Thursday, April 30, 2009

Harbeson blows up Galligan

From Debbie Harbeson in the (Jeff/NA) News-Tribune...

Some local residents continue to be surprised at the comments that erupt out of Jeffersonville Mayor Tom Galligan’s mouth, but not me.

His most recent comment was in regard to his desire to take private property in the form of a wastewater treatment plant in the River Ridge Commerce Center. He said, “If someone is making a profit from a water utility, I don’t know why a municipality can’t take it and invest those profits in its own community.”

This didn’t surprise me because, well, he said nothing new. Government officials take private personal profit every day and then spend it in ways they deem important.

It doesn’t matter if individuals have other uses for the money, such as fixing a broken transmission, caring for a sick family member or throwing a surprise birthday party for a friend.

And as far as Galligan and the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns is concerned, it particularly doesn’t matter if someone has invested money in a private utility that is just starting to make money. As a matter of fact, that’s apparently their signal that it’s time to yell “Surprise!” and run off with the whole pie....

the Specter spectacle/spectre

Some great quotes, accumulated by Chuck Muth, on Specter's switch...

The only comments I have on these:

On the quote about Bush, Santorum and Toomey: That's what Bush and the GOP gets for endorsing RINOs. No sympathy there!

On the observation that Specter may leap-frog other Dems, given his seniority: ironically, Specter may be a net improvement.

“To eliminate any doubt, I am a Republican, and I am running for reelection in 2010 as a Republican on the Republican ticket." - Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), 3/19/09

“The prospects for winning a Republican primary are bleak. I am not prepared to have my 29-year record in the United States Senate decided by the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate - not prepared to have that record decided by that jury.” - Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA), 4/28/09

“To his critics, Mr. Specter is a rank opportunist. His party switch yesterday was a shock to few. After all, he was a Democrat until age 35. He only became a Republican in 1965 when the Democratic machine in Philadelphia turned down his request that he be nominated for district attorney. The GOP nomination was his for the asking, but he also covered his bases: He changed his party registration only after he had won.”- John Fund of Political Diary

“After years of voting Democrat, and facing certain defeat in his bid to retain his Republican Senate seat in 2010, Arlen Specter...has finally decided to run for a sixth term under the party banner which he has consistently voted with.” - Blogger J.B. Williams of Right Side News

“It would be more newsworthy if Specter finally became a Republican.” - Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.)

“Republicans have cause to consider this a betrayal, especially after President Bush helped him win a GOP primary against Mr. Toomey with a final-days endorsement in 2004. Rick Santorum, the state's other GOP Senator at the time, also endorsed Mr. Specter over Mr. Toomey, a move that harmed Mr. Santorum's own re-election chances in 2006. So much for loyalty in politics.” - Wall Street Journal editorial

“If anything, Arlen Specter is the epitome of everything voters have come to hate about the Republican Party - the desperate grasping for power and the complete rejection of the principles the Party claims to stand for.” - Andy Roth of the Club for Growth

“Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) deal to allow Sen. Arlen Specter to retain his seniority after he switches to the Democratic Conference has not been received well by senior senators in the party. Several Democrats are furious with Reid for agreeing to let Specter (Pa.) keep the seniority accrued over more than 28 years as a Republican senator. That could allow him to leap past senior Democrats on powerful panels - including the Appropriations and Judiciary committees." - The Hill, 4/29/09

C-J focuses/obsesses with ice storm debris removal

On the one hand, I can see bringing attention to this issue. It is absurd that the government cannot get this done quicker.

But it is equally absurd to rely on the government to accomplish this-- rather than contracting it out or having private individuals take care of their own debris.

Moreover, it's funny to see the C-J describe this, daily, as "roadside outrage". Their sense of proportion-- from rating Obama's performance to dealing with branches to a wide array of other public policies-- is badly out of whack.

Here's a letter to the editor of the C-J on the same topic...

It saddens me that the newspaper is choosing to daily vent its outrage on an issue that is so insignificant to humanity. I am outraged by many terrible injustices, famine, disease, unnecessary pain and suffering. I am not outraged by sticks on the side of the road. I have no knowledge as to the efficiency or lack thereof of the city to remove the debris.

It seems like they have put a lot of assets to work. I did feel outraged at an investor flipping a house in my lovely neighborhood who chose to remove every morsel of landscaping from the home he was remodeling and place it at the curb in a 6 foot high debris pile, none of it related to the storm....

It would be an interesting exercise to measure how much the debris on the side of the road has grown since the storm. Editorial outrage should not be wasted on sticks. It could also be directed to the number of city residents who resolved deferred tree maintenance issues with our communal dollars.

KRISTIN CRINOT Louisville 40205

You go, girl!

C-J on private (vs. highly-subsidized) bus services for Oaks/Derby

From Sheldon Shafer in the C-J...

With a private bus company taking over the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby express shuttle routes this year, track patrons should expect some changes....fewer buses...[some] school buses without air conditioning...cost of a roundtrip will be $5 to $10 more than last year when the public Transit Authority of River City, or TARC, operated the service...

TARC's relinquishing the Oaks and Derby shuttle service is the result of federal transit regulations that took effect last spring. They require public bus companies to let private transit vendors provide most special charter services. Sweazy said Miller Trailways was one of three vendors to bid on providing the Oaks/Derby service....

Owen defended Miller's charging more because "we don't receive tax dollars to supplement our operating costs, as does the transit authority." TARC gets revenue from a dedicated local occupational tax....

Obama on his first 100 days

From the AP's Jennifer Loven in the C-J...

President Barack Obama said Wednesday night that waterboarding authorized by former President George W. Bush was torture and that the information it gained from terror suspects could have been obtained by other means. "In some cases, it may be harder," he conceded at a White House news conference...

I'm comfortable with his position on waterboarding, but despise his Panglossian effort to sell the policy as without any costs. It seems obvious that getting info is more difficult without as many sticks (or carrots) in one's arsenal. Of course, the broader and longer-term issues of waterboarding are troubling, but he was addressing, specifically, the short-term acquisition of info. a White House news conference capping a whirlwind first 100 days in office...

Whirlwind is a good adjective-- as in what happens when you throw manure into a fan. He's certainly been busy. Whether his activity has been for good or for ill is, of course, another matter.

At a town-hall style meeting in Missouri earlier in the day, as well as in the White House East Room, Obama said progress has been made in rebuilding the economy, yet more remains to be done.

"Rebuild" implies his (and Congress') direct efforts. Not accurate...

"You can expect an unrelenting, unyielding effort from this administration..." he said in opening his news conference.

Again, if he means this-- and from the first 100 days, you'd have to take him at his word-- this is a frightening prospect.

He called on Congress to enact his ambitious all-at-once agenda, including education spending to produce a better-trained work force, greater support for renewable energy development, a high-priced system for companies to buy and sell rights to emit dangerous pollutants, a vast expansion of health insurance and new rules to rein in the riskiest Wall Street behavior.

No mention of the costs of any of these policies? Surprise!

Though Obama's most notable legislative triumphs to date have been enacted on party-line votes, he said he remains eager for bipartisan cooperation with Republicans. But, he said, "I can't sort of define bipartisanship as simply being willing to accept certain theories of theirs that we tried for eight years and didn't work and the American people voted to change."

Campaign on bipartisanship and then run roughshod over your opponents. Classic!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Worst Slide Story: an off-broadway recessional musical

Click here for Walt Handelsman's latest animated op-ed: an amusing mixture of a classic musical with contemporary economic conditions (hat tip: Mary Bennett)...

can't we all agree on the Rule of Law?

Here's Andy Horning with the foundational part of the ideal approach to politics and public policy...

It should now be apparent that for the past hundred years our own government has advanced a campaign of theft and violence against us on the canard that it’s for “the common good.” Flying in the face of this commonly believed fib is the easily observed fact that we have not solved any problems at all despite worsening taxation, prohibitions and wars....

Why do we so numbly submit our lives, wealth and rights to a protection racket that does not protect?

We should not need more motivation. I assume that if you’re reading this, you already know that something must be done. But not just any action will do...

So here is my summary of the problem and what’s to be done about it:

Problem: Politicians and their agents act in violation of all of the laws that protect us from them.

Solution: We must stop that.

It really is that simple, and we have not even tried it. Our attempts to strategize and pick apart our social disease into only marginally-related “pragmatic” bits have been counterproductive to the effect that we have so far divided and conquered…ourselves. Democrats and Republicans who should ally against their common foe are instead locked in a battle over idolatry, deceit and ignorance. We do not even expect our leaders to obey their oaths of office; nor, in most cases, do we have any idea what the oaths say, what they mean, or to what laws these oaths pledge obedience. We must converge upon this solution- to demand Rule of Law under our existing state and federal constitutions…as written....

Then, Andy gets specific:

1.) Read and completely understand your
state and federal constitutions...

2.) Do NOT write letters, call your congresscritter, protest or hold press conferences about tax policy, the Fed, drug laws, public schooling or any other distraction. Concentrate. Think....We must not any longer allow them to divide us against ourselves with equivocal sub-issues and dubious solutions. As long as politicians violate every law that protects us, we have no issue other than this: we cannot tolerate this anarchy, this ungoverned government. We have one issue only: wrestle our lawbreakers down to the law.

3.) Do
employ every strategy, medium and means you can think of to address this problem: we must have Rule of Law under existing constitutions …as written....

C-J disingenuous or too easily impressed

Here's today's "100 days" editorial from the C-J...

It gets off to a good start:

...the most important thing to come out of President Obama's first 100 days — proof-certain that he has the temperament to do the almost impossible job...

I agree with their assessment of Obama and the importance of this attribute. They're so impressed with this point, they revisit it again a few paragraphs later:

President Obama has shown, in broad strokes and smaller details, that he has the temperament for the job of leading...

But then, when they decide to discuss specifics, it gets really weird...

Already he has made significant foreign and domestic policy changes, ranging from closing Guantanamo and outlawing water boarding, and appointing credible, competent people to his cabinet and staff. He has also owned up to mistakes (something his predecessor was unable to do, to disastrous consequences), planted a vegetable garden at the White House and invited gay couples and their children to the annual White House Easter Egg Roll.

This far-reaching and inclusive vision, this steady and reasoned self-assurance, and these decisive steps to a different tomorrow are most welcome, indeed.

Huh? Such glorious language for those things-- and no mention of other, much larger, issues?

-The foreign policy changes have been, at best, exceedingly modest-- and a far and disappointing cry from what he promised us in the Democratic primary.

-Making silly mistakes and owning up to them is a very mixed bag.

-Planting gardens and running a broader Easter Egg Roll? Are you kidding?!

Why would the C-J compile this particular list of "accomplishments" with excitement and applause-- while ignoring other things? Disingenuity, ignorance, naivete, or other? Is there a more charitable explanation?

secession and tolerance

Excerpts from a nice post by Ronnie Cottonpants at Barefoot & Progressive...

Texas is the new France. This has nothing to do with any cultural similarity between the two, only that they've become the whipping boy of mediocre to lousy comedians everywhere....

We're in a brave new world now, with our snacks firmly named and our President half-black and also half-awesome. This leaves the door open for Texas to make noise about seceding. The governor has talked about it, Ron Paul has talked about it, and it has shown surprising support in the polls. So what would it mean if Texas left our beloved union?

Well, for one, it would mean that unfunny liberals will welcome it....[NPR's David] Faris said, "First, Texas should be given the option of taking neighboring Oklahoma, Alabama and Louisiana with them. These states are reliably deep red, and are also three of the biggest tax drains in the country, raking in federal dollars while kvetching about Obama's tyranny."

Has he maybe considered why Louisiana has drawn so much Federal money during recent years? Maybe something to do with bad weather? So poverty is funny when the poor people don't vote our way? It's cool to joke about the rapes in the Superdome, so long as the Superdome is in a Red State?

...the main problem is that the people writing these articles aren't really joking. They at least kind of believe what they say, and nobody has realized that this Texas secession talk isn't funny, it's scary.

It's bad enough that conservatives and liberals don't want to live in the same neighborhoods, don't want to watch the same news stations, even listen to the same music. None of us--on either side of the aisle--want to challenge ourselves. Now it's grown to the point that a lot of us don't want to live in a country with people who disagree with us....

Either we live in the country of Lincoln or we live apart. There's no third way.

Good stuff all the way through. The implicit reference to tolerance is interesting (and welcome) in light of B&P's primary demographic. But I want to focus on the third-to-last paragraph.

This subject is not inherently funny (although there may be elements of humor and/or hypocrisy within it).

I wouldn't say it's scary either-- perhaps worrisome as a barometer for what our country has done economically and politically for the last 16 years.

In another sense, it gives me hope-- that people are upset enough to propose something reasonable yet radical. Apathy and ignorance are not surprising, given that the costs of govt policy are relatively subtle and most individual voters have little to contribute to the political process. We know what apathy results in; attention and energy may be an improvement.

At the end of the day, secession (especially if other states follow the lead of Texas) would allow politics to become more local and would probably put an end to our painfully interventionist foreign policies. Frankly, I'd love to see it!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

"gay marriage" and heterosexual divorce

This is one of the key problems with Christian activism in the arena of so-called "gay marriage": Since we have done so little with a far larger problem (quantitatively and ethically) like divorce, then we have lost most of our moral authority to speak on a smaller problem in the same arena.

Jon Moseley speaks to a related point in his letter to the editor of Touchstone:

We publicly oppose gay marriage on the grounds that a child needs a mother and a father, and then often ignore the needs of children suffering from divorce. How could we be more hypocritical?

grass roots for "gay marriage" in Iowa

From a report and analysis by the Washington Post's Keith Richburg as republished in the C-J...

For most of the country, the unanimous decision this month by the Iowa Supreme Court to legalize same-sex marriage was an unexpected and seemingly random victory for a movement that has long drawn its deepest support from major cities in liberal coastal states.

But for Camilla Taylor, a Chicago-based lawyer for the gay rights group Lambda Legal, it was the logical conclusion to a deliberate seven-year effort to make the Midwestern state one of the first in the country to allow same-sex marriage.

Coming just months after voters in California outlawed same-sex marriage, the decision was also a much-needed jolt for a group of loosely coordinated gay rights activists and legal experts who had been quietly building the case for marriage equality in states where they thought conditions were favorable, including Iowa and a handful in the Northeast....

In World, Joel Belz picks up the ball from the perspective of a Christian and a native of Iowa, expressing not so much surprise-- and recognizing the importance of this for the continuing "culture wars"...

It's an illusion fervently held by too many conservatives. If, they say, we could just get the decision-making processes of America relocated from the elitist enclaves to the masses "out there," culture would finally move in the right direction. "Out there," as in Iowa?

Yes, I understand that it was not the voters at large, but seven judges...

It doesn't make much difference. It's getting harder and harder these days to make a convincing argument that there's much distance between the values of the elites and those of the masses....

Does it surprise you that the county in the whole United States with the highest number of abortions per thousand population was for many years Iowa's Johnson County—the home of the University of Iowa? Good old hometown values, hard at work....

I love my home state...I wince when it's hickish or backwards....Iowa has always led the nation in literacy. But literacy in what? I no longer kid myself that just because they're at the middle of the middle of America, Iowans have their values straight....

But this isn't mainly about Iowa; it's about a whole nation headed the same direction....the Iowa primaries early in 2008 proved an accurate precursor to the election of Barack Obama...It's not that seven judges, totally out of touch with the people who put them on the bench, made a wacko decision. This native Iowan has to conclude instead—and with great sadness—that those judges may have a lot better handle on our culture than I dare to think.

I think it is difficult to make a biblical case for Christians embracing government activism as a means to avoiding "civil unions". (It is easier to oppose nonsensical "gay marriage".) In any case, the point from both essays is probably that we're going to see "it" soon. Perhaps it would be not only ethical/biblical, but also eminently practical, to have argued for civil unions-- when this train started rolling.

At this point, I doubt that we'll ever know. Moreover, it seems likely that we'll have something called "gay marriage" throughout much of the land within the next decade.

Glendon stands up to Notre Dame and Obama

Good for her!

Here's the report from the AP's Tom Coyne in the C-J...

A former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican has told the University of Notre Dame that she will not accept the school's top honor as planned because the school is giving President Barack Obama an honorary degree at next month's commencement.

Mary Ann Glendon, an anti-abortion scholar and Harvard University law professor, wrote in a letter yesterday to the Rev. John Jenkins, the university president, that giving Obama an honorary degree violates the U.S. bishops' 2004 statement that Roman Catholic institutions shouldn't honor people whose actions conflict with the church's moral principles....

Jenkins issued a statement yesterday saying the university was "disappointed that Professor Glendon has made this decision."...The Laetare Medal, which the university describes as the most prestigious honor for American Catholics, has been awarded annually since 1883 to a Catholic "whose genius has ennobled the arts and sciences, illustrated the ideals of the church and enriched the heritage of humanity."

Well, Rev. Jenkins, we're disappointed in you as well! And why are you giving out an award for Catholics when you aren't a Catholic by your belief system? Why are you going to award this to someone when you are not living up to "the ideals of the church" or enriching its "heritage of humanity"?

The American Association of University Professors and the Notre Dame faculty senate support Jenkins. The AAUP praised Jenkins last week for standing firm.

Two things here: 1.) I agree with the AAUP in terms of
academic freedom. But this is a matter of religious definitions and beliefs moreso. 2.) I hope the AAUP would be equally excited in praising a university's acceptance of a conservative for an award.

oops! OR style trumps substance

From Suzanne Sataline, Jonathan Rockoff and Christopher Conkey in the WSJ...

As secret missions go, this one was a flop.

On Monday morning, one of the 747s used to ferry around the U.S. president was dispatched to the Statue of Liberty, escorted by a fighter jet. Assignment: Get some fresh glamour shots of the plane.

The Air Force said the flight needed to remain confidential...As a result, to onlookers Monday all across downtown Manhattan -- where the World Trade Center once stood -- the photo shoot looked like a terrorist attack....

Fearing the worst, thousands of people streamed out of the skyscrapers and into the streets. Some buildings ordered evacuations....

It was all over in a half-hour or so. Then the finger-pointing began....

Hugo Chavez's book "gift" to Obama

From Mary Anastasia O'Grady in the WSJ...

Just days after Hugo Chávez gave President Barack Obama a copy of "Open Veins of Latin America" in Trinidad last week, the English-language version of the book shot to the No. 2 slot on

Americans seemed to be curious about Mr. Chávez's reading tastes. But in Latin America, "Open Veins" is a well-known rant by Uruguayan Marxist Eduardo Galeano. And it also has another distinction that Mr. Chávez may be less inclined to publicize: It is widely regarded in free-market circles as "the idiot's bible."

The book was tagged with that moniker in the 1996 best seller, "The Manual of the Perfect Latin American Idiot." Penned by three Latin American journalists -- Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza, Carlos Alberto Montaner and Alvaro Vargas Llosa -- the "manual" is a witty assault on the populist, militarist, caudillo mentality that has dominated the region for hundreds of years....

Open any page of Mr. Galeano's book and you will learn that Latins are losers. Not on their own account, mind you. It's all because Europe and the U.S. (the world's winners) buy raw materials from them and don't pay a fair price. In this way the haves of the world exploit the have-nots....

Mr. Galeano wasn't alone in promoting these ideas back in 1971 when the book came out....Its roots are in something called "structural economics"...[Argentine economist Raúl Prebisch] argued that Latin American poverty persisted because while rich countries could boost living standards through productivity gains, poor countries exporting only agricultural products and raw materials could not because of excess labor. Thus, they could not build the surplus capital they needed to move up the economic ladder.

These beliefs mixed well with fascism and Marxism. Politicians, whether from the extreme right or left, got behind Prebisch...The state took a prominent role...fueling corruption and hyperinflation and destroying any hope of rising living standards. By the late 1980s, with Latin America in crisis, Prebisch and his antitrade ideas were thoroughly discredited....

The Galeano book was not a present to Mr. Obama, though it was hyped as such. After all it was in Spanish, a language Mr. Obama does not read -- and Cuban and Venezuelan military intelligence surely would have advised Mr. Chávez of that fact. Its purpose was instead a way for the resentful Venezuelan to shove his anticapitalist, anti-American prejudices in Mr. Obama's face before rows of television cameras.

Yet, unwittingly, Mr. Chávez's gag gift served another purpose. If there has been any doubt about how he has run his oil-rich country into the ground during a decade of booming petroleum prices, the mystery is now solved. Mr. Galeano's book is Mr. Chávez's bible.

an agenda for "spiritual formation"

After blogging on its importance, here's Richard Foster in CT with some vision and strategies. These are excerpts from a "condensed and edited version" of a talk he gave given at a conference on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of his classic book, Celebration of Discipline...

First, the problem-- and some of its underlying causes:

Our world today cries out for a theology of spiritual growth that has been proven to work in the midst of the harsh realities of daily life. Sadly, many have simply given up on the possibility of growth in character formation.

Vast numbers of well-intended folk have exhausted themselves in church work and discovered that this did not substantively change their lives....

Still others have a practical theology that will not allow for spiritual growth. Indeed, they just might see it as a bad thing. Having been saved by grace, these people have become paralyzed by it. To attempt any progress in the spiritual life smacks of "works righteousness" to them....

Finally, a general cultural malaise touches us all to one extent or completely we have become accustomed to the normality of dysfunction....

Then, to the calling and vision:

Yet echoing through the centuries is a great company of witnesses telling us of a life vastly richer and deeper and fuller. In all walks of life and in all human situations, they have found a life of "righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Rom. 14:17). They have discovered that real, solid, substantive transformation into the likeness of Christ is possible....

Thirty years ago, when Celebration of Discipline was first penned, we were faced with two huge tasks: First, we needed to revive the great conversation about the formation of the soul; and second, we needed to incarnate this reality into the daily experience of individual, congregational, and cultural life. Frankly, we have had much greater success with the first task....It's the second task that needs to consume the bulk of our energies for the next 30 years....

Then, a caveat:

One critical reminder...Spiritual formation is not a toolkit for "fixing" our culture or our churches or even our individual lives. Fixing things is simply not our business. So we stoutly refuse to engage in formation work to "save America from its moral decline" or to restore churches to their days of past glory or even to rescue folk from their destructive behaviors. No! We do spiritual formation work because it is kingdom work. Spiritual formation work is smack in the center of the map of the kingdom of God....

How to accomplish this "heart work"?

It is imperative for us to help each other in every way we can. And in our day, the desperate need is for the emergence of a massive spiritual army of trained spiritual directors who can lovingly come alongside precious people and help them discern how to walk by faith in the circumstances of their own lives.

Please note that I said "trained" spiritual directors and not "certified" spiritual directors.

There is a genuinely bad idea circulating these days that if we take a certain number of courses and read a certain number of books and receive a certain kind of certification, we will be ready to be spiritual directors. I'm sorry; I really do wish it were that simple. But no, we are here talking about life training. And it is only by life training that we will see the development of a certain kind of life, a life of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit....

Some other contextual concerns:

First, we have in our churches a "hurry sickness."...But spiritual formation work simply does not occur in a hurry. It is never a quick-fix deal. Patient, time-consuming care is always the hallmark of spiritual formation work.

Another contextual situation we face is the fact that we now have a Christian entertainment industry that is masquerading as worship....

A third issue: We are dealing with an overall consumer mentality that simply dominates the American religious scene....

short-term missions: the Great Commission or glorified sightseeing?

That's the title of Evan Sparks' piece in the WSJ...

I would add one more category: whatever the motive, the number one fruit from short-term missions is what it does for those who go. Their worlds and minds are broadened; they question consumerism; they gain empathy; and so on. To some extent, this can be gained through traveling, but a short-term mission trip focuses and deepens the take-aways.

Although the research below brings the extent of this into question, I can't tell you how many times I've heard people say: I went to help minister and evangelize, but it blessed me far more. Or maybe, to quote Jesus, it is indeed more blessed to give than to receive!

This past summer, from evangelical churches nationwide, more than one million of the faithful departed for the mission field, taking up Jesus' "Great Commission" to "go and make disciples of all nations." The churchgoers hoped to convert souls, establish churches and meet other human needs. But they did not intend to serve for years or whole lifetimes...[they] came home after only a week or two....

The billion-dollar question, however, is whether they're worth the cost. Are short-term missions the best way to achieve the goals of Christians? Critics argue that sightseeing often takes up too much of the itinerary, leading some to call short-termers "vacationaries"...

Calvin College sociologist Kurt Ver Beek surveyed U.S. missionaries who built homes in Honduras after Hurricane Mitch in 1998. After coming down from a post-trip "high," the short-termers did not evince much change in their lives. Only 16% reported "significant positive impact," including in prayer, friendships and financial giving....[And Mr. Ver Beek] found that there was "little or no difference" in the spiritual response of the beneficiaries.

The economic impact of the Honduras trips seems in line with similar missionary stints: Teams spent $30,000 to build a home...that would have cost $2,000 to build with local labor....

Indeed, if you were to ask an economist about short-term missions, many of which involve such manual-labor projects, he would have a simple answer: Ditch the traveling team members and send a check....Using local labor contributes to the local economy and avoids perpetuating a culture of dependency and powerlessness....

...the short-term mission paradigm is of somewhat limited use in meeting the goals of Christian mission. The faithful can do better. First, churches might want to encourage more one- and two-year commitments and fewer one- and two-week jaunts. The Southern Baptist Convention's International Mission Board, for example, has only about 1,200 missionaries in its one- to two-year programs, compared with the 30,000 short-termers it sends out every year....

Americans should therefore look to their comparative advantages, one of which is education. The U.S. has hundreds of accredited evangelical seminaries and Bible colleges...We should be bringing more pastors and church leaders to the U.S. to study -- or, even better, figuring out ways to reproduce our religious-education system in the places where it is most needed...

I would add one more: Churches should minister more effectively within international communities at universities. Many of these students will return home-- and be much more effective and "efficient".

Reveal II: what to do next...

As a follow-up to Reveal, Willow Creek put out Reveal: Follow Me with some specific findings and suggestions on what to do next, given the discipling deficiencies within the Church/church.

A few interesting results:

The biggest gaps between what the survey indicated in terms of importance vs. satisfaction (p. 38):

-28% gaps: accountability relationships; help in time of emotional need

-25% gap: understand the Bible in depth

-19-22% gaps: spiritual mentors; develop a personal relationship with Christ; feel like I belong; challenge me to grow and take next steps

Page 32, 42's differences in what people rank as most important in moving from spiritual infancy (being fed) to "spiritual adolescence" (feeding yourself-- properly defined) to "spiritual adulthood" (feeding others):

-"salvation by grace" moves down the list-- presumably, not that it becomes absolutely less important, but because the person has "moved on" and it has become relatively less important

-"authority of the Bible" moves up and then down-- presumably signaling its vital importance in the middle phase, but again "moving on" (given some mastery of Scripture) and realizing that ministry requires the Spirit, wisdom and godly counsel, as well as knowledge of Scripture

-"Christ is first" and "identity in Christ" move up the list

-giving away my life and stewardship do not appear in the top five until the last stage

-in terms of disciplines/practices (p. 42), solitude appears in the top 5 during phase 2 and jumps to #2 in phase 3; prayer to seek guidance moves up and then down

Monday, April 27, 2009

getting people in "the funnel"

More on the Reveal study from Dale Buss in the WSJ...

Religion, like marketing, has its funnel. And many evangelical megachurches have spent the past quarter-century focusing on the rim, attempting to get spiritual "seekers" just to sample a service -- and hoping that they will at some point join the faith. These churches have grown by staying away from hard-core biblical teaching and instead have lured the curious with slick multimedia presentations and skits, sermons with the cultural relevance of "Saturday Night Live," and maybe an iced cappuccino for the trip home.

But now the leading exponent of this approach, Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago, has plunged its Sunday-morning services much deeper into the faith funnel. More music is provided for worship, not just ambience; and more messages target "mature" believers, not just new ones....

This shift constitutes a megadevelopment in the world of megachurches. For over 30 years, Willow Creek grew explosively thanks to its obliqueness toward Sabbath-day orthodoxy and quickly became the standard-bearer of a powerful new movement in evangelical Christianity. Thousands of churches sprang up in its wake and grew the same way.

But recent market research showed Willow Creek's leadership that some great weaknesses lay beneath the surface even while average weekend attendance had grown to 23,000 people. Too many of their flock, Mr. Hybels and his staff discovered, considered themselves spiritually "stalled" or "dissatisfied" with the role of the church in their spiritual growth, and huge portions of these groups were considering leaving Willow Creek because of it....

Southeast is a cousin of the Willow model, but not as seeker-sensitive and more discipleship-focused.

nominal "evangelicals"-- the (supposed) threat and the (definite) opportunity

First, "the end of Christian America"; now, the death of evangelicals...

I guess this stuff sells books. Do the authors believe this stuff or are they just greedy capitalists?

Here's a response-- for those inside and outside the Church-- from the editorialists of Christianity Today...

...the potential to shape media narratives and public opinion in the way the now-discredited theocracy freakout books did. In The Fall of the Evangelical Nation, former Dallas Morning News religion reporter Christine Wicker says evangelicals have dramatically inflated their numbers, and the movement is "about to go the way of the butter churn."

Wicker has a nontraditional definition of evangelical: "those people who have accepted Jesus as their personal savior and as the only way to heaven, who accept the Bible as the inerrant word of God, and who are scaring the bejesus out of the rest of America...They're not the only evangelicals, but they're the only ones that count."

Count for whom? Wicker's attempt to deflate evangelical demography is wrongheaded from the start. She asks, "Why do 25 percent of Americans tell pollsters that they are evangelicals?" Well, they don't....Social-science surveys ask what church a person belongs to....But only a third of those classified as evangelical say they would use that label, and only 3.1 percent indicate that evangelical is the best religious identifier for them....

Indeed, we do need to do better among "unreached" Americans. Wicker's book reminds us that we need to do better among the "reached," too. Our neighborhoods—and churches—are full of nominal Christians, even nominal evangelicals, who still need conversion. Evangelical is not a synonym for "committed Christian." There is a massive difference in behavior and belief between those who affiliate with evangelical churches and those who actually attend them [and those who are disciples of Jesus]....

Real evangelicals don't see nominal evangelicals as a political bloc to be manipulated. They see them as a mission field. Wicker thinks it's a scandal that the megachurches are full of uncommitted Christians. The megachurches think it's an opportunity....

reaching the lost &/or losing the reached?

Here's Michael Horton in Touchstone-- a brief quote from a long but interesting symposium of six prominent evangelicals, "assessing their movement"...

Ironically, while Evangelicalism celebrates reaching the lost, it is losing the reached.

Of course, this takes us back to the Reveal study, the Great Commission, and the need to emphasize discipleship rather than conversion and church activity.

This also relates to the common phenomenon of young women and men "losing their faith" in college. The onus is usually put on malevolent college professors who exert undue influence over Johnny and Jenny. Secondarily, at most, there is a burden and a call to parents to better equip their children.

The primary factor is the latter. By definition, if Johnny and Jenny are well-equipped, then the college professor is unlikely to mess with them very much-- intentionally or not. The most likely explanation is that J&J were not believers in the first place or possessed a shallow faith. J&J might have been active in their youth group and "nice kids", but outside of parental influence, without true ownership of an individual faith, the results may not be a pretty picture.

External conformity to religious practices and moral norms is neither the goal of Christian faith nor of competent biblical parenting.

Kragthorpe, Ecarma, and Albiera to speak at Sat. AM Bible Study

The football, tennis, and swimming/diving coaches from U of L will speak at the finale of the Saturday AM Bible study class-- this weekend at 7:00 AM at Southeast.

Hope you can make it!

Reveal: Willow Creek on evangelism, discipleship, and a key failure in the "seeker-sensitive movement"

Willow Creek Community Church, near Chicago, is a deeply influential church, especially within the "independent churches movement".

As far as I understand, their model of ministry has made "seeker-sensitivity" a by-word and a buzz-word-- as they have effectively reached out to non-believers in terms of evangelism and nominal believers in terms of church involvement. Their model has been replicated by some-- as if it is a franchise-- and studied and applied less directly by others.

One of their ministries has been an effort to study the effectiveness of various ministry models and programs-- and to communicate those findings. A few years back, they released their "Reveal" study. Reveal reveals a deficiency in the efficacy of their efforts to promote discipleship.

Here's the description of the book and the project from their website:

Are you really making a difference? How do you know? For years, church leaders have relied on numbers to help answer questions like these. In other words, we ask the “How many?” question. How many attend each week? Are in small groups? Actively serve? Tithe? Numbers can be helpful, but they don’t reveal the whole story.

The study is based on "5,000 surveys from seven churches", describes "four segments that characterize the journey of spiritual growth" (Exploring Christ, Growing in Christ, Close to Christ, Christ-centered) and describes "what catalyzes and stunts spiritual growth". (They go into more detail with this last goal in their follow-up book.

The punchline of the study: Increased attendance and participation in church activities does not automatically equate to spiritual growth. And beyond mere exceptions to a proverbial rule, the authors question any kind of strong correlation between the two (at least given the approaches in the surveyed churches). Putting it another way: connecting people to church does not mean that we're helping them connect with Jesus. This takes us back to Kyle's distinction between a fan and a follower of Jesus.

Instead, it's "relational closeness to Christ" that points to growth, endurance, and greater fruit. Another key finding: the church is key in the early stages of spiritual growth, but becomes more secondary afterwards.

Recommended next steps: emphasize growth and "next steps" which are laid out by the church and coached by individuals within lay or professional ministry.

In the Men's Ministry at Southeast, it's relatively easy for us to get people to show up for large groups or big events-- e.g., our Saturday AM Bible study and the "Wild Game Feed".

The two biggest gaps to be bridged: 1.) going from large group to small group; 2.) going from passive attender with nothing required between meetings to some-level-of-active participant with at least something required between meetings. Once they do #1, they're in a great position to move along the lines described by Reveal. Once they do #2, it's almost a slam-dunk for them to develop various practices which promote growth, accountability, community, and so on.

At the other end of the spectrum, we offer "DC": our "capstone course" in lay-leadership development and a higher-end discipleship curriculum called Thoroughly Equipped. DC is a 21-month guided self-study where participants study about five hours per week and come together for a weekly 1.5-hour small group meeting led by co-facilitators. We don't know of anything else like it-- unfortunately. Beyond what we've produced, it is rare that churches have ANY plan for developing biblically-competent lay-leaders or even offer anything in terms of higher-level discipleship.

Reveal is key. The Great Commission is to "go and make disciples"-- not attenders or converts, but disciples.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

unions and the govt in action

From Chuck Shepherd's News of the Weird (hat tip: LEO):

What We Say, What We Do: About 200 members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) launched a protest campaign in March, accusing their employer of improper layoffs, unlawful bans on union activities, and reclassifying of workers in order to disempower the union. The employer of the workers is the national SEIU office, where they are staff members. [Washington Post, 3-18-09]

A federal arbitrator ruled in March that an employer had, for years, "willfully" violated the Fair Labor Standards Act in exploiting workers by failing to pay overtime. The guilty employer: the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. [Washington Post, 3-31-09]

why tenure? OR should we get rid of tenure?

Francis Fukuyama in the Washington Post and re-printed in the C-J...

I am a tenured professor. But I'd get rid of tenure.

I would too-- if only for myself. As a wonderfully pleasant job characteristic, it follows that I sacrifice other forms of compensation in my labor market-- a lot of pay. I'd make that trade-off anyday. I love to teach, do research, and provide service to the university and the community. But without tenure, they'd have to pay me more-- and why would they want to fire me? So, tenure is a fringe benefit that I don't use very much.

That said, I think it's an important job characteristic, given the sort of work done by professors. Fukuyama starts with the common, but limited, defense of tenure as an institution:

Tenure was created to protect academic freedom after a series of 19th Century cases when university donors or legislators tried to remove professors whose views they disliked....

A former professor friend of mine ran into this. He wrote a candid assessment of the Texas state budget and recommended that Texas A&M not operate a golf course. The Board of Regents was not fond of that recommendation, and as the story goes, wanted to have him fired.

The rationale for tenure is still valid. But the system has turned the academy into one of the most conservative and costly institutions in the country. Yes, conservative: Economists joke that their discipline advances one funeral at a time, but many fields must wait for wholesale generational turnover before new approaches take hold. The system also hamstrings younger untenured professors, making them fearful of taking intellectual risks and causing them to write in jargon aimed only at those in their narrow subdiscipline...

All true! That's one of the downsides. Another is the occasional fossil or slug who hangs on and takes advantage of his boss' inability to fire him!

The larger issue, however, is this. Professors have specialized knowledge-- and are responsible for hiring their peers. Administrators are not in a good position to judge professors or their hires. And the university wants professors to hire good peers-- in fact, choosing candidates better than themselves is ideal. But what professor would want to do that without tenure?

Another problem is that the intellectual fads cited by Fukuyama can change over time. What was once valuable in terms of research might fade. And research which is likely to be judged by more subjective values is prone to reversals, political infighting, etc.

abortion-- as practiced and restricted-- in Indiana

From the same Indy Star article by Shari Rudavsky, more interesting details about abortion-- as practiced and restricted-- in Indiana...

Restrictions on abortion in Indiana

The parent of a minor must consent before an abortion is provided. (34 states require some parental involvement in a minor's decision to have an abortion.)

A woman must receive state-directed counseling (33 states) and then wait 18 hours before the procedure is provided. (24 of those same 33 states require women to wait a specified amount of time -- usually 24 hours -- between the counseling and the abortion.) Indiana is one of seven states that require that all counseling be provided in person and that the counseling take place before the waiting period begins, meaning two trips to the facility are necessary.

Public funding is available for abortion only in cases of life endangerment, physical health, rape or incest. (32 states and the District of Columbia follow this federal standard.)

Other regulations

Post-first-trimester abortions must be performed in a hospital or ambulatory outpatient surgical center.

Indiana prohibits a late-term procedure that critics call partial-birth abortion.

Indiana offers "Choose Life" license plates, the proceeds of which benefit pregnancy care centers and/or other organizations providing abortion alternatives.

A physician, hospital, facility employee or staff member who objects on religious, moral or ethical grounds is not required to participate in abortions.

A private or religiously affiliated hospital is not required to permit the use of its facilities for the performance of an abortion.

A matter of privilege

To obtain hospital privileges, a physician must go through a lengthy vetting process that can take two to four months or longer.

Once physicians pass that initial test, they fill out an application, including details about their education, training, career to date, any sanctions, lawsuits or criminal activity, and references. On the application, a physician also typically must request what type of procedures he or she plans to perform in the hospital.

The hospital then validates that information and sends the application to the hospital's credentials committee, which consists of medical staff members. The credentials committee interviews the applicant and makes a recommendation to the board of trustees, which has the final say.

Additional Facts

» 15: Number of doctors who provided abortions in Indiana in 2000 and 2005.

» 7: Number of such doctors in Indiana now.

» 10,850: Number of abortions in Indiana in 2005.

» 93: Percentage of Indiana counties without a doctor who provided abortions in 2005.

» 63: Percentage of women living in counties without a doctor who provided abortions.

» 9: Indiana metropolitan areas that don't have an abortion provider: Muncie; Columbus; Michigan City-LaPorte; Elkhart-Goshen; Kokomo; Lafayette; Evansville; Anderson; Terre Haute.

» 10: Percentage of 2005 pregnancies in Indiana that ended in abortion. Nationwide: 19 percent.

safety vs. restricted access: should abortionists be required to have hospital admitting privileges

From Shari Rudavsky in the Indy Star (hat tip: C-J)...

Indiana could soon join a handful of states to adopt laws requiring doctors who perform abortions to secure hospital admitting privileges, a measure favored by the national Right to Life movement.

Opponents contend that the rules are a way to whittle the state's already small number of doctors who perform abortions; proponents say the laws are needed to ensure patient safety.

The record shows that both positions may be overblown.

Eight states have similar laws.

In Arizona, Planned Parenthood, a leading reproductive rights advocate, helped write that state's rules from its own standards, said spokeswoman Jolinda Nestor.

"In some markets, the goal is to shut down abortion providers," Nestor said. "That wasn't the case (here). It wasn't ideological."...

It may have been a matter of political economy: note that PP may gains by restricting other suppliers in the market-- a standard case of using the government to restrict competition.

Logistics could interfere with an abortion provider's ability to gain hospital rights, said Betty Cockrum, Planned Parenthood of Indiana CEO.

Many hospitals require doctors with admitting privileges to live within a 30-minute drive of the facility.

But in Indiana, which has nine abortion clinics in five counties, some abortion providers must travel long distances to the clinics they serve, she said....

Indiana Right to Life lobbyist Sue Swayze, who helped write the bill when it was proposed a few years ago, said the legislation has more to do with patient safety than restricting access to abortion.

"This is after a woman has had an abortion," she said. "It's not restricting her right to one; it's giving her the right to have the same follow-up care most of us have when we have surgery."...

the economics of political corruption and economic development

From Tim Harford, a review of Economic Gangsters: Corruption, Violence, and the Poverty of Nations, by Raymond Fisman and Edward Miguel, in Reason...

Many economists think corruption is a rational response to irrational incentives. The World Bank’s “Doing Business” database lists 40 countries, from Iraq to Ethiopia, in which legally acquiring the necessary permissions to export a single standard cargo container takes more than one month. The more difficult it is to do something legally, the larger the temptation to do it illegally. Small wonder that in developing countries, few people make more money than customs officials.

If perverse incentives create corruption, that suggests a simple solution to an age-old problem...“institutions matter”...

There is a popular alternative view that says corrupt countries are corrupt not because the incentives are perverse but because they’re stuffed full of crooks, born and bred. In this view, corruption is cultural...

Into this controversy strode two economists, Raymond Fisman of Columbia and Edward Miguel of Berkeley, with a 2006 research paper that was brilliant and trivial in roughly equal measure. Fisman and Miguel realized that to test the two theories about corruption, you would ideally need to pluck people from all over the world, place them into a community whose laws they could ignore with impunity, then see who cheated and who was honest.

Impossible? Not at all. The United Nations in Manhattan kindly provided guinea pigs for just such an experiment. Diplomatic immunity meant that parking tickets issued to diplomats could not be enforced. The decision to park legally or not, therefore, was a matter of each person’s conscience.

Fisman and Miguel found that countries with endemic corruption at home, as measured by the anti-corruption organization Transparency International, were represented by habitual illegal parkers. Chad and Bangladesh, so often near the top of “perceptions of corruption” rankings, produced more than 2,500 violations between them from 1997 to 2005. Squeaky clean Scandinavians, on the other hand, committed only 12 unpaid parking violations, and most of those involved a single criminal mastermind from Finland. On the face of it, this evidence supports the view that poor countries are corrupt because they’re full of corrupt people.

Yet incentives clearly matter, too. In 2002...The city began to tow cars and the State Department deducted fines from the relevant foreign aid budgets. Almost overnight, unpaid violations fell dramatically.

This is sparkling stuff, and the story is enjoyably retold in Fisman and Miguel’s slim new volume, Economic Gangsters: Corruption, Violence, and the Poverty of Nations. I recommend the book wholeheartedly...the parking ticket study exemplifies the authors’ ingenuity, it also illuminates their limitations....We learn something about diplomats, but have we really learned something about economic development?...

The Princeton economist Alan Krueger recently highlighted what he calls “tectonic economics”—research that studies seismic shifts in society....

According to Krueger, those who pursue tectonic economics do so “because of frustration that the randomized and natural experiments often give us a compelling answer but to a narrow question.” the young authors with two giants of the field, the charismatic Jeffrey Sachs (surely the world’s most famous development economist) and Daron Acemoglu, winner of the rarer-than-the-Nobel John Bates Clark medal...Sachs and Acemoglu approach the question of whether institutions matter in very different ways....

That's interesting as well, but you can follow along to Reason's website if you want the rest!

theory vs. practice: inequity and inefficiency in govt programs for the unemployed

From Ianthe Jeanne Dugan in the WSJ...

The U.S. unemployment system is an uneven field of haves, have-nots and borderline cases, all found among the laid-off workers of a Maine company that makes wood products such as rolling pins and levers for reclining chairs.

When workers at a wholesale unit of Saunders Brothers lost their jobs in recent months, they qualified for Maine's standard state unemployment benefits of up to 26 weeks. Those laid off from a different Saunders plant qualified for a richer package -- two years of unemployment checks, health-care subsidies, free college and other perks.

And at the company's Fryeburg plant, once among the world's biggest rolling-pin producers, former general manager James Mains and dozens of co-workers got standard state benefits -- until they fought the government and got the more generous benefits, too....

The Saunders Brothers workers are the beneficiaries of an obscure federal program called Trade Adjustment Assistance....

The trade-adjustment program underscores broader problems with the way U.S. unemployment benefits are distributed. Critics say it's impossible to pinpoint who, exactly, is displaced by global trade. Moreover, they say, singling out a small class of unemployed Americans for richer benefits is discriminatory....

The U.S. unemployment-insurance system is a patchwork of state and federal programs. Each state administers its own benefits, doling out up to 26 weeks of checks based on the worker's former salary. In addition to TAA, there are federal programs for groups such as railroad workers.

"We don't run one unemployment program in this country. We run 53," says Howard Rosen, a fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics...

Most Americans who collect state unemployment benefits got a boost from the Obama stimulus plan signed in February. The federal government now offers an extra $25 a week to anybody drawing unemployment, and a tax credit to pay 65% of health insurance for up to nine months. The federal government also launched two emergency programs that potentially add 33 weeks for jobless who exhaust their benefits.

But the government sweetened the pot even more for TAA recipients...

Little Orphan Annie crushes FDR

From Brian Doherty in Reason on Little Orphan Annie and her creator, Harold Gray (this blog posting is as close as Doherty comes, at present, to making available his description of Gray)...

The strip, launched in 1924, quickly became a huge success and a pop culture landmark. It was one of the few popular voices raised in opposition to the New Deal.

The treacly 1977 Broadway musical Annie and the film adaptation that followed five years later glorified lovable FDR. Annie creator Harold Gray (1894-1968) would have been appalled. "I...have despised Roosevelt and his socialist, or creeping communist, policies since 1932..." Gray once wrote.

Doherty continues by quoting "comics historian" Jeet Heer on the differences between Gray and Charles Dickens:

"Her goodness is not passive but active." [Then Doherty again:] When competitors try to drive her from the corner where she sells newspapers, she doesn't just cry "woe-is-me"; she smacks 'em with a survive, Annie counts not only on her own grit but on the direct kindness of stranger...disdain for the uplifters and professional licensing and child labor laws that stymie Annie's attempts to support herself and others who fall under her care.

Then from the blog:

One Annie storyline Schwartz described makes you wonder whether Ayn Rand had been reading the funnies with notepad in hand in the 1930s, when you think about Atlas Shrugged's Rearden metal:

Annie befriends a homeless scientist, Eli Eon, inventor of Eonite, a cheap, easy-to-produce, indestructible material. Warbucks envisions it ending the Depression. Millions will work to mass-produce it, creating materials for housing that millions more will build. A corrupt union, led by John L. Lewis look-alike Claude Claptrap and liberal, long-haired journalist Horatio Hack, demands Warbucks give Eonite “to the pee-pul” or they’ll strike. Their workers burn down Warbucks’s factory (he hadn’t gotten around to building it out of Eonite yet), killing Eon. The secret of Eonite, and to ending the Depression, dies with him.

Finally, back to the Reason article:

In the most vivid moment of FDR baiting, in August 1944, Gray killed off Warbucks with the moneybags moaning, "Some have called me dirty capitalist"...I guess it's time to go." A year later, with FDR now himself dead, Gray revealed that Warbucks' death bad been faked. The returning character slyly noted, "Somehow I feel the climate here has changed since I went away."

Obama extends Clinton's redefinition of "volunteer"

From the AP's Ann Sanner (hat tip: Conservative Edge)...

It's not as famous as his redefinition of "is", but this is both Clintonian-- and now, Obamian...

Calling on Americans to volunteer, President Barack Obama signed a $5.7 billion national service bill Tuesday that triples the size of the AmeriCorps service program over the next eight years and expands ways for students to earn money for college....

The service law expands ways for students and seniors to earn money for college through their volunteer work. It aims to foster and fulfill people's desire to make a difference, such as by mentoring children, cleaning up parks or buildings and weatherizing homes for the poor....

Some Republicans complain it is too costly and is an unnecessary intrusion by government into something Americans already do eagerly and in great numbers-- helping their neighbors and communities.

Part of the GOP problem: only "some Republicans" complain about such things.

The legislation provides for gradually increasing the size of the Clinton-era AmeriCorps to 250,000 enrollees from its current 75,000....AmeriCorps offers a range of volunteer opportunities including housing construction, youth outreach, disaster response and caring for the elderly. Most receive an annual stipend of slightly less than $12,000 for working 10 months to a year....

a greater embrace of socialism among today's youth?

From Harold Meyerson in the Washington Post as reprinted in the C-J...

According to a Rasmussen poll released last week, 37 percent of Americans under age 30 prefer capitalism, 33 percent prefer socialism and 30 percent are undecided. Among all Americans, 53 percent prefer capitalism, 20 percent prefer socialism and 27 percent are undecided.

How's that again?

If you comb the annals of Americans' ideological preferences, you won't find figures like these. At socialism's apogee, presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs got 6 percent of the vote in the 1912 election. After that, it was pretty much all downhill — until last week, anyway.

There are at least three things to say here:

1.) It is rare that people have any sort of objective, clear definition of capitalism. In one sense, people are fonder of capitalism than they think-- in that they broadly endorse freedom, economic markets, and so on. In another sense, there are very few capitalists-- those who fully endorse capitalism (or nearly so). Most people want a good bit of redistribution and a smattering of inefficient regulations on international trade, labor markets, etc.

2.) I don't know anything about the polling data, but at least for the last hundred years, I'm almost certain that socialism has always-- or at least often-- been more popular among the young.

3.) In citing Debs, Meyerson is comparing apples and oranges or rocks. Debs' electoral success as a Socialist Party presidential candidate is not closely related-- if at all-- to popularity of Socialism. As has been frequently if not famously noted, the entire Socialist platform of 1928 was put into law within the next decade.

From there, Meyerson makes a good/important point:

...they signal that the link between socialism and anti-Americanism has been weakened and, among the young, all but destroyed. The end of Soviet communism has meant that the United States no longer has a major adversary that professes to be socialist. The one remaining powerful Communist Party, China's, has opted for a capitalist economy.... The violent threats to America today come from a branch of Islamic fundamentalists who wage war on all forms of modernity, socialism among them....

To be more precise, China has opted for a greater degree of capitalism in the past-- and a system that is often (wrongly) described (as here) as capitalism.

From there, Meyerson says some silly things about talk radio...

bad economy of the 1970s and the "me decade"

One more reason to disrespect the work of Presidents Johnson, Nixon and Carter-- from Rich Karlgaard of as quoted in the WSJ...

Moreover, if he's correct at all about cause-and-effect, the Bush/Obama years could result in an even sadder turn of events-- in a time when we have less moral capital in many areas.

How did ordinary Americans cope in the 1970s? Many turned inward. Writer Tom Wolfe captured the decade's mood in a 1976 essay called "The Me Decade and the Third Great Awakening." Wolfe used the term "awakening" as satire....a national plunge into self-absorption.

These were the years of psychological analysis, self-therapy, the jogging craze and cults....The 1960s sexual revolution hit Main Street in the 1970s, and divorces exploded. So did sexually transmitted diseases.

What happened during the 1970s was that the first wonder of the world, human energy and creativity, got diverted from serious economic pursuits to trivial pleasure pursuits. Tax, regulatory and inflation hurdles made economic pursuits, on balance, too bothersome for too many during the 1970s.