Monday, July 31, 2006

The Passing of a Pioneer

The Rev. Katrina Swanson was laid to rest in Maine this weekend.

She and 10 other women made headlines and rocked the Episcopal hierarchy on July 29, 1974, in Philadelphia, Pa., when they became the first women ordained priests in the denomination. Three of the four surviving members of the "Philadelphia 11" presided at Swanson's funeral. (Bangor Daily News)

From that point forward we would find women regularly in the pulpits of churches of many denominations in the US. Of course, the most recent product of this 'radical' act in 1974 was the election of the Right Rev. Katharine Jefforts Schori to be presiding bishop of the Episcopal church.

It can be hard to break with traditions and move in new directions. To do so requires that we be open to what God may call us to do, rather than simply to our interpretation of what we think God is.

The call to ordain women was a call to do God's justice. A call that was wisely answered by the church, and by Rev. Swanson.


The shortest 48 hours I've known


JERUSALEM - The Israeli air force carried out strikes Monday in southern Lebanon despite an agreement to halt raids for 48 hours after nearly 60 Lebanese civilians were killed in an Israeli bombing, the army said.

Not the most important 48 hours in the Middle East in years...

Since it wasn't even 48 hours.

This is a squandered opportunity for Israel- an opportunity to refocus attention on Hezbollah and their violence. Israel- for strategic and moral reasons- should respect the 48 hour moratorium they imposed.


Sunday, July 30, 2006

A Thin Place

This morning the priest at my church spoke of a concept that I'd never heard of before- a thin place. This concept is a Celtic one. In an old Celtic saying heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in the thin places that distance is even smaller. A thin place is where the veil that separates heaven and earth is lifted and one is able to receive a glimpse of the glory of God.

I like this conception of the world very much.

First, the notion that heaven and earth are only three feet apart is a wonderful way to concieve of our world and lives. How much effort would it take for us to close that gap? We would only need to take a step.

In Buddhism, there is a key concept of mindfulness- living with a deep awareness of what we are doing and what is around us. If we can live mindfully, perhaps we can be aware of just how close we are to 'heaven.'

We can see that heaven in the faces of those we love, in all the good things in our lives, in the joy of the ordinary.

A second aspect of the notion of a thin place is that there are times when the distance between heaven and earth is even less than normal. Here we stand on the knife's edge, able to see the divine if only divert our eyes ever so slightly in that direction rather than the earthly one.

These thin places are probably more common than we know. We probably lack the mindfulness to see them.

My wife and I just celebrated our anniversary. We watched video of our wedding with our two boys. Our wedding day- and every day since- was a thin place. I'm glad I didn't miss it- then or now.

When our first son was born, he was pre-mature. That was a thin place- in more ways than one, I suppose. He turned out perfect. (No need to excuse the conceit- he gets the perfection from his mother, not the Grey Pilgrim.) Our second son was born under less worrisome circumstances, but no less a thin place. What birth isn't miraculous?

But, we don't need to see this concept only in these 'special' moments in our lives. In fact, upon reflection I have come to think that I'm always at a thin place- only sometimes a bit thinner than others. If I'm mindful, I can take great comfort in this, and find great joy in this as well. If I can put my attention to 'heavenly' interests, not only earthly ones, how much richer will life be?

I have often directed attention to a verse in Luke (17:21) that has a couple of possible interpretations. Jesus says don't look here or there for the Kingdom of God for it is 'within' or 'among' you (entos in Greek). I usually like to emphasize 'within' because of the ramnifications it has for how we treat other people. However, it's not an either/or issue. 'Among' is the generally accepted translation- at least in Western Bibles. The concept of a thin place shows why the 'among' translation is a valid one- the Kingdom of God can be right here, if we are willing to close the gap and see the possiblities. Both translations are, in their own way, equally challenging for all of us.

I just thought I'd share this timeless wisdom I came to know only this morning.


Some web links I found on thin places:


Israel has declared a 48 hour halt to bombing.

Israeli officials have said the attack which killed nearly 60 civilians, including 27 children, was a "tragic mistake."

They also say they reserve the right "to take action against targets preparing attacks against it during the 48-hour period."

Not an absolute by any means, but it does put the ball squarely in Hezbollah's court. Will Hezbollah now hold off on its rocket attacks and give peace a chance to develop?

If they fail to do this, then the outrage that people in Beruit expressed after the Israeli bombing should be turned against Hezbollah.

This is a true opportunity. We can only hope that Hezbollah will take advantage of this and bring the region back from the brink to which they have pushed it.

These may be the most important 48 hours that the Middle East has had in a long time.


A Nation Divided

Interesting piece in the NY Times today (free registration required) that shows how divided our nation has become.

No military conflict in modern times has divided Americans on partisan lines more than the war in Iraq, scholars and pollsters say — not even Vietnam. And those divisions are likely to intensify in what is expected to be a contentious fall election campaign.

Three-fourths of the Republicans, for example, said the United States did the right thing in taking military action against Iraq, while just 24 percent of the Democrats did. Independents split down the middle.

The Vietnam War caused a wrenching debate that echoes to this day and shaped both parties, but at the time, public opinion did not divide so starkly on party lines, experts say. The partisan divide on Iraq has fluctuated but endured across two intensely fought campaigns in which war and peace — and the overarching campaign against terrorism — have figured heavily.

This war has split the nation badly. I have expressed my feelings without reservation. So have many other Americans with the exact opposite view. Nothing wrong with that.

My concern is not with the division, or with people expressing their support or opposition, but with the lack of listening and with the 'spin.'

First, right now we live in what has been called an 'argument culture.' Look at Crossfire or Hannity & Colmes and you see too much of America- argue from talking points, attack your opposition, and never concede anything. No listening at all.

Secondly, so much of the dialogue is incomplete- using only the facts that support one's argument while ignoring the rest.

I don't think we're going to find our way with that sort of 'discussion.'

We're at an interesting place historically. As the last presidential election showed, we've never truly overcome Vietnam. At times during the Bush/Kerry election you could not tell that we had been out of Vietnam for 30 years. If we continue to be an argument culture, we may have no greater success overcoming the war in Iraq.


Horrors of War


QANA, Lebanon - An Israeli airstrike killed at least 56 people — many of them children — in a southern Lebanese village Sunday, the deadliest attack in 19 days of fighting.

The missiles destroyed several homes in the village of Qana as people were sleeping. Rescue officials said at least 56 people were killed, and the bodies of 27 children were found in the rubble.

27 dead children. The death of the innocents.

I'm not interested in the blame game here. Innocents were killed by Israeli bombs, but Hezbollah made those innocents targets by launching missiles from very near them (perhaps as little as 20 yards away).

What this tragedy shows is why we must support a ceasefire as soon as we can get one- and not demand that the Middle East be remade somehow in order to get one. Sec. of State Rice's talking points are not bad ones (see earlier post here), but she, and her boss, must not continue to insist upon those as preconditions for a ceasefire.

For the sake of the children.


Friday, July 28, 2006

Beyond Idealism

From TPM Muckraker, an exerpt of a transcript of an answer by President Bush regarding the situation in the Middle East.

Q: Mr. President, both of you, I'd like to ask you about the big picture that you're discussing.
Mr. President, three years ago, you argued that an invasion of Iraq would create a new stage of Arab-Israeli peace. And yet today there is an Iraqi prime minister who has been sharply critical of Israel.
Arab governments, despite your arguments, who first criticized Hezbollah, have now changed their tune. Now they're sharply critical of Israel.
And despite from both of you warnings to Syria and Iran to back off support from Hezbollah, effectively, Mr. President, your words are being ignored.
So what has happened to America's clout in this region that you've committed yourself to transform?

Bush: David [Gregory], it's an interesting period because, instead of having foreign policies based upon trying to create a sense of stability, we have a foreign policy that addresses the root causes of violence and instability.
For a while, American foreign policy was just, Let's hope everything is calm - kind of, managed calm. But beneath the surface brewed a lot of resentment and anger that was manifested on September the 11th.
And so we have, we've taken a foreign policy that says: On the one hand, we will protect ourselves from further attack in the short run by being aggressive in chasing down the killers and bringing them to justice.
And make no mistake: They're still out there, and they would like to harm our respective peoples because of what we stand for.
In the long term, to defeat this ideology - and they're bound by an ideology - you defeat it with a more hopeful ideology called freedom.
And, look, I fully understand some people don't believe it's possible for freedom and democracy to overcome this ideology of hatred. I understand that. I just happen to believe it is possible.
And I believe it will happen.
And so what you're seeing is, you know, a clash of governing styles.
For example, you know, the notion of democracy beginning to emerge scares the ideologues, the totalitarians, those who want to impose their vision. It just frightens them.

This is the same talking point that Sec. of State Rice was using when describing the conflict in Lebanon and "birth pangs of a new [presumably democratic] Middle East."

This is ridiculous. We will never be able to formulate an effective policy for the Middle East, nor to deal with terrorism, until our government gives up this "they hate us because of our freedom" canard. One could sustain the argument that 'freedom' is a part- small part- of the issue as many in the Muslim world are concerned about Western values (or lack thereof) which do grow from freedom of commerce and speech. That said, there are much larger issues- some real, some preceived.

Plain and simple, Hezbollah did not attack Israel because they are afraid of Iraqi democracy.

Time to get real.


I hope this isn't true...

MSNBC reports

ACLU finds spying of anti-war, activist groups

The American Civil Liberties Union released a compilation of covert government surveillance of war protesters and other political activists in California...

The ACLU cataloged several incidents of surveillance in recent years.
-Two Oakland police officers posed as demonstrators ahead of a 2003 march and got themselves elected as organizers for the march. The march was meant to protest a clash the previous month in which Oakland police fired non-lethal projectiles at anti-war demonstrators. The infiltrators helped plan the march route, according to the ACLU.
-The Fresno County Sheriff’s Department sent a deputy into an anti-war group, Peace Fresno, posing as a fellow activist. “Aaron Stokes,” who was actually Deputy Aaron Kilner, had attended rallies with the group and taken minutes at meetings in 2003. Attorney General Bill Lockyer opened an investigation in 2004, and later said he had “serious concerns” about the sheriff’s methods, but he has taken no action against the department nor issued a report about the inquiry, which remains open.
-In 2004, union members at a demonstration identified two Contra Costa Sheriff’s Department Homeland Security Unit members in attendance. When California Labor Federation leader Art Pulaski confronted the men, they claimed they were there to support the rally.

I will put this simply: We must not throw our Constitution overboard in an attempt to deal with terrorism. Public officials have repeatedly said that we need to "go on with life as normal or the terrorists have won." Well, life as normal used to include, in general, a respect for our constitutional rights. If our constitutional protections are not a part of "normal life" in the US, then the terrorists have indeed won.


Lebanon and Iraq

In a Time article Tony Karon offers some light criticism of the Bush Administration policy on the Lebanon/Israel crisis. He discusses Prime Minister Maliki's visit to the US and says, in part,

Maliki, addressing the media, was very clear that he blamed the crisis on "Israeli aggression," and he declined to criticize Hizballah.

Maliki's stance highlighted a major problem facing the Bush Administration's Middle East crisis: The U.S. has viewed Israel's fight with Hizballah as an opportunity to rally Arab support against growing Iranian influence in the Middle East. But it is not even able to rally the support of Iraq, an Arab government dependent for its security on U.S. troops.

I, too, think that the Administration's hope is misplaced. It seems impossible to me that Israeli military action is going to be received with sympathy among Arab governments.

That said, I think the article also shows the moral timidity of those very Arab governments. As I've said before (ironically, prompted by another statement by Maliki), moderate Arabs must be willing to stand up to the radicals. Refusing to acknowledge Hezbollah's actions and condemn them for causing this conflict is indicative of a short-sightedness that needs to be overcome for the sake of the world. This is encouragement not only to Hezbollah, but to other radical groups. American condemnation means nothing to them. Only when their fellow Muslims (I should say, 'True Muslims') stand up to them will we begin see them brought under control. Only when their safe havens disappear, and their funds dry up, will the world be safe from terrorism.

This need for the moderate Arab nations to stand up is a more significant point, long term, than any miscalculation by the Bush Administration in handling this crisis.


Ann Coulter

First, on a CNBC program called "The Big Idea" w/Donny Deutsch she says that Bill Clinton has "latent homosexual tendencies" (something "bathhouse" about his behavior, she says). Then, on Hardball w/ Chris Matthews, she refuses to back off that and says Al Gore is a "total fag."

She's promoting her new book called Godless.

This is the same book in which she accuses the widows of men who died on 9/11 of enjoying their husbands' deaths.


Sounds like it must be her autobiography.


Thursday, July 27, 2006

We must not forget...

Amidst the violence between Hezbollah and Israel, we must not forget that the situation is disastrous in Iraq. MSNBC reports today that a combination of a car bomb and a mortar barrage in Baghdad killed at least 31 people and injured more than 150.

According to the article:
British Ambassador William Patey said the security problem was made worse because Iraqis have lost confidence in the police. Speaking on BBC Radio "Today" program, Patey said evidence suggests some members of the police are linked to Shiite militias and Sunni insurgent groups.

"Undoubtedly the Iraqi people have lost confidence in the police," he said. "You move from optimism and pessimism. It's a fine dividing line."

The body count in Iraqabatingabbating- in fact, if anything, it's getting worse. In a recent post I referred to comments by our own military that insurgent attacks are on the rise- up approximately 40% resulting in approximately 100 deaths per day. It is unclear that moving troops around in Iraq, as the President has said he will do, will have much impact. The troops moving to Baghdad will not be new troops resulting in a net increase, but only troops moving from elsewhere in the country.

Additionally, it is not clear at this point that troops can have any impact anyways- the sectarian violence cycle has begun to turn so fiercely that I am concerned that there is greater commitment to killing each other than to any potential political solution. Our military presence cannot overcome that commitment. (MSNBC has an article related to this issue here.)

Between the situation in Iraq and in Lebanon, it would appear that forces are in motion that the US may not be able to influence in any significant way. Unfortunately, in Iraq those forces are the fault of US policy.


Modest Changes- And Thanks

I've made some modest adjustments to the look of the site. I'm not good at "html" programming, so I'm about at my limit.

Most significant, I've added some links at the bottom of the right margin of the page. Nothing special about CNN and MSNBC, but some of the others may not be in your bookmarks/favorites. Now that I've been able to get this section in, I can add more links if I think they are relevant. Know of a "must see" link? Send it to me.

Finally, thanks to all the people who emailed and commented on various posts. I received over 200 comments/emails over the course of a few days. Some people are responsible for multiples of those, but all were appreciated.

Please feel free to comment and/or email regarding anything you see on the site.

Thanks so much.


A Bush-supporter on Signing Statements

Conservatives and Republicans are expressing concern over signing statements- not just the (allegedly) liberal American Bar Association. Check out this post from another blog.


Before President Bush, around 600 of these 'signing statements' existed. That's 600. Theodore Roosevelt, Ulysses Grant, FDR and even Bill Clinton all used the practice - all totaled up, combined, 42 Presidents, around 600 times.George W. Bush has done it over 750 times.

Whether or not they are unconstitutional, and they might be, they are without question complete unnecessary, and this is the bad advice part.Mr. President? If you don't like a bill? Veto it. It's your right and your job. Don't hide behind wimpy legal fictions that allow you to, figuratively or otherwise, quasi-line item veto portions of legislation that you have problems with. If Congress sends you a bill you disagree with, you send it back. Period. This is how the system works.

There is no reason whatsoever that justifies the exponential increase in signing statements by President Bush.

I've hope I've not taken any of the above out of a fair context. Check the post for yourself.


Interesting article

Christopher Dickey at Newsweek makes an interesting argument. Hezbollah is winning. Read the article here.

A couple of key quotes:

The bottom line: Hizbullah is winning. That’s the hideous truth about the direction this war is taking, not in spite of the way the Israelis have waged their counterattack, but precisely because of it. As my source Mr. Frankly put it, “Hizbullah is eating their lunch.”

Hizbullah is the aggressor, the underdog and the noble survivor, all at once. “It’s that deadly combination of the expectation game, which Hizbullah have won, and the victim game, which they’ve also won,” as my straight-talking friend put it.

Neither U.S. nor Israeli policymakers have taken this dynamic into account. If they had, they’d understand that with each passing day, no matter how many casualties it takes, Hizbullah’s political power grows. Several of my worldly Lebanese and Arab friends here in Rome today—people who loathe Hizbullah—understand this problem well. Privately they say that’s one of the main reasons they are so horrified at the direction this war has taken: they fear not only that Lebanon will be destroyed, but that Hizbullah will wind up planting its banner atop the mountain of rubble.

Certainly a perspective worthy of consideration.


Love your enemies

The realization that another person wishes to harm and hurt you cannot undermine genuine compassion—a compassion based on the clear recognition of that person as someone who has the natural and instinctual desire to seek happiness and overcome suffering, just like oneself.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Battle for Islam

I'm not ready to jump on his bandwagon, but Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki made one statement that I think is an important one, from a religious perspective, when he spoke before Congress today. I'm going to pass on criticisms and focus on this. He said, (here)

"Let me be very clear," said al-Maliki, speaking through a translator. "This is a battle between true Islam, for which a person's liberty and rights constitute essential cornerstones, and terrorism, which wraps itself in a fake Islamic cloak."

This is an ideological and religious battle that has to be won- with words primarily- on the Arab/Muslim "street". Moderate Muslims in moderate Muslim states have to speak out and begin to reach out to the ordinary citizens. These moderates must learn that there is no future for them in "playing nice" with the Islamists. There is something wrong in some of these countries where the radical groups provide more social service to the people than the governments under which the live as citizens (Lebanon is an example of this with Hezbollah providing much assistance to people in need, and thus "buying" loyalty).

People outside the Muslim community may be able to play a part in this, but most of the discussion will have to take place within the Muslim community.

What we must do is make certain that we do not undermine the moderates as they undertake this massive challenge.

How do we undermine them? With rhetoric- such as the culture of violence TV talk I discussed in an earlier post. With actions- which seem to confirm the stereotype that can be easily developed in the Middle East that the US and the West are anti-Islam in their policies.

We need to examine each potential action carefully, and step cautiously, looking beyond the short term and to the long term consequences of this crucial challenge- the challenge of the future of Islam.


Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Bad news for an educator

In the midst of an article discussing research showing that too many distractions are an impediment to learning, MSNBC Reports:

A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation last year found third-graders through 12th-graders devoted, on average, nearly 6 1/2 hours per day to TV and videos, music, video games and computers.

6.5 hours per day, 7 days per week. More than 45 hours per week. Almost 2 days out of every 7.

That huge sucking sound you just heard? That was my hopes for a brighter future in my classrooms.


Regarding the ABA and Signing Statements

A reader writes:

The ABA has ZERO standing to assume that only their candidates should be appointed to the Bench. They have their own agenda and I am not sure it always to the betterment of the nation.

Signing statements are in anticipation of challenges and law suits. I think they are silly and foolish but they do clear up what the "intentions" were when a bill was enacted. I believe it borders dangerously on creating or amending legislation. A power specifically reserved for the legislature.

The first part of the comment reflects the reservations I mentioned here regarding the American Bar Association and it's statements about President Bush's actions. Since the ABA is perceived as so commonly opposed to Republican appointments to the bench- especially the Supreme Court- they may lack credibility.

The second part of the comment reflect the fact that we need to get past the ABA's credibility and look at the issue with our own eyes.

If the signing statement were merely saying, "Here's how I understand the bill that I am now signing," in an effort to clear up some ambiguity that would be one thing. The Congress could then revisit and amend the legislation as necessary. That's not the case with President Bush. He's saying that he may, essentially, not follow the law if, in his opinion, national security issues come into play. That's a problem. Not only does the Congress not get a chance to deal with the issue in advance of it becoming a problem, as we've seen with this Administration, they may not tell anyone that they've decided that a national security issue is in play and they've already begun to ignore the law. That's where the violation of separation of powers is found.

I'm hopeful- ABA or no ABA- that this issue will be examined by the courts.


A reader responds

Regarding the conflict in the Middle East:

If Hezbollah is acting outside of Lebanese law, then Lebanon is responsible for getting them under control since they are on their soil. If not, the Israelis can not be faulted for acting.

If Hezbollah is acting with the concurrence of Lebanon, then it is an act of war and the Israelis are still justified in acting.

The UN and some of the press can not seem to figure that out.

I agree with this assessment with one potential caveat: Perhaps Lebanon lacks the power to do anything about Hezbollah. In a large sense, the Lebanese government is responsible, but the reports I read indicate that the government is weak- both politically and militarily. Perhaps too weak to do much about Hezbollah's strongholds in the south.

I want to stress that I think of this as a potential caveat. Hezbollah is involved in the Lebanese government. How much distinction there is between the political and militant wing of Hezbollah (rather like in Northern Ireland) is somewhat unknown to me.

If there is complicity, then that certainly does change the nature of some of the arguments I've made about Israeli military action- I would have to revisit the issue at that point.

I have to plead a little ignorance here.


Monday, July 24, 2006

ABA Weighs in on Signing Statements

Some time ago I posted some comments on what I termed President Bush's "unprecedented use of so-called 'signing statements' in approving legislation, statements which say 'he reserves the right to revise, interpret or disregard a measure on national security and constitutional grounds.' While spokesman Tony Snow says that these are not acts of civil disobedience, they are evidence that this President feels entitled to go it alone, not necessarily follow the laws he signs, and act as if he, and he alone, understands what is in the interest of US national security."

The American Bar Association is arguing that such signing statements are unconstitutional.

Let's keep in mind that the ABA and the Republican party have been traditionally at odds. The Bush Administration in particular has begun ignoring the ABA's ratings of candidates for the federal courts. I can't say for certain that this antipathy influences the ABA's opinion, but I can't rule it out either.

I have said that I believe the signing statements are problematic in terms of the Constitution. We cannot allow one branch of government to go it alone. We cannot, in particular, allow the President to say that he will not enforce a law simply on the basis of his own analysis. If he signs the law- or it is passed over his veto- he must follow it.

The ABA is correct to argue- whatever its motivations- that "the President has overstepped his authority in attaching challenges to hundreds of new laws."

The question is, What next? Will the ABA encourage, and take, legal action to restore the balance to our three branch system? That is the issue they will take up soon.

As I mentioned the other day, in regards to the issue of people arrested for attempting to attend presidential speeches while wearing T-shirts or carrying signs critical of the President, we need to remember that presidential actions can become precedents that are hard to shake. Today's Republican President using such statements may become tomorrow's Democratic President doing the same. How will Republicans then feel?

If it's wrong, it's wrong. Using signing statements to undermine the constitutional process for enacting and enforcing legislation is wrong.


Jewish-Muslim Organizations

An interesting article here about interfaith groups that join Jews and Muslims.

From the article:

Such encounters between Jews and Muslims in America might have been hard to imagine for many members of both communities during earlier periods of violence in the Middle East. But an unprecedented swell of interfaith activities followed the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, and Muslims and Jews have since discovered common ground as U.S. religious minorities with shared theological and social values.

Agreement on Middle East politics has been far more elusive. This week's events -- Israel's bombing of Lebanon after Hezbollah guerrillas kidnapped two Israeli soldiers and launched hundreds of missiles -- has challenged those new relations. Both Muslims and Jews are deeply connected to the region through family ties but more often through religious bonds.

The article makes clear how difficult it can be for such groups to form and then persist.

However, their existence is a very positive thing. In fact, it is essential.

We need to look for common ground. We need to move beyond the rhetoric of distrust and even hate. We need to move towards understanding and cooperation.

Groups such as these, which would hopefully grow to include individuals of other religious faiths, can be the beginning of this understanding. And thus the beginning of lasting peace.


Hezbollah bent on war

MSNBC reports that Hezbollah has rejected a peace proposal brought to Lebanon by Sec. of State Rice.

Rice's peace package included a cease-fire, simultaneous with the deployment of the Lebanese army and an international force in south Lebanon and the removal of Hezbollah weapons from a buffer zone extending 30 kilometers from the Israeli border, according to a source in the MSNBC article.

A proposal that was not in the least unreasonable.

While Israel has been properly criticized for the civilian deaths they have caused, we must remember that Hezbollah has targeted civilians as well- but their weapons are simply not effective enough to cause the harm they wish to do. Hezbollah also continues to put both Israeli and Lebanese civilians at risk by rejecting a reasonable peace proposal.

Currently the Lebanese population is still quite supportive of Hezbollah. Perhaps as time passes a more realistic understanding will set in- a realization that Hezbollah has brought great harm to Lebanon and is no friend to the Lebanese people.


Sunday, July 23, 2006

A reader responds

A reader writes in response to my post here and here, among others-

A policy of disproportionate response to attack works well for corporate firewalls. Of course, for some, that is the equivalent of an atomic response to a punch in the nose, which may not be so acceptable when people die, rather than data. I do not think that Israel has over-stepped the boundary of reason, though -- especially when it is surrounded by nations whose stated goals are to destroy it.

There is a key point here, one difficult for Americans to fully grasp, I think, and a point that cannot be dismissed or discounted- that Israel is surrounded by nations and groups that, with varying degrees of intensity, wish to see the nation of Israel eliminated. Israel walks the razor's edge, and must be more prepared to defend itself that the US must be- even in the post-9/11 world.

That said, each action still must be judged on its own merits and according to its own implications. Israel rightly went after the aggressor in this case- Hezbollah. The military wing of Hezbollah is almost entirely based in the south of Lebanon, by all the reports I have read. Attacks on these outposts and the weapons contained therein was justified, in my view.

It is the attacks on Lebanese infrastructure further north that I believe crossed the line. First, in terms of motivations. The attacks on Beruit by Israel were clearly intended to cause the Lebanese government to do something about Hezbollah. I have heard no analysts discussing the conflict who believe that the Lebanese government has this power. The Lebanese government is a fragile one- only recently becoming democratic with much applause from the Bush Administration. In its weakness, the Lebanese government cannot control Hezbollah. Iran, primarily, and Syria, secondarily, are the nations that have influence. Deaths in and around Beruit, therefore, that resulted from Israeli attacks were without merit, bringing suffering and death to people who do not have control over the situation- namely Lebanese civilians. To cause death without merit crosses the moral line.

Secondly, in terms of effects, reports from numerous sources are now indicating that Lebanon may face a humanitarian crisis in the next couple of weeks. This is due to the destruction of infrastructure in and around Beruit and other locations. People lack food- staples such as rice and lentils, which make up a substantial portion of the Lebanese diet- electricity, and fresh water. The ability of anyone to get these basic needs met in the current environment is seriously in doubt. The practice of taking war to the civilian populations like this is morally questionable under any circumstances, but when war is visited upon civilians when it will not achieve any positive result (as discussed above), the question is removed. It is wrong.

In the Christian tradition there exists a theory of just war. This tradition dates back to at least St. Augustine (354-430 c.e.), and has been reconsidered by others over the years. One of the basic tenets of just war theory is that a war must be undertaken proportionately- which is primarily to say limited to the war's aims. If Israel's aim is to remove the threat from Hezbollah, it does not seem logical that an attack on infrastructure in northern sections of Lebanon will help, therefore, such attacks are not proportionate. Another basic tenet is that a war must be waged with all possible moderation. In a just war international conventions should be obeyed, excessive destruction should be avoided, and particular care must be taken to avoid the death and injury of non-combatants. It appears that Israel's actions- which have already killed hundreds of civilians- violate just war theory here as well, especially if one takes into account the looming humanitarian crisis.

While the reader makes an important point about Israel being surrounded by enemies- and is the second reader to send this type of comment to me in an email- I don't believe this point rules the day, as it does not overcome other ethical and moral limitations that should be rightly placed on the conduct of war.


Saturday, July 22, 2006

Presidential Isolationism

MSNBC reports that two teachers from Iowa are seeking remedy in the courts for having been arrested when attempting to attend a campaign event by President Bush in '04 while carrying an anti-war sign.

This has been a trend by this administration to, under the guise of security, keep dissenters away from the President. It has happened throughout his time in office, but especially in the time leading up to the '04 election and since.

"Authorities say they were arrested because they refused to obey reasonable security restrictions," but the women argue that free speech is being surpressed. Others are making the same argument in court houses around the country.

I agree with the two women who were arrested, handcuffed, and strip searched at the county jail.

The President's security is not threatened by an anti-war sign. This is demonstrated by the fact that in virtually 100% of such cases, no charges are filed after the arrest. The individuals are simply held until the President can 'get out of Dodge.' If they were a real threat, they'd be detained and charged. And properly so.

While there is no security threat, the stifling free speech is, however, a threat to the nation. Democracy cannot function without free speech. The market place of ideas is essential to the competition between candidates that is democracy. If an elected official's skin is not thick enough to handle dissenters, he/she should not hold office.

Additionally, politicians- of both parties- should be exposed to dissent when they go out among the public. For them to become isolated in the in the halls of government does no service to the nation. Reality, for all of us, means that there will be opposition to what we say, do, and believe. We are all strengthend by facing that from time to time. Politicians would be strenghtend by that as well.

I don't believe that hecklers should be able to disrupt events. Then they infringe upon the free speech rights of the speaker. Furthermore, while I support their right to engage in expressions of dissent at these types of events, I don't always think it's wise or helpful to their cause. That said, they should be entitled to hold signs or wear T-shirts or buttons expressing a viewpoint that differs with that of the speaker.

Free speech is too important to allow the President, to play the 9/11 card and claim 'security needs' while really simply avoiding dissent. It is also too important to allow the arrest of political opponents to become a precedent for political behavior. Perhaps those who support this the current administration's arrest of opponents would feel differently when a Democrat comes to office and they become the opponents. We cannot allow that to happen. To prevent that, we must stop the current practice.

I hope the lawsuits are successful in doing this.


Friday, July 21, 2006

The Cost of War

From the NY Times:

The bodies of 86 Lebanese were placed in coffins, nailed shut and

lined up for burial in a mass grave in Tyre, Lebanon.

The true cost of war is always the human cost.

This photo is from Lebanon. If Hezbollah had its way, this photo would easily be from Israel. Death, suffering, and sadness know no nationality.

For the sake of innocent Lebanese and Israeli citizens, this fighting needs to end soon.


Up the chain of command?

MSNBC is reporting that 4 soldiers accused of murdering Iraqi civilians on an island in a canal in the northern Salhuddin province are claiming that they were given 'rules of engagement' to kill all military age Iraqi males. They claim they were under orders to kill those men.

These are claims that will have to be tested in a courtroom, of course.

They are consistent, however, with the claims of soldiers involved in the Abu Ghraib scandal.

Is the military justice system prepared to handle such claims? Can they really look hard at those who give the orders and establish the rules of engagement?

During the Vietnam War, support for the US military was significantly degraded by the My Lai Massacre. We must not allow this to happen again- where too many people paint too many of the troops with the same brush. If commanders are giving these sorts of orders, they need to be removed from command. If they are not, then they need to be cleared by a thorough investigation. Nothing else will do.


Ugly Intolerance

From the "Have a right to say it, but it's not right to say file":

[Radio Host] Neal Boortz claimed that "at its core," Islam is a "violent, violent religion," called "this Muhammad guy [is] just a phony rag-picker," and asserted that "[i]t is perfectly legitimate, perhaps even praiseworthy, to recognize Islam as a religion of vicious, violent, bloodthirsty cretins."

This is from a nationally syndicated radio program. (Article here, and audio avialable with the article.)

I think a "nationally syndicated" program would fit within what we could call "mainstream." This demonstrates a concern that I have long voiced: that anti-Muslim bigotry has a home in at least a portion of mainstream America. It's not underground pamphlets or obscure websites. It's nationally syndicated.

Boortz apparently thinks it's "praiseworthy" to be a bigot.

There was an element of this last night on CNN Headline News' Glenn Beck program as well, where he was stereotyping Islam as a "violent" religion and the Muslim world as a "culture of death." (This is the first time I've watched his program- and the last. I found a transcript here). Not as inflammatory by far as Boortz, but still stereotyping, and, as his (moderate) Muslim guest said, he was "taking out the knees" of moderates with his statements- the very people we need to encourage.

We need to reject this sort of bigotry from the mainstream. Only when we do that, will all Muslims feel welcome in mainstream America, and only then will the threat of more radical elements begin to recede.


Thursday, July 20, 2006

While our eyes are on Lebanon and Israel

MSNBC reports:

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Bombings and shootings soared by 40 percent in the Baghdad area in the past week, the U.S. military said Thursday. An American general said extremists were preparing “an all-out assault” on the capital in a decisive battle for the future of Iraq.

I'm suspicious of whether we know the insurgents' minds well enough to accept the American general's statement. Sounds a little too much like the Vice-President's statements about the impending end of the insurgency to accept at face value. If they go "all out" and lose, then it would be over. My guess is that the insurgents will keep some powder dry.

But, many in the US will have missed the rise in violence in Baghdad and Iraq generally. Approximately 100 people a day are dying in Iraq. Another report indicates that the Baghdad morgue has taken in about 1,000 bodies so far this month... 80 percent were victims of violence. That equates to an average of about 55 bodies a day, compared to 53 in June, 44 in May and 39 in April.

There's more than enough tragedy to go around.


The Church-State Line

Here's an interesting article that shows how blurred the line between church and state can be.

From the article:

[F]ive Roman Catholic Bishops in Wisconsin have come out with statements against capital punishment and also against same-sex unions... [B]oth issues will be referendum questions on the election ballot in Wisconsin this November.

The article goes on to point out that these two positions are often in conflict in our society with those who oppose the death penalty, for example, often in support of same-sex unions, and those who support the death penalty often oppose same-sex unions. This raises the question for Catholics, according to the author, of how one performs one's "civic duty" while being faithful to one's faith.

For me a more interesting and broader question is raised. This is an issue that we often have difficulty with as a society. Some would argue that these bishops are wrong in their attempt to influence the politics of their state. This, according to those who think this way, is an effort by the bishops to use the state to enforce their religious beliefs on others. Those who would criticize the bishops would most commonly fall into the group labeled "liberals" in the US.

I disagree with that common criticism. While I don't support what we saw in the 2004 election cycle of priests/bishops of the Catholic church saying that people who did not follow the "party line" on abortion should be denied communion, I do think that church leaders- of any church or faith- should remind those who share their faith of the basic beliefs of that faith and how they should take those basic beliefs into the world.

Again, the argument is made that this crosses the church-state line. If people vote their faith, and win, then they impose their religious views on others. I don't think this is an accurate take on the matter. No one religious group (given the diversity that exists amongst Christians in the US) can control an outcome this way, so a 'victory' in the election likely appeals across religious lines to general values that are shared values by many.

However, even if the argument of "forcing religious views" is valid, how is it to be avoided? In a society where freedom of religion is the rule, and where people of faith are numerous, how is it possible to prevent a religious influence, even if that were desirable? People, as I've said before, cannot leave their religion outside when they go to vote. It is a fundamental part of who they are. That being the case, whether consciously or not, whether asked to do so by a religious leader or not, their religious values will affect their vote.

Before any liberal readers feel compelled to abandon this ship, let me point this out: the religious left, not just the right, has been a major part of American life, virtually from the beginning. We study Anne Hutchinson and Roger Williams in our schools- religious figures who challenged traditional power structures and thinking in the days of the Puritans. Some of the most profound movements in our nation's history have been deeply influenced by the religious left: the Abolitionist movement of the early to mid-1800s; the Social Gospel Movement of the late 1800s to early 1900s; the Civil Rights Movement of the 1940s-60s. If we kick out the religious right, the left goes with it.

A point I try to make when involved in this debate- we cannot de-legitimize political arguments because they have a religious component. Anti-Abortion activists of today are not illegitimate because they act on religious principle any more than the Abolitionists or Civil Rights activists of the past were illegitimate because they were influenced by their religious principles.

We have to debate the issues themselves. Religious values, like it or not, will be a part of that debate.

We need to respect the separation of church and state. We (1) must not force anyone to adopt a religious viewpoint that is not their own, or (2) to give up the religious views that they do hold. The line between these two positions is a fine one, and we cannot simply wish it away by trying (pretending) to arbitrarily force religion out of public life.


The Bible and Terrorism

Interesting article at MSNBC/Newsweek from Rabbi Marc Gellman on the topic of combating terrorism and the Bible.

Some selections:

On both sides of any war debate, both pacifists and provocateurs can use the Bible's authority. The same is true for the Qur'an and for the Vedas. God's will and God's ways, we must always remember if we are to be true to the message of faith, are not our own. As Abraham Lincoln cautioned, the important question is not whether God is on our side but whether we are on God's side....

In Deut. 25:17-19 we read: “Remember what Amalek did unto thee by the way, when ye were come forth out of Egypt; How he met thee by the way, and smote the hindmost of thee, even all that were feeble behind thee, when thou wast faint and weary; and he feared not God.... [T]hou shalt blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; thou shalt not forget it.”

What made Amalek so dastardly was... [that he] the elderly and the infirm and in so doing avoid engagement with the soldiers at the front.... The moral problem the Bible addresses is that this is not warfare, it is the slaughter of innocents—it is terrorism.

We are commanded only to remember Amalek. I believe this is because the planned and plotted slaughter of innocents even during wartime cannot be condoned and must be remembered as a bright moral line which can never be crossed.

But what if, in fighting a modern day Amalek, we bomb and kill 'the innocents'? Are the innocents killed by Al-Qaeda or Hezbollah any different from the innocents killed by the US or Israel? Is it enough if we don't intentionally kill the innocents? Or is the fact that we know when we drop bombs in Baghdad or Beruit we will kill innocents a moral problem? Important questions raised, indirectly, by a thoughtful article. I don't think I agree with what the author of the article seeks to imply (seeming to support what's going on in the 'war on terror', but it is a thoughtful article none-the-less.


See, and think, beneath the surface

Everybody has the beauty of enlightenment in his or her own mind. Buddhahood is within yourself. Wisdom is within yourself; it cannot be found somewhere else.
~ His Holiness the Twelfth Gyalwang Drukpa

[Jesus said,] "The Kingdom of God does not come by observation. Neither will they say, Behold, it is here! Or, behold, it is there! For, behold, the Kingdom of God is within you."
Gospel of Luke, 17: 20-21

Jesus said, "If those who lead you say to you, 'See, the kingdom is in the sky,' then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, 'It is in the sea,' then the fish will precede you. Rather, the kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, you will become known, and you will understand that it is you who are the sons of the living father. But if you will not know yourselves, then you live in poverty and it is you who are that poverty."
Gospel of Thomas 3

[Jesus said,] "Beware that no one lead you astray saying, 'Lo here!' or 'Lo there!' For the Son of Man is within you."
Gospel of Mary 4

Think of the ramnifications of recognizing that the Kingdom of God, Buddha nature, the Holy Spirit, etc., is within you, me, our friends, and our enemies (whether so declared by us or by themselves). How would our behavior be different?


Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Thoughtful response from a reader

A reader writes:

Last week my pacifism was challenged by a Christian (Seventh Day Adventist) who said he is re-thinking his conscientious objector status. He has been studying the Bible, and what Jesus says about protecting people. It's easier for us to condemn Israel's attacks on Lebanon than it is to understand what it is like to be a small country in the middle of people who not only hate you but want you destroyed...I don't know what I think.

I think this is a very thoughtful comment.

In an earlier post, I tried to correct the impression that I might be blaming Israel for the whole problem that is currently in existence. I may have failed in that effort.

My concern is not that Israel responded to being attacked. My concern has been the proportion of that response and the actions that would result in civilian death.

Hezbollah was the aggressor in the present conflict. There would not be an escalating conflict right now if Hezbollah had not crossed the border, attacked an Israeli unit, and kidnapped two of its men. Hezbollah has a couple of wings in Lebanon- a political and a military wing. Its military wing is, without question, willing to engage in terrorism. Whatever legitimate political complaints one wing may have, the terrorism of the military wing is completely without justification. They have engaged in terrorism for years- with the support of both Syria and Iran. They are currently targeting civilians in Israel. Israel is not only entitled, but also obliged to defend itself and its citizens. If they had moved militarily against Hezbollah targets in the south of Lebanon exclusively, I think they would have been quite clearly within their rights. Bombing Beruit, however, raises concerns for me.

In terms of pacifism, I sometimes don't know what to think either. I'm not sure Jesus ever intended to say that we should use violence to protect others, but I'm not sure he would reject that either. Gandhi once said that the only people who don't think Jesus was a pacifist were Christians. But I'm torn when I see people who cannot defend themselves- take the Jews of Europe during WWII for example. I guess I would have to say that I'm not a pure pacifist as I think that situations can arise when nations need to use their militaries to defend the defenseless.

That said, where I am somewhat of a pacifist, is in my belief that we need to look very closely at our actions and ask whether they are leading us more in the direction of conflict or in the direction of peace. I see too little of that reflection from many government leaders- here and around the world. Here is where I believe that Israel has made a mistake- they have, I think, not helped their cause of peace and security by over-reaching in the current conflict. For example, some media reports indicate that in the last week expressions of support for Hezbollah on the so-called "Arab street" has grown. Why? In large part due to the spread of news and photos of deaths of civilians in Lebanon- not just from radical media, but mainstream media as well. Whatever we do in this world, we don't need to fuel the radicalism and hate that is out there.

A long, meandering post. Sorry.

Let me close by saying I am very happy that there are people out there like the person who sent the comment quoted above- looking deep inside, listening to the ideas of others, and trying to develop the conscience necessary to make a better world.


Emails Encouraged- Updated

If you check in at the site from time to time, I'd like to get a sense of who you are. Sometime when you're here, just send me an email. The only info I request is where you are in the world. Anything else you want to say is a bonus. Like it, hate it, whatever. Use the Email Me link at the upper left of the page. I won't publish any particulars about any person. Using the Email Me link keeps your info off the site itself.

I'm getting some word of mouth, and some emails/comments. I appreciate those. I'd also be very appreciative of getting a sense of who else visits but doesn't really want to comment.

So, please, send an email.


UPDATE: Approximately 40 emails received. Keep them coming!

A reply to "Question Everything" (From My Inbox)

A reader writes in reply...

It is just as dangerous to question everything than it is to question nothing. Neither require any original thought and lead to isolationism. Why is it that those who claim to "question everything" and have an "open mind" all have the EXACT same opinions on everything? I hear this argument from the left constantly, yet in the end, they all share the exact same liberal doctrine. Not very open-minded in my opinion.

The intention of the post was also not to imply that we should doubt everything. That would lead precisely to isolation. We need not distrust everyone to ask questions. Doubting questions reject. Open-minded questions seek.

The post's intention about questioning, furthermore, is not the normal questioning that we may see in the political world- where to question is really to try and weaken an opponent. The intention was for an honest questioning that is followed by listening. Minds cannot be open unless ears are as well.

It is certainly true that many who claim to be "open minded" are really simply accepting another received wisdom. These people are merely pretending to be open minded. Open minded people do not seek to defeat an opponent in debate, but engage those of different views in discussion. Minds cannot be open that never change.

It is also very clear to any observer that neither side of the political spectrum in the US has any particular claim to open-mindedness. Also, neither side is immune from closed-mindedness. Pick any "debate" show you wish on a news channel (Cross Fire, Hannity and Colmes, etc.) for your evidence here. Two individuals can argue for 30 minutes or even an hour and never hear the other person at all.

True open minded question does indeed require original thought. If we do not accept the "received wisdom"- in politics, religion, education, etc.- then we need to think in order to fill in the blanks with explanations. We need to try to understand the people around us, and to engage those people in positive ways. We need to be flexible, thoughtful, caring, conscientious. We also, when engaged in dialogue, need to resist the temptation to assume that a person whose views do not change to conform to ours is closed-minded. We must remember that they could be thinking the same of us.

In my classroom, one of the things I tell my students is that I do not seek to have them think like me. I, of course, do not express many opinions so openly as on this blog. Those opinions that do come through I make clear to my students as opinions. I tell them that the world already has me- for whatever that's worth- and doesn't need another me. The world needs them to be as active as thinkers as they can be. Then, through the dialogue we all create, and I simply try to do my part, we can move towards better ideas and practices in the future.


From My Inbox

Received the following from Daily OM

Keeping Our Minds Supple- Questioning Everything

A lot of people feel threatened if they feel they are being asked to question their cherished beliefs or their perception of reality. Yet questioning is what keeps our minds supple and strong. Simply settling on one way of seeing things and refusing to be open to other possibilities makes the mind rigid and generally creates a restrictive and uncomfortable atmosphere. We all know someone who refuses to budge on one or more issues, and we may have our own sacred cows that could use a little prodding. Being open-minded means that we are willing to question everything, including those things we take for granted.

A willingness to question everything, even things we are sure we are right about, can shake us out of complacency and reinvigorate our minds, opening us up to understanding people and perspectives that were alien to us before. This alone is good reason to remain inquisitive, no matter how much experience we have or how old we get. In the Zen tradition, this willingness to question is known as beginner's mind, and it has a way of generating possibilities we couldn't have seen from the point of view of knowing something with certainty. The willingness to question everything doesn't necessarily mean we don't believe in anything at all, and it doesn't mean we have to question every single thing in the world every minute of the day. It just means that we are humble enough to acknowledge how little we actually know about the mysterious universe we call home.

Nearly every revolutionary change in the history of human progress came about because someone questioned some time-honored belief or tradition and in doing so revealed a new truth, a new way of doing things, or a new standard for ethical and moral behavior. Just so, a commitment to staying open and inquisitive in our own individual lives can lead us to new personal revolutions and truths, truths that we will hopefully, for the sake of our growth, remain open to questioning.

I like very much the concept of the beginner's mind. A famous zen quote regarding this is that "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's, few." We need the beginner's mind to find new and creative solutions to enduring problems. Someone once said, "Insanity definded is doing the same thing but expecting different results." We keep walking the same paths, and reaching the same destinations. By opening our minds, asking new questions, and seeking new answers, we may walk different paths and achieve results we never dreamed of. Whether in Lebanon or Gaza, Washington, DC, or at our own kitchen table mulling over personal issues, the beginner's mind may lead to the most profound wisdom.


Monday, July 17, 2006

A clarification

I do not wish to lend the impression that I blame Israel exclusively for the conflict currently growing. It has been pointed out to me that Hezbollah seeks a confrontation. Perhaps Israel is falling into a trap, of sorts. Hezbollah clearly has sought to cause the current conflict with the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers. Both sides indeed must want the conflict to end. Right now, it seems rather clear to me that neither side does.


Israel's Position

CNN reports that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says Israel will continue its offensive until its captured soldiers are returned, a cease-fire is implemented and Lebanese soldiers are deployed along the border.

How do you implement a cease-fire while the offensive is continuing? That doesn't even make sense logically.

I'm not nit-picking here. That statement is a sign of the mindshift that needs to occur to stop the violence.

The Israelis need to look at their objectives and whether their actions are leading in that direction.

Lebanon will not move its troops into a hot zone, so as long as Israel attacks, that condition cannot be met.

Has there been any sign that Hezbollah is moving in the direction of releasing the captives? That condition will not be met so long as the attacks continue.

So, the attacks will be endless unless a new look at the whole issue is undertaken by the Israeli government.

If we walk along the wrong path, we'll never reach our destination.


Bush Dismissive of Ceasefire

CNN reports this morning that President Bush was caught off-guard before an open mic at the G-8 summit. In his comments he used an expletive- CNN seems to emphasize this, but does anyone think this is the first President to swear?- and he spoke dismissively of UN Sec. General Kofi Annan's hope for an immediate ceasefire.

CNN seems to be missing the point. It is the second issue is important and disturbing.

According to CNN (article here)-

"What about Kofi Annan?" Bush asked Blair. "I don't like the sequence of it. His attitude is basically cease-fire and everything else happens."

The President is grossly mischaracterizing what Sec. General Annan seeks. He's discussing international forces, for example, to be brought in immediately upon a ceasefire. He's not thinking "everything else happens."

Moving beyond what appears to be narrow-mindedness by the President whenever it comes to the UN, this is terribly disturbing commentary from the President. How can the President of the US, in public or private, be in any way opposed to an immediate ceasefire? Even if the ceasefire is not the end of the problem and does not create a perfect world, how can he oppose it? Does he think that all problems in the "new world of global terror" can be (must be?) resolved through violent military options?

This President demonstrates a major disconnect in this case between a politician's world view and the thinking of an ordinary person. Doesn't he understand how a ceasefire would be in the best interest of the parents in Lebanon and Israel who have had their children killed by bombs and missiles? How can a ceasefire fail to be in the interests of these two nations which have seen more than 200 civilians die in Lebanon and more than 20 on Israel? What sort of mind causes one to oppose an end to violence?

My heart sank when I heard the President's comments this morning.

If his swearing with the cameras rolling were the least of his lapses in judgment, how much better off we'd be.


Sunday, July 16, 2006

The US in the Israel/Lebanon War

United Nations, July 16: Lebanon accused the United States of blocking a Security Council statement calling for a cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah.


I don't know, but , given the nature of the US/Israel relationship and given the Bush Administration's response to terrorist acts, there may be some truth here. President Bush has been more critical of Hezbollah than Israel, without question, although I think when the death toll is tabulated, Israel has brought more death to Lebanon than the Lebanon/Hezbollah to Israel.

The US needs to pressure Israel to open up to the possibility of dialogue rather than bombing. The notion that Israel can bomb the soldier hostages back seems absurd to me. The more long-lasting and intense the bombing, the less likely they are to see the soldiers again.

The response has already been disproportionate by Israel. And, Israeli actions have caused a significant escalation (bombings from Hezbollah/Lebanon) without bringing Israel any closer to its stated goal- the return of its kidnapped soldiers.

Pressure to stop the violence must be applied.

If pressure is not applied, prepare for endless scenes like this from Lebanon...

and this from Israel...

This violence is killing innocent people, including untold numbers of children. It must stop.


Friday, July 14, 2006

Bush Administration Reverses Itself on Detainee Rights

Earlier I referred to the Bush Administration to abide by Geneva Conventions as "better late than never." Well, it turns out it's really just plain never- if the President gets his way.

The NY Times reports, "A day after saying that terror suspects had a right to protections under the Geneva Conventions, the Bush administration said Wednesday that it wanted Congress to pass legislation that would limit the rights granted to detainees. "

The administration wants to define the "rights" of detainees narrowly.

Since the Supreme Court rulings limiting the President's power to call for indefinite detention and military tribunals without due process rights, the President's advisers and attorneys have seized upon the part of the most recent ruling that indicated that the Congress could make some decisions regarding what sorts of trials may take place.

So, rather than abide by international regulations and common decency, our President is still seeking to practice 'American exceptionalism.'

If only he could understand that his persistence on this path is undermining not only the perception of America around the world, but actually putting our troops in greater jeopardy.

The learning curve for this President on this matter is steep. Very steep.


Thursday, July 13, 2006


When I was growing up in the 80s, comparing something to Beruit was to indicate utter devastation. It was a city destroying itself with civil war.

Let's hope know it does not become a city destroyed from the outside- and left with factions to fight over the rubble.

The escalation of the conflict between Israel/Hezbollah/Lebanon is very disheartening.

My question to the Israeli government: Do you really believe that this escalation is improving the chances of recovering your soldiers alive?

I cannot see how.

A proportionate action (limited troop interventions, special operations forces, etc.) would have been justified and appropriate. It may also have yielded positive results. Isreal has gone well beyond proportionate action.

We can only hope that other nations are not drawn into this conflict (such as Syria).

From CNN:


Israeli Attacks on Lebanon

The Israeli attacks on Lebanon have escalated. According to AP reports, "Two days of Israeli bombings, the heaviest air campaign against its neighbor in 24 years, had killed 47 Lebanese and wounded 103, Health Minister Mohammed Jawad Khalife said. Besides the Israeli civilian, eight Israeli soldiers had also been killed."

I am concerned that the attacks are not proportionate to the original act of kidnapping 2 Israeli soldiers.

Since the Israeli air campaign began, Hezbollah has launched missiles into Israel, with at least one death as a result.

The escalating cycle of violence will lead the Israeli government to feel justified now in doing whatever it wishes.

What if a more proportionate response had been taken? We'll never know.

How many times must the cannonballs fly
before they are forever banned?
Bob Dylan


Wednesday, July 12, 2006

More Ignorance in treating Muslims

In Belgium Muslim teachers have been fired for wearing headscarves.

This reminds me of the cases in France where students have been removed from the French school system for wearing their headcoverings.

These policies are both morally bankrupt and politically stupid.

On the moral side of the equation, failing to allow people to practice their faith in a non-invasive way such as headcoverings is a human rights violation. One's religious faith goes to the core of one's being. It can't be left behind when one exits a place of worship or a home and enters a school or place of business. Do we force them to eat food in the cafeteria that violates their faith as well?

As a policy matter, why would any society choose to reject those members of the Muslim community who wish to be a part of the mainstream? Why would we force them away and, perhaps, into the arms of a more radical element? These policies are helpful to the recruiting efforts of radicals. "See. They hate you because of your religion. They discriminate against you because you are a believer." It is very foolish to open the door to these messages.

We should be happy with every Muslim student who walks through a school house door, and with every Muslim teacher who reports to work to teach them. As long as their behavior respects the learning environment (no different from any other faith- see below in this post), we should welcome them. In this way we can create mutual understanding, friendship, and peace.

I've heard of only one similar case in the United States (although I suspect there have been at least some more). A Muslim girl was removed from school for violating the district's 'hat policy.' I discussed the case with my students. I told them that this was a case of profound ignorance and that the school in question would reverse itself in short order. It did, and the student was back in class within a few days.

As a school policy matter, schools need to be places where all are welcome to learn. This creates the need for a balancing act when it comes to religion. Students, and teachers, should be allowed to be people of faith so long as they do not seek to proselytize or disrupt their classes with their religious behavior. No one is harmed- and the learning environment is not disrupted- by a headscarf, a WWJD T-Shirt, or any other article of clothing. Case by case common sense can rule the day, and the courts will very rarely be needed.

That is, unless people around the world, in a severely misguided attempt to combat global terrorism and enforce cultural homogeneity, continue to discriminate against people of faith who are Muslim. We need to open our arms to our Muslim brothers and sisters and welcome them into our communities, and in this way we will further the cause of peace.


And the Cycle of Violence Continues

Hezbollah has captured two Israeli soldiers along the border with Lebanon. Israeli troops and warplanes have responded.

The wheel keeps turning.

Who has the courage to stop it?


Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Soul Searching Regarding Iraq

From Informed Comment today:

Guerrillas detonated two huge car bombs in a Shiite neighborhood on Monday, killing 25 and wounding 41. The guerrillas set both off in the Talbiyah district of Sadr City, a stronghold of the Sadr Movement of Muqtada al-Sadr. Sunni Arabs accuse a Sadrist militia of having massacred 42 Sunnis in the al-Jihad district on Sunday.

Guerrillas set off two other bombs in the capital, as well. A bomb exploded outside a restaurant, killing 6 and wounding 28. A roadside bomb killed 5 policemen. Gunmen also killed two bodyguards of a judge.

Gunmen ambushed a bus in the Sunni Arab district of Amiriyah in the capital, killing 7 [late reports say 10].

That is 44 dead in the capital alone.

This is just one day.

This is why, I believe, we need to reflect on what the situation has become in Iraq because of our invasion. We did not kill the 44 people in Baghdad. But, we have created the conditions that led to their deaths. We must recognize our responsibility for failing to protect them- due to the Rumsfeld Doctrine of minimum troop involvement.

In our outrage over the videotaping of mutilated US soldiers we need to reflect on our actions. On Abu Grahib. On GITMO. On photos- taken by our military- of al Zarqawi and Hussein's sons broadcast round the world. On Hadditha. On Mahmoudiya. On the cycle of Sunni/Shiite violence-which we cannot stop- that continues to eat away at Iraq and damage it's hope for democracy.

When we have engaged in this reflection, then we can move beyond our own outrage and understand the outrage of others. Then perhaps we can take actions that will lead to the greater likelihood of peace.


From the 'Better Late Than Never' File

AP reports:

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration, called to account by Congress after the Supreme Court blocked military tribunals, said Tuesday all detainees at Guantanamo Bay and in U.S. military custody everywhere are entitled to protections under the Geneva Conventions.

Prisoners have been held there since January, 2002. More than 4 years later, the Bush Administration agrees to minimum humane treatment.

That is the lack of moral leadership that I referred to in the preceding post.

Fortunately, checks and balances eventually (at a snail's pace perhaps) worked. Perhaps the horrible stories that from time to time leak out of GITMO will now cease.

Perhaps now those who are culpable will be brought to trial and the perpetual detention policy of the Bush Administration will end.

For 4 years we Americans have sacrificed our morality on the altar of national defense at GITMO. It is time for that embarrassment to end.


Video of Bodies of US Soldiers

CNN is reporting that a video of the bodies of the two US soldiers killed and mutilated in Iraq recently has been posted to the internet on Islamist websites. The video contains images of Osama Bin Laden and Abu Musab al Zarqawi, as well as voice-over by al Zarqawi.

The video claims that the killing of the soldiers was a reprisal for the rape and killing of the woman and her family in Mahmoudiya (which was allegedly committed by men from the same unit as the soldiers killed, but not by those men themselves). This veracity of this claim is suspect as the issue of the rape was not widely known until more recently than the deaths of the soldiers. It could be true, but we cannot know.

Posting of such images in despicable. The images themselves- with a "jihadist" holding up the decapitated head of one soldier and another placing his foot on the head of the other soldier to disgrace the body- remind me of the inhumanity I've seen in Holocaust photographs. This video shows clearly the nature of the individuals who are engaged in this so-called 'jihad' (there's nothing holy about this war) against the US and the West.

But... we must be careful.

Why be careful? The Middle East is plagued by a cycle of violence. "You kill one of mine, I kill two of yours." (Witness recent events in Gaza.) We cannot allow ourselves to be dragged to that moral low-ground- not in deeds and not even in our thinking. I'm afraid we already have done this- I can't tell you how many times I've heard the Iraq war justified by statements like, "They deserve it after what they did to us" (meaning 9/11 as if anyone of Arab decent was equally culpable). But it is not too late for us and our moral sensibilities.

Soldiers on the ground in Iraq and Americans at the homefront cannot afford to engage in this sort of thinking. It infected Americans' minds as they listened to the Bush Adminstration call for war in Iraq, and the consequences have been steep. It has rallied our enemies and increased their ranks.

Worst of all, it has damaged our collective soul as a nation. We need to aspire to more than such base thinking. We can be angry at the perpetrators- both of the killing and of the video production. We can seek justice against those involved. But we must not allow ourselves to think in terms of "collective justice" and use such an incident to harden our hearts against the suffering that we cause. We must not seek general retribution.

We must seek the moral high-ground- to live with ourselves and to set an example for the world. We must be very aggressive in training our troops to avoid more incidents like those at Hadditha or at Mahmoudiya. We must stop broadcasting to the world images of those our army kills- like Hussein's sons or al Zarqawi- if we expect the Islamist world (not Islamic) to stop broadcasting images of our dead soldiers.

Naive. No. Of course it will not cause those individuals like those involved in the killing and videotaping of those two soldiers to change their ways. But, it may reduce the appeal of videos such as these (they are for recruiting after all). It may slow the cycle of violence so that some day it may cease to spin.

Look at history. When has retaliation killing lead to peace? It hasn't. It takes more courage to break the cycle than to continue it. We must develop that courage and demonstrated it for all to see.

America's leadership could yet come from demonstration of morality and discretion, but we need to change directions and do so quickly. Otherwise, as I've said before, we will continue to reap what we sow.


Monday, July 10, 2006

New Book

Many of us who have been critical of President Bush's use (abuse) of power have focused on the influence of Vice-President Cheney and, in foreign policy matters, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. Less often criticized is now Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Some issues were raised at confirmation hearings, but relatively little has been heard since.

A new book on the subject, The Presidents Counselor: The Rise to Power of Alberto Gonzales, by Bill Minutaglio, is reviewed by the New York Times (free registration required). According to the review, the book helps explain, at least somewhat, the role that Gonzales played. The review says, "He prepared an executive order that gave presidents expanded powers to keep their White House papers sealed after they left office. He signed a January 2002 draft memorandum that stated that the “new paradigm” of the war on terror “renders obsolete” the Geneva Conventions’ “strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions.” He participated in a series of discussions dealing with the definition of torture that would arguably lay the groundwork for abuses committed at Abu Ghraib and other American military prisons. And he played an important role in Mr. Bush’s decision secretly to authorize the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans in search of evidence of terrorist activity, without obtaining a court-approved warrant."

Sounds like a significant role to me. I'm quite certain I won't be getting to the book soon, if at all. But, it may be worth keeping an eye on the issue to see if it generates any news.


A Good Decision

According to CNN, a US District Court has ruled that the search of Congressman Jefferson's argument was appropriate. According to the ruling, the notion that member's of Congress are immune from a court approved warrant "would have the effect of converting every congressional office into a taxpayer-subsidized sanctuary for crime."

I found the bipartisan congressional upset over the search puzzling.

This is, in my view, directly related to the NSA warrantless wiretapping case. Our Constitution is designed to prevent any one branch of government from gaining too much power. Checks and balances are to prevent this. In the case of the search of Congressman Jefferson's office, these checks and balances were utilized. The executive branch sought a search, and the judicial branch agreed that probable cause existed for a search and issued a warrant. To allow the Congress to disregard the appropriate powers of the other branches is just as bad as when the executive branch does so.

The real question- Why if members of Congress are so upset about a legal search- under a duly issued warrant- in an office of one of their own aren't they more upset about warrantless seizure of information using the NSA when it comes to ordinary Americans?

I guess the question answers itself, really.

Back from vacation,


Tuesday, July 04, 2006

American Impotence?

North Korea today fired several- at least 6- missiles into the Sea of Japan. Apparently their effort to fire a long range missile, capable of reaching the US, failed. For now.

Do you think it was a coincidence that these missiles were fired on the 4th of July?

Eventually the North Koreans will successfully test their long range missile. And then?

Now the disaster of Iraq will start to cost the United States even more that the lives and money we have already lost. Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld wanted to show that the US could take the "war on terror" to the world. They've demonstrated the opposite.

We have not been able to get the job done in Iraq- not in terms of reducing the terrorist threat from Iraq, not in terms of establishing security and safety for its people, and not in terms of making the US safer from WMD.

We've alienated nations that were our friends.

Our military is stretched too thin.

The war in Iraq has become increasingly unpopular, as has the President responsible for it.

And, adopting a 4th of July appropriate language, these truths are self-evident, and all in the candid world (including those who would harm us) know it.

Now a more real threat exists, and we are impotent. Worse than that- our failure in every way in Iraq has given "aid and comfort" to the enemy (far more than the NY Times has done- see here and here) because rogue nations like Iran and North Korea feel emboldened to develop- and publicize- their real WMD programs.

The law of unintended consequences comes home to Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld. Unintended, but not necessarily unexpected. Certainly not from the team that promised us greater "competence" in the '02 election. While we have chased a fiction in Iraq, real dangers have grown, and our ability to deal with those real dangers has diminished.

This means that, in fact, our independence is diminished because our hands are tied as we face serious challenges in the years ahead. This is the sobering reality of July 4th, 2006.