Saturday, January 31, 2009

Hall of Fame with a Bullet

The Pro Football Hall of Fame announced that "Bullet" Bob Hayes made the 2009 Hall of Fame class.  Hayes revolutionized the game of football by introducing the concept of downfield speed into the game.  Offenses began to use speed to move the ball quickly down the field, especially using the long pass, and defenses began to use speed to bottle up offenses.  During his career, Hayes scored 71 touchdowns, accumulated over 7,000 yards receiving, and made 3 pro-bowls.

Besides playing football, Hayes was a 2 two-time gold medal winner at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and set the world record in the 100 meters.  He is the only person to win a gold medal and play for a Super Bowl winner.

Hayes is a native of Jacksonville and played his final season for the San Francisco 49ers and for these reasons The Backbencher celebrates Hayes' election to the Hall of Fame. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Jessica Alba, Historian

Bill O'Reilly called Jessica Alba a "pinhead" because she suggested that Sweden was neutral during World War 2.  It turns out that Sweden was indeed neutral throughout the Second World War.  Alba was disappointed rather than angry and said, "it is so sad to me that you think the only neutral country during WWII was Switzerland."

The number of Americans now verified to be smarter than Bill O'Reilly stands at 300,000,001

Getting Over It

Andrew Manis was one of my seminary professors, is an award winning writer, and is a person I greatly admire.  He wrote this op-ed on whether Obama's election really marks the end of racism.  Andy wrote an award winning biography of Birmingham's Fred Shuttleworth, and racism and civil rights are his areas of expertise.  You can order the the Shuttlesworth biography here.

Biblical Marriage

It's stuff like this that makes me feel that it is time to declare once and for all what really is the Biblical definition of marriage.  Fortunately, the Backbencher is graduate of a theological seminary and an ordained minister.

The Biblical definition of marriage is one man and as many Jewish women as he can support. Concubines, however, can belong to any faith.  

I am happy to have cleared this up.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Classic Backbencher

John McDonnell is the Labour MP representing the constituency of Hayes and Harlington, which includes Heathrow Airport.  Many of Mr McDonnell's constituents will be displaced or otherwise inconvenienced by the government's plan to add a third runway.  During a debate on the proposal, Mr. McDonnell grew so incensed that in an act defiance he grabbed the ceremonial mace and placed it on an empty bench.  This little act of rebellion caused Mr. McDonnell to be suspended from the House of Commons for 5 days. 

Perhaps this was a futile gesture but it was one that we can all admire.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Backbencher of the Week

This week the Backbencher of the Week recognizes a local.  The winner is Rep. Bruce Braley(D-IA-1).  In 2006, Braley won a seat that Republicans held for 30 years.  During his first term, Rep. Braley did a good job on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and was one of the most effective questioners on the committee.  Just recently, Rep. Braley became a vice-chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee(DCCC) and head of the DCCC's Red to Blue program.  In this position, Braley will be responsible to overseeing campaigns in districts the GOP currently holds.  For doing such a good job in such quick fashion, we award Rep. Bruce Braley this week's Backbencher of the Week. 

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Thursday, January 22, 2009

I Could Get Used...

To having Democrats in charge.  The Lily Ledbetter act passes the Senate but the bill must go back to the House due to some minor changes.  President Obama should soon sign the bill into law.  Republican Senators Arlen Spector, Lisa Murkowski, Olympia Snow, Kay Bailey Hutchinson, and Susan Collins all voted Yea.  

The full roll call vote is here  

"On Our Terms"

President Obama orders Guantanamo and other CIA "black site" prisons closed.  During the ceremony, President Obama said we are going to win the fight against terrorism "on our terms."  This is great news because we had been dealing with terrorism on the terms set out by the Gestapo, the KGB, and the Khmer Rouge. 

As far as I am concerned, Obama can take the rest of the year off and he will still be considered a success.

You Need to Listen to my Wife, Vol. II

Read Liturgygeek's op-ed on Roe vs. Wade.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

This is Neat

A montage  of front pages about Obama's inauguration.  

Off to a Good Start

President Obama announces a 120 day suspension of the proceedings at Gitmo.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inaugural Thoughts

It's amazing how simple the actual ceremony was.  From start to finish the ceremony was about an hour in length, which is about the time of an average church service.  In that short of time power was transferred and a page was turned. 

Given the political niceties required by the occasion, I thought it was clear that a change in how government is done is coming to Washington.  Obama made it clear with this statement, "we reject the false choice between our safety and ideals... Those ideals still light the world and we will not give them up for expedience sake," that he plans on ending the Bush terror policies.  Obama also made it clear that he plans on putting his administration at the center of securing good paying jobs and health care for all people.

This address seemed to me to be focused on the agenda of the Obama administration and it is an ambitious agenda.  Obama is focused on creating a new political consensus that will last a generation.  By restoring the rule of law, repairing the economy, and increasing health care coverage, Obama wants to set the ground rules of politics for the next 30-40 years.

A couple of other points.  I loved the ensemble and "Simple Gifts."  The song means a lot to me because liturgygeek and I walked up the aisle to it at the end of our wedding.  Rev. Joseph Lowery's prayer captured the meaning of the day better than anything.

In a bit of historical irony I conclude with the words William L. Yancey used to greet the selection of Jefferson Davis as President of the Confederacy: "The man and the hour have met." 

Monday, January 19, 2009

M.L. King and Service

Today is Martin Luther King Day and it has become a national day of service.  I'm not against service but I find turning today into a day of service neutralizes the message of Rev. King.  King spoke on many things but his life's focus was not on community service or acts of charity.

Instead King questioned the foundations of America's economic systems and called for a broader distribution of wealth.  King spoke out against Vietnam and called the US government "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world."

It's not that I'm against painting over graffiti or cleaning up an inner city park but I think we would do well to spend King's birthday considering his words.

A good article about King's radicalism can be found here

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Backbencher of the Week

This week's Backbencher of the Week goes to FOB(Friend of Backbencher) Rep. Jay Inslee(D-WA).  Rep. Inslee is a leading advocate on energy and environmental issues.  To help ensure that environmental issues are addressed in the new congress, Rep. Inslee teamed with Rep. Steve Israel(D-NY) to form The Sustainable Energy and Environment Caucus.  This new caucus, which drew 30-35 members to its most recent meeting, will seek to put green proposals in the stimulus bill.  For taking a leading role in the legislating of green solutions we award Rep. Jay Inslee the Backbencher of the Week.  Congratulations.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Steve King, Republican

My congressman, Rep Steve King(R-IA), finds it "bizarre" that President-elect Obama will use his middle name at the inauguration.  Rep. King says that Obama's stated reason is not the real reason and basically insinuates that Obama is an other who should be feared.

My friend Mardis has a post wondering why a grown up Republican does not challenge King.  I gave a brief response at The Pocket Mardis but I want to speak about it a little further.

The reason no Republican will challenge King is because they all agree with him.  The Republican base is fueled by a toxic brew of of hatred, resentments, and fears.  There is a darkness in the soul of the modern GOP's base, and King speaks to and for the darkness.  In short, Republicans keep electing Steve King because he is one of them.   

Thursday, January 15, 2009

It's all Hamilton and Madison's Fault

Read this article from The Atlantic about the structural flaws in the presidency.  The biggest problem appears that the powers of the office are vague because the framers who wrote them could only picture George Washington holding the office.

I don't agree with all of Professor Epp's suggestions but I think that it is important to note that many of our political problems are structural and require fixes that include more than a change of who is in charge.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

UK Update

Gordon Brown's government announced  that it will go ahead with plans for a 3rd runway at Heathrow, and as an added bonus there are SUPERTRAINS involved in the plan.

We Have Lost..

The War on Terror.  After the convening authority of the military commissions Susan Crawford said that we cannot prosecute alleged 9/11 20th hijacker Mohammd al-Qahtani because we tortured him it is clear that all we can do is try not to lose.  We sold our soul and got nothing in return. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

National Security Courts

Hilzoy has a post proposals that are floating around about creating a new legal system to try terrorists.  With Obama pledging to close Guantanamo something has to be done with 15 "high value" detainees.  One of the suggestions is to create special National Security Courts.

Let me address that idea with a simple answer.  Hell No.  National Security Courts would probably lessen the rights of defendants and be more flexible about allowing the government to use evidence gained in illegal ways such as torture and spying.  Once we allow any weakening of the safeguards of our justice system then that weakness will spill over into all of the legal system.  It is easy to see an over zealous prosecutor using a national security court for going after radical enviromentalists or ant-war activists or any other group on the fringe of American society.

 The only way we can lose to terrorism is if we beat ourselves.  Creating another legal system without all the safeguards is a quick way to do that

Monday, January 12, 2009

Friends Forever

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have apparently buried the hatchet.

Electoral College

Sen. Bill Nelson(D-FL) proposed a constitutional amendment abolishing the Electoral College but it does not look like the proposal will go anywhere.  As might be expected from a Democratic politician from Florida, Sen. Nelson is a proponent of electoral reform and proposes something along these lines every congress.  We wish Sen Nelson well and wonder whatever happened to all that talk about reforming our electoral system.  


I am sympathetic to the idea of a college football playoff and I would support a 8 team playoff that included the bowls.  After watching the NFL  playoffs, I wonder if a playoff system would be any better at determining the best team. 

In the NFC the Philadelphia Eagles will play the Arizona Cardinals.  The Eagles were 9-6-1(the tie coming against the 4-11-1 Cincinnati Bengals) and the Cardinals were 9-7.  A team that wins 9 games in a 16 game season is not a good team.  It is a team that has reached the upper levels of mediocrity.

There are a lot of problems with how college football decides its champions but following pro sports and allowing a team that is slightly better then mediocre a shot at the championship is not the way to go.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

New Year in UK Parliament

On Monday, the UK Parliament returns from its holiday break.  In no particular order, here some stories that we will we watching to see how they develop.

1.  Gordon Brown and the Financial Crisis.  When the financial crisis hit back in the fall, Gordon Brown was at the nadir of his young premiership and the Conservatives maintained a large lead in the polls.  There were even rumblings of a Labour rebellion to oust Brown.  Once the crisis hit, Brown used his experience as Chancellor of the Exchequer to take decisive action and Brown's standing in the polls has steadily risen.  It remains to be seen if Brown's actions will work or if the global crisis will eventually put a drag on Labour's popularity.  Brown will announce on  Monday a 500,000,000 pound jobs program to deal with long terms unemployment and to stave off a larger recession.

2.  The government would like to build a 3rd runway at Heathrow Airport to reduce congestion.  A cross party group, including Labour rebels, are trying to force a debate and a vote in the Commons on this proposal.  Action on a 3rd runway could happen this week.

3.  Gordon Brown brought Peter Mandelson(now Lord Mandelson) back into the cabinet to be Business Minister.  One of Mandelson's first plans is for a semi-privatization of Royal Mail.  John Prescott, who was Tony Blair's deputy, is firmly opposed to the plan and is starting to lead a rebellion against it.  I believe this may be a sign of a struggle for the Soul of the Labour Party between the old trade unionists like Prescott and the New Labour Blairites. 

4.  Tory Leader David Cameron will soon be making changes to his shadow cabinet.  One possible move is to bring former Chancellor Kenneth Clarke into the Shadow Cabinet to possibly shadow Lord Mendelson with some type of trade and industry portfolio.  However, Tories who disagree with Clake's positions on Europe are saying that his appointment might split the party.

5.  After the arrest of a Tory shadow minister for soliciting civil servants for classified information and a raid on the shadow minister's Westminster office there are questions about Speaker the House Michael Martin's ability to carry out his duties.  Watch closely to see how the fallout from Scotland Yard's raid affects the Commons.

6.  Will Brown call an early election?  A UK general election is not scheduled until 2010.  The question is will Brown feel that his actions during the financial crisis have strengthened his popularity with the electorate enough to call an early election. 

Here are some links to to help you follow the UK Parliament:

Backbencher of the Week

In a first for the Backbencher of the Week we have a winner from the GOP.  Rep. Chris Smith(R-NJ) is this week's winner.

Normally, Rep Smith's virulently anti-choice position would keep him from even being nominated.  However, this week the House passed both the Lily Ledbetter Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act.  These acts are meant to ensure there is no gender discrimination is people's paychecks, and to extend the statue of limitations for discovering and filing a gender discrimination claim.

Democrats overwhelmingly voted for the both bills and Republicans voted overwhelmingly against the two bills.  Rep. Smith was in fact the only Republican to vote for both bills.

For being willing to buck his party and take a stand against workplace discrimination, we are pleased to award this week's Backbencher of the week to Rep. Chris Smith(R-NJ).  Congratulations. 

Saturday, January 10, 2009


My friend Matt over at The Pocket Mardis has a post about not memorizing his sermon for this Sunday and learning to not feel the need to be perfect in the service of God.

Back before I became a hospice chaplain I was a Baptist preacher at a small Baptist church in a small town in Georgia.  I was the only full-time staff and I preached every Sunday.  What I learned is that to survive the pressure of preaching every Sunday, I needed to befriend my own mediocrity. 

In a month of 4 Sundays I learned that one sermon would be really good, 2 wold be okay, and 1 would suck.  It seemed like no matter how much effort or time went into the sermon the math would stay the same.  It helped me to recover from a bad sermon because I knew that I had a good sermon in me, and it helped me from getting too excited when I preached good one because I knew how bad I could be.


The acting director of the Congressional Budget Office(CBO) is Robert Sunshine.  It looks like pledges to bring more transparency to the government are already bringing in a little more sunshine into the process of governing. 

Thursday, January 8, 2009

A Rick Warren Post

This article explains why Warren giving the invocation at the inauguration is a bad idea.  It's not just that the views that Warren expresses are abhorrent.  It is also that his views causes him to partner with people like Martin Ssempa who is a pastor in Uganda.  Ssempa burns condoms in public exhibitions and believes that Gays and Lesbians should be put in prison.  Ssempa is very influential and close the the first family of Uganda.

It's not that Warren's views are wrong but they can be dangerous. 

Health Care and Farm Policy

Since I work at a hospital in rural Iowa, I found this Ezra Klein blog post on how good health policy makes for good farm policy to be very interesting.


Sen Tom Harkin(D-IA) met with Obama's economic team and did not like the plans for the proposed stimulus package.  He thought the package was focused too much on tax cuts and used the Reaganesque phrase trickle-down to describe the stimulus.  

BCS Championship Prediction

Florida: 38
Oklahoma: 28

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


Rep. Cliff Stearns(R-FL), who is my parents congressman, wrote Speaker Nancy Polesi(D-CA) and asked if the house could move up votes scheduled for Thursday to today so that he could attend the BCS championship game between Oklahoma and Florida.

This is a congressman who has his priorities in order. 

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Hippies were Right

The police really are after them.

The Maryland State Police in the aftermath of 9/11 greatly expanded their intelligence work.  They did not find an al-Qaeda sleeper cell but they did manage to spy on anti-death penalty groups, PETA on fears they might disrupt the circus, and consumer groups opposed to a massive electricity rate hike.  They labeled the DC Anti-War Network a white supremacist group and, my favorite, they investigated Amnesty International for the possible crimes of "Civil Rights."

What is amazing about this is that this is actually news.  If you give the police the power to spy on anyone then they will abuse that power and spy on everyone.

It's high time we realize that an obsession with security that allows the police to spy on dissenters will one day kill democracy.      

Imagine That

Increased partisanship can lead to increased participation.   

It's amazing that it actually has to be explained that if there are strong differences between the two parties then people might actually take the time to decide which party they want in power.

Was Deepak Chopra Busy?

CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta will be Obama's nominee for Surgeon General

The Fury of Enablers Scorned

Sen Diane Feinstein(D-CA), who is the incoming chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, doesn't like Obama's choice of former White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta to head the CIA, and outgoing chair Sen. Jay Rockefeller(D-WV) is also less than thrilled.

Feinstein it should be remembered was one of two Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee to vote to approve Attorney General Michael Mukasey even after he he said he didn't know if waterboarding was torture.  At least Sen. Chuck Schumer(D-NY) could claim a personal connection to Mukasey from their New York days.  Sen. Rockefeller cut a deal with the Bush Administration to allow for telecom immunity in the lawsuits surrounding warrentless wiretapping.

If nothing else, if Panetta's nomination sidelines those Democrats who helped enable the worst aspects of the Bush Administration then this is will be a successful pick.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Opening Day

Tomorrow both houses of Congress meet to start the 111th congress.  There are a couple of things to watch for when both houses convene at 12:00 p.m. EST.

In the Senate, watch the soap opera regarding the seating of Roland Burris.  There is some debate about if the Senate can actually refuse to seat Mr. Burris.  The Supreme Court decision of Powell vs. McCormick seems to say the Senate cannot but there is still some debate.  Majority Leader Harry Reid said he would instruct the Sergeant at Arms, and if need be the Capitol Police, to bar Mr Burris from entering the Senate floor.  

Over in the House, there will be two new rule change that might affect how they legislate.  When each Congress mets, the House has to reconstitute itself.  They have to elect their officers and decide on the rules that will govern House proceedings.  One rule change involves a Motion to Recommit.  This is a last ditch effort to send a bill from the floor back to committee to change the bill.  In practice this is an effort to kill a bill by sending it back to committee or by adding a controversial amendment.  The rule change will only allow one motion to recommit and in effect the change to the bill would be voted on immediately on the House floor and then the vote on the underlying bill.  This would allow the minority to make a needed change but prevent them from killing the bill.

Also the House will repeal the rule that limits committee chairs to only six years of service as head of a particular committee.  The GOP instituted the rule when they took control in 1995 but they often made exceptions.  It will be interesting to see how these rules allow various centers of power to develop in the House.

Remember both the House and Senate convene t noon EST.  Enjoy the 111th Congress.

Background on the 1st day proceedings in the House can be found here courtesy of the House Rules Committee

And the Senate here

Sunday, January 4, 2009

God's Inviolable Promises?

Liturgygeek subscribes to The Christian Century and the cover story deals with Israel's attachment to the land.  On the front cover is a quote from professor Gary Anderson which says "If the promises of God are inviolable then Israel's attachment to the land is underwritten by God's decree."  Professor Anderson then writes an article that about how an understanding of God's promise to Abraham helps us to understand Israel's claim to the land to the responsibilities based on that claim.  

I would like to take issue with Professor Anderson's assertion the God's promises are always inviolable.  I think one of the themes of the New Testament is that God is no longer willing or able to fulfill earlier promises.   Jesus, as God incarnate, dies at the hands of the Romans instead of establishing a new Davidic kingship.  This tension between what God said God would do and what Jesus was announcing that God is doing fills the New Testament.  God promised to rebuild the temple into a better temple than the original but the Temple of Jesus time was built by Herod and would be destroyed by the Romans.  The narrative tension of the Gospels is propelled by those who hear the voice of God anew in Jesus and those who still cling to the old promises.  The disciples often fall into the latter group and serve as a foil to Jesus.  

I think it would be more productive to instead of trying to fit the events of the Middle East into a pericope of ancient promises and instead try to hear what new things God is saying.  Instead of trying to base our understanding of today's events on what God said to Abraham, I thinkwe need to hear what God is saying through the Palestinian whose home is being invaded or to the Israeli whose lives in constant fear of rockets.

Backbencher of the Week

This week we have a first for the Backbencher of the Week.  Instead of just one winner, we have dual winners.  They are Rep. Rick Boucher(D-VA), and Rep. Ed Markey(D-MA). 

Both Rep. Boucher and Rep. Markey are senior members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and are both slotted to chair subcommittees.  News Reports indicate that discussions are underway for both Boucher and Markey to switch their sub-committees.  Markey will replace Boucher as chair of the Energy and Air Quality Sub-Committee, and Boucher will then chair the Telecommunications and Internet Subcommittee.

This bodes well for the type of legislation that might come out of this committee.  Both climate change and internet regulation might be big issues in the 111th congress.  Markey has good record on climate issues, chaired the Select Committee on Global Warming and Eergey Independence, and even introduced a bill in the last congress dealing with global warming.  Boucher represents a district in Virginia that is dependent on coal mining and therefore cannot give a lot of support to any climate bill.  However, Boucher has a strong record on internet and telecommunications issues that include support for net neutrality and increasing broadband access.  This gavel switching will hopefully optimize the amount of good legislation that this congress will produce on Climate and Telecommunications issues.

For finding a way to allow each man's strengths to serve the greater good, Rep. Ed Markey and Rep. Rick Boucher are this week's Backbencher of the Week.  Congratulations.   

Saturday, January 3, 2009

TBN Better Watch Out

The Times has an article about moderate Muslims using satellites to spread a moderate form of Islam.  The Pocket Mardis comments here.

Just Wondering

Is there any functional difference between Hamas refusing to recognize Israel's right to exist and Israel's refusal to allow the Palestinians any sovereign control over Gaza?

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Outdoor Hockey

The best sporting event today is not any of the football games but is the hockey game between the Detroit Red Wings and the Chicago Blackhawks that is being played outside at Wrigley Field in Chicago 


There has been a lot of talk about pardons in the news due to President Bush's pardon of Issac Touisse and the nomination of Eric Holder which brought renewed attention to President Clinton's pardon of Marc Rich.  Both of these pardons are controversial and President Bush tried to rescind the Touisse pardon due to the controversy. 

After the Rich pardon President Bush made a big deal about following the Department of Justice guidelines and my guess is Obama will feel pressure to make a similar promise.

I hope Obama does not make that promise.  According to the Department of Justice guidelines pardons should be given only after a substantial period after a conviction (usually at least 5 years) and meet a list of criteria that include genuine remores, good conduct, and the opinion of Justice Department official and judges.  All of these are only suggested guidelines because the President's pardon power is absolute as guaranteed by the Constitution in Article II section 2.

However, I fear great pressure to follow the DOJ guidelines will be placed on Obama.  That's too bad.  The DOJ is the federal government's police and prosecutorial arm.  The DOJ in its police, prosecutorial, and punishing function is, in the words of Josh Marshall, "a vast, impersonal, crushing, and awful thing."  For a good example of this crushing and awful power look at the number of non-violent drug offenders languishing in prison.  To have the police and prosecutors in charge of granting mercy only ensures that not much mercy will be granted.  A separate party needs to be able to mitigate harsh punishments and add a leaven of mercy to our justice system to ensure that it is truly a just system.

I am willing to trade the occasional odious pardon if the President would freely grant a lot more of them to deserving people.