"War is the greatest threat to public health." - Gino Strada, Italian war surgeon and founder of the UN-recognized Italian NGO Emergency

Friday, October 31, 2008

A Political Reading of the Life of Jesus, Part 2 – The Politics of Jesus

"Jesus and politics just don't mix!" How many times have I heard something along that line (in church). I have been challenged on occasion (by indignant fellow Christians) for introducing ideas that (for some people) seem to challenge the status quo. And when the status quo has reigned for roughly 1700 years, that can be a tough sell. It keeps coming back to that charity vs. justice thing.

This second commentary on A Political Reading of the Life of Jesus, by George W. Baldwin looks at Chapter 1, The Politics of Jesus in which Baldwin lays the foundation for the rest of the book. Baldwin draws a stark contrast between The Political Model of Jesus vs. The Political Model of the Powers. I'll let George lay it out for you. Here are excerpts on both models:

The Politics of Liberation and Freedom

Jesus was undeniably engaged in the political arena as he introduced the Politics of Liberation and Freedom… The Politics of Liberation and Freedom is about the pursuit of justice and not simply victory over the enemy. Beyond the need to avoid a violent insurrection that would inevitably lead to a major catastrophe for his homeland, Jesus was promoting the cause of universal human freedom… Jesus could see that to achieve freedom for his homeland he must confront the systemic evil which was deeply rooted in the religious systems and governance structures of his own nation as well as those imposed by the Roman Empire… Jesus understood that active political resistance to systemic injustice would result in disrupting the status quo of the Jewish establishment and ultimately lead to an encounter with Pontius Pilate. (pp. 4-5)

The Politics of Power and Domination

Jesus was challenging political and religious authorities who operated from the Politics of Power and Domination. Over the course of history this model has changed very little… Nation States, corporations, military organizations, educational institutions, legal systems, labor unions, self interest groups and even family structures may be identified as systems that utilize power over others as their mode of operation. The institutional church in its various forms and structures is no exception… The Powers promote the illusion that we are at peace when the systems of domination are not being challenged. Those who seek freedom from injustice inevitably disturb the status-quo and are accused of being the cause of any violence that comes from the conflict. Jesus understood the deception hidden in the promise that peace can be achieved through violence. (pp. 8-9)

There is, indeed, a stark contrast between Jesus’ politics engaged in creating the Kingdom of God (here on Earth) that involved the creation of new social structures based on the love of neighbor, and the politics of the political and religious authorities that was (and continues to be) based upon systems of power and domination. One has to wonder what would be the most likely outcome if Jesus came out today challenging those very systems? Here is Baldwin’s take on that question:

Tragically, in the political climate in which we now live Jesus would be labeled a terrorist for challenging the Powers. And even more tragic is that the authorities of the Church would be calling for Jesus to be crucified again. (p. 12)

It seems that little has changed since the bad old days of Pontius Pilate. The politics of power and domination are much the same; they have just taken on a new look (and vocabulary). And so we might ask ourselves (to paraphrase Baldwin) – Does our declaration that we are Christian represent any threat at all to the domination systems? If not, then what's the point???



P.S. - Watch for the third commentary (coming soon) about The Missing Chapter.
Note: The image used in this post is from the following Webpage: http://www.flickr.com/photos/american_in_paris/2851195218/

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Political Reading of the Life of Jesus, Part 1

I coordinate a social justice ministry at Snoqualmie United Methodist Church in Snoqualmie, Washington. It's not much of a "ministry"; aside from a handful of people dedicated to social justice, it's a struggle to convince people to get over the Christian predilection for charity to the near exclusion of justice. This is not exactly what Jesus had in mind over two thousand years ago, but that's ancient history, and many Christians seem to have selective memory when it comes to history (particularly of the Biblical kind).

Some time ago I read a book that really grabbed me (in terms of its honesty regarding the Church) and I decided to write a series of brief commentaries about it. For Christian peacemakers, this book (A Political Reading of the Life of Jesus) is a "must read". It makes a compelling case for recovering the church that challenges (as Jesus did) the Powers and Prinicipalities (rather than sleeping with them). And so, here is the first commentary for you reading pleasure.


“Enter through the narrow gate: for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it." – Jesus

So begins the introduction to A Political Reading of the Life of Jesus, by George W. Baldwin called, (iUniverse, C2006). For those of us who have a spiritual calling to peace and justice work, it comes as no surprise that Jesus was political; that he pursued liberation and freedom by “confronting the systemic evil which was deeply rooted in the religious systems and governance structures” of his time, and which have continued to exist to this very day.

However, the notion of Jesus being one who promoted “The Politics of Liberation and Freedom, The Theology of Grace and The Methodology of Non-violent Love” (which Baldwin describes) is not one with which the church (as we know it) is at all comfortable or wishes to engage in dialogue about to any large degree. That is not to say the Church does not do good works; it does many good works, mostly acts of mercy. There is an inherent imbalance between its acts of mercy and its acts of justice. We must be realistic enough to see (and this is a very difficult vision) that the Church that we have today is not what Jesus envisioned. As Baldwin quoted one of his Church History professors, “Jesus preached the coming of the Kingdom of God, but what he got was the Church.”

This is a book with a radical (and desperately needed) vision that invites those with courage, conviction and faith to challenge the Church to truly follow Jesus, recognizing “that cooperation with the Powers and domination systems is the easy road that leads to destruction, and challenge the Politics of Power and Domination and the delusion that you can achieve peace and justice through violence.” The question is whether we will choose the wide gate or the narrow one. As Baldwin reminds us, “The Good News is that there are some who find The Narrow Gate.”

These commentaries on A Political Reading of the Life of Jesus are intended to give Christian peacemakers a fresh perspective that we can use in our work creating Peace Churches in our communities and “pursuing the Kingdom of God in this world” (rather than sitting on our hands and waiting for the next one). Of course it's not an easy task in a society where many of our churches have been co-opted by the Empire (except for a few such as the Quakers).

Watch for the second commentary (in a subsequent posting) when we will look at The Politics of Jesus.



Note: You can find A Political Reading of the Life of Jesus at Amazon.com or Cokesbury Bookstore.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Enemies of the State - Terrorist Nuns???

The United States Department of Homeland Security is concerned for your safety. The government's national threat level is currently "Elevated" or "Yellow". Of course, it's been at that level (or even higher) pretty consistently ever since they started using this system. But all that aside, they really are very concerned for the safety of all Americans. This particular level of threat ("Elevated") means is that there is a "significant risk of terrorist attacks"; translation - there are terrorists lurking everywhere, just waiting for the right moment to attack. In fact, they might look like one of the people in the photos below. Please study them carefully!

These women might present a risk to the safety of innocent, freedom loving Americans. That's right! The Washington Post reported that they were labelled as "suspected" terrorists by the Maryland State Police and placed on a secret Federal database of suspected terrorists. Why???

It seems that some of our Federal tax dollars (via the Department of Homeland Security) have gone to the Maryland State Police who have conducted an extensive surveillance effort targeting antiwar activists (isn't that like so 60's?). They worked with the National Security Agency (NSA) to spy on all sorts of people, including Quakers and Dominican nuns. And that is precisely what these two women are - Dominican nuns. Eek! Terrorist nuns! Meet Sister Carol Gilbert and Sister Ardeth Platte.

You are probably asking what they did to get on the list. You are asking, right? The Sisters are affiliated with Jonah House, a community based on the values of nonviolence and resistance. They have engaged in all manner of peacemaking activities for decades, and the activities that landed them on this list appear to have been their involvement in gatherings opposing the Iraq war and capital punishment.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland brought this Constitutional injustice to light and is challenging it. Since 1920 the ACLU has worked to defend the rights of ALL our society's members, and believes that civil liberties must be protected at all times, even in times of national emergency.

If you believe that the rights enshrined in the Constitution and Bill of Rights are worth defending, then I encourage you to get involved with the ACLU. You can sign up at their Website to stay informed and take action on issues in 21 different subject areas ranging from Criminal Justice to Women's Rights.



P.S. - It has been said that, "Good things come in threes." In this case, there is a third nun. And when you get these three peacemakers together, they are a powerful force for holy mischief. I like to think of holy mischief as a powerful and intentional action based upon deeply held spiritual beliefs, bearing witness to and resisting extreme injustice. Watch for a subsequent blog posting where I introduce you to Sister Jackie Hudson and Sacred Earth and Space Plowshares II (some serious holy mischief).

Note: The Photos of Sister Carol Gilbert (on the left) and Sister Ardeth Platte (on the right) were taken by George Hagegeorge.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

If Sunbeams Were Weapons of War

“I have no doubt that we will be successful in harnessing the sun's energy… If sunbeams were weapons of war, we would have had solar energy centuries ago.” Sir George Porter, Nobel Laureate in chemistry, spoke those prophetic words. We have barely scratched the surface of the sun (so to speak), but there lies great potential (and from a purely physics standpoint it is tremendous "potential"). But more about that later. For now, let's reach into the "dark" side of the Pentagon. Remember the "Dark Budget" referenced in my last posting? Well here is just part of the lowdown on the dark side.

Have you ever heard of DARPA??? Think Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Sounds like just another military agency, right? Wrong. This one is way out there, and I mean REALLY out there. DARPA is a division of the Pentagon that funds all manner of far out research in science and technology (not your run-of-the-mill Research and Development), some of it so far out that you wonder what these people are thinking. As the book describes it, they are thinking that no matter how far out an idea may seem, if they don’t try it out some foreign enemy might build it and use it against us (before we can use it against them of course).

This is a book about what I would call science fiction, that is certain science that is (thanks to some wacky scientists with crazy ideas they just can’t get out of their heads) really fiction. Sharon's book gives us tremendous insights into a governmental agency that runs like the mythical perpetual motion machine, a veritable bottomless pit of funding that is literally thrown at anyone with an out-of-the-box idea that just might remotely have a snowball’s chance in Hell of being used in some way by the military. DARPA has grown astronomically since the inception of the “War on Terror”, and this book tells the story of DARPA through one of its hair-brained ideas that just refuses to die (even when Congress steps in to cut off funding); the “isomer weapon”, a “futuristic device that would rival the power of a nuclear bomb” (and which the folks at DARPA believed would get around arms treaties).

The only problem with the isomer weapon, as Weinberger so thoroughly explains in fascinating detail, is that it just doesn’t seem to work, and even if it did a single weapon could cost billions of dollars. DARPA – Think robotic vehicles, pilot less drones, exoskeleton suits for soldiers, nuclear hand grenades. What!!!!!! Yep, the idea for the isomer bomb originated in 1984 when a list of possible uses for the isomer included – of course it was the last one on the list – a “nuclear hand grenade”. As the author shows, nothing is too wild for DARPA. Oh, and did I mention the "gay bomb"?

I won’t say any more; you will have to read the book, and it is well researched and written. It is a story of “high comedy”, as one reviewer wrote. But it is also a powerful story of a Pentagon run amok, sucking phenomenal amounts of money into the bottomless pit we know as the military-industrial complex while we throw a few crumbs to diplomacy and foreign assistance, not to mention programs of social uplift in our own nation.

If you have any interest in defense spending, you must READ THIS BOOK! Imaginary Weapons: A Journey Through the Pentagon’s Scientific Underworld, by Sharon Weinberger, C2006. You can read more about Sharon's book (and its subject) at ABC News.

Back to "Sunbeams" - Just consider, for a moment, if instead of spending the kind of money DARPA spends (on its research and development preparing for war), we spent that money on research and development on alternative energy (and related) technologies. Just think of the patents, new jobs, new business opportunities, the goodwill (and many other benefits) that would be generated in the U.S. and abroad by leading the world to independence from oil. Just think; what a revolution that would be!!!

Stay tuned for more on such a plan in a subsequent blog posting.



Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Our Runaway "Defense" Budget

Now that the dust is settling (and Hank Paulsen's buddies at Goldman Sachs are in charge), what do you think of that $700 billion Wall Street Bailout? What I find remarkable about it is how it galvanized the American people. Democrats and Republicans came together (for a brief moment) to speak out against this phenomenal "giveaway" for the Wall Street fat cats that would do little, if anything of substance, for people about to lose their homes.

Of course the American people couldn't come together in such huge numbers to stop the invasion of Iraq (cost of Iraq war is about &560 billion so far). Interestingly enough, while we prepare to charge $700 billion against our grossly over-limit national credit card, we barely even notice that we spend much more than that every year on what we patriotically call "DEFENSE". Just what the heck ARE we defending?

So let's step back for a moment and consider just what the numbers are in terms we can all understand. Have you ever walked into a car dealer to buy a car and found out that once you added up all the extras you were going to have to forego your first-born child's college education? Well, that's a fair analogy of our nation's defense spending. Let's do the numbers (based on the 2009 budget - reference: Wikipedia)

Base Price: $515.4 billion, with a total of $651.2 billion when emergency discretionary spending and supplemental spending are included.

Nukes: $9.3 billion for nuclear weapons research, maintenance and production (Department of Energy budget).

Veterans: $33.2 billion for Veterans Affairs (Yes, we need to take care of our veterans!).

Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: funded by principally by "extra budgetary" supplements passed by Congress; $170 billion in 2007.

Real Secret Stuff: $32 billion for the Black Budget . The New York Times article references a book by the title, “I Could Tell You but Then You Would Have to Be Destroyed by Me." That pretty well sums it up.

Whoops, I think those numbers fried my calculator. But even without it I can safely say we are talking tax, license, out the door for roughly (are you sitting down?) a mere TRILLION DOLLARS. But hey; this baby will impress the neighbors, do zero to sixty in a flash, and don't even ask about fuel efficiency. With this much military power, we can guarantee you all the oil you can waste. So, you aren't impressed? Looking for something a little "greener"?

If you are like me, you might be wondering why we are spending such a phenomenal amount of money on war and a pittance on diplomacy and foreign aid, not to mention important issues including education, health care and energy efficiency. Well, look no further. When he's not making ice cream, Ben Cohen (of Ben & Jerry's fame) is messing with Oreos. He's got a wonderfully graphic demonstration of not only our budget imbalance, but a pretty straightforward suggestion for how we can fix it. Check it out by clicking the cartoon below:

After you've watched Ben's budget explanation, check out the Friends Committee on National Legislation's (FCNL) newest report, The Responsibility to Prevent, which explains how the U.S. could save billions of dollars by investing now to prevent wars before they break out. Now there's a novel concept. And, for another breakdown of the budget, check out FCNL's Tax Day Flyer that shows how 43 percent of our 2007 tax dollars paid for war.

The Quakers are right; War Is Not The Answer! We should be investing to prevent war and build a culture of peace. This is the kind of investment that the short sellers at Goldman Sachs just wouldn't understand. It won't make the shareholders of the weapons makers happy, but it will ultimately save lives, create goodwill overseas, free up money at home for desperately needed programs of social uplift and survival, and create a world free of the threat of war.

We the people are the catalyst for creating a new paradigm of peace; we are the ultimate lobbying force if we raise up our voices for change. Cut a useless, Cold War Era weapons program here, another one there, and pretty soon you've got billions of dollars to spend on peace.

If you like what you read at FCNL, consider subscribing to one or more of their special interest email lists and joining their email activist network. No one on Capital Hill does it quite as well as the Quakers when it comes to advocating for "a world free of war...a society with equity and justice for all...a community where every person's potential may be fulfilled... an earth restored".

What is your dream? What unnecessary weapons systems would you cut? Spread the word; share the message! Peace is possible. But it is up to us to make it happen.

Be sure to tune in next time to learn about some of the more unusual (and sometimes bizarre, and definitely under the radar) ways that the Pentagon is spending our tax dollars!



Sunday, October 19, 2008

Lions, Tigers and Liberals, Oh My!

Thank you, oh mighty Wall Street Journal, for warning us of the terrifying prospects should Barak Obama win the election and his band of lefty followers pack Congress. An October 17th piece on the Journal's opinion page lays out all the terrible things that await the nation thanks to "A Liberal Supermajority". Among them:

  • Windfall profits tax on oil companies

  • The end of union bashing

  • Higher taxes for the rich

  • Government investment in "green" jobs

  • Net neutrality

  • Re-instituting the rule of law (shut down Guantanamo and end military commissions)

  • Health care for all

PERISH THE THOUGHT! The Journal also reminds us of all the bills that didn't pass during the current session of Congress thanks to the "power of the filibuster". Here are just a few that they mention:

  • Prescription drug price controls
  • Renegotiating mortgage contracts in bankruptcy
  • Eliminate statute of limitations on workplace discrimination suits

Since there is no byline on the Journal piece, one might think that someone right out of The White House or John McCain's campaign is working behind the scenes. They seem to be longing for the status quo; but how could anyone not understand that 4 more years like the last 8 years will be more than anyone (except oil executives, hedge fund managers and defense contractors) can bear?

I have never told anyone (in any of my writings) who to vote for, and I won't tell you now. But I will go so far as to say that should John McCain move in to The White House in January, we will be in for a far rougher ride (and much of the status quo) than we can already expect even if the Democrats lock things up. And, mind you, I am not trying to instill fear. I am simply stating the fact that over the past 8 years we have sunk deeper and deeper into a hole that will take intelligence, insight, courage and above all, hope if we are to dig out. And, although Barak Obama doesn't have all the answers (yet), he is the one person who (I believe) will listen to reason, think things through and consider how his decisions will affect future generations.

We hear much of Obama's vision of hope. Beyond his vision of hope I believe it is also a vision not of greed, but of generosity. It is a vision not of hubris, but of humility. It is a vision not of war, but of peace. It is, above all, a vision of our common humanity.

If your newspaper is pushing the status quo (like The Wall Street Journal), consider getting your (progressive) news and opinion from a source like Common Dreams News Center. It's a great way to wake up in the morning, and I've noticed that my coffee even tastes better.

So go out and hug a liberal, then get out the vote! And - Let us vote (this November) not for the status quo, but for CHANGE (and then keep working for that change).



Read the Wall Street Journal opinion piece, "A Liberal Supermajority: Get ready for 'change' we haven't seen since 1965, or 1933"

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A National Security State Lexicon

After some serious postings, I thought we should take a break, have some fun.

In today's increasingly complex (and dangerous) world where enemies lurk around every corner, it's ever so important to have a vocabulary to express our nation's need to conquer and control just about everything in sight. Today's National Security State requires a complicated lexicon that can be used to completely mystify the citizenry while making people believe that our nation's leaders have everything under control. It's all about euphemisms, doublespeak and propaganda.

So, welcome to National Security State Vocabulary 101. When you finish, you will be the talk of the cocktail party circuit. Impress your friends and family. Nail that next job interview (at NSA or Raytheon). However, you may not want to use some of these terms while going through airport security; you might just end up in the back room suffering all manner of indignities.

This small list is just a start; there are scores of bizarre words and phrases out there. If you think of any other interesting words or phrases (I still don't have anything for the letters V, X or Z), click on the "comments" link at the end of this posting and share them. If you are stumped by any of these, just type them in to your search engine and see what comes up. Have fun!

Next time, back to the serious stuff,


A is for Aggressive Isolationists, although it could also be for ATM (what our government apparently represents to “defense” contractors
B is for “Bring ‘Em On” and Ballistic Missile Defense (the ultimate "Faith Based" Program)
C is for Coalition of the Submissive, er Willing, Collateral Damage and Campus Crusade for Christ Military Ministry, and lest we forget the Constitution (the document that has been figuratively shredded over nearly eight years)
D is for Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Disruptive Technology Office (DTO) and Data Mining
E is for Extraordinary Rendition, Enhanced Interrogation Techniques, Empire and U.S. Air Force's Eagle Eyes program
F is for Full Spectrum Dominance, Faith Based Programs
G is for Guantanamo, Global War on Terror and Global Diplomacy (that’s a good one)
H is for Homeland Security
I is for Information Awareness Office
J is for Joint Interrogation Operations
is for K Street Project
L is for Logistics Civil Augmentation Program (think Halliburton lining its pockets)
M is for Mission Accomplished and Military Tribunals
N is for “Nucular” Weapons (what GW says Al Quaida wants to get their grubby hands on) and Network Centric Warfare
O is for Offshore Prisons and Outsourcing
P is for Preemptive Strike and Patriot Act, Private Contractors (can you say Mercenaries), Project Bioshield and Prompt Global Strike
Q is for Quaint (what Attorney General Alberto Gonzales called the Geneva Convention)
R is for Reliable Replacement Warhead
S is for Space Control
is for Total Information Awareness (TIA) Program and Terrorism Information Awareness Program (what they renamed TIA after adverse media reaction)
U is for Unipolarity
is for Warrantless Wiretapping and Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation (think School of the Americas re-branded)
is for “You’re either with us or against us.”

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Racism in America: Ignorance is NOT Bliss

The writer, Willaim Faulkner once said, "The past is never dead. It's not even past." The New York Times used Faulkner's aphorism as it applies to "The Last Lynching", a documentary that aired on the Discovery Channel last night. According to the Times review, "Ted Koppel weaves Senator Barack Obama’s presidential nomination into the same social fabric as some of the best-known events of the civil rights era and some of the country’s least examined acts of violence." The last lynching in America took place only 27 years ago, and it seems that many of the lessons of that era have yet to be learned.

Recent events associated with the upcoming election indicate that there may be more simmering bigotry and racial hatred lying just beneath the surface in America than we realize (or are prepared to admit). After Sarah Palin's remark at a recent rally that, "I'm afraid this [Barak Obama] is someone who sees America as imperfect enough to work with a former domestic terrorist who had targeted his own country", someone yelled, "Kill him!" The Washington Post reported that at another Palin rally (among other things) a "Palin supporter shouted a racial epithet at an African American sound man and told him, 'Sit down, boy.'"

Now that's scary! Sarah Palin has been taking lessons from the President's (Fear 101) playbook. If we are going to be "afraid" of anything, it should be just this sort of fear mongering that seems to have pervaded America for nearly eight years (and has created an atmosphere of fear, distrust and animosity). One could argue that whipping crowds into this sort of froth isn't that far removed from the techniques used during the height of the Lynching era when literally thousands of white people would show up for the spectacle of an African American man being strung up.

The underlying world view that we are superior to others gives us permission to generalize, demonize and reduce people to a subhuman category by virtue of factors like their skin color, language, customs or place of birth. Once we have done that, we can justify (in our own minds) just about any behavior, no matter how heinous. But in doing so we, ourselves, become less human. Those hideous word's, "Kill him" remind me that Faulkner was right, the past is (sadly) not past at all, and it does not take much to bring out that which still haunts us from our ugly history.

Most of the talk I have heard on TV and radio has focused on racism and the way it is being dealt with in the context of the election campaign, but could this be a far more systemic problem than we would care to admit. A woman at a recent McCain rally said that "Obama is an Arab", to which McCain replied, "...he's a decent family man, citizen..." Senator McCain's response indicated (to me) an underlying racism towards Arabs; does he believe that Arabs are not "decent family men"? And doesn't the woman's statement indicate tremendous ignorance about people of the Arabic world?

Ignorance of others facilitates the creation of a state of fear, which makes it easy to lead people down the road of hate.

Like the Rogers and Hammerstein song from South Pacific:

You have to be taught to hate and fear,
You have to be taught from year to year,
It has to be drummed in your dear little ear,
You have to be carefully taught!

You've got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff'rent shade,
You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught before it's too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You've got to be carefully taught!

It's an ages old story and, as with so many stories, it's time to change this one. The best thing we (who try to develop compassionate understanding) can do is to educate those who have a lack of understanding of those who are different; whether by skin color or nationality or other differences. We can have an impact in our homes, our workplaces and public meeting places. One by one we can chip away at the ignorance that is at the root of the problem. Through our collective efforts perhaps we can ensure that although this particular past may never be dead, it can, indeed, be past.

Read more about "The Last Lynching", and when it will be shown again at the Discovery Channel.

Towards Peace,


Further Resources on Racism and Lynching in America
Modern-Day Racism Masks Its Ugly Head , an Op/Ed piece from the Los Angeles Times, September, 11, 2000
Lynchings in America, from Long Island University (Warning! This Web page contains some graphic photos of lynchings)

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Fate of the Constitution; It's in Our Hands.

Yesterday's Los Angeles Times article that described "routine monitoring of personal calls between Americans overseas and their families back home and monitoring of the communications of workers with the Red Cross and other humanitarian organizations" was just another bit of evidence at the tip of the iceberg regarding Constitutional abuses by representatives of our [United States] government, and particularly the President.

Salon.com reported (in 2006) about how communication's giant AT&T worked secretly with the National Security Agency (NSA), the same agency involved in the L.A. Times story, to route much, if not all, of its domestic and international Internet traffic to the NSA in what could be the largest example of warrant less wiretapping in history.

But these are just two examples of what has been a horrific shredding of the Constitution of the United States. In nearly eight years, President Bush has done more to undermine the Constitution and expand Presidential powers than any president in history. Just a few other notable examples:

1) Claiming the authority to ignore or disobey hundreds (over 750 as of 2006) laws through the use of "Signing Statements". (Boston Globe article)

2) The authorization of water boarding (and other torture techniques) that not only served to threaten the safety of U.S. personnel overseas, but violated both domestic and international laws.

3) The doctrine of "first-strike" or "pre-emptive" war against another nation that does not pose an imminent threat against our nation (National Security Strategy of the United States issued in 2002).

One has to wonder how the Congress has gone this long without bringing impeachment proceedings (even though Dennis Kucinich and others have talked until blue in the face) against the President (as well as the Vice President). The abuses of power are so blatant that there is no excuse for Congress not to exert its duty and authority to impeach. It is, essentially, a question of accountability, and that is a word that people in Washington, D.C. seem to have forgotten these days. Indeed, accountability of all governmental officials is an obligation, not a convenience.

Beyond the issue of impeachment is the more important question of the fate of the Constitution, the document that has taken a terrific thrashing over nearly eight years of abuse by the Executive Branch of government. The next President of the United States will have many tasks before him, but a central issue will remain; regaining trust in the Executive Branch by reversing every abuse of the previous administration.

When we go to the polls in November we will be casting one of the most important votes in the history of our nation. We face incredible challenges going forward in a wide range of areas, but in terms of the next administration it will be largely a question of "accountability", accountability to the people of the United States (also referred to as "We the People"), accountability to the rest of the world, and of course accountability to the Constitution.

Before you pull the lever, ask yourself, "Who will be most accountable???"



Further Reading


The full text of the Constitution of the United States at the National Archives.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

STOP Violence Against Women

Did you know that while Sarah Palin was Mayor of Wasill, Alaska, her administration cut funds that paid for rape kits (used for evidence collection in suspected rape cases) and then "shifted the burden onto the victims"?(1) That's right folks; they charged the victims of sexual assault for rape kits! AND, that's a lot of victims! That same article cited some alarming statistics (from Amnesty International) - that "one out of three women in the world has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime", and that "in the United States, a woman is raped every 6 minutes." Just one more thing; the Alaskan rape rate is 2.5 the national average. Whoa!

I'll spare you any more about Sarah Palin. I'll leave the serious commentary on Palin to real experts like John Stewart, Stephen Colbert and the comedic think tank at Saturday Night Live . We need to discuss an issue of real importance - Violence Against Women. The statistics above tell a serious story, a story of a world in which women still do not have an "equal" place at the table. And while we in the United States seem to think we are more advanced than so much of the rest of the world, the problem of violence against women in our own nation is significant.

Although much of the conversation about violence against women has surrounded domestic violence, there is another systemic form of violence against women that has only started to get the attention it deserves - sexual violence against women in the military. It's one thing to sign up for military service knowing one could be injured or killed in combat, but should rape by a fellow soldier be a consideration? A recent ABC News story quoted Congressional Representative Jane Harman as saying that "Women serving in the military today are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than be killed by enemy fire in Iraq",(2) and recent investigations by the Government Accountability Office bear this out.

Beyond the risk of sexual assault of female military personnel, civilian spouses are also at risk, and based on the phenomenal rate of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) coupled with the inculcation of the use of violence and dehumanization occurring in soldiers that will (if they have not already) return home, there is a huge potential for physical and/or sexual assault of their partners.

So long as people are indoctrinated to see other human beings as something "less than",they can justify whatever they choose to do to them; it gives "power over" others and "provides the common thread between military campaigns and assaults against women" according to Lucinda Marshall.(3) It's a story as old as time, and it is high time to create a new story. It is time to take a stand against violence, and particularly the violence connected with militarism that translates into so many other forms of violence, including violence against women.

Although it will be a long struggle to stem the tide of militarism that grips our nation, we can still take important steps to reduce violence against women at home and abroad.

TAKE ACTION: You can join the Stop Violence Against Women Campaign at Amnesty International. While you are there, consider advocating for the International Violence Against Women Act currently being considered by Congress (and introduced by Senator Joseph Biden).



(1) "A Culture of Violence Against Women: More Than Rape Kits", http://www.commondreams.org/view/2008/09/16-8
(2) "Sex Assaults Against Women in Military 'Epidemic'' http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/Vote2008/story?id=5491514&page=1
(3) "The Connection Between Militarism and Violence Against Women http://www.awakenedwoman.com/marshall_militarism.htm

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Weapons in Space? Watch Out Below!

Ah, the wonders of space. Remember the first Sputnik, that cute little Soviet satellite that shocked America . Launched on October 4, 1957, Sputnik was the first man made object to orbit the Earth. The United States, whose space program was having problems getting off the ground (literally), responded with a number of subsequent satellite launches as it ramped up its space program.

Although the American space program has always been portrayed as a civilian program intended to fulfill humankind's need to explore space, the military has always lurked in its shadows; it has always been a dual use program. Military satellites spy on every part of the world and provide communication and coordination of military operations to an extraordinary degree. Those precision guided munitions and pilot less drones would be history without those satellites.

You might have missed the Chinese test in January 2007 where they successfully used a missile to destroy an orbiting satellite. The United States destroyed one of its malfunctioning satellites in February 2008 as a "safety measure" as the government was concerned that a canister containing 1000 pounds of hydrazine might have survived the re-entry of the crippled spy satellite. What a convenient situation to test missile "defense" systems.

One might not get too worked up over shooting down a satellite, except for the fact that it can (depending on its orbit) produce lots of debris that remains in orbit and can put other orbiting craft in danger. Beyond that, there are major implications for the free (and peaceful) use of space by all nations. President Bush authorized a sweeping new space policy in 2006 that intends (among other things) to "ensure that space capabilities are available in time to further U.S. national security, homeland security, and foreign policy objectives" and "enable unhindered U.S. operations in and through space to defend our interests there." Whoa!

Coupled with U.S. Space Command’s Vision for 2020, which coined the phrase, "full spectrum dominance" - perhaps some estrogen in the Pentagon's drinking water fountains would help - it seems pretty clear that we are planning to control space lock, stock and elliptical orbit. Aside from the fact that this is a really dangerous strategy, it is sucking up billions of dollars of our tax dollars that should be better spent on peaceful purposes (things like education and health care).

One of the concerns of the current Washington administration is the ability to quickly strike people anywhere in the world in short order should our government deem them a national security threat. The problem is that some countries aren't particularly keen on our using their soil as a base for aircraft that could make such strikes. The solution? The "Common Aero Vehicle", which could take off, boost into orbit, and deliver its deadly payload anywhere in the world within an hour (more estrogen please).

GET INVOLVED: What can we do about the continued militarization of space? Learn more about the issue and get involved at the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space, which also sponsors Keep Space for Peace Week from October 4-11 (THIS WEEK!). It won't be easy to stop the militarization of space, but we can have an impact by lobbying Congress to zero out funding for new systems; we have had recent successes with nuclear weapons (the Reliable Replacement Warhead) so we know we can do it!



Click here to read the 2006 Space Policy.

Cick here to read to read Space Weapons: Now, There's a Dumb Idea, an article by Frida Berrigan, a senior research associate at the World Policy Institute’s Arms Trade Resource Center.

The graphic accompanying this posting is from a Scientific American article titled "Space Wars - Coming to the Sky Near You?". Click here to read the full article.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

You Can't Shake Hands With a Clenched Fist

President Dwight Eisenhower once said, "I like to believe that people in the long run are going to do more to promote peace than our governments. Indeed, I think that the people want peace so much that one of these days governments had better get out of the way and let them have it." It would seem that the United States government has recently done little (if anything of substance) to promote real, lasting peace in the world. It seems that the people we elect (and the people they appoint) just don't understand what real peace is (let alone how to get there).

Fortunately there are people outside our government who do understand the word PEACE and the difficult but necessary path we must walk to get there. They understand that one cannot make peace at the point of a gun or clenched fist. As the poet Carl Sandburg put it:

The single clenched fist lifted and ready,
Or the open hand held out and waiting.
For we meet by one or the other.

Two days before the presidential debate (in which the candidates argued whether and under what circumstances they might meet with Iran's leadership) the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) facilitated a two-day meeting of U.S. peace and religious leaders with Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Based on the initial feedback from participants and constituents, Leila Zand (who directs FOR’s Iran program) said, "While I am still disappointed about his [Ahmadinejad's] comments on several topics, I believe there has been progress and that this shows the importance of increased communication between our countries.”

The delegation at last week's meeting presented President Ahmadinejad with a gift, a framed work of calligraphy with a verse from the Koran written in classical Kufi script. The FOR Website said that, A paraphrase of the Sura might be understood to remind us that “it is good to begin each day with a reflection on how we will personally advance the cause of peace and justice in our lives and work." Perhaps President Ahmadinejad will look at his gift on occasion and reflect on that verse.

The meeting with Iran's president was not a breakthrough event, but a step along the way of building bridges rather than burning them. Genuine peace will be (to quote President John F. Kennedy) "the sum of many acts", and this was one such act. The only dissapointment for me is that it was not our government (that should represent the people) initiating the dialogue. But then, perhaps Eisenhower's statement was prophetic; the people need to rise to the challenge of peace.

FOR, an organization that began with a pledge "to find a way of working for peace even though their countries were at war" (quote from FOR Website), has (for nearly a century) been a constant voice for peace in a world constantly at war. It is even more important to listen to such voices at times such as these, and therein lies the rub; we need to really listen or the voices of peace are drowned out by the all the noise.

GET INVOLVED: If you are not already an FOR member, consider it. Check out their Website at forusa.org; you will be amazed at all they do and have done. And when you get up each day, don't forget to (and I paraphrase) reflect on how you will personally advance the cause of peace and justice in your life and work.



Author's Note: The photo of the presentation of the gift to President Ahmadinejad is from the Fellowship of Reconciliation Website.