Opinions, Context & Ideas from the TPM Editors TPM Editor's Blog

Theres a profoundly disturbing

There's a profoundly disturbing article out tonight from the AP about what appears to be a widespread climate of intolerance and even harassment of non-evangelical Christians at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. 'Widespread' is a vague word. And I'm only going on the basis of this one article -- and I'd strongly recommend reading the whole piece to decide for yourself if I'm using the correct word. But what the piece describes at least is not a matter of a few outrageous incidents but something much more pervasive.

Here's the passage that stands out to me ...

''There were people walking up to someone and basically they would get in a conversation and it would end with, `If you don't believe what I believe you are going to hell,''' Vice Commandant Col. Debra Gray said.

Critics of the academy say the sometimes-public endorsement of Christianity by high-ranking staff has contributed to a climate of fear and violates the constitutional separation of church and state at a taxpayer-supported school whose mission is to produce Air Force leaders.

They also say academy leaders are desperate to avoid the sort of uproar that came with the 2003 scandal in which dozens of women said their complaints of sexual assault were ignored.

''They are deliberately trivializing the problem so that we don't have another situation the magnitude of the sex assault scandal. It is inextricably intertwined in every aspect of the academy,'' said Mikey Weinstein of Albuquerque, N.M., a 1977 graduate who has sent two sons to the school. He said the younger, Curtis, has been called a ''filthy Jew'' many times.

The superintendent, Lt. Gen. John Rosa, conceded there was a problem during a recent meeting of the Board of Visitors, the civilian group that oversees the academy.

''The problem is people have been across the line for so many years when you try and come back in bounds, people get offended,'' he said.

The board chairman, former Virginia Gov. James Gilmore, warned Rosa that changing things could prove complicated. He said evangelical Christians ''do not check their religion at the door.''


These articles are always hard to evaluate since you don't get a sense of who the 'critics' are, how many of them there are, or even some objective measure of how legitimate their beef is. Though inappropriate, a few of the other incidents mentioned in the piece don't seem in themselves to be causes of great concern. But the Rosa quote above seems to suggest that there is a very real problem. And what's with Gilmore's response?

The piece ends with this delightful passage ...

Two of the nation's most influential evangelical Christian groups, Focus on the Family and New Life Church, are headquartered in nearby Colorado Springs. Tom Minnery, an official at Focus on the Family, disputed claims that evangelical Christians are pushing an agenda at the academy, and complained that ''there is an anti-Christian bigotry developing'' at the school.


Anti-Christian bigotry. That's marvelous. <$NoAd$>Needless to say, Focus on the Family is SpongeBob persecutor and Arch-Wingnut James Dobson's outfit.

Many liberal Catholics await

Many liberal Catholics await Benedict XVI's pontificate with dismay or even foreboding. But a dear friend calls my attention to this update on the Catholics Against Capital Punishment website which says Benedict played an "instrumental" role in strengthening the Church's opposition to capital punishment. That doesn't change the larger picture; but it adds a new dimension.

This spring students at

This spring students at Swarthmore College, with the support of the school's administration, started producing a webcast called War News Radio. You can see a news release about it here and visit the broadcast site here.

Swarthmore has a tradition of political activism. And the aim of the broadcast is to cover the conflict in Iraq in all its dimensions -- from interviews with ordinary Iraqis to stories on returning US soldiers and everything in between, all with an eye to catching stories the mainstream media might miss. The first broadcast, for instance, featured an interview with a young Iraqi man who works as a clerk in one of the hotels that hosts many of the foreign press reporting from Baghdad.

It's still a work in progress. And Swarthmore is looking to hire a full-time journalist (at a full-time salary) -- with at least some radio or TV experience -- to oversee the project for a year, beginning this June. Age isn't important. What they are looking for is someone who will enjoy helping students find their own voice while mentoring them in responsible journalistic practices. If you're interested or know someone who might be, you can send them an email at swarthmorewnr@yahoo.com to find out more.

A report from a

A report from a TPM Reader on the <$NoAd$> Hill ...

Josh- I suspect that media reports of the hearing will clarify this point, but Hagel said he would vote Bolton out of committee, though he wasn't sure about confirming him on the floor. It was only when (much to everyone's surprise) Sen. Voinovich said that because he had missed some of the earlier hearings (he said he was chairing a subcommittee at the time), and had just learned of these allegations, that he would not vote Bolton out of committee today. Chafee sat silent through the entire hearing. Also, at some point find a good account of all the parliamentary tools Dems employed to delay the committee hearing, and how the Rs got it held anyhow (the Senate was in recess for about 3 hours today). It was a good preview of what will happen if/when we go nuclear.


I'm still quite curious to know the Voinovich backstory. Must have been some pretty engrossing subcommittee hearings if he hadn't heard about the charges leveled against Bolton.

After letting the election

After letting the election of Benedict XVI sink in, the first thing I was curious to know was the reaction of Hans Kung, the Catholic theologian whose life has intersected with Ratzinger's at key points for both of them.

I found this in der Spiegel ...

Hans Kung, a respected German theologian and critic of Vatican policies whose license to teach was withdrawn by the Vatican in 1979 as a result of his criticisms against church policies, said he was "disappointed" by the decision. However, he compared it to an American presidential election and said people "should allow the pope 100 days to learn."


Here's the rest of the article.

A big surprise on

A big surprise on Bolton: Voinovich says he wants to hear more, delays the vote.

Hagel too, it turns out.

I guess that leaves someone from Rhode Island holding the water pail yet again.

Wow. Cardinal Ratzinger becomes

Wow. Cardinal Ratzinger becomes Pope Benedict XVI. I know he was spoken of frequently as a possible, even one of the most likely successors to John Paul II. But I'm still a bit stunned to see it.

I spent way more

I spent way more time than I should have this weekend trying to distill my thoughts about the strategies and tactics Democrats should use to advance their agenda and unseat the Republican majority on Capitol Hill. Though my point was fairly straightforward -- forget about strategy and tactics, in so many words -- for some some reason I couldn't pull it together in a couple thousand words.

So let me, a bit more briefly, address how it applies to Social Security -- the issue that's on the table right now.

For starters, you may have seen this AP story that ran over the weekend, which read: "House Democrats have decided to quit emphasizing that they will not negotiate changes to Social Security until President Bush drops his idea for private accounts. The switch in strategy comes after Democrats learned from focus groups that people frown on the lawmakers for being obstinate."

Where to start?

The problem Democrats have is not bad tactics or bad strategies or poor framing. The problem is an over-reliance, even an addiction, to tactics and strategies.

For years I've argued that the Democrats' problem on national security issues is not so much that they aren't 'tough enough' or that they lack new ideas. The problem is a now-deeply-ingrained habit of approaching national security issues not so much as policy questions to be wrestled with but as a political problem to be dealt with and moved on from.

That has a host of damaging consequences, the most serious of which is that if you chart your policy course so as to avoid political damage, always casting about for the sweet spot of political safety, you tend to lack any greater programmatic consistency. And that tells voters (as it probably should) that you’re inconstant and unserious. It also muddles effective communication by confusing the communicators themselves about just what it is they are trying to say or accomplish.

What the last year has taught me -- both in good ways and bad -- is that this malady isn't limited to the national security domain but applies to Democrats pretty much across the board.

We hear a lot today about framing or being tougher or being united or dumping the failed consultants. But while each of these prescriptions has some element of merit, each also recapitulates the existing problem -- only dressing it up in clothes -- because each mistakes the disease for the cure.

When it comes to strategy and tactics, the current Democratic party is like a drunk in the early stages of recovery or a man or woman who keeps ending up in the same bad relationship again and again with different people. For folks like that, strong medicine is required. Indeed, they usually require steps, correctives, lists of dos-and-don'ts more drastic than anybody would ever need who didn't have a problem.

Today we hear Democrats asking whether they should take a hard line on Social Security or a soft line, stand in opposition or come up with a contending plan. Here's what I propose whenever Democrats have a question about just what stance to take on the Social Security debate.

One question ...

What is the actual policy outcome that would be most preferable on Social Security (to protect, preserve or augment it -- whatever) and how important is it that it take place in this Congress?

That's the first, second and third question.

That answer should drive everything else.

If add-on accounts are important to preserve Social Security or expand opportunities for middle class families to save for retirement, and if it’s important enough on the merits to make it a priority in this Congress, then let’s do it. Otherwise, I’d say forget it. Stick with opposing phase-out and take it to the voters. End of story.

If the demon rum of optics or tactical too-clever-by-halfism tries to slither its way back even into second or third, slap your wrist and get back with the program.

I'm not saying that the Democrats need to get in touch with their political or ideological roots or hold to orthodoxies. Nor is this an argument for political purism. My point is entirely agnostic on what the policy should be -- only that it should drive the politics.

Nor do I pretend that this will always generate the most effective political approach or the most supplely played tactical game. What I think is that we are dealing with a sick patient, one whose reasoning and judgment are often untrustworthy and one apt to slide back into the same old destructive habits without some firm and concrete correctives in place.

For a party so quick to get lost in the fog, this should be the compass.

I opened the CNN

I opened the CNN website tonight to see a story about an American humanitarian aid worker killed by a car bomb in Iraq. And after I opened the story and glanced at the picture, I was reading the text, and suddenly I thought, "That's Marla!" Marla Ruzicka. I can't say I knew her particularly well. She lived in my building in DC for a while; I hung out with her at parties in town a handful of times. Nothing more.

Perhaps there's something or someone I'm forgetting. But thinking it over now I believe she's the first person I could say I knew in any real way who was killed over there.

I didn't know her nearly well enough to have any business describing her to you. I was always fuzzy about just what it was she did over in Iraq -- something you can find more information about in the various articles describing her death. I will leave it at sharing that memory. And may she rest in peace.

LiveWire