Monday, February 27, 2006

Off the grid

Posted by Craig Westover | 5:27 AM |  

Daughter "Justice is Blonde" made the "Great Eight" in her moot court competition. I'll be heading down to Iowa to watch the next round Monday night. I have been told it is inappropriate to start the wave.

For you legal junkies, Justice is Blonde won her last round with a structural interpretation of United States v Booker.

Back Tuesday. In the meantime, Patrick Campion has posted a link to Saturday's "Patriot Insider" discussion with Mike Hatch.

UPDATE: "Justice is Blonde" advanced to the "Final Four," which assures her a place on the University of Iowa Law School's Moot Court Team.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

FYI -- Blogger opportunity

Posted by Craig Westover | 9:12 AM |  

From Patrick Boulay at the Legal Ledger --

Opinion/Commentary Writers Wanted

The St. Paul Legal Ledger’s Capitol Report is expanding its commentary pages.

The Legal Ledger is Minnesota’s capitol newspaper, distributed twice a week to legislators, Capitol staff, lobbyists, local government officials, associations and the non-profit communities. We are establishing a regular stable of local writers/commentators who can produce two articles per month. Bloggers are very welcome and can submit pieces from their sites if they are at least 600 words long on a single topic, or if they can put together several interesting posts to create a single column.

Balance is important to us, so we are looking for three conservative and three liberal writers. Ranters and name callers aren't welcome. We're looking for people who can take a strong point of view and express it well.

We will pay between $40 and $60 per published submission, depending on the level of original research/reporting that is involved. Published piece will be accompanied by the author’s photo, name, e-mail address (if desired), web site or blog site, and a brief tag line identifying them.

Commentaries should be about policies, issues, or policies that are if interest to Minnesota. If you have any questions please e-mail me at

If you are interested in the position, submit samples or your writing along with a brief bio or resume to

GUEST POST -- Disl, Disl, Disl!!!

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:16 AM |  

Mark Yost, Opinion Page Associate Editor at the St. Paul Pioneer Press and diehard biathlon fan (or is it just women with weapons) has reported on "only sport that really matters during the Winter Olympics" here , here, here, here and here. If you're from Bemidji, don't read this.

Ushci Disl, the ubergirl of biathlon, didn’t disappoint her legion of fans in Torino Saturday, taking home the Bronze Medal in the 12.5 women’s Mass Start event. The third-place finish was significant because, at 35, Disl is the most-decorated Olympic athlete in the history of the sport. Many believe this will be her last Olympics as a competitor.

Anna Carin Olofsson of Sweden captured the Gold Medal and Disl’s German teammate, Kati Wilhelm, took home the Silver, helping Germany maintain its overall medal count lead over the U.S., 28-23 as of this writing. Martina Glagow, Brian “Saint. Paul” Ward’s favorite biathlete, finished fourth, giving Germany three of the top-five spots. Florence Baverel-Robert of France, who won the 7.5K Sprint race (), finished fifth.

Olofsson won the Silver Medal in the women’s 12.5K Pursuit race, but that was the last time the former cross-country Olympian raced, so she had a week off to rest. She needed the extra juice.

Olofsson skied and shot flawlessly over the first three of four stages. In the 12.5K Mass Start race, the top-30 finishers in the 15K Individual competition all start at once. They stop four times to shoot; twice prone and twice standing.

Olofsson built up a lead of nearly 35 seconds over Wilhelm going into the final shooting cycle. But Olofsson missed one target in the final standing shoot, forcing her to ski one 150-meter penalty loop. That allowed Wilhelm to pull within 9.6 seconds, but that was as close as she would get.
Olofsson finished the San Sicario course 40 minutes, 36.5 seconds. Wilhelm finished 18.8 seconds back; Disl was 41.9 seconds behind Olofsson.

Disl now has nine Olympic medals (but an individual Gold has eluded her). Coming into the Torino Games, she had eight of the 14 Olympic Medals won by German women. Her outstanding performance in Saturday’s 12.5K Mass Start race also further questions Germany’s decision not to include Disl in the 4 x 6K Relay event on Thursday. The Russian women won the Gold Medal, shooting almost perfectly, while the German’s missed eight targets, including three misses by Katrin Apel. The Germans finished 50.7 seconds behind the Russians.

No Americans competed in the women’s mass start race.

In the men’s 15K Mass Start race, Norwegian Ole Einar Bjoerndalen was snake bit again. The Olympic biathlon favorite coming into Torino, Bjoerndalen had a commanding lead going into the final shooting stage and missed two targets. That required him to ski two 150-meter penalty loops, allowing Germany’s Michael Greis, who missed just one shot, and Poland’s Tomasz Sikora, who also missed one target, to pass Bjoerndalen. Greis, who also won the 20K Individual race and was part of German’s Gold Medal-winning relay team, held on to take the Gold. Sikora earned Poland’s first Olympic biathlon medal, taking home Silver, 6.3 seconds behind Greis. Bjoerndalen finished third, 12.3 seconds back.

American Jay Hakkinen was America’s best hope for a Medal coming into the Games, but has struggled. In Saturday’s race he was as high as eighth, but faded in the closing stages to finish 13th, 1 minute, 9.6 seconds behind Greis.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

UAE ports deal -- Another PR disaster

Posted by Craig Westover | 5:28 PM |  

Chad “the Elder" posts on the sale of U.S. ports to United Arab Emirates --
From a national security/economic/war on terror perspective the decision to approve the DP World ports deal may very well be entirely defensible. I've heard a lot of good arguments from both sides of the issue and it's obvious that we need further discussion to clarify matters. Frankly at this point, I don't know enough about all the particulars to conclusively declare it good or bad and I think many people freely opining on it are talking out of their pieholes.

But I do know that from a political position, it's a friggin' disaster. The reality of whether this is a good deal or not doesn't matter because the perception out there is that it isn't. And in politics it's all about perception.
Chad is right on both counts, but that’s the end of the story. Although it is true that “in politics it’s all about perception,” in reality, it’s all about the right thing to do. I agree with Chad; I don’t know enough to make that call, but if the Bush team thinks it’s the right thing to do, I do know that they should have gone ahead regardless of public perception. It’s better to have a bunch of pissed off bloggers than to lose an ally (if that is the case), especially in the Middle East.

That said, the Bush administration has absolutely no comprehension of public relations. The handling of the ports deal is one example, but the bigger fiasco is the terrorist surveillance program.

Coming from a corporate communications background, I can tell you that any good corporation has one or more crisis communications plans in place that broadly cover the procedure for handling the media should a bad event or bad news happen.

Were I in the room when the terrorist surveillance operation was being planned, after the decision to go ahead was made, my first comment would have been “Okay, what are we going to say when this program gets leaked?”

Spokespeople would have been identified. Key opinion leaders, the people the press would contact for comment, would have been identified and a person responsible to brief them in the event of a leak would have been established. One phone call, and these folks would know exactly what to do. All of the anticipated objections would be laid out and answered. The president’s speech would have been written and approved so that within hours of the leak he could be on the air with an explanation. You get the picture.

Same scenario with the ports deal. It’s been in the works for a while. Where’s the logical procession of information? Why is the administration reacting instead of being proactively communicating its position? Who’s the point person? Why is the president telling us we’ll understand as information is released instead of releasing the information we need to understand?

Communication is not rocket science, but if it’s not done right, as the Bush administration is demonstrating, you’re gonna blow up on the launching pad all the same.

Twins stadium -- An election-year two-step

Posted by Craig Westover | 4:50 PM |  

Aron Kahn wrote an insightful piece about the Twins stadium issue in yesterday's Pioneer Press, the gist of which was that on the Twins stadium issue, Republicans are playing not to lose an election rather than playing to win one.

He didn’t say, but I will -- in the process of trying to play cute on the stadium issue, Republicans aren’t representing Minnesotans very well either.

First point, the state law mandating a local referendum is there for a purpose. If it’s a good law, abide by it. If it’s not good law, abolish it for everyone. It’s not the governor’s preference nor the legislature’s prerogative to play favorites with taxpayer dollars.

Second, Kahn reports that House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, has 41 Republican votes in favor of a stadium, but he wants the balance of the required 68 votes for passage to come from Democrats. Mr. Speaker, if a Twins stadium is good for Minnesota, urge every Republican to vote for it. If it’s not good for Minnesota urge every Republican to oppose it. You and your fellow Republicans were elected to do what’s best for the state, not dance an election-year two-step with the DFL.

Winning or losing on the stadium issue isn’t everything, it’s how honestly you represent Minnesota that counts.

GUEST POST -- Nein Disl, Nein Goldmedaille

Posted by Craig Westover | 4:35 PM |  

Mark Yost, Opinion Page Associate Editor at the St. Paul Pioneer Press and diehard biathlon fan (or is it just women with weapons) has reported on "only sport that really matters during the Winter Olympics" here , here, here, and here. If you're from Bemidji, don't read this.

Would you play the Super Bowl with your second-string quarterback? Would you play an entire hockey game without a goalie? Would you try and vault without a pole?

Apparently so.

That’s exactly what the Germans did today in the women’s 4 x 6K biathlon race at the Winter Olympics in Torino when they left Uschi Disl, the most decorated athlete in Olympic biathlon history, out of the lineup. That opened the door for the Russian team of Anna Bogaliy, Svetlana Ishmouratova, Olga Zaitseva and Albina Akhatova to capture the Gold Medal, covering the San Sicario course in 1 hour, 16 minutes, 12.5 seconds.

The Germans team of Martina Glagow, Andrea Henkel, Katrin Apel and Kati Wilhelm skied slowly and shot horribly, finishing 50.7 seconds behind the Russians to take the Silver Medal, followed by Bronze Medal winner France, which overtook Belarus in the closing stage.

Of course, those of you who live within five miles of Lake Elmo knew this at 5 a.m. when you heard my screams of “Ach,” “Scheisse” and various and a sundry other German expletives. And it begs the question: Could they have made up that 50 seconds with the Turbo Disl on the team. I think they could have, both with Disl’s speed and her usualy outstanding shooting.

It is fair to note that the Russians were favored coming into the race. This is the same team that won the World Cup relay race at Ruhpolding Germany a month ago. But it was uncertain how the team would react to the loss of teammate Olga Pyleva, the Russian biathlete who was stripped of her silver medal in the 15K Individual race after it was discovered that she had used a banned substance.

The Russians answered that question fairly quickly. They jumped out to an early lead and shot masterfully, only missing two targets out of 40, while the Germans stumbled.

The format for the relay is a little different. Each skier shoots twice; once prone and once standing. They have eight bullets to hit five targets. If they miss and expend their five-round clip, they must load each extra bullet by hand, thus chewing up valuable time. If they fail to knock down all five targets with their eight bullets, they must then ski a 150-meter penalty loop for each target left standing.

Again, while the Russians only used two extra bullets, the Germans had to use eight. Apel had to ski one penalty loop, meaning that Wilhelm, who won the 10K Pursuit race, had little chance of catching Russian anchor Akhatova, who moved up to the bronze in the 15K Individual race when teammate Pyleva was disqualified.

Norway, which has fallen on hard biathlon times, finished fifth. The usually wretched U.S. team didn’t disappoint, finishing 15th out of 18 teams, 9 minutes, 7.8 seconds behind the Russians.

I’d also call your attention to the Polish team, which finished a respectable 7th. But more important, especially for Brian “Saint. Paul” Ward, is one Magdalena Grzywa, a 23-year-old beauty from Czernichow who prefers to put Lapua ammunition in her German-made Anschutz rifle and is known as “biathlon’s Anna Kournikova.”

You be the judge.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

COLUMN --- School choice returns, with more heat, breadth

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:51 AM |  

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

It's baaaaaaack. The education establishment and DFL's worst nightmare, meaningful school choice for low-income families, is the menace that haunts bureaucrats and threatens the DFL stranglehold on its constituency of color. And the marquee reads, "This Time It's Back with a Vengeance."

A year ago, when state Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, and state Rep. Mark Buesgens, R-Jordan, introduced Education Access Grant legislation (vouchers for low-income families to use at any accredited private school), few legislators attended the press conference.

Last week, as point person for the Republican "Students First" initiative, Buesgens stood flanked and supported by more than a dozen Republican legislators, including House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon. He addressed not just Capitol reporters, but a room jam-packed with private school students, interested parents, movers and shakers from conservative coalitions, and a whole lot of people of color.

When David Strom, president of the Taxpayer's League, is laughing and talking strategy with Sondra Samuels, wife of Minneapolis Fifth Ward Council Member Don and an outspoken school-choice supporter, it's clear this "access grant" idea has some common ground.

Although the biggest beneficiaries of access grant legislation are inner-city families of color, in 2005 the DFL ardently opposed Hann-Buesgens. It threw support to the education establishment and its battle to keep children (and funding) in public schools. Through political maneuvering and raw political clout, the DFL successfully kept parental school choice from coming to a vote.

But despite DFL efforts, Hann-Buesgens simply wouldn't die. When legislative gridlock forced the 2005 special session, "meaningful school choice" was one of four items Gov. Tim Pawlenty put back on the table for negotiation. Unfortunately, the governor ultimately compromised immediate benefit to parents and children for the pseudo-reform of a watered-down teacher pay-for-performance plan. "Q-Comp" places greater emphasis on teacher development than on measurable student performance.

Sen. Steve Kelly, [correction "Kelley"] DFL-Hopkins, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, has dubbed the 2006 reincarnation of educational access grants and the GOP education package "warmed-over, rehashed proposals." A more appropriate metaphor is a Phoenix rising from the ashes of the scorching Republicans suffered in the 2005 session. Republicans are ready to fly.

Buesgens exudes far more confidence and mastery of the school choice issue this year than last, and Thursday he went on the offensive. He called school choice "the most significant, the most important education reform." When a reporter questioned reintroducing proposals that failed in 2005, an animated Buesgens said GOP reforms were being brought up again "because it's the right thing to do."

Not to be overshadowed by Buesgens' vigor was Speaker Sviggum, declaring his and the Republican Party's support for the "Students First" reform package. Sviggum worked behind the scenes supporting Hann-Buesgens in 2005. This session he's out front, publicly putting personal and party skin in the game.

"Students First" is a multi-pronged education reform package. Along with access grants, the package includes a proposal to fast-track mid-career professionals with real-world knowledge and skills into classrooms without forcing them to complete an entire teaching degree. These two actual reforms directly benefit kids and should not be compromised if Republicans are going to "walk the walk" as Buesgens promises.

Valid but less compelling are proposals prohibiting teachers from striking during the school year, tightening budget management policies for school districts and prohibiting school employees from using district funds and resources for political campaigning. Included is the governor's proposal that 70 percent of K-12 education dollars be channeled to the classroom. To enhance competitiveness in the global economy, the reform package calls for establishing a Math and Science Academy modeled after the Perpich Center for Arts Education.

This year Republicans will definitely be out in the communities of color, promoting the access grant idea, Buesgens told me. "That's where the benefit is; that's where popular support will come from," he said.

If Buesgens is right, and they finish the fight to put students ahead of bureaucracy as strongly as they've started, Republicans just might shatter the complacency of the educational status quo and the Democrats' undeserved support in communities of color. "Students First" for the DFL is one scary thought.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

GUEST POST -- Osterreich uber nichts

Posted by Craig Westover | 1:29 PM |  

Mark Yost, Opinion Page Associate Editor at the St. Paul Pioneer Press and diehard biathlon fan (or is it just women with weapons) has reported on "only sport that really matters during the Winter Olympics" here , here, and here. If you're from Bemidji, don't read this.

We, of course, will have to wait and see what comes from the raids on the Austrian Olympic team headquarters. But if the Austrians were using banned substances, it didn’t seem to help them in Tuesday’s 4 x 7.5K men’s biathlon race.

The German team of Ricco Gross, Michael Roesch, Sven Fischer and Michael Greis took the Gold Medal, completing the 30K course at Cesana San Sicario in one hour, 21 minutes and 51.5 seconds, 20.9 seconds ahead of second place Russia and 43.6 seconds in front of third place France.

The Austrians were dead last, 6 minutes and 34.9 seconds behind their Aryan brothers. They even finished behind the normally abysmal American team, which usually brings up the rear of the biathlon field in both Olympic and international competition.

The Americans — Olympic hopeful turned ne’er do well Jay Hakkinen, Tim Burke, Lowell Bailey and Jeremy Teela — put in a pretty good performance, finishing ninth, 2 minutes and 31.9 seconds behind the Deutschlanders.

The Austrians haven’t won any medals in other Olympic biathlon competitions in Torino. Perner Wolfgang finished fourth in the 10K Sprint (), but is one of two Austrian biathletes who left Torino following the drug raids. Austrian Christoph Sumann finished eighth in the men’s 12.5K Pursuit.

The moral of the story: Eugenics didn’t work for a crazy Austrian in the 1930s and ‘40s, and it doesn’t appear to be working today.

Meanwhile, if Olympic officials believe the investigation needs to be expanded to the German team, I'm willing to search wherever necessary to ensure the integrity of the Games.

Up next: The women’s 4 x 6K Relay, perhaps the last chance for my sweetheart, Uschi Disl, the most decorated biathlete in Olympic history, to win a Gold Medal. The race starts live at 5 a.m. CDT Thursday. Free coffee and Danish in Lake Elmo for anyone who wants to get up that early and scream at the TV in German.

READER RESPONSE -- Westover's religious bigotry

Posted by Craig Westover | 12:28 PM |  

One of the benefits of writing an Opinion Page column is occasionally getting the chance to engage in intelligent conversation with people that don’t agree with you.

I’ve had some spirited exchanges with Chuck Darrell of Minnesota for Marriage over the issue of same-sex marriage, but while disagreeing with his position, I’ve never doubted his sincerity. I’ve posted a number of Chuck’s opinion pieces, the latest as an update to this post. The other day we spent an hour or so at Stub and Herb’s hashing over some developments in the debate that may be fodder for a future column. (Don‘t say anything to Chuck, but before he got there, I told the bartender I was waiting for my partner.)

I had lunch the other day with Alan James, founder of The Institute of Theological and Interdisciplinary Studies,” not exactly a dues-paying member of the vast right-wing conspiracy. I attended one of his seminars on the separation of church and state, where I got into a lively discussion with the speaker on the question of school vouchers. It was fun. Alan contacted me after reading my column on liberal hypocrisy.

And then there is Michael Dickel. On today’s Pioneer Press Opinion Page, Dickel spews a little anger over my liberal hypocrisy column. I’m not going to bother refuting his piece -- I’ve already addressed his misconceptions and confusion of hypocrisy with bad public policy (the examples he claims I omitted) and pure corruption in responding to other critics. However I would like to correct one error Dickel makes.

Westover ultimately equates liberals with a particular religious group: Jews.

His central attack taints the hypocrisy of the left in one broad anti-Semitic stroke: "do (liberals) practice themselves what they inflict on we uncircumcised Philistines?"

While one definition of Philistines relates to those uncultured in the liberal arts and indifferent to intellectual or artistic accomplishment, the unnecessary addition of "uncircumcised" implies to me Westover's religious bigotry.

While casting liberals as intolerant of those who do not share their views, Westover reveals his own intolerance. While making a broad argument about ideology and politics, he codes his text to let other religious ideologues know that it's Jews who are hypocritical liberals and proper Christians who are morally superior and ethically un-hypocritical conservatives. All while claiming night is day.

The tag on his piece indicates that Dickel, “a poet, is director of the Macalester Academic Excellence Center and teaches College Writing at Macalester College. He is Jewish.” With those credentials, one would hope that he might distinguish between my “implication” and his “inference.” He caught “the code,” but he wrongly inferred my bigoted implication.

By inserting the word “uncircumcised” I was secretly letting my fellow men know that it’s women who are hypocritical liberals, and proper cigar-smoking, gun-toting, lecherous, hairy-chested men that are superior. I thought that would be obvious when I related Nancy Pelosi’s decision not to hire union labor to Amy Klobuchar’s union problems. Both women? Are you not connecting the dots? It’s time America became aware of the threat of fundamentalist Gynoism.

Okay, seriously. Having spent a good deal of column space and bandwidth defending American Muslims right to be offended by relatively innocuous cartoons (while incidently defending the right of people of all religions to inform public debate with their beliefs), I can’t object if Dickel finds the phrase “uncircumcised Philistine” to be offensive. However, he doesn’t say that it’s offensive.

Like a mob rioting over the Danish cartoons while cloaking political action in the robe of religion, Dickel reads me the riot act without applying any thoughtful commentary to his discourse. Confusing commentary, yes. I’d welcome help with this paragraph --
What makes any set of principles unworkable is requiring a rigid adherence without possibility of redemption. Redemption is embodied by different religious beliefs and by different political ideologies, although only for conservatives in Westover's view.
I don’t know what I should find more frightening -- that Dickel teaches College Writing or that one of my editors at the Pioneer Press decided Dickel’s piece “demonstrate[s] a greater knowledge of [the] topic . . . or superior writing skills” and that the best quote in the article to use as a pull-box was one calling me a bigot.

Oh well, that’s why I make the big bucks.

UPDATE: John of Stillwater notes that a “day” is a 24-hour period, part of which is dark. We call that part “night.” If that’s true, he asks, isn’t “night” actually “day”?

Monday, February 20, 2006

Captain's Quarters and the Danish cartoon controversy

Posted by Craig Westover | 2:51 PM |  

Captain Ed makes a connection in his post “The Misguided And Cowardly Outrage Of The Press” between press coverage of the Danish Cartoon story and the White House Press Corps covering of the vice-president’s hunting accident.

We have watched two separate news stories overwhelm the national press over the past fortnight. The first is the deadly protests that have come from imams stoking Muslim ire over four-month-old editorial cartoons satirizing Islam and Mohammed. The latter is the outrage of the White House press corps and the national media in general over an eighteen-hour delay in reporting the accidental shooting of Harry Whittington by the Vice-President. One would hope that the outrage of the media might get expressed over the former more so than the latter -- but that would apparently give more credit for courage and integrity than the national media deserves.
The comparison is somewhat of a stretch. Nonetheless, the more important issue remains the press coverage of the Danish cartoons, and it is on that score that I have to take exception with the assumptions and conclusions of Ed’s post.

The essence of Ed’s argument in favor of republishing the cartoons is the argument that it is necessary for putting the worldwide riots in perspective.

Instead of informing the people of the context of these riots -- the almost ridiculously mild satire of the cartoon published four months ago -- they [the press] have steadfastly declined to print them at all. While they regularly issue pronouncements about the right of the people to know, they have banded together to ensure that most of their readers have no idea exactly what the Danish cartoonists drew that have prompted the burnings of at least a half-dozen embassies around the world.
Ed's assumption is that seeing the cartoons, which he already prejudices with the parenthetical appellation “almost ridiculously mild,” provides context. It does not. Having spent time with American Muslims discussing the cartoons, I cannot convey the depth of offensiveness they feel at these drawings, about which I agree with Ed; to me they seem comparatively mild. But neither I, nor Ed, nor the media republishing them are Muslim.

The point is, if the media is going to publish the cartoons, it best have a better reason than providing context. To make that argument is to imply that any Muslim that finds these cartoons offensive is ipso facto acting irrationally by Western standards. Beyond that narrow implication is the broader implication that any person acting out of religious conviction is ipso facto acting irrationally by secular standards.

From my Wednesday Pioneer Press column --

America, wrote Stephen L. Carter in his 1993 work "The Culture of Disbelief" is not anti-religion; rather it treats God as a hobby, "something private, something trivial — and not really a fit activity for intelligent, public spirited adults." Religion is tolerated, not necessarily respected, in proper secular society.
That attitude is reflected in an editorial in the Southwest Florida News-Press, which elected to reprint the cartoons.

We are publishing some of the controversial cartoons today depicting the Prophet Muhammad not just because we can, or to offend or inflame.

It would be hypocritical to throw these images in the faces of Muslims, a small minority in Southwest Florida, knowing all along that we would be far more careful with cartoons that made light of slavery or the Holocaust.

But look at the cartoons. By Western standards they are mild indeed, not offensive in content, just irreverent.

They cross a line — the one cited that bans any visual rendering of the Prophet, which is simply incompatible with Western freedom as it has evolved over centuries.

What's at issue here is not offensiveness, but the subjugation of freedom to religious and clerical authority.
The editorial goes on talk about freedom of expression, but never does say why it is necessary to publish the cartoons other than the implication that it’s essential to show the Islamic world that America will not be intimidated, and it is Muslims that must change.

It is precisely because we want and need to have a healthy relationship with Islam that we must demand respect for freedom, for irreverence, even for offensiveness.
But American Muslims already have that respect and a healthly relationship with America. Many came to the United States from countries ruled by Islamic theocracies precisely because those countries did not allow them to freely practice their religion. Ironically, it is American Muslims that realize the value of freedom and need not be lectured on its value; they also realize that freedom to worship includes the freedom to be offended and the responsibility to refrain from offending.

It is a teaching of Islam, I was told, that to burn an American flag, because it is a sacred symbol of the United States, is a blasphemous to a Muslim as depicting The Prophet. As I noted in my Pioneer Press column, “the irony is that the same deeply held religious conviction that makes the Danish cartoons blasphemous to [American Muslims] restrains [their] response to their publication — an inner tension inherent in dynamic faith.”

Captain Ed and the News-Press make the same mistake as theocratic governments (regardless of their religious base) -- they equate political and earthly actions with the spirituality of religion. To reprint the cartoons as a show of “testicular fortitude” is making an empty political statement at the expense of alienating American Muslims. Publishing the cartoons will certainly offend American Muslims; it certainly isn’t going to intimidate terrorists.

The News-Press concludes --
Islam needs to change, to modernize, if it is to live at peace with other cultures.
What better expression of the notion that religious people that take their beliefs seriously must change to accommodate secular society. Should Muslims become as modern as Christians that have been domesticated to leave their religion at the schoolhouse door everyday? Should Jews, Christians and Muslims simply get with the program and not inform the debate on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage? If they want to live in peace, they would.

There are many ways indeed that the press is cowardly and hypocritical in its coverage of the war of terror, not to mention just plain ignorant. Deciding not to publish the Danish cartoons is not one of them.

GUEST POST -- Biathlon Blitzkrieg

Posted by Craig Westover | 7:12 AM |  

Mark Yost, Opinion Page Associate Editor at the St. Paul Pioneer Press and diehard biathlon fan (or is it just women with weapons) has reported on "only sport that really matters during the Winter Olympics" here and here.

It was another stellar day for the German biathlon team on Saturday. Men and women won medals, helping the Germans to the overall Medal Count lead on Sunday with 18. Norway was in second with 16 total Medals, and the U.S. was third, five behind Germany with 13 Medals overall.

In the women’s 10K Pursuit race, ubergirl Kati Wilhelm smoked the rest of the field and overcame a snowstorm to capture the Gold Medal. Fellow German Martina Glagow was second, followed by Russia’s Albina Akhatova.

To recap: The Pursuit is literally a chase race, with the start set by the results of the 7.5K Sprint race. Frenchwoman Florence Baverel-Robert took the Gold Medal in the Sprint, so she started the Pursuit race. Swede Anna Carin Olofsson finished second in the Sprint race, 2.4 seconds behind Baverel-Robert. So, 2.4 seconds after Baverel-Robert left the starting gate for the Pursuit race, Olofsson followed, and so on through the field.

Wilhelm, one of the stars of the German women’s biathlon team, started the Pursuit race seventh, 18.4 seconds behind Baverel-Robert. She made up nearly all that time during the first ski loop. After she shot clean and Baverel-Robert missed one target, Wilhelm was ahead by 45 seconds.

Lightning fast skiing and near-perfect marksmanship helped her keep that lead – for good. She finished 1 minute 13.6 seconds ahead of German teammate Glagow.

The women skied five loops, stopping four times to shoot; twice prone and twice standing. Wilhelm hit 19 of 20 targets and completed the 10K distance in 36 minutes, 43.6 seconds.

Wilhelm had a 33-second lead on Olga Nazarova of Belarus after her second clean shoot. After missing once on her first standing shoot, Wilhelm had to ski one 150-meter penalty loop, but still had a 68-second lead over France's Sandrine Bailly. No one threatened her lead after that.

It was Glagow’s second Silver Medal. She initially won the Bronze Medal in the 20K Individual race but moved up to Silver when Russia’s Olga Pyleva was stripped of her silver medal for allegedly taking an illegal stimulant. Pyleva was summarily thrown out of the Torino Games and was banned from competition for two years.

Glagow missed two targets; one each during the prone shooting. She finished the course in 37 minutes, 57.2 seconds.

Bronze Medalist Akhatova also benefited from Pyleva’s disqualification. She had finished fourth in the 20K Individual race, out of Medal contention. But like Glagow, Akhatova moved up to Bronze when Pyleva was tossed out.

In the Pursuit race, Akhatova missed just one target and finished eight seconds behind Glagow.

The other two German women biathletes didn’t do too bad, either. My girl, Uschi Disl, who at 35 has won more Olympic Medals than any other biathlete, finished in 10th. She missed four targets – three prone and one standing – and was two minutes, 47.2 seconds behind Wilhelm.

And German Katrin Apel finished 11th, eight seconds behind Disl. She missed three targets, one standing and two prone.

American Rachel Steer finished 39th.

This was all a prelude to the men’s 12.5K Pursuit race, which was arguably the greatest race so far in all of the 2006 Winter Olympic Games at Torino. But don’t take my word for it. A friend who is by no means a fan of biathlon said the men’s race was “perhaps the greatest sporting event I’ve ever seen.”

It all came down to a sprint between France’s Vincent Defrasne and Norway’s Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, who was the favorite biathlete coming into these games but who has yet to win a Gold Medal.

Defrasne, who started the Pursuit race fifth, 45 seconds behind the leader, shot his first 15 targets clean. It was during the final standing shoot that he missed two targets, forcing him to ski two 150-meter penalty loops at the exit of the shooting range.

Bjoerndalen missed just one shot during the final standing shoot. That whittled away at Defrasne’s lead and allowed Bjoerndalen to catch him just after the 11K mark. Defrasne was on Bjoerndalen’s heels as the two struggled up the final one-kilometer hill. Adding to the drama, Defrasne stumbled as they came around the final turn and onto the front stretch for the sprint to the finish.

“He put it in another gear that Bjoerndalen clearly didn’t have,” said my friend, a member of the MSM whom I’m sure would be embarrassed to have his name appear in a blog. (After all, he has a reputation to maintain.)

Try as he might, Bjoerndalen couldn’t hold off Defrasne’s ferocious charge. The Frenchman nipped him at the line by 2.7 seconds to deny Bjoerndalen yet another Gold Medal and send the thousands of spectator’s who witnessed the spectacular victory into a frenzy. Defrasne finished the 12.5K course in 35 minutes, 20.2 seconds.

Taking the Bronze Medal was Germany’s Sven Fischer, who won the 10K Sprint race and thus was the leader at the start of the 12.5K Pursuit. He finished the course in 35 minutes, 35.8 seconds, 15.6 seconds behind Defrasne.

Norway's Halvard Hanevold, who had already won Silver and Bronze Medals in Torino, was the leader at the halfway point of the Pursuit race, but missed three targets on his third shooting stage and finished fifth.

Americans Tim Burke and Lowell Bailey finished 38th and 50th, respectively.

Both competitions were made tougher by the weather. Several inches of snow fell Saturday morning. Thus, the leaders in the women’s race literally had to break trail for the competitors behind them. The unplowed penalty loop also made things a little tougher there, as well. And swirling winds made the shooting range more challenging.

Up next: The men’s 4 x 7.5K relay (scheduled for 5.a.m. CDT for you hardy souls who want to get up and watch it). The women’s 4 x 6K relay will be at a more civil hour later in the day.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Our own little hypocrites -- a teachable moment

Posted by Craig Westover | 5:03 PM |  

Okay. If we need another lesson in the point of Peter Schweizer’s "Do As I Say (Not As I Do): Profiles in Liberal Hypocrisy," and my Pioneer Press column on liberal hypocrisy, here it is.

Minnesota Democrats Exposed publishes the letter from Jim Appleby, president of AFSCME local 2938, that was sent to union leaders urging them to withhold endorsement of DFL senate candidate Amy Klobuchar. In the letter, Appleby states that Klobuchar denigrated office lawyers publicly and privately, took credit for their work, damaged morale and "created a hostile work environment."

According to the Star Tribune, Klobuchar’s response is that --

[S]he has made many changes over the years that may have disturbed some staff members. "Has it made some people angry that I've done some things differently? Yes," she said. "My goal was to make the office more accountable to the community."

Klobuchar also said the "primary focus" of the discontent appeared to be last year's contract negotiations and the charge that she did not support the local's request for a wage increase.
So, did Klobuchar do anything wrong? Nope. She did what any executive would do when dealing with a union. She looked at her budget and took a firm stand for what she thought was good for her stakeholders. She held down wages and made some organizational changes.

Today, the parent union of the local representing people that work directly for Klobuchar, Minnesota’s largest public employee union, Council 5 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, recommended that its international union endorse Amy Klobuchar for U.S. Senate.

The blog, "DFL Senate" -- “Covering Minnesota's 2006 Senate Race from the Left Side of the Aisle” -- posts the endorsement news and concludes with a dismissive “So much for the mini-controversy surrounding this endorsement.”

Eliot Seide, executive director of AFSCME Council 5, went a little bit further but was just as dismissive in talking with the Star Tribune. Although he was taking the local's concerns "very seriously," according to the Strib, it also reported --

However, he said, there are larger issues in a U.S. Senate race than any employer-employee relationship. "We need a candidate who can beat someone who represents Bush/Rove values," Seide said. U.S. Rep. Mark Kennedy, the Sixth District congressman has emerged as the GOP's presumptive nominee.

"The next U.S. senator will not be a direct employer of our people. But that person will make policy decisions on whether to invest or disinvest in health care, education, transportation, child care -- things Americans need," Seide said.
DFL Senate quotes Mike Buesing, president of AFSCME Council 5 and chair of its PEOPLE committee --

“Our union will commit its energy and resources to electing Amy Klobuchar because this open seat could determine the balance of the U.S. Senate.”

“We must defeat Mark Kennedy,” explained Buesing. “He and his right-wing cronies just slashed $40 billion in vital services for working families to fund tax breaks for big business and the wealthy. That means $86 million of painful cuts to people in Minnesota.”
So here’s the point -- just as liberals forgive Nancy Pelosi for not hiring union labor (when she has the opportunity and the means to do so) because she promotes the correct policies, AFSCME and DFL Senate bloggers are willing to overlook Klobuchar’s direct dealings with and sacrifice of the interests of its own union members for the sake of a “higher” political goal.

Again, that’s really fine. Nothing wrong with that. But the hypocrisy comes in when these same liberals will criticize the Pawlenty administration from holding the fiscal line on state budgets at the expense of its union members and promote legislation making it harder for private sector employers to hold the line on employee wages and benefits. When conservatives take a frim stand in dealing with a union, they’re branded with the handy “greedy” and “insensitive” tags, or as noted above, depriving people of “vital services” for the benefit of “big business and the wealthy.”

Neither Klobuchar’s actions toward the union nor the union’s endorsement of Klobuchar are wrong. What is wrong is that both Klobuchar and the union promote legislation and regulation that would prohibit others from acting in exactly the way Klobuchar acted when she was confronted with the need to balance the requirements of her "business" with the desires of union members. When push comes to shove, liberals simply cannot live by the same policies they would inflict on others.

UPDATE: Following is the official Republican Party email press release on this issue. It's a bad framing of the issue. Maybe Amy Klobuchar is a bad boss, maybe not, but this release is simply predictable, not insightful. While it may resonate with the faithful, it's just negative campaign rhetoric without much substance, and it hides the real issue -- liberals can't live up to their policies not becasue they are bad people, but becasue they promote bad policies.

February 20, 2006

Republican Party of Minnesota Calls on Amy Klobuchar to Come Clean About Her “Hostile Work Environment”

“Deeply troubling questions have now been raised about whether Amy Klobuchar has the judgment and temperament to be Minnesota’s next United States Senator.

“I call on Amy Klobuchar to be honest with Minnesotans by holding a press conference where she will candidly answer questions, including the following:

“How many grievances have been filed by employees during Amy Klobuchar’s tenure as Hennepin County Attorney and what were the nature of those grievances?

“Which cases has Amy Klobuchar actively participated in, what was the nature of her role in those cases, and how does she determine in which to participate?”

-Ron Carey, Chairman of the Republican Party of Minnesota

AFSCME 2938 Blasts Amy Klobuchar’s “Hostile Work Environment”

AFSCME Local 2938: Klobuchar Took Credit For Their Work, Damaged Morale And Created “A Hostile Work Environment.” “With the U.S. Senate field clear of all but one rival for the DFL Party's nomination, Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar is facing a new obstacle: The union local representing her staff is asking that she be denied the endorsement of its parent group, the powerful American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). In a letter this month to union leaders, local president Jim Appleby, an assistant Hennepin County attorney, said Klobuchar had denigrated office lawyers publicly and privately, taken credit for their work, damaged morale and ‘created a hostile work environment.’” (Patricia Lopez, “Klobuchar's Work With Staff Is Focus Of A Union Battle,” Star Tribune, February 19, 2006)

AFSCME Local 2938: Klobuchar’s Priority Is Hiring Those “Who Support Her Ambitions.” “The local, AFSCME 2938, represents about half of the 400 employees in the office, including investigators and all 112 of its nonmanagement attorneys. … The two-page union letter said Klobuchar's management style had resulted in increased grievances, and ‘qualified personnel from her own and other public offices have been rejected because her priority has been to choose [job] candidates who support her ambitions.’” (Patricia Lopez, “Klobuchar's Work With Staff Is Focus Of A Union Battle,” Star Tribune, February 19, 2006)

AFSCME Local 2938 On Klobuchar: “She Presents Herself As A Dedicated Public Servant ... When Her Only Dedication Is To Her Own Self-Promotion.” “The letter also said that Klobuchar ‘has used the publicity from the many successfully prosecuted criminal cases to give the public the false impression that she was actively involved in those cases. She was not.’ The letter continued: ‘She presents herself as a dedicated public servant ... when her only dedication is to her own self-promotion.’” (Patricia Lopez, “Klobuchar's Work With Staff Is Focus Of A Union Battle,” Star Tribune, February 19, 2006)

AFSCME Local 2938: Rift With Klobuchar About “How Our People Are Treated In The Workplace.” “Appleby said Hennepin County prosecutors, once the best paid in the state, had fallen behind Ramsey, Anoka and Dakota counties even though their workload was heavier. But he said the union's letter is ‘not about contract negotiations.’ ‘It's about how our people are treated in the workplace,’ he said.” (Patricia Lopez, “Klobuchar's Work With Staff Is Focus Of A Union Battle,” Star Tribune, February 19, 2006)

AFSCME Local 2938 Opposed Klobuchar Endorsement In 2002. “It is rare for a DFL candidate to draw the ire of labor unions. …Appleby said his local also asked that Klobuchar be denied endorsement in 2002, when she was running for re-election. That request was ignored, he said. Klobuchar ran unopposed.”

Read More About Amy Klobuchar’s “Hostile Work Environment”

Star Tribune: <>

AFSCME Local 2938 Letter: <>
- 30 -

Separation of church and state -- two views

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:56 AM |  

Well, it was interesting, I’ll say that.

Responding to my column on liberal hypocrisy, R. Alan James, the founder of The Institute of Theological and Interdisciplinary Studies,” invited me to lunch. Alan is a retired Presbyterian minister, which is, as the politically correct say, “my faith tradition.” The Institute is “dedicated to the exploration of knowledge which promotes lifelong spiritual and intellectual vitality and the enhancement of our human capacities.”

Lunch was interesting -- one of those rare opportunities to engage in civil conversation, not argument, with someone that has different philosophy, conversation that makes one reflect on one’s own positions, conversation focused on understanding rather than arguing.

Alan invited me, and I accepted, an invitation to the Institute’s monthly seminar (held Friday evening at Macalester College). The featured speaker was the Rev. Calvin Didier, former pastor of the house of Hope Presbyterian Church in St. Paul and President of Americans United. Americans United is concerned with keeping the relationship between civil and religious organizations “discrete and independent.” What that means can be garnered from its press release titled “Americans United Deplores Senate Confirmation Of Alito To High Court,” with the subtext “Group Says Alito Now Has Opportunity To Attack Protections For Religious Liberty.”

The Rev. Didier’s presentation was entitled “Is This a Christian Nation.” The synopsis read --

In our time [the] wall of separation [between church and state] has been assaulted and bombarded with presumptions that religious organizations can do secular work more efficiently than civic organizations. Much of this ‘well intentioned’ political maneuvering has been promulgated on the assumption that the United States ‘is a Christian nation’ in the same sense that Iran is ‘an Islamic nation.’

In what sense is this true or false? What difference does it make?”
Okay, enough table setting. I think the picture is clear. This is not exactly your right-wing religious fringe group. But what the heck. As much camaraderie as there is at any event sponsored by the Center of the American Experiment, nonetheless, a conservative ought not just hold a textbook version of liberals, but occassionaly ought to venture out in the wild and view liberals in a natural habitat -- like Macalester College.

The good news, and I admit a bit flattering, is that quite a few people recognized my name, read my columns, and found them “thought-provoking” and “intelligent,” although of course, they did not always agree with them. A quick table count -- there were about 125 people in attendance. Many were Macalester grads, ministerial or professorial types. Our table talked journalism, newspapers and the Internet. To put the conversation (and the crowd) in perspective, the retired minister next to me was considering canceling his Star Tribune subscription because the Strib has dumbed down its content (which included the hiring of Katherine Kersten) and was too conservative.

In his presentation at the Tocqueville Center forum, Eric Black of the Star-Tribune talked about “confirmation bias” -- the idea that people congregate to information that confirms their preconceived ideas rather than challenging themselves with new information. I’ve been critical of conservative gatherings on that point, and it’s time to heap equal criticism on liberals for this fault. This meeting was “confirmation bias” in spades.

I was a little disappointed in the Rev. Didier’s presentation in that there was not a lot of philosophical substance. He traced the historical evolution of the separation of church and state by essentially pulling quotes out of context from the founders and later American icons like John Kennedy. His position, of course, was that any breach in the wall of separation was dangerous to the republic, although he never made quite clear whether the danger was the church’s potential corruption of the state or the state’s potential corruption of the church (see article by Charles Darrell below).

An example of some interesting historical interpretation -- Didier talked about the fact that public schools in the late 1800s were essentially generically Protestant schools. Protestant religious values were taught; the Protestant Bible was used as the reading text. Here’s Didier’s interesting twist -- Protestants informed public education with religion only because the country was overwhelmingly Protestant, and they didn’t realize they had a problem. When immigrants, primarily Catholics, started flooding the country, the Protestants suddenly had a Damascus experience and saw the light -- the public school system violated the principle of separation of church and state. So, in deference to new immigrants, religion was removed from public schools.

I think that the "tolerant and enlightened" view might have been disputed by Catholics that were victims of the widespread anti-Catholic sentiment of the late 1800s, not to mention the ratification of state constitutional “Blaine Amendments” and their “sectarian” language intended to ensure that state money did not flow to Catholic schools, but did continue to support de facto Protestant schools well into the next century.

That strange historical scenario came up in response to a question about school vouchers, which Didier opposed as government support for religion comparable to colonial taxation for support of ministers of state-sponsored religions. “That’s my opinion,” he said. “I don’t know if anyone thinks differently.”

There was about ten seconds or so of silence. It being clear that no one in the room did think differently, valor taking the better part of discretion, I said “Okay, I’ll take that one.”

Well, I can only say I am glad no one dropped dead from shock. Nonetheless, I made the argument that under voucher and tax credit systems, education funds (the state guranteeing free education to all children) go to parents that decide whether to use them at private religious or secular schools and if a religious school, what type of religious school. Vouchers violate neither the establishment clause of the first amendment, nor the free exercise clause. They do not violate Blaine Amendments, in that those apply to direct state aid to specific “sectarian” schools. There is no breach of separation of church and state.

Didier’s response was as puzzling to me as was the look on his face brought on by my argument. He asked me if my explanation meant that vouchers would be distributed universally. I replied that under the Hann/Buesgens bill in Minnesota, vouchers targeted only low-income students.

“Well,” replied Didier, “Then it’s a fairness issue. Unless vouchers are universal they are not fair.”

Now that’s a puzzling answer because it’s not relevant to his main objection that state money would be funneled to religious schools. I didn’t (and don’t) see how sending more state money to more religious schools is philosophically different than sending some state money to some religious schools, but heck, I’d be all for it. I explained that universal vouchers would be great, but public schools objected to even a small implementation of vouchers, let alone universal vouchers, out of fear of too many students leaving failing public schools.

At that point a voice from the back of the room objected saying he was a public educator and disagreed with me. Didier asked if the voice wanted to comment, but no, he just disagreed, at which point Didier reiterated that unless vouchers were universal, they were unfair and moved on.

Having already felt like I pissed on the carpet a little, I didn’t question some of the later comments during the Q&A, but the “confirmation bias” was rampant. One woman asked if the influx of Muslims, “who don’t believe in the separation of church and state,” would contribute to breaking down the wall of separation. “It could” was the essence of a long answer, without considering that her premise is false. At one point, Southern Baptists were mentioned and a knowing “Hmmmmmm” went through the crowd indicating a general agreement as to what those people were like.

One question raised the issue of religions that expect tolerance without granting it, which made the universal mistake of the evening, equating individual religious belief and politics, the subject of my column on Wednesday.

Another person asked the question I would have asked (if I hadn’t already pissed on the rug) about how a religious person should act politically without violating church and state separation. Didier’s response was that it is difficult because it is hard to stay in elective office. He cited Mark Dayton as an example of someone that found it impossible to work in government and at the same time do the fund-raising necessary to get elected. I know -- I didn’t get the connection either.

I may sound a little harsh of the gathering, but challenging my own “confirmation bias” was a good experience and one I recommend to fellow conservatives. Next month, March 31 at 6:45 at Macalester College, The Institute will host Brian Rosenberg, president of Macalester, who will speak about what kind of person colleges in general and Macalester specifically are attempting to turn out. It should be interesting for those that believe colleges and universities are little liberal-producing factories. I have never heard Rosenberg speak, but I have heard good things about him. There’s a lengthy question and answer session. More (respectful) questions might enliven the discussion.

Institute seminars, including a buffet dinner, are free (donations accepted but not required) or one can simply come for the presentation. One needs to reserve space in advance (or for more information) via email at -- for those interested in a safari outside the safety of the blogosphere and into the wilds of intellectual liberalism.

Update: Also in response my Wednesday column, Chuck Darrell of Minnesota for Marriage sent me the following column that originally appeared (February 4) on the Orthodoxy Today web site. It’s a good counter to the viewpoint expressed at the Institute seminar.

Separation Anxiety

by Charles H. Darrell

Every time someone says “that’s in violation of separation of church and state”, I am reminded of Pavlov’s dog – the canine trained to salivate at the sound of a bell. This is because American’s have become pre-conditioned to respond with “…violation…” when stimulated by the juxtaposition of religion and government. Although this “stupid pet trick” makes for good late-night comedy, it exposes the success of historical revisionists to redefine the original intent of the Establishment Clause, and, reveals the nations “separation anxiety” concerning the future of religions protected role as an independent influence upon American democracy.

A recent example of historical revisionism is Michael Newdow’s failed attempt to prohibit public prayer offered by ministers, and all other “Christian religious acts” at the Presidential Inauguration. Armed with untruths, omissions, and insinuations, Newdow asserts “It’s an offense of the highest magnitude that the leader of our nation, while swearing to uphold the Constitution, publicly violates that very document upon taking his oath of office.”

Conversely, the historical evidence reveals that the Founding Fathers, “and legal authorities for generations afterwards”, encouraged an oath because, in the words of Daniel Webster the “Defender of the Constitution”, it’s “founded on a degree of consciousness that there is a Power above us that will reward our virtues or punish our vices…” If this is true, then why was Newdow’s complaint considered by Chief Justice Rehnquist; and why are so many Americans unsure of the religious freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution?

In his book, Original Intent, the Courts, the Constitution, & Religion, David Barton defines revisionism as the “intentional distortion of historical fact to advance a political agenda”. Via a mountain of primary sources, Barton proves, that beginning with the 1947 Supreme Court decision Everson vs. Board of Education, the courts, legislature and educational institutions have deliberately distorted both the judicial, and historical record of the First Amendment; and portray, that the heritage and religious beliefs of the Founders “mandates a religion-free public arena.”

Consequently, the public’s understanding of the First Amendment has been re-engineered from; a federal endorsement of religious _expression by prohibiting the establishment of a national denomination; to a vague “separation myth” (found in a letter between President Thomas Jefferson and the Baptist Associate of Danbury Connecticut) used, by many, for the secular cleansing of all religious intent, precedent, inscriptions, case law and now, religious references in the oath of office.

Was President Bush in violation of the Establishment Clause? Ironically, the answer seems to lie between two phrases penned by Jefferson himself: “all men are … endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights…,” and, “…building a wall of separation between Church and State.” According to Barton “Jefferson believed that God, not government, was the Author and Source of our rights and that the government, therefore, was to be prevented from interference with those rights. Very simply, the…wall of separation between church and state was not to limit religious activities in public; rather they were to limit the power of the government to prohibit or interfere with those expressions.”

Perhaps Jefferson was the first to suffer separation anxiety when he queried; “And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure if we have lost the only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath?”

Are we ready to separate God (church) from people (state)? At the Constitutional Convention, George Mason, the “Father of the Bill of Rights” reminded the delegates, “As nations cannot be rewarded or punished in the next world, so they must be in this.” In March the U.S. Supreme Court will hear two cases regarding the display of the Ten Commandments. Instead of salivating, let’s pray they make an informed decision.

Charles H. Darrell is a free-lance writer and financial consultant, living in Woodbury. He can be reached at

Friday, February 17, 2006

More from MOBANGE!

Posted by Craig Westover | 11:18 AM |  

Doug Bass at the Minnesota Organization of Blogs Aggregator, News, Gossip, ETC. (MOBANGE!) posts a complete summary of the Tocqueville Center forum "The Blogosphere and the Future of Journalism" Featuring Scott Johnson of Power Line and Eric Black of the Star-Tribune. Doug does an excellent job summarizing the event and the discussion. I’d just like to add a few comments on the Q&A session.

Much of the questioning was directed toward Eric Black and focused on the concept of bias and confirmation bias that he raised in his presentation. My question, as reported by Doug, was a follow-up to Peg Kaplan’s question about bias to which Black responded in part “I'm nervous about the methods we have [to be objective], but they're the best we have right now.”

In my follow-up I said I was nervous, too. My point was that sometimes in order to avoid confirmation bias, journalists go overboard presenting two sides of an issue when, in their professional judgment, one side is clearly stronger than the other. I asked Black to elaborate on his skepticism. His answer wasn’t the best. He used one of my favorite whipping boys -- he said/she said journalism -- and talked about it’s shortcomings. But he also noted that he has been given assignments on topics about which he knows nothing and by the end of the day written an article based on talking to people on both sides of an issue.

Perhaps that gets to a question of editorial selection. Is the media doing a service to readers with a cursory story that simply raises a controversia issue without a conclusion? On the other hand, if a story is worth covering, doesn’t it deserve full coverage? (Star Tribune Political Editor Doug Tice and I exchanged comments on that issue here.)

A case in point, about which I posted earlier, is today’s Pioneer Press story about teaching art to Muslim students. That story clearly had a point of view, but it came across because the reporter did his job -- reported what he say as he say it -- not because he editorialized in the copy.

A later question put the issue more precisely. Paraphrasing -- Wouldn’t it be better if newspapers declared their political allegiance (as they used to do) and then tried to be objective within that context? Wouldn’t that provide readers with a better frame of reference?

I think that’s a good question. Black acknowledged it was, but also stepped quickly to the position that it’s good that we have institutions that try to be objective in the pure sense. Perhaps, but if that’s not possible, why pretend?

A little discretion, please

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:57 AM |  

A couple of times a week I get one of those Internet emails that detail some lurid anti-American perpetration of evil by the enemies of conservative America. The latest concerned New Orleans evacuees headed for Salt Lake City --
As these passengers attempted to board the plane, the National Guard removed from their person; 43 handguns (it is Illegal to own a handgun In New Orleans ), 20 knives, one man had 100,000 dollars in cash, 20 pounds of Marijuana, 10 pounds of Crack, 15 pounds of Methamphetamines, 10 pounds of various other controlled substances including Heroin.
Simply not true.

Normally, I’d just trash email like this without a second thought. However, with more frequency they are coming from people that ought to know better and including on the distribution list influential people in government and the media. This kind of mass email only hurts, it doesn’t help the conservative movement.

It takes about two minutes on Google to debunk most of these emails. That’s two minutes well spent if it stops distribution of bad information. A little discretion, please.

GUEST POST -- Viva La France

Posted by Craig Westover | 9:26 AM |  

From Mark Yost, Opinion Page Associate Editor at the St. Paul Pioneer Press --

Forget that it’s home to Dominique de Villepin and Marcel Marceau. Frenchwoman Florence Baverel-Robert scored a stunning victory in the women’s 7.5K Sprint event Thursday at the Olympic biathlon venue in San Sicario, less than 10K across the Alps from her homeland.

Both Baverel-Robert and Bronze winner Lilia Efremova of Ukraine were surprise medalists. Only second-place finisher Anna Carin Oloffson of Sweden was a favorite going into the race, in which biathletes ski three loops, stopping to shoot twice, first prone and then standing. Despite her country’s many transgressions on the international stage, Baverel-Robert was a feel-good story. Her mother died when she was young and her father raised her. In 15 years of competition, the 31-year-ld Frenchwoman had never won. That was not the case on Thursday, as she put on a stellar performance. She completed the course in 23 minutes, 21.4 second and hit all 10 targets.

“I can’t believe it,” she told Reuters. “I really wasn’t expected to win. I thought I had better chances in the individual race. It’s a funny sport.”

Indeed. Swede Oloffson missed one shot during the prone shoot and had to ski one 150-meter penalty loop and finished 2.4 seconds behind Baverel-Robert. Efremova shot clean and was 6.6 seconds behind in third.

These times are important because they’ll be used to start what is perhaps the most exciting biathlon event — the pursuit — scheduled for Saturday (5:30 a.m. CST for those of you who don’t stay up too late Friday, drowning your sorrows over the Gopher loss to Denver in ice hockey at Mariucci Arena). In the 10K race for women (12.5K for men later in the day), Baverel-Robert will start first. Oloffson will start 2.4 seconds after her, followed by Efremova 6.6 seconds behind, and so on. The other competitors will “pursue” her, thus the name of the event. It truly is an exciting race to watch.

I was up at 5 a.m. Thursday — much to my wife’s annoyance — yelling obscenities in German in support of my girl, Uschi Disl of Germany, the most decorated female biathlete in Olympic history with eight medals. She was third out of the gate and finished ahead of the other two biathletes ahead of her, but was slowed by a driving snow that subsided about halfway through the race. Her time of 24 minutes, 29.1 seconds only held the top spot briefly. Disl ultimately finished in 34th, 1 minute, 57.7 seconds behind the Frenchwoman.

At one point during the coverage, it looked like Deutschland Uber Alles again as German women held all the top spots. Kati Wilhelm skied remarkably well, but missed a shot during the standing shoot and finished in 7th, 18.4 seconds behind Baverel-Robert, a deficit she can easily make up in Saturday’s pursuit race. Germany’s Martina Glagow (her Web site is a must-visit for people like Brian “Saint Paul” Ward), who took the Bronze Medal in Sunday’s 15K individual race, also missed one shot while shooting from the standing position in the 7.5K Sprint race and finished 1 minute, 4.5 seconds back in 17th.

Other notable performances included Russian Svetlana Ishmouratova, who won the Gold Medal in Sunday’s 15K race. She missed one target on Thursday in the 7.5K Sprint a finished 10th, 38.9 seconds back, again not an insurmountable deficit in Saturday’s Pursuit race. Rachel Steer put in the best performance of the American biathletes in the 7.5K sprint. She missed one shot during the prone shoot and finished 35th, one spot behind Turbo Disl, and will start Saturday’s Pursuit race 1 minute 58.2 seconds behind Baverel-Robert.

[The Captian apologizes to all true biathlon fans . . . from all quarters. I spent most of yesterday at the Capitol and an evening school board meeting and didn't post Mark's piece yesterday.]

Kudos to the Pioneer Press

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:46 AM |  

As those of you that follow the Pioneer Press know, the paper is consciously making an effort to move toward more coverage of local news. Given the numerous competing sources for national and international news, the Pioneer Press makes sense for a medium that publishes once a day -- it has to provide news and content that isn’t available elsewhere.

I’ve been critical of some of its efforts in the past. Sometimes the paper, IMHO, puts too much emphasis on local and not enough on significance. Some local pieces it's run I envision taped to the refrigerator in some family’s home, but they have little other relevance other than they are local -- there was a reason they probably didn’t appear anywhere else.

But today, the Pioneer Press runs a front page story on how a local charter school is dealing with Islamic religious belief, the teaching of art and meeting state art requirements.
As violent protests over caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad continue around the world, a St. Paul charter school is quietly negotiating the delicate question of how to teach art to Muslims.
The story is outstanding for several reasons. First, although it is local, it's pegged to the larger Danish cartoon controversy. Without the editorializing of my column of Wednesday, the story makes the same point -- If the school had simply “tolerated” its Muslim students, it would have made some minor schedule accommodation for them, which would have resulted in many Muslim students not participating in art. As it is, they showed “respect” and created a third alternative that worked for everyone. Read the article here.

What I especially like about this news article is that the story has a clear point of view -- that what is happening at this school is a good thing. The story didn’t try to inject a false sense of “balance” into the piece with an obligatory quote from someone opposed to making a “concession” to Muslims. Nor did it take the editorial tack that I would take -- could such action have happened in a traditional public school without someone yelling “church and state”? The writer, Doug Belden, supports the story’s point of view by reporting and not by opinionated statements. Really well done.

There’s always a lot of talk about newspapers being biased, but what’s wrong with a reporter being “biased” by what he sees right in front of him and reporting it as he sees it, without editorial comment?

Doug’s story recognizes that local need not be trivial. It elevates something that could be trivial -- a local art class -- to a much larger issue of working out of respect with people that take their religious belief’s seriously.

Just a final note. Those of you that read the Pioneer Press online will miss some of the impact of Craig Borck’s photography and the way it is intertwined with the layout of the story. The lead picture -- two girls intently working on the art piece is outstanding -- right down to the one girl’s tongue sticking out in concentration is posted, but loses some of its front page impact by reduction. On the story jump page, a photo of a Muslim student walking past a student drawing of a human figure adds significantly to the content of the story.

Enough gushing. Just a great job all around by the Pioneer Press.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

He's one-tenth short of a full penny

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:04 AM |  

Before my left-wing critics jump on Republican State Senator Dick Day for being “hypocritical” for proposing to introduce a bill requiring service stations to charge for gasoline by the full penny rather than 9/10s of cent, let’s label the proposal for what it really is -- stupid.
Day, the Senate Republican leader from Owatonna who has focused throughout his political career on driving issues, said he got the idea from a constituent who was complaining about the fractions of a cent. There is no law preventing stations from charging by the full penny, Day said. "They need some prompting," he added.

"I said, 'What the heck? I'll take a shot at it,' '' Day said. "It's just crazy.''
So to the Governor’s “fun stuff” criteria for state spending, we can now add the “What the heck, I’ll take a shot at it” justification for more state regulation. Tell me again about the party of less government?

Half the time politicians are wrong

Posted by Craig Westover | 7:40 AM |  

If the question is “How many people work in Minnesota state government?” and the answer is “About half,” how many people actually are employed by Minnesota state government?

Can’t figure that out? Remember the statistical fallacy?

In my column noting how failure to understand statistics leads policy makers to bad decisions, I cited this reference from a Pioneer Press column --
As we learned last fall when Congress tightened the bankruptcy laws for the benefit of credit card companies, about half of the people who file for bankruptcy do so because of illness or medical costs.”
My point is, that without a baseline number (the number of people are affected by medical bankruptcies), it is impossible to formulate a reasonable policy and more likely that any policy developed would exceed the extent of the problem.

So, on today’s Pioneer Press Opinion Page we read from State Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL - Minneapolis) and Representative Ray Cox (R - Northfield) this gem --
As state legislators, we are proud to help Minnesota be a leader once again. We now know that the technology is available to reduce mercury emissions by up to 90 percent from Minnesota's largest source — coal-burning power plants. Last year, we sponsored legislation aimed at doing just that. Each year, Minnesota's coal-burning power plants alone spew about half of all of the mercury generated here. That has to stop.

The bills call for a 90 percent reduction in mercury emissions from these plants between 2009 and 2011. A bipartisan group of legislators signed onto the bill last year. We hope even more of our colleagues from both parties will sign onto new bills that we are introducing this year.
Again, the question is “How much is half of all mercury generated here?” Is 90 percent of that number significant? What are the collateral consequences of reducing the raw number by 90 percent versus 85 percent, versus 25 percent?

The point is, the Dibble/Cox Op-Ed piece uses statistics to mislead rather than inform. They write an Op-Ed piece that simply lists their talking points without actually refuting any statements of fact about the quantities and cost of the 90 percent proposal. It’s a diatribe, not an argument. They may or may not be correct, but this opinion piece doesn’t support their case.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

READER RESPONSE -- More on liberal hypocrisy

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:27 AM |  

This Valentine appeared in yesterdays Pioneer Press Letters to the Editor.
Conservatives conserve wealth, privilege

Craig Westover could use a bit more rigor gauging the damage caused by the "failure to live according to one's values" of his fellow conservatives ("Liberal hypocrites should practice what they preach," Feb. 1). Does Westover miss the stunning hypocrisy of the U.S. dictating nuclear nonproliferation to other nations? President Bush justly brands those who target innocents as terrorists while counting innocents caught in his own cross hairs as justifiable "collateral damage."

Remember: "We don't torture"? Were Mark Kennedy's campaign commercials with the white mother caressing her own children, saying, "Mark knows if we don't fight them over there we will have to fight them over here" really compassionate?

Let's talk about personal gain. Say the phrases "Jack Abramoff" and "funding, slashed from the needy to support tax cuts for the most fortunate." Shouldn't "conservatives" be conserving oil, air, land, water, Alaska's wilderness, privacy and civil rights as vigorously as they conserve wealth and privilege?
Let’s once again clear up the difference between “hypocrisy” and its relationship to values, policies one disagrees with, and out-and-out corruption.

The examples in the letter’s first paragraph have nothing to do with hypocrisy. They are policies stated out in the open, implemented out in the open and can be judged out in the open. Are they good policies? That’s debatable, but these are not instances of saying one thing publicly based on one set of principles and acting another way in private on a different set of principles.

The second paragraph raises a good point; one that I happen to agree with. That something is worth dying in defense of does not necessarily justify killing in its name. But that does not make the “over there, not over here” statement “hypocrisy.” Again, it is a belief openly stated and acted upon. Is it right? Again debatable, but not hypocritical.

The same can be said of “funding, slashed from the needy to support tax cuts for the most fortunate" argument -- which is pure spin. The argument is whether or not supply side economics works. Debatable? Yes, but it’s out in the open and politicians that push supply side ecnomics are accountable to voters.

Abramoff? You’re talking corruption, plain and simple.

The point of my column was that the liberal hypocrisy Schweizer exposes in his book, "Do As I Say (Not As I Do): Profiles in Liberal Hypocrisy" is symptomatic of the fact that the very people advocating liberal policies, when they have a choice, elect not to themselves abide by the principles underlying those policies. When Nancy Pelosi has a choice to hire union workers, she does not. When Michael Moore or Al Franken have the opportunity to practice affirmative action, they do not.

I don’t have to ask why conservatives are cutting taxes for those that pay the most. It is because they believe doing so stimulates the economy. Are they right? The numbers will tell us and as voters we can pass judgment on that policy.

I do have to ask why Nancy Pelosi doesn’t hire union workers; and when others have asked it, she refuses to answer. Michael Moore refuses to discuss his hiring practices. According to Schweizer, Al Franken threatened to sue him over his book -- not because his claim that Franken didn’t hire minorities when he had the opportunity to do so was in error, but because Franken claimed writing about his hiring practices was a violation of his privacy.

That is the textbook definition of hypocrisy. When given freedom of choice, the very people advocating liberal policies choose not to follow them.

GUEST POST -- Deutschland Uber Alles

Posted by Craig Westover | 5:52 AM |  

From Mark Yost, Opinion Page Associate Editor at the St. Paul Pioneer Press --

I’d been meaning to start a guest post for the Winter Olympics at Torino (yes, I use the original Italian, not the AP-mandated Turin) here on the site of my good friend and sometimes Patriot co-host Captain Fishsticks.

What will I blog on? Biathlon, of course. It’s the only sport that really matters during the Winter Olympics. And because it involves guns, the MSM can’t be counted on to give it the coverage it deserves.

I fell in love with biathlon when I was working for The Wall Street Journal Europe in Brussels in the mid-1990s. Most Americans don’t realize that in some European countries, biathletes are more popular than Michael Jordan was in the U.S. during the height of his career. Indeed, in Europe biathletes are national heroes who can’t go to the airport, shopping or out to dinner without being mobbed. Moreover, biathlon consistently outrates Formula One and World Cup soccer on Eurosport, the Continent’s ESPN equivalent.

I went to Bresno Slovakia in 1996 for the Biathlon World Cup Championships to write about it for the Journal and was immediately hooked. While biathlon usually takes a back seat to just straight up cross-country skiing (that damn MSM again), it’s a lot harder. Not only do the biathletes ski as fast as their cross-country counterparts, but they have to be in good enough shape to slow down their heart rate, steady their hand, and shoot a target 25 meters away with a .22 caliber rifle (in other words, this is not a sport for Mitch Berg or David Strom).

Did I also mention that women do this? Call me crazy, but there’s nothing as invigorating as a world-class female athlete, clad in form-fitting lycra carrying a gun. It just doesn’t get any better. And to realize how hard these athletes compete, all you have to do is stand by the finish line. Many of them, in the best shape of their lives with about 2 mg of body fat, come across the finish line and collapse.

One particularly fetching gal who caught my eye was Uschi Disl, the sweetheart of the German team and a sentimental favorite who, at 35, is probably competing in her last Olympics . Indeed, the highlight of my young career at the Journal was interviewing Frau Disl, in German. I’ve tried to follow biathlon since coming back to the states, and have written a few follow on pieces for the Journal, but it’s just not the same as being in Europe.

I should also note that while in Bresno I began one of the greatest friendships I’ve ever had. I started chatting up a guy on the shooting range who turned out to be Command Sgt. Major Gene Soboleski. He was then a full-time employee of the Vermont National Guard, in charge of running the Winter Warfare Center at Camp Ethan Allen outside Burlington. An Army marksman, he was also the volunteer shooting coach for the women’s World Cup and Olympic teams, a natural connection because many of our biathletes are members of the U.S. Army’s Athletes in Uniform program. It allows them to train full time for the Olympics, receive full-time pay from the Army, but only drill one weekend a month, like reservists or National Guard troops. Soboleski and I have kept in touch ever since and in a few years my son, George, will go to Vermont for the summer to attend the Soboleski School of Marksmanship.

One of these years, I plan to go back for a biathlon winter vacation. The World Cup tour has events back to back in Ruhpolding, Germany, and Antolz, Italy. The biathlon community is like the rodeo or circus; they travel from place to place during the season, often staying in the same hotels, eating in the same restaurants, and all become quite close (yet remain intensely competitive). When the match is over in Ruhpolding, the whole biathlon caravan packs up and travels across the Alps, through the Bremmer Pass, to Antolz, for the next competition. According to Soboleski, it’s some of the most breathtaking scenery in the world (unless there’s a storm, then the roads are a real bear).

Which brings us back to this year’s Olympics in Torino. The biathlon events are actually held at a brand-new venue at San Sicario. Why did they need a brand new venue if they hold World Cup events at Antolz every year? Good question. The Olympic committee would tell you that it’s because holding it at Antolz would give World Cup competitors an unfair advantage because they’ve raced there so much. The truth is that it’s one of the benefits of hosting an Olympics. Even though countries may have perfectly suitable facilities, why not get the international community to build you one?

Nonetheless, the Germans are dominating in the early going. Deutschlander Michael Greis won the first Gold Medal of the Games, winning the 20K individual race on Saturday. And today, Sven Fischer, the men’s counterpart to Uschi Disl won the 10K sprint event. Both victories came at the expense of Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, the Norwegian hot shoe who excelled at Nagano in 1998 and Salt Lake City in 2002 and was expected to be the standout men’s biathlete of these Games.

Like goaltending in hockey, shooting is what wins championships in biathlon. During the 20K, Greis missed only one of his 20 targets (they ski five loops, stopping after each to shoot, twice standing and twice prone). Bjoerndalen missed two targets and finished 16 seconds behind Greis. Athletes must ski once around a short penalty loop for each target they miss.

In today’s 10K, Bjoerndalen missed three targets, one prone and two standing, the latter two coming after he skied furiously to make up time but could not get his heart rate down to shoot accurately. That gives you some idea of how tough this sport can be.

Bjoerndalen’s Norwegian teammates, Halvar Hanevold and Frode Andresen, finished second and third.

Also noteworthy in Tuesday’s 10k was the disastrous performance by America’s one great hope for a biathlon medal, Jay Hakkinen. He finished a respectable 10th in the 20K on Saturday, the best-ever finish by an American. But in the 10K he fell apart, finishing 80th out of 90 competitors.

And how is my beloved Frau Disl doing? She’s off to a slow start.

Two Ruskies dominated the women’s 15K individual race on Sunday. Svetlana Ishmouratova took the gold, only missing one shot out of 20 on her second prone shooting, while teammate Olga Pyleva missed one target on her first prone shoot but skied slower and finished 45.5 seconds back. Germany’s Martina Glagow took the Bronze.

German Andrea Henkel finished fifth, Norwegian Liv Grete Poiree, who’s married to French biathlete Raphael Poiree, finished 10th. My Teutonic Titan of Marksmanship was 13th, more than three minutes behind Ishmouratova. The best finish by an American was Rachel Steer, who finished 42nd.

Funny story: When I spoke to Steer’s mother in Lake Placid for a story I was doing for The Wall Street Journal, she told me: When I tell people my daughter’s a biathlete, they think I’m talking about her sexuality.

Up next: The women’s 7.5K sprint on Thursday.