Way to politicize charity

It happens occasionally, but none more so than by inviting a Presidential contender to speak on your behalf. Teen Challenge USA is bringingSarah Palin to Missoula on September 12. Tickets are $100 per person.

I don’t know much about Teen Challenge, but I don’t see publicizing and endorsing politicians in their mission statement:

To provide youth, adults and families with an effective and comprehensive Christian faith-based solution to life-controlling drug and alcohol problems in order to become productive members of society.

For the Missoula program, it costs $1500 a month per student to provide a residential drug-rehabilitation program for women. I’m not sure if that is the best way to help folks with their addictions, but it seems like an admirable alternative to incarceration.

It is hard to evaluate the effectiveness of any charity, but Charity Navigator gives one of the chapters of Teen Challenge their lowest rating. It seems that the Midlands group spends nearly 30% of their income on administration and a bit less than 20% on fundraising expenses, leaving only 54% for drug rehabilitation programs. Admittedly, other chapters do better but I have to wonder what sort of oversight the national office has on the hundred or more regional centers.

Skylar Browning at the Missoula Independent asks the same question – mulling over whether Teen Challenge PNW Missoula will even make a profit on the Palin talk. If Palin typically charges up to $100,000 per talk and there are other expenses involved like hiring security guards, booking the Hilton, providing food, etc., then you have to wonder how 1,600 tickets at $100 will cover the costs. Maybe other groups are helping, but it isn’t clear.

What is obvious is that this is a very successful marketing ploy by Teen Challenge. They’ve brought attention to themselves, perhaps raising awareness that Missoula is one of the “drug capitals” of the nation(that should be great for attracting economic development to our town).

But, by bringing such a polarizing political figure they are risking the political message dominating the event. For instance, Jan Henderson, director of the treatment center here in Missoula, expressed admiration for Palin’s strength in “standing” up to media scrutiny of her life and politics. A classic Republican line, blaming the ‘liberal’ media for all that is wrong with this country.

It makes you wonder about Faith-based partnerships, doesn’t it? Here is one charity plainly aligning themselves with one side of the political divide and not the other. Perhaps they all do. And, maybe your faith-based charity is better than mine, but if your political benefactor gets elected then I’m sure yours will fare better than mine.

The real losers of this politicization of charity are probably the beneficiaries of those charities. Because I know a number of people who will now question how much of their donation is going to support politicians, as compared to really helping those in need.

Palin – a turning point for the GOP?

It is no secret that we are not fans of Sarah Palin. During the 2008 election, she felt like a distraction from the serious business of selecting a President. But, there were some saying she was the fresh face of the Republican Party – youthful, direct with the people, and popular. This Monday, when Palin is on ‘Oprah‘, I think we’ll find out whether she is, indeed, the new look of the Grand Old Party.

Will Palin be rude, particularly towards Oprah who was, and is, quite vocal in her support of the current President? Or, will we see a more stateswoman-like style? Without the McCain minders watching and controlling her every move, will we see the attack-dog-Palin, or a gracious, charming, diplomatic Palin? Given the recent harshness of the tea-baggers, the shrill criticism of anything the President does by Beck/Hannity/Rush/etc, and the dis-ingeneous lies being bandied about my some GOP Congressmen and women, Palin’s behavior may be a breath of fresh air. I think she needs us to like her!

If Palin is trying sell her book, then I suspect much of the show will be about her. Sarah as a journalism major, Sarah as a small-town mayor, Sarah as a mother-in-law, Sarah as a mis-treated part of the McCain campaign, Sarah as symbol of Alaska and Sarah as the future politician. While all that might be fun for day-time television, I am intrigued to see whether she will talk about the future of the country, about how we should recover the crushing impact of two wars and an economic downturn. Can Palin be an inspirational figure, or will she resort to her aw-shucks routine?

Somehow I doubt we’ll learn much about her decision to resign as Governor of Alaska, much as I doubt whether we’ll hear about why so many corruption charges were leveled against her while Governor. I hope that we don’t hear sugar-coating about the difficulties her family (Levi, Bristol, and Tripp) have faced. It was an embarrassment during the last campaign, and it could well be an embarrassment in any future one. Honesty would be preferable to pretending they are one happy lot. Likewise, I’d really appreciate hearing some straight-shooting about the Republican party.

Hockey Mom shops at Saks Fifth Avenue

Politico is reporting that the RNC took Sarah Palin shopping – including spending $75,062 at Neiman Marcus and $49,425 at Saks Fifth Avenue! Not that it really matters how much politicians spend on clothes, but most Hockey Moms don’t spend much more than a grand or two on clothes in a year. So, all this proves is that Sarah Palin now doesn’t look like who she wants us to think she is. You could say she’s a fraud.

Or, you could just say she’s a smart shopper. Win or lose, she takes home the $2,500 Valentino Garavani shantung silk jacket!

Family First!

Bravo Sarah Palin for taking your family along with you on Alaskan state business. This is a wonderful way of spending time with her large family, as she pursues her political career.

But, charging the commercial flights to the State of Alaska? That’s an interesting judgment call. Are your children a necessary expense for anyone conducting official state business, or is there something special about Sarah’s kids? Because, that’s what the governor’s spokesperson is claiming – that the kids were representing the State of Alaska!

Really? Are they State employees? Aren’t they too young for child slavery employment? Were they hired in the usual manner for State employees, or was theirs a special case? Is their Mom their supervisor? Does she evaluate their performance? Or, is this all just a case of nepotism?

Now, I can understand why both Sarah and her kids want to be together. It must be hard with the Governor working in Juneau and the kids growing up in Anchorage. I’m not sure why Governor Palin didn’t move to Juneau, but it’s probably just Alaska politics. I just don’t think it’s fair for the State to pick up the tab for her choice to live apart from her children.

All in all, though, maybe it is OK to put family first. And, maybe it is OK to bring the kids along whenever Sarah travels to New York or somewhere exciting like that. What gets in my claw, however, is going back and amending those previously filed expense reports once she had been chosen as McCain’s VP pick. Not that – that look as though she is trying to cover her tracks. Whatever else it is, it sure doesn’t look like she is putting Country First!

The Unitary Executive

In tonight’s debate, Palin said that she would like to expand the powers of the VP beyond what Cheney has done. (Lord help us all!) This theory is known as the unitary executive theory. Under this theory, the president’s authority when acting as commander-in-chief or when making foreign policy cannot be reviewed by the judiciary or checked by Congress.

President Bush and Vice President Cheney have drawn heavily on this idea during their time in office to abandon the rule of law. Bush frequently and continually stresses his role as commander-in-chief in the war on terror. When added to the idea that we have entered a perpetual state of war (as a war on terror is so vague that it could, foreseeably, last forever), the implications of this theory stretch as far into the future as we can imagine.

Bush and Cheney have co-opted the judicial branch by appointing judges (Alito and Roberts) who are largely deferential to the executive branch’s exercise of power and by their support of assaults on the independence of the third branch.

Bush has emasculated the legislative branch by issuing over 1000 “signing statements” (signed during the signing of a bill into law) that basically say he will not uphold or abide by certain parts of the law that he finds unacceptable. Signing statements have served primarily a ceremonial function throughout US history. They often extol the virtues of the legislation and thank those figures responsible for the enactment. Sometimes they include passages in which the president raises constitutional concerns with some provisions of the new law. What presidents have always avoided is delineating those provisions that the president simply disagrees with and announcing the president will not comply with them. Obviously, such a device would be unconstitutional on its face.

But this is exactly what Bush has done. He has signed over 1000 signing statements during his time in office – more than any other president combined. Bill Clinton only signed 140 signing statements, and he was working with an adversarial, Republican controlled Congress for the majority of his presidency. Bush worked with a docile and supportive Congress for his first six years in office.

An example of Bush’s disdain for the rule of law: After the atrocities at Abu Ghraib, several Republican senators sponsored a bill that outlawed torture. It passed with an overwhelming bipartisan majority. Bush could’ve vetoed the law, but Congress almost certainly would’ve overridden the veto. Instead, he signed it into law but announced that he did not, and would not, have to abide by it. No wonder he has only vetoed one bill during his time in office. Why bother when you can just pick and choose which parts of the law you’ll abide by and those you won’t?

These disturbing actions by the current administration pose serious threats to our democracy and the rule of law. In the debate tonight, we heard Joe Biden describe Cheney’s expansion of the VP’s powers as exerting the authority of a unitary executive. He described this expansion as extremely dangerous and said that it would stop (and, implicity, that the rule of law would be restored) in an Obama-Biden administration. Palin, on the other hand, said she applauded the way Cheney has expanded the role of the VP and would work to further expand the role of the VP in a McCain-Palin administration. This is completely blasphemous to everything our founders worked for when writing our constitution and forming our government, and it cannot be allowed to continue.

Reactions to the VP Debate

Preface: These are my initial reactions and thus may not be as organized or as cohesive as my other posts.

If all I was looking for was a VP who can put a complete sentence together (with a subject, verb, and object), then Palin would pass…but so would Biden.

Of course, I was looking further. I will admit that Palin exceeded my exceedingly low expectations. But I have higher expectations for a VP than the low expectations I had for Palin tonight. And Palin did not meet those expectations.

Palin continued to show a complete lack of understanding of the complexity of foreign and domestic policy. She came prepared with a hefty stack of notecards, and she never strayed from them…even if she was asked a question that her notecards couldn’t answer. (In those instances, she would give a two-word answer and then launch into something that was on one of her notecards.) She showed herself unable to think critically through the questions she was asked. And in at least one instance, she completely misunderstood the question and tried to answer it anyway. Both she and Biden were asked what they thought their biggest achilles’ heel was. A middle schooler could tell you that Ifill was asking them what their greatest weakness is. Instead of answering that question, Palin launched into a long-winded explanation of how her two years as governor has given her plenty of experience to be VP. (Incidentally, Joe Biden said that his greatest achilles’ heel is his deep passion. Now, you could argue that he was trying to mention a “weakness” that most people would see as a strentgh, but at least he understood the question.)

Biden, on the other hand, answered the questions that were asked of him coherently and showed himself to be capable of thinking critically through the questions he was asked. Ifill asked both candidates whether they or their campaigns would not be able to meet some of the promises they’ve made so far due to the financial crisis. Biden answered thoughtfully and completely that, yes, there were some things that would have to be put on the back burner (foreign assistance, for example). He also listed the so-called “non-negotiables” that would not be cut (education, for example). Palin completely avoided the question by saying that she’s only been on the job for five weeks and thus hasn’t promised anything. She then used that justification to say that she wouldn’t cut anything. But the question was not a personal one. Ifill specifically asked about the candidates’ “campaigns.” The McCain campaign has clearly been around for much longer than the past five weeks and has made promises to the American people that a McCain administration would surely not be able to implement due to the financial crisis. But Palin refused to acknowledge or address this.

In sum, Biden showed himself to be knowledgeable, articulate, and a critical thinker about the issues of the day. Palin showed herself to be someone who has been tutored by Bush administration strategists for the past five weeks on issues she had never previously thought about. Biden is better prepared to be VP.