Wednesday, June 30, 2004

In Saved! the term Bible-beater is given a whole new meaning. In one scene a frustrated character literally throws the Good Book at another, screaming “Jesus loves you!” The target of the attack responds,“You don’t know the first thing about love.” Holding up the Bible, she concludes, “This is not a weapon.”

This key scene cuts to the heart of what’s wrong with evangelicalism today. So often we militarize our faith, making it a marquee match-up between good and evil — an epic battle on the front lines of social, political and spiritual dysfunction. We forget that it should not be us versus them, but us versus us. We are instructed to deny ourselves and take up our cross, yet what the world observes in Christianity is often an unsettling self-assurance and an unconvincing “everything is done for a reason” pseudo happiness. ...

With the benefit of minute hindsight, Saddam Hussein wasn’t the kind of extra-territorial menace that was assumed by the administration one year ago. If I knew then what I know now about what kind of situation we would be in, I would have opposed the war.
-- William F. Buckley

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

First Ripple of a Political Tidal Wave?
... But there is one last bit of evidence suggesting that Inslee and Baird are on to something. In late August 2002, at the beginning of the buildup to the Iraq war, a Pew Research Center poll found that only 37 percent of Americans felt Bush had laid out a case for military action; 52 percent felt he had not.

In other words, millions of middle-of-the-road Americans had doubts about the war before it started. Many of those doubters eventually went along with the president but now question the war and the way the administration handled it. If Inslee is right about his tidal wave, the doubters will give it its power.

Sack ‘Em and Rack ‘Em
America would be a whole lot safer if the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard Myers, was flying for Virgin Airlines, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was competing on “Survivor.” Both war leaders have done so miserable a job honchoing the military side of our critical conflict against global terrorism, and in the process so jeopardized our national security, that they should be sacked for dereliction of duty.

Contrary to continuing political spin, Iraq and Afghanistan both are running sores with little promise of even a long-term turnaround, and our world today is far more dangerous than it was before 9/11. Unless there's a 180-degree change in overall strategy, the USA is doomed to follow the same bloody path through these two brutal killing fields that the Soviet Union took in Afghanistan.

The mighty sword that Rumsfeld and Myers inherited four years ago – the finest military force in the world – is now chipped and dulled. And the word is that it will take at least a decade to get our overextended, bone-tired soldiers and Marines and their worn-out gear back in shape.

Top generals like former NATO commander Wes Clark and a squad of retired and active-duty four-stars warned long before the invasion of Iraq: Don’t go there. It doesn’t involve our national security. It’s not the main objective in our war with international terrorism. Even retired four-star Colin Powell said that if we go to Iraq and break the china, we own it. But know-it-all Rumsfeld and go-along-to-get-along Myers totally ignored this sound military advice....

Iraqis have lived this lie before
The British transfer of sovereignty in the 20s was equally meaningless

...On April 28 1920, Britain was awarded a mandate over Iraq by the League of Nations to legitimise its occupation of the country. The problems proved enormous. The British administration in Baghdad was short of funds, and had to face the resentment of the majority of Iraqis against foreign rule, which boiled over that year into a national uprising. In the aftermath, the British high commissioner had to come up with a solution to reduce the British loss of lives.

A decision was taken to replace the occupation with a provisional Iraqi government, assisted by British advisers under the authority of the high commissioner of Iraq. Finding a suitable ruler was not easy,.

On the August 21 1921 Gertrude Bell, Oriental secretary to the high commissioner, wrote to her father about the transfer of sovereignty to Iraqis. She mentions some of her Iraqi "pals" and enemies, descendants of whom are playing similar roles in Iraq today: "Muzahim Pachachi (the one who made the speech in English at our tea party at Basra). And another barrister whom you don't know, Rauf Beg Chadirji, a pal of mine. And still more splendid was one of the sheikhs of the northern shammar, Ajil al Yawar; I had seen him in 1917 when he came in to us". Then she refers to "Saiyid Muhammad Sadr ... a tall black bearded alim (cleric) with a sinister expression. We tried to arrest him early in August but failed. He escaped from Baghdad and moved about the country like a flame of war, rousing the tribes."

To the British government, control of Iraq's oil was a necessity. Iraqi national liberation movements called for "Istiqlal al Tamm" - complete independence - which was regarded by the British as "the catchword of the extremists". Any protest against the British-imposed monarchy was similarly regarded as the work of "extremists". ...

Religious right could be strong pillar for Bush
Gay marriage, abortion issues energize voters

... In this election, say congregants who identify themselves as part of the Christian right, several factors have made helping Bush an urgent matter, including the threat of Muslim extremism at home, what they see as the disappearance of America's moral compass and the closeness of the race.

Pastors say they never instruct their congregations how to vote, but in many ways they don't have to. Even in churches with no overt sign of political activity, the link between Bush's stand on social issues, particularly his opposition to gay marriage and abortion, and a general perception that he is a good Christian are galvanizing the faithful. The president's support of an amendment to the Constitution that would define marriage as a union between a man and a woman also is welcomed by the Christian right.

"The evangelical community and this church are supporting Bush, primarily on moral issues," said Rev. David Smith, executive pastor of the Calvary Assembly in Orlando. "Bush is a man of moral integrity. His courage is leading our nation. He has done unpopular things. People feel pressured to be make sure it [the race] is not as close this time and we don't lose this state."

Scott Stanzel, a spokesman for the Bush-Cheney campaign, said the campaign's efforts are directed at voters who share the president's values. "There is broad support in a state like Florida, which was decided last time by 536 votes," Stanzel said. In 2000, Bush defeated then-Vice President Al Gore in Florida by 537 votes.

Last week, congregants gathered at Calvary Assembly, a church belonging to the Assemblies of God, and bopped to the beat of a Christian rock band. Strumming electric guitars, the jean-clad, seven-member band sang their devotion to God. "Everywhere I look I see your face. . . . I can't stop falling in love with you, Jesus."

Robin Silver, who was born Jewish but converted to Christianity, swung her hips to the beat while saying her mind was made up. "We know what God says about gays in the Bible and we know Bush believes in the Bible. This is why I'm going to vote for him," said the 51-year-old who said she is a former Democrat....

... "God has spoken clearly on the issue of homosexuality. He doesn't stutter. . . . When the courts and some religious denominations have equivocated and compromised on what has been the standard of history and moral values, then we have to deal with it," Henry said.

...Now, as it happens, I thought Fahrenheit 9/11 was a bit mediocre even as polemic, but the thing that really struck me about the film was the almost poetic parallellism between its own slanders and cheap shots and the slanders and cheap shots of pro-war supporters themselves over the past couple of years. If Moore had done this deliberately, it would have been worthy of Henry James.

Take the first half hour of the film, in which Moore exposes the close relationship between the Bush family and the House of Saud. Sure, it relies mostly on innuendo and imagery, but then again, he never really makes the case anyway. He never flat out says that the Bush family is on the Saudi payroll. Rather, he simply includes "9/11," "Bush," and "Saudi Arabia" in as many sentences as possible, thus leaving the distinct impression that George Bush is a bought and paid for subsidiary of the Saudi royal family.

Which is all remarkably similar to the tactic Bush himself used to link Saddam Hussein to 9/11. He never flat out blamed Saddam, but rather made sure to include the words "9/11," "Saddam Hussein," and "al-Qaeda" in as many sentences as possible, thus leaving the distinct impression that Saddam had something to do with it....

...Finally, the last half hour of the film includes a piece of street theater in which Moore accosts congressmen on Capitol Hill and asks if they'll try to get their sons and daughters to enlist in the military. It's a brutally unfair question, but one that echoes a standard debating point of Hitchens and others: "Would you prefer that Saddam Hussein was still in power?" It's a question that's unanswerable in 10 words or less, and about as meaningful as Moore's ambush interviews with congressmen.

So is Fahrenheit 9/11 unfair, full of innuendo and cheap shots, and guilty of specious arguments? Sure. But that just makes it the perfect complement to the arguments of many in the pro-war crowd itself. Perhaps the reason they're so mad is that they see more than a little of themselves in it.

Monday, June 28, 2004

How Hitler Became a Dictator
Whenever U.S. officials wish to demonize someone, they inevitably compare him to Adolf Hitler. The message immediately resonates with people because everyone knows that Hitler was a brutal dictator.

But how many people know how Hitler actually became a dictator? My bet is, very few. I’d also bet that more than a few people would be surprised at how he pulled it off, especially given that after World War I Germany had become a democratic republic.

The story of how Hitler became a dictator is set forth in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, by William Shirer, on which this article is based. ...

'Failure to account' for Iraq cash
Iraqi money cannot be accounted for by occupying forces responsible for the funds, according to two new reports...

Bridge-Burning, Part III
I've noticed since the war started that nearly every post from the Instaman (save one link to Mickey Kaus this weekend) has been of the "great news from the war!" variety. Same from the other hawk-bloggers.

Things are going swimmingly. If we're losing troops, it's to be expected. Iraqis are welcoming us with open arms, except the ones who aren't, and that's to be expected. Iraqis are surrendering. Nothing about the unexpected resistance in the south. Nothing about the eight thousand troops originally captured by the British who are now again fighting against coalition forces. Nothing about how the Bush administration continues to exaggerate world support for this war.

And for all the talk about how blogs are self-correcting, I've yet to see any of the major warbloggers post a correction of good-news-from-the-war stories they linked to that later turned out to be false.

It's one thing to favor the war. It's another to to blinded by your enthusiasm for it. It'll be interesting to watch tomorrow, for example, to see how many warbloggers link to the Fox vs. the peace protesters story (a fairly blatant example of bias), and how many pile on the Peter Arnett-loves-Saddam story (come on, does anyone really think that Peter Arnett is a traitor?). And it'll be interesting to see which story they're more critical of.

Reynolds is free to post what he likes, of course. It's his site. But I'm starting to suspect that war fervor has turned many of the high-traffic warbloggers -- who have always been quick to criticize their own in the past -- into Pentagon mouthpieces, crippled by what Will Wilkinson once dubbed "viewpoint bias."

It's troubling to see just how quickly hawks normally skeptical of government are to take government at its word in times of war -- times when our government has been most inclined to lie to us. It is possible to still support the troops and not take all Don Rumsfeld says as doctrine.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

If you are going to call yourself a Christian -- and I don't -- then you have to ask yourself a fundamental question, and that is: Whom would Jesus torture? Whom would Jesus drag around on a dog's leash? How can Christians tolerate it? It is unconscionable. It has put our young men and women who are over there, fighting a war that they should not have been asked to fight -- it has put them in greater danger.
-- Ron Reagan

Iraq and Al Qaeda
Forget the 'Poisons and Deadly Gases'
Flip flop: Was Saddam working with Al Qaeda or not?

NewsweekJuly 5 issue - A captured Qaeda commander who was a principal source for Bush administration claims that Osama bin Laden collaborated with Saddam Hussein's regime has changed his story, setting back White House efforts to shore up the credibility of its original case for the invasion of Iraq. The apparent recantation of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a onetime member of bin Laden's inner circle, has never been publicly acknowledged. But U.S. intelligence officials tell NEWSWEEK that al-Libi was a crucial source for one of the more dramatic assertions made by President George W. Bush and his top aides: that Iraq had provided training in "poisons and deadly gases" for Al Qaeda. Al-Libi, who once ran one of bin Laden's biggest training camps, was captured in Pakistan in November 2001 and soon began talking to CIA interrogators. Although he never mentioned his name, Secretary of State Colin Powell prominently referred to al-Libi's claims in his February 2003 speech to the United Nations; he recounted how a "senior terrorist operative" said Qaeda leaders were frustrated by their inability to make chemical or biological agents in Afghanistan and turned for help to Iraq. Continuing to rely on al-Libi's version, Powell then told how a bin Laden operative seeking help in acquiring poisons and gases had forged a "successful" relationship with Iraqi officials in the late 1990s and that, as recently as December 2000, Iraq had offered "chemical or biological weapons training for two Al Qaeda associates."

But more recently, sources said, U.S. interrogators went back to al-Libi with new evidence from other detainees that cast doubt on his claims. Al-Libi "subsequently recounted a different story," said one U.S. official. "It's not clear which version is correct. We are still sorting this out." Some officials now suspect that al-Libi, facing aggressive interrogation techniques, had previously said what U.S. officials wanted to hear. ...

Thursday, June 24, 2004

New Bible translation promotes fornication
Archbishop of Canterbury praises version for 'extraordinary power'

A brand-new translation of the Bible – praised by Britain's archbishop of Canterbury, that nation’s senior Christian voice – flatly contradicts traditional core Christian beliefs on sex and morality. ...

...Here, according to the London Times, are a few sample passages:

Mark 1:4

Authorized version: "John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins."

New: "John, nicknamed 'The Dipper,' was 'The Voice.' He was in the desert, inviting people to be dipped, to show they were determined to change their ways and wanted to be forgiven."

Mark 1:10-11

Authorized version: "And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him. And there came a voice from the heaven saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."

New: "As he was climbing up the bank again, the sun shone through a gap in the clouds. At the same time a pigeon flew down and perched on him. Jesus took this as a sign that God's spirit was with him. A voice from overhead was heard saying, 'That's my boy! You're doing fine!'" ...

Bush Hires Attorney in CIA Leak Probe
WASHINGTON — President Bush was interviewed by government prosecutors Thursday in connection with the federal investigation of who leaked the name of an undercover CIA operative to the news media.

The president was questioned for 70 minutes in the Oval Office by U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald (search), who is heading the Justice Department investigation.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Bush has hired a private attorney, Jim Sharp (search), a Washington trial lawyer and former federal prosecutor....

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

From a review of Patton: A Soldier's Life, by Stanley P. Hirshson
Hirshson claims that Patton "lost control of his army between July 12 and July 14" on Sicily, when American G.I.s killed dozens of prisoners. Hirshson blames Patton directly as the head of an enormous army for the conduct of a sergeant, captain, and lieutenant colonel. He alleges that their barbarism was aroused by Patton's often bloodcurdling rhetoric: "His speeches and orders, meant to inspire soldiers, inspired instead a series of atrocities." And Hirshson goes on to remind us, "The twentieth century might well be labeled the century of bold talk leading to holocausts and ethnic cleansing. The more such tragedies are discussed, perhaps the rarer they will become.

Saved from Sin, and My School
For a Christian, watching "Saved!", the new teen movie starring Mandy Moore and Macaulay Culkin, was like watching one of those amusement-park caricaturists. You know the feeling. By the time the artist’s Sharpie has overemphasized your large nose, the gap between your teeth and your eyebrows in need of waxing, you end up wondering why you spent $14.95 and 20 minutes to feel utter horror while laughing good-naturedly at your own expense.

But that’s the idea of caricature, I suppose—take tidbits of truth and throw in a little imagination to turn truthful instances into hilarity. Parts of "Saved!" had a vague familiarity and some laughs, but it was hard to watch—not because of what it did show, but because it brought back troubled memories of what it did not: much, much more disturbing scenes from my real-life Christian school....

Killer Ending
The new Left Behind novel reinforces a trend toward a Jesus who comes not with peace but a sword.

Jesus has been depicted as a lamb and a shepherd, a rock star and a lowly carpenter. In "Glorious Appearing," the climactic twelfth installment in the Left Behind series released this week, Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins give us Christ the Destroyer.

Here's the Christ Triumphant speaking as he encounters the army of the Anti-Christ near the ancient city of Petra in Jordan: "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and Last, the Beginning and the End, the Almighty." Upon hearing these words, the Anti-Christ's minions fall dead, "simply dropping where they stood, their bodies ripped open, blood pooling in great masses." Later, as the Lord rides his white horse to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the saved sing "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God."

This vision of Christ, who eviscerates his human foes and drops them to the desert floor, is fast becoming the Savior for our times. He is Jesus the Warrior, who has gone in and out of fashion for most of the 20th century. "We're looking for a much more martial messiah," says Stephen Prothero, chairman of Boston University's religion department and author of the recently published "American Jesus." "In part, it's a response to 9/11 and the war in Iraq," he says, pointing out that the militant Jesus was popular during and after both world wars. "In the '60s and '70s, this Jesus nearly disappears," says Prothero. "You get the sense now that we are swinging back."

To find further evidence of this shift, you need go no further than the movie theater to take in this year's other multi-million dollar Christian phenomenon, Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ." Beaten with rods until his torturers are winded from their exertions, Gibson's Jesus rises to his feet with a virile grunt—if you didn't know the movie was in Aramaic, you could swear he mutters "Bring it on." Three days later, we find Jesus sitting, disrobed and staring into middle space, like an athlete in the locker room. Then, still wearing his game face (and, curiously, nothing else), he strides out into Easter morning to the beat of a warlike drum. The tomb is open; so is a major can of whoop-ass....

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

OSAMA AND SADDAM....The continuing FUD campaign over Iraq's ties to al-Qaeda is endlessly frustrating — and, frankly, probably not an argument that's winnable for liberals. There's just enough uncertainty about the whole thing that war opponents will never be able to produce a firm smoking gun showing that the administration is lying.

But let's review the primary evidence anyway....

What's In a Name?

And in the clutching at straws department...

You've probably heard about the latest Iraq-al Qaeda link, which has had the right-wing press in an uproar for the past few days. The connection supposedly was unearthed earlier this year by a poly sci professor moonlighting as a Pentagon intelligence analyst (do you think I could make something like that up?) It consists of a name - Ahmed Hikmat Shakir, or, variously, Hikmat Shakir Ahmad - that the professor, one Christopher Carney, found on a list of officers in the Saddam Fedayeen - the Iraqi dictator's personal militia, whose members were blown away in vast numbers by the U.S. Army during last year's invasion.

It seems Shakir's (or Ahmad's) name is really similar to that of a former Malaysian Airlines employee, Ahmad Hikmat Shakir Azzawi, who allegedly served as a "greeter" for a group of al Qaeda operatives when they arrived in Kuala Lumpur for a 2000 planning conference.

(I can just see Azzawi standing in the main concourse at the Kuala Lumpur airport with the rest of the limo drivers, holding up a little cardboard sign that says "al Qaeda planning meeting.")

Anyway, with that stunning perceptual insight which allows a neocon to see connections not visible to full-time, professional intelligence analysts, Carney realized the similarity in names almost certainly meant that Saddam's Hikmat and Bin Ladin's Hikmat were actually one and the same guys!

True, the name on the Fedayeen list was not spelled exactly the same way Carney had seen it spelled on other Iraqi documents, but, as Weekly Standard columnist and conspiracy theorist Steven Hayes later wrote, "such discrepancies are common." The true neocon understands that these inconsistencies and contradictions are only minor distractions that should be allowed to obscure the broad pattern - which the initiated can always find in the data....

Why the Pledge Matters
"Under God" is the firm link to U.S. security.

...The long historical truth is that God, whether He exists or not, is good for summoning national pride, communal bonds and the martial spirit--the qualities most necessary to ensuring the survival of the United States at its current level of pre-eminence. (If the U.S.'s current level of pre-eminence is what galls you most, stop reading.)

When in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance schoolchildren stand and say together that their one, indivisible, just and liberty-loving nation exists under God, they are admitting an organizing force in life other than their cute, little selves.

Arguably, the role of God or religion in the nation's life wouldn't matter very much if the relations among all nations resembled the Garden of Eden. Since that famous, unfortunate Fall, however, men and women have been called upon to die defending their country. That is asking a lot. The willingness to fight for one's nation has been a function of the patriotic impulse, and we summon that impulse, in part, with appeals to a higher purpose...

...This innocuous little Pledge and its two words, "under God," has become for school children the last link joining national purpose to God--a union that is this country's best, proven hope for ensuring national strength. When that link is finally broken, the U.S. will start to become, well, France--smart, sophisticated, agnostic and save for nuclear bombs, inexorably weak. That is one test case I'd as soon not try.

Bush to screen population for mental illness
Sweeping initiative links diagnoses to treatment with specific drugs

President Bush plans to unveil next month a sweeping mental health initiative that recommends screening for every citizen and promotes the use of expensive antidepressants and antipsychotic drugs favored by supporters of the administration.

The New Freedom Initiative, according to a progress report, seeks to integrate mentally ill patients fully into the community by providing "services in the community, rather than institutions," the British Medical Journal reported. ...

Bush Continues the 'Big Lie' in the Face of Mountains of Contrary Evidence
...Second, past statements by Bush administration officials seem to be flatly false. Vice President Cheney, on at least one occasion, did link Iraq and 9/11, noting that “if we’re successful in Iraq…we will have struck a major blow right at the heart of the base, if you will, the geographical base of the terrorists who have had us under assault now for many years, but most especially on 9/11.” Also, he keeps dredging up the now discredited allegation that Mohammed Atta, the ringleader of the 9/11 plot, met with an Iraqi intelligence official in Prague in April 2001. Casting much doubt that this meeting ever occurred are the Czech government, the CIA, the 9/11 commission and phone records and other evidence showing that Atta was in Florida at the time.

Furthermore, in the past, President Bush has stated that the relationship between Al Qaeda and Iraq was much closer than the two organizations holding meetings. For example, in the May 2003, announcement that major combat operations were over, he said, “the liberation of Iraq is a crucial advance in the campaign against terror. We’ve removed an ally of Al Qaeda.” And in the State of the Union address in January 2003: “Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists, including members of Al Qaeda.” The last statement appears to refer to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who the president claimed was a senior Al Qaeda operative living in Baghdad and working with the Iraqi government. But according to the New York Times, George Tenet, the now retiring Director of the CIA, admitted that Zarqawi did not work with the Iraqi government and was not under the direction of Al Qaeda.

The commission’s conclusion of no “collaborative relationship” directly contradicts President Bush’s very specific allegation that, “Iraq has sent bomb-making and document forgery experts to work with Al Qaeda. Iraq has also provided Al Qaeda with chemical and biological weapons training.” Numerous sources, in addition to the 9/11 panel, have shown those allegations to be untrue.

So the 9/11 commission has merely confirmed what those without naiveté had suspected all along: the Bush administration lied and misled America into a needless imperial pet project that has killed thousands of innocent Iraqis and hundreds of U.S. military personnel. The amazing part is that the administration continues to claim that its Goebbels-like “big lie” propaganda is true after all, no matter how much evidence amasses to the contrary....

Al Qaeda Link To Iraq May Be Confusion Over Names
An allegation that a high-ranking al Qaeda member was an officer in Saddam Hussein's private militia may have resulted from confusion over Iraqi names, a senior administration official said yesterday.

Former Navy secretary John Lehman, a Republican member of the commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, said Sunday that documents found in Iraq "indicate that there is at least one officer of Saddam's Fedayeen, a lieutenant colonel, who was a very prominent member of al Qaeda." Although he said the identity "still has to be confirmed," Lehman introduced the information on NBC's "Meet the Press" to counter a commission staff report that said there were contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda but no "collaborative relationship."

Yesterday, the senior administration official said Lehman had probably confused two people who have similar-sounding names. ...

Monday, June 21, 2004

...BLITZER: Let me read you exactly what you wrote. You said, "Israel had learned that there's no way to win an occupation. The only issue, Barak told Cheney, was choosing the size of your humiliation."

What Barak saying to Cheney, what, get out, or stop, or move on? What was his bottom line?

HERSH: Get real. Change your policy. Understand that you have a problem with the insurgency that you can't wish away.

This is an administration that doesn't want to hear bad news and doesn't absorb bad news. So they just go along hoping it'll change. He was saying you have to do a lot of things to change the policy.

I should also say Cheney's office would not respond to comment. And I'm sure Mr. Barak isn't happy that I'm quoting him in that way.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk a little about another fascinating aspect in the article. Iyad Allawi, the new prime minister of this interim government, about to take charge in Iraq. Allawi, you write, was involved with a Mukhabarat hit team that sought out and killed Baath Party dissenters throughout Europe.

You're talking about the days when he was an ally of Saddam Hussein.

HERSH: Yes. He was one of Saddam's closest allies, I'd say from '68 to the middle '70s. He was a big supporter of Saddam.

Saddam was, you know, killing his the way through the Baath Party to get control. The vice president then -- all during the '70s he was seizing control, but he finally got it officially in '79.

And for five or six or seven years, Allawi was his guy, one of his people in Europe. And what they would do is they would basically, the only other word for it is murder the opposition anywhere in Europe. And he was certainly involved with those people. He was a thug. I've talked to people who have read his internal CIA file. On the other hand, he also became later a very big asset.

BLITZER: Well, they tried to kill him. They axed him almost to death. He spent a year in a hospital because Saddam Hussein tried to kill him?

HERSH: His people did, yes. The head of the Mukhabarat did in '76 -- '78 is when he got axed. I think before that they had gone after him. Something happened in between '75, '76 in which they turned against him.

BLITZER: What happened?

HERSH: I can give you 10 different theories. Nobody really knows.

BLITZER: The bottom line, I guess, for U.S. policy today, Iyad Allawi, he's going to be the interim prime minister. He's a Shiite leader in Iraq right now. Is this a guy the United States can trust, can rely on to get the job done?

HERSH: People in our CIA who work with him say he's really quite competent. He's a good guy now. The past is passed. I urged by somebody, "It isn't worth it. Don't go after him."

But the truth is that he had a very, very bad past. I even quote somebody in this article, one of the persons with whom he went to med school, a fellow Iraqi, as saying that his med degree came basically from the Baath Party. Nobody's quite sure, you know, what kind of doctor is he. He says he's a doctor.

What's important is that it's totally, completely clear that he was involved with what the Russians call wet-ops, blood. And he was involved in a lot of very bloody things. And I quote a former CIA official using that word....

Court: No Right to Keep Names From Police
WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court ruled Monday that people do not have a constitutional right to refuse to tell police their names.

The 5-4 decision frees the government to arrest and punish people who won't cooperate by revealing their identity.

The decision was a defeat for privacy rights advocates who argued that the government could use this power to force people who have done nothing wrong to submit to fingerprinting or divulge more personal information.

Police, meanwhile, had argued that identification requests are a routine part of detective work, including efforts to get information about terrorists. ...

As June 30th approaches, Israel looks to the Kurds.

...A top German national-security official said in an interview that “an independent Kurdistan with sufficient oil would have enormous consequences for Syria, Iran, and Turkey” and would lead to continuing instability in the Middle East—no matter what the outcome in Iraq is. There is also a widespread belief, another senior German official said, that some elements inside the Bush Administration—he referred specifically to the faction headed by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz—would tolerate an independent Kurdistan. This, the German argued, would be a mistake. “It would be a new Israel—a pariah state in the middle of hostile nations.”

A declaration of independence would trigger a Turkish response—and possibly a war—and also derail what has been an important alliance for Israel. Turkey and Israel have become strong diplomatic and economic partners in the past decade. Thousands of Israelis travel to Turkey every year as tourists. Turkish opposition to the Iraq war has strained the relationship; still, Turkey remains oriented toward the West and, despite the victory of an Islamic party in national elections in 2002, relatively secular. It is now vying for acceptance in the European Union. In contrast, Turkey and Syria have been at odds for years, at times coming close to open confrontation, and Turkey and Iran have long been regional rivals. One area of tension between them is the conflict between Turkey’s pro-Western stand and Iran’s rigid theocracy. But their mutual wariness of the Kurds has transcended these divisions.

A European foreign minister, in a conversation last month, said that the “blowing up” of Israel’s alliance with Turkey would be a major setback for the region. He went on, “To avoid chaos, you need the neighbors to work as one common entity.”...

...Iraqi Shiite militia leaders like Moqtada al-Sadr, the former American intelligence official said, are seen by the Israeli leadership as “stalking horses” for Iran—owing much of their success in defying the American-led coalition to logistical and communications support and training provided by Iran. The former intelligence official said, “We began to see telltale signs of organizational training last summer. But the White House didn’t want to hear it: ‘We can’t take on another problem right now. We can’t afford to push Iran to the point where we’ve got to have a showdown.’”...

...The top German national-security official told me that he believes that the Bush Administration continually misread Iran. “The Iranians wanted to keep America tied down in Iraq, and to keep it busy there, but they didn’t want chaos,” he said. One of the senior German officials told me, “The critical question is ‘What will the behavior of Iran be if there is an independent Kurdistan with close ties to Israel?’ Iran does not want an Israeli land-based aircraft carrier”—that is, a military stronghold—“on its border.”

Another senior European official said, “The Iranians would do something positive in the south of Iraq if they get something positive in return, but Washington won’t do it. The Bush Administration won’t ask the Iranians for help, and can’t ask the Syrians. Who is going to save the United States?” He added that, at the start of the American invasion of Iraq, several top European officials had told their counterparts in Iran, “You will be the winners in the region.”

Israel is not alone in believing that Iran, despite its protestations, is secretly hard at work on a nuclear bomb. ...

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Iraqi officials ponder use of harsh Saddam-era laws
BAGHDAD — Iraq's interim government yesterday said it was considering reviving emergency martial law powers from the Saddam Hussein era to combat a wave of violence that has killed nearly 200 people and paralyzed oil exports.

Malik Dohan al-Hassan, justice minister in the caretaker Iraqi government, said authorities may resort to "exceptional" laws imposed by the former dictator after it takes power on June 30. ...

...Given the country's mounting security woes, Col. Rasool said he would recommend closing the nation's borders and giving police and soldiers a much freer hand to deal with wrongdoers on the street.

If Iraqi leaders follow through with the martial law idea, he just might get his way.

"Right now we can only open fire on people if they threaten us," the burly commander of 1,300 soldiers said in an interview. "We should have more freedom to act. We must have more brutal laws. The American laws are weak laws." ...

...Col. Rasool, a no-nonsense military leader who was an officer during Saddam's rule, said he was looking forward to the day when he can set up checkpoints and dispatch patrols without coordinating with American troops or abiding by the Americans' rules of engagement. ...

Friday, June 18, 2004

Antipiracy bill targets technology
A forthcoming bill in the U.S. Senate would, if passed, dramatically reshape copyright law by prohibiting file-trading networks and some consumer electronics devices on the grounds that they could be used for unlawful purposes.

..."It's simple and it's deadly," said Philip Corwin, a lobbyist for Sharman Networks, which distributes the Kazaa client. "If you make a product that has dual uses, infringing and not infringing, and you know there's infringement, you're liable."

The Induce Act stands for "Inducement Devolves into Unlawful Child Exploitation Act," a reference to Capitol Hill's frequently stated concern that file-trading networks are a source of unlawful pornography. Hatch is a conservative Mormon who has denounced pornography in the past and who suggested last year that copyright holders should be allowed to remotely destroy the computers of music pirates.

Foes of the Induce Act said that it would effectively overturn the Supreme Court's 1984 decision in the Sony Corp. v. Universal City Studios case, often referred to as the "Betamax" lawsuit. In that 5-4 opinion, the majority said VCRs were legal to sell because they were "capable of substantial noninfringing uses." But the majority stressed that Congress had the power to enact a law that would lead to a different outcome.

"At a minimum (the Induce Act) invites a re-examination of Betamax," said Jeff Joseph, vice president for communications at the Consumer Electronics Association. "It's designed to have this fuzzy feel around protecting children from pornography, but it's pretty clearly a backdoor way to eliminate and make illegal peer-to-peer services. Our concern is that you're attacking the technology."

Short on Priests, U.S. Catholics Outsource Prayers to Indian Clergy
BANGALORE, India - With Roman Catholic clergy in short supply in the United States, Indian priests are picking up some of their work, saying Mass for special intentions, in a sacred if unusual version of outsourcing.

American, as well as Canadian and European churches, are sending Mass intentions, or requests for services like those to remember deceased relatives and thanksgiving prayers, to clergy in India....

...The requests are mostly routed to Kerala's churches through the Vatican, the bishops or through religious bodies. Rarely, prayer requests come directly to individual priests.

While most requests are made via mail or personally through traveling clergymen, a significant number arrive via e-mail, a sign that technology is expediting this practice.

In Kerala's churches, memorial and thanksgiving prayers conducted for local residents are said for a donation of 40 rupees (90 cents), whereas a prayer request from the United States typically comes with $5, the Indian priests say. ...

American Idol Christian Version to Debut
ORLANDO, Fla. - The management company that represents Britney Spears (news) and 'N Sync (news - web sites) is searching for a divine voice.

"Gifted," a Christian version of the popular American Idol TV show, is scheduled to debut in October on Trinity Broadcasting Network, the Costa Mesa, Calif.-based conglomerate that features such well-known evangelists as Benny Hinn.

The Orlando-based Wright Entertainment Group is part of a joint venture with Matt Crouch, son of the founders of Trinity Broadcasting Network, to create the talent-search show, Wright spokesman Philip McIntyre said.

McIntyre said the joint venture, called Wright Generation, is negotiating with a private investor to finance the project.

"It is our goal to wrap God's message — His love — in acceptance, and in a way that blends seamlessly into `pop' culture while still upholding the values we, as Christians, value most," Wright Generation's mission statement reads. ...

When Does Personhood Begin?
...In a recent article on, Michael West, ceo of Advanced Cell Technology, a private company working on stem cells, described an embryo as neither human life nor a person, "just an ordinary group of cells."

"It's not a developing human being," West told "There are no body cells of any kind. … There are not even any cells that have begun to become any body cells of any kind."

Few in the evangelical orbit would agree with such a statement, but a limited range of belief about personhood does exist among Christians.

Most evangelicals would agree that personhood begins at conception, says John Kilner, director of The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity. At least in theory, that is.

"If you asked about personhood," Kilner says, "people will say, in theory, they support full personhood at conception-few people would deny that." In practice, though, Kilner says many Christians also would "make some exceptions for abortion in the case of genetic deficiencies, or for the use of stem cells. And this is from people whom you'd expect to hold pro-life positions."

To make that distinction, he says, is to bestow personhood at a later stage in development.

One complicating factor for conferring personhood at conception is that a large number of fertilized eggs do not implant, says Hessel Bouma III, professor of biology at Calvin College and chairman of the bioethics commission of the American Scientific Affiliation. Estimates of the number of fertilized eggs that fail to implant run as high as 70 percent.

Conservative Christians have been reluctant to face this fact, Bouma says.

"It's something we've only become aware of in the last 30 years-the majority of fertilized eggs fail to develop," he says. "If we consider the fertilized egg as a person, then take all of the other causes of death and multiply them by three-that's the number of so-called persons who are dying before developing."

Bouma says that personhood should be conferred during the second trimester of pregnancy. Before that point, he says, too many things can go wrong. But most evangelicals, such as Robert D. Orr, director of ethics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine, tie personhood closer to conception....

...Most Christian ethicists that Christianity Today interviewed hold that personhood begins at conception. Like Kilner, though, many of them note that the practices of evangelicals don't always reflect that view.

For example, during the in vitro fertilization (IVF) process, embryos are frozen, rated for their quality, discarded if they hold genetic defects, or thawed and dumped in the trash if they are no longer needed. None of these practices would be acceptable in the case of fully developed persons. But most are accepted by evangelicals undergoing IVF treatments. ...

..."We think that abortion is something that bad women do … or something that irresponsible teenagers do. On the other hand, IVF is something that good, respectable Christian couples do to grow their families," she says. "They are willing to go to great expense, to scrimp and to save, for the procedures that will give them children. Is it possible that what's going on with ivf is very subtly evil?"...

Reagan’s WMD Connection to Saddam Hussein
Given all the indignant neoconservative “outrage” over the financial misdeeds arising from the UN’s socialist oil-for-food program during the 1990s, when the UN embargo was killing untold numbers of Iraqi children, one would think that there would be an equal amount of outrage over a much more disgraceful scandal — the U.S. delivery of weapons of mass destruction to Saddam Hussein during the Reagan administration in the 1980s.

After all, as everyone knows, it was those WMDs that U.S. officials, from President Bush and Vice-President Cheney on down, ultimately used to terrify the American people into supporting the invasion and war of aggression against Iraq, a war that has killed or maimed thousands of innocent people — that is, people who had absolutely nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington. ...

Got Jesus?
...At Without Walls, children worship in their own sanctuary, called the "Faith Fortress." Ministers dress in costume as members of the "Bible Squad" to deliver the messages.

In the adult sanctuary, prerecorded announcements are broadcast on big screens like the evening news. Charisse Strawberry (wife of former baseball star Darryl) acts as the anchorwoman, articulating the week's upcoming events. An outline of White's sermon appears on a PowerPoint display as he speaks. Studies show that people typically have a four-minute attention span before they need a "commercial" or a new idea, so he tailors his messages to hit points quickly and move on.

He suggests that every pastor go to a secular concert to get tips on lighting and format.

"I don't think the church competes with what the world is doing. I just think (some ministers) say, "It's ministry, so if they come, they come.' And that's why a lot of churches are empty."

The goal is to grow, to have an impact on the Tampa Bay area, he said. "The city is our church."

So is this ministry or marketing?

"I believe everyone needs to believe in their product," White said. "Well, what is my product? My product is Jesus."...

Thursday, June 17, 2004

My Journey Away from Church
...I live in a very conservative part of southern California. The average church here is conservative at best, hard-core fundamentalist with homophobia, racism, and nationalistic zealotry at worst. Thus, I deliberately sought out the only United Church of Christ congregration, hoping for a refuge from that kind of close-mindedness.

And I found that refuge among some members of the church -- notably the senior minister and many of the people who later formed the core of our local peace group. However, the church as a whole was not prepared to be the kind of church I was looking for.

In truth, it's a small minority of people I'm talking about. A group of military families -- ardent war supporters whose psyche requires them to cheer on the Iraq war or else face up to the fact that their loved ones were participating in a decidedly unChristian venture -- were the loudest source of complaint whenever pro-peace, anti-war sentiments were expressed.

I got griped at because my political blog linked to the church site. The senior minister got lambasted because he made reference in a sermon to the number of homeless, hungry people who could be cared for with the money spent on a single cruise missile. ("That's anti-military!") And my announcement before a Sunday service of a peace group meeting apparently triggered some sort of church crisis, leading to folks threatening to withhold financial support for the construction of a new church building.

I can accept that there is a diversity of views within any church -- that's part and parcel of being progressive. Diversity is a virtue, not a fault. The problem is not that people within the church had views that differ from mine -- the problem is that they were willing to use their power and authority to make it clear that my viewpoints were not welcome.

See, the thing is that this small minority of more conservative-leaning folks, mostly those whose spouses are members of the military, are also the folks who took great interest in serving on the church board itself and other positions of responsibility. When they criticize the senior minister for his smart bomb question, they're not just angry members of the congregation -- they're people who can fire him. When they decide they don't like my peace group announcement, they're not just going to shrug and say "I have no interest" -- they had long church board meetings to decide on the "new policy" for announcements, apparently designed to stifle any such "controversy" in the future.

Lucky for them, they get to decide what's controversial and what's not. Our church bulletin asked us weekly to pray for church members in the military -- not once can I recall us ever being asked to pray for the people of Iraq who those church members were waging war against. That would be controversial, see.

So I wrote this all down in my letter to the chairperson of the church board. Who, by the way, is married to a Navy officer. Oh, and that junior minister who was so rude in email? She's married to a marine.

Apparently the chairperson of the church board couldn't reply via email -- I'm supposed to talk to her in person about this. I don't really have a desire to do so, and that's part of why I haven't been back. I don't feel like having a personal confrontation; it's hard enough writing email....

Christian Entertainment II
...The evangelical subculture is awash with bad art and dismal entertainments. From the Left Behind books to the vast majority of "contemporary Christian music" (which is none of the above) evangelicals are eagerly buying up awful dreck, the consumption of which makes them worse people, worse neighbors, worse citizens and fundamentally worse Christians. This is theologically awful, politically vapid, aesthetically blasphemous stuff.

If the popularity of these dismal artistic and entertainment offerings could really be explained as merely the result of a lack of "Christian-themed" alternatives, then a happy and hopeful solution presents itself: create more alternatives and watch quality win out in the marketplace of ideas.

The first problem with this idea is that the subcultural marketplace of American evangelicalism is not a free market.

Anything not produced by and for the profit of the barons and bishops of the subculture's market-driven ecclesiology will be branded as dangerous, heretical and anathema. The latest album of shallow pop music from a "Christian label" record company is permissible. The latest offerings from U2 or from Buddy and Julie Miller -- sales of which do nothing to enrich Word records or Creation concerts -- are not. Left Behind, which enriches Thomas Nelson, has the official blessing of the gatekeepers of the kingdom. John Grisham's preachy The Testament, is published by Random House and is therefore not officially sanctioned reading.

But that argument -- that evangelicalism's notion of orthodoxy is increasingly a function of sales -- is really a separate matter....

...No, sadly the popularity of Bad Christian Art is not the result of a lack of Good Christian Art. It is a result of the rejection of metaphor.

American evangelical Christians do not like metaphor. That's not strong enough. They fear metaphor. It terrifies them, and so they despise it, reject it and forbid it wherever possible.

This is why evangelical scripture reading conspicuously avoids the Gospels.

That seems like an outrageous claim, yet it is assuredly true. Evangelical preaching and devotional literature is far, far more likely to turn to the epistles of St. Paul or to the (apparently) simple maxims of the Book of Proverbs than to the frighteningly ambiguous narrative portions of the Bible.

Evangelicals prefer their truth in simple, unambiguous propositions. The Gospels and Jesus' parables -- all that worrisome, polyvalent storytelling -- just won't do....

"For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never mention the beatitudes. But, often with tears in their eyes, they demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course that's Moses, not Jesus. I haven't heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the beatitudes, be posted anywhere."
-- Kurt Vonnegut

Teleportation breakthrough made
Scientists have performed successful teleportation on atoms for the first time, the journal Nature reports.

The feat was achieved by two teams of researchers working independently on the problem in the US and Austria.

The ability to transfer key properties of one particle to another without using any physical link has until now only been achieved with laser light.

Experts say being able to do the same with massive particles like atoms could lead to new superfast computers.

This development is a long way from the transporters used by Jean-Luc Picard and Captain Kirk in the famous Star Trek TV series. ...

Spy Hunter Faces Sex Charges
(CBS/AP) A key investigator in an espionage case against a Syrian-born former interpreter at the Guantanamo Bay prison now faces criminal charges himself, including rape, sodomy and fondling girls, the Air Force said.

Tech. Sgt. Marc Palmosina, who assisted the lead investigator in the case of Ahmad Al Halabi, was charged May 26 with the crimes near Travis Air Force Base in California and near Kadena Air Base in Japan as long ago as 1998. It is unclear how many victims were involved, said Air Force spokeswoman Lt. Col. Jennifer Cassidy. ...

Rumsfeld Issued an Order to Hide Detainee in Iraq
WASHINGTON, June 16 - Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, acting at the request of George J. Tenet, the director of central intelligence, ordered military officials in Iraq last November to hold a man suspected of being a senior Iraqi terrorist at a high-level detention center there but not list him on the prison's rolls, senior Pentagon and intelligence officials said Wednesday.

This prisoner and other "ghost detainees" were hidden largely to prevent the International Committee of the Red Cross from monitoring their treatment, and to avoid disclosing their location to an enemy, officials said.

Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, the Army officer who in February investigated abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison, criticized the practice of allowing ghost detainees there and at other detention centers as "deceptive, contrary to Army doctrine, and in violation of international law."...

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

This won't hurt much
Terry Jones
Wednesday June 16, 2004
The Guardian

For some time now, I've been trying to find out where my son goes after choir practice. He simply refuses to tell me. He says it's no business of mine where he goes after choir practice and it's a free country.

Now it may be a free country, but if people start going just anywhere they like after choir practice, goodness knows whether we'll have a country left to be free. I mean, he might be going to anarchist meetings or Islamic study groups. How do I know?

The thing is, if people don't say where they're going after choir practice, this country is at risk. So I have been applying a certain amount of pressure on my son to tell me where he's going. To begin with I simply put a bag over his head and chained him to a radiator. But did that persuade him? Does the Pope eat kosher?

My wife had the gall to suggest that I might be going a bit too far. So I put a bag over her head and chained her to the radiator. But I still couldn't persuade my son to tell me where he goes after choir practice.

I tried starving him, serving him only cold meals and shaving his facial hair off, keeping him in stress positions, not turning his light off, playing loud music outside his cell door - all the usual stuff that any concerned parent will do to find out where their child is going after choir practice. But it was all to no avail.

I hesitated to gravitate to harsher interrogation methods because, after all, he is my son. Then Donald Rumsfeld came to my rescue.

I read in the New York Times last week that a memo had been prepared for the defence secretary on March 6 2003. It laid down the strictest guidelines as to what is and what is not torture. Because, let's face it, none of us want to actually torture our children, in case the police get to hear about it....

Iraq abuse 'ordered from the top'
The US commander at the centre of the Iraqi prisoner scandal says she was told to treat detainees like dogs.

Brig Gen Janis Karpinski told the BBC she was being made a "convenient scapegoat" for abuse ordered by others.

Top US commander for Iraq, Gen Ricardo Sanchez, should be asked what he knew about the abuse, she told BBC Radio 4's On The Ropes programme. ...

...Gen Karpinski said military intelligence took over part of the Abu Ghraib jail to "Gitmoize" their interrogations - make them more like what was happening in the US detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which is nicknamed "Gitmo".

He said they are like dogs and if you allow them to believe at any point that they are more than a dog then you've lost control of them.

She said current Iraqi prisons chief Maj Gen Geoffrey Miller - who was in charge at Guantanamo Bay - visited her in Baghdad and said: "At Guantanamo Bay we learned that the prisoners have to earn every single thing that they have."

"He said they are like dogs and if you allow them to believe at any point that they are more than a dog then you've lost control of them." ...

Sept. 11 Commission Report Says Iraq Rebuffed Al Qaeda
WASHINGTON -- Bluntly contradicting the Bush administration, the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks reported Wednesday there was "no credible evidence" that Saddam Hussein helped al-Qaida target the United States.

In a chilling report that sketched the history of Osama bin Laden's network, the commission said his far-flung training camps were "apparently quite good." Terrorists-to-be were encouraged to "think creatively about ways to commit mass murder," it added.

Bin Laden made overtures to Saddam for assistance, the commission said in the staff report, as he did with leaders in Sudan, Iran, Afghanistan and elsewhere as he sought to build an Islamic army.

While Saddam dispatched a senior Iraqi intelligence official to Sudan to meet with bin Laden in 1994, the commission said it had not turned up evidence of a "collaborative relationship."

The Bush administration has long claimed links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida, and cited them as one reason for last year's invasion of Iraq. ...

Southern Baptists leave alliance
Denomination cites unwanted liberal shift in vote to quit world group.

In a move that reflects the divisions within many religious denominations, Southern Baptists voted Tuesday during their annual meeting to withdraw from the more liberal Baptist World Alliance.

"The time has come when we must do this," said Paige Patterson, a member of the executive committee that recommended the withdrawal. "We have noted with sorrow in our hearts a continual leftward drift."...

...Lotz said the emphasis cited previously by the Southern Baptists for the withdrawal was anti-Americanism and theological differences. Patterson made a reference Tuesday to certain churches in the alliance being gay-friendly....

Poll: 55% of Iraqis Would feel Safer without US Troops
67% Support Muqtada al-Sadr

Associated Press reports a Coalition Provisional Authority poll of Iraqis taken in the middle of May that had only been used internally by the CPA and not released to the US public. The numbers do not reflect well on Bush administration policies in Iraq. The poll is available at the CPA site.

55% of Iraqis say they would feel safer if the US troops would just leave. And over half thought that all Americans behave the way the accused prison guards at Abu Ghuraib did. ...

The Essential Dishonesty of Christopher Hitchens
Liar, hypocrite, coward, drunk – have I left anything out?

It's pathetic, really, to have to hear our war birds squawk and complain about the consequences of the policy they wanted so passionately, the glorious crusade they argued for with such overriding certainty and sense of mission....

...In the run-up to war, Iraq was caricatured by the War Party as the fount of evil, the source not only of the deadly anthrax but also of a veritable arsenal of WMD, which were ready and waiting to be launched at the U.S. I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that the Abu Ghraib torturers believed they were exacting revenge for 9/11: to this day, a good many people still believe the myth of Iraqi responsibility, including the Vice President of the United States, without a shred of evidence to back it up. The point is that Sullivan has hyped this lie consistently and energetically – and now backs away from his own handiwork.

Doesn't anybody take responsibility for anything anymore?...

Bush Says U.S. Will Not Block Sadr Political Role
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Bush (news - web sites) said on Tuesday the United States would not oppose a political role in Iraq (news - web sites) for Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, the fiery radical Bush branded an anti-democratic thug just last month. ...

...U.S. authorities vowed to capture or kill Sadr earlier this spring, after he and his Mehdi Army militia launched an uprising against American-led occupation troops. ...

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Rejoice, for verily, this is my column
In a new version of the 23rd Psalm, the passage beginning "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death" comes out as "Even if a full-scale violent confrontation breaks out I will not be afraid, Lord." It was reported in The Daily Telegraph last week that this gem - and others of the same flavour - will appear soon in The Pocket Prayers for Peace and Justice compiled by the charity Christian Aid....

Jesus Christ, Superstar
When Hollywood stopped making Bible movies, right-wing Christians took over.

Not too long ago, I attended a party thrown by my evangelical next-door neighbors in our Capitol Hill neighborhood. In the past, these gatherings--an evening packed in a house with 50 or 60 conservative evangelicals, most of whom attend the same Baptist church--were rife with social minefields. There may have been beer in the refrigerator and Madonna on the stereo, but the conversation was not similarly secular; it was only a matter of time before I was identified as a recovering-Baptist-turned-liberal-Episcopalian. Introduced as "the Democrat" to partygoers who work for Sen. Rick Santorum, write for conservative publications, or work in the Bush White House, I often found myself patiently explaining that, yes, it was possible to be a Christian and a Democrat. "I once knew a guy in college who was a Democrat!" one friendly fellow exclaimed upon meeting me, cementing my impression that, in this crowd, I was a rare and somewhat baffling specie.

On this particular evening, however, I had a foolproof plan for fitting in. I had just read the first two books in the 12-part Left Behind series that has sold more than 60 million copies worldwide, primarily in evangelical circles. Beginning with the onset of "the Rapture" (the event that some Christians believe will result in the spontaneous ascension to heaven of all true-believers), the books paint a picture of what would happen if the events predicted in the biblical Book of Revelations occurred now. Modern-day heroes Rayford Steele and Buck Williams lead a merry band of recent converts--the "Tribulation Force"--through action/adventure plots that are more Tom Clancy than Thomas Aquinas, with a fair amount of right-wing politicking thrown in for good measure. I was prepared to discuss the series with any and all comers at the party.

There was just one problem. No one I talked to would admit to having read any of the books....

Monday, June 14, 2004

...But this brings us back to my original reality check: Karl Rove is no idiot. The dark wizard is well aware of his president's troubles, and--even as the Beltway boys and girls obsess over Iraq--Team Bush is furiously sucking up to the base on domestic issues. Just this week, W. delivered a keep-the-faith barn-burner to nearly 2,000 religious leaders and social service workers assembled in Washington for the White House Conference on Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. In his best preacher's voice, Bush spoke of souls lost and found, the power of the Good Book, and the need to surrender one's life to "a higher being." But his larger goal: Reminding the audience of what a key friend he has been. Stressing his commitment to government funding of religious groups, Bush noted that, when an obstinate Congress tried to block his plans, he outsmarted them by signing an executive order. (Take that, you godless legislators!)

The more illuminating speech, however, came from Jim Towey, Bush's faith-based czar, who helpfully focused the crowd on the fierce "culture war" still raging in this country. Iraq may be getting all the press these days, he allowed, "but there's also another war that's going on ... that really gets to the heart of the questions about what is the role of faith in the public square." If the anti-Bush forces wind up carrying the day, Towey reportedly warned, "you could almost wind up creating a godless orthodoxy." For peddling such divisive, partisan rhetoric at an official White House event, Towey most likely earned a cookie and a pat on the back from the dark wizard.

But the faith-based conference/revival was just one stop on Team Bush's crusade. Last week, the president met with several members of the religious media. This week, during a trip West, he was scheduled to swing by Colorado Springs to kiss the ring of evangelical powerbroker James Dobson. Finally--and perhaps most impressively--on Thursday The New York Times broke the news that the Bush campaign is working to recruit literally thousands of "Friendly Congregations" to aid its reelection efforts by identifying volunteers willing to distribute campaign materials, facilitate voter registration, and pray for a plague of frogs to paralyze blue-state voting on election day. (Just kidding about that last part.) In Pennsylvania alone, 1,600 churches have been contacted. ...

State Department cooks the books
As previously discussed, the State Department had to retract their terrorism report after it was clear it had undercounted the number of terrorism attacks in 2003.

Powell hit the Sunday news shows to argue that the undercount was not politically motivated....

There's Something Else About Mary
It seems that inventing absurd legal justifications for torture isn't the only item listed on Air Force General Counsel Mary Walker's resume under "current job accomplishments." It looks like it also includes covering the exposed heinies of senior Pentagon officials who might otherwise have been blamed for failing to control an epidemic of sexual assaults at the Air Force Academy.

This, at least, was the conclusion of a independent investigating panel commissioned by Congress to look into the scandal last year. The panel, headed by former Republican congresswoman Tillie Fowler, claimed a working group headed by Walker attempted to "shield Air Force headquarters from public criticism" by either downplaying or omitting evidence gathered by two previous probes of sexual misconduct at the academy, in 1996 and 2000.

Walker, of course, has already put in several appearances here at Whiskey Bar, thanks to her role in an earlier working group, which helped develop the legal doctrine that the various laws and treaties forbidding torture (including the 8th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution) essentially mean whatever the President of the United States says they mean - thus allowing President Bush to continue asserting his faithful obedience to those laws despite an accumulating mountain of evidence to the contrary.

Oddly, Ms. Walker neglected to mention her role with either the torture or the sexual assault working groups in her recent heart-to-heart chat with the Professional Women's Fellowship, which instead was devoted primarily to her deep and abiding faith in Jesus Christ, and to her thoughts on executive development - not necessarily in that order....

...I'm going to do the, well, Christian thing, and leave Ms. Walker to prepare for her great deposition in the sky. Becaue at the rate she's going, she's going to need a very good criminal defense.

Sam's Club markets bulk 'Passion' videos to churches
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Mainstream retailer Sam's Club began offering 50-copy "church packs" of Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" last week, in a twist on usual ways of selling to religious groups.

Though specialized companies usually handle sales to religious groups and stores -- "Passion" has different distributors for the secular and religious markets -- the bulk packaging of the film fits the Sam's Club strategy, company spokeswoman Jolanda Stewart said....

God's house turned into posh condos

Developer Bernard McFarland converted St. Peter and Paul´s Church in South Boston into condos priced up to $1.2 million for a 2,400-square-foot penthouse with cathedral ceilings and the bell tower of the 1840s church.

Save This
What's the difference between born-again and bad-to-the-bone? Saved! doesn't answer and the press doesn't care.

Evangelicals on film occupy an odd if unsurprising position: they are almost always represented as aggressors. Consider Robert Duvall’s conflicted evangelist in The Apostle,

John Swanbeck’s belligerent Baptist salesman in The Big Kahuna, and Robert Mitchum's evil preacher in Night of the Hunter—three characters who could not be more different save for the fact of their evangelical confidence. Opinionated, self-assured, and willfully subversive of the (im)moral status quo, aggressive evangelicals like these are out to make converts—to Jesus, sure, but moreover to a robust and strident conservatism. They thump their Bibles and beat their chests, roaring about the way things should be, the way things used to be. They seek not merely to convince, but to compel, by force if necessary.

Adding to this representation of evangelicals is this summer’s Saved!, the only recent movie outside of evangelicalism’s own filmmaking industry to be entirely concerned with evangelicalism. Saved!, as many reviewers have noted, is Mean Girls in Evangelicaldom, which means it is about what happens when you take typically addled teenagers and add Christian rock and prayer groups. It is also about evangelical aggression—the problem of noisy, nosy Jesus freaks in a live-and-let-live world....

Slum Dwellers International
Then there has been a plethora (now diminishing) of organisations in civil society who have mobilised poor individuals, mainly through micro-finance, to help poor people improve their individual standards of living as a means of adapting to the reality created by the alliance of power between multi-laterals and national governments.

SDI affiliates are attempting to pioneer an alternative route to the two that are mentioned above.

All SDI affiliates are organisations of the Urban Poor. They range in size from a few hundred (at present) in Zambia to more than a million-and-a-half in India. Some are decades old, others have been in existence for less than a year. They all share a common vision: that the State on its own cannot solve problems of poverty and under-development. Whilst the State, especially in Southern countries, has a monopoly on power, its very relationship to this power and to the local and global economy makes it a very weak instrument for the delivery of the resources and services needed to eradicate poverty. Thus the SDI affiliates seek to remind the State and international agencies of their obligations with respect to equity. Since they question the capacity of these agencies to deliver, they constantly seek situations that enable those who are affected by poverty to become organised and united in ever-expanding networks, and to play a defining role in the way in which Governments and multi-laterals discharge their obligations to the poor. This is in sharp contradistinction to the rights-based social movements or the micro-finance organisations, or even archaic social movements of the past, such as earlier rural and urban movements of the poor, including trade unions and left-wing political parties.

Big brothers to the Nation States, the Bretton Woods Institutions and the UN, have been an international response, in a way, to the sporadic impulses of the poor and the marginalized, who have been driven by material need, towards contestation as an effort to create a society based on equity. SDI is an attempt to move away from sporadic impulses to sustained, long-term investments in local Federations of the Urban Poor. SDI, as a network of these Federations, opens opportunities at the international level in order to strengthen its member organisations....

Kenyans buy into slum plan
...Last year, a group of Nairobi slum dwellers banded together and asked the city council to give them the land that they had been squatting on illegally. In return, they promised to build proper houses, schools, and community centers without any government money.

"We went to the council and said: 'We know this land belongs to you, but we have lived here for 30 years and if you help us, we will make it a clean environment with good security," says Peter Chege, secretary of the housing association. "In the end, they agreed to draw up title deeds to the land in our name."

The bold move by the fledgling association was part of a revolutionary plan imported from India. It's the latest example of what experts say is becoming a model for slum improvement around the world....

...The idea comes from Slum Dwellers International, an Indian pressure group that encourages people living in slums to find their own solutions to housing problems. In the 1990s, it helped slum residents in Bombay to claim the land they were squatting on and turn it into a proper residential estate with running water and electricity. The group has programs in Africa, Asia, and South America....

Author of Disputed Columbia U. Study on Pregnancy and Prayer Pleads Guilty to Unrelated Fraud Charges
Doctors were shocked in 2001 to read a study from Columbia University that found that praying for women seeking to become pregnant could double their chances of success using in vitro fertilization. Some doctors were even more shocked that the study, which they considered highly flawed, had been published in a peer-reviewed journal. Now comes the final surprise: One of the paper's three authors pleaded guilty last month to two federal charges of fraud. ...

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Sanchez Approved Torture; White House May Be Linked to Decision
There is more proof that the torture at Abu Ghraib was not the work of just a few "bad apples," and the evidence clearly implicates the top military officer in Iraq. According to a British newspaper, additional information coming out this week will go further up the chain of command and implicate officials "at the top of the Bush administration."...

Saturday, June 12, 2004

...Dad [Ronald Reagan] was also a deeply, unabashedly religious man. But he never made the fatal mistake of so many politicians wearing his faith on his sleeve to gain political advantage. True, after he was shot and nearly killed early in his presidency, he came to believe that God had spared him in order that he might do good. But he accepted that as a responsibility, not a mandate. And there is a profound difference. ...

..."The Bush people have no right to speak for my father, particularly because of the position he's in now," he said during a recent interview with Salon. "Yes, some of the current policies are an extension of the '80s. But the overall thrust of this administration is not my father's -- these people are overly reaching, overly aggressive, overly secretive, and just plain corrupt. I don't trust these people." ...

"My father had decades of experience in public life. He was president of his union, he campaigned for presidential candidates, he served two terms as governor of California -- and that was not a ceremonial office as it is in Texas. And he had already run for president, against Ford in '76, nearly unseating the sitting president in his own party. He knew where he was coming from, he had spent years thinking and speaking about his views. He didn't have to ask Dick Cheney what he thought.

"Sure, he wasn't a technocrat like Clinton. But my father was a man -- that's the difference between him and Bush. To paraphrase Jack Palance, my father crapped bigger ones than George Bush." ...

Friday, June 11, 2004

Is U.S. like Germany of the '30s?
...What is this dark side? I would suggest that it is the mix of Calvinist religious righteousness and ''my-country-right-or-wrong'' patriotism that dominated our treatment of blacks and American Indians for most of the country's history. It revealed itself in the American history of imperialism in Mexico and after the Spanish-American War in the Philippines. The ''manifest destiny'' of America was to do whatever it wanted to do, because it was strong and virtuous and chosen by God.

Today many Americans celebrate a ''strong'' leader who, like Woodrow Wilson, never wavers, never apologizes, never admits a mistake, never changes his mind, a leader with a firm ''Christian'' faith in his own righteousness. These Americans are delighted that he ignores the rest of the world and punishes the World Trade Center terrorism in Iraq. Mr. Bush is our kind of guy.

He is not another Hitler. Yet there is a certain parallelism. They have in common a demagogic appeal to the worst side of a country's heritage in a crisis. Bush is doubtless sincere in his vision of what is best for America. So too was Hitler. The crew around the president -- Donald Rumsfeld, John Ashcroft, Karl Rove, the ''neo-cons'' like Paul Wolfowitz -- are not as crazy perhaps as Himmler and Goering and Goebbels. Yet like them, they are practitioners of the Big Lie -- weapons of mass destruction, Iraq democracy, only a few ''bad apples.''

Hitler's war was quantitatively different from the Iraq war, but qualitatively both were foolish, self-destructive and criminally unjust. This is a time of great peril in American history because a phony patriotism and an America-worshipping religion threaten the authentic American genius of tolerance and respect for other people.

The ''real'' America is still remembered here in Berlin for the enormous contributions of the Marshall Plan and the Berlin airlift -- America at its best. It is time to return to that generosity and grace.

The strongest criticism that the administration levels at Sen. John Kerry is that he changes his mind. In fact, instead of a president who claims an infallibility that exceeds that of the pope, America would be much better off with a president who, like John F. Kennedy, is honest enough to admit mistakes and secure enough to change his mind....

Dough à la Mode
I recently grabbed a quick bite at Bar Masa, in the new Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle. The bar has a short menu, so ordering was simple. The waiter proposed a plate of assorted sashimi at $85. I accepted. Sea-eel tempura sounded like a nice way to start off, and corn croquettes, in a Japanese restaurant, seemed weird but interesting. My eye wandered to an Asian-style risotto of lobster and black truffles. Irresistible, so why resist? -- although $34 was pushing the upper limit on what was, when you got down to it, a glorified bar menu. The bill for two, with no dessert and no drinks, was about $200.


Spending that kind of money on an abbreviated dinner should have elicited at least a twinge of guilt. Two hundred dollars, for the average American struggling to make do in tough times, is no small thing. I did some soul-searching but found that my only regret was not getting a table next door at Masa, where the owner and chef, Masa Takayama, creates menuless meals of five appetizers and a 15-fish main course. The price is $300 per diner.

In nearly five years of reviewing restaurants for this newspaper, I spent that much, and sometimes more, on dinner. Invariably, the ensuing review, with its heartfelt evocations of foie gras, caviar, Kobe beef, truffles and Champagne, would provoke outrage in a certain class of reader. The letters, and occasionally the voice-mail messages, all expressed the same sentiment: How could you? In a world where millions of children go hungry, where famine haunts broad swaths of Africa and Asia, where the $200 spent on a bottle of Bordeaux could go far to alleviating a destitute family's misery -- how could you?

I wanted to feel guilt. Honestly, I did. But among the many emotions I experienced as a reviewer -- happiness, annoyance, amusement, boredom, bliss, rage -- guilt never figured. I was more likely to get worked up over the price of parking in a garage than I was at the $150 for a splash of 19th-century Madeira or the $50 extra for a sprinkling of white truffles. Parking garages perform a function, but truffles delight the palate, a much higher calling. Unfortunately, in the United States, where even serial killers are considered innocent until proved otherwise, all sorts of harmless pleasures are routinely described as guilty.

May I mount a defense? Most arguments against fine dining as frivolous, excessive and somehow morally wrong rest on one of two propositions, both of them false....

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

New Iraqi PM Not Ashamed of CIA Links
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - New Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said Wednesday he was not ashamed of having worked with the CIA and other intelligence agencies as head of an exiled group trying to destabilize Saddam Hussein's regime.

``I was the head of a political organization in touch with at least 15 intelligence services across the world and in the region,'' Allawi said after a cabinet meeting. ``We don't feel ashamed of having been in touch to liberate Iraq from the evil forces of Saddam.''

The New York Times reported Wednesday that Allawi's group, the Iraqi National Accord, sent agents into Baghdad in the early 1990s to plant bombs and sabotage government facilities.

It cited former intelligence officials as saying they used car bombs and other explosive devices smuggled into Baghdad from northern Iraq. The bombings, whose effectiveness is disputed, never threatened Saddam's rule, they said.

Allawi did not comment directly on the bombings, which the former Iraqi government claimed caused many civilian casualties, but said he had actively worked to shake the former regime....

The Reluctant Anarchist
My arrival (very recently) at philosophical anarchism has disturbed some of my conservative and Christian friends. In fact, it surprises me, going as it does against my own inclinations. ...

...Around the time of Judge Robert Bork’s bitterly contested (and defeated) nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, conservatives spent a lot of energy arguing that the “original intent” of the Constitution must be conclusive. But they applied this principle only to a few ambiguous phrases and passages that bore on specific hot issues of the day — the death penalty, for instance. About the general meaning of the Constitution there could, I thought, be no doubt at all. The ruling principle is that whatever the Federal Government isn’t authorized to do, it’s forbidden to do....

...My fellow Christians have argued that the state’s authority is divinely given. They cite Christ’s injunction “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” and St. Paul’s words “The powers that be are ordained of God.” But Christ didn’t say which things — if any — belong to Caesar; his ambiguous words are far from a command to give Caesar whatever he claims. And it’s notable that Christ never told his disciples either to establish a state or to engage in politics. They were to preach the Gospel and, if rejected, to move on. He seems never to have imagined the state as something they could or should enlist on their side.

At first sight, St. Paul seems to be more positive in affirming the authority of the state. But he himself, like the other martyrs, died for defying the state, and we honor him for it; to which we may add that he was on one occasion a jailbreaker as well. Evidently the passage in Romans has been misread. It was probably written during the reign of Nero, not the most edifying of rulers; but then Paul also counseled slaves to obey their masters, and nobody construes this as an endorsement of slavery. He may have meant that the state and slavery were here for the foreseeable future, and that Christians must abide them for the sake of peace. Never does he say that either is here forever.

St. Augustine took a dim view of the state, as a punishment for sin. He said that a state without justice is nothing but a gang of robbers writ large, while leaving doubt that any state could ever be otherwise. St. Thomas Aquinas took a more benign view, arguing that the state would be necessary even if man had never fallen from grace; but he agreed with Augustine that an unjust law is no law at all, a doctrine that would severely diminish any known state.

The essence of the state is its legal monopoly of force. But force is subhuman; in words I quote incessantly, Simone Weil defined it as “that which turns a person into a thing — either corpse or slave.” It may sometimes be a necessary evil, in self-defense or defense of the innocent, but nobody can have by right what the state claims: an exclusive privilege of using it. ...

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

U.S.'s Ashcroft Won't Release or Discuss Torture Memo
June 8 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, warned that he might be risking a contempt citation from Congress, told lawmakers he won't release or discuss memoranda that news reports say offered justification for torturing suspected terrorists.

Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee asked Ashcroft about reports in the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and the New York Times that the Justice Department advised the White House in 2002 and 2003 that it might not be bound by U.S. and international laws prohibiting torture. Ashcroft said he wouldn't reveal advice he gave to President George W. Bush or discuss it with Congress.

``The president has a right to hear advice from his attorney general, in confidence,'' Ashcroft said. He also refused to answer whether he personally believes torture can be justified under certain circumstances.

The Washington Post, citing one Justice Department memo, said government lawyers told the White House in August 2002 that torturing captured al-Qaeda members abroad may be justified in the war on terrorism. ...

early link identifying his position in chain of command
..."Administrative penalties have been recommended against Col. Thomas M. Pappas, the commander of the 205th, and Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan, the head of an interrogation center overseen by the brigade, according to an article in the May 10 issue of the New Yorker magazine. Efforts to reach Pappas and Jordan Sunday were not successful."...

item from a church newsletter/website
..."Assemblies of God chaplain candidate John P. Smith Jr. knew the Bible verse about being prepared in season and out (2 Timothy 4:2). So did Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan Sr., a Pentecostal chaplain mentoring him at Fort Jackson in South Carolina....

TORTURE....The Washington Post reports today about yet another administration memo regarding torture of enemy prisoners. This one is from August 2002 and makes a total of four (so far)...

The Covert Kingdom
...Evangelical born-again Christians of one stripe or another were then, and are now, 40% of the electorate, and they support Bush 3-1. And as long as their clergy and their worst instincts tell them to, they will keep on voting for him, or someone like him, regardless of what we view as his arrogant folly and sub-intelligence. Forget about changing their minds. These Christians do not read the same books we do, they do not get their information from anything remotely resembling reasonably balanced sources, and in fact, consider even CBS and NBC super-liberal networks of porn and the Devil's lies. Given how fundamentalists see the modern world, they may as well be living in Iraq or Syria, with whom they share approximately the same Bronze Age religious tenets. They believe in God, Rumsfeld's Holy War and their absolute duty as God's chosen nation to kick Muslim ass up one side and down the other. In other words, just because millions of Christians appear to be dangerously nuts does not mean they are marginal. ...

...Fundamentalists such as my family have no idea how thoroughly they have been orchestrated by agenda-driven Christian media and other innovations of the past few decades. They probably would not care now, even if they knew. Like most of their tribe (dare we say class, in a nation that so vehemently denies it has a class system?) they want to embrace some simple foundational truth that will rationalize all the conflict and confusion of a postmodern world. Some handbook that will neatly explain everything, make all their difficult decisions for them. And among these classic American citizens, prone toward religious zealotry since the Great Awakening of the 18th Century, what rock could appear more dependable upon which to cling than the infallible Holy Bible? From there it was a short step for Christian Dominionist leaders to conclude that such magnificent infallibility should be enforced upon all other people, in the same spirit as the Catholic Spanish Conquistadors or the Arab Muslim Moors before them. It's an old, old story, a brutal one mankind cannot seem to shake. ...

...Now however, this apocalyptic belief, yearning really, drives an American Christian polity in the service of a grave and unnerving agenda. The psuedo-scriptural has become an apocalyptic game plan for earthly political action: To wit, the messiah can only return to earth after an apocalypse in Israel called Armageddon, which the fundamentalists are promoting with all their power so that The Rapture can take place. The first requirement was establishment of the state of Israel. Done. The next is Israel's occupation of the Middle East as a return of its "Biblical lands," which in the radical Christian scheme of things, means more wars. These Christian conservatives believe peace cannot ever lead to The Rapture, and indeed impedes the 1,000 year Reign of Christ. So anyone promoting peace is an enemy, a tool of Satan, hence the fundamentalist support for any and all wars Middle Eastern, in which their own kids die a death often viewed by Christian parents as a holy martyrdom of its own kind. "He (or she) died protecting this country's Christian values." One hears it over and over from parents of those killed....