Morning Report, July 22

Morning Report, July 22 July 22, 2009

1.  One gets the impression that health care reform is at a tipping point.  Either the reluctant moderates will buckle under or be bought off and some reform package (it’s worth recalling that there is nothing complete on the table as of yet, mostly because the Senate cannot figure out how to fund the thing) will pass on a razor-thin margin, or this round’s effort will collapse and we will return to the issue later.  A wealth of commentary has appeared on the issue in the past few days.  The longer this drags on, the more pressure falls on the shoulders of Democrats, and the more Republicans believe it is possible to slow the Obama juggernaut and prevent what they view as counter-productive changes in health care, energy and etc.

Obama will address the nation tonight in another prime-time press conference.  I will have more to say on the issue later today, but for the moment, here are some interesting links.  In her usual baffling way, Nancy Pelosi tells us that this reform “is going to happen.  And those who oppose it are mainly just opposed to health care.”  (Talk about an excluded middle!)  And Democrats in Congress are, you’ve got it, “baffled” by the administration’s steamroller rush to get something done before the August recess.  Harold Meyerson is strongly critical of the moderates in Congress, who are, he believes, standing in the way of real progress.  This “ten questions” feature from the Wall Street Journal is pretty fair to both sides, while other popular press treatments are more skeptical.  Mitt Romney sounds quite credible on the issue in an intervew.  And conservatives are hitting Obama for admitting, in a call with liberal bloggers in which he encouraged them to ratchet up the pressure on Democratic legislators, that he is not familiar with the details of the House bill as it now stands; letting the Congress worry over the details did not seem to work out well for the Obama stimulus.  If Obama wants to succeed, he needs not only to twist arms and bring down the rhetorical hammer tonight; he needs to give the Democrats a clearer and more detailed vision of the bill he wants to see.

More on health care, and a specifically Christian perspective on it, later today.

2.  Apparently the Senate version of the health care bill “gives the Health and Human Services secretary the authority to develop ‘standards of measuring gender’ — as opposed to using the traditional “male” and “female” categories — in a database of all who apply or participate in government-run or government-supported health care plans.”  The echoes of the academic war on gender binaries will be heard more in the halls of this White House than the last one.

3.  A case study in good philanthropic intentions, paying top dollar for top “talent,” and getting very little results when idealism meets reality.  This is not reason, of course, to give up on philanthropic ventures.  Bill Gates should be praised for the philanthropic turn in his life, and encouraged to give more of his billions.  Yet the story of Avahan and its AIDS-prevention efforts in India is full of lessons, including the often-limited effect of throwing money at a problem.

4.  Thankfully, “Brüno,” after a boffo opening day, has completely tanked at the box office.  Sascha Baron Cohen was lauded as a comic genius after his “Borat” film (although I thought his “Ali G” show was funnier), and the crudeness of so much of the humor, and the more-than-questionable morality of duping people with false representations of their interviews and appearances, was blithely waved away.  The Christian Film and Television Commission is pressing for communities to ban the movie from their theaters, but Sonny Bunch of the Washington Times advises against it.

It looks as if “Brüno” finally has shown just how far Hollywood can push audiences and the boundaries of taste before moviegoers push back. The cultural watchdogs on the right would do well to let this movie self-immolate instead of turning “Bruno” and Mr. Baron Cohen into free-speech martyrs.

Sounds like good advice to me.

5.  This is not the kind of headline you want to see if you’re Obama: “Great Hopes for Obama Fade to Reality.”  This is one problem with the soaring rhetoric Obama has often used: people expect you actually to deliver on your promises.  Compared to the previous twelve administrations, Obama ranks 10th in popularity at this point in his presidency.  (Check out this fascinating interactive feature on Presidential approval ratings.)  This is not an especially meaningful barometer, but in some ways this may be a good development for the Obama administration.  While Obama remains popular personally, many of his policies are not favored (as shown by various polls) by the American electorate.  Once he reached the general election he campaigned as a post-partisan, post-racial unifier, someone who would take the best ideas from both sides and forge solutions which enjoyed support from a broad swath of America’s political spectrum; yet since taking office he’s claimed a mandate that is further to the left, more akin to the version of Obama he presented in the primary.  It could be that Obama will be guided back toward pragmatic compromises, and perhaps to a more stable presidency that benefits the nation (and thus his legacy) more over the long term, by an increasing consciousness of the need to include moderates in his agenda.

Neither side of the aisle has a monopoly on good ideas and good intentions.  Obama would be well-served to stop pretending that it’s either his solutions or doing nothing, as though Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats are not offering their own bills.  They are offering alternatives, but those get drowned out in the cacaphonous rhetoric against those imaginary opponents who “want to do nothing.”  The caricatures, the straw men, the false dichotomies, are beginning to become apparent to the American people, and they do not serve the interests of rational social discourse and reasonable solutions.

6.  Codex Sinaiticus is fully available online.  Codex Sinaiticus includes the earliest complete version of the New Testament, and stands among the most important documents in the history of the Christian church.

“Parchment and Pen” has an excellent entry on the codex and the rampant misreporting in the popular media.  Is it any wonder evangelicals get frustrated with poor religion reporting?

7.  Interesting information on Judge Sotomayor and current abortion law.  It is a common misconception, the author writes, that states can criminalize late-stage abortion.  Although it remains a rare practice, one can, in any state, as a matter of the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Constitution, terminate a 38-week (or 40-week, for that matter) unborn child for any reason.  When the unborn child is viable, why does removing the child from the mother constitute a transition from “not a human life” (and therefore an abortable “fetus”) to a human life that is constitutionally protected?

8.  Finally, yesterday’s Morning Report referenced religious and political persecution in North Korea’s labor camps.  omorrow (Thursday) is the 10-year anniversary of China’s torture and suppression of Falun Gong.  I remember well, when I was in China in 1996, reading one of the first books of Li Hongzhi, the founder of Falun Gong.  The book talked about meditation masters who could fly from mountaintop to mountaintop, pass through walls, and see to the astral plane.  Apparently Falun Gong has changed a great deal over the years, partly in response to pressure from the Communist Party in China.  In any case, all people of faith should protest when any person is persecuted because of his or her faith.  One wishes that the persecution of Christians in China received as much coverage, but I am glad that the Chinese government should be pressured on its treatment of the religious.

Some of the awful details:

The group says 3,200 of its members, at a minimum, have been tortured to death by the Chinese government. It cites Wang Lixuan, who had to watch her 7-month-old son die in front of her after he was hung upside down. Then police broke her neck and crushed her skull.

Then there are the forced organ transplants, one of the things Miss Wenyi was protesting. Just before her White House visit, this newspaper interviewed a Chinese journalist who uncovered a secret detention center in northern China that was used to harvest human organs for sale to domestic and international buyers. (The Chinese, of course, denied such a place exists.) The journalist estimated 6,000 Falun Gong prisoners were being mined for body parts. The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, which chronicled the practice in March 2007, said the harvesting began in 2001.

China’s treatment of animals is similarly horrific.  Unfortunately, our government has decided that China is too important an economic partner and investor for us to pressure them on human and animal rights.  This is not entirely unreasonable, but the truth is that China needs our favor more than we need theirs.  Still, whatever the government decides, this does not stop the American people, as consumers, as people of faith, as human beings, from voicing their opposition to such practices.

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