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, 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 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 clich├ęs 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....