Xpatriated Texan - A Maverick Believer in the Garden State

Christian Liberal is not an oxymoron

Location: United States

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Moving Day

Well, I've had it up my sleeve for a while now and I can no longer keep a secret. I now officially join the "Big Boys Club" with my own independent website. No more waiting for Blogger to get the stuff in a sock! Yay!

Take a look at http://www.xpatriatedtexan.com !

I'll continue to use this place for archival purposes. Thanks to everyone who has stopped by along the way.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Government Funded Faith

Regardless of political or religious affiliation, the news that programs funded through President Bush's faith-based initiatives office should be celebrated. The success of such projects shows that they are badly needed and that America truly does have the compassion to reach out to those within our society that are suffering or in need. It shows that we have not left "the least among us" behind entirely.

Yet I still have some naggling concerns about the way (and the reasons) the White House is doing this. For one thing, it is outright misleading. In its guidelines for "Partnering with the Federal Government" it states:

The United States Supreme Court has said that faith-based organizations may not use direct government support to support "inherently religious" activities. Don't be put off by the term "inherently religious" - it's simply a phrase that has been used by the courts in church-state cases. Basically, it means you can not use any part of a direct Federal grant to fund religious worship, instruction, or proselytization. Instead, organizations may use government money only to support the non-religious social services that they provide. Therefore, faith-based organizations that receive direct governmental funds should take steps to separate, in time or location, their inherently religious activities from the government-funded services that they offer. Such organizations should also carefully account for their use of all government money.

This flies in the face of the Lemon v. Kurtzman case. This case struck down a 1969 law in Rhode Island that allowed the state to pay teachers' salaries, even when they worked for a religious school. The decision struck down a similar Pennsylvania law, as well. The reason was not that the teachers were involved in an "inherently religious" activity. The reason given was:

the cumulative impact of the entire relationship arising under the statutes involves excessive entanglement between government and religion.

The Court stated:

The entanglement in the Rhode Island program arises because of the religious activity and purpose of the church-affiliated schools, especially with respect to children of impressionable age in the primary grades, and the dangers that a teacher under religious control and discipline poses to the separation of religious from purely secular aspects of elementary education in such schools. These factors require continuing state surveillance to ensure that the statutory restrictions are obeyed and the First Amendment otherwise respected. Furthermore, under the Act, the government must inspect school records to determine what part of the expenditures is attributable to secular education, as opposed to religious activity, in the event a nonpublic school's expenditures per pupil exceed the comparable figures for public schools.

In other words, you have a school set up for the express purpose of provide religiously-based education. Even though the teaching of, for example, Social Studies is not "inherently religious" in nature, and the intent of the law is not to give preference to church-schools, the effect of giving the schools money is that the government would have to basically take over the administration of the school in order to make sure that no money was used for religious purposes.

The entanglement in the Pennsylvania program also arises from the restrictions and surveillance necessary to ensure that teachers play a strictly nonideological role and the state supervision of nonpublic school accounting procedures required to establish the cost of secular, as distinguished from religious, education. In addition, the Pennsylvania statute has the further defect of providing continuing financial aid directly to the church-related schools. Historically, governmental control and surveillance measures tend to follow cash grant programs, and here the government's post-audit power to inspect the financial records of church-related schools creates an intimate and continuing relationship between church and state.

This is pretty much the same argument. "Government control and surveillance measures tend to follow cash grant programs" - this is not an argument over whether or not it is the government's duty to provide for education. That is immaterial. What is at risk is the independence of the church.

When the government gives the church money, the government also has a duty to make sure the church is using it properly. This is acknowledged under the current program. Here's an excerpt from the news story linked to earlier:
Last year, The Door's students' math skills improved by 35%, and reading skills increased by 18%, according to a Door progress report. Renewal of grants such as The Door's is contingent on showing that a program is effective.
That's a good thing (both the improvement in scores and the oversight of federal money)- and we can only wonder why it isn't considered when Halliburton is renewing contracts. The problem, as we have seen with secular organizations and federal dollars, is that there tends to be "organizational creep".

Organizational creep is merely a managerial term to describe two things: 1) The manner in which an organization's goals and missions tend to expand over time; and 2) the manner in which the people within the organization tend to quit upholding the goals and missions of an organization. These things happen naturally, because human nature is to move on to greater challenges and to slowly relax rules and norms to avoid continued struggle. This is why program managers have to constantly be on guard against organizational creep and create programs of retraining and renewal to pull the entire organization back to where it began.

Here's an organizational problem. Next year, students at The Door will not have a 35% increase in math skills (because there is a limit to how much any skill can be improved). Maybe it will only be 30%. The following year, it's only 20%. A government oversight director says, "Look, you're becoming less and less effective. Something better change or you'll lose your money." What do they do?

Well, they appeal the process. "Look," they say, "The Door has helped hundreds of kids. These are kids who would have been out on the streets and possibly gang-members if we weren't here."

"Ah," says the government, "You're a gang-prevention program. Here are the (very different) rules for that kind of program."

What can The Door do? They either change or close their doors. Soon, they are doing no math or reading and just trying to manage behavioral problems within program constraints. Think it doesn't happen? I saw a wonderful juvenile offender treatment program in Florida totally upended because its non-punative approach was deemed "out-dated" and a new "boot-camp" style approach was adopted. Recidivism rates shot up. Funding slowly dried up as the program became ineffectual.

Lemon showed other concerns for "faith-based initiatives" as well:

Unlike the tax exemption for places of religious worship, upheld in Walz v. Tax Commission, 397 U.S. 664, which was based on a practice of 200 years, these innovative programs have self-perpetuating and self-expanding propensities which provide a warning signal against entanglement between government and religion.

That is exactly the organizational creep that I described. It isn't a problem that general faith is being supported - all but the extreme atheists would agree that a bit more faith in America could help a lot of problems. The problem is that, when the government funds faith, the government decides which faith Americans will have a bit more of. That, de facto, leads to government driving religion as a means of accomplishing its ends.

When a church-run organization is dependent on the government for funding, it is no longer a church-run organization. Oh yes, the church still draws up pretty papers and mission statements and plans, but the government is the final arbiter of what is and is not allowed. That is "excessive entanglement". How long after the government gives the church money does the the church become dependent upon the government? How long after that does the church become nothing more than the mouthpiece of the state - with specific churches and denominations seeing their fates rise and fall with the political tide and their ability to back the correct politicla patron?

Yes, these problems exist for non-religiously based organizations. But to put religion and non-religion on the same grounds is to show total ignorance of what religion means. Headstart programs may have problems, but no one ever started a war over Headstart. Religion, on the other hand, has been an excuse for war time and time again.

Churches can, and should, continue with their community service - but they should do so completely independent of governmental control and influence. It is even more troubling that those in charge of determining which organizations receive funds do not seem cognizant of either the dangers or legal restrictions under which they operate.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

A Nation of Goats Look for a Heaven Full of Answers

The Reverend Billy Graham once said, "Heaven is full of answers to prayers for which no one bothered to ask."

Thanks for that, Billy. I'm sure it's real comforting for people to know that things will be better when they die. Honestly, that's only a half-snarky comment. After all, the promise of salvation is no rubber chicken consolation prize.

But we don't live in heaven, and we are charged with being the conscience of this world. As we continue to shift from a "War on Poverty" to a "War on Terror", it is necessary to be honest with ourselves that we were, in many circumstances, utterly defeated in our earlier "war" effort.

The single most blighted area in the United States is now, officially, the border with Mexico. This isn't a problem that comes from illegal immigration, though. It is a problem of our own making.

If the 24 counties along the nation's Southwest border were a 51st state, it would rank first in federal crimes, second in tuberculosis and near the bottom in education, per capita income and access to health care.


The study found the region ranks last in access to health care compared with the rest of the states and 50th in number of residents with insurance. Yet the prevalence of people with tuberculosis is twice that of United States as a whole. Residents also have high rates of AIDS, hepatitis and adult diabetes.

Here is an entire region full of prayers that are being asked and we have the means to answer them. We can provide healthcare and education and, most precious of all, hope to the people who live in this region. Our economy has the money to provide real solutions - what we lack is the political will. How can anyone argue that it costs too much to support our own citizens when we spend so much on Iraq? Yet our President brags and boasts about how social programs have been targeted:

In his State of the Union address Tuesday, President George W. Bush broadly outlined his budget plans for the 2007 fiscal year that begins October 1, 2006.

"Every year of my presidency, we've reduced the growth of nonsecurity discretionary spending."


The government said Thursday it would seek 70 billion dollars in emergency funds for further military operations in Iraq this year from lawmakers and an additional 50 billion dollars for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan would be included in its 2007 budget proposal to Congress.

Every day the disconnect between reality and our rulers grows larger. We are becoming a nation of goats who care only that our bellies are full and no one can take a penny from our golden penny jar.

In this case, it is not Heaven where answers to prayers are being stored, but Washington.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Explanations and stuff

Regular readers (both of you) will have noticed a steep drop in the number of postings here. While no one has written and asked why, I've taken it upon myself to explain. Mostly to assuage my sense of guilt over being a slacker, but also to promote some other things I'm doing that prove I'm not really a slacker.

Gee, I've been studying politics too long.

First, as you've probably noticed, I've been really pushing the Progressive Faith Bloggers Conference and the associated Blog Carnival. There's a bit more going on behind the scenes as far as securing funding and getting input on scheduling and such. None of it takes up a huge amount of time, but five minutes here, ten minutes there, and before you know it the day is gone.

Another evolution of this blog has been that it has split, somewhat. Originally, I threw everything in here - which meant that I wrote about faith, national politics, Texas politics, New Jersey politics...you get the idea. No focus. When Juan invited me to move over to Blue Jersey, I was a bit skeptical - but it offered me a chance to focus this blog a bit more. I think blatantly ripped-off his idea (after discussing it a bit with him) and started Blue Texas. Both of them focus on state-level issues and they gave me a chance to focus things a bit more at this site.

My ongoing education on politics and political science led to the conclusion that there are plenty of what are called "single-issue" groups out there. The problem is that they don't interact. Liberal/Progressive politics has the appearance of an endless procession of interest group after interest group, with each one breeding their own fanatic activists who don't give a damn about anything else and are likely to eat their own arm if it hints at disagreeing the slightest bit. Somehow, I figured I could help bring them together - or at least put some of the things they are talking about in one place - so I also launched the American Progressive Populist Project. That site is worth wandering around a bit, I think. There are plenty of unfolding plans for it, but for now, I'll just let you browse.

In addition, I'm reworking a manuscript on estate taxation to submit for publication (I'll let you know which boring academic journal finally accepts - if they accept). Add to that teaching three classes at two colleges (plus a few hours of prep and grading per week).

I've also accepted a position blogging on midterm campaigns at Mid-term Madness. So we'll see how that goes.

Oh yeah, I also have a wife - who is kind and patient and doesn't understand why I have this bug up my butt for this stuff, but supports me nonetheless.

I believe this is what is called, "Living the Good Life".

Monday, March 06, 2006

Get Ready for the Carnival!

Our very own Velveteen Rabbi is hosting the Progressive Faith Blog Carnival.

Progressive Faith Blog-Con 2006 Carnival

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Overrun, Overwhelmed, and Waiting

In military terms, nothing conveys the total helplessness of a situation as the term "over-run". According to my rememberance, it's the term used by a commander to indicate that gunnery should triangulate on his radio signal and direct their fire at it. The idea is to create a pyrric victory. Once the enemy has broken through your defenses and you can't tell friend from foe even two feet away, the only way to lessen the defeat is to make the enemy pay as high a price as is possible. You do that by sacrificing your own unit - calling down hellfire even as you stand in the midst of the enemy to make sure they don't fade away into vapor.

In civilian terms, when you are confronted with a natural disaster instead of an unfriendly army, you aren't going to call down artillery or bombs. The term is no longer "over-run", but "overwhelmed". Conditions are so far out of hand that there is simply no place to start regaining control. Every contingent that has been planned for has come through with a vengeance simultaneously. Action in one area is stifled by needs in all other directions.

In the military, there is the understanding that, ultimately, soldiers can be sacrificed - reluctantly. In civilian matters, there is no such understanding. There is only aching, throbbing, stabbing need - and the inability to meet those needs.

The only way to get out of being overwhelmed is to shut out the calls for help and tackle the primary problem. Once that is settled, you move on to another problem. Then you move on to the next, and the next, and the next. It means people will suffer and probably die. Soldiers live with the understanding that they will deal with the dead, and may count themselves in that group at any time. They also deal with the fact that they will face such decisions and not question the people who are sacrificed. That's simply the way of a soldier: cold, hard, logical.

Of course, the military plans and trains and learns to act reflexively. FEMA is supposed to. They have plans. They always had plans. But they were overwhelmed and the power structure lacked the capacity to harden themselves. The lacked the ability to resolve themselves to the fact that people were going to die as a result of their choices and make them anyway. As a result, even more people suffered and probably died than was absolutely necessary.

Of course, we now have video proof that the President was told that Katrina would be bad. Michael Brown is sure that he is now vindicated.

But there are also reports that the video may not be the whole story.

I haven't seen the video. I don't really care to see it. First, I have to wonder about how the video was released. There is one person - and only one person - who would benefit from taping the meeting in the first place, then editing it, and leaking it to the media in altered form. That would be the person saying he has been vindicated. Second, ever since I saw Forrest Gump shake hands with Lyndon Johnson, I've tended to be a bit skeptical about videos. That kind of goes along with the first point, doesn't it?

More than that, I don't think there is much use in watching the video. What is it supposed to tell us? That the Adminstration bungled the recovery effort? I think that's pretty well common knowledge by now. Were we expecting some confirmation of of Kanye West's statement?

There is really only one reason to watch the video - to make sure something like this doesn't happen again. No, I'm not excusing the ineptitude of those responsible for saving lives. They failed their trial of leadership and that is unforgiveable for people who had held their positions for so long - and I mean everyone from Chertoff and Brown to Bush and Cheney.

The greatest failure is that none of them trusted the American public enough to tell the truth. Instead, they put on a good show for the news cameras and shrugged it off - the responsibility, the blame, the reality. The primary ingredient of a leader is honesty. It should be crystal clear to everyone by now that honesty is a commodity in short supply in the Administration. The first step in admitting you are overwhelmed is to admit it to your self. We still have seen no sign of that.

Another thing I learned from time in the military is that authority can be delegated, but responsibility cannot. That, too, is necessary to understand before one can recover from being overwhelmed. From the beginning, Michael Brown has been hung out to dry by a President who can't be honest enough to admit that it was his responsibility. John Kennedy's ratings soared when he accepted responsibility for the botched Bay of Pigs invasion, where our troops were overrun. Republicans sometimes like to defend Bush's tax policy by pointing out that John Kennedy also cut taxes. Unfortunately, they are completely unable to point to any example that would tie the honesty with which Kennedy spoke to the American people with any statement made by Bush at any time.

So our government's capacity to govern remains as it was at the time the video was made: waiting to be overwhelmed.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Carnival Update!

Nothing like last minute changes to make a man's hair turn gray, fall out, or both.

Progressive Faith Blog-Con 2006 Carnival

Due to life happening all over the place, our new Carnival host for Sunday (more or less) is Roving Ellipsis.

As always, you can submit links and anything of interest to our email - ProgFaithCarnival-at-yahoo-dot-com.

I just discovered that a few posts that had been submitted in previous weeks had been picked up by spam filters and had, thus, not been included. Apologies. If you submit something and don't see it included, feel free to leave a comment with a link.


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