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January 2006 Archives

January 15, 2006

Iran goes nuclear to counter US threat from neighboring Iraq; Americans "shocked, shocked" to learn that threats elicit reciprocal response

A high-stakes game of tom foolery unfolded last week over Iran's decision to break United Nations seals on research facilities there capable of pursuing bomb-grade enrichment of uranium. Iran's leaders pretended to have no interest in developing nuclear weapons, and the Western world pretended to be shocked by Iran's behavior. Mr. Bush, Germany's Angela Merkel, and Britain's Tony Blair failed in their public statements to take any responsibility for Iran's decision to take the nuclear path, and the mainstream media missed the story too. Although Iran has not yet violated the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Americans and Europeans moved toward imposing economic sanctions through the UN Security Council that could inflict significant suffering on the people of Iran. A prominent hard-line cleric, Hojatolislam Ahmad Khatami, was quoted in the New York Times as saying, "Thank God, our enemies are idiots. They threaten us. Their threats and sanctions have made us independent."

Once again, Jesus has proven himself to be the greatest political prognostician of all time. Threaten someone, and they are likely to respond in a like fashion. The Bush invasion of Iraq in 2003 placed a huge, permanent American military presence in the country bordering Iran. Mr. Bush further fanned the Iranian flames by repeatedly and publicly insulting Iran as being "evil." Members of his Administration made no secret of their desire to accomplish in Iran what they had already done in Iraq, though Iran has a population that is three times as large. In other words, Iran feels threatened by the behavior of the Bush Administration, and the Iranians have responded in kind.

The larger issue, of which no one is speaking, is the deep hypocrisy of an Administration that criticizes the clear Iranian initiative to develop these weapons at the same time that Mr. Bush is planning to develop new nuclear weapons of his own. The "robust earth penetrator" class of weapons that is under discussion for development would enable the Administration to destroy deeply sequestered underground bunkers using a field-authorized nuclear device. And who is the US Military likely to use such a weapon against? Iran and North Korea are the clear likely targets. Is it any surprise that both are now determined to develop nuclear weapons of their own?

Add to this the Administration's disregard for international agreements, even as they complain about Iran's unwillingness to abide by international agreements, and one begins to see new heights of accomplishment in the hypocrisy department.

In other words, the act of threatening others rarely makes one safe. It only makes one elicit reciprocal threats from the threatened party. The Bush Administration bears virtually 100% of the blame for the new militarism in Iran and North Korea, by virtue of the threatening posture they have taken in Iraq, in their rhetoric, in their military budgeting, and in their Pentagon planning. Jesus got this one right. "Love your enemies" is the only strategy that insures security. Or as he said to Peter, "Those who live by the sword are destined to die by the sword."

January 26, 2006

RNC Chair declares free enterprise and militarism to be Catholic values

The Republican National Committee has formally announced their national Catholic outreach effort for the election year, and the outlines of their strategy are a master stroke of focus group sculpting and psychological manipulation. Chairman Ken Mehlman appointed Leonard Leo and John Kelly to serve as National Co-Chairs for the RNC's Catholic Outreach. He wrote, "These two Catholic leaders will work with my full confidence to solidify the growing relationship between the Republican Party and Catholic voters all across our great nation. We will count on Jack and Leonard to take a leading role as our entire Catholic grassroots effort is advanced by millions of Catholics who share the GOP's compassionate conservative agenda of traditional values, free enterprise and a strong national defense."

The Republicans are fully aware of the contradictions their strategy portends. No serious scholar of Christianity would contend that "free enterprise and a strong national defense" are Christian values. As practiced under the Bush Administration, the pursuit of free enterprise means the enrichment of a few at the expense of the many, which is antithetical to the most frequently repeated invocations of scripture regarding poverty. Self-enrichment, however desireable from an economic standpoint, is not a Christian value.

As importantly, the reference to "strong national defense," in the hands of the Bush Administration, signifies their commitment to preemptive war, the construction of new classes of nuclear weapons, and the weaponization of space. The Bush approach to defense is a profane violation of everything that Christianity stands for, as captured in the single phrase that all Biblical scholars agree can be directly attributed to Jesus: love your enemies. There is no love for our enemies in this Administration, and their combativeness toward enemy and ally alike has made all Americans less safe.

Mr. Kelly was quoted in Mr. Mehlman's press release as saying, "Working through the RNC's Political Division we are committed to an expansive outreach program that will not just maintain but increase the support shown by Catholics in 2004. The Republican principles of a strong commitment to a culture of life and to the economic and national security of our country resonates with active Catholics. Our goal is to let Catholics know they are the key to the future success of the Republican party."

These Republican efforts represent a brilliant self-serving electoral strategy at the expense of American Catholicism, given the huge role that Catholic voters played in serving up the presidency to George Bush in 2004. More than that, however, the attempt to pass off Republican militarism and greed as if they were Catholic values is subversive to Catholicism itself. However one may feel about having a strong military and cutting the tax burden on wealthy Americans, let us agree that these are not Christian values. We will continue working with Catholics across America to advance a simple message: the power of Christ's call to peace, reconciliation, and concern for others must not be used to advance the self-serving political agenda of the radical Republican right.

January 30, 2006

The CDC numbers prove the lie of the Republican rhetoric, with abortion now climbing under Bush

Published again in the dark of night, on the Friday after Thanksgiving with virtually no press coverage, the verdict is now in regarding Mr. Bush's effect on abortion in America: the number of abortions rose in 2002 for the first time in 13 years (See the CDC report, 11/25/05). The increases were small, representing a clear inflection point in the long-standing trend under President Clinton that significantly decreased the total number of abortions in the US. But the populations that experienced the most significant increases were teenagers and poor women. The teen population has been at the receiving end of information-free sex education classes across America. The number of poor people in the United States has climbed dramatically during the five years of the Bush Administration.

Meanwhile, the crowds gathered again in Washington DC, recalling the Supreme Court's 1973 decision shifting authority on the issue away from individual states. The concern for the unborn is real in the hearts of many, but the focus is completely misplaced. As abortion rates dived below where they were before Roe v Wade, in the vicinity of 20 per 1000 women of reproductive age per year, is this landmark decision really relevant anymore to the abortion phenomenon in America?

Surprisingly, law turns out to have little in common with morality, as demonstrated by the fact that none of the Ten Commandments are actually written into law. Even killing is considered acceptable in all sorts of special circumstances: for instance, the state-sponsored killing that has been condemned by our Bishops, or the dozens of people who are being killed every day in Iraq by our military. Drunkeness (the leading preventable cause of mental retardation and of road deaths), divorce, and greed come to mind as examples of sins that no one is trying to outlaw.

Mark Harrington, director of the "Center for Bioethical Reform" in the Midwest, wrote last week to his supporters, "Ending legal abortion has always been the main goal of the pro life movement. This battle is about changing hearts and minds on the morality of abortion one person at a time. Outlawing abortion will never 'zero' its frequency of occurrence, but it will reduce its frequency of occurrence to the irreducibly minimal level that can be achieved through vigorous enforcement of the law."

Mr. Harrington is apparently unaware of the failures of similar previous crusades, and people like him make four demonstrably false assumptions: First, Republicans have given credence to the assumption that reversing Roe-v-Wade, indeed even making abortion illegal, would have any effect on the number of abortions. But the widespread support for abortion rights makes any legislation against it guaranteed to cause a huge rent in the social fabric. One has to look no further than the Constitutional amendment imposing Prohibition, which was never enforceable because it was never accepted by a large segment of the American population. Anyone who thinks that making abortion illegal, even with tough enforcement, will have any effect on abortion rates is fooling themselves. One has but to look at the ubiquity of marijuana use across the country, despite the hundreds of thousands of people serving in state and federal prisons, to see that law often has little capacity for controlling drug use. And make no mistake, abortion will be an illegal drug problem in any state that succeeds in outlawing it. This is because in the future, surgical abortions will be increasingly less common and will be replaced by abortion-inducing drugs. The easiest to use is the anti-ulcer drug, misoprostol (which costs pennies to make, and is currently sold for hundreds of dollars).

Second, illegal does not equal immoral, and vice-versa. The ubiquity of speeding, despite the fact that it kills people, does not equate with immorality in most people's minds. In fact, most people have an intuitive sense of the immorality of something that seems to have nothing to do with law. Invading other countries and killing scores of thousands of people is apparently legal, but most Christians recognize the immorality of it.

Third, there is a widespread assumption that making abortion illegal is the only way to deal with the problem. The fact is that the crusade to make abortion illegal is, practically-speaking, an excuse to do nothing that actually decreases abortions. Republican control of all three branches of government has been associated with more abortions than had been projected during the period of dramatic declines experienced under the Clinton Administration. The Bush Administration will never seek a Constitutional Amendment outlawing abortion, because it would be counterproductive to them politically. Better to harness the passion (and dollars) of people who care about the unborn, while continuing to do nothing about the underlying factors leading to abortion--like poverty, and racial disparities in education and health care access.

Finally, to those who think that making abortion illegal is the "moral" solution to the problem--think again. Jesus would never have advocated using the coercive power of the state to compel anyone to a moral decision of any kind. Law may be a practical solution to many problems, like compelling the payment of income taxes, but it is never the "moral" solution for people of faith. And as indicated above, overturning Roe-v-Wade may have no effect on abortion rates at all. Restrictive laws in Mississippi have had no effect on the abortion rates there. When one considers that something approaching half of all current abortions in the world are done illegally, there is no evidence that illegality would have any practical effect on the abortion rates. Thus overturning the decision cannot be described either as a practical solution, or a "moral" solution, to the problem of abortion.

Ohio Democratic Congressman Tim Ryan has fashioned legislation that, if enacted, could dramatically lower abortion rates. Republican Congressmen are rushing to join Rep. Ryan in sponsoring this legislation, because of their concern about the unborn, right? Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. The four "anti-abortion" bills enacted during the first Bush Administration didn't even pretend to have any effect on the abortion rates, but were rather all about "labeling" the Democrats as the "pro-abortion party." The last thing Republicans want is anti-abortion legislation that Democrats can support, even if it might actually decrease the number of abortions.

But back on the subject of Roe-v-Wade, in contrast, the law of unintended consequences suggests that illegality would lead to dramatic increases in the birth defects associated with misoprostol use, increases in late-term abortions, and increased feelings of isolation and despair among young single women. The statistics now show just how wrong the whole coercion-based Republican approach to abortion has been. Jesus preached a religion of love, one that invites rather than punishes, and those who preach a different religion are misleading themselves when they invoke the name of Jesus to support overturning Roe-v-Wade.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

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"Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America: They will be met.

"On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

"On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics."

First Inaugural Address, President Barack Obama



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