Archive - Jan 2006
The upcoming issue of Newsweek reveals that face-to-face talks are on-going between American officials and Iraqi insurgents:
American officials in Iraq are in face-to-face talks with high-level Iraqi Sunni insurgents, NEWSWEEK has learned. Americans are sitting down with "senior members of the leadership" of the Iraqi insurgency, according to Americans and Iraqis with knowledge of the talks (who did not want to be identified when discussing a sensitive and ongoing matter). The talks are taking place at U.S. military bases in Anbar province, as well as in Jordan and Syria. "Now we have won over the Sunni political leadership," says U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad. "The next step is to win over the insurgents." The groups include Baathist cells and religious Islamic factions, as well as former Special Republican Guards and intelligence agents, according to a U.S. official with knowledge of the talks. Iraq's insurgent groups are reaching back. "We want things from the U.S. side, stopping misconduct by U.S. forces, preventing Iranian intervention," said one prominent insurgent leader from a group called the Army of the Mujahedin, who refused to be named because of the delicacy of the discussions. "We can't achieve that without actual meetings."
Here's a link to an article from mid-December from The Washington Post titled "A Religious Protest Largely From the Left. Conservative Christians Say Fighting Cuts in Poverty Programs Is Not a Priority." It describes plans of left-leaning Christians to protest proposals in the government's budget planning for cutting programs for the poor. It boils down to that same old debate: can the government effectively meet the needs of the poor, the vulnerable, and the powerless or is "the government not really capable of love?"
Why in recent years have conservative Christians asserted their influence on efforts to relieve Third World debt, AIDS in Africa, strife in Sudan and international sex trafficking -- but remained on the sidelines while liberal Christians protest domestic spending cuts?
Conservative Christian groups such as Focus on the Family say it is a matter of priorities, and their priorities are abortion, same-sex marriage and seating judges who will back their position against those practices.
Jim Wallis, editor of the liberal Christian journal Sojourners and an organizer of today's protest, was not buying it. Such conservative religious leaders "have agreed to support cutting food stamps for poor people if Republicans support them on judicial nominees," he said. "They are trading the lives of poor people for their agenda. They're being, and this is the worst insult, unbiblical."
At issue is a House-passed budget-cutting measure that would save $50 billion over five years by trimming food stamp rolls, imposing new fees on Medicaid recipients, squeezing student lenders, cutting child-support enforcement funds and paring agriculture programs. House negotiators are trying to reach accord with senators who passed a more modest $35 billion bill that largely spares programs for the poor.
At the same time, House and Senate negotiators are hashing out their differences on a tax-cutting measure that is likely to include an extension of cuts in the tax rate on dividends and capital gains.
To mainline Protestant groups and some evangelical activists, the twin measures are an affront, especially during the Christmas season.
To GOP leaders and their supporters in the Christian community, it is not that simple. Acting House Majority Leader Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said yesterday that the activists' position is not "intellectually right."
The "right tax policy," such as keeping tax rates low on business investment, "grows the economy, increases federal revenue -- and increased federal revenue makes it easier for us to pursue policies that we all can agree have social benefit," he said.
Dobson also has praised what he calls "pro-family tax cuts." And Janice Crouse, a senior fellow at the Christian group Concerned Women for America, said religious conservatives "know that the government is not really capable of love."
"You look to the government for justice, and you look to the church and individuals for mercy. I think Hurricane Katrina is a good example of that. FEMA just failed, and the church and the Salvation Army and corporations stepped in and met the need," she said.
Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, said the government's role should be to encourage charitable giving, perhaps through tax cuts.
"There is a [biblical] mandate to take care of the poor. There is no dispute of that fact," he said. "But it does not say government should do it. That's a shifting of responsibility."
There are links to press coverage of the "Civil Disobedience for a Moral Budget" on the sojourners web site. There's also more info on the "call to renewal" website, "a faith-based movement to overcome poverty."
From a Reuters article on AOL News by Rebecca Harrision:
Billed as the world's first black Jesus movie, "Son of Man" portrays Christ as a modern African revolutionary and aims to shatter the Western image of a placid savior with fair hair and blue eyes.
The South African film, which premieres on Sunday at the U.S. Sundance festival in Utah, transports the life and death of Christ from first century Palestine to a contemporary African state racked by war and poverty.
Jesus is born in a shanty-town shed, a far cry from a manger in a Bethlehem stable. His mother Mary is a virgin, though feisty enough to argue with the angels. Gun-wielding authorities fear his message of equality and he ends up hanging on a cross.
"We wanted to look at the gospels as if they were written by spindoctors and to strip that away and look at the truth," director Mark Dornford-May told Reuters in an interview.
"The truth is that Christ was born in an occupied state and preached equality at a time when that wasn't very acceptable."
By portraying Jesus as a black African, Dornford-May hopes to sharpen the political context of the gospels, when Israel was under Roman occupation, and challenge Western perceptions of Christ as meek, mild and European.
"We have to accept that Christ has been hijacked a bit -- he's gone very blonde haired and blue-eyed," he said. "The important thing about the message of Christ was that it is universal. It doesn't matter what he looked like."
Joel Stein recently published a provocative article in the LA Times with the first line "I DON'T SUPPORT our troops":
I DON'T SUPPORT our troops. This is a particularly difficult opinion to have, especially if you are the kind of person who likes to put bumper stickers on his car. Supporting the troops is a position that even Calvin is unwilling to urinate on.
I'm sure I'd like the troops. They seem gutsy, young and up for anything. If you're wandering into a recruiter's office and signing up for eight years of unknown danger, I want to hang with you in Vegas.
And I've got no problem with other people â€” the ones who were for the Iraq war â€” supporting the troops. If you think invading Iraq was a good idea, then by all means, support away. Load up on those patriotic magnets and bracelets and other trinkets the Chinese are making money off of.
But I'm not for the war. And being against the war and saying you support the troops is one of the wussiest positions the pacifists have ever taken â€” and they're wussy by definition. It's as if the one lesson they took away from Vietnam wasn't to avoid foreign conflicts with no pressing national interest but to remember to throw a parade afterward.
Blindly lending support to our soldiers, I fear, will keep them overseas longer by giving soft acquiescence to the hawks who sent them there â€” and who might one day want to send them somewhere else. Trust me, a guy who thought 50.7% was a mandate isn't going to pick up on the subtleties of a parade for just service in an unjust war. He's going to be looking for funnel cake.
Besides, those little yellow ribbons aren't really for the troops. They need body armor, shorter stays and a USO show by the cast of "Laguna Beach."
The real purpose of those ribbons is to ease some of the guilt we feel for voting to send them to war and then making absolutely no sacrifices other than enduring two Wolf Blitzer shows a day. Though there should be a ribbon for that.
He goes on to make what may be the most controversial assertion of the article...that the soldiers on the ground bear some of the blame for the mistakes that have been made:
After we've decided that we made a mistake, we don't want to blame the soldiers who were ordered to fight. Or even our representatives, who were deceived by false intelligence. And certainly not ourselves, who failed to object to a war we barely understood.
But blaming the president is a little too easy. The truth is that people who pull triggers are ultimately responsible, whether they're following orders or not. An army of people making individual moral choices may be inefficient, but an army of people ignoring their morality is horrifying.
Hewitt and Malkin ripped him a new one over it. Admittedly, I don't really get why soldiers bear any more responsibility than the politicians who give them marching orders or the public that elected the politicians. But I think there is a point to be made about supporting the troops. Ribbons and decals and bumper stickers probably do have some meaning to a soldier that sees them, but in the grand scheme of things, trinkets and slogans aren't that useful. There are a bunch of more meaningful suggestions at the americasupportsyou.mil web site such as donating a computer, donating frequent flyer miles, supporting scholarship funds, sending a care package, etc. It reminds me of how annoying it is when in a time of trajedy some says "keep them in your thoughts and prayers" but often prayers are left out for the more PC version "keep them in your thoughts." Thoughts won't make much of a difference. It's the actions that can make a difference.
From 1 John 3:
16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.
Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.
From an AP story in The Washington Post:
A male high school student can wear a skirt to school after the American Civil Liberties Union reached an agreement with school officials.
The district's dress code bans shorts between Oct. 1 and April 15, but allows skirts, a policy 17-year-old Michael Coviello believes is discriminatory.
"I'm happy to be able to wear skirts again to bring attention to the fact that the ban on shorts doesn't make sense," Coviello said in a statement.
Coviello first wore a costume-style dress but high school officials told him to go home and change. The district's superintendent then advised the Coviello to purchase everyday dresses and skirts at a retail store, which Coviello did, the ACLU said.
But after a few days, he was sent home with a note from his principal saying if he wore a dress, kilt or skirt, he could no longer attend school.