Monday, October 31, 2005

"I will show you fear/in a handful of dust"--T.S. Eliot

An admittedly un-scientific and not thoroughly random sampling of concerns about the holiday celebrated today (what happened to the good old days when the John Birch Society was worried about the Communist influence of UNICEF on us kids?) indicates fear is the motivating factor, and that the most conservative churches with presumably the least to fear, are the strongest proponents of this terror.

As I noted earlier, it seems to be rooted in either urban legends or superstition. Either we live in a "demon haunted world" and tonight's the night they freely walk the earth, looking for young precious souls to corrupt, or we live in a world dominated by predators who desire nothing more than to kill as many children as possible. Neither story is true, of course, but the conservative churches around me, at least, peddle some variation on the two for all they are worth. Either (a) demons and witches will bequile your child into Satanism tonight with offers of candy (I suppose this is how homosexuals "recruit," too), or (b) pederasts and "child molesters" will snatch your child from the bosom of your family with apples and razor blades or candy and poison.

How did we come so quickly to such a pass? Neither fear is based on anything except repitition and assertion. Neither fear has anything whatsoever to do with reality (indeed, the "superstition" fear is the very idolatry berated again and again in the Hebrew Scriptures). And yet both not only persist, but seem to grow yearly. None of this was more than the province of the most marginalized and most fundamentalist of groups when I was a child. What has happened to us, as a nation and a culture, in 35 years, that it now swamps our schools and is an annual topic of church advertising and public discussion?

And none of it based on anything more remotely verifiable, than one case here in Houston in 1974.

Why are we so easily made afraid? Is that the root behind our response to 9/11, and our support for Iraq, support now withered as we learn what real fear is, and what real disaster is? But our national history is one of dealing with disasters and overcoming natural obstacles. We even took on the greatest war machine of the 20th century, and defeated it, from a standing start. But sometime shortly after that, it seems, we became afraid, and fear has guided our national and cultural actions ever since.


Harriet Miers, Round 1 1/2

NYT, yesterday:

With the announcement of a new Supreme Court nominee expected as early as Monday, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader, warned President Bush on Sunday not to pick one of the candidates said to be on the president's short list, Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr.

"I think it would create a lot of problems," Mr. Reid said on "Late Edition" on CNN.
You think Bush took that as a double-dog dare?

BBC WorldService interviewed Jonathan Turley (not, so far as I can tell, available on-line), who said this nomination has "filibuster" written all over it. They also report Alito handed down an opinion declaring the Family Leave Act unconstitutional.

Unlike Roberts, in other words, Alito has a record of published judicial opinions, and while they may warm the heart of Tony Scalia, there's no reason to think they will win the hearts and minds of Americans. Alito will have two choices: defend his record of extreme judicial opinions (the blogosphere will be rich with those by now), or deny his own published opinions.

And, of course, hearings on this matter aren't likely to happen before January. Look for the Dems to slow it down, at any rate, and push the hearing off to next year, knowing that, in an election year, with a GOP President hovering below 40%, Alito will be even less attractive.

Bush wants a quick "up or down" vote. How likely is he to get that, just now?

Here's the whole thing, in a nutshell, from the NYT this morning:

Polls show Mr. Bush's popularity at a new low. American casualties continue to mount in Iraq, the president's domestic agenda is in limbo, and the White House is reeling from the indictment of I. Lewis Libby Jr., a top aide, a day after the withdrawal of Mr. Bush's previous Supreme Court nominee, Harriet E. Miers.

But because the nominee would succeed Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who was the swing vote on abortion rights and other social issues, any pick that pleased conservatives would most likely meet ferocious resistance from the left. The withdrawal of Ms. Miers has emboldened the left and the right to step up their demands, and a second failed pick will only compound the pressure.

On Sunday, Senator Reid and other Democrats sought to capitalize on the president's political vulnerabilities as he picked a nominee.

"If he wants to divert attention from all of his many problems, he can send us somebody that is going to create a lot of problems," Mr. Reid said. "I think this time he would be ill advised to do that. But the right wing, the radical right wing, is pushing a lot of his buttons, and he may just go along with them."
Out of the frying pan, into the fire.

Oooh, Scary!

[/Count Floyd]

Well, maybe not.

Happy Hallowe'en, y'all!

Sunday, October 30, 2005

The Lesson for October 30th

The word of the Lord for leaders who would rely on the word of the Lord.

Micah 3:5-12

Thus says the LORD concerning the prophets who lead my people astray, who cry "Peace" when they have something to eat, but declare war against those who put nothing into their mouths. Therefore it shall be night to you, without vision, and darkness to you, without revelation. The sun shall go down upon the prophets, and the day shall be black over them;

The seers shall be disgraced, and the diviners put to shame; they shall all cover their lips, for there is no answer from God. But as for me, I am filled with power, with the spirit of the LORD, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression and to Israel his sin.

Hear this, you rulers of the house of Jacob and chiefs of the house of Israel, who abhor justice and pervert all equity, who build Zion with blood and Jerusalem with wrong! Its rulers give judgment for a bribe, its priests teach for a price, its prophets give oracles for money; yet they lean upon the LORD and say, "Surely the LORD is with us! No harm shall come upon us." Therefore because of you Zion shall be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins, and the mountain of the house a wooded height.

What a dreadful thing it is to fall into the hands of the living God.

This is not a time for levity

Because, unfortunately, David Remnick is right:

Remnick writes, "Bush had been unmasked in all his insularity, arrogance, and executive incompetence.... But the lessons that Bush is likely to derive from the complex of recent disasters will not automatically lead to a more considered, modest, and moderate Presidency." The emboldened attack Bush faced for his nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court came not from the left, but from conservative ideological radicals, "leading members of the true-believing Republican Party." More than three years remain in President Bush's second term, Remnick notes, and, "in his anger, and after all his many failures, the President, quite suddenly, seems unpopular, alone, and adrift."
Much as part of me wants to enjoy Bush's discomfiture, this is the logical result of events that began on the ranch in Crawford, and offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. That, however, was only, as the lawyers say, the "proximate cause" of the current situation. What it revealed was the "producing cause," which is Bush's "insularity, arrogance, and executive incompetence." At some point, he can no longer remain "in charge" and blame all those he delegated power to, for dereliction of their duties.

Responsibility has a way of finding you, and of being apportioned. But for three more years, he is still the President.

Which is not a pleasant thought, at all.


From Frank Rich:

To believe that the Bush-Cheney scandals will be behind us anytime soon you'd have to believe that the Nixon-Agnew scandals peaked when G. Gordon Liddy and his bumbling band were nailed for the Watergate break-in. But Watergate played out for nearly two years after the gang that burglarized Democratic headquarters was indicted by a federal grand jury; it even dragged on for more than a year after Nixon took "responsibility" for the scandal, sacrificed his two top aides and weathered the indictments of two first-term cabinet members. In those ensuing months, America would come to see that the original petty crime was merely the leading edge of thematically related but wildly disparate abuses of power that Nixon's attorney general, John Mitchell, would name "the White House horrors."

In our current imperial presidency, as in its antecedent, what may look like a narrow case involving a second banana with a child's name contains the DNA of the White House, and that DNA offers a road map to the duplicitous culture of the whole. The coming prosecution of Lewis (Scooter) Libby in the Wilson affair is hardly the end of the story. That "Cheney's Cheney," as Mr. Libby is known, would allegedly go to such lengths to obscure his role in punishing a man who challenged the administration's W.M.D. propaganda is just one very big window into the genesis of the smoke screen (or, more accurately, mushroom cloud) that the White House used to sell the war in Iraq.
I especially appreciate the way Rich connects the dots all the way back to Katrina. That was the force that really turned the rocks over in this country. Does anyone doubt that Fitzgerald's press conference and Libby's indictment would have received a very different reception if not for Katrina and New Orleans?

Speaking of Katrina, whatever happened to Rove's appointment as the "man in charge" of recovery in Louisiana and Mississippi? Did that go the same way as this?

As far back as May 8, 2001, [Cheney] appeared on CNN to promote his new assignment, announced that day by Mr. Bush, to direct a governmentwide review of U.S. "consequence management" in the event of a terrorist attack. As we would learn only in the recriminatory aftermath of 9/11 (from Barton Gellman of The Washington Post), Mr. Cheney never did so.
And, of course, those who cannot learn from history, simply repeat it as tragedy:

...Watergate's dirty tricks were mainly prompted by the ruthless desire to crush the political competition at any cost. That's a powerful element in the Bush scandals, too, but this administration has upped the ante by playing dirty tricks with war. Back on July 6, 2003, when the American casualty toll in Iraq stood at 169 and Mr. Wilson had just published his fateful Op-Ed, Robert Novak, yet to write his column outing Mr. Wilson's wife, declared that "weapons of mass destruction or uranium from Niger" were "little elitist issues that don't bother most of the people." That's what Nixon administration defenders first said about the "third-rate burglary" at Watergate, too.
There's more in this WaPo article:

A majority of Americans say the indictment of senior White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby signals broader ethical problems in the Bush administration, and nearly half say the overall level of honesty and ethics in the federal government has fallen since President Bush took office, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News survey.

The poll, conducted Friday night and yesterday, found that 55 percent of the public believes the Libby case indicates wider problems "with ethical wrongdoing" in the White House, while 41 percent believes it was an "isolated incident." And by a 3 to 1 ratio, 46 percent to 15 percent, Americans say the level of honesty and ethics in the government has declined rather than risen under Bush.
And the issue? It's really quite simple:

"One thing you can't ever, ever do even if you're a regular person is lie to a grand jury," said Brad Morris, 48, a registered independent and a field representative for a lumber company who lives in Nashua, N.H. "But multiply that by a thousand times if you have power like [Libby had]. And if anybody wants to know why, ask Scooter. He's financially ruined; he'll be paying lawyers for the rest of his life."

Taken together, the findings represent a serious blow to a White House already reeling from the politically damaging effects of the slow government response to Hurricane Katrina, the continuing bloodshed in Iraq, the ongoing criticism of its since-repudiated claims that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and the bungled nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court.
And, of course, there's that ol' debbil "ethics" question:

The ethics findings may be particularly upsetting to a president who came to office in 2000 vowing to restore integrity and honor to a White House that he said had been tainted by the recurring scandals of the Clinton year.
But Clinton was just randy; Bush is incompetent. Randy is not nice; incompetent, in the "most powerful man in the world," is scary.

Very scary.

Happy Hallowe'en.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Reading matters

I haven't had a chance to read these myself, but still, they look good. Maureen Dowd, for example, eviscerates the talking points while they're still warm:

It was bracing to see the son of a New York doorman open the door on the mendacious Washington lair of the Lord of the Underground.

But this Irish priest of the law, Patrick Fitzgerald, neither Democrat nor Republican, was very strict, very precise. He wasn't totally gratifying in clearing up the murkiness of the case, yet strangely comforting in his quaint black-and-white notions of truth and honor (except when his wacky baseball metaphor seemed to veer toward a "Who's on first?" tangle).

"This indictment's not about the propriety of the war," he told reporters yesterday in his big Eliot Ness moment at the Justice Department. The indictment was simply about whether the son of an investment banker perjured himself before a grand jury and the F.B.I.

Scooter does seem like a big fat liar in the indictment. And not a clever one, since his deception hinged on, of all people, the popular monsignor of the trusted Sunday Church of Russert. Does Scooter hope to persuade a jury to believe him instead of Little Russ?

Good luck.

There is something grotesque about Scooter's hiding behind the press with his little conspiracy, given that he's part of an administration that despises the press and tried to make its work almost impossible.
And while I'd rather read the indictment myself, for those without time, there seem to be good places to start. Stirling Newberry, for one:

This does not capture the full range and gravity of the charges against him. An act of perjury is lying about a material fact. Libby didn't merely lie once about how he came by Plame's identity, but over and over again, elaborating the lie with other lies, fabricating conversations to protect the lie, and asking others to lie to protect the lie. The indictment is filled with statements that Libby made to the grand jury which the prosecutor alleges are lies. This is not a technicality, nor a single moment of weakness, but a sustained campaign to present to law enforcement a fictitious story to avoid criminal jeopardy.

But what this indictment implies is weightier still. It states that there was official discussion of Plame's identity by officials of the executive branch. It implies that Wilson questioning the Niger story created a political problem for them which they felt they had to deal with, not by legal means, but by covert, and potentially illegal means. If Wilson had been leaking, then they could have simply had him arrested and charged with leaking classified national security information. But they knew that not only was Wilson telling the truth, but that they had to deal with him without invoking the law.
All fall down.

And the NYT lead editorial, for another:

Supporters of Mr. Libby, known as Scooter, have attempted to describe the Wilson case as, at worse, a matter of casual gossip by Washington insiders about the wife of a man in the news. But the indictment does not describe a situation in which people accidentally outed someone they did not know was a covert officer. It describes a distinct and disturbing pattern of behavior among very high-ranking officials, including Mr. Libby and Vice President Dick Cheney, who knew that they were dealing with a covert officer and used their access to classified information in a public relations campaign over the rapidly disintegrating justifications for war with Iraq.
As Peter Gabriel sang: here comes the flood. Because, from Newberry, here's the key:

The question unanswered, as Fitzgerald repeated at his press conference, is why Libby burned Plame, and under whose authority. Politically there is no good answer, whether legal or illegal, the burning of Plame was clearly a political act for political convenience, and not a matter of national security. But for the purposes of the law, Libby is only guilty if he was not supposed to reveal the information. The indictment notes that Libby signed the normal form to protect classified information. This means that if he did not have permission to burn Plame, or the permission was not legally given, he could be charged with revealing classified information.
More to come, clearly.

P.S. If you haven't seen it, here are Scott Ritter and Seymour Hersh on Iraq and the WMD issue. As Hersh says, the idea that Hussein ever had WMD was an "urban myth." It was clear by '97, in fact, that he had no such thing. There is a great deal more to this than just Scooter Libby's liberal use of lies.

"I didn't MEAN to!"

Well, when somebody calls you a liar, the obvious first line of defense is: I didn't mean to!

The lawyer for Vice President Dick Cheney's former top aide is outlining a possible criminal defense that is a time-honored tradition in Washington scandals: A busy official immersed in important duties cannot reasonably be expected to remember details of long-ago conversations.

Friday's indictment of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby involves allegations that as Cheney's chief of staff he lied to FBI agents and a federal grand jury.

Libby, who resigned immediately, was operating amid "the hectic rush of issues and events at a busy time for our government," according to a statement released by his attorney, Joseph Tate.

"We are quite distressed the special counsel (Patrick Fitzgerald) has not sought to pursue alleged inconsistencies in Mr. Libby's recollection and those of others and to charge such inconsistencies as false statements," Tate continued.

"As lawyers, we recognize that a person's recollection and memory of events will not always match those of other people, particularly when they are asked to testify months after the events occurred."

This is not quite as simplistic as it appears, which is why "The lack-of-memory defense has worked with varying degrees of success in controversies from ran-Contra to Whitewater." It goes to the legal issue of mens rea. That is, did the defendant have the criminal intent necessary to find him in violation of criminal law? To put it as simply as possible, it's not just the act, it's the attitude.

So the classic criminal defense is usually some variation of "He didn't mean to do it." That is, when the crime is committed in front of the law enforcement officers (one of the peculiarities of perjury and obstruction of justice. The latter, by the way, apparently carries a harsher sentence than perjury. Who knew?). Because at that point, it's kind of hard to argue: "I didn't do it!"

So this is very serious, and Libby faces extreme problems trying to convince a jury he's not Cheney's Chief of Staff and an insider's insider, but instead he's just Bart Simpson. And, as Jane Hamsher, Fitzgerald made it clear yesterday that the investigation into the crime of "outing" Valerie Plame hasn't finished yet, because another crime was committed which blocked that investigation.

It ain't the cover up; it ain't the politics; it's the criminal activity. And there seems to be a lot of it here.

Google and the Problem of Hospitality

I thought I'd sketched my ideas about hospitality earlier, and Google showed me the way back to them. (It's so much easier than writing).

The basic premise is there. If I can find my notes, I can expand on it a bit more and start sketching out the connections to soteriology and ecclesiology (although some hints are there, regardless). If I can find my lecture notes, I can go a bit further, although "further" might mean going backwards. Back to Abraham.

At one point, I was convinced everything begins with Abraham.

I'm still not sure I'm completely wrong about that.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Responsibility; or nothing at all

Athenae put me on the idea of the walls coming down. I was actually thinking about events today, and in the last 5 years, in connection with Aristotle and tragedy this morning, while lecturing on the subject. Not that W. is a "tragic figure," but his hubris has certainly exposed his all too obvious hamartia, and in classic tragedy the protagonist need not be a sympathetic character, merely an important one.

So maybe the walls are tumbling down. I hope so. But this is where they should really fall:

Washington - A federal judge on Wednesday ordered the US government to provide medical records on Guantánamo prisoners who are being force-fed while on a hunger strike and to notify their lawyers about forced feedings.

US District Court Judge Gladys Kessler acted after lawyers representing about a dozen men held at the prison for foreign terrorism suspects at the US naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, expressed urgent concern over their deteriorating health amid a hunger strike launched in early August.

Kessler stated in her opinion that the detainees' lawyers had presented "deeply troubling" allegations of forced feedings in which US personnel violently shoved tubes as thick as a finger through the men's noses and into their stomachs without anesthesia or sedatives.

"If the allegations are true - and they are all explicitly, specifically and vigorously denied by the government - they describe conduct of which the United States can hardly be proud," the judge wrote.

Julia Tarver, a lawyer for the detainees, had told the court she learned during a visit to the base several weeks ago of force-feedings that caused prisoners to vomit blood. Tarver wrote, "When they vomited up blood, the soldiers mocked and cursed at them, and taunted them with statements like 'look what your religion has brought you.'"

Tarver told the court that prison guards took a feeding tube from one detainee, "and with no sanitization whatsoever, reinserted it into the nose of a different detainee."
Many Guantánamo prisoners have been there for more than 3-1/2 years, and just four have been charged with crimes. Rights activists have denounced these indefinite detentions and treatment they say amounts to torture. Most detainees were picked up in Afghanistan after a US invasion in 2001 to oust the Taliban government and dislodge al Qaeda bases.
There may be no "recognition" by the protagonist of his error; but there certainly needs to be a reversal, and one carried out not just by the protagonist, but by his entire nation.

Jonah walked the streets of Nin'eveh, and preached a simple sermon: "Yet forty days, and Nin'eveh shall be overthrown!" And the king, and so all the people, heard and repented, and the kingdom was saved.

We put much weight on individual responsibility today, to the point that some will excuse Dick Cheney from any contagion or contamination arising from the indictment, or more especially the conviction, if it comes, of his chief of staff. Ken Lay to this day protests his innocence for actions taken by people directly under his authority and supervision. So too, the country will continue to consider itself apart from its leadership, and responsible only for encouraging justice, or for having the right criticism of those who are brought down by their individual hubris and their individual hamartia.

But tragedy is never about the individual. Ask Lear; ask Hamlet; ask Macbeth. It always involves the community; even if the tragic protagonist is Willy Loman, we are all indicted in the fall, we all bear responsibility for the failure, for creating and abiding by and supporting the system that made the failure not only possible, but inevitable.

That is what I see if Athenae is right and the walls are finally coming down. Not a cause for glee and dancing; but a reason to wear sackcloth and ashes and to repent. Because Donne was right, although he meant it in very different way: when the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.

Further Prologue to a discussion

The problem of hospitality (and you will soon see they are all one problem) is the problem of ecclesiology is the problem of soteriology, is the problem of theology and so of Christianity.

Why? Partly, because of the centrality of confession to the Christian kerygma:

Confession does not consist in making known--and thereby it teaches that teaching as the transmission of positive knowledge is not essential. The avowal does not belong in essence to the order of cognitive determination; it is quasi-apophatic in this regard. It has nothing to do with knowledge--with knowledge as such. As act of charity, love, and friendship in Christ, the avowal is destined to God and to creatures, to the Father and to the brothers in order to "stir up" love, to augment an affect, love, among them, among us. And so that we give thanks to God and pray to him for us in greater numbers. For Augustine does not respond only to the question: Why do I confess you you, God, who know all in advance? Augustine speaks of "doing the truth", which does not come down to revealing, unveiling, nor to informing in the order of cognitive reason. Perhaps it comes down to testifying.
Jacques Derrida, "Sauf le nom," On the Name, tr. David Wood, John P. Leavey, Jr., and Ian McLeod (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press 1995), p. 329

And then there is the question of negative theology, the via negativa, which is central to all discussions of theology, for as even Augustine said: "God is wise without wisdom, good without goodness, powerful without power." Derrida, p. 38. And so we have to have in hand the idea of the khora, "the body without body, absent body but unique body and place, in lieu of everything, in the place of everything, interval, place, spacing....Khora is over there but more 'here' than any 'here' ....." (Derrida, p. 56):

You know well that, in nearly all its Greek, Christian, or Jewish networks, the via negativa conjugates reference to God, the name of God, with the experience of place. The desert is also a figure of the pure place.
(Derrida, p. 56)

I actually meant to include a clarification of the phrases "Church of Meaning and Belonging" and "Church of Sacrifice for Meaning and Belonging," but find I don't have time to recover the book I take it from, so that will have to wait. So this will have to serve, for the moment, as a further prologue to the discussion.

But let me note that khora is a place that is not a place, which Derrida puts as the experience of the via negativa (the negative way; way? to where?), and Derrida notes the desert is the figure of the pure place. The place of the desert in the Scriptures should not be overlooked, nor the importance of place to hospitality.

Brent Scowcroft speaks

"The reason I part with the neocons is that I don't think in any reasonable time frame the objective of democratizing the Middle East can be successful," Mr. Scowcroft said. "If you can do it, fine, but I don't think you can, and in the process of trying to do it you can make the Middle East a lot worse."

Is there any reason these words couldn't have come from a leader of the "opposition party"? Does anyone really doubt that democracy does not come from the end of a gun? Isn't that the real lesson of Vietnam? Does anyone doubt that democracy does not come from the deaths of over 2000 Americans, and over 100,000 Iraqis? Does anyone really believe that democracy comes from the maiming of almost 15,000 Americans? And what about the 52% of Americans who think think Bush lied to get us into this debacle? Do they find no voice in Washington, no voice with Howard Dean or the DLC or the Democratic Party? The 50% who think Bush should be impeached if it can be shown he lied about the reasons for this quagmire (Sen. Kerry won't even call it that yet, lest he be tarred again by the "Swifties," I presume). Do we get the leadership we deserve, or the leadership our voter apathy delivers up to us?

It isn't that we are moral monsters. It isn't that we are so concerned with our own navel-gazing and our childish ideals of our purity and innocence, or our seasonal panic over "the pagan festival of Hallowe'en" or fear of a gay planet or terror at the thought of yet another abortion. Katrina washed all of that away. So perhaps it is just that our politicians are once again racing to get in front of the parade. Frankly, I hope that's all it is.

Because I'm beginning to think that, despite Katrina and the national rock it turned over, we'd still rather join the Church of Meaning and Belonging, rather than the Church of Sacrifice for Meaning and Belonging. In fact, I'm sure we would. But I'm not sure reality is ever going to allow us to.

And the refusal to adjust to that, is the biggest threat facing this country, and its culture. It is the refusal to accept responsibility for our actions.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Dies Irae and the Church of Meaning and Belonging

I've wanted to return to this point precisely here:

Part of the horror here, is that people have to call a stranger on an 800 number, simply to get empathy. There is an ecclesiastical problem here: where are the churches? Why aren't they helping? The short answer is: in large part, having bought lock, stock, and barrel into the "consumer culture" that has led to this situation, they can no more critique it than a fish can complain about living in water. Sometimes it seems the institutional church can't even see the problem, much less offer a solution to it.
It's an ecclesiological issue, but it rankles me more as a minister than a theologian. It rankles me precisely because we have a tendency to divide matters theological from matters practical, and to either prefer the practical over the theological, or to to abjure the concrete because it is so specific and, as my Pastoral Care professor loved to say, "messy."

This elevation of the abstract over the concrete is also a driving force of Derrida's deconstructionism, so maybe that's why I like French phenomenology so much; or perhaps its where this impetus comes from. And that's not such a chicken-or-egg question as it seems.

What I'm circling around to is this: our language prefers the abstract, which we tend to associate with the "permanent." Of course there are good philosophical and cultural reasons for us to do so, and they can be traced back to Plato and Pythagoras and such thinkers, or more broadly called "Greek" or "Hellenistic" ideas. Walter Kauffman, in his study of existentialism, Irrational Man, introduced me to the split between "Hebraism" and "Hellenism" a long time ago. This morning, reading the opening chapter of James Barr's The Semantics of Biblical Language, I was reminded of it again. But Barr makes an interesting distinction that, while I knew of it, I hadn't seen it stated quite so clearly before

These are not original with Barr; he merely restates them to move on to his point (which as to do with linquistics, so we'll leave him to it). First he notes that one of the main contrasts drawn between Greek and Hebrew thought in theological circles, is between "static" and "dynamic." As Barr puts it:

Movement could not be ultimate reality for the Greeks, to whom being must be distinguished from becoming, and the ultimate must be changeless. For the Israelites the true reality was action and movement, and the inactive and motionless was no reality at all."

With this may be associated the Greek contrast of appearance and reality. The world was full of changing phenomena, but since reality must be static the change was unreal appearance. Tot he Israelites however the appearance of a thing was the manifestation of its being or reality, and a valid and adequate manifestation at that. What did not appear in action and movement would not be real, and what did appear was not a pale or secondary shadow of this reality but the reality itself. There is therefore no contrast of appearance and reality.

This leads to two more important distinctions: one, the distinction of subject and object, which the Greeks recognize, but not the Hebrews. The other is the conception of the human: In Greek thought man is seen as a duality, with an immortal soul imprisoned or confined in a mortal body; the two are only temporarily or accidentally related. In Hebrew thought the 'soul' is the living person in his flesh; 'soul' and 'flesh' are not separable but one is the outward and visible manifestation of the other. There is no thought of the soul living apart from the body.
Let me interrupt here to mention the ruah that is breathed into the dry bone in the vision of Ezekiel, as Exhibit "A" in the examples of such thought among the Hebrews.

It is simliarly felt however that Hebrew thought saw man as a person within a totality, while Greek thought tended to see him as an individual, i.e., in essence as one separated from others, and then to form collectivities by grouping individuals together. The conflict of individual and collectivity thus arises from the Greek tradition. But Hebrew life was lived in a social totality of religion and justice.
James Barr, The Semantics of Biblical Language, (Philadelpia: Trinity Press International 1991), pp. 10-13)

First, let us stipulate that these are generalities, and as such subject to all kinds of pointed critique. Barr acknowledges as much, and means only to describe the state of the theological discussion as of 1961, when his book was first published. Little has fundamentally changed since then. Second, I want to tie this in with something I just re-read, by Krister Stendahl. A speech he gave on Martin Luther King Day, 1972, on the topic of judgment and mercy. He has some interesting things to say, that turn this rather esoteric discussion about human nature, back to more mundane (and concrete) questions about ecclesiology (i.e., what is church for?).

Stendahl starts sounding a note that could have come from Kierkegaard:

In the Christian tradition, judgment and mercy have become engrafted into our spiritual wisdom as we have played the "soul game," transforming practically all of the immense and ferocious drama of history that we read about in the Bible into the kind of pastoral counseling and consolation in which God's mercy overcomes the fear of judgment.
He introduces for analysis of his topic Isaiah 40:1-8, although I kept thinking the Magnificat would work as well:

My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
Because He has regarded the lowliness of His handmaid;
for behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed;
Because He who is mighty has done great things for me,
and Holy is His Name;
And His mercy is from generation to generation on those who fear Him.
He has shown might with His arm,
He has scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
and has exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has given help to Israel, His servant, mindful of His mercy
Even as He spoke to our fathers -
to Abraham and to his posterity forever.

A text clearly connected to judgment and mercy. But, as Stendahl points out, in words that I think apply to Mary's song:

The content of the message of comfort is the downfall of the "haves," the downfall of the powerful; here there is little or no comfort at all for the comfortable. Comfort consists in the announcement of revolution, of a change of crew, of a leveling process, of the fact that those who hunger and thirst for justice are finally going to be satisfied.
If there is no comfort for the comfortable, what of them? Says Stendahl:

Few are those who are willing to give, but the true believers are those who rejoice when God takes away that which they thought of as theirs, and gives to whomever he wants.

Consider what this means. Judgment and mercy are not balanced over against each other in a scheme in which a last judgment is tempered and adjusted by God's grace, or Christ, or the blood, or the cross, or the intercession of the saints. That is not the way it is. Mercy, salvation, liberation are all part of God's judgment. God's judgment brings mercy to those who need mercy. Judgment is justice for those who hunger and thirst after it, those deprived of it....It is important to revive and revitalize the biblical meaning of judgment (krisis) as that establishment of justice which by necessity means mercy for the wronged and loss for those who have too much.
If there was an "act of God" in Katrina, this was certainly it. If there was any justice in Katrina, this was certainly it. But why do I connect this with Barr?

The English language is a "docetic" language, as we learned theologians say. It has an unusual ability of dividing up words into that which is more spiritual and that which is less spiritual, so that one distinguishes between "justice" and "righteousness".... This phenomenon is worth noting. It is one of the peculiar ways in which language exerts great power over our thought habits and patterns of speech. So also with righteousness and justice: they are the one and only justitia.
Two more long quotes, and then I promise to stop.

Judgment is the day eagerly and impatiently awaited, the day of liberation in which God will finally vindicate his faithful ones and establish justice. In spite of this note, however, in the big national churches, increasingly involved with the affairs of state, and increasingly identified with the power of the establishment, it became natural to think and feel, in the style of Amos and other prophets of doom, that the Day of Judgment, the Day of the Lord, is darkness rather than light. Thus, much of Christianity has seen it necessary to seek mercy so as to balance the fear of judgement.
Stendahl also offers this interesting note on repentance, from Mark 5:23-24: "So, if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. As Stendahl notes: is not that you have something against your brother--the Westerner tends to read it that way. The Westerner, perhaps, does not even feel guilty before God (whome he encounters in a beautiful I-Thou relationship) if the other person has something against him. He would say: that is his business. But if he, as a product of Western culture, has negative feelings toward his brother, he will feel responsible and anxious to clean it up. Jesus has it the other way around, in good extrovert fashion: ...and (you) remember that your brother or sister has something against you. That has to be cleaned up first. Repentance means action in response to the pain of others.
Krister Stendahl, Paul Among Jews and Gentiles (Philadelphia: Fortress Press 1976), pp. 98-104)

Which leads us, finally, to the Church of Meaning and Beloning, and the Church of Sacrifice for Meaning and Belonging. And the people who call Dr. Dobson's toll-free number, just seeking a little empathy. Having set the stage, we'll start the show shortly.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Returning to the topic of detainees

Col. Janis Karpinski was interviewed on Democracy Now! this morning. The interview is worth listening to, if you have the hour to sit at your computer. There is a partial transcript up, but unfortunately, it doesn't include the end of the interview. As I recall while listening in the car this morning, Col. Karpinski had occassion to ask someone when the "detainees" at Guantanamo would be released, and she was told "never."

UPDATE: Full transcript now available. Here is the relevant passage:

JANIS KARPINSKI: The only person that I spoke to individually after General Miller's visit – briefing, his in-brief, that initial briefing, I went to find the JAG officer, the legal officer, lawyer, who was with General Miller, and she was -- I believe she was a major and she had been working down at Guantanamo Bay. So, I asked her, I said, “What are you doing about releasing the prisoners down at Guantanamo Bay?” And she said, “Ma'am, we're not releasing prisoners. Most of those prisoners are going to spend every last day of their lives at Guantanamo Bay. They're terrorists. We're not releasing them.” And I said, “Well, what are you going to do? Fly their family members over to visit them?” She said “No, these are terrorists, ma'am. They don't get visits from home.” And that was -- that was absolutely shocking, thinking about the fate of these, what we believed was, several hundred prisoners down there, 680 prisoners spending every last day of their lives at Guantanamo Bay, and particularly important because that meant that military police would be guarding them for the foreseeable future.
Aside from the simple administrative issue (how many guards will we need for the lifetime of those prisoners, and what kind of committment to a prison are we making, or is being made for us?), there is the simple legal issue: since when did the President have the authority of the legislative and the judicial branches of government?

How many of us know how many prisoners are in Gitmo, or how long they will be held? Make no mistake: we may be ignorant of this situation in America (find me one major media outlet that has run even one story on this topic, or made this "condition of non-release" clear), but it is well known in the world.

And if more of the world, especially the "middle eastern "world, turns against us, will we continue to be as amazed as Thomas Friedman that they hate us?

The Problem of Christian Soteriology-Part 2

Robert - Blogging is such an ephemeral medium: if a thread is overtaken by more recent postings, any subject, no matter how engaging, tends to drop off into the aether, never to be seen, or commented upon, again.

I hope you'll be able to post your thoughts on Romans soon - Being of the old school, I've just spent the day reading and thinking about Fitzmeyer's critique of Paul's theology in the NJBC as well as an hitherto overlooked, 40+ year old paper by Krister Stendahl (included in Wayne Meek's The Writings of St. Paul, the "Norton Critical Edition") entitled "Paul and the Conscience of the West." Both seem critical to advancing this discussion.

Please resurrect this subject sometime soon?

The pivotal essay in modern Pauline studies is Krister Stendahl's "The Apostle Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West." I've discussed this before (which simply means I'm probably going in circles), but Boreas' request prompted me to go back and re-read the essay last night. Sadly, the essay is not available on-line, and while that first link is to an essay analyzing Stendahl's analysis, it's as close as I can come to something resembling Stendahl's argument on the Web.

Which is still not "close enough." This is not a case where horseshoes or hand grenades will do, because Stendahl's argument is a subtle one, and worthy of careful consideration. I'll see what I can do to summarize it, without additional commentary, and then we can carry on the conversation on soteriology:

Stendahl opens noting that "In the history of Western Christianity--and hence, to a large exten, in the history of Western culture--the Apostle Paul has been hailed as a hero of the introspective conscience." He makes his first critical point by questioning "the often tacit assumption that man remains basically the same through the ages." "[B]oth the historian," Stendahl notes, "and the theologian, both the psychologist and the average reader of the Bible, are well advised to assess how this hypothesis of contemporaneity affects their thinking, and their interpretation of ancient writings."

This is, of course, now the basis of all New Testament scholarship (and even of Anne Rice's complaint about that scholarship).

Here is the key introductory paragraph, in part (I told you the whole essay was important!): is exactly at this point that Western interpreters have found the common denominator between Paul and the experience of man, since Paul's statements about 'justification by faith' have been hailed as the answer to the problem which faces the ruthlessly honest man ini his practice of introspection. Especially in Protestant Christianity--which, however, at this point has its roots in Augustine and in the piety of the Middle Ages--the Pauline awareness of sin has been interpeted in the light of Luther's struggle with his conscience. But it is exactly at that point that we can discern the most dramatic difference between Luther and Paul, between the 16th and the 1st century....

Let me try to bring this down to the issue of soteriology. Kaufmann plainly sides with those "interpreters [who] accuse Paul of misunderstanding or deliberately distorting the Jewish view of Law and Salvation." As Stendahl presents that interpretation:

It is pointed out that for the Jew the Law did not require a static or pedantic perfectionism but supposed a covenant relationship in which there was room for forgiveness and repentance and where God applied the Measure of Grace. Hence Paul would have been wrong in ruling out the Law on the basis that Israel could not achieve the perfect obedience which the Law required.

Stendahl's interpetation of Paul turns on Phil. 3:6: "I was blameless as to righteousness-of the Law, that is," and he points out that Romans 2-3 "deals with something very different."

The actual transgressions in Israel--as a people, not in each and every individual--show that the Jews are not better than the Gentiles, in spite of circumcision and the proud possession of the Law. The "advantage" of the Jesus is that they have been entrusted with the Words of God and this advantage cannot be revoked by their disobedience (Rom. 3:1ff.), but for the rest they have no edge on salvation. The Law has not helped. They stand before God as guilty as the Gentiles, and even more so (2:9). All this is said in the light of the new avenue of salvation, which has been opened in Christ, an avenue which is equally open to Jews and Gentiles, since it is not based on the Law, in which every distinction between the two rests....The only metanoia (repentance/conversion) and the only grace which counts is the one now available in Messiah Jesus. Once this has been seen, it appears that Paul's references to the impossibility of fulfilling the Law is part of a theological and theoretical scriptural argument about the relation between Jews and Gentiles.

Stendahl makes one last critical point for our purposes. First, he points out that, until Augustine, Paul was relatively unimportant to the thinking of the church (he also draws a line from the Saint to Luther, a clear line since Luther was an Augustinian monk; I would extend the line, today, through Kierkegaard, the Lutheran pastor, and into modern theology through the melancholy Dane; but that's another story) . Paul was interpreted as grappling with the question of the relationship between Jews and Gentiles. But, after the 1st century, that was no longer a "live issue," and so Paul's importance receded. Until, that is, Augustine took up Paul. Augustine "universalized" the issues Paul wrote about (and this tendency flowered in the allegory and metaphor of medieval Europe) by universalizing his feelings (and not incidentally creating the "interior conscience" that has been the hallmark of Western civilization since; especially following the powerful impact of Wordsworth and Goethe). As Stendahl says, relating this (again) to soteriology:

The problem we are trying to isolate could be expressed in hermeneutical terms somewhat like this: The Reformers' intepretation of Paul rests on an analogism where Pauline statements about Faith and Works, Law and Gospel, Jews and Gentiles are read in the framework of late medieval piety....Where Paul was concerned about the possibility for Gentiles to be included in the messianic ommunity, his statements are now read as answers to the quest for assurance about man's salvation out of a common human predicament.

And here we touch on the critical point: what is the nature of Christian salvation?

All quotes from: Krister Stendahl, Paul Among Jews and Gentiles, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press 1976).

The Widow and the Orphan

Atrios picked up on this, but it is worth a mention here, too, on other issues related to the kingdom of God and how we value people in this society.

Wal-Mart has been caught with its hand in the cookie jar:

An internal memo sent to Wal-Mart's board of directors proposes numerous ways to hold down spending on health care and other benefits while seeking to minimize damage to the retailer's reputation. Among the recommendations are hiring more part-time workers and discouraging unhealthy people from working at Wal-Mart.

In the memorandum, M. Susan Chambers, Wal-Mart's executive vice president for benefits, also recommends reducing 401(k) contributions and wooing younger, and presumably healthier, workers by offering education benefits. The memo voices concern that workers with seven years' seniority earn more than workers with one year's seniority, but are no more productive.

To discourage unhealthy job applicants, Ms. Chambers suggests that Wal-Mart arrange for "all jobs to include some physical activity (e.g., all cashiers do some cart-gathering)."

The memo acknowledged that Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, had to walk a fine line in restraining benefit costs because critics had attacked it for being stingy on wages and health coverage. Ms. Chambers acknowledged that 46 percent of the children of Wal-Mart's 1.33 million United States employees were uninsured or on Medicaid.

Wal-Mart executives said the memo was part of an effort to rein in benefit costs, which to Wall Street's dismay have soared by 15 percent a year on average since 2002. Like much of corporate America, Wal-Mart has been squeezed by soaring health costs. The proposed plan, if approved, would save the company more than $1 billion a year by 2011.

In an interview, Ms. Chambers said she was focusing not on cutting costs, but on serving employees better by giving them more choices on their benefits.

"We are investing in our benefits that will take even better care of our associates," she said. "Our benefit plan is known today as being generous."
The social contract forged after World War II in this country was that employers would provide health insurance for their employees. Health insurance then meant, largely, hospitalization. Things have changed, and now GM is sinking under the weight of its health-care costs, and Wal-Mart acknowledges they screw their employees blind, and, moreover, no "unhealthy" employees need apply. 'Cause Wal-Mart just can't afford it.

And have they lobbied lately for national health care?

I didn't think so.

And what does it say for a society that cares so little about its children? We can say what we want, and individually we all love our children very much, and think fondly of our friends' children, or the children at church. But as a nation, we don't care about them a bit. We short-change their education, refuse to give them decent health care, and generally treat them little better than the urchins in a Dickensian England.

The main difference is, we don't have a Charles Dickens to rub our noses in the consequences of our greed and indifference. Instead, we have Wal-Mart:

Under fire because less than 45 percent of its workers receive company health insurance, Wal-Mart announced a new plan on Monday that seeks to increase participation by allowing some employees to pay just $11 a month in premiums. Some health experts praised the plan for making coverage more affordable, but others criticized it, noting that full-time Wal-Mart employees, who earn on average around $17,500 a year, could face out-of-pocket expenses of $2,500 a year or more.

Eager to burnish Wal-Mart's image as it faces opposition in trying to expand into New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, Wal-Mart's chief executive, H. Lee Scott Jr., also announced on Monday a sweeping plan to conserve energy. He also said that Wal-Mart supported raising the minimum wage to help Wal-Mart's customers.

The theme throughout the memo was how to slow the increase in benefit costs without giving more ammunition to critics who contend that Wal-Mart's wages and benefits are dragging down those of other American workers.

Ms. Chambers proposed that employees pay more for their spouses' health insurance. She called for cutting 401(k) contributions to 3 percent of wages from 4 percent and cutting company-paid life insurance policies to $12,000 from the current level, equal to an employee's annual earnings.

Life insurance, she said, was "a high-satisfaction, low-importance benefit, which suggests an opportunity to trim the offering without substantial impact on associate satisfaction." Wal-Mart refers to its employees as associates.

Acknowledging that Wal-Mart has image problems, Ms. Chambers wrote: "Wal-Mart's critics can easily exploit some aspects of our benefits offering to make their case; in other words, our critics are correct in some of their observations. Specifically, our coverage is expensive for low-income families, and Wal-Mart has a significant percentage of associates and their children on public assistance."

Her memo stated that 5 percent of Wal-Mart's workers were on Medicaid, compared with 4 percent for other national employers. She said that Wal-Mart spent $1.5 billion a year on health insurance, which amounts to $2,660 per insured worker.

The memo, prepared with the help of McKinsey & Company, said the board was to consider the recommendations in November. But the memo said that three top Wal-Mart officials - its chief financial officer, its top human relations executive and its executive vice president for legal and corporate affairs - had "received the recommendations enthusiastically."

Ms. Chambers's memo voiced concern that workers were staying with the company longer, pushing up wage costs, although she stopped short of calling for efforts to push out more senior workers.

She wrote that "the cost of an associate with seven years of tenure is almost 55 percent more than the cost of an associate with one year of tenure, yet there is no difference in his or her productivity. Moreover, because we pay an associate more in salary and benefits as his or her tenure increases, we are pricing that associate out of the labor market, increasing the likelihood that he or she will stay with Wal-Mart."

The memo noted that Wal-Mart workers "are getting sicker than the national population, particularly in obesity-related diseases," including diabetes and coronary artery disease. The memo said Wal-Mart workers tended to overuse emergency rooms and underuse prescriptions and doctor visits, perhaps from previous experience with Medicaid.

The memo noted, "The least healthy, least productive associates are more satisfied with their benefits than other segments and are interested in longer careers with Wal-Mart."

The memo proposed incorporating physical activity in all jobs and promoting health savings accounts. Such accounts are financed with pretax dollars and allow workers to divert their contributions into retirement savings if they are not all spent on health care. Health experts say these accounts will be more attractive to younger, healthier workers.

"It will be far easier to attract and retain a healthier work force than it will be to change behavior in an existing one," the memo said. "These moves would also dissuade unhealthy people from coming to work at Wal-Mart."
Enjoy those savings, America! You aren't just exploiting citizens of third-world countries anymore!


Random unconnected thoughts:

This, I think, is right; up to a point:

CNN reported this morning that the U.S. death toll in Iraq had reached 2,000, and a little later The Associated Press confirmed this. AP said the 2,000th military fatality was an Army sergeant who was wounded by a roadside bomb north of Baghdad and died in Texas last weekend. He is Staff Sgt. George T. Alexander Jr., 34, of Killeen, Texas.

But the chief spokesman for the American-led multinational force has called on the media not to consider the 2,000 number as some kind of milestone.

U.S. Army Lt. Col. Steve Boylan, director of the force's combined press center, wrote in an e-mail to reporters, "I ask that when you report on the events, take a moment to think about the effects on the families and those serving in Iraq. The 2,000 service members killed in Iraq supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom is not a milestone. It is an artificial mark on the wall set by individuals or groups with specific agendas and ulterior motives."

Boylan, according to AP, added: "The 2,000th Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine that is killed in action is just as important as the first that died and will be just as important as the last to die in this war,,,
The "point" is when he starts calling this a war for freedom and against terrorism. It's not; it's a pointless waste of human life that even William Kristol had trouble defending on The Daily Show last night. The 2000th death is not something to celebrate; the only thing to celebrate is when our men and women, husbands and wifes, sons and daughters, are brought back home, away from a place they never should have been sent to as soldiers.

It's interesting that Anne Rice
has turned from vampires to Jesus; she might even get a good book out of it (though her novels have never been my cup of tea), but what was more interesting to me was this comment:

To render such a hero and his world believable, she immersed herself not only in Scripture, but in first-century histories and New Testament scholarship—some of which she found disturbingly skeptical. "Even Hitler scholarship usually allows Hitler a certain amount of power and mystery."
I think she has a point, actually. Modern New Testament scholarship, so concerned with appearing to be "objective," sometimes overlooks the very reality of human existence, which is that some people truly are "extraordinary." And even "objectivity" must admit that if Jesus of Nazareth were not one of those people, who would bother to study his life and words so carefully?

And finally, something of a footnote to history, a correction, proving that we shouldn't put too much reliance on newspaper accounts. Mrs. Rosa Parks, remembered on this the day of her death, from 1955:

I want to make very certain that it is understood that I had not taken a seat in the white section, as has been reported in many cases. An article came out in the newspaper on Friday morning about the Negro woman overlooked segregation. She was seated in the front seat, the white section of the bus and refused to take a seat in the rear of the bus. That was the first newspaper account. The seat where I occupied, we were in the custom of taking this seat on the way home, even though at times on this same bus route, we occupied the same seat with whites standing, if their space had been taken up, the seats had been taken up. I was very much surprised that the driver at this point demanded that I remove myself from the seat.
It wasn't that she started out being defiant; but, four months after the death of Emmett Till, or perhaps for other reasons, in 1955, she decided she just wouldn't stop being a human being anymore.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

"Brownie" may yet be a symbol of this Administration

I'd say this was turning out to be just about right:

The alleged leaking of a CIA operative's name had its roots in a clash over Iraq policy between White House insiders and their rivals in the permanent bureaucracy of Washington, especially in the State Department and the CIA.
Because (we're waiting right now on a translation, more than anything else):
In an explosive series of articles appearing this week in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, investigative reporters Carlo Bonini and Giuseppe d'Avanzo reveal how Niccolo Pollari, chief of Italy's military intelligence service, known as SISMI, brought the Niger yellowcake story directly to the White House
after his insistent overtures had been rejected by the Central Intelligence Agency in 2001 and 2002.

Today's exclusive report in La Repubblica reveals that Pollari met secretly in Washington on September 9, 2002, with then–Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. Their secret meeting came at a critical moment in the White House campaign to convince Congress and the American public that war in Iraq was necessary to prevent Saddam Hussein from developing nuclear weapons.

The La Repubblica article quotes a Bush administration official saying, "I can confirm that on September 9, 2002, General Nicolo Pollari met Stephen Hadley."
And while that is developing, keep this in mind:

"The case that I saw for four-plus years was a case I have never seen in my studies of aberrations, bastardizations, perturbations, changes to the national security decision-making process," Lawrence B. Wilkerson, Powell's former chief of staff and longtime confidant, said in a speech last week. "What I saw was a cabal between the vice president of the United States, Richard Cheney, and the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, on critical issues that made decisions that the bureaucracy did not know were being made."

Wilkerson added that when decisions were presented to the bureaucracy, "it was presented in such a disjointed, incredible way that the bureaucracy often didn't know what it was doing as it moved to carry them out."
This entire debacle, in other words, reaches throughout the upper echelons of the government.


Is there really any question that the CIA is involved in prisoner abuse in Gitmo?

Stepping up a confrontation with the Senate over the handling of detainees, the White House is insisting that the Central Intelligence Agency be exempted from a proposed ban on abusive treatment of suspected Qaeda militants and other terrorists.

The Senate defied a presidential veto threat nearly three weeks ago and approved, 90 to 9, an amendment to a $440 billion military spending bill that would ban the use of "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" of any detainee held by the United States government. This could bar some techniques that the C.I.A. has used in some interrogations overseas.

But in a 45-minute meeting last Thursday, Vice President Dick Cheney and the C.I.A. director, Porter J. Goss, urged Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican who wrote the amendment, to support an exemption for the agency, arguing that the president needed maximum flexibility in dealing with the global war on terrorism, said two government officials who were briefed on the meeting. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the confidential nature of the discussions.
Er...the CIA is not involved in abusing prisoners, but we want it to be free to do so, should it choose to become necessary.

I think it has something to do with American evangelism.

Meanwhile, the hunger strike in Gitmo continues. Or hadn't you heard?

Prisoners in Guantanamo Bay on hunger strike have alleged US troops punished them by repeatedly inserting and removing dirty feeding tubes until the detainees vomited blood.

Declassified notes released by defense lawyers for three men being held at the prison camp on Cuba said the prisoners came to view the large feeding tubes -- described as the thickness of a finger -- as objects of torture.

"They were forcibly shoved up the detainees' noses and down into their stomachs," the lawyers reported to a federal judge in August. "No anesthesia or sedative was provided."

According to their affidavits force feedings resulted in prisoners "vomiting up substantial amounts of blood. When they vomited up blood, the soldiers mocked and cursed at them, and taunted them with statements like `look what your religion has brought you.'"

Yousef al Shehri, 21, of Saudi Arabia, said guards removed a nasal feeding tube from one prisoner and reinserted it into another without cleaning it first. Another said a Navy doctor put a tube in his nose, down his throat and "kept moving the tube up and down" until he finally "started violently throwing up blood."

A military spokesman for the Guantanamo detention center, said there was no truth to the allegations. The prison camp has around 500 inmates; 25 detainees are on hunger strike, including 22 being force-fed, according to the spokesman.
No word yet on whether the CIA denies involvement.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Great googley-moogley!

Has it come to this? Harriet Miers, in her answers on the Senate Judiciary Committe's questionnaire:

...described her service on the Dallas City Council in 1989. When the city was sued on allegations that it violated the Voting Rights Act, she said, "the council had to be sure to comply with the proportional representation requirement of the Equal Protection Clause."

But the Supreme Court repeatedly has said the Constitution's guarantee of "equal protection of the laws" does not mean that city councils or state legislatures must have the same proportion of blacks, Latinos and Asians as the voting population.

"That's a terrible answer. There is no proportional representation requirement under the equal protection clause," said New York University law professor Burt Neuborne, a voting rights expert. "If a first-year law student wrote that and submitted it in class, I would send it back and say it was unacceptable."
The White House defense of this embarassing gaffe?

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino also emphasized that Miers' experience was more important than her terminology.

"Ms. Miers, when confirmed, will be the only Supreme Court Justice to have actually had to comply with the Voting Rights Act," she said.
Um, she's been nominated for the Supreme Court of the United States. All the Justices do there is issue opinions. There is nothing more important in interpreting those opinions, thatn interpeting the terminology the Justices use.

Who to blame? Oh, who to blame?

Alan Simpson, a former Republican senator from Wyoming, said that the reaction was like "a triple root canal" but added: "It really isn't Harriet [Miers] in my mind. It is the president." Mr. Simpson blamed a sense of weakness around the White House because of concerns about the C.I.A. leak investigation, the war in Iraq and the handling of the recent hurricanes. "It is like a huge raptor seeing a rabbit running on only three legs," he said.
The salient question is: who crippled that rabbit, and set the raptor loose?

Turn out the lights, the party's over.

A very simple moral question

Why is this White House sweating?

Yes, I know all about prosecutors indicting ham sandwiches, and I know what happened to Bill Clinton. But frankly, had that matter been left to the courts, no prosecutor would have run up the bill that Starr did, nor tried to take anything like the impeachment articles into a court of law. So while prosecutors can run amok, it seldom happens because the system prevents them from either pursuing a vendetta to the "last man," or taking it to court just to justify their existence.

Frankly, Bill Clinton was impeached, as well as investigated for almost 6 years, and he never got as upset as Bush is reportedly growing.

But what about Rove and Libby? It seems so simple that it's too simple, but sometimes the truth is that plain: if you didn't lie, prevaricate, or dissemble, and you weren't involved in the crime, what's your worry? Yes, Tom DeLay is strutting around like a peacock, which may mean he truly is disconnected from reality; but Tom DeLay may also believe the law under which he is being prosecuted will be found unconstitutional. Rove and Libby and the rest of the White House have no such out, so all they can hope is that they aren't indicted?

But doesn't that indicate they have been less than forthcoming, perhaps less than honest, and are perhaps more than a bit guilty?

"For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, nothing concealed that will not be made known and brought into the open." Luke 8:17.

Maybe that's what has them worried.

UPDATE: Or, it could be this:

The CIA leak inquiry that threatens senior White House aides has now widened to include the forgery of documents on African uranium that started the investigation, according to NAT0 intelligence sources.

This suggests the inquiry by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald into the leaking of the identity of undercover CIA officer Valerie Plame has now widened to embrace part of the broader question about the way the Iraq war was justified by the Bush administration
As Josh Marshall points out, the story is by by Martin Walker, and Marshall insists Walker carries his own credibility.

Either way, pass the popcorn.....


Can I just say that it's really, really funny that the people most associated with decrying "technicalities" in the decisions of the judiciary, are now relying on "technicalities" to shield the Bush White House from the fallout of the possibility of indictments this week?

From Meet the Press this morning:

SEN. HUTCHISON: Tim, you know, I think we have to remember something here. An indictment of any kind is not a guilty verdict, and I do think we have in this country the right to go to court and have due process and be innocent until proven guilty. And secondly, I certainly hope that if there is going to be an indictment that says something happened, that it is an indictment on a crime and not some perjury technicality where they couldn't indict on the crime and so they go to something just to show that their two years of investigation was not a waste of time and taxpayer dollars. So they go to something that trips someone up because they said something in the first grand jury and then maybe they found new information or they forgot something and they tried to correct that in a second grand jury.

I think we should be very careful here, especially as we are dealing with something very public and people's lives in the public arena. I do not think we should prejudge. I think it is unfair to drag people through the newspapers week after week after week, and let's just see what the charges are. Let's tone down the rhetoric and let's make sure that if there are indictments that we don't prejudge.

MR. RUSSERT: But the fact is perjury or obstruction of justice is a very serious crime and Republicans certainly thought so when charges were placed against Bill Clinton before the United States Senate. Senator Hutchison.

SEN. HUTCHISON: Well, there were charges against Bill Clinton besides perjury and obstruction of justice. And I'm not saying that those are not crimes. They are. But I also think that we are seeing in the judicial process--and look at Martha Stewart, for instance, where they couldn't find a crime and they indict on something that she said about something that wasn't a crime. I think that it is important, of course, that we have a perjury and an obstruction of justice crime, but I also think we are seeing grand juries and U.S. attorneys and district attorneys that go for technicalities, sort of a gotcha mentality in this country. And I think we have to weigh both sides of this issue very carefully and not just jump to conclusions, because someone is in the public arena, that they are guilty without being able to put their case forward. I really object to that.
Perjury, of course, is a "technicality" the way pre-meditated murder is a "technicality": that is, it requires a much stronger showing of malicious intent than lying under oath or obstruction of justice, as pre-meditated murder does above manslaughter or negligent homicide.

But beyond that, it's a crime. And a crime is a crime is a crime. The only "technicality" involved is: can the state prove the defendant did it, beyond a reasonable doubt.

And that's as technical as the system is, for anybody. For the accused thief; the drug kingpin; Tom DeLay; or anyone named in any indictment that Patrick Fitzgerald might seek from a grand jury.

But then again, it's all a matter of whose ox is being gored. Less and less, however, is it okay if you're a Republican.

The First Shall Be Last

This put me in mind of Fitzgerald the student of the Jesuits:
Someone present when Fitzgerald questioned a witness said he was glad not to be a target.

"He's that really strict judge that everyone fears, not because they think he's going to do the wrong thing, but because they're afraid he might do the right thing," said the source, who has ties to the White House and requested anonymity.

"As White House staffers," he continued, "you had generals and Cabinet secretaries being deferential to you. He didn't care what you'd done or how well you knew the president."
Because, in the basiliea tou theou, no one is better than anyone else.

The True Meaning of Evangelism

1 Thessalonians 2:1-8

You yourselves know, brothers and sisters, that our coming to you was not in vain, but though we had already suffered and been shamefully mistreated at Philippi, as you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of great opposition. For our appeal does not spring from deceit or impure motives or trickery, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts.

As you know and as God is our witness, we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed; nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or from others, though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ.
But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.
And the false:

When he had to make sure his clients' concerns got the attention of the right people in the George W. Bush White House, Abramoff often turned to a longtime friend and business associate whose ties there—especially with the President's most trusted adviser, Karl Rove—were far better than his: former Christian Coalition executive director Ralph Reed, an operative of such political talent that he made the cover of TIME in 1995, at age 33, with a line that declared him "the Right Hand of God."

Reed, a key Bush campaign strategist and the favorite in the 2006 race to become Lieutenant Governor of Georgia, was an obliging, even eager middleman, judging by e-mail exchanges between the two, which have been obtained by TIME. (The e-mails have attracted the interest of federal investigators already looking into whether Abramoff defrauded his Indian clients—a charge he denies.) Ten days after 9/11, for instance, Abramoff was promoting a business venture to rent cruise ships to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to billet rescue workers off New York City. Reed assured Abramoff he had "put in a tag call to Karl to find out the best contact at FEMA."
Compare and contrast: Paul's words and Reed's actions.

Bridge of Sighs

Remember Don Young, who resented any suggestion that his "bridge to nowhere" be postponed in order to help New Orleans rebuild? Well, apparently, neither does Sen. Ted Stevens:
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), a staunch opponent of pork barrel spending, tried to block $453 million for two Alaska bridges that had been tucked into the recent highway bill. Coburn wanted to redirect the money to the Interstate 10 bridge across Lake Pontchartrain, a major thoroughfare that was severely damaged during Hurricane Katrina.

Sen. Ted Stevens, the veteran Alaska Republican, was dramatic in his response. "I don't kid people," Stevens roared. "If the Senate decides to discriminate against our state . . . I will resign from this body."
You may want to read that again. Sen. Coburn is from Oklahoma, not Louisiana. His amendment would not have helped his state. And if you think Katrina hasn't started the tectonic plates shifting:

The amendment [which was defeated] became a cause celebre on the left and the right, with watchdog and conservative groups reporting updates on their Web sites throughout the day. The Club for Growth alerted readers early yesterday on its Web log, or blog: "As of last night, the opposition is putting up a big fight. They sense this amendment, if successful, as establishing a precedent. A precedent where all pork is vulnerable and no lawmaker is safe."
And that saying about politics and strange bedfellows, is also true:

Later in the day, the Heritage Foundation circulated a paper, "The Bridge to Nowhere: A National Embarrassment," and noted, "fiscally responsible members of Congress should be eager to zero out its funding." Even the Sierra Club backed the amendment, noting, "We must fix the nation's existing infrastructure first."
There may even be a real question as to how much support pork barrel spending will buy a politician, at the moment:

...there is a curious twist to the story: Many residents of Alaska appear to support forfeiting the bridge money for hurricane relief. "This money, a gift from the people of Alaska, will represent more than just material aid; it will be a symbol for our beleaguered democracy," reads a typical letter to the Anchorage Daily News.
Beleaguered indeed. But strangely, looking a bit more like it might rally, regardless.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Spreading the "gospel"

"Evangelism" comes to English via the Greek word "euangelion", originally "a reward for good news, then simply good news," according to Arndt and Gingrich.

Now, sadly, it means this:

From October 31, 2005, issue of The New Yorker:

[...] The neoconservatives—the Republicans who argued most fervently for the second Gulf war—believe in the export of democracy, by violence if that is required, Scowcroft said. “How do the neocons bring democracy to Iraq? You invade, you threaten and pressure, you evangelize.” And now, Scowcroft said, America is suffering from the consequences of that brand of revolutionary utopianism. “This was said to be part of the war on terror, but Iraq feeds terrorism,” he said.

Scowcroft was Richard Nixon’s military assistant in the last years of the Vietnam War, and he says, “Vietnam was visceral in the American people. That was a really bitter period, and it turned us against foreign-policy adventures deeply, and it was not until the Gulf War that we were able to come out of that. This is not that deep.” But, he said, “we’re moving in that direction.”
It isn't entirely an accident that the neo-cons are so closely connected with the "religious right" in this country (which, I am tempted to say, is neither).

Nor is it accidental that America feels itself peculiarly positioned to prosecute this war.

As I was saying...

The Judy Miller story isn't nearly over yet:

Late last week she told NEWSWEEK she had every intention of returning to work. She also did some digging of her own. "Are you hearing anything about Fitzgerald?" she asked, before quickly hanging up.

A lot of speculation here

so let's add a touch more.

According to this NYT article, the Justice Department has declined to prosecute any C.I.A. officers in the deaths of four prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan. They will bring charges against one contract employee, however. What conclusion does the reporter draw from these facts?

...the prosecutors' decisions appear to reflect judgments that the C.I.A. was far less culpable in the mistreatment of prisoners than was the military, where dozens of soldiers have been convicted or accepted administrative punishment for their actions in cases in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Let me add a different one, one perhaps more supported by the few facts presented in this article.

Fact 1:

All of the cases have been reviewed by the C.I.A. inspector general, and in at least two of the cases - the deaths at the Salt Pit and Abu Ghraib - the individuals could still face punishment by internal accountability review boards, which could be convened at the discretion of Porter J. Goss, director of the agency.
Fact 2:

C.I.A. officials have expressed deep unease over the possibility that career officers could be prosecuted or punished administratively for their conduct during interrogations and detentions of terrorism suspects.
Fact 3:
The details remain classified, and the current and former law enforcement and intelligence officials who described the status of the cases declined to discuss them in detail. The officials came from several intelligence, law enforcement and military agencies.
Every schoolchild knows that espionage cases are hard to prosecute, because they involve "national security issues." John Dean has even speculated that "national security" could be the "get out of jail free card" in the Plame investigation. Why would the DOJ want to penetrate national security and the classified status of agents (some of whom, presumably, are, like Valerie Plame, "undercover"), for the sake of a few convictions regarding the deaths of foreign nationals in the two countries we invaded?

It's almost a no-brainer why the CIA officers involved won't be prosecuted. It may not simply be for lack of evidence of culpability.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Of Irony and Endings

Trying to tie together a few threads before plunging into the more serious work of Christian soteriology, I'm taking my 7th inning stretch early and walking away from the hometown team in the World Series to consider the Sunday morning state of play of "Plamegate." It's getting interesting.

I think Steve Gilliard is right, that Fitzgerald has more than John Dean gives him credit for. My initial support for that position was a simple one: U.S. Attorneys do not jail reporters lightly. Fitzgerald would not do so if he didn't have a serious case. And then there's the fact the White House is so worried.

In fact, that's what prompted me to post these thoughts: the memory of the "Senior White House Official" who said: "We have let the earth-movers roll in over this one." Which, at the time, seemed reasonable. But two years later those earth movers have not only been removed from the scene, they've been replaced by a very determined man with a very big shovel:

It's a nightmare prospect that Republicans have trouble fathoming: legal problems that could drive some of the president's most powerful aides from office.

A special prosecutor and grand jury are closing in on a deadline to decide whether to lodge criminal complaints against presidential adviser Karl Rove and White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby in the outing of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame, the wife of Iraq war critic Joseph Wilson.

If it comes to pass, administration officials and GOP consultants expect President Bush to turn to a few individuals to fill any void in his inner circle.

Among the candidates are go-to Republicans whom Bush trusts, including Ed Gillespie, Ken Mehlman and Karen Hughes; former lawmakers Rob Portman and Vin Weber; and those who could be promoted from within, such as Dan Bartlett, Joshua Bolten and Joe Hagin.

It's also possible the president could reach out to others in his Cabinet, among them Labor Secretary Elaine Chao and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez.

Republicans steadfastly cling to the belief that there will be no indictments, the issue will blow over and the speculation will amount to nothing more than idle chatter.

"I don't think anybody's leaving," said Charles Black, a veteran GOP strategist and close Bush ally.

But one White House official, noting that Bush's senior staff is tired of the long hours and increasing pressure, has told colleagues it might be best if everyone closest to the president resign and clear the way for new blood and fresh perspectives.
And Josh Marshall notes that it is now clear "Scooter" Libby was obsessed with Joe Wilson, even as it's just as clear the "resignation" of Mr. Libby might be what some in the White House have in mind.

And that's not even the worst part, apparently. The worst part may be: all the chickens are coming home to roost:

The legal and political stakes are of the highest order, but the investigation into the disclosure of a covert C.I.A. officer's identity is also just one skirmish in the continuing battle over the Bush administration's justification for the war in Iraq.

That fight has preoccupied the White House for more than three years, repeatedly threatening President Bush's credibility and political standing, and has now once again put the spotlight on Vice President Dick Cheney, who assumed a critical role in assembling and analyzing the evidence about Iraq's weapons programs.
This is, of course, the revenge of irony. Dick Cheney, so determined to have his way, and so determined to keep secret everything he did, is now presumptively at the center of a criminal investigation. Ask Bill Clinton how much those things can reveal. Clearly there are legal consequences here; but there are also political ones:

"The way in which the leak investigation is being pursued is becoming a symbol of who was right and who was wrong about the war," said Ivo H. Daalder, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who worked at the National Security Council during the Clinton administration. "The possibility of Libby being indicted, and the whole Cheney angle, is all about proving in some sense that they were wrong and therefore that those who opposed the war and never thought the intelligence was right have been proven correct."

The passions surrounding the investigation and the question of why the administration got it wrong about Iraq's weapons programs, other analysts agree, reflect the troubled course of the war and the divisions over whether it was necessary or a diversion from the effort to combat Islamic extremism.

The administration has acknowledged the failures of pre-war intelligence, though its supporters have pointed out that many Democrats, including former President Bill Clinton, and the intelligence services of other countries were also convinced that Saddam Hussein had caches of banned weapons. But the White House's insistence that there were many other compelling reasons for deposing Saddam Hussein have only inflamed critics of the war.

"There's a daisy chain that stems from the fact that no weapons of mass destruction have been found," said Richard N. Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations
We seem suddenly to be dealing in symbols that no longer serve this administration, but instead defeat its every ambition. The symbols of terror, fear, and power that served George W. Bush so ably, started crumbling, and then were swept away. A single woman who refused to be afraid taught us political courage. A hurricane showed us all what overwhelming power could do, and brought fear and terror home to the entire country. In response to it, George W. Bush became little more than Little Boy Blue, too sleepy even to blow his horn. When he did awake, he found his protective bubble had been stripped away, first by a woman who had already suffered her greatest loss and was not afraid; then by a press reminded of its humanity in the face of governmental inhumanity, and finally (trouble comes in threes) by a special prosecutor determined to see justice done, something this Administration clearly fears as if it were the Mafia.

As Josh Marshall notes at the end of his latest post on the matter, there are many more issues to take note of here. But the notion that this will fizle out with no indictments, or only a few minor players becoming defendants in court, seems very unlikely.

I don't think the Fat Lady is even warming up in the wings yet. In fact, we may just be getting to Act III, of a four or five Act tragedy. The Judy Miller story, for example, has many more interesting subplots to reveal before it is through. Why was she allowed so much leeway? Did she have a security clearance, or not? Even the NYT public editor wants to know. Answers to some of these questions may shed as much light on how business in this democratic republic is actually done as Katrina has already let in.

We've just started turning over the rock. We aren't yet through looking at the number of things crawling around under there. Katrina. Plamegate. Cindy Sheehan. Several plotlines have yet to converge on the climax.

It ain't over, 'til it's over. And the greatest irony is, the law'n'order guys who refused to play by the rules, are about to find out that law'n'order applies to them, too.

The Problem of Christian Soteriology

Just came across this statement by Walter Kaufmann in his introduction to his translation of Buber's I and Thou.

The Jewish doctrine holds that a man can at any time return and be accepted by God. That is all. The simplicity of this idea is deceptive. Let us translate it into a language closer to Christianity, while noting that Buber refrains from doing this: God can at any time forgive those who repent.
This conception of return has been and is at the very heart of Judaism, and it is for the sake of this idea that Jonah is always read on the highest holiday of the year [Yom Kippur]. But the theology of Paul in the New Testament is founded on the implicit denial of this doctrine, and so are the Roman Catholic and the Greek Orthodox churches, Lutheranism and Calvinism. Paul's elaborate argument concernirtg the impossibility of salvation under the Torah ("the Law") and for the necessity of Christ's redemptive death presuppose that God cannot simply forgive anyone who returns.

If the doctrine of the return is true, Paul's theology collapses and "Christ died in vain." Nor does any need remain for baptism and the sacrament of confession, or for the bread and the wine. Man stands in a direct relationship to God and requires no mediator.
Matin Buber, I and Thou, tr. Walter Kaufmann (Touchstone: New York 1970), p. 36-37.

And I'm lodging it here to invite rumination. I have a few of my own, largely centered around the 4th century concept of "atonement," but I want to review a few resources on Romans before I start my end of the discussion.

So, for those interested, I leave it to you.

One challenge I would raise, as would many a New Testament scholar: the "theology" of Paul? Reading his letters carefully, it's not clear he ever had one, certainly not in the "systematic" sense we would mean, post-Tillich. That is more than a quibble, but perhaps, ultimately, not much more.