Tuesday, February 28, 2006

What It Means to be a Republican today, op ed from Common Dreams, by Larry Beinhart

Published on Sunday, February 19, 2006 by CommonDreams.org
What It Means To Be A Republican
by Larry Beinhart

The vice president shoots you in the heart and in the face. Then you apologize for all the trouble it’s caused him. That’s what it means to be a Republican.

Despite almost hysterical warnings the president stays asleep at the wheel. He does nothing about terrorism and 9/11 happens. He responds by running away to Nebraska. Three days later he makes a supposedly impromptu speech with a bull horn on the rubble of the World Trade Center. He is universally cheered as a hero. That’s what it means to be a Republican. The president puts together false claims to go to war with the wrong country. His party universally supports him. That’s what it means to be a Republican.

The administration mismanages the war in Iraq so that it creates chaos, a breeding ground for terrorists and political opportunities for Islamic fundamentalists. Along the way, the reasons for going to war are exposed as false. The president runs on national security as his main issue. He is re-elected. That’s what it means to be a Republican.

The president cheerfully gives away the surplus to the richest people in the country. Then he runs up record debts, just to throw more money their way. He claims it has helped America’s economy. People act like they believe him. That’s what it means to be a Republican.

The administration continues it’s magnificent tradition of going to sleep when it is warned of disaster. It does nothing when Katrina is coming. It continues its record of doing nothing when disaster arrives. As New Orleans was lost, just as when the World Trade Center was lost, the president got as far away as possible. But he can’t be blamed for what nature did. That’s what it means to be a Republican.

The president orders wiretaps without warrants, a straightforward violation of the constitution. When the Attorney General is called to testify, the head of the Judiciary Committee insists that his testimony not be under oath. The head of the intelligence committee suggests that the law be changed, now, to make it legal after the fact. That’s what it means to be a Republican.

Alberto Gonzales helped come up with the program that rejected the Geneva Conventions, that permits torture, that says that the president is above the law and that “I was only following orders” should be a defense against a charge of war crimes. Ah, if only the Nazi war criminals who were hung at Nuremberg had Gonzales there to defend them. The president nominates Gonzales to be his new Attorney General. He is confirmed with little debate and no outrage. That’s what it means to be a Republican.

This needs to be understood.

What it implies is that Republicans can’t be dealt with as if reason and facts will sway them. Because it wont. It’s hard for reality based people, regular Democrats and Liberals to understand that.

What it let’s us know is that reality based people, Democrats, Liberals, real Conservatives, old-fashioned Republicans and non-profit Christians have to take more vigorous and rigorous stands. Or reality and real American values and the American landscape will disappear, not just temporarily, but forever.

Larry Beinhart is the author of Wag the Dog, The Librarian, and Fog Facts: Searching for Truth in the Land of Spin.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Fifty Governers say Bush is weakening the National Guard

Bush Policies Are Weakening National Guard, Governors Say
Ny Times

WASHINGTON, Feb. 26 — Governors of both parties said Sunday that Bush administration policies were stripping the National Guard of equipment and personnel needed to respond to hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, forest fires and other emergencies.

Tens of thousands of National Guard members have been sent to Iraq, along with much of the equipment needed to deal with natural disasters and terrorist threats in the United States, the governors said here at the winter meeting of the National Governors Association.

The National Guard, which traces its roots to the colonial militia, has a dual federal-state role. Governors normally command the Guard in their states, but Guard members deployed overseas in support of a federal mission are under the control of the president.

The governors said they would present their concerns to President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Monday. In a preview of their message, all 50 governors signed a letter to the president opposing any cuts in the size of the National Guard.

"Unfortunately," the letter said, "when our National Guard men and women return from being deployed in foreign theaters, much of their equipment remains behind." The governors said the White House must immediately re-equip Guard units "to carry out their homeland security and domestic disaster duties."

Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, a Republican and chairman of the governors association, said: "The National Guard plays an incredibly valuable role in the states. What we are concerned about, as governors, is that when our troops are deployed for long periods of time, and their equipment goes with them but does not come back, the troops are very strained, and they no longer have the equipment they were trained to use."

Nearly one-third of the American ground forces in Iraq are members of the Army National Guard.

This month the Pentagon backed away from a budget proposal to reduce the authorized strength of the National Guard to 330,000 soldiers, from 350,000.

"We have no intention of cutting the number of Guard or Reserve brigades, reducing the number of Guard or Reserve soldiers, or cutting the level of Guard or Reserve funding," said the Army chief of staff, Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker.

Gov. Dirk Kempthorne of Idaho, a Republican, said Sunday that he was still "very concerned." The administration may have set aside the proposal on authorized strength, but it has not restored money to the budget to pay for 350,000 Guard members, he said.

In a recent report, the Government Accountability Office, an investigative arm of Congress, said that "extensive use of the Guard's equipment overseas has significantly reduced the amount of equipment available to governors for domestic needs."

Since 2003, the report said, the Army National Guard has left more than 64,000 pieces of equipment, valued at more than $1.2 billion, in Iraq. The Army has not kept track of most of this equipment and has no firm plans to replace it, the report said.

Governor Kempthorne said the National Guard was bearing "a totally disproportionate share" of proposed cuts in the growth of the Army's budget over the next five years, even as the Guard's responsibilities at home were increasing.

Governors of both parties said a Pentagon plan to reorganize the Army National Guard would significantly weaken its ability to save lives and property at home.

After Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, more than 40,000 Guard members helped evacuate storm victims, distributed food and water, provided emergency medical care, repaired homes and restored power.

Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco of Louisiana, a Democrat, said: "The Guard played an awesome role. We should be increasing the number of National Guard combat brigades, not reducing it."

Two other Democrats, Govs. Tom Vilsack of Iowa and Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas, said the strength and resources of Guard units in their states were being depleted.

"We are not only missing National Guard personnel," Ms. Sebelius said. "We are also missing a lot of the equipment that's used to deal with situations at home, day in and day out."

Despite assurances from top administration officials, Mr. Vilsack said, "many of us are very concerned about what we're hearing, that the Pentagon, the administration, might reduce the resources for the National Guard so they can redirect resources to pay for more boots on the ground, more full-time military."

David M. Walker, the comptroller general of the United States, who heads the Government Accountability Office, said the governors had some basis for their concerns.

"The Army cannot account for over half the equipment that Army National Guard units have left overseas," Mr. Walker said. "And it has not developed replacement plans for the equipment, as Defense Department policy requires."


Sunday, February 26, 2006

A Judicial Green Light for Torture, NY times

February 26, 2006
Editorial, New York Times
A Judicial Green Light for Torture

The administration's tendency to dodge accountability for lawless actions by resorting to secrecy and claims of national security is on sharp display in the case of a Syrian-born Canadian, Maher Arar, who spent months under torture because of United States action. A federal trial judge in Brooklyn has refused to stand up to the executive branch, in a decision that is both chilling and ripe for prompt overturning.

Mr. Arar, a 35-year-old software engineer whose case has been detailed in a pair of columns by Bob Herbert, was detained at Kennedy Airport in 2002 while on his way home from a family vacation. He was held in solitary confinement in a Brooklyn detention center and interrogated without proper access to legal counsel. Finally, he was shipped off to a Syrian prison. There, he was held for 10 months in an underground rat-infested dungeon and brutally tortured because officials suspected that he was a member of Al Qaeda. All this was part of a morally and legally unsupportable United States practice known as "extraordinary rendition," in which the federal government outsources interrogations to regimes known to use torture and lacking fundamental human rights protections.

The maltreatment of Mr. Arar would be reprehensible — and illegal under the United States Constitution and applicable treaties — even had the suspicions of terrorist involvement proven true. But no link to any terrorist organization or activity emerged, which is why the Syrians eventually released him. Mr. Arar then sued for damages.

The judge in the case, David Trager of Federal District Court in Brooklyn, did not dispute that United States officials had reason to know that Mr. Arar faced a likelihood of torture in Syria. But he took the rare step of blocking the lawsuit entirely, saying that the use of torture in rendition cases is a foreign policy question not appropriate for court review, and that going forward would mean disclosing state secrets.

It is hard to see why resolving Mr. Arar's case would necessitate the revelation of privileged material. Moreover, as the Supreme Court made clear in a pair of 2004 decisions rebuking the government for its policies of holding foreign terrorism suspects in an indefinite legal limbo in Guantánamo and elsewhere, even during the war on terror, the government's actions are subject to court review and must adhere to the rule of law.

With the Bush administration claiming imperial powers to detain, spy on and even torture people, and the Republican Congress stuck largely in enabling mode, the role of judges in checking executive branch excesses becomes all the more crucial. If the courts collapse when confronted with spurious government claims about the needs of national security, so will basic American liberties.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Bush Must Acknowledge Defeat in Iraq, by William F. Buckley, National Review

It Didn't Work
By William F. Buckley
The National Review

Friday 24 February 2006

"I can tell you the main reason behind all our woes - it is America." The New York Times reporter is quoting the complaint of a clothing merchant in a Sunni stronghold in Iraq. "Everything that is going on between Sunni and Shiites, the troublemaker in the middle is America."

One can't doubt that the American objective in Iraq has failed. The same edition of the paper quotes a fellow of the American Enterprise Institute. Mr. Reuel Marc Gerecht backed the American intervention. He now speaks of the bombing of the especially sacred Shiite mosque in Samara and what that has precipitated in the way of revenge. He concludes that "The bombing has completely demolished" what was being attempted - to bring Sunnis into the defense and interior ministries.

Our mission has failed because Iraqi animosities have proved uncontainable by an invading army of 130,000 Americans. The great human reserves that call for civil life haven't proved strong enough. No doubt they are latently there, but they have not been able to contend against the ice men who move about in the shadows with bombs and grenades and pistols.

The Iraqis we hear about are first indignant, and then infuriated, that Americans aren't on the scene to protect them and to punish the aggressors. And so they join the clothing merchant who says that everything is the fault of the Americans.

The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, elucidates on the complaint against Americans. It is not only that the invaders are American, it is that they are "Zionists." It would not be surprising to learn from an anonymously cited American soldier that he can understand why Saddam Hussein was needed to keep the Sunnis and the Shiites from each others' throats.

A problem for American policymakers - for President Bush, ultimately - is to cope with the postulates and decide how to proceed.

One of these postulates, from the beginning, was that the Iraqi people, whatever their tribal differences, would suspend internal divisions in order to get on with life in a political structure that guaranteed them religious freedom.

The accompanying postulate was that the invading American army would succeed in training Iraqi soldiers and policymkers to cope with insurgents bent on violence.

This last did not happen. And the administration has, now, to cope with failure. It can defend itself historically, standing by the inherent reasonableness of the postulates. After all, they govern our policies in Latin America, in Africa, and in much of Asia. The failure in Iraq does not force us to generalize that violence and antidemocratic movements always prevail. It does call on us to adjust to the question, What do we do when we see that the postulates do not prevail - in the absence of interventionist measures (we used these against Hirohito and Hitler) which we simply are not prepared to take? It is healthier for the disillusioned American to concede that in one theater in the Mideast, the postulates didn't work. The alternative would be to abandon the postulates. To do that would be to register a kind of philosophical despair. The killer insurgents are not entitled to blow up the shrine of American idealism.

Mr. Bush has a very difficult internal problem here because to make the kind of concession that is strategically appropriate requires a mitigation of policies he has several times affirmed in high-flown pronouncements. His challenge is to persuade himself that he can submit to a historical reality without forswearing basic commitments in foreign policy.

He will certainly face the current development as military leaders are expected to do: They are called upon to acknowledge a tactical setback, but to insist on the survival of strategic policies.

Yes, but within their own counsels, different plans have to be made. And the kernel here is the acknowledgment of defeat.


Thursday, February 23, 2006

Sell control over our Ports to the Arabs? No, you are not crazy: Bush White House supports this.

Op Ed in New York Times

Published: February 23, 2006


WHO could have imagined that, in the post-9/11 world, the United States government would approve a deal giving control over six major American ports to a country with ties to terrorism? But this is exactly what the secretive Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States has done.

Since 1999, the ports of New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia and other cities have been operated by a British concern, P & O Ports, which has now been bought by Dubai Ports World, a company controlled by the government of the United Arab Emirates. Defenders of the deal are claiming that critics, including the Republican and Democratic leaderships in Congress, are acting reflexively out of some bias against Arabs.

This is simply not true. While the United Arab Emirates is deemed by the Bush administration to be an ally in the war on terrorism, we should all have deep concerns about its links to terrorists. Two of the 9/11 hijackers were citizens of the emirates, and some of the money for the attacks came from there. It was one of only three countries in the world that recognized the Taliban regime. And Dubai was an important transshipment point for the smuggling network of Abdul Qadeer Khan, the Pakistani scientist who supplied Libya, Iran and North Korea with equipment for making nuclear weapons.

Most terrorism experts agree that the likeliest way for a weapon of mass destruction to be smuggled into our country would be through a port. After all, some 95 percent of all goods from abroad arrive in the United States by sea, and yet only about 6 percent of incoming cargo containers are inspected for security threats.

It is true that at the ports run by the Dubai company, Customs officers would continue to do any inspection of cargo containers and the Coast Guard would remain "in charge" of port security. But, again, very few cargo inspections are conducted. And the Coast Guard merely sets standards that ports are to follow and reviews their security plans. Meeting those standards each day is the job of the port operators: they are responsible for hiring security officers, guarding the cargo and overseeing its unloading.

Probably few Americans knew until this week that major ports were operated by a foreign company. Now several members of Congress are introducing bills that would prohibit such ownership. While President Bush has threatened a veto, certainly it is reasonable to reconsider whether such strategic assets should be controlled by any foreign entity.

The debate over the sale should also shed light on the mysterious workings of the Committee on Foreign Investment, an interagency body led by the secretary of the Treasury. Under current rules, the committee can approve deals in which foreign companies take over American properties with national security importance after just a 30-day review, and without the approval of the president.

If the committee does not approve a sale within this period it can — or if the acquirer is a foreign government it must — take an additional 45 days to conduct an "investigation," after which it has to make a recommendation to the president, who then has 15 days to approve or reject the deal. While the president must inform Congress of his decision, it has no review power. In this instance, even though the acquirer was a foreign government, no investigation was conducted and the president was not informed.

Obviously, the committee has a worrisome amount of power and the process is too rapid. At a minimum, the law should be changed to take away its power to decide matters with such a major bearing on national security on its own. And where a foreign power would be in control, the committee should thoroughly investigate and make a recommendation to the White House. Then, if the president approves the deal, Congress should have the ability to review and reverse it.

If our nation's treaties and trade agreements are important enough to require Congressional approval, then surely ceding control of our most important strategic assets to a foreign power should as well — especially in the new age of terrorism.

Clark Kent Ervin, the inspector general of the Homeland Security Department from 2003 to 2004, is the author of the forthcoming "Open Target: Where America is Vulnerable to Attack."

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

9/11 and God's Sport, by Bill Moyers

by Bill Moyers

This article was originally delivered on the occasion of Union Theological Seminary's 170th Convocation, September 7, 2005. Along with his wife, Judith Davidson Moyers, Mr. Moyers was the recipient of the Union Medal.

To be in the company of so many friends, faculty, and students of Union—in the presence of so many kindred spirits—is to be reminded of the great conversation that has occurred at Union Theological Seminary for l70 years. I find it exhilarating and intimidating just to imagine the long train of witnesses who constitute this community of faith.
Just in my lifetime:
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was studying here when he decided to return to his native Germany and join the resistance against Hitler and the Nazis. The choice cost him his life, but Bonhoeffer knew the threat to the church and to civilization of "replacing simple action by ambivalent thought;"
Henry Pitney Van Dusen taught here, challenging the faithful to beware of "Christian escapism" in the face of fascist aggression;"
Paul Tillich taught here, reminding his students that "being religious means asking passionately the question of the meaning of our existence and being willing to receive answers, even if the answers hurt;"
Reinhold Niebuhr taught here, always seeking to apply Christian morality to public issues even as he warned against the "ironic tendency of virtues to turn into vices when too complacently relied upon." It was his profound insight into human nature and the nature of politics that enabled so many of us to understand that "Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary;"
John Bennett taught here—the first holder of the Niebuhr chair in social ethics that is now to be filled by Gary Dorrien. Bennett went on to become Union's president, pioneered in the ecumenical movement, and courageously spoke out against those who charged that John F. Kennedy should not be president because he was a Roman Catholic;
Larry Rasmussen taught here. I heard him give a lecture some years ago on the environment and I left charged by his conviction that a living faith and a living ecology issue from the wonder that is our universe;
James Washington taught here. And Phyllis Trible. And James Forbes. So many talented and devoted teachers and administrators have been part of this community. Beyond the more public figures are all those men and women who have carried Union's influence out across the country and down through time. This community between Broadway and the Hudson became a vital intersection of religion and public life where people of faith threw themselves into the struggle for civil rights, for an end to the Vietnam war, for sanity in the nuclear age, and for the personal dignity of every person under the Constitution, including— especially including—those different from everyone else.
Listen quietly on such an occasion as this and you can hear that chorus of voices—the legions who have passed this way—calling us back to prophetic witness.
They are saying, "Union, the spirit of truth is under assault. Stand for truth."
They are saying, "Union, democracy is in peril. Stand for democracy."
They are saying, "Union, religion has bowed again to power and privilege. Stand for justice—and the faith that liberates God from partisan agendas."
They are saying, "Union, America is not the country it can be. We're troubled by fear and governed by deceit. Remind us of America's promise—and stand for the courage to fulfill it."
At the Central Baptist Church in Marshall, Texas, where I was baptized in the faith, we believed in a free church in a free state. I still do.
My spiritual forbears did not take kindly to living under theocrats who embraced religious liberty for themselves but denied it to others. "Forced worship stinks in God's nostrils," thundered the dissenter Roger Williams as he was banished from Massachusetts for denying Puritan authority over his conscience. Baptists there were a "pitiful negligible minority" but they were agitators for freedom and therefore denounced as "incendiaries of the commonwealth" for holding to their belief in that great democracy of faith—the priesthood of all believers. For refusing to pay tribute to the state religion they were fined, flogged, and exiled. In l651 the Baptist Obadiah Holmes was given thirty stripes with a three-corded whip after he violated the law and took forbidden communion with another Baptist in Lynn, Massachusetts. His friends offered to pay his fine for his release but he refused. They offered him strong drink to anesthetize the pain of the flogging. Again he refused. It is the love of liberty, he said, "that must free the soul."
Such revolutionary ideas made the new nation with its Constitution and Bill of Rights "a haven for the cause of conscience." No longer could magistrates order citizens to support churches they did not attend and recite creeds that they did not believe. No longer would "the loathsome combination of church and state"—as Thomas Jefferson described it—be the settled order. Unlike the Old World that had been wracked with religious wars and persecution, the government of America would take no sides in the religious free-for-all that liberty would make possible and politics would make inevitable. The First Amendment neither inculcates religion nor inoculates against it. Americans could be loyal to the Constitution without being hostile to God, or they could pay no heed to God without fear of being mugged by an official God Squad. It has been a remarkable arrangement that guaranteed "soul freedom."
It is at risk now, and I want to talk about why it is.
This week four years ago, the poet's prophetic metaphor became real again and "the great dark birds of history" plunged into our lives.
In the name of God they came. They came bent on murder and martyrdom. It was as if they rode to earth on the fierce breath of Allah himself, for the sacred scriptures that had nurtured these murderous young men are steeped in images of a violent and vengeful God who wills life for the faithful and horrific torment for unbelievers.
Yes, it's true: the Koran speaks of mercy and compassion and calls for ethical living. But such passages are no match for the ferocity of instruction found there for waging war for God's sake. The scholar Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer carefully traces this trail of holy violence in his important book, Is Religion Killing Us? [Trinity Press International: 2003]. In it he highlights some of the many verses in the Koran that the Islamic terrorists could have had in their hearts and on their lips four years ago as they moved toward their gruesome rendezvous. As I read some of them, visualize in your mind the scenes you remember from the morning of 9/11:
Those who believe Fight in the cause of Allah, and Those who reject Faith Fight in the cause of Evil. (4:76)
So We sent against them
A furious Wind through days of disaster, that
We might Give them a taste of a Penalty of humiliation In this Life; but
The Penalty of the Hereafter will be More Humiliating still: And they
Will find No help. (41:16)
Then watch thou For the Day
That the sky will Bring forth a kind
Of smoke (or mist)
Plainly visible, Enveloping the people: This will be a Penalty
Grievous. (44:10-11)
Did the people of the towns Feel Secure against the coming Of Our Wrath by night While they were asleep? Or else did they feel Secure against its coming in Broad daylight while they Played About (carefree)? Did they then feel secure Against the Plan of Allah?—But no one can feel Secure from the Plan of Allah, except those (Doomed) to ruin. (7:97-99)

In that spirit the holy warriors came—an airborne death cult, their sights on God's enemies: regular folks, starting the day's routine. One minute they're pulling off their jackets, shaking Sweet n' Low into their coffee, adjusting the height of their chair or a picture of a child or sweetheart or spouse in a frame on their desk, booting up their computer—and in the next, they are engulfed by a horrendous cataclysm. God's will. Poof!
But it is never only the number of dead by which terrorists measure their work. It is also the number of the living—the survivors—taken hostage to fear. The terrorists were after our psyche; they wanted to get inside our heads-deprive us of trust, faith, and peace of mind: keep us from ever again believing in a safe, just, and peaceful world, and from working to bring that world to pass. The writer Terry Tempest Williams has said "the human heart is the first home of democracy." Well, fill that heart with fear and people will give up the risks of democracy for the assurances of security; fill that heart with fear and you can shake the house to its foundations.
During that summer four years ago, our daughter and husband adopted their first baby. On the morning of September 11th, our son-in-law passed through the shadow of the World Trade Center toward his office a few blocks up the street. He arrived as the horrors erupted. He saw the flames, the falling bodies, the devastation. His building was evacuated, and for long awful moments he couldn't reach his wife—our daughter—to say he was okay. Even after they connected, it wasn't until the next morning that he was able to make it home. Throughout that fearful night, our daughter was alone with their new baby. Later she told us that for weeks thereafter she would lie awake at night, wondering where and when it might happen again, going to the computer at three in the morning to check out what she could about bioterrorism, germ warfare, anthrax, and the vulnerability of children. The terrorists had violated a mother's deepest space.
Who was not vulnerable? That morning Judith and I made it to our office at Channel Thirteen on West 33rd Street just after the second plane struck. Our building was evacuated although the two of us remained with other colleagues to do what we could to keep the station on the air. The next day it was evacuated again because of a bomb scare at the Empire State Building nearby. We had just ended a live broadcast for PBS when security officers swept through and ordered everyone out. This time we left. As we were making our way down the stairs, I took Judith's arm and was struck by the thought: Is this the last time I'll touch her? Could what we had begun together a half century ago end here on this dim, bare staircase? I forced the thought from my mind, willed it away, but in the early hours of morning, as I sat at the window of our apartment looking out at the sky, the sinister intruder crept back.
Terrorists hope for this. They plant time bombs in our heads, hoping to turn each and every imagination into a private hell governed by our fear of them.
They win only if we let them, only if we become like them: vengeful, imperious, intolerant, paranoid.

Having lost faith in all else, zealots have nothing left but a holy cause to please a warrior God. They win if we become holy warriors, too; if we kill the innocent as they do; strike first at those who had not struck us; allow our leaders to use the fear of terrorism to make us afraid of the truth; cease to think and reason together, allowing others to tell what's in God's mind. Yes, we are vulnerable to terrorists, but only a shaken faith in ourselves can do us in.
So over the past four years I have kept reminding myself of not only the horror but the humanity that was revealed that day four years ago, when through the smoke and fire we glimpsed the heroism, compassion, and sacrifice of people who did the best of things in the worst of times. I keep telling myself that this beauty in us is real, that it makes life worthwhile and democracy work and that no terrorist can take it from us.
But I am not so sure. As a Christian realist I honor my inner skeptic. And as a journalist I always know the other side of the story. The historian Edward Gibbon once wrote of historians what could be said of journalists. He wrote: "The theologians may indulge the pleasing task of describing religion as she descended from Heaven, arrayed in her native purity. A more melancholy duty is imposed on the historian [read: journalist]: He must discover the inevitable mixture of error and corruption which she contracted in a long residence upon earth, among a weak and degenerate race of beings."
The other side of the story:
Muslims have no monopoly on holy violence. As Jack Nelson-Pallmayer points out, God's violence in both sacred texts reflects a deep and troubling pathology "so pervasive, vindictive, and destructive" that it contradicts and subverts the collective weight of other passages that exhort ethical behavior or testify to a loving God.
Here's something else to visualize:
For days now we have watched those heart-breaking scenes on the Gulf Coast: the steaming, stinking, sweltering wreckage of cities and suburbs; the fleeing refugees; the floating corpses, hungry babies, and old people huddled together in death, the dogs gnawing at their feet; stranded children standing in water reeking of feces and garbage; families scattered; a mother holding her small child and an empty water jug, pleading for someone to fill it; a wife, pushing the body of her dead husband on a wooden plank down a flooded street; desperate people struggling desperately to survive.
Now transport those current scenes from our newspapers and television back to the first Book of the Bible—the Book of Genesis. They bring to life what we rarely imagine so graphically when we read of the great flood that devastated the known world. If you read the Bible as literally true, as fundamentalists do, this flood was ordered by God. For it is written in the sixth chapter of Genesis that God had enough of the earth and its corruptions. "And God said to Noah, 'I have determined to make an end of all flesh; for the earth is filled with violence through them; behold, I will destroy them with the earth.'" (6:5-l3). "I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life from under heaven; everything that is on the earth shall die." (6:l7-l9).

Noah and his family are the only humans spared—they are, after all, God's chosen. But for everyone else: ". . . the waters prevailed so mightily . . . that all the high mountains. .. .were covered. .. .And all flesh died that moved upon the earth, birds, cattle, beast. . . . and every man; everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life, died.. .." (7:17-23).
The flood is merely Act One. Read on: This God first "hardens the heart of Pharaoh" to make sure the Egyptian ruler will not be moved by the plea of Moses to let his people go. Then because Pharaoh's heart is hardened, God turns the Nile into blood so people cannot drink its water and will suffer from thirst. Not satisfied with the results, God sends swarms of locusts and flies to torture them; rains hail and fire and thunder on them destroys the trees and plants of the field until nothing green remains; orders every first-born child to be slaughtered, from the first-born of Pharaoh down to "the first-born of the maidservant behind the mill." The massacre continues until "there is not a house where one was not dead." While the Egyptian families mourn their dead, God orders Moses to loot from their houses all their gold and silver and clothing. Finally, God's thirst for blood is satisfied, God calls a halt to the slaughter—and boasts: "I have made sport of the Egyptians."
Violence: the sport of God. God, the progenitor of "Shock and Awe."
And that's just Act II. As the story unfolds women and children are hacked to death on God's order; unborn infants are ripped from their mother's wombs; cities are leveled—their women killed if they have had sex, the virgins taken at God's command for the pleasure of his holy warriors. God even sends Moses back to rebuke his soldiers for sparing the lives of 50,000 captives and tells them to finish the job. One tribe after another falls to God-ordered genocide: the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites—names so ancient they have disappeared into the mists as fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters, grandparents and grandchildren, infants in arms, shepherds, threshers, carpenters, merchants, housewives—living human beings, flesh and blood: "And when the Lord your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them; then you must utterly destroy them; you shall make no covenant with them, and show no mercy to them . . . (and) your eyes shall not pity them."
So it is written. Written in the Holy Bible.
Yes, I know: the early church fathers, trying to cover up the blood-soaked trail of God's sport, decreed that anything that disagrees with Christian dogma about the perfection of God is to be interpreted spiritually. Yes, I know: Edward Gibbon himself acknowledged that the literal Biblical sense of God "is repugnant to every principle of faith as well as reason" and that we must therefore read the scriptures through a veil of allegory. Yes, I know: we can go through the Bible and construct a God more pleasing to the better angels of our nature (as I have done). Yes, I know: Christians claim the Old Testament God of wrath was supplanted by the Gospel's God of love.

I know these things; all of us know these things. But we also know that what Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer calls the "violence-of-God" tradition remains embedded deep in the DNA of monotheistic faith. We also know that for fundamentalists the world over and at home the "sacred texts" remain the foundational texts of faith, considered to be literally God's word on all matters. Inside that logic you cannot believe in the virgin birth of Jesus, his crucifixion and resurrection and the great judgment of the end times, without also believing that God is sadistic, brutal, vengeful, callow, cruel, and savage—a killer beyond reckoning.
As millions do.
Let's go back to 9/11 four years ago.
The ruins were still smoldering when the reverends Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell went on television to proclaim that the terrorist attacks were God's punishment of a corrupted America. They and the government had adopted the agenda "of the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians" not to mention the ACLU and People for the American Way. Just as God had sent the Great Flood to wipe out a corrupted world, now—disgusted with a decadent America—"God almighty is lifting his protection from us." Critics said such comments were deranged. But millions of Christian fundamentalists and conservatives didn't think so. They thought Robertson and Falwell were being perfectly consistent with the logic of the Bible as they read it: God withdraws favor from sinful nations—the terrorists were meant to be God's wake-up call: better get right with God. Not many people at the time seemed to notice that Osama bin Laden had also been reading his sacred book closely and literally, and had called on Muslims to resist what he described as a "fierce Judeo-Christian campaign" against Islam, praying to Allah for guidance "to exalt the people who obey Him and humiliate those who disobey Him."
Suddenly we were immersed in the pathology of a "holy war" as defined by fundamentalists on both sides. You could see this pathology play out in General William Boykin. A professional soldier, General Boykin had taken up with a small group called the Faith Force Multiplier whose members apply military principles to evangelism with a manifesto summoning warriors "to the spiritual warfare for souls." After Boykin had led Americans in a battle against a Somalian warlord he announced, "I know my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his God was an idol."

Now Boykin was going about evangelical revivals preaching that America was in a holy war as "a Christian nation" battling Satan and that America's Muslim adversaries will be defeated "only if we come against them in the name of Jesus." For such an hour, America surely needed a godly leader. So General Boykin explained how it was that the candidate who had lost the election in 2000 nonetheless wound up in the White House. President Bush, he said, "was not elected by a majority of the voters—he was appointed by God." Not surprising, instead of being reprimanded for evangelizing while in uniform, General Boykin is now the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence. (Just as it isn't surprising that despite his public call for the assassination of a foreign head of state, Pat Robertson's Operation Blessing was one of the first groups to receive taxpayer funds from the President's Faith-Based Initiative for "relief work" on the Gulf Coast).
We can't wiggle out of this, folks. Alvin Hawkins states it frankly: [The Evil God: A Documented Study of the God of the Holy Book. Ex libris.] "This is not a problem that can be walked away from." We're talking about a convergence of religious and political forces that claim the right to decide the laws of the land according to biblical revelation as they interpret it and to enforce those laws on the nation as a whole. For the Bible is not just the foundational text of their faith; it has become the foundational text for a political movement.
Let me quickly acknowledge that people of faith have always tried to bring their interpretation of the Bible to bear on American laws and morals—this very seminary is part of that tradition; it's the American way, encouraged and protected by the First Amendment. But what is unique today is that the radical Religious Right has succeeded in taking over one of America's great political parties—the country is not yet a theocracy but the Republican Party is—and they are driving American politics. God is being used as a battering ram on almost every issue: crime and punishment, foreign policy, health care, taxation, energy, regulation, and so on.
What's also unique is the intensity, organization, and anger they have brought to the public square. Listen to their preachers, evangelists, and homegrown ayatollahs: Their virulent intolerance—their loathing of other people's beliefs, of America's secular and liberal values, of an independent press, of the courts, of reason, science and the search for objective knowledge—has become an unprecedented sectarian crusade for state power. They use the language of faith to demonize political opponents, mislead and misinform voters, censor writers and artists, ostracize dissenters, and marginalize the poor. These are the foot soldiers in a political holy war financed by wealthy economic interests and guided by savvy partisan operatives who know that couching political ambition in religious rhetoric can ignite the passion of followers as ferociously as when Constantine painted the sign of Christ on the shields of his soldiers and on the banners of his legions and routed his rivals in Rome. Never mind that the Emperor himself was never baptized into the faith; it served him well enough to make the God worshiped by Christians his most important ally and turn the Sign of Christ into the one imperial symbol most widely recognized and feared from east to west.
Let's take a brief detour to Ohio and I'll show you what I am talking about. In recent weeks a movement called the Ohio Restoration Project has been launched to identify and train thousands of "Patriot Pastors" to get out the conservative religious vote next year. According to press reports, the leader of the movement—the senior pastor of a large church in suburban Columbus—casts the 2006 elections as an apocalyptic clash between "the forces of righteousness and the hordes of hell." The fear and loathing in his message is palpable: He denounces public schools that won't teach creationism, require teachers to read the Bible in class, or allow children to pray. He rails against the "secular jihadists" who have "hijacked" America and prevent school kids from learning that Hitler was "an avid evolutionist." He links abortion to children who murder their parents. He blasts the "pagan left" for trying to redefine marriage. He declares that "homosexual rights" will bring "a flood of demonic oppression." On his church website you read that "Reclaiming the teaching of our Christian heritage among America's youth is paramount to a sense of national destiny that God has invested into this nation."
One of the most prominent allies of the Ohio Restoration Project is a popular televangelist in Columbus who heads a $40 million-a-year ministry that is accessible worldwide via l,400 TV stations and cable affiliates. Although he describes himself as neither Republican nor Democrat but a "Christocrat"—a gladiator for God marching against "the very hordes of hell in our society"—he nonetheless has been spotted with so many Republican politicians in Washington and elsewhere that he has been publicly described as a "spiritual advisor" to the party. The journalist Marley Greiner has been following his ministry for the organization, FreePress. She writes that because he considers the separation of church and state to be "a lie perpetrated on Americans—especially believers in Jesus Christ"—he identifies himself as a "wall builder" and "wall buster." As a wall builder he will "restore Godly presence in government and culture"; as a wall buster he will "tear down the church-state wall." He sees the Christian church as a sleeping giant that has the ability and the anointing from God to transform America. And the giant is stirring. At a rally in July he proclaimed to a packed house: "Let the Revolution begin!" And the congregation roared back: "Let the Revolution begin!"
(The Revolution's first goal, by the way, is to elect as governor next year the current Republican secretary of state who oversaw the election process in 2004 when a surge in Christian voters narrowly carried George Bush to victory. As General Boykin suggested of President Bush's anointment, this fellow has acknowledged that "God wanted him as secretary of state during 2004" because it was such a critical election. Now he is criss-crossing Ohio meeting with Patriot Pastors and their congregations proclaiming that "America is at its best when God is at its center).1"
The Ohio Restoration Project is spreading. In one month alone last year in the President's home state, a single Baptist preacher added 2000 "Patriot Pastors" to the rolls. On his Web site he now encourages pastors to "speak out on the great moral issues of our day . . . to restore and reclaim America for Christ."
Alas, those "great moral issues" do not include building a moral economy. The Christian Right trumpets charity (as in Faith Based Initiatives) but is silent on social and economic justice. Inequality in America has reached scandalous proportions: a few weeks ago the government acknowledged that while incomes are growing smartly for the first time in years, the primary winners are the top earners—people who receive stocks, bonuses, and other income in addition to wages. The nearly 80 percent of Americans who rely mostly on hourly wages barely maintained their purchasing power. Even as Hurricane Katrina was hitting the Gulf Coast, giving us a stark reminder of how poverty can leave people on the edge of the abyss, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that last year one million people were added to 36 million already living in poverty. And since l999 the income of the poorest one fifth of Americans has dropped almost nine percent.
None of these harsh realities of ordinary life seem to bother the radical religious right. To the contrary, in the pursuit of political power they have cut a deal with America's richest class and their partisan allies in a law-of-the-jungle strategy to "starve" the government of resources needed for vital social services that benefit everyone while championing more and more spending on corporate subsidies and larger tax cuts for the rich.
How else to explain the silence from their pulpits on the plight of millions of Americans without health insurance? On the gross corruption of politics by campaign contributions that skew government policies toward the wealthy at the expense of ordinary taxpayers? (On the very day that oil and gas prices reached a record high, the President signed off on huge taxpayer subsidies for energy conglomerates already bloated with windfall profits plucked from the pockets of average Americans filling up at gas tanks across the country; yet the next Sunday you could pass a hundred church signboards with no mention of a sermon on crony capitalism).
This silence on economic and political morality is deafening but revealing. The radicals on the Christian right are the dominant force in the governing party. Without them the government would not be in the hands of people who don't believe in government. They are culpable in upholding a system of class and race in which, as we saw last week, the rich escape and the poor are left behind. And they are on their way to diminishing government "of, by, and for the people" in favor of one based on Biblical authority.
For this is the crux of the matter: These religious radicals are defining religion as a particular religion and then defining it further as a particular brand of that religion so as to exclude all other views and versions as irreligious, immoral, or wrong. They believe the Bible to be literally true and that they alone know what it means. They want judges on our courts to be held accountable for interpreting the Constitution according to standards of biblical revelation as they define it. To get those judges they needed a party beholden to them. So the Grand Old Party—the GOP—has become God's Own Party, its ranks made up of God's Own People "marching as to war."
Go now to the Web site of an organization called America 2l http://www.america21.us/Home.cf.
There, on a red, white, and blue home page, you find praise for President Bush's agenda—including his effort to turn Social Security over to Wall Street and change tort laws to make it harder for citizens to sue large corporations. On the same home page is a reminder that "There are 7177 hours until our next National Election. .. .ENLIST NOW." Enlist in what? Just click again and you will read a summons to pastors "lead God's people in the turning that can save America from our enemies." Under the banner of "Remember—Repent—Return" you are told, in language reminiscent of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, that one of the unmistakable lessons of 9/11 is that America "has lost the full measure of God's hedge of protection. When we ask ourselves why, the scriptures remind us that ancient Israel was invaded by its foreign enemy, Babylon, in 586 B.C. ... (and) Jerusalem was destroyed by another invading foreign power in 70 A.D. ... Psalm l06:37 says that these judgments of God ... were because of Israel's idolatry. Israel, the apple of God's eye, was destroyed ... because the people failed ... to repent. "If America is to avoid a similar fate," the warning continues, we must "remember the legacy of our heritage under God and our covenant with Him and, in the words of II Chronicles 7:14: 'Turn from our wicked ways.'"
So what does this have to do with the political agenda praised on the home page? Well, squint and look at the small print at the bottom of the site. There the corporate, political, and religious convergence that dominates America today is revealed. The fine print reads: "America 21 is a 501(c) (4) not-for-profit organization whose mission is to educate, engage, and mobilize Christians to influence national policy at every level. Founded in l989 by a multi-denominational group of Pastors and Businessmen, it is dedicated to being a catalyst for revival and reform of the culture and the government." (emphasis added).
Consider the stakes:
In his last book, the late Marvin Harris, a prominent anthropologist of the time, wrote that "the attack against reason and objectivity is fast reaching the proportions of a crusade."
To save the American Dream, "we desperately need to reaffirm the principle that it is possible to carry out an analysis of social life which rational human beings will recognize as being true, regardless of whether they happen to be women or men, whites or black, straights or gays, employers or employees, Jews, or born-again Christians. The alternative is to stand by helplessly as special interest groups tear the United States apart in the name of their 'separate realities' or to wait until one of them grows strong enough to force its irrational and subjective brand of reality on all the rest."
That was written 25 years ago, just as the radical Christian right was setting out on its political holy war. The forces he warned against have gained strength ever since and now control the United States government. While they call themselves "conservative," they are radical; they have profaned the meaning of "conservative." But it has to be said that their success has come because of our acquiescence and timidity. Our democratic values are imperiled because too many people of reason are willing to appease irrational people just because they are pious. Republican moderates tried appeasement and survive today only in gulags set aside for them by the Karl Roves, Bill Frists and Tom DeLays. Democrats are divided and paralyzed, afraid that if they take on the organized radical right they will lose the next election and what little power they have; trying to learn God-talk, they're talking gobbledygook, compromising the strongest thing going for them—the case for a moral economy and the moral argument for the secular checks and balances that have made America "a safe haven for the cause of conscience."
As I look back on the conflicts and clamor of our boisterous past, one lesson for democracy stands above all others. It is that bullies—political bullies, economic bullies, and religious bullies—cannot be appeased; they have to be opposed with a stubbornness to match their own. This is never easy; these guys don't fight fair; "Robert's Rules of Order" is not one of their holy texts. But freedom on any front—freedom of conscience in particular—never comes to those who rock and wait, hoping someone else will do the heavy lifting. Christian realism—the kind that took root here at Union—requires us to see the world as it is, without illusions, and then take it on. With love, of course. But a certain kind of love. Your own Reinhold Niebuhr put it this way: "When we talk about love we have to become mature or we will become sentimental. Basically love means ... being responsible, responsibility to our family, toward our civilization, and now by the pressures of history, toward the universe of humankind."
There it is, Union. America needs a new burst of Christian realism. We're waiting for you.

Association for Religion and Intellectual Life.
Source: Cross Currents, Winter, 2005-06, Vol. 55, #4.
This journal is highly recommended for its incisive commentary
of current cultural issues intersecting faith, religion and thought.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Danish Cartoons: the Real Outrage, by Tariq Ali.

This is the real outrage

Amid the cartoon furore, Danish imams ignore the
tragedies suffered by Muslims across the world

Tariq Ali Monday February 13, 2006 The Guardian


The latest round of culture wars does neither side any
good. The western civilisational fundamentalists
insist on seeing Muslims as the other - different,
alien and morally evil. Jyllands-Posten published the
cartoons in bad faith. Their aim was not to engage in
debate but to provoke, and they succeeded. The same
newspaper declined to print caricatures of Jesus. I am
an atheist and do not know the meaning of the
"religious pain" that is felt by believers of every
cast when what they believe in is insulted. I am not
insulted by billions of Christians, Muslims and Jews
believing there is a God and praying to this
nonexistent deity on a regular basis.

But the cartoon depicting Muhammad as a terrorist is a
crude racist stereotype. The implication is that every
Muslim is a potential terrorist. This is the sort of
nonsense that leads to Islamophobia.

Muslims have every right to protest, but the
overreaction was unnecessary. In reality, the number
of original demonstrators was tiny: 300 in Pakistan,
400 in Indonesia, 200 in Tripoli, a few hundred in
Britain (before Saturday's bigger reconciliation
march), and government-organised hoodlums in Damascus
burning an embassy. Beirut was a bit larger. Why blow
this up and pretend that the protests had entered the
subsoil of spontaneous mass anger? They certainly
haven't anywhere in the Muslim world, though the
European media has been busy fertilising the
widespread ignorance that exists in this continent.

How many citizens have any real idea of what the
Enlightenment really was? French philosophers did take
humanity forward by recognising no external authority
of any kind, but there was a darker side. Voltaire:
"Blacks are inferior to Europeans, but superior to
apes." Hume: "The black might develop certain
attributes of human beings, the way the parrot manages
to speak a few words." There is much more in a similar
vein from their colleagues. It is this aspect of the
Enlightenment that appears to be more in tune with
some of the generalised anti-Muslim ravings in the

What I find interesting is that these demonstrations
and embassy-burnings are a response to a tasteless
cartoon. Did the Danish imam who travelled round the
Muslim world pleading for this show the same anger at
Danish troops being sent to Iraq? The occupation of
Iraq has costs tens of thousands of Iraqi lives. Where
is the response to that or the tortures in Abu Ghraib?
Or the rapes of Iraqi women by occupying soldiers?
Where is the response to the daily deaths of
Palestinians? These are the issues that anger me. Last
year Afghans protested after a US marine in Guantanamo
had urinated on the Qur'an. It was a vile act and
there was an official inquiry. The marine in question
explained that he had been urinating on a prisoner and
a few drops had fallen accidentally on the Qur'an - as
if pissing on a prisoner (an old imperial habit) was
somehow more acceptable.

Yesterday, footage of British soldiers brutalising and
abusing civilians in Iraq - beating teenagers with
batons until they pass out, posing for the camera as
they kick corpses - was made public. No one can
seriously imagine these are the isolated incidents the
Ministry of Defence claims; they are of course the
norm under colonial occupations. Who will protest now
- the media pundits defending the Enlightenment or
Muslim clerics frothing over the cartoons?

It's strange that the Danish imams and their friends
abroad ignore the real tragedy and instead ensure that
the cartoons are now being reprinted everywhere. How
will it end? Like all these things do, with no gains
on either side and a last tango in Copenhagen around a
mountain of unused butter. Meanwhile, in Iraq,
Afghanistan and Palestine the occupations continue.

. Tariq Ali is the author of Clash of Fundamentalisms:
Crusades, Jihads and Modernity.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

THE CARTOON CONTROVERSY: Misunderstanding Muslims

Misunderstanding Muslims
By James Carroll | February 13, 2006

WHEN THE KORAN was said to have been denigrated by American guards at Guantanamo last year, Muslims reacted with rage, but most observers in the West misunderstood why.

It was easy for Christians and Jews -- the other "people of the Book" -- to think that such an insult to the Koran was like an insult to the Bible. That would be sacrilege enough, but it was worse than that.

Drawing analogies between religions can mislead, but the Koran stands in Islamic belief more as Jesus does in Christian faith than as the Bible. As this Christian understands it, the Koran embodies the incarnational principle, with the chanting of the holy words that came from God to Mohammed as the way God's presence is experienced again.

Non-Muslims tend to think that the Prophet is to Islam something like what Jesus is to Christianity (which is why non-Muslims have mistakenly called the religion "Mohammedanism"), but it is the Koran that holds such a central place. Hence, Islamic visual celebration is calligraphy, not images. Therefore when the Koran is disrespected, the insult Muslims feel is nothing less than insult to God.

Insult, of course, is the issue that has been put so explosively before the world recently. The Danish cartoons were a flame applied to a primed fuse, and the extraordinary reactions to the images from across the whole House of Islam point beyond the immediate provocation to a far broader sense of insult that Muslims have been made to feel.

One need not excuse the indiscriminate violence of mobs in the streets, nor dismiss the good question of why such rage is not directed against the blasphemy of suicide-murders carried out in the name of Allah to take a lesson from what has happened. The Islamic world seems astoundingly united in sending a stern message to "the West," and instead of focusing again on "what went wrong" with Islam Europeans and Americans would do well to take that message in.

Thinking of deep history, for example, we might recall that the very structures of politics, culture, and thought that define western civilization were expressly erected in opposition to Islam more than 1,000 years ago.

What we call "the West" was born in the clash of civilizations that climaxed in the Crusades, with Muslims assigned the role of the external "negative other" against which Christendom defined itself positively (The internal "negative other" were the Jews). Among Europeans, and then Americans, that intellectual polarity was sublimated over the centuries, but its insult remained current among Muslims, and was powerfully resuscitated by the assault of colonialism.

The economics of oil, including the creation of an oppressive local class of Western-sponsored oligarchs, locked the grievous insult in place. As if to be sure it was more sharply felt than ever, Europe imported "guest workers" from the Islamic world, openly consigning them to an underclass that is as religiously defined as it is permanent.

And then the United States launched its wars. One of the major disconnects in the present conflict is the way in which European and American analysis obsesses with the apparently anarchic outbursts of violence in the "Arab street" without taking in how brutally violent the post-9/11 "coalition" assault has been, not only physically but psychologically.

Mobs throw stones through the windows of European consulate offices, and the legion of CNN watchers recoils with horror. Meanwhile, unmanned drones fly across stretches of desert to drop loads of fire on the heads of subsistence farmers in their villages; children die, but CNN is not there.

Billions of dollars are being poured each month into the project of imposing an American solution on an Arab problem, and increasingly the solution looks, from the other side, like annihilation. Muslims, that is, understand the new reality far better than non-Muslims do -- the state of open cultural warfare that "the West" imagines is a narrowly targeted war against "terrorism." Muslims, as Muslims, experience themselves as on the receiving end of a savage -- but, alas, not unprecedented -- assault.

Are they wrong? In the argument over "Enlightenment" values, sparked by the cartoons, some champions of free expression have fallen into the deadly old mistake that led, in the 20th century, to a grotesque betrayal of those very values -- the over-under ranking of human beings, with the lives of some being counted as cheap.

Why are we killing them? As with multiple problems today, this one comes back to the misbegotten American war. It threatens to ignite the century, and must be stopped.

James Carroll's column appears regularly in the Globe.

Monday, February 13, 2006

The Trust Gap

The Trust Gap
The New York Times | Editorial

Sunday 12 February 2006

We can't think of a president who has gone to the American people more often than George W. Bush has to ask them to forget about things like democracy, judicial process and the balance of powers - and just trust him. We also can't think of a president who has deserved that trust less.

This has been a central flaw of Mr. Bush's presidency for a long time. But last week produced a flood of evidence that vividly drove home the point.

Domestic Spying

After 9/11, Mr. Bush authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on the conversations and e-mail of Americans and others in the United States without obtaining a warrant or allowing Congress or the courts to review the operation. Lawmakers from both parties have raised considerable doubt about the legality of this program, but Attorney General Alberto Gonzales made it clear last Monday at a Senate hearing that Mr. Bush hasn't the slightest intention of changing it.

According to Mr. Gonzales, the administration can be relied upon to police itself and hold the line between national security and civil liberties on its own. Set aside the rather huge problem that our democracy doesn't work that way. It's not clear that this administration knows where the line is, much less that it is capable of defending it. Mr. Gonzales's own dedication to the truth is in considerable doubt. In sworn testimony at his confirmation hearing last year, he dismissed as "hypothetical" a question about whether he believed the president had the authority to conduct warrantless surveillance. In fact, Mr. Gonzales knew Mr. Bush was doing just that, and had signed off on it as White House counsel.

The Prison Camps

It has been nearly two years since the Abu Ghraib scandal illuminated the violence, illegal detentions and other abuses at United States military prison camps. There have been Congressional hearings, court rulings imposing normal judicial procedures on the camps, and a law requiring prisoners to be treated humanely. Yet nothing has changed. Mr. Bush also made it clear that he intends to follow the new law on the treatment of prisoners when his internal moral compass tells him it is the right thing to do.

On Thursday, Tim Golden of The Times reported that United States military authorities had taken to tying up and force-feeding the prisoners who had gone on hunger strikes by the dozens at Guantánamo Bay to protest being held without any semblance of justice. The article said administration officials were concerned that if a prisoner died, it could renew international criticism of Gitmo. They should be concerned. This is not some minor embarrassment. It is a lingering outrage that has undermined American credibility around the world.

According to numerous news reports, the majority of the Gitmo detainees are neither members of Al Qaeda nor fighters captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan. The National Journal reported last week that many were handed over to the American forces for bounties by Pakistani and Afghan warlords. Others were just swept up. The military has charged only 10 prisoners with terrorism. Hearings for the rest were not held for three years and then were mostly sham proceedings.

And yet the administration continues to claim that it can be trusted to run these prisons fairly, to decide in secret and on the president's whim who is to be jailed without charges, and to insist that Gitmo is filled with dangerous terrorists.

The War-in Iraq

One of Mr. Bush's biggest "trust me" moments was when he told Americans that the United States had to invade Iraq because it possessed dangerous weapons and posed an immediate threat to America. The White House has blocked a Congressional investigation into whether it exaggerated the intelligence on Iraq, and continues to insist that the decision to invade was based on the consensus of American intelligence agencies.

But the next edition of the journal Foreign Affairs includes an article by the man in charge of intelligence on Iraq until last year, Paul Pillar, who said the administration cherry-picked intelligence to support a decision to invade that had already been made. He said Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney made it clear what results they wanted and heeded only the analysts who produced them. Incredibly, Mr. Pillar said, the president never asked for an assessment on the consequences of invading Iraq until a year after the invasion. He said the intelligence community did that analysis on its own and forecast a deeply divided society ripe for civil war.

When the administration did finally ask for an intelligence assessment, Mr. Pillar led the effort, which concluded in August 2004 that Iraq was on the brink of disaster. Officials then leaked his authorship to the columnist Robert Novak and to The Washington Times. The idea was that Mr. Pillar was not to be trusted because he dissented from the party line. Somehow, this sounds like a story we have heard before.

Like many other administrations before it, this one sometimes dissembles clumsily to avoid embarrassment. (We now know, for example, that the White House did not tell the truth about when it learned the levees in New Orleans had failed.) Spin-as-usual is one thing. Striking at the civil liberties, due process and balance of powers that are the heart of American democracy is another.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

President Jonah, (redux), by Gore Vidal, posted on www.truthdig.com

President Jonah (redux)
Posted on Feb. 7, 2006

By Gore Vidal

While contemplating the ill-starred presidency of G.W. Bush, I looked about for some sort of divine analogy. As usual, when in need of enlightenment, I fell upon the Holy Bible, authorized King James version of 1611; turning by chance to the Book of Jonah, I read that Jonah, who, like Bush, chats with God, had suffered a falling out with the Almighty and thus became a jinx dogged by luck so bad that a cruise liner, thanks to his presence aboard, was about to sink in a storm at sea. Once the crew had determined that Jonah, a passenger, was the jinx, they threw him overboard and—Lo!—the storm abated. The three days and nights he subsequently spent in the belly of a nauseous whale must have seemed like a serious jinx to the digestion-challenged whale who extruded him much as the decent opinion of mankind has done to Bush.

Originally, God wanted Jonah to give hell to Nineveh, whose people, God noted disdainfully, “cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand,” so like the people of Baghdad who cannot fathom what democracy has to do with their destruction by the Cheney-Bush cabal. But the analogy becomes eerily precise when it comes to the hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico at a time when a president is not only incompetent but plainly jinxed by whatever faith he cringes before. Witness the ongoing screw-up of prescription drugs. Who knows what other disasters are in store for us thanks to the curse he is under? As the sailors fed the original Jonah to a whale, thus lifting the storm that was about to drown them, perhaps we the people can persuade President Jonah to retire to his other Eden in Crawford, Texas, taking his jinx with him. We deserve a rest. Plainly, so does he. Look at Nixon’s radiant features after his resignation! One can see former President Jonah in his sumptuous presidential library happily catering to faith-based fans with animated scriptures rooted in “The Simpsons.”

Not since the glory days of Watergate and Nixon’s Luciferian fall has there been so much written about the dogged deceits and creative criminalities of our rulers. We have also come to a point in this dark age where there is not only no hero in view but no alternative road unblocked. We are trapped terribly in a now that few foresaw and even fewer can define despite a swarm of books and pamphlets like the vast cloud of locusts which dined on China in that ’30s movie “The Good Earth.”

I have read many of these descriptions of our fallen estate, looking for one that best describes in plain English how we got to this now and where we appear to be headed once our good Earth has been consumed and only Rapture is left to whisk aloft the Faithful. Meanwhile, the rest of us can learn quite a lot from “Dark Ages America: The Final Phase of Empire” by Morris Berman, a professor of sociology at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

I must confess that I have a proprietary interest in anyone who refers to the United States as an empire since I am credited with first putting forward this heretical view in the early ’70s. In fact, so disgusted with me was a book reviewer at Time magazine that as proof of my madness he wrote: “He actually refers to the United States as an empire!” It should be noted that at about the same time Henry Luce, proprietor of Time, was booming on and on about “The American Century.” What a difference a word makes!

Berman sets his scene briskly in recent history. “We were already in our twilight phase when Ronald Reagan, with all the insight of an ostrich, declared it to be ‘morning in America’; twenty-odd years later, under the ‘boy emperor’ George W. Bush (as Chalmers Johnson refers to him), we have entered the Dark Ages in earnest, pursuing a short-sighted path that can only accelerate our decline. For what we are now seeing are the obvious characteristics of the West after the fall of Rome: the triumph of religion over reason; the atrophy of education and critical thinking; the integration of religion, the state, and the apparatus of torture—a troika that was for Voltaire the central horror of the pre-Enlightenment world; and the political and economic marginalization of our culture…. The British historian Charles Freeman published an extended discussion of the transition that took place during the late Roman empire, the title of which could serve as a capsule summary of our current president: "The Closing of the Western Mind."

Mr. Bush, God knows, is no Augustine; but Freeman points to the latter as the epitome of a more general process that was underway in the fourth century: namely, ‘the gradual subjection of reason to faith and authority.’ This is what we are seeing today, and it is a process that no society can undergo and still remain free. Yet it is a process of which administration officials, along with much of the American population, are aggressively proud.” In fact, close observers of this odd presidency note that Bush, like his evangelical base, believes he is on a mission from God and that faith trumps empirical evidence. Berman quotes a senior White House adviser who disdains what he calls the “reality-based” community, to which Berman sensibly responds: “If a nation is unable to perceive reality correctly, and persists in operating on the basis of faith-based delusions, its ability to hold its own in the world is pretty much foreclosed.”

Berman does a brief tour of the American horizon, revealing a cultural death valley. In secondary schools where evolution can still be taught too many teachers are afraid to bring up the subject to their so often un-evolved students. “Add to this the pervasive hostility toward science on the part of the current administration (e.g. stem-cell research) and we get a clear picture of the Enlightenment being steadily rolled back. Religion is used to explain terror attacks as part of a cosmic conflict between Good and Evil rather than in terms of political processes.... Manichaeanism rules across the United States. According to a poll taken by Time magazine fifty-nine percent of Americans believe that John’s apocalyptic prophecies in the Book of Revelation will be fulfilled, and nearly all of these believe that the faithful will be taken up into heaven in the ‘Rapture.’

“Finally, we shouldn’t be surprised at the antipathy toward democracy displayed by the Bush administration…. As already noted, fundamentalism and democracy are completely antithetical. The opposite of the Enlightenment, of course, is tribalism, groupthink; and more and more, this is the direction in which the United States is going…. Anthony Lewis who worked as a columnist for the New York Times for thirty-two years, observes that what has happened in the wake of 9/11 is not just the threatening of the rights of a few detainees, but the undermining of the very foundation of democracy. Detention without trial, denial of access to attorneys, years of interrogation in isolation—these are now standard American practice, and most Americans don’t care. Nor did they care about the revelation in July 2004 (reported in Newsweek), that for several months the White House and the Department of Justice had been discussing the feasibility of canceling the upcoming presidential election in the event of a possible terrorist attack.” I suspect that the technologically inclined prevailed against that extreme measure on the ground that the newly installed electronic ballot machines could be so calibrated that Bush would win handily no matter what (read Rep. Conyers’ report (.pdf file) on the rigging of Ohio’s vote).

Meanwhile, the indoctrination of the people merrily continues. “In a ‘State of the First Amendment Survey’ conducted by the University of Connecticut in 2003, 34 percent of Americans polled said the First Amendment ‘goes too far’; 46 percent said there was too much freedom of the press; 28 percent felt that newspapers should not be able to publish articles without prior approval of the government; 31 percent wanted public protest of a war to be outlawed during that war; and 50 percent thought the government should have the right to infringe on the religious freedom of ‘certain religious groups’ in the name of the war on terror.”

It is usual in sad reports like Professor Berman’s to stop abruptly the litany of what has gone wrong and then declare, hand on heart, that once the people have been informed of what is happening, the truth will set them free and a quarter-billion candles will be lit and the darkness will flee in the presence of so much spontaneous light. But Berman is much too serious for the easy platitude. Instead he tells us that those who might have struck at least a match can no longer do so because shared information about our situation is meager to nonexistent. Would better schools help? Of course, but, according to that joyous bearer of ill tidings, the New York Times, many school districts are now making sobriety tests a regular feature of the school day: apparently opium derivatives are the opiate of our stoned youth. Meanwhile, millions of adult Americans, presumably undrugged, have no idea who our enemies were in World War II. Many college graduates don’t know the difference between an argument and an assertion (did their teachers also fail to solve this knotty question?). A travel agent in Arizona is often asked whether or not it is cheaper to take the train rather than fly to Hawaii. Only 12% of Americans own a passport. At the time of the 2004 presidential election 42% of voters believed that Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11. One high school boy, when asked who won the Civil War, replied wearily, “I don’t know and I don’t care,” echoing a busy neocon who confessed proudly: “The American Civil War is as remote to me as the War of the Roses.”

We are assured daily by advertisers and/or politicians that we are the richest, most envied people on Earth and, apparently, that is why so many awful, ill-groomed people want to blow us up. We live in an impermeable bubble without the sort of information that people living in real countries have access to when it comes to their own reality. But we are not actually people in the eyes of the national ownership: we are simply unreliable consumers comprising an overworked, underpaid labor force not in the best of health: The World Health Organization rates our healthcare system (sic—or sick?) as 37th-best in the world, far behind even Saudi Arabia, role model for the Texans. Our infant mortality rate is satisfyingly high, precluding a First World educational system. Also, it has not gone unremarked even in our usually information-free media that despite the boost to the profits of such companies as Halliburton, Bush’s wars of aggression against small countries of no danger to us have left us well and truly broke. Our annual trade deficit is a half-trillion dollars, which means that we don’t produce much of anything the world wants except those wan reports on how popular our Entertainment is overseas. Unfortunately the foreign gross of “King Kong,” the Edsel of that assembly line, is not yet known. It is rumored that Bollywood—the Indian film business—may soon surpass us! Berman writes, “We have lost our edge in science to Europe...The US economy is being kept afloat by huge foreign loans ($4 billion a day during 2003). What do you think will happen when America’s creditors decide to pull the plug, or when OPEC members begin selling oil in euros instead of dollars?...An International Monetary Fund report of 2004 concluded that the United States was ‘careening toward insolvency.’ ” Meanwhile, China, our favorite big-time future enemy, is the number one for worldwide foreign investments, with France, the bete noire of our apish neocons, in second place.

Well, we still have Kraft cheese as of today and, of course, the death penalty.

Berman makes the case that the Bretton-Woods agreement of 1944 institutionalized a system geared toward full employment and the maintenance of a social safety net for society’s less fortunate—the so-called welfare or interventionist state. It did this by establishing fixed but flexible exchange rates among world currencies, which were pegged to the U.S. dollar while the dollar, for its part, was pegged to gold. In a word, Bretton-Woods saved capitalism by making it more human. Nixon abandoned the agreement in 1971, which started, according to Berman, huge amounts of capital moving upward from the poor and the middle class to the rich and super-rich.

Mr. Berman spares us the happy ending, as, apparently, has history. When the admirable Tiberius (he has had an undeserved bad press), upon becoming emperor, received a message from the Senate in which the conscript fathers assured him that whatever legislation he wanted would be automatically passed by them, he sent back word that this was outrageous. “Suppose the emperor is ill or mad or incompetent?” He returned their message. They sent it again. His response: “How eager you are to be slaves.” I often think of that wise emperor when I hear Republican members of Congress extolling the wisdom of Bush. Now that he has been caught illegally wiretapping fellow citizens he has taken to snarling about his powers as “a wartime president,” and so, in his own mind, he is above each and every law of the land. Oddly, no one in Congress has pointed out that he may well be a lunatic dreaming that he is another Lincoln but whatever he is or is not he is no wartime president. There is no war with any other nation...yet. There is no state called terror, an abstract noun like liar. Certainly his illegal unilateral ravaging of Iraq may well seem like a real war for those on both sides unlucky enough to be killed or wounded, but that does not make it a war any more than the appearance of having been elected twice to the presidency does not mean that in due course the people will demand an investigation of those two irregular processes. Although he has done a number of things that under the old republic might have got him impeached, our current system protects him: incumbency-for-life seats have made it possible for a Republican majority in the House not to do its duty and impeach him for his incompetence in handling, say, the natural disaster that befell Louisiana.

The founders thought two-year terms for members of the House was as much democracy as we’d ever need. Therefore, there was no great movement to have some sort of recall legislation in the event that a president wasn’t up to his job and so had lost the people’s confidence between elections. But in time, as Ecclesiastes would say, all things shall come to pass and so, in a kindly way, a majority of the citizens must persuade him that he will be happier back in Crawford pruning Bushes of the leafy sort while the troops not killed or maimed will settle for simply being alive and in one piece. We may be slaves but we are not unreasonable.

Reason requires that we explain to the media and to this self-anointed “war-time president” whose “inherent” powers, to hear him babble, transcend the Constitution itself. But they can’t: First, we are not at war with another country; second, presidential powers are enumerated in the constitution, not inherent--despite the weird legal misreadings by ambulance-proud White House lawyers.

Nevertheless, our neo-totalitarians are planning new wars in the Middle East, Far East, Conga Line! while his latest State of the Union speech justifies eavesdropping (without judicial warrants) on anybody in the United States that he wants to listen in on. This is what we call dictatorship. Dictatorship. Dictatorship. And it is time we objected.

Can we wait till the next election? Only if the electronic voting machinery has paper trails or, perhaps, honest old-fashioned paper ballots. In any case, with one voice let us say, “We’ve had enough of you. Go home to Crawford. We’ll help you raise the money for a library, and you won’t ever have to read a book. We the folks are not cruel even though we must now echo our spiritual ancestor Oliver Cromell’s order to the infamous long Parliament: ‘You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately in the Ninth Ward. Depart, we say; and let us have done with you. In the name of the God who created that whale – Go!’”

Monday, February 06, 2006



New Zogby Poll Shows Majority Of Americans Favor Impeachment For Warrantless Spying

by Thomas J. Bico

JANUARY 15, 2006 - A new Zogby poll shows that 52% of Americans think President Bush should be impeached for wiretapping American citizens without obtaining warrants.

As reported by Democrats.com, the new poll, commissioned by Afterdowningstreet.org and conducted by Zogby, when asked, "If President Bush wiretapped American citizens without the approval of a judge, do you agree or disagree that Congress should consider holding him accountable through impeachment," 52% of respondents said yes, 42% said no, a 6% were undecided.

The poll had a +/- 2.9 margin of error.

The article on democrats.com points out that the polls the mainstream media has been using have been asking questions that lead to misleading results.

"Recently White House spokesman Scott McClellan cited a Rasmussen poll that found 64% believe the NSA "should be allowed to intercept telephone conversations between terrorism suspects." Of course, that is exactly what Congress authorized when it created the FISA courts to issue special expedited secret warrants for terrorism suspects. But Bush defied the FISA law and authorized warrantless wiretaps of Americans, which has outraged Americans to the point that a majority believe Congress should consider Bush's impeachment."

The lack of articles and commentary about impeachment, never mind criminal charges, has been extremely obvious, and just another clear example of the total control the Bush/Limbaugh right has over the entire media. They made impeachment of Clinton the central story everywhere over something much less, but don't even mention it when Bush openly admits to disregarding the law and committing a major violation of law and the Constitution.

Despite all the distractive stories attempting to change the subject and convince the American people that they should not really be upset, that their neighbors aren't, the American public is not buying it and wants the President held accountable via impeachment.

The numbers are even more striking when looked at by political affiliation. Fully one-in-four Republicans think the President should be impeached, while nearly two-thirds of Independents and Democrats believe he must be held accountable. And it doesn't matter which region is looked at, North, South, East, or West, majorities in each favor impeachment.