Archive for May, 2010

Coffee Party alternative is brewing

After Sept. 11, 2001, something remarkable happened in this country. For a brief shining moment, Americans’ attitude changed from one of self-centeredness to one of “We’re all in this together.”

The terrorist attacks caused us to see that life is short, that what matters most is our relationship with one another. Our society became noticeably more spiritual and altruistic. Many of us began to feel that in the short time we have here, we wanted to do something to make a difference in the lives of others.

There was a new-found respect for government employees such as firefighters, police officers, paramedics, soldiers, even teachers and health department workers — those whose jobs are motivated less by monetary reward than the belief that they are working to strengthen democracy and improve society.

There was also an increased interest in international affairs because it became brutally evident that in this shrinking global village we call home, what happens 10,000 miles away affects what happens down the street and around the corner.

What a difference a decade makes.

If the anti-government tea party movement that has spread like wildfire in the past year is defined by anything, it is self-indulgence. The libertarian philosophy that underlies tea party extremism can be summed up in a few words: “Leave me alone, and don’t spend any of my money.”

Michael Kinsley, writing in the June 2010 issue of The Atlantic — “My Country, Tis of Me” — expresses his annoyance at the tea party’s expropriation of the word “patriot,” as if those who disagree with its views cannot also love America. He turns their argument around, saying: “In their rhetoric, the Tea Party Patriots do not sound as if they love their country very much: they have nothing but gripes. Yes, of course, these are gripes against the government, not against the country itself. But that distinction becomes hard to maintain when you have nothing good to say about the government and nothing but whines to offer the country.”

He is far from alone in feeling that way.

Kentucky, which recently nominated tea party libertarian Rand Paul as the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, will be the site of the first national Coffee Party USA convention,in September.

Although it’s been around all year, I just learned this week of a counter movement to the tea party that started on Facebook and has grown to more than 200,000 fans. It’s called the Coffee Party USA, and it is planning its first national convention in Louisville in September.

The organization began as a Facebook posting by a Maryland filmmaker, Annabel Park, who mused that there should be a movement to respond to the large but loosely organized tea party phenomenon.

According to its mission statement, the purpose of the Coffee Party is to give “voice to Americans who want to see cooperation in government.”

It is grounded in the idea that government is not the enemy but “the expression of our collective will, and that we must participate in the democratic process in order to address the challenges that we face as Americans.”

The Coffee Party consists of people who are frustrated with obstructionism in government and who pledge to support those who will work for positive change — especially the progressive agenda nearly 53 percent of the electorate voted for in 2008. Most importantly, it promotes inclusiveness in public discourse and asks its members to take a “civility pledge.”

While I don’t agree with all of its ideas — I’m against term limits for legislators, for example — I think the basic mission of the Coffee Party is a reasonable response to the tea party protests.

Inclusive discourse, after all, is what democracy is about.

Something interesting is brewing in this country. What’s your choice: coffee, tea or something else? Let’s talk about it — in a civil manner.

Copyright: The Winchester Sun 2010

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The political center isn't dead

Like many Americans, I’ve been dismayed by the bipolar dysfunction of American politics for a long time, but it seems to have hit a fever pitch this year. On the Sunday morning talk shows, guests are being asked if the political center is dead. I think that’s an over-reaction to a strange time.

In a New Republic article, John B. Judis argues that it’s important to take the long view. When one party leans too far to the right or left, it jeopardizes its position because the middle is where most of the people are — even if they’re frustrated with the status quo. But part of the problem of the status quo is the gridlock resulting from uncompromising partisanship.

I think Judis is right. If the Republicans move too far to the right, they may gain seats this year in Congress, but they will create conditions for a backlash, as they did in 1994, that will exacerbate Washington’s inability to act decisively to solve problems.

Healthy growth for our hospital

Winchester Sun editorial

Bigger isn’t always better.

Something of our culture and traditional values are lost when big retailers come in and family businesses go out.

When churches grow beyond a few hundred parishioners, pastoral care, hospitality and fellowship are usually diminished.

Big government bureaucracies are seldom as responsive as school councils and neighborhood associations, and big newspapers seldom are as responsive to their communities as small dailies.

And we’ve seen that when banks become “too big to fail,” we’re all in big trouble.

When it comes to hospitals, however, bigger usually is better.

In small towns throughout central Kentucky, hospitals had been struggling until recently, and some communities had no hospital facilities until large health care companies came into play.

In Winchester, the condition of our hospital wasn’t critical, but the facility was outdated. In recent years, trustees knew that if they wanted to continue to provide the best possible services and keep the hospital healthy, they were going to have to partner with other providers.

For awhile, Clark Regional Medical Center’s association with UK HealthCare seemed like the right prescription. But when a faltering economy made it necessary for UK to shift its emphasis, local leaders started looking for other alternatives.

When LifePoint offered to buy the local hospital and build a more modern facility, the board decided it was the best option. LifePoint brings a lot to the table, including ample resources to construct a $60 million, 132,000-square-foot hospital to replace the 40-year-old facility on Lexington Avenue, as well as a local foundation to support other health care and community needs.

A more up-to-date hospital can offer more diagnostic and outpatient services, attract and keep skilled professionals and provide better quality care for the people of Clark County and the region.

We have heard only a few complaints about the proposed location of the new hospital, on U.S. 60 near Interstate 64, but residents will have an opportunity to listen, learn and speak at a public forum at 7 p.m. Thursday at Emmanuel Episcopal Church.

We have some questions about what the costs will be at a hospital run by a large corporation compared to those of a nonprofit, locally owned and managed hospital.

For answers to these questions though, we can look to examples of what LifePoint has done when it has acquired community hospitals in other cities. It currently owns 47 health care facilities throughout the South and Midwest, including nine in Kentucky, and it has a good reputation for managing those facilities and supporting those communities.

We are cautiously optimistic that Winchester’s experience with LifePoint will be just as positive as the experience of Somerset, Georgetown, Versailles and other cities where LifePoint has acquired hospitals.

Copyright: The Winchester Sun

Primarily wrong about Rand Paul's chances

Dr. Rand Paul

Several months ago, an old acquaintance from my 11 years as a weekly newspaper editor in Nicholasville, David Adams, came into my office with a proposal.

He was managing Rand Paul’s campaign for the United States Senate seat being given up by Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., and he wanted to know if I wanted to sit down that weekend for a one-on-one interview with his candidate.

I declined the invitation, telling as politely as I could that I didn’t think Paul would be a serious candidate. If he makes it out of single digits in the polls, I said, I would reconsider.

But I really thought he would be no more a factor in the Republican primary than Gurley Martin, Jon Scribner, John Stephenson and Bill Johnson proved to be; all of them together ended up with less than 6 percent of the total on Tuesday.

Paul was, after all, the son of the flaky libertarian gadfly from Texas, Ron Paul, who had run for president as a Republican two years ago and barely made a dent.

I did think 2010 would be a good year for Republicans, and that the party establishment’s candidate, Trey Grayson, would have the nomination sewn up long before election day and would go on in November to defeat the Democratic candidate, whoever that might be.

How wrong I was.

I’ve been covering elections and studying politics for years, and my instincts are usually good. I’m not often surprised when the results come out on Election Day. But I have to admit, I didn’t see this coming until a few months ago.

On Tuesday, Rand Paul hammered Grayson, winning two-thirds of the voters in the Republican primary. In doing so, he also thumbed is nose at his party’s godfather, Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, who, had taken the unusual step of endorsing a candidate, Grayson, in the primary, and other party stalwarts, like Hal Rogers.

In his acceptance speech, Paul sounded a challenge to Washington and his own party’s establishment: “I have a message, a message from the Tea Party, a message that is loud and clear and does not mince words. We have come to take our government back.”

But take it back to what, exactly? The late 18th century, which the Tea Party enthusiasts harken back to in their symbols? Jack Conway, the Democratic winner, pointed out that Paul wants to do away with scholarships, farm programs and other popular benefits.

I think Paul’s win probably bodes well for the Democrats on Nov. 2. But I could be wrong. I have been before.

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Fiscally conservative (when it's convenient)

U.S. Rep. Geoff Davis, R-Ky.

On the same day U.S. Rep. Geoff Davis, R-Ky., voted against a $154 million extension of the federal stimulus package, citing the need for more fiscal conservatism, he announced to the Carroll County School District that he had gotten $1 million to expand its Head Start program. The money came from the federal stimulus he had just voted against.

Is it any wonder that some conservatives are angry over the hyposcrisy they see within the Republican Party?

While I don’t share the  tea party movement’s vision of smaller government and stingy social spending, I can understand the frustration of some conservatives who rail against government spending in Washington and then come to Winchester and campaign on how many millions they got for their districts or the state.

This story that was the lead in Sunday’s Lexington Herald-Leader is an example of excellent political reporting by John Cheves.

'My Country 'Tis of Me'

There is nothing patriotic about the Tea Party movement in America, says Michael Kinsley in this recent article in The Atlantic Monthly.

Unlike the American Revolution, which was about mutual sacrifice for the common good, the Tea Party movement is, by and large, he argues, a campaign by self-centered older people who want to keep their Social Security and Medicare, which take up the lion’s share of domestic spending in the federal budget, but who don’t want to pay taxes to help pay for programs to help others — programs that account for a relatively small share of federal spending.

Interesting perspective. Please feel free to comment.

Will the real Republicans please stand up

Andy Barr is a conservative Republican who is a realist, not a radical.

There is a battle being waged for the heart and soul of the Republican Party. It is a contest between true conservatives on the one side, and revolutionaries who call themselves conservatives on the other.
It is a battle that has recently seen the fall of a longtime Republican senator, Bob Bennett of Utah; a decision by Florida’s Republican governor, Charlie Crist, to run for the U.S. Senate as an independent; and a tea party protest against Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a Reagan Republican and conservative icon if ever there was one.
In Kentucky, the battle is being played out as a fight between Trey Grayson, the mainstream Republican candidate who has the backing of Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and Congressman Hal Rogers, and Rand Paul, the son of radical libertarian presidential candidate Ron Paul and the choice of dissidents of the hard right.
In Kentucky’s 6th District GOP primary contest for the U.S. House seat currently held by Democrat Ben Chandler, we are seeing a microcosm of that conflict.
There are six Republican candidates for the office — all of whom identify themselves as conservatives. But only one, Lexington lawyer Andy Barr, could be described as a traditional Main Street Republican.
On Saturday morning, I was invited to attend the monthly Clark County Republican Party breakfast, where three of the candidates — Barr, retired coal executive Mike Templeman and medical pilot George Pendergrass answered questions from the audience.
Barr impressed me as someone who is interested in serving for the right reasons and is intelligent and articulate enough to give Chandler a tough fight. And if he were to go to Congress, he would be enough of a pragmatist to be effective.
The other two did not impress.
It was hard to understand what Pendergrass was saying despite the fact that he shouted most of the time. And Templeman kept making cryptic references to not drinking “the Kool-Aid” and seemed to relish the idea of being a party of one.
Their positions on the issues showed a contrast between realism and radicalism.
All of the candidates opposed TARP (the Troubled Asset Relief Program) enacted under former President George W. Bush to purchase assets and equity from big banks in order to strengthen the financial sector after the free fall of 2008.
I asked the candidates what they would have done, or would do, instead to prevent the financial system’s collapse.
Barr gave a reasoned answer. What concerned him most, he said, was language in proposals that he believes would give “TARP-like authority in perpetuity” to the government. “I don’t want permanent taxpayer-funded bailouts,” he said.
He said he would prefer a new chapter in the Bankruptcy Code to “provide for the orderly winding down” of big financial institutions that are in trouble. There should also, he said, be a “basic level of financial regulation” to ensure that there’s no fraud, that investors know what they’re buying, and that there is not the level of “interconnectedness” that existed in 2008, when the failure of a few big banks threatened to bring down “the whole system.” He would also like to see measures to encourage banking competition and strengthen small, community banks.
Templeman said there should be “no role for the federal government in this at all, absolutely none,” although he wouldn’t go as far as to say that we shouldn’t have a Federal Reserve or Securities and Exchange Commission.
Pendergrass made the bizarre statement that federal government “overregulation” caused “95 percent of the problem that we have right now.”
On energy policy, it was clear that each candidate is a “friend of coal.” But Barr, at least, didn’t deny that there are environmental problems associated with coal. He couched his argument in favor of coal production in the context of the need for energy independence.
“Kentucky should be part of the solution to a major American crisis,” he said, noting that the state has “several hundred years” of natural gas, an oil industry and, of course, coal.
Pendergrass, who once worked for KU, made it clear he believes there is such a thing as “clean coal,” and that he resented the government for making electrical companies have to have clean air standards. With the scrubbers on power plants now, he said, “we’re pumping clean air. There’s no doubt about it; they’ve done that to us. The regulations are killing us.”
And Templeman admitted that the coal he sent to East Kentucky Power Cooperative is dirty coal, or “low-quality coal” that comes from surface mining (read: mountaintop removal), and said “this president’s” environmental policies are intended to drive up the cost of coal so that it’s no longer the cheapest energy source.
Earlier at the breakfast, Templeman defended giving campaign contributions to Democrats and Republicans alike by explaining that when a man is in a “highly regulated business, sometimes you’ve got to give money to people.”
“I’m not saying that you buy people off, by no means,” he said, only that the money provides “access.”
Probably the sharpest contrast came at the end of the discussion when Templeman said he was prepared to go to Washington to be an obstructionist.
“If it’s only the 6th District congressman who stands on the floor of the U.S. House and says, ‘No, but hell no!’ we have got to send people up there who are willing to do that,”  he said.
Pendegrass’ response mostly consisted of shouting things like “You’re dang right!” and “like Mike said …” followed by hot rhetoric.
But Barr’s answer was more nuanced. It is important, he said, to stand on principle, “but if you do it in a way that alienates everybody, you’re not going to be effective.”
A representative, he noted, is one of 435 members, and if you want to get things done, you have to get others to see your point of view and come around to it.
“Leadership is not about standing up and beating your chest and saying, ‘This is what I believe in.’ It’s also about having the ability to say ‘This is why it’s important. This is why I want you to join my cause.’”

President Ronald Reagan was a staunch conservative Republican, but he was also a gentleman who could sit down with Democratic leaders in Congress and reach agreements on legislation. We need more Republicans like Reagan and fewer like Sarah Palin and Dick Cheney.

It’s good to know that there are still voices of reason within the Republican Party at a time when most have abandoned the idea of a “loyal opposition.”
The Tea Party protesters, right wing radio show hosts, bloggers and bullies have nearly succeeded in turning the once-grand old Republican Party into a parody of itself — a party that Dwight Eisenhower, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan wouldn’t recognize.
Reagan, after all, was a master of working out compromises with Democrats and moderate Republicans to reshape the public agenda in a more conservative fashion.
If the Republicans want to become a majority party again and be able to govern effectively, they must again move toward the center and not listen only to those strident voices on the fringe.
The Kentucky Republican primary could be a bellwether of a restoration of the real Republicans.

Contact Randy Patrick at rpatrick@winchestersun.com

Thoughts on the National Day of Prayer

We are a nation of many faiths.

If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. — 2nd Chronicles 7:14 (ESV)

If there is anything American Christians could use, it is a little more humility. I’m including myself, of course, when I say that we are, by and large, an arrogant people, and if there is any sin we need to repent of, it is the sin of pride.

Yesterday I attended a National Day of Prayer service at the Clark County Courthouse and was pleasantly surprised that, for  once, I heard no mention of “the homosexual agenda” or abortion or the myth that the United States Supreme Court banned prayer in public schools. It was also encouraging to hear Pastor Brian Walton of Calvary Christian Church speak instead about how we need to be less prideful. Pride is the original sin. It was Lucifer’s sin, which caused his fall, and the sin of Adam and Eve, King David and Judas. It is the root of so much that is wrong with our society today: poverty, environmental degradation, incivility, racial and class prejudice.

I would prefer that the National Day of Prayer be more inclusive. It is essentially a conservative evangelical event (Franklin Graham is this year’s honorary chairman), and in the past it has been too political to suit my taste. If we’re going to have a national event in such a pluralistic country as this, it should, at least be nonsectarian enough to bring together Catholics, mainline Protestants, evangelicals, fundamentalists, Pentecostals and Eastern Orthodox Christians. It would be even better if it included Jews and Muslims — all of the Abrahamic faiths — because we all worship the same God, whether we call him Yahweh, Allah or Father.

As a Christian, I also think we should pray for our leaders, because the Bible says we should, and because they need our prayers and God’s guidance. One thing I like about the Episcopal Church liturgy is that it includes prayers for the president and the mayor, among others, as well as for priests and bishops — regardless of who they are.

Last month, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb declared the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional. This ruling will likely be overturned on appeal. The First Amendment’s establishment clause which separates “church and state” should not separate religion and public life. The courthouse lawn belongs to every citizen, and if Muslims want to spread their prayer rugs on the grass and bow toward Mecca, or if some fundamentalist gospel salesman wants to preach to passersby and thump his Bible, or if a nun wants to pray the Rosary, I have no problem with that. We shouldn’t ban religious expression from public places, but ensure that everyone has a place to stand — or kneel.

Green gospel's roots spreading

Shane Claiborne

Before beginning his sermon April 19 at Berea College’s Union Church, Shane Claiborne said that some friends had offered to offset his carbon impact.

Because he travels so much, they might have to use Amish buggies and horses to get around, he joked.

Claiborne, a leader of the “new monastic” movement, was there not to talk about the environment, but rather to preach about radical discipleship, which he illustrated with stories about the inner city mission work of the intentional community in Philadelphia he’s a part of, the Simple Way.

But you can’t go to a place like Berea during Earth Week and not mention environmental responsibiity, so he touched on green living and lamented “the really terrible theology that undermines our care for creation.”

Some Christians, he said, have the view that the world will soon go up in flames. Their eschatological doctrine could be summed up like this: “It doesn’t matter how we live in the world; we just need to be concerned about saving souls.”

Claiborne said that “in some translations of the Bible,” it says the earth will be destroyed by fire. But in other translations, it describes a “consuming fire.”

“Everywhere else (the Bible) talks about being consumed by fire,” he said, it refers to a “refining fire — a fire that purifies.”

Claiborne prefers a vision of the coming kingdom in which creation will be restored and “all things will be made new.”

“So it makes a difference how we live,” he added.

Andrew Farley is also an evangelical Christian, but unlike Claiborne with his long dreadlocks and communal lifestyle, the clean-cut Farley looks and sounds like a conservative church youth minister.

His beliefs about the End Time also contrast sharply with Claiborne’s. Farley believes the old earth is going away, and God doesn’t need us to help him redeem it.

But for now, he adds, it is all we have, and we had better take care of it. Like Martin Luther, who said that if he knew the world was about to end, he would plant a tree, Farley believes we should be good stewards of our home.

One thing Claiborne and Farley have in common, besides being born-again Christians, is that they’re part of the growing faith-based movement known as “creation care.”

The idea isn’t new. Groups such as Sojourners and Evangelicals for Social Action have been preaching the green gospel for decades, and even Billy Graham and the late Pope John Paul II have warned that we must take better care of our environment. But within the past two or three years, it has spread rapidly. Books and other resources abound on the subject of creation care.

Farley’s latest book, “A Climate for Change,” which he coauthored with his wife, Katharine Hayhoe, a professor of geosciences at Texas Tech University and an authority on global warming, is one of the new genre you’re likely to see at bookstores and on Facebook.

Dr. Matthew Sleeth

Another book that has gotten considerable attention is Dr. Matthew Sleeth’s 2007 “Serve God, Save the Planet: A Christian Call to Action.”

Sleeth, a former chief of medical staff at a New England hospital who gave up his career and affluent lifestyle to move to Wilmore, Ky., with his family and preach, teach and write full-time about the environment, is one of the world’s leading advocates for creation care. But his message isn’t primarily political. It’s about personal accountability. He and his family lead by example by living a simpler lifestyle.

What they have gained, in exchange, he says, “is a life richer in meaning than I could have imagined.”

Sleeth is the chief editor of “The Green Bible,” a New Revised Standard Version translation with verses about nature and stewardship of creation printed in green, and he has published a new book called “The Gospel According to the Earth.”

His wife, Nancy, and daughter, Emma Sleeth, a student at Asbury Theological Seminary, have published their own books on creation care, and last week, Matthew led a national simulcast on the eve of Earth Day.

At the Ichthus Christian youth festival last year in Wilmore, where Sleeth was one of the speakers, environmental care was one of the prevalent themes. His organization, Blessed Earth, was just one of the green groups present. Another I bought a DVD from was Christians for the Mountains, West Virginians who oppose mountaintop removal mining.

These are just a few examples, but there are countless others.

Who would have thought just 10 years ago that churches would play a significant role in the environmental movement? But that appears to be where we are. I believe it makes environmentalism more appealing to young emergent Christians and other postmodern thinkers who aren’t satisfied with science.

In “Serve God, Save the Planet,” Matthew Sleeth wrote that when he began to see the spiritual benefits that resulted from lifestyle changes, he became more optimistic about the future.

“I began to have faith that the church could become a powerful part of the solution to global warming and the degradation of the earth,” he wrote. “The environmental movement needed new leadership, and that leadership had to be motivated by moral conviction. I am convinced that when the church becomes fully involved in the problems of creation care, we will overcome seemingly insurmountable odds. As the 30 million evangelical Christians — and all those who consider themselves people of faith — grow in their understanding that God holds us accountable for care of his creation, we will begin to see positive changes on an unprecedented scale.”

To that I say, “Amen.”

Copyright: The Winchester Sun 2010

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