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Hurrah for Reverend Gregory A. Boyd who courageously stood up to the Evangelical powers that be and his own wayward flock by challenging the politicization of the church and the associated distortion of its message. Boyd, in his sermons, remained true to foundational Christian values of peace, mercy, and forgiveness. According to the NY Times article:

Mr. Boyd laid out a broad argument that the role of Christians was not to seek “power over” others — by controlling governments, passing legislation or fighting wars. Christians should instead seek to have “power under” others — “winning people’s hearts” by sacrificing for those in need, as Jesus did, Mr. Boyd said.

And:

Before the last presidential election, he preached six sermons called “The Cross and the Sword” in which he said the church should steer clear of politics, give up moralizing on sexual issues, stop claiming the United States as a “Christian nation” and stop glorifying American military campaigns.

He said that the turning point for him came “while visiting another megachurch’s worship service on a Fourth of July years ago. The service finished with the chorus singing ‘God Bless America’ and a video of fighter jets flying over a hill silhouetted with crosses.”

This strikingly incongruous image and the reverend’s reaction to it reflect an age-old conflict; that between less worldly and more purist clerics who attempt to adhere to Christ’s essential teachings, and those who would appropriate Christianity in order to justify their self-righteous actions, mostly having to do with power, self-aggrandizement, and moral dogmatism.

The hypocrisy of this extremist stance is lost on many. The article quotes a woman who will not return to the church after hearing the reverend’s comments. She said, “If we contain the wisdom and grace and love and creativity of Jesus, why shouldn’t we be the ones involved in politics and setting laws?” She apparently sees no disjuncture between “grace”– human mercy and forgiveness as a reflection of divine Grace, the mercy of God–and policies that would advocate pre-emptive war and retaliation for terrorism, rather than defense against it. She also, apparently, does not understand that a fundamental Christian tenet posits that the “wisdom, grace, love, and creativity” of Jesus is, latent or revealed, within us all, not in just a select few. Not to mention that she seems clueless regarding constitutional provisions for the separation of church and state, as well as its substantial historical context.

The most extreme of these Christian extremists would have us return to the Dark Ages by rejecting evolution, a scientific principle that is fundamental to a more intellectually expansive, all-embracing, and holistic world-view. The dismantling of evolution would amount to the dismantling of much of our life science, for which evolution serves as something of a unified field theory. Creationists would have us promote ignorance and irrationality by teaching our children that knowledge is indistinguishable from faith.

Reverend Boyd has written a book based on his sermons called, “The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church.” The cover of the book, by the way, shows a Statue of Liberty holding a cross instead of a torch; the same type of monument was erected at a Memphis church and was amusingly ridiculed by Bill Maher, who is always good for amusing ridicule.


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And, for those who would hope that squashing Hizballah in order to make Lebanon safe for democracy, and for those who would some day imagine a form of amicability between Israel and a democratic Lebanon, for those who would hope that the Lebanese would blame Hizballah for all of their troubles and look upon the Israelis and the Americans as saviors of their budding democracy, for those who believe that we’re not only winning Iraqi hearts and minds right now but Lebanese hearts and minds, refer to the following quote by Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora (after 15-nation talks failed to reach an agreement on a plan to end the fighting –quoted in TIME):

Are we the children of a lesser god? Is an Israeli teardrop worth more than a drop of Lebanese blood?”

One more example of why you should always pause before hitting the send button:

From Examiner.com (which can always be counted on for the best amusing stories):

WESTPORT, Mass. – The head of the local police union is calling for the resignation of a town official, who referred to members of the force as “testosterone gushers” in an e-mail recommending the establishment of awards to honor town employees.Finance Committee member Lisa Arnold, 63, said she was just joking when she used the remark in message to the town’s selectmen to suggest police administrative assistant Nancy Braga be recognized for her long service.”Lord, that girl has sat over there with those testosterone gushers for 37 years and lived to tell about it,” Arnold wrote in an e-mail dated June 16.

Here is an excellent opinion piece by Sidney Blumenthal, published in the Guardian UK, which describes Condi Rice’s hope for a “domino effect” [!] coming out of the current Mid East crisis: 

Israel’s attacks will demolish Hizbullah; the Lebanese will blame Hizbullah and destroy its influence; and the backlash will extend to Hamas, which will collapse. From the administration’s point of view, this is a proxy war with Iran (and Syria) that will inexplicably help turn around Iraq. “We will prevail,” Rice says.

Sung to the tune of “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow.”  Oh yes, we may get a domino effect as a result of this crisis.  But it might not be the domino effect that the administration is hoping for. 

A more apt tune: When will they ever learn?   Blumenthal cites the irony of The Office of Lessons Learned and its apparent need to do more research.  I can’t find any official listing of an Office of Lessons Learned, but there has been much ado on the web regarding the Director of Lessons Learned (nice work if you can get it), Stuart Baker, and he was once on the staff of Katrina Lessons Learned (ha ha), and there is a Center for Army Lessons Learned (that also has its work cut out for it) that Baker doesn’t have anything to do with. 

Blumenthal’s piece, by the way, offers yet another variant spelling of H-b-llah, and, quite honestly, I’ve given up on trying to figure out which one is correct.

This from Reuters: 

DUBLIN, July 26 (Reuters) – An Irish army officer in south Lebanon warned the Israeli military six times that their attacks in the area were putting the lives of U.N. observers at risk, Ireland’s Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday.

Four U.N. observers were killed in an Israeli air strike in southern Lebanon on Tuesday.”On six separate occasions he was in contact with the Israelis to warn them that their bombardment was endangering the lives of U.N. staff in South Lebanon,” a Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman said.”He warned: ‘You have to address this problem or lives may be lost’,” the spokesman said of comments by a senior Irish soldier working as a liaison officer between U.N. forces in South Lebanon and the Israelis. 

That Israel could, inadvertently or perhaps not so inadvertently, bomb a UN post, demonstrates how it could, inadvertently or not so inadvertently, bomb Lebanese civilians.  What are the rules of engagement here?  Are there any?  Does being attacked by those using terror tactics, under any circumstances, justify abandoning rules of engagement?  Israel and the US seem to believe so.    

Will this incident encourage countries to send peacekeeping forces to this region?   

In an interview with Terry Gross on last night’s “Fresh Air,” Washington Post Pentagon correspondent Thomas Ricks, author of Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq said that the US Mid East policy now consciously promotes instability rather than stability.  He said that, after 9/11, the administration decided that the “policy of containment,” as described by Wolfowitz, would only cause more 9/11s and that there was a need to “roll the dice” or “drain the swamp.”  From my perspective, this means promoting conflicts (or fabricating evidence, as in Iraq) that justify the use of US and/or Israeli force, with the intention of annihilating or subduing the enemy.  We can define “enemy” as any Mid East forces that threaten US and Israeli interests, whether they be heads of secular, sovereign states such as Saddam Hussein, or militants that use terrorist or guerrilla tactics such as Hizballah, who are generally all lumped together as “terrorists.” This serves multiple and often unrelated interests: those of defense, reconstruction, and security contractors; those of the energy industry; those of idealist neo-cons who see US hegemony as the answer to the world’s ills; those of the Israeli lobby who view the US as their personal “capo di tutti capi,” and those of fundamentalist Christians who see the road to Armageddon as the road to salvation. 

So, what’s wrong with that picture?  First, it disregards the rights and interests of those that are perceived as the enemy; second, it leaves a lot of innocent victims in its wake; and third, it might not work and we just might actually get that Armageddon that is being used as a carrot for the extremists.   

In Gross’s prior, seemingly unrelated interview, Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten, authors of One Party Country:The Republican Plan for Dominance in the 21st Century, describe how Republicans have the edge over Democrats because they have perfected the art (as noted above) of marshaling diverse and unrelated interests behind a single cause.  As an example they describe how, in the 1990s, Grover Norquist of the famous “Wednesday Meetings,”  got “mom and apple pie” proponent Phyllis Schafly to rally against stricter fuel efficiency standards  by describing them as “de facto family planning”  and convincing her that downsizing automobiles was just another way of downsizing American families.  

And in the prolifically reproductive 1950s where did they put the kids—in the trunk?  Yes, I know that cars were pretty big and inefficient then, but they weren’t as big as SUVs.

Peter Wallsten, by the way, is the LA Times reporter that President Bush chided and teased at an outdoor  press conference for wearing sunglasses when asking his question.  Bush, perhaps trying to appear jovial and relaxed in front of the press a la Clinton or JFK, didn’t realize that Wallston is legally blind.  He has macular eye degeneration that causes not only impaired vision but sensitivity to glare.  But what would you expect from a guy who would “massage” the German Chancellor by pouncing on her from behind?

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Here is a demo page for something the system administrators at Congress’s website are calling a ”Write Your Representative Logic Puzzle”—a test question devised to reduce automated mail and spam to the reps’ mailbox:

http://www.house.gov/writerep/lp_demo.shtml

Fair enough. But some see it as a way to hinder access and compare it to CAPTCHA (Completely Automated Public Turing Test to Tell Computers and Humans Apart) in terms of its potential to hinder/block people who are blind, deaf, hard of hearing, have low vision, or a cognitive/intellectual disability such as dyslexia.

For the demo, if you are seeking your representative in DC, you are asked to provide the answer to 1+1=[X]. If, in the demo, you are seeking your representative from zip 93292 in California, you are asked to solve a slightly more advanced problem: 6-1=[X]. Hmmm . . . What does this imply?

The Brookings Institute, a pretty centrist think-tank, has published a report outlining one more way that the poor are kept poor—by being nickeled and dimed to death and by paying much more for services and products than those who can actually afford to pay more for services and products. What better system for perpetuating the status quo?

These additional charges are, ostensibly, a way for profit making enterprises to absorb the additional risk and higher cost of transacting business in poor neighborhoods and/or with those with low incomes and credit ratings (I always thought that a certain amount of loss was part of the “cost of doing business”). But, as the report very wisely points out:

“. . . the existence of these higher costs will also drive perceptions of higher costs, even when there may not be data available to support those perceptions. This also drives up prices.”

Many businesses, “unscrupulous” as they’re called in the report, prey upon the poor and charge them a premium for services that they can’t get elsewhere—they maximize their profit and put food on their own tables by taking food off the tables of others—and this is exactly what it comes down to. They need to be regulated or outlawed, but that won’t happen any time soon.

The poor are robbed by:

1. Check-cashing services
2. Payday and short-term loan services
3. Pawnshops
4. High-interest, high fee, high penalty credit cards
5. High interest, high fee, high penalty loans
6. High interest auto loans
7. High interest mortgages
8. Used car dealers who are more likely to sell them “lemons”
9. High-priced convenience stores, which also offer some of the above services, used because there are no neighborhood supermarkets.
10. Rent-to-own furniture and appliance stores, which proliferate in poor neighborhoods, as do pawnshops and check-cashing outlets

Add to this, higher auto insurance rates, regardless of driving record, and higher medical expenses because of poor or no health plan and you really have a self-perpetuating condition.

The high cost of being poor was also written about in the book Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich.

The Brookings report argues that outlawing and regulating such businesses will actually help the economy because it will allow the poor to acquire ”income-growing assets” [surprise conclusion!].


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From Examiner.com:

Willy, a 1-year-old cat is photographed Thursday, July 20, 2006, with a display of several pairs of garden gloves that he took from unknown yards in his neighborhood in Pelham, N.Y. Willy has brought home nine pairs of gloves and five singles over several weeks laying them on his owners’ front or back porches.

And a truly peevish pet:

LONDON – An ill-tempered parrot left English police a vital clue to the thief who took the bird from a pet shop.

Tristand Maidment, 23, pleaded guilty Thursday to stealing a macaw named Mickey from a pet shop in Frome, southwestern England, last month.

Maidment said he couldn’t remember being bitten by the parrot, but the wound left a trail of blood, which allowed police to make a DNA match to the suspect.

Mickey’s owner, Angus Hart, said the parrot was notoriously bad tempered and about 50 years old.

Bush, in his remarks to the NAACP this afternoon, flanked by Condi Rice who should be in the Middle East around about now, referred to the Republican Party as  “the party of Abraham Lincoln.”  I don’t think that Abraham Lincoln would recognize today’s Republican Party, as it stands (I don’t think that Barry Goldwater would even recognize it).  And I don’t think that a man as devoted to the details of governance and the intricacies of policy as was Lincoln, would be impressed by Bush’s particular style of leadership.   

Mr. Bush is shameless in his inability to apologize, directly to the NAACP, for the phenomenal administratiive negligence that caused so many African-Americans to suffer during the Katrina disaster.   

A humanitarian crisis is brewing in Lebanon as Israel continues its indiscriminate bombardment, obviously meant to punish and subdue.  Civilians are leaving Beirut with white flags of surrender, fashioned out of t-shirts, attached to their cars.  Foreign nationals are being speedily removed, but what will become of Lebanese refugees? 

In a speech this week, Hillary Clinton sanctioned this bombardment, saying: 

I want us here in New York to imagine, if extremist terrorists were launching rocket attacks across the Mexican or Canadian border, would we stand by or would we defend America against these attacks from extremists?

This inane apples/oranges analogy completely disregards the decades of Arab/Israeli conflict that contextualizes this latest crisis, a context that would not apply to any hypothetical Canadian attack.  The history of Mid East conflict demonstrates that no one is faultless and that all actions occur within a complex web of relations and an endless series of vendettas.  Were terrorists to loom over the US at the Canada border and capture a couple of soldiers, I doubt that the US would respond by indiscriminately bombarding Canada.  I suspect that the counter attacks would be much more targeted.  The US has no history of conflict with Canada that would cause us to punish its citizens and such an action, anyway, would be absurd. 

If Hillary, as future presidential candidate, is already pandering to the right- leaning middle and applying empty rhetoric, the Dems need to find another player.

It is, for me, hard to define George Bush’s moral center and hard to consider it life-affirming.  This is an administration that would fund, on a massive scale, military operations both in Iraq and Gaza that kill, wound, dislocate and disrupt the lives of so many non-combatants, but will not fund research that uses embryos that would be otherwise destroyed, as a consequence of legal IVF treatments, to conduct research that might eventually save an infinite number of lives. 

Stem-cell development is one of the most life-affirming scientific breakthroughs to come down the pike in a long while.  It is yet another form of man’s ability to make and remake himself in response to an array of environmental variables and contingencies—to change not only himself, but to change the forces that would shape him—to reshape not only himself, but the very biological processes that would undermine or sustain his existence.  It is rather godlike, no? 

Is this what makes this type of research so disturbing to some—that man would presume to reshape his destiny in the face of forces that some would rather submit to?  Or do moral absolutists think it presumptuous to weigh the value of a life that consists of a rapidly dividing bundle of cells to that of a fully-formed person, with a full life both behind and ahead of him, with children perhaps, or grandchildren, with perceptions and sentience and whatever creative forces were given him?  

Is this hubris?  Or is it hubris for one to suppose that he can redraw the lines on a map, as the British did in Iraq and Palestine and as the neo-cons would do now in the entire Middle East, if they could?  Is it hubris to depose the head of a sovereign state because he runs contrary to your will?  Is it hubris for a head of state to hail another head of state as if he were a homie (“Yo Blair!”)?  Or is it hubris for that same head of state to refer to the potentially world-shaping actions of nations and their agents as if they were those of troublesome rugrats:

“. . . to get Syria, to get Hizbollah, to stop doing this shit . . .” ?

While the Bush Administration continues to focus on its faulty and bungled foreign policy agenda, domestic issues are mostly being ignored. The most critical domestic issues are:

1. Rising fuel costs. The need for a realistic energy policy that addresses global warming. The need to seriously commit funds and expertise to alternative energy research and development (John Kerry has suggested a Manhattan Project type commission devoted to this problem). The need to put the onus on auto manufacturers (and provide incentives for them) to improve fuel economy, emissions standards, etc.

2. The rising cost of health care. We need a system that keeps costs in check and reins in the pharmaceutical companies. We need a system that provides a safety net for children in poverty, the unemployed, the underemployed, the temporarily employed, and the contract employed. We need a system that lowers the burden on business (particularly small business). We need a system that provides some form of health care access to all. We need a system that seriously focuses on health maintenance and disease prevention rather than solely on diagnosis and treatment—that means having a system in which doctors can actually spend time with their patients.

3. Education and the need to seriously address declining literacy rates and stagnant test scores. The need to adequately fund higher education so that all have access to it. The need to provide more funding to programs that have proved successful, such as Head Start and the Higher Education Opportunity Program. The need to provide more funding to schools in districts with a low tax base and to more equitably distribute state funds. The need to adequately fund mandates that require more training for teachers and higher accountability for schools districts.

4. The need to shore up the country’s critical infrastructure—that means, for example, building proper levees and having an emergency management system that really works. The need to adequately fund public transportation systems and provide adequate security for them. The need to provide enough police in the inner cities.

5. The need to reduce poverty and homelessness and all its associated ills, such as substance abuse and child neglect. The need to improve mental health and substance abuse treatment and access. The need to look to the homelessness reduction programs that work and use them as a model for nationwide implementation. The need to raise the federal minimum wage.

6. The need to properly regulate industry, which has had a free ride for the past six years. The need to make the coal industry accountable for maintaining safety standards. The need to require the agriculture industry to produce a high quality and healthy product and to treat farm animals humanely. The need to properly regulate the use of feeds that cause diseases. The need to reduce factory farms and genetically-engineered products and encourage the consumption of locally produced organic products that come from family farms. The need to encourage and subsidize farming methods that are better for the environment and the eco-system.

7. The need to properly fund and care for treasures that cannot be replaced–our national parks, our cultural institutions, and our endangered species.


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Bush was enjoying roast pig in Germany and preferred to talk about that when reporters queried him anout the Mideast crisis. Policy is not one of George Bush’s strong points, but avoidance is, as revealed in this morning’s NY Times:

“…he was presented with a traditional local gift in the town square here, a barrel of herring, and hours before he was scheduled to go to a barbeque with a freshly slaughtered wild boar served in his honor.

In his question-and-answer session with reporters, Mr. Bush joked about that dinner, kidding in response to a double-barreled question on the growing crisis and Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

‘I thought you were going to ask me about the pig,’ Mr. Bush said.”

And this is the leader of the free world speaking. The New York Times also reports that “Mr. Bush had called the Hezbollah actions ‘pathetic.’ ” Well, that’s both an insightful and diplomatic comment, and I’m sure it will help defuse the situation. Apparently, based on other comments made, the Bush administration is blaming Arabs for the most recent eruption in this endless two-sided conflict. If Israel had been solely defending itself all these years, one might agree with that.

Some believe that the Bush administration actually considers it to their advantage to have to continually fight “terrorism” within the context of Mideast turmoil. Many reasons have been proposed: it legitimizes the continual expansion of executive branch power ( #1 priority for Dick Cheney), it provides continual fodder for the military-industrial complex and its lucrative contracts, and, according to some, it’s the self-fulfilling prophecy of a perverse apocolyptic vision.

Former CIA analyst Bill Christison argues seomething to this effect in Alexander Cockburn’s newsletter counterpunch: http://www.counterpunch.org/

It has not been mentioned much in any major news sources, perhaps because it is such a commonplace, but, in these circumstances, it gains more significance: the US has again vetoed a UN resolution censuring Israel, this time one demanding that they end the attack on Gaza.  The resolution seems fair and diplomatic enough, since it requires that Hizballah release the captive Israeli soldier in exchange for Palestinians detained by Israelis.  This from EuroNews

The United States has blocked a UN Security Council resolution calling on Israel to end its offensive in Gaza. Ten of the Council’s 15 member-nations voted in favour of the draft, put forward by Qatar on behalf of Arab states. Four countries abstained while Washington killed the text by using its power of veto. The resolution demanded the unconditional release of abducted Israeli Corporal Gilad Shalit as well as Israel’s immediate withdrawal from Gaza and the release of dozens of Palestinian officials detained by Israel. 

The American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, a pro-Israel lobbying group, includes on its website a long list of U.S. Vetoes of UN Resolutions Critical of Israel.  Presumably, this list is proudly displayed because it clearly demonstrates US nearly unconditional support of Israel.  

The UK Guardian has some pictures of the conflict.  This one shows a bombed apartment building in suburban Beirut.  Does this look like a military target?

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