Otter Faces Facts


Idaho Governor Clement “Butch” Otter appears to have faced the fact of educational reform. The voters spoke and the Luna Laws lost. He hasn’t given up on educational reform, but he appears willing to go slower and try to include all interested parties in the discussion. He has asked the Idaho State Department of Education to form a group to determine if there is legislation that would have broad based support. If so, it would not be until 2014 that the legislature might consider such legislation.

Here is part of Otter’s statement.

After voters on November 6 rejected the process, pace and policies for improving Idaho’s education system enacted in 2011, it became the task of everyone who cares about the quality of Idaho public schools to constructively continue that conversation.
My staff and I spent the next several weeks reaching out to educators, business leaders and Idaho citizens about staying engaged. Now that I’m optimistic we have a critical mass of interest, I’ve asked the State Board of Education to shepherd a statewide discussion about school improvement.
I’m asking the Board to guide the work of a broadly representative group of concerned Idahoans in studying best practices in school districts around the state and using data and experience to drive sound decision making.  The group is likely to be large, but only large enough to include the diversity of opinion needed to properly study such a complex issue.
I’m not going to direct the discussion or the issues covered in any way. There must be no “third rail” in this conversation. But I am asking participants to come to the table ready to speak openly and candidly, and to bring ideas.  I will not be prescriptive other than to say I remain committed to equal access to opportunity for our children and to increasing support for our educators.

Should legislation be necessary for school improvement efforts I expect this group to build consensus around those ideas by the 2014 legislative session.  It is imperative that our partners in the Legislature engage in this process and I am pleased to have the support of House Speaker Bedke and the Senate President Pro Tem Hill in balancing this fragile dynamic.


The Idaho Statesman gives Crapo a pass



In a Christmas day opinion piece, The Idaho Statesman editorial board gave Senator Mike Crapo a gift- an “all is forgiven” free pass for his DUI. The editorial is an example of easy rationalizations and faulty logic. There is no point in asking that Crapo somehow pay for his “mistake”. After all, he is human and, this is the holiday season, and he had a lot on his mind with the “fiscal cliff” problem and all, and, of course, he has always been a good guy…

Idaho constituents have learned a few things about Sen. Mike Crapo over the past couple of days. He has shown three things: That he is human, that he can make a mistake and that lemonade is not the strongest drink in his glass. At the moment, he also has something more on his mind than the fiscal cliff.

What happened to Mike Crapo in the early morning of Dec. 23 can happen to a lot of people, especially during the holiday season. He attended a social gathering in Alexandria, Va., had a few drinks and drove home. Maybe he didn’t realize he had too much to drink when he left the social event.

But running a red light got the attention of the police, and failing the sobriety tests clearly showed that Crapo had no business driving. He spent a few hours in jail to go along with his personal shame, but it could have been worse.

Crapo had “no business driving”, but he spent a few hours in jail. That, and the personal shame he feels, is punishment enough for the Statesman.

How did the members of the Editorial Board know that it was just an honest mistake on Senator Crapo’s part and he didn’t realize he had had too much to drink?

Some of us here have known Crapo since his days as an up-and-coming state senator from Idaho Falls in the 1980s. We followed his rise to Senate president pro-tem, and his 20-year congressional career. He has maintained a reputation of integrity and decency, which doesn’t always happen after so many years in high political office.

One mistake does not erase an otherwise honorable career. It’s a good guess that the embarrassment anybody might feel for him is nothing compared with the embarrassment he feels for himself. It’s bad enough that Crapo has to explain himself to his wife and family. It’s worse when he has to explain himself to 1.6 million constituents, many of whom have viewed Crapo as an example of what American politics should be about.

The editorial compares Crapo’s “mistake” with former Senator Larry Craig’s infamous episode in the restroom at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Crapo should be forgiven because, unlike Craig, he “manned up” and accepted responsibility. Plus, being LDS, he has to be suffering terrible guilt and embarrassment.Sorry, but I don’t buy that distinction. There are two points of comparison to be made between the two episodes. One is the nature of the “mistake”. In Craig’s case he was involved in an incident that, at worse, would be between two consenting adults. In Crapo’s case, by running a red light while drunk, he was putting innocent drivers in harms way. My wife’s parents were both killed by a drunk driver and I have little sympathy for those who rationalize away drunk driving. The second point of comparison is the issue of hypocrisy. Here they are both equally guilty. Crapo is a Mormon and has said on many occasions that he does not now and never has consumed alcohol. Craig, of course, famously said that he is not and never has been gay.

One consequence of living in a state dominated by one party is that politicians make “mistakes” and are hardly ever held accountable. The Seattle PI has a nice overview of recent Idaho political scandals including DUIs for Gov. Butch Otter and state Senator John McGee. They also remember Steve “take a bite out of government” Symms. They left out other members of Idaho’s hall of infamy like George Hansen and Helen Chenoweth, but their point had already been made.

O Crapo!

crapo-articleInline Idaho Senator Michael D. Crapo was arrested early Sunday and charged with driving under the influence in Alexandria Va.

Police spokesman Craig T. Fifer said an officer was on routine patrol when he saw Sen. Crapo’s vehicle run a red light. It was stopped at Hume Avenue and Mount Vernon at 12:45 a.m. Crapo then underwent several field sobriety tests, which he failed, Fifer said in a statement. He was then taken into custody without incident.

Police said the senator’s blood-alcohol level was .110. In Virginia, drivers at .08 or higher are considered intoxicated.
He was released on $1,000 bond, and has a court date scheduled for Jan. 4.

Members of the national media wonder if Crapo, a Mormon who has stated in public many times that he does not drink, could face additional fallout here in Idaho, where about a quarter of the population consists of Latter-day Saints. I think that is highly unlikely. When it comes to alcohol, Idaho Mormons have a rather nuanced view. And, of course, hypocrisy is a hallmark of Idaho’s Republican party.

On a related note, former Idaho Republican Senator Larry Craig quickly assured Idahoans that Crapo is not now or never has been a homosexual.

Garry Wills Identifies our “Moloch”


Garry Wills,  Pulitzer Prize-winning author, journalist, and historian, specializing in American history, politics, and religion, provides a deep, moral, analysis of America’s gun culture.

The slaughter at Sandy Hook Elementary is just the latest sacrificial offering we give to the God, Moloch.


Few crimes are more harshly forbidden in the Old Testament than sacrifice to the god Moloch (for which see Leviticus 18.21, 20.1-5). The sacrifice referred to was of living children consumed in the fires of offering to Moloch. Ever since then, worship of Moloch has been the sign of a deeply degraded culture. Ancient Romans justified the destruction of Carthage by noting that children were sacrificed to Moloch there. Milton represented Moloch as the first pagan god who joined Satan’s war on humankind:

First Moloch, horrid king, besmear’d with blood
Of human sacrifice, and parents’ tears,
Though for the noise of Drums and Timbrels loud
Their children’s cries unheard, that pass’d through fire
To his grim idol. (Paradise Lost 1.392-96)

Read again those lines, with recent images seared into our brains—“besmeared with blood” and “parents’ tears.” They give the real meaning of what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School Friday morning. That horror cannot be blamed just on one unhinged person. It was the sacrifice we as a culture made, and continually make, to our demonic god. We guarantee that crazed man after crazed man will have a flood of killing power readily supplied him. We have to make that offering, out of devotion to our Moloch, our god. The gun is our Moloch. We sacrifice children to him daily—sometimes, as at Sandy Hook, by directly throwing them into the fire-hose of bullets from our protected private killing machines, sometimes by blighting our children’s lives by the death of a parent, a schoolmate, a teacher, a protector. Sometimes this is done by mass killings (eight this year), sometimes by private offerings to the god (thousands this year).

The gun is not a mere tool, a bit of technology, a political issue, a point of debate. It is an object of reverence. Devotion to it precludes interruption with the sacrifices it entails. Like most gods, it does what it will, and cannot be questioned. Its acolytes think it is capable only of good things. It guarantees life and safety and freedom. It even guarantees law. Law grows from it. Then how can law question it?

Its power to do good is matched by its incapacity to do anything wrong. It cannot kill. Thwarting the god is what kills. If it seems to kill, that is only because the god’s bottomless appetite for death has not been adequately fed. The answer to problems caused by guns is more guns, millions of guns, guns everywhere, carried openly, carried secretly, in bars, in churches, in offices, in government buildings. Only the lack of guns can be a curse, not their beneficent omnipresence.

Adoration of Moloch permeates the country, imposing a hushed silence as he works his will. One cannot question his rites, even as the blood is gushing through the idol’s teeth. The White House spokesman invokes the silence of traditional in religious ceremony. “It is not the time” to question Moloch. No time is right for showing disrespect for Moloch.

America’s worship of guns is next to impossible to combat because, like all religious beliefs, it is not really open to reason. It does no good to quote statistics, how many guns, how many deaths. Idaho is a deeply red, deeply Republican state where the right to conceal automatic weapons guarantee life and safely and freedom. There is no questioning Moloch.

Are Right-Wingers a Different Species?

No More Mister Nice Guy Blog asks the question, “Are right-wingers even the same species as the rest of us?

He asked the question in response to right-wing reaction to a story New York representative Louise Slaughter told during the Health Care summit.

I even have one constituent — you will not believe this, and I know you won’t, but it’s true — her sister died. This poor woman had no dentures. She wore her dead sister’s teeth, which of course were uncomfortable and did not fit.

Do you ever believe that in America that that’s where we would be?

How did the right-wing respond? Fox News and Michelle Malkin thought the story was pretty funny. Rush Limbaugh called it the sob story of the day.

I mean for example, well what’s wrong with using a dead person’s teeth? Aren’t the Democrats big into recycling? Save the planet? And so what? So if you don’t have any teeth, so what? What’s applesauce for? Isn’t that why they make applesauce?

Obviously, right-wingers are not a separate species, but…  This got me thinking about what the latest research has to say about differences between individuals on the left and right of the political spectrum. There is some recent evidence that political orientation is related to how the brain functions.

Exploring the neurobiology of politics, scientists have found that liberals tolerate ambiguity and conflict better than conservatives because of how their brains work.

In a simple experiment reported today in the journal Nature Neuroscience, scientists at New York University and UCLA show that political orientation is related to differences in how the brain processes information.

There also appears to be differences when it comes to morality.

One of the main divides between left and right is the dependence on different moral values. For liberals, morality derives mostly from fairness and prevention of harm. For conservatives, morality also involves upholding authority and loyalty — and revulsion at disgust.

Studies have shown that Liberals are more inclined to break away from habitual responses, to think creatively and to be open to new experiences.

A study of American Christians found that, when it comes to religion, political conservatives operate out of a fear of chaos and absence of order while political liberals operate out of a fear of emptiness,  According to Dan McAdams, co-author of the study,

Political conservatives envision a world without God in which baser human impulses go unchecked, social institutions (marriage, government, family) fall apart and chaos ensues. Liberals, on the other hand, envision a world without God as barren, lifeless, devoid of color and reasons to live.

Liberals see their faith as something that fills them up and, without it, they conjure up metaphors of emptiness, depletion and scarcity. While conservatives worry about societal collapse, liberals worry about a world without deep feelings and intense experiences.

Two studies conducted recently at Cornell show that Conservatives are apt to make moral/political judgments based upon personal feelings of disgust rather than on whether an action might cause actual harm. This helps explain the seemingly intractable differences surrounding issues like abortion and gay marriage.

Liberals and conservatives disagree about whether disgust has a valid place in making moral judgments. Conservatives have argued that there is inherent wisdom in repugnance; that feeling disgusted about something — gay sex between consenting adults, for example — is cause enough to judge it wrong or immoral, even lacking a concrete reason. Liberals tend to disagree, and are more likely to base judgments on whether an action or a thing causes actual harm.

Social psychologists like John Mayer (who coined the term “emotional intelligence”) have tried to categorize the personality types “liberal” and “conservative”.

• View social inequities and preferred groups as unjust and requiring reform.
• Prefer atheists, tattoos, foreign films and poetry.
• Endorse gay unions, welfare, universal health care, feminism and environmentalism.
• Exhibit creativity, which entails the capacity to see solutions to problems, and empathy toward others.
• Tolerate complexity and ambiguity.
• Are influenced by their work as judges, social workers, professors and other careers for which an appreciation of opposing points of view is required.

• Willing to defend current social inequities and preferred groups as justifiable or necessary.
• Prefer prayer, religious people and SUVs.
• Endorse the U.S. government, the military, the state they live in, big corporations and most Americans.
• Are more likely to be a first-born, who identify more with their parents, predisposing them to a greater investment in authority and a preference for conservatism.
• Have a fear of death, reflecting an enhanced need for security.
• Are conscientious – the ability to exert personal self-control to the effect of meeting one’s own and others’ demands, and maintaining personal coherence.
• Need simplicity, clarity and certainty.

Is there a positive correlation between intelligence and liberalism, atheism and monogamy?

The latest scientist to weigh in on this issue is Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Her study found that more intelligent people are statistically significantly more likely to exhibit social values and religious and political preferences that are novel to the human species in evolutionary history.  Specifically, liberalism and atheism, and for men (but not women), preference for sexual exclusivity correlate with higher intelligence.

Based on his findings, he proposes the theory of “evolutionary novel” preferences.

Apparently, more intelligent people adopt evolutionarily novel preferences and values, but intelligence does not correlate with preferences and values that are old enough to have been shaped by evolution over millions of years.”

Kanazawa explains that “Evolutionarily novel” preferences and values are those that humans are not biologically designed to have and our ancestors probably did not possess, while those that our ancestors had for millions of years are “evolutionarily familiar.”

Kanazawa said: “General intelligence, the ability to think and reason, endowed our ancestors with advantages in solving evolutionarily novel problems for which they did not have innate solutions.

“As a result, more intelligent people are more likely to recognize and understand such novel entities and situations than less intelligent people, and some of these entities and situations are preferences, values, and lifestyles.”

The study argues that humans are evolutionarily designed to be conservative, caring mostly about their family and friends.

Hence, being liberal, caring about an indefinite number of genetically unrelated strangers they never meet or interact with, is evolutionarily novel.

Kanazawa further briefed that religion is a byproduct of humans’ tendency to perceive agency and intention as causes of events, to see “the hands of God” at work behind otherwise natural phenomena.

Kanazawa said: “Humans are evolutionarily designed to be paranoid, and they believe in God because they are paranoid

“So, more intelligent children are more likely to grow up to go against their natural evolutionary tendency to believe in God, and they become atheists.”

If Kanazawa’s theory is correct, right wingers are not another species, they are just not as evolved as the more intelligent liberal, atheist and monogamist (this last applies to men only) among us.

As intriguing as they may be,  I am afraid that I don’t find these biological, neurological, evolutionary explanations ultimately convincing.  I tend to come down on the nurture side of the nurture/nature debate. Against the evidence of science and my own experience, I hold on to the hope the right-wingers can be educated.  If they are really evolutionarily stunted “lizard-brains“, hardwired to act as they do, it is too depressing to contemplate. So much for bi-partisanship.

The Last Word on Laura Silsby?

If we lived in a rational world, Laura Silsby will have had her 15 minutes of fame and we could all move on. That, of course, will not happen. Nevertheless, I think that Timothy Egan has managed to have the final word on the whole Silsby affair in his commentary The Missionary Impulse.  In the article, Egan, rightly I believe, characterizes the case as one more example of Cultural Imperialism.

At the least, the curious case of Laura Silsby raises questions about cultural imperialism: what makes a scofflaw from nearly all-white Idaho with no experience in adoption or rescue services think she has a right to bring religion and relief to a country with its own cultural, racial and spiritual heritage?

Imagine if a voodoo minister from Haiti had shown up in Boise after an earthquake, looking for children in poor neighborhoods and offering “opportunities for adoption” back to Haiti. He could say, as those who followed Silsby explained on a Web site, that “the unsaved world needs to hear” from the saved.
Who says they are “unsaved?” And who says the world needs to hear from them? Haiti is a predominantly Roman Catholic country, and a nation full of passionate believers at that.
As it turns out, there was no orphanage for the Silsby children, just plans, many, many plans. And some of the young Haitians were not even orphans. As to what qualified Laura Silsby to jump into international relief work with a side of adoption services, well, she had once run something called Personal Shopper. And she was a charismatic Christian, with a golden tongue.
So, despite the fact that she’d been subject to numerous civil lawsuits for unpaid wage claims, and had a history of flouting the law, she could convince fellow Baptists to follow her to Haiti after the devastating earthquake last month. Under the banner of heaven, they would try to help “each child find healing, hope, joy and new life in Christ.”
Egan gives a quick history lesson to those who would believe that Silsby’s adventure is just an isolated case of naivety. The “missionary impulse” to save the heathen is just one variation of the Cultural Imperialism that Egan calls a “personality disorder” of western culture.

I give Egan the last word:

The missionaries say they have found the Word, the Truth, and feel compelled to spread it. Indeed, Paul Thompson, one of the Idaho pastors who followed Silsby to Haiti, expressed these feelings in his pastoral newsletter just before the earthquake.

“War is declared!” he quoted a 19th century British missionary approvingly. “In God’s Holy Name let us arise and build!”

But the Silsby case calls for a different type of refrain: Missionary, heal thyself.

Farmer Crapo

In this case, at least, the Angry Gnome got it right. When Americans like the Baptist 10 break the laws of another country, the United States respects that country’s sovereignty.

When it comes to the criminal justice system in other countries, there is very little that the United States government can do to inject themselves into the process.

Idaho’s senior Senator, Mike Crapo, is not so concerned with legal niceties. He is going to “speak with Secretary of State Hilary Clinton in coming days to voice his concerns on how the church’s volunteer group of 10 people was treated.”

We should understand by now that Crapo will never miss a chance for political posturing. With his mentor Larry Craig (a master at political posturing) gone,  it is up to Crapo to pick up the mantle.

However, it was not the posturing that caught my attention when I read the headlines in the Idaho Statesman this morning- Is U.S. doing enough for the 2 Idahoans left in Haiti? No, it was this quote:

There were significant efforts to ensure the interests of our detainees were properly handled,” Crapo said Thursday. “There were also a number of circumstances where the water didn’t get to the end of the row.”

I can visualize readers throughout Eastern and Southern Idaho smiling and nodding at that last line. “See Maude, even though that Crapo boy got his law degree from that high falutin Harvard back east, he is still a farm boy at heart.”

He might have to translate when he has his visit with the Secretary of State.

Update: Abductors for Jesus

The “Baptist 10” have been charged with abduction and criminal association.

The charges, which carry prison terms of up to 15 years, were announced after a closed-door court hearing in which prosecutors questioned the Americans, most of them members of a Baptist congregation from Idaho.

The Central Valley Baptist Church has tried to paint Laura Silsby as an innocent doing God’s work.  A story in the Idaho Statesman paints a different picture.

The Idaho woman who led a group of 10 Baptists on a mission to help children in Haiti admits to failing to obtain paperwork needed to move 33 children to the Dominican Republic.
But even before Laura L. Silsby and seven other Idahoans ended up in a Haitian jail accused of trafficking in children, Silsby had a history of failing to pay debts, failing to pay her employees and failing even to follow Idaho laws.
Silsby has been the subject of eight civil lawsuits and 14 unpaid wage claims. The $358,000 Meridian house at which she founded her nonprofit New Life Children’s Refuge in November was foreclosed upon in December. A check of Silsby’s driving record revealed at least nine traffic citations since 1997, including four for failing to provide insurance or register annually.
One way to avoid taking responsibility for your own actions is to claim that you are following God’s directives. In Silsby’s words, “God has laid upon our hearts…” the need to go to Haiti and abduct children.
On their website Central Valley Baptist Church claims the church team was falsely arrested and it was all a misunderstanding.
A ten member church team traveled to Haiti to help rescue children from one or more orphanages that had been devastated in the earthquake on January 12. The children were being taken to an orphanage in the Dominican Republic where they could be cared for and have their medical and emotional needs attended to. Our team was falsely arrested today and we are doing everything we can from this end to clear up the misunderstanding that has occurred in Port au Prince.
According to the Statesman article about Silsby,
Members of her church, Central Valley Baptist in Meridian, did not return calls Wednesday.

Kidnappers for Jesus?

The Idaho Statesman has an editorial this morning arguing that it is “premature and irresponsible” to comment about the 10 Baptist detainees in Haiti. The editorial uses a common rhetorical device of presenting the reader with black and white choices.

No middle ground here. Were the Americans well-intentioned – albeit woefully naive about international law? Or were they engaged in a criminal act in a nation where leaders believe they must, in the aftermath of catastrophe, take an unflinching stand against the abhorrent act of human trafficking?

Actually, the legal question is the least interesting aspect of this sorry story. When did ignorance of the law become a defense? Of course, they broke the law. They attempted to take 33 children across the border to the Dominican Republic without the proper papers. The fact that they might be “well-intentioned” is beside the point if you only look at this (as the Statesman claims we must) as a legal issue.

I see this as a story about poverty and about hubris. The real tragedy is that many of the 33 “orphans” had been taken from Haitian parents. Representatives of Laura Silsby’s New Life Children Refuge approached parents from Callebasse, a village outside the direct path of the earthquake but extremely poor, and asked them to give up their children. The parents were promised that their children would be provided with food, shelter and schooling.

CNN tells the story

What were the intentions of Laura Silsby and her New Life Children Refuge?  She makes it quite clear on the nlcr mission statement asking for donations and volunteers. This was originally on the web site of East Baptist Church in Twin Falls, one the two churches supporting the mission to Haiti, but has subsequently been taken down.

Notice that Silsby had plans to build an orphanage, school and church in the Dominican Republic before the earthquake in Haiti. She decided to take advantage of the opportunity that presented itself and “go now”. She did this because “God laid upon our hearts the need” to go now. Silsby filed to incorporate New Child Refuge in November (see document here  New Life Children’s Refuge Incorporation ) It has tax exempt status with three board members- two of them being Silsby and her nanny and appears to be located in her home.

Here is the hubris. These people seem to believe that God speaks to them. They believe that God wants them to take children, most of whom are already Christian (given that Haiti is a largely Catholic country) and help them “find a new life in Christ”.  Their “charity” masks their real intent- to convert the children. As Rev. Clint Henry of the Central Valley Baptist Church points out, this is the central tenet of their religion.

We believe that Christ has asked us to take the gospel of Jesus Christ to the whole world, and that includes children.

Silsby and her group only planned on spending  enough time in Haiti to grab any available orphans and ship them across the border to the Dominican Republic, without obtaining permission from the Haitian government:

The long range plans for NLCR were a bit more grandiose.

It is all about teaching the “orphans” Christian values/truths so they can be adopted by loving Christian parents.

This is only the latest chapter in the history of the corrosive combination of Christian missionary work and colonialism.

If you are wondering why the Haitian people might be distrustful of outsiders claiming to “help” them, you might want to read this.

So Statesman editorial board, I am sorry if I sound judgmental, but I find all of this disgusting.

Branding the Pope

It appears that Father Guido Sarducci is in trouble- no more “Pope-soap-on-a-rope”. The Vatican has decided that they hold the copyright on any image of the Pope©.  From now on the Vatican and the Vatican alone will be able to cash in on images of the Holy Father. I guess if you are interested in worshiping graven images, you need to buy them from the authentic purveyors like this.

Vatican City, Dec 19, 2009 / 12:23 pm (CNA).- The Vatican made a declaration on the protection of the figure of the Pope on Saturday morning.  The statement seeks to establish and safeguard the name, image and any symbols of the Pope as being expressly for official use of the Holy See unless otherwise authorized.

The statement cited a “great increase of affection and esteem for the person of the Holy Father” in recent years as contributing to a desire to use the Pontiff’s name for all manner of educational and cultural institutions, civic groups and foundations.

Due to this demand, the Vatican has felt it necessary to declare that “it alone has the right to ensure the respect due to the Successors of Peter, and therefore, to protect the figure and personal identity of the Pope from the unauthorized use of his name and/or the papal coat of arms for ends and activities which have little or nothing to do with the Catholic Church.”

The declaration alludes to attempts to use ecclesiastical or pontifical symbols and logos to “attribute credibility and authority to initiatives” as another reason to establish their “copyright” on the Holy Father’s name, picture and coat of arms.

“Consequently, the use of anything referring directly to the person or office of the Supreme Pontiff… and/or the use of the title ‘Pontifical,’ must receive previous and express authorization from the Holy See,” concluded the message released to the press.

This seems pretty unenforceable to me! But, I guess the point is- if you can’t beat them, co-opt them.