Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Lent, 2007

Jonathan Edwards distinquishes between a "grateful good will" (the root of religious feeling, as he understood it) and the kind of gratitude that depends on being loved and appreciated--the kind of gratitude, in other words, that people might feel toward a creator presumed to have their interests at heart. "True virtue," Edwards wrote, "consists, not in love of any particular beings nor in gratitude because they love us, but in a union of heart to being in general." Man has no claim to God's favor, and a "grateful good will" has to be conceieved, accordingly, not as an acknowledgement of the answer to our prayers, so to speak, but as the acknowledgment of God's life-giving power to order things as he [sic] pleases, without "giving any account of his doings."
(Nicholas Lasch, The Revolt of the Elites, quoted in Huston Smith, Why Religion Matters (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001, 117)

Our first gratitude, in other words, is to the God who gave us life. Not the God who gave us comfort, security, and power; not the God who made us wonderful, marvelous, unique, and individual. Not the God who made us, and us alone, valuable first, and everyone else valuable as they value us and value as we value. Not the God who made us special, or who answers our prayers, who heals our wounds, who stops our troubles and lets us relax and simply enjoy ourselves. Our first gratitude, like the first fruits of the harvest, the first yield of the land, is to the God who made it possible, who gave these gifts to us. A gift is something you can only receive, and cannot repay. But it is one which, contra Derrida, can, and should be acknowledged. Because the possibility of re-payment, of exchange, is, in this case, simply impossible.

I am bending my knee
In the eye of the Father who created me,
In the eye of the Son who died for me,
In the eye of the Spirit who cleansed me,
In love and desire.

Pour down upon us from heaven
The rich blessing of Thy forgiveness;
Thou who art uppermost in the City,
Be Thou patient with us.

Grant to us, Thou Saviour of Glory,
The fear of God, the love of God, and His affection,
And the will of God to do on earth at all times
As angels and saints do in heaven;
Each day and night give us Thy peace.
Each day and night give us Thy peace.

(Link to Carmina Gadelica courtesy of Wounded Bird)

Monday, March 26, 2007

Fifth Sunday of Lent 2007

(yes, I know it's a day late, but such is life)

Thus says the Lord,
who opened a way in the sea
and a path through mighty waters,
who drew on chariot and horse to their destruction,
a whole army, men of valour;
there they lay, never to rise again;
they were crushed, snuffed out like a wick:
Cease to dwell on days gone by
and to brood over past history.
Here and now I will do a new thing;
this moment it will break from the bud.
Can you not perceive it?
I will make a way even through the wilderness
and paths in the barren desert;
the wild beasts will do me honour,
the wolf and the ostrich;
for I will provide water in the wilderness
and rivers in the barren desert
where my chosen people may drink
I have formed this people for myself
and they shall proclaim my praises--Isaiah 43:16-21, NEB

65 He said, A [...] person owned a vineyard and rented it to some farmers, so they could work it and he could collect its crop from them. He sent his slave so the farmers would give him the vineyard's crop. They grabbed him, beat him, and almost killed him, and the slave returned and told his master. His master said, "Perhaps he didn't know them." He sent another slave, and the farmers beat that one as well. Then the master sent his son and said, "Perhaps they'll show my son some respect." Because the farmers knew that he was the heir to the vineyard, they grabbed him and killed him. Anyone here with two ears had better listen!

66 Jesus said, "Show me the stone that the builders rejected: that is the keystone."

The Gospel of Thomas

So, where are we in this parable? With whom do we identify? Where do we place ourselves, enter the story, find a connection? Another blunt allegory about the scribes and the Pharisees, the bogey-men of the Gospels? But I've removed that frame, by quoting the Gospel of Thomas, not the Gospel of Luke. Wo what is going on here?

Dom Crossan first identified this parable as what he called a "Parable of Action." He noted, interestingly, that it is a parable which is present in all three synoptics, and also in Thomas; and in each case, in substantially the same form. The rubrics of modern scholarship discern an original saying of Jesus here, if only because of the multiple attestations. You will say that Matthew and Luke derive this one from Mark, and they do; but the presence of verse 18 in Luke, verse 44 in Matthew 21, indicate Q also had this story. It would be coincidence indeed for Matthew and Luke to add that language independently. The most interesting point is Thomas 66, which really fits that rule of multiples by being present in a gospel wholly unrelated otherwise to the text of Mark. Later Crossan reconsidered that part of the parable and decided it wasn't related to the original; and he came up with this:

An absentee landlord sent for the rent of a vineyard leased out to tenant farmers
But they beat the servant and sent him back with nothing
The owner thought the servant might have got lost so he sent a different one
But he too was beaten and sent back without the rent

"I will send my only son,"the owner decided, "they will surely accept his authority."
"We will kill the heir," the tenants decided, "the vineyard will be ours to keep."
John Dominic Crossan, The Essential Jesus (New York: HarperCollins 1994), p. 38

You will note, too, that this is not a "kingdom" parable. It doesn't begin with those cryptic words "The Kingdom of God is like...." This is a parable about the here and now. And note that, if it is an allegory, it is a curious one. If God is the vineyard owner, then surely this parable preaches heresy. The landowner plants the vineyard, prepares it properly in every way, then goes away. He is out of the picture, "absentee," as Crossan has it. Only Thomas seems aware of this problem, because only in that version does the landlord not "go away" for a period of time. In the Synoptics, the landlord leaves the country! And then there is the problem of the slaves. Why doesn't the landlord qua God know what will happen, or what has happened? Again, in Thomas, the slaves return to tell the landlord their story. The landlord is confused, or perhaps unsure they really meant to beat this slave, so he ends another, with the same result. Thomas closely follows the "rule of three," but without explanation as to why the landlord is so slow to pick up on the utter venality of the tenants. He finally decides the problem is one of authority, and so sends his "beloved son." In the Synoptics the slaves don't return, but are merely "sent away." Indeed, Luke reduces the number sent: after the initial three, Mark throws in an indeterminate number: "And so it was with many othersl some they beat, and others they killed." Mark 12: 5b. Matthew is likewise less than clear: "But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first, and they treated them in the same way." Matthew 21:35-36. Matthew follows the "rule of threes" beloved of oral story tellers, but he has the landlord sending groups, not individuals. Luke simplifies the story to three slaves, and finally the "beloved son," whom the Synoptics and Thomas agree, the landlord expects the tenants "will respect." And this is where we are quite sure this parable is an allegory of Jesus: because the tenants kill him, and expect they will now inherit the land.

But why? Why do they think so? What reasoning is this, that killing the heir will net them the gain they seek, full control over the property and its produce? Why except the path to gain is always seen as being paved with violence? But perhaps this isn't an allegory at all. Perhaps this is an admonition, a warning, of what the followers of Jesus, the disciples of the Christ, should expect. After all, blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. But we all know what the meek get in this life, before they come into their inheritance.

Where do we find ourselves in this parable? Where do we enter in? As the tenants, thinking we are wise to do violence in order to gain property and power, to gain security in this harshly competitive world, to assure ourselves of the benefits of our own efforts into the future, avoid the capriciousness of a landlord who might throw us out the vineyard, or demand his fair share of what is, after all, the fruit of our labor? If God is the landlord, what does it mean that God is absent? That God is so naive, so trusting? So ignorant? Is this an allegory of the kingdom, of the eschaton, when God returns to find we've mucked things up and God's patience has run out and God is angry and wreaks havoc, opens the gates of destruction, wipes the slate clean a la the Flood, and starts again with "new tenants"? Is the lesson simply that God is slow, both to anger and understanding, but when God finally figures it out, God is just like us except, you know, God? With power to unleash God's anger in ways we cannot escape?

Where do we find ourselves in this parable? Perhaps we should look for ourselves in the "beloved son." Because ours is a missionary, an evangelical, faith; and we are told to take the gospel into all the world; and what is the proclamation of that gospel, except that the basiliea tou theou is at hand, is present here and now, and God is in charge? And how do we expect the world to react to that? With gratitude that the landlord has been identified, that the one we thought absent is really present, and is in fact requiring payment? Or do we expect them to reject that message, and beat the servants, and even try to kill the beloved son? Do we identify with the slaves here, or the heir? Or with the tenants, or the landlord?

The tenants imagine they will be able to keep the vineyard. Why? Because the messengers of the basiliea are killed or beaten? We often imagine that if we punish the messenger, we will kill the message. But "Darkness cannot drive out darkness:only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that." And love = vulnerability. Love equals danger, risk, loss, even unto death. We are not the landlord; but we are sent by the landlord. For millenia now, we've imagined that sending was an easy one, and the basiliea tou theou was established by the happy conjunction of church and state, or the happier separation of church and state. But the job has never been done for us. No system, no church, no hierarchy, no establishment of bishops and priests, has ever been able to do this job for us. We do not stand outside the vineyard, or the culture that teaches violence as the shortest path to one's desires and security in this life. "I tell you, make use of your ill-gotten gains to make friends for yourselves, so that when the bottom falls out there are there to welcome you into eternal dwelling places." We work out our own salvation, and when we realize that, when we realize the adventus will one day be upon us, we work out that salvation with fear and trembling. Mysterium tremendum, indeed.

Where do we enter this parable? As Christians, as disciples of the Risen One, we enter it as the slaves who are beaten, even as the beloved son who is killed. Jesus is not the only one who does the dying, here. We don't get off so easily as that. If the landlord has "gone away," it is the world which says so, not our confession. If the world thinks the landlord doesn't care anymore, it is our duty to tell them otherwise. We don't do that, of course, by purifying our churches of "deviant" priests. That is too easy. That is expecting the system to do the work for us. That is believing that, if the group is pure, then I am pure, and I need only purify the group to be pure myself. It's moral cowardice. If the world is "unchurched," then the world is in our churches; and our church is still in the world. We have expected too long that the world would be grateful for what we have to say; and we have tried too hard to make the message one the world would be grateful to receive. After all, "We believe in you!" Except we don't. We beleive in God.

And if that is more and more of a minority opinion, if it makes us more and more vulnerable to the world (even the landlord humbly submits his slaves, even his son, to the violence of the farmers), then we accept our place in this world with humility, recognizing that in order to be the cornerstone, we must first be the stone that the builders rejected. And stones do not brag, are not arrogant or boastful, do not object. They do what they must do. After all, we follow a God who says a new thing is coming, that the order of this world will be reversed: streams will flow in the desert, predator and prey alike will honor God, who will be providing water for the people. Can we do these things? What, then, do we have to brag about? What, then, can we do, but follow the orders of our master, knowing that good will finally come from what now seems to be evil?

Sunday, March 25, 2007

"The ultimate weakness of violence

is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
Through violence you may murder the liar,
but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.
Through violence you may murder the hater,
but you do not murder hate.
In fact, violence merely increases hate.
So it goes.
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence,
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness:
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that."

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King

This, by the way, is what the Bush Administration considers "diplomacy":

Former ambassador to the UN John Bolton told the BBC that before any ceasefire Washington wanted Israel to eliminate Hezbollah's military capability.

Mr Bolton said an early ceasefire would have been "dangerous and misguided".

He said the US decided to join efforts to end the conflict only when it was clear Israel's campaign wasn't working.


Mr Bolton said the US was deeply disappointed at Israel's failure to remove the threat from Hezbollah and the subsequent lack of any attempt to disarm its forces.

Mr Bolton, a controversial and blunt-speaking figure, said he was "damned proud of what we did" to prevent an early ceasefire.
It is the Fifth Sunday of Lent.

Kyrie eleison.
Christe eleison.
Kyrie eleison.

Just in time for Lent

"I am Freedom."(Jesus on a motorcycle)

It's the crown of thorns, isn't it? Yeah, for me, too.

I have to say, I think my favorite is "I am Peace." (Click on any one of them, you'll get the gallery). Jesus in a crown of thorns holding dove dressed in a robe (nothing like he would have worn, of course, but it looks "authentic") over camouflage fatigues. If that doesn't express the American spirit of peace through war, I don't know what does.

I gotta get me some of these.

(Is that crown of thorns gold-plated? And if so, is it meant to be ironic? Or bling?)

Why I am embarassed

to be a member of the same State Bar (of Texas) as Alberto Gonzales:

In his first weeks as defense secretary, Robert M. Gates repeatedly argued that the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, had become so tainted abroad that legal proceedings at Guantánamo would be viewed as illegitimate, according to senior administration officials. He told President Bush and others that it should be shut down as quickly as possible.

Mr. Gates’s appeal was an effort to turn Mr. Bush’s publicly stated desire to close Guantánamo into a specific plan for action, the officials said. In particular, Mr. Gates urged that trials of terrorism suspects be moved to the United States, both to make them more credible and because Guantánamo’s continued existence hampered the broader war effort, administration officials said.

Mr. Gates’s arguments were rejected after Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and some other government lawyers expressed strong objections to moving detainees to the United States, a stance that was backed by the office of Vice President Dick Cheney, administration officials said.
And why I hope Alberto Gonzales will be forced to resign:

Even so, one senior administration official who favors the closing of the facility said the battle might be renewed.

“Let’s see what happens to Gonzales,” that official said, referring to speculation that Mr. Gonzales will be forced to step down, or at least is significantly weakened, because of the political uproar over the dismissal of United States attorneys. “I suspect this one isn’t over yet.”

Details of the internal discussions on Guantánamo were described by senior officials from three departments or agencies of the executive branch, including officials who support moving rapidly to close Guantánamo and those who do not. One official made it clear that he was willing to discuss the internal deliberations in part because of Mr. Gonzales’s current political weakness. The senior officials discussed the issue on ground rules of anonymity because it entailed confidential conversations.

Ecclesiology 101

I do love Pastor Dan, if only because he gives me material to post about. Like this, for example:

These results coincide with a unique book released this week by Tyndale House Publishers, entitled Jim and Casper Go to Church. That book describes the experience of a former pastor and an avowed atheist who together visited a dozen significant churches across the nation. Jim Henderson, who has been a pastor of small and large churches, interviewed the atheist (Matt Casper) during and after each church service they attended to gain insights into what it’s like for an outsider to attend such churches. Among the congregations visited were well-known ministries such as Willow Creek (pastored by Bill Hybels), Saddleback (led by Rick Warren), Lakeside (featuring Joel Osteen), and The Potter’s House (home of T.D. Jakes).

Many of the insights drawn from the experiences of "Jim and Casper" parallel the findings of Barna Group studies among the unchurched. Some of the critical discoveries were the relative indifference of most churched Christians to unchurched people; the overt emphasis upon a personal rather than communal faith journey; the tendency of congregations to perform rituals and exercise talents rather than invite and experience the presence of God; the absence of a compelling call to action given to those who attend; and the failure to listen to dissident voices and spiritual guidance to dig deeper in one’s faith.
"Unchurched," to begin with, is a tricky term. I've known whole churches full of "unchurched" people, so I don't reserve it just for those who haven't attended in six months (as Pastor Dan points out, a lot of "Christians" show up only at Christmas and Easter). To me "unchurched" means the description in the findings of this report. And that, not coincidentally, put me in mind of these words by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:

I have heard numerous southern religious leaders admonish their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers declare: "Follow this decree because integration is morally right and because the Negro is your brother." In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: "Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern." And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, on Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.

I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at the South's beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious-education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking: "What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they when Governor Wallace gave a clarion call for defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?"

Yes, these questions are still in my mind. In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? l am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great-grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

There was a time when the church was very powerful in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being "disturbers of the peace" and "outside agitators"' But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were "a colony of heaven," called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God intoxicated to be "astronomically intimidated." By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide. and gladiatorial contests.

Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent and often even vocal sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it vi lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.
I still contend we love Martin Luther King because we don't remember a damned thing he said beyond: "I have a dream!" We love dreams. We don't like prophets. Read those words again. Imagine how they apply to the mega-churches mentioned in that study; or to any church at all. The Episcopal Church is agitated today, not because of conditions in Nigeria, but because of a gay bishop in America; not because children are starving in America, but because a woman is the Presiding Bishop. And does such an accusation point at those opposed to Bishop Robinson, at those disturbed by the gender of Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori? Or does it point equally to those who decry the assault on Bishop Robinson, the attempts at schism because of PB Schori? "Every day I meet young people who disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust." Is that disappointmet assuaged because we are fighting among ourselves? How does that fight not reflect: "...the relative indifference of most churched Christians to unchurched people; the overt emphasis upon a personal rather than communal faith journey; the tendency of congregations to perform rituals and exercise talents rather than invite and experience the presence of God; the absence of a compelling call to action given to those who attend; and the failure to listen to dissident voices and spiritual guidance to dig deeper in one’s faith." You can't do those things by proclaiming yourself superior to those you disagree with. You can't do those things by defending your position against all who disagree with you, by arguing over the arcana of polity and procedure and who's in charge.

I can lob bombs at the mega-churches all day long, agreeing with the one quote from this report. I can produce examples from my own experience, my own reading, my own thinking until the cows come home. And what is the purpose of it? To prove I'm better than they are? More thoughtful, more considerate, wiser? Or is it simply to distinquish myself?

There are unchurched people in this country, and almost as many of them are in church as are outside of it. That's not a condemnation, simply an observation. Dr. King was right, 40 years ago. The Barna Group study is right, too. And the people I refer to are unchurched in precisely the ways that report describes: the solitary conviction that this church is for you!; the conviction that "we have always done it this way!" is reason enough to become ever more exclusive and insular as a way of experiencing the presence of comfort, if not exactly God; the absolute rejection of any call to action that requires doing one thing beyond showing up on time on Sunday morning, and being released within the hour; and the abject rejection of anything like "spiritual guidance" because it is simply to disturbing to our personal status quo. I speak especially harshly because "unchurched" is an especially harsh term. Do I describe every church with these words? No, not at all. But I describe the tendency of every church, of every human institution. Are all equally guilty? No, but all are equally subject to such guilt, and all are equally called on to avoid such error, such sin, if you will. And how do we do that, except by being "churched" instead of "unchurched;" except by listening constantly, not for the comforting word of God, but for the mysterium tremendum that shakes our confidence and shatters our assurances and leaves us:

holding one end of a love, when your father drops, and your mother; when a land is lost, or a time, and your friend blotted out, gone, your brother's body spoiled, and cold, your infant dead, and you dying: you reel out love's long line alone, stripped like a live wire loosing its sparks to a cloud, like a live wire loosed in space to longing and grief everlasting.
And then what? Rail against this existential nightmare, and retreat to our tents, telling Moses to speak to God for us, because the presence of God makes us so afraid? Or quit our tents, as Annie Dillard advised, and pray without ceasing?

As ever, the question is never about who's right: the question is, what are we going to do about it? Maybe look to the lessons of Paul, or the lessons of Christ. Maybe look to lessons of hospitality; if that mention isn't too self-serving. But we have to do something; and complaining about the situation gets nothing done.

Beginning year five

And here is the real situation in Iraq:

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees said on Sunday that one in eight Iraqis had been forced from their homes because of the bloodshed raging across the country, and warned that the numbers will only rise.

Already two million have fled Iraq altogether, he said, while another 1.8 million are already displaced inside the country, which has an estimated population of around 27 million.

"The biggest displacement in the Middle East since the dramatic events of 1948 has now forced one in eight Iraqis from their homes," he added, referring to creation of the state of Israel that triggered a massive Palestinian exodus.

"Last year alone, we estimate that nearly 500,000 Iraqis moved to other areas inside the country," he added.
But this is the sad part of the story:

Americans enter the fifth year of the Iraq war today amid renewed warnings that the 2003 invasion is sparking a humanitarian crisis unnoticed by much of the world.

"I don't think anyone has a good grasp of the breadth of the problem we are facing here," said Dana Graber, who is working with displaced Iraqis in Jordan for the International Organization for Migration.

As the violence in Iraq continues unabated, Graber predicted yesterday another million Iraqis will be uprooted by a war that has already forced 2 million from their homes to neighbouring countries, putting particular strain on services in Syria and Jordan.

Another 1.7 million have been internally displaced, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Those dealing with this burgeoning crisis say more and more Iraqis are fleeing their country without the means to support themselves, with some 40,000 pouring into Syria each month, according to the UN.
What's the difference? The first story is from Yahoo News, and it was posted Sunday, March 4, 2007. The second story is from the Toronto Star; it was posted on March 20, 2007. It makes an explicit link to the 4 year anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. Yahoo's article ran before that anniversary, and my search on Google didn't turn up any domestic news articles about the refugee crisis contemporary with the 4th anniversary of the invasion. What I found domestically, aside from the Yahoo article, was this January article in the San Francisco Chronicle, and this report on from March 7. To be fair, the two recent domestic reports are because of the UN's announcement about the crisis; but there don't seem to be any domestic reports either connecting this refugee crisis which our invasion caused, to the anniversary of the invasion; or any attempts to report on the refugee crisis itself, other than to report on the reports about the crisis. What prompted my notice of this? A report on BBC World Service Radio:

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) says there has been an "abject denial" around the world of the humanitarian impact of invading Iraq.
The UN faces an enormous task in helping countries such as Jordan and Syria cope with the huge influx of Iraqi refugees, a spokesman said.

He said the international community had to step in to help address their food, health and education needs.

Syria says it is home to 1.2m Iraqi refugees with up to 800,000 in Jordan.

Damascus has repeatedly called for help to deal with the problem.

"There has been an abject denial of the impact, the humanitarian impact, of the war, the huge displacement within Iraq of up to 1.9 million people who are homeless because of the war, and those people who are homeless and never got back to the homes after Saddam Hussein was overthrown," UNHCR spokesman Peter Kessler said.

There's a need for governments to come in and address the health, the education, all the needs
Seems to me it's pretty easy to be in denial about something you don't know anything about. Seems to me, too, this issue has a great deal of relevance for the "surge" we've heard so much about:

"So clearly in every area, there's a need to support what the main host governments are doing and then to gird ourselves for what could be, if the war is prolonged, an increasing movement further west-wards."
And this is not just a problem for neighboring countries; it's a problem within Iraq:

On top of that, almost two million more people are displaced inside Iraq - people who have fled their homes to escape the violence.

That number, too, is steadily growing, the UN says, with some provinces feeling overwhelmed and attempting to close their boundaries to refugees from other areas.
And that's a topic I've heard nothing about in US news. This is what those refugees are facing if they do leave Iraq:

Most of the borders of the neighbouring countries of Iraq are very difficult to pass. They have administrative problems, passport issues, and they are not welcome any more," he explained.

"Also the Western countries and the wealthier countries, they are becoming more and more difficult in terms of allocating any visa, or allowing any entrance. So it seems the doors are closing one by one around the world on the face of Iraqis."
And Bush continues to tell the American people to be patient. But what are we telling the Iraqis do to? Be more grateful?

"We liberated that country from a tyrant. I think the Iraqi people owe the American people a huge debt of gratitude. That's the problem here in America: They wonder whether or not there is a gratitude level that's significant enough in Iraq."
Like I say: if you don't know what's going on, how can you be concerned?


It's not just for foreign policy anymore!:

HINOJOSA: Bud Cummins, I need you to help us understand what it means when yourself, a Republican, former federal prosecutor, and you are prepared to say flat out that the U.S. Attorney General is a liar.

CUMMINS: What I don't know is exactly how much truth he knows about the lies that he has continued to—perpetuate. He's apparently surrounded himself with a—a lot of little political mischief-makers who probably had no business in these important positions at the Department to begin with. And I think the problem now is—it's hard for me to hold the President of the United States responsible, for instance, for this because it looks to me like all the people that he's getting direct advice from and he's relying on to tell him about what happened here, are the very people who are trying to keep themselves outta trouble for their role in it.

And so I think if he could see beyond their briefings to know that the seven people that I'm talking about—and—and I separate myself because they've admitted the truth in my case, that I asked was to leave so that another person could serve in my place. And they were within their legal discretion to ask me to leave. They asked me to leave. I left. And they're pretty squared away in my case.

But they never admitted whatever the other reasons were in the other seven cases, and tried to just lump them all together as performance-related decisions. And as recently as yesterday, I saw where Karl Rover gave a speech and tried to—ratify that suggestion once more. And—and that's just simply not true. And he knows it. And I'm—Paul McNulty, the Deputy Attorney General, knows it, because he has enough direct experience in this business to look at the list of reasons that—that they have recited to the Congress, and know that on their face they don't hold water.

HINOJOSA: So when Karl Rove in fact says, "Look, the previous Administration fired all the U.S. Attorneys," and he's basically saying, "This is something that's part of the MO of—of—of Presidential Administrations." And he says, "No one made a big political discussion about the firings." So clarify for our audience, what makes this different?

CUMMINS: Well, I want your audience to understand, like you said, I am a—very Rep—Republican person. I agreed to put that aside when I became a U.S. Attorney. And I did very successfully. But I—I have a very deep political background. And I'm very familiar with what a talking point is. And I think you are, too. And probably most of your li—listeners are.

He's reading from the talking points. And—and somebody has decided that if they try to continually talk about Bill Clinton firing 93 U.S. Attorneys, that will somehow you know, muddy this water up to where people can't see anything. The truth is, what they have done here is unprecedented. Presidents are entitled to—to appoint their own U.S. Attorneys. In modern history, Presidents have come into (UNINTEL) office, wiped the slate of 93 U.S. Attorneys clean, appointed their own people.

I can make a good argument why that's—that's the right thing to do. I think it's important to have their own people that are on the same page with their priorities and initiatives. But no President that I'm aware of has ever then reached out later in his term and tried to remove one of his United States Attorneys that he appointed, absent malfeasance. There have been a handful of cases where people have made serious mistakes of some—one kind or another. And they've been asked to leave.

HINOJOSA: And has the Justice Department released any kind of information that shows that the ot—the seven other fired U.S. Attorneys did have performance problems, that there was a history of a discussion around these seven—U.S. Attorneys?

CUMMINS: No, Maria. And that's—and that's really, I think, the key point in why I'm so embarrassed that they continue to continue to wanna say that. They—they had Will Moschella go to the House Judiciary Committee the same day we testified there under subpoena. We were under subpoena. He wasn't.

And he recited the supposed reasons in each of those seven cases. And the—the reasons are in some cases laughable. There—there is no substance to really any of it. Additionally, if you look at the e-mails—from Kyle Samson that were released early in the week, there's no discussion of any of those issues there.

And the thing that's most persuasive to me, and maybe you'd had to work in the Department to really understand it, but the people that worked in Main Justice, what we call Main Justice in D.C. don't make a decision about changing a light bulb without writing a 30 page memo. They write memos to their bosses about anything. They always cover themselves.

Will Moschella described a deliberative committee performance review process that had taken place of all the United States Attorneys. If anything resembling the process that he described to Congress had taken place, there would be a stack of memos a mile high. And they have not rolled out so much as a half a page.

Don't you think if they were gonna disclose all those embarrassing e-mails, that by now they would've shared the memo where they analyzed 93 U.S. Attorneys on their performance? The—the—the memo hasn't been produced because it doesn't exist, because such an exercise never took place. But there's no excuse, they could cure this problem today by just conceding that performance was never on the table when they made the decisions about my seven colleagues. And it's outrageous to me that they haven't done that.

HINOJOSA: Do you think that you and your colleagues were targeted because you were not quote unquote "loyal Bushies," that you were too independent, that you were not prepared to follow—a kind of political line on prosecutions that the White House wanted you to follow?

CUMMINS: Well the short answer is, we don't know really. And Kyle Samson's credibility is so low, that trying to draw a conclusion about that from his e-mails is not you know, a real useful exercise. But I'll just tell you this. I've been a Republican all my adult life. I was a Congressional candidate in 1996. I've raised money and campaigned for other Republicans for 30 years.

I was the Bush Cheney Arkansas counsel in 2000. I went to Florida and counted chads during the recount. I was a electoral college elector for Bush Cheney in 2000. And all that happened before I became United States Attorney. I think the fact that my name turned up and other names turned up on the disloyal list had a lot more to do with some political minion at Justice wanting to be a U.S. Attorney and wanting to create a vacancy than it had to do with anybody's loyalty to the President.

HINOJOSA: So when you hear that Democrats and—and even Republican Arlen Specter, are trying to investigate whether or not the—the firings were motivated by a desire to squelch corruptions in—corruption investigations that may have involved Republicans, you say what?

CUMMINS: There was a time when I would say that that was a little bit too conspiratorial or a little too paranoid, and—and that it probably doesn't reach so far to retaliate against somebody that conducted a corruption investigation, or to stop someone from conducting another one, or to punish somebody for not investigating a voter fraud case or a Democrat public corruption case. But at this point, the—the credibility of some of these people involved in this is so low that I wouldn't—you know, I really wouldn't wanna put my credibility on the line and tell you that it—that didn't happen.

It—it—it seems more obvious to me that this had mostly to do some mid level, like I said, political mischief-makers wanting to create some vacancies for themselves and their friends. I think there was some personal animus probably factored into it. Maybe the Deputy Attorney General and other people just kinda didn't like certain people, and would like to see 'em gone.

And I think that at the end of the process, that it's very likely that somebody threw a few names in because some Republican members of Congress or party leaders in their home states were aggravated at 'em for one reason or another. The first two reasons are kinda dumb and petty. But you know, I don't think the history of the world changes because they change out a U.S. Attorney 'cause somebody wanted his job.

The last reason is a lot more serious. Because you know, when I became a U.S. Attorney, I had—I explained to my wife you know, "I have to go where these cases lead me. And they may lead me to take out Republican leaders, you know Republican businessmen in the community. And at the end of the time I'm United States Attorney, if I do this job right, we may not be real popular in the circles we have previously—moved in. And that's just the way it's gonna be." But it never occurred to me that the Department would fail to insulate me from that pressure so I could do my job. And—and this suggestion or this notion that—that prosecutors were out there doing their job by the book, exercising their very important prosecutorial discretion in the right way, and that it somehow aggravated their party leaders at home and they filed a complaint with the White House, and that immediately resulted in their dismissal, is very frightening.

HINOJOSA: But one of the things—one of the issues that this Administration has apparently wanted to pursue is—pressing cases of voter fraud. Is there really a case for U.S. Attorneys to pursue cases of voter fraud when we have a new report—released by the Project Vote—, which says that there is essentially extremely rare—extremely rare cases of voter fraud in the United States, and that actually this is a myth that promulgated to quote unquote "suppress voter participation." So do we have a case in the United States where voter fraud is something that we should be pursuing? Or is this something that this Administration wants to pursue for political reasons?

CUMMINS: I will tell you that in my experience here in the eastern district of Arkansas, that there is a—a perception in the Republican Party that there is you know, widespread rampant voter fraud going on on election day, that people are voting dead people. Or there's a widespread feeling among the Democrats that reposition are somehow conspiring to violate people's civil rights by keeping them away from the polls.

Occasionally actual complaints came to me or to the FBI along both of those lines. They were always investigated. Always investigated. Very seldom was there any evidence to back them up. People will call you and say, "Everybody over here in Smith, Arkansas," if there is a Smith, Arkansas—forgive me, I—I'm not—I'm not aware of one. I'm—trying to make up a generic name. But, "Everybody over here in Smith, Arkansas, knows that they stole our election over here."

And so you say, "Okay, give me the first witness and we'll interview 'em." "Well, I—I don't know who that would be. But—everybody knows it was stolen." And that's kinda what you run up against. And so I can just tell you that I—I would be shocked if any U.S. Attorney didn't proactively investigate any complaints along either of those lines. It's a high priority for the depar—I mean for the Bureau, too. So the idea that out in the field we are somehow lax on voter fraud investigations is silly. Moreover, we never had any—there was never any communication to us that there was a desire by the Administration to emphasize that more than we were already doing it.

HINOJOSA: I'm wondering about—again in this process of you suddenly being a newsmaker, when you were really behind the scenes just trying to do the job as—as a U.S. Attorney, but in your history as—as a member of the Republican Party—an active member—you supported—the Patriot Act. You were a big supporter of the Patriot Act. You were a member of the Department of Justice's Anti-Terrorism Advisory Council . But in essence, they were able to replace you because of a provision in the Patriot Act. So what are your thoughts on the Patriot Act now?

CUMMINS: To the extent I'm familiar with the Patriot Act, and I don't claim to—I obviously didn't know about this page, 'cause I'd never heard about the change in the interim appointment process in the Patriot Act, and I don't think any of us had—I don't think any of the senators had that voted on it. You know, the events in the last several weeks—not only the you know, frivolous use of the Patriot Act to try and circumvent the Senate in the case of the United States Attorneys, but also the audit about the National Security letters—of the FBI's use of the National Security letters—has probably jeopardized the future of the Patriot Act.

This discredits the whole project. And—and it would be impossible for me if I wasn't one of the eight U.S. Attorneys and I was still in office, if they asked me tomorrow to go back and put my credibility on the line for the Patriot Act in the same way that I had before, it would be impossible for me to do that. So I think it was really reckless of the people that thought this was a cute way to solve a political problem.

HINOJOSA: So what do you think needs to happen right now? Is—I mean are you saying there should be an apology? Are you saying there should be official testimony? Are you saying there should be resignations? What does Bud Cummins want right now?

CUMMINS: They need to admit that the idea of performance is silly and—and embarrassing, and they shoulda never said it to begin with. And they need to apologize to those seven. On the one hand, if you were advising them you might say, "Well, if you do that then the Congress is gonna accuse you of lying to 'em." But I—you know, I got news for 'em.

I've spent a lot of time unfortunately with the—the staffs in the judiciary committees in Congress. Nobody believes 'em anyway. They've got severe credibility problems now with the Congress and with the public. And frankly, they—you know within the United States Attorney community, I mean there's a—there's 93 U.S. Attorneys, but they represent you know, tens of thousands of career prosecutors and paralegals and legal—assistants. And you know, I talk to enough of those people to know that they've got some severe morale and confidence problems among those ranks right now, based on what those people have seen in these e-mails.

HINOJOSA: So you're saying that we have U.S. Attorneys right now that are having morale problems, that there are morale problems in the Justice Department. Just finally Bud, what does this mean to all of us as citizens?

CUMMINS: Well I just think that it's important that every citizen can believe that federal prosecutors are operating in a neutral and non-partisan way. Well many of us were political before we got those jobs. We come to 'em through a fairly political process. But it's very important that we leave the politics out and give up that part of our lives while we serve as federal prosecutors.

Because when you go and indict somebody and threaten to take their liberty away and their property—you know, that's a pretty serious thing. And—and the public has to believe that you're doing it for right reasons and no wrong reasons. Once something like this happens, and you let somehow politics get injected into substantive decisions of the Department, people have a perception that maybe there is a political component to other decisions you're making.

And they really question every decision you make. And it's—and it's already being demonstrated. I—I—you know, I'm—right now talkin' to probably a dozen or two dozen reporters a day. They're asking me questions about things that are so far distant from this, and whether they're related to Karl Rove, or—you know and I don't really have any information on that for 'em. And I really doubt that there are connections to most of these things.

But that's the natural result. Once you lose your credibility, people question every decision you make. So they're asking me whether this incident is related to decisions that have been made in the civil rights division, or the environment division. And that's what people naturally do when they lo—they've lost confidence in your credibility.

And—and—and the Department of Justice frankly lives on its credibility. So it's important that that not happen. It has happened. And it needs to be fixed.

Free the DOJ 8!

This story on NPR last week got me curious about the Carol Lam story, so I went looking. This is what I found:

Appearing on CBS's "Face the Nation," Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., revealed fresh evidence in which Lam notified Washington of search warrants in a Republican corruption case there last year that quickly prompted a top Department of Justice official in Washington to describe a "real problem we have right now with Carol Lam."

"As the evidence comes in, as we look at the e-mails, there were clearly U.S. attorneys that were thorns in the side for one reason or another of the Justice Department," said Feinstein, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. "And they decided, by strategy, in one fell swoop, to get rid of them."

Another Judiciary Committee member, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., agreed that the San Diego investigation, along with a parallel GOP corruption investigation in Los Angeles, may have been directly linked to Lam's ouster.

"The most notorious is the Southern District of California, San Diego," he said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "In the middle of the investigation, she was fired."
This is what the Senator is talking about:

“In this district, it's hard to ignore the border,” said Chief U.S. District Judge Irma Gonzalez. “You can't.”

Border crime prosecutions in the past had made San Diego the busiest U.S. Attorney's Office in the nation. Lam tried to remake the office's role along more traditional lines, where federal prosecutors go after big fish.
"But," as the article drily notes, "that policy may have alienated key law enforcement constituencies." For instance, maybe the Border Patrol Union:

T.J. Bonner, head of the Border Patrol union, was not convinced by Lam's rationale.

“I understand you can only do so much with what you have,” he said. “But you need some leadership. . . . You need someone to say you need more resources if you expect us to do the job.”
Lam went for "quality prosecutions over sheer quantity." This was intentional:

One corrupt Border Patrol agent could be responsible for letting hundreds of illegal immigrants into the country, Lam said. Investigating and prosecuting that agent – Lam's office had seven such cases – could reduce illegal entries into the country but be counted only as a single effort.
My own representative is still screeching about two Border Patrol agents who were convicted of shooting an unarmed man in broad daylight. Either Culberson never thought to ask for John Sutton's head, or he doesn't have that much clout. But that this matter is still a cause celebre among conservatives speaks volumes about the Lam case.

As helpful as it is, the NPR timeline obscures a few facts that make this firing even more interesting. As Tip O'Neill said, "All politics is local." And more and more, it looks like Ms. Lam violated that unwritten law:

By the close of 2005, amid a series of San Diego scandals, U.S. Attorney Carol Lam had quietly become one of the most powerful people in the region.

That summer, her office had secured the convictions of two City Council members on extortion, fraud and other charges in a bribery case involving a strip club.

A grand jury was wrapping up its investigation into the city's billion-dollar pension deficit debacle and would hand down indictments at the start of 2006.

And in a case that reverberated across the country, Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham of Rancho Santa Fe pleaded guilty to conspiracy and tax evasion charges. He admitted accepting more than $2.4 million in bribes from defense contractors.
Lay that NPR timeline alongside the one at TPM, and you begin to see that "local politics" in D.C. were probably what brought Lam's case to the boiling point in the White House. But what started it? That became the political question of the week. In Josh Marshall's detailed response to Tony Snow's comment about Lam, he argues that the e-mails suggest a "paper trail" was being created, not pursued, in order to justify the firing. According to the NPR timeline, the proposal to fire Lam (and others) began in March, 2005 (all the incidents JMM refers to are in 2006).

What's truly curious, however, is why anyone (other than Brad Cummins in Arkansas) was fired:

The March 2, 2005, memo from Sampson came in response to a proposal floated by Miers to remove all U.S. attorneys during Bush's second term. Fitzgerald was placed in a middle category among his peers: "No recommendation; have not distinguished themselves either positively or negatively."

Although the ranking meant Sampson was not recommending those prosecutors for removal at the time, two U.S. attorneys who received the same ranking were fired last Dec. 7: Daniel G. Bogden of Nevada and Paul K. Charlton of Arizona.

Two prosecutors who were listed in the top category on Sampson's chart were also fired: David C. Iglesias in New Mexico and Kevin V. Ryan in San Francisco.

Two administration officials said Fitzgerald was never included on later lists of U.S. attorneys targeted for removal by Sampson. Administration officials and documents have portrayed Sampson as being in charge of the firings effort.
There just doesn't seem to be rhyme or reason to this, except local politics. Iglesias was fired after two New Mexico Republicans called him personally. Lam was clearly annoying the very political White House (and no coincidence Karl Rove, whose only job is politics, was in on this process ab initio), but what did Kevin Ryan do? And why did Iglesias annoy Domenici and Wilson so badly? It seems the only answer to these firings is politics, but the politics of the firings seems, well, questionable.

But all bad decisions look truly bad in hindsight. By now, even the Washington Post seems to have figured that out:

U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald was ranked among prosecutors who had "not distinguished themselves" on a Justice Department chart sent to the White House in March 2005, when he was in the midst of leading the CIA leak investigation that resulted in the perjury conviction of a vice presidential aide, administration officials said yesterday.

The ranking placed Fitzgerald below "strong U.S. Attorneys . . . who exhibited loyalty" to the administration but above "weak U.S. Attorneys who . . . chafed against Administration initiatives, etc.," according to Justice documents.

There is still a legitimate question lurking: what did these bozos think they were doing? Mark Schmitt runs the possibilities down fairly well. The simple fact that the grand jury indicted Foggo after Lam was forced out shows that firing a prosecutor doesn't immediately stop a prosecution. It may be be evidence of obstruction of justice, but it's not terribly clear evidence. Stanley Brand on NPR seemed to think there was rather stronger evidence of obstruction, and a US Senator simply calling a US Attorney could be grounds for such charges, especially if the call was meant to pressure the US Attorney about how to handle a pending case. Feinstein is right; these 8 attorneys were "thorns in the side" of the White House. But why? Ideological purity? Control? I know of US attorneys under Eisenhower who were Democrats, and yet appointed by a GOP President. It really did used to be about competence, not about "serving at the pleasure of the President." Maybe part of the scandal here is less what this White House did, and more about how our politics has changed in this country in 50 years.

Josh Marshall, not surprisingly, has the best summation of this in his response to Michael Kinsley's inablity to grasp the issue:

There are many people in this conversation trying to avoid the issues, confuse the issues or just ignore them. And more than a few people are just plain confused. But it's not that complicated. Administration officials have repeatedly and demonstrably lied about the firings. And there is now abundant evidence of a pattern of using the president's power to hire and fire US Attorneys to stymie public corruption investigations of Republicans and use the Justice Department to harass Democrats by mounting investigations of demonstrably bogus 'voter fraud' claims. It's really that simple.
And as the week wrapped up, we were to this:

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales approved plans to fire several U.S. attorneys in an hourlong meeting last fall, according to documents released Friday that indicate he was more involved in the dismissals than he has claimed.

Last week, Gonzales said he "was not involved in any discussions about what was going on" in the firings of eight prosecutors that has since led to a political firestorm and calls for his ouster.

A Nov. 27 meeting, in which the attorney general and at least five top Justice Department officials participated, focused on a five-step plan for carrying out the firings of the prosecutors, Gonzales' aides said late Friday.

There, Gonzales signed off on the plan, which was drafted by his chief of staff, Kyle Sampson. Sampson resigned last week. Another Justice aide closely involved in the dismissals, White House liaison Monica Goodling, has also taken a leave of absence, two officials said.

And more importantly, this:

Since 2005, McClatchy Newspapers has found, Bush has appointed at least three U.S. attorneys who had worked in the Justice Department's civil rights division when it was rolling back longstanding voting-rights policies aimed at protecting predominantly poor, minority voters.

Another newly installed U.S. attorney, Tim Griffin in Little Rock, Ark., was accused of participating in efforts to suppress Democratic votes in Florida during the 2004 presidential election while he was a research director for the Republican National Committee. He's denied any wrongdoing.

Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said the four U.S. attorneys weren't chosen only because of their backgrounds in election issues, but "we would expect any U.S. attorney to prosecute voting fraud."

Taken together, critics say, the replacement of the U.S. attorneys, the voter-fraud campaign and the changes in Justice Department voting rights policies suggest that the Bush administration may have been using its law enforcement powers for partisan political purposes.
This one takes us beyond Josh Marshall's famous caution, and Michael Kinsley's infamous mendacity. Now we can understand what Brad Cummins was worried about; and once again, Rove has been hiding in plain sight:

Last April, while the Justice Department and the White House were planning the firings, Rove gave a speech in Washington to the Republican National Lawyers Association. He ticked off 11 states that he said could be pivotal in the 2008 elections. Bush has appointed new U.S. attorneys in nine of them since 2005: Florida, Colorado, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Arkansas, Michigan, Nevada and New Mexico. U.S. attorneys in the latter four were among those fired.

Rove thanked the audience for "all that you are doing in those hot spots around the country to ensure that the integrity of the ballot is protected." He added, "A lot in American politics is up for grabs."

The department's civil rights division, for example, supported a Georgia voter identification law that a court later said discriminated against poor, minority voters. It also declined to oppose an unusual Texas redistricting plan that helped expand the Republican majority in the House of Representatives. That plan was partially reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Frank DiMarino, a former federal prosecutor who served six U.S. attorneys in Florida and Georgia during an 18-year Justice Department career, said that too much emphasis on voter fraud investigations "smacks of trying to use prosecutorial power to investigate and potentially indict political enemies."
Now we know what they've been up to, and why they've been doing it. It is, actually, a logical outgrowth of the idea that "the personal is political." When everything is about politics, politics is about everything; and when politics is divorced from the polis, the public square, the good of the community, then it is about power and rule. John Bolton told Jon Stewart this week that the President is obliged to represent those who elected him. Message: screw everybody else! Losers! As Molly Ivins often said: these people don't want to govern, they want to rule. As we used to say in my childhood: You don't have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

Bong Hits 4 Jesus

I can see I have no choice but drag this back out:

Why? Well, because of this:

As war protesters marched toward Arlington Memorial Bridge en route to the Pentagon yesterday, they were flanked by long lines of military veterans and others who stood in solidarity with U.S. troops and the Bush administration's cause in Iraq. Many booed loudly as the protesters passed, turned their backs to them or yelled, "If you don't like America, get out!"
Yeah, that whole meme of "Christian protesters" didn't last very long.

Of course, what's really interesting is the language being used:

The vets turned both sides of Constitution into a bitter, charged gantlet for the war protesters. "Jihadists!" some vets screamed. "You're brain-dead!" Others chanted, "Workers World traitors must hang!" -- a reference to the Communist newspaper. Some broke into "The Star-Spangled Banner" as war protesters sought to hand out pamphlets.
"You're brain-dead!" seems a particularly poor choice of words. But that's just ironic. What really disturbed the counter-protesting veterans was the violation of the heilige, the holy, the sacred; which apparently explained their turnout:

The large turnout surprised even some counter-demonstrators. Polls show public opinion turning against the war in Iraq, and the November election was widely seen as a repudiation of the administration's policy.

"I've never been to a war rally. I hoped I'd never have to," said Jim Wilson, 62, a Vietnam vet from New Hampshire. "We're like what they used to call the silent majority."

In some past antiwar rallies, the number of counter-demonstrators has ranged from a handful to a few hundred. "Our side got apathetic," said Debby Lee, whose son Marc, a Navy SEAL, was killed in Iraq and who came to the rally from Phoenix in a caravan organized by

But the war protesters have gone too far, Lee and others said. At a Jan. 27 antiwar rally, some protesters spray-painted the pavement on a Capitol terrace. Others crowned the Lone Sailor statue at the Navy Memorial on Pennsylvania Avenue with a pink tiara that had "Women for Peace" written across it.

Word of those incidents ricocheted around the Internet.

"That was the real catalyst, right there," said Navy veteran Larry Bailey. "They showed they were willing to desecrate something that's sacred to the American soul."

Well before 7 a.m., hundreds of people milled about near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in an effort to, they said, "occupy the ground" and keep any disrespectful war protesters away.

"This is sacred ground to us," said Rick De Marco, 62, a Vietnam veteran from Cleveland.

K.C. O'Brien, 65, a Vietnam vet from Fairfield, Calif., said: "We believe in freedom of speech. We're here to defend the right of people to say whatever they want. But we will not allow any desecration."

Within days of the spray-painting, people were using he Web to organize, making it their mission to protect the monuments, support the troops and accept nothing less than victory in Iraq.
Can't say I consider the Capitol terrace particularly "sacred to the American soul," nor does a pink tiara on a statue I've never heard of constitute "desecration." Spray painting it might have, but not a tiara and a banner. It's notable that the group which organized the counter-demonstrators hired private security to protect the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The implications of that unfounded fear of desecration make the parallels between Iraq and Vietnam even more obvious. It's really true: we're always fighting the last war, never the present one. And war has truly become our public religion. When did that happen?

I was thinking about this issue because of this article in the Washington Post:

Four years after the invasion of Iraq, the high and growing demand for U.S. troops there and in Afghanistan has left ground forces in the United States short of the training, personnel and equipment that would be vital to fight a major ground conflict elsewhere, senior U.S. military and government officials acknowledge.

More troubling, the officials say, is that it will take years for the Army and Marine Corps to recover from what some officials privately have called a "death spiral," in which the ever more rapid pace of war-zone rotations has consumed 40 percent of their total gear, wearied troops and left no time to train to fight anything other than the insurgencies now at hand.

The risk to the nation is serious and deepening, senior officers warn, because the U.S. military now lacks a large strategic reserve of ground troops ready to respond quickly and decisively to potential foreign crises, whether the internal collapse of Pakistan, a conflict with Iran or an outbreak of war on the Korean Peninsula. Air and naval power can only go so far in compensating for infantry, artillery and other land forces, they said. An immediate concern is that critical Army overseas equipment stocks for use in another conflict have been depleted by the recent troop increases in Iraq, they said.
Quite bluntly, I'm wondering: why is this a problem?

Before World War II, we didn't have a standing military; not like we do today. A standing military is what Dwight Eisenhower was warning us against; that's the "military-industrial complex" he feared. Europe had the standing armies, and the only reason for standing armies was to go on monarchical or (now, more popularly) imperial adventures. Hard to start a war of belligerence if you don't have a military to do it with. After the invasion of Iraq, can anyone seriously doubt that, now?

But does anyone seriously consider that question, either?

I heard a former military officer on CNN recently, one of three called in to give "expert opinions" on some aspect of the war, say that the Iraqi military had to restore order or the country would be lost. And I wondered: when did we become Sparta? When did we decide that military power was the basis for social stability? Are we really a country of decency and order and freedom because there are regular military patrols of our streets? Didn't we used to call such governments "military dictatorships"?

So why is our military so important to us now? It's a talking point even in left blogistan. I got the link for that article from the Huffington Post. One more "jab" at George W. Bush is that he's "broken" the military. Which, yeah, is good for the irony of it (President with zero military experience treats the military like an extension of his ego, and destroys it in the process), but the assumption is that the military has simply been misused. No one questions our reliance on the military in the first place.

And least almost no one does so out loud. Those who do are "pacifists," which equates, even in left blogistan, with "fools." Pacifists are "idealists" who cannot be taken very seriously because even Reinhold Niebuhr (who was a Christian pastor!) knew we needed a military. But did he? Or did he know that nations sometimes have to go to war, because they have to defend their existence and the lives of their citizens? That's a very different argument from the one that says we need a standing military with bases girdling the globe and the ability "to respond quickly and decisively to potential foreign crises, whether the internal collapse of Pakistan, a conflict with Iran or an outbreak of war on the Korean Peninsula." Seems to me there's a very persuasive argument to be made that American taxpayers and American citizens shouldn't be shouldering the burden of South Korea's existence, Pakistan's form of government, or Iran's choice of how to use uranium. And yet we accept that we must be the first responders in any of these areas.

When did Americans become the world's fire department? And why are we the ones paying for all of this, except that what's good for the arms merchants is good for America? When did Pakistan offer to pony up for the costs of our military bases and weapons systems? When did South Korea offer to pay the cost of housing our military on their soil, or even just replace our men and women with their own? These are very blunt, very practical, seemingly very selfish considerations. So why don't we consider them?

Is it because the military itself is what is sacred to us? Is it because we believe in the Pax Romana, and think freedom comes only at the business end of a sword?

This isn't Vietnam we are "learning" from. This is World War II:

The Army's vice chief of staff, Gen. Richard A. Cody, described as "stark" the level of readiness of Army units in the United States, which would be called on if another war breaks out. "The readiness continues to decline of our next-to-deploy forces," Cody told the House Armed Services Committee's readiness panel last week. "And those forces, by the way, are . . . also your strategic reserve."
Are we expecting another Pearl Harbor, then? Are there storm clouds on the horizon we refuse to see? It was widely reported, and never reputed, that Osama Bin Laden turned his rage on the U.S. not because it betrayed him in Afghanistan after the Soviets left, but because it put military bases on the "holy land" of Saudi Arabia.

We have met the enemy, and he is us. We just refuse to believe it. Maybe our military is broken, not because we have misused it, but because it cannot be used properly. Maybe we were right, before December 7, 1941, and a standing army is simply a source of mischief and misery and misadventure. Maybe it's time we studied our own history a bit more carefully. After all, do we really think death in battle is a holy death? Is our national "soul" really defined by our military history? If war is our religion, does that make Mars our god?

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Sunday morning very bright...

I can't resist a purely political comment this morning (well, I can, but I won't). In this NYT story on David Iglesias, the fired US Attorney for New Mexico, there is no complaint mentioned about Mr. Iglesia's handling of criminal matters involving anything except Democrats or the Democratic party. In the voter registration case, the subtle but important legal issue is intent. The person accused of filing false voter registrations apparently did so because she was paid by the card, so to speak. There was no evidence she intended to influence the outcome of the election, which is the standard required under federal law to prosecute the crime. She did it for the money, which, apparently, politicians (you know, the people who write the Federal laws) consider a motivation they don't want criminalized.

The complaints against Mr. Iglesias all revolve around prosecution of public corruption cases. Not immigration issues, not drug smuggling, not any other serious criminal activity. No, it's about "poisoning our election processes." A statement which, coming from the GOP, should make a whore blush, of course. Bush v. Gore still bothers a lot of people, not all of them partisan Democrats.

Carol Lam was pursuing further prosecutions in the Duke Cunningham corruption case. She doesn't merit the interest of the New York Times because no US Representative was foolish enough to call her directly, apparently. David Iglesias' case is more interesting because of the interference of Sen. Domenici and Rep. Wilson. But finding an instance of a US Attorney being replaced because they refused to prosecute criminals; well, let's just say if there was one, the White House would be trumpeting it 24/7 by now. These firings were about politics, and nothing else.

“People who understand the history and the mission of the United States attorney and Justice Department — they are uniformly appalled, horrified,” said Atlee W. Wampler III, chairman of a national organization of former United States attorneys and a prosecutor who served in the Carter and Reagan administrations. “That the tradition of the Justice Department could have been so warped by that kind of action — any American should be disturbed.”
I think they are. Perhaps not quite enough, yet; but I think they are.

Why point this out at all? The irony, of course:

During the conference call Friday, planned as a pep talk to raise morale at a Justice Department tainted by the firings and the FBI's misuse of the Patriot Act, Gonzales apologized for how the dismissals were handled and for suggesting there were problems with the prosecutors' job performances, according to an official familiar with the conversation.

But the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to disclose details of the call, said Gonzales did not apologize for firing the eight U.S. attorneys, a decision he and President Bush have defended.

Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said Saturday the call was set up to allow Gonzales to reiterate "how important the U.S. attorneys are to him as his representatives in the communities they serve and as prosecutors charged with protecting their communities from violent criminals, drug dealers and predators."
Of course, we fire them for not prosecuting voter fraud involving Democrats. Because those are felonies we simply cannot tolerate; even if we can't prove them.

Fourth Sunday of Lent

Then he said, "A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me.' So the father divided the property between them.
After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation.
When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need.
So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine.
And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any.
Coming to his senses he thought, 'How many of my father's hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger.
I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.
I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers."'
So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.
His son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.'
But his father ordered his servants, 'Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.
Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.' Then the celebration began.
Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing.
He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean.
The servant said to him, 'Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.'
He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him.
He said to his father in reply, 'Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends.
But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.'
He said to him, 'My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours.
But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to
life again; he was lost and has been found.'"

The parable of the prodigal asks a very important question: Which is more important to you? What you own? Or who your children are?

It’s a dangerous question, because it can lead to answers like this. And when you answer like that, which looks remarkably like the way the father answers in the parable, people aren’t going to be happy with your decision.

The parable speaks in no uncertain terms: the younger son tells the father, "Give me what is coming to me." He means his share of the estate, the property he will inherit upon his father's death. He is saying to his father, in absolutely no uncertain terms: "Drop dead." The father means nothing to the son; his continued life only an obstacle to the son's financial freedom. Then, as now, it was money that mattered, money that would set him free. And the father? Certainly a reasonable father would at least say: "Oh?" This father, however, says: "All right." I wonder how the New York Times would write up that story.

Now realize, from this point on, the father owns nothing. He is relying on the kindness of his elder son, or at least his sense of obligation. Because Dad is living on the land the older son owns, living off the property owned by his son. If Dad doesn't have the good sense to live by reasonable rules, the son will; and that is Dad's salvation.

The younger son, of course, is as unreasonable as the father; but at least his unreason fits the expectations of the world. Living prodigally (hence the usual title of this parable), he is soon broke, soon reduced to feeding unclean animals (he is the servant to the pigs; how much worse can things get for him?). And so, his pride broken, he decides he will go home and beg from his father.

But he never gets the chance to beg. This is the part we all love, because we all identify with the wastrel son, we all carry some guilt about what we have done, could have done, should have done, wish we could do over. And we all want to enjoy unconditional forgiveness, to not even have to say "I'm sorry" to be accepted. Home, wrote Robert Frost, is the place that, when you have to go there, they have to let you in. We all want that much, at least, to be true for us, if we ever need it.

The father embraces him, puts the family ring on his finger (Daddy was rich!), puts the best robe on his back, and tells the servant to slay the calf and start the feast! But the audience has not forgotten what the father and prodigal clearly have; the father is not the owner of anything anymore.

It is a pointedly ironic statement that we usually gloss over in our rush to identify with the prodigal, but when the father tells his older son, "My son who was dead is alive!," it's a reversal not of what has happened to the younger son, but of what the younger son wished for his father, for the wish the younger son was granted. Maybe we should look at this as a "be careful what you wish for" story. But that still doesn't let the father off the hook for being completely insane. It is property we value, although when the prodigal puts property above paternal fealty, we call condemn the prodigal. When the father refuses to put property above paternal love, we all stand perplexed. It is right to love your child, but surely there should be boundaries to such love. Surely the prodigal should be taught a lesson by the father, not just by circumstances; surely absolute forgiveness should not just be offered to the prodigal without some act of contrition, some offering, some exchange. Without that, the forgiveness given her by the father is simply a gift! Shouldn't this forgiveness be part of some economy, some cycle of exchange?

But would it then be forgiveness at all? Or simply compensation for a loss suffered, for property taken, squandered, not valued, treated...prodigally? Who is the prodigal here? The younger son? Or the father?

So the older son, the dutiful one, the one who honored his father even after his father dishonored the entire system of property and exchange and ownership and familial structure, even after the father willingly and knowingly accepted the complete rejection of that system for the selfishness of the younger son (a selfishness even keener when we realize the concept of the "individual" we have today stems, not from the 1st century, but from 19th century England, from post-Enligthenment Europe, from the reaction to the dehumanizing of the Industrial Revolution); the older son still honors the social system and the fifth commandment. And for his pains and forbearance and loyalty to property and society, what reward? To see the prodigal feted, and his property (!) given to the son who placed property above propriety, who understood the lesson all too well, who took literally the message the it's property and money that matters! And it still does, because without it, what feast of welcome would there be? But the feast is with the elder son's fatted calf, the elder son's robe, in the elder son's house! The father has declared himself dead and divided the property, it is no longer his to give away. What is this father doing? Why does he continue to place love and forgiveness above property rights and ownership and even punishment for going beyond the bounds?

No wonder we allegorize this story. No wonder we say the father=God, and prodigal=Sinner, the elder son=...? Well, who? Us? But aren't we sinners? Those who don't accept God's love and forgiveness? Yet the father tells him (and it is literally true; deeper and deeper the irony cuts!) that "Everything I have is yours!" (Kierkegaard notes that the "concept of irony" is that it undermines everything reliable, every truth, every piece of solid ground, until there remains nothing left to stand on, until irony destroys even itself. He was speaking of Socrates; but in the parables of Jesus we get the same feeling: that the ground is being cut out from under us, that we are left hanging, like a cartoon character who has run off the cliff, hanging over the abyss just before we start to fall.) Yes, everything the father has belongs to the elder son, because the prodigal liquidated his part and spent it on wine and women and who knows what all.

So what does this story tell us about God? Well, maybe, just maybe, this story isn't theological at all. Maybe this isn't a revelation into the substance or essence or "mind" of God by God, at all. Maybe it is a lesson about living, about true life which is the basileia tou theou. Maybe it is a lesson about what is really important versus what we think is important. Maybe it is of a piece with the birds of the air and the flowers of the field, which neither sow nor reap, yet Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed as they; even Pharoah with all his grain stored in bins was not better fed than the birds. Maybe it's a lesson about the economy of scarcity versus the economy of community. Maybe it isn't about property at all, except that property is our treasure, and where our treasure is, is where our heart is. And so to get at our heart, God has to go through our property. And the idea of property, of ownership, of possession, of having and holding and controlling, is the idea that needs to be attacked, confronted, contradicted, over and over and over again, until we finally begin to let go, until we finally begin to hear, until we finally begin to think that maybe, just maybe, we don't need to be afraid.

Maybe it's not an allegory at all; or theology; maybe it's just a simple lesson: that everything we know is wrong. That love is the most important part of living, and that we all have to follow the most insane and self-destructive paths to learn this, and that if love isn't still offered when those paths come to an end, then it truly is a bleak and hopeless universe after all.

But it needn't be. Thanks be to God.

The Week in Review

Can I just say this is precisely how any Christian SHOULD NOT feel:

'On one subject the president needed no lessons from Roberts or anyone else in the room: how to handle pressure. "I just don't feel any," he says with the calm conviction of a man who believes the constituency to which he must ultimately answer is the Divine Presence. Don't misunderstand: God didn't tell him to put troops in harm's way in Iraq; belief in Him only goes so far as to inform the president that there is good and evil. It is then his job to figure out how to promote the former and destroy the latter.'

And he is confident that his policies are doing just that. Or, as luncheon attendee Michael Novak of the American Enterprise Institute recalled (also in The Weekly Standard) the President saying: "I want to have my conscience clear with Him. Then it doesn't matter so much what others think."
Even the prophets wept for their people, understood the cost of what God demanded. (see the words of Hosea here, for instance.) Bush honestly thinks it all pieces on some cosmic chessboard. That might fight some neo-Platonic nightmare, or some bastardization of Zoroastrianism; but it isn't Christianity, not in any form I know it. How smug is he? Ask Sidney Blumenthal:

The subject of Winston Churchill inspired Bush's self-reflection. The president confided to Roberts that he believes he has an advantage over Churchill, a reliable source with access to the conversation told me. He has faith in God, Bush explained, but Churchill, an agnostic, did not. Because he believes in God, it is easier for him to make decisions and stick to them than it was for Churchill. Bush said he doesn't worry, or feel alone, or care if he is unpopular. He has God.
This is belief in God as self-justification, the worst, most reflexive, most noxious form of "belief" or "faith" possible; and, unfortunately, the one that Dawkins and Harris seize on for their critiques of Christianity (they seem blissfully unaware of any other form of religion, and rigorously ignorant about Christianity, so it isn't fair to say their critiques are truly of "religion"). Of course, what I really love about Greenwald's report is the Hegelianism of the neocons (in Kierkegaardian terms, at least): The System will vindicate you, and you need only win the approval of the System. Or, in this case, History. Which, come to think of it, is pretty much straight-up Hegelianism:

The combined Roberts-Stelzer response: The causes of rampant anti-Americanism do indeed include dislike of Bush. But there are others: the war in Iraq; anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian sentiment, laced with some covert anti-Semitism; and resentment of American power. Roberts urged the president not to concern himself with these anti-American feelings, since in a unipolar world the lone superpower cannot be loved. His advice: "Get your policies right and history will prove a kind muse."
People don't matter; only History does.

Again, the precise opposite of what Jesus of Nazareth preached. Anyone remember "Love your enemies"? No wonder he is Bush's "favorite philosopher." He wasn't a philosopher, and Bush doesn't know anything about his teachings. Ideas, of course, are abstract; people are concrete. Jesus taught in concrete terms, and spoke about concrete people. The picture of the Pharisees drawn in the Gospels (mostly in Luke, to be accurate, are Jesus' opponents labeled "Pharisees") is people concerned with abstractions, not with concrete reality; which makes them the very opposite of Jesus. History, Andrew Roberts would undoubtedly say, vindicated the Roman Empire; perhaps even despite the fact they didn't speak English.

I wonder if we should point out Jesus didn't even speak English (read Greenwald's post if that reference is a bit obscure)?

All of this raises an issue so little considered within Protestant Christianity that it takes a complete misunderstanding of Roman Catholic doctrine to bring it up. On this thread at Street Prophets a fascinating discussion took root out of an otherwise egregious beginning, whihc lead finally to this question arising from the distinction between doctrine and theology:

But then where do your doctrines come from?

Who writes your catechisms?

I mean, I did know intellectually that Protestant churches didn't have a magisterium as such; but I presumed there must be some body of people, or some mechanism, by which doctrines are promulgated - something that does what the RC magisterium does.

How does that work?
Who, indeed? Seems that's a live question among Protestants this week:

1. Introduction: From a Christian perspective, every human life is sacred. As evangelical Christians, recognition of this transcendent moral dignity is non-negotiable in every area of life, including our assessment of public policies. This commitment has been tested in the war on terror, as a public debate has occurred over the moral legitimacy of torture and of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of detainees held by our nation in the current conflict. We write this declaration to affirm our support for detainee human rights and our opposition to any resort to torture.

2. Sanctity of Life: We ground our commitment to human rights in the core Christian theological conviction that each and every human life is sacred. This theme wends its way throughout the Scriptures: in Creation, Law, the Incarnation, Jesus’ teaching and ministry, the Cross, and his Resurrection. Concern for the sanctity of life leads us to vigilant sensitivity to how human beings are treated and whether their God-given rights are being respected.

3. Human Rights: Human rights, which function to protect human dignity and the sanctity of life, cannot be cancelled and should not be overridden. Recognition of human rights creates obligations to act on behalf of others whose rights are being violated. Human rights place a shield around people who otherwise would find themselves at the mercy of those who are angry, aggrieved, or frightened. While human rights language can be misused, this demands its clarification rather than abandonment. Among the most significant human rights is the right to security of person, which includes the right not to be tortured.

4. Christian History and Human Rights: The concept of human rights is not a “secular” notion but instead finds expression in Christian sources long before the Enlightenment. More secularized versions of the human rights ethic which came to occupy such a large place in Western thought should be seen as derivative of earlier religious arguments. Twentieth century assaults on human rights by totalitarian states led to a renewal of “rights talk” after World War II. Most branches of the Christian tradition, including evangelicalism, now embrace a human rights ethic.

5. Ethical Implications: Everyone bears an obligation to act in ways that recognize human rights. This responsibility takes different forms at different levels. Churches must teach their members to think biblically about morally difficult and emotionally intense public issues such as this one. Our own government must honor its constitutional and moral responsibilities to respect and protect human rights. The United States historically has been a leader in supporting international human rights efforts, but our moral vision has blurred since 9/11. We need to regain our moral clarity.

6. Legal Structures: International law contains numerous clear and unequivocal bans on torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. These bans are wise and right and must be embraced without reservation once again by our own government. Likewise, United States law and military doctrine has banned the resort to torture and cruel and degrading treatment. Tragically, documented acts of torture and of inhumane and cruel behavior have occurred at various sites in the U.S. war on terror, and current law opens procedural loopholes for more to continue. We commend the Pentagon’s revised Army Field Manual for clearly banning such acts, and urge that this ban extend to every sector of the United States government without exception, including our intelligence agencies.

7. Concluding Recommendations: The abominable acts of 9/11, along with the continuing threat of terrorist attacks, create profound security challenges. However, these challenges must be met within a moral and legal framework consistent with our values and laws, among which is a commitment to human rights that we as evangelicals share with many others. In this light, we renounce the resort to torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of detainees, call for the extension of procedural protections and human rights to all detainees, seek clear government-wide embrace of the Geneva Conventions, including those articles banning torture and cruel treatment of prisoners, and urge the reversal of any U.S. government law, policy, or practice that violates the moral standards outlined in this declaration.
This is the Executive Summary of a report by the the National Association of Evangelicals. The full report can be read here (pdf). The NAE says of itself:

The National Association of Evangelicals has spoken as a united voice for millions of American evangelicals since 1942. But, the voice of NAE is clearer, stronger and more broadly heard now than ever before.

The association is anchored in its 60 denominations with about 45,000 churches. However, the broader NAE constituency includes organizations, local churches and individuals numbering in the tens of millions.

We serve to make denominations strong and effective, influence society for justice and righteousness, and gather the many voices of evangelicals together to be more effective for Jesus Christ and his cause.
So, no, they hardly speak for all Protestants. But they speak more authoritatively for a group of Protestants than does James Dobson or Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson or, especially, Ted Haggard. This isn't exactly the position of Focus on the Family, for instance, but like many Protestants, I'm sure the news media will continue to focus on what individuals say, not on what institutions declaim.

Although some Christians are making it hard for the media to do that:

Thousands of Christians prayed for peace at an anti-war service Friday night at the Washington National Cathedral, kicking off a weekend of protests around the country to mark the fourth anniversary of the war in Iraq.

Afterward, participants marched with battery-operated faux candles through snow and wind toward the White House, where police began arresting protesters shortly before midnight. Protest guidelines require demonstrators to continue moving while on the White House sidewalk.

"We gave them three warnings, and they broke the guidelines," said Lt. Scott Fear. "There's an area on the White House sidewalk where you have to keep moving."

About 100 people crossed the street from Lafayette Park _ where thousands of protesters were gathered _ to demonstrate on the White House sidewalk late Friday. Police began cuffing them and putting them on buses to be taken for processing.
Been so long since "Christians" and "war protests" were used in the same sentence, that's downright refreshing. Too bad Bush was in Camp David so he couldn't hear the view of this "focus group." Don't know what his reaction to the NAE's position on torture is, either. And, yes, that is the group Ted Haggard used to preside over. And, yes, we should remind Bush of the words of Jeremiah:

Woe betide him who builds his palace on unfairness
and completes its roof-chambers with injustice,
compelling his countrmen to work without payment,
giving them no wage for their labour!"--Jeremiah 22:13

What prompts this move from torture to Jeremiah and social justice? Not tht the two are unconnected, but there is another topic in play: The "guest worker" program Bush is pushing; and conditions on the still-ruined Gulf Coast. "Only connect."--E.M. Forster

On Thursday President Bush reiterated his call for Congress to pass an immigration bill that allows more immigrants to come to the United States as so-called guest workers. President Bush made the call during a press conference with Mexican President Felipe Calderon. Mexico marked the last stop on President Bush's five-nation tour of Latin America.


However many human rights groups are strongly criticizing the guest worker proposal. The Southern Poverty Law Center has just released a report titled "Close to Slavery: Guestworker Programs in the United States."

The report found that guest workers who come to the United States are routinely cheated out of wages; forced to mortgage their futures to obtain low-wage, temporary jobs. Once here they are held virtually captive by employers who seize their documents. They are forced to live in squalid conditions while being denied medical benefits for injuries.
And yes, this story is connected to New Orleans:

Last month, 30 plus Mexican guestworkers in Sulphur, Louisiana held a press conference to complain about their working conditions. They claimed they defrauded by their employer who promised steady work and fair pay. They were hired by a company under the name of Louisiana Labor, LLC. The workers say their employer is Matt Redd of Redd Properties.
We are not far from what Walter Brueggeman teaches: the social structures are neither natural nor handed down from God. They are human-made, and as such, can be destructive; powerfully destructive:

MARY BAUER: Sure. Our report was based on literally thousands of interviews with workers over the course of years, based on the work done by the Southern Poverty Law Center. And what we found is that the guestworker program leads to the abuse and exploitation of workers, not because there are a few bad-apple employers, but because the structure of the system itself leads to abuse. The fact that workers pay enormous sums of money and come to the United States with crushing debt and the fact that they are then tied to one employer -- they can legally work only for the employer who filed the petition for them -- the structure of that system leads to those workers being systematically exploited on the job.
And, of course, those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Vietnam; Iraq; deportees:

MARY BAUER: Sure. I mean, I think the bracero program is very interesting to look at. And I thought -- I was really struck in reading a lot of the scholarly historical literature about that program, because it consistently referred to the bracero program as like the widely discredited bracero program. And there seems to be a fairly broad consensus that that program was a human rights disaster.

But when you look at it, it was a program in which millions of Mexican migrants came to the United States in the early [twentieth] century to perform agricultural work over the course of several decades and then was ended in the ’60s. It had, written into that program, very strong labor protections, all kinds of labor protections. You know, one of the historians quoted it as being, you know -- on paper, at least -- one of the, you know, best deals for farm workers in the world. The problem was that in reality the structure of the system there led to the same kind of abuses that we’re seeing.

And what we’re saying is, if you think -- if we think as a society that the bracero program is universally condemned as having been a failure, there is no reason to believe that our current system in practice is any different. And there’s no particular reason to believe that future programs would be any different.
This is an old story, but it goes on and on:

And there’s a seasonality or temporary requirement, so the employer has to show -- has to petition to the government, say this is a temporary or seasonal job, and they can’t find US workers to do it. The employee is then recruited from abroad and is permitted to work only for the employer who filed that petition. And so, the employee gets to the United States and discovers that, “Oh, my gosh! There’s not very much work,” or the work is terrible, or he’s not paying me, or any number of other kinds of abuses, there’s really nothing that he or she can do.

And the other thing we see in practice is that the people who do this kind of work, they’re typically borrowing enormous sums of money, from $500 to literally tens of thousands of dollars. And we’ve seen workers who paid up to $20,000 to get a low-wage short-term job. And the people who do that are people generally who don’t have that kind of money, so they’re borrowing money in their home countries at extremely high interest rates from loan sharks. And so, they arrive here with this kind of crushing level of debt and this ongoing debt back in their home country.
Here is Bush's response to Katrina, in a nutshell:

Hundreds of guest workers from India have begun protesting work conditions at a shipyard in Pascagoula Mississippi owned by the company Signal International.
The men say they spent their life savings in order get an H2B visa to work in the United States. Last week the men risked their jobs by publicly complaining about the work conditions. They held a press conference and issued a statement to the media.

The statement read in part: "We have been treated like animals here. We have been threatened with termination and salary reduction. We are living in isolation. Visitors are not allowed in the camps. We live 24 men in one container, with two bathrooms for all of us."

As the men were preparing to come public with their complaints, Signal told seven of the workers that their jobs had been terminated and that they would be sent back to India.

Upon hearing the news, one of fired workers - Sabu Lal - tried committing suicide by slitting his wrists.
Sabu Lai was interviewed by a French journalist. Here's what he had to say:

SABU LAL: When I stepped into my man camp that is provided in the yard of Signal International, I just surprised that, because in my twenty years of experience, I didn’t dream of such a situation, because there is twenty-four peoples in a room, like I think it’s a pigs in a cage. It is too hard to live there, because somebody is sneezing, somebody is snoring, and somebody is making sound, and we cannot even go to bathroom without spending hours. There is only two bathrooms and four toilets. And we are struggling very well. And in the mess hall we are not getting good food even. And they are saying that this is Indian good. And when we make complain, the camp manager said to us that, “You are living in slums in India. It is better than that slums.”
Gotta love that all-American attitude: our horrific abuse of you is better than what you face "back home," so shut up. Anybody hear anything about this story or the press conference on NPR, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC, FoxNews, ABC, the NYTimes, WaPo, LATimes, etc., etc., etc.? Neither did I. I ran it down on Google. this is all I found:

With tears in his eyes, Joseph Jacob said goodbye to what he considers to be the American dream Friday.

Standing outside the gates of Signal International, Jacob said he was terminated from the company because he attempted to file a complaint against Signal for money he said he and about 280 other Indian workers are owed.

After paying nearly $20,000 to travel from India to the U.S. to work for Signal, Jacob said he's been told by Signal officials he must return to India -- immediately.

"I have $4,000 and that's it," Jacob said. "I paid $20,000 to come here and live the life of an American. I sold my property and my home. I have nothing to go back to."

Jacob and the others are part of a U.S. government guest worker program known as H2B that Signal is using to make up for labor shortages due to hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
There is a debate, mentioned in this article, about Signal's responsibility for the workers under an H2 visa. Signal claims they had to detain the men so they could be returned to India. However, Vicki Cintra with the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Agency disagrees:

"This is slavery," Cintra said. "Slavery is still alive in Mississippi and Signal is housing slaves. This needs to be exposed for what it is -- violation of basic human rights. They have work visas and can stay until July doing something else if they don't work for Signal."
I don't know immigration law, but I find it of dubious authority that a private contractor has any authority to detain persons against their will for any reason. My vague memories of criminal law classes tells me that constitutes kidnapping. At a minimum, it suits the terms of a civil charge of false imprisonment. Of course, these are penniless workers who are not American citizens, so what chance of invoking the power of the law do they have? As I say, I know nothing about immigration law, but if this is right, then this program is deeply and profoundly flawed, and is little better than slavery:

[Dick] Marler [,President of Signal] said the visas belong to Signal and not the workers. He said for the company to remain in compliance with the Immigration and Naturalization Service laws and procedures the workers must return home when terminated.
Ironically, the question of who, and who is not, a citizen, is a live one again in America. Ironic, because while the laws of Moses are often decried as exclusionary, and the scriptures of Jews and Christians are used as weapons to exclude people from American society at one level or another, that's just another matter of ignorance of what the scriptures actually say:

You stand today, all of you, before the LORD your God: your chiefs, your tribes, your elders and your officers, even all the men of Israel, your little ones, your wives, and the alien who is within your camps, from the one who chops your wood to the one who draws your water, that you may enter into the covenant with the LORD your God, and into His oath which the LORD your God is making with you today, in order that He may establish you today as His people and that He may be your God, just as He spoke to you and as He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Deuteromy 29:10-13

"You shall not violate the rights of the alien or of the orphan, nor take the clothing of a widow as a pledge. For, remember, you were once slaves in Egypt, and the LORD, your God, ransomed you from there; that is why I command you to observe this rule.
Deuteronomy 24:17-18

Psalm 72

Give the King your justice, O God, *
and your righteousness to the King's son;
That he may rule your people righteously *
and the poor with justice;
That the mountains may bring prosperity to the people, *
and the little hills bring righteousness.
He shall defend the needy among the people; *
he shall rescue the poor and crush the oppressor.
He shall live as long as the sun and moon endure, *
from one generation to another.
He shall come down like rain upon the mown field, *
like showers that water the earth.
In his time shall the righteous flourish; *
there shall be abundance of peace till the moon shall be no more.
He shall rule from sea to sea, *
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
His foes shall bow down before him, *
and his enemies lick the dust.
The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall pay tribute, *
and the kings of Arabia and Saba offer gifts.
All kings shall bow down before him, *
and all the nations do him service.
For he shall deliver the poor who cries out in distress, *
and the oppressed who has no helper.
He shall have pity on the lowly and poor; *
he shall preserve the lives of the needy.
He shall redeem their lives from oppression and violence, *
and dear shall their blood be in his sight.
Long may he live!
and may there be given to him gold from Arabia; *
may prayer be made for him always,
and may they bless him all the day long.
May there be abundance of grain on the earth,
growing thick even on the hilltops; *
may its fruit flourish like Lebanon,
and its grain like grass upon the earth.
May his Name remain for ever
and be established as long as the sun endures; *
may all the nations bless themselves in him and call him blessed.