Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Memos: No more $13 teas, $70 lunches for legal aid outfit
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The $13 per person "high tea" service and $12 bagel breaks will be gone from the January directors meeting of the government's legal aid program for the poor. And the meeting will be held at the headquarters conference room rather than the upscale hotel used in the past.

After severe criticism from Congress, stinging reports from a financial watchdog and several articles by The Associated Press, the Legal Services Corp. has decided to temper the expensive tastes of its top officials while poor clients are turned away for lack of program funds.

Internal memos, provided to the AP voluntarily by a Legal Services official, made clear there would be no more $70 lunches and $14 "Death By Chocolate" desserts at board meetings.

Only in special circumstances would there be a repeat of hotel costs that shot through the government's room rate ceiling, limousine services and first-class air travel.

The AP documented in August and September how the program's executives spent freely while the corporation's own study showed many poor Americans -- in need of legal help -- were being turned away at local clinics funded by the corporation....

Monday, December 25, 2006

"Government is actually the worst failure of civilized man. There has never been a really good one, and even those that are most tolerable are arbitrary, cruel, grasping and unintelligent."
-- H. L. Mencken

America's Red Ink
The largest employer in the world announced on Dec. 15 that it lost about $450 billion in fiscal 2006. Its auditor found that its financial statements were unreliable and that its controls were inadequate for the 10th straight year. On top of that, the entity's total liabilities and unfunded commitments rose to about $50 trillion, up from $20 trillion in just six years.

If this announcement related to a private company, the news would have been on the front page of major newspapers. Unfortunately, such was not the case -- even though the entity is the U.S. government.

To put the figures in perspective, $50 trillion is $440,000 per American household and is more than nine times as much as the median household income....

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Inside Christian Embassy
An exclusive interview with the chief of staff of Christian Embassy, the behind-the-scenes ministry in the news for proselytizing in the Pentagon.

Little while ago I received a phone call from Mikey Weinstein, the prime mover behind the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, created in the wake of 2005's revelations of widespread evangelical proselytizing at the Air Force Academy. Weinstein told me that he'd spent Thanksgiving morning reading my December, 2006 Harper's feature, "Through a Glass Darkly" (online in January), which included a brief discussion of the now infamous Christian Embassy video featuring high-ranking military officers testifying testifying in uniform on behalf of the behind-the-scenes fundamentalist organization, an apparent violation of military regulations. Weinstein has since launched a secular crusade of his own in response to the video, with the backing of a group of generals determined to maintain separation of church and state in the military.

The first public notice of the video came at the end of a longer discussion on the surprising importance of confederate General Stonewall Jackson to American fundamentalist historiography...

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Diplomat's suppressed document lays bare the lies behind Iraq war
The Government's case for going to war in Iraq has been torn apart by the publication of previously suppressed evidence that Tony Blair lied over Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.

A devastating attack on Mr Blair's justification for military action by Carne Ross, Britain's key negotiator at the UN, has been kept under wraps until now because he was threatened with being charged with breaching the Official Secrets Act.

In the testimony revealed today Mr Ross, 40, who helped negotiate several UN security resolutions on Iraq, makes it clear that Mr Blair must have known Saddam Hussein possessed no weapons of mass destruction. He said that during his posting to the UN, "at no time did HMG [Her Majesty's Government] assess that Iraq's WMD (or any other capability) posed a threat to the UK or its interests."...

Monday, December 11, 2006

Pastor resigns over homosexuality
In a tearful videotaped message Sunday to his congregation, the senior pastor of a thriving evangelical megachurch in south metro Denver confessed to sexual relations with other men and announced he had voluntarily resigned his pulpit.

A month ago, the Rev. Paul Barnes of Grace Chapel in Doug las County preached to his 2,100-member congregation about integrity and grace in the aftermath of the Ted Haggard drugs-and-gay-sex scandal.

Now, the 54-year-old Barnes joins Haggard as a fallen evangelical minister who preached that homosexuality was a sin but grappled with a hidden life. ...

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Manliness is next to godliness
NASHVILLE -- The strobe lights pulse and the air vibrates to a killer rock beat. Giant screens show mayhem and gross-out pranks: a car wreck, a sucker punch, a flabby (and naked) rear end, sealed with duct tape.

Brad Stine runs onstage in ripped blue jeans, his shirt untucked, his long hair shaggy. He's a stand-up comic by trade, but he's here today as an evangelist, on a mission to build up a new Christian man — one profanity at a time. "It's the wuss-ification of America that's getting us!" screeches Stine, 46.

A moment later he adds a fervent: "Thank you, Lord, for our testosterone!"...

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Jeff Sharlet on how fundamentalists are "reimagining" American history
Jeff Sharlet has been coming at us over the past several years with a series of studies which should scare the pants off any small-d democrat. He reveals myriad ways in which fundamentalism is succeeding in changing American politics and culture.

We see fundamentalists as a relatively contained group of self-righteous crackpots who are tiresome to deal with on local school boards and, god knows, in the White House. After all, we're smarter than they are. But winning majorities in both houses of Congress last week should not comfort us with the belief that the nation has returned to "normalcy," that Bush has been disarmed, that the fundamentalist leadership has suffered a setback.

The threat of fundamentalist persistence – and in his latest article in Harper's,* Sharlet reveals the taste for violence in his subjects – is not behind us. America is not more sane now than it was a month ago. As Sharlet writes in his latest piece for Harper's, fundamentalists are not “a burp in American history... an unpleasant odor that will pass.” ...

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Why we love government
... The bottom line: We love government because it enables us to accomplish things that if done privately would lead to arrest and imprisonment. For example, if I saw a person in need, and I took your money to help him, I'd be arrested and convicted of theft. If I get Congress to do the same thing, I am seen as compassionate....

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Web 'fuelling crisis in politics'
...But rather than work out these dilemmas in partnership with their elected leaders, they were encouraged to regard all politicians as corrupt or "mendacious" by the media, which he described as "a conspiracy to maintain the population in a perpetual state of self-righteous rage".

Whether media was left wing or right wing, the message was always that "leaders are out there to shaft you".

He went on: "At a time at which we need a richer relationship between politicians and citizens than we have ever had, to confront the shared challenges we face, arguably we have a more impoverished relationship between politicians and citizens than we have ever had.

"It seems to me this is something which is worth calling a crisis." ...

Friday, November 10, 2006

'Arrows for the War'
When the Gospel Community Church in Coxsackie, New York, breaks midservice to excuse children for Sunday school, nearly half of the 225-strong congregation patters toward the back of the worship hall: the five youngest children of Pastor Stan Slager's eight, assistant pastor Bartly Heneghan's eleven and the Dufkin family's thirteen, among many others. "The Missionettes," a team of young girls who perform ribbon dances during the praise music, put down their "glory hoops" to join their classmates; the pews empty out. It's the un-ignorable difference between the families at Gospel Community and those in the rest of the town that's led some to wonder if the church isn't a cult that forces its disciples to keep pushing out children.

But after the kids leave, Pastor Stan doesn't exhort his congregation to bear children. His approach is more subtle, reminding them to present their bodies as living sacrifices to the Lord, and preaching to them about Acts 5:20: Go tell "all the words of this life." Or, in Pastor Stan's guiding translation, to lead lives that make outsiders think, "Christianity is real," lives that "demand an explanation."

Lives such as these: Janet Wolfson is a 44-year-old mother of eight in Canton, Georgia. Tracie Moore, a 39-year-old midwife who lives in southern Kentucky, is mother to fourteen. Wendy Dufkin in Coxsackie has her thirteen. And while Jamie Stoltzfus, a 27-year-old Illinois mom, has only four children so far, she plans on bearing enough to populate "two teams." All four mothers are devoted to a way of life New York Times columnist David Brooks has praised as a new spiritual movement taking hold among exurban and Sunbelt families. Brooks called these parents "natalists" and described their progeny as a new wave of "Red-Diaper Babies"--as in "red state."

But Wolfson, Moore and thousands of mothers like them call themselves and their belief system "Quiverfull." They borrow their name from Psalm 127: "Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one's youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies in the gate." Quiverfull mothers think of their children as no mere movement but as an army they're building for God.

Quiverfull parents try to have upwards of six children. They home-school their families, attend fundamentalist churches and follow biblical guidelines of male headship--"Father knows best"--and female submissiveness....

...Pride argues that feminism is a religion in its own right, one that is inherently incompatible with Christianity. "Christians have accepted feminists' 'moderate' demands for family planning and careers while rejecting the 'radical' side of feminism--meaning lesbianism and abortion," writes Pride. "What most do not see is that one demand leads to the other. Feminism is a totally self-consistent system aimed at rejecting God's role for women. Those who adopt any part of its lifestyle can't help picking up its philosophy." "Family planning," Pride argues, "is the mother of abortion. A generation had to be indoctrinated in the ideal of planning children around personal convenience before abortion could be popular."

Instead of picketing clinics, Pride writes, Christians should fight abortion by demonstrating that children are an "unqualified blessing" by having as many as God gives them. Only a determination among Christian women to take up their submissive, motherly roles with a "military air" and become "maternal missionaries" will lead the Christian army to victory. Thus is Quiverfull part of Mary Pride's whole-cloth solution to women's liberation: embracing an opposing way of life as total and "self-consistent" as feminism, and turning back the tide on a society gone wrong by populating the world with right-thinking Christians. ...

A march of middle-class miserabilists
‘Trees don’t rape.’ Daubed in a red scrawl on a green placard, and held aloft by someone marching behind a giant papier mâché hare (under the banner ‘Hare today, gone tomorrow…’), this protest slogan captured the tenor of Saturday’s march in central London against climate change chaos.

It summed up the anti-human bent to the whole thing. The sledgehammer-subtle implication of a slogan like ‘trees don’t rape’ is that humans do; unlike trees, we rape, both literally (women) and metaphorically (nature). It also encapsulated the marchers’ childlike, Disney-esque love for all things natural: celebrating an insensate object like a tree because it ‘doesn’t rape’ is enough to make those annoying anthropomorphists of the animal rights lobby look almost progressive by comparison. And it captured the kneejerk moralism driving the demonstration. This was no political march backed up by scientific facts, but an outburst of shrill middle-class disgust with the greedy masses and their bad habits. ...

...What united them all, however, was a petty authoritarianism. Strip away the dashes of colour, the dancing, the hymn-singing (seriously) and the big bright animals (there was a papier mâché rhinoceros as well as a hare), and this was in essence a demo demanding less debate and more stringent measures outlining what people can do and consume. I’ve been on a lot of marches in my time – some good, some bad, some loud, some lame – but this was the first demo I’ve seen that effectively called on the authorities to punish us; not that they should leave us alone or give us more jobs, rights, welfare, whatever, but that they should actively intervene in our lives and stop us from driving too much, holidaying too much, eating too much and living it up too much. It was summed up in the chant: ‘What do we want?’ ‘Carbon taxes!’ ‘When do we want them?’ ‘Now!’ That was said with real passion, believe it or not. My favourite placard of the day had a picture of Tony Blair and the words: ‘Action to match the rhetoric! Yearly enforceable emissions reductions targets of three per cent at least! Nothing less will do!’ Strewth....

Is this the end of the road for traffic lights?
Most traffic lights should be torn up as they make roads less safe, one of Europe's leading road engineers said yesterday.

Hans Monderman, a traffic planner involved in a Brussels-backed project known as Shared Space, said that taking lights away helped motorists, cyclists and pedestrians to co-exist more happily and safely.

Road users take more care in Drachten as signs have been removed

Residents of the northern Dutch town of Drachten have already been used as guinea-pigs in an experiment which has seen nearly all the traffic lights stripped from their streets.

Only three of the 15 sets in the town of 50,000 remain and they will be gone within a couple of years.

The project is the brainchild of Mr Monderman, and the town has seen some remarkable results. There used to be a road death every three years but there have been none since the traffic light removal started seven years ago.

There have been a few small collisions, but these are almost to be encouraged, Mr Monderman explained. "We want small accidents, in order to prevent serious ones in which people get hurt," he said yesterday.

"It works well because it is dangerous, which is exactly what we want. But it shifts the emphasis away from the Government taking the risk, to the driver being responsible for his or her own risk....

Sunday, November 05, 2006

On Manhood, Women and Homosexuals
...One of the aspects I find among those who "follow the exgay path" is how erotically they speak of Jesus. Jesus, in effect, becomes their new gay lover who holds them in His arms. They constantly write about how they no longer "need" gay sex because they are too busy "loving Jesus" in ways they usually describe that are more erotic that the most steamy novel you can buy at the cut-out bin at Wal-Mart....

Evangelical Leader Quits Amid Allegations of Gay Sex and Drug Use
As every pastor knows, we are always at risk from the sin in us and the sinful temptations around us...

My suspicion is that as our culture becomes more sexually rebellious, things will only get worse. Therefore, as a means of encouragement, I would like to share some practical suggestions for fellow Christian leaders, especially young men:

...Most pastors I know do not have satisfying, free, sexual conversations and liberties with their wives. At the risk of being even more widely despised than I currently am, I will lean over the plate and take one for the team on this. It is not uncommon to meet pastors’ wives who really let themselves go; they sometimes feel that because their husband is a pastor, he is therefore trapped into fidelity, which gives them cause for laziness. A wife who lets herself go and is not sexually available to her husband in the ways that the Song of Songs is so frank about is not responsible for her husband’s sin, but she may not be helping him either....

Saturday, November 04, 2006

A Matter of New Life and Meth
...Alas for Haggard, this qualified admission might have had a bit more credibility had it not been for the earlier performance (which was very impressive, although the “what’d you say his name was?” gilded the lily slightly)....

Friday, November 03, 2006

Sex as a Weapon
...But with Christian womanhood restored and redeemed, a crucial character in the Christian conservative morality play has gone missing: the seductress. It is no longer acceptable to speak of loose women and harlots, since sexual promiscuity in a woman is the fault of the man who has failed to exercise his "headship" over her. It is his effeminacy, not hers, that is to blame. And who lures him into this spiritual castration? The gay man.

Christian conservatives loathe all forms of homo- and bisexuality, of course, but it is the gay man (singular; he's an archetype) who looms largest in their books and sermons and blogs and cell group meetings. Not, for the most part, as a figure of evil, but one to be almost envied. "The gay man" is the new seductress sent by Satan to tempt the men of Christendom. He takes what he wants and loves whom he will and his life, in the imagination of Christian men's groups, is an endless succession of orgasms, interrupted only by jocular episodes of male bonhomie. The gay man promises a guilt-free existence, the garden before Eve. He is thought to exist in the purest state of "manhood," which is boyhood, before there were girls.

Most Christian conservatives are deadly earnest in their proclamations of love for the sinner, even as they hate the sin. Indeed, that love is at the heart of books like Wild at Heart, and Jim George's A Man After God's Own Heart, and Every Man's Battle, a self-help manual for giving up masturbation which was co-authored by a couple of buddies. They love the gay man because he is a siren, and his song is alluring; and because they believe that the siren is nonetheless stranded at sea, singing in desperation from a slippery perch on a jagged outcrop of stone. The gay man, they imagine, is calling to them; and they believe they are calling back — as if all of human sexuality was a grand and tragic game of Marco Polo.

Church Leader Says Haggard Admits To Some Indiscretions
A sudden about-face in the scandal facing New Life Church's pastor.

After Pastor Ted Haggard went public Wednesday night denying allegations of a homosexual affair, senior church officials told KKTV 11News Thursday evening, Pastor Ted Haggard has admitted to some of the claims made by a former male escort. The church's Acting Senior Pastor, Ross Parsley, tells KKTV 11 News that Pastor Haggard has admitted to some of the indiscretions claimed by Mike Jones, but not all of them. ...

Saturday, October 28, 2006

How Jesus Endorsed Bush's Invasion of Iraq
For much of the past 25 years, a small group of Catholic intellectuals has worked to inject its radical religious ideas into the nation's politics. The leader of this theoconservative movement is Father Richard John Neuhaus. In the pages of his monthly magazine First Things, Neuhaus and his ideological allies set the theocon agenda on a range of policies. Michael Novak of the American Enterprise Institute argues that the American founders were orthodox religious believers who thought of the United States as a Christian nation -- and that American-style capitalism perfectly conforms to Catholic social teaching. Robert P. George of Princeton University insists that abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem-cell research, and same-sex marriage (and perhaps even contraception and masturbation) should be outlawed. And George Weigel of Washington's Ethics and Public Policy Center uses Catholic just-war reasoning to justify neoconservative foreign policy. As the U.S. began to prepare for war in Iraq in 2002, the theocons set out to provide theological justification for the coming conflagration....

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

East Waynesville Baptist Church Kicks Out Democrats
East Waynesville Baptist asked nine members to leave. Now 40 more have left the church in protest. Former members say Pastor Chan Chandler gave them the ultimatum, saying if they didn't support George Bush, they should resign or repent. The minister declined an interview with News 13. But he did say "the actions were not politically motivated." There are questions about whether the bi-laws were followed when the members were thrown out....

Sunday, October 22, 2006

It isn't just Bono's U2 who are talking through their hat about tax avoidance
...What is surprising is that the rest of the world continues to take Bono seriously. I would have thought that after the revelation that U2 moved their music publishing company to the Netherlands to cut their tax bill in half, he wouldn't have dared stepped out of his mansion for fear of being laughed to scorn.

Here was a man who incited audiences to condemn Western politicians for not sending enough of their taxpayers' money to the wretched of the earth, avoiding tax himself. The Edge, U2's guitarist, sounded as edgy as a plump accountant in the 19th hole when he explained the move offshore by saying: 'Our business is a very complex business. Of course we're trying to be tax-efficient. Who doesn't want to be tax-efficient?'...

Beer fingerprints to go UK-wide
The government is is funding the roll out of fingerprint security at the doors of pubs and clubs in major English cities.

Funding is being offered to councils that want to have their pubs keep a regional black list of known trouble makers. The fingerprint network installed in February by South Somerset District Council in Yeovil drinking holesy is being used as the show case.

"The Home Office have looked at our system and are looking at trials in other towns including Coventry, Hull & Sheffield," said Julia Bradburn, principal licensing manager at South Somerset District Council.

Gwent and Nottingham police have also shown an interest, while Taunton, a town neighbouring Yeovil, is discussing the installation of fingerprint systems in 10 pubs and clubs with the systems supplier CreativeCode.

Bradburn could not say if fingerprint security in Yeovil had displaced crime to neighbouring towns, but she noted that domestic violence had risen in Yeovil. She could not give more details until the publication of national crime statistics to coincide with the anniversary of lax pub licensing laws on 24 November.

She was, however, able to say that alcohol-related crime had reduced by 48 per cent Yeovil between February and September 2006.

The council had assumed it was its duty under the Crime and Disorder Act (1998) to reduce drunken disorder by fingerprinting drinkers in the town centre....

Friday, October 20, 2006

Top US general says Rumsfeld is inspired by God
MIAMI (AFP) - The top US general defended the leadership of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, saying it is inspired by God.

"He leads in a way that the good Lord tells him is best for our country," said Marine General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff....

..."He comes to work everyday with a single-minded focus to make this country safe," said Stavridis who was a senior aide to Rumsfeld before taking on the Southcom job.

"We're lucky as a nation that he continues to serve with such passion and such integrity and such determination and such brilliance," said Stavridis, 51.

As head of Southcom, Stavridis will be responsible for military cooperation with Latin American countries, and will be in charge of the Guantanamo US military base in Cuba where more than 400 "war on terror" detainees are being held....

Monday, October 16, 2006

The New Crips
An ex-drug dealer and burglar leads a wheelchair posse terrorizing Southern California businesses. Would you believe he has the law on his side?

Slouched in his custom-made wheelchair at his daily hangout—a Garden Grove Starbucks—Gunther doesn’t look capable of throwing Southern California business owners into a panic. But he has. He’d left his usual head attire, an oily baseball cap, at home and instead had showered, combed his hair and worn a clean shirt for the interview. He’s got large brown eyes, a Johnny Cash face much older than his 43 years and delivers mostly clipped answers in a raspy cigarette voice. He’s wearing shorts today; gruesome scars mark his right leg. Appearances are critical, and on this late September afternoon, Gunther is angry that people don’t see him as a hero.

“I get hate mail,” he said. “I’m called a scumbag. Someone told me they hope I rot in hell. Another guy said I deserve to be in a wheelchair.”

The hostility is understandable. Since 2003, Gunther has filed more than 200 lawsuits against small businesses he claims have violated the accessibility provisions of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and California’s tougher version, the Unruh Act. The laws are simple in one respect: if a disabled person finds an accessibility barrier—for example, no designated handicapped parking, a heavy bathroom door or a toilet paper dispenser mounted out of easy reach for someone in a wheelchair—that person is entitled to sue and collect $4,000 per violation from the business.

It doesn’t take a genius to calculate that the well-intentioned laws can be a lucrative scheme in the hands of an unscrupulous person. Lawyers familiar with Gunther’s activities estimate he’s taken more than $400,000 in the last 36 months, mostly from mom-and-pop shops in Garden Grove, Anaheim, Fountain Valley, Orange, Tustin, Buena Park, Stanton, Seal Beach, Santa Ana, Dana Point, Huntington Beach and Los Angeles. If true, that’s quite a haul for a man who has spent most of his adult life unemployed, according to records obtained by the Weekly....

...Gunther—six feet tall and 235 pounds—resisted the doctor’s advice to work out. In a 2001 Fresno court hearing regarding the deadbeat dad issue, he explained why: “I can’t [work out or work] due to my mental disorders.” The motorcycle accident left him with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as well as “insomnia, excessive worry, preoccupation with danger, hyper-vigilance, intrusive and frequent recollections and nightmares,” he said.

Yet in May 2000, another Orange County doctor, Archana Shende, said Gunther wasn’t paralyzed, but that he “should not stand and/or walk for more than two hours or sit for more than four hours,” Shende wrote after an examination.

Said Fresno County prosecutor James Falkowski in August 2000, “Mr. Gunther’s injuries are grossly exaggerated, if not outright fraud.”...

...Ironically, one businessman he hasn’t sued is his own lawyer. Like so many businesses Gunther has sued, Mehrban’s Koreatown office is located in a converted house. It’s on the second floor, and to get there, a person in a wheelchair faces an insurmountable hurdle: 15 steps up a narrow hallway.

Mehrban says it would not be practical to make his office accessible to the handicapped.

Guantanamo guards 'boast about abuse'
Troops at Guantanamo Bay routinely hit detainees, and then bragged about it afterwards, according to a US military lawyer

The US Southern Command has launched an investigation into "credible allegations" that guards at Guantanamo Bay abused detainees, and has appointed an army colonel to head the probe.

The Pentagon's Inspector General's office said that it had ordered the Miami-based Southern Command to investigate after Marine Lt Col Colby Vokey, who represents a detainee at the US naval base in eastern Cuba, filed the "hotline" complaint last week.

Col Vokey attached a sworn statement from his paralegal, Sgt Heather Cerveny, 23, in which she said several guards in a bar at Guantanamo Bay bragged about beating detainees and described it as common practice. "Others were talking about how when they get annoyed with the detainees, about how they hit them, or they punched them in the face," Sgt Cerveny said during a telephone interview Thursday.

"It was a general consensus that I [detected] that as a group this is something they did. That this was OK at Guantanamo, this is how the detainees get treated."...

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Where's religious right's outrage now?
...Several months ago, I canvassed eight prominent religious right organizations, including the Moral Majority Coalition, Falwell's group, for their views on torture. My query was straightforward: Please send me, I asked, a copy of your organization's position on the use of torture. These are groups that have detailed position papers on everything, including stem-cell research and same-sex unions, yet only two answered my query. Both of them defended the Bush administration's policies on torture. No organization associated with the religious right has yet, to my knowledge, summoned the will to issue a statement of unequivocal opposition to the use of torture....

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

There is no party of tolerance in Washington—just a party that wages its crusades in the name of Christ and a party that wages its crusades in the name of Four out of Five Experts Agree.
-- Jesse Walker

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Health care and living standards
...Because I think that health care is a major, major portion of why we spend so much time complaining about not being that much better off than we were in the 1970s. Contra "99", health insurance hasn't declined dramatically since 1973. Since 1987--the earliest year for which I could quickly lay my hands on census data--the number of uninsured Americans has skyrocketed from 12.9% to 15.9%. If we look only at native-born Americans, the numbers have been essentially unchanged since 1993 (again, the earliest census figures I could find). In 1993, 86.3% of native-born Americans had health insurance; in 2005 that figure was 86.6%. All of the increase in uninsured has come from immigrants . . . and I don't think they'd be better off getting their health care back in Guatamala.

Americans are paying more for their health insurance, but that's because they're getting more. New drugs, new procedures, fancier hospital services (my American friends think that British hospitals look like something out of the third world; my British friends think that American hospitals are ridiculously fancy, like hotels.) We're living longer and dying of things that are harder to treat. We're keeping disabled kids alive at monumental expense. We're helping infertile couples have babies, burn victims rebuild their ravaged faces, cancer patients eke out a few precious extra weeks with their families.

These things cost phenomenal amounts of money. And with the exception of fertility clinics, we all pay for them a little bit at a time through our taxes and health insurnace plans . . . so we don't associate the higher price tag with the magical new medical services....

Friday, September 29, 2006

Nation's Largest Denomination, The Baptists, Still Back Bush Despite War
..."It would be foolish to say anybody's pleased," Land said. "I don't think the president's pleased with the progress of the war. Clearly, he would have wished things would have gone better. So do I."

But, Land added: "I still think Iraq is one of the more noble things we've done. We went there to try to restore freedom and to bring freedom to the Middle East." ...

"I don't think there's any question that the vast majority of Southern Baptists still strongly support this president and his policies," Land said.

Survey by Pew Research Center for the People & the Press Oct. 12-24, 2005

Do you think the use of torture against suspected terrorists in order to gain important information can often be justified, sometimes be justified, rarely be justified, or never be justified?


Total public

Total Catholic

Don’t know/refused




White Protestant

White evangelical

Don’t know/refused








Wednesday, September 27, 2006

God's boot camp?
"Jesus Camp," a documentary feature film that follows evangelical Christian children at a religious summer camp, won prizes and critical praise on the summer festival circuit, but it wasn't until its quiet opening in the Midwest two weeks ago that a news clip about the film hit YouTube.com, inciting a whirlwind of controversy....

...At one point in the film, Fischer shouts to the children, "This is war! Are you part of it or not?" She proudly compares her work to the indoctrination of young boys by extremist Muslims in Pakistan and elsewhere. The film intersperses footage of Fischer and the children with clips of radio talk-show host Mike Papantonio, a liberal Methodist, excoriating conservative Christians like Fischer.

Fischer is disappointed by the way she appears in the film. "I do understand they're out to tell a story and they felt they found it with some of the political things," she said by phone from her home in Bismarck, N.D. "And they're out to show the most dramatic, exotic, extreme things they found in my ministry, and I'm not ashamed of those things, but without context, it's really difficult to defend what you're seeing on the screen."

More controversy over the film erupted last week when the Rev. Ted Haggard — whose constituency at the National Assn. of Evangelicals is 30 million strong — took a public stance against it, claiming that the film makes evangelicals look "scary." His condemnation apparently chilled the film's opening in 13 theaters in Colorado, Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma and Missouri on Sept. 15.

Even before its release, lurid fascination with the film's trailer bloomed on the Internet. A Sept. 17 ABC News report on the movie turned up on YouTube.com shortly after it aired, and by the next day, the segment was the website's most-viewed clip, with about 200,000 downloads in a matter of hours.

When Fischer arrived home Tuesday after a few days touring with the filmmakers, her e-mail inbox was loaded with hate mail. She spent the next two days writing lengthy explanations to the most common accusations — "How dare you brainwash those kids!" and "Are you raising up Christian terrorists or another Hitler Youth movement?" — then posted them on her website Thursday.

"I've gotten thousands of hits on my website from those people," she said. "I'm wearing sunglasses in the airports. It's really making me nervous."

Haggard — who appears in the film noting that when evangelicals vote, they determine an election — acknowledged he "hated" the film and called it "propaganda" for the far left. He said the filmmakers take the charismatic, evangelical jargon too literally and portray the children's and Fischer's "war talk" as violent and extremist, when it's just allegorical....

Speaker At 'Values Voter Summit' Recommends Church-Based Organizing Plan Based On Deception
A speaker at this past weekend’s “Values Voter Summit” in Washington, D.C., outlined a plan to organize churches on behalf of political candidates that relies heavily on deception and even outright lies.

Long-time far-right activist Connie Marshner ran a session titled “Getting Church Voters to the Polls.” She distributed an 18-page document that she said was originally prepared for U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum’s 2000 reelection effort but that can be used for others....

...he plan calls on church members to use their church directories to find voters who favor a certain candidate. Those voters are then targeted for follow-up calls. On election day, only persons identified as supporting the “favored” candidate will be reminded to vote.

Marshner instructed the audience to give the directory to someone who does not attend the church and instruct them to call each person listed in it posing as a non-partisan pollster. According to a script in the manual, the caller should say, “Hello, I’m with ABC Polls. We’re calling in your area to find out the level of interest in the upcoming [U.S. Senate/House of Representatives/state assembly/town council/school board/etc.] election.”

“It’s very important that the person doing the calling is not known to the person being called,” Marshner told attendees. “Get someone from outside the church.”

Marshner cautioned callers not to admit they were using a church directory. When someone in the audience asked what to say if the caller were asked directly if he or she was using a church list, she replied, “I haven’t heard a perfect answer to that question. It’s a delicate answer.”

She also dissembled when asked what to say if someone asked the caller if he or she were representing a candidate, remarking, “Just say I’m collecting information about the candidates.”

Marshner also told attendees that this plan could be implemented without the knowledge of the pastor. “Even if you have a pastor like that who doesn’t want to do politics, you can use this plan,” she said....

Front Line Dilemma
Christians in intelligence services are conflicted over the use of torture.

...Christians told CT that they desperately needed biblical insight, because Christians are deeply involved in the chain of influence, all the way from Washington to military and intelligence operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Cuba's Guantanamo Bay, including:

• President Bush, who exempted suspected terrorists from protections in the Geneva Conventions. On February 7, 2002, Bush signed a statement that declared, "I … determine that none of the provisions of Geneva apply to our conflict with Al Qaeda in Afghanistan or elsewhere throughout the world."

• Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who, with acting Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England, argued behind closed doors that U.S. torture policies harm the war on terror.

• Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, his aide John Yoo, and other evangelical lawyers, who promoted a "new paradigm" to fight the war on terror, which they claimed "renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners."

• Lt. Gen. William G. "Jerry" Boykin (popular as a speaker at churches before the Pentagon told him to lower his profile), who has been a key Pentagon planner in the worldwide pursuit of Al Qaeda terrorists....

..."Ladies, you can get a 'special visa' to Guantanamo," an interrogator with the Third Army Division told his male Muslim prisoners in Afghanistan. The soldier, who asked for anonymity, recounted his experience during a recent interview with ct.

"You will be placed in cages where you may be dealt with at leisure by a bull of our choice," he told the prisoners. "Or, you can tell us what we want to know now." The soldier is an ordinary Southern Baptist churchgoer from Texas. He voted for fellow Texan George W. Bush, explaining, "He's a Christian man."...

...Christians in intelligence services told CT that the torture debate must be approached as a worldview issue in another sense, as well. Recalling his stint as an interrogator in Afghanistan, Mackey said, "I was drifting toward relativism in my faith. But I was confronted with militant Muslims who want to destroy us, and also my own ambivalent moral responses. I am not a relativist any more."

For however long the global war on terror lasts, Christians in America's intelligence services say that believing Christians must never surrender their absolute spiritual values.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Change Dividing Southern Baptist Mega-Church
Rick Warren's "Purpose-Driven" church model is being blamed in a developing split in one of the Southern Baptist Convention's most prominent churches.

...Other rumors are that Gaines negotiated a salary twice the size of his predecessor, one figure tossed around was $500,000. Gaines and others said the church doesn't disclose salaries, but his isn't nearly that high. Questions about hiring, firing and staff compensation allegedly went unanswered, and church members were refused copies of the church bylaws.

One former deacon and long-time member gave an on-line interview describing how, after asking questions about compensation and other administrative matters, four uninvited visitors, including Gaines, came to his home in a gated community, climbing over a fence marked with a no-trespassing sign.

The four men said the visit was an attempt to seek reconciliation, but the homeowner, Mark Sharpe, who wasn't at home when it occurred, viewed it as intimidation.

He said Gaines called him after 11:00 one evening and told him he was "Hezbollah" and personally sending people to hell by his actions....

Sunday, September 24, 2006

On Disobedience - Erich Fromm
All martyrs of religious faiths, of freedom and of science have had to disobey those who wanted to muzzle them in order to obey their own consciences, the laws of humanity and of reason. If a man can only obey and not disobey, he is a slave; if he can only disobey and not obey, he is a rebel (not a revolutionary); he acts out of anger,disappointment, resentment, yet not in the name of a conviction or a principle. -- E.Fromm

For centuries kings, priests, feudal lords, industrial bosses and parents have insisted that obedience is a virtue and that disobedience is a vice. In order to introduce another point of view, let us set against this position the following statement: human history began with an act of disobedience, and it is not unlikely that it will be, terminated by an act of obedience.

Human history was ushered in by an act of disobedience according to the Hebrew and Greek myths. Adam and Eve, living in the Garden of Eden, were part of nature; they were in harmony with it, yet did not transcend it. They were in nature as the fetus is in the womb of the mother. They were human, and at the same time not yet human. All this changed when they disobeyed an order. By breaking the ties with earth and mother, by cutting the umbilical cord, man emerged from a pre-human harmony and was able to take the first step into independence and freedom. The act of disobedience set Adam and Eve free and opened their eyes. They recognized each other as strangers and the world outside them as strange and even hostile. Their act of disobedience broke the primary bond with nature and made them individuals. "Original sin," far from corrupting man, set him free; it was the beginning of history. Man had to leave the Garden of Eden in order to learn to rely on his own powers and to be come fully human.

The prophets, in their messianic concept, confirmed the idea that man had been right in disobeying; that he had not been corrupted by his "sin," but freed from the fetters of pre-human harmony. For the prophets, history is the place where man becomes human; during its unfolding he develops his powers of reason and of love until he creates a new harmony between himself, his fellow man and nature. This new harmony is described as "the end of days," that period of history in which there is peace between man and man, and between man and nature. It is a "new" paradise created by man himself, and one which he alone could create because he was forced to leave the "old" paradise as a result of his disobedience.

Just as the Hebrew myth of Adam and Eve, so the Greek myth of Prometheus sees all of human civilization based on an act of disobedience. Prometheus, in stealing the fire from the gods, lays the foundation for the evolution of man. There would be no human history were it not for Prometheus' "crime." He, like Adam and Eve, is punished for his disobedience. But he does not repent and ask for forgiveness. On the contrary, he proudly says: "I would rather be chained to this rock than be the obedient servant of the gods. "

Man has continued to evolve by acts of disobedience. Not only was his spiritual development possible only because there were men who dared to say no to the powers that be in the name of their conscience or their faith, but also his intellectual development was dependent on the capacity for being disobedient--disobedient to authorities who tried to muzzle new thoughts and to the authority of long-established opinions which declared a change to be nonsense.

If the capacity for disobedience constituted the beginning of human history, obedience might very well, as I have said, cause the end of human history. I am not speaking symbolically or poetically. There is the possibility, or even the probability, that the human race will destroy civilization and even all life upon earth within the next five to ten years. There is no rationality or sense in it. But the fact is that, while we are living technically in the Atomic Age, the majority of men--including most of those who are in power--still live emotionally in the Stone Age; that while our mathematics, astronomy,and the natural sciences are of the twentieth century, most of our ideas about politics,the state, and society lag far behind the age of science. If mankind commits suicide it will be because people will obey those who command them to push the deadly buttons; because they will obey the archaic passions of fear, hate, and greed; because they will obey obsolete clichés of State sovereignty and national honor. ...

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Judge: Man was tortured after U.S. got faulty info
Canadian sent to Syria based on misleading data from Mounties

OTTAWA — A government commission on Monday exonerated a Canadian computer engineer of any ties to terrorism and issued a scathing report that faulted both Canada and the United States for his deportation four years ago to Syria, where he was imprisoned and tortured.

The report on the engineer, Maher Arar, said American officials had apparently acted on inaccurate information from Canadian investigators and then misled Canadian authorities before sending Arar to Syria.

"I am able to say categorically that there is no evidence to indicate that Mr. Arar has committed any offense or that his activities constituted a threat to the security of Canada," Justice Dennis R. O'Connor, head of the commission, said at a news conference....

Monday, September 18, 2006

'Don’t strangle the anointed one,' wife pleaded in row over Mel Gibson film
A HUSBAND almost throttled his wife during a heated theological argument triggered by a controversial Mel Gibson film, a court heard.

Michael Watson loosened his grip on the throat of his wife, Patricia, only when she appealed to his faith by gasping: “Do not touch God’s anointed.”

The court was told that the couple, both devout Christians, celebrated his birthday with dinner and a bottle of wine before sitting down to watch The Passion of the Christ. ...

Sudan man forced to 'marry' goat

A Sudanese man has been forced to take a goat as his "wife", after he was caught having sex with the animal. ...

Friday, September 15, 2006

Bush Tells Group He Sees a 'Third Awakening'
President Bush said yesterday that he senses a "Third Awakening" of religious devotion in the United States that has coincided with the nation's struggle with international terrorists, a war that he depicted as "a confrontation between good and evil."

Bush told a group of conservative journalists that he notices more open expressions of faith among people he meets during his travels, and he suggested that might signal a broader revival similar to other religious movements in history. Bush noted that some of Abraham Lincoln's strongest supporters were religious people "who saw life in terms of good and evil" and who believed that slavery was evil. Many of his own supporters, he said, see the current conflict in similar terms.

"A lot of people in America see this as a confrontation between good and evil, including me," Bush said during a 1 1/2 -hour Oval Office conversation on cultural changes and a battle with terrorists that he sees lasting decades. "There was a stark change between the culture of the '50s and the '60s -- boom -- and I think there's change happening here," he added. "It seems to me that there's a Third Awakening."

The First Great Awakening refers to a wave of Christian fervor in the American colonies from about 1730 to 1760, while the Second Great Awakening is generally believed to have occurred from 1800 to 1830....

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Calgary woman left to miscarry in crowded ER waiting room
A Calgary woman is looking for answers after suffering a miscarriage in a hospital waiting room.

She was three months pregnant with her third child. She says staff told her there was a shortage of beds and she'd have to wait.

"I don't know why it happened that way, but it was wrong," she said....

..."We should not be having such overcrowded waiting rooms in hospitals. The emergency room situation in this province is ongoing and the lack of planning is evident."

Monday, August 28, 2006

Too successful: the hospitals forced to introduce minimum waiting times
After years of Government targets pushing them to cut waiting lists, staff are now being warned against "over-performing" by treating patients too quickly. The Sunday Telegraph has learned that at least six trusts have imposed the minimum times.

In March, Patricia Hewitt, the Secretary of State for Health, offered her apparent blessing for the minimum waiting times by announcing they would be "appropriate" in some cases. Amid fears about £1.27 billion of NHS debts, she expressed concern that some hospitals were so productive "they actually got ahead of what the NHS could afford".

The minimum waiting times, however, dismayed Katherine Murphy, of the Patients' Association, who said last night: "This all stems from bad financial planning and management. No wonder there is a crisis. If staff are available for an operation, they should be utilised."

Andrew Lansley, the shadow health secretary, added that the minimum waiting times shed new light on the Government's target that patients should wait no longer than six months. "It is outrageous that the purpose of the Government's targets is not so much to drive down waiting times, as to impose a six-month wait."...

Monday, August 21, 2006

The Post-8/10 World
Just hours before the police arrested 24 British-born Muslims suspected of plotting to blow up as many as 10 airliners over the Atlantic, the British home secretary, John Reid, gave a comprehensive description of how Tony Blair’s government saw the war on terror. Reid, who probably knew the raids were coming, called international terrorism the gravest threat to Britain since World War II and attacked civil libertarians as people who “just don’t get it.” He highlighted a speech that Blair had made little more than a week earlier. Global terrorism, Blair said then, “means traditional civil liberty arguments are not so much wrong as just made for another age.”

If you wanted to figure out how the airline plot will change the West, Blair’s words would be a good place to start. Fiery speeches have abounded in the five years since Sept. 11 2001, but this is a radical departure. Blair was not trying to buck us up and steel our resolve by saying that we’re at war and that we’ll have to pitch in and sacrifice our liberties for a while. He was saying that war has shown many of our liberties to be illusory. The “civil liberties” we know do not bubble up from natural law or from something timeless and universal in the human character. They may be significant accomplishments, but they are temporal ones, bound to certain stages of technology or to certain styles of social organization. Maybe there was something like an Age of Civil Liberties, Blair was telling us, but it is over. ...

Driving with Cash
...A federal appeals court ruled yesterday that if a motorist is carrying large sums of money, it is automatically subject to confiscation. In the case entitled, "United States of America v. $124,700 in U.S. Currency," the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit took that amount of cash away from Emiliano Gomez Gonzolez, a man with a "lack of significant criminal history" neither accused nor convicted of any crime....

Real Crime, Fake Justice
...Fraser’s lack of success in effecting any change in the criminals under his supervision, and thus in reducing the number of crimes that they subsequently committed, to the great misery of the general public, was not his failure alone but was general throughout the system. Even worse, he discovered that the bureaucrats who ran the system, and their political masters, did not care about this failure, at least from the point of view of its impact on public safety; careerist to the core, they were only concerned that the public should not become aware of the catastrophe. To this end, they indulged in obfuscation, statistical legerdemain, and outright lies in order to prevent the calamity that public knowledge of the truth would represent for them and their careers....

...By example after example (repetition being necessary to establish that he has not just alighted on an isolated case of absurdity that might be found in any large-scale enterprise), Fraser demonstrates the unscrupulous lengths to which both bureaucrats and governments have gone to disguise from the public the effect of their policies and decisions, carried out with an almost sadistic indifference to the welfare of common people.

He shows that liberal intellectuals and their bureaucratic allies have left no stone unturned to ensure that the law-abiding should be left as defenseless as possible against the predations of criminals, from the emasculation of the police to the devising of punishments that do not punish and the propagation of sophistry by experts to mislead and confuse the public about what is happening in society, confusion rendering the public helpless in the face of the experimentation perpetrated upon it.

The police, Fraser shows, are like a nearly defeated occupying colonial force that, while mayhem reigns everywhere else, has retreated to safe enclaves, there to shuffle paper and produce bogus information to propitiate their political masters. Their first line of defense is to refuse to record half the crime that comes to their attention, which itself is less than half the crime committed. Then they refuse to investigate recorded crime, or to arrest the culprits even when it is easy to do so and the evidence against them is overwhelming, because the prosecuting authorities will either decline to prosecute, or else the resultant sentence will be so trivial as to make the whole procedure (at least 19 forms to fill in after a single arrest) pointless....

...According to Fraser, at the heart of the British idiocy is the condescending and totally unrealistic idea—which, however, provides employment opportunities for armies of apparatchiks, as well as being psychologically gratifying—that burglars, thieves, and robbers are not conscious malefactors who calculate their chances of getting away with it, but people in the grip of something rather like a mental disease, whose thoughts, feelings, and decision-making processes need to be restructured. The whole criminal-justice system ought therefore to act in a therapeutic or medical, rather than a punitive and deterrent, fashion. Burglars do not know, poor things, that householders are upset by housebreaking, and so we must educate and inform them on this point; and we must also seek to persuade them of something that all their experience so far has taught them to be false, namely that crime does not pay....

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Federal Pay: Myth and Realities
We've often heard that civil servants forgo higher private-sector salaries in order to serve the nation selflessly. Many federal bureaucrats are indeed hardworking, but new statistics show that they are anything but underpaid.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis released data this month showing that the average compensation for the 1.8 million federal civilian workers in 2005 was $106,579 -- exactly twice the average compensation paid in the U.S. private sector: $53,289. If you consider wages without benefits, the average federal civilian worker earned $71,114, 62 percent more than the average private-sector worker, who made $43,917.

The high level of federal pay is problematic in and of itself, but so is its rapid growth. Since 1990 average compensation for federal workers has increased by 129 percent, the BEA data show, compared with 74 percent for private-sector workers....

...One sign that federal workers have a sweeter deal than they acknowledge is the rate of voluntary resignation from government positions: just one-quarter the rate in the private sector, the BLS data show. Long job tenure has its pros and cons, but the fact that many federal workers burrow in and never leave suggests that they are doing pretty well for themselves....

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

SHH... IT'S STARTING: Punchin' in the Rain
Movie musicals and kung fu epics rank low on the realist's list of favorite types of film. Nobody breaks into song and dance in everyday life, let alone whole crowds of jubilant, synchronized, and coordinated citizens. Likewise, when a group of guys in the real world want to cause you harm, they attack you en masse instead of thoughtfully permitting you to elegantly dispatch them one by one. But to gripe about vérité is to entirely miss the point. The pleasure of both martial arts and dance movies comes from seeing the human body at work. Nobody understood that more than Gene Kelly and Bruce Lee, two performers whose legacies occupy a middle ground that's not quite dance and not quite violence.

Both Lee and Kelly were small, powerfully built men, each five foot seven inches of hard-earned muscle. Both were incredibly competitive, natural athletes with an insatiable thirst for exertion, and both were blessed with the kind of charisma — equal parts looks, joie de vivre, and damn-I'm-good confidence — that transfers easily to celluloid. Both were also intensely masculine personas working against a stereotype of sexual passivity (Kelly because dancers were suspected of being twinkletoes, Lee because he was Asian), misconceptions they battled with every resource available, including shamelessly exploiting their own sex appeal.

Standards of studio decency probably prevented Kelly from stripping to the waist like Lee did on the flimsiest of pretenses (ripped the neckline of your black bodysuit? Too hot to fight Chuck Norris at the Coliseum? Well, that shirt's just going to have to come off!) , but the nude bodysuit Kelly wears in An American In Paris (1951) leaves nothing to the imagination. Dressed or not, Kelly had a sensual, blue-collar, unpretentious demeanor that took all the starch out of dance and made enjoying his films an acceptable enterprise for regular Joes.

But aren't we forgetting someone? It's impossible to talk about movement on film without mentioning Fred Astaire, and rightly so. To watch Astaire in action — especially at his prime in films like Swing Time (1936) or Top Hat (1935) — is to experience a vicarious weightlessness unrivaled by anything NASA can cook up. But he's an affable neuter, a perfect gentleman who's probably as blank as a Ken doll beneath his top hat and tails. Gene Kelly, the self-described Brando of dance (to Astaire's Cary Grant,) was physical, prowling and pacing in proletarian getups (like the very Stanley Kowalski t-shirt and jeans he wears to waltz with a mop in Thousands Cheer (1943)) with an undercurrent of animalism. He could dance just as well as Astaire and he telegraphed the same unabashed joy when he did, but his very he-man style carried a tinge of sex and violence that places him closer to Bruce Lee. ...

Smith and "PowerPointless" Modernity in the Church
Mason, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. Smith is indeed recommending that we unload “the whole modern mind-set with its roots in the 18th century Enlightenment” and that we return in large measure to “traditional ways of knowing.” Yesterday I came across Debra Dean Murphy’s “PowerPointless” in Christian Century (July 25, 2006: 10-11). Here’s the gist of it with some comments here and there:...

US evangelist leads the millions seeking a battle with Islam
Anyone who wants to understand why Israel has such unwavering support from the United States should speak to one man.

Fiery television evangelist Pastor John Hagee has emerged as the rallying voice for thousands of American Christians who believe Israel is doing God's work in a "war of good versus evil".

When he strode on to a stage in Washington last month, he was cheered to the rafters by 3,500 prominent evangelicals - as well as by Israel's ambassador to America, a former Israeli chief of staff and a host of US congressmen of both parties....

...But today most of America's 60 million Christian evangelicals, who make up about a quarter of the US electorate and the essence of the President's "base", are behind Mr Bush's pro-Israeli position and are pushing for a showdown with Iran. As many as half of those are Christian Zionists.

Mr Hagee said: "What we have done is united all of this evangelical horsepower and said, 'We're not just going to Washington to stand on the grass and sing Amazing Grace. We're going into the halls of Congress to see the senators and to see the congressmen face-to-face and to speak to them about our concerns for Israel'."

His claim of political clout is no idle boast. The President sent a message of support praising him for "spreading the hope of God's Love and the universal gift of freedom". They met several times when Mr Bush was governor of Texas.

America has long identified with Israel against its Arab foes. This backing has been shored up in Washington by the influential Israeli lobby. It also reflects a cultural affinity which is greater in the wake of the September 11 attacks: for most Americans, Israel is on the front line against terrorism.

Another key factor in this bond, however, is Christian Zionism: a booming movement based on the idea that Israel's travails fulfil Biblical prophecy and are a forerunner of the battle of Armageddon and the Second Coming.

As the head of Christians United for Israel, an organisation linking hundreds of US evangelical leaders, it is no exaggeration to say that Mr Hagee is one of Israel's most influential supporters.

Outside his mega-church is a facsimile "Wailing Wall". Inside on a flagpole is the Israeli flag and tributes from Israeli visitors, including prime minister Ehud Olmert, who came several times when he was mayor of Jerusalem.

In his recent book, Jerusalem Countdown - A Warning to the World, Mr Hagee seeks a showdown between Islam and the West. "This is a religious war that Islam cannot and must not win," he writes. "The end of the world as we know it is rapidly approaching... Rejoice and be exceedingly glad the best is yet to be."...

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Secret Society
My favorite conspiracy theory is the one that says the world is being run by a handful of ultra-rich capitalists, and that our elected governments are mere puppets. I sure hope it’s true. Otherwise my survival depends on hordes of clueless goobers electing competent leaders. That’s about as likely as a dog pissing the Mona Lisa into a snow bank.

The only way I can get to sleep at night is by imagining a secret cabal of highly competent puppetmasters who are handling the important decisions while our elected politicians debate flag burning and the definition of marriage.

It’s the only explanation for how the governments of the world could be staffed with morons and yet everything still runs okay, sort of. Granted, things aren’t perfect, but when you hear our leaders talk, you have to wonder why our energy policy doesn’t involve burning asbestos on playgrounds. There must be some competent people pulling the strings behind the curtain, adjusting the money supply, twiddling with interest rates, choosing the winners for American Idol, and that sort of thing. ...

Lobbying for Armageddon
In a perfect world, a reporter at last week's press conference with George Bush and Tony Blair would have asked Bush, in the presence of his principal European ally, if he believes the European Union is the Antichrist....

...At the center of it all is Pastor John Hagee, a popular televangelist who leads the 18,000-member Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas. While Hagee has long prophesized about the end times, he ratcheted up his rhetoric this year with the publication of his book, "Jerusalem Countdown," in which he argues that a confrontation with Iran is a necessary precondition for Armageddon and the Second Coming of Christ. In the best-selling book, Hagee insists that the United States must join Israel in a preemptive military strike against Iran to fulfill God's plan for both Israel and the West. Shortly after the book's publication, he launched Christians United for Israel (CUFI), which, as the Christian version of the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee, he said would cause "a political earthquake."

At CUFI's kick-off banquet at the Washington Hilton, attended by over 3,500 members, Republican support for both Hagee's effort and his drumbeat for war with Iran were on full view. Republican National Committee Chair Ken Mehlman told the group that "no regime is more central to the global jihad" than Iran. Just two days before, Newt Gingrich and John McCain made the rounds of the Sunday talk shows to sound the same message, leading Benny Elon, a member of the Israeli Knesset, to comment to the Jerusalem Post that their remarks originated with Hagee. Rick Santorum and Sam Brownback also addressed the group, and Bush sent words of support to the gathering. Republicans, and even some Democrats, spoke at CUFI events to show their "support for Israel." But while public and media attention was on the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah, Hagee's focus continued to be on Iran....

...When addressing audiences receptive to Scriptural prophecy, however, Hagee welcomes the coming confrontation. He argues that a strike against Iran will cause Arab nations to unite under Russia's leadership, as outlined in chapters 38 and 39 of the Book of Ezekiel, leading to an "inferno [that] will explode across the Middle East, plunging the world toward Armageddon." In Hagee's telling, Israel has no choice but to strike at Iran's nuclear facilities, with or without America's help. The strike will provoke Russia -- which wants Persian Gulf oil -- to lead an army of Arab nations against Israel. Then God will wipe out all but one-sixth of the Russian-led army, as the world watches "with shock and awe," he says, lending either a divine quality to the Bush administration phrase or a Bush-like quality to God's wrath.

But Hagee doesn't stop there. He adds that Ezekiel predicts fire "upon those who live in security in the coastlands." From this sentence, he concludes that there will be judgment upon all who stood by while the Russian-led force invaded Israel, and issues a stark warning to the United States to intervene: "Could it be that America, who refuses to defend Israel from the Russian invasion, will experience nuclear warfare on our east and west coasts?" He says yes, citing Genesis 12:3, in which God said to Israel: "I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you."

To fill the power vacuum left by God's decimation of the Russian army, the Antichrist -- the head of the EU -- will rule "a one-world government, a one-world currency and a one-world religion" for three and a half years. (Hagee adds that "one need only be a casual observer of current events to see that all three of these things are coming into reality." The "demonic world leader" will then be confronted by a false prophet, identified by Hagee as China, at Armageddon, the Mount of Megiddo in Israel. As they prepare for the final battle, Jesus will return on a white horse and cast both villains -- and presumably any nonbelievers -- into a "lake of fire burning with brimstone," thus marking the beginning of his millennial reign.

Hagee doesn't fear a nuclear conflagration, but rather God's wrath for standing by as Iran executes its supposed plot to destroy Israel. A nuclear confrontation between America and Iran, which he says is foretold in the Book of Jeremiah, will not lead to the end of the world, but rather to God's renewal of the Garden of Eden....

Monday, July 31, 2006

Families Challenging Religious Influence in Delaware Schools
...“Because Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior, I will speak out for him,” said the Rev. Jerry Fike of Mount Olivet Brethren Church, who gave the prayer at Samantha’s graduation. “The Bible encourages that.” Mr. Fike continued: “Ultimately, he is the one I have to please. If doing that places me at odds with the law of the land, I still have to follow him.”

Mrs. Dobrich, who is Orthodox, said that when she was a girl, Christians here had treated her faith with respectful interest. Now, she said, her son was ridiculed in school for wearing his yarmulke. She described a classmate of his drawing a picture of a pathway to heaven for everyone except “Alex the Jew.”

Mrs. Dobrich’s decision to leave her hometown and seek legal help came after a school board meeting in August 2004 on the issue of prayer. Dr. Hattier had called WGMD to discuss the issue, and Mr. Gaffney and others encouraged people to go the meeting. Hundreds showed up.

A homemaker active in her children’s schools, Mrs. Dobrich said she had asked the board to develop policies that would leave no one feeling excluded because of faith. People booed and rattled signs that read “Jesus Saves,” she recalled. Her son had written a short statement, but he felt so intimidated that his sister read it for him. In his statement, Alex, who was 11 then, said: “I feel bad when kids in my class call me ‘Jew boy.’ I do not want to move away from the house I have lived in forever.”

Later, another speaker turned to Mrs. Dobrich and said, according to several witnesses, “If you want people to stop calling him ‘Jew boy,’ you tell him to give his heart to Jesus.”...

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Disowning Conservative Politics Is Costly for an Evangelical Pastor
MAPLEWOOD, Minn. — Like most pastors who lead thriving evangelical megachurches, the Rev. Gregory A. Boyd was asked frequently to give his blessing — and the church’s — to conservative political candidates and causes.

The requests came from church members and visitors alike: Would he please announce a rally against gay marriage during services? Would he introduce a politician from the pulpit? Could members set up a table in the lobby promoting their anti-abortion work? Would the church distribute “voters’ guides” that all but endorsed Republican candidates? And with the country at war, please couldn’t the church hang an American flag in the sanctuary?

After refusing each time, Mr. Boyd finally became fed up, he said. Before the last presidential election, he preached six sermons called “The Cross and the Sword” in which he said the church should steer clear of politics, give up moralizing on sexual issues, stop claiming the United States as a “Christian nation” and stop glorifying American military campaigns.

“When the church wins the culture wars, it inevitably loses,” Mr. Boyd preached. “When it conquers the world, it becomes the world. When you put your trust in the sword, you lose the cross.”...

...Sermons like Mr. Boyd’s are hardly typical in today’s evangelical churches. But the upheaval at Woodland Hills is an example of the internal debates now going on in some evangelical colleges, magazines and churches. A common concern is that the Christian message is being compromised by the tendency to tie evangelical Christianity to the Republican Party and American nationalism, especially through the war in Iraq. ...

...Mr. Boyd said he never intended his sermons to be taken as merely a critique of the Republican Party or the religious right. He refuses to share his party affiliation, or whether he has one, for that reason. He said there were Christians on both the left and the right who had turned politics and patriotism into “idolatry.”

He said he first became alarmed while visiting another megachurch’s worship service on a Fourth of July years ago. The service finished with the chorus singing “God Bless America” and a video of fighter jets flying over a hill silhouetted with crosses.

“I thought to myself, ‘What just happened? Fighter jets mixed up with the cross?’ ” he said in an interview.

Patriotic displays are still a mainstay in some evangelical churches. Across town from Mr. Boyd’s church, the sanctuary of North Heights Lutheran Church was draped in bunting on the Sunday before the Fourth of July this year for a “freedom celebration.” Military veterans and flag twirlers paraded into the sanctuary, an enormous American flag rose slowly behind the stage, and a Marine major who had served in Afghanistan preached that the military was spending “your hard-earned money” on good causes.

In his six sermons, Mr. Boyd laid out a broad argument that the role of Christians was not to seek “power over” others — by controlling governments, passing legislation or fighting wars. Christians should instead seek to have “power under” others — “winning people’s hearts” by sacrificing for those in need, as Jesus did, Mr. Boyd said.

“America wasn’t founded as a theocracy,” he said. “America was founded by people trying to escape theocracies. Never in history have we had a Christian theocracy where it wasn’t bloody and barbaric. That’s why our Constitution wisely put in a separation of church and state. ...

Reaching the Liberal Next Door: Are conservative politics a barrier to the gospel?
Two years ago our church was growing at the rate of about a hundred people per year and we were all very excited about what God was doing. As the pastor responsible for evangelism and assimilation, I had a unique perspective. One night after visiting a family that was new to our church, it occurred to me that no matter what walk of life a person came from to our church, there was one thing that I could be sure of; they had all watched the O’Reilly Factor on Fox News within the last week. They all voted for the same candidates and had conservative social views.

This bothered me because while I was very excited about what God was doing at our church, it was puzzling to me as to why God would do this. “Why would God build the church of people who all thought the same?” The fact is that there are a lot of people in our community that will never come to our church, and it isn’t because of Jesus—it’s because of us. Somehow we’ve mixed politics, ideology, and our vision for our country, with who we are as Christians. This is a barrier that causes many people who are not Christians to not even want to be around us. ...

Kingdom Confusion: Is the quest for political power destroying the church?
Like many evangelical pastors in the months before the 2004 election, I felt pressure from a number of right-wing political and religious sources, as well as from some people in my own congregation, to “shepherd my flock” into voting for “the right candidate” and “the right position.” Among other things, I was asked to hand out leaflets, to draw attention to various political events, and to have our church members sign petitions, make pledges, and so on. Increasingly, some in our church grew irate because of my refusal (supported by the church board) to have the church participate in these activities.

In April of 2004, as the religious buzz was escalating, I felt it necessary to preach a series of sermons that would provide a biblical explanation for why our church should not join the rising chorus of right-wing political activity. I also decided this would be a good opportunity to expose the danger of associating the Christian faith too closely with any political point of view, whether conservative or liberal. The series was entitled, “The Cross and the Sword."

The response surprised me.

For one thing, I had never received so much positive feedback. Some people literally wept with gratitude, saying that they had always felt like outsiders in the evangelical community for not “toeing the conservative party line.” Others reported that their eyes had been opened to how they had unwittingly allowed political and national agendas to cloud their vision of the uniquely beautiful kingdom of God....

...My thesis, which caused such an uproar, is this: I believe a significant segment of American evangelicalism is guilty of nationalistic and political idolatry....

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Our Dangerous Times
Today’s conservatives are eager to trade freedom for security.

...Was it so long ago that prominent conservatives vigorously opposed Bill Clinton’s power grabs and his trampling of due process? Or was there a hidden asterisk noting that government power should only be limited when Democrats occupy the White House? Now security trumps—or, in reality, political promises of security. Or perhaps, like the prior proclamations of fidelity to limited government, the fixation on safety is simply another ruse to smear liberals and spur donations. ...

...The vast majority of conservative commentators have never shown the slightest interest in the efficacy of the administration’s antiterrorism policies and share the Bush-Cheney attitude that a federal program is legal if the president says so. It seems to be widely assumed that what is good for Bush is good for America, so cheering on the war will make us safe.

Survival of the Republican congressional majority may hinge on suppressing criticism of administration policies, and this storm of media-bashing may be crafted to keep the lid on news about other government surveillance systems. Over a period of barely six months, leaks resulted in Americans learning that the feds were conducting thousands of warrantless phone taps in the U.S., that they had arm-twisted telephone companies to turn over the calling records of tens of millions of Americans, and that our government has been sifting through international banking records to its heart’s content. National Journal recently revealed that the Bush administration is continuing to pursue Total Information Awareness, even though Congress compelled the formal abandonment of that program in 2003. The endless threats of treason prosecutions against whistleblowers, reporters, and editors may be a last ditch attempt to prevent Americans from learning about secret presidential orders that would make the NSA wiretapping look like kids’ stuff.

Just because much of the media is biased does not mean that the Bush administration is trustworthy. Perhaps it is naïve to expect commentators to be more honest than politicians. But the “treason” stampede among right-wing talking heads indicates just how much conservatism has changed. And the Right’s knee-jerk defense of every Bush power grab has so decimated their credibility that prominent conservatives will have as much standing to gripe about Leviathan during a reign of someone like Hillary Clinton as her husband has to complain that American culture no longer respects chastity.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Waiting for the Tommies
DURING THE FIRST 24 HOURS OF THE BATTLE OF the Somme - exactly 90 years ago today - the British army suffered its highest-ever number of casualties sustained on a single day. Unbelievably, one half of the 120,000 British troops committed to the battle were killed or wounded, a total greater than the combined British combat losses in the Crimean, Boer and Korean conflicts. ...

Monday, July 17, 2006

There IS a problem with global warming... it stopped in 1998
For many years now, human-caused climate change has been viewed as a large and urgent problem. In truth, however, the biggest part of the problem is neither environmental nor scientific, but a self-created political fiasco. Consider the simple fact, drawn from the official temperature records of the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, that for the years 1998-2005 global average temperature did not increase (there was actually a slight decrease, though not at a rate that differs significantly from zero).

Yes, you did read that right. And also, yes, this eight-year period of temperature stasis did coincide with society's continued power station and SUV-inspired pumping of yet more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

In response to these facts, a global warming devotee will chuckle and say "how silly to judge climate change over such a short period". Yet in the next breath, the same person will assure you that the 28-year-long period of warming which occurred between 1970 and 1998 constitutes a dangerous (and man-made) warming. Tosh. Our devotee will also pass by the curious additional facts that a period of similar warming occurred between 1918 and 1940, well prior to the greatest phase of world industrialisation, and that cooling occurred between 1940 and 1965, at precisely the time that human emissions were increasing at their greatest rate....

...Two simple graphs provide needed context, and exemplify the dynamic, fluctuating nature of climate change. The first is a temperature curve for the last six million years, which shows a three-million year period when it was several degrees warmer than today, followed by a three-million year cooling trend which was accompanied by an increase in the magnitude of the pervasive, higher frequency, cold and warm climate cycles. During the last three such warm (interglacial) periods, temperatures at high latitudes were as much as 5 degrees warmer than today's. The second graph shows the average global temperature over the last eight years, which has proved to be a period of stasis.

The essence of the issue is this. Climate changes naturally all the time, partly in predictable cycles, and partly in unpredictable shorter rhythms and rapid episodic shifts, some of the causes of which remain unknown. We are fortunate that our modern societies have developed during the last 10,000 years of benignly warm, interglacial climate. But for more than 90 per cent of the last two million years, the climate has been colder, and generally much colder, than today. The reality of the climate record is that a sudden natural cooling is far more to be feared, and will do infinitely more social and economic damage, than the late 20th century phase of gentle warming....

Saturday, July 08, 2006

The disbeliever
Sam Harris, author of "The End of Faith," on why religious moderates are worse than fundamentalists, 9/11 led us into a deranged holy war, and believers should be treated like alien-abduction kooks.

...There's no document that I know of that is more despicable in its morality than the first few books of the Hebrew Bible. Books like Exodus and Deuteronomy and Leviticus, these are diabolical books. The killing never stops. The reasons to kill your neighbor for theological crimes are explicit and preposterous. You have to kill people for worshiping foreign gods, for working on the Sabbath, for wizardry, for adultery. You kill your children for talking back to you. It's there and it's not a matter of metaphors. It is exactly what God expects us to do to rein in the free thought of our neighbors.

Now, it just so happens, however, that most Christians think there's something in the New Testament that fully and finally repudiates all of that. And therefore, we do not have to kill homosexuals. We don't have to kill adulterers. And that's a very good thing that most Christians think it. Now, most Christians actually are not on very firm ground theologically to think that. It's not an accident that St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine thought we should kill or torture heretics. Aquinas thought we should kill them, Augustine thought we should torture them. And Augustine's argument for the use of torture actually laid the foundations for the Inquisition. So it's not an accident that we were burning heretics and witches and other people in Europe for five centuries under the aegis of Christianity. But Christianity is at a different moment in its history. ...

...I'd be the first to agree that it's better not to read these books literally. The problem is, the books never tell you that you're free not to read them literally. In fact, they tell you otherwise, explicitly so. Therefore, the fundamentalist is always on firmer ground theologically and -- I would argue -- intellectually than the moderate or the progressive. When you consult the books, you do not find more reasons to be a moderate or a liberal. You find more reasons to be a fundamentalist. I agree, it is a good thing to be cherry-picking these books and ignoring the bad parts. But we should have a 21st century conversation about morality and spiritual experience and public policy that is not constrained by superstition and taboo. In order to see how preposterous our situation really is, you need only imagine what our world would be like if we had people believing in the literal existence of Zeus. I defy anyone to come forward with the evidence that puts the Biblical God or the Quranic God on fundamentally different footing than the gods of Mt. Olympus. There are historical reasons why Zeus is no longer worshiped and the God of Abraham is. But there are not sound epistemological or philosophical or empirical reasons. ...

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The Individualist Code
...Take the story of the Good Samaritan. What if it went like this:

A traveler was mugged and left half-dead in a ditch beside the road. Immediately two government workers took him to a state-run facility and arranged for Medicaid payments, government housing assistance, and free psychological counseling.

Of course, that's not the way the story goes. Well, how about this:

Another traveler found the man, bound up his wounds, and took him to a hotel, where the rescuer promised to pay all his bills for the rest of his life.

But no, that's not the story, either.

In the authentic tale, Jesus says that a traveler is robbed and left half-dead, and that the official functionaries who find him render the aid that such people ordinarily render: none! Meanwhile, a private citizen, inspired by individual motives of love and good will, picks up the traveler, takes him to an inn, and arranges to pay his bills — not for the rest of his life, but while he's recovering. The giver and the receiver retain their individuality, and their independence.

Now try another story: Jesus' parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30). A businessman entrusts several hundreds of thousands of dollars to each of three employees. They're supposed to manage his money while he's out of town. When he returns, he is happy to discover that two of them have made enormous profits — 100%! Naturally, he gives them promotions. Then he turns to the third, who informs him that he, the employee, was afraid to lose the money entrusted to him — so he didn't make any investments at all! What does the boss do?

If he were a "social gospel" Christian, he would give everyone a reward, for the sake of economic equality; and he would be sure to discuss the evils of selfish profit-seeking and the necessity of taxing large "unearned incomes" (what the King James translation calls "usury"). The boss in Jesus' story takes the opposite approach: he fires the employee who didn't have enough initiative to make the biggest profit he could, and he never says anything about the dangers of private enterprise. The boss, incidentally, symbolizes the Lord himself.

I'm not suggesting that the New Testament is a handbook of capitalist economics, or a guide to libertarian politics. Jesus said — contrary to the assumptions of all those religious people who have tried to use the government to put themselves in power — "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36). Jesus was concerned with individual souls, not individual bank accounts....

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Ex-GI charged with rape of Iraqi, deaths
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - A former soldier discharged because of a "personality disorder" was accused in federal court Monday of executing an Iraqi family so he and other troops could rape and murder a young woman they had been eyeing at a traffic checkpoint.

Steven D. Green, a skinny, 21-year-old former private, was led into court wearing baggy shorts, flip-flops and a Johnny Cash T-shirt. He spoke only to confirm his identity and stared as a federal magistrate ordered him held without bond on murder and rape charges that carry a possible death penalty.

Green became the first person identified in the latest case of alleged killings of Iraqi civilians by U.S. troops, horrific deaths discovered in a burning house near Mahmoudiya in March that military officials initially blamed on insurgents.

According to a 10-page federal affidavit, Green and three other soldiers from the Fort Campbell, Ky.-based 101st Airborne Division had talked about raping the young woman, whom they first saw while working at the checkpoint. On the day of the attack, the document said, Green and other soldiers drank alcohol and changed out of their uniforms to avoid detection before going to the woman's house. Green covered his face with a brown T-shirt.

Once there, the affidavit said, Green took three members of the family — an adult male and female, and a girl estimated to be 5 years old — into a bedroom, after which shots were heard from inside.

"Green came to the bedroom door and told everyone, 'I just killed them. All are dead,'" the affidavit said....

..."After the rape, (the soldier) witnessed Green shoot the woman in the head two to three times," the affidavit said....

...An official familiar with details of the investigation in Iraq has told The Associated Press that a flammable liquid was used to burn the rape victim's body in an attempted cover-up.

The affidavit noted that prosecutors have photos taken by Army investigators in Iraq of all four bodies found inside a burned house and a photo of a burned body of "what appears to be a woman with blankets thrown over her upper torso."

The age of the young woman was unclear. FBI documents estimated her age at 25, but a neighbor of the family said the rape victim was 14 and her sister was 10.

The Washington Post reported the rape victim was 15 and that her mother worried her daughter had attracted the attention of U.S. soldiers at a checkpoint. The mother asked a neighbor if the girl could sleep at his house....

CIA closes unit charged with hunting down al-Qaida chiefs
WASHINGTON - The CIA has closed down a secret unit that for a decade had the mission of hunting Osama bin Laden and his top lieutenants, intelligence officials said Monday.

The terrorist tracking unit, known as "Alec station," was disbanded late last year and its analysts reassigned to other offices within the CIA's Counterterrorist Center, the officials said....