from the Harker School in California, patiently explained to me her research, which used spectral analysis and other data to expose information about the chemical enrichment history of “Andromeda Galaxy.” I did not understand a word she said, but I sure caught the gleam in her eye.

My favorite chat, though, was with Amanda Alonzo, a 30-year-old biology teacher at Lynbrook High School in San Jose, Calif. She had taught two of the finalists. When I asked her the secret, she said it was the resources provided by her school, extremely “supportive parents” and a grant from Intel that let her spend part of each day inspiring and preparing students to enter this contest. Then she told me this: Local San Jose realtors are running ads in newspapers in China and India telling potential immigrants to “buy a home” in her Lynbrook school district because it produced “two Intel science winners.”

Seriously, ESPN or MTV should broadcast the Intel finals live. All of the 40 finalist are introduced, with little stories about their lives and aspirations. Then the winners of the nine best projects are announced. And finally, with great drama, the overall winner of the $100,000 award for the best project of the 40 is identified. This year it was Erika Alden DeBenedictis of New Mexico for developing a software navigation system that would enable spacecraft to more efficiently “travel through the solar system.” After her name was called, she was swarmed by her fellow competitor-geeks.

Gotta say, it was the most inspiring evening I’ve had in D.C. in 20 years. It left me thinking, “If we can just get a few things right — immigration, education standards, bandwidth, fiscal policy — maybe we’ll be O.K.” It left me feeling that maybe Alice Wei Zhao of North High School in Sheboygan, Wis., chosen by her fellow finalists to be their spokeswoman, was right when she told the audience: “Don’t sweat about the problems our generation will have to deal with. Believe me, our future is in good hands.”

As long as we don’t shut our doors.

Friday, March 19, 2010

What I Read Today - Friday March 19, 2010

From:  The Wall Street Journal - Thursday March 18, 2010

Now for the Slaughter


On the road to Demon Pass, our leader encounters a Baier.

By PEGGY NOONAN
Excuse me, but it is embarrassing—really, embarrassing to our country—that the president of the United States has again put off a state visit to Australia and Indonesia because he's having trouble passing a piece of domestic legislation he's been promising for a year will be passed next week. What an air of chaos this signals to the world. And to do this to Australia of all countries, a nation that has always had America's back and been America's friend.

How bush league, how undisciplined, how kid's stuff.

You could see the startled looks on the faces of reporters as Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, who had the grace to look embarrassed, made the announcement on Thursday afternoon. The president "regrets the delay"—the trip is rescheduled for June—but "passage of the health insurance reform is of paramount importance." Indonesia must be glad to know it's not.

The reporters didn't even provoke or needle in their questions. They seemed hushed. They looked like people who were absorbing the information that we all seem to be absorbing, which is that the wheels seem to be coming off this thing, the administration is wobbling—so early, so painfully and dangerously soon.

Thursday's decision followed the most revealing and important broadcast interview of Barack Obama ever. It revealed his primary weakness in speaking of health care, which is a tendency to dodge, obfuscate and mislead. He grows testy when challenged. It revealed what the president doesn't want revealed, which is that he doesn't want to reveal much about his plan. This furtiveness is not helpful in a time of high public anxiety. At any rate, the interview was what such interviews rarely are, a public service. That it occurred at a high-stakes time, with so much on the line, only made it more electric.

I'm speaking of the interview Wednesday on Fox News Channel's "Special Report With Bret Baier." Fox is owned by News Corp., which also owns this newspaper, so one should probably take pains to demonstrate that one is attempting to speak with disinterest and impartiality, in pursuit of which let me note that Glenn Beck has long appeared to be insane.

That having been said, the Baier interview was something, and right from the beginning. Mr. Baier's first question was whether the president supports the so-called Slaughter rule, alternatively known as "deem and pass," which would avoid a straight up-or-down House vote on the Senate bill. (Tunku Varadarajan in the Daily Beast cleverly notes that it sounds like "demon pass," which it does. Maybe that's the juncture we're at.) Mr. Obama, in his response, made the usual case for ObamaCare. Mr. Baier pressed him. The president said, "The vote that's taken in the House will be a vote for health-care reform." We shouldn't, he added, concern ourselves with "the procedural issues."

Further in, Mr. Baier: "So you support the deem-and-pass rule?" From the president, obfuscation. But he did mention something new: "They may have to sequence the votes." The bill's opponents would be well advised to look into that one.

Mr. Baier again: So you'll go deem-and-pass and you don't know exactly what will be in the bill?

Mr. Obama's response: "By the time the vote has taken place, not only will I know what's in it, you'll know what's in it, because it's going to be posted and everybody's going to be able to evaluate it on the merits."

That's news in two ways. That it will be posted—one assumes the president means on the Internet and not nailed to a telephone pole—should suggest it will be posted for a while, more than a few hours or days. So American will finally get a look at it. And the president was conceding that no, he doesn't know what's in the bill right now. It is still amazing that one year into the debate this could be true.

Mr. Baier pressed on the public's right to know what is in the bill. We have been debating the bill for a year, the president responded: "The notion that this has been not transparent, that people don't know what's in the bill, everybody knows what's in the bill. I sat for seven hours with—."

Mr. Baier interrupts: "Mr. President, you couldn't tell me what the special deals are that are in or not today."

Mr. Obama: "I just told you what was in and what was not in."

Mr. Baier: "Is Connecticut in?" He was referring to the blandishments—polite word—meant to buy the votes of particular senators.

Mr. Obama: "Connecticut—what are you specifically referring to?"

Mr. Baier: "The $100 million for the hospital? Is Montana in for the asbestos program? Is—you know, listen, there are people—this is real money, people are worried about this stuff."

Mr. Obama: "And as I said before, this—the final provisions are going to be posted for many days before this thing passes."

Mr. Baier pressed the president on his statement as a candidate for the presidency that a 50-plus-one governing mentality is inherently divisive. "You can't govern" that way, Sen. Obama had said. Is the president governing that way now? Mr. Obama did not really answer.

Throughout, Mr. Baier pressed the president. Some thought this bordered on impertinence. I did not. Mr. Obama now routinely filibusters in interviews. He has his message, and he presses it forward smoothly, adroitly. He buries you in words. Are you worried what failure of the bill will do to you? I'm worried about what the status quo will do to the families that are uninsured . . .

Mr. Baier forced him off his well-worn grooves. He did it by stopping long answers with short questions, by cutting off and redirecting. In this he was like a low-speed bumper car. In the end the interview seemed to me a public service because everyone in America right now wants to see the president forced off his grooves and into candor on an issue that involves 17% of the economy. Again, the stakes are high. So Mr. Baier's style seemed—this is admittedly subjective—not rude but within the bounds, and not driven by the antic spirit that sometimes overtakes reporters. He seemed to be trying to get new information. He seemed to be attempting to better inform the public.

Presidents have a right to certain prerogatives, including the expectation of a certain deference. He's the president, this is history. But we seem to have come a long way since Ronald Reagan was regularly barked at by Sam Donaldson, almost literally, and the president shrugged it off. The president—every president—works for us. We don't work for him. We sometimes lose track of this, or rather get the balance wrong. Respect is due and must be palpable, but now and then you have to press, to either force them to be forthcoming or force them to reveal that they won't be. Either way it's revealing.

And so it ends, with a health-care vote expected this weekend. I wonder at what point the administration will realize it wasn't worth it—worth the discord, worth the diminution in popularity and prestige, worth the deepening of the great divide. What has been lost is so vivid, what has been gained so amorphous, blurry and likely illusory. Memo to future presidents: Never stake your entire survival on the painful passing of a bad bill. Never take the country down the road to Demon Pass.

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

What I Read Today - Thursday March 18, 2010

March 18, 2010


Who Are You?

READ: Matthew 4:18-25

Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men. —Matthew 4:19If someone were to ask, “Who are you?” my guess is that you would tell a little about yourself and what you do—“I’m an electrician” or “I’m a nurse.” But that’s not really who you are—it’s what you do. Which leads to the question, If what you do is who you are, who will you be when you stop doing what you’re doing?!

Who you are is found in your relationship to Jesus. And this sense of identity will drive your behavior. Take Matthew, for example. As a tax collector during the reign of the Roman Empire, his life was driven by greed. But everything changed the day Jesus showed up and invited Matthew to follow Him (Matt. 9:9). Suddenly Matthew had a whole new identity as a follower of Christ! And he wasn’t the only one. We also read about four fishermen in Matthew 4:18-25, Peter, Andrew, James, and John, who left their nets to follow Him.

Jesus is a compelling Person, and He is still looking for followers. He wants to make something of your life by giving you the identity of a follower of Jesus. It doesn’t mean giving up your career, but it does mean that you will do your work—and all of life—according to His will and ways.

So next time someone asks, “Who are you?” I hope you’ll answer, “I’m a follower of Jesus”! — Joe Stowell

For Further Study Read about 10 perspectives that should form our attitudes and actions as followers of Jesus in Kingdom Living at www.discoveryseries.org/hp092

If you are a follower of Jesus, that’s all the identity you need.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

more What I Read Today - Wednesday March 17, 2010

From: The New York Times - March 16, 2010

Op-Ed Columnist

The Spirit of Sympathy
By DAVID BROOKS

Human beings, the philosophers tell us, are social animals. We emerge into the world ready to connect with mom and dad. We go through life jibbering and jabbering with each other, grouping and regrouping. When you get a crowd of people in a room, the problem is not getting them to talk to each other; the problem is getting them to shut up.

To help us in this social world, God, nature and culture have equipped us with a spirit of sympathy. We instinctively feel a tinge of pain when we observe another in pain (at least most of us do). We instinctively mimic, even to a small extent, the mood, manners, yawns and actions of the people around us.

To help us bond and commit, we have been equipped with a suite of moral sentiments. We have an innate sense of fairness. Children from an early age have a sense that everybody should be treated fairly. We have an innate sense of duty. We admire people who sacrifice for the group. We are naturally embarrassed when we’ve been caught violating some social code. We blush uncontrollably.

As a result of this sympathy and these sentiments, people are usually pretty decent to one another when they relate person to person. The odd thing is that when people relate group to group, none of this applies. When a group or a nation thinks about another group or nation, there doesn’t seem to be much natural sympathy, natural mimicry or a natural desire for attachment. It’s as if an entirely different part of the brain has been activated, utilizing a different mode of thinking.

Group-to-group relations are more often marked by calculation, rivalry and coldness. Members of one group sometimes see members of another group as less than human: Nazi and Jew, Hutu and Tutsi, Sunni and Shiite.

Political leaders have an incentive to get their followers to use the group mode of cognition, not the person-to-person. People who are thinking in the group mode are loyal, disciplined and vicious against foes. People in the person-to-person mode are soft, unpredictable and hard to organize.

There’s a scene in Anthony Trollope’s political novel, “Phineas Finn,” in which young Phineas, about to enter Parliament, tells a party leader that he is going to think for himself and decide issues as he sees best. The leader, Barrington Erle, looks at him with utter disgust. To Erle, anybody who thinks that way is “unstable as water and dishonest as the wind.”

In the United States, leaders in the House of Representatives have done an effective job in getting their members to think in group, not person-to-person, terms. Members usually vote as party blocs. Individuals have very little power. That’s why representatives are often subtle and smart as individuals, but crude and partisan as a collective. The social psychology of the House is a clan psychology, not an interpersonal psychology.

The Senate, on the other hand, has historically been home to more person-to-person thinking. This is because the Senate is smaller and because of Senate rules. Until recently, the Senate leaders couldn’t just ram things through on party-line votes. Because a simple majority did not rule, and because one senator had the ability to bring the whole body to a halt, senators had an incentive, every day, to develop alliances and relationships with people in the other party.

For decades, individual senators have resisted their leaders’ attempts to run the Senate like the House and destroy these relationships and these humane customs. A few years ago, when Republican leaders tried to pass judicial nominations on party-line votes, rank-and-file members like Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton spoke out forcefully against rule by simple majority.

But power trumps principle. In nearly every arena of political life, group relationships have replaced person-to-person relationships. The tempo of the Senate is now set by partisan lunches every Tuesday, whereas the body almost never meets for conversation as a whole. The Senate is now in the process of using reconciliation — rule by simple majority — to try to pass health care.

Reconciliation has been used periodically before. That was bad enough. But at least for major legislation like the first Bush tax cuts, there was usually significant bipartisan support. Now we have pure reconciliation mixed with pure partisanship.

Once partisan reconciliation is used for this bill, it will be used for everything, now and forever. The Senate will be the House. The remnants of person-to-person relationships, with their sympathy and sentiment, will be snuffed out. We will live amid the relationships of group versus group, party versus party, inhumanity versus inhumanity.

We have a political culture in which the word “reconciliation” has come to mean “bitter division.” With increasing effectiveness, the system bleaches out normal behavior and the normal instincts of human sympathy.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: March 17, 2010
A column by David Brooks on Tuesday about the political maneuvering over the health care bill stated that the 2003 prescription drug bill was passed in the United States Senate by the reconciliation process. The bill passed by simple majority without the use of reconciliation.

more What I Read Today - Wednesday March 17, 2010

From: The NY Times - Tuesday March 16, 2010

Senate G.O.P. Leader Finds Weapon in Party Unity
By CARL HULSE and ADAM NAGOURNEY


WASHINGTON — Before the health care fight, before the economic stimulus package, before President Obama even took office, Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican minority leader, had a strategy for his party: use his extensive knowledge of Senate procedure to slow things down, take advantage of the difficulties Democrats would have in governing and deny Democrats any Republican support on big legislation.

Republicans embraced it. Democrats denounced it as rank obstructionism. Either way, it has led the two parties, as much as any other factor, to where they are right now. Republicans are monolithically against the health care legislation, leaving the president and his party executing parliamentary back flips to get it passed, conservatives revived, liberals wondering what happened.

In the process, Mr. McConnell, 68, a Kentuckian more at home plotting tactics in the cloakroom than writing legislation in a committee room or exhorting crowds on the campaign trail, has come to embody a kind of oppositional politics that critics say has left voters cynical about Washington, the Senate all but dysfunctional and the Republican Party without a positive agenda or message.

But in the short run at least, his approach has worked. For more than a year, he pleaded and cajoled to keep his caucus in line. He deployed poll data. He warned against the lure of the short-term attention to be gained by going bipartisan, and linked Republican gains in November to showing voters they could hold the line against big government.

On the major issues — not just health care, but financial regulation and the economic stimulus package, among others — Mr. McConnell has held Republican defections to somewhere between minimal and nonexistent, allowing him to slow the Democratic agenda if not defeat aspects of it. He has helped energize the Republican base, expose divisions among Democrats and turn the health care fight into a test of the Democrats’ ability to govern.

“It was absolutely critical that everybody be together because if the proponents of the bill were able to say it was bipartisan, it tended to convey to the public that this is O.K., they must have figured it out,” Mr. McConnell said about the health legislation in an interview, suggesting that even minimal Republican support could sway the public. “It’s either bipartisan or it isn’t.”

Mr. McConnell said the unity was essential in dealing with Democrats on “things like the budget, national security and then ultimately, obviously, health care.”

Still, he said, his party had offered Democrats a chance for a deal on health care but blamed them as being inflexible. Democrats and the White House heavily courted Senator Olympia J. Snowe, Republican of Maine, who voted for an early version of the bill but later broke with Democrats. Democratic leaders, including the majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, said they did not think Republicans were ever serious about trying to strike a deal.

Even Mr. McConnell’s fellow Republicans say somewhat admiringly that he can be a secretive and coldly calculating tactician with an eye for political openings, someone more consumed by political strategy than ideology or philosophy.

He is in many ways the mirror image of his Democratic counterpart, Mr. Reid. Both are experts at the inside game who struggle with the burden of trying to control a political caucus at a time when legislative leaders no longer have the brute power they once had and senators are hailed for acting like mavericks.

“Mitch tends to play things close to the vest,” said Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas.

The extent of Republican unity to date is attributable to some degree to Democratic missteps, as well as to the rise of the Tea Party movement, which has exerted tremendous pressure on Republicans not to do anything that might give comfort to the president and his party.

But it is also testimony to how Mr. McConnell has been able to draw on 25 years of Congressional savvy to display a mastery of legislative maneuvering. Mr. McConnell rejected the criticism that his approach is all about scoring political points by denying Mr. Obama any victories. His opposition, he said, is rooted in a principled belief that Mr. Obama is pushing the nation in the wrong direction.

Building a Strategy
“To the extent that they want to do things that we think are in the political center and would be helpful to the country, we’ll be helpful,” Mr. McConnell said of the Democrats. “To the extent they are trying to turn us into a Western European country, we are not going to be helpful.”

He consistently told fellow Republicans they needed to win back independent voters and lapsed Republicans who, he said, have shifted only temporarily to the Democratic camp. To win them over, he suggested, Republicans should emphasize issues that resonated with them at a time of insecurity, including government spending, debt, government bailouts and terrorism.

The question now is how much of an enduring gain Republicans might get from Mr. McConnell’s blocking strategy. For all his efforts, Democrats could very well pass a health care overhaul in the next week. While he has drawn sharp ideological contrasts that have rallied conservatives after their Congressional defeats in 2006 and 2008, Mr. McConnell is a long way from capturing control of the Senate in November.

More fundamentally, Mr. McConnell’s strategy has left Republicans at risk of being tagged as pure obstructionists and a party without a positive agenda.

“Their goal,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the Democratic whip, “is to slow down activity to stop legislation from passing in the belief that this will embolden conservatives in the next election and will deny the president a record of accomplishment.”

“Senator McConnell is their inspiration, their enforcer and their enabler,” Mr. Durbin said.

Yet such critiques do not disturb Mr. McConnell, who has for years been raked over the editorial coals around the country for his signature opposition to campaign finance law changes. On the wall of his private Senate office, where most lawmakers hang photographs of themselves with presidents and dignitaries, Mr. McConnell instead has framed originals of venomous editorial cartoons that portray him in most unflattering terms.

The strategy that has brought Senate Republicans where they are today began when they gathered, beaten and dispirited, at the Library of Congress two weeks before Mr. Obama’s inauguration. They had lost seven seats in November, another was teetering, and they were about to go up against an extraordinarily popular new president and an emboldened Democratic Congress.

“We came in shellshocked,” said Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. “There was sort of a feeling of ‘every man for himself.’ Mitch early on in this session came up with a game plan to make us relevant with 40 people. He said if we didn’t stick together on big things, we wouldn’t be relevant.”

A First Test
As the year went on, Mr. McConnell spent hours listening to the worries and ideas of Republicans, urging them not to be seduced by the attention-grabbing possibilities of cutting a bipartisan deal. “I think the reason my members are feeling really good,” he said, “is they believe that the reward for playing team ball this year was the reversal of the political environment and the possibility that we will have a bigger team next year.”

On the first big test of his strategy, Senate passage of the economic stimulus bill, Mr. McConnell lost three Republicans; one of them, Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, would soon leave the party. Yet before long, Republicans in both houses had become a monolith of opposition.

The president’s first budget proposal presented a juicy target in early 2009. At a spring meeting with Republican leaders in his office, Mr. McConnell invoked, as is his custom, a collection of poll data to argue that the budget could be undone with a simple phrase that would crystallize public concerns: “spends too much, taxes too much and borrows too much.”

That phrase, Mr. McConnell said, should be invoked by Republican lawmakers every time they saw a television camera or an open notebook.

“Good politics is repetition,” Mr. McConnell said. When there were signs of Republicans breaking from the ranks — like when Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa led a delegation of Republicans in negotiations with Democrats about a deal on health care — Mr. McConnell would keep close watch.

Mr. Grassley said Mr. McConnell worked patiently with him, asking only that he not agree to a public option or “rationing of health care” — two positions Mr. Grassley was never going to accept. But Mr. McConnell also said Mr. Grassley and Republicans should not make the mistake that Democrats had and present a single, big-idea bill that could draw all kinds of criticism. In the end, no deal was struck.

Some Ups and Downs
As the months went on, Mr. McConnell would show up at weekly meetings of his conference with a chart tracking poll numbers that, by summertime, showed that support for a health care overhaul had flipped. With their approach producing tangible benefits, Republicans were driven even more strongly to remain united.

Just before the summer recess, on July 21, Mr. McConnell used the weekly luncheon of Senate Republicans in the L.B.J. Room off the Senate floor to list the fruits of their labor. His PowerPoint presentation showed that the president’s approval rating was down and that Republicans were gaining on Democrats on the question of which party voters would prefer to see controlling Congress. “We came up with a plan, stuck to it, and now we’re starting to see results,” the presentation noted.

Still, there have been moments of doubt. Just before Christmas, Republican senators began badgering Mr. McConnell to halt maneuvers blocking a final vote on the Senate health bill. They wanted to get home, and they were worried that they looked overly obstructionist. In meeting after meeting in the Capitol, Mr. McConnell, a devoted fan of University of Louisville basketball, urged his colleagues to keep playing “team ball.” He reiterated the message he had employed for a year — the party’s resurgence depended on unity, and Republicans needed to be patient.

They listened. By the time the health bill was approved by the Senate on Christmas Eve with zero Republican votes, Democrats had been forced to cut questionable intraparty deals and jump through legislative hoops in an ugly process that helped sour the public on the party and its legislation.

Mr. McConnell, who was first elected to the Senate in 1984 with the help of a Roger Ailes-produced advertisement that showed bloodhounds searching for his opponent, has had his ups and downs as a leader. Senate Republicans lost 14 seats in the last two elections when he was the No. 2 Republican and then the party chief, and Mr. Specter jumped ship on his watch.

But Mr. McConnell is credited with a very effective run over the last 15 months — though being minority leader has distinct advantages over being in charge of making the Senate function.

“Throwing grenades is easier than catching them,” acknowledged Senator John Thune of South Dakota, a fellow member of the Republican leadership.

What I Read Today - Wednesday March 17, 2010

From: Our Daily Bread

A Good God

READ: Psalm 46

The Lord also will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble. —Psalm 9:9When my brother-in-law was a missionary in Mali, West Africa, he was involved in a traffic accident. A man had wandered into the road in front of Chuck’s motorcycle. The cycle struck the man and sent Chuck and the bike sliding along the ground for more than 200 feet. Shortly after Chuck regained consciousness in the hospital, his doctor told him he had been “really lucky.” Chuck smiled and replied, “God is good.”

Later he thought about the day’s events. The man who was struck hadn’t received any permanent injuries, and Chuck would also recover from his injuries. But what if one of them had been killed? He thought, God would be no less good.

When we experience tragedy, we may wonder about God’s goodness. Is God always good? Yes, He is. He doesn’t promise that bad things will never happen to us, but He does promise to be “our refuge and strength” (Ps. 46:1). He doesn’t promise that we will never walk through heart-wrenching circumstances, but He promises that we won’t be alone (23:4).

God is good—no matter what suffering we are experiencing. Even when we don’t understand, we can say with Habakkuk, “Yet will I rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation” (3:18). — Cindy Hess Kasper

O taste and see that God is good
To all who seek His face;
Yea, blest the one who trusts in Him,
Confiding in His grace. —Psalter

God tests our faith so that we may trust His faithfulness.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

What I Read Today - Tuesday March 16, 2010

From: Our Daily Bread

The Real Hero

READ: John 3:22-30

He must increase, but I must decrease. —John 3:30Louis B. Neumiller was known for his humility, integrity, and commitment to quality. As president of the Caterpillar Tractor Company from 1941–54, he led the manufacturer of earth-moving equipment through the challenges of World War II into global expansion. In the book In Their Time: The Greatest Business Leaders of the Twentieth Century, authors Mayo and Nohria describe Neumiller’s leadership as “success without fanfare.” His mark of greatness, they note, was that he took his identity out of the business and “let his company become a hero instead of himself.”

We see the same quality of selflessness in John the Baptist, the dynamic preacher who repeatedly affirmed his mission of paving the way for the Messiah. When John’s followers became concerned that Jesus was baptizing people and crowds were following Him, John replied: “You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent before Him.’ . . . He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:28,30).

As followers of Christ, are we lifting Him up instead of seeking honor for ourselves? Rather than being disappointed when our contribution is unnoticed, we should be glad because our highest privilege is to magnify the Lord. He’s the hero!

Honoring Him is the mark of greatness. — David C. McCasland

A Prayer: Lord, teach us to be humble. May our desire be that You be known, honored, loved, and exalted in every thought and action—above ourselves. Amen.

The great Christian is one who is small enough to let God be great in his life.

Monday, March 15, 2010

What I Read Today - Monday March 15, 2010

From: Our Daily Bread

Last Line Of Defense

READ: Romans 8:31-39

Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. —Romans 8:37Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, was the site of a battle that turned the tide of America’s Civil War. One of the focal points of the conflict was a rocky knoll called Little Round Top where Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and the men of the 20th Maine Infantry stood their ground. Had the Confederate troops gotten past Chamberlain’s men, some historians believe the Union army would have been surrounded—possibly leading to the loss of the war. The “20th Maine” was the last line of defense.

Followers of Christ are also engaged in a vital war. As we battle “the wiles of the devil” (Eph. 6:11), we are called to wear the armor of God and to stand firm in the conflict (vv.10-18).

And like the Gettysburg soldiers, we have a “last line of defense.” For us, though, this defense is greater than any human force. In Romans 8:31-39, Paul says that our ultimate confidence is in the undying love of Christ. So complete is our protection that nothing can “separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v.39).

When the enemy seems overwhelming and all seems lost, remember, we have an unbeatable last line of defense: “We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (v.37). — Bill Crowder

We are more than conquerors
Through Him who loved us so;
The Christ who dwells within us
Is the greatest power we know. —Carmichael

God’s plan always leads to victory.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

What I Read Today - Thursday March 11, 2010

From: Our Daily Bread

God’s Mercies

READ: Genesis 32:3-13

I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies. —Genesis 32:10Less than the least of all God’s mercies.” This was the motto 17th-century English poet and clergyman George Herbert engraved on his signet ring, and it was the phrase with which he signed his letters and books. Jacob had spoken these words when he pondered God’s goodness despite his own sin and shame: “I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth which You have shown Your servant” (Gen. 32:10).

The word “mercies” is from the Hebrew word chesed, meaning “God’s enduring love.” I think it is significant that it rose from the heart of one who saw himself as utterly unworthy.

Relying solely on God’s faithful love, Jacob cries out: “Deliver me!” What an odd combination of thoughts: “I am not worthy . . . . Deliver me” (vv.10-11). Unlike some who seem to have it all together, Jacob knew that everything he brought to God had been ruined by sin. He thought of himself as a man undeserving of God’s grace. But his hope lay not in his worth but in the promise of God to look with favor on those who throw themselves on His mercy. Humility and contrition are the keys that open the heart of God.

As He did with Jacob, God hears us when we humbly cry out to Him for mercy. — David H. Roper

For mercies so great, what return can I make?
For mercies so constant and sure?
I’ll love Him, I’ll serve Him with all that I have
As long as my life shall endure. —Chisholm

Mercy is an unearned blessing bestowed by God on an unworthy recipient.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

more What I Read Today - Wednesday March 10, 2010

From: The New York Times

It’s Up to Iraqis Now. Good Luck.
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

Of all the pictures I saw from the Iraqi elections last weekend, my favorite was on nytimes.com: an Iraqi mother holding up her son to let him stuff her ballot into the box. I loved that picture. Being able to freely cast a ballot for the candidate of your choice is still unusual for Iraqis and for that entire region. That mother seemed to be saying: When I was a child, I never got to vote. I want to live in a world where my child will always be able to.

God bless her. This was a very good day for Iraq.

To say that mere voting or an election or two makes Iraq a success story would obviously be mistaken. An election does not a democracy make — and Iraq’s politicians still have yet to prove that they are up to governing, nation-building and both establishing and abiding by the rule of law. But this election is a big deal because Iraqis — with the help of the U.N., the U.S. military and the Obama team, particularly Vice President Joe Biden — overcame two huge obstacles.

They overcame an array of sectarian disputes that repeatedly threatened to derail this election. And they came out to vote — Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds — despite the bombs set off by Al Qaeda and the dead-end Baathists who desperately want to keep the democracy project in Iraq from succeeding. This latter point is particularly crucial. The only way Al Qaeda, Baathism and violent Islamism will truly be defeated is when Arabs and Muslims themselves — not us — show they are willing to fight and die for a more democratic, tolerant and progressive future. Al Qaeda desperately wanted the U.S. project in Iraq to fail, but the Iraqi people just keep on keeping it alive.

And how about you, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran? How are you feeling today? Yes, I am sure you have your proxies in Iraq. But I am also sure you know what some of your people are quietly saying: “How come we Iranian-Persian-Shiites — who always viewed ourselves as superior to Iraqi-Arab-Shiites — can only vote for a handful of pre-chewed, pre-digested, ‘approved’ candidates from the supreme leader, while those lowly Iraqi Shiites, who have been hanging around with America for seven years, get to vote for whomever they want?” Unlike in Tehran, Iraqis actually count the votes. This will subtly fuel the discontent in Iran.

Yes, the U.S.’s toppling of Saddam Hussein helped Iran expand its influence into the Arab world. Saddam’s Iraq was a temporary iron-fisted bulwark against Iranian expansion. But if Iraq has any sort of decent outcome — and becomes a real Shiite-majority, multiethnic democracy right next door to the phony Iranian version — it will be a source of permanent pressure on the Iranian regime. It will be a constant reminder that “Islamic democracy” — the rigged system the Iranians set up — is nonsense. Real “Islamic democracy” is just like any other democracy, except with Muslims voting.

Former President George W. Bush’s gut instinct that this region craved and needed democracy was always right. It should have and could have been pursued with much better planning and execution. This war has been extraordinarily painful and costly. But democracy was never going to have a virgin birth in a place like Iraq, which has never known any such thing.

Some argue that nothing that happens in Iraq will ever justify the costs. Historians will sort that out. Personally, at this stage, I only care about one thing: that the outcome in Iraq be positive enough and forward-looking enough that those who have actually paid the price — in lost loved ones or injured bodies, in broken homes or broken lives, be they Iraqis or Americans or Brits — see Iraq evolve into something that will enable them to say that whatever the cost, it has given freedom and decent government to people who had none.

That, though, will depend on Iraqis and their leaders. It was hopeful to see the strong voter turnout — 62 percent — and the fact that some of the largest percentage of voting occurred in regions, like Kirkuk and Nineveh Provinces, that are hotly disputed. It means people are ready to use politics to resolve disputes, not just arms.

We can only hope so. President Obama has handled his Iraq inheritance deftly, but he is committed to the withdrawal timetable. As such, our influence there will be less decisive every day. We need Iraqi leaders to prove to their people that they are not just venal elites out to seize the spoils of power more than to seize this incredible opportunity to remake Iraq. We need to see real institution-builders emerge, including builders of a viable justice system and economy. And we need to be wary that too big an army and too much oil can warp any regime.

Iraq will be said to have a decent outcome not just if that young boy whose mother let him cast her ballot gets to vote one day himself. It will be a decent outcome only if his life chances improve — because he lives in a country with basic security, basic services, real jobs and decent governance.

I wish I could say that that was inevitable. It is not. But it is no longer unattainable, and I for one will keep rooting for it to happen.

more What I Read Today - Wednesday March 10, 2010

From: The New York Times

Attacks on Detainee Lawyers Split Conservatives

By JOHN SCHWARTZ


A conservative advocacy organization in Washington, Keep America Safe, kicked up a storm last week when it released a video that questioned the loyalty of Justice Department lawyers who worked in the past on behalf of detained terrorism suspects.

But beyond the expected liberal outrage, the tactics of the group, which is run by Liz Cheney, the daughter of the former vice president, have also split the tightly knit world of conservative legal scholars. Many conservatives, including members of the Federalist Society, the quarter-century-old policy group devoted to conservative and libertarian legal ideals, have vehemently criticized Ms. Cheney’s video, and say it violates the American legal principle that even unpopular defendants deserve a lawyer.

“There’s something truly bizarre about this,” said Richard A. Epstein, a University of Chicago law professor and a revered figure among many members of the society. “Liz Cheney is a former student of mine — I don’t know what moves her on this thing,” he said.

On Sunday, the Brookings Institution issued a letter criticizing the “shameful series of attacks” on government lawyers, which it said were “unjust to the individuals in question and destructive of any attempt to build lasting mechanisms for counterterrorism adjudications.”

The letter was signed by a Who’s Who of former Republican administration officials and conservative legal figures, including Kenneth W. Starr, the former special prosecutor, and Charles D. Stimson, who resigned from the second Bush administration after suggesting that businesses might think twice before hiring law firms that had represented detainees. Other Bush administration figures who signed include Peter D. Keisler, a former acting attorney general, and Larry D. Thompson, a former deputy attorney general.

The letter cited “the American tradition of zealous representation of unpopular clients,” including the defense by John Adams of British soldiers charged in the Boston Massacre, and noted that some detainee advocates, who worked pro bono, have made arguments that swayed the Supreme Court.

Ms. Cheney’s video referred to the lawyers as the “Al Qaeda Seven,” and accused the Justice Department of concealing their names, which were later revealed by Fox News.

David B. Rivkin Jr., the co-chairman of the Center for Law and Counterterrorism in Washington, is a member of the Federalist Society and signed the Brookings letter; he said the attack was unfortunate.

“I appreciate the partisan advantage to be gained here,” Mr. Rivkin said, but “it’s not the right way to proceed.” He said he preferred “principled ways for debating where this administration is wrong — there’s no reason to resort to ad hominem attacks.”

John C. Yoo, the former Justice official whose memorandums on torture and presidential power were used to justify some of the most controversial policies of the Bush administration, said he had not seen the material from Ms. Cheney’s group. But Professor Yoo, who now teaches at the University of California, Berkeley, and is active in the Federalist Society, said the debate about lawyers who once represented detainees at the American prison in Guantánamo Bay serving in the Justice Department was overheated.

“What’s the big whoop?” he asked. “The Constitution makes the president the chief law enforcement officer. We had an election. President Obama has softer policies on terror than his predecessor.” He said, “He can and should put people into office who share his views.” Once the American people know who the policy makers are, he said, “they can decide whether they agree with him or not.”

Professor Epstein, however, said he found it “appalling” to see people equating work on detainee cases with a dearth of patriotism. He was a co-author of a brief in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, the Supreme Court case argued by Neal Katyal, now the principal deputy solicitor general and a lawyer under scrutiny from Ms. Cheney’s group. The court ruled that the Bush administration’s initial plans for military commissions to try detainees violated the law.

“You don’t want to give the impression that because you oppose the government on this thing, that means you’re just one of those lefties — which I am not,” he said.

For David M. McIntosh, a former member of Congress and a founder of the Federalist Society, the split among conservatives is not necessarily ideological, but may have to do with experience in the day-to-day world of legal practice. Those in the profession, Mr. McIntosh said, are more likely to argue that a lawyer should not be judged by his clients, though he said it was legitimate to examine the agenda of the lawyers.

“Was the person acting merely as an attorney doing their best to represent a client’s case,” he asked, “or did they seek out the opportunity to represent them or write an amicus brief because they have a political or personal agenda that made them more interested in participating in those cases?” If the commitment to the cases is ideological, he said, it is reasonable to ask, “Is that the best attorney for the Justice Department?”

Matthew Miller, a Justice Department spokesman, said accusations that the administration had been secretive or had dragged its feet in responding to the inquiry were untrue. But Mr. Miller said the department would not participate “in an attempt to drag people’s names through the mud for political purposes.”

In a letter sent to Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama, the Justice Department said in February that the lawyers understood that they had to take different positions while working for the United States than they did as private lawyers, and that in any case they would recuse themselves from matters in which they had participated earlier.

A Keep America Safe spokesman responded to a request for comment by passing along links to essays by supporters like Marc A. Thiessen, a columnist for The Washington Post, who wrote on Monday that the detainees did not deserve the same level of representation as criminal defendants.

The lawyers, Mr. Thiessen wrote, “were not doing their constitutional duty to defend unpopular criminal defendants.” He said, “They were using the federal courts as a tool to undermine our military’s ability to keep dangerous enemy combatants off the battlefield in a time of war.”

David Remes, a lawyer who represents 18 detainees, said in a telephone interview from Guantánamo that the deeper point of the attack on the lawyers was political.

The goal, Mr. Remes suggested, “was to make the Obama administration and the Justice Department even more gun-shy than they are on Guantánamo issues.”

What I Read Today - Wednesday March 10, 2010

From: Our Daily Bread

Reminders

READ: 2 Peter 1:5-15

I will not be negligent to remind you always of these things. —2 Peter 1:12Jill Price has an extraordinary memory that has stunned scientists. In 2006, her overdeveloped memory was described in a scientific journal article, “A Case of Unusual Autobiographical Remembering.” Price has no special aptitude for memorizing lists of words, numbers, facts, or languages. But she does remember what happened to her on any given day over the last 30 years. Name any date and Price will tell you what day of the week it was, the weather, what she had for breakfast, the TV programs she watched, and the people she spoke with.

Few of us have a memory like that. That’s why we need reminders to complete simple tasks and keep our appointments. This is especially true when it comes to spiritual truth. The apostle Peter showed he understood the need of spiritual reminders when he wrote: “I will not be negligent to remind you always of these things . . . . Yes, I think it is right . . . to stir you up by reminding you . . . . Moreover I will be careful to ensure that you always have a reminder of these things” (2 Peter 1:12-15).

No matter what kind of memory we have, we need to be reminded of biblical principles. Daily Bible reading, small group studies, and involvement in a local church can all help us to remember God’s vital truths. — Dennis Fisher

Remembering the Word of God
Does not come naturally;
We need reminders to fulfill
What God wants us to be. —Sper

Let God’s Word fill your memory, rule your heart, and guide your steps.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

What I Read Today - Tuesday March 9, 2010

From: Our Daily Bread

Don’t Forget

READ: Deut. 8:1-2,10-18

Beware that you do not forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments. —Deuteronomy 8:11One of my favorite Far Side cartoons is captioned “Superman in his later years.” It shows the elderly Man of Steel perched on a window ledge, ready to leap, as he looks back and says, “Now where was I going?”

Forgetfulness happens to us all, and while our occasional lapses may be amusing or annoying, a lack of memory toward God can be disastrous.

With the people of Israel poised to enter the Promised Land, Moses challenged them to “remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness” (Deut. 8:2) and to “beware that you do not forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments” (v.11).

Forgetting God can spring from: Testing (vv.2-4). God allowed His people to hunger and then provided manna. When we lack the necessities of life, it’s easy to feel that God has somehow forgotten us. Satisfaction (vv.10-11). Abundance or need may produce spiritual amnesia because both cause us to focus on ourselves, not on God who provides. Pride (vv.12-16). If prosperity brings a feeling of self-accomplishment, then we have forgotten God.

Humility, obedience, and praise help us remember God’s faithful provision and care. Let’s not forget to thank Him today for all He’s done. — David C. McCasland

Lest I forget Gethsemane,
Lest I forget Thine agony,
Lest I forget Thy love for me,
Lead me to Calvary. —Hussey

Never let the abundance of God’s gifts cause you to forget the Giver.

Monday, March 8, 2010

more What I Read Today - Monday March 8, 2010

From: The New York Times - Sunday March 7, 2010


Op-Ed Columnist

Dreaming the Possible Dream
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

The thing I love most about America is that there’s always somebody who doesn’t get the word — somebody who doesn’t understand that in a Great Recession you’re supposed to hunker down, downsize and just hold on for dear life. I have a couple of friends who fit that bill, who think a recession is a dandy time to try to discover better and cheaper ways to do things. They both happen to be Indian-Americans — one a son of the Himalayas, who came to America on a scholarship and went to work for NASA to try to find a way to Mars; the other a son of New Delhi, who came here and found the Sun, Sun Microsystems. Both are serial innovators. Both are now shepherding clean-tech start-ups that have the potential to be disruptive game changers. They don’t know from hunkering down. They just didn’t get the word.

As a result, one has produced a fuel cell that can turn natural gas or natural grass into electricity; the other has a technology that might make coal the cleanest, cheapest energy source by turning its carbon-dioxide emissions into bricks to build your next house. Though our country may be flagging, it’s because of innovators like these that you should never — ever — write us off.

Let me introduce Vinod Khosla and K.R. Sridhar. Khosla, the co-founder of Sun, set out several years ago to fund energy start-ups. His favorite baby right now is a company called Calera, which was begun with the Stanford Professor Brent Constantz, who was studying how corals use CO2 to produce their calcium carbonate bones.

If you combine CO2 with seawater, or any kind of briny water, you produce CaCO3, calcium carbonate. That is not only the stuff of corals. It is also the same white, pasty goop that appears on your shower head from hard (calcium-rich) water. At its demonstration plant near Santa Cruz, Calif., Calera has developed a process that takes CO2 emissions from a coal- or gas-fired power plant and sprays seawater into it and naturally converts most of the CO2 into calcium carbonate, which is then spray-dried into cement or shaped into little pellets that can be used as concrete aggregates for building walls or highways — instead of letting the CO2 emissions go into the atmosphere and produce climate change.

If this can scale, it would eliminate the need for expensive carbon-sequestration facilities planned to be built alongside coal-fired power plants — and it might actually make the heretofore specious notion of “clean coal” a possibility.

In announcing in December an alliance to build more Calera plants, Ian Copeland, president of Bechtel Renewables and New Technology — a tough-minded engineering company — said: “The fundamental chemistry and physics of the Calera process are based on sound scientific principles and its core technology and equipment can be integrated with base power plants very effectively.”

A source says the huge Peabody coal company will announce an investment in Calera next week. “If this works,” said Khosla, “coal-fired power would become more than 100 percent clean. Not only would it not emit any CO2, but by producing clean water and cement as a byproduct it would also be taking all of the CO2 that goes into making those products out of the atmosphere.”

John Doerr, the legendary venture capitalist who financed Sun, once said of Khosla: “The best way to get Vinod to do something is to tell him it is impossible.”

Sridhar’s company, Bloom Energy, was featured last week on CBS’s “60 Minutes.” Several months ago, though, Sridhar took me into the parking lot behind Google’s Silicon Valley headquarters and showed me the inside of one of his Bloom Boxes, the size of a small shipping container. Inside were stacks of solid oxide fuel cells, stored in cylinders, and all kinds of whiz-bang parts that I did not understand.

What I did understand, though, was that Google was already getting part of its clean-energy from these fuel cells — and Wal-Mart, eBay, FedEx and Coca-Cola just announced that they are doing the same. Sridhar, Bloom’s co-founder and C.E.O., said his fuel cells, which can run on natural gas or biogas, can generate electricity at 8 to 10 cents a kilowatt hour, with today’s subsidies. “We know we can bring the price down further,” he said, “so Bloom power will be affordable in every energy-poor country” — Sridhar’s real dream.

Attention: These technologies still have to prove that they are reliable, durable and scalable — and if you Google both, you will find studies saying they are and studies that are skeptical. All I know is this: If we put a simple price on carbon, these new technologies would have a chance to blossom and thousands more would come out of innovators’ garages. America still has the best innovation culture in the world. But we need better policies to nurture it, better infrastructure to enable it and more open doors to bring others here to try it.

Our politics has gotten so impossible lately, too many Americans have stopped dreaming. Not these two. They just never got the word. As Sridhar says: “We came to America for the American dream — to do good and to make good.”

What I Read Today - Monday March 8, 2010

From: Our Daily Bread

To The Rescue

READ: Luke 15:1-7

There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance. —Luke 15:7Martie and I recently traveled to some major cities in several countries. We were struck with how lost our world is and grieved over the millions who have never heard the message of the saving grace of Jesus. The thought of reaching our world for Christ felt overwhelming.

Until I remembered the story of the boy walking on a beach. Encountering hundreds of starfish dying under the heat of the burning sun, he started throwing them back into the sea. A passerby asked, “What are you doing?” “Saving their lives,” the boy replied. “Forget it,” the man said. “You can’t possibly save all these starfish.” “Right,” replied the boy, “but it makes a big difference to each one I do save.”

I love the boy’s perspective. When the wave of sin threw us onto the shore to die, God sent His Son to walk on the beach to rescue all who would repent. And, as Jesus told His listeners in Luke 15, each time someone is rescued, heaven throws a party. “I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7).

Has heaven rejoiced over your rescue? If so, join the ranks of those who reach other lost souls with the rescuing grace of Jesus. — Joe Stowell

Your love, O God, would spare no pain
To conquer death and win;
You sent Your only Son to die
To rescue us from sin. —M. Gustafson

When you’ve been rescued, you’ll want to rescue others.

Friday, March 5, 2010

more What I Read Today - Friday March 5, 2010

From: The Wall Street Journal - Friday March 5, 2010

What a Disaster Looks Like

ObamaCare will have been a colossal waste of time—if we're lucky.

By PEGGY NOONAN
It is now exactly a year since President Obama unveiled his health-care push and his decision to devote his inaugural year to it—his branding year, his first, vivid year.

What a disaster it has been.

At best it was a waste of history's time, a struggle that will not in the end yield something big and helpful but will in fact make future progress more difficult. At worst it may prove to have fatally undermined a new presidency at a time when America desperately needs a successful one.

In terms of policy, his essential mistake was to choose health-care expansion over health-care reform. This at the exact moment voters were growing more anxious about the cost and reach of government. The practical mistake was that he did not include or envelop congressional Republicans from the outset, but handed the bill's creation over to a Democratic Congress that was becoming a runaway train. This at the exact moment Americans were coming to be concerned that Washington was broken, incapable of progress, frozen in partisanship.

His political mistakes were myriad and perhaps can be reduced to this:

There are all sorts of harm a new president can do to his presidency. Right now, part of the job of a new president in a hypermediaized environment is harm avoidance. This sounds defensive, and is at odds with the wisdom that presidents in times of crisis must boldly go forth and break through. But it all depends on what you're being bold about. Why, in 2009, create a new crisis over an important but secondary issue when we already have the Great Recession and two wars? Prudence and soundness of judgment are more greatly needed at the moment.

New presidents should never, ever, court any problem that isn't already banging at the door. They should never summon trouble. Mr. Obama did, boldly, perhaps even madly. And this is perhaps the oddest thing about No Drama Obama: In his first year as president he created unneeded political drama, and wound up seen by many Americans not as the hero but the villain.

In Washington among sympathetic political hands (actually, most of them sound formerly sympathetic) you hear the word "intervention," as in: "So-and-so tried an intervention with the president and it didn't work." So-and-so tried to tell him he's in trouble with the public and must moderate, recalibrate, back off from health care. The end of the story is always that so-and-so got nowhere. David Gergen a few weeks ago told the Financial Times the administration puts him in mind of the old joke: "How many psychiatrists does it take to change a lightbulb? Only one. But the lightbulb must want to change. I don't think President Obama wants to make any changes."

Sometimes when I look at the past three chief executives, I wonder if we were witnessing not three presidencies but three psychodramas played out on an intensely public stage.

What accounts for Mr. Obama's confidence and certainty?

Well, if you were a young progressive who'd won the presidency by a comfortable margin in a center-right country, you just might think you were a genius. You might not be surprised to find yourself surrounded by a cultish admiration: "They see him as a fabled figure," said a frequent White House visitor of some on the president's staff.

You might think the great strength you demonstrated during the campaign—an ability to stay in the game you're playing and not the game someone else is playing, an ability to proceed undistracted by the crises or the machinations of your opponents, but to just keep playing your slow and steady game—is a strength suitable to your presidency. If you choose to play health care, that's the game you play, straight through, no jeers from the crowd distracting you.

If you were a young progressive who'd won the presidency against the odds, you probably wouldn't see yourself as someone who lucked out, with the stars perfectly aligned for a liberal victory. And you might forget we are more or less and functionally a 50-50 country, and that you have to keep your finger very much on the pulse of the people if you're to survive and prosper.

And now here are two growing problems for Mr. Obama.

The first hasn't become apparent yet, but I suspect will be presenting itself, and soon. In order to sharpen the air of crisis he seems to think he needed to get his health-care legislation passed, in order to continue the air of crisis that might justify expanding government and sustaining its costs, and in order, always, to remind voters of George W. Bush, Mr. Obama has harped on what a horror the economy is. How great our challenges, how wicked our businessmen, how dim our future.

This is a delicate business. You can't be all rosy glow, you have to be candid. But attitude and mood matter. America has reached the point, a year and a half into the crisis, when frankly it needs some cheerleading. It can't always be mourning in America. We need some inspiration from the top, need someone who can speak with authority of what is working and can be made to work, of what is good and cause for pride. We are still employing 130 million people, and America is still competitive in the world, with innovative business leaders and practices.

The president can't be a hope purveyor while he's a doom merchant, and he appears to believe he has to be a doom merchant to justify ramming through his legislation. This particular legislation is not worth that particular price.

All this contributes to a second problem, which is a growing credibility gap. In his speech Wednesday, demanding an "up or down" vote, the president seemed convinced and committed—but nothing he said sounded true. His bill will "bring down the cost of health care for millions," it is "fully paid for," it will lower the long term deficit by a trillion dollars.

Does anyone believe this? Does anyone who knows the ways of government, the compulsions of Congress, and how history has played out in the past, believe this? Even a little? Rep. Bart Stupak said Thursday that he and several of his fellow Democrats won't vote for the Senate version of the bill because it says right there on page 2,069 that the federal government would directly subsidize abortions. The bill's proponents say this isn't so. It would be a relief to have a president who could weigh in believably and make clear what his own bill says. But he seems to devote more words to obscuring than clarifying.

The only thing that might make his assertions sound believable now is if a group of congressional Republicans were standing next to him on the podium and putting forward a bill right along with him. Which, obviously, won't happen, for three reasons. First, they enjoy his discomfort. Second, they believe the bill is not worth saving, that at this point no matter what it contains—and at this point most people can no longer retain in their heads what it contains—it has been fatally tainted by the past year of mistakes and inadequacies.

And the third reason is that the past decade has taught them what a disaster looks like, and they've lost their taste for standing next to one.

more What I Read Today - Friday March 5, 2010

Found this interesting perspective.  Something I had not considered.

TaxVox: the Tax Policy Center blog :: Tax Credits Make Small Businesses Health Reform Winners, Not Losers.

What I Read Today - Friday March 5, 2010

From: Our Daily Bread

The Right Information

READ: 1 Thess. 4:13-18

I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. —1 Thessalonians 4:13Our flight had been airborne about 15 minutes when the pilot announced that the aircraft had a serious problem the crew was trying to analyze. A few minutes later, he announced that it was a vibration and that we would have to return to the airport. Then the flight attendants made a series of step-by-step announcements explaining what was going on and what would happen once we were on the ground. In an event that could have been terrifying, the fears of the passengers were relieved because we were given the right information.

In the first century, a group of believers in Thessalonica were afraid that their believing loved ones who had died were gone forever and would miss out on the second coming of Christ. For that reason, Paul wrote, “I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope” (1 Thess. 4:13). Paul’s words of comfort were intended to soften their fears by giving them the right information, which made all the difference in the world. While grieving their loss, they could still have hope of a coming reunion with those who were in Christ.

In seasons of loss, we too can find comfort and hope because the Bible has given us the right information. — Bill Crowder

He’s coming back! The dead shall rise,
Caught up to meet Him in the skies.
Upon that hope my soul relies;
He’s coming back! —Sherbert

Death is not a period—it’s only a comma.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

What I Read Today - Thursday March 4, 2010

From: Our Daily Bread

What Brings Happiness?

READ: Ecclesiastes 2:1-11

All was vanity and grasping for the wind. There was no profit under the sun. —Ecclesiastes 2:11After studying the effect of the post-World War II economic boom in Japan, Richard Easterlin concluded that monetary growth does not always bring more satisfaction. More recently, economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers conducted surveys in more than 100 nations and concluded that life satisfaction is highest in the richest countries.

So who’s right? Let’s check with the writer of Ecclesiastes. He should know! He was a truly rich man (2:8). He had the means to try everything in this world—and he did! He gave himself to pleasure (vv.1-3), grand projects (vv.4-8), entertainment (v.8), and hard work (vv.10-11). But he concluded that it was all “vanity and grasping for the wind. There was no profit under the sun” (v.11).

Lasting satisfaction doesn’t come from possessing tangible things like savings accounts and material goods. Recent events have shown that these things can suddenly lose value. To find true happiness, we have to find it in Someone who is not from “under the sun.” And that is our Savior, Jesus.

Hymnwriter Floyd Hawkins wrote: “I’ve discovered the way of gladness, I’ve discovered the way of joy, I’ve discovered relief from sadness. . . . When I found Jesus, my Lord.” Only He can give joy that is full (John 15:11). — C. P. Hia

Take the world, but give me Jesus,
All its joys are but a name;
But His love abideth ever,
Through eternal years the same. —Crosby

To know happiness, get to know Jesus.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

more What I Read Today - Wednesday March 3, 2010

From: The New York Times March 3, 2010


Op-Ed Columnist

A Word From the Wise
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

I was traveling via Los Angeles International Airport — LAX — last week. Walking through its faded, cramped domestic terminal, I got the feeling of a place that once thought of itself as modern but has had one too many face-lifts and simply can’t hide the wrinkles anymore. In some ways, LAX is us. We are the United States of Deferred Maintenance. China is the People’s Republic of Deferred Gratification. They save, invest and build. We spend, borrow and patch.

And this contrast is playing out in the worst way — just slowly enough so the crisis never seems acute enough to take urgent action. But, eventually, infrastructure, education and innovation policies matter. Businesses prefer to invest with the Jetsons more than the Flintstones, which brings me to the subject of this column.

I had a chance last week to listen to Paul Otellini, the chief executive of Intel, the microchip maker and one of America’s crown jewel companies. Otellini was in Washington to talk about competitiveness at Brookings and the Aspen Institute. At a time when so much of our public policy discussion is dominated by health care and bailouts, my public service for the week is to share Mr. Otellini’s views on start-ups.

While America still has the quality work force, political stability and natural resources a company like Intel needs, said Otellini, the U.S. is badly lagging in developing the next generation of scientific talent and incentives to induce big multinationals to create lots more jobs here.

“The things that are not conducive to investments here are [corporate] taxes and capital equipment credits,” he said. “A new semiconductor factory at world scale built from scratch is about $4.5 billion — in the United States. If I build that factory in almost any other country in the world, where they have significant incentive programs, I could save $1 billion,” because of all the tax breaks these governments throw in. Not surprisingly, the last factory Intel built from scratch was in China. “That comes online in October,” he said. “And it wasn’t because the labor costs are lower. Yeah, the construction costs were a little bit lower, but the cost of operating when you look at it after tax was substantially lower and you have local market access.”

These local incentives matter because smart, skilled labor is everywhere now. Intel can thrive today — not just survive, but thrive — and never hire another American. Asked if his company was being held back by weak science and math education in America’s K-12 schools, Otellini explained:

“As a citizen, I hate it. As a global employer, I have the luxury of hiring the best engineers anywhere on earth. If I can’t get them out of M.I.T., I’ll get them out of Tsing Hua” — Beijing’s M.I.T.

It gets worse. Otellini noted that a 2009 study done by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation and cited recently in Democracy Journal “ranked the U.S. sixth among the top 40 industrialized nations in innovative competitiveness — not great, but not bad. Yet that same study also measured what they call ‘the rate of change in innovation capacity’ over the last decade — in effect, how much countries were doing to make themselves more innovative for the future. The study relied on 16 different metrics of human capital — I.T. infrastructure, economic performance and so on. On this scale, the U.S. ranked dead last out of the same 40 nations. ... When you take a hard look at the things that make any country competitive. ... we are slipping.”

If the government just boosted the research and development tax credit by 5 percent and lowered corporate taxes, argued Otellini, and we “started one or two more projects in companies around the country that made them more productive and more competitive, the government’s tax revenues are going to grow.” With the generous research and development tax credits and lower corporate taxes they receive, Intel’s chief competitors in South Korea basically have “zero cost of money,” said Otellini. Intel can compete against that with superior technology, but many other U.S. firms can’t.

Does the Obama team get it? Otellini compared the Obama administration to a “diode” — an electronic device that conducts electric current in only one direction. They are very good at listening to Silicon Valley, he said, but not so good at responding.

“I’d like to see competitiveness and education take a higher role than they are today,” he said. “Right now, they’re going to try to push this health care thing over the line, and, after that, deal with the next thing. God, I’d just like this [our competitiveness] to be the next thing. Something has to pay for” everything government is doing today.

We had to do the bailouts, the buy-ups and the jobs bills to stop the bleeding. But now we need to focus on the policies that spawn new firms and keep our best at the top. “Having run a company through a major transition, it’s a lot easier to change when you can than when you have to,” said Otellini. “The cost is less. You have more time. I am a little worried that by the time we wake up to the crisis we will be in the abyss.”