Friday, July 30, 2004

Michael Novak on the Democrats and George Bush on National Review Online
...Finally, there is the matter of faith, even of the sort Tom Paine showed in 1776. Paine was no Christian, but he did believe that God had created this vast and splendid universe in order to share His friendship with free women and free men, and for this reason the Creator put freedom at the core of things. Tom Paine had no tolerance for the Bible, and less for Biblical fundamentalists, but he was not so much an atheist, he wrote, as to believe that the Almighty Who made the universe for liberty would allow the cause of people willing to die for it to come to naught. Paine couldn't bring himself to believe that God would favor George III.

In that same spirit, I find it hard to believe that the Creator who gave us liberty will ignore President Bush's willingness to sacrifice his own presidency for the liberation of Afghanistan and Iraq — their 50 million citizens, and perhaps their progeny for ages to come. A kind of cosmic justice (which does not always materialize, I recognize) calls for vindication. Especially when the president has been so unfairly calumniated by his foes, domestic and foreign....

The Sanity of Religious War
The idea of religious war, I confess, does not fill me with horror. It certainly does not fill me with any more horror than the idea of patriotic war; and considerably less than the idea of humanitarian war, or the idea of imperial war. The very phrase religious war seems tinctured with the peculiar effect of Euphemism. G. K. Chesterton once produced, from that immensely fertile mind with its enormous sense of humor, a consummate definition of Euphemists: “I mean merely that short words startle them, while long words soothe them.”...

...The phrase religious war has something of that air about it. It startles. Upon hearing it, men sit up quite suddenly. The Euphemists are all around us. They bedevil our speech and, a fortiori, our thinking. We have spent nearly three years trying to develop a suitable euphemism for religious war — and it has not gone very well. We have declared war on a method of warfare. We have declared war on a tendency within a religion, or (better for the Euphemist) a tendency within all religions. I suppose next we shall declare war on a tendency within a method of warfare, or a method within a tendency. Some have even argued that we ought to declare war on a moment in time, namely the “premodern.”

...Many things would be clarified by acknowledging this, not the least of which is our understanding of why men fight. The thing is so simple that it does surely startle: men will fight, and die — and kill — for their religion. I might even say that the only thing that moral men will fight and kill for is their religion — especially if we recognize that the idea of religion is inextricably bound to the idea of home. When a man feels that his world is threatened by another power, he will fight. When a man conceives that something alien is bent on the destruction of his home, he will fight....

...So I say again that religious war does not horrify me. I recall the exotic words with which St. Paul counseled the church at Ephesus: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood,” but against powers, principalities, and “spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Religious war is like any other war — full of great evil and some precious good — except that it is saner. It is saner in the sense that it is waged for that which means the most to us and our enemies. It is saner because it is more inescapable; in that sense it is saner because it is more tragic. It is merely a part of the Liberal’s religion to deny that a difference can become so real that only recourse to arms will vindicate it.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Free Speech Behind the Razor Wire
BOSTON -- The estimated 5,000 protesters at the Democratic National Convention this week have so far bumped heads over their political differences. In some cases, they have even barred one another from their scheduled (and permitted) events.

But activists have been largely united in one civil action: their boycott of the so-called free-speech zone carved out by the U.S. Secret Service and local authorities, the only spot where protesters will be able to shout their messages to the delegates arriving on buses in a nearby parking lot....

...Naro noted that when the Boston Police union was planning to protest at the DNC over a contract dispute with Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, "there was no talk of putting them into a free-speech zone. It's the people with the guns who get to have free speech." ...

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Guarding liberties
...H.R. 3179 is the latest attempt to expand the scope of the Patriot Act even before it is clear all the current Patriot Act powers are necessary and used appropriately. Despite the unanswered concern, key congressional leaders resorted to stealth late last year in attaching a measure to the 2004 Intelligence Authorization bill that drastically increased the FBI's power by allowing the agency to demand records from car dealers, pawnbrokers, travel agents and other businesses without judge or grand jury approval. Neither House nor Senate debated it; the real action took place behind closed doors.

This also seems to be happening with H.R. 3179 — the Anti-Terrorism Intelligence Tools Improvement Act of 2003. House leaders planned to rush the bill to the floor for approval without any real debate until a ruckus was raised by a coalition ranging from the American Civil Liberties Union to the Free Congress Foundation and the American Conservative Union. In an attempt to skirt such opposition, there was talk of adding H.R. 3179 to the House intelligence bill, but to no avail. The intelligence bill passed the House without H.R. 3179.

One part of H.R. 3179 — the so-called "lone wolf" expansion of intelligence wiretaps — is attached to the Senate bill, but is opposed by conservatives like former Georgia representative and National Rifle Association board member Bob Barr and Jane Harmon, ranking Democratic on the House Intelligence Committee. Passage of the Senate version would necessitate a conference debate on the "lone wolf" issue — opening up the package of Patriot Act expansions in H.R. 3179. Again, this closed-door deliberation would shut the public out of voicing any concerns. In short, this dangerous bill isn't dead yet.

Even the most cursory examination reveals H.R. 3179 would expand Patriot Act powers without any built-in accountability and oversight. One of its most troubling provisions involves new powers for searches ordered by National Security Letters. These can be used to demand access to individual or business records even absent a showing of individual suspicion. There is no way either the target of the investigation or those on whom the letters are served can challenge them as too broad. The statute, in fact, makes it a crime for a recipient to raise alarms in the press, or even to the Justice Department's inspector general or the relevant congressional committees that should exercise oversight. ...

There goes the neighborhood
Tim LaHaye responds to this Nick Kristof column with a letter to the editor in The New York Times:

Comparing my book "Glorious Appearing" to "fundamentalist Islamic tracts" is a real stretch. The Islamic radicals who bomb the innocent are not nice people!

Should Christ overlook their rebellion and welcome them into his kingdom? They would ruin it for everyone. You don't choose to live around people like that today; would you want to spend eternity with them?

LaHaye portrays heaven as a (pearly) gated community in Orange County. It's a good, exclusive neighborhood inhabited by good, exclusive people. God's main role is to keep out the undesirable types -- the people who are not "nice" and whom the saints like LaHaye would not "choose to live around."

LaHaye's vision of heaven, in other words, sounds remarkably like that of the Pharisees -- the devout evangelicals of their day. Jesus repeatedly warned them that prostitutes and tax-collectors would be getting into heaven ahead of them. (We always read this as former prostitutes and reformed tax-collectors, but that's not what he said.)...

Church in danger
The evangelical church in America is in real danger today....

...But Christ’s message of love does not square with much of what we hear coming from certain quarters of modern evangelicalism—a religion steeped in an “us versus them” mentality. This is in direct opposition to the early Christian church, which cut across all lines that divided people—Jew and Greek, Greek and barbarian, male and female, religious and political philosophies....

...Indeed, Christians should stand outside the status quo. This includes politics. We often forget that the founder of Christianity, when questioned by his executioners, clearly said that his kingdom is not of this world. Christ, therefore, was apolitical....

...Not only is it perilous to identify with the established powers, it also negates the true mission of the church. The church is not to identify with power but to speak truth to power—even at great costs. Martyrs, past and present, testify to this....

Monday, July 26, 2004

Why we all drink
Upon stepping into the office this morning, I had two different people remind me what day it is. “It’s Friday” they spouted, as if they had just unveiled some hidden truth about life……no shit it’s Friday, believe it or not I have a vague understanding of the passing of time, and keep myself moderately aware of what day in the week it is. But thanks anyway, lest I forgot and had the horrible misfortune of thinking it was Thursday. Could you imagine? The horror.

So what does Friday really mean? Why do people feel the need to tell you what day it is? I don’t recall many occasions where an excited employee nudged me w/ a pointy elbow to remind that it was, in fact, Tuesday. “Dude, it’s Tuesday, sweet.” Well, the reason is most of us hate our jobs, and Friday is our welcome respite from the soul shitting grind that is the working week. And what do most of us do on a Friday night? Drink. Self-medicate. Salute ourselves for another listless week by flooding our central nervous system with what is essentially poison. Before you think me some finger pointing parade rainer, please know that I love, love the poison....

God Salutes Our Armed Forces!
Free for the parents or spouses who has lost a loved one overseas. Personalized Letters "Direct from God" offer solice and comfort in these trying times.

(PRWEB) July 26, 2004 -- Introducing letters “Direct from God” honoring our troops and their families.

...Here is a sample of that letter:

A Personal Letter to the Family of
Pvt. Michael Jackson
From God...

...Michael died with honor, dignity, a sense of duty and most importantly, a heart filled with love. As I look down, I don’t see much of this anymore. Instead, I see people choosing hate before understanding, money before love, violence before benevolence. It’s quite simple, all people are one in the same -- and I’m astonished that after all this time, mankind still doesn’t get it! My own Son gave his life for the sins of mankind; your son did the same. He has much to do to help me now....

Friday, July 23, 2004

Michigan man refuses to switch religion in rehab program
Jul 22 - A Michigan man is claiming that a court-ordered drug rehabilitation program tried to convert him from Catholic to the Pentecostal faith, and that he was forced to read and memorize tenants of the church. Joseph Hanas says that when he dropped out of the program because of the proselytizing, he was punished by the court. The American Civil Liberties Union has stepped forward to help Hanas with his case.

"I needed help," said Hanas. "Instead, I was forced to practice someone else's religion."...

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Beyond the Zero-Sum Game
In the arena of spirituality, not every malady can be easily understood or solved.

The typical campaign rally has an uncanny resemblance to an old-fashioned tent revival: the ceremonies and processions, the adulation of the figure behind the altar, sermons designed to inspire the flock to faithfulness, and the dogma doled out to (and consumed by) adoring disciples.

This is not a coincidence.

Politics these days is a zero-sum game, a contest where the winner takes all and the loser is absolutely vanquished. With so much at stake, it's only natural that politics invokes the trappings - and by extension, the authority - of religion, especially in a country with such a high percentage of professed "believers."

Campaigns today are the ultimate persuasive vehicle, brought to you with bright lights, patriotic music, feel-good stories, and adrenaline-inducing attack ads - all fueled by a war chest reaching the hundreds of millions of dollars. It's easy for the average reporter to be taken in by the spectacle, or to overlook the distinctly apocalyptic tone of the rhetoric. After all, who doesn't want to believe the rosy promises of better times, or side with the infallible crusader against injustice and oppression? We all want to be, in President Bush's apocalyptic language, on the side of good against evil.

But the religion-aware journalist can offer a different perspective.

In the arena of spirituality, not every question has an answer, and not every malady can be easily understood or solved. This contrasts sharply with an electorate which expects a surefire solution to each of society's problems, and a bumper-sticker response to every issue. Religion is one way for mankind to deal with the mysteries and complexities of life, while politics is mankind's way of asserting control over our earthly domain. Religion writers are arguably better equipped than their peers to point out these distinctions to their readers....

There’s Something About the Way You Use the Bible
There’s something about the way you use the bible, something about the way you use it as a tool, as a weapon, as a fulcrum, as a means, as an end, as a trump card.

There’s something about the way you see the bible as a thing to be used at all....

...Somehow you have come to think that the bible is like everything else in your life. You think it is something to master and something you can own. The more you know about the bible, the more power you hope to gain. The more verses you can quote, the closer to God you hope to be.

The bible is your prop and your flag. You wave it around and make sure that it is seen. You highlight it and talk about it and make wild claims about its truth and fight over it and win with it and boast about how you believe every word of it. It is your way and your truth and your life....

...These people know that the bible is not a self-help book full of easy answers, but a book of stories and wisdom that is meant to lead us into relationship and worship. There are hard and fast truths in it, yes, but they are surrounded by soft truths, and slippery truths, and sometimes truths, and truths that once were true but are no longer true, and truths that are only true if you are in the right state of mind, and truths that are only true if you are not hurting someone, and truths that are true in the moment but not if you are talking about the moment, and truths that can only be lived and should never be spoken, and truths that we cannot hear, and truths that are more than we can bear.

The truths of the bible are utterly beyond anyone who seeks to own truth and who seeks truth above the Spirit of God.

The bible is not a book for those who need a weapon. It is not a book for those who know where they are going and what questions they will ask. It is not a book for those who are in a hurry and looking for the shortest route....

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

As the only Anglican bishop to have publicly endorsed the Australian government's case for war, I now concede that Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction.... There is no alternative to concluding that the March 2003 invasion was neither just nor necessary.... I continue to seek God's forgiveness for my complicity in creating a world in which this sort of action was ever considered by anyone to be necessary.
-- Dr. Tom Frame, Anglican Bishop to the Australian Defence

A mighty fortress is his God
President Bush's form of American Evangelicalism enjoys massive popular appeal and, arguably, influences policy.

07/18/04 "Miami Herald" -- George W. Bush is a deeply religious man, and the United States remains a very religious country. Last February, Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Trust's Religion Program, wrote that in a recent poll, '85 percent of respondents stated that religion was either `very' or 'fairly' important in their lives, and nearly 60 percent reported that they attend religious services at least once or twice a month.''

If religion matters in general, the particular religion that President Bush avows matters all the more. Bush and many of his closest advisors are evangelicals, a variant of Christianity that non-Americans scarcely comprehend and Americans in the large urban centers rarely encounter.

According to The Economist in its ''American Survey'' of last November, evangelical Christians make up the largest single religious group in the United States. Thirty percent of all Americans in 2003 -- up from 24 percent in 1987 -- belong to the group. Evangelicals generally agree on the absolute authority, and literal truth, of the Bible, the redemptive power of Christ, the importance of missionary work and the centrality of a spiritually transformed life.

Bush became an evangelical in 1985 by being ''born again.'' Being born again transforms the believer, and Bush makes no secret that God transformed his life. Asked at a televised debate during the Iowa primary in 2000 to name his favorite philosopher, he said instantly, ''Christ'' -- explaining how, through Christ, he had become a new man.

Here he shares his identity with a very large number of his fellow citizens. According to the World Christian Encyclopedia, about 35 percent of Americans have been ''born again.'' In a survey carried out in April for the Public Broadcasting Service, 71 percent of evangelicals polled said they would vote for Bush if the election were held at the time of the poll.

No wonder the White House calls them ''the base,'' that bloc of voters in ''Middle America'' whose unstinting loyalty to the Republican party and willingness to turn out to vote give the president a built-in core of support, a support strengthened by the way the Electoral College magnifies the distribution of votes in the South and Southwest, areas of evangelical predominance....

Joe [Wilson] was right
...Wilson's central claim was that there was virtually no evidence to back up the idea that Saddam had sought uranium from Niger. The CIA agreed with that assessment before the war, it agreed with it after the war, and it still agrees with it — and the Senate Intelligence report backs them up.

Bottom line: on his primary point, the one he's been flogging for over a year now, Wilson has been vindicated.

Of course, the British continue to stand behind their contention that Saddam tried to buy uranium from Africa, but they refuse to explain why they think this. And since British intelligence on Iraq hasn't been notably more accurate than American intelligence, it's hard to think of any good reason to believe them unless they provide us all with a little more evidence.

Wilson may be guilty of overembellishing his case on several minor points, but on the central question he brought up — should the president have made those claims about African uranium in his State of the Union address? — he was right. The CIA admits

U.S. Protestant population seen losing majority status
The United States will lose its historic status as a majority-Protestant nation as early as this year, according to a national survey released yesterday.

Between 1993 and 2002, the proportion of Americans who said they were Protestants fell from 63 percent to 52 percent after decades of stability, according to the study released by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. ...

The Church of Bush
...None of the people at Kitty and Tom Harmon's bungalow are stupid. Instead they are the kind of "well-informed" that comes from overlong exposure to conservative media: conservatives who construct towers of impressive intellectual complexity on toothpick-weak foundations. My hosts are Stepford-nice (Mom sports "Hello Kitty!" seat covers in her car and loads me down with shortbread for the flight home; Dad shows off the herb garden he'll use to season my eggs if I consent to stay the night). But everyone present shows a glint of steel when their man's character is challenged.

"One of the reasons I respect this president is that he is honest. I believe that after eight years, the dark years of the Clinton administration, we finally have a man in the White House who respects that office and who speaks honestly."

The speaker is Christina, an intense, articulate, and passionate publicist.

"Such a refreshing change for the country. People believe in the president."

I don't mention recent poll figures suggesting that more Americans believe John Kerry than Bush when it comes to terrorism.

After affirming "I still believe that there are weapons of mass destruction"—the commonplace is beyond challenge—Christina displays another facet of the conservative fantasy: Going into Iraq, she says, "is not the sort of thing one does if one wants to be popular. . . . He doesn't stick his finger in the wind." I don't challenge that point, either—though if I did I might ask why Bush scheduled the divisive debate over the intervention for the height of the 2002 campaign season, more certain of what Andrew Card called "new products" than his father, who held off deliberation on the first Iraq war until after the 1990 congressional elections.

Instead I challenge the grandmotherly lady sitting on the piano bench.

Says Delores: "There is an agenda—to get rid of God in our country."

Chirps the reporter: Certainly not on the part of John Kerry, who once entertained dreams of entering the priesthood. ...

...What all does it mean? The right-wing website Free Republic is infamous for galvanizing harassment campaigns against ideological enemies, but it also has a lighter side: a robust culture of George W. kitsch. "Freepers" display and study the famous photograph of Bush embracing Ashley Faulkner, whose mother perished on 9-11, a woeful, iconic look on his face ("The protective encirclement of her head by President Bush's arm and hand is the essence of fatherly compassion," Freeper luvbach1 writes); the ladies exchange snaps of the president in resolute pose, rendering up racy comments about his sexiness; they reference an image of Bush jogging alongside a soldier wounded in Iraq like it's a Xerox of his very soul. "He's the kind of guy who's going to remember to call a soldier who's lost a leg," one citizen of the Free Republic reflects, "and go jogging with him when he gets a replacement prosthetic." Revering Bush has become, for people like this, a defining component of conservative ideology.

Once I interviewed a Freeper who told me he first became a committed conservative after discovering the Federalist Papers. "I absolutely devoured them, recognizing, my God, these things were written hundreds of years ago and they still stand up as some of the most intense political philosophy ever written."

I happen to agree, so I asked him—after he insisted Bush couldn't have been lying when he claimed to have witnessed the first plane hit the World Trade Center live on TV, after he said the orders to torture in Iraq couldn't have possibly come from the top, all because George Bush is too fundamentally decent to lie—what he thinks of the Federalists' most famous message: that the genius of the Constitution they were defending was that you needn't base your faith in the country on the fundamental decency of an individual, because no one can be trusted to be fundamentally decent, which was why the Constitution established a government of laws, not personalities.

"If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary . . . "

Conservatives see something angelic in George Bush. That's why they excuse, repress, and rationalize away so much.

And that is why conservatism is verging on becoming an un-American creed.

PM admits graves claim 'untrue'
Downing Street has admitted to The Observer that repeated claims by Tony Blair that '400,000 bodies had been found in Iraqi mass graves' is untrue, and only about 5,000 corpses have so far been uncovered.

The claims by Blair in November and December of last year, were given widespread credence, quoted by MPs and widely published, including in the introduction to a US government pamphlet on Iraq's mass graves....

...On 14 December Blair repeated the claim in a statement issued by Downing Street in response to the arrest of Saddam Hussein and posted on the Labour party website that: 'The remains of 400,000 human beings [have] already [been] found in mass graves.'

The admission that the figure has been hugely inflated follows a week in which Blair accepted responsibility for charges in the Butler report over the way in which Downing Street pushed intelligence reports 'to the outer limits' in the case for the threat posed by Iraq.

Downing Street's admission comes amid growing questions over precisely how many perished under Saddam's three decades of terror, and the location of the bodies of the dead....

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Presbyterian church defames Christianity
I have argued in this column that the greatest sin is committing evil in God's name. As bad as the evil committed by secularists, such as communists and Nazis, has ever been, the most grievous evil is that which is committed in the name of God. For not only do religious evils harm their victims, they also do lasting damage to God-based morality, which those of us who believe in God and religion consider the only viable antidote to evil. ...

... The Bible that these Presbyterians read is not my Bible.

The religious values that these Presbyterians hold are not my religious values.

This is not a difference about immigration policy, affirmative action, taxation, bigger or smaller government, welfare policies, gun control, or a myriad of other moral issues over which decent, God-fearing people can disagree.

This is one of the morality-clarifying issues of our time. ...

Evidence for Hersh's claims of child sexual abuse at Abu Ghraib?
Following up on this BoingBoing post about allegations by journalist Seymour Hersh of rape and sexual abuse of minors at Abu Ghraib prison Iraq -- there appears to be evidence for those claims in supporting statements that accompany the Taguba Report....

The Arabian Candidate
In the original version of "The Manchurian Candidate," Senator John Iselin, whom Chinese agents are plotting to put in the White House, is a right-wing demagogue modeled on Senator Joseph McCarthy. As Roger Ebert wrote, the plan is to "use anticommunist hysteria as a cover for a communist takeover."

The movie doesn't say what Iselin would have done if the plot had succeeded. Presumably, however, he wouldn't have openly turned traitor. Instead, he would have used his position to undermine national security, while posing as America's staunchest defender against communist evil.

So let's imagine an update - not the remake with Denzel Washington, which I haven't seen, but my own version. This time the enemies would be Islamic fanatics, who install as their puppet president a demagogue who poses as the nation's defender against terrorist evildoers.

The Arabian candidate wouldn't openly help terrorists. Instead, he would serve their cause while pretending to be their enemy.

After an attack, he would strike back at the terrorist base, a necessary action to preserve his image of toughness, but botch the follow-up, allowing the terrorist leaders to escape. Once the public's attention shifted, he would systematically squander the military victory: committing too few soldiers, reneging on promises of economic aid. Soon, warlords would once again rule most of the country, the heroin trade would be booming, and terrorist allies would make a comeback.

Meanwhile, he would lead America into a war against a country that posed no imminent threat. He would insinuate, without saying anything literally false, that it was somehow responsible for the terrorist attack. This unnecessary war would alienate our allies and tie down a large part of our military. At the same time, the Arabian candidate would neglect the pursuit of those who attacked us, and do nothing about regimes that really shelter anti-American terrorists and really are building nuclear weapons....

Cheney defends pre-emption policy
Entering amid flashing colored lights, a video backdrop of a rippling American flag and driving country music, Vice President Dick Cheney delivered a message on Saturday that was low-key but pointed....

...But for Judy Brockway, a travel agent from Lake Elmo, what matters in the election goes far deeper than some congressional report.

"I just want to see Christian men back in the White House for four more years," she said....

DCF secretary under pressure to resign over ethics violations
TALLAHASSEE -- State legislators from both political parties Monday called for the resignation of Jerry Regier, Florida's social services chief, following a Governor's Office investigation last week that found he and his deputies violated ethics policies by accepting gifts and socializing with lobbyists and contractors.

Two senior administrators at the Department of Children & Families resigned Thursday, but Regier stayed on with the support of Gov. Jeb Bush after an inspector general's investigation found Regier attended a birthday party in his honor and stayed overnight at the beachfront home of a Tallahassee powerbroker doing business with DCF.

Documents show Regier reimbursed lobbyists for hard-to-get tickets to concerts and sporting events and that companies with connections to his friends won lucrative contracts with his agency.

"I believe that when there's such blatant disregard to the rules, with what happened there, ultimately, the one in charge needs to be held responsible as well," said Rep. Sandra Murman, a Tampa Republican who heads a House committee that oversees DCF. "I feel the time has come that the governor should reconsider his support [for Regier]."

"I think there should be another resignation, and, unfortunately, it has to be the secretary [Regier]," said Sen. Walter "Skip" Campbell, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat who has served on DCF panels. "He has let the ship take on water at a very significant time in its rebuilding process."

Regier, who was hired in September 2002 to reform DCF after a scandal involving missing and dead children, "remains committed to the responsibilities" and has no intentions of stepping down, agency spokesman Bill Spann said Monday....

"Sometimes my confessor said to me when I repeatedly discussed silly sins with him, `You are fool. Man, God is not angry with you, but you are angry with God'"
-- Martin Luther (Luther's Works 54, 15).

Christian wrestling goes for grip on souls
ATLANTA — Turn the other cheek?

How about break the other arm?

In the world of Ultimate Christian Wrestling, the meek aren't exactly blessed.

Usually they're bashed, bounced and power-bombed.

Perhaps the most extreme among extreme evangelists, these good news bruisers are primed to put Satan in a sleeper hold....

Monday, July 19, 2004

Edwards and the Problem with the Trial-Lawyer Lobby
You don't have to be a fan of corporate fat cats to be concerned that under a Kerry-Edwards administration, tort rules might become even more damaging to our economy. ...

Steve Tomkins leafs through a new translation of the Bible
IF SOMEONE WERE TO GIVE YOU the job of getting as many Christians as possible foaming at the dog collar with outrage (and I can't think of anyone likely to offer such employment, but if you can, please drop me a line), I don't see how you could do better than Good as New, with the possible exception of filming Jesus as a transvestite....

...Isn't it obviously blasphemous presumption to take books in and out of the Bible?

Historically, no. If you have 66 books in your Bible, that's because the Protestant reformers threw seven books out of the Old Testament already. What's more, it took the first churches 20 generations to agree which books to include in the New Testament.

The Gospels and Paul's letters were accepted from century one, but 400 years later vast numbers of churches rejected Revelation. Rome long used the Apocalypse of Peter instead of Hebrews or James. They finally agreed, but what reason have we to assume they got it right?

So if a precise 66 (or 73) book Bible is the heart of your faith as God's ultimate communication with humanity, you have a problem. If, however, Jesus is the heart of your faith as God's ultimate communication with humanity, you have a solution. The point of the New Testament is to preserve Jesus' life and teaching, and what his followers said about him. It is those writings which are closest to Jesus which are most biblical. There is no reason to assume that no book outside the 66 can reveal Jesus as well as those within.

Here's a question to test Christian attitudes to the Bible. Assume the Gospel of Thomas genuinely preserves the words of Jesus as well as the biblical Gospels. Should they shuffle over to make room for it in the holy scriptures?

If one cannot accept the possiblity, the Bible as it stands is more important to one's religion than Jesus – a good example of idolatry. Say what you like about Good as New (as I'm sure you will anyway), it has its priorities right.

Protestant Group OKs Divestment From Israel
In an unprecedented victory for pro-Palestinian activists, leaders of the largest Presbyterian denomination officially equated the Jewish state with apartheid South Africa and have voted to stop investing in Israel.

With the decision, approved in a 431-62 vote at the 216th annual General Assembly of Presbyterian Church (USA), the church, boasting nearly 3 million members, is believed to be the largest organization or institution to join the divestment campaign against Israel. It is the first Christian denomination to do so, according to Sister Patricia Wolfe, executive director of the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility, a coalition of 275 Christian denominations....

Bush Channels God
...It's from a small paper in Amish country called The Lancaster New Era (free reg. required), and it's by a columnist named Jack Brubaker. The "news" is in this quote:

"Bush reportedly told [a group of Amish], 'I trust God speaks through me. Without that, I couldn’t do my job.’"

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Inquiry into British WMD intelligence watered down to protect Blair: report
LONDON (AFP) - Last week's damning report into British intelligence failures ahead of the Iraq war was amended at the last minute to make it less critical of Prime Minister Tony Blair, a report said.

The changes were argued for by Downing Street, and helped Blair rebut the principal charge that he had shown bad faith in arguing that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) made war necessary, the Sunday Telegraph said. ...

Jesus and Jihad
07/17/04 "New York Times" -- If the latest in the "Left Behind" series of evangelical thrillers is to be believed, Jesus will return to Earth, gather non-Christians to his left and toss them into everlasting fire:

"Jesus merely raised one hand a few inches and a yawning chasm opened in the earth, stretching far and wide enough to swallow all of them. They tumbled in, howling and screeching, but their wailing was soon quashed and all was silent when the earth closed itself again."

These are the best-selling novels for adults in the United States, and they have sold more than 60 million copies worldwide. The latest is "Glorious Appearing," which has Jesus returning to Earth to wipe all non-Christians from the planet. It's disconcerting to find ethnic cleansing celebrated as the height of piety.

If a Muslim were to write an Islamic version of "Glorious Appearing" and publish it in Saudi Arabia, jubilantly describing a massacre of millions of non-Muslims by God, we would have a fit. We have quite properly linked the fundamentalist religious tracts of Islam with the intolerance they nurture, and it's time to remove the motes from our own eyes....

...Should we really give intolerance a pass if it is rooted in religious faith?

Many American Christians once read the Bible to mean that African-Americans were cursed as descendants of Noah's son Ham, and were intended by God to be enslaved. In the 19th century, millions of Americans sincerely accepted this Biblical justification for slavery as God's word — but surely it would have been wrong to defer to such racist nonsense simply because speaking out could have been perceived as denigrating some people's religious faith.

People have the right to believe in a racist God, or a God who throws millions of nonevangelicals into hell. I don't think we should ban books that say that. But we should be embarrassed when our best-selling books gleefully celebrate religious intolerance and violence against infidels.

That's not what America stands for, and I doubt that it's what God stands for.

PM admits graves claim 'untrue'
Downing Street has admitted to The Observer that repeated claims by Tony Blair that '400,000 bodies had been found in Iraqi mass graves' is untrue, and only about 5,000 corpses have so far been uncovered.

The claims by Blair in November and December of last year, were given widespread credence, quoted by MPs and widely published, including in the introduction to a US government pamphlet on Iraq's mass graves.

In that publication - Iraq's Legacy of Terror: Mass Graves produced by USAID, the US government aid distribution agency, Blair is quoted from 20 November last year: 'We've already discovered, just so far, the remains of 400,000 people in mass graves.'

On 14 December Blair repeated the claim in a statement issued by Downing Street in response to the arrest of Saddam Hussein and posted on the Labour party website that: 'The remains of 400,000 human beings [have] already [been] found in mass graves.'

The admission that the figure has been hugely inflated follows a week in which Blair accepted responsibility for charges in the Butler report over the way in which Downing Street pushed intelligence reports 'to the outer limits' in the case for the threat posed by Iraq.

Downing Street's admission comes amid growing questions over precisely how many perished under Saddam's three decades of terror, and the location of the bodies of the dead. ...

Friday, July 16, 2004

Allawi shot inmates in cold blood, say witnesses
Iyad Allawi, the new Prime Minister of Iraq, pulled a pistol and executed as many as six suspected insurgents at a Baghdad police station, just days before Washington handed control of the country to his interim government, according to two people who allege they witnessed the killings.

They say the prisoners - handcuffed and blindfolded - were lined up against a wall in a courtyard adjacent to the maximum-security cell block in which they were held at the Al-Amariyah security centre, in the city's south-western suburbs.

They say Dr Allawi told onlookers the victims had each killed as many as 50 Iraqis and they "deserved worse than death".

The Prime Minister's office has denied the entirety of the witness accounts in a written statement to the Herald, saying Dr Allawi had never visited the centre and he did not carry a gun.

But the informants told the Herald that Dr Allawi shot each young man in the head as about a dozen Iraqi policemen and four Americans from the Prime Minister's personal security team watched in stunned silence....

A Tough Guy Tries to Tame Iraq
BAGHDAD, Iraq — Throughout this war-ravaged land, where facts are hard to come by, rumor and innuendo can often serve as the most reliable measure of the Iraqi mood. Consider the lurid tale about Iyad Allawi, the new Iraqi prime minister, that made the rounds in the Iraqi capital last week.

Late one night before taking power, the story went, Mr. Allawi was not to be found cramming for his new job but instead was in the innards of a Baghdad prison, overseeing the interrogation of a cabal of Lebanese terrorists. No one was talking.

"Bring me an ax," the prime minister is said to have announced. With that, the story went, Mr. Allawi lopped off the hand of one the Lebanese men, and the group quickly spilled everything they knew.

The tale passed from ear to ear, much like the rumors blaming the Americans for the many explosions that mar the capital. But in this case, the remarkable thing was that the story about Mr. Allawi was not greeted with expressions of horror or malice, but with nods and smiles....

Thursday, July 15, 2004

The Real Enemy Staring Us in the Face
...On Thursday, the same day Iraqi insurgents killed the five G.I.'s in Samarra, the Bush administration disclosed that bin Laden and his lieutenants, believed to be operating from hideouts along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, were directing an effort by Al Qaeda to unleash an encore attack against the United States.

According to Tom Ridge, the homeland security secretary, the latest effort may well be timed to disrupt the fall elections.

If that happens, I wonder if we'll finally get serious about the war we should be fighting against bin Laden and Al Qaeda. Maybe not. Based on the impenetrable logic of the president and his advisers, a new strike by Al Qaeda might lead us to start a war with, say, Iran, or Syria.

If we know that bin Laden and his top leadership are somewhere along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, and that they're plotting an attack against the United States, why are we not zeroing in on them with overwhelming force?...

The Butler report
The intelligence: flawed
The dossier: dodgy
The 45-minute claim: wrong
Dr Brian Jones: vindicated
Iraq's link to al-Qa'ida: unproven
The public: misled
The case for war: exaggerated
And who was to blame? No one...

...About every five years he [Mohler] makes a completely asinine statement of one kind or another and puts himself in the news for about fifteen minutes.

Witness one of his wonderful theological revelations from the past when he decided that the historic Baptist principle of "Soul Competency" and "The Priesthood of Every Believer" was a mistake from the very beginning. The priesthood of every believer has been a centerpiece of Baptist thought since 1601. It may be the most important gift that Baptists bring to the greater Christian community. Of course, it doesn't jibe with the fundamentalist agenda because it takes away their ability to control from the top.

Precisely. This core belief of "soul competency" or "soul freedom" -- individual freedom of conscience -- is an essential part of what it means to be a Baptist....

Kids sodomized at Abu Ghraib, Pentagon has the videos - Hersh
Seymour Hersh says the US government has videotapes of boys being sodomized at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

"The worst is the soundtrack of the boys shrieking," the reporter told an ACLU convention last week. Hersh says there was "a massive amount of criminal wrongdoing that was covered up at the highest command out there, and higher."...

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Paternity: Innocence Is Now a Defense
On June 30, a California man being forced to pay child support for a child he had not fathered got his day in court when the Second District Court of Appeal of California overturned a paternity judgment against him.

Los Angeles County, which had imposed the judgment, knew that Manuel Navarro was not the father of the child in question because DNA testing had proved so. Yet under both federal and state child-support laws, the county was still able to demand Navarro pay child support.

The court's landmark decision in Navarro's favor may well become the controlling authority for contested paternity in California and a legal precedent nationwide.

Navarro's case is typical of the false paternity claims and child-support laws that prompt men's-rights activists to condemn the family-court system as being virulently unfair to men....

Key findings of Butler report
• In March 2002, the intelligence was "insufficiently robust" to prove Iraq was in breach of UN resolutions

• Since the war events have "thrown doubt" on a high proportion of the sources used to justify the war

• Some human intelligence about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction was "seriously flawed" and "open to doubt"

• The Joint Intelligence Committee should not have included the "45 minute" claim in the Iraq dossier without stating what exactly it referred to

• There is no evidence of "deliberate distortion" of the intelligence material or of "culpable negligence"

• The language of the Government's dossier on Iraq's weapons may have left readers with the impression that there was "fuller and firmer" intelligence behind its judgments than was the case

• Tony Blair's statement to MPs on the day the dossier was published may have reinforced this impression.

• The judgments in the dossier went to the "outer limits", although not beyond the intelligence available.

• Making public that the Joint Intelligence Committee had authorship of the Iraq dossier was a "mistaken judgment".

• This resulted in more weight being placed on the intelligence than it could bear, the report found.

• John Scarlet, the head of the JIC in the run up to the Iraq war should not resign, the authors of the report said.

• The Butler report said it would be a "rash person" who claimed that stocks of biological or chemical weapons would never be found in Iraq.

• The report found no evidence that the motive of the British Government for initiating military action in Iraq was securing continued access to oil supplies.

• The report raised concern about the "informality and circumscribed character" of the Government’s policy-making procedures towards Iraq.

'Open to doubt and seriously flawed'
British intelligence reports on Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction in the run up to the Iraq war were "open to doubt" and "seriously flawed", the Butler Inquiry said today.

However, the ex-cabinet secretary's 200-page report absolved Tony Blair's government and the intelligence agencies of "deliberate distortion or culpable negligence".

The report said the dossier on Iraq's alleged WMDs should not have included the notorious 45-minute claim and went to the "outer limits" of the available intelligence.

It said the intelligence was "insufficiently robust" to justify claims that Iraq was in breach of United Nations resolutions requiring it to disarm and named the prime minister as one of those who may have reinforced the view that it was based on something firmer. ...

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Ten Reasons to Fire George W. Bush
If you're looking for reasons to be disgusted with George W. Bush, here are the top 10...

...I haven't voted for a major party's presidential candidate since 1988, and I have no plans to revert to the habit this year. The Democrats have nominated a senator who—just sticking to the points listed above—voted for the war in Iraq, the Patriot Act, McCain-Feingold, and the TSA; who endorses the assault on "indecency"; who thinks the government should be spending even more than it is now. I didn't have room in my top ten for the terrible No Child Left Behind Act, which further centralized control of the country's public schools—but for the record, Kerry voted for that one too. It's far from clear that he'd be any less protectionist than Bush is, and he's also got problems that Bush doesn't have, like his support for stricter gun controls. True, Kerry doesn't owe anything to the religious right, and you can't blame him for the torture at Abu Ghraib. Other than that, he's not much of an improvement.

Yet I find myself hoping the guy wins. Not because I'm sure he'll be better than the current executive, but because the incumbent so richly deserves to be punished at the polls. Making me root for a sanctimonious statist blowhard like Kerry isn't the worst thing Bush has done to the country. But it's the offense that I take most personally.

Recovering a hijacked faith
...We will remember that faith hates violence and tries to reduce it and exerts a fundamental presumption against war instead of justifying it in God's name. We will see that faith creates community from racial, class, and gender divisions, prefers international community over nationalist religion and that "God bless America" is found nowhere in the Bible. And we will be reminded that faith regards matters such as the sacredness of life and family bonds as so important that they should never be used as ideological symbols or mere political pawns in partisan warfare....

...The best public contribution of religion is precisely not to be ideologically predictable or a loyal partisan. To always raise the moral issues of human rights, for example, will challenge both left- and right-wing governments who put power above principles. Religious action is rooted in a much deeper place than "rights"-- that being the image of God in every human being....

...It's why we doubt the goodness of all superpowers and the righteousness of empires in any era, especially when their claims of inspiration and success invoke theology and the name of God. Given human tendencies for self-delusion and deception, is it any wonder that hardly a religious body in the world regards the ethics of unilateral and preemptive war as "just"? Religious wisdom suggests that the more overwhelming the military might, the more dangerous its capacity for self and public deception. Powerful nations dangerously claim to "rid the world of evil" but often do enormous harm in their self-appointed vocation to do so....

Sports profile on Army officer left out a key fact
A story Tuesday about Lt. Col. Nate Sassaman told in detail how the former football star turned de facto mayor of an Iraqi city.

The well-written profile on the Sports cover described how the former Aloha High School and West Point quarterback spoke at a Portland-area church about his Iraq experiences, sharing "The Christian Warrior Ethos."

But missing from the story was a key fact: Sassaman was reprimanded for impeding the investigation of soldiers who since have been charged in the drowning of an Iraqi detainee who was pushed off a bridge north of Baghdad. "To do a story on somebody and have such a big hole in it, it's as bad as it gets," says Sports Editor Dennis Peck.

Given the journalistic size of that hole, it deserved a post-mortem. ...

GOP's `Christian nation'
AFTER A SHORT respite from the fight over the Pledge of Allegiance, the Republican Party has once again thrown itself into the fray over issues of church and state. This time it's the Republican Party of Texas, President Bush's home state, which has approved a plank in its platform affirming that "the United States of America is a Christian nation."

The plank, which also pooh-poohs "the myth of the separation of church and state," has elicited protests from Jewish groups. So far, however, it has not been rejected by the national Republican Party. This is in contrast to a similar flap in 1992: A statement by then-Mississippi Governor Kirk Fordice at a Republican governors' convention that "the United States is a Christian nation" was met with rebukes from leading Republicans, and Fordice eventually had to apologize....

Christianity’s Problem Is Not Lack of Political Involvement
My previous column "Our Hope is in the Gospel, Not Politics and Government," evoked a large response from readers. A few dissenters wanted to know exactly what my solution was for Christians who are failing to have a substantial impact on their culture. The issue on a whole is complex and to adequately address it requires much more space than can be given here. Two destructive pillars, however, are seriously hampering Christian influence on a whole. Those pillars are laziness and mediocrity. If our ultimate hope is in the gospel, then the gospel carriers need a strong jolt to refresh their lazy and lukewarm faith.

Let’s be frank, Christians are becoming increasingly irrelevant in society. Congregations continue to shrink. Negative perceptions of Christians are on the rise. Society continues its drift away from Christian values. Yet where do many Christians turn to find their solution to this mess? They turn to the government and its coercive bondage instead of to Christ and His liberating freedom.

Too many Christians believe that if only we can replace the "wrong" politicians with the "right" ones, we will be able to legislate our way into becoming a holy and pure nation. As I pointed out in my previous column, this method has produced little if any fruit. ...

DARE To Kill Families
...It's nothing new. DARE has always warred on the family, pitting kids against parents. Writes Diane Barnes in the Detroit News, "Children are asked to submit to DARE police officers sensitive written questionnaires that can easily refer to the kids' homes. And you might be surprised by a DARE lesson called 'The Three R's: Recognize, Resists, Report,' which encourages children to tell friends, teachers or police if they find drugs at home."

As I point out in my book, Bad Trip: How the War Against Drugs is Destroying America, drug arrests in a number of states have been tied directly to children ratting on parents. The reason is simple enough: DARE classes are taught by cops, who are duty-bound to follow up on tips from kids. The Wall Street Journal reported two Boston cases in which "children who had tipped police stepped out of their homes carrying DARE diplomas as police arrived to arrest their parents."

If we are keen enough to see them for what they are, we should be thankful for such horrifying news items. For all its destruction to families, the DARE program tips the hand of the drug-war establishment in one important regard: It brilliantly highlights the fact that the State will tolerate no competing authority. Its goals are absolute.

Writes Oxford Don C.S. Lewis in one of my favorite essays of his, "The modern State exists not to protect our rights but to do us good or make us good – anyway, to do something to us or make us something." We, in this scheme, have no right to make ourselves something or do things for ourselves unless our aims fit within those of State's, for as Lewis continues, "We are less their subjects than their wards, pupils, or domestic animals. There is nothing left of which we can say to them, 'Mind your own business.' Our whole lives are their business."

No uppity slaves will be tolerated. For the State, the province of our very will and desires are seen as under its jurisdiction. They only wait to be conquered – along with the other intermediary authorities that stymie the State's advance, which is why down through the years ambitious governments have warred on churches, businesses, communities, and families – precisely because it they will allow no other competing loyalties. It doesn't matter what the agenda is; the State wants total support and involvement from its subjects. Divided loyalties must be squashed, even if it means, in the case of the drug war, ratting on a parent or finking on a friend. The State's word is both law and final. And that means, however much you may love your mother, if you find a doobie in her drawer, you call the cops.

''Having teenagers feel comfortable talking about problems with police – you can't beat that," said Travers to the Globe. Translation: Replacing parents as the confidants of their children is key to the State's absolutist goals. The child must be taught to see his true loyalties in the camp of the police, not his parents. He must be taught to come to the police with any infraction of his parents', so the true object of his loyalties can mete out the proper punishments for nonsubmission to the goals of the State. ...

Bush goes to work with the whitewash
...The Bush administration's strategy is clear: After taking the United States into war-based on a lie, get Americans to forget the lie. Playing the humanitarian card just won't do. The administration was blissfully unconcerned about mass graves before 9/11. There were no plans to oust Hussein and end his tyranny even as his security forces continued to arrest, torture, and murder people.

Moreover, after preparing for war, Bush offered to call off the attack if Hussein went into exile. Hauling Hussein into court and creating Western-style democracy were dispensable objectives.

The supposedly charity-minded administration has done nothing about millions of dead in Congo, starvation and civil war in Sudan, and ongoing Russian brutality in Chechnya, to name just a few humanitarian catastrophes around the globe.

Washington left war-torn Liberia to the Africans. The administration has proposed no military remedy for ousting the Myanmar junta and has reopened relations with oppressive Libya. North Korea's Kim Jong Il continues to kill in peace while Washington negotiates possible aid packages.

In fact, humanitarianism was but a throwaway line as assorted administration officials made their case for war with Iraq. Bush called Hussein's human-rights abuses troubling, but said he doubted that they constituted a cause for war.

In an interview last year, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz admitted that the internal consensus was that humanitarian concerns did not warrant risking American lives in battle. Since there were sharp administration divisions over the existence of operational ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda, Wolfowitz observed, only fear of presumed Iraqi possession of WMD unified the administration. So, he explained, it served as the centerpiece of the administration's case, for both domestic and foreign audiences....

Monday, July 12, 2004

Hell On Earth
Life in Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, newly available documents show, would have made Satan quake

In October last year, Army Capt. Donald Reese visited the Abu Ghraib prison complex near Baghdad for the first time. He had plenty of reason to be there. He had just been installed as the warden of part of the prison, and as he toured cellblock 1, he was stunned to see a bunch of naked prisoners. He would later tell Army investigators: "My first reaction was, 'Wow, there [are] a lot of nude people here.' " Army intelligence officers assured him, he testified, that "nothing was illegal or wrong about it"--that, in fact, stripping the prisoners was a tried-and-true intelligence tactic used to make the prisoners uncomfortable. By his own account, Reese, a reservist and window-blinds salesman in civilian life, was ill-prepared for the job. He had never before set foot in a prison, even as a visitor, and he knew nothing of the Geneva Conventions, which specify conditions for humane treatment of enemy prisoners of war and others. "I, myself, have never been in a prison," Reese told Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, who was assigned to investigate the issue of abuses at Abu Ghraib. "So I had no experience at all as far as a warden or that type of thing."

As things turned out, of course, there was plenty wrong with the treatment that some of Reese's soldiers inflicted on Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib. The Army admonished Reese for failing to supervise his subordinates, but he is not alone: Criminal charges have been brought against seven soldiers in Reese's 372nd Military Police Company, while other military police and intelligence officers have been reprimanded. Several Defense Department investigations are underway, and the Senate is planning a close look.

These various inquiries may answer the most pressing questions: How did the mess at Abu Ghraib happen? Was it, as the Bush administration says, the work of just a few rogue soldiers, a few bad apples? Or did some senior military leaders, despite their denials, know what was going on inside the prison walls late at night? For now, the most compelling evidence of what happened is contained in a report completed in March by General Taguba. He found, the report says, "sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses."...

Army kept whistle-blower in locked ward
WASHINGTON, May 25 (UPI) -- The Army kept a soldier whistle-blower in a locked psychiatric ward at its top medical center for nearly two weeks despite concern from some medical staff that he be released, according to medical records.

The Army then charged him nearly $6,000 for the stay at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, billing records show.

"They are definitely retaliating against me," said Army Reserve Lt. Jullian Goodrum, a 16-year veteran of the Gulf War and Operation Iraqi Freedom....

Where politics shouldn’t go
One of the most untouchable issues in American politics - and so far campaign 2004 has been no exception - is the damaging proposition, deliberately fostered by government leaders, that religious devotion and patriotism are inseparable....

Robert Reich keeps calling for a war on evangelicals. Does he really mean it?
Writing for the liberal magazine The American Prospect, former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich calls for a war against conservative religious believers. "The great conflict of the 21st century will not be between the West and terrorism. Terrorism is a tactic, not a belief," he writes....

Easter Sermon, Canterbury Cathedral
Sunday 11 April 2004

A good few years ago, I heard a distinguished American scholar of ancient history commenting on the proclamation of the resurrection as it would have been heard in the classical world. 'If an educated Greek or Roman had been told that someone had been raised from the dead', he said, 'his first question would have been "How do you get him back into his grave again?"'. The point was that most of those who first heard the Easter gospel would have found it grotesque or even frightening. Resurrection was not a joyful sign of hope but an alarming oddity, something potentially very dangerous. The dead, if they survived at all, lived in their own world — a shadowy place, where they were condemned to a sort of half-life of yearning and sadness. So Vergil at least represents it in his great epic, unforgettably portraying the dead as 'stretching out their hands in longing for the other side of the river'. But for them to return would have been terrifying and unnatural; the boundaries between worlds had to be preserved and protected....

...The gospel of the resurrection announced many great things, but this must have been one of the most disturbing of all. Here and now, God holds on to the lives of all the departed — including the lives that have been wasted, violently cut short, damaged by oppression. All have worth in his sight. If God can raise as the messenger of his word and the giver of his life a man who has been through the dehumanising process of a Roman state execution, a process carefully designed to humiliate and obliterate, then the imperial power may well begin to worry....

...But the goodness of the resurrection news is most evident for those who have lost people they love to any sort of incomprehensible evil — the tragedies of dementia, the apparent meaninglessness of accident, the horrors of violence or injustice. Think back for a moment to the days when death squads operated in countries like Argentina or El Salvador: the Christians there developed a very dramatic way of celebrating their faith, their hope and their resistance. At the liturgy, someone would read out the names of those killed or 'disappeared', and for each name someone would call out from the congregation, Presente, 'Here'. When the assembly is gathered before God, the lost are indeed presente; when we pray at this eucharist 'with angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven', we say presente of all those the world (including us) would forget and God remembers. With angels and archangels; with the butchered Rwandans of ten years ago and the butchered or brutalised Ugandan children of last week or yesterday; with the young woman dead on a mattress in King's Cross after an overdose and the childless widower with Alzheimer's; with the thief crucified alongside Jesus and all the thousands of other anonymous thieves crucified in Judaea by an efficient imperial administration; with the whole company of heaven, those whom God receives in his mercy. And with Christ our Lord, the firstborn from the dead, by whose death our sinful forgetfulness and lukewarm love can be forgiven and kindled to life, who leaves no human soul in anonymity and oblivion, but gives to all the dignity of a name and a presence. He is risen; he is not here; he is present everywhere and to all. He is risen: presente.

Senate WMD Report Whacks CIA, Not Bush
...But the case is already undeniable. Bush and his lot overstated the overstatements of the intelligence community. The National Intelligence Estimate said Iraq had an extensive biological weapons program. Bush said Hussein was sitting on a "massive stockpile" of biological weapons. The NIE concluded (also falsely) that Iraq was developing unmanned aerial vehicles that could be used to hit the United States with biological weapons. Bush warned that Iraq already had a "growing fleet" of UAVs ready to hit the United States. The NIE noted that Iraq was "reconstituting" its nuclear weapons program but had no nuclear weapons yet. Bush said, "We don't know whether or not [Hussein] has a nuclear weapon"--a comment suggesting he might possess one. ...

Sunday, July 11, 2004

To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.
-- Theodore Roosevelt

Friday, July 09, 2004

Our Hope Is in the Gospel, Not Politics and Government
Five years ago I was convinced that Christians could change the world. I was convinced they could end the major social ills that plagued society. I was convinced they could make America a "Christian nation" that would be found honorable in God’s eyes. Not only that, but many more people would be brought to the faith as a result. Everything was going to be glorious and wonderful if Christians just got mobilized.

But mobilized to do what? Share our faith? Testify about the glory of God? No, instead I wrongly assumed that political activism and getting "our" guys in governmental positions of power were the best solutions to most problems facing America. Whether the problem was porn, alcoholism, drugs, abortion, gays, modernism, etc., government seemed the best and most viable solution.

While I did not believe that laws and legislation would "fix everything" I saw the political system – not Jesus or Scripture – as the most potent vehicle to reform America. My answer was government and politicians. How incredibly silly and naive. The goal of this essay is to persuade other Christians to realize, as I eventually did, that our hope for reforming society is not found in coercive government policies. Nor is it found with politicians. Our hope instead should be in Christ and spreading God’s Word and love to our fellow man.

That is what will reform society. Government cannot do it. Fruitful ministry should be our motivation and main focus. Not fruitless politicking....

...Christians, I ask you to be honest with yourself right now instead of just resorting to righteous indignation. Realistically look at the fruits of all your efforts. Where have they gotten Christianity in America? How many successes can you point to? How many converts have you produced because of your political and governmental reform efforts? How many people have a more positive (instead of more negative) view of the faith?...

...Millions and millions of dollars, and hours and hours of manpower have gone into dividing people through politicking when it could have done much better showing others the love of Christ and preaching the Kingdom of God. Not only that, but Christians are looked upon more negatively today by non-Christians than they were 25 years ago. Just ask yourself, zealous Christian, how much more could we have accomplished if all that money and time was pumped into church plants, missions work, evangelism, and meeting social needs instead of wasting it on failed political endeavors?

My guess is that there would be many more converts today if we followed the alternative route. I further presume that much of that money could have been better spent on less fortunate individuals rather than on rich and very fortunate politicians. If it’s a matter of priorities for the Christian, then things are clearly out of whack when more effort goes towards spreading the gospel of the Republican Party than spreading the gospel of Jesus....

...Sadly, many Christians have a similar mentality to far-left liberals. They believe the government should be involved in just about every aspect of life. Many also make the mistake of believing everything immoral should be controlled and regulated by the government. They take offense to libertarian suggestions that government force will not make everything better. They think that if a law is not passed, then the government is sanctioning an immoral action or behavior, and hence is dishonoring God. Well, not quite....

...It would be very interesting to see what would happen if the millions of Christian activists put forth the same efforts for ministry that they put forth in political activism. I imagine that many more people would be reached in much more meaningful ways. How I wish conservative Christians possessed the same zeal for advancing the Church that they have for advancing the Republican Party and various politicians....

...I think Kate's criticism touches on a deeper problem with this administration: its unwillingness even to try to win arguments. So often, it appears more interested in getting its legislative agenda through sheer force--twisting enough arms to get the 218th vote in the House--than in persuading anyone that conservative (or conservative-ish) initiatives make sense. Overseas, it has been more interested in saying that we are going to do what we are going to do than in getting people to agree that what we are doing is in the world's interests. The convention line-up suggests that the Republicans believe that the conservative message could never possibly appeal to the unconverted. It's a far cry from Reagan's approach. It reminds me of Rick Brookhiser's old line about the Republicans: In their hearts, they know they're wrong.

AP: Iraq Insurgency Larger Than Thought
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - Contrary to U.S. government claims, the insurgency in Iraq is led by well-armed Sunnis angry about losing power, not foreign fighters, and is far larger than previously thought, American military officials say.

The officials told The Associated Press the guerrillas can call on loyalists to boost their forces to as high as 20,000 and have enough popular support among nationalist Iraqis angered by the presence of U.S. troops that they cannot be militarily defeated. ...

Minister slams Blair and Bush at funeral of Scottish soldier
A CHURCH minister has used the funeral of a teenage Scots soldier killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq to launch an embittered attack on the politicians who called the country to war.

The Rev Dr John Mann spoke of his anger toward Tony Blair and George Bush as Fusilier Gordon Gentle, 19, was buried with full military honours at St James’ Parish Church in Pollok, Glasgow.

The teenager was killed while on a routine patrol in Basra on 28 June, three months after joining the regiment.

At yesterday’s funeral service the minister, who is American, sent a message to the Prime Minister and the US president, declaring: "Shame on you."

His words, endorsed by Fusilier Gentle’s family, were echoed by about 1,000 mourners who heard Dr Mann insist that the teenager, who lived 500 yards from the church, was killed in an "unjust war".

"I want to believe that if there’s a God in heaven then there will be justice because I want someone to pay for Gordon’s death," Dr Mann told a hushed congregation.

"But only God may judge who is ultimately responsible and I can only admonish - I’m just a preacher. And if I were to point them out, I would say to president George Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair, I have only three words of admonishment.

"I pray that they may some day be inscribed on the tablets of your hearts - and those three words are ‘shame on you’." ...

Pentagon Says Bush Records of Service Were Destroyed
HOUSTON, July 8 - Military records that could help establish President Bush's whereabouts during his disputed service in the Texas Air National Guard more than 30 years ago have been inadvertently destroyed, according to the Pentagon.

It said the payroll records of "numerous service members," including former First Lt. Bush, had been ruined in 1996 and 1997 by the Defense Finance and Accounting Service during a project to salvage deteriorating microfilm. No back-up paper copies could be found, it added in notices dated June 25....

...The disclosure appeared to catch some experts, both pro-Bush and con, by surprise. Even the retired lieutenant colonel who studied Mr. Bush's records for the White House, Albert C. Lloyd of Austin, said it came as news to him.

The loss was announced by the Defense Department's Office of Freedom of Information and Security Review in letters to The New York Times and other news organizations that for nearly half a year have sought Mr. Bush's complete service file under the open-records law.

There was no mention of the loss, for example, when White House officials released hundreds of pages of the President's military records last February in an effort to stem Democratic accusations that he was "AWOL" for a time during his commitment to fly at home in the Air National Guard during the Vietnam War....

Thursday, July 08, 2004

US Christian Right's grip on Middle East policy
In recent years, a politicized and right-wing Protestant fundamentalist movement has emerged as a major factor in US support for the policies of the rightist Likud government in Israel. To understand this influence, it is important to recognize that the rise of the religious right as a political force in the United States is a relatively recent phenomenon that emerged as part of a calculated strategy by leading right-wingers in the Republican Party who - while not fundamentalist Christians themselves - recognized the need to enlist the support of this key segment of the US population in order to achieve political power. ...

...The Reverend Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State recently quipped: "The good news is that the Christian coalition is fundamentally collapsing. The bad news is that the people who ran it are all in the government." He noted, for example, that when he goes to the Justice Department, he keeps seeing lawyers formerly employed by prominent right-wing fundamentalist preacher Pat Robertson.

As the Washington Post observed, "For the first time since religious conservatives became a modern political movement, the president of the United States has become the movement's de facto leader." Former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed marked the triumph by chortling, "You're no longer throwing rocks at the building; you're in the building." He added that God "knew [President] George [W] Bush had the ability to lead in this compelling way". ...

... When Bush announced his support for the roadmap for Middle East peace, the White House received more than 50,000 postcards over the next two weeks from Christian conservatives opposing any plan that called for the establishment of a Palestinian state. The administration quickly backpedaled, and the once-highly touted roadmap in essence died.

Messianic theology is centered on the belief in a hegemonic Israel as a necessary precursor to the second coming of Christ. Although this doctrine is certainly an important part of the Christian Right's support of a militaristic and expansionist Jewish state, fundamentalist Christian Zionism in the United States ascribes to an even more dangerous dogma: that of Manichaeism, the belief that reality is divided into absolute good and absolute evil.

The day after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Bush declared, "This will be a monumental struggle of good versus evil, but good will prevail." The United States was targeted - according to Bush - not on account of its support for Arab dictatorships, the large US military presence in the Middle East, US backing of the Israeli occupation, or the humanitarian consequences of US policy toward Iraq, but simply because they "hate our freedom". Despite the Gospels' insistence that the line separating good and evil does not run between nations but rather within each person, Bush cited Christological texts to support his war aims in the Middle East, declaring, "And the light [the US] has shown in the darkness [the enemies of the US], and the darkness will not overcome it [the US shall conquer its enemies]."

Even more disturbing, Bush has stated repeatedly that he was "called" by God to run for president. Veteran journalist Bob Woodward noted, "The president was casting his mission and that of the country in the grand vision of God's master plan," wherein he promised, in his own words, "to export death and violence to the four corners of the Earth in defense of this great country and rid the world of evil". In short, Bush believes that he has accepted the responsibility of leading the free world as part of God's plan. He even told then-Palestinian prime minister Mahmoud Abbas that "God told me to strike al-Qaeda and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam [Hussein], which I did." Iraq has become the new Babylon, and the "war on terrorism" has succeeded the Cold War with the Soviet Union as the quintessential battle between good and evil....

Saddam Could Call CIA in His Defence
LONDON, Jul 2 (IPS) Evidence offered by a top CIA (news - web sites) man could confirm the testimony given by Saddam Hussein (news - web sites) at the opening of his trial in Baghdad Thursday that he knew of the Halabja massacre only from the newspapers.

Thousands were reported killed in the gassing of Iraqi Kurds in Halabja in the north of Iraq (news - web sites) in March 1988 towards the end of Iraq's eight-year war with Iran. The gassing of the Kurds has long been held to be the work of Ali Hassan al-Majid, named in the West because of that association as 'Chemical Ali'. Saddam Hussein is widely alleged to have ordered Ali to carry out the chemical attack.

The Halabja massacre is now prominent among the charges read out against Saddam in the Baghdad court. When that charge was read out, Saddam replied that he had read about the massacre in a newspaper. Saddam has denied these allegations ever since they were made. But now with a trial on, he could summon a witness in his defence with the potential to blow apart the charge and create one of the greatest diplomatic disasters the United States has ever known.

A report prepared by the top CIA official handling the matter says Saddam Hussein was not responsible for the massacre, and indicates that it was the work of Iranians. Further, the Scott inquiry on the role of the British government has gathered evidence that following the massacre the United States in fact armed Saddam Hussein to counter the Iranians chemicals for chemicals. ...

... Pelletiere says the United States Defence Intelligence Agency investigated and produced a classified report following the Halabja gassing, which it circulated within the intelligence community on a need-to-know basis. "That study asserted that it was Iranian gas that killed the Kurds, not Iraqi gas," he wrote in The New York Times.

The agency did find that each side used gas against the other in the battle around Halabja, he said. "The condition of the dead Kurds' bodies, however, indicated they had been killed with a blood agent -- that is, a cyanide-based gas -- which Iran was known to use. "The Iraqis, who are thought to have used mustard gas in the battle, are not known to have possessed blood agents at the time." ...

... Pelletiere wrote that Saddam Hussein has much to answer for in the area of human rights abuses. "But accusing him of gassing his own people at Halabja as an act of genocide is not correct, because as far as the information we have goes, all of the cases where gas was used involved battles. These were tragedies of war. There may be justifications for invading Iraq, but Halabja is not one of them."...

Israeli interrogators in Iraq - An exclusive report
At least one aspect of the occupation of Iraq was well planned by Washington. The USA needed help conducting mass interrogations of Arabic-speaking detainees. Foreign Report can now reveal that, to make up for this shortfall, the USA employed Israeli security service (Shin Bet) experts to help their US counterparts 'break' their captives. ...

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Children in Iraqi prisons
Yesterday, we posted the video from a German TV report about alleged abuse and detention of children in Iraqi prisons. While the US media remains silent (as far as we know,) this story is getting some coverage outside of Germany. Pete from The Dark Window sends us this link from Norway...

Punishing parents
It is a sign of the times that most British commentators take the view that the amendment to the Children Bill passed by the House of Lords is a 'fudge' or a 'sensible compromise'.

This so-called compromise criminalises parents who punish their children with anything more than a light tap. Parents are threatened with prosecution and a jail sentence if a smack leads to grazes or scratches. The reason why many regard this new power to police family life as a compromise is because parents are no longer trusted to punish their children. The campaign against smacking is driven by a wider agenda that seeks to undercut the right of parents to discipline their children. The assumption is that in most cases such parental punishment is likely to have a harmful effect. The principal objective of the campaign against smacking is to save children from their parents.

The media often refer to the discussion surrounding smacking as a debate, but it is difficult to pinpoint any differences of substance on this issue. There are very few robust defenders of smacking. Most proponents strike a defensive chord and fear being castigated as apologists for child abuse. The only obstacle that stands in the way of the anti-smacking crusade is the behaviour of the majority of parents. Surveys carried out on both sides of the Atlantic indicate that a significant majority of parents continue to use physical punishment to regulate their children's behaviour. Anti-smacking campaigners recognise that their main job is to force parents on to the defensive through mounting a propaganda campaign against them.

The campaign is not simply about the appropriateness of smacking. Many advocates of a total ban on smacking are against all forms of punishing children. They believe that parents who rely on the withdrawal of affection as an alternative to smacking may cause even more damage to a child, and that punishment designed to make children feel stupid or undignified are just as ineffective and emotionally dangerous as the physical kind.

'Withdrawal of affection is often used as an alternative to spanking, but in the opinion of many psychologists, this can be more damaging than corporal punishment', comments a writer in Nursery World (1). Such concern about emotional punishment suggests that all power-assertive methods can be criticised for the alleged damage they inflict on kids. Since it is not realistic to campaign against the right of parents to punish as such, smacking provides the crusaders with an emotive target....

Mixing prophecy and politics
Christian Zionists are growing in influence - even as they fight for policies their critics say work against peace in the Mideast. For these believers, it's all about fulfilling biblical prophecy.

JERUSALEM – Ray Sanders and his wife, Sharon, grew up on farms in the American Midwest, but Israel has long been their home. Their journey began in the 1970s, when they read Hal Lindsey's apocalyptic bestseller, "The Late Great Planet Earth," which laid out a scenario for the end of the world according to a literal interpretation of Bible prophecies.

"That awakened our understanding to Israel and its prophetic role in the Last Days," Mr. Sanders explains in his spacious Jerusalem office. "That was a real paradigm shift in our lives."

That shift spurred the couple to leave their jobs, attend Bible college in Texas, and move to Jerusalem, where in 1985 they helped found a biblical Zionist organization called Christian Friends of Israel (CFI).

With a handful of similar groups here they are marshalling financial and moral support from evangelical Christians around the world, and particularly in the United States, to fulfill what they see as their role in an unfolding final drama.

Christian Zionists, an Evangelical subset whose ranks are estimated at 20 million in the US, have in the past two decades poured millions of dollars of donations into Israel, formed a tight alliance with the Likud and other Israeli politicians seeking an expanded "Greater Israel," and mobilized grass-roots efforts to get the US to adopt a similar policy.

Christian Zionist leaders today have access to the White House and strong support within Congress, including the backing of the two most recent majority leaders in the House of Representatives...

...For Christian Zionists, the modern state of Israel is the fulfillment of God's covenant with Abraham and the center of His action from now to the Second Coming of Christ and final battle of Armageddon, when the Antichrist will be defeated. But before this can occur, they say, biblical prophecy foretells the return of Jews from other countries; Israel's possession of all the land between the Euphrates and Nile rivers; and the rebuilding of the Jewish temple where a Muslim site, Dome of the Rock, now stands.

These beliefs lead to positions that critics say are uncompromising and ignore the fact that most Israelis want peace. "Pressuring the US government away from peace negotiations and toward an annexationist policy, that has a direct negative impact on the potential for change in the Middle East," says Gershom Gorenberg, a senior editor at The Jerusalem Report newsmagazine....

...Other Christians in the Holy Land oppose what they consider a false interpretation of Christianity that is heightening tensions here. "Christian Zionism transforms faith into a political ideology, and one that needs an enemy," says the Rev. Rafik Khoury, of the Catholic Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem....

...But he and others, including some Evangelicals, are increasingly concerned that many Christian Zionists have become activists whose actions could ultimately have serious - even disastrous - consequences.

"The danger is that, when people believe they 'know' how things are going to turn out and then act on those convictions, they can make these prophecies self-fulfilling, and bring on some of the things they predict," says the Rev. Timothy Weber, president of Memphis Theological Seminary in Tennessee, and author of "On the Road to Armageddon: How Evangelicals Became Israel's Best Friend."...

...House majority leader Tom DeLay (R) of Texas, while visiting the area, said, "I don't see occupied territory; I see Israel." Speaking on the Senate floor, Sen. James Inhofe (R) of Oklahoma said Israel had a right to the land "because God said so."

In a 2002 appearance on Chris Matthews's "Hardball" show, former Rep. Richard Armey (R) of Texas, then House majority leader, proclaimed his support for "transporting" the Palestinians to other countries.

"In Israel, this position is regarded as somewhat like that of the Ku Klux Klan in the US," says Gorenberg. "These American figures are taking positions way to the right of the Israeli mainstream."...

...Most worrisome to critics is the impact Christian Zionists are having - or could have - on the volatile situation here.

Some local Christians say they feel the impact directly. Thousands of Palestinian Christians - many of whom trace their family histories back to the early church - live in Israel and the occupied territories. They've survived as a minority among Muslims and Jews for centuries.

But because the Christian Zionist perspective is hostile to Islam and ultimately to Judaism, some now worry about its influence on their neighbors. They say some local Muslims now assume that this Western prophetic phenomenon - and its dismissal of hopes for a Palestinian state - is what all Christians believe....

...When he talks to Christian Zionists about the destruction of the Dome of the Rock, some say, " 'Well, this is all prophesied - it's bound to happen,' " Weber says. Some suggest perhaps an earthquake will clear the mount. One predicted that "in an Arab-Israeli war a surface-to-surface missile aimed at Jerusalem will miss and hit the Dome of the Rock."

It's this kind of perspective that worries knowledgeable observers. Such mixing of prophecy and politics "could start World War III," says Dr. Marty.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Courting the faithful
The crowd of 100,000 cheered as the latest rock anthem crescendoed to its conclusion. Then Alec Baldwin's younger brother Stephen - the festival's keynote speaker - stepped up to the microphone.

You might be mistaken for thinking this audience of young Americans had come together just to soak up the sunshine and have a good time. Then Baldwin spoke, and disabused any misinterpretation of the gathering.

"I don't care if I ever shoot a movie again," he said. "Because the day I accepted Jesus into my life I was blessed."

"Now, I don't want to tell you who should vote for in November" he continued. "But make sure it's for the one who has the most faith. Now, more than ever, we need someone in the White House who is being led by God."

The last line got a roar of approval from the crowd who were now on their feet. The event I attended over the weekend was the Creation Festival, an annual gathering of evangelical Christians that has been going on for more than three decades, but that has mushroomed into a massive phenomenon in recent years.

The three-day event, set on a farm in western Pennsylvania looked in many ways like I imagine Woodstock must have, but with crucial differences. Hundreds of tents and caravans stuck in the summer- baked mud, spontaneous hugging, rock and roll yes, but no sex and no drugs.

This is the crowd George Bush hopes may yet save him from political oblivion in November....