Thursday, June 29, 2006
Can a D-e-m spell G-o-d?
Nothing is more transparent than inauthentic expressions of faith -- the politician who shows up at a black church around election time and claps, off rhythm, to the gospel choir. Secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square. To say that men and women should not inject their personal morality into public policy debates is a practical absurdity.
Those aren't my words. I'm quoting. And who am I quoting? You might guess an evangelical Christian leader. Perhaps even a Republican strategist or conservative lawmaker. But would guess a Democratic senator? Those are the words of Senator Barack Obama, addressing a bipartisan religious conference sponsored by Sojourners founder Rev. Jim Wallis.
Obama had strong words for the Democratic party, both in his speech and in an interview I conducted with him afterwards, about the party's historic aversion to talk about faith. Faith is a very big part of the life of many Americans, contends Obama, and for Democrats to not talk about religion or even try to understand a person's faith is to eliminate almost all possibility of communicating meaningfully with them.
Republicans are great at talking about faith. And they are rewarded for it. In 2004, white evangelicals counted for 23 percent of voters. And they broke overwhelmingly for President Bush. "The biggest mistake the Democrats have made is to cede the entire territory of religion and values to a religious and political right, who then narrow the issues to only two -- abortion and gay marriage -- and then manipulate them politically," says Jim Wallis.
Democrats are trying to correct the mistake. There is a movement afoot led by Obama, the new superstar of the Democratic Party, Hillary Clinton, Howard Dean and others to encourage party members to acknowledge faith as a means to broader communication. Whether it's for a Democratic politician to make public his or her own faith, or simply learn how to talk about it, party leaders believe it could be a foot in the door to get those exurban evangelicals to listen.
Democrats are also trying to expand the field of "moral" and "value" issues to include some of their strengths. For them to play, it needs to be about more than abortion and same-sex marriage. So they're attempting to making moral issues out of poverty, hunger, human rights and "creation care" (a new phrase for "environmentalism"), believing that if there is common ground on belief in the idea of moral values, there might be fertile ground to approach evangelicals on the Iraq war, the deficit and other issues.
Take Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, for example. He talked a lot about his personal religion during his election campaign. Not in terms of politics, but he let people know that he was a person for whom faith was important. He spoke of his mission in Honduras, and he talked about religion as part of his background. On faith issues, he sounded more like a Republican than a Democrat. No one questioned his sincerity. And wouldn't you know it, he won.
Many Democrats acknowledge that they have been the party of secularism for so long that they have alienated a significant part of the electorate. And they want to try to win those voters over. As Senator Obama pointed out, the majority of great reformers in American history -- Frederick Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, Williams Jennings Bryan, Dorothy Day and Martin Luther King among them -- were not only motivated by faith, but repeatedly used religious language to argue for their cause.
Now, certainly this is going to make secularists uncomfortable. They will argue about blurring the line between church and state. But some Democrats have their eyes on another line. The 50 percent line. And they know that unless they can peel off a portion of that growing segment of society that is firmly rooted in the South and now sweeping across the Midwest, they will likely remain the party of the minority and continue to see "red"in the White House.
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
President Bush vs. The New York Times
Instead of reading The New York Times, it's quite possible White House staffers are using the venerated newspaper as fish wrap or lining for canary cages these days.
President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and congressional leaders -- primarily Republicans -- are calling a recent Times report disgraceful, dangerous, even illegal.
In a nutshell: The Times told the story
of a secret program to track terrorists by monitoring bank accounts, and the White House believes
the Times report has endangered national security.
Some concern seems reasonable. It is never good when the away team gets a free peek at the home team's playbook. Furthermore, terrorists widely and commonly monitor U.S. media sources for their own intelligence gathering purposes.
We know, for example, that when newspapers reported on how portable phones were being used to track terrorist movements, the terrorists hung up and quit using them. And a former KGB intelligence chief once told me that reading American papers and watching American TV was an essential part of his spy job, simply because free societies generate so much valuable information.
That said, the other side of the coin is also clear. The New York Times (and by the way, The Wall Street Journal and The Los Angeles Times, too) could report on this program only because people working on it leaked information.
There is hot talk here in the nation's capital about pursuing criminal charges against these newspapers and designing new laws to stop potential leaks from making it into the press.
So what do you think: Is the problem that these newspapers reported this secret or is it that the secret was not being kept very well in the first place?
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
New Orleans' suicide rate nearly triples
In the weeks and months since Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, many people in the area have told us about their feelings of depression. And we've heard reports of people killing themselves because they couldn't cope with their changed lives.
The stories have been plentiful, but the tales of increased depression have basically all been anecdotal. But now some numbers have been thrown our way.
According to the coroner's office in New Orleans, the city's suicide rate nearly tripled in the months after Katrina. A suicide rate of nine per 100,000 residents jumped to almost 27 per 100,000 residents.
We spent time recently with a very charming, lifelong New Orleans resident named Gina Barbe.
Gina worked in the tourist industry before Katrina, helping to arrange vacation stays for people visiting New Orleans. She told me her life before Katrina was happy; that she was always laughing. But things changed after August 29.
Gina says after the devastation of the hurricane, she lost her job and her medical coverage. Some of her friends died in the hurricane; others committed suicide.
She says the city became dark and dangerous to her. She told me she has frequently thought about killing herself, and that for days at a time, she has not felt like getting out of bed. She thinks she's been profoundly depressed.
The New Orleans police department operates a "crisis unit" that helps people who need to be protected from harming themselves. Sgt. Ben Glaudi, the man who started the unit 24 years ago, says there has been a dramatic increase in the rate of people who need to be helped.
Sgt. Glaudi says Gina's story is unfortunately fairly typical. In fact, he says he himself has been depressed. His house was destroyed in the hurricane, and he and his family now live in a trailer.
Gina has yet to get professional help for her depression. But she says she will. She knows her life may depend on it.
Billions of dollars with nowhere to go
No matter how many times I come to New Orleans, the destruction surprises me. But even more surprising is how much work still needs to be done.
I went to New Orleans yesterday to take a good, hard look at Mayor Ray Nagin's "100-day plan" for rebuilding and revitalizing the city.
Today marks day 26, nearly a third of the way into the 100-day plan, and everyone seems to have an opinion about whether or not enough has been done so far. Many people accuse city hall of more inaction than action.
We stopped on a corner in the lower ninth ward where Michael Reed was battling 90-degree heat to fix up his mother's house. Until the storm hit, she had lived there for 49 years. Since Katrina, she has been living in an apartment in Texas. I didn't have to spend more than a minute with Michael to see his frustration.
"That's what politicians do. They throw out a 100-day plan. When that one's over they'll throw out another 100-day plan, so I guess we'll be like that for three or four years. By the time he gets out of office, the next guy will have a 100-day plan," he told me.
In some areas, such as the Lakeview neighborhood, there is some progress. Damaged homes are gutted, with many completely rebuilt. But around nearly every corner there is still a ton of trash, piles of debris that dwarf me, and I'm 5'3".
Rob Couhig, who is heading up the 100-day plan committee, says starting today there is a plan for trash cleanup. He says there is also a plan to get every streetlight operating and every stop sign back upright.
"This is not a magic wand, 100 days. It is to lay the predicate for the next three years," Couhig told me.
Billions of dollars in federal aid are heading to New Orleans, but neither Couhig nor the mayor's office could explain where all that money is going to be spent.
City Councilman Oliver Thomas says crime and housing should be priorities. With just half the population of New Orleans back in the city, crime is reaching pre-storm levels. And people here still don't know which neighborhoods will be rebuilt and when Mayor Nagin will let the public know.
I asked Councilman Thomas what he would do if it was his 100-day plan.
"If it was my 100 day plan, man, you would have the AFL-CIO and their pledge of $1 billion for homes. They'd be out there working right now. ... You would have a job or workforce development plan where residents are being trained in the recovery," he said.
That's his take. What would you do if you had 100 days to get New Orleans going again?
Monday, June 26, 2006
Too much Angelina Jolie?
Anderson is in New Orleans today. For tonight, he's working on a piece on an alarming uptick in crime in New Orleans. (We also have a piece from correspondent Randi Kaye about Mayor Ray Nagin's 100-day plan and how far along the city is or is not. Yes, "We're keeping them honest.")
We've been talking a lot around here today about the bust of alleged terrorist wannabes who were associated with the Sears tower and the question of what is or is not entrapment and the perhaps even more dicey question: When is the right time for authorities to intervene? In other words, when does angry "talk" really constitute a threatening plot? We'll have more on this later in the week and would love your thoughts on it.
Also, we've taken a few hits from established media critics for our Angelina Jolie/World Refugee Day coverage. My view? They need to get lives. We had a significant and large viewership for both hours we produced last Tuesday. Yes, the Angelina interview was woven into both hours, but so, too, were thoughtfully reported pieces from CNN's Christiane Amanpour from Darfur, Jeff Koinange from Congo, Dr. Sanjay Gupta looking at the medical crises that inevitably follow the chaotic migrations of displaced populations, and Anderson from his time in Niger.
As for Angelina, she is absolutely a world-class celebrity AND she's made 20 visits as United Nations special ambassador to refugee camps around the world. She is informed, sincere and passionate about the subject. If interviewing her gave us an opportunity to shine a bright spotlight on a critical issue facing the world, then I'd like the chance for Anderson to interview her again.
Meantime, take a look at David Carr's column
taking a shot at us in today's New York Times. Let us know what you think.
It's not Iraq, but it's no cakewalk
It is midnight when I meet Sgt. Kennery Foster on a New Orleans street. Sweat has beaded on his face, nearly covering it.
It's not the threat of violence that makes this soldier uncomfortable; it's the city's unrelenting, muggy heat. After all, it takes a lot to scare Sgt. Foster, a Louisiana National Guardsman who recently did a yearlong tour in Iraq.
We're in the city's fifth district, and just a few minutes into our pleasantries there's an unmistakable "Pop, pop, pop, pop..." I don't know how many shots were fired, but there were a lot.
Foster and two other soldiers exchange glances, wait, listen, then go on with the discussion.
"That was gunfire," I said.
Foster says he and other troops here have developed a "sixth sense." No screaming, no calls cracking over the radio. They call in a helicopter with infared capabilities and begin looking for the bad guy.
It's no secret New Orleans is once again developing a nasty crime problem.
It all came to a head 10 or so days ago, when five teens were brutally murdered sitting in an SUV in a sketchy area of the city at four in the morning. This prompted Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco to dispatch 300 Louisiana National Guard troops to the city at the request of Mayor Ray Nagin.
Sgt. Foster is from Lafayette, not terribly far from the Crescent City, and he professes to love Louisiana and the city of New Orleans.
While we are out for a few hours in the wee hours of the morning, people hanging out of windows of cars going to and from a late night club are thanking the sergeant for being here.
The truth is that Sgt. Foster is surprised the city needs military muscle nearly 10 months after Hurricane Katrina.
A year in Iraq, a few months with his family, and he's back on patrol. It's not Iraq, but it's not a cakewalk either, as a short burst of gunfire proved on his third night on patrol, a night when his "sixth sense" was put to the test in the battle to take back the nighttime streets of New Orleans.