Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A Dogs Tale

Loretta opened her mouth in a huge yawn. Why shouldn't she? She was exhausted and now bundled in Connie’s arms with three brothers. This four and a half week old puppy and her siblings had been separated from their mother for only a couple of days. They had been rescued from unspeakably crowded and filthy conditions by the Bend Police and brought to the Shelter at the Humane Society of Central Oregon. On July 5th four of the nine in the litter—Loretta, Waylon, Willy, and Hank—had come to our house for foster care.

If you can imagine, there were 22 dogs in a van parked at Bend’s Wal-Mart that Tuesday, June 17. In the late afternoon a woman called the police after hearing the barking and smelling the stench coming from the van. When the police arrived they found a mom with nine three-day-old puppies, of which Loretta was one, four two-month old puppies, and seven young adults, surviving on top of each other in the closed van. The dogs all seemed to be a mix of Border Collie, Spaniel and German Shepherd.

Once on the scene, the police made a tactical decision to allow the man in the van to keep one of the dogs in order to take permanent possession of the rest of the dogs without delay. One of the officers said, "We felt he was able to care properly for one of the animals and let him keep it.” Be that as it may, the decision enabled the
Humane Society of Central Oregon to receive them immediately.

The staff received the dogs around 7 p.m. and worked late into the night examining and cleaning them up.
Humane Society workers say while the dogs had plenty of food, they were living on top of each other in their own feces.

And they say it's a miracle that along with the hot temperatures, the dogs are okay.

"When you hear 21 dogs living in a van, you think these guys aren't going to be in great shape," said Karen Szymanski. "But medically, they all seem to be fairly healthy and their temperaments are friendly."

Police say Henderson was living in the van with them, and probably selling the puppies out of his van to Wal-Mart customers.
The mother and nine newborns went to the home of Judy Niedzwiecke,
Foster Care Coordinator for the HSCO. She planned to keep the puppies with the mother until time to wean them, but that didn’t work out. The mother was so aggressive that she was a risk to the people and animals around her, including her own puppies. Karen Szymanski, manager of the HSCO, told me that she thought that the mother had been so traumatized by the experience in the van that she was “protecting the puppies with every ounce of her body.” The only option was to separate the two and a half week old puppies from the mother. Karen took the mother back to the Shelter and Judy took on the nine puppies until she could distribute some of them to foster care givers.

On July 5th four of the puppies came to our house. Connie is the foster care giver; I just help her when we have puppies. When the puppies came she was also caring for ten kittens. My job was to be with them for their three feedings a day, play with them, and clean up after them in the yard. The puppies were so frantic that I wondered if they, like their mother, had been marked by their experience in the van. At first, they seemed uneasy with human contact and yowled at the top of their lungs. But within a few days they began to calm down, except of course when it was nearing mealtime.

On July 13 Lori, another care giver, took Waylon and Hank, leaving Loretta and Willy with us, so that more personal attention could be given to each puppy. They loved rolling and tumbling with each other in the grass shaded by tall aspen trees in the yard. Loretta began to seek me out to hold her. I wondered if that would happen with Willy. On July 28, the day before the puppies were to be taken to the Shelter for spay and neuter then adoption, Willy came to me and wanted up into my lap. He sat there as if to tell me that he was ready for serious contact with humans. I realize that this is my projection; I don’t know what’s in the minds of these little creatures, how they were shaped by their first days in the van, and their separation from their mother. But they were over eight weeks old and it was time for them to be put up for adoption. Loretta and Willy were ready.

I didn’t go with Connie when she took them to the Shelter. I didn’t want to embarrass her by crying when we said goodbye like I did when we took the
American Eskimo puppies back. I knew that we couldn’t keep Loretta and Willy; we have two dogs of our own and three cats. But it is hard for me to let these little ones go just as they have begun to trust me.

When Connie came back she had good news. The puppies’ mother has become a loving and gentle dog again, one that can be adopted. It didn’t happen by accident. Karen Szymanski spent a lot of time with the mother. I went down to the Shelter yesterday to talk with Karen about what she did. She said that she spent as much time with the dog as she could, even coming with her boyfriend on her days off to work with her. She confessed that she found herself getting too attached and so had to pull back. Karen is surrounded by animals in crisis and yet she gave extra time and attention to this mother who had been traumatized by horrible conditions. Now, the mom is also ready to be adopted.

My hat is off to the staff and volunteers at the Shelter; they love animals, all of which arrive at their door in crisis. They have to make hard decisions and work long hours. My hat is also off to the foster care givers who love animals and prepare them to be good pets for others.

I saw a bumper sticker on a car in front of me today that said something like, “Being kind to animals will make our whole world a better place.” There are a lot of things that we can do to make the world better, and I believe being kind to animals is one of them. Do you?

- Milo

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Is ‘Torture’ Among Your Weekend Reflections?

Updated Monday, July 28. See end of article.

“Violence finds its only refuge in falsehood, falsehood its only support in violence.”
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn 1970

“The UK can no longer rely on US assurances that it does not use torture, and we recommend that the Government does not rely on such assurances in the future.” British House of Commons, July 9, 2008

The subject of “torture” is probably not on your list of weekend reflections, but maybe it should be.

On Thursday, I attended a lecture by Dr. George Hunsinger, professor of Systematic Theology from Princeton Theological Seminary and the founder of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. Whenever I write or read or hear about the subject, I still find myself reeling that this has been perpetrated by my own country, and that our own president has rationalized and authorized it. My reaction was no different Thursday as I listened to Dr. Hunsinger’s lecture.

I do not know personally persons who have been tortured under the auspices of the Bush administration’s “war on terror,” but I have personal friends who were tortured in Taiwan’s period of “White Terror” in the 1960s and 1970s. I know what it did to them. It’s not over when the torture session ends; it is with the tortured the rest of their lives. I suspect that it changes the person who does the torturing as much as the tortured.

President Bush has said repeatedly, “We don’t torture.” This weekend in your reflections, consider these words from the annual report on human rights around the world by the British House of Commons Committee on Foreign Affairs, issued July 9, 2008:

We conclude that, given the clear differences in definition, the UK can no longer rely on US assurances that it does not use torture, and we recommend that the Government does not rely on such assurances in the future. We also recommend that the Government should immediately carry out an exhaustive analysis of current US interrogation techniques on the basis of such information as is publicly available or which can be supplied by the US. We further recommend that, once its analysis is completed, the Government should inform this Committee and Parliament as to its view on whether there are any other interrogation techniques that may be approved for use by the US Administration which it considers to constitute torture.
And then, let your mind wander to these words of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in his lecture when he received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970, a lecture smuggled out of the Soviet Union.

We shall be told: what can literature possibly do against the ruthless onslaught of open violence? But let us not forget that violence does not live alone and is not capable of living alone: it is necessarily interwoven with falsehood. Between them lies the most intimate, the deepest of natural bonds. Violence finds its only refuge in falsehood, falsehood its only support in violence. Any man who has once acclaimed violence as his METHOD must inexorably choose falsehood as his PRINCIPLE. At its birth violence acts openly and even with pride. But no sooner does it become strong, firmly established, than it senses the rarefaction of the air around it and it cannot continue to exist without descending into a fog of lies, clothing them in sweet talk. It does not always, not necessarily, openly throttle the throat, more often it demands from its subjects only an oath of allegiance to falsehood, only complicity in falsehood.
I sat in Hunsinger’s lecture Thursday and wondered why there didn't seem to be a national sense of scandal and outrage at the torture perpetrated and authorized by this administration.

Sadly, I think I know the answer, or at least part of it. Many are still unwilling to believe that a president of the United States of America would condone, let alone authorize, the use of torture. If he says, “We do not torture,” many believe him.

During the question period after the lecture, one asked why people could still advocate the use of torture when we know it doesn’t work. I almost screamed, “Because the conventional wisdom says it does work!” We live in a culture ready to believe that lives can be saved by torture. How many spy movies have brainwashed us? (See update below)

For the third part of your weekend meditation, try to imagine why George Bush and Dick Cheney opted to authorize torture. Meteor Blades has an excellent - and troubling - analysis.

We suggest four reasons why George "I don’t care what the international lawyers say" Bush and dark-side Dick Cheney opted for torture:

1 - Deceit: Granted, torture does not yield truthful information. It can, though, be an excellent way to obtain the untruthful information you may wish to acquire. All you really need to know is what you want the victims to "confess" to and torture them, or render them abroad to "friendly" intelligence services toward the same end.
One case that speaks volumes is that of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, who was captured and rendered to Egypt, where, under torture, he told his interrogators precisely what they wanted to hear. ...

2 - Sadism: Cheney’s open advocacy of waterboarding speaks volumes, but what about the President? Sad to say, as psychiatrist Justin Frank, author of Bush on the Couch, has noted: "Bush’s certitude that he is right gives him carte blanche for destructive behavior. He has always had a sadistic streak: from blowing up frogs, to shooting his siblings with a BB gun, to branding fraternity pledges with white-hot coat hangers (explaining that the resulting wound was ‘only a cigarette burn’)..."

3 - Intimidation: Are you perhaps in some "shock and awe" at the prospect of the President designating you an "enemy combatant" and sending you off to the Navy brig in South Carolina for an indefinite stay? He now has court approval to do precisely that, and we are proceeding on faith that this joint article will not bring us "enhanced interrogation techniques." ...

4 -- Because We Can: Lord Acton was, of course, right. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. And closeness to it does the same. ...
The very transparency of the excuses for torture serves to demonstrate that this kind of power is in place, and is not to be questioned.
On this weekend, I’ll focus my reflection on the words of Solzhenitsyn as he continued in his lecture:

And the simple step of a simple courageous man is not to partake in falsehood, not to support false actions! Let THAT enter the world, let it even reign in the world - but not with my help. But writers and artists can achieve more: they can CONQUER FALSEHOOD! In the struggle with falsehood art always did win and it always does win! Openly, irrefutably for everyone! Falsehood can hold out against much in this world, but not against art.And no sooner will falsehood be dispersed than the nakedness of violence will be revealed in all its ugliness - and violence, decrepit, will fall.
I am weary of thinking and writing about torture. I want to forget about it and enjoy the weekend. But I think we dare not forget; we must keep remembering, thinking, writing, acting, and be the “courageous” persons Solzhenitsyn calls for who will not partake in falsehood, not to support false actions, nor tolerate them by our President.

- Milo
I didn't mention any spy movies, but today I found an article by Dahlia Lithwick titled, "The Bauer of Suggestion: Our torture policy has deeper roots in Fox television than the Constitution."
The most influential legal thinker in the development of modern American interrogation policy is not a behavioral psychologist, international lawyer, or counterinsurgency expert. Reading both Jane Mayer's stunning The Dark Side and Philippe Sands' The Torture Team, I quickly realized that the prime mover of American interrogation doctrine is none other than the star of Fox television's 24: Jack Bauer.

This fictional counterterrorism agent—a man never at a loss for something to do with an electrode—has his fingerprints all over U.S. interrogation policy. As Sands and Mayer tell it, the lawyers designing interrogation techniques cited Bauer more frequently than the Constitution.

According to British lawyer and writer Philippe Sands, Jack Bauer—played by Kiefer Sutherland—was an inspiration at early "brainstorming meetings" of military officials at Guantanamo in September of 2002. Diane Beaver, the staff judge advocate general who gave legal approval to 18 controversial new interrogation techniques including water-boarding, sexual humiliation, and terrorizing prisoners with dogs, told Sands that Bauer "gave people lots of ideas." Michael Chertoff, the homeland-security chief, once gushed in a panel discussion on 24 organized by the Heritage Foundation that the show "reflects real life."
I must confess that I have never watched 24. Maybe I should. It's not the role for art that Solzhenitsyn hoped for, but it was a role he saw art play often in the Soviet Union.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Drilling in ANWR—Riding a Dead Horse

Who is not hurting from the high gas prices? Forgive me for wondering if our President and Vice President are bothered at all. Well, they may be bothered just a tad by the anger directed toward them because they have looked after the interests of Big Oil for the past seven years with narry a nod to consumers.

Yesterday, in a White House press briefing, Dana Perino announced
“in an effort to address the root causes of high energy prices, House Republicans are introducing their American Energy Act. Their proposal includes many of the provisions the President called on Congress to act upon, including opening up access to our energy resources in the Outer Continental Shelf, up in ANWR, allowing development of oil shale resources, and streamlining permitting processes for refineries.”
The question of whether to allow drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) has been an issue faced by every sitting American president since Jimmy Carter. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is just east of Prudhoe Bay in Alaska's "North Slope," which is North America's largest oil field. Not surprisingly, McCain and Obama hold different views on drilling in ANWR:
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain has made drilling a major part of his energy plan.

Democratic rival Barack Obama remains opposed. A spokesman for him, Bill Burton, said Monday that drilling “would merely prolong the failed energy policies we have seen from Washington for 30 years.”
How does drilling in ANWR or offshore contribute to lower fuel prices? Art McEldowney has been looking at this issue and reports that there is no apparent connection between what the oil companies are saying and doing and the current “drill it now mantra.” Art offers five good reasons for skepticism.
1. The American Petroleum Institute (API), a consortium of American petroleum-producing companies states that drilling on the continental shelf or ANWR is unlikely to provide Americans with more oil for 7 to 10 years.

2. If they were given permission to drill and they did drill, the anticipated amount of oil would alleviate 2.5 years of U.S. fuel needs 10 years down the road. Then what?

3. Major oil companies already own drilling rights to 68 million acres of Federal land, but refuse to drill. Why?

4. The United States exported 1.6 million barrels of refined fuel products per day in the first 4 months of 2008. Exports continue. If we are facing a fuel shortage, why are we exporting it? Fuel refining facilities are not being upgraded or expanded.

5. There are no immediately available pipelines or ships to move additional crude oil. If crude oil supplies were to become available we could not move it or refine it.
So, Art wonders, how does drilling offshore or ANWR now solve our fuel problem and lower gas prices? Answer: It doesn’t. Besides being an enormous environmental risk, pushing for drilling there simply distracts us from the opportunity now at hand.
We have an opportunity to truly get off of oil and reinvent our economy with clean renewables that will end our addiction, clean up our skies, create jobs and solve global warming.
This is the task before us: a) Now, urge Congress not to fall for the siren call of the Republican’s American Energy Act. b) In November, vote for a presidential candidate who will stop riding the dead horse of drilling in ANWR and who sees beyond the failed energy policies of the past. c) Vote for congressional candidates who will resist the pressures of Big Oil. d) With a new President, Congress and leadership in the states be advocates for energy policies that lead to the end our addiction to oil.

- Milo

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Use of Torture and Our Collective Identity

I’ve written a number of articles on torture—“Verschärfte Vernehmung Revisited,” “Of Torture, Garlic, and Vampires,” and others—but I’m not sure we can talk enough about it. I asked a friend if I could publish a paper he wrote recently on the subject, and he agreed. Dave Nagler is pastor of Nativity Lutheran Church in Bend, Oregon. However dismayed about the reality of the practice by our government, I am encouraged by the fact that there are some pastors talking to their congregations about it and some congregations listening.
We live in a complex and messy world. To be sure, there are people who intend us harm and any intelligence that we can obtain about their plans is valuable. Intelligence gathering techniques often include spying, deception, and intense interrogation of people suspected of being connected with terrorist organizations. We justify the use of these otherwise abhorrent practices because they save human life. The ethical principle that is employed recognizes the higher value of saving lives over spying and deception.

Yet that ethical principle has limits. We cannot remove all barriers to human decency in order to save human life. Something happens to us and to our ability to create just and decent societies when we cross the line into torture. No message of impending doom, no perpetual orange alert, can provide the rationale for practices that dehumanize people also created in God’s image.

Friedrich Nietzsche said, “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.” After we witnessed the tragic loss of innocent life on September 11, 2001 we knew that there were monsters in the world. However, in our desire to bring those responsible to justice and protect our citizenry we have incarcerated people without charge or representation, practiced extraordinary rendition of prisoners to countries that are willing to torture them, and interrogated suspects using harsh techniques including beatings and water boarding. In short, we have lost our moral authority by ignoring the rights to which we owe our very existence. We have become the intolerable bully on the global playground.

America has a vital role to play in human history. We are called to be the nation that reminds the world of the rule of law and the rights of each individual person. We are a mighty nation that is strong enough to limit the use of its power so that human rights and dignity are upheld. That identity is threatened when we condone the use of torture. It turns us into the very tyranny that our Founding Fathers swore to oppose. When the President vetoes legislation that would provide clear limits to our interrogators and restore us to the agreed upon practices of the United Nations, it sends a signal that we have lost our moral moorings and now need to be feared by even our allies.

The United Nations Convention Against Torture stated, “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.” Signing treaties in peacetime only to violate them when we are under threat cheapens our collective authority. It is beneath the values that our soldiers have fought and died for. For it is exactly when we are facing a threat that such a commitment to never use dehumanizing means of interrogation is tested. In our current experience, we have failed this crucial test.

Finally, and from my perspective most importantly, our failure to support the dignity of every human being by the use of torture betrays the best of our religious traditions. All the great monotheistic faiths bear witness that humans are created in the image of God. To torture a person is to fundamentally deny the God image within them, and therefore to blaspheme the Holy One. God wants us to see even our enemies as brothers and sisters who are just as loved and just as blessed as we are. In my tradition, the bar is set even higher as Jesus calls us to love our enemies. There is no way to love someone and torture them at the same time. It is time to repent of this practice and “do unto others as we would have them do unto us.”
Pastor Nagler is not only engaging his congregation on this issue, he and Nativity are extending the conversation to the larger community in Bend. In case you happen to be in the Bend area this coming Thursday (July 24th) you might want to consider having lunch at the church. Nativity will present Dr. George Hunsinger, professor of Systematic Theology from Princeton Theological Seminary and the founder of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. He will be speaking on “Nothing Less is at Stake in the Torture Crisis Than the Soul of Our Nation”. A catered luncheon will be held in the fellowship hall, at $10.00 per person. Please call the church office for reservations, and more information at (541) 388-0765).

Thanks for your labors, Dave! This really is “soul” work!
- Milo

Friday, July 18, 2008

Methodists Support Same Gender Marriage

This report may only be encouraging to United Methodists who have been struggling for years against their denomination’s stand on homosexuality. As delegates meet in five regional (jurisdictional) conferences around the country this week, their main task is to elect and assign new bishops. But, as was evident yesterday from the conference in Dallas approving the Bush library at SMU, electing bishops is not their only business. In sharp contrast to the action taken at the United Methodist General Conference last spring, delegates to the denomination’s Northeastern Jurisdiction Conference meeting in Harrisburg, PA voted Thursday to support clergy in California who choose to perform same-gender marriages.

The delegates approved a resolution expressing respect for pastors in the California-Pacific and California-Nevada annual (regional) conferences “who as a matter of Christian conscience, spiritual discernment and prophetic witnessing” opt to participate in the celebration of same-gender marriages that are not approved by the church.The resolution also asks for lenient disciplinary action against clergy who disobey church law on the issue.

The first time the issue of homosexuality was addressed by a General Conference was in 1972. The position taken was this: "Although we do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching, we affirm that God's grace is available to all." At each General Conference since that time, the position has been unsuccessfully challenged. It has been enlarged to include prohibition of ordaining homosexuals into the ministry of the church. And, in 1996 the General Conference took an action to prohibit ministers from performing ceremonies blessing same sex unions. At the 2008 General Conference, which met April 23-May 2 in Fort Worth, Texas, the denomination’s top legislative body, voted to retain its ban on same-gender marriages and to bar clergy from performing such marriages or consecrating them in the church.

On May 15, two weeks after the General Conference adjourned, the California Supreme Court struck down the state’s ban on same-gender marriage, ruling that the state constitution protects that “right to marry.”

For those who have better things to do than try to understand United Methodist organizational structure but who want to make sense of this report, the General Conference represents the whole denomination and meets every four years. Jurisdictional Conferences represent the regions of the U.S. and also meet only once every four years; they are the ones meeting this week. Then, there are Annual Conferences who represent smaller regions and meet every year. There are two Annual Conferences in the state of California.

When the two California conferences met this year, following the General Conference but before the Jurisdictional Conferences, they responded to the State Supreme Court’s striking down the state’s ban on same gender marriage.

The church's California-Pacific Annual Conference, convening June 18-22 in Redlands, approved three measures that support same-gender couples entering into the marriage covenant. Each "encourages both congregations and pastors to welcome, embrace and provide spiritual nurture and pastoral care for these families," according to a June 27 letter to the conference from Bishop Mary Ann Swenson and other conference leaders.

That same week in Sacramento, the California-Nevada Annual Conference approved two measures on the same issue, including one that lists 67 retired United Methodist clergy in northern California who have offered to conduct same-gender marriage ceremonies. The resolution commends the pastors' work in offering continued ministry.The statements are the strongest yet on the issue by California United Methodists and have drawn cheers from gay rights advocates, who say the church and its pastors should extend to same-sex couples the same level of support it provides heterosexual couples.

Neither the Annual Conferences nor the Jurisdictional Conferences have authority to change law made by the General Conference, but the today’s action by the Northeast Jurisdiction supporting the Annual Conferences in California is another challenge to the homophobic policies of the church. The support was welcome in the west.

After the Northeastern Jurisdiction Conference resolution was passed, Bishop Mary Ann Swenson of the Los Angeles Area read it to the Western Jurisdiction Conference in Portland, Ore. Delegates and guests greeted it with a standing ovation.

Those of us who have opted to stay in the church and try to change the policies from within are heartened by the actions of our friends in the northeast. Thursday’s action may move the denomination closer to a split or one step closer to policies that truly reflect the motto of the denomination—“Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.” It remains to be seen what actions might be taken in other Jurisdictional Conferences.

We live in the confidence of that old African American proverb:
Lord, we’re not what we ought to be. But thank God we’re not what we used to be. And, by the grace of God, not yet what we will be.

- Milo

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Methodists Approve Bush Library

Today, the delegates to the South Central Jurisdictional Conference of the United Methodist Church meeting in Dallas affirmed their Mission Council’s earlier decision to lease land to the President George W. Bush Presidential Center. It also passed a petition said to protect the integrity of both SMU and the jurisdiction itself by indicating that the proposed institute “does not speak” for either.
This is the petition approved by the conference:
"The South Central Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church understands that the institute does not speak for the South Central Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church or Southern Methodist University. The South Central Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church is dedicated to academic freedom and instructs Southern Methodist University to report back to the 2012 South Central Jurisdictional Conference of The United Methodist Church on the relationship with the institute and its impact on Southern Methodist University and the level of compliance of the foundation and the institute with the covenants of agreements protecting the integrity of Southern Methodist University and indirectly the South Central Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church. Furthermore, the South Central Jurisdiction expects the institute to function in a manner that protects the integrity of both Southern Methodist University and the South Central Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church.
The delegates who faced the uncomfortable task of undoing what had already been agreed to by its Mission Council took the easy way out and in so doing approved an action that already violates the integrity of the South Central Jurisdiction. Rev. Tex Sample, who had sent a letter to the jurisdiction’s nearly 300 delegates before this week’s conference said,
"I think the South Central Jurisdiction has made a big mistake. What they've done is subsidize the political goals of George W. Bush. I think we will live to rue the day."
The decision has now been made. SMU and United Methodists will have to live with it. I am angry and embarrassed that the university from which I took one of my degrees and the church jurisdiction in which I grew up chose not to see the ethical implications of such an arrangement. My sense is that neither the university nor the jurisdiction will do any better at restraining President Bush’s disregard for the law than Congress.

I have a heightened respect, however, for those like Andrew Weaver, who organized the petition drive against the project and who labored mightily for two years in opposition to it. I am grateful for Diane Smock, a self-described “average” Methodist, who submitted a petition to General Conference in May opposing the establishment of the institute. There were others like Tex Sample, Bill McElvaney, and many others who made the case for what SMU and the South Central Jurisdiction should be, but clearly are not. Even in defeat, their voices and actions give me hope for the future. Thank you!

- Milo

Monday, July 14, 2008

Bush Library, Bribes, and United Methodists

A thorny issue will confront at least one of the five Jurisdictional Conferences of the United Methodist Church that will be meeting this week. These quadrennial regional meetings—held this year in Dallas (TX), Grand Rapids (MI), Harrisburg (PA), Lake Junaluska (NC), and Portland (OR)—have as their main business electing and assigning new bishops.

When the South Central Jurisdiction convenes in Dallas tomorrow, in addition to electing bishops, they will have to decide what to do about the actions their bishops took to approve the lease of land to SMU for the Bush library, museum and institute. The General Conference in May referred a petition opposing the action to the jurisdiction for action. This means the assembled folk in Dallas will have to do something on record, something I suspect that they wanted to do even less after the story of bribes to pay for the library broke in Sunday’s London Times.

David Waldman (aka “Kargo X”) broke the story on Daily Kos on Saturday with his diary, “Bush ‘Pioneer’ and WH Advance man caught soliciting bribes on tape.” The story in the London Times reported a sting operation on Stephen Payne, a lobbyist with easy access to the White House. Captured on video, Payne offers access to Dick Cheney or Condoleezza Rice for a former president of the central Asian state of Kyrgyzstan in exchange for a generous donation to the Bush library.
“Who does he want to meet with in Washington?” asked the American. Dos replied: “Well of course, maybe the president of the United States, vice-president Cheney, to speak maybe directly to explain the situation in central Asia . . . To give his side of the story. These kind of things.”

“I think that some things could be done,” said Payne, adding that seeing Bush himself might be more difficult. With barely a pause, he continued:

“I think that the family, children, whatever (of Akayev), should probably look at making a contribution to the Bush library.

“It would be like, maybe a couple of hundred thousand dollars, or something like that, not a huge amount but enough to show that they’re serious.”
What Payne didn’t know was that the third person at their meeting was an undercover reporter for the Sunday Times, nor did he know that the meeting was being recorded.

In addition to all of the other reasons why the Bush Institute should not be located at SMU, this seamy episode is another reason why the Jurisdictional Conference should stand up to the ill-advised action by their bishops and just say NO! Their rejection of sleeze politics and bribery would give some substance to their conference theme, “Hope of the World.”

- Milo

On a lighter note about this serious issue, a friend sent me this list:

The GEORGE W. BUSH PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY is now in the planning stages!
The Library will include:

The Weapons of Mass Destruction Room, which no one has yet been able to find.
The Hurricane Katrina Room, which is still under construction.
The Texas Air National Guard Room, where you don't even have to show up.
The Walter Reed Hospital Room, where they don't let you in.
The Guantanamo Bay Room, where they don't let you out.
The National Debt Room, which is huge and has no ceiling.
The Tax Cut Room with entry restricted only to the wealthy.
The Airport Men's Room, where you can meet some of your favorite Republican Senators.
The Economy Room, which is in the toilet.
The Iraq War Room. After you complete your first tour, you go back for a second, third, fourth, and sometimes fifth tour.
The Dick Cheney Room, in the famous undisclosed location, complete with shotgun gallery.
The Environmental Conservation Room, still empty, but very warm.
The Supreme Court Gift Shop, where you can buy an election.
The Decider Room complete with dart board, magic 8-ball, Ouija board, dice, coins, and straws.
Additionally, the museum will have an electron microscope to help you locate the President's accomplishments.

Thanks, Ann!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Iran, GWB, and Nukes

What Iran and Other Nations Are Learning from North Korea

I may be going out on a limb here, but I’m guessing that the fireworks around my neighborhood on July 2nd were not in celebration of the fortieth anniversary of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the agreement in which the United States and other nuclear powers agreed to eventually eliminate their nuclear weapons, and non-nuclear states that signed onto the treaty agreed they would not seek to develop nuclear weapons capabilities.

As treaties go, this one
is said to be more significant than others.
The Treaty represents the only binding commitment in a multilateral treaty to the goal of disarmament by the nuclear-weapon States. Opened for signature in 1968, the Treaty entered into force in 1970. A total of 187 parties have joined the Treaty, including the five nuclear-weapon States. More countries have ratified the NPT than any other arms limitation and disarmament agreement, a testament to the Treaty's significance.
All over this country there were fireworks on the Fourth, but the biggest fireworks were
in response to the show Iran put on for its people and the world when it test-fired nine missiles in war-game maneuvers on Wednesday, including at least one the government in Tehran described as having the range to reach Israel.
The tests drew sharp American criticism and came a day after the Iranians threatened to retaliate against Israel and the United States if attacked…Gordon D. Johndroe, the deputy White House press secretary, said in a statement at the Group of 8 meeting in Japan that Iran’s development of ballistic missiles was a violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions.

“The Iranian regime only furthers the isolation of the Iranian people from the international community when it engages in this sort of activity,” Mr. Johndroe said.
In the NYT report there was a sparse paragraph acknowledging that
At the same time, United States and British warships have been conducting naval maneuvers in the Persian Gulf — apparently within range of the launching site of the missiles Iran tested on Wednesday.
That action, apparently, was not like the provocative act of Iran because we are the good guys whose intentions are beyond reproach, unlike Iran, a charter member of the Axis of Evil club.

I wish I could have confidence in what my president says, but I can’t. This is after all the president who… (Make up your own list of all the ways he and members of his administration have misrepresented their intentions to the American people and the world; and make sure you have a lot of paper.) Now, I do not have any more confidence in what the leaders of Iran say. I do not have the long list of ways they have not told the truth like I do for my own government, but maybe I would if I lived in Iran or had been paying closer attention.

My point is that it is difficult to make sense of the intentions of either Iran or the United States. I know where the notion of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq got us and where I sense that our current president and some members of Congress would like to take us again. That scares me more than Iran does. I got to thinking those missiles Iran test-fired and about the nuclear warheads they might be able to carry. And then I got to thinking about the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty we weren’t celebrating in our neighborhood on July 2nd.

It is said that the U.S. developed nuclear weapons because we learned that Hitler was. However it started, before you knew it there were four other nations besides the U.S.—Russia, England, France, and China. In 1960 John Kennedy was worrying about the growth of that “club” to twenty-five or thirty nations.

I’ve wondered about the psychology of the Treaty. Since five nations had the weapons, did they simply dictate to the others that they couldn’t have them? It was said nicer than that; in the Treaty is says that whatever nations hadn’t created such weapons by 1967 when they were drafting the document wouldn’t. That makes a kind of sense, doesn’t it, especially with the specified commitment of those who had the weapons to begin getting rid of them? Of course, the U.S. and Russia still have about 95% of all nuclear weapons.

In the process of 189 nations ratifying the Treaty, four didn’t—India, Israel, Pakistan, and North Korea—and proceeded with the development of their own nuclear weapons. There were other nations who started down that road but were dissuaded and stopped. When it comes to U.S. policy, there is a clear double standard in judging India, Pakistan, and Israel with North Korea. With India and Pakistan we say we don’t like it, but don’t make any fuss about their having the weapons. We are simply silent on Israel, who won’t say that it has or doesn’t have such weapons, but who everyone acknowledges does. But about the possibility of Iran getting nuclear weapons, we get irate.

On May 6, 2008, at the Preparatory Committee for the 2010 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, the front page of the NGO daily news called it the
Dialogue of the Deaf.
Western delegations have increasingly called on Iran to cease uranium enrichment and other “proliferation sensitive” activities and to comply with relevant UN Security Council resolutions. During the PrepCom, the United States has even gone as far as to proclaim that non-nuclear armed Iran is single largest barrier to a MENWFZ {Middle East Nuclear Weapon Free Zone}, without any reference at all to nuclear-armed Israel. On Monday, the US delegation recommended that Iran follow Libya’s example and give up its nuclear programme, noting that it has been offered a “remarkably generous package of incentives that present the regime in Tehran with two choices”—“defiance and noncompliance ... isolation ... continuing and additional sanctions ... further stunted economic opportunities,” or “international reconciliation and the eventual restoration of international trust in its peaceful intentions.”

This “choice” offered by the US further undermines what Norway’s delegate described as the already “fragile consensus” on the Middle East… In addition, the perception of double standards—or what {Iranian} Amb. Soltanieh referred to as “nuclear apartheid” in the Middle East—is a major source of tension during the NPT review cycles. These double standards contradict the fundamental bargain of the NPT itself and undermine the basis upon which the decision to indefinitely extend the Treaty was agreed to the Arab states and many other non-nuclear weapon states.
Why has President Bush dealt differently with North Korea, Iraq, and Iran? In an interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now, Joseph Ciricione, president of the Ploughshares Fund and author of Bomb Scare: The History and Future of Nuclear Weapons,
responded to that question.
Well, many countries have questioned why we invaded Iraq, which didn’t have nuclear weapons, and we didn’t invade North Korea, which did, and have drawn the obvious conclusion: we don’t invade North Korea because we can’t, because it’s too risky. And this, of course—

AMY GOODMAN: Precisely because it does have nuclear weapons.

JOSEPH CIRINCIONE: Because it has nuclear weapons, and so that—it does—

AMY GOODMAN: So the lesson the countries learn is, if you have a nuclear weapon, the US won’t attack, but if you don’t have a nuclear weapon…?

JOSEPH CIRINCIONE: That’s exactly right, and the Indian chief of staff said this after the first Gulf War, after the ’91 Gulf War. The chief of the army said, “The lesson is, if you think you’re going to go up against the United States, you better get a nuclear weapon.”
Cirincione says that, however difficult, that whole perception has to be changed.
In other words, we have to offer other countries the same deal we offered Libya and that we’re offering North Korea now: if you satisfy our security concerns, we’ll satisfy yours; if you give up these nuclear ambitions, we will guarantee the survival of your regime, we will give you diplomatic recognition, we will change our relationship.{bold mine} That’s the only way you’re going to convince countries to end these programs.
That was precisely what President Bush was unwilling to extend to Iraq and what he continues to be unwilling to extend to Iran. Of course, to accomplish this would require talking directly to Iran, and we know what President Bush and John McCain both think about that. As it is, the president’s policies may simply have increased Iran’s determination to have nuclear weapons, and a lot of other have not nations as well.

Can we make it through the next 18 months without the U.S. launching an attack on Iran? Let’s hope that the next fireworks you hear in your neighborhood will only be leftovers from the Fourth celebrations or belated celebrations of the 40th anniversary of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

- Milo

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

A Truth Commission?

I’ve been off for a few days gardening, celebrating the Fourth, and a trip to attend the first worship service led by a good friend after a leukemia diagnosis a year ago and a successful stem cell transplant in November. What a celebration it was!

Catching up on some of the issues I’ve been following, several things caught my eye. I’ll be writing briefly about some of them in the next few days. One of them was Nicholas Kristof’s op-ed column in Sunday’s New York Times. If you read it, I wonder what you thought about it. If you didn’t read it I encourage you to do so and then let me know what you think.

called for a “Truth Commission.”
“There is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes,” Antonio Taguba, the retired major general who investigated abuses in Iraq, declares in a powerful new report on American torture from Physicians for Human Rights. “The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.”

The first step of accountability isn’t prosecutions. Rather, we need a national Truth Commission to lead a process of soul searching and national cleansing.

That was what South Africa did after apartheid, with its Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and it is what the United States did with the Kerner Commission on race and the 1980s commission that examined the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

Today, we need a similar Truth Commission, with subpoena power, to investigate the abuses in the aftermath of 9/11.
I heartily agree with Kristof that a “process of soul searching and national cleansing” is required for what we have been through over these last seven years and to guide us in the future to prevent it from happening again. But Michael English
spelled out some of the difficulties with a “Truth Commission.”
There are several profound difficulties with the idea of a US version of South Africa’s truth commission.

First, a non-partisan version of a truth commission would not work here because, quite simply, it would get nowhere. The whole reason why we have had a government willing and able to commit war crimes in these past eight years is that, while Democrats tried to act “bipartisan” or “nonpartian”, Republicans paid lip service to the idea whenever it helped to get everything they wanted out of Democrats, then marched in lock-step with party ideology whenever it was necessary to get what they wanted by force. I can pretty much guarantee you that any member of such a commission who is or was a Republican politician or in the employ of a Republican politician in the past eight years will do everything he can to stonewall such a commission.

The second problem with such a commission is that, while South Africa had a majority of its newly-enfranchised government (elected by the previously disenfranchised black majority) seeking reconciliation with its former oppressors from a position of strength, any US version would operate in an environment in which slightly less than 50% of the government was still in the grip of the same group of quasi-fanatics who committed war crimes, and who still have something to hide.

Such men do not walk willingly into the light. It is only through the full and relentless use of investigations and prosecution (this time led by a Democratic executive branch) that such criminals can be exposed and brought to justice. Moreover, it is only by relentlessly prosecuting the leaders of the Bush Administration that such men (who are, by their nature, pathologically unrepentant) will ever be sufficiently humbled to prevent them from doing further damage in another Republican Administration.
There is still the option of impeachment. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio)
said he’s not going to let his effort to impeach President Bush die a quiet death in committee.
He said Wednesday that he’ll bring his resolution back in 30 days if the Judiciary Committee, to which it was referred Wednesday, doesn’t act on it.

This one’s coming back from the dead in 30 days,” Kucinich said after the referral vote Wednesday. “In 30 days, I’ll be joined by many more” members, he said.
Asked who those members were, he replied, “You’ll see.”

Democratic House leaders have been fending off impeachment efforts from Kucinich and left-wing activists since taking office more than a year ago. Republicans suffered politically from the impeachment of President Clinton, and Democratic leaders say they don’t want to be bogged down in messy impeachment proceedings.

Kucinich also has a resolution to impeach Vice President Dick Cheney, which has been bottled up in committee since May 2007. The measure had 27 co-sponsors.
I think we may forever regret
not instituting impeachment proceedings against President Bush, but I realize that some of the same reasons English says would prevent a “Truth Commission” from working here would also have compromised the results of an impeachment proceeding.

I think this nation needs a process of “soul searching and national cleansing” beyond the election of another administration? What form should it take? What do you think?

- Milo

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Remembering Our Roots

Would Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin have been in church on Sunday? The short answer is yes, no, and maybe.

During that hot summer of 1776 in Philadelphia, when you try to imagine the core leadership of that Continental Congress, without whom the Declaration of Independence might not have been written and approved unanimously by the delegations from the thirteen colonies, what names come to mind? I know that we and historians could debate this for a long time without consensus, but I suspect few would leave out these three: John Adams from Massachusetts; Thomas Jefferson from Virginia; and Benjamin Franklin from Pennsylvania. Would you agree?

This takes us back to the question I asked at the outset: would these three patriots have been in church when Independence Day fell on a Sunday? There is much made of “the faith of our founding fathers” that is much more a myth of how some folks wish it had been with these giants in our history than how it actually was.

In an email that a number of folks sent to me over the past few days was a copy of an illustrated article titled,
“Forsaken Roots.” In fact, I have received email copies of it every year for the past seven or eight years, as people seek to remember and reclaim their roots. The claim in the article was made that 52 of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence were “orthodox deeply committed Christians,” the first in a long list of “facts” demonstrating that our nation was in its beginnings a “Christian nation.”

There was no author nor were there references to support the claims. Those of you who know me, know that it makes me very uneasy when anonymous documents make claims I don’t think can be supported by fact and when I see history being misconstrued and used as propaganda. In truth, there was such a diversity of faith perspectives among the “founding fathers” and “founding mothers,” some despaired of ever agreeing on the status of religion in the new country. Because the three giants I mentioned represent this diversity, I thought it perhaps useful on this Independence celebration week to be reminded of their religious perspectives and what they contributed to the nation that came into being on July 4th, 1776.

John Adams and Abigail, his wife and best counselor, were devout Christians and independent thinkers who saw no conflict between the two. As well as the Bible, John loved the classics and scholarly reflection. He always carried a book of poetry in his pocket, telling his children, “You will never be alone with a poet in your pocket.” He was one of the most sensible and powerful forces at the Continental Congress; it was John Adams that persuaded Thomas Jefferson to draft the Declaration of Independence and John who persuaded the Congress to allow Thomas to do it. Adams became the second president of the United States. John was
in church at least once on Sundays and often two or three times. He visited Anglican Churches, Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, Quakers, Moravians, and at least on one occasion a Roman Catholic mass. But his own was a Congregational Church in the Puritan tradition in Massachusetts. Adams was committed to the principle of everyone’s having the freedom to worship as they chose, but felt it was everyone’s duty to worship. There really had to be a crisis for the Adams’ not to be in church on Sunday. I think we would be safe in saying that the Adams family would have been in church, even when Independence Day fell on a Sunday.

Thomas Jefferson, unlike Adams, would not likely have attended church on July 4th any more than he attended any other worship services. Jefferson was the one who wrote the Declaration of Independence and became the third president of the United States. Those who put religious labels on would consider Jefferson a Deist, those who believe that God created the world and then left it to run on the laws God had created. As suspicious as he was of the unchecked power of government, and he was, Jefferson was even more suspicious of the power of unchecked religion to coerce others. He knew well the history of the intolerance of churches that were “established” or identified with the state in Europe and he feared for what might happen in America. He wanted a high “wall of separation” between church and state so that neither infringed on the responsibilities of the other. In 1817 when Congress passed the Elementary School Act, Jefferson
insisted on this provision:
"No religious reading, instruction or exercise, shall be prescribed or practiced {in the elementary schools} inconsistent with the tenets of any religious sect or denomination."
Given this founding father’s deep suspicions of organized religion, I think we can safely conclude that he would not have been in worship on a July Fourth that fell on a Sunday.

Benjamin Franklin, was more casual about faith than Adams but not nearly as wary of it as Jefferson. Franklin’s creed was simple: serve God by serving others. Much has been made of Benjamin Franklin's suggestion that the Constitutional Convention in 1787 open its morning sessions with prayer. His motion was turned down, however, and not again taken up. Franklin
himself noted that
"with the exception of 3 or 4, most thought prayers unnecessary."
What distinguished Franklin from Adams and Jefferson was his “good-natured religious tolerance.” Franklin was not a member of any church but supported them all. In his hometown of Philadelphia whenever a new church would be built he would give to their building funds. It is little wonder that on July 4th, 1788 when Franklin was seriously ill, two years before his death, and couldn’t get out, the clergy of the city of Philadelphia including a Jewish Rabbi paraded arm in arm right under his window, a first not only for Philadelphia but perhaps a first in the history of Christianity.

Franklin biographer, Walter Isaacson,
concludes that Franklin’s
“good-natured religious tolerance was in fact no small advance for civilization in the eighteenth century. It was one of the greatest contributions to arise out of the Enlightenment, more indispensable than that of the most profound theologians of the era… In a world that was then (as, alas, it still is now) bloodied by those who seek to impose theocracies, {Franklin}] helped to create a new type of nation that could draw strength from its religious pluralism. As Garry Wills argued in his book Under God, this ‘more than anything else, made the United States a new thing on earth.’”
Those who are interested in examining the accuracy of the claims in “Forgotten Roots” can check
George F. Smith’s “History Remembered” or the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty (not to be confused with the Southern Baptist Convention).

Remembering our roots is a good exercise for observing Independence Day, but we do ourselves no service if we remember them as we wish they had been and not the way they were. We will also do well to remember some of our other roots that we are still working to overcome: the way our nation treated Indians, slaves, and women. We might recall the words of
Frederick Douglass, freed slave and newspaper editor:
“What to the American slave is your Fourth of July? I answer, a day that reveals to him more than all other days of the year the gross injustice to which he is the constant victim. To him your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty an unholy license…”
Unlike whoever wrote “Forgotten Roots” and those who are fearful about what has happened to our “Christian nation,” I believe that we will have forgotten our roots if we adopt their view of our nation’s history. An honest reading of our history will better equip us to understand how we could have invaded Iraq and how precious civil liberties have been sacrificed in the name of fighting terrorists.

I am grateful that the heritage from our “founding fathers and mothers” had within it the seeds of diversity and tolerance. Can we respect those who don’t worship the way we do, and those who don’t choose to worship at all? Can those who don’t worship respect those who do? Diversity and tolerance are precious gifts. Cherish and nurture them.

Remember that tomorrow as you and your friends barbeque ribs, grill brats or TVP burgers. Happy Fourth of July!
- Milo