Monthly Archives: May 2009

Just a couple of quick observations:

Abortion continues to be a hot-button issue in politics, but I’ve been wondering, “How’s the battle going?” I mean statistically. One would expect there to be a dramatic drop in abortions during a conservative Republican administration and a commensurate rise during a Democratic one. Actually, recent numbers show us the opposite is true. Ironic, isn’t it? Mr. Bush’s stand on the issue helped him become the darling of the Religious Right, but looking at the figures, we see that after a decade of dramatic decline, abortion rates flat-lined during 2001-2005 (the latest years for which information is available). Ironically, during the Clinton years (1993-2001) abortions continued to decline sharply. (And Clinton was scorned by the Religious Right during his entire presidency because of his pro-choice stand.) The reason for the difference? Most people know that high abortion rates are tied to poverty. Clinton funded programs directed at poverty and teenage pregnancy. Bush cut them.

It seems to me if you hire a contractor to do a job and they consistently fail to produce, they should be fired. But apparently for the Right, rhetoric is more important than results.

Incidentally, this is not part of a conspiracy on my part to smear the GOP. In reality, it is not a Republican v. Democratic issue. There is no law that says Republicans have to cut programs aimed at poverty.


Many Christians look at the German church during the 1930s and shake their heads: How could so many people who claimed to worship God just stand by and allow the National Socialists to gain so much power?

Now look and see the evil around you. What are you doing about it?

I end with a quote attributed to Edmund Burke (although who really said it is a case for Hercule Poirot). “The true danger is when liberty is nibbled away, for expedients, and by parts … the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”


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Out-Heroding Herod

I am dismayed. After eight long, excruciating years of the Bush Administration, I thought I had seen everything. I almost thought I was inured to outrage. But last week I watched as a new president stood before a copy of our nation’s most sacred document and spoke of instituting “preventive detentions.” The Signers of that great document must have been spinning in their graves so fast, they could have air-cooled the entire District of Columbia.

It was the prettiest piece of sophistry I have ever heard coming from the mouth of a politician. I always wondered what it looked like to speak out of both sides of one’s mouth. Before last week, I thought it physically impossible. Yet there he stood before the Constitution, slamming the Bush Administration for its putting expediency before principle, policy before the rule of law. Then without missing a beat he proceeds to unfold to us his new brainchild: preventive detentions. Not legal now, no, no, but it’s going to be. He’s even going to work closely with Congress to make it so. Now that is a break with the previous administration. At least Bush and Cheney had some shame and did their lawbreaking behind closed doors. Obama wants to make it the rule of law.

Mr. Obama, you did not take an oath to defend a country; you swore to protect and defend a document. Some may argue that the Constitution itself allows for such detentions. Au contraire. The Fifth Amendment states:

“No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

The amendment refers to the military’s having its own courts of justice (courts martial) to try its own personnel. It does not provide for military tribunals for enemy combatants. This fact was challenged during WWII, when in 1942 a group of German spies landed by U-boat on American soil in order to set up sabotage operations. The Supreme Court upheld FDR’s right to form military commissions to try such persons, but not without prior authorization by Congress. (Hurray for checks and balances. I know I’d seen them somewhere.) They did not have to be tried in the criminal courts– BUT THEY WERE TRIED!

I cannot believe that this is the same man who campaigned on a promise to dismantle Guantanamo. Sure, he’s trying to do that, while at the same time planning to gerry-rig the law in order to keep most of the detainees indefinitely, without charges and without trial. Pardon me, but this smacks just a trifle bit totalitarian. Instead of bringing the much needed wind of change, Obama seems to have settled for the same squalid stench that made the GOP a curse word. Is the man mad, or is he just lost in the military-industrial complex?

It out-herods Herod!

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Is Peace Possible?

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.”– Mt 5:9

Having promised “change,” why is Mr. Obama continuing so many of the Bush and prior administration’s failed policies? Isn’t there a Christian solution? Yes, there is.

1. Stop bombing civilian targets. Not only is this immoral, it also enrages people and forms a recruiting point for our enemies. If we want to stop terrorism, we need to stop acting like terrorists. Most countries look to the U.S. for leadership and a moral example. We need to reclaim the moral high ground, instead of just exerting our military superiority.

2. Instead of more soldiers, send food and medical supplies to the troubled regions. Instead of spending billions on military solutions, spend it on helping to build up the economies of these countries. Recall what happened after the Pakistan earthquake in 2005. Many ordinary Pakistanis actually expected the U.S. to gloat and take advantage of their weakness. When we sent relief supplies instead, they were surprised and thought that maybe we weren’t so bad after all. People who live in such poverty respond to humane treatment and kindness.

3. Compel Israeli forces and settlers to withdraw from Palestinian lands. Israel’s oppression of Palestinians (with U.S. help) is the single greatest issue for Muslims worldwide, and the single greatest recruiting point for terrorism. Why should they love us when we continue to prop up their enemies with billions in aid and weapons? Congress will soon vote on the President’s new budget for fiscal year 2010, which includes 2.8 billion in aid for Israel (an increase of 225 million), despite Israel’s misuse of that aid (used against civilians) in violation of U.S. treaty. To send an email to every member of the Congressional Appropriations Committee, click here:

4. Engage in diplomacy, even with our enemies. The great lesson of the medieval Crusades (which we evidently still have not learned after a thousand years) is that diplomacy can work where force and violence fail, especially in the Middle East. Middle Easterners love to bargain, whether it’s in a bazaar or a palace, and they do not understand when we walk away from the table simply because they say No. No is the starting point for them; it is not a declaration of war.

Iran, for example, has a great deal in common with the U.S. In fact, we have a common enemy, called Al-Qaeda, who hate the Shia Muslims even more than they hate us. After 9-11, thousands of Iranians flooded the streets of Tehran holding candles in solidarity with what we had suffered. This was a prime opportunity for us to work with them to seek a solution. Instead, we chose to invade one of their neighbors and called Iran part of the “axis of evil.”

Diplomacy is the only solution when you’re dealing with tribal societies that lack a strong national loyalty. Tribal leaders in Afghanistan have little loyalty to the central government because it is so corrupt; they cannot count on their government for justice and aid. So why are we surprised when they continue to support the Taliban? Showing a different face and addressing the real problems these people face on the ground should be the U.S. strategy for success in the Middle East.

The problem is we’ve developed a war machine that has a voracious appetite; it must be fed. That’s why so much of the aid sent to the region ends up back in the U.S., funding corporations that are part of America’s vast corporate-military establishment. We also have a President inexperienced in dealing with the pressures applied to him by this war machine. Little wonder he has made the decisions he’s made, in spite of all his campaign promises. Pray that he will find his feet and be able to stand up to these corporate interests.

I call on the LORD in my distress, and he answers me.
Save me, LORD, from lying lips and from deceitful tongues.
What will he do to you, and what more besides, you deceitful tongue?
He will punish you with a warrior’s sharp arrows, with burning coals of the broom bush.
Woe to me that I dwell in Meshek, that I live among the tents of Kedar!
Too long have I lived among those who hate peace.
I am for peace; but when I speak, they are for war.

–Psalm 120


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When a Speaker Fails to Speak Up

How pathetic. At a news conference yesterday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi summed it all up for us, clearly intimating that she believes Congress has no Constitutional authority to restrain an Executive Branch run amok. When asked if she wished she had done more to try to stop the CIA’s use of torture, she replied:

“I mean, the point is, is that we had the conversation. They told us they had legal opinions. As I say in my statement, we now know what they didn’t inform us then, that there were other opinions within the executive branch that concluded that these interrogation techniques were not legal. So no letter or anything else is going to stop them from doing what they’re going to do. My job was to change the majority in Congress and to change — to fight to have a new president, because what was happening was not consistent with our values, certainly not true, and — and something that had to be changed….”

Legal opinions?! Oh my gosh! Everyone hit the deck, they’ve got legal opinions!

What is a legal opinion, Ms. Pelosi, compared to the Constitution and the rule of law (a law outlawing torture and passed by Congress incidentally), which you have sworn to uphold? If you thought the law was being broken, it was your duty to speak out, to take your case to the Congress, the media, the American people– not to wait for the next election.

So I guess the Constitution and the rule of law no longer have any power and cannot afford us any protection? You mean to say that our safety lies only in the Democratic Party and that it was your duty to make sure they won the election, rather than to speak out against the lawlessness of an imperial regime?

If this woman has so little faith in our Constitutional form of government, so little respect for the laws of this nation, she is not worthy to hold her office. While she is not responsible for forming the Bush administration’s policy of waterboarding detainees, she is certainly complicit in making it all possible and in failing to enforce the Constitutional checks and balances she swore to uphold. Qui tacet consentire videtur. Silence implies consent.

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All Who Live by the Sword…

Q: I’m curious about Jesus’ instructions to his disciples at the end of the last supper about the necessity of carrying a sword. (See Luke 22.) Perhaps he was just warning them that things were going to get nasty, but why then, when they said they had two swords, did he say, “That is enough.” Luke apparently thought this conversation important enough to record it. Surely he foresaw the misuse that one of his followers (unidentified in Luke, but identified as Peter in John 18) would make of the sword.

A: You raise a good point. It is indeed clear from Jesus’ irate response to Peter’s use of a sword in Mt 26:52, Jn 18:11 and Lk 22:51 that a real sword was not intended. The figure of speech Jesus uses is called metonymy. Only here, sword represents readiness, alertness, action, shrewdness, as opposed to violence and bloodshed. The idea he means to convey is that the disciples have entered a dangerous time when few can be trusted and they must keep their wits about them.

The disciples frequently misunderstand Jesus, interpreting him literally when he is speaking figuratively or spiritually. The theme of misunderstanding is strongest in John’s Gospel, where it often has comic overtones. But here the misinterpretation has potentially dangerous consequences.

So why did Jesus say, “That is enough”? In the original Greek the phrase can just as easily be translated, “Enough of that” (i.e., “stop that,” compare Lk 22:51). So he was probably expressing his exasperation at their obtuseness. Had they been with him so long and still not understood him? They should have known he would never have condoned such violence.

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The Yellow Rag

Today the American media celebrated the release of journalist Roxana Saberi from an Iranian prison and congratulated itself on standing up for democratic principles. I mean, what kind of crazy government jails journalists? Well, we do, for one. Funny, the press never mentioned that. Of course, there is a big difference between Ms. Saberi’s case and that of journalists “detained” by the U.S. as part of its War on Terror: at least Saberi received some semblance of a trial, an appeal and a lot of media coverage– and she was released after only three months.

Since 9-11 our government has jailed dozens of journalists without charges and without trial. Although most have been released, Sami al-Haj, an Al-Jazeera cameraman, was held in Guantanamo for six years. When it quickly became clear that he was only a cameraman, instead of being set free, he was interrogated over and over about Al-Jazeera and even asked if he would be willing to spy for the U.S. on the Arab news agency.

Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein was “detained” in Iraq for two years after taking photographs that seemed to be at odds with the official Bush Administration claim about progress in Anbar Province. His case is not unusual. To this day U.S. forces still refuse to release Ibrahim Jassam, a freelance photographer for Reuters, even though an Iraqi court demanded his release after finding no evidence against him.

So you see, crazy, tyrannical governments are in the eyes of the beholder. Where’s the American media? It seems they have the same problem as their Iranian counterparts getting the truth out.

For more info, see Glenn Greenwald’s May 11 blog: Greenwald, who recently won a Pulitzer Prize for his investigative reporting, is an excellent source of independent thinking on the issues of the day.

Also, tired of the jingoistic reporting of corporate-sponsored media? Try Democracy Now’s daily War & Peace Report, the largest public media collaboration for independent news journalism, hosted by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Amy Goodman.

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On the Origins of Mother’s Day

As America celebrates this holiday honoring our mothers and the merchants rake in the cash, few realize the day finds its roots in the pacifist movement of the 1870s. That’s right, before it became the sentimental Hallmark holiday it is today, Mother’s Day was something else entirely. (By the way, I’m not against taking a day to honor our mothers. I’m just engaging in a little historical spelunking.)

The first Mother’s Day in this country was the brainchild of abolitionist poet and suffragist Julia Ward Howe (1819-1910). Most will remember her as the author of the words to the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” A social activist, Howe believed that women had a God-given duty to transform the world for the better and to be the primary advocates for peace. Written at a time when mothers all over the U.S. were still grieving the loss of sons killed in the Civil War and mothers in Europe doing the same as a result of the Franco-Prussian conflict, her “Mother’s Day Proclamation” (1870) is a militant call to action, hardly something one would put on a greeting card– or is it? Would it be wrong to take advantage of the holiday to call mothers to a more active roll in shaping the world?:

Arise, then, women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts,
Whether our baptism be of water or of tears!

Say firmly:
“We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”

From the bosom of the devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own.
It says: “Disarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.”
Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel.

Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace,
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God.

In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And at the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.

Go Moms!

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