Thoughts on current events and other topics
|Blaise Pascal (1623-1662),
mathematician, scientist, and philosopher, became more and more interested
in Christianity as he grew older. He planned to write an Apology for
the Christian Religion and began jotting down notes, but he died
before he could begin writing the book itself. His notes were edited
after his death and published as Pensées, or
The thoughts expressed below deal with religion, politics, philosophy, and whatever else I want to write about but don't have the time--or inclination--to develop more fully at the moment.
Warning! Unvarnished opinions on many topics, political and otherwise, appear below. You might be offended. Or you might be challenged. If you are a person of faith, does your faith affect your political views? If it doesn't, it should. Read at your own risk!
5 December 2013
Nelson Mandela. Nelson Mandela, former South African anti-apartheid campaigner and president, died today at age 95. A strong advocate for human rights and nonviolence, Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years for his stance against racial discrimination in his country. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, along with his partner in restructuring the South African government, F.W. de Klerk. Mandela is considered by most South Africans to be the father of his country. RIP Nelson Mandela, and Nkosi sikelel' Iafrika!
12 September 2013
Vladimir Putin. Putin's op-ed in the NY Times urging the US not to bomb Syria is hypocritical and disingenuous--isn't most political speech?--but he makes two valid points. First, bombing Syria won't promote the cause of justice, and second, American exceptionalism is a very dangerous idea, one that makes the world unsafe.
27 February 2013
Van Cliburn. Pianist, supporter of the arts, musical diplomat. One of the greats. He will be missed.
24 October 2012
Earthquakes. An Italian court yesterday returned guilty verdicts against seven geologists/seismologists for failing to predict a magnitude 6.3 earthquake that struck the region around L'Aquila. Really. This is not a story from the Onion. The supposedly developed world's ignorance of how science works is sometimes breathtaking.
23 October 2012
John Kiriakou. Torture whistleblower John Kiriakou pleaded guilty today to a single count of furnishing classified government secrets to a journalist and was sentenced to 30 months in prison. The act for which Kiriakou will be incarcerated was revealing the fact that the U.S. government, under the George W. Bush administration, was torturing captured prisoners, including Al Qaeda leader Abu Zubaydah, by waterboarding and other techniques. Kiriakou did not participate in the torture, nor did he profit from the revelation of the torture. His sentence sends a chilling message to would-be whistleblowers: if you see the government doing something illegal or immoral, keep your mouth shut, or you'll be severely punished. The CIA operatives who did the actual torture have not been charged, nor have the Bush administration officials--including Bush and Cheney--who authorized the torture. The government's prosecution of Kiriakou rather than the criminals who authorized and carried out the torture is a blow to the cause of justice, and it further diminishes the moral authority of the U.S. on the world stage.
21 July 2012
Gun Violence. Regarding the massacre in the Aurora, CO, theater, the US will continue to see this kind of violence until we as a society decide that the lives of our children are more important than our obsession with guns.
30 June 2012
As Much Education as They Can Afford. From a Mitt Romney speech on Wednesday: "I want to make sure that we keep America a place of opportunity where everyone has a fair shot, they get as much education as they can afford and with their time they're able to get and if they have a willingness to work hard and the right values they ought to be able to provide for their family and have a shot at realizing their dreams." As much education as they can afford--what an inspiring vision for the 1%!
Critical Thinking. The Texas Republican Party wants to keep children in public schools from learning to think critically. From their 2012 party platform: "We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student's fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority." So if a child's parents are white supremacists, or conspiracy theorists of various sorts, or climate change deniers, or xenophobes, or homophobes, they shouldn't be given the critical thinking skills to try to free themselves from the oppression of these beliefs? It explains a lot about the views of children who grow up in homes with Republican "family values."
25 June 2012.
Human Rights. Former president Jimmy Carter has penned a must-read editorial in the New York Times on systematic US violations of many of the basic human rights enshrined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, which ironically was adopted by the UN in 1948 largely as a result of US sponsorship. Click here to read it.
15 June 2012.
Immigration. The White House announced today that undocumented people who were brought to the U.S. as children by their parents, and who have graduated from high school and kept out of trouble, will no longer be deported and will be allowed to apply for work permits. This is not the complete immigration reform that's needed, but it's a step in the right direction. Better half a DREAM Act than no DREAM Act!
17 May 2012
Dennis Kucinich. US Representative Dennis Kucinich today announced his retirement from Congress. A stalwart opponent of war and a reliable liberal voice on issues ranging from health care (he supported a single-payer approach) to civil rights (he was one of a handful who voted against the Patriot Act), he was almost without peer in Congress. His honesty, integrity, and vision will be missed. Now to end with an anecdote. When Wolf Blitzer was moderating the 2008 Democratic candidates' debate, he said to Kucinich, "Of all the presidential candidates standing up here, you are the only one that voted against the Patriot Act. Why is that?" Kucinich responded, "Because I read it."
4 April 2012
DREAM Act. 18-year-old Joaquin Luna, a resident of the US since he was brought here by his parents as a young child, killed himself on Nov 25, 2011, because he thought he would be unable to attend college and get a good job (he wanted to be a civil engineer). Congress's failure to pass the DREAM Act yet again is not merely a political failure, it's a moral failure.
13 February 2012
Contraception. I'm a strong supporter of the First Amendment, particularly of the two religion clauses that appear in it. However, I don't believe that President Obama's proposal to require insurers to provide women access to birth control is a violation of religious liberty in either its original (employers pay) or revised (insurance companies pay) form. The rule neither establishes a prescribed religion--insurance mandates are hardly a religion--nor prohibits the free exercise of religion--women can choose to use birth control or not, depending on their own consciences. The controversy that has surrounded the issue, though, does prove one thing: a government-sponsored single-payer system is the only rational way to dispense health care.
25 January 2012
Iraq. The results from the final trial of soldiers accused of killing 24 Iraqi civilians, including women and children, are in: charges dropped against several, one acquittal, and one soldier reduced in rank. Twenty-four dead, and no jail time for anyone. Is it any wonder we've had a hard time "winning hearts and minds" in our recent military adventures?
6 January 2012
U.S. Military. President Obama announced yesterday that the budget of the U.S. military would be reduced by about $500 billion over ten years. That's a good start, but the budget could be reduced much more if we could get away from the idea of being the world's policeman.
17 December 2011
Iraq War. A few hours ago the last U.S. troops in Iraq (not counting those guarding the U.S. Embassy, etc.) crossed the border into Kuwait, ending an unjustified and unjust war based on lies that cost the lives of about 4,500 U.S. troops and somewhere between 100,000 and 1,000,000 Iraqis. It also cost U.S. taxpayers somewhere near $1 trillion. I would like to think the nation has learned its lesson about the foolishness of preemptive war, but I don't believe we have. We continue to have a massive military presence in Afghanistan, and the drums are beating in certain quarters for war with Iran.
15 December 2011
Higgs Boson. Scientists have announced the probable observation for the first time of one of the most elusive subatomic particles, the Higgs Boson, at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland. The particle has long been predicted by the Standard Model of particle physics. If confirmed by further experiments, the discovery marks a major step forward in our understanding of the universe. It's too bad that the discovery wasn't made years earlier at the Superconducting Supercollider, a high-energy physics lab that was to have been built south of Dallas but whose funding was cut by Congress under the "leadership" of former Texas Senator Phil Gramm. We always seem to find money to fight wars, however.
23 November 2011
Police Brutality. The U.S. State Department yesterday condemned the use of excessive force by Egyptian police against peaceful protestors. "We strongly urge the Egyptian government to exercise maximum restraint, to discipline its forces and to protect the universal rights of Egyptians to peacefully express themselves." I wonder if the State Department has sent the same message to the Oakland police department, the UC Davis police department, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and others who have used violence against peaceful protestors associated with the Occupy Wall Street movement?
21 November 2011
Super Congress. The deadline has passed for the so-called Super Congress to produce a plan for deficit reduction, and that's probably the best thing that could have happened. There are many ways the group could have proposed to responsibly reduce the deficit over the long-term, but as long as Republicans refused to even consider meaningful tax reform that included repealing the Bush tax cuts, failure was the best possible outcome.
Congress. Having addressed the Super Congress, now it's time to address the disfunctionality of the regular Congress. The past three years, and especially the past year, has demonstrated conclusively that the legislative system in the U.S. no longer works. The only fair way to fix it is to return to the principle of majority rules. The easiest solution is for the Senate to eliminate the filibuster once and for all so that legislation supported by the majority of senators can pass, without requiring a supermajority of 60. Probably the best solution is the rewrite the Constitution to eliminate the bicameral legislature and replace it with a parliamentary system. That way the legislature would more closely reflect the desires of the population as a whole. Yes, bad legislation would get passed sometimes, but it could be corrected pretty easily when the nation realized it was a bad idea. Then one party, or a coalition of parties, would be responsible for the success or failure of government, and people could hold them responsible as a whole.
7 November 2011
Drone Missiles. According to statistics compiled by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, based in the UK, more than 2,300 people in Pakistan have been killed in drone attacks, including 175 children. One of the most recent was a 16-year-old soccer player named Tariq Aziz, along with his 12-year-old cousion Waheed Khan. These executions from the sky without warning, without a trial, and without a chance for the victims to defend themselves are an affront to that most basic principle of U.S. jurisprudence: innocent until proven guilty. Unless, apparently, you have the misfortune to be born in Pakistan or Afghanistan.
1 November 2011
Alabama. The state of Alabama recently passed a draconian law that punishes both undocumented adults and their children. As a consequence, Latino families, both documented and undocumented, are fleeing the state, and children are staying away from school. Now it turns out that farmers are unable to get their crops picked, and schools are losing state and federal money because their enrollment is down. This law, based as it is in racism and xenophobia, has hurt the Latino population to some extent, but it's also hurt farmers--driving some to the verge of bankruptcy--and educators of all backgrounds. It's a classic example of the fact that hate hurts the one who hates at least as much as the object of the hatred.
31 October 2011
Palestine. UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, has voted to include Palestine as a member state. The vote was 107 for, 14 against, with 52 abstentions. The U.S. immediately threatened to withhold its dues, which make up 22% of the UNESCO budget. Regardless of whether Democrats or Republicans control the reins of government, Washington continues to be on the wrong side of the Israeli-Palestinian issue, claiming to be in favor of a peaceful settlement to the issue but actually supporting a status quo that oppresses the Palestinian people. By withdrawing--again: President Reagan did it in 1984--from UNESCO, the U.S. makes itself look like a bully to the rest of the world and puts itself outside the mainstream of international relations. Combined with the decline in U.S. economic clout, the continued slide in educational standards, and the decision by various U.S. leaders to put politics above science, the U.S. is in danger of becoming largely irrelevant on the world stage, though clearly there is a long way to go, and plenty of opportunity to reverse course.
6 October 2011
Steve Jobs. In 1985, the year Apple fired Steve Jobs, I bought my first Mac. It wasn't the cheapest personal computer around, but it was the only one that allowed me to create my own fonts, and as I was about to start my Ph.D. program, with a focus on a variety of ancient languages, the ability to insert text in Hebrew, Greek, Syriac, and Coptic was essential. I had already been using computers for several years--in fact, my first job out of high school was as a computer programmer--so I wasn't a technophobe, but the ease of using the Macintosh quickly made me an Apple convert for life. That first Mac 512K had no hard drive, only one internal and one external floppy drive, but I used it for four years, even taking it with me to South Africa, where I sold it to an aspiring student, pocketed the money, and bought an SE 30 when I returned to the States. I finished my Ph.D. dissertation and my M.A. thesis on the SE 30, and over time I upgraded from one Mac to another. One of the greatest advances in the Mac, from my perspective, was the introduction of OS X, which made the Unix operating system the basis for all Mac software. Now my Mac was as powerful and versatile as it was reliable and easy to use. As time went by and Steve Jobs returned to Apple, incredible new devices that I found it hard to live without flowed from Cupertino. The iPod changed the way I listened to music and, yes, being at heart a voracious consumer of knowledge, lectures on many different subjects from the Teaching Company. Next came the iPhone, a device I thought I could live without but soon found I couldn't--or at least didn't want to. Then there was the iPad, which I haven't bought yet but which I know is in my future. But through all the technological innovations that Steve Jobs has produced, at Pixar and NeXT as well as Apple, my greatest technology love remains the Mac. From the portable unibody construction of my 512 and SE 30, to the brightly colored iMacs, to the powerful G5, and finally to my dual-boot Intel Macbook Pro, which lets me run Windows and Unix when I need to and MacOS X when I want to, my life has revolved around Macs for more than twenty-five years. On my Macs I've churned out academic papers and articles, designed widely used public domain fonts, launched an e-journal and a blog, written two (plus) books, composed short stories and poems, edited the articles and books of other people, designed several websites, communicated with family and friends all over the world, kept up with the crucial events of the day, and leisurely surfed the Web, all thanks to Steve Jobs. An inventor, a techno-geek with impeccable aesthetic sensibilities, a mystic, and a visionary, his was a truly beautiful mind.
21 September 2011
Troy Davis. Tonight Troy Davis was murdered by the state of Georgia, a modern lynching pure and simple. Was he himself guilty of murder? He denied it to the end, and all but two supposed eyewitnesses against him recanted their testimony. One who didn't recant was accused by another witness of committing the crime himself. With no physical evidence tying him to the case, the bottom line is that Davis could never have been convicted of the crime if he were allowed a retrial. And maybe that was the whole point of this brutal exercise, to let poor, black defendants know that they'd better stay in their place, or the mighty, white (and mighty white) establishment would put them there. This is a tragedy on many levels, but there is some hope. Maybe Troy Davis's lynching will start a movement to end the barbaric practice of capital punishment in the U.S. once and for all, so that we can join the more enlightened countries of the world community.
19 August 2011
Undocumented Immigrants. Antonio Diaz Chacon is an undocumented immigrant living in Albuquerque, NM. On Monday, 15 Aug, he thwarted the kidnapping of a little girls by chasing the would-be abductor for several miles in his truck then rescuing the girl after the kidnapper lost control of his van. Diaz, who is married to an American citizen, is exactly the kind of person we should want to live in the U.S., a person who takes risks to protect the innocent. Who cares if he's undocumented? He's a true American.
2 August 2011
U.S. Economy. "Our nonsystemic ways of thinking are so damaging specifically because they consistently lead us to focus on low-leverage changes: we focus on symptoms where the stress is greatest. We repair or ameliorate the symptoms. But such efforts only make matters better in the short run, at best, and worse in the long run" (Peter M. Senge, The Fifth Discipline, 114). This quote from a book that focuses on systems thinking sounds like it was written for the fiasco surrounding the debt ceiling and budget deficit "crisis." The cuts in spending at a time of economic distress are much more likely to plunge the economy back into recession and higher unemployment than to miraculously cure it.
27 July 2011
Debt Ceiling. A U.S. Army lieutenant in Afghanistan reported the following conversation on his cell phone with a Taliban commander who had called him: "I told him I'd be willing to sit down and talk about our differences and just try to provide for the people, but they didn't want that. They wanted me to convert to Islam and fight for them." That sounds a lot like the Republican bargaining position on the debt ceiling fight: either accept our position 100% or we'll fight you.
7 July 2011
U.S. Budget Crisis. The Republican insistence on attempting to cut the budget deficit by harming the poor--including damaging cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid--is both heartless and cruel. Democratic negotiators in Congress and the White House must hold their ground against this assault on those least able to deal with more economic disasters. If no reasonable deal can be worked out, the president needs to have the courage to order the Treasury to pay its debts, regardless of Congress's failure to extend the debt ceiling, on the grounds that the debt ceiling legislation violates the 14th Amendment to the Constitution: "The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned."
23 June 2011
War in Libya. The Obama administration is claiming that the War Powers Act doesn't apply to U.S. military actions in Libya, apparently because U.S. military forces aren't in any danger. However, since the Libyans on the ground, including civilians, are in danger, and since we're dropping bombs and helping NATO drop bombs with the explicit intent of killing people and destroying infrastructure, what we're doing in Libya is definitely war. There's no legitimate way to deny it. A rose by any other name....
21 June 2011
Supreme Court. By the standard 5-4 vote yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that corporations are free to discriminate in hiring, promotions, and pay against women, or presumably any other group they choose to discriminate against, as long as there is no explicit company policy stating their intent to discriminate. The Court's majority has demonstrated once again that it is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Wall Street. Boycott Walmart (the company in whose favor the Court ruled)!
19 May 2011
Israel and Palestine. Presdient Obama today gave a major speech on the Middle East, in which he said that the borders of Israel and Palestine must be based on the 1967 borders, prior to the Six Day War. That is exactly what the 2003 Geneva Accord calls for, allowing limited land swaps along the border that the two parties agree on. It is the only fair solution to the seemingly intractable Israeli/Palestinian problem, and it is the only way forward.
4 May 2011
Osama bin Laden. Regarding the jubilation over bin Laden's death, and the New York Daily News poll that says a majority of Americans think he is in hell, those who claim the name need to be reminded: hatred is not a Christian value.
22 April 2011
The People's Budget. The Congressional Progressive Caucus has issued its own budget plan to compete with those put forward by Rep. Paul Ryan and President Barack Obama. A prosposal to restore fairness, compassion, and realistic analysis to the budget process, it eliminates budget deficits by 2021, reduces military spending, asks the extremely wealthy and large corporations to pay a larger share, and generates jobs. It is the only sane proposal currently on the table. Read the details here.
21 April 2011
Capital Punishment. Nineteen years after his conviction, and seven years after his execution by the State of Texas, the Texas Forensic Science Commission has issued its final report, stating that Cameron Todd Willingham was convicted of arson and murder on faulty evidence. In fact, the commission report says that the fire that killed Willingham's three children was not caused by arson at all. The report comes too late to spare Willingham, who was innocent of the crime, but despite the efforts of Texas Governor Rick Perry to obstruct and delay the work of the commission, it does offer hope to others who have been convicted of arson based on faulty science. It also stands as a stark reminder that capital punishment is irrevocable and that the execution of innocent people is inevitable when capital punishment is permitted.
5 April 2011
MLK and Unions. 43 years ago this week Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in Memphis. We remember his great mountaintop speech, given the night before his death. What too many forget is why he was in Memphis in the first place: to support sanitation workers who were fighting for their union rights to be recognized. Unionbusters are diametrically opposed to the ethical principles of King.
29 March 2011
Newt Gingrich. Speaking at a church in San Antonio, presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich said, "I am convinced that if we do not decisively win the struggle over the nature of America, by the time they're my age they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American." Apparently Gingrich is ignorant of the meaning of the words atheist and/or Islamist. Plus he's an opportunistic fearmonger.
Higher Education. Arguing for eliminating Texas' program for providing incarcerated inmates access to college degrees, a state rep says, "We don't provide free college tuition for anyone else like this, so with the budget crisis we.re facing, why should we for convicted felons?" This is the wrong question. It's clear why the state should provide education to inmates: increased education means a lower recidivism rate, which ultimately saves the state money. The right question is this: "Since we provide free college tuition for convicted felons, why don't we also provide it for the rest of the population?" The answer, unfortunately, is also clear. Despite our public rhetoric, we don't really value higher education as a society.
14 March 2011
Bradley Manning. State Department spokesman P. J. Crowley resigned yesterday because he had the audacity to tell the truth about the treatment of Private Bradley Manning, who is being exposed to what amounts to psychological torture in a U.S. prison. Crowley said that Manning's treatment is "ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid." I would add it's shocking, abominable, and unworthy of a nation that claims to be a beacon of justice for others to follow.
10 March 2011
Afghanistan. NATO forces in an overnight raid have accidentally killed the first cousin of President Hamid Karzai. This time it's not poor Afghan boys out gathering firewood or some rural family wedding but a close relative of the president. Will THIS death finally be the straw that breaks the camel's back and forces Western troops out of Afghanistan? Probably not. It reminds me of this scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail:
LAUNCELOT: Sorry, sorry. See what I mean, I just get carried away. I really must -- sorry, sorry! Sorry, everyone.
RANDOM: He's killed the best man! [yelling]
FATHER: Hold it, please! Hold it! This is Sir Launcelot from the court of Camelot -- a very brave and influential knight, and my special guest here today.
RANDOM: He killed my auntie! [yelling]
FATHER: Please, please! This is supposed to be a happy occasion! Let's not bicker and argue about who killed who.
Death Penalty. The governor of Illinois signed a bill outlawing the death penalty in the state of Illinois, making a longstanding moratorium on executions in the state permanent. Gov. Quinn acknowledged that it was impossible to ensure that innocent people would not be executed, and he noted the discriminatory nature of the system. One more state joins the modern world.
Unions. The Wisconsin state Senate passed a bill stripping the rights of public sector unions to bargain for better working conditions. Contrary to Gov. Scott Walker's contention, such a move has nothing to do with balancing the state budget and everything to do with punishing a group of people who tend to vote with Democrats more often than with Republicans. However, since many Republicans are also union members, the impact of this move is likely to reverberate for some time, and the backlash may be more than the governor and his allies bargained for. We'll see when the first recall elections for Republican state senators are held later this year.
3 March 2011
Bible Translation. The latest version of the New American Bible will reportedly replace the term "booty" with "spoils of war." Probably a good idea.
21 February 2011
Iraq War. Now that the primary source for intelligence regarding WMDs in Iraq, an Iraqi ex-pat codenamed Curveball, has admitted he made up his information in an effort to get the U.S. and Britain to go to war with Iraq, will he be held at least partly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and the expenditure of hundreds of billions of dollars? And will those government figures who willingly turned a blind eye to his lies in order to pursue their dream of creating a new, "democratic" Middle East be held accountable? I didn't think so.
Guns at School. Texas governor Rick Perry is advocating for concealed handguns to be allowed on the campuses of Texas colleges and universities. As an employee of one of those universities, if the measure becomes law, I'll be glad that my office is actually off-campus. The solution to gun violence is not the presence of more guns. Only an idiot would think it is.
31 January 2011
Fermilab. The U.S. can spend $159 billion per year on its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it can't find the $35 million per year to allow scientists at Fermilab in Illinois search for the Higgs boson, the Holy Grail of subatomic particle physics. Honor for that discovery will now probably go to scientists at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland. Yet another symptom of a nation that has lost its way, just like when it canceled construction of the Superconducting Supercollider several years ago.
26 January 2011
Official State Firearm. On Monday a committee in the Utah House voted to make the semiautomatic Browning M1911 the official handgun of the state. If the bill passes the state Senate and is signed into law, Utah will be the first state to declare an official state firearm. The fact that semiautomatic handguns are the weapons of choice for spree killers like Jared Loughner was apparently lost on the majority of committee members.
20 January 2011
Haiti. The U.S. government doesn't object when former dictator "Baby Doc" Duvalier returns to Haiti, but it doesn't want (twice) democratically elected former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide to return to his homeland from his involuntary (and U.S.-supported) exile in South Africa? There's something wrong with this picture.
11 January 2011
Terror in Arizona. The shooting spree on Saturday that took the lives of six people and critically injured an Arizona member of Congress can be linked directly to two things: the hate speech spewed regularly on certain right-wing radio and TV shows and the availability of weapons of mass destruction, a.k.a. guns, to the general public. Speech, even hate speech, is protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution, with a few exceptions such as incitement to violence, but since the purveyers of hate are usually fairly careful about calling for violent acts outright--they merely suggest that their viewers and listeners engage in violence--and since the U.S. Supreme Court has foolishly ruled that states and cities have few options in limiting the spread of firearms within their jurisdictions, there's only one solution to the growing anarchy: repeal the Second Amendment.
30 December 2010
Tucker Carlson. Right-wing pundit Tucker Carlson says, "I'm a Christian, I've made mistakes myself, I believe fervently in second chances. But Michael Vick killed dogs, and he did in a heartless and cruel way. And I think, personally, he should've been executed for that." Executing a person for killing dogs? I don't like mistreating animals, but where in the Bible, or in what country in all the world's history, is the life of a human being equated with the life of a dog? Carlson may be a Christian, but he's not a very informed one, and apparently not a very good one.
21 December 2010
DREAM Act. Because of its ridiculous filibuster rules, designed to protect the status quo and the privileged, and aided by five Democrats who sided with a majority of Republicans, the Senate on Saturday killed the DREAM Act, which would have allowed undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to become citizens (eventually) if they attend college or join the military. Racism and xenophobia win again.
20 December 2010
Secession. Tonight in South Carolina the Sons of Confederate Veterans will hold a Secession Ball, celebrating "the courage of men to do what they think is right," like enslaving more than half the population of South Carolina, and millions of other Americans of African descent throughout the southern U.S., and starting a war to proclaim their right to continue their slaveholding ways in perpetuity. The only thing arguably worse than the actual secession is those people today who glamorize this horrendous period of U.S. history and use the euphemism of "states rights" to mask the evils of the pernicious institution of slavery, the primary cause of the Civil War. Disgusting.
Don't Ask Don't Tell. The Senate, following the lead of the House, voted to end discrimination against gays and lesbians in the military. It's about time!
16 December 2010
Political Courage. Sen. Bernie Sanders took to the Senate floor last week and spoke for several hours--a good, old-fashioned filibuster--about the evils of giving tax cuts to the super-rich in a time of soaring budget deficits, among other things. Too many Democrats, from President Obama on down, seem to lack the political courage to take a principled stand on issue after issue, apparently fearing that they might lose some votes. So what? Lose already! It's better than not fighting at all, and you might just win a few of the fights! Where are leaders like President Kennedy, who famously said, "We choose to go to the moon, not because it's easy but because it's hard"? How about fighting for things--repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, the DREAM Act, a more progressive tax code, Medicare for all, investments in renewable energy--that really matter?
8 December 2010
Freedom of the Press. The U.S. announced yesterday that it will host UNESCO's World Press Freedom Day in Washington, DC, May 1-3. No word yet on whether Julian Assange will be released from prison in Guantanamo Bay to participate in the event.
6 December 2010
Don Meredith. Don Meredith, the first Cowboys quarterback and member of the original Monday Night Football telecast team, has died at age 72. Some of my favorite "Dandy Don" moments from MNF:
30 November 2010
WikiLeaks. Government spokespersons, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and others, are expressing outrage over the publication of a couple of hundred thousand documents generated primarily in U.S. embassies around the world. "Lives might be endangered" they cry. What they should really be expressing outrage over are acts that really did, and do, endanger lives: the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, drone attacks in Pakistan, missile attacks in Yemen (just revealed by the documents), and various diplomatic and military blunders around the world over the past ten years. Maybe if the government was as concerned about human lives as it is about embarrassing electronic memos, the world would be a safer place.
29 November 2010
Pay Freeze. The White House is proposing a two-year pay freeze for federal employees, a move that would save something like $60 billion over the next ten years in direct costs. There's no word on loss of sales and income tax revenue to the states in which these federal employees--letter carriers, accountants, soldiers, VA doctors and nurses, secretaries, agricultural administrators, park rangers, scientists, physical and occupational therapists, etc.--live, or on how a $60 billion reduction in spending (and almost every cent earned by federal employees is spent) will affect the already anemic economy. At the same time, still no strong commitment to end the tax cuts for those making over $250,000 per year, which would save $700 billion over the same time period, with a much smaller reduction in consumer spending. What idiot thought this was a good idea?
WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks has now released more than 250,000 additional documents detailing, among other things, frank diplomatic criticisms of other diplomats, mandates for diplomats to collect intelligence from friends and enemies alike, concerns about the progress of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, collusion between the U.S. and Gulf states in opposition to Al Qaeda and Iran, and more. Government officials immediately condemned the release of the information, but release of information, even--perhaps especially--when critical of the government, is exactly the role a free press is supposed to play in a free society. Stenographers in the mainstream media, who persistently fail to investigate government coverups and missteps, while accepting the word of government officials as gospel truth, need to learn what journalism is supposed to be about and who their real constituents are. As Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black said in connection with the 1971 Pentagon Papers case, "The press was to serve the governed, not the governors."
24 November 2010
Hate Crimes. A recent report by the Southern Poverty Law Center details the results of a study of violent crime statistics over the past fourteen years. According to the report, gays--and people perceived to be gay--are more than twice as likely to be the victims of criminal violence as blacks or Jews, more than four times as likely as Muslims, and more than sixteen times as likely as Latinos. Maybe this is because very few political leaders advocate discrimination against blacks or Jews, a somewhat larger but still minority of political leaders preach hatred against Muslims and Latinos, but many Republican leaders--and even the federal government!--still think it's OK to discriminate against gays serving their country in the military. Even the Obama adminsitration, which purports to oppose Don't Ask Don't Tell, is fighting its rollback in court. This hateful, discriminatory law must be overturned now, either by legislative action, presidential decree, or judicial decision. Then, and only then, maybe the message will get out to the lowlife thugs who engage in hate crimes that discrimination against the LGBT community, like discrimination against other minority groups, is wrong.
Afghanistan. So it turns out that the U.S., NATO, and Afghan government have been negotiating with, and paying, an imposter who presented himself as a leader of the Taliban. Apparently the U.S. and its allies have learned little about bogus intelligence in the region after dealing with people like "Curveball" and Iyad Allawi. Afghanistan is broken, and we're not helping the situation by being there. When you throw in the tremendous ongoing human and financial costs, the time for withdrawal is now.
18 November 2010
Unemployment Insurance. The vast majority of House Republicans, joined by a handful of "Democrats," voted to block the passage of extended unemployment benefits to jobless Americans who have been out of work between 26 and 99 weeks. Apparently only those making over $250,000 a year deserve consideration from this block of nitwits in Congress. Punishing people who are already suffering during the worst economic downturn since the Depression--pitiful. That's "compassionate conservatism" for you--oh wait, I think they've dropped that ruse.
17 November 2010
Health Care. Incoming presumptive Speaker of the House John Boehner recently said that the health care reform package signed into law by President Obama was in danger of ruining "the best health care system in the world." I'm not sure why Boehner thinks the health care bill will affect Japan, whose health care system produces the highest life expentancy in the world at a fraction of the cost of the U.S. health care system. If Boehner was seriously talking about the U.S. health care system, he was seriously off the mark. The U.S. system is surpassed in quality not only by Japan but also by Australia, France, Spain, South Korea, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, the U.K., and all the Scandinavian countries, among others. There is one area in which the U.S. health care system leads the world, however, and that's cost. People in the U.S. spend an average of $7,290 per year for health care, compared with $5,910 in Norway (the second highest), $3,137 in Australia, and $2,581 in Japan. On just about every other measure--life expectancy, infant mortality rate, number of health care professionals per capita--the U.S. lags behind, often far behind, the rest of the developed world, not to mention Cuba.
12 November 2010
Military Spending. One of the few positive proposals of the Deficit Commission (a.k.a. the catfood commission) is to reduce U.S. military spending by $100 billion per year. That's a good start, but it doesn't go nearly far enough. Since the U.S. currently spends $661 billion per year on defense, and the country with the next largest expenditure, China, spends only about $100 billion, the U.S. could reduce its expenditures by 80%, perhaps over a period of five years, and still spend more on defense than any other country. And who knows, maybe if we cut our spending, other countries will do the same, and we'll have an "arms race to the bottom"!
9 November 2010
Torture. Former President George W. Bush is making the rounds of talk shows promoting his new book, and he has finally admitted what he so long denied, that he personally knew about and authorized the water-boarding of prisoners held in U.S. custody. Will his admission that he ordered prisoners to be tortured lead to an indictment for war crimes? Probably not. In fact, many on the right will praise him for making the decision to do so, thus weakening further the U.S.'s pretense of moral authority in the world community.
8 November 2010
Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is now calling for the Senate to repeal the ban on gays in the military by changing the law authorizing the discriminatory "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. What a bold move! Too bad it's about 22 months and one election too late. But wait! Isn't Gates actually a Republican? Hmm....
U.N. Security Council. During his trip to India this week, President Obama called for India to be made a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. In the past at various times the U.S. has supported making Japan, Germany, and Brazil permanent members of the Security Council as well. I am not opposed to seeing India as a permanent member, but the real solution is a reform of the Security Council that eliminates permanent members with absolute veto power. Seats on the Security Council should be decided every year by vote of the General Assembly, and no single country should have veto power in the Security Council. Instead, resolutions of the Security Council should require a supermajority to pass, perhaps a vote of 3/4 or 4/5 of sitting members. It is both unwise and unjust to perpetuate a structure that favors the victors of World War II at the expense of current political realities, and that favors traditional Western powers over emerging (or already emerged) powers, and that favors countries with large arsenals of weapons over countries with good ideas and moral standing.
27 October 2010
Cuba. The United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday passed a resolution condemning the US economic embargo against Cuba. 187 nations supported the condemnation, and only the US and Israel opposed it (three nations abstained). Although the US under the Obama administration has eased some of the restrictions, including family visitation rights, it is not enough. After 50 years, the fall of the Soviet Union and the Iron Curtain, it is past time to retire this Cold War policy that is a relict of the past.
25 October 2010
Iraq War. The recent release of several hundred thousand documents detailing the U.S. military's own reports on Iraqi civilian deaths and allegations of torture and abuse by both U.S. and allied troops demands a high-level, official investigation of the documents. So far the Pentagon has merely decried the release of the documents to WikiLeaks and has failed to address the substance of the allegations at all. In contrast, British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has called on his government to investigate the incidents relating to British troops. Mistakes and accidents happen in war, but so do abuses and breach of protocol concerning civilians and detainees, and sweeping such details under the table only perpetuates the inevitable cruelties and violence associated with every war.
12 October 2010
Don't Ask, Don't Tell. A U.S. District Court judge today ruled that the U.S. military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was discriminatory and violated the constitutional rights of servicemembers. She ordered that the military halt all enforcement of DADT worldwide, effective immediately. The White House, which supports the repeal of DADT, has had almost two years to end the practice, but it has dragged its feet on reversing the policy which mandates discrimination against LGBT members of the military. It is high time this outdated policy be overturned and the Constitution be enforced.
17 September 2010
DREAM Act. The DREAM Act, which allows children of undocumented immigrants the opportunity to attain citizenship by going to college or joining the U.S. military, will be voted on as an amendment to the Defense Authorization Bill sometime next week, according to news accounts. The DREAM Act is a positive step in the direction of social justice for some of America's most vulnerable and promising young people. Congress should approve the amendment to the bill and send it to the president's desk for his signature.
27 August 2010
Glenn Beck. Some prominent evangelical Christian leaders are saying that Christians shouldn't associate themselves with Glenn Beck's rally this weekend at the Lincoln Memorial, arguing that he is a Mormon rather than a true Christian. That's both wrong and stupid. The reason Christians shouldn't associate themselves with Beck or his rally has nothing to do with his being a Mormon. It has to do with the fact that everything he stands for is opposed to the teachings of Christ. If Martin Luther King were alive today, he would be appalled by Beck's twisted view of U.S. history, his race baiting, and his hatred of both the poor and those who support them. Undoubtedly Beck would return the favor, calling out King as a communist, as many of his opponents did and as Beck regularly does to his own contemporary opponents. Beck's outspoken opposition to the "social gospel" (i.e., Christ-like compassion for the poor and marginalized) and, more generally, social justice, is a forthright rejection of the teachings of people like Walter Rauschenbusch, Jane Addams, Desmond Tutu, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and King himself and is clear evidence is Beck's disdain for King and everything he stood for. That's another good reason for Christians to distance themselves from this huckster.
26 August 2010
Nineteenth Amendment. Ninety years ago today the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution went into effect, given women the right to vote. In one instant, the voting population of the U.S. (more than) doubled. Equality marches on.
19 August 2010
Iraq War. More than seven years after it began, the U.S. war on Iraq is finally officially over, as the last combat brigades rolled out of Iraq into Kuwait overnight. The remaining 50,000 "non-combat" troops that remain in the country guarantee that American casualties will continue to be added to the 4,440+ killed and 32,000+ wounded, though fortunately at a lesser rate, in addition to the hundreds of allied casualties and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths. Now that the dust has settled on this trillion dollar fiasco, it is clear that this unjustified war of choice resulted in the deaths of far more Iraqis that those killed by the Butcher of Baghdad, Saddam Hussein. It will go down in history as one of the most shameful foreign conflicts in which America has been involved, alongside the Mexican-American War, the Spanish-American War (including the suppression of the Philippines), and the Vietnam War.
"Ground Zero" Mosque. Those opposed to the so-called "Ground Zero" Mosque, which is actually proposed to be built two blocks from Ground Zero in New York City, reveal themselves to be Islamophobes and opponents of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution unless they also oppose any church built near the site of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City; any British embassy or consulate in or around Washington, DC; or any Vietnamese restaurant pretty much anywhere in the country, along with all Spanish, Mexican, German, and Italian restaurants. To equate the 9/11 attacks with Islam is as ludicrous as portraying Timothy McVeigh as the poster boy for Christianity. Both McVeigh and the Muslim terrorists betrayed the teachings of their religion's founders and should never be viewed as representative of their purported faiths. Apparently the people who run the Pentagon understand the distinction, which escapes so many uninformed or willfully ignorant Americans, because they allow Muslims to worship freely in the other building that was attacked on 9/11. When bigoted Americans turn en masse against Islam, as they seem to be doing, they are handing the 9/11 terrorists a victory that they don't deserve.
5 August 2010
Fourteenth Amendment. Xenophobes and other immigrant opponents are calling for all or parts of the Fourteenth Amendment to be overturned by law or constitutional amendment. At issue is whether all people born in the US are automatically US citizens. Here's the relevant text of the amendment: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside." It seems pretty clear-cut to me. It is especially ironic that most people calling for the repeal/modification of the 14th Amendment are self-identified Republicans, and it was the Republican party that gave us the three post-Civil War amendments: the 13th, abolishing slavery; the 14th, establishing equal rights for all citizens; and the 15th, allowing black people to vote. Today's Republican party is a different group.
Proposition 8. California's Proposition 8, which stripped gay and lesbian citizens of their right to marry, has been struck down by a (Bush I-appointed [!]) federal judge. After considering the evidence presented at a lengthy trial earlier this year, Judge Vaughn R. Walker issued his conclusion that the state had no compelling interest in discriminating against same-sex couples and that Prop 8 was based on the belief that opposite-sex couples are morally superior to same-sex couples, among other things, and thus violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. This ruling doesn't bring full civil rights protection to the LGBT community throughout the US, but it's a step in the right direction. From a religious liberty perspective, it's important to note that the ruling in no way forces religious groups to recognize the validity of such marriages. The Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment allows religious groups to discriminate, within certain limits, if they want to.
3 August 2010
FBI. The FBI is threatening to sue Wikipedia because the Wikipedia article on the FBI includes an image of the FBI seal. Aside from the fact that it is highly unlikely that it is illegal to display the FBI seal, is this really the best use of the FBI's resources, to persecute open source websites? A quick search of Google reveals hundreds, maybe thousands, of other sites that display the FBI seal. Will the FBI go after them, too? Instead, how about an admission from an FBI spokesperson that going after Wikipedia was a mistake and they'll never do anything so silly again?
1 August 2010
Anti-Islamism. The more common term is Islamophobia, but what a Florida church is proposing to do moves beyond the irrational fear of Islam to outright opposition, disrespect, and hatred. Terry Jones, pastor of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, FL, is promoting "International Burn a Quran Day" on September 11. That this despicable event is about as non-Christian an event as a church could sponsor goes without saying, or at least it should. Jones has rightly been criticized by a wide spectrum of people, including theological conservatives like the National Association of Evangelicals. Keeping alive the spirit and attitude of the Crusades is hardly helpful in today's world.
15 July 2010
Immigration. In a hearing of a House Judiciary subcommittee that was addressing immigration, Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas drew on the Bible for support of his anti-immigrant position. Prominent among the passages he cited was Romans 13, the passage to which authoritarians of all stripes, from slave holders in the American South to advocates of apartheid in South Africa, seek refuge in their attempts to continue to oppress those to whom they feel themselves superior. In quoting this passage, Smith and his fellow travelers in oppression and injustice align themselves with some of the most shameful ideologues of the past two centuries.
13 July 2010
DREAM Act. "It is not fiscally prudent to walk away from a 12-year investment just as it is about to pay off. But, in stark economic terms, that's what happens tens of thousands of times a year all across the country. Taxpayers are denied their money's worth" (The Arizona Republic). Yet another reason for Congress to pass the DREAM Act, H.R. 1751 and S. 729, as soon as possible.
12 July 2010
Gun Control. CNN headline: "Man kills 5 co-workers, self in New Mexico." But there's no need for gun control in the U.S., right? Apparently a majority on the Supreme Court think this is what the founding fathers intended when they wrote the Second Amendment.
9 June 2010
Border Patrol. On Monday A U.S. Border Patrol agent shot and killed a Mexican teenager, who was apparently on the Mexican side of the border at the time. Federal agents say that several people were throwing rocks at Border Patrol agents at the time, and the 15-year-old, who had just completed junior high school, may have been involved in the incident. T. J. Bonner, president of the Border Patrol union, commented that rock throwing "is a deadly force encounter, one that justifies the use of deadly force." NO IT DOES NOT! It is excessive use of force, it is criminal, and the perpetrator should be deported to Mexico to stand trial. We would demand the same if a Mexican Border Patrol agent shot a U.S. citizen across the border.
4 June 2010
Gaza Flotilla. I've purposely waited a few days before commenting, hoping that my initial outrage at reading about the Israeli military's murder of nine civilians would be mitigated at least a little by an explanation that made sense. Maybe the civilians had guns and the Israeli soldiers were just defending themselves. Maybe they had bomb components. But no, the most that can be said is that the civilians on one of the boats in the flotilla resisted the Israeli commandos who illegally boarded their boat in international waters with assault rifles and body armor with all they had on hand, boards and pipes, and nine were gunned down trying to protect their boat. I've heard the incident described as a tragedy. It's not. It's an outrage, and the international community is justified in condemning both the militants who perpetrated this massacre and the Israeli government that ordered it. Israel has put itself in a league shared currently only by North Korea, which fired on and sank a South Korean ship, killing the crew. But Israel surpassed North Korea in this: North and South Korea are still technically at war, and the North Koreans fired on an armed military ship. The Israeli military, in contrast, rappelled down ropes onto a civilian ship filled with food and other aid for the starving people of Gaza, murdering nine on board. As Franklin Roosevelt once said of another incident, it is a day that will live in infamy.
Court Watch. In a 5 to 4 ruling (is there any other kind on this court?) the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this week that suspects who are warned of their Miranda rights must explicitly claim them, or else they will not be protected. In the case before the court, a suspect was given his Miranda warning, but he never acknowledged either understanding his rights or waiving them. Nevertheless, interrogation continued for several hours, at which point a police officer asked him if he prayed for forgiveness for his alleged crime, and the suspect said yes. As Justice Sonya Sotomayor said in her dissent, this ruling "counterintuitively requires them to speak" in order to retain their right to remain silent. What is most troubling to me about this ruling is that it is far from clear that the suspect understood his rights, and he certainly never waived them. The ruling opens the door for all sorts of police and prosecutor misconduct, including claiming that a defendant waived his right to remain silent and to counsel when he did no such thing. It is bad for the guilty to go free, but it is worse for the innocent to be condemned, and this ruling moves the justice system in that direction.
28 May 2010
Fundamentalism. The great danger of fundamentalism is not its particular set of doctrines but its claim to possess the truth.
Don't Ask, Don't Tell. The U.S. House of Representatives today passed a repeal of the discriminatory Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy and sent it to the Senate as part of a defense authorization bill. The Senate, which has already reported a similar measure out of committee, will take up the House bill and pass its own version, and the two bills will be reconciled in a conference committee, hopefully in the very near future. The House proposal doesn't immediately end DADT, but its repeal will be triggered by the release of a Defense Department study later this year. The policy, passed in the early days of Bill Clinton's presidency, was seen as a step toward the full inclusion of gays and lesbians in the military, but in practice it did little to improve the plight of gay service members, and thousands of trained and highly qualified individuals were expelled from the military over the past almost two decades. The demise of DADT is long overdue.
2 May 2010
Giovanni Villani. Today's featured article in Wikipedia is on Giovanni Villani, a merchant and historian of Renaissance Florence. What jumped out at me from the article was this note: "He was a leading statesman of Florence but later gained an unsavory reputation and served time in prison due to the bankruptcy of a trading and banking company he worked for." To quote George Santayana, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Maybe if some of the banksters on Wall Street spent some time in jail instead of getting multi-million dollar bonuses, they'd be less likely to financially mismanage their companies and drive the world economy into the ground.
30 April 2010
Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on changing the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy: "Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Friday warned Congress not to tamper with the ban on gays serving openly in the military until he can come up with a plan for dealing with potential opposition in the ranks." How about this plan: "You are ordered to stop discriminating against fellow members of the military on the basis of sexual orientation, effective immediately, signed Barack Obama, Commander-in-Chief."
29 April 2010
Drill, Baby, Drill! What's wrong with expanding oil exploration in the Gulf of Mexico and other locations?
Oh. Never mind.
28 April 2010
Arizona. I happened to be in Phoenix the day the state legislature passed the law allowing--no mandating--the racial profiling of its citizens. Arizona, the last state to recognize Martin Luther King Day as a state holiday, and did so only after a nationwide boycott of the state, has turned from hating African Americans to hating Hispanics. Maybe another boycott, this time international, since it includes Mexico as well, will get the attention of this backwards state government. Fortunately for all Arizona inhabitants, demographic changes will preclude such idiocy within the next decade or so. In the meantime, people of goodwill both in and out of the state can take action to oppose the institutionalized racism that this law attempts to establish.
14 April 2010
Tea Party. The press is covering a gathering in Boston today that purports to be inspired by the original Boston Tea Party in 1773. The difference is that the original participants were protesting taxation without representation, while their contemporary counterparts are protesting ... what? Taxation of any sort? This is only legitimate if you strip the crowd of all who are currently receiving any government payments, including Social Security and Medicare, or who hope to receive such payments in the future. In other words, pretty much everyone there. The featured speaker is former half-term Alaska governor Sarah Palin, who abandoned her post because she could make more money traveling around the country stirring up the masses. It's a perfectly legitimate occupation, but hardly worthy of anyone with ambitions of being a political leader at some point in the future. It's too bad the press doesn't spend more time covering rallies whose participants are addressing legitimate concerns, such as the two wars we're still fighting.
21 March 2010
Health Care Reform. After a year of working on it, the House of Representatives has finally passed comprehensive health care reform. Their fixes to the Senate packages still have to go back to the Senate, but hopefully they will pass there quickly. This version of reform does not go far enough--there will still be uninsured Americans, health costs will still be too high for many people to afford effective treatment, and insurance companies will still be involved in making profits off of the misery of others--but it's a big step in the right direction. Only when the U.S. recognizes that health care is a right, not a privilege, and adopts a single payer system like every other industrialized country in the world will we be where we need to be, but after the failure of every president since FDR to reform our health care system (some, of course, didn't even try), under President Obama's leadership, we're now on the way. Next stop, immigration reform and the DREAM Act!
Social Justice. Since Glenn Beck is still fighting against social justice and is even attempting to villify Jim Wallis, I thought it might be useful to look at some prominent proponents and opponents of social justice.
I'll leave out the gratuitous reference to Adolf Hitler in the second list. The fact of the matter is that it's easier to recall people who have stood up for social justice, because they're the ones that history remembers. There are plenty of bigots, racists, homophobes, and misogynists as well, but most of their names are deservedly forgotten. Just like Glenn Beck's name will be.
16 March 2010
Joe Lieberman. Joe's comment on using reconciliation to pass health care in the Senate: "It will make it a partisan and less productive place than it's been, I'm afraid." The Senate less productive than it's been over the past year? Impossible! At least something is finally getting done.
9 March 2010
Social Justice. Ultra-rightist Glenn Beck is urging people who belong to churches that take a stance for either "social justice" or "economic justice" to flee those churches forthwith. Considering the fact that most Christian denominations (Beck also opposes all non-Christians, of course) have taken an official stand at one time or another in favor of social and economic justice, and many of them proudly proclaim their commitment to social justice, I guess Beck is urging the U.S. to become a nation of atheists. Either that, or we can all join Glenn at Fred Phelps's church and scream hate-laden epithets at gays and at the relatives of soldiers killed in the line of duty.
1 February 2010
Military Spending. President Obama has released his 2011 budget, and it includes $708 billion in military spending, the highest in history. This figure is about three times the amount of the next highest spending country, China, and it is roughly equal to the total military budgets of all the other countries in the world. This figure could be cut in half, and the U.S. would still spend more than any other country, by a great deal. A budget this size is fiscally irresponsible, and more importantly, it makes the world a more dangerous place. Rather than continue to raise military spending, it is time for the U.S. to sit down with other nations that spend large amounts on their military and negotiate lower spending for all. The arms race is a race that no one can win, and a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize should realize that.
28 January 2010
Howard Zinn. Only once in a great while does someone come along who completely changes the way people look at life. Howard Zinn was one of those people. As a professor at Spelman College and at Boston University, Zinn taught his students U.S. history from the underside, from the perspective not of presidents and generals but of former slaves, labor leaders, and disaffected Americans. He not only taught his students, he also led them to protest racial discrimination, war, and poverty. His message reached a much wider audience with the publication of his book A People's History of the United State, a book that transformed the way innumerable Americans looked at their country's history. Just last month the History Channel presented Zinn's production of Voices of A People's History. Whether he was helping Daniel Ellsberg hide the Pentagon Papers before their publication, marching for civil rights, or lecturing to students or the general public, Zinn advocated for the poor, the powerless, and the oppressed in society, and he always stood for social justice. Zinn died yesterday at the age of 87.
22 January 2010
Supreme Court. In its most recent ruling, not only does the majority of the Supreme Court fail to understand that money is not speech, it also continues to operate under the mistaken assumption that a corporation is a person. Apparently what's needed is a constitutional amendment that makes it clear to the new robber barrons and their enablers that the constitution was designed to protect individuals and speech, not corporations and money.
21 January 2010
Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling yesterday that overturns a law limiting corporate spending on elections. Now corporations will be allowed to spend unlimited amounts in support or opposition to political candidates. Presumably labor unions will have the same rights. This ruling makes sense under the "free speech" clause of the First Amendment, but only if money is equated with speech. Five members of the Court obviously aren't able to make that distinction, so now elections will be determined even more by the flow of money, and politicians will be even more beholden to their donors, which will now include large corporations. Just when you thought government couldn't get any more corrupt....
20 January 2010
Senate. When I wrote "Sixty in the Senate" last April, I didn't really expect Congress to do all the things I advocated within the next few months. I did expect them to do something. But no, they passed nothing major, except an anemic healthcare bill that is now in danger. The problem, of course, is that the Democrats never really had 60 votes. Joe Liebermann and his conservative Democratic colleagues held the majority hostage and blocked meaningful reform. Now that the Democratic count in the Senate is back down to 59, where they were a year ago, maybe they can get away from the illusion that they need 60 votes to accomplish something. They won't get 60 votes, so it's time to find another way. For the health care bill, reconciliation is the way to go, with some of the good ideas that were stripped from the House bill, like a public option, added back in.
14 January 2010
Pat Robertson. A few years ago Charles Kimball wrote an interesting book called When Religion Becomes Evil. One item he didn't include was this: Religion becomes evil when religious leaders blame natural disasters on the suffering masses, especially when the blame is predicated upon racism, classism, or xenophobia. Pat Robertson is the poster child for this type of evil religion. Poor black people are killed by Hurricane Katrina? It's their fault. Poor black people are killed by an earthquake in Haiti? It's their fault as well. Throw credulous superstition on top of it (Robertson's, not the Haitians'), like believing that the Haitians made a pact with the devil in order to secure their freedom from slavery in 1804, and Robertson's religion, which masquerades as Christianity, appears especially evil.
8 January 2010
Terrorism. Rudy Giuliani is the latest nut to claim that the U.S. experienced no terror attacks during Bush's term, while there's already been one under Obama. I guess that's true, if you ignore the attack on September 11, 2001, when Bush was president. And if you count the thwarted Christmas Day bombing attempt by the underwear bomber under Obama as an actual rather than attempted attack but ignore the thwarted bombing attempt by the shoe bomber under Bush and all the other aborted attempts stopped by law enforcement officials (not the military!) over the past several years . In other words, if you ignore the facts, Rudy and the other wingnuts are right on the money.
5 January 2010
Health Care. For all those who think the U.S. has the best health care system in the world, check out this chart comparing the amount spent per capita on health care in various countries with life expectancy.
As this chart illustrates, the U.S. spends more than 50% more per person than any other country, but without a corresponding increase in life expectancy. In fact, the life expectancy in many countries that spend less than half what the U.S. spends per capita is actually higher. The lack of true universal health care, coupled with government handouts to private insurance companies, account for this discrepancy. The new health care bill might make things a little better, but probably not much. More people will be covered, but not all, and without a public option, costs will continue to soar.
21 December 2009
Endangered Species. The Obama administration agreed Friday to revisit Bush-era decisions that threatened the destruction of twelve species of invertebrates in the Texas Hill Country. It's nice to know that the EPA is once again being run by scientists, not people in the pocket of big business.
15 December 2009
Afghanistan. Rep. Dennis Kucinich today announced his intention to introduce a "privileged resolution" in Congress calling for a debate in the House on ending the war in Afghanistan. He said, in part, "At a time when 15 million people are unemployed we cannot continue spending hundreds of billions of dollars on disastrous wars. My resolution will force a debate and vote on the war in Afghanistan. Congress must reassert its constitutional authority to start and end wars." I agree. It's time to end the war, stop spending money and lives, and work on more constructive matters as a country.
Health Care. The Senate version of the health care "reform" bill now no longer has either a public option or an option for people younger than 55 to buy into Medicare. Without either, it is not worth passing in its current form. It's time for the bill as it exists to be killed and individual portions of the bill to be passed into law, by the process of reconciliation in the Senate if necessary. As in 1994, Democrats are making a poor showing of their opportunity to lead on health care reform. When health care fails, the Democrats in the Senate also need to remove Joe Lieberman from his position as committee chair, in response to his prominent opposition to both health care reform and to President Obama personally.
8 December 2009
Climate Change. The Environmental Protection Agency yesterday proclaimed carbon dioxide a dangerous pollutant, acknowledging its effect on the environment as a greenhouse gas. It's nice to see the EPA is once again making decisions based on science rather than political ideology (or idiocy).
Uganda. According to reports, the Ugandan parliament is poised to pass a draconian law that will declare open season on homosexuals in the country, and it will even affect Ugandan nationals staying in other countries. The law as drafted will impose a minimum penalty of life in prison for homosexual acts, and the death penalty is a possible punishment as well. If the bill becomes law, all civilized countries should immediately suspend all foreign aid (which makes up 40% of the country's budget) until the law is repealed. This gross violation of basic human rights cannot be allowed to stand in the modern world. It is an indictment of the poverty of both Christianity and Islam as practiced in Uganda that a majority of religious leaders from both religious traditions have lined up in support of this horrendous law.
12 September 2009
Court Watch. Litigants representing a company that produced a movie critical of Hillary Clinton during the 2008 campaign season argued before the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this week that their First Amendment rights were violated when the Federal Election Commission denied them the opportunity to show the movie on broadcast television. At stake is the continued existence of various campaign reform bills that have been passed in the past thirty years, because the company's representatives are arguing that free speech, as a constitutionally protected provision, ought to trump congressional mandates. Ordinarily I would agree with such an argument, and in fact the ACLU, whose position on First Amendment matters I usually agree with, is siding with the plaintiffs in this case. However, although I'm a big believer in free speech, I don't believe that the complainants in this case should be granted judicial relief, for two simple reasons. First, regardless of prior Supreme Court rulings, money is not speech, and it's stupid to argue that it is. Any two individuals have the same potential to speak, but two individuals with different amounts of personal wealth do not have the same opportunity to spend money. Second, again regardless of prior Supreme Court rulings, corporations are not persons and therefore may not be accorded the same rights as individuals have. Just because corporations may be accorded certain rights given to individuals does not mean that they should automatically be accorded all such rights. In my opinion, the company in question has every right to make a movie critical of Hillary Clinton, or anyone else, and show it to people. However, the company must abide by federal law restricting corporate campaigning, which the movie clearly is.
Tea Parties. A large gathering of so-called "Tea Party" activists gathered in Washington, DC, today to protest health care reform and other forms of what they call "big government." I have two observations. First, from the photos I've seen of this and other tea party events around the country, the vast majority of the people involved in these protests appear to be white, and I wonder why that is. As a white person myself, I don't think that I'm overly burdened by the government or a member of a downtrodden ... majority. Second, I'll pay more attention to these people who don't like "big government" when they voluntarily give up Medicare, Social Security, military retirement, vet benefits, the GI Bill, free public schools, public police and fire departments, and public highways. I assume they've already given up on public libraries, museums, and symphonies.
18 July 2009
Walter Cronkite. Walter Cronkite, "the most trusted man in America," died yesterday at the age of 92. Sitting at his anchor desk at CBS for two decades, he covered the Kennedy assassination, the Vietnam War, the Apollo 11 moon landing, and the Watergate scandal. He provided stability and a rational voice in turbulent, often violent times. After retirement, he continued to provide valuable commentary on world events. He was credited by many as the single most influential figure in ending the Vietnam War, when began reporting the actual news, not government propaganda about the war. His life spanned the most important events of the twentieth and early twentieth-first century: two world wars, the Depression, the Space Age, the Internet Age, and the rise of women and minorities to places of authority within American society. Never a newsmaker, he was perhaps the last great universally acknowledged newsperson in America.
1 June 2009
Dr. George Tiller. Dr. George Tiller, a Kansas OB/GYN doctor who, as part of his practice, provided abortion services, was gunned down while serving as an usher in his church on Sunday. The alleged murderer was arrested shortly thereafter. A surge in right-wing terrorism occurred under Bill Clinton, our last Democratic president, and it is probably no coincidence that it is happening again now under President Obama. While the risk of foreign terrorist attacks is real and on the minds of many people, domestic terrorists of all stripes probably pose a greater risk, given the easy availability of firearms in the U.S.
14 May 2009
Habeas Corpus. Senator Lindsey Graham, R-SC, asks the following question: "This is a difficult question. How do you hold someone in prison without a trial indefinitely?" This is not a difficult question, it's an easy one. The answer is: Do it in a totalitarian state. The Castro brothers do it in Cuba, Burma does it, China does it, North Korea probably does it. Maybe the question Graham should be asking is, "Is it lawful in the U.S. to hold someone in prison without a trial indefinitely?" That's also an easy question. The answer is No. If Obama doesn't want to be vilified as a serial human rights abuser like his predecessor, he needs to stop listening to the torture enablers in his own administration and state clearly and unequivocally that under his administration, both the rule of law and the Constitution of the U.S. will be followed. Period.
13 May 2009
Photos. After initially signaling that the government would release additional photos that show detainees being abused while in U.S. custody during the Bush era, President Obama today reversed himself and argued that releasing the new photos might endanger U.S. troops abroad. While the concern is reasonable, I believe the reasoning is wrong. The best thing Obama can do to diminish Al Qaeda recruiting and reprisals on U.S. forces is to release all the photos and any other relevant information to the public, apologize publicly for U.S. violation of detainee rights and international law, and draw a sharp distinction between the way his administration will treat prisoners and the way the Bush administration treated prisoners.
24 April 2009
Texas Secession. First Governor Rick "Good Hair" Perry said that Texas ought to think about seceding from the union. Now a poll says that 37% of all Texans, and 51% of Texas Republicans, think it's a good idea to secede. Speaking on behalf of the 63% of Texans who don't advocate secession, and who didn't consider it an option when Bush was president, either, I call on all those unpatriotic Texans to surrender their voter registration cards and move to a country more to their liking, if they can find one that will take them.
21 April 2009
Dick Cheney. The CNN headline says "Cheney calls Obama move 'disturbing,'" a reference to President Obama's attempts to repair U.S. relations with friend and foe abroad. Cheney also said, "I don't think we [the Bush administration] have much to apologize for." That, in a (wing-)nutshell, is the whole problem. Cheney and company started an unnecessary war, tortured prisoners, illegally spied on Americans, and presided over the makings of the biggest economic disaster since the Great Depression, and he thinks they don't need to apologize. It's time for CNN, and other news organizations that make any pretense of nonpartisan news coverage, to stop reporting on the rantings of Dick Cheney and his cohorts--at least until they're prosecuted for their crimes (see below).
Torture. President Obama has said that he wants to look forward, not backward, so he has no interest in launching investigations into the alleged misdeeds of members of the Bush administration who designed and implemented the torture regime at Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, and elsewhere. That sentiment may be good politics, but it's bad public policy, for it lets criminals get away with serious violations of the law and human rights. The Justice Department--see the name?--must investigate all allegations of serious wrongdoing related to the torture of prisoners held by or at the behest of the U.S. government. The argument "I was just following orders" didn't work for the Nazis, and it shouldn't work for those who tortured other human beings on orders from Bush administration officials. And this time, the prosecutions shouldn't be limited to the lowest ranking perpetrators. Rather, those who implemented the torture policies should be given lighter sentences in return for their testimony against those who designed the policies.
16 April 2009
Torture. The Obama administration today released the four Bush-era memos explaining the legal rationale behind the use of torture on captured prisoners. From the first day of his administration, Obama has rejected the use of torture as an interrogation technique, and today's release is a further signal that the U.S. is moving back in sync with the ethical values of most of the rest of the world. It's sad that instead of upholding the highest ethical ideals the U.S. had slid so far as to condone torture (despite false statements to the contrary by the previous administration), but at least we're on the right track now. The plain and simple truth, though, is that the U.S. is no longer a leader in the promotion of human rights around the world, and that should be an embarrassment to all supporters of the previous regime, indeed to all Americans.
15 April 2009
Rick Perry. In a recent news conference, Rick Perry, governor of Texas, says the federal government has become oppressive. Texans need to stand up, he says, for states' rights. He also accuses the federal government of pursuing an "unprecedented expansion of power." Apart from the fact that Perry didn't seem to mind when George W. Bush was ignoring the constitution and asserting ever-increasing authority over every aspect of life in the U.S., it's interesting to note that he is echoing the same basic arguments that southern states used before seceding from the Union prior to the Civil War. Perry doesn't understand one of the main lessons of the Civil War, which states' righters lost: we are all Americans first, Texans (or citizens of another state) second. And remember, "state's rights" is code for racism, xenophobia, and homophobia.
8 April 2009
Scary Opponents of Liberalism. Be afeered, be very afeered....
31 March 2009
Cuba. Senators from both parties held a news conference today to announce the introduction of a bill that would end the travel embargo on Cuba that goes back to 1961. Neither the trade nor the travel embargoes have done anything to bring down the Castro regime in Cuba, and the only people that have been hurt are the Cuban people. If U.S. citizens can travel to China, Russia, Iraq, and Iran, there is no reason whatsoever for continuing to limit travel to Cuba. There are other, better ways to seek democratic change in Cuba, such as engagement with the country and exposure of its citizens to American ideas. Who knows, maybe we can learn something from the Cubans as well!
23 March 2009
South African Peace Conference. The government of South Africa has reportedly refused to issue a visa to the Dalai Lama, who had planned to attend an international peace conference in Johannesburg later this week. South Africa was apparently bowing to pressure from China in denying the visa. In response, Nobel peace laureates Desmond Tutu and F. W. De Klerk, both natives of South Africa, have indicated that they will not attend, unless the visa is granted. The government of South Africa has made a mockery of the peace conference by its actions, and it has betrayed a staunch advocate for peace and justice in the process. If the visa is not granted, the peace conference itself should be canceled or moved outside the country.
17 March 2009
AIG. Almost all Americans are outraged that AIG, a company that has received well over $100 billion of U.S. taxpayer money, is paying its executives exorbitant "retention bonuses," but no one seems to know what to do about it. Until now. Congressman Gary Peters of Michigan has proposed legislation to deal with the issue. Under the rumored legislation, anyone working for a company in which the U.S. government owns more than a 79% stake (i.e., only AIG at present) and who receives a bonus is excess of $10,000 will have that bonus taxed at a marginal rate of 60%. On top of the 35% marginal rate that top executives already pay because of their huge salaries, that means that AIG bigwigs receiving retention bonuses will have to pay 95% of those bonuses back to the federal government in the form of federal income tax. The remaining 5% will probably be eaten up by state and local taxes. Finally, an idea whose time has come!
13 March 2009
Enemy Combatants. The Obama administration has announced that it is doing away with the designation "enemy combatants." It is also basing the president's authority to detain prisoners on authorization by Congress rather than on the president's authority as command-in-chief of the armed forces. This is a positive development, since the "enemy combatant" designation was essentially a license for the president to detain whoever he wanted, whenever he wanted, for as long as he wanted, in violation of both the U.S. Constitution and international law. The current administration is still working on new regulations concerning detainees, but at a minimum such detentions must follow existing U.S. law and international law, including the Geneva Conventions.
9 March 2009
Science. President Obama today reversed the ban on embryonic stem-cell research. At the same time he spoke of the importance of the government's support of science, saying that scientific decisions should be "based on facts, not ideology." This is a welcome reversal of the previous administration's approach to science, which resulted not only in limiting important stem-cell research, but also ignored the dangers of global warming, opposed the teaching of evolution in public schools, supported a fantasy-based interpretation of geological history at Grand Canyon National Park, and sacrificed endangered species on the altar of greed.
3 March 2009
Endangered Species Act. Today the Obama administration suspended the implementation of a Bush rule that had effectively gutted the Endangered Species Act. Now all federal agencies must once again consult with independent wildlife biologists, such as those at the Fish and Wildlife Service, concerning the environmental impact of proposed new construction projects. Polar bears for Obama!
2 March 2009
Death Penalty. The state of Kansas is considering eliminating the death penalty in order to save money on trials and administrative overhead, in a time when the state faces severe budget shortfalls. There's no word yet whether other states, especially those which actually execute large numbers of people (Texas, Florida, Virginia--Kansas hasn't executed anyone since 1965) will think about getting rid of capital punishment as a cost-saving measure. Wouldn't it be ironic if the last Western country to eliminate the death penalty did so not on moral grounds but on economic grounds? Viva capitalism!
20 February 2009
Court Watch: Uighurs. Seventeen Uighurs, members of an ethnic minority community in China, were rounded up seven years ago and dumped in the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay. Even though the U.S. government determined years ago that they were not enemy combatants, they have not been released, despite several judicial rulings that they were entitled to the right of habeas corpus. The Bush administration didn't want to release the Uighurs into the U.S., despite communities who expressed a willingness to sponsor them, but they acknowledged that they would be subject to persecution and perhaps even death if they were returned to China, since they oppose the central government there. Yesterday the D.C. Circuit Court ruled again that the government has the right to continue holding these men, despite Supreme Court rulings to the contrary. It is time for the Obama administration to step in and release these prisoners from captivity, allowing them to live in the U.S. if they so desire. Surely seven years of unjust incarceration earns them the right to claim asylum here.
Court Watch: Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Texas Court of Criminal Appeals presiding judge Sharon Keller is facing judicial misconduct charges, filed against her by the State Commission on Judicial Misconduct, for violating the rights of a Texas death row inmate in 2007. On 25 Sep 2007, lawyers for Michael Wayne Richard filed an appeal with the TCCA, the highest court in the state dealing with criminal matters, based on a ruling issued the same day by the U.S. Supreme Court regarding the legality of lethal injection. Because Richard's motion wasn't ready by 5:00 p.m., the court's scheduled closing time, his lawyers asked for a brief extension, which Keller denied. Refusing to grant the lawyers ample time to prepare their brief in this case was a gross abuse of Keller's discretionary power, and she deserves to be ousted from the TCCA.
5 February 2009
Holocaust Denial and the Vatican. Since Pope Benedict XVI recently lifted the excommunication of several bishops associated with the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX), controversy has swirled around one of the restored bishops, who denies the Holocaust (or at least its severity). German Chancellor Angela Merkel castigated the pope for the move and for not speaking out forcefully in opposition to such beliefs. It is ironic that the German chancellor, who holds the position Hitler once held, has had to speak out on the subject to this pope, who has worked to canonize Pope Pius XII, who presided during World War II and has been accused by some of not doing enough to stop the Holocaust. What has been little reported is that SSPX, in addition to supporting at least one bishop who denies the Holocaust, strenuously opposes the reforms of Vatican II, which brought the Roman Catholic Church into the modern world by, among other things, allowing vernacular masses, recognizing God's presence in other churches and in other religions, and condemning all forms of anti-Semitism, including the practice of blaming the Jews for the death of Jesus. I'm not Catholic, and I don't believe in the efficacy or value of excommunication, but I would like to see the Vatican speak in the strongest possible terms to condemn those who deny the Holocaust, condemn those who blame the Jews for Jesus' death, and support the reforms of Vatican II, with its promise of reconciliation with other people of faith around the world.
Faith-Based Initiatives. President Obama is reportedly considering modifications to the Bush administration's rules concerning awarding federal grant money to faith-based organizations. Under the Bush guidelines, faith-based organizations could receive federal money and still discriminate in hiring on the basis of religion. Obama pledged during the campaign to disallow discrimination among those who receive federal funds. Should churches and other faith-based organizations be allowed to discriminate? Yes: it's a matter of the free exercise of religion. Should those organizations that violate federal antidiscrimination laws--including laws regarding discrimination in the hiring of people on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, or religion--be eligible for federal grant funding? No: federal tax dollars should never be granted to organizations that discriminate, even if they do so legally. Faith-based organizations that choose to take advantage of their constitutional right to discriminate against certain segments of the population have two options. (1) They can form a separate 501(c)(3) corporation that does not practice discrimination to carry out the specific work for which they are seeking federal funding. (2) They can hire according to conscience and eschew federal funds entirely.
4 February 2009
Millard Fuller. In 1976 Miller Fuller and his wife, Linda, founded Habitat for Humanity. Habitat started as a small non-profit business that grew out of the Koinonia Farm experiment in Americus, Georgia (Koinonia Farm also gave the world Clarence Jordan, famous for his "Cotton Patch" rendition of the gospels), but it grew into an organization that has built more than 300,000 houses for the poor in the U.S. and around the world. Volunteers from all walks of life, from presidents and members of Congress to student organizations and individual churches, volunteer their time to build houses for those in need, and those who get Habitat houses work in turn to help others realize their dream of owning a home. In The Theology of the Hammer, Fuller said, "My fervent prayer is that putting 'the theology of the hammer' into practice will bring more and more churches together so that our combined lights will be so bright that millions of people will see our good work and God will be glorified as never before. We will make shelter such a matter of conscience that we will, in fact, eliminate poverty housing and homelessness." Miller Fuller died yesterday, but his life's work lives on with every nail that's driven into a Habitat house. Pick up your hammers!
2 February 2009
Lilly Ledbetter Act. President Obama last week signed into law his first major bill, the Lilly Ledbetter Act. Named after the woman who was discriminated against first by her employer and then by the U.S. Supreme Court, this bill provides hope for all employees whose firms discriminate against them but are careful to hide their wrongdoing. Next step: get a Supreme Court that understands that its role in government is to protect the helpless, not enable their oppressors.
23 January 2009
Pakistan. It is being reported that unmanned drones fired missiles that killed at least 19 people in Pakistan near the border with Afghanistan. This assault on the soil of a country without that country's assent is bad policy, whether undertaken by the Bush or the Obama administration. Furthermore, missile and bomb attacks, which kill soldiers and civilians indiscriminately, are unnecessarily destructive methods of fighting criminal behavior, which is what terrorism ultimately is.
22 January 2009
Torture Outlawed. In keeping with his campaign promises and consistent with both the U.S. Constitution and international law, President Obama today issued an executive order outlawing the torture of detainees. The executive order "Ensuring Lawful Interrogations" says, in part, that detainees "shall in all circumstances be treated humanely and shall not be subjected to violence to life and person (including murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment, and torture), nor to outrages upon personal dignity (including humiliating and degrading treatment), whenever such individuals are in the custody or under the effective control of an officer, employee, or other agent of the United States Government or detained within a facility owned, operated, or controlled by a department or agency of the United States." This change in official U.S. policy is a welcome move on the part of the Obama administration.
Guantanamo Bay. Following up on a campaign promise, President Obama (!) has signed a directive ordering that the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay be closed. This is a step in the right direction for the restoration of human rights in America and for restoring America's image in the eyes of the world community.
9 January 2009
Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Condoleezza Rice is reported to have said within the past couple of days that the root of the conflict between Israel and Palestine is Hamas rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel. No. The root of the conflict is the illegal occupation of Palestinian land by Israel. Rocket attacks on the part of Hamas and missile attacks on the part of the Israeli military are merely immediate causes of concern. The reason the Bush administration has been unable to move forward in its attempts to resolve the crisis (belated and feeble though these efforts may have been) lies in its fundamental misunderstanding of the problem. I hope the Obama administration will be more successful in its efforts to mediate peace, but that can only happen if the new president, secretary of state, and other major players understanding the historical and political realities of the conflict.
Mariana Trench National Monument. That the Bush administration has had an abysmal environmental record is an understatement. From its refusal for years to accept the reality of global warming to the gutting of the Clean Air Act to its approval of dumping mountaintop detritus into rural streams to its failure to protect endangered species, the president has had one of the worst environmental records in history. In light of this record, Bush's declaration of the Mariana Trench National Monument is a welcome move. Perhaps in an attempt to burnish his legacy in the waning days of his presidency, Bush has declared almost a quarter million square kilometers of land and ocean in the Pacific a protected sanctuary, by far the largest such designation in U.S. history. Regardless of the motivation behind this declaration, the president and his administration deserve praise for moving to protect this unique region.
30 December 2008
Gaza. The latest report of the Gaza conflict I've seen says that Israelis have killed 370 Palestinians, while the Palestinians have killed 4 Israelis. Israel, and of course the U.S., blame Hamas for starting the most recent round of fighting, and there's no doubt that Hamas leaders should be held accountable for firing rockets at civilian targets. However, the fight between Israel and Hamas is nowhere close to an even fight, anymore than the conflict between the apartheid in regime in South Africa and the African National Congress in the 1980s and before was an even fight. When one side inflicts dozens of times more casualties than the other side, there should always be a strong suspicion of injustice. In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, both sides deserve blame, but it is the Israelis who are primarily responsible for the continuing conflict. It's time for them to go to the bargaining table ready to treat the Palestinians fairly, something that few Israeli leaders have ever been willing to do. Barring that, it's up to the U.S., the EU, and the UN to force the Israelis to end the conflict, for the benefit of Palestinians, Israelis, the greater Middle East, and the entire world community.
16 December 2008
Secretary of Energy. Barack Obama has nominated Dr. Stephen Chu, a Nobel prize winning physicist, to be the next secretary of energy. After eight years of ignoring science, or even attacking consensus scientific opinion, it is nice to have an administration that values science and the contributions it can make to national policy decisions.
5 December 2008
Auto Bailout. The three CEOs of GM, Ford, and Chrysler have come to Washington, DC, to ask for $34 billion in bailouts, a figure about twice as much as the three companies together are worth. These are the same three companies that have fought for years against raising fuel economy standards, reducing emissions, and building low-emission vehicles like electric cars. And now they want taxpayer money, huge amounts of it, to keep them afloat. I have a better idea. Let the U.S. government buy them, fire all the executives who make more than $100,000, and sell the desirable parts of the companies to foreign companies like Toyota or Nissan, if they want them (maybe from Chrysler, for example, they'd be interested in the Jeep and minivan lines). From what's left over, form a single domestic company focused on making cars of the future, developing green technologies--long-lasting batteries, hydrogen fuel cells, or whatever--and building alternative transportation, like high-speed rail and mass transit systems. Over time, the government could sell the new company, at a profit, to private sector investors, with the proviso that the government would retain enough stock to reassert control if the new owners veered into unproductive or environmentally dangerous areas of work. Such a plan would not only save taxpayers money in the short term, it would earn all of us money in the long term. More importantly, it would add jobs to the economy, it would decrease the country's energy footprint, and it would give America a chance to be a leader in the new green economy.
4 December 2008
Anti-Gay Discrimination. Roman Catholic Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the Vatican's Apostolic Nuncio (official envoy) to the United Nations, says that the Vatican is opposed to a resolution that calls on governments to decriminalize homosexuality. The resolution was authored by the French delegation and is supported by every one of the 27 members of the European Union. Approximately 85 countries still have laws on the books that make homosexuality a crime, and several make it a capital offence. Drawing on the fact that so far only 50 countries have voiced support for the resolution, another Vatican official, Federico Lombardi, said, "No one wants the death penalty or jail or fines for homosexuals," but he claimed that the Vatican stood with the majority of countries in opposing the resolution. Of course, Lombardi's statement is wrong on its face. Many people apparently do want homosexuals fined, jailed, or even killed, since gays are regularly prosecuted in some countries. More to the point from a Christian perspective, why does the Roman Catholic Church--and other large Christian denominations as well--side with those who discriminate against an oppressed minority? Is the claim that the Vatican sides with a majority of countries really an argument in favor of supporting the continued the persecution of homosexuals?
5 November 2008
Obama Administration. Here are a few people I'd like to see serving in the new Obama administration:
4 November 2008
Obama. Now that Obama has won the U.S. presidential election, here are some of the items that I'd like to see the new president and Congress address as soon as possible.
11 October 2008
Iraq. For all those Christians who backed, and in many cases continue to back, the war in Iraq, there is this news item from CNN: "At least 900 Christian families have fled Mosul in the past week, terrified by a series of killings and threats by Muslim extremists ordering them to convert to Islam or face possible death, officials said Saturday." The war on Iraq has resulted in the deaths and displacement of many Christians, in addition to innumerable Muslims, Yazidi, and others. How exactly do these results square with the desire to share the good news of Jesus Christ?
10 October 2008
Gay Marriage. The Supreme Court of the state of Connecticut ruled today that gay and lesbian couples cannot be discriminated against in state laws that deal with marriage and that existing civil union statutes were insufficient to guarantee equal treatment under the law. Connecticut thus becomes the third state, after Massachusetts and California, to legalize same-sex marriage. Laws in most states are clearly discriminatory against gay couples, and the Connecticut state Supreme Court was right to rule in the way it did, albeit by only a 4-3 margin. As the U.S. Supreme Court noted in Brown v. Board of Education, "separate but equal" (the legacy of Plessy v. Ferguson) does not provide true equality. Separate but equal is really separate and unequal. Churches have the legal right to discriminate against gays and lesbians--or Blacks or Arabs or women or whomever--if they want to. That's guaranteed by the First Amendment. The government, whether federal or state, does not have that right.
Socialism. A headline in the British newspaper Telegraph says, "We're all Socialists Now, Comrade." The headline is a response to the current economic crisis, in which the British government has taken partial ownership of several leading banks in order to forestall a further meltdown of the financial system. Iceland has done the same thing, and even the Bush administration in the U.S. is considering a similar move. Capitalism was supposed to create wealth for everyone, according to the neoliberals who have dominated the economic policy of the West for the past several decades, and in truth it has created enormous wealth. The problem is that it hasn't been distributed anywhere near equally, so the working class, and even the middle class to some extent, have failed to prosper. Perhaps pure socialism doesn't work, though it's hard to say since it's never been tried, but neither does pure capitalism. Clearly what is needed is some combination of the incentives of capitalism and the protections and fairness of socialism. Socialism, long been a bad word in the U.S.--despite our socialized schools, roads, bridges, military, and Medicare and Social Security programs--but it's time to rethink our prejudices. Socialism, at least in measured ways (and, I would argue, to a vastly larger extent), can be a good thing, if properly managed by democratic oversight. Just look at Sweden, and most of Western Europe, for that matter.
Health Care. Although I commented in Penséees that the best question of the night in the most recent presidential debate was "What don't you know, and how will you learn it" (if only Bush had been asked that!), upon further reflection, I think the best question really came from Tom Brokaw himself: "Is health care a right, a privilege, or a responsibility?" McCain said it was a responsibility, while Obama said it was a right. Obama was clearly right. In fact, health care is listed as one of the basic human rights in the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights: "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control" (Article 25). I have become convinced that the only way to assure that all Americans have this basic human right is through a single payer system, one in which for-profit insurance companies play no role. It is unconscionable that in the wealthiest nation on earth, 47 million people have health insurance and thus have limited or no access to decent health care. From a Christian perspective, we can't love our neighbor while at the same time denying her access to doctors, nurses, and medicine that might save or enhance her life.
Hate. Although I don't like it, I accept that a certain amount of negativity will always play a role in political campaigns. There are some limits, however. In Georgia, when Saxby Chamblis ran an ad in which the face of war hero and multiple amputee Max Cleland was morphed into the face of Osama bin Laden in the 2002 senate race, Chamblis clearly went beyond the pale. When both Obama and McCain stated early in this year's presidential campaign that they would not be involved in character assassination, I took that as a good sign. Yes, there has been some negativity throughout the campaign on both sides, in particular guilt by association claims, which I find silly, to say the least. In the past couple of weeks, however, both McCain and Palin have allowed statements to be made at their rallies--and Palin has actually said some things herself--that are beyond the pale of decency. No one has the right to question another American's patriotism, as Palin has recently done of Obama. More importantly, allowing people in the crowd to shout "kill him" and "terrorist" in reference to Obama, and allowing speakers on the platform to emphasize Obama's middle name Hussein in an obvious race-baiting maneuver, then not repudiating such remarks--in fact, laughing about them--are dangerous and unworthy of Americans who seek to hold the highest offices in the land.
9 October 2008
Secret Plan. John McCain says he has a secret plan to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. But guess what? He's not telling anyone, not even his cronies in the Bush administration. I guess it's OK with him if bin Laden manages to pull off another terrorist attack in the next few months. The most important thing is who gets the credit. This desperate attempt to grasp victory from the jaws of defeat reminds me of Nixon's secret plan to win the Vietnam War. How did that work out?
Afghanistan. Both Obama and McCain--and Bush, of course--believe that the situation in Afghanistan can be improved by putting more U.S. troops there. They're wrong. The Taliban and the various factions of the Mujahadeen that oppose the Afghan "central government" cannot be subdued militarily. Just ask the Russians. Afghan president Hamid Karzai has proposed peace talks with the Taliban and others, and that is the right approach and the only hope for peace. As much as I loath the political and social views of the Taliban, only by bringing them into the political process can peace be achieved. Dropping bombs on them--and untold numbers of innocent civilians--hasn't worked, and neither has their campaign of car bombs and other acts of brutality. Violence doesn't solve the problem of violence, not even in Afghanistan. The only valid use for international troops in Afghanistan is as peacekeepers.
8 October 2008
Guantanamo Bay. From CNN, reporting on 17 Chinese Muslim prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, even though they are no longer classified as enemy combattants, and haven't been for more than four years: "A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals granted the Bush administration's motion for an emergency stay and set up a schedule for briefings over the next week to address the complicated issues of the case." There's nothing complicated at all about this case. If they're returned to China, they will probably be persecuted. Since they were unlawfully arrested in the first place (they were rounded up in Pakistan by people looking for reward money that the U.S. was paying), it is now the U.S.'s responsibility to let them enter the U.S., if no other country wants them. Several communities here, including several churches and mosques, have already agreed to find them homes and help them find jobs. It's the right thing to do. No wonder the Bush administration is opposing it.
7 October 2008
Presidential Debate 2. Thoughts on tonight's presidential debate.
Obama: Solve financial crisis by increased regulation, making sure executives don't profit from bailout. McCain: Solve financial crisis by cutting taxes and energy independence (i.e., focus on drilling).
McCain: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were the catalyst that started the financial crisis. Obama: Biggest problem was deregulation in the financial system, supported by McCain and opposed by Obama.
Obama: You're not interested in hearing politicians point fingers at each other. You're interested in hearing about how the policies we're discussing affect you.
Obama: I will spend more money on some programs and cut others, so that overall there will be a net decrease in spending.
McCain: I know how to fix this economy. In part, with more drilling and nuclear power.
McCain: We may have to eliminate some programs that aren't working. Earmarks, earmarks, earmarks. Across the board spending freeze, except for defense (!), veterans affairs, and a few others. Obama: We do need to look at drilling offshore and clean coal technology, but we also need incentives to save energy. Double Peace Corps and increase domestic service opportunities, so that military families are not the only ones making sacrifices.
Obama: You can't fix Social Security and Medicare without understanding the totality of tax revenues. McCain: We need a commission to fix Social Security.
McCain: The best way to fix the problem with greenhouse gases is nuclear power. Obama: We can create 5 million new jobs in the U.S., but to do so we'll have to make an investment on the government level. We can't drill our way out of the energy problem, because we have only 3% of the world's oil, but we use 25% of it.
Why is McCain wandering around the stage while Obama is talking?
Brokaw: Is health care a right, a privilege, or a responsibility? McCain: Health care is a responsibility. Obama: Health care is a right. People are going bankrupt because they can't pay their medical bills. My mother spent the last months of her life in the hospital arguing with insurance companies. It shouldn't be that way. McCain voted against expanding children's health care coverage (the CHIPS program).
Really the only answer to the health care problem is a single payer approach.
McCain: America is the greatest cause for good in history. The commander-in-chief need good judgment. Obama: McCain had the wrong judgment on Iraq, and Iraq has put an enormous strain on the U.S. budget. We're spending $10 billion a month in Iraq, but we need that money at home. The declining economy constrains our ability to act militarily.
Obama: When genocide or ethnic cleansing are happening around the world and we stand by and do nothing, we diminish ourselves. However, we are more effective if we work with our allies in the international community. McCain: We can win in Iraq. The ability to make a positive difference requires a cool hand.
Obama: If we can reduce our energy consumption, Russia, whose wealth comes largely from petro-dollars, will have less global influence.
Q: Would you send troops to protect Israel if Iran invaded? (What kind of question is this? How about: if the Martians invade Georgia, would you send troops?) McCain: Obama wants to negotiate with our enemies without preconditions (a lie). Iran is on a quest for nuclear weapons. Obama: We cannot allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon. (Of course, Israel already has nuclear weapons.) It is important to use all the tools at our disposal, such as international forums, to prevent such an invasion in the first place.
Q: What don't you know, and how will you learn it? (Maybe the best question of the night.) Obama: It's often the issues you don't expect are often the most important that you face. McCain: I don't know the future.
29 September 2008
Supreme Court Cases.
When Katie Couric asked Sarah Palin if she could name any Supreme Court cases besides Roe v. Wade that she disagreed with, she couldn't think of any. Off the top of my head, and without looking anything up online, I can think of a few: the Dred Scott decision, Plessy v. Ferguson (which legalized separate but equal accommodations and Jim Crow laws), the late nineteenth and early twentieth century Supreme Court cases that disallowed minimum wage laws, the 1980s case that overturned the Lemon test (weakening the boundary between church and state), and a couple of cases from last year, one overturning parts of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the other denying employees the right to sue their employers for discrimination if they found out about it after the fact. And if I were running for vice president, I think I'd review the history of the Supreme Court and easily be able to come up with a few more that I disagreed with.
29 September 2008
Wall Street Bailout.
I quote Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), because I can't say it any better:
The $700 billion bailout for Wall Street, is driven by fear not fact. This is too much money in too a short a time going to too few people while too many questions remain unanswered. Why aren't we having hearings on the plan we have just received? Why aren't we questioning the underlying premise of the need for a bailout with taxpayers' money? Why have we not considered any alternatives other than to give $700 billion to Wall Street? Why aren't we asking Wall Street to clean up its own mess? Why aren't we passing new laws to stop the speculation, which triggered this? Why aren't we putting up new regulatory structures to protect investors? How do we even value the $700 billion in toxic assets?
Why aren't we helping homeowners directly with their debt burden? Why aren't we helping American families faced with bankruptcy. Why aren't we reducing debt for Main Street instead of Wall Street? Isn't it time for fundamental change in our debt based monetary system, so we can free ourselves from the manipulation of the Federal Reserve and the banks? Is this the United States Congress or the board of directors of Goldman Sachs? Wall Street is a place of bears and bulls. It is not smart to force taxpayers to dance with bears or to follow closely behind the bulls.
26 September 2008
Presidential Debate. Here are some thoughts on the presidential debate happening tonight.
McCain (discussing the financial crisis): "People will be held responsible in my administration." I'm glad to hear that McCain will hold people accountable for their action or inaction, but does he also plan to hold himself accountable for years of supporting deregulation? It is the lack of regulation that is largely responsible for the current crisis.
Obama (discussing earmark reform and other spending): $18 billion in earmarks is a lot, but its nothing compared to the $300 billion that McCain's tax plan gives back to rich corporations and individuals. My comment: $18 billion is nothing compared to what we spend in Iraq and Afghanistan every year.
Obama pushes energy independence from Middle Eastern oil within 10 years, similar to Al Gore & co.'s We Campaign.
McCain: We need a spending freeze. Obama: That's using a hatchet where you need a scalpel. Also, we need to stop spending so much money in Iraq ($10 billion per month).
McCain promotes more nuclear energy and more drilling for oil. Obama wants more emphasis on renewable energy production.
Q: What are the lessons of Iraq? McCain: We should have had more people fighting there from the beginning. Obama: We shouldn't have been in Iraq in the first place. We've spent over $600 billion, we've lost more than 4000 U.S. lives, and Al Qaeda in Iraq didn't even exist before the invasion. The lesson of Iraq is that we have to use our military wisely, and we didn't use the military wisely in Iraq.
McCain says Obama doesn't know the difference between strategy and tactics, but McCain himself thinks the surge is a strategy, when in fact it is a tactic (because it's a relatively short-term action).
McCain: Obama says he is willing to meet with people like Ahmadinejad without preconditions, and that's wrong. Obama: Even Kissinger, a McCain advisor, said this week that presidents need to be willing to meet foreign leaders without preconditions.
McCain: Iraq, Iraq, Iraq. Obama: Spending in Iraq has kept us from spending on other priorities.
24 September 2008
Bailout. I have been trying to figure out what I think about the proposed $700 billion bailout of the financial sector. On the one hand, the Bush administration and Wall Street types say that if we don't bail out the big banks and insurance brokerages, ordinary people will suffer as the whole economy goes down in flames. On the other hand, the huge price tag, the desire for lack of oversight, and the pressure to fix the problem in a hurry sound very suspicious. I have concluded that I am opposed to the bailout, at least one of this magnitude. Instead of saving investment banks, I'd rather help those who have lost homes or are in danger of losing their homes. I'd rather reform the bankrupcy laws, which benefit only the credit card companies and encourage predatory lending. I'd rather let the big investors who stand to lose a lot of money go ahead and lose a lot of money. They took risks, and they lost. That's the free market, which they like so much when it works for them. If there are really sound economic reasons for some sort of a bailout--which I'm not convinced of at the moment--then the government should start by making the grossly overpaid executives of the failing companies finance the bailout. Garnish their salaries, take the money they have in the bank, sell their stocks at current market prices and take the proceeds, and sell the excess houses, cars, planes, and boats. Bailing out Wall Street will only encourage more risky behavior, as the Savings and Loan bailout did in the 1980s.
President Bush. The president went on TV tonight to blame the current economic crisis on all those homeowners who got into mortgages that they couldn't pay. Blaming the little guys who are already down and out is both mean spirited and dishonest. While many of the homeowners do bear some responsibility, the primary responsibility for the crisis lies with the mortgage lenders who decided they didn't need sufficient downpayments or collateral, with the investment banks who bought up all the bad debt with the intention of turning a profit on it, and especially on all those--like John McCain, Phil Gramm, and George W. Bush--who for years have pushed for less and less government regulation of financial institutions.
19 September 2008
Wall Street. The wild ride is over, at least for this week, and the DJIA and other stock indices are pretty close to where they started the week. That may be good news for stock brokers, financial analysts, and wheeler dealers with lots of their personal money invested in the market, but it's not necessarily great news for the average person. The market slide has been halted and even largely reversed for the time being by massive government commitments of capital, but where will it go from here? The U.S. is in a recession, share prices are just as volatile now as they were a week ago, and the government has used up much of its reserves to bring stability. Blame for this entire crisis can be laid at the feet of those who fought long and hard to get rid of government safeguards put in place to protect consumers, based on an irrational belief that Adam Smith's "invisible hand" will somehow solve every problem in the global market. It's time for a more rational approach to the regulation of the financial markets.
John McCain. It is hilarious that John McCain, after decades of supporting the failed policies that led to this week's financial sector failures and the wild fluctuations in the stock market, is now trying to present himself as a voice of reason calling for regulation. After years of calling for almost all regulation to be lifted, it's too late to flip flop in a desperate attempt to convince voters that he would be a good manager of the nation's finances. Plus there's his commitment to continue the war in Iraq for another hundred years, if it takes that long to "win."
Government Bailout. The Bush administration over the past week has pledged tens of billions of dollars to prop up investment banks, save AIG from bankrupcy, and inject liquidity into the economy. Just imagine if those tens of billions of dollars, combined with the hundreds of billions already spent on the failed war in Iraq, had been used to rebuild roads, bridges, and schools; help homeowners caught up in the mortgage crisis; and provide health care for every many, woman, and child in America.
Israel. The Kadima Party has elected a new leader, Tzipi Livni, who seems poised to become Israel's next prime minister. Let's hope that she will continue her commitment to negotiate with Palestinians, create a Palestinian state, and bring peace to the region.
Bolivia. Unrest continues in Bolivia as right-wing opponents of elected president Evo Morales protest against his policies, sometimes violently. Some of his supporters, in turn, have reportedly resorted to violence as well. The U.S. has not helped matters in the region with its overt objection to every left-of-center government, such as Morales's, and its covert attempts to undermine or overthrow Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. Maybe the new U.S. administration will have more respect for the people of South America and their democratically elected leaders.
29 August 2008
John McCain. In his first official, and to date most important, act as presidential nominee for the Republican Party, John McCain picked Sarah Palin, a first-term governor of Alaska with less than two years of executive experience, who is currently under an ethics investigation by the state legislature, and who advocates teaching intelligent design creationism alongside evolution in public school science classrooms. On the bright side, she is a member of the NRA and married to an oil company executive! OK, the joke's over, who's your real pick?
8 August 2008
Fair Trial. After a trial lasting only ten days, Osama bin Laden's driver, Salim Hamdan, has been convicted of providing material support to a terrorist organization (i.e., he drove one of their cars), but he was acquitted on conspiracy charges. Given a 5-1/2 year sentence, government spokespeople said that even though he will be credited with time served (about 5 years), he may not be released at the end of his sentence anyway, since he is still an enemy combatant. First the prosecutors are allowed to use testimony obtained under torture and hearsay testimony, and now he may be held indefinitely? Whatever happened to one of the most cherished American values, the right to a fair trial? Welcome to the world of Kafka!
20 June 2008
Habeas Corpus. The U.S. Supreme Court last week ruled that prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay detainment camp were entitled to seek a writ of habeas corpus, forcing the government to specify the charges against the detainees and providing a judge with evidence sufficient to justify their continued detention. This ruling is good news for advocates of civil rights. It continues to allow the government to hold those it suspects of terrorism, but it requires both an offer of legal proof and that the suspects be brought to trial in a timely manner. It prohibits the unconscionable practice of holding suspects indefinitely without charge or access to the courts. Such practices might have been good enough for Stalin or Saddam Hussein, but they do not measure up to the ideals that, until now, have usually defined the United States and other modern democracies. The scary thing about the ruling is that it was only passed by a 5-4 margin, with the Court's reactionary wing only one vote away from tearing away a basic constitutional and international right.
30 May 2008
Geraldine Ferraro. A few months ago Geraldine Ferraro suggested that Barack Obama was a viable Democratic candidate only because he was black. (Everyone knows that being black has been hugely successful in the past at propelling our many black presidents and members of the Senate into office.) Now she says that white people are afraid of an Obama presidency because he doesn't understand them. Perhaps someone should point out to Ferraro that Obama's mother is white and that he was raised for many years by his white grandparents, so it's very likely that he understands white people. After all, he is one, just as much as he's black. What exactly is Ferraro's hangup with the color of Obama's skin anyway? Yes, there may well be many racists in the country--like Ferraro--who won't vote for an African American candidate no matter what. And yes, it's possible that he will lose the general election because of racism. Be that as it may, Ferraro's blatant stoking of the racist embers of the Democratic party in an effort to reverse the will of the majority of the primary voters not only won't work, it's disgusting.
23 May 2008
Hillary Clinton. First Mike Huckabee jokes about someone pointing a gun at Barack Obama, and now Hillary Clinton justifies staying in the race for the nomination by alluding to Bobby Kennedy's assassination. Clinton's remark was probably thoughtless rather than tasteless, but she has said something similar before. No, she's not calling for someone to take Obama out, but at the very least she seems to be saying that her only hope for becoming the Democratic nominee is for Obama to be shot. Is that really the message she wants to send to the superdelegates and the country?
John Hagee. Senator John McCain has now rejected the endorsement of San Antonio pastor John Hagee, an endorsement he eagerly sought several months ago. It turns out that not only has Hagee referred to the Roman Catholic Church as a whore that collaborated in the Holocaust, but he also believes that God raised up Adolf Hitler to persecute the Jews so that they would leave Europe and return to Palestine (which I assume Hagee thinks was uninhabited before the Jews arrived). McCain also rejected the endorsement of Ohio pastor Rod Parsley, who has called Islam a "conspiracy of spiritual evil." Maybe all candidates should re-think the wisdom of actively seeking the endorsements of religious leaders, particularly in the You-Tube age.
16 May 2008
Immigration. The U.S. Border Patrol today stated that during the upcoming hurricane season, which starts June 1, federal officials will check the residency status of everyone boarding evacuation busses trying to flee an impending hurricane. The inevitable result of such a policy is that thousands of undocumented people living in the border region, along with their families, will remain behind out of fear of imprisonment or deportation. Simply put, people will die. It's hard to think that the U.S. government would craft a policy designed to result in the deaths of potentially thousands of people, but the sad reality is that we have become a nation whose laws reflect a decided antipathy toward those who are not American citizens.
Mike Huckabee. Did Mike Huckabee really joke at an NRA meeting this week about someone pointing a gun at Barack Obama? In this year that marks the fortieth anniversary of the assassinations of both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Bobby Kennedy, is that really funny? [Huckabee later apologized.]
30 April 2008
Iraq. "April is the cruellest month," said T. S. Elliott in
"The Wasteland." It is unfortunately true for U.S. soldiers in Iraq,
47 51 more have needlessly lost their lives this month, the
most since the surge "started working." It's time, way past time, to
bring the troops home.
18 April 2008
Broadcast News. I recorded the Democratic Debate on Wednesday night, planning to watch it when I had a chance. However, after hearing about the inane questions asked by the moderators, and after actually reading the questions online, I decided against wasting my time. It's true that the role of the media is not to toss the candidates softball questions, and it's not surprising that the frontrunner (Obama) would get somewhat tougher questions to answer than the candidate trailing in the primary process (Clinton). However, it would have been nice if the moderators in this debate had remembered that they're supposed to be journalists and that the debates are supposed to help the American people learn more about where the candidates stand on the issues. In short, a debate should be news, not entertainment; the News Hour, not Jerry Springer. The depths to which broadcast journalism has fallen can largely be blamed on the fact that all the major broadcast news organizations (except PBS) are owned by companies more interested in producing entertainment than news. I like Disneyworld and Disney movies, but I don't trust the Walt Disney network (ABC) to deliver the news (and it's getting increasingly difficult to watch Disney sports as well). General Electric makes great light bulbs and produces many interesting TV shows, like Law and Order, but if the goal of their news organization (NBC) is to make money, why should I watch it? I could say similar things about the Viacom News Network (CBS) and especially the worst offender of the bunch, Fox. Even once might CNN, owned by Time-Warner, often seems more interested in hype than in reporting the news. The dreadful state of broadcast news is the reason why more and more people, including me, are getting their news from individuals and organizations whose sole interest is providing news, in many cases online. Death to broadcast news!
20 March 2008
Peace. The peace symbol made its debut on Good Friday 50 years ago in a British protest against nuclear war. Based on the superimposed letters N and D, for Nuclear Disarmament, the sign was adopted by those protesting American participation in the Vietnam War, where it came to symbolize "peace." It is fitting to commemorate this symbol of hope in a year where wars and armed conflict continue to rage in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Tibet, Sri Lanka, Israel/Palestine, Turkey/Kurdistan, Sudan, and elsewhere. Here's hoping that the next 50 years will see peace established across the planet.
19 March 2008
Barack Obama. Barack Obama yesterday delivered a speech on race and politics that was perhaps the best speech on the subject ever given by a politician. Aside from some critiques I have regarding his remarks about his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright (see essay), the speech was overwhelmingly positive. The politics of race have too long divided Americans, and although much remains to be done, much has already been accomplished. Now it is time for all people of goodwill to work together toward racial reconciliation in America.
8 March 2008
Waterboarding. Today President Bush fulfilled his threat and vetoed a bill that would have outlawed waterboarding, sensory deprivation, and other forms of torture that have been used by CIA interrogators on prisoners over the past few years. Bush said these interrogation techniques are vital for getting information from reluctant prisoners, while opponents of torture decried the move as yet another step away from the standards adopted by the vast majority of the world's nations, and all of the other Western-style democracies. Torture in any form is an unreliable interrogation technique, but more importantly, it is a violation of basic human rights. It is radically inconsistent with the teachings of Christianity and other major world religions. This veto is yet another black mark on America that has been inflicted by the current administration. The National Religious Campaign against Torture has released a statement that declares that torture is a moral issue. To sign it, go to http://www.nrcat.org.
24 February 2008
Ralph Nader. I agree with many of Ralph Nader's political positions, probably most of them. He has been a leader in the fight for consumer safety, environmentalism, and other causes over a long and distinguished career. Unfortunately, it appears that he is intent on ruining his legacy by once again letting his ego get in the way of his judgment and running for president. There were many factors involved in Al Gore's electoral college loss to George W. Bush in 2000--mistakes in the Gore strategy, failure to use Bill Clinton as a campaigner in certain states, the criminal conduct of Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, and the U.S. Supreme Court's trampling of the Constitution in its ruling that not all the votes from Florida needed to be counted--but Ralph Nader's candidacy, which drained thousands of votes from Gore, votes that would have easily propelled him to victory, is another cause. Now Nader threatens to do it again to the eventual Democratic nominee, whether Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. Does Nader really not understand how the electoral college system works in presidential balloting? By attempting to split the progressive vote, Nader only makes it more likely that the party that gave us the Iraq War, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, extraordinary renditions, warrentless wiretapping, rejection of habeas corpus, an even more reactionary Supreme Court, and the trampling of first amendment rights will win again in November. It's time for all progressives to say, "Ralph, thanks for your great contributions. Now get out of the limelight."
Barack Obama. I've always liked Hillary Clinton, and unlike some, I count it as a point in her favor that she stood by her husband in a time of public embarrassment and humiliation. I agree with her positions on most issues, but I give the edge to Barack Obama in his consistent opposition to the Iraq War (which I have also opposed from the beginning: see "Commentary on Bush's War Speech" and "The Unjust War Theory") and on his eminently reasonable position that talking to the nation's enemies is always worth considering. Most importantly, though, I see in Obama a potentially great leader for a country, a person who can unify many who have long been on opposite sides of the Bush-Clinton divide, someone who inspires people from all walks of life, a candidate who can restore the pride in America that so many have lost in recent years.
21 December 2007
Open Borders. The European Union today welcomed nine new nations (Malta and nine Eastern European countries) into its Schengen borderless zone. Now citizens from twenty-four European nations, more than 400 million people, can cross the border from one country to another without that zone without hindrance. Meanwhile, back in the U.S., citizens of the U.S., Mexico, and Canada are now required to carry passports with them when visiting one another's countries. As Europe moves forward, North America moves backward. Is it any wonder that the Euro is advancing while the U.S. dollar is declining?
17 December 2007
Capital Punishment. New Jersey has become the first U.S. state in more than thirty years to abolish the death penalty. It did so on the basis of a report by an appointed commission that found that capital punishment was "inconsistent with evolving standards of decency." All those on death row in New Jersey have had their sentences commuted to life without the possibility of parole. Abolishing the death penalty is good for many reasons, not the least of which is that its abolition avoids the nasty side-effect of executing innocent people, as has undoubtedly happened more than once. (In The Innocent Man, John Grisham describes an actual case from Oklahoma in which an innocent death row inmate came within four days of execution before eventually being freed, thanks to the work of the Innocence Project and DNA tests.) However, it is nice that at least some Americans' standard of decency has evolved to the point where it approximates that of all other modern industrialized countries. It will be even better when the rest of the states and the federal government come to the same realization.
24 October 2007
DREAM Act. The DREAM Act, which provides hope for many young people in their late teens and early twenties, will apparently be considered by the Senate this week, perhaps as early as today. This act provides a path to citizenship for children who were brought by their parents to the U.S. before their sixteenth birthday, who have been in the U.S. for at least five years, and who complete either two years of college or two years in the military. Congressional supporters have pushed the bill since 2001, and this year may be its best chance yet of passing. It has enough sponsors in both the House and the Senate to pass, though it is unclear whether it can garner the 60 votes necessary in the Senate to end debate or whether the president, who has supported some immigration reform efforts in the past, will sign it. I personally know people whose lives would be greatly improved by the passage of this bill, because although they have lived in the U.S. almost all their lives, and although they may soon have a college degree in hand, their prospects of finding a job at present are negligible. Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado called yesterday for all such students who would benefit from the DREAM Act to be arrested and deported. Such heartlessness, hatred, and xenophobia is hard to fathom, and it is certainly contrary to the teachings of the law and the prophets, not to mention of Jesus himself. The DREAM Act is worthy of the support of all committed Christians, and their representatives in Congress.
12 October 2007
Al Gore. Al Gore, Nobel Peace Prize laureate 2007. Way to go, Al!
9 October 2007
Because the server was down for the last four weeks, I missed the opportunity to comment on many different and important news stories. Here follow, in no particular order, my thoughts on recent events.
Police brutality. Campus police at the University of Florida tasered a student, Andrew Meyer, on September 17 while he was attempting to ask John Kerry, who was visiting the campus, a question. Video on You-Tube clearly shows that the student was assaulted without serious provocation by the campus police while trying to exercise his free-speech rights, guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. News anchor Gregg Jarrett, of the far-right news outlet Fox News, commended police for their assault on the student. The denial of free speech and the physical assault on an unarmed student is a gross violation of the rights that every American is supposed to possess, that the police are supposed to protect, and that an institution of higher education is supposed to promote. Shame on the University of Florida police for using excessive force to deny a student his free-speech rights. Shame on their University of Florida president for not immediately condemning the assault on the student. Shame on the University of Florida as a whole for not upholding a student's rights to free expression. There is of course no need to shame Fox News, which is a regular embarrassment to the news profession.
Torture. Secret memos published by the New York Times implicate the White House in yet another scandal regarding the government's treatment of detainees. After being forbidden by legislation from torturing prisoners--an act that shouldn't have been necessary in the first place, if the administration were led by people of honor--the White House issued secret, internal memos allowing the practice of torture to continue. If Alberto Gonzalez hadn't already resigned, these memos would be grounds for impeachment. They remain sufficient grounds to impeach the president, who evidently authorized the memos. Torture of prisoners is wrong on so many grounds, it's hard to know where to start. It is illegal according to the laws of the United States, it is illegal according to international law--including the Geneva Conventions and, of all things, the Convention against Torture--it is immoral on religious grounds (pick your religion), and, ironically, the information it provides is worthless from the perspective of law enforcement, because it is unreliable. Let's put this in simple terms, that perhaps even the president can understand. TORTURE IS WRONG!!!
Free speech. It wasn't just the University of Florida that found itself embroiled in a controversy involving free speech and higher education. Columbia University and the University of St. Thomas also ran into trouble for their very different approaches to the issue. First, Columbia University invited controversial Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak at the university. Ahmadinejad questions the reality of the Jewish Holocaust during World War II and says he would like to see the state of Israel eliminated. Columbia's president said that even though he finds many of Ahmadinejad's positions indefensible, he believed that Columbia's students were adults who deserved to hear from an important Middle Eastern leader. The University of St. Thomas did not treat Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu with the same courtesy. After inviting Tutu, the university uninvited him because his criticisms of the state of Israel upset some people. Well boo-hoo! So Tutu's remarks upset some people! When I lived in South Africa, it was an honor to get to hear Archbishop Tutu speak on a couple of occasions, at the risk of his own safety. The apartheid South African government was upset with what Tutu was saying, but that didn't stop him. Institutions of higher education in the U.S. should not be afraid to let speakers, even controversial speakers, speak to their students. It's bad enough to prevent someone from speaking who is opposed by a majority of the community. It's even worse to prevent someone from speaking who is opposed by a small, but apparently influential, minority of the community. Columbia University has shown once again why it is a leading U.S. university. The University of St. Thomas has shown why it is not.
Blackwater. The killing of seventeen civilians by Blackwater personnel a couple of weeks ago, and the fact that the perpetrators will apparently get away with murder (literally), demonstrates better than any other example that despite all the Bush administration's claims, Iraq is not really a sovereign state. No foreign security firm would ever get away with killing seventeen unarmed Americans, because the government and the people wouldn't stand for it. However, the Iraqi government appears to have little recourse in this case, other than to complain to their masters in Washington, who in the end will not do anything. Today a different foreign security firm, this one from Dubai, shot and killed two unarmed women driving a car, and they didn't even stop their convoy to investigate their crime. Is it any wonder that so many Iraqis hate Americans? We haven't brought them democracy, only bloodshed that is worse than it was under Saddam Hussein.
Supreme Court. Without comment, the U.S. Supreme Court today denied certiorari in the case of El Masri v. United States, essentially ruling that the government's claim of state secrets allows it to illegally detain people, send them to foreign countries for torture (extraordinary rendition), and then avoid sanction for violating that person's civil rights. The "state secrets" claim is merely a smokescreen used by the government to shield itself from the scrutiny of its legitimate overseers, the American people. One of the main reasons the Constitution was written was to establish a government in which the people would not have to fear arbitrary abuse by the government. After two or three decades of landmark Supreme Court decisions that gave dignity to individuals and prevented the government from persecuting minorities of various sorts in the 1950s through the 1970s, the Court over the past few decades has slowly slid to the right, favoring big business and big government in more cases and the ordinary individual in fewer. The recent addition of John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the already conservative Court threatens to push it toward being the most reactionary Court since the late nineteenth century Court that gave us the Plessy v. Ferguson (separate but equal) decision.
2 August 2007
Nuclear Weapons. Barack Obama is drawing fire from some of his Democratic opponents in the presidential race for stating that he would not use nuclear weapons in the "war on terrorism," at least if civilians were involved. His opponents who were quoted in the mainstream press criticized him for taking a possible option off the table, although I suspect that not all the Democratic contenders (e.g., Dennis Kucinich) disagreed. In my opinion, Obama is right on this issue, but he should go even further. The use of nuclear weapons to combat terrorism would be a tragic mistake for many reasons, not least of which is that nuclear weapons themselves are immoral. They kill wantonly, and they leave contaminated radiation that continues to kill and maim for decades (at least). They are the very definition of "weapons of mass destruction." If it was wrong for Saddam Hussein to want them, it is wrong for the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea to have them. The only moral option is to destroy all of them, as soon as possible.
27 July 2007
News. Two news helicopters in Phoenix ran into each other and crashed, killing all four people aboard, while they were shooting footage of the police chasing a speeding car. This was a tragic accident and terrible for all the family and friends of those involved. However, as I read the story, I couldn't help thinking, when did high-speed chases become such important news stories in the U.S.? I think I know the answer, of course. It was the O. J. Simpson "slow-speed chase" that got the ball rolling on news helicopters covering such events. A high-speed chase may make interesting television viewing, but it hardly constitutes serious news. A recent glance at the CNN Web site reveals 16 headlines, only two of which qualify as actual news. The rest are sports, updates from the entertainment world, and unusual or bizarre stories that offer little or no insight into the world. Local TV news broadcasts are even worse than the national news broadcasts and Web sites, while newspapers are often better. Since most people today get their news from TV, however, it is small wonder that Americans are among the most poorly informed people in the world today.
Torture. A story in The Guardian indicates that the British spy agency MI6 offered to give the CIA intelligence concerning the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden in 1998, and again in 1999, with the proviso that the CIA would not torture him. When the CIA refused to give such an assurance, MI6 declined to give the information, since torture is illegal under British law. Of course, torture is also illegal under international law, and it is supposed to be illegal under U.S. law as well. The CIA's refusal to guarantee the humane treatment of the prospective prisoner (note: under the Clinton administration, though the use of torture has apparently increased under the Bush administration) allowed bin Laden to remain free to plan the 9/11 and other attacks around the world. Now tell me again how effective torture is in stopping terrorism....
24 July 2007
Iraq. Here is an excerpt from President Bush's speech today on Iraq: "Iraq ... al Qaeda ... Iraq ... al Qaeda ... al Qaeda ... al Qaeda in Iraq ... al Qaeda ... al Qaeda ... al Qaeda ... Iraq ... al Qaeda...." Here is my reply: The American people are not idiots. Simply repeating the words "Iraq" and "al Qaeda" over and over again in a speech does not mean that they have any real connection with each other, any more than using the words "Bush" and "honesty" in the same sentence means the two words have anything to do with one another. Yes, there is now a group called al Qaeda in Iraq, which probably is connected in some way with the main al Qaeda group. However, it was not there prior to the unprovoked U.S. attack on Iraq, and despite Bush's claims to the contrary, the war in Iraq does not now have anything to do with fighting terrorism, nor did it ever have anything to do with fighting terrorism. In fact, just the opposite is true. There are undoubtedly more terrorists today than there were before the U.S. launched its war, and the U.S. and its allies are in greater danger from terrorist attack today than ever before. The war on Iraq has been a disaster from the beginning, and it continues to be a disaster. Bring the troops home now!
11 July 2007
Doug Marlette. Doug Marlette, political cartoonist and creator of the comic strip Kudzu, died yesterday in a car accident. Marlette won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988 for his cartoon paying tribute to the victims of the space shuttle Challenger. He drew the head of a bald eagle with a single tear dripping from its eye, capturing the pain that the country felt in the wake of the astronauts' tragic death. His comic strip Kudzu featured the Reverend Will B. Dunn, an irreverent reverend whose wit and wisdom were often right on the money. He poked fun at the excesses of religion, politics, and culture, but he always left a smile on the reader's face.
5 May 2007
Church and State. The Texas House voted Friday to add the words "under God" to the pledge to the Texas state flag. Although the reason given by supporters of the measure is to make the Texas pledge match the pledge to the U.S. flag, it is clear that that rationale is merely a smoke screen. Those who support this amendment want to make Christianity the official religion of the state of Texas, just as adding the words "under God" to the U.S. pledge were also an attempt to make Christianity (or the "Judeo-Christian" religion, whatever that means) the official religion of the country in 1954, in the face of the so-called communist menace. In the first place, why in the world does Texas have a pledge to its flag? We never had one growing up, and there's no point in it now. We are citizens of the U.S., not Texas. In the second place, why do some Christians, who comprise at least 90% of the population of Texas, feel the need to lord their majority religion's status over the relatively few Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, atheists, and even Jews and Muslims (many Christians, of the sort who support the pledge amendment, claim the God of Jews and Muslims is different from the Christian God)? It is a clear violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution's establishment clause. It is also a violation of the Texas Constitution, Article 1, Section 6, which states in part, "No preference shall ever be given by law to any religious society or mode of worship. But it shall be the duty of the Legislature to pass such laws as may be necessary to protect equally every religious denomination in the peaceable enjoyment of its own mode of public worship." The Texas House is violating both the U.S. and Texas Constitutions with its attempt to amend the Texas pledge of allegiance. They would be better off getting rid of it entirely.
22 April 2007
France. Reports out of France say that 84.48% of the French people voted in the first round of the presidential election today. Turnouts for presidential elections in the U.S. typically barely top 50%--we've only topped 60% once in the past 40 years, when 60.8% voted in 1968. For all the France-bashing that right-wing Americans do, we can all learn something about the importance of participatory democracy from the French.
16 April 2007
School Shooting. A lone gunman shot and killed at least 31 people at Virginia Tech University today, making this the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history. Analysts will undoubtedly look at the shooter's background, the events leading up to the shooting, and perhaps even the motivations for the shooting. In the end, though, many people across the nation, perhaps a majority, will fail to understand that yet another senseless massacre has occurred as a direct result of the ready availability of guns across America. The gun lobby, and especially the NRA, bears a large measure of responsibility for every gun death that occurs on U.S. soil. Until rational people stand up to this insane special interest group and their stooges in Congress, innocent people will continue to die.
13 April 2007
Kurt Vonnegut. Novelist, essayist, and anti-war activist Kurt Vonnegut died two days ago at the age of 84. He is best known for books such as Cat's Cradle, Hocus Pocus, and especially Slaughterhouse Five, which blended humor, satire, science fiction, and social critique in a uniquely readable and enjoyable manner. His books made you laugh, made you think, and sometimes even made you cry. Fairly recently he wrote an essay that caught my attention. He wondered why so many Christians were upset about the fact that the Ten Commandments were banned from courthouses, classrooms, and other public spaces. If Christians were going to push for religious words in public spaces, he argued, they ought to try to get words of Jesus like the Beatitudes posted. Of course, Jesus' statement in the Beatitudes "Blessed are the peacemakers" doesn't mix well with the kind of hot-tempered, angry, xenophobic Christianity that is so prevalent today, so Vonnegut figured that those "Ten Commandments" Christians probably wouldn't take him up on his suggestion. He was right, but he shouldn't have been. It's up to progressive Christians to take Christianity back to its Christ-ian roots. Thanks for the reminder, Kurt!
Listen: Kurt Vonnegut has come unstuck in time. So it goes.
9 April 2007
Iraq War. Ten U.S. troops were killed in Iraq over the Easter weekend. Insurgents have apparently moved outside those areas of Baghdad in which beefed-up contingencies of U.S. soldiers have been concentrated into surrounding areas. The Sunni insurgency has not been slowed down, just moved to a different place, and now Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr is calling for Shiite militias to step up their attacks on Americans as well. The surge isn't working. It's time to bring the troops home.
25 March 2007
Guantanamo Bay. A recent New York Times editorial stresses the injustice of the special tribunals being held at Guantanamo Bay prison. Evidence obtained by torture is used against defendants, as is hearsay evidence. Some defendants, in turn, are apparently making a mockery of the proceedings by confessing to every crime under the sun. It's only a matter of time until one confesses to killing Jimmy Hoffa. The threat posed by global terrorism is great, but it is no greater than the threat posed by Nazi Germany and its allies during World War II. Nevertheless, after the war, the Nuremberg trials were conducted according to the rule of law, and defendants against whom there was insufficient evidence were released. Harry Truman, a president for whom the current president has expressed admiration, was a strong supporter of the judicial process. The trials were widely viewed by the world community as fair and unbiased, and the allied treatment of their enemies gained the U.S. and other countries the world's respect. Continuing the judicial farce at Guantanamo Bay will only lower the U.S. reputation further in the eyes of the world, and even in the eyes of many of its own citizens.
23 March 2007
Iraq War. The U.S. House of Representatives today narrowly passed a funding bill for the Iraq War that included a requirement that U.S. forces be out of Iraq by 31 August 2008. President Bush has promised to veto the bill. Although I support the idea of setting a target date by which all U.S. troops will be out of Iraq--and the sooner the better--I don't see how this bill will accomplish that goal. First of all, assuming the Senate passes a similar measure, the president will probably veto it, forcing Congress to rewrite the spending bill anyway, since they won't be able to override the veto. Second, allocating supplemental money for the war allows it to continue for another year or more, rather than ending it. I agree with Dennis Kucinich that you can't say you're for peace and at the same time support continued funding for the war. The time to being leaving is now, not a year from now, after more lives are lost, more soldiers are maimed, and more money is wasted.
9 March 2007
Gun Control. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia today declared unconstitutional a Washington, DC, law forbidding people from keeping handguns in their homes. By a 2 to 1 margin, the Court struck down the law, claiming it violated the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Gun control advocates, who touted the law as a means to reduce the rampant gun violence that plagues the city, had argued that the Amendment guaranteed the right to bear arms to militias, not individuals, but the Circuit Court disagreed. Here is the text of the Second Amendment: "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed." An understanding of the history behind the Amendment makes it clear that its intent was to allow states to form citizen militias to protect itself from encroachment by an overzealous federal government. If the founders had meant the right to apply to all citizens, regardless of their involvement in a state militia, they would have left out the first thirteen words, and the Amendment would have simply read, "The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." The inability of the Circuit Court to understand the clear intent of the Amendment is shocking, as is the Court's callous disregard for the gun violence that plagues America's cities. If the members of the nation's Courts, who have large enough salaries to ensconce themselves inside gated communities, safely away from the violence of the nation's cities, have so little concern for either the obvious meaning of the Amendment or the safety of their fellow citizens--especially the poor and people of color, who suffer the most from gun violence--it may be time for the true U.S. government, "We the People," to take matters into their own hands and repeal the Second Amendment. If the Supreme Court upholds the Circuit Court's ruling, that may be the only rational recourse.
6 March 2007
U.S. Attorneys. Eight U.S. attorneys have been fired in recent months by U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez. Many of the fired prosecutors, all of whom were appointed by President Bush and almost all of whom had positive performance reviews, allege that they were fired for political reasons, such as not pursuing charges against the political opponents of senators and members of the House of Representatives, or moving too slowly on cases of interest to Republican lawmakers and/or the Justice Department. In some cases the fired U.S. attorneys were replaced by people with close ties to members of the Bush administration. Both the House and the Senate are holding hearings on these issues. If these allegations of political pandering prove true, the House and Senate Ethics Committees should take a hard look at the actions of lawmakers accused of interfering with ongoing criminal investigations and recommend appropriate sanctions. Furthermore, if the allegations are true, Alberto Gonzalez should resign, be fired by the president, or be impeached and removed from office by Congress.
Sexual Discrimination in the U.S. Military. Air Force sergeant Michelle Manhart was recently demoted and reprimanded for appearing in a photo spread in Playboy magazine. A Lackland Air Force Base spokesman said posing in Playboy "does not meet the high standards we expect of our airmen, nor does it comply with the Air Force's core values of integrity, service before self and excellence in all we do." General T. Michael Moseley, Air Force chief of staff, said she got what she deserved. At the same time, Playboy magazine is offered for sale in the Lackland BX, and pictures of pin-up girls are regularly used as decorations on the walls of military barracks or in other public areas. Furthermore, the military in general hardly has the reputation of puritanical behavior when soldiers and sailors visit foreign countries, or even when they get weekend passes from camp. In demoting Manhart, what the Air Force is saying is that it's OK for men in the Air Force to drool over photos of scantily clad or nude women, but it's wrong for a woman in the Air Force to be one of the scantily clad or nude women in the photos. Can you say "hypocrisy"?
2 March 2007
Death Penalty. Because their last attempt to execute a prisoner by lethal injection was botched, resulting in the procedure having to be repeated, and probably the condemned prisoner, Angel Diaz, suffering immense pain, the state of Florida has suspended executions for the time being. Outgoing governor Jeb Bush, in one of his final acts in office, established a commission to restore "humanity, constitutional imperative and common sense" to the process of executing prisoners. The commission yesterday released its report, which they believe will make the execution of prisoners in Florida more humane. Making executions more humane is a bit like putting lipstick on a pig--a dead pig, in this case. There is no way to make executions more humane, because government sponsored murder is still murder.
Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Former Staff Sgt. Eric Alva was perhaps the first U.S. soldier wounded in battle in Iraq, and he lost his leg fighting for his country. Nevertheless, he felt compelled to leave the U.S. Marine Corps, not because he particularly wanted to, but because he is gay, and he was tired of living a lie. Alva is calling on Congress to overturn the discriminatory "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy of the U.S. military. When President Clinton instituted the policy at the beginning of his first term, it was perhaps an improvement on the inquisitorial policies that existed before, but discrimination is still discrimination. America is supposed to stand for freedom and fairness, and the current policy is neither. It's time for it to go.
15 February 2007
Health Care. A new U.N. survey on child well-being ranks the U.S. next to last among industrialized Western countries. Could it be that our ranking is so low because we spend half a trillion dollars a year on our military, but next to nothing, relatively speaking, on health care for children? Or could it be because we have no universal health care system that guarantees access to quality health care for everyone, the way every other industrialized country does?
Gun Control. In the aftermath of the tragic shooting in a Salt Lake City shopping mall a couple of days ago, some local leaders were asking, "What can we do to prevent this sort of thing from happening again?" Here's a simple solution: how about passing reasonable restrictions on gun ownership and access to weapons? Do you know why this sort of thing rarely happens in other industrialized countries? One important reason: gun control. Of course, it does happen frequently in Iraq, now that we've taken control there. Maybe that's what the president meant by introducing American values to the Iraqi people.
14 February 2007
Ten Worst Dictators. Parade magazine has just published its list of the world's ten worst dictators, based on information from groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Number one on the list is Omar Bashir of Sudan, followed by Kim Jong Il (North Korea), Than Shwe (Myanmar), Hu Jintao (China), Crown Prince Abdullah (Saudi Arabia), Muammar al-Qadafi (Libya), Pervez Musharraf (Pakistan), Saparmurat Niyazov (Turkmenistan), Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwe) and Teodoro Obiang Nguema (Equatorial Guinea). Noticeably missing from this list is President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who, judging from all the recent rhetoric about Iran's interference in Iraq, is the next target in the Bush administration's sights of "evildoers" to overthrow. It's interesting that several of those dictators on the list are close allies of the U.S., including Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan. I guess it's OK to oppress your own people as long as you play ball with the U.S. Or at least that's the message we're sending to the world.
12 February 2007
Iran. U.S. government officials are saying that Iran is supplying Iraqi insurgents with material that the insurgents are using to make bombs that blow up American soldiers. There are several problems with these allegations. First, the vast majority of insurgents are Sunnis, the enemies of Iran, so it is unlikely that Iran, a Shiite nation, would help them. Second, since Shiites already control the Iraqi government, and since many of the Iraqi Shiites have close ties with Iran, why would Iran want to foment discord in Iraq as a matter of official government policy? Third, I have no doubt that some Iranians are supplying materials that sometimes end up in roadside bombs, but are they selling the material directly to the Sunni insurgents? Did the Sunnis take the material from Iraqi Shiites, with whom they are engaged in a civil war? Did individual Iranians sell the material to whichever Iraqis were willing to match their price (capitalism at work!)? The U.S. shouldn't be surprised that Iran is involved in various ways in Iraq. After all, Iraq is their next door neighbor, and they have plenty of reason to be interested. We're apparently interested, too, since our forces are there in much greater numbers. Is anyone advocating that the U.S. be invaded or bombed because of its involvement in Iraq? How can the U.S. government justify invading or bombing Iran when we're doing the exact same thing we accuse them of--meddling in Iraqi affairs--on a much, much larger scale?
3 February 2007
Iraq. Now it turns out that President Bush's "surge" will not require an additional 21,000 soldiers, as he has been claiming for weeks, but 50,000 or more, counting support personnel. Although support personnel are not combat troops, they are on the front line of the conflict. (Really that's a misnomer, since there is no line; the war is virtually everywhere in Baghdad outside the Green Zone.) Publicizing the smaller number is yet another effort to mislead the American people about Iraq. 50,000 extra troops is too many, and so is 21,000. The president needs to begin bringing American soldiers home, while at the same time working with Iraq and its neighbors on a regional peace plan that all can live with. A truck bomb in Baghdad today killed at least 100 people, illustrating once again that the situation now is unlivable.
Global Warming. The U.N. released a report yesterday that says that humans are definitely responsible for climate change on the planet and that the earth will heat up between 1.8 and 4.3 degrees Celsius over the next century. This report was based on the work of hundreds of scientists from countries all over the world. In a related story, the American Enterprise Institute, a right-wing political think tank supported by big oil companies like Exxon-Mobil, is offering scientists up to $10,000 for writing papers or giving public lectures contradicting the scientific consensus. Whether they will manage to recruit any legitimate scientists remains to be seen, though you have to wonder whether sacrificing one's career for a quick ten grand will be appealing to many people. The AEI's efforts will ultimately be futile. The truth isn't determined by the highest bidder.
30 January 2007
Iran and Iraq. The Pentagon is reportedly investigating whether an attack on a U.S. military compound in Karbala that killed five American soldiers was instigated by Iranians or Iranian-trained Iraqis. The rationale is that the Iraqis themselves are incapable of coming up with such a sophisticated plot, so the Iranians must be behind it. It's a theory that manages to insult both the Iranians and the Iraqis at the same time. This allegation smells too much like the Nazi claims of Polish attacks inside German territory in late August 1939. Hitler used the supposed attacks as an excuse to invade Poland, launching World War II. Could this attack, regardless of who planned and executed it, be just the excuse the Bush administration has been looking for to invade Iran?
18 January 2007
Guantanamo Bay. Secretary of State Robert Gates has released new guidelines to be used for trials of prisoners kept at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Although the guidelines do provide some apparent safeguards to prisoners' rights, such as the right to see all the material presented against them (including classified material), it contains two troubling provisions. The first allows the government to use hear-say evidence at trial. The second, much worse provision, allows the government to use "coerced evidence," that is, evidence obtained by torture. There is one bright spot to this provision, however. Material obtained by torture after December 30, 2005, will not be allowed. Yippee! What a coup for the rule of law! I suppose that information gleaned after December 30, 2005, can only be obtained through "stressful interrogation techniques," like waterboarding.
11 January 2007
Iraq. The president thinks sending an additional 20,000 soldiers into Iraq will give the U.S. a chance to "win." Since "win" is basically meaningless in the context of the Iraq conflict, at least from a U.S. perspective, I don't see how that's possible. All it will do is give insurgents more targets to shoot at or bomb. In the meantime, after $357 billion spent, more than 3,000 U.S. soldiers killed, tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers wounded, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed, the president still can't admit that he made a mistake by starting the war in the first place. "Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me" is hardly an admission of culpability. Rather it is a feeble attempt to appear Trumanesque while still blaming other people for the administration's failures.
29 December 2006
Saddam Hussein. The Iraqi government has upheld the death penalty for Saddam Hussein, and news reports indicate that he could be executed any day. President Bush, who presided over the execution of dozens of prisoners in Texas as governor, supports the execution, while the leaders of the EU decry it. Executing Saddam Hussien is wrong, for many reasons:
22 December 2006
Religious Test. Republican Representative Virgil Goode of Virginia is criticizing Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), a Muslim, for intending to put his hand on the Quran during a symbolic swearing-in ceremony for new representatives in January. Even though the official ceremony is performed in the House chamber and involves no holy books of any kind, Goode believes that Ellison's desire to use the Muslim holy book for his private, unofficial ceremony sets a dangerous precedent. "The Muslim representative from Minnesota was elected by the voters of that district and if American citizens don't wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Quran," Goode says. Apparently the Virgil Goode position on immigration denies the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of religion, denigrates Muslims in particular, and advocates xenophobia and racism (Ellison is African-American), not to mention the fact that it apparently advocates discriminating against "immigrants" from Detroit, which is where Ellison was born. Since Ellison is a Muslim, what sense does it make for him to take his oath with his hand resting on the Bible, a book he doesn't believe in? Isn't it better that he swear his allegiance on a book that holds deep meaning for him? Previous representatives have laid their hands on the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and Book of Mormon, apparently without raising the ire of their peers. Several presidents have been sworn in without placing their hands on the Bible, including John Quincy Adams, Franklin Pierce, Calvin Coolidge, and John F. Kennedy. Pierce placed his hand on a law book for the ceremony. Perhaps Goode should read the Constitution, which clearly states in Article VI, Section 3, "No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." Goode's ignorance and hatred has no place in the U.S. House of Representative, and if Goode refuses to apologize for his remarks, he should be censured by the House.
21 December 2006
Jimmy Carter. Some commentators have trashed Jimmy Carter because of the title of his recent book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. While it is fine to disagree with the former president's position, it is ludicrous to claim, as some do, that he is anti-Semitic. Opposing Israel's oppressive treatment of the Palestinians does not make one anti-Semitic any more than opposing America's war on Iraq makes one anti-American. Many Jews, including Israeli Jews, also oppose Israel's treatment of Palestinian Arabs. Peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians will only come when people admit that violence and injustice on both sides of the equation have fueled this longstanding and tragic conflict. Jimmy Carter, the man who was instrumental in negotiating peace between Israel and Egypt, is a man of profound courage and wisdom, whose opinions on ways to bring peace to the region should be heard and carefully considered by all who value both peace and justice.
Anti-Semitism. That there are many people today who hate the Jews is a fact, and such people may rightly be labeled anti-Semitic. Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who recently hosted a conference in Tehran denying the Holocaust, is a good example. Unfortunately there is no word in English to describe people who hate Arabs or Muslims that carries the equivalent moral reprobation. Furthermore, some charges of anti-Semitism that are leveled against people who oppose certain actions of the government of Israel, for example, border on racism themselves. "Anti-Semitism" in certain circles has become a code word for those who oppose uncritical support of Israel and unflagging hatred of the Palestinians. People who value the lives of both Israelis and Palestinians and who want to see a just peace in the region should refrain from using words like "anti-Semitism" improperly, and they should call to account those who use it lightly to describe anyone who disagrees with them.
6 December 2006
Robert Gates. Secretary of Defense nominee Robert Gates yesterday admitted in testimony before the Senate that the U.S. is not winning the war in Iraq. When asked by Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan whether the U.S. was winning, he replied bluntly, "No sir." This is an important admission by a soon-to-be spokesperson for the Bush administration. Another question he should be asked is, "How would you define 'winning the war in Iraq'?" Perhaps more importantly, Gates and all Americans need to ask themselves whether winning a war, whatever that means in a context like Iraq, is really the best goal to shoot for. If we could lose the war but secure peace with justice, wouldn't that be preferable to winning?
2 December 2006
Webb v. Bush. George Will and other members of the right-wing punditocracy have berated newly elected Senator Jim Webb of Virginia for his alleged snub of President Bush at a recent meeting. A political cartoon in our local newspaper even implies that Webb went out of his way to verbally abuse Bush, an allegation that a look at the transcript of the encounter clearly shows is false. After Webb had not taken advantage of his opportunity to pose for a photo with the president, Bush sought him out and asked how his son, a soldier serving in Iraq was doing. Webb replied that he wished the president would end the war so that he could come home. "That's not what I asked," the president said. "How's your boy?" "That's between my boy and me," Webb replied. Perhaps Webb's response wasn't in keeping with protocol or particularly polite (though some have argued that Bush's words weren't particularly polite, either), but Webb was elected in part because of a campaign promise to end the war in Iraq. Had I been in Webb's shoes, I might have replied with a more polite, noncommittal answer than Webb did, but then, I don't have a child in harm's way in Iraq--and neither do George Will or George W. Bush.
Military Draft. I came of military age just four years after U.S. involvement in Vietnam ended, at a time when the military draft had been suspended. I was in the oldest age group that had to register for the draft, however, which I dutifully did on or around my eighteenth birthday. Some in Washington now are calling for the draft to be reinstated, primarily under the theory that when the children of the rich and powerful are eligible for the draft, those same people will be less inclined to push the country into unnecessary and disastrous military conflicts like the current war in Iraq. I have a modest proposal regarding the draft that I think will accomplish the same thing but with less expense and anxiety. Instead of reinstituting the draft for all young men--and women!--let's pass a law that requires the children and grandchildren of all members of Congress, the president, and the vice president to be drafted into the military. That should cut down on wars of choice.
29 November 2006
Carbon Dioxide. The Bush administration will argue before the Supreme Court today that the carbon dioxide emitted by the burning of fossil fuels is not a pollutant and therefore is not subject to government regulation under the Clean Air Act. The government's claim is that since CO2 is a gas that occurs naturally and is essential for respiration in plants, it can't be a pollutant. By the same faulty logic, ozone, which occurs naturally in the upper atmosphere and is essential for filtering out harmful UV radiation, is not a pollutant just because it happens to be near the ground. By the same token, methane gas, which occurs naturally in swamps and in natural gas deposits, must not be a pollutant, either. The Supreme Court's reaction to this clearly nonsensical argument will be a good test of how beholden to the administration the current court is.
17 November 2006
O. J. Simpson. O. J. Simpson is on TV hawking his new book, If I Did It, This Is How It Happened, which is supposedly a hypothetical examination of how he might have killed his ex-wife and her friend, Ron Goldman. This book is a perverse attempt to make money off of the tragedy that the Brown and Goldman families went through. Simpson, his publisher, and the Fox television network deserve the strongest possible condemnation from the public.
13 November 2006
Is Religion Evil? Elton John is quoted in Music Monthly Magazine as saying, "I think religion has always tried to turn hatred toward gay people,. . . . From my point of view, I would ban religion completely. Organized religion doesn't seem to work. It turns people into really hateful lemmings and it's not really compassionate." Unfortunately, there is a plethora of evidence to support his position. Religion--whether Christianity, Islam, Judaism, or others--has often encouraged people to disparage, condemn, hate, despise, or even kill people who did not believe and/or act like they do. Even today, many prominent proponents of religion spew hatred and bile in the direction of their enemies. Until we convince people with a public pulpit to both preach and practice love of enemies rather than hate, more and more people will reject it as not only irrelevant in today's world, but downright evil.
10 November 2006
Charlie Rangel. Charlie Rangel, D-NY, said this: "Mississippi gets more than their fair share back in federal money, but who the hell wants to live in Mississippi?"
Chip Pickering, R-MS, replied, "I hope his remarks are not the kind of insults, slander and defamation that Mississippians will come to expect from the Democrat leadership in Washington, D.C."
Rangel said, "I certainly don't mean to offend anyone. I just love New York so much that I can't understand why everyone wouldn't want to live here."
He should have added, "Insults, slander, and defamation are the sorts of things that we've gotten from Republicans for the past six years. Democrats will do better." And I hope they will.
8 November 2006
Donald Rumsfeld. Less than a week after saying he would stick with Donald Rumsfeld as Defense Secretary until the end of his term, President Bush today announced Rumsfeld's resignation, and he had a new candidate already at hand: former CIA director Robert Gates. Apparently Bush met with him over the weekend at Bush's ranch in Crawford, TX, more or less at the same time he was supposedly sticking by Rumsfeld. Hopefully Gates will have a better plan for stabilizing the situation in Iraq and bringing U.S. troops home.
U.S. Elections. Just a few days after Bush and Cheney declared that things would continue "full speed ahead" on Iraq, the voters have brought that train to a crashing halt. Having taken the House of Representatives, and very likely the Senate as well, the Democrats in Congress now have the opportunity to insist on a change of course in Iraq. They also have the chance to work positively on issues like immigration reform, the minimum wage, health care, and the environment. If they can resist the temptation to be vengeful, while at the same time taking full responsibility for their duty as an oversight body (something the current rubber-stamp Republican Congress has failed miserably at), better days may be ahead for the nation, and for the world.
5 November 2006
Ted Haggard. Without going into any details, Ted Haggard has now admitted that he has a problem "that is so repulsive and dark that I've been warring against it all of my adult life." It's sad that his family and church have had to endure this embarrassment and pain, but it's just as sad that Haggard has been convinced that a homosexual orientation is a sin that must be hidden. Clearly Haggard is a man who loves God, and just as clearly, he is a man who is a homosexual. The two are not incompatible, despite what many churches teach. Haggard is living proof, or he would be, if he could admit to himself that his sexual orientation is not something "repulsive and dark" but simply the way God made him. Either God is right, or the church is. My money's on God.
4 November 2006
Ted Haggard. Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals until last Thursday, has now also been forced out of his pulpit in the church he founded in Colorado Springs twenty years ago. A self-proclaimed male prostitute alleges that Haggard had an ongoing sexual relationship with him and that he had seen Haggard use illegal drugs on several occasions. At this point, Haggard is denying both accusations, but he admits to paying his accuser for a massage and to buying drugs, which he says he didn't use. Aside from the harm done to himself, his family, and his church, Haggard's fall from grace is also a setback for causes to which progressive Christians are committed. In recent months Haggard had encouraged Evangelicals to broaden the scope of their public concern from issues like abortion and homosexuality (sic!) to include concern for the environment (including global warming) and poverty. Haggard's attempts to lead NAE members to adopt a broader range of issues was rewarded with rebuke from James Dobson and others, but he did find more than a few Evangelicals who supported him in his efforts, in addition to those like Ron Sider, Jim Wallis, and Tony Campolo who were there long before him. It remains to be seen if the next leader of the NAE will take up the now somewhat sullied mantle that Haggard has left behind and lead other Evangelicals to embrace a view of Christianity that cares about issues that are totally unrelated to sex, or whether he (and it will certainly be a he) will retreat into a Christianity that continues to ignore the core teachings of Jesus and is mute on many of the most important issues facing the church and the world today.
1 November 2006
World Wide Web. When my colleague and I launched TELA, the first Web site of our employer, Scholars Press, in August 1994, we were one of approximately 7500 sites on the Web. Now Netcraft, a company that monitors the Internet, has announced that the World Wide Web has passed the 100 million mark in terms of distinct Web sites. I'm responsible in one way or another for about 10 at the moment. When historians several centuries from now look back on the most important innovations of the late 20th century, and the people who have made the greatest impact, they will undoubtedly mention Tim Berners-Lee and his invention, the World Wide Web, for its contribution to communication and its democratizing influence on the great conversation carried on all over the world.
Kerry and Bush. So President Bush is complaining about John Kerry's comments on Iraq, saying that they denigrate the troops? This from the man who lied us into Iraq, who declared Mission Accomplished more than three years and 2500 American lives ago, who was saying "stay the course" until a couple of weeks ago, who presided over Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay? This from the man who avoided serving in Vietnam, while claiming to support the war, while Kerry was fighting and getting wounded--three times--in Vietnam? Puhlease!
27 October 2006
Same-Sex Marriage. The New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled that the state cannot discriminate against gay couples and that they are entitled to the same rights as married straight couples. The court left it up to the state legislature to decide whether the equal rights provisions would be called marriage or not. The court made a wise, and just, decision, and it hints at what would be a good overall solution to this issue nationwide. There are two main points to consider: equal rights for all citizens and the definition of marriage. That all citizens should have equal rights ought to go without saying, though women, African Americans, Japanese Americans, Native Americans, and others might protest that it needs saying anyway--and they're right. The real question revolves around the definition of marriage. The problem lies in confusing a covenant between two people sanctioned by the church or another religious group and a legal contract sanctioned by the state. In short, states should get out of the marriage business. States should limit themselves to determining what benefits and responsibilities couples have when they enter into a personal civil partnership contract with one another. Religious bodies should determine which types of partnerships they want to consecrate as marriages. Some churches will choose to limit marriages to a man and a woman, while others will allow same-sex marriages. Some churches may require that both parties be members of a particular denomination, and others may refuse to perform marriages if one or both partners has been divorced, while others may welcome all who come. These are matters for individual churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples--and their related oversight bodies--to make. They are not matters for the state, which should limit itself to civil matters.
The U.S.-Mexican Wall. President Bush has signed into law a bill that authorizes the building of a wall separating the U.S. from Mexico. Aside from the ultimate futility of such a wall, it is a slap in the face to our friends in Mexico, as Mexican president Vicente Fox has already said. In addition, it raises the specter of the Berlin Wall, the walls that the Nazis built around the Polish ghettoes, and the wall that the Israelis are building along their border with Palestine (or in some cases, through Palestinian territory). Not to be outdone, China is in the process of building a wall along its border with North Korea, so that when the inevitable collapse of the North Korean regime comes, thousands or millions of Korean refugees won't be able to seek aid in China. They'll just have to starve to death in their own country. History will ultimately record the U.S.-Mexican Wall as a wall of shame, built by a government that was possessed by fear and prejudice, bereft of compassion and common sense.
21 October 2006
Local News. Several of us were discussing where we got most of our news, and I said that I get most of my news online, from NPR, or the newspaper. I hardly ever watch the local news, I said, because their idea of an important story is usually a local fire or shooting. Later, while watching something on TV, I caught an advertisement for the late local news. The lead story? A local woman who was sitting on a toilet in a public building when it (the toilet) collapsed was suing the city for being publicly humiliated. My resolution not to watch the local news was thoroughly vindicated. There was no word on whether the woman planned to sue the local TV stations who informed more people about her humiliating experience.
20 October 2006
AIDS. Wiley Drake, second vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention, had this to say about President Bush's appointment of a gay physician as U.S. Global AIDS coordinator. "I think it's a tragedy to have a sodomite living with another man and being the AIDS coordinator, because we all know that if we do away with sodomy we'd almost eradicate AIDS." And if we did away with stupidity, we'd almost eradicate simple-minded bigots. Over 42 million people have AIDS, about three-fourths of them in sub-Saharan Africa. About 45% of those infected are women, who most certainly didn't get the disease by homosexual contact, nor did the millions of children who have it. Millions of people get it by sharing needles for drugs such as heroin. The most common transmission method worldwide is heterosexual contact, though gay men are one of the groups at highest risk for HIV infection.
Donald Rumsfeld. According to Marine General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Donald Rumsfeld "leads in a way that the good Lord tells him is best for our country." So now the Republicans in the country are trying to blame the failure of their Iraq policy on God???
Military Commissions Act. When the president signed into law the Military Commissions Act, supported by almost all Republicans and a large number of Democrats in Congress, he said that the bill declares that "this nation is patient and decent and fair, and we will never back down from the threats to our freedom." On the contrary, by removing the rights of defendants to confront all of the evidence against them, to demand that the charges against them be substantiated (the right to habeas corpus), and to have access to adequate legal representation, this bill, and this president, have demonstrated once again that Americans are the most serious threat to our own freedom. Perhaps the most sinister aspect of this bill is that it gives the president the right to declare anyone--U.S. citizen or not--an enemy combatant who is outside the protections of the U.S. Constitution and legal system. He could declare me an enemy combatant for writing this opinion piece. He could declare you one for reading it. If this law is not quickly reversed by a new Congress and administration or by the courts, the terrorists, who the president says want to take away our freedoms, have already won.
14 October 2006
Iraq. As if we needed another reason to view the Iraq war as a disastrous mistake, a study in the British medical journal The Lancet says that approximately 655,000 Iraqis have died since April 2003 who would not otherwise have been expected to die. In other words, the figure 655,000 is the number of people who have died over and above the expected death rate during the last few years of Saddam Hussein's rule. Only about 200,000 were attributed to direct allied (primarily U.S. and British) attacks. The rest resulted from disease, lack of electricity, lack of access to appropriate medical care, and Iraqi on Iraqi violence, among other factors. The numbers in the study have a large margin of error, with researchers estimating that the true figure could be as low as 400,000 or as high as 900,000. When these figures, covering three years, are compared with the approximately 300,000 deaths attributed to Saddam Hussein during his 24-year rule, it is hard to argue that the Iraq war has been beneficial to the average Iraqi, even though a brutal dictator was removed from power.
12 October 2006
Free Speech. Turkish author Orhan Pamuk was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature today. Pamuk is most famous in the West for his comments concerning the Armenian genocide at the hand of the Turks at the turn of the twentieth century, for which comments he was arrested and charged by the Turkish government for defaming Turkey. The charges were later dropped. Coincidentally, the French Senate today passed a law making it illegal to deny the Armenian genocide; violators could spend up to a year in prison. There is something ironic, and tragic, about the proposed French law, especially in the light of France's criticism of Turkey for its mistreatment of Turks who admit Turkey's role in the massacre. The French Senate is right, of course, about the historicity of the Armenian genocide. No serious scholar denies it. The Senate is wrong, however, about how to deal with Armenian Holocaust deniers. History isn't decided by legislation, and free speech is more important than conformity to societal norms. The French won't convert any Turkish doubters to their point of view. On the contrary, acts such as this only tend to harden the opposition. Wars of ideas are never won by the sword: they are won by the pen.
AT&T-Bell South Merger. Although the FCC has yet to sign off, it appears that the merger between AT&T and Bell South is a done deal. The Justice Department approved the deal yesterday, and this deal is yet another in a long line of mergers that appear designed to benefit stockholders at the expense of ordinary consumers. Phone rates went down after AT&T was split up 30 years ago. Will they stay low when AT&T is reassembled from its scattered parts like the Frankenstein monster? What will happen to our Internet rates, or even Internet access? The creation of another giant super-corporation (as though the AT&T-SBC merger last year didn't already create one!) makes me very nervous. Apparently the Sherman and Clayton antitrust laws have been overturned without anyone bothering to pass a law to repeal them.
10 October 2006
Capital Punishment. Today is the World Day Against the Death Penalty, a day when supporters of abolition of capital punishment lift united voices in calling for an end to this outmoded, irrational, and degrading form of punishment. It is also a form of punishment that is un-Christian, as the Amish reminded us last week. In the wake of the senseless loss of five young schoolgirls, the Amish community extended the hand of forgiveness and compassion to the family of the murderer. What would Jesus do? Exactly that.
9 October 2006
North Korea. Making good on its threats, North Korea has successfully tested a nuclear weapon at an underground location in the northeastern part of the country. The entrance of yet another country into the "nuclear club" is dangerous for world peace, and the tragedy is that this test probably could have been avoided. Six years ago North Korea, the U.S., and other countries were holding talks aimed at deterring North Korea from developing nuclear weapons. When George W. Bush became president, he scuttled those talks. Then, to make matters worse, he called North Korea part of an "axis of evil" in a State of the Union address, then he invaded another member of that axis, Iraq, which did not have nuclear weapons. The lesson that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il learned from watching the U.S. president's actions was that in order to secure his country from invasion, he needed nuclear weapons. And now the world, and particularly East Asia, pays the price for U.S. folly and North Korean paranoia.
Nuclear Weapons. From a statement by nineteen bishops of the Church of England: "Nuclear arsenals threaten long-term and fatal damage to the global environment and its people. As such, their end is evil and both possession and use profoundly anti-God acts." North Korea's nuclear test has made the world more dangerous, but the long-term commitment of the U.S., the U.K., France, China, Russia, India, Pakistan, and Israel to nuclear weapons makes the world even more dangerous. All nuclear weapons everywhere must be eliminated from the world's arsenals. South Africa eliminated its nuclear weapons program about ten years ago, after the fall of the apartheid government, and the Southern Africa region is now safer for it.
Mark Foley. Newt Gingrich and a few other Republican pundits are trying to shift the blame for the Mark Foley scandal onto Democrats, claiming that they knew about the Foley allegations months ago and waited until now to release it. Unfortunately for Gingrich and other honesty-challenged people making such claims, (1) there is no evidence that the Democrats manipulated the timing of the scandal, and (2) certain Republicans knew of Foley's inappropriate behavior with House pages as far back as the year 2000. The game of trying to shift the blame for scandals or disasters, as Republicans did successfully after 9/11, won't work this time.
2 October 2006
School Shootings. There have been three school shootings in the past week in the U.S., plus at least one averted shooting. How many more children, teachers, and administrators need to die before people in this country will demand sensible restrictions on the ownership of firearms? What's more important, an overly broad interpretation of the Second Amendment or our children's lives?
Tokyo Rose. The woman known as Tokyo Rose, Iva Toguri D'Aquino, died in Chicago on 26 September at the age of 90. An American citizen of Japanese descent, she was in Japan visiting relatives when the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred. Although she knew little Japanese, she stayed in Japan for the duration of the war and worked various jobs, eventually including reading news reports on radio broadcasts heard by allied sailors in the Pacific. Although she was only one of about a dozen women who read the reports, and although the reports themselves were innocuous, and possibly even aimed by the writers (American and Australian POWs) at undermining the Japanese position, she was identified as "the" Tokyo Rose after the war and subjected to lengthy investigations. She was cleared by the military and the FBI in 1946, but in 1948, gossip columnist Walter Winchell launched an all-out assault on her character, and she was arrested and charged with treason. On the basis of testimony later admitted to be false, she was found guilty and sentenced to ten years in prison, of which she served six. She was pardoned in 1977 by President Gerald Ford, and in early 2006 the World War II Veterans Committee honored her with the Edward J. Herlihy Citizenship Award. What happened to Iva Toguri, and to thousands of other Americans of Japanese descent during the war, was an outrage that was based on racial prejudice and fueled by an unscrupulous columnist and overly zealous, perhaps criminally liable, prosecutors. America today needs to remember the lesson that just because a lie is repeated over and over, it does not become the truth.
Fair Trials. The Military Commissions Act recently passed by Congress, and soon to be signed by the president, removes a number of important rights that U.S. citizens have always enjoyed, not least of which is the right to habeas corpus, and it makes life even more difficult for non-citizens who are caught up in the government net, from which they may never extricate themselves, if this bill is enforced. Why is it that the U.S. and its allies were able to give fair trials to the worst perpetrators of Nazi atrocities after World War II, but we find ourselves unable or unwilling to give accused terrorists--just accused, mind you--the same right?
28 September 2006
A Devil of a Joke. There has been a lot of righteous indignation in recent days over statements comparing certain political leaders to the Prince of Darkness. First, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez got the right up in arms because he compared President Bush to Satan, then Jerry Falwell riled up the left by comparing Hillary Clinton to Lucifer. Come on people, both comments were jokes! People who get upset over a joke, even if they don't think it's funny, can't expect other people to take them seriously. It's worse to call someone evil and mean it than to call someone the devil in a joking way. And it's even worse to respond to perceived evil with evil. There are plenty of things in the world worth getting upset about. Comparing someone to the devil is not one of them.
26 September 2006
Habeas Corpus. As currently formulated, the law being debated in the Senate concerning the rights of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, would deny prisoners their right to habeas corpus. Habeas corpus is an important legal principle that dates back to the Habeas Corpus Act of 1679 in England, though its roots in the common law are much older, predating the Magna Carta of 1215 and perhaps going back to Anglo Saxon times. Habeas corpus guarantees prisoners the right to be tried for specific offenses, rather than held in prison for an indefinite period of time without recourse to the court system. It is a bedrock principle of English common law, and it is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution (Article 1, Section 9) and in the Bill of Rights (Amendment 6). The Constitution says explicitly, "The privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it." Since neither rebellion nor invasion are pertinent in the case of the Guantanamo prisoners, the law under consideration in the Senate is clearly unconstitutional on its face. Furthermore, it represents a violation of the fundamental principles of justice on which America was founded. The president and those members of Congress who are in favor of this portion of the bill are attacking the very foundation of the American justice system, and they cannot be allowed to succeed.
25 September 2006
Hugo Chavez. While late-night comedians find Hugo Chavez's comparison of George W. Bush to the Prince of Darkness fodder for a string of jokes, others are outraged that Chavez would have the audacity to say such things on American soil (although technically, the U.N. building is international territory). I wonder which is worse, Chavez calling Bush the devil or the Bush administration plotting with members of the Venezuelan opposition to overthrow Chavez's government? It seems that Chavez has the moral high ground here, relatively speaking.
"War" on Terrorism. Leaked information from the latest National Intelligence Estimate says that the war in Iraq is making America less safe from terrorism rather than more safe. Is this a surprise? Intelligence experts for months have been saying the same thing, and in fact many people, both in and out of the intelligence community, argued before it started that a war in Iraq would become a rallying cry for terrorists. One of the president's biggest weaknesses is his inability to admit that he made a mistake, and his comments in the wake of this report so far suggest that he continues to believe that once he's made a decision, he can't reverse, or even modify it. So the war will go on. . . .
6 September 2006
Secret Prisons. The president today admitted publicly for the first time what everybody already knew, that the CIA has been keeping people in secret prisons outside even the most basic protections of the law. He announced that the remaining fourteen prisoners in these secret prisons will be transferred to a military prison in Guantanamo Bay, where they will receive the protections of the Geneva Convention. Of course, the only reason they will be protected by the Geneva Convention is that the new rulebook governing military prisoners specifies that protection. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had previously said that some of the provisions of the Geneva Convention were "quaint," while Bush claimed that the U.S. Constitution didn't apply in Guantanamo Bay, because it wasn't on American soil. I'm glad that people like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of 9/11, are in prison, and they should stand trial for their crimes. Nevertheless, we need to make sure that they receive all the protections that a civilized society offers its prisoners, not just for their sakes, but for ours as well.
U.S. Constitution. The president has said that the U.S. Constitution doesn't apply in Guantanamo Bay, because our military base there is on Cuban soil rather than U.S. soil. Similarly, since secret prisons are in other countries, the Constitution is not applicable there. Perhaps the president was skipping class that day in high school or at Yale when the Constitution was discussed in his government class. Every real American knows that the U.S. Constitution is more than just a set of laws that shifty government lawyers can circumvent at will. The Constitution is a set of principles on which our nation was founded. It does not just apply on American soil. It applies wherever Americans are representing their nation, at home or abroad, in the U.S. proper or in Guantanamo Bay, in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq or in the secret prisons in Eastern Europe or Asia. If Bush doesn't believe that the Constitution applies in those places, then he doesn't believe in the ideals of the Constitution, and he has no business being the president of the United States.
4 September 2006
Steve Irwin. The Crocodile Hunter died today as a result of an improbable stingray attack. Irwin was renowned worldwide as a man who loved to be out in nature, to film animals in the wild, and to talk with exuberance about animals to anyone who would listen. He was an ardent conservationist, and there was never any doubt that he loved his work. He was so enthusiastic about what he did that his life and work were a joy to behold. He died like he lived, doing what he loved. He will remain an inspiration not only to budding conservationists and nature lovers, but to anyone who enjoys life. We'll miss you, Steve!
1 September 2006
The Wall. Another name for the proposed wall along the border between the U.S. and Mexico: the world's longest spite fence.
30 August 2006
Church and State. Katherine Harris, U.S. Representative from Florida and infamous for her role in the Florida fiasco of 2000 that gave the election to Bush, gave an interview last week with the Florida Baptist Witness, a weekly Baptist newspaper. She said that the separation of church and state is "a lie we have been told" and that it is wrong "because God is the one who chooses our rulers." I guess that explains why she abrogated her responsibility to count the votes when she was Florida Secretary of State. If God had chosen Bush, who were the voters to stand in his way? Baptists have traditionally been strong advocates of separation of church and state, though admittedly there are many today who think it only applies when Baptists are out of power in Washington. Separation of church and state--really of religion and state--has been a bedrock principle of U.S. governing philosophy since at least the time of Thomas Jefferson, who said in a letter to the Danbury Baptist (!) association, "Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man & his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state." Clearly Jefferson understood what Harris doesn't, that when the government attempts to enforce one particular set of religious beliefs on its citizens, freedom is lost, and basic human rights are in serious jeopardy. Need proof? Consider the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, the various European religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries, the French persecution of the Huguenots, the Taliban government in Afghanistan, and the current state of Iran, just to name a few examples.
27 August 2006
Pluto. 1930-2006. R.I.P. (Retired Itinerant Planet)
Corporate Sponsorship. I heard a story on NPR about all the corporations that have naming rights to sports stadiums and sporting events, and it hit me that corporate sponsorship was the ideal solution to two problems perennially plaguing politics--influence peddling and fundraising--so I have a modest proposal: let's make corporate sponsorship of politicians legal, from the highest office in the land to the lowest. Everybody knows that a politician who accepts large amounts of campaign cash from a corporation, industry, or interest group will probably be more beholden to the contributor than to the average constituent. If money didn't buy access to power, corporations and other groups that crave access would stop giving. The nice thing about corporate sponsorship would be that corporate influence would be right out there in the open, for all to see. Gone would be the days when politicians would try to hide their lists of major contributors or would claim that, despite all the money involved, they were unaffected by corporate donations. Influence peddling would become mainstream and above board. Furthermore, fundraising would no longer be a problem, either, because any candidate with half a chance of winning would be able to find corporate sponsorship, relieving taxpayers of the burden of paying to support candidates who, once they got to Washington, would just abandon them for corporate sponsors anyway. I can see it now. The Oil Industry President of the United States. The Halliburton Vice President. The Wal-Mart Senator from Arkansas. The Jiffy Lube Representative from Georgia. Even the Purina Puppy Chow Dogcatcher from Muleshoe. Corporate sponsorship could also shore up sagging budgets by soliciting companies to sponsor various appointed jobs. The UPS Postmaster General. The Heidi Fleiss, Inc., Solicitor General. The John Birch Society Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. The FedEx-Kinko's Director of the CIA. The AT&T Director of the NSA. The mind boggles at the possibilities!
16 August 2006
Israel. According to news reports, many Israelis are upset with their government and their military for their failure to prevail decisively in the recently ended war with Hezbollah. Many citizens and low-ranking soldiers seem to think that the IDF should have used more firepower, sent more ground troops in sooner, and made a more concerted effort early on in the conflict. Then everything would have been better, they think. This sort of thinking afflicts many Americans, too, who haven't learned the lesson of Vietnam. More firepower, more bombs, and more troops don't necessarily win wars, particularly when they're fought in someone else's country. Maybe twenty times as many Vietnamese as Americans died in that war, yet Vietnam ultimately prevailed, because all they had to do was resist and inflict casualties on an invader. The same is happening in Iraq, and the same happened to the Israelis in Lebanon. It's also the reason why all the Arab countries in the world combined could never destroy the nation of Israel, even if they were inclined to try. There are three reasons for this. First, people fight for their homelands with more resolve than invaders. Second, when a person defending his homeland falls, there is always another one--or two--to take his place. Third, even if an invading force subjugates a people, no such victory is ever final. It may seem obvious, but the only hope for peace in the world is to wage peace, not war.
Iraq. The American death toll in Iraq has reached another tragic milestone, 2600. To echo Thomas Friedman, it's time to stop throwing good lives after good. Bring the troops home now.
8 August 2006
Joe Lieberman. Joe Lieberman has lost his bid to be the Democratic nominee for senator in Connecticut in the fall, even though he is the incumbent. Over the past few days, Lieberman began to criticize the president for his handling of the war, but it was too little, too late. Lieberman appealed to voters to remember his strong Democratic voting record over the years, and he is right: he has had a strong record on many issues. However, on the issue that many voters consider to be the most important, the war in Iraq, Lieberman has been consistently wrong. He was wrong in the beginning to support the charge to war, but then so were most other senators. The difference is that many of them, including some Republicans, have since realized that their initial support was misplaced. Lieberman still doesn't get it. It's not just that the war hasn't been run very well, it's that it was morally wrong. It's one thing to make an error in judgment, like Lieberman did in voting to give the president power to invade Iraq. It's another to be unable to admit a mistake. Maybe Bush's inability to admit error has rubbed off on Lieberman. Thanks for your service, Joe, but it's time to let someone who more closely reflects the view of the majority on the fundamental issue of the day take office.
Cynthia McKinney. Cynthia McKinney has lost in the primary as well, not because of her political positions, but because she has been an embarrassment to her constituents one time too many. She sealed her own fate when she whacked a Capitol Hill security guard who tried to stop her from entering the Capitol several months ago, because he didn't recognize her and she wasn't wearing her name badge. Rather than simply stop and explain who she was, and maybe show some ID, she treated the officer like he was beneath contempt for not recognizing her. That sort of arrogance no one needs in Congress. And I say that as someone who agrees with McKinney's positions on most issues (but not her conspiracy theories concerning 9/11).
Israel. In an interview on NPR this afternoon, a reporter was speaking from the northern Israeli town of Kiryat Shemona, which has suffered from Hezbollah rocket attacks. As the reporter was talking, the anchor asked her about the noise in the background. Was it more Hezbollah rockets? "Oh, those are outgoing," she said. So Israel has rocket launchers near a civilian area? Isn't that the same thing they have criticized Hezbollah for on many occasions? In the meantime, civilians on both sides continue to die. . . .
30 July 2006
Israel. This morning the so-called "Christian" radio station in my home town was advising its listeners to pray that Israel would be protected from its enemies. I support that, but there was no reciprocal mention that listeners should also pray for Israel's enemies to be protected from Israel. Earlier today the Israeli military dropped a bomb on an apartment building in the Lebanese village of Qana that killed at least 60 civilians. By my calculations, that's more civilians killed with one Israeli bomb that all the Israeli civilians who have been killed by Hezbollah rockets at this point in the conflict. Why does the radio station, as well as many other Americans, think that Lebanese lives are less important that Israeli lives? Such a position, which is the official position of the U.S. government, is hopelessly immoral. For the sake of all the civilians on both sides of this conflict, it's time to stop the insanity.
Mel Gibson. Mel Gibson was arrested this weekend for DUI, and reports say that he reproached the arresting officer with a number of anti-Semitic remarks. He has since apologized profusely for his comments and his behavior, but the whole incident revives the controversy surrounding his movie The Passion of the Christ, which many people thought had anti-Semitic undertones, but which others praised as a masterpiece. For years Gibson has tried to distance himself from the views of his father, an infamous Holocaust denier, and in fact Mel is currently at work on a TV miniseries based on the memoir of a Dutch Jew during World War II. His recent behavior reminds us that although it is difficult to overcome the prejudices with which we were raised, it is imperative that we do so. Anti-Semitic attitudes and actions have been a terrible part of the history of Christianity from the earliest times, and though the church has made great strides forward in overcoming this despicable legacy, it is clear that we still have far to go. One thing Christians need to understand is the importance of re-telling the story of Jesus in each new generation in language that reflects current thought and sensitivities. Language that communicated one message when Christians were a minority community that was sometimes persecuted by Jews may communicate something entirely different when presented in a time in which Christians vastly outnumber Jews worldwide, particularly when the church has a history of persecuting Jews.
19 July 2006
Lebanon. According to a CNN poll, 65% of Americans want the U.S. to stay out of the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon. The only problem is, the U.S. is already involved. As Israel's arms supplier, the U.S. is already involved. As Israel's leading cheerleader, we're already involved. As Israel's chief enabler in a codependent relationship, we're already involved. What we need to do is not stay out of the conflict, but stop taking the side of the aggressor.
Web Freedom. Catherine Sanderson, a British secretary working for a French firm, has been fired for keeping an online journal of her life, which included comments that her employer considered not particularly flattering. Now she is suing her former employer, claiming they violated her right to free speech by "doocing" her (i.e., firing her for what she wrote in a personal blog). The ease with which people can publish their thoughts online is leading many people to create blogs and Web pages as ways to express themselves, and bloggers need to be aware of the potential dangers they face by doing so. On the other hand, laws need to be written to establish the right to free speech in the blogosphere, and some employers need to lighten up considerably. Certainly employees should not be allowed to reveal trade secrets or confidential information (unless that information involves illegalities on the part of the company--whistleblower protection is also needed), and adverse comments about company policy or products that might negatively impact the company and its other employees can be enjoined (again, unless illegalities are involved). However, harmless comments about coworkers and company shenanigans should be protected speech, just as such comments are if spoken to friends. Furthermore, comments by bloggers that express opinions different from the official positions of their employers--whether involving politics, religion, philosophy, or sports--should be explicitly protected. More pervasive criticism should be allowed if the company and the blogger are not identified by name, as was the case with Sanderson, who was known to her readers only as La Petite Anglaise. Until these laws are passed, however, let the blogger beware!
Net Neutrality. Another threat to those of us who produce material for the Web is the death of net neutrality, the principle that allows everyone equal access to the Web, regardless of ability to pay. Some of the big corporate owners of Web pipes want to start charging a premium fee for people and companies that use a lot of bandwidth, such as Internet service providers and big search engines like Google. If they are successful in their attempts, two things will happen. First, those costs will inevitably be passed down to individual consumers, one way or another. Second, the Web will cease to be an Information Superhighway, open to all, because those who pay for the toll lanes will get premium service, while the rest of us will rot in data traffic jams. The Web offers the little guy (and girl) the chance to compete in the world of ideas with the corporate world and political powerhouses. It is the first truly democratic medium of publication ever invented. It must be protected.
18 July 2006
President Bush. So President Bush cusses when he thinks the microphones are off. Is this news? Is it a big surprise to anyone? After all, it's not the first time he's been recorded using somewhat salty language. I suppose the story has legs because of the president's self-proclaimed affiliation to Christian conservatives, who criticize such language and tend to avoid it, at least in public. However, I'm reminded of this anecdote about Tony Campolo, a respected, religiously conservative spokesman for social justice. Campolo has sometimes begun his speech to students at Christian colleges in this fashion. "I have three things I'd like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don't give a shit. What's worse is that you're more upset with the fact that I said shit than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night." People should pay more attention to those who suffer as a direct result of Bush administration policies, for example in Iraq, than to whether or not the president uses foul language. Which has a greater impact?
16 July 2006
Soldiers vs. militants. A headline from the CNN Web site says, "Two Palestinian Militants Killed in Gaza Airstrike." Throughout the article, Palestinian fighters are called militants, while Israeli fighters are called soldiers. The article also quotes a Hamas spokesman as admitting to "terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians" as well as attacks on the Israeli military. However, nowhere in the article are Israeli attacks on Palestinian civilians characterized as terrorist attacks. As long as the news media continues to use different vocabulary for referring to the same phenomena being carried out by opposing sides in a conflict such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, readers will continue to get the subtle message that one side is almost wholly in the right while the other is almost wholly in the wrong.
13 July 2006
Israel. In response to the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, Israel has invaded Gaza, launched innumerable rockets, and killed many Palestinians, including dozens of civilians. In the process, several Israeli soldiers have been killed as well. When members of Hezbollah in Lebanon kidnapped two more Israeli soldiers, Israel responded with a massive bombing campaign in Lebanon, again killing many people. In neither case have those holding the Israeli soldiers hostage released their prisoners or modified their demands that Arab hostages be released from Israeli prisons. The traditional Just War doctrine states that military reaction must be in proportion to the offense, but Israel is apparently following instead the Powell Doctrine of demonstrating overwhelming force in any military conflict. It hasn't worked for the U.S. in Iraq, or at least it hasn't worked for ordinary Iraqis, and it won't work for Israel in its struggle with its neighbors. Until Israel gets serious about making peace with its neighbors, instead of lashing out violently and massively against every affront, the region will continue its downward spiral of violence, the state of Israel will be increasingly less secure, and civilians on all sides will suffer the consequences.
8 July 2006
First Amendment. Sgt. Patrick D. Stewart has become the first U.S. soldier who was a member of the Wiccan religion to die in combat. The normal practice for memorializing a fallen soldier is to put his name and a figure symbolizing his religion on a brass plaque at one of the veteran's cemeteries. However, his widow has been unsuccessful in convincing the U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs to add the symbol for Wicca, a pentagram, to Stewart's plaque. This refusal to recognize his religious preference flies in the face of the First Amendment to the Constitution, which states that the government "shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion." Despite the fact that 38 different religious groups have been approved by the VA as appropriate for display on a plaque, the VA--having accepted distinct symbols for various kinds of Christianity, Mormonism, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and even atheism--apparently draws the line at Wicca. The government's refusal so far to intervene in this case does dishonor to a soldier who earned both a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star, and it is a clear attempt to establish a set of religions as acceptable, while defining others as not acceptable. All this despite the fact that more than 1,800 Wiccans are on active duty in the U.S. military, and their religious preference is inscribed on their dog tags!
Religious Extremism. A court in Yemen has thrown out charges against 19 accused al Qaeda suspects, saying that Islamic Shariah law permits jihad against occupiers. Yemeni president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, is running for reelection, and opponents accuse him of influencing the court to throw out the case in order to pander to Islamic extremists prior to the vote. What a terrible situation! The next thing you know, the president will try to amend the constitution to outlaw desecration of the flag, ban unpopular marriage contracts, and raise other issues that fire up his country's religious extremists.
30 June 2006
First Amendment. The library director at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Mendell D. Morgan, Jr., has canceled the library's subscription to the New York Times, in protest against an article the Times published dealing with government investigations of the bank accounts of U.S. citizens. Morgan has every right to disagree with the wisdom of the Times article. He has no right as a librarian to censor the material his patrons may access because of his personal political views. While other librarians around the country are confronting law enforcement officials over invasions of their readers' rights to privacy in the library, and others perennially stand firm against the plague of censorship for any number of reasons, Morgan is violating his charge as a librarian. The American Library Association lists as one of its five key action areas Intellectual Freedom, describing its commitment as follows: "Intellectual freedom is a basic right in a democratic society and a core value of the library profession. The American Library Association actively defends the right of library users to read, seek information, and speak freely as guaranteed by the First Amendment." By removing his patrons' access to the New York Times in his library, Morgan is abrogating his duty as a librarian, and especially as an academic librarian. He may also be endangering his school's academic accreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, whose Principles of Accreditation include this requirement for its member schools: "The institution provides facilities, services, and learning/information resources that are appropriate to support its teaching, research, and service mission." Hopefully Morgan will see the light, hear the voices of protest from his own institution and elsewhere, stop getting ideas from the local comic strip "Nacho Guarache," and reverse his decision. Note: one day after the local newspaper made Morgan's censorship of the Times public, he reversed his decision, though without admitting that he'd made a mistake.
28 June 2006
First Amendment. In response to the New York Times story revealing yet another secret Bush administration program that violates the civil rights of Americans--this time they're monitoring the personal banking records of Americans without warrants--the president said, "We're at war with a bunch of people who want to hurt the United States of America, and for people to leak that program, and for a newspaper to publish it, does great harm to the United States of America." I agree that we're at war with people who want to hurt the U.S., but it's the Bush administration and their congressional allies who are the enemy of the U.S. By systematically setting aside the hard-won civil rights that are crucial to our identity as a nation, Bush and company are transforming the U.S. into a police state, where the executive branch is unfettered by the Constitution, reminiscent of Germany or Italy in the 1930s or Chile in the 1980s. The First Amendment guarantees the right of newspapers to publish, and citizens to read about, the government's abuse of power when it occurs.
Flag Burning Amendment. The U.S. Senate, by a one-vote margin, turned away the most recent attempt to amend the U.S. Constitution to prohibit the desecration of the U.S. flag. Almost all Senate Republicans, together with about a third of the Senate Democrats, voted to amend the Constitution to prohibit flag desecration, but they failed to reach the two-thirds majority necessary for an amendment to be sent to the states for ratification. Supporters of the amendment made a variety of outlandish claims in its favor. "It's important that we venerate the national symbol of our country," said Orrin Hatch of Utah. Senate majority leader Bill Frist of Tennessee said, "The American flag deserves every protection that we can afford." South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham said, "When you desecrate or defile the flag, that to me is a destructive act, not symbolic speech." They are all wrong. The flag is a symbol of the country, nothing more. The federal government does not need to force people to venerate it. If people don't respect the flag and what it stands for, government coercion will not change their minds. The flag is a piece of cloth, and so needs no protection. The poor and people without health care and women in abusive relationships need protection, not the flag. Burning the flag may be a destructive act, but it is also symbolic speech. If it were not symbolic, why would so many people be so upset about it? A Constitutional amendment to ban flag desecration would weaken the First Amendment protection of free speech for the first time in U.S. history. Those who push the amendment remind me of those who convinced King Nebuchadnezzar to pass a law requiring that all citizens bow down and give homage whenever they heard the Babylonian national anthem played, on pain of death. Is that what we really want in this country?
14 June 2006
Public Broadcasting. Republicans in Congress are again trying to cut funding from PBS and NPR. Shows like Sesame Street teach children to respect each other, regardless of ethnicity, nationality, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. Tolerance and respect are not values that all in the "values party" endorse. Public broadcasting offers programming that challenges viewers/listeners without being insulting or condescending. It offers thoughtful, provocative, quality programming from a variety of perspectives. Imagine a broadcast landscape with nothing but corporate-sponsored news, insipid reality shows, talk show hosts screaming at their guests, and one formulaic sitcom and cop show after another. That's what we'll have without public television--oh yeah, we'll have sports, too. Without NPR, all the news on the radio will be presented either as two-minute segments with four local stories, traffic, and weather, sandwiched between five minutes of commercials, or it will be loud-mouthed blowhards bloviating on one topic or another about which they know next to nothing. It is essential that America hold on to the only broadcast forums that represent all of us. After all, we are the "Public" in PBS and NPR.
Ann Coulter. Ann Coulter makes a living insulting people on the political left, and pretty much any one else who disagrees with her. That's fine--there are left-wingers who do more or less the same thing (although the latter usually refrain from explicit calls for murdering their opponents, even in jest). However, now she has taken to vilifying 9/11 widows, having made a test-run on Cindy Sheehan, whose son Casey was killed in Iraq. Surely there must be a rhetorical limit beyond which pundits on either side of an issue will not stray, but Coulter is either blissfully unaware of such a limit or else she lacks the self-control to prevent herself from transgressing that limit. Ironically, her newest rightwing attack on the left is called Godless, referring to her political opponents. It should have been called Soulless, referring to the author. What do you call someone who picks on widows and those who have lost their children in war?
11 June 2006
Israel. After Israeli artillery killed a Palestinian family of seven on a Gaza beach on Friday, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert defended the Israeli Defense Force, saying, "The IDF is the most moral military in the world; there has never been--and there isn't now--a policy of attacking civilians." However, even if the government does not advocate attacking civilians, it also clearly doesn't care that civilians are routinely killed in official attempts to kill militants. Even if Palestinian militants sometimes attack civilians, one cannot on the one hand condemn such acts and at the same time defend Israeli killings of Palestinians civilians. Artillery attacks and bombings will inevitably kill or injure unintended people, and the world must condemn all such attacks, regardless of who the perpetrators are, Israeli or Palestinians, American or Iraqi, etc.
8 June 2006
United Nations. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton on Wednesday criticized the U.N.'s number two diplomat, Mark Malloch Brown, for a speech the latter made on Tuesday, whose general topic was the need for U.N. reforms. Malloch Brown criticized the U.S. for using the U.N. to further its international goals, while failing to inform the American public of the U.N.'s successes abroad. In fact, he suggested, what the average U.S. citizen hears concerning the U.N. is only its failures and problems, and diatribes by U.N. detractors in the media go largely unchallenged. Bolton responded that he had never heard such scurrilous accusations from a chief U.N. official, and he said, "Even though the target of the speech was the United States, the victim, I fear, will be the United Nations." In other words Bolton was shocked--shocked!--to find that anyone in the U.N. hierarchy was critical of the U.S. Of course, though Malloch Brown didn't say so, Bolton is one of the harshest critics of the U.N., and he is on record as saying, "If [the U.N. secretariat building in New York] lost ten stories today, it wouldn't make a bit of difference." Prior to his recess appointment as U.N. ambassador (President Bush knew that Bolton's nomination would have difficulty gaining approval in the Senate), 59 former diplomats signed a letter urging Senators to oppose Bolton's nomination, in part because of his "insistence that the UN is valuable only when it directly serves the United States," pretty much the same criticism that Malloch Brown made in his speech. In light of Bolton's record of animosity toward the U.N., it is clear that despite his actual words, what he meant was, "Even though the target of the speech was the United States, the victim, I hope, will be the United Nations." Malloch Brown's statements accurately reflect the attitude of the Bush administration, and especially John Bolton, toward the U.N. Bolton can't be replaced too soon.
7 June 2006
Geneva Conventions. The Los Angeles Times reports that the Bush administration has removed a reference from the latest version of the Army Field Manual that requires soldiers to observe the restrictions of the Geneva Convention regarding the torture and mistreatment of prisoners. In the light of atrocities that have taken place at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, as well as the reports concerning the secret prisons in Eastern Europe and the practice of extraordinary rendition (delivering prisoners to a third country where they will be tortured), the omission of prisoner protections in the Field Manual is not only immoral, it is criminal. This is the professed policy of a president that many of his most ardent supporters see as a man of God?
1 June 2006
Haditha. In the wake of the massacre of two dozen unarmed civilians in Haditha by U.S. Marines, American military leaders in Iraq are calling for all troops to undergo Core Values Training. Teaching ethical values is a good thing pretty much any time, but if people don't see any ethical problem with executing unarmed men, women, and children, is a little extra training really going to solve the problem? Are they likely to say, "Oh, I didn't get it before! It's actually wrong to kill unarmed civilians!"? How can we expect soldiers to behave ethically within a larger unethical act, the war itself?
31 May 2006
Separation of Powers. The U.S. Congress is up in arms about federal agents searching the office of a member of Congress, William Jefferson (D-LA), who is suspected of public corruption. I agree that the separation of powers doctrine precludes FBI agents, who work for the Executive Branch, from searching Legislative offices without a court-issued search warrant, and there are certain other constitutional restrictions as well, as delineated in Article 1, Section 6: "[Members of Congress] shall in all cases, except treason, felony and breach of the peace, be privileged from arrest during their attendance at the session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any speech or debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other place." Members of Congress are outraged that their rights are being violated. Where is the outrage over the government violating the privacy rights of millions of ordinary Americans by tapping their phone calls? Where is the outrage over the government's spying on what we read in libraries or purchase in book stores? Where is the outrage over the government's violation of the human rights of hundreds of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and in secret prisons around the world? Where is the outrage over the millions of poor people in our country with insufficient access to food and health care? If only we had a Congress that was as attuned to the injustices that their constituents face as to those that they face, maybe we would have a better, more just country.
19 May 2006
Domestic Spying. Polls that show that most Americans don't have a big problem with the government listening in on their private phone conversations remind me of the story about how to boil a frog. If you put a frog in boiling water, it will immediately jump out, but if you put it in cool water and gradually turn up the heat, it will just stay in the water until it is cooked. That outlook seems to be one shared by many Americans. First the government claimed it was only eavesdropping on a very few overseas phone calls, looking for terrorists. Then they admitted that there were, in fact, many overseas calls that had been monitored. Then they said that a few domestic calls might have been part of the monitoring effort. Then they admitted that potentially millions of calls had been monitored, though of course, they say, they hadn't actually listened to the calls. Now the nominee to head the CIA, General Michael Hayden, who designed and implemented the domestic spying program at the NSA, says that sometimes there's no time to get a warrant to listen to a phone conversation, implying that the NSA has in fact been listening to conversations, not just tracking calling patterns. In addition, ABC News claims that their reporters have been targeted specifically by the domestic spying program. Will the news media stand up and protest their need to preserve the confidentiality of their sources? Will the American public react strongly against the clear violation of their right to privacy? Or will we all just sit calmly in water that's getting hotter and hotter, just waiting to boil?
The Rise of the Political Left. The accession to office of Italy's new prime minister Romano Prodi raises an interesting notion. President George W. Bush is not well-loved around the world, but it's time for many to re-think their opinion of him. He has actually done a great favor for many people in the world by fueling the successful electoral campaigns of left and center-left governments in Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe, and elsewhere. Where would the left be without Bush?
12 May 2006
Government Spying. So it turns out that the federal government is not only monitoring telephone calls between U.S. residents and people in other countries, they're also keeping tabs on who is calling whom within the borders of the U.S. "It's all perfectly legal," they say, "because we're not actually listening to the calls, we're just looking at the phone numbers and the times and durations of the calls." That's what they say now, but I seem to recall that the Bush administration at one point claimed that they were only monitoring international calls after getting warrants, and then after evidence to the contrary came to light, they said that they hadn't monitored very many calls. That, of course, turned out to be false as well. And now they're telling us that they're just looking at the records of my calls to my family, my friends, my students, and business associates, but they're not really listening to them. Number one, why do they need this information on me, or on you, and number two, why should I believe that they're not listening in?
Zacharias Moussaoui. News reports say that one juror who wanted to give Moussaoui life in prison held out against all the others who wanted to sentence him to death (on two charges there were two dissenters, on one charge only one). Despite repeated votes, the other jurors couldn't persuade the lone holdout, nor could they determine who it was, since all the votes were done by secret ballot. Moussaoui now claims to be innocent of conspiring in the 9/11 plot, and he says that his surprise confession in the courtroom was a lie. He figured that it would be impossible to get a fair trial in a U.S. courtroom, so he might as well paint himself as a martyr for the cause. The truth seems to be somewhere in between. Moussaoui will not be a martyr for the cause, nor was he intimately involved in the 9/11 plot, but he did have knowledge about the plot that might well have saved lives. The proper place for Moussaoui is behind bars for life, but he might not be getting what he deserves but for the courage of one lone juror.
10 May 2006
Tax Cut. The House today passed an extension on tax cuts that primarily benefit the wealthiest Americans and balloon the budget deficit. With a total cost of $70 billion, the tax cuts reward the extremely rich, with millionaires reaping more than $40,000 in rewards, while middle income Americans will receive less than $100 per family. I can understand why the rich would support the current administration, which sponsored the legislation, but it is beyond me why so many poor and middle class voters continue to support the reverse Robin Hood tactics of Bush and his cronies. It is especially disheartening that so many people who identify themselves as Christians support candidates who run up huge deficits on the backs of the poor, while paying off the richest of the rich. Such measures contrast starkly with the overwhelming biblical message that calls for taking care of the poor, and it also differs from the example of Jesus, who ministered primarily among the poor.
Health Care. The humanitarian group Save the Children reported today that the U.S. ranks near the bottom of industrialized countries in infant mortality. Of the 33 industrialized countries included in the survey, only Latvia, with an infant mortality rate of 10 per 1,000 was worse than the U.S.'s infant mortality rate of 7 per 1,000. The U.S. did, however, tie with Hungary, and Poland, which also have a 7. Iceland, Sweden, Finland, and Japan have infant mortality rates of 3 or less per 1,000. (These figures are taken from the 2006 UNICEF report, and they differ slightly from the new Save the Children report, which is not as complete.) It is true that the U.S. infant mortality rate is nowhere near as high as it is in most developing countries, but for the richest country in the world to have such a high rate is yet another indication that our health care system does not reach those who need it most. Universal health care is a basic human right, and we in the U.S. need to begin at home, by offering a single-payer system, perhaps based on the Medicare model, that applies to every U.S. resident. To continue to ignore the plight of the 40 million or so Americans who have no health insurance is no longer a viable strategy.
22 April 2006
CIA. The CIA has fired an analyst, Mary McCarthy, for leaking information about a series of secret CIA prisons in Eastern Europe. Prisoners in these secret prisons, which the U.S. government still refuses to admit exist, are reportedly tortured and denied their basic human rights. The real crime here is not the leaking of the information but the violation of human rights. Americans, especially those of us who value the dignity of all human beings, should praise those who risk their careers and even their freedom to disclose the government's misdeeds. Daniel Ellsberg (the Pentagon Papers), Mark Felt (Deep Throat of the Watergate scandal), and Mary McCarthy--where are the other public servants who understand that they serve the public interest, not the interest of political hacks currently in power?
17 April 2006
Donald Rumsfeld. In case you missed it, President Bush's words of encouragement to the Secretary of Defense: "Rummy, you're doing a heck of a job!"
10 April 2006
Sí se Puede. I took part today in a massive rally in support of all immigrants to the U.S., documented and undocumented. It wasn't the biggest march in the country by any stretch of the imagination, but about 18,000 of us marched--alongside hundreds of thousands nationwide today and over the weekend--chanting "Sí se puede" to demand that Congress scrap the horribly racist and xenophobic HR 4437 and replace it with a bill that grants dignity and basic human rights to all immigrants to this country. The U.S. needs an immigration policy that reflects the values engraved in the Statue of Liberty: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free." It needs an immigration policy that reflects the high ideals of our founders, who declared, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men [and women!] are created equal." It needs an immigration policy that reflects the words of the Hebrew prophets, echoed by an American prophet, Martin Luther King, Jr., "Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream." Above all, the U.S. needs an immigration policy that reflects the attitude of the founder of this country's dominant religion, "I was a stranger, and you welcomed me. . . . Whatever you have done to the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you have done it to me."
8 April 2006
Leaks. After years of decrying leaks and promising to deal harshly with those who leak sensitive or classified material from the White House, it turns out that the Leaker in Chief is none other than President Bush. He apparently authorized Dick Cheney to authorize Scooter Libby to leak information to the press for political reasons. Bush's advocates were quick to claim that when Bush leaks classified information it is automatically de facto declassified, so it is not really a leak. Really? Then why did the administration go to such lengths to cover it up? Why did Bush and Cheney allow Scooter Libby, Cheney's former chief of staff, to resign and be indicted for doing something that they authorized him to do? Why didn't the president step forward before the investigation got underway and say, "I authorized the release of this information"? Even for a White House whose credibility is shaky, to say the least, this latest revelation displays a shocking lack of integrity.
Immigration Reform. The immigration reform bill has stalled in the Senate. Republicans blame Democrats for the impasse, because the Democrats refused to allow multiple amendments to be added to the compromise legislation. Democrats blame Republicans, because the Republicans were trying to weaken the bill further, even before it headed to a conference committee with the House. The truth is that even the compromise bill that the Senate agreed to, while some improvement over the current situation in the U.S., still falls far short of justice for the 11 or 12 million undocumented people currently living in the U.S. Even if the compromise bill passes the Senate in its current, watered-down form, I have not doubt that the conference committee will emasculate it, and Democrats will be forced either to vote for a bad bill or to try to block it. Apparently the only way to get a truly good immigration bill passed will be to replace all the enemies of immigrants and minorities in future elections.
7 April 2006
Ten Words. I heard on NPR that the Democrats are asking people to come up with ten words that clarify what their party should stand for (www.ourtenwords.com). My initial, only half-facetious, reaction (in ten words) is:
You don't know what you stand for? That's the problem!However, I understand--and agree with--the idea of getting the common people involved in the process of defining core values, so I think it's a good idea. I can't help but remark that the Ten Commandments, as we call them, are actually called the Ten Words in Deuteronomy 4:13; 10:4, and Elton Trueblood's book Foundations for Reconstruction, a guideline for rebuilding society in the aftermath of World War II comes to mind. I got to the Democrats' Web site a little too late to add my words, and besides, I have twelve:
social justice, environmental responsibility, moral leadership, international integrity, secure peace, human rightsIn the light of recent events in Afghanistan, maybe I should specify that "human rights" includes another two-word phrase, "religious liberty." And maybe I should also add a six-word phrase, "respect for the opinions of others." If the Republicans jump on the bandwagon and allow people to suggest ten to twenty words for their party, maybe I'll submit my list. I think it's an appropriate list for any political party.
6 April 2006
Immigration. In a recent meeting with President Bush to discuss immigration issues, Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told the president that most Southern Baptists "are deeply offended at a very basic level when the government doesn't enforce the law." Furthermore, he said, "As Southern Baptists, we believe that Romans 13 teaches the government is to punish those who break the law and reward those who obey the law." When I lived in South Africa many years ago, during the waning days of apartheid, Romans 13 was the favorite passage of those who supported the status quo, with its Group Areas Act and strictly segregated society. Those who opposed apartheid pointed instead to passages like Acts 5:29, "We must obey God rather than any human authority." I believe that the Acts passage, rather than Romans 13, is the one that must guide Christians in the issue of immigration reform. Land seems to think that Christians' primary loyalty is to the state. I think our primary loyalty is to God and God's principles. Perhaps Land needs to take some ethics lessons from Cardinal Mahoney of Los Angeles.
3 April 2006
Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court today declined, 6-3, to review the question of whether the U.S. government has the right to detain a U.S. citizen indefinitely without charges. The case involves José Padilla, who was arrested at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport in 2002 and accused of planning to set off a "dirty bomb." Padilla was never formally charged, however, and he languished in a military prison after President Bush declared him an enemy combatant. After a U.S. District Court upheld Bush's authority to detain a U.S. citizen indefinitely, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the ruling. Three of the justices who voted against hearing the case noted that the government has recently charged Padilla in a civilian court. The three justices who voted to hear the case argued that the government could repeat its actions in the future, so the case needed to be heard. Although I understand the argument that the case was moot since Padilla has now been charged, I think the Court made the wrong decision. Padilla's rights as a U.S. citizen were clearly violated when he was categorized as an enemy combatant and held without charge for nearly four years. The federal government chose to ignore Article I, Section 9 of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees the right to habeas corpus, the only individual right included in the original, unamended text of the Constitution. Because the violation of Padilla's rights as a citizen was so blatant and egregious, the Court erred in not correcting this affront to justice and slapping down the overreaching executive branch. As an aside, it was when I first heard Attorney General John Ashcroft announce Padilla's arrest in June 2002 and say that he would be treated as an enemy combatant that I sent in my money and joined the ACLU. I knew that the attorney general's actions violated the Constitution, and I also knew that if American citizens let the government get away with violating Padilla's rights, they could get away with violating the rights of any citizen, including me.
Tom DeLay. After months of protesting his innocence and vowing to continue fighting his "persecutors," Rep. Tom DeLay today announced that he would not seek re-election and instead would resign from Congress within the next month or two. DeLay had already been indicted on state criminal charges in Texas, and several of DeLay's associates had been implicated in the Jack Abramoff scandal; it seems unlikely that federal charges against DeLay related to lobbying irregularities can be far behind. DeLay orchestrated the illegal mid-decade redistricting and gerrymandering of Texas Congressional districts in 2004 (the Supreme Court is considering the case, but their impartiality is highly suspect, since the Court is heavily stacked with Republicans, the primary beneficiaries of DeLay's redistricting efforts). When Texas Democrats fled the state to avoid providing a quorum, DeLay illegally used the resources of the FAA to track his political opponents. DeLay's ignominious resignation from Congress is long overdue, and his prospects of spending time in jail seem better than average at this point in time.
Antonin Scalia. While I'm pondering U.S. Supreme Court, I can't help thinking about Antonin Scalia's refusal last week to recuse himself from a case that he has already clearly prejudged, the case involving the rights of prisoners held in U.S. custody at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Scalia remarked in Switzerland last month that it was "crazy" to imagine that military detainees had rights to a full and fair trial or that the Geneva Conventions applied to prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. Scalia's refusal to recuse himself is not surprising, since he earlier declined to withdraw from a case involving his duck hunting buddy Dick Cheney. Scalia needs to review the phrases "integrity" and "conflict of interest" as they apply to judges. If he is unwilling to change his ways, and if his colleagues are unable to persuade him to do so, perhaps it's time to consider impeachment.
26 March 2006
Israel. In the Israeli elections on Tuesday, the newly formed "centrist" party Katima is widely expected to win big over traditional powers Labor and Likud. The big issue facing Israel, of course, is how to deal with Palestinian aspirations for independence, and the accompanying problem of Israeli security. Katima's answer, apparently, is to act unilaterally, withdrawing some settlers while drawing new political boundaries between Israel proper and Palestinian controlled territories. Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza was the easy part. Katima now threatens to do the same in the West Bank. Although at first that might sound like a possible road to peace, the details of their plan, if carried out, actually make peace impossible. The Katima plan will reportedly divide the West Bank into at least two, and possibly as many as four noncontiguous territories, reminiscent of South Africa's attempt to solve "the Black question" during the Apartheid era by creating a number of quasi-independent Bantustans. If Katima does win and does attempt to impose its will on the Palestinian people without negotiation, the world community must present a unified front, refusing to recognize the unilateral borders. There is no plan that will satisfy all Israelis or all Palestinians, and both sides must be willing to compromise (including Hamas, which now controls the Palestinian government). Any unilateral approach, by either the Israelis or the Palestinians, is doomed to failure.
24 March 2006
True Religion. "Rejecting Islam is insulting God. We will not allow God to be humiliated. This man must die," claims Afghan Muslim cleric Abdul Raoulf, speaking of the case of Abdul Rahman, the Afghan man who converted to Christianity from Islam some sixteen years ago and now is in jail, faced with execution. The scary thing about Raoulf is that many consider him a moderate in Afghanistan, because he opposed the Taliban. Well, he's no moderate, he's merely a shadowy copy of the Taliban. Far from Rahman's conversion being an insult to God, the religious faith that Raoulf proclaims is what is really insulting to God. Is the God Raoulf worships so petty and small that God wants people murdered for leaving the path of truth? Such thinking is reminiscent of the Spanish Inquisition, when Christians executed or expelled millions of Jews and Muslims from Spain, using similar, twisted logic about the nature of God and God's will. If God is the creator of the universe who desires fellowship with human beings--as Islam, Christianity, and Judaism all proclaim--then surely God does not have the disposition of a spoiled brat, who lashes out at those who, even in good faith, won't play by the rules. Let me be perfectly clear about my opinion here. There are many valid religions in the world, and healthy debate and dialog among people of various faiths is vital in our universal quest to understand and follow the divine will. However, all people of faith should agree with one another that hatred and murder are not divine attributes, and freedom of religion is a right that the world must cherish, for it allows us to follow our consciences and seek together the divine truths of creation. True religion does not advocate the murder of a person for exercising his God-given right to worship God according to the dictates of his conscience.
22 March 2006
Afghanistan. After 9/11, the U.S. military invaded Afghanistan and overthrew the Taliban, a fundamentalist regime that harbored terrorists, violated the human rights of its own citizens, and persecuted religious minorities. The U.S.-installed government promised to do better. Right now, however, Abdul Rahman, an Afghan national who secretly converted to Christianity several years ago, is on trial for rejecting Islam and could face the death penalty if convicted. If the present government of Afghanistan executes Rahman, or even imprisons him, it will have proven itself no better than the barbarous Taliban. U.S. Representative Tom Lantos wrote in a letter to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, "In a country where soldiers from all faiths, including Christianity, are dying in defense of your government, I find it outrageous that Mr. Rahman is being prosecuted and facing the death penalty for converting to Christianity." This incident illustrates a serious error in the efforts of the U.S. and other countries to impose democracy on countries without a democratic tradition. Democracy is indeed a desirable goal, but a democratic government that does not observe and enforce basic, internationally recognized human rights, including freedom of religion, is an illegitimate government and deserves the condemnation of the world community.
10 March 2006
Xenophobia. The United Arab Emirates company Dubai Ports World has withdrawn its proposal to manage a number of U.S. ports after many members of Congress from both parties raised their voices in loud objection. In opposing the Bush administration's plan to approve the transfer of authority to the UAE company, Congress was definitely in step with a large section of the country, who vociferously opposed the deal. There is no doubt that the Bush administration badly mishandled the situation, believing that it could ignore the law requiring a 45-day moratorium to allow national security issues to be investigated, as the administration routinely ignores other laws that it does not want to follow (spying on U.S. citizens, court-ordered releases or trials of "enemy combatants," the Geneva conventions, international treaties, etc.). There is also no doubt that the question of whether the U.S. ought to allow any company owned by a foreign government to manage matters related to the vital security of the country is a matter for serious debate. I get the uneasy feeling, however, that the real underlying reason behind the almost histrionic reaction to the deal in many quarters is overt xenophobia, directed against Arabs and Muslims above all others. This nationwide xenophobia is responsible as well for the many calls to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, resistance to jobs programs for foreign workers in the U.S., and the crackdown on hardworking undocumented workers. It is Congress's job to make sure that our ports are safe, and with only 5% of containers being inspected right now, there is cause for genuine concern. However, it is not Congress's job to reflect the basest prejudices of the American people. Instead, our leaders should inspire all of us to become better citizens.
1 March 2006
Ash Wednesday. Today is the first day of Lent, and rather than focus on the short-term, immediate effects of current events, I'd like to reflect a little bit on the relationship between the temporal and the eternal. I got an e-mail a week or two ago that laid out a supposedly Christian justification for going to war in Iraq. At the same time, I am reading Jim Wallis's book God's Politics, which has a chapter entitled, "When Did Jesus Become Pro-War?" Over the past couple of decades, I have found myself moving further and further away from so-called Just War thinking, in the direction of pacifism, or more accurately, peacemaking. I have become convinced that a proper interpretation of Jesus' earthly ministry will allow no other conclusion than that Christianity and violence, especially the violence of war, are incompatible with one another. As the president travels to India today to seek an agreement with India that will bypass the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty for the sake of increased trade, I am amazed that so few Christians say or do anything about nuclear disarmament. The problem is not India per se, but the attitude that nuclear arsenals are OK, as long as reasonable countries have them. I completely disagree: nuclear arsenals are not OK, in part because no country can be described as completely reasonable under every circumstance. All we have to do is look at the U.S. attack on Iraq after 9/11 to prove the point. Over the course of this Lenten season, I plan to think some more and read some more about issues of war and peace. Specifically, I hope to arrive at a better understanding of what progressive Christians can do to move our world in a more peaceful direction. I envision a world free of nuclear weapons of any sort, but also one free of organized terrorist groups, repressive regimes, and rampant poverty. Is such a world an impossible dream? I don't think so, and I hope that my walk with Jesus over the next 40 days will show me how we can get there.
17 February 2006
Domestic Spying. Senator Pat Roberts, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has called a preemptive halt to his committee's "investigation" of the Bush administration's admitted spying on U.S. citizens. Roberts says that the investigation is no longer necessary, because he has come to an agreement with the White House to amend the existing law, which currently prohibits domestic espionage without a warrant. Roberts seems to miss the point of congressional oversight. The goal is not to arrive at backroom deals that legitimate past criminal activities of the executive branch. The goal of congressional oversight is to determine whether existing laws have been broken. They have, first by the Bush administration, and now by Roberts as an accessory after the fact. The crime is the violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, passed in the wake of the Watergate scandal to prohibit such executive branch abuses of power and intrusions into the private lives of U.S. citizens.
14 February 2006
Evolution Sunday. On February 12, several hundred churches across the U.S. celebrated Evolution Sunday, a special time of worship or study that emphasized the compatibility of science and Christianity. After the Supreme Court struck down the teaching of creationism in the 1980s and 90s, the Religious Right repackaged creationism as Intelligent Design, a system of beliefs that de-emphasizes its religious foundation and focuses on supposed problems with Darwinian evolution. Recent court cases and school board decisions in Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Kansas--among other places--spurred University of Wisconsin Oshkosh professor Michael Zimmerman to start the Clergy Letter Project. The project has gathered the signatures of more than 10,000 Christian professors and members of the clergy so far, and it says, in part, that the signatories
believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist. We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests. To reject this truth or to treat it as "one theory among others" is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children.Out of the Clergy Letter Project grew Evolution Sunday. A critic of Evolution Sunday, Robert Crowther of the Discovery Institute, responded, "We think it's hypocritical and essentially a PR stunt to get attention for an idea that is clearly losing favor with the public." That statement says it all. Scientific truth is not up for a vote. Whether the public believes in evolution or not makes no difference to its veracity, any more than disbelieving the law of gravity invalidates it. If Crowther is correct that the theory of evolution is losing the support of the public, then all the money that the president pours into science education won't matter one bit, because the U.S. science programs will quickly be surpassed by those of other nations who have a more accurate understanding of science, and perhaps a more accurate understanding of the relationship between religion and science as well.
12 February 2006
Dick Cheney. The vice president shot and wounded a companion on a quail hunting trip yesterday afternoon. The hunter, a major contributor to Republican causes in Texas, is in stable condition and is expected to recover, according to hospital spokespeople. I guess now he has some idea of how some of our closest allies feel under the Bush-Cheney administration.
6 February 2006
Budget. A nation's budget reflects its values. Today President Bush released his proposed budget for the 2007 fiscal year. What values does this budget represent? We get some indication by examining which programs get more money and which programs get less. The big winners are Defense, with an increase of 7%, and Homeland Security, with an increase of 8%. Within the Defense budget, spending on weapons systems alone will increase by 8%. Of course, as in previous years, the Defense budget is a sham, since the $439 billion allocated to Defense--a new record--does not include the additional $120 billion or so that the government plans to spend in Iraq and Afghanistan. If Defense and Homeland Security are the two big winners, who and what are the losers? The losers are the American people, especially the poor and elderly, and to a lesser extent the middle class. Bush's budget cuts Medicare, the government's health plan for the elderly; Medicaid, health care for the poor; and federal student loan programs, among other programs. While the president is sticking it to the poor, the elderly, and families of college students, he is proposing to reward the rich by making permanent the huge tax cuts that sent this nation's budget deficits soaring to record levels in the first place. If a nation's budget reflects its values, then it is clear that the Bush administration values the rich over the poor, war over peace, and the healthy over the sick. And despite the president's claims to be a conservative, his budget demonstrates that he has no problem spending money that the government doesn't have, setting yet another record for deficit spending next year. The president's proposed budget, if passed in substantially its present form, will stand as an indictment of a warmongering, callous, uncaring nation that is more interested in world domination than in caring for the neediest of its own people. For such a nation to call itself the world's lone superpower is a cruel joke.
2 February 2006
Coretta Scott King. Many people have paid tribute to Coretta Scott King since she died on Monday. Although she came to national attention as the widow of Martin Luther King, Jr., she was a prominent civil rights leader in her own right, working tirelessly for decades to advance the causes that she and her husband stood for. When people think of her, they will certainly remember her work to end racial discrimination and to promote justice in the U.S. and throughout the world. One aspect of her work that too many will overlook, however, was her work in the cause of peace. When she founded the Martin Luther King Center in Atlanta in the months after her husband's death, she envisioned the institution as a center for teaching about nonviolence as well as about ending discrimination. Just as her husband had spoken out against the Vietnam War, so she spoke out against the many global conflicts that arose in the four decades since his death, most recently opposing the U.S. invasion of Iraq. She was a leader in the movement for civil rights and for peace both at home and abroad, and she will be remembered as one of the mothers, along with Rosa Parks, of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement.
Samuel Alito. Against my better judgment, Samuel Alito was confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday by a 58 to 42 vote. In his first ruling, he sided with the majority of moderate justices and against the conservative bloc (Scalia, Thomas, and Roberts) in ruling that the state of Missouri could not immediately lift an injunction against using lethal injection to execute a prisoner. It may be too much to hope for that Alito's initial vote on the Supreme Court will signal a willingness to declare capital punishment to be a violation of the 8th Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, but at least I don't feel quite the same sense of foreboding now as I did earlier. Time will tell.
Free Speech. In a strange and ironic set of events, two women were expelled from the House chambers Tuesday night prior to the president's State of the Union address. Cindy Sheehan, an outspoken opponent of the Iraq War, who was wearing a shirt that said "2,245 Dead. How Many More?" was asked to cover her shirt with a jacket. When she refused, she was ejected from the House chamber and arrested. Beverly Young, the wife of U.S. Rep. Bill Young, was ejected from the chamber as well, because she was wearing a shirt that said "Support Our Troops." Young, however, was not arrested. (Both women were invited guests of a member of Congress.) Two issues immediately come to mind in regard to these incidents. First, since when did wearing a t-shirt with a message of any sort become illegal? Second, is speech that supports the official government position the only speech that is truly free? Can I be arrested for writing these comments? Can you be arrested for voting for the "wrong" candidate? The president has frequently said of the 9/11 terrorists, "They want to destroy our freedoms." They don't have to destroy them; we're doing a pretty good job of it ourselves.
19 January 2006
Osama bin Laden. After spending two years out of the spotlight, Osama bin Laden resurfaced this week with an audio-taped message for the U.S. More attacks on the U.S. are in the works, he says. However, for the first time, bin Laden offered his enemies a way out of the current situation. If the U.S. and its allies will withdraw from "Muslim land," he said, his followers would implement a truce. The Bush administration immediately rejected the offer. "We don't negotiate with terrorists," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said. "We put them out of business." What he might have said with a bit more truth is, "We don't negotiate with terrorists. We adopt their methods and improve upon them." If terrorism is defined as targeting innocent civilians, the U.S. has killed far more civilians in the past three years than bin Laden and his bunch have. Just last week an unarmed plane launched a missile at a house in Pakistan and killed numerous civilians, including children, on the hunch that al Qaeda's number two man was there. He wasn't. "But everything's OK," the administration said, "because we think that we got four other active terrorists in the blast." Maybe so, but they also killed noncombatants in the process, either intentionally or at the very least with callous disregard for their lives. Nobody doubts that bin Laden is a terrorist, but until Western governments stop engaging in terrorist acts themselves (and it's not just the current Bush administration that has done it), there is no hope for an end to the cycle of violence. OK, so we don't negotiate with terrorists. How about if we just sit down with our enemies and see if we can't come to some sort of cease-fire, so that people in the Middle East can rebuild their shattered lives?
Samuel Alito. Many people are worried about Samuel Alito's potential to push the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, while others are overjoyed at the prospect. I have my doubts that Alito will succeed in overturning Roe, if that is indeed his intention. For me, the scariest thing about Alito is his support for the Unitary Executive theory. Despite his protestations to the contrary, it is clear that he believes that a president can get away with practically anything, particularly in a time of war. And who has the right to decide when we're at war? Why, the president, of course! He may be a strict constructionist, but he's clearly prepared to make an exception to Article I, Section 8, which gives the power to declare war only to Congress. And once the president decides that we're at war, even a perpetual war against terrorism (as opposed to war against a particular country), Alito is likely to back up his claims that he has the right to spy on U.S. citizens, ignore laws passed by Congress, torture both U.S. and foreign prisoners, deprive U.S. citizens of their constitutional rights, ignore international treaties to which the U.S. is a signatory (in violation of Article VI of the Constitution), and other repressive, dictatorial acts. Alito is a danger to the rule of law guaranteed by both the Constitution and years of legal precedent, and he should not be confirmed by the Senate.
4 January 2006
Imperial Presidency. In response to the congressional ban on torture that President Bush signed into law last month (only after it passed both houses with a veto-proof margin), the president has now issued a "signing statement," which clarifies that--in his mind, at least--the president has the authority to authorize torture anyway, if he believes it is in the interest of national security. In other words, regardless of the fact that Congress passed a law banning torture, which is now the law of the land, the president believes that he can ignore the law whenever he decides it is necessary. Setting aside the ethics of torture (this man claims that his exemplar in life is Jesus Christ?), this boldfaced assault on the U.S. Constitution is just the latest in a string of examples of this president thumbing his nose at the rule of law. Bush claims that the Constitution gives the president broad authority to act as commander-in-chief in time of war. There are two problems with this analysis. First, the U.S. is not at war, because Congress has not declared war--and only Congress can do so. Second, even during wartime, the laws of the land must be followed. Previous presidents have indeed contravened federal law during past wars, but the judgment of history has always been against them (e.g., Roosevelt's decision to imprison Japanese Americans during World War II). Presidents, both Republican and Democrat, have frequently tried to overstep the boundaries that the founding fathers set for them in the Constitution, though few have been as blatant in their efforts, or as inept in their explanations, as Bush has been. One thing that all Americans must remember when looking at the Constitution is this: the article dealing with the presidency is the second article, not the first, for a reason. It is time for Congress to reassert its constitutional authority and reign in the assumed powers of the president.
19 December 2005
Cuts in Social Programs. The U.S. House of Representatives today voted to cut by $39.7 billion funding for Medicare, Medicaid, student loans, and other government programs that primarily benefit the poor, the elderly, and, to a lesser extent, the middle class. At the same time, the proposed budget cuts taxes--again--for the fabulously rich. Since all major religions agree that oppression of the poor and favoritism to the rich is a sin, one has to wonder whether the legislators who support such policies--and the voters who elect them--are more committed to their religious beliefs or to their desire to increase their wealth.
Spying on Americans. Since it was revealed last week that the NSA has been spying on American citizens, without even bothering to go through the formality of obtaining a warrant from either a criminal court or the FISA court, voices from both the left and the right have been up in arms. When the story first hit the streets, the president at first tried to avoid comment. Seeing that that tactic didn't work, he has since tried vigorously to justify his actions as being in the best interest of the country. His argument is falling on deaf ears. Americans don't like being spied on by their government, and they especially don't like a top-secret agency like the NSA, which is supposed to focus its intelligence-gathering operations outside the borders of this country, turning its attention to U.S. citizens. Despite his assertions that he has the right to violate both federal law and the U.S. Constitution, the president does not have the authority to do so--no matter what his pal Alberto Gonzalez says. We live in a constitutional republic, not a dictatorship, and the president is under, not above, the law.
Patriot Act. The Senate mustered a backbone and refused to pass a reauthorization of certain controversial provisions of the USA Patriot Acts that are scheduled to expire at the end of the year. Most Senate Democrats, and a few Senate Republicans, believe that portions of the Patriot Act--such as allowing the government to snoop into information regarding the books we're reading or buying, or entering someone's home without their knowledge on a "sneak and peek" warrant--are gross violations of the civil rights we cherish as Americans. The revelation that the NSA, at the president's request, has been spying on U.S. citizens probably helped forestall the reauthorization. Hopefully the Senate will continue to hold firm in favor of our basic civil rights.
Natural Born Citizens. In a clear violation of the 14th Amendment, a large number of House Republicans are proposing a bill that would deny "birthright citizenship" to the children of undocumented inhabitants of the U.S. The proposed legislation is both racist and xenophobic, and it betrays a fundamental lack of understanding of history, constitutional law, and politics. The legislation shows that these House Republicans don't know history, because all U.S. citizens, except pure-blooded Native Americans, are descendants of illegal aliens. It shows that they don't understand constitutional law, because the 14th Amendment clearly states, "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside." Despite their attempts to twist the meaning of the language, it is obvious that everyone residing in the U.S., legally or illegally, is "subject to the jurisdiction" to the U.S. government. The legislation shows severe shortsightedness in regard to politics, for though the law might appeal to narrow-minded bigots who vote today, it will undoubtedly offend other present and future constituents, especially large blocks of Hispanic voters.
14 December 2005
Stan Tookie Williams. After the governor refused a pardon and the Supreme Court refused to issue a stay, Stan "Tookie" Williams was executed just after midnight on 13 December. Christianity is supposed to be a religion focused on redemption, but many who claimed to be Christians and were involved in this case, or who supported the execution, were more focused on revenge than on redemption. Here was a man who had reformed himself, had changed from his days as founder of the Crips gang into a person who wrote strongly against gangs. He inspired other to avoid gangs or to get out if they were already in. His violent execution silences a powerful voice against violence. Strong Republican support for capital punishment proves once again that Republicans have no right to think of themselves as the party of God. Since many Democrats agree with the Republicans on this score, they have no claims to be God's special party, either. It is imperative that progressive Christians continue to stand up to the injustice, inhumanity, and counter-Christian message of capital punishment. For American Christians, the institution of capital punishment is a blight on the reputation of our nation and, much worse, our religion.
11 December 2005
Stan Tookie Williams. The following is a letter I wrote to California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger concerning the imminent execution of Stan Tookie Williams, a reputed co-founder of the Crips gang.
Gov. Schwarzenegger, I am writing to ask you to commute the sentence of Stan Tookie Williams to life imprisonment. I don't know whether Williams committed the crimes of which he was convicted, though he continues to maintain his innocence. I do know that in the past several years he has been a positive influence through his writings and his life in keeping kids out of gangs. After a poor start, he has proven his value to society in recent years, and his execution will only terminate a message that many need to continue hearing from him. Thank you.
7 December 2005
Christmas. The American Family Association is urging a boycott of Target stores because the company uses the phrase "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" in its holiday advertising and in stores. Now, I have no problem if a store wants to use "Merry Christmas" in seasonal advertising, or "Happy Hanukkah," "Happy Kwanzaa," or even "Happy Festivus" for that matter. Using one or another or these mottos shouldn't offend anyone, though one could very well argue that the most generic of these greetings, "Happy Holidays," is the most appropriate if only one is chosen. The thing that amazes me about the AFA's stance is that in their deluded attempt to defend Christianity from encroaching secularism, they are in fact making it look silly, petty, petulant, and downright spoiled ("we're the majority religion here, and don't you forget it!"). As such, the AFA's boycott is an affront to all people of faith and should be repudiated in the strongest possible terms.
6 December 2005
Iraq War. In response to Howard Dean's comments that the U.S. cannot win the war in Iraq (has Dean been reading PT?), President Bush said, "I know we're going to win. Our troops need to hear not only are they supported, but that we have got a strategy that will win." Every coach that leads his team into a football game has a strategy, but half the teams in every game lose. Having a strategy doesn't guarantee a win. And as Dean pointed out, repeating failed mistakes (i.e., Vietnam) only increases the likelihood of loss. Bush's problem is that he thinks the U.S. could have won Vietnam, if only we had had more troops on the ground, or if only we'd used the bomb, or if only we had let the generals run the show. Wrong. We lost in Vietnam because we were invading a country to create (or prop up) a government that the people didn't support. No, Iraq is not exactly like Vietnam, in the sense that there are a sizeable number of Iraqis--the majority--who supported the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. However, a majority also wants us out as soon as possible, and a somewhat differently configured majority wants a government that is more ideologically aligned with Iran than with the U.S. So no, we cannot win the war in Iraq, so Bush should just "declare victory" and bring the troops home. That's the best way the country can stand behind our troops.
30 November 2005
Iraq War. The president said today, "Most Americans want two things in Iraq: they want to see our troops win and they want to see our troops come home as soon as possible. And those are my goals as well. I will settle for nothing less than complete victory." These words explain a lot about why the U.S. foolishly and immorally entered Iraq and why things are the mess they are today. The war in Iraq is not a football game. American citizens are not called to root their team on to victory over their opponents. This is not about winning and losing, it's about doing justice. Waging an unprovoked war that has killed well over 2000 Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis is not just. Creating a situation in which militants can murder innocent civilians by the thousands is not just. Making the situation for the average Iraqi citizen worse than it was under Saddam Hussein is not just. There is no way to win this war, because we have already lost too much to ever declare victory. America has lost the trust of the world, and we've lost their respect, too. Bush has lost the support of two-thirds of Americans in his bungling of the war. The Iraqis have lost the most of all: tens of thousands of lives, hundreds of thousands of terrible injuries, the threat of a militant Islamic dictatorship like neighboring Iran that will decrease the rights of women and many others. The only correct thing that Bush said was that most Americans want to see our troops come home, whole, both physically and mentally. American needs to pull its troops out as soon as is logistically possible.
17 November 2005
Torture. According to CNN, "Bush's allies in Congress argue that the McCain amendment [to ban torture] would undercut the president's authority as commander in chief." They're right: it will undercut the president's authority, and it should. The president and his congressional allies need to remember that our system of government is a constitutional democratic republic. The president is not an autocrat who is above the law but rather a representative of the people who is bound by the law and the Constitution. The Constitution bans cruel and unusual punishment (Amendment VIII), and the U.S. is legally obligated to obey international treaties that it has ratified, which also ban torture (Article VI). This president, who once joked that the country would be easier to run if it were a dictatorship, needs to be reminded that the U.S. is not, in fact, a dictatorship. He is not free to waive laws that he doesn't feel like obeying.
16 November 2005
Chemical Weapons. You've heard of the expression "fight fire with fire"? Apparently the Bush administration has expanded the adage to "fight chemical weapons (Saddam's) with chemical weapons (white phosphorus)." And while they're at it, "fight torture with torture" and "fight anti-democratic detention of suspects without access to the legal system" to . . ., well, you get the idea.
10 November 2005
Secret Prisons. "I am not concerned about what goes on" in secret U.S. prisons, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said today. "My concern is with leaks of information that jeopardize your safety and security - period." Are these the "moral values" that so many Bush supporters said they voted for in the last election? Are torture and violation of both basic human rights and international law morally acceptable, while informing the public about these violations is morally repugnant? If so, the U.S. is in deep moral trouble, and Christians who support such policies have "deserted the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel, which is not really a gospel at all" (Gal 1:6).
8 November 2005
National Security. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert are calling for an investigation to find out who leaked information about the system of secret U.S. prisons for terror suspects that operate outside U.S. law. They contend that the release of this information is potentially harmful to U.S. national security. Since many Republicans attempted to play down the importance of the leak of Valerie Plame's name to the press, apparently the party leaders are trying to show that they, too, care about national security. However, leaking a covert operative's name in order to damage the reputation of an administration critic is different from leaking information about illegal--or at least highly immoral--secret government gulags. In the first case, one agent's career was compromised and the lives of many foreign nationals might have been put in danger. In the second case, the ability to interrogate prisoners in a manner inconsistent with both U.S. and international law was compromised. The first leaker(s) deserve criminal punishment; the second deserve praise and whistleblower protection. Was national security compromised by the leak? No. National security is compromised every time government officials, in a high-handed manner, act as though they are above the laws of the land and the laws of the international community.
7 November 2005
Torture. For awhile today on the CNN Web site, these two headlines were next to each other: (1) "Bush: We do not torture"; (2) "5 U.S. soldiers charged with prisoner abuse."
Freedom of Speech. All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California, is in danger of losing its tax-exempt status because of a sermon preached in a worship service last year. On October 31, 2004, the Sunday before the election, Rev. George F. Regas, a former rector of the church, preached a sermon in which he described Jesus debating both George W. Bush and John Kerry. He said that Jesus would criticize Bush for his support of preemptive war. Despite also noting that "good people of profound faith" could vote for either candidate, his sermon raised the ire of someone at the IRS, which sent the church a letter informing them that their tax-exempt status was threatened because of the sermon. The IRS reportedly offered to drop the case if the church would admit that it intervened in an election, a no-no for a tax-exempt organization like a church. The church has refused the offer, standing on its First Amendment right to speak out on moral issues. The fact that Regas specifically stated that good Christians could vote for either candidate makes it obvious that the IRS claim is specious. This incident seems to be another attempt by the government to quash any dissent, even if it has to violate the most basic civil rights of its citizens. All Saints Episcopal Church has every right to speak prophetically on crucial social issues of the day, including the war on Iraq. Hopefully other progressive churches and organizations will have the courage to do the same.
3 November 2005
Secret Prisons. The Washington Post has revealed that the U.S. government is operating several secret prisons in Asia (Thailand and Afghanistan) and Eastern Europe (Poland and Romania, according to Le Monde). Without admitting the existence of these prisons, the government denies that torture is condoned in any of its facilities. That claim is a little hard to believe, considering the torture that occurred at both the Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib prisons, not to mention Alberto Gonzalez's memo suggesting that the president had the right to torture prisoners (he said, "This new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners"). In five short years the U.S. has gone from being a staunch supporter of human rights to a flagrant violator of the same. Of course, America has a long history of moral violations, from the overthrow of the Allende government to support of Saddam Hussein and much more, but at least we never claimed that we were exempt from the Geneva Conventions. The revelation that the U.S. is running a set of Soviet-style gulags for the very purpose of depriving prisoners of their rights under U.S. law will do nothing to rehabilitate our standing around the world.
Iraq War. The number of U.S. military personnel killed in Iraq passed 2,000 last week and continues at an alarming rate. In October alone 97 soldiers were killed, making it the fourth deadliest month on record. If troop strength in Iraq is adjusted for comparison with that in the Vietnam War, the daily death toll in the two wars is comparable (the Vietnam death toll rate is between 1.5 and 2 times greater). In addition to the tragic waste of American lives, tens of thousands of Iraqis have died since the war started. When will our leaders, so proud of their "moral values," bring our troops home and stop both the needless killing and the needless dying?
28 October 2005
CIA Leak Case. Today Scooter Libby, the vice president's chief of staff, was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges relating to the disclosure of a covert CIA agent's name to the press. The disclosure was part of an attempt by the Bush administration to discredit all critics of the projected war on Iraq, and though it may have been a criminal act, it pales in comparison with the much greater criminal act that the administration perpetrated: taking the nation to war on false pretenses. Bush can try to blame the CIA and others for faulty information, but the pattern of deception, of persecution of administration critics, and of linking the terror attack of 9/11 with the Iraq war (which the president was still doing as late as yesterday) proves that the administration was hell-bent on going to war with Iraq. The leak and its cover-up are just the tip of the iceberg of the corruption and deceit that led to the deaths--so far--of 2,000 American soldiers, hundreds of soldiers from other countries, and tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians. The war is the real crime, and those who authored it deserve to be prosecuted.
27 October 2005
Harriet Miers. Harriet Miers today withdrew her nomination as U.S. Supreme Court justice. It appears at this point that the withdrawal was her idea, and if so, it shows that she has better judgment than the president did in nominating her in the first place. Bush stated publicly, "It is clear that senators would not be satisfied until they gained access to internal documents concerning advice provided during her tenure at the White House--disclosures that would undermine a president's ability to receive candid counsel," but what is actually clear is that this statement is simply a smokescreen designed to shift blame from the White House to the senators, both Republican and Democrat, who questioned the wisdom of the nomination. Senate leaders of both parties have denied asking for privileged information, so it's impossible to take the president's statement seriously. Now it's time to move on to the next candidate. Hopefully the president and his advisors will think more carefully about whom they nominate.
Budget Deficit. The president and many Republicans in the Congress have finally decided that the growing budget deficit is a serious problem, and they've decided to balance the budget on the backs of the poor and the middle class--especially the poor. Current bills before Congress have already reduced programs that aid the poor, while locking in tax breaks for the wealthiest of the wealthy, and now Bush says that he is open to more cuts in those areas, which he calls "non-security discretionary spending." His characterization of the cuts he has proposed as non-security related is laughable. True, he doesn't want to cut any bullets or bombs from the budget, but when he puts more people on the poverty rolls, what does he think will happen to crime? When he reduces the number of people with access to medical care, what does he think will happen to state and local budgets when these people seek emergency treatment in droves? When more children are hungry, will they turn down the opportunity to feed their families through the sale of illegal drugs? On the flip side, increases in "defense" spending, coupled with American military policy, are serving as a recruitment tool for al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. If the president really wanted to reduce his budget deficit and increase security at home, he would do away with the tax cuts for the rich, stop the off-budget spending on the military by bringing the troops home from Iraq, and increase the support that 37 million poor Americans need to raise themselves out of poverty.
26 October 2005
Iran. Newly elected Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called for the nation of Israel to be "wiped out from the map." He also said, "God willing, with the force of God behind it, we shall soon experience a world without the United States and Zionism." This man, and those who think like he does, worship a god of hatred and violence, not a God of love and justice. I have been critical of many actions of both the Israeli and U.S. governments, and I will continue to be critical as I see them acting in ways not in accordance with my understanding of God's will. However, to call for the eradication of an entire nation, or perhaps an entire religion (it's unclear to me exactly what he's advocating), is to promote hatred and even genocide. I know that many in the Muslim world are intensely angry at the injustices done to the Palestinian people over the past several decades, and many U.S. actions in the Middle East have been deplorable as well, promoting injustice rather than justice. One can easily point to many examples of Muslim on Muslim violence and injustice, however, including Saddam Hussein's attack on both the Kurds and Iran; the repression of Muslim women in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and especially in Afghanistan under the Taliban; the sectarian strife between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq and elsewhere; and terrorist attacks on Muslim civilians. The answer to violence and injustice is not more violence and injustice. The only cure to the current problems in the Middle East is dialog, mutual respect, support for human rights, and a willingness to live alongside those whose opinions differ from one's own as brothers and sisters. Ahmadinejad's vicious rhetoric is cause for concern, but not alarm, for it is only the pathetic whimper of an ideology whose time is almost over. The future belongs to people of reason, compassion, and goodwill, not irrationality, cruelty, and hate. The more reasonable governments of the world should keep their eyes on him, but if all he has is hot air, let the Iranian people deal with him.
25 October 2005
Rosa Parks. The mother of the Civil Rights Movement died yesterday at the age of 92. On 1 December 1955, Rosa Parks boarded a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, and took her seat. A short time later the bus driver, with whom she had had a run-in before, came back and told her that she would have to vacate her seat so that white people could sit there. When she refused to budge, the bus driver called the police. Although Parks was not the first black person arrested for refusing to give up a seat on a bus, it was her arrest that spurred the NAACP to protest the policy, and her act encouraged a young, little known local pastor named Martin Luther King, Jr., to organize a boycott of the Montgomery bus system. More than a year later, after the boycott had made the busses in Montgomery almost riderless, the city relented on its policy. Parks lost her job because of her stand, she and her husband moved to Detroit, where she became a tireless worker for civil rights for African Americans--in fact, for all Americans. In 1996 Rosa Parks received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and in 1999 she was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. More important than these awards, however, was the gratitude and respect she earned from all Americans of goodwill for her courageous stand against injustice.
Iraq. The death toll among U.S. soldiers has reached the 2,000 mark in the continuing, increasingly unpopular, war on Iraq. Despite repeated claims by the administration that the situation in Iraq is improving and that Iraqis are grateful for the American presence, both polls and an unbiased view of the situation on the ground suggests otherwise. How many more Americans must die for the misjudgments and deceptions of the Bush administration? Just as importantly, how many more Iraqis must die?
NRA. The National Rifle Association, one of the country's most powerful lobbies, has succeeded once again in persuading, intimidating, or buying enough members of Congress to promote its legislative agenda. The House voted last week to grant gun dealers and distributors almost unlimited immunity from prosecution when people use their products to kill and maim others. One congressional supporter of the NRA likened suing gun dealers when people commit mayhem with their products to suing an auto maker when someone is involved in a hit and run. The analogy is false. When someone hits another person with a car, they are using the car in a manner for which the car was not intended. In contrast, when one person shoots another with a gun--particularly a handgun or an assault weapon--the perpetrator is using the gun exactly as intended. Handguns and assault weapons are designed to shoot and kill people, and it makes sense to hold arms dealers who profit from the terror their products produce at least partially responsible for the destruction they cause. What is really needed, of course, is reasonable, enforceable, strict gun laws that will alleviate the tens of thousands of deaths that guns cause every year, whether as a result of accident or crime. The NRA's positions have nothing to do with protecting the rights of hunters and everything to do with supporting a culture of violence and extremism.
Harriet Miers. I've been unsure how to feel about President Bush's nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. On the one hand, I think he could well have appointed someone worse, a documented right-wing ideologue along the lines of Scalia and Thomas. On the other hand, she appears to be someone who is grossly underqualified for the job, even more so than Clarence Thomas was at the time of his appointment. After weighing the "lesser of many evils" argument against the "lack of qualifications" argument, I've had to come down on the side of the latter. Despite my fears that the next nominee might be someone worse than Miers in terms of ideology, I have to think that the first qualification of a member of the Supreme Court is an exceptional, seasoned legal mind. I don't see any evidence of that in her record.
14 October 2005
Torture. Last week the Senate added to a military spending bill an amendment to prohibit torture of any person held in custody by the U.S. government (S.Amdt. 1977 to H.R. 2863). The amendment states, "No individual in the custody or under the physical control of the United States Government, regardless of nationality or physical location, shall be subject to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment." The Senate approved the amendment by a vote of 90 to 9. Who could vote against an amendment that condemns torture? The following nine senators did:
Their rejection of the measure seems to be the result of a sycophantic acquiescence to President Bush's will, after Bush called for the amendment to be defeated. The right wing of the Republican Party thinks of itself as the principled voice of Christianity. On which of Jesus' statements was the vote to allow the government to torture prisoners based? Do President Bush and these nine Republican senators represent a type of Christianity acceptable to the majority of American Christians?
7 October 2005
Supreme Court. Bush's recent nomination of Harriet Miers as a Supreme Court justice has raised hackles on both the right and the left, since nobody knows much about her opinions on any relevant subject. She is a stealth pick par excellence, as well as yet another example of Bush's penchant for cronyism. Bush may be telling the truth to his religious right supporters when he says that she shares his judicial philosophy (though perhaps the phrase "judicial philosophy" is a little strong when referring to this president). Maybe she really is a "strict constructionist" (code for opposition to Roe v. Wade, among other things) whose mind is incapable of change over the next 20 years, as Bush has stated. On the other hand, her nomination, especially when seen in light of his previous nomination of John Roberts, might signal something entirely different. Maybe Bush has just been playing the religious right all this time. Maybe he really is only concerned about tax cuts for the rich, increased executive power, welfare for corporate giants at the expense of the poor, wars of imperialism, and abolition of basic human rights for prisoners, issues the religious right often goes along with but which rarely make the top of their list of desiderata. It seems apparent that John Roberts is at least somewhat to the left of former Chief Justice Rehnquist (who wouldn't be?). Is it possible that Miers is cut from the same moderate ideological cloth as Sandra Day O'Connor? Wouldn't it be ironic if, after all the religious language and overt courting (no pun intended) of the religious right, Bush appointed people to the Court who really had little interest in the issues that the religious right finds important, and that he had just been pandering to them all along?
30 September 2005
William Bennett. Former Secretary of Education William Bennett is under fire today for remarks he made on a radio show yesterday. He said, "If you wanted to reduce crime, you could--if that were your sole purpose--you could abort every black baby in this country and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossibly ridiculous and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down." Some commentators have attacked him for advocating the extermination of African Americans by aborting black babies in large numbers, but it is clear that he mentioned the notion only to oppose it. He does not support the deliberate genocide of African Americans, and he has consistently opposed abortion, so it is clear that he cannot be faulted on this count. What is disturbing about his comment is the idea that reducing the number of blacks in this country would reduce the crime rate, because the implication is that blacks are intrinsically more inclined to commit crimes than are whites. If the crime rate (for certain types of crimes, but not others) is higher in predominantly black communities than in predominantly white communities, the problem is not the color of someone's skin but the opportunities, or lack thereof, that one group has in comparison to the other. If we would reduce the poverty rate, improve the quality of education, and overcome the persistent culture of discrimination in our country, crime rates would decrease in all ethnic groups.
God in the U.S. Constitution? Karen Hughes, Bush's newly appointed Under Secretary and Ambassador for Public Diplomacy, told an audience in the Middle East this week that the U.S. Constitution speaks of "one nation under God." She apparently confused the Pledge of Allegiance (as amended in 1954) with the Constitution. The Constitution doesn't mention God, but it mentions religion twice: once in Article 6, which says, "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust"; and once in the First Amendment, which gives people the right to the free exercise of religion but prohibits government from establishing religion. If a high-ranking Bush administration official has such an abysmal knowledge of the Constitution, believing that it speaks about God, that goes a long way toward explaining why the White House is so persistent in its attempts to do away with the separation of church and state. Either that, or maybe they really don't care what the Constitution says.
Bill Moyers. I heard Bill Moyers speak tonight about the need for people to be aware of what's happening in the country and to stand up and combat the oppressive direction in which the Bush administration is taking us. He mentioned a quote from George Bernard Shaw that reflects well the lack of courage that the American mainstream media has shown in recent years, and especially since 9/11: "The problem with the press is that they can't tell the difference between a bicycle crash and the end of civilization." It's not just the press, either, but also preachers, teachers, businesspeople, and ordinary voters. The religious right is adept at presenting its view of the world. We progressive Christians need to learn to express ourselves just as forcefully, but with more humility and grace, so that ordinary, thinking people will see the perils of the fundamentalist worldview and the positive power of ours.
29 September 2005
Republicans in trouble. After being censured by the House Ethics Committee three times in the past year, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay has now been indicted by a Travis County grand jury for money laundering. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is being investigated for insider trading, having sold a number of shares of family stock at a propitious moment before their price fell. Then there's Karl Rove, who is at the center of the ongoing investigation into the leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's name to the press. While all these criminal investigations are going on, the biggest crime continues unabated, the illegal, immoral war on Iraq, foisted by the Bush administration on the country with false reports about WMDs and Iraq connections to Al Qaeda.
Voting patterns. As part of an assignment for her government class, my daughter asked me yesterday why I am a Democrat. Without hesitation, I answered that I am a Democrat because I am a Christian. That doesn't mean that I reflexively support every policy or party plank that Democrats come up with--remember that many were in favor of the war on Iraq--but it does mean that, overall, I believe that the policies of the Democratic party lie closer to the message of the Christian gospel than the policies of Republicans. If I had been around in Lincoln's day, I would probably have been a Republican. Today, however, after the great shift in political affiliation that took place in the South in the wake of the civil rights movement, it is Democrats who, more often than their opponents, support policies that are designed to benefit the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized, both here and around the world. I often wish I had other alternatives, but in the American two-party system, there aren't any other viable parties at the moment. I keep hoping, though.
25 September 2005
Homosexuals in Seminaries. Word has recently leaked to the news media that the Vatican plans to ban gays from attending Roman Catholic seminaries. The document apparently makes no distinction between practicing homosexuals and those with homosexual tendencies who remain celibate. The RCC certainly has the right to dictate who may or may not enroll in its seminaries, but it seems to me that such a move is a step in the wrong direction. Since the church insists on celibacy among its clergy, by not distinguishing between homosexual orientation and homosexual practice the Vatican is suggesting that homosexuals are less able to control their sexual drive than heterosexuals, an assumption for which there is no scientific data, as far as I'm aware. In addition, this move will further alienate gay Catholics, driving many out of the RCC and perhaps out of Christianity altogether.
15 September 2005
Hurricane Katrina. President Bush tonight pledged that the federal government would spend whatever it takes to rebuild New Orleans. That's good, even though it will cost taxpayers perhaps as much as $200 billion. Wouldn't a few hundred million dollars spent on the levees beforehand have been a better investment? This administration specializes in reacting to disasters--not always wisely--rather than preventing them, so this is par for the course. Here's an idea for reconstructing the city and the surrounding parishes. How about hiring local suppliers and contractors rather than giving all the big contracts to Halliburton?
1 September 2005
Hurricane Katrina. Hurricane Katrina has brought out the best and the worst in people. On the one hand, neighbors have risked their lives to save neighbors, and people around the country are giving generously to charities to aid victims of this disaster. On the other hand, looters rob from people who have already lost almost everything, armed gangs of thugs roam the streets, and oil companies and local stations gouge the public with artificially high prices.
Hurricane Katrina. Why does the president tell people that aid is "on the way"? Why isn't it already there, more than three days after the hurricane passed over the Gulf coast? Aid that is "on the way" isn't keeping people from dying of thirst and exposure in the meantime. If this administration had spent the money that the Army Corps of Engineers and the governor of Louisiana requested on repairs and upgrades to the levees around New Orleans, instead of squandering so much on the war in Iraq, thousands of lives might have been saved.
Bush Vacation. Hurricane Katrina is the second major national disaster to occur on President Bush's watch, the first being the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Both occurred during or just after Bush's month-long (or longer) August vacation on his ranch in Crawford, Texas. More attention to detail, such as the memo entitled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.," which referred to hijacking airplanes, might have prevented 9/11. He obviously couldn't have prevented the hurricane from striking where it did, but he could have coordinated relief efforts much more efficiently so that aid could have reached the stricken people more quickly, either overland, by boat, or by air. Presidents deserve to take vacations, but the nearly 340 days that Bush has already vacationed since first taking office are a disservice to the country.
Poverty. The poverty rate in the U.S. rose from 12.5% to 12.7% in 2004, the Census Bureau has just reported. That means that 37 million people are living below the poverty level, up 1.1 million from 2003. According to Census Bureau historical tables, the poverty rate has now increased for four straight years (2001-2004), after having fallen over the previous seven years (1994-2000), which in turn followed five years of increases (1989-1993). Does anyone else see a pattern here? When the "near poor" (people between 100% and 125% of the poverty rate) are factored in, the number of poor and near poor in the U.S. is a staggering 17.1%, or nearly 50 million people.
23 August 2005
Foreign Aid. A study by the Center for Global Development finds that, of the 21 richest countries in the world, those whose citizens attend church the least regularly far out-give those whose citizens are the most church-going. At the top of the list in per-capita giving of aid to poor countries were Denmark, where only 3% of the population attends church at least once a week, followed by the Netherlands (14%), then by Sweden, Norway, and Finland, all with weekly attendance figures below 10%. In contrast, Ireland, where about 65% attend church weekly, ranked 19th out of 21. The next two most church-going countries, the U.S. and Italy, ranked 12th and 18th, respectively, on the list. These statistics suggest that the church is not doing a good job of proclaiming the prophetic message, echoed by Jesus, of concern for the poor. Moreover, citizens in the most religious countries are ineffective at persuading their elected governments to care for the poor. It is time for the church to stand up and say, "Quit spending money on weapon systems, and quit cutting taxes on the rich; it's time to take care of the poor of our world."
20 August 2005
Violation of the First Amendment. According to a story published in the Progressive (see http://www.commondreams.org/views05/0820-20.htm), a Delaware state trooper kicked several teenaged girls out of a Barnes and Noble bookstore where Senator Rick Santorum was signing copies of his latest book. The trooper threatened them with arrest on a variety of bogus charges if they didn't leave. This incident is typical of the suppression of free speech and the right to assemble under the current Bush administration. The girls in question, who disagreed with some of Senator Santorum's statements regarding same-sex marriages, had every right to attend a public event in a public setting. The Senator, who presumably did not know what was transpiring, should issue a public clarification of his position on "the right of the people peaceably to assemble" and on "the freedom of speech," both guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Barnes and Noble should publicly declare what its policy is regarding the right of people to express their opinions in an orderly fashion in their stores. Finally, the state of Delaware should publicly reprimand the state trooper involved in intimidating innocent citizens and abusing his authority and mandate civil rights training for their entire force. President Bush infamously said that the terrorists hate us for our freedoms. Is this the kind of freedom he was talking about?
19 August 2005
Brother Roger. Brother Roger, the 90-year-old founder of the Taizé Community in France, died Tuesday night after being stabbed while worshiping in the Church of Reconciliation by a mentally deranged woman. Brother Roger founded the Community in 1940 in the province of Burgundy in France. The Community is committed to share material and spiritual blessings, to celibacy, and to a life of simplicity. The group's focus on simplicity includes its worship services, which focus on prayer and meditation. Christians around the world, Catholic and Protestant alike, have adopted and adapted the Taizé style of worship. I recently attended such a service, which consisted of prayer, songs, and scripture reading. Brother Roger's vision of a church united is one that all Christians can embrace, as is his emphasis on living more simply. Hopefully news coverage of his tragic death will be superseded by coverage of his inspirational life and his call to unity in Christ.
16 August 2005
Cindy Sheehan. Cindy Sheehan, whose son was an American soldier killed in the war on Iraq more than a year ago, has been camping outside President Bush's ranch near Crawford, Texas, for the past week. She says she wants to meet the president so that he can explain why he sent her son to die in Iraq. While he's at it, I'd like to hear him explain to the families of more than 1,800 other Americans killed in Iraq why it was necessary to trump up charges against a two-bit dictator and invade his country without provocation. As Sheehan has been joined by dozens, perhaps hundreds, of supporters, one opponent of the protests showed his disregard for the families of the dead by driving his pickup truck over several crosses that had been set up as a makeshift memorial for fallen soldiers. I can think of few acts more disrespectful to the memory of soldiers who have given their lives in service to their country. Oh yes, I can think of one: sending them to a foreign land to die so that the president could settle a personal vendetta.
Iraq. After Bush tells Cindy Sheehan why he sent her son to die needlessly on foreign soil, his next job should be to tell the tens of thousands of Iraqi families who have lost loved ones why he invaded their country in the first place. To recap: there were no terrorists there, no WMDs, no long-range missiles, no threat to the U.S., no threat to their neighbors. To paraphrase Ricky Ricardo, it looks like the president has some 'splainin' to do.
President Bush. According to the press, Bush is currently on his 49th visit to his Crawford ranch and has spent something like 320 days on vacation since becoming president four and a half years ago. He'll soon break Ronald Reagan's record of 335 vacation days over eight years, with more than three years to spare. Wow, where can I get a job like that, and one that pays $250,000 per year to boot?! I suppose it's a good thing that he's spent so much time on vacation, though. Just imagine how screwed up the country would be if he'd spent more time on the job!
7 August 2005
Robin Cook. Former British foreign secretary Robin Cook died yesterday at the age of 59. A strong advocate for an "ethical foreign policy," Cook resigned from Tony Blair's cabinet when Blair forged ahead, in conjunction with U.S. President George W. Bush, to attack Iraq in 2003. He believed that the war was unethical, and he resigned his position rather than continue to hold high public office in a government that was engaged in an unjust war. Cook stands as an example of what principled public service is all about.
4 August 2005
Terrorism. Donald Rumsfeld says that the recent terror attacks in London have nothing to do with the U.S.-British invasion of Iraq. President Bush says that recent threats by a high-ranking al-Qaeda official will not change U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. Until these clueless individuals and others like them are voted out of office, the world will not be safe. Of course, ridding the world of these bozos won't automatically reduce the threat of terrorism, but electing leaders who will deal with the chief sources of terrorism--poverty, political exploitation, and desperation--will be a step in the right direction. Unfortunately for the U.S., Britain, and the rest of the world, they will remain in office for another three years.
2 August 2005
Iraq. The Iraq Coalition Casualty Count reached a morbid milestone today, with 2000 confirmed deaths of coalition forces, about 1800 of which were Americans. In the meantime, elected Iraqi representatives are putting together a constitution that will roll back human rights, especially for women. Iraqi civilians are considerably less safe than coalition forces, with tens of thousands of deaths since 2003. Iraq is a tragic illustration of the need for leaders who understand that war solves very little and should only be used as a last resort, which the war on Iraq was clearly not.
Muslims and Christians. There's a story on CNN today about Muslims and Christians in Niger working together to meet the needs of starving children. The two religious groups are not competing with one another, much less fighting one another, because their eyes are focused on the need in front of them. I'm reminded of what James says: "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world." Muslims and Christians in Niger are showing the world what true religion is.
Niger. Here's a quote from a 1 August story in the Guardian. "The starvation in Niger is not the inevitable consequence of poverty, or simply the fault of locusts or drought. It is also the result of a belief that the free market can solve the problems of one of the world's poorest countries." According to reports, plenty of food is available, but the poor can't afford to buy it, so they starve. Access to enough food to sustain life and health is a basic human right that pure, free-market capitalism is unable to meet. Every country, or even better the whole world, needs a social safety net that guarantees that not a single person lacks access to healthy food and clean water.
1 August 2005
John Bolton. In a move akin to having the fox guard the henhouse, President Bush used a recess appointment to make John Bolton the new U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Bolton, who was unable to gain Senate approval because of his anti-U.N. rhetoric and his difficulties in working with colleagues, is a perfect pick to proclaim Bush's message to the international community: the U.S. doesn't care what you think and it holds itself above international law. There should be some fun times ahead.
22 July 2005
TeleSUR. Venezuela is launching a new satellite channel, TeleSUR, that will cover the news of Latin America from a Latin American perspective. For a people dissatisfied with the typical American news stations whose point of view is consistently pro-capitalism, pro-globalization, pro-big business, pro-Northern hegemony, TeleSUR promises to offer a refreshing change of pace. Like al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya in the Middle East, TeleSUR will offer a true regional view of the news. Their mission statement states that their mission is to create a communication medium that: (1) develops a new communication paradigm for Latin America; (2) promotes the right to information and assumes truth as a basic principle; (3) stimulates the production, promotion, and diffusion of content inherent to the region, promulgating the recognition of the Latin American imagination; (4) is a sign of the times and an expression of the culture, with a concern for social wellbeing; (5) is a channel for encountering and debating ideas, containing programming that is as diverse and broad as the Latin American population itself. I look forward to seeing it. I wish we had a major television network in the U.S. that offered something similar to it.
James "Scotty" Doohan. Jimmy Doohan, who played Lt. Commander Montgomery Scott on the original Star Trek series, died Wednesday at the age of 85. As a lifelong Trekkie, I can't let this moment pass without memorializing Scotty. From Mr. Scott we learned that loyalty to your friends is important, but loyalty to your ship is worth fighting for. We learned that it's always important to hold something in reserve, just in case the captain asks for more than 100 percent. We learned that it's important to pad time estimates for projects by at least 100 percent, and if possible by 200 percent. Perhaps most importantly, we learned that when you do an important, difficult job, everything goes better when you have a smile on your face and can crack jokes in the midst of everything. This time, we'll beam you up Scotty!
21 July 2005
Censorship. A report in today's newspaper says that China is using Internet filters to censor what Chinese citizens can read and post on their Web sites. Phrases like "democracy" and "Dalai Lama" are flagged as inappropriate. Using such means to try to censor a people that yearns for freedom of speech and other basic human rights is laughably inadequate. Chinese dissidents can take a page from Jewish and Christian apocalyptic writers, who substituted "Babylon" for "Rome" and used "abomination of desolation" to describe Antiochus Epiphanes and Domitian. Thus, "democracy" could become "patriotism" and "Dalai Lama" could become "Chairman Mao" in Chinese neo-apocalyptic parlance. I'm sure it's already happening.
Haiti. Father Gerard Jean-Juste recently returned to Haiti after a visit to the U.S., and he was promptly brought in for questioning by the Haitian police, accused of enter Haiti with weapons and money for mercenaries. When no evidence could be produced to support the allegation, Jean-Juste was released. Shortly thereafter, addressing a huge audience in a Sunday church service, Jean-Juste agreed that he had entered the country with a powerful weapon, and he held up his rosary. The unlawful overthrow, for the second time, of Haiti's elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, by local right-wing radicals, supported by a coalition of foreign forces led by the U.S. and France, should be of immense concern to Christians around the world. That Aristide's government had problems cannot be denied--after all, Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere--but powerful Western nations would be better advised to support fragile democracies instead of running roughshod over them, simply because we do not like the people's choice for president. How can we claim to support democracy on the other side of the world in Iraq when we are trampling the democratic aspirations of the Haitian people in our back yard?
7 July 2005
Terrorism. The bombings in London today by a group claiming allegiance to al Qaeda are a perfect example of what terrorism is: the indiscriminate killing of innocent noncombatants. People who engage in terrorist acts, despite their claims to the contrary, are enemies of the God of the Bible and the Quran. They do not worship God, only hate, and thus they are idolators of the worst kind. The group that perpetrated these criminal acts says that they are in retaliation for British attacks in Afghanistan and Iraq. If that is indeed the motivation, it calls into question the efficacy of the so-called "war on terror" that the Americans and British are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, particularly in Iraq, where there were few if any active terror cells prior to the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Killing innocent civilians is an outrage, regardless of whether civilians are specifically targeted, as in London, or whether civilians are considered acceptable collateral damage, as they were earlier this week in Afghanistan, and as they have been throughout the war on Iraq. If the London terrorists worship hate rather than God, whom do we worship when we support bombing campaigns that have killed tens of thousands in Iraq?
30 June 2005
The American Way. I was watching part of the 1978 movie Superman with Christopher Reeve. At the end of the movie Superman brings Lex Luthor and his crony Otis to a prison. "Hello, Warden. I think these men should be safe here with you until they can get a fair trial," Superman says. This is the same Lex Luthor who masterminded what can only be described as a terrorist act against the U.S. If Superman were to do the same thing today, he would be ridiculed by people like Karl Rove, who would probably demand either Luthor's summary execution, or at least indefinite detention as an enemy combatant, where he would be denied access to a lawyer and could possibly languish for years without charges being filed. Other radical rightwingers, the president included, would undoubtedly concur. Whatever happened to truth, justice, and the American way?
Kyoto. President Bush gave an interview to a Danish TV station, in which he claims that the Kyoto Protocols would have wrecked the U.S. economy. It is true that the U.S. economy might have been adversely affected in the short term by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but the long-term effects would have been overwhelmingly positive for both the U.S. and the rest of the world. Besides, from a Christian perspective, protecting the U.S. economy takes a backseat to protecting the global environment and the billions of people who will be affected by our shortsightedness and selfishness as a nation. Bush also said in the interview that more study is needed to determine whether human activity is primarily to blame for rising temperatures. No, more study is not needed. There is a scientific consensus that humans are already contributing to global warming. The only debate concerns how quickly global temperatures will rise and exactly what the long-term consequences will be. Of course, Bush also thinks that more study is needed to determine whether evolution is anything more than just an interesting hypothesis. He may also think the earth is flat, although I'm not sure about that. Bush did make one accurate statement, when he said that the fact that the U.S. is hooked on Middle Eastern oil is both a national security problem and an economic problem. In light of this apparently recent revelation, it is unfortunate that the Bush administration has no viable plan either to conserve oil (e.g., by backing higher CAFE standards for cars and trucks) or to support research into clean alternatives to petroleum-based fuels (i.e., not nuclear fission or coal).
Mad Cow Disease. The U.S. government admitted a few days ago that a second case of a cow with mad cow disease, or BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy), has been confirmed in southeast Texas. Despite the government's assurances that the cow in question never entered the food supply, I have to wonder whether, since BSE is communicable, other cows in close proximity to the mad cow entered the food stream. Another question: how did this cow get BSE in the first place? Is the food supply really as safe as the USDA claims it is?
29 June 2005
Iraq. President Bush last night tried to justify his unjustifiable invasion of Iraq by tying it to the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001. The facts are these: (1) Al Qaeda terrorists, mostly Saudis, attacked the U.S. on 9/11; (2) no Iraqis were on the planes that hit the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, or that crashed in Pennsylvania; (3) no Iraqis were involved in the planning of the 9/11 attack; (4) before the U.S. invaded Iraq, little or no terrorist activity was taking place in Iraq, in part because of Saddam Hussein's tightfisted control; (5) since the U.S.-led invasion and the fall of Saddam Hussein's government, both homegrown insurgents and foreign fighters, many of them terrorists related to Al Qaeda, have emerged in Iraq; (6) the U.S. invasion of Iraq has been the greatest recruiting tool Osama bin Laden could ever have wished for; (7) more than 1700 Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis have died as a result of America's invasion of Iraq; (8) as long as American troops remain in Iraq, they will remain a focal point of attacks by disgruntled Iraqis and others unhappy with their presence; (9) the president's repeated attempts to tie Iraq to the 9/11 attacks are unjustified and unjustifiable.
Kenny Rogers. Texas Rangers pitcher Kenny Rogers, in an unprovoked attack, assaulted at least two cameramen Wednesday night, sending one to the hospital with minor injuries. Rogers has been unhappy all year with reporters because of a preseason story that he was planning to hold out for more money. Well boo-hoo-hoo, Kenny! You make millions of dollars per year playing baseball, and if you can't handle a few negative stories, then get out of the game. Actually, after this episode, the Rangers should cut Rogers, and he should forfeit the remainder of his 2005 salary. I say this despite the fact that Rogers has been the Rangers' winningest pitcher this year and leads the league in ERA, and despite the fact that I myself am a big Rangers fan. There's no room in baseball for such behavior.
25 June 2005
Iraq. The president says that he opposes setting a timetable for withdrawing American troops from Iraq, because doing so would encourage the insurgents. The insurgents are currently launching about 70 attacks per day, and in the past six months they have killed almost as many Iraqi policemen and soldiers as in the previous 21 months. So setting a timetable for withdrawal would encourage the insurgents? It sounds like what we're doing now is already encouraging them!
Iran. Supporters of a rightwing presidential candidate have stolen an election, and they now claim a mandate for radical changes, believe they have a definitive understanding of religion and morality, advocate the reduction of civil rights in the country, and are threatening to engage in dangerous research involving nuclear materials. Now the same thing has just happened in Iran!
Amnesty International. For more than four decades Amnesty International, a Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization dedicated to upholding human rights and supporting people in government custody who are denied their legal and civil rights, has worked tirelessly to make the world a better place. It has criticized torture and called for the release of prisoners of conscience in China, Iraq, Iran, Vietnam, South Africa, Cuba, and many other countries, and the U.S. has applauded and supported the group's work. Now that Amnesty has criticized the U.S.'s treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere, however, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleeza Rice, and other ultra-right ideologues have criticized and even ridiculed the group, and rightwing editorial writers and political cartoonists have lambasted them as well. Standing up for human rights and human dignity is the right thing to do, and former U.S. governments have been proud to do so, for the most part. The current Bush administration, though, is convinced that international law, including the Geneva Conventions, don't apply to the U.S., so they are now intent on vilifying one of the world's most respected human rights organizations. The Wall Street Journal, supporting the criticisms levied by the Bush administration, called Amnesty "a highly politicized pressure group," whose critiques of the U.S. "amount to pro-al Qaeda propaganda." Pravda, the mouthpiece for Soviet policy once edited by Josef Stalin, couldn't have said it better.
18 June 2005
Guantanamo Bay. When Dick Cheney said earlier this week that the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay should remain open, I foolishly assumed that his primary reason was that he was a hard core right wing ideologue who believed that non-U.S. citizens (and some U.S. citizens as well) have no fundamental civil rights that the U.S. government is bound to recognize. It turns out that that was only his secondary reason for wanting the base to stay open. His primary reason was because his old company Halliburton had a $30 million contract to rebuild the facility, and his commitment to Halliburton trumps all other concerns.
United Nations. The U.S. House of Representatives is threatening to withhold payments to the U.N. if it doesn't implement reforms that are aimed at curbing corruption and improving accountability. Tom DeLay, the embattled House Majority Leader, said, "The U.N.'s corruption is so breathtaking in its scope as to be almost universal." And if anyone should know corruption, it's Tom DeLay, who has been reprimanded by the House Ethics Committee on several occasions for improper behavior and is under investigation by the District Attorney of Travis County, Texas, for possible crimes related to the misuse of PAC money. (He also misused taxpayer money when he enlisted the aid of the FAA in tracking down political enemies, but that's a different story.) That the U.N. needs reform is not in doubt, but withholding money is not the way to accomplish reform, nor is nominating as ambassador a man, John Bolton, who has no respect for the institution.
Public Broadcasting. First it was Sponge Bob, and now it's Big Bird. While Congress is trying to cut funding to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which supports such shows as Sesame Street, President Bush is quietly going about the business of shoving public television sharply to the right through his appointments of hard right executives. Public television is supposed to be nonpartisan and represent views from across the political spectrum. The Bush administration doesn't need another mouthpiece for the Republican party. It's already got Fox News, and it also has NBC, CBS, ABC, and CNN cowering in the corner, afraid to present anything critical of the administration or its policies. If we can't have a network that presents a left of center viewpoint as a counterbalance to Fox, at least we should be able to have one that presents both sides. PBS is in danger of becoming one-sided, leaning to the right, just like all the other major news networks.
Anti-Semitism. Pope Benedict XVI suspended the planned beatification of a 19th century French priest, after critics complained that his writings reveal a pronounced anti-Semitic bias. That the church will further investigate the priest's writings is a hopeful sign that it will continue to probe its anti-Semitic past. Many people who are currently recognized as saints by the Roman Catholic Church, as well as numerous leading figures in the Protestant churches, have been serious or even rabid anti-Semites, and it is high time for the church to acknowledge the fact. Officially acknowledging the church's sins of the past is the first step in overcoming those sins in the future.
17 June 2005
Abuse of Power. Yesterday doctors released the results of an autopsy performed on Terri Schiavo that confirmed what court-appointed doctors had said all along, that she was in a persistent vegetative state. The autopsy revealed that she was blind and that her brain had atrophied to about half of its original mass. They also announced that there was no evidence that some sort of abuse or assault had caused her to collapse 15 years ago. Despite these findings, Florida governor Jeb Bush is calling for a new investigation into the causes of her death, implying that her husband Michael delayed calling for help when he found his wife unconscious. Bush's efforts to prevent Michael Schiavo from removing his wife's feeding tube failed time and time again in the courts, because judges consistently sided with the doctors. His further attempts to have the Congress and the federal courts intervene in the case also ultimately failed. His continued prosecution of this case appears to be persecution of Michael Schiavo, against whom he seems to have a personal vendetta. Voters in Florida and around the country should see his actions for what they are, a blatant abuse of power.
15 June 2005
Patriot Act. The U.S. House of Representatives voted Wednesday to strip the federal government of the right to search library and book store records to see what U.S. residents are reading, a provision included in the existing Patriot Act. President Bush has threatened to veto the measure, and the Senate has yet to vote on the measure. Denying the government the right to monitor what Americans are reading is reportedly "offensive" to Bush. Could that be because he doesn't read, so he can't imagine how offensive it is to U.S. citizens to have the government snoop into their reading habits? The first lady is a librarian, isn't she? Laura, knock some sense into your husband's head!
Global Warming. Both British Petroleum (BP) and Royal Dutch/Shell have acknowledged that fossil fuels contribute significantly to global warming, and they have begun investing money in fossil fuel alternatives. Not so Exxon-Mobil, according to the Wall Street Journal. Exxon denies that fossil fuels contribute significantly to global warming (but at least they accept the scientific data that supports global warming; are you listening, Bush administration?), and they oppose the Kyoto Protocols, which call for cutting back on the use of fossil fuels in order to reduce emissions. Burning fossil fuels doesn't contribute to global warming? Right, and smoking cigarettes doesn't cause cancer. This is yet another example of corporate greed and the total disregard for the welfare of anyone on the planet, other than stockholders.
14 June 2005
Debt Relief. The world's richest nations, which will meet at the G8 summit in Scotland next month, have announced that they will forgive the debt of 18 of the world's poorest countries, in the amount of $40 billion. Much of the credit for this decision goes to worldwide campaigns devoted to alleviating poverty, such as the ONE Campaign in the U.S. and the Make Poverty History campaign in Europe. This is a great start in the direction of economic justice, but it is only a start. Debt relief for other poor countries would be a good second step, and an even larger third step would be for all the industrialized countries to take steps to devote at least 0.7% of their GDP toward economic development and ending poverty, as the U.N.'s Millennium Goal challenges countries to do. The U.K., France, Germany, and Italy have all committed to reaching that goal by the year 2015 or earlier, but the world's richest country, the U.S., has yet to make such a commitment. The U.S. currently gives the largest dollar amount to relief projects, but only 0.16% of its GDP, so well below its fair share. As of 2004, the only countries which had already reached the 0.7% mark were Norway, Luxembourg, Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands.
Guantanamo Bay. Many Democrats and even a few Republicans are calling for the U.S. prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to be closed because of the numerous reports of prisoner mistreatment there. Vice President Dick Cheney says that the facility should remain open, because "our policy is the correct one." Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld says that the camp at Guantanamo Bay is a key part of the U.S. war on terror. These men couldn't be more wrong. The U.S. policy of imprisoning people without charge and without recourse to the court system is the same approach that people like Stalin, Saddam Hussein, and leaders of other oppressive regimes have taken in the past. Rumsfeld speaks of the great lengths to which the U.S. goes to make sure that the "detainees" have appropriate food and that their daily schedule is organized around the five daily Muslim calls to prayer. I'm sure it's a great comfort to people being held indefinitely in prison without charge that they can eat good food. I wonder how Rumsfeld would like it were he to fall into the hands of the many people overseas who believe he should stand trial for war crimes? Oh wait, at least he would know what he was being charged with and have access to a lawyer! The U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay is a blight on the formerly good name of America. If the government has any desire to begin rehabilitating the international reputation of the U.S. as the champion for democracy and human rights, it should start by shutting down the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, then either releasing all the inmates or charging them with crimes.
Iraq. Despite Bush and Cheney's ever-optimistic assessment of the situation in Iraq, the recent spate of attacks on both U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians belies their evaluation. As the U.S. death toll passed the 1700 mark this week, chaos reigns. A war begun on lies continues to be prosecuted on the basis of more lies, and innocent people are paying the price.
Flag Day. Today is Flag Day in the U.S., the day designated on the calendar to display the national flag with pride. However, as long as the U.S. is occupying another country under false pretenses, the world will see our flag as a symbol of imperialism rather than freedom. It is time for the U.S. to pull all troops out of Iraq and replace them with peacekeepers from the Arab League (or another group designated by the Iraqi people). No country is perfect, and there is a time and place for patriotism, but the time is not now, not as long as the U.S. remains an unwelcome occupying force in any country on the globe.
5 June 2005
Bushism. On Tuesday, 31 May, President Bush uttered this jewel of oratory: "It seems like to me they [Amnesty International] based some of their decisions on the word of . . . people who were held in detention, people who hate America, people that had been trained in some instances to disassemble--that means not tell the truth." Not coincidentally, the "word of the day" on dictionary.reference.com for Monday, 30 May, was "dissemble," which means "to hide the true meaning." Several points could be made about Bush's statement. First, the president's persistent misuse of the English language calls into serious question--again--what this man is doing in the most powerful office in the world (looking for the men's room?). Second, it's good that the president is trying to improve his vocabulary, but he should really make sure he knows how to pronounce a word before trying it out in public. Third, does he really think that people who have been held prisoner for two years or more and denied the rights guaranteed them under the Geneva Conventions will love the country that incarcerated them? Fourth, maybe Bush was confusing the Guantanamo detainees with computer experts from China or India, who really have been trained to disassemble, that is, take computer object code and convert it back into assembly language--you know, a foreigner is a foreigner, and if you're not with us, you're with our enemies!
3 June 2005
Deep Throat. The recent revelation that Deep Throat, the confidential source that passed a great deal of information concerning Watergate to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, was the FBI's number two man, Mark Felt, has caused fresh debate over the ethics involved in leaking confidential information. Ironically, though most Americans believe that Felt did a service to his country, some Watergate criminals fault him for not following proper procedures, such as letting the Justice Department investigate the case. Is this the same Justice Department headed by Nixon appointees? That would be like the military investigating the abuses at Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo Bay! If Felt had followed procedures, Nixon would have served his full second term in office. Felt and other high-level whistle-blowers of the past--like Daniel Ellsberg, who published the Pentagon Papers--have done this country a great service by pointing out corruption and lies in the highest echelons of government. Deep Throat's revelations were the only way to prevent an injustice perpetrated at the highest level of American government, and Felt is a true patriot for what he did. May others have the courage to stand up to lies and corruption perpetrated by governments and individuals in those governments who consider themselves above the law.
1 June 2005
Guantanamo Bay. Amnesty International has published a sharp critique of American violations of human rights at the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, comparing it to conditions in the Soviet gulags in the 20th century. Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and George W. Bush have all criticized the report, claiming that its findings are fallacious. Rumsfeld called it "reprehensible." What's really reprehensible is that government officials, who proclaim a divine right to export American values to other countries, continue to support the torture and abuse of prisoners, claim exemption from the Geneva Conventions, and deny counsel and habeas corpus rights to prisoners. To claim that prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay are not entitled to civil rights because the base is outside the U.S. is outrageous, as even the U.S. Supreme Court has noted. However, the Bush administration, which was put in office in the first place by the Supreme Court, has steadfastly ignored the Supreme Court's decision that all detainees have certain basic rights that must be honored. While the Bush administration may not engage in summary executions in the manner of Saddam Hussein, its treatment of prisoners remains far from the standards that most people in Western democracies expect. So was Amnesty International wrong in its assessment of Bush administration policies? I'll take the word of an internationally respected human rights organization over the collected protests of proven liars any day.
23 May 2005
Filibuster. The "nuclear option" that some Republicans in the Senate, including the majority leader, were threatening to invoke will now apparently not happen. Thanks to the efforts of fourteen senators, seven Democrats and seven Republicans, the filibuster is safe for now. The senators agreed to allow the nominations of three of President Bush's judicial nominees to go forward, while two others will still be subject to filibuster. The filibuster is the only way that the minority party has to prevent the tyranny of the majority, but the fact that one party feels the need to filibuster judges points out a serious flaw in the system. There are undoubtedly many, many qualified judges that both sides can agree on. Why, then, does the president insist on pushing forward judges that the other side believes to be unacceptable? Filibustering judicial nominees would become rare or even nonexistent if both sides would get together and choose an extensive list of potential nominees acceptable to both sides, or if the president would submit a preliminary list to the Senate prior to official nominations.
19 May 2005
Star Wars. Yes, the movie. Notable quotes: (1) Padme (Queen Amidala): "So this is how freedom dies--to thunderous applause." Cf. the Patriot Act, rigged elections, the "nuclear option," national identity cards. (2) Darth Vader: "If you're not with me, you're my enemy." President Bush redivivus (or predivivus!).
18 May 2005
Acts of War. According to a recently released recording by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, "killing of infidels by any method including martyrdom operations has been sanctified by many scholars even if it meant killing innocent Muslims." In other words, the murder of innocent civilians is OK as long as a few of the enemy are killed as well. The immorality of such a statement should be staggeringly obvious to anyone with an ounce of respect for human life. Unfortunately, many governments around the world, including the U.S., apparently subscribe to the same theory: as long as a few terrorists (or communists, or insurgents, or enemy combatants, or enemy soldiers) are killed, the murder of innocent civilians is justified. People of all faiths and others with a sense of ethics must stand up and oppose those who act so immorally, whether they be rebels like Zarqawi or governments.
Star Wars. No, not the movie. The U.S. Air Force is seeking permission from the president to deploy weapons in space. The Air Force wants "space superiority," which it defines as "freedom to attack as well as freedom from attack." Putting weapons in space is a spectacularly stupid idea, for it invites other countries to do the same. A better idea is to enlist the international community to commit not to put weapons in space and to monitor one another to make sure that the commitment is honored. The space race in the 1960s focused on reaching the moon. Future space races should focus on other worthwhile goals, not goals that, if achieved, will increase the risk of global annihilation. People who don't want to see the earth reduced to a smoldering cinder should support the International Treaty Banning Space-Based Weapons and the Use of Weapons against Objects in Space in Orbit, or another, similar treaty.
27 April 2005
Separation of Church and State. Highview Baptist Church is Louisville, KY, sponsored "Justice Sunday" last Sunday. This "worship" service was a political rally whose goal was to get twelve of President Bush's most controversial judicial nominees approved by the Senate. I have no problem with political rallies to support causes about which people feel strongly, but I take great umbrage at a church using its Sunday morning worship service to promote such causes. There may be a fine line between the prophetic comments on matters related to politics and political statements disguised in religious garb, but "Justice Sunday" at Highview Baptist Church didn't even come close to the line. It was blatantly political, with no substantial religious content at all, other than "we don't like what's happening, so God must be against it!" The pastor of the church and all other participants who claim to be religious people should be ashamed of their perversion of a Christian worship service for political ends.
17 April 2005
John Bolton. President Bush's nominee for the post of U.S. ambassador to the U.N. has run into difficulties, as Democratic senators, who unanimously oppose his nomination, bring witness after witness before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to testify that he is unfit for the job. Testimony so far has centered on his apparent inability to work with subordinates who disagree with his positions. It is exactly this sort of attitude that brought us the current War on Iraq. At least as important as questions of temperament and his ability to deal with people who have different opinions (something he's likely to run up against in the U.N.!) is his attitude toward the U.N. as an institution. John Bolton as U.N. ambassador is a bit like making Charlton Heston the president of Stop the NRA: it's not exactly a logical fit.
United Nations. China and Japan are in the midst of a squabble fueled by several factors: Japan's refusal to apologize officially for atrocities committed during World War II, China's refusal to quell violent protests outside Japanese embassies, long-term rivalry and disaffection between China and Japan, and Japan's bid to become a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council under proposed U.N. charter changes. Japan should certainly apologize to China, Korea, and others for its troops' misdeeds during the war, which included murder, rape, and enslavement of civilians, not to mention aggressive, unprovoked attacks on other countries. Furthermore, it should make sure that its history textbooks reflect Japan's faults alongside its triumphs. Having said that, China has much to apologize for as well, particularly in the years since the war. China's human rights record is abysmal, and it leads the world in executions of prisoners every year. It prohibits political dissent, suppresses freedom of speech, and persecutes practitioners of certain unfavored religions. Its actions during the Cultural Revolution are a litany of human rights abuses. China is thus on very thin ice in criticizing Japan, especially since Japan's sins date primarily to a time sixty years ago, while China's violation of the U.N.'s Universal Declaration of Human Rights continues to this day. What about Japan's desire to become a permanent member of an expanded Security Council? I support Japan's inclusion on the Security Council, but I don't think any reforms of the U.N. charter will be just that don't include two major changes to the way the Security Council functions. First, there should be no permanent members of the Security Council. Nations should be chosen by their peers on an annual or biannual basis to serve for a set term. Second, no country on the Security Council should have the right to veto the actions of the rest of the Council. Simple majorities should prevail in most instances, although some types of actions--especially the ability to declare war--should probably require a 2/3 supermajority to pass. As long as regional and ideological balance are maintained through some agreed-upon mechanism for choosing countries (maybe the top two vote-getters of regional groups like the OAS or the Arab League could select their own representatives), an expanded and reformed Security Council is a good idea. What's a bad idea is leaving the Security Council subject to the bullying of the five current permanent members, which do not include any representatives from the southern hemisphere, Latin America, Africa, or any developing nation.
5 April 2005
Pope John Paul II. The pope died this past Saturday, bringing an end to the second longest papacy in history. From the beginning of his reign, John Paul signaled his concern for human rights, justice, and the poor. He visited innumerable countries around the globe, and he sought reconciliation with Jews, Muslims, and Protestants. His facility with languages was amazing, and he offered blessings and prayers in many different languages, including English, Spanish, Italian, French, Greek, Russian, and even a version of Pidgin English. He was always able to connect with his audience. His opposition to communism early in his tenure and while still a cardinal is credited in part with the rise of the Solidarity movement in his native Poland and the fall of communist regimes in Eastern Europe. However, his anti-communism sometimes translated into an unfortunate opposition to liberation theology, which often uses Marxist analysis of social issues (but of course avoids atheism), and his conservative views regarding the role of women in the church, contraception, and other issues were opposed by more progressive members of his church (and many outside the church). Despite my own personal disagreements with some of his positions, I will always remember his staunch opposition to the death penalty, war, and economic policies that exacerbate poverty. His call for debt relief for the world's poorest nations was a challenge that the richest countries of the world need to continue hearing. He was a humble man, full of passion, and dedicated to living the life of Jesus, as he understood it, in the eyes of the world. He will undoubtedly continue to be an inspiration for generations to come, for Catholics, Protestants, and many others.
1 April 2005
Culture of Life. It is ironic that both President Bush and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay are speaking so much about a "culture of life" in the wake of Terri Schiavo's death. These are the same men who have inflicted death on tens of thousands of Iraqis and show little concern for the poor of America and around the world. They advocate building up America's nuclear aresenal, increasing the odds of global nuclear holocaust. They advocate tax cuts for the rich, while cutting services such as Medicaid for the poor. In particular, DeLay's purported concern for Terri Schiavo would be more believable if it weren't so self-serving, diverting media attention from the numerous ethics violations of which he is accused, and if it weren't so hypocritical, since he and other members of his family were afforded the right to "pull the plug" on his father's life-sustaining machines several years ago by the very court system he now berates so vociferously.
Ernst Mayr. The most recent issue of Scientific American bears the notice that one of the world's leading evolutionary biologists, considered by many to be the Dean of evolutionary biology, died recently at the age of 100. His career spanned more than 70 years, and he wrote more than 700 articles and 20 books, including his 2001 work, What Evolution Is. It is short by evolutionary biologists' standards, only a little over 300 pages, including indexes. I read the book shortly after it was published, and I found it to be the best overview of the subject available. Evolution is a touchy subject in some theological circles, but I would urge anyone who wants to learn about the evolution, regardless of his or her current perspective on the subject, to read this book. As Pulitzer Prize winner Jared Diamond says in the preface, "There is no better book on evolution. There will never be another book like it." As I've studied the subject of evolutionary biology over the years, I've become more and more convinced that evolution is nature's greatest testimony to the ineffable power and wisdom of God. Fiat creation can't hold a theological candle to the beauty and mystery of evolution.
Deforestation. As a boy I spent hours and hours hiking in the woods behind our house. I could walk for miles without encountering signs of human life other than the occasional Jeep trail. Now years later I've moved back to the same neighborhood, and I look out my back window at the bulldozers, earthmovers, and other mechanical behemoths that are knocking down trees willy-nilly, destroying the habitat of deer, cottontail rabbits, coyotes, foxes, raccoons, ringtails, skunks, eastern gray squirrels, shrub jays, Mexican jays, roadrunners, various types of hawks, white wing doves, mourning doves, prickly pear cactus, barrel cactus, and innumerable other species of plants and animals. I haven't seen a black-tailed jackrabbit in the vicinity in more than 30 years, though they used to be fairly common. I'm sure the developers think of all the new subdivisions as progress--certainly it's money in the bank--but I can only look on wistfully with regret, and think of Robert Burns' poem "On the Destruction of the Woods near Drumlanrig."
26 March 2005
Education. Some IMAX theaters in the South Carolina, Georgia, and Texas have refused to show a film about volcanoes because it makes passing references to evolution. "Many people here believe in creationism, not evolution," is the explanation these theaters have given. A survey of high school graduation rates in these states shows that South Carolina ranks number 50 (last) out of 50 states, Georgia ranks 49, and Texas ranks 37. Coincidence?
7 March 2005
Lebanon, Iraq. In the wake of the assassination last week of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, the Bush administration is calling for the complete withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon. Bush said that Syria was "out of step" with the will of other countries in the region. I fully support the call for Syrian troops to withdraw from Lebanon. I also support the total withdrawal of a much larger occupation force next door in Iraq. If Syria is out of step with the other countries in the region, the U.S. is marching to a completely different tune. The continued U.S. presence in Iraq only further complicates the lives of ordinary Iraqis, and we are wasting precious lives there (as well as taking precious lives--see below). Along with calling on the Syrians to pull out of Lebanon, global citizens must call on the U.S. to pull out of Iraq as well.
Iraq. A state funeral was held today in Rome for Italian secret service agent Nicola Calipari, killed by U.S. gunfire Friday when he apparently used his body to shield a just-released hostage, Giuliana Sgrena, from the bullets. Sgrena, a newspaper reporter in Italy, says that she believes it is possible that the U.S. government was purposely targeting her for assassination because of her contrary views on the war in Iraq. I doubt very seriously the assassination theory, but the truth behind the incident is just as troubling. Incompetence, not conspiracy, seems to lie at the root of this killing. It appears that poorly trained, or poorly supervised, young soldiers have been given extremely dangerous assignments in an extremely dangerous part of the country, and they've been given extremely dangerous weapons with which to carry out their assignments. Despite the military's attempt to paint over the incident, blaming the Italian convoy for driving too fast and failing to stop after clear signals were given, it seems obvious that in fact U.S. soldiers made a tragic mistake. When this story is seen in the context of the report that U.S. troops shot and killed a Bulgarian soldier (another one of our allies) on the same day that Calipari was killed, plus the numerous incidents of U.S. troops shooting journalists, friendly translators, and Iraqi civilians, it is clear that something is seriously amiss. The number of people killed by "friendly fire" is out of control, and the U.S. needs to investigate the causes and take corrective steps to prevent such tragedies from occurring in the future.
1 March 2005
Court Watch. The U.S. Supreme Court today ruled that the execution of people who were legally juveniles when they committed their crimes is unconstitutional. The ruling relied in part on the idea of "evolving national standards," which also played a role in their decision two years ago to disallow the execution of the mentally retarded. Justice Antonin Scalia, as might have been predicted, issued a scathing dissent of the ruling, and he was joined by the Court's two other extreme-right justices, William Rehnquist and Clarence Thomas, as well as by Sandra Day O'Connor. The execution of juveniles, or of those who committed crimes while they were juveniles, had previously been outlawed by every other industrialized country in the world. As usual, the U.S. lags behind on an important human rights issue. The Court's decision is welcome, but it does not go far enough. Judicial execution is a violation of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. What could be crueler than putting someone to death? (Well, torturing them first could be, and the Bush administration has made torture the official American policy for dealing with its enemies, foreign or domestic.) I look forward to the day when the U.S. joins the rest of the civilized world in outlawing the legalized murder of prisoners.
17 February 2005
President Bush named John Negroponte the first Director of National Intelligence today. I suppose on the theory that "it takes a thief to catch a thief," the choice makes sense. As part of the Reagan administration, Negroponte supported the Contra terrorists in their efforts to overthrow the government of Nicaragua in the 1980s, so he certainly knows something about terrorism. But of course, the Contras were "good terrorists," and al Qaeda and their ilk are "bad terrorists." It's a strange world we live in.
16 February 2005
Kyoto. The Kyoto Protocol has gone into effect worldwide without the participation of the world's biggest greenhouse gas polluter, the United States. As the North Pole experiences ice-free summers, portions of Antarctic ice shelves are breaking off from the continent, and ancient glaciers are melting away, the White House continues to claim that we need to study the impact and causes of global warming some more before we make any commitments to serious change. "Besides," they say, "we don't want to hurt the American economy." Tell that to the citizens of island nations like Tuvalu that are on the verge of disappearing, or to people living near the coast all over the world, in cities like New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Istanbul, Rome, Cape Town, Quito, and Amsterdam. Tell that to the millions more people who will soon be exposed to formerly tropical diseases like malaria and dengue fever. It's time for the U.S. to make decisions on the basis of the long-term good of the whole world, not on the basis of short-term gains for U.S. corporations.
6 February 2005
Budget Deficit. The news media reports that President Bush is about to propose a budget that cuts aid to farmers, people on food stamps, Medicaid, people in public housing, and millions of other needy Americans. He is doing this, in part, because of a pledge he made to cut the federal budget deficit in half within the next few years. Further victimizing the poor is no way to go about the worthwhile idea of reducing the budget deficit. The only just solution must involve reducing military spending, which has ballooned under Bush's oversight, and eliminating the tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans that Bush and his rich cronies in Congress passed. As someone in the last election cycle said repeatedly, we can do better!
28 January 2005
Bad Theology. Henry Blackaby, a prominent Christian author, says that his analysis of the areas of South Asia hit by the tsunami suggests that God was judging the people there for their persecution of Christians. However, Charles Kimball, author of When Religion Becomes Evil, takes exception to Blackaby's theological analysis, calling it "horrifically bad theology." That it is. Why would anyone want to serve a God who drowned over 300,000 people, many of them children, just to make a point? Such a God deserves to be rejected and denounced. That is not the God I serve. An earthquake caused the tsunami, not divine judgment. I believe that God is at work in all sorts of situations, including natural disasters such as this, not as the causative agent, but rather giving strength and comfort to those who are suffering, giving grace to those who are helping those who suffer, and suffering alongside them all.
More Bad Theology (and more on SpongeBob). On his Web site, James Dobson clarifies his comments concerning the media's use of SpongeBob, Big Bird, and other cartoon characters to promote a homosexual agenda. He wasn't claiming that the cartoons themselves promote homosexuality, he says. Rather, he was saying that the We Are Family Foundation, which made the video that included the cartoon characters, was promoting a homosexual agenda. In the first place, Dobson has apparently confused the We Are Family Foundation, which made the video and promotes tolerance, with the We Are Family Web site, whose primary mission is to oppose prejudice against homosexuals (is Dobson saying he supports prejudice against homosexuals?). The We Are Family Foundation, says Dobson, is supported by several pro-homosexual groups, so they are clearly promoting a pro-homosexual agenda. I found a Web site that has articles from the NRA Newsletter and a link to Dobson's Focus on the Family site. By Dobson's logic of guilt by association, this means that Dobson supports everything the NRA stands for. Now Michael Moore is a member of the NRA, so therefore, by Dobson's logic, Dobson must support everything that Michael Moore stands for, which I seriously doubt. More disturbing than Dobson's use of the standard right-wing guilt by association charge is a direct statement in Dobson's letter explaining his position on SpongeBob: "I'm sure you can see, now, why I expressed great concern about the intention of the We Are Family Foundation in using SpongeBob and company to promote the theme of 'tolerance and diversity,' which are almost always buzzwords for homosexual advocacy." Imagine promoting tolerance and diversity among children! How horrible! What's really horrible is that so-called Christian leaders advocate intolerance and homophobia in the name of Christ.
Court Watch. A U.S. Appeals Court is again looking into questions involving Vice President Dick Cheney's Energy Task Force. At issue is whether the federal government can hold secret meetings with undisclosed lobbyists who are helping to draft government regulations favorable to them. The administration claims that the energy industry lobbyists weren't really members of the task force, so the open meeting regulations don't apply. Although the Appeals Court earlier ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, ordering the records to be opened, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to uphold the ruling but sent it back to the Appeals Court, warning that its ruling must ensure that the White House must be protected from "vexatious litigation" that might hinder it from performing its duty. Is this the same Supreme Court that allowed Paula Jones' lawsuit against President Clinton for sexual harassment to proceed? Yes it is. Apparently matters of alleged personal misconduct may be pursued in a civil suit against a sitting Democratic president, but a case that involves well-connected Republican supporters is just so much "vexatious litigation," even though it has the potential to harm the environment and cost taxpayers billions of dollars. It is a sad day when the Supreme Court, as the 2000 Bush v. Gore decision so amply demonstrates, has abandoned even the pretense of evenhandedness and has become just another branch of one of the political parties.
14 January 2005
Environment. Willy Nelson has started a company to promote the use of clean-burning bio-diesel fuel, made primarily from vegetable oil. If all the cars in the U.S. ran on bio-diesel, our farmers would have a new market for their products, and our dependence on Middle East oil, and hence our inclination to meddle in Middle East affairs, would be eliminated. Is Willy smarter than those currently in charge of the U.S. government? (That's a rhetorical question.)
Court Watch. The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling, ruled the Federal Sentencing Guidelines unconstitutional, in part because they allow judges to unilaterally add time to a convicted felon's sentence because of various attendant circumstances not considered by the jury. The ruling also gives judges the leeway to sentence offenders to prison terms that are less than the formerly mandatory minimums. This ruling is good for two reasons. First, judges shouldn't be allowed to impose sentences greater than those decided by a jury, although they should be allowed to reduce sentences. Second, the reason we have judges, theoretically, is that we want them to apply judgment. Mandatory sentencing laws render judges ineffective and sometimes lead to gross miscarriages of justice, such as the California citizen who was sentenced to life in prison for stealing a pizza (it was his third felony). The tendency toward reliance on laws and rules rather than the judgment of competent individuals is one of the unfortunate trends in American life today, and it is just as evident in the public schools as it is in the courtroom. This ruling is a welcome step toward correcting this trend. Hopefully Congress will have the sense not to tamper with it.
Abu Ghraib. Charles Graner, the reputed ringleader of the prison abuse scandal in Iraq, was found guilty of a number of charges today and awaits sentencing. He could be forced to serve as many as 15 years in prison. He certainly deserves to be convicted and punished for his participation in the abuse, but Graner was not the ringleader of the abuse. No officers have been charged for their actions--or inactions--but there is no way that the widespread abuse at Abu Ghraib was the idea of only lowly enlisted men and women. The intelligence community, including the CIA, was involved in the abuse, because they believed that torture was a good way to extract data from prisoners, but no CIA personnel have been charged. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld approved policies that allowed abuse and torture to be carried out, both in Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, but he hasn't been charged with a crime or even fired. Alberto Gonzales, White House counsel, wrote legal justifications for abuse and torture, and he argued on paper that the Geneva Conventions didn't apply to prisoners captured in the Iraq War, but he hasn't been charged with a crime, and in fact he is being promoted to Attorney General. The person ultimately responsible, the real ringleader of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, is President George W. Bush. He approved Gonzales' memo concerning the violation of prisoners' rights, he supported and continues to support Rumsfeld's decision to implement torture and abuse of prisoners, and he has repeatedly attempted to justify the violation of the Geneva Conventions and other internationally recognized human rights in the name of the war on terrorism. George W. Bush is the real ringleader of the prison abuse scandal in Iraq, and it is he who should be brought to justice and impeached. Unfortunately, it is apparent that a small majority of Americans believe that torturing prisoners and ignoring international human rights conventions is OK, as long as Americans are the ones doing it. This gross arrogance and willful refusal to obey international law illustrates the need for stronger international enforcement mechanisms, including the International Criminal Court. Perhaps some future court will find Bush guilty of war crimes for his leadership in this scandal, in addition to his other crimes against humanity in Iraq.
20 December 2004
Symbolism. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is taking heat because he hasn't personally signed the letters sent to families of soldiers killed in action in Iraq. Instead, an assistant used a rubber stamp of his signature. President Bush today said that he knows Rumsfeld's heart, and he knows that he cares about American troops in Iraq. There are at least two problems with Bush's statement. First, consistent with his decision to award Medals of Freedom to leading architects of the war on Iraq, he showed once again that he doesn't understand the importance of symbolism. Whether or not Rumsfeld signs the letters personally doesn't prove anything about Rumsfeld's feelings about the deaths of soldiers, but the symbolic value of taking the time to personally sign the letters would have been great. A personal signature at least suggests an administration that cares about the soldiers it has sent to their deaths. Bush could take a cue from Abraham Lincoln and his Letter to Mrs. Bixby. Or maybe he should just attend one funeral of a soldier killed in combat. The second problem with Bush's statement is that, unless he is divine, he has no way of knowing what is in Rumsfeld's heart. This is not the first time Bush has used language like this. Early in his presidency he said that he "looked into Putin's soul" and saw a good man. This is the same Putin who is in the process of dismantling democracy in Russia and who is in a face-off with Bush over the Ukraine elections. Bush also called Ariel Sharon a "man of peace." This is the same Sharon accused by his own government of presiding over a massacre in Lebanon over a decade ago, the same man whose visit to the Temple Mount spurred the second Intifada. Bush's failure to understand the value of symbolism and his claims to possess divine knowledge about people's hearts and souls are related. Both stem from an inability to see nuance in life, a tendency to view the world in strictly black and white terms, accompanied by the belief in one's own infallibility. This is the man who still hasn't admitted any mistakes since becoming president. "You're either with us or with the terrorists" is a typical Bush statement. Bush's Manichean outlook on life is a threat to global peace, as his first term has already proved. What new disasters will his second term bring?
18 December 2004
Medal of Freedom. Earlier this week the Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award given by the U.S. government, was bestowed on three of the architects of the war on Iraq: former CIA Director George Tenet, Gen. Tommy Franks, and ambassador Paul Bremer. Tenet was responsible for much of the intelligence that was used to justify the invasion of Iraq, telling the president, for example, that the case for the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was "a slam dunk." Franks directed the invasion itself, which successfully routed Saddam Hussein's army (such as it was), but failed to secure the weapons caches, the museums, or the archaeological sites around the country (though they did manage to secure the building that housed the Oil Ministry: first things first). Bremer presided over a downward spiral of violence, chaos, and mayhem prior to the installation of the current Iraqi puppet government. These men had long and very likely distinguished careers, and they may well be deserving of the Medal of Freedom for the totality of their service over the past several decades. However, the symbolism of awarding the medals now, while Iraq is still seething with insurgents and far from either peace or democracy, is abhorent. These awards remind all Americans--indeed, the whole world--that the Iraq War was a war of choice, not of necessity, which was unjust, poorly planned, and--except for the actual military attacks--poorly executed. Bush has shows once again that his values are not those of most people on the planet.
16 December 2004
Beethoven. Ludwig van Beethoven was born in Bonn on 16 December 1770. He was indisputably the greatest musician of his day, and perhaps of all time. Initially an admirer of Napoleon, because of the latter's democratic pretences, his admiration turned to revulsion when Napoleon claimed the emperor's crown for himself. Beethoven's music celebrated the nobility of the human race and the hope that all humanity would unite to create a blessed and joyful world, the world imagined by the great Romantic poets. There is an ongoing struggle between realism and idealism. Though both are necessary, idealism should be the driving force, with realism serving to channel that force into constructive pathways.
Global Warming. Spring is coming earlier every year, according to scientific studies. The vernal equinox still comes at the same time, but lilacs are blooming earlier, to be precise, four days earlier than in 1965. In the meantime, polar bears are in danger of extinction, penguins in Antarctica are trapped by an iceberg that broke away from the Ross Ice Shelf (the largest iceberg ever recorded), sea levels are rising faster than predicted, and the Arctic is now ice-free during part of the northern summer. 2004 is shaping up to be the fourth hottest year on record, and all ten of the hottest recorded years have occurred since 1990. Global warming is a fact, not a "theory," and some scientists are even predicting that the release of methane gas trapped under the melting permafrost will speed up the warming beyond currently accepted models. Despite all this evidence, Bush still refuses to do take any positive steps to counteract the human--specifically the American--impact on global temperature. He refuses to join the Kyoto Protocol to curb greenhouse gas emissions, he refuses to support legislation to increase CAFE standards (gas mileage) in cars, and he refuses to invest any serious money in developing alternative energy technologies. He is essentially fiddling while the earth burns.
11 December 2004
As I walked by San Fernando Cathedral in downtown San Antonio today, I saw children and young people acting out a play--actually more of a dance--about the Virgin of Guadalupe, and I was reminded that today is her festival in the Catholic Church. The celebration commemorates the appearance of the Virgin Mary to a Mexican Indian named Juan Diego in 1531. After Juan Diego's experience, Catholicism spread like wildfire throughout Mexico and all Latin America. It is particularly significant that the Virgin appeared to Juan Diego as an Indian herself. Protestants, even those who accept any number of supernatural interventions in the Bible and church history literally, generally deny the reality of Mary's appearance in Mexico, or her other alleged appearances at Fatima, Medjugorje, etc. It's interesting to me that someone who believes in the literal appearances in the Bible of the angels Gabriel and Michael, of various other unnamed angels throughout the Old Testament, of the deceased Samuel to Saul, and of Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration would have a problem believing that Mary might appear on occasion to the faithful. If angels and demons make literal rendezvous with people today, why not Mary? I suppose it's just deep-seated anti-Catholicism. As a Protestant myself, I find the devotion associated with the Virgin of Guadalupe both interesting and illuminating. From a purely human angle, the phenomenon of La Guadalupana tells me that people long for a vision of God that includes a significant female, motherly voice. Both God the Father and Jesus the Son are often described with martial imagery, but Mary never is. Mary, woman and mother, is a symbol of God's compassion, love, and care. She is a reminder that peace, not war, is the ideal. The fact that the Virgin of Guadalupe is Indian demonstrates that no racial or ethnic group is superior to another. God was manifested in Jesus as a Middle Eastern Jew, but God could just as easily have chosen to appear as a South Asian, sub-Saharan African, or Native Central American. We need images of God that speak to all inhabitant of the globe: God as male and female, God as African or Latin American or Maori, God as rich or poor, God as young or old, God as gay or straight. Of course, God is none of these things, or rather, God is all of these and more. God is God for all people everywhere, for all time, and God loves us all. That, to me, is the message of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
9 December 2004
Environment. The right-wing political hacks running the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are at it again, doing their best to undermine the mandate of the agency, promote corporate over public interests, and develop public lands, regardless of the environmental impact. Steven Shimborg, an EPA political appointee, recently removed EPA staffers' comments on Bush administration plans to build more roads through undeveloped wilderness lands in national forests. Other recent actions by the agency charged with caring for America's natural resources include allowing snowmobiling in Yellowstone National Park and increasing methane production in coal beds on federal land. Just to make sure that the EPA doesn't do too much policing of the environment, the recently passed congressional budget reduces EPA funding by 3.3 percent from last year. However, even this amount was 3.8 percent more than the Bush administration wanted. Maybe someone in Congress should introduce a bill changing the name of the EPA to the Environmental Pollution Agency. No wonder Christy Todd Whitman, Bush's first EPA administrator and a moderate Republican, who hardly had a stellar environmental record as EPA chief, left the job after only two years. Did I mention the administration's assault on the Endangered Species Act?
5 December 2004
Values. The United Church of Christ is running TV ads depicting bouncers working a rope line outside a building. If the bouncers see people they don't want to come into the building, they throw them out. They turn some away because of the color of their skin. They turn others away apparently because they are foreigners. Others they turn away because they are homosexual. The building to which the line leads is the church, and the bouncers are Christians who turn others away from entering the church. The UCC's message is that they accept anyone who wants to seek God along with them. Sounds like a good, Christian message, right? CBS and NBC don't think so. They're refusing to air the ads, claiming they're too controversial. These are the same people who ran political attack ads for both Republicans and Democrats in the last campaign cycle. Do they think those ads were inoffensive to large numbers of their viewing public? Furthermore, why should a church that states openly that it accepts members from every walk of life be offensive to anyone? Some might not agree that churches should be so welcoming, but since when are the public airwaves supposed to be sanitized of differences of opinion? The decisions by NBC and CBS are dual violations of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. First, they violate the right of an organization to engage in free speech over government controlled, public airwaves. Second, they violate freedom of religion, specifically the free exercise clause: "Congress shall make no law . . . prohibiting the free exercise [of religion]."
Values. On the other side of the coin from the UCC is the Southern Baptist Convention. In a recent SBC Life article, a seminary professor berates more moderate Baptist groups for accepting money from churches that welcome (or tolerate) homosexuals in their midst. He proudly proclaims that the SBC not only doesn't accept money from churches that accept homosexuals, they also don't associate with churches that associate with other churches that tolerate homosexuals. Of course that's total nonsense. I personally know of people who are members of Southern Baptist churches who are homosexual (although mostly still in the closet), so the SBC does indeed accept money from churches with homosexual members. I suppose their theory is that as long as they stay in the closet, they'll take their money. If the SBC is smart, they'll take a lesson from the Republican party. The Republican party badmouths gays and lesbians, passes legislation denying them equal protection under the law, and includes planks in their party platform denouncing their lifestyles, but they still take money from the Log Cabin Republicans. Values are values, but money is what's really important. Maybe someone needs to start a group of Log Cabin Southern Baptists.
U.N. Reform. The U.N. has come in for a lot of criticism in recent days, particularly revolving around money involved in the Oil for Food program with Iraq under Saddam Hussein. Right-wing U.S. senators, as usual, are calling for the U.N. to be disbanded because of this problem and others. It is a fact that the U.N. is an imperfect organization, but the U.S., which was fully aware that some of the Oil for Food money was being diverted to be used as bribes to keep the oil and money flowing, has no reason to complain after the fact. The U.N. has prevented a world war for the past sixty years, despite the efforts of some member nations to promote war. The U.N. needs to be reformed, not disbanded, and reform needs to begin with the most culpable culprits, the permanent members of the Security Council: the U.S., Russia, Britain, France, and China. If there's a big war somewhere in the world, you can bet one or more of these countries has a hand in it. When one country interferes with the sovereignty of another, odds are one of these five countries is involved. Yes, the most powerful nations in the world have sometimes worked together to prevent war, but only when they thought it was in their own best interest, specifically, their own best short-term interest. The number one reform that needs to occur in the U.N. is to eliminate permanent members, with veto power, from the Security Council. At the same time, Security Council membership needs to be expanded. There are various proposals currently on the table for revamping the Security Council, but if the world wants to see progress in the cause of peace, it will eliminate the "divine right" of permanent membership on the Security Council, and it will eliminate the veto that a single member nation can cast.
Power. The U.S. likes to think of itself as the world's only superpower. It is doubtful that Russia fully agrees, and it is apparent that Vladimir Putin is taking steps to increase his personal power--a la Stalin--perhaps with the goal of reversing the U.S.'s growing influence over former Soviet-bloc nations. Then there's the European Union, with a population larger than that of the U.S., a stronger economy in many respects, and a respectable arsenal of weapons. Be that as it may, even if we assume for the sake of argument that the U.S. is the most powerful nation in the world, we have to remember that we're only talking about weapons. The Vietnamese showed us, and the Iraqis are showing us again (as the Afghans showed the Soviets), that having better weapons doesn't necessarily guarantee that you'll win the war, Powell Doctrine or no. More importantly, we must realize that weapons are not the only measure of power; they are not even the best measure of power. Economic strength is another measure of power, and the Europeans are currently kicking our butts in that department (today 1 euro will buy 1.34 U.S. dollars--how many will it buy tomorrow?). Numerical strength is another measure of power, and China and India are way past us there. The most important measure of power, however, is not weaponry, economics, or population. The most important measure of power is moral authority, and the U.S. no longer has it. It is questionable whether we ever had it to the degree that we like to think we did, though right after World War II our moral authority was probably at its peak. Since then, we have been on a long downhill slide, with the Vietnam War, ongoing civil rights problems, support for apartheid, unbalanced preference for Israel and opposition to the Palestinians, and constant meddling in the internal affairs of other countries contributing to our slide. Our moral stock has plummeted precipitously since the advent of George W. Bush, who rejected the International Criminal Court, rejected the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, revoked the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Treaty, refused to sign the International Treaty to Ban Land Mines, presided over the infamous Iraq War and Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, etc., etc. Many around the world now scoff at the idea of U.S. moral leadership, and they are turning elsewhere, especially to Latin America and Africa, for vibrant, fresh moral leadership. Of the various types of power, over the long haul moral power is the most important, and military power is the least.
29 November 2004
Racism. In his book The Ancestor's Tale, Richard Dawkins says that "racism, until relatively late in the twentieth century, was endemic in our culture" (p. 111). That was before a vote was taken on 2 November in Alabama on the question of whether to amend the state constitution to remove language that officially justifies racial segregation (pursuant to various Supreme Court decisions, segregation is no longer enforced in Alabama). The measure failed by a margin of 1,850 votes. In a presidential election widely touted as turning on "moral values," and one in which Republicans made massive get-out-the-vote efforts to turn out conservative Christian voters, the failure of the anti-segregation measure seems incongruous. Or maybe not. I certainly don't think it's true that most Republicans are racists or that most Southerners are racists. However, on this one day in Alabama, most of the people who voted on the issue were apparently racists, and there is no doubt a high correlation between those who voted Republican at the top of the ticket and those who opposed the anti-segregation measure. The fact of the matter is that, while most voters nationwide would certainly oppose racist legislation and would vote to repeal it if given the chance, the percentage of voters who are blatant racists (as defined by this vote, for example) is higher than most Americans would like to believe, and it is disturbingly high among self-identified Republican voters. Until the 1960s the situation was different. Racists were more heavily (though not exclusively) concentrated in the south, and they almost always voted Democratic. Kennedy's and especially Johnson's support for civil rights legislation, combined with the social conservatism espoused by Goldwater and, later, Reagan, led to a massive switch of party affiliation in the south and elsewhere in the country. This move corresponded with the increasing identification of African-American voters with the Democratic party at about the same time. (Earlier, on those occasions when they were allowed to vote, they tended to vote for Republicans.) The switch of cultural conservatives to the Republican party included those who were either blatant or closet racists. If Republicans want to continue to trumpet their party as the party that stands for moral values, they will have to repudiate racism and expel racists (mostly of the closet variety) from leadership positions within their midst. Democrats who want to show people that they have high moral values will want to highlight their differences with Republicans on the issue of race, among others. Christians associated with both political parties--or with neither--should speak out strongly against racism, and they should call the vote in Alabama what it is: a repudiation of the teachings of the New Testament.
26 November 2004
Elections. The U.S. government has spoken out strongly concerning the apparent election fraud that occurred in the Ukraine presidential election. It seems that despite exit polls showing that the opposition party candidate was the real winner of the election, the official poll results show the ruling party candidate winning the election. The Bush administration's outrage seems to have arisen because the opposition candidate is more pro-Western than the declared winner. Just once I'd like to see the U.S. protest an international election in which its favored candidate won by apparent malfeasance, but it probably won't happen for at least the next four years. (Has it ever happened, under either a Democratic or a Republican president?) I'm a little surprised that the Bush administration has the audacity to speak out on the subject, given that the exit polls in both Florida and Ohio predicted John Kerry the winner in our own recent election.
17 November 2004
Margaret Hassan. It was reported today that Margaret Hassan, Iraqi director of CARE and citizen of Iraq, Great Britain, and Ireland, was murdered by those who took her captive a few weeks ago. Numerous groups, including Iraqi insurgents and even Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, demanded her release, but to no avail. Those who committed this atrocity are primarily to blame, but the war, too, and those who promoted and continue to promote it, must bear some responsibility. Crimes that occur in war are committed by war criminals, but when the war itself is criminal--as this one has been declared to be by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and other foreign leaders--those who are responsible for the war are also responsible in part for the crimes that occur (on the analogy of felony murder laws, where murders that take place during the commission of a felony are charged to the perpetrators of the felony, even if they had no intention of committing murder). U.S. and British government officials claim that Iraqis as a whole are better off today than they were under Saddam Hussein, but friends of Margaret Hassan--and the 100,000 or so others who have died since the war began--might beg to differ. Was a contained Saddam really a worse threat to his own people and to international security than an uncontained Iraq?
Moral values. House Republicans today voted to change the rules so that Members of Congress who have been indicted by individual states (as opposed to the federal government) can retain their leadership positions in the House. This move, sponsored by Rep. Henry Bonilla of Texas, is a transparently preemptive move designed to allow current House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, also from Texas, to keep his job should he be indicted by a grand jury investigating the alleged criminal activity of his close associates. (Allegations against DeLay include misuse of federal funds for political purposes [using the FAA to track down political opponents] and violations of campaign finance laws regarding the use of corporate donations.) Apparently breaking the law is no longer considered a hindrance to holding positions of power within the Republican Party. So that's what they mean by moral values!
Shift to the Right! With the resignations of Colin Powell and Richard Armitage from the State Department, the Bush administration is poised to shift even further to the right in its second term. Although Colin Powell was far from perfect as Secretary of State, at times he seemed to be the only voice of reason within the White House, and now he is being replaced by Condoleeza Rice, who, if past performance is any indication, will advocate more hawkish policies than her predecessor. It's ironic that Colin Powell, the only senior administration official with a wealth of actual combat experience, served as the primary brake on the U.S. government's belligerence. Or maybe it's not ironic: Powell knows firsthand the difficulties of achieving political goals primarily by military means, and he knows the cost in human lives that war entails. With Powell gone, the doors appear to be wide open for invasions of Iran, Syria, and possibly even North Korea.
11 November 2004
Mental illness. My friend Cathy is a schizophrenic. I went to high school with her, and we shared classes, played in band, and hung out together with our other friends. After high school, something started to change in her life, as she lost the ability to see reality the way most of us see it. She has suffered from schizophrenia now for about 25 years. She's been in and out of jail, in and out of group homes, in and out of state hospitals. She's hitched rides across the state and around the country, and she's been abused and molested. She can't hold down a job, and she has no one to make her take her medication regularly. At the moment she's back in one of the state hospitals. The police found her naked, lying in the middle of the road, waiting for someone to run over her. She was so hungry that she would approach total strangers and offer to exchange sex for food. Once again she's safe and getting enough food, but it won't last long. State hospitals don't keep mentally ill patients very long, so she'll be kicked back out onto the street in a month or two. By this time next year the state hospital she's in may be closed for good, thanks to the governor and the Texas legislature, who proclaim the need to save money to balance the budget. Bush left Texas in a big financial mess similar to the one he's got the country in now, but the difference is that Texas law requires a balanced budget. The current governor, Rick Perry, like many other governors and legislators around the country, is faced with the challenge of either raising taxes and fees or cutting services. Like most other Republicans, and many Democrats as well, his knee-jerk reaction is to cut services, and he's starting with those services that he figures his supporters are least likely to use, like state hospitals that serve the mentally ill and the mentally retarded. I believe one of the primary purposes of government is to provide for the needs of its most vulnerable citizens, and the mentally ill and mentally retarded are clearly in that category. If we abandon these people--many of whom have no family to care for them, or whose families are unable to deal with them--we're condemning them to a life of almost certain misery and an untimely death. The preamble to the U.S. Constitution says that the government exists, in part, to provide for the common welfare. The federal government has passed the responsibility of caring for the mentally ill and mentally retarded primarily to the states. All major religious traditions teach the virtue of caring for those in need. Both the governor and many, probably most, Texas legislators would describe themselves as people of faith, but what kind of faith is it that abandons those unable to care for themselves to a life that they can't face alone? It's time for people of faith who represent us in government to stop talking about their faith and start living out their faith. It's time to recognize that all the major religious traditions consider care for the poor and helpless an important, perhaps the most important, value. If favorite pork barrel projects need to be cut, cut them. If taxes need to be raised, raise them. Don't abandon Cathy and others like her to the harsh, heartless streets. It's starting to get cold outside.
10 November 2004
U.S. Attorney General. Bush nominated Alberto Gonzales to be U.S. Attorney General, replacing the retiring John Ashcroft. I'm certainly glad to see Ashcroft, probably the most right-wing AG in history, leave office, but it is unclear whether Gonzales will be much better. Bush touted his Hispanic heritage, his humble beginnings, and his intellect, characteristics that might seem to make him an ideal candidate who could prosecute criminals while understanding the profoundly negative effects of poverty on so many Americans. However, to call Gonzales' recent record troubling with respect to human rights would be an understatement. Since becoming White House Counsel, Gonzales has argued against giving captured "terrorists" basic civil rights such as access to a lawyer. He has argued that the Geneva Conventions for the treatment of prisoners do not apply to prisoners the president chooses to classify as enemy combatants (and he has designated a whole lot of people as enemy combatants, including at least two American citizens). He has even argued that torture of captured prisoners might be acceptable in certain circumstances. This is not the sort of thinking that the country needs in the person of the Attorney General. Perhaps with a solid Republican majority in the Senate his confirmation is a foregone conclusion, but if Gonzales refuses to repudiate his positions that oppose basic human rights, he should not be confirmed. If he stands by his recent record or tries to excuse it, rather than repenting of it, senators who vote to confirm him will be responsible for whatever violations of human rights may occur under his watch. But then, maybe human rights aren't a family value. After all, there's no sex involved (if you ignore some of the Abu Ghraib photos).
8 November 2004
Polls. Pre-election voter preference polls can yield varying results based on variables like interviewing likely voters vs. registered voters, weighting for expected demographic voter participation, etc. Exit polls that have a large enough sample size should have no such variation. Since those interviewed have already voted, the likely vs. registered voter distinction disappears. With a large enough sample size taken throughout the day of the election, demographic factors should level out as well. The projected results from a well-designed and implemented exit poll should mirror the actual poll results almost exactly, except for a margin of error determined by sample size. Exit polls taken after European votes are uncannily accurate. Why is it, then, that the exit polls in so many places in the U.S. on November 2 were so different from the actual, counted votes? As I see it, there are two possible answers. First, an inordinately large number of votes in certain precincts were "spoiled" (i.e., discarded without being counted) because of either technical problems with the voting mechanisms, voter error, or election fraud. Second, computers may have tabulated the results incorrectly, either because of software error or because of vote tampering. In either case, the actual votes recorded do not match voter intent. No election is perfect, and honest mistakes will happen. Why is it, then, that almost all of the discrepancies between exit polls and actual results were resolved to the benefit of Bush and the detriment of Kerry? Maybe there's another explanation than voter fraud, and if so, I'd like to hear it. Otherwise, this election may have more closely resembled Soviet-style democracy, where the winner was predetermined, than authentic American democracy. Remember the 13-point swing from a poll four days earlier to the election results in the 2000 race that ousted Democrat Max Cleland from office? The votes were cast on Diebold electronic voting machines, the same ones used in Ohio and elsewhere. This is the company whose CEO "guaranteed" that Bush would carry Ohio. Coincidence?
7 November 2004
Anger. In the story of Jesus' cleansing of the temple in Matthew 21, after Jesus overturns the tables of the moneychangers and drives out the buyers and sellers, the blind and lame come to him in the temple for healing. Jesus' anger is directed against the structural injustice inherent in the profit-making schemes that characterized Second Temple Period temple commerce. Although the intention of the religious leaders might have been pure, in practice the poor were hurt more by the temple tax and by the prices of the sacrificial animals than the rich were. Jesus' actions suggest that religious institutions should not be concerned about investments and commerce but rather about the poor and those in need of healing. This applies not only to an institution's own practices. Christian teachers must also teach their hearers that Christianity has no vested interest in the success or failure of capitalism and corporate interests, but it does have a vested interest in opposing unjust social structures and ministering to people's needs. Churches whose priorities differ from Jesus' priorities are in danger of seeing God's anger themselves.
4 November 2004
Vote Fraud? There are rumors going around the Web that exit polls taken in precincts that used touch-screen machines without paper backup were way off, while exit polls taken in precinct that used other types of ballots were pretty accurate. I'd like to see someone with access to the data run a correlation of exit polling data vs. recorded votes and compare the results for touch screens and all other recording devices. Maybe it's just sour grapes, but it ought to be checked. Either way, there should be no more elections using machines that fail to produce a user-verifiable paper record or that use proprietary rather than open-source software. And if the rumors turn out to be true, . . . .
Politics and Religion. David Broder in the Washington Post wrote a piece entitled "Demos see need to reconnect with churchgoers." Considering the fact that a large majority of people who identify themselves as regular attendees at church voted Republican in this election, the Democrats are right to realize the need to reach out. However, they will be unsuccessful unless progressive Christians who share many (not necessarily all) of the values enunciated in the Democratic Party platform or by specific candidates can put together a coherent theology supporting issues such as social justice and opposition to capital punishment and can convince Christians that our understanding of these issues is both biblical and right. That's our task for the next four years.
Here's a brilliant piece of polling data. According to a CNN/USA Today/Gallop poll, 51% of Americans polled said they were pleased with the outcome of the election. Hmm, would that be the same 51% who voted for Bush? This is on par with a statement by Bush's chief of staff Andrew Card, that more people voted for Bush in this election than had ever voted for any other candidate. True, but it's also true that more people voted against Bush than had ever voted against any incumbent president. Spin, spin, spin.
3 November 2004
2004 Election. A line at the top of the CommonDreams.org Web site says "Don't Mourn, Organize!" That's good advice, but I'm having a hard time getting through the deep blue funk I'm feeling right now in the wake of the elections, as I look forward with trepidation to four more years of exile. I have an inkling of how the Jews felt as they sat alongside the rivers of Babylon and cried, "How can we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land?" It's another passage from the Bible that provides guidance now, however. In Daniel 6, despite a law to the contrary, Daniel opened the windows of his house and continued his ritual of praying in the direction of Jerusalem. The next four years are likely to be hard ones for progressive Christians, not to mention for the poor and oppressed here in the U.S. and around the world. We need to do what we can to proclaim a message of hope, to remind the marginalized that God hasn't forgotten them, despite appearances to the contrary. It's only if we forget God that we've truly lost.
Third Parties. With the abysmal failure of the Democrats in yesterday's elections, political progressives will probably begin talking again about the need for a third party alternative to the Ds and Rs. Before we talk about a third party, maybe we ought to insist on a viable second party.
2008 Election. It's not too early to start thinking about who the Democrats will nominate in 2008. I have three bits of advice. First, disband the ineffective Democratic Leadership Council. Their strategies haven't worked and their favored candidates haven't won. (Clinton was elected because of his own personal charisma, not because of his affiliation with the DLC.) Second, stop pandering to the right. Third, how about nominating someone for either president or vice president who isn't a rich white male!
2 November 2004
Osama must be happy tonight!
30 October 2004
George W. Bush. I've heard several people say that because we are currently in a War on Terror, we shouldn't change course right now by electing Kerry. That has to be the stupidest reason I've heard for voting for Bush! (OK, one of my daughter's teachers has a stupider reason: she likes his hair better!) Bush was the one who attacked Iraq and then falsely linked it with the so-called War on Terror in the first place. If our leader is leading us over a cliff, we sure better change course, or we'll all go over the cliff with him!
The comic strip called Mallard Fillmore features a right-wing duck (insert joke here) who rails against liberals, moderates, and other thinking people (and ducks). The duck's whole-hearted support for Bush is ironic, considering that he (the duck) is named after one of the most inept presidents in U.S. history, Millard Fillmore, whose claim to infamy was signing the Fugitive Slave Act into law. Birds of a feather. . . .
Religious Right. The pastor of a large fundamentalist church in the area is quoted in today's religion section in the newspaper as follows: "We're very conservative in our religion and in our politics. They go hand in hand; if you have a biblical worldview, it leads you to a conservative view of everything." I'm not sure what he means by a biblical worldview. Does that include a worldview that condones slavery (Exod 20:17; Josh 9:22-23), genocide (Josh 6:15-21), murder of the innocent (Josh 7:22-26), and racism (Ezra 9:1-2; the holy seed?!)? Christians should rather have a worldview that incorporates the teachings and example of Jesus, one that sees women and men as equals in God's sight, that strives for peace and eschews war, that demonstrates love for our enemies; in a word, one that strives for social justice. Many aspects of conservative politics are incompatible with the teachings of Christ and the Old Testament prophets (regressive taxation, failure to provide for the poor, opposition to universal health care, prejudice against people on the basis of sexual orientation, mixing of church and state, support for wars of choice, capital punishment, extreme nationalism, etc.). Christians must reject those who claim otherwise as false spokesmen for God.
27 October 2004
Oil. Oil reached an all-time high of $55 per barrel earlier this week, and gas prices are at an all-time high nationwide. I have a simple solution to the problem. Let the president call Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and tell him this: "Either increase OPEC's production of oil, or we'll stop supplying the aircraft and other weapons that protect your elitist government from the masses of your own people." Of course, such a call could only be made by a president without close personal and family ties to the Saudi royal family. In a week or so, maybe President-elect Kerry will make the call.
Israel/Palestine. The Israeli parliament voted yesterday to remove all Israeli settlements from the Gaza Strip. That's a good beginning and long overdue. Palestinians should acknowledge the move as a positive step and call an end to violence against Israeli citizens. This is just a first step toward peace. The more difficult step, and one I doubt Prime Minister Sharon has the will to take, is to remove Israeli settlements from the West Bank as well.
26 October 2004
The U.N. reported late last week that nearly 400 tons of explosives have gone missing from an Iraqi storage facility at al-Qaqaa, south of Baghdad, a site U.N. weapons inspectors warned the U.S. to secure before the war on Iraq. Now the U.S. government is saying that the explosives were gone by the time U.S. troops got there. The story would be more convincing if it hadn't taken two or three days to think it up.
Capital Punishment. The state of Texas is set to execute Dominique Green today for a murder he was convicted of committing in 1992, when he was 19. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the highest criminal court in the state and notorious for turning down death penalty appeals without serious consideration, rejected Green's latest appeal, even though boxes of improperly stored and cataloged evidence kept by the Houston Police Department have recently been discovered, some of which might be relevant to the case. Family of the murder victim, Andrew Lastrapes, Jr., have urged that Green be spared from execution. This case is just the latest example of the culture of violence that pervades the United States, and particularly the southern states where the death penalty is most rampant. The proper Christian position on the death penalty is clear to anyone who has read Jesus' Sermon on the Mount: we should oppose it. It's a sad commentary on the way that Christianity has been perverted by selfishness and hate that a majority of U.S. citizens who identify themselves as Christian continue to support capital punishment without seeing any contradiction between their position and that of Jesus.
22 October 2004
George W. Bush is going around the country telling everyone that Kerry doesn't have a plan for preventing terrorist attacks. Sort of like Bush before 9/11?
21 October 2004
I've often wondered how so many people could be supportive of the Bush administration, in the light of its disastrous policies and actions over the past four years. A recent survey provides a partial answer. According to this poll, taken by the University of Maryland and a California polling firm, a strong majority of Bush supporters either are grossly ignorant about international issues or willfully deny widely reported facts. 72% of Bush supporters believe that Iraq either had actual WMDs or had active programs to produce them. 75% believed that Iraq was providing substantial support to al Qaeda. A majority believe that Bush supports various international treaties which he has in fact loudly opposed: the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (69%), the International Treaty to Ban Land Mines (72%), the Kyoto Protocol to ban greenhouse gas emissions (51%), the International Criminal Court (53%). 68% believe that foreigners were either active supporters of the war on Iraq or were about evenly divided over the war. A whopping 90% believe that foreigners are either supportive of Bush's reelection or are evenly divided between Bush and Kerry. Where do these people get their "facts" from, Fox News? It is a dangerous situation for both the U.S. and the world when so many supporters of the president are living in a fantasy land of unreality, refusing to accept the truth that major commissions, the mainstream press, and even the administration itself in many cases (the latter grudgingly) admits.
13 October 2004
Homosexuality. In the third presidential debate tonight, Bush and Kerry were asked if they thought homosexuality were a choice. Bush said he didn't know, and Kerry said that he believed that it wasn't a choice but a matter of being born gay. Today Italian scientists from the University of Padua reported that they have found a link between male homosexuality and a gene on the X chromosome. If homosexuality has a strong genetic component, as this and other studies suggest, then the Bible's condemnation of homosexuality flies in the face of another biblical assertion, that whatever God creates is good. Between these two assertions, clearly the latter is consistent with the most positive portrayals of God in the New Testament, while the former smacks of prejudice and fear of the unknown or unusual. Both homosexuals and witches are condemned to death in the Pentateuch. Does that sound like the command of the God we serve?
Voter registration fraud. A story is making the rounds that Sproul and Associates, an Arizona-based Republican consulting firm, is behind the trashing of hundreds or thousands of voter registration forms in Nevada because the registrants indicated that they were Democrats. The same company also operated in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and possibly Oregon with a different scam. In those states, workers would pretend to be taking a political survey and ask people how they planned to vote. If the people said they would vote for Bush, the workers asked if they were registered to vote and handed them a voter registration card. If the people said they would vote for Kerry, the workers thanked them but didn't offer to register them to vote. Nathan Sproul, the head of Sproul and Associates, is a former head of the Arizona Republic Party and the Arizona Christian Coalition. That officials of one branch of the Republican Party would stoop to criminal or unethical behavior to influence the outcome of the election isn't surprising (remember Watergate?), though I believe that most Republicans repudiate such tactics. That the former head of a group that claims to be Christian would be engaged in fraud is an indictment of the version of Christianity that the group represents. Fraud, lying, and the apparent belief that the end justifies the means show the moral depravity of some proponents of extreme right-wing Christianity. If the national Christian Coalition doesn't disavow such actions (and don't hold your breath), they show their own moral depravity.
Ralph Nader. Ralph Nader made a name for himself as a consumer advocate. He turned his attention to politics and ran as the Green Party presidential candidate in 1996 and 2000, amassing more than two and a half million votes in 2000. Now in 2004, with a tight election between Bush and Kerry, Nader is running as an independent, with no chance to win but a strong potential to swing the election to Bush. Rejected by the Green Party this year, Nader appears to be on an ego trip that may hurt more Americans than he has helped over the years by his outspoken advocacy on consumer issues. If Nader helps Bush get elected--and he has accepted large campaign contributions from Republicans--he will have permanently damaged his reputation with progressive voters and set America on an even more dangerous course than it is already on.
10 October 2004
Christopher Reeve. Christopher Reeve died today at the age of 52, nine years after being paralyzed with a broken neck after being thrown by a horse. An actor whose fame was assured by the success of the Superman movies, Reeve became a real hero to many by the way he courageously faced the challenges of life as a quadriplegic. Refusing to give up, he set a goal of walking again by the time he reached 50. Although he didn't achieve that goal, he did regain some feeling and movement below his neck, feats his doctors considered remarkable. He became a spokesman for people with spinal cord injuries and a strong advocate of embryonic stem cell research. His positive outlook on life inspired millions. The Foundation for a Better Life created a billboard featuring Reeve which has appeared around the country. Rather than "Superman" alongside his photo, the billboard says "Super man." He certainly was.
Capital Punishment. Today is World Day against the Death Penalty. Last year 1,146 people were judicially (though not judiciously) executed by governments, led by China, Iran, the U.S., and Vietnam. The U.S. keeps pretty good company, no? There are many arguments against capital punishment--irreversible error, racial discrimination in its application, socio-economic discrimination in its application, barbarity, feeding a culture of violence, etc.--but today, for the purposes of Progressive Theology, only one argument matters. Jesus wouldn't support it.
Republican spin-meisters and their candidates accuse Kerry and others of having a pre-9/11 view of the world when they don't buy into the obsessive "war on terror" mindset. If anything, it's the president and his neo-con cronies who have a pre-9/11 view of the world. Before 9/11, the neo-cons thought Saddam Hussein was the biggest threat to U.S. hegemony in the Middle East. 9/11 sidetracked them briefly into Afghanistan, but even before the first bombs started falling there, the neo-cons were already working on a scheme to invade Iraq, using 9/11 as a pretense. After 9/11, the president still thought Saddam Hussein was the biggest threat to U.S. hegemony in the Middle East, and he used the al-Qaeda attack as an excuse to execute a plan that had been hatched well prior to 9/11.
8 October 2004
In the presidential debate tonight, some commentators put a lot of emphasis on that fact that Bush was better able to control his facial expressions than in the last debate. If voters base their decision on whom to vote for on facial expressions, the nation would be better off if they didn't vote. Facial expressions don't matter. What matters is command of the issues, reasonable plans, and the ability to lead. Bush has none of these.
Nobel Peace Prize. The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded today to Wangari Muta Maathai, deputy environment minister of Kenya. The Nobel committee praised her work in the areas of the environment, democracy, peace, and women's rights. With the rape of the planet at the hands of oil companies, governments, and poor individuals seeking farmland, it is nice to see the Nobel committee recognize the fact that preservation of the environment is an important component of sustainable peace in the world.
7 October 2004
The War on Iraq. It's now official. Charles Duelfer, head of a commission investigating the question of Weapons of Mass Destruction, said that his team concluded that Iraq had no chemical weapons, no biological weapons, and no nuclear weapons. Iraq didn't even have an active program to develop any of these weapons. The most damaging thing he could say was that Saddam Hussein was doing his best to get around economic sanctions. Is that anything like trying to get around the truth about the lies that led to the war, like Bush himself still continues to do?
Capital Punishment. Yesterday Ernest Ray Willis, a 17-year resident on Texas' Death Row, walked out of prison a free man, exonerated of the crime for which he was condemned. There are innocent people on Death Rows all over the country. How many will we execute before we realize that capital punishment, with its irrevocable penalty, is wrong?
Israel/Palestine. The U.S. vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution on Tuesday that demanded that Israel halt all military operations in northern Gaza and withdraw from the area. The vote was 11 in favor of the resolution, 3 abstaining, and 1 (the U.S.) exercising its veto, effectively killing the measure. Once again the U.S. has shown its favoritism toward Israel in their ongoing, bloody conflict with Palestine, and peace is as far from the region as it has been since the founding of the State of Israel. Two issues should be addressed in connection with this vote. First, the U.S. needs to get a conscience and join with the vast majority of other nations in the world that recognize the atrocities of the Israeli government against Palestinian civilians and stop pretending that it is only Palestinians who are responsible for violence against civilians. Second, the U.N. Security Council needs to be reformed, and the veto privileges of the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, and China--as well as their permanent status on the Security Council--need to be revoked. These nations should be subject to the same rules and requirements as any other nation. Otherwise, oppressed people around the world will continue to view the U.N. as a puppet of the U.S., which is, unfortunately, true to some extent (in the Security Council anyway, if not the General Assembly, which has little actual power).
5 October 2004
Israel/Palestine. In the VP debate tonight, Edwards and Cheney disagreed on the Bush administration's effectiveness in helping to resolve the Israeli/Palestinian crisis, but they agreed on placing almost the entire blame on the Palestinians. Edwards related a 2001 incident in which a pizzeria was attacked by a suicide bomber and fifteen people, including six children, were killed. He continued, "What are the Israeli people supposed to do? How can they continue to watch Israeli children killed by suicide bombers, killed by terrorists? They have not only the right but the obligation to defend themselves." Cheney, based on his administration's attitude toward Israel and Palestine, undoubtedly agreed. The bombing of the pizzeria, and many other murderous attacks on civilians by Palestinians, are certainly acts of terror. So are Israeli bombs and missiles that are launched in civilian areas and that result in large numbers of civilian deaths. Over the past week, Israel has been engaged in a re-invasion of Gaza in retaliation for a Palestinian rocket attack that killed two children. The number of Palestinians killed by Israelis in this assault? 68, including many civilians. News organizations demonstrate their own bias when they report the attack just as the Israeli government wants it to: as an Israeli retaliation against an unprovoked Palestinian attack. Of course, the Palestinians would undoubtedly claim that the rocket attack was in retaliation for some Israeli attack, or maybe just the 37-year occupation of Palestinian territory in the West Bank and Gaza. Such is the nature of war, and it is a war, in a David and Goliath sort of way (ironically, Israel is cast in the role of Goliath). Regardless of who wins the election in November, neither candidate will make any headway toward peace in Israel/Palestine unless he decides to be at least a little more evenhanded in his negotiations with both the Israelis and the Palestinians. Where's Bill Clinton when you need him?
Democracy. In the VP debate, Cheney called for reform in the Palestinian government, justifying the Bush administration's refusal to deal with Yasser Arafat, the Palestinians' elected president. In other words, democracy is OK for the U.S., but it's only allowable in other countries if the people pick the leaders the U.S. wants them to have. The Bush administration doesn't like Arafat, so it won't deal with him, and it offers only weak opposition to Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon's threats to assassinate him. The Bush administration doesn't like Haiti's elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, so it stands by (or actively participates, depending on who you believe) as right-wing rebels overthrow his government and send him into exile. The Bush administration doesn't like Venezuela's elected president Hugo Chávez, so it supports first an aborted coup and then a failed recall election to oust him. The Bush administration doesn't trust the people of El Salvador to choose their own president wisely, so it sends several functionaries of the administration to El Salvador to make statements suggesting that the U.S. will withdraw economic support if its favored candidate doesn't win (which he did). The Bush administration doesn't want the former king of Afghanistan to be the new head of state, so it brokers a deal with him to keep him out of the running in the loya jirga that selects U.S. favorite Hamid Karzai as president. The Bush administration claims it wants democracy in Iraq, but it appoints former CIA operative Iyad Allawi, reported to be unpopular with the majority of Iraqis, as interim prime minister. Previous U.S. administrations, Democratic and Republican, have engaged in similar assaults on democracy. Is democracy only good for the industrialized West?
Let's see, Bush II supports the overthrow and exile of Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, just like Bush I; Bush II attacks Saddam Hussein in Iraq, just like Bush I; Bush II cozies up to the Saudis, just like Bush I. Does W ever have an original idea? Of course, Bush I only stayed in office for one term, so maybe that's a good sign. To be fair, even though I disagreed with many Bush I policies, at least his administration ran the country fairly competently, unlike the present occupant of the Oval Office.
Cheney says the country would be in great danger of a terrorist attack if Kerry wins the election. Who was in charge of the country when the last terrorist attack came?
2 October 2004
Nuclear proliferation. In the presidential debate last Thursday, John Kerry was asked what he would consider his number one priority if elected president. He answered, "Nuclear proliferation." He went on to describe his intentions to secure all the fissile material in the former Soviet Union within four years. Bush responded that he has increased spending on preventing nuclear proliferation by 35% since becoming president. As Kerry pointed out at another point in the debate, though, Bush's advocacy of developing a new class of "tactical" nuclear weapons (i.e., those that you actually contemplate using in something other than a full-scale, earth-destroying, cosmic conflagration) only spurs other nations to want nukes. Kerry has vowed to end all funding for such programs. Kerry's position is undoubtedly the right one, since the plan advocated by Bush will result in more nations developing nuclear weapons (as it has already in North Korea and perhaps Iran). However, it doesn't go far enough. What's good for the goose is good for the gander. If it's wrong for North Korea to have nuclear weapons, then it's wrong for the U.S. to have them, and Bush's plans to develop battlefield nukes proves the point. In the hands of a reckless demagogue, whether Korean or American, nuclear weapons will prove disastrous. The U.S. must lead the way not only in keeping other countries from acquiring nuclear weapons but in dismantling existing stocks of weapons.
Trust. Kerry also said in the debate that as president he reserved the right to attack other nations preemptively if he felt there were justification, but he said that the reasons for the attack would have to pass "the global test." Bush responded, "I'm not exactly sure what you mean, 'passes the global test,' you take preemptive action if you pass a global test." Bush didn't need to tell anyone he didn't understand the concept of a "global test," since anyone who has watched his ham-handed attempts at foreign policy already knew that. Since Bush didn't understand it, I'll be glad to explain it. Other nations don't trust the U.S. right now. They see us as arrogant, self-centered, and belligerent. They would have a hard time believing us if we said that we needed to attack someone preemptively in self-defense because of our mishandling of intelligence with regard to Iraq. For the world to work properly, nations have to trust one another. The "international community" is a community only if nations speak the truth to one another and treat other nations with respect. Bush's White House has not done that. Kerry claims that his White House will. It better.
Imperialism. Kerry said, "I will make a flat statement: The United States of America has no long-term designs on staying in Iraq." Bush couldn't make the same pledge, because the goal of the U.S. neo-cons, whose front man he is, is to dominate the entire world culturally, militarily, and economically. Does it not occur to these people that the rest of the world might not want to be a U.S. outpost? Such plans are a sure recipe for the ultimate dissolution of American influence around the world--which might not be such a bad thing.
Kerry: "I can do better." I certainly hope so. It would be hard to do any worse.
Electronic balloting. Electronic balloting is a good idea, if it's done the right way. (1) There must be a paper backup that indicates votes and receipt number, and voters must get paper receipts. (2) The source code used to record and tally the votes must be made public. (3) Alternative paper ballots must be available at every polling station in case of computer failure, power outage, etc.
30 September 2004
Right-wing demagogues are in an uproar over Dan Rather using documents that turned out to be fakes in a report. They're calling for him to be fired. I'm all for it, if they'll also call for Bush to be fired for using fake documents claiming that Saddam Hussein was trying to buy uranium from Africa in his 2003 State of the Union speech. Which use of falsified information had greater negative consequences?
In the first presidential debate tonight, John Kerry said that both he and the president love America. That's all well and good, but the real question is, do either of them love the whole world? That's the measure of a true Christian.
Sumner Redstone, CEO of Viacom (the parent company of CBS), said recently, "I don't want to denigrate Kerry . . . but from a Viacom standpoint, the election of a Republican administration is a better deal. Because the Republican administration has stood for many things we believe in, deregulation and so on. The Democrats are not bad people. . . . But from a Viacom standpoint, we believe the election of a Republican administration is better for our company." I have no doubt that it's true that giant media conglomerates, like other corporate megaliths, fare better with Republicans at the helm, so self-interested millionaire/billionaire CEOs should by all means vote Republican. There are many of us, however, who don't think that what's good for the giant corporation is necessarily good for the common person.
Another thought. If the CEO of Viacom favors Republicans, and if CBS is widely perceived as the most liberal of the major network news organizations, how conservative must NBC, ABC, and CNN be? (Fox News is in a right-wing category all it's own--but maybe not for long! I trust Al-Jazeera more than Fox News.) Liberal media? What's that?! It's nonexistent, at least among the broadcast media.
The Bush administration and the Republicans in Congress (supported by some Democrats as well) let the assault weapons ban expire last week. Now the House has voted to repeal the ban on handguns in Washington D.C. (H.R. 3193, passed 29/9/2004), and a similar bill is pending in the Senate. The government claims it's doing all it can to stop terrorism, yet at the same time it supports allowing more assault weapons and handguns on the street than are already there? While we're all worried about al-Qaeda terrorists, our government is supplying weapons to our home-grown terrorists with the help of the biggest terrorist support group in the U.S., the NRA. Remember, before Osama bin Laden there was Timothy McVeigh.
Hurricane Jeanne killed more than 1,500 people in Haiti last week. Have you ever wondered how the same storm that kills only a few people in Florida can kill so many in a place like Haiti (or Honduras, or Bangladesh, . . .)? It's not that hurricanes are stronger when they hit Third World countries, it's that poor countries lack the resources to build buildings that will withstand severe weather, they lack the resources to build adequate roads and bridges in rural areas, their poor are crowded together in unsafe locations like hillsides, and they lack the resources and personnel needed to respond to major emergencies like a hurricane. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, and it should be an embarrassment to the U.S. government to have such great need so close to our doorstep. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to bother the government (regardless of which party is in charge), or most of the people in the country, one way or the other. Our only concern with Haiti (especially if you're a president named Bush) seems to be to overthrow its elected leaders and install insurgents who lean a little farther to the right than those the Haitian people elect. Imagine what would happen if instead of spending money supporting the illegal overthrow of President Aristide, the U.S. had given that money to Haiti to use for infrastructure improvements. Suppose further than we diverted a fraction of the $140 billion we've spent so far on the Iraq war toward Haiti. Instead of presiding over the deaths of 20,000 or more Iraqis, we could save more than 1,000 Haitians from death by hurricane. And we think of ourselves as a Christian nation?
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