Friday, April 30, 2004

The Jesus Factor
...Then in 1988, when we won with the Bush senior campaign and carried the highest total of evangelical votes ever in American history, we lost as we always do -- the Republicans -- we lost the Jewish vote and the Hispanic vote and all those votes. We lost the Catholic vote. We were the first modern presidency to win an election and it was a landslide and not win the Catholic vote. It was barely, but we lost the Catholic vote.

How did we do it? We carried 82 percent or 83 percent of the evangelical vote. I remember when it was all over-- this was one of the reasons I got a job in the White House -- but I remember when it was all over, there was great shock from me and others saying, "Whoa, this is unhealthy." We immediately began going after the Catholic vote.

While at the same time, we were frightened by the fact that we lost all these votes and still won the White House. The message did come home. My God, you can win the White House with nothing but evangelicals if you can get enough of them, if you get them all, and they're a huge number. ...

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Agreement Reached to End Fallujah Siege
FALLUJAH, Iraq (AP) - U.S. Marines announced Thursday an agreement to end a bloody, nearly monthlong siege of Fallujah, saying American forces will pull back and allow an all-Iraqi force commanded by one of Saddam Hussein's generals to take over security....

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Why Does the Public Put Up With Abusive Cops?
My latest article on was anything but kind to the armed bureaucrats who claim to be the protectors of safety, yet to my surprise I received only one moderately critical response. Almost every emailer – and there were plenty – added their own stories about how police officers abuse their powers and fail to make us safer.

Here was my favorite response: "Why is it after spending 32 years as a California Peace Officer (28 with the California Highway Patrol) that I cannot find fault with your article. ... Let me add tip #11: Never tell the public that 11% of the on duty killings by police qualify as wrongful deaths; while only 2% of killings by the uninformed, ill trained, dangerous public are so."

Clearly, we’re on to something here.

The day my article was published, the local news was consumed by reports about a California Highway Patrol officer who was gunned-down while on duty. The suspect is a 16-year-old-kid who, allegedly, wanted to impress members of the gang he wanted to join.

Within hours, the suspect was apprehended, and the news reports were filled with talk about police protecting their own. A "conservative" drive-time talk-show host kept emphasizing how much more tragic this killing was than other killings, because the victim was one of those brave souls who put his life on the line protecting us.

The crime was terrible, no doubt. But why do police respond so overwhelmingly when one of their own is killed? I can’t recall a manhunt of similar proportions taking place when a mere citizen is gunned down in broad daylight. I don’t know why the death of an officer in the line of duty is so much more egregious than the murder of anyone else.

This just reinforces the "us vs. them" mentality of those who carry the weapons and order us around. ...

`The Passion' puts some believers on the outside
...Calls to conform and see the film are especially common among evangelical Christians. Overall, they have been among Gibson's staunchest backers, and the holy heat they have generated has made some pastors who are lukewarm to the film feel pressure to encourage their parishioners to see it.

"We were approached by a sister church in our neighborhood that is also Baptist about buying a large number of tickets together," said Keith Herron, senior pastor at Holmeswood Baptist Church in Kansas City, Mo. "If we did that, we would have clout with the [theater] manager and essentially, could do anything we would want to do."

The idea was clear, Herron said -- the theater could be turned into a stage for saving lost souls. But Herron recoiled at the notion of using "The Passion" for instant conversions to Christianity.

"We just thought that was manipulative and the wrong approach to sharing the love of Christ," he said. "To pull on people in a moment of weakness like that is just wrong."

Herron said a number of evangelical churches are "absolutely" compelling worshippers, families and in some cases young children to see the film....

...Scholars and religious leaders said the public's overwhelming enthusiasm for "The Passion" has called into question the piety of those Christians who have stayed away from the cinema. But they also say the trend toward determining who is a good Christian will endure even after the "Passion" craze has faded.

"This phenomenon . . . of people putting pressure on other believers to participate in what they define as holy is not a passing phase," said Amanda Quantz, a professor at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. "This kind of fanaticism -- you are a good Christian or you are a bad Christian -- has much more fuel than the movie. The movie is just a tool for this type of thought."...

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Apartheid assassins meet match in Iraq
SOME of the worst human rights violators of the apartheid era, including a man who helped kill 14 civilians while they slept, have been employed as security contractors in Iraq.

A South African killed in Iraq two weeks ago once worked for a secret apartheid death squad known as the Civil Co-operation Bureau. The CCB specialised in assassinating civilians who sympathised with black liberation movements.

Gray Branfield, 55, was the latest South African casualty with a record of human rights abuse to have obtained lucrative employment with one of the many private security companies operating in Iraq. His decapitated and mutilated body was found after a gunfight between Shi'ite radicals and Ukrainian forces in Kut, 185km southeast of Baghdad. ...

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Animatronic band takes guesswork out of worship
..."I thought I'd miss the human element, but these machines are so real," says Douglas Wilson, 62. "And I appreciate the consistency."

The shift happened last fall when the church's worship leader resigned. Pastor Ted Lindey had trouble finding a replacement. Then he heard about Animatronics Group, a company out of New Zealand which creates animatronic shows for theme parks. For the price of three years' salary for a flesh-and-blood worship leader, Lindey realized he could get a system that lasted ten years or more and offered almost limitless worship possibilities.

"Real worship leaders have a warmth, but they can be also moody and flaky," says Lindey. "It's tough to find one that matches your church."

He had the system installed in November. The people were astonished, even annoyed at first. Then they began to bond with the animatrons. Many now say they've reached new heights of worship with the pre-programmed band....

..."Animatronics has come a long way since Disneyland's Abe Lincoln," says one attendee after morning worship. "The band works so well, we're thinking of getting an animatronic pastor."

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Bush: ‘We’re changing the world’
Maybe it wasn’t a slip of the lip as everyone assumed when President Bush talked of launching a "crusade" against terrorism.

This president indeed may be driven by a religious zeal that is beginning to reveal itself and is reminiscent of the eight crusades between 1095 and 1270....

Iraq war damaged UK - Archbishop
...Dr Williams hinted the UK's "political health" has been damaged by failure to find weapons of mass destruction.

Admitting error might be one way to restore trust, he said in a sermon delivered in Cambridge on Tuesday. ...

...Dr Williams said claims on the political loyalty of Christians had to do with a "demonstrable attention to truth, even unwelcome truth".

He said: "There were things government believed it knew and claimed to know on a privileged basis which, it emerged, were anything but certain - there were things which regional experts and others knew which seemed not to have received attention."

He added: "The evidence suggests to many that obedience to a complex truth suffered from a sense of urgency that made attention harder." ...

TV viewer sues for blasphemy
AN evangelical Christian has started legal action against Channel 7 over the use of the name "Jesus Christ" as a swear word in a top crime thriller.

Andre van der Linden claims the use of the name in the British-made series Prime Suspect is insulting and disrespectful to Christians.
"It is high time that television stations like yours be called to account for your defamation of the name Jesus Christ, a practice that insults hundreds of thousands of Christian believers," Mr van der Linden said in his legal documents. ...

Apocalypse Please
US policy towards the Middle East is driven by a rarefied form of madness. It’s time we took it seriously....

...In the United States, several million people have succumbed to an extraordinary delusion. In the 19th century, two immigrant preachers cobbled together a series of unrelated passages from the Bible to create what appears to be a consistent narrative: Jesus will return to earth when certain preconditions have been met. The first of these was the establishment of a state of Israel. The next involves Israel's occupation of the rest of its "Biblical lands" (most of the Middle East), and the rebuilding of the Third Temple on the site now occupied by the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosques. The legions of the Antichrist will then be deployed against Israel, and their war will lead to a final showdown in the valley of Armageddon. The Jews will either burn or convert to Christianity, and the Messiah will return to earth.

What makes the story so appealing to Christian fundamentalists is that before the big battle begins, all "true believers" (ie those who believe what THEY believe) will be lifted out of their clothes and wafted up to heaven during an event called the Rapture. Not only do the worthy get to sit at the right hand of God, but they will be able to watch, from the best seats, their political and religious opponents being devoured by boils, sores, locusts and frogs, during the seven years of Tribulation which follow. ...

...The believers are convinced that they will soon be rewarded for their efforts. The Antichrist is apparently walking among us, in the guise of Kofi Annan, Javier Solana, Yasser Arafat or, more plausibly, Silvio Berlusconi.5 The Walmart corporation is also a candidate (in my view a very good one), because it wants to radio-tag its stock, thereby exposing humankind to the Mark of the Beast. By clicking on, you can discover how close you might be to flying out of your pyjamas. The infidels among us should take note that the Rapture Index currently stands at 144, just one point below the critical threshold, beyond which the sky will be filled with floating nudists. Beast Government, Wild Weather and Israel are all trading at the maximum five points (the EU is debating its constitution, there was a freak hurricane in the South Atlantic, Hamas has sworn to avenge the killing of its leaders), but the second coming is currently being delayed by an unfortunate decline in drug abuse among teenagers and a weak showing by the Antichrist (both of which score only two).

We can laugh at these people, but we should not dismiss them. That their beliefs are bonkers does not mean they are marginal. American pollsters believe that between 15 and 18% of US voters belong to churches or movements which subscribe to these teachings. A survey in 1999 suggested that this figure included 33% of Republicans. The best-selling contemporary books in the United States are the 12 volumes of the Left Behind series, which provide what is usually described as a "fictionalised" account of the Rapture (this, apparently, distinguishes it from the other one), with plenty of dripping details about what will happen to the rest of us. The people who believe all this don't believe it just a little; for them it is a matter of life eternal and death.

And among them are some of the most powerful men in America. John Ashcroft, the attorney-general, is a true believer, so are several prominent senators and the House majority leader, Tom DeLay. Mr DeLay (who is also the co-author of the marvellously-named DeLay-Doolittle Amendment, postponing campaign finance reforms) travelled to Israel last year to tell the Knesset that "there is no middle ground, no moderate position worth taking."

So here we have a major political constituency - representing much of the current president's core vote - in the most powerful nation on earth, which is actively seeking to provoke a new world war. Its members see the invasion of Iraq as a warm-up act, as Revelations (9:14-15) maintains that four angels "which are bound in the great river Euphrates" will be released "to slay the third part of men." They batter down the doors of the White House as soon as its support for Israel wavers: when Bush asked Ariel Sharon to pull his tanks out of Jenin in 2002, he received 100,000 angry emails from Christian fundamentalists, and never mentioned the matter again.

The electoral calculation, crazy as it appears, works like this. Governments stand or fall on domestic issues. For 85% of the US electorate, the Middle East is a foreign issue, and therefore of secondary interest when they enter the polling booth. For 15% of the electorate, the Middle East is not just a domestic matter, it's a personal one: if the president fails to start a conflagration there, his core voters don't get to sit at the right hand of God. Bush, in other words, stands to lose fewer votes by encouraging Israeli aggression than he stands to lose by restraining it. He would be mad to listen to these people. He would also be mad not to.

With God on His Side...
...During the first Gulf War, George H.W. Bush wisely heeded the concerns of Congress, as well as a broad coalition of regional and international allies, and kept to clear, limited and sound goals.

In contrast, the younger Bush vocally disdains world opinion and international bodies like the United Nations, seeming instead to relish his role as an avenging Christian crusader who seeks – under the guiding hand of the Almighty – to cleanse the Arab world of "evildoers."

Asked by Woodward, an assistant managing editor at the Washington Post, if he had ever consulted the former president before ordering the invasion of Iraq, Bush replied that "he is the wrong father to appeal to in terms of strength; there is a higher father that I appeal to."...

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Study Suspects Thousands of False Convictions
A comprehensive study of 328 criminal cases over the last 15 years in which the convicted person was exonerated suggests that there are thousands of innocent people in prison today.

Almost all the exonerations were in murder and rape cases, and that implies, according to the study, that many innocent people have been convicted of less serious crimes. But the study says they benefited neither from the intense scrutiny that murder cases tend to receive nor from the DNA evidence that can categorically establish the innocence of people convicted of rape.

Prosecutors, however, have questioned some of the methodology used in the study, which was prepared at the University of Michigan and supervised by a law professor there, Samuel R. Gross. They say that the number of exonerations is quite small when compared with the number of convictions during the 15-year period. About 2 million people are in American prisons and jails.

The study identified 199 murder exonerations, 73 of them in capital cases. It also found 120 rape exonerations. Only nine cases involved other crimes. In more than half of the cases, the defendants had been in prison for more than 10 years.

The study's authors said they picked 1989 as a starting point because that was the year of the first DNA exoneration. Of the 328 exonerations they found in the intervening years, 145 involved DNA evidence.

In 88 percent of the rape cases in the study, DNA evidence helped free the inmate. But biological evidence is far less likely to be available or provide definitive proof in other kinds of cases. Only 20 percent of the murder exonerations involved DNA evidence, and almost all of those were rape-murders.

The study, which will be presented Friday at a conference of defense lawyers in Austin, Tex., also found that very different factors contributed to wrongful convictions in rape and murder cases.

Some 90 percent of false convictions in the rape cases involved misidentification by witnesses, very often across races. In particular, the study said black men made up a disproportionate number of exonerated rape defendants.

The racial mix of those exonerated, in general, mirrored that of the prison population, and the mix of those exonerated of murder mirrored the mix of those convicted of murder. But while 29 percent of those in prison for rape are black, 65 percent of those exonerated of the crime are....

...That suggests that innocent people are often convicted in run-of-the-mill cases. Indeed, the study says, "if we reviewed prison sentences with the same level of care that we devote to death sentences, there would have been over 28,500 non-death-row exonerations in the past 15 years rather than the 255 that have in fact occurred."...

Overall do you think George W. Bush has done more to unite the country, or has done more to divide the country?

Unite 50%
Divide 48%
DK/No opinion 2%

Responses by Sex
Male Female All
Unite 55% 44% 50%
Divide 43% 53% 48%
DK/No opinion 2% 3% 2%

Woodward on Bush
...In his 60 Minutes appearance, Woodward told Mike Wallace that when he mentioned to Bush that people were concerned about the failure to find WMDs in Iraq, Bush replied, "You travel in elite circles." Bush was not only saying that he was not mad about this, but that the missing WMDs were of minimal importance because the matter only bothered elite intellectuals. Discussing this, Woodward said he believed Bush had a disdain for "the fancy-pants intellectual world." Is this chilling? A president takes the country and the world to war for a very specific reason, and then this reason turns out to have been wrong. Yet that does not bother him in the least, and he brushes aside the matter by suggesting only elitists care about it. Talk about denial. A frightening mental mechanism is at work here. If Bush can dismiss all concerns and criticisms of his actions as merely the gripes of too-smart-for-their-own-good snobs, he then is free to live untroubled in a reality of his own (or Dick Cheney's) making, one unencumbered by competing views and ideas. The leader of the free world is in a bubble.

Bush told Woodward that he remained certain the war had been the right move because he has a "duty to free people." That is not how he had depicted his obligations before the war. Then he claimed his duty was to defend the United States. This remark--coupled with Bush's comment that "there is a higher father that I appeal to"--does make it seem that Bush believes he is on a mission from God. That might scare some, but it would not be so problematic if Bush also believed that God expects him to engage in self-examination and critical and honest discourse before mounting an action that claims thousands of lives and if Bush took into this heart the fact that God (assuming God exists) created intellectuals, experts, skeptics and critics as well as cowboys, oil rig workers, and truck drivers (not that any of these folks cannot be fancy-pants eggheads as well). ...

Monday, April 19, 2004

Cling-on attack: At the Louisiana National Guard Armory in Lafayette, 4-year-old Samantha tries to stop her dad, Maj. Robert Wright, from shipping out to Iraq.

Political Conversation: Condi’s Slip
A pressing issue of dinner-party etiquette is vexing Washington, according to a story now making the D.C. rounds: How should you react when your guest, in this case national-security adviser Condoleezza Rice, makes a poignant faux pas? At a recent dinner party hosted by New York Times D.C. bureau chief Philip Taubman and his wife, Times reporter Felicity Barringer, and attended by Arthur Sulzberger Jr., Maureen Dowd, Steven Weisman, and Elisabeth Bumiller, Rice was reportedly overheard saying, “As I was telling my husb—” and then stopping herself abruptly, before saying, “As I was telling President Bush.” Jaws dropped, but a guest says the slip by the unmarried politician, who spends weekends with the president and his wife, seemed more psychologically telling than incriminating. Nobody thinks Bush and Rice are actually an item. A National Security Council spokesman laughed and said, “No comment.”

Addressing the election of gay Bishop Gene Robinson, the Los Angeles Times opined: "The actions taken by the New Hampshire Episcopalians are an affront to Christians everywhere. I am just thankful that the church's founder, Henry VIII, and his wife Catherine of Aragon, his wife Anne Boleyn, his wife Jane Seymour, his wife Anne of Cleves, his wife Katherine Howard and his wife Catherine Parr are no longer here to suffer through this assault on our traditional Christian marriage."
-- Terry Mattingly

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Christian Music's New Wave
...At the same time, technology at many churches, especially large megachurches, has replaced the hymn book with video projections of lyrics that can be downloaded from the Internet. Christian labels sell DVD's that include printable lyrics, backing music and computer graphics so congregations can sing the new songs.

Like the megachurches, the music has drawn criticism for emphasizing individual experiences. "A lot of it is interfacing with narcissism," said Robert E. Webber, a professor of ministry at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, Ill.

"The dominant word in these songs is I," he said. "It's `I enthrone you,' `I love you.' The focus is not on God but how I experience God. We congratulate God for being God. Theologically, that says I, a creature of God, have something to contribute to God's well-being."...

Saturday, April 17, 2004

France Invades U.S.
April 11 2004 "ICH" -- After months of build up, the French government, led by Jacques Chirac, launched a preemptive attack on the United States of America.
Declaring the US "a rogue nation in violation of international law and in defiance of UN resolution 1441," France launched a major ground offensive to overturn what they called "the illegitimate regime of George W. Bush." Citing the 2000 election as proof of an unlawful government, the French claimed they are invading the US to bring democracy to the American people. Termed Operation American Freedom, Jacques Chirac declared on French National TV: "the failure of the US to disarm and the threats against France by the unelected president has created the need to invade America in order to protect us against the inevitable aggression by the US along with Bush's stockpiling of weapons of mass destruction. The US, he declared, was part of an axis of evil along with the United Kingdom and Israel.

After a relentless bombing campaign termed "Le Shock e Le Awe," French along with a German coalition forces captured Washington DC and surrounding areas. German troops controlled territory from North Carolina to Florida.

Chirac appointed Dominique de Villepin as interim president and established a governing council of Americans. The complete transition to the American leadership is scheduled to occur on June 30 2004. Made up of African Americans, Native Americans, Mexican Americans, and a few white "Conservatives," this council will govern the newly liberated US beginning on July 1, 2004. ...

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Downsizing the CEO
Labor and shareholders unite to roll back executive power

The omnipotent corporate chief executive emerged in the ’90s as a popular economic superhero, rivaling the high-tech nerd as creator of the economic boom. But that came to a crashing finale with misdeeds at Enron and dozens of other high-profile businesses—when a mix of executive greed, lawbreaking and deregulation built up then burst the stock market bubble.

In the angry aftermath, the labor movement worked closely with public employee pension funds to create a new model of accountability for corporate executives, and this spring the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is expected to issue new rules that will make it easier for shareholders to nominate directors.

“This is the most important corporate governance reform to correct past abuses that we’ve seen in recent years,” says Brandon Rees, a researcher at the AFL-CIO’s Center for Working Capital. It reflects a tentative alliance between organized labor and shareholders against arrogant executives and their destructive corporate decision-making.

Shareholders own corporations, but in the first decades of the 20th Century control shifted to professional managers. Although technically accountable to boards of directors representing shareholders, CEOs and corporate insiders now effectively name the directors, who set executive pay, oversee audits and approve broad strategies. With CEOs in near-total control, executive pay skyrocketed regardless of how well corporations performed or planned for the long term.

During the ’90s, unions increasingly used the power of their members’ pension funds—valued at $6 trillion—to combat the mismanagement that threatened the retirement wealth of their membership....

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Fundamentalist Christian tries SOS on Muslim
The most terrible things can happen in the most normal of towns. Walking in Ilford, Essex, (about an hour's drive from London) a 17-year old Muslim girl, wearing the traditional headscarf, made her way to school on a Monday morning in March.

Just before she went to class at Ursuline College, this young girl, who remains anonymous, was abducted by a middle-aged man. He bundled her into a white van and drove off to a local park where the fundamentalist Christian tried to "save her soul" by demanding at knifepoint that she convert to Christianity.

As she refused, petrified and crying, he cut little crosses into the back of her hands and sides of her arm, small scars that have started to heal but will remind her forever of this terrifying ordeal. That concluded after an hour with the man dropping off the frightened girl - a woman repressed by Islam, he told her - back at her sixth form college....

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

The 12th Coming of Less-Than-Glorious Fiction
The latest “Left Behind” book.

After nine years, twelve volumes, forty million total copies, two movies, and an endless flood of apocalyptic merchandise, readers of the "Left Behind" series have reached the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately for them, episode #12, titled Glorious Appearing, is underwhelming and pedestrian, poor qualities for a novel about a Big Event.

Fans of Glorious Appearing: The End of Days, which hit stores on March 30, may be inclined to label my criticisms as the rude sniping of a former Rapture-believing Fundamentalist-turned-Papist. After all, I've written more than a few articles and one book about the many problems I see in premillennial dispensationalism, the "left-behind" theology propagated in the fictional series created by Fundamentalist pastor Tim LaHaye and authored by book-a-month manufacturer Jerry B. Jenkins. Having read many of the other "Left Behind" books, I readily admit that I expected Glorious Appearing to be bloated, stilted, and corny. As it turns out, that combination would have been a welcome relief from the 400 pages of repetitive, numbing bombast that assaulted my weary eyes. Nevertheless, I fully expect this latest episode (of what once was going to be just a trilogy) to top the charts and sell a quadrillion copies. ...

A View From the Frontline in Iraq
...Everything you have heard about the war should be viewed with the greatest of suspicion, “consider the source” as we always say. For instance, while training stateside, we were briefed extensively about this war, the conduct of the war and the situation we would encounter. This orientation coincidentally sounded identical to the political drivel being dished out by our politicians. Remember, hundreds of Bush and Cheney cronies are counting on you to keep those war bucks flowing into their bank accounts!

The first five minutes here in country we learned that truth, and what we were told, are two totally different things. For starters, things are not getting better every day, they are getting worse. The bad guys are becoming more sophisticated and, sadly, thanks to our illustrious “leadership” at command level, we are becoming more stupid.

For example, during WWII it was discovered that a pathetically low number of soldiers were actually shooting at the enemy. Aggressive training helped up that number during Korea and Vietnam but now we’ve gone quite over the top. Today, everybody wants to shoot (except old war horses like me who have the crazy idea that we ought to make sure it’s an enemy we are shooting). ...

What hath Mel Gibson wrought?
...Vischer speaks candidly about the pressures that evangelical artists face from more utilitarian-minded brethren:
We handcuff ourselves. We get letters asking, When do you actually call people to make a salvation choice? The Campus Crusade [for Christ] has been carrying their JESUS film around the world and they actually figured out a formula where if you invest this much money, it results in this many conversions from showing the film. The people funding these efforts tend to be conservative Midwestern businessmen who want to know the return on their investment. So it's made much of evangelical ministry extremely results-driven. ...

Monday, April 12, 2004

Why Bush’s Afghanistan problem won’t go away.

In December, 2002, a year after the Taliban had been driven from power in Afghanistan, Donald Rumsfeld gave an upbeat assessment of the country’s future to CNN’s Larry King. “They have elected a government. . . . The Taliban are gone. The Al Qaeda are gone. The country is not a perfectly stable place, and it needs a great deal of reconstruction funds,” Rumsfeld said. “There are people who are throwing hand grenades and shooting off rockets and trying to kill people, but there are people who are trying to kill people in New York or San Francisco. So it’s not going to be a perfectly tidy place.” Nonetheless, he said, “I’m hopeful, I’m encouraged.” And he added, “I wish them well.”

A year and a half later, the Taliban are still a force in many parts of Afghanistan, and the country continues to provide safe haven for members of Al Qaeda. American troops, more than ten thousand of whom remain, are heavily deployed in the mountainous areas near Pakistan, still hunting for Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader. Hamid Karzai, the U.S.-backed President, exercises little political control outside Kabul and is struggling to undercut the authority of local warlords, who effectively control the provinces. Heroin production is soaring, and, outside of Kabul and a few other cities, people are terrorized by violence and crime. A new report by the United Nations Development Program, made public on the eve of last week’s international conference, in Berlin, on aid to Afghanistan, stated that the nation is in danger of once again becoming a “terrorist breeding ground” unless there is a significant increase in development aid.

The turmoil in Afghanistan has become a political issue for the Bush Administration, whose general conduct of the war on terrorism is being publicly challenged by Richard A. Clarke, the former National Security Council terrorism adviser, in a memoir, “Against All Enemies,” and in contentious hearings before the September 11th Commission. The Bush Administration has consistently invoked Afghanistan as a success story—an example of the President’s determination. However, it is making this claim in the face of renewed warnings, from international organizations, from allies, and from within its own military—notably a Pentagon-commissioned report that was left in bureaucratic limbo when its conclusions proved negative—that the situation there is deteriorating rapidly....

'Damn the US and damn the resistance'
...The family said the fighting had started at 10.30 that morning - for the third day. A nearby house, they said, had been bombed.

After half an hour, we heard screaming from the next house. A bullet had gone into the house and killed Mohammed. He was 13. A woman came from the back of the house and began screaming: 'May God damn the resistance, may God damn the Americans.' The men of the house tried to calm her, but soon we were told to leave.

'We have children here - maybe the Americans will hit us or the resistance,' she began yelling. 'Why don't you leave - there are taxis outside.' There were indeed taxis, but the drivers of them were hiding inside with us.

As we left, she hesitated and asked us to stay and apologised. We left without even knowing their names. Outside the door, fresh drops of blood led to the open door of a minivan where the driver had been shot a few minutes before.

Once the fighting stops, it is hard to believe that the damage of the past week can be undone.

Perhaps the most surprising result of the fighting is the unlikely support of the poor Shias for the Sunnis. This has always been a difficult relationship for foreigners to understand. On the one hand, there is enormous distrust; on the other, they are fellow Muslims.

Before driving to Ramadi on Wednesday, we spent the night at the home of a Shia family in Sadr City. 'There is no difference between Falluja and Sadr City,' said Nassir Salman, a barber who was working late. 'They are fighting and we are fighting. Inshallah , there will be jihad. But we are jealous of Falluja. We are waiting for our leaders to declare jihad. Now, it is worse than Saddam. He killed secretly - but the Americans kill us on the streets.'...

Friday, April 09, 2004

Thank you, Mr. Bush

"What happened was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to be governed by surprise, to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believe that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if people could understand it, it could not be released because of national security. ~ The crises and reforms (real reforms too) so occupied the people that they did not see the slow motion underneath, of the whole process of government growing remoter and remoter.

To live in the process is absolutely not to notice it-please try to believe me-unless one has a much greater degree of political awareness, acuity, than most of us ever had occasion to develop. Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, 'regretted.' Believe me this is true. Each act, each occasion is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next. You wait for one shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join you in resisting somehow.

Suddenly it all comes down, all at once. You see what you are, what you have done, or, more accurately, what you haven't done (for that was all that was required of most of us: that we did nothing). You remember those early meetings of your department in the university when, if one had stood, others would have stood, perhaps, but no one stood. A small matter, a matter of hiring this man or that, and you hired this one rather than that. You remember everything now, and your heart breaks. Too late. You are compromised beyond repair."
-- Milton Mayer.

Mayer went back to Germany in the 50s to talk to everyday people who lived in Germany under the Nazi regime.

It's Worse Than Vietnam
So once again, it is time to ask, how the hell did we get into this mess?

Bush and his team of neocons have always been much more comfortable with chaotic change than most of the rest of us because they see chaotic change as a way to exploit chaos for their own ends. One of their basic tenets on how to lead is to find ways to exploit chaotic situations. Woodward's Bush at War talked about Bush's philosophy of leadership and what Bush said would make others follow him:

"But action, confident action, that will yield positive results provides a kind of slipstream into which reluctant nations and leaders can get behind and show themselves that there has been, you know, something positive has happened towards peace."

America’s ‘low tolerance’ for war casualties is a myth
...“The American public will rarely tolerate large numbers of U.S. casualties in military operations.”

If this assessment contains a kernel of truth, it is because, as Christopher Gelpi and Peter Feaver detail in their recent book, “Choosing Your Battles: American Civil-Military Relations and the Use of Force,” the public takes its cues from above. Hence, when leaders telegraph the message that America’s sons and daughters are dying for nothing — as Presidents Johnson, Nixon, Reagan and Clinton did — there follows an understandable reluctance to place those sons and daughters in harm’s way. This is why it’s so important that President Bush broadcast his determination in Iraq.

After last week’s attacks, Secretary of State Colin Powell insisted the United States would not be “run out” of Iraq. In the past Bush has said that those who believe attacks will drive us from Iraq “don’t understand what they’re talking about.” But the message that America means to stay the course must be repeated, daily, in televised addresses and on the stump, and much more vocally than it has been thus far. To do anything less, to advertise America’s fears as if they were virtues, not only emboldens the likes of Osama bin Laden and Iraqi terrorists — it drains America’s will to resist them.

Actors Whip Easter Bunny at Church Show
GLASSPORT, Pa. - First, the Passion of the Christ. Now, the torment of the Easter Bunny?

It may not have been as gruesome as Mel Gibson's movie, but many parents and children got upset when a church trying to teach about Jesus' crucifixion performed an Easter show with actors whipping the Easter bunny and breaking eggs.

People who attended Saturday's show at Glassport's memorial stadium quoted performers as saying, "There is no Easter bunny," and described the show as being a demonstration of how Jesus was crucified.

Melissa Salzmann, who brought her 4-year-old son J.T., said the program was inappropriate for young children. "He was crying and asking me why the bunny was being whipped," Salzmann said.

Patty Bickerton, the youth minister at Glassport Assembly of God, said the performance wasn't meant to be offensive. Bickerton portrayed the Easter rabbit and said she tried to act with a tone of irreverence.

"The program was for all ages, not just the kids. We wanted to convey that Easter is not just about the Easter bunny, it is about Jesus Christ," Bickerton said.

Performers broke eggs meant for an Easter egg hunt and also portrayed a drunken man and a self-mutilating woman, said Jennifer Norelli-Burke, another parent who saw the show in Glassport, a community about 10 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.

"It was very disturbing," Norelli-Burke said. "I could not believe what I saw. It wasn't anything I was expecting."

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

U.S. Diplomat's Letter of Resignation
The following is the text of John Brady Kiesling's letter of resignation to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell. Mr. Kiesling is a career diplomat who has served in United States embassies from Tel Aviv to Casablanca to Yerevan.

Dear Mr. Secretary:

I am writing you to submit my resignation from the Foreign Service of the United States and from my position as Political Counselor in U.S. Embassy Athens, effective March 7. I do so with a heavy heart. The baggage of my upbringing included a felt obligation to give something back to my country. Service as a U.S. diplomat was a dream job. I was paid to understand foreign languages and cultures, to seek out diplomats, politicians, scholars and journalists, and to persuade them that U.S. interests and theirs fundamentally coincided. My faith in my country and its values was the most powerful weapon in my diplomatic arsenal.

It is inevitable that during twenty years with the State Department I would become more sophisticated and cynical about the narrow and selfish bureaucratic motives that sometimes shaped our policies. Human nature is what it is, and I was rewarded and promoted for understanding human nature. But until this Administration it had been possible to believe that by upholding the policies of my president I was also upholding the interests of the American people and the world. I believe it no longer.

The policies we are now asked to advance are incompatible not only with American values but also with American interests. Our fervent pursuit of war with Iraq is driving us to squander the international legitimacy that has been America’s most potent weapon of both offense and defense since the days of Woodrow Wilson. We have begun to dismantle the largest and most effective web of international relationships the world has ever known. Our current course will bring instability and danger, not security. ...

U.S. Terrorism Policy Spawns Steady Staff Exodus
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the Bush administration has faced a steady exodus of counterterrorism officials, many disappointed by a preoccupation with Iraq (news - web sites) they said undermined the U.S. fight against terrorism.

Former counterterrorism officials said at least half a dozen have left the White House Office for Combating Terrorism or related agencies in frustration in the 2 1/2 years since the attacks.

Some also left because they felt President Bush had sidelined his counterterrorism experts and paid almost exclusive heed to the vice president, the defense secretary and other Cabinet members in planning the "war on terror," former counterterrorism officials said.

"I'm kind of hoping for regime change," one official who quit told Reuters...

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

The battle the US wants to provoke
Bremer is deliberately pushing Iraq's Shia south into all-out chaos

...On the surface, this chain of events is mystifying. With the so-called Sunni triangle in flames after the gruesome Falluja attacks, why is Bremer pushing the comparatively calm Shia south into battle?

Here's one possible answer: Washington has given up on its plans to hand over power to an interim Iraqi government on June 30, and is creating the chaos it needs to declare the handover impossible. A continued occupation will be bad news for George Bush on the campaign trail, but not as bad as if the hand-over happens and the country erupts, an increasingly likely scenario given the widespread rejection of the legitimacy of the interim constitution and the US- appointed governing council....

Baghdad Sunnis, Shi'ites unite
SUNNI and Shi'ite residents of two Baghdad suburbs, once fierce enemies, said overnight they had put their differences aside to unite in their fight to oust the US occupying force from Iraq.

"All of Iraq is behind Moqtada al-Sadr, we are but one body, one people," declared Sheikh Raed al-Kazami, in charge of the radical Shi'ite cleric's offices at a mosque in the Shi'ite neighbourhood of Kazimiya, west of the Iraqi capital.

He spoke following three days of fierce clashes between militiamen loyal to Sadr that left at least 57 people dead and 236 wounded.

Al-Kazami said residents of the Sunni neighbourhood of Adhamiya, a stone's throw from Kazimiya, had offered their support, as had residents from Ramadi and Fallujah, west of Baghdad, as well as residents of the northern city of Mosul.

The Muslim cleric, surrounded by armed bodyguards, said some Sunnis had even offered to join Sadr's militia. ...

Monday, April 05, 2004

All the President's Suckers
Flip-flopping is the last stage of trusting Bush.

...What do all these flip-floppers have in common? Not subject matter: DiIulio worked on social policy, O'Neill on economics, Clarke on national security. Not party: Kerry, Edwards, and Gephardt are Democrats; O'Neill is a Republican; Clarke worked for President Reagan and both Bushes as well as for President Clinton. The only thing they have in common is that they all cooperated with this administration before deciding they'd been conned. Flip-flopping, it turns out, is the final stage of trusting George W. Bush.

That's how Kerry, Edwards, and Gephardt got whiplash. They supported tax cuts in 2001 when Bush challenged them to give back some of the surplus. Then the surplus vanished, Bush demanded more tax cuts, and they decided they'd been conned. They supported Bush's "No Child Left Behind" education bill in 2001. Then the administration withheld money for it, and they decided they'd been conned. They supported the Patriot Act after 9/11 when Bush urged them to trust law enforcement. Then the Justice Department took liberties with its new powers, and they decided they'd been conned. They voted for a resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq after the administration promised to use the resolution as leverage toward U.N. action, reserving unilateral war as a last resort. Then Bush ditched the United Nations and went to war, and they decided they'd been conned.

When the administration offered them a supposedly $400 billion Medicare bill stuffed with goodies for health insurers and drug companies, they said no. But lots of fiscally conservative House Republicans said yes. Now, thanks to yet another flip-flopping Bush administration whistleblower, those Republicans have discovered that the real bill, concealed by the White House, will be $150 billion higher than advertised. You don't have to be a Democrat to feel conned.

Once you vote with Bush, serve in his cabinet, or spin for him in a classified briefing, you're trapped. If you change your mind, he'll dredge up your friendly vote or testimony and use it to discredit you....

New software seeking state tax scofflaws
BOSTON — Tax scofflaws, beware! A pack of digital bloodhounds may be on your trail. State revenue agencies across the nation are hunting for tax evaders with new high-tech tools: computer programs that mine an increasing number of databases for clues on the finances of people and businesses.

If your name is flagged, expect a letter or a call.

"It's the new trend. It's where everybody is headed," said Verenda Smith, government affairs associate at the Federation of Tax Administrators, which represents state tax agencies. "The greatest value of these systems is in finding patterns that the human eye isn't that good at seeing."

In Massachusetts, for example, the state tax agency can scan a U.S. Customs and Border Protection database of people who paid duties on big-ticket items entering the country - so anyone who fails to pay the state the required 5 percent "use tax" gets flagged.

The state has also tried comparing motor vehicle registration data with tax returns, looking for people who might be driving Rolls Royces or Jaguars but declaring only a small income, Revenue Commissioner Alan LeBovidge said....

Stephen King on The Passion
...About 10 minutes before the movie started, a well dressed woman of about 30 entered the rapidly filling theater with a girl and two boys in tow. The boys looked about 6 years ago. I didn’t get a chance to observe them; I was on the wrong side of Mom for that. The little girl I’ve chosen to call Alicia, however, sat on my side. Cute little thing, you bet. Blue dress; spandy clean kneesocks; matching white ribbons in her dark hair. I’d say she was no more than 10, and probably only 8.

Mom, meanwhile, had whipped out her cell phone and was calling a friend. Mom wasn’t happy. The theater manager, she told her friend, had had the nerve to suggest to her that the level of violence in The Passion wouldn’t be good for children as young hers. “I told him,” Mom said, “that if it gets too bloody, they can just close their eyes.”

I kept sneaking glances at Alicia as the movie played. She did okay until the scourging of Christ. Then she did indeed close her eyes, and buried her face against her mother’s side. The little body inside the blue dress was all angles, an exclamation mark of horror. Gibson’s version of the scourging seems to go on forever as the Roman punishment detail uses first a whip and then a spiked lash to literally peel the flesh from Jesus’ body, spattering the cobbles around him with gore.

Alicia hid her face for 15 minutes . . . but that left another 50 minutes of punishment, torture, cruelty, and death still to go. And was I ashamed to be in that theater, even though the film Gibson has made is, if taken on its own artistic and religious terms, good – perhaps even great? I was. I feel that shame heating my skin even now, days later. Because 50 minutes is a long time to hide your eyes when you’re only 8. So after a while, you see, our sweet little girl stopped doing it.
The child I’ve chosen to call Alicia looked. And looked. And looked. I think she’ll be looking for a long time to come in her dreams.

In those dreams there will likely be no redemption, no victory over sin, no scripture, no eternal life. I think in Alicia’s dreams there will only be a skinless nightmare Christ with one eye swollen shut.

The Return of the Warrior Jesus
WRITERS and artists have been imagining the Second Coming of Jesus for 2,000 years, but few have portrayed him wreaking more carnage on the unbelieving world than Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins.

In their new apocalyptic novel, "Glorious Appearing," based on Dr. LaHaye's interpretation of Biblical prophecies about the Second Coming, their Jesus appears from the clouds on a white horse with a "conviction like a flame of fire" in his eyes. With all the gruesome detail of a Hollywood horror movie, Jesus eviscerates the flesh of millions of unbelievers merely by speaking.

"Men and women soldiers and horses seemed to explode where they stood," Dr. LaHaye and Mr. Jenkins write. "It was as if the very words of the Lord had superheated their blood, causing it to burst through their veins and skin.'' The authors add, "Even as they struggled, their own flesh dissolved, their eyes melted and their tongues disintegrated."...

...There are signs of the same shift in Mel Gibson's movie "The Passion of the Christ," which dealt almost exclusively with the submissive Jesus of the Crucifixion. "When you see him stand up at the end of the movie, he reminds you of Schwarzenegger,'' said Stephen Prothero, a religion professor at Boston University and author of "American Jesus," a new cultural history. "I think that movie shows more of a macho Jesus, who, in this case, is brutalized instead of brutalizing."

He added, "I definitely think the pendulum is swinging toward a darker, more martial, macho concept of the Messiah."

Some worry that the turn toward a more warlike Jesus reflects a dangerous tendency to see earthly conflicts in cosmic terms. "I think a lot of people are looking at contemporary conflict around the world and seeing it as a kind of religious war," said Elaine Pagels, a professor of religion at Princeton. "And there is no kind of conflict that becomes more intractable than when people are convinced that they alone have access to God's truth and the other side are the people of Satan."

But Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, called the warrior Jesus of the "Left Behind" novels a healthy corrective, reminding people that Jesus is judgmental as well as merciful. "The fear of God is a worthy emotion," he said....

Friday, April 02, 2004

Highlights of the Texas GOP Platform, 2002
"The Republican Party of Texas reaffirms the United States of America is a Christian Nation ..."

Ministry Leader Worried About the 'Marketing' of Christ
The head of a Christian ministry in Oregon who says he's concerned with the rise of market-driven evangelical churches in the U.S. is speaking out against the "seeker-friendly" way of doing church.

Reaching the lost through the latest marketing techniques -- that is the approach many evangelical churches are adopting today in hopes of growing their congregation. Christian researchers like George Barna have stated that such an approach is essential in a market-driven society.

But Christian author Tom McMahon is concerned by the trend. The executive director of The Berean Call says using gimmicks to attract unbelievers to church and keep them happy is not how the gospel should be preached....

...On his ministry's website, McMahon states the problem lies in attempts to fit the gospel and Jesus Christ Himself into a marketing strategy. But those two things, he says, are not "products" to be "sold," nor can they be "refashioned or image-adjusted" to appeal to the felt needs of a consumer-happy culture....

Athletes Church Extreme, New Zealand

...It's particularly on the sacraments of baptism and communion that ACE have caused quite a stir. 'Extreme baptism', as they call it, involves new believers being baptised by bungee jumping off a bridge over a river such that they dip in the water. Before they jump careful calculations are made of the weight of the jumper and the elasticity of the cord so that when the cord is fully stretched the believers are immersed up to their waists in the river before being pulled out to shouts and whistles from other members of ACE.

The unusual sport of extreme ironing has gained quite a bit of publicity in the last few years. Whilst ACE deny a direct link, it certainly seems there has been some inspiration there for their 'extreme communions'. These always involve the elements of bread and wine being eaten and drunk. But ACE seem to go to whatever lengths they can to share communion in the most extreme places. They are pictured here skydiving, falling to earth at speeds of 600 miles an hour clutching the elements in novel formations known as the “prayer partners” and “ the fellowship of the ring”. ...

'I saw papers that show US knew al-Qa'ida would attack cities with aeroplanes'
A former translator for the FBI with top-secret security clearance says she has provided information to the panel investigating the 11 September attacks which proves senior officials knew of al-Qa'ida's plans to attack the US with aircraft months before the strikes happened.

She said the claim by the National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, that there was no such information was "an outrageous lie".

Sibel Edmonds said she spent more than three hours in a closed session with the commission's investigators providing information that was circulating within the FBI in the spring and summer of 2001 suggesting that an attack using aircraft was just months away and the terrorists were in place. The Bush administration, meanwhile, has sought to silence her and has obtained a gagging order from a court by citing the rarely used "state secrets privilege".

She told The Independent yesterday: "I gave [the commission] details of specific investigation files, the specific dates, specific target information, specific managers in charge of the investigation. I gave them everything so that they could go back and follow up. This is not hearsay. These are things that are documented. These things can be established very easily."

She added: "There was general information about the time-frame, about methods to be used ­ but not specifically about how they would be used ­ and about people being in place and who was ordering these sorts of terror attacks. There were other cities that were mentioned. Major cities ­ with skyscrapers." ...

..."President Bush said they had no specific information about 11 September and that is accurate but only because he said 11 September," she said. There was, however, general information about the use of airplanes and that an attack was just months away. ...

Thursday, April 01, 2004

parachute epiphanies
...If I could have ten minutes back with the Prophet, I'd say this: "Close your eyes, friend, and imagine. You're high up in the air, in an aisle seat, looking past your neighbor and out the window. Down below you is a mass of cloud cover looking like fresh snow, marbled, marked with divots and craggy monuments of white. Imagine that your understanding of reality is defined by this view: what you see out the window and what's proximate to you there in the plane's cabin. The airplane and its passengers are what you might call a small, unique closed system moving inside what appears to be vast space with a visible boundary of white mass below."

Many well-meaning Christians, gathered together in various sects, present Christianity in just this way. They invite you to view reality from a very small window, and they are quite certain they're providing you with an absolutely objective view of reality. If you join them, you are expected to see as the sect sees. Failure to embrace their view of reality is sometimes commensurate with failure to be a follower of Jesus. And when people say you're not a follower and you are, it is very hurtful—and very troubling. For sects such as these, "anything other than absolute, unqualified, mathematically certifiable certainty betrayed a soul adrift."

Let's imagine some more. Get out of your seat, reach into the compartment above, and carry the yellow package to the rest room. It's a parachute. Strap it on. Now go to the big door with the red sign, open it, and jump. When you pass through the white stuff, pull the cord.

As you pass through the clouds, down below, previously hidden from your view, is a world of wonder and wickedness, joy and pain, sex, truth, and lies. It's a place full of story upon story where words are as plentiful as stars in the sky. And there's land and promise. Land where God walked. Land belonging to him, promise belonging to him. It's a place where men and women, boys and girls, either serve themselves or serve the God of the land and the sky and all that ever was and is. This land and sea, this earth and water, is the jazz of God and humanity: order and improvisation, beauty and ashes, boundary and freedom, choice and counter choice, mistakes and all. It is a place of storytelling and storied living.

When your feet touch the ground, look up. Do you see the plane? No? But it's there, isn't it? You know it exists; you've just come from there. Remember this: You know about the little sect's story, but they don't know about the one you just dropped into, do they? At least they don't act like it.

Now the hard work begins. At first you will feel compelled to throw out everything the little sect taught you. In fact, this is what you started to do when you encountered deconstructive literary theory and postmodern philosophy, isn't it? It feels like the answer, but it's not wise.

Over the years I've had several of these parachute epiphanies. With each one, the view widened and the clouds parted. I could see more of the Story, the one that was always there but had been obscured or hidden for various reasons....

...When I used to hang out with drunks and addicts, they would say, "More will be revealed." When I started hanging out with Christians, no one talked like that, or lived like that. They were largely a people of dry, almost mathematical certainty. The only time mystery entered in was when someone quoted 1 Corinthians 2:9, "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him."

The mystery was all eschatological, a question mark in the great by-and-by. I wish my first Christian friends had been more like the recovering drunks and addicts and had just told me, "Hey, there's a good deal of mystery in the here and now, too. More will be revealed." Maybe they weren't keeping it from me; maybe they just didn't know another way.

But you knew, didn't you, Wilderness Prophet? You were on to something back then with your questions, skepticism, fist pounding, and youthful unrest. It was T. S. Eliot who said that "doubt and uncertainty are merely a variety of belief." Did you get it sorted out? Did you come to understand that you can still be a student-follower of Jesus and not possess all truth, once-for-all universal certainty, and the answer to every question? I hope so. Especially since such things are beyond the scope of humanity, even Christian humans. ...

...Christian folk have often claimed to know too much. We've been guilty of speaking with far too much certainty. Well-meaning Christians have lived and spoken as if they've come to know what they know from someplace outside of history, outside of any cultural or social conditioning. They load you up with words, propositions, assertions, and acculturated behaviors, and then send you out as some sort of fleshy trump card to the gazillion other cards in the human deck—an agent of the gospel in the soul-saving business.

Then there comes a day when you parachute through the clouds and find out that this kind of hysterical optimism is the result of rationalism, Enlightenment dualism, and socially conditioned behavior—not necessarily what Jesus had in mind when he said to his first disciples, "Follow me." When you find out, you're relieved, but you're also angry. And with good reason, since it doesn't have to be this way. We need more parachute epiphanies on the front end, more clouds parting, no small sects in the sky on an exclusive charter flight. The growing tribe is too huge for such small thinking, for such a small epistemology....

...Try this on for size: The Bible is not an exhaustive record of a Tri-personal dialogue between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Bible is far from exhaustive with respect to the knowledge of God. It does not reveal with radical clarity everything there is to know about God, or all that ever was, is, or will be with respect to what is seen or unseen. Neither does it claim to, and Christians end up looking like fools when they make claims for the Bible that it doesn't make for itself.

What the Bible is, is revelation from God in the form of an accommodation to our human capacities. It takes into consideration our imperfection, our enmity with the Creator, and our failure to be what he has made us to be. It is God condescending to use human language and images from creation to bring us into a personal encounter with him. ...

...It's time for Christians to recover from the illusion of personal objectivity and the posture of unflinching certainty in every regard. These are untenable positions. ...

...Instead of a my-way-or-the-highway attitude, perhaps Christians could communicate something like this: We're sure of some things, so we speak with certainty about those things. But there's a lot we're not sure of, so we're trying not to speak with certainty about those things. Please forgive us when we confuse the two. In fact, that's one of the things we're certain about: We get confused, make errors, and sin against God by claiming to know things we don't.

The best we can do is (1) make a confession, and (2) offer an invitation....

Under God and Over

It was the first time that William Rehnquist ever put me in mind of Søren Kierkegaard. As I watched the Supreme Court discuss God with Michael A. Newdow, the atheist from California who was defending his victory in a lower court that had concurred with his view that the words "under God" should be stricken from the Pledge of Allegiance because it is a religious expression, and was therefore responding to the Bush administration's petition to protect the theism in the Pledge, I remembered a shrewd and highly un-American observation that was included among the aphorisms in Either/Or: "The melancholy have the best sense of the comic, the opulent often the best sense of the rustic, the dissolute often the best sense of the moral, and the doubter often the best sense of the religious." The discussion that morning fully vindicated the majesty of the chamber, as legal themes gave way to metaphysical themes and philosophy bewitched the assembly. But something strange happened. Almost as soon as philosophy was invited, it was disinvited. It seemed to make everybody anxious, except the respondent. I had come to witness a disputation between religion's enemies and religion's friends. What I saw instead, with the exception of a single comment by Justice Souter, was a disputation between religion's enemies, liberal and conservative. And this confirmed me in my conviction that the surest way to steal the meaning, and therefore the power, from religion is to deliver it to politics, to enslave it to public life.

Some of the individuals to whom I am attributing a hostility to religion would resent the allegation deeply. They regard themselves as religion's finest friends. But what kind of friendship for religion is it that insists that the words "under God" have no religious connotation? ...

... American unbelief can perform a great quickening service to American belief. It can shake American religion loose from its cheerful indifference to the inquiry about truth. It can remind it that religion is not only a way of life but also a worldview. It can provoke it into remembering its reasons. For the argument that a reference to God is not a reference to God is a sign that American religion is forgetting its reasons. The need of so many American believers to have government endorse their belief is thoroughly abject. How strong, and how wise, is a faith that needs to see God's name wherever it looks? (His name on nickels and dimes is rather damaging to His sublimity.)...

Gruesome Iraq Images Could Shake U.S. Opinion
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Graphic images of Americans being mutilated in Iraq could powerfully shake U.S. public support for the occupation and may play into the presidential campaign, pollsters and media analysts said on Thursday.

After initially hesitating, U.S. TV networks began showing the images of cheering Iraqis in Falluja celebrating the murders of four American security contractors whose bodies were burned, mutilated and strung up for public view.

Newspapers carried front-page pictures showing charred bodies surrounded by exulting mobs.

"These pictures speak volumes. It's just what the Bush administration did not want. Americans are seen here as real victims, not just statistics," said pollster John Zogby. ...

...The Falluja images spread quickly on the Internet on Wednesday. Even as some U.S. networks tried to tone them down, they were available in full and graphic detail on some Web Internet sites.

Barbie Zelizer, of the Annenberg School at the University of Pennsylvania, who has studied the impact of media images, said such events could crystallize public opinion that was already moving in a certain direction rather than dramatically changing it.

"What is striking is that all of the sudden, the headlines are proclaiming that this war is horrific. It's been horrific all along. The only thing that changed was that a cameraman happened to be on the spot this time and captured the pictures," she said. ...

...The administration has made strenuous efforts to keep the news from Iraq as upbeat as possible. It has banned TV crews from filming at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, where the bodies of dead U.S. servicemen arrive back to the country. President Bush has not attended any funerals of personnel killed in Iraq....

Credibility Gap
The Bush administration has perfected the art of being dishonest without lying. Unfortunately, a compliant press (and public) have allowed them to get away with it.

Writing in the March 29 issue of Newsweek, Jonathan Alter described Democrats as "over the top" in their constant references to the president's dishonesty. "Because Bush & Co. were as shocked as anyone at the absence of WMD" in Iraq, he says, "that's more in the category of grotesque hype than outright lie." For a real "example of dishonesty and, yes, corruption at high levels" we need to look to Medicare, where Chief Actuary Rick Foster calculated that the bill would cost over $150 billion more than the administration was claiming and was kept silent only through the threat that he'd be fired if he released his work to the Congress.
In a sense, Alter's right. The administration learned the true cost of the bill, realized that the truth was politically inconvenient, and decided to cover it up and continue to feed the public and the Congress information it knew to be false. That is a lie.

On Iraq, the administration took a different tack. On the subject of links between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, for example, the White House operated largely by omission. True, but incomplete, statements were made, calculated to instill a belief in the public that the Iraqi government was a sponsor of the Ansar al-Islam terrorist organization when there was not, in fact, any evidence that this was true. This was a clever strategy, in its way. By why is leadership by deception any less worthy of condemnation for the fact that the deception was cleverly performed? ...

The privatisation of war
Private corporations have penetrated western warfare so deeply that they are now the second biggest contributor to coalition forces in Iraq after the Pentagon, a Guardian investigation has established.

While the official coalition figures list the British as the second largest contingent with around 9,900 troops, they are narrowly outnumbered by the 10,000 private military contractors now on the ground.

The investigation has also discovered that the proportion of contracted security personnel in the firing line is 10 times greater than during the first Gulf war. In 1991, for every private contractor, there were about 100 servicemen and women; now there are 10.

The private sector is so firmly embedded in combat, occupation and peacekeeping duties that the phenomenon may have reached the point of no return: the US military would struggle to wage war without it.

While reliable figures are difficult to come by and governmental accounting and monitoring of the contracts are notoriously shoddy, the US army estimates that of the $87bn (£50.2bn) earmarked this year for the broader Iraqi campaign, including central Asia and Afghanistan, one third of that, nearly $30bn, will be spent on contracts to private companies.

The myriad military and security companies thriving on this largesse are at the sharp end of a revolution in military affairs that is taking us into unknown territory - the partial privatisation of war.

"This is a trend that is growing and Iraq is the high point of the trend," said Peter Singer, a security analyst at Washington's Brookings Institution. "This is a sea change in the way we prosecute warfare. There are historical parallels, but we haven't seen them for 250 years."

When America launched its invasion in March, the battleships in the Gulf were manned by US navy personnel. But alongside them sat civilians from four companies operating some of the world's most sophisticated weapons systems.

When the unmanned Predator drones, the Global Hawks, and the B-2 stealth bombers went into action, their weapons systems, too, were operated and maintained by non-military personnel working for private companies.

The private sector is even more deeply involved in the war's aftermath. A US company has the lucrative contracts to train the new Iraqi army, another to recruit and train an Iraqi police force. ...

...Since the end of the cold war it is reckoned that six million servicemen have been thrown on to the employment market with little to peddle but their fighting and military skills. The US military is 60% the size of a decade ago, the Soviet collapse wrecked the colossal Red Army, the East German military melted away, the end of apartheid destroyed the white officer class in South Africa. The British armed forces, notes Mr Singer, are at their smallest since the Napoleonic wars.

The booming private sector has soaked up much of this manpower and expertise.

It also enables the Americans, in particular, to wage wars by proxy and without the kind of congressional and media oversight to which conventional deployments are subject.

From the level of the street or the trenches to the rarefied corridors of strategic analysis and policy-making, however, the problems surfacing are immense and complex.

One senior British officer complains that his driver was recently approached and offered a fortune to move to a "rather dodgy outfit". Ex-SAS veterans in Iraq can charge up to $1,000 a day.

"There's an explosion of these companies attracting our servicemen financially," said Rear Admiral Hugh Edleston, a Royal Navy officer who is just completing three years as chief military adviser to the international administration running Bosnia.

He said that outside agencies were sometimes better placed to provide training and resources. "But you should never mix serving military with security operations. You need to be absolutely clear on the division between the military and the paramilitary."

"If these things weren't privatised, uniformed men would have to do it and that draws down your strength," said another senior retired officer engaged in the private sector. But he warned: "There is a slight risk that things can get out of hand and these companies become small armies themselves."

And in Baghdad or Bogota, Kabul or Tuzla, there are armed company employees effectively licensed to kill. On the job, say guarding a peacekeepers' compound in Tuzla, the civilian employees are subject to the same rules of engagement as foreign troops.

But if an American GI draws and uses his weapon in an off-duty bar brawl, he will be subject to the US judicial military code. If an American guard employed by the US company ITT in Tuzla does the same, he answers to Bosnian law. By definition these companies are frequently operating in "failed states" where national law is notional. The risk is the employees can literally get away with murder. ...

Bush's pre-9/11 focus was on missiles, not terrorism: report
WASHINGTON : The White House's national security policy before the September 11 attacks focused on the threat of long-range missiles, not on terrorism, The Washington Post said Thursday.

National security advisor Condoleezza Rice was to give a speech on September 11, 2001, designed to promote missile defense as the cornerstone of a new national security strategy, said the daily citing former US officials who read the text.

Rice's speech, which the White House declined to release and was never delivered, criticized the administration of former US President Bill Clinton for not doing enough about the real threat of long-range missiles, the daily said.

"We need to worry about the suitcase bomb, the car bomb and the vial of sarin released in the subway," according to excerpts of the speech provided to the daily.

"(But) why put deadbolt locks on your doors and stock up on cans of mace and then decide to leave your windows open?"

The daily said the White House also refused to confirm the accuracy of the excerpts....

The Myth of the State as Peacemaker
...As mentioned before, state history tells us falsely that peace and justice originate with the state. The modern myth we are taught in our schools about the origins of the modern nation-states are instructive here. The modern state was founded on the myth that the state must save us from the “wars of religion” of the 16th Century. In other words, the state is trying to save all of us from the church. When the Reformation began and the Holy Catholic Church began to splinter, the state tells us that these factions began killing each other over stupid things like baptism, and other doctrines. The Catholic will kill the protestant for not recognizing the transformation of the Eucharist into the actual body of Christ, and the Protestant in turn would kill the Catholic because he would not renounce such doctrine and both Catholic and Protestant would kill us Anabaptists because we refused to fight at all! Well thank our lucky stars the state stepped in and put all these fanatics in their place. This is the story we are told in our state sponsored history books.

An irony of this false story we are told is that it is also religious in that it is also a story of salvation (it is “soteriological” in theological terms). We are saved from something and into something else. Hence it is a story of salvation.

The problem is that this story is a lie. These so called “wars of religion” did not make the state necessary, but as theologian William Cavanaugh has shown, these wars were a symptom of an already emerging state. For example, Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, attacked and pillaged Rome with his armies in 1527. A Catholic pillaging Rome! Later when he attacked Lutheran strongholds Cavanaugh says that this was about consolidating imperial power and not about doctrinal loyalties. Indeed virtually all of the wars during this century were about princes attempting to consolidate their power rather than about loyalty to any particular faith or dogma. The emerging state, far from being birthed as a peacemaker spent its early years in bitter war: The state arose not as peacemaker but as war maker, the state arose not as a unifier but a divider and conqueror. Charles Tilly has written an examination of this history entitled “War Making and State Making as Organized Crime” in which he argues that the origins of the state more resemble a racketeering ring than a knight in shining armor saving a far maiden. The story of salvation that we are told is simply false, through and through. The State then moves to create “religion” by making belief a private affair with no relevance to any sort of social body that requires a politic. Religion is itself a creation of the nation-state and a legitimator of it. ...